Book Review: White Bodies by Jane Robins

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★ ★

White Bodies was genuinely creepy, but didn’t really reach the thriller factor for me. This was a novel that I couldn’t wait to dive into because the premise was promising, but it fell a bit flat. Between the writing style and the protagonist, Callie, I had difficulty getting engrossed into the story and didn’t reach for it when I wanted to read. Callie is an unsettling character from the beginning–she catalogs her sister’s life, and at an early age started to eat belonging’s of her sister (hair, teeth, urine) to feel connected and closer to her–and while I understand it was a part of her portrayal, there was something about her personality and reading from her point-of-view that just made me so uncomfortable. Now rated this 2 stars, I thought it was okay, and come the second half, it was intriguing and I had to find out what happened, but it wasn’t a book I would want to pick up again so it’s in between a 2 and 3 star rating for me.

When Callie is introduced to her twin’s seemingly perfect new boyfriend, Felix, it quickly becomes apparent to Callie that her sister is being destroyed physically and mentally– and under Felix’s control and psychological hold. Things spiral out of control when Callie joins an internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. Soon after, one of her acquaintances is killed by an abusive man, and then suddenly Felix dies.

It’s a slow build-up with more description and Callie’s thoughts rather than dialogue. In the first half, chapters alternated every so often to give a glimpse into the world when Callie and Tilda were kids, and what their unusual relationship was like as twins who are complete opposites. I thought that it brought insight and interesting backstory into the present and their characters. The second half was well paced and a page-turner! I found that I was picking it up more often to read compared to the beginning of the story since it was further along and developed. White Bodies is disturbing with tension and shock value, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected. It most definitely will creep you out, and the ending brought an unexpected twist, but I wouldn’t necessarily pick this up to reread again.

Synopsis

Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless facade, not everything is as it seems.

Callie, Tilda’s unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix’s domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix’s uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms.

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies–or was he murdered?

Hardcover, 256 pages
September 19th 2017 by Touchstone

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

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Book Review: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

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★ ★ ★ ★

A relatively short novel — only 225 pages — Six Stories is packed with a mighty punch; an original atmospheric story told in a series of six interviews by investigative journalist Scott King, as he attempts to discover the truth behind Tom Jeffries mysterious death at Scarclaw Fell twenty-years ago. Prior to reading Six Stories, I had recently discovered true-crime podcasts–such as Serial, which is frequently referenced to throughout–so I could not resist reading this book. This is one of those books where you want to go into it without knowing much aside from the blurb, and just let yourself get engrossed and experience the story. I finished reading and took a few days to write this review because I was stunned. If I had to sum it up in a quick sentence, it would be: a complex, clever literary thriller that at times left me feeling claustrophobic, and yet I could not stop reading.

This was unlike anything I have read before, because it is told in the form of a podcast transcript, so the first chapter (or rather, episode 1) took some getting used to because of the italics and format, but I adjusted to it easily come episode 2 as the story got going. It is authentic when it comes to reading like podcast transcripts, which at times did become tedious due to repeated information from previous episodes and King constantly interrupting during interviews to fill the readers in on further information backstory–however, it added to the conversational aspect and brought everything together in an engaging way. There were breaks in between interviews when we also get insight and the impact the events had on Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay, who’s father owns the land, and he is the one who found the decaying corpse of Tom Jeffries one year after his disappearance.

While a mystery-thriller, Six Stories does touch on the impact of bullying, friendships, rejection, manipulation, and similar issues during one’s youth, and the consequences to those actions along with the effect it has on others. I think in a sense, it was the base point of the beginning and what lead to the events that took place, and really puts into perspective that what you do does make an everlasting impact on the lives of those around you, and the author was attentive when it came to addressing that.

I found myself paying close attention to those being interviewed because I wanted to try to piece bits of information together and see where it lead to, if it were correct in the end. I did catch the clue in the second episode, which resulted into questioning the outcome that happened to be true, but it didn’t take away from the reading experience at all. If anything, I was eager to finish reading to find out how it actually unfolded. You can feel the underlying tension build as the episodes progress, and it is a mix of emotions from fear to anticipation because you want the truth.

Wesolowski’s is a natural writer, who crafted such a haunting, immersive podcast murder-mystery novel. I typically keep my reviews brief, but I think the length of this review shows just how much I loved this debut novel! Six Stories is a chilling and gritty narrative that will leave you horrified in the end.

Synopsis

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an Outward Bound center. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivaled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.

