Thursday, June 13, 2019

Review: Once Upon a River

I, like thousands of others, had read Diane Setterfield's bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Now, I can't remember when I read it. Or even how it ended. But I recall really enjoying it. (Yes, that's probably evidence that I read too many books and I really can't keep track of all of them.) When Once Upon a River showed up at my house last year, I was intrigued simply because of Setterfield's name. Then I read the synopsis. Even more intriguing. And when I was finished? I was a little bit in love.

Here's the synopsis:
A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.
This was such a well-told story. I found myself calling it a sort of fable or fairy tale. It was set in a real world but had a sense of the mystical about it, what with all the storytelling and the little girl who was dead and then she wasn't. Or was she? I loved the way Setterfield wrote this novel so much I found myself reading aloud to my colleague as I just couldn't keep such wonderful phrases to myself.

I was emotionally invested from the start. Invested in the whole story and every character I met along the way - and there were a lot of characters. You'd actually think it could get confusing with so many people involved but it wasn't. Setterfield keeps each thread untangled and then masterfully weaves the threads together into an ending that is oh so satisfying.

I really liked reading the customs and folklore of the people and communities Setterfield created. Each town along the river had something it was known for and, being a reader and lover of stories, I really liked that the town the little girl landed in was known for their stories. I could perfectly imagine sitting by the fire at The Swan with a mug of ale or cider and listening to Joe tell his stories. Not only could I imagine it but I wanted to be there. Setterfield created a world that totally and completely drew me in.

And how lovely is this cover? I think it perfectly captures the feel of the novel.

I highly recommend reading Once Upon a River. It's such a delight and a wonderful mix of historical fiction and fairy tales. If you're in a book club, you should consider suggesting Diane Setterfield's latest novel - I think you'll all have a lot to talk about.

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review: Social Misconduct

I had high hopes for Social Misconduct. It's by a Canadian author and seemed so very timely in our social media obsessed world. But S.J. Maher's novel really let me down. From a thriller perspective it was interesting and I really had no idea how it would end but the rest? I kind of couldn't wait for it to end.

Here's the synopsis:
Her perfect job becomes the perfect nightmare when a stalker hacks her phone.
Candace Walker is thrilled when she lands a new job at a hip Manhattan tech company and gets a brand-new iPhone. She’s more than ready to move on from creating clickbait ads for weight-loss pills and herbal erection boosters, and is determined to dazzle the startup team she joins.
A week later, though, everything is at risk: Candace is the target of a mysterious harasser and an online smear campaign. She tosses her new phone into the Hudson River, begins hiding out in her sister’s storage locker in New Jersey, and can’t think of a single person she can trust. But Candace hasn’t come this far—and gone to such lengths—to submit to what is happening without a fight.
Let's get one thing squared away right off the hop. S.J. Maher is a man. For reasons that may or may not be valid, I'm not thrilled with the author's and/or publisher's decision to use initials instead of his full name. I think it's the opposite reason female authors would/will use initials when they write sci-fi and other seemingly male dominated genres (hello, J.K. Rowling). Now, where the latter is to hide the female name so boys and men aren't put off by the idea that a woman is writing whatever the genre is (that's another rant for another day), I think this situation is used to capitalize on the "girl thriller" boom (you know, the one that was started by books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train). The boom is great and has allowed so many women to write - and publish - novels that may otherwise have been ignored because they were women. Females are flocking to these stories that feature flawed and twisted characters. It's great. But. Why did this title have to use initials? This isn't the only book to do this, by the way. Remember that hit The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn? Also a man. Now, I said at the top that I don't know if this is necessarily something to get this worked up about but it's been nagging at me ever since I read the synopsis and then found out Maher is male. Then it kind of got me riled up again when I actually read the book because there were a few too many instances of sexually violent scenes (I don't have examples since I read an ARC and haven't compared it to a finished copy) when they didn't need to occur. I don't think authors need to write only what they know - or what they are, gender wise - but when the thriller is based entirely on a millennial female it might help to, you know, be one. Or perhaps even talk to one so you don't write a stereotypical character who makes other female millennials (i.e. me) roll their eyes. 

End rant.

"But what about the actual story?" is what I imagine you're asking if you even got this far into this review. was fine. If you took out the character traits and Candace's weird, terrible job and just said Person A is on the run and Persons B+ are missing/dead/involved and then just waited for the revelations as the novel went on, well that might have been OK. I was actually very intrigued by the mystery. I knew things weren't as they seemed but I don't think I could have predicted how it all went down. That is probably why this book got 2 stars instead of only 1.

One more mini rant, and it involves the end but I don't think it's really a spoiler because I'm not going to mention names. Sandy Hook got dragged into this story. I cannot for the life of me figure out why. I'm not American but even I felt like six plus years was too soon to use it as a plot point. An aside: having a character contemplate suicide as an easy way out was...unfortunate. Finally, I wasn't fully aware of what "swatting" was until I read this book but I don't love that it was included either.

I did like that the chapters changed timelines. One followed Candace in present day as she's running from whatever happened. The other jumps back several weeks and starts as Candace gets her promotion and all the trouble begins. The timelines move forward in time until they get all mixed up and you're finally caught up to present day and know what happened to Candace. I know some people found it confusing and they weren't a fan, but I actually enjoyed it. It added to the suspense of not knowing who to trust because you're still trying to find all the info.

Clearly Social Misconduct was not for me. S.J. Maher's novel might be for someone else but it won't be going on my list of bookpusher titles. 

*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.*

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: I'll Never Tell

I've been reading Catherine McKenzie's novels for years (eight, as my Goodreads has told me) and I have always marveled at how unique each story is. I eagerly look forward to her next novel as soon as I finish her last. I was especially looking forward to I'll Never Tell after absolutely loving The Good Liar last year (review is here if you missed it). Could her new one live up to her last (which was an instant bestseller, btw)? The short answer is: hell, yes.

Here's the synopsis:
What happened to Amanda Holmes?
Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.
Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it's sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family's center, hasn't made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done.
But then the will is read and they learn that it's much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can't move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?
This isn't the first novel that features a dysfunctional family and a surprise in a will, and it won't be the last. But it's definitely going to be one that sticks with me for awhile. The MacAllisters are likeable enough (way more palatable than some families), they're just a bit messed up. And who isn't? It's hard to say if they really deserved to be dealing with their father's bizarre conditions even though it's pretty clear one of them is a murderer.

Speaking of murder and whodunnit - I had no idea. Every time the perspective changed with a new chapter (not as jarring as you might think), I changed my mind. Every sibling had motive and opportunity, though a few of them were immediately ruled out. Or were they? Yep. It's a twisted mystery and I loved it.

