TOP FIVE MUST READS OF SUMMER 2018

Orange leaves, the smell of cinnamon & pumpkin, crisp cool mornings, warm lattes… sorry, am I getting ahead of myself here, or is anybody else excited for Fall to begin?!

With just a few weeks left of summer, I’ve decided to pick my top five reads that I’ve read during the sunny, hot days! I hope that you enjoy these reads too to end off your summer reading – I am left STILL thinking about them. Here we go…

5. ALL WE EVER WANTED by Emily Giffin

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SUMMARY

Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton. Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.
Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenage girl, happy and thriving.

Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.
At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.

OPINION

I remember opening this book on a hot July morning by the lake, and I completely devoured this in that ONE DAY. I loved it! Now, this is a fairly typical opinion because I am a huge Giffin fan. Once I read her novels Something Borrowed and Something Blue on my two month Morocco trip a few years ago, I had to go find every book Giffin wrote at my public library and read them all in a month. But this one may have to be my second favourite Giffin, right after Something Blue.

My favourite thing about Giffin’s writing is her ability to jump from character to character in each chapter to offer a fresh, and different perspective. This really gives you a chance as a reader to form an opinion about every character, and where you stand on what’s right or wrong. I couldn’t stop reading about the lives of Nina, Tom, and Lyla. Giffin was able to take a complex situation in modern day, and give a thought provoking intake!

I really do wish we were able to read from Finch & Kirk’s perspective. I think it would have added a refreshing take on a scenario that seems to be too common. Nonetheless, the way the situation/dialogue was written had me so captivated – I just wanted to keep reading it!
This is a great summer read by the beach!

4. THE PERFECT MOTHER by Aimee Molloy

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SUMMARY

Vanity Fair calls it one of the most anticipated books of the summer. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Scandal’s Kerry Washington.

An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a collection of new moms who gave birth in the same month. Twice a week, with strollers in tow, they get together in Prospect Park, seeking refuge from the isolation of new motherhood; sharing the fears, joys, and anxieties of their new child-centered lives.

When the group’s members agree to meet for drinks at a hip local bar, they have in mind a casual evening of fun, a brief break from their daily routine. But on this sultry Fourth of July night during the hottest summer in Brooklyn’s history, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is abducted from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but the May Mothers insisted that everything would be fine. Now Midas is missing, the police are asking disturbing questions, and Winnie’s very private life has become fodder for a ravenous media.
Though none of the other members in the group are close to the reserved Winnie, three of them will go to increasingly risky lengths to help her find her son. And as the police bungle the investigation and the media begin to scrutinize the mothers in the days that follow, damaging secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are formed and fractured.

OPINION

Ah, my favourite! A domestic thriller twisted with suspense. I loved this novel! It had everything I look for in a domestic thriller: dialogue between unusual, curious characters, a bizarre mystery, & a plot that made a full circle by the end – definitely caught me by surprise.
This was a book that was on my TBR the moment I saw it be announced, and it did not disappoint. This was another novel that I could not put down, and was completely immersed into the lives of the May mothers.

3. THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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SUMMARY

Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

OPINION

I know that this book is about a year old, so I am WAY behind! It was sitting on my TBR shelf for quite some time, and I don’t know what came over me to start reading. But I was really happy and thankful that I did! Definitely a different read than my usual mystery/suspense thriller, but it was just.so.GOOD. 

I was in awe! This book was wonderfully crafted, heart wrenching, and at times inspiring. I found Evelyn Hugo to be frustrating, yet endearing in some of the choices she made throughout her life. But… it must be so difficult having to live in the spotlight, with everyone in the world knowing every single thing about you. I couldn’t imagine not having any of my own privacy. I found myself at times having to remember that this is a fictional story – that’s how real and raw the dialogue and characters are! Easily one of my favourite books!

2. THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN by Dot Hutchison

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SUMMARY

Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.

In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.

When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.

As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive. But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding…

OPINION

So.. back to the mystery/suspense thrillers… this one may just be one of my favourite books I’ve ever read. I’m still sitting here thinking about it, trying to put my thoughts and feelings about this book into coherent sentences.

