Friday, March 31, 2023

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore

An incredibly thoughtful, disarmingly funny, and intensely vulnerable glimpse into the life and ministry of a woman familiar to many but known by few.

“It’s a peculiar thing, this having lived long enough to take a good look back. We go from knowing each other better than we know ourselves to barely sure if we know each other at all, to precisely sure that we don’t. All my knotted-up life I’ve longed for the sanity and simplicity of knowing who’s good and who’s bad. I’ve wanted to know this about myself as much as anyone. This was not theological. It was strictly relational. God could do what he wanted with eternity. I was just trying to make it here in the meantime. As benevolent as he has been in a myriad of ways, God has remained aloof on this uncomplicated request .” – Beth Moore

New York Times best-selling author, speaker, visionary, and founder of Living Proof Ministries Beth Moore has devoted her whole life to helping women across the globe come to know the transforming power of Jesus. An established writer of many acclaimed books and Bible studies for women on spiritual growth and personal development, Beth now unveils her own story in a much-anticipated debut memoir.

All My Knotted-Up Life is told with surprising candor about some of the personal heartbreaks and behind-the-scenes challenges that have marked Beth’s life. But beyond that, it’s a beautifully crafted portrait of resilience and survival, a poignant reminder of God’s enduring faithfulness, and proof positive that if we ever truly took the time to hear people’s full stories . . . we’d all walk around slack-jawed.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 21, 2023 
by Tyndale House Publishers

Audiobook, 8 hours, 20 minutes
Narrator: Beth Moore
Published by One Audiobooks
4/5 stars

Although I'm not typically a fan of memoirs, Beth Moore's latest book caught my attention. I opted for a hybrid read (audio and book), she narrated it herself with her charming southern twang, making for an entertaining listen. Also the book is great for the pictures.

As a gifted Bible study leader, Moore shares her story with a perfect blend of humour, tears, and heartache. She bravely opens up about her past, including the hurts she experienced during her early years and the lasting impact they had on her life.  Moore's love for Jesus shines through in her teachings and her way of life. It's heartbreaking to read about the abuse she suffered at the hands of those who claimed to be Christians, but her courage in speaking out about it is admirable.  I appreciated her honesty as she shared about her marriage, struggles with the southern Baptist community, and her need for rest.

While I found the book to be an entertaining read, I was left wanting more. Specifically, I wanted to know more about what drove her spiritual life, including the biblical references that influenced her decisions. For example, when she was 18 years old and attending church, she knew she would dedicate her life to Jesus. I would have loved to know what was preached during that service and why it had such a profound impact on her.  She has gone through difficulty in her life, I know what sustained me through hard times and would have loved to know what scriptures sustained her.

Overall, this book offers an open and honest look at Moore's life. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a compelling memoir.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge #22.  The audio was obtained through my local library via Hoopla.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them...right?

Paperback, 309 pages
Published September 4, 2018
 by Gallery Books
Audiobook, 7 hours, 16 minutes
by Simon & Schuster Audio
4/5 stars

This was an impulse audio read.  I can't really say that the writing duo named Christina Lauren is a new to me author.  I've read a couple books last year that I loved.  So for 2023 my goal is to read her backlist.

Josh and Haley is the story of reunited friends (with a past from high school days).After Josh's breakup this pair sets out to create blind dates for each other, but these blind dates are also double dates.  What follows was a laugh out loud read - yes I did almost spit wine on my puzzle a couple times.

Would I have enjoyed it as much if I had read the book?  I can't really say. Nevertheless the plot was fun, the characters well developed, personalities authentic making an entertaining story.

That being said there were a few things that niggled at me.  Josh & Hazel haven't seen each other in over a decade and within moments are the best of friends -bester than their teen years. Plus the epilogue felt a bit over the top IMHO.

But other than that this was an entertaining audio read where I followed along with my print copy.

Audiobook was obtained through CloudLibrary with the print copy being a recent thrift shop rescue.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Wonderland by Jennifer Hillier

"Welcome to Wonderland." 

By day, it's a magical place boasting a certain retro charm. Excited children, hands sticky with cotton candy, run frenetically from the Giant Octopus ride to the Spinning Sombrero, while the tinkling carnival music of the giant Wonder Wheel--the oldest Ferris wheel in the Pacific Northwest--fills the air. But before daybreak, an eerie feeling descends. 

Maybe it's the Clown Museum, home to creepy wax replicas of movie stars and a massive collection of antique porcelain dolls. Or maybe it's the terrifyingly real House of Horrors. Or...maybe it's the dead, decaying body left in the midway for all the Wonder Workers to see.

Vanessa Castro's first day as deputy police chief of Seaside, Washington, is off to a bang. The unidentifiable homeless man rotting inside the tiny town's main tourist attraction is strange enough, but now a teenage employee--whose defiant picture at the top of the Wonder Wheel went viral that same morning--is missing. 

As the clues in those seemingly disparate crimes lead her down a mysterious shared path of missing persons that goes back decades, she suspects the seedy rumors surrounding the amusement park's dark history might just be true. She moved to Seaside to escape her own scandalous past, but has she brought her family to the center of an insidious killer's twisted game?

 Acclaimed author Jennifer Hillier's bone-chilling thriller is masterful and fast-paced, hurtling toward a shocking, bloody conclusion.

Paperback, 419 pages
First published October 5, 2015
by Gallery Books

Audiobook, 11 hours 35 minutes
Narrator: Eunice Wong
by Macmillian Audio
4.5/5 stars

Do not be intimidated by the cover of this book. Although it gives off Stephen King vibes, it is not a horror story. Instead, it is a captivating thriller that takes place in an amusement park.

