Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back at 2018

What. A. Year.

Anyone else feeling like that? And also that we feel like that at the end of every year?

It seems like the year has flown by for me but it's also been jam packed. Most of it was all good things but there's been a ton going on. Mostly thanks to the new job I started back in March - woot! That defined my year, for sure, but in between all the learning and the growing and the learning (so much learning), I kept at the blog and read my little heart out.

Even though a lot of mental energy has been sucked up by getting used to a new position, I've been finding I've had much more energy for blogging. I've also been reading a whole lot more. I now have an hour lunch break, instead of the half hour I used to have. I try to take the full hour every day (sometimes work takes precedence but I know myself and I know I need that break that, well, I'm entitled to). That's a lot more reading time! There's a park just a few blocks from my office so this summer and fall I risked cutting into my reading time to wander down to sit and read in the sun. So worth it. I'm making it to the gym a whole lot more too (also helps me feel so much better) and that allows for reading time while I do cardio. Related: I've listened to a few more audiobooks this year which is nice for not only walking around downtown but also for listening to during an entire workout, weights included.

I'm still writing reviews for a local magazine, Niagara Life, and that allows me to get out of my comfort zone and read more widely. Another thing helping me expand my reading horizons is my monthly book club. I think it's been just over 3 years since I've joined the club and it's been so great to get together with like-minded women and chat about books and life. And drink wine. Book club allowed me to finally read The Alice Network (SO GOOD) by Kate Quinn and Beartown (SO EFFING GOOD) by Fredrik Backman.

I'm finding it harder and harder to get to book events in Toronto (reminder: I'm about an hour and a half, in good traffic which isn't a thing that exists, away from the city) but I did manage to get to a few over the last year. The events I'm attending are changing, just as the blogging world has. I'm hopeful there will be even more adult reader events in the next year.

My first event of the year was the launch for Marissa Stapley's second novel, Things to Do When It's Raining (check out my review here). It was lovely to see all of the support she has from her friends and family. She has a great network of women authors who were (mostly) all there and it blows my mind that they know who I am. These women include contributors to a national newspaper and multiple best-selling authors. I wrote in my Instagram post about the evening how crazy and wonderful that is.

The library in Grimsby, a city in my region, hosts authors once a month for about six months of the year and tickets are always sold out. Luckily my boyfriend gets free tickets so I get to experience this great event. In April, Jennifer Robson was one of the authors. I hadn't read her books but I've purchased them for gifts. I was so enthralled by her talk that I bought Goodnight from London and devoured it a few days later. Read it.

HarperCollins Canada had a few great events I was lucky enough to attend this year. In May, they held a Meet and Greet with Joanna Goodman (author of The Home for Unwanted Girls) and Ellen Keith (author of The Dutch Wife). Even though the books were still very new, I had already read (and thoroughly enjoyed) both novels for Niagara Life (you can see the issues with my reviews here and here). Listening to the women talk about their novels was so great. You can read my full event recap post here.

The second Meet and Greet event I went to at HarperCollins was in June and featured three authors - Karma Brown (author of The Life Lucy Knew), Tish Cohen (author of Little Green), and Uzma Jalaluddin (author of Ayesha at Last). Jalaluddin's book was a highly anticipated read for me so I was thrilled to hear her speak. I've met Karma on numerous occasions and was really looking forward to her new book too. I've only read one of Cohen's (many) books but loved it. It was so cool to hear from three authors who are at very different points in their careers speak. Also, the inscription in my copy of The Life Lucy Knew may be my new favourite. Karma had no idea what to write so I just told her to write "s'up" - and she did.

Speaking of Karma, she came down to Niagara for a Wine and Words event (a local library, where I worked a few years ago, has an author visit a different winery every month-ish). I love supporting libraries and local events and authors I love so of course I went (you can see my Insta post here). A friend came with me - and ended up purchasing a book too! I also helped a couple of other older ladies decide which books to purchase for themselves. I just love talking about books!

In a completely different type of event, my friends and I went to Word on the Street in September and also got tickets to watch the premiere of Anne with an E. We got to see the show on the big screen at a theatre, with some of the actors there, and afterwards we got flower crowns. It was a really fun and neat experience. And free!

HarperCollins also hosted a wonderful tea featuring Jennifer Robson (yes, my second Robson event, if you're keeping track) and Kate Quinn. As soon as I saw tickets go on sale I jumped on it because I knew they'd sell out (they less than 24 hours, I think). My friend, Natalie, managed to get on the wait list and scored herself a ticket. Remember that group of authors I mentioned who are friends with Marissa and who all support each other? Natalie and I were seated with all of them at this event. It was so lovely! A bit surreal. But lovely. Jess Allen from The Social hosted and interviewed the authors and we learned so much about their writing process.

