Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

The Plot meets Please Join Us in this psychological suspense 
debut about a young author at an exclusive
writer’s retreat that descends into a nightmare.

Alex has all but given up on her dreams of becoming a published author when she receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: attend an exclusive, month-long writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo. Even the knowledge that Wren, her former best friend and current rival, is attending doesn’t dampen her excitement.

But when the attendees arrive, Roza drops a bombshell—they must all complete an entire novel from scratch during the next month, and the author of the best one will receive a life-changing seven-figure publishing deal. Determined to win this seemingly impossible contest, Alex buckles down and tries to ignore the strange happenings at the estate, including Roza’s erratic behavior, Wren’s cruel mind games, and the alleged haunting of the mansion itself. But when one of the writers vanishes during a snowstorm, Alex realizes that something very sinister is afoot. With the clock running out, she’s desperate to discover the truth and save herself.

A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of friendships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Expected publication February 21, 2023
 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books
2.5/5 stars

Alex has been struggling with writer's block for the past year, ever since a dramatic split with her best friend, and now, the two of them will be spending a whole month together at a writing retreat in the middle of nowhere. Told from Alex's point of view, the story starts off strong, giving readers a feel for the characters' personalities, insecurities, and what drove them apart. Along with three other women, they embark on a regimented writing retreat with strict deadlines, complex characters, and a host who is not only eccentric but also quite peculiar.

At first, the story grabbed me, but then at the halfway point, it seemed to take an unexpected and somewhat odd direction. Despite the many five-star reviews this book has received, I found the storyline to be convoluted, over-the-top, and with portions that were not necessary at all. As I read on, my interest waned, and sadly, the ending did not work for me.

My thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Feyre's survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price ...

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre's presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever. 

Paperback, 432 pages
Published January 1st 2016
 by Bloomsbury Childrens
4/5 stars

One of my reading goals this year is to complete some of the series I've started, which has me rereading the first book in the A Court of Thorns & Roses series. This is one of those series that gets bigger and better with each book (book 2 is a reread also.) I decided to challenge myself by stepping outside of my comfort zone a few years back, reading a different genre - YA fantasy - which I'm still new to, but was swayed by the positive reviews on social media.

Feyre is a teen who supports her family after they fall from the high life and must fend for themselves. It's a mistake that changes everything for Feyre, as she finds herself in a world divided between humans and fairy-tale-like creatures. It has a Beauty and the Beast feel to it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The characters were likeable, though I didn't always agree with their decisions, and the plot was complex and intriguing. I felt like I was right there in the setting with all the mystical and fantasy elements. I also surprised myself with what I forget from my first read.  Looking forward to Feb when I begin the next book, A Court of Mist and Fury.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Winners (Beartown #3) by Fredrik Backman

The long-awaited conclusion to the beloved New York Times bestselling and “engrossing” (People) Beartown series—which inspired an HBO series of the same name—follows the small hockey town’s residents as they grapple with change, pain, hope, and redemption.

Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there’s something about this place that prevents it. The residents continue to grapple with life’s big questions: What is a family? What is a community? And what, if anything, are we willing to sacrifice in order to protect them?

As the locals of Beartown struggle to overcome the past, great change is on the horizon. Someone is coming home after a long time away. Someone will be laid to rest. Someone will fall in love, someone will try to fix their marriage, and someone will do anything to save their children. Someone will submit to hate, someone will fight, and someone will grab a gun and walk towards the ice rink.

So what are the residents of Beartown willing to sacrifice for their home?


Paperback, 688 pages

Published September 27th 2022
by Simon & Schuster CA
5/5 stars

The Winners is Book 3 in Fredrik Backman's Beartown series. Although Books 1 and 2 continue right after each other, there is a two-year gap between them and The Winners. However, it doesn't take long for Backman to fill in those gaps and write an emotionally compelling finale. Even five months after reading the final pages, I still vividly remember the story.

When The Winners was released, I had the privilege of attending an author event. It was one of my favourite events, with Backman baring his soul as he talked about his writing, the emotional impact it had on him, and how it affected his personal life. This made the story even more fascinating.

The Winners is a story about community, family, and invisible hurts. It is wonderfully written and hard to put down. Because of the book's mass size, I did a combo read and audio. I highly recommend both options; the story is so good that the time just flies by. The audiobook is 21 hours and 22 minutes long, and it is a worthy investment of time.

This is a series I can see myself rereading but for the time being I will get caught up on the author's backlist.

This book was part of my 2022 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Ami, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancĂ© is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of... lucky.

