Book Review: 25 Days ‘Til Christmas by Poppy Alexander

I did not think it was too early for Christmas stories when I picked up 25 Days ‘Til Christmas by Poppy Alexander. I love stories that are Christmas themed and I thought this book would be a perfect addition to the Christmas themed movies I have been watching on Netflix.

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Holiday

Blurb:

Kate Potter used to love Christmas. A few years ago, she would have been wrapping her presents in September and baking mince pies on Halloween, counting down the days and hours to Christmas. But that was before Kate’s husband left for the army and never came home. Now she can hardly stand December at all.

Kate can’t deny she’s lonely, yet she doesn’t think she’s ready for romance. She knows that her son, Jack, needs a Christmas to remember—just like Kate needs a miracle to help her finally move forward with her life. So she’s decided if there isn’t a miracle on its way, she’ll just have to make her own.

As Kate’s advent countdown to the best Christmas ever begins, she soon realizes that even with the best laid plans, you can’t plan for the unexpected. For when the path of the loneliest woman in town crosses with that of the loneliest man, these two destined hearts might find a way to save the holiday for both of them.

My thoughts:

I enjoy reading Christmas stories and this one fit the bill perfectly! The story follows the structure of an advent calendar and depicts the changes in Kate’s life – some of them initiated by her, and some of them not. As the days leading towards Christmas pass by, the reader sees the changes in Kate as well as the struggles she experiences.

Kate is a person who is slowly coming out of the fog of grief that has surrounded her since her husband’s death. Moving forward with her life has been hampered by the day to day struggle of keeping herself and her son afloat. One cannot help but admire what she has done to keep going both emotionally and financially. Her frustrations are perfectly described and I often felt those frustrations for her. As a woman and as a mother, I sympathised with Kate’s experience and wished that her circumstances would change.

The romance between Kate and her beau is a slow one. He is not seen as the knight who comes rescue her – though he does push her into the right direction. Instead, he is seen as someone who supports her, and who accepts her and Jack for what they are. I love how Kate manages to come to her own conclusions – and that Daniel helps her once she has made her own decisions.

The novel 25 Days ‘Til Christmas is a perfect story to read this time of year and is a heartwarming one that will stay with you over the Holiday period. The bonus? It is the ideal novel to read while cuddled under an afghan with a hot cup of tea.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 106th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: After Kilimanjaro by Gayle Woodson

On Instagram, I came across the Booksparks programme. I took a chance and applied to read and review one of their books because the blurb interested me. I was happy when I received the email stating that I would be able to participate in promoting After Kilimanjaro by Gayle Woodson. The topic of the novel interested me, as well as the fact that it is set in an African country.

Genre: Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

Dr. Sarah Whitaker has always been an obedient overachiever, but she is burned out. Training to be a surgeon is stressful. So when her fiancé, David, offers a solution—take a break year at a hospital in Africa and climb Mount Kilimanjaro together—she jumps on board. When he backs out, she embarks on the adventure alone.

Sarah quickly falls in love with Tanzania, a land of gentle people, exotic wildlife, and stunning natural beauty, from the sands of Zanzibar to the peaks of Kilimanjaro. She also develops great respect for new Tanzanian friends: strong African women who strive to serve an overwhelming need for health care. Shocked by the high rate of maternal mortality and the scourge of female genital mutilation in the country, Sarah begins to speak out against FGM and develops an experimental program to train tribal birth attendants in a remote mountain village. Conditions are primitive there, and life is fragile.

The separation takes its toll on her relationship with David, and she fights against feelings for another man. As the months pass, one thing becomes clear: if Sarah survives this year, her life will never be the same again. 

My thoughts:

After Kilimanjaro surprised me and I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. I expected a serious read and, although the main character shows the reader some serious issues, there were moments that made me smile (such as the budding romance between Sarah and one of her colleagues).

Woodson often makes references to the dire medical straits in Tanzania as well female genital mutilation (FGM). These references, however, are integrated seamlessly into the story and form a part of Sarah’s experience. The descriptions of the Tanzanian women’s experience are powerful and give the reader the opportunity to think about the African woman’s experience. To be honest, after reading these descriptions I did feel grateful to have grown up outside of this practice. Although the novel does not focus entirely on FGM, it does bring the issue up in the reader’s mind and encourages us to think about it.

