Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review: Days by Moonlight


I first heard of André Alexis when Fifteen Dogs was published. I read it for Niagara Life and found it really weird but really good. I don't do "literary" books. You know the ones...the ones that are meandering and don't seem to have a point and usually have characters who are way out there and/or super messed up. I don't care if I "should" like them. I just don't. Usually. Alexis is an author who is lauded by critics and writes literary novels I, surprise, actually enjoy. I'm not saying I totally "get" them but I enjoy the ride. Days by Moonlight is Alexis' latest novel and it was a confusing but interesting and entertaining read.

Here's the synopsis:
Botanist Alfred Homer, ever hopeful and constantly surprised, is invited on a road trip by his parents' friend, Professor Morgan Bruno, who wants company as he tries to unearth the story of the mysterious poet John Skennen. But this is no ordinary road trip. Alfred and the Professor encounter towns where Black residents speak only in sign language and towns that hold Indigenous Parades; it is a land of house burnings, werewolves, and witches.
Complete with Alfred's drawings of plants both real and implausible, Days by Moonlight is a Dantesque journey taken during the "hour of the wolf," that time of day when the sun is setting and the traveller can't tell the difference between dog and wolf. And it asks that perpetual question: how do we know the things we know are real, and what is real anyway?
Days by Moonlight is part of a series, a quincux, that Alexis is writing. (Check out this Globe and Mail article that explains more about the series and his Giller Prize win.) The Hidden Keys was also part of the quincux (and I also reviewed it for Niagara Life) and also really weird and really good. I haven't read Pastoral yet, which is the first book in the series, but it was mentioned as a novel in Days by Moonlight which was really neat.

 As you can tell from the synopsis, there was a lot happening on Alfred and Morgan's road trip through southern-ish Ontario (I've noticed my idea of what's southern Ontario has changed quite a bit since I moved to Niagara). The pair start their trip in Toronto and meander from Whitchurch Stouffville to Nobleton to Feversham. Along the way they experience increasingly stranger events. The burning of the houses made me sad and confused and another town, as described in the synopsis, where Black residents speak in sign language had me outraged. The Indigenous Parades also infuriated me. The werewolves were intriguing. And all, in their own way, commented on our world today.

It might not seem like it, but the book was amusing, in its own dark way. The circumstances Alfred and Morgan find themselves in are so bizarre that the reader cannot help but laugh, at least a little.

Alfred was a really interesting character and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. He was heartbroken after the accidental death of his parents and the breakup with his long-time girlfriend. I think before the road trip he was slowly starting to realize he needed to find a way to live with his grief and move past the heavy fog he was under. He was definitely distracted on the road trip which may have been the professor's ultimate goal.

Days by Moonlight isn't going to be for everyone. But I encourage you to read André Alexis' work and explore the interesting and whimsical worlds he has created.

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: Beautiful Bad


Friends and longtime blog readers will know I'm quite particular about which thrillers I decide to read. Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward piqued my interest immediately and, holy hell, was it ever a thriller. I don't think I've ever been that engrossed and unsettled by a book before. I needed to put it down a few times for sanity's sake but I really didn't want to because I needed to find out what really happened.

Here's the synopsis:
Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry. . . . That something is really, really wrong with me.
Maddie and Ian’s romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD, her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie, and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.
From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, 16 years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 9-1-1 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.
But what in this beautiful home has gone so terribly bad?
One of the things that really interested me was that this novel originally started as a memoir. Ward really did work in Bulgaria and did have a friend who worked in a neighbouring country (though in real life Ward met the fellow American while in Europe and, surprise, she ended up being an undercover CIA agent). That friend did introduce Ward to a British military police body guard. The biggest difference is the horrific crime that kicks off this novel did not happen.

That crime, and all the events that are tied to it, is fictional (thank goodness) but it felt incredibly real. And that is why the book was, at times, is so unsettling. If a 911 call is being made at a home there's obviously some serious issues so I had that view while reading the rest of the book. What I didn't know what the real story or who to trust. Ward did an amazing job with the unreliable narrator trope because the reader truly has no idea what or who to believe. I had my ideas, of course, but what actually transpired managed to shock me.

