This is an easy quick read perfect for summer. It’s 1954 and Alice Campbell has decided to make a big change in her life, giving up everything for independence. So she buys a small bookshop in Boston and makes it her own. One day, Alice decides to create a book club where individuals will meet once a month to discuss books of her choosing…and they just so happen to be books about and/or written by women who are, themselves searching for a life to call their own. Alice’s little book club is made of four young women (Tess, Caroline, Evie, and Merritt) who just happen to be attending nearby Radcliffe College, all are young and edited with their own newfound independence. I liked this book well enough. It was a very quick read that was suitable after a workday where I had to tax my brain. I found the description of Alice’s bookshop and the details of the simple life she has created for herself is simply charming. I also enjoyed the simplicity of characterization, it was easy to understand the choices and motivations of each. My favourite part of the novel was how the author attempted to weave the various themes of the books studied in the book club with the lives of the characters who read them. (Jane Eyre, Age of Innocence, Essays of Virginia Wolfe).
Trigger warning for sexual assault and miscarriage.
You will be able to purchase this book June 18th!
Thank you to Source Books and Netgalley for the free copy.
“Friendship is a contract between two hearts. With hearts united, women can laugh and cry, live and die together” (Lady Tam’s Circle of Women)
I love it when I start reading a book and it immediately transports me into a world where I am captivated by the characters, intrigued by the plot, and seduced by the setting. I started reading this novel one Sunday and my world stopped for the entire day until I was finished.
The story follows The life of Tan Yunxian, one of the few female doctors in 15th Century China. We first meet Yunxian when she is 8 where her feet are newly bound and her mother is teaching her traditional ways in which to be a wife and mother. However, upon the unexpected death of her mother, Yunxian is sent to live with her father’s parents. Her grandparents are of a different sort, they are a noble family, but not merchants or politicians but rather, her grandfather and her grandmother are doctors. They soon realize that Yunxian is a brilliant girl and her grandmother begins to teach her how to be a ‘doctor of women’ focusing on the four components of Chinese medicine: listening, looking, touching, and most importantly asking.
Obviously, it’s not easy being a woman in 15th century China where women are treated as belongings and the gaps between social classes are vast, so as Yunxian grows older she has to navigate her traditional role as a wife and mother in a noble family and as a doctor for women of every class without bringing “shame” upon her husband’s family.
This is a wonderful book about female friendship. The bond between mother and daughter, and the bond between women friends is beautifully developed and I found myself tearing up in scenes where the love and loyalty between characters shone. As women we truly are stronger when we stick together through adversity, support each other in our successes, and laugh and cry with each other through heartbreak and joy.
You will be able to buy this novel June 6th!! An awesome addition to your summer reading list!
Thank you to Simon and Schuster and Netgalley for the free copy.
It’s been 3 years since 12-year-old Pierce Jacobs lost his father to the sea, and his heartache and guilt haven’t gotten any better, not even with the support of his two friends, Bennie and Thomas. The only person who seemed to know what he was going through was Anna Tessier, a girl a couple of years older than him, but now she, too, has disappeared. Pierce has always felt the authorities gave up too soon when finding his father. He is determined not to let the same thing happen to Anna, so with the help of his friends and Bennie’s cousin Emily, they go “undercover” to determine who is responsible for Anna’s disappearance. Living on tiny Perigo Island, just off the coast of Newfoundland, their suspects are few. Could it be the “outsider” Solomon Vickers, a recluse who lives on the island for part of the year? Or maybe it’s one of the “Arseholes”, a group of older boys who take pride in bullying the younger kids? Then there is the assortment of visitors on the island, many of whom have the potential to kidnap a young girl. Then there is also the sea itself. Unforgiving and unrelenting in its beautiful destructiveness. I really loved this book. As soon as I started reading it, I knew immediately it would be perfect for a novel study for junior and senior high. It possesses beautiful imagery, an interesting assortment of characters, and a variety of themes (friendship, grief, coming of age, industrialization, identity, and environmentalism, to name a few) with the potential for rich classroom discussion. Thank you to Scribner Canada and Netgalley for the free copy.
At the beginning of the book our main character, Hazel is working at an antiquarian bookstore unpacking and itemizing rare books (my DREAM JOB)! However, she is soon off to bigger and brighter experiences moving on to a much more elitist job at an auction house in London. But before she leaves this charming little shop, she comes across a storybook that possesses a tale that shakes her to her very core. You see, when she was a young girl she used to tell her little sister Flora the story of “Whisperwood” , an imaginative world where they would be safe and happy and distracted from the war. Hazel and Flora have had to flee their home and parents in London to escape the bombing and it is up to Hazel to protect her little sister while they are away. Tragically, one day Flora disappears, everyone believing she accidentally tumbled into the river and drowned. And now, like a ghost from the past, the story she has told to only her little sister has appeared. Hazel then sets out in search of the author of this book in the hopes to find out information on her sister’s disappearance or maybe, hopefully, finding her sister alive after all these years.
