Review | Hideaway, Nicole Lundrigan

42957309Hideaway is not an easy read. It’s the story of an abusive mother, Gloria, from the perspectives of her children, Rowan (13) and Maisy (7). Heartbroken after her husband Telly leaves, Gloria takes out her anger on her children, at times sending them out into the woods overnight over misbehaviour, and at other times using them as pawns to try to get Telly to return.

Maisy’s chapters were particularly difficult to read. Her desire to do the right thing (please her mother, keep her brother’s secrets, figure out how to be a good girl when obeying her mother meant betraying her brother) is heartbreaking. And her sincere bewilderment over the truth after all the gaslighting Gloria puts her through makes me want to just call Child Protection Services and take Maisy away to safety.

Rowan’s chapters were somewhat less emotionally painful, probably because he’s a bit older than Maisy is and therefore a bit more aware of how wrong Gloria’s actions are. His story is still sad — he tries to reach out to his father for help, but gets rebuffed and thereby loses part of his innocence. He also befriends a homeless, mentally ill man with a dog, and forms a strong bond with him, which gives him a nice chosen family, albeit one that causes complications in other ways.

Full disclosure: I didn’t finish the book. Not because it’s a bad book. On the contrary, I found Maisy’s chapters too emotionally difficult to keep going. The action does drag a bit, which also kept my attention wandering, but it’s done in a way that feels deliberate. There’s a claustrophobia to the story, a feel that Gloria’s influence will continue to close in on these children. There’s also a sense of hopelessness, a sinking inevitability that life will continue on this way and nothing — not the cops who come to visit nor the father who drops in for dinner — will do anything to change it. On one hand, this lends a feeling of sameness to the chapters, such that I got tired of waiting for a major shift. On the other hand, I can imagine that this is exactly how it feels for the children, who want to escape from Gloria’s tyranny, but can’t quite manage to.

Hideaway is a well-crafted, emotional novel about adult cruelty told through the eyes of children. It’s not an easy read (TW: child abuse, gaslighting, mental illness — schizophrenia, I think?), but for some readers, it would be a powerful one.

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Stationery Shop, Marjan Kamali

42201995._SY475_The Stationery Shop is a sad story about lost love, and invites the reader to ponder the question of what could have been. I liked that about half the story takes place in 1950s Tehran, which I don’t often see featured in historical women’s fiction. I also found the set-up sweet: teenagers Roya and Bahman meet in Mr Fakhri’s neighbourhood stationery shop and fall in love over a shared passion for poetry. Their romance is sweet, almost Romeo and Juliet-like in its innocence and inevitable tragedy.

The tragedy in this case is that a coup breaks out on the day of their planned elopement, and Bahman never shows up. He then breaks up with Roya through a letter, before disappearing from her life completely. Sixty years later, Roya, now a married woman in America, has the opportunity to see Bahman again and finally ask the questions that have haunted her all those years.

While The Stationery Shop is a lovely story and a quick read, it didn’t quite grab me. The early parts, about Roya and Bahman’s romance in Tehran, were very strong. I also felt for Roya after the breakup. I thought it was sweet that the sister agreed to go to America as well, just to help Roya move on, and I wish we’d seen a lot more of the sister’s story. And I loved the romance with Walter, the Tintin lookalike whom Roya meets in America and ends up marrying.

But the actual climax of the book — the present-day encounter between Roya and Bahman — fell flat for me. Possibly it’s because it felt more like closure than an actual rekindling of their earlier relationship. Because at this point, Roya had already built up an entire life separate from Bahman, her need for closure no longer felt as urgent to me. Or possibly it’s because I loved Roya’s relationship with Walter a lot, and thought that as sweet as Roya’s romance with Bahman had been, he was best left in the past. All the cynic in me could think about was that the Bahman in these present-day scenes was already very different from the Bahman whom Roya had loved. Walter as well was remarkably understanding about Roya’s desire to reconnect with her first love, so overall, the stakes of the encounter itself felt fairly low.

Still, The Stationery Shop is a beautifully told story with a somewhat old-fashioned feel. It will move readers who believe in the idea of one true all-overpowering love, and will likely move some readers to tears.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Something to Tell You, Lucy Diamond

43788960The Mortimers are celebrating Jeanie and Harry’s golden wedding anniversary when Frankie Carlyle, the daughter from a secret fling Harry had 35 years ago, arrives to meet her father for the first time. From that explosive beginning, Something to Tell You settles down into a collection of disparate narrative threads about various women in the Carlyle and Mortimer families, all dealing with a range of relationship issues.

Jeanie heads off into her second honeymoon alone to deal with the revelation of Harry’s past infidelity. Her daughter Paula is struggling to keep her father afloat and their family together, while also nurturing her own curiosity about her newfound half-sister. Jeanie’s daughter-in-law Robyn finds her husband becoming increasingly distant and wonders if he’s hiding something from her, and Jeanie’s other daughter-in-law Bunny realizes that a horrible secret from her past may be exposed. Frankie’s complex emotions about finally meeting her father are somewhat overshadowed by problems in her current family — the birth mother of her boyfriend’s child is suing for custody. And Robyn’s mother Alison, trying to move on from her grief over her husband’s passing, decides to try online dating.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and Diamond does a good job in making us care for all of her characters. Frankie’s appearance at Harry and Jeanie’s party sets off a chain of events, but the story of her parentage ultimately has a major impact on only one out of many narrative threads. For the most part, it’s a dramatic reveal that then takes a bit of a back seat to a lot of other events. Which isn’t a bad thing — the discovery of a secret daughter could very well turn the story melodramatic, and by dispersing our attention into various women’s stories, Diamond does a good job of making the stories feel real.

Unfortunately, the stories also felt somewhat detached. I did care for a lot of the characters, but because the stories were so disjointed and the focus switched around so often, I ended up wishing we’d spent a bit more time to really delve into some of the characters. Partly, I think it’s because the main story was clearly Frankie’s, and I personally found Jeanie’s (her husband’s infidelity leading her to rebel), Robyn’s (learning her husband’s keeping secrets from her) and Alison’s (trying online dating as a senior) stories all much more compelling than Frankie’s (custody battle with her boyfriend’s ex).

Still, this is a pleasant and enjoyable read overall. The characters all felt very real and relatable, and the novel tackled some difficult experiences without ever getting too heavy in tone.

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Thank you to Publisher’s Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.