This novel is truly about Sarah’s story. She is a woman who seems to be following the path that is expected of her by others. She moves off the path and spends a year in Tanzania working with people and in hospitals that have so far been out of her experience. She teaches others and passes on a lot of her knowledge. However, she also learns from the people she is teaching and from her patients. I love how she grows as a character in the story; how she finds her inner strength and the knowledge that she can change direction and follow a passion.

After Kilimanjaro is a contemporary read – but not like the ones I have read recently. The setting is different from the usual; and the experience of the characters is out of the norm. I enjoyed this read and would recommend it to any reader who is looking for a story about a woman who grows into herself; and whose experiences encourage her to change direction in her life.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 95th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Fever by Thomas Fenske

Thomas Fenske, an independent author, contacted me to read and review his book. The blurb sounded interesting and I decided to give it a read as I do like to support indie authors.

Genre: Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

Sam Milton is just a typical, normal guy living an ordinary life until a chance deathbed confession changes him forever:

“There’s a gold mine out there … ya gotta follow the devil and look for the table, then turn around and you’ll see the why of it … I know it don’t make much sense but it ain’t supposed to until you get there …”

These words smolder in Sam’s soul for years and his obsession controls a life that is a solitary struggle for self and purpose. He works in secret, trespassing, lying, and doing whatever it takes to continue his quest.His long, lonely, and dangerous trips to the far reaches of West Texas cost him dearly in terms of time and money as he sacrifices love, friendship, and family pursuing his elusive goal.

When a solution to the riddle emerges … THE FEVER takes over and nothing, not even a new love interest, can stop him from recklessly planning another more challenging and perilous trip. He is certain that he will either find something out in the wilderness, or die trying.

My thoughts:

I opened the novel with quiet expectation and hope. Unfortunately i was disappointed. Even though the novel was written using correct grammar, it did fall short of my expectations.

I had two problems with Frenske’s storytelling. The most obvious to me was the repetitive nature of the novel. The story is written from three points of view and often a character would repeat what had already been stated. I found the repetition tedious and was often tempted to skim over the lines in order to pass over what had already been stated by another character; or by the main character’s ruminations of the past.

The second issue that I had with Frenske’s storytelling is that he would often tell the reader information that could be inferred. I am definitely a reader who prefers being shown and not told and felt that the author did not trust the reader’s prior knowledge and instinct in determining what could have happened in the past. Being told everything did not engage me in the story and I felt no connection to it at all.

The Fever is grammatically correct but it in no way encouraged me to feel any emotion. The 277 page novel could have been written as a much shorter story which could have left me feeling a lot more satisfied.

I give this novel a disappointing ⭐️ 1 star

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 94th in my book pledge for 2019)

Teaser Tuesday: After Kilimanjaro by Gayle Woodson

I was accepted to read and review the following novel by BookSparks: After Kilimanjaro by Gayle Woodson. I was happy that my application had been accepted for two reasons: the book was set in Africa; and it dealt with basic women issues.

The novel is interesting so far and centres on a young woman doctor, Sarah Whitaker, who has travelled to work in Tanzania for a year. What she sees and experiences opens her eyes to the reality of the country she is in. The extract I am sharing describes one of the patients that she encounters:

” An awful stench floated in the next patient as she shuffled in with her head bowed. The chart said she was twenty years old, but she looked ancient. Her name was Charmaine. She was a victim of genital mutilation and a pregnancy gone wrong. The baby was tepees by scarring and after four days of labor, a dead infant was delivered in pieces. Charmaine was left with holes in her bowel and bladder and continually leaked urine and faces.” (p 107)

The content of the novel certainly makes me grateful to be living as a woman in a more modern society.