A lovely, lovely, story. Well written, suspenseful, wonderful plot complications and characterization. Definitely one to put on your summer reading list.
Thank you to Atria Books and Netgalley for the free copy. The Secret Book of Flora Lea is in bookstores now!
Looking Glass Sound is the second book of Catriona Ward that I’ve read this year, and with it, Ward has proven to be one of my new favourite authors.
Our protagonist Wilder Harlow seems to be a troubled youth who, having no real friends at school, is happy to meet two young people at the family’s summer home in Maine. However, what at first seems to be a summer of fun and sun and new friends soon turns into a nightmare when Wilder begins to believe that someone he loves may be a serial killer.
Flash forward and we find Wilder, a university student where he has begun to deal with PTSD of that notorious summer by writing a memoir about his experience. Unfortunately Wilder’s trauma is exploited by someone he is close to who takes his memoir and uses it to write a best selling novel. To deal with this betrayal, Wilder returns to the summer home to face the memories and heartache life has dealt.
I was expecting this novel to be an easy mystery with tinges of horror (like Little Eve) but I soon realized that it is also an assortment of complex character studies woven into a layered plot that leaves the reader wonderfully perplexed at times. I’ve read some reviews from people who found it a confusing read, but if you take your time to enjoy the story, all will be revealed with patience.
I would recommend this novel to my high school students (and use portions of it) for examples of suspense, character building, and author craft.
I loved this book. I will be buying it in hard copy for a re-read.
Looking Glass Sound will be available to purchase in August!!
Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Publishing Group for the free copy.
I most often listen to audio books or podcasts when I run- mostly non-fiction (except for Dune- Dune was perfect for training for a half marathon). So this time I downloaded “‘m Glad my Mom Died” , a memoir read by the author. As soon as I pressed play I was mesmerized. Yes, it is about the life of a child actor and her stage mother, but it is also more than that. It is a story about self discovery, honesty, and healing. McCurdy is with no holds barred writes about her eating disorder, her obsessive convulsive disorder, and just the simple loneliness of having a controlling, abusive mother of her only friend.
Her story is heartbreaking and gut wrenching. The brutal honesty of this memoir is emotionally impactful McCurdy skillfully conveys the childhood innocence with which she faces her abuse.
I found her memoir so compelling I got home from my run and continued to listen to it throughout the day. If you love memoirs then this one is perfect . trigger warning for physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and very graphic description of bulimia.
Claire Fuller’s writing style made me love Unsettled Ground and now that I’ve read another novel of hers, The Memory of Animals, she has absolutely become one of my favourite writers. The Memory of Animals is a “Pandemic” dystopian story. A new virus has arrived and Netty, our main character, volunteers to be a test subject for a new vaccine. Netty brings with her all sorts of baggage: unresolved family issues, she’s had to take a forced hiatus from her career as a marine biologist because she “liberated” a captive octopus with whom she has an oddly close relationship, and she’s not sure how she feels about her current boyfriend.
While in a state of delirium (having been both infected with the virus and injected with a test vaccine) the world literally goes to hell in a handcart. New variants evolve causing mass death of the citizens and crime runs supreme. In the meantime, a select few individuals, all volunteer test subjects, have been abandoned but safely secluded in a medical facility while the world collapses around them. Along with Neffy are Rachel, Yahiko, Leon and Piper. This crew needs to work together, first of all, to survive in a world that is vastly different from the one they had known before, which isn’t easy for the obvious reasons, but also because they each possess secrets that could disrupt their fragile little community.
To make matters even more complicated, they possess an object, an object called a “Revisiter” that when used, can immerse an individual so vividly in past memories they feel as if they are there.
I loved Neffy’s character arc. She starts off as an insecure young woman who, at the beginning of the novel, seems to only volunteer as a test subject in an attempt to escape her reality rather than for selflessly participating in an attempt to find a cure. Her obsession with the Revisitor with an attempt to again avoid her reality also supports this need of her’s to escape when life gets difficult. As we progress through the action, Neffy becomes a strong, selfless, rather heroic character, who faces her reality straight on and begins to make decisions and take control in order to not only survive but to also make a little world that is worthy of living in.
So far Fuller is two for two when it comes to my appreciation for her writing. I will be looking to add more titles of hers to my TBR list in the future.
Thank you to Netgalley and Tin House for the Advanced Copy
I loved this book. It has become one of my favourites of the year. I loved its characters, I loved its themes, and I absolutely loved how it was written.
