Thursday, June 27, 2019

Review: The Matchmaker's List

I am loving the resurgence of the rom-com. I adore these types of novels and am thrilled that they're making a comeback in such an amazing way. Gone are the stereotypical white girls trying to make it in the big city, wearing the best fashion (though I loved those books too). Now we're getting diverse characters and authors and stories that are so much more realistic and so, so necessary. The Matchmaker's List by Sonya Lalli has some issues but, in the end, I'm so happy it's published and available for women everywhere to read.

Here's the synopsis:
One devoted modern girl + a meddlesome, traditional grandmother = a heartwarming multicultural romantic comedy about finding love where you least expect it. 
Raina Anand may have finally given in to family pressure and agreed to let her grandmother play matchmaker, but that doesn't mean she has to like it--or that she has to play by the rules. Nani always took Raina's side when she tried to push past the traditional expectations of their tight-knit Indian-immigrant community, but now she's ambushing Raina with a list of suitable bachelors. Is it too much to ask for a little space? Besides, what Nani doesn't know won't hurt her...
As Raina's life spirals into a parade of Nani-approved bachelors and disastrous blind dates, she must find a way out of this modern-day arranged-marriage trap without shattering her beloved grandmother's dreams.
One of my favourite things about this novel was that it's set in Canada and doesn't hide it. Canadian authors too often set their novels in the US or purposefully ambiguous locations - not usually because they want to but because it's harder to market a Canadian set book to American readers (insert major eye roll here). I think it's a bunch of baloney so when I find a book that's proudly Canadian, I cheer.

The biggest thing I didn't like about this book was so big it really affected the way I viewed the story as a whole. I could have liked the novel SO much more had this plot point not occurred. This is going to be a bit of a spoiler but I think it needs to be discussed because I'm not OK with this part of the story and think others should be aware of it. Raina was so fed up with being pushed onto male suitors that she pretends to be gay. AND a character had come out to her in confidence and she ends up outing them later on. Not to mention seriously pissing them off and offending them. I just cannot understand why Lalli thought it would be a good idea to have Raina pretend to be gay for protection from an arranged marriage.

There were other things I really liked about this story. I loved that there was an actual list of suitors that was added to and amended as the novel went on. Raina and her Nani's relationship is complicated, like all family relationships are, but the love between them runs so deep. Respect of the other is a bit lacking but they truly do love each other. Raina's friendship with Shaylee is perfection and Shay is the kind of girlfriend every woman should hope to have (and be). I appreciated that Raina is figuring herself out and is a big work in progress, even by the end of the novel. I liked that each date she has to go on is a separate chapter and that there are other chapters from past birthdays interspersed throughout as well.

Overall, Sonya Lalli's novel is a lot of fun. Is it the best rom-com I've ever read? No, but I am absolutely OK with that (less OK with that big issues I mentioned). I enjoyed the time I spent reading The Matchmaker's List and think it's an incredibly important addition to the contemporary fiction space. I look forward to what Lalli writes next!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, June 21, 2019

Review: The Spanish Promise

Karen Swan has a lot of novels - and I've read a good number of them. Lately she's had a winter/holiday themed title released near Christmas, as well as a novel released in the spring. The Spanish Promise was this year's spring offering, having been published in March. Even though every single book doesn't completely wow me, I always look forward to reading Swan's novels because the settings are delightful and the stories are interesting. This book was...fine. It wasn't fantastic but it kept my attention enough to want to keep reading until the end.

Here's the synopsis:
Charlotte, a wealth counsellor who knows from personal experience the complications that a sudden inheritance can bring, helps her clients navigate the emotional side effects of sudden wealth syndrome. When she is asked by Mateo Mendoza, heir to a huge Spanish estate, to fly to Madrid to help resolve an issue in his father's will, she's confident it will be straightforward. The timing isn't great as Charlotte's due to get married the following week, but once her client signs on the dotted line, Charlotte can return to her life in London and her wedding, and live happily ever after. Marrying Stephen might not fill her with excitement, but she doesn't want to live in the fast lane anymore - safe and predictable is good.
But Carlos Mendoza's final bequest opens up a generation of secrets, and Charlotte finds herself compelled to unravel the mystery. As Charlotte digs deeper, she uncovers the story of a family divided by Spain's Civil War, and of a love affair across the battle lines that ended in tragedy.
And while she is consumed in the drama of the Mendozas, Charlotte's own tragic past catches up with her, threatening to overturn everything in her life she's worked so hard to build.
I think part of my issue was that I was kind of bored by Charlotte. She had something happen in her past that made her shed her rich girl life but I still kind of felt that she was playing at being average, for lack of a better description. She clearly hadn't dealt with her past trauma and was rebelling against her mother and fiance who wished she would just quit her job, get married, and settle into a housewife role like the good little girl they thought she was. I wanted to see more of a spine from Charlotte - especially when she was being challenged by someone from her past - but I never felt like she truly dealt with her past and embraced a life where she didn't rely on her family's funds.

