Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Favourite Books of 2019

Since I've already chosen my favourite books over the last decade (find them here if you missed it) you would think that coming up with my favourites of the past twelve months should be easy. Ha! It took some work and some serious narrowing down powers, but I've come up with ten (ish) books that wowed me in 2019.

I've ordered these novels not based on their awesome-ness but by when I read them throughout the year. It was hard enough trying to narrow down 100 books, let alone which ones were the best!

The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood (review here) is a historical fiction novel about the Dionne quintuplets, five babies who captured Canada's - and the world's - attention when they were born in 1934 (fun fact, they were born on May 28, which is my birthday too). 

The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley (review here) was probably the book I forced upon people the most this year. I read it in March and it wasn't released until June so there were a lot of "just WAIT until you can read it!" and "preorder this immediately!" conversations being had. Thank you to everyone who listened to me and those who attended the event at Fielding Winery in September. Highlight of my year. 

Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke (review here) completely charmed me. I wasn't really expecting to fall in love with the story behind the adorable cover, but the Australian set story is one that captured my attention when I read it in the spring. 

Catherine McKenzie is one of my favourite authors and has been for a long time. Her latest, I'll Never Tell, was phenomenal (review here). It's perfect for thriller fans who are looking for something a little bit different or anyone who wants a great read.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes was one of those books that I loved so much that I have no idea how to go about reviewing it. Just read it and love it as much as I did, OK?

Akin by Emma Donoghue (review here) was as good as you'd expect. It was smart, clever, emotional, and funny. Such a good read.

I can pretty much say all the same things about Albatross by Terry Fallis that I did about Akin. It's a story that is completely unbelievable but if you suspend your belief just a little bit, you are treated to a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I'm a wee bit biased when it comes to Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey because I've been friends with her for a number of years but that doesn't stop her BEST-SELLING novel from being the gem that it is. I'm so proud of her and think everyone needs to read her thriller. It will totally capture you and won't let you go.

I had heard a lot about Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline but it took me awhile to finally read it. And I'm really glad I did. Indigo chose it for their best book of the year for good reason. Everyone should read it.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover (review here) was another one that surprised me. I was totally riveted and highly recommend this novel. 

I don't read a ton of non-fiction these days but I read three for Niagara Life, the local magazine I review for, this year. Bake the Seasons by Marcella DiLonardo is so beautiful and has so many really yummy recipes, each with a drool worthy photo (review here). Another fantastic - and local to Niagara - book is Craft Cocktails by Geoff Dillon and Whitney Rorison (review here). They're behind Dillon's Small Batch Distillers and the cocktail book is gorgeous and full of tasty recipes. Finally, a book featuring a true story about a man well known in Niagara completely captured me (apparently "capture" is the word of the year...). Murdered Midas by Charlotte Gray (review here) was a riveting read about Harry Oakes, a millionaire who was brutally murdered and the crime was never solved.

This is a bit of a cheat because I only read four YA books but they were all STELLAR. K.A. Tucker self-published Be the Girl (review here) and it was all kinds of amazing. Sarah Dessen, one of my all-time favourite authors since I was about 16, published The Rest of the Story this summer and it was summery and perfect with a classic Dessen heartfelt story. Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell was a read for Niagara Life and was a lovely story that weaves history and fantasy and is set in Eastern Canada. Finally, Frankly in Love (a runner up in the favourite cover category) by David Yoon was fantastic and a must-read. 

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim has a cover that absolutely stunned me and I could look at it all day. The story inside it was also wonderful, thankfully! My review is here. The image on your screen just doesn't do it justice (there's a hot pink spine! And shimmery gold!) but here's the cover in all it's glory.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Husband Material

Husband Material was my second last read of 2019 (and #99, just like The Great One) and it was a totally unique and enjoyable story. Emily Belden's novel is a rom com but there's a heavy storyline throughout that made it stand out from other contemporary novels I've read.

Here's the synopsis:
Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it. 
Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not. 
But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.
Charlotte was an interesting character. I think she could have been developed a little bit more but I found myself not wanting to say goodbye to her by the end of the novel. I knew she was in a much healthier place - hard not to be when she was such a closed off person before the urn showed up and then a total mess after - but I wanted to read more about it. Totally unnecessary from a novel perspective, of course, I just wanted more. 

