Monday, 14 August 2017

Sebastianisms Vol 4

Chatting with a 5 year old is often pretty adorable. He's at a stage where he does a lot of self-talk and self-encouragement. Here are a few gems we've overheard recently.

"I'm making such beautiful pictures that you can't even believe!"

"I'm pretty incredible, right?"

"I'm getting a roll." (He meant to say that he was "on a roll".)

-----

These are a few things he's said to us lately:

"You're so kindful."

"It really appreciates me." (He meant "I really appreciate it.")


-----

Lastly, my dad was teasing him a few weeks ago, and he said "Your nose is bigger than the whole house." To which Sebastian replied, "Your nose is bigger than the whole university!"

xo
Jenn


For more, here are Sebastianisms vol 1, vol 2, and vol 3.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The One Piece of Lingerie You'll Actually Want to Wear



I recently got rid of nearly all of my lingerie. I tossed out 4 little nighty things that I had accumulated around the time of my wedding.  I rarely wore them. They felt fun for about half a second and then I just felt self-conscious and cold. Minus the slit up the front, they basically resembled this:




I kept only one. It's the Lace T-back Tank Dress Chemise from Fleur't




It's super soft, long enough to feel comfortable (it hits just above the knee), and has this magic elastic built into the fabric and the lace. This chemise is especially supportive for ladies with large busts. Yes, I just said "supportive" when talking about lingerie.

The hot pink colour I bought a few years ago isn't available anymore, but I love this dark-denim colour. There is also a light-lavender colour that happens to be on sale if you prefer it.

So, you're welcome. I promise you, when you slip this nightgown on, you'll feel sexy, comfortable and you'll want to wear it for you, not just for your partner.

xo
Jenn

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor - Book Review


1917...It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true - didn't it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs' authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovering offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later... When Olivia Kavanagh finds and old manuscript in her late grandfather's bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls' lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself? (synopsis via Goodreads)


I knew absolutely nothing about the Cottingley Fairies before reading this novel, so I loved learning about their history and the role the photographs of the fairies played in England during the first world war. This is why historical fiction holds such a special place in my heart. Novels like The Cottingley Secret transport me to another place and time and I am able to learn more about that era. There are pictures of the actual Cottingley fairy photographs included in the back of the book as a reference.

The Cottingely Secret was also my first Hazel Gaynor novel. I loved her beautiful prose, her characters, and the pace of the story. I also enjoyed the creative use of a found memoir as a vehicle for the flashbacks to 1917. A true story within a story.

I did find it a bit helpful to draw myself a family tree for Olivia so I could more clearly see how she ended up connected to the Cottingley fairies.

Though a century apart, Olivia and Frances were both in situations where they didn't feel fully in control of what was happening around them. Frances felt locked into the secret she was keeping with Elsie, and Olivia was torn between dealing with her grandfather's death or her rocky engagement. While reading, it jumped out at me that the feeling of choice was important to both girls, and I think one message for the reader is about choice, especially when it is connected to our reactions to what is happening around us. We can choose the path of negativity, or we can choose the path of hope. Of faith. Maybe even of magic.

The Cottingley Secret is a must-read not only for those who enjoy historical fiction, but also for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and those who remember to keep their eyes open for the magic in the everyday.



Connect with the Hazel Gaynor on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

The Cottingley Secret is available wherever books are sold.  You can get it on Amazon or directly from HarperCollins.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a copy of The Cottingley Secret courtesy of TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Case for the Happy Ending





SPOILER ALERT! 


This post contains spoilers for Allegiant by Veronica Roth and A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas. Consider yourself warned.



The first book club I ever belonged to was called "Oprah-type fiction". I loved that book club, and I loved the books that were selected. We read hard-hitting books that mainly fell into the genres of women's fiction or historical fiction. After awhile, one of my book club friends had had enough. She said, "Most of the books we read are about people's shitty lives, that just get shittier." And she wasn't really wrong. We read a lot of books with tragic endings or, at the very least, extremely awful moments.


At the time I didn't really think much of her comment. It was just fiction after all. It's not real. No reason to stress.


But now, 10 years later, I can totally see it. I can see what she means with these heavy endings and this unavoidable death. These stories that we end up carrying around with us even when we are not reading. 


This particular friend was one of the first of us to become a mother, so, as a mom now, I wonder if that was part of where she was coming from. I wonder if that's when there was a shift in my own reading life as well. 


Allegiant by Veronica Roth destroyed me. I was finishing the book well past midnight, I was crying, the next morning I had a headache, and I felt like I was in a fog. It was a book hangover in the most literal sense. I admit that I am emotional when it comes to books and movies. I get easily attached to characters. And I'm usually okay with it. But Allegiant is the first time I remember thinking "NO! This is NOT how this story ends." 


I read all three of the books from the Divergent trilogy together, so, thankfully, I wasn't one of the many readers who were waiting with bated breath for the final instalment of Tris and Four's story. But I was fully invested in this series. It kept me up late at night, and I would wake early in the morning to get in a few chapters before the day began.


When I began reading Allegiant, I couldn't help but think that the entire book was one upsetting event after the other. And it felt particularly like the author was upset with Four for some reason because his character is beaten down over and over and over again throughout the novel, with no redemption in the end. He has very little goodness in his life from the beginning, but he does love Tris. However, his divergence was taken away from him, he gets caught up with the wrong crowd and ends up kind of accidentally killing his friend, and then he loses Tris when she dies. To say the ending of that trilogy was a disappointment would be a massive understatement. 

Most of the time, I read for pleasure. It's the the thing I love most to do for fun and to relax. So, if an author is taking me through a novel, or three (or even more in some cases!) and rip me apart along the way, I am trusting them to put me back together again by the end.

There is plenty negativity and tragedy in the world. I amjust at a point where I can no longer invite it into my life as entertainment.

I know one of the main arguments is that happy endings are not real life, and that books that end perfectly with everything packaged up like a gift with a bow aren't realistic. 

But I say bring it on.

I am fully aware that the book I'm reading isn't real life. That's why I'm reading it.

When did quality literature become synonymous with sad endings? I don't believe it has to be this way. 

Don't get me wrong. I love a good cathartic, ugly cry as much as the next girl. The ones where your nose is running and the tears are dropping onto the page. That can be some good stuff right there.

But this is where trust comes in.

The relationship between an author, a reader, and a book is a delicate one. Especially if there is a series involved. (Just ask any George R. R. Martin fan. They've been waiting 6 years for the next Game of Thrones book. And there is supposed to be one more after that!)

This January I finally read A Court of Thorns and Roses as well as A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Just like Tris and Four, I was cheering Feyre and Rhys on hard.

I had many of my friends and co-workers reading these books. We fangirled about this series harder than I ever remember fangirling over a book. The final piece to that trilogy was due out in May and I was counting the weeks until my preorder copy would arrive. We couldn't stop talking about what had happened, what we thought was going to happen, and, especially whether we thought either Feyre or Rhys were going to die.

My friends and I could see how it fit the personalities of both Feyre and Rhys to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Neither of them would hesitate to die if they could save Velaris, the Night Court, and all of Prythian. It was terrifying to know this. But I just had to believe that Sarah J. Maas was not going to do that to her readers. I trusted that she wouldn't make us fall so passionately in love with Feyre and Rhys only to take one of them away in the end.

A Court of Wings and Ruin brought it all. There was redemption for Jurian and (some) for Tamlin. Rhys' battle speech, that sounded much more like a goodbye speech, had me weeping. The Suriel dies. The Bone Carver dies. Amren dies. And then Rhys dies. By that point I was simply gaping at the book in shock. All of my tears had run dry. But there were pages remaining, and I held onto that trust that things would somehow be right in the end.

And then the Courts come together to bring him back. On top of that, Rhys is able to pull Amren back as well. My blood pressure regulated, and that was the moment I fell in love with Sarah J. Maas for good. Now I look forward to reading the next two books of the Throne of Glass series even more (because, let's be real, the ending of Empire of Storms is torturous), and I will happily devour whatever she puts out next.

Like I said earlier, I am okay with authors tearing me apart along the journey the characters face, but I need to be put back together in the end. 

I've talked primarily about YA novels here, but this same feeling applies to the women's fiction and historical fiction I read in my book club. I used to read historical fiction nearly exclusively. I was a bit of a book snob that way. But now I find that genre so challenging. I know these stories are real, and it's not that I don't appreciate the gravity of WWII or the slave trade or other difficult periods of history. I know these pieces of of the global story need to be shared, and they do not have happy endings. It's not that I don't feel sympathy. It's almost that I feel too much.

One thing I've learned growing older is that our reading life evolves as well. Who we are as readers at 25 may not be who we are as readers at 35. I never thought this would be the case, but it has clearly been a shift in me. 

xo
Jenn

PS - After being shattered by Allegiant, I found this piece of fanfiction called Determinant. It is a complete, alternative third book to the Divergent series and is well worth the read. Now I just believe this to be the ending of the trilogy in my mind :)

Monday, 24 July 2017

Donate Life: How I Lost A Kidney And Found My Faith (Guest Post)

Please welcome to the blog today Mary Katherine Backstrom from the fantastic Mom Babble. She's here to share a story of bravery and faith. I hope you love it as much as I do.



Proverbs 16:8: The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
The hospital room smelled of gauze and alcohol. As my body was scrubbed clean with a harsh orange soap, a nurse walked in twirling a Sharpie. I changed positions on the bed and fidgeted with my bright green bracelet. Donate Life, it said. I’d been wearing it for a month; a badge of honor I hadn’t yet earned.
“You are donating your right kidney, correct?” Sharpie Nurse asked without really needing an answer.
“That’s what my kidnappers said,” I cracked, as she pulled aside my hospital gown. She scrawled a big YES on my right side and a NO on my left. I felt cold. The color was draining from my face. The nurse snapped the marker top back on and paused to look me in the eye.
“Honey, are you sure you want to do this?”
Was I sure? I had prayed and fasted and cried and wrestled over this decision. From the day my mother was ruled out as a possible donor, there was a tug at my heart. A silent whisper that spoke to me saying, “Step forward. Have faith.”
Stepping forward, it turned out, was the easy part. Having faith…?
“Yes, of course I’m sure,” I croaked, sounding anything but.

I was terrified. I knew exactly what God was asking of me, but still doubted every part of His plan
.
I hadn’t even started a family. Would this cause risks to my future pregnancies? What if I got sick in adulthood? What if my husband did? What if I needed this kidney I was giving away? What would the scars look like? Could I handle the pain?
Jeremiah 29: 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
In pre-op, Ian hovered over my bed. His blue eyes held a sea of worry, but he offered only assuring smiles and a kiss on the forehead. He told me he loved me, how brave I was, and how proud he was to have married me.
I smiled, drooled a little, and asked if he would go buy me a double cheeseburger. The drugs were kicking in. My husband’s floating head was the last thing I saw.
When I woke up, there was a hole where an organ used to live. It screamed inside of me. The inflation gas from surgery had dissipated and settled in my shoulders, burning like coals beneath my skin. I’d never known such pain. For 12 hours, I drifted in and out of a narcotic sleep, crying for my mother.
There was a knock at my door.
“MK, there is somebody here to see you. He wants to know if you can go for a walk.”
“No freaking way,” I grumbled, reaching to press the button that released meds into my blood stream. Then I noticed something. A lime green bracelet had found its way back on my wrist. Donate Life, it said.
And holy crap, I had done it.
My heart filled with gratitude as I recalled God’s voice encouraging me. “Step forward. Have faith.”
Slowly, carefully, I hung my legs over the side of the hospital bed. I placed one foot in front of the other and I walked toward my uncle, whose cautious smile hinted at something he hadn’t known in a while: Hope.
We shuffled our way around the Nephrology unit, making small talk between gasps of pain. Uncle Mikey had a new craving for Starbucks. The very idea of coffee disgusted me.
“Must be the kidney!” we laughed.
My uncle had a new lease on life. I had a new set of scars. He had a new kidney. I had a lime green bracelet.
But in that moment, walking around the hospital wearing IV bags and puppy dog slippers, I learned a powerful lesson about God and giving.
Because it wasn’t my Uncle Mikey who had received the greatest gift that day.
Acts 20: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Through all of my fear and doubt, my anguish and physical suffering, God was leading me to one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not because I had done something to be proud of. Not for the accolades or the gratitude of my family.

The gift, you see, was in the giving. And all I had to do was step forward and have faith.

For more information on becoming a tissue and organ donor, please visit Donate Life.

For more from Mary Katherine, be sure to visit her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and especially her blog. She is one of my favourite writers!

xo
Jenn

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery - Book Review + Author Interview

Kelly Murphy's life as a tulip farmer is pretty routine - up at dawn, off to work, lather, rince, repeat. But everything changes one sun-washed summer with two dramatic homecomings: Griffith Burnett - Tulpen Crossing's prodigal son, who's set his sights on Kelly - and Olivia, her beautiful, wayward and, as far as Kelly is concerned, unwelcome sister. Tempted by Griffith, annoyed by Olivia, Kelly is overwhelmed by the secrets that were so easy to keep when she was alone.

But Olivia's return isn't as triumphant as she pretends. Her job has no future, and ever since her dad sent her away from the bad boy she loved, she has felt cut off from her past. SHe's determined to reclaim her man and her place in the family...whether her sister likes it or not. For ten years, she and Kelly have been strangers. Olivia will get by without her approval now.

While Kelly and Olivia butt heads, their secrets tumble out in a big hot mess, revealing some truths that will change everything they thought they knew. Can they forgive each other - and themselves -and redefine what it means to be sisters?
(via Goodreads)


Secrets of the Tulip Sisters is my first Susan Mallery novel, and I really enjoyed it! This story weaves together themes of love, family, friendship, hurt feelings, divorce, trust, and the ties that bind us all together.

I enjoyed the playful and fun writing, the love story (stories!), and I was quickly engaged in this book. I especially loved Griffith, how direct he was, and how much he secretly loved Kelly even though he kept saying he didn't "do love" anymore.

This is a love story, but not only between couples searching for their happily ever after. This is also very much about the bond that can disappear, and then grow again, between sisters. The relationship between Kelly and Olivia was central and so important for them both to work through before they could finally create their own true paths in life. I particularly appreciated how the author didn't make Olivia a typical mean girl. I feel like Mallery quite easily could have chosen that path for that character, but instead we learn Olivia is broken because of decisions made for her at a young age, and she is sincerely trying to figure things out, so she can mend her relationships for the better. She's desperate for a place to belong, and you can't help but cheer her on.

Lately in my reading life, I've been focused on choosing novels I can really trust to leave me with a happy ending. I don't mind bumpy rides or being torn apart through my novels, but I just want to make sure I'm put back together again at the end, and Secrets of the Tulip Sisters fit perfectly.





I had the opportunity to ask Susan Mallery a few questions about Secrets of the Tulip Sisters. I hope you enjoy reading the interview!

What inspired Secrets of the Tulip Sisters?


I live in Washington State, where there's a Tulip Festival every spring in Skagit Valley. A couple years ago, my husband and I were driving through these breathtaking fields of tulips, just completely enveloped in the beauty, when I started to think about how much work it must be to harvest the flowers and get them into the hands of florists around the country. (I know, a very practical, unromantic thought for a romance writer.) That led me to think about the people who would do that work—farmers—and that led to the conception of the farmer's daughters. One loves the land as much as her father, and one left when she was young and hasn't been back for ten years.

Here's the twist—Olivia didn't just leave. She was sent away… and, although she didn't know it, her banishment was her sister's fault.

Ultimately, what inspired me were not the fields of tulips, pretty as they were, but the idea of complicated beauty, such as that of friendship and family.

 

Do you have a favorite scene?


I love the emotional midpoint of the story, when the secrets that have been lurking in the characters' minds begin to spill out, and everything they thought they knew about each other—and about their own pasts—turns on its head.

 

Did any of the characters surprise you along the way?


Yes! OMG, yes. I wrote a character named Sven, who was supposed to be just a walk-on. I didn't even give him a last name! But boy, he walked on, and I couldn't let him go. I fell in love with Sven to the point that I commissioned an illustrator to create three fabulous illustrations of him. If you want a laugh, visit Sven-the-Viking-God.com. Seriously. Go check it out and then come back. I'll wait.


See? Sven is fabulous. That apron picture came straight from a scene in the book. I can't wait for readers to meet him.

 

What would you like readers to take away from this book?


A pure sense of emotional satisfaction, something that will leave them feeling happy and uplifted and more prepared to face the challenges of real life. My stories are meant to reinforce readers' belief in the world as a good and just place, where decent people work through their problems and achieve happiness. I want readers to know that happiness is possible.

 

As a reader, any recent book favorites you can share?


Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that while I’m writing a book, I can’t read a book in the same genre because it gets in the way of my own story. Since I’m almost always writing—four new books this year, plus a novella—I don’t get nearly as much time to read as I’d like. When I finish a book and before I start the next one, I try to squeeze in a few stories. Category romances are great for this because I can finish one a day and get that wonderful intense focus on the romance. I recently read The Maverick Fakes a Bride! by Christine Rimmer. So good! It’s a friends-to-lovers story and a fun twist on the marriage of convenience trope.




Thank you so much to Susan Mallery for answering my questions! You can connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, and her website for more. Secrets of the Tulip Sisters is available pretty much anywhere! Check it out on Amazon.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of Secrets of the Tulip Sisters from the publisher and TLC Book Tours. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. To hear what others had to say about this lovely novel, you can visit the whole book tour here

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Paris All Your Own - Book Review

If you're ready for some first-rate wanderlust, you are going to love my latest read.

Edited by Eleanor Brown (The Light of Paris), A Paris All Your Own is a charming collection of 18 Paris-themed essays written by bestselling female authors who have each published novels set in the City of Light. Authors like Paula McLean - The Paris Wife, Julie Powell - Julie and Julia, and Michelle Gable - A Paris Apartment.

In this anthology each woman was asked to share their own personal stories of Paris.

And Paris, with all of her sophistication and experience, is not a simple city. She is kind to some and not to others.



There were romantic stories solidifying our understanding of why Paris is the city of romance and love, and then other stories that pretty much went the way you'd imagine them to go if you were thinking about dragging sleepy teens around Paris.



I've been to Paris a handful of times (As a French teacher, I have a soft spot for France) and reading these stories brought me back to so many places I remember. The Eiffel Tower. Montmartre. The cobblestone streets. And then this book also gave me new ideas of what I'd like to do next time I visit. (Mainly, my next goal would be to sit beside the Seine with a bottle of wine, bread, some macaroons, and watch the world go by.)

Apart from allowing me to daydream about my next trip Paris, I really enjoyed learning about the research phase of the writing process many of the authors described. Some visited the city before writing, some while writing, and others didn't visit until after their books were complete. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to learn about the role that Paris played in their lives and in their careers.

As a final bonus, upon reading A Paris All Your Own, you instantly have the titles of more than 18 Paris-themed books by these authors to add to your "to be read" list! Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, is one of the new titles I'm interested in checking out.

Whether you've travelled previously to Paris or not, you will love to visit it from the coziness of your own home through A Paris All Your Own.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of A Paris All Your Own from Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

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