Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Sleeping with the Enemy

I expected Sleeping with the Enemy to be your typical romance novel. In a way, Tracy Solheim's latest book fit that bill. But there's more to it than a former couple being thrust together once again many years later (though that's one of my favourite tropes). There's another factor in play in this novel...someone intent on ruining the lives of these characters. That element added something extra to the story and made me like it that much more.

Here's the synopsis:
Dot-com millionaire Jay McManus is discovering that owning a pro football team like the Baltimore Blaze isn’t easy. An anonymous blogger is out to destroy his reputation, and now his team is being sued by its own cheerleaders. If Jay’s not careful, he could lose big—and not just financially.
Bridgett Janik’s brother may play for the Baltimore Blaze, but she’s not thrilled to be defending Jay McManus, the man who broke her heart. It’s bad enough she has to mingle with Jay during games, but working beside her former lover may be too much for her body—and her heart—to resist.
Jay’s determined not to let Bridgett slip away from him a second time. But, as the two follow the mysterious blogger’s trail, secrets—both past and present—are revealed, and Jay and Bridgett must decide if their relationship can be something more than just sleeping with the enemy.
Bridgett and Jay are both very strong characters. And by that I mean they're strong-willed, ambitious, tough, and so on. They both have demanding careers that they've let run their lives because they're too busy protecting their broken hearts (even though they insist they don't have hearts any longer, let alone broken ones). It was great to read about a woman who was high powered and respected in her industry and I think Solheim did a good job of balancing that career-mindedness with the romance. Her characters showed that you can have a career and personal relationships...even though so many of the characters were real humans and screwed up from time to time. It was refreshing.

I've read four sports related novels this year (plus two manuscripts) and all but one revolved around football. I like sports so I enjoy when novels are set in that kind of environment. Of course, I wish authors would branch out from football but I guess I'll take what I can get. (Side note: please recommend any books that feature baseball teams or players. Or hockey. I am Canadian, after all.) Anyway, the actual game of football doesn't have much to do with this novel. This book features the owner of the team so he's not actually playing the sport. I liked that it gave a behind the scenes look of a franchise.

While Sleeping with the Enemy is part of a series, you don't necessarily have to have read the rest of them. If the series interests you, though, I'd recommend starting from the beginning since past characters show up in this book and you'll know who ends up with who in each book (though these are romances so you'll have an idea anyway!). You'll also have a better grasp on all of the characters. That's one thing I didn't love about this was hard to keep everyone straight. Names were dropped that I should have known but I didn't and I therefore didn't see the point of mentioning them. 

I can't let a review of a romance novel end without discussing the actual romance, now can I? I love a good second chance romance. I sometimes get annoyed when it's clear there was miscommunication between the love interests in the past and it's just due to stubbornness/fear that they haven't worked things out. In the case of Bridgett and Jay, there are elements in play that you don't even realize are elements. That's not a can tell there's more going on but you really don't know what it is. I liked that. Finally, the sex scenes are just steamy enough for this type of romance but be warned if you hate reading about sex or if you're looking for erotica. These two had crazy chemistry. ;)

Overall, Sleeping with the Enemy was a good romance read. It didn't blow me away but Tracy Solheim kept me interested and invested in the characters and story she created. Would I read more of her books? Yes, I probably would. I'm involved in the world of the Baltimore Blaze now and I wouldn't mind seeing what else those characters get up to.

One course complete for the Fall Reading Challenge!
Course: Scandal Studies 101
Department: Romance
*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher via BookSparks as part of their Fall Reading Challenge. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: A Sister's Place

I've read (almost) all of Savannah Page's When Girlfriends series and loved them (you can find my reviews here). So when I learned Page had a new stand alone women's fiction novel, I knew I needed to read it. I could not put A Sister's Place down. It's a Must Read.

Here's the synopsis:
Sisters Gracie and Juliette Bennett used to be the best of friends. But over the years, time and distance have worn the ties of sisterhood that once bound them together. Each has been following her own life's path, growing further apart.
When their beloved grandmother Mimi passes the Bennett sisters are set to inherit her house--the charming Santa Barbara Craftsman, a family heirloom three generations old.
But there's a catch: In order to inherit their home away from home Gracie and Juliette must live at 1402 Laguna Lane for one year...together.
Now, in an unexpected and peculiar way, their paths intertwine. Gracie and Juliette have a chance to come together and reexamine their relationship, perhaps even become the kinds of friends only sisters can be. Because as they'll learn over the course of the trying year ahead, Mimi's clever plan is about more than preserving a piece of family history.
Differences will be embraced, pasts confronted, loyalties tested, and secrets revealed. And in their darkest hours Gracie and Juliette will have to decide if a sister's love is what they need to get through the year. If a unique friendship between sisters is what they've needed all along.
This book will really resonate with you if you have a sister (but you'll still love it even if you don't). My advice though? Make sure you read it when you know you're able to see or at least text your sis. My own little sister is off working on a cruise ship right now and thank goodness I'll see her soon otherwise it'd be hard to make it through the book. Page nails the sister relationship and I adored it. It's just so authentic and I don't think the book would have been as good had Gracie and Juliette's relationship not been so real.

