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The Girls: A Novel
The Girls: A Novel
by Emma Cline
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.20
67 used & new from $12.13

5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Debut, June 26, 2016
This review is from: The Girls: A Novel (Hardcover)
For any generation, there are political and cultural markers that define and shape it and that remain forever engraved in their collective memories: for the baby boomers, it’s the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War,…and the Manson murders. The murders perhaps more than anything put an end to the idealized view of the hippie movement by revealing its dangerous underbelly and upended the philosophy of ‘peace, love, and understanding’ that had propelled the 1967 summer of love and signalled that it was truly and completely over.

So when reading The Girls by author Emma Cline, it was impossible for an old boomer like me not to feel…not nostalgia certainly but more perhaps a visceral memory of the fear that the event inspired. Certainly this is not the first novel to create a fictional account based on the events surrounding the murders that I have read but it was one of the first that took me back so strongly to that summer of ’69 and that says a lot about the book especially as Cline avoids stressing the extreme violence as a means to engender an emotional response. This is more about the psychology behind cults that allows this kind of violence to occur than about the event itself.

The narrator, Evie, now middle-aged, is looking back at the year 1969. Her parents are divorced and are moving on with their lives and her best friend has rejected her, leaving her lonely and rebellious. It is then when she spots the women in the park, seeming to move with a kind of confidence and joy that Evie wishes she could emulate. When she finally meets them and is invited to join their ‘family’, she is more fascinated by Suzanne, one of the girls in the cult, than by Russell, the Manson-like leader who is, interestingly, hardly present in the story except as an idealized symbol of power to his followers, an ideal that is completely negated when he actually is present. This is a tale more about the women who are seduced by the idea of a powerful man, women who seek validation and strength from this man who, in reality, in no way resembles the ideal. He is at best a catalyst -the women act on his orders while he remains hidden in the shadows. Rather than giving them strength, he drains them of theirs. But even then, when the cult is finally uncovered, Russell hides while the girls still try to protect him:

"Even at the end, the girls had been stronger than Russell."

The Girls is not an easy read. It is a fascinating psychological thriller but it is also an unapologetic feminist novel. Cline has created a powerful narrative about identity and friendship and the trap too many young women fall into of allowing others to define their value. As such, it is almost unrelentingly dark and pessimistic about the role of women in society, not only in the past but in the present where Evie is confronted with the reality of how little has changed as she watches another young woman lose her self-worth to a man who considers her as little more than a useful prop in his life. And yet Cline manages to deliver her message without beating the reader over the head with it, a feat somewhat like walking a high wire without a net and she does it without a misstep. The Girls has been receiving a lot of hype and I have to say this is the rare book that deserves it. That this is Cline’s debut novel makes it even more impressive.

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review


My Kind of Crazy
My Kind of Crazy
by Robin Reul
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.53
64 used & new from $5.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Story, June 25, 2016
This review is from: My Kind of Crazy (Paperback)
After reading an online site about how to get the girl of your dreams to say yes to a prom invite, Hank decides to light sparklers on Amanda’s lawn spelling the word ‘prom’. Things don’t go quite as Hank hoped – it sets the lawn on fire. Hank takes off but unfortunately there are witnesses: Amanda who didn’t recognize him but is impressed by the effort if not the result and will launch a campaign to find him and Peyton, the loner from across the street, who did recognize him and who just happens to enjoy setting fires herself.

My Kind of Crazy is a contemporary YA novel by author Robin Reul dealing with issues like abuse and mental illness. The story is told in the first person by Hank whose mother and brother were killed in a car accident and whose father has taken to drinking in a big way. But it is Peyton who lights up the pages and not just because of her pyromaniac tendencies. She lives with her mother and her abusive boyfriend and fire starting is her way of coping. This could have been a somewhat bleak tale but fortunately Reul writes with empathy and humour making this a surprisingly sweet story. I would recommend this to anyone 12+.

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review


After the Crash: A Novel
After the Crash: A Novel
by Michel Bussi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.77
105 used & new from $1.40

3.0 out of 5 stars Not a Bad Mystery, June 19, 2016
In 1982, a plane crash on the Franco-Swiss border leaves only one survivor: a three-month-old baby girl. Two sets of grandparents step forward to claim her, one rich, one poor. The miracle baby called Lylie is awarded to the poor family but the other hires a detective to find evidence proving the child’s identity, a difficult task in the days before DNA testing. Now, eighteen years later, the detective has died and Lylie seems to have become an obsession for both families, not least her brother Marc who has very unbrotherly feelings for her. And now she has disappeared on an unspecified task. Marc is determined not only to find her but to prove that she is not his sister. Using the detective’s journal, he sets out across France in pursuit of the truth.

