Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Broken Girls

Author: Simone St James
Genre:  Suspense, Supernatural, Canadian
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: March 20, 2018
First Line: "Barrons, Vermont - November 1950. The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road."

Book Description from GoodReadsVermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants--the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming--until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past--and a voice that won't be silenced. . . .

My Rating: 5 stars (aka You've gotta read this!)

My Review: In The Broken Girls, Canadian author Simone St James, has written a deliciously, dark and eerie novel that is part mystery, part ghost story and a hint of gothic suspense that will have readers looking over their shoulders in case the ghost of Mary Hand is lurking nearby. 

“Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under land… Faster, faster. Don’t let her catch you.
She’ll say she wants to be your friend…
Do not let her in again!”

The story is set in a small Vermont town, in two different eras. In 1950, readers are given back stories to four roommates, who are some of the 'broken' girls at the Idlewood School, a school where girls deemed 'troublemakers' by their families were sent away. It is a harsh and lonely place, but the four fifteen year old girls find friendship and strength in each other .... until one of them goes missing.

In 2014, someone has plans to renovate the long abandoned Idlewood school which locals have always thought to be haunted. Fiona, a local journalist, is still troubled by her sister's murder, which occurred on the grounds of Idlewood twenty years before. The impending renovation brings up many feelings and theories about what really happened to her sister. The more Fiona digs into her sister's murder, the deeper she becomes enmeshed in Idlewood's questionable history.

The Broken Girls is a well-written and chilling tale that will keep readers riveted and may have them believing in ghosts by the final pages. With wonderfully placed twists and characters who show the importance and strength of friendship and family bonds, this atmospheric ghostly mystery is filled with secrets in both story lines that finally converge into a spine tingling, yet very satisfying ending.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Good Liar

Author: Catherine McKenzie
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: April 3, 2018
First Line: "I'm late again."

Book Description from GoodReadsCan you hide a secret with the whole world watching?

When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.

A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.

Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?

My Rating: 3 stars (aka 'a good read')

My Review: The Good Liar is based around a fictional, 911-type tragedy set in Chicago that devastates the city. The story is told via the alternating narratives of Cecily, Kate and snippets from the interview that Teo, a documentary maker, has with Franny, a young woman trying to find her birth mother. This tragedy links these three women and as their stories progress, readers see the truth revealed.

This book has good bones - solid premise, emotional situations and part of it is set in the beautiful city of Montreal (I love it when Canadian authors keep their stories in Canada). But the three women were hard to keep straight in the beginning and I can't say I was connected to any of them. Too much time was spent on their daily lives and not enough time spent developing and maintaining the tension.

Overall, The Good Liar is well written and kept my interest, but I was expecting more suspense and a bigger build-up. Readers who like domestic drama with a side of suspense will enjoy this book and the ending will make readers question who really is the Good Liar.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, 13 April 2018

Force of Nature

Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 326
Series: #2 in the Aaron Falk series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Lines: "Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you."

Book Description from GoodReads: Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: I wasn't sure what I was in for when I picked up this book because I hadn't read the popular first book in the Aaron Falk series, The Dry. There's just simply not enough hours in the day to read all the books. Instead, I jumped right into this second book in the series because it was available at the library. Carpe librum.

Force of Nature is aptly named and has an eerie, sinister feel where the desolate, merciless wilds of Australia play a major role. When a woman goes missing on a work-related retreat in the bush, everyone is a suspect. Tensions are high, and the lies are flying. Harper gives detailed back stories for the five women (who were an unlikable bunch) but unfortunately (and surprisingly), left Falk as a peripheral character. 

This was a slow burn kind of read that had a more straightforward plot than I was expecting. Harper maintains tension by alternating between what really happened with the five women in the bush and Falk's investigation, but the revelations and resolution of the case weren't as complex or as strong as I had expected.

In the end, I liked the premise, the red herrings (one of which could have been used more) and the tidbits of tension but would have liked more twists and a chance to know the main character better. I still plan to read The Dry at some point to see what all the fuss was about.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Heart Berries

Author: Therese Marie Mailhot
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Doubleday Canada

First Published: March 13, 2018

First Line: "My story was maltreated".

Book Description from GoodReadsGuileless and refreshingly honest, Terese Mailhot's debut memoir chronicles her struggle to balance the beauty of her Native heritage with the often desperate and chaotic reality of life on the reservation.