The story takes place during two time periods. While it was very interesting to read the parts on Spain's Civil War, I think the novel suffered from trying to tell two stories. I imagine Swan probably wanted it more intertwined but it just sort of felt like I was reading two different novels. It wasn't until the very end when you could really feel how the stories came together.

My favourite thing about this book - and all of Swan's previous titles - is that it's set somewhere I've never been before. Granted, I haven't been many places, but Swan manages to really paint a picture for me so it feels like I have been there.

It may seem like I didn't like The Spanish Promise but I did. Karen Swan's latest is one to pick up when you want to escape to another country (unless you, you know, live in Spain) and have a mini vacation. I'd file this one under "borrow" and keep in mind you'll get to learn a little bit about the Spanish Civil War along the way.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributors, Publishers Group Canada. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Review: Once Upon a River

I, like thousands of others, had read Diane Setterfield's bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Now, I can't remember when I read it. Or even how it ended. But I recall really enjoying it. (Yes, that's probably evidence that I read too many books and I really can't keep track of all of them.) When Once Upon a River showed up at my house last year, I was intrigued simply because of Setterfield's name. Then I read the synopsis. Even more intriguing. And when I was finished? I was a little bit in love.

Here's the synopsis:
A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.
This was such a well-told story. I found myself calling it a sort of fable or fairy tale. It was set in a real world but had a sense of the mystical about it, what with all the storytelling and the little girl who was dead and then she wasn't. Or was she? I loved the way Setterfield wrote this novel so much I found myself reading aloud to my colleague as I just couldn't keep such wonderful phrases to myself.

I was emotionally invested from the start. Invested in the whole story and every character I met along the way - and there were a lot of characters. You'd actually think it could get confusing with so many people involved but it wasn't. Setterfield keeps each thread untangled and then masterfully weaves the threads together into an ending that is oh so satisfying.

I really liked reading the customs and folklore of the people and communities Setterfield created. Each town along the river had something it was known for and, being a reader and lover of stories, I really liked that the town the little girl landed in was known for their stories. I could perfectly imagine sitting by the fire at The Swan with a mug of ale or cider and listening to Joe tell his stories. Not only could I imagine it but I wanted to be there. Setterfield created a world that totally and completely drew me in.

And how lovely is this cover? I think it perfectly captures the feel of the novel.

I highly recommend reading Once Upon a River. It's such a delight and a wonderful mix of historical fiction and fairy tales. If you're in a book club, you should consider suggesting Diane Setterfield's latest novel - I think you'll all have a lot to talk about.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review: Social Misconduct

I had high hopes for Social Misconduct. It's by a Canadian author and seemed so very timely in our social media obsessed world. But S.J. Maher's novel really let me down. From a thriller perspective it was interesting and I really had no idea how it would end but the rest? I kind of couldn't wait for it to end.

Here's the synopsis:
Her perfect job becomes the perfect nightmare when a stalker hacks her phone.
Candace Walker is thrilled when she lands a new job at a hip Manhattan tech company and gets a brand-new iPhone. She’s more than ready to move on from creating clickbait ads for weight-loss pills and herbal erection boosters, and is determined to dazzle the startup team she joins.
A week later, though, everything is at risk: Candace is the target of a mysterious harasser and an online smear campaign. She tosses her new phone into the Hudson River, begins hiding out in her sister’s storage locker in New Jersey, and can’t think of a single person she can trust. But Candace hasn’t come this far—and gone to such lengths—to submit to what is happening without a fight.
Let's get one thing squared away right off the hop. S.J. Maher is a man. For reasons that may or may not be valid, I'm not thrilled with the author's and/or publisher's decision to use initials instead of his full name. I think it's the opposite reason female authors would/will use initials when they write sci-fi and other seemingly male dominated genres (hello, J.K. Rowling). Now, where the latter is to hide the female name so boys and men aren't put off by the idea that a woman is writing whatever the genre is (that's another rant for another day), I think this situation is used to capitalize on the "girl thriller" boom (you know, the one that was started by books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train). The boom is great and has allowed so many women to write - and publish - novels that may otherwise have been ignored because they were women. Females are flocking to these stories that feature flawed and twisted characters. It's great. But. Why did this title have to use initials? This isn't the only book to do this, by the way. Remember that hit The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn? Also a man. Now, I said at the top that I don't know if this is necessarily something to get this worked up about but it's been nagging at me ever since I read the synopsis and then found out Maher is male. Then it kind of got me riled up again when I actually read the book because there were a few too many instances of sexually violent scenes (I don't have examples since I read an ARC and haven't compared it to a finished copy) when they didn't need to occur. I don't think authors need to write only what they know - or what they are, gender wise - but when the thriller is based entirely on a millennial female it might help to, you know, be one. Or perhaps even talk to one so you don't write a stereotypical character who makes other female millennials (i.e. me) roll their eyes. 

