Saturday, May 31, 2014

Reread: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I never liked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as much as some of the other books. I was never really sure why, either. After doing this month's reread, however, I found I no longer disliked the book. I wonder if it's because I know the whole story now. All the little hints and information sprinkled throughout this book make sense now because I know how it all ends. Whatever the reason, I definitely enjoyed my reread of J.K. Rowling's fifth Harry Potter book more than the first time I read it.
For more info about this challenge and the idea behind it, visit Just a Lil' Lost's sign up post. Check out Twitter or Instagram with #HPreread if you want to follow along with us. A reminder: if you haven't read this book, or even finished the whole series, please beware of spoilers. If you don't want parts of the story or series ruined for you, stay away until you finish the books!

I believe I've mentioned before that a lot of people are frequently annoyed by Harry. I could really see where they were coming from when I was reading Order of the Phoenix. Harry had been pretty much totally ignored all summer by everyone he considered a friend and his response to that, when he finally gets to see everyone, was to lash out. Repeatedly. The attitude continues throughout the entire book and, while it did get a tad frustrating, I just reminded myself that he's fifteen. And, really, this attitude never bothered me before. Sure, the kid is rash and should listen for all the facts before rushing off to save the world, but he's just that – a kid. Harry's only fifteen in this book, remember.

I had somehow forgotten how long and big this book was. 766 pages! And it doesn't really seem like there's a whole lot going on in this book (which may be another reason why a lot of people aren't a huge fan of OotP) but there are a lot of building blocks laid in this story. Particularly, I think, with Dumbledore's Army. Apart from the core three, we're finally getting to see some students who are committed to protecting their school, their headmaster, and their families, by coming together to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts skills from Harry. The group of students we learn more about here, most notably Ginny, Neville, and Luna, all play an important role in this book as well as the next two.

There were a couple of family moments in this book that made me tear up a bit. The first was one I had forgotten about. It happens very early on in the book (page 39), when Harry is explaining why the Dementors attacked him and what it meant. Aunt Petunia understood the severity and, as Rowling writes, "...for the first time in his life, Harry fully appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother's sister. ... All he knew was that he was not the only person in the room who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might mean." It's easy to forget, reading the books through Harry's eyes, that his aunt lost a sister. She may complain about James and how magic is a disgrace, but Lily was still her sister. The other, much more potent, family moment came at the end of the book. I hate that Sirius dies. Probably because I can't see the point of it (though, really, what is the point of any of the upcoming deaths?). I also hate it because it takes away Harry's last hope of being with family. Sure, he has an amazing surrogate family in the Weasleys' and other members of the Order, but he won't realize that for awhile. For now, we just feel Harry's pain at losing his godfather. 

Amidst all the heavy stuff, there are, as usual, some light hearted moments. Fred and George provide many of those, of course. One of my favourite lines from the entire series is in this book. Ron has been made Prefect and Mrs. Weasley has just found out: "'Oh, Ron, how wonderful! A prefect! That's everyone in the family!' 'What are Fred and I, next-door neighbours?' said George indignantly." (page 149)  I also enjoyed all of the variations of "Dementor" Uncle Vernon creates (Dementoids, Demenders). And this is the book where we learn that Ron has the emotional range of a teaspoon! (page 406)

Other random notes: I was happy that Tonks ("Don't call me Nymphadora!") finally shows up as I named my rabbit after her. I also liked that Luna is now part of the series (though I'm looking forward to the next books when she's a bit less Looney and more Luna). Rowling is setting up Hermione/Ron and Harry/Ginny even more though it's still all very subtle.

I'm still really enjoying the Harry Potter reread, which isn't a surprise. Though I'm finding now that, as much as I want to read the next book, I know I'm getting that much closer to the end (again). I know I know how it all ends but it's been so great to relive the series again. Next month's book, Half-Blood Prince, is another heavy one and I need to start preparing myself now for what happens!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: Delicious!

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Delicious!, Ruth Reichl's first work of fiction. The synopsis reeled me in but the book ended up being so much more than I expected. I really loved this novel because it ended up having much more depth than I anticipated.

Here's the synopsis:
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.
Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.

Billie was a really interesting character. She was such a meek and withdrawn character, which are not exactly characteristics that make for a great heroine. However, I could tell that she wasn't going to stay that way forever and I was eager to find out how she was going to grow as a person. Slight side note: I was also excited that she was in her early twenties. This is a New Adult novel that I could get behind! Even though Billie was young, she had some life experiences that no young adult should ever have to deal with (there's a twist in there that I sort of saw coming but I was still shocked when I learned the truth!). Part of her growth as a person had to do with actually dealing with those experiences instead of running away from them. My heart went out to her as she dealt with her feelings but I knew it was for the best. And it was. The person she becomes by the end of the book, complete with a lovely surface makeover – new clothes, make up, and hair – is wonderful. I found myself wishing I could be her friend!

The part of the novel I wasn't expecting had to do with Lulu's letters and how much World War II history was woven into the story. It wasn't the typical sort of WWII info you might find in a novel. Instead, it focused on the (American) home front and what the average family had to do to help with the war efforts. Because this was such a foodie novel, a lot of this had to do with food rationing, which was super interesting to read about. It also touched on how the women would have felt when they kept the factories, and everything else, running while the men were off fighting. I always knew it would have been tough but hearing about how Lulu's mother dealt with it really made an impression. I don't think this book would have been nearly as strong had it not been for Lulu, the puzzle surrounding her letters, and the WWII history.

If you're looking for a really good, well told novel, pick up Delicious! I really enjoyed Ruth Reichl's novel and I think many others would too. It has a little bit of everything and the foodie in you will love hearing about all of the shops, restaurants, and dishes Billie encounters.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Random House of Canada, in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: Cure for the Common Breakup

Beth Kendrick is one of my auto-buy authors. I absolutely adored the first two I read by her and bought the last three as soon as they were released (it was convenient that they're released around my birthday). When I got the chance to review her newest, Cure for the Common Breakup, I jumped at the chance. It was exactly what I expected, and wanted, and I loved it.

