Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

Today is Juneteenth. What is Juneteenth, you ask? Good question. I’m a 38 year old Caucasian women of Dutch descent and just heard about Juneteenth on social media this week. 38. Years. Old. and I knew nothing about a holiday that reflects on an important aspect of Black history, when Union Soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. I probably can’t do justice in explaining all the details of significance, so I’m going to tell you to Google (or, click here) and then ponder what it would be like to find out you were emancipated 2 1/2 years before you were told. Two. and. a. half. years. I’ll never clearly be able to understand or relate. Lord knows, we’ve come a long way since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough. There’s still a lot of hate and inequality in this world and that needs to change. We need to do better. We need love. We need hope. We need people to speak up and speak out and stand up for their friends and neighbours.

One of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read

This post isn’t actually a history lesson, or a conversation on civil rights, but a book review. Seriously. I requested “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” more than three months ago. I downloaded the ARC in February. A few days ago, I decided Young Adult fiction might be the right tonic to get out of a reading slump as *sometimes* (but not always) YA fiction can be a little lighter or less complex. As this title was released this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I was mistaken in thinking it might be light (although there were shimmers of brightness throughout) or less complex. I’ll be purchasing the book for re-reads this weekend.

The novel throws you back to 1955, where you’ll land in small-town Alabama. The narrator is Ethan Harper, a biracial child who’s had some trouble at school and is sent to live with his white Aunt and Uncle in a community that is anything but tolerant. He’s befriended by the strange and lovable oddball title-character, Juniper Jones. Juniper has decided that the summer of ’55 will be the most epic ever, and doesn’t really give her new accomplice a choice but to join her, and their adventures are recounted in beautiful, immersive writing.

There is a lightness and hope that is weaved throughout their summer, but also a heaviness and complexity that comes with the illumination of racial tensions and the wrong-mindedness of the era. You cannot help but to fall in love with Juniper and feel a tenderhearted affection towards her. On the other hand, your heart will break for Ethan over and over again – you’ll want to draw him into a protective bubble and shelter him from the hatred he encounters while wanting to bash some sense into his adversaries. This book will swallow you whole, chew you up, spit you out, and leave you with big emotions to process, but it also brings to light some very unfortunate aspects of history, while balancing the strength and value of true friendship.

The author weaves some unexpected moments in and you’ll be gasping for air as you bawl your eyes out more than once. It’s one of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s recommended for 12 & up (grades 7 – 9) and the author, Daven McQueen, acknowledges that difficult subjects are broached and offensive terminology is used. While I would recommend it unabashedly, if you have a particularly sensitive tween/teen, you may want to read it first, and then use it as a platform for conversation afterwards. For myself, it was a 5 star read for sure and most definitely one of, if not my most, favourite books of 2020.

My thanks to the author and publisher for the complimentary title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Review: Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle

Soon to be released, Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle jumped out at me when I was looking at my download options from the Harlequin 2020 Summer Reads Blog Tour – Mystery & Thriller list. It was not what I expected going in, and I mean that in a good way. Sometimes you read the book blurb and think you know exactly what you’re getting and this exceeded my expectations.

From the Publisher:
When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.

My Thoughts:
I had some serious trust issues with many of the characters. I really couldn’t quite get a handle on whether they were telling the truth throughout the dialogue. The pacing was excellent and most of the characters were appealing… until they were not. There were flashbacks that drew an interesting comparison between personalities as teens vs. who they grew up to be. I had niggling doubts (those trust issues, again) because I couldn’t determine who was lying and being true to their character.

The author did a wonderful job of conveying Charlotte’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Her voice and the threads throughout the novel made me more and more curious throughout. There was a lot of convenient scenarios that had me arguing with myself about whether it was too convenient or just a matter of luck and I think that speaks well to the author keeping things muddy enough to keep the reader interested. Again, it was not a fast paced thriller, but it had me going “hmmmm…” more than once and through in some unforeseen twists and turns.