I liked that each sister was very much her own person but you could still see the similarities between the two women. I think the fact that Gracie and Juliette had such distinct personalities made for a more interesting read. The chapters alternate between the sisters and their voices were fresh and different enough that I looked forward to the change in perspective. I liked getting to know each sister and finding out what made them tick, what their jobs were like, and who they were dating.

I really loved the actual story. It's so sad that the sisters' grandmother has died but her passing led to something amazing - the women finally reconnecting and remembering why they were once so close. Besides, Mimi actually has quite the presence in this novel. Between the letters she wrote to the girls for each season and the fact that they're living in her house, the reader really gets to know the grandmother Gracie and Juliette so adored. She actually reminded me a bit of my own amazing grandmother...though I don't think my grandma will leave her house to my sister and I and make us live together for a year. :) The story could seem a little far-fetched but Page manages to bring it all together in a way that makes perfect sense.

A Sister's Place will be one of my 2015 books I'll remember for awhile. Savannah Page's novel struck all the right chords for me and I think it will do the same for many others. It's sweet, sad, funny, and dramatic - just like real life. I highly recommend it!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author for a CLP Blog Tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Release Blitz: Surviving Ice

Are you as excited as I am that K.A. Tucker's latest novel is released today? Surviving Ice is the fourth novel in the Burying Water series, but it can be read as a standalone novel. It's suspense, romance, and intrigue all wrapped up in a well written package. be honest, I can't say that for sure about Surviving Ice as I'm saving this one to read on my upcoming vacation. BUT I've read and loved all of the other books in the Burying Water series so I know what kind of read to expect. This book, like the others, is published by Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Oh, I bet you'd like to see the full cover in all of it's colourful glory right about now, wouldn't you? Ask and ye shall receive.

Here's what this new book is all about:
The USA TODAY bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths series and Burying Water—which Kirkus Reviews called “a sexy, romantic, gangster-tinged page-turner”—returns with a new novel packed with romance, plot twists, and psychological suspense.Ivy Lee, a talented tattoo artist who spent the early part of her twenties on the move, is looking for a place to call home. She thinks she might have finally found it working in her uncle’s tattoo shop in San Francisco. But all that changes when a robbery turns deadly, compelling her to pack up her things yet again.
When they need the best, they call him. That’s why Sebastian Riker is back in California, cleaning up the mess made after a tattoo shop owner with a penchant for blackmail got himself shot. But it’s impossible to get the answers he needs from a dead body, leaving him to look elsewhere. Namely, to the twenty-something-year-old niece who believes this was a random attack. Who needs to keep believing that until Sebastian finds what he’s searching for.
Ivy has one foot out of San Francisco when a chance encounter with a stranger stalls her departure. She’s always been drawn to intense men, so it’s no wonder that she now finds a reason to stay after all, quickly intoxicated by his dark smile, his intimidating strength, and his quiet control.
That is, until Ivy discovers that their encounter was no accident—and that their attraction could be her undoing.
Intrigued yet? Good. Here's where you can buy your very own copy: ** ** Barnes and Noble  ** iBooks ** Kobo ** IndieBound

Here's an excerpt to get you even more excited:
                It’s just a regular ringtone. For me, though, it’s the wail of a war siren, and I’m immediately alert. There is only one person who has this number, and I didn’t expect him to use it again so soon.
                The tile is cool against my bare feet as I roll out of bed. I collect the phone from the nightstand with one fluid movement, unhindered by sheets or the morning sluggishness that an average person might face. Stepping through the propped-open patio doors and onto the balcony, I answer with a low, curt “Yeah.” The sky is just beginning to lighten over the quiet bay. Dozens of boats sit moored below, their passengers lulled into deep sleep by the ocean air and rhythmic waves. I’m high enough up that I’m not likely to offend anyone with my lack of clothing, especially at this hour. Not that I’m truly concerned by it.
                The code name is a sharp contrast to the warm breeze skating across my bare skin. My adrenaline begins to spike, all the same. Hearing it means that I will be forced to leave this haven soon. Sooner than I had hoped.
                “How is recovery going?”
                I instinctively peer down at the angry red scar on the outside of my thigh, where a bullet drilled into my flesh and muscle just three weeks ago, outside of Kabul. I nearly bled out before I made it to the doc. He patched me up on a makeshift operating table, buried deep in a maze of rooms, and charged me a hefty price.
                “Like new,” I lie.
                “Good.” Bentley’s voice is rich and smooth, a welcome sound in a sea of strangers. “Where are you now?”
                I peer out over the beautiful vista of crystal blue water and whitewashed stone buildings, the volcanic rock cliffs in the distance, reluctant to divulge my location. I sank a good chunk of my last payout on renting this one-bedroom villa for the month. It’s my private sanctuary, where I can revel in anonymity and peace for a while, before finding somewhere else to drift to.
                Bentley has never asked before.
                But he also has the technical capabilities to trace this call. If he really wants to find out, then he will. In fact, the second I picked up, he probably already had his answer. “Where do I need to be?” I say instead.
                “San Francisco.”