The way Charlotte worked through all of her issues really endeared me to her. I actually think we probably could have been friends - if she allowed me into her world, which she had a really, really hard time doing. She was wicked smart and I loved that while she's working at a job that seems so "in" right now, at a social media/influencer company, she was the woman behind the coding and technical side of things. 

One of the things early on that had me feeling sort of  "meh" about the novel was how it seemed like Belden was purposefully holding back certain information - particularly the details behind how Charlotte became a widow and why his mother seemed to dislike her - but when those details were finally revealed it was sort of...anti-climatic, I guess. It's not the worst thing in the world but it was kind of odd for me.

I don't think I've read a book with a young widow before. At least, not one that's also a romantic comedy. Belden approached it in such a beautiful and heartbreaking way. I liked that Charlotte mentioned the support groups she had gone to before and we got to read as she went to a meeting at the end. I think that helped Belden stress that Charlotte is just one widow with her own unique set of problems. No two situations are the same and she respects that. 

There's much more to Husband Material than meets the eye (seriously...I have no idea why the cover looks like it does) and while it didn't totally, completely wow me, Emily Belden's novel was one I didn't want to put down once I got into it. It's sweet, funny, and sad and I'm glad I had a chance to read it.

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*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Harlequin/Graydon House, in exchange for a review for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, December 23, 2019

Best Books of the Decade

I admit I hadn't realized until late in the year that we were closing out a decade. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me. Perhaps because I can't quite believe we're about to welcome in 2020. No matter the reason, it hit me when I saw a few bloggers talking about how they were planning on choosing their favourite books of the decade since it also coincided with a lot of them blogging for ten years. I started Books Etc. in 2010 so I'm not quite at the decade mark but I thought it would be so fun to go through the archives and see which books have stuck with me. Some years were harder to figure out than others. Logistically difficult was the fact that I didn't start tracking books on Goodreads until 2013. I looked at old posts and guesstimated for those early years. You'll also see that it was practically impossible for me to choose one book for each year. What about you? What are some of your favourite books from the last ten years?

This was probably the hardest year to track down. I only started blogging in November of 2010 so I didn't have the records to go through like with the following years. I read The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton at some point that year as I remember hand selling the hell out of it (meaning, I recommended it to anyone who asked - and some who didn't) when I worked at Coles during the Christmas season. 

This was the year I finally read Catherine McKenzie's Arranged after discovering it in my city's library. I also came across Heather Wardell and quickly fell in love with her novels. I also read - and absolutely loved - A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - it was the first book I bought for my kobo. 

This was the year I finally caved and read The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay - in quick succession. The first movie was about to come out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about since I had sold so many copies of the books while working at Coles. Spoiler: I was hooked. On the indie side of things, I really loved Breaking the Rules by Cat Lavoie. 

Here we have the first year I started tracking on Goodreads. Which also means there were many more options of books to choose from. I interned at Random House of Canada this year which meant I was exposed to even more books than I otherwise would have been. Two favourites were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (the Canadian cover remains one of my all time favourites to this day) and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (who I met one day in the offices!). This was also the year Meredith Schorr published Blogger Girl which felt a little bit like a love letter to chick lit bloggers so, of course, I adored it (and, fun fact, one of my quotes is on the front cover).

2014 was the year I finally started reading K.A. Tucker and I haven't looked back since. Burying Water was published this year and was the start of an amazing four book series. Another series that began that year introduced the world to Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky from Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before.

After a couple of less-than-absolutely-amazing books, Sarah Dessen published Saint Anything this year and it reminded me why I fell in love with her books when I was a teenager. I had been reading Laura Chapman's books for a little while but this year I read First & Goal which was the first in a series that I totally love. Finally, one of my top favourites from the decade and one I will still recommend all the time: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. I think it's time for a reread since the sequel is being published in 2020.

Apparently this wasn't a stellar year for reading for me. One that really stood out (and one I'll still tell people to read) was Poles Apart by Terry Fallis. It's funny and feminist and so well done. On the YA side of things, I had a lot of fun reading The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson. She's now one of the very few YA authors I'll read and with this book she gave me the name I plan on bestowing upon my future dog: Bertie Woofster. 

