Book Reviews The Thriller Addition

What is it about January and February that brings out the thrill reader in me? Is it the snow? The cold? The dark? Or is it because I adore suspense novels.

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica.

If you love unreliable narrators, you’ll love Sadie. The trouble starts immediately after Sadie and her family move to a new town for a fresh start. Mary Kubica is very skilled at creating atmosphere and she doesn’t exactly this with the Fousts’ new home, and the small island off the coast of Maine. It’s dark and claustrophobic and creepy. Soon Sadie is suspected of murder and the more she tries to unravel the reasons why her neighbour died the less she understands. The characters are well developed, the setting is excellently drawn, and the plot is twisty. Definitely recommend.

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Success doesn’t protect people from the worst happening. Enter Marin and Derek, successful entrepreneurs with nowhere to go but up, until their son is kidnapped from a busy, local market. Sixteen months later Marin is still searching for answers when she gets more bad news. Her husband is having an affair. Encouraged by her best friend, and long ago ex-boyfriend, her anger and grief have her poised on the brink of a catastrophic decision from which there is no turning back. Marin’s grief is so real, it made me uncomfortable at times. There is nothing anyone can do to help or make things better for her, or is there… I didn’t always like her. In fact, there aren’t any likeable characters in this book. Then again, you shouldn’t have to bother with likability when you’re grief-stricken. But I admired Marin and there was never a moment I didn’t root for her. Definitely recommend.

All it takes to unravel a life is one little secret…

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family—until their world falls apart the day their son Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding Sebastian, she learns that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman. This discovery sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix.

Permanently.

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Billed as a cross between a historical psychological thriller and a Swedish gothic, this book was intense and beautifully written. Wolf Winter follows the journey of Maija and her family from Finland to Blackasen, where they hope for a fresh start. Then a man is found dead and Maija is certain it is not animal related, but murder. Compelled to investigate, she learns more about the history of the people living in the shadow of the mountain, and the mountain itself, which is brooding and menacing. Winter comes and it is one of the worst in memory. I loved Maija. She is a strong, stoic, take charge type of character who battles the elements, the residents, and her station in life in order to solve a mystery. She unearths long buried menacing secrets that threaten to destroy her and her daughters. At times, it’s a bit disjointed and a bit wandering, but overall I loved it. Highly recommend.

Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow.

While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice.

As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

Good Lord, this book is twisted. But somehow not violent. Which is weird considering the nature of the book and the characters’ extracurricular activities. But the actual violence exists in the background, which is somehow both a relief and disturbing. Because isn’t this what happens in real life? Our fascination with the perpetrators of violence far outlasts our concern and sympathy for the victims. But this book doesn’t pretend to be about the victims. It’s about the killers, a married couple who become serial killers to spice up their fifteen year marriage. Sounds horrifying, doesn’t it? Told in first person by a husband who is charming, likeable and straddles a fine line. He loves his wife and is trying to do what’s best for his family. I found myself oddly charmed by him and having to remind myself he’s one of the bad guys. Like he’s a REALLY bad guy. One of the worst. Then things start to unravel and he wonders how well he knows his wife…Recommend.

A couple’s fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting...

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We’re your neighbors, the parents of your kid’s friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

There you have it! Four books with varying degrees of suspense and intensity. Perfect for any night.

Until the next time…

What’s everyone reading?

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Creativity Goals 2020

In 2019 I started on a journey of pursuing a more creative life. There is some much information out there and so many different ways to take it in that I needed something to offset the deluge and that gave me the time to process and absorb things. It was also a way to make the things I care about a priority. I purposefully sought out inspiration and tried things that interested me but also scared me a little. Something other than reading, which I still adore most of all.

I wanted these creative endeavours to be about the process. To be an outlet. A nod to self-care. I have my writing, my primary creative focus and something I take seriously, and I needed this to be different, to feel different, to be about something else.