Jennifer Hillier's Wonderland was first published in 2015 (it is also her debut), but a new paperback version and audiobook will be released next month. I've had the physical copy on my shelf for some time, but I jumped at the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, narrated by Eunice Wong. The audiobook is just shy of 12 hours, and Wong did an excellent job as the narrator.

The story is told from multiple points of view.  One being Vanessa Castro the new deputy chief of police in the small town of Seaside in Washington State. The book starts off quickly with the discovery of a body in Wonderland, the local amusement park. Vanessa moved to the town for a fresh start, but she quickly finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation that progresses to much more.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the setting.  It was atmospheric with the amusement park and its dark history. The mystery deepens as Vanessa uncovers leads and makes gruesome discoveries. The book features a large cast of characters, ranging from friendly to unreliable. At times, I wished I had kept notes to keep track of who was who.

Wonderland is a story of murder, secrets, and a parent's worst nightmare. It was fast paced and suspenseful. A well-written debut and highly entertaining.

I highly recommend the audiobook, as it allows you to multitask while enjoying the story.

My thanks to McMillan Audio and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

A delight for readers of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, this blockbuster debut set in 1960s California features the singular voice of Elizabeth Zott, a scientist whose career takes a detour when she becomes the star of a beloved TV cooking show.

Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it's the 1960s and despite the fact that she is a scientist, her peers are very unscientific when it comes to equality. The only good thing to happen to her on the road to professional fulfillment is a run-in with her super-star colleague Calvin Evans (well, she stole his beakers). The only man who ever treated her--and her ideas--as equal, Calvin is already a legend and Nobel nominee. He's also awkward, kind and tenacious. Theirs is true chemistry.

But as events are never as predictable as chemical reactions, three years later Elizabeth Zott is an unwed, single mother (did we mention it's the early 60s?) and the star of America's most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth's singular approach to cooking (take one pint of H2O and add a pinch of sodium chloride) and independent example are proving revolutionary. Because Elizabeth isn't just teaching women how to cook, she's teaching them how to change the status quo.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters (including the best canine character in years), Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

Paperback, 390 pages
Audiobook, 11 hours, 55 minutes
Published March 29, 2022
 by Doubleday Canada
4/5 stars

Elizabeth Zott is a single mother in the 1960s, she defies all stereotypes for women of her time. She is intelligent but socially awkward, with a unique personality that is both entertaining and endearing. Her loyal companion, a dog named Six-Thirty, adds to her charm. 

This was a hybrid read, combining both the book and audiobook formats. While I enjoyed the audiobook, I believe that reading the book in its entirety would have resulted in a lower rating.  The three readers did an exceptional job bringing the characters to life with their distinct voices, making the humour more enjoyable.

Lessons is a story about a woman ahead of her time. Despite her lack of social skills, Elizabeth's antics make her a likeable character.  Her daughter, Mad and Six-Thirty are also delightful additions to the story.  The plot was both entertaining while tackling some serious socials issues with a touch of humour.

This is the author's debut, looking forward to what comes up next.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge - #21

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Her Deadly Game by Robert Dugoni

A defense attorney is prepared to play. But is she a pawn in a master’s deadly match? A twisting novel of suspense by New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni.

Keera Duggan was building a solid reputation as a Seattle prosecutor, until her romantic relationship with a senior colleague ended badly. For the competitive former chess prodigy, returning to her family’s failing criminal defense law firm to work for her father is the best shot she has. With the right moves, she hopes to restore the family’s reputation, her relationship with her father, and her career.

Keera’s chance to play in the big leagues comes when she’s retained by Vince LaRussa, an investment adviser accused of murdering his wealthy wife. There’s little hard evidence against him, but considering the couple’s impending and potentially nasty divorce, LaRussa faces life in prison. The prosecutor is equally challenging: Miller Ambrose, Keera’s former lover, who’s eager to destroy her in court on her first homicide defense.

As Keera and her team follow the evidence, they uncover a complicated and deadly game that’s more than Keera bargained for. When shocking information turns the case upside down, Keera must decide between her duty to her client, her family’s legacy, and her own future.

Kindle Edition, 396 pages 
Expected publication March 28, 2023  
by Thomas & Mercer
4.5/5 stars

I was excited to dive into the start of Robert Dugoni's newest series with Her Deadly Game

 The story follows Attorney Keera Duggan as she is hired to defend Victor LaRossa, who stands accused of brutally murdering his disabled wife. To make matters worse, the DA is a former lover of Keera's, adding a complicated layer to this trial. Pitted against each other made this a addicting and mysterious courtroom thriller.  The plot was intricately woven.

What I appreciated here was the authenticity of the legal system portrayed, it wasn't bogged down with endless details but enough to feel real. The story delved into family dynamics, addiction, past secrets, and mayhem, all while keeping the focus on the courtroom drama. It was a well-written and captivating read that kept me flipping through my Kindle pages. 

Her Deadly Game incorporated the chess board into it's pages, which was unique and fitting. 

My thanks to Thomas Mercer for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. Her Deadly Game is set to release on March 28th, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a thrilling legal drama.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

I Will Find You by Harlan Coben

An innocent father serving life for the murder of his own son receives evidence that his child may still be alive, and must break out of prison to find out the truth in #1 New York Times bestselling author Harlan Coben’s latest breathtaking thriller.

David and Cheryl Burroughs were living the dream life when tragedy struck. Now, five years after that terrible night, Cheryl is remarried. And David is serving a life sentence in a maximum-security prison for the brutal murder of their son.

Then Cheryl’s sister, Rachel, arrives unexpectedly during visiting hours and drops a bombshell. She’s come with a photograph that a friend took on vacation at a theme park with a boy in the background who has a familiar, distinctive birthmark … and even though David and Rachel realize it can’t be, they both just know. It's David’s son, Matthew, and he's still alive.

