Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Liar's Girl

Author: Catherine Ryan Howard
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
First Published: February 27, 2018
First Line: "It's 4:17 a.m. on Saturday morning when Jen comes to on a battered couch in a house somewhere in Rathmines, one of those red-brick terraces that's been divided into flats, let out to students and left to rot."

Book Description for GoodReadsWill Hurley was an attractive, charming, and impressive student at Dublin's elite St. John's College-and Ireland's most prolific serial killer. Having stalked his four young victims, he drowned them in the muddy waters of the Grand Canal. Sentenced to life imprisonment when he was just nineteen, Will is locked away in the city's Central Psychiatric Hospital.

Freshman Alison Smith moved to the Big Smoke to enrol in St. John's and soon fell hard for Will Hurley. Her world bloomed ... and then imploded when Liz, her best friend, became the latest victim of the Canal Killer-and the Canal Killer turned out to be the boy who'd been sleeping in her bed. Alison fled to the Netherlands and, in ten years, has never once looked back.

When a young woman's body is found in the Grand Canal, Garda detectives visit Will to see if he can assist them in solving what looks like a copycat killing. Instead, Will tells them he has something new to confess-but there's only one person he's prepared to confess it to. The last thing Alison wants is to be pulled back into the past she's worked so hard to leave behind. Reluctantly, she returns to the city she hasn't set foot in for more than a decade to face the man who murdered the woman she was supposed to become.

Only to discover that, until now, Will has left out the worst part of all ...

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This slow burn psychological thriller follows Alison, a woman whose boyfriend was charged with murdering five women ten years ago. Over the past decade she has desperately tried to leave her past behind but when the bodies of more young women turn up, the Irish police ask for Alison’s help to gain new information from her ex-boyfriend.

Normally I prefer my suspense reads fast-paced and twist-filled so I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this slower paced thriller. The story flips back and forth between 2007 and current day and is from Alison's perspective but the inclusion of another character's point of view adds to the building suspense. The time shifting was done well and helped show why Alison tried desperately to leave her past behind her. 

Readers will be kept engaged throughout the story but instead of packing in twist after twist, Howard focuses on strong characterizations of her characters, including the secondary characters who each play important roles within the story. Alison's struggle to overcome her past is told with sensitivity and her current concerns are believable but I didn't find her an overly likable character. 

But, it was the sinister feel kept me reading into the wee hours. There was one scene with a small twist that took my breath away and had the hairs on my arms standing up. It was creeptastically good!

This is a compulsive read that I finished in just over one day. It has a slower build-up but if readers are patient, the tension builds to a nail-biting final scene and the addition of the last twist packs a good punch for a solid finish. 

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

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Still Me

Author: Jojo Moyes
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Series: #3 in the Me Before You series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "It was the moustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid grey millipede firmly obscuring the man's upper lip; a Village People moustache, a cowboy moustache, the miniature head of a broom that meant business."

Book Description from GoodReads: Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life.

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

Funny, romantic, and poignant, Still Me follows Lou as she navigates how to stay true to herself, while pushing to live boldly in her brave new world.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Still Me is the third book in the highly popular Me Before You series which I quite enjoyed. Me Before You was a quirky yet touching read that had me giggling in some scenes but reduced me to a blithering, sob-filled mess in others. It was awesome! After You still managed to get me to eek out a tear or two as I saw Lou struggle after great loss and was a better than average follow-up.

In Still Me, the focus isn't on loss (or a high Kleenex count) but on how Lou finds out who she is as she gains confidence, figures out what she wants and where she fits in the world. Years before Lou had promised someone important to her that she'd live life to the fullest - try new things and experience the world. So, she moves to New York City to take a job as a personal assistant to a young woman from the upper echelon of NYC society. Louisa quickly finds juggling her professional life (NYC high society as 'the help') and her personal life in two different countries a struggle. But with her plucky determination, big heart and quirky sense of style (and bumblebee tights!), she learns what she wants out of life as she stands on her own two feet for the first time.

While this was an enjoyable read it was predictable as events fall into place exactly how you think they will. But it was nice getting back into Lou's world and seeing her gain independence, confidence and love as she fulfills her promise to the person who helped her kick start this new life.

Still Me is an engaging read, especially for people who have followed Louisa's ups and downs through the past two books. While this book could be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend reading the books in order to get a clear idea of Lou's struggles and her bond with the person that has so greatly influenced her life.