The mystery part of this novel was interesting but I was much less interested in the characters and their relationships. I couldn't really see why Maddie would fall for Ian and allow her friendship to Jo blow up in the process. You could see cracks in the friendship when they were in Europe but their opinions clearly didn't matter enough to each other to allow them to smooth things over before Maddie left. And Ian's relationship with his ex? That entire plot point was bizarre and I'm not sure it was totally necessary.

Beautiful Bad is a book for you if you enjoy twisted thrillers. Annie Ward has turned her own life upside down and created characters who will anger and confuse you from start to finish. It was an interesting read and one I'd recommend - especially with a glass of something alcoholic beside you!

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: The Winters


It shouldn't surprise you that I was a kid who loved English class. It came pretty easy to me even though I wasn't a fan of analyzing and dissecting books (ha - my teenage self laughs at me). While I can no longer remember the specifics, I do remember really enjoying Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier when I read it for class. I was really excited and intrigued when I heard Lisa Gabriele, a Canadian author I like, was releasing a thriller inspired by the 1938 novel. Would I like The Winters as much as I remember liking the classic?

Here's the synopsis:
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a spellbindingly suspenseful novel set in the moneyed world of the Hamptons, about secrets that refuse to remain buried and consequences that can’t be escaped
After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiancé Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell. She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere.
As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too. The Winters is a riveting story about what happens when a family’s ghosts resurface and threaten to upend everything.
Gabriele updated du Maurier's novel and set it in present day. This automatically twisted the story just enough to make it feel fresh. She also did away with the evil Mrs. Danvers but she added Dani, Max's teenage daughter. Dani was so incredibly hostile to the narrator, more so than you'd expect from a teenager who has lost her mother and had her father get engaged to a woman about half his age after only knowing her for a short period of time. (Wouldn't that annoy anyone?) And just as Hitchcock did with the 1940 film adaptation, Gabriele also adjusts the ending - which I freaking loved. Clearly I can't tell you more than that because, you know, spoilers, but read the book and I'm sure you'll love it as much as I did. And if you really want more, read this article that I've probably read three times because I love it so.

I always say I don't often read thrillers and I say it often enough that perhaps I do read thrillers. So maybe it's more correct to say that I don't seek them out. The Winters though? I most definitely went looking for it. I think even if I hadn't liked Rebecca I still would have been intrigued enough with the synopsis that I would have wanted to pick it up. It's a thriller that plays with your mind because the reader isn't totally sure who to trust - the narrator? Max? Dani? And just when you think you have each character figured out, something happens to completely change your mind.

The most twisted actions, in my opinion, came from Dani. She was so unpredictable and downright cruel. You had to wonder how far she was going to take her hatred towards the narrator. Who, as far as the reader knows, has only had the bad luck to fall in love with a man whose daughter is completely off the rails and despises her.

And that cover? How amazing is it? I feel like it perfectly captures the tone of the novel. LOVE.

I think The Winters is a book you need to add to your TBR immediately. (If you haven't already - it's been out since October 2018 in Canada.) Lisa Gabriele has written such a twisted and riveting book that I really didn't want to put down. I can't wait to see what she writes next!

Now, a fun note! When I was finishing the book I noted on Instagram that I really needed a glass of wine as I got to the end because it was so intense (in a good way!). And why is this fun? Because I've just recently partnered with Long Weekend Wine Co. for their Long Weekend Library. Every month we'll reveal a book and a wine pairing for your long weekend reading pleasure. This month's? None other than The Winters! If you want to learn more, head to Long Weekend's Instagram page and follow along!


*A copy of this novel was provided by the author and publisher, Doubleday Canada, in exchange for review consideration. They are not involved with the book selection for Long Weekend Library, that is solely my decision. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, April 15, 2019

Review: My Life in Shambles


Karina Halle is one of the best at writing heart-wrenching, sexy, enthralling stories. Her latest, My Life in Shambles, is no exception. I devoured it in a day because I couldn't put it down.

