Monday, April 30, 2018

Blog Tour: My Oxford Year

Sometimes I pick up a book expecting one kind of story and end up with another one entirely. That's not always welcome but, in the case of My Oxford Year, I was happily surprised with the story I finished. I thought Julia Whelan's debut novel would be good and enjoyable but there was a much deeper thread woven through the story than I had anticipated. It broke my heart a little bit but I was glad it was there because it made the book so much better than it otherwise would have been.

Here's the synopsis:
American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day. When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret. Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.
As you can see from the synopsis, I probably should have picked up on the serious plot line. But how many times have you read the back of a book and been told something major happens and it ends up being nothing at all? (I also blame Chris Harrison and his constant refrain of "the most dramatic season EVER of The Bachelor.") 


Ella was just as unprepared as I was for the big revelation but she did not back down. She realized what was most important in life and held on tight. 

I read this book in a day. I started it on my lunch break and continued reading it after I got home from work (glass of wine in hand...which I highly recommend). I just didn't want to put it down. The story grabbed me and the characters were so real. It was like I was really there in Oxford with Ella.

Speaking of Ella, I thought she was awesome. She was a hard-worker (probably worked too hard sometimes) but she understood that you cannot sustain an "all work and no play" kind of life. She was a kind friend and wicked smart. She had hopes, dreams, and fears just like the rest of us and I'm glad Whelan allowed Ella to be vulnerable.

And Jamie? I adored him as well. He was also incredibly smart - which made him a perfect match for Ella - and had a dry, witty sense of humour that I loved.

I loved how Whelan was able to find a balance so her novel wasn't too serious or too flippant. It's a coming of age story even though Ella is 24. She had a good life before Oxford - one she has worked hard for - but what happens when she's there made her realize exactly what was missing from her life and what she needed to do moving forward. A lot happens in this book and Ella grows up during it. All the seriousness could have gotten too heavy but there are so many light-hearted moments throughout. The novel is sweet, sad, uplifting, and funny. Just like life.

And that cover? I love it. The colours are lovely and the design really fits with the story.

My Oxford Year will probably be one of my favourite books of the spring. I hope everyone picks up Julia Whelan's novel because they'll find a story that's both uplifting and heartbreaking that reminds us that life is sometimes too short so we should make the most of it while we still can.

Psst...head over to my Instagram and you could win a copy of My Oxford Year for yourself courtesy of the publisher!

About Julia Whelan
Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator. She graduated with a degree in English and creative writing from Middlebury College and Oxford University. While she was in England, her flirtation with tea blossomed into a full-blown love affair, culminating in her eventual certification as a tea master.

Connect with Julia
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Goodreads *

Buy My Oxford Year
Amazon * IndieBound * Barnes & Noble * Books-A-Million * iBooks * GooglePlay *

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

Friday, April 27, 2018

Review: Come from Away

I've read three of Genevieve Graham's historical fiction titles now and every time I finish one I'm amazed at how well she brings the stories of our country's past to life. Her latest novel, Come from Away, revisits characters we fell in love with in Tides of Honour - Danny and Audrey - and introduces us to their daughter Grace. I was so happy to see how the Baker family was doing and so worried as well because this novel takes place during World War II - and we all know that wasn't an easy time to live through.

Here's the synopsis:
In the fall of 1939, Grace Baker’s three brothers, sharp and proud in their uniforms, board Canadian ships headed for a faraway war. Grace stays behind, tending to the homefront and the general store that helps keep her small Nova Scotian community running. The war, everyone says, will be over before it starts. But three years later, the fighting rages on and rumours swirl about “wolf packs” of German U-Boats lurking in the deep waters along the shores of East Jeddore, a stone’s throw from Grace’s window. As the harsh realities of war come closer to home, Grace buries herself in her work at the store.
Then, one day, a handsome stranger ventures into the store. He claims to be a trapper come from away, and as Grace gets to know him, she becomes enamoured by his gentle smile and thoughtful ways. But after a several weeks, she discovers that Rudi, her mysterious visitor, is not the lonely outsider he appears to be, but someone else entirely—someone not to be trusted. When a shocking truth about her family forces Grace to question everything she has so strongly believed, she realizes that she and Rudi have more in common than she had thought. And if Grace is to have a chance at love, she must not only choose a side, but take a stand.
Come from Away is a mesmerizing story of love, shifting allegiances, and second chances, set against the tumultuous years of the Second World War.
First things first. For those who aren't aware, "come from away" is a term used by those in the Maritimes to refer to someone who has moved to the area from elsewhere. The term actually can be used to refer to Graham herself as she moved to Nova Scotia from Alberta. 

What I love about Graham's writing is that you can tell she is so passionate about telling Canada's stories. She brings the past to life in such a way that makes the reader interested and submersed in the time period. Come from Away is a World War II novel but it still feels fresh. An even more incredible feat when you consider how many novels are set in that time period. Oftentimes war stories (whether books or movies) don't give the perspective of what it was like on the home front, especially in Canada. Our country was geographically so far removed from the actual war. Or was it? In this novel Graham focuses on the U-Boats and how close they really got to our coast line. 