What do you know about female mutilation? 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2016

(This post is linked to Ambrosia’s Teaser Tuesdays at The Purple Booker)

Book Review: Break In Case of Emergency by Brian Francis

Harper Collins Canada held a #FrenzyPresents event earlier this month at which they promoted the Young Adult book written by Brian Francis, Break In Case of Emergency. I had the opportunity to attend and meet the author so I was curious to read the novel the folks at Harper Collins were enthusiastically promoting.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, LGBT

Blurb:

Life has been a struggle for Toby Goodman. Her mother died by suicide five years ago, and her father left their small town before Toby was born. Now a teenager living on her grandparents’ dairy farm, Toby has trouble letting people in. She keeps even her closest friend, the brash but endearing Trisha, at arms’ length, and recently ended her first relationship, with Trisha’s burnout brother, Mike. Convinced that she is destined to follow her mother’s path, Toby creates a plan to escape her pain.

But with the news that her father is coming home and finally wants to meet her, Toby must face the truth of her family’s story. Not only is her father gay, but he’s also a world-famous female impersonator—and a self-absorbed, temperamental man-child who is ill-prepared to be a real parent.

When Toby’s careful plans go awry, she is forced to rebuild the life she thought she knew from the ground up. While she may not follow an expected path, through the support of a quirky but lovable circle of friends and family, Toby may finally put together the many different pieces that make up her past, her present, and her future.

My thoughts:

I do admit to beginning this novel with high expectations as it had been avidly promoted. The story also interested me as it dealt with possible mental health issues that so many teens face at this time of their lives. I think it is good that there is literature like this out there to help teen readers realise that they are not alone when experiencing suicidal thoughts or even feelings of worthlessness.

The story is written from the point of view of a teenage girl who does feel worthless; and who comes to believe that the people she is surrounded by would be better off without her. She does have a raw deal: growing up with her grandparents without a dad around, her mom having committed suicide. Francis places us right inside the mind of Toby Goodman, a girl who is having suicidal thoughts. We read of how her mind circles around suicide and why it would be such a good thing for her to do. There were moments, to be honest, when I felt that the thoughts expressed were a bit repetitive and I wished the story would move on – though I can understand that the writer wanted to reflect how a depressed person would focus on the negative and constantly obsess on a point.

Toby Goodman meets her dad who is a well-known drag queen. Not much time is spent on the encounter and subsequent meetings though. At the end of the novel, I wished that more had been written of their interaction. The moment of meeting her dad does help Toby come to certain realisations about herself, and even about her mom. Meeting her dad does put to rest some concerns that Toby had about her mother and her own relationship with her.

Toby is a character that grows in the story. She learns about herself and about what is important to her. She comes to learn more about the people in her lives; and begins to see herself through their eyes. The novel suggests to the reader that in our lives we are part of a group; and that we each have our role within that group. Out role is important and our actions do affect the others around us in a negative or positive way.

Break In Case of Emergency is a novel that celebrates a person who can overcome extreme sadness with the help of those around her. It celebrates that we, as people, can overcome the challenges in our ordinary lives with the love of those in our lives. This contemporary young adult novel will be one of those stories that can help young teens realise that they are not alone; and that they can look to the support of family and friends to help them through difficult times.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 90th in my book pledge for 2019)

Teaser Tuesday: Pressure Point by Jessie Kwak

Yesterday when I opened the door to my home after work, the place was quiet. I was alone: my husband was still commuting home and my daughters were at university. I am still not used to being the only one at home by 5pm on a Monday. With my daughter no longer at high school, I think it is going to take a while for me to get used to these moments alone.

You may be wondering what did with my silent time. Yes, of course! I made myself a coffee, grabbed a new read, and put my feet up on the sofa. I had been wanting to start Pressure Point by Jessie Kwak since I had received it last week.

I haven’t read much of the novel yet so I will share a teaser with you from the prologue:

“Manu’s found that nothing helps a negotiation along quite so well as your enemy knowing just how close you can get to them.” (p 9)

(2019, Jessie Kwak)

I look forward to reading the third novel in Jessie Kwak’s Bulari saga. Guess what I will be doing when I get home today!

