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.