David plans a harrowing escape from prison, determined to do what seems impossible–save his son, clear his own name, and discover the real story of what happened that devastating night.

Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Expected publication: March 14, 2023
 by Grand Central Publishing
4/5 stars

Harlan Coben's highly anticipated new book is set to release next week, and it promised to be a gripping read. The story revolves around a parent's worst nightmare - the loss of a child. David, the father of three-year-old Matthew, is accused and convicted of his son's murder, and is now serving time in prison. Despite his claims of innocence, David accepts his punishment, because the way he sees it, he is at fault because he didn't protect Matthew.

"I Will Find You" is a heart-wrenching tale, especially when David is given a glimmer of hope that his son may still be alive. What follows is a thrilling game of cat and mouse as he evades law enforcement to unravel the mystery of that fateful night. With nice sized chapters it was easy to say, JustOneMoreChapter (pun intended), in fact I read this in a matter of days.  There were parts of the book I needed to see how the author was going to pull it off and he did (as usual). 

 A well written suspenseful story that would be a perfect fit for anyone who loves a good mystery.

My thanks to Grand Central Publishing for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Homecoming by Kate Morton

Adelaide Hills, Christmas Eve, 1959: At the end of a scorching hot day, beside a creek on the grounds of the grand and mysterious mansion, a local delivery man makes a terrible discovery. A police investigation is called and the small town of Tambilla becomes embroiled in one of the most shocking and perplexing murder cases in the history of South Australia.

Sixty years later, Jess is a journalist in search of a story. Having lived and worked in London for almost twenty years, she now finds herself laid off from her full-time job and struggling to make ends meet. A phone call out of nowhere summons her back to Sydney, where her beloved grandmother, Nora, who raised Jess when her mother could not, has suffered a fall and been raced to the hospital.

Nora has always been a vibrant and strong presence: decisive, encouraging, young despite her years. When Jess visits her in the hospital, she is alarmed to find her grandmother frail and confused. It’s even more alarming to hear from Nora's housekeeper that Nora had been distracted in the weeks before her accident and had fallen on the steps to the attic—the one place Jess was forbidden from playing in when she was small.

At loose ends in Nora's house, Jess does some digging of her own. In Nora's bedroom, she discovers a true crime book, chronicling the police investigation into a long-buried tragedy: the Turner Family Tragedy of Christmas Eve, 1959. It is only when Jess skims through the book that she finds a shocking connection between her own family and this once-infamous crime—a crime that has never been resolved satisfactorily. And for a journalist without a story, a cold case might be the best distraction she can find…

An epic novel that spans generations, Homecoming asks what we would do for those we love, and how we protect the lies we tell. It explores the power of motherhood, the corrosive effects of tightly held secrets, and the healing nature of truth. Above all, it is a beguiling and immensely satisfying novel from one of the finest writers working today.

Paperback, 560 pages
Expected publication April 11, 2023
by Simon & Schuster CA
4.5/5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed diving into Kate Martin's latest book, Homecoming. While I wasn't a huge fan of her previous work, The Clockmaker's Daughter, this highly anticipated release of 2023 did not disappoint. At 560 pages with smaller than normal font, this book is not for the faint of heart, but it is certainly worth the commitment.

Told from multiple points of view and through various time periods, Kate Morton has once again woven a complex story filled with mystery, likeable characters, and a secluded mansion. This was definitely a slow burn read, not just because of its size, but because Morton took the time to develop her characters and create an atmosphere that has me itching to visit Australia.

Homecoming is a story of loss, not just in the present day, but also in 1959 following the deaths of a young family. It is a story of the mystery surrounding not just what took place 60 years ago, but the repercussions that followed through the decades.  It is a multi-generational story that is detail-oriented, with Morton's trademark writing style that kept me captivated along with plenty of red herrings scattered throughout. Morton has a great knack for weaving memories within chapters flawlessly.

The only reason I am giving this book 4 1/2 stars is that it could have been a little bit shorter. However, the gorgeous cover and the print ARC from Simon & Schuster CA made up for it. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

In the snowbound city of Kiev, wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son—but Hitler’s invasion of Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper—a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.

Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC—until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.

Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 29, 2022
 by William Morrow
Audiobook, 12 hours, 51 minutes
Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld
4.5/5 stars

How wonderful to dive into a Kate Quinn book again.  Having read her Ancient Rome books and continued with WW2, she is one of the few authors where I've managed to stay current with.  This was released  year ago, so better late then never I say.

Mila is a young mother, student and librarian. When war breaks out she begins her journey to become a renowned sniper (Lady Death).  What follows is a captivating story through WW2.  Alternating between the Russian countryside and a tour of the US (19432).

I did a combo read/listen.  Listening was great to get the proper pronunciation of names of places.  The narrator's accent added to the atmosphere.  This story is well written and research.  Alternating between Mila and a US pov added the suspense/mystery to keep the story going.

Again with a good HF novel the author notes are part of my read.  to see the author's motivation, research and read whats fact vs fiction is a nice finishing touch.

Hats off Kate Quinn for another entertaining and educational read.  Can't wait to see whats next.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge (the audiobook was through CloudLibrary).

Monday, February 27, 2023

What Have We Done by Alex Finlay

In one of the year's most anticipated thrillers #1 New York Times bestseller Sarah Pekkanen calls "Alex Finlay's best yet," What Have We Done is a tale about the lives we leave behind and the secrets we carry with us forever.

A stay-at-home mom with a past.
A has-been rock star with a habit.
A reality TV producer with a debt.
Three disparate lives.
One deadly secret.

