Book Review: My Secret Mother by Phyllis Whitsell

I picked up My Secret Mother by Phyllis Whitsell as the subject of this memoir intrigued me. Whitsell tells the story of how she was abandoned and then adopted by a Catholic family. She begins her search for her birth mother as an adult and, after years of searching, discovers that her mother is the local alcoholic known as ‘Tipperary Mary’. The memoir describes the journey of a young woman who finds her birth mother and who begins to care for her in the role of a nurse.

The story has the potential to be both interesting, emotionally charged, and enlightening and I looked forward to reading it. However, I was to be disappointed. The writing style is very staccato and does not encouraged the reader to feel any emotion. Instead the reader is presented with a factual and dry account of a series of events.

“There seemed to be a lot of whispering going on in the house and I was not included. Suddenly I felt really angry and could stand it no longer. If I was going to be sent back to the orphanage I needed to know, so I screamed, “What is happening to me and where will I be going?’ To my amazement I was not reprimanded for screaming out with such anger in my voice.” (p47, Harper Collins, 2015)

I found the many accounts featured in the novel to be tedious and pedantic – and often repetitive. Even though the book is a memoir, it could have been written in a more interesting way: the environment could have been described and the writer’s emotions referred to in a more engaging way.

I would not recommend this book to any reader. Even though the blurb on the book cover sounds interesting, the way in which the book is written does not captivate and hold a person’s interest.

Do you enjoy reading memoirs?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 21st in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

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Book Review: Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer

Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer was one of the book proofs I received when I went to the OLA (Ontario Library Association) Super Conference at the beginning of the year. This YA novel centres on George Warren (given name Frances) who is in her senior year of high school. Instead of owning her last year of school, George gets into a big fight with her best friend; a fight which creates an irreparable rift in their social circle. In addition, George’s family has fallen on hard times since her father got injured – and there is no guarantee that he will be able to return to work. George then meets Francis, an older guy who shares her name and affinity for sarcastic banter. She lets herself fall hopelessly in love. But, because of Francis’s age, she tells no one.

The novel describes a young girl’s first encounter not only with love; but also how her relationships with her family and friends are affected by her seemingly hopeless attraction to an older man. Dyer shares George’s story with sensitivity and care. As the reader, I came to care for George and understood why she was drawn to a person that she should have avoided. The well written sentences in the novel kept me interested in the story right up until the unexpected ending.

I enjoyed this novel and would recommend this read for those who enjoy reading love stories – though this novel is not the traditional type of romance story. Even though the book is listed as a YA novel, the subject matter would be enjoyed by older women.

Do you enjoy reading love stories?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 20th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Favourite Read of the Month: March 2018

During the month of March, I managed to read 8 books for this year’s Book Pledge. I read more than the previous month for two reasons: March break and the Easter weekend. The extra days at home enabled me to spend more time reading, one of my favourite activities to relax.

The titles in March are listed below. To read my reviews (if you haven’t already), click on the title in the following list:

  1. The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. A novel that encourages us to think about refugees.
  2. The Good Sister by Chelsea Bolan. A novel that encourages us to think about the relationship between sisters, and the role a woman plays in a specific social context.
  3. The Guilty by Davis Baldacci. A thriller.
  4. The Reversalby Michael Connelly. A detective cum courtroom drama.
  5. Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren. A YA fantasy novel.
  6. Mount! by Jilly Cooper. A story set in the horse world in England.
  7. George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl. A woman’s story about her relationships with men.
  8. What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan. A psychological thriller.

Most of the novels I read during March were enjoyable and I find it hard to choose a favourite. Thrillers are always a good choice for me and yet I enjoy losing myself in a fantasy world created by the author. I would recommend Weave a Circle Round for any teen who enjoys fantasy fiction; and The Illegal is a novel one should try to read. For my favourite read, however, I would have to choose the one that I could not put down. What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan is a nail-biting story that I would suggest for any reader who enjoys a great read and is my favourite read for March.

What was your favourite read in March? Share your choice, or the link to your post, below.

Favourite Read of the Month:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

Book Review: What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan was one of the books I had picked up during a library visit. I had read one of her more recent novels and loved it. When I read the blurb to this one on the inside sleeve, I could not resist it.

The story centres on a boy, Ben, who goes missing when walking with his mom on a Sunday afternoon in the woods. He asks his mom if he can run ahead to the swing and she agrees. This is a decision that she learns to regret. The following events are narrated by the mother, Rachel Jenner, and the police detective in charge of the investigation, Jim Clemo. Everyone is called into the station for questioning: Rachel’s newly married ex-husband, her mother-if-the-year sister, the people who came into contact with Ben at school. The media focuses their attention on Rachel and public opinion shifts from sympathy to suspicion.

Rachel desperately pieces together threadbare clues while learning not to trust others. She begins to question her previously held beliefs towards others and begins to see herself in a harsher light. During the novel, the reader sees her growing aware of herself, and developing as a person. The tragedy Rachel experiences as a result of her son’s abduction causes her to reflect on her past actions, and to realise that she is partly to blame in the breakdown of her relationships.

The story depicts an event I would not wish on any mother – the abduction of her child. Macmillan shares the story with sensitivity and with a narration that reaches the reader’s soul. It is too easy to imagine the heartbreak felt by the mom, and the desolation and frustration of the DI working the case. The story is interspersed with transcripts prepared by a psychologist, online newspaper articles, blog posts, and even emails. Garnering information in this way renders the story believable and one can imagine how a situation as described in this novel would take place.

I enjoyed reading Macmillan’s offering and found it hard to put the book down. (How I wished someone else could cook the family’s dinner!) The novel did not end as I expected and I put the book down with a sense of sadness, and a desire that such things did not happen in the world we live in. This intense story is well worth the time taken to read. I had to give this novel 5/5 stars on Goodreads.

Have you read any of Gilly Macmillan’s novels? 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 19th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl

I picked up George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl at the library and, when I sat down to read it, realised I had confused this story with another. I decided to read it anyway as it sounded interesting although it was not normally my subject choice.

The novel is about Lizzie’s relationship with George, the man she eventually married. Lizzie marries George, and yet she keeps thinking about a boyfriend who had broken her heart in her first year of college. She continuously looks back to the past – an action which is mirrored in the novel as we read about the ‘Great Game’ she participated in during her senior year at high school (having sex with members of the football team). The reader gets the sense that not only has she not moved on from her relationship with Jack, but she has also not accepted her participation in her high school goal.

While reading the novel, I did feel a little sorry for the main character. After all, she had parents who showed no interest in her since the moment she was born; and who treated her as one of their lab rats (they were behavioural psychologists). There were many moments, though, when I wished she would move on – the never-ending references to the boys in the football team she had had sex with, and the continual search for Jack, do get a bit tedious. This is a woman who does not appreciate what she has – a marriage to someone who is stable, loyal, and who loves her.

The quotes on the cover page state the book ‘overflows with humor’, is ‘rich’ and ‘illuminating’. I disagree with these adjectives even though the book is well written. I would not recommend reading George and Lizzie. There are so many books out there that would bring much more enjoyment to a reader.

Do you pay attention to the quoted reviews on the cover when you choose a novel?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 18th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Mount! by Jilly Cooper

The first book I read by Jilly Cooper was Wicked! I loved it so much that I read all the other novels based on the characters found in this book. A couple of years ago I saw Cooper’s latest offering – Mount! – and could not resist buying it. I finally got around to reading it during March Break (I have made a decisive decision to read all the books I have bought instead of heading over to the library!).

It was fun meeting Rupert Campbell-Black again – though I did not get to read too much about his story. In the story he is obsessed with getting his horse, Love Rat, proclaimed the champion stallion and is determined to trounce Roberto’s Revenge, the stallion owned by his detested rival Cosmo Rannaldini. This desire requires him to leave his beloved wife Taggie at Penscombe to race his stallion. While he is away from home, his assistant – Gav – holds the fort while Gala, a grieving Zimbabwean widow, helps with the care of his wayward father. Gala later switches to working in the yard and her carer’s job is taken over by a devilishly handsome South African man who claims to be gay. In the interim, sinister acts begin to take place at Penscombe.

Mount! was a fun novel and I really enjoyed reading about characters I fondly remember. It has been a while since I last read the books in this series, so I could not enjoy the references in the novel to past stories as much as I would have liked to. As I read on, however, a lot of what had happened in past books came back to me. I enjoyed the story and would like one day to reread the others – if I am able to get hold of the copies (I previously borrowed the novels from the library).

Do you enjoy reading stories featuring horses?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 17th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Weave A Circle Round by Kari Maaren

I had neglected my TBR pile that I received from the OLA super conference in January so decided to pick up one of the YA novels that I had received. Kari Maaren was one of the first authors I met at the conference and I enjoyed speaking to her for a few minutes before I moved on so that the next person in line could receive her signed copy.

Weave a Circle Round is a debut fantasy adventure novel. The main character is Freddy, and she doesn’t want people to think that she is weird. Her family makes that difficult though: her deaf stepbrother is a geek, and her genius little sister is training to be the next Sherlock Holmes. All Freddy wants to do is survive high school without being noticed.

Freddy’s life changes when two odd neighbours move in next door. Cuerva Lachance and Josiah are definitely not normal. Neither is their house, which defies the law of physics. The presence of Josiah turns Freddy’s carefully crafted life upside down. Especially when she finds herself on an adventure thousands of years in the past with her very weird neighbours.

While on her adventures, Freddy comes to some realisations about her life, the way she is living it, and the choices that she makes. In the story, the characters Cuerva Lachance and Josiah represent this choice:

“If Josiah represented order, Cuerva Lachance had to represent chaos. That was the choice, then:order or chaos. Stability or change, predictability or mystery, the possible or the impossible. Pick one, and the world got a tiny bit more predictable; pick the other, and the world got a tiny bit less.” (p185, TOR – Macmillan Publishing Group, 2017)

As Freddy comes to realisations like these, we see a change in her character. Even though the reader is asked to suspend belief in the physical world and accept that travelling backwards in time does exist, we believe in the development of the main character. The emotional changes that Freddy experiences, her realisations and growth are reflected in what we see in developing teenagers in today’s world.

I enjoyed reading this well-written tale (after all, I enjoy reading fantasy novels). As I was reading it, I knew that my teenage daughter would enjoy it too. The characters would captivate her, and the adventure they experience enthrall her. I have set aside this novel for her to read once the school year is over. This novel is well worth the read if you enjoy reading YA fantasy fiction. It would make a perfect read for young teens as well – both boys and girls.

Do you enjoy reading stories in which the characters time travel?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 16th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

I was still in the mood for a fast-paced novel when I picked up The Reversal by Michael Connelly. This was to be the second novel of his that I had chosen to read and I looked forward to a little fast-paced action.

This novel centres on two characters: Mickey Haller (a defense attorney) and his half-brother Harry Bosch (a LAPD detective). In this story, Haller takes on a one time case for the prosecution and requests Bosch as his lead detective. The case? To prosecute the child killer, Jason Jessup, who has been granted a retrial based on new DNA evidence. While searching a twenty year old trail for eye witnesses, Haller works on working a case that the defense attorney has already begun to try in the media.

During the novel, I kept hoping that the killer would not get away with murdering a little girl – and yet it seemed that Bosch could not find the evidence to keep him locked up. I found myself reading the words quickly, especially when Bosch began to realise that Jessup may be a repeat offender.

