Friday, March 31, 2023

Review: Reasonable Adults

I had really, really high hopes for Robin Lefler’s debut novel, which was released this past December. Reasonable Adults seemed like such a good read and one that took place in Ontario, where I live? Bonus! Alas, it let me down in ways I can’t quite put my finger on but are reasons why I only just now, finally trying to put my thoughts into words.

Here’s the book’s description:
A swanky new gig at a luxury artists’ retreat in Muskoka, a delightful canine companion and a chance at a clean start. It should be smooth sailing from here . . .
Everything has fallen apart for Kate Rigsby: she is freshly single—separated from an ex she never really liked—and freshly fired—from a job she never really liked, either. Somehow, she’s reached the age of thirty-one and the only things she truly cares about are her goldendoodle, Eric, her two best friends, and proving to her parents (and, if she’s honest, to herself) that she made the right choice moving to the city. Except, instead of thriving, she finds that her life has taken a nose-dive. So when a job at Treetops Creative Retreat suddenly lands in her lap, she’s thrilled. Three months at a glorified arts and crafts workshop for grown-ups that boasts five-star cuisine and a helipad, and she’ll be well paid? The perfect escape. So what if her contract spans the depths of winter? Neat! A charming life experience! She can learn to snowshoe.
But when Kate arrives at the retreat, nothing is as she imagined. She didn’t read the fine print, her targets are impossible, her boss seems committed to seeing her fail and there happens to be an extremely off-limits fellow staffer who has no business being so gorgeous.
Part self-discovery, part rom-com and part comedy of errors, Reasonable Adults is a hilarious debut about finding yourself—and maybe love—along the way. A little summer-camp romance never hurt anyone, right?
I could see why a lot of people might like this book and really like Kate. I saw one review compare her to Lorelai Gilmore which, I can see. I’m a huge Gilmore Girls fan and have been from the very start but even I can acknowledge some of the problematic behaviours in that show. Kate was strong and smart but forget that often. She had a weird relationship with herself and while I wanted to root for her…I just couldn’t get totally behind her.

And the romance part of it? I didn’t get it. I thought maybe it might be between Kate and one character but then was like, no, that doesn’t make any sense. Then I thought it could be someone else. Nope, my first instinct was correct but so was my instinct that it didn’t make sense. I just couldn’t see the pair together. Or maybe I couldn’t see the issues that they were so clearly putting in their own way? Like just…figure it out?

Also…heads up for a sexual assault scene. And then a scene where the victim is blamed and while that character tries to say he understands why he was being a complete asshole immediately after judging her…I was lost. It was not cool and I did not like it one bit.

I did, however, adore the setting. I grew up in kinda-sorta cottage country in Ontario so I really identified with where the book took place. (Not that I’ve ever gone to a resort like Treetops!) Feeling like I was in Muskoka right alongside the characters was my favourite part of the book. Along with the dog. Who doesn’t love a doggo?

So…Reasonable Adults was very much not a win for me. I wanted to love Robin Lefler’s novel but I just couldn’t get into it as much as I should have. Will I read her next one? Perhaps. But it’ll be a library borrow if I do.

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

Monday, March 27, 2023

Review: One Woman’s War

I love World War II spy stories. This is not a secret. I love a lot of spy stories, to be honest. So, naturally, I was interested when I heard about One Woman’s War by Christine Wells. It had WWII, it had spies, it had Ian Fleming, and it had Operation Mincemeat. I was sold. And, happily, it was a great read!