Twenty five years ago, Jenna, Donnie, and Nico were the best of friends, a bond forged as residents of Savior House, an abusive group home for parentless teens. When the home was shut down—after the disappearance of several kids—the three were split up.

Though the trauma of their childhood has never left them, each went on to live successful, if troubled, lives. They haven’t seen one another since they were teens but now are reunited for a single haunting reason: someone is trying to kill them.

To save their lives, the group will have to revisit the nightmares of their childhoods and confront their past—a past that holds the secret to why someone wants them dead.

It’s a reunion none of them asked for . . . or wanted. But it may be the only way to save all their lives.

What Have We Done is both an edge-of-your seat thriller and a gut-wrenching coming-of-age story. And it cements Alex Finlay as one of the new leading voices in thrillers today.

Kindle, 320 pages
Expected publication March 7, 2023 
by St. Martins Press
3.5/5 stars

I loved Alex Finlay's previous book Every Last Fear so it only stands to reason I'd grab this one.  I was lucky enough to receive both the kindle and audio book.

Told from the perspectives of a trio that were bound together by a shared experience in a group home 25 years ago.  This experience wasn't shared with anyone turning this into a dark and mysterious story.  I was captivated right away. 

What Have We Done is a story that jumps around a lot.  The mystery held my attention and left me scratching my head wondering what was going on. But my interest did start to want somewhat in the middle.  I think after a certain point, with a lot of characters, things were a little muffled in terms of who was who.  Ultimately though things fit together at the end.

The audio was read by a number of different voices, all of whom did a great job.  It came in at almost 9 hours and was enjoyable to listen to.

While What Have We Done?  was an entertaining read Every Last Fear is still my favourite and one I recommend.

My thanks to St. Martins Press and Macmillan Audio for advanced copies in exchange for a honest review.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell

A killer is on the loose when someone turns up dead on the set of a hit TV baking competition in this darkly beguiling debut mystery that is perfect for fans of Lucy Foley, Nita Prose, and Anthony Horowitz. Soon to be a limited series on Hulu.

Production for the tenth season of Bake Week is ready to begin at the gothic estate of host and celebrity chef Betsy Martin, and everything seems perfect. The tent is up, the top-tier ingredients are aligned, and the crew has their cameras at the ready.

The six contestants work to prove their culinary talents over the course of five days, while Betsy is less than thrilled to share the spotlight with a new cohost—the brash and unpredictable Archie Morris. But as the baking competition commences, things begin to go awry. At first, it’s merely sabotage—sugar replaced with salt, a burner turned to high—but when a body is discovered, everyone is a suspect.

A deliciously suspenseful thriller for murder mystery buffs and avid bakers alike, The Golden Spoon will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Expected publication March 7, 2023
by Atria Books
3/5 stars

Debut author Jessa Maxwell has written a story that will appeal to those who enjoy cooking/baking shows, offering a look behind the scenes.  

The Golden Spoon is a cozy mystery that follows a cast of flawed characters with inner issues, secrets and ambition. The prologue starts at the end of the story, leaving this reader to unravel the mystery searching for clues.  But ultimately this was an ok read for me.

There isn't really a huge cast of characters but at times I wish I'd taken notes of each as they were introduced.  They were unique with their quirks and backstory.

The Golden Spoon is a mystery that given more pages, time, depth and detail would have been a good, good sized story.  For me this was a slow burn with most of the action happening in the last few chapters/epilogue, coming a little too late to really connect and appreciate the plot.

The blurb doesn't mention this being made into a mini series, but it's in the works, I think will work nicely.

My thanks to Atria Books & Netgalley for a digital arc in exchange for a honest review.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Stand-In by Lily Chu

Gracie Reed is doing just fine. Sure, she was fired by her overly "friendly" boss, and yes she still hasn't gotten her mother into the nursing home of their dreams, but she's healthy, she's (somewhat) happy, and she's (mostly) holding it all together.

But when a mysterious SUV pulls up beside her, revealing Chinese cinema's golden couple Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, Gracie's world is turned on its head. The famous actress has a proposition: due to their uncanny resemblance, Fangli wants Gracie to be her stand-in. The catch? Gracie will have to be escorted by Sam, the most attractive—and infuriating—man Gracie's ever met.

If it means getting the money she needs for her mother, Gracie's in. Soon Gracie moves into a world of luxury she never knew existed. But resisting Sam, and playing the role of an elegant movie star, proves more difficult than she ever imagined—especially when she learns the real reason Fangli so desperately needs her help. In the end all the lists in the world won't be able to help Gracie keep up this elaborate ruse without losing herself...and her heart.

Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 3, 2022
by Sourcebooks Casablanca
4.5 stars

This is my first time reading a Lily Chu book.  I had the privilege of listening to her in a rom/com panel last September.  This was my introduction to another talented Canadian author.

The Stand In was a fun story about 2 women similar in looks but from vastly different lifestyles.  A famous actress in need of a mental break and the other suddenly jobless and in need of cash for her mother's care.  This was a combo book and audio book read, narrated by Phillipa So (of Hamilton fame), doing a stellar job.

There are many layers to The Stand In.  While the com part was there in this rom/com it also addresses a number of serious social issues.

With a Canadian setting Gracie begins a journey of self discovery while Wei and Sam deal with their own issues.  Well written, entertaining, respectful with a touch of humour and some unexpected twists. 

