Thursday, January 9, 2020

Review: Recipe for a Perfect Wife

It's a happy day for me when Karma Brown has a new book out. I've been eagerly awaiting Recipe for a Perfect Wife since I first knew it was being published and the book goddesses must have been listening to me - and everyone else I know who was also looking forward to it - because it was released early! I decided to choose it for my first read of 2020 and it was an excellent choice. I was completely riveted and could hardly put the book down.

Here's the synopsis:
When Alice Hale reluctantly leaves a promising career in publicity, following her husband to the New York suburbs, she is unaccustomed to filling her days alone in a big, empty house. However, she is determined to become a writer--and to work hard to build the kind of life her husband dreams of, complete with children.
At first, the old house seems to resent Alice as much as she resents it, but when she finds an old cookbook buried in a box in the basement, she becomes captivated by the cookbook's previous owner: 1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch. As Alice cooks her way through the past, she begins to settle into her new surroundings, even as her friends and family grow concerned that she has embraced them too fully: wearing vintage dresses and pearls like a 1950s housewife, making elaborate old-fashioned dishes like Baked Alaska, and drifting steadily away from her usual pursuits.
Alice justifies the changes merely as research for her novel...but when she discovers that Nellie left clues about her own life within the cookbook's pages--and in a mysterious series of unsent letters penned to Nellie's mother--she quickly realizes that the housewife's secrets may have been anything but harmless. As she uncovers a more sinister side to Nellie's marriage and with pressure mounting in her own relationship, Alice realizes that to protect herself she must harbour and hatch a few secrets of her own...
Brown alternated chapters between Alice and Nellie and I loved the dual narrative. Not only because it gives the reader two characters and viewpoints (double the fun!), but also because it shone a light on what it was like to be a 1950s housewife. What I learned? I would have failed as a 1950s housewife. And possibly would have accidentally burned the house down.

In all seriousness though, there were a lot of similarities between Alice and Nellie's lives which, honestly, is kind of disheartening. We think feminism has made such great strides in the last number of decades but Alice was still facing some of the same expectations Nellie had been in the 50s. For example, people still tend to assume that a woman should get married and then (immediately) want to have kids. That's changing, a little bit, but as a woman who has no plans to get married to her boyfriend and definitely does not want to have kids, I can tell you I'm in the minority and am constantly questioned or told I'll change my mind because, why wouldn't I want kids? I could identify with Alice as she struggled with trying to articulate why she wanted to wait to have kids when her husband was more than ready for her to be barefoot and pregnant (yes, he did say that in the book but he wasn't really as obtuse as that comment makes him seem).

Because I follow Brown on social media, I knew she had done lots of research both for the recipes she included in the book and for the life Nellie would have had in 1955. The recipes were such a fun addition because it really showed what life was like and it was so neat to read Alice's reactions to them as well. What was with all the jelly salads in the 50s? Blech. Though I do have to say, one of the meals Alice took objection to is one I can actually make (remember: undomestic goddess here). Porcupines - or porcupine meatballs as they were called in my house growing up - are ground beef and rice balls, cooked in tomato soup and spices. These days we make "porcupine mush" instead of meatballs and add in red pepper flakes for an extra kick, with the rice on the side. It's way tastier than you - and Alice - might expect.

The story takes a turn that you might not expect, especially if you've read Brown's books in the past, and even though I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, I was totally riveted. I kept thinking, Is it actually go down like that? Because that would be shocking if it did. Lots of internal conversations as the story reached it's conclusion.

I also liked that Alice was so very real and relatable and also so very flawed. She has a host of issues she really needs to work out instead of hiding them from herself and her husband. She made some really unhealthy choices and I constantly found myself wishing she and her husband would just talk to each other. He wasn't perfect either but they were both sort of expecting the other to read their minds. And we all know how well that works out, right? Even with her flawed personality - or perhaps because of it - I loved reading about Alice and am pleased with the way Brown decided to end the story.

Recipe for a Perfect Wife needs to be added to your To Be Read list immediately. Karma Brown's latest novel is smart and so well written. You'll be engrossed in the lives of the characters she created and will want to rush to find out how the story ends but also take your time because it's such a good read.

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Viking (Penguin Random House Canada), in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Review: The Little Bookshop on the Seine

Rebecca Raisin's books have been on my radar for awhile now but, for some reason or another, I just never picked one up. That changed when I had the chance to review the newly rereleased The Little Bookshop on the Seine. It seemed like a perfect read for me as it featured a (bit too) dreamy bookshop owner who travels to Paris to explore a brand new world and tries to jumpstart her stagnated life.

Here's the synopsis:
It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!
When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.
But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.
I think I might have been burned just a little bit by high expectations. I had already seen some glowing reviews from bloggers I trust so I went in expecting something fantastic - which may have been a mistake. The book was really sweet and a nice read but it didn't completely wow me. 

Sophie (the owner of the Paris bookshop who came up with the whole swap idea) is completely unreasonable. I was so frustrated with how she was reacting to the issues Sarah was facing. What did she expect would happen? And even though it was part of her story arc, Sarah's inability to stand up for herself - at first - was hard to read. Maybe it's one of those cases of it's hard to read because I sometimes feel like that too and it's a part of my personality that I'd like to work on. Too much psychoanalysis for a book review? Moving right along!

The other thing that nagged at me a little was that, while this is a stand-alone novel, it does follow a novella about Sarah and how she and Ridge originally started dating. Do I think you need to read it first? Not necessarily. I didn't, after all (though I learned I do have it on my kobo and have for some time...). But there were a few moments when I felt Raisin was relying too heavily on readers already knowing Sarah (and her past), Ridge, and the girls at The Gingerbread Cafe. I also felt like Sarah, at times, used British phrases instead of American ones. She calls a macaron a biscuit, for example. Americans (or Canadians, even, and we use a lot of Britishisms) would not use "biscuit" to refer to a cookie. A weird thing to bother me, perhaps, but bother me it did. 

I did adore the people Sarah met, and connected with, in Paris. Raisin created some wonderful characters and I was fully invested in all of their lives. Even Beatrice who was completely awful to Sarah (side note: I totally called Beatrice's secret and am shocked none of the characters figured it out). It was just a wonderfully fun cast of characters who were so great to read about.

And the setting! Swoon. I've never been to Paris (it's on the never-ending bucket list) but I kind of felt like I was there with Sarah, experiencing the city for the first time. Plus, the magic of the bookshop was just...oh, it was wonderful. I wished I could explore Once Upon a Time (and Sarah's shop in small-town Ashford, too!) and run my hands over the spines to see what sorts of stories the books would want to tell me.

All in all, The Little Bookshop on the Seine was sweet and heartwarming. Rebecca Raisin has created a character and a story that is a love letter to both book lovers and Paris. 

Buy the book 
Harlequin * Indiebound * Amazon * Barnes & Noble* Google * iBooks * Kobo

Connect with the author
Website * Twitter * Facebook * Instagram * Goodreads

About the Author
Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Harlequin, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Favourite Books of 2019

Since I've already chosen my favourite books over the last decade (find them here if you missed it) you would think that coming up with my favourites of the past twelve months should be easy. Ha! It took some work and some serious narrowing down powers, but I've come up with ten (ish) books that wowed me in 2019.

I've ordered these novels not based on their awesome-ness but by when I read them throughout the year. It was hard enough trying to narrow down 100 books, let alone which ones were the best!

The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood (review here) is a historical fiction novel about the Dionne quintuplets, five babies who captured Canada's - and the world's - attention when they were born in 1934 (fun fact, they were born on May 28, which is my birthday too). 

The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley (review here) was probably the book I forced upon people the most this year. I read it in March and it wasn't released until June so there were a lot of "just WAIT until you can read it!" and "preorder this immediately!" conversations being had. Thank you to everyone who listened to me and those who attended the event at Fielding Winery in September. Highlight of my year. 

Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke (review here) completely charmed me. I wasn't really expecting to fall in love with the story behind the adorable cover, but the Australian set story is one that captured my attention when I read it in the spring. 

Catherine McKenzie is one of my favourite authors and has been for a long time. Her latest, I'll Never Tell, was phenomenal (review here). It's perfect for thriller fans who are looking for something a little bit different or anyone who wants a great read.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes was one of those books that I loved so much that I have no idea how to go about reviewing it. Just read it and love it as much as I did, OK?

Akin by Emma Donoghue (review here) was as good as you'd expect. It was smart, clever, emotional, and funny. Such a good read.

I can pretty much say all the same things about Albatross by Terry Fallis that I did about Akin. It's a story that is completely unbelievable but if you suspend your belief just a little bit, you are treated to a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I'm a wee bit biased when it comes to Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey because I've been friends with her for a number of years but that doesn't stop her BEST-SELLING novel from being the gem that it is. I'm so proud of her and think everyone needs to read her thriller. It will totally capture you and won't let you go.

I had heard a lot about Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline but it took me awhile to finally read it. And I'm really glad I did. Indigo chose it for their best book of the year for good reason. Everyone should read it.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover (review here) was another one that surprised me. I was totally riveted and highly recommend this novel. 

I don't read a ton of non-fiction these days but I read three for Niagara Life, the local magazine I review for, this year. Bake the Seasons by Marcella DiLonardo is so beautiful and has so many really yummy recipes, each with a drool worthy photo (review here). Another fantastic - and local to Niagara - book is Craft Cocktails by Geoff Dillon and Whitney Rorison (review here). They're behind Dillon's Small Batch Distillers and the cocktail book is gorgeous and full of tasty recipes. Finally, a book featuring a true story about a man well known in Niagara completely captured me (apparently "capture" is the word of the year...). Murdered Midas by Charlotte Gray (review here) was a riveting read about Harry Oakes, a millionaire who was brutally murdered and the crime was never solved.

This is a bit of a cheat because I only read four YA books but they were all STELLAR. K.A. Tucker self-published Be the Girl (review here) and it was all kinds of amazing. Sarah Dessen, one of my all-time favourite authors since I was about 16, published The Rest of the Story this summer and it was summery and perfect with a classic Dessen heartfelt story. Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell was a read for Niagara Life and was a lovely story that weaves history and fantasy and is set in Eastern Canada. Finally, Frankly in Love (a runner up in the favourite cover category) by David Yoon was fantastic and a must-read. 

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim has a cover that absolutely stunned me and I could look at it all day. The story inside it was also wonderful, thankfully! My review is here. The image on your screen just doesn't do it justice (there's a hot pink spine! And shimmery gold!) but here's the cover in all it's glory.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Husband Material

Husband Material was my second last read of 2019 (and #99, just like The Great One) and it was a totally unique and enjoyable story. Emily Belden's novel is a rom com but there's a heavy storyline throughout that made it stand out from other contemporary novels I've read.

Here's the synopsis:
Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it. 
Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not. 
But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.
Charlotte was an interesting character. I think she could have been developed a little bit more but I found myself not wanting to say goodbye to her by the end of the novel. I knew she was in a much healthier place - hard not to be when she was such a closed off person before the urn showed up and then a total mess after - but I wanted to read more about it. Totally unnecessary from a novel perspective, of course, I just wanted more. 

The way Charlotte worked through all of her issues really endeared me to her. I actually think we probably could have been friends - if she allowed me into her world, which she had a really, really hard time doing. She was wicked smart and I loved that while she's working at a job that seems so "in" right now, at a social media/influencer company, she was the woman behind the coding and technical side of things. 

One of the things early on that had me feeling sort of  "meh" about the novel was how it seemed like Belden was purposefully holding back certain information - particularly the details behind how Charlotte became a widow and why his mother seemed to dislike her - but when those details were finally revealed it was sort of...anti-climatic, I guess. It's not the worst thing in the world but it was kind of odd for me.

I don't think I've read a book with a young widow before. At least, not one that's also a romantic comedy. Belden approached it in such a beautiful and heartbreaking way. I liked that Charlotte mentioned the support groups she had gone to before and we got to read as she went to a meeting at the end. I think that helped Belden stress that Charlotte is just one widow with her own unique set of problems. No two situations are the same and she respects that. 

There's much more to Husband Material than meets the eye (seriously...I have no idea why the cover looks like it does) and while it didn't totally, completely wow me, Emily Belden's novel was one I didn't want to put down once I got into it. It's sweet, funny, and sad and I'm glad I had a chance to read it.

Buy the book

Connect with the author

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Harlequin/Graydon House, in exchange for a review for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, December 23, 2019

Best Books of the Decade

I admit I hadn't realized until late in the year that we were closing out a decade. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me. Perhaps because I can't quite believe we're about to welcome in 2020. No matter the reason, it hit me when I saw a few bloggers talking about how they were planning on choosing their favourite books of the decade since it also coincided with a lot of them blogging for ten years. I started Books Etc. in 2010 so I'm not quite at the decade mark but I thought it would be so fun to go through the archives and see which books have stuck with me. Some years were harder to figure out than others. Logistically difficult was the fact that I didn't start tracking books on Goodreads until 2013. I looked at old posts and guesstimated for those early years. You'll also see that it was practically impossible for me to choose one book for each year. What about you? What are some of your favourite books from the last ten years?

This was probably the hardest year to track down. I only started blogging in November of 2010 so I didn't have the records to go through like with the following years. I read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton at some point that year as I remember hand selling the hell out of it (meaning, I recommended it to anyone who asked - and some who didn't) when I worked at Coles during the Christmas season. 

This was the year I finally read Catherine McKenzie's Arranged after discovering it in my city's library. I also came across Heather Wardell and quickly fell in love with her novels. I also read - and absolutely loved - A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - it was the first book I bought for my kobo. 

This was the year I finally caved and read The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay - in quick succession. The first movie was about to come out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about since I had sold so many copies of the books while working at Coles. Spoiler: I was hooked. On the indie side of things, I really loved Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie. 

Here we have the first year I started tracking on Goodreads. Which also means there were many more options of books to choose from. I interned at Random House of Canada this year which meant I was exposed to even more books than I otherwise would have been. Two favourites were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (the Canadian cover remains one of my all time favourites to this day) and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (who I met one day in the offices!). This was also the year Meredith Schorr published Blogger Girl which felt a little bit like a love letter to chick lit bloggers so, of course, I adored it (and, fun fact, one of my quotes is on the front cover).

2014 was the year I finally started reading K.A. Tucker and I haven't looked back since. Burying Water was published this year and was the start of an amazing four book series. Another series that began that year introduced the world to Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky from Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before.

After a couple of less-than-absolutely-amazing books, Sarah Dessen published Saint Anything this year and it reminded me why I fell in love with her books when I was a teenager. I had been reading Laura Chapman's books for a little while but this year I read First & Goal which was the first in a series that I totally love. Finally, one of my top favourites from the decade and one I will still recommend all the time: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. I think it's time for a reread since the sequel is being published in 2020.

Apparently this wasn't a stellar year for reading for me. One that really stood out (and one I'll still tell people to read) was Poles Apart by Terry Fallis. It's funny and feminist and so well done. On the YA side of things, I had a lot of fun reading The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson. She's now one of the very few YA authors I'll read and with this book she gave me the name I plan on bestowing upon my future dog: Bertie Woofster. 

Oof, now HERE is a reading year. 2017 had me reading some incredibly popular books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I fell hard for the hero in Karina Halle's Maverick and had all the sportsing feels with Stacy May Fowles' Baseball Life Advice.

Another really, really good reading year. I finally read Beartown by Fredrik Backman for book club and, holy man, I can't believe I waited that long and thought I wouldn't like it. I immediately read the sequel. I was thrilled with the twist Uzma Jalaluddin put on Pride and Prejudice with her debut novel, Ayesha at Last. My favourite historical fiction of the year was Come From Away by Genevieve Graham. Finally, I have to repeat an author - K.A. Tucker's The Simple Wild was amazing.

You'll get a full recap soon of all of my favourites from this past year but to tide you over I'll tell you about the books I've been flailing about all year. The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley has been my go-to recommendation for everyone this year followed by a late 2019 release, Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey. Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline surprised me and I think everyone should read it.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Review: Wherever She Goes

Unreliable female narrators seem to be in every other book these days. Which is totally fine...when they're done well, that is. Wherever She Goes was almost there. K.L. Armstrong's novel was interesting and riveting but there was something - a something small, mind you - that kept me from completely falling in love with this one.

Here's the synopsis:
"Few crimes are reported as quickly as a snatched kid."
That's what the officer tells single mother Aubrey Finch after she reports a kidnapping. So why hasn't anyone reported the little boy missing? Aubrey knows what she saw: a boy being taken against his will from the park. It doesn't matter that the mother can't be found. It doesn't matter if no one reported it. Aubrey knows he's missing.
Instead, people question her sanity. Aubrey hears the whispers. She's a former stay-at-home mom who doesn't have primary custody of her daughter, so there must be something wrong with her, right? Others may not understand her decision to walk away from her safe life at home, but years of hiding her past--even from the people she loves--were taking their toll, and Aubrey knows she can't be the mother or wife she envisions until she learns to leave her secrets behind.
When the police refuse to believe her, she realizes that rescuing the boy is up to her alone. But after all the secrets, how far is she willing to go? Even to protect a child.
I know the author name reads K.L. Armstrong but here's a not-so-secret secret: it's actually Kelley Armstrong. Here's another not-really-a-secret: I had never read her books before this year and now I've read two! This novel is, I think, a bit different from what she normally writes so the name adjustment isn't surprising.

I liked that Aubrey was, quite honestly, a hot mess. A perfect character is boring so when there are issues, it adds some depth to both the story and the personality of the character. It was also a bit heartbreaking because you could see that she was trying so hard to get herself together for the sake of her family, her daughter in particular. You want to root for her because she seems like such a decent person, deep down. But you also can't help but the separation from her daughter warranted? Is she really in her right mind right now? Did she make up the whole kidnapping?

There were a lot of elements to this mystery but it was one of those ones you kind of sort of were able to figure out as you went along. There were still some twists that surprised me so that kept me from being bored and had me looking forward to reading through until the end.

I know it could seem like I wasn't loving this one but I definitely think it's worth a read if you like mysteries. Wherever She Goes did keep me guessing for the most part and I enjoyed reading K.L. Armstrong's novel. I'd file this one under borrow instead of buy but worth a look!

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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Review: The Christmas Party

You can always find a new holiday novel by Karen Swan on bookshelves come late fall. Personally, I always like them all, but I find some are better than others. This year she’s written The Christmas Party, and I absolutely fell in love with the characters and story she created.

Here’s the synopsis:
When Declan Lorne, the last remaining knight in Ireland, dies suddenly, an ancient title passes with him. But his estate on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast is left to his three daughters. The two eldest, Ottie and Pip, inherit in line with expectations, but to everyone’s surprise – and dismay – it is the errant baby of the family, Willow, who gets the castle.
Why her? Something unknown – something terrible - made her turn her back on her family three years earlier, escaping to Dublin and vowing never to return. So when Willow quickly announces she is selling up, her revenge seems sweet and the once-close sisters are pushed to breaking point: in desperation, Pip risks everything to secure her own future, and Ottie makes a decision that will ruin lives. It’s each woman for herself.
Before moving in, Connor Shaye, the prospective new owner, negotiates throwing a lavish party at the castle just days before Christmas – his hello, their goodbye. But as their secrets begin to catch up with them, Ottie, Willow and Pip are forced to ask themselves which is harder: stepping into the future, or letting go of the past?
The setting of this novel was a big part of why I liked this book, I think. I’ve never been to Ireland (it’s on the bucket list) but, in my mind, it’s a magical kind of place that’s perfect for a holiday story. Add in the fact that the story took place in a "grand" castle (in reality the estate is falling into major disrepair), surrounded by a beautiful landscape and I was in heaven.

The last few novels Swan has written have had a historical part to it with the story being told from a couple of perspectives. The Christmas Party is completely set in the present and I’m pretty happy about that. I was able to stay fully in the story and narrative and was completely swept away.

While there’s only one time period, Swan keeps it from being too one-note by having three narrators – the three Lorne sisters. The perspective is third person so it's not super jarring and it lends itself well to a story where the sisters are so interconnected but also figuring out their own lives. I know I shouldn't pick favourites but, for some reason, Willow's story really resonated with me and I was excited when the story would shift to focus on her.

I knew there had to have been a huge reason for Willow to have left home and Swan alludes to it throughout the novel. I was almost annoyed because I really just wanted to know WHY. But when it's all revealed at the end? It's so explosive and I for sure did not see it coming, even with some of the hints thrown in throughout the novel.

Like most of Swan’s holiday books (and holiday books in general), Christmas is only sort of part of the story. I did absolutely love that there was a Christmas morning scene because it was such a sweet and emotional part of the story and a great way to tie up some of the loose narrative threads. That said, the party referenced in the title doesn't come into play until well into the book (at least halfway, I believe) so don't expect to hear about it too soon into the story.

For those who love holiday novels, Karen Swan has delivered a story that is a festive page-turner. The Christmas Party has a little bit of everything and is definitely a book you should have on hand for the upcoming holiday season!

*A copy of this novel was provided by Publishers Group Canada in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*