Sunday, June 4, 2023

(Survivor Diaries) Lost! by Terry Lynn Johnson

A high-stakes survival series perfect for fans of the I Survived series and Hatchet.

Stay calm. Stay smart. Survive.

An ancient myth about a statue leads eleven-year-old Carter and twelve-year-old Anna down a trail deep into the Costa Rican jungle. They get turned around, then chased by howler monkeys. Carter and Anna try to find their way back to the familiar path, but the tangle of vines and trees all look the same. They are . . . lost!

With seventeen years of hands-on experience and training in remote areas, survival expert Terry Lynn Johnson ( Ice Dogs; Sled Dog School ) creates on-the-edge-of-your-seat storytelling featuring real skills to prepare kids for surviving a disaster. This book includes tips from the Canadian Red Cross on how to make your own survival kit. After reading this book, you'll be better prepared for surviving a real-life disaster.

Hardcover, 112 pages
Published July 3, 2018
 by Clarion Books
4/5 stars

Terry Lynn Johnson is one of my favourite Canadian authors for middle grade stories. She lives up in northern Ontario. I first discovered her through her book Ice Dogs.  Recently, she started a new series called Survivor Diaries where each book focuses on different survival tips in various situations. Lost is all about surviving in the Costa Rican rainforest.

The story follows 12-year-old Anna and 11-year-old Carter as they get lost in the rainforest while on vacation with their family. It's a short read, just over 100 pages, but it's packed with survival skills specific to that area. Plus, it's a great story about the relationship between Anna and Carter, who weren't really friends before they got lost.

As an adult reader, I breezed through the book pretty quickly, but I think it would be a fun one to share with kids. The other books in the series include Overboard, Avalanche  and Dust Storm.

If you're interested in Terry Lynn Johnson's other books, be sure to check out her website for more information. She's a talented writer and does some cool stuff outside of writing too.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenge and it's book number 40.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes

Armed with only hazy memories, a woman who long ago witnessed her friend's sudden, mysterious death, and has since spent her life trying to forget, sets out to track down answers. What she uncovers, deep in the woods, is hardly to be believed....

Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, mysteriously dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they'd been spending time with all summer.

Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can't account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer--the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.

At her mother's house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father's book that didn't stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank's cabin....

Utterly unique and captivating, The House in the Pines keeps you guessing about whether we can ever fully confront the past and return home.

Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 3, 2023 
by Dutton
3/5 stars

Ana Reyes has written her debut novel, which revolves around two mysterious deaths.

I have some mixed feelings about this book. While the story and mystery were intriguing, I found it hard to connect with the characters. It took me three weeks to finish, which shows that it didn't fully captivate me. I usually enjoy psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, which this book has, but I just couldn't get fully absorbed into the story. Some aspects of the book felt unnecessary.

Reese Witherspoon picked this book as her January Book Pick, her choices are hit or miss for me. I'm not sure if it was the hype surrounding the book that made me pick it up or it could have been the eerie cover.

One thing I did like about the story was Maya and Dan's relationship and how the ending brought closure for her. It was satisfying to see her find closure in other aspects of her life as well.

Overall, The House in the Pines was an entertaining read. I ended up finishing it off with the audiobook via CloudLibrary.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenge and is #42.

Friday, June 2, 2023

The Whispers by Ashley Audrain

One morning on Harlow Lane, four families' lives are changed forever.

Whitney Loverly can only sit by her son's hospital bed after he falls from his bedroom window in the middle of the night. She refuses to speak to anyone.

Back at home, the Loverlys' neighbours must reckon with their own roles in the tragedy - their selfless best friends who live across the street, the ambitious Goldsteins who desperately want a family of their own, and the quiet elderly couple who spend their days people watching on the front porch.

But what happens next, when over the course of a week, the hidden and explosive truths that connect these families must come out?

Exploring envy, motherhood and the intuitions that we silence, this is a novel that asks what happens when good people make bad choices.

Kindle Edition, 317 pages
Expected publication June 6, 2023
 by Penguin
4/5 stars

Exciting news, folks! The Whispers is hitting the shelves next week and it's already getting some serious hype. If you loved the author's debut novel, The Push, then you're in for a treat because The Whispers has a similar vibe.

The story is told from the perspectives of four women who are all at different stages of motherhood and life. But be warned, this book deals with some heavy stuff, so make sure you're ready for it.

One of the moms, Whitney, seems to have it all together, but things take a turn when she ends up at her son's hospital bedside. The story takes place over just a few days, but it jumps back and forth in time to reveal some dark and heartbreaking secrets.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily call this a psychological thriller. It's more like a suspenseful women's fiction story. The neighborhood where the story takes place is full of whispers and secrets, and everyone seems to be watching each other.