In you are in the market for discovering more Canadian talent I recommend this book.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge #17

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

First is Zara, a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else until tragedy changed her life. Now, she’s obsessed with visiting open houses to see how ordinary people live—and, perhaps, to set an old wrong to right. Then there’s Roger and Anna-Lena, an Ikea-addicted retired couple who are on a never-ending hunt for fixer-uppers to hide the fact that they don’t know how to fix their own failing marriage. Julia and Ro are a young lesbian couple and soon-to-be parents who are nervous about their chances for a successful life together since they can’t agree on anything. And there’s Estelle, an eighty-year-old woman who has lived long enough to be unimpressed by a masked bank robber waving a gun in her face. And despite the story she tells them all, Estelle hasn’t really come to the apartment to view it for her daughter, and her husband really isn’t outside parking the car.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People’s whimsical plot serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day.

Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 8, 2020 
by Simon & Schuster Canada
5/5 stars

Fredrik Bachman is a favourite author of mine for a number of reasons.

Firstly, his unique writing style.  He can weave the story between multiple characters though different time lines without this reader feeling any jarring affects.  And this happens multiply times within a chapter and it totally works.

Secondly, he doesn't do character dumps.  His characters are introduced in such a way to really get to know them.  No note taking or struggling to remember facts as the story progresses.

Thirdly, the plot is intricately woven that keeps me engaged as the story and characters take a life of their own within the pages.  The story is told in pieces where all the pieces come together perfectly at the end.  It reminds me of a puzzle and sometimes seeing the big picture at the end draws everything together nicely.

Lastly, the banter and dialogue is spot on.  I have laughed out loud, written quotes and even shared them.

Anxious People is a multilayered story about the hurting, silent people, and healing. I highly recommend it!!

After reading the Beartown Series last year and meeting Backman, 2023 is devoted to one of his books a month until I get caught up on his back-list.  

January - A Man Called Ove (5 stars along with 5 stars for the movie.)
February - Anxious People (5 stars)
March - Britt-Marie Was Here (maybe, I am a mood reader so might change my mind.)

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Secretly Yours by Tessa Bailey

A steamy new rom-com about a starchy professor and the bubbly neighbor he clashes with at every turn...

Hallie Welch fell hard for Julian Vos at fourteen, after they almost kissed in the dark vineyards of his family's winery. Now the prodigal hottie has returned to their small town. When Hallie is hired to revamp the gardens on the Vos estate, she wonders if she'll finally get that smooch. But the grumpy professor isn't the teenager she remembers and their polar opposite personalities clash spectacularly. One wine-fueled girls' night later, Hallie can't shake the sense that she did something reckless--and then she remembers the drunken secret admirer letter she left for Julian. Oh shit.

On sabbatical from his ivy league job, Julian plans to write a novel. But having Hallie gardening right outside his window is the ultimate distraction. She's eccentric, chronically late, often literally covered in dirt--and so unbelievably beautiful, he can't focus on anything else. Until he finds an anonymous letter sent by a woman from his past. Even as Julian wonders about this admirer, he's sucked further into Hallie's orbit. Like the flowers she plants all over town, Hallie is a burst of color in Julian's gray-scale life. For a man who irons his socks and runs on tight schedules, her sunny chaotic energy makes zero sense. But there's something so familiar about her... and her very presence is turning his world upside down.

Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 7, 2023 
by Avon US
3/5 stars

I've been wanting to read a Tessa Bailey book for a while.  Highly recommended I went with her latest release, Secretly Yours.

This book got off to a good start, an introduction to Hallie along with her beloved dogs (a surefire was to win this reader over.) Things start to heat up when Hallie's teen crush, Julian, moves back to town. up.  Yes this qualifies for a couple spicy emoji's.

Alternating between these 2 pov's did break up the narrative but, unfortunately, I found the plot to be lacking.  It was missing the com in rom/com, tension and had characters I didn't really care about. Coming in at 384 pages it was ta bit too long and the fact that it took me almost 2 weeks to read is a sign of how captivating I found this read.

I'll give Tessa Bailey another go at some point in time and hope that this is just a one off for me.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

What Happens Next by Christina Suzann Nelson

Popular podcaster and ex-reporter Faith Byrne has made a name for herself telling stories of greatness after tragedy--but her real life does not mirror the stories she tells. While her daughters spend the summer in Hawaii with her ex-husband and his new wife, she must manage life on her own. But all that changes when she's asked to spotlight her childhood best friend's missing person case on her podcast.

Dora Crane has never accepted that her younger daughter could be dead, keeping her home looking the same as when her daughter disappeared. But when her husband leaves her, and her older daughter intervenes, she agrees to counseling and to pack up her missing daughter's belongings under one condition: Faith Byrne comes to Deep Valley and sheds light on the cold case.

As the investigation moves forward, the two women uncover desperate secrets, and Faith and Dora must face the long-hidden truth before they can begin to move forward.

Award-winning author Christina Suzann Nelson masterfully leads readers on a journey of discovery, healing, and friendship in this suspenseful and poignant tale.

Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 17, 2023
by Bethany House
4.5/5 stars

This is my first time reading Christina Suzann Nelson, and to follow a bookish cliché this will not be my last.

What Happens Next is more than just a story about missing 10 year old Heather Crane.  It was so sudden 38 years ago when it happened and with very little clues to her disappearance it remains an unsolved mystery. But what follows is a story of grief, determination, and ultimately healing. It is a mother’s worst nightmare. For Dora Crane she has never been able to accept the worst outcome could have happened to her precious daughter. It has wrecked her life, becoming an obsession, not just reeking havoc on her own life but ultimately her relationship with her husband and older daughter.

Faith Byrne was Heather's best friend that last summer.  Going through her own struggles which include being recently separated. Her two daughters are spending the summer with their father in Hawaii so she moves back to her grandmother’s home, which is just down the road from where Heather lived. 

I really enjoyed this book. The author wrote the story back-and-forth through time with different points of view, one of them being Heather herself. There were twists and turns that I didn’t anticipate as the mystery slowly unwound. 