It was creepy, eerie, chilling, sad and beautiful. Hutchinson’s writing was unique, and while the story was written based on the victim, Maya’s retelling of her time in the Garden, it was wonderfully crafted. This book had me in chills, and at times tears on public transportation! This book messed me up in a good way. Maya retells the story of her time in the Garden, and she even gives the reader an in depth description of the “Gardner” and what he was like. And honestly, at times, the Gardner was humanized in a way where for a split second you actually feel bad for him. But then, you remember that he kidnaps young girls, tattoos butterfly wings on their back against their free will, and continues to do horrific things to them – all while taking care of them medically, nutritionally, and seeing them as his most prized possessions. I’m mad at myself for waiting this long to read this book, but it was so enjoyable with every page and chapter. I’ll definitely be getting the second and third book in this series!

*** This book does contain sexual violence that may be triggering to some readers.

1. I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara

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SUMMARY

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” McNamara pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by McNamara’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

OPINION

It was really difficult choosing this or The Butterfly Garden as my number one.. but it’s been so long since I’ve read a good true crime novel, that this book easily takes the #1 spot.

Riveting, creepy, & a “look over your shoulder” descriptive writing had me captivated in this read. I’m in awe of McNamara’s writing…she is talented no doubt. Her passion for true crime, let alone the strange case of the Golden State Killer bled through her carefully chosen words, and writing. What started out as a true crime blog, has now become a popular, must read book about a real serial killer.

The way she was able to describe the GSK’s crimes and how some of the living victims described what they saw and heard when the GSK entered their homes sends a chill up your spine. “Little eyes, in the dark, watching you…” I can safely say that reading this was most definitely a journey.
At times, I did find myself a bit confused in terms of the quick change in chapters, and the amount of people working on this case. BUT – the fact that this was real, the victims are real, the actions perpetrated by this monster were real, makes the deliverance of this story all the more terrifying. This isn’t just another fictional story about a killer, or a plot surrounding some domestic suspense, this a real story with actual encounters and descriptions from living victims. 

I find McNamara to be so inspiring – and it’s so tragic that she passed away before seeing the horrific GSK actually being caught.. thanks to her amazing work.

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So bookies, there it is! My top five must reads of the summer! It was very difficult to choose, and I spent a lot of time thinking about why I chose each one.

Will you be picking any of these up? Let me know 🙂

Until next time bookies,

Sam

Meet the Author – Rene Denfeld

THE CHILD FINDER

4.5/5 STARS

Imagine getting lost in a forest in the middle of winter… and suddenly waking up in a cave like environment with a strange man hovering over you? Imagine being so young, and so innocent, that you don’t understand where you are, and result to convincing yourself that you are living a story right out of a book.

Rene Denfeld’s newest book The Child Finder is eerie, thrilling and a book of hope in some ways. When young Madison goes missing while with her parents, Madison’s parents hire Naomi, a private investigator but known as “The Child Finder” to find their daughter.

Denfeld is an inspiring writer, and was the chief investigator at a public defender’s office and worked with hundreds of cases that included sex trafficking victims and innocents in prisons. She has also been a foster adoptive parent for the past twenty years.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE CHILD FINDER:

I really enjoyed this book. It took me just a few days to finish because I couldn’t put it down. I loved how it would change between different character perspectives – it offered a very creepy, thrilling feel and kept feeding my hunger to find out what exactly happened to young Madison. The writing in this book was beautiful, but simple enough to understand human nature, and how PTSD can truly alter a person’s life forever. If you are a fan of thrillers/mysteries, I would definitely recommend this book! A must read for 2017 for sure!

Denfeld was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me regarding her highly successful book! Check it out below!

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Q & A:

Who’s your favourite author?

Like many writers, I read voraciously. I have SO many favorites, I’m hesitant to start listing them all. I go through kicks where I will read all the works by one author, or return to old favorites. It’s not unusual for me to read a favorite book several times. I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections lately. One recent one is Margaret Malone’s PEOPLE LIKE YOU. For all time faves I might say Margaret Atwood, Jane Smiley, Louise Erdrich, Ken Kesey, Cheryl Strayed, Kia Corthron, Donald Pollock, Viet Nguyen…okay, I’ll stop!

Favourite book or genre to read?

I love all genres. There is so much to learn from other writers, whether it is nonfiction, literary fiction, memoirs, straight reporting, books of essays or short stories—and of course poetry. I love poetry and it probably shows in my novels. 

You’ve written quite a few books over the years… has your writing progress changed at all?

My writing changed dramatically when I went from nonfiction to novels. I was a decent nonfiction wrier, but fiction is where my true voice came pouring out, full of warmth and magic and wisdom. I love creating the characters of novels, and creating an exciting plot. Writing fiction for me is a joyous experience that brings out the best in me as a writer and person. 

Where do you draw your inspiration from for your novels?

I’ve been deeply inspired by my work and other life experience, including adopting my children from foster care. I have a very difficult background, and so I am able to explore such issues in my novels with authenticity and compassion. I try to write real characters—the kind of people you would really meet. They feel that real to me.  

You’re also a licensed investigator in Oregon which I find so cool! Would you say that being an investigator inspired you to become a writer?

Absolutely! To date I’ve worked hundreds of cases, from sex trafficking to death row exonerations. Every day people tell me their stories. They welcome me into their lives, and I get to help them. That’s profoundly inspiring. I get to witness and experience things that few people do, and writing is an opportunity for me to tell those stories and truths. For instance, I have witnessed so much redemption and healing in my work. In The Child Finder I show how people can save themselves and others, and our vast capacity to survive.
 

In your recent novel, The Child Finder, Naomi is an investigator that specializes in finding missing children and giving parents a sense of relief… is Naomi based on you at all?

She’s younger, and specializes in missing children. But a lot of the procedural stuff she does comes from my own experience. It was a fun part of the novel to include the real, nitty-gritty shoe leather investigation techniques. I like to say 99% of investigations is diligence. It’s knocking on door after door. It’s getting people to open up and talk. It’s finding forgotten records. Mostly it is keeping at it until you find the truth. In that way Naomi and I are the same—we are dedicated to finding the truth. But she is a much different person in other ways. I wanted to create a character that lived and breathed apart from me. 

Some Russian “fairy tales” were used in The Child Finder, are you a fairy tale fan? What would you say is your favourite?

Oh, I love fairy tales. I grew up immersed in them as a child—I would escape into my own made-up fairy tales. One of my childhood favorites is in The Child Finder. It’s called the Cow-Tail Switch. I was raised in an African-America neighborhood, and our library had a collection of such fables. I was greatly influenced by African and African-American fables as a child.

How has being an investigator, a writer, and a foster-adoptive parent changed you as a person?

It’s humbled me, and made me see the beauty in the struggle, the joy in the process. For every harm I have witnessed, I have seen countless acts of people being good. The volunteers, the teachers, the readers, the writers, the neighbors—our world is full of people who care, who want to help. Those people exist. As I write in The Child Finder, our future needs to be led by people who “have walked on the side of sorrow and seen the dawn.” 

Do you plan on writing another novel any time soon?

Fingers crossed—yes! 

Any advice for young aspiring writers out there?

If you write, you are a writer. Anyone can be a writer. Look at me. I was an abused child and homeless. But it takes lots of work. So my advice is this: read widely and read well. Good reading leads to good writing. Practice, and practice some more. Create a life outside your writing because that life will be your solace and inspiration. Find the magic. Roll around in life and come up covered with joy.
Rene – thank you for sharing your amazing talent with the world and for the work you do for humanity outside of writing.
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Interview with Author Bobbi French

FINDING ME IN FRANCE

4/5 STARS

A few years ago, I spontaneously decided to travel to Italy and live there for 4 months. I don’t know exactly what came over me, but I was determined to do it, and determined to do it alone. I spent four months travelling on my own – living mainly in Torino (northern Italy), and making my way to Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome, the mountains, and even a trip to Lyon, France. Sure, it was lonely at times, but I don’t think I would change the experiences I had for anything else.

Prior to leaving for Italy, I loaded up my Kobo with a bunch of books to keep me preoccupied on my flight to London, England, and of course, throughout my stay in Italy.

