The Return by Rachel Harrison (2020) Review

What can a friendship survive?

warning: The last part of my review contains spoilers. The first two parts are spoiler free.

Why I picked up the book:

Elise, Julie, Mae and Molly are long time friends. Their friendship has survived some life changes, but when Julie goes missing, their dynamic is deeply affected. Elise refused to let it go and is convinced Julie will return. Mae and Molly are ready to accept her death and move on. But then, two years later, Julie returns with no memory of what happened to her or where she has been.

The book through my criteria lens:

I enjoyed reading the book in the sense that I couldn’t put it down. However, it was slightly triggering to me as it evoked deep feelings. I guess what I am trying to say is that I enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t a light read.

I loved all characters, especially Julie and Elise. I feel that we got to know the four friends pretty well, but I wish some of the secondary characters had been more fleshed out. Especially one particular character connected to what happened to Julie during the two years she was away.

I loved the atmosphere: it was claustrophobic, anxious, dark. The hotel felt like a place I would never want to visit, and the character’s frustrations and fear contributed enormously to the book’s overall mood. Harrison also played fair in the book; it felt like the characters stayed true to themselves as the book evolved and choices/actions happened.

I was so intrigued by the story. It was unique, original, and I loved how open-ended it was – I was making theories even before reading the first page! I felt that Rachel delivered an almost perfect execution; I just wished the mythos had been more elaborated.

My personal feelings:

I think there are many ways that you can read The Return. You go along for the entertaining horror ride; you can read it to figure out what happened to Julie and what/who she has become since coming back.

I am in no way saying Harrison intended to evoke grief with this book – but that is the place from what I read this book and the reason why I was so emotionally touched, distressed, and connected to this book.

The rest of my review will be through that lens (and again, how I interpreted the book. I apologize if that’s not what Harrison intended).

The following paragraphs contain spoilers, click on arrow to view
    For the first half of the book, I wondered if Julie was actually a vampire, but as she started deteriorating, my reading experience shift. First off, I am Elise. I have lost two significant people in my life, and I have a hard time letting go. I still talk to them in my life, and sometimes I get angry that people have moved on. Much like Julie would feel a presence around her and feel cold, metaphorically, that’s how I feel when I catch myself wanting to share some milestones with my dad and grandfather. And it hurts when I can’t. I thought that the slow deterioration of Elise was a touching metaphor to how we continue to lose someone even after their death: their voice, their expressions, even some memories get romanticized.
    **
    I saw the hotel as the symbolic place where Elise, Mae, and Molly visited to grieve and find a coping strategy to survive. A death/ loss changes you.
    **
    From an entertaining point of view, I wish Harrison had elaborated more on that the mythology surrounding the wood creature and what Julie became as I love getting to know about new creatures and learning new creatures “bios and origin stories.” With that said, to relate to Elise, one doesn’t have to go there. As I read her, someone who died unexpectedly and unwillingly, I found her quite poetic. I could relate to her from a place of survival. I was diagnosed with breast cancer young, and the only reason I didn’t fall apart and fought hard was my son. Someone I loved and whom I was not ready to leave behind. I’m glad it turned out well for me, I am damn grateful, actually, but I could relate to Elise’s feelings of not finding peace because she felt compelled to come back to Elise. I can also empathize with Julie’s fear of being seen by her friends at first. Death changed her, and it’s always an act of courage to let someone see who you have become, knowing you can never go back to being who they used to know. The fear of not being accepted by the person you came back for is so deep, so visceral; it can be crippling.

For those reasons, I loved The Return. It is so beautiful, so poetic, so deep – in the creepiest possible. I will be picking up all the books Harrison writes, and I can’t wait for her newest novel, “Cackle” coming up on October 5th. (though I am bitter, I have to wait that long! I wish I could read it earlier!! Bahaha)

Enjoyability     9

Characters       9

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.75

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

#FrostaWingsIt #FrostaHeat #RachelHarrison #Berkley #TheReturn #Horror #Booksofinstagram #readersofinstagram #bookstagram  #bookworm #booklover #bookstagrammer #bookaholic #bookreview #bookreviewer

The Hiding Place by C. J. Tudor (2019) Review

If you had a chance to right your wrongs, would you take it?

Why I picked up the book:

Because it’s a C. J. Tudor, duh? But seriously, to the synopsis. In The Hiding Place we follow Joe as he returns to his home of Arnhill to settle old scores and find closure from things that happened in his past: betrayal, heartbreak, and the loss of his sister.

