Sunday, 24 November 2019

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory is an author I have come to count on for fun, contemporary romance. I first fell in love with her last year with The Wedding Date, and I also enjoyed her second book, The Proposal. I also have a soft spot for all things Christmas romance, so when I learned she had penned a Christmas love story called Royal Holiday, I was eager to pick it up.

When Vivian Forest's daughter has a work opportunity to be the personal stylist for a Duchess in England over the holidays, she invites Vivian to accompany her on this trip. While in England, Vivian meets Malcolm Hudson, the Queen's Personal Secretary and so begins a charming holiday fling.

Royal Holiday reads exactly like a Netflix Christmas movie. There's royalty, champagne, mistletoe kisses, and two people who come from different backgrounds. It was refreshing to read a romance where both of the main characters are over 50 (because, let's face it, friends...I'm closer to 50 than I am to 20), and I loved imagining that the unnamed "Duke and Duchess" were Harry and Meghan.

If you're looking for a cozy, cute holiday story to read by the tree with a cup of hot chocolate, pick up Royal Holiday. It's available now from your local library or favourite bookseller.


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

Thursday, 14 November 2019

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

When a sexual picture of a drunken girl with a racist caption is passed around the private school of Windsor via text message, and the adults are trying to determine exactly what happened, those closest to the incident must make their own choices about who and what matters most. Is it friends? Family? The truth?

In Emily Giffin's All We Ever Wanted, she takes on class, race, social media, rape culture, parenting, and marriage. While it feels like it's tackling a lot of issues, they are woven together in a compelling read that kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next.

All We Ever Wanted reminded me quite a bit of Beartown by Fredrik Backman, but instead of a hockey team, it's a private school, and instead of rape, it's a lewd photograph. There are some other smaller differences, but the main question is the same: When it's all on the line, who do we stand up for?

All We Ever Wanted is must read for parents and perfectly made for book clubs. As the mother of a son in a private school, this book vividly paints a picture of my worst fears in parenting when he becomes a teenager. What if you think you're doing your best, and it's not enough? How do you know it is enough?

Pick this one up as soon as you get a chance from your local bookstore or library. It's already available!


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this novel from Penguin Random House Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

If you're looking for a sweeping, atmospheric read, then I think you will enjoy The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor.

This novel is told with dual timelines. In 1838, lighthouse keeper's daughter, Grace Darling saves a number of people from a shipwreck in a storm and quickly becomes a heroine, celebrated throughout England. In the aftermath of this event, she captures the heart of a local artist, George Emmerson.

A century later, Matilda Emmerson is sent to America to live with a distant relative to hide an unwanted pregnancy. As she settles in, Matilda begins to discover hidden secrets of her family history, and how two lighthouse keepers, 100 years apart, are forever connected.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter is a beautiful, bittersweet story. It is certainly not in a hurry to get anywhere, but it will capture your heart and convince you that you could see the coast should you look out the nearest window. It is a multi-generational tale about the resilience of women and the instinctive courage that lives within us all. The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter is available now from your favourite bookseller.


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this novel from Harper Collins Canada to review. All opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore - Book Review

#bookstagram is not shy when there is a new romance that stands out from the crowd, and that's exactly how I first learned of Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore.

Set in England, 1879, Annabelle Archer becomes one of the first female students Oxford University. However, in return for her scholarship, she must volunteer her time and efforts to helping the women's suffrage movement. She is assigned the task of trying to get men of influence to support their cause. This is how she meets Sebastian, the Duke of Montgomery.

(Hilariously, it was very early one morning when I was up with my own Sebastian, and I told him that one of the characters in my book was also named Sebastian. He asked me what the book was about, and that's how I found myself teaching my 7-year-old about women's rights at 6:30 in the morning.)