About the Author:
Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels, including the forthcoming Stranger in the Lake (June 2020). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Social Links:

Buy Links:

Stranger in the Lake
Kimberly Belle
On Sale Date: June 9, 2020
9780778309819, 0778309819
Trade Paperback
$17.99 USD, $22.99 CAD
Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological
352 pages

Blog Tour & Book Review: Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon

I’ve really been enjoying thrillers lately – something about trying to figure things out while biting my nails in anticipation and sitting on the edge of my seat only to be blindsided has really worked as an escape mechanism. Plus, there’s usually a whole lot of mess in a thriller, which leaves me feeling happily complacent with my mundane and normal life – no skeletons falling out of closets, figuratively or literally. When I read the blurb for Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon I thought it fit the bill perfectly, being touted as a psychological thriller. With the author being a fellow Ontario resident, I couldn’t pass it up.

From the Publisher:
In Hannah Mary McKinnon’s psychological thriller, SISTER DEAR (MIRA Trade; May 26, 2020; $17.99), the obsession of Single White Female meets the insidiousness of You, in a twisted fable about the ease of letting in those who wish us harm, and that mistake’s dire consequences.

The day he dies, Eleanor Hardwicke discovers her father – the only person who has ever loved her – is not her father. Instead, her biological father is a wealthy Portland businessman who wants nothing to do with her and to continue his life as if she doesn’t exist. That isn’t going to work for Eleanor.

Eleanor decides to settle the score. So, she befriends his daughter Victoria, her perfect, beautiful, carefree half-sister who has gotten all of life’s advantages while Eleanor has gotten none.

As she grows closer to Victoria, Eleanor’s obsession begins to deepen. Maybe she can have the life she wants, Victoria’s life, if only she can get close enough. 

My Thoughts:
As you first dive into this title, it feels a bit depressing – there’s a lot of drama, wallowing, and a bleakness that doesn’t lend you to actually like Eleanor at first, despite the hard knocks she’s been handed, although you do pity her to some degree. The thriller element is a bit of a slow burn – there’s a build up to it and then *BAM*, it’ll hit you out of nowhere, cut you off, slam you into a wall, and you’ll seriously wonder where the heck it came from. You may grow apathetic during the build up and that’s where it will catch you off guard. This aspect alone was truly worth the wait.

This novel had dysfunction, some adult themes, but you won’t be able to help yourself from getting sucked into the characters’ issues despite your initial dislike and eventually you’ll be rooting for them. It’s not a fast paced read, so I did miss that edge-of-the-seat feeling I often look for in a thriller, but again, that’s where I was blindsided so it worked. It feels a lot like women’s fiction throughout the novel – relationships, family issues, etc. with a dose of feel good thrown in – and that curve ball out of left field comes sailing in and you realise it may not having the happy ending you anticipated. I leave you with this – I enjoyed this novel and felt a little sucker-punched with the twist. Well done, McKinnon, well done.

About the Author:
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing, and is now the author of The Neighbors and Her Secret Son. She lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.

Social Links:

SISTER DEAR
Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
ISBN: 9780778309550
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books

Buy Links: 

Book Review: A Single Spark by Judith Miller

If you are a fan of historical inspirational fiction or Judith Miller in general, you’ll love this new release from Bethany House! A Single Spark, coming out on June 2nd, captures a pivotal era in American history and I actually learned more about the war efforts from the perspective of women left behind during the Civil War and the danger they faced while lending support to an epic cause.

Wanting to do her part in the war effort, Clara McBride goes to work in the cartridge room at the Washington Arsenal, the city’s main site for production and storing of munitions. She’s given the opportunity to train new employees and forms a friendship with two of them. All seems to be going well, especially when one of the supervisors shows interest in her.

Lieutenant Joseph Brady is an injured army officer who, no longer able to lead troops into battle, has been assigned to a supervisory position at the Washington Arsenal. While Clara has caught his eye, he also makes it his mission to fight for increased measures to prevent explosions in the factory.

But when suspicions rise after multiple shipments of Washington Arsenal cartridges fail to fire and everyone is suspect for sabotage, can the spark of love between Joseph and Clara survive?

