Book Review: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger

Under My Skin

under my skin book cover

Title: Under My Skin
Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Park Row

A year ago, Poppy’s husband was brutally murdered while out for an early-morning jog. Poppy can’t remember what happened to her in the days following his death. She hasn’t been the same ever since.  At night, she’s having terrible nightmares, and during the day, she keeps seeing a hooded man who follows her everywhere. But how much of this is real? Are the nightmares memories? Does the hooded man even exist? But, most importantly, does Poppy have buried memories of who killed her husband, and if she does, does she even want to remember?

Poppy is a photographer, and though she hasn’t photographed anything since her husband’s death, her perspective—the way she sees the world—is coloured by her artist’s perspective. She evaluates the people around her, not just the persona that they show to the world, but who they really are. What lies Under their skin.  This unique perspective was more noticeable earlier in the book, and as the story’s events unfold, it becomes clear that Poppy isn’t quite as observant as she believed herself to be.

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Book Review: Martha Kite Among the Congregation in Exile by D.W. Cropper

Martha kite book cover

martha kite book cover

Title: Martha Kite Among the Congregation in Exile
Author: D.W. Cropper
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Date of Publication: April 20, 2018
Publisher: Reliquary Press

Martha Kite, a former pickpocket and actress, is hired by the Crown to rescue a supernaturally gifted child from a group of religious fanatics called the Congregation in Exile.  But Father Simon Pitch will not be discouraged, and he will stop at nothing to resurrect the Great and Terrible Lord, even if that means killing the gifted child’s “ungifted” twin sister. Martha Kite is driven to protect and rescue both children, but at what cost?

While the story has a very quickly paced plot, the major appeal for this book is the language.  D. W. Cropper makes use of an elaborately crafted narrative and complex language.  In the beginning, I found it hard to follow because of the heavy tone and dense descriptions, which were at times overly complicated.  I got used to it as the plot progressed and the story picked up.  While complex, the book is very well written, and Cropper does an excellent job of setting a dark and twisted stage for his horror story to play out on.

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the end of the Lane

the ocean at the end of the lane book cover

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane 
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Date of Publication: June 18, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Books

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a haunting and riveting tale of a man who returns home for the funeral of his father.  When he’s there, he’s compelled to go to the house at the end of the lane, where the most peculiar girl, Lettie Hempstock, once lived. While he doesn’t remember much about her, the story of what happened when he was a child is revealed through a flashback…

This is novel is like a dark and slightly twisted version of A Wrinkle in Time There’s a strange magic surrealism to the story from the very beginning, all the way through until it becomes very clear that there’s something supernatural going on. Written from a child’s perspective, Gaiman effectively provides the impression that the world is viewed through a child’s eyes without sacrificing quality of language or the impact of the story.

I absolutely loved the way that Neil Gaiman implemented little asides and anecdotes within the narrative, which served to flesh out the main character and give us insight into his personality through showing and not telling. For example, no one came to his childhood birthday party, and there was a comment about fifteen empty folding chairs. That line and the sheer loneliness of it has stuck with me for weeks after finishing the book.

This is my first non-Sandman graphic novel series Neil Gaiman book, and it did not disappoint. I read other reviews indicating that he’s writing about a theme (growing up) he’s apparently visited and revisited numerous times, as if this is a valid criticism of the quality of the story on its own. While I haven’t read his other books, I do know that this one definitely has literary merit.  I might just have to check out these other stories.

My only criticism is that while the protagonist has ample character development, secondary characters aren’t given as much attention.  However, this could be an artifact of the nature of seven-year-old boys and how they perceive the world.  While he’s fascinated by the mysterious girl who lives at the end of the lane, he doesn’t bother to analyze his family and what they themselves are going through.

Neil Gaiman book

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a darkly beautiful story of a boy growing up in a world that’s like our own but not quite right. It’s lyrically written, but the plot moves quickly.


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Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux

Madame Victoria

madame victoria book cover

Title: Madame Victoria
Author: Catherine Leroux
Genre: Literary
Date of Publication: November 13, 2018
Publisher: Biblioasis

In 2001, a skeleton was discovered in the woods behind the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Quebec.  The remains were never claimed.  The mystery woman was lovingly referred to as Madame Victoria by those who sought to identify her.  Her case was eventually set aside, replaced by more urgent matters. But Catherine Leroux won’t let Madame Victoria be forgotten.  In this compelling novel, Leroux has crafted twelve possible backgrounds for Madame Victoria.

Each individual history is equally breathtaking and heartbreaking.  The stories are framed by the tales of the people affected by Madame Victoria’s discovery.  Their realization that she will never be identified and the impact that this has on their lives complements the mystery woman’s possible histories in a tragically beautiful way.

The stories are connected by common imagery and the theme of invisibility.  Through each story, Leroux reveals a kaleidoscope of emotion and human experience.  Each version of Madame Victoria was forgotten for different reasons.  A few of the stories towards the end became fantastical – with a little science fiction and fantasy thrown into the mix.  This added to the complexity and sheer uniqueness of the book, although my favourite stories are those based in realism.

