Thursday, 25 June 2020

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

It has been heartening to see the bookish community is using its collective voice to lift and celebrate so many BIPOC writers. The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen is absolutely one title to add to your growing TBR from Black authors.

Ethan is a biracial teen who has been raised by his white father. After an incident at school, Ethan is sent to live with his white aunt and uncle in the small town of Ellison, Alabama. Set in 1955, Ethan's blackness is the only thing anyone sees when they look at him. It also makes him an easy target.

Enter Juniper Jones. A fiery redhead with an open heart and a passion for life. She is determined to befriend Ethan, so the two of them can plan the best summer of their lives.

It's Ethan and Juniper against the world, and as Ethan is confronted with what it means to be Black in America, Juniper tries to help him find joy, even on the toughest of days.

Ethan and Juniper are easy to love, and though this is a fictitious novel, the reality of the events that transpire rings true. I had so many feelings by the end of this book. It will leave you in tears but also wanting to give it all the stars. I have been looking for YA novels by Black authors to suggest to my students, and I cannot wait to tell them about The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones.

Daven's author's note at the beginning is not to be missed as she shares her intention for this to be a novel where one may find empathy for those who look different or where one may simply feel seen.

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones is available now from your favourite bookseller or library.


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes from Wattpad Books. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Very Marrow of Our Bones by Christine Higdon

My latest #quarantineread was The Very Marrow of Our Bones by Christine Higdon. This story begins in the late 1960s near Fraser River, British Columbia. Two women from the town, Bette Parsons and Alice McFee, disappear on the same day. Did they run away? Were they murdered? Lulu Parsons thinks she knows why her mother is gone, but she doesn't tell a soul. The silent egg seller, Doris Tenpenny, suspects Alice's husband is involved, but she also doesn't share her secret.

Told over the span of decades, The Very Marrow of Our Bones dives into the question How do hidden secrets change us?

This novel definitely takes its time to reveal itself to the reader. I nearly put it down after the first 75 pages or so; however, I'm so glad I stuck with it as it picks up steadily and I couldn't put it down by the end. Doris' chapters kept me engaged in the beginning, and she remained my favourite character throughout.

This is a heartbreaking story that sensitively navigates abuse and loss. Christine Higdon writes so well that you will feel the pain of these characters, at times, but you also will feel their hope when those moments come. I truly loved the ending. Given that I read this during the pandemic, this story of missing mothers really made me miss my own mom, and she's only a few hours away.

If you were a fan of the books Oprah used to pick for her book club back in the day, you will quite enjoy The Very Marrow of Our Bones. It's been out for a few years, so look for it at your local library or bookstore.


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book from ECW Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Dog Diaries: Mission ImPAWsible

Sebastian and I are getting a ton of extra reading time together in quarantine. We finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and this week we sped through Dog Diaries: Mission ImPAWsible by James Patterson and Steven Butler.

I had no idea James Patterson also wrote children's books, and this was such a delight to read! Mission ImPAWsible is the third book in the Dog Diaries series (which is, itself, a spinoff of his Middle School series). Seb and I hadn't read any books from those series before, and Mission ImPAWsible can be read as a standalone. However, we enjoyed it so much, we quickly placed a hold on the earlier books at the library.

Mission ImPAWsible follows the tale (no pun intended!) of Junior as his family plans for a trip to Hollywood. Junior hopes to go with them, but what happens when he is left behind? Junior, along with his neighbourhood puppy pals are in for an adventure.

Told from the perspective of Junior, this book is laugh out loud funny. It has a blend of text and images in the style and reading level of Captain Underpants, Big Nate, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Sebastian enjoyed it a ton! He wanted to make sure I added this warning to my review - do not read the back copy or the synopsis with your children. It spoils a lot of details from the story!

We highly recommend Dog Diaries to young readers. We even loved that a few activity pages, themed to the book, are included in the back!

Dog Diaries: Mission ImPAWsible is out now and available from your favourite bookseller.

Jenn and Seb

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book from Hachette Book Group Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

The Royal We - Book Review

The world loves a good royal wedding, almost as much as they love a juicy royal scandal, and this book has both.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is inspired by Will and Kate's love story through the couple, Bex and Nick. What might it have been like for these two to meet at university? What where some possible challenges in their fledgling relationship? What missteps might have happened along the way? Is true love worth all of the royal drama?

