Saturday, September 28, 2019

Cover Reveal: The Forgotten Home Child

I was a little bit late to the Genevieve Graham party but once I read Promises to Keep two years ago I was completely hooked (my full review here). Graham does an amazing job of taking Canadian history and weaving it into a riveting novel. She honours our past and creates a story you won't want to put down at the same time. I don't know if teenage me would have thought I'd be this excited about stories about Canadian history but here we are.

Graham's latest novel is going to be The Forgotten Home Child and will be published by Simon & Schuster Canada in March 2020. (I can't believe we're talking about 2020 books already...where on earth did 2019 go?)

Here's what this novel is going to be about:
At ninety-seven years old, Winnifred Ellis knows she doesn’t have much time left, and it is almost a relief to realize that once she is gone, the truth about her shameful past will die with her. But when her great-grandson Jamie, the spitting image of her dear late husband, asks about his family tree, Winnifred can’t lie any longer, even if it means breaking a promise she made so long ago...
Fifteen-year-old Winny has never known a real home. After running away from an abusive stepfather, she falls in with Mary, Jack, and their ragtag group of friends roaming the streets of Liverpool. When the children are caught stealing food, Winny and Mary are left in Dr. Barnardo’s Barkingside Home for Girls, a local home for orphans and forgotten children found in the city’s slums. At Barkingside, Winny learns she will soon join other boys and girls in a faraway place called Canada, where families and better lives await them.
But Winny’s hopes are dashed when she is separated from her friends and sent to live with a family that has no use for another daughter. Instead, they have paid for an indentured servant to work on their farm. Faced with this harsh new reality, Winny clings to the belief that she will someday find her friends again.
Inspired by true events, The Forgotten Home Child is a moving and heartbreaking novel about place, belonging, and family—the one we make for ourselves and its enduring power to draw us home.
Like Joanna Goodman's Home for Unwanted Girls, Graham's novel features a part of Canadian history that's less than savoury. I think it's important for us to know where we come from and how we can do better. (Which is also why I think we should all be reading more Indigenous authors...that's going to be a huge 2020 goal for me.)

Speaking of where we come from, Graham has this to say about why she chose to write about this part of our history:
I first learned about the British Home Children a few years ago, when I stumbled upon an article about them online. The article said that starting in 1869-1948, 100,000-130,000 destitute British children between the ages of three and eighteen were taken from England’s streets, orphanages, and Homes, then shipped across the ocean to work in Canada, where it was thought they’d have a chance to lead better lives. The trouble was that once the children arrived here, there were few to no checks and balances in place. What could go wrong? Plenty. Some of the children did quite well. Those were informally adopted and their lives improved unquestionably. Unfortunately, most of the children did not. The majority became indentured servants, working as farm labourers and domestic servants. And approximately 75% of those children experienced neglect and abuse. Thanks to the recent fascination with genealogy, it has since been determined that 12% of Canada’s population is now descended from these children. That’s over four million Canadians! And most of them have no idea they might have a British Home Child in their family tree.
 I've prattled on long enough, haven't I? Are you ready for the cover now? Of course you are.

I can already feel my heartstrings tugging for these kids, especially Winny. I'm so interested to see what will happen in this novel and I hope you will be too.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Review: Valencia and Valentine

Inside the gorgeously wrapped Valencia and Valentine is a story unlike one I've ever read. And, I have to admit, I'm still not sure if that's totally a good thing. Suzy Krause's novel was very sweet and very real - even when it wasn't. Confused? Yeah, I was too but...that didn't make me dislike this book.

Here's the synopsis:
Valencia, a timid debt collector with crippling OCD, is afraid of many things, but the two that scare her most are flying and turning thirty-five. To confront those fears, Valencia’s therapist suggests that she fly somewhere—anywhere—before her upcoming birthday. And as Valencia begins a telephone romance with a man from New York, she suddenly has a destination in mind. There’s only one problem—he might not actually exist.
Mrs. Valentine is an eccentric old woman desperate for company, be it from neighbors, telemarketers, or even the funeral director (when you’re her age, you go to a lot of funerals). So she’s thrilled when the new cleaning girl provides a listening ear for her life’s story—a tale of storybook love and incredible adventures around the world with her husband before his mysterious and sudden disappearance.
The stories of Valencia and Mrs. Valentine may at first appear to have nothing in common…but then again, nothing in life is as straightforward as it seems.
This may end up being a short review because I don't know how to discuss this story without giving anything away. Because I both liked and was frustrated by the way things unraveled but I can't tell you about it because then you won't get the full reveal. Although, maybe you're smarter than I and already know how the story will end.

The story is told in alternating perspectives. One chapter follows Valencia and the next focuses on Mrs. Valentine. For the most part, I really enjoyed that. Until things got a little bit muddled and the timelines seemed to shift and I couldn't figure out what, exactly, was happening. What I knew was I just needed to get to the part where it all clicked together and then I felt I could go back in my mind and realize how the story had played out.

And that cover! Oh, how lovely it is. I'm a sucker for bold colours and illustrations so I fell in love with the cover of this book.

