Book Review: Mourning Has Broken by Erin Davis

My colleague picked up Mourning Has Broken by Erin Davis at the OLA Super Conference. She felt it would be an interesting read because she had listened to the radio broadcaster and therefore knew a little of the author’s story. I accepted the book as I have enjoyed memoirs in the past and thought reading about how a person overcame grief would be inspirational.

Genre: Memoir

Blurb:

On the morning of May 11, 2015, Erin Davis, one of Canada’s most beloved radio personalities, suffered a devastating blow when her daughter Lauren, who had marked a joyous Mother’s Day with her husband and young son only hours before, failed to awaken to her baby’s cries.

Thus began Erin’s journey of grieving out loud with her family, friends and listeners, and of demonstrating by example how to pick up and keep going after suffering the worst loss a parent can endure.

For months after Lauren’s heart stopped beating, the reason for which the coroner said might never be known, Erin would awaken from a restless night’s sleep and look at the clock wondering, Is this the time she died? How could a mother sleep through the night when a part of herself had been torn from this life? How did my heart not stop too? she wondered.

My thoughts:

I opened the book with the expectation that I would be reading a personal experience of a person overcoming grief. I was disappointed when I realised that the story was written as a journalist would write it. Even though the memoir was written in the first person, the author does not dig deep and expose raw emotions. It is as if a barrier has been placed between the reader and the writer’s inward emotions. Davis tells us about the facts and outlines a sequence of events but hesitates to let us in and experience the raw grief that she had.

The writing in this memoir is definitely a case of tell and not show. Davis describes to the reader, in detail, her thought processes and what she was thinking as she experienced her grief over the loss of her daughter. At times the writing is a bit repetitive and tedious. In addition, the timeline in the book jumps around a bit and I found myself having to piece together the progression of grief and its lessening over the two years described in the book.

There were moments when I felt that the writing in the memoir was more emotional and in depth. The pages in which Davis writes about her alcohol dependence (before her daughter’s death) made more of a connection with me than the rest. If she had opened up about her grief in this way, I would certainly have enjoyed this memoir more.

Even though I have experienced grief, I have not lost a child and, while reading Davis’ words, I did not experience a sense of what it would be like. For readers who have lost their children to death, the memoir may be more appealing as they could compare their experience to the writer’s. Those who know of Erin Davis as a radio personality, may enjoy this book as well because it gives the reader a snippet of her life. For me, however, the memoir fell flat.

I give this novel ⭐️ 1 star.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 43rd in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: The Favourite Daughter by Kaira Rouda

Harper Collins Canada sent me an ARC copy of The Favourite Daughter by Kaira Rouda to read and review. The bookmail was timely as I was in the mood for a thriller.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Jane Harris lives in a sparkling home in an oceanfront gated community in Orange County. It’s a place that seems too beautiful to be touched by sadness. But exactly one year ago, Jane’s eldest daughter, Mary, died in a tragic accident, and Jane has been grief-stricken ever since. Lost in a haze of antidepressants, she’s barely even left the house…until now.

As Jane reemerges into the world, it’s clear she’s missed a lot in the last year. Her husband has been working long days – and nights – at the office. Her daughter Betsy seems distant, even secretive. And Jane receives a note warning her that Mary’s death wasn’t an accident. What really happened on the day that Mary died? And who is lying to whom in this family?

The bonds between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives should never be broken. But you never know how far someone will go to keep a family together…

My thoughts:

The story is told from the point of view of Jane Harris, a grieving mother and wife. When I began reading the novel, I definitely felt empathy for her – she had lost a daughter and it was evident that her marriage was failing. The story began like so many contemporary novels and I thought, for a moment, that the book had incorrectly been labelled ‘mystery’.

As I read on, however, I realised that not all was as it seemed. The writer adroitly reveals the true nature of Jane’s personalty as we read her thoughts. It is interesting to feel the turnabout towards a character – the Jane you think you know at the beginning of the novel is not the same woman you get to know while turning the pages.

The chapters begin with the countdown of a timeline which adds to the tension in the book and to the reader’s knowledge that an important day is approaching. I found myself thinking of what may happen on that day – Rouda brought me to a point that predictions were made; a point when I believed I knew how the novel would end. And then the unexpected happened. I loved the twist as it turned around my expectations. And then the novel ended with yet another twist!