This was such a fun read. Bex is a bit of a mix of both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, and she has her own unique characteristics, as well. I loved her as a character, and it was easy to root for her along the way. An American moving to London to study art and then falling for a prince? I really wanted her to have her fairy tale ending. I also loved learning a few insider tidbits about royal protocols. Did you know, to avoid creating a dishy photo op for the paparazzi, royals will weight down the hems of their dresses, so they don't get swept up in the wind?

My only frustration with the story, is that I was a bit annoyed that Nick was so completely clueless as to what Bex was going through throughout the book, both when he kept their relationship a secret and again later on when he finally brought her to the palace. However, I felt he made up for it in the very end.

If you need a royal romance to keep you satisfied until the next Netflix Christmas movie is released, The Royal We is it. The Royal We is perfect for royal watchers and chick lit lovers. Book two in this series arrives this summer, so keep your eyes peeled for The Heir Affair in July.


Disclaimer - Thank you to Read Forever Publishing and Grand Central Publishing for sending me a copy to enjoy. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Sebastian: 8-Years-Old and 20 Questions

Sebastian is 8 today! Having a birthday under quarantine is definitely not ideal for an 8-year-old, but we've managed to find a few ways to make it special. One of my favourite things we did this year was a video we put together with clips of all of his friends and family sending him birthday wishes. It was so fun to watch together this morning, and I know it meant a lot to Sebastian to know that everyone was thinking of him.

Each year, we ask Sebastian these 20 questions on his birthday. This is the 6th edition of his birthday interview!

1. What is your favourite colour? pink (for the six year in a row!) red, orange, yellow, rainbow, light green 
2. What is your favourite toy? my Nintendo Switch that I got for Christmas and my Wii that I got from Derek
3. What is your favourite fruit? watermelon
4. What is your favourite tv show? Captain Underpants
5. What is your favourite thing to eat for lunch? tacos
6. What is your favourite outfit? pyjamas
7. What is your favourite game? Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario Maker 2, and all the other Switch games that I have
8. What is your favourite snack? Starburst
9. What is your favourite animal? cat (for the third year in a row)
10. What is your favourite song? Wannabe
11. What is your favourite book? Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants
12. Who is your best friend? Jude, Mom, Dad, everybody in my family, my classmates
13. What is your favourite cereal? Corn Pops (for the second year in a row)
14. What is your favourite thing to do outside? play games
15. What is your favourite drink? milk and lemonade
16. What is your favourite holiday? Christmas (for the fourth year in a row)
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? my stuffy and blankets and pillows obviously 
18. What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast? waffles and pancakes
19. What do you want for dinner? cake
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? a person that writes books

If you're interested, here are his answers from his 7th birthday6th birthday5th birthday4th birthday, and 3rd birthday.


Thursday, 30 April 2020

One Good Reason by Séan McCann

I finished reading One Good Reason a few days ago, and I still cannot stop carrying this book around. (Not that I'm really going anywhere, pandemic and all, but still, it keeps making its way around the house with me.) And when I'm not carrying it from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom, I'm thinking about it.

I knew this book was going to be a different flavour than the memoirs from his ex-bandmates, but I was not prepared to so profoundly feel while I was reading it.

One Good Reason is written by both Séan McCann and his wife Andrea Aragon. It is the story of the abuse he suffered as a teen, his subsequent addiction to alcohol, and his inspiring recovery. It is a book that proves we can do hard things and that those hard things become easier when we are connected to others, when we hope, and when we never give up.

Reading these honest stories can be an act of empathy, and it can also be unsettling.

Can I still look back at those Great Big Sea concerts with the extreme happiness I felt when I was there? Can I still remember the moments I had with roommates, dancing away to their CDs, with joy? How do I reconcile these memories now knowing they came fuelled from someone's pain? These are questions for which I have no answers.

One Good Reason is full of stories, songs, and art. I could not stop reading and yet I wanted to slow down and savour every word. I especially enjoyed the lyrics and drawings peppered throughout the pages. It added so much to my reading experience to pause and listen to the songs when they appeared in the book.

One Good Reason is deeply personal for both Séan and Andrea, and I admire how open they are willing to be as voices for hope, mental illness, and recovery.

