Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

I was looking forward to reading The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland's debut novel, the second I found out it was set in Australia. I've visited Australia twice now over the last 4ish years and it's one of my favourite places. This novel totally lived up to my expectations because the settings were magical and played such an important part in this great book.

Here's the synopsis:
An enchanting and captivating novel about how our untold stories haunt us — and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak.
Under the watchful eye of June and the women who run the farm, Alice settles, but grows up increasingly frustrated by how little she knows of her family’s story. In her early twenties, Alice’s life is thrown into upheaval again when she suffers devastating betrayal and loss. Desperate to outrun grief, Alice flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. In this otherworldly landscape Alice thinks she has found solace, until she meets a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.
Spanning two decades, set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart follows Alice’s unforgettable journey, as she learns that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.
As I said, the settings of this book were incredibly important to the overall story. It reminded me a lot of Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery's other books. Anne and PEI are intertwined - you can't think of one without picturing the other - and her imagination and way she viewed the natural world around her are a huge reason the series is so delightful. Ringland does something similar with her novel and Alice. Plus, not only are the settings at the heart of each story but Alice and Anne have a lot in common. They're both orphans and neither had an ideal upbringing. Then, when they're still quite young, they're wrenched from the world and home they knew and brought somewhere completely different. And, coincidentally, red earth ends up being important to both women. (For Anne that's the dirt of PEI but you'll have to read Ringland's book to fully understand the importance to Alice.)

Plus, as a special added bonus, I'm fairly certain I've been in the areas Ringland imagined up for Alice. She notes in her Author's note that she made up the towns and National Park Alice visits later in the novel. But, based on the description of where Alice grew up and then moved to as well as where Ringland herself grew up, I was pretty sure the story took place somewhere near the Gold or Sunshine Coasts. Then, when I read the "In Gratitude" section, Ringland notes that she grew up on the land of the Bundjalung people. That's the area of of Australia I've been to and, like I said, I absolutely adore it. How can you not:

A photo I took the last time I was at Point Danger
Speaking of the Bundjalung people...I'm really glad Ringland made the stories of Australia's Aboriginal people of such high importance. I feel like their stories are continuously glossed over or completely erased and I hate it. (This is a fact in Australia and in Canada, where I live. We're getting better but we have so much more to do.) When I first went to Australia I climbed Mount Warning. It was an almost 9 kilometre (5.5 mile) round trip at an elevation of 1,159 m (3,802 ft). I wanted to throw up and/or cry while doing it (OK, I'm pretty sure I did actually cry) but I climbed the thing. The view was stunning:

A photo my boyfriend took on his second trip to Australia
But how does this relate to the book? Well, when I was planning for my last trip back in November, I thought that I'd give the climb another try. I was working out regularly and was pretty sure I would be able to make it up without shedding any tears. I wanted to check out the details to send to my friend who was coming with us when I started doing more reading. I had forgotten/not paid enough attention the last time that Mount Warning's original name, given to it by the Bundjalung people, is Wollumbin. It is considered a sacred space and they do not want people climbing it. I immediately knew I couldn't climb it again. The thought of knowingly ignoring the wishes of the people whose land had been taken away from them made me almost as nauseous as when I tried to climb the mountain (karma?). I appreciated that Ringland told the stories of the Aboriginal people (even though she made up the Park and tribe) and how they did not want people picking flowers or taking dirt from the park. It might seem trivial but it's really not. And, again, I'm so glad Ringland put focus on it.

Now that I've gushed about the natural setting of the novel, how about the rest of it? It was delightful in a heart-wrenching, family drama kind of way. Alice is a character who will completely get under your skin and you won't be able to rest until you find out how her story ends. Which I really want to talk about but that would be a spoiler so I have so many thoughts I need to hold in. Bah.

Oh, and I just loved how each chapter started with a line drawing, name, meaning, and description of Australian flowers.

This flower has particular significance to the story. 
The novel is well-written though I sometimes found the intentional vagueness irritating. Ringland doesn't exactly say when the novel takes place but I think it starts in the past when Alice is 9 and then she's 26 in present day. I can see why she wouldn't want to make it specific because then the story will have a more timeless quality but it was actually really distracting for me. So was not knowing where the book was taking place but that was my own personal thing :) Other than that tiny annoyance, I thought the story flowed well considering it starts when Alice is 9, has a brief stop when she's 17ish, and then ends at 26. The story wasn't overly flowery (ha...pun intended) and, though it may seem contradictory to how much I swooned over the descriptions of the scenery, it wasn't bogged down in descriptive language. And yet I could still perfectly picture the settings and characters Ringland created.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is unique and, other than Anne, I can't think of any other book like it. Holly Ringland's debut novel is a page-turner that will reach deep into your soul and have you completely engrossed in the story. I think Alice is a character everyone should meet and her story is one that will stick with you long after you've turned the last page.