My goal was to cultivate a consistent daily dose of creativity. I wanted to learn some new things, but more than that, I wanted to create the habit of, well…creativity. I wanted to focus on the journey and not label my efforts as successes or failures. I wanted to have fun and to embrace the mess and my mistakes. I wanted to play and experiment and learn how to shift my focus when I felt stuck on something in my writing, or everyday life.

I started small. I went to a big box craft store and bought a palette of watercolour paints for seven dollars. I picked up some cheap brushes to go with it. I started to experiment. I didn’t know what I was doing but I studiously ignored the rather loud voice in my head that told me to wait until I did, that suggested I should hit the pause button until I was better prepared to start. I ignored that voice. I went for it. All last year was about ignoring that voice. I also posted my efforts on Instagram and I continue to do so even if they’re not perfect – which they never are, at least to my eyes.

Then I stepped all the way out of my comfort zone and I took an Adult Art Sampler class, geared towards beginners or anyone interested in experimenting with new techniques. I tried alcohol inks, pottery (on an actual wheel), charcoal sketching, and printmaking. I took a modern calligraphy workshop. I watched YouTube videos on watercolour techniques. I found artists I favoured to follow on social media. I tried cross stitch.

But I didn’t limit my forays in creativity to the visual arts. I bought an ice cream maker and made the most incredible salted caramel ice cream (after my first attempt at the custard base curdled) and then baked the worst chocolate brownies ever to accompany it. I’m learning how to make bread. I made a pie from scratch. I’ve always planted the same flowers in the same pots. This past season I experimented. Full disclosure, that experiment was not a success. I planted the wrong plants in the wrong spots, and in the wrong kind of groupings. Not everything is going to work out.

I’ve never thought of myself as much of an artist. In the back of my mind, I still don’t. After all, it’s just doodles or a loaf of bread. But I’m creating. I’m learning. I’m expanding my mind. And for someone who struggles with anxiety, it’s also a way to be more mindful, to live in the present.

If you’re looking to add some creativity into your life and for inspiration, I love Lindsey Bugbee’s blog post The Postman’s KnockFive Creative Goals for 2018 – on setting creative goals.

What I’m reading: Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

What I’m listening to: Seize The Fire by Laura Kinsale

Until next time…

What are your favourite creative pursuits? Or what are your hobbies, in general?

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Reading Challenge 2019 Results

This is the first year I’ve devised a reading challenge as a way to diversify my reading a bit. I used it as a guideline while also granting myself permission to abandon it if it became to onerous. I’m happy to say that I did not abandon it and that I’m judging my experiment relatively successful.

I had originally assigned a genre or category to a month, knowing full well I would be reading out of order. Because I’m a member of a book club and need to read assigned books, I also need to be able to read what speaks to me at a particular time.

There were three categories that I didn’t manage to complete and categories that I read for the first time and really enjoyed. There are some categories I would swap out for others, such as wanting to add a cookbook category. I loved every book (even when a couple of them made me uncomfortable) on this list and would recommend them without hesitation.

My goal was to diversify my reading and I think the above list proves that I did. I’m thinking of setting up another challenge for 2020 and I’m open to category suggestions. Or book suggestions!

Until next time…

Do you set a reading challenge or goal for the year?

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Some Of My Favourite Things

I don’t know about you but I love The Sound Of Music movie. It’s one of my favourites to watch at Christmastime, along with Die Hard and The Muppet Christmas Carol. My tastes are eclectic if nothing else. But when Julie Andrews sings, Bruce Willis kicks butt, and/or Gonzo and Rizzo tell the tale of Scrooge, it starts to feel like a lot like Christmas.

Since I’ve watched two out of those three movies, and I talk about books all the time, and I’m definitely in a holiday mood, here are some of my other favourite things to give and to receive for Christmas.

Experiences! In my city, like all places, there are places to go to have fun, try something new, or do the same thing again and again, whatever you like. Like a public art gallery! My local art gallery, The MacKenzie Art Gallery, is a delightful place to spend time, get inspired, or search out calm and serenity. And in winter, a place to go to where you can stretch your legs. A yearly membership costs only $30. That quite the deal. Or your local science centre, like our Saskatchewan Science Centre! Perhaps tickets to a festival, like the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, or concert. An art class at Cathedral Art School.

