Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi

Half-sisters Effia and Esi have never met nor do they know that the other one exists. They were born in different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana to the same mother, but after that their lives take two very different paths.

Against the hopes of her father, Effia marries an Englishman and lives in the comforts of the Cape Coast Castle where her husband is involved in the slave trade. Their children are educated abroad and grow up to become involved in the administration of the British Empire in Africa. Esi is captured and sold into slavery, imprisoned in the dungeon of the Cape Coast Castle before she is shipped off to America. From Ghana to America, each generation that follows these women face very different circumstances and challenges in their lives but each remain intrinsically tied to the African continent.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, is a masterpiece of a novel and is the debut novel that people will be talking about for years to come.

It is only May but I am declaring this my favourite book of the year and I know for sure that no book I read from here on will come close to taking that away from it. It is not just the subject matter (which Gyasi tackles fantastically) but the way that it is written. I am so taken by the way the book goes back and forth between the lines of Effia and Esi, each chapter moving to the next generation of the lineage to show the lasting effects of the slave trade on the African people. I also love how we get just a little bit of each story, left wanting more from each and every person and yet still satisfied.

The subject matter in this book is deep but it is honest and rooted in the history of Ghana and the United States. Covering the wars of Ghana, the slave trade to America, colonialism, the Civil War, the Great Migration, and Harlem in the twentieth-century, everything comes together for an incredible read.

It is inevitable that this book will be compared to The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, which will be based on the subject matter mostly. This book does deserve to be mentioned along with Hill’s book because of the strength of its writing but the book also deserves to stand on its own away from any comparisons to others.

It is incredible to me that this book is written by a debut author in the her mid-twenties. There has been so much love for this book in the past year and the build-up has been incredible given the buzz and praise for this book from the industry. And having now read it, I can honestly say that this book absolutely deserves the love. I just can’t stop talking about this book and Yaa Gyasi is a name that we all will be talking about for decades to come.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, May 16, 2016

"The Regional Office is Under Attack!" by Manuel Gonzales

When evil and darkness try to take over the world, there is one organization there to stop them - the Regional Office. Led by the mysterious Oyemi and her team of Oracles, their ultra-elite female assassins are protecting the globe from mayhem and destruction. But someone on the inside wants to bring it down. And now the Regional Office is under attack. 

Rose is a young assassin who has been recruited by a defector from the Office to lead the attack. The Office's first line of defence is Sarah, a young woman who was taken in by the Office when her mother disappeared and who also happens to have a mechanical arm. Over the course of the attack, Rose and Sarah’s stories will collide and their worlds will never be the same.

The Regional Office is Under Attack, by Manuel Gonzales, is a fun and unique novel that will have readers hooked from the very first page right to the last.

Based on the description of this book it is something I didn’t think I would ever have any interest in reading. But a copy came into work and I remembered another blogger talking about how much they enjoyed it so I thought I would give it a go. And my goodness, did I enjoy this one. I am so glad that I looked past my reading preferences and picked this book up.

I know that at first glance this book would be considered Science Fiction or Fantasy, which are genres I really do not read but this book combines and transcends genre to make for a great read no matter what you are into. This book has the perfect balance between the development of characters and the fantasy world of the Regional Office for readers like me. But I also think that fans of the genre won’t find it to be a watered down fantasy novel either.

Not only is does this book have a great premise but it is also told in a very interesting way. The stories of the characters are told by the characters themselves but the story of the Office is told in pieces through excerpts from a book/research paper which occurs in between the story.

This is such a unique book and it is a thrill of a ride. I enjoyed how the book went back and forth between characters and also past and present. The short chapters kept the pace moving quickly and all of this combined to keep me completely interested so that I did not want to put the book down.

Monday, May 9, 2016

"Beware That Girl" by Teresa Toten

Her whole life Kate O’Brian has been the odd girl out.  As the scholarship student at a succession of elite private schools, she’s had to prove she is worth her place all while keeping her past a secret. She’s book-smart and she’s street-smart and she can stand her ground no matter what life throws at her and no matter what she has to do.

