Book Review: The Second Worst Restuarant in France by Alexander McCall Smith

I entered a giveaway for ARCs offered by Penguin Random House Canada and was excited to receive The Second Worst Restaurant in France by Alexander McCall Smith. The reason for my excitement? I love any books set in France.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

In a delightful sequel to the best-selling comedic novel My Italian Bulldozer , we are in a French village where the local restaurant’s haute cuisine leaves a lot to be desired–and two books into an astounding ninth series from one of our most beloved authors. 

Renowned cookbook writer Paul Stuart, renewed and refreshed from his time in Tuscany, has returned to Scotland to work on his new book, The Philosophy of Food in Six Easy Chapters. Writing, though, is complicated by Paul’s changed domestic circumstances. His editor and new girlfriend, Gloria, has moved in with him despite not being specifically invited, and she’s brought her two rather demanding Siamese cats. When Paul’s cousin, Chloe, suggests Paul visit her in the French countryside, Paul jumps at the chance. However, once he arrives, he finds his fortunes tangled up with the infamous local restaurant that gives the book its title. In this story about a man who prides himself on his taste finding delight in the most unexpected places, we have Alexander McCall Smith at his most witty and charming.

My thoughts:

I have not read any previous novels by McCall Smith, and had not read the first book in this series either. My enjoyment of the novel, however, was not diminished by my lack of knowledge of the first. The Second Worst Restaurant in France can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

The main character in the novel, Paul Stuart, is a food writer so many references in the novel are food related – perfect for those readers who are foodies as well. References are made in the novel on the importance of food in our lives and how food is used to bring people together. Food has definitely brought people together in this novel – and in unexpected ways. McCall Smith’s characters are delightful and one cannot help but smile at their antics and observations.

Humour is woven through the novel. It is often a subtle humour, though, and one that suits the serious nature of the main character. Paul is having some issues with his girlfriend, Gloria, but his relationship with her is not the thrust of the novel. The main thread through the novel appears to be food – and the need for Paul to change his focus and find answers in unexpected places.

I enjoyed reading this novel and its brief snapshot into life in the French countryside. I savoured the descriptions and chuckled a few times during my reading. This novel meanders slowly through the tale, and is one that is meant to be savoured and not inhaled in one sitting. I recommend this delightful story for those readers who are charmed by stories featuring ordinary people.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 64th in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley

I often enter giveaways on Instagram and, for the first time, I won a copy of The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley. I was excited to read the novel as I had heard good things about Stapley’s writing.

Genre: Suspense, Thriller

Blurb:

The Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the “last resort” offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a luxurious setting on the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.

Johanna and Ben have a marriage that looks perfect on the surface, but in reality, they don’t know each other at all. Shell and Colin fight constantly: after all, Colin is a workaholic, and Shell always comes second to his job as an executive at a powerful mining company. But what has really torn them apart is too devastating to talk about. When both couples begin Harmony’s intensive therapy program, it becomes clear that Harmony is not all it seems—and neither are Miles and Grace themselves. What are they hiding, and what price will these couples pay for finding out?

As a deadly tropical storm descends on the coast, trapping the hosts and the guests on the resort, secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested and not one single person—or their marriage—will remain unchanged by what follows.

My thoughts:

The novel starts with a man filled with anger, and a suspicion that he is dying. The story continues with the events that lead up to the climax: Stapley slowly releases the knowledge we need to know in order to come to an understanding of the story and the characters who play an important role in the events. The murder that has occurred has a reason; and it is a reason that will surprise you.

The Last Resort is not the typical murder story. Instead it is a story that highlights some issues for the reader to think about: the grieving process and the loss of a child; the need to embrace ourselves for what we are; the relationship between spouses; abuse in a marriage. These issues are intertwined in a story that is fast-paced and keeps one reading. Stapley keep me feeling a range of emotions while reading her writing; and she kept me engrossed in a story that was more than what I had expected.

The Last Resort is an expertly crafted story that readers of murder mysteries will enjoy. The subtle twists will keep you guessing and the ending will give you a sense of satisfaction.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 63rd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Crossfire by Jessie Kwak

When Crossfire by Jessie Kwak arrived in the mail, I was so excited to read it that I placed it on the top of my TBR pile next to my bed.

