Tuesday, 23 August 2016

"The Couple Next Door" by Shari Lapena | Book Review

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Publishing Date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pages: 320
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Anne and Marco Conti's seemingly perfect lives are turned upside down one night when their 6-month-old daughter, Cora, is abducted from their home while they're at a dinner party next door. They're immediately pegged as the prime suspects, but it's much more complicated than that.

What follows is a story of lies, deception, and breakneck twists. As it starts off, we as the readers have mixed feelings about the parents. Even though they checked on Cora frequently, Anne and Marco left their 6-month-old home alone while they were next door, which is really not advisable. That said, the onus is of course on the kidnapper.

What may at first seem like a cut and dry situation is actually a dark and twisted tale. Once the action of the story gets going, which is pretty much immediately, the suspicion begins. Can we really trust these people? Is everyone really telling the truth?

We get several different perspectives in this story, from the parents to the neighbours to the lead detective. It's hard to trust some of the characters because you get this deep sense that they're "off", or that they're not letting us (or the police!) in on everything they know. At first, with all the secrets that were being revealed, I was left wondering which couple the ominous title alludes to, but it's actually relatively obvious.

The sheer amount of twists and secrets that are revealed are nearly whiplash-inducing, and that makes for a pretty entertaining story. I really liked the way those things were revealed as well, because it was done in such a way that I couldn't guess what was happening or what people were hiding until I was specifically told.

Whether or not you see the ending coming, this is a great thriller and I definitely recommend it if you want a quick read that packs a punch.

*This book was kindly sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

I'm participating in Bout of Books 17!

Hi all! If you've been around here for a while, you know I love the Bout of Books read-a-thon. I'm happy to say that it's that time of year again - time for the next Bout of Books - and I'm participating! It's super low-pressure and all you need to do is set your intention to read - and then you do your best! I always love the challenges and discussions they host as well. Here's the official blurb:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week-long read-a-thon that begins at 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure ti visit the Bout of Books blog. -From the Bout of Books team

Let me know in the comments if you'll be participating! :)

Bout of Books

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

"The House Between Tides" by Sarah Maine | Book Review

The House Between Tides
by Sarah Maine
Publishing Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 400
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

After her last living relative dies, Hetty heads to her family's long-abandoned ancestral home, Muirlan, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. When she arrives, she discovers that a century-old skeleton has been found under the floorboards. Her plans to renovate the place come to a grinding halt while she and some locals search for clues as to who the murder victim might be.

As it turns out, Theo Blake, a famous painter and naturalist (and a distant relative of Hetty's), came to Muirlan in 1910 with his new wife, Beatrice. The two were there for a short time, and their stories are shrouded in mystery - Theo seemed to be obsessed with a local boy, Beatrice disappeared suddenly from the island, and Theo eventually became a shut-in, his paintings reflecting his dark turn.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that the writing style is beautiful. In a book where art is so central to the story, it feels right to have the writing reflect that as well. Maine writes stunning descriptions, not only of the scenery, but of the characters' feelings. Her writing is poignant and so fitting for this story.

The story spans 100 years and we learn it through two different timelines - 1910, when Beatrice and Theo are living in the house, and 2010, when Hetty and the locals are searching for answers about the house's mysterious inhabitants. I was drawn mostly to Beatrice and her story in 1910, and always found myself wanting to read more of her story. She is an independent woman with such gumption, and I found her intriguing. She's brought to this place that, initially, she doesn't care for (she'd rather be vacationing in Europe), but that she tries to enjoy for her husband's sake. She ultimately gets wrapped up in what could be considered a scandal if people found out about it, but I was rooting for her all the way.

I felt a kind of disconnect with the love story in Hetty's timeline - I didn't really feel a spark between the two characters and so when something did happen between them, my reaction was something like, "Oh...ok". I wasn't opposed to that pairing, and in fact I think it was a good fit, but there wasn't much leading up to it that had made me root for them. When I was reading her timeline, I found myself mostly interested in finding out who the body belonged to.

The mystery unravels at a good pace and I must say, I very much enjoyed this book. If you like mysteries, love stories, and switching between timelines, I definitely recommend reading The House Between Tides.

*This book was sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 22 July 2016

"In a Dark, Dark Wood" by Ruth Ware | Book Review

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Publishing Date (Paperback): July 12, 2016
Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Out of the blue, Nora is invited to a hen party for an old friend she hasn't seen for nearly a decade. What should be a fun weekend with a few people in the English countryside turns into a night of horror, betrayal, and revenge.

I love me some psychological thrillers, there's no two ways about it. I love that feeling of knowing something is off, but not quite being able to put my finger on what exactly it is. Maybe it's because I read this immediately after finishing another psychological thriller that blew me away, but this one didn't quite do it for me.

Now, don't get me wrong - this is a really well-written, intriguing story that I barely put down. But some points of the story dragged a little and I was left hoping the story would move along quicker, especially leading up to the action.

Once we got into the more intense part of the story, the clues kept coming, and along with those, the doubt about who we thought committed the crime. This story really makes you question the characters you feel like you've come to know, even though you've really only spent a weekend with them.

An interesting tidbit: Reese Witherspoon's production company has acquired the rights to make this story into a movie, and I'm definitely looking forward to that because I think this story will lend itself well to the big screen.

Overall, In a Dark, Dark Wood is an interesting, twisted thriller, even though it does drag in some places. Despite not being bowled over, I really enjoyed this book and I'd recommend it to anyone in the mood for a quick, dark read.

*This book was sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Interview with S. E. Lynes, author of "Valentina", plus a Giveaway!

Hi everyone! If you read my last post, you know I loved Valentina, and today we're joined by the author herself! I got a chance to ask S. E. Lynes a few questions about plot twists, writing, and becoming a sociopath...

First off, I want to say I love the book! It was enthralling and kept me on the edge of my seat - and I was always questioning what I thought was going on.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? What made you want to write a psychological thriller?

I am from the North of England. I am a linguist/polyglot and have always written, always wanted to write. I live in Greater London and before that I spent 5 years in Rome - and before that I lived in Aberdeen with my husband (and yes he went offshore). I have three kids. Most of my early attempts at writing I deleted or threw in the bin but then I did a writing course at Richmond Adult Community College and discovered that writing is a process, an art form like any other, and that you get better with practice. That course taught me to give myself permission to be rubbish for a bit - and that's what I say now to my students and to anyone trying to write - give yourself time and permission to be a bit crap and don't worry about that - keep doing courses and practising as you would a musical instrument - every day, in order to get a little bit better.

I wrote a psychological thriller after writing three other novels which got great feedback but which my agent at the time could not place. I realised I needed to write something people were mad about reading! I read Gone Girl and loved Flynn's prose and her fearlessness with her female character. I read Sister, Before I Go to Sleep, The Girl on the Train and loved the pared down nature of those books and, of course, I read Rebecca, in which Daphne du Maurier puts the reader ahead of the heroine and plays with the whole "somethin' ain't right" thing - you can't quite put your finger on why. For me, psychological thrillers are more intense the less characters there are - in film, that is shown brilliantly in Hitchcock's Psycho, of course, and I loved Single White Female too, which was also an influence.   

There's some sociopathic, if not psychopathic, behaviour prevalent in the story. What was it like getting into the mindset of people who think "outside of the box" and will do almost anything to make their lifestyle work? Did you have any sort of ritual to get into this mindset?

There is psychopathy/sociopathy in the book. I read up on these things. I won't say too much because I don't want to give any spoilers but to me there is no "getting in the zone" because all you're doing is writing a character, with as much richness as you can, but you are removing empathy and responsibility. So in that sense it is more useful to know and understand true love and true friendship - you have to understand the emotional stakes so better to subvert them, much as a comedy writer subverts expectation with surprise to create laughter.

Did you have the entire story planned out in your head when you started writing, or were there instances (related to twists) that came up that surprised even you?

I set out with something quite different for Valentina.  A hippy whose BoHo exterior masked a deeply materialistic nature, a woman who sees another woman's life and wants everything about it whilst seeming not to care a jot for those mundane things. But as the plot developed, so did the characters. I had no idea how I would get over certain hurdles but the solution to the biggest hurdle came in a blinding flash, as indeed it did to the character herself (you possibly know which moment I mean). The characters come from the demands of the plot - who do they need to be to go along with events, to react the way I need them to etc. Shona had to come from an urban and, as some would see it, crowded environment in order to idealist the country idyll, she had to be feisty and instinctive too... 

What was your favourite part about writing Valentina? What was the hardest?

My favourite part about writing Valentina was having the various plot epiphanies, which felt exciting. Also, I enjoyed camping it up as the 'baddie', working the whole fairytale wicked queen vibe. There are many obvious and obscure fairytale references in the book, including a Russian fairy tale called The Firebird and the Falcon. The hardest part was fighting feelings of nausea at the morally repugnant situation I was creating.

Do you have any writing quirks? For example, I once read a Dan Brown interview where he said he liked to wear gravity boots when he needed inspiration!

I don't have any gravity boots. I just walk the dog, shove a wash on and buckle down because I only have a couple of spare hours to play with. I do read all my work aloud - so towards the final drafts I can get quite hoarse.

Did you learn anything while writing this book? If your readers could learn one thing from the story, what would you want it to be?

I guess for me, this is a book about love and friendship. Love is the most important thing there is - it is the only thing that matters - and one should never play fast and loose with it. If you do, bad things happen!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, and best of luck with Valentina!

You can read my review of Valentina here.

And now for a giveaway! If you're itching to read Valentina after hearing how well-written and intriguing it is, and after hearing insights from the author herself, then today's your lucky day because the lovely people over at Blackbird Digital Books have been kind enough to provide 3 (three) digital copies of the book for this giveaway!

Some rules and general info:

1. This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.

2. You must be following my blog - this giveaway is for my readers (if you're following by email, make sure to confirm your subscription)!

3. Keep in mind that the prizes are digital copies (you'll have an option between Mobi, ePub, or PDF), so you need some kind of platform to view this on.

4. I will be sending the 3 winners' emails to someone over at Blackbird Digital Books, and they will be sending you your prize. Please only enter if you're comfortable with this! The email you enter with will be the email your prize is sent to.

Best of luck!

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Friday, 8 July 2016

"Valentina" by S. E. Lynes | Book Review

Valentina: A hauntingly intelligent
psychological thriller
by S. E. Lynes
Publishing Date: July 1, 2016
Pages: 280
Publisher: Blackbird Digital Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book DepositoryAmazon | Kobo

When Shona moves into a cottage with her partner, Mikey, and their daughter, Isla, in picturesque rural Scotland, they think all that's ahead of them is bliss. How very wrong they are. With Mikey working offshore and Shona left alone with their baby in the isolated countryside, Shona quickly becomes restless. But just when she needs her the most, Shona meets Valentina and they become best friends. But everything is not as it seems.

Valentina is an intense and, as the subtitle suggests, highly intelligent psychological thriller. The tension is palpable throughout as we feel the effects of cabin fever starting to show in Shona, and as little things keep cropping up that aren't quite right.

We know something is off before Shona does, and as such we start picking up on clues, trying to guess what exactly is going on. I was able to figure out most of what was at play fairly early on, but it was a hell of a ride anyway. I could barely put this book down because it was so intriguing. The story leaves you wondering: who can you really trust?

Initially, I found the switch in perspective we get about two thirds of the way through a little awkward, but I quickly became engrossed in the new information, the other side of everything leading up to that point. The story is so well written and you find yourself feeling empathy for and understanding points of view you wouldn't normally identify with.

I found the characters themselves really interesting and it was easy for me to become invested in their stories. Shona is a no-nonsense Scottish journalist, trusting and strong, a woman who wants to do what she thinks is best for her family. Mikey is a doting husband and father, the picture of the hard-working provider. And then there's Valentina, the mysterious, free-spirited best friend who seems to know more than she's letting on.

Valentina is one of the best psychological thrillers I've read to date, and it's definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far. It's a page-turner that will leave you second-guessing yourself. Psychological damage can make people do drastic things...

*This book was sent to me by Blackbird Digital Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

May Book Haul!

It's that time of the month again...time for book hauls! I'm looking forward to reading these stories soon - they all sound awesome. What's one book that you picked up this month?

1. The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne      3. The Girls by Emma Cline
2. We're All in This Together by Amy Jones                      4. The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

"You, Me and the Rest of Us: #NewYorkStories" by Alex Clermont | Book Review

You, Me and the Rest of Us:
by Alex Clermont
Publishing Date: March 31, 2016
Pages: 123 (eBook)
Publisher: See The Sun
Links: Goodreads | IndigoAmazon | Kobo

New York City: the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps...whatever you call it, chances are you know it by name, and even if you've never been there, you can probably picture the hustle and bustle in your head. You, Me and the Rest of Us: #NewYorkStories is a collection of short stories that brings the people of NYC to life.

Something I look for a lot in books is character diversity - and this book has it in spades. There are so many different people in this collection, and I really do mean different: there are a variety of races, genders, ages, sexualities...it really reflects the cultures present in the city.

This collection is very much about the "human experience". Everyone deals with different issues in their lives, and with these characters we see everyone from a young man from a small town moving to the big city, to a pair of immigrants envisioning their newborn's future, to a group of vigilantes tired of seeing their friends get killed by cops. We really get to know and feel for people from all walks of life.

The writing in this collection makes the characters so vivid, and it makes me care about them and become invested in their stories. Whether or not I could see myself in each character's situation, I was always able to empathize with them easily and understand why they felt the way they did or why they were reacting the way they were.

I've mentioned before that correct grammar is important to me, and there were quite a few errors in this book, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the stories. In fact, out of the 14 stories, there was only one I didn't really identify with. In a collection of stories, I'd say that's a pretty good ratio!