Judith Miller sparks interest through her lively and easy-to-read historical offerings. This title in particular, has characters you’ll love, characters you’ll despise, emotion, and mystery! The gentle romance weaving its magic between the pages will endear you. Overall, it’s a 4-star read for anyone who enjoys clean, simple historical fiction with a dash of love and strong elements of faith.

I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley with thanks. Opinions expressed are my own.

Blog Tour & Book Review: This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

It’s a bit of a gloomy spring day and somehow it seems a little atmospheric while sharing about the newest title from author Heather Gudenkauf. Just released, I’m taking part in a blog tour organized by the publisher, Park Row Books, an imprint of Harlequin, and throwing my two cents into the hat.

From the Publisher:

With the eccentricity of Fargo and the intensity of Sadie, THIS IS HOW I LIED by Heather Gudenkauf (Park Row Books; May 12, 2020; $17.99) is a timely and gripping thriller about careless violence we can inflict on those we love, and the lengths we will go to make it right, even 25 years later.

Tough as nails and seven months pregnant, Detective Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe of Grotto PD, is dreading going on desk duty before having the baby her and her husband so badly want. But when new evidence is found in the 25-year-old cold case of her best friend’s murder that requires the work of a desk jockey, Maggie jumps at the opportunity to be the one who finally puts Eve Knox’s case to rest.

Maggie has her work cut out for her. Everyone close to Eve is a suspect. There’s Nola, Eve’s little sister who’s always been a little… off; Nick, Eve’s ex-boyfriend with a vicious temper; a Schwinn riding drifter who blew in and out of Grotto; even Maggie’s husband Sean, who may have known more about Eve’s last day than he’s letting on. As Maggie continues to investigate, the case comes closer and closer to home, forcing her to confront her own demons before she can find justice for Eve. 

My Thoughts:

As far as a mystery/thriller, this one was excellent. There were portions that I maybe didn’t quite buy as far as how things went down, but overall it was a gripping and evocative read. It was atmospheric and intense – I felt every emotion, saw every incident with a vividness that indicates the magnitude of the author’s talent in delivering a well-written scene.

I seem to enjoy the proverbial small town setting where everyone is in everyone’s business. This small town just happens to also be rife with bad seeds and deep, dark secrets. Fortunately, truth always tells… that or DNA testing. Threads of history keep unraveling as the horrible event and incidents leading up to the death of a beloved friend are revealed throughout an investigation by someone with very close ties to the murder. On the whole, it did what a thriller should – kept me on my toes and I couldn’t put it down!

About the Author:

Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of many books, including The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages. She lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading, hiking, and running.

Buy Links:

Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Social Links:

Author Website
Twitter: @hgudenkauf
Instagram: @heathergudenkauf
Facebook: @HeatherGudenkaufAuthor
Goodreads

THIS IS HOW I LIED
Author: Heather Gudenkauf
ISBN: 9780778309703
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
Publisher: Park Row Books

Blog Tour: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts amidst a bevy of select readers celebrating the recent release of Phaedra Patrick’s charming new book, The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, which hit shelves on April 28th!

From the Publisher:

Fredrik Backman meets The Cactus in THE SECRETS OF LOVE STORY BRIDGE (Park Row Books; April 28, 2020; $25.99 US/$32.50 CAN), in which a cynical single father has a surprise encounter on the famous love lock bridge, sparking a journey of self-discovery that may lead him to a second chance at love.

Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous “love lock” bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.

One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…

My Thoughts:

From the very first page you’ll be invested. Phaedra Patrick weaves a remarkable story that will keep you engaged page after page. From the mystery of the woman in the yellow dress to the juggling act of parenthood after loss, she brings to life in moving way a very complicated tale. Strong notes of grief and sorrow prevail throughout the novel, but are balanced with humour, hope, and healing. Our characters make mistakes – oh so many mistakes – but they also come to realise that in life and in love there is no such thing as perfection.