Oof, now HERE is a reading year. 2017 had me reading some incredibly popular books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I fell hard for the hero in Karina Halle's Maverick and had all the sportsing feels with Stacy May Fowles' Baseball Life Advice.

Another really, really good reading year. I finally read Beartown by Fredrik Backman for book club and, holy man, I can't believe I waited that long and thought I wouldn't like it. I immediately read the sequel. I was thrilled with the twist Uzma Jalaluddin put on Pride and Prejudice with her debut novel, Ayesha at Last. My favourite historical fiction of the year was Come From Away by Genevieve Graham. Finally, I have to repeat an author - K.A. Tucker's The Simple Wild was amazing.

You'll get a full recap soon of all of my favourites from this past year but to tide you over I'll tell you about the books I've been flailing about all year. The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley has been my go-to recommendation for everyone this year followed by a late 2019 release, Woman on the Edge by Samantha M. Bailey. Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline surprised me and I think everyone should read it.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Review: Wherever She Goes

Unreliable female narrators seem to be in every other book these days. Which is totally fine...when they're done well, that is. Wherever She Goes was almost there. K.L. Armstrong's novel was interesting and riveting but there was something - a something small, mind you - that kept me from completely falling in love with this one.

Here's the synopsis:
"Few crimes are reported as quickly as a snatched kid."
That's what the officer tells single mother Aubrey Finch after she reports a kidnapping. So why hasn't anyone reported the little boy missing? Aubrey knows what she saw: a boy being taken against his will from the park. It doesn't matter that the mother can't be found. It doesn't matter if no one reported it. Aubrey knows he's missing.
Instead, people question her sanity. Aubrey hears the whispers. She's a former stay-at-home mom who doesn't have primary custody of her daughter, so there must be something wrong with her, right? Others may not understand her decision to walk away from her safe life at home, but years of hiding her past--even from the people she loves--were taking their toll, and Aubrey knows she can't be the mother or wife she envisions until she learns to leave her secrets behind.
When the police refuse to believe her, she realizes that rescuing the boy is up to her alone. But after all the secrets, how far is she willing to go? Even to protect a child.
I know the author name reads K.L. Armstrong but here's a not-so-secret secret: it's actually Kelley Armstrong. Here's another not-really-a-secret: I had never read her books before this year and now I've read two! This novel is, I think, a bit different from what she normally writes so the name adjustment isn't surprising.

I liked that Aubrey was, quite honestly, a hot mess. A perfect character is boring so when there are issues, it adds some depth to both the story and the personality of the character. It was also a bit heartbreaking because you could see that she was trying so hard to get herself together for the sake of her family, her daughter in particular. You want to root for her because she seems like such a decent person, deep down. But you also can't help but wonder...is the separation from her daughter warranted? Is she really in her right mind right now? Did she make up the whole kidnapping?

There were a lot of elements to this mystery but it was one of those ones you kind of sort of were able to figure out as you went along. There were still some twists that surprised me so that kept me from being bored and had me looking forward to reading through until the end.

I know it could seem like I wasn't loving this one but I definitely think it's worth a read if you like mysteries. Wherever She Goes did keep me guessing for the most part and I enjoyed reading K.L. Armstrong's novel. I'd file this one under borrow instead of buy but worth a look!

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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Review: The Christmas Party

You can always find a new holiday novel by Karen Swan on bookshelves come late fall. Personally, I always like them all, but I find some are better than others. This year she’s written The Christmas Party, and I absolutely fell in love with the characters and story she created.

Here’s the synopsis:
When Declan Lorne, the last remaining knight in Ireland, dies suddenly, an ancient title passes with him. But his estate on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast is left to his three daughters. The two eldest, Ottie and Pip, inherit in line with expectations, but to everyone’s surprise – and dismay – it is the errant baby of the family, Willow, who gets the castle.
Why her? Something unknown – something terrible - made her turn her back on her family three years earlier, escaping to Dublin and vowing never to return. So when Willow quickly announces she is selling up, her revenge seems sweet and the once-close sisters are pushed to breaking point: in desperation, Pip risks everything to secure her own future, and Ottie makes a decision that will ruin lives. It’s each woman for herself.
Before moving in, Connor Shaye, the prospective new owner, negotiates throwing a lavish party at the castle just days before Christmas – his hello, their goodbye. But as their secrets begin to catch up with them, Ottie, Willow and Pip are forced to ask themselves which is harder: stepping into the future, or letting go of the past?
The setting of this novel was a big part of why I liked this book, I think. I’ve never been to Ireland (it’s on the bucket list) but, in my mind, it’s a magical kind of place that’s perfect for a holiday story. Add in the fact that the story took place in a "grand" castle (in reality the estate is falling into major disrepair), surrounded by a beautiful landscape and I was in heaven.