All things considered, Valencia and Valentine was a sweet book. It tackles some heavier topics (it really shines a light on OCD and what it's really like vs the Hollywood version of it) but the characters are fun and interesting, which makes things lighter. The ending is a bit bittersweet but it's fitting for the novel. Pick up Suzy Krause's novel if you're looking for something different to read.

*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.*

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: #Awestruck

Sometimes I need to read every book in a series, even if it's only semi-connected with new characters every book. And sometimes I just dive right in to a series without a care in the world for what came before. Sariah Wilson's #Awestruck was one of the ones where I jumped in with absolutely no knowledge of the rest of the books in the #Lovestruck series (though, honestly, I'm not even sure I knew there was a series and, after reading about it, it seems very unrelated character-wise). The lack of prior knowledge of the series was not at all a problem and I enjoyed meeting the couple Wilson created and following along as the romance grew. Then exploded. And then turned into a HEA. Hey, it's a romance - you know there will be a Happily Ever After!

Here's the synopsis:
A sweet all-American story of love and revenge.
Ambitious intern Ashton Bailey is about to get closer to her dream of being a sports announcer. All she has to do is prove that too-perfect-to-be-true NFL quarterback Evan Dawson isn’t quite as wholesome as his contract requires. It’s also the perfect opportunity to get delicious payback on the boy who broke her teenage heart. At least that’s her plan. But she forgot just how easy it is to crush on the irresistible charmer. #OhNoNotAgain.
Evan has a knack for getting through the opposing team’s defenses, and he won’t let this tall, redheaded knockout be the exception. He’s determined to make things right between them and earn back Ashton’s trust—and maybe her heart, too.
Then the press mistakenly announces their engagement, and Ashton and Evan find themselves going along with the lie. Now the whole world is watching as Ashton flirts with attraction and disaster. But while revenge is sweet, it just might come at the cost of something sweeter still.
I knew what kind of story I was expecting when I picked up #Awestruck. A fun romance with that will ramp up before a huge problem derails the couple (who may only be pretending to be a couple but OF COURSE they're falling in love with each other) but then all is well at the end because they've realized they can't live with each other. And that's exactly what kind of story I got! It was just the type of book I needed on a Saturday after a busy week of vacation and, gasp, no reading.

What I didn't know for sure is if I would like the characters and their romance. I liked Ashton. She loves sports and had a smart and sassy personality. And she played basketball! A girl after my own heart. I was totally Team Ashton and therefore not a fan of Evan because he had broken her heart 10 years prior. He didn't make it easier on himself when he stopped by Ashton's intramural basketball game (I LOVED that she still played ball) and says, on page 46:
"Great game! Really intense. You played so well. And I usually hate women's basketball."
Um. Excuse me? No. Fuck no. You do not get to insult women's sports. I'm actually kind of pissed Wilson put that in her story of a young woman trying to make it in such a male dominated industry. It's a throwaway line that doesn't need to be in there but it's something that coloured the entire rest of the book for me.

I did like that it was kind of a second chance romance. I mean, Evan never had any romantic feelings for Ashton - she was 13 to his 18, that would just be wrong - but they had a solid friendship foundation that was really fun to watch grow again after they reconnected.

All in all, #Awestruck gave me the romance story I needed - interesting, easy to read, and just the right hint of steamy (though I'd be interested to see what Sariah Wilson could do with a romance where the hero is not a virgin). It was a great way to spend a lovely summer Saturday afternoon.

*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, August 14, 2019

Review: The Victory Garden

If you take a look at the historical fiction titles I read, you'll realize I tend to gravitate towards novels set in and around each of the World Wars. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because there are just so many of them written (and is that because people are interested or because it's easier to write about something so dramatic and relatively close in time?). Or perhaps there's just something about that time period that draws me in. Therefore, The Victory Garden was immediately intriguing. I had heard of victory gardens before so I was interested to see how Rhys Bowen weaved them into her novel. Overall I was a bit disappointed in this one but it provided yet another perspective of World War I so I'm glad to have read it.

Here's the synopsis:
As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.
When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.
As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.
In terms of a historical novel where I'm learning what it would have been like for people living through WWI, The Victory Garden succeeded. Bowen hit on what the poor, the rich, the fighting, and the wounded had to go through. It wasn't particularly an in-depth look, of course, but I feel like she really got the feel of the time right.

Bowen was able to write this story in such a way that I really felt what Emily was going through. I was frustrated when she was, heartbroken when she was, and I was so proud of her for being strong and standing up for what she believed in - love and the war (at least I felt these things early on - but more on my issues with Emily later). She was determined to do her bit and couldn't understand why her parents wouldn't let her do something of importance. Yes, they had lost a son but their coddling of her was keeping a willing and able young woman from assisting with the war efforts.