Here’s the book’s description:
World War II London: When Victoire "Paddy" Bennett first walks into the Admiralty's Room 39, home to the Intelligence Division, all the bright and lively young woman expects is a secretarial position to the charismatic Commander Ian Fleming. But soon her job is so much more, and when Fleming proposes a daring plot to deceive the Germans about Allied invasion plans he requests the newlywed Paddy's help. She jumps at the chance to work as an agent in the field, even after the operation begins to affect her marriage. But could doing her duty for King and country come at too great a cost?
Socialite Friedl Stöttinger is a beautiful Austrian double agent determined to survive in wartime England, which means working for MI-5, investigating fifth column activity among the British elite at parties and nightclubs. But Friedl has a secret--some years before, she agreed to work for German Intelligence and spy on the British. When her intelligence work becomes fraught with danger, she must choose whether to remain loyal to the British and risk torture and execution by the Nazis, or betray thousands of men to their deaths.
Soon, the lives of these two extraordinarily brave women will collide, as each travels down a road of deception and danger leading to one of the greatest battles of World War II.
Paddy is considered to be one of the women who inspired Ian Fleming’s character Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond series. When I heard that, I was so intrigued. I knew Fleming had pulled a lot from his own war experience to inspire Bond and it made me curious to get to know one of the women who kept Bond in line (or tried to, at least). As with most historical fiction, Wells did take a few liberties with Paddy’s character but she explains that in the detailed notes at the end of the book. I know I’m reading fiction but I admit I get totally swept up in the story and sometimes forget that what I’m reading may not have actually happened in that manner.

Reading more about Operation Mincemeat and seeing how Wells interpreted it was really interesting. If you don’t know anything about this plan, I highly recommend reading up on it and watching the movie of the same name on Netflix (which is, in turn, based on a non-fiction book with the same name). The lengths the Allies went through to trick the Nazis is bonkers and the fact that this operation actually worked is totally mind-boggling. I love it so much.

Wells lost me a bit with Friedl. I didn’t really care about her part of the story and I didn’t really see how it connected with what was happening to Paddy and those in her storyline. I’m finding that more and more historical fiction novels are trying to connect more than one character together when they really don’t need to be and most of them are not done all that well. I’m not sure why that is but it’s something I’ve noticed - and you all know I read a lot of historical fiction!

One Woman’s War was fascinating and Christine Wells’ novel kept me entertained throughout. My favourite WWII historical fiction tale? No, but it was still a great read and one that helped me understand what it would have been like during the war just a little bit more.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Review: Pride and Puppies

I’ve gotten away from reading “true” romances these days. You know the ones, where the entire plot is based around two characters who will end up together at the end of the story without much else happening. I make an exception for Lizzie Shane, however. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying her Pine Hollow series and the latest, Pride and Puppies, was no exception. It was so delightful!

Here’s the book’s description:
Dr. Charlotte Rodriguez is single—again—and she blames Jane Austen. She made brooding, aloof men sound oh so dreamy. But after years of failing to find her own Mr. Darcy, Charlotte decides it’s time to swear off dating. She’s going to lavish all her love and affection on someone who actually deserves it: her new puppy, Bingley.
And there’s no one better to give her pet advice than her neighbor and coworker George Leneghan. He’s quiet and patient and, best of all, way too sweet to ever be her type. But as their friendly banter turns flirty, the unimaginable happens—Charlotte starts catching feelings.
Just as Charlotte is trying to untangle what it is she truly wants, George announces he’s contemplating a cross-country move. Suddenly, Charlotte wonders if she’s kept her soulmate in the friend zone so long that she’s entirely missed her chance at a happily ever after. Dear Reader, could it be possible she’s had it wrong all this time?
First things first, this is not a Pride and Prejudice retelling. It is, however, an homage to Jane Austen, an author who is clearly close to Lizzie Shane’s heart. Charlotte and her sisters were all named after Austen characters - and yes, Charlotte can’t believe she’s named after heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend who marries the horrid Mr. Collins - because their mother had loved the author. So, once you know that you’re not expecting Mr. Darcy to stride across the moors, you can buckle in for a sweet and fun romance that has lovely Austen touches.

I love a good friends to lovers trope but it’s always hard when it’s clear one of the characters has romantic feelings from the start and the other is an oblivious idiot. That was the case with this book as George most definitely wanted to date Charlotte as soon as he met her but Charlotte just didn’t see him as someone for her. Surprise, surprise, she had some work to do on herself and her self-esteem. A bit of a tired trope? Perhaps. But it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of this book one bit.

Part of the appeal of these books is the small town they’re set in, Pine Hollow. It’s the quintessential small town setting and so lovely. I’d move there in a heartbeat. The neighbours all look out for each other, there are great shops and restaurants to enjoy, and they have lots of nature in their backyard. What’s not to love? (Why, yes, I am a small town girl at heart.)