Haven't read the previous titles in the Burying Water Series? Get them here:
Burying Water
Amazon ** Barnes & Noble ** iBooks ** Kobo ** IndieBound
Becoming Rain
Amazon ** Barnes & Noble ** iBooks ** Kobo ** IndieBound
Chasing River
Amazon ** Barnes & Noble ** iBooks ** Kobo ** IndieBound

Author pic - KA Tucker

About K.A. Tucker: Born in small-town Ontario, K.A. Tucker published her first book at the age of six with the help of her elementary school librarian and a box of crayons. She currently resides in a quaint town outside of Toronto with her husband, two beautiful girls, and an exhausting brood of four-legged creatures.


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Friday, October 23, 2015

Review: Smoke

It's no secret that I adore Catherine McKenzie's novels. I'll tell anyone who will listen (and some who won't) that they should read her books because they're so great. One of my favourite things about her novels is they all feature something you wouldn't normally think of writing (or reading) a book about and her latest is no different. Smoke was a novel that kept me turning the pages quickly because I was so invested in the story.

Here's the synopsis:
After a decade-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in for a quieter life with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce, and when a fire started in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.
For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.
As the encroaching inferno threatens the town’s residents, Elizabeth and Mindy must discover what will be lost in the fire, and what will be saved.
I liked that there was a hint of a mystery in this novel - though I wouldn't exactly classify it as such. I think what makes the book seem more mysterious is that there are so many secrets being kept by various characters. Secrets that, for the most part, don't actually have anything to do with the fire. The fire is the main mystery...what happened? Who set it? Was it done on purpose? As the town, and, by extension, Elizabeth, get closer to figuring out how the fire got started, even more secrets are revealed.

As I mentioned earlier, McKenzie has a knack for writing interesting stories. Not only are they interesting but they really dig into the human psyche. Why do people act in certain ways? Arranged is my favourite novel by McKenzie and it features arranged marriages. Hidden focuses on extramarital affairs. Smoke has characters who willingly fight fires, plus there's a marriage in trouble and a friendship that has completely fallen apart. How did these characters get to this point? And can they repair the relationships? Do they want to? Even though the main characters in Smoke are your average people you'd meet on the street, the way McKenzie writes them turns them into something so much more fascinating. You'll want to know what happens to them (and, in my case, make sure they're all going to be know me and the Happily Ever After!), as much as you want to know how the fire got started.

This novel is told in two perspectives. The chapters alternated between Elizabeth and Mindy. I liked this because it showed two very different approaches to the fire and also showed, first hand, the emotional upheaval each woman was going through over the course of the novel. What I didn't especially love was that Elizabeth's POV was told in first person whereas Mindy's was third. I'm not really sure what the reasoning was but, for me at least, it created more of a connection to Elizabeth when that didn't necessarily need to be the case. I loved that the story was broken up into days from when the fire started to the end of the novel. I liked this because it made it clear how much time had passed and it also further hit home how quickly a fire can start, spread, get out of hand, and (hopefully) be contained.

I don't think Smoke will make it as my favourite Catherine McKenzie novel but that doesn't mean it's not any good (Arranged  is on a pretty high pedestal!). I really enjoyed it! I loved the setting, the secrets, the all came together in such a great read. I think this one would be perfect for book clubs because there are so many elements to discuss. Have you read McKenzie's latest novel? What did you think of it?

*I received an ARC of this novel at BEA but I am also a member of Catherine's Street Team. As always, opinions are honest and my own.*

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

It's that time of year again, friends! Fall is clearly here. Thanksgiving is over for us Canadians. The leaves are changing and there's a nip in the air. And book lovers all over the world are hunkering down to read as much as possible in 24 hours. Because we're crazy like that. But Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is just so much fun!

It's already an hour and a half into the day (I decided I needed to sleep in!) so I'm just going to get started with the opening questions and then get to reading!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
As I mentioned, I'm Canadian. I live in St. Catharines, Ontario. (If you're unsure where that is, just place me in Niagara Falls. It's only about 20 minutes away.) 

