Sunday, November 28, 2021

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Paperback, 276 pages
Published October 19, 2021 by
Harper Muse
5/5 stars

Sometimes fairy stories may say best what's to be said.
C. S. Lewis

Once Upon a Wardrobe is a beautifully written story that is perfect for this time of the year.  It's magical, meaningful and so captivating.  I'm a hard nut to crack when it comes to shedding a tear or two from a book but this one did it for me.

I'm so glad that I followed my gut instinct when it came to pre ordering this one - though now I regret not grabbing the hardcover vs paperback.  I went into this book blind, other than knowing it was about a wardrobe and Narnia.  I got way more than I expected, the writing flowed smoothly at a great pace.  The characters were real and I loved it.  I can definitely see myself reading this one again.

If you only read one Christmas book a year make it this one but truly you can read it anytime of the year.

This book was part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.


From the bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis comes another beautiful story inspired by C. S. Lewis’s ability to change the world and captivate hearts—including those of a terminally ill boy and his logic-driven sister.

Megs Devonshire is brilliant with numbers and equations, on a scholarship at Oxford with dreams of solving the greatest mysteries of physics.

But equations haven’t been able to solve her biggest problem: her brother George, whom she adores, has a failing heart. It has been failing for all eight years of his life. When George is given a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and begs her to find out where Narnia came from, there’s no way she can refuse.

And so Megs moves completely out of her comfort zone, imploring the author and famous tutor of English Literature to give her the answers her brother so desires. What she receives instead is more stories . . . stories of Jack Lewis’s life, which she takes home to George.

Meg keeps trying to impose her trusty logic on the stories, but she slowly comes to realize that lists never answer the biggest questions. The gift she thought she was giving George turns out to be the one he was giving her: hope.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

Stephen Aston is getting married again. The only problem is, he's still married to his first wife, even though she is in a care facility for dementia. But he'll take care of that easily, by divorcing her--even if his adult daughters protest.

Tully and Rachel Aston look upon Heather as nothing but an interloper. Heather is the same age as Rachel and even younger than Tully. Clearly she's a golddigger and after their father's money. Heather has secrets that she's keeping close, and reasons of her own for wanting to marry Stephen.

With their mother unable to speak for herself, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the truth about their family's secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is. But will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous all of them?

Kindle Edition, 352 pages 
First published October 26, 2021
by St. Martin's Press
3/5 stars

I have been a die hard Sally Hepworth fan since her first book, The Secret of Midwives was first released.  

Hepworth knows how to grab this reader's attention.  That opening chapter had me itching to read more and unravel what was going on.  With alternating POV it shows a family with lots of secrets.  Though I couldn't really connect with these women I did get to know them.  There were twists and turns, numerous times I thought I knew what was going on only to be foiled again.

I wouldn't call this a thrilled but rather a domestic drama.  Women with issues and to be honest I get the root of these issues for 2 of them but not the other - maybe I missed something important but I don't think so.

The Younger Wife is a story of relationships, tons of gaslighting and over coming.   I don't expect my books to have a happy ending all the time but I do like a solid conclusion that leaves me feeling satisfied and unfortunately this one didn't.  In fact I would have giving this book 4 stars and maybe even more but I feel cheated and let down (for so many reasons that I can't go into).

Australian author Sally Hepworth will continue to be a go to author for me.  I did love the acknowledgements and the seeds that planted this book.

My thanks to St. Martin's Press (via Netgalley) for an advanced digital copy in exchange for a honest review.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Love at First Spite by Anna E. Collins

Falling in love is the ultimate payback in this delightful romcom about an interior designer who teams up with a mysterious architect at her firm to get revenge on her ex the only way she knows how: by building a spite house next door

They say living well is the best revenge. But sometimes, spreading the misery seems a whole lot more satisfying. That’s interior designer Dani Porter’s justification for buying the vacant lot next to her ex-fiancĂ©’s house…the house they were supposed to live in together, before he cheated on her with their Realtor. Dani plans to build a vacation rental that will a) mess with his view and his peace of mind and b) prove that Dani is not someone to be stepped on. Welcome to project Spite House.

