Book Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

I was intrigued by the synopsis of The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary and had read good things about it on social media. The school year was over and I needed some light reading to relax. A romantic comedy seemed to be the perfect solution.

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…
 

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. 

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

My thoughts:

Imagine sharing a bed with someone – and yet never seeing them! I loved this unique story that in no way felt forced. The friendship between the two flatmates evolves slowly as they get to know one another by notes and through their habits. The magic between the two characters happens even before they meet.

The Flatshare not only has a unique story line, but also characters that grow and evolve as the story progresses. Both Tiffy and Leon, the flatmates, need to come to some realisations about themselves and what they want to do with their lives before they can move forward in committing to a healthy relationship. While reading the story, I could definitely see a message from the writer: finish with your current relationship and work out why it is not working before moving forward into one that is more beneficial to you.

O”Leary has written a lighthearted and heartwarming read that will have you curious and smiling. The writing is fluid and the author has cleverly shown us the basics of getting to know a person. The Flatshare is a rom-com that I will surely read again in a few years when I am looking for an uplifting read that I can peruse in an afternoon.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 59th in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: The Yankee Widow by Linda Lael Miller

I received an ARC of The Yankee Widow by Linda Lael Miller from Harper Collins Canada. I was looking forward to reading the novel as I enjoy reading historical fiction. This particular novel attracted my attention as it is based on the period of the American Civil War, a time period that I do not know much about.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

A richly layered, emotional novel about one woman’s courage and the choices she must make in the face of a dangerous war.

Caroline is the young wife of Jacob, who together live on a farm raising their daughter just outside of Gettysburg. When Jacob joins the Northern army, no one anticipates he will not return. Then Caroline gets word that her husband is wounded, and she must find her way alone to Washington City and search among the thousands of casualties to find him.

When Jacob succumbs to his injuries, she brings his body home on the eve of the deadliest battle of the war. With troops and looters roaming the countryside, it is impossible to know who is friend and who is foe. Caroline fights to protect those she holds most dear while remaining compassionate to the neediest around her, including two strangers from opposite sides of the fight. Each is wounded… Each is drawn to her beauty, her kindness. Both offer comfort, but only one secretly captures her heart. Still, she must resist exposing her vulnerability in these uncertain times when so much is at risk.

In The Yankee Widow, gifted storyteller Linda Lael Miller explores the complexities and heartbreak that women experienced as their men took up arms to preserve the nation and defend their way of life. 

My thoughts:

Reading The Yankee Widow was interesting for me as I had not yet read a novel describing the viewpoint of a Yankee woman during the American Civil War. The strength the widow (Caroline) had to find within herself was described in the story as well as the many of the obstacles she encountered. Even though the reader is told of the difficulties she faces, we do not see inside her head and truly feel the emotion that she feels.

As with some historical novels, I was unsure of the history behind the story so I found myself looking up some facts on the skirmish in Gettysburg. Don’t you love it when you learn something when you read a novel? The descriptions of the fighting are not too graphic and Miller focuses on the experience of the characters in her novel. She adroitly links the soldiers she has focused on in the battles to the main female character in her story.

Other parts of the history are referred to in the story: slaves who have been freed, slaves who have run away, slaves who have been abused by their owners on Southern plantations. Miller refers to these facts while spinning her tale; but does not dwell on them. I craved for more of this part of history in the story but realised that it was not the focus of the novel.

Instead the story centres on the life of a young widow who works on surviving the war. There were times when I wanted Miller to focus more on the hardship and the struggles Caroline would have experienced – the author seems to have glossed over what would have been difficult time period for a woman living on her own away on a farm far from the town. Having said that, the struggles described are authentic and believable to the reader.

The character, Caroline, finds within herself a strength she did not know she had. She travels, unchaperoned, to find her husband in the city. And, once back home, learns to figure out what needs to be done to save the family farm. She is a woman who realises what type of man she married, and how she worked on fulfilling the expectations of both her husband and society. I love that she grows as a character during the novel. She is faced with a choice of how to continue with her life after the war – and it is a testament to her growth as a person that she is able to choose the path that she does.

