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.*