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)

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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: One More Lie by Amy Lloyd

I was in the mood for a thriller so I picked up the ARC of One More Lie by Amy Lloyd that my contact at Harper Collins Canada had sent me.

Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

Blurb:

Charlotte wants to start fresh. She wants to forget her past, forget prison and, most of all, forget Sean. But old habits die hard. Despite the ankle monitor she must wear as part of her parole agreement and frequent visits to her therapist, she soon finds herself sliding back toward the type of behavior that sent her to prison in the first place. The further down that path she goes, however, the closer she gets to the crime that put her in prison all those years ago. And that’s the one memory she can’t face. Until, one day, Sean tracks her down.

My thoughts:

Do you ever wonder what happens to those children who kill when they themselves are children? This book plays out a possible scenario as the writer takes us on a journey of one such person attempting to function in society.

The best thing about this story is that the reader is not told everything from the start. As I read Charlotte’s experience, I caught glimpses of her past experience and the lead up to the event that sent her to prison. I read, as well, of her relationship with Sean and how it may have affected her decision-making.

By mid-way of the novel, I began to feel empathy for Charlotte – even though I know that she killed a child when she was a child herself. Lloyd succeeds in this because of the information she gives the reader – she almost seems to suggest that it is Charlotte’s childhood experience that led her to take another person’s life. But once Charlotte had my empathy, I learned more about the events that took place and I began to doubt what I had presumed. Even my feelings towards her began to change.

One More Lie is a novel that encourages a reader to make a prediction – and then sneaks in a piece of information that changes that prediction. I enjoyed the subtle twists in the story – and appreciated, especially, the ending (which is totally what I did not expect). I enjoyed this read and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys twisty psychological thrillers.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 45th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Favourite Daughter by Kaira Rouda

Harper Collins Canada sent me an ARC copy of The Favourite Daughter by Kaira Rouda to read and review. The bookmail was timely as I was in the mood for a thriller.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Jane Harris lives in a sparkling home in an oceanfront gated community in Orange County. It’s a place that seems too beautiful to be touched by sadness. But exactly one year ago, Jane’s eldest daughter, Mary, died in a tragic accident, and Jane has been grief-stricken ever since. Lost in a haze of antidepressants, she’s barely even left the house…until now.

As Jane reemerges into the world, it’s clear she’s missed a lot in the last year. Her husband has been working long days – and nights – at the office. Her daughter Betsy seems distant, even secretive. And Jane receives a note warning her that Mary’s death wasn’t an accident. What really happened on the day that Mary died? And who is lying to whom in this family?

The bonds between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives should never be broken. But you never know how far someone will go to keep a family together…

My thoughts:

The story is told from the point of view of Jane Harris, a grieving mother and wife. When I began reading the novel, I definitely felt empathy for her – she had lost a daughter and it was evident that her marriage was failing. The story began like so many contemporary novels and I thought, for a moment, that the book had incorrectly been labelled ‘mystery’.

As I read on, however, I realised that not all was as it seemed. The writer adroitly reveals the true nature of Jane’s personalty as we read her thoughts. It is interesting to feel the turnabout towards a character – the Jane you think you know at the beginning of the novel is not the same woman you get to know while turning the pages.

The chapters begin with the countdown of a timeline which adds to the tension in the book and to the reader’s knowledge that an important day is approaching. I found myself thinking of what may happen on that day – Rouda brought me to a point that predictions were made; a point when I believed I knew how the novel would end. And then the unexpected happened. I loved the twist as it turned around my expectations. And then the novel ended with yet another twist!

The Favourite Daughter was an enjoyable read and is more a psychological thriller than a mere mystery. I enjoyed the twists and the unexpected ending – and seeing into the mind of a woman who feels the need to control her family.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 42nd in my book pledge for 2019)

First Line Fridays: Freefall by Jessica Barry

“Breathe. Breathe.

My eyes open. A canopy of trees above. A flock of birds stare down before taking flight.

I survived.

He may have, too.

I have to see. I pick my way through the wreckage on bare feet.”

Freefall by Jessica Barry (2019, Harper Collins Publishers)

The opening lines of this novel left me with so many questions:

  1. Where is she?
  2. Who is after her?
  3. Did he survive?
  4. What happened to cause the accident?

From the first line of this novel, I wanted to read the pages to find out the answer to these questions. ( If you are interested to learn more, you can read my review here.)

I continued reading. Would you?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is linked to It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books and her One Line Friday challenge.)

Book Review: Family Trust by Kathy Wang

I popped into the library and was surprised – and very pleased – when I saw a new release on the shelves that I wanted to read. I had read good things about Family Trust by Kathy Wang and it being compared to Crazy Rich Asians enticed me even more.

Genre: Contemprorary Fiction

Blurb:

Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For years, Stanley has claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. But the time is now coming when the details of his estate will finally be revealed, and Stanley’s family is nervous.

For his son Fred, the inheritance Stanley has long alluded to would soothe the pain caused by years of professional disappointment. By now, the Harvard Business School graduate had expected to be a financial tech god – not a minor investor at a middling corporate firm, where he isn’t even allowed to fly business class.