You don’t have to read all the books in Lizzie Shane’s Pine Hollow series but I think you should. Pride and Puppies was such a lovely romance and I absolutely cannot wait for the next book in the series. What kind of doggos will we get to meet next?!?

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Review: Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble

I’m a big fan of Great British Bake Off and I love when novels put their characters in similar competitions. It was partially for that reason that I read Alexis Hall’s Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake back in 2021 (review here). Unfortunately, I was really upset with one aspect of the plot and the rest of the book was soured. BUT. After reading more of Hall’s work, I thought I’d give the semi-connected series another go. And I’m glad I did as I enjoyed Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble.

Here’s the book’s description:
Paris Daillencourt is a recipe for disaster. Despite his passion for baking, his cat, and his classics degree, constant self-doubt and second-guessing have left him a curdled, directionless mess. So when his roommate enters him in Bake Expectations, the nation’s favourite baking show, Paris is sure he’ll be the first one sent home.
But not only does he win week one’s challenge—he meets fellow contestant Tariq Hassan. Sure, he’s the competition, but he’s also cute and kind, with more confidence than Paris could ever hope to have. Still, neither his growing romance with Tariq nor his own impressive bakes can keep Paris’s fear of failure from spoiling his happiness. And when the show’s vicious fanbase confirms his worst anxieties, Paris’s confidence is torn apart quicker than tear-and-share bread.
But if Paris can find the strength to face his past, his future, and the chorus of hecklers that live in his brain, he’ll realize it’s the sweet things in life that he really deserves.
Paris is, like some desserts, an acquired taste. He has pretty serious anxiety that he hasn’t addressed because he doesn’t know he needs to - he just thinks he is the way he is and that’s all there is to it. But he makes excuses for himself that I had no time for, especially after he started getting help. I’m not sure how much of the “omg I’m the worst ever” was part of the anxiety (Yes, I know it would be a huge part) but there were still some instances where I felt he should have behaved better. Perhaps I’m wrong. I don’t have anxiety like Paris so I can’t fully get into his head but I know it’s tough. I wish I could remember some of the specific examples but, alas, I read this one so long ago (oops). 

I loved the baking show aspects of the book, obviously, and that the book was divided up by each episode. It helped keep track of time in a fun way. It was always fun to see what the bakers were making each week and I always liked when the whole cast was hanging out together.

The romance in this one was a delight - even with all of the awkward and terrible moments. I respected Tariq so much and wish I could be more like him. He knew who he was and wasn’t about to apologize for not being a stereotypical British baker. Is it wrong to say I think he might have been too good for Paris? It might be, right? Whether they were truly right for each other, I don’t entirely know, but the romantic in me was expecting more of a romance novel and so I was rooting for a Happily Ever After between the two of them.

Paris Daillencourt Is About to Crumble was a cute read with funny moments but a lot of really heavy topics and topics that should be tackled in contemporary reads. Alexis Hall doesn’t always deliver a total winner to me but I continue to read his books because I appreciate his talent and humour and the ability to make me look at the world a little differently than I did when I started the book.

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

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Review: Never Rescue a Rogue

I’ve really been enjoying all the historical rom coms that have been popping up over the last couple of years and that included Virginia Heath’s book  Never Fall for Your Fiancée (review here). I was excited about the next book in the Merriwell Sisters series and I ended up liking book two, Never Rescue a Rogue, even more than book one!

