Book Review: I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

I was happy when I won an Instagram giveaway the ARC of Catherine McKenzie’s latest novel I’ll Never Tell. I enjoyed her previous novel and looked forward to reading this one.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Thriller, Mystery

Blurb:

What happened to Amanda Holmes?

Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.

Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it’s sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family’s center, hasn’t made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done. 

But then the will is read and they learn that it’s much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?

My thoughts:

McKenzie’s storytelling did not disappoint. I enjoyed this tale as much as I had enjoyed her previous one, and her words kept me reading and invested right until the end.

The story moves between the past and the present as the reader gets to know the different personalities in the story, as well as what happened in the past. The movement between the time frames is done seamlessly and at no time was I confused. McKenzie paced the information perfectly so that I was neither bored nor disconcerted. Each bit of information that she gave, led me towards understanding the sequence of events as well as my understanding of the characters in the story.

As with all mystery stories, I tried to figure out the solution before reaching the final chapter. I’ll Never Tell is not predictable and therefore had a few surprises. These little twists in the story are believable and added to my enjoyment of the tale.

If you enjoy mystery stories, then you will enjoy this Canadian author’s novel. Unlike the modern psychological thriller, I’ll Never Tell is more a mystery story which the reader attempts to solve while reading.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 74th in my book pledge for 2019)

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 Launch: The Chai Factor by Farah Heron

Last night my friend and I attended the book launch of Farah Heron’s debut novel The Chai Factor. The rain had stopped and the city was muggy yet we looked forward to venturing out and meeting an author whose book I had enjoyed. (My review can be found here).

The event was in the Kensington area at a small reatuarant with an unusual name: Supermarket. I smiled when I saw the supermarket trolley attached to the wall – definitely unique!

As we stepped into the venue, we noticed that we were a bit early. This posed no problem as we chatted between ourselves and met the author. We slaked our thirst with a cup of tea – chai, of course – and snacked on some sweet potato crisps.

It was a pleasant evening but the highlight for me was listening to a barbershop quartet. Their presence at the launch was intentional as the male character in the novel is part of a quartet. The numbers that were sung by the men took me back to the time I would continuously listen to melodies such as these. I love the Big Band era, and their singing reminded me of this.

My friend and I had a pleasant evening and I look forward to discussing the book with her as one of our buddy reads.

Have you listened to a barbershop quartet before?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2017

(This post is linked to Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

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)

Grateful for Mid-Week Get Together

This week I got together with a friend of mine who lives quite a distance from me and who was prepared to drive down to the city to attend a bookish event with me. I had told her about my experiences and she was keen to join me. On Wednesday, the book launch of debut author Roselle Lim, writer of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, became the reason we chose to meet up and spend an evening away from home.

The event was held at an independent bookstore that I had never before visited, so I was curious to see the venue. I loved the sign placed outside the store front and felt welcomed before I had even entered the shop.

A number of people had already arrived and soon the bookstore was buzzing with even more patrons. Roselle Lim was nervous, as any debut writer would be, but she smiled graciously as she welcomed those who were there to support her.

She read an extract from her novel and I wish she could have spoken a bit about her writing experience and the inspiration for her story. First time nerves maybe?

Anyway, my friend and I enjoyed the outing together. We sipped a glass of wine, chatted a little, and enjoyed the ambience of the environment. This week I am grateful for the excuse of a book event to meet up with my close friend. Together we will now read the novel we had signed by the author – which will lead to a number of texts flying between us, I am sure.

What are you grateful for this week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is part of my weekly gratitude reflection. You are welcome to join in and share your post in the comments.)

Book Review: The Chai Factor by Farah Heron

During the OLA Super Conference this year, I was lucky enough to receive a signed ARC copy of The Chai Factor by Farah Heron. The cover definitely attracted me and I was doubly sold when I learned the story was a romantic comedy written by a Canadian author living in Toronto.

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

Thirty-year-old engineer Amira Khan has set one rule for herself: no dating until her grad-school thesis is done. Nothing can distract her from completing a paper that is so good her boss will give her the promotion she deserves when she returns to work in the city. Amira leaves campus early, planning to work in the quiet basement apartment of her family’s house. But she arrives home to find that her grandmother has rented the basement to . . . a barbershop quartet. Seriously? The living situation is awkward: Amira needs silence; the quartet needs to rehearse for a competition; and Duncan, the small-town baritone with the flannel shirts, is driving her up the wall.

As Amira and Duncan clash, she is surprised to feel a simmering attraction for him. How can she be interested in someone who doesn’t get her, or her family’s culture? This is not a complication she needs when her future is at stake. But when intolerance rears its ugly head and people who are close to Amira get hurt, she learns that there is more to Duncan than meets the eye. Now she must decide what she is willing to fight for. In the end, it may be that this small-town singer is the only person who sees her at all.

