Monday, 29 February 2016

"The Flood Girls" by Richard Fifield | Book Review

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield
Publishing Date: February 2, 2016
Pages: 336
Publisher: Gallery Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Kobo

Set in the small town of Quinn, Montana, The Flood Girls is a story of redemption with a wild cast of characters. The writing immediately draws you into the lives of the characters, particularly Rachel Flood, who has returned to Quinn nine years after leaving disaster in her wake.

In an attempt to make amends with her mother, Laverna, and the town she left behind, Rachel joins the town's softball team, the Flood Girls, and takes a job at The Dirty Shame, the only bar in town. Here she meets Jake, Red Mabel, Black Mabel, the Sinclairs, and several other women who are important parts of the team.

Each character is so very different from the next, and yet in their own ways they're all absolute bad-asses who know what they want and stick up for it. I loved each and every one of the protagonists, from the cantankerous yet caring Laverna, to the young, cheeky, and absolutely fabulous Jake. They're all so beautifully written that I truly felt like I knew them and came to love each of them, quirks and all.

The Flood Girls are very tight-knit and protective of their own at first, some reluctant to let Rachel in. But eventually she proves herself and her determination to make amends, and the ensuing relationships are at once hilarious and heartwarming. I especially loved Rachel's relationship with Jake, the 12-year-old next door who accessorizes his outfits with thrift store finds. Jake's eager-to-learn, wise-beyond-his-years personality was an absolute delight to read, and he and Rachel forged such a strong, meaningful relationship. The sass is strong with that one.

Over the past couple of years, I've been spending quite a bit of time in a small town and I've gotten a feel for what it's like to be a resident: everyone knows everyone (gossip and all!), and everyone is interconnected in one way or another. I've also gotten a sense for how quickly people are willing to help others who may be in need.

That small town nature is very present in this book. There are a lot of good things in Quinn, but just like in any town anywhere, there are also some dark ones, like abuse and intolerance. And when one of their own is affected, the Flood Girls don't stand for it. They defy the people who tell them the way things "should" be and despite their differences, they stand together to help each other. And those were some very emotional moments.

My mind is kind of blown by how many difficult, important themes Richard Fifield manages to eloquently address. Through these wonderful characters he's created, we learn about redemption, friendship, intolerance, love, betrayal, grief - all while still being able to laugh with the characters, somehow. The Flood Girls are incredible women (and a really awesome boy!) who will stay with me for years to come.

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

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

"Hidden Bodies" by Caroline Kepnes | Book Review

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes
Publishing Date: February 23, 2016
Pages: 448
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Kobo

In this sequel to the acclaimed You, Joe Goldberg is back and he's still looking for love. This time around, our charming sociopath's search takes him to Los Angeles, where despite his contempt for the L.A. culture, he fits right in. But will all the hidden bodies from his time in New York come back to haunt him?

First off, even though this is a sequel, you could easily read Hidden Bodies as a standalone novel because at the beginning, the author spends a few pages recalling the events of the first book.

I've seen Joe described as Holden Caulfield meets Patrick Bateman, and it's so true, I think that's a great description of him. He travels in search of something more in life, all the while telling us his views on the world he sees, and at the same time, he's a sociopath and he usually sees L.A. and its people in a disdainful way. He doesn't let it show though - outwardly, he's so charming and he fits right in with pretty much everyone he meets, despite his inner monologue showing us what he really thinks of those around him.

When Joe first gets to L.A. and starts acclimating to the new territory, joining social media, trying to make it in Hollywood and such, I was a little skeptical about what he was doing and what direction the story would go in. It seemed at first like Joe was going against everything he'd stood for in You. It didn't feel right. But as I got more and more into the story, everything came together and made sense, given the strange new setting. I ended up really liking the fish-out-of-water aspect of Joe being in L.A.