The last few novels Swan has written have had a historical part to it with the story being told from a couple of perspectives. The Christmas Party is completely set in the present and I’m pretty happy about that. I was able to stay fully in the story and narrative and was completely swept away.

While there’s only one time period, Swan keeps it from being too one-note by having three narrators – the three Lorne sisters. The perspective is third person so it's not super jarring and it lends itself well to a story where the sisters are so interconnected but also figuring out their own lives. I know I shouldn't pick favourites but, for some reason, Willow's story really resonated with me and I was excited when the story would shift to focus on her.

I knew there had to have been a huge reason for Willow to have left home and Swan alludes to it throughout the novel. I was almost annoyed because I really just wanted to know WHY. But when it's all revealed at the end? It's so explosive and I for sure did not see it coming, even with some of the hints thrown in throughout the novel.

Like most of Swan’s holiday books (and holiday books in general), Christmas is only sort of part of the story. I did absolutely love that there was a Christmas morning scene because it was such a sweet and emotional part of the story and a great way to tie up some of the loose narrative threads. That said, the party referenced in the title doesn't come into play until well into the book (at least halfway, I believe) so don't expect to hear about it too soon into the story.

For those who love holiday novels, Karen Swan has delivered a story that is a festive page-turner. The Christmas Party has a little bit of everything and is definitely a book you should have on hand for the upcoming holiday season!

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: Regretting You

I wouldn't consider myself a die-hard CoHo fan, like so many other readers would. And I'm not really sure why. Prior to Regretting You, I had read three of her books, which is only a very small percentage of how many she's published, and have really enjoyed each one. I think part of why I don't always gravitate towards her books is because sometimes I don't want to feel as much as her books make you feel. They're heart wrenching and angsty and full of love (and sometimes anger) and so many other strong feelings. That's what makes her books so good. But I find I can only read so many of those kinds of stories before I feel a bit wrung out. All that to say, I'm really happy I read Regretting You, her newest novel which is just out today.

Here's the synopsis:
Morgan Grant and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Clara, would like nothing more than to be nothing alike.
Morgan is determined to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she did. By getting pregnant and married way too young, Morgan put her own dreams on hold. Clara doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her predictable mother doesn’t have a spontaneous bone in her body.
With warring personalities and conflicting goals, Morgan and Clara find it increasingly difficult to coexist. The only person who can bring peace to the household is Chris—Morgan’s husband, Clara’s father, and the family anchor. But that peace is shattered when Chris is involved in a tragic and questionable accident. The heartbreaking and long-lasting consequences will reach far beyond just Morgan and Clara.
While struggling to rebuild everything that crashed around them, Morgan finds comfort in the last person she expects to, and Clara turns to the one boy she’s been forbidden to see. With each passing day, new secrets, resentment, and misunderstandings make mother and daughter fall further apart. So far apart, it might be impossible for them to ever fall back together.
I really wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Or, more accurately, how I would feel about the book. Typically I stay away from stories about mothers or accidental pregnancies (which is hard to avoid because they're usually, you know, a surprise). That's not a life I want and I don't really get it. So, I just tend to steer clear because I might not like a book and it probably wouldn't be the book's fault because it's my own personal (very weird) bias. But I could sense that Regretting You would be different. And it was.

I loved the dual narrative. I don't think it would have been as strong a story had it not been both Morgan and Clara's story. I hadn't fully realized until reading a Q&A with Hoover (I've included parts of it at the end of this review), that this is a novel that combines YA and adult into a wonderfully blended contemporary story. I loved both characters and really appreciated that, despite all the swoony bits, this was a story of a teenager and a woman who have been knocked down by the most devastating news and work through that grief separately and then together. They grow up a bit, Clara especially, and realize what needs to be done to change their lives - and it doesn't have to involve a romance (though that's a nice bonus if it happens).

