Book Review: Expectation by Anna Hope

My contact at Harper Collins Canada sent me an ARC of Expectation by Anna Hope to read and review. The story looked like one that encompassed the life of so many women.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary

Blurb:

Hannah, Cate and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable. Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry – and the promise of everything to come. They are electric. They are the best of friends.

Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be. Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each hungers for what the others have. And each wrestles with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?

My thoughts:

Anna Hope has written a novel based on women’s lives and their friendships. The story is told in the voices of three people: Hannah, Cate and Lissa. It is interesting to see the different viewpoints that the three women have to the same scenario. As a reader it makes you realise that often we aren’t aware of what a person is thinking and feeling – despite how well we know them.

Expectation is a realistic exploration of three women’s lives: we learn what they expected to achieve once they had left their family home; and what they actually were able to do with their lives. We read of their pain, their struggles, and the choices they make. The novel has references to the experience of many women and will thus resonate with many of its readers.

The novel was an enjoyable read but it did not excite me. This is not a story that will have you turning pages in anticipation and is instead one to be enjoyed slowly. To me, it was a little predictable and thus made it a story easy to set aside to work on other tasks.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 30th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams is a novel I picked up because of the reviews I had read in Instagram by the bookish community. Staying at home due to social distancing was starting to feel difficult for me, so I picked up this title to give me some cheer.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance, Romantic Comedy

Blurb:

The first rule of book club: You don’t talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

My thoughts:

This book was just what I needed to take my mind off the need to practice social distancing and the spread of the Coronavirus. The story was lighthearted but with a thread of seriousness running through it. I could not help but read this story in one sitting – I loved the characters so much.

The Bromance Book Club is told in a 2 person point of view: that of Gavin (the husband) and Thea (the wife). In this way, both sides are told of the problems they are experiencing in their marriage. In addition to the 2 person POV, the author has included excerpts from the novel that the Book Club is reading. It is a fun way to contrast reality vs a story, as well as past practices in romantic relationships with the present. It is interesting to see how Gavin applies the story he is reading with his friends to his own marriage.

The book doesn’t promise you to be more than what it is – a romance story that is geared to take you away from the reality of your life with some steamy sex scenes. What it does do, however, is bring a little humour in your day and encourage you to reach for the next book in the series. If you are looking for a contemporary romance read that will take you to another reality, then this is the novel for you.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 29th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

I picked up the ARC to The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi at the OLA Super Conference. What draw me to the novel was the appealing cover and when I read the blurb, I saw it was an historical novel set in India that described a woman’s journey to independence. As I enjoy stories describing a woman’s journey to independence, I brought it home with me.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Blurb:

Lakshmi Shastri has spent years carving out a life for herself as a henna artist after fleeing her abusive husband and backward rural village for the Rajasthan capital. Well-versed in apothecary and the miraculous properties of herbs, her services (the effects of which are far more than just aesthetic) are highly sought after by upper-caste women, and Lakshmi’s success brings her within inches from her, and her country’s, ultimate goal: total independence. That is, until the past she has so desperately tried to run from comes knocking at her door…

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this diverse read which shows a culture so different to mine. There were many unknown terms within the story but that was not a problem to my understanding of the setting because I was able to consult the glossary at the back of the novel. Soon I was able to read the story without needing to turn to the back of the book.

The story shows us the life and struggles of a woman living in India in the 1950s. One cannot help but admire her courage and spirit. Lakshmi has the strength and wit to pull herself out of poverty and an abusive relationship. The story shows how she does this – and how she copes with the sudden appearance of a sister she did not even know she had.

The Henna Artist is a story of a strong, independent woman who finally finds the place she belongs. It is a story that shines a light on the empowerment of women – and is also a reminder to the modern woman that those who came before us did not have it easy. Joshi adroitly describes to us the life of a woman struggling to be independent in the caste system in India with sensitivity and realism. I enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to anyone looking for a diverse read that embraces the history of Indian culture.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 28th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Taken By Storm by Tami Hoag

During the first week of social isolation, I needed something more than music to ease my mind while journaling. I came up with the idea of searching the catalogues of our library for an audiobook. My thought was that the focus required to listen to a story would help focus my mind and prevent it from skittering all over the place as I thought of the CoronaVirus. I requested the first available book I saw by an author I knew: Taken by Storm by Tami Hoag.