The Yankee Widow is an enjoyable read for those who enjoy reading historical fiction. Be warned, though, it may leave you wanting to read more of the time period.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 58th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

I received an ARC of The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai wfrom Harper Collins Canada. I was looking forward to reading the novel as I was in the mood for some romantic comedy and this story looked interesting.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules: 

– Nude pics are by invitation only 

– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice 

– Protect your heart 

Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears. 

Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

My thoughts:

The Right Swipe focuses on internet dating – an experience which I, myself, have not had to go through. The author has made provisions for readers like me who will not know the terms (such as ‘ghosting’) by explaining them through her character Samson Lima. I could definitely relate to him as he wandered through the quagmire of online dating. Some of his responses made me smile and confirmed that I had picked up a lighthearted read.

Even though Rai’s novel is an easy read of the romance genre, character development and growth does occur in the story. It is this character development that I enjoy to read – Rhiannon Hunter, for example, comes to some realisations about herself. She learns what it is that has been preventing her from having a committed relationship with someone. And once she accepts her shortcomings, she is open to considering the inclusion of a partner in her life.

The Right Swipe is a diverse read that features a strong female character. I enjoy stories with strong female characters as so often women are expected to downplay their strengths. Seeing strong women in stories suggests to readers that being strong is not a weakness, and is instead something to be proud of. The novel is also one that hints at the prejudices a person has of those met online. It is these prejudices that have to be acknowledged and worked through in order to appreciate who a person is.

I picked up The Right Swipe hoping for a light and easy read – and was not disappointed.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 57th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

I received an ARC of The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven when I attended the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada in Spring. The blurb sounded interesting and relevant for young girls today.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult

Blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Izzy O’Neill knows exactly who she is—a loyal friend, an aspiring comedian, and a person who believes that milk shakes and Reese’s peanut butter cups are major food groups. But after she’s caught in a compromising position with the son of a politician, it seems like everyone around her is eager to give her a new label: slut.

Izzy is certain that the whole thing will blow over and she can get back to worrying about how she doesn’t reciprocate her best friend Danny’s feelings for her and wondering how she is ever going to find a way out of their small town. Only it doesn’t.

And while she’s used to laughing her way out of any situation, as she finds herself first the center of high school gossip and then in the middle of a national scandal, it’s hard even for her to find humor in the situation.

Izzy may be determined not to let anyone else define who she is, but that proves easier said than done when it seems like everyone has something to say about her.

My thoughts:

The novel centres on a theme that is so important for teens to think about. It is so easy for one to trust that the person receiving private photos will treat them with respect. The book recounts how easy it is for a moment of thoughtlessness and trust to snowball into something bigger. Izzy trusts that her nude selfie, for example, will go no further than the recipient of her text – but her moment of impulse leads to events that affect her life in ways that she did not consider.

The female protagonist in The Exact Opposite of Okay is a strong person – she is able to control the bullying and the finger-pointing that results when her actions are exposed to the world. I cannot help but think of those teens who do not have the strength to continue on and stand tall despite what their peers and others are saying. Izzy does not do it alone, however, and Steven shows that her character does have the support of others to get her through a difficult time.

The Exact Opposite of Okay explores the development of shame one begins to feel when an action taken is regarded by society as unacceptable. From the start, Izzy has no problem with her sexual behaviour but slowly she begins to feel shame for her actions. The change in her perspective is powerfully written and had me thinking of how much society pressures a person to feel shame for something that is natural.

A secondary thread that runs through the book is Izzy’s relationship with her friend Danny. Danny wants the focus of the relationship to change, but Izzy doesn’t. The dynamics between the two young people change and it is interesting to read what Danny’s expectations are, and how he expects Izzy to reciprocate. His actions are to control and manipulate Izzy and he gets angry when she does not respond as he feels she should.

