Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Firs t Emma Camille Di Maio

Inspired by true events

1914 - Young bride Emma Koehler dreams of a happy marriage and a simple life with her husband, but her hopes are quickly dashed by Otto’s obsession with his business. Though they become one of the wealthiest couples in the country – a fortune made on beer, mining, and hospitality - Emma is lonely in their stone mansion, unable to have children and unable to keep his attentions at home. When a tragic accident changes everything, Otto presents a new betrayal – and Emma must choose between loyalty and independence in a world that demands convention.

1943 – Mabel Hartley flees Baltimore after the war leaves her broken and alone. She answers the advertisement of a dying woman in San Antonio, with an urgent plea to come write her memoirs. In Emma Koehler, Mabel discovers astounding resilience - a pioneer who weathered personal devastation and navigated her large brewery through the storm of Prohibition. Soon Mabel realizes that Texas holds more for her than this new friendship. Romance blooms even as she’s given up on love, and an unexpected phone call gives her hope that not all goodbyes are final.

The First Emma is a moving story of love, hope, and murder that captures one woman’s journey to make her mark on history and another’s desire to preserve it.

Kindle Edition, 326 pages
Published May 5, 2020
by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
3.5/5 stars

First off I loved the blurb, in no way does it give the story away with too many details (sometimes spoilers).

As the title implies there is more than one Emma. It may sound daunting with the possibility of confusion but it's not at all.  Told from the POV of the first Emma which begins in her 80's but then goes back in time, we get to hear her story.

For me The First Emma got off to a slow start, especially when Winnipeg was placed in Ontario not Manitoba (copy edit where are you?)  Not a good first impression for this proud Canadian.  Mabel joins the cast and these two women together made a great pair. The unveiling of secrets, desires and heartache come through and given this book is inspired from true events made it all the more interesting. 

I find lately that timing is everything when it comes to books I read.  I was graciously given a digital arc and planned on reviewing back before publication date, which was  May 5th, 2021 but at the time it wasn't a proper fit.  This time it was.  An unknown piece of history with a strong formidable woman.  The newspaper articles closing each chapter gave insight to what transpired in the courts.

This is my first time reading Camille Di Maio and I will be back for more.  I love the unknown pieces of history along with strong women ahead of their time.

Again my thanks to the publisher for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

"So that was all it took," I thought. "That was all it took for me to feel like I had all the power in the world. One morning, one moment, one yellow-haired boy. It wasn't so much after all."

Meet Chrissie...

Chrissie is eight and she has a secret: she has just killed a boy. The feeling made her belly fizz like soda pop. Her playmates are tearful and their mothers are terrified, keeping them locked indoors. But Chrissie rules the roost -- she's the best at wall-walking, she knows how to get free candy, and now she has a feeling of power that she never gets at home, where food is scarce and attention scarcer.

Twenty years later, adult Chrissie is living in hiding under a changed name. A single mother, all she wants is for her daughter to have the childhood she herself was denied. That's why the threatening phone calls are so terrifying. People are looking for them, the past is catching up, and Chrissie fears losing the only thing in this world she cares about, her child.

Paperback, 352 pages
PublishedMay 18, 2021
by Riverhead Books
5/5 stars

This is Nancy Tucker's debut and my goodness that was an intense ride.  I didn't know what to expect but by the time I impulse purchased this book (thank you Instagram readers), I'd kinda forgot the plot and just jumped in.  The opening line 'I killed a little boy today' had me bracing for an emotional read.

The First Day of Spring is an emotional, heartbreaking read but it's one I couldn't turn away from.  The writing was spot on, Chrissie's voice gave this story the authenticity that matched the story.

Jumping back and forth between Julia and Chrissie, with back story, painted such a vivid picture of her childhood.  Given the dark plot this book is humorous at times and that was needed and appreciated. Chrissie speaks her mind with a total lack of respect and caring.  It took awhile for me to even like her and over time and revelation that changed.  Being only 8 years old when the book begins make this all the more disturbing.

Hats off to Nancy Tucker for this 5 star read, I can't wait to see what comes next.  Maybe by that time Chrissie will have faded from memory.

This book is part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge (#54).

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly

Set during Burma's military dictatorship of the mid—1990s, Karen Connelly’s exquisitely written and harshly realistic debut novel is a hymn to human resilience and love.