My Reviews of the previous books in this series:
Me Before You
After You

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A Great Deliverance

Author: Elizabeth George
Genre: Mystery
Type: Large Print Hardcover
Pages: 505
Series: #1 in the Inspector Lynley series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: MacMillian Publishing
First Published: December 31, 1990
First Line: "It was a solecism of the very worst kind."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the breezy, very funny Murder Gets a Life, the fifth Southern Sisters mystery from Alabama writer Anne George, petite, married Patricia Ann and her thrice-widowed amazon of a sister discover that murder's a family affair, thanks to Mary Alice's new in-laws. There's a corpse with a hog-butchering knife stuck in his chest, but plot's hardly the point in a story chock-full of engaging characters and knowing humor. When Patricia Ann wonders if the murder victim was married, Mary Alice says, "Probably, his clothes matched."

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My ReviewI picked up this mystery because Elizabeth George is one of the authors that had escaped me over the years. Too many authors and not enough time. 

I knew next to nothing about this series and didn't know what to expect for characters, locale or time frame. What I got was a murder mystery with wonderfully complex, well-drawn, yet flawed main characters in Lynley and Havers. I enjoyed the contrast between aristocratic Lynley paired with chip-on-her-shoulder, working class Havers. They each have issues they're struggling with and these personal aspects were balanced well with the mystery. 

But as the story progressed I became less interested in the mystery. It got bogged down in overly descriptive prose and too many POV changes from the slew of secondary characters who were hard to keep track of. I was particularly surprised by the description of an American couple who were given rather merciless, clichéd descriptions -- especially after I learned that the author herself is American! But, included in the cast is a duck named Angus Dougal McDuck - a duck with a jaunty Scots name always gets high marks in my book. 

Overall, I'm glad I finally read Elizabeth George. While I could do with a little less descriptions and some of the issues addressed were more gruesome and shocking than expected, the combination of Lynley and Havers have me eager to read more books in this popular series. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sweet with Heat Baked Chicken

This recipe post is dedicated to my friend and former library bestie/co-worker Mary who noticed that my recipe posts were far and few between. I have to admit that now that I'm working full-time my desire to cook/bake has diminished but I do still dabble in the kitchen. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, Mar! Here's a recipe that I made a couple of weeks ago which Brad and I enjoyed.

I'm the first person to admit that I'm a big old wuss when it comes to spicy foods, but I enjoy the 'sweet with heat' combination. A little sass followed by some sweetness. 

That's how I roll.

For this recipe, I opted to use two tablespoons of sriracha sauce and even that, after a couple of chicken thighs (and extra sauce drizzled on my rice) had my mouth a'hummin! If you're braver than I, you may opt to up the sriracha or decrease it if you're squeamish about spiciness but still want great flavour. 

These moist chicken thighs are topped with a sauce that combines sweet brown sugar and spicy sriracha and is served over the nuttiness of basmati rice making it a delicious and easy-to-make weeknight meal.

2 tsp oil
10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper - to taste

1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp. Sriracha sauce (or more if you like it spicy)
1 1/2 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
pepper - to taste
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 400F.

Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil then decrease heat to medium-low and allow sauce to boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until oil starts to shimmer.

Open each chicken thigh and dredge with flour mixture. Place thighs in hot skillet and brown each side until golden.

Remove chicken pieces from the skillet and place, in a single layer, into the prepared 9x13-inch baking pan. Pour sauce over the chicken and bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165F and cooked through but still juicy.

Serve over basmati rice. Drizzle with sauce, if desired.

Inspired by: Baked Sweet and Spicy Chicken from Crème de la Crumb

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Things To Do When It's Raining

Author: Marissa Stapley
Genre: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "Virginia has always loved the rain."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?Mae Summers and Gabriel Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge the St. Lawrence river. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lilly and George. A childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up, got over her heartbreak, and started a life for herself in New York City.

After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets stand in the way of this unconventional family’s happiness. Will they be able to reclaim the past and come together, or will they remain separate islands?

From the bestselling author of Mating for Life comes a powerful story about guilt, forgiveness and the truth about families: that we can choose them, just as we choose to love.

My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka ‘it was okay’)

My Review: This is a cozy read featuring an intergenerational story about loss, lies and secrets. It hits all the right boxes for a good Contemporary Fiction read - nice setting, varying time lines, a family with issues and an interesting premise and yet it didn't garner a high rating from me for a few reasons.

First, I thought the big family secrets were underwhelming and were revealed too early in the story. I was in it for the secrets!! Second, I wanted better connections to the characters and would have loved more backstory on a few, especially Gabe and his less than idyllic childhood. The characters show various family dynamics but the transitions between past and present felt awkward, slowed the pace and made it difficult to keep track of who was speaking. 