I did find all the story threads a little distracting at times and the mystery, when revealed, a little ridiculous – a bit too much of a hot mess for my liking… but, I still read the majority of this title in a single session and stayed up way past my bed time because I didn’t want to put it down. We will take a lesson from the author and recognize that something can be fantastic and wonderful without being perfect. Overall, it was highly enjoyable (even though it made me cry!) – not as a light read, but as a heartwarming tale of making it through, scars and all, and the joy of finding those who help us grow and thrive. It’s charming, completely feel-good, and even a little bizarre.

My thanks to the publisher, Park Row (MIRA |Harlequin | Harper Collins), for providing a complimentary copy of this title to read and review. You can purchase for yourself through any of the links below or your favourite local bookseller.

THE SECRETS OF LOVE STORY BRIDGE
Author: Phaedra Patrick
ISBN: 9780778309789
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Park Row Books

Buy Links: 
Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Amazon.ca
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Phaedra Patrick is the author of The Library of Lost and Found, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which has been published in over twenty countries around the world. She studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son.

Social Links:

Author Website
Twitter: @PhaedraPatrick
Instagram: @PhaedraPatrick
Facebook: @PhaedraPatrick
Goodreads

Book Review: The Brideship Wife by Leslie Howard

Those who know my reading tastes know I grew up on historical fiction – Laura Ingalls Wilder was a close companion in my formative years, alongside Anne of Green Gables, and others as the year went by. Even now as I’ve matured (ha!) my reading tastes have expanded to some degree, but a well-written work of historical fiction will always have a special place on my shelf, and of even more prominence if it has ties to Canadian history.

Simon & Schuster Canada approved my NetGalley request for the soon-to-be-released title, The Brideship Wife, by author Leslie Howard. Inspired by the history of the British “brideships,” this captivating historical debut tells the story of one woman’s coming of age and search for independence—for readers of Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale and Armando Lucas Correa’s The German Girl.

Amid mad bursts of baking and a well-overdue tidy & sort project, I have spent the last few days curled up in the company of Charlotte and a supporting cast of characters as they travel from the upper echelons of British society with it’s restrictive double-standards and scandals to the lawless lands of early British Columbia with promises of independence and opportunity. This novel was illuminating, heartfelt, infuriating, heartbreaking, and overall just so delightful to read.

The author touches on so many aspects of history that it’s easy to forget about in the romanticism of days gone by. She brings to light little-known aspects of the settling of British Columbia and history of Canada – not all of it as wonderful as we would like. Her characters are well-developed, the story is well-paced, and every page is a wonder of descriptive narratives that will move you back in time. This is a highly recommended read and I truly hope to see it on a number of bestsellers lists across Canada, perhaps keeping company with The Forgotten Home Child – another beautiful work of historical fiction from a Canadian perspective. Regardless of whether you’re from our Great White North or any far reaches across the globe, you’ll enjoy this peek into a women’s quest for independence and the experiences that shape her.

Leslie Howard grew up in Penticton, British Columbia, where she developed a passion for the province’s history. A graduate of Ottawa’s Carleton University in economics and political science, she now divides her time between Vancouver and Penticton, where she and her husband grow cider apples. The Brideship Wife is her debut novel. Connect with her on Twitter @AuthorLeslieH or on her website LeslieHoward.ca.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the opportunity to read and review this title. Watch for it to hit shelves on May 5th!

Book Review: Stay with Me by Becky Wade

As we’ve come to love Becky Wade as a leading author of inspirational contemporary fiction, Stay with Me, her soon to be released novel, pulls no punches when it comes to the delivery of a relevant and moving tale. Permeated with real-life struggles, family secrets, and a scintillating romance, this newest title conveys all you would expect and more.

Tackling tricky issues like the balance of public image and faith, addiction, family secrets, and old wounds, Stay with Me is a poignant and compelling work of contemporary fiction. Well-developed characters, strong emotional ties, dynamic chemistry, and threads of intrigue furnish a well-written novel in a beautiful setting. Sam and Genevieve are soulful and real as the hero and heroine struggling with facades. Both must fight their own demons while learning to heal and trust in this touching gem of inspiration.