This is a novel about love and loss and family, and self-discovery and about something near and dear to my heart, it is about sisters. Beautifully written, Hello Beautiful is a novel not to be missed. I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced digital copy, but today it will be out on bookshelves and I’m about to buy myself a hard copy to have on my shelf to reread and share with others. If you’re already compiling a summer reading list this is definitely one to add!
Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for the free copy.
Black Bird Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack is a beautifully written book about a young woman who escapes with her brother from a family steeped in traditional fear. Ziva is that “that” age where her family is beginning to find her a suitable husband. The only thing is Ziva wants to be a judge, just like her father. Although an arranged marriage is reason enough for fleeing her family, Zita also has a twin brother Pesha whom she is compelled to take to the Byzantine Empire to be healed. You see, Pesha has leprosy, and the entire family has basically accepted the idea that Pesha will die, except for Ziva. So, one night Ziva takes Pesha, and they flee their home only to be attacked by highwaymen who attempt to steal everything they have, kill Pesha and hold Ziva for ransome…that is until Ziva accidentally (on purpose?) frees a half-demon in exchange for escape, which is fine. Still, she and Pesha have a half-demon bound to them until they repay their debt. Will they make it to the Byzantine Empire safely? Will Pesha be cured? Will their ties to the underworld compromise not only their physical well-being but also their moral well-being? A very well-written, captivating story about family love, perseverance and living with the consequences of choice.
Each of Us a Universe by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo with Ndengo Gladys Mwilelo Calliope Scott is fascinated by Meteorite Mountain. In fact, she’s making it her mission to reach the top to find out the answers to the secrets it holds, especially the mystery of the meteorite, “the one that people say landed on the top of that spire…just because no one’s found it doesn’t mean it isn’t there, right? If it is, how do we know it isn’t magical?” ( page 45). You see, Cal is in need of magic, her mother has cancer, and her father is in prison, and although most of the community is supportive towards her and her mother, Cal still sneaks clothing from the lost and found at school, and steals cans of food from the grocery store. Then one day, a small change occurs in her world; a new girl named Rosine becomes an ally and a friend at school. Rosine, having lost her parents to war in another country, has arrived with her sister. Rosine, too, wants to find magic in the mountain to help her sister, who is “sick with sadness and making bad decisions” (page 77). Bound by this common quest, the two girls find strength in each other to succeed in their quest and forge a true friendship that strengthens both during a difficult time in their lives. This is a lovely book about friendship, overcoming adversity and perseverance. It also has a wonderful interview at the back with an actual “stardust hunter” that explains how you can collect “stardust” (micrometeorites) yourself. A perfect novel for a cross-curricular study linked to science.
Gabe in the After by Shannon Doleski This is a story about a pandemic and survival…like so many other books, TV shows, and movies that have popped up since Covid. However, this story reads a bit differently. Gabe Sweeney is one of 20 survivors (primarily children and young adults) who lives on a small island off the coast of Maine. Gabe and his group were evacuated there during the start of a deadly outbreak that they assumed killed most of the country’s population. The novel starts with Gabe scouting for survivors. For two years, Gabe has taken a small boat to the dock on the mainland to see if anyone is waiting, and so far, there has been no one. But today, Gabe finds (or rather his dog Mud) finds a young woman named Relle in the forest nearby. Relle has been on her own for most of the two years and had been making her home in a library until the roof caved in, making it uninhabitable. Since then, she has been wandering, hoping to find a community, a family of her own. From this initial incident, the novel follows Gabe in his tasks and responsibilities, one of which takes him days away from the island in search of medicine and ultimately to see what the outbreak’s status is in the world. During this time, Gabe has to deal with his feelings for Relle, with whom he falls in love. Let’s say dealing with these newfound feelings is a whole other story in survival. I really liked this book. Even though it was a story about a deadly pandemic, the narrative didn’t focus on that tragedy; instead, I found it a charming love story, growing up, responsibility, and finding joy and comfort in the little things in life. Suppose you’re looking for a story about zombies and murderous raiders. In that case, this is not the story for you, but if you’re looking for a wholesome story about first love and growing up, then definitely pick this one up.
If you’re looking for a charming story with portions written by an Octopus, then look no further. Remarkably Brilliant Creatures was the perfect read to banish the February Blues. Marcellus is a grumpy octopus who lives or instead is imprisoned in the Sowell Bay aquarium, where he judges his captors from behind his glass wall. He is not too fond of most human beings, but there is one he grows affection for, and her name is Torva. As the night custodian of the aquarium, Torva knows all of the marine life and often talks to them while cleaning. One evening, much to her surprise, Torva sees Marcellus outside of his tank. She soon begins to realize that the strange “things” she’s been noticing must certainly be part of Marcellus’s mischief, and she soon forms a friendship with this eight-legged creature. Marcellus learns of Torva’s sorrow of losing her son to the sea and takes it upon himself to help solve the mystery behind his disappearance. I really, REALLY enjoyed this book. It was simple, easy, and a beautifully wholesome narrative perfect for dreary winter days.