What I enjoyed most about this book was the sensitive portrayal of Lily's progression into her illness.  Her internal dialogue was distressing and touching and got to the heart of an illness that affects many families.

For a story that deals with tragedy, grief, loss and betrayal, this book felt predictable and, unfortunately, underwhelming. There are many big familial issues introduced but I didn't feel they were really examined in enough depth.  

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

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Winnowing

Author: Vikki Vansickle

Genre: Middle School, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Suspense, Dystopian, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 312
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Scholastic Canada
First Published: September 1, 2017
First Line: "I'm flying."

Book Description from GoodReads: Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet Vikki Vansickle at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference in Toronto. She came to our booth for a book signing and quickly had a long line of fans.  Some came for a free signed copy after already reading and enjoying The Winnowing, while others came because they've heard the increasing buzz surrounding this book which has been short-listed for a Forest of Reading Red Maple award.

While this book has a strong Sci-Fi vibe, readers (like myself) who aren't avid Sci-Fi readers, will also enjoy it. The Winnowing is a blend of Sci-Fi, suspense, a wee bit of history, a healthy dose of nail-biting adventure and focuses on topics such as friendship, loyalty and finding strengths within ourselves. 

There are intense scenes and an eerie feel to the book, but it isn't filled with graphic violence and thankfully omits the popular romantic triangle. Instead, Vansickle focuses on a story filled with twists (some which surprised me and one that I saw coming), nail-biting scenes and a unique premise. The writing is atmospheric and descriptive with a plot that's fairly detailed and I appreciate that Vansickle doesn't talk down to her young readers. 

As for the characters, they were a diverse bunch. The main character, Marivic (whose name, I admit, took me a bit to get used to) is a well-rounded, likable character who doesn't wait around for a boy to save the day. She has believable flaws and struggles with some of her relationships, but she was easy to get behind. The same can also be said for other characters (I'm looking at you Ren and Gumps) who intrigued me so much with their backstories that I'm hopeful that this standalone book will be made into a series.

The Winnowing is a good choice for kids who want the adventure and energy of The Hunger Games-type books but who may not be ready to jump into that level of violence. While I would have liked a bit more focus on the historical aspects, this book has enough suspense and depth to its story that it will keep teen and even 'more seasoned' readers intrigued as well. 

The Winnowing is a blend of Sci-Fi, Dystopian and Suspense which will easily appeal to conspiracy loving fans of The X Files (Vansickle is a big fan herself) and Stranger Things but also to people who just want a good story to dive into.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "That spring, rain fell in great sweeping gusts that rattled the rooftops."

Book Description from GoodReadsAlaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world, it is also a story of young and enduring love. Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen-year-old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness. At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America.

With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women. About the highest stakes a family can face and the bonds that can tear a community apart, this is a novel as spectacular and powerful as Alaska itself. It is the finest example of Kristin Hannah's ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Kristin Hannah's latest book is a story about a family in turmoil set against the ruthless yet stunning beauty of Alaska in 1974.

This family saga felt like two different books. The first three-quarters was a gritty look at the Allbright family as they struggled to settle into the wilds of Alaska and deal with the trouble within their own family. Life in 'off the grid Alaska' was harsh, dangerous and lonely but Hannah's descriptions of the unforgiving wilds of Alaska were my favourite part of the book (with Alaska herself easily becoming my favourite character). 

But after awhile the story started to feel redundant as the same issues kept popping up with the characters reacting in the same way each time. There's also a fair amount of 'telling, not showing' and I found the dialogue weak which didn't bode well for building a connection with Leni and the other characters who were a one-dimensional bunch.

Then, at three-quarters of the way through the book, it had a different feel. I ended up skimming the last hundred pages which was filled with hard to believe scenes and an ending that felt rushed and tied up so easily that it was eye-roll worthy. Hannah was going for tragedy and there are bucket loads of it but there were so many issues (PTSD, abuse, poverty, death ...) that it felt soap opera-ish. It was tragedy after tragedy without enough room in between for readers to take a breath.

Overall, I appreciated the beautiful descriptions of Alaska (and the delightful Large Marge - who should have had her own chapters) and I liked the premise but overall this book fell short for me.