If you love New York City (or the idea of it), I definitely recommend giving this collection of short stories a read.

*This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 30 May 2016

"Joy" Movie Review & Giveaway! | Movie Monday

Joy (2015)
DVD Release Date: May 3, 2016
Run Time: 2h 4min.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: History/Biography
Links: Best Buy | Amazon | iTunes | Google Play

"Joy is one of those people who rejoiced in making things."

Joy is the true story of a young woman with an entrepreneurial spirit. She was creative from a young age and loved making things, particularly those that solved a problem. When she comes up with an idea for a new mop, she's thrown into the cut-throat world of business and quickly realizes she faces more obstacles than she thought possible.

Joy's story is told to us in a voice-over by her grandmother, which is rather appropriate since she was the one who instilled in Joy that she could do whatever she dreamed of.

Joy's family plays a big, albeit complicated, role in her business journey. We see how her friends and family can make all the difference when they're trying to help each other out. She cares for and houses her whole immediate family and they are ever-present. Her home is chaotic and she's constantly running around trying to keep everyone in line while also fixing everything herself. As a viewer, it's kind of funny to see how hectic everything is in her household because you'd think she wouldn't be able to get anything done with all the things that go wrong. And yet, Joy manages to think up a game-changing invention.

What started as a great idea being manufactured out of her father's garage, turned into a business empire. In order to get there though, Joy had to endure a whole lot of hardships. She faced the trials of starting a business, the frustration and heartbreak that come with the unsuccessful days and the failures, and the disappointment that comes when people give up on you.

Through it all, she comes up with creative ways of getting the word out about her business and she perseveres because she believes in her product. She grows a lot in the business world - she learns the ins and outs and never lets anyone walk all over her, taking matters into her own hands when things go wrong. No matter how many setbacks she faces, she keeps going. She finds a way.

Jennifer Lawrence, as always, gives a great performance as Joy, and she has an Oscar nomination to show for it.

My one complaint about this movie is that it was very long, and did drag on at times. Overall though, I really enjoyed it.

Joy is a film with a lot of heart. It's an inspirational, endearing, and often funny tale about creativity, hard work, brains, and a whole lot of perseverance.

Joy is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Check out the trailer below:


And now for the giveaway! ThinkJam and Fox Home Entertainment very kindly provided me with a Blu-Ray & Digital HD copy of Joy to give away.

Rules for this giveaway:

1. You must be following my blog - this giveaway is for my readers!

2. It is open to residents of Canada (Sorry to readers everywhere else, shipping from Canada is extortionate!)

3. If selected as the winner, you must be willing to provide me with your address so I can send you your prize.

4. I will email you if you are selected as the winner, and you must respond within 48 hours, otherwise another winner will be chosen.

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*A review copy was sent to me by ThinkJam and Fox Home Entertainment in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 27 May 2016

"The Voodoo Killings" by Kristi Charish | Book Review

The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish
Publishing Date: May 10, 2016
Pages: 352
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

In a world where zombies and ghosts are publicly accepted as real, and where (before it was outlawed) zombies were raised to help solve their own murders, Kincaid Strange is a badass "practitioner" - essentially a necromancer, though she prefers not to be associated with dead people sex stuff - just trying to pay her rent. But things take a twisted turn when she gets a call about a new zombie - one unlike any she's seen before.

When I first heard the plot of this story, I was completely intrigued. I love books with supernatural elements and I don't know that I've ever read an urban fantasy novel before - certainly not like this one, anyway. It uses tropes we know well - zombies, ghosts, necromancy - and spins a page-turning tale of mystery, betrayal, and an underground city.

As I started the novel, I was instantly drawn to Kincaid Stange's (can we just take a moment to appreciate how cool that name is?) snark. I find snarky and sarcastic characters very entertaining, and Kincaid is all of these things. Also badass, she's a complete badass.

The story is set in Seattle, where the Otherside is stronger due to the city's proximity to water. Kincaid "pulls a globe" every time she needs to examine a zombie's bindings, a habit that's taking its toll on her health, and calls on her ghost roommate, Nate, by writing on mirrors. "Ghost" as in actual ghost, not as in rarely there. Nate, a now-deceased 90's grunge rock star, is one of my favourite characters as he provides a lot of comic relief.

I got a lot of iZombie vibes from this story which, for me, is a really great thing because it's one of my favourite TV shows (and the comics are great, too). We've got zombies, a Seattle setting, and there's even a brief mention of someone getting their brains from a morgue!

The Voodoo Killings is the first in a new series and personally, I cannot wait for the next novel. This is definitely one of my favourite books of the year, if not ever. The story will thrill you and the ending will leave you itching for the next one!

*This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.