Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Book Box Love Review - August 2018


I love learning about new Canadian businesses, especially if they are related to reading! I recently discovered Book Box Love, a new Canadian book subscription box.

Book Box Love has one simple goal - to upgrade your reading experience! Each box features a new Canadian release and exclusive bookish gifts and treats from Canadian businesses.

Cost: $60 for a single box or $48/month for a monthly subscription
*Both prices include shipping :)

This month, the theme is Modern Magic. I love that the items came individually wrapped. It felt like a box of gifts arrived at my door. Let's see what was inside!

Signed copy of Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky
It's always a treat to received a signed book! It definitely adds something "extra" to the overall box. Book Box Love does not guarantee a signed book each month, but it's a nice perk that they are looking for opportunities to do this when they can. Included is also a card with an author note.

I hadn't heard of Radiant Shimmering Light before, but when I took a peek at the synopsis on Goodreads, I am pretty sure I'm going to enjoy this book about female friendships. And I discovered a new Canadian author!



My Kind of Texts bookmark from Queenie's Cards
This bookmark is super cute!



Exclusively made mala bracelet from EVB Jewelry

This bracelet is made of beads in chakra colours and black lava. It's the only item in the box that isn't exactly my style, but it matches the theme of the box and the book well.




Unicorn Notepad from I'll Know It When I See It 

I was pleasantly surprised at how big this notepad is! At 5 x 7 inches, it is much larger in size than other notepads I've received in other subscription boxes in the past. Additionally, the 100-page notepad rotates through 5 beautifully coloured pages. Bye bye boring, plain, white to-do lists!



Wild Strawberry Tea from DAVIDsTEA (25g)
This tea can be served hot or cold. I need to start incorporating more decaf tea options into my tea habits, so I'm looking forward to trying this one out. The tea also came with 3 filters.





Considering Book Box Love includes the cost of shipping in their prices, it is definitely a fair value for $60 but there is solid value in their monthly $48 subscription.

You can sign up on the Book Box Love website. If this box is any indication, I think there are some lovely things coming our way this fall from Book Box Love!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I was sent a complimentary August box for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Vox by Christina Dalcher - Book Review


If you only had one hundred words a day, how would you raise your daughter to be strong and independent?

How would you teach your son to respect women?

What would you do to be heard?

Set in the near-future where girls and women are only permitted 100 words of speech per day, Vox looks at what could happen if you were to deprive half of the population of language. It takes takes the current political climate in the United States and adds a layer of extremism. In Vox, members of Christianity and the "Pure Movement" control the White House and are seeking a shift back to traditional gender roles. Wrist counters, that emit painful electric shocks should someone exceed their word limit, is the main tool used to get women in line.

Dr. Jean McClellan was a neurolinguist before she - and all of the women - were removed from the workforce. After the President's brother is in an accident, she is recruited to help with his recovery and negotiates her reprieve from the word quota, along with her daughter's. As she works on her assignment, she discovers that she is part of a much larger, and more terrifying, project.

As a language teacher, and as someone who is not known for being particularly selective with her speech, Vox (Latin for voice) intrigued me when it arrived at my door.

It's easy to compare this novel to The Handmaid's Tale, and in some respects it is similar. It describes a haunting world, all too easy to imagine, where women have lost their freedom. Vox is pro-feminism, pro-LGBTQ, anti-Trump, and anti-religious right.

The most powerful parts of the novel involve the 6-year-old daughter, Sonia. Watching her navigate childhood while permitted to use essentially none of her language really tugged at my heart.

However, a literary masterpiece this is not. To me, Vox felt like it was written and edited quickly, so it could be released as soon as possible. The last third of the book is especially hurried. Vox begins as a feminist dystopian and ends with the feeling of a thriller, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but here it was rushed. Dalcher wrote Vox in two months, and I wish she had spent more time refining the delivery instead of rushing to publishing.

There are many good ideas in this book and the premise is compelling. It's a quick read, speaks to our current political atmosphere, and isn't too graphic or dark. I also love Dalcher's messages about gender politics and about the importance of our voices. Vox is a reminder that what is simple is not always what is right and that we must never stop offering our voices for those who have none.

Is this the best-written book? No. Is it a timely story with an important message? Absolutely yes.

