Review | The Snow Rose | Lulu Taylor

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The Snow Rose

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The Snow Rose is the gripping story of a woman on the run from her past by Lulu Taylor, author of The Winter Folly.

I suppose Rory and I will divorce at some point, when I’ve got the time to think about it and the strength to tackle the dreary admin it will involve. The house. The division of money and belongings. What will happen to Heather.

He’s not taking her away from me. It’s what he wants. It’s what they all want.

I know they think I’m not fit to look after her. My mother thinks it. That’s why I won’t see her either, or my sister. They’re in cahoots with Rory, all of them scheming how to get her away from me. That’s why I have to escape them while I can, while I still have the opportunity . . .

Kate is on the run with her daughter, her identity hidden and her destination unknown to her husband and family. She’s found a place where she and Heather can be alone and safe, a huge old house full of empty rooms. But it turns out she’s not alone. There are the strange old ladies in the cottage next door, Matty and her blind sister Sissy. How long can Kate hide Heather’s presence from them? And then the newcomers arrive, the band of eccentrics led by the charming and charismatic Archer. Kate begins to realize that she is involved in something strange and dangerous, and the past she’s so desperate to escape is about to find her . . .


The Snow Rose poses as a traditional English ghost story…until it’s not. Kate has a secret tragic past and flees with her daughter to a rundown English estate that she has signed on, using an alias and hiding the presence of her daughter, to be the caretaker of. As they begin to settle in to life at the estate, they are interrupted by two elderly sisters who live in a cottage behind the garden; one is overly nosy and makes Kate feel uncomfortable, and the other seems able to see more than she should be able to considering she is blind. Then noises begin sounding from the basement, and Kate is sure someone is locked away in the cellar that she’s been instructed very strictly not to go into.

Just when things start unravelling for Kate, the plot shifts back in time nearly one hundred years to the previous owners of Paradise House: three sisters, one of which is a raving religious fanatic enraptured by the prophecies of a man known as The Beloved. The elder sister has declared her mad, but soon the youngest, Lettice, is enthralled as well and Paradise House becomes a commune for The Beloved and his followers, mainly female. The plot soon begins to shift back and forth between Lettice and Kate, then Kate’s friend Caz, as parallels in their storylines begin to emerge and it’s revealed that this is not a ghost story at all, but a tale of madness and fanatic belief in the face of the disappointment of life.

I finished this novel wondering what on Earth I had just read. It was enjoyable…but much more so when I believed I was reading a ghost story. The introduction of Lettice and the religious fanaticism plot line confused the story’s rhythm and from that point onwards, the novel felt like the two different stories were constantly interrupting each other. On its own, Lettice’s plot was actually the more enjoyable one. Kate’s story became weird and muddled when her past trauma is revealed. It became hard for me to keep reading the book, but I wanted to know what happened to Lettice. Disappointingly, her storyline isn’t satisfactorily resolved–instead it’s sort of left hanging and the loose ends are wrapped up during a conversation with Matty, Sissy, and Kate at the end of the novel. This novel was all right but it just wasn’t for me.


Buy Links

Indigo.ca     Amazon.ca

 

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Review | Lola and the Boy Next Door | Stephanie Perkins

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Lola and the Boy Next Door

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Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion… she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – the more sparkly, more wild – the better. And life is pretty close to perfect for Lola, especially with her hot rocker boyfriend.

That is, until the Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket return to the neighbourhood and unearth a past of hurt that Lola thought was long buried. So when talented inventor Cricket steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally face up to a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. Could the boy from Lola’s past be the love of her future?

Fall in love with the international bestseller from queen of young adult fiction, Stephanie Perkins.


THIS BOOK DOES NOT TAKE PLACE IN PARIS.

I mean, c’mon. That’s what I loved about Anna and Isla. There’s nothing more romantic than the Eiffel Tower with a snowy winter backdrop, or a sexy weekend getaway to Spain. I didn’t even know that Lola would be different in that regard; for the first fifty pages I kept waiting for her to get shipped off to Paris and was très disappointed.