Although Joe wanted nothing more than to leave it all behind, he felt compelled to come back after he received an e-mail from someone who says not only that they know what happened to Annie, Joe’s sister, but that it’s happening again.

Using deceit to get a job at his former high school (and hide from some not-so-nice people who are after him), Joe lands on Arnhill determined to “confront the horrifying truth about Arnhill, his sister, and himself. Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing. It was the day she came back (not my words but the synopsis wouldn’t be complete without them).”

The book through my criteria lens:

As with all Tudor books, I thoroughly enjoy her books. She has this amazing ability to consume your attention and capture your attention from the first page. Her books are impossible to put down once you have started.

Joe is one of my favourite male characters of all time. I am usually drawn to female characters, because I tend to empathize and relate to them more naturally. Every now and then an author manages to develop a male character so well that seeing the world through their eyes is unquestionable. Joe’s depth, motivations and journey are enthralling. I wish all the characters in the book were as developed as he was, but Tudor came pretty close. The idea for this book was amazing and the execution was near flawless. I would have liked more of the hiding place.

As usual, Tudor plays fair and has the most original ideas for books. If there is one thing you can blindly count on is for Tudor to deliver on atmosphere. She builds suspense with her narrative effortlessly. I would say that is her superpower. You are transported to whatever world she creates and you feel everything she wants you to feel through her characters! Reading her books is like going on a mental and emotional vacation.

My personal feelings:

Overall this has been my favourite C. J. Tudor so far. I loved the supernatural aspect in the book. It complemented the thriller aspect perfectly. I wouldn’t call this horror, but I think it went as far as it could without bending the thriller genre.

What solidified this book as my favourite, even though The Burning Girls scored higher, was Joe. Talk about a fully developed character with a stunning redemption arc! I really felt an emotional connection to him and I was invested in his growth journey. Fine, I lied. What solidified it as my fave was Joe AND the way Tudor explored loss and grief in The Hiding Place. I have lost two people who were my everything and I have faced my own mortality. I deeply connected to the morality exploration of the lengths we could go to get our loved ones back, if the chance was present. It’s a question I ask myself every time I wish my dad and grandfather were still here (or when I fear my days are counted): if I could make it happen, where do I draw my line and how fair it’ll be to them.

C. J. Tudor continues to be one of my favourite contemporary authors and I leave each of her books hungry for more, knowing I’ll re-read them and begging for a TV or movie adaptation!

Enjoyability     10

Characters       9

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution       9

My total rating: 4.83

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton (2021) Review

Some bonds survive death; some secrets don’t.

Why I picked up the book:

June and May spent every summer in the idyllic and private Avril Island. Until the year their dad disappeared, and they left everything behind, her mom sold the island and they never went back

It isn’t until a car accident takes May’s life, that June is shocked to find out the island still belongs to her family and is now hers. Mourning the death of her sister and beat friend, June decides to visit Avril Island looking for answers.

Secrets do not stay buried forever and June is learning that her childhood summers aren’t quite what they seemed to be and there might be more to her dad’s disappearance. And someone seems to be going out of their way to make sure the truth stays hidden.

The Book Through My Criteria Lens:

I listened to What You Never Knew. In my opinion, Sarah Mollo-Christensen and Laura Jennings did an outstanding job narrating this book. They evoked the atmosphere, brought the characters to life and embodied the emotions of the characters. I feel that their paced was really well done and I simply couldn’t put this book down.

Hamilton’s debut novel DELIVERED. In fact, it didn’t read like a debut novel at all. I fell in love with May and June and their bond leapt from the page. Their relationship is beautiful and it felt like a privilege to witness it. I also can’t fault the atmosphere, the physical descriptions made me feel like I was in that island, worn down cottage and closed nit town. The atmosphere could also be felt through the characters: grief, paranoia, love, frustrations, animosity.

Jessica played fair in her solution and I loved her idea for the book. The only (small) thing that kept it from being a 5-star read for me was that I wish the paranormal side of things had been slightly more developed.

My Personal Feelings:

I thoroughly enjoyed What You Never Knew. It reminded me of Lisa Jewell’s novel in the sense that I cared about the characters and felt like I witnessing their journey. I loved May’s narration and felt that her perspective was crucial to the plot. There were things we simply couldn’t be privy to without May. I was deeply touched by the sister’s relationship and wish May was still alive. I am really excited for Jessica Hamilton’s career and will definitely pick up her next books!

