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: Nocturna by Maya Motayne

I love reading Fantasy novels and was extremely pleased when I received Nocturna by Maya Motayne in my swag bag at the last Frenzy Presents event that I attended. I opened the ARC that I received in anticipation of a good story.

Publication Date: May 2, 2019

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts. 

My thoughts:

As you know, I enjoy reading Fantasy fiction – and this tale did not disappoint. The magic described in the novel was not over the top, and the characters were realistic. The social strata described in the novel are as one sees in our modern world today: the wealthy and the ones in charge, the ones with enough money, the ones who wield power through force, and the poor. The two main characters come from the opposite end of society: the Prince born into wealth and power, and the Thief born into poverty and hardship.

What I enjoyed most about Nocturna were the two main characters: Alfie and Finn. Their banter made me smile, and I could not help but like the way they slowly lowered their guard with one another. Both characters grow during the novel and come to know more about themselves. Not only are they on an adventure to save the world as they know it, but they are also on a journey to learn about how they can defeat a strong magical power in but they are also on a journey to discover the strength they have within themselves.

Motayne wrote this book to share a story featuring diverse characters who are Latinx. Noturna is a wonderful addition not only to fantasy fiction, but also to books featuring a different race/culture group. If you love the world of magic, a story filled with adventure, and a tale that features young people growing into their own sense of self, then you will enjoy this novel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 37th in my book pledge for 2019)

Favourite Read of the Month: April 2019

It was not surprising to me that I was able to read 10 books during the month of April as the Easter weekend gave me two extra days in which to stay in and immerse myself in stories. As well as a poetry collection, I read some contemporary romance, an historical novel, one young adult story, and a number of thrillers. Of the ten books I picked up, I was disappointed with only one.

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

  1. Joy Fielding All The Wrong Places – Thriller 4 stars
  2. Sonya Lalli The Matchmaker’s List – Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction 4 stars
  3. Falguni Kothari The Object of Your Affections
    Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction – 3 stars
  4. Michael Thomas Ford Love and Other Curses – Young Adult Contemporary – 4 stars
  5. Amy Stuart Still Mine – Thriller – 3 stars
  6. Stacey Halls The Familiars – Historical Fiction – 3 stars
  7. Minnie Darke Star-Crossed – Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction – 4 stars
  8. Jude Devereux A Willing Murder – Cozy Mystery – 5 stars
  9. Karen Cleveland Keep You Close – Thriller – 4 stars
  10. Julie McIsaac We Like Feelings. We Are Serious. – Poetry – 2 stars

I read so many wonderful stories in April but there are two that really stick out in my mind: Jude Devereux’s cozy mystery and Minnie Darke’s debut novel. As much as I loved Star-Crossed, the first in the Medlar series gave me much joy. A Willing Murder, therefore, is my favourite Read of the Month.

I hope you read as many wonderful stories as I did in April. What was your favourite read? Share your choice, or the link to your post, below.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

Book of the Month: January 2019

Book of the Month: February 2019

Book of the Month: March 2019

Book Review: We Like Feelings. We Are Serious. by Julie McIsaac

April was Poetry Month and I was lucky enough to win a giveaway organised by Wolsak & Wynn Publishers. I chose the collection written by Julie McIsaac We Like Feelings. We Are Serious. as the blurb sounded interesting and the comments on the cover of the book were positive.

Genre: Poetry

Blurb:

In a powerful combination of prose poems, graphica, lyric poems and lyric essays, Julie McIsaac’s new book is at once fiercely political, intimate and hilarious. We Like Feelings. We Are Serious. is an exploded view of contemporary feminism, sex, loss, beauty myths, self-doubt, psychology, menstruation, resistance, family and love. Intellectually dazzling, emotionally lavish and allergic to bullshit, this is a book that is timely, refreshing and wholly original.

My thoughts:

This collection is divided into the different eras of feminism: from post-activism to the current experience. Mostly the voice of the writing is that of a woman – a rebelling woman, a young woman, a woman who finds herself in a marriage. The few times a man’s voice is used, it is to highlight the way in which women are often viewed.

There were a few poems that I enjoyed in the collection. They spoke to my experience and I understood them. I got the references to women’s lives and the symbols the poet had used. However, there were many more pieces that I did not understand, or see what she was referring to. The words made no sense to me no matter how many times I read them. McIsaac’s writing will not reach everybody as not all readers will grasp what it is she is saying. I do feel that this is an unfortunate downfall of the collection.

I was a little disappointed when I opened the book to see that not all pieces are poetry. Many pieces are prose – and a couple are written as a screenplay. Some of the graphics make an interesting addition to the collection. However, the repetition of one particular graphic did annoy me and was, I believe, a little overdone.

Even though I enjoyed reading some of the pieces in We Like Feelings. We Are Serious. the pieces I did not understand or get the references to ruined my overall impression of the book.

I give this poetry collection ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 36th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Keep You Close by Karen Cleveland

I was in the mood for a thriller so I picked up an ARC that I had been sent to review by Penguin Random House Canada: Keep You Close by Karen Cleveland

Publication Date: May 28, 2019

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Blurb:

Stephanie Maddox makes tough decisions every day. She has her hands full heading the FBI’s Internal Investigations division, policing wrongdoers within the Bureau. But, as a single mother, the most important thing in her life is her teenage son Zachary, who’s anxiously awaiting college acceptance letters. So when she discovers a gun concealed in Zach’s room, her world reels. And then an FBI agent on the domestic terrorism squad shows up at her door and utters three devastating words: “It’s about Zachary. . . .”

Has she been wrong about her near-perfect son? Is Zach embroiled in something criminal–something deadly? And, if so, what is her greater duty: To protect him? Or to protect her country?

My thoughts:

This novel kept my mind racing and my fingers itching to turn the pages! The story switches between the past and the present but in a way that keeps the reader engaged. Each sliver of the past leads to a better understanding of the present. Stephanie Maddox is faced with the knowledge that mother’s are often faced with – that you would do anything to protect your child. In her case, though, she has also sworn to protect her country.

There are moments during the novel when I felt that everything would be okay, and that Stephanie would make a certain choice. And yet, life is not always so clear-cut. Often we are faced with decisions that we think we would never need to make. Cleveland adroitly leads her protagonist to the moment when she has to make the choice between her son and her country. To know the choice, you will have to read the novel. There were some unexpected moments in the story which led me to second guess the progression of events – but these moments made the tale more enjoyable because they surprised me.

The novel ended with a twist – which I loved. Keep You Close is a fast-paced story that will keep you hanging onto every page. I highly recommend it for those readers who enjoy a good mystery.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 35th in my book pledge for 2019)