Review – Lost in September by Kathleen Winter

2017:68
4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

I read Annabel by Kathleen Winter and it was a beautiful, sad and pretty much awesome book so I was excited to see she had a new one coming out. I received an electronic copy from Netgalley and got stuck in. Lost in September is very, very different from Annabel. It’s about a young ex-soldier who just happens to be a dead ringer for General James Wolfe, who died in 1759 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. He also apparently has Wolfe’s memories. Somehow, he seems to be the same man or a reincarnation, perhaps. Or maybe he’s just a soldier with PTSD and has retreated into history to survive.

The original Wolfe, as a younger soldier, was about to have leave in Paris but in September of 1752, Britain dropped their calendar and joined the rest of Christian Europe, adopting the Gregorian calendar. It meant that everyone lost 12 days, jumping from September 2 to 14 overnight and Wolfe lost his leave. He’s resented that for, well, centuries and is in modern day Montreal trying to recoup those lost days. Through the modern day Jimmy, we relive Wolfe’s past, his relationships with his parents and friends and key events in his life. He returns to Montreal each year in September, the anniversary of both the missing leave days and the anniversary of Wolf’s death, camping out or living in a mens’ shelter. Montreal would seem to be the closest thing to Paris he can manage as he tries to get those lost days back. The present day Jimmy leans on the kindness of friends such as a historical researcher studying his old letters, someone whom he met in a library in Toronto. Little by little, Jimmy’s own past starts to permeate his “Wolfe” memories.

It all sounds a bit strange yet it’s compelling as well. The book is tagged as a “reimagining of history”. Winter has done a lot of research on Wolfe and added her own spin to the man and his private life, personal thoughts and “memories”.

Review: All Is Beauty Now – Sarah Faber

2017:64
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 2017

A young woman, Luiza,  walks into the water at a sunny beach in Brazil in 1962. She disappears and no body was found and she is presumed drowned, washed out to sea. A year later, her family is still reeling from the apparent drowning and has decided to move their family back to Canada because the father, Hugo, a Canadian citizen, needs medical treatment and it’s free in Canada. As they prepare, pack and spend time with friends, the story digs into the family,  their background and  personalities as each one deals with their grief in their own way.

Dora, Luiza’s mother, is desperate to learn about her daughter’s last days and still hopes against hope that her daughter is alive somewhere. The affair she had years ago is going to prove to have huge consequences. Hugo, Luiza’s father, is spiraling back into another manic “high” phase, and we find out Dora and the family have been dealing with his mental illness  all their married life.  Their other two daughters, Evie and Magda are very different personalities with their own secrets as they’re reaching their teens, becoming more aware of the adult realities of the family. Through flashbacks, we also learn about Luiza’s last months, weeks and days before her disappearance.  Hugo was adored by his daughters while Dora has to carry the burden of dealing with his illness more directly.

The story is told alternatively from each of their points of view. The atmosphere of Rio in the early 60s is vividly described. The story of this family, beautiful and glamourous on the surface,  reveals more and more layers beneath the brittle exterior. There’s one chapter describing Hugo’s thoughts while in his mania that is just breathtakingly, achingly bizarre, glorious and heartbreaking. The children think he shouldn’t be drugged and made to think and be like “normal”people, that his imagination and his ravings are what make him exciting but Dora, having to deal with his excessive highs and lows, ends up being the bad guy in her children’s eyes because she has to deal with it on an adult level, he can be dangerous to himself and his daughters in that state.

When all the secrets are revealed and the dust settles, you find yourself wanting to go back and start the ride all over again. This is a debut novel and is beautifully written, with the voices of each character unique and insightful .The author has captured the innocence of the children as well as the voices of the adults in a believable way.

And now I want to travel to Rio!

Thanks to Netgalley for a digital ARC for review.