After the Crash by French author Michel Bussi is divided between Marc’s search and the detective’s journal. The novel has an interesting premise and, for the most part, lives up to it. However, the story is marred somewhat by its lack of credibility in several places eg. the hiring of the detective for an excessively long period (eighteen years) which seems like it could have been shortened, especially with the advent of DNA testing only a few years later, or the fact that, even with the testing, both families keep the results hidden, or why Marc didn’t just skip to the end of the journal and save himself a whole lot of running around. At times, it felt like Bussi was jumping through metaphorical hoops to keep the story from its own fatal crash.

Still, despite its faults, there’s a pretty decent mystery here providing enough incentive to keep the reader’s attention. There are twists and turns and red herrings galore and, if the characters are not overly complex, they are also not boring. The translation is done well and the story moves at a fairly fast pace. Overall, not a bad read if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief beyond its faults.

Thanks to Netgalley and Hachette Books for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review


Son of the Morning
Son of the Morning

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Historical Fantasy, June 14, 2016
What if the outcome of battles in a war rested on the intervention of angels or demons? What if angels weren’t the benevolent spirits they are depicted but guardians of a hierarchical system defined by Heaven and replicated on earth? What if devils are actually prison guards for Heaven keeping demons locked up? What if the reason demons must be locked up is that they wish to help the poor overthrow those hierarchical systems on earth? What if Edward III, faced with the fact that Heaven doesn’t see him as the rightful ruler of Great Britain and chooses to throw all of the weight of angels behind France, is offered the support of demons that have managed to elude their guards and escaped from Hell? What if angels can be killed? Those and many more issues are raised in Son of the Morning by author Mark Alder in this epic alternate historical fantasy set at the beginning of the Hundred Years War.

This is a fairly long book (well over 600 pgs) told from a great many points of view including those of some of Hell’s denizen’s. Despite its length, this felt very much like the first in a series which, in fact, it is. It introduces us to seemingly dozens of characters, some actual historical figures and some fictional, some very complex world-building, again some based on history and some not, including a foray into Hell, as well as an intricate theological system and concomitant heresies that are very much a part of the story and which interestingly enough reflect many of the beliefs at a time marked by the declining authority of the Church, some of which some Christians might find offensive. Unfortunately, although much of this was interesting, there were places where it seemed a bit draggy and, at others, somewhat confusing as it moves back and forth between characters, events, and places.

Overall, though I found the book compelling and, if at times, I found it confusing, the story kept me interested enough that, even when it was a bit slow, I always found myself wanting to read further to see what would happen and how all of the spiritual beings would continue to fit into the narrative. I am definitely looking forward to reading the next in the series and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fantasies.

3.5

I received this book from Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for an honest review


Redemption Road: A Novel
Redemption Road: A Novel
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Addicting Thriller, June 12, 2016
In author John Hart’s latest thriller set in North Carolina, there’s a whole lot going on and it’s all exciting. First, there’s Elizabeth Black, a cop under investigation for excessive force after pumping eighteen bullets into a pair of criminals who kidnapped and repeatedly raped 18-year-old Channing. Then there’s Adrian Wall, excop, just getting out of prison after 13 years for the murder of Julia Strange. Her son, Gideon now fourteen, hunts him down intending to kill him but instead gets shot himself.

All of these characters are irrevocably tied together by these tragedies. Elizabeth was the only one who believed Wall was innocent despite all the evidence against him and she still does. She’s become almost a surrogate mother for Gideon since his father couldn’t cope with his wife’s death and turned to the bottle for comfort. Elizabeth and Channing are held together both by the kidnapping and rapes and by a secret they share regarding it but they have more in common even than this. In fact, their bonds are stronger than the one between them and their parents – which brings me to one of the motifs running throughout the book, parents who are emotionally absent or who are incapable of coping with the horrors that have impacted the lives of their children, leaving their children vulnerable to even more tragedy.

Then another woman is murdered in exactly the same way as Strange and Wall is under suspicion again and he and Channing soon find themselves running from the FBI as well as the local law. But they are not the only ones after Wall. The Warden of the prison and several of his guards believe that Wall has information they want and they are more than willing to kill for it.

Phew! Like I said, there’s a whole lot going on here and that’s just a taste of this wonderfully addicting story. With all of these storylines crossing, recrossing, and slamming into each other, it’s amazing it never gets away from the author or ceases to grab the attention of the reader but it doesn’t on either count. It is well-plotted, extremely well-written with compelling and sympathetic characters. It is about love and family, forgiveness and redemption but most all, it is just one hell of a Southern Gothic thriller.


Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory: A Novel
Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory: A Novel
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun YA Scifi Adventure, June 11, 2016
Scott and Davey couldn’t be more different or dislike each other more. Scott is quiet, cautious, nerdy, just hoping to make it through his last year of high school with as little drama as possible. Davey is head cheerleader, pretty, popular, confident, dating the captain of the football team, and making plans for when she’s inevitably crowned prom queen.