Stay with Me will be released on May 5th and is the keystone to what should be an engaging new series (Misty River.) Wade delivers hope and redemption wrapped in a charming and artful package you won’t want to put down. Elements of humour (hello, nod to Goldilocks), a lively romance, and tugs to the heartstrings make this title work for me!

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Bethany House
Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Book Review: Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr

Robyn Carr is one of those writers that I will always invest time in – usually without disappointment. She authored by beloved Virgin River series (that I may not think Netflix did the best job of bringing to screen…) and a number of other titles that I’ve truly enjoyed. In general, what she does works and I find the cadence of her writing truly appeals to me. When I was initially invited to participate in the HarperCollins blog tour celebrating the release of her newest title, Sunrise on Half Moon Bay, I didn’t have to think twice. Of course I was going to participate. I went ahead and downloaded the digital ARC (advance reader’s copy) and then promptly forgot to confirm my participation in the tour. Whoops! Regardless, I’ve read the book and I’m sharing my thoughts.

Set in the stunning coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California, Robyn Carr’s new novel examines the joys of sisterhood and the importance of embracing change.

As always, the characters – whether you like them or not – are real. Real issues, real drama, real feelings. I didn’t love either of the lead characters when I started, but I was interested in their stories, and by the final chapter, they felt like friends (valued despite their flaws!) The voice of this novel, the descriptions, the dialogue, the characters, the setting – speak to the strength within us and the bonds of family. It spoke to triumph in change (or despite change), personal growth and maturity, the treasures of friendships. It didn’t however, truly speak to me.

It was easy to read and typically quick-moving (but not fast-paced, but not mind-boggling) – you don’t have to invest a lot of deep thought or heavy reading sessions to “get it”. It is, at face value, a feel-good, cuddle on the couch, piece of women’s fiction – a great way to pass an evening or two – while offering simple reminders about the value of finding your way and standing up for yourself. There were a few twists, but I wish it had a bit more scenery and perhaps a few more dynamic interactions. It’s not a world-changing piece of literature, but it worked for a Friday night read – a good title to toss in your bag for poolside lounging, sitting in airports, or tucked away on your back deck to escape the kids.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. Opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Harlequin / Mira
Publication Date: April 14, 2020 (Available now!)

Blog Tour & Book Review: The House at Silvermoor by Tracy Rees

The publishers of Tracy Rees’ latest novel, The House at Silvermoor, invited me to take part in their blog tour today. I, of course, accepted the invitation enthusiastically. To read and review in the company of fellow great readers is a joy! Check out some of the other bloggers to see their thoughts on this title.

From The Publisher:

England, 1899. A new century is dawning, and two young friends are about to enter into a world of money, privilege and family secrets…

Josie has never questioned her life in a South Yorkshire mining village. But everything changes when she meets Tommy from the neighbouring village. Tommy has been destined for a life underground since the moment he was born. But he has far bigger dreams for his future.

United by their desire for something better and by their fascination with the local gentry, Josie and Tommy become fast friends. Wealthy and glamorous, the Sedgewicks of Silvermoor inhabit a world that is utterly forbidden to Tommy and Josie. Yet as the new century arrives, the pair become entangled with the grand family, and discover a long hidden secret. Will everything change as they all step forward into the new dawn…?

My Thoughts:

Tracy Rees is a new-to-me author and it took some time to adjust to her cadence. This book is undeniably interesting. It paints an imaginative look at the hopes and dreams of a young couple in Victorian England while simultaneously highlighting the despair of decrepit working conditions, especially in mining. It showcases the difference between the haves and have nots.

It is not a quick moving narrative by any means, but it was intriguing. You truly get to know the characters and they feel like friends. Their history and development will have you cheering for the underdog more than once. Your heart may even be broken as your emotions are moved by the blights our friends encounter.

Overall, I would recommend this title as a slow read to indulge in over a few days. It was gritty, sweet, and passionate, but avoided pretty decoys in the sense that it remained raw in its appeal without adding unnecessary bows and ribbons. It’s touching and honest with a hint of scandal and mystery.

My thanks to Quercus Books for the opportunity to read and review this title via the NetGalley platform.