There's one thing that's been niggling at me since I finished the novel and it has to do with some choices Pete MacAllister made. I can't really say anything more because it's a hell of a spoiler if I do but his reasoning never made clear (not for the surprise in the will, that part was pretty clear). I guess I'm always just looking for more of an "everything wrapped up in a bow" situation than McKenzie was going for, especially for a character who is dead, but I feel like there's way more to him and his motivations than we got to see.

I loved that this books was set at a summer camp. I never went to overnight camp growing up so I don't have the kinds of memories that the campers at Macaw would but McKenzie does have that experience and, through that background and her great writing, I was able to understand what it was like and why the characters may have acted the way they did.

Also, I always thought the cover was so well suited to this novel - and I was very happy that McKenzie wasn't given an obviously feminine cover - but it wasn't until I inserted it into this review that I realized how perfect (and perfectly creepy) it really is.

I'll Never Tell is an amazing follow up to Catherine McKenzie's success with The Good Liar. It's an intriguing, complex, twisted story that she tells so, so well. I may have started reading her books because they were contemporary, fun, and relateable but I'm so happy with the direction she's taken because she's so good at writing thrillers. Pick this one up for your summer vacation!

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

Monday, May 27, 2019

Review: The Magnolia Inn

I'm very much a mood reader. This, as you may imagine, makes being a blogger pretty difficult. Sometimes I have no choice but to read a certain type of book at a certain time even if I'm not totally in the mood for it. (And let's not even get into having to read a new library book because the hold has come in and I have just seven days to finish it.) Now, I'm very aware of this quirk of mine and I've been blogging a long time so I know when my mood affects my feelings on a book. Why am I mentioning all this? Because I picked up The Magnolia Inn to read because I needed the kind of story it promised. Carolyn Brown's novel delivered on the feelings I needed but it didn't quite wow me with the execution.

Here's the synopsis:
New York Times bestselling author Carolyn Brown brings together two wounded hearts in a Texas romance of second chances and twice-in-a-lifetime true love.
Inheriting the Magnolia Inn, a Victorian home nestled in the East Texas pines, is a fantasy come true for Jolene Broussard. After living with the guilt of failing to rescue her self-destructive mother, Jolene knows her aunt and uncle’s B&B is the perfect jump start for a new life and a comforting place to call home. There’s just one hitch: stubborn and moody carpenter Tucker Malone. He’s got a half interest in the Magnolia Inn, and he’s planting his dusty cowboy boots squarely in the middle of her dream.
Ever since his wife’s death, Tucker’s own guilt and demons have left him as guarded as Jolene. The last thing he expects is for his new partner to stir something inside him he thought was gone forever. And as wary as Jolene is, she may have found a kindred spirit—someone she can help, and someone she can hold on to.
Restoring the Magnolia Inn is the first step toward restoring their hearts. Will they be able to let go of the past and trust each other to do it together?
I'm a big fan of romantic movies. I don't watch nearly enough of them these days because I just don't spend nearly as much time watching movies alone as I once did (I've also been binging the hell out of Outlander - the books and the TV show). I didn't love the way this novel was written but I could totally see this as a Hallmark-esque movie. I would love to watch it on the screen - likely much more than I did reading it. The setting is perfection and I'd love to see the Inn transform as Tucker and Jolene worked on it. There's just something about the way the story was told that would feel better as a script than a novel.

I think one of my issues with this book was I couldn't quite feel a connection with Jolene and Tucker. It was like the reader was behind the walls each of them had built up around themselves and by the time they had torn them down and admitted their feelings to one another (it's a romance, this is not a spoiler. You know it's coming.), the book was over. Maybe part of this had to do with my own personal feelings and history. I don't know what Jolene and Tucker are feeling because I've never had to go through anything like they have. I'm not saying I need to have had the same experiences as the characters I'm reading have had but, if that's the case, I need the author to give me more. I don't know what it was that I was missing but there was something, at least for me.

One of the things I did really like about this book (and there were things I liked, I promise) was that it wasn't strictly a romance. This novel shows that family doesn't have to be blood and it can look any way you want it to, as long as you're with people who love you fiercely and without question. It's about those friendships that endure not just years but decades. It's about finally finding your place in the world, your roots, and somewhere to call home. That message is why I would say this book should be read.

While The Magnolia Inn didn't completely thrill me, I did quite enjoy my time reading Carolyn Brown's latest book. It was so very Southern - sweet and sassy - and had a really great feel to it. And that cover is just to die for, isn't it? I would definitely love to stay in this Inn!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributor, Thomas Allen & Son, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review: Days by Moonlight

I first heard of André Alexis when Fifteen Dogs was published. I read it for Niagara Life and found it really weird but really good. I don't do "literary" books. You know the ones...the ones that are meandering and don't seem to have a point and usually have characters who are way out there and/or super messed up. I don't care if I "should" like them. I just don't. Usually. Alexis is an author who is lauded by critics and writes literary novels I, surprise, actually enjoy. I'm not saying I totally "get" them but I enjoy the ride. Days by Moonlight is Alexis' latest novel and it was a confusing but interesting and entertaining read.

Here's the synopsis:
Botanist Alfred Homer, ever hopeful and constantly surprised, is invited on a road trip by his parents' friend, Professor Morgan Bruno, who wants company as he tries to unearth the story of the mysterious poet John Skennen. But this is no ordinary road trip. Alfred and the Professor encounter towns where Black residents speak only in sign language and towns that hold Indigenous Parades; it is a land of house burnings, werewolves, and witches.
Complete with Alfred's drawings of plants both real and implausible, Days by Moonlight is a Dantesque journey taken during the "hour of the wolf," that time of day when the sun is setting and the traveller can't tell the difference between dog and wolf. And it asks that perpetual question: how do we know the things we know are real, and what is real anyway?
Days by Moonlight is part of a series, a quincux, that Alexis is writing. (Check out this Globe and Mail article that explains more about the series and his Giller Prize win.) The Hidden Keys was also part of the quincux (and I also reviewed it for Niagara Life) and also really weird and really good. I haven't read Pastoral yet, which is the first book in the series, but it was mentioned as a novel in Days by Moonlight which was really neat.

 As you can tell from the synopsis, there was a lot happening on Alfred and Morgan's road trip through southern-ish Ontario (I've noticed my idea of what's southern Ontario has changed quite a bit since I moved to Niagara). The pair start their trip in Toronto and meander from Whitchurch Stouffville to Nobleton to Feversham. Along the way they experience increasingly stranger events. The burning of the houses made me sad and confused and another town, as described in the synopsis, where Black residents speak in sign language had me outraged. The Indigenous Parades also infuriated me. The werewolves were intriguing. And all, in their own way, commented on our world today.

It might not seem like it, but the book was amusing, in its own dark way. The circumstances Alfred and Morgan find themselves in are so bizarre that the reader cannot help but laugh, at least a little.

Alfred was a really interesting character and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. He was heartbroken after the accidental death of his parents and the breakup with his long-time girlfriend. I think before the road trip he was slowly starting to realize he needed to find a way to live with his grief and move past the heavy fog he was under. He was definitely distracted on the road trip which may have been the professor's ultimate goal.

Days by Moonlight isn't going to be for everyone. But I encourage you to read André Alexis' work and explore the interesting and whimsical worlds he has created.

*A copy of this novel was provided by Publishers Group Canada and Coach House Books in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: Beautiful Bad

Friends and longtime blog readers will know I'm quite particular about which thrillers I decide to read. Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward piqued my interest immediately and, holy hell, was it ever a thriller. I don't think I've ever been that engrossed and unsettled by a book before. I needed to put it down a few times for sanity's sake but I really didn't want to because I needed to find out what really happened.

Here's the synopsis:
Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry. . . . That something is really, really wrong with me.
Maddie and Ian’s romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD, her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie, and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.
From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, 16 years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 9-1-1 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.
But what in this beautiful home has gone so terribly bad?
One of the things that really interested me was that this novel originally started as a memoir. Ward really did work in Bulgaria and did have a friend who worked in a neighbouring country (though in real life Ward met the fellow American while in Europe and, surprise, she ended up being an undercover CIA agent). That friend did introduce Ward to a British military police body guard. The biggest difference is the horrific crime that kicks off this novel did not happen.

That crime, and all the events that are tied to it, is fictional (thank goodness) but it felt incredibly real. And that is why the book was, at times, is so unsettling. If a 911 call is being made at a home there's obviously some serious issues so I had that view while reading the rest of the book. What I didn't know what the real story or who to trust. Ward did an amazing job with the unreliable narrator trope because the reader truly has no idea what or who to believe. I had my ideas, of course, but what actually transpired managed to shock me.

The mystery part of this novel was interesting but I was much less interested in the characters and their relationships. I couldn't really see why Maddie would fall for Ian and allow her friendship to Jo blow up in the process. You could see cracks in the friendship when they were in Europe but their opinions clearly didn't matter enough to each other to allow them to smooth things over before Maddie left. And Ian's relationship with his ex? That entire plot point was bizarre and I'm not sure it was totally necessary.

Beautiful Bad is a book for you if you enjoy twisted thrillers. Annie Ward has turned her own life upside down and created characters who will anger and confuse you from start to finish. It was an interesting read and one I'd recommend - especially with a glass of something alcoholic beside you!

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: The Winters

It shouldn't surprise you that I was a kid who loved English class. It came pretty easy to me even though I wasn't a fan of analyzing and dissecting books (ha - my teenage self laughs at me). While I can no longer remember the specifics, I do remember really enjoying Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier when I read it for class. I was really excited and intrigued when I heard Lisa Gabriele, a Canadian author I like, was releasing a thriller inspired by the 1938 novel. Would I like The Winters as much as I remember liking the classic?

Here's the synopsis:
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a spellbindingly suspenseful novel set in the moneyed world of the Hamptons, about secrets that refuse to remain buried and consequences that can’t be escaped
After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiancé Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell. She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere.
As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too. The Winters is a riveting story about what happens when a family’s ghosts resurface and threaten to upend everything.
Gabriele updated du Maurier's novel and set it in present day. This automatically twisted the story just enough to make it feel fresh. She also did away with the evil Mrs. Danvers but she added Dani, Max's teenage daughter. Dani was so incredibly hostile to the narrator, more so than you'd expect from a teenager who has lost her mother and had her father get engaged to a woman about half his age after only knowing her for a short period of time. (Wouldn't that annoy anyone?) And just as Hitchcock did with the 1940 film adaptation, Gabriele also adjusts the ending - which I freaking loved. Clearly I can't tell you more than that because, you know, spoilers, but read the book and I'm sure you'll love it as much as I did. And if you really want more, read this article that I've probably read three times because I love it so.

I always say I don't often read thrillers and I say it often enough that perhaps I do read thrillers. So maybe it's more correct to say that I don't seek them out. The Winters though? I most definitely went looking for it. I think even if I hadn't liked Rebecca I still would have been intrigued enough with the synopsis that I would have wanted to pick it up. It's a thriller that plays with your mind because the reader isn't totally sure who to trust - the narrator? Max? Dani? And just when you think you have each character figured out, something happens to completely change your mind.

The most twisted actions, in my opinion, came from Dani. She was so unpredictable and downright cruel. You had to wonder how far she was going to take her hatred towards the narrator. Who, as far as the reader knows, has only had the bad luck to fall in love with a man whose daughter is completely off the rails and despises her.

And that cover? How amazing is it? I feel like it perfectly captures the tone of the novel. LOVE.

I think The Winters is a book you need to add to your TBR immediately. (If you haven't already - it's been out since October 2018 in Canada.) Lisa Gabriele has written such a twisted and riveting book that I really didn't want to put down. I can't wait to see what she writes next!

Now, a fun note! When I was finishing the book I noted on Instagram that I really needed a glass of wine as I got to the end because it was so intense (in a good way!). And why is this fun? Because I've just recently partnered with Long Weekend Wine Co. for their Long Weekend Library. Every month we'll reveal a book and a wine pairing for your long weekend reading pleasure. This month's? None other than The Winters! If you want to learn more, head to Long Weekend's Instagram page and follow along!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author and publisher, Doubleday Canada, in exchange for review consideration. They are not involved with the book selection for Long Weekend Library, that is solely my decision. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, April 15, 2019

Review: My Life in Shambles

Karina Halle is one of the best at writing heart-wrenching, sexy, enthralling stories. Her latest, My Life in Shambles, is no exception. I devoured it in a day because I couldn't put it down.