Here's the synopsis:
Flight attendant Summer Benson lives by two rules: Don’t stay with the same man for too long and never stay in one place. She’s about to break rule number one by considering accepting her boyfriend’s proposal—then disaster strikes and her world is shattered in an instant.
Summer heads to Black Dog Bay, where the locals welcome her. Even Hattie Huntington, the town’s oldest, richest, and meanest resident, likes her enough to give her a job. Then there’s Dutch Jansen, the rugged, stoic mayor, who’s the opposite of her type. She probably shouldn't be kissing him. She definitely shouldn't be falling in love.
After a lifetime of globe-trotting, Summer has finally found a home. But Hattie has old scores to settle and a hidden agenda for her newest employee. Summer finds herself faced with an impossible choice: Leave Black Dog Bay behind forever, or stay with the ones she loves and cost them everything...

I wasn't sure what to think about Summer at first. She seemed like a bit of a self-absorbed blonde who was more interested in how she looked than anything else. She's definitely a bit like that but as the story went on, you realize that she's so much more. The reader learns more about her just as she's learning to share more of herself with others. I really liked seeing her become a mentor to Ingrid and finally settling down.

I absolutely loved Black Dog Bay. I'm a small town girl and I just love reading about small towns in books. Even though I'm sure I'd get annoyed with all of the weepy and love obsessed women, I do like what the town is trying to do. Like they say, they're not really about love and heartbreak, they're about healing. And if healing includes locking a cell phone in a drawer, going to the Whinery (how fun is that bar name?), and burning the remnants of a failed relationship? Well, bring on the drinks and roast me a marshmallow! Kendrick obviously had fun creating the town. Not only the shops but also the history. It was all very detailed and I loved it.

It was easy to predict who Summer would end up with but that was ok. Like I always say, I don't mind if the end result is predictable as long as the journey is interesting. This journey definitely was. It wasn't easy for Summer to "land" Dutch and he came with some extra baggage in the form of his teenage sister. Plus, Summer ends up having to become a companion to one of the world's most bitter old ladies. I really looked forward to seeing how Kendrick would weave everything together and make sure she gave readers the ending they wanted.

Beth Kendrick remains one of my favourite authors. I absolutely adored every minute I spent reading Cure for the Common Breakup. I cannot wait for her next book and I hope that she'll end up in Toronto some day!

*An eARC of this novel was provided by BookSparksPR in exchange for an honest review.*

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review: Then and Always

When I read the synopsis of Dani Atkins' novel Then and Always, I was immediately intrigued. The story sounded interesting and riveting. It was but there was a twist to it that I wasn't quite expecting and I'm not entirely sure I liked. The book, as a whole, was enjoyable but I can't decide how I feel about the ending.

Here's the synopsis:
Absorbing, surprising, and heart-rending, Dani Atkins’s debut novel follows a young woman who, after an accident, gets a second chance at life … just not the one she remembers.
Rachel Wiltshire has everything she’s ever wanted: a close group of friends, a handsome boyfriend, and acceptance to the journalism program at a top-choice college. But one fateful evening, tragedy tears her world apart. Five years later, Rachel returns home for the first time to celebrate her best friend’s wedding. Still coping with grief, she can’t stop thinking about the bright future she almost had, if only that one night had gone differently. But when a sudden fall lands her in the hospital, Rachel wakes to find that her life has completely changed. Now she has her dream job as a writer and a stylish apartment, but the people she loves most are not the way she remembers them. Unable to trust her own recollections, Rachel tries to piece together what really happened, and not even she can predict the astonishing truth.
As I was reading this book, I realized it reminded me of One Day. I seriously disliked that book but, when I realized the two were similar, I was happy with the way Then and Always was going. I think the comparison comes from the age of the characters and the sort of flashback nature of the story. I liked this one as a whole so I don't think it matters if you like One Day or not but I imagine if you really liked that one, you'll like Atkins' novel.

 Even though I was happy with the way this book was going, the ending threw me for a bit of a loop. In fact, I came to the end, put the book down and said, "What the hell?!?" I like when I'm surprised. But this wasn't exactly what I'd call a surprise (don't ask me what I would call it because I'm still not sure). It was a good twist, I suppose. Actually, if I'm being honest, I'm happy with what is implied because it meant a Happily Ever After for the characters. In a weird way. But there was just something there that was too much for me to wrap my head around. Gosh, it's hard to explain what I thought of it without giving anything away!

I think I could have gotten over the weirdness of the ending and given this a higher rating if I had connected more with Rachel. Though, I admit, I feel bad about saying that. Rachel had a lot of awful things happen to her in her life and I cannot blame her one bit for how she reacted and decided to live her life. But, I like when I can like and connect with a character and I was just missing that with Rachel, which was too bad.

As a whole, though, Dani Atkins has written a really good drama filled novel. I liked how she told the story in Then and Always. I don't know if this book is totally for me but I think many others would really enjoy it. My review is part of a tour Penguin Canada is running so check out the other reviews (search #ThenAndAlways and/or @PenguinCanada on Twitter) if you'd like some other viewpoints. Final note: I absolutely adore the cover!

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Canada, for a blog tour in exchange for an honest review.*

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: The Travelling Tea Shop

I had been excited to read Belinda Jones' novel The Travelling Tea Shop ever since I finished Winter Wonderland (which I adored). It had been awhile since I had spent any time with these characters and I was excited to find out what they were up to and learn more about Laurie, who we only met briefly in Jones' first book. I ended up thoroughly enjoying this novel!