Genre: Science Fiction

Blurb:

Trouble is dead. Long live trouble.

Killing the leader of a violent cult was supposed to make the city a safer place, but instead it created a power imbalance that’s left a deadly war raging in the streets of Bulari. 

When Willem Jaantzen is approached for help by local casino magnate Phaera D, he has the sinking feeling the only way to end this war is to betray the people he loves the most. And he’s starting to suspect that Phaera wants more from him than just his help. 

Whatever decision he makes feels like the wrong one. And as his goddaughter chips away at the mystery surrounding their latest discovery, bringing peace back to the Bulari underground is quickly becoming the least of his worries. 

My thoughts:

I could not wait to open Crossfire and continue reading more of the characters in the Bulari Saga. I was not disappointed and quickly became engrossed in the story.

In the second volume of the saga, readers get to know a little more about the characters that Kwak has introduced us to. My two favourite characters are definitely Manu and Starla. In Crossfire, I learn a little more about them and – to be honest – I want to know more! Both of them are shown as people who have experienced some difficult times. They are loyal and strong – and, like all people, have things on their mind and problems in their personal lives. Readers also get to know a little more about Toshiyo – the nerd in the story. I look forward with hope to learning more about her in the next installment of the saga.

Kwak has shared with us a story that is fast-paced and filled with action. I chose to read this novel during a time in which I could put aside all other obligations – a wise choice as I did not want to put the book down! The story picks up from where it left off in the first volume, Double Edged. Kwak adroitly moves the reader through the story with concise writing that creates images in the reader’s mind.

Crossfire is a story about the need to sacrifice personal desires for the good of the community. Jaantzen and Manu need to forsake their desire for revenge Of a sworn enemy in order to ensure that peace can be attained in their city. The reader does wonder, and hope, that their sacrifice is worth it and that Jaantzen’s plan to work with an enemy is fruitful.

As I read the last page of this novel, I wished I could read more. I will be waiting impatiently for the next volume. This fast-paced science-fiction story has me hooked!

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 62nd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Red Vengeance by Margaret Stohl

While browsing in Indigo, our local bookstore, I came across Red Vengeance by Margaret Stohl on the sale table. I love superhero stories and my daughter is a huge Marvel fan so I picked up the book knowing that I would pass it onto her after I had read it.

Genre: Young Adult, Superheroes, Marvel

Blurb:

Emotions are dangerous, which is why the graduates of Moscow’s famed spy school the Red Room are taught to keep their enemies close and their loved ones at a distance. Black Widow and Red Widow, also known as Natasha Romanov and Ava Orlova, forgot that lesson once, and they won’t forget it again.

But the Widows have inherited something else from their shared Moscow past: a relentless need for vengeance—Ivan Somodorov is dead, but his network of terror remains.

While the Widows search South America in order to extinguish a smuggling operation with ties to their old nemesis, their own Red Room not only attempts to assassinate them both but also hacks their secure S.H.I.E.L.D. network. As a result, Ava and Natasha find themselves thrust into a trying mission of international intrigue that takes them throughout the world and back to New York City, where their friends Dante and Sana become unlikely targets as well.

Once again, nothing is as it seems, no one can be trusted, and no one is safe—not unless the Widows can stop a conspiracy involving stolen nuclear warheads, mind-altering chemical weapons, and ultimately, betrayal by old friends and enemies alike.

My thoughts:

If you have watched any of the recent Marvel films, you will know that the stories are fast-paced and filled with action. Reading Red Vengeance reminded me of those characteristics as I turned the pages quickly in this novel. As I was reading the story, I could not help but picture the Black Widow as portrayed in the Avengers stories. 😀

Even though this story is a sequel, at no time did I feel lost in the story. Stohl effectively fills in any blanks that may have occurred due to not having read the first book. It helped, too, that I know a little about the main character having watched all the Marvel movies.

