Saturday, March 2, 2019


   Stephanie Land almost broke my tear ducts with her memoir. Maid is a crucial, desperate, important installment in showing that people in poverty are some of the hardest working, least appreciated, most disadvantaged people in our society. The next time I hear someone say people in poverty are lazy, I hope I can recommend this book to them.

   Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive

   Stephanie Land is a single mother struggling to escape domestic abuse, to keep custody of the child her partner never wanted but fights her for at every turn, and to provide enough for her daughter so they can at least survive. She narrates a messy, belittling, dehumanizing journey of food stamps that never provide enough food, homeless shelters that can't offer proper shelter, and low-income housing that could be ripped away at the merest threat of a $50 emergency.

   "Struggling to make ends meet" is probably the most passive, deplorable, understatement one could apply to this woman's life. Throughout the memoir, Land takes painstaking creative steps to illustrate the sheer reality: she's not making ends meet at all. She rations her coffee in the morning to quell her hunger so that her daughter can have more to eat. She can't afford produce unless it's below a certain price-point, but the middle-class shoppers at the grocery store vocally harass her for buying less nutritious food - the only food that she can afford - and for making them wait longer because of her food stamps. The amount of times other shoppers shout "You're welcome!" at her because she's using food stamps from the government, funded by taxpayer money, is atrocious. 

   At one point, Land and her daughter are using eight different government programs at once, just to survive. The way that the various government programs operate, qualifying for one may disqualify her for another. If she makes slightly more money from her multiple part-time (minimum-wage) jobs, that extra pocket change could tip her over the edge and disqualify her for another program or two, leaving her scrambling again the next month. The system is built in such a way that it beats her down and keeps her there, and I don't know where she finds the will to beat it back, but she does, in a white-knuckled, teeth-gritted kind of way

   Maid is a stepping stone to addressing and erasing the stigma around people in poverty; to establishing the compassion and empathy we need to work towards a better world. I'd recommend it to anyone, but especially to the middle-class and the rich - the more financially privileged people in society.

--Elise T.--

   For more information on Maid by Stephanie Land, visit our website here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Curse of Misty Wayfair

   Questions of identity, family conflict, wondering whether God cares, and ghostly apparitions popping up in windows to scare your socks off...
   I love Jamie Jo Wright. She writes creepy in a truly wonderful way.

   Much in the style of her debut novel, The House on Foster Hill (read my review on that here), The Curse of Misty Wayfair is written split between two timelines - 1908 and present day. Between Thea Reed, lonely orphan and postmortem photographer on the search to find her mother, and Heidi Lane, visiting her own mother who struggles with dementia, Jaime Jo Wright spins another brilliantly frightening novel. The curse of Misty Wayfair is an unexplained phenomenon lingering over a place called Pleasant Valley, where both characters seem to find their way home. An old, questionable asylum in the woods and sightings of a woman long-believed dead - in both timelines - make for a chilling and terrific tale of mysteries, relationships, mental illness, and old family secrets.

   I found myself drawn by Thea Reed and her adventurous spirit, and Heidi Lane amidst her bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. The characters compelled me, the dark shadows and voices whispering in the woods scared me out of my pants, and the two timelines pulled me along in a riveting twirl and dance that I couldn't put down.
   I'd recommend this for adults, teens, and young adults alike -- anyone who likes a little bit of a thrill, a chill, and classic campfire ghost stories.

--Elise T.--

   For more information on The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright, visit our website here.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Before We Were Yours

"Did you know that in this land of the free and home of the brave there is a great baby market? And the securities which change hands...are not mere engraved slips of paper promising certain financial dividends, but live, kicking, flesh-and-blood babies."  --From the Article "The Baby Market,"
The Saturday Evening Post, February 1, 1930.

This book made me feel A L L the feels.

 I can't believe this book is based on fact. I had never ever heard of Georgia Tann, the woman who pioneered child trafficking in America during the Great Depression, and all that she got away with...makes me so angry and breaks my heart all at once. Although the children in this book didn't actually exist, their stories are based on real stories from real survivors of Georgia Tann's children's home.

