Please Join Us, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie, and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When granted the chance to read Catherine McKenzie’s latest novel, I eagerly reached for the ARC. McKenzie weaves a great story that impacts the reader from the opening pages and grips them throughout the reading experience. Able to create a stellar read in a standalone thriller, Catherine McKenzie is one author worth noting for those who have yet to discover her magic. Happy to see she successfully penned Book #13!

Nicole Mueller has come to a crossroads in her life, with a career that seems not to be moving forward and a marriage that is not as exciting as it had once been. As she debates her options, the thirty-nine year old begins to realise that she desperately needs a change, which may be coming sooner, as her law firm is tightening its belt.

Nicole receives a cryptic email about Panthera Leo and how they would like to recruit her to join. They promise a great deal of success and connections, as long as she agrees to attend a retreat in rural Colorado. While Nicole’s husband, Dan, thinks that it is all a cult, Nicole is intrigued and agrees to attend. Nicole can only hope of opening new doors for her professional and personal lives with this weekend away.

After returning from Colorado, Nicole feels a sense of closeness with her ’pride’ the others in the group who attended the weekend. She hopes that her return to New York will be fruitful and that she can reap the benefits. As things begin to fall into place, Nicole has high hopes for Panthera Leo, though her questions are constantly shot down. All she must remember is never to decline an offer made or a request to assist others in the pride.

When one of the other pride members calls for assistance, Nicole is quick to head over. However, the legality of what is going on leaves her wondering if she might have made a poor decision. Nicole wants out and will take her old life once more, provided she can find a means of escape. As in the wild, leaving the pride is not that simple and could be a matter of life or death. McKenzie pens another great thriller sure to impress the attentive reader.

I have long come to enjoy the work of Catherine McKenzie, who is able to cobble together some great storytelling in a standalone thriller. She’s on point and keeps the reader engaged, while tackling some issues of the day in a flawless manner. Her narrative flows well and keeps the story moving along, with great plot twists throughout. I’m eager to keep reading anything she has to offer.

Catherine McKenzie has a way with her storytelling that helps keep the reader involved in the story. This could have something to do with her strong narrative, which takes the reader on quite the journey, or even with well-developed characters that popular many of the pages of the book. McKenzie’s able to use strong plot twists throughout to keep the reader from being able to predict the outcome, while offering teasers throughout. Perhaps one thing that did not mesh well with me in the narrative was how Nicole would commonly list things she had done, “called Dan, checked the dry-cleaning, ordered dinner” rather than letting the narrative explore them. With hyphens to denote the actual list nature of this in the story, it appeared McKenzie wanted to clip the word count or keep from having to develop these acts, some of which were non-essential to the larger plot. Other than that, I was fully engaged with the story and could not have asked for more.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another great novel. I am eager to see what else you have coming, as your books always put me in a wonderful mindset.

Six Weeks to Live, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Emerging with another unique psychological thriller, Catherine McKenzie shows why she is at the top of her her genre. Mixing mystery with real-life situations, McKenzie presents the reader with a story that will surely hit home for many. Recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jennifer prepares to live her final weeks with family. However, she comes to discover something odd in a past blood test result and wonders if the cancer might have had some ‘help’ emerging, leaving her to speculate who might have targeted her to die. Another winner for McKenzie fans and those who love books with slowly revealed ‘aha’ moments.

Jennifer Barnes could not have expected the news when she went to the doctor about a series of headaches. Told that she has brain cancer and only a handful of weeks to live, Jennifer tries her best to come to terms with it and make the most of her time remaining. With adult triplets and a few grandchildren, Jennifer is ready to bask in the love they have for her as she wrestles for answers inside herself.

However, among the papers her doctor handed over, there is an old blood test result that denotes a spike in lead levels, something about which she knew nothing. When the doctor’s office has documented proof that they called her for additional tests and she communicated by phone that she wanted a second opinion, everything thinks it has to be related to her forgetfulness and a bout of migraines from last year. Jennifer in not convinced and begins digging a little deeper.