But they may now have something in common – it starts out small, hardly noticeable, Scott’s can of soda that isn’t the right kind…except then it is and then there’s Davey’s dissection frog begging for its life in biology. And that’s just the beginning; soon it starts getting even weirder, giant lizards, spiders, a cowboy sloth, a destructive robot. Soon Scott and Davey are fighting for their lives. But as soon as they win each battle, everything goes back to normal and the only things they have left to prove it wasn’t their imaginations are all their injuries at least until the next time. Unfortunately, all the next times seem to be coming faster and bringing with them much scarier and more dangerous monsters. Either they are sharing some strange hallucination or there is something terrible happening at the school and they are the only ones who seem to be able to see it.

Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory is a scifi adventure by authors Nick Scott and Noa Gavin. It is full of action, adventure, monsters, and laugh-out-loud humour and is just a whole lot of fun. Scott and Davey make for two interesting characters especially as there is a nice gender role reversal here: Scott is cautious, thoughtful, and tries to avoid confrontation whenever possible while Davey is brash, courageous and chooses to face dangers head on. It is aimed at a YA audience but it is the kind of tale that can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids although there is a great deal of violence and some weird sloth behaviour that might be too much for children under twelve.

Thanks to Inkshares and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review


The Skeleton Tree
The Skeleton Tree

4.0 out of 5 stars Exciting Adventure Story, June 9, 2016
This review is from: The Skeleton Tree (Kindle Edition)
It’s been a year since the death of 12-year-old Chris’ father when his Uncle Jack invites him on a sailing adventure from Kodiak Alaska to Vancouver, British Columbia. Chris’ excitement is curtailed somewhat when he finds out that they are sharing the adventure with Frank a sullen sarcastic 15-year-old who Chris has never met. When they hit a storm, the boat sinks, Jack is killed, and Chris and Frank find themselves stranded on the coast of Alaska without any provisions or means to contact help.

Despite Frank’s clear and seemingly constant animosity towards Chris, the two are forced to work together to either find a way to civilization or, if worse comes to worst, shelter and a food supply to allow them to survive the brutal winter ahead. Fortunately, they discover a derelict cabin and, with the salmon spawning in a river nearby, they have a food supply at least for a while. They also discover a tree with several coffins suspended in its branches, the skeleton tree of the title.

Frank seems to know a great deal about survival at least in theory but lacks the patience to carry through with his many plans whether it is creating a fire by rubbing sticks together or building a raft. He also displays a kind of daredevil attitude which can be dangerous especially in their encounters with an aggressive grizzly. Chris, the narrator of this tale, is much more patient and thoughtful but unfortunately has never been taught any survival skills. This lack plus Frank’s belittling makes him feel even more lonely until he befriends a raven he names Thursday who provides him with comfort but who just adds to Frank’s resentment and jealousy. Chris is dependent on Frank’s skills but, when an accident leaves Frank extremely ill, he must set out on his own to try to find help.

The Skeleton Tree by author Iain Lawrence is one wild ride of an adventure story. Pitting the two young protagonists against the wild Alaskan wilderness keeps the action and suspense racked up while allowing for growth as the two must learn to work together. The wilderness itself as portrayed by Lawrence is beautiful and beautifully realized – this is nature at its most majestic and most dangerous. The story and the characters are complex and compelling and make the reader care about the outcome.

But this is not just a simple adventure tale. It is also about family, grief, the need for forgiveness and to let go of old fears and resentments if one is to move forward to discover one’s own story. The book is aimed at a middle grade audience but it has enough happening to appeal to any age.


Escape from Witchwood Hollow
Escape from Witchwood Hollow
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting YA Paranormal Tale, June 2, 2016
After the deaths of her parents in the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre, Honoria moves with her brother to the small rural town of Arnn. Missing her parents and her old friends and school, she becomes interested in a local legend to distract herself. According to this legend, Witchwood Hollow in the nearby woods is haunted by a witch who traps anyone who ventures there. With the help of Leon, a fellow student who shares her interest in the legend, she begins to investigate. As they search the woods looking for clues, they soon find more than they bargained for.

Escape from Witchwood Hollow is a YA paranormal novel by author Jordan Elizabeth. It is divided into several timelines and told in the third person but from the perspective of several different women including Honoria in the present, Lady Clifford, who first disappeared into the woods in 1676 after being accused of witchcraft, and Albertine who came to Arnn in 1850 to be reunited with her father but decided, despite warnings, to take a shortcut through the woods. Given the length of the book (only 200 pages) Elizabeth does an admirable job of keeping all of these stories from becoming hopelessly tangled while keeping them interesting.