The book follows present day Avery Stafford and twelve-year-old Rill Foss. Rill and her four younger siblings: Camellia, Lark, Fern, and Gabion, grow up on the river in a shanty boat. We enter her story in August 1939 when her mother and father leave them to go to the hospital, telling them to not leave the boat and stay hidden. The next day, thinking it's their parents, they are stolen away being told that they are going to visit their parents later. But Rill knows better. Rill and her siblings end up in the Tennessee Children's Home Society, run by Georgia Tann, where they are beaten, neglected and separated.

Flash-forward to the present day and we meet Avery Stafford. Daughter of a senator, engaged to her childhood best friend, and a successful lawyer, Avery believes she has it all. Until the day she visits a nursing home and meets May Crandall, who believes her to be someone else. Avery soon gets swept up in old family history, unraveling her grandmother Judy's past and begins to question on whether or not what she's believed she's always wanted is actually what she wants.

I loved this book and everything about it. It was one that I was sad to finish. The characters came to life on the page and their story made it impossible for me to put down. While reading, I had to remind myself to slow down, but when I wasn't reading, all I wanted to be doing was reading slowly didn't happen. It doesn't surprise me at all that this book has been a number one seller for over a year. Lisa Wingate really out did herself on this one. It's not always easy to jump from past to present day, but she did it seamlessly.

--Elise F.

For more information on Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, visit us in store or visit our website here.

Saturday, January 26, 2019


You know it was a great book when, after you finished it days ago, you find yourself still thinking about it. I'm at a loss for words. It has been ages since a book has affected me like this emotionally.
I've got no flowery language, no qualms, nothing. All I really have to say is wow.

Educated is the memoir of Tara Westover, who didn't step foot into a classroom until she was seventeen. Born to survivalist Morman parents in the mountains of Idaho, she grew up preparing for the end days by sleeping with a "head for the hills" bag and spending summers canning anything they could. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a nurse or a doctor. Serious injuries were treated at home by her mother, a self-taught midwife and herbalist. And because they were so isolated from anyone, there was no one to intervene when one of her older brothers became violent or when her father became even more extreme in his beliefs.  Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to teach herself math and grammar. Which lead her to being admitted to Brigham Young University in Utah, then to Cambridge, then to Harvard, and then back to Cambridge to receive a PhD in History. It's amazing.

I can't tell you how many times this story made my jaw drop. Everything about this story is shocking; how her parents could ignore the abuse that was happening under their roof, for one example, is beyond me. And then go so far as to disown Tara instead of dealing with their son is appalling. Author Claire Dederer says this about Tara's memoir and it explains how I felt so well: "A punch to the gut, a slow burn, a savage indictment, a love letter.... Rarely have I read a book that made me so uncomfortable, so enraged, and at the same time to utterly entirely absorbed. I loved this book, and this woman".  The way Tara writes her story, I think, is what I loved the most. For someone who has literally gone through hell, she doesn't write about her experience in a bitter tone at all. Being so isolated as her family was, there was nobody around long enough to tell her what was happening wasn't even close to being okay, and that's how she writes. She didn't know any different. How could she have? And it doesn't end happy either. To this day, her parents still won't see her. And of her seven siblings, she's close to three.

My goal this year is to read more non-fiction. And to be honest, I'm a little upset that this was the first book that I've read not only this year, but within my goal, because I honestly don't know how anything I'm going to read now is going to top it. This book was that good.

--Elise F--

For more information on Educated  by Tara Westover, visit us in store or visit our website here.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Color of Lies

   Far be it from me to sneer at a title where they spell [colour] without the 'u'. Unusually enough, it wasn't the title of this one, or even the cover, that drew me. It was the concept.

    Ella Cleary has a rare medical condition known as synesthesia, which messes with her brain and senses, allowing her to read people's emotions based on the colour that appears around them whenever she looks their way. So when a stranger approaches her exuding no colour at all, and calling her by the name "Nora" which she hasn't used since she was three years old, she has every right to be confused. Cautious.

   Downright suspicious.

   Even more unnerving is that he wants to ask her about a murder she's certain she never witnessed. She's not even sure she believes it happened, because first of all, her parents died in a fire--there was no murder involved, just a freak accident. And second of all, she wasn't ever there to see it.

   C J Lyons evokes an exciting, emotional mystery as these two characters encounter and re-encounter each other while they try to unravel the mysteries around Ella's parents and their sudden deaths. It's a story that made me wonder again and again, "how could they possibly figure out this mess?" and there's nothing more satisfying than finding the answer to that question.