Now she is in her final year of high school and she’s attending yet another new school. But she has a plan. She will climb the social ladder and achieve her ultimate goal - a spot at Yale. She just needs to find the right “it” girl who she can use to her advantage. That girl is Olivia Sumner, a wealthy yet troubled teen. She is back at Waverly School to repeat her last year of high school after mysterious circumstances prevented her from finishing. She’s in desperate need of a best friend, and Kate may be the one for her.

But when the handsome Mark Redkin joins Waverly as part of the administration, their world is turned upside down. Mark immediately charms both students and staff alike, becoming closer to some than others. But Kate soon realizes that Mark is on to her secret and if he doesn’t get what he wants from her, he may reveal everything she has worked so hard to keep hidden.

Beware That Girl, by Teresa Toten, is a Young Adult thriller that easily takes it place amongst the other thrillers that are currently heating up the market. Engrossing and fast-paced, this book takes readers inside an elite yet dysfunctional world of wealthy New York City teens.

This is a YA thriller that I quite enjoyed. There was definitely enough “thriller” to make it an enjoyable book for adult readers while the YA part keeps it a bit lighter. I have read quite a few books that take place on the Upper East Side of New York City but not many from the perspective of teenagers and I thought this was a nice change. Sometimes when I read YA, I wonder if this is really how teens would behave in these situations and while I found the way the book was resolved was a little far-fetched, I never questioned the age or behaviour of these characters.

If you have read and enjoyed Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia then I think you will enjoy this book. Throughout this book I often found myself reminded of that book as the two worlds are very similar. And it’s nice to have the thriller element of both books rather than it just being a book about the world of wealthy teens.

Overall, this was a nice read. The plot was good, the pace was fast enough to keep my interest the whole way through, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the ending.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

"The Nest" by Cynthia D'Aprix-Sweeney

If you have ever thought of your family as dysfunctional, then you need to meet the Plumbs. Just a quick glance will make you feel much better about the people you call your relatives.

On a cold afternoon in New York City, siblings Melody, Beatrice, and Jack have gathered together to confront their older brother. Leo has just left rehab after driving drunk and crashing his car with a nineteen-year-old waitress who is not his wife in the passenger seat. In order to minimize the fallout, their mother has used most of the money from “The Nest,” a joint trust fund the siblings were only months away from receiving. 

The Nest was left to them by their deceased father to be a mid-life supplement but over the years all of the siblings have been counting on it to solve a number of their self-inflicted money problems. Melody, whose twin daughters are about to enter college, has a mortgage she never could afford. Jack, an antiques dealer, has been funding his shop by borrowing against the beach cottage he owns all the while keeping it a secret from his husband. Bea, a once-promising writer, has never finished her novel and has had to pay her advance back to her publisher.

The Plumb siblings need Leo to rescue them soon before everything collapses. But Leo has a few more secrets he is keeping from his siblings. As they deal with the choices from their past and the fallout of the accident, they will be drawn together and pulled apart like only siblings can be.

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix-Sweeney is a story about family, relationships, and the ways that we both build each other up and bring each other down.

Since its release this has been a very popular book. Not a shift goes by at the bookstore that I’m not discussing this book with customers. And the conversations always come down to one thing - who doesn’t love a dysfunctional family? They definitely make you feel better about your own family. Let’s face it, there is dysfunction in every family, and I love reading about real families.

I enjoyed this book. The characters aren’t that likeable and that is what is so likeable about them. I honestly didn’t feel that there was a whole lot to the book, it’s more a study of character than a plot driven novel. It was easy to read, I breezed through it and that made the reading experience enjoyable. If the book had been a longer read I don’t think I would have liked it as much. The characters probably would have gotten on my nerves after a while rather than being fascinating. 

The writing in this book is beautiful and strong but the book is definitely lacking in some places. I wonder if it suffers because of the high expectations that have been placed on it due to all of the buzz before it was released.

Do I think that the book is an amazing, must-read, best book of the year? No, but it wasn’t a waste of time either. Overall it was a good reading experience and I’m glad to have read it as it is definitely one of the biggest conversation starters in the book world this year.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Made With Love" by Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie

Vegans and vegetarians rejoice! Gone are the days of missing out and forgetting about delicious treats just because you follow a plant-based diet. The mother-daughter duo behind Kelly’s Bake Shoppe and Lettuce Love CafĂ© have a new cookbook with over 100 plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and peanut-free recipes. And meat-eaters take note - you won’t even realize there is anything missing from these sweet treats.