The Favourite Daughter was an enjoyable read and is more a psychological thriller than a mere mystery. I enjoyed the twists and the unexpected ending – and seeing into the mind of a woman who feels the need to control her family.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 42nd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavours by Dev Sonali

As you may know, my prefered all-time classic is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen so when I saw that another retelling of my favourite had been written, I had to read the story. Harper Collins Canada graciously sent me a copy of the ARC Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavours by Dev Sonali.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Retellings

Blurb:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:

·       Never trust an outsider

·       Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations

·       And never, ever, defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…

A family trying to build home in a new land.

A man who has never felt at home anywhere.

And a choice to be made between the two.

My thoughts:

I loved this story right from the start. And when I read the line “It is a universally acknowledged truth …” amongst its pages, I could not help but grin.

As in Austen’s novel, the thread running through the story is the exploration of both pride and of prejudice. Both of the main characters, Trisha and DJ, feel pride in what they do and exhibit prejudice towards one another. Trisha reminds me of the haughty Elizabeth Bennet who is quick to judge but slowly comes to realise the truth of others and the rashness of her assumptions. Just like Elizabeth, Dr Trishe Raje is proud: proud of her work, proud of who her family is, proud of what she has thus far achieved in her life. In spite of her pride, Trisha is a character I could relate to as Dev describes the less perfect side of her personality.

Everyone loves the character Darcy; and everyone will love chef DJ Caine who is the Darcy character in Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavours. Unlike in the original Austen story, Dj does not come from an elite background (Dev flipped the social status of the main characters in her novel). His experience, however, has made him a mature person who is still quick to prejudge. While reading the novel, I found myself rooting for him. I wanted him to be successful in spite of all the difficulties he had experienced, and was currently experiencing. Knowing the end of the story (it is a retelling after all), did not prevent me from wishing the best for the Darcy-like character.

One of the best things about this retelling is that it is a story that can be added to my collection of novels featuring characters of a diverse background. The bonus? Chef DJ Caine is of mixed race. I do admit to having a fondness for stories featuring characters in this group as my own children are of mixed race. It is a treat to read stories featuring a mix of race and culture as it shows to readers that being of mixed race is acceptable (or at least, that it should be). In addition to featuring the mixed race, the novel features the experience of some of the people in this group – even the negative. The novel is not one that skims over a happy surface, but also highlights a few uncomfortable experience.

Sonali Dev has written a wonderful retelling of a beloved well-known classic and has done it with humour and expertise. Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavours is a lighthearted romantic comedy that leaves you with a feel-good feeling.

I give this novel an unreserved ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 41st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Family Trust by Kathy Wang

I popped into the library and was surprised – and very pleased – when I saw a new release on the shelves that I wanted to read. I had read good things about Family Trust by Kathy Wang and it being compared to Crazy Rich Asians enticed me even more.

Genre: Contemprorary Fiction

Blurb:

Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For years, Stanley has claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. But the time is now coming when the details of his estate will finally be revealed, and Stanley’s family is nervous.

For his son Fred, the inheritance Stanley has long alluded to would soothe the pain caused by years of professional disappointment. By now, the Harvard Business School graduate had expected to be a financial tech god – not a minor investor at a middling corporate firm, where he isn’t even allowed to fly business class.

Stanley’s daughter, Kate, is a middle manager with one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious tech companies. She manages the capricious demands of her world-famous boss and the needs of her two young children all while supporting her would-be entrepreneur husband (just until his startup gets off the ground, which will surely be soon). But lately, Kate has been sensing something amiss; just because you say you have it all, it doesn’t mean that you actually do. 

Stanley’s second wife, Mary Zhu, twenty-eight years his junior, has devoted herself to making her husband comfortable in every way—rubbing his feet, cooking his favorite dishes, massaging his ego. But lately, her commitment has waned; caring for a dying old man is far more difficult than she expected.

Linda Liang, Stanley’s first wife, knows her ex better than anyone. She worked hard for decades to ensure their financial security, and is determined to see her children get their due. Single for nearly a decade, she might finally be ready for some romantic companionship. But where does a seventy-two year old Chinese woman in California go to find an appropriate boyfriend?

