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. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Blog Tour: The Scribe of Siena

The Scribe of Siena is the final book I have to review for Simon & Schuster's Timeless Tour. It's been so much fun! I have one final post for you next Friday. I know nothing of Siena, other than it's in Italy. I also don't know much about the Black Plague, or any plague, really. So, because of all that, I was intrigued by Melodie Winawer's debut novel.

Here's the synopsis:
Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her deep empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her beloved brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.
After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the fourteenth-century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.
Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.
The Scribe of Siena is the captivating story of a brilliant woman’s passionate affair with a time and a place that captures her in an impossibly romantic and dangerous trap—testing the strength of fate and the bonds of love.
I used to read time travel books quite a bit when I was a kid (no, I still haven't read Outlander!) so I liked the idea of a contemporary character making her way back to the 1300s. The time travel element set The Scribe of Siena apart from a lot of the other historical novels I've read recently (and not just for this tour...2017 is apparently the Year of Historical Fiction). I didn't know when Beatrice was going to go back in time. Was it going to be during a surgery she was performing? When she was having one of her "empathy" moments? (Side note...what was actually up with those moments? I found those harder to believe than the time travel.) I also didn't know when she would go back to present day. Or if she even would. The time travel really kept me in suspense.

I think the biggest problem I had with this novel was the sheer amount of detail included. I think it was a case of Winawer trying to fit too much research into one novel when the story didn't necessarily warrant it. I also found there were too many characters. It wasn't a matter of not being able to keep track of who was telling the part of the story, that was fairly well done. Beatrice's part was told in first person while the (many) others' were in third person. The issue was more that I didn't understand why some characters really had to have their part of the story shared. In particular, it wasn't until about halfway through the book that I realized why the young priest, Bartolomeo, may be important to the overall story. He had already had some, small, parts of the story dedicated to his POV but once the (very small) revelation was made, he's not mentioned again until close to the end of the novel. He does play a part at the end but not enough to warrant him taking up character space in my brain.

There were three main reasons I kept reading this novel (other than, you know, for the blog tour). The conspiracy - whatever Ben had found out about why Siena was hit so hard during the plague - was quite compelling. I'm also a sucker for a Happily Ever After and really hoped I would get one (though hoping for a character to stay in the past to get said HAE is a weird feeling). Finally, the scribe part of the story was so interesting.

One of the best things about reading The Scribe of Siena is it has made me much more interested in Italian history. It's one (of many) places I've never been but I'd love to visit Siena now and see in person the town Melodie Winawer described in such detail. It seems that I'm in the minority with other readers who received various advance copies of this novel as many Goodreads reviewers thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel. I liked it but expected to enjoy it a heck of a lot more.

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: How Meg West Was Won

I’ve read quite a few of Libby Mercer’s books over the years and have always enjoyed them. I read her latest, How Meg West Was Won, back in September (yeah...I'm a bit behind...) and it was just as delightful as her others!

Here’s the synopsis:
Whoever heard of a white knight showing up in a pair of old, scuffed cowboy boots?
She may be smart as a whip, but Meg West's co-op is in a heap of financial trouble. When sexy and rugged cattle rancher, Dutch Hargrave, makes her a job offer, the vegetarian California girl can't afford to refuse. And quite frankly, she hasn’t got the strength to turn down a man with a slow, Texan drawl that makes her toes curl.
Enlisting the help of the feisty bombshell is the answer to Dutch's prayers—and his fantasies. Meg has the professional know-how to help lead his ranch into the 21st Century.
Before long, Meg and Dutch are as busy as a stump-tailed bull in fly season, working around the clock trying to preserve Dutch's heritage. But while the grueling work brings them closer together, the heat on the ranch starts to rise. Will Dutch find a way to win over Meg West while saving his family's farm?
I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of when the hero and heroine have opposite views of the world (or are outright “enemies”) and then end up falling for each other. So, I was a little worried when I read that Meg was a vegetarian and Dutch was a cattle rancher. How on earth would these opposites be attracted to each other? Luckily Meg was a vegetarian who understood that others eat meat and some people, like Dutch, make a living because of it. Meg was open-minded and that was a quality that was really attractive to read in a main character. Dutch was a bit more set in his ways but reading as the two of them tried to find common ground and really understand the other was sweet. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get along like that?

One of the things I love about Mercer’s books is they tend to involve a storyline I never would have come up with, or realized I wanted to read. I liked that the book was set on a farm and was about trying to save both a farm and a co-op all at the same time.

How Meg West Was Won was a sweet, funny, and smart read that will appeal to contemporary lovers – especially those who look for a Happily Ever After. I can’t wait to see what Libby Mercer writes next!