Do you enjoy gangster-type stories? 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2016

(This post is linked to Ambrosia’s Teaser Tuesdays at The Purple Booker)

Book Review: Suggested Reading by Dave Connis

At the Frenzy Presents event at the end of August, I was lucky enough to receive one of the books that I hoped to read: Suggested Reading by Dave Connis.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Publication Date: 17 September 2019

Blurb:

A bookworm finds a way to fight back when her school bans dozens of classic and meaningful books.

Clara Evans is horrified when she discovers her principal’s “prohibited media” hit list. The iconic books on the list have been pulled from the library and aren’t allowed anywhere on the school’s premises. Students caught with the contraband will be sternly punished.

Many of these stories have changed Clara’s life, so she’s not going to sit back and watch while her draconian principal abuses his power. She’s going to strike back.

So Clara starts an underground library in her locker, doing a shady trade in titles like Speak and The Chocolate War. But when one of the books she loves most is connected to a tragedy she never saw coming, Clara’s forced to face her role in it.

Will she be able to make peace with her conflicting feelings, or is fighting for this noble cause too tough for her to bear?

My thoughts:

From the moment I started reading this novel, I knew I would love it. Not only does the story centre on a love of reading and censorship, but it also describes the emotions felt by the reader. Connis describes the reader’s experience when reading a beloved book – and it is perfect! The anticipation, the dread, the emotions. all are described as Clara (the main character) expresses her feelings when completing her current read.

Even today, book censorship can be an issue in some circles. These books are seen to have a negative impact on some readers – forgetting that, instead, these books describe the readers voice perfectly. Other books may have us question our social values, or the trends that can be seen in our environment. Books make us think and, if they are censored, those with the decision-making power intend for readers to think within the box.

Clara Evens fights for the books that she believes are important. She fights for the right to think outside of the box. She fights to read and think freely. While she is fighting the censorship of certain books at her school, she comes to the realisation of certain things about herself and how she was censoring other people’s actions. It was interesting to read how she developed as a person in the story. Just like books open a reader’s mind to ideas; her fight for these books opened her mind to the full persona of the people that she had previously disregarded.

This is definitely a book I would read again as there is so much to think about when enjoying the story. Even though it is described as a Young Adult novel, I believe that even older adults would appreciate both the story and the message. Suggested Reading is a novel that is definitely on my suggested reading list and would be perfect for any book lover!

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

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 87th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Christmas Boutique by Jennifer Chiaverini

I enjoy Christmas stories and was curious about a novel describing quilting as my mom loves to quilt and I see it to be a wonderful talent. It is for these reasons that I requested to read and review The Christmas Boutique by Jennifer Chiaverini from my contact at Harper Collins Canada.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Christmas

Publication Date: 1 October 2019

Blurb:

Just weeks before Christmas, severe wintry weather damages the church hall hosting the Christmas Boutique—an annual sale of handcrafted gifts and baked goods that supports the county food pantry. Determined to save the fundraiser, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson offers to hold the event at Elm Creek Manor, her ancestral family estate and summertime home to Elm Creek Quilt Camp.

In the spirit of the season, Sylvia and the Elm Creek Quilters begin setting up market booths in the ballroom and decking the halls with beautiful hand-made holiday quilts. Each of the quilters chooses a favorite quilt to display, a special creation evoking memories of holidays past and dreams of Christmases yet to come. Sarah, a first-time mother expecting twins, worries if she can handle raising two babies, especially with her husband so often away on business. Cheerful, white-haired Agnes reflects upon a beautiful appliqué quilt she made as a young bride and the mysterious, long-lost antique quilt that inspired it. Empty nesters and occasional rivals Gwen and Diane contemplate family heirlooms and unfinished projects as they look forward to having their children home again for the holidays.

But while the Elm Creek Quilters work tirelessly to make sure the Christmas Boutique happens, it may take a holiday miracle or two to make it the smashing success they want it to be.

Praised for her ability to craft “a wonderful holiday mix of family legacy, reconciliation and shared experiences” (Tucson Citizen), Jennifer Chiaverini once again rings in the festive season with this eagerly awaited addition in her beloved series.

My thoughts:

The Christmas Boutique was written as part of a series – The Elm Creek Quilts series. It is not necessary, however, to have read the previous novels in order to enjoy the story: I had not read the preceding novels and there was not a time in which I was lost or confused. Chiaverini describes her characters well enough for a first reader of her series; and places them in a setting that is very quickly understood.

Women who quilt will enjoy reading the detail that the author adds to the narrative. I am not a quilter myself but some of the techniques described rang a bell in my mind as I have heard my mom speak of them; or I have read the terms as I have browsed her books and magazines.

I enjoyed reading the story that evolved around a group of women who quilt. The group is seen as a reflection of society and a woman’s circle as all types of personalities and problems are described. The story mirrors so much of what happens in life and, as a result, makes the novel totally believable. The book describes the emotions and experiences of each quilter in the group with the author matching up each story to create the whole – much like a quilt.

I enjoyed reading The Christmas Boutique. It was a lighthearted read that would be perfect to read over the holiday period snuggled up warmly under the cover of a blanket or quilt. Definitely a book you can curl up with during the cold winter months.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 86th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: What Happens Now? by Sophia Money-Coutts

My contact at Harper Collins Canada sent me an ARC of What happens Now? by Sophia Money-Coutts to read and review. I was excited to read the story as I had previously read and enjoyed stories by this author.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Blurb:

After eight years together, Lil Bailey thought she’d already found ‘the one’ – that is, until he dumped her for a blonde twenty-something colleague. So she does what any self-respecting singleton would do: swipes right, puts on her best bra and finds herself on a first date with a handsome mountaineer called Max. What’s the worst that can happen?
 
Well it’s pretty bad actually. First Max ghosts her and then, after weeing on a stick (but mostly her hands), a few weeks later Lil discovers she’s pregnant. She’s single, thirty-one and living in a thimble-sized flat in London, it’s hardly the happily-ever-after she was looking for.

Lil’s ready to do the baby-thing on her own – it can’t be that hard, right? But she should probably tell Max, if she can track him down. Surely he’s not that Max, the highly eligible, headline-grabbing son of Lord and Lady Rushbrooke, currently trekking up a mountain in South Asia? Oh, maybe he wasn’t ignoring Lil after all…  

My thoughts:

Pregnant with a stranger’s baby – a scenario that has happened to so many young women. Money-Coutts describes one possible response to the unexpected pregnancy – a response that perfectly suits a story set in modern times.

The novel focuses on the story of Lil Bailey and her experience. Yes, she does have a love interest (i.e., a man she would like to get to know better) but this story is not about her finding love with this man. Instead the story focuses on finding herself and her inner strength. Lil does find the strength and determination to deal with her unexpected pregnancy with the unexpected help and support of those in her life.

The novel is written in the first person and, as such, I felt that I was in the character’s mind while reading the story even though the workings of the inner mind were not often described. I could not help but relate to the main character when Lil’s working experience was described because, as a teacher myself, I could nod in agreement with her teaching experience.

I enjoyed reading What Happens Now. As with her other novels, Money-Coutts tells a story that will resonate with her readers. It is a story of a modern woman who seeks a solution to her problem that is acceptable in today’s society. What Happens Now is an easy read that readers of women’s fiction will enjoy.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 85th in my book pledge for 2019)

Teaser Tuesday: Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Today I am sharing an extract from Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik. I bought this novel on Amazon about three years ago because I was intrigued by the blurb. At that time, I had not read any diverse novels and I was curious about a story based on the dating experience of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

In this novel Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men when her sort-of boyfriend/possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves to be a little too close to his parents – until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all exposé on the Muslim dating scene and she makes a foray into online dating.

I am sharing an extract from when she is describing her first experience of dating on the internet.

“You know what the problem is?” I continued. “There are the men who’ll marry a hijabi – but then expect her to move in with a hole-in-the-wall, or think she’s going to be this weird paragon of traditional values.” I sighed. “And then there are the men who are all, “You’re living in the west – what’s with the hijab?’”(p43)

(2015, Twenty7 Books, UK)

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayesha Malik is a story that had me chuckling throughout. This diverse rom-com was published in 2015 and was my first diverse read.

Would you read this diverse rom-com? 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2016

(This post is linked to Ambrosia’s Teaser Tuesdays at The Purple Booker)