Enjoyability     10

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                 10

Execution        9

My total rating: 4.91

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Dreamscape Media, NetGalley and Jessica Hamilton for providing me with a copy of What You Never Knew

Bitterroot Lake by Alicia Beckman (2021) Review

The past always come back to haunt you.

Why I picked up the book:

Sarah has had a happy life with her husband, with no connection to her past. When he loses his battle to cancer, leaving her a young and grieving widow, and her mother summons her back to Bitterroot Lake to sort out the sale of their childhood home, Sarah feels its finally time to return and face the ghosts of her past.

Sarah’s memories of the place are filled with tragedy and guilt. In her teens, Sarah had a premonition she ignored and believed, in retrospect, that her vision was a warning. Sarah feel that the death of one of her friends could have been avoided, if only she had listened to the warning.  That is not the only tragedy from her past, she shares a secret with 4 of her youth best friends. Something no one ever talked about.

Within a week of her husband death, someone else from Sarah’s past dies under mysterious circumstances. Soon after her childhood friends reveal that they have received threatening letters implying the writer knows what happened when they were teenagers. To Sarah, it feels like everything is happening at once.

Is everything connected? What happened in the past? Who killed the lawyer and are Sarah’s visions premonitions or memories?

The book through my criteria lens:

I listened to Bitterroot Lake, and I think Linda Jones did an amazing job bringing the story to life. However, because there are so many characters, I was confused at times and feel this book would have benefitted from an ensemble cast. The pacing was as good as it could be, considering the narrative of the book itself is quite slow. I tried listening to it at 2x speed, but somehow that didn’t work for me.

Bitterroot Lake is a very slow-paced book and I feel there were too many characters. I had a hard time keeping track of them all, but I will have to say that the main character was really well developed and Beckman did a wonderful job bringing Lucas to life. He is a highly unlikable character and we got the full force of his “doucheness”, even though he is dead in the present. I feel that the plot was original and so promising, but the execution suffered a bit. The synopsis led me to believe I was going to read a psychological thriller with a heavy dose of paranormal. I didn’t find that on the pages, there were some paranormal allusions, but they left me wanting more. When reading a whodunit, I always look for fairness above all, and unfortunately, I feel that Beckman could have played fairer with the solution for the murder.

What Beckman excelled at was ambiance. I really felt the dread of the situation in which Sarah felt herself and her paranoia. The description of mountainous Montana and the lodge was also outstanding and made me feel like I was there (and wish I could visit the Rocky Mountains soon).

My personal feelings:

Unfortunately, Beckman style didn’t work for me and I just couldn’t get into the book. It’s probably because I went into it with the wrong expectations and couldn’t quite adjust them. The solution played a big part on my overall feelings about the book, it’s not so much that it didn’t make sense, but that I felt I never got a fair chance to have gotten there. Overall, I still recommend this book to fans of slow burners and people who reads books for the ride, rather than for the puzzle. It wasn’t bad, it was just not for me.

Enjoyability     3

Characters       7

Ambience        10

Fairness          5

Plot                  10

Execution        6

My total rating: 3.41

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Dreamscape, Alicia Beckman and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Bitterroot Lake.

#FrostaWingsIt #FrostaHeat #AliciaBeckman #DreamscapeMedia #BitterrootLake #Thriller #NetGalley #LindaJones #advancedreadercopy #ARC #Kindle #Booksofinstagram #readersofinstagram #bookstagram  #bookworm #booklover #bookstagrammer #bookaholic #bookreview #bookreviewer

A Body at the Tea Rooms by Dee MacDonald (2021) Review

That moment when you realize you have to solve a murder before you can relax with some clotted cream teas with a seaside view.

Kate Palmer Mystery #3

Why I picked up the book:

Even though this is my first Dee Macdonald book experience, this is the third in her Kate Palmer series.

Kate is our amateur sleuth in this British cozy mystery. And in A Body at the Tea Rooms, her sister Angie finds a body in the cellar of her Tea Rooms when she’s renovating. Initially Kate intends to let the police solve the crime but finds herself intrigued by a curious card found in the victim’s body. When her sister’s involvement with the murder becomes subject of village gossip, Kate jumps into the investigation to clear her sister’s name. The victim seems to be connected to the wealthiest family in Lower Tinworthy, making things even more complicated!