In October a friend and I went on an epic road trip for an author event featuring K.A. Tucker (one of my favourites), Marissa Stapley (second event of the year for her too), and Joanna Goodman (yep, second event). We drove a couple of hours to visit my friend's new baby, then had a flight of cider and beer at a local brewery/cidery, followed by lunch with Tucker and a group of her fans (!!!), and then the event. And then a drive home. Phew! It was an amazing day though and the event was wonderful.

I went to a second Grimsby author event in October which featured Joanna Goodman (the third time this year I've seen her!) and Eden Robinson (author of Trickster Drift). The stories these women told were amazing and it was a great event. Then, in November I went to a third event with Beverley McLachlin (the former Chief Justice of Canada and author of Full Disclosure) and Dave Williams (former astronaut and author of Defying Limits). It was probably my favourite event they've hosted because McLachlin and Williams had such fascinating lives to share with us. Every event Grimsby holds is well done because they put so much effort into it.

Wow. Looking back I've realized I really have been able to go to a lot of events. Lucky me!

As for the actual reading I've done? I read more books in 2018 than I have in years. I'm working on book #110 because I like nice, round numbers. You can check out my full year in books on Goodreads here. I learned the shortest book I read was Half Spent Was the Night at 112 pages and the longest, at a whopping 656 pages, was Lethal White. Two very, very different books. I wanted to read more diversely this year but I didn't do as well with that as I would have liked - only reading 5 that could truly be called diverse. Gotta do better in 2019. I read way more books by men this year than I have in awhile, with 10. 89 books were from women. 32 books were by Canadians, 6 were YA (that number keeps dropping, which isn't surprising), ad 4 were non-fiction. I posted last week about my favourite books of the year so check that out and let me know what your favourite books of the year were.

Overall, 2018 was a really lovely, bookish year. I'm hoping I can read a lot next year as well and do better about reading more diverse stories and authors. Attending as many author events as possible is also on the agenda.

I hope you all had a great 2018 and wish you all the best for 2019!

Friday, December 28, 2018

My Favourite Books of 2018

Another year has come and (almost) gone and it's been one full of reading for me! As I write this, I've read 108 books in 2018. Trying to choose favourites among those 108 is mighty difficult, let me tell you. I've put my thinking cap on, consulted Goodreads (you can see my full year in books here if you're interested), and come up with a list of books I fell head over heels in love with this year. Because choosing this list was hard enough, I ranked them based on when I read them. And also because choosing them was hard, I have a list of honourable mentions - these are books that I really liked but didn't quite crack the top ten. All of these books are wonderful and there's something for everyone.

Shrewed - Elizabeth Renzetti (review in Niagara Life - page 62)
This was an amazing collection of essays and every woman (and man) should read them. Renzetti is an excellent writer and makes so many great points in this book. I also love that she's Canadian so she's feeling the same way the rest of us are in our country.

The Wedding Date/The Proposal - Jasmine Guillory
I think romcoms are FINALLY making a comeback (meaning they're finally getting recognized in popular culture again) and Jasmine Guillory is a big reason why. Her books are fantastic - full of heart and laughs and they're diverse. They're definitely needed on your bookshelf. I can't wait for her next book.

The Good Liar - Catherine McKenzie (review)
I've been reading (and loving) McKenzie's books for years and they're all great. The last few were ever so slightly less great. The Good Liar though? Holy man. Amazing. It's a twisty, well told tale with characters who are so interesting.

Still Water - Amy Stuart (review)
I didn't read Still Mine, the first book in the series Stuart is writing, and I really wish I had. You don't need to to really enjoy Still Water (since I really liked it) but I'd recommend it. Read them back to back and get sucked into the really intriguing world Stuart has come up with.

The Alice Network - Kate Quinn
This was a book club pick and I'm so glad it was. I had heard of it when it published back in 2017 but didn't pay a whole lot of attention and thought it would be a different type of story than it was. I don't know what that story was but the one I got? It was ah-mazing.

The Simple Wild - K.A. Tucker (review)
I'm pretty sure I say it every time I read a new Tucker book but this one is now my all time favourite of hers (and there are a lot to choose from). Calla is very different than the other characters Tucker has written and I loved that. It was mostly set in Alaska, which was great, but there were some scenes set in Toronto. I'm so glad to see my country (and a neighbouring city) show up in more and more contemporary novels.

