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!