My thoughts:

This novel was perfect for my mood: a light-hearted story that made me smile; and a story that describes a protagonist that finds love unexpectedly.

Amira is a determined young woman who is very sure of what she wants in life and in love. She reminds me of so many young women who want to put themselves first and are not in a rush to marry. She wants to focus on her studies in order to graduate with her Masters; she wants to advance in her work; and she wants a man who is of the same culture as she. But life does not always work out the way that you want it to – as Amira soon finds out.

What I enjoyed about this story is that it does not only focus on the love aspect of Amira’s story. We read, as well, about her relationship with her mother and grandmother; and we learn a bit about her work and her relationship with an admired colleague. During the story, Amira comes to some realisations about her life – realisations which help her accept the changes that could happen to her. The Chai Factor, however, is not a story in which the man saves the day. Instead, it is a story about a woman’s personal growth which eventually leads to her accepting that her life can embrace some changes (and one of those changes happens to be a relationship).

As I was reading, I caught a hint of the Pride and Prejudice scenario – though this book is not a retelling of Austen’s classic – in the description of Amira. She is proud of who she is – proud of her culture, her brown skin, and what she has achieved in her life thus far. She also makes certain assumptions about Duncan (a white musician), assumptions which indicate her prejudice. Slowly her prejudices are shown for what they are and it is this clarity which helps her develop as a character.

While reading Farah Heron’s novel, I embraced the description of a culture that is not well-known by me. Hints of this culture are subtly woven into the fabric of the novel and added another dimension to the story for me. The story is set in Toronto and I smiled at any venue mentioned as I could see exactly where it is in my mind’s eye.

I enjoyed reading Heron’s debut novel. It is a relaxing read that depicts the story of opposites attracting – opposites not only in personality, but also in culture.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 44th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Life Lucy Knew by Karma Brown

I attended an event at the Harper Collins Canada offices and had the opportunity to hear Karma Brown speak about her novel The Life Lucy Knew. The synopsis intrigued me and I was interested to hear what would develop in the story.

Genre: Women’s fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb: 

One woman is about to discover everything she believes-knows-to be true about her life…isn’t.

After hitting her head, Lucy Sparks awakens in the hospital to a shocking revelation: the man she’s known and loved for years-the man she recently married-is not actually her husband. In fact, they haven’t even spoken since their breakup four years earlier. The happily-ever-after she remembers in vivid detail-right down to the dress she wore to their wedding-is only one example of what her doctors call a false memory: recollections Lucy’s mind made up to fill in the blanks from the coma.

Her psychologist explains the condition as honest lying, because while Lucy’s memories are false, they still feel incredibly real. Now she has no idea which memories she can trust-a devastating experience not only for Lucy, but also for her family, friends and especially her devoted boyfriend, Matt, whom Lucy remembers merely as a work colleague.

When the life Lucy believes she had slams against the reality she’s been living for the past four years, she must make a difficult choice about which life she wants to lead, and who she really is.

My thoughts: 

The synopsis of this novel intrigued me: what would happen if someone forgot moments of their life and confused their own memories with that of others? I believe that a lot of people would be upset, and that it would be a roller coaster of emotions for the person experiencing the memory loss. It is this continuous charge of emotions a person would feel that Karma Brown so aptly portrays. The reader gets to experience Lucy’s utter conviction that her false memories are real; and reads with understanding the seesaw of emotions that the protagonist feels as she tries to sift through what is real and what is not real.

While reading Lucy’s story, my heart felt for her. It wept at those moments when Lucy realised, on her own, that the memories she currently held so dear had been mixed up and were not what she believed them to be. While reading the story, I kept hoping that she would end up where she was meant to be and where she had been before her accident. It was this hope that kept me turning the pages of the novel.

The Life Lucy Knew is a romance – but a romance with a difference. Girl had already met boy – but she had forgotten what he had meant to her. The novel is about a girl following her heart and finding, once again, where she is meant to be – and with whom. Lucy’s story is written with a sensitivity that readers of emotional reads will enjoy. It is a story that will touch your heart.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 82nd in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Find You In The Dark by Nathan Ripley

I thought it was time to continue reading through the ARCs I had received at the OLA super conference. Looking through my options, I decided to pick up Find You In The Dark under the pseudonym Nathan Ripley – a debut novel written by Toronto-based journalist Naben Ruthnum

Genre: Psychological thriller, mystery

Blurb:

Martin Reese is obsessed with murder. For years, he has been illegally buying police files on serial killers and using them to locate long-lost victims. Then he calls the police anonymously and taunts them with his finds. Martin sees his work as a public service, a righting of all the mistakes cops have made for years. Detective Sandra Whittal sees it differently. A case-closer on a meteoric rise in police ranks, Whittal is suspicious of the mysterious caller she names the Finder. Even if the Finder isn’t the one leaving bodies behind, who’s to say he won’t start soon?