That plan quickly becomes complicated when Dani is forced to team up with Wyatt Montego, the handsome, haughty architect at her firm, and the only person available to draw up blueprints. Wyatt is terse and stern, the kind of man who eats his sandwich with a knife and fork. But as they spend time together on- and off-site, Dani glimpses something deeper beneath that hard veneer, something surprising, vulnerable, and real. And the closer she gets to her goal, the more she wonders if winning revenge could mean losing something infinitely sweeter…

Kindle, 320 pages
Expected publication January 4, 2022
 by Graydon House
3/5 stars

I love a good rom/com! Take the com away leaving a romance novel just isn't my thing.  I love a funny story with some quirky characters, a plot that branches off making the story authentic and an ending that is believable.

Love at First Spite started off great, paint balling in a wedding dress was a great setting and had me anticipating some laughs.  Can you feel the 'but' coming? Yup here it is.

But, I was glad for a quick read.  I loved Mia and Iris along with a couple large dogs but I couldn't connect with Dani.  For someone so smart her level of spite just didn't match, it came off as immature and rather expensive.  After a while the story just flattened out and kinda lacked the com in rom/com.

That being said, I did like the ending (somewhat) in the sense it wasn't what I expected. This would appeal to those that like a good quick beach read.

My thanks to Graydon House (via Netgalley) for this digital ARC in exchange for a honest review. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Secret Life of Shirley Sullivan by Lisa Ireland

'Elderly. Is that how the world sees me? A helpless little old lady? If only they knew. I allow myself a small smirk.'

When Shirley Sullivan signs her 83-year-old husband, Frank, out of the Sunset Lodge Nursing Home, she has no intention of bringing him back.

For fifty-seven years the couple has shared love, happiness and heartbreak. And while Frank may not know who his wife is these days, he knows he wants to go home. Back to the beach where they met in the early 1960s . . .

So Shirley enacts an elaborate plan to evade the authorities – and their furious daughter, Fiona – to give Frank the holiday he’d always dreamed of.

And, in doing so, perhaps Shirley can make amends for a lifelong guilty secret . . . 

Paperback, 336 pages
Published April 28th 2020 
by Penguin Random House Australia
3/5 stars

This is my first time reading Lisa Ireland, she came highly recommended in my quest to discover Australian authors that we don't see much of in Canada.

This is a dual time period story where eventually the 2 storylines mesh.  The younger Shirley pales in comparison to the older version.  Her journey of self discovery, in the 1960/70s I might add, was also a journey for myself as I watched the era play out. It's a time period I grew up in and could appreciate what was going on.  Feminism was becoming a thing in Australia as it was in North America.  Women wanted a voice and began to stand up for their rights.

The older Shirley was confident, protective of Frank.  While their adventure was interesting over time it was a bit repetitive and honestly I struggled to pick the book up at times.  But that being said I genuinely wanted to know the ending.

Another struggle I had was the fact I couldn't picture the younger/growing up Shirley with the older Shirley. The older one is gutsy, for her age she tackled electronics and educated herself while stepping away from her comfort zone, determination will do that.  But I just couldn't see the 2 being the same person.

So the ending...I wish I could say more but suffice to say I wasn't a huge fan of it.  You can pop on over to Goodreads for more insight but it will be hidden behind that spoiler button.  It would make for a great book club discussion.

All in all an okay read with some funny and heartbreaking scenes.

This book was part of my 21 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

Eagerly anticipated by her legions of fans, this sixth novel in Diana Gabaldon's bestselling Outlander saga is a masterpiece of historical fiction from one of the most popular authors of our time.

Since the initial publication of Outlander fifteen years ago, Diana Gabaldon's New York Times–bestselling saga has won the hearts of readers the world over -- and sold more than twelve million books. Now, A Breath of Snow and Ashes continues the extraordinary story of 18th-century Scotsman Jamie Fraser and his 20th-century wife, Claire.