The telling of the story in the past tense is interspersed with the recorded conversation in the present tense between Agent Natasha Romanov (the Black Widow) and Phillip Coulson (the agent in command). As the novel begins with a scene near the end of the story, Stohl’s technique slowly brings the reader to an understanding of how the events evolved. The gradual release of information to the reader helps with the tension in the story as well as the readers’ understanding of events.

This read is perfect for those who enjoy superhero stories. It is a well-written novel that is fast-paced and immerses one in the Marvel universe. I would love to see this story as a film.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 61st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

I was in the mood for a thriller and picked up the ARC sent to me by Harper Collins Canada of Alafair Burke’s latest novel The Better Sister. I had not yet read anything written by this author and looked forward to the introduction.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Blurb:

When a prominent Manhattan lawyer is murdered, two estranged sisters—one the dead man’s widow, the other his ex—must set aside mistrust and old resentments . . . but can they escape their past?

Though Chloe was the younger of the two Taylor sisters, she always seemed to be in charge. She was the honor roll student with big dreams and an even bigger work ethic. Nicky was always restless . . . and more than a little reckless—the opposite of her ambitious little sister. She floated from job to job and man to man, and stayed close to home in Cleveland.

For a while, it seemed like both sisters had found happiness. Chloe earned a scholarship to an Ivy League school and moved to New York City, where she landed a coveted publishing job. Nicky married promising young attorney Adam Macintosh, and gave birth to a baby boy they named Ethan. The Taylor sisters became virtual strangers.

Now, more than fifteen years later, their lives are drastically different—and Chloe is married to Adam. When he’s murdered by an intruder at the couple’s East Hampton beach house, Chloe reluctantly allows her teenaged stepson’s biological mother—her estranged sister, Nicky—back into her life. But when the police begin to treat Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, the two sisters are forced to unite . . . and to confront the truth behind family secrets they have tried to bury in the past 

My thoughts:

Not everything is as it appears on the surface – and that is what is reinforced in this novel. Bit by bit, the reader learns hidden truths and slowly comes to the realisation of a certain reality. Burke adroitly leads the reader down the path of a mystery with an unexpected ending.

Not only is The Better Sister a thriller, it is a novel that references relationships: the relationship between a husband and wife, and the relationship between two sisters. It is interesting to see how one incident estranges them while another, fifteen years later, brings them close as they unite to save their family.

I enjoyed reading Burke’s writing. It is precise and she kept my attention riveted to the pages. This was a thriller I needed to finish not only because I wanted to know ‘whodunit’, but also as I want to know the outcome of the sibling relationship. The Better Sister is a novel I recommend for those readers who enjoy thrillers that contain more in the story than just a mystery.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 60th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

I was intrigued by the synopsis of The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary and had read good things about it on social media. The school year was over and I needed some light reading to relax. A romantic comedy seemed to be the perfect solution.

Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…
 

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. 

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

My thoughts:

Imagine sharing a bed with someone – and yet never seeing them! I loved this unique story that in no way felt forced. The friendship between the two flatmates evolves slowly as they get to know one another by notes and through their habits. The magic between the two characters happens even before they meet.

The Flatshare not only has a unique story line, but also characters that grow and evolve as the story progresses. Both Tiffy and Leon, the flatmates, need to come to some realisations about themselves and what they want to do with their lives before they can move forward in committing to a healthy relationship. While reading the story, I could definitely see a message from the writer: finish with your current relationship and work out why it is not working before moving forward into one that is more beneficial to you.

O”Leary has written a lighthearted and heartwarming read that will have you curious and smiling. The writing is fluid and the author has cleverly shown us the basics of getting to know a person. The Flatshare is a rom-com that I will surely read again in a few years when I am looking for an uplifting read that I can peruse in an afternoon.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 59th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Yankee Widow by Linda Lael Miller

I received an ARC of The Yankee Widow by Linda Lael Miller from Harper Collins Canada. I was looking forward to reading the novel as I enjoy reading historical fiction. This particular novel attracted my attention as it is based on the period of the American Civil War, a time period that I do not know much about.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

A richly layered, emotional novel about one woman’s courage and the choices she must make in the face of a dangerous war.