Here's the synopsis:
Laurie loves a challenge. Especially if it involves anything beautiful, baked and frosted. The brief is simple: With three other women, Laurie will board a London bus - kitted out as an English tea shop - on a deliciously different road trip of the USA.
Their mission: To bring home-grown classics like Battenberg, Victoria sponge and scones to the land of cupcakes, whoopie pies and gold-leafed chocolate sundaes.
And to show them how a real cup of tea is made. All of the women have their own secrets and heartaches to heal. As well as a grand appreciation of cupcakes, there's also the chance for romance...
But will making whoopee lead to love?
All aboard for: New York - Connecticut - Rhode Island - Massachusetts - Maine - New Hampshire - Vermont.

One of the things I loved about Winter Wonderland was that the main character worked as a travel writer. That was still present in this book and I was so happy about that (not that I was surprised since Laurie and Krista are partners in the travel company). It was fun to see Laurie's travel brain working to figure out details of the trip. I always love reading novels about travel writers, or even travel agents, and this book didn't let me down in that regard.

The secondary characters in this novel were awesome. Gracie is probably the best grandma I've read in a long time. She was sophisticated but had spunk and wasn't afraid to say what she thought. I liked seeing Pamela find herself and figure out what she needed to do to really enjoy her life. Her daughter, Ravenna, was an interesting one. I really liked the bond she ended up having with Laurie but I have to admit that I kept thinking she was only sixteen or seventeen, not twenty. She acted like a spoiled teenager and that's why I had that picture in my head.

Let's talk about one of the most fun parts of the book: the desserts. I loved the idea of doing a tour of the US (or anywhere, really) and learning more about each location's signature dessert. I liked that Pamela and the chef in each location traded recipes and we got to learn about all sorts of delicious goodness like red velvet cake and whoopie pies. Yum.

I really liked how the romance played out in this novel. Laurie wasn't a woman who really needed a man but that didn't mean I wasn't rooting for her to find someone throughout the course of this novel. This wasn't a case of the heroine being single because she needed to learn to love herself first. Laurie knew just who she was and was waiting for the right guy before bothering with all of that relationship nonsense. I liked that her love interest, whose name I did not write down and cannot find on the interwebs (bad blogger!), sort of appeared out of nowhere (though we eventually learn that there are crazy connections between Laurie, her new fellow, and her travel companions). He seemed to really get her right away, which is something she needed. I also liked that things were left a little open ended. It made it more realistic (though die hard Happily Ever After fans might be left wanting more!).

Overall, The Travelling Tea Shop was absolutely delightful. I'm so happy Belinda Jones decided to revisit this world so we could see how Krista was doing and learn more about Laurie. I'm a little sad that this is probably the last time we'll visit with these characters but it just means that I can check out Jones' other novels! If you like desserts and travelling, this book is definitely for you!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: The One and Only

Emily Giffin is one of my autobuy authors. I'm always ridiculously excited for her new book and her latest, The One & Only, was no exception. I had been looking forward to this one for well over a year, ever since I learned that Giffin had switched publishers and was going to be publishing with Random House for her upcoming book. I scored an ARC (thank you, Lindsey!) and when I was finally able to set aside some time to read it I was rewarded with a typical Giffin novel, heartfelt, with a mix of serious and humorous, and realistic. All in all, an enjoyable read.

Here's the synopsis:
Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.
But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.
Thoughtful, funny, and brilliantly observed, The One & Only is a luminous novel about finding your passion, following your heart, and, most of all, believing in something bigger than yourself...the one and only thing that truly makes life worth living.
Giffin is well known for tackling issues that are a little bit uncomfortable to read about. Most of the time the issue is infidelity, which isn't a favourite topic for many people. This time around, she writes about another difficult topic: falling in love with someone you're not supposed to fall in love with. The synopsis doesn't give away who she falls for so I'm not going to either. What I'll say is that I sort of anticipated it and I was very conflicted about it. At first I was just as weirded out as I knew others would be but, as the story went on, I found myself desperately hoping that they could overcome the adversity they were facing (had to throw in a sports cliche!).

Cover talk time. I would guess that this cover looks different than her others because she changed publishers. That would be a fair assumption, yes? In a way it's too bad because I really did love the other covers. But, I think the folks at Random House created a cover that had the same feel as the others but was still original. (Not so) fun fact: Giffin had posted something on her Facebook page ages and ages ago asking what colour we thought her next cover would be. I actually guessed teal! I thought it made the most sense. Little did I know the colour would actually reflect part of the novel. Did you pick up the fact that Walker's colour is teal, just like the cover?

I have to admit that, at times, I found myself wondering if I would have loved this book as much if it had been written by a no-name author. Did I enjoy it simply because Giffin wrote it and I've been eagerly gobbling up her books ever since I discovered Something Borrowed? I have no idea. I feel like I probably would have picked this one up anyway (especially with a catchy cover) because I wouldn't have been put off by the football storyline (I think a lot of people seriously disliked that part), even though I'm not personally a football fan. If I'm completely honest, I bet I would have given an unknown author three stars instead of the four I gave The One and Only. Right now I'm choosing not to read too much into that!

I really liked Emily Giffin's latest novel. I didn't love it and I don't think The One & Only is one of her best. It's still enjoyable and if you like Giffin and her usual storylines, I think you'll like this novel, too. I can't wait to hear what everyone else thinks of this one!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Random House of Canada, in exchange for an honest review.*

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review: One Tiny Lie

I read my first K.A. Tucker book earlier this year. I had heard the novel, and series, Ten Tiny Breaths was awesome and I was curious. I read it back in January and devoured it. I couldn't wait to read the next book but I purposely took a break between them because I knew the next one featured a different character. So, after a nice long break, I finally picked up book two in the series. I didn't think I could love One Tiny Lie more but, oh my god, I did. I couldn't put it down.