The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest.

With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the backcountry and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence -- with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie's death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future.

Mass Market Paperback, 1410 pages 
Audiobook, 57 hours, 48 minutes
Published September 7, 2006  
by Arrow
4.5/5 stars

I put off reading this book because of memories to do with book 5 in this popular series. It wasn't a favorite and I struggled just to finish.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes had what I loved in books 1 and 3 (both were awesome). Given the size there were many subplots that kept me reading - actually listening since I went that route.  I enjoyed the action and mayhem, the mystery and suspense.  There was closure and new beginnings.

All in all a great listen with lots to look forward to in An Echo in the Bone.

Will I  start right away? probably not, maybe the new year.

This book was part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge

Friday, November 12, 2021

You Have a Match by Emma Lord



When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie. . .although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents - especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby's growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.

Audiobook, 9 hours
Published January 12, 2021 
by Macmillan Audio
4/5 stars

This was a fun audio book.  A YA summer read which I listened to earlier in the year.  It had the makings of the perfect beach read - friends, summer camp and family drama.

It was mysterious in how the sisters were separated.  Family drama which goes back to the previous comment.  Friends with secrets, a famous influencer after the best picture (and smoothie) whether it be to catch the sunrise or perfect beach shot.  Along with the antics of summer camp - hiking, getting lost and much more.

The characters were typical teenagers doing typical teenager things. The story was unveiled step by step to a nice ending.

Like I said a fun read that I'm sure works as well in formats other than an audiobook.

My copy was obtained via Overdrive through my local public library.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the esteemed Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest.

He says his wife couldn't be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while.

Teddy really can’t be bothered with the death of a school parent that’s looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is on pushing these kids to their full academic potential.

All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way.

It's really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

USA Today bestselling author Samantha Downing is back with her latest sneaky thriller set at a prestigious private school—complete with interfering parents, overeager students, and one teacher who just wants to teach them all a lesson…

 Hardcover, 373 pages
Published July 20, 2021
 by Berkley
4/5 stars

Samantha Downing had me at He Started It - what a ride that was.  Needless to say I was anxious to read this her latest.  I'm a little behind with my reviews, I read this one shortly after release.

For me this was an audio read.  Told from a number of POV it kept me on my toes.  Unexpected things happened, ones that took me by surprise and left me pondering what truly was going on.  There is a wide cast of characters  but were each unique (flawed) so not hard to keep track of.

The setting is a private school meaning entitlement and superior attitudes.  The short chapters made this a fast paced story but honestly I had to keep reading just to find out what the heck was going on. I won't say what happens but suffice to say that even the characters were caught off guard.  Lots of twists and turns keep me guessing right up till a satisfying end.

Thanks Samantha Downing for an another awesome read, I can't wait to dive in My Lovely Wife.

This audiobook was obtained via Overdrive through my local public library.

Monday, November 8, 2021

T he Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue, returns with a tantalizing novel about the secrets, betrayal, and murder within one of New York City’s most impressive Gilded Age mansions.

Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.

Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family.

 Kindle Edition, 368 pages,
Expected publication January 25, 2022  
by Dutton (Penguin Group)
4/5 stars

Fiona Davis is an author I have managed to have (almost) kept current with.  Her debut The Address is my favourite.  She has a knack for blending history with fiction nicely,  writing an intriguing story.

What I enjoyed about The Magnolia Palace is learning about the Frick family, yes they are real.  I will confess to googling the family, the art collection and seeing the mansion.  My desire to visit New York City again and visit  Frick Collection is piqued.

Now as to the book, it was a lovely read.  There was mystery, determination and family drama. The characters are real, flawed and each one unique.  While the past time period plays centre stage the current day (well 1966) wrapped up the story nicely.

The author notes at the end were that finishing touch I enjoy.  What's fact vs fiction, the motivation for this book as well as the authors thoughts are what this reader likes at the conclusion. 