Side note: it was super weird to realize that Morgan was just two years older than me and had an almost 17 year old daughter. I'm still not OK with the fact that I'm supposed to be an Adult in Certain Situations and to read someone who is so close to my age have a kid in her late teens was very odd. I can't explain it well and it so was not a bad thing. I guess it kind of opened my eyes a little bit, which is why I think everyone should read all sorts of books, because it gives a glimpse into a life that isn't your own and allows you to think about things from a different perspective.

As expected, this novel made me feel all the feels. There were times I wanted to bawl my eyes out (I did cry but I tried to keep it from being too explosive and violent. Didn't want to startle my rabbit, who was near me as I was reading) and there were moments where I was so angry at some of the characters. There were super swoony moments too which made my heart warm and cheer for a Happily Ever After for these characters I had come to love.

Regretting You is a novel you need to put on your TBR list if you enjoy contemporary stories that are raw, emotional, and oh so wonderful. Colleen Hoover has given readers an absolutely wonderful novel to read and I hope you all do - and love it like I did.

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

Bonus! Below is a Q&A with Hoover, as well as a giveaway link!
You are ‘label-less’ in the fact that you write in several genres. Readers never know what to expect next. If someone asks, how do you label yourself?
When I self-published my first novel I had no idea what genre to put it in. I thought I had written a drama but it turns to that I had written a romance. I’ve learned a lot since then, but I still don’t put a lot of weight in genre when I write. When your best friend is begging you to read a book, it’s not going to matter what genre it is when someone you trust is passionate about the story.

What can you tell readers about your latest release Regretting You?
I would spoil it if I told you about it! Most of my books are like that. I can’t say what they are about or it spoils it. But I can say that Regretting You is told from a dual point-of-view centered on the inner lives of both a teen and adult protagonist.

Sounds like lots of different types of readers will be interested!
Absolutely. I wanted to write a book that bridged the gap between young adult and contemporary romance so that mothers can read with their daughters. I think it’s exciting to see people sharing reading experiences.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Cover Reveal: Hung Up on You

Marie Landry writes some of my favourite romances. They're always so cozy and sweet and romantic and lovely. Good news for all you other romance readers, she has a new book coming out in January. Hung Up on You will be published early in the new year, on January 14 (psst ask for gift cards for your ereader for the holidays and buy this one!). Today is the official cover reveal day and I'm so excited to share it because I've read an early copy of this novel and it's so great!

Here's what it's all about:
Julia is single and happy, thank you very much. Try telling that to her happily-coupled bestie, though. She’s so determined to pair Julia off, she brings an extra guy friend along on a weekend getaway, in what’s clearly a set-up attempt. Julia’s interest is immediately piqued by sweet, sexy, nerdy Zack. There’s just one problem: he’s still hung up on his ex. Big time.
Despite knowing that – and despite her attraction to him – it doesn’t stop her friends from throwing them together every other second, insisting they’d make the perfect couple. But Julia is determined to friend zone him. At least until he suggests they pretend to date to get their respective friends off their backs.
At first, their fake “dating” is more friendship than fireworks. But as they get closer, the lines begin to blur between them, and Julia realizes she has to either shut down her developing feelings for Zack or let him in. The question is: can she fully trust him with her heart? Or does his heart still belong to his ex?
You're intrigued, aren't you? Good.

Ready to see the cover?

I think it really captures the sweetness of the romance and the blues and whites really lend themselves to the fact that the story starts in a winter wonderland.

If you're interested in reading it yourself, add it to Goodreads and preorder it if you can!
Amazon * B&N * iBooks * Kobo

About Marie
Marie Landry's life revolves around books; when she's not writing them, she's reading them, taking pictures of them for bookstagram, or blogging about them. An avid reader from a young age, she loves getting lost in characters' worlds, whether they're of her own making or someone else's. She particularly loves coming-of-age stories with as much of an emphasis on self-discovery as on romance...but don't leave out the romance!

When not doing bookish things, Marie can be found daydreaming (in general, but often about traveling through Europe), marathon-watching shows on Netflix, and taking photographs. She lives in a cozy apartment in Ontario, Canada with the best roommate ever, and only sometimes imagines it's actually a flat in London.

Where to find Marie online
Website * Instagram * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads