Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Review: Now That You Mention It

I've been struggling with how to review Kristan Higgins' latest novel Now That You Mention It. I really, really enjoyed it and sometimes that makes reviews really hard to write! This novel also has a lot of layers and I think I'm still working my way through all of them.

Here's the synopsis:
One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.
Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There's only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn't necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.
With a tough islander mother who's always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter--a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was--Nora has her work cut out for her if she's going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.
But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise...and the chance to begin again.
First things first. I absolutely freaking loved that Nora was a Potterhead. And that she was a thirty-something Harry Potter fan. I'm turning 31 this year, am an unapologetic Hufflepuff, and don't care if anyone thinks I'm too old to still be in love with the Harry Potter series. So, it was amazing to read a story where the main character was so much like me in that regard. Plus, it was really amusing how Higgins wove in references throughout the book (even if the Voldemort reference was heartbreaking).

There are two things that I have to bring up even though it really has no bearing on how I felt about the overall story. One is that I have absolutely no idea what the title and cover are referring to. I can figure out that the little yellow bird is Nora's mom's bird, Tweety. But as for the rest of it? I'm lost on the connection to the story. The other is getting back to Nora's love of Harry Potter. From what I gathered from the story, she's a Gryffindor but after reading this I'm pretty convinced she should be Hufflepuff. I mean, she is hella brave (as evidenced by the Big Bad Event) but she's also extremely loyal (to her friends and family) and dedicated (again, to her friends and family but also to her job).

If you were judging this book strictly by its cover (I know, back to that cover again!), you'd probably expect a super light and fun book. There are a lot of those elements in this book (which I loved) but the story goes so much deeper than the bright colours suggest. And that is why I liked it so much. I hate that Nora has had so many speed bumps and hardships throughout her life (some way more serious than others) but she is so incredibly strong and I really admired her.

Speaking of hardships, I had a feeling I knew what the Big Bad Event was but I was hoping I was wrong. I kind of was, actually, as it was almost worse than I imagined. And I had a lot of time to imagine it as it took just a little too long for Shalvis to expand on what Nora had alluded to on a number of occasions.

The story jumps back and forth from past to present. I think that strengthened the story because you really got a feel of what it was like for Nora in high school. You also got to see what other characters were like then as well. And it reminded me how glad I am not to be in high school any more and that I don't live in the small town I grew up in!

Like I said, Now That You Mention It was a hard one for me to review because it was so enjoyable for so many reasons. So, I'll just leave you with this: pick up Kristan Higgins' latest novel because you're probably going to enjoy it just as much as I did.

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Review: Keep Her Safe

Do you ever get tired of me saying that I absolutely adore K.A. Tucker and her books? Because I'm going to say that again: I love her and her novels. Keep Her Safe is her latest and is an interesting (and well done) mix of suspense and romance. I didn't want to stop reading!

Here's the synopsis:
Noah Marshall has known a privileged and comfortable life thanks to his mother, the highly decorated chief of the Austin Police Department. But all that changes the night she reveals a skeleton that's been rattling in her closet for years, and succumbs to the guilt of destroying an innocent family's life. Reeling with grief, Noah is forced to carry the burden of this shocking secret.
Gracie Richards wasn't born in a trailer park, but after fourteen years of learning how to survive in The Hollow, it's all she knows anymore. At least here people don't care that her dad was a corrupt Austin cop, murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Here, she and her mother are just another family struggling to survive...until a man who clearly doesn't belong shows up on her doorstep.
Despite their differences, Noah and Gracie are searching for answers to the same questions, and together, they set out to uncover the truth about the Austin Police Department's dark and messy past. But the scandal that emerges is bigger than they bargained for, and goes far higher up than they ever imagined.
I was expecting Keep Her Safe to be especially twisted but I didn't find I was on the edge of my seat as much as I was with He Will Be My Ruin (my review is here). That doesn't mean it wasn't suspenseful though. I had a pretty good idea of what happened to Abe - Grace's father - but (and this is an important but) Tucker threw in a twist at the end that I didn't really see coming and, holy cow, does it ever deliver an emotional sucker punch. I found that it was in the end that you realize how dark and messed up the story really was. 