At the time of her aforementioned migraines, her husband had begun asking for a divorce, the next step after he had admitted having an affair and left the marital home. Might he be responsible for the anomaly in her blood test? Could he have wanted to kill her all along?The plot thickens as more is revealed and new layers of the family drama come to the surface.

While Jennifer’s time is running out, she refuses to take it sitting down. She must learn the truth and who has been trying to harm her over the last year. While the cancer progresses and she must make amends with the life she has lived, Jennifer refuses to die before knowing what really happened last May and who within her circle she can truly trust. Chilling and emotional at the same time, Catherine McKenzie keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

I have been a fan of Catherine McKenzie and her work for a few years now, having discovered her books while reading other reviews. Each of her books that I have taken the time to read proves to me that she is the real deal and knows how to spin a tale that will captivate the reader wholeheartedly. This is another stunning piece that seeks to weave a tragedy within a mystery and encapsulate it in a psychological thriller, where the protagonist cannot tell who can be trusted. A stellar piece, if ever I have read one.

Jennifer Barnes plays the presumptive protagonist throughout, offering the reader an insight into her life and how she’s come to have only a few weeks left. Her struggles as a mother, a wife, and a victim of adultery all come to the surface, while she refuses to lay down and let her world come crashing in on her. While she has only a limited time left, she is determined to discover the truth behind her lead poisoning and who could have acted so brashly as to try to kill her. McKenzie creates moments where Jennifer exposes the relationships she has with each of her triplet daughters, her own mother, and the husband who betrayed her, leaving everyone as a potential suspect, even if one name rises to the top throughout.

The collection of secondary characters are, to a degree, not as supporting as one might think. McKenzie’s storytelling is such that all three daughters could share the limelight with their mother and it not be a stretch. There is much to learn about them and their differences, even though they share a birthdate. Deception and duplicity are mixed with moments of compassion, as McKenzie contrasts how each connects with both parents in different ways. The story is richer for it and the twists even more impactful. This is the sign of a really great piece of fiction, where lines are blurred and the reader must decide who to like and hate.

The story itself was fantastic, which might help explain how I was able to read it in a single day. McKenzie tells things in such a clear manner within getting too wrapped up in the frivolous details. There is so much to learn and it comes out in a strong narrative that forges ahead, alongside great character development and quick dialogue. As is McKenzie’s style, there are many twists that the reader might not expect, which keeps the reader on their toes as they push forward to discover the truths that await them. Telling a multi-layered story is not easy, but Catherine McKenzie does it with ease, without revealing too much and letting the reader guess what is to come. I cannot say enough about this piece or the quality of Catherine McKenzie’s writing.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another winner. You hooked me with the opening chapter and I could not stop reading from that point onwards.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

You Can’t Catch Me, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie, and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When it comes to books with twists aplenty and well-developed characters, readers need not look further than Catherine McKenzie and her latest novel. Well-paced and full of ‘aha’ moments, McKenzie shows why she is one of the great authors of her genre. After being outed at work and having her name splashed all across social media, Jessica Williams needs some time away. While waiting in an airport bar, she comes across a woman around her age. Funny enough, they share a name. Two Jessica Williamses? After a drink and some interesting conversation, our protagonist heads off onto her flight, distancing herself from the world and her online presence. It’s only when she lands back in the US that she discovers someone has drained her bank account. On the hunt for who might have done this, bank officials are flummoxed, as it was ‘Jessica Williams’. The security footage is grainy, but Jessica is sure she knows who did it. Confiding in her closest friend, Jessica begins a search to see if others have been taken by this Jessica Williams. The search takes her around the country, as she discovers others with her name and birthdate who have been scammed for much of their money. Determined to drive this grifter out of hiding, Jessica and her gang of others (aptly given numbers to differentiate them) set traps, only to be told in sly text messages that they will never catch her. As Jessica interspersed her battle with living in and bring extricated from a cult, the story takes many directions for a woman who had no identity and will not surrender the loose self she has discovered over the past 12 years. Grit and determination drive this woman, no matter where things take her. A wonderful story that leaves the reader panting from this hectic journey. Recommended to those who love a good thriller to pass the time, as well as the reader familiar with Catherine McKenzie and her work.