Dear Mrs. Bird - A.J. Pearce (review)
For a book that takes place during the Blitz, Pearce has written a really entertaining story. I found myself laughing out loud often. Of course, she also wrote a lot of heartwrenching scenes. There's just so much to love about this story.

Ayesha at Last - Uzma Jalaluddin
I never did get around to reviewing this one and wish I did because I don't think I can properly give this book justice in this little blurb. Plus, I want to tell everyone and their sister about this book and if I talk about it more, more people will buy it and also love it. It's well-written with wonderful characters. Jalaluddin has put a Muslim twist on Pride & Prejudice and it's set in Toronto (I think technically it's Scarborough but I can't recall those specifics at the moment). Come for the loose Jane Austen adaptation, stay for the amazing storytelling.

Beartown/Us Against You - Fredrik Backman
This was another book club pick, thank goodness. Once again, I'm not sure what I thought Beartown would be like but holy hell. This book. It's heavy and heartbreaking and so freaking good. It was so good that I immediately put the second book on hold at the library. Also so freaking good. Ugh. Read them and discuss them with me, please.

The Gown - Jennifer Robson
My review of this book isn't up yet, since it only publishes next week, but just know - IT IS WONDERFUL. It's mostly historical but there's a present-day character as well. And it is 1000% a book for anyone who enjoyed The Crown. If you've never read Robson's novels, you're seriously missing out. She's so well educated and writes insanely entertaining and riveting stories.

Honourable Mentions:
Things to Do When It's Raining - Marissa Stapley (review)
Tides of Honour/Come from Away - Genevieve Graham (review of Come From Away)
The Dutch Wife - Ellen Keith (review in Niagara Life - page 62)
Full Disclosure - Beverley McLachlin (review in Niagara Life - page 62)
Bridal Girl - Meredith Schorr (review)
Goodnight from London - Jennifer Robson
The Wild Heir - Karina Halle (review)
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart - Holly Ringland (review)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows (pro tip: listen to the audiobook of this one)
Save the Date - Morgan Matson (review)
The Life Lucy Knew - Karma Brown
Counting on You - Laura Chapman (review)
Roomies - Christina Lauren
Open Look - Jay Triano (review in Niagara Life - page 70)
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart Turton (review in Niagara Life - page 70)
The Christmas Sisters - Sarah Morgan (review)
Marilla of Green Gables - Sarah McCoy (review)
The Winters - Lisa Gabriele (review will be up soon)
Half Spent Was the Night - Ami McKay (review will be up soon)
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield (review will be up soon)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: Lone Star Christmas

My copy of Lone Star Christmas arrived way back in September but I held off reading it until I was feeling a bit more festive. I love Christmas and all but even I have a hard time diving into a December set book when it's still warm and sunny outside and I'm not ready to face summer coming to an end. So, fast forward to November and I finally decided to dive into Delores Fossen's latest novel. I haven't read her books before so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Would it be a completely delightful and festive romance or would it fall flat?

Here's the synopsis:
A family crisis brings him home…
Just in time for Christmas
Cattleman Callen Laramie has no intention of returning to his hometown of Coldwater, Texas, until a Christmas wedding and a family secret convince him he has no choice. And when he’s reunited with his childhood crush, the girl who’d always been off-limits, Callen knows leaving might not be so easy this time.
Shelby McCall is as pretty as a Christmas snowfall, and Callen wants to kiss her under the mistletoe…and the Christmas tree…and the stars. But once Shelby knows the whole truth behind this homecoming, will their holiday fling come to an abrupt end? Or will she accept the gift of his heart?
I always say I love Christmas romances but every year I'm finding them less and less...enjoyable, I guess. That's true of a lot of romances, to be honest, so I'm wondering if my expectations of the genre have changed. I also think I'm really tired of the loosely connected series. You know, when the first story is about one character, and then the next is about the sister or brother or cousin or small business owner in town who's also a single parent or the local cop. Or any and all of the above. I find a lot of them spend so much time making sure all the players in the series are known that the actual story of the book I'm trying to read is lost. I think that's what happened with Lone Star Christmas. There were so many characters being named and showing up that Callen and Shelby weren't nearly as fleshed out as they could have been.

There was also just a lot happening in this book and most of it didn't feel super connected. You'd think with that much going on I might remember more of it but, honestly, the plot is such a blur now, not even a month after reading this book. Obviously it didn't resonate with me.

