Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: The Second Chance Café in Carlton Square


A few months ago, HarperCollins started a campaign asking #WhoIsLilly. Lilly Bartlett was a debut author but she was the pseudonym for another, more established author. I took part in the campaign, tweeting out clues over the course of week or so, until the big reveal was made. Lilly Bartlett, author of the new book, The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square, is actually Michele Gorman! I've been reading Gorman's books on and off throughout the years so it was so much fun to take part in the campaign. I never did manage to read the first Lilly book but did dive into The Second Chance Cafe in Carlton Square.

Here's the synopsis via Goodreads:
One chance isn't always Enough
Everyone expects great things from Emma Billings, but when her future gets derailed by an unexpected turn of events, she realizes that getting back on track means traveling in a different direction.
She finds it in the closed-down pub on Carlton Square. Summoning every ounce of ingenuity, and with the help of her friends and family, she opens the Second Chance Café. The charity training business is meant to keep vulnerable kids off the streets and (hopefully) away from the Metropolitan Police, and her new employees are full of ideas, enthusiasm ... and trouble. They'll need as much TLC as the customers they’re serving.
This ragtag group of chancers have to make a go of a business they know nothing about, and they do get some expert help from an Italian who's in love with the espresso machine and a professional sandwich whisperer who reads auras, but not everyone is happy to see the café open. Their milk keeps disappearing and someone is canceling the cake orders, but it's when someone commits bloomicide on all their window boxes that Emma realizes things are serious. Can the café survive when NIMBY neighbors and the rival café owner join forces to close them down? Or will Emma’s dreams fall as flat as the cakes they’re serving?
While you don't necessarily have to read the first book about Emma, I would suggest it. I wasn't really confused about her life or anything like that but I wish I had been able to read how she and her now-husband Daniel, met and got married. I also suspect that would have given me even more insight into Emma's character instead of meeting her as she was a mother and trying to fit in opening a business around raising twins.

This novel is definitely a rom-com with more lighthearted laughs and silly scenarios than actual depth, but there is so much heart in this book that the seemingly superficial nature of the story doesn't really matter.

I'm not totally sure why Bartlett chose to start the story in the present, go back in the past, and then work her way forwards to explain the story. It worked just fine but I don't know if I necessarily needed to know (other than from the synopsis) that someone was sabotaging her business before I learned how and why she was opening the cafe.

I did love that Emma was so committed to her trainees. She had two - one teenage boy and one teenage girl. They had had a rough upbringing and at least the girl, Lou, has a record (she'd been caught stealing). Emma's a bit hesitant about the teens but her heart is so big that she really wants to help them succeed. It's equal parts sweet, funny, and frustrating to watch as she trains these kids and tries to give them the tools they'll need to succeed in their future.

The Second Chance Cafe in Carlton Square is a quick and sweet read that's for anyone looking for a fun and lovely story. It'll make you smile and cringe, and probably start hunting for a cafe in your neighbourhood that's just like Emma's. I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for that cafe - and for Lilly Bartlett's next book!

*I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: The Big Life


I just turned 30 this year and sometimes think I'm having the longest quarter-life crisis ever. I still don't know what I want to be when I "grow up" so when I had the opportunity to review The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be, I thought, hey, maybe this can help me get my act together. Ann Shoket's book obviously isn't magical so I didn't finish it and immediately know what I need to do to have my Big Life but it certainly gave me a few things to think about to help me get on that path to being a Badass Babe.

Here's the (very long) description of the book, courtesy of Goodreads:
Millennial women are changing what it means to be powerful and successful in the world―for everyone. Forever. You want The Big Life―that delicious cocktail of passion, career, work, ambition, respect, money, and a monumental relationship. And you want it on your own terms. Forget climbing some corporate ladder, you want a career with twists and turns and adventure. For you, success only matters if it’s meaningful. Ann Shoket knows the evolving values of young women more than anyone. She’s the voice behind the popular Badass Babes community, a sisterhood of young, hungry, ambitious women who are helping each other through the most complex issues around becoming who you’re meant to be. As the trailblazing editor-in-chief of Seventeen for the better part of a decade, Shoket led provocative conversations that helped young women navigate the tricky terrain of adolescence and become smart, confident, self-assured young women. Now that they are adding muscle to the frame work of their lives, she’s continuing the conversation with The Big Life.
The Big Life is packed with actionable guidance combined with personal advice from high-profile millennial women who have already achieved tremendous success, plus intimate conversations with a cast of compelling characters and Shoket’s own stories on her quest for The Big Life. You’ll learn to tackle all of the issues on heavy rotation in your mind such as:
  • How to craft a career that’s also a passion.
  • How to get respect from a boss who thinks you’re a lazy, entitled, and self-obsessed millennial
  • Why you need a “squad” of people who support you as you build your Big Life
  • How a side hustle will make you smarter, hotter, and more in control of your destiny.
  • Why work/life balance is a sham and you need to embrace the mess.
  • How to find a partner whose eyes light up when you talk about your ambition.
Written in Shoket’s friendly and authoritative style, The Big Life will help you recognize your power, tap into your ambition, and create your own version of The Big Life.
While there's no real age limit on this book, or searching for and having The Big Life, I think it's ever so slightly geared towards younger Millennials. Nowhere was that more obvious than on the very first page of the introduction as Shoket explained where The Big Life starts - in your bedroom at 16 years old. Shoket's version of this teen dreamed of being a digital influencer and imagined an Instagram-worthy first apartment. I had hardly mastered the Internet at 16 and Facebook wasn't even a thing yet (to be fair, it would be founded a year after I turned 16), let alone Instagram. But all that is ok. I'm still a Millennial and the stereotypes this generation fights against are ones I have to fight against too. 

Shoket is a huge believer that women can do bigger and better things if we help each other. I love that. It makes so much more sense than trying to take down another woman on social media or not assisting a co-worker when she has the opportunity to totally kick ass. Building up the females around you isn't going to hurt you. It can only help. Of course, that's easier said than done but it's definitely a thought to keep firmly in mind.

Something I found pretty interesting was when Shoket explained that Carrie Bradshaw's life and version of "having it all" has completely changed for today's young women. How we get ahead in life and in our careers is totally different than it was for the women in Sex and the City and everyone else in that generation. 

When you read this book you'll most likely find sections that really resonate and others that don't reflect your life at all. For me, I wanted to focus more on the career and side hustle sections of this book than the relationship and family side of things. I have an amazing boyfriend and we don't plan to have kids so there's no concern about pausing my career to pop out babies. But I don't really have a career to pause anyway, which is my problem. Sure, I have a job that keeps the bills paid but I'm still looking to be able to use my passions for the majority of my time instead of trying to fit them in around a 40-hour work week. 

There's a lot of Real Talk in this book and, for an introvert like me who hates criticism, it's hard to take a look at your own life and pick out what you could be doing better. There's nothing I'm doing wrong, per se, and Shoket definitely isn't saying anyone's current life is wrong, but I could be hustling more to help get me closer to that Big Life. On the flip side, Shoket also warns against comparing your life to those around you. You know you do it when you scroll through social media...I definitely do, especially when I've had a rough day or week. You also know that what's posted online is the shiniest version. You should be happy for your friends and jealousy shouldn't enter the picture. Instead, focus on how that woman has got to where she is. You probably didn't notice the hustle going on behind the scenes before she got to this point. I'm not saying I'm great at this but I'm definitely going to make a point of thinking about how those women - who seem to have it all together - got to where they are and how I can use their experiences for my own hustle.