Here's the synopsis:
When Valerie Stephens made the resolution to say yes to new adventures, she never thought she’d end up in the tiny town of Shambles, fake engaged to one of Ireland’s top rugby players. But there’s a first time for everything.
They say bad things happen in threes.
After my boyfriend broke off our engagement, and I lost my apartment, and was laid off from my job, I can more than attest to that.
They also say life happens when you say yes to new adventures.
So when my two sisters invited me to ring in the new year in Ireland, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and go for it. I was going to let “saying yes” be my new resolution.
Little did I know I’d spend New Year’s Eve having a hot and dirty one-night stand with Padraig McCarthy, one hell of a sexy Irishman. I also didn’t know that the brooding and intense sex god was one of Ireland’s top rugby players.
A rugby player with a proposition for me:
Come with him to his tiny hometown of Shambles and pretend to be his fiancée for a few days, just so that his ailing father can have some peace of mind.
It sounded simple enough.
It was anything but.
Not when a town gets up in your business, not when the media hunts you down, not when your past comes back in the picture, not when there are real hearts and feelings at stake.
Not when there are secrets that could break you.
They say life is what happens when you say yes to new adventures.
This is my life in Shambles.
Halle's contemporary novels all have a similar feel - lots of intense emotions, interesting characters, great settings - but none of them are ever close to feeling the same. I don't know how she does it because she writes a lot of books and you'd think they'd start to get repetitive. Not with Halle. That's one of the things I love about her books - they may have a trope you've read time and time again but she always manages to twist things just enough to keep the story feeling fresh.

This book is really heavy. There are illnesses (yes, plural) and childhood traumas (also plural) and the emotions that come from falling head over heels in love with someone after only a few short weeks. One of the things I liked about this book was jow it challenges our typical view of a Happily Ever After. I had to check myself a few times because of the...prejudice, I guess, I (and tons of other people) have. It's uncomfortable, to be sure, but I'm happy Halle and her novel challenged my views. (OK, I know that's super vague but I can't give anything away!)

The characters were so multi-layered, just like real people, and the reader can't help but fall in love with Padraig and Val as their feelings for each other grew. Val seemed older than her mid-twenties age but I imagine that has a lot to do with the issues she dealt with growing up. Padraig has just as many issues stemming from his childhood and teen years that shaped him. They were both able to face those traumas and have some healing and closure by the end of the book. An aside: I wanted to throttle Val's mother. I could not believe some of the cruel things she was saying to her own daughter and how misguided she was. She thought she was saying it out of love but she was so out of touch with her daughter's feelings that she couldn't see how much pain she was causing. So frustrating!

Like all of Halle's books, this one is super swoony. You'll get so caught up in the love and lust that is practically leaping off the pages. So good.

All in all, My Life in Shambles is another winner from Karina Halle. It's a must if you love real stories that have all the highs and lows life has to offer.

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Meet Karina
Karina Halle is a former travel writer and music journalist and The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author of The Pact, Love, in English, The Artists Trilogy, Dirty Angels and over 20 other wild and romantic reads. She lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her husband and her rescue pup, where she drinks a lot of wine, hikes a lot of trails and devours a lot of books.
Halle is represented by the Root Literary and is both self-published and published by Simon & Schuster and Hachette in North America and in the UK.

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*An eARC of this novel was provided by the author via Social Butterfly PR, in exchange for a review for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Saturday, April 13, 2019

New Release: My Life in Shambles

Karina Halle is one of my favourite contemporary writers and it's been awhile since she's blessed us with a new book but this week My Life in Shambles was released. I'll have my full review next week but know this: I read it in one day!

Here's the synopsis:
When Valerie Stephens made the resolution to say yes to new adventures, she never thought she’d end up in the tiny town of Shambles, fake engaged to one of Ireland’s top rugby players. But there’s a first time for everything.
They say bad things happen in threes.
After my boyfriend broke off our engagement, and I lost my apartment, and was laid off from my job, I can more than attest to that.
They also say life happens when you say yes to new adventures.
So when my two sisters invited me to ring in the new year in Ireland, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and go for it. I was going to let “saying yes” be my new resolution.
Little did I know I’d spend New Year’s Eve having a hot and dirty one-night stand with Padraig McCarthy, one hell of a sexy Irishman. I also didn’t know that the brooding and intense sex god was one of Ireland’s top rugby players.
A rugby player with a proposition for me:
Come with him to his tiny hometown of Shambles and pretend to be his fiancé for a few days, just so that his ailing father can have some peace of mind.
It sounded simple enough.
It was anything but.
Not when a town gets up in your business, not when the media hunts you down, not when your past comes back in the picture, not when there are real hearts and feelings at stake.
Not when there are secrets that could break you.
They say life is what happens when you say yes to new adventures.
This is my life in Shambles.
Sounds intense, right? But that's typical for Halle's books and part of why I, and so many others, love them. Plus the fact that it's set in Ireland is just a fun bonus!

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Meet Karina
Karina Halle is a former travel writer and music journalist and The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author of The Pact, Love, in English, The Artists Trilogy, Dirty Angels and over 20 other wild and romantic reads. She lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her husband and her rescue pup, where she drinks a lot of wine, hikes a lot of trails and devours a lot of books.
Halle is represented by the Root Literary and is both self-published and published by Simon & Schuster and Hachette in North America and in the UK.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: One Summer in Paris

Over the last few years Sarah Morgan has become one of my favourite romance authors. Her books are always delightful and full of fun and lots of emotion, too. She's been writing books that aren't strictly romances lately, which has been a nice change of pace. One Summer in Paris is her latest and it was a joy to read.

Here's the synopsis:
USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with this heartwarming novel about the power of friendship, love and what happens when an ending is just the beginning…
To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Grace has planned the surprise of a lifetime for her husband—a romantic getaway to Paris. But she never expected he’d have a surprise of his own: he wants a divorce. Reeling from the shock but refusing to be broken, a devastated Grace makes the bold decision to go to Paris alone.
Audrey, a young woman from London, has left behind a heartache of her own when she arrives in Paris. A job in a bookshop is her ticket to freedom, but with no money and no knowledge of the French language, suddenly a summer spent wandering the cobbled streets alone seems much more likely…until she meets Grace, and everything changes.
Grace can’t believe how daring Audrey is. Audrey can’t believe how cautious newly single Grace is. Living in neighboring apartments above the bookshop, this unlikely pair offer each other just what they’ve both been missing. They came to Paris to find themselves, but finding this unbreakable friendship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them…
Fun fact about me: I've been trying to learn French for the last year or so using a couple of different apps. Mostly I'm doing it for fun but I am Canadian and feel that I should have a better handle on our other national language. Reading this book reminded me of the other reason I started learning and that's to travel more confidently. I have no plans to go to Europe any time soon (though I'd love to get there within the next five years) but I would like to be able to speak French when I do. I really liked reading as Grace taught Audrey French and wished she could teach me too! (Side note: any French learning tips would be greatly appreciated. Merci!)

One thing I constantly wondered about is how Grace's daughter might feel that her mom has befriended someone who's basically the same age as her. Don't get me wrong, I love that Morgan had the women become friends because I think it's good to have friends, or acquaintances at the very least, who are different ages. I just feel that Grace's daughter, Sophie, might have some thoughts on the matter. Or maybe she's a lot more aware than I give her credit for. It's a weird, small thing to be focused on but there we have it.

But what about the actual story? It was a really good one. It had pretty much everything I want in a novel: laughs, broken and then mended hearts, some sad and tender moments, traveling, and amazing friendships between equally amazing women. In these kinds of books, the characters can make it or break it for me. If I can't find something to like about them, I'm not invested. But Grace and Audrey were both fantastic. They were both really broken when they found each other and I adored reading as they helped each other become stronger women.

I was so invested in Grace that I was feeling incredibly protective and would have loved to give David, her husband, a piece of my mind. And maybe thrown a few things at him too. I therefore appreciated that Audrey was fiercely protective of Grace as well. That all being said, I was really hopeful Grace and David would be able to actually talk and work out what went wrong (or not exactly right) with their marriage. They seemed so solid that I was sure they would be able to overcome the bullshit David was putting them through. I was also really invested in Audrey and felt very much like a big sister as I was reading what she was going through. I was rooting for her the entire way through the novel and hoped she'd be able to smooth some of the prickles she had due to her upbringing.

One Summer in Paris was a delight and Sarah Morgan will continue to be on my must-read list, especially when I'm in the mood for a great story with equal parts light-hearted and realistic moments. Life isn't perfect but by the end of her novels you remember how we can make it through all those bumps in the road - because there's usually a wonderful Happily Ever After at the end.

*An e-ARC of this novel was provided via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, April 8, 2019

Review: Career Rookie

I never did read Sarah Vermunt's Careergasm when it was published back in 2017 but it's been on my radar ever since. So, when I had the chance to read her new book, Career Rookie: A Get-It-Together Guide for Grads, Students and Career Newbies (which just released last week), I jumped at it.

Here's what the book is all about:
A shot of encouragement, a kick in the ass, and a loving push for young people who have no idea what they want or how to get it.
Career Rookie is a book for every grad, student, and 20-something who feels lost, overwhelmed, and anxious. It tackles the emotional and logistical WTF-ness of starting your career, answering questions like:
What if I don't have any experience? What if I went to school for something I hated? What if I have NO IDEA what I actually want? Should I just suck it up and settle? Because, honestly, this career thing is starting to give me an ulcer.
This fresh, fun guide gives even the most lost and overwhelmed a way forward. It explores passion, curiosity, uncertainty, self-sabotage, and more on the quest to shake off post-graduation paralysis. Finding the right career can seem impossible, but Sarah Vermunt is the fun-loving, straight-talking coach we all need to make feel-good work a reality.
I'm a decade out of university and nine years out of college so I'm not, technically, a "career rookie" but I wanted to give this a read anyway for a couple of reasons. One, you never know what you might learn. And two, a year ago I started a new job at the bottom of the ladder so I'm really feeling like a bit more of a rookie than usual.

I absolutely love the way Vermunt writes. She's no nonsense but fun and encouraging. And she drops f-bombs like I do, which I appreciated. She's also incredibly knowledgeable and passes along that knowledge in a way that is easy for the reader to understand and then apply to their own life.

I found myself nodding a lot as I read this. Like I said, I graduated ages ago but I've been searching for the right job for about as long as I've been out of school. There were some things that Vermunt wrote that I had learned for myself in my long (long) job hunt and definitely worked for me, so that had me completely on board with everything else she was saying.

The book is filled with advice from Vermunt as well as client stories. I think that's a great idea because it shows some real-life examples that can sometimes help more than just the advice.

I've already told my younger sister and two interns at work they need to read this book, and I think you should tell all the career rookies in your own life to read it as well. It's the perfect graduation gift to give or to buy for yourself.

Career Rookie won't solve all of your problems or answer all of your questions but Sarah Vermunt's new book will give you a lot of tools to help you on your way to kicking ass in your job hunt and eventual career (whatever that might look like). I highly recommend it.

*An e-ARC of this book was provided by the publisher, ECW Press, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Review: At the Mountain's Edge

At the Mountain's Edge was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I've loved all of Genevieve Graham's other historical fiction titles (you can see two other reviews here and here) and always look forward to her new releases. This latest one - just published today - moves to Canada's West coast and focuses on the Klondike Gold Rush. The drama practically writes itself! Sometimes having high expectation of a novel can be a bad thing but Graham's new book was great and I loved reading it.

Here's the synopsis:
From bestselling author Genevieve Graham comes a sweeping new historical novel of love, tragedy, and redemption set during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush.
In 1897, the discovery of gold in the desolate reaches of the Yukon has the world abuzz with excitement, and thousands of prospectors swarm to the north seeking riches the likes of which have never been seen before.
For Liza Peterson and her family, the gold rush is a chance for them to make a fortune by moving their general store business from Vancouver to Dawson City, the only established town in the Yukon. For Constable Ben Turner, a recent recruit of the North-West Mounted Police, upholding the law in a place overrun with guns, liquor, prostitutes, and thieves is an opportunity to escape a dark past and become the man of integrity he has always wanted to be. But the long, difficult journey over icy mountain passes and whitewater rapids is much more treacherous than Liza or Ben imagined, and neither is completely prepared for the forbidding north.
As Liza’s family nears the mountain’s peak, a catastrophe strikes with fatal consequences, and not even the NWMP can help. Alone and desperate, Liza finally reaches Dawson City, only to find herself in a different kind of peril. Meanwhile, Ben, wracked with guilt over the accident on the trail, sees the chance to make things right. But just as love begins to grow, new dangers arise, threatening to separate the couple forever.
Inspired by history as rich as the Klondike’s gold, At the Mountain’s Edge is an epic tale of romance and adventure about two people who must let go of the past not only to be together, but also to survive.
I'll tell you one thing. I'm fairly confident there is no way I would have survived Liza's trek. I work out and am healthy but I do not do well when conditions are less than ideal. I am one to get hangry. I'm not even a huge fan of camping. So, the thought of having to haul all of my important worldly possessions up a freaking mountain during a Canadian winter and not having easy access to food? Oh, there's no way. Therefore, I have huge respect for Liza - and all the other women who made this trip because their husbands and fathers made the decision for them. I can't say I understand why men would battle the elements - and each other - to pan for gold but I suppose I'm not much of an adventurous sort. What I really liked is that Graham had Liza's father want to head north not because of the gold, exactly. He wasn't going to mine. No, he saw a business opportunity. It was a sound plan but I didn't blame Liza and her mother one bit for not being thrilled with having to uproot their life in Vancouver.