Paperback, 280 pages
Published June 1st 2017 by Orenda Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

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★ ★ ★ ★

We Love You, Charlie Freeman is Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, originally published by Algonquin Books in March of 2016. A complex novel, Greenidge touches on history, race, family dynamics, science, and identity. Since I read this, I have not stopped thinking about it. A clever, poignant story that was compelling and at times a challenging read. There is always the feeling of tension that lies beneath the surface—how anything can happen at any moment, and you left waiting, just not knowing when all will break. Charlotte is a refreshing character; a sharp, witty voice in the midst of it all, trying to make sense of the world she is growing up in. Told through multiple point-of-views and timelines, this was the only flaw I had with the book— while I am not a fan of the switching back and forth, I did find it well-done and in a way, created the atmosphere and added to the story-telling.

Truthfully, I went into this story only knowing the synopsis, and afterward, I can say that I haven’t read anything quite like this. It’s full of risks and truth, so brilliantly written. It’s the first book I’ve read that makes me want to analyze, read it over, and have a conversation about the premise and topics. Kaitlyn Greenidge is a vibrant, powerful voice—We Love You, Charlie Freeman was an outstanding introduction into Greenidge’s work, and I can only hope to read more soon.

Synopsis

The Freeman family–Charles, Laurel, and their daughters, teenage Charlotte and nine-year-old Callie–have been invited to the Toneybee Institute to participate in a research experiment. They will live in an apartment on campus with Charlie, a young chimp abandoned by his mother. The Freemans were selected because they know sign language; they are supposed to teach it to Charlie and welcome him as a member of their family. But when Charlotte discovers the truth about the institute’s history of questionable studies, the secrets of the past invade the present in devious ways.

The power of this shattering novel resides in Greenidge’s undeniable storytelling talents. What appears to be a story of mothers and daughters, of sisterhood put to the test, of adolescent love and grown-up misconduct, and of history’s long reach, becomes a provocative and compelling exploration of America’s failure to find a language to talk about race.

Paperback, 342 pages
Published January 31st 2017 by Algonquin Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

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★ ★ ★

Here and Gone is an unsettling and intense thriller that I wanted to love. The premise was intriguing, the pace set to keep me questioning and interested—and while I liked it, but at times I was skimming details that didn’t add to the story. While I am not fond of multiple POVs, I thought it was fitting with this story, reading the events through Audra, Danny, and Sean’s eyes build up throughout as it unfolded.

I was rooting for all of them, and couldn’t help but feel for each of them. I thought Here and Gone was well-written, fast-paced, and engaging. I am only left wondering about one character, but I thought it was a well-rounded ending. It’s a short, quick read that I finished in two sittings, and I will be on the lookout for more published by the author.

Synopsis 

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them…

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 20th 2017 by Crown Publishing Group

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Book Review: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

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★ ★ ★ ★

Deliciously dark, Exquisite is a book that you will not put down once you begin reading the first page. Alice Dark enters Bo Luxton’s quiet, simple life, and a sinister relationship develops. Told in both Bo and Alice’s point-of-view, an unnerving, claustrophobic story unfolds of passion, manipulation, loss, and obsession. I spent my Friday night on the couch, devouring all 306 pages within 5 hours. I found this leaned more towards psychological suspense rather than thriller—with a gradual build-up of tension and discovery that ended in a terrifying tale.

Stovell’s writing is rich and beautiful, with Exquisite being character rather than plot driven. Throughout, you can’t help but feel torn—who is the one with darkness seeping beneath their skin, the one with cruel intentions? It’s one of those stories were you think you may know where it is headed, but you’re left stunned in silence at the conclusion because it takes twists and obsession to an entirely new and unique level. A must-read for the summer, you’ll have this novel finished within hours!

Synopsis 

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.
Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.
When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops…
OR DOES IT?
Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Paperback, 300 pages
Expected publication: October 1st 2017 by Orenda Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner

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★ ★ ★ ★

This was phenomenal! I would have finished reading this in one day, but had a lot going on–still, I carried it with me everywhere to squeeze in a few more chapters whenever I had a free minute. Any chance I had, I let people know about this book because I was enjoying it so much. Kyra Winthrop remembers nothing about the diving accident that left her with a complex form of memory loss. When she begins to experience dreams and flashbacks to the last few years of her life, she learns that her life isn’t what her husband, Jacob, has made it out to be. It turns into a terrifying nightmare with a rocky marriage, broken promises, and secrets that are unraveled as she starts to remember and question her surroundings. Set on a fictional island located near the San Juan Islands in Washington, isolated from the mainland and the life she remembers, Kyra can sense that deep down, it isn’t what it seems.

