Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Blog Tour: Counting on You

I will read anything Laura Chapman writes. And *checks Goodreads* so far I have read everything she's written. Her books are always fun, sweet, a little sexy, realistic, and so well-written. Counting on You (just released today!) was no exception and I just loved it.

Here's the synopsis:
Is love worth the risk?
Math teacher Haleigh Parde has no desire to change her single status until she receives an invitation to her high school reunion. With her ex spreading rumors she needs a date and fast. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Haleigh finds herself meeting a blind date at a neighborhood bar called Amarillo Sour . . .
After watching Haleigh crash and burn, app developer Ian Henning makes her a proposition. If she'll provide honest feedback on his new dating app, he'll guarantee her a date to knock the socks off her former classmates. Even better, he—and the other Amarillo Sour regulars—will help her navigate the rocky road of dating.
Through setups ranging from awkward to absurd, Haleigh discovers her matchmaker might just be better than the matches. And Ian wonders if she's the answer to everything he's worked for professionally. Or is she something much, much more . . . 
Counting on You is the first book in a new series by Chapman which is excellent because she's created a really fun world at Amarillo Sour (which, incidentally, sounds like a bar I would totally have a beer or three at). The next book will feature another character but Haleigh and Ian will make an appearance so I can find out what they're up to now.

One of my favourite things about Chapman's books is she always creates characters I could be friends with and their worlds could easily be mine. This means I'm that much more invested in those characters and their lives. I know we, as readers, should try to read outside our comfort zone every once and awhile - and I try to do that - but I just really enjoy stories where I can connect and/or identify with the characters. Haleigh, like all of us, has her struggles and getting to know her as the book goes on, and as Ian also gets to know her, was so  great. I think I fell a little bit in love with her too.

I read this book immediately after finishing The Kiss Quotient and I realized there were a lot of similarities. Not enough to be boring or be considered exact carbon copies of each other but the basic storyline had a lot of similarities: a woman who's not great at dating using a stranger to help her date. Stella (from The Kiss Quotient) has Aspberger's and Haleigh has anxiety problems which also parallels. This comparison is a good thing, trust me. If you loved The Kiss Quotient (like I and every other rom-com lover out there), you must pick up Counting on You.

Reading as Haleigh went on so many (terrible, failed) dates was hilariously cringe-worthy. She was determined though and I loved that about her. Ian, as you might expect, took his job as coach and protector pretty seriously and it was fun to read as they slowly started to realize the feelings they had for each other. I don't think I really loved how things eventually blew up between them - it felt a tad too forced and/or convenient - but it was a minor thing. I was rooting for them the whole way through the novel and was really hoping for a Happily Ever After.

I would keep writing about Counting on You but I'll either give something away or flail nonsensically. Laura Chapman continues to be one of my favourite writers and you should definitely give her books a shot if you haven't yet. I can't wait for the next book in the Amarillo Sour series!

For you lucky readers in the US, there's a Rafflecopter giveaway happening for the duration of the tour (until September 2). Sorry to my fellow Canadians :(

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author
Laura Chapman is the author of sweet and sexy romantic comedies. A born and raised Nebraska girl, she loves watching football, traveling, crafting, and baking. When she isn’t writing her next story, she is probably working at a museum by day and binge-watching Netflix with her cats Jane and Bingley at night. So, basically, she’s living large.

You can find and contact Laura Chapman here:

You can buy Counting on You here:
* Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * Google Play * iTunes *

*An eARC of this novel was provided by the author and Lola's Blog Tours for the purposes of a blog tour in exchange for a review. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

I was looking forward to reading The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland's debut novel, the second I found out it was set in Australia. I've visited Australia twice now over the last 4ish years and it's one of my favourite places. This novel totally lived up to my expectations because the settings were magical and played such an important part in this great book.

Here's the synopsis:
An enchanting and captivating novel about how our untold stories haunt us — and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.
After her family suffers a tragedy, nine-year-old Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak.
Under the watchful eye of June and the women who run the farm, Alice settles, but grows up increasingly frustrated by how little she knows of her family’s story. In her early twenties, Alice’s life is thrown into upheaval again when she suffers devastating betrayal and loss. Desperate to outrun grief, Alice flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. In this otherworldly landscape Alice thinks she has found solace, until she meets a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.
Spanning two decades, set between sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart follows Alice’s unforgettable journey, as she learns that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.
As I said, the settings of this book were incredibly important to the overall story. It reminded me a lot of Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery's other books. Anne and PEI are intertwined - you can't think of one without picturing the other - and her imagination and way she viewed the natural world around her are a huge reason the series is so delightful. Ringland does something similar with her novel and Alice. Plus, not only are the settings at the heart of each story but Alice and Anne have a lot in common. They're both orphans and neither had an ideal upbringing. Then, when they're still quite young, they're wrenched from the world and home they knew and brought somewhere completely different. And, coincidentally, red earth ends up being important to both women. (For Anne that's the dirt of PEI but you'll have to read Ringland's book to fully understand the importance to Alice.)

Plus, as a special added bonus, I'm fairly certain I've been in the areas Ringland imagined up for Alice. She notes in her Author's note that she made up the towns and National Park Alice visits later in the novel. But, based on the description of where Alice grew up and then moved to as well as where Ringland herself grew up, I was pretty sure the story took place somewhere near the Gold or Sunshine Coasts. Then, when I read the "In Gratitude" section, Ringland notes that she grew up on the land of the Bundjalung people. That's the area of of Australia I've been to and, like I said, I absolutely adore it. How can you not:

A photo I took the last time I was at Point Danger
Speaking of the Bundjalung people...I'm really glad Ringland made the stories of Australia's Aboriginal people of such high importance. I feel like their stories are continuously glossed over or completely erased and I hate it. (This is a fact in Australia and in Canada, where I live. We're getting better but we have so much more to do.) When I first went to Australia I climbed Mount Warning. It was an almost 9 kilometre (5.5 mile) round trip at an elevation of 1,159 m (3,802 ft). I wanted to throw up and/or cry while doing it (OK, I'm pretty sure I did actually cry) but I climbed the thing. The view was stunning:

A photo my boyfriend took on his second trip to Australia
But how does this relate to the book? Well, when I was planning for my last trip back in November, I thought that I'd give the climb another try. I was working out regularly and was pretty sure I would be able to make it up without shedding any tears. I wanted to check out the details to send to my friend who was coming with us when I started doing more reading. I had forgotten/not paid enough attention the last time that Mount Warning's original name, given to it by the Bundjalung people, is Wollumbin. It is considered a sacred space and they do not want people climbing it. I immediately knew I couldn't climb it again. The thought of knowingly ignoring the wishes of the people whose land had been taken away from them made me almost as nauseous as when I tried to climb the mountain (karma?). I appreciated that Ringland told the stories of the Aboriginal people (even though she made up the Park and tribe) and how they did not want people picking flowers or taking dirt from the park. It might seem trivial but it's really not. And, again, I'm so glad Ringland put focus on it.

Now that I've gushed about the natural setting of the novel, how about the rest of it? It was delightful in a heart-wrenching, family drama kind of way. Alice is a character who will completely get under your skin and you won't be able to rest until you find out how her story ends. Which I really want to talk about but that would be a spoiler so I have so many thoughts I need to hold in. Bah.

Oh, and I just loved how each chapter started with a line drawing, name, meaning, and description of Australian flowers.

This flower has particular significance to the story. 
The novel is well-written though I sometimes found the intentional vagueness irritating. Ringland doesn't exactly say when the novel takes place but I think it starts in the past when Alice is 9 and then she's 26 in present day. I can see why she wouldn't want to make it specific because then the story will have a more timeless quality but it was actually really distracting for me. So was not knowing where the book was taking place but that was my own personal thing :) Other than that tiny annoyance, I thought the story flowed well considering it starts when Alice is 9, has a brief stop when she's 17ish, and then ends at 26. The story wasn't overly flowery (ha...pun intended) and, though it may seem contradictory to how much I swooned over the descriptions of the scenery, it wasn't bogged down in descriptive language. And yet I could still perfectly picture the settings and characters Ringland created.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is unique and, other than Anne, I can't think of any other book like it. Holly Ringland's debut novel is a page-turner that will reach deep into your soul and have you completely engrossed in the story. I think Alice is a character everyone should meet and her story is one that will stick with you long after you've turned the last page.

*An Advance Reading Copy was provided by the publisher, House of Anansi Press, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Review: The Simple Wild

I've been reading K.A. Tucker's books for...well, years. I've been lucky enough to meet her a handful of times and she's a wonderful person on top of being an excellent writer. I love every book of hers I've read. But this last one? The Simple Wild is, hands down, my favourite of all of her books. It may even be one of my favourite books of the year.

Here's the synopsis:
Calla Fletcher wasn't even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.
She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.
Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.
I'm usually the type of reader who likes to read about characters who could be my friend - particularly when reading contemporary novels. It's a narrow viewpoint to have, I know, but I just love it when I can tell I'd be BFFs with the heroine. I don't think Calla and I would be immediate friends - we're quite different. But that was ok. I was wary of her - just like everyone in Alaska was - but eventually I realized she is more than her appearance and had a heart of gold is tucked under all the Instagram filters and expensive clothes. I am so with her on roughing it though. I would not have been impressed with missing suitcases or being stranded in a cabin for awhile without running water. I don't even like camping! But I digress. Calla is a wonderfully layered character who I fell in love with in the end.

And, as much as Calla was the heroine in this story, she didn't get all the focus. Every other character you meet is important - even if it's just a fleeting passing moment at the grocery store (I choose that character to reference in particular because her name was Kayley and I maintain Tucker should have dropped that middle 'y'). Jonah, Wren (Calla's dad), Agnes, and Mabel add so much depth to the story and I can't imagine the novel without them or the other supporting characters. I do find it interesting that I got more of a feel for Simon, Calla's step-father, than I did of her mom. I don't know if it was intentional. Her mom was the reason they left Alaska after all when Calla was so young. I also wonder if there was more of a comparison to be made between Simon and Wren that made way for an eventual acceptance that both men can be father figures to Calla.

I found The Simple Wild to be a much more emotional book than Tucker has written in the past. I finished the last part of the book at work on my lunch break even though I knew I was going to be hit with a few emotional gut punches. Yes, I could have waited to finish it at home where I could actually allow myself to shed a few tears but I couldn't wait that long to see how Calla's story finished off. I was so tangled up in the stories and emotions Tucker had written that I needed to know how it was resolved even though I knew it was going to break my heart. I was so invested in this book and found myself thinking of it often throughout the day when I wasn't reading it. I was so into it that it actually helped me get my butt out of bed at 5am to be in Toronto for 9am because I knew I'd have an hour-ish train ride to read Calla's story. I am not a morning person so this was a hella powerful book.

Speaking of Toronto, this is the first of Tucker's books to be set (partially) in Canada, where both she and I live. There aren't enough contemporary novels set in Canada so I'm always thrilled when I find one that is. I especially love when it's set somewhere that I recognize. In the first few pages, Calla is heading home on the TTC - which is what the Toronto public transit system is called. I don't live in Toronto but I've been on the subway enough (and a streetcar a time or two) that I could see and feel exactly what Calla was seeing and feeling. I also giggled when I realized the two giant raccoons that were terrorizing Calla's Toronto home were most likely named Tim and Sid after two sports talk show hosts.

And that cover? Sa-woon.

I don't know what else I can really say about The Simple Wild. I loved it so much and it left a serious imprint on my heart. If you've never read any of K.A. Tucker's books (seriously, what are you waiting for?) I highly encourage you to pick this one up if you can afford it or borrow it from your library. It's wonderful and well written and just...great. And once you read it can we please talk about it? Because I'm not ready to let Calla, Jonah, and Wren go.

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mini Reviews: Contemporary YA Edition

Raise your hand if you have a library card. And raise the other if you use it frequently. *looks around* Good. Glad to see many of you using your library. I, like many voracious readers, don't have the funds to buy all the books I'd like to read. Enter my public library. I use it a lot for book club books and any of the YA titles I want to read but don't get for review. This summer I read two wonderful contemporary YA novels that I really wanted to talk (read: flail) about on the blog.

My YA reading is pretty much restricted to contemporary YA books these days and even then it's only a certain few authors that I make the time for (so many books, so little time). I put Morgan Matson's Save the Date on hold as soon as it was available and was anxiously waiting for it to come in. I honestly didn't even know what the book was about (but you can read the synopsis here) but Matson has become an autoread author for me in recent years. I had the chance to go to a meet and greet before her first ever Canadian tour date where my blogger friend Tiff - from Mostly YA Lit - interviewed her. But...I have a new job and only so much wiggle room on asking for time off plus I'm not super close to where the event was happening. *sobs*

This book was pretty much impossible for me to put down and I had it finished in a weekend. It was smart, funny, and genuine - things I look for in almost every book I read. I was completely sucked into Charlie's life and, as is usual when I read YA books these days, I found myself wanting to play the big sister to Charlie and help her figure out her life. I'm the eldest in real life anyway, plus I'm so much older than the teens I'm reading about now, so it's inevitable that I'll start feeling protective of these girls. Even though I wanted to swoop in and tell her what I thought she should do, I knew she had a great head on her shoulders and she'd figure out on her own what the best path for her would be. That's what being a teenager is all about, isn't it? Making your mistakes, learning from them, and growing as a person.

The Canadians in the crowd will definitely understand me when I say the cartoon Charlie's mom drew totally reminded me of For Better or For Worse, a strip by Lynn Johnston that I was obsessed with growing up (seriously, I still have the book collections). Charlie's mom's strip Grant Central Station, like FBorFW, shows the characters aging in real time. Plus, there were older siblings and a much younger sibling (or siblings) in both, and a dog. I clearly was on the right track because this came up during the event I missed and Tiff, with her amazing recap, mentioned it. LOVE.

Finally, I loved that this book was about Charlie and her family (as well as a little bit about her friends). The boy troubles were totally realistic because, hello, she's 18 and interested in boys so of course they're going to come up in her life. But they weren't the point of the story. She very much was figuring out herself and her place in her family and the world in general. The love story was secondary (but no less welcome).

   *   *   *   

I also try to make time for really great books I wouldn't necessarily read when bloggers I trust can't stop talking about them. This time it was Ginger (of GReads!) flailing about Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian. (Synopsis is here on Goodreads) I wholeheartedly trust Ginger's opinion so on the reserve list it went and I happily dived in when it arrived. And oh - how sweet it was!

These novels were actually quite similar (which is kind of fun/odd because the two authors are friends). Both stories featured smart, funny, sort of shy girls who had just finished or were finishing high school and were looking forward to their next step - college. Every summer I always find myself thinking of the year I was getting ready to go to university and how much of a big deal that summer was. I had some major changes that year, just like Amelia and Charlie. I finished high school, was finishing my final summer at the library where I had worked all through high school (and wanted to work at since I was little, just like Amelia with the ice cream shop), and I started dating someone new even though he was staying behind for another semester and I was moving 2+ hours away. (Spoiler alert: we're still together 13 years later.) That summer between high school and university/college is just so magical and I really, really love reading stories set during that time - especially when they're so amazing. Stay Sweet was great and I am SO GLAD I made the time to read it.

I'm a big ice cream fan (Revelation: I don't know if I can fully trust anyone who isn't...) but I also try to make sure I only eat really good ice cream. I could totally identify with the popularity of Meade Creamery and found myself constantly comparing it to a local ice cream shop I was introduced to a year or so after moving to the area I'm in now - Avondale Dairy Bar. Not only do they both have the family run business feel but I pretty much only see teenagers working at Avondale and most of them are girls, just like at Meade Creamery. I adored that only girls were allowed to work at the ice cream shop and couldn't get enough of Amelia describing how they all helped each other out and the older girls were like another set of older sisters for the newbies. It was also feminist AF and I loved one scene where Grady says Amelia is being bossy and she totally calls him out on it and tells him he's being rude. He immediately apologizes. (Also - I'm writing this almost a month after reading it so I'm kinda paraphrasing.)

I really loved Amelia - probably because she reminded me a lot of myself at that age. Only she's way more confident than I was and had a better sense of her future than I did. (Hell, than I do now at 31.)

Overall, these two books are MUST. READS. for your summer. Or fall. Or holiday. Just read them. And gift them to all the teens in your life because every reader needs to meet Charlie and Amelia because they are absolutely amazing characters. And suddenly I'm craving ice cream...but what else is new?