Here's the synopsis:
When Valerie Stephens made the resolution to say yes to new adventures, she never thought she’d end up in the tiny town of Shambles, fake engaged to one of Ireland’s top rugby players. But there’s a first time for everything.
They say bad things happen in threes.
After my boyfriend broke off our engagement, and I lost my apartment, and was laid off from my job, I can more than attest to that.
They also say life happens when you say yes to new adventures.
So when my two sisters invited me to ring in the new year in Ireland, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and go for it. I was going to let “saying yes” be my new resolution.
Little did I know I’d spend New Year’s Eve having a hot and dirty one-night stand with Padraig McCarthy, one hell of a sexy Irishman. I also didn’t know that the brooding and intense sex god was one of Ireland’s top rugby players.
A rugby player with a proposition for me:
Come with him to his tiny hometown of Shambles and pretend to be his fiancée for a few days, just so that his ailing father can have some peace of mind.
It sounded simple enough.
It was anything but.
Not when a town gets up in your business, not when the media hunts you down, not when your past comes back in the picture, not when there are real hearts and feelings at stake.
Not when there are secrets that could break you.
They say life is what happens when you say yes to new adventures.
This is my life in Shambles.
Halle's contemporary novels all have a similar feel - lots of intense emotions, interesting characters, great settings - but none of them are ever close to feeling the same. I don't know how she does it because she writes a lot of books and you'd think they'd start to get repetitive. Not with Halle. That's one of the things I love about her books - they may have a trope you've read time and time again but she always manages to twist things just enough to keep the story feeling fresh.

This book is really heavy. There are illnesses (yes, plural) and childhood traumas (also plural) and the emotions that come from falling head over heels in love with someone after only a few short weeks. One of the things I liked about this book was jow it challenges our typical view of a Happily Ever After. I had to check myself a few times because of the...prejudice, I guess, I (and tons of other people) have. It's uncomfortable, to be sure, but I'm happy Halle and her novel challenged my views. (OK, I know that's super vague but I can't give anything away!)

The characters were so multi-layered, just like real people, and the reader can't help but fall in love with Padraig and Val as their feelings for each other grew. Val seemed older than her mid-twenties age but I imagine that has a lot to do with the issues she dealt with growing up. Padraig has just as many issues stemming from his childhood and teen years that shaped him. They were both able to face those traumas and have some healing and closure by the end of the book. An aside: I wanted to throttle Val's mother. I could not believe some of the cruel things she was saying to her own daughter and how misguided she was. She thought she was saying it out of love but she was so out of touch with her daughter's feelings that she couldn't see how much pain she was causing. So frustrating!

Like all of Halle's books, this one is super swoony. You'll get so caught up in the love and lust that is practically leaping off the pages. So good.

All in all, My Life in Shambles is another winner from Karina Halle. It's a must if you love real stories that have all the highs and lows life has to offer.

Buy a Copy
Amazon US * Amazon Worldwide * Amazon Canada
Download your copy today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited

Add to Goodreads

Meet Karina
Karina Halle is a former travel writer and music journalist and The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author of The Pact, Love, in English, The Artists Trilogy, Dirty Angels and over 20 other wild and romantic reads. She lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her husband and her rescue pup, where she drinks a lot of wine, hikes a lot of trails and devours a lot of books.
Halle is represented by the Root Literary and is both self-published and published by Simon & Schuster and Hachette in North America and in the UK.

Connect with Karina
Facebook * Amazon * Instagram * Reader Group * Website * Newsletter

*An eARC of this novel was provided by the author via Social Butterfly PR, in exchange for a review for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Saturday, April 13, 2019

New Release: My Life in Shambles


Karina Halle is one of my favourite contemporary writers and it's been awhile since she's blessed us with a new book but this week My Life in Shambles was released. I'll have my full review next week but know this: I read it in one day!

