Serenade by Heather McKenzie

Ah to be rich… but restricted in life and in love. McKenzie is a promising author that is going to give readers and powerhouse trilogy that will be sure to be successful.

Set in an iconic Canadian setting, this novel is an action-packed YA romance.

4/5 stars.
Read from December 20 to 21, 2016.
ebook.

Cheers to Heather McKenzie for providing me an ARC edition of this book for an honest review. I love to read and support new authors! It has been a while since I’ve read a YA novel and even longer since I read one with some substance so this was a refreshing read.

Kaya Lowen, by all appearances, lives the life that every teenager dreams about: She is the heiress of a billion dollar company and lives the life of luxury with her family in a castle in Banff, Canada. However, Kaya’s life is anything but easy as there are those that wish to assassinate her, meaning that Kaya is heavily guarded at all times and is nearly a prisoner in her own home. Smart and stubborn, Kaya is constantly at odds with those around her in a fight for her independence. Thankfully Kaya has a close bond with the people who protect her. Stephen has become more like a father to her since her own is never around and the youngest guard, Oliver,  has begun to catch her eye. As that intrigue turns into love, Kaya meets a stranger on the evening of her 18th birthday that leaves her questioning her relationship with Oliver and the idea of love. Confused and distressed, Kaya’s world comes apart when she is kidnapped and starts to discover some of her family’s darkest secrets.

Kaya is a likeable and down to earth character, however she is naive which, considering her upbringing, makes sense. One of the things I loved best about Kaya is that she is an endurance runner. The first chapter drew me in with the descriptions of her running. The author must also be a runner to be able to describe that feeling so well. Kaya even wants to run the one of the most iconic Canadian ultras, The Death Race, which is a 125 km run in the Rocky Mountains.

As a Canadian living abroad it was also wonderful to get such beautiful descriptions of Banff, a place I have run and visited many times. It made me miss home. What was also great about this book was the intense pace it kept. There were no lulls in the story or with the romance and the scenes were adventurous and exciting. The last quarter of the book is riveting and the twist about Kaya’s father is jaw-dropping; that bastard is selfish madman!

Additionally, the author, whether on purpose or not, shows what the beginnings of a controlling  and unhealthy relationship looks like. Oliver eventually outright claims Kaya and strips her of her independence and makes her believe it is for her own safety. It was refreshing to see Kaya come into her own as a character in these aspects.

There were two aspects of this novel I wasn’t keen on, one is the title. It doesn’t seem to relate well to the novel but the story line is going to become a series so perhaps that will make a bit more sense later, or perhaps the author is going a similar title approach to the Twilight series. The second aspect of this novel I wasn’t keen on was the love at first sight that was introduced with the mysterious stranger that Kaya meets. I mean, I get it. It seems wonderful to think that you can be that swept of your feet and in love but it was a bit over the top for me. However, I seriously struggle with most romance as it is so for those that are more into romance than myself the author did a great job.

McKenzie is a promising author that is going to give readers and powerhouse trilogy that will be sure to be successful. I would recommend this novel for YA and romance lovers, as well for readers who are runners. The novel is due to be published in April 2017 so keep your eyes open for it!

 

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

2/5 stars.
ebook, 288 pages.
Read from March 22 to April 13, 2014.

This book has been nominated and has won a variety of awards, to name a few: Man Booker Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2011)Orange Prize Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2012)Scotiabank Giller Prize (2011). It was also apart of CBC’s 2014 Canada Reads debate, which is what brought me to read this book.

I can see why this book won awards. The author is Canadian, the novel discusses the dangers of being black during the Nazi’s reign as well mingling in the ever popular topic of jazz. These are three areas/topics that many critics appear to check off their list as a part of a good novel. The dynamics of the characters and content sounds like they should make for a very interesting plot, and while at times it did, I felt very disappointed with this award winner.

Sidney “Sid” Griffiths is the main voice in this novel. He is the bassist in the German/African-American jazz band, The Hot-Time Swingers. Other important members include Charles “Chip” Jones on drums and the ever young and talented Hiero (Hieronymus) Falk on horn. Paul, Fritz and Ernst are the other minor and additional characters in the band. The plot surrounds the bands survival amidst the Nazis. Sid was born in America and can often pass for being white, while Hiero is a “Mischling” a half-breed; he was born in Germany with a mix of German and African blood. His skin tone is quite dark as a result, making it substantially more difficult for him to get around during the Nazi invasion. One of the pinnacles of the story is that the famous Louis Armstrong has extreme interests in the talent of Hiero and he wants to record an album. The story the reader is involved in the most however, is the ever changing relationship  that Sid and Hiero have and the eventual regret and mistake that Sid makes with Hiero in which he will come to regret his entire life.

The chapters in the story are separated by different time-frames. For example, the story opens up in Paris in 1939 when the band is attempting to record the album. The next chapter is in Berlin in 1992 and here we see a very old and miserable Sid Griffiths. The book does this flip flop, unsuccessfully in my opinion, of time-frames to give the reader an idea of how much time has passed and how long Sid has been living with his one major regret. I found that the chapters were choppy and didn’t flow as nicely as they could have. I found myself at times going back to read an detail that was vaguely mentioned in the past but ends up becoming more important in the future.

I also felt that this book could have been more concisely written. The story and concept is good but it was carried out inefficiently. For example, there is a flashback scene with Sid and Chip as teenagers involving some prostitutes, which I believe is meant to show how long the two of them had been playing together. While it’s one of my favourite scenes, I feel it does little to build either of the characters or their relationship at this point in the story. We’re already aware of Sid and Chip’s past at this point, so while the scene was entertaining it had little to do with the main conflicts or developments.

While Sid and Chip are dynamic and interesting characters they’re not the most likable. Sid is negative and serious and Chip is a bit sleazy. Hiero is the most innocent and likable character but you actually learn very little about him throughout the book. I feel that this was probably intentional but I feel if we had known more about Hiero it would made the turning point in the book by far more poignant.

Overall, this book is very dynamic and it has reached out to a lot of readers with its content and awards. I’m glad I read the book as I like to support Canadian authors but I don’t foresee myself reading anything else by the author.