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Luanne Ollivier
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The Girl in the Red Coat
The Girl in the Red Coat
by Kate Hamer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.54
20 used & new from CDN$ 3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars And this is what I love about debuts - there's no history, March 14 2016
The Girl in the Red Coat is Kate Hamer's debut novel. It's garnered lots of attention as a finalist for both the Costa Book Award for First Novel and the Dagger Award. And this is what I love about debuts - there's no history, no expectations of what the story is going to be, no familiarity with the author's style or storytelling - it's a story just waiting for the reader to discover it.

Eight year old Carmel is a dreamer, often getting lost - both physically and mentally. Her single mother, Beth, struggles to keep Carmel with her in public places as the girl likes to hide. And then one day, Carmel hides too well. Her mother cannot find her.......but an older gentleman does. He says he's her grandfather and that her mother has been hurt - Carmel must come with him.....and she does. (The foreshadowing and foreboding that leads up to this is wonderful.)

The Girl in the Red Coat is told in alternating viewpoints/chapters - between Beth and Carmel. Beth's chapters are marked in days - and then years as the search for Carmel continues to turn up nothing. But as readers we know where Carmel is and what has happened to her.

Now, those looking for an intense suspense/mystery novel won't find it here. (Indeed, I could not slot this book into any genre.) Instead, Hamer deftly and intimately explores the aftermath of such a loss/crime/event from two very differing viewpoints. How does life go on? For both. Carmel's chapters were hard to read as they are from a child with no immediate clear picture of the deception that has occurred. But as a mother, I found Beth's just as wrenching as she tries to cope.

Hamer throws in a bit of a unexpected bit with Carmel. Her 'getting lost' has a reason - and her 'grandfather' believes it has a purpose as well. I'm not quite sure how I felt about this part of the plot, but as I said at the beginning, I do like being surprised as I read. And I couldn't stop reading - I wanted to know what happened and if the two would ever be reunited. Are they? You'll have to read the book to find out. The Girl in the Red Coat was a great debut. I'll be watching for Hamer's next novel.

The Crooked Heart of Mercy
The Crooked Heart of Mercy
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.12

4.0 out of 5 stars love, redemption and salvation, March 10 2016
3.5 The Crooked Heart of Mercy is Billie Livingston's latest novel.

Ben and Maggie are an estranged couple. The unthinkable happened - their small son Frankie died in a tragic accident. But that accident was preventable - and both parents are more than aware of that. How do you carry on living after such a death? And this is what Livingston explores in The Crooked Heart of Mercy - loss, love, redemption and salvation.

The Crooked Heart of Mercy is told in alternating chapters from both Maggie and Ben.

Relationships of all sorts are explored in the novel - spousal, parental, fraternal, and many more. Ben and Maggie both have brothers and they too are struggling to find their way in life. Well, not just them - every character in the book is having a hard time. Most of them are marginalized - wounded or broken in one way or another - substance abuse, loneliness, isolation, aging, health and more. I found myself feeling incredibly sad as I read. And yes, the book heads towards that redemption and salvation ending, but even when I reached the last page, I couldn't shake the sadness. The sadness that comes with the repetition of the phrase...."We'll survive. That's what we do." And yet, that's what we all do, isn't it?

Still Mine
Still Mine
by Amy Stuart
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.80
27 used & new from CDN$ 11.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars but I felt a wee bit annoyed at the pacing of it, March 8 2016
This review is from: Still Mine (Paperback)
3.5 Still Mine is Amy Stuart's debut novel.

Clare is on the run - from a past that slowly comes to light as the story progresses. She is on her way to a rundown, remote mining town called Blackmore. Why? She's there at the direction of a man named Malcolm - to see if she can discover anything about a missing local woman named Shayna.

Stuart is spare with details in the beginning - it absolutely ensures the reader will keep turning pages, eager to see who and why. And I did, but I felt a wee bit annoyed at the pacing of it. Malcolm is alluded to many times, without any idea of who he is and why Clare is following his directions until we're a fair ways into the book.

The setting was good - dark, atmospheric and totally mirroring the tone and plot of the book. It had the feel of a cross between Justified and Winter's Bone - rundown town off the beaten track, poverty, drugs, violence and simmering undercurrents.

And I held onto that image as I read - it allowed me to ignore my pragmatic nature and not question Clare's decisions. Her past seems to let her easily slip into the town's underbelly. I did have a harder time with some of the other locals - why they 'adopted' her so fast. An old man letting a woman he just met look after his dementia stricken wife alone was a bit of stretch for me.

There are two stories running concurrently through Still Mine - Clare's and Shayna's. Journal entries interspersed between chapters give the reader a good idea what has happened to Shayna even as Clare continues to try to find her. Although Shayna's disappearance is at the centre of the plot, I found myself much more invested in Clare's story.

I liked that I couldn't predict what was going to happen next in Still Mine. Stuart keeps the reader guessing right to the end. And the ending was perfect - opening up the door to the sequel that Stuart is working on - and I will be watching for.

The title is very clever - no spoilers, but it can be taken two ways.

In Real Life: A Novel
In Real Life: A Novel
by Jessica Love
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.55
27 used & new from CDN$ 8.50

4.0 out of 5 stars 5 In Real Life is the new young adult novel from Jessica Love. Hannah is the quintessential 'good girl' - good ..., March 7 2016
This review is from: In Real Life: A Novel (Hardcover)
3.5 In Real Life is the new young adult novel from Jessica Love.

Hannah is the quintessential 'good girl' - good grades, listening to her parents and never breaking the rules. Her biggest vice is talking online to her friend Nick. Nick from Las Vegas that she's never met in four years. Nick that really knows her and gets her. Nick that maybe she maybe likes as more than a friend......

"My best friend and I have never met. We talk every day on the phone or online, and he knows more about me than anyone."

So when Spring Break rolls around Hannah decides it's finally time to break some rules. Hannah, her friend Grace and her older sister decide to head to Vegas....to meet Nick.

Love has come up with a great premise - someone's online presence can be completely different from 'real life.' (and have you watched Catfishing?!) I was completely taken with Hannah. I loved her voice and her thoughts and found myself casting back to those uncertain teenage years. And Nick reminded me of someone from those teen years as well - kind, quiet and a keeper. The supporting cast is somewhat cliched, but serve as perfect foils for the main plot.

Love captures the yes...no...maybe so dynamic perfectly. Missed cues, missed opportunities and missteps populate the pages of In Real Life. Is In Real Life based in reality? Parts of it yes and parts of it no - some of the Vegas behaviour was a bit over the top risky. But putting that aside, it was a fun, cute, escapist piece of light contemporary teen romance that I quite enjoyed. With a few little nuggets of wisdom thrown in that anyone can appreciate...

"You don't have to choose Hannah. It's not success or fun. It's not life or love. You don't have to just pick one door to walk through."

The Sherlock Holmes Book
The Sherlock Holmes Book
by DK Publishing
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.36
30 used & new from CDN$ 16.11

5.0 out of 5 stars this book is so amazing! ", March 6 2016
I am and always have been an avid mystery fan. The puzzle, the clues, the chase and that satisfying mental click when the final pieces fall into place. And really, is there any more iconic mystery character than Sherlock Holmes?

Big Ideas is a new series from DK. And one of the titles in that series is The Sherlock Holmes Book. Oh my gosh, this book is so amazing!

"...The Sherlock Holmes Book provides a complete guide to all aspects of Holmesiana. It is a celebration of Conan Doyle's' most fascinating creation, the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes.

And I mean complete. Looking for a timeline and details on the author and his creations - check. But here's what I loved. Holmes appears in 56 short stores and four novels. Each story (in chronological order) is explored in detail in The Sherlock Holmes Book. An 'In Context' box liststhe date and the characters. Quotes from the story, info boxes talking about the time period, social mores, devices, postcards, pictures, ephemera and more accompany a dissection of the story. Which leads to my big idea.....

I'm going to go back to the beginning as well and re-read the Holmes novels and stories one by one, following up with the companion chapter from The Sherlock Holmes Book. I'm going to take my time and savour re-discovering the world of Sherlock Holmes.

The last fifty pages of the book explore Victorian London, Holmes on stage and screen, detective fiction, the art of deduction and more. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Sherlock Holmes Book. If you love Holmes, you'll love this book.

As with all DK books, the layout was great, glossy stock, colourful and eye catching. Oh yeah - filled with wonderful information! This was the first of The Big Ideas Simply Explained titles I've looked at and I was impressed.

Baking with Mary Berry
Baking with Mary Berry
by Mary Berry
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.58
27 used & new from CDN$ 14.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet book for your sweet tooth, March 6 2016
This review is from: Baking with Mary Berry (Paperback)
I must admit, I'm not the best cook, but I do enjoy baking. (And the consuming of baked goods!)

I'm not sure how I haven't come across Berry's cookbooks before - she has "six decades of cooking experience and more than 80 cookbooks to her name and is considered Britain's queen of baking. And I've only just discovered The Great British Bake Off, where Berry is a judge.

This a perfect cookbook for those looking for basic, satisfying recipes perfect for beginners or experienced bakers.

The first chapter deals with techniques - most of the basic skills I was familiar with but others were new to me, such as steaming a pudding and different types of pastry. Berry really does cover it all, from muffins, loafs to cakes, pies, tarts, cookies - and British favourites. This was my favourite chapter! Devon scones, treacle tarts, Banoffi pie, sticky toffee pudding and more. Absolute comfort food that reminds me of my gran. Every recipe looks delicious and there are some unusual pairings I have to try - Chocolate and Beet cake!?

The layout of the book is clean and easy to read. The recipes call for ingredients most bakers will have in the fridge or cupboard. The methods are also clear and easy to follow with only 3-7 steps in each. My only wish is that colour photos had been included with every recipe. Those that are look delicious. No nutritional info is included. But butter, sugar and chocolate are, so it's probably better to just enjoy a treat without worrying.

This is a cookbook I'll be using and enjoying for many years.

The Blue Hour: A Novel
The Blue Hour: A Novel
by Douglas Kennedy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.83
25 used & new from CDN$ 23.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars she's not so successful at love. Her first marriage failed, March 1 2016
This review is from: The Blue Hour: A Novel (Hardcover)
3.5 The Blue Hour is the newest (#12) novel from author Douglas Kennedy. For me, it's the first time I've read Kennedy.

Robin Danvers is a successful accountant. But, she's not so successful at love. Her first marriage failed, but she remained hopeful that she would find someone to love and build a family with. Two years ago, she believed she had found that with Paul, one of her clients. Paul is artistic, 'bohemian' and terrible with finances - all quite the opposite of Robin. With her fortieth birthday behind her, Robin's biological clock is ticking quite loudly and there are cracks appearing in their marriage. When Paul suggests a month in Morocco Robin agrees. They arrive - and Paul disappears. Was it foul play? Did he stage his own disappearance? Did he just leave her alone in a foreign country? Where is he? And so begins Robin's search.....

The title? "Neither darkness nor light. The hour at daybreak or dusk when nothing is as it seems; when we are caught between the perceived and the imagined." The Blue Hour. The description perfectly mirrors Robin's state of mind and Kennedy's plot. Nothing is quite as it appears on the surface.

The novel is completely set in Morocco. I really have no knowledge of this country and found Kennedy's descriptions of the land, the people, the customs etc. rich, evocative and quite fascinating. The setting itself is a character in the book. Robin too, has no knowledge of the country which adds to her sense of danger, frustration and vulnerability.

As Robin searches for Paul, that danger increases - she is treading into the unknown. But here's the thing - I just didn't like Robin - I never connected with her. Despite her circumstances, I found her annoying at many turns. (And honestly, I just didn't get her devotion to Paul after some revelations) I wanted to see what happened of course (and quite a bit does) but I was not along side her, rather I was a dispassionate observer. I think using a first person narrative amplified this feeling as well.

But despite my dislike of Robin, I was caught up in Kennedy's tale - especially as it was unpredictable. Some of it seemed a bit far fetched, but had me envisioning The Blue Hour as a movie. And I loved the last two lines of the book - which I'm not going to spoil.

Hidden Bodies: A Novel
Hidden Bodies: A Novel
by Caroline Kepnes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 30.72
28 used & new from CDN$ 24.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I really liked Kepnes's first book You, Feb. 29 2016
This review is from: Hidden Bodies: A Novel (Hardcover)
Caroline Kepnes's second book, Hidden Bodies has just released.

I really liked Kepnes's first book You. (my review) You introduced us to Joe, a sociopathic, narcissistic bookseller who thinks he's found the girl of his dreams. But the path to true love is a very bumpy one.....

Joe returns in Hidden Bodies. He's in love again. And again it's a bumpy road. You was told in Joe's unending, seriously disturbed stream of consciousness narrative. That narrative continues in Hidden Bodies.

Kepnes had my attention in the beginning as Joe is up to his old tricks....

"You don't go to a party empty-handed and my reusable Pantry bag is stuffed with rope, my Rachael Ray knife, rubber gloves, plastic bags, duct tape, and Percocets from Dez."

....but I slowly found my attention wandering as the book progressed. (spoiler) Joe ending up in Hollywood was just - I don't know - too much of a stretch for me. I must admit, that plots involving stars, movies, Hollywood etc. bore me.

A big part of Joe's life revolves around his sex life. In You it made sense and was an integral part of the plot. But I found it overdone in Hidden Bodies. Honestly, I just grew weary of Joe and his d**k. (His words not mine) His detailed sexual escapades, exploits and fantasies lost the sense of shock or effect with so much repetition. Again, I grew bored.

I liked Joe in You and even felt sorry for him. As I read, I saw shades of Dexter. I didn't have the same reaction this read. Instead, I found Joe to be flat and just not as interesting the second time around. I already knew who and what he was - his actions weren't much of a surprise, but simply another helping of the same. I saw the book through to the end - which finishes up somewhat ambiguously - hinting at perhaps a third Joe book - one I won't be picking up.

I think I'm in the minority on this one.

The Good Liar
The Good Liar
by Nicholas Searle
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Good Liar is Nicholas Searle's first novel, Feb. 25 2016
This review is from: The Good Liar (Paperback)
The Good Liar is Nicholas Searle's first novel.

Roy is an octogenarian......conman. When we first encounter Roy, he is trolling Internet dating sites, looking for an older woman he can separate from her money. His latest date is Betty - and he thinks she's perfect for his needs. "I do it because I can, because I'm good at it. And these people, these stupid complacent people...They need shaking up."

But is she as clueless as Roy believes? Perhaps not - small snippets of dialogue led me to believe she wasn't. From Betty's thoughts..."Evidently he sees her as the gullible type."

Searle is very adroit in his storytelling technique. Chapters flip from current day to the past as Roy's life is exposed in reverse. We begin in the immediate past and travel back to his childhood, as the present unfolds. Searle has plotted an inventive, complex life for Roy. As each chapter revealed more, I had an inkling of where the end (or beginning) was going. Although I was partially correct, Searle still surprised me.

This is a slow building story, but Searle kept me engaged throughout. I was so curious after every chapter in Roy's life as to what would come next (or before) And throughout it all is Betty - an unknown quantity. What game is she playing at? Are they both good liars?

Roy is, quite frankly, despicable. I grew more and more disgusted as his past came to light. Although we don't know as much about Betty, I was quite drawn to her, hoping......well, I had a certain ending in mind.

I thought The Good Liar was quite a clever, unusual debut - one I enjoyed.

Death of a Nurse
Death of a Nurse
by M. C. Beaton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.43
24 used & new from CDN$ 18.93

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoy the Hamish Macbeth tales just a tad bit more ..., Feb. 23 2016
This review is from: Death of a Nurse (Hardcover)
3.5 I don't read a lot of 'cozy' mysteries, but when I do my choice is M.C. Beaton. She is the author of two very light hearted mystery series set in Scotland. Of the two, I enjoy the Hamish Macbeth tales just a tad bit more than Agatha Raisin, although they're both wonderful.

The latest MacBeth (#31!) is Death of a Nurse. It releases today - and I have a copy to giveaway!

Death of a Nurse happily returns us to the small Scottish village of Lochdubh, where Police Sergeant Hamish MacBeth is based. (with no plans to leave or moved up in rank) I happily settled down to catch up with familiar characters and places - Patel's grocery, the Currie sisters, Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, Jimmy Anderson, Hamish's nemesis DCI Blair and more.

Hamish's beat covers a large territory. (And a seemingly inordinate amount of murders!) While introducing himself to a new resident, he meets not just the wealthy older gentleman but his attractive nurse. Hamish has an eye for the lassies, and asks her out. Gloria is a no show for dinner.....but her body appears on the beach a few days later.

Beaton's books follow a comfortable, comforting, cozy pattern. Hamish is usually the one to solve the murders, but eschews the limelight, for fear of having to leave his beloved live-in police station. Daviot and Blair do their best to try and rid themselves of MacBeth, but haven't been successful yet. Hamish himself is still looking for love, but he too has been unsuccessful. Beaton introduces new characters as the books progress - usually a new Constable for Hamish to work with. One longstanding character departs in this book, to my surprise.

The mysteries aren't overly complicated, but it's the journey to the whodunits that's the most enjoyable. Death of a Nurse is another fun entry in this long-running series.

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