Hidden Bodies is very different from You. There's no more second person narration, which was something major that I liked about the first one because it's so unique. I don't think it suffered for having a different kind of narration though, and it makes perfect sense with the progression of the story from the last book. There are also far fewer book references this time around; instead, there are a lot of references to movies and music, which I liked. Once again, I have a bunch of titles I need to check out after reading Joe's story!

Overall I really enjoyed this sequel, even though I wasn't sure about the new setting at first. Caroline Kepnes does such a great job of building tension with regards to the events of the first book haunting Joe's thoughts, and by the end there was so much action and drama...I was anxious and exclaiming "Oh my god!" out loud. If you enjoyed You, I think you'll like Hidden Bodies as well, but you should keep in mind that this sequel is very different. Personally, I could read this series forever because it's interesting to read such a unique and, yes, disturbing perspective. Joe Goldberg is back in full force.

You can read my review of the first book, You, here.

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

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

"13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl" by Mona Awad | Book Review

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
Publishing Date: February 23, 2016
Pages: 224
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Kobo

Lizzie has never liked the way she looks. She's "the fat girl" and she has low self esteem when it comes to her appearance. As Lizzie grows up, she decides to lose weight, but that process brings problems of its own. Will Lizzie ever be anything other than the fat girl?

Let me start off by saying, this wasn't what I was expecting. I was looking forward to a charmingly funny story about a big girl who's uncomfortable with her body at first, but learns to love herself at whatever size she is. This is not that book.

We see Lizzie through different stages of her life - when she's fat, when she's thin, when she goes by different variations of her name. Through much of 13 Ways, I found it hard to identify with Lizzie, but around the middle I started to get more into the story and was more able to appreciate it for what it is: a story about a human who has a hard time liking herself because of her weight and low self esteem, and how it affects all of her relationships - with herself, her female friends, her husband, and her parents.

I've seen this book described as "hilarious" and "funny" multiple times, but personally, I found the funny parts few and far between. And even then, I didn't find them so much funny as I did relateable. When Lizzie goes clothes shopping, for example, she searches for the items that are the "Least of All Evils". That is so incredibly true to life, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud when I read that. It's so hard to find plus-size clothes (although it's getting easier nowadays), that that's what I've personally been reduced to for most of my life, and I'm sure most, if not all, plus-size people would identify with that.

Mona Awad gets right some of the anger that comes with being bigger, as well as some of the hardships we face, including socially, societally, and personally. At the same time, I found it hard to identify with Lizzie for most of the book. I found that she had so much self-loathing, which I know is true of a lot of us fat people because the media and our North American society as a whole tells us that we're basically the opposite of the ideal, attractive body type. I was hoping that she'd gain some sort of self-confidence in herself somehow, but that didn't even happen when she lost the weight. She became obsessive in her diet and exercise, and she became so bitter - about herself, about other thin women, about fat one was safe from her judgment.

I really liked how the author portrayed Lizzie's relationships, they were all really interesting. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably through one particular chapter, where we get to see more of her relationship with her mother. Her mother wouldn't tell her anything, but it was so clear that she knew she was sick and was trying her best to enjoy and absorb every moment with her daughter during her visit. She knew she wouldn't have very many chances to see her daughter anymore because Lizzie lived far away, and it was so heartbreaking to read.

I have a complicated relationship with this book. On one hand, I found it hard to identify with the sad, angry Lizzie, but on the other hand it's interesting to read how her relationship with herself affected her relationships with other people. This feels like something I would have read in one of my university English classes, and I did always enjoy dissecting these kinds of stories because they raise important and interesting issues. Ultimately, I found 13 Ways depressing, but it certainly made me think.

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

Thursday, 18 February 2016

"The Widow" by Fiona Barton | Book Review

The Widow by Fiona Barton
Publishing Date: February 16, 2016
Pages: 324
Publisher: New American Library
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Kobo

Jean Taylor's husband was accused of abducting a child four years ago but despite all evidence pointing to him as the culprit, he was never convicted. He's dead now. But Jean still can't escape the allegations - everyone wants to know what happened to little Bella. Jean's kept a lot of secrets over the years and now that her controlling husband is dead...she can tell the world.

