REVIEW: I Have Something to Tell You by Natalie Appleton

appleton_coverA few years ago, I discovered Natalie Appleton’s work while scrounging the New York Times’ Modern Love archives for essays on love. Her true story—about leaving her Canadian hometown, lost and full of doubt, for Thailand in search of her real self—didn’t just strike a chord. It roiled the marrow of my bones. So, when I discovered this story was part of a soon-to-be-released memoir, I Have Something to Tell You, I was excited. The months-long wait for it to hit the bookstores? Worth it.

The memoir starts with young Appleton living a comfortable life with a straightforward, tobacco-chewing guy. In a bungalow with fusty shag carpeting. In Medicine Hat, the hometown she had always planned on leaving. It wasn’t a bad life, but rather a life unfulfilled. In a string of gorgeous sentences, the author captures the feeling small-towners often experience about where they grew up:

“Hometowns, how they tug at us. With memories of hide-and-seek in scorched coulees, and kissing in dusty trucks after dark. With streets and faces as familiar as a mother’s breath. But it’s not the place we leave or long for. It’s how a town makes us feel. Like a child, loved. Like an old woman, rocking over boredom and regrets.”

Never too poetic, too flowery, her style doesn’t detract from the story. Instead, her use of punctuation and sentence structure creates a rhythm much like the ebb and flow of her emotions.

After a brief but powerful encounter with an old classmate (a.k.a. an old nemesis, a one-night adventure), Appleton becomes convinced she must leave her hometown. Her partner. Her cat. Her home on the wrong side of the tracks. She doesn’t want to get married to a man or a way of life that she’ll come to regret. This revelation and the weeks to follow are hard. The intimate, raw emotions of a twenty-something Natalie fill the first part of the memoir. Her turmoil and guilty are palpable—you’re along with her for the ride.

Eventually, she trades in her 15-year old car for a one-way plane ticket to Bangkok. There, she plans to teach English for a year. Naive about her new surroundings and without any teaching experience, the uncertainty of making it in this foreign country trails her every move:

“How is it we can lunge over a hump nearly the length of earth itself, and then stagger on a strip of sidewalk? Shouldn’t we be fearless after crossing oceans and continents and cultures? Maybe it’s the streets—the higher probability of stumbling, even on a small scale, often—that daunt us, halt us. And I guess it never is a lunge so much as a series of moments in the air, off solid ground.”

Here and there, Appleton throws in an anecdote or bits of the land’s history, that makes her storytelling richer. Gives us a taste of what it’s like to live in Thailand. She deftly uses imagery and symbolism to weave together stories, from different continents and timelines, into a larger, focused narrative about finding oneself and finding love.

I won’t go into detail of how she starts to feel at home in this strange place. But there’s a delicate, quiet transformation with each new milestone. When she befriends the neighborhood family who serves her spicy shrimp soup without shrimp in their restaurant. When she learns Thai thanks to lessons from a well-off student. When she fearlessly hitches rides with motorcycle taxi drivers. All that, and much more, you should read and discover on your own. Preferably while sipping a glass of French Merlot.

I Have Something to Tell You was published on January 22, 2018 by Ravenscrag Press.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


BOOK REVIEW: The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

the-unforgottenThe Unforgotten is a fitting title for Laura Powell ’s mystery with two timelines—one set in 1956 and the other about 50 years later—and whose characters are consumed by secrets. Secret feelings. Secret love affairs. Secret obsessions. Secret details about a slew of murders at the hand of the ‘Cornish Clever’ in the coastal English village of St. Steele. While these secrets many have remained buried for half a century, they were never forgotten.

Mary was but 15 years old during the summer of the killings, and she has felt the weight of the secrets surrounding the events most of her life. They affected her relationships then and in the present. When the story of the Cornish Cleaver resurfaces in the media, Mary is in her sixties. She starts to unravel. The advice of a landlady in a neighborhood pub hits close to home: “If I’ve learned one thing from spending half my life listening to people from behind this bar, it’s that lies are worse than cancer. Trust me. They eat you up and poison you, so you either let them rest for good or you cut them out.” And so, Mary starts a pursuit to rid herself of the secrets she’s been harbouring, for so long, and find out the truth once and for all.

For me, the pleasure in reading this story was not trying to figure out who the true culprit was (which was pleasurable, mind you), but seeing how guilt, fear, and love rule the characters’ decision-making. While the roiling tension in the final chapters keeps you reading until the final line, the palpable sentiments of Mary, Betty, and John are the true driving force of the story.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and Gallery Books for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy of The Unforgotten in exchange for an honest book review. Hardcopies hit Canadian and American bookshelves on February 6, 2018.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: Starlings by Jo Walton

starlings-jo-waltonProlific novelist of speculative fiction,  Jo Walton, will soon debut her first collection of short stories, Starlings. In the book’s introduction, Walton explains how writing short stories is new turf for her—a struggle even—and that writing novels comes much easier. That was unexpected, since I often think of this form as an apprenticeship of sorts for writers. After Walton’s confession, I wondered if I’d be disappointed. That trepidation disappeared with a “Poof!” after polishing off the first story.

Her clever, modern fairy tales, with hues of Angela Carter, charmed the curl of my mouth into a conspiratorial smile. I fell under the spell of a man made of moonlight in “Three Twilight Tales”and the enchanted mirror who sees a whirl of trees through the seasons in “On the Wall”. I took my time and paid attention to the startling, tiny details that lurk in the shadows of plot and characterization.