“9: 45 P.M. Standing next to his step box, Baxter hovers: immobile and elastic, ready to spring forward to lift a suitcase, dissect a timetable, point to the conductor, nod, lift more suitcases, now hat boxes, answer more questions, and nod, nod, nod. Trouser cuffs drag in the dust, shiny boot heels clap against the train station platform; a child runs toward an observation car, ribbons and cuff-links and tickets and goodbye letters swish to the ground. Hands reach toward him, grab at him for a lift up, grab his coat pocket, wave in his face. A sea swell of passengers, spilling toward his car; a maelstrom of departure-time panic”. The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr pg 11.
I want to write like Suzette Mayr. Vivid descriptions, an interesting cast of characters, and a main character whose story is one of heartache, confusion, and blinding determination. Baxter is a Black sleeping car porter working the Canadian National railway on routes that span a multitude of provinces. Obviously being a porter is anything but glamorous, and Baxter is constantly taken advantage of, verbally abused, and dismissed by a plethora of passengers who demand attention to the most frivolous of requests. Throughout it all, Baxter attempts to go above and beyond his duties so that he does not run the risk of being written up, gaining demerit points or ultimately being fired from his job. However, what keeps Baxter focused on performing the best job possible is the possibility of tips. You see, Baxter is saving up to go to dental school, and at the beginning of the novel we learn he only needs $101 more dollars in his dentistry fund in order to go to school for four years. Throughout the novel we can’t help but root for Baxter to defeat his exhaustion and survive the demands of the passengers so that this can be his final route and he can move forward to fulfill his dream to be dentist. I was particularly interested in the way Mayr creates her main character. Weaving together flashbacks, events in the present, and Baxter’s fuzzy hallucinatory recollections and interpretations of his reality (brought on by lack of sleep) Mayr places us as close as possible in the shoes and mind of this man. I would definitely use portions of this novel as a mentor text in a high school classroom. Using the quote above one could discuss a variety of literary devices (imagery, onomatopoeia, metaphor, personification) and how to use colons and semicolons! Please note that there are portions of this novel that are sexually explicit so be careful of its use in the classroom.
Anna Armstrong is a brilliant precocious girl who has always been fascinated by space. In fact, she has attempted to launch herself several times into space but unfortunately her homemade rocket ships did not have sufficient enough power to get her there. Tragically, on the day of one of her “launches”, she learns that her mother and father have died on their way back home from Europe. Thirteen year old Anna then goes to live with her kind uncle Jack on his farm research center outside Smartt Indiana.
Very soon upon her arrival, Anna sees strange lights in the distance and eventually goes and investigates. There, she discovers a different dimension in time and space, where girl named Mara exists. Anna soon becomes involved in trying to help Mara save the world from the repercussions of time travel using Science to help them.
This is such a wonderful book about responsibility, friendship and science. The young people presented are supportive and caring towards each other and lessons learned about curiosity, responsibility and friendship abound.
This book should be added to school libraries as well as any little classroom library. It is a science fiction novel that is accessible to upper elementary and middle school students.
Thank you to Girl Friday Books and Netgalley for the free copy. Girl Out of Time is available for purchase on March 7
Bronwyn Fisher is a master of first-person narration. I cannot remember the last time I felt so connected to the thoughts and emotions of a character. I cared so much for Natalie! I could have very easily found her insecurities and naivety annoying, but instead, I found myself rooting for her in the hope that she would become stronger and more self-confident. I just wanted her to be ok! Natalie is an 18-year-old young woman who is moving away from home for the first time. She is off to university, and all the “things” university entails. New information, new perspectives, new friends, new loves, new new new…which all ends up so confusing for someone like Natalie, who second guesses everything she says and everything she does. Early in the novel, Natalie meets Nora, an older woman with whom she starts a romantic relationship. Although Nora seems authentic with her feelings towards Natalie at first, we (and Natalie) soon begin to suspect that there is more to Nora than meets the eye.
Even though I figured out Nora’s secret before Natalie did (I think we are meant to), I dreaded waiting and watching how Natalie would react. I truly didn’t want her to be brokenhearted because I didn’t know if she would be strong enough to recover!
Wonderful book. I will definitely read more from Bronwyn Fisher.
Thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for the free advanced copy.