Steven has written a novel that touches on an important issue for modern girl teens. The issues brought up in the book are ones that young girls are aware of, and deal with, at high school. The Exact Opposite of Okay is written in the form of a set of blog posts, which creates another link with the reader as the writing style is informal and more personal. This novel is an enjoyable read which, I believe, will touch the hearts of many young women.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 56th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

I had come across Roselle Lim on Twitter through a giveaway. I liked her feed and therefore decided to follow her. When I saw she was having a book launch for her debut novel Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, I decided to support her and attend. Of course I had to make use of the opportunity and get a copy of her book signed!

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this novel so much more than I expected I would. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is so much more than a contemporary romance. It is a novel about a young woman who comes to certain realisations about herself as well as her community. It is a novel about people who come together to support one another through difficult times. It is a novel about knowing when it is the right time to begin a romantic relationship. It is a novel about following your dreams and doing what is right for you.

The imagery in Lim’s novel is beautiful. The flavours of cooking are referenced throughout the story, as well as the imagery of birds. The unusual imagery captured my attention; and connects so much to the Asian influence in the novel. The references to food, as well as the recipes that are mentioned, made me want to rush out and get myself a plate of juicy dumplings! The mouthwatering flavours described by the author linked the story to my personal experience and added another level to my reading experience.

Natalie Tan’s experience is so much like what many people experience in their life time: the death of a parent; the realisation that childhood experiences do not tell the entire story; the understanding that one’s community can help during difficult times. Because of this, the reader can connect with Lim’s protagonist and understand the actions that she takes as well as the decisions she makes. While reading the novel, I came to the realisation that romance is a small percentage of the story and that Natalie Tan’s personal growth is the centre point of the tale. I enjoyed the fact that this book is more than the romantic connection between two people. Instead it is so much more – just like our own lives are.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is a book that has so much happening in it. I loved it so much that I encouraged my friend and book buddy to read it too.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 55th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier

On Twitter, I entered a giveaway to receive an ARC of The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier. I entered as I was intrigued by the synopsis of the novel – and I am always interested in reading novels for young readers that are a little different. I was pleased when I was gifted a copy of the ARC by the Canadian author.

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Middle Grade

Blurb:

In the small town of Griever’s Mill, eleven-year-old Ben Cameron is expecting to finish off his summer of relaxing and bird-watching without a hitch. But everything goes wrong when dark clouds roll in.

Old Man Crandall is the first to change–human one minute and a glass statue the next. Soon it’s happening across the world. Dark clouds fill the sky, and, at random, people turn into frozen versions of themselves. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no one knows how to stop it.

With his mom on the verge of a breakdown, and his brother intent on following the dubious plans put forth by a nameless voice on the radio, Ben must hold out hope that his town’s missing sparrows will return with everyone’s souls before the glass plague takes them away forever.

My thoughts:

The Absence of Sparrows is a well-written story that perfectly suits the 9 years and up age group. The language is clear and not too wordy; the dialogue interesting and easily understood. As an adult, I could not help but become immersed in the story; and I can imagine a 10 year old engrossed in the story in order to find out what will happen.

The novel has a bit of an apocalyptic feel to it as it describes a plague that brings the world to a standstill. The main character, Ben Cameron, is a 10 year old boy who has to work through his emotions and reactions when it affects his own family. Not all his decisions are the correct ones – and these mistakes are what will endear the reader to him. As Ben Cameron goes through the process of doing what is right for him, he learns what is important to him – and how far he will go to stand up for what he believes.

Kirchmeier has written a coming-of-age novel that will hold young readers who enjoy futuristic novels in its grip. The young readers will adore all the facts about birds that have been inserted into the story – interesting facts that they are sure to share with their families. I enjoyed this Middle Grade story and would recommend it to any child looking for a story of courage and hope.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 54th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The One by John Marrs

On social media I saw that the The One by John Marrs was an excellent read. While browsing at my local bookstore on a Saturday afternoon, I saw the novel placed in the bestsellers section and decided to pick it up. The blurb definitely intrigued me.