But apart from that? I struggled with this book. Emily was pretty snobbish, even with all of her "why does it matter if he's a poor farmer from Australia?" talk about Robbie, her pilot beau. I actually wanted to throw the book across the room near-ish the end when she's talking with Lady Charlton, the old woman whose gardens Emily and her friends are tending. Lady Charlton is well off as was Emily - and her family - before she left home. I admit I can't remember the specifics and I didn't mark the page, but essentially Emily thinks that she wants to move back home/into a house with her childhood friend because she wants to be with her own kind - rich, "educated" people. I couldn't believe how shallow she was and how easily she seemed to be dismissing the amazing and loyal friends she had made while working as a land girl. And the implied HEA she got? Seemed a bit too perfect. Harrumph.

And as much as I liked that we got to see Emily working in different areas of the war efforts - as a land girl and tending gardens at large homes - the whole story felt a bit disjointed. It was also pretty slow paced.

All in all, The Victory Garden was not for me. Rhys Bowen didn't write a bad book, just one that I wasn't fully invested in. I think the idea was a good one but it got a bit lost in the actual execution.

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

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Review: Say You Still Love Me

Fact: I will always love whatever K.A. Tucker writes. I've been reading her books for so long now that I can't imagine not falling in love with the characters and world she creates. That might make me a bit biased these days but it's the truth. She is, and always will be, one of my favourite authors (both because of the amazing books she writes and because she's such a lovely person). And because she's a favourite and an auto-read (and usually auto-buy but my wallet usually has more to say about it than I'd like), I knew I'd want to read Say You Still Love Me as soon as I heard about it. So much so that, confession time, I actually had no idea what the book was about before I dove in. And, oh boy, did I ever dive. I didn't want to put it down.

Here's the synopsis:
Life is a mixed bag for Piper Calloway.
On the one hand, she’s a twenty-nine-year-old VP at her dad’s multibillion-dollar real estate development firm, and living the high single life with her two best friends in a swanky downtown penthouse. On the other hand, she’s considered a pair of sexy legs in a male-dominated world and constantly has to prove her worth. Plus, she’s stuck seeing her narcissistic ex-fiancé—a fellow VP—on the other side of her glass office wall every day.
Things get exponentially more complicated for Piper when she runs into Kyle Miller—the handsome new security guard at Calloway Group Industries, and coincidentally the first love of her life.
The guy she hasn’t seen or heard from since they were summer camp counsellors together. The guy from the wrong side of the tracks. The guy who apparently doesn’t even remember her name.
Piper may be a high-powered businesswoman now, but she soon realizes that her schoolgirl crush is not only alive but stronger than ever, and crippling her concentration. What’s more, despite Kyle’s distant attitude, she’s convinced their reunion isn’t at all coincidental, and that his feelings for her still run deep. And she’s determined to make him admit to them, no matter the consequences.
Second chance romances are my favourite (yep, I'm a broken record and you'll continue to hear that from me until I can no longer flail about books) so Say You Still Love Me was right up my alley. What I liked about Tucker's approach to the trope was that the relationship began at summer camp (so, hello, perfect for summer) and it featured characters who were from two very different worlds.

The other thing Tucker did with this novel and the second chance trope was tell it in two time periods. There was a chapter in the present ("Now") and then a chapter from 2006 ("Then") when Piper and Kyle were both counsellors at summer camp. Each chapter moved forward in time and, slowly but surely, the story came together and all the little mysteries (what happened to their friend from camp? Why did they break up?) were solved.

Another of my all-time favourite authors is Sarah Dessen. She writes strictly contemporary YA novels (the only kind of YA I'll read these days and even then only from specific authors) and I've been reading them since I was about 15. Her books often take place in the summer because she sees the season as a transformative one where absolutely anything can happen. Once I got thinking about Tucker's latest and all of Dessen's books, I realized something. Say You Still Love Me is what would happen if Dessen's characters grew up and we got to see what they were up to years after a magical, life-changing summer. No wonder I loved it so much.

Three side notes. The first, I love this cover. Just love it. It reminds me of where I grew up and the docks and trees that are found all over the bay. The second is I'm fairly certain Tucker referenced one of her own books in a very sneaky fashion. Piper catches Kyle reading a thriller and its cover features a blurred person with their palm pressed against a pain of glass. Sound familiar? Third, Kyle changes his last name to Stewart, which was his mom's name. I did the same thing when I turned 18. And the name I changed it to? Stewart.

I'm not sure if this book will get bumped to the top of my favourite of Tucker's books - and I can't quite put my finger on why. I thought it was a unique story (yes, there were tropes but Tucker used them well and put her own spin on it) and the characters were interesting (I loved that Piper was smart and kicking ass in the corporate world) and had chemistry. It was still really, really good though and one I'd highly recommend for the second half of your summer (it takes place in part at summer camp, of course you want to read it in the summer).

Say You Still Love Me is yet another wonderful novel from K.A. Tucker. She knows how to write real, angsty, and interesting novels and I always look forward to them. I'm a bit jealous of all of you who haven't read this one yet because you have such a treat to look forward to. I, on the other hand, am already impatiently waiting for what Tucker writes next!