As Stanley’s death approaches, the Huangs are faced with unexpected challenges that upend them and eventually lead them to discover what they most value. A compelling tale of cultural expectations, career ambitions and our relationships with the people who know us best, Family Trust skewers the ambition and desires that drive Silicon Valley and draws a sharply loving portrait of modern American family life. 

My thoughts:

I began Family Trust with high hopes but was quickly bored with it. I found myself skimming the text and rushing over repetitive descriptions of people concerned only with money. The son wants his inheritance, the current wife wants to make sure she receive money on her husband’s death, the ex-wife stirs the pot, and the daughter seems to have no interest – though she is in need of the money. The entire storyline seemed cliché to me and the only reason I continued reading was because I was interested in the daughter’s story and was curious to see whether she would stand up to her husband.

The aspect I enjoyed the least about Wang’s story is the obvious portrait of a Chinese stereotype. I see my children raging against stereotypes in their lives and yet here, in this modern story, the pages are rife with it. Because of the stereotypes, the characters in the story are one dimensional and do not seem to grow in any significant way. In addition, the experiences described of all the characters in the story were, to me, predictable and hackneyed.

Comparing Family Trust to Crazy Rich Asians is deceiving. Whereas Crazy Rich Asians is full of humour and makes fun of the Asian stereotype, Family Trust falls flat and does not live up to expectations. Wang’s story was disappointing – doubly so because she is Asian herself. Her novel may have been written as a satire but I did not sense this while reading it.

I give this novel a disappointed ⭐️ 1 star.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 40th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: FreeFall by Jessica Barry

I popped into the library and was surprised – and very pleased – when I saw a new release on the shelves that I wanted to read.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Blurb:

A propulsive debut novel with the intensity of Luckiest Girl Alive and Before the Fall, about a young woman determined to survive and a mother determined to find her.

When your life is a lie, the truth can kill you

When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. For years, Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home.

In the small community of Owl Creek, Maine, Maggie Carpenter learns that her only child is presumed dead. But authorities have not recovered her body—giving Maggie a shred of hope. She, too, harbors a shameful secret: she hasn’t communicated with her daughter in two years, since a family tragedy drove Allison away. Maggie doesn’t know anything about her daughter’s life now—not even that she was engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, or why she was on a private plane.

As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers. Immersing herself in Allison’s life, she discovers a sleek socialite hiding dark secrets. What was Allison running from—and can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a riveting debut novel about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and those they love.

My thoughts:

Freefall was an enjoyable thriller written from the point of view of the woman running for her life, and from the POV of her mother. Slowly I pieced together the events that had led up to Allison running for her life – even though she had just survived a plane crash. The author cleverly withholds information and gives it to the reader, bit by bit, thus creating tension and the desire to read the pages quickly. I did eventually guess from whom Allison was running – but only when I was near the end of the novel.

There were moments in my reading of the story that I got annoyed with Allison – her pride and refusal to forgive her mother leads her to some pretty hairy experiences. I would hope that my own children would never let their pride get in the way of asking for help. I felt more empathy for the mom’s story as she slowly discovers what her daughter’s life had become. The reason for this is probably because I am a mom who is always willing to help her children succeed.

The experience of both Allison and Maggie are brought together neatly by Barry at the end of the novel. I liked the ending – even though it is a little predictable once you solve the mystery of who is after Allison. Freefall is a well-written novel written by a debut author that encourages the reader to keep turning the pages to find out how it ends. It is a perfect weekend read.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 39th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

I popped into the library and was surprised – and very pleased – when I saw a new release on the shelves that I wanted to read. Not only did the cover of The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick appeal to me, but also the blurb on the book jacket.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery

Blurb:

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending. 

My thoughts:

I loved this book so much – so much more than I thought I would. Martha is a woman who has given up her life and dreams to look after aging parents and who, once they have passed, dedicates her life to helping others. However, her help is not appreciated and is instead abused. While reading of her struggles, I empathised with her and felt sadness at what her life had become.

Martha’s life slowly changes as she determines to find out what had happened to her grandmother. On her journey, the reader sees her gathering self confidence and the assurance that what she is doing is right for her. Her determination sets the tone of the novel and slowly the sense of sadness dissipates and is replaced with one of hope. The journey started with a book leads to the main character finding out more about herself and as well as her grandmother.

