Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: The Orenda


Time for another reading confession: I had never read a Joseph Boyden novel before picking up The Orenda. This might not seem like a big deal to some people but I feel like in Canada it is a huge deal. I knew his name and his novels but I just hadn't picked one up to read myself. When I heard of his latest, released last fall, I knew I wanted to read it. Why? Because it tells the story of the Hurons and they lived in the area where I grew up. I (belatedly) put a reserve in for the book, waited forever, got the book, didn't have time to read it in a week, returned it, re-reserved it, waited forever, got the book, and proceeded to devour it in one day. The Orenda is an amazing novel and everyone, especially Canadians, should read it.

Here's the synopsis:
A visceral portrait of life at a crossroads, The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family and yet they are never far from his mind. In Snow Falls, Bird recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter and sees the girl possesses powerful magic that will be useful to him on the troubled road ahead. Bird’s people have battled the Iroquois for as long as he can remember, but both tribes now face a new, more dangerous threat from afar.
Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary, has found his calling amongst the Huron and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to the new world.
As these three souls dance each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars and a nation emerges from worlds in flux.
I found that I had to take frequent breaks when reading this novel because of how realistic it was. And that realism included a lot of violence. Yes, I found some of the scenes particularly hard to read (especially when a tribe was 'caressing' - torturing - their prisoners) and I'm sure my scrunched up face would have looked hilarious to anyone watching me read. But as much as I hate reading about violence, I knew it had to be included. Leaving it out would have left huge holes in this story. This is just one example of how Boyden does an amazing job of inserting the reader into the story through the writing and the details he gives.

I loved that there were three viewpoints in this story. Truthfully, it did get a little confusing at times because each chapter was told from the perspective of a different character and it sometimes took me a few sentences to figure out who was telling this part of the story. The three characters have very different viewpoints on their world. One, Bird, is a powerful man in his tribe and he has lost his family to his enemy. Another, Snow Falls, was captured as a young girl and adopted by Bird. Finally, Christophe is one of the Jesuits who was sent to convert the Natives. We can see how the Hurons felt towards the Jesuits, they called them crows or charcoals, and how the missionaries perceived the Hurons, or sauvages as they called them. Through Bird we learn what it was like to hunt and protect the village. Through Snow Falls we learn what it would have been like to become a woman in a Huron village. Through Christophe we learn how hard it was for the missionaries to convert the Natives and learn the ways of the tribes. Having just one perspective would not have done this story justice and the three viewpoints are woven together wonderfully.

The Orenda is one of the five finalists in this year's Canada Reads competition. The theme for this year's contest is books that could change the nation. While I think this novel would have made its way into the finals no matter what the theme was (it seemed like everyone was talking about, and loving, this book when it was released), I do think the category is very fitting for this book. Why? Because more attention needs to be paid to the Native history in our country. I haven't read any of the other finalists' novels and I don't know if I'll get to them before the debates (being held in March). So, I wonder, is it wrong to root for The Orenda because it's the only one I've read? :)

I want to get back to the historical aspect of this novel and why I wanted to read it in the first place. I grew up in Midland and I knew that the Hurons used to live in that area. We have Saint-Marie Among the Hurons and the Huronia Museum. There's a reserve close by on Christian Island and once those students reached high school age, they took the ferry and a bus to come into the school in town. Other than those facts and somehow retaining the knowledge that the three sisters are corn, beans, and squash, I don't remember learning much about Native history growing up. Thinking about that now, I find it incredibly sad. I had no idea the Hurons were essentially wiped out during the Huron-Iroquois wars. I didn't know how Christian Island even became settled. I couldn't remember where Samuel de Champlain and Jean de BrĂ©beuf lived and I certainly had no idea St. Ignace or the missionary Gabriel Lalemant even existed. Reading this novel made me interested in Midland's history and by doing some research (admittedly just on Wikipedia, at least for now) and paying attention to some of the places names mentioned in the book, I think I figured out where some of The Orenda was set and who some characters, the missionaries in particular, were based on. I hope that others who read this will feel the same way and will start to look into this history more themselves.

And can we just take a moment to ogle this cover? Go on, scroll back up to the top. I'll wait. *hums tunelessly* I can't say exactly why I love it but I do.

The Orenda is a novel that everyone should read. Joseph Boyden has put the spotlight on a time period that doesn't get the respect or attention it deserves. The story he tells is just a small part of the overall Canadian story but this historical fiction work will, hopefully, make readers interested in learning more about their nation's history. This post is especially timely as The Orenda is now out in paperback in Canada (Americans, the novel will be released in hardcover in May). Read this book. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: What Makes Me Pick Up a Book?

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.

It's rewind week on Top Ten Tuesday! There are a lot of topics that I've missed out on, either because I didn't know about TTT when they were first done or because I was too busy to put a post together the first time around. I remember reading the posts in April 2013 for words/topics that made people pick up a book. I thought it was really interesting and wished I had done it myself! You can see the links from that week here. So, thanks to the rewind week, here are ten words or topics that will catch my eye when I'm browsing for books. What makes you pick up a book?

mid-twenties
I've looked for characters who were in their early to mid-twenties long before the emergence of New Adult. The age that catches my eye has grown as I have (now I'm happy to see a character who is 26 or 27, especially) but I'm happy to read about anyone in their twenties.

publishing, librarian, event/wedding planner, travel writer, journalist, authors
A character who works in any of these jobs is probably going to be well liked by me. If I hear that one of these professions or industries is in the book, I'll eagerly read the synopsis to see if it's something I'm interested in.

tall
I'm tall (6') so I love when I find out the heroine is tall (5'8"+) as well!

small town
I'm a total small town girl so I love reading novels that take place outside of major cities.

any sport, but especially basketball and baseball
I grew up playing basketball and you can almost always find me watching Blue Jays games so I love when either sports show up in a novel. Really, I'm happy whenever any athletics are focused on but these are my favourites.

cupcakes/ice cream/chocolates
I'm a sucker for any story that takes place in a cupcake/ice cream/chocolate shop. Happily, these stories are frequent in chick lit - my fave genre.

best friends
I love a good story about BFFs. I'm lucky to have a few ridiculously close girlfriends and I like reading books that feature characters who have great besties too.

boy and girl (adults or teens) are friends and then they discover they have feelings for each other
One of my favourite type of story to read about is when a female and male have been friends for years and all of a sudden one or both of them realize they have more romantic feelings for the other. There are all sorts of ways to make this story unique and I love seeing what authors can do with it.