I was drawn into the story from the start and hated putting the book down. (Which is especially hard when I started reading it at lunch at work and only have half an hour to eat and dive into a story.) It was a well-written, riveting story, and had characters that I really liked and cared about.

Speaking of characters, Gracie was awesome. She has such a tough outer shell because of how she had to grow up - in a trailer park, with no father, and a mother who's a drug addict. She's understandably wary of Noah (who is also amazing and he is my first book boyfriend of 2018) but isn't so completely hardened that she can't realize how their feelings for each other are changing. She was such a fascinating character and wicked smart and I wish I could read more about her.

I think this book is being marketed as a romantic suspense and I hope that neither romance nor suspense fans are turned off by the categorization. It's not a cheesy, forced romance and it's a really good mystery. I think fans of both genres would really enjoy this one because I think it's a perfect balance of the two.

I'm so happy that there's another K.A. Tucker book out in the world and I hope those who haven't discovered her books yet will with Keep Her Safe. This one will definitely be on my list of books to push on people for the rest of 2018!

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Blog Tour: Hot Shot

Thank goodness Karina Halle writes - and publishes - quickly because I don't know how much longer I could have waited for Hot Shot! It's the third book in the North Ridge series and we finally (finally!) get to see Fox and Delilah get together. I couldn't wait to dive back in to the world of the Nelson brothers and, once I did, I didn't want to leave.

Here's the synopsis:
Delilah Gordon has a secret.
She’s been in love with her best friend and the boy next door, Fox Nelson, since she was six years old.
And while most of her friends and family know about her unrequited crush, the one person who remains oblivious is Fox himself. To Delilah, it’s better this way. She’d rather pretend that they’re just friends, even though her feelings for the moody rugged mountain man are anything but tame.
Fox Nelson has a secret too.
As a wildland firefighter or “hot shot,” Fox parachutes into danger every day he’s on the job, risking all to fight wildfires that threaten ranches, forests and thousands of lives. But while Fox’s job is only for the brave, inside he feels anything but. The more he grapples with his raging demons, the more he realizes Delilah is the only one who can put out the flames.
As the two friends grow closer – and more intimate – than ever before, the more complicated their relationship becomes.
And Delilah has one more secret to reveal.
A secret that will change both their lives…forever.
I mentioned that this book is part of a series but I always want to note that Halle's series don't require you to read all the stories in order. That being said, I'm a series purist and always need to start from the beginning. This way you're not being spoiled by any little details. The big details - who ends up with who - are pretty easy to figure out so skipping a book isn't really going to be the end of the world. 

Wild Card (which I reviewed here) was really dark and heavy. Maverick was more lighthearted (and a tad steamier!). Hot Shot was somewhere in between. No one way is better than the others and I think it highlights how well Halle can write both light and dark. 

I don't know if it was just the mental headspace I'm in right now (see my post earlier this week about my favourite 2017 reads to get an idea) or what, but the emotional punch Halle almost always delivers in her books was particularly hard this time around. I always get so incredibly invested in her characters that my emotions are soaring and diving right alongside theirs. It's intense for an empathetic reader like myself. It's great because it shows how freaking amazing Halle is at writing these stories but it's also hard because some of the emotions are so hard to deal with.

Even though I knew Fox and Delilah were probably going to finally get together in the end, it was agonizing (in a weirdly good way) for me to read as they slowly realized that what they assumed the other was feeling might not actually be the case. They had buried their feelings for so long that it was hard to face them. Fox, in particular. His were so far buried that he almost seemed shocked when he realized he might want Delilah as more than just a friend. (Jeez, boys are dumb sometimes!) 

But, Fox had a lot of issues to work out before he was ready to commit to Delilah. And I am so glad that she knew what she deserved even if it was breaking her heart. It made the ending so much sweeter.