As for the Christmassyness of the novel, I'd probably give it 3.5 out of 5 Christmas trees. Maybe 4. The wedding overtakes the holiday ever so slightly but that wasn't really problematic because the wedding, like Christmas, was all about bringing family together so everything still felt really warm and fuzzy. There was also a lot of fun with Callen and Shelby, and others, trying to figure out Christmas gifts. Cheesy and a bit ridiculous, yes, but fun.

Lone Star Christmas isn't a bad book at all. But it left me wanting a whole lot more once I finished it. It's fine if you're looking for a really quick, easy to finish story over the holidays but I don't think you'll find me revisiting Coldwater Texas or any more of Delores Fossen's novels. Too many books, too little time!

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: Born Into It

I'm not a Habs fan. The area I grew up bleeds the blue of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the city I live in now isn't much different (though being so close to the American border, there are a fair number of Buffalo Sabres fans around). I actually probably wouldn't even say I'm really a hockey fan. I'll watch a game if it's on and I am Canadian (yeah, that's kind of a true stereotype), and someone who pays attention to the sportsing world in general, so I'm sure know much more about hockey than the average person. I'm also always up for an entertaining memoir so I looked forward to diving into Born Into It by Jay Baruchel (yes, the actor Jay Baruchel). It did not disappoint.

Here's what this book is all about:
In The Game meets Goon, Montreal Canadiens superfan Jay Baruchel tells us why he loves the Habs no matter what
It’s no secret that Jay Baruchel is a die-hard fan of the Montreal Canadiens. He talks about the team at every opportunity, wears their gear proudly in interviews and on the street, appeared in a series of videos promoting the team, and was once named honorary captain by owner Geoff Molson and Habs tough guy Chris Nilan. As he has said publicly, “I was raised both Catholic and Jewish, but really more than anything just a Habs fan.”
In Born Into It, Baruchel’s lifelong memories as a Canadiens’ fan explode on the page in a collection of hilarious, heartfelt and nostalgic stories that draw on his childhood experiences as a homer living in Montreal and the enemy living in the Maple Leaf stronghold of Oshawa, Ontario. Knuckles drawn, and with the rouge, bleu et blanc emblazoned on just about every piece of clothing he owns, Baruchel shares all in the same spirit with which he laid his soul bare in his hugely popular Goon movies. Born Into It is a memoir unlike any other, and a book not to be missed.
I've known who Jay Baruchel is for a long time. (Hello, Popular Mechanics for Kids.) I probably could have also told you he's a Canadiens fan. I knew loves hockey, having seen Goon (note to self: get around to watching the second movie). So hearing he had written a book about being a Habs fan wasn't really all that surprising. What was surprising was how much I enjoyed it.

As I mentioned, I do like many sports and I therefore understand the dynamic of being an athlete and a fan of professional sports. I knew where Baruchel was coming from when he talked about how much he loved his team and the constant heartbreak he feels when they come up short every single season. There's just something about the world of sports fandom that is pretty much impossible to explain to anyone who doesn't watch or play any sport. There's a (ridiculous) emotional feeling and investment into your team. And because I get that, I had goosebumps often while reading this book.

I also wasn't really expecting to learn that Baruchel is basically a nerdy stoner. He talked often about smoking pot but also how he much he read growing up. It might be judgey of me but it was such a jarring (and amusing) image at first. This translated into some really amusing stories and many well-told ones. Not only does Baruchel get being a sports fan, he also understands how to weave a story which resulted in a really good read.

I do think you need to have at least some understanding of hockey if you're going to dive into this book. You'll get so much more out of it if you know the good ol' hockey game. Nowhere is this more evident when Baruchel writes a play by play of what's referred to as the Good Friday Massacre. I had never heard of it, having not been born yet and not being a Habs fan, so it was a new story for me. But because I have a sense of how hockey is played, I could totally follow along as Baruchel laid out exactly what happened in that ridiculously violent game. I'm not saying you can't read this if you're not a fan of hockey but know going in that some things might get a bit lost in translation.

Being the season of gift giving, I would wholeheartedly recommend Born Into It for the sports fan in your life. They don't need to be a Canadiens fan or even hugely into hockey to enjoy this one. I would tread lightly, however, if you plan to wrap it up for a die-hard Leafs or Bruins fan! (But seriously. It's a great gift idea.)

I laughed throughout reading Born Into It and I was glad to be a sports fan as well. Jay Baruchel has written a really great book about being a Montreal Canadiens fan and I think it's one worth reading for almost anyone.

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, HarperCollins Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*