Caroline is the young wife of Jacob, who together live on a farm raising their daughter just outside of Gettysburg. When Jacob joins the Northern army, no one anticipates he will not return. Then Caroline gets word that her husband is wounded, and she must find her way alone to Washington City and search among the thousands of casualties to find him.

When Jacob succumbs to his injuries, she brings his body home on the eve of the deadliest battle of the war. With troops and looters roaming the countryside, it is impossible to know who is friend and who is foe. Caroline fights to protect those she holds most dear while remaining compassionate to the neediest around her, including two strangers from opposite sides of the fight. Each is wounded… Each is drawn to her beauty, her kindness. Both offer comfort, but only one secretly captures her heart. Still, she must resist exposing her vulnerability in these uncertain times when so much is at risk.

In The Yankee Widow, gifted storyteller Linda Lael Miller explores the complexities and heartbreak that women experienced as their men took up arms to preserve the nation and defend their way of life. 

My thoughts:

Reading The Yankee Widow was interesting for me as I had not yet read a novel describing the viewpoint of a Yankee woman during the American Civil War. The strength the widow (Caroline) had to find within herself was described in the story as well as the many of the obstacles she encountered. Even though the reader is told of the difficulties she faces, we do not see inside her head and truly feel the emotion that she feels.

As with some historical novels, I was unsure of the history behind the story so I found myself looking up some facts on the skirmish in Gettysburg. Don’t you love it when you learn something when you read a novel? The descriptions of the fighting are not too graphic and Miller focuses on the experience of the characters in her novel. She adroitly links the soldiers she has focused on in the battles to the main female character in her story.

Other parts of the history are referred to in the story: slaves who have been freed, slaves who have run away, slaves who have been abused by their owners on Southern plantations. Miller refers to these facts while spinning her tale; but does not dwell on them. I craved for more of this part of history in the story but realised that it was not the focus of the novel.

Instead the story centres on the life of a young widow who works on surviving the war. There were times when I wanted Miller to focus more on the hardship and the struggles Caroline would have experienced – the author seems to have glossed over what would have been difficult time period for a woman living on her own away on a farm far from the town. Having said that, the struggles described are authentic and believable to the reader.

The character, Caroline, finds within herself a strength she did not know she had. She travels, unchaperoned, to find her husband in the city. And, once back home, learns to figure out what needs to be done to save the family farm. She is a woman who realises what type of man she married, and how she worked on fulfilling the expectations of both her husband and society. I love that she grows as a character during the novel. She is faced with a choice of how to continue with her life after the war – and it is a testament to her growth as a person that she is able to choose the path that she does.

The Yankee Widow is an enjoyable read for those who enjoy reading historical fiction. Be warned, though, it may leave you wanting to read more of the time period.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 58th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

I received an ARC of The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai wfrom Harper Collins Canada. I was looking forward to reading the novel as I was in the mood for some romantic comedy and this story looked interesting.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules: 

– Nude pics are by invitation only 

– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice 

– Protect your heart 

Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears. 

Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

My thoughts:

The Right Swipe focuses on internet dating – an experience which I, myself, have not had to go through. The author has made provisions for readers like me who will not know the terms (such as ‘ghosting’) by explaining them through her character Samson Lima. I could definitely relate to him as he wandered through the quagmire of online dating. Some of his responses made me smile and confirmed that I had picked up a lighthearted read.

Even though Rai’s novel is an easy read of the romance genre, character development and growth does occur in the story. It is this character development that I enjoy to read – Rhiannon Hunter, for example, comes to some realisations about herself. She learns what it is that has been preventing her from having a committed relationship with someone. And once she accepts her shortcomings, she is open to considering the inclusion of a partner in her life.

The Right Swipe is a diverse read that features a strong female character. I enjoy stories with strong female characters as so often women are expected to downplay their strengths. Seeing strong women in stories suggests to readers that being strong is not a weakness, and is instead something to be proud of. The novel is also one that hints at the prejudices a person has of those met online. It is these prejudices that have to be acknowledged and worked through in order to appreciate who a person is.