If you're a fan of The Handmaid's Tale, Black Mirror, or The Power by Naomi Alderman and are interested in a quick read with similar themes, you will certainly enjoy Vox. It is available wherever books are sold on August 21st.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

An Interview with Romance Author Stefanie London

Here's a book blogging secret. Free books from publishers are great, but my favourite part of blogging is meeting authors. Each and every time I chat with one, I feel like I'm talking to a celebrity.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Stefanie London at a romance-themed trivia night hosted by Harlequin, and we recently met up again for coffee. It was so much fun chatting about books with her, and I can't wait to read more of her novels.

Stefanie and I talked about her current projects, the influence of the #metoo movement on romance novels, and more. I hope you enjoy our interview!



1. You're currently working on your Bad Bachelor series. Can you tell us about this trilogy and the inspiration behind it?

Bad Bachelors is a sexy contemporary romance series about an app that allows the women of New York to rate their dates. Think of it as Yelp (or Goodreads!) for men. Obviously this kind of idea causes a world of trouble, and each book focuses on a hero who's caught up in the drama caused by the app. The three heroines are also best friends. The series is funny and sexy, but it also takes a look at the effects of social media and how we treat one another online. I wanted to create a series where I could explore the affects of technology, not only on modern dating but also on how we behave as a society. It's a subject I find endlessly fascinating, and since technology and apps (like Tinder, Bumble etc) are such a huge part of dating, I thought it would be fun to incorporate that element into this series.


2. How do you select the names of your characters?

Baby name websites! Which means Facebook thinks I'm pregnant and it continues to show me ads for baby things. I have a very "intuitive" way of picking names, in that I read through lists and when one jumps out at me I know that's it.

3. One of my favourite "literary" places to visit is the real Inn Boonsboro that was the inspiration for Nora Roberts' Inn Boonsboro trilogy. Do you have a favourite "literary" travel destination?

I love reading about fantasy or made-up worlds. There's something about fictional kingdoms and historically-inspired worlds that always captures my attention. I love details that writers provide and the way they create something from nothing. They might not always be the kind of place where I'd want to live, but I do enjoy falling into a good book to "visit" a new and exciting fictional world. One that springs to mind is the Kingdom of Ravka from the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo which is inspired by Tsarist Russia from the 1800s.

4. How has the #Metoo movement changed romance writing?

For me, the main change is that the things I did intuitively before are now done with much more mindfulness and consideration. My books have always featured two people engaging in consensual sex as part of a loving relationship, even if it starts out as something purely physical. When I write now, however, I consciously include enthusiastic consent as part of my sex scenes. I also think a lot more about the power dynamic between the hero and the heroine, especially if I'm writing a workplace romance which is a trope I continue to love, though I now approach it differently. It's important for me to show the heroines in my novels making an active, informed decision to have sex with the hero and expressing their consent throughout the course of the scene, not just at the beginning. And consent is sexy! It doesn't take away from the heat or the strength of the hero to have the characters checking in with one another.


I'm noticing that readers are focusing on this element of romance novels more, as are publishers. This is a great development, and I hope we continue to see writers representing healthy sexual relationships and healthy attitudes toward sex in their novels.



5. For someone who is new to your books, where should they start?

I actually have a page dedicated to this exact question on my website right here! The Bad Bachelor series is something very close to my heart and it definitely represents what I love to read and write (i.e. funny and sexy stories with a hint of the real-world peeking through.) If you're looking for a purely escapist read that will be sure to have you giggling, try my romantic comedy Trouble Next Door. If you prefer your reads with a little more steam, Unmasked is a book I adore with all my heart.


6. What have you been reading lately? Any favourites you can share?

I just finished Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning, which is an urban fantasy set in Dublin with lots of fae lore and dark magic. So much fun! I'm looking forward to working my way through this series. I also LOVE a good zombie book, and FEED by Mira Grant hit the spot when I read it earlier this year.

In terms of some romance recommendations, my top picks so far for 2018 include two Harlequin Presents books: Son of Scandal by Dani Collins and The Virgin's Shock Baby by Heidi Rice. They have everything I love about the Presents line (high glamour and old-school romance tropes.) I also loved Forbidden Pleasure by Taryn Leigh Taylor (I was lucky enough to read an advance copy) which is out next month with Harlequin's sexy Dare line.


Thanks so much, Stefanie!

For more from Stefanie London, be sure to check out her website and follow along with her on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, or join her Facebook reading group.

xo
Jenn

Monday, 23 July 2018

7 Female Authors to Binge Read

Whenever I discover a new-to-me author, I feel compelled to go out and get my hands on everything they've ever written, which is exactly what I did with the authors below.



Sarah Addison Allen

 

I discovered Sarah Addison Allen a few years ago after randomly finding an unread copy of Garden Spells in my mom's basement. I promptly took it home, read it, and fell in love. Her books always have a touch of magic in them that make them unique and enchanting. Garden Spells is my favourite novel of hers, but you also can't go wrong with The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper, or The Sugar Queen.

Bunmi Laditan

 

If you ever need some real-talk about the outrageous expectations put on new moms or the realities of dealing with toddlers, check out Bunmi Laditan's books asap. Confessions of a Domestic Failure is an oh-so-relatable novel about a new mom, and The Honest Toddler is written from a toddler's perspective. Both are laugh out loud funny!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    

















My first Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book was Half of a Yellow Sun. It was a book club pick ages ago, and it completely blew me away. A few years later I read Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and The Purple Hibiscus. Her books will always leave you thinking about the role of women in the world and the power they can hold. Next from her, I'd really like to read We Should All Be Feminists

Jennifer Robson

     

















Jennifer Robson writes beautiful historical romance with charming touches of romance. Moonlight Over Paris was the first book I ever read by her and immediately ordered everything else from her backlist. I didn't realize it at the time, but Moonlight Over Paris is a book in The Great War series. Somewhere in France is book one; however, each novel can be read as a standalone. I also loved Goodnight From London and am looking forward to her new release later this year, The Gown.

My Favourite Series By Women

An easy way to binge-read an author is to get lost in a series. Here are three of my favourites!

Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery (8 books)

 



I have to confess, I haven't yet read all of the books in this series. I do have them all, waiting patiently on my shelves, but I love Anne, and look forward to happily living in Anne's world again soon. Gilbert Blythe was my first ever "book boyfriend," and the movies with Megan Follows are 💫💫💫💫💫!









A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas (4 books and counting)





I discovered this series a few years ago and have spent the last year reading and rereading all of Sarah J. Maas' books. The A Court of Thorns and Roses series is my favourite of her two, but I also love her other series, Throne of Glass. If you enjoy/are willing to try a fantasy-romance series, her worlds are easy and fun to get lost in.

Fun fact - A Court of Thorns and Roses begins as a Beauty and the Beast retelling!






Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling (8 books)





What's not to love about Harry Potter? I've been collecting the illustrated editions lately and hope to start reading them with Sebastian soon. 











If I were to write this post in 6 months from now, I'm certain I'd be adding Jasmine Guillory and Helen Hoang to this list. I read each of their debuts this year and sincerely loved their sweet and sexy stories. They each have a second book coming out within the next year, and I predict they will be just as wonderful to read!

Who are some of your favourite female authors to binge on?
xo
Jenn

Monday, 16 July 2018

Our Favourite Game For Introducing Coding To Little Ones

The skill of programming is totally a magic superpower in my mind. I'm not a strong coder at all, but my husband is one. It amazes me what cool creations or interesting solutions come out of the other side of a computer program he's written.

Sebastian is only 6, but I've discovered it is not to early to learn the principles of programming. He's been introduced to them at school through this game, Robot Turtles. And before we get started, I think it's important to share that Sebastian started playing this game at school over a year ago, so he was 4/5 when he first learned to play. He loves this game so much that he saved his own money to buy one for home.


Robot Turtles is a board game that teaches young children how to code. Interestingly, it is the most-backed Kickstarter board game in history! The goal of the game is for each turtle to reach their gem.

You can have 2, 3, or 4 turtles playing at a time. When the game begins, one person "sets up" the board. You can make the game as easy or as hard as you'd like. You can place your gems close to the turtles or far, and you can add different obstacles along the way. You don't have to make the path the same for each turtle, but the day I took these pictures, Sebastian had set up the board symmetrically.

For each turn, the player (or Turtle Master) chooses three cards to move their turtle, places them in a line, and then their turtle is moved according to their directions. They can choose between Left, Right, or Forward. When the player has a second turn, he or she will add three more cards to their line, essentially building/writing their code, and their turtle is moved again.


As your little coder becomes more confident, you can add other elements to the game. There are Laser cards that melt ice walls, and a Function Frog which will repeat a move sequence they have already played.


The Bug Tile (above) is also important because if a player wants to undo a move, they can tap their Bug Tile and shout "Bug!". This undoes their move and lets them fix their mistake. I have used this Bug Tile more than once when I play! I also love that they are using real programming language at an age-appropriate level.