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Blog Tour: Promises to Keep

Like most Canadian kids, I learned about our country's history in school. And, again like most kids, I was bored. I remember hearing about the Acadians but I wouldn't be able to tell you more than they had some French ties and lived on the East coast. Genevieve Graham's newest novel, Promises to Keep, shows what it would have been like for a family of Acadians when the British came to take over their land. It's a heartbreaking tale with uplifting moments and, most importantly, so very interesting. This is my third stop on Simon & Schuster Canada's Timeless Tour - have you been following along?

Here's the synopsis:
Summer 1755, Acadia 
Young, beautiful Amélie Belliveau lives with her family among the Acadians of Grande Pré, Nova Scotia, content with her life on their idyllic farm. Along with their friends, the neighbouring Mi’kmaq, the community believes they can remain on neutral political ground despite the rising tides of war. But peace can be fragile, and sometimes faith is not enough. When the Acadians refuse to pledge allegiance to the British in their war against the French, the army invades Grande Pré, claims the land, and rips the people from their homes. Amélie’s entire family, alongside the other Acadians, is exiled to ports unknown aboard dilapidated ships. 
Fortunately, Amélie has made a powerful ally. Having survived his own harrowing experience at the hands of the English, Corporal Connor MacDonnell is a reluctant participant in the British plan to expel the Acadians from their homeland. His sympathy for Amélie gradually evolves into a profound love, and he resolves to help her and her family in any way he can—even if it means treason. As the last warmth of summer fades, more ships arrive to ferry the Acadians away, and Connor is forced to make a decision that will alter the future forever. 
Heart-wrenching and captivating, Promises to Keep is a gloriously romantic tale of a young couple forced to risk everything amidst the uncertainties of war.
Promises to Keep takes place during a time of war and, as the synopsis so accurately pointed out, it's totally heart-wrenching. I felt like my heart was breaking for the last third of the book. For a girl who loves her Happily Ever Afters, that's a tough story to read. As someone who knows history was not kind to many people and war is hard, I understood why so many terrible, awful things had to happen over the course of the novel. 

Over the last few years I've gotten in the habit of reading the acknowledgments at the end of the book. I admit it started because I became friends with more authors and my name started popping up but that made me realize that every name in every acknowledgment is important. It's especially great to read them when the book is a historical novel as the author will often discuss their research and the reasons why they've focused on a particular subject. That was the case with Graham. She wrote about how many people, including Canadians, think our history is boring. I'll admit I'm one of them. History classes in school could never hold my interest for very long even though I knew, on some level, it had to be better than textbooks and memorizing dates. Graham says, (and I absolutely adore this), 
"Our stories are just waiting to be written, and they need to be written so people will want to read and learn more. Often that means they require fictional reimagining and that's where I come in. My goal, my passion, is to breathe life back into Canadian history."
Well, Ms. Graham. You've done it. You managed to completely capture my interest and, as I said, made me realize that I don't remember much about the Acadians and that needs to change. So, thank you.

Amélie is a fantastic heroine. She is tough, she is smart, she is loving. I'd like to think I'd handle being thrown off my family's land with half as much strength as she did (that's not to say she never felt defeated because she definitely did), but I don't think I'd be able to handle it. She stayed strong for her family (her elder sister had bursts of strength as well and, in those moments especially, I really wanted to know more of how Claire was really faring) and did everything in her power to put her family back together again.

I really enjoyed reading Promises to Keep. Genevieve Graham's latest book was one I didn't want to put down. It has a wonderful storyline, excellent writing, and characters whose lives will grab you and won't want to let you go. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have to look up Graham's other novel Tides of Honour!

Make sure you follow along with the blog tour! You can check out the Timeless Tours site and the graphic below for more details.

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review: City of Friends

Joanna Trollope is one of those authors who I've heard of for what seems like forever. But...I've only ever read one of her novels (the updated Sense & Sensibility for The Austen Project...my review is here if you're interested). When her latest, City of Friends, showed up in my mailbox I was immediately intrigued and fell head over heels in love with that cover. I was in the mood for a contemporary tale so it moved itself right to the top of my TBR list. And was it worth it? Yes! It was a delightful story that kept me interested and I knew right away that I'd be passing it on to my mom to read too.

