Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Favourite Books of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Husband Material

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy the book

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

Monday, December 23, 2019

Best Books of the Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Review: Wherever She Goes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Review: The Christmas Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: Regretting You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Cover Reveal: Hung Up on You

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

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

Ready to see the cover?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: Disarm

Happy release day to Disarm by Karina Halle! This is the second book in the Dumont series (the first was Discretion, which I reviewed here back in August). Halle is one of my favourite authors as she writes such great romances that are real, raw, and pretty addicting to read. I enjoyed Discretion and the story she set up but something about this particular novel that just didn't thrill me. And I'm so upset about that.

Here's the synopsis:
Seraphine Dumont seems to have it all: she’s gorgeous, brilliant, and part of one of France’s most illustrious dynasties. But underneath the facade, Seraphine struggles to hold it all together. Besides grieving her adoptive father’s suspicious and sudden death, she also shares a tenuous role in the family business with Blaise, her in-name-only cousin. As tumultuous as their history is, he may be the only member of the deceptive Dumont family she can trust.
Seraphine is a temptation Blaise can’t resist. The torch he’s carried for years still burns. It’s his secret—a quiet obsession just out of reach. Until his brother demands that he spy on the increasingly cagey Seraphine, whom their father considers a dispensable Dumont outlier. But the more Blaise watches her and the closer he gets, the more he sees Seraphine may have every right to be suspicious. And she could be the next one in danger—from his own family.
As blood runs hot and hearts give in, Seraphine and Blaise have only each other. But can their love survive the secrets they’re about to uncover?
I never like it when I don't like a book (does anyone?) and it's especially frustrating when I can't pinpoint why and it's by an author who I normally adore. This leads me to believe it's a weirdly personal reason that it didn't mesh with me which also makes it a really hard review to write. Most of the time I know why I don't like something or why a particular element throws me off and I've been at this long enough to not let it colour my review. This time? I don't want to keep you from reading the book but I also want to give my opinion. That's why I'm here in my little corner of the internet, after all.

I can say it wasn't the "forbidden" romance aspect of the novel that bothered me (as I anticipate it bothering other people but maybe I'm wrong). Seraphine and Blaise are cousins but not by blood and Seraphine didn't come into their family until she was nine or so (all the boys - Blaise, Olivier - who is featured in Discretion, and Pascal, Blaise's older brother and the focus of the third book - are all older than her). There was an attraction in Discretion that I picked up on and it continues into the second book. Some people might be put off by it but I rolled with it. So, no, that was not the issue.

It could have been the way it was written. The novel goes back and forth in time and also between points of view. We get Seraphine's and Blaise's perspectives in both past and present. It was a lot of back and forth and I found it a bit jarring. And while the jaunts into the past shed some light on a few things - like how Seraphine came to be adopted by the Dumonts' and one particular summer when they were in their late teens - I'm not sure they really added a whole lot.

Even though I wasn't totally head-over-heels in love with Disarm I still feel the need to finish the series because I want need to know what's going to happen with the family problems that have been the thread that ties the series together. I think I might be in the minority with my weird feelings on Karina Halle's latest so if you're intrigued by the storyline, check it out!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributors, Thomas Allen & Son, and an e-galley by Montlake Romance, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune was a delightful surprise for me. Roselle Lim's debut novel was a magical family story that has stuck with me - even though I read it months and months ago.

Here's the synopsis:
At the news of her mother's death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn't spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco's Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She's even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother's restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant's fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother's cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around--she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
I think some people may be put off by hearing this novel described as magic realism. Not everyone is into  fantasy but I think if you love contemporary stories, you need to read this. Don't let the magic put you off because it adds so, so much to this story. Don't worry - it's not magic like Harry Potter. The magic comes from Natalie's background and I think that is what really makes this novel sing. (Er, can books sing?)

Natalie's story made my heart break. She's grieving the death of her mother - her only parent - and she has a ton of guilt on top of it. She hadn't been home to visit in far too long and she's still harbouring some frustration towards the neighbours for not helping her when she was a child and struggling with her mother's severe agoraphobia. I can't imagine what it would have been like for Natalie - both as a child trying to help her mother and when she returned after her mother's death. Lim really captures the emotions of all her characters so very well.

I really liked reading as Natalie started learning more about herself and her family history. There were so many surprises for her to discover - and a few painful moments along the way - and it was lovely to read. And the way the community came together? Heartwarming. I also liked the little romance Lim wove into the overall story because seeing Natalie find someone who really understood her was wonderful.

The book world is slowly getting better at publishing Own Voices, which makes me happy. I'm a white, straight woman and I've been able to see versions of myself in books for as long as I've been reading. I'm lucky to have had literary role models throughout my life. But that's not the case for so many others. Personally, I am slowly getting better at reading Own Voices books - but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I want to read books that make me learn and expose me to stories and cultures that are different than my own and any I would have known growing up.

And oh my word. This cover. I LOVE IT. The font is shiny and gold in person and the pink pops in the most gorgeous of ways. And the spine is also hot pink with blue lettering. Ugh. Stunning. I can't get over it.