The book through my criteria lens:

A Body at the Tea Rooms was a delightful, fast paced book with a funny, dynamic characters. I have not read the previous books in the series and found that this did not impact my experience at all. This, in my opinion, attest to the author’s ability in create rounded, well developed characters. I felt like I knew Angie and Kate. I would have loved if a certain character’s loss and their resulting mental breakdown had been more explored, but the way it was handled served the plot well.

I loved the book’s atmosphere and felt like I got to know the Mansion and the village. In future novels, I would like to keep exploring Lower Tinworthy and everything the British small seaside village has to offer.

MacDonald played fair with her plotting and solution and I enjoyed myself while reading A Body at the Tea Room.

My personal feelings:

I love mysteries, even though I not always pick up Cozy Mysteries because they tend to be formulaic and a subgenre I prefer watching than reading. For me to pick up a cozy mystery book, relies solely on the main character and I must admit, Kate Palmer was it for me. She is funny and witty and confident, and the fact that she is older and has had a successful career as a nurse added to her charm. I will be picking up other books in the series.

If I can be a little picky, I think that the official synopsis kind of spoils the book a bit – not the plot, but I wish I hadn’t known Kate would eventually go missing because that happens beyond the first third of the book.

Enjoyability     10

Characters       8

Ambience        9

Fairness          10

Plot                  9

Execution        10

My total rating: 4.66

BOOK SNAPSHOT:

Disclaimer: I first read it as an ARC. In exchange for an honest review, I am thankful to Bookouture, NetGalley and Dee MacDonald for providing me with a copy of

#FrostaWingsIt #FrostaHeat #DeeMacDonald #Bookouture #ABodyattheTeaRooms #CozyMystery #NetGalley #advancedreadercopy #ARC #Kindle #Booksofinstagram #readersofinstagram #bookstagram  #bookworm #booklover #bookstagrammer #bookaholic #bookreview #bookreviewer

Into the Fire by Rachael Blok (2021) Review

A three day house party in an countryside mansion? Sign me up!

(famous last words)

Sisters Louis and Ebba, and their partner Iqbal, host 8 guests in the siblings’ old country manor to celebrate the launch of their company’s ground-breaking virtual reality game. The guests are all stakeholders, and 3 days might be too long to keep all their secrets hidden. Louis and Ebba planned the perfect party, every single detail, including the presence of DCI Jansen. However, it is not long before tension build, secrets start to leak… and someone dies.

The story was so promising, I was interested in this book from the get-go. Blok made one of my most beloved tropes her own. The atmosphere was superb, and though this was a slow burner, I felt that the pace was perfect for the story development. I love multiple POV’s and Blok chose the perfect characters as narrators, we also get some flashbacks to a pivotal moment in the recent past. I enjoyed most characters, especially the contrast between the sisters’ personalities. I just wish that Iqbal and Marieke had lived up to their potential.

This is a book I recommend, even though its writing style wasn’t for me. The physical book comes out on June 1st, but the kindle version is available now! I have purchased it on its release day, and Blok intrigued me enough to check the first two books in this series!

Thank you, Head of Zeus, NetGalley and Rachael Blok for providing me with an advanced copy of Blossom and Bud in exchange for an honest review.

#IntotheFire #NetGalley

Enjoyability     5

Characters       7

Ambience        10

Fairness          8

Plot                  10

Execution        8

My total rating: 4

Children Literature: Blossom and Bud by Frank J. Sileo (2021) Review

There’s beauty in everyone

Even though Mr. Baxter’s flower shop has plants of all sizes, colors and shapes, we meet the titular Blossom and Bud, two flowers who don’t like the way they look and often compare themselves to the other flowers.

The illustration by Brittany Lakin was stunning. They are colourful, diverse, and thoughtful. Frank J. Sileo delivered a powerful message of acceptance and body positivity in simple, interactive text that is easy to read to and BY children. Not to mention that the attention to detail is on point. I love how when using adjectives such as thin, thick, short, etc. The font reflected each of those adjectives. I also appreciated that the book begins with opposites. Both choices help children take pride and feel successful in their reading efforts.

I absolutely loved this book and will be adding it to my ever-growing classroom library! I’m really happy it comes out on April 13th, just in time for Spring!

Thank you, Magination Press, NetGalley and Frank J. Sileo for providing me with an advanced copy of Blossom and Bud in exchange for an honest review.