Recently I have read a number of young adult novels which centre on a young person finding their own voice. Patrick has written an #ownvoices novel too – but the person finding herself is middle aged. I loved reading about an older woman who had yet to find herself and who had yet to garner the courage to speak up for herself. I loved reading that older people too need the opportunity to build self esteem and self confidence.

I finished The Library of Lost and Found with a sense of satisfaction. The story ends on a positive note and with a sense of hope, even though events tinge the story with sadness. This novel is one I would recommend for those readers who enjoy stories with a sense of reality as well as hope.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 38th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

When I had the opportunity to attend a Harper Presents event at the Harper Collins Canada publishing houses, I received an Advanced Reading Edition of debut author Karen Hamilton’s The Perfect Girlfriend. As I enjoy reading psychological thrillers, I looked forward to reading this recommendation.

Release Date: 31 December 2018

Genre: Thriller, Psychological Thriller

Blurb: 

Juliette loves Nate. She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him.

They are meant to be.

The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back. She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

My thoughts: 

After reading the last sentence of the novel, I could only say ‘Wow!’ This page turner is scarily good and keeps the reader invested in the story right until the last page. Juliette encapsulates everything one would expect of a stalker and of a person determined to get what she wants. I could not believe the lengths she would go to to get what she wants. One of the things I loved about this book was the unexpected turns the novel takes. If this were a movie, I would be biting my nails!

I raced through this addictive read in a day – I just could not put it down! The main character is terrifying, and I would not want to meet her at my workplace or even in a social environment. Hamilton has impressed me with her debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her work.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 86th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Ahab’s Return by Jeffrey Ford

I was offered Ahab’s Return: or The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford to read and review by Harper Collins Canada. The book intrigued me as it is written as an offshoot of the well-known classic Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Blurb: 

A bold and intriguing fabulist novel that re-imagines two of the most legendary characters in American literature—Captain Ahab and Ishmael of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. 

At the end of a long journey, Captain Ahab returns to the mainland to confront the true author of the novel Moby-Dick, his former shipmate, Ishmael. For Ahab was not pulled into the ocean’s depths by a harpoon line, and the greatly exaggerated rumors of his untimely death have caused him grievous harm—after hearing about Ahab’s demise, his wife and child left Nantucket for New York, and now Ahab is on a desperate quest to find them.

Ahab’s pursuit leads him to The Gorgon’s Mirror, the sensationalist tabloid newspaper that employed Ishmael as a copy editor while he wrote the harrowing story of the ill-fated Pequod. In the penny press’s office, Ahab meets George Harrow, who makes a deal with the captain: the newspaperman will help Ahab navigate the city in exchange for the exclusive story of his salvation from the mouth of the great white whale. But their investigation—like Ahab’s own story—will take unexpected, dangerous, and ultimately tragic turns.

Told with wisdom, suspense, a modicum of dry humor and horror, and a vigorous stretching of the truth, Ahab’s Return charts an inventive and intriguing voyage involving one of the most memorable characters in classic literature, and pays homage to one of the greatest novels ever written.

My thoughts: 

Ahab’s Return has not been written in the vein of the modern novel. Instead it reflects the style and manner of storytelling that was fashionable when Moby Dick was written. The references to a  manticore During the story require the reader to suspend reality and accept that this mythical creature is part of the characters’ experience. As I was reading the story, the exaggerations and exploits of some of the characters in the novel reminded me of the prose I have read in some classical English literature.

Some of the references to a manticore are linked to the creation of a story by an author and the metaphor encouraged me to think of the time when I read the literature at university that explored more than one meaning within a tale. Not only is Ford telling us a story, but he is also subtly offering an opinion on how the story being written inspires the author’s creativity.

Ahab’s Return is a literary novel that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not a novel that can be read in a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Instead, it is a story that would be appreciated by those readers who enjoy the classics and who enjoy stories that have a deeper meaning to them. I enjoyed this novel for that reason. Not all readers would enjoy the tale but, as a person who enjoyed Moby Dick, I found it interesting to follow the suggested story of Ahab and Ishmael.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 84th 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: 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)