Made With Love: More Than 100 Sweet and Savory Plant-Based Recipes for Every Moment in Life, by Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie, is a beautiful cookbook packed full of delicious foods, easy recipes, and detailed information about vegan cooking and baking. This book is perfect for both the vegan and the meat-eater in your life.

I adhere to a mostly plant-based diet but one thing that I tend not to do myself is baking. I leave that to the experts. But this book changed my mind on that. The recipes in this book are easy to follow as well as shop for, which is very important for me. I don’t have the time or the money for specialty stores and with this book there is absolutely no need for them. While there is a wide variety of recipes in this book and lots of meal ideas, the baking section is the strength of this book.

So far I have tried two recipes however my copy of the book has a ton of sticky notes sticking out of it of recipes I am definitely going to try. Because who can resist dishes like Easy Sunday Morning French Toast, Sweet Potato and Quinoa Burgers, Delectable Donuts, Pina Colada Smoothies, and Grandma’s Apple Crumble. I love the Carrot Cake Smoothie, and really does that need an explanation? It’s a super healthy, drinkable carrot cake people. I also enjoyed the Tomato Protein Soup, and for me it was wonderful not even as a soup but a lovely dish of tomatoes, chickpeas, croutons, and lots of delicious spices.

For Kelly and Erinn, the food that is found in this cookbook is a way of life. Kelly is the co-founder of Canada’s first gluten-free and vegan eating establishment. Erinn herself struggles with food sensitivities which is why they founded Kelly’s Bake Shoppe which is 100 per cent organic and gluten, dairy, egg, and peanut free. In everything they do their focus is on health and kindness.

There are a lot of plant-based cookbooks on the market so it’s understandable if one is wondering why they need another one. But this one is a must-have for your cookbook collection. As I mentioned already, it’s baking section is its biggest strength. Even meat-eaters won’t be able to resist Dulce de Leche cupcakes. And this book also sets itself apart from the rest with its gorgeous photos. This would make a wonderful gift for its beauty alone. Plus, readers will want to try every single thing they see in this book. This book is one that will definitely be getting a lot of use in my house.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Month In Review

So April was a great month for me when it came to reading, but when it came to blogging, it wasn't great. Things were very busy for me balancing family and work (again, work in a bookshop, not complaining at all) so while I was getting a lot of reading done on the run, I was having a hard time just sitting down and that is where my blog became neglected. So I'm hoping to turn things around on that front in May.

Here are the books I read in April with my GoodReads ratings:

Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld ****
Beware That Girl - Teresa Toten ****
Me Before You - JoJo Moyes *****
The Regional Office is Under Attack - Manuel Gonzales ****
The Nest - Cynthia D'Aprix-Sweeney ****
I Almost Forgot About You - Terry McMillan ****
Making It Up As I Go Along - Marian Keyes ***

With one exception, every book I read this month was a 4 star read for me. It was just a month of good reads. My favourite was Eligible. I'm recommending this modern adaptation of Pride & Prejudice to everyone. The Regional Office is Under Attack is a lot of fun to read. I Almost Forgot About You is classic Terry McMillan. And I was pleasantly surprised that I liked Me Before You so much!

Non-Book Stuff
It's officially Spring when Canada's Wonderland opens for business and we were at the park for sneak preview night. I love that my 9 year old wants to go on every roller coaster over and over, we had a great time. My husband and I saw Jimmy Carr's stand-up show and it was hilarious. Gotta love a comedian who can take on, and encourages, hecklers.

What I'm Looking Forward to in May
My TBR list for May is so long and looking so good! I'm still working through The Passage, though my husband chose it as his commute audiobook so I'm reading more now so we can read it together. I managed to get my hands on an ARC of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and I can't wait to get started on that. A few others on my pile - Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, The Assistants by Camille Perri and The Couple Next Door by Shari LaPena.