In the sealed-off world of a vast Burmese prison known as the cage, Teza languishes in solitary confinement seven years into a twenty-year sentence. Arrested in 1988 for his involvement in mass protests, he is the nation’s most celebrated songwriter whose resonant words and powerful voice pose an ongoing threat to the state. Forced to catch lizards to supplement his meager rations, Teza finds emotional and spiritual sustenance through memories and Buddhist meditation. The tiniest creatures and things–a burrowing ant, a copper-coloured spider, a fragment of newspaper within a cheroot filter–help to connect him to life beyond the prison walls.

Even in isolation, Teza has a profound influence on the people around him. His integrity and humour inspire Chit Naing, the senior jailer, to find the courage to follow his conscience despite the serious risks involved, while Teza’s very existence challenges the brutal authority of the junior jailer, perversely nicknamed Handsome. Sein Yun, a gem smuggler and prison fixer, is his most steady human contact, who finds delight in taking advantage of Teza by cleverly tempting him into Handsome's web with the most dangerous contraband of all: pen and paper.

Lastly, there's Little Brother, an orphan raised in the jail, imprisoned by his own deprivation. Making his home in a tiny, corrugated-metal shack, Little Brother stays alive by killing rats and selling them to the inmates. As the political prisoner and the young boy forge a cautious friendship, we learn that both are prisoners of different orders; only one of them dreams of escape and only one of them achieves it.

Barely able to speak, losing the battle of the flesh but winning the battle of the spirit, Teza knows he has the power to transfigure one small life, and to send a message of hope and resistance out of the cage.

Paperback, 448 pages
First published September 27, 2005
by Vintage Canada
4.5/5 stars

I read this book as part of our Family Blessing Book Club.  This family book club consists of myself and 3 adult sons. We come with a wide variety of tastes in books, which makes it fun but also a little scary when reading something one wouldn't normally pick up.  Such is the case here with The Lizard Cage.

This book lead to many discussions not just about the story but the writing as well.  Told in parts by prisoner Teza and also Little Brother, aka Free EL Salvador because of his t shirt.

At times this was a hard book to read, one can only imagine the treatment in a Burmese jail, here the author vividly created scenes that I find difficult to forget.  While I didn't understand the political climate this book had us googling and researching the real life events, also the author notes tells of her sources just making this story all the more powerful.  It's an emotional story to read with its injustices and corruption within the jail walls. Amidst all this are a couple characters that made a difference, that made this story and the journey well worth the reading experience. 

The Lizard Cage is a well written, authentic novel that is deserving of the many awards it has won.  For a debut Karen Connelly has set the bar high herself. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni

In 1979, Vincent Bianco has just graduated high school. His only desire: collect a little beer money and enjoy his final summer before college. So he lands a job as a laborer on a construction crew. Working alongside two Vietnam vets, one suffering from PTSD, Vincent gets the education of a lifetime.

 Now forty years later, with his own son leaving for college, the lessons of that summer—Vincent’s last taste of innocence and first taste of real life—dramatically unfold in a novel about breaking away, shaping a life, and seeking one’s own destiny.

400 pages, Kindle Edition
Expected publication: September 14, 2021
 by Lake Union Publishing
3.5/5 stars

"Growing up is a privilege not a right"

I am still a new Robert Dugoni reader, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell was my first and an awesome audio read.  

The World Played Chess is told from a couple different angles.  Vincent when he is an 18 years old fresh out of high school and then again when he is a dad to an 18 year old.  Much of the story is told from his POV. The other part is through a journal.

I haven't read many books from that era and I can't recall any with Vietnam playing a central part. But I did enjoy the year 1979, it's the same year I graduated high school, it took me down memory lane. The book blurb really doesn't give too much of the story away and I like that, though dealing with Nam I knew it would get emotional and heartbreaking.

Even though I felt the first half of the book rather slow the last part picked up speed with a nice ending. Learning first hand of the experiences in Vietnam was hard to read at times but it was nice to witness the journey Vincent went on through the years. The author notes gave his inspiration for writing this book which reflected a bit of Vincent's life giving more emotion to the story.

Though literary fiction really isn't my thing I enjoyed this one and one of these days I will check out more of Robert Dugoni's books. 

My thanks to Lake Union Publishing for a digital ARC (via Netgalley) in exchange for a honest review.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

When the Summer Was Ours by Roxanne Veletzos

Hungary, 1943: As war encroaches on the country’s borders, willful young Eva C├ęsar arrives in the idyllic town of Sopron to spend her last summer as a single woman on her aristocratic family’s estate. Longing for freedom from her domineering father, she counts the days to her upcoming nuptials to a kind and dedicated Red Cross doctor whom she greatly admires.