Here's the synopsis:
The day Stacey Grant loses her job feels like the last day of her life. Or at least, the only life she'd ever known. For who was she if not a City high-flyer, Senior Partner at one of the top private equity firms in London?
As Stacey starts to reconcile her old life with the new—one without professional achievements or meetings, but instead, long days at home with her dog and ailing mother, waiting for her successful husband to come home—she at least has The Girls to fall back on. Beth, Melissa and Gaby. The girls, now women, had been best friends from the early days of university right through their working lives, and through all the happiness and heartbreaks in between.
But these career women all have personal problems of their own, and when Stacey's redundancy forces a betrayal to emerge that was supposed to remain secret, their long cherished friendships will be pushed to their limits...
City of Friends takes the typical format when multiple characters are the focus of the story. Each chapter of this novel follows a different friend - Stacey, Melissa, Gaby, and Beth - as they each deal with the fallout of Stacey losing her job. I sometimes have problems with books like this but it didn't bother me as much as it normally does. It took awhile to get into and really get a sense of each woman but it flowed better than other novels like this I've read in the past.

That being said, I think I wanted more from each woman. The story takes place over the course of a year or so (I think? That was another issue...I wasn't totally sure how much time had passed.) and each woman had a lot going on that had to be fit into one chapter. There were gaps but I think that's just kind of how life goes. You're going to have days that are of great importance to your life, and those are the ones we got with this novel, but there are also the other days when you're just putting one foot in front of the other and everything is ticking along as usual.

Speaking of being like real life, I thought the friendship between the four women was realistic. They may be in their forties and I'm just in my twenties (hoo boy...can only say that for another month or so!) but female friendships are similar at all ages. I did love the following quote because I knew exactly what kind of "crossed wires" Trollope was referencing. It makes me look forward to even more solid friendships in the future:
"Even when they couldn't meet, they rang each other, or texted, or tweeted. The inevitable crossed wires of their twenties and thirties had mellowed into a much less judgemental support system in their forties." (page 12)
They have such a great friendship that they know they are always there for each other even if they don't see each other for a few weeks at a time.

I loved how successful all four women were (yes, Stacey lost her job but she definitely didn't deserve it). They were proud of their successes because they worked hard to get where they were. This hit pretty hard as I was reading this book back on International Women's Day.
The fact that they've had to fight to get where they are, and had to fight much harder than their male counterparts, is referenced throughout the novel. Also, all four women are so supportive of other women in their workplaces and, in Gaby's case especially as she manages so many people, will do whatever they can to make sure other women are able to succeed. As much as I loved this whole female success storyline...I think it shows a lot that I even needed and wanted to reference it. We've come so far but there's still more work to be done!

Final note...I already mentioned how much I love this cover. I'm not sure what it is but all of the elements together work for me. This cover is, from what I can tell from my (admittedly not very thorough) Internet sleuthing, for the paperback. There is another cover for the hardcover that I also really love. It has a very different feel but it also fits the story so well. Each woman has a house and lifestyle that suits them, or so they think, and so this cover is lovely. (This is actually making me realize that Trollope spent a lot of time discussing their houses and living arrangements. Interesting that I hadn't noticed it until now.)

City of Friends is a book for you if you love (or are in need of) contemporary novels. Joanna Trollope has written a story of four smart, realistic women that you will thoroughly enjoy reading about. You'll drop into their lives and, at the end, emerge with the desire to text, write to, call, or visit some of your own best friends.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the distributor, Publishers Group Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, April 7, 2017

Blog Tour: Q&A with Genevieve Graham

For my second stop on the Simon & Schuster Canada Timeless Tour, I'm so excited to share a Q&A with Genevieve Graham. She's the author of Promises to Keep which I'll be reviewing next Friday. The book is a great one and focuses on Amélie in 1755 when the British have invaded Acadia. Enjoy!

Amélie’s world is torn apart by war and infiltrating forces, a reality that unfortunately persists in present day. Did you find any parallels between Amélie’s world and your own while writing Promises to Keep?
War and disagreements will always exist—as will love and understanding, though the latter do not often make the headlines. The interesting thing to me is how both sides to every battle believe absolutely they are in the right, whereas those who seek love so often feel themselves to be undeserving. Parallels? No. Wars over this land were fought centuries ago, and I feel confident I will never leave my home unless I choose to do so. My family, my home, my beliefs, and my life are safe. 

Why is the Acadian Expulsion an important part of Canadian history? What about the expulsion inspired you to write about it? 
I grew up in Toronto then spent almost twenty years in Calgary before I moved to Nova Scotia, and when I arrived here I had no idea what an Acadian was. Many people around here have Acadian ancestry, and it seemed like something I should have just known. So my husband and I took a weekend drive out to the Grand Pré area, hoping to gain a true understanding of the Acadian culture. After sampling some of the fine wines bottled along that lovely shore, we toured the Grand Pré Historical Site. I cannot tell you how much that visit touched us both. The exhibit leads the visitor through the day to day lives of these “neutral French”, teaches us about dykes and aboiteaux, then draws back the curtain to reveal the brutal, unconscionable crime committed by the British. In my mind I could hear them singing and playing music, see them bringing in the harvest or tending the fish weirs, and when I visited an actual Acadian house I could practically feel the family inside. How could I not follow Amélie’s story? How could I not be inspired? 
There are a lot of books written about the Expulsion, but I had not read any. That actually works out well for my writing technique. As a writer, I use historical facts as a framework to my stories and do not allow myself to be swayed by anyone else’s interpretation.