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

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Look For Me

Author: Lisa Gardner
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Series: #9 in the Detective D.D Warren series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Dutton
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "A year later, what Sarah remembered most was waking up to the sound of giggling."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner's latest twisty thrill ride, Detective D. D. Warren and Find Her's Flora Dane return in a race against the clock to either save a young girl's life . . . or bring her to justice.
The home of a family of five is now a crime scene: four of them savagely murdered, one—a sixteen-year-old girl—missing. Was she lucky to have escaped? Or is her absence evidence of something sinister? Detective D. D. Warren is on the case—but so is survivor-turned-avenger Flora Dane. Seeking different types of justice, they must make sense of the clues left behind by a young woman who, whether as victim or suspect, is silently pleading, Look for me.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: This 9th book in the D.D Warren series has the experienced detective in the middle of a murder of a family and includes Flora Dane, a character from the previous book, Find Her, who becomes D.D's sidekick/confidential informant. 

The addition of Flora's POV and different methods of getting information added an extra layer to the plot and funny banter between the seasoned police detective and the vigilante. But, there was often overlap between the two POVs which sometimes gave the story a 'didn't I just read about that?' feel for me.

This book picks up two years after 2016's Find Her (a wonderfully gritty read and one of my top reads of 2016). While readers don't have to read previous books in the series, I highly recommend reading Find Her to get Flora's back story which is important to understanding her character's development.

In Look For Me, Gardner gives her readers another twisty read and provides insight into the overburdened foster care system, how it has helped some kids and failed others. Gardner also addresses the issue of family, mistakes and healing and the addition of a teen's school essays on what 'The Perfect Family' means to her were touching and poignant.

This is a clever police procedural that kept me entertained, had some twists (even though I figured out the culprit) and an important social aspect. And while I can't say I was totally wowed this time out, I look forward to reading the next installment in this series.

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

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Girlfriend

Author: Michelle Frances
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "Laura had a good feeling about today."

Book Description from GoodReadsA girl. A boy. His mother. And the lie she'll wish she'd never told.

The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances is a gripping and chilling debut psychological thriller, based on the fall-out following an unforgiveable lie. It looks at the potentially charged relationship between girlfriend, boyfriend and his mother, which most women can identify with, and locates it in an extreme but believable setting.

Laura has it all. A successful career, a long marriage to a rich husband, and a twenty-three year-old son, Daniel, who is kind, handsome, and talented. Then Daniel meets Cherry. Cherry is young, beautiful and smart but she hasn't had the same opportunities as Daniel. And she wants Laura's life.

Cherry comes to the family wide-eyed and wants to be welcomed with open arms, but Laura suspects she's not all that she seems.

When tragedy strikes, an unforgiveable lie is told. It is an act of desperation, but the fall-out will change their lives forever.

My Rating
: 2 stars (aka 'meh')

My Review:
This book is marketed as a 'chilling psychological thriller' but it is a domestic drama at best. It lacks tension and depth to the story and instead gives readers a long-winded, slowly paced story with lukewarm characters who behave exactly how you'd expect, making this debut 'just okay' at best.

The premise had heaps of potential, but the author couldn't pull off a 'thriller'. It just wasn't clever enough. It felt like the author had to lay out every character's thoughts and didn't trust her readers to be able to piece together a more intricate plot. This may appeal to people who want a mild, family drama read but for avid readers of the psychological suspense genre, like myself, this doesn't add anything new to the genre (either domestic drama or psychological thriller).

With thinly constructed characters, a weakly executed premise and a lack of suspense, this quickly became one of those books that I wasn't eager to get back into.

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

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Teen, Dark Urban Fantasy
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland super fan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I can't remember having such drastic feelings about a book. The first half (which I read in one sitting - thank you, insomnia!) captivated me. I found it suspenseful, engaging, a little creepy and I was intrigued by the stunning cover and the dark fairy tale aspect.

And then, a little more than half way through, the book took on a different feel. At this point, the story became convoluted and the world building was done so quickly, not giving readers time to acclimate, that I was left feeling an overall sense of confusion. Many secondary and tertiary characters float in and out of the story that it left me wondering who was important.

The Hazel Wood has a unique premise that is very much story-centric leaving readers with only two main characters - Alice and to a lesser extent, Ellery Finch, her school mate who is an avid fan of Alice's grandmother's book. Alice is an unlikable, ornery main character and without a connection to her, and with a confusing second half of the book, I can't say that I finished the book as enamoured with it as I began. I definitely liked parts - Finch, the writing and suspense in the first half but the last half of the book pulled my rating down.

I realize that other readers have adored this book and perhaps this dark urban fantasy read just isn't the book for me. If you're into dark fairy tales and want a story to take you to places you've never imagined this may be a book for you.

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

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