Some people might find it odd that Shoket, who is in her 40s, is writing a book on how to kick ass at being a Millennial woman. But think about this. She was the editor-in-chief for Seventeen during the time many younger Millennials were reading it (I was already in university by the time she took the helm). She successfully ran the magazine and that shows, to me, that she really understands what makes us tick. Plus, she's made it her mission to help young women succeed in and out of the workplace. And she's the boss to many Millennials and there were a few instances in the book where that Gen X insight was really helpful to change my frame of thinking. 

Overall, The Big Life is worth a read if you're really struggling with at least one aspect of your Millennial life. You'll definitely find tidbits in Ann Shoket's book that you'll flag and return to time and time again until your Big Life finally clicks. 

*A copy of this book was provided by the distributor, Raincoast Books, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review: Kim vs The Mean Girl


I don't read a ton of YA these days. There are so many adult titles out there that I only make time for important stories (think The Hate U Give) or my favourites (I will always read Sarah Dessen). But when Meredith Schorr, one of my favourite authors, writes a YA prequel to one of my all time favourite romcoms? Yeah, I'm gonna read it. Kim vs. the Mean Girl gives the origin story, if you will, of Kim Long from Blogger Girl (which I adored and reviewed here). I actually beta read this one for Meredith but I read the book again after it was officially published and I loved it each time.

Here's the synopsis:
High school sophomore, Kim Long, is no stranger to the “mean girl” antics of Queen Bee Hannah Marshak. When Hannah steals Kim’s diary and in front of the entire class reads personal (not to mention humiliating) entries Kim wrote about her crush, Jonathan, Kim vows to enact revenge.
Kim and her loyal best friend, Bridget, come up with the perfect plan to put the evil Hannah in her place once and for all. But will their scheming have the desired effect of getting even, or will Hannah emerge more celebrated by her peers than ever?
Kim vs. The Mean Girl can be read as a young adult standalone novel, but it is also a prequel to the popular Blogger Girl adult romantic comedy series and is set in 2000. Told in the duo perspectives of teenage Kim and Hannah, fans of the series will get an inside look into Kim’s early passion for reading, writing (and Jonathan) and find out why Hannah is so darn mean.
Like many authors, Meredith has dedicated beta readers she uses for every book. While I'm a huge fan of hers, she normally doesn't ask me to read the work in progress so I can have the full, finished, polished book to read and review. Kim vs. the Mean Girl was different. Why? Because it's about a teenager in 2000. I was just becoming a teenager myself at that time so I helped Meredith get into the mindset of a teen from that era. So much fun! I actually dug out my own diaries from that time *shudder* But, it helped remind me what my life was like. I also did a lot of online research and I'm so glad the fashion trends from those years haven't made any comebacks. If you read this one (and you totally should), a teeny part of the storyline was inspired by yours truly (hint: it involves Dawson's Creek). One final pat on the back: I was, well, kind of blown away by being mentioned three times in the acknowledgements. Thanks, Meredith! :) xo

I really thought Meredith did a great job of writing a YA story. Not only that, but it can stand alone while also giving Blogger Girl fans a really great story about Kim (and Hannah's) past. Her adult novels (the aforementioned Blogger Girl and Novelista Girl - which I read and reviewed here) allude to the girls' history but it was so cool to actually read about it. You get to see what Kim and Bridget's friendship was like back in high school, you meet Jonathan, and, yes, find out why Hannah is so mean.

I was pretty lucky in high school and didn't have any mean girls that really picked on me for no reason. But, I was still a teenage girl once and I know how they operate. Even if you're safe from the mean girls, they're still out there. Reading Hannah's portion of the stories was hard sometimes. Seriously, she didn't have to be so horrible and it hurt my heart every time she said something hurtful or snarky to anyone, especially her so-called friends. Meredith wrote those scenes so exceptionally well. (OK, she wrote every scene well, let's be real.) But, reading from Hannah's perspective gives so much insight into her world and why she was the way she was. There are no excuses for being cruel but it's a reminder that you don't really know what's going on it other people's lives.

Finally, I loved the little Easter Egg Meredith dropped in near the end of the story! Nope, I'm not giving you any more details. Read the books.

I don't think you have to have read Meredith Schorr's Blogger Girl series before reading Kim vs. the Mean Girl but I definitely encourage you to read all of them (well, all of Schorr's novels period as they're all fantastic). You also don't have to be a YA fan though they'll love this story that has a really contemporary feel (even though it's technically not contemporary since it's set in the past...). This is a great series to pick up this summer!

*A copy of the novel was provided by the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, June 30, 2017

Cover Reveal: Things to Do When It's Raining


I read Marissa Stapley's debut novel, Mating for Life, almost exactly three (!!!) years ago. I absolutely loved it - you can read my review here. Since then, I've been (im)patiently waiting for her next novel. She's been busy writing book reviews for The Globe and Mail (I'm seriously envious of her for being able to do this...maybe someday that'll be me...) and, happily, working on her second book, Things to Do When It's Raining. The novel is being published in February 2018 and I cannot wait! I've been fortunate enough to see Marissa at several book events over the past couple of years (I actually just saw her on Wednesday night at K.A. Tucker's launch!) and she is just oh so lovely. So, since I love her work and her as a person, I'm thrilled to share her cover with you today!

But first...here's what this upcoming novel is all about:
When secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?Mae Summers and Gabe Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge the St. Lawrence River. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lily and George. A childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up and got over her heartbreak, and started a life for herself in New York City.
After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay by separate forces. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets that implicate Gabe and Mae’s family reveal a version of the past that will forever change Mae’s future.
From the bestselling author of Mating for Life comes a poignant generational story about family and secrets. With honesty and heart, Marissa Stapley reminds us of the redemptive power of love and forgiveness, and that, ultimately, family is a choice.
How good does that sound? I can't wait to curl up with it and a hot chocolate when it's released next year! (Though it's odd to think of drinking a cozy hot beverage when July is tomorrow...)

So...are you ready to see the cover? Of course you are!


I adore the blue and the red together (though...may I ask why the sky is blue when I think it should be raining?). I'm also a big fan of the simple font. I love me some handwritten titles (think Until It Fades, Tucker's book that I just reviewed this week) but the block letters just looks so crisp and lovely.

Go ahead and add Things to Do When It's Raining to your Goodreads shelf and mark your calendars for February 2018. Hopefully you're just as excited for Marissa Stapley's upcoming novel as I am!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Blog Tour: Until It Fades


Until It Fades was my first five star, holy-crap-everyone-and-their-sister-needs-to-read-it book of 2017. I shouldn't have been surprised because K.A. Tucker is one of my favourite authors and I'd probably enjoy anything she writes. Until It Fades, though? Hands down my favourite of her novels. It had everything I love in a story and that, paired with Tucker's excellent writing skills, meant I could barely put the book down. Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and Atria Books for allowing to be part of the blog tour!