*An Advance Reading Copy was provided by the publisher, House of Anansi Press, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Review: The Simple Wild

I've been reading K.A. Tucker's books for...well, years. I've been lucky enough to meet her a handful of times and she's a wonderful person on top of being an excellent writer. I love every book of hers I've read. But this last one? The Simple Wild is, hands down, my favourite of all of her books. It may even be one of my favourite books of the year.

Here's the synopsis:
Calla Fletcher wasn't even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.
She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.
Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.
I'm usually the type of reader who likes to read about characters who could be my friend - particularly when reading contemporary novels. It's a narrow viewpoint to have, I know, but I just love it when I can tell I'd be BFFs with the heroine. I don't think Calla and I would be immediate friends - we're quite different. But that was ok. I was wary of her - just like everyone in Alaska was - but eventually I realized she is more than her appearance and had a heart of gold is tucked under all the Instagram filters and expensive clothes. I am so with her on roughing it though. I would not have been impressed with missing suitcases or being stranded in a cabin for awhile without running water. I don't even like camping! But I digress. Calla is a wonderfully layered character who I fell in love with in the end.

And, as much as Calla was the heroine in this story, she didn't get all the focus. Every other character you meet is important - even if it's just a fleeting passing moment at the grocery store (I choose that character to reference in particular because her name was Kayley and I maintain Tucker should have dropped that middle 'y'). Jonah, Wren (Calla's dad), Agnes, and Mabel add so much depth to the story and I can't imagine the novel without them or the other supporting characters. I do find it interesting that I got more of a feel for Simon, Calla's step-father, than I did of her mom. I don't know if it was intentional. Her mom was the reason they left Alaska after all when Calla was so young. I also wonder if there was more of a comparison to be made between Simon and Wren that made way for an eventual acceptance that both men can be father figures to Calla.

I found The Simple Wild to be a much more emotional book than Tucker has written in the past. I finished the last part of the book at work on my lunch break even though I knew I was going to be hit with a few emotional gut punches. Yes, I could have waited to finish it at home where I could actually allow myself to shed a few tears but I couldn't wait that long to see how Calla's story finished off. I was so tangled up in the stories and emotions Tucker had written that I needed to know how it was resolved even though I knew it was going to break my heart. I was so invested in this book and found myself thinking of it often throughout the day when I wasn't reading it. I was so into it that it actually helped me get my butt out of bed at 5am to be in Toronto for 9am because I knew I'd have an hour-ish train ride to read Calla's story. I am not a morning person so this was a hella powerful book.

Speaking of Toronto, this is the first of Tucker's books to be set (partially) in Canada, where both she and I live. There aren't enough contemporary novels set in Canada so I'm always thrilled when I find one that is. I especially love when it's set somewhere that I recognize. In the first few pages, Calla is heading home on the TTC - which is what the Toronto public transit system is called. I don't live in Toronto but I've been on the subway enough (and a streetcar a time or two) that I could see and feel exactly what Calla was seeing and feeling. I also giggled when I realized the two giant raccoons that were terrorizing Calla's Toronto home were most likely named Tim and Sid after two sports talk show hosts.

And that cover? Sa-woon.

I don't know what else I can really say about The Simple Wild. I loved it so much and it left a serious imprint on my heart. If you've never read any of K.A. Tucker's books (seriously, what are you waiting for?) I highly encourage you to pick this one up if you can afford it or borrow it from your library. It's wonderful and well written and just...great. And once you read it can we please talk about it? Because I'm not ready to let Calla, Jonah, and Wren go.

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mini Reviews: Contemporary YA Edition

Raise your hand if you have a library card. And raise the other if you use it frequently. *looks around* Good. Glad to see many of you using your library. I, like many voracious readers, don't have the funds to buy all the books I'd like to read. Enter my public library. I use it a lot for book club books and any of the YA titles I want to read but don't get for review. This summer I read two wonderful contemporary YA novels that I really wanted to talk (read: flail) about on the blog.

My YA reading is pretty much restricted to contemporary YA books these days and even then it's only a certain few authors that I make the time for (so many books, so little time). I put Morgan Matson's Save the Date on hold as soon as it was available and was anxiously waiting for it to come in. I honestly didn't even know what the book was about (but you can read the synopsis here) but Matson has become an autoread author for me in recent years. I had the chance to go to a meet and greet before her first ever Canadian tour date where my blogger friend Tiff - from Mostly YA Lit - interviewed her. But...I have a new job and only so much wiggle room on asking for time off plus I'm not super close to where the event was happening. *sobs*

This book was pretty much impossible for me to put down and I had it finished in a weekend. It was smart, funny, and genuine - things I look for in almost every book I read. I was completely sucked into Charlie's life and, as is usual when I read YA books these days, I found myself wanting to play the big sister to Charlie and help her figure out her life. I'm the eldest in real life anyway, plus I'm so much older than the teens I'm reading about now, so it's inevitable that I'll start feeling protective of these girls. Even though I wanted to swoop in and tell her what I thought she should do, I knew she had a great head on her shoulders and she'd figure out on her own what the best path for her would be. That's what being a teenager is all about, isn't it? Making your mistakes, learning from them, and growing as a person.

The Canadians in the crowd will definitely understand me when I say the cartoon Charlie's mom drew totally reminded me of For Better or For Worse, a strip by Lynn Johnston that I was obsessed with growing up (seriously, I still have the book collections). Charlie's mom's strip Grant Central Station, like FBorFW, shows the characters aging in real time. Plus, there were older siblings and a much younger sibling (or siblings) in both, and a dog. I clearly was on the right track because this came up during the event I missed and Tiff, with her amazing recap, mentioned it. LOVE.

Finally, I loved that this book was about Charlie and her family (as well as a little bit about her friends). The boy troubles were totally realistic because, hello, she's 18 and interested in boys so of course they're going to come up in her life. But they weren't the point of the story. She very much was figuring out herself and her place in her family and the world in general. The love story was secondary (but no less welcome).

   *   *   *   

I also try to make time for really great books I wouldn't necessarily read when bloggers I trust can't stop talking about them. This time it was Ginger (of GReads!) flailing about Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian. (Synopsis is here on Goodreads) I wholeheartedly trust Ginger's opinion so on the reserve list it went and I happily dived in when it arrived. And oh - how sweet it was!

These novels were actually quite similar (which is kind of fun/odd because the two authors are friends). Both stories featured smart, funny, sort of shy girls who had just finished or were finishing high school and were looking forward to their next step - college. Every summer I always find myself thinking of the year I was getting ready to go to university and how much of a big deal that summer was. I had some major changes that year, just like Amelia and Charlie. I finished high school, was finishing my final summer at the library where I had worked all through high school (and wanted to work at since I was little, just like Amelia with the ice cream shop), and I started dating someone new even though he was staying behind for another semester and I was moving 2+ hours away. (Spoiler alert: we're still together 13 years later.) That summer between high school and university/college is just so magical and I really, really love reading stories set during that time - especially when they're so amazing. Stay Sweet was great and I am SO GLAD I made the time to read it.

I'm a big ice cream fan (Revelation: I don't know if I can fully trust anyone who isn't...) but I also try to make sure I only eat really good ice cream. I could totally identify with the popularity of Meade Creamery and found myself constantly comparing it to a local ice cream shop I was introduced to a year or so after moving to the area I'm in now - Avondale Dairy Bar. Not only do they both have the family run business feel but I pretty much only see teenagers working at Avondale and most of them are girls, just like at Meade Creamery. I adored that only girls were allowed to work at the ice cream shop and couldn't get enough of Amelia describing how they all helped each other out and the older girls were like another set of older sisters for the newbies. It was also feminist AF and I loved one scene where Grady says Amelia is being bossy and she totally calls him out on it and tells him he's being rude. He immediately apologizes. (Also - I'm writing this almost a month after reading it so I'm kinda paraphrasing.)

I really loved Amelia - probably because she reminded me a lot of myself at that age. Only she's way more confident than I was and had a better sense of her future than I did. (Hell, than I do now at 31.)

Overall, these two books are MUST. READS. for your summer. Or fall. Or holiday. Just read them. And gift them to all the teens in your life because every reader needs to meet Charlie and Amelia because they are absolutely amazing characters. And suddenly I'm craving ice cream...but what else is new?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Cover Reveal: Until the Last Star Fades

I've read Jacquelyn Middleton's London novels (my review of London Belongs to Me is here and London, Can You Wait? is here) and adored them. Because I liked them so much, I'm really excited for her upcoming novel, Until the Last Star Fades. It sounds amazing and I get to share the cover with you today! Plus, a little bit of info about the novel. Enjoy!

From Jacquelyn Middleton, the award-winning author of London Belongs to Me and London, Can You Wait?, comes Until the Last Star Fades, a friends-to-lovers contemporary romance set in New York City. Until the Last Star Fades features plenty of angst and sexy times, but it also tells the tale of an unbreakable bond between a mother and her daughter.

Here's the synopsis:
In her senior year at NYU, Riley Hope appears to be on top of the world. With a loving mother who makes Lorelai Gilmore look like a parenting slacker, ride-or-die friends, and a long-time boyfriend destined for the National Hockey League, she puts on a smile for the world. But behind it, she’s drowning. Racked with fears for the future, she battles to stay afloat amid life in the shadows of a heartbreaking illness.
And then, Ben Fagan comes crashing into her life. Twenty-three-years-old, British, and alone in the Big Apple after a disastrous pilot season in LA, the struggling actor is looking for an escape: booze, mischief, sex—minimum commitment, maximum fun—anything to avoid returning across the pond.
As they form an unlikely bond, Riley keeps her reality from Ben so that he remains a happy refuge. But how long can she hold back the truth…and is Ben keeping his own secrets, too?
From the award-winning author of LONDON BELONGS TO ME and LONDON, CAN YOU WAIT?, comes a bittersweet romance about love, loss, sacrifice, and the life-changing decisions we make. UNTIL THE LAST STAR FADES will be released by Kirkwall Books in paperback and ebook on November 8, 2018. 
Ready for the cover?

Whee! I'm so excited.

Now that you've seen the cover and read what it's all about, you should add it to your Goodreads TBR list. And don't worry - pre-order links will be coming soon enough.

I don't want to wish the summer away but I sure am looking forward to the release of this novel in November! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: The Start of Something Good

I'm a broken record when it comes to talking about romance novels. I've said time and time again that I love reading really good romances and don't care that I know the basic formula of the plot going in. I argue that many romance readers read them specifically because they know they're going to get a satisfying ending. A lot of us read to "escape" our lives for a little while and if a sweet, sexy, fun Happily Ever After novel isn't a good escape, I don't know what is. My point? I just read The Start of Something Good by Jennifer Probst which I was downright thrilled to read even if it wasn't the best book I've ever read in my life. I read it because I wanted to see a couple fall in love and ride off into the sunset and Probst gave me that. And for that, I say I really enjoyed the book.

Here's the synopsis:
When Ethan Bishop returns to the Hudson Valley, his body and spirit are a little worse for wear. As a former Special Forces paratrooper, he saw his fair share of conflict, and he came home with wounds, inside and out. At his sisters’ B & B and farm, he can keep all his pain at a safe distance. But quiet time isn’t easy when a fiery woman explodes into his life…
It’s business—not pleasure—that brings Manhattan PR agent Mia Thrush reluctantly to the farm. Tightly wound and quick tempered, Mia clashes immediately with the brooding Ethan. Everything about him is irritating—from his lean muscles and piercing blue eyes to his scent of sweat and musk.
But as the summer unfolds and temperatures rise, Ethan and Mia discover how much they have in common: their guarded histories, an uncontrollable desire, and a passion for the future that could heal two broken hearts. But will their pasts threaten their fragile chance at a brand-new future?
Of course, as much as I enjoyed my time reading this book there were a few things that sort of drove me bananas. The first was Mia's job. Well, not the job itself as, spoiler alert, I actually work in PR myself and am just a year older than Mia is. Our differences is Mia started her working life in PR whereas I've only recently jumped into the field. Even though my position is very different (I'm a bottom rung of the ladder, grunt work kind of girl right now), I can still see what it would be like for Mia in an organization such as the firm I work for. Sort of. I find novels, romances in particular, tend to stereotype jobs a little bit and I found Probst did that with Mia and PR. Even though Ethan eventually realizes his assumptions about her were totally off  (once she set him straight), I just found the shiny veneer on Mia's job kind of...fake and unsettling. I guess my problem is with the romance genre in general making PR professionals only work in the big city and that it's "giving up" if they do the same work in a smaller town. OK. Ending my nonsensical rant about PR in romance now. (Maybe there's a potential for a bigger story there though...)

I also found that I sometimes wanted more showing instead of telling. Ethan and Mia have to have a big conversation at some point but...I didn't get to "listen in" on it. Mia recapped it and I felt a bit jilted. And bored. It happened a few times throughout the novel and it was weirdly difficult to tell how quickly (or slowly) time was going.

But overall? I totally loved the story and the idea behind it, even if it wasn't always executed as well as I thought it should have been. I really liked diving into Mia and Ethan's story and found it hard to leave both when I was reading and had to put the book down and then especially as I finished it.

I think what made this book so special for me wasn't even the romance. It was actually how Mia and Ethan both took Chloe under their wings, in different ways, to help her realize she is wanted and she is smart and talented. It was just so amazing to see how everyone at the farm pulled together to help Chloe, Mia, and Ethan realize what they really needed in their lives.

Which brings me to my next point...I'm so glad this is the first book in a series. I wasn't sure if I'd want to read the next ones because from a "is this book actually good?" perspective I was hesitant. But from a "is this story really good?" perspective, I cannot wait for book two. (I feel like that comparison will only make sense to voracious readers like myself!) Ophelia's story, A Brand New Ending, is being published in October.

Also - when can I book my stay at Robin's Nest B&B? I need some of Ophelia's scones.

I know this review is all over the place but here's what you really need to know: if you enjoy romances, you should definitely read The Start of Something Good by Jennifer Probst. The characters are fantastic (Mia is wicked smart and feisty), the setting is delightful (those who love small town tropes, like me, will fall in love), and the love story is so sweet and real.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributor, Thomas Allen & Son, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Dear Mrs. Bird

Dear Mrs. Bird is in turn both heartwarming and humorous. AJ Pearce's debut (I still can't believe it's her first published novel) presents a heroine who will stay with me for a long time and a story that is equally as memorable. This novel was such a delight to read and I couldn't bear to put it down or see it end.

Here's the synopsis:
London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.
Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.
Prepare to fall head over heels for Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are gutsy and spirited, even in the face of a terrible blow. The irrepressible Emmy keeps writing letters in this hilarious and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.
I've realized recently that, while I don't read a great deal of historical fiction, the ones I read the most of tend to take place somewhere between 1900 and 1950. Basically, a lot of stories set during or around two major wars. You'd think it would get dreary but I've been lucky in finding stories that are practically perfect and are utterly absorbing. Dear Mrs. Bird is another example of a World War II set novel I've read in recent months that I absolutely adored. For your interest and further reading, the others include Jennifer Robson's Goodnight from London, Kate Quinn's The Alice Network, Ellen Keith's The Dutch Wife, and Genevieve Graham's Come from Away. (I just did a count and I've read 8 historical novels in 2018. 5 of them take place during or just after WWII and another was set in WWI.) It actually felt like Pearce had written this book in 1940 because the phrases she uses and the scenes she set felt so incredibly realistic. Of course I don't know what it was like to be in London during WWII but I feel like I've read enough books and watched enough movies set in that time to get a sense when something doesn't feel right.

I've been seeing Dear Mrs. Bird compared to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which, incidentally, I've only just recently read and loved to bits. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend the audiobook.) and I think that comparison needs some clarity. Both novels take place in and around London in the 1940s. Mrs. Bird occurs in 1940, right in the thick of the Blitz, and Guernsey takes place in 1946, after WWII is over. Both novels have absolutely delightful heroines who have a wonderful group of colleagues and friends. But where things get tricky is when readers are led to expect in Mrs. Bird the kind of letter writing Guernsey gave us. It's so not the case. I wasn't expecting that so I wasn't surprised or let down but I know other people have been. Such is the danger of comparing books - especially when one is so well known for something special (like Guernsey is with it being such a perfect example of an epistolary novel).

But let's talk about Emmy. She was an absolute gem. She was sweet and funny and sometimes horribly awkward and a bit misguided. But I really thought her heart was in the right place throughout. And what a heart she had! She was such a kind person - I don't know how anyone could think otherwise - and so desperately wanted to do her bit for the war efforts. I loved that she had spunk and I worried about what her life would be like after the war when women would start to be forced back into the home. Her friendship with Bunty is so precious and Pearce did such a wonderful job of writing about it that I really wanted to be friends with them too.

One thing that blows me away with novels such as this is the reinforcement of the "keep calm and carry on" mentality people in London had during the war. I am constantly amazed when reading these stories that the people were able to persevere and go about their lives as normally as possible during months of nightly (or near-nightly) bombings. I know there's not much else to do but buck up and go about your business I'm not sure how easily I would have been able to carry on with my daily life.

The actual narrative of the novel is a good one but, I've realized this while writing my review, it's not what's going to make Dear Mrs. Bird memorable for me. I loved that it gave me a glimpse into the lighter side of a period of time that we so often think of only in terms of how awful it was (don't get me wrong, a world war is hella awful). This novel was more than the plot for me, even if it was really well written and had a good pace (until the end...I do feel the end was a tad rushed).

I could go on and on about Dear Mrs. Bird - about how it will tug at your heartstrings while also making you laugh out loud, about the wonderful characters, and more - but I really want you to find out how wonderful AJ Pearce's debut novel is for yourself. Buy it or borrow it from a friend or the library but get your hands on a copy if you're a historical fiction fan. I really don't think you'll be disappointed.

*A copy of this novel was provided in exchange for review consideration by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: Dirty Exes

What you see (or read) is what you get with Dirty Exes by Rachel Van Dyken. Which, depending on your mood, could be good or bad. It was great for me because I was in the mood for a romance with some humour and heart and Dirty Exes, the first book in a new series, totally delivered.

Here's the synopsis:
Blaire has never quite gotten over Jessie Beckett, the ex–NFL star whose kisses were hot enough to ignite the entire Eastern Seaboard. When he chose work over her, Blaire was left brokenhearted. Why else would she have married a skeezy two-timer, just to divorce him less than a year later?
Now Blaire is getting even by becoming one half of Dirty Exes, a PI firm fully committed to humiliating cheating jerks. If only the new jerk she’s been hired to uncover wasn’t Jessie Beckett himself.
Exposing Jessie isn’t going to be easy, especially when she still daydreams about his sexy smile. Further complicating matters is Colin, Jessie’s best friend. He’s gorgeous, a little bit cunning, and willing to help Blaire get the inside scoop on Jessie—for a price.
Now caught between two men—one totally right and the other totally wrong—Blaire will need to decide just how much she’s willing to risk…and whom she’s willing to risk it for.
Was Dirty Exes the best rom com I've ever read? No. But did it give me exactly what I hoped it would (which was some swoons and some laughs)? Yes, absolutely. I love romance novels because I know just what I'm going to get with the story but I especially love the ones that are really well written and provide a great story line along the way to the Happily Ever After.

The story is told from three perspectives - Blaire, Colin, and Jessie - and each is first person. I liked how that worked because you got a sense of what each character was really thinking and feeling. This was especially useful in this story because there were so many secrets between the three of them that it would have been really hard to figure out Colin and Jessie's motives had the story only been told from Blaire's perspective.

The first person narrative also created a very informal, conversational type of storytelling. Lines and thoughts were sometimes choppy which can be a bit weird to read but if you think of it more as though you're following along with the character's train of thought it usually works. For example, this little excerpt shows how Blaire is working through a revelation about Jessie (it's not a spoiler because you learn these details early on through Jessie's POV):
Vanessa was living with him.
Living. With. Him.
And he was flirting with me. With his wife still under his roof.
My phone buzzed again.
I grabbed it and checked my messages.
You see what I mean? It's odd to see that all written out but it's exactly as you would be saying it either to a friend or inwardly as you worked out the issue.

I had a hard time really getting to know Blaire because she had so many walls up. I couldn't really see how she fell for Jessie the first time and why she was so crushed when he left. I also didn't see any glimpse of the woman who would have run straight into the arms of a "nice guy" who ended up being an ass who also broke her heart. She was angry and bitter and I really needed to see her let those feelings go. She was a complicated character whose layers weren't quite as fleshed out as I would have hoped for.

I really wasn't sure how the Happily Ever After was going to work out. I hadn't reread the synopsis before diving in so I had forgotten that I wasn't supposed to be sure who Blaire would end up with. I was sure it would be Jessie but then I realized she was starting to fall for Colin too but, wait, does she actually still love Jessie more? It was a back and forth that kept me on my toes.

All in all, Dirty Exes was a fun read for me. I liked meeting all the characters Rachel Van Dyken created and I'd definitely like to catch up with some - or all - of them in the next book, Dangerous Exes.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the distributor, Thomas Allen & Son, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*