Stanley’s daughter, Kate, is a middle manager with one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious tech companies. She manages the capricious demands of her world-famous boss and the needs of her two young children all while supporting her would-be entrepreneur husband (just until his startup gets off the ground, which will surely be soon). But lately, Kate has been sensing something amiss; just because you say you have it all, it doesn’t mean that you actually do. 

Stanley’s second wife, Mary Zhu, twenty-eight years his junior, has devoted herself to making her husband comfortable in every way—rubbing his feet, cooking his favorite dishes, massaging his ego. But lately, her commitment has waned; caring for a dying old man is far more difficult than she expected.

Linda Liang, Stanley’s first wife, knows her ex better than anyone. She worked hard for decades to ensure their financial security, and is determined to see her children get their due. Single for nearly a decade, she might finally be ready for some romantic companionship. But where does a seventy-two year old Chinese woman in California go to find an appropriate boyfriend?

As Stanley’s death approaches, the Huangs are faced with unexpected challenges that upend them and eventually lead them to discover what they most value. A compelling tale of cultural expectations, career ambitions and our relationships with the people who know us best, Family Trust skewers the ambition and desires that drive Silicon Valley and draws a sharply loving portrait of modern American family life. 

My thoughts:

I began Family Trust with high hopes but was quickly bored with it. I found myself skimming the text and rushing over repetitive descriptions of people concerned only with money. The son wants his inheritance, the current wife wants to make sure she receive money on her husband’s death, the ex-wife stirs the pot, and the daughter seems to have no interest – though she is in need of the money. The entire storyline seemed cliché to me and the only reason I continued reading was because I was interested in the daughter’s story and was curious to see whether she would stand up to her husband.

The aspect I enjoyed the least about Wang’s story is the obvious portrait of a Chinese stereotype. I see my children raging against stereotypes in their lives and yet here, in this modern story, the pages are rife with it. Because of the stereotypes, the characters in the story are one dimensional and do not seem to grow in any significant way. In addition, the experiences described of all the characters in the story were, to me, predictable and hackneyed.

Comparing Family Trust to Crazy Rich Asians is deceiving. Whereas Crazy Rich Asians is full of humour and makes fun of the Asian stereotype, Family Trust falls flat and does not live up to expectations. Wang’s story was disappointing – doubly so because she is Asian herself. Her novel may have been written as a satire but I did not sense this while reading it.

I give this novel a disappointed ⭐️ 1 star.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 40th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: FreeFall by Jessica Barry

I popped into the library and was surprised – and very pleased – when I saw a new release on the shelves that I wanted to read.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Blurb:

A propulsive debut novel with the intensity of Luckiest Girl Alive and Before the Fall, about a young woman determined to survive and a mother determined to find her.

When your life is a lie, the truth can kill you

When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. For years, Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home.

In the small community of Owl Creek, Maine, Maggie Carpenter learns that her only child is presumed dead. But authorities have not recovered her body—giving Maggie a shred of hope. She, too, harbors a shameful secret: she hasn’t communicated with her daughter in two years, since a family tragedy drove Allison away. Maggie doesn’t know anything about her daughter’s life now—not even that she was engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, or why she was on a private plane.

As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers. Immersing herself in Allison’s life, she discovers a sleek socialite hiding dark secrets. What was Allison running from—and can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?

Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a riveting debut novel about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and those they love.

My thoughts:

Freefall was an enjoyable thriller written from the point of view of the woman running for her life, and from the POV of her mother. Slowly I pieced together the events that had led up to Allison running for her life – even though she had just survived a plane crash. The author cleverly withholds information and gives it to the reader, bit by bit, thus creating tension and the desire to read the pages quickly. I did eventually guess from whom Allison was running – but only when I was near the end of the novel.

There were moments in my reading of the story that I got annoyed with Allison – her pride and refusal to forgive her mother leads her to some pretty hairy experiences. I would hope that my own children would never let their pride get in the way of asking for help. I felt more empathy for the mom’s story as she slowly discovers what her daughter’s life had become. The reason for this is probably because I am a mom who is always willing to help her children succeed.

The experience of both Allison and Maggie are brought together neatly by Barry at the end of the novel. I liked the ending – even though it is a little predictable once you solve the mystery of who is after Allison. Freefall is a well-written novel written by a debut author that encourages the reader to keep turning the pages to find out how it ends. It is a perfect weekend read.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 39th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

I popped into the library and was surprised – and very pleased – when I saw a new release on the shelves that I wanted to read. Not only did the cover of The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick appeal to me, but also the blurb on the book jacket.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery

Blurb:

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending. 

My thoughts:

I loved this book so much – so much more than I thought I would. Martha is a woman who has given up her life and dreams to look after aging parents and who, once they have passed, dedicates her life to helping others. However, her help is not appreciated and is instead abused. While reading of her struggles, I empathised with her and felt sadness at what her life had become.