My thanks to Dutton Books (via Netgalley) for this digital arc in exchange for an honest review.  Look for The Magnolia Palace January 25th, 2022 - it is available for preorder now.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

My Darling Husband by Kimberly Belle

Bestselling author of DEAR WIFE and THE MARRIAGE LIE, Kimberly Belle returns with her most heart-pounding thriler to date, as a masked home invader reveals the cracks in a marriage.

Everyone is about to know what her husband isn’t telling her…

Jade and Cam Lasky are by all accounts a happily married couple with two adorable kids, a spacious home and a rapidly growing restaurant business. But their world is tipped upside down when Jade is confronted by a masked home invader. As Cam scrambles to gather the ransom money, Jade starts to wonder if they’re as financially secure as their lifestyle suggests, and what other secrets her husband is keeping from her.

Cam may be a good father, a celebrity chef and a darling husband, but there’s another side he’s kept hidden from Jade that has put their family in danger. Unbeknownst to Cam and Jade, the home invader has been watching them and is about to turn their family secrets into a public scandal.

With riveting twists and a breakneck pace, My Darling Husband is an utterly compelling thriller that once again showcases Kimberly Belle's exceptional talent for domestic suspense.

Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Expected publication December 28, 2021
by Park Row
3.5/5 stars

Kimberly Belle's new book releases Dec 28th.  Again she has delivered a domestic rollercoaster ride of a story.

Taking place over a matter of hours most of the story takes place inside the home of Jade and Cam.  Told from both POV was necessary to get the full story.

My Darling Husband is fast paced in the sense of timing, I however found it dragged a little just because I struggled to connect  with the story.  Knowing some of the background didn't really endear me to Cam nor Jade which in turn, of course did not help.  The story itself was interesting enough but suffice to say this isn't one of my favourite Bell books.  I appreciated the ending but I didn't feel the suspense that was promised.

That being said with all the 4/5 star reviews out there it could just be me.  You judge.  My favourite Kimberly Belle books are The Ones We Trust, The Marriage Lie and Three Days Missing (read that one in a day).

My thanks to Harlequin (via Netgalley) for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Creep by Jennifer Hillier

Pulsing with the dark obsession of Radiohead’s song “Creep,” this taut thriller—Jennifer Hillier’s superb debut—rockets from its seductive opening to a heartpounding climax not easily forgotten.

If he can’t have her . . .

Dr. Sheila Tao is a professor of psychology. An expert in human behavior. And when she began an affair with sexy, charming graduate student Ethan Wolfe, she knew she was playing with fire. Consumed by lust when they were together, riddled with guilt when they weren’t, she knows the three-month fling with her teaching assistant has to end. After all, she’s finally engaged to a kind and loving investment banker who adores her, and she’s taking control of her life. But when she attempts to end the affair, Ethan Wolfe won’t let her walk away.

. . . no one else can.

Ethan has plans for Sheila, plans that involve posting a sex video that would surely get her fired and destroy her prestigious career. Plans to make her pay for rejecting him. And as she attempts to counter his every threatening move without her colleagues or her fiancĂ© discovering her most intimate secrets, a shattering crime rocks Puget Sound State University: a female student, a star athlete, is found stabbed to death. Someone is raising the stakes of violence, sex, and blackmail . . . and before she knows it, Sheila is caught in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with the lover she couldn’t resist—who is now the monster who won’t let her go.

 Kindle Edition, 432 pages
First published July 5, 2011 
by Gallery Books
4/5 stars 

If Jennifer Hillier wasn't already in my auto read list, Creep clinched it.  This was her debut?

Contrary to what the title feels like this book was not as creepy as anticipated.  It wasn't until closer to the end when I learned how it originated.  But rather Creep is a suspense mystery that kept me on my toes.

Coming in at 432 pages it isn't a small book but action packed with the depth of character and twists that made the pages fly by.  Creep messes with the mind as Sheila tries to control a situation her lust got her into.  Beware who you get involved with, could turn around and bite you...well you know where.

