Sunday, July 2, 2017

Summer Reading Challenge: TBR Wipeout, hosted by Candid Cover


Last summer, I went on a reading hiatus. I was in the midst of leaving a company where I had spent the the last 12 years and started a new adventure. This summer is just as hectic, but I'm hoping to get through a few recent title that have been piling up on my beside table. My actual TBR that's been growing in my basement will have to continue to wait.

That said, I know I'm going to need a bit of motivation to get through the pile. Enter Candid Cover! On her blog, she'll be hosting her 2nd annual Summer TBR Wipeout. You can learn more and sign up here.

Here are the books I hope to get through during this challenge:
 
 



It's a small list but it's one I'm hoping to get through. Stay tuned for updates on my progress!


Monday, June 26, 2017

Turning: A Year in the Water by Jessica J. Lee

Title: Turning: A Year in the Water
Author: Jessica J. Lee
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Publishing Date: May 2, 2017
Rating:★★★★






Jessica, a native Canadian, moved to Berlin at the age of 28 to complete her thesis. Along with her work, she brought personal troubles that took a toll on her well being and outlook on life.
"Love was a lot like fear. It swallowed you whole, like water."
Turning: A Year in the Water is Jessica's story of how she turned her love of swimming into a source of motivation and healing.  The book opens with the list of lakes swum and maps of their locations. What follows is a beautifully written account of Jessica's journey of how she balanced her goal of swimming in these 52 lakes in Berlin while still continuing on with her work.

Throughout her journey, we get a glimpse into Jessica's past that has driven her to this point in her life. Her parents' divorce and struggles with her mother's mental illness was a start. As she got older, Jessica experimented with drugs, struggled with alcohol abuse and chose to have an abortion while in college. The emotional struggles continued as she finalized her own divorce.

The paths Jessica took to swim in the lakes contributed to her healing. In her travels she some times went with friends, but mostly traveled to these locations on her own. She allowed herself to be immersed in the culture and people that lived around the lakes. She began to find a new sense of purpose and belonging in Berlin. The new start that she was looking for.
"I think of what the lakes meant to me then and what they mean to me now. In the middle of the lake, I'm completely present. I'm no longer afraid to be alone. I've conditioned myself to the lake, to the cold, to the pain of it. I can hold it. I've made it mine."
Jessica's inspiring story is proof that overcoming obstacles, no matter how painful both physically and emotionally, are possible. Readers who have a love of swimming will enjoy this read. Jessica is very descriptive of her feelings while in the water and the ambiance of the lakes. Turning can also be appealing to those who have experienced or are experiencing the need for a fresh start. But, regardless of the reason for deciding to read this book, know that you will find comfort in her words and finish the book with a sense of empowerment and strength.


Disclaimer: I received a finished copy Turning: A year in the Water by Jessica J. Lee from Penguin Random House Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins

Title: Into the Water
Author: Paula Hawkins
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 388
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publishing Date: May 2, 2017
Rating:★★★★






Synopsis from publisher's website:
A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.


Review:
I have been waiting for this book since the beginning of 2015! During a Twitter chat to celebrate the success of Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins revealed that she was already working on her next book. She teased that it was "a dark and twisted tale about a relationship between two sisters".

From the first page, Into the Water pulls you right in. Set in a tight knit town, where the locals know everything about everyone. We meet a young girl who is grieving the loss of two people who meant the most to her. In the pages that follow, Paula Hawkins takes down a dark winding path through the town's tumultuous history that contributes to the mystery surrounding the recent deaths.

Paula Hawkins has not lost her touch. Her ability to mesmerize readers with her words continues with Into the Water. What I enjoyed the most was the interconnectivity of each character. I found myself yearning to know more about their secrets and backstories. As expected, some were more shocking than others, but each tidbit built up the suspense and set the stage for the big reveal across the various perspectives.

I enjoyed this book from cover to cover! I can only hope that readers aren't quick to judge and compare Into the Water with it's predecessor. They are completely different and are brilliant novels in their own right. I'm hoping we'll see more from Paula Hawkins in the near future!


Disclaimer: I received a finished copy of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins from Penguin Random House Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson

Title: The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen:
Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History
Author: Hope Nicholson
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publishing Date: May 2, 2017
Rating:★★★★





The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson provides readers with a history lesson of the heroines that have graced comic book pages throughout the decades. Many of the world's favourite icons from Little Lulu to Kamala Khan (a.k.a Ms. Marvel) are included in this book.