This is a short fast read and one that I suspect would appeal to young readers, especially girls. It has an interesting plot and characters to root for. I did have a problem with the ending of the book but, to be fair, the problem may be with my interpretation of the story. Until the ending, it felt, at least to me, like a tale about children dealing with grief somewhat like Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls, not to suggest that the two stories are similar but that the purpose was similar. However, if that was the case, then the ending becomes problematic. However, read as a simple paranormal tale, the ending, if a tad abrupt, fits. There is little violence or romance and no cursing or sex making this a safe read for a fairly young audience and I would recommend Escape from Witchwood Hollow for age 12+ fans of the paranormal.

3.5

I was given the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review


The Vagrant
The Vagrant

5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written & Complex, May 29, 2016
This review is from: The Vagrant (Kindle Edition)
A man, mute and known only as the Vagrant, travels across an apocalyptic landscape carrying a baby and a sword. The sword may be the last hope for humanity in a world being destroyed by demons and he is determined, against all odds, to deliver it to those he believes can best use it. The enemy is just as determined to stop him and he encounters opposition and danger every step of the way. But he also finds allies including Harm, a member of a rebel group, as well as a very smart, very stubborn goat.

I have to say that it took me a while to get into The Vagrant by author Peter Newman. The beginning drops you somewhere in the middle of the story several years after the cataclysmic events that changed this world. We are introduced to characters, culture, events, and a world already fully realized and in motion and it took me a while to catch up. Still I hung in and I am so glad I did.

The story jumps back and forth in time between the Vagrant’s mission and the events leading up to it. As a result, the story at first felt fragmented to me, the cause of my initial confusion. But, as the story progressed, I began to appreciate this style of story-telling. It required commitment on my part to continue but it rewarded me for that commitment with a beautifully written tale, almost lyrical in its prose, both thoughtful and full of action.

The world-building weds modern technology with more typical fantasy culture in a way I have never seen before and that it works so well says much about Newman’s writing abilities. But it is the characters that made this one of my favourite reads so far this year. The Vagrant is a complex hero, preferring to settle disputes with money if possible, run away if he can, willing to stand and fight if that is the only option left. Despite the fact that he cannot speak, he has the ability to attract and retain loyal followers and his interaction with them and with the baby makes a sharp and fascinating contrast to the brutal world that exists around him. Harm is also a very interesting character, a man who worked as enforcer for the rebel group, committed to violence, but who sees in the Vagrant the possibility of redemption. And, of course, the baby who may be the most adorable heroine in fantasy and the goat who adds humour to this otherwise dark tale.

But perhaps my favourite character was the one called the Hammer that Walks as well as the Usurper’s daughter. She was one of the first humans tainted by the demons and one of the most terrifying. She is sent to destroy the Vagrant and the sword but something changes and her story is one of hope and heartbreak in almost equal measure.

The Vagrant is Newman’s debut novel and the first in a series. It is a tale full of adventure, complex characters and world-building, and beautiful prose. It is well-written and compelling, combining dark fantasy with post-apocalyptic. It is smart and violent and requires much from the reader but, for those who are willing to invest in the story, the result is well worth it.

4.5

With thanks to Edelweiss and Harper Voyager for the opportunity to read this book in


Girls on Fire: A Novel
Girls on Fire: A Novel
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark & Disturbing, May 27, 2016
Girls on Fire by author Robin Wasserman takes place in a small town in Pennsylvania during the ‘90s. Hannah Dexter had managed to stay under the radar at high school until her senior year when a humiliating encounter with popular girl, Nikki Drummond, brings her to the attention of Lacey Champlain. Fueled by their mutual hatred for Nikki, they form a strong but unequal bond. Lacey takes over Hannah’s life, renames her Dex, changes her style from nondescript to grunge and introduces her to casual sex, binge drinking, the music of Kurt Cobain, and a couple of bad boys suspected of dabbling in drugs and Satanism. Dex’s mom has misgivings about the relationship between the two girls but her father seems to enjoy his daughter’s new rebelliousness and her new friend – perhaps a little too much. Running in the background is the story of the suicide of Nikki’s boyfriend, Craig, the previous Hallowe’en, an event that has raised a lot of questions and created some hysteria in the small town about Satanism.

Girls on Fire is a well-written, compelling and suspenseful YA novel. It is also almost unceasingly dark. The narrative is divided between Lacey and Dex as they give us their own separate stories, an Us section in which we get their shared perspectives and a Them in which we get the perspective of others. Wasserman does a fascinating job of showing how toxic teenaged relationships can become as the story and their relationships move towards what can only be a bad ending for everyone. She has created some extremely unlikeable characters doing increasingly disturbing things and somehow makes us care how it will turn out. A definite high recommendation from me.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Harper Publishing for the opportunity to read this novel in exchange for an honest review


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