Martha’s life slowly changes as she determines to find out what had happened to her grandmother. On her journey, the reader sees her gathering self confidence and the assurance that what she is doing is right for her. Her determination sets the tone of the novel and slowly the sense of sadness dissipates and is replaced with one of hope. The journey started with a book leads to the main character finding out more about herself and as well as her grandmother.

Recently I have read a number of young adult novels which centre on a young person finding their own voice. Patrick has written an #ownvoices novel too – but the person finding herself is middle aged. I loved reading about an older woman who had yet to find herself and who had yet to garner the courage to speak up for herself. I loved reading that older people too need the opportunity to build self esteem and self confidence.

I finished The Library of Lost and Found with a sense of satisfaction. The story ends on a positive note and with a sense of hope, even though events tinge the story with sadness. This novel is one I would recommend for those readers who enjoy stories with a sense of reality as well as hope.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 38th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Keep You Close by Karen Cleveland

I was in the mood for a thriller so I picked up an ARC that I had been sent to review by Penguin Random House Canada: Keep You Close by Karen Cleveland

Publication Date: May 28, 2019

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Blurb:

Stephanie Maddox makes tough decisions every day. She has her hands full heading the FBI’s Internal Investigations division, policing wrongdoers within the Bureau. But, as a single mother, the most important thing in her life is her teenage son Zachary, who’s anxiously awaiting college acceptance letters. So when she discovers a gun concealed in Zach’s room, her world reels. And then an FBI agent on the domestic terrorism squad shows up at her door and utters three devastating words: “It’s about Zachary. . . .”

Has she been wrong about her near-perfect son? Is Zach embroiled in something criminal–something deadly? And, if so, what is her greater duty: To protect him? Or to protect her country?

My thoughts:

This novel kept my mind racing and my fingers itching to turn the pages! The story switches between the past and the present but in a way that keeps the reader engaged. Each sliver of the past leads to a better understanding of the present. Stephanie Maddox is faced with the knowledge that mother’s are often faced with – that you would do anything to protect your child. In her case, though, she has also sworn to protect her country.

There are moments during the novel when I felt that everything would be okay, and that Stephanie would make a certain choice. And yet, life is not always so clear-cut. Often we are faced with decisions that we think we would never need to make. Cleveland adroitly leads her protagonist to the moment when she has to make the choice between her son and her country. To know the choice, you will have to read the novel. There were some unexpected moments in the story which led me to second guess the progression of events – but these moments made the tale more enjoyable because they surprised me.

The novel ended with a twist – which I loved. Keep You Close is a fast-paced story that will keep you hanging onto every page. I highly recommend it for those readers who enjoy a good mystery.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 35th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: A Willing Murder by Jude Deveraux

After reading the second book of Jude Deveraux’s Medlar Mystery series (you can read my review here), I knew that I had to read the first. On the Monday of the Easter weekend, I decided to delve into A Willing Murder.

Genre: Romance, Mystery, Cozy Mystery

Blurb:

Sara Medlar is a household name in romance, with millions of books sold. But lately, retirement has been boring her and she’s found herself back in her hometown of Lachlan, Florida, remodeling the grand old mansion she’d admired as a child. It’s much too big for her alone, but she’d die before letting anyone in town know that.

Then Sara’s niece Kate is offered a job in Lachlan—a start in what could be a very successful career in real estate. She accepts immediately, but with so little saved up, she’ll have to approach her estranged yet incredibly famous aunt for a place to stay while she gets herself settled. But when she arrives at Sara’s home, she finds she’s not the only long-term houseguest. Jackson Wyatt already has his own room, and though it’s impossible to deny his good looks and charm—he’s clearly got her aunt wrapped around his finger—she’s also never met anyone who irritates her quite like Jack does.

However, when two skeletons are accidentally uncovered in the quiet town, this unlikely trio is suddenly thrust together by a common goal: to solve a mystery everyone else seems eager to keep under wraps. United by a sense of justice and the desire to right old wrongs, Sara, Kate and Jack will have to dig into Lachlan’s murky past to unravel the small town’s dark secrets and work to bring the awful truth to light. 

My thoughts:

I absolutely loved this novel! It has everything I want in a relaxing read: a teaser of romance, mystery, humour. In addition, the pace of the novel is perfect and I could not put it down. I enjoyed getting to know the three main characters of the series: Sara, Kate, and Jack. In A Willing Murder they are still getting to know one another and working out how they will fit. The reader gets to know them as you would a person in reality – slowly and with preconceptions. In this novel, we do not learn everything about the trio but we do read about the beginnings of a friendship.

The mystery takes place in a small town where I imagine people get to know a lot about their community. The amateur investigators use this cleverly to their advantage. Solving the mystery takes intelligence and tact as well as teamwork. This cozy mystery is unlike a detective/murder story. There are no car chases (or people chases), no high tech forensics, no brutal police force. Instead, the the novel describes ordinary people as characters who want to solve a murder of a person in their community.

I completed this story in a day and, as a result, cannot wait for the next Medlar Mystery to be written. If you enjoy cozy mysteries, this novel would be prefect for you.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 34th in my book pledge for 2019)