Here's the synopsis:
Livie has always been the stable one of the two Cleary sisters, handling her parents' tragic death and Kacey's self-destructive phase with strength and maturity. But underneath that exterior is a little girl hanging onto the last words her father ever spoke to her. “Make me proud,” he had said. She promised she would...and she’s done her best over the past seven years with every choice, with every word, with every action.
Livie walks into Princeton with a solid plan, and she’s dead set on delivering on it: Rock her classes, set herself up for medical school, and meet a good, respectable guy that she’s going to someday marry. What isn’t part of her plan are Jell-O shots, a lovable, party animal roommate she can’t say ‘no’ to, and Ashton, the gorgeous captain of the men’s rowing team. Definitely him. He’s an arrogant ass who makes Livie’s usually non-existent temper flare and everything she doesn’t want in a guy. Worse, he’s best friends and roommates with Connor, who happens to fits Livie’s criteria perfectly. So why does she keep thinking about Ashton?
As Livie finds herself facing mediocre grades, career aspirations she no longer thinks she can handle, and feelings for Ashton that she shouldn’t have, she’s forced to let go of her last promise to her father and, with it, the only identity that she knows.
I wasn't kidding when I said I couldn't put this book down. I started it at lunch at work one day and figured I'd finish it the next evening. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. I went home and did the "Ah, I'll just read for a half hour or so and then get to being productive." Yeah, that didn't happen. I finished the book that night. I actually read during the second last Bones episode of the season. I love that show but I just had to finish this book! 

The novel takes place three years after the first in the series and little sister Livie is all grown up and heading off to college. This was a plus for me. I enjoy books in a college/university setting (perhaps because I want to go back to that was so much easier lol) and I wondered how good girl Livie had turned out. Pretty well, as it happens. I didn't know if I'd really like her but she was an awesome character to read about. She's smart without being nerdy and fun loving without being party crazy. She's so sweet and just a little bit broken. I enjoyed seeing her become her own person and discover what it was that she wanted to do. I was happy with how things turned out for her and will definitely look forward to finding out a little bit more when I read Four Seconds to Lose

I couldn't quite decide what I thought of Ashton. It took a long while to really find out what makes him tick (but it worked for the story) and it wasn't until he completely opened himself up to Livie that I really started to like him. My heart hurt when I learned his whole story and I desperately wanted things to work for him. With Livie, yes, but also with life. He had a lot of issues to work through and I wanted him to be happy.

One Tiny Lie earned an enthusiastic five stars from me because I was completely obsessed with it. Sure, there may be issues here and there with it but I'm not dwelling on those because I think that would make my "omgthisisanamazingbook" feeling go away. And I don't want that to happen. Others could tell you what they didn't like about K.A. Tucker's novel. I will tell you that if you enjoy novels set at college, with a bit of angst and sexual tension, this is your kind of book. Read it.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon and Schuster Canada, in exchange for an honest review.*

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bunch of Mini Reviews 8: Library Edition (Again)

Ah, the library. Such a wonderful place. It's also the place where I get YA books, apparently. Two of the three books in this edition are teen books and the other is the first in a series that I wasn't sure I'd like but I requested the second for review anyway!

Brooklyn Girls - Gemma Burgess (synopsis)
I had heard about this series awhile ago and was intrigued. It's about a bunch of twentysomething girls in New York City (well, Brooklyn) which is something that sounds right up my alley. This was one of my readathon reads and it was a good pick as it was easy and I was able to read it in one sitting with no problem.
I expected a story about a bunch of awesome friends - which I got. I always love reading about books where there's a strong group of girlfriends and this book was no different. Every girl was very different and I really have no idea how the five of them will be able to stay living together without someone being suffocated in their sleep. But, I guess their personality clashes will keep things interesting!
What I didn't expect was the serious undertone that went along with Pia's storyline. In a crazy, roundabout way, Pia ends up getting involved with a loan shark and, as you may expect, things got intense. I was genuinely terrified for the girls at a few points. While Pia was sometimes silly and naive, she's a smart girl and her intelligence and drive made her more interesting and made me like her more than I initially thought I would.
Technically, this is a New Adult book since the girls are 22, just out of college, and trying to make it in the "real" world. This is NA for those who are looking for something different than what's being pushed at us! I'm really looking forward to reading the next book and seeing how Pia, Julia, Coco, Madeleine, and Angie are doing!

Dorothy Must Die - Danielle Paige (synopsis)
I had been hearing all sorts of awesome things about this book well before the release date (the Epic Reads girls were pimping it hard) so I decided to request this one to see what it was all about. I suppose I had high hopes, even though I tried my hardest not to give into the hype, because I was left feeling disappointed with this book.
I've been trying to put my finger on why I didn't love this one. It's possible it had something to do with the fact that I'm not a huge Wizard of Oz fan. I've never read the book and I couldn't tell you the last time I watched the movie. But, I'm not uninterested in it. Am I tired of fairy tale reimaginings? Unlikely. Once Upon a Time is one of my favourite TV shows. But that might be the reason...I was reading this book as OUAT had their own Oz retelling and I didn't like the conflicting stories I had in my head. I'm sure if I had gone to see Wicked at the same time I would have felt the same way (so it's a good thing I'm not going to see it until September). I don't know for sure if too much Oz is the reason I didn't love this one, and it's not totally fair to the novel if it is, but I just couldn't find myself getting excited about the new Oz Paige created.
I felt like the novel moved slowly and I wonder if it's because it's the first in a series. Had it been one novel I imagine the pace would have been faster. That's another we really need another series out there in the reading world? I don't mind a series, don't get me wrong, but I like to see the purpose behind creating more novels to tell the whole story. I don't think this book needed to be part of a series.
OK, downer mini review. Others have loved this one so I may be in the minority but I just wasn't wowed by this book and probably won't be picking up the next one.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before - Jenny Han (synopsis)
I'm so glad I decided to read this book. I adore a good contemporary YA novel (well, any contemporary novel, really) so when my friend Natalie at Browsing Bookshelves said she loved this one I knew I had to check it out. I haven't read any of Han's books before but I knew she's popular. I now see why. I couldn't get enough of Lara Jean's story!
I was completely invested in this novel and the characters. Han made sure all of Lara Jean's feelings came through the pages and, boy, were there a lot of feelings. High school makes for some crazy antics (teens can be so mean) and reading about Lara Jean's adventures and troubles made me think about my own high school experience. If I hadn't played sports I would have been even more like Lara Jean, a quirky homebody who didn't quite fit in anywhere. Even though I was on the fringe of the popular group, I still had a lot of the same feelings Lara Jean did. This is what made the book for me. It felt so real.
If it hadn't been for the great writing and an interesting (but not totally crazy) premise, this book would not be as well loved as it is. Sure, the love story is awesome but reading about Lara Jean and her sisters was equally, if not more, enjoyable. I'm happy this is going to be a duology but I don't know if I can handle the wait until the second book is released (P.S. I Still Love You) next year! If you're a contemporary YA fan, read this book. Right now!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Promo: A Kind of Mad Courage