Going For Coffee! Or tea, in my case. And maybe some dessert! There are coffee shops everywhere! One of my personal favourites is Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective where the vibe is somehow energetic but also laid back flavoured with a comforting sense of community. Don’t their coffee mugs look like you need to fill them with something warm! Another one is the patisserie Le Macaron, which is cozy and where we have our writing group meetings. I can vouch for the decadent goodies!

Local Handmade Crafts. You can find creative people everywhere, so while you may not have an art gallery in your small town, I one hundred percent guarantee you have artisans. Like the talented people behind Marilynn’s Quirky Quilts or Make it Cozy blankets, or Sew and Tell Handmade essential oil storage bags, baskets and tons of other things.

Supporting Local businesses! With doors and personal service and everything nice. In my neck of the woods it might mean visits to shops like Zippity Zoom Toys. Or check out Mortise and Tenon, a modern day general store. Visit the Paper Umbrella for all your stationery and writing implements and Handmade Saskatchewan with it’s incredible variety.

There you have it! A few of my favourite places and things.

Until next time…

Where are some of your favourite gifts to give and receive?

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Some November Book Reviews

Since the weather has turned chillier, I’ve been on a reading binge. I’ve also been lucky enough to have been approved to read some Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) of book I’d requested on Netgalley. Netgalley helps out authors by offering ARCs to approved reviewers. And by approved reviewer, I mean someone who talks about books on social media. And there is little I like to talk about more than books.

First up is Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn! Available December 31, 2019 from Kensington Books.

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Knowing the upcoming marriage of Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée was doomed to fail is one thing, but weaving a secret word of warning into their wedding program is another. Meg may have thought no one would spot it, but she hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other, both try to ignore deepening connection between them. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .

If you love a slow, sweet burn, you’ll love this book. If you love talk of fonts, and scripts, and signs, you’ll LOVE this book. If you love New York as a setting, you’ll love this book. There’s also more to love because there is meat to this story. The characters work through some real life issues and face serious obstacles, make hard decisions. If you give this one a try, I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Second is Whiteout by Adriana Anders. Available January 28, 2019 from Sourcebooks.

Survival Instincts #1
With a storm coming and a killer on the loose,
every step could be their last…

Angel Smith is finally ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the remote research station she’s been calling home is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and irritatingly gorgeous glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there’s nowhere left to run.

Isolated with no power, no way to contact the outside world, and a madman on their heels, Angel and Ford must fight to survive in the most inhospitable―and beautiful―place on earth. But what starts as a partnership born of necessity quickly turns into an urgent connection that burns bright and hot. They both know there’s little chance of making it out alive, and yet they are determined to weather the coming storm―no matter the cost.

The action never stops. It’s a nail biter right to the very end. And I don’t know what it is about reading books that have snowstorms in winter when it’s winter for real, but I love them! This book has plenty of thrill and spills, well fleshed out characters and a remote research station in Antarctica. It doesn’t get better than that for this romantic suspense fan!

And third is The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. Coming Out on May 26, 2020 from St. Martin’s Press

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people―a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others―could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

I loved this book! And if you are a Jane Austen fan, you’ll want to mark down the release date, or better yet pre-order it because it is full of Austen goodness in the best way possible. It takes place immediately following the end of World War Two and the characters are all suffering from their own traumas. Through a love of reading, particularly Jane Austen, an unlikely group of people come together to preserve history and form lifelong friendships, heal wounded hearts…and more. It’s a gem of a novel that breaks your heart and then puts it back together. Definitely recommend it!

And there you have it! Three very different books but something for everyone. I would happily recommend all three of these books.

Until next time…

What’s everyone else reading these days?