On his latest dig, Martin searches in a graveyard for the first kill of Jason Shurn, the murderer in the nineties who may have been responsible for the disappearance of Martin’s sister-in-law. But at the site, Martin finds a fresh body lying among decades-old remains. Someone else knows where Jason Shurn buried his victims … and that someone isn’t happy Martin has shown up. Hunted by a murderer and by Whittal, Martin realises he will have to go deeper into the world of death than he ever imagined.

My thoughts: 

I loved this debut thriller by Nathan Ripley. The protagonist was a little unusual as he is not described as many positive protagonists are. His faults are clearly detailed and he almost borders on being villainous. What I enjoyed most about this novel, is the few unexpected twists in the story that I did not see coming. These twists kept me turning the pages to see what would happen to the main character. Even though he is not a model citizen (though he appears to be), I did not want him to come in harm’s way.

Find You In The Dark is an intense thriller that keeps readers on their toes. If you enjoy trying to figure out ‘who dunit’ then this is the novel for you. And the bonus is that you will not figure out the solution to the question too quickly.

I give this novel ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 55th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

I love anything related to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and when I heard that Uzma Jalaluddin’s novel Ayesha At Last had overtones of my favourite classic novel, I was eager to read it.

Jaladdin’s story is set in the Muslim community in Toronto. Ayesha Shamsi dreams of being a poet yet sets aside her dream to teach so that she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She does not want an arranged marriage while her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her 100th proposal. Ayesha then meets Khalid – a smart and handsome man who is both conservative and judgemental. She is attracted to this man who looks down on her choices and who dresses as if he belongs in the seventh century. In a burst of rebellion, Ayesha plays a trick on Khalid and lies about her identity. When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about Khalid and his family and the truth she realises about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and wants – and he cannot get the outspoken Ayesha out of his mind.

Spin-offs of a favourite well-known novel are tricky and can be disappointing but Uzma Jalaluddin pulls it off. I loved this novel from the first chapter. Even though the Muslim community referred to in the novel is a far cry from Austen’s England, the ethos in the novel and the references to social expectations echo the older classic. I enjoyed reading the repartee between Ayesha and Khalid; and seeing the characters come to realisations of themselves. I enjoyed, in particular, the character of Khalid. He is so staid in the beginning, so sure of where he wants to be and of how he wants to manoeuvre in modern society. I cheered on his growth during the story, and could not help but giggle at some of his encounters.

Ayesha at Last is a lighthearted read that will leave you smiling. I highly recommend this one- it is a story that you will want to share with your friends. The romance and humour will definitely lighten your day. I could not put this one down and devoured it in a day.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 48th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Still Water by Amy Stuart

Still Water is Amy Stuart’s second novel. Only once I was halfway through this novel, did I realise that this story follows her debut novel Still Mine. However, I was able to follow the story and enjoy it without having read the previous story even though I did not know the details of previous events.

Clare has been given the task of finding Sally Prouix and her young son who have mysteriously disappeared in the small town of High River. Clare hopes to find them alive, against all odds. But High River is not your typical town. It is a place where women run to – women who want to escape their pasts. They run to Helen Haines, a matriarch who offers them a safe haven and anonymity. Pretending to be Sally’s long-lost friend, Clare turns up and starts asking questions. Nothing prepares her for the swirl of deception and the depth of the lies that she encounters.

In a town where secrets are crucial to survival, everyone is hiding something. Detectives Sommers and Rouke have an ulterior motive beyond solving the case. Malcolm Boon, the man who hired Clare, knows more about her than he reveals. Helen is concealing a tragic family history of her own. The pace of the novel begins slowly but steadily as Clare begins to unravel the lies that each person has told. As she slowly uncovers the truth of what has happened, she comes to a realisation about her own life and choices. I enjoyed seeing the growth in this character as her perception of herself and of Malcolm Boon changes.

I enjoyed reading this story, even though it was a little slow to begin with. There were times when I wished I had read the previous novel so that I could know the details of Clare’s past. My lack of knowledge, however, did not prevent me from enjoying this tale. As I completed the book, I had a sense that Clare’s story is not yet over – I am sure that there will be a third book in this series. If you enjoy mystery novels, this story is the one for you.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 40th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)