Friday, 31 May 2013

Book Review: Red Joan

Red Joan
Author: Jennie Roonie
Published: May 2013, Doubleday Canada

Publisher Synopsis:

Joan’s voice is almost a whisper. ‘Nobody talked about what they did during the war. We all knew we weren’t allowed to.’

Joan Stanley has a secret.  For fifty years she has been a loving mother, a doting grandmother and an occasional visitor to ballroom dancing and watercolour classes. Then one sunlit spring morning there is a knock on the door.

My Review:

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

An older widow who loves her art and ballroom dancing classes, Joan Stanley stands accused by MI5 of passing government secrets to the USSR during the latter part of the Second World War and the years following. Joan's character is loosely based on Melita Norwood, who, at the age of 87, was identified as the most significant and longest-serving British KGB spy of the Cold War period. Roonie, in her author's note, however, makes it clear that the similarities between the two women begins and ends there.

Being a history lover (and a former history student), I was excited at the prospect of a historically-based spy novel. While my expectations were for thrills and excitement, I was met with a character-driven novel based on the twists and turns of inter-personal relationships: love and loyalty, collusion and betrayal. I was not, however AT ALL disappointed.

It was a pleasure to read a novel that was so expertly written-- one of the most tidily written books I have ever read.

The book switches back and forth between Joan's recollections of the past and the developing interrogation of the present. While some might take issue with the author's use of the present tense, even when switching to events of the past, I found it actually made for an interesting choice because while the novel is written in the third person, the use of the present tense still allowed me to feel like I was hearing and feeling Joan's thoughts and living through the experiences as she was re-living them.

Joan, herself is such an interesting character, but also one of the most frustrating I have ever encountered. She is incredibly intelligent, but also horribly naive and manipulable. There were moments when I just wanted to grab her by the shoulders and give her a good shake.

This would make a fantastic book club/discussion group read. There are so many questions to be asked and so many moral and ethical dilemmas to be considered. Red Joan MAKES you think without FORCING you to think.

It will make you go, "hmmm?" It will make you chuckle with it's tongue-in-cheek humor. And it might just break your heart just a little bit.

Rating: 4 out of 5- but only because I felt like the end could have been a little cleaner.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Adventures in Moving

I haven't been as active in my writing as I would like to be lately because there is just so much going on with the Kujos these days. My Little Miss is starting at a new "play school" soon (she's going to be 18 months old! Tear...), we are closing on our new house this week, this mama is on the hunt for new job opportunities, and that's aside from the ever-changing day-to-day craziness! Oh yeah- and packing! Yikes!
Almost ours!!!

As our adventures continue, I promise to keep you all apprised of any and all hilarious, useful and/or useless discoveries that come our way.

In the meantime, I leave you with this...


Seriously, this is ALL of our winter clothing: coats, hats, scarves, sweaters, fleece pull-overs. EVERYTHING!!!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Book Review: Looking for Me

Looking for Me
Author: Beth Hoffman
Published: May 2013, Pamela Dorman Books


Beth Hoffman’s bestselling debut, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, won admirers and acclaim with its heartwarming story and cast of unforgettable characters. Now her unique flair for evocative settings and richly drawn Southern personalities shines in her compelling new novel,Looking for Me.

Teddi Overman found her life’s passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky. She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston. There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop.  Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky.  It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and to find herself at last.  But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep.

Looking for Me brilliantly melds together themes of family, hope, loss, and a mature once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. The result is a tremendously moving story that is destined to make bestselling author Beth Hoffman a novelist to whom readers will return again and again.


I was sent a copy of Looking for Me as a winner of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway from Penguin Canada.

I was beyond thrilled when I received my notification email from Goodreads that I was going to receive an ARC of Looking for Me. After finishing Beth Hoffman's Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, I was even more excited to crack open her latest novel. I was NOT disappointed!

Reading Teddi's story is like a wonderfully refreshing, sunshiney spring day in the park. Everything is moving at just the right pace, you are in no rush to go anywhere, you want to soak in as much as you can while you have the time, and when it's finally over, you hope there is another one coming soon. Hoffman proves that she is a master of mood and story-telling. Without gripping you and pulling you with nonstop, heart-pounding action, she manages to keep you turning the pages because you just feel like you're visiting and catching up with a really good friend.

