Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: Whisper If You Need Me

Dina Silver is known for her women's fiction novels but she has recently released her first YA book, Whisper if You Need Me. The contemporary novel was an absolute delight to read and Sarah Dessen fans should take note.

Here's the synopsis:
A strong-willed yet vulnerable young beauty, Julia Pearl is sixteen years old when she’s sent away to summer camp for the first time. Julia’s father and stepmother are convinced that time away from home will be good for Julia, hoping it will restore the confidence she lost when her mother disappeared five years earlier.
Released from the emotional constraints of her new family and the ugly reputation her mother left behind, Julia finds herself reluctantly tossed into the free-spirited and often drama-infused world of overnight camp—where she quickly falls for an intensely charismatic counselor named Jack Dempsey, a nineteen-year-old college student who will prove to save her life in more ways than one.
Rich with humor and poignancy, Whisper If You Need Me is a timeless story that will remind readers of the strength of friendship, the unwavering devotion of family, and ultimately, the power of young love.
My favourite thing about Sarah Dessen novels (yes, I know this isn't a review about one of her books...bear with me here) is that the story is about more than just romance. Sometimes romance doesn't even really factor into the story. The point of the novel is to watch the heroine, a teenage girl, find her way in the world. There is drama, usually of the family sort but not always, and a little something special that hooks you and drags you, quite happily, into the story. Dina Silver has found that little something with her new book. Julia has a lot of stuff to work through...why her mom left, being "forced" to go to summer camp, having a new step-mother and step-siblings, plus a severe nut allergy. And for those, like me, who enjoy the swooning, the first kisses, and the romance, there's some of that too.

The setting played such a huge part in this novel. I never went to summer camp as a kid (the closest I got was a few day school trip to a nearby camp. I think I've blocked most of it out.) so there's a bit of a novelty factor for me. But I think summer camp is perfect for a contemporary YA novel and allows for a bunch of high school kids (and therefore a bunch of drama and angst) to get together somewhere that isn't school. 

The only little teeny thing that bugged me has to do with the age of the characters. Julia is 16, Jack is 19. I just could not see how a guy who's just finished his first year of college could want to date a high school. I wish Julia had been going into grade 12 instead of 11...I think that would have eased my mind so much more. But really...that was the single thing I had an issue with in this novel.

That being said...oh, the feels I had reading about Julia and Jack. I think the fact that he was older did help because he was able to help her learn to deal with, well, life. And their first kiss? Talk about swooning. It was almost instalove but because they weren't allowed to be together (ooh, forbidden love to boot!) they had the chance to build a friendship first. 

Finally, I liked that Julia was able to make some new friends while at camp. She has to deal with Mean Girls (oh my god, these girls were awful) but between Jack and her new friends, she's able to (usually) ignore the taunts and ridiculous comments and emerge on the other side even stronger than before. 

I could not stop reading Whisper If You Need Me. Dina Silver sucked me in with her riveting, well written story. This is one that all contemporary YA fans will enjoy, especially those who like their heroines strong and relateable. 

*An advanced eARC was provided by the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: November 9

I have a confession to make: I hadn't actually read any of Colleen Hoover's books before November 9 (out tomorrow...yep, on November 10th). This is even more ridiculous when I tell you that I've met her...twice. I've always wanted to. I own a few of her books but I just haven't read them yet. An ARC of this one fell in my lap, though, so I decided I'd take the plunge and finally read a CoHo book. And I did it in one day!

Here's the synopsis:
Beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover returns with an unforgettable love story between a writer and his unexpected muse.
Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day before her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon’s last day in L.A. together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel. Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.
Oh, man. Guys. I couldn't put this book down. It's heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching and emotional and so addictive. You know right off the bat that Fallon has had a pretty tough couple of years. And there's a hint that Ben's life isn't quite as it seems (though you kind of forget about that and then when you do find out what happened it's a bit of a slap in the face). I loved Fallon and Ben's relationship...and hated it all at the same time. I so admired them for approaching it in the way they did but all I could think was, "JUST BE TOGETHER, PLEASE!" As heartbreaking as it sometimes was, I knew it was for the best. I really enjoyed seeing how they grew as characters and people over the course of the November 9ths. 