Bringing Down the Duke is a tale where love and women's rights go hand in hand. Annabelle is a gutsy heroine who is easy to like, and Sebastian is witty, caring, and entirely swoon-worthy. This is a love story where both characters know that their union is impossible given their stations, but they yearn to fight against societal expectations so they can be together. I loved the plot, the tension, and watching Sebastian basically get out of his own way, so that he could have the happily ever after he deserves.

This debut novel is an absolute delight to read. I'm so excited that Bringing Down the Duke is actually kicking off the series, A League of Extraordinary Women, so we can expect more from Evie Dunmore in 2020. Bringing Down the Duke is available now from your favourite bookseller.


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this novel from Penguin Random House Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts

If there are any children in your home, they are sure to find a monster they recognize in The Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts by Frederica Magrin. In this book, they can follow the monster hunter, Van Helsing, as he guides them through his world of terrifying monsters!

This large, hardcover book is full of legendary monsters, ghosts, and ghouls from around the world. It is broken up into sections for each continent, along with a few other special pages as well for Greek Mythology, Japanese Monsters, Water Monsters, and Ghosts of Famous Figures. Each section begins with a map showing where the monster or ghost can usually be found. The Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts is published by Lonely Planet Kids, so you know there is thoughtful geography and research behind each legend. The descriptions of each monster are bite-sized, with just the right amount of information for school-age readers, and each page is full of the beautiful, colourful illustrations by Laura Brenlla. 

Sebastian was interested in learning about new monsters and ghosts from around the world, and he was happy to see some in the book that he already recognized such as the Loch Ness Monster, Dracula, Trolls, Frankenstein's Monster, Ogopogo, and the Jackalope. He was especially excited to find some of the Harry Potter creatures in the book like the Phoenix and the Basilisk. 

The Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts is one of the coolest books we've added to our children's library this year, and I think it would make the perfect birthday or holiday gift for any young reader. It's available now from your favourite bookseller.


Disclaimer - We received a complementary copy of this book from Raincoast Books for review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own....and Sebastian's.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher - Book Review

I've seen Tarryn Fisher's name on Instagram and Facebook so often because of her previous books, that when I saw she had new one coming out later this year, I was grateful to get a review copy from Harper Collins to check it out!

The Wives is a bit tricky for me to review. I really liked the first half a whole lot, but it gets very dark very fast, and the ending didn't sit well with me.

Here's the premise. A woman is part of a polygamous marriage. Her husband has two other wives. The wives do not live together and do not know each other. One of the wives starts to wonder more about her husband and the two other women with whom she shares him. She discovers the identify of one of the wives, Hannah, and befriends her. However, she also notices that Hannah has bruises on her body. How did they get there? Was it her husband? Can she help Hannah somehow? And who is the third wife?

The Wives is fast-paced domestic thriller that is great for fans of novels that are dark and twisty. For me, it kind of read like a suspense movie, and I enjoyed that. It has an unreliable narrator which always adds an interesting layer to a novel.

I've noticed that there has been a trend in domestic and psychological thrillers lately to use the themes of pregnancy and/or pregnancy loss as a tool in their plotlines. The Wives does as well. Maybe I was hoping for something more original? The second half of the book was a bit more gritty and twisty than I'm used to reading. I would still try another book by this author, though.

Ultimately, this is a story about the importance of truly being seen by those you love. It's okay for a weekend distraction, but probably one to pick up from the library instead of the bookstore. Look for it December 30th.


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this novel from Harper Collins Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

How To Organize Your Digital Photos

Does this sound familiar? You have a million digital photos and no idea how to organize them? Maybe they're spread out on a variety of different computers, external drives, phones, accounts, and clouds? Maybe you started a backup system years ago but abandoned it because you simply didn't have the time to continue? And what about video clips? What do you do with those?

That was exactly me a few months ago. We had thousands of digital photos everywhere. Some were my own, some were Rob's, some were from professional photos we'd had done as a family. Few were backed up, and many sitting in a hot mess on my work computer. Not exactly the ideal situation.

