[749]: The Widow’s Watcher by Eliza Maxwell

A stunning portrayal of grief and loss, of friendships and family; The Widow’s Watcher is a gem full of hope that life exists even after an irreparable loss.


The Widow’s Watcher
by Eliza Maxwell

Jenna Shaw has no reasons left to live. It is how she found herself in a small town somewhere in Minnesota to end her life.  Fortunately for her, Lars Jorgensen simply would not let her accomplish what she’d set out to do. There’d been too many people that had gone from his life. Jenna Shaw is not going to be one of them even if she was a stranger. So when she set out to end her life in this frozen town, she was not at all prepared for what awaited her.

Escaping the heartache of losing her family in one fell swoop was what she’s after – a quick way to end the burden of guilt of having survived. In this Minnesota town is an unresolved mystery involving the disappearance Jorgensen’s children. It has haunted Lars all through his life and had broken his heart.  Hardened by time and the guilt, Lars saw through and even sympathized with Jenna. After all, the guilt of having survived such tragedies was what he had in common with Jenna.

Thrusts into the heart of my mystery, she finds a new purpose by trying to avoid her own loss.  But what if she finds more loss and grief than a way to heal?

I wanted to be immersed in a story full of mysteries but I never expected to find it here. There are heartbreaking stories left and right. From the tragic death of Jenna’s entire family, to Lars’ missing children, my heart was on a vise grip the whole time.  There is also a question of Lars’ wife whose story is equally, if not more so, heartbreaking.

But this book is beautiful, too. It was in the way everybody found solace in the most unexpected way. It was in the redemption of a nearly forfeited life. I mean Lars did not give up even after losing his children and the mental illness that had plagued his wife all her life. He remained staunch in his belief that his children were alive and that his wife will remember what had happened that night.

All I wanted was someone to find happiness no matter how there was very little to be had.

This is a very character-driven novel. Jenna and Lars grew up – so to speak – as the novel progressed. Friendships were formed, however reluctantly at first.  Jenna and Lars found purpose in each other, and solace when they both didn’t even want it.

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[667]: The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

27163154 The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner
Double Day Canada | July 12th, 2016
Adult Fiction | Historical
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars


A sweeping, propulsive family saga set on a romantic and beautiful Italian island, for fans of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Beautiful Ruins.

On the tiny, idyllic island of Castellamare, off the coast of Sicily, lies The House at the Edge of Night, an ancient bar run by the Esposito family. There, over the course of three generations–from the eve of World War One to the aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis–the Esposito women will fight to hold their family together against the threats that break across their shores. As lush and magical as the island at its centre, The House at the Edge of Night is a story of love and secrets, endurance, loss and, ultimately, triumph.


Admittedly, The House at the Edge of Night’s initial attraction was its similarities to Beautiful Ruins; a book that I’ve read recently and have enjoyed immensely. The  small town setting has always inspired a community ideal that’s magical to me. And the townspeople possess a certain magnetism that I fail to describe time and again. Catherine Banner showed the town’s beauty so viscerally at times that I can almost hear the cacophony of the tides lapping the shores and the seagulls circling the open seas for a snack or two.

The House at the Edge of Night is the  kind of book that you take to the beach because it is truly relaxing. The drama is virtually painless and much like Beautiful Ruins, it’s the perfect escape book. You will fall in love with the town and its people; its legends and myths. Castellamare may be fictional but it’s the very idea of such a town surviving in spite of itself, amid natural disasters and global economic collapse that makes it idyllic.

How do I explain the four generations of stories involved in this book? I suppose the story should begin with the patriarch of the Esposito family. So we start off with a foundling who grew up to be a doctor. After serving his time in the military, he found himself in a small town that was to become the root of his family genealogy. After a scandal involving this doctor and the count’s wife, he was shunned and was forced to either leave or do something else. But he loves Castellamare despite the humiliation and shunning he endured. He decided to stay put and opened a bar that  he called, The House at the Edge of Night. Over the years, this establishment will become more than just a watering hole.

Indeed, it wasn’t just a bar; it’s where he would raise his family for generations to come. It’s where he would lose two of his sons and watch another barely survive the aftereffects of war. It’s where he would see his daughter fall in love with an Englishman and watch her fight for her true self – broken heart and all. It’s where he would learn to appreciate the triumph of family and love amid loss; the strength of the townspeople’s faith in the face of troubles and camaraderie and comfort in what was simple and familiar.

This book might not be intellectually challenging but it’s viscerally beautiful. It is full of love and sensuality, superstition and charming candor. The simplicity of the way of life in the small town is its foremost attraction; the heart is its people. I’ve always said reading is the cheapest way to travel and Castellamare is as close as I’m ever going to being in Italy. This book reminded me of how wonderful it is to appreciate the comfortable and easy. Not everything we read has to break our hearts, reduce us to tears or make us think about the uncertainty of the future. Sometimes, we just have to watch the story unfold like a rolling film in black and white.

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[615]: Dear Emma by Katie Heaney

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Have you ever been surrounded by exuberant teenagers talking all at once? When you’re trying to hold on to your sanity and rather, futilely keep track of the conversation at the same time? That’s how I felt while I was reading this book. Don’t get me wrong this was funny and entertaining. But at times, I wanted to tell everyone to shut the hell up (the characters, I mean) so I can figure out what the hell was going on. There’s an almost manic quality to the writing that reminds of  Lorelai and Rory Gilmore’s notorious dialogues. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much of a fan you are/were. But no matter how good The Gilmore Girls was, I could only watch it in little doses before I run screaming to the hills.

ABOUT THE STORY

Dear Emma follows the story of Harriet, an advice columnist who found herself possibly needing a dose of her own medicine after being unofficially, unceremoniously dumped. It seems shady that Keith would simply fade out of her life hoping that she wouldn’t notice the underhanded way he was shafting her. But when his new girlfriend wrote a Dear Emma letter, Harriet saw an opportunity to avenge her hurt pride. However, the more she gets to know Remy (who happens to work at the library with her), the more she realizes that she might just be a hack when it comes to love and friendships in general.

LOVE IN THE ERA OF SOCIAL MEDIA

This book tackles the dynamics of relationships in the era of social media and modern technology. From the nuances of texting etiquettes to our online stalking tendencies,  Dear Emma shows us how relationships work/break through our interactions in the modern world.  But the general lesson I can take away from this book, is that boys are stupid. I can’t tell you how often I said that while I was reading. After the hundredth time, my husband finally took offense and mumbled, “Not all of us are.” To which I conceded, okay fine. Not all the time then, under my breath. And these guys are supposed to be college students. When do boys actually grow up? The answer scares me, to be honest.

AUTHENTIC DIALOGUES CAN BE TIRING

One of the things that drove me crazy is the authenticity of the dialogues. In some instances, this would’ve been fully appreciated. But halfway through the novel and after all the shouty-caps and gratuitous exclamations points, I got tired.  I kid you not, I was exhausted. There is nothing more tiring than keeping the fervent enthusiasm of the dialogues in your head. Not even my teen can be this exuberant. Though, I should mention that Dear Emma has its moments as well.  Not everything is  fun and boy-bashing games (though those were fun, too).

Regardless of that hiccup, I think that this is one smart, funny chick-lit. Expect to find positive dynamics between women that shows friendship, camaraderie, and empowerment. Katie is a BuzzFeed editor, so you know you’re going to be on the up and up with the millennials.


GOODREADS SUMMARY | AMAZON | CHAPTERS | Grand Central Publishing, March 1st, 2016 | Paperback, 320 pp.


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[542]: Elements of Chemistry by Penny Reid

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | June 1st, 2015 | Adult Fiction | Romance | Serial, books 1-3 | Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars


Let me just start by saying that these books were amazing. My experience with New Adult books isn’t all that exemplary, so when I find out worth talking about, you can guarantee it’s a big deal. Though in that same reasoning, you can also keep my inexperience in mind and take this review with a grain of salt.

In My Own Words

It’s a story about a self-appointed nerd recluse who has the most adorable tendency to hide in closets. And no, I’m not talking about proverbial ones. She literally hides in closets whenever she’s about to be confronted with uncomfortable situations. Lately, it’s her lab partner, Martin Sedeke. Rich, handsome, and has a notorious reputation for being a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy.

Admittedly, Martin may rub some of you the wrong way. After all, his characterization doesn’t leave much to the imagination. He is every bit the standard in most of the romance novels we’ve all been served up since the dawn of time. However, Martin actually got under my skin. Sometimes, like a sliver; often, like the prick of a heroin-loaded needle. Yep. He was addictive, and he will surprise you in the end.

Kaitlyn Parker is hardly chopped liver. She just hasn’t found her groove yet. She comes from a family considered to be American royalty: her mom is a senator, her dad is the dean of Medicine, and her grandfather was an astronaut who once walked on the moon.

She’s sarcastic, intelligent, and funny. Beautiful, curvaceous, sexy (she just needs to clean the mirror so she can see her reflection, that’s all). Now, I typically hate characters who play the false humility at all times. You know the type: those who can’t see past their own insecurities and the thick layer of their apparent plain-ness. But for some reason, Kaitlyn did not annoy me as much. She has such an abundance of personality that nullified her one pesky character flaw. She is a combination of spunk, sweet timidity, and sass.

The romance is off the Scoville chart. One that was consistently intense all through the novel. I look forward to each and every single one of their trysts, combats, and detente. Last word of advice, ever since reading this completed serial, I’ve read most of Penny Reid’s books. Trust me when I say, she’s not one of those one trick ponies. This author knows a thing or two about…stuff. She’s got an impressive repertoire of sassy characters and bits of knowledge about anything under the sun (bit coins, e-security, Philosophy, and knitting. Knitting!). If my review helps convince you to check her out, I suggest you start with this one.

 

 

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[536]: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | St. Martin’s Griffin | Hardcover, 455 pp. | September 10, 2013 | Young Adult Fiction | Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars


I don’t really know why it took me so long  to read this book. Every time I walk by my bookshelves and see it, I kept having one of those facepalm moment when I’ll try to make a mental note to finally pick it up. Had I known the incredible high I’ll experience during and after reading this book, I’d have read it sooner than twenty months after its release. Why didn’t I listen to y’all? To be honest, I wasn’t going to write a review for this. I was just going to feature it in my Photo Vomit post (yes, I loved it so much, I took a bunch of pictures of it!).

It’s just difficult to express my love for this book. So hard to write down the words of all the whys. The easy way to do it, is to advise you that you should believe the majority of those people who gave this book the highest rating. It is all that and then some.

Hello, my name is Cath and I’m a Simon & Baz shipper. 

(I’ve become one, too, for that matter. )Twins, Cath and Wren have always been each other’s best friend since they were born. But college life is about to change the dynamics whether Cath likes it or not. Wren wants to branch out and meet new people, while Cath is satisfied with remaining who she’s always been and who she’s with all her life. She’s an introvert who finds solace in a fandom that she’s become a celebrity without being in the limelight. She finds comfort in books, and the things that are familiar.

Cath knew that she can’t survive College life living inside the dorm with her roommate and her boy-shadow.  Armed with a year’s supply of peanut butter, granola bars and the fictional world she borrowed, Cath is determined to try, anyway.

I think one of the reasons why this book is so popular and well-received is because it connected with a lot of us. She’s given as a character that resonated with us. I know it brought back memories of those years when I used to write fan fiction (nope, not going to tell you which fandom. Ha!) Cath was very insecure and maybe a little bit of a pushover at first. But it’s not hard not to accept all her frailties because I got her. She’s also not easy to get to know because she’s closed off and she has a hard time trusting anyone. Which is understandable considering what happened with her mother.

Levi, the boy for the rest of us. 

In a literary world full of handsome boys, Levi is probably one of those characters that was not cut from the same cloth. He’s not perfectly good looking; he’s got a learning disability. But he makes up for it by being the most charming boy ever to walk the pages of a book.

I was confused by his relationship with Cath’s roommate initially, but  Rowell’s uncanny ability to create unpredictable story arches saves the day.

Rainbow Rowell is for real, yo.

Honest-to-goodness goddess, y’all. I can’t say enough about how brilliant this woman is. She doesn’t write pretty proses ala Jandy Nelson, but her story lines consume me every time I read her book (except for Attachments – wasn’t a fan of that one). She almost never fails to create incredible characters and immersive stories. But one of the best things about this book is how credible Cath is as a writer. I’ve read a few books wherein the character was one, but not of them could light a candle to Cath. Not one of them as convincing, and that’s all thanks to Rowell’s illustrious prowess.

Fangirl is all about a lot of us, who’d become uncomfortable to the point of being scared at one point in our lives. It’s about embracing the fact that we can’t all remain stagnant. Life is about constant motion whether we like it or not. And that’s what I’m taking away from this book…and ultimate love for this author.

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[532]: Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby

17571215 Harper Teen | Hardcover, 304 pp.
Publication Date: April 15th, 2015
Young Adult Fiction | Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
GOODREADS SUMMARY


I have been in such a terrible roll of contemporary suck-fest lately. Usually, it’s the genre I run to whenever I feel the tell-tale bump of a reading slump coming on. The last couple of tries left me feeling disillusioned, and wondering what I ever liked in the genre to begin with.

And then this book came long.

Things We Know By Heart is a thought-provoking book about a person’s willingness to cross a line for the sake of closure. Truthfully, I’ve never even given a thought to what I would do in Quinn’s situation. I don’t know if I’d risk being labeled a stalker by insinuating myself into another person’s life because I wanted to know, had to know. 

I’m sure you’ve read quite a few loved-loved reviews for this book. I’m sure they told you that it left its readers in a soggy mess. I’m sure they all told you it’s a heart-wrenching read. And they would be right.  It was all those.

It gave me an insight into what it’s like to deal with the knowledge that a part or parts of the person they loved who’d died still lived in another: sight, liver, kidney, heart. It’s easier to deal with the first three. The last one is a bit more difficult. Imagine for a moment that your partner’s heart continues to beat in another’s body. Wouldn’t you question whether or not it would beat the way you remember how it sounds?

So is the heart really a muscle that has the capacity to retain its memories long after a person has passed? It is an interesting question, but this book being fictional is probably not a good source to get an answer. You’re better off reading Science and Medical research journals. It’s at least thoughtful and it does make its readers consider that possibility.

I’ve always thought that Jessi Kirby is quite adept in giving us well-rounded, realistic characters. It couldn’t be more true in Quinn’s and Colton’s respective situations. Quinn’s grief was palpable, understandable. Readers will feel how heavy it weighs her down. And Colton’s difficulty in accepting his gift was understandable. I was able to empathize with both; I understood why Quinn temporarily forgot the moral implications of her actions. I got why Colton was unable to deal with the fact that someone had to die in order for him to live. That kind of gift is both a blessing and a curse.

Things We Know by Heart was a lovely read that didn’t pretend to know what its talking about. It didn’t tell you that sure, the heart is like a brain that can somehow  retain memories. You might be led into believing that, but you have to remember that the book is fictional. It’s hard to explain love. Lust is much simpler. There are a lot more involved for a person to truly recognized it’s love staring at them in the face. My point is, when Colton met Quinn the first time, there wasn’t an instant recognition or even remembrance that made his heart quiver to a healthy degree. Unless I missed it altogether. In the end, Colton and Quinn had to get over their own guilt to have a fighting chance at a relationship.

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[528]: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | Bloomsbury | Hardcover, 384 pp. | March 31st, 2015 | Young Adult Fiction | Romance | Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars


When a book gets a 1-star rating on the blog, it generally means that I had to physically force myself to finish it, and that I was close to abandoning ship. I also had to take breaks from it because it was either, really awful or boring as f*ck (pardon my language). Well, this was a combination of all three.

I’m obviously at odds with everyone who read this book. One paltry star for an author that I’ve considered  money in her genre? Say it ain’t so! But yeah. Here’s where we’re at. This was the most boring thing I’ve ever read in a long time. What happened to the gritty  writing of Open Road Summer? While I agree that these are two different story lines altogether, I have to say that I don’t even recognize the writing. Plebeian, pedestrian, dull are just three of the words that come to mind when I think about this book.

Nothing ever happened. It was an endless banal account of Paige Hancock’s life. She has the personality of an unsalted rice cake and when she started becoming interesting, she was all over the place. She’s convinced that Ryan is the next best thing since sliced bread, but it didn’t take a long time before she realizes his cousin is more worth it. She tells me she’s grieving over her boyfriend who drowned and died, but she herself couldn’t even bring herself to feel that she should be grieving. In fact, she feels guilty when people felt sorry for her. Sometimes, she’ll talk about how they weren’t even together long enough to warrant the sympathy afforded to grieving widows, only to turn around and fall apart when something reminds her of Aaron. Sorry. But, make up your mind, will ya? I mean, you were together for two months. I get it. Death is hard, especially if the deceased was close to you, but come on, now. Tell me something endearing about Aaron so I can convince myself that you’re not being over dramatic. I apologize for being cold and callous, but Paige has the flare for the dramatics.

Case in point: Her parents were previously divorced. But now, they’re dating each other. You’d think Paige will be over the moon with this news?  Noooo. She doesn’t think they should be together. Because they were apparently awful together. Whatever. Why can’t you just be happy for them?I don’t know. She might’ve caught at a time when I’m all out of empathy.

There really isn’t much to talk about this book. It’s pages upon pages of kids basically just being high school kids. The thing that disappointed me the most is that I thought Emery Lord is beyond using fillers. Because once you get your characters involved in a rousing game of Spin the Bottle/Eleven Minutes in Heaven, you know you’ve run out of things to write about. Which is sad, because this is only her second book. Before reading this, I was convinced that Emery Lord is well on her way to usurping Sarah Dessen as the big thing in contemporary fiction. This book, however, tells me that she’s got a few thousand miles to go yet.

On a side note: I really love this picture. Shame, the book was awful.

 

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[522]: We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | Tundra Books | Hardcover, 256 pp. | May 12, 2015 | Young Adult Fiction | Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


Truth be told, this book started off like a Middle Grade read. After all, the kids in here are only 13 and 14 year-olds. But as you get further into the book, scary, unpleasant things started happening. Things that kids this age should never have to go through. If I had any choice, that is.

I look at my 13 year-old, who by the way is about to start public school in September, and I’m immediately overcome with fear and worry. I want to believe that kids aren’t mean. I want to believe that kids are more kind than how most of the YA books have portrayed them to be nowadays. But we all know things happen beyond our control and whether we like it or not, we have to let our kidlets go out into the world.

This book is about Stewart. Thirteen-year-old boy-genius who thinks a little differently than kids his age. He is gifted, and possibly a card-carrying member of MENSA. His life was already on a tailspin with the sudden death of his mother. A year later, when his dad announces that they’re moving in with his girlfriend and her daughter, he was anxious. He’s always lived a regimented life. He goes to a small school for gifted kids. Now, not only is he moving in with a couple of strangers, he’s also about to go to a scary public school.

But even with all the upheavals in his life, he manages to keep an optimistic view of the world. Bullies never seem to bother him. And he always tries to be himself, even if it opens himself up to ridicule. Even his step sister Ashley treats him like a pariah. He reminds me of  Professor Don Tillman: unintentionally funny, quirky, strait-laced and serious. He warmed my heart, and felt this protective streak for him. I worried about him on his first day of school. And because he’s so smart, he got bumped a grade up. That landed him in the land of the giants.

Then there’s his step sister Ashley, who was the exact opposite of him. She’s on top of the social ladder, popular, not very smart, and mean as they come. She is a brat and just an unlikeable character altogether. I had to grit my teeth a few times because it was difficult reading her perspective.

The titular concept is actually quite brilliant. I read it a few times because I wanted to wrap my head around it. After a few tries, I hugged the shit out of the book because it was so perfect. I’ll leave it for you to digest. I hope you’ll give this book a try. It has underlying seriousness hidden in the banalities of a teenager’s life, but don’t hold that against this book. It is a sublime story about family, love, grief, and friendship.

 

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[521]: Three-Day Summer by Sarvenaz Tash

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | Simon & Schuster BYR | ARC Paperback, 286 pp. | May 5th, 2015 | Young Adults | Contemporary | Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars


This is one of those instances when I wish I had enjoyed a book much better than I did. When I got the email from Simon & Schuster, I knew it was something that I could really enjoy. First, because I thought it would be a perfect summer read; and second, because the story is set in the era of love, peace and music, man. I mean, Woodstock! The music festival that started all music festivals. Iconic. Historic. It was fun to read about legendary bands and performers of the time: Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker – to name a few. A walk down the memory lane and all that.

It wasn’t only those music legends that whetted my appetite. The 60s is an interesting period of time for me. I’ve always been curious about the social and political climate of the times. In this book, the author glanced over the ideals that started Woodstock: camaraderie through music, brotherhood/sisterhood transcending races and blood. It was meant to be a peaceful protest against the war, which was on everybody’s minds. Kids were terrified of being drafted; drugs and free love went hand in hand. Also, hair; lots of hair and nakedness. It was the worst of times and the best of times, folks.

Despite of all that, I couldn’t rate the book any higher than the paltry two stars I gave it. I found the writing to be somewhat pedestrian. So much so that the characters sounded juvenile and lacking any personality whatsoever. Cora and Michael bored me; they were flat characters who had very little to offer as far as charisma and dimensions go. I don’t know, maybe because the story’s short  that it didn’t really leave much room for character development? I felt like they could’ve been so much bigger, more in depth than how I perceived them. Ultimately, this single blight is what dragged the book down for me. Characterization is such an integral part of a great story. This book needed a lot of work in that department.

If there’s one thing that I can appreciate from this book is that how the author expertly transported me to Bethel, NY. How easily I could imagine being amongst the crush of bodies writhing in mud whilst in the haze of musical oblivion.  It was so easy to picture how carefree and uninhibited the people were. Above all things, it’s a glimpse of shared sentiments and worry about the Vietnam war and their futures. While Michael didn’t know what the hell he wants to do with his life, Cora didn’t know how  to make her dream a reality.

So far, this book has been getting quite a few favourable reviews on Goodreads. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I really thought this book had so much unrealized potential.

 

 

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