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II, Terese Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father--an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist--who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot "trusts the reader to understand that memory isn't exact, but melded to imagination, pain and what we can bring ourselves to accept." Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story and, in so doing, re-establishes her connection to her family, to her people and to her place in the world.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Review: In this small book, Mailhot, a Canadian Indigenous woman, bravely shares her personal feelings and experiences which are often brutal, bleak and sometimes shocking.

She tells her story with a unique writing style that was like nothing I've ever read. Some phrases were deliciously poetic - the kind that readers will want to write down. Brief, powerful and wonderful. But these tidbits are interspersed within a story that felt disjointed and almost incoherent much of the time. The writing, which was less of a memoir and more of a collection of essays, was like a rambling and unedited stream of consciousness that switched subjects, location and time lines leaving me feeling like I wasn't quite keeping up with her. It just wasn't a style that I enjoyed reading.

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did. I tried, I really did, and I realize that I'm in the minority with my review. While I applaud Mailhot for bravely sharing her deeply personal experiences and thoughts as an Indigenous woman who struggles with mental illness, her identity and loss, her frantic, disjointed method of relaying her thoughts greatly diminished my understanding of her story and my overall enjoyment of this book.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 303
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Penguin Random House
First Published: April 7, 2015
First Line: "It's a weirdly subtle conversation".

Book Description from GoodReadsSixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Admittedly, I'm a little late to the Simon party but better late than never. This is a coming of age story about Simon, a sweet, regular teenager (with a strong Oreo addiction) who happens to be gay. It's just that no one else knows he's gay. When someone threatens to reveal his sexual identity, readers witness his struggle which is poignant and helps solidify the connection between Simon and the reader.  

Simon is an endearing character who is a little awkward, funny and has a great support system. The camaraderie Simon has with his friends is enviable and their reactions to the crappy stuff that life throws at them were believable. He also has a good relationship with his family and I appreciate that Albertalli doesn't relegate parents to the fringes of the story.  As a mom of three teens, I connected with Simon's mom and the changing bond between parents and their almost-adult kids. It's an awkward time for everyone and Albertalli gets that.

She also gives readers food for thought and I think the idea of heterosexuality not being the default or assumed identity for everyone is an important point and would make for great discussion. But, at the heart of the book is a sweet romance that I got all gushy over. So much gush. And, while I enjoyed piecing together the mystery surrounding the identity of Simon's on-line crush, it was Simon's metamorphosis as he figured out who his is, and who he wants to be, that kept me reading. 

This is a coming-of-age story about courage and the excitement and beauty of first love. It has a wonderfully diverse cast; it is funny, heart-warming and relevant. If you love Oreos, sweet romances, witty email banter, likable characters and a story that will make you sigh at the end, then this is the book for you.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Cursed Wife

Author: Pamela Hartshorne
Genre: Historical Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: MacMillan
First Published: April 19, 2018
First Line: "Outside, a blustery wind is shoving clouds across the sun."

Book Description from GoodReads: The Cursed Wife is a page-turning, psychological thriller set in Elizabethan London, by the author of Time's Echo, Pamela Hartshorne.
Mary is content with her life as wife to Gabriel Thorne, a wealthy merchant in Elizabethan London. She loves her husband and her family, is a kind mistress to the household and is well-respected in the neighbourhood. She does her best to forget that as a small girl she was cursed for causing the death of a vagrant child, a curse that predicts that she will hang. She tells herself that she is safe.

But Mary's whole life is based on a lie. She is not the woman her husband believes her to be, and when one rainy day she ventures to Cheapside, the past catches up with her and sets her on a path that leads her to the gibbet and the fulfilment of the curse.

My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'just ok')

My Review: The Cursed Wife is touted as an Elizabethan psychological thriller and is my first book by author Pamela Hartshorne. The era was interesting, but I would call this more of a gloomy Historical Fiction read with a titch of suspense and a slight creep factor.

At times, I was engaged in the lives of Cat and Mary, two very different women living in Elizabethan England. But, more often than not, I found the pacing choppy, the writing repetitive (due to Mary and Cat retelling their sides of the same story) and Mary was frustratingly naïve. The reader knows what's going on but much of the book is spent waiting for Mary to finally catch on to what is obviously happening in her own home.