“Bosch felt an urgency take hold inside. An urgency that came with a growing certainty that they weren’t dealing with an isolated instance of murder. If Walling’s theory was correct, and he had no reason to doubt it, Jessup was a repeater. And though he had been on ice for twenty-four years, he was now roaming the city freely. It would not be long now before he became vulnerable to the pressures and urges that had driven him to deadly action before.” (p162, Grand Central Publishing, 2010)

I enjoyed this page-turning thriller and found myself thinking of the story during my workday. If I were a nail biter, I would have definitely found myself with my fingers in my mouth due to the tension! If you enjoy crime stories and lawyer-type novels, you will enjoy this one. This is an action-packed read that does not disappoint.

Have you read any of the Lincoln Lawyer novels?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 15th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: The Guilty by David Baldacci

Ever since I read David Baldacci for the first time I have been a fan so when I saw his novel titled Guilty, I could not resist. This novel returns to a favourite character, Will Robie, the government’s most professional and lethal assassin. On his latest mission, he is unable to pull the trigger and fails in his assignment. To recover, he is given leave during which he goes back to his past and the town where he grew up. His father, whom he has not seen for twenty years, has been arrested and charged with murder. While trying to prove his father’s innocence, Robie goes back to his past and works towards a chance of healing himself.

As always, Baldacci’s novel is a page turner. This well written novel encourages the reader to keep on reading. What I enjoyed in this novel was not only the fast-paced action, but also the times when the author surprised me with twists. This story is not predictable and the ending has a little surprise. I finished the novel wanting to read more about Will Robie. I definitely need to see whether another novel has been written about this character.

Do you enjoy reading fast-paced thrillers?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 14th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: The Good Sister by Chelsea Bolan

The novel, The Good Sister, was given to my daughters when the artist who designed the cover heard what good sisters they were to one another. My girls do not have the time at the moment to immerse themselves in a story as they are busy with the work senior high entails so I decided to pick it up as I liked the cover art and the title intrigued me.

The story is told mostly from the viewpoint of Lucy, though we often read about the experiences of the other characters in the story. For reasons that are eventually revealed during the story, Lucy’s sister is no longer at home. Lucy eventually goes out to find her sister, Gabriela, in Mexico City’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. As the story progresses, the part played in Gabi’s fate by her father, brothers, and brother-in-law is revealed.

I was interested to learn the fate of Gabriela, and to see how her sister fared while searching for her sibling. I began the story with eagerness and yet found it difficult to ignore that the sprinkling of Spanish words throughout the text impeded the flow of the story for me. I understand that the author wanted the reader to experience an authentic Mexican environment, but the unknown words did hamper my enjoyment of the novel. I continued reading as I was curious to find out what happened to Gabriella – an event that is hinted at throughout the novel and eventually stated in Gabriella’s voice at the end of the novel.

I enjoyed this novel for the description of the relationship between two sisters and how a life-changing event can eventually bring them closer to one another. I noticed as well that throughout the novel that hints are made about the role that the woman is expected to play in a relationship between a man and a woman, and the role of the woman in a marriage. No commentary is made on this theme, however, and instead is described as what can be seen to exist in the relationship between a man and a woman in the Mexican culture.

Since the departure of her sister, Lucy comes to some realisations about herself and the people around her. Early on in the novel, the start of her growth is seen when she picks up the camera for the first time:

“I held the camera to my eye. I adjusted the lens, putting them all in focus, then out of focus again, Seeing Papa in a smear, his features blotted. And Isabel blending into him in a blur of colour. I kept it out of focus like that for a while. When I turned the lens, suddenly everything was clear, precise. The glasses glistening above the bar like a chandelier. The lines in Papa’s face, Paul’s eyes taking on a tinge of sadness, Isabel with a secret in her smile. There was something in all of them I hadn’t seen before.” (p 57-58, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd, 2016)

Lucy is therefore a character that grows and develops during the story – she is more mature at the end of the story than she was at the beginning.

Even though I found this novel slow to get into, and had difficulty with the smattering of Spanish, I did find it a pleasant read once I had read a 100 pages into the story.

I gave the novel 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Do words and phrases in a language you do not know hamper your enjoyment of a novel?

(This novel was the 13th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)