Creep is a well written story with a complicated plot and many layers. The characters are unreliable rounding out this book nicely. Definitely an author and book I recommend.

Creep is part of my Kindle library, originally purchased as a Kindle deal.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough is a low-income, culturally diverse neighborhood east of Toronto, the fourth largest city in North America; like many inner city communities, it suffers under the weight of poverty, drugs, crime, and urban blight. Scarborough the novel employs a multitude of voices to tell the story of a tight-knit neighborhood under fire: among them, Victor, a black artist harassed by the police; Winsum, a West Indian restaurant owner struggling to keep it together; and Hina, a Muslim school worker who witnesses first-hand the impact of poverty on education.

And then there are the three kids who work to rise above a system that consistently fails them: Bing, a gay Filipino boy who lives under the shadow of his father's mental illness; Sylvie, Bing's best friend, a Native girl whose family struggles to find a permanent home to live in; and Laura, whose history of neglect by her mother is destined to repeat itself with her father.

Scarborough offers a raw yet empathetic glimpse into a troubled community that locates its dignity in unexpected places: a neighborhood that refuses to be undone.

Catherine Hernandez is a queer theatre practitioner and writer who has lived in Scarborough off and on for most of her life. Her plays Singkil and Kilt Pins were published by Playwrights Canada Press, and her children's book M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book was published by Flamingo Rampant. She is the Artistic Director of Sulong Theatre for women of color.

Kindle, 272 pages
Published May 22nd 2017
by Arsenal Pulp Press
2.5/5 stars

Scarborough was another read from our Family Blessings Book Club.  Picked by son #1, for various reasons, one being the close proximity from Toronto and some kind of connection through his MFA program.

Four of us read this and 3 kinda felt the same way I did.  That this was a hard book to read, it was a hard on a number of different levels.

1.  If I lived in Scarborough I would be offended that my hometown was portrayed in this manner.  Yes I get there are bad sections to every city but this comes across like the whole city is a mess.

2.  There were too many characters, just when I got them all straight the author throws in some more.  At first I attributed my confusion to my age but alas the younger crowd felt the same way - one even made up a spread sheet.

3. There were a number of POV which kinda reflects my previous point. Also I found some didn't really add to the story other than to portray the despair of the area. Some scenes repeated as told from a different POV.

I struggled to figure out what genre this book fits into.  Not literary or genre fiction other than maybe book club fiction (is that a thing?) because it would make for a lot of  discussions.

I am all for trying new avenues to read and I can't fault the author when I read outside my usual area.  But with this book I struggled to find the purpose of the story.  The ending left me frustrated and sad. 

Scarborough is a story with multiple stories lines, its raw and descriptive . As I understand there is a film in the making, I am curious to see how that turns out.

My copy was obtained through Scribd.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.

To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last chance. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife, Heather, who now oversee day-to-day management of the grapes. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a talented young winemaker and her first love.

At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousin clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of World War II and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation.

As she learns more about her family, the line between resistance and collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?

 Paperback, 384 pages
Published June 19, 2018 
by William Morrow
4.5/5 stars

This book has been on my radar ever since theBakingBookworm gave it 5 stars (when that happens I take notice).

The Lost Vintage is a dual time period story with the past story through a series of diary entries - which I always enjoy.

Current day it's 2015 as Kate travels to visit her cousin in Vichy, France.  Secrets of the past begin to surface as she helps clear out a long neglected basement. I love this idea and always wish I could discover treasures hidden away.

In 1942 family history plays out with resistance groups, family drama and betrayal.

Ann Mah is a new to me author, I enjoyed her writing style, she drew me in right away with characters I cared about.  Also with a plot that was well written and captivating, the story contained wined, friendship, family resistance and past hurts. All the makings of a great book.

I was able to grab the audio book and did a combo read and listen.  I highly recommend both formats. The audio book is just under 12 hours with Saskia Maarleveld doing the reading - she is a favourite and has read a number of great books.

This book was part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.