   An intriguing, easy read for Teen or YA Fiction reader who enjoys a tragic past, a dark mystery, and a high-stakes race to uncover the truth.

--Elise T.--

   For more information on The Color of Lies by C J Lyons, visit our website here.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Racing to the Finish

    This isn't the sort of book I would expect myself to read. Not because women can't enjoy NASCAR, but because I thought I'd had enough of NASCAR to last a lifetime. My brother, who is 5 years younger than me, spent a few years, a decade and more ago, obsessed with the sport. He could name every driver's stats, and not just NASCAR, but Formula 1 and IndyCar as well. There was always a race on TV, and so the names and locations found their way into my world as well. Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson were household names. While I would occasionally watch with him, and had my favourite (Jeff Gordon), NASCAR was not my favourite thing in the world. It may have had something to do with the fact that the Daytona 500 often fell on my birthday, and there was no way my brother was missing the Daytona 500.

   As I began to read Racing to the Finish, it felt like I was going back in time and back to my childhood, as names and places I'd forgotten were in the forefront of the story. But you don't have to be a fan of NASCAR to enjoy this book. This is Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s story of injury and recovery, and the resilience it takes to be a racecar driver. Rather than being an account of his entire life - although he does reminisce about his father and grandfather, and discusses the beginnings and evolution of his racing career - Racing to the Finish is the story of Earnhardt's concussions, recovery, and subsequent retirement. His injuries and recovery happened at the same time the NFL was finally beginning to talk about the affects of concussions, and Earnhardt's journey shaped the way concussions and other injuries are viewed in the racing world.

   Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s story of resilience and healing - and the perseverance required for both - is inspiring, no matter what your own life looks like. I found it a fascinating book, and I was also delighted to find that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a gift for writing as well as racing; he has proven himself an insightful and skilled author, with a style both entertaining and honest.

   Earnhardt wrote this book not only to tell the story of why he was off the track for so long, but to help others who have concussions and other head injuries to understand what is happening in the brain, and know that help is available and recovery possible. As NASCAR's unofficial spokesperson for concussions, and thanks to his fame and fan base, he is in the perfect position to help raise awareness for the prevention and treatment of concussions. For me, this book also gave me a new appreciation of the racing world that I had long forgotten. The often wistful combination of nostalgia and glory which Earnhardt has woven into Racing to the Finish has made me fall in love with NASCAR again.

   While this looks like a man's book - it's a sports and medical autobiography written by a racecar driver, after all - I firmly believe books should not be marketed as "men's books" and "women's books." I am a woman in my mid-twenties and I loved it. I believe it would interest anyone with a taste for sports, medicine and psychology, or biographies. Or, like me, give it - or another book outside your comfort zone - a chance. You may be pleasantly surprised.


   For more information on Racing to the Finish by Dale Earnhardt Jr., visit our website here.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Hidden Among the Stars

This book is a wonderful story that sees Callie, a bookstore owner in small town America, being given an old copy of Felix Saltern's classic children's book "Bambi". Inside she finds the original owner's name, Annika, and also a list amongst the pages, written in German. The list seems to be of valuables such as ruby bracelets, candelabras and the like, but why are they in an old children's book? And who exactly was Annika?
We go back in time to Austria in 1938, where Annika is a caretaker, along with her father, of an estate in the lake region of Austria. The castle is owned by a wealthy Viennese family as their summer house. Annika is in love with the owner's son, Max, but does he share her love? Or is there another that has captured his heart?
We slide between the two stories as Callie, aided by university lecturer Josh, try to find out what happened to Annika, and what the list is for. She also wants to find any remaining members of Annika's family to return the book to them. Meanwhile, back in 1938 Austria is being taken over by Nazi Germany, and it is a dangerous time for many in Vienna.
Melanie Dobson weaves a marvellous tale of two women, separated by an ocean and 80 years, whose lives are brought together by a simple children's book. It is an enduring story, the terror of the Nazi regime and the lives of the Jewish people devastated during the holocaust. And what becomes of Annika? 

Don’t miss Dobson’s other utterly amazing read, Catching the Wind. Fans of historical fiction will not be able to put either of these books down.


For more information on Hidden Among the Stars by Melanie Dobson, visit us in store or visit our website here.