Scotland
My family is from Scotland (my last name is Stewart...is it really a surprise?) so I love when I see that a book takes place there. I've never been so, for now, I have to be content with traveling there in books.

fairy tales
Thanks to Once Upon a Time, I've become a little obsessed with fairy tale retellings. There aren't a lot for adults so I really need to find some time to check out some of the great YA novels that other bloggers can't stop talking about.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: Just Friends With Benefits


I've read and loved Meredith Schorr's later novels, A State of Jane (review here) and Blogger Girl (one of my favourites of 2013, review here), but I had somehow never read her first book, Just Friends with Benefits. Since her publisher has recently released all three ebooks in one bundle, I thought it was a fitting time to finally read it. I'm so glad I did because I absolutely loved it!

Here's the synopsis:
When a friend urges Stephanie Cohen not to put all her eggs in one bastard, the advice falls on deaf ears. Stephanie's college crush on Craig Hille has been awakened 13 years later as if soaked in a can of Red Bull and she is determined not to let the guy who got away once, get away twice. Stephanie, a 32-year-old paralegal from Washington, D.C., is a 70's and 80's television trivia buff who can recite the starting lineup of the New York Yankees and go beer for beer with the guys. And despite her failure to get married and pro-create prior to entering her thirties, she has so far managed to keep her overbearing mother from sticking her head in the oven. Just Friends with Benefits is the humorous story of Stephanie's pursuit of love, her adventures in friendship, and her journey to discover what really matters.
I think what makes this novel so fun is that it takes the typical 'boy and girl are friends and fall for each other' story and turns it on its head. Nothing works out quite like you'd expect and I loved that. In fact, I actually had a "holy crap!" moment when something was revealed that I wasn't quite anticipating. I love when authors can surprise me! The romances in the novel were completely believable and realistic. And I don't just mean the relationships main character Stephanie was involved in. Each of her friends had their own relationship and we got to read about their love lives, too.

Building on the friendship angle, I loved the emphasis Schorr put on the various friendships Stephanie has. Sure, being in a relationship is great but you always need to have a good friend, or five, who you can always count on to be there. Steph has an awesome group around her, and while some would find them crude, outrageous, or rude, I loved them. I actually feel like they were like what my friends and I will be like in another few years.

Another typical chick lit feature, apart from having some romance woven in, is the comedic nature of most of the stories. Schorr manages to fit in quite a bit of humour throughout the novel without it taking over the rest of the story. As I write this part of the review it's well over two weeks since I read the book so I can't recall any specifics, unfortunately. But, all you need to know is that I found myself laughing out loud at parts of the story, which I always love.

I'm glad I've finally read all of Meredith Schorr's books! I can tell that she's grown stronger as a writer with each novel she published. Now I can say, without a doubt, that she's one of my favourite authors (chick lit or otherwise) and can recommend all three of her books. Speaking of which...I wrote a little while ago that you can now buy all three of her books in one ebook collection. Even more exciting: you can currently get that collection for just 99 cents! (Or $1.09 for Amazon.ca.) You don't want to miss out on this, trust me! Hurry up and write book four, Meredith! No pressure ;)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Author Interview: Nancy Scrofano


Earlier this week I had the pleasure of reviewing Nancy Scrofano's latest novel, American Honey (you can check out my review here if you missed it). Today Nancy is here to answer a few of my questions. I hope you enjoy it!

Five Favourites
Chick Flick: The Proposal
Alcoholic Beverage: I don’t drink alcohol.
Travel Destination: Las Vegas is my favorite destination that I’ve been to because it’s so lively and exciting. It isn’t that far from Los Angeles, so I’ve been there many times.
Book from your childhoodBerenstain Bears series
TV show: Hard to choose just one! But my all-time favorite TV show is I Love Lucy.

Books Etc.: American Honey can be considered a New Adult title. What do you think of the current trend in NA and what would you like to see change? 
Nancy Scrofano: New Adult fiction tends to be racy and intense. From the covers to the content, they are similar to romance novels. I would like to see more variety in NA, and especially more lighthearted books. That’s part of the reason why I wrote American Honey. I know the age range of 18 to 25 can be an intense period of change and transition for people, but it’s also a really fun time, too. NA fiction needs to have more fun and more humor.

BE: What's your writing process like? Do you like to write at a certain time of day or in a certain place? 
NS: I write a lot more at night than I do during the day. I’m a night owl. I write the most on my computer, but occasionally, I jot down ideas the old fashioned way with a pen and paper, then later input them into my computer. I wrote all the songs for American Honey on paper first.  

BE: Do you find yourself giving your characters qualities that you or people who are close to you have? 
NS: Sometimes. I’m a people watcher. I’m not very outgoing, so in social situations, I’m usually the quiet one observing all the other people instead of being the center of attention. I make mental notes of their characteristics, mannerisms, and personality traits to incorporate into my characters.  