Genre: Thriller, Romance

Blurb:

How far would you go to find The One?

A simple DNA test is all it takes. Just a quick mouth swab and soon you’ll be matched with your perfect partner—the one you’re genetically made for.

That’s the promise made by Match Your DNA. A decade ago, the company announced that they had found the gene that pairs each of us with our soul mate. Since then, millions of people around the world have been matched. But the discovery has its downsides: test results have led to the breakup of countless relationships and upended the traditional ideas of dating, romance and love.

Now five very different people have received the notification that they’ve been “Matched.” They’re each about to meet their one true love. But “happily ever after” isn’t guaranteed for everyone. Because even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking than others…

My thoughts:

At first glance, The One may seem like a romance novel – after all, the characters are looking for the person they will spend the rest of their live with. Very quickly, however, the reader comes to the conclusion that the novel is more than a romance. The story has so many unexpected twists in it that the reader is continually surprised. Contained within these pages is murder, some emotional moments, and a glimpse at the different types of people that populate the world.

What I loved about this novel is that it is an unusual story – quite unlike any that I have read before. Marrs truly surprises one with the events that he describes; and yet the segments of human nature that he explores are spot-on. We are taken through the experience of five characters who each have their unique experience with their DNA match; and each experience has an unexpected twist in it.

I enjoyed this novel. Marrs’ writing kept me turning the pages and immersed in the story. If you decide to pick up this book, be prepared to put all else aside.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 53rd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

At the Frenzy Presents event earlier this year, I received an ARC of Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh. I was excited to read this novel as it was a retelling of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a story that I know and love.

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Retelling

Blurb:

For two sisters as different as Plum and Ginny, getting on each other’s nerves is par for the course. But when the family’s finances hit a snag, sending chaos through the house in a way only characters from a Jane Austen novel could understand, the two drift apart like they never have before. Plum, a self-described social outcast, strikes up a secret friendship with the class jock, while Ginny’s usual high-strung nature escalates to pure hysterics.

But this has always been the sisters’ dynamic. So why does everything feel different this year? Maybe because Ginny is going to leave for college soon. Maybe because Plum finally has something that she doesn’t have to share with her self-involved older sister. Or maybe because the girls are forced to examine who they really are instead of who their late father said they were. And who each girl discovers—beneath the years of missing their dad—could either bring them closer together…or drive them further apart.

My thoughts:

I expected a retelling of Sense and Sensibility and I was a little disappointed – the connection to Austen’s novel is very slim as there is too much that has been changed. Yes, the story describes the relationship between two sisters who are trying to find themselves in the world but that is about it.

The novel, however, does stand out in its own right. My favourite character was Plum. I enjoyed her snarkiness as well as her independence. She is a girl who realises what the problems are and seeks out to solve them – even though sometimes her attempts fail. She is definitely a girl after my own heart. Unlike her sister Ginny who can be annoying (which was, I am sure, the author’s intention).

There were moments in the novel that I could not help but smile – definitely enjoyable moments. Plum grows in inner strength – a facet which I always appreciate in young adult novels. Ordinary Girls is a book that will be enjoyed by young readers; it is a story that will show them that your own inner strength can help you get by. And that even though, at times, your sibling annoys you, you will do anything for them. This novel is an easy read that focuses on the relationships between siblings and how they support one another.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 52nd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Last year I had the opportunity to hear Miriam Toews speak. I had never read any of her books but the one she was to speak about sounded interesting so I bought a copy for her recent novel, Women Talking, to sign for me. I kept shifting the book down my TBR pile as the subject matter promised to be heavy but I have finally read it as I believed myself to be in the correct head space.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Feminism

Blurb:

Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events.