Mary and Cat had a dysfunctional, ruthless, obsessive rivalry. Neither are overly likable at any point in time but at least Cat added some nastiness while Mary just obsessed over her creepy wooden doll and fed into her self-fulfilling prophecy regarding the curse.

I think this book would have been better as a novella. In a shorter format, I think it could have packed more of a punch. Instead, it's a gloomy look at an obsessive and destructive relationship that wasn't suspenseful enough, lacked a strong ending and, unfortunately, won't be a book that stays with me long.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, 1 April 2018


Author: Susanna Kearsley
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 414
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada

First Published: April 24, 2018
First Line: "Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets."

Book Description from GoodReadsSome houses seem to want to hold their secrets.

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies of Britain and France into the conflict. The times are complicated, as are the loyalties of many New York merchants who have secretly been trading with the French for years, defying Britain’s colonial laws in a game growing ever more treacherous.

When captured French officers are brought to Long Island to be billeted in private homes on their parole of honour, it upends the lives of the Wilde family—deeply involved in the treasonous trade and already divided by war.

Lydia Wilde, struggling to keep the peace in her fracturing family following her mother’s death, has little time or kindness to spare for her unwanted guests. French-Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran has little desire to be there. But by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum.

Charley doesn’t believe in ghosts. But as she starts to delve into the history of Lydia and her French officer, it becomes clear that the Wilde House holds more than just secrets, and Charley discovers the legend might not have been telling the whole story...or the whole truth.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Bellewether is a blend of historical details, a fantastical element and romance.  It was a quietly compelling read that unearthed new-to-me historical information surrounding the Seven Years War.

What I love the most about Kearsley's books are the historical elements. I can trust that this author, a former museum curator and passionate historian, has done her due diligence about the history behind the story. In Bellewether, she weaves part of her own family's history into this fictional tale that includes real historical figures and important issues, past and present. These issues include slavery, illegal trading, draft dodging, the horrors of Canadian residential schools and the misperceptions different cultures had about each other.

The story is based in two different eras (modern day and late 18th century) and is told by three different characters - Charley, Jean-Phillipe and Lydia. Truth be told, I was more drawn to the modern-day story involving Charley, a museum curator. I had more of a connection with her and enjoyed seeing her piece together the historical mystery surrounding Lydia and Jean-Phillippe, one of the French lieutenants who were captured during the Seven Years War and housed within Lydia's family's home.

Where this book loses some marks for me is with the simplicity of its plot. This is a quiet story that focuses on the relationships of the characters more than an intricate plot. And, while there were some intriguing revelations between the two eras, I wanted a bit more action and opportunity to see the connection between Lydia and Jean-Phillippe.

I enjoyed this book and I'm grateful that Kearsley has brought to light many historical elements that may have been glossed over (or forgotten) from school history classes. Susanna Kearsley is one of my favourite storytellers and her latest book is a sweet romance with a dash of mystery and engaging history that will hopefully leave readers eager to learn more about the era and the issues raised.

Note: I highly recommend reading the author's notes at the end of the book for a better understanding of the characters and historical elements.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Then She Was Gone

Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: April 24, 2018
First Line: "Those months, the months before she disappeared, were the best months."

Book Description from GoodReadsTen years after her teenage daughter disappears, a woman crosses paths with a charming single father whose young child feels eerily familiar, in this evocative, suspenseful drama from New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell—perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Liane Moriarty.

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I finished this book with a big exhale and a tear in my eye. Then She Was Gone is an emotionally-charged read featuring damaged characters and a story that is as touching as it is chilling.  While it’s touted as a psychological thriller, I found it to be more of a dissection of dysfunctional families set around the story of a missing teen.

The story is told by four characters in two different time frames and the switching back and forth was done fluidly with the various points of view adding to the characters' depth. The characters were a diverse bunch – they’re complicated, a few were unlikable and some even sinister. But Jewell shows readers where their damage stems from and while I still wasn't endeared to a few, I appreciated getting a glimpse into why they became that way.

Within the story, Jewell handles some big issues: mental illness, healing, family dysfunction and the struggle to persevere after great suffering. I especially liked the focus on the influence, positive and negative, that parents hold over their children's emotional, physical and mental well-being, and how disconnect of this bond, can influence a child, no matter their age.