*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, August 6, 2019

Review: Discretion

It is a happy, happy day in my world when Karina Halle has a new book out. Discretion is her latest and, unlike the majority of her books, has been traditionally published. I wasn't exactly thinking about how the book might be different than her self-published titles but I realized after devouring finishing it that it was true Halle, through and through and I am so thankful the publisher didn't mess with her signature steamy angst that I've come to love.

Here's the synopsis:
From New York Times bestselling author Karina Halle comes a delicious saga of wealth, luxury, and scandal—and the wicked secrets of success behind an envied family dynasty.
The Riviera means indulgence—if you’ve got money. For Sadie Reynolds, a down-on-her-luck student, the Riviera means dingy hostels and back streets. When a wrong turn puts her in jeopardy, the last thing she expects is to be saved by the most handsome stranger she’s ever locked eyes with. When she later wakes up in a luxury suite with a Mediterranean view, she’s in the tender care of her rescuer: Olivier Dumont, France’s most eligible bachelor, billionaire hotelier, and heir to the Dumont fashion fortune.
Olivier also owns his reputation for scandal. But Sadie is unlike any woman he’s ever met. Her humble persona and wild innocence promise real passion. He’s promising Sadie something too: anything she wants. From Bordeaux to Cannes to Paris, Sadie’s past in America is swept away and replaced with a fantasy too good to be true.
Pulled into Olivier’s orbit of wealth, glamour, and excess, Sadie discovers that the Dumont dynasty comes with a legacy of wicked secrets. And Olivier’s secrets may be the most damning of all…
On the one hand, I am PUMPED that Discretion has kicked off a new series from Halle. I loved it and want more. Lots more. I was not ready to say goodbye to this family and all of the secrets that are still hidden. On the other I have to wait to find out what happens next! And there are so many secrets that still needs to be unravelled. Luckily, we only have to wait until November for the second book, Disarm. It will feature Olivier's adopted sister and their cousin.

So, obviously, if I'm that psyched about a sequel, I clearly adored this book. Halle delivered her usual angsty romance in a BIG way and I was completely committed to Olivier and Sadie's relationship. I liked that, while they were immediately attracted to one another, they took it slow and really found respect for one another before jumping into bed together. Both Olivier and Sadie were, in a way, running from something - Olivier from a deal he signed with his uncle a decade prior (and I have THOUGHTS on that deal but can't spoil it) and Sadie from a recently broken heart and her reality back in Seattle - and they were so wary of the feelings they were having for each other. And those feelings? Hoo boy, they were smokin' hot. 

Even though there are a lot of "rich boy, poor girl" stories out there, Halle's take on the trope felt original. Olivier's wealth is so outrageous that it almost didn't seem real. It was sort of like a fairy tale. He also, thankfully, wasn't the kind of guy who felt the need to show off his money in ridiculous ways. He was as secure as a thirty year old guy can be as he's facing down a ticking time bomb of a deal with an evil family member. He also recognized that Sadie was fiercely independent and spoiled her in a way that respected her as a person and made her feel comfortable. She fought it a bit and never once took advantage of his wealth either. But, hey, who would want to turn down elegant dresses or luxurious hotel rooms, complete with room service?

And those evil family members? Oh my word, I don't trust them at all. They's so terrible and vindictive and Halle writes them so well. I can actually say that I hate them - that's how powerful Halle's characters are.

There's so much more that could be said about Discretion but I fear I'll get even closer to rambling territory if I go on much further. Basically all you need to know is that I loved Karina Halle's new book and think that she's hit on a series that will be just as addictive to other readers as it was for me. 

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris

I'm a big historical fiction fan, especially when it comes to novels set in and around World Wars I and II. Bit of a depressing time frame, to be sure, but there are so many interesting stories to be told - and invented - during that time. I especially love that authors are diving into what it was like for women during that time and shedding some light on the women who served their countries in unconventional, hidden, or forgotten ways. Pam Jenoff's The Lost Girls of Paris is one such book as she tells a story inspired by a group of women who were spies in WWII.

Here's the synopsis:
1946, Manhattan. Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.
Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.
Eleanor Trigg was inspired by a real person, Vera Atkins, who was in charge of a group of women who were sent to France to be spies. I highly encourage you to jump down the rabbit hole of research and learn more about the women who inspired Jenoff. Her novel is good but knowing the real story is so much better.

I often say that historical fiction can be quite tricky to get right. Personally, I want to read novels that are believable and really feel like they could have been written during that time period. I want authenticity but I also want a story. If I wanted to know the exact details of a battle, for example, I would find a history book (yes, this may be contradicting my above paragraph where I encourage actual, hard research. I stand by it.). But what I really want to know is what it would have been like for the people, especially the women. The stories of so many women have been lost because they weren't off fighting in the trenches like the men were. I appreciate when authors like Jenoff can tell the female side of war and what it was like for those not directly involved in battle.

There are three women at the centre of this novel - Eleanor, Marie, and Grace. I think Marie's story is at the forefront and is the most developed. Grace's is developed as well but I don't feel like her story is finished and I want more (this isn't a bad thing - I just could clearly see that Grace had so much more to offer than the novel allowed for). Eleanor is an extremely important character who I think could have been explored a bit more. Perhaps Jenoff was wary of diving too deeply into Eleanor's character because she was so closely based on a real person?