In your research for Promises to Keep, what information was the most surprising to you? Are Amélie and Connor based on real people? 
When I began my research I learned over 10,000 Acadians were forcibly taken from their homes and shipped to points basically unknown, but I did not know they travelled in the hulls of rickety, rented ships. I did not know families were torn apart, though I suppose I cannot say I was surprised by that; war is not kind or humane. I was happily surprised when I came across the story of one actual ship, the Pembroke, on which 232 Acadians freed themselves from the eight sailors taking them across the sea—and the greatest surprise was finding the actual Charles Belliveau, mast maker, who piloted the Pembroke after their liberation. What luck! I even found his exact dialogue with the defeated British captain! 
I suppose my biggest surprise was the reception I got when I told people the theme of this book. Their anticipation was stronger than for any book I’ve written before. 
Regarding my characters, unless I am referring to actual people (like Colonel Winslow, who is a known figure whose 1755 journal is published on the internet), I do not base them on real people. I imagine a people or a place in time, land in their lives like a fly on the wall, and the individual characters appear in my imagination, complete with personalities and mannerisms.

Amélie is quite headstrong and outspoken in contrast to other women in the novel. Were you able to find examples of feisty women in eighteenth century history? Did you feel you needed to give them a voice? 
I didn’t base Amélie on anyone in particular, but in every group of people we are bound to find varied personalities. Amélie was a loving, dutiful daughter, but she was also intelligent and curious. 18th century etiquette generally required women to be quiet and modest, but the Acadians were sheltered from the outside world, oblivious for the most part to those expectations. In addition, the Acadians lived alongside the Mi’kmaq, and the Mi’kmaq are a matriarchal society. Amélie learned to speak both Míkmawísimk and French, and knowing those languages gave her deeper insight into her changing surroundings. She felt protective of her family and their way of life. Once her world began to turn upside down and the British appeared to cast aside the rules of decency, she broke out of her shell to meet the challenge. 
Your writing transports readers to a different time and place. If you could live in any time period anywhere in the world, where would it be? 
I think I would have to choose a time period that had at least some modern conveniences. While I love the glory of centuries ago, when we envision the hero on horseback streaming through the battlefield with sword held high, I do not envy the women of that time. I think I’d prefer the 1920s-1940s. We were not yet as strong as our male counterparts, but we were well on our way, thanks to the suffragettes’ hard won victories. And yet it was still an era when ladies were ladies and gentlemen treated them as such. Doors were opened, and kisses were by invitation only. I am a romantic, but I’m a realist as well. And because I’m a romantic, if I were to choose a location, I think it’d be Paris.  

Did you always want to be a writer? If so, did you always want to write historical fiction? 
I had never even considered being a writer until I was in my forties. Until then I was a reader, a musician, a promoter, a piano teacher, and above all, a wife and mother. When I was in school, I did not enjoy history at all. To me, history was merely dates, names, and places to memorize for exams. Maybe it was the fault of my short memory span. Or perhaps I simply needed to mature so I could understand that none of today’s stories would exist without stories from yesterday. Then I began to read good historical fiction, and I was smitten. History fascinates me now that I can envision characters within the stories. I have tried to write other genres, but I always return to historical fiction. I love breathing life back into history one story at a time.

As a reader, who are some of the storytellers you find most inspiring, and why? 
Diana Gabaldon is the one who inspired me to write. I read her “Outlander” series seven times before finally sitting down and trying something myself. I love the writing of Susanna Kearsley, Penelope Williamson, Sara Donati, Ami McKay, and Jennifer Roberson. And since I love epic, sweeping historicals, I savour Wilbur Smith’s books and the beautiful prose of Khaled Hosseini. On the mystery/suspense side I enjoy authors Harlan Coben and my friend, Pamela Callow.

What can readers expect from you in the future? What are you currently working on, if anything?
I’m always working on something! At present I have four books underway, which seems crazy—probably is—but I find when I run into some kind of writing block I simply need to refocus on something else for a bit and that gets me back on track. It can get confusing at times, though. The novel after Promises to Keep will be the companion to Tides of Honour, returning twenty years later to the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. I have also been researching the British Home Children in Canada and the beginnings of the RCMP (NWMP) including the Klondike Gold Rush. And the fourth, well, I think I’ll keep that as a surprise for now!