One final note - I absolutely loved the squirrel in this story. He wasn't a major plot point but he provided lighthearted moments (I literally laughed out loud when a chapter opened with Delilah's mom telling her that her squirrel was trying to drink her coffee) as well as deeper moments when Delilah realized some parallels (can't get too spoilery here!). It sounds a bit weird, I know, but I just loved that little guy.

I think I might be in denial that the series is over but Karina Halle gave us readers the most delightful epilogue so we know what all the Nelsons are up to and where their lives are heading next. Hot Shot, just like the rest of the North Ridge novels, was an absolute delight to read (even when it was ripping my heart out) and I highly suggest everyone pick up this series!

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

Find (and buy!) Hot Shot
Amazon US * Amazon UK * Amazon CA * iBooks * Nook * Kobo
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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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Monday, January 8, 2018

Favourite 2017 Reads

Can you believe we're already a week into 2018? I don't know about you but 2017 was a rough year for me. I've been so busy and have had so many major life things happen (especially over the past few months) that I haven't really been blogging too much. I didn't even get a post up in November to celebrate my seven year blogiversary! And clearly I'm on top of posting this "best of", too!

Without going too much into my year (but would I be a blogger if I didn't talk about myself a little bit?)...I got in my first ever car accident (I was fine, my car was kind of fine, and the bus was definitely fine), found out my rabbit needed surgery (she's ok but it's a recurring issue), and had to buy a new phone (mine took a major tumble at the grocery store). And all of that happened within about 4 days right at the start of the year. In the spring I found out my grandma was sick and she got progressively sicker until she passed away in August. That was the hardest thing to deal with this year and it's not something you get over easily. Then, just to make the year even more ridiculous, in September I found out via Facebook and small town gossip that my estranged father died in a car accident. How does one deal with that?

But even with those big, massive, awful things...there have been some bright moments. I met Jenny Han and Sophie Kinsella. I went to a wonderful afternoon tea book launch for author Karma Brown and my friend and I got to sit at Karma's table. I turned 30 in May! The biggest things - and some of the best things - happened right at the end of the year. In November I went to Australia for the second time and it was amazing. Then, two days after we landed back in cold, snowy Canada, my boyfriend and I got the keys to our first house. December was insanely busy with painting and moving and just trying to process all of the feelings I've been having this year.

Books definitely helped me through the tough times and I read a lot of really great ones last year (even though I read fewer books in 2017 than I have in years - "just" 87, which is fitting as I was born in 1987). These are ten of my absolute favourites. 9 of the 10 were 5 stars (and the one that was 4 stars probably should have been 5 now that I think back!) and just so great to read. There were also oodles of other four star books that I wish I could talk about too but I have to narrow it down somehow. I can't really choose favourites among the favourites so I've listed them in the order I read them. If you want to see all the books I read last year, you can check out my Goodreads year in review.

My Not So Perfect Life - Sophie Kinsella (Review here)
Kinsella's latest book is probably now my favourite of all of hers. I don't know exactly why I adored it more than her others. Maybe it was the heroine (she's close to my age). Maybe it was her job (communications/branding). Maybe it was just that the overall story was funny, quirky, and sweet. I associate those adjectives with most of Kinsella's books but this one reminded me why she's one of the queens of chick lit.

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Until It Fades - K.A. Tucker (Review here)
I've been devouring Tucker's books for years and while I love her work and how twisty they can be, I was really happy to hear that her 2017 release would be a bit lighter and more romantic. I loved it and that the hero was a professional athlete. I also loved that it was, as with all of Tucker's books, well written and completely captivating.