I am happy when I see a new book by Catherine McKenzie, as I can always be assured of a wonderful story. She is able to capture all the essentials in a thriller and still leave the reader gasping aloud with some of the plot twists she introduces. Jessica Williams (the original and protagonist) is a wonderful character onto whom the reader can latch themselves throughout. Willing to share a lot of her experiences in the cult, as well as a determination to keep hold of her identity, she finds herself in many interesting situations, always eager to push forward and get some answers. This might be part of her journalism background, but it also gives the reader the needed momentum to push through this book. With an underlying romantic interest in her life, Jessica battles to define herself while also not letting this guy slip through her fingers, all a part of the larger storyline. Other characters help push the story along, not the least of which the other Jessica Williamses, all of whom bring their own qualities to the narrative. McKenzie makes sure to differentiate them from one another, but connects these women with the needed aspects to keep the story flowing. The story itself was well written and developed throughout, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats as they see where the twists occur and how they will help strengthen to overall narrative. McKenzie is creative in her plots and ideas, utilising this to keep the reader wondering. With two strong narratives—cult and present—interwoven, the reader is always trying to determine what is to come, as well as how Jessica Williams came into herself. All culminating in a twist that ties it together. A wonderful book and I am eager to see what else is to come.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another winner. I hope others see the strengths that I do and latch themselves onto this book in short order.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

I’ll Never Tell, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

One can usually expect something stellar when Catherine McKenzie is at the helm and this book was no exception. Layering family dynamics with an over-arching mystery from years ago, McKenzie offers readers a wonderful treat as the story progresses. The MacAllister family have long been associated with Camp Macaw, the staple summer retreat they own and run for children in the Quebec Townships. However, with the death of the MacAllister parents, the adult children gather together on the property to discuss what is to come of the land they knew all too well as teenagers. Will it be sold or portioned off and who will have the final say as to what happens? At the reading of the will, the group is surprised to learn of the parameters around which all this must be decided, something that Mr. MacAllister devised to unite and divide the group one final time. This rag-tag group must decide if their one brother, Ryan, should be permitted to inherit something, but the choice must be unanimous and they have forty-eight hours before the vote. This brings to mind a tragedy from two decades before, when a young camper, Amanda Holmes, was found, assaulted on a distant part of the camp’s property. The scandal caused ripples that almost shut the facility down and Ryan was deemed responsible. Though he denies being involved, it was largely a foregone conclusion. Now, with the family back together and grown, they must face the gruesome facts again and get to the truth, or bury it once and for all, while also letting their formative time at Camp Macaw drift away on the summer breeze. With flashback chapters that help build the Amanda storyline as well as present-day struggles, this story will keep the reader at the centre of the action and leave them wanting to cast their own decisions before all is said and done. A great mystery that entertains in short order. Recommended for those who love Catherine McKenzie’s work and the reader who enjoys stories where family secrets turn truths upside down.