It's finally May and it's time for our thoughts to turn to something very important. Not spring (though after the winter we've had, I say that's mighty important). No, I'm talking about mothers. Mother's Day is coming up on May 11. I don't know about you but I think moms are pretty awesome. My own is amazing. I probably don't tell her enough (does anyone?) but I am in total awe of her. She's great and I can't put into words how much I love her. I'm sure others think the same about their own moms so it's no surprise that a fabulous group of authors have gotten together for an anthology all about mothers, A Kind of Mad Courage: Short Stories About Mothers, (S)mothers & Others. Read on to find out more about this book of short stories!

Nineteen authors from around the world were given six weeks or less to produce “a story involving a mother somehow.” The result is a gorgeously eclectic collection of tales that will make you laugh, cry, and truly appreciate the “mad courage” of motherhood.

Laura Chapman, Francine LaSala, Nikki Mahood, Heather McCoubrey, and Karen E. Martin each present unique takes on impending motherhood, while Sheryn MacMunn, kc wilder, and Julie Valerie portray the end of the journey. Samantha Stroh Bailey, Louise Wise, and Maria Schulz show the pride and peril of dealing with teenage daughters, while Elke Feuer, Diana Shafter Gliedman, and Donna Valenti demonstrate that a mother’s work is never done, even under the craziest of circumstances. Regina-Cash Clark, Wendy Janes, and Monique McDonell explore the impact on lives in which mothers go “missing,” while Carey Heywood and Jen Tucker warm your heart and tear it out, respectively.

Francine LaSala and Samantha Stroh Bailey have more than 40 years of editorial experience between them. Francine is a novelist, ghostwriter, and book publishing veteran who's edited New York Times bestselling fiction and nonfiction. Samantha is a former grammar and writing instructor, including at the University of Toronto, and a prolific journalist. She has a Master of Education and has edited countless manuscripts for clients all over the world. They have also "team-edited" numerous works of fiction, each lending their singular editorial strengths to create perfect and polished prose for their clients. The author of Finding Lucas, Samantha ( is based in Toronto, while Francine (, author of Rita Hayworth's Shoes and The Girl, the Gold Tooth and Everything, is based in New York.

Hide and Seek - Samantha Stroh Bailey
Claire's teenage daughter, Emily, goes missing on a birthday cruise, and Claire can only fear the worst from the lately rebellious teen...   
Autumn's Eyes - Regina Cash-Clark
June's abandonment of three of four of her children, told in alternating points of view between June, and her oldest daughter, Edwina. 
Oh Baby - Laura Chapman
Rocker Tuck and new wife Autumn return from Chapman's "Ten Drummers Drumming" (Merry & Bright), now with a baby on the way.
The Sacrifice - Elke Feuer
Melissa learns there isn't anything she won't do to protect her children from the abuse and neglect of her alcoholic husband Roger...
Love in the Time of Cannibals - Diana Shafter Gliedman
Could a zombie apocalypse finally give rudderless Jessica the direction she needs--and the connection she craves? It will if her mother has anything to say about it.
A Poem for Mommy - Carey Heywood
In helping his young daughter craft a poem for Mother's Day, a father beautifully recounts the story of the romance with her mother that led to them becoming a family. 
Verity - Wendy Janes
After an accident means she'll no longer be able to live on her own, septuagenarian Susan may need to divulge a secret she's been keeping from Verity all her life. 
Monkey Bread - Francine LaSala
Amy and Deck (Rita Hayworth's Shoes) learn more about having babies than they ever wanted to know at a madcap family dinner celebrating President's Day. 
Last Words - Sheryn MacMunn
The bond shared between Ruth (Finding Out) and her mother, Eliza, is revealed, from the time of Ruth's childhood before the War to the death of Eliza. 
This Year's Love - Nikki Mahood
Fallon and Abner are married, mortgaged, and expecting a baby any minute in this fun, heartfelt mini-sequel to Fallen. 
Two Thousand Steps - Karen E. Martin
With the unsolicited help of a fairy friend from their childhood, two grown sisters - one with kids, one without - each get to walk a mile in the other's shoes... 
Emily's Promise - Heather McCoubrey
Even though pregnant Emily's life is shattered by Jason's infidelity the night before her wedding, she's determined to give her baby the best life possible. 
A Tale of Two Mothers - Monique McDonell
How do you deal with the mother who abandoned you when she shows up out of the blue - and what does it mean for the woman who raised you? Chloe's about to find out.  
Like a Boomerang - Maria Schulz
Tess has been stressing out her mother, Charlotte, since the day she was born. But when disaster strikes during a campus Halloween party, it could prove the worst stress yet… 
Heartstrings - Jen Tucker
Young widow Vicki's no stranger to loss--and guilt, as another mother's loss helped her daughter live. Will meeting up help them the two mothers heal? Or make matters worse?     
In the Nick of Time - Donna Valenti
Iris may be dead but her insistence on looking after her children is far from buried. Will her husband Nick get it together? Or will Iris have to move Heaven and Earth to make him?
In this hilarious yet heartwarming story, words of wisdom from the game of Scrabble unite a daughter with her aging mother, a former Scrabble champion whose mental faculties are quickly fading. 
Lady in Red - k.c. wilder
Her dying "Gran" is the only mother she's ever known. But only when Gran is gone does a woman discover the woman her grandmother really was, and the secrets she hid. 
Becky's Mum - Louise Wise
Straight-A student Becky's being pulled off the straight-and-narrow by her derelict boyfriend Darren. Will her mother's wisdom sink in before it's too late?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Blog Tour: Spun