The Twilight Wife sets the atmosphere for a engrossing thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. I flew right through this story, and had to take a few days to let my thoughts process because I could not stop thinking about it even after I put it down. A.J. Banner wrote a page-turner, that at times left me feeling claustrophobic because I felt I was in Kyra’s head throughout the story, as she discovers the horrifying truth, and how unnerving that was for her as a character. Imagine not knowing things are not right, but people will not be honest, and you just can’t remember despite living through it–it is frustrating and makes you feel despair. Banner’s story-telling is rich with world-building that brings the Pacific Northwest out of the pages, characters that are complex and at times surprising, but realistic and relatable.

Often times I tried to figure out what was going to happen as I read along, and by the end, I was stunned–and completely wrong! Banner adds twists and turners at every point you think you are about to figure out what is going on. You may think you know, but you have no idea, and that is refreshing for a thriller like this. The Twilight Wife is an engaging story, that will have you feeling the desperation and anxiety that Kyra feels while she is pieces the clues of her past life together.

Synopsis 

Thirty-four-year-old marine biologist Kyra Winthrop remembers nothing about the diving accident that left her with a complex form of memory loss. With only brief flashes of the last few years of her life, her world has narrowed to a few close friendships on the island where she lives with her devoted husband, Jacob.

But all is not what it seems. Kyra begins to have visions—or are they memories?—of a rocky marriage, broken promises, and cryptic relationships with the island residents, whom she believes to be her friends.

As Kyra races to uncover her past, the truth becomes a terrifying nightmare. A twisty, immersive thriller, The Twilight Wife will keep readers enthralled through the final, shocking twist.

Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 27th 2016 by Touchstone

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

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★ ★ ★

Happy New Year! It has been a few weeks since my last post, both due to the holidays, and being in a reading slump, but I am back with another review.

I went into reading this one with no expectations, but being intrigued by the synopsis and relating to the mental illness aspect. I finally got around to finishing Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik, and it was a fascinating story. It was a slow burn for me. It started off strong, but dwindled midway through. It did take me a little longer to get through this because Maksik’s writing style and narrative, and at times it wasn’t the smoothest story-telling–other times, I just lost patience. It was a complex and demanding read, but it was also intense and engaging. When it comes to the mental illness aspect of this novel, it was written carefully and thought-provoking. There was so much more to this novel that was touched on, and done well, that being living with mental illness, the consequences to actions, violence, coping, and family. It certainly is not for everyone, and it is a challenging read, but it is a powerful one.

Synopsis

Joseph March, a twenty-one-year-old working class kid from Seattle, is on top of the world. He has just graduated college and his future beckons, unencumbered, limitless, magnificent. Joe’s life implodes when he starts to suffer the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and, not long after, his mother kills a man she’s never met with a hammer.

Joe moves to White Pine, Washington, where his mother is serving time and his father has set up house. He is followed by Tess Wolff, a fiercely independent woman with whom he has fallen in love. The lives of Joe, Tess, and Joe’s father fall into the slow rhythm of daily prison visits followed by beer and pizza at a local bar. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie March, Joe’s mother, is gradually becoming a local heroine as many see her crime as a furious, exasperated act of righteous rebellion. Tess, too, has fallen under her spell. Spurred on by Anne-Marie’s example, Tess enlists Joe in a secret, violent plan that will forever change their lives.

Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Europa Editions

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić

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★ ★ ★ ★

Saša Stanišić’s Before the Feast was a strange and whimsical story. It was one that had to be read in small portions, so it took me quite a while to get through despite thinking it would be a quick read. At times it was a challenging book because it required my full attention, but it was memorizing and beautifully written. Without giving too much detail away, it is about a long night in Fürstenfelde, a small East German village, on the eve of the feast–the feast that is not exactly defined. We learn about the history of Fürstenfelde, the mysteries and magic, we also follow the inhabitants of the village with their distinctive personalities and different circumstances. Told through short chapters and the town as the narrator, I enjoyed this story, although at times it was chaotic, and didn’t have a straightforward plot–if you go in expecting that, this may not be book for you. If you want to not just read, but experience a story that brings you into that world through captivating prose about old stories, myths, folklore, and fairy-tales, this would be a fine choice. This vibrant, odd, yet charming village full of its people both living and dead, of all backgrounds, that end up coming together.

Often I found myself putting the book down because I needed to pull myself from the story and read something a little more solid in terms of a plot. In a way it felt like I was in this dream land, though not completely in slumber–you know that middle, where you can’t seem to fully wake from the trance? I still feel like that when trying to form my thoughts around the story. I feel like while there is a vagueness to it, and a reader can easily be confused with where it is going, there is a lot up to the reader on interpretation and whether or not they think there is meaning or a point behind it. Take the time to appreciate how well crafted this story is, and don’t rush through it–travel through Fürstenfelde with a curious and open mind. Before the Feast was an unusual and riveting novel that I hope to come back to one day to relive.