Here’s the book’s description:
Diana Merriwell and Giles Sinclair only tolerate one another for the sake of their nearest and dearest. Everyone believes that the two of them are meant to be together, but Diana and Giles know that their constant pithy barbs come from a shared disdain—not a hidden attraction. Diana loves the freedom of working at the newspaper too much to give it up for marriage, and Giles is happily married to his bachelor lifestyle. But they do have one thing in common—the secrets they can’t risk escaping.
When Giles’ father, the curmudgeonly Duke of Harpenden unexpectedly turns up his toes, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes crawling out of the woodwork who knows the true circumstances of his only son's birth. As the threat of blackmail becomes real, Giles must uncover the truth of his parentage first, or else he and all those who depend upon him will be ruined—and dogged bloodhound Diana is his best hope at sniffing out the truth. As Giles and Diana dive into his family’s past, the attraction that the two of them insisted wasn’t there proves impossible to ignore. Soon, the future of the Sinclair estate isn’t the only thing on the line…
Readers who paid attention to Minerva and Hugh’s story would have known that book two would feature Diana and Giles, sister to Minerva and best friend to Hugh, respectively. The tension between the two was palpable in the first book and I was SO excited to read their story. It wasn’t quite an opposites attract nor was it quite enemies to lovers. It hit a sweet spot of the couple being easily irritated by the other but only because there was an underlying passion between them. Because obviously the reason the pair keep sniping at each other is because that’s easier than admitting they’re pining for each other!

The characters were too much fun to read about. Diana is wicked smart and Giles recognized and respected that. And that is attractive! He was trying really hard to hide his true self which Diana had no time for, which I respected. He had to face his future, which was complicated because of his father’s messy past, before Diana would have anything to do with him. She was also fiercely independent and didn’t think romance and a relationship would be in the cards for her because she thought she needed to work to be able to look after her sisters. And, at the time these books take place, there was no way for a woman to work and be married. *insert grumbling here* The pair each had their faults but they worked oh so well together and the Happily Ever After was really satisfying - which is always a win in my books!

I always appreciate when a character, especially a female character, in the book I’m reading is a journalist (my partner is a reporter so I have a soft spot for them and know how important they are to society). Seeing as this was a historical book, I liked that Heath was able to showcase how tough it would have been for Diana, or any woman, to work for newspapers at the time.

While this is a romance novel set in a historical time period, there was also a…mystery of sorts. I really enjoyed reading as all the characters came together to figure out Giles’ past. I certainly didn’t solve it before they did, which made for a lot of fun. Giles also learned he had a lot of people in his corner too which was really lovely to read.

I’m already excited to read the story of the youngest Merriwell sister, which will be the final in the series. Never Wager with a Wallflower, featuring Venus, is set to publish in November. Yay!

If you’re also a fan of historical rom coms, I’d definitely recommend you check out Never Rescue a Rogue. Virginia Heath’s novel kept me entertained and engaged throughout and I’m so very glad I had the chance to read it.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, February 27, 2023

Review: The Little Wartime Library

Dangle a World War II set novel that features a bookstore or library in front of me and I am going to snap it up. We should all know that by now. So, it’s no surprise I was immediately drawn to Kate Thompson’s latest novel, The Little Wartime Library. I devoured it in a weekend!

Here’s the book’s description:
London, 1944 : Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While war ravages the city above her, Clara has risked everything she holds dear to turn the Bethnal Green tube station into the country’s only underground library. Down here, a secret community thrives with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café, and a theater—offering shelter, solace, and escape from the bombs that fall upon their city.
Along with her glamorous best friend and assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women's determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.
Some people may call this a dual narrative but there are only two chapters that take place in the present(ish) timeline so I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as dual. That said, I really appreciated how Thompson introduced the characters in 2020 because it kept me curious about who, exactly, it was visiting the former underground library with her daughters. Having this time period briefly included also allows the readers a chance to connect this historical novel to their own lives, in today’s time. We’re losing more and more people who lived through WWII and books like Thompson’s allow their stories to live on and, with this one in particular, remind readers, and those who live in the Bethnal Green area, about a part of their history they may have forgotten or never known about it in the first place. I definitely had no idea there was a library in the underground during the war and I was fascinated, and a little heartbroken, at the lives of those who visited the library.

Now, I do have to say that this book was a little too long. It clocks in at 480 pages which is a lot for any book, let alone a historical fiction title. I think Thompson just had so much information she wanted to include in the story that it ended up being longer than it should have. I didn’t find too many info dumps, which I hate in historical fiction, and was swept away into the world and time period Thompson recreated for me with her story. I respect that she wanted to include the history of the Channel Islands, Jersey in particular, but I found myself rushing through those chapters to get back to the main story. I learned a lot though and applaud Thompson for the time and effort she put into making sure her story was as accurate as she could make it.