Now, I did give this book four stars on Goodreads because I really did enjoy reading it. That being said, I'm not really sure it's technically a very good book. Or maybe it might be that there are better books? The idea is a great one (and the cover is to die for) but I can't help but wonder if the actual execution could have been better. Perhaps I wanted the characters to be better, stronger, less...girly.

All in all, I liked The Lost Girls of Paris. I think Pam Jenoff found an interesting part of World War II's history that hadn't been explored in a historical fiction novel before. It's definitely worth a read if you're a historical fiction fan.

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Review: How to Hack a Heartbreak

You know when you're in the mood for a certain kind of book and kind of have to hope the next one you pick up will perfectly suit your mood? That was how I was feeling the Friday before How to Hack a Heartbreak was released (which is today!). I had finished my book club pick the day before, A Discovery of Witches which is amazing if you've never read it (it was a re-read for me), and it was a long read for me because of life and the fact that it's 500+ pages of excellent, detailed fantasy. Cue me needing something fun and set in this world. Enter Kristin Rockaway's new novel. Friends, I was so into this book that I had it read in under four hours on Friday night. I had the house to myself and just dove in and barely looked up until it was done. It was so, so good!

Here's the synopsis:
Swipe right for love. Swipe left for disaster.
By day, Mel Strickland is an underemployed helpdesk tech at a startup incubator, Hatch, where she helps entitled brogrammers—"Hatchlings"—who can't even fix their own laptops, but are apparently the next wave of startup geniuses. And by night, she goes on bad dates with misbehaving dudes she's matched with on the ubiquitous dating app, Fluttr.
But after one dick pic too many, Mel has had it. Using her brilliant coding skills, she designs an app of her own, one that allows users to log harrassers and abusers in online dating space. It's called JerkAlert, and it goes viral overnight.
Mel is suddenly in way over her head. Worse still, her almost-boyfriend, the dreamy Alex Hernandez—the only non-douchey guy at Hatch—has no idea she's the brains behind the app. Soon, Mel is faced with a terrible choice: one that could destroy her career, love life, and friendships, or change her life forever.
I'll get the little negatives out of the way first. While I was 1000% invested in Mel and really liked her - I'm not sure I fully got her. No. That's not quite right. I felt like there was more to her than I was getting and I needed more. I needed more about her parents' divorce - blaming her feelings for not trusting Alex on her dad cheating but only mentioning it 2-3 times in the book and never seeing/hearing from her mom felt super weak and convenient. Of course, maybe that's because I'm a child of divorce and my dad also cheated so I always feel like it needs to be a super terrible and messy situation for a character to blame their parents for their own relationship problems. I wouldn't call myself well-adjusted - who would - but based on what I knew of Mel, I didn't feel like it was a strong enough reason for her to be acting the way she was.

One of the things I absolutely loved about this book was Mel's job. I know next to nothing about coding but I do know that it's not a great work environment for women and I LOVED that Rockaway did not shy away from that. I thought this book was super feminist and I. Am. Here. For. It. It touched on all sorts of things that women deal with on a day to day basis that men just don't get. She made sure that Alex wasn't perfect but he was willing to listen to Mel and her friends and worked to understand how things could look from a woman's perspective (things like ghosting and dick pics, for example). She had men who were clueless and abusive and clearly never going to change their ways. She had women who went to the extreme as well and attacked undeserving men online. It was all so realistic and perfectly woven into the overall story.

I also really liked that Mel had an amazing group of girlfriends. The four of them were super tight (though I'm not sure we ever learned how they all know each other?) and each of their personalities brought something extra special to their friendship. Time for another mini negative: I'm not sure I liked Whit, who seemed to be Mel's closest friend of the group. Her bossiness assertiveness wasn't the issue. Strong women are awesome and we all need a friend who can be strong AF when we need it. But she was pretty pushy and Mel just let her walk all over her. I may also have been a bit testy with her personality since she worked in PR just like I do and she seemed to be a stereotypical publicist that you see in rom coms that just isn't quite realistic. BUT the women were there for each other no matter what, no questions asked. They had their fights and their interactions were so honest and realistic. Made me miss my best girlfriends, that's for sure.

How to Hack a Heartbreak fits perfectly into this new wave of rom coms and contemporary fiction we're seeing - and I'm LOVING it. Kristin Rockaway has taken her experience as a woman in the IT sector and written a novel that is going to be relatable to all women, no matter their background or age. It's fun, it's smart, it's real and it will be one you won't be able to stop once you start. Trust me on that one.

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: The Wedding Party

Like most rom-com lovers, I fell in love with Jasmine Guillory's characters in The Wedding Date. I was slightly less in love with The Proposal but I still found that novel to be a hell of a lot of fun to read. Cue: The Wedding Party. I was so excited to read it because I knew I'd get a thoroughly enjoyable novel from a voice that I'm so glad is being heard. This book - just published today! - lived up to my expectations and I loved it.