Here's the synopsis (via Goodreads):
Twenty-four-year-old truck stop waitress and single mother Catherine Wright has simple goals: to give her five-year-old daughter a happy life and to never again be the talk of the town in Balsam, Pennsylvania: population two thousand outside of tourist season.
And then one foggy night, on a lonely road back from another failed attempt at a relationship, Catherine saves a man’s life. It isn’t until after the police have arrived that Catherine realizes exactly who it is she has saved: Brett Madden, hockey icon and media darling.
Catherine has already had her fifteen minutes of fame and the last thing she wants is to have her past dragged back into the spotlight, only this time on a national stage. So she hides her identity. It works.
For a time.
But when she finds the man she saved standing on her doorstep, desperate to thank her, all that changes. What begins as an immediate friendship quickly turns into something neither of them expected. Something that Catherine isn’t sure she can handle; something that Catherine is afraid to trust.
Because how long can an extraordinary man like Brett be interested in an ordinary woman like Catherine…before the spark fades?
I was really looking forward to Until It Fades because Tucker hasn't really written a novel that's so suspense-free. I adore those twisty books, don't get me wrong, but going into a book knowing there aren't any murderers to track down or mysteries to work out was kind of nice. I may read a bit out of my comfort zone every once and awhile but I am a slave to Happily Ever Afters. Of course, Tucker put her own stamp on the story. This book might be lighter than her others but that doesn't mean it's without drama or surprises (if you're like me, you won't have everything figured out, which was a nice change for me, actually), which added so much more to the story. 

I can't resist a good story that involves athletes. It's no surprise that Tucker, a Canadian, would write about an NHL player. (Also, minor spoiler alert if you read between the lines, if I was writing a story about hockey players I would probably give a certain team a fairy tale ending too.) If you're not into the sportsing, don't worry. Madden's identity may be incredibly entwined with his profession - which means a lot of hockey talk from him - but the games and the lingo won't get in the way of your enjoyment of the novel if you don't like hockey. After all, Catherine barely understands the game and she gets along just fine with Brett.

I think I've mentioned before that I read when I'm doing cardio at the gym. Because of a bit of a messed up back, I do most of my cardio workout on the recumbent bike. Bonus: it's a great machine for reading. The day I started this book I went to the gym after work for a 30 minute session and I honestly did not even notice the time passing. I was so incredibly engrossed in this book that I just pushed myself on the bike when the intervals required it and kept reading. I couldn't figure out why I felt so tired after my workout until I realized that I was working myself so hard because I was so into the story and I just didn't even realize it. 

Catherine was a fantastic character to read. She's tough and resilient because of the scandal she was involved in seven years earlier. (The book opens in 2010 and has flashbacks so you really get a sense of what happened and how Catherine was feeling at the time.) All she cares about is making sure her daughter, Brenna, is looked after. It's almost impossible to put yourself in her shoes but somehow Tucker made me feel every single thing Catherine was feeling. 

Speaking of characters...there are so many amazing secondary characters in this novel. Lou and Leroy were lifesavers for Catherine right after she left home (Gilmore Girls fans - think of how Mia stepped up for Lorelai and Rory), as was Keith. An aside: I really want Keith to get his own HEA. And Jack. And Misty. Point is...I loved reading about all of the people in Catherine's life.

And that cover? It's so ridiculously simple and doesn't tell you much of anything but I love it. 

I often find that some of the hardest reviews to write are for the books I love the most. Until It Fades is one of those books. I don't feel I can do it justice so I'm going to end this sort of rambling review quite simply: read K.A. Tucker's latest book (out tomorrow). It really doesn't matter what genre you're into. If you want a good, interesting, well written story, you've got it. And then can we please talk about it because I need to gush about it some more!

Find KA Tucker online:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Want a copy? You can buy one at all these locations:
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Books-a-Million * IndieBound * Walmart * Apple * Google * Kobo
Already have a copy and want a little something extra? You're in luck - the publishers are giving away FIVE signed copies of Until It Fades. And great news for my fellow Canadians, you are eligible! Good luck :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for a review as part of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Lost and Found Sisters


If you're a romance reader, you'll know Jill Shalvis. You may know her work even if romance isn't your go-to genre. I've read a few of her books before and always found them lovely so I was looking forward to her latest book, Lost and Found Sisters. While it wasn't a bad book, it didn't thrill me or live up to my expectations.

Here's the synopsis:
They say life can change in an instant…
After losing her sister in a devastating car accident, chef Quinn Weller is finally getting her life back on track. She appears to have it all: a loving family, a dream job in one of L.A.’s hottest eateries, and a gorgeous boyfriend dying to slip an engagement ring on her finger. So why does she feel so empty, like she’s looking for a missing piece she can’t find?
The answer comes when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a bombshell secret and a mysterious inheritance that only she can claim. This shocking revelation washes over Quinn like a tidal wave. Her whole life has been a lie.
On impulse, Quinn gives up her job, home, and boyfriend. She heads up the coast to the small hometown of Wildstone, California, which is just a few hours north, but feels worlds apart from Los Angeles. Though she doesn’t quite fit in right away, she can’t help but be drawn to the town’s simple pleasures…and the handsome, dark-haired stranger who offers friendship with no questions asked.
As Quinn settles into Wildstone, she discovers there’s another surprise in store for her. The inheritance isn’t a house or money, but rather something earthshattering, something that will make her question everything she thought she knew about herself, about her family. Now with a world of possibilities opening up to Quinn, she must decide if this new life is the one she was always meant to have—and the one that could finally give her the fulfillment she’s searched so long for.
I wish I could put my finger on why I didn't really like this one. Like I said, it's not bad. It's sweet but it's very two dimensional. I felt like there were a lot of missed opportunities for really expanding on the story and building up the characters. This novel - and the series - is supposed to be more of a "women's fiction" story than a contemporary romance. And maybe that's the problem? Not to say that romances can't be deep, but there's usually more meat to a women's fiction than a romance. I'm saying this as a romance reader who loves that they follow a certain formula and don't mind as long as they have an interesting journey in the middle...but this one wasn't as interesting or well developed as it should have been. I could also really tell that Shalvis was setting this up to be a series (side note...are there really that many women's fiction series out there?). It seemed like the characters that would be showing up in the next books were plopped into Quinn and Mick's story simply because they had to be...and not necessarily because they added anything to the story.

I did really like Quinn. I wanted her to be more three dimensional, but she was sweet, funny, and an all around good person. She knows her flaws and is trying to work on them but it's hard for her. I can't blame her because I am sure the death of a sister would be an awful, terrible thing to go through and it would definitely screw you up for awhile.

I thought Mick was really right for Quinn. He had his own stuff to sort through (I totally get the not wanting to move back to his small hometown, though mine isn't nearly as teeny as Wildstone) but he and Quinn just seemed to fit. He supported her and tore down the walls she put up after her sister's death. And he didn't really push for more than what she was willing (or able) to give. He understood that creating a relationship with her new sister was the most important thing in her life and he helped her work on that relationship.