I enjoyed reading about the impacts that the iconic superwomen made in their respective decades. It was also interesting to read about some of more obscure characters like Madame Strange. No relation to Doctor... She, like many other heroines featured in this book, was a reporter and fought crime in a cape and swimsuit.

My daughter, who in her own right is a superwoman in the making, loved hearing about all the different heroines as she flipped through the book on her own. I made sure that she skipped over P udge, Girl Blimp. The photo is a bit much for a 5 year old. The one thing she did point out was that a few of her favourite superwomen, mostly X-Men (X-Women?) and Avengers were not included in this collection. Perhaps Hope Nicholson is leaving room for Vol. 2. One can only hope. I believe there are so many more superwomen to explore in the comic book realms.

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen would make a great gift for comic book aficionados, coffee table book collectors or even young ones, like this little one to the right, looking for their next role model.



Disclaimer: I received a finished copy of The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson from Penguin Random House Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Crazy Is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks

Title: Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules
Author: AJ Mendez Brooks
Format: Paperback ARC
Pages: 271
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Publishing Date: April 4, 2017
Rating:★★★★




Synopsis from publisher's website:
Recently retired WWE superstar AJ Mendez Brooks is a powerhouse—strong, quirky, and totally confident. But that wasn’t always the case. With humor and tremendous heart, she opens up for the first time about her harrowing struggle to understand her demons and the diagnosis that helped her gain control over her life.

Everything I was told should be my greatest insecurities and weaknesses, everything that I’ve been labeled—SHORT, NERDY, SKINNY, WEAK, IMPULSIVE, UGLY, TOMBOY, POOR, REBEL, LOUD, FREAK, CRAZY—turned out to be my greatest strengths. I didn’t become successful in spite of them. I became successful because of them.

Growing up AJ was a quiet girl trying to act “normal” when she felt anything but. As her family struggled with drug addiction, poverty, and mental illness, she found escape through comic books and video games, and was inspired by the tough and unconventional female characters. It wasn’t until she discovered pro wrestling that she learned superheroes could be real.

Determined to become the superhero she’d always admired, AJ trained and sacrificed for years to achieve her dream of wrestling professionally. Yet she quickly faced industry pressure to play the role of the damsel in distress and to dress more provocatively to cater to male fans. But she fought back and created an ass-kicking alter ego that was a genuine representation of herself: nerdy, enthusiastic, and a little bit crazy.

With humor and tremendous heart, AJ opens up for the first time about her harrowing struggle to understand her demons and the mental illness diagnosis that helped her gain control over her life. What most people view as a hardship, AJ embraced as inspira­tion for her superhero persona, shattering the stigma attached to mental illness.

Charting her journey from a scrappy girl in an unstable home to an empowered wrestling champion, Crazy Is My Superpower is an un­flinchingly honest story and brave confessional about her long road to self-acceptance.


Review:
This book is NOT at all what I expected.

Like most books that I review, I did not read the full synopsis...for this one, I didn't read it at all. The title was enough to catch my attention. So, when I received the ARC in the mail, to my delight, I found out this book was about a female WWE wrestler and her rise to the top.

I have an on and off relationship with the WWE. Back when AJ Lee was proving herself in the ring and striving for fame, I was likely riding on the UFC bandwagon. The fact that I did not know her prior to reading this book added extra emphasis on what she stood for.

AJ describes her past so vividly. Born into a family that was constantly down on their luck, moving from one place to another, never really settling on a place to call home. She was the youngest of three children, with parents who were children themselves. In a nutshell, she had a hard life. After striving to get into college, NYU, nonetheless,  she was forced to drop out to care for her ailing mother who was diagnosed as bipolar. Even as a child, the one thing that managed to bring her joy was her love of the WWE. As an adult, she made a decision to pursue her dream and entered the WWE training camp. From that point on, AJ was focused on one thing - being the best!

After reading her book, AJ Lee has become an inspiration to me. She outlined many times in her life where she showed her ability to put family and her own mental health struggles first. She knew that by not caring for herself, there was no way she could care for others and fulfill her own dreams. Once she learned how to manage her illness, AJ put the pedal to the metal and didn't look back.

She did a lot for women in the WWE. Changing the executives' and fans' perception of what a female wrestler should look like was the first thing. She stepped out of the Diva spotlight and expectation and fought in the ring in street clothes. A t-shirt, jean shorts and knee high Chucks. AJ aimed to capture the love and popularity from not just male fans, but from female fans who hope to one day follow in her footsteps.