Here's the synopsis:
Maddie and Theo have two things in common:
1. Alexa is their best friend
2. They hate each other
After an "oops, we made a mistake" night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa's wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they're comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won't fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn't looking.
But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don't fall in love.
I like that all three of Guillory's novels (so far) are ever so slightly intertwined. The couple we met in her first book, The Wedding Date (OK one thing I don't like is that one is Date and one is Party and it's very hard to talk about them without confusing yourself), Alexa and Drew, feature in the new book. Maddie and Theo are Alexa's best friends and we get some overlap with the first story but told from Maddie and Theo's perspectives. With me so far? Carlos and Nik from The Proposal also pop up, since Carlos is best friends with Drew but since they're in a different city, they're not around as much. Each novel is able to be read as a standalone (though you might find the time jumps in this one odd if you don't know Alexa and Drew's story) but it's so much more fun when you've read all of them and fully understand the histories of the characters.

I was so sucked into this story. It's one of those ones that you can dive into in the morning and have finished by the evening. Just make sure you eat and hydrate throughout! (I drank much wine while reading this one...) It has a fast pace - for the most part, I think the beginning was a bit slower as the story got set up but it wasn't a negative - and smart, interesting characters. I like that Guillory makes sure the characters' jobs are just as important to the story as the romance. Maddie is hustling to make her own styling business work while Theo is working hard handling PR for the city's mayor. They're in their 30s (another plus) and their careers mean everything to them but I appreciated that was never an issue with their relationship. They were open to a relationship and a career (just maybe not a relationship with each other because they were dense and didn't realize they were in love with each other). I also really like that there's always a really strong family element - this time with the bond between Maddie and her mom. (Psst. Have you heard of this book yet?)

As fun as this was, I had a hard time believing that Maddie and Theo actually still thought they hated each other, while jumping each other every time they had the chance. I guess I can understand that hate and lust are both very strong emotions and might get all mixed up but I just can't wrap my head around sleeping with someone that I hated. (But maybe that's the long-term relationship talking.) I also have to remind myself that it's so easy to fix other people's problems by telling them what to do (TALK TO EACH OTHER, YOU FOOLS) but when you're in the mess you created? And not sure you want to believe what your heart is telling you? Yeah, that's tough. I did like that Maddie basically said how stupid it is that she was all, "Just tell Drew how you feel, Alexa!" like it was so easy. She then says she wants to punch Past Maddie in the head so she gets it. Points to Guillory for some tongue-in-cheek humour.

And how much fun is that cover? I had an ARC to read but I'm really kind of hoping the cover features real sparkles, at least for the title. I'm a sucker for brightly coloured covers, what can I say?

The Wedding Party is another excellent addition to this new wave of contemporary romances (THAT I AM LOVING). Jasmine Guillory has created characters and a world that I love getting to know and understand. No book is perfect but this one was such a delight to read over a summer weekend.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Review: Star-Crossed

Star-Crossed is going to be one of those books I recommend to everyone this year. Minnie Darke's novel - and a debut one at that - was an absolute delight. It had drama, comedy, romance, and a touch of magic, in the form of astrology. Even if you're not a fan of one of those things, I think you're going to be a fan of this novel.

Here's the synopsis:
When childhood sweethearts Justine (Sagittarius and serious skeptic) and Nick (Aquarius and true believer) randomly bump into each other as adults, a life-changing love affair seems inevitable. To Justine anyway. True, she hasn't seen Nick in thirteen years, one month and three weeks, but who's counting? She's pined after him all the same, and now that Nick lives in the same town, a struggling actor to her struggling magazine reporter, he'll surely realize his own unchanged feelings, take the reins and jump at the chance to rekindle their relationship. Right? Well, no. Nick, she learns, is an astrological devotee, and his decision-making, romantic and professional, is guided solely by the infallible horoscopes in his favourite magazine. The magazine Justine happens to work at. Perhaps the stars' guiding forces could use a little journalistic reimagining?
It's only a few tweaks to the Aquarius column, just a little push to get him to realize they're meant for one another. It's nonsense in the first place, what could possibly happen? Aquarians everywhere are about to find out, when the doctored horoscopes, ostensibly published to steer Nick and Nick alone, end up reverberating in the lives of the column's devoted readers, showing the ripple effects of what can happen when one woman takes the horoscopes, and Fate itself, into her own hands.
Spanning exactly one year, as the earth moves through all twelve stars signs, Star-Crossed is a delicious, intelligent and affecting love story about fate, chance and how we all navigate the kinds of choices that are hard to face alone.
This novel isn't perfect, or even really close to it, but I enjoyed it so much that I have a really hard time putting my finger on what didn't work - or what did. I was so completely swept up in the story and adored every second I spent with Justine and Nick.

Of course, I do love a good second chance story so that likely had a lot to do with how much I swooned over this book!

Both Nick and Justine are having some life troubles, mostly in their professional lives but their romantic lives aren't so hot either. Running into each other after so many years apart had them reevaluating what it was they wanted to be when they grew up.