Leroux uses captivating imagery in her writing, and the words drip off the pages like liquid sugar.  She could write about filing your taxes and turn it into a poignant piece that leaves the reader in tears.  I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Madame Victoria

I recommend this book to those who want to read a modern Canadian literary gem, and for those who don’t mind a little tragedy in their leisure reading.  That said, I can see Madame Victoria becoming an assigned book in high school French language classes across Canada.


*Thank you to Biblioasis for the advanced reader copy!*

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Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft

Toil and Trouble book cover

Toil & Trouble book cover

Title: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Editors: Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Anthology
Date of Publication: August 28, 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Teen

The title says it all.  This is a collection of 15 short stories about magic and witchcraft, but it’s a lot more than that.  Each of the stories uses fantasy elements as a metaphor for real life experiences and social issues.  I was attracted to this anthology because it was touted as being a diverse anthology, and it does not disappoint.

There are some recurring themes that are worth mentioning, but I’ll avoid any spoilers in this discussion.  This book definitely has literary merit.  Some of the short stories deal with overcoming the oppression of being a woman – how “witches” were viewed historically (and even in present day).  There are common themes of “growing up” and maturation, overcoming fears and obstacles, coming out as LGBTQ+, and becoming an adult.  This is a must read for any teenager who just happens to like magic. (So basically all teenagers).

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Book Review: The Other Woman by Sandie Jones

The Other Woman

the other woman book cover

Title: The Other Woman
Author: Sandie Jones
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Fiction
Date of Publication: August 21, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Emily is a successful career woman with family and friends that she loves.  But she’s never truly been in love before—at least, not since her ex-boyfriend, Tom, cheated on her years ago.  When she falls deeply in love with Adam, it looks like she’s found everything she’s ever wanted in a man. Until she meets his mother. Pammie isn’t exactly happy to see her son with Emily.  Quite the opposite.  And it seems like Pammie will do anything to make sure that she is the only woman in Adam’s life.

This book was a pleasant surprise. However, it has a very slow start, and I had a hard time getting through the first 15%.  But once it is revealed that Pammie isn’t a doting, lovable potential-mother-in-law, things become interesting. The ways that Pammie undermines Emily are so subtle, yet so conniving and ultimately utterly disturbing.  No spoilers here, but the things that she does are a lot subtler that a rabbit in a pot of boiling water, yet nearly as creepy and evil.

The plot picks up its pace as it plunges forward, and I read the entire book in nearly one sitting. Of course, I was reading it during an Instagram reading marathon, but it was still unputdownable.

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Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra

mr penumbra book cover

Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Genre: Literary, Science Fiction
Date of Publication: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Unemployed and desperate, Clay Jannon takes a night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Mr. Penumbra is odd, there are rarely any customers, and Clay isn’t permitted to read any of the books.  But of course, he doesn’t obey that particular rule, and he quickly discovers that this place is a lot more than just a bookstore…

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Book Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer

Amy Schumer book cover

Title: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Author: Amy Schumer
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Date of Publication: August 8, 2016
Publisher: Gallery Books

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t have strong feelings for Amy Schumer. I thought she was hilarious in her movies Trainwreck and Snatched, but I thought she could be a little crass in her stand-up comedy.  I didn’t have any strong opinions about her otherwise. I was neutral.  This has changed with this book.

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Book Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Vox book cover

Vox book cover

Title: Vox
Author: Christina Dalcher
Genre: Fiction, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Date of Publication: August 21, 2018
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group

What if women were only allowed to speak 100 words a day? In this dystopian tale set in the not-too-distant future, not only are women less than men, but they are equipped with bracelets that monitor the number of words they say.  They are expected to cook and clean for their families, and they are not allowed to do much else.  Dr. Jean McClellan is–or was–a renowned linguistic scientist, and while she once turned a blind eye to what was going on around her, now she can no longer deny what society has become. This is her story.

One of the strengths of this story lies in its modernity.  Dalcher frequently refers to technologies we’re familiar with – like Apple watches and Facetime (hmm I wonder if all the Apple product placement was funded?).  A year ago Jean was debating Pokémon Go with her son, and now she isn’t allowed to banter with him anymore.  She’s growing more and more detached from her children and husband.  We don’t realize just how important words are until they’re taken away from us.  Dalcher stitches together reality and dystopia quite seamlessly, and the realism makes this story even more terrifying.

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Book Review: Girls’ Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Girls night out

Girls' Night Out Cover

Title: Girls’ Night Out
Author: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: July 24, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Three estranged friends go on a vacation to Tulum, Mexico to try to repair their damaged friendship.  When one of them goes missing on their girls’ night out, the other two must try to patch together their fragmented memories of what happened that night to find out what really happened to her…

This is a character-driven story about three insufferable, self-centered, and unrelatable women.  It’s nice to read a book about three professional women, but they are each more selfish and unlikable than the last. The secrets they’re “hiding” (at least, according to the description of the book), barely keep the plot moving forward. There’s a lot of dialogue, with a lot of roundabout conversations that don’t end up anywhere.  I don’t particularly understand why they’re friends, or even why they’re attempting to repair their relationship.  The three “girls” (women who are pushing forty—but I guess the book had to profit off the word “girl” being in the title) don’t ever learn from their mistakes. They have no empathy for one another, even though they’re all going through similar experiences in their lives.

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