Kim vs. the Mean Girl / The Boyfriend Swap - Meredith Schorr (Reviews here and here)
I had the chance to beta read Kim vs. the Mean Girl so I was excited about the release well before it was actually, well, released. One of the things I loved about it was that, because it was a prequel of Schorr's Blogger Girl series (one of my favourites), it featured a teenage Kim. The fun part? She was a teen around the same time I was so it was a cool blast from the past.
As for The Boyfriend Swap? I could not put it down. I just love all of Schorr's heroines and her latest book had a little bit of festive flair that I really enjoyed too.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean - Jenny Han
This is one that slipped through my reviewing queue (sorry, Simon & Schuster Canada...bad blogger) but I really loved it. It was such a great way to wrap up Lara Jean's story. Especially when we weren't expecting a third book! While I wish I could see how Lara Jean does in college, I'm glad we got a bit more of a resolution to her story than we would have. Thanks, Jenny! (Oh, and who else is super excited for the upcoming movie?)

Once and For All - Sarah Dessen (Review here)
Summers are so much better when Dessen has a new book out. I savoured this one on my 30th birthday and it was absolute perfection. This book was set during the summer after Louna graduated high school and I can still remember my own summer before university. This was a great read about a girl who needed to learn to live and love again and it was so sweet.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid (Review here)
OK, OK. If I had to pick a favourite, this would probably be it. It was definitely the one I recommended the most to people this year. I loved it because it hit all sorts of high points and genres. It was historical fiction but woven with a strong, secondary contemporary story. And the historical part of it started in Old Hollywood which seems so glamorous and full of intrigue. There was also a romance that you don't see coming. Jenkins Reid wrote a novel that was nothing like I'd ever read before and I freaking loved it.

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
This was, hands down, the hardest book I read this year. And also the most necessary. I am SO glad this book exists for teenagers. And adults, really. I finally got to read it when my book club chose it as one of our reads for this year (it may have been strongly pushed by myself and another member). And, as a club full of white women, it was good for us to read it because as enlightened as we may think we are, we don't have the first clue what it's really like to be a teenager in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement. Read this one if you haven't yet.

Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
I hadn't done a reread of the series in a couple of years and I was getting the urge to revisit Hogwarts. Then my grandma started to get really sick. I dove in to these books and I barely came up for air. It was familiar and comforting during a time I needed it most.

Baseball Life Advice - Stacey May Fowles
I don't read a ton of non-fiction and I definitely don't buy much but this book was on my to-buy list as soon as I found out it was going to be published. I've followed Stacey May on Twitter for awhile now (as well as subscribe to her newsletter) so I kind of knew what her book would be like - a bit of a love letter to baseball from a fan who knows it inside and out and loves the good, the bad, and the ugly. My favourite thing about reading this book was that I was constantly agreeing with what Fowles was writing. It was like she was inside my head and feels just the same way about the sport that I do. She also has some very smart and important points about females in the world of sports and how much we have to prove ourselves to the male fans. You definitely need to read this if you're a baseball fan.

Wild Card / Maverick - Karina Halle (my review of Wild Card here)
Halle started another sort-of-but-not-really series in 2017 featuring three brothers living in western Canada. Wild Card was a deep, emotional rollercoaster of a book and so good. I didn't know how Maverick could even compare. It can't, not really, because it's more lighthearted but it's just as amazing. (And a perfect vacation book as you can see from the pic - I miss Australia!) The conclusion of the "series", Hot Shot, is out tomorrow (and my review will be up on Wednesday)!

And there you have it! My top ten books of 2017. It's not surprising that they're all by women - I only read 4 books by men in 2017. My goal for 2018 is to read more diversely as I clearly have the "read more females" thing down pat. That will include more geographically diverse authors too...this list features two women from Great Britain, three from Canada, and five from the US. Not bad but I could do better. I also would like to just plain read more in 2018. I didn't even hit 90 books in 2017 and I know that's an insane amount and I'm so not comparing my number to anyone else's but...I could do better. There are just so many books out there and read as many as possible! I'm going to try to put myself on a more set book buying ban. I did well this year, only splurging on a few, but it'd be good for my budget and my bookshelf space to cut back even more. Stay tuned to see how that goes!

Happy New Year, friends. And here's hoping 2018 treats us well.