End rant.

"But what about the actual story?" is what I imagine you're asking if you even got this far into this review. was fine. If you took out the character traits and Candace's weird, terrible job and just said Person A is on the run and Persons B+ are missing/dead/involved and then just waited for the revelations as the novel went on, well that might have been OK. I was actually very intrigued by the mystery. I knew things weren't as they seemed but I don't think I could have predicted how it all went down. That is probably why this book got 2 stars instead of only 1.

One more mini rant, and it involves the end but I don't think it's really a spoiler because I'm not going to mention names. Sandy Hook got dragged into this story. I cannot for the life of me figure out why. I'm not American but even I felt like six plus years was too soon to use it as a plot point. An aside: having a character contemplate suicide as an easy way out was...unfortunate. Finally, I wasn't fully aware of what "swatting" was until I read this book but I don't love that it was included either.

I did like that the chapters changed timelines. One followed Candace in present day as she's running from whatever happened. The other jumps back several weeks and starts as Candace gets her promotion and all the trouble begins. The timelines move forward in time until they get all mixed up and you're finally caught up to present day and know what happened to Candace. I know some people found it confusing and they weren't a fan, but I actually enjoyed it. It added to the suspense of not knowing who to trust because you're still trying to find all the info.

Clearly Social Misconduct was not for me. S.J. Maher's novel might be for someone else but it won't be going on my list of bookpusher titles. 

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: I'll Never Tell

I've been reading Catherine McKenzie's novels for years (eight, as my Goodreads has told me) and I have always marveled at how unique each story is. I eagerly look forward to her next novel as soon as I finish her last. I was especially looking forward to I'll Never Tell after absolutely loving The Good Liar last year (review is here if you missed it). Could her new one live up to her last (which was an instant bestseller, btw)? The short answer is: hell, yes.

Here's the synopsis:
What happened to Amanda Holmes?
Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.
Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it's sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family's center, hasn't made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done.
But then the will is read and they learn that it's much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can't move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?
This isn't the first novel that features a dysfunctional family and a surprise in a will, and it won't be the last. But it's definitely going to be one that sticks with me for awhile. The MacAllisters are likeable enough (way more palatable than some families), they're just a bit messed up. And who isn't? It's hard to say if they really deserved to be dealing with their father's bizarre conditions even though it's pretty clear one of them is a murderer.

Speaking of murder and whodunnit - I had no idea. Every time the perspective changed with a new chapter (not as jarring as you might think), I changed my mind. Every sibling had motive and opportunity, though a few of them were immediately ruled out. Or were they? Yep. It's a twisted mystery and I loved it.

There's one thing that's been niggling at me since I finished the novel and it has to do with some choices Pete MacAllister made. I can't really say anything more because it's a hell of a spoiler if I do but his reasoning never made clear (not for the surprise in the will, that part was pretty clear). I guess I'm always just looking for more of an "everything wrapped up in a bow" situation than McKenzie was going for, especially for a character who is dead, but I feel like there's way more to him and his motivations than we got to see.

I loved that this books was set at a summer camp. I never went to overnight camp growing up so I don't have the kinds of memories that the campers at Macaw would but McKenzie does have that experience and, through that background and her great writing, I was able to understand what it was like and why the characters may have acted the way they did.

Also, I always thought the cover was so well suited to this novel - and I was very happy that McKenzie wasn't given an obviously feminine cover - but it wasn't until I inserted it into this review that I realized how perfect (and perfectly creepy) it really is.

I'll Never Tell is an amazing follow up to Catherine McKenzie's success with The Good Liar. It's an intriguing, complex, twisted story that she tells so, so well. I may have started reading her books because they were contemporary, fun, and relateable but I'm so happy with the direction she's taken because she's so good at writing thrillers. Pick this one up for your summer vacation!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*