Darke separated her novel by astrological sign with "cusp" chapters between. I know some readers had trouble with the chapters between the main action but I enjoyed it. I liked the nod to astrology and how it showed that Justine's creative license with the horoscopes were impacting more than just Nick. These characters didn't always directly cross paths with Nick and Justine but that didn't make them unimportant. I think it showed that every person and every action can have an impact on the rest of the community, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time.

This has absolutely nothing to do with much of anything but I loved that this book was set in Australia. I don't actively seek out books set in that (wonderful) country because I make a conscious effort to read a lot of Canadian authors but I really should try to read more Australian authors. In case you're new here (welcome!), I've visited Australia twice and, as much as I love my country, would move there in a heartbeat. (I can avoid snakes there. I can't avoid -30 degree temperatures and tons of snow here.) I hope publishers take a chance on more books that aren't set in the US because I'm honestly kind of tired of reading books with American settings, especially by Canadian authors, because that's *apparently* what sells. Harrumph. But that's a rant for another day. The takeaway: the setting in this book is delightful and I loved it.

I really, really liked Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke and thought it was such a fun, sweet story. This is one you can pick up as a gift for a woman in your life (say, yourself?) or maybe even suggest to your book club (how fun would an astrology themed meeting be?).

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

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Review: Don't You Forget About Me

Somehow I had never read a Mhairi McFarlane book before picking up Don't You Forget About Me. And after reading it? I'm definitely going to be checking out her backlist. I even have a head-start as I own You Had Me At Hello. (So there's no excuse for me never having read her before.) This book was pretty much everything I look for in a rom-com and I absolutely loved reading it.

Here's the synopsis:
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to rise again…
If there’s one thing worse than being fired from the grottiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else.
Reeling from the indignity of a double dumping on the same day, Georgina snatches at the next job that she’s offered – barmaid in a newly opened pub, which just so happens to run by the boy she fell in love with at school: Lucas McCarthy. And whereas Georgina (voted Most Likely to Succeed in her school yearbook) has done nothing but dead-end jobs in the last twelve years, Lucas has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but also has turned into an actual grown-up with a business and a dog along the way.
Meeting Lucas again not only throws Georgina’s rackety present into sharp relief, but also brings a dark secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows the truth about what happened on the last day of school, and why she’s allowed it to chase her all these years…
I love a good second chance romance novel. I don't know what it is about that trope I love so much but love it I do. And when it's done well? It makes for the best reading experience. McFarlane does really, really great things with this trope. See, the reunion between Georgina and Lucas does not go well. From Georgina's perspective, it's quite embarrassing (which is the story of her life, I think). Here's her first love, someone she tried to get over because of pretty crap circumstances, and he...doesn't remember her? I, like I'm sure every other reader, was pretty certain that Lucas did remember her and was just pretending not to. But why? What happened all those years ago?

It's that question that takes a wee bit too long to be revealed. Normally I don't mind that there are secrets and such that keep being revealed over the course of the novel. But, in this case, I knew there had to have been a major reason that Lucas and Georgina broke up. Was it the same reason that has led Georgina to think she's not good enough for anything but menial, dead-end jobs or terrible boyfriends? Instead of having total relief at the revelation at the end of the book, I kind of found myself thinking, "about damn time I knew the whole truth." This isn't a deal-breaker by any means but it was a weird irritant that kept this book from being 5 stars.

What I did love about this book was how real it was. Georgina is not perfect. Not even close. It might be because she's a white, British woman but I would say she's like a more modern (and, dare I say it, better) Bridget Jones. Maybe I just think she's better because I was too young to fully identify with Bridget when I first read the book. I'm 32, just two years younger than Georgina, and I was in high school when I read Bridget Jones's Diary. Anyway, like Bridget or not, McFarlane has totally embraced this new wave of rom-coms (WHICH I LOVE) and has given us a character who has flaws and has no real interest fitting into some preconceived notion of what a thirty year old woman should be. And, for that, I love her. (Her being both Georgina and McFarlane.)

If you're a rom-com lover - or even just a fan of really great contemporary novels - you are going to want to pick up Don't You Forget About Me. I thoroughly enjoyed Mhairi McFarlane's latest novel and think you will too. Now, time to check out her other books!

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

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Review: The Matchmaker's List

I am loving the resurgence of the rom-com. I adore these types of novels and am thrilled that they're making a comeback in such an amazing way. Gone are the stereotypical white girls trying to make it in the big city, wearing the best fashion (though I loved those books too). Now we're getting diverse characters and authors and stories that are so much more realistic and so, so necessary. The Matchmaker's List by Sonya Lalli has some issues but, in the end, I'm so happy it's published and available for women everywhere to read.