Like I said, What Happens Next is a story of grief, determination and healing, but it is also the story of friendship, family and mystery. There were many pieces to this puzzle and all fit nicely together at the end.

My thanks to Graf- Martin Communications for a print copy in exchange for a honest review.

Monday, February 13, 2023

The Hidden Letters by Lorna Cook

On the eve of a world war, a forbidden love will blossom in the garden of a stately home and one young woman will make a choice that will change her life forever…

As the storm clouds of war gather, Cordelia seeks refuge in the grounds of her family estate.

Isaac has recently arrived to tend to the gardens, and the connection between him and Cordelia is as immediate as it is forbidden.

Isaac begins to secretly teach her how to cultivate the gardens, so when he and all the young men are called away to war, Cordelia takes over.

From the battlefields of Europe, Isaac sends her letters, that give her hope for a future in peacetime.

But when these messages abruptly cease, Cordelia must face up to the worst and take her future – and the fate of the garden they both loved – into her own hands…

An epic, sweeping tale of love, war and the strength of the human spirit. Fans of Lucinda Riley and Kate Morton will be absolutely gripped by this historical page-turner.

Kindle edition, 400 pages
Expected publication March 2, 2023
by Avon Books UK
2.5/5 stars

This is my first time reading a Lorna Cook book. It’s also the first time in a long time that I have read anything pertaining to WW1.

Taking place in England, The Hidden Letters tells the story of a young woman named Cordelia. Born into privilege her life is filled with expectations and duty. Before the onset of war, she begins a friendship with Isaac, someone who takes care of the gardens at the family home. What follows is a very slow paced story. I really wanted to enjoy this book.  I have heard so much about the author and whether my expectation level was too high because of the buzz on social media or the references to Lucinda Riley and Kate Morton (both favourites of mine), this was not the captivating story that I had hoped for.

I struggle to connect with the characters and to feel the friendship develop, the plot just didn’t work for me until I hit the 75% mark where things picked up remarkably. The story took on some intrigue, which led to a surprising twist and an ending that worked. However, the action came a little too late to make up for the first 3/4 of the book.

I have another of her books on my shelf and will give her another go at some point in time.

My thanks to Avon Books UK and NetGalley for a digitial arc in exchange for a honest review.

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Last Carolina Girl by Meagan Church

A searing book club novel for fans of Where the Crawdad's Sing and The Girls in the Stilt House following one girl fighting for her family, her body, and her right to create a future all her own

Some folks will do anything to control the wild spirit of a Carolina girl...

For fourteen-year-old Leah Payne, life in her beloved coastal Carolina town is as simple as it is free. Devoted to her lumberjack father and running through the wilds where the forest meets the shore, Leah's country life is as natural as the Loblolly pines that rise to greet the Southern sky.

When an accident takes her father's life, Leah is wrenched from her small community and cast into a family of strangers with a terrible secret. Separated from her only home, Leah is kept apart from the family and forced to act as a helpmate for the well-to-do household. When a moment of violence and prejudice thrusts Leah into the center of the state's shameful darkness, she must fight for her own future against a world that doesn't always value the wild spirit of a Carolina girl.

Set in 1935 against the very real backdrop of a recently formed state eugenics board, The Last Carolina Girl is a powerful and heart-wrenching story of fierce strength, forgotten history, autonomy, and the places and people we ultimately call home.

Kindle, 304 pages
Expected publication February 28, 2023 
by Sourcebooks Landmark
3/5 stars

Told from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old, Leah's story is one of a sheltered life. She and her father live in a one-room shack, and she has no friends except for Jesse. As she leaves the area following the death of her father, her lack of social skills and her desire for family and affection come through. 

This book has been compared to Where the Crawdads Sing, which I enjoyed as an audiobook. The slow pace and the first-person narrative made it enjoyable to listen vs reading it. When it came to The Last Carolina Girl my feelings run in the same direction, I think I would have enjoyed it more in audio format.  It was just such a slow paced story that really lacked character development for everyone other than Leah.  It would have been great to get a glimpse into the head of her caregiver .

The blurb gives lots of the story away with some of it not happening until the 80% mark, spoiler alert!

The ending was abrupt, and I would have loved to read more about the next few years in this young girl's life. Fortunately, the author included notes, gave a lot of detail about the program in the US during this time and in subsequent years. 

Take my review with a grain of salt, I seem to be in the minority with my thoughts.

I am grateful to Sourcebooks (via NetGalley) for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

I Can Only Imagine: A Memoir by Bart Millard

“The Story That Inspired the Major Motion Picture.”

The captivating story behind the bestselling single in the history of Christian music—and the man who wrote it

MercyMe’s crossover hit, “I Can Only Imagine,” has touched millions of people around the world. But few know about the pain, redemption, and healing that inspired it. Now Bart Millard, award-winning recording artist and lead singer of MercyMe, shares how his dad’s transformation from abusive father to man of God sparked a divine moment in music history.

Go behind the scenes of Bart’s life—and the movie based on it—to discover how God repaired a broken family, prepared Bart for ministry through music, and wrote the words on his heart that would change his life forever. I Can Only Imagine is a front-row seat to witnessing God’s presence throughout Bart’s life. Whether falling in love with his childhood sweetheart or mourning his father’s death, founding MercyMe or flailing in the midst of its success, Bart continues to place his trust in God’s plans—plans that continue to surprise and surpass what Bart could have ever imagined.

Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 13, 2018 
by Thomas Nelson
5/5 stars

This book was part of our church book club, and in the end, I opted for the audio version. At just over four hours in length, or 224 pages, it was the perfect fit for my four-hour flight home last month.

The author, Bart Millard, doesn't shy away from discussing his life and his relationship with his father. His childhood was far from happy, this book packs an emotional punch.