BE: How do you come up with your story ideas? What inspires you? 
NS: I’m really inspired by music. I listen to a lot of different types of music, and I always pay attention to the lyrics. There’s a story in every song, and I make sure to listen for it. I love trying to find the meaning behind the lyrics and interpret them in different ways. Music plays a huge role in my writing process.

BE: Do you create outlines for your work or do you write by the seat of your pants? 
NS: I make an outline before I start writing, and then I follow it as best I can while I write. Things always change as I go along, but it helps to have a general idea of what needs to be happening and when. I’ve tried to write without an outline, but it hasn’t worked out for me. I like to know the end of the book before I begin writing it. I need to know where I’m going.

Add American Honey to your Goodreads shelf. Follow along with the American Honey Tour via Fictionella. Connect with Nancy at nancyscrofano.com.https://mail.google.com/mail/b/24/u/0/images/cleardot.gif



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: American Honey


New Adult has become the latest trend in the book world. These stories feature protagonists who are in their late teens/early twenties, are out of high school, and are trying to navigate the real world. Right now these books seem to be stuck on sexy, angst-ridden stories and, while some of those stories can be good, I'm sort of tired of the norm. Enter American Honey, Nancy Scrofano's latest novel. This is the kind of New Adult title I want to read!

Here's the synopsis:
After graduating high school, Olivia “Ollie” McKenna leaves her small town roots in Summerville, Georgia, to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer. With her best friend and older sister in tow, wholesome Ollie travels to the big city to compete in singing contest Atlanta Idol. There she meets nineteen-year-old Jack Bradley, a fellow country singer who quickly becomes a close friend. The connection between them is magnetic and an opportunity to sing together could change their lives forever. But what about Ollie's mama's fear of the music business? She's been burned by the lures of the bright lights before and doesn't want Ollie anywhere near that world. And Ollie's growing feelings for Jack as more than just a pal could ruin everything. Despite her own doubts, Ollie is determined to win. Can she make her dream come true or will she return to her hometown empty-handed and brokenhearted?
I've been craving stories about characters who are out of high school but still haven't figured out their lives for awhile now. This is why I was so excited when New Adult became a thing. However, like I said, these books all seem to follow a similar format - at least the ones that are getting all the attention - and they aren't doing a whole lot for me. I was so happy when Nancy told me she was writing a NA novel that was going to be more contemporary and chick lit-like in feel. I think she did a really great job in capturing the emotional ups and downs Ollie would have been feeling. She's at a very sensitive point in time - she should be leaving the nest and following her own dreams but she still feels like she needs her mama's approval for everything. The feelings Ollie had really came through the writing and I was very happy about that.

The best part about this book was reading about Ollie and Jack's journey into the music business. I may not watch singing competition shows but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying this part of the story. Every time Ollie and Jack moved on to the next round, the stress and emotions were heightened and Scrofano did a great job of making sure I was feeling those emotions as well. I was totally rooting for them and was really happy with the way their careers ended up.

There were a few things that kept me from absolutely loving this novel, unfortunately. I felt like the musical/career portion of the story was so strong but all the other, smaller, storylines just didn't measure up. Or even add up. I felt like there were too many little plot holes and not enough explanation. This feeling is probably magnified because I didn't really like the ending. There were way too many loose strings and I needed more of them tied up. I honestly turned the last page and said, "Seriously?" I found it very odd that Scrofano chose to end it when and how she did. Having a few more scenes before the final one would have made it almost perfect. (Update: I've learned that American Honey will be the first in a series so that explains the really unresolved ending. Phew! And yay! more books about Ollie and Jack!)

I really wanted Ollie and Jack to get together, romantically. I appreciated the "Will they? Won't they?"...to an extent. I needed proper resolution and I don't feel like I got it. Of course, I think this is one of those personal opinion things. I can handle vague endings, sometimes, but this was a time when I wanted to know for sure how they were feeling and what they were going to do about it. It was still really sweet to read as the two tried to work out their feelings for each other.

While I didn't love American Honey as much as I'd hoped, I still enjoyed reading Nancy Scrofano's latest novel. Country music fans, American Idol fans, and chick lit fans will all enjoy this book. Make sure you check back on Friday for my Q&A with Nancy!

And for those of you who, like me, didn't realize that American Honey is an actual song (by Lady Antebellum), here's the video. Enjoy!



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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Why I Love Blogging

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.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is an interesting one. The top ten reasons I love being a blogger and/or reader. I focused mostly on the things I loved about blogging but I threw in my favourite thing about being a reader, too. Are you a blogger? What's your favourite thing about it? If you're not, what do you love about reading?

Talking about books all the time
This is the big one. I'm sure this is the reason a lot of book bloggers originally started out - I know that's why I created Books Etc. I wanted a way to discuss books, even if it was just to myself. Happily, it appears others enjoy my thoughts as well!

It allows me to write
I don't want to be a novelist (at least, not right now) but I do like writing. Having this blog allows me to work on my writing skills and keeps me writing, even if they are just reviews on the internet.

The book blogging community
I didn't realize how huge and how awesome the blogging community is when I first started out. I've been able to meet some amazing fellow bloggers, some who have become close friends. These fellow bloggers let me know what books I should be reading and give me someone to talk to when I've read an advanced copy of a book that made me super happy/sad/mad. These bloggers are my people and it makes me happy that there are so many other bookworms out there, just like me.

Free books
Let's be real, we all like freebies. However, if this is the only reason you got into blogging...that's a problem. I think it's fine to love the free books you get (in exchange for a review) and to sometimes use your experience to request titles you really want to read (I did that myself just the other day!).