And yes, the lack of the romantic setting definitely affects the plot. Cricket didn’t become a viable interest for me as the reader until probably the last two or three chapters. I didn’t buy any of the so-called “chemistry” before that. Also, while it’s clear we’re supposed to root for Cricket, Stephanie Perkins doesn’t give the reader a legit reason to root against Max until they’re pretty deep into the book… Bearing in mind that I’m a girl born out of a marriage between a couple who has a ten-year age gap between them and they started dating when my mom was 16. So I don’t see age as an issue.

Lola lacks the maturity that Anna and Isla had too, which had me rolling my eyes at her way too often. The way she carries on about Cricket’s “betrayal,” you’d think she was raped. I honestly thought that was the turn this book would take, what with her dropping and breaking a dish at the sight of him and everything. But no, she simply didn’t get invited to his party.

…What? You’ve been nursing a broken heart for two years because you didn’t get invited to a party? Please get over yourself.

But the biggest let-down of the whole book? The homophobic and racist slurs.

“At the mention of ice, Andy pauses. My dad loves figure skating. It is–and I don’t use this expression lightly–the gayest thing about him.” -pg. 116

Exsqueeze me? You shouldn’t use that expression at all. Why? Because being gay and liking figure skating have absolutely nothing to do with each other. 

“I stop by New Seoul Garden, and Lindsey packs a bag of takeout, which causes the entire car–on both of the trains it takes to get to Barkeley–to smell. Whoops.” -pg. 293

ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Here’s the thing. It’s not as if Perkins wrote that the whole train ended up smelling like her food and she felt badly for the other passengers for making them smell her delicious food. She basically says this: I went to my Asian friend’s family’s restaurant and then the whole train smelled like Asian food. Whoops.

That “Whoops” speaks volumes. It suggests that filling the train with the smell of specifically Asian food is a bad thing. And I can’t even.

I’m very disappointed in Stephanie Perkins with this book. Why does she even get 3 and a half stars? Because towards the end she remembered how to write with the same tone and spark that Anna and Isla were written with, and kudos for having the parents be a gay couple. But that’s it. Give me back Isla and Anna, please, and let’s pretend Lola never existed.

Review | All the Crooked Saints | Maggie Stiefvater

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All the Crooked Saints

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Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.


Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Maggie Stiefvater has been called “a master storyteller” by USA Today and “wildly imaginative” by Entertainment Weekly. Now, with All the Crooked Saints, she gives us the extraordinary story of an extraordinary family, a masterful tale of love, fear, darkness, and redemption.


There was a moment while reading this book where I realized that I was experiencing some truly special writing. I’ve read Maggie Stiefvater before, but if ever an artist creates a masterpiece, this is it for her. 

The book has been categorized as YA, but I don’t think that’s right. This book is definitely an adult fiction title with fantasy elements. It very much reminded me of The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz which, although told from the perspective of a teenager, is considered Canadian cultural fiction. I would argue that All the Crooked Saints should be labelled American cultural fiction, though maybe Americans would disagree.

The story Stiefvater weaves is incredibly powerful. My favourite parts were when you meet a new character and she writes them like so: “Here is a thing she wanted: blah blah blah. Here is a thing she feared: blah blah blah,” because she did it in such a way that usually the wants and fears complimented each other and you could read so far beyond the surface level of their wants and fears to get at the person they truly are at their core. I feel that the characters are so pure and at the same time so complicated, which is master storytelling at its finest. It is also told in third-person and in the way of old-fashioned folktales, which is so refreshing and unique. I’ve never read anything like it and I will always remember this book for Maggie’s oratory voice throughout her writing. Also, the “fantasy” element of this story is not magic or mythical creatures but suspended disbelief and visual metaphor very much in the vein of Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson.

If you read only one other book for the rest of the year, I recommend you pick up this one. It should not be missed. 

Pub. Date: Oct. 10, 2017


Pre-Order Links

Indigo.ca     Amazon.ca     B&N

 

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.