Fast-forwarding to his adult years and the group MercyMe, Millard provides an insightful look into his journey to write the song "I Can Only Imagine". The trailer for the movie based on the song says it better than words ever could.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Cloisters by Katy Hays

When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.

Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.

A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 1, 2022
by Atria Books
2.5/3 out of 5

The Cloisters was my January Book of the Month pick not just because of its captivating cover, but because the blurb made it sound like a unique and intriguing plot, There were tarot cards and a young woman named Ann working at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

The story started off strong, but it didn't take long before I found my attention waning. Though I couldn't connect with Ann some of the other unreliable folks kept the story going. It had a somewhat slow pace, and sometimes a slow pace works but sadly for me it didn't here.

The Cloisters is a story of mystery, grief, guilt, academia, and for me, it lacked tension and intrigue. Given the subject I was hoping for more of a mystical feel. I found myself piecing together the plot before the big reveal, but ultimately, for the last half of the book, I switched to the audiobook to speed up my reading process.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge (#12)

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

In this gripping debut tinged with supernatural horror, a young Cree woman's dreams lead her on a perilous journey of self-discovery that ultimately forces her to confront the toll of a legacy of violence on her family, her community and the land they call home.

When Mackenzie wakes up with a severed crow's head in her hands, she panics. Only moments earlier she had been fending off masses of birds in a snow-covered forest. In bed, when she blinks, the head disappears.

Night after night, Mackenzie's dreams return her to a memory from before her sister Sabrina's untimely death: a weekend at the family's lakefront campsite, long obscured by a fog of guilt. But when the waking world starts closing in, too--a murder of crows stalks her every move around the city, she wakes up from a dream of drowning throwing up water, and gets threatening text messages from someone claiming to be Sabrina--Mackenzie knows this is more than she can handle alone.

Traveling north to her rural hometown in Alberta, she finds her family still steeped in the same grief that she ran away to Vancouver to escape. They welcome her back, but their shaky reunion only seems to intensify her dreams--and make them more dangerous.

What really happened that night at the lake, and what did it have to do with Sabrina's death? Only a bad Cree would put their family at risk, but what if whatever has been calling Mackenzie home was already inside?

Paperback, 297 pages
Published January 10, 2023
by Harper Collins
4/5 stars

This is Jessica Johns debut.  I loved the Canadian setting and also that she is Canadian as well (boy this country has lots of talented authors.)

McKenzie is a young woman with dreams that usually involve crows, but it doesn't end there as crows seem to follow her throughout the day. A year ago, McKenzie tragically lost her sister and had not been back to her hometown of High Prairie in the past four years. Now, she returns home for the support and love of her Cree family.

This is an incredibly interesting story. Jessica Jones has crafted a well-written, character-driven plot that, even though it may be slow at times, keeps the reader intrigued with the family dynamics and their heritage. Bad Cree is a story of family, grief, and supernatural tones that come together to create a unique and captivating narrative. I am eagerly awaiting more from Jessica Jones.

My thanks to HarperCollins Canada for providing me with a print arc in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman,

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

Hardcover, 337 pages
Audiobook, 9 hours, 12 minutes 
Published July 15, 2014
 by Atria Books
5/5 stars

I am definitely a mood reader, and this book is a testament to that. I first started reading it when it was released back in 2015, but set it aside because I felt it was a bit too grumpy. Recently, however, I watched the movie adaptation of A Man Called Ove and loved it, so I figured it was time to revisit the novel.

A Man Called Ove is one of my favourite reads of 2023. It is a beautiful novel by Fredrik Backman and was his debut, that sets the bar pretty high for his subsequent books.

A Man Called Ove is the story of a 59-year-old recent widow. He is angry and intolerant of other people's stupidity, and isn't afraid to call them idiots when they don't follow the rules he tries to enforce. When a new family moves in across the street, things slowly start to change for Ove, and what follows is a madcap story that had me laughing out loud, feeling Ove's pain as he goes back in time, and learning of his relationship with his wife. This is an incredibly well-written story that will tug at your heartstrings, make you shed a few tears of joy and sadness, but ultimately leave you with a warm feeling in your heart. 

I am now reading the author's backlist, and I have already read the Beartown trilogy, which has two of my favourite reads of 2022.  Be on the lookout next month for a review of Anxious People.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge (#9.)

Monday, January 30, 2023

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

Your past and your family can haunt you like nothing else… 

Every childhood home is haunted, and each of us are possessed by our parents.

When their parents die at the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, Louise and Mark Joyner are devastated but nothing can prepare them for how bad things are about to get. The two siblings are almost totally estranged, and couldn’t be more different. Now, however, they don’t have a choice but to get along. The virus has passed, and both of them are facing bank accounts ravaged by the economic meltdown. Their one asset? Their childhood home. They need to get it on the market as soon as possible because they need the money. Yet before her parents died they taped newspaper over the mirrors and nailed shut the attic door.

Sometimes we feel like puppets, controlled by our upbringing and our genes. Sometimes we feel like our parents treat us like toys, or playthings, or even dolls. The past can ground us, teach us, and keep us safe. It can also trap us, and bind us, and suffocate the life out of us. As disturbing events stack up in the house, Louise and Mark have to learn that sometimes the only way to break away from the past, sometimes the only way to sell a haunted house, is to burn it all down.

Hardcover, 419 pages 
Published January 17, 2023 
by Berkley
4/5 stars

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book, as horror isn't a genre I usually read, but the cover  grabbed my attention and I just followed my instinct and purchased it.