Being in the know
Involvement in this community means we find out about upcoming releases and book events before a lot of other people. I like knowing when I should save up to buy a book because one of my favourite authors is publishing a new novel in a few months. Having a list of books to look forward to is a little daunting but

Book events
Sometimes bloggers get special access to events. This hasn't happened a ton to me (I don't live in Toronto, where almost every single major book event in Canada is) but I have been able to meet publicists in person and I have been invited to a couple of events just for bloggers. I've been able to meet some great authors because I'm a blogger.

It's my opinion
This blog is mine, all mine. So that means I can share what I want, when and how I want to. It's my own little piece of the internet.

Gives me something to do
This is especially true right now since I'm not working. If I didn't have this blog and the books I have to review I probably would have totally lost my mind months ago. It gives me structure when I'm lacking it in the rest of my life. This is a great hobby and I love that it gives me an outlet to keep my mind occupied while I hunt for jobs.

Creates opportunities
The best opportunity I've had because I'm a blogger was helping plan BookBuzz Toronto and being able to meet some of my all time favourite authors. Other book events fall into this, which I've already mentioned, but I've been able to work with authors and publishing companies because I'm a blogger.

Experiencing other worlds
This is the best thing about reading. Books allow us to experience so many different worlds (not just fantasy places like Hogwarts but other locations we've never been) and to make friends (or enemies) with many different characters. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review: One More Thing


A lot of you may already know B.J. Novak's name. If you don't, click on his name there and you'll be taken to his IMDb page. Ahhh, you know the face, right? Novak was on The Office and in the recent Saving Mr. Banks. But I didn't read his recently published book of short stories because of his acting chops. I read it because it sounded like an awesome collection. That and the online marketing ladies at Random House of Canada wouldn't stop talking about it! I'm glad I got the chance to read One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories because I really enjoyed it.

Here's the synopsis, which is actually longer than some of the stories in the book!:
B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut collection that signals the arrival of a welcome new voice in American fiction.
Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, Novak's assured prose and expansive imagination introduce readers to people, places, and premises that are hilarious, insightful, provocative, and moving-often at the same time.
In One More Thing, a boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes - only to discover that claiming the winnings may unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins - turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A school principal unveils a bold plan to permanently abolish arithmetic. An acclaimed ambulance driver seeks the courage to follow his heart and throw it all away to be a singer-songwriter. Author John Grisham contemplates a monumental typo. A new arrival in heaven, overwhelmed by infinite options, procrastinates over his long-ago promise to visit his grandmother. We meet a vengeance-minded hare, obsessed with scoring a rematch against the tortoise who ruined his life; and post-college friends who debate how to stage an intervention in the era of Facebook. We learn why wearing a red t-shirt every day is the key to finding love; how February got its name; and why the stock market is sometimes just... down.
Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, from the deeply familiar to the intoxicatingly imaginative, One More Thing finds its heart in the most human of phenomena: love, fear, family, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element that might make a person complete. The stories in this collection are like nothing else, but they have one thing in common: they share the playful humor, deep heart, inquisitive mind, and altogether electrifying spirit of a writer with a fierce devotion to the entertainment of the reader.
My favourite thing about this collection was the mixture of light and dark, funny and serious. There were stories that made me laugh out loud, like "Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle", and others that made me really think about things, like "The Market Was Down" (why was the market down?). There were also stories that made me look at things a little differently, like the very first story "The Rematch." (one of my favourites.) That one told the story of the rematch between the tortoise and the hare and it makes you think about how you might judge the characters/animals from other fables or stories. Plus, it was just plain funny and well written!

All sorts of topics were discussed, too. Did you ever wonder how John Grisham comes up with his titles? In "The Something by John Grisham", that issue is tackled (in a hilarious way). Dating tips are sprinkled throughout and one of my favourites is "All You Have to Do" which provides, what I think is, a great guide on how to use Craiglist's Missed Connections. Walking on the moon is written about too. There were just so many different topics and I loved it.

One of the other neat things is that characters from one story showed up in another. I only noticed this twice but there may have been other, more subtle, mentions. I really liked this because it allowed for a thread of connectivity between all of the stories. Plus, it's always fun to find mention of a character in another work by the same author. This time it just happened to be all in the same book!

Novak didn't stick with one type of story format, either. Some stories are long and have a narrative woven through while others are short and don't have a typical story structure. I'm a fan of stories and novels that follow a linear format and don't try to be all creative (think random paragraphs that just have one word on each line and things like that) but I appreciated that Novak wrote what he wanted and in the way he wanted because it all worked together in this collection.

I want to mention a few of my other favourite stories, just because I can: "Romance, Chapter One", "The Beautiful Girl in the Bookstore", "If You Love Something", "Heyyyyy, Rabbits" (I have a rabbit so this one made me smile!), "Constructive Criticism", and "The Literalist's Love Poem."


Read One More Thing. Read it if you're a fan of B.J. Novak. Read it if you're a fan of short stories. Read it if you're a fan of fiction. Basically, just read it. It has something for everyone and I think that's what makes it so fantastic.

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

Blog Tour: Queen of Hearts


Fairy tale and classic story retellings are becoming pretty common these days but for good reason. In this latest reimagining, author Colleen Oakes has written the story of how the villain in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland became evil. In Queen of Hearts, released today, we meet Princess of Wonderland, Dinah, when she's a teen. Over the course of the novel we learn what happened to make her the villainous queen we know. I wasn't too sure what to expect with this book but I ended up really enjoying it.

Here's the synopsis:
Blossoming Love. A Father’s Betrayal. A Kingdom with a Black Secret.
As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.
When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.
Part epic fantasy, part twisted fairy tale, this dazzling saga will have readers shivering as Dinah’s furious nature sweeps Wonderland up in the maelstrom of her wrath. Familiar characters such as Cheshire, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter make their appearance, enchanting readers with this new, dark take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
But be warned…not every fairytale has a happy ending.