But Eva’s life changes when she meets Aleandro, a charming and passionate Romani fiddler and artist. With time and profound class differences against them, Eva and Aleandro still fall deeply in love—only to be separated by a brutal act of hatred.

As each are swept into the tides of war, they try to forget their romance. Yet, the haunting memory of that summer will reshape their destinies and lead to decisions which are felt through generations.

From the horrors of the Second World War to the tensions of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and beyond, When the Summer Was Ours is a sweeping story about the toll of secrets, the blurred lines between sacrifice and obsession, and the endurance of the human spirit.

Kindle, 384 pages,
Published August 24, 2021 
by Washington Square Press
3/5 stars

This is my first time reading Roxanne Veletzos after hearing glowing reviews of her debut, The Girl They Left Behind.  I was excited to discover a new author.

Beginning in 1942 Budapest was a nice switch for me, in terms of WW2 books.  While I appreciated this setting and how the war affected its citizens and even the historical events afterwards, slowly this book fell a little flat for me.

I was craving something new in terms of storyline.  This story was interesting enough but I struggled to connect with the characters and I kinda felt like I've read this story before in it being predictable.

When the Summer Was Ours is a heart aching story that showed resilience and determination.  It released on August 24th.

My thanks to Atria Books for a digital arc (via Netgalley) in exchange for a honest review.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie

Welcome to the decrepit Woodmoor Manor…where something in the woods is always watching. From the author of Scritch Scratch comes a chilling middle grade story about a creepy mansion and sinister creatures in the woods

All Ginny Anderson wants from her summer is to relax. But when Ginny's father—a respected restoration expert in Chicago—surprises the family with a month-long trip to Michigan, everything changes. They aren't staying in a hotel like most families would. No, they're staying in a mansion. A twenty-six room, century-old building surrounded by dense forest. Woodmoor Manor.

Locals claim the surrounding woods are inhabited by mutated creatures that escaped a mad scientist over a hundred years ago. And some say campers routinely disappear never to be seen again.

When the creaky floors and shadowy corners of the mansion seem to take on a life of their own, Ginny uncovers the wildest mystery of all: there's more than one legend roaming Saugatuck, Michigan, and they definitely aren't after campers.

They're after her.

Format320 pages, Paperback
Expected publication: September 14, 2021
by Sourcebooks Young Readers
4/5 stars

This book was wacked out spooky in parts.  I started reading in the dark when insomina hit, well I definitely couldn't fall back to sleep for a while.  

The whole book isn't always spooky but rather a great mystery with a ghosty presence and a 12 year old Agatha Christie fan.  Ginny didn't want to spend a month in this house when her plans for the summer included a writing class and hanging out with friends back home.

This is my my first time reading Lindsay Currie and I enjoyed the ride. It was descriptive, setting the vibe for an old mansion with secrets and red herrings.  With a small town setting, new friends - both real and not, this book is  geared for a middle grade audience. It's a story of family and friends, sacrifice and acceptance with closure.  

What Lives in the Woods releases in a couple days.

My thanks to Sourcebooks Kids for a digitial ARC (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, September 3, 2021

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone comes another riveting work of psychological suspense about a young couple’s disappearance on a gorgeous summer night, and the mother who will never give up trying to find them...

On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favourite area for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

Kindle, 416 pages
Releases Sept 7, 2021
by Atria Books
3.5/5 stars

Lisa Jewell is one of my go to authors, The Night She Disappeared releases in just a few short days. Some of her books have been fast paced, unputdownable and others have a slower pace.  This one fits the latter.

Told from 3 different POVs, Tallulah (teen mom), her mom Kim and unrelated Sophie.  I enjoyed hearing from Tallulah and Kim, for some reason I wasn't a fan of Sophie (no idea why really).  Tallulah was a good teen mom, juggling school, friends and doting on her son.  So when she disappeared one night we know something is up.

The book jumps between the characters and back in time (with back story) at times it felt long and distracted me from the disappearance. A lot of teen drama that gave this book a YA feel. I like YA so no big deal for me. Eventually it does reveal what happens that night.

The Night She Disappeared is a slow paced mystery with a creepy house, surrounding woods and  unreliable (and unlikable) characters.  A number of red herrings left me guessing but it was the ending that kinda fell a little flat for me.  For me this didn't have the emotional impact I am used to with a Lisa Jewell book but still an intricately woven mystery.

My thanks to Atria Books for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.