Once again, Hoffman shows how gorgeously she paints with words. Some of her passages are without comparison:

"Some people run toward life, arms flung wide in anticipation. Others crack open the door and take a one-eyed peek to see what's out there. Then there are those who give up on life long before their heart stops beating-- all used up, worn out, and caved in, yet they wake each morning and shuffle their tired legs through another day. Maybe they're hoping for a change-- a miracle, even-- but runaway dreams and lost years hang heavily on their backs. It's the only coat they know how to wear."

"When it came to house sales, the old clothes were always the saddest-- how limply they hung, moving in the breeze like tired ghosts.'

"But the abrupt end to the blaming and yelling ushered in something far darker-- a silence so thick that we began to suffocate. Words clotted in our throats."

Hoffman's words draw you in, make you nod your head in agreement and understanding, and keep you wanting more. Every now and again she'll throw something at you that makes you stop and say to yourself, "Wow, that's exactly right." There were times that I was reading and was amazed that she was able to so clearly articulate something that I never even realized I had always thought about.

A VERY big thank you to Miz Hoffman for this "book-friend" and putting me in a real good mood, and another thank you to Goodreads and Penguin Canada for the giveaway!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Book Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Author: Beth Hoffman
Published: Penguin, 2010

Publisher Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old CeeCee is in trouble. For years she’s been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille— the crown-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town. Though it’s 1967 and they live in Ohio, Camille believes it’s 1951 and she’s just been crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia.

The day CeeCee discovers Camille in the front yard wearing a tattered prom dress and tiara as she blows kisses to passing motorists, she knows her mother has completely flipped. When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, a previously unknown great-aunt comes to CeeCee’s rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. Within hours of her arrival, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricities—a world that appears to be run entirely by women.

While Tootie is busy saving Savannah’s endangered historic homes from the wrecking ball, CeeCee encounters a cast of unforgettable, eccentric characters. From the mysterious Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in an outdoor tub under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic peacock, to Oletta Jones, the all-knowing household cook, to Violene Hobbs, the loud-mouthed widow who entertains a local police officer in her yellow see-through peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

But CeeCee’s view of the world is challenged in ways she could have never imagined: there are secrets to keep, injustices to face, and loyalties to uphold. Just as she begins to find her ballast and experiences a sense of belonging, her newfound joy collides with the long-held fear that her mother’s legacy has left her destined for destruction.

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times heartbreaking, and written in a pitch-perfect voice, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a spirited Southern tale that explores the intricate frailties and strengths of female relationships while illuminating the journey of a young girl who loses her mother but finds many others.

My Review:

This is one of those books that I've been meaning to get around to for a while. 2 weeks ago I received a notification email from Goodreads that I had won a First Reads giveaway I had entered and would be receiving an advance copy of Beth Hoffman's next novel, Looking for Me. That was the last little push I needed to crack open CeeCee Honeycutt. (Thanks again, Goodreads and Penguin Canada! Review of "Looking for Me" coming soon!)

I have to say, I am so glad I bumped Saving CeeCee Honeycutt to the top of my reading list! I absolutely adore a light, bright, sunshiney southern fiction novel. At times it reminded me of Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees (one of my all-time favourites!). The story is airy, sweet and full of some great giggles. 

I will say, however, that while I really really wanted to be able to give this book a 5 out of 5, somehow -despite all of its potential- it never quite got there for me. At times, the conversations between characters was just too "precious" or "obvious". (Sorry, I can't think of the right word to describe what is nagging at me). I guess what I mean is that the women in this book (and, yes, there are one or two minor male characters sprinkled in) are just TOO self-aware. Not as women- as characters. At times, the things that they say feel too contrived, too "lesson-y". I suppose if this were a "young adult" fiction novel, I might be less bothered by it, but it just felt too "here is your lesson, now swallow it" sometimes.  

Maybe an example will help me spit out what I am trying to explain... At one point, CeeCee makes a comment to Oletta, the housekeeper, that she is impressed with how wise the woman can be. Oletta responds, "People is wise 'cause they get out in the world and live. Wisdom comes from experience- from knowin' each day is a gift and accepting it with gladness. You read a whole lot of books, and readin' sure has made you smart, but ain't no book in the world gonna make you wise." It just feels too scripted. That's the word! Who in real life says things like that in the middle of a conversation about a party dress? (I don't want to give too much away, but it's very out of context.)