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
As usual, I don't have a stack. I always approach the readathon with an open mind and hope that I'll finish at least one book, if not two. I'm starting with Smoke by Catherine McKenzie (I started it yesterday and am intrigued!). I think I'll also read A Sister's Place by Savannah Page. And probably something else!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? 
Pumpkin beer. I bought some at a craft brewery yesterday in anticipation of the day (and the boyfriend asked me to haha). I'm not sure what else I'll snack on. Likely popcorn. It usually happens during the readathon! Maybe apple crisp if I decide to take the time to make it.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! 
I'm a Blue Jays fan. I've been watching them for only about ten years...since I started dating my boyfriend who is a HUGE baseball fan. I especially have to mention this because later today they have a game. A playoff game. They're playing baseball in October! To my non-Canadian and non-sports fan readers, this is a huge deal. The Jays hadn't made the playoffs in 22 years. So we're pretty excited! They lost last night (boo!) so we're hoping for a win against Kansas City tonight to even up the series. Go Jays Go!

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
I've been doing these read-a-thons for a while now and it's always a good time. I always sleep in (it starts at 7am in my part of the world. That's too early for a Saturday, thank you very much) and get started reading and just read as much as I can. October is great because I can snuggle in with blankets and tea and feel super cozy. I'm hoping I can find some new bookish friends because that's part of what makes book blogging so much fun...the community!

I'll be posting on Twitter and Instagram throughout the day, too, if you want to say hi over there!

First challenge is complete! The Diversity Shelfie hosted by An Unconventional Librarian.
I've finished my first book! I received and ARC of Smoke by Catherine McKenzie way back in May at BEA (the best part of my week there was meeting her, finally!). It comes out on Tuesday and it's such a good read. Riveting, would be a word I'd use to describe it. I had already read about a quarter of it yesterday on my lunch break and at the gym. I'm eager to dive into book #2. After I eat lunch. It's almost 1:30 and I haven't eaten anything since those mini wheats!

I'm well into book #2 now, A Sister's Place by Savannah Page. I realized early on that a book about sisters who have grown apart might not be the right thing to read when my sister, three years younger than me, is away working on a cruise ship. Happily, I will see her in just under two weeks! Anyway. The book is lovely. I'm tearing through it. (No surprise, I've loved the other books by Page that I've read.)

I needed a wee bit of a break so I'm taking part in an hour nine (we're now in hour ten...TEN!!) challenge, a book scavenger hunt hosted by Just One More Thing. We had to find words or phrases that corresponded with the prompts given. I decided to include quotes from the book because I think that's more fun than just one word.
Something Hard
“We will, Mom.” I give her a kiss on the side of her head, her auburn, sun-streaked hair dropping just past her shoulders in wide, heavy curls. “This will  pass.”
But it’s too soon,  I want to add. I restrain myself, knowing it won’t make matters any better, only bring my mother to more tears. It will only make the reality of loss that much more palpable.
Something Fast
Getting around home on bike is easiest and quickest, and I love the feeling of freedom and fresh air as I zip along the streets.
Something Sweet
When I came with the third orange, with intentions to give it to Mimi, I also brought another for a snack. The delectable fruit, at its most ripe, was nearly as comforting to my soul as the conversation I had with my grandmother.
Something High
“I haven’t done this since I was a kid,” I shriek as I hold in one hand the plastic yellow handle, made for a child’s small fingers, and gingerly guide the string with the other.
“Kite flying is just as fun for adults,” Cary says. He focuses on the slow-waving and rather steady motions of the kite.
Something Funny
“Excuse me if I’m closed for that kind of business.” I look down at my lap with raised eyebrows, and this gets a laugh from Juliette so loud we actually do turn some heads.

Mid-Event Survey

1) What are you reading right now?
Still working on A Sister's Place. On page 254 of 363.
2) How many books have you read so far?
Just one but I'm creeping closer to two!

3) What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Thanks to a brilliant suggestion from my author friend Meredith Schorr, I think I'm going to read her upcoming novel Novelista Girl. (It's the sequel to one of my all time favourite books, Blogger Girl.) Unless I check my TBR list and see there's something else that has to be read ASAP. I've been lax on my scheduling lately...

4) Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not too many. I slept in, did two loads of laundry (though they're still sitting on my, unmade since I washed sheets, bed), ate. The biggest thing has been the Blue Jays game. I mentioned earlier how I'm a fan and there's a playoff game today. They're down 6-3 in the top of the ninth AND I AM SO STRESSED OUT. So I'm drinking pumpkin beer.

5) What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
Not a whole lot, really. Maybe the only thing is that I haven't done nearly as many challenges as I feel like I normally do.

It's 12:17 AM and I have finished my second book! Along with a few beers. And a bowl of popcorn. Sadly, the Blue Jays lost. They're now down 2-0 in the ALCS. But the good news is, I spent today's Readathon reading two really great books. I adored Smoke as well as A Sister's Place. I highly recommend them both! (Links to both are above somewhere!) So this is it. This is when I bid you all good night! I hope those who decide to pull an all nighter have a grand time! For me, it's time to look after my crazy kook of a rabbit and head to bed. Thanks for another great day, fellow readathoners!

Closing Survey
1) Which hour was most daunting for you?
Probably 16/17. That's when it starts to get really late in my time zone and, as much as I love reading, I know that's when I need to call it a night. And because pumpkin beer is always in season during the October readathon, I'm usually quite buzzed by this point! I was also watching a TV show with the boyfriend so I was splitting my mental capacity there too! I was worried I wasn't going to be able to get the second book done but I persevered! 

2) Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Harry Potter, The Lake House by Kate Morton, The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling), Burying Water by K.A. Tucker.

3) Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
It's not so much an improvement but something I noticed...I was tweeting and posting throughout the day and had a few cheerleader tweets but nothing from something like hours 6 on. I know it's hard to get cheerleaders and I know there are a lot of readers...I just found it strange that I had some tweets and then it was radio silence.

4) What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Most everything ticked along as usual this year! Good job, guys.

5) How many books did you read?
Just 2! But that's ok :)

6) What were the names of the books you read?
Smoke by Catherine McKenzie and A Sister's Place by Savannah Page.

7) Which book did you enjoy most?
I honestly can't choose. McKenzie is one of my all time favourite authors and I really liked this one but I adored Page's just as much.

8) Which did you enjoy least?
See above! :)

9) How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
Oh, I'll definitely take part in the next readathons, as long as my schedule allows for it. It's always fun to hunker down with books and spend the day chatting with likeminded people. And it puts a dent in my TBR list. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Review: All Inclusive

I had no idea how I was going to feel about Farzana Doctor's latest novel, All Inclusive, when I was asked by Dundurn Press to be a part of their blog tour. The synopsis sounded interesting enough but would I really like it? Spoiler alert: yes, yes I really would.

Here's the synopsis:
Whether it's about work and play or life and death, sometimes there's no avoiding bumpy encounters.
s it like when everyone's dream vacation is your job? Ameera works at a Mexican all-inclusive resort, where every day is paradise — if “paradise” means endless paperwork, quotas to meet, and entitled tourists to deal with. But it's not all bad: Ameera's pastime of choice is the swingers' scene, and the resort is the perfect place to hook up with like-minded couples without all the hassle of ever having to see them again.
Despite Ameera's best efforts to keep her sideline a secret, someone is spreading scandalous rumours about her around the resort, and her job might be at stake. Meanwhile, she's being plagued by her other secret, the big unknown of her existence: the identity of her father and the reason he abandoned her. Unbeknownst to Ameera, her father, Azeez, is looking for her. The fact that he's dead is just a minor detail.
A moving new work from award-winning author Farzana Doctor, All Inclusive blurs the lines between the real world and paradise, and life and the afterlife, that shows how love can conquer any obstacle. 
I loved that this book was so different than most books I've read. It's a contemporary story but there's a hint of fantasy (though that's not exactly the right word). Azeez, Ameera's father, is dead. We learn that fairly early on (talk about a gut punch moment when I realized what had happened to him and again when Ameera learned about it) so the majority of Azeez's chapters are told by his spirit. I liked the dual perspectives, and the use of an actual event (the Air India bombing), because it gave the novel so much more depth.

I also loved that Ameera isn't your run of the mill protagonist. I'll be the first to admit that I don't read very diversely so I don't happen upon non-white, non-heterosexual characters very often. So, yes, Ameera's background and sexual preferences were refreshing for me. I'd be interested to see what others, who do read diversely, may think of how Ameera was written. I appreciated that all of the scenes featuring the swingers and polyamorous couples felt authentic. Doctor acknowledges there are people who will judge Ameera (the anonymous complaints against her are proof of that) but the reader should not judge Ameera based on how Doctor wrote her. Any judgment or negative feelings a reader would have would come from (and I'm going to get a tad controversial here) their own closed mindedness.

An entertaining thing, to me, when reading this book is the fact that my sister works in a role similar to Ameera's. Right now she's on her second contract on a cruise ship where she works on the sports staff (running the rock walls, zip lines, surf simulators, and the like). I know she's had a few comments from guests who think it's just the best that she gets to see all of these great places while she's working. Now, she knows she's lucky and has been able to see so much more than she would have otherwise but...she's still working. So I completely understood how Ameera wasn't feeling as one would expect in "paradise".

Finally, I just love that this book is by a Canadian, has Canadian characters, and features some scenes set in Canada (Hamilton, Ontario to be specific). I liked that the few scenes in Canada happened just a little ways down the highway from where I'm living now. Plus, I think there are some opportunities for Project Bookmark Canada, too! Regular blog readers will know I don't read nearly enough Canadian fiction, which is a shame. I don't because most books that I have read aren't like All Inclusive. I wish they were. This novel will definitely be in my top five CanLit list at the end of the year.

I don't think I've ever read a book like All Inclusive before and I think that is one of my favourite things about it. Farzana Doctor has written an intriguing novel that will keep you turning the pages until the end. And that won't take you very long since this book is on the shorter side at just over 290 pages. So what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy today and let me know what you think of it!

*An ARC was provided by the publisher, Dundurn Press, in exchange for an honest review as part of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: Open Heart, Open Mind

Like most Canadians, I know who Clara Hughes is. I know she's an Olympian who has won medals in both the Summer (for cycling) and Winter (for speed skating) Games. I know she's an advocate for mental health, particularly for Bell Let's Talk. But I didn't know how she got to those places. Because of that, I was really looking forward to reading her memoir, Open Heart, Open Mind.

Here's the synopsis:
The long-awaited memoir by Canada’s most celebrated Olympian and advocate for mental health.
In 2006, when Clara Hughes stepped onto the Olympic podium in Torino, Italy, she became the first and only athlete ever to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games. Four years later, she was proud to carry the Canadian flag at the head of the Canadian team as they participated in the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. But there’s another story behind her celebrated career as an athlete, behind her signature billboard smile.
While most professional athletes devote their entire lives to training, Clara spent her teenage years using drugs and drinking to escape the stifling home life her alcoholic father had created in Elmwood, Winnipeg. She was headed nowhere fast when, at sixteen, she watched transfixed in her living room as gold medal speed skater GaƩtan Boucher effortlessly raced in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Dreaming of one day competing herself, Clara channeled her anger, frustration, and raw ambition into the endurance sports of speed skating and cycling. By 2010, she had become a six-time Olympic champion.
But after more than a decade in the grueling world of professional sports that stripped away her confidence and bruised her body, Clara began to realize that her physical extremes, her emotional setbacks, and her partying habits were masking a severe depression. After winning bronze in the last speed skating race of her career, she decided to retire, determined to repair herself. She has emerged as one of our most committed humanitarians, advocating for a variety of social causes both in Canada and around the world. In 2010, she became national spokesperson for Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign in support of mental health awareness, using her Olympic standing to share the positive message of the power of forgiveness.
Told with honesty and passion, Open Heart, Open Mind is Clara’s personal journey through physical and mental pain to a life where love and understanding can thrive. This revelatory and inspiring story will touch the hearts of readers everywhere.
This is an extremely powerful memoir. I messaged a friend after I was only a chapter or so in telling her I already had goosebumps. Clara has an amazing story and I'm so glad she chose to write it all down and share it with us. It's written well and packs an emotional punch. She doesn't seem to hold anything back and that honest, authentic voice is one of the things that makes this memoir stand out. 

I liked how the book was set up. It starts with celebrating in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Games. That was a big deal for Canada and for Clara, who was chosen to be the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies. I like that it started with this because those Games are imprinted in many Canadians' memories. No matter that there have been two Games since then, most people can tell you exactly where they were when they watched Sidney Crosby score the "golden goal" (I was at my boyfriend's house at university watching with him and his roommates. We spilled out into the streets like everyone else after the game was over.) I will admit that I can't remember watching Clara win bronze in 2010, though I'm sure I watched it, or at least the replays. The point is, writing about something so familiar and important to Canadians was a great way to start the memoir. I appreciated that and that the book then went backwards and then began talking about Clara's childhood.

This is a memoir that's going to make you take a look at your life. Maybe you want to do an in depth examination of how you're really doing. Maybe you recognize some of Clara's struggles as ones you're dealing with as well. Maybe you'll take a closer look at your friends and ask them if they're ok. Maybe you are in total awe of the insane work that's required to be an athlete. Maybe you're going to pay more attention to the athletes who don't get all of the attention at the next Olympic Games, not just the high profile individuals or teams. There's just so much to take away from this Clara's story.

I want everyone to read Open Heart, Open Mind. My copy will be going immediately to my mom (who was actually fortunate enough to meet Clara when she was the keynote speaker at my mom's work's fundraiser) and as soon as I finished the book I texted a friend that she had to read it (no surprise, it was already on her TBR list). So, consider this my book pusher message to everyone: read Open Heart, Open Mind. It doesn't matter if you're not into sports or even if you're not Canadian. Clara Hughes has written an amazing memoir that will, hopefully, encourage the conversation about mental health even further.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada, I'm able to share with you lovely readers some books that have shaped Clara's life and career. Enjoy!
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. This book helped me begin to understand the unusual and lonely path I was on as an athlete. Helped me accept the pursuit of human excellence and realize that not everyone was going to understand the things I learned along the way. That this was okay.
The Power of Myth, interviews with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyer. An easier read than Campbell's more textbook reads on mythology. 'Follow your bliss', 'You cannot cure the world of sorrow but you can choose to live in joy' are a few of the many quotes that profoundly effected and directed my life in and out of sport. It's inspiring to read the passion Campbell has and how he breaks down the barriers between cultures and faiths, bringing all humans together.
Artist of Life by Bruce Lee. This is a compilation of his essays written in the years he was a philosophy student. Bruce Lee was so much more than a brilliant martial artist. He was a deep and rich individual learning and growing, always seeking a clearer way to pursue life and art. I read this book during a few of the Olympics I competed in and his reflections prompted a clearer idea of movement that led to my best races.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba is larger than life and lives in the biggest way imaginable. This book made me and makes me want to live in a bigger way. It is tragic and joyous all at once and a beautiful display of the human condition. I read this book as a young athlete traveling the globe and it made me realize how small I could allow my life to be if I moved through the experiences I had with blinders on.
Any book by Thich Nhat Hahn. We have over 20 of his books. His reflections and ideas on mindfulness continue to shape who I am and who I evolve to be in life. He is a wonderful human being and his writings are always welcomed into our home.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Reading this book when I was younger made me feel less alone. I came from a dysfunctional family and was pretty confused. The protagonist was much of what I felt when I was young. I did a lot of stupid things because of this confusion. The book really resonated with me.

Siddartha by Herman Hesse. I have read and re-read this story so many times. It's about life and what you can live for. It's about gurus and teachers, about the lessons that are inside every one of us. It is an inspiring read that never fails to bring me back on the path I am meant to walk on. I just read this again during the latter part of my Appalachian Trail hike in 2015.

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Things to Quit

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.

Being a book blogger is a ton of fun. But, at the same time, it's an intensive hobby. It can be really hard to balance reading, reviewing, and everyday life. You learn a lot about yourself as a reader and writer when you've been doing this as long as I have been (almost five years!) so thinking about this week's Top Ten Tuesday was interesting. I focus a lot on what I need to quit doing but I threw in a really frustrating trope at the end as well. What are some bookish things you need to quit or you wish the bookish world would quit?

Not reviewing a book right away
I had a hell of a time late last year and into this year when I was (ineffectively) balancing the blog, a crazy commute, and a job I didn't enjoy. I was reading a fair amount but I didn't have the energy to sit down and write reviews. It was five months of getting further and further behind and I'm still not caught up (I left that job back in February). I'm getting better but, particularly because of the back log, I'm still not writing a review as soon as I'm done the book. I have to start reviewing as soon as possible after finishing the book!

Not cross-posting on Goodreads or Amazon
I'm friends with a bunch of indie/self-published authors and I know how important these reviews and ratings are for them. And yet, I don't post reviews on sites other than my blog unless the author specifically requests it. It's really not that hard to put a review up elsewhere and it could help so much.

Agreeing to read a book I'm only sort of interested in
I get a lot of emails from authors and publishers asking me to review their books. I want to read and review all of them because, in part, I want to talk about as many books as possible (and the access to free books doesn't hurt). I end up agreeing to read a lot and then I just don't get them read in a timely manner. It's unfair to the author/publisher and to me when I agree to read a book when I have that niggling feeling that's telling me it's not going to be something I really enjoy. But then I have to silence the other feelings that say, "But what if it is great?" and "But you'll be so mean if you say no." I'm working on it! (And if you're an author or publisher who's emailed me in the past and have been cursing me for not reviewing your book...I'm sorry. Life happened.)

Forcing myself to read CanLit
I'm Canadian and I really want to support Canadian authors. There are a ton of amazing authors in this country of mine but it can be a struggle for me to find CanLit titles that are, well, interesting for me. The books and authors are diverse so you'd think I'd be able to find some I really enjoy. Of course, I'm the first to admit that I don't read widely enough...I like the genres I like and I stick with them. The point of this is, as much as I want to read Canadian literature, I need to know when not to force it. Just because an author is highly regarded in Canada (*cough* Margaret Atwood or Elizabeth Hay *cough*), that doesn't mean I should read their books (especially if I haven't enjoyed them in the past).

Putting off fixing my @&$% kobo
I don't know what the problem is (is it the device itself or Adobe Digital Editions?) but it's been causing me trouble for almost a year. I keep putting off figuring out the issue because every time I try, I want to toss the freaking thing out the window. I hate that I can't figure it out (I'm a smart lady, damn it!) and I hate that support from both kobo and Adobe is lacking. I need an ereader because so many of the books I get to review are only available on a device. I'm going to try to work on it today because I need my ereader working for when I go on vacation next month. Send wine and positive thoughts, please.

Reading something just because it's popular
Sure, there are a lot of great books that are popular for a reason. I'm so glad I gave in to the hype surrounding The Hunger Games many years ago, for example. But there are some books I'm just not interested in and I feel like I should read them. Just this weekend the page I was working with at the library told me I definitely have to read The Maze Runner. I've heard that a lot and I'm sure it's great but...I'm just not interested! And my reading time is so precious that I'm going to read what I want to read.