I loved the fact that Ben was a writer. I feel like there are not enough writer characters out there, especially in New Adult. They're not usually males, either, at least in the books I tend to read. So not only did I like what Ben wanted to do for a living but I also enjoyed that writing and books played such a large part in the novel's plot. Particularly romance novels! They just don't get the credit they deserve and kudos to Ben for reading so many romances.

What's holding me back from giving this one a full, wholehearted, flailing five star review is the ending. I didn't see the twist coming, thankfully, but I found it too similar to a twist in another New Adult novel (I'm not telling you which one because then you'll figure out the twist and that would be wrong). The flow was a little thrown off as well and I don't know if I really got the conclusion I wanted.

Overall though, I really liked November 9. I'm interested to see what longtime Colleen Hoover fans have to say about it but this newbie was pleased. I tore through the story and enjoyed reading about two very flawed but very relateable characters. Best book ever? No, not really. But it did exactly what I needed it to: keep me 100% invested in the story and turning the pages as fast as I could to find out what happened next.

*An ARC of this novel was provided by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Happy Blogaversary to ME!

That's right, my friends. Today is the day Books Etc. turns FIVE! I cannot believe I've been writing this blog for five years now. It seems like just yesterday I put this Blogger blog together. (Yep. Five years in and I'm still using Blogger...once I'm back from vacation I plan on changing that. I hope.)

SO many amazing things have happened over the past five years. I have made new friends (IRL and online), met more authors than I ever imagined possible (including a few of my all time favourites), read way more books than a normal person should (but I'm not normal), interned at Random House of Canada and Project Bookmark Canada, helped plan a chick lit author event, and oh so much more. (You can read about my second blogaversary here, third here, and fourth here.)

This past year was really hard for me, particularly in the career department (which directly relates to how much money I have and therefore determines everything else I can - or, more frequently, can't - do). My blog really took a hit and it's only been in the past few months that I've gotten back into the swing of things. I'm still getting there but one of the things that really helped was finally making it to BEA and the back-from-hiatus Ontario Book Blogger meet up.

I'm still learning as a blogger (and a human!) and I'm hoping for even more change and amazing things over the next year.

Now, a couple of bloggers - Jaime of Two Chicks on Books and Amber of Me, My Shelf, and I - are both celebrating their five year blogaversaries as well and wanted to open up the celebrations to anyone else who is in the five year cllub. The start of the Fantastic Fives celebration starts TODAY and because the start date falls on my actual blogaversary, they granted me the first spot. How sweet is that?

Fantastic Fives Interview Questions

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm a 28 year old, tall (6'), Canadian (I live about 20 minutes away from Niagara Falls) female. I'm obsessed with books (duh), tea (someone may need to stage an intervention and ban me from David's Tea), and my bunny (her name is Tonks…yep, like the Harry Potter character). I've lived in enough places to have collected four different library cards. I have a background in communications, events, and fundraising and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

How did you get started blogging?
The short answer is I just started because I wanted to talk about books. The longer answer includes a previous knowledge of blogging thanks to my fourth year seminar class in university (my final assignment was writing a blog…it's still live if you want to check it out!) and finding a few blogs online thanks to Twitter (I'm pretty sure Chick Lit Plus was the first blog I fell in love with).

How did you pick the name for your blog?
I hardly remember! I think I settled on it because I knew it wouldn't strictly be about books.

If you could go back in time and tell your newbie blogger self one thing what would it be?
Pick a better url, haha! But also to just do your thing and not worry about what anyone else is reading or how they're blogging. It took  me awhile to learn that.

What have you learned in your five years of blogging?
The book community can be really great and welcoming but there are catty/cliquey moments that make me feel like I'm back in high school. So, I've learned to ignore those moments and focus on the good, which includes the amazing friends I've made and the insane opportunities I've been given. I've also learned way more about the publishing process which has been eye opening and so much fun.

What was the first ARC or book you ever received from a publisher?
It wasn't an ARC but the first book I received was A Scottish Ferry Tale and it was part of a blog tour (review is here if your interest is piqued!). I adored it! It took time though. I didn't get it until almost six months after starting my blog.  

When you’re not reading or blogging, what can we find you doing?
Not reading…I don't understand…Kidding! I'm a pretty average girl. If I don’t have my nose in a book, I'm either hanging out with my boyfriend or friends, likely watching TV shows, movies, baseball or the odd hockey game, or my whackadoodle rabbit act like the crazy nut she is. I could also be at the gym. The whole fitnessing thing is kind of recent (even though I played basketball many moons ago) since I screwed up my back earlier in 2015 and working out and getting stronger has helped immensely.

I couldn't NOT share a pic of Tonks (there are many more
on Instagram and Twitter, promise.)
The Fives

Five Favourite Books
Harry Potter (Ugh. FINE! Prisoner ofAzkaban) (review)
Anne of Green Gables (though I might love Anne of the Island more)
This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (review)
Arranged by Catherine McKenzie (review)
Blogger Girl by Meredith Schorr (review)

Five Favourite Book Boyfriends
Marcus Flutie from Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series (I think he was my first book boyfriend)
Brook from Laura Chapman's First & Goal
Dex from Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby (review)
Any of the three brothers from Nora Roberts' Inn Boonsboro series (review of book one and book three)
Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables (actually, he may have been my first book boyfriend but I don't think I realized it at the time. I was, like, 10 when I first read it.)

Five Favourite Book Quotes
"'All life's lessons are not learned at college,' she thought. 'Life teaches them everywhere.'" 
Anne of the Island

"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly and then all at once."
I may have my issues with John Green but I adore this quote from The Fault in Our Stars.

"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure." 
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“I am simply a 'book drunkard.' Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.”
Lucy Maud Montgomery (I actually have a bracelet with this engraved on it)

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Jane Austen

Five Blogging Tips For New Bloggers
1. Don't say yes to every review request.
2. Be polite and courteous to authors and publishers. This may be a hobby but you should conduct yourself in a professional manner. They don't have to send you books so make them want to work with you. Review books when you say you will! (I'm still working on this. So many books, so little time.)
3. Interact with other bloggers! It's an amazing community. And we won't bite, promise. (Er…except for the crazy chick I heard about at a past BEA.)
4. Schedule. You don't want to miss reviews/promos/NetGalley archive date because you forgot to write it down. It will also help you decide what to read next.
5. Have fun! Your blog is just that: yours. Give it personality! Write reviews how you want to write them and don't worry if you're doing it "right" because right is the way that makes you happiest.

Five Blogs You Want The World To Know About – Canadian (er...Ontario) Edition!
1. Browsing Bookshelves (Natalie is now one of my closest friends and we met because of blogging!)
4. Ms Lady Critic (she started blogging and is now focusing on booktubing)

Now for even more fun...I've decided I WILL do a giveaway this year. I don't exactly have the money (working part time is such a delight) BUT the book community has done so much for me so I want to give something back. Here's a bit of fine print: I'm away on vacation right now so I have no idea if the Rafflecopter will even decide to work. And because I'm going away well in advance of this post going live and have a ton of other things to think's a bit of a generic giveaway. I'll work out with the winner where the book will come from and, depending on where the winner lives, I might send a few little extra fun things. So make sure you leave a way for me to contact you in the blog post comment. If, for some reason, Rafflecopter doesn't work, leave a comment for me telling me what one of your favourite books is and I'll do a manual giveaway on the 29th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget to check out the other blogs that are turning five this year!
November 9 Fiktshun
November 10 Two Chicks On Books
November 11 Me, My Shelf and I
November 12 Bewitched Bookworms
November 13 Novel Novice
November 14 Book Angel Booktopia
November 15 Maer Wilson
November 17 YA Book Shelf
November 19 Bookish Lifestyle
November 20 Once Upon A Twilight
November 21 Annette's Book Spot
November 22 Bookaholics Anonymous
November 23 Deal Sharing Aunt 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: The Lake House

It was almost exactly five years ago that I read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I fell head over heels in love and I told everyone and their mother they needed to read it too. Seriously...I worked at Coles bookstore the Christmas it became popular in Canada and I hand-sold it to anyone looking for a gift for the woman in their life. But I have a confession to make: that was the first and last Kate Morton book I read. I think I had such a fear of her subsequent books not living up to my expectations that I didn't make the time to read her others. Until The Lake House . And, boy, am I glad I agreed to review this one and be part of Simon & Schuster's Read-a-Thon!

I'm doing my read-a-thon post a little differently than the others for a few reasons...first, I'm on vacation right now and had to have this scheduled a week ago. This means that I can't really discuss the book with you as much as I'd like. Also, I'm in charge of the final part of the novel and it seems only fair to give my thoughts before asking questions about the whole book!

Here's the synopsis:
Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…
One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.
Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever.
A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.
I'm going to echo the synopsis: Morton is a fantastic storyteller. She's able to weave together such a compelling story. It makes the reader want to read the book from start to finish in one sitting. (I'd be damn impressed if you read it in one sitting...this is a hefty book at about 400 pages.) Morton sucks you in with a multi-layered and complex story. The Lake House takes place in various decades (mostly the 1930s and 2000s) and in different towns (London and Cornwall). It's a third person narrative which allows for viewpoints from all sorts of characters. That all sounds confusing, doesn't it? But, in Morton's more than capable hands, it completely works.

I love that this novel has a mystery at its core and clues are shared sparingly throughout the novel. I kept thinking that maybe I had things figured out about Theo's disappearance, only to realize I was way off base. I didn't feel too bad though because the characters had no idea what happened either and everyone seemed to think they had a hand in the event. There was a lot of confusion that needed to be cleared up before things started to make sense and I loved the moments when things started to fall into place. I actually had a "HOLY CRAP" light bulb moment that was almost I felt pretty proud of myself.

Final (random) side note: I started reading the book on a Tuesday. I watch the TV show Castle, which is on Monday nights, so when I began the novel I, for some reason, kept picturing Sadie as Stana Katic, the actress who plays Detective Beckett. There's no real reason for this link (it wasn't based on what Sadie was supposed to look like!) or for sharing but I thought it'd be fun to include part of my reading experience :)

Kate Morton's latest novel is a total winner for me. The Lake House will be one I recommend to many people once again this holiday season - and beyond. It's an amazing story that's written so incredibly well. The mystery will suck you in and the characters will keep you even more invested. If you've read Morton before: read this book. If you like historical fiction: read this book. Just read this book.

Now...for the read-a-thon discussion questions! I'm going to try to avoid spoilers but I'm talking about the end of a novel - and a mystery to boot - so proceed with caution!

Questions for Chapters 28-35

There are two mysteries in this book. Sadie eventually becomes, one could say, obsessed with both and works hard to find out what happened to Theo and Maggie. Did you ever doubt Sadie or start to wonder if she was an unreliable character?

A lot of pain and heartache could have been avoided if many of the characters had been open with each other from the start. Why do you think it was so hard for everyone to be honest? Would the close knit family relationships have anything to do with it?

Did you see the ending, regarding both Theo and Maggie, coming? Would it have mattered to you if either outcome had been unhappy or happy? What about the other, smaller, mysteries? Were you shocked by any of the revelations?

Don't forget to check out the prior readathon posts!

Chapters 1-9: Lost in a Great Book

Chapters 10-18: Be Nice or Leave.

Chapters 19-27: Ms. Bibliophile

*An ARC of this novel was provided by Simon & Schuster Canada for the purpose of the read-a-thon and for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*