The Widow was a dark, heavy read. It deals with a child abduction, so of course that's to be expected with such a tragic situation that happens all too often in real life. The case in the story was what I imagine some real-life cases are like, in terms of getting evidence that becomes inadmissible in court for one reason or another, or having an overwhelming gut feeling about someone but having trouble creating a case against them. It's incredibly frustrating.

The setting and characters of this story are distinctly English and as a half-English person who watches a lot of British TV, I was able to appreciate the references to Jeremy Kyle and Chocolate Buttons. Although it doesn't take away from the story if you don't understand the little references.

The Widow has been compared to Gone Girl, which I don't really see, other than the fact that both books have twists and turns. It did remind me of ITV's Broadchurch though, because both cases involve children and there are so many new developments over the course of the story that you just don't know what to believe. I think the detective's point of view was particularly accurate to real life, because we're shown how frustrating and upsetting the case is for him - it really takes its toll.

The characters are all interesting - they're not all likable, but they're definitely all interesting. We get several different perspectives in this novel, including The Widow, The Reporter, and The Detective, so we're able to see the case through different eyes and how it affects each individual differently.

The only thing I didn't enjoy about this book was the timeline. It goes back and forth over the course of the four years the case was active, and as such I found myself struggling to keep the dates straight.
The Widow in her awesome packaging
However, the long timeline is necessary and in a way, it does keep the story fresh as you're always receiving new information to piece together the case.

The Widow is a dark, twisted read about something that happens far too often: child abduction. It's an emotional roller coaster, and not just because you constantly find yourself convinced of one outcome, and then questioning everything on the next page.

I also want to take a moment to appreciate the marketing for this book. It arrived in an evidence bad (complete with the actual case information!) and a bag of Skittles, which are important to the story. I love how creative this packaging is!

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

Monday, 15 February 2016

"You" by Caroline Kepnes | Book Review

You by Caroline Kepnes
Publishing Date: September 30, 2014
Pages: 422
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book DepositoryKobo

When Beck walks into the bookstore where Joe works, it's love at first sight for him. She's everything he's ever dreamed of and more, and he's obsessed with her. As their relationship blossoms, people in Beck's life have a violent demise. Both lovers start to realize there's a lot more to the other than they thought.

This book is unique, to say the least. I don't think I've ever read anything quite like it. You is a second-person narrative where our protagonist, Joe Goldberg, is addressing all of his thoughts to Beck. Joe is a bookstore employee with an obsessive personality. Well, he really goes beyond obsessive and into the stalker realm very quickly. He finds Beck's home and watches her day after day, steals her phone and reads her emails for months (she doesn't want to tell her mom she lost her phone again, so she lets her mom keep paying that phone bill), and seduces her.

All the while, we see the different sides to Joe: the way he presents himself to the world, and his inner dialogue. Part of what I find so disturbing about this book is that based on the way he acts around Beck and other people through much of the story, I wouldn't have guessed that he's so obsessive, delusional, and twisted. To the outside world, Joe is funny, relatable, smooth...he seems like a nice guy, which is terrifying! It really goes to show that you never truly know someone or what they're thinking.

You is very well-written in terms of characters, pacing, and generally creating an intriguing story. I could hardly put it down, I kept wanting to know what would happen next.

This is a pretty explicit novel, in terms of sex, language, and some violence, so if reading about those things make you uncomfortable, you probably won't like the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story; it messed with my head and has made me consider what people are really thinking a lot more...honestly, how am I ever going to trust anyone again??

You can read my review of the sequel, Hidden Bodies, here.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

"If I Had a Gryphon" by Vikki VanSickle & Cale Atkinson | Book Review

If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle & Cale Atkinson
Publishing Date: February 9, 2016
Pages: 32
Publisher: Tundra Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Kobo

Sam just got a hamster, but he's pretty boring. As she reads a book on mythological creatures, she dreams about what it would be like to have a unicorn, or a kraken, or a gryphon as a pet...but she quickly realizes that taking care of these fantastical beasts is probably not all it's cracked up to be.