I love stories set in small towns so I enjoyed that aspect of this novel. There were many quirky (and nosy) characters in town. Wildstone was hit during the recession and hadn't quite found a way to bounce back, despite many townspeople trying their hardest to succeed. These issues actually play a part in Mick's backstory and I really wish the first hurdle - and a very big problem - hadn't been resolved between the end of the story and the epilogue. I felt a bit let down by not seeing how Mick succeeded. (Vague, I know, but I don't want to give anything away.)

Overall, Lost and Found Sisters is a cute read but Jill Shalvis' latest wasn't anything special. I wouldn't really consider it a women's fiction novel and really wonder why it's being pushed as such. Despite not being wowed, Shalvis did enough to keep me interested in Wildstone. I want to make sure everyone I met in this first story is going to be ok and get their own Happily Ever After.

*I received a copy of the novel from the publisher, HarperCollins, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Blog Tour: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo


Like many avid readers, I love finding that book that grabs hold of you from the beginning and refuses to let you go. It's that story that you want to finish because you love it so much but know you're going to be devastated when you turn the last page. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid's latest novel, was that kind of book for me. I. Loved. It.

Here's the synopsis, from Goodreads:
From Taylor Jenkins Reid comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.
Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.
Reid's novels are always well written and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, while a bit different from her other stories, was no exception. Her characters jump off the page, the story flows, and you can perfectly picture yourself in the setting of the novel. Which, seeing as half of the book took place in the past, is quite impressive.

The entire book is told in first person - but that first person actually changes. The story starts with Monique (actually it starts with an "article" that gives just enough information about Evelyn Hugo so the reader fully understands her star power) but when Evelyn and Monique are working on the memoir, Evelyn's memories are told in first person as well. That sounds confusing but I didn't even notice it until I started working on this review. That's how seamless it was.

This novel has all of the best kind of drama that really helps the story grab you. There are family issues (Evelyn's upbringing left a lot to be desired and Monique's father died when she was young) and career struggles (Evelyn had to work to prove herself and Monique's journalism career isn't going the way she'd hoped). Relationship problems seem to be at the heart of the story (seven husbands, duh) but as Evelyn discusses her marriages you realize the husbands really aren't the point of the story, or her life.

I loved reading about Evelyn's career. Old Hollywood is so interesting (and always makes me wish I had taken more film courses in university). Reid balanced just enough historical details - what it would have been like when actors had contracts with studios, for example - without bogging down the overall storyline.

Evelyn fought for pretty much everything in her life. She's strong. She's unapologetic about using whatever tools she has at her disposal to get what she wants. She's not entirely likeable but she's captivating and a character I still haven't been able to get out of my head.

Monique was sort of a secondary character in the novel but I think Reid did a great job of showing her growth throughout the novel. Monique started out in a supporting role - in her life and against Evelyn - but as the story went on, and as she learned more about and from Evelyn, she began to turn into the leading actress of her own life. (Yeah, that's a bit cheesy but, come on. The story is about a famous actress. I couldn't not make those comparisons :) ) Evelyn changed Monique's life, and not just because of certain stories that come to light, but also by knowing and learning from this strong, formidable woman

I really wasn't sure how the whole story was going to play out. Reid kept me guessing and I actually gasped in a few places, and I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped too. The twists added a whole new, and wonderful, dimension to the story.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was the first book in a long time that gave me an immediate book hangover. I didn't know what to do with myself after I finished Taylor Jenkins Reid's newest novel. I wanted to reread it and also thrust it upon every other reader (and non-reader) I knew because it's just that good. This is a novel you are definitely going to want with you this summer and it's one that just might be my favourite of 2017.

Make sure you check out the other reviews that have already been posted as part of this blog tour. We were all in love with Evelyn and this novel!


*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for a review for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: New York, Actually


It's been just over a year since Sarah Morgan published the first book in her series, From Manhattan With Love. I read (devoured) the first three books and thought that was that. They each followed a different friend and the trio was complete. Or so I thought. I was so happy when I realized there would be another book in the series, even if it wouldn't really feature the three women I had come to love in the first three books. New York, Actually may focus on new characters but it still has the sweet, sexy, and funny feel I had come to love in the first few books. (You can read all my reviews on the first books here.)

Here's the synopsis:
Meet Molly
New York’s most famous agony aunt, she considers herself an expert at relationships…as long as they’re other people’s. The only love of her life is her Dalmatian, Valentine.
Meet Daniel
A cynical divorce lawyer, he’s hardwired to think relationships are a bad idea. If you don’t get involved, no-one can get hurt. But then he finds himself borrowing a dog to meet the gorgeous woman he sees running in Central Park every morning…
Molly and Daniel think they know everything there is to know about relationships…until they meet each other that is…
As I said, New York, Actually introduces some new characters into the series. Daniel is the brother of the twins who own a dog walking company that Urban Genie (the company run by the three women featured in the first three books) uses regularly for their clients. Follow that? Basically, as is typical with these types of romances, there's a link between the sets of characters but not a very strong one. It was a little weird to be in the same series and barely see the other characters from past books (and it was only Eva, the heroine in Miracle on 5th Avenue). But, at the same time, I was really happy to get back into this world and see where Morgan is going to take the next few romances. I figure the next book will focus on Fliss, one of the twins, and then the next will be Harriet, the other twin. But that's just my guess! 

*checks Goodreads* Would you look at that. I'm right! Holiday in the Hamptons will release later this month and Moonlight Over Manhattan is being published in October. Yay! More books!

But back to the story! Some people don't like to read romances because they think they're too predictable. I always say that's exactly why I love romances. Yes, I know the two main characters will get together in the end and there will be several bumps in the road before they can finally commit, but it's that journey to the Happily Ever After that is always different. Not every author or story offers a good journey but Morgan always writes an extremely satisfying romance with a swoonworthy HEA. 

Molly was an interesting character. The reader learns pretty early on that she writes a relationship advice blog under a pseudonym and she hides her identity because of something that happened in the past. That something isn't revealed in its entirety until much later in the book and it's one of the reasons I kept turning the pages. I sometimes find with romances that it's really easy to see what the main characters should or shouldn't do. In the case of New York, Actually, I couldn't understand why Molly was so hung up on the past and was so scared of letting anyone know what had happened. Of course, it's easy for me to say when I haven't been in those (kind of ridiculously insane) situations. If romance novels have taught me anything, it's to just be honest and talk to the person you're dating.  

Daniel seemed to be a perfect fit for Molly, even if Molly didn't realize it at first (she actually fought against it pretty hard). He's a nice guy and very successful, plus being good looking didn't hurt. But he wasn't quite as swoonworthy as some of the other heroes I've read in romances, and in Morgan's in particular. I think it's partly because I just saw this story as Molly's. She was a much more interesting and dominate character and Daniel was there to finally allow her to let go of the past and break down her (many) emotional walls. 

I'm so happy Sarah Morgan continued on with her From Manhattan with Love series and wrote New York, Actually. If you're a romance readers, I definitely encourage you to pick these ones up! It doesn't really matter if you read them in order and New York, Actually is a great place to start the series if you want to keep up with the latest books since they're sort of all new characters. Enjoy!