Here's the synopsis:
One devoted modern girl + a meddlesome, traditional grandmother = a heartwarming multicultural romantic comedy about finding love where you least expect it. 
Raina Anand may have finally given in to family pressure and agreed to let her grandmother play matchmaker, but that doesn't mean she has to like it--or that she has to play by the rules. Nani always took Raina's side when she tried to push past the traditional expectations of their tight-knit Indian-immigrant community, but now she's ambushing Raina with a list of suitable bachelors. Is it too much to ask for a little space? Besides, what Nani doesn't know won't hurt her...
As Raina's life spirals into a parade of Nani-approved bachelors and disastrous blind dates, she must find a way out of this modern-day arranged-marriage trap without shattering her beloved grandmother's dreams.
One of my favourite things about this novel was that it's set in Canada and doesn't hide it. Canadian authors too often set their novels in the US or purposefully ambiguous locations - not usually because they want to but because it's harder to market a Canadian set book to American readers (insert major eye roll here). I think it's a bunch of baloney so when I find a book that's proudly Canadian, I cheer.

The biggest thing I didn't like about this book was so big it really affected the way I viewed the story as a whole. I could have liked the novel SO much more had this plot point not occurred. This is going to be a bit of a spoiler but I think it needs to be discussed because I'm not OK with this part of the story and think others should be aware of it. Raina was so fed up with being pushed onto male suitors that she pretends to be gay. AND a character had come out to her in confidence and she ends up outing them later on. Not to mention seriously pissing them off and offending them. I just cannot understand why Lalli thought it would be a good idea to have Raina pretend to be gay for protection from an arranged marriage.

There were other things I really liked about this story. I loved that there was an actual list of suitors that was added to and amended as the novel went on. Raina and her Nani's relationship is complicated, like all family relationships are, but the love between them runs so deep. Respect of the other is a bit lacking but they truly do love each other. Raina's friendship with Shaylee is perfection and Shay is the kind of girlfriend every woman should hope to have (and be). I appreciated that Raina is figuring herself out and is a big work in progress, even by the end of the novel. I liked that each date she has to go on is a separate chapter and that there are other chapters from past birthdays interspersed throughout as well.

Overall, Sonya Lalli's novel is a lot of fun. Is it the best rom-com I've ever read? No, but I am absolutely OK with that (less OK with that big issues I mentioned). I enjoyed the time I spent reading The Matchmaker's List and think it's an incredibly important addition to the contemporary fiction space. I look forward to what Lalli writes next!

*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.*

Friday, June 21, 2019

Review: The Spanish Promise

Karen Swan has a lot of novels - and I've read a good number of them. Lately she's had a winter/holiday themed title released near Christmas, as well as a novel released in the spring. The Spanish Promise was this year's spring offering, having been published in March. Even though every single book doesn't completely wow me, I always look forward to reading Swan's novels because the settings are delightful and the stories are interesting. This book was...fine. It wasn't fantastic but it kept my attention enough to want to keep reading until the end.

Here's the synopsis:
Charlotte, a wealth counsellor who knows from personal experience the complications that a sudden inheritance can bring, helps her clients navigate the emotional side effects of sudden wealth syndrome. When she is asked by Mateo Mendoza, heir to a huge Spanish estate, to fly to Madrid to help resolve an issue in his father's will, she's confident it will be straightforward. The timing isn't great as Charlotte's due to get married the following week, but once her client signs on the dotted line, Charlotte can return to her life in London and her wedding, and live happily ever after. Marrying Stephen might not fill her with excitement, but she doesn't want to live in the fast lane anymore - safe and predictable is good.
But Carlos Mendoza's final bequest opens up a generation of secrets, and Charlotte finds herself compelled to unravel the mystery. As Charlotte digs deeper, she uncovers the story of a family divided by Spain's Civil War, and of a love affair across the battle lines that ended in tragedy.
And while she is consumed in the drama of the Mendozas, Charlotte's own tragic past catches up with her, threatening to overturn everything in her life she's worked so hard to build.
I think part of my issue was that I was kind of bored by Charlotte. She had something happen in her past that made her shed her rich girl life but I still kind of felt that she was playing at being average, for lack of a better description. She clearly hadn't dealt with her past trauma and was rebelling against her mother and fiance who wished she would just quit her job, get married, and settle into a housewife role like the good little girl they thought she was. I wanted to see more of a spine from Charlotte - especially when she was being challenged by someone from her past - but I never felt like she truly dealt with her past and embraced a life where she didn't rely on her family's funds.

The story takes place during two time periods. While it was very interesting to read the parts on Spain's Civil War, I think the novel suffered from trying to tell two stories. I imagine Swan probably wanted it more intertwined but it just sort of felt like I was reading two different novels. It wasn't until the very end when you could really feel how the stories came together.

My favourite thing about this book - and all of Swan's previous titles - is that it's set somewhere I've never been before. Granted, I haven't been many places, but Swan manages to really paint a picture for me so it feels like I have been there.

It may seem like I didn't like The Spanish Promise but I did. Karen Swan's latest is one to pick up when you want to escape to another country (unless you, you know, live in Spain) and have a mini vacation. I'd file this one under "borrow" and keep in mind you'll get to learn a little bit about the Spanish Civil War along the way.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributors, Publishers Group Canada. All opinions are honest and my own.*

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.*