Thursday, October 26, 2023

All’s Fair in Love and Christmas by Sarah Monzon

Two workplace rivals. One festive competition. And a romance that upends it all.

Every December two things are guaranteed for graphic designer Mackenzie Graham--Christmas celebrations and the annual promotion at her workplace. Those two things are by no means mutually exclusive. In fact, the better an employee is at harnessing the Christmas spirit, the more likely they'll win the new job. With her social anxiety, Mackenzie never thought she'd be a contender in her company's holiday competition, so how exactly has she found herself dueling her workplace crush with wrapping paper tubes and using tinsel as her weapon of choice for a much-needed raise?

Jeremy Fletcher's life is meticulously planned out, including how to win this year's promotion at work. Not only will the new position fulfill some of his career goals, but as a single guardian to his twin niece and nephew, he needs the salary increase to support his family. Jeremy has barely noticed Mackenzie Graham around the office, but now that she's his rival, he can't stop thinking about her. Her quirkiness intrigues him, and he's afraid that if he can't get his head on straight, the promotion isn't the only thing he'll end up losing to Mackenzie.

"Inspirational rom-com readers are going to love this one." --BETHANY TURNER, bestselling author of The Do-Over

Papaerback, 256 pages
Published September 5, 2023 
by Bethany House Publishers
4/5 stars

This was my first time reading a Sarah Monzon. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve added Christmas stories to my fall reading schedule. This year I am aiming for one a month for rest of the year.

All's Fair in Love and Christmas is a story about a young woman named McKenzie. She suffers from social anxiety. Add Jeremy who is the opposite has every intention of winning a promotion that both are vying for.

This was a fun read and great for getting into the Christmas spirit. Touching on various Christmas traditions, along with some humor and some romance this story also centered around faith.

Like I said, this is a new author for me I enjoyed her writing style, how they characters were authentic, both had issues that were real and relatable that made this story all the more endearing.

I am a hard cell when it comes to rom/com in general but this Christmas rom/com ticked off all the boxes for me with the added dimension of faith playing a central part. Definitely an author I will be on the lookout for future reads.

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Keeper of the Light by Diane Chamberlain

To her husband, Annie O'Neill is the perfect wife and mother. To her rival, she is an obsession.

Dr. Olivia Simon is on duty in the emergency room of North Carolina's Outer Banks Hospital when a gunshot victim is brought in. Midway through the desperate effort to save the young woman's life, Olivia realizes who she is—Annie O'Neill. The woman Olivia's husband, Paul, is in love with.

 When Annie dies on the operating table, she leaves behind three other victims. Alec O'Neill, who thought he had the perfect marriage. Paul, whose fixation on Annie is unshakeable. And Olivia, who is desperate to understand the woman who destroyed her marriage. 

Now they must struggle with the unanswered questions about who Annie really was. And the secrets she kept hidden so well. 

‘Fans of Jodi Picoult will delight in this finely tuned family drama, with beautifully drawn characters and a string of twists that will keep you guessing right up to the end.' – Stylist

Kindle Edition, 508 pages
First published March 1, 1992
Audiobook,  14 hours, 21 minutes
Released Sept 9, 2014
by Tantor Audio
3/5 stars

I have been a Diane Chamberlain fan since reading The Midwife's Confession way back in 2012 and have managed to read most new releases since. The Keeper of the Lighthouse was originally published way back in 1992 and the 1st in a trilogy of the same name.

I wish I could say that I loved this book as much as I have her previous books, but sadly there were just some things that didn’t sit well for me. I should say that this was an audio read coming at over 14 hours and the print copy is 512 pages.  For me that’s a big book and I felt it was just way too long.  I'll take into account the start of a series usually lays some ground work for the rest of the series.  Suffice to say I’m glad I went the audio route.

lt was a twisty triangle with multiple sides that started off good but as the story unfolded there were parts that got off to a bit of a rocky start for me, it wasn’t until after the first third that some of the twists started happening.  The story itself was well written, the different emotions from a failed marriage to death of a spouse was well done but....I can't quite put my finger on what felt off for me but this wasn't a favorite Chamberlain read.  I will continue with the series, Kiss River is next - it's an old NG arc that fell through the cracks.