Louise returns to her hometown after the sudden passing of her parents. She hasn't spoken to her brother in years, and their first encounter reveals that they are not on good terms. What follows is an intriguing read as they navigate through their grief, reminiscing on the past, reopening old wounds, and dealing with their parents' estate. It isn't a huge estate, but it is filled with memories of a childhood that was far from average. I won't say much more about that, but suffice it to say that I will never look at certain childhood toys the same way again.

How to Sell a Haunted House is my first read by author Grady Hendrix, and I was immediately captivated by his writing style, character development, bantering and a story with its many intricate layers and puzzle pieces. It is a story of family, grief, the past, and correcting wrongs, which also includes acknowledging them and finally being brave enough to take action.

Classified as a horror story, I must say that, although there were some creepy aspects to the story, I wasn't as scared as I thought I would be. There were funny  moments and the sibling bantering was spot on.  I'm glad I followed my instinct and grabbed this one.

This  book is part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge (#10, woohoo!!)

Sunday, January 29, 2023

The King's Mercy by Lori Benton

For readers of Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon, this epic historical romance tells of fateful love between an indentured Scotsman and a daughter of the 18th century colonial south.

When captured rebel Scotsman Alex MacKinnon is granted the king's mercy--exile to the Colony of North Carolina--he's indentured to Englishman Edmund Carey as a blacksmith.

 Against his will Alex is drawn into the struggles of Carey's slaves--and those of his stepdaughter, Joanna Carey. A mistress with a servant's heart, Joanna is expected to wed her father's overseer, Phineas Reeves, but finds herself drawn instead to the new blacksmith. 

As their unlikely relationship deepens, successive tragedies strike the Careys. When blame falls unfairly upon Alex he flees to the distant mountains where he encounters Reverend Pauling, itinerate preacher and friend of the Careys, now a prisoner of the Cherokees. 

Haunted by his abandoning of Joanna, Alex tries to settle into life with the Cherokees, until circumstances thwart yet another attempt to forge his freedom and he's faced with the choice that's long hounded him: continue down his rebellious path or embrace the faith of a man like Pauling, whose freedom in Christ no man can steal. But the price of such mercy is total surrender, and perhaps Alex's very life.

Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Published June 4, 2019
by WaterBrook & Multnomah
3.5/5 stars

Set in the 18th century, The King's Mercy follows the story of Alex, an indentured servant, and Joanna, the stepdaughter of his owner, in North Carolina. The blurb outlines the story, though it may be a bit too detailed.

The King's Mercy is a captivating tale that paints a vivid picture of the past and life on the plantation. The storyline kept me engaged, though it lacked the gripping intensity I usually look for. There was a sense of mystery, exploration, and reconciliation throughout the book. This is Christian fiction, and the ending was fitting, neat, and tidy.

This is my second Lori Benton book, and her meticulous research  and passion for this story is evident.  The author notes highlight her motivation from the book of Philemon and Paul's request.

Now that I have gotten used to her slow burn historical stories, I will definitely read more.  My thanks to WaterBrook for a digital copy.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Ghost 19 by Simone St. James

A woman moves to a town where she becomes obsessed with watching the lives of her neighbors while stuck in a house that refuses to let her leave in this first ever short story from the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Cold Cases.

Is there something wrong with Ginette Cox? It’s what everyone seems to think. When a doctor suggests that what she might need is less excitement, she packs up and moves from New York City to a house in suburban NY: 19 Howard Ave.

The town offers Ginette little in the way of entertainment in 1959, but at least she has interesting neighbors. Whether it’s the little girl with her doll or the couple and their mother-in-law, Ginette watches them from her window and makes up names and stories for them.

But it’s not all peaceful in suburbia. Ginette finds it hard to sleep in her new house. There are strange and scary noises coming from the basement, and she is trapped, either by a ghost or her own madness.

But when Ginette starts to think a murder has taken place and a mysterious man starts making terrifying appearances outside her window, it’s clear she must deal with whatever isn’t allowing her to escape this house…

Kindle Edition, 80 pages
Published January 3, 2023
 by Berkley
3.5/5 stars

This is a short story by Simone St James, one of my favourite authors.

It follows Ginette, a woman who never leaves her home but instead spends her time observing her neighbours. She also hears strange noises and speculates about the goings-on in her neighbourhood, one can't help but wonder if she is being visited by ghosts or if she is going a little mad. 

Although this is a trope that I have read too much about, I was still intrigued and entertained by this story. It packs a lot of unexplainable happenings and wild imagination into a short story. While I don't read a lot of short stories this was a fun one

I purchased the Kindle version when it became available on January 3, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and entertaining read.

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Witches by Roald Dahl

"One child a week is fifty-two a year. Squish them and squiggle them and make them disappear."

This is a story about REAL WITCHES.

Real witches dress in ordinary clothes, have ordinary jobs and look very much like ordinary people.

But they are far from ORDINARY . . .

The Grand High Witch, leader of all the witches, has a plan to make each and every child disappear.

That is, unless one boy and his grandmother can stop her . . .

Paperback, 360 pages
Published January 1, 2020 
(first published Oct 27 1983)
by Puffin
4/5 stars

I can honestly say that this is the first time I have read a Roald Dahl book, and I think I am looking forward to watching the movie adaptation. 

The cover of the book I read was zany and intriguing, and the illustrations within it only served to breath life into this story.

The plot follows an eight-year-old boy who has recently lost his parents and is now living with his grandmother in Norway. He embarks on a wild and wacky adventure, discovering a world where real witches exist and have a motto of 'squish them and squiggle them and make them disappear'. That is children they are talking about.

This was a fun read that had a nice balance of fun and scary. It was heartwarming story watching the relationship between the grandmamma and grandson develop.

I'll be reading more Dahl stories.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading off my Shelf Challenge (#8)

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.