This is the story of a princess who became a villain.  
Fairy tales are a staple in a lot of children's lives and, once they're grown, they want to have a way to revisit those stories. I, like many others, want grown up fairy tales. Sure, we can rewatch the Disney classics or reread the original material but having a story that is directed to young adults or adults challenges us a little more. The success of previous reimagined fairy tales include novels like The Lunar Chronicles, TV shows like Once Upon a Time, and movies like the upcoming Maleficent. What the best retellings do, I think, is create interesting backstories for characters, particularly ones who you may not think of. One of the things I love about Once is that we get to learn why Regina, the evil queen, became evil. Oakes does the same thing in Queen of Hearts. I loved reading about Dinah's youth and seeing how she gets on to the path to evil, at least how Oakes imagines it.

I'm one of those people who only has the Disney Alice in Wonderland story to refer to when Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is brought up. I've never read Lewis Carroll's novels. I haven't even seen Tim Burton's film. So, I have no idea what the original material is like and how true Oakes' work might have been. But, I don't think that totally matters. I think true Alice fans can love Queen of Hearts, as can readers like me, those who only have a slight idea of Wonderland. Even those who only know the basics will recognize some of the Wonderland characters and I really liked that. I know I never thought about the history of the Queen of Hearts but I feel like Oakes' novel gives readers something they didn't know they were missing.

I love that Oakes doesn't shy away from a really dark storyline. I like this because fairy tales didn't start out all warm and fuzzy like Disney has made us think. Since this is a young adult title, she wrote a story that is more serious and darker than we may have previously encountered. There's murder, adultery, torture, prisons, beheading, and really dangerous sounding horses (they're huge and have spikes on their hooves!). There's also a king who's not going to win any Father of the Year awards any time soon, a younger brother who's crazy, and unrequited love. Intrigued yet? It might sound like there's a lot going on but Oakes weaves everything together well and tells a magnificent story.

I'm really glad I gave Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes a chance. I'm also really glad that it's going to be a series. I think Dinah's story deserves to be told over a few books. Read this book if you're a fan of fairy tale and classic story retellings or if you're an Alice in Wonderland fan. It's a short novel and I think you'll be happy that you gave it a chance!

Happy reading :)



About Colleen
Colleen Oakes is the author of the Elly in Bloom series and the upcoming YA fantasy Queen of Hearts Saga, both published via SparkPress, a BookSparks imprint. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son. When not writing, Colleen enjoys swimming, traveling, and immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She is currently at work on the last Elly novel and her second YA fantasy series, Wendy Darling.

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Real Chick Lit for Real Chicks: The Meredith Schorr Collection


It's no secret that Meredith Schorr is one of my favourite chick lit authors. I will push her books on everyone because I love them that much. It also helps that Meredith herself is an awesome person, as I learned when I had the chance to meet her last November. So, since I'm always happy to talk about Meredith's books, I'm here today to let you know that her publisher has released all three of her novels in one ebook collection, Real Chick Lit for Real Chicks. Whee!

Here are the details:
This boxed set brings together three favorites from bestselling chick lit author Meredith Schorr. Blogger Girl follows Kimberly Long, a book blogger asked to review the debut novel of her high school nemesis. In A State of Jane, “good girl” Jane Frank is looking for love, but when all of her dates flake out on her, she decides to turn the tables. In Just Friends With Benefits, Stephanie Cohen is determined to turn the one who got away into “the one” despite advice from a friend not to put all her eggs in one bastard. Meredith Schorr’s characters are believable, relatable, and authentic—women who are easy to root for, despite their flaws. The stories are humorous, heartfelt, and definitely real.
I've read all three books and have loved them all. Sure, I have my favourite but you really can't go wrong with this collection. The name of the collection is bang on, too. One of my favourite things about Meredith's novels is that her heroines are always so real and relatable. I hope you'll find that as well when you buy the set!

The collection is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Barnes and Noble, and will be on iTunes soon.

About Meredith
A born and bred New Yorker, Meredith Schorr discovered her passion for writing when she began to enjoy drafting work-related emails way more than she was probably supposed to, and was famous among her friends for writing witty birthday cards. After trying her hand writing children’s stories and blogging her personal experiences, Meredith found her calling writing “real” chick lit for real women.  When she is not hard at work on her next novel, Meredith spends her days as a trademark paralegal.  She is a loyal New York Yankees fan and an avid runner. Meredith is the author of three published novels, Just Friends with Benefits, A State of Jane and Blogger Girl and the full boxed set, Real Chick Lit for Real Chicks: The Meredith Schorr Collection.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Swoon-worthy Books

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.

It's almost Valentine's Day! Who celebrates this chocolate filled holiday? My boyfriend and I don't do anything...partly because for the longest time we weren't in the same city for the holiday. We're also not the most romantic couple. He did surprise me with chocolates last year though! Since this holiday is all about celebrating love (or chocolate, sometimes I forget hehe) this week's TTT features our favourite books that made us swoon. What are some of your favourite romantic stories? Links lead to Goodreads.


Bride Quartet and Inn Boonsboro Trilogy - Nora Roberts
Starting my list with one of the queens of romance. I just adore both of these series (which I've mentioned multiple times on the blog) and I couldn't pick just one to feature. I like that the men in these books aren't sappy...they're all manly men (especially the brothers in Inn Boonsboro) but genuinely good guys. These are the kinds of guys I find most attractive and that's probably why I love these seven books so much.


Just One Day/Just One Year - Gayle Forman
Willem is one of my more recent book boyfriends. It seems odd to include this series in this list since the main characters aren't together for most of the book. Literally, they aren't together - Alyson is in the US and Willem is in Europe. But what makes these books so swoonworthy is how much they go through to try and find each other.


S.E.C.R.E.T./S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared - L. Marie Adeline
These books fall on the steamy end of swoonworthy. There are all sorts of guys to choose from in this series because of the different fantasies the women go through and you're guaranteed to swoon over at least one of them. I'm partial to Jesse, myself.


Sweet Thing - Renee Carlino
There's just something about Will and the relationship he has with main character Mia that makes you swoon. He's a bit of a bad boy and is a musician as well so you can imagine the swoonworthy moments in this great novel!

Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins
I just loved the relationship between Anna and Ă‰tienne. It was sweet, but not overly, and felt right for a relationship between two teens. Plus, they're in Paris! How can you not swoon over that?

Lucky Harbor Series - Jill Shalvis
I've only read a couple of books in this series but I have totally loved them. They're a mix of sweet and spicy with fun stories to boot. And I just love stories, especially romances, set in small towns.


One Sweet Christmas - Darlene Fredette
This is one of my favourite Christmas romance short stories. Again, it's set in a small town plus it's Christmas. And there's a chocolate shop. And a hot guy. Win!

The Boys Next Door/Endless Summer - Jennifer Echols
These books are an easy teen read but totally worth it. I loved main character Lori. She grew up surrounded by the boys next door and, eventually, realizes she's got a major crush on one of them. But is he the right one? These are super sweet reads that are perfect for the beach.


Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Oh, Mr. Darcy. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet make up one of the most classic and beloved couples in all of literature. Of course I had to include them! Who wouldn't want their man to tell them this: "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

Persuasion - Jane Austen
Captain Wentworth is an underestimated Austen hero. I read Persuasion so long ago so I can't really remember too much about him but let's just take a look at this line here, which he writes to Anne: "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope." Swoon.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jane Austen Rereadalong: Austen Events and Adaptations


So, it's February and I still haven't read the first book in my Jane Austen (re)read challenge. I'm looking at my reading schedule and am wishing I had read Sense and Sensibility last month! Hopefully I'll get to it within the next week. Today, though, I want to share the Austen-esque events and adaptations I experienced in January.


Last fall, friend and fellow blogger Natalie told me about a talk about Austen at our local library. We were super excited....and then the event got postponed. Sad! Thankfully the library rescheduled and Natalie and I braved the cold a couple of weeks ago and went to hear a professor at our local university talk about Jane Austen. Barbara K. Seeber has written two books about Jane Austen, General Consent in Jane Austen: A Study in Dialogism (2000) and Jane Austen and Animals (2013). Last month's talk featured her latest
book and her talk focused on how sport and animals are included in Austen's work. This is definitely something I had never thought about before and I found it quite interesting. Did you realize that most Austen heroes hunt? And that Mr. Darcy does not? The talk was a few weeks ago now and I didn't really make any notes so I'm finding it hard to remember details! What I do know is that listening to Seeber made me realize there's a lot more going on in Austen's novels than we may recall. I know I'll definitely be paying attention to the hunting and sport in each novel as I read them this year. I'm really glad I went to this talk and I love that my library does things like this. Plus, we had tea out of real tea cups afterwards! Definitely more classy than my usual mugs :) All in all, it was a good event and I'll be keeping an eye on other events like this at my library in the future.



Last month I also watched Lost in Austen. This was a British mini series from 2008 that I had always wanted to watch but just never got around to it. Happily, it was at my library! The movie is about a twentysomething woman, Amanda, who is a diehard Pride and Prejudice fan. One day she discovers Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom and realizes there's a hidden door that can lead her to Longbourn. Since Amanda, not Elizabeth, is at the Bennet household when Bingley and Darcy arrive, things quickly get out of hand and Amanda tries desperately to get things back to the way they were in the novel. If it sounds hilariously ridiculous, you're right. It was almost over the top crazy but it worked and I enjoyed myself. Which is good because it's three hours long! I liked that they played with the characters we know so well, sometimes making them into much better versions than we recall. Wickham, for example, is absolutely amazing in this movie. It was fun to watch Hugh Bonneville, who I've gotten to know well from Downton Abbey, play Mr. Bennet. And if you need any more incentive to watch it, Amanda convinces Mr. Darcy to jump into the lake in just his white shirt a la Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy.


If you're an Austen fan, watch Austenland. It's a lot of fun!

I also learned that there's an even newer Emma adaptation that I didn't know about. It's not too surprising that I missed the news about this one since I'm not a huge fan of Emma. But, I plan on watching as many adaptations as I can this year so I'm looking forward to watching this 2009 BBC production, which stars Elementary's Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley. Emma will be read in July and August so I have to wait a few more months to watch this one.

I've just realized that all of these Austen events were made possible by Natalie alerting me to the library having the event or movies. Basically, my Jane Austen January was brought to you by Browsing Bookshelves. :) Thanks for always looking out for my bookish side, Natalie!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Letters from Skye


Let's start this review with a story about how I came to read Letters from Skye. I interned at Random House of Canada last year and part of my duties were to mail review copies to "professional" reviewers. One day I was sending out ARCs of Jessica Brockmole's novel. I noted the title and author so I could keep an eye out when it was released in July, a few months later. Fast forward to find this novel was on the list of books that bloggers could request to review from RHC. Excellent! Fast forward another few months and I finally read this novel. For some crazy reason this book just kept getting pushed aside and I'm so annoyed at myself now. Why? It was an amazing read!

Here's the synopsis:
A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.
March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.
June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.
I don't often read historical fiction. I don't know why. I feel like I say that every time I have a historical novel to review. I think I have this idea in my head that I don't like it very much and that's why I never read these books right away. Silly, no? Especially when the book is as good as Letters from Skye was. I really liked that there was a huge human element in addition to the history. Really, the story is more personal with history woven throughout. The story takes place during both World Wars and is told through letters. You can really get a sense of what things would have been like for those living during those times. In particular, you can see what communication would have been like. I can't imagine living then and having to wait weeks for letters. Sure, writing actual letters is awesome but not when you want to know immediately if your loved one has died in a war. I know there are an abundance of WWI and II stories but I feel like this one has a different take on the times, at least different than I've read before.

Do you ever read a book and know exactly who you're going to pass it onto next or recommend it to? I had that feeling with Letters from Skye. I know my grandma, my best friend, and my boyfriend's mom would all love this novel, too. If you, or someone in your life, love historical fiction, especially fiction that takes place during either World War, check this one out.

Some people may not like that this book was told entirely in letters. I don't mind unconventional formats usually, especially when they're done well - as I felt Letters from Skye was. Even though we're only learning about the characters through letters, I still feel like their personalities come through. In fact, I thought Elspeth was incredibly clever and I loved reading the letters between her and David.

Letters from Skye is definitely one of my favourite stories of the year. It gripped me and I even found myself tearing up at the end - in a good way - because it was so emotional and powerful. If you like historical fiction, particularly set during the World Wars, read Jessica Brockmole's novel.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Author Interview: Laura Chapman


I'm back with another post as part of the CLP Blog Tour for Laura Chapman's debut novel Hard Hats and DoormatsI adored this book (my review went up last week) and loved the guest post Laura wrote for me that went up a few days ago. Today I put Laura to the test and asked her a bunch of thought provoking questions. OK, some thought provoking, some entertaining. I hope you enjoy this Q&A!

Five Favourites
Chick Flick: This is a toss-up between “The Princess Bride” and “When Harry Met Sally.” I was raised on both of these movies, and while I’ve seen other movies I’ve enjoyed, none have stuck with me quite the way these ones did.
Alcoholic Beverage: I’ve been on a Dirty Shirley kick lately. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a Shirley Temple plus vodka. It’s fun to order, because it usually starts a conversation between you and whoever you’re sitting near. I order mine tall, because it requires more 7-Up and grenadine, which means I’m (hopefully) not going to get sloppy.
Travel Destination (somewhere you've been and/or somewhere you'd like to go): The Pacific Northwest. Out of every place I’ve ever been, this is the one that most amazed me. It’s ridiculously beautiful. Every time one of my friends posts a picture from the Seattle area, I actually get this churning in my stomach.
Book from your childhood: These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When I was 9, I thought it was the most romantic story ever. It’s the first book I can remember re-reading constantly.
TV show: Of all time, probably “30 Rock.” On right now, “The Mindy Project.” Both shows were created and run by strong, funny ladies, and Tina Fey and Mindy Kahling inspire me.

Books Etc.: You started as a blogger and have now moved into the world of being an author. Was that always your plan? What made you decide to really take the plunge and get published?
Laura Chapman: I knew I wanted to be a novelist before I started my blog, “Change the Word,” or my first blog, the now defunct “Pretending Pretentious.” Back in 2010, I didn’t know much about publishing (heck, I’m still learning), but it seemed like a lot of authors had blogs, and I figured I should, too. After a year and a half of sporadic blog posts, I decided to be more disciplined about it after I’d written my first draft of Hard Hats and Doormats, because I realized if I was serious about becoming a published author, I needed to be more serious about my other forms of writing, including the blog. The fact that CTW expanded as much as it did still surprises me.

BE: What's your writing process like? Do you like to write at a certain time of day or in a certain place?
LC: I basically write whenever I can. I keep trying to make morning writing work, because I know of several authors who have success with it. (It’s actually 5:30 a.m. as I’m answering these questions.) Sometimes I’ll do a little writing or editing during lunch. During National Novel Writing Month, I write a lot of evenings, too. Weekends, it’s kind of a “do it whenever I can focus long enough” approach. On days when I’m more inspired (and focused), I’ll write and write no problem. Other days, I’m easily distracted by BuzzFeed or using the laser pointer to drive my cats nuts.

BE: How do you come up with your story ideas? What inspires you?
LC: So far, all of my story ideas have popped into my head with a single word or phrase. For Hard Hats and Doormats, it was the sight of the mess I’d made in my rental car on a business trip. The passenger seat was littered with road maps, hard hats, steel-toed boots, interview notes and so on. I spent the next few hours of my drive coming up with potential story lines, and basically had an outline by the time I made it to my destination. I still get a lot of ideas while driving. I keep a running list of my ideas.

BE: Now that you have one short story and one novel published, what's your next project? Can you give us any details on what you're working on now?
LC: Hopefully by the time this runs, I’ll have wrapped up the edits on my second novel. I can’t say too much about it now, but it’s a modern reimagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It’s set in present day America, and involves a hunky love from the past, needy family members and a problem only a strong woman can handle. I’m also about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my third novel. It involves American Football, and that’s as much as I’m saying for now. I’d also like to do a holiday novella if time and resources permit.

Connect with Laura!
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Monday, February 3, 2014

Guest Post: Laura Chapman


Welcome to my second stop on the CLP Blog Tour for Hard Hats and DoormatsLaura Chapman's debut novelI absolutely loved this novel (my review went up last week) and today Laura is sharing a guest post with us. I wondered what it was like to get into the mind of Lexi, the main character. How did Laura create Lexi's personality and make her real? Enjoy!

Confession: Out of all the guest posts I’ve been writing to discuss the story behind my first novel, this is the one I struggled with most. I wasn’t quite sure how to put into words exactly what I’d done to channel my inner Lexi to tell her story and make it feel real.

When I wrote the first draft of Hard Hats and Doormats three years ago, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to get inside my main character’s head. At the time I started the first draft, I was 24, two years out of college and in one of those awkward life phases. You know the kind – you’re not 100 percent happy about the direction your life is taking, but you don’t know what to do about it.

So you get moody, pouty and sometimes overdo it at the bar (not necessarily as a coping mechanism, but because you’re young and don’t always think things through). You make and lose friendships. You make good and bad decisions. You’re trying to figure out who you want to be and how you can become that person.

Like Lexi Burke, I sometimes spent too much of my life on the road for work and complaining about my job. I also liked meeting my friends for post-work drinks. We liked complaining about co-workers and bosses. Flirting with cute boys (because I was still thinking of men as boys at this point) and looking to each other for spiritual guidance.  

It wasn’t just me. Most of my friends were basically the same way. We were all fairly new out of college. We all had big plans, but we weren’t that close to achieving them.

When I needed to get into my character’s head – when I was developing her personality – I considered the most extreme emotions and thoughts I’d had in the previous two years. What made me happiest? What had upset me most? What was the worst character trait I showed? What was the best? Then I thought about the people around me. I’ve always been a fan of people watching (I’m sure other writers can relate), and I used some of those experiences to watch the way men and women in their twenties acted.

I came up with a few interesting characteristics I wanted to feature:
  • A lot of us aren’t happy at work. At the time I wrote the first draft, the recession was still on its way to bottoming out. Jobs were scarce, salaries were low and we felt a little helpless about our professional futures.
  • Many of us wanted our ideas to be heard and valued, but were finding it difficult, because of our young age.
  • The number one social activity for young working professionals seems to be meeting in a bar after work on a Friday (or Monday) to vent about difficult projects and people. That activity has the potential to bring out the best and worst in people, which makes natural drama.
  • People can be selfish, but it doesn’t mean they’re horrible. For my part, I felt so helpless about everything going on in my life, I was so me-focused. What was I thinking? What was I feeling? What did I want? How was I going to solve my problems? Lots of “I” thinking. At the same time, I was aware I was being selfish, and I didn’t want to be.

When I developed Lexi Burke as a character – when I got into her head – I funneled this chaotic mix of emotions and thoughts into my writing. In subsequent drafts – as my life changed, and these old problems became less important to me – I tried to keep that same mindset. The story was inspired by some of what I’d experienced or witnessed first-hand as a young professional. It was often messy. There were a lot of mistakes. But we learned a lot of lessons. My hope was by writing a story about characters that weren’t always perfect – and who made mistakes – I’d be creating a realistic book.


Perhaps what most surprised me through writing this story was how different my main character and I turned out to be. I was concerned I’d end up writing a fictional version of myself, because I was expressing so many of my emotions. Ultimately, Lexi and I ended up being two different people, who managed to share a few similar thoughts and emotions. Isn’t that a nice thought? You can be so different from another person – real or fictional – but you can still find a little common ground amongst your differences.

Connect with Laura!
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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Review: What Nora Knew


Confession: I was skeptical of What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin. Not because it sounded bad but because I have a track record of not loving novels with main characters who are older. I'm in my mid-twenties (I'm 26 turning 27, can I still say mid-twenties?) so I just relate better to characters who are that age. But, I'm a huge fan of Nora Ephron's movies (You've Got Mail is an all time favourite) so I decided to give this book a shot. And guess what? It earned my first five star rating (of a non-reread) of 2014!

Here's the synopsis:
Molly Hallberg is a thirty-nine-year-old divorced writer living in New York City who wants her own column, a Wikipedia entry, and to never end up in her family's Long Island upholstery business. For the past four years Molly's been on staff for an online magazine, covering all the wacky assignments. She's snuck vibrators through security scanners, speed-dated undercover, danced with the Rockettes, and posed nude for a Soho art studio.
Fearless in everything except love, Molly is now dating a forty-four-year old chiropractor. He's comfortable, but safe. When Molly is assigned to write a piece about New York City romance - in the style of Nora Ephron - she flunks out big-time. She can't recognize romance. And she can't recognize the one man who can go one-on-one with her, the one man who gets her. But with wit, charm, whip-smart humor, and Nora Ephron's romantic comedies, Molly learns to open her heart and suppress her cynicism in this bright, achingly funny novel.
The thing I loved most about this book is that it felt like a Nora Ephron movie. The main character was witty but far from perfect. She's dating a guy who was nice and comfortable (think You've Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle). The story takes place in Manhattan - there's even a scene at Cafe Lalo where, in You've Got Mail, Kathleen is to meet her mystery man but Joe "just happens" to be there instead. There are grand gestures. And it's funny and real. 

I think the way the novel was written played a big role in my enjoyment as well. I liked that it felt like I was one of Molly's friends and she was telling me the story of her life at the moment. It was a very conversational writing style and I enjoyed that. I did have the thought that not everyone would enjoy the way the novel was written but it thrilled me. 

For a book about a woman who needs to rediscover romance, if she ever discovered it in the first place, this novel doesn't push the romance in your face. I think part of that is because you sort of know what's going to happen at the end of the book, you know who Molly will end up with. But as Molly says about Nora Ephron's movies, 
"[I]t's not about who she's going to end up with. We still want to keep watching. We're mesmerized by the journey." (page 108)
And I was mesmerized. I couldn't wait to see how Molly and her eventual love interest would get together and when she would realize that he's totally meant for her. 

I felt good when I was reading What Nora Knew and I was happy with the way author Linda Yellin wrapped things up in the end. For those reasons, and many others, this novel was a total winner for me. If you're intrigued by the idea behind this novel, pick it up. I don't think you'll regret it!

*A e-galley of this novel was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*