Paperback, 400 pages
Published May 14th 2019 
by Gallery Books
5/5 stars

I am definitely a mood reader, and when I tried this book a couple of years ago, it was a DNF within the first 10%. However, this time I finished it in a day and a half, which was made easier by being on holidays.

Told from the point of view of someone who considers themselves to be unlucky in most aspects of life, the story follows Olive when her twin sister is unable to take her honeymoon and she goes in her place, accompanied by the groom's brother - her arch enemy. What follows is a zany story that had me laughing out loud and unable to put the book down.

The Unhoneymooners is a story of love, family, and self-discovery. It had all the elements of a great rom/com - the romance, the funny moments, the banter and the charm that I love in a good rom/com.

I am so glad that I gave this book a second chance, I needed to since Christina Lauren has become an auto-read author and have been slowly making my way through her back list.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenge

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

An inspiring tale of a fourth-grader who fights back when her favorite book is banned from the school library--by starting her own illegal locker library!

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That's when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate's mom thought the book wasn't appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Reminiscent of the classic novel Frindle by Andrew Clements for its inspiring message, Ban This Book is a love letter to the written word and its power to give kids a voice.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published May 1st 2018 
by Starscape Paperback
5/5 stars

What a delightful book to read! I'm so glad I impulsively purchased it after seeing on Instagram. Just looking at the cover, I knew it had to be on my shelf.

When Amy Anne Ollinger's favourite book is taken out of her school library's circulation, she is devastated. But when she discovers the reason why it has been banned, she is determined to do something about it. With the help of her newfound friends, Amy embarks on a mission to create a secret library amongst the students, which quickly spirals into something much bigger than they ever anticipated.

Ban This Book is a story of friendship, courage, and finding one's voice. It is an inspiring tale of standing up for what you believe in, both at school and at home.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was full of references to other books, which made me break my book buying ban and purchase a few of the titles mentioned. The writing was captivating and the story was highly entertaining. I would definitely recommend it, not just to my grandchildren nut everyone.

The book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge #5

Monday, January 16, 2023

Last Liar Standing by Danielle M. Wong

Vonny Kwan wakes up in a Nevada hospital, the victim of a hit-and-run accident she doesn’t remember. As she struggles to recover from her injuries, she learns that she also has no memory of the past nine years, including her marriage and what she was even doing in the West.

While she’s still reeling from the shock of her amnesia, two detectives visit and inform her that her husband, John, was recently murdered. As more information comes to light, Vonny grows increasingly suspicious of everyone around her.

Vonny realizes she must piece together the last decade to uncover the truth. The missing chunk of time holds secrets about the person she became, the mysterious man she fell for, and the life she never wanted.

Paperback, 300 pages
Published June 21st 2022
by RedAdept Publishing
2.5/5 stars

This book has been labelled a suspenseful thriller by the majority of people who have read it, awarding it 4 and 5 stars. Despite this, I'm not feeling that vibe, so I'm going against the majority yet again.

The story starts off with Vonny on the run from something unknown, but she is involved in a hit and run accident that lands her in the hospital. When she wakes up, she can't remember the past decade of her life - how she ended up clear across the country, estranged from her best friend, married, and then recently widowed when her husband is murdered. It seems like amnesia stories are a thing these days, as there have been a lot of them.

What didn't work for me was the slow burn. As Vonny goes home to San Francisco, her actions seem unnatural, repetitive, and somethings just don't make sense. There were a number of red herrings and suspicious characters, but it was the slow pace that I just could not get past.

This book is filled with short chapters, which made it easy to pick up and read a chapter here and there. However, I was not as captivated and enthralled with the story as I had hoped to be. It wasn't until the last 80% of the book that things started to really pick up and the pieces of the puzzle started to fit, but it was a little too late for my feelings to change.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenge and is book #4. 


Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth

Get ready for a thrilling, addictive novel about marriage, betrayal, and the secrets that push us to the edge in Sally Hepworth's The Soulmate.

There’s a cottage on a cliff. Gabe and Pippa’s dream home in a sleepy coastal town. But their perfect house hides something sinister. The tall cliffs have become a popular spot for people to end their lives. Night after night Gabe comes to their rescue, literally talking them off the ledge. Until he doesn’t.

When Pippa discovers Gabe knew the victim, the questions spiral...Did the victim jump? Was she pushed?

And would Gabe, the love of Pippa’s life, her soulmate...lie? As the perfect facade of their marriage begins to crack, the deepest and darkest secrets begin to unravel. 

Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Expected publication: April 4th 2023 
by St. Martin’s Press
4/5 stars

Released in Australia last fall, Sally Hepworth's new book does not release in North America until April 4, 2023. This book starts with a bang when a woman is pushed/fell/juumped off a cliff behind the home of Pippa and Gabe. As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed, and it becomes clear that there is more than meets the eye.

I went into this book blind, which always makes for a more intriguing read. I was not disappointed with this domestic suspense mystery as it deals with many complex subjects that I will not reveal here (spoiler.)

Told from two different points of view. One is current day Pippa as she recalls her life with Gabe, her soulmate, how they met, and the story of their relationship is revealed. The other is from the woman who met her demise on that cliff, which was a unique viewpoint that gave a wider view as to what was going on.

The Soulmate is a story of family, past hurts, and secrets. It was intricately woven with some surprises along the way. It also had an unexpected ending that kept me on my toes. Hats off to Sally Hepworth for crafting such an engaging and captivating read.

My thanks to St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere, comes one of the most highly anticipated books of the year – the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.

Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact. 

Hardcover, 335 pages
Published October 4th 2022
 by Penguin Press
3/5 stars

This is my first time reading a Celeste Ng book, and it's another case of being swayed by social media; sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

Our Missing Hearts begins with a 12-year-old boy named Bird, and I wanted to love this book because apparently everybody else did. I tried hard, switching over to the audiobook at the halfway mark.The first part was intriguing; there was lots of the unknown, and I was curious as to the why and how of what was going on. Once the point of view changed from Bird to his mother, things slowed down. My questions weren't really answered in a way that made me understand everything that was going on, and so my enjoyment waned.

Our Missing Hearts is more a telling story rather than showing, its about a boy searching for answers and a mom he is desperate to find. It was an okay read that didn't pack the same punch for me that others felt.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Just The Nicest Couple by Mary Kubica

A husband’s disappearance inextricably links two couples in this twisty thriller from New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica

Two couples, two close friends, one missing husband…

Jake Hayes is missing. This much is certain. At first, his wife, Nina, thinks he is blowing off steam at a friend’s house after their heated fight the night before. But then a day goes by. Two days. Five. And Jake is still nowhere to be found.

Lily Scott, Nina’s friend and coworker, thinks she may have been the last to see Jake before he went missing. After Lily confesses everything to her husband, Christian, the two decide that nobody can find out what happened leading up to Jake’s disappearance, especially not Nina. But Nina is out there looking for her husband, and she won’t stop until the truth is discovered.

Queen of suspense Mary Kubica delivers a high-octane, edge-of-your-seat thriller filled with delicious lies and shocking betrayals, and shows how even the deepest secrets will always find a way to the surface.

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published on Jan 10, 2023 
by Park Row Books
3/5 stars

I was eagerly anticipating Mary Kubica's latest book, Just the Nicest Couple, as I had thoroughly enjoyed her previous work, Local Woman Missing. 

The blurb sounds like such an intriguing story, missing husband, friends with secrets and a search for the truth.  It started off strong, but quickly shifted to a slow-paced mystery, not the thriller I anticipated.  There were a few twists and odd characters but ultimately the red herrings, lack of tension, and somewhat predictable ending left me feeling disappointed. 

I am still willing to give Mary Kubica another chance, this being my 2nd read of hers.  Fingers crossed this is just a one off.

My thanks to Park Row Books for providing me with a digital ARC (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

One year ago, Isabelle Drake's life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her—literally.

Except for the occasional catnap or small blackout where she loses track of time, she hasn’t slept in a year.

Isabelle's entire existence now revolves around finding him, but she knows she can’t go on this way forever. In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster—but his interest in Isabelle's past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guess who she can trust... including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth no matter where it leads. 

Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: January 10th 2023
 by Minotaur Books
3.5/5 stars

 It's every parent's worst nightmare: the disappearance of a child, especially when it happens in the middle of the night while they are in the next room. The guilt and frustration that Isabelle has felt for the past year must have been unbearable.

I went into this psychological thriller expecting to be captivated, given the theme and the involvement of a child. However, the story moved slowly, jumping between timelines as Isabella tells her story, making her an unreliable narrator. As she struggles with lack of sleep, memories of the past, and hallucinations, she is left to face this trying time alone, with no one to support her.

Things picked up for me near the 3/4 mark, where the action happened, but it was a little too late. Although I didn't anticipate the conclusion, I had my suspicions.

All the Dangerous Things is a story of grief, guilt, and a mother's desperate attempt to find out what happened to her son without losing her sanity.

Released today, All the Dangerous Things is available in many different formats. I obtained my copy through my Book of the Month subscription for December.