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End of October Update

Tomorrow marks the end of another month and 2020 is a mere two months away! Autumn in Saskatchewan never lasts long enough to suit me and this year winter has arrived way too early. Tonight we’ll be carving pumpkins and tomorrow we’ll be setting them out on frozen steps or snowy driveways to attract trick-or-treaters. Well, hopefully not the tricksters…

Speaking of tricksters. I read a couple of great books in October written by a new-to-me author, Eden Robinson, who I met at The Saskatchewan Festival of Words this summer. Below is a photo of her interview with Jael Richardson. And let me tell you, she was has the best laugh! It fills a room and you can’t help but join in.

I started with Son Of A Trickster, Book 1 in The Trickster Trilogy, and finalist for The Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2017. I quickly moved onto Book 2, Trickster Drift, winner of the 2019 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. I loved these books and I can’t wait to read the third one when it comes out.

But for those who steer clear of books with serious accolades to their name, don’t worry.The beautiful thing about these two books is how very readable they are. If you like edgy coming of age stories with a paranormal bent to them, these books might just be the thing for you. Robinson deals with some heavy, tense issues in an authentic way and works at dismantling a lot of old and tired Indigenous stereotypes, and these books will have you smiling in places you least expect to. Add to that, Robinson’s way with dialogue is magic! Click here to read an excerpt! CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is adapting a TV series from her books called The Trickster, set to air in 2020.

 Meet Jared Martin: sixteen-year-old pot cookie dealer, smoker, drinker and son with the scariest mom ever. But Jared’s the pot dealer with a heart of gold–really. Compassionate, caring, and nurturing by nature, Jared’s determined to help hold his family together–whether that means supporting his dad’s new family with the proceeds from his baking or caring for his elderly neighbours. But when it comes to being cared and loved, Jared knows he can’t rely on his family. His only source of love and support was his flatulent pit bull Baby, but she’s dead. And then there’s the talking ravens and the black outs and his grandmother’s perpetual suspicion that he is not human, but the son of a trickster.

As my October recommendation, I urge you to go out and get the two books from The Trickster Series. Tomorrow night I’ll be handing out candy and sending out thoughts to keep all the little (and big) trick-or-treaters warm and safe. Happy Halloween to those of you who enjoy the shenanigans!

Until next time…

What book(s) did you read in October? Inquiring minds want to know!

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An Afternoon of Art

Did you know that a trip to the art gallery can improve your health? Viewing art relieves stress and anxiety. It improves your critical thinking skills. It encourages empathy. Going to an art gallery is as good for your mental health as making art.

I recently spent an afternoon at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the oldest public gallery in my province of Saskatchewan. Until October 23rd, they presenting a retrospective on the work of Victor Cicansky, an award winning local artist. I really wanted to take this one in, as I’ve long been a fan of Cicansky’s. It was wonderful. And inspiring. And educating.

His sense of humour comes through in his both his ceramics and his bronze works. The pieces are fun and whimsical and take you back to a time when we were connected to the earth’s heartbeat.

And let’s face it, the winter months are fast approaching, and I don’t know about you but those long dark months do a number on my mental health. Visiting an art gallery not only helps me battle against winter woes, it’s a way to get some exercise, to be out and about, and to get inspired about my own projects.

And it’s cheap entertainment. The cost of visiting the MacKenzie and taking in the different exhibits comes at a cost of $10 a ticket. $10! A membership is $30. Often public galleries have free times. It doesn’t get any better than free.

Until next time…

Do you love art? Have a favourite gallery? Artist? Inquiring minds want to know!

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September Thoughts

Cozy sweaters, tea in the evening, cool walks, and falling leaves. Just a short note to ask who else loves fall? Being a writer is a weird thing. Outside the leaves are turning colour and the air is cooler, but the story I’m writing takes place in springtime. Both are transition seasons. Spring is bright and loud and hopeful. Autumn is quiet and contemplative, fostering a sense of gathering up what we started in spring. One is a time to recover from the winter and the other is a time to prepare for the harsher weather to come. At least, on the Canadian prairies that’s the case.