Here's the synopsis:
When Valerie Stephens made the resolution to say yes to new adventures, she never thought she’d end up in the tiny town of Shambles, fake engaged to one of Ireland’s top rugby players. But there’s a first time for everything.
They say bad things happen in threes.
After my boyfriend broke off our engagement, and I lost my apartment, and was laid off from my job, I can more than attest to that.
They also say life happens when you say yes to new adventures.
So when my two sisters invited me to ring in the new year in Ireland, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and go for it. I was going to let “saying yes” be my new resolution.
Little did I know I’d spend New Year’s Eve having a hot and dirty one-night stand with Padraig McCarthy, one hell of a sexy Irishman. I also didn’t know that the brooding and intense sex god was one of Ireland’s top rugby players.
A rugby player with a proposition for me:
Come with him to his tiny hometown of Shambles and pretend to be his fiancé for a few days, just so that his ailing father can have some peace of mind.
It sounded simple enough.
It was anything but.
Not when a town gets up in your business, not when the media hunts you down, not when your past comes back in the picture, not when there are real hearts and feelings at stake.
Not when there are secrets that could break you.
They say life is what happens when you say yes to new adventures.
This is my life in Shambles.
Sounds intense, right? But that's typical for Halle's books and part of why I, and so many others, love them. Plus the fact that it's set in Ireland is just a fun bonus!


Amazon US * Amazon Worldwide * Amazon Canada
Download your copy today or read FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

Add to Goodreads

Meet Karina
Karina Halle is a former travel writer and music journalist and The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author of The Pact, Love, in English, The Artists Trilogy, Dirty Angels and over 20 other wild and romantic reads. She lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her husband and her rescue pup, where she drinks a lot of wine, hikes a lot of trails and devours a lot of books.
Halle is represented by the Root Literary and is both self-published and published by Simon & Schuster and Hachette in North America and in the UK.

Connect with Karina
Facebook * Amazon * Instagram * Reader Group * Website * Newsletter

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: One Summer in Paris


Over the last few years Sarah Morgan has become one of my favourite romance authors. Her books are always delightful and full of fun and lots of emotion, too. She's been writing books that aren't strictly romances lately, which has been a nice change of pace. One Summer in Paris is her latest and it was a joy to read.

Here's the synopsis:
USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with this heartwarming novel about the power of friendship, love and what happens when an ending is just the beginning…
To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Grace has planned the surprise of a lifetime for her husband—a romantic getaway to Paris. But she never expected he’d have a surprise of his own: he wants a divorce. Reeling from the shock but refusing to be broken, a devastated Grace makes the bold decision to go to Paris alone.
Audrey, a young woman from London, has left behind a heartache of her own when she arrives in Paris. A job in a bookshop is her ticket to freedom, but with no money and no knowledge of the French language, suddenly a summer spent wandering the cobbled streets alone seems much more likely…until she meets Grace, and everything changes.
Grace can’t believe how daring Audrey is. Audrey can’t believe how cautious newly single Grace is. Living in neighboring apartments above the bookshop, this unlikely pair offer each other just what they’ve both been missing. They came to Paris to find themselves, but finding this unbreakable friendship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them…
Fun fact about me: I've been trying to learn French for the last year or so using a couple of different apps. Mostly I'm doing it for fun but I am Canadian and feel that I should have a better handle on our other national language. Reading this book reminded me of the other reason I started learning and that's to travel more confidently. I have no plans to go to Europe any time soon (though I'd love to get there within the next five years) but I would like to be able to speak French when I do. I really liked reading as Grace taught Audrey French and wished she could teach me too! (Side note: any French learning tips would be greatly appreciated. Merci!)

One thing I constantly wondered about is how Grace's daughter might feel that her mom has befriended someone who's basically the same age as her. Don't get me wrong, I love that Morgan had the women become friends because I think it's good to have friends, or acquaintances at the very least, who are different ages. I just feel that Grace's daughter, Sophie, might have some thoughts on the matter. Or maybe she's a lot more aware than I give her credit for. It's a weird, small thing to be focused on but there we have it.