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Format: Audiobook (narrated by Donna Rawlins)

Blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Tami Hoag comes this bittersweet romance classic about a woman who’s rebuilt her life—and her heart—after the disappointments of the past, only to find her carefully laid plans shattered by a knock on the door.…

As a trauma nurse, Julia McCarver is accustomed to dealing with life-and-death emergencies. But she is the one in shock when she answers the door and finds the past standing there in the person of S. T. “Storm” Dalton. Julia had painstakingly put her life together not just once but three times in the wake of his abrupt and devastating departures, and she has no intention of doing it a fourth time. Because that’s what S.T. promises he will do—break her engagement to another man, her heart, and her future all over again. Except, of course, that’s not what he calls his plan to win her back. He gives himself two weeks to convince Julia that he’s changed, that she is still in love with him, and that—despite conventional wisdom—the fourth time lightning struck can be a charm.

My thoughts:

I did not know that Tami Hoag wrote romance as I have only read her thrillers. According to the author’s note at the beginning of the story, Hoag began her career writing romance. Taken by Storm does follow the traditional format of a romance, leaving the storyline to be a predictable one. However, many of the images used by the author were beautifully written and reminded me of why Hoag is one of my go-to novelists. In addition, the humour of the story elicited a few chuckles from me.

I enjoyed the audio version of this book especially because the reader did an excellent job. Her voice and pitch for the story was perfect. I loved, too, that she changed her voice for the various characters – even taking on a Latino accent for one of the characters. Donna Rawlins’ interpretation of the text added another level of pleasure to my enjoyment of this novel.

Taken by Storm was the perfect story to take my mind off of the COVID-19 pandemic that was encroaching our borders at that time. It is a lighthearted, humorous read that is perfectly narrated. I recommend that this novel be added to your list of books to listen to.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 27th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Holdout by Graham Moore

While browsing the ARCs set out by publishers at the OLA Super Conference, a friend of mine suggested that I pick up The Holdout by Graham Moore as she thought I would enjoy it.

Genre: Legal Thriller, Suspense

Blurb:

In this twisty tale from Moore, young juror Maya Seale is convinced that African American high school teacher Bobby Nock is innocent of killing the wealthy white female student with whom he appears to have been involved and persuades her fellow jurors likewise. Ten years later, a true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, and Maya, now a defense attorney, must prove her own innocence when one of them is found dead in Maya’s room. 

My thoughts:

It has been a while since I read a legal thriller and this novel was the perfect one to enjoy this genre once again. In addition to reading about the jury experience, the author encourages us to think about whether the jury system is a good way to serve justice. Moore suggests an answer, but he leaves it to the reader to decide.

The Holdout is a fast-paced novel that leaves you wanting to know the outcome. There is not a lot of action in it (as is usual with legal thrillers) but you continuously want to know the outcome of the mystery. Moore adroitly takes us through the ‘evidence’, encouraging us to make judgements much like a juror would.

If you are looking for a legal thriller that will hold your interest from the first page, The Holdout will not disappoint. I enjoyed my first foray into Moore’s work and will certainly keep my eye out for his name when browsing book stacks.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 26th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

I have enjoyed Kenneth Oppel’s middle grade novels in the past and was excited to receive a signed copy of his latest, Bloom, at the OLA Super Conference this year. The line was long and I spent a long time in it but the wait was worth it.

Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Science Fiction

Blurb:

They take over fields and twine around houses. They bloom and throw off toxic pollen—and feed.

Strangely, three Salt Spring Island teens seem immune. Anaya, Petra and Seth. What’s their connection? What’s their secret? A week ago, they wouldn’t have thought they had one.

But they’d better figure it out fast—the invasion has already begun.

My thoughts:

I loved this book so much that I read it in one sitting! The novel is fast-paced and filled with tension – I could not help but turn the pages. Bloom is an excellent choice to get children reading: it is filled with adventure and tension featuring middle grade children.