Until next time…

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What I Read in August

Summer has flown by and I’m busy enjoying the last days of summer while embracing the cool evenings and the crisp promise of fall in the air. The harvest is coming in, the leaves are starting to change, and we had our first hummingbird at our feeder, not doubt preparing for the long trip south. The long weekend is this weekend and once that’s over it’s back to a regular schedule. Thank goodness.

The approach of fall always comes with a need to organize, to prepare, to wrap some things up and get ready to start different ones. I’ve finished the first draft of first book in my Whisper Creek series. The name of this series has changed yet again. The characters’ names have changed so often that I’m not sure who’s called what anymore. I love revising and can’t wait to really get started, I’ve puttered a bit in August, but now that my office has been reorganized and tidied up I’m really ready to tackle this draft into a story.

Speaking of stories, here are the ones I read or listened to in August!

The Break by Katherena Vermette

Omgosh, this book. It was heartbreaking and beautiful all at once and an ode to strong women. I loved the matriarchal feel to this book. It warms the heart and gives you a sense of hope, even in those dark moments that come to us all.

Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean

Sarah MacLean is one of my go-to authors and I’m loving her Bareknuckle Bastard Series. Brazen and the Beast, Book 2, didn’t disappoint. In fact, I think it’s her best one yet. I loved Hattie! It’s witty, and clever, and rich in detail.

The House Of Shadows by Nicola Cornick

I love time slip novels! The House of Shadows not only time slips back to one time period (the early 1880s) but two – all the way back to the middle of the 15th century. And just like that, my love of medieval romances has resumed. Elizabeth and Craven’s part of the story was my favourite. I listened to this book on Audible and it took awhile for me to get into this story but I really enjoyed the second half.

The King’s Man: Welsh Blades, Book 1 by Elizabeth Kingston

I enjoyed the medieval part of The House of Shadows so much I went looking for a medieval romance. I didn’t always like the characters, particularly the hero. I wouldn’t call him an anti hero, which I generally don’t care to read about, but he wasn’t always kind with his words. I can’t decide if that should bother me or not. Neither the heroine or hero were soft or cuddling in any way. I enjoyed this book and will definitely check out others by the author. *The narrator, Nicholas Boulton, was very good.

What books did you read this summer? Did you have a favourite? Go ahead and recommend away!

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Summer Festivals

There are music festivals, fringe festivals, art festivals, film festivals, and even kite festivals! Check out the top ten Canadian festivals according to Trip Savvy. But also scattered across Canada, and I’m assuming the world, are also festivals for readers and writers.

Last weekend was the annual Saskatchewan Festival of Words held in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and it was my first time attending and I can’t figure out why. It was an awesome experience. I met so many wonderful people and fellow reading enthusiasts.

There were interviews, author readings, and panel discussions. I attended my first ever poetry slam competition. In this photo author, and sometimes guest host on CBC’s q, Jael Richardson is interviewing award winning author, Eden Robinson, who is also the owner of the best laugh around.

One of my favourite functions was the Dinner with Renee Kohlman, a Saskatchewan chef and food blogger from Saskatoon. If you get a chance, check out her wonderful blog, Sweetsugarbean. Also, Renee’s cookbook, All The Sweet Things, is a delightful mix of heartwarming stories, soft, bright colours, and beautiful recipes. We also dined with a delightful couple of ladies whose husbands had been RCMP officers (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) stationed in rural British Columbia. Talk about natural born storytellers, they regaled us with story after story.

Sunday included two panels discussions and it’s always helpful when authors talk about craft, their process, and how they market their books. Left to right: Tanis MacDonald, Eden Robinson, Jael Richardson, Gail Bowen, and Drew Hayden Taylor.

I think the best surprise about attending the Festival Of Words was the connection I made with people from across Western Canada. People from places like Red Deer, Alberta; Swift Current, Saskatchewan; Edmonton, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the list goes on. People were more than welcoming and happy to include you in their group. Next year we’re going to win Trivia Night.

Until next time…

Are you big on summer festivals? What festivals are popular in your area?

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