The other trouble I had with the book is that the story just felt to broken at times. Too jerky. There were some chapters (the purple sofa) that actually felt more like short stories unto themselves rather than part of a seamless whole. That, and any conflict that arose was settled so tidily. Without suspense. All surface. Even the "evil" Violene Hobbs really didn't feel so bad. I just knew I was supposed to hate her because the characters kept telling me so. 

Now that I've made it seem like I hated this book and have probably turned everyone off completely from ever reading it (those 10 people out there who have waited even longer than I did to pick it up already), please believe me when I say that I really did enjoy reading CeeCee Honeycutt. I couldn't get enough. I gulped it down in less than a week (an impressive feat for a full-time working mama of a toddler, who is also preparing for a move next month)! 

Beth Hoffman can paint a picture with words better than any author I have read recently. She really knows how to create a picture on the canvas of your imagination. And she is able to do it without going on for pages and pages and pages about a minor detail. Some sentences made me smile because she would perfectly describe what I was already seeing in my head. (The rainbow of dresses.)

"'Life is full of change, honey. That's how we learn and grow. When we're born, the Good Lord gives each of us a Life Book. Chapter by chapter, we live and learn.'"-- An obvious, but very beautiful motif throughout the entirety of the book. CeeCee is a book lover, so when she is a lost soul in need of guidance for how to go on with her life after tragedy strikes, Mrs. Odell's words provide her with a roadmap. So maybe, just maybe, the broken story chapters I mentioned above were all part of Hoffman's plan... Stop. Think about what you just read. Question why it was there. Move on. 

I have to end by saying that there were some moments when I had to stop reading and take note of a passage here and there. Because while sometimes the "scripted" monologues were distracting, there were several things-that-make-you-go-hmmm moments as well (trite or not). I leave you with some of my favourites:

"...Everyone needs to find the one thing that brings out her passion. It's what we do and share with the world that matters..." 
"...far too many people die with a heart that's gone flat with indifference, and it surely must be a terrible way to go. Life will offer us amazing opportunities, but we've got to be wide-awake to recognize them..." 
"...Mrs. Odell once told me that forgiveness had a whole lot more to do with the person doing the forgiving than it did with the person in need of forgiveness. She said holding on to hurt and anger made about as much sense as hitting your head with a hammer and expecting the other person to get a headache..." 
"... There's a blessing in everything if we open our eyes..." 
"...It's what we believe about ourselves that determines how others see us..." 
"...Oysters are a lot like women. It's how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty... They say there's no such thing as a perfect pearl- that nothing from nature can ever be truly perfect..."

Rating: 4 out of 5- If you want a light, happy read that you can appreciate wherever you might be (in bed, at the pool, in the park, on your subway ride), then this should be your next book!

Books Are Our Friends

One of the first lessons I remember learning from my mom is that "books are our friends". At the time, I'm sure she was making reference to some destructive behaviour being exacted on the poor paper pages or delicate binding of some of my earliest collections (As in: "Jordana, books are our friends and we do not hurt our friends."). However, throughout my childhood, it mean so much more.

I guess at some point very early on, I took that statement to heart. Books really did become my friends. Throughout my childhood, regardless of whatever trials I was enduring (family or social), I knew I could always escape in the pages of a book. We had slumber parties, rainy day playtimes, lazy sunny days in the park, and afternoons of solitude, hiding out in a closet.

In high school, I was always "that" girl who was excited for summer reading and the new book for English class. I was so proud when I was awarded a Literature award (as selected by teachers) my senior year, and, therefore, elected as a nominee for the same award on the County level. (I didn't win.) I even wrote my personal statement for college  about my love for reading. (I'm pretty sure it had the same title as this blog post. I will have to dig that up someday...)

So, I had a complete "DUH!" moment recently when I was sent an ARC of an upcoming book from a best-selling author through the Goodreads "First Reads" program. How many books do I devour every year/month/week?! Why am I simply giving a "star rating" on Goodreads and moving on? I should be voicing my thoughts on these experiences, characters, stories, worlds. Like I said- DUH!

That said, dear readers, you can expect some regular book reviews here from now on.

Get excited!



P.S. Don't worry- I will warn of any "spoiler alerts" as needed.