Children and adults are fighting for survival on the planet. We don’t read much about what the adults are doing – but the group of children featured in this story are doing plenty. They are getting to know one another – and to know their own strengths in a changing world. All three characters (Anaya, Petra and Seth) are good role models and show children that they could contribute in a situation no matter what their strengths and social status.

Oppel has done it again! He has created a story that will engage readers with the written page. Bloom is the first book in a trilogy and I cannot wait to read the next installment.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 25th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

At the OLA Super Conference this year, I snatched up a copy of A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier when I saw it had been placed on the shelves. I have enjoyed her books in the past and could not wait to read her latest.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Blurb:

1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren’t expected to grow. Told in Chevalier’s glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

My thoughts:

A Single Thread is a beautifully written story that shines a realistic light on the life of a woman after the First World War. Chevalier pulls no punches in describing the experience of Violet and the obstacles she experienced. We read of her battles to be independent, and of the criticisms (spoken and unspoken) directed towards her.

In the novel we read of single women, unmarried women, and women who fall in love with other women. Chevalier describes a time that seems unusual to us as modern women who are used to being independent. While reading the novel, I could not help but be grateful to these women who were the forerunners of our way of life.

If you enjoy reading historical fiction, you will enjoy A Single Thread. Not only does the writer remind us of the fallout of WWI, but she also takes us into the world of the women who created kneelers with their fine embroidery; kneelers that are found in the Winchester Cathedral. The story embraces women’s camaraderie; the help and companionship that they give and receive from one another. Chevalier did not disappoint me with her latest novel and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 24th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Rules For Being A Girl by Candace Bushnell and Kate Cotugno

The title Rules Being A Girl enticed me and when Harper Collins Canada sent me the ARC for the recent novel by Candace Bushnell and Kate Cotugno, I was very pleased.

Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Feminism

Blurb:

It starts before you can even remember: you learn the rules for being a girl.

Marin has always been good at navigating these unspoken guidelines. A star student and editor of the school paper, she dreams of getting into Brown University. Marin’s future seems bright―and her young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. Beckett, is always quick to admire her writing and talk books with her.

But when “Bex” takes things too far and comes on to Marin, she’s shocked and horrified. Had she somehow led him on? Was it her fault?

When Marin works up the courage to tell the administration what happened, no one believes her. She’s forced to face Bex in class every day. Except now, he has an ax to grind.

But Marin isn’t about to back down. She uses the school newspaper to fight back and she starts a feminist book club at school. She finds allies in the most unexpected people, like “slutty” Gray Kendall, who she’d always dismissed as just another lacrosse bro. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and write her own rules. 

My thoughts:

I loved this novel right from the moment I read the first page. Rules For Being A Girl is such an important book for emerging women to read..

The story shows us the thought processes a teenage girl could go through when a male teacher makes sexual advances towards her. Marin felt in some way that the sexual advances were her fault and, because of this, she questions all of her actions from the past. It was interesting for me to compare the way Marin responds to her teacher’s advances to the way in which Vanessa in My Dark Vanessa responds to similar advances.

The novel centres on the way in which Marin processes her experience – and what she learns from it. From the responses to her teacher’s actions ( her own and others), Marin learns a lot about herself and about society. The far-reaching implications of the sexual advances are highlighted for both Marin and the teacher.

In the story, Marin learns more about herself and about the solidarity of women in society. She comes to realise that this solidarity can be shown in different ways. Rules For Being A Girl also highlights the need for women to support each other in small ways; and shows that feminism can be expressed in different ways.

Bushnell & Cotugno have written a novel that is a must-read for all teenage girls on the cusp of womanhood. It is a novel that will encourage them to think of the type of woman they want to be; as well as how they could respond to patriarchal assumptions and expectations.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 23rd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

While at the OLA Super Conference earlier this year, I stood in line to get a signed ARC of Jennifer Hillier’s novel Little Secrets. I smiled with glee when I was able to get a copy of her latest

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Blurb:

From the author of Jar of Hearts, a mother driven to the edge by the disappearance of her son learns her husband is having an affair with the woman who might have kidnapped him. Four hundred and eighty seconds. That’s how long it took for someone to steal Marin Machado’s four-year-old son.

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family. Up until the day Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. The only thing keeping her going is the unlikely chance that one day Sebastian reappears. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding him, she discovers that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman.

Kenzie Li is an artist and grad student—Instagram famous—and up to her eyeballs in debt. She knows Derek is married. She also knows he’s rich, and dating him comes with perks: help with bills, trips away, expensive gifts. He isn’t her first rich boyfriend, but she finds herself hoping he’ll be the last. She’s falling for him—and that was never part of the plan.

Discovery of the affair sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix. But as she sets a plan in motion, another revelation surfaces. Derek’s lover might know what happened to their son. And so might Derek.

My thoughts:

The novel deals with a scary topic – the abduction of your child. The abduction of my children was something I was always scared of when they were little and, as a result, would make sure I held their hand when in crowded places. But mistakes do happen and children do wander off with no sense of danger.

Little Secrets describes the mental state of the mom as she experiences depression after the abduction of her child. The book does have another trigger in that Marin (the main character) has continuous thoughts of suicide. When she learns that her husband is having an affair, she is pulled out of her lethargy and behaves in unexpected ways.

The pacing of the novel was a little slow in the beginning and it did not feel at all like I was reading a thriller. Halfway through the story, however, the pace did pick up which led to me turning the pages at a faster pace. The second half of the story also led to unexpected twists that I enjoyed.

The story does end with a sense of hope and an underlying truth that you need to forgive yourself for the actions you take to protect your family and loved ones. I would recommend this title for those who enjoy reading thrillers.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 22nd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

I enjoyed Josie Silver’s debut novel so much that when I saw an ARC of her latest, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, at the OLA Super Conference I brought it home without reading the blurb.

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb:

Lydia and Freddie. Freddie and Lydia. They’d been together for more than a decade, and Lydia thought their love was indestructible.

But she was wrong. On her twenty-eighth birthday, Freddie died in a car accident.

So now it’s just Lydia, and all she wants to do is hide indoors and sob until her eyes fall out. But Lydia knows that Freddie would want her to try to live fully, happily, even without him. So, enlisting the help of his best friend, Jonah, and her sister, Elle, she takes her first tentative steps into the world, open to life–and perhaps even love–again.

But then something inexplicable happens that gives her another chance at her old life with Freddie. A life where none of the tragic events of the past few months have happened.

Lydia is pulled again and again across the doorway of her past, living two lives, impossibly, at once. But there’s an emotional toll to returning to a world where Freddie, alive, still owns her heart. Because there’s someone in her new life, her real life, who wants her to stay.

Written with Josie Silver’s trademark warmth and wit, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is a powerful and thrilling love story about the what-ifs that arise at life’s crossroads, and what happens when one woman is given a miraculous chance to answer them. 

My thoughts:

This is a story that describes the stages of grief. We read how Lydia learns to cope with the loss of her love, Freddie and, to a lesser degree, we read of how Jonah, Freddie’s best friend, copes with the loss of a man who was like a brother to him. Even though The Two Lives of Lydia Bird is described as a romance, the novel focuses on dealing with how two people learn to cope without the person who has been the centre of their life.

Earlier on in her grieving process, Lydia uses the alternate reality she experiences through the use of sleeping pills to help her push through her days. As time passes, she slowly comes to certain realisations about herself and about her relationship with Freddy. I enjoyed reading about the events and experiences that led to her personal growth and to the increase of her inner strength. These experiences take place in their own time and the pace of them is realistically suggested.

Silver has written this novel with sensitivity, showing an understanding of the grief process. She suggests that it is okay to move at your own pace when grieving for the loss of a loved one. The author shows that life continues despite the loss of a loved one; and that there is hope in the lives of the people left behind. Silver’s writing pulls at at the reader’s heartstrings and gives one a sense of hope that the grief will cease to be all-consuming.

If you read One Day in December and enjoyed it, you will devour this second novel in a heartbeat. Silver did not disappoint me with this book, and I loved The Two Lives of Lydia as much as I did her debut.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 21st novel in my book pledge for 2020)