I will say that the characters aren't always the most reliable or likable, but that just adds to the suspense. There are plenty of red herrings to keep you guessing, and I found myself unable to put the book down until I knew what had happened.

The ending did feel a bit rushed, but it was still satisfying. I also had to suspend my belief a few times, but overall, this was a really entertaining read. So if you're looking for a gripping story that will keep you on your toes, give The Whispers a try.

My thanks to Penguin Random House CA (via Netgalley) for a digital arc in exchange for honest review.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Excerpt: You Look Beautiful Tonight by L.R. Jones

A secret admirer’s devotion turns deadly in a twisting novel of psychological suspense.

Mia Anderson is an invisible woman. An unremarkable thirty-two-year-old Tennessee librarian, she’s accustomed to disappearing in a crowd, unseen and unheard. Then she receives an anonymous note: You look beautiful today.

It doesn’t stop there. The attentive stranger—a secret admirer named Adam—has plans for Mia. With each new text comes a suggestion for her hair, clothes, or attitude, and for the first time in memory, Mia feels noticed. Slowly, she develops a confidence in herself she’s never had. But Adam has a surprise coming…and Mia finally sees him for who he is and what he’s prepared to do for her. Even kill.

Fearing she could be implicated in the murder, Mia’s forced to turn to the stranger in the shadows watching her every move. Adam’s game of cat and mouse begins with Mia as the prey. In order to survive, she must also become the predator.

Kindle Edition, 347 pages
Expected publication
June 1, 2023 by Thomas & Mercer


Blood seeps through the cream-colored carpet, fading into the thick fibers, and a river of life runneth over and under until death do us part. The same carpet that now absorbs one life and yet hugs my feet and cushions my body. Seconds tick by, eternal seconds, a clock ticking somewhere—loud, heavy, eternal. I try to draw in air, but I can’t catch my breath. My throat is raw, my chest tight.

 Run, I tell myself.

Run, before it’s too late to run.

 I rotate and immediately hit a hard surface—a piece of furniture, I think—banging my leg, pain radiating from my kneecap and down my shin. The room is spinning. The smell of death permeates the air, a scent no one can understand without experiencing it, living it while another person dies inside the horrific stench of it. Death has an energy, too, as contrary as that may sound, almost as if you can feel the grim reaper doing his work with a heavy pull that suffocates you in its existence.

I don’t even know what is happening right now, how I got here, how this became a moment in my uneventful, unremarkable life. I blink the room—an office, a familiar office that once felt safe—into view and round the desk in my path. My heart is thundering in my ears, my breathing now raspy and loud as I make my way across the room and yank the door open. Freedom calls to me, and I stumble into the hallway before me, leaving the door open, sucking in fresh air. Looking left and then right toward the emergency door, I hear it promising safety and an escape from death and all the blood. So much blood.

I run in that direction, pain radiating in my head that I don’t understand, but I push through it, my legs burning with the speed at which I travel, until I reach that blessed door, my hand closing on the long silver handle. The urge to look back behind me is strong, but I resist. Run. Run now. Run hard and fast. Shoving open the door, I burst into the corridor, and the hard steel slams shut behind me. I take one more step and halt with the realization that the smell of blood and death has followed me.

 I look down and lift my hands to find the stains on my skin, gasping with the realization that I’m holding a long, silver letter opener stained with the same shades of red. Memories illuminate the darkness that is my shock. Oh my God. I can’t run away from the killer.

 I am the killer.

 I drop the weapon—and it is a weapon—and a scream rips from my lungs, permeating the air as death had done—then I crumple to the ground and collapse.


Releasing today, You Look Beautiful is available in print, digital and audio.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

Sadie Montogmery has had good breaks and bad breaks in her life, but as a struggling artist, all she needs is one lucky break. Things seem to be going her way when she lands one of the coveted finalist spots in a portrait competition. It happens to coincide with a surgery she needs to have. Minor, they say. Less than a week in the hospital they say. Nothing about you will change, they say. Upon recovery, it begins to dawn on Sadie that she can see everything around her, but she can no longer see faces.

Temporary, they say. Lots of people deal with this, they say. As she struggles to cope—and hang onto her artistic dreams—she finds solace in her fourteen-year-old dog, Peanut. Thankfully, she can still see animal faces. When Peanut gets sick, she rushes him to the emergency vet nearby. That’s when she meets veterinarian Dr. Addison. And she’s pleasantly surprised when he asks her on a date. But she doesn't want anyone to know about her face blindness. Least of all Joe, her obnoxious neighbor who always wears a bowling jacket and seems to know everyone in the building. He’s always there at the most embarrassing but convenient times, and soon, they develop a sort of friendship. But could it be something more?