#BlossomandBud #NetGalley

Representation 10

Story 10

Illustration 10

My total rating: 5

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon (2021) Review

Mesmerizing and haunting

The Drowning Kind tells us the story of 4 women, sisters in current time and a mother and the daughter she craves in the early 1900’s.

The present narrative starts with the X sisters, Jax and Lexie. Lexie’s mental health is fragile, and she suffers from manic episodes. Needing a break from the emotional strain of having to deal with her sister’s mental state, Jax avoided contact for over a year. Out of the blue, Lexie reaches out but Jax avoids her incessant calls. When Jax is finally ready to reconnect, she finds out her sister drowned shortly after the last time she called. Lexie goes back home to deal with what happened, and starts wondering how much of her sister’s delusions about their estate’s pool is true. Lexie was convinced there were mysterious beings and the pool’s reputation for magical waters stood strong for decades.

In 1929, we follow Ethel’s journey as she does everything she can to have a child. Her journey takes us to the origins of this magical spring and its folklore.

This is my second McMahon book and I am in awe. Her books have the same effect on me as Shirley Jackson does. You finish the book with the heavy feeling of having your emotions stirred up – often for better AND worse. The way McMahon’s creates and develops characters is flawless, especially women and their relationship. Like Shirley Jackson, Jennifer is really good at representing mental illness without labeling them, but instead using the character’s POV to tells us how they are affected by their mental struggles without being defined by them.

McMahon’s books are visceral, her characters are real and the atmosphere she builds is haunting. She excels at representing the time periods she chooses to include in her book – I was seamlessly transported between 1929 and the present time. I didn’t even need to read the chapter heading to know who I was following. McMahon’s captures the time and character’s essence with every intentional sentence, word and punctuation. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that she actually lived in the 1920’s… (maybe she has?).

The last thing I feel I need to gush about is how superbly Jennifer evokes real feelings in the readers. Her mythos might be fantastic but what really terrorizes you is how she exposes human nature.

Thank you, Simon & Schuster Canada, Jennifer McMahon and NetGalley for an advanced copy of The Drowning Kind in exchange for an honest review.

#NetGalley #TheDrowningKind

Enjoyability     10

Characters       10

Ambience        10

Fairness          10

Plot                  10

Execution        10

My total rating: 5

Children Literature: My Dad by Susan Quinn (2021) Review

Wonderful things happen when a father and child spend time together

I really enjoyed the concept of this story, quality time with a parent is always important. As most books tend to focus on cis female parents, I always appreciate stereotype-busting literature.

Marina Ruiz’s illustrations are so beautiful and I love how she captured the diversity of real life in her drawings. Susan Quinn’s story is equally amazing, the rhymes make it easy and exciting to read to children and for children to read it themselves, the examples of little things a parent does and how important it is for their children, are on point and attainable. Susan did a great job sharing that to be a hero to your child, being present in their lives is the best way.

If I could nit pick slightly, I felt that the book’s story lost a bit of its power when it slightly shamed busy fathers and implied that days are only special when it’s just father and child. These were two sentences in a larger context, and I fully admit I might have taken them the wrong way. I do not think this is the message children will get and I still absolutely feel this is an important book to have in any child’s collection.

I will for sure be adding this to my work library.

Thank you Quarto Publishing Group, Susan Quinn and NetGalley for an advanced copy of My Dad in exchange for an honest review.
#MyDad #NetGalley

Representation 10

Story 8

Illustration 10

My total rating: 4.66

Children Literature: The Grumpy Fairies by Bethan Stevens (2021) Review

When you’re having a “I-just-want-to-scream” day, know you’re not alone. The Grumpy Fairies are right there with you

The Grumpy Fairies is a hilarious book that lets us know it is okay to be grumpy at times! The fairies are extremely relatable, in fact I started laughing out loud the first time a fairy said “NO” and fell to the floor – this is the kind of week I have had. At that moment, I was that fairies!

I am always for book in my classroom that will help my children develop essential life skills and social-emotional is always a big one as we are not born knowing how to recognize, address and manage our emotions.

This book is very helpful and a great addition to any curriculums! I cannot wait to share this with my classroom.

Thank you, Quarto Publishing Group, Bethan Stevens and NetGalley for an advanced copy of The Grumpy Fairies in exchange for an honest review!

#TheGrumpyFairies #NetGalley

Representation 9

Story 8

Illustration 10

My total rating: 4.5