#20BooksOfSummer

Review: Electric Shadows of Shanghai – Clare Kane

2017:62
4 of 5 stars
Published 2015

Will and Amelia are living in Shanghai in 1931. Will is attached to the British Consulate doing translation work. Shanghai is a city full of temptation and excitement, lit up by neon but the shadows contain the dark side of the city.  Will is soon drawn in to the nightlife. He becomes obsessed and infatuated with a married Chinese silent film star, Wu Feifei, who has ambitious dreams of Hollywood. Amelia is left to her own devices and finds her place at a small ballet company run by an ex-patriot Russian, with most of the other dancers also ex-Russians who survive by working as taxi dancers and prostitutes. As the Japanese aggression makes inroads into China with war imminent, and the Communists start to take hold of the younger student population, Will and Amelia and Feifei all get in over their heads.

I really found drawn in by the descriptions of the city of Shanghai, exotic and fascinating. It’s not a period in history I am familiar with so it was very interesting to read about the culture and the atmosphere. Not all the characters are likeable but they are all well written as is the dialogue. There are themes of betrayal, obsession, and it’s kind of like watching a train crash, seeing all the characters heading for probable disaster. Overall, an enjoyable read.

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of the book for review.

#20BooksOfSummer

 

Review: The Way Back to Florence – Glenn Haybittle

2017:58
2 of 5 stars
Published June 2015

Freddie is British and attending an art college in Florence and meets the Italian Isabella. They fall in love and marry but soon, war breaks out. Freddie is now living in enemy territory and returns to Britain to join the Royal Air Force, flying bombing missions. Isabella stays in Florence and gets by the best she can. She ends up getting tangled up in a scheme to reproduce an Old Masters painting to keep the original out of the hands of the Nazis.

The couple had a friend, Oskar, who had returned to Paris but fled there with his small daughter, Esme because they’re Jewish. His wife was caught in the Velodrome roundup so he and Esme are on their own. In their attempts to get to Italy, they are also captured but manage to escape. Then there’s Marina who does life modelling for the art college and Francesco, the man that loves her. He is Jewish as well and is also captured along with his sister. It all starts to get a bit convoluted. I didn’t really find much connection between Marina, Francesco and the trio of Freddie, Isabella and Oskar. It felt a bit like two separate stories altogether and it felt very disconnected overall. I also found that Freddie’s story while he was flying bombing missions was repetitive and went on a bit too long.

Having said all that, I think I found Isabella’s story was the most interesting. Once Freddie’s circumstances changed, he became moderately more interesting. Francesco and Marina didn’t keep my attention much at all and Oskar’s story was also not connecting with me. It all felt very disjointed. I don’t know why, but perhaps all the different story lines just didn’t cross paths enough. I didn’t feel very invested in them. I also found that the movement of characters was too abrupt and leaps in the plotline from one point to the next often jarred. Someone might be in one location and the next time we see them, they’re in another place with no explanation as to how they got there. I also found that the “wrap up” chapter at the end was a bit unbelievable. I think the book had a lot more potential than the end result. I really wanted to like it, and I did enjoy parts of it, but it disappointed.

Thanks to NetGalley for a digital copy in exchange for a review.

#20BooksOfSummerChallenge

Review: Gone Astray – Michelle Davies

2017:57
4 of 5 stars
Published 2016

Winning the lottery is everyone’s dream. You know it will change your life but everyone thinks it will be great and things will never be the same, in a good way. Be careful what you wish for. Media attention. Begging letters from anyone you ever remotely met and from charities. Jealousy. You find you leave your old friends behind but can’t make very many new ones because you don’t know if they’re sincere. Maybe someone thinks they should have won instead of you and decides to take revenge. Oh, wait, that’s probably not going to happen. But in this book, it does. Rosie, the teenage daughter of Lesley and Mack has gone missing. They were big winners in the EuroMillions lottery and someone has it in for them which we know fairly early on in the book. What has he done with Rosie? Is she still alive? It’s every parent’s worst nightmare come true.

DC Maggie Neville is the Family Liaison Officer, one of two assigned to help. She’s unattached but with a sister, a single mother of three children that Maggie helps out regularly. Maggie ends up getting more involved in solving the crime than she’s supposed to, trying to untangle all the clues and figure out the truth and the lies in the stories of all the people interviewed that might have a connection to the crime.

I thought the story was pretty good. Had some good twists to it, though some of them pushed credibility just a tad. I liked Maggie’s character and the sibling dynamic which is shaded with the guilt of an old secret Maggie’s been carrying. It didn’t come out in this book but it seems there will be others.

Thanks to NetGalley for the digital copy in exchange for a review.

#20BooksOfSummerChallenge

As If I Needed More Books To Read

Free books. We need them, we want them. How to get them? Well there are a number of websites that have free books, though they tend to be older out of copyright “classics”. Nothing wrong with that. I like to read a few classics each year. There are other websites where people self publish and offer their books for a review and some sites where publishers offer a small number of copies of books, both paper and eBook for review.

LibraryThing was the first one of those that I found. You can catalogue your books, join forums, and submit your user id for a chance to win a free copy of an early release. There are publisher releases and member releases and those are often self-published. You do have to filter the publisher releases by country because they don’t always send copies to non-American members. That often eliminates the best books but what can you do?  I’ve found a few gems at the early reviewers section, from the publishers and the self-publishers lists, and a few stinkers, too. I was cataloguing my books until I hit a wall of 200. Apparently, though I didn’t realize it when I joined, LT has a limit of 200 books for free members. As I wasn’t willing to spring for a paid membership, I’ve drifted away from LibraryThing though I do look at the Early Reviewers list now and then.

Now I’m on Goodreads which was bought by Amazon a few years ago, I think. I originally joined a group focused on Canadian authors via a CBC Books which has now been removed from GR but someone from that group then started up another independent group and many of the former members gravitated there. We post what we’re reading on Friday, we have monthly group reads, monthly challenges and a year long Bingo Challenge that regular readers here will have seen me mention (four more squares to go!) I’ve discovered some really talented Canadian authors and writers from other countries too. Our group members read a wide variety of things though we do like to encourage support for Canadian talent. Again, I’ve found some superb gems through investigating what other people recommend.

Goodreads also has giveaways from publishers and authors and I’ve won a handful or two of free books through that aspect of the site. They’ve always been hard copies, paper or hard cover versions that they mail to you in exchange, they hope, for an honest review. For a long time I didn’t win too many but this year, I’ve been quite lucky. Free books! What’s not to like!

Professional ReaderI’ve also seen people’s reviews that mention NetGalley ARCs. (Advanced Reader Copy) Today I decided to investigate NetGalley. They primarily aim for professional readers in the industry, or librarians etc but if you have a blog or if you publish your book reviews somewhere like Goodreads or Amazon, you can still join for free. You build a profile and make a list of the types of books you like and go browsing. I thought it was all request submissions but that seems to be mainly for pre-publication books. I found a couple that looked interesting that have been on NetGalley for a little bit and requested them and lo and behold, I now have another free book on an app on my phone with another waiting!

NetGalley is all digital, no hard copies. They will send to Kindle or you can download using Adobe Digital Editions. I did see that the copy of the one I have expires in 55 days. That’s more than enough time to read it but I will have to remember not to leave a book on my “shelf” too long before downloading. Another thing I discovered is that the app they recommend for Android is Aldiko. You can create a login or log in with Facebook or Google+ and it automatically authorizes that device for the DRM locked copy of the book. Digital Rights Management. That locks the eBook to you and your device so you can’t share it or send it to anyone else. Purchased books from Kindle or Kobo have that as well, most of the time. It’s a copyright thing. Occasionally, an author or publisher releases their book DRM-free.

Anyway, I was about to download the book to Aldiko but was also given the choice to download to Overdrive which I also have for borrowing eBooks from the library. Oh, well then, I’ll use that since I like it and am familiar with using it. It worked and opened the book cleanly. I tried to download the second book into Overdrive but it’s a PDF and Overdrive didn’t like that so I had it sent to Kindle which I can read on my phone through the Kindle app.

My first book is The Way Back to Florence by Glenn Haybittle. It’s historical fiction set in World War II. The other book is Gone Astray by Michelle Davies.

So there you are. You can request new releases from LibraryThing, Goodreads or Netgalley and the free books you can get are all based on the country where you live as well. It doesn’t mean, for instance, that the only books I will be able to request are those from Canadian publishers, just publishers that also release in Canada. Penguin, for instance, is global.

Of course the ultimate in free books is your local library but that’s a given. Also keep an eye out for a Little Free Library.

Happy Reading!