The overall feeling I was left with after finishing Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune was one of delight. Roselle Lim's novel is not perfect but it's one to read. And to stare at because it's so damn beautiful.

*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.*

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Review: The Bromance Book Club

When I first saw someone at Penguin Random House Canada reading The Bromance Book Club months ago, I was immediately intrigued. I mean, aren't you just based on that title and cover? Once I read what Lyssa Kay Adams' novel was about, I knew I needed to read it. I finally did a week or so ago and it was so much fun!

Here's the synopsis:
The first rule of this book club:
You don't talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott's marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.
Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.
Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville's top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it'll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.
This novel had everything I look for in a good romance - a heavy dose of comedy, a lot of feels, and moments that were witty and moments that were deep. We meet Gavin and Thea when the shit has hit the fan and their relationship seems so broken you have to wonder if there's any chance they could come back from it. The great thing for this story - because it makes it more interesting and much less cliched - is that neither of them are perfect and their relationship isn't going to be fixed by some quick solution. They're flawed and have allowed their relationship to become secondary to, well, everything (so maybe "second" isn't quite the right number). It was sweet and sometimes hard to read as they worked to get back to each other when so many forces seem to be trying to keep them apart.

Thinking back on the story, I can totally see this as a rom com on screen (big or small. Netflix, work your magic). I can't always see books as movies but there was something about this story that would work so well as a movie.

If you know me you'll know that I got an extra little thrill that Gavin was a baseball player. I find it's not a sport that gets featured often in novels (though I think that's starting to change which is awesome). It's kind of a sport that, in general, doesn't get a lot of love. Or maybe that's just because I'm in Canada where as soon as the NHL starts, MLB news gets shoved to the side - even during playoffs. Anyway. Gavin was a ball player and a second baseman at that, not even a pitcher (which is the norm). It doesn't factor into the story a whole lot, to be honest, because it takes place during the off-season but there are enough little things that, as a fan, I totally fell in love with.

The Bromance Book Club is a bit of a reaction to the #MeToo movement and all the BS that has led to it. As she says in this The Nerd Daily article I stumbled upon, Kay Adams' wondered what a story would look like when so-called manly men - sports loving or playing, powerful dudes - said enough was enough to themselves and were open about their feelings and their relationships. These men will stand up for and stand behind their wives/girlfriends/partners and see their partnerships as an equal one. It was so refreshing to read this kind of story - even if it did feel like I was getting hit over the head with how in tune with their emotions these guys were.

The whole premise behind The Bromance Book Club seems so outlandish and ridiculous but Lyssa Kay Adams makes it work. This is a novel you're going to fly through because you're enjoying the ride so much. And, if you loved it, good news. It's part of a series! Undercover Bromance is coming our way in March 2020. Have you read this one yet? If so, what did you think? I'd love to hear!

*An ARC 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, November 5, 2019

Review: Who Needs Mistletoe?

Surprise! Laura Chapman has a new book! And it's her second of the year! AND it's a Christmas story! In case you couldn't tell by all the exclamation points, I'm pretty excited about this. You should be too because Who Needs Mistletoe? is a perfect holiday treat.

Here's the synopsis:
Charlie London has finally made it. She’s the lead singer of a rising-the-charts band. She’s casually dating Hollywood’s golden boy. And she has a publicist who works very hard to make sure everyone knows all of this. But when her band is bumped from a televised holiday concert—and her boyfriend is photographed canoodling with a co-star—just days before Christmas, Charlie’s perfectly crafted world is crumbling apart. She impulsively hops a flight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, so she can bring her boyfriend in line and get her career back on track. Her plan seems to be working until a winter storm leaves her stranded en route.
Guitarist Flint Randal has been crazy about Charlie from the moment she walked in to audition for their band three years ago. Knowing her strict policy against dating a bandmate, he’s kept his feelings in check. Until now. When grounded planes send them on a cross-country road trip—alone—Flint sees his chance to finally prove that her one-and-only has been there all along.
As detours and disasters plague their journey, Charlie and Flint grow closer. Will the magic of the holiday season—and the promise of true love—bring them together at last? Or will the siren call of fame get in the way? 
If you're a lover of romance novels, particularly Christmas ones, chances are you've read some iteration of "boy and girl are heading somewhere for Christmas. boy and girl get stranded at airport. boy and girl decide to drive to destination. boy and girl encounter many obstacles along the way. boy and girl fall in love and live happily ever after." I sure have. The joy of Chapman and her writing is that even though the trope is common, the story is totally fresh. I liked that Charlie and Flint knew each other well and just needed that time together to get to know each other more without touring and the band getting in the way.

And, oh, as they get to know each other even more. The feels! Their relationship is almost picture perfect. The small snag being Charlie is technically dating someone else and has no idea Flint is in love with her. Being a romance, you know they'll figure out those snags and get together by the end. The journey getting there though? Oh, so great. Both literally and figuratively. They had so much fun on their road trip - I loved their undercover busking - and you could see their feelings growing. Deeper on Flint's account, and closer to the surface for Charlie.