This is a first here on In the Stacks...I've never reviewed a children's book before! The title and illustrations really hooked me in though - look at all those mythical creatures!

This book is so sweet, and I think it would be perfect for kids who love legendary creatures and animals in general. The book is told in really cute rhymes, which I think are always enjoyable for kids...heck, not just kids - I love rhymes too!

Part of what I love about this book is its message - to appreciate the things you have. We always think the grass is greener on the other side, but everything has its pros and cons, and sometimes it's just better to appreciate and cherish what you have.

Something I found interesting is that the text is bigger in some places to show emphasis, and it gets smaller when a character is whispering. I think this is such a great idea because if you're reading out loud to your child, you know exactly how to read it in a more dramatic and entertaining way for them!

I absolutely love the illustrations. They're so beautiful and I think their whimsical looks pair perfectly with the mythical creatures subject matter!

All in all, this is a great book for young kids, especially little dreamers who love fantasy and all the creatures you can possibly imagine.

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

Friday, 12 February 2016

Books, Be Mine: Valentine's Day 2016

Hi everyone! As I'm sure we all know, Valentine's Day is this weekend. Whether or not you have plans, I'm sure you'd love to make time for your one true love: books! Books rarely disappoint you, and on the rare occasion one does, you can always rest easy knowing one will come around soon to sweep you off your feet.

Leading up to the big day, Simon & Schuster Canada has been posting quotes, reading recommendations, recipes, and even little Valentine's Day cards! If you're interested in all these awesome things, you can join their event here:

I know I'll be curling up with a book this Valentine's Day - will you?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

#DigitalDetox | Event Recap

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend an event called #DigitalDetox, hosted by Penguin Random House Canada. In case you missed it, during the month of January they encouraged everyone to get away from screens and electronics for an hour a day, in favour of doing something more productive - like reading!

Colouring some beautiful aquatic scenery from Lost Ocean

The office is so modern and airy, with huge sliding doors that form a wall that can be opened to create one big room for a gathering like this. The first thing I saw was a table full of colouring books and an area where we could actually colour in a long page! I was pretty drawn to that table (no pun intended), and spent some time colouring in a pretty fish.

Counter-clockwise from top: Olive and Rosemary Chickpea Flatbreads (p. 155), Millet-Sesame Croquettes with Tamari Dipping Sauce (p. 262), Salmon Balls with Crunchy White Sauce (p. 198); Mini Carrot Cakes (p. 175); Amelia Freer introducing her cookbook

There were some dishes to sample from Amelia Freer's new cookbook, Cook. Nourish. Glow. I particularly liked the Salmon Balls with Crunchy White Sauce!

Displays from Greenhouse Juice Co. (top left), Butter Me Body (top right), and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up featuring floorplaysocks

There were lots of samples and demonstrations, including hand scrubs by Butter Me Body (I love the smell of their Pomegranate & Mango Shea Scrub, despite mango scents usually giving me headaches) and clothes-folding demos to help optimize drawer space.

How do you motivate yourself when you're in a rut?

We were also able to submit questions for Cheryl Strayed's #IndigoBookClub Twitter chat.

At the end of the night, everyone got a bag full of goodies, including books, snacks, and socks - it was a lovely night and I'm so grateful to have been able to go!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

January Book Haul!

January has been such a great month for new releases - and it's just been great in general for my massive book collection!

1. City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

2. My Story by Marilyn Monroe

3. The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook by Jean Blacklock
Check out my review here!

4. The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
Check out my review here!

5. Cook. Nourish. Glow. by Amelia Freer

6. The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

7. Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

8. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

9. Still Mine by Amy Stuart

10. Life-Changing Magic: A Journal by Marie Kondo

11. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

What books did you get in January?