Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Lake of Dreams (Kim Edwards, 2011)


The Heroine: Lucy Jarrett, an American hydrologist living in Japan with her boyfriend, Yoshi. When her mother is injured in a car accident, Lucy returns home to the Lake of Dreams, a small lakeside town in New York state. Though it has been ten years since her father's death, Lucy can't seem to move past that moment, including her feelings for her first love, Keegan. Lucy's obsession with the past deepens when she discovers papers hidden away that hint to a unknown female relative that was left out of her family history. Stubborn, determined and relentless, Lucy searches through the history of her family, as well as her own personal past, to ultimately find peace with herself and move forward into the future.

The Highs: I loved the element of mystery in The Lake of Dreams. Lucy's quest to discover more about her ancestor Rose was suspenseful and as an amateur history buff, I really loved learning about the woman's suffrage movement in the Great Lakes region. I also liked the way the clues about Rose and her daughter Iris were revealed through stained glass windows, art sketches, written letters and personal accounts, as a variety of sources added interest.

I also enjoyed the family drama in the story. The Jarrett family, both past and present, is filled with estranged siblings, old arguments and ancient family secrets. I was really shocked by the way the family had twisted their history to focus exclusively on their male ancestors, leaving out the females except in passing. Lucy helps remedy this by exposing the history of her female ancestors.

Kim Edward's writing was very enjoyable. I liked her simple style and I also liked her use of imagery, as in the earthquakes in Japan reflecting Lucy's inner state. I especially enjoyed her beautiful descriptions of the lakeside scenery.

The Lows: I personally found Lucy, the protagonist, really irritating. Her refusal to move on with her life, her insistence on sticking her nose into her mother and brother's lives and her possessive attitude to her discoveries about Rose were all very annoying to me. In other words, if she was a real person, I wouldn't like her very much. Therefore, I felt a little distant when reading about her personal journey.

I also felt dissatisfied with the end results of her family's deep, dark secrets. I was disappointed that after all the dramatic build-up about Rose being cut out of the family tree, her actual crime wasn't very exciting and (though I do take into account the time period) I really don't think it warranted being basically abandoned by her family. I don't know whether that emphasizes how cruel her family was, or just makes the whole thing seem very unrealistic.

I also wish they had moved the family tree included in the book to the front of the novel instead of the back because I often got all the names, dates and events confused and tangled in my head.

Final Thoughts: The Lake of Dreams is well-written and interesting, but there were a couple big sticking points that I found quite irritating.

Rating: The Lake of Dreams earns six stained glass windows out of ten. 

Buy 'The Lake of Dreams' by Kim Edwards on Amazon here
Connect with author Kim Edwards here
Photo from here

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!


Since I began blogging in September, my entire experience in the book blogging universe has been truly wonderful, enriching and enjoyable. I am truly blessed to have been welcomed into the community by my fellow bloggers, as well as by the fantastic readers that make this all worthwhile by reading and commenting on my posts. I'm very grateful to share my thoughts with all of you and I just want to say thank you for the support, encouragement and interest. 

Merry Christmas to all of you celebrating today, and happy holidays to all! 

Adorable photo from here

Friday, December 23, 2011

Past Secrets (Cathy Kelly, 2006)


The Heroine: Past Secrets focuses on a group of women living on Summer Street, a picturesque lane in Dublin lined with beautiful old trees, well-groomed gardens and stately homes. Christie Devlin, a married empty-nester with a passion for art and a gift for seeing the future, ties together this story as she helps her neighbours through their struggles, finally realizing she must face up to secrets of her own. Her neighbour, Faye Reid, a single working mother who has suppressed her zest for life in order to raise her teenage daughter Amber, is devastated when Amber runs away to follow a boy to America. And Maggie Maguire, recently returned home after being betrayed by her boyfriend, is struggling to overcome her high school insecurities. All the heroines must face the consequences of keeping secrets, overcoming obstacles to discover their true selves.

The Highs: I fell in love with Cathy Kelly's wonderful writing within the first chapter. Humorous, light and effortless, the author weaves together description, action and dialogue beautifully. She painted each scene into my mind perfectly. Not only is her talented writing a joy to read, but I found it so inspiring that I was longing to pen a story of my own when I reached the end.

I also grew to be very attached to her characters, especially Faye and Amber Reid. All of the characters are well-rounded and realistic, as well as given compelling personalities that help bond the reader to them. There are no dull wallflowers here; Christie is passionate and caring, while Amber's adventurous and naive spirit was perfectly captured on paper. Faye's anxious temperament was expressed thoughtfully and I really enjoyed reading about her emotional journey from helicopter mom to a new, blossoming individual.

The settings throughout the novel are described gorgeously, with lush details about the plant life being my favourite. I felt that each described setting really represented a part of the character and told the reader a little more about them, just like it should. Christie's warm, well-cared for home reflects her welcoming and soft personality, while Maggie's apartment with each room decorated completely separate from the others, with no flow, represents her jumbled and confused outlook. Every new location brought beautiful descriptions that made reading this book even more pleasurable.

I always love stories about fresh beginnings. There is something so inspiring about reading of another's journey through hell, where they ultimately triumph. It lifts my spirit, and Past Secrets was definitely the great refresher I needed so close to the start of a new year.

The Lows: I felt that, out of the four protagonists, Maggie's character seemed a little bit ignored and rushed. Her story didn't include as many details as the others and I felt like she could have been explored more deeply. I would have loved to understand her choice of career – librarian – or her reasons for letting her boyfriend, Grey, get away with so much. I also felt like Maggie's high school bullying could have used some more drama as those scenes seemed lackluster. I know what bullying can be like and I have definitely witnessed more dramatic scenes in the real world than in this book.

I also wondered why Christie's character was given the ability to see the future. There was no specific reason or plot twist to include it, nor are there any other supernatural elements in the book. I would have preferred if Christie would have been simply very intuitive instead of psychic – not because I don't appreciate a little magic now and then, but because it seemed unnecessary and I really believe that writing is a skill that requires judgement on what to leave out just as much as what to put in.

Final Thoughts: I loved this book and I immediately wanted to recommend it to my female friends, my mother, my aunts and my grandmother. Alas, as none of them are big readers, I simply went to Chapters and bought an armful of Cathy Kelly's books.

Verdict: Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly earns eight antique white roses out of ten. 

Buy 'Past Secrets' by Cathy Kelly on Amazon here
Connect with author Cathy Kelly here
Picture from here

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday!


I was forced to stop participating in this weekly meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but now that I have time again....here we go!

Top Ten Books I Hope that Santa Brings Me

1. The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen: I really loved her novel, Skipping A Beat (I actually reviewed it here) so I'm really excited to check out her other published book. Plus its about two sisters, a topic I always love to read about!
2. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton: I absolutely LOVED her other novels, The Forgotten Garden and The House at Riverton (once again, I reviewed them here and here) so I'm really looking forward to this one, as Kate Morton is a fantastic writer. 
3. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan: This book was mentioned in a magazine I picked up at the hairdressers and I am really intrigued by the distopian setting and the conflict about the contemporary debate about abortion. 
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This book has been literally EVERYWHERE and I want to find out what all the hype is about...plus the plot does sound quite interesting, too. 
5. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery: A jazz age story set in Paris, filled with art and a passionate love affair...right up my alley. 
6. Christmas at Tiffany's by Karen Swan: I love stories about new beginnings and fresh starts, so this one (about a woman starting over after her husband cheats on her) sounds very interesting. 
7. A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff: The back of my copy of  The Very Picture of You, there was quote after quote by authors such as Sophie Kinsella praising A Vintage Affair as a fabulous read. 
8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I've been meaning to read this book for ages now!
9. How to Dress for Success by Edith Head: This pick is a not a novel, but as an amateur fashionista, I love to read about style. 
10. Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann: I borrowed a friend's copy of this notorious book and I absolutely loved it. I'd love to read it again, so I want to get a copy for my own bookshelves!

And there you have it. Thanks for stopping by - and in case I forget - happy holidays to everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Very Picture of You (Isabel Wolff, 2011)


The Heroine: Ella Graham, a thirty-something portrait artist at a crossroads. Abandoned without a word by her father at the age of five, Ella is shocked when she begins to receive messages from him, imploring her for forgiveness. At the same time, Ella finds herself falling in love with her newest portrait subject – her sister's fiance, Nate. While Ella has a gift for revealing her subject's inner selves through her art work, Ella must struggle to find her own truths in love and in her family.

The Highs: I was very drawn towards the family drama in The Very Picture of You. The mystery of Ella's father is intriguing and suspenseful; I was so eager to uncover the truth among the tangled web of stories told by Ella's mother that I had trouble putting this book down once I was about halfway through it. I also found the smaller mysteries contained in the subplots, the subjects of Ella's paintings, equally riveting, from the meaning behind Iris's antique watercolour to the cause of Mike Johns's depression to who killed Grace Clark.

I also enjoyed the complex characterization of Sue, Ella's mother, who is basically the main controller of the plot. Neurotic, determined and selfish, Sue manipulates her daughter's into living out her own dreams, though in a way that made me feel more sorry for her than outraged. I enjoy reading about interesting, unique and multi-dimensional characters and Sue was definitely one of those.

The Lows: I found The Very Picture of You to be a little too devoid of emotion. The characters, even Ella, seemed a little too mechanical and the story didn't really sitr up any strong emotions within me – it didn't make me feel anything. I felt Ella was a very passive character in the sense that it was difficult to get a good read of who she was and as a result, I found her a little boring to read about.

I also felt that the romance aspect was lacklustre and fell flat. While Ella falls in love with Nate, there is no real sexual tension or chemistry between the characters. I didn't really understand why she sudddenly fell in love with him, as in the author made no apparent effort to make Nate's character endearing, lovable, or even memorable. If it weren't for the added drama of the fact that Nate is Ella's sister's fiance, I probably would have forgotten there even was a romantic plot line to this novel. The mystery element of the story is much more prominent and interesting.

While I did enjoy Isabel Wolff's writing – simple, clean and to the point – I found a lot of grammer and punctuation issues within the novel that really annoyed me while I was reading. Perhaps it seems nit-pickity, but I expect that a professionally published book would be free of obvious errors like that.

Final Thoughts: I will probably read another of Isabel Wolff's novels, as I did find the book pleasant, but I don't think it is her best book.

Rating: The Very Picture of You earns five oil portraits out of ten. 

Buy 'The Very Picture of You' on Amazon here
Connect with author Isabel Wolff here
Photo from here

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Skipping A Beat (Sarah Pekkanen, 2011)


The Heroine: Julia Dunhill, a practical and hard-working party planner in Washington, D.C. Julia began life as the daughter of a broke gambling addict in small-town West Virginia; however, her fortunes change (literally) when Michael, her high school sweetheart's, vitamin drink company catapults the couple into millions. Julia has everything from a Jaguar to a jewelry collection worth six figures, but she is forced to examine her deteriorating marriage to Michael when a near-death experience causes him to create drastic changes to their life. Is money more valuable than love? Or is it true that you can't buy happiness?

The Highs: This novel surprised me over and over again, which can be a difficult to find for a reader who has read it all. While I was expecting Julia to be a shallow trophy wife and Michael to be a selfish and domineering egotist, I was shocked to find that their characters were extremely complex, deep and three-dimensional; there is not a single stereotype employed in the book (except for perhaps the minor character of Roxanne). The author managed to navigate the world of the rich and famous with surprising realism, seamlessly moving from the couple's private mansion to a rundown house in West Virginia without losing the down-to-earth feeling of the story.

I love Sarah Pekkanen's use of suspense. The story unfolds slowly and beautifully, revealing new layers of the plot just when you think you know everything. I'm extremely impressed by the impeccable timing and the complexity of the layers. It also provides the reader with a thorough understanding of who the characters are and the motivations that drive them; knowing their back story defines Julia and Michael and gives it that added sense of realism. The element of suspense kept me turning the pages long into the night!

I also found that I was fooled by the plot summary presented on the inside cover of the book; the story is presented as (rather shallowly) a woman's struggle to keep her money, while it is really a much deeper story examining the intricacies of marriage. This novel was about delving into the past's effect on the present and following the course of every small decision made by Julia and Michael that brought them to the moment of Micheal's near-death. I was jerked through every emotion, from joy to the brink of tears, and upon turning the last page, I was inspired to reach over to my boyfriend and hold him close. This one's a tear-jerker!

The Lows: I felt a great dislike for Julia at certain moments, though reading about her past did help to validate some of her emotions and actions towards her husband. I suppose I am a bit of a softie, so I found it hard to digest how cold-hearted she could be.

I also wish there would have been more about Julia and Micheal's relationship as teenagers, as well as more romantic moments as they re-evaluate their marriage. I know I am a hopeless romantic, but for a love story, I found it remarkably devoid of tender moments. I feel like the story could have used more "soft" scenes to balance out to roughness of Julia's emotional journey. It also would have made the ending more dramatic – though its already quite a stunner!

Final Thoughts: Skipping A Beat is a great book for anyone who believes that the power of love can conquer all.

Rating: Skipping A Beat earns seven tubs of chocolate ice cream out of ten. 

Buy 'Skipping A Beat' on Amazon here
Connect to author Sarah Pekkanen here
Photo from here

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guest Blogger: Dani from Pen to Paper!


Hi Genny, thanks for having me! Ever since the first time I came across Books are my Heroine, I have been fascinated with the theme of the blog. You don’t see many blogs with themes running through all of the posts, so that makes this blog truly unique, and not only that, the theme actually works really well!

On Pen to Paper, I tend to blog about Dark Fantasy, Science-fiction, Urban Fantasy and YA books more often than general fiction, so I thought I would take the theme of this wonderful blog, and talk about some of my favourite heroines in my preferred genres.

The first heroine of fiction for me is going to have to be Sookie Stackhouse from the wonderful Sookie Stackhouse (or True Blood) series by Charlaine Harris. I fell in love with Sookie and her world from the very first page of the very first book, which isn’t surprising if you’ve gotten to know her too. She’s strong-minded, strong-willed, feisty (when it’s required), loyal and friendly. She’s also not abnormally strong (she doesn’t beat up every bad guy that comes her way), and equally, she’s not the damsel-in-distress type that is found all too often in this genre – so her character makes for a refreshing change.

The series is now 11 books long and it has been wonderful taking this journey with Sookie and watching her world change around her. Another positive Sookie trait is that despite everything that has happened to her, and despite the numerous changes in possible love interest, she always manages to work out what she wants from each guy, and then she sticks by it, unlike other female protagonists, who can’t seem to make up their minds and stop messing the guy(s) around! Although, saying that, another of my Urban Fantasy heroines is exactly this kind of character (to begin with at least).


Faythe Sanders is the heroine of the Werecats series by Rachel Vincent, and although in the first couple of books she’s immature, indecisive and (for want of a better word) whiney, she does eventually begin to decide what she wants with love interest, Marc – even though this may not necessarily mean that she stops messing him around, at least she no longer does so intentionally! Apart from this minor flaw, Faythe is certainly a feisty lady. In the first in the series, she openly rebels against her family’s wishes and against the tradition of her pride in order to get a sense of freedom and independence from a life that is otherwise already laid out before her, which I greatly admire in her. She decides to do this by staying on in education at college, but it doesn’t take long for her unwanted life to catch up with her anyway, dragging her back to her father’s ranch by the tail. This, though, is where the fun really starts! Although Faythe does come across danger and get herself snared in its trap during the first novel, she is still feisty enough and smart enough to keep herself alive and even do some damage to the bad guys herself, which is great fun to watch unfold, and gives her character much more depth than you might think.

Taking a step away from Fantasy now, and into the world of crossover YA/adult fiction, with Before I Die by Jenny Downham. As it’s easy to imagine just from the title of the novel, it’s a particularly sad read, and it will definitely have you in tears by the end, but what I’m interested in, is what comes before that. Tessa, the main character, is 16 and terminally ill, having just months left to live, decides to compose a list of all the things she wants to do before she dies. As she steadily works her way through the list, she shows just how strong her character really is – despite knowing that she’ll die so soon and so young, she doesn’t dwell too much on what will happen, but instead decides to live life to its full and go out with a bang – something I know I’d struggle with, so this makes her even more admirable. By the end of the novel I was completely in love with her character, so with the inevitable approaching fast, I became even more attached to her, which only added to the eventual upset of the ending. This novel and Tessa’s unbelievably strong character has stuck with me for a long time (I read this book in spring 2009), and I know will stay with me for a while still.

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Visit Dani on her blog, Pen to Paper, at http://vogue-pentopaper.blogspot.com/

Photo from here

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Secret Daughter (Shilpi Somaya Gowda, 2010)


The Heroine: The novel is split between three main protagonists: Kavita, a young woman living in rural India; Somer, a doctor in San Francisco; and Asha, their daughter. Kavita, poor and with little opportunity, is forced to give up her baby daughter to an orphanage in Bombay, in favour of the future son her culture dictates she must have. In America, after a series of miscarriages, Somer's Indian husband suggests they adopt the child that Somer is so desperate to have. Through the stories of Kavita, Somer and Asha, Secret Daughter explores the topics of family bonds, personal identity and what it means to be a mother.

The Highs: Secret Daughter was a powerful book for me because it addresses the fact that in many parts of the world, the capabilities and potential of women, both as individuals and as a collective, isn't acknowledged and is often purposefully suppressed. I wasn't actually aware of the disposal of babies of the "wrong" sex in India, though I have heard of it in other developing countries. Reading about this issue really brought up many feelings about the plight of women around the world. This is an issue I feel really passionately about and is ultimately the purpose behind Books Are My Heroine - to promote the idea of strong, independent women in media such as popular literature.

I loved the plot of this book because its a truly well-rounded reading experience, with a vast array of settings, characters and perspectives on the topics of motherhood and family. I liked have the double perspective of the slums of India and upper-class, academic California; the contrasting cultures and values was a really interesting reading experience. I also liked the multiple perspectives. As well as the three main female protagonists, the story also includes chapters from the perspective of Kavita and Somer's husbands and Somer's mother-in-law.

I found this book extremely touching and emotionally poignant. As a woman, I could relate to the feelings and thoughts of the female characters on what really makes you a mother and the complicated relationships between mothers and their daughters. Throughout the tragedy within the novel, there was a sense of hopefulness for the future that I found uplifting, though I also really felt for the characters and their trials. There were even some points of the story where I found myself holding back tears. Well-written and thoughtful, I found Secret Daughter to be an amazing read.

The Lows: I honestly do not have many complaints about Secret Daughter. I do wish the author would have taken more advantage of her platform in order to explain more about the conditions for poor women and their unfortunate daughters in India through an author's note or within the acknowledgements. I think media is at the point where we should promote it as a tool for educating AND entertaining, not just for pleasure. I think we have more capabilities of spreading the news about these important issues that way.

I feel that this book could have benefited from more content, in order to get deeper into Asha's experiences as an adopted child, Somer's experience as a sterile woman and Kavita's experience with raising her son in India. I also wish more chapters had been told from the perspective of Somer's mother-in-law, a wealthy philanthropist in India. I think her experience contrasted with Kavita's experience in the slums was a really interesting contrast that gave me a real feel for the juxtaposed sides of India.

Final Thoughts: Every woman – no matter who you are, your race, your socio-economic status – should read this book for a real reminder on how lucky we are and of all the work there is left to do in the world.

Rating: Secret Daughter earns eight silver bangles out of ten. 

Buy 'Secret Daughter' on Amazon here
Connect with author Shilpi Somaya Gowda here
Photo from here

To learn more about gender killing (gendercide), please visit http://www.gendercide.org/ or http://www.itsagirlmovie.com/ for the trailer and information on an upcoming documentary on the subject. 
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