One of the most powerful parts of the book that stood out for me was when she was describing a storyline that was pitched to her that required her to act as "The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend". Given her own experience with mental illness, she confidently refused and readily accepted any repercussions including the potential of ending her career. This was important, because AJ refused to bend. She refused to fuel the fire and stereotype that women are needy and dependent on men when a relationship ends. In the end, standing her ground put her in an even better position with the WWE and furthered her professional and personal life.

Even if you don't know who AJ Lee is or are not a fan of the WWE, I would still recommend picking up this book. Crazy Is My Superpower is a powerful autobiography that speaks to mental health, standing up for what you believe in and women overcoming barriers in a male dominated profession.





Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of Crazy Is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks from Penguin Random House Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Party by Robyn Harding


Title: The Party
Author: Robyn Harding
Format: Paperback ARC
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: June 6, 2017
Rating:





Synopsis from publisher's website:
In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.

One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.

Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?

But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

Harkening to Herman Koch’s The Dinner, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, The Party takes us behind the fa├žade of the picture-perfect family, exposing the lies, betrayals, and moral lapses that neighbors don’t see—and the secrets that children and parents keep from themselves and each other.



Review:
The Party drew me in right from the start. Harding does a marvelous job with setting the tone of the novel with Kim waking up from a deep sleep, only to find her daughter's hands covered in blood. If that doesn't keep you wanting more, I don't know what else will!

Harding is extremely meticulous in her development of the book's characters and the construction of the book's plot. Kim wants nothing more than to continue and maintain the facade of raising the perfect family. Jeff, Kim's husband, conceals secrets of his own that can do noting but damage to his and his family's reputation. We also cannot forget the bond that teenage girls have and their ability to keep even the darkest secrets from themselves and their loved ones.

The events contained within The Party hold as proof that anyone's life can change from one minute to the next. In some scenarios, it could be for the better and in others, it could be a part of the continued downward spiral that rips families and friendships apart. One guess as to which of these two options Kim & Jeff  go through as the events of Hannah's party unravels...

The Party pulls you in instantly. The pace and unexpected twists and turns keep you locked on the story leading up to Hannah's Sweet Sixteen and the aftermath that is left in its wake. If you're looking for your next unputdownable read, this is it!



Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of The Party by Robyn harding from Simon & Schuster Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman


Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: April 25, 2017
Rating:





Synopsis from publisher's website:
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.


Review:
Beartown was pitched to me by the wonderful team at Simon & Schuster Canada as part of their pre-release activities for the book. The winner of the giveaway and I both received finished copies. Before I started reading it, all I knew about it was what was written in the synopsis above.

Beartown is a hockey town. The community thrives on the sport and nothing brings them closer together (or tears them apart) more than their passion for the game. A team of 17 year old boys have the weight of their town on their shoulders as they head into the semi- final match. The team has been together for ten years, training for this moment. Everyone from their coach, club president, team sponsors and parents constantly reminds them that winning could secure more funding for their hockey club and put their town back on the map.
"The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?" p109
Though hockey takes center stage in this, Beartown also walks readers though the perspectives of various inhabitants of Beartown uncovering layers of additional themes that touch upon classism, substance abuse, violence, ageism, and bullying to name a few.
"He turns sixteen today, and all his life he has been teased and rejected. About everything. His looks, thoughts, manner of speech, home address. Everywhere. At school, in the locker room, online. That wears a person down in the end. It's not always obvious, because the people around a bullied child assume that he or she must get used to it after a while. Never. You never get used to it. It burns like fire the whole time. It's just that no one knows how long the fuse is, not even you." p327
The one central theme that resonated for me was around sexual assault.
"For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops." p177
The town's unwillingness to talk about it, victim shaming and viewing the perpetrator as the victim. These are all things we have seen happen in our own modern day society and I applaud Fredrik Backman for putting it front and center.
"Words are not small things." p234
Beartown is a masterpiece. Fredrik Backman's writing, from his meticulous character development down to his ability to elicit an abundance of emotions, is like nothing I've ever read. This engaging and captivating novel will hit a chord down to your core. Beartown easily makes it on my all-time favourite book list. The extra star in my rating above is no mistake!

Backman will not let you down. I will simply leave you all with one of my favourite quotes from the book…
"There's a thin line between living and surviving, but there's one positive side effect of being both romantic and very competitive: you never give up." p123


Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of Beartown by Fredrik Backman from Simon & Schuster Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.



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