Reading historical fiction is always interesting and for several reasons. One is that you're reading it through a modern lens. I'm sure most women these days would balk at their husbands dictating their lives. You might do crazy things for love - like hike up a mountain in stupid cold weather with no promise of making it to your destination alive or with all your extremities - but I'm sure as hell not being told what to do. So, I admit it was hard to get into the correct mindset with this book. That also proved difficult when Liza's father had a conniption when she found a pair of trousers. A woman in pants! Scandalous! I mean, I know it would have been but it seems so laughable now. These are all important points that I'm glad Graham included as it really allows the reader to learn about the time and how, maybe, we still have further to go.

I must say that I did find the beginning of the story to drag ever so slightly. I must have expected Liza and Ben to meet (and fall in love) early on but each character had to go through so much - physically and emotionally - before they were able to be together. Although reading how they had to make the arduous trek to Dawson City was interesting at times, it got a bit repetitive and I was definitely ready for Liza to set up shop by the time she arrived in town.

Liza might be one of my all-time favourite characters. She's feisty, smart, strong, and determined and those were all qualities she needed when she was traveling and dealing with absolutely horrific conditions. She's very much her own woman and I'm glad Ben recognized that.

Graham has a knack for taking historical events in Canada that we (should) all know about and adding a human element that makes it even more interesting and engaging. Sure, I must have learned about the Klondike Gold Rush back in school but thanks to Graham (and my sister working in the Yukon last summer), I know a lot more about Dawson City and what it would have been like during that crazy time. Also, a fun aside: my sister had visited Diamond Tooth Gerties when she was up north and told me it was Canada's first casino. And doesn't Gertie, diamond tooth and all, pop up in this book? You can still visit the casino and can take in a can-can show, as my sister did.

While At the Mountain's Edge may not be my favourite novel by Genevieve Graham, I was really happy with it. She once again managed to take an important event in Canadian history and bring it to the forefront of readers' minds. I highly recommend you read all of Graham's novels - and then tell me what you think!

*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.*

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Truth About Love and Dogs

Have you read any of Michele Gorman or Lilly Bartlett's novels? If so, you may know that Michele and Lilly are actually the same author. The Truth About Love and Dogs - just out today - is being published by Lilly Bartlett but is actually a rewrite of one of Michele Gorman's titles. I haven't read it before so I'm looking forward to diving into a new (to me) rom-com.

Here's what the novel is all about:
Four little words, uttered by her husband…
‘Oh my god,’ he gasped into her shoulder. ‘Shannon!’
There’s just one problem: her name isn’t Shannon.

Rewind six months and Scarlett and Rufus aren’t in the honeymoon stage anymore so much as the honey-should-we-bother phase. Desperate to get their sparkle back, Scarlett has plotted, planned and waxed more than any woman should have to, but none of it is working. Which makes it very hard to start the family they want.
At least her business is going strong, even if her marriage isn’t. She and her best friend spend their days tangled up in dog leads and covered in fur. Scarlett is the fairy dogmother, training hopeless pets like compulsive eater Barkley, impulsive Romeo Murphy and bossy Biscuit. Meanwhile, her best friend walks the dogs and pines for the man who doesn’t know she exists. Thank goodness the women have each other.
If only Scarlett could work out how to get her marriage back on track. But Rufus isn’t sharing his feelings with her. He is, though, sharing with her best friend. Her best friend, Shannon.
I don't exactly want to say it sounds like "fun" because it totally doesn't for Scarlett but I'm intrigued.

I also really enjoy seeing what Michele and Lily's covers are going to look like and what the US vs UK covers will look like. I'm always partial to the UK covers (above) but maybe you'll like the US one (below) better. Let me know!

Stay tuned for my review and if you're interested already you can pick up a copy of your own.

Amazon * Amazon CA * Amazon UK

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review: The Missing Girl

It's hard to believe The Missing Girl is Jenny Quintana's debut novel. She has written a twisty story that is both heart-wrenching and heart-pounding all at once. I had no idea what would happen at the end of this novel which made it an exciting read.

Here's the synopsis:
It's been thirty years since Anna's older sister disappeared. Anna's never stopped missing her.
When Anna Flores' adored older sister goes missing as a teenager, Anna copes by disappearing too, just as soon as she can: running as far away from her family as possible, and eventually building a life for herself abroad.
Thirty years later, the death of her mother finally forces Anna to return home. Tasked with sorting through her mother's possessions, she begins to confront not just her mother's death, but also the huge hole Gabriella's disappearance left in her life - and finds herself asking a question she's not allowed herself to ask for years: what really happened to her sister?
With that question comes the revelation that her biggest fear isn't discovering the worst, it's never knowing the answer. But is it too late for Anna to uncover the truth about Gabriella's disappearance?
I don't read a ton of thrillers or mysteries but I usually enjoy them when I do pick one up. I don't really like the scary/terror/terribleness that comes with some of the stories though and that's why I only read them once and awhile. What I do love about them is how I'm never sure what's going to happen next. When they're done well, they surprise me and keep me on my toes (without scaring me of course because I'm a big wimp). Quintana's found that perfect balance I need and I found myself often thinking of the story and the characters when I wasn't reading. I was so invested in Anna's story and, being a fan of happy stories, hoped for a happy ending...or, at the very least, a satisfying closure for her.

I think the way Quintana put together the novel made a big difference in how the reader feels about the story. Each chapter alternated between 1982 and "present" day and they both move forward in time at the same pace (or at least at a similar one). By doing this, we get to meet all the characters who are important to the story, even the ones who are now dead or still missing. And you have to wonder, what do the people who are still around really know about what happened to Gabriella?

This story is about so much more than a missing girl. There are secrets among everyone (seriously...the shocks just keep on coming) and the knowledge that no family is perfect. You may not be able to understand why Anna left behind her remaining family and her life when you first meet her but once you know what it was like for her after Gabriella went missing, you can't really blame her.

If you're in the mood for a family thriller (is that a proper way to describe this? I have no idea), The Missing Girl will keep you interested. Jenny Quintana has written a story that will keep you guessing - and hoping - until the very end.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributor, Publishers Group Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: I Owe You One

It seems like I've been reading Sophie Kinsella forever. Lately her novels are hit and miss with me but even if I don't love them, I'm usually thoroughly entertained and left feeling satisfied by the fun and lovely story she's written. I Owe You One, out today, was one that didn't quite hit the mark for me but I had a good time reading it.

Here's the synopsis:
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella, an irresistible story of love and empowerment about a young woman with a complicated family, a handsome man who might be “the one,” and an IOU that changes everything
Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family first.” But since her dad passed away, leaving his charming housewares store in the hands of his wife and children, Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy, who will? It’s simply not in her nature to say no to people.
So when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, Fixie not only agrees—she ends up saving it from certain disaster. Turns out the computer’s owner is an investment manager. To thank Fixie for her quick thinking, Sebastian scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. But Fixie laughs it off—she’d never actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she?
Then Fixie’s childhood crush, Ryan, comes back into her life and his lack of a profession pushes all of Fixie’s buttons. She wants nothing for herself—but she’d love Seb to give Ryan a job. And Seb agrees, until the tables are turned once more and a new series of IOUs between Seb and Fixie—from small favors to life-changing moments—ensues. Soon Fixie, Ms. Fixit for everyone else, is torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab the life, and love, she really wants?
The main issue I had was with Fixie and how she was a doormat and incredibly naive. I felt a little bit like her but I wanted to swoop in and fix things for her because she was so blind to what was going on. My heart also hurt for her because her family just didn't listen to her. Ever. I also had issues with the family aspect and it did not get much better by the end of the book. There were some changes but the feeling at the end just left me even more frustrated at the attitudes of her family, her mum included. (I have to be vague here because it's the end of the book but if you've read it or don't care about spoilers, message me and we can talk about it!)

All those feelings aside, I am really glad I read this book. I had read a really bad one just before it and knew Kinsella would lift me up. I told a few friends that this book was like a balm for my soul. I could feel myself relaxing as soon as I started reading it. That is what makes a good book for me - the way you feel. And also why I will never, ever judge someone for what they read. Because that book I didn't like? Total CanLit and the most literary mumbo jumbo I've read in awhile. But the book that made me feel better? That one, and the genre it's in, gets sniffed at. SO FRUSTRATING.

Fixie is a really sweet and lovable character though. I absolutely adored reading as she grew a backbone and stood up to her family and the other jerks around her. I was sure Kinsella would give her a happy ending and I was rooting for it the whole way through the book.

The actual premise of this novel with all the IOUs is so much fun. I can just see Kinsella's mind working as she was likely thinking, "What if...." It's such a crazy chain of events that I enjoyed reading.

While I Owe You One didn't wow me like I know Sophie Kinsella can, I'm glad I read it. It's perfect for a time when you need to laugh.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.* 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review: Half Spent Was the Night

In 2017, my book club read Ami McKay's The Witches of New York and we (mostly) all loved it. Personally, I loved it because it was well-written and such a good story about witches as they could have existed. Harry Potter is great and all but that kind of magic never really seems real (no matter how many of us hope(d) for a letter from Hogwarts ourselves). The magic in the world McKay has created seems entirely possible. When my book club learned there would be a novella that would allow us to see what Adelaide, Eleanor, and Beatrice were up to, we were ecstatic and immediately knew Half Spent Was the Night would be our December 2018 pick.

Here's the novella's (it's only 92 pages!) description:
Beloved author Ami McKay is back, bringing us a magical follow-up in the tradition of Victorian winter tales to her mesmerizing bestseller, The Witches of New York
During the nights between Christmas and New Year's, the witches of New York--Adelaide Thom, Eleanor St. Clair and the youngest, Beatrice Dunn--gather before the fire to tell ghost stories and perform traditional Yuletide divinations. (Did you know that roasting chestnuts were once used to foretell one's fate?)
As the witches roast chestnuts and melt lead to see their fate, a series of odd messengers land on their doorstep bearing invitations for a New Year's Eve masquerade hosted by a woman they've never met. Gossip, dreams and portents follow, leading the witches to question the woman's motives. Is she as benevolent as she seems or is she laying a trap. And so, as Gilded-Age New York prepares to ring in the new year, the witches don their finery and head for the ball, on the hunt for answers that might well be the end of them.
The book is subtitled A Witches' Yuletide and I had thought (before reading the synopsis) it would take place at Christmas. Instead, the story begins on December 29 and ends on New Year's Day, with an epic New Year's Eve party in between. (A quick Google search of yuletide also provided some background information - yay, learning!)

The book opens with a line I absolutely love and thought of often during the same time frame last year:

Is that not perfection?

As you'd expect, this book was as well written as the first Witches book. The world McKay has created is so interesting and the characters, the three main witches especially, are so multi-layered and fascinating.

All that being said...I know it's a novella and it isn't supposed to be long buuuut I found it way too short. I could have used more time with the women to really feel like I understood how they were feeling about their lives at that moment and about the mysterious New Year's Eve party. The story almost felt surface level and there wasn't quite the depth I wanted and expected from McKay. Even though it was well written. Am I even making sense? The best I can figure is this story was published to fully wrap up a storyline from the first book and to introduce the next twist. (And holy is it ever an interesting twist!)

The magic at the party was much more...grandiose, let's say, than what you normally encounter with these witches. But, once things wind down and you realize what really know why it was such a spectacle. I wish that explanation had been explored a bit more because I felt like I was missing something.

I am glad I read Half Spent Was the Night and think that anyone else who loved The Witches of New York should read it as well. It didn't quite satisfy my need for a sequel though so I will continue to impatiently wait for the next full length novel (oh, how I hope there actually will be a next) about these witches from Ami McKay.

*A copy of this book was provided by Penguin Random House in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, January 28, 2019

Review: The Gown

I knew about Jennifer Robson's books well before I ever picked one up to read. I had purchased them for other people but, for some bizarre reason, never got around to reading them myself. That changed last year when I heard her speak at a local library event and I bought, and had signed, Goodnight from London. I read it immediately and fell in love. I paid close attention from then on because she had mentioned that night about her next book, which was going to be about women who worked on Queen Elizabeth's wedding dress. Perfect timing since I, and everyone else, was binge-watching The Crown and waiting for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding. This novel though? The Gown is about so much more than a wedding dress worn by a future monarch. And it's incredible - one of my top reads from 2018.

Here's the (really long) synopsis:
From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.
“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding
London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.
Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?
With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.
Historical fiction can be tricky...I find authors might try to teach me too much and the novel will read like a textbook or they'll toss facts around willy nilly in a way that makes it seem like they haven't done their research or they had a story idea and just decided to plunk it down in the past. Robson though? She is one of my favourite historical fiction writers. She knows what she's talking about (having a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford and a father who's a historian) and is a damn good storyteller. She's able to weave together (ha! No pun intended) a story and I really feel like I'm right there with Ann and Miriam. She knows all the little details that would place the story in 1947 but it doesn't feel like she's lecturing at me. The story and setting sucks me in and I love it.

I hadn't realized, when I first started hearing about the novel, that there would be a contemporary component to this story. I liked reading about all three women and looked forward to their stories intertwining, because I knew they had to, one way or another. I don't think the contemporary story was quite as strong as I expected but I still looked forward to each of Heather's chapters.

The three characters Robson created - Ann, Miriam, and Heather - are amazing women and I adored them. They all face hardships (though Heather's are very much "first world problems"but problems nonetheless - and ones I could completely identify with) and are strong enough to work through them. They can see a solution and will do whatever it takes to get through the tough times. The revelation about Ann just about broke my heart but I was also in awe of how she managed to make the most of the situation. I just wish connections had been kept, though I could understand why she wouldn't want to (vague enough for you?). The friendship between Ann and Miriam is something to be envied and I loved reading it.

The actual plot - Miriam and Ann are embroidering the dress Elizabeth will wear when she marries Philip and, in present-ish day, Heather searching for answers about her grandmother and herself - is also so interesting. You may think that things would get complicated, given the many threads ( pun intended) Robson has to bring together but she's a talented writer and everything flows smoothly.

The Gown is a historical novel that perfectly brings together a specific moment in time with characters who stand out as much as - if not more than - the dress they're embroidering for a future Queen. Jennifer Robson has written one of my favourite books of 2018 and one I've been recommending to everyone and their sisters (I'm also not the only one as it's been on the bestseller lists for multiple publications over the last few weeks!). Even if you think one part of this novel isn't for you, read it anyway because you're going to fall in love.

*I received an ARC of this novel at an event I paid to attend last fall, which was hosted by HarperCollins Canada. There was no expectation for a review but I loved the book so much I needed to tell you all about it.*

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: Be the Girl

There are a few authors who are on my "I will read absolutely anything they write" list and K.A. Tucker is one of them. She wrote one of my favourite books of 2018 (The Simple Wild, which I reviewed here last year if you missed it) and is gifting us with another book early in 2019. Be the Girl - just released today! - is a little different than anything she's ever written before but it's no less amazing.

Here's the synopsis:
From the national bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths series and The Simple Wild comes a poignant story about a girl trying to change her future while evading her past.
Almost sixteen-year-old Aria Jones is starting over. New postal code, new last name, new rules. But she doesn’t mind, because it means she can leave her painful regrets behind. In the bustling town of Eastmonte, she can become someone else. Someone better.
With the Hartford family living next door, it seems she will succeed. Sure, Cassie Hartford may be the epitome of social awkwardness thanks to her autism, but she also offers an innocent and sincere friendship that Aria learns to appreciate. And Cassie’s older brother, Emmett—a popular Junior A hockey player with a bright future—well … Aria wishes that friendship could lead to something more. If he didn’t already have a girlfriend, maybe it would.
But Aria soon finds herself in a dicey moral predicament that could derail her attempt at a fresh start. It is her loyalty to Cassie and her growing crush on Emmett that leads her to make a risky move, one that earns her a vindictive enemy who is determined to splinter her happy new world.
As I mentioned, Be the Girl isn't quite like any of Tucker's other novels. For starters, she's self-published this one - after years of being traditionally published. That doesn't necessarily make it different than her other books but, to me, that indicates that this was a story that had to be told even if the publishers may not have thought so. The other big thing is that this is a YA novel. It's possible this story could have been told with adult characters but it wouldn't be nearly as good.

Tucker is such a phenomenal writer with an amazing knack at writing deep emotions. That meant this book gave me all the feels - including ones I hadn't really felt since I was in high school myself. Many YA authors can write that angsty, emotional roller coaster that are the feelings of a teenager but there was just something about this book that totally transported me back to my own high school. Maybe because the book was set in a town that was ridiculously similar to my own hometown - also a small town in Ontario, north of the big city of Toronto (though slightly more north than I think this fictional town is supposed to be). I felt this so acutely that I could immediately picture and smell my town's arena when Tucker described the arena Aria was setting foot into. There's a distinct smell to small town arenas and it's one that's hard to explain unless you've been in one.

This book also made me incredibly glad social media didn't exist when I was a teen. In fact, I don't even think Mark Zuckerberg was at Harvard when I was Aria's age. *checks internet* OK, I can't figure out when he started but I'm pretty sure thefacebook officially began the year I turned 17, a year older than Aria. But I digress. Social media is pretty brutal for adults sometimes so I can't imagine the special hell some teens face these days. I was also feeling pretty thankful that I sort of stayed under the radar when I was in high school. I did my best to not attract attention because I was so shy and awkward (which, let me tell you, is not easy to do when you're a six foot tall female basketball player in a school that holds the jocks at the top of the popularity hierarchy). I was lucky that I found my people early on and we had a solid group of friends. But I also wondered, as I read Aria's story and got to "know" Cassie, if I could have been a better person. Probably. I imagine I was never outright mean nor did I knowingly bully anyone but I'm sure there were instances where I giggled with my friends over someone different or ignored someone who was just trying to be friendly. It's a hard thing to think about yourself but that's part of why Tucker's new novel is so necessary. It makes you take a hard look at how you treat others and think about what you could do to be better. To paraphrase Emmett, there's no excuse to be a dick to someone just because they're a little bit different.

You may have noticed I've gone on a lot about the feelings this novel inspires instead of the actual plot. That's because Tucker has woven an incredible tale that I can't talk about too much because I'll spoil it all and you'd be pissed. Trust me. Aria's story is completely hidden at the start and is revealed bit by bit over the course of the novel. And that's the way it should be. So enough about plot!

Moving right along to the characters...I loved Aria. She's real, she's flawed, and she's trying hard to be a good person. Although, I don't think she really needs to try that hard. It's no work at all for her to be friends with Cassie. Cassie was an absolute joy to read. Her bubbly personality leapt off the pages. On the other hand, my heart broke every time someone ignored or teased her. I am so, so glad Tucker has written a book that features such a gem of a character. Emmett would have made teenage me swoon so I completely understood how Aria was feeling. A cute jock who has a heart of gold? Sign me up. Zach, Emmett's best friend, also deserves so many standing ovations for being such an incredible human.

I've realized this review of Be the Girl isn't exactly like most other reviews I write. But I think K.A. Tucker's novel isn't like most other novels. It encourages discussion and deep introspection and is a book that needs to be read by everyone. Young, old, in between. Everyone. You won't regret the time you spend with Aria, Cassie, and Emmett. You may cry (I did) but this is a story that's going to stick with you for a long time.

Buy Links
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Print and audio will be available at a later date.

About the Author
K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge.

She is the USA Today bestselling author of 18 books, including the Causal Enchantment, Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water series, He Will Be My Ruin, Until It Fades, Keep Her Safe, The Simple Wild, and Be the Girl. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA Today, Globe & Mail, Suspense Magazine, First for Women, and Publisher's Weekly. She has been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance 2013 for Ten Tiny Breaths and Best Romance 2018 for The Simple Wild. Her novels have been translated into 16 languages.

K.A. Tucker currently resides in a quaint town outside of Toronto with her family
Find K.A. Tucker Online

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