However, one of my resolutions this year was to organize and backup our digital photos. I'm really happy with how it all turned out, so here's how I did it.


I had digital photos in the following places: my phone, my husband's phone, random folders on my work laptop, iPhoto, Picassa (now Google Photos), my husband's Google Drive, along with saved emails and links to photos on SeeSaw from my son's teachers. You may also have some on an external hard drive.


I had three goals for this project:
1. Backup all of our photos in one location and sort them by year.
2. Create a printed photo book for each year.
3. Combine each years video clips into a single video.

Then I made a list to help me track where I was and what photos I'd sorted.


After researching and crowd-sourcing ideas, we landed on using Google Photos to backup and store our pictures and videos. If you ever used Picassa, anything you had already stored on there is currently in your Google Photos account (yeah!). I bought 100G of storage (the annual fee is cheaper than the monthly fee), and this is more than enough storage for us right now.
($27.99 CAD/year)

Many people use external hard drives; however, Rob and I don't feel as confident about that choice. Eventually the drive will fail or become obsolete (Think: Floppies, diskettes,  CD ROMs).
We decided to put our backups on the cloud, which we could access at any time from anywhere.


My next step was to create an album for that year in Google Photos. Then I went through each of the locations I listed in step one and pulled out all of the photos for that particular year. I started with 2007 and repeated for each year. The good thing about digital photos, is that most of them have a date assigned to them, so this isn't too difficult to do.

*Tip - Have your partner share their Google Photos account with you in their settings, or at least some shared folders, so you can pull photos from their account as well. Rob and I each have our phones automatically backing up to our Google Photos accounts now, so this will make photo sorting much easier in the future.

The fun part about this is that there were actually photos and videos I'd taken that Rob hadn't ever seen and vice versa :)


Once I had all of my 2007 photos and video clips uploaded to my 2007 album in Google Photos, I'd go through it slowly and delete duplicates and photos/videos I didn't want to keep.  I did this by hand, though some programs offer this feature.

*Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each year.*


There are dozens of places online where you can turn your digital photos into photo books. After looking up a number of them online, I decided to go with Shutterfly. The main reason was because they have this excellent "make my book" service that saved me a ton of time and their photo books and are almost always on sale.

Once I had my photos for that year narrowed down, I uploaded them to Shutterfly and chose the Make My Book option. I selected the theme, style, size, and layout of my book, and they did all the heavy lifting by designing each page using my pictures. To me, this is totally worth the $10 additional fee.

A few days later, I'd receive an email with a link to preview my book. I could make any changes I wanted before placing my final order. (You are also under no obligation to purchase the book if you change your mind entirely.)

I played around with a few different formats and here are my preferred settings for their photo books:
- 8 x 11
- flatlay pages (not the deluxe ones, then your book will be massive)
- watercolour layout

*First note - Sometimes the portrait photos I took on my iPhone didn't upload properly to Shutterfly, and got cut off. To fix this, open the photo on your computer, rotate it all around once, and save it. It doesn't actually look any different, but it should then upload properly to Shutterfly. This is, by far, the most annoying part of the whole digital organization project. See pic below.

*Second note - Shutterfly doesn't accept .png photos, so I used this free website to convert any .png photos I had to .jpg.

Printing six photo books in one year is both a financial commitment and an investment in time, but I will never regret having these photo books printed. To help me manage my time, I'd work on this project for 30 minutes/day as often as I could.


The last thing I did was I downloaded all of the video clips for each year and used iMovie to make a video compilation. All of our 2012 video clips were put together into one longer video. Most of mine ended up being about 30 minutes each. Then I'd upload the full video back to Google Photos (for easy sharing). My son loved it when one of the videos was ready for us to watch. It made for a fun family evening to see these videos together.

Tip - grandparents love these videos/links as well!

And I think that's it! It's been a labour of love, but I'm happy with how everything has turned out. I'm finishing up my 2018 photo book this week, and I feel so much more at peace with our our memories are stored.