*I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher, Harlequin, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: Once and for All


It is a happy, happy summer when Sarah Dessen has a new book out in the world. I've been reading her novels for about half my life now (!!!) and I will continue to read them as long as she continues to write. I love her storytelling, how her stories focus on a life-changing moment for a teenage girl, and how so many of her novels are set during the summer. Once and for All, Dessen's thirteenth novel, is out today and it is absolutely lovely.

Here's the synopsis:
As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, Sarah Dessen's thirteenth novel, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.
Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that's why she's cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm's length. But Ambrose isn't about to be discouraged, now that he's met the one girl he really wants.
Sarah Dessen’s many, many fans will adore her latest, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story that has everything—humor, romance, and an ending both happy and imperfect, just like life itself.
I'm always thrilled when Dessen's novels return to Colby, a little beach town that makes frequent appearances in her books. It might just be because I grew up in a town surrounded by beaches but I just adore the feel of Colby. The town is where Louna meets Ethan, her first love that ends so tragically. Even though we don't really see much of the town - they only spend one night together - I think it was a perfect place for them to fall in love. Plus, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Along for the Ride that I absolutely adored.

Speaking of Ethan...the reason their relationship ended is completely heartbreaking. I don't want to give it away because Dessen reveals the details of the relationship in stages and I thought that was really well done.

Maybe it's just because I'm getting older but I liked that Louna had just finished high school and was going to be going away to college in the fall. That summer is such an interesting one...with all sorts of changes coming and opportunities for the future.

Like any author of numerous books, Dessen has had her ups and downs. I've enjoyed some books more than others but I've loved every single one. I thought Saint Anything (which came out in 2015) was a return to some of her best work (think The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby). I was hoping this new one would be as spectacular as the others - and it is - but it's not going to take over the top spot in my ranking of Dessen novels. Don't get me wrong though...this is still a really, really good book.

And just as an aside...I did receive an ARC of this one but I always buy a copy of Sarah Dessen's books. I can't not. I have all of them, plus a UK edition of Keeping the Moon that I found in an indie bookstore in Australia. The one benefit of having an ARC was being able to read a new Sarah Dessen novel, before it even came out. Now that is a great way to spend a birthday. 


Finally - can I make a plea to Penguin Random House Canada to try and get Sarah to Canada for a tour stop? It's been almost six years since she's done a public event here and I'd love to see her again!

Reading a Sarah Dessen novel is one of my all time favourite things. I know I'm going to get a wonderful story with a teenage girl heroine who is really struggling with something, whether it's her parents' divorce, a past love gone wrong, or something more serious, like sexual assault. These girls are real and they're flawed and such a delight to read about. Dessen's books are often categorized as romances but they are so, so much more. Once and for All is another really well done novel and I'm already sad that I've finished it. OK, if we're being honest, I'm sad the second I read the last word. Dessen's books are never going to be long enough for me. If you want a really great read (and who doesn't?) Once and for All should definitely be on your summer reading list.

*I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: Just Like Family


I first met Kate Hilton back in 2013 at BookBuzz Toronto, an event I helped run. She was one of ten authors taking part in the event and, this is the embarrassing part, the only author I hadn't read. *cringe* I've been following her writing career since then though so when I got the chance to review Just Like Family as part of HarperCollins Canada's First Look program, I was thrilled. I had this book done in two days and it was such a great read. Take a look at this link to see what others thought of this novel.

Here's the synopsis:
From the nationally bestselling author of The Hole in the Middle, a witty, insightful new novel about juggling the demands of three husbands—a work husband, an almost husband and an ex-husband—and figuring out the true meaning of family.
Avery Graham has built a life that anyone would admire. She has a brilliant career as chief of staff to Peter Haines, the charismatic mayor of Toronto. She has a devoted partner in Matt, her live-in boyfriend of 14 years. And she has a loving family and deep friendships that stretch back to childhood summers at the cottage.
But when Matt proposes, Avery’s past threatens to engulf her present. Can she contemplate a lifetime commitment to Matt after her disastrous first marriage to Hugh? And is Matt really the love of her life, when she has spent so much of it by Peter’s side? Avery could use some good advice from the women who know her best, but her closest friends, Jenny and Tara, have drifted away over the years.
When a scandal erupts at city hall, Avery must overcome her deepest fears about love and loss, and discover what it means to be a family.
One of the things that really drew me to this story was where it took place. The novel is set in Toronto and too often Canadian authors don't place their novels (especially contemporary/women's fiction ones) in Canada. Part of that is, I think, because for some reason readers in other countries (cough America cough) don't want to read any books set in Canada. Which is, in my humble opinion, stupid. I want to read stories that take place in my own country and set in my own time. While I don't live in Toronto, I'm close enough that I visit quite often and I even interned in the city for four months a few years ago. Because of this, I could picture City Hall - Avery's workplace - quite clearly. I also loved that there was a secondary setting of a cottage in, I'm assuming, Muskoka. I grew up in southern cottage country so I have a soft spot for any cottage set books. 

Also, a fictional story about a mayor of Toronto involved in something that is not more scandalous than the situations the actual former mayor of Toronto found himself in a few years ago? You can't help but laugh. (Just Google Rob Ford if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Speaking of which, Hilton managed to find a great balance of absolute ridiculous scenarios (an older councillor bounces, quite literally, off another, much larger councillor and flies through the air) and realistic dramatic scenes. If she wasn't such a masterful writer, this could have been a completely different novel (I'm thinking Sophie Kinsella...a favourite author of mine but who is known for more outlandish storylines.)

And the drama! I was so invested in Avery and finding out why she was the way she was. She went through a lot at a younger age and hadn't quite dealt with everything appropriately. And let's be real - who actually deals with problems well in your early twenties? Avery was a really interesting, multi-layered character and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her story.

The story takes place in 2017 with flashbacks throughout. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about the flashbacks. I was sometimes annoyed to go back to 1989 or 1999 when I just wanted to see how present day Avery was faring. I eventually realized there was no other way to tell this story. Hilton uses the flashbacks to reveal more about Avery, her life, and the people she lost along the way. Those revelations made the present make so much more sense (like realizing why Jenny isn't in Avery's life much and what really happened with her ex-husband).

I have to note my favourite scenes, and probably the most powerful ones in the whole novel. I knew as soon as I saw the subheading of September 2001 for one of the flashbacks that we were going to head into some intense moments. Hilton wrote the scenes about 9/11 so well and it had such an impact. It was one of those times where I had no idea what else was happening around me because I was so completely drawn into the story. (And this is saying something because I was reading this part in my office on my lunch break.) Gah. Just...amazing scenes. Heartbreaking but so well done.

Rereading the synopsis as I wrote this post made me realize that Just Like Family is about so much more than what the synopsis suggests. It's not just about the scandal at City Hall or Matt proposing or even about her friendships. Kate Hilton's novel is about a strong, modern woman whose life is going completely off the rails, as it has done in the past. Through Just Like Family and Avery's story, we learn (or are reminded) that your past shapes your present but it does not have to define your future. Kate Hilton's new book is definitely one you're going to want to add to your To Be Read list!

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: In This Moment


If you haven't read Karma Brown's books before you are missing out on some seriously good stories. In This Moment is her latest and it is a powerful read and oh so good. But, just a warning, it'll probably rip your heart out. 