I loved Grace. I admired her for so many things, especially wanting to help during the war. Graham wrote her so well that I completely understood how helpless she felt "just" running a shop in town when her brothers, and so many other young men, were off fighting in Europe. She was smart and kind and someone I would have loved to know. 

Grace and Rudi's relationship was an uphill battle from the beginning. Rudi wasn't being forthcoming about who he really was and then, when all was revealed, Grace and her family had to decide what they should do. I know I'm being a bit vague but when the synopsis doesn't give anything away, I don't want to either. Even though the pair had their struggles, you could tell they had that certain special something that all strong relationships have. Their romance, while not perfect, was so sweet and wonderful to read.

Come from Away is a must-read for pretty much everyone. I think if you're Canadian, especially, you should definitely read this book. It doesn't matter if you're usually a historical fiction reader or not. Genevieve Graham has written such a wonderful story that deserves to be loved by everyone. It's smart, it's sweet, it's heart-wrenching. It's just so good. You don't have to read Tides of Honour first but I suggest you do because you'll love the characters even more and you'll get to read more of Graham's work. It's a win-win.

*An ARC was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Bridal Girl

Finally! A new Blogger Girl book from Meredith Schorr! I absolutely adore her series (and, honestly, everything else she writes) and was thrilled when I found out she was publishing another story about Kim Long. Last we left the pint-size chick lit blogger turned author she was engaged to Nicholas and I was excited to see how the wedding planning and actual ceremony would go. That's what happens in Bridal Girl, and oh my word, everything that could go wrong does in a sweet and hilarious chick lit story from one of my favourite authors.

Here's the synopsis:
Sassy book blogger-turned-author, Kim Long, thought her life couldn’t get any pinker when she received a two-book publishing deal and a marriage proposal in the same night. The wedding plans are coming together seamlessly, from the catering to the flowers to her much-coveted appointment at the exclusive and world famous Kleinfeld Bridal. Her debut novel is flying off the shelves to celebrated reviews, and her second book is practically writing itself.

If only the above wasn’t a big fat lie.

If only Kim could drown out the conflicting opinions of her overzealous bridal party, most notably, her sister and future sister-in-law, who haven’t stopped bickering since day one.

If only everyone would adore her first book—or she’d take Nicholas’s advice and stop reading reviews—she might not second guess every new word she writes.

If only Nicholas’s past would remain there rather than threaten their future.
The pressure is on, the clock is ticking, and in walks Hannah Marshak.

Will the former “mean girl” lend a helping hand or make things worse? Will Kim ever write “The End” on her sophomore novel? And, will she and Nicholas make it down the aisle to say those two precious words: I do?

We’ll never tell. So, put on your reading glasses, fill your champagne flute/cup of tea and prepare to laugh with (and sometimes at) Kim as she rewrites her happy ending until it’s worthy of five pink champagne flutes.
If you've ever attended or planned a wedding, you know there are about a bazillion things to look after. Which means there are about a bazillion things that could go wrong when planning the wedding. Poor Kim and Nicholas. All those things did go wrong for them. It almost got to be too much but, like any good romantic comedy writer, Schorr found the right balance and kept the story from being too over the top. I always say that weddings lend themselves well to rom-coms because of all the elements to it. Romantic relationships are front and centre, obviously, but there are potential issues with family and friends as well as details with the dress, the food, and the parties. The possibilities are endless for amusing, cringe-worthy, and really sweet moments and I'm so glad Schorr used them all to her advantage.

One of the reasons I love the Blogger Girl series is because Kim is a book blogger like me. She wanted to write a book - and did - so the last two books have been less about the blogging and more about trying to become an author and producing a second novel. While blogging took a backseat, I still loved how much Kim's love for chick lit came through. She started to doubt herself and the genre (the plot of her second novel took a turn that I was really anxious about) and had to find ways to pull herself out of the spiral of defeat she was caught in. It was hard to read just as it would have been hard for Nicholas and Kim's friends to hear and see. There were many times I caught myself thinking that Kim was being so silly and why was she doing such idiotic things? But then I remembered how easy it is to get blinded by your own problems and not realize there's a way out. Even though Kim was going bananas, that meant Schorr had set the scene for some really sweet moments between Kim, Nicholas, and the rest of her friends. It was a reminder that Schorr can write some amazing characters and relationships.

I always find it so incredibly hard to review Schorr's books because I love them all so much. I want to just write READ THE BOOK AND BE HAPPY BECAUSE IT'S SO GOOD but that's not exactly how it works on book blogs! It's also hard with this one because I really don't want to give away any of the surprises Schorr has in store for readers in this book.

Like all of Meredith Schorr's previous novels (and there are several so start reading her backlist if you've never read her before), Bridal Girl is charming and witty with a cast of characters you can't help but fall in love with. I was so glad to spend more time with Kim and am really hoping we'll get even more books in the Blogger Girl series.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the author via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review: On a Beautiful Day

Life can change in an instant. It's something we all know but tend not to keep at the forefront of our minds as we go about our day to day business. In Lucy Diamond's latest book, On a Beautiful Day, four friends watch a terrible car crash right in front of them and it makes each woman reevaluate where her life is heading. While the novel isn't groundbreaking, it's a sweet story of friends who try to deal with their issues alone and end up realizing they're so much stronger when they're together. 

Here's the synopsis:
It’s a beautiful day in Manchester and four friends are meeting for a birthday lunch. But then they witness a shocking accident just metres away which acts as a catalyst for each of them.
For Laura, it’s a wake-up call to heed the ticking of her biological clock. Sensible Jo finds herself throwing caution to the wind in a new relationship. Eve, who has been trying to ignore the worrying lump in her breast, feels helpless and out of control. And happy-go-lucky India is drawn to one of the victims of the accident, causing long-buried secrets to rise to the surface.
This is a novel about the startling and unexpected turns life can take. It’s about luck—good and bad—and about finding bravery and resilience when your world is in turmoil. Above all, On a Beautiful Day is about friendship, togetherness and hope.
As I alluded to at the start, each woman - Jo, Laura, India, and Eve - spins off into her own private battle after the accident. I don't think this is a spoiler, as anyone who  has female friends will know this, but no woman is an island. You can't handle everything on your own and it's ok to rely on your literal or figurative sisters if you're having trouble. 

The women in this book have to deal with a lot of things on their own but they kind of forget to allow their friends in. From a story perspective, I could understand that. From a structure perspective, I found that even though the women were supposed to be so close and such strong friends, I didn't really get that feeling except for a tiny bit at the start and then at the end when everything had been, for the most part, resolved. 

I sometimes struggle with stories that are told from multiple perspectives like this, with each chapter focusing on another friend. I was able to let that issue go for the most part but there were times when I wish the stories didn't seem quite so disjointed.

The women were interesting enough to read about though. They each had a distinct personality (though I bet their personalities could have shone more had there not been so many threads throughout the novel) and different family circumstances. Their dramas were similar (average issues for white females in their late thirties and early forties) but they each had a distinct problem to deal with, which kept things from being boring. 

While the details of this story will probably fade with time, the overall message Diamond wanted to get across will (hopefully) stick with me. It is important to seize the day because you never know when it might be your last. You should always trust those closest to you. They are there to help you when you need it and celebrate with you when you deserve it. Your close friends and romantic partners were chosen by you for a reason and you should know you can lean on them when times get tough. Do something you love every day. Let your friends know you're thinking of them even if you're not able to coordinate schedules to get together in person. Be kind to one another.

On a Beautiful Day was my second Lucy Diamond novel and, even though I wasn't super thrilled with it, I don't think it will be my last. She wrote a lovely story with a message that goes much deeper than the cover might suggest (side note: I'm so over the a woman's back on a cover aesthetic...especially when it's one woman and the story is about four...). This is one to pick up if you love stories about female friendships.

*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.*

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Review: The Good Liar

I've been reading Catherine McKenzie's books for years. I've enjoyed all of them but her last couple weren't as high up on my "really good" books list as I would have expected. But then I read her newest, The Good Liar. And it's fantastic.

Here's the synopsis:
Can you hide a secret with the whole world watching?
When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.
A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.
Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?
I'm finding the whole twisted story told by an unreliable female character trope getting a wee bit old. But then a novel like The Good Liar comes along and reminds me that there are a lot of really great stories being told in that genre (whatever we're calling that genre these days). I wouldn't really say this book is a psychological thriller because it's not quite a thriller - but it's definitely a psychological story. It's also a bit deceptive because you may think you know how all of the twisted threads will be unraveled. But, let me assure you, you will not know. Not at all. And I loved that!

McKenzie starts dropping little clues to something being not quite right early on in the story. Some of them start to make sense quickly but others led to a complete shock for me. It's almost not until the last third of the novel that I start wondering who I should be trusting. Cecily seems fairly trustworthy but you know she's hiding something and when that's revealed first, you wonder what else she could be hiding. Kate's motivations seem simple enough on the surface but are they? And what about Franny?

I also really liked that it was a balance of a mystery with a family drama. I mean, it's all tied together really but both parts of the story were told so well. Cecily is trying to find out what really happened the day her husband and her best friend (along with 500 other people) died. But at the same time she's raising two teenagers. And trying to start a new job. And maybe start dating? All the different facets of the story were balanced and told so well.

The women are front and centre in this book. The men all play a secondary role to the females, which I thought was great. Even Teo, who is trying to weave his own narrative for his documentary, is never in the forefront of the story. 

I'm really excited for everyone to read The Good Liar. Catherine McKenzie is still one of my favourite authors and she's written an amazing novel. Can you do me a favour though? Once you finish it can you let me know so we can talk about that ending?

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