The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

My thoughts:

I was right to have saved this book for a time when I could fully appreciate the content – it has so many talking points and issues for the reader to think about. The issues are raised through ordinary conversation between a group of women. At no time did I feel that Toews was pushing her beliefs onto me. Instead, the points she wanted to raise were subtly woven within a discussion on how the women would react to the rapes that had occured within their community.

Even though Women Talking is a relatively short novel at 216 pages, it is a novel filled with women’s issues. Yes, it is a book on feminism. And no, it is not one of those ‘shouty’ books that aggressively denounces men. Instead, it centres around ordinary women who come to realise that they have the power to make their own decisions and be the navigators of their own lives. The Mennonite women described in the novel live in a staunch patriarchal society in which the men have absolute power over them. It is a norm which, up until then, had been accepted by the women with no question.

I love how the women talk through their decision – each one making a valid argument. The narrator and recorder of the discussion, August Epp, is seen as being different from the other Mennonite men. Unlike them, he has lived in the outside world; and has not the strength to till the fields as the other men do. He shows respect towards the women and, as such, is trusted by them.

Reading this novel brought home to me that, even though we have progressed so far as a society with women’s rights, there are still women out there who do not have the freedom to do what I take for granted. It saddens me to think that there are still groups of people who see women as being the lesser gender and who have taken away their right to bloom. Not that the society I live in is perfect – but at least I have the opportunity to make my choices; and the freedom to read and learn.

Women Talking by Mirian Toews is a book that digs into the experience of the Mennonite women. It is an eye-opening account of a group of women living in a patriarchal society that, unfortunately, still exists in the modern world. This skillfully written discussion is one that will leave you in a thoughtful mood and reflecting on your own personal experience.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 51st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Beholder by Anna Bright

It was time for some Fantasy so I picked up the ARC I received at the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada. I love the cover of Anna Bright’s novel, The Beholder, and settled in for what promised to be an interesting read.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Selah has waited her whole life for a happily ever after. As the only daughter of the leader of Potomac, she knows her duty is to find the perfect match, a partner who will help secure the future of her people. Now that day has finally come.

But after an excruciatingly public rejection from her closest childhood friend, Selah’s stepmother suggests an unthinkable solution: Selah must set sail across the Atlantic, where a series of potential suitors awaits—and if she doesn’t come home engaged, she shouldn’t come home at all.

From English castle gardens to the fjords of Norge, and under the eye of the dreaded Imperiya Yotne, Selah’s quest will be the journey of a lifetime. But her stepmother’s schemes aren’t the only secrets hiding belowdecks…and the stakes of her voyage may be higher than any happy ending.

My thoughts:

I enjoy reading Fantasy novels and this one promised to be a coming of age story. And it delivered on its promise. As Selah continues on her journey and meets a variety of people, the experiences she goes through help her come to certain realisations about herself and of others. The journey helps her to grow up as she is no longer sheltered from certain experiences by her upbringing.

I love that the main character in The Beholder is one that is learning and growing. The experiences she has are what one would expect of a young woman venturing out into the world. She learns to be strong, and to find the answers to her questions within herself. She slowly breaks down her fears – fears which make her a relatable character to the reader. In the novel, Selah is learning to find her own voice; and to discover what it is exactly that her journey needs to entail.

Even though I enjoyed the book and look forward to the sequel (yes, it is a duology), I did find the story hard to get into in the beginning. The Beholder is written as an alternate history to our world – and has many references to mythology. I personally found these references to be overdone at the beginning of the novel. In addition, some of the references may not be understood by many readers thus rendering the imagery less powerful than intended. As the book progresses, the mythological references become less frequent and more subtle – and I definitely preferred this.

Bright has written a story that does not contain some of the expectations of a fantasy novel: there are no dragons, magic, and mystical creatures. The novel includes a budding romance as well as disappointments that are experienced in a young life. This story is an enjoyable read for those who enjoy reading books with a sense of adventure and a protagonist who is growing into herself.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 50th in my book pledge for 2019)