One chapter in the book that really touched me was when Séan wrote about his speaking event at the London Recovery Breakfast in Ontario, September 2014. Inspired by the speaker before him that morning, Séan finally spoke his full truth aloud to the room and shared the secret that had been haunting him for more than 30 years, the story of his own sexual abuse from a priest and family friend. It was heartbreaking to read, and I can only imagine what the energy in the room that morning must have been.

Séan then writes that that same evening he had solo singing event booked at a small room in the bar C'est What in Toronto.

"I have no memory of the show itself, only a feeling of euphoria and release. I let my songs fly like arrows of love and I felt every heart in that tiny room melt together into one. With every song I grew stronger, and for the first time in twenty-five years the stage felt like exactly the place where I was supposed to be. My mask had come off and the people in the audience would finally witness the real me as I evolved into the best version of myself."
Séan McCann, One Good Reason

Friends, I was at C'est What for that show.

These were my pre-Twitter days, so I had no idea what Séan had revealed at the Recovery Breakfast that morning, and while he may not remember the show itself, I do.

Sebastian was only one, and Rob and I still weren't going out much, but when I saw that Séan was coming to Toronto, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for us to get a babysitter and plan a date night.

I remember showing up at the "doors open" time listed on the tickets only to find that there were no seats left in the tiny, little room. C'est What is a restaurant/bar, and many people had arrived for the show early. I had come ready to listen to music, sing along, and enjoy my favourite musician. However, I was still a new mom to a very young child, and my days of standing all evening long in a bar were behind me. I remember feeling a very real panic that we'd have to leave, and I nearly cried (likely from the lack of sleep throughout the year). Saving the day, my calm, easy-going husband, went to speak with the wait staff. I don't know or care what he said, but he somehow convinced them to create some space for us at the centre table. This room was small, friends. There was one longer table in the centre of the room, a few small ones along the side, a simple stage, and that was it.

Matt Wells played a few songs to start. I hadn't heard of him before, but we all enjoyed his set. Then, Séan came on and sang songs from his album, Help Your Self. We sang, we drank, we listened, and there definitely was a special feeling in the room that night. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I could sense that there was something big happening behind the scenes, and yet Séan sang his heart out for all of us. To make the evening even more special, he patiently and happily chatted with every single person who wished to say "hi" after the show.

Reading in One Good Reason about just how special that show was to Séan, and knowing that I was a witness (dare I say participant?) to that event gives me chills and makes me teary, to be honest. His intimate show was perfect, and I left the bar that night with joy and music filling my heart.

One Good Reason is a story of hope. It reminds us that showing up for our loved ones is what matters in the end and that recovery is possible, even after the most darkest of days.

I believe that when we're able to share our struggles with others, it helps everyone feel less alone, and isn't that what we all ultimately need to survive? Connection? Whether it's sharing a meal, singing along with a musician at a concert, or chatting with a friend through Zoom, I think these invisible threads bind us and keep us going from one day to the next.

One Good Reason is out now and available from your favourite bookseller. It's sold out in hardcover on Amazon, so now may be the perfect time to support your local indie. You can also get your hands on a personalized, signed copy when ordering from Séan's website.


PS - For any other Séan McCan and Great Big Sea fans reading this, I have a few previous posts about Séan and the band here and here from waaaay back in 2013 when I started writing this little blog.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger

People seem to be either reading more than usual during the quarantine or much less than usual. I am weirdly falling into the camp of reading more than usual. It's productive procrastination. I feel good about reading a book because when I'm done, it feels like "I finished something".

My most recent read is The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger. The Gifted School was pretty popular when it released last year, and, as a teacher in a private school, I've been curious about this novel.

The story centres around four mothers who have been friends for over a decade. Their children have grown up together, and when an elite school for exceptional children starts taking applications for their first cohort, tensions rise and drama ensues.

Told through prose, news articles, and even a teen vlog, The Gifted School is juicy, entertaining, and compulsively readable. It calls out class, race, and privilege and is timely given the recent college admissions scandal. The characters aren't especially likeable, but I don't think they are supposed to be likeable. Instead, they are representative of many parents today.

This book is perfect for parents, educators, and lovers of literary and contemporary fiction.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy to review.