As Sadie tries to save her career, confront her haunting past, and handle falling in love with two different guys she realizes that happiness can be found in the places—and people— you least expect.

Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Expected publication July 11, 2023
by St. Martin's Press

Audiobook, 10 hours, 15 minutes
by Macmillan Audio
4/5 stars

I  discovered Katherine Center's books after reading The Bodyguard last year. Since then, I've been slowly working my way through her back-list. However, Hello Stranger, which is set to release on July 11, 2023, isn't on that list. Luckily, I was able to obtain an advanced audiobook copy, and boy was it a treat!

The story follows Sadie, who's in desperate need of a break. But just when she thinks she's getting one, something unexpected happens that sends her life on a completely different path. I found the book to be both fun and educational, as I even had to Google "acute prosopagnosia" (face perception blindness) to fully understand what was going on (unlike Sadie).

Hello Stranger is a touching story about a woman still dealing with her mother's passing and her new step-family, giving off some serious Cinderella vibes. While the middle of the book was a bit slow, the last quarter was enjoyable as everything came together. I  loved the ending, it surprised me in ways I didn't anticipate. It's always a joy when an author can keep me on my toes.

Overall, Hello Stranger is a well-written and entertaining story about family, grief, and trusting oneself. I highly recommend both the author and the book.

My thanks to St. Martins Press for the digital arc and Macmillan Audio for the audio arc in exchange for an honest review, all via Netgalley.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill

One of the most famous true stories from the last war, The GREAT ESCAPE tells how more than six hundred men in a German prisoner-of-war camp worked together to achieve an extraordinary break-out. Every night for a year they dug tunnels, and those who weren't digging forged passports, drew maps, faked weapons and tailored German uniforms and civilian clothes to wear once they had escaped. All of this was conducted under the very noses of their prison guards. When the right night came, the actual escape itself was timed to the split second - but of course, not everything went according to plan...

 Audible Audio
7 hours, 36 minutes
Published June 19, 2009 
by Blackstone Audio, Inc.
5/5 stars

Over the years, I have watched bits and pieces of this movie, The Great Escape, since it is one of my husband's favorites. It has an all star cast, some good musical vibes, and tells the story of some brave POWs in World War II. There were some crazy scenarios played out as these prisoners tunnelled 30 feet deep and over 200 feet to escape. There were other things that took place - obtaining authentic passes and identification cards, travel vouchers and even clothing and accessories to make these men blend into society. It’s an entertaining movie, but unbeknown to me this is based on a true story.

Written in 1950 by one of the prisoners, Paul Brickhill, an Australian pilot, he told the story of what actually happened. And it is pretty darn close to the movie which makes this story all the more compelling.

We listen to this audiobook on a recent road trip, though the audiobook comes in at 7 1/2 hours, the time flew by.  Paul Rickman was methodical in his attention to detail, how this group were able to make such a large tunnel so deep in the ground, how the forgeries took place and all the things that I mentioned above.

The Great Escape, well entertaining is a story of courage and resilience, but also sad and heartbreaking. Brickhill researched the last part meticulously to find out what exactly happened to those that got out.  Definitely an audio I recommend.

I obtained the audiobook through Audible, it was a free read with my account.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Crow Mary by Kathleen Grissom

The New York Times bestselling author of the “touching” ( The Boston Globe ) book club classics The Kitchen House and the “emotionally rewarding” ( Booklist ) Glory Over Everything returns with a sweeping saga inspired by the true story of Crow Mary—an indigenous woman torn between two worlds in 19th-century North America.

In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.

The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.

From an author with a “stirring and uplifting” (David R. Gillham, New York Times bestselling author) voice, Crow Mary sweeps across decades and the landscape of the upper West and Canada, showcasing the beauty of the natural world, while at the same time probing the intimacies of a marriage and one woman’s heart.

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication June 6, 2023 
by Atria Books
4.5/5 stars

I love HF when it’s based on real people from the past. Such is the case with this book.

It's 1872 when  16 year old, Goes First marries Abe Farwell. One is a Crow Native woman, and the other a white fur trader. What follows is Mary‘s journey (her name was changed) to Saskatchewan. Its at their trading post where everything changes. Told from her point of you, she tells what her life is like, from her strong friendship with a Métis woman, to her marriage, and of obstacles and tragedies she faces along the way. Yes I did Google Crow Mary and love how the author stayed true to history.

Crow Mary is a sad piece of Canadian history along with the repercussions that follows Mary and Abe. It’s a past that doesn’t let go many, many snows later. What’s happens to the Crow people is sad, I felt many emotions reading the last half of this book.

The author notes tells how the author has been researching Crow Mary’s story since 2000, it definitely shows in her writing. So glad I read this, it’s a story that will stay with me.