It's no secret that I adore Catherine McKenzie's novels. So when I heard that she was writing a sequel to her first novel I was super excited. It's been awhile since I've read Spin but I remember enjoying it and I was looking forward to seeing what It Girl Amber was up to now. In the novella Spun, we get an update on Amber's life post-rehab, just as things are getting really out of control. I really enjoyed this one!

Here's the synopsis:
In this funny and touching novella, bestselling author Catherine McKenzie returns to the story of Amber Sheppard, It Girl and celebrity train wreck from her reader-favourite novel Spin. Life has been rough for starlet Amber since leaving rehab. She’s been two years sober, but no one seems to believe her – not the gossip media, not casting agents, and most certainly not her spotlight-loving parents. With her friendships ruined by betrayal and her career at a standstill, Amber’s just trying to get her life back on track. It doesn’t help that her former love, movie star Connor Parks, keeps trying to draw Amber back in, not just to their relationship but to his hard partying ways. One fateful night, Amber breaks down and agrees to join him on board his private jet as it readies for takeoff – a decision that will change her life forever and expose her to a whole new level of scrutiny and heartbreak.
The only negative thing I have to say doesn't even have anything to do with the book itself. It's been over three years since I've read Spin so I couldn't remember every detail of Amber's story. I don't think that actually really matters, I was just frustrated at myself for not remembering everything. I wish I had had the time to reread Spin before I dove into Spun. You don't really even have to have read the first book to understand this one but I think it increases the enjoyment of it. If you've read Spin and are lookin forward to reading Spun, I'd suggest rereading the novel before tackling the novella. It'll be worth it!

Spun is really short - it has just 142 pages - so it's a really quick read. Part of me wishes it had been longer (because who wouldn't want an enjoyable book to be longer?) but I can also appreciate that Amber's story was best told in a novella format. I was a little worried at first because I wasn't sure how all of Amber's problems would be dealt with and resolved by the end. And, truthfully, not everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow. I like how McKenzie ended're happy with the resolution but it's not perfect because how could things be perfect after what happened? (Nope, not going to tell you what happens.)

I liked how Spun was written. I think it had a bit of a different feel than McKenzie's other books...maybe because Amber is the youngest heroine she's ever written. She's 25 in this book (er, I think?) and because McKenzie's last few main characters have been older, it's a bit of a change in the way the story is told and how it feels. It's not a bad thing, don't get me wrong, it was just different. If I had to try to explain how the story is told I think I'd say that it's sort of like a stream of consciousness. The story bops around but not in a confusing way. It's realistic - the way you would be telling a story to a friend. That's the best way I can describe it!

I also liked more of an insight into Amber's life and what it might be like to be famous. For her, at least, it's no fun. The paparazzi are vultures and it's hard to get your life back on track when your every move is being analyzed. And, for me at least, you can't help but root for Amber. I really loved her in this book and was happy with how she was doing and where she was going by the end of the story.

I don't know if I did Spun justice. I almost always feel like that when I review Catherine McKenzie's books. I just love her and her novels so much that all I want to do is say READ THIS :) But, since I can't do that, I will say: McKenzie has written another fabulous novel (honestly, guys, her writing is just amazing) and Spun has a great balance of serious and funny and I couldn't get enough. I'm ready for her next novel already! If you'd like to read what others thought of Spun, check out The Savvy Reader site. And, if you haven't read Spin (tsk tsk tsk), enter this giveaway! a Rafflecopter giveaway

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Frame-Worthy Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme created by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish. They created it because they're "particularly fond of lists" and since I also enjoy lists, I've decided to participate in this fun feature.

I am a reader who judges a book by its cover. I'm a sucker for a good looking cover and I admit that I won't always pick up a book to see what it's about if the cover doesn't appeal to me. No matter how many people will say that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, I know I'm not alone in loving a good looking cover. In this week's Top Ten Tuesday we're picking the ten covers we'd like to frame as pieces of art. Last May we picked our favourite covers of books we've read (see my post here) so if you think I'm missing something (like Life After Life) that's probably where I've listed it. What are some of your favourite covers?

Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling
The new Scholastic covers by artist Kazu Kibuishi are lovely. If I had to pick just one though it would be Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher as the Americans prefer it).

The Orenda - Joseph Boyden
Simple. Beautiful.

Chase - Jill Knapp-Zitron
Didn't love the book but I adore the cover. The New York skyline, the monochromatic colour scheme, even the font works for me. Lovely!

This Lullaby - Sarah Dessen
I adore Dessen but the covers Penguin had been giving her weren't awesome. Until I saw the new one for This Lullaby. Not only is this just super awesome looking but it's purple! My favourite!

Merry & Bright - edited by Lucie Simone
This cover is Christmas card worthy! It's so cozy and lovely. Completely fits with the lovely, cozy stories!