I picked up The Right Swipe hoping for a light and easy read – and was not disappointed.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 57th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

I received an ARC of The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven when I attended the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada in Spring. The blurb sounded interesting and relevant for young girls today.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult

Blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Izzy O’Neill knows exactly who she is—a loyal friend, an aspiring comedian, and a person who believes that milk shakes and Reese’s peanut butter cups are major food groups. But after she’s caught in a compromising position with the son of a politician, it seems like everyone around her is eager to give her a new label: slut.

Izzy is certain that the whole thing will blow over and she can get back to worrying about how she doesn’t reciprocate her best friend Danny’s feelings for her and wondering how she is ever going to find a way out of their small town. Only it doesn’t.

And while she’s used to laughing her way out of any situation, as she finds herself first the center of high school gossip and then in the middle of a national scandal, it’s hard even for her to find humor in the situation.

Izzy may be determined not to let anyone else define who she is, but that proves easier said than done when it seems like everyone has something to say about her.

My thoughts:

The novel centres on a theme that is so important for teens to think about. It is so easy for one to trust that the person receiving private photos will treat them with respect. The book recounts how easy it is for a moment of thoughtlessness and trust to snowball into something bigger. Izzy trusts that her nude selfie, for example, will go no further than the recipient of her text – but her moment of impulse leads to events that affect her life in ways that she did not consider.

The female protagonist in The Exact Opposite of Okay is a strong person – she is able to control the bullying and the finger-pointing that results when her actions are exposed to the world. I cannot help but think of those teens who do not have the strength to continue on and stand tall despite what their peers and others are saying. Izzy does not do it alone, however, and Steven shows that her character does have the support of others to get her through a difficult time.

The Exact Opposite of Okay explores the development of shame one begins to feel when an action taken is regarded by society as unacceptable. From the start, Izzy has no problem with her sexual behaviour but slowly she begins to feel shame for her actions. The change in her perspective is powerfully written and had me thinking of how much society pressures a person to feel shame for something that is natural.

A secondary thread that runs through the book is Izzy’s relationship with her friend Danny. Danny wants the focus of the relationship to change, but Izzy doesn’t. The dynamics between the two young people change and it is interesting to read what Danny’s expectations are, and how he expects Izzy to reciprocate. His actions are to control and manipulate Izzy and he gets angry when she does not respond as he feels she should.

Steven has written a novel that touches on an important issue for modern girl teens. The issues brought up in the book are ones that young girls are aware of, and deal with, at high school. The Exact Opposite of Okay is written in the form of a set of blog posts, which creates another link with the reader as the writing style is informal and more personal. This novel is an enjoyable read which, I believe, will touch the hearts of many young women.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 56th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

I had come across Roselle Lim on Twitter through a giveaway. I liked her feed and therefore decided to follow her. When I saw she was having a book launch for her debut novel Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, I decided to support her and attend. Of course I had to make use of the opportunity and get a copy of her book signed!

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this novel so much more than I expected I would. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is so much more than a contemporary romance. It is a novel about a young woman who comes to certain realisations about herself as well as her community. It is a novel about people who come together to support one another through difficult times. It is a novel about knowing when it is the right time to begin a romantic relationship. It is a novel about following your dreams and doing what is right for you.

The imagery in Lim’s novel is beautiful. The flavours of cooking are referenced throughout the story, as well as the imagery of birds. The unusual imagery captured my attention; and connects so much to the Asian influence in the novel. The references to food, as well as the recipes that are mentioned, made me want to rush out and get myself a plate of juicy dumplings! The mouthwatering flavours described by the author linked the story to my personal experience and added another level to my reading experience.

Natalie Tan’s experience is so much like what many people experience in their life time: the death of a parent; the realisation that childhood experiences do not tell the entire story; the understanding that one’s community can help during difficult times. Because of this, the reader can connect with Lim’s protagonist and understand the actions that she takes as well as the decisions she makes. While reading the novel, I came to the realisation that romance is a small percentage of the story and that Natalie Tan’s personal growth is the centre point of the tale. I enjoyed the fact that this book is more than the romantic connection between two people. Instead it is so much more – just like our own lives are.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is a book that has so much happening in it. I loved it so much that I encouraged my friend and book buddy to read it too.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 55th in my book pledge for 2019)