Crow Mary hits bookshelves on June 6th.

My thanks to Atria Books (via NetGalley) for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Happy Place by Emily Henry

Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up six months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing the largest bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blue week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week… in front of those who know you best?

A couple who broke up months ago make a pact to pretend to still be together for their annual weeklong vacation with their best friends in this glittering and wise new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Henry.

Hardcover, 385 pages
Published April 25, 2023
 by Berkley
2.5/5 stars

This was one of my highly anticipated books of 2023. While I have not read all of Emily Henry’s previous works I did love her last one Book Lovers.

As with her other books, I was expecting a rom/com and sadly that is not what I got.  I loved the setting, the blurb and the friendships but, not wanting to sound too harsh, instead this felt like a bunch of 30 year olds acting like teenagers. With a good chitchat everything would have been out in the open. This trope isn’t always a favourite of mine but when done well it does work. For me it was the repetitiveness and characters I couldn’t feel any empathy for. I wanted some fun bantering and laugh out loud scenes,  it just didn’t happen.

This book was less about the rom and com and more about insecurity, family dynamics and even unfulfilled expectations. The last part did pick up (and even highlighted some valid points) but by that point I finished off with the audiobook (perfect timing for my CloudLibrary hold to become available).

But please take my feelings with a grain of salt, the vast majority loved this read. Even though I didn’t I will read Emily Henry again - People We Meet on Vacation soonish.

This book was part of my 2023 reviewing off my shelf challenge and is book number 39

Sunday, May 21, 2023

I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it.

He's spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He's obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn't want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he's written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don't demand or expect the empathy he's unable to offer. Perhaps that's what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there's something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat---and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can't control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

Dan Wells' debut novel is the first volume of a trilogy that will keep you awake and then haunt your dreams.

Paperback, 271 pages
Published March 30, 2010 
by Tor Books
3/5 stars

This is Dan Wells debut, I grabbed this book after doing a Masterclass with him at SIWC.

John Wayne Cleaver is only a teenager, but he is obsessed with serial killers, to the point where he thinks if he does not control himself he will be one also. He is smart, clever, and a thinker. He lives upstairs over a mortuary that is owned by his family. When a serial killer shows up in town he is more than obsessed with what is going on.

I Am Not a Serial Killer was well written, atmospheric and the author was spot on in his characterisation of John. The story itself was gripping, that is until a certain point where the big twist came. Those that are familiar with Dan Wells might already know what that twister is and for me, it took me completely by surprise.  I actually had to set the book down for a bit to wrap my head around whether I even wanted to continue reading. I did end up continuing the last half in audiobook format.  While I didn't like this twist I was genuinely curious as to how everything would play out.

In the end it was an ok read with a fitting conclusion.

This is the first book in a trilogy, John Cleaver Series. Will I continue? I’m not sure, time will tell.

This book was part of my 2023 reading off my shelf challenge and is book number 37.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Reunion by Lauraine Snelling

Keira Johnston, a 50-year-old mother of two grown sons, believes she lives a good Christian life without secrets--until she discovers a life-jarring fact her late mother kept hidden all her life. Kiera was born out of wedlock, and the man she had always known as her father had adopted her as an infant.

Meanwhile, Keira's beloved 17-year-old niece, Kirsten, has just discovered an unwanted pregnancy. Her boyfriend, Jose, is bound for college and Kirsten does not know what to do. As the family comes together for a reunion, Keira and Kirsten struggle with their fractured pasts and jumbled present. Will truth and honesty be the catalysts that allow the entire family to find peace?

Inspired by events in Lauraine Snelling's own life, REUNION is the author's finest novel to date.

Paperback, 322 pages
Published July 17, 2012
 by FaithWords

Audiobook, 9 hours, 39 minutes
Hachette Audio
3/5 stars

Reunion is the story of the Sorenson’s. A family planning a reunion after the death of the patriarch. As daughter Keira and her sister in law, Leah, clean up and prepare secrets are uncovered that sends Keira’s orderly life turned upside down.

But for Leah her family is sent reeling with the news of an unexpected pregnancy.

I’m conflicted in my feelings. While I appreciated the faith these families had I also questioned their actions and thoughts. Some just seemed out of place for this pastor and his wife. The unwed daughter was who I connected with, her struggle was real and handled authentically.

I listened to the audiobook and wasn’t a fan of the reader, her voice wasn't sympathetic and didn’t evoke any real emotions. The book was repetitive with lots of woe is me vibes and a tad too long. All in all an ok read, maybe one I would have dnf if it wasn’t a book club pick.

I appreciated the author notes at the end along with her thoughts and real life experience.

My copy was obtained through my public library.