I have always come to find Catherine McKenzie’s work quite detailed and her stories hit home in ways I could not have predicted. Both the characters and the plot pulled me in from the get-go and I found myself fully committed before too long. In this piece, McKenzie offers up a quaint camp community, where a family has come to remember their parents and try to put all else aside. However, there is little chance of that, with the tragedy of years before facing them during the reading of the will. The reader meets the entire group, as well as a few adopted members of the MacAllister clan, all of whom have their own lives now, but also played key roles during the summer of 1998. What did happen to Amanda Holmes and how did things go so wrong? McKenzie offers interesting flashbacks throughout this piece to develop that narrative, as well as plotting the whereabouts of each character at key points during the night of the event. The reader can make their own presumptions, though it is the truth that seems to elude everyone. With strong characters who help shape the story and a narrative that pushes the plot forward, McKenzie offers a gritty mystery that is sure to keep the reader guessing and wondering until the very end. Camp Macaw’s future may be in doubt, but it is the strength of the MacAllister family that remains the real x-factor throughout. Brilliantly devised and executed, it is no wonder Catherine McKenzie has so many fans and seems to add more with each novel she publishes.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another wonderful piece. I can only hope that others will see some of the nuances I found while reading this book.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Good Liar, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Catherine McKenzie is back with another novel that pushes the reader to think while enjoying this fast paced story. On October 10th at 10am (Triple Ten), an explosion rocked a building in Chicago, leaving more than 500 dead and destroying many families. This story surrounds the lives of three women with intimate ties to that explosion and the personal tragedy that befell them. Cecily has spent the last year coming to terms with the loss of her husband, Tom, and how she will raise two children on her own. Not only does she have that on her plate, but she was on her way to see Tom when the explosion occurred and her face was caught by a freelance photographer, making her the ‘face’ of the tragedy. Cecily has been forced to endure the faux-celebrity of being ‘that woman’, personifying the Triple Ten event for the last twelve months. Franny Maycombe has become a friend of Cecily’s over the last year, as they both sit on the compensation board for the families of the victims, in hopes of bringing some financial stability during these trying times. Franny lost her biological mother in the blast, an event that is still hard to digest. Franny was adopted as an infant and just recently discovered her birth mother who lived in Chicago, only to see her killed after such a short reunion. Franny’s story emerges in a series of interviews conducted by an eager filmmaker, trying to create a documentary of the Triple Ten event a year later. The more the reader learns of Franny, the more mysterious she becomes. The third woman who plays a key role in the story is Kate, who has relocated to Montreal and tried to put the events of Chicago behind her. Kate has a secret that no one knows and a family that presumes she is never coming back. With the anniversary of the Triple Ten, Kate is forced to come to terms with what happened and her role in the larger scheme of these. Cecily, Franny, Kate… three women who have suffered, though all have also been holding onto a lie from that day; a lie that could destroy them. Keeping it under wraps might be the only way they can come out of this as a good liar, if such a thing exists. McKenzie offers up another wonderful piece of writing that is sure to attract the attention of many, as it is thought provoking and leaves a definite aftertaste. Those familiar with her work will likely enjoy this piece, though new fans are sure to emerge as well.

I can admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, even if I felt there was something holding it back. I kept thinking to myself that this book is on the cusp of being ‘great’ for me, but lacked something on which I cannot place my finger. As though superb is on the other side of a thin cellophane wall, but I was kept from it by McKenzie holding something back with the story and her characters. The three women who spend much of the time in the spotlight could not be more different and similar at the same time. Cecily is struggling with digesting Tom being gone and the strains within her marriage. Franny wants nothing more than to connect with her biological mother’s family, as well as slide into the middle of the drama that is Triple Ten mourning. Kate hides herself away, though has an interesting backstory for leaving and choosing to make her way up to Canada. All three propel the story forward, working with a handful of well-crafted secondary characters. The story is rich in both backstory and character development, a strong suit for McKenzie, and said pieces help form a strong foundation on which the story can rest. There is something eerie and yet heartwarming about the story and the way it develops. Struggle is woven throughout, though each of the three protagonists comes at it from a unique perspective. Added to that, the constant theme of lies and deception helps to imbue a strong sense of distrust between characters and forces the reader to judge the actions of those on the printed page, while also trying not to be too harsh. McKenzie uses some interesting techniques in the book to pull out the plot, with the direct approach that Cecily portrays, the more ‘interview-centric’ release of information that Franny utilises, and Kate’s thoughts and flashbacks to deliver her own personal angle. All three work effectively, as does the documentary that pushes the story along, though there seems to be something missing that kept me from proclaiming that this was another masterpiece. I suppose the slow development that led to an abrupt end, as though the reader was expecting a climax and had the carpet pulled out from under them. However, McKenzie’s writing is so strong and alluring that some weaknesses cannot take away from the overall pleasure that comes from reading this novel.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for dazzling and keeping things fresh throughout. I have encouraged others to read your work in the past and will continue to do so.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: