Review | A Little Something Different | Sandy Hall

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A Little Something Different

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The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….


Here’s the thing: this romance is super cute and the way the story is told really is “a little something different.” But I would go so far as to say that the story is TOO cute. There’s not much substance here, to be honest. For example, two of the viewpoints come from a squirrel and a bench, and it’s kind of ridiculous in a roll-your-eyes way. Then you have the fact that all these different characters are basically the same: they talk the same ways, they think the same things, they feel the same about stuff. Even the one character, Victor, who is supposed to hate Gabe and Lea (our couple) doesn’t actually hate them. (The author tells us over and over that he does but then he’s as obsessed with them as everyone else and it makes no sense.) It’s a prime example of telling, but not showing, and it is–quite frankly–weak writing. 

I would argue that Hillary has the potential to be one of the most unique characters and yet her parts are very short, AND Sandy Hall does her a HUGE injustice by slotting her into the “blonde bimbo” trope. I mean, COME ON.

In second place is Danny (yeah for LGBTQIA!) but he has the least amount of sections (boo!), and again, he is slotted into a few stereotypical “gay college boy” tropes.

In third place is Charlotte, who starts off as a character I could like but then turns into all the other characters (they are honestly the same–take away their names and you wouldn’t know the difference). AND everyone’s obsession with this couple for sure crosses into creepy. My frustration for this book bubbleith over.

Not to mention that there’s nothing about Gabe or Lea that is particularly likeable. Not that there was anything wrong with them; I liked them both just fine. But they are tertiary character material at most. While everyone is going gaga over their supposed romance, I’m sitting here as the reader going, “But why?” Honestly, they’re so boring! And everything that happens between them is SO. BORING. Another prime example of the author going, “Oh, they’re so cute, they look great together, we love them” and providing zero actual substance for these assertions. The author was shoving this down my throat and I was choking on it going, “BUT YOU ACTUALLY HAVEN’T PROVEN ANY OF THESE THINGS!”

So much potential. So do not recommend.

Review | The Disappeared | Kristina Ohlsson

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The Disappeared

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A young woman is found carved up and buried in a forest glade in a Stockholm suburb. She is identified as Rebecca Trolle, a student who went missing two years earlier. While Fredrika Bergman and her team try to find out why Rebecca met such a violent demise, more bodies are found in the same area. Fredrika Bergman is inevitably drawn into the case, but it becomes much more complicated when her lover’s name is mentioned in the investigation. The investigative unit are nearing a resolution, but the killer is still at large. One question remains: whose body will turn up next when the killer returns to the grave in the forest?


This book really kept my guessing until the very end. I’m a big fan of crime fiction—not police procedurals, but solid crime fiction where it’s more about what makes each character tick than it is about the process of discovering the criminal. And of the crime fiction I’ve enjoyed, I find European crime fiction to be the best, with this being no exception. I’m so glad I stumbled across this title in the bargain bin!

I didn’t know until I had finished it that this is the third book in a series, but that’s a good thing because it means you can read it as a stand-alone and not be lost at all. All of the characters were really beautifully detailed in terms of background and development throughout the novel. Like I said, I was guessing as to who might have committed the murders right up until the very end. What’s better is that even when the killer is uncovered, you’re still left with a cliffhanger and questions. Some people don’t like that with their crime fiction, but I love it. It means I can go back and re-analyze if I want to, see if I can fill in the gaps myself.

The only thing that could have been more detailed was the setting; there’s a lot of character description, but not a lot regarding the setting. You’re told what city you’re in and what the weather’s like, but other than that you’re virtually left with a blank canvas. Again, some people like that. I’m someone who doesn’t like TOO much setting detail—but more would have been preferred so I could feel more grounded in the story.

I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a mystery to solve!

CONVERSATIONS FOR TWO by Jacqueline Markowitz

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5 out of 5

Conversations for Two beautifully presents the fragmented memory of one woman after a life of loss and love. Inspired by the loss of Markowitz’s brother and the rediscovery of his personal writings years later, Markowitz uses these pieces of him to ask what about memory is tangible and what is imagined; how “real” are the written words that Markowitz can hold in her hand? What of the images they inspire? The use of metaphor and lyrical prose unearths the beauty in tragedy in a pure and gorgeous way.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jacqueline at Toronto’s 2016 Word on the Street festival, and interviewed her over the phone two days later. She is a wonderfully kind and interesting woman. I could have talked with her all day, but that would have been selfish of me. I wanted to specifically probe her for more details about the Beatles concert she attended when she was ten years old, but alas. She also started her own publishing company, The Jam Press, under which she published Conversations for Two. The company’s logo—a little strawberry—reminds me of the movie Across the Universe based on the Beatles’ music and the song “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Jacqueline Markowitz writes as if from a dream. I feel as if I’m seeing her thoughts from underwater in the most dazzling way. Some of my favourite descriptions of hers are about the woman’s mother. Here is an excerpt that has stayed with me for over a week now:

“I squeeze my eyes and see her. She is ethereal in the green water, scented with lavender. She would never see the beauty that I saw. One shoulder is lower than the other, and her hips are out of line. Her body is lopsided, the shape of a woman who carried children on one hip while dealing with the meat and potatoes of life on the other. There are the scar slashes where a breast used to be. Her body has been ransacked of its treasures. The outline of the pacemaker is sheltered within her beautiful collarbones, from which her skin is neatly folded and hung.

“I can see her. She had the skin of sonnets, creamy, even as life seeped in those feathery lines than fanned from the edges of her eyes, especially when she smiled. She would say it’s because she drank a cup of hot water with lemon every morning. And, I can see her face as she looked in her bedroom mirror at night, her little finger bent with arthritis smoothing cream across the contours of her face, and sometimes she could catch a glimpse of the woman who lived inside of her. Her eyes once brown, now laced with blue and green. Green like mine.”

-Jacqueline Markowitz, Conversations for Two

I honestly haven’t read anything so good in months, perhaps even a year. This is a book that stays with you in your heart as you live your life, quietly staying shadowed in the background. It’ll ease back out every now and then with a good quote or a simple word or two pertaining to my life’s goings-on. If I had to describe it simply, I would say it is a sigh on the wind. Quiet and peaceful, and now a part of me as the wind is part of the earth.

THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES by Sarah Maine

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3 out of 5

In Sarah Maine’s The House Between Tides, a deceased painter’s Scottish summer house is inherited by Hetty. Her attention is immediately brought to the bones discovered under the centuries-old manor, and the story of the manor’s previous owners is slowly woven together. Theo Blake and his young wife Beatrice had a happy start, but their relationship soon grew troubled as the house and its memories haunted the artist. What happened that led to the body under the floorboards?

Like Theo Blake, Maine is a painter in her own right, sucking the reader in through the picturesque Scottish landscape. Beatrice’s storyline throbs with intensity and keeps the story alive. In contrast, Hetty and company are far from fully formed characters; it is clear that Maine cared more for the characters of the past and neglected to bring the same interest and tension into the present storyline. Additionally, the plot does little to build suspense in the reader until the end. Not that the novel is boring, but rather Maine carries the reader along a horizontal path that suddenly spikes with fifty pages left to go. A slow read that would have worked better had Maine focused on the stronger storyline and done away with the other all together.

WE THAT ARE LEFT by Clare Clark

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4 out of 5

This story about how the haunting nature of World War One permeated all generations after it and the everlasting scars that the war left behind follows Jessica Melville and Oscar Greenwood (née Grunewald) as they navigate the pseudo-purgatory that encased Europe immediately following 1918. Being the same age as the boys who fought, Jessica and Oscar are surrounded by the ghosts of war. Jessica finds solace in the London nightlife, but reminders of the dead eventually seep into even those dingy underground rooms. Oscar, always the intellect, feels it to be his duty to continue the work that the dead were robbed of before an intense love affair distracts him from his studies. Clark writes dialectic turns of phrase that are at times captivating, at others awkward, replicating actual speech well. In her surprising word choices that create a rich and melodious prose, Clark expresses a depth of understanding for the youth of this period who were left behind as the war raged on the continent that is rarely matched. Though the beginning did not metamorphose well into the ending—Oscar, in particular, seamlessly transformed from an incredibly frail, perhaps even obsessive, child into a largely faultless Prince Charming in his adulthood—the experience of reading We That Are Left was quite pleasant in its entirety. Fans of Downton Abbey should not hesitate to pick this up as a balm for their withdrawal, as Clark offers another look into the worlds of upper- and middling-class England during the war years that is perhaps more realistic and definitely juicier.

THE TROUBLE WITH DESTINY by Lauren Morrill

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1.5 out of 5

[ARC provided by Paper Lantern Lit in exchange for my volunteer position as a VIP Trendsetter.]

All aboard the Destiny, a cruise ship hosting a high school music competition where the winning group receives a $25,000 cheque. Liza is the only one who knows how desperately her band needs it, and her one goal as she boards the ship is to win the prize and keep her marching band afloat.

A huge mishap involving an out-of-bounds bowling alley and a stray bowling ball throws the entire competition in jeopardy, and Liza finds herself putting all the blame on the school’s quarterback, Russ, on the trip as a form of detention. Serving as the band’s—and thereby Liza’s—lackey, Russ only causes more harm than good in Liza’s eyes. To top it all off, Liza is sharing the cruise not only with her arch nemesis Demi, but with her crush and son of the band director, Lenny. She can’t afford any distractions, but one little kiss wouldn’t hurt…

It’s rare that I finish a novel and ask myself what on earth just happened, but that’s what I did upon finishing this. The Trouble with Destiny lacks the charm of Morrill’s Meant to Be and is a severe let-down in terms of plot, character building, and writing style.

Let me start off by saying that the opening was good but very long; there is not much action until about a quarter of the way in. That being said, the plot is predictable, and the writing and pace are both flat. There is way too much going on and not enough space devoted to properly developing relationships or the varying storylines in order to make the outcomes believable. For example, there was zero chemistry established between Liza and Russ. Therefore the shift in Liza’s characterization and tone, particularly towards Russ, is so sudden that I was experiencing whiplash. It takes about a paragraph for Liza’s entire personality to change, with no decent reason or warning.

Additionally, as someone with seven years of concert band experience, the band setup seemed very unrealistic to me. For example, the sheet music for Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Wars isn’t that difficult for a band with experience and skill (I’ve played both pieces in band at the senior level), so it seems unlikely that they would win a competition using such simple music. With this in mind, it is quizzical to me why someone headed for Juilliard would be wasting their time with a band that plays such lower-calibre pieces.

Overall, The Trouble with Destiny is incredibly, incredibly disappointing. Definitely steer clear of this one, but bear in mind that Morrill has done better. I look forward to seeing her next novel and hope it demonstrates the quirky skill that I know she has.

-Ember Book Reviews

Check out this book on Goodreads.

THE NIGHT STRANGERS by Chris Bohjalian

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4 out of 5

Chip is haunted by his past. A former airline pilot, he feels responsible for the thirty-nine lives lost when his plane hit some geese and the emergency landing on Lake Champlain was botched. His escape is to move to northern New Hampshire with his wife Emily and their twin daughters where an empty Victorian home awaits them.

In the basement is a door locked shut with thirty-nine carriage bolts. Emily knows it must be a coincidence, but still worries over the haunted look on her husband’s face. When she comes home to find Chip had broken the door down but the carriage bolts remain, and her daughters later find human bones in the basement’s dirt floor, Emily doesn’t know what to think, and wonders if the move was a mistake.

The townspeople are also acting strangely. They know about the house’s past, but Emily and Chip feels like something is being left in the dark. With all of the women being botanists, they are eager to take Emily under their wing, but when they turn an unnatural attention to their daughters, both Emily and Chip feel intensely protective and wonder what on earth these people could want with their twin girls.

Chris Bohjalian is an amazing writer. The narrative, which changes perspectives, is haunting, especially Chip’s perspective, which is written in the second-person. Second-person narration is hard to pull off but Bohjalian manages it with surprising success.

I found that the plot was really well thought-out and unique. There are two separate storylines of horror happening which keeps the plot interesting, though I do think an entire book could have been constructed out of one or the other. I had also hoped more would be done with the house; it was suggested that the house may be possessing the family at one point, but then this plotline tapered off without any real resolution.

The characters, on the other hand, were so intricately constructed. I loved them. They felt fully realized to me and like complete individuals.

The pacing was also excellent and kept me on my seat until the end (about the last fifth of the book). Here things slowed down to an almost unbearable degree and I found myself growing impatient to wrap things up. Unfortunately, the ending was disappointing. I expected something more dramatic and shocking, but it was severely lacking in that respect, and therefore did not necessitate the drawn-out conclusion.

This book is absolutely worth reading and I would recommend it in a heartbeat. It is a marker by which to hold up other novels by, as I have never encountered such fascinating changes of perspective. As it is coming up to Halloween, please consider The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian as your next read.

-Ember Book Reviews

Check out this book on Goodreads.