There is much more that can go on in this game, but I think I've shared the main ideas here.

The educator in me is totally impressed with how quickly the littlest learners can handily understand the basic concepts of programming. The mom in me is delighted to see Sebastian having so much fun.

I sincerely believe that Robot Turtles would make an excellent gift for anyone aged 4 and up. You can find out more on the Robot Turtles website, and we bought our copy on Amazon. I'd be gifting it to all of his friends, if I didn't already know they have also bought their own copies!

xo
Jenn

Note - This is not a sponsored post. We just love this game and think you will too! 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang - Book Review

I have been waiting for another 2018 book to really hit it out of the park, and I've finally found one! The Kiss Quotient, is the debut novel by Helen Hoang, and I cannot recommend this romantic story highly enough!



Here's the premise. Stella is autistic. She has Asperger's Syndrome and sucks at intimacy. Relationships with her family and her co-workers are not easy to navigate and romantic relationships? Well, those are even worse! One thing that does work for Stella is logic. So, logically, Stella hires an expert/escort to teach her how to be good at sex. When Michael arrives for his evening with Stella, he is completely thrown for a loop by his new client. Can he help her? Will he be able to let her go in the end? Will she be able to let him go?

I'm fairly certain I had a smile plastered on my face the entire time I was reading this book. It made me so happy. The first night where Michael and Stella meet is completely adorable, and I loved how understanding Michael was with her.

As Stella and Michael continue to meet, the contrast between erotic and sweet in their relationship is refreshing, emotional, and so very heartwarming. Never before has consent been so sexy. The Kiss Quotient is unputdownable, and I did not want this book to end.

Helen Hoang said that a gender-swapped Pretty Woman was part of her inspiration for this book, and it totally shows (in the very best way!) If you are a fan of that classic movie, I promise you will fall in love with Stella and Michael as well.

Between The Kiss Quotient and The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory, I can say without a doubt that the two best romance novels I've read so far this year have featured diverse characters and were written by diverse authors. (Helen Hoang herself has autism, and Michael is biracial). I sincerely cannot wait to see what these two authors write in the future, and which new authors will come after them as these women prove again and and again that different voices matter to us all.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of The Kiss Quotient courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Fitness Goals For Someone Who Loves Nachos

I've been thinking about this post in my head for months. Mainly because I've been thinking about my lack of fitness routine for months. A small part of this is about weight. I have gained weight in the past 4-5 years, but, mainly, this is about health.

I'm tired of feeling sore when I get up off the bed after sitting there cross-legged for a bit.

I'm tired of feeling disappointed in myself for going up a pant size (or two!).

I'm tired of feeling like I "should" be exercising.

My hope is by writing this post is twofold:

1. I hope that by writing this all down, it keeps me more accountable to my intentions.
2. I hope that maybe others feel the same way about fitness and can relate.

Last year, when I had my annual physical with my doctor, I told her I knew I had gained weight since my last visit. She said that I was still well within the normal range, and that it was more important that I exercise than worry about a number on a scale.

Since then our scale broke, and I haven't replaced it. A bit out of fear of what that number is now (I'm certain it has not gone down), but also because I don't want to obsess over a number. I want to go by how I feel.

What makes me feel strong?
What am I doing to keep my heart healthy?
What stretches help my body feel at its the best?

I consume books like I breathe air. I set reading goals, I complete reading challenges, I track what I read, I reflect on what I read, and I keep a journal of books I've read and books I want to read. I talk to others about books, I have bookish apps on my phone, and I feel like I've learned so much about literature and publishing as I've immersed myself into that world.

I don't know if I'll ever be the person who wakes up and says, "Yes! Let's workout!" I will always prefer a book to a run, and I love carbs, Netflix, and caramel macchiatos, but, for my own health, I need to move my body. I need to create a plan and a goal that work for me and go for it. I need to try and apply to fitness the same habits and diligence I apply to reading.



As a teacher, I have a gift of time over the summer, and I'm hoping the next two months will give me the boost to get my fitness life back on track, so I can decide what parts will continue to work as I begin a new school year in the fall.

Finding time to exercise, especially as a mom, is not easy. I have to schedule it or it won't happen. Rachel Hollis has this amazing quote where she says, "Hope is not a strategy. You need to have a plan." I can't just hope myself a finished workout. I can't hope myself the time or willpower to go exercise. I need to take a the first step (pun intended 😉).

Maybe that first step is writing down "run" on your calendar for Saturday morning. Maybe the first step is letting your partner know that you want to do this, so he/she needs to know they will be watching the children for an hour. Maybe the first step is browsing a fitness class schedule at a local gym or yoga studio. Maybe your first step is getting a new tank top for working out! Whatever it is, do it. Then, decide what's next.

You won't see before and after pictures here, and I am not going to try and sell anyone anything. Below are the current ideas in my plan, and maybe a piece or two sound appealing to you as well. We can cheer each other on!

Helpful Apps


Couch to 5K

Cost: $2.99

What it does: Provides you a 9-week training program to running 5K (or close to it).

Why I like it: This app is for beginners. Rob and I are both working through it right now. It starts with run/walk intervals and slowly builds up your endurance to eventually running 30 minutes. But don't be scared of the end. The first few weeks are actually more walking than jogging!

The training plan is scheduled for 3 runs per week, but you can work this app at your own pace. Do it more often or less. It's up to you! For April and May I did it once a week. In June, I didn't do it at all. The past two weeks, I've picked it back up and am going out every other day. The pace is very reasonable, and it is fun to watch your progress.







Carrot Rewards

Cost: free (only available in certain Canadian provinces)

What it does: Carrot connects to your phone's pedometer or your Fitbit to track your steps for the day. It sets a personal goal for you and gives you rewards to a loyalty program of your choice on the days you meet your goal.

Why I like it: It feels like you get rewards for just doing whatever it is you normally do in your day. Everyone has their own personal step goal based on their average daily steps, so your goal is really just for you. I chose Scene as my loyalty program, so I earn 2 points each day I meet my goal. You also have the opportunity to earn bonus points if you complete your Step Up Challenge (meet your goal 10 times in 14 days). After 14 days, the app re-evaluates your step goal and will raise or lower it depending on if you slayed your goals or not.





My friend and I also like the Step Together Challenge. If we collectively meet our goals 10 times in a week, we both earn bonus points! The top row is me, the bottom row is my friend on our current challenge.

Sometimes at work we'll walk and grab a coffee to help meet our step goal if we're feeling like it's a low step day. I joke that we're not using the app properly when we do this, but it was recently pointed out to me that the mental health break of going for a walk with a friend is just as, if not more, valuable.


Find a buddy and run a fun race

I have noticed I keep up with my exercise when I have registered for a race or event. 

I really like obstacle courses, because it's a little bit like interval running, which I prefer. You can read about the first time I ever did it here. That specific event doesn't happen in its current form anymore, so last year my friends and I signed up for Tough Mudder - Half. It was tough but we did it, and it felt so amazing afterwards. We've signed up again this fall. And we are not superhuman athletes at all. We are regular people who love nachos. The Tough Mudder - Half event is perfect because it's the fun and crazy muddy obstacles of Tough Mudder without the electrocution or fire obstacles. Tough Mudder also has a 5K, that I'm sure is a blast. You can check it out here


The other event I've signed up for (in a few weeks, which I why I need to get my butt in gear right now) is the 5K Foam Fest. I've never done this one, but it looks like a crazy amount of fun. 



I also really want to try the Color Run, and a friend of mine does a Chocolate Race every spring. There are so many fun way to achieve your goals.

Find a fitness class

This one is trickier for me, because Sebastian doesn't love being dragged to the gym daycare, but finding a fitness class and/or instructor you love is great way to stay motivated and accountable to your workout. My favourite is BodyFlow at Goodlife Fitness, and I'm determined to go the mornings Sebastian is in camp this summer.


Read to get motivated

If you're a reader, the perfect book can be excellent encouragement.

It Takes a Tribe by Will Dean is as much about mental grit as it is about the history of Tough Mudder. I really liked this one. You can read my review here.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis is my next read. It's about the lies we tell ourselves that end up keeping us from reaching our goals and how to overcome them.

Confessions of an Unlikely Runner by Dana Ayers is a memoir of an "average" person who decided she wanted to participate in athletic events like the ones I described above. She shares her mishaps and adventures in this book.


So that's it! That's what I'm going to do. Finish the Couch to 5K app, run two fun obstacle courses with friends, try a handful of fitness classes, and read an encouraging book.

I won't be able to sustain all of this in the fall, so I'll reassess where I'm at then and decide on a new plan.

What about you? Anyone want to join me?
xo
Jenn

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