My audiobook was obtained through Scribd.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See

The latest historical novel from bestselling author Lisa See, inspired by the true story of a woman physician from 15th-century China.

According to Confucius, "an educated woman is a worthless woman," but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.

From a young age, Yunxian learns about women's illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other's joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.

But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.

How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? Lady Tan's Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.

Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 6, 2023
 by Simon & Schuster
3.5/5 stars

This is only my third Lisa See book, but already she is synonymous with rich historical stories and women ahead of their time, as well as taking place in China. Such is the case again here with Lady Tan's Circle of Women.

Set in the 1500s this is the story of a young woman with a strong desire and talent to become a doctor. But given the timeframe, we already know that is something that is not just frowned upon but rare. What follows is Tan's life as a wife, mother, daughter in law and friend to many.  

Told from the POV of Yunxian, she recalls the past while telling her story.  It was a learning experience as the Chinese culture plays out in a male dominated world.  See's attention to detail has me trying hard to forget some things I learned - ie feet binding being one example.  This story itself showed a woman ahead of her time, it was well written with Lisa See's usual flair for picking themes revolting around history.  There was family dynamics, traditions with a touch of mystery.  An entertaining read.

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

Monday, October 16, 2023

A Twisted Love Story by Samantha Downing

From the bestselling author of My Lovely Wife comes a reckless, delicious thriller about a young couple that gives a whole new meaning to the dangers of modern dating.

Wes and Ivy are madly in love. They've never felt anything like it. It's the kind of romance people write stories about.

But what kind of story?

Because when it's good, it's great. Flowers. Grand gestures. Deep meaningful conversations where the whole world disappears.

When it's bad, it's really bad. Vengeful fights. Damaged property. Arrest warrants.

But their vicious cycle of catastrophic breakups and head-over-heels reconnections needs to end fast. Because suddenly, Wes and Ivy have a common enemy--and she's a detective.

There's something Wes and Ivy never talk about--in good times or bad. The night of their worst breakup, when one of them took things too far, and someone ended up dead.

If they can stick together, they can survive anything--even the tightening net of a police investigation.

Because one more breakup might just be their last…

Hardcover, 390 pages
Published July 18, 2023
 by Berkley
4/5 stars

Ever since reading He Started It, Samantha Downing has become one of my go to authors. She writes books that are kind of zany with a good mystery/suspense theme.  Judging by the title of this her latest, A Twisted Love Story, I was anxious to dive in.

West and Ivy are apparently madly in love, but given their actions throughout this book, one really has to question that. It actually reminded me of a scene from Mr. and Mrs. Smith as they tried to kill each other off. But there’s more to the story than meet the eye.

Released this past July I am so surprised at it’s rating on Goodreads, I found this to be a highly entertaining and addictive read. No matter how much I didn’t like each of the characters I was sucked right in. The cat and mouse game through the years showed how their relationship worked, to the onlooker one can just shake their heads and wonder why they are even together. Love Story is a book about a toxic relationship that borders on the side of abusive and unbelievable. If you read the blurb above and let your imagination go to the unthinkable, that is what this is. As for the ending, it was fitting, but not as satisfying as I had hoped, you will have to read the book to see why.

My copy was obtained through my public library.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Sleeping Dogs Lie by Samantha Downing

From the internationally best-selling author of My Lovely Wife and He Started It comes a twisted, entertaining novella about a dog walker swept into a criminal investigation when her client winds up dead.

Shelby works as a dog walker in Northern California, and she’s just finished up her biweekly trip to the park with a husky named Pluto. When she brings him back to his house, she finds his owner—Todd Burke, a well-known local businessman and founder of an organic supplements company—dead on the bathroom floor. As a detective interviews Shelby, a medical examiner inspects the body, and more cops search Todd’s home, it becomes clear that the victim’s life was less picture-perfect than his clean-cut persona might lead you to believe.

Kobo Edition
Published March 15, 2022
 by Berkley
4/5 stars

This is a novella written by one of my favourite authors, Samantha Downing.  For awhile it was only available on Audible, but recently it is available for download on kindle/kobo. What I love about Samantha Downing is that she doesn’t shy away from unique stories with twists, a bit of comedy and of course, always mayhem.

Sleeping Dogs Lie is the story of dogwalker Shelby who discovers a body after taking Pluto, a husky for his walk. Along with Shelby is a detective who is trying to solve this case.

This was a fun, well written, and addicting read. I was caught up in the criminal investigation myself and love the direction this story took. It was comical at times, deceptive and kept me on my toes. The ending...ya that was good.

The audio book comes in just over two hours. Well worth the listen or read

My digital copy was obtained through CloudLibrary

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Connellys of County Down by Tracey Lange

When Tara Connelly is released from prison after serving eighteen months on a drug charge, she knows rebuilding her life at thirty years old won’t be easy. With no money and no prospects, she returns home to live with her siblings, who are both busy with their own problems. Her brother, a single dad, struggles with the ongoing effects of a brain injury he sustained years ago, and her sister’s fragile facade of calm and order is cracking under the burden of big secrets. Life becomes even more complicated when the cop who put her in prison keeps showing up unannounced, leaving Tara to wonder what he wants from her now.

While she works to build a new career and hold her family together, Tara finds a chance at love in a most unlikely place. But when the Connellys’ secrets start to unravel and threaten her future, they all must face their worst fears and come clean, or risk losing each other forever.

The Connellys of County Down is a moving novel about testing the bounds of love and loyalty. It explores the possibility of beginning our lives anew, and reveals the pitfalls of shielding each other from the bitter truth.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 1, 2023
 by Celadon Books
4/5 stars

This was my July Book of the Month pick.

Tara Connlley has been released from prison after serving 18 months on a drug charge and is ready to begin her life anew. Problem is no one wants to hire someone with a prison record especially when it's a drug charge. Forced to move in with her siblings creates a whole new set of issues.

The Connelly's of County Down is a story that is ultimately about family, about secrets, and the effect those secrets have on others. This was nice fast paced read, it was a moving story that told of family loyalty and the pitfalls of hiding the truth from those you love. As you can read from the blurb above there is a lot going on within the 288 pages.  It is well written with some twists and turns, some suspense, and even a touch of romance,  

I’m glad I picked this book. I will definitely look out for more by this author.

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Legacy of Longdale Manor by Carrie Turansky

In 2012, art historian Gwen Monroe travels to England's Lake District to appraise the paintings and antiques of an old family friend, hoping to prove herself to her prestigious grandfather. While at Longdale Manor, she becomes acquainted with David Bradley--the owner's handsome grandson--who is desperate to save the crumbling estate by turning it into a bed-and-breakfast. When Gwen stumbles upon a one-hundred-year-old journal and an intricately carved shepherd's staff similar to one in a photo of her parents, she uncovers a connection to the father she never knew.

In 1912, after her father's death, Charlotte Harper uncovers a painful family secret she can only confess to her journal. She and her family travel to the Lake District to stay on a sheep farm, hoping eventually to find a home with Charlotte's grandfather at Longdale Manor, but old wounds and bitter regrets make it a difficult challenge. As Charlotte grows closer to shepherd Ian Storey and rebuilds her shattered faith, she must decide whether she will ever trust in love again.

Two women a century apart are taken on a journey to healing, faith, and forgiveness in this heartfelt dual-time Edwardian romance from bestselling author Carrie Turansky.

Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 26, 2023 
by Bethany House Publishers
4/5 stars

I will confess that it was the cover that drew me to this book, along with the secret diary and dual time period story. Both are a couple of my favourite reads.

Taking place first in 2012 as antiques appraiser Gwen travels to Longdale Manor.  It's there that she finds a 100 year old journal, which gives clues that point to a connection to her own past. In 1912 Charlotte begins writing in this journal and tells of her family's painful secrets.

The Legacy of Longdale Manor is a story of two women, a century apart with similar journeys. Each time period has its own secrets, faith journeys, and mystery, as well as some romance. This is my first time reading a Carrie Turansky novel. It’s a well written story about shattered faith and reconciliation, challenges, as well as healing and forgiveness. It was an entertaining, feel good read. I am glad that I took the chance on a new author and will definitely be on the lookout for more of her works.

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

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Nobel Prize–winning This classic of 20th-century literature chronicles the spiritual evolution of a man living in India at the time of the Buddha—a tale that has inspired generations of readers

Here is a fresh translation of the classic Herman Hesse novel, from Sherab Chödzin Kohn—a gifted translator and longtime student of Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. Kohn invites readers along Siddhartha’s spiritual journey—experiencing his highs and lows, loves and disappointments along the way. We first meet Siddhartha as a privileged brahmin’s son. Handsome, well-loved, and growing increasingly dissatisfied with the life expected of him, he then sets out on his journey, not realizing that he is fulfilling the prophesies proclaimed at his birth. Siddhartha blends in with the world, showing the reader the beauty and intricacies of the mind, nature, and his experiences on the path to enlightenment.

Sherab Chödzin Kohn’s flowing, poetic translation conveys the philosophical and spiritual nuances of Hesse’s text, paying special attention to the qualities of meditative experience. Also included is an extensive introduction by Paul W. Morris that discusses the impact Siddhartha has had on American culture.

Paperback, 144 pages
First published January 1, 1922
Published September 19, 2000 
by Shambhala
3/5 stars

This was our family book club pick over the summer.  It was a short interesting read.  Not usually my type of read but I went with the flow.

I guess this is more a spotlight then a review.  Lots of reviews on Goodreads

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

Thursday, October 5, 2023

What We Kept to Ourselves: A Novel Nancy Jooyoun Kim

The New York Times bestselling author of the Reese’s Book Club pick The Last Story of Mina Lee returns with a timely and surprising new novel about a family’s search for answers following the disappearance of their mother.

1999: The Kim family is struggling to move on after their mother, Sunny, vanished a year ago. Sixty-one-year-old John Kim feels more isolated from his grown children, Anastasia and Ronald, than ever before. But one evening, their fragile lives are further upended when John finds the body of a stranger in the backyard, carrying a letter to Sunny, leaving the family with more questions than ever about the stranger’s history and possible connections to their mother.

1977: Sunny is pregnant and has just moved to Los Angeles from Korea with her aloof and often-absent husband. America is not turning out the way she had dreamed it to be, and the loneliness and isolation are broken only by a fateful encounter at a bus stop. The unexpected connection spans the decades and echoes into the family’s lives in the present as they uncover devastating secrets that put not only everything they thought they knew about their mother but their very lives at risk.

Both a riveting page-turner and moving family story, What We Kept to Ourselves masterfully explores the consequences of secrets between parents and children, hus­bands and wives. It is the story of one unforgettable family’s search for home when all seems lost, and a powerful meditation on identity, migration, and what it means to dream in America.

Paperback, 416 pages
Expected publication October 10, 2023
 by Atria Books
4.5/5 stars

This is my first time reading a Nancy Jooyoun Kim book. Thanks to Simon & Schuster CA for a print ARC.

Beginning in 1999 Koreatown,  Los Angeles at the home of the Kim family. There is a mama, papa, brother and sister, the all-American family, they are anything but. The story weaves back-and-forth in time as the young married couple begins a new life in America 20 years prior. This is the story of their life, struggles, all the while working hard and trying to make this new country feel like a home. Told from a number of different POVs got into the heart of this family.

This was a well written, emotional read. There are many layers that keep the story going.  Aside from a family saga, there is mystery, a bit of suspense, but ultimately it is about those searching for themselves, loneliness, and the struggles facing immigrants in a new country. At times I felt maybe it was a bit too long but I can't really think of what to omit.  Definitely a book I recommend.

What We Kept to Ourselves releases on Oct 10, a book I highly recommend.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

A New Season by Terry Fallis

From beloved and bestselling author Terry Fallis comes a novel unlike any of his others. A thoughtful exploration of aging, loss, family, friendship, and love, all with his trademark humour and heart. 

Jack McMaster seemingly has it all. A beautiful house, a loving son of many talents (including cooking, which is great news for Jack, if not for his waistline), even a special bond with his buddies in his ball hockey league. But he's also learning to live with loss, leaving a gaping hole in his life--a life that will never be the same as before. Jack passes his days knowing he has the support of his family and his friends, but he can't shake the feeling that his life has gone gray, and that time is slipping by so quickly. 

Then, a short and shocking video from an unexpected source gives him the gumption to make a change and maybe even haul himself out of his melancholia. Inspired by his lifelong fascination with 1920s Paris, Jack finally visits the City of Light, following in the footsteps of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and wandering the Left Bank.

 Slowly, the colour seeps back into his life, aided by a chance encounter in a café that leads Jack into the art world, and a Paris mystery nearly a century old. Full of sincerity and warmth, A New Season shows us all that sometimes, making a change in your life can save your life.

Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 29, 2023
by McClelland & Stewart
4/5 stars

  A New Season takes place after the pandemic as Jack is still coming to terms with his wife's passing in the early days of covid.  It's like life has stood still the past 3 years or so.  But it isn't until his son shows Jack something that he takes that step, a giant step that is and sets off for Paris.  A trip that has always been in the plans but never fulfilled.

I immediately got Fredrik Bachman vibes with the humor and banter that takes place in the mist of heartache. A New Season is a story of grief, friendship and new beginnings.  It was engaging and the fact Toronto is one of the settings made it all the more endearing. The middle might have dragged a little but I loved where this book went and the story it told.  Friendship plays such a big part which shows the importance of true friends during the good and bad times.

This was my first Terry Fallis book, I had the privilege of attending an event with the release of this book.  He did a great presentation, talking about his inspirations and even how parts are reflected in his own life.  Definitely an author I recommend.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge #73

Monday, October 2, 2023

You Make It Feel Like Christmas by Toni Shiloh

Starr Lewis reluctantly returns home for the holidays jobless, single, and not at all prepared to be dragged into her sister's wedding activities--or to witness her sister's marriage to Starr's ex-boyfriend on Christmas Eve. But when her brother's charming best friend, Waylon Emmerson, attends their family Thanksgiving, Starr begins to believe that maybe coming home isn't so bad.

As Starr endures wedding preparations, she takes comfort in Waylon's presence and finds the perfect distraction in helping him keep his late mother's Christmas shop afloat. As the spark between them grows, Starr must decide what she wants out of life--to go back to New York City or to stay and pursue a new dream.

A joyous, heartwarming, and magical holiday romance from Christy Award-winning author Toni Shiloh that will keep you cozy under the twinkling Christmas lights.

Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 5, 2023
by Bethany House Publishers
3.5/5 stars

This was a fun, cozy Christmas read.  Given the size it could even be classified as a novella.  It is also my first time reading a Toni Shiloh book.

You Make It Feel Like Christmas is a story about family and all the drama that goes with it.  Given the size (of book) it would usually be hard to garner the depth to really and truly know the characters and plot.  But I did here.  Starr is unemployed and worried about the future.  Waylon has a job but it isn't going so well. Each has some baggage to deal with.  The perfect match, right?  

This is all things Christmas, aside from the fact it takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Starr's siblings have names like Eve, Noel, Gaby (Gabriel) and Angel.  I can just envision that setting.

Definitely a Hallmark story, full of romance where faith plays a big part.

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