As an avid reader of the suspense genre, I figured out the main twist early on, but it was Laurel's journey, and my hope that I was wrong, that kept me glued to the pages. Then She Was Gone is an engaging read with emotional scenes, diverse characters and some mystery, ending with an epilogue that will hit readers hard.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, 23 March 2018

Herding Cats

Author: Sarah Andersen
Genre: Comics, Humour
Type: e-book
Series: #3 in the Sarah Scribbles comic series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
First Published: March 27, 2018

Book Description from GoodReads: Sarah valiantly struggles with waking up in the morning, being productive, and dealing with social situations. Sarah's Scribbles is the comic strip that follows her life, finding humor in living as an adulting introvert that is at times weird, awkward, and embarrassing.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Sarah Andersen is known for her short, witty comics that are love notes to her fellow awkward introverts. I have read and enjoyed the previous two books in the series (Adulthood is a Myth and Big Mushy Happy Lump) but this book fell short for me.

Besides including a few feminist-leaning comics (which I enjoyed), this book didn't offer anything new. The focus remains on introverted pet lovers who don't believe in themselves which would be fine if the comics were giggle-out-loud funny as in the first two installments. Unfortunately, I only had mild guffahs and possibly a snicker or two over a few of the strips (men doing housework = award winning work, the ongoing struggle to keep house clean).

Overall, this book was underwhelming for me. It has its funny bits but they are scarce. And, with a large part of the book dedicated to advising and encouraging young artists (of which I am neither) I had a hard time relating.

I think for now I'm Sarah Scribbled out.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Girl Who Lived

Author: Christopher Greyson
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Greyson Media Associates
First Published: November 2, 2017
First Lines: "They were coming for her, but Faith wasn't in the mood to go anywhere. Not today."

Book Description from GoodReads

Ten years ago, four people were brutally murdered. One girl lived.

No one believes her story.
The police think she’s crazy.
Her therapist thinks she’s suicidal.
Everyone else thinks she’s a dangerous drunk.
They’re all right—but did she see the killer?

As the anniversary of the murders approaches, Faith Winters is released from the psychiatric hospital and yanked back to the last spot on earth she wants to be—her hometown where the slayings took place. Wracked by the lingering echoes of survivor’s guilt, Faith spirals into a black hole of alcoholism and wanton self-destruction. Finding no solace at the bottom of a bottle, Faith decides to track down her sister’s killer—and then discovers that she’s the one being hunted.

How can one woman uncover the truth when everyone’s a suspect—including herself?

From the mind of Wall Street Journal bestselling author Christopher Greyson comes a story with twists and turns that take the reader on a journey of light and dark, good and evil, to the edge of madness. The Girl Who Lived should come with a warning label: Once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop. Not since Girl on the Train and Gone Girl has a psychological thriller kept readers so addicted—and guessing right until the last page.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: This was my first book by Christopher Greyson. I’m always on the lookout for new suspense authors that can keep me on my toes. I now consider Mr. Greyson one of those authors.

The story starts off strong and is filled with lots of wonderful misdirection and several plausible culprits. This gaggle of possible baddies caused me to repeatedly change my mind about the identity of the murderer who continues to harass Faith.

This is a dark mystery that also brings readers into the life of a person struggling with mental illness. After being incarcerated in psychiatric facilities for a decade, Faith continues to cope with mental health issues stemming from the horror she experienced when her sister was brutally murdered. She’s determined not be sent back to the psych hospital and tries to adhere to her strict regimen of therapy, parole and support group meetings. It’s a rough road for Faith but it’s her deep-seated desire to get justice for her sister’s death that propels her.

Faith was a good main character, but it took time for her to grow on me. Understanding where she’s come from and how she continues to struggle endeared her to me a bit.  She’s dealing with a lot, including survivor’s guilt, feeling like an outcast in her home town and being misunderstood by almost everyone around her.  She remains quite damaged and doesn’t always make the right choices, but she was a character I could get behind.

Overall, I was very impressed with this book.  It’s an addicting, fast-paced read that pulls the reader into the story which includes a few scenes that will get readers’ hearts pounding!  I could brag and say that I predicted the culprit, but I suspected so many of the characters that this boasting should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher  via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

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