Other stories showcase problems seemingly particular to Sci-Fi or dystopian settings that got me thinking about messy implications of the future. “Sleeper” delves into how the manipulation of AI simulations of historical figures could influence future generations—a perfect premise for an episode of Black Mirror. I also loved “Turnover,” in which occupiers of a spacecraft yearn to preserve their arts and culture after they’ll settle on their destination planet.

Flash fiction with sly punchlines pepper the book–most made me chuckle while others fell a bitflat. And, her Sci-Fi poems didn’t engage me as much as her stories, but that’s due to my usual struggle to connect with poetry.

I would recommend this collections to lovers of short stories instead of fans of Walton’s novels. With such varied settings and modes, it’s a book best savored story by story instead of in one or two sittings.

Now, which Walton novel should I read first? Any recommendations?

Thank you to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐


In the Midst of Winter
by Isabel Allende
Simon & Schuster Canada


The place is Brooklyn, New York during a snowstorm that envelops the city—shutting in everyone.

Richard Bowmaster, a 60-year-old university professor and widow crippled with anxiety, lives in shrouded loneliness in an old brownstone. In his basement apartment lives, Lucia Maraz, a visiting Chilean lecturer who works for Richard. Her openness and sensuality stirs a desire in him. A desire that he doesn’t show or act upon.

Come to shake up their lives is player number three, Evelyn Ortega. She’s a 20-something, fretful undocumented Guatemalan. She crashes into Richard’s car when he ventures into the storm for an emergency vet visit. The car isn’t hers—it belongs to her wealthy, powerful employer and she is scared out of her mind. So, Richard takes her in. He quickly realizes he needs the help of Lucia to understand Evelyn.

Together the three wait out the storm and learn about each other’s past. In true Allende fashion unravels harrowing stories of broken families and societal struggles. And somewhere along the way a twist weaves itself into play… and Allende had me firmly in her grip ‘til the very end.

Rich with vivid language and tangible yearning, this book hit the spot. While it wasn’t my favourite Allende novel, it’s well worth the read. Preferably on a cold, winter day while wrapped in a warm blanket and sipping tea.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic tales with a believable take on a world that’s taken a spin for the worst. The debut novel The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson accomplished just that, on top of a creating a growing tension that keeps the reader turning the pages.


You’re dropped in a cold, bleak setting with a handful of characters, 20-something Lynn and her family. The sparse exposition lets you focus on the action—trudging in snow and hunting for game along with our feisty heroine. At times, Lynn seems naïve for a grown woman. Then again, she’s been living isolated in the Yukon for years with her party of five and a pervy neighbor living a few miles down the way. Playing Survivor without electricity, most modern-day comforts or news from the rest of the world is her way of life.

That is, until a secretive, stealthy stranger named Jax shows up. Not much older than Lynn, he’s the strong, silent type: hard to read, hard to trust, full of secrets. Everything changes after his arrival—he threatens their order and possibly their lives. You’ll develop a sense of what’s to come because the author drops hints and snippets of truth along the way, but you’ll probably be surprised where to story leads you.

The Wolves of Winter is a fast read and tons of fun. I recommend you grab a copy when the novel is released in January 2018.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: Top 5 reasons to read Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis-Book-Cover-Andy-WeirAndy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was an out-of-this-world hit. Fans loved the plot, the tension, and the humour—but can the author deliver yet another outer space story that’s as fun and successful as the first?

He sure can! I’ve had the joy of reading an advanced copy of his sophomore book Artemis. It hits bookstores on November 14, 2017, and I’ve listed the Top 5 reasons fans of Weir will love it.


5.  The setting is a not-so-distant-future Moon city, Artemis. Regardless of the challenges due to lack of air, abrasive moon dust and lethal radiation, Artemis is home to a couple thousand inhabitants and has a thriving tourism industry. This remote place—made up of large, connected domes—feels real, so you can easily imagine where all the action takes place.

4.  Every sci-fi book needs a geeky sidekick to help solve pressing, techie problems. Svaboda fits the bill with his quirky personality. His latest invention alone is sure to make you chuckle.

3.  When compared to Earth, there’s only 1/6 of gravity on the moon. This difference adds an element of fun in various scenes—from travelling in heavy gear to fighting off the bad guys. It also gives new meaning the phrases “kids bouncing off the walls”.

2.  The hero of the story, Jazz Bashara, is as likable as Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon in The Martian film adaptation). She’s a sassy badass full of pluck and clever ideas (some good, some bad). I welcome strong female characters in any sci-fi adventure. And hey, Ransom star Nazneen Contractor would be a dead ringer for Jazz in the Artemis movie. Casting directors take note.

1.  The plot has all the classic elements of a heist, yet has a new twist. Who doesn’t like a fast-paced sci-fi caper about misfits with a risky, urgent plan? A plan that feels like mission impossible? Zooming through this book with a smirk on your face—guaranteed.

Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

BOOK REVIEW: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Rules_of_MagicLast week, Alice Hoffman delighted fans with the release of a prequel to one of her most beloved novels: Practical Magic. That’s right. Over twenty years after readers delved into the world of two unruly witch sisters, the author’s new book, The Rules of Magic, gives us a glimpse into the lives of the Owen family members who came before.

Most of the story revolves around the coming of age of Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owen during the 1960s. These two teenage witches and their wizard brother navigate rough waters as they discover their magical powers and develop intimate relationships. It’s a difficult time for them as the family curse dictates their fates. Their loves. Their lives.

While the book was fun, I found the pace of the story slow, or somewhat passive. Also, it read like a Young Adult book at times. Perhaps that’s because I young when I read and loved Practical Magic… perhaps I have  grown up and now gravitate to Hoffman’s other fantastic books, like The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

Still, I think most fans of the first book in the series will be delighted with this prequel.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest book review.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