I managed to visit Dante Alighieri’s house in Florence, and even saw the exact room, desk, and chair he used to write his infamous Dante’s Inferno – one of my favourite books of all time! It felt so surreal being around so much history.

Then, I made my way to Venice, and visited Harry’s Bar, where Ernest Hemingway spent a majority of his time writing – of course, I had to take a shot of espresso and work on writing of my own – Hemingway style.

With all of the travel, I still managed to find time to get reading done. Everyday I’d visit a new cafe in the streets of Italy, and read a book. One of the books that inspired me on my trip was Finding me in France by Bobbi French. This was a story about a Canadian woman who decided to let go of everything she knew in North America, and move to the country side of France with her husband.

I remember walking the streets of Florence with French’s book in hand – and I can’t think of a happier moment than that.

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Luckily, Bobbi French graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions!

 Bobbi,

What is your favourite book? Oh my, that’s a tough one. I read well over a hundred books a year. I don’t think I could ever pick just one but The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields is up there as well as The History of Love and Middlesex. And I had a great time reading The Rules of Civility. I like so many, so it always depends on what I’m after in the moment. 

Favourite Author? 

Again, killer question. Maybe Carol Shields, her work is so arresting and real. 

In your book, “Finding me in France”, you left a familiar, Westernized life to go live in the outskirts of France with your husband – what drew you to this decision? 

Many things really—having lived such a structured life, college then med school then residency, straight into a big career in psychiatry with no real break to explore the world; an interest in other cultures and languages and a husband who had lived around the world; being in my early 40s, knowing that if I didn’t make a move, I’d turn around and fell like I’d missed the chance to do something interesting and unexpected and creative. So, all those factors worked together to lead me to decide to shake up my life and see what happened. It was quite an adventure.

Are you still living in france now?

No, I am back in Canada, have been for a while. For now, I’m in Halifax, Nova Scotia near my husband’s family and our friends, but who knows what lays ahead.

Of all the European countries you could’ve chosen to live in… why France?

Well, why not France, right? The wine alone is enough to draw anyone in. But really it was far less romantic and magical than it seems. My husband, Neil, and I had vacationed in Burgundy where we met some folks who were looking for help with their vacation property business ( and yes, I did work briefly as a cleaning woman). Neil spoke fluent French, the health care system is excellent, and so on. So, a beautiful place to start but also some practical benefits as well. The book details the decision pretty well I hope.

What is your favourite memory of living in France?

Oh, so many. A bonfire lunch with new friends in the countryside; a magical French and Russian candlelit poetry reading in a small bookstore in our village, Semur-en-Auxois; the smell of the chestnut fires in the fall; standing in the sun in the vineyards of Champagne; our neighbour’s small children calling over the fence for me to come play with them in the morning; wandering the streets of Paris at night. We have so many wonderful moments from our time there that it’s impossible to choose one over the others.

Are you working on another book?

Yes! I just finished a novel. I’ve never written fiction before, so I have no sense if it works or not. It has a similar voice to mine that’s found in Finding Me in France. Whether that works in fiction, well, we’ll see.

After publishing Finding me in France, did your writing process change at all?

Well, before Finding Me in France (the blog and the book), I’d never written anything apart from prescriptions, so I often have trouble seeing myself as a true writer. I’m more of a doodler and a storyteller, maybe it’s the same thing, I don’t know, so I’m not sure I’ve ever had a process. I can say that for both Finding Me in France and the novel, I simply sat at my laptop and tapped out whatever was in my head. Then I went back over it and picked away at it until I liked it or I felt I just couldn’t make it ay better. t do find that reading what I write out loud to someone, usually poor Neil, is incredibly helpful.

Do you have any advice for any young aspiring authors out there?

Hmm. Okay, maybe two things. One, read. Read anything and everything, different genres, books from different cultures and writers with vastly different perspectives. Get inspired and informed by the work of others, expose yourself to the full breadth of language and voice and style. And two, sit down and bang it out. If you start something, give it a middle and an end then revisit it. I always think just finishing something is a major achievement. 

You can follow Bobbi’s adventures on her website at: http://www.findingmeinfrance.com