But what about the actual story? It was a really good one. It had pretty much everything I want in a novel: laughs, broken and then mended hearts, some sad and tender moments, traveling, and amazing friendships between equally amazing women. In these kinds of books, the characters can make it or break it for me. If I can't find something to like about them, I'm not invested. But Grace and Audrey were both fantastic. They were both really broken when they found each other and I adored reading as they helped each other become stronger women.

I was so invested in Grace that I was feeling incredibly protective and would have loved to give David, her husband, a piece of my mind. And maybe thrown a few things at him too. I therefore appreciated that Audrey was fiercely protective of Grace as well. That all being said, I was really hopeful Grace and David would be able to actually talk and work out what went wrong (or not exactly right) with their marriage. They seemed so solid that I was sure they would be able to overcome the bullshit David was putting them through. I was also really invested in Audrey and felt very much like a big sister as I was reading what she was going through. I was rooting for her the entire way through the novel and hoped she'd be able to smooth some of the prickles she had due to her upbringing.

One Summer in Paris was a delight and Sarah Morgan will continue to be on my must-read list, especially when I'm in the mood for a great story with equal parts light-hearted and realistic moments. Life isn't perfect but by the end of her novels you remember how we can make it through all those bumps in the road - because there's usually a wonderful Happily Ever After at the end.

*An e-ARC of this novel was provided via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, April 8, 2019

Review: Career Rookie


I never did read Sarah Vermunt's Careergasm when it was published back in 2017 but it's been on my radar ever since. So, when I had the chance to read her new book, Career Rookie: A Get-It-Together Guide for Grads, Students and Career Newbies (which just released last week), I jumped at it.

Here's what the book is all about:
A shot of encouragement, a kick in the ass, and a loving push for young people who have no idea what they want or how to get it.
Career Rookie is a book for every grad, student, and 20-something who feels lost, overwhelmed, and anxious. It tackles the emotional and logistical WTF-ness of starting your career, answering questions like:
What if I don't have any experience? What if I went to school for something I hated? What if I have NO IDEA what I actually want? Should I just suck it up and settle? Because, honestly, this career thing is starting to give me an ulcer.
This fresh, fun guide gives even the most lost and overwhelmed a way forward. It explores passion, curiosity, uncertainty, self-sabotage, and more on the quest to shake off post-graduation paralysis. Finding the right career can seem impossible, but Sarah Vermunt is the fun-loving, straight-talking coach we all need to make feel-good work a reality.
I'm a decade out of university and nine years out of college so I'm not, technically, a "career rookie" but I wanted to give this a read anyway for a couple of reasons. One, you never know what you might learn. And two, a year ago I started a new job at the bottom of the ladder so I'm really feeling like a bit more of a rookie than usual.

I absolutely love the way Vermunt writes. She's no nonsense but fun and encouraging. And she drops f-bombs like I do, which I appreciated. She's also incredibly knowledgeable and passes along that knowledge in a way that is easy for the reader to understand and then apply to their own life.

I found myself nodding a lot as I read this. Like I said, I graduated ages ago but I've been searching for the right job for about as long as I've been out of school. There were some things that Vermunt wrote that I had learned for myself in my long (long) job hunt and definitely worked for me, so that had me completely on board with everything else she was saying.

The book is filled with advice from Vermunt as well as client stories. I think that's a great idea because it shows some real-life examples that can sometimes help more than just the advice.

I've already told my younger sister and two interns at work they need to read this book, and I think you should tell all the career rookies in your own life to read it as well. It's the perfect graduation gift to give or to buy for yourself.

Career Rookie won't solve all of your problems or answer all of your questions but Sarah Vermunt's new book will give you a lot of tools to help you on your way to kicking ass in your job hunt and eventual career (whatever that might look like). I highly recommend it.

*An e-ARC of this book was provided by the publisher, ECW Press, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*