Here's the synopsis:
Bestselling author Karma Brown is back with a morally infused and emotionally riveting exploration of one woman's guilt over an unexpected—yet avoidable—tragedy.
Meg Pepper has a fulfilling career and a happy family. Most days she's able to keep it all together and glide through life. But then, in one unalterable moment, everything changes.
After school pickup one day, she stops her car to wave a teenage boy across the street…just as another car comes hurtling down the road and slams into him.
Meg can't help but blame herself for her role in this horrific disaster. Full of remorse, she throws herself into helping the boy's family as he rehabs from his injuries. But the more Meg tries to absolve herself, the more she alienates her own family—and the more she finds herself being drawn to the boy's father, Andrew.
Soon Meg's picture-perfect life is unravelling before her eyes. As the painful secrets she's been burying bubble dangerously close to the surface, she will have to decide: Can she forgive herself, or will she risk losing everything she holds dear to her heart?
I know people are going to say Meg isn't the most likeable character. (Which I didn't know they'd say about Tegan, the main character in Brown's first book, Come Away With Me. I loved the book and really liked Tegan. Turns out I'm one of the few who do and many in my book club weren't a fan, as we learned when Karma came to our club a few months ago.) But, I don't think that should matter. Are you always likeable? Are your friends? No. No one is. No one is perfect and you don't really want to only read books where the characters are always good and perfect and likeable.

Meg is a good person. She's just carrying around a lot of baggage that she hasn't dealt with appropriately. She's tucked everything away and In This Moment is where it all comes spilling (exploding, really) out. At the start of the novel we've caught Meg on the second worst day of her entire life. It took a really long time to finally find out what happened on the worst day of her life. There were hints but the full story didn't come out for awhile (almost too long but not quite). As an outsider, it's so easy to see what could have gone differently had Meg only shared the full extent of her past with her husband (or, you know, anyone). But, you can also see why Meg made the decisions she did. Most of them, anyway.

Many studies have shown that fiction readers are more empathetic and I kept thinking about that as I read this book. I was so twisted up while reading In This Moment. I felt for pretty much every character we meet in this novel (except Andrew's wife, whose name is escaping me, she was under a great deal of stress, of course, but it was really hard to see her side of things...I guess I was Team Meg...). There's a lot of really heavy stuff happening in this novel and that's why I think you'll feel your heart breaking time and time again. It's a good thing because it means Brown has written a story that you can't help but be sucked into completely. It hurts like hell but you'll be better for it when you're done.

And speaking of being done, I absolutely flew through this book and had it finished in two days. I just didn't want to put it down!

I was really happy with Karma Brown's latest book and I think you will be too. In This Moment is such a great read and one that will keep you thinking well after you're done. Lots of "what ifs" and wondering what you would do yourself in certain situations. I'm already waiting for her next novel!

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Park Row Books/Harlequin, via NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: The Darcy Monologues


I'm a Jane Austen fan so a short story collection told from Darcy's perspective was a pretty interesting idea. The Darcy Monologues was edited by Christina Boyd and includes 15 stories all told from the point of view of one of literature's favourite heroes, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

Here's the description of the collection:
“You must allow me to tell you...”
For over two hundred years, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy has captivated readers’ imaginations as the ultimate catch. Rich. Powerful. Noble. Handsome. And yet, as Miss Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is established through Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes, how are we to know what his tortured soul is indeed thinking? How does Darcy progress from “She is tolerable: but not handsome enough to tempt me” to “I thought only of you”?

In this romance anthology, fifteen Austen-inspired authors assemble to sketch Darcy’s character through a series of re-imaginings set in the Regency through contemporary times—from faithful narratives to the fanciful. Herein “The Darcy Monologues”, the man himself reveals his intimate thoughts, his passionate dreams, and his journey to love—all told with a previously concealed wit and enduring charm.

Stories by: Susan Adriani * Sara Angelini * Karen M Cox * J. Marie Croft * Jan Hahn * Jenetta James * Lory Lilian * KaraLynne Mackrory * Beau North * Ruth Phillips Oakland * Natalie Richards * Sophia Rose * Melanie Stanford * Joana Starnes * Caitlin Williams
There have been countless Pride and Prejudice adaptations over the years and it's always cool to see what authors/directors/etc. will do with Austen's novel. The authors in this collection had the task of imagining how Darcy was feeling during the novel. Some of them wrote Regency era stories so they had the feel of an Austen story, and others wrote their stories set in different time periods. There was one during World War II, another during the sixties, and a few present day stories as well. Some of the Regency stories took place during Pride and Prejudice - some wrote what Darcy was going through after the rejected proposal - and others wrote stories that took place after Austen's novel ended. One even created a mash up of Pride and Prejudice and Beauty and the Beast (I'm still not sure how I felt about that one...). I loved that each other had a twist all their own and it was neat to see how they approached their own Mr. Darcy.

I did struggle with some of the stories and it's been really hard to put my finger on why. Part of it hasd to do with the way they were written. Some just didn't flow well as short stories. It was hard to notice that since I know the source material, Pride and Prejudice, fairly well so I was able to fill in gaps or smooth over awkward timing. I also think that some of the Regency era stories were too similar and I may have gotten a bit bored reading the same thing over and over again. I also found that the Darcy the author wrote sometimes didn't quite fit with the original Darcy. For example, one of the contemporary authors had her Darcy describe himself as a wuss which doesn't work with how I see Darcy and even how he was written in the rest of the story. I know each author can - and should - create her own story but changing Darcy's personality so much feels weird.

I especially liked seeing how the other era and contemporary authors approached their stories. What professions would the characters have? Darcy was a principal in one story and a captain in the war in another. Elizabeth was a radio DJ in the 60s and a sports journalist in present day. Would all of the characters be included? What storyline would they focus on? Sometimes the story took place between the proposals and sometimes it focused on Wickham and Lydia. Each one was very different and I loved that.

My favourite stories were two of the contemporary ones. I loved "Darcy Strikes Out" by Sophia Rose - and not just because it featured Darcy as a professional baseball player (give me a romance involving ball players and I'm a happy girl). I found this one to be well written and struck an excellent balance of staying true to the original story while also being so very unique. I did find myself picking apart the baseball storyline a bit though but I'm a bit particular when it comes to my sports stories! :) The other one wasn't exactly from "Darcy's" perspective as it was a modern day couple who met in a similar way to Darcy and Elizabeth. In "I, Darcy" by Karen M. Cox, the hero is actually named after Fitzwilliam Darcy (his mom was an English major) but goes by Liam because he hates being named after a character who he doesn't understand. I think I enjoyed this one because it focused on the two couples (Darcy/Lynley and Corbin (Charles Bingley)/Jane (Lynley's step-sister whose mother was also an English major). Again, it was well written and it was the perfect story to end the collection with.

Even though I had some issues with The Darcy Monologues, I think this is a neat read for anyone who appreciates fan fiction and Jane Austen. There's a reason we're all still obsessed with Mr. Darcy all these years later (200 years since Austen died, in fact) and it was really fun to see so many authors pay homage to Jane and her most enduring (and endearing?) hero.