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith
I love the font, I love the paparazzi feel, I love just seeing the girl's back. Just love.

The Bookstore - Deborah Meyler
This was another book I didn't like (at all) but the cover's super cute. Who doesn't want books on their wall?

Anna, Lola, and Isla - Stephanie Perkins
A lot of people don't like these new covers but I adore them. If I were Perkins I would definitely have these blown up to hang up in my house.

A Questionable Friendship - Samantha March
I love the country feel of this one. I'm a country girl at heart so I really like the light colours and the hay, as well as the BFF feel to it.

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
Super cool, super quirky, super perfect.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reread: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I knew it was just a matter of time...I finally fell behind on the HP reread challenge! I'd like to blame it totally on the fact that I started a new job but, once again, I left the reading to the last minute. And that's a problem now as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire marks the start of some seriously chunky books. For more info about this challenge and the idea behind it, visit Just a Lil' Lost's sign up post. Check out Twitter or Instagram with #HPreread if you want to follow along with us. A reminder: if you haven't read this book, or even finished the whole series, please beware of spoilers. If you don't want parts of the story or series ruined for you, stay away until you finish the books!

I know I've said it with almost all the other books, but I was looking forward to rereading book four. This book marks a turning point in the a couple of ways. I know a few people who gave up reading the books once they realized how big this one was (why, people, why?). I also know that a lot of parents were worried about the violence and incredibly dark turn this novel takes. Sure, the rest of the novels are heavy and contain deaths of major characters in each of the upcoming books but...those things are necessary to tell the story properly. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I found it interesting, this time around, to notice all the teeny little hints that Rowling gave throughout this book (ok, fine, I've said that before too). But, in the case of this book, a lot of those hints actually had meaning for this particular novel instead of the series as a whole. Sometimes it was just foreshadowing or mentioning something casually that would come up again later. For example, when Harry was at The Burrow, he saw a likeness of Amos Diggory's head in the fireplace (think of it as a magical Skype). He uses that same method of communicating to talk with Sirius later on. A Portkey is used to get to the Quidditch World Cup and a Portkey is what gets Harry to Voldemort at the end of the book. Mrs. Weasley uses a Summoning Charm to get all of the cursed candies Fred and George are trying to smuggle into Hogwarts. Harry uses a Summoning Charm in the first task against the Hungarian Horntail. You see what I mean? It was nice to reread this one and notice all of those little hints throughout. You may think that would take away from the story, reading the hints and actually knowing their significance, but it doesn't!

I had said way back when I read Philosopher's Stone that I wanted to read each book in as few sittings as I could. That didn't happen with Goblet. All of a sudden the last weekend of the month was finished and I still hadn't cracked open the book. So, what resulted was reading the novel in bits and pieces over five days. Not ideal at all. I have a feeling that took away some of my enjoyment of the novel, which is too bad. To avoid this happening again I just have to make a conscious effort to set aside time during a weekend to read the next books. 

Back to the darkness. The first major death happens in this book. And, to make it even more sad, it's a student - Cedric Diggory. I was surprised when I found myself tearing up when I read the scenes when Cedric dies and then when Dumbledore honours him at the Leaving Feast. Even though I knew it was coming, it still hit me hard. Not only does this mark the beginning of many painful deaths, but it also is the beginning of Voldemort's second rise to power. Pardon my French, but that's some scary shit. And the worst and most frustrating part of it all is that the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, doesn't believe Harry or trust Dumbledore's word. Well. Won't he be sorry. 

A couple of other themes (along with the darkness) begin in this book that carry on throughout the rest of the series. First, we finally see how jealous Ron is of Harry (and rightfully so). He thinks Harry put his name in the Goblet because he was looking for more attention. Sure, that seems silly but imagine that you're the best friend of someone super popular, always getting overlooked...oh, and that you're one of many siblings and your family is very poor. You can kind of see where Ron was coming from, right? I hated reading the part where the two boys are fighting and I couldn't help but think of the last book and how a fight almost ruins their friendship forever. In this book we also get a glimpse of a not so heroic part of Harry's personality. A lot of people could tell you that Harry is a whiny, self-absorbed teen and that they don't understand why he's such a beloved character. I'm not one of those people. I can appreciate a flawed hero, even if he is a tad annoying at times (he's quite young in these books, remember). But, I found one of "Moody's" lines to be interesting. He (and by he I mean Barty Crouch Jr. as Moody) says, after wondering why Harry didn't ask everyone he knew for help with the second task, "you have a streak of pride and independence that might have ruined all." (page 588) I'm going to keep an eye on this as I read the rest of the books to see how often that part of his personality is mentioned. Finally, and more happily, this is the first book where we see a bit of an attraction between Ron and Hermione. Well, at least, Ron realizes that Hermione is a girl and has some jealousy that he doesn't know what to do with (again, they're fourteen!). 

How is it that I always manage to write more than I intend to? Amazing. I wish I could include all of the page shots I took of scenes and lines I liked but there are just too many. What I will do is include, once again, my Storify link for this edition of the #HPreread. month's read, Order of the Phoenix, should be a good one. I remember not really enjoying it the first time around so we'll see what I think of it this time!

Promo: Chick Lit Chat Ebook Sale!

Have you heard of Chick Lit Chat? What started as a weekly Twitter convo (#chicklitchat) has turned into a group of chick lit authors who help each other out in all sorts of ways. As a reader, it's really interesting to see the behind the scenes workings of authors! Because I love so many of these ladies, I wanted to share the ebook sale they have going on this month. Enjoy!

May is finally here! The weather's warming up, your cute new bathing suit's all ready to go, and you've got the kitchen stocked with fixins for your favorite fruity cocktails. The only thing missing is the perfect book to read while you're soaking up some Vitamin D at the beach or pool. Good thing May is also International Chick Lit Month! To celebrate, some of the genre's funniest and most talented authors are offering their lighthearted, romantic reads for $0.99 each! So, load up your eReader and slather on the sunscreen, because your new book boyfriends are waiting for you under the umbrella . . .

If you're a Pinterest out this board where all of the books are featured.

The books included in this delightful sale are as follows (links lead to the Amazon link and I've added notes on the ones I've read):

A Heat of the Moment Thing by Maggie Le Page
A Questionable Friendship by Samantha March (Loved this third book of Samantha's! A little dark but oh so good!)
Blogger Girl by Meredith Schorr (Hands down my all time favourite chick lit novel.)
Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie (I freaking loved this debut novel from Cat! So. Good.)
Dangled Carat by Hilary Grossman
Divine Moves by Ellyn Oaksmith
Exactly Where They'd Fall by Laura Rae Amos
For the Love of Cupcakes by Anita Kushwaha
French Twist by Glynis Astie
Good Intentions by Kathryn Biel
Hard Hats and Doormats by Laura Chapman (I really want to be BFFs with Lexi. Love this novel!)
Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Rouda
In Need of Therapy by Tracie Banister (This novel was so fun! It's got a little bit of everything!)
Let's Be Frank by Brea Brown
Lila's Choice by Laura Brown
Mail-Order Groom by Cindy Flores Martinez
Mr Right and Other Mongrels by Monique McDonell
Open My Eyes by Jennifer Collin
Reframing Emma by Missy Kierstead
Speaking of Love by Ophelia London
Tear Stained Beaches by Courtney Giardina
The Accidental Prophetess by Michelle Lam 
The Bad Girls' Club by Kathryn O'Halloran 
When Girlfriends Collection (Books 1-3) by Savannah Page (I love this series! I'm a sucker for novels about groups of girlfriends!) 
Whiskey and Gumdrops by Jean Oram

There's something for everyone here, seriously. I bet you can't buy just one! ;)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Review: Listen to the Squawking Chicken

Many people know Elaine Lui as Lainey Gossip, the voice behind a hugely popular gossip blog. I've been aware of the site for awhile but I'm not a consistent reader and follower. The Lainey I know is the one who co-hosts the new Canadian talk show, The Social. I like the show because all the women have different personalities and opinions and I watched it almost every day while I wasn't working. When I heard that Lainey was writing a book, a memoir of sorts, I knew I wanted to check it out. She has strong writing skills and an equally strong personality, so I knew I was in for a good read when I picked up Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of)

Here's the synopsis:
Most people think I’m exaggerating at first when I talk about the Chinese Squawking Chicken. But once they actually spend some time with her, they understand. They get it. Right away. She’s Chinese, she squawks like a chicken, she is totally nuts, and I am totally dependent on her.
When Elaine Lui was growing up, her mother told her, “Why do you need to prepare for the good things that happen? They’re good. They won’t hurt you. My job is to prepare you for the hard times, and teach you how to avoid them, whenever possible.” Neither traditionally Eastern nor conventionally Western, the Squawking Chicken raised her daughter drawing on Chinese fortune-telling, feng shui blackmail, good old-fashioned ghost stories, and shame and embarrassment in equal measure. And despite years of chafing against her mother’s parenting style, Elaine came to recognize the hidden wisdom—and immeasurable value—in her rather unorthodox upbringing.
Listen to the Squawking Chicken lays bare the playbook of unusual advice and warnings used to teach Elaine about hard work (“Miss Hong Kong is a whore”), humility (“I should have given birth to a piece of barbecue pork”), love and friendship, family loyalty (“Where’s my money?”), style and deportment (“Don’t be low classy”), finding one’s own voice (“Walk like an elephant, squawk like a chicken”) among other essentials. Along the way, Elaine poignantly reveals how her mother earned the nickname “Tsiahng Gai” or “squawking chicken” growing up in Hong Kong, enduring and rising from the ashes of her own hard times.
Listen to the Squawking Chicken is a loving mother-daughter memoir that will have readers laughing out loud, gasping in shock, and reconsidering the honesty and guts it takes to be a parent.
Since I had been watching The Social for so long, I had an idea of what the Squawking Chicken was like. I absolutely loved getting to know more about her, her parenting style, and Lainey as I read this book. 

I grew up in a small town a few hours north of Toronto. I mention this because there was hardly any diversity in my town. I could probably still tell you the name of every person of colour (other than the large number of Native Canadians) in my high school, and I graduated nine years ago. Why is this important? It's not, really. But while I was reading this book I realized how little I knew about Chinese culture. I had never heard of Filial Piety, for example. Very basically, that's taking care of your parents and having your happiness be dependent on theirs (instead of parents putting their child's happiness first, which what Westerners do). I liked learning more about mahjong and feng shui. And I liked seeing how Lui's world was shaped by Eastern and Western influences. 

One of the best things about this book was that it was totally Lainey. I read the book in her voice (which makes me think that the audiobook, which she narrates, would be amazing to listen to) and her sharp wit and brash personality really came through. 

I also loved how candid Lui was. Memoirs are, by definition, factual. But sometimes, just sometimes, they're not completely truthful. They paint a rosier picture of the subject than is perhaps 100% accurate. That wasn't the case with this book. Of course, I can't say that for certain since I haven't lived Lainey's or the Squawking Chicken's lives but there are so many stories in this book that laid it all out there and I'm so happy she did.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken was such a great read and a really awesome, and unique, mother/daughter story. The Squawking Chicken is unlike any mother you have ever met before which is probably why her daughter, Elaine Lui aka Lainey Gossip, is so unique as well. I really enjoyed reading Lui's "sort of memoir" and I think so many others will as well. Pick this one up the next time you're at the store or your library. I don't think you'll be disappointed! And bonus: this would be a great Mother's Day gift for the reading mom in your life!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Random House of Canada, in exchange for an honest review.*