Synopsis

Someone has opened the doors to the Village Archive, but what drives the sleepless out of their houses is not that which was stolen, but that which has escaped. Old stories, myths, and fairy tales are wandering about the streets with the people. They
come together in a novel about a long night, a mosaic of village life, in which the long-established and newcomers, the dead and the living, craftsmen, pensioners, and noble robbers in football shirts bump into each other. They all want to bring something to a close, in this night before the feast.

Paperback, 353 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by Tin House Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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★ ★ ★ ★

Before we get to my thoughts on The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, I wanted to let everyone know about a great website that I recently discovered because I am partnering with them for this review. SocialBookCo is a website that helps you find, locate, and compare book prices so you can find the cheapest deal by comparing your chosen books with over 50 book shops around the world to make sure you get the best bargain. There are different formats available, such as paperback, audio, eBook, out-of-print, and even textbooks along with second-hand copies. SocialBookCo is a comparison engine and not a bookstore, so when you find the best price for your purchase, they will direct you straight to the retailer where you carry out the transaction. They give shoppers all the options when it comes to book buying, and want you to save your money, which I think is cool for those of us who frequently purchase books through online retailers because who doesn’t like saving some money that will most likely go towards another book? I sure do!

Ken Liu is a phenomenal author of speculative fiction, as well as a translator, lawyer, and programmer. He has won numerous awards for his novels, such as the Nebula, Hugo, and World’s fantasy awards. The Paper Menagerie, his debut collection, contains 15 fantasy, magical realism, and science-fiction short stories and novellas–some of which have been previously published. If I had to summarize this collection in three words, it would be profound, thought-provoking, and distinctive. Very rarely do I come to the end of a book, unable to form my thoughts on the experience because I am still in a literary daze.

The Paper Menagerie is an exceptional short story collection, but at times it was a challenging read. Through different genres and exploring different themes such as love, history, suffering, and diversity, to the complexity and connections with the characters, and Liu’s brilliant, imaginative, and unique story-telling. When it comes to short-story collections, it is common to find a mix of feelings and thoughts when it comes to the individual stories, but with this collection, whether I enjoyed the story or not, I appreciated and was engrossed in the writing. The stories strike a reader’s core when it comes to experiencing so many emotions throughout every story.

This is the first of Liu’s work that I have read, and I think it was the perfect introduction into his writing. When it comes to the stories, you really need to clear your head, focus, and dive into the worlds and character stories he builds–afterwards, take the time to reflect on each one before beginning the next. There is no doubt that Ken Liu is a remarkably talented author, and writes effortlessly and poignant no matter the genre or subject. My ultimate favorites were Good Hunting, The Regular, The Paper Menagerie, and The Waves. The Paper Menagerie is a beautifully crafted collection that was equally heartbreaking, captivating, and engaging. I am not one to often pick up or recommend short-story collections, but I highly encourage anyone who appreciates rich, authentic prose, to read this.

Synopsis 

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Saga Press

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Book Review: The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

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★ ★ ★ ★

While sorting through her mother’s belongings, Jessica Campbell and her father find a horrifying discovery — beneath resealable plastic bags with frostbitten meat, in the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers are the bodies of two dead girls. The two girls are a pair of foster children, Casey and Jamie Cheng, that lived with the family in 1988 — two of the countless foster children her mother had taken in over the years. Six weeks after the sisters went missing, give their difficult history, everyone assumed they had run away. As Jessica learns more about the girls, and Donna, whom she thought of as the perfect mother, she uncovers dark stories and complicated truths about the life she thought she knew and mother she admired.

While The Conjoined is marketed as a mystery-thriller, it is more of a family drama. It is thought-provoking, well-written, and captivating until the very end. Through complex and realistic characters, and a writing style that flows effortlessly, Sookfong crafted a novel that makes you forget that you’re reading a book. Alternating between the past and the present, The Conjoined, is a not exactly a murder-mystery — the murder of the girls is not the main focus, but rather the exploration into the social work system that is often unfair and ineffectual. It is also about character psychology, trauma, family, self-discovery, and the struggles that immigrants and their children face.

This was a dark novel the further along, as the several layers were lifted. Sookfong’s prose brings depth and understanding into the story and characters, it hits nerves and brings forth real emotions that you physically experience. I devoured this in a few sittings, because of the compelling story and rich prose. There was so much that as a reader who was invested into the story and characters, I wanted to know, or at least have confirmed rather than wonder if  what I suspected was true. There is no resolution when it comes to the girls murder, or whether Donna committed the crime. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Sookfong’s profound writing that crafted a riveting and disturbing story. If you’re looking for a dark thriller whodunit story, this is not it, but if you are willing to go in expecting the unexpected, and want a family drama that is much more, The Conjoined is your next pick.

Synopsis 

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by ECW Press

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.