The novel’s chapters alternate between Clara and Ruby but the pair were together so often that I sometimes got a bit confused about who I was supposed to be following. The story is told in third person too so that didn’t always clear things up. I liked both women and by having them have different backgrounds (widow vs woman on the town) allowed Thompson to share even more history of the time and what it would have been like for women of the time.

I found, at times, that maybe Thompson was reaching a bit in an effort to compare the library then to libraries now but maybe I just don’t know enough about the history of libraries. The library boss was an atrocious little man who didn’t think women had brains and didn’t appreciate the novels being circulated by the library (educational reading only if he had his way). It was a strong parallel to the censorship issues libraries across the world are facing, particularly in the United States. And the reader couldn’t help but compare the rules faced by those living through the war to some of the restrictions we had to deal with at the start of the pandemic.

I may have had teeny issues with Kate Thompson’s novel but on the whole? I loved The Little Wartime Library. Those readers who like slightly quieter and understated historical fiction (think Genevieve Graham or Jennifer Robson) will also enjoy this one, especially those who love any novel that focuses on books and booklovers. I am going to do more reading on the Bethnal Green library and I’m so thankful Thompson chose to explore this little part of history in her novel.

*An egalley was provided via NetGalley by Forever and an ARC was provided by HBG Canada in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, February 20, 2023

Review: Have I Told You This Already?

I, like many of my generation, watched every single episode of Gilmore Girls. Multiple times. Sure, the show and characters may not hold up these days, but I loved it and I loved Lauren Graham in it. I’ve read most of her other books and really enjoy getting in insight into her life so I was definitely interested in her latest book of essays, Have I Told You This Already?: Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember. It was a lot of fun to read!

Here’s the book’s description:
Candid, insightful, and wildly entertaining essays about life, love, and lessons learned as an actress in Hollywood, from the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and New York Times bestselling author of Talking as Fast as I Can.
With her signature sense of humor and down-to-earth storytelling, Lauren Graham opens up about her years working in the entertainment business—from the sublime to the ridiculous—and shares personal stories about everything from family and friendship to the challenges of aging gracefully in Hollywood. In "RIP Barneys New York," she writes about an early job as a salesperson at the legendary department store -- and the time she inadvertently shoplifted; in "Ne Oublie" she warns us about the perils of coming from an extremely forgetful family; and in "Actor-y Factory" she recounts what a day in the life of an actor looks like (unless you’re Brad Pitt).
Filled with surprising anecdotes, sage advice, and laugh-out-loud observations, Graham's latest collection of all-new, original essays showcases the winning charm and wit that she's known for.
In an age where celebrity memoirs can be overly gossipy and tell-all-like, it was kind of refreshing to read Graham’s carefully curated stories. They were still so very her and gave some insight on her life, the work she’s done, and the people she’s met, but it was still very private. I totally respect that and appreciate her giving just as much of herself to us as she felt comfortable doing. And I didn’t feel like I missed out on any juicy stories. It was just like a friend with a super cool job was telling me some stories of her life. It had a good vibe! I think that vibe can be attributed to what the description calls “down-to-earth” storytelling. Graham wasn’t trying to shock us or spill all the tea. Just tell us some good stories.

While I got an egalley to review from the publisher, I ended up listening to the audiobook (thank you, library!) because Graham narrates it herself. That probably added a lot to my enjoyment of the book - it was almost like we were sitting together over a drink as she was telling me her stories. Not all authors (or actors) are good narrators but Graham is. It was a really satisfying listen.

This is not a long book, sitting at just 183 pages. I might be a little bit disappointed that it wasn’t longer but only because I feel like there are so many more stories Graham could have shared. I’m trying to tell myself it was as long as it needed to be but, honestly, I wish there had been more.

Have I Told You This Already?
is a book for Lauren Graham fans. In this latest book of essays, she tells us a few stories from her life - both personal and professional - she thinks we’ll enjoy and enjoy them we do. If this one sounds like one you’d like to pick up, I’d recommend the audiobook so you can listen to Graham tell you her stories herself.

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