*A copy of this collection was provided by the editor, Christina Boyd, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.* 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: The Perfect Stranger


I had seen Megan Miranda's first adult novel, All the Missing Girls, around the blogosphere, bookstores, and bestseller lists but never did read it. When I saw The Perfect Stranger, her latest novel, I thought it sounded interesting. Of course, thinking books sound interesting doesn't always mean they are. I was thrilled when The Perfect Stranger totally delivered. This book is so so good!

Here's the synopsis:
In the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.
Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.
Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.
Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?
One of the things that drew me into the story was that Leah was a (disgraced) journalist. My boyfriend is a reporter so it's always cool to read novels featuring characters who have the same profession as you or someone close to you. I was also so incredibly intrigued by what she had done wrong to cause her to give up her job. What was the lawsuit? I was hooked.

And I stayed hooked. I was riveted as Miranda started the story and slowly wove the mystery together, dropping the most subtle of clues (making me doubt if they really were clues). I honestly did not want to stop reading, especially not as all the threads started coming together. I had no idea how everything was going to end up. What was tied together? What was separate? What on earth actually happened? 

And that cover? It's a bit creepy but, damn, it's beautiful. I love the colours and the font. It totally suits the overall mood and story.

Like I said, I didn't read All the Missing Girls and I haven't read Megan Miranda's YA novels either. But now? After reading The Perfect Stranger? I am going to have to look them up and add them to my TBR pile because I loved this book. You should definitely pick up your own copy and tell all of your friends to read it too. But make sure you set aside a good chunk of time to read it because you will not want to put it down!

Now, time for an extra special surprise! I have a Q&A with Megan Miranda. I hope you enjoy it :)

Books Etc.: You've made a name for yourself in the psychological suspense genre, like many other authors over the last couple of years. What drew you to this genre? Will you stick with this genre for your next novel or branch out to something new?
Megan Miranda: I have always been a big fan of suspense and mystery. As a reader, I loved piecing together the puzzle, and as a writer, this is one of my favorite elements as well: creating the puzzle, and seeing how the pieces fit together. I also think it’s a genre that lends itself to an interesting exploration of character, because everything is put under the microscope. They don’t have the luxury of time, to think decisions through, so in that way, I find it very revealing of character. Yes, my next adult book will also be a psychological suspense (and my young adult books all have an element of suspense as well).

BE: What kind of research is involved with writing suspense novels?
MM: Honestly, it depends on the book and the different elements in the story. Sometimes it’s visiting places to get a better feel for the setting, sometimes it’s talking to people in specific fields, or in the law or legal profession, sometimes it’s watching documentaries, or reading books and articles. No book is the same, and I really enjoy diving into different aspects with each different story.

BE: What is your writing process like? Do you plot or just see where the story takes you? Do you block out specific times of day to write and always write in one place? Or do you fit in writing whenever and wherever you can?
MM: I don’t do a lot of plotting up front. I usually start with character, a premise, possibly a theme I’m looking to explore more. I try to plot as I write my way into the story and as I get to know the characters. So at the start, I look for turning points: what’s the event that happens at the halfway point? And then, if I get there, I look to the next turning point. But the story develops a lot as I go, and then it changes in revision as well.
I do write during pretty structured hours in my office. I typically work the same time each day, between 9am and 3pm, when my kids are at school. But when I’m under deadline, I have also been known to work in my car while my kids are at an after-school activity, and anywhere I can squeeze in the time.


BE: You've written YA novels as well. What's it like now writing adult novels? Are there many differences?
MM: For me, the main difference is in thinking about the narrator, and the perspective. So in one case, I’m filtering the story through the perspective of a narrator who may be experiencing something for the first time and is working their way to an understanding for themselves. For me, there’s a strong feeling of immediacy in the YA perspective. Whereas in adults, there’s more of an element of hindsight, and perspective. And the story is being filtered through a lens where a narrator is viewing events through years of their own experience. But honestly, that’s the only true difference for me when I’m approaching the story: Who is telling the story, how do they see it, and why.

BE: Both your adult novels feature female friendships that are surrounded by mystery. Why do you enjoy writing about these types of friendships?
MM: I’m fascinated by the inner workings of friendships and relationships, and I’ve tried to explore that in different ways in each of these books. In All the Missing Girls, it was more about a group of friends who knew everything about each other (or thought they did), and how difficult it was to ever move past that perspective of one another—and to become someone new. In The Perfect Stranger, it was sort of the opposite: strangers who knew nothing about one another, who instead met as adults. In this case, I was thinking more about how we present ourselves as a story, and how maybe we see what we want to see, just as much as we tell what we want to tell.



*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher in exchange for a review for the purpose of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Boyfriend Blog Hop


May is Chick Lit Month so a few of my author friends are taking part in an awesome Book Boyfriend Blog Hop! The rules are pretty simple and you have the chance to win a great grand prize - a Kindle Paperwhite and 30 Chick Lit/RomCom e-books! How can you pass that up?

So what do you need to do to win? Hop to all the stops (links to the authors' pages are below), collect the Book Boyfriend 2017's name at each stop, then submit all 30 names to traciebanister AT gmail DOT com in order to be entered in the Grand Prize giveaway.

As I mentioned, this giveaway includes a Kindle Paperwhite + 30 e-books, one from each of the authors participating in the hop.

Entries for the hop will be accepted until Sunday, May 21st at midnight EDT and a winner will be chosen on Monday, May 22nd.

And the best news? This Grand Prize giveaway is open internationally!

Good luck, friends, and happy hopping!




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: The Rome Affair


I've been reading Karen Swan's novels for awhile now. They're always delightful but the last few have been a bit...lacking. When I received The Rome Affair a few weeks ago, I read the synopsis and thought: yes. This...this sounds really promising. Happily, I was right. Swan's latest book kept me engaged from the first page to the last and I never wanted to put it down. 

Here's the synopsis:
The glamorous capital city of Italy is brought to startling life in The Rome Affair, a compelling summer novel by Karen Swan.
1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty and money in the world can't change it.
2017 and Francesca Hackett is living la dolce vita in Rome, leading tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza - famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier.
Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena's life.
The Rome Affair, happily, did what The Paris Secret (Swan's summer 2016 novel) could not. It kept me interested and turning the pages as quick as I could to see exactly how the mystery was going to unfold. Just when you thought you knew how it all turned out, Swan revealed another detail that had you doubting everything. So. Good.

Plus, the actual mystery with all the twists and turns and secrets hidden throughout the years? It will make your head spin at the end. It actually took me awhile of sitting and thinking after I finished it to get a handle on what the hell had just happened and to start to understand the motivation of the characters. I couldn't figure out where Swan was going with most of the story, which was awesome. There was only one thing I had nailed down and that was why Elena had finally decided to have her biography written. The rest? Total mystery.

Elena was a riveting character. Swan managed to write such a larger than life character without having her become a caricature. Because her life? Was insane. She was a wealthy American heiress who eventually became an Italian princess. She partied with Andy Warhol and was friends with Elizabeth Taylor. How could you not be intrigued? 

Cesca was interesting as well, with her own secret, but she served more as a way to get at Elena's story than another protagonist. That was ok, surprisingly enough. But she was such a wicked smart woman that she did manage to shine enough beside Elena. I do wish Swan had managed to write her as a stronger character with an equally riveting story though. Elena and her long and full life overshadowed Cesca a bit, not surprisingly. Random aside: I appreciated that Cesca was tall (though at 5'10" she's still 2" shorter than I am) because there aren't nearly enough female characters who are that tall. It's a small thing but it's something you notice when you're super tall as well! Plus, the fact that Cesca was a blogger too was pretty cool. Oh, and if you wonder exactly what a barrister is (like I was because I'm not British), allow Google to help: "a lawyer entitled to practice as an advocate, particularly in the higher courts".

The Rome Affair is a great book for the summer because it's such an engaging read with so much depth. Plus, it's based in such an interesting and glamorous city. You might not be in Rome but, sitting on the beach with Karen Swan's latest book in hand, you can pretend to be, at least for a little while.

*An ARC was provided by the distributor, Publisher's Group Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


Can you believe I've never actually read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? My sister had the old school covers (the ones that looked like the actual textbooks which I loved) of both this one and Quidditch Through the Ages but I never did get around to borrowing and reading them. I did, like every other Harry Potter fan, go see the film when it was released in theatres and I loved it. So, when I had the chance to review the brand new version of the book I jumped at the chance. Time to finally learn more about all those magical creatures I've been reading (and rereading) about for years!

Here's the description of the new edition:
A brand new edition of this essential companion to the Harry Potter stories, with a new foreword from J.K. Rowling and an irresistible new jacket by Jonny Duddle.
An approved textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander's masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensable introduction to the magical beasts of the wizarding world. Scamander's years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail ... Others will surprise even the most ardent amateur magizoologist. Dip in to discover the curious habits of magical beasts across five continents ...

'No wizarding household is complete without a copy' Albus Dumbledore
Because I had never read the book before, I wasn't totally sure which creatures were part of the six new ones added to this latest edition. While reading it, though, I realized many of them are from stories J.K. Rowling had shared about Ilvermorny through Pottermore. I did a bit of poking around and found this article on Pottermore that lists all the new creatures accompanied with amazing and stunning 3D paper art by artist Andy Singleton. 

I had forgotten that the Thunderbird was a Ilvermorny house and a creature in Rowling's world. Having grown up with some (pretty basic) knowledge of Indigenous cultures, I was fairly certain Rowling's description didn't mesh with the mythology from real Indigenous cultures. A quick search confirmed my suspicions and reminded me of the many articles I read about how upset Indigenous people were when the Ilvermorny story was first released. (Read this CBC article for more context.) I love Rowling as much as the next Potter fan but this was a hard thing to come to terms with...a favourite author seemingly picking and choosing the myths that suited her and changing them to work with her story. This isn't just changing a, say, vampire narrative to suit your story. It's about taking a culture's religion for the purpose of another story. I don't like to be a downer but this is part of a much bigger conversation, especially in Canada, and I feel like I can't just ignore it.

Of course, all that being said...I did have fun reading this book. Creatures popped up that I remembered Harry and friends learning about at Hogwarts and it was great to learn more about where they can be found. It was so neat to really get a better imaginary picture (or sometimes actual picture as there were some line drawings throughout the book) of what these creatures should actually look like. 

I especially liked the introduction and explanation of why Centaurs and Merpeople are considered Beasts and Magical Creatures instead of Beings (like witches and wizards are). It would have been very complicated for those wizards to sort out how to classify certain creatures. I also liked the Ministry of Magic classification system. It ranges from XXXXX ("Known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate") to X ("Boring"). 

I love the look of the scales and the green and gold of the cover but I'm not sold on the dragon. I like that it's a red creature (the three colours all look so lovely) but this Chinese Fireball (I think that's what it is anyway) just looks too...cute, I think. Although the Puffskein on the back really is adorable and I want one. Except it enjoys sticking its long tongue up sleeping humans' noses and eating bogies so...that's a bit odd!

Have you read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Do you have the older copies or the newer one like me? Which do you prefer? I'm happy to be adding "Newt Scamander's" title to my ever-growing Harry Potter collection!

*I received a copy of this book from Raincoast Books in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, April 28, 2017

Blog Tour: Timeless Tour Discussion


I can't believe my part of the Timeless Tour is over! I've had so much fun reading three very different historical novels and I hope you've had fun reading my thoughts on them. Have you been inspired to pick any of them up?

Here are the links in case you missed the reviews the first time around:
The Enemies of Versailles - Sally Christie
Promises to Keep - Genevieve Graham
The Scribe of Siena - Melodie Winawer

The Timeless Tour isn't officially over yet. There will be a Twitter chat on May 4th at 1:00pm EST featuring all three authors and it will be moderated by Susanna Kearsley. I'm hoping I can find time to take part! Work can wait, right?

Now, for my final post...a few discussion questions. These really made me think! Thank you again to Simon & Schuster Canada for inviting me to be a part of such a great blog tour. Enjoy, friends!

What was your favourite historical time period among the Timeless Tour reads? Did you know anything about this period before you began reading the book?
I think my favourite time period was 1750s Canada because it highlighted a portion of my country's history that I couldn't remember learning much about in school. I knew who the Acadians were but I don't think I remembered that so many of them were expelled from what would become Nova Scotia. 

How did the historical events in each book influence the character’s choices and personalities?
Jeanne, in Enemies of Versailles, grew up poor and didn't have much choice in what sort of life she was going to live. It was pretty much guaranteed she'd become some sort of prostitute so she made sure to align herself with the "right" men so she would eventually be led towards the king.
Amélie's fiery personality came in handy when her family and her home were being attacked. She refused to give up and fought as long and as hard as she could to protect what was hers. 
Beatrice had to tread very carefully when she went back in time because she had to be sure not to give too much away. If she did, it was likely she would be assumed to be a witch and would be killed. She was extremely smart though so she was able to use her knowledge of the time and find ways to keep those close to her safe.  

If you could invite one of the Timeless Tour leading ladies (Beatrice, Jeanne, or Amelie) to dinner, who would you choose and why?
I'd definitely want to hang out with Amélie. I loved reading her story and it was the one that stuck with me the most. Her strong personality is one I envy a little bit. I also think she'd have such interesting stories about working the land and knowledge of the Mi’kmaq, a local First Nations tribe. 

The Scribe of Siena starts in the present before Beatrice is transported back in time to 1347, whereas Promises to Keep and Enemies of Versailles are firmly rooted in one timeline. How did this change your reading experience?
As I mentioned in my review, I liked that The Scribe of Siena was a little bit different than the other two historical novels - especially because the present day knowledge Beatrice had helped me learn more about a time period I didn't know much about. I don't think the story would have been as interesting had it not been for the time travel element.  

In the past, powerful women have been written out of textbooks. How do the protagonists of the Timeless Tour reads challenge the misconception that women in history were passive, submissive and dependent?
I love that historical novels such as these and historians are working to expose the powerful, amazing, women whose stories have been silenced. As a woman, I want to be able to read the true stories about females in the past. I know they existed and I know some of them were very influential.
All three of the women in these novels refused to sit down and just take what was coming to them. They knew they had to use whatever means necessary to survive (literally). All the women were intelligent in their own ways and they all made compelling protagonists.