Reading a series just because I've read all of the other books
There are two series in particular that I'm referring to here. One is the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. I've been reading them for 14 years or so and, as fun as they are in the moment, I usually regret reading them because it's the same thing over and over again. I've decided I won't read another one until it's the final book. I need to know if she picks Ranger or Morelli! The other series is Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. Again, it's the same thing over and over again. I don't mind reading about a flighty character if, at the end, she realizes that she's been acting kind of crazy. But Becky just keeps doing ridiculous things. And, again, once the series is over I'll read the final book.

Not DNFing
Admittedly, I've gotten better over the years but I still really struggle with putting a book down when I'm not enjoying it. I always talk about how precious my reading time is and yet I keep reading books even when I know I'm not enjoying myself. Repeat after me: it's ok to put a book down when you don't like it.

Buying books just because I have a gift card or it's on sale
I've been pretty good lately but I did buy a new colouring book in the spring because I had a $10 off card and about 10 minutes to use it before the store closed (I had forgotten when the expiry date was). I enjoy the colouring book but there was a similar one coming out a few months later that I actually would have enjoyed more. Was getting $10 off worth it? I'm not sure. My shelves are overflowing and, for the most part, I'm pretty good at restraining myself but sometimes I just can't help buying a new pretty to bring home even when I really don't need it.

Angsty New Adult
I loved New Adult but I wish there would be more diversity among its titles. Right now it seems like only contemporary titles are included in the category (which is usually a great thing by me since contemporary is my favourite). Particularly, I need the "good girl is finally out on her own and meets a bad boy who she just can't help but fall for but it's ok because she can totally change him but - shocker - he doesn't change and he still treats her like total garbage because he's an asshole" trope to just stop. Stop. Stop. It gives NA a bad name and doesn't give young women good role models. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Review: Before We Were Strangers

I've read Renee Carlino's work before and loved it (my review of Sweet Thing is here) so I was really looking forward to reading her latest, Before We Were Strangers. Did I love it as much as Sweet Thing? Not quite. Would I still recommend it? Absolutely.

Here's the synopsis:
From the USA TODAY bestselling author of Sweet Thing and Nowhere But Here comes a love story about a Craigslist “missed connection” post that gives two people a second chance at love fifteen years after they were separated in New York City.
To the Green-eyed Lovebird:
We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the NYU dorm room next to yours at Senior House.
You called us fast friends. I like to think it was more.
We lived on nothing but the excitement of finding ourselves through music (you were obsessed with Jeff Buckley), photography (I couldn’t stop taking pictures of you), hanging out in Washington Square Park, and all the weird things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.
Yet, somehow, it all fell apart. We lost touch the summer after graduation when I went to South America to work for National Geographic. When I came back, you were gone. A part of me still wonders if I pushed you too hard after the wedding…
I didn’t see you again until a month ago. It was a Wednesday. You were rocking back on your heels, balancing on that thick yellow line that runs along the subway platform, waiting for the F train. I didn’t know it was you until it was too late, and then you were gone. Again. You said my name; I saw it on your lips. I tried to will the train to stop, just so I could say hello.
After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like. I might be totally out of my mind, but would you like to get a drink with me and catch up on the last decade and a half?
This novel seems to be promoted as New Adult. In a way, it is...but only half of the story really fits into the New Adult category. The novel takes place at two different points in time. In one, the past, Matt and Grace have just met in college. The other is present day, fifteen years later, which means they're in their early thirties - not exactly New Adult. Is this really a problem? No, but a lot of people use categories and genres to decide whether or not they'd like to read a particular book. I'm closer to my thirties than I am New Adult so it didn't bother me as much as it would someone who was expecting a true NA story.

Matt and Grace had a lot to work through once they reconnected. A lot. There were unanswered questions, which included a few where the other party had assumed the answer. This novel really showed that you should never assume you know what the other person is or was thinking and you should always talk things through when you finally have the chance. Of course, this is easy for me, the reader, to say! :) That was another little negative for me...I just didn't like how neither Matt nor Grace seemed to try very hard after they went their separate ways. There was almost too much drama surrounding it.

I liked that Carlino really kept me on my toes. I wasn't sure how things would work out between Matt and Grace. I really couldn't tell what would happen and the whole time I was hoping for a Happily Ever After (what can I say, I'm a sucker for happy endings). There were quite a few curve balls thrown into the story which I loved...even though it meant a lot of pain and heartache for the characters I had come to care about!

Second chance love stories are some of my favourites and, while Renee Carlino didn't hit it out of the park completely for me with this one, I did enjoy Before We Were Strangers. She's written two characters who are so real, and therefore flawed, who readers will love getting to know over the course of the novel. Do I think you should try this one if it piques your interest? Absolutely. But if there are other New Adult novels that you're looking at reading, maybe put this one on the to be read eventually, instead of immediately, list instead.

*An egalley of this copy was provided by Atria via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are honest and my own.*