Chapman manages to insert just enough Christmas magic in this story without it going overboard - or leaving the reader wishing for more. She also focuses on what's most important about the holiday. It's not the gifts and the shopping and the parties. It's the time you spend with the ones you love, whether that's friends, family, or bandmates you're secretly head over heels for. Family in particular plays a large part in this Christmas story and it warmed my heart.

I highly recommend snuggling in with Who Needs Mistletoe? this holiday season. Laura Chapman has written a novella that will pair perfectly with your fluffy blankets, fuzzy socks, hot tea (or spiked hot chocolate), and, if you're lucky like me, a fireplace. Chapman has written yet another winner (which is not at all surprising to me because I love everything she writes) and I hope you love it just as much as I did.

*An e-copy of this novella was provided by the author in exchange for a review as part of a release blitz. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Blog Tour: Meant to Be Yours

I'm a big romance fan. I haven't read many traditional romances these days (I've been doing more rom coms and historical fiction) so I was really pleased to have the chance to read Susan Mallery's new book, Meant to Be Yours. Plus, a heroine who's a wedding planner and a hero who's a novelist? I'm totally in.

Here's the synopsis:
In Happily Inc, love means never having to say “I do”…Wedding coordinator Renee Grothen isn’t meant for marriage. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, plan. But she never could have planned on gorgeous, talented thriller writer Jasper Dembenski proposing—a fling, that is. Fun without a future. And the attraction between them is too strong for Renee to resist. Now she can have her no-wedding cake…and eat it, too.
After years in the military, Jasper is convinced he’s too damaged for relationships. So a flirtation—and more—with fiery, determined Renee is way too good to pass up…until his flame becomes his muse.
Renee is an expert at averting every crisis. But is she finally ready to leap into the one thing that can never be controlled: love?
I admit I don't think I realized this was part of a series. Or, if I did know that, I didn't think you really needed to read them in order and could just hop into town whenever you showed up. For the most part, you could. But Renee has so many friends that clearly have had their own stories that a new reader, like myself, was bombarded with characters and no backstory - but the expectation that I should know them and their history. I found myself wondering, was I already supposed to know that Renee knew who Jasper was? It sure felt like it. It was a bit frustrating and unfortunately set the tone for me early on.

I did quite like Jasper and Renee. Their relationship made all sorts of sense, even though they were determined to not actually have a relationship. Everyone in town could see it worked too. I loved reading as they got to know each other and fell for each other. It was hard to read as they went through issues, as they always do in romance novels, but that meant the HEA was an absolute delight.

That being said...Renee's motivations kind of left me baffled. The secret she was keeping from her friends was...odd. It came out of left field and I really found myself laughing and saying, "Seriously? That is her problem?" Maybe I'm inconsiderate or not so open-minded but it really was so out there. I can't say anything because, even though I didn't like it, I don't want to spoil it for anyone else.

One of my favourite things about the main characters was actually their jobs. Books and movies featuring wedding planners and authors are just so much fun for me. I'm not married - nor do we ever plan on getting married - but there's something about experiencing these high stress but romantic events in fiction I just love. I like the drama weddings bring and, as someone who has worked in the event industry, I also like the stress that comes from executing a perfect event. (Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect event. Something, somehow will go wrong.) And obviously I love to read so to see an author write an author is pretty interesting.

As part of the blog tour, I had access to a Q&A the publisher did with Mallery and I wanted to share a couple of the questions I found really interesting. I hope you do, too!

Who is an author you draw inspiration from?
Years ago, the fabulous Debbie Macomber suggested to me that I stop writing series about families, and start writing series about people who live in the same town. That advice was the inspiration for my Fool’s Gold series, which led to my Happily Inc series, as well. I’ll always be grateful to Debbie for that.

What do you hope readers will experience or gain when reading Meant to Be Yours?
I hope Meant to Be Yours will be a happy escape for them, an entertaining break from the stresses of their daily lives. This is a book for readers who like to feel the sharp pings of emotion—and the release of laughter with a guaranteed happy ending.

What drew you into writing romance?
I’ve been a romance reader since I was in middle school, and they’re still the books I enjoy the most. I love everything about them. I still get that intake-of-breath feeling when the characters first kiss. And when they finally overcome their obstacles and admit that they’re meant to be together—there’s just nothing happier or more life-affirming.

Meant to Be Yours wasn't a total winner for me but Susan Mallery's latest novel is still a pretty delightful one. It's perfect if you're looking for a sweet and fun romance where you know you're guaranteed a Happily Ever After. And who knows? Maybe you'll find yourself falling in love with Happily Inc. too.

Buy Links: 
Harlequin Indiebound * Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Books-A-Million 
Target * Walmart * Google * iBooks * Kobo

Social Links:
Twitter: @susanmallery
Facebook: @SusanMallery
Instagram: @susanmallery

Author Bio
SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women's lives—family, friendship, romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations," and readers seem to agree—40 million copies of her books have sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.
Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She's passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as mom.

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

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.*