Monday, 23 October 2017

The Unofficial Guide To Surviving Life With Boys

Sometimes our dreams whisper to us so quietly we pretend not to hear them because we think they can never possibly come true. That is exactly how I feel about having been invited to participate in this project. Earlier this year, the amazing bloggers from #LifeWithBoys reached out to see if I'd like to contribute a story to their anthology about boy moms. Honestly, I actually thought it was an accident and they had meant to message someone else. After my initial shock, I was so delighted to become part of this fantastic book.

The Unofficial Guide to Surviving Life with Boys is a collection of hilarious and heartwarming stories about what it's like to be a boy mom written by a group of fabulous bloggers. From injuries to sweet cuddles and everything in between, you will love this book about being in the boy mom trenches.

It will make you laugh, maybe make you cry, and certainly give you all sorts of good feels about the special bond that exists between a mom and her son.

Plus, my story is about the time Sebastian asked what a vagina looks like, so......there's that :)

I sincerely hope you read and love this book. I know for me, there are certainly stories in here that spoke straight to my experiences as a boy mom. The ones that leave you saying to yourself, "Yes! That's exactly how I feel."

The stories are the perfect length to read between handing out bandaids and reading about dragons. I would even say you don't have to be a boy mom to enjoy the stories of motherhood in this book. The experiences shared are relatable for any mama.

Plus, if we ever meet up in real life, I can even sign it for you (‘cause now I’m famous lol.)


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Beautiful Bookmarks

This bookmark I received in a previous Novel Editions box, and it's one of my favourites! It's the perfect size for mass market paperback novels.

A beautiful wooden bookmark. The quality is excellent. I use this one often. It's a book blogger favourite:)

A beautiful peach and pink bookmark with hand drawn calligraphy.

Jane Austen quote bookmark ($6.47)
A beautiful letterpress bookmark with a Jane Austen quotation. Both sides of this bookmark are so lovely.

Marilyn Monroe ($10.32)
A beautiful silhouette bookmark from the classic Marilyn Monroe film The Seven Year Itch. Perfect for any film lover!

100% Merino wool. The softest bookmark you'll ever see!

I'm cheating here because this bookmark isn't for sale, but you can get something even better -  Brooding YA Hero is an entire book that you can order for tons of gems like this one. For anyone who loves young adult literature, Brooding YA Hero is a must read.


Monday, 9 October 2017

The Questions Google Thinks My Blog Can Answer

This month my little blog turns 4! One of my favourite curiosities with blogging are the Google search terms that have led people to my little corner of the internet. Some make sense, and some I'm still trying to figure out. Take a look:

naked at the wedding day
I can't possibly imagine (or I can, but's pretty strange) what someone was looking for with this search term. I can assure you, I haven't written any blog posts about being naked at weddings. I did once put together a post with my favourite pictures from my own wedding day. I'm naked in exactly 0 of them.

seraphine maternity canada
This one was easier to figure out. A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me my favourite places to buy maternity clothes in Canada. Séraphine does ship to Canada, and their clothes are beautiful, so I included them in my list.

abm happy life
#abmhappylife is a commonly used hashtag on Instagram for A Beautiful Mess whenever you want to share something joyful from your day. The one thing I've blogged about from A Beautiful Mess is a review of their Happy Mail subscription box. It's perfect for stationery lovers and reasonably priced (though it temporarily paused for rebranding until 2018).

non cheesy anniversary gift
My list of non-cheesy anniversary gifts for anniversaries 1-5 is probably one of my most viewed blog posts of all time. I still stand by every single one of these ideas.

oh my gauze
This was a search term I noticed recently, and I am stumped. I have no idea which post of mine would have popped up in this search result. The Internet is weird.

spiderman birthday party on a budget
Yup. We did this. For Sebastian's second birthday we did the Spiderman thing. I'm pretty proud of our crafty spider web ceiling if I do say so myself :)

when i'm gone: a novel
I do a lot of book reviews, but for some reason or another, my review of When I'm Gone by Emily Bleeker seems to be the most searched.

chemo angels program
Chemo Angels is a fantastic free organization, that I'm so proud to be a part of. They pair chemo patients with "angels" or "buddies" and the angels mail encouraging notes and gifts to the patient throughout their treatment. Read more about it here.

books for babies 0-12 months
I love a good round up post, and I do have quite a few of them on my blog. The one I made with my favourite books for babies is visited often.

breastfeeding fanfiction age play 5h
Oh man...I have no idea on this one. Is it a book idea? I'm so curious. What were they looking for? Did they find it? I do have a post about breastfeeding here. I'm not a huge fanfiction reader so, I'm really not sure about that one, but I'm a book blog, so it's not entirely a stretch I suppose. As for the end, I'm still not sure...I have a post about toys for babies, and another about toys for toddlers. Nonetheless, this one leaves me scratching my head.

a splendid messy life baby list
Once upon a time I did put together an enormous list of what to buy for baby. I suspect someone I know personally must have been having a baby to google both my blog name and "baby list" together in the same search term :)

splendid nait
A close friend of mine had a rare condition called NAIT, and so it made her pregnancy very challenging. She put together a guest post for my blog to share her experiences and offer hope to any other mama out there that may be experiencing the same struggle.

Well, that's it for now! Thanks for all of your continued support with A Splendid Messy Life!

PS - I totally stole this post idea from Unremarkable Files. You should absolutely see what kind of weird questions Google thinks her blog can answer. She has some gems over there!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

A Newfoundlander In Canada by Alan Doyle - Book Review

While Alan Doyle's first book, Where I Belong, was set primarily in Petty Harbour and St. John's, Newfoundland, his newest release spans from one Canadian coast to the other.

Beginning in Newfoundland, the chapters of A Newfoundlander in Canada are divided into different Canadian provinces. The reader travels with Doyle as he shares stories and anecdotes from his first experiences off the island on the road with Great Big Sea.

Many of the stories are laugh out loud funny and woven among them all is the theme of home and identity. Doyle presents a kind of birds eye view of how the vastly different parts of Canada are still very clearly still part of the same family. It was beautiful to read.

One thing I have loved about both of Alan Doyle's books is that he easily develops a connection with his readers. You get the sense that he is right beside you with a pint of beer telling you about his amazing adventures on the "mainland". On the back of Doyle's first book, actor Russell Crowe is quoted saying, "I feel like I've lived another's life." This holds true for A Newfoundlander in Canada as well.

I have been fortunate enough to have travelled quite a bit in Canada, and I have been to many of the places, and even some of the specific bars, Doyle mentions. That definitely made this book feel extra special to me. Newfoundland itself, however, remains on my bucket list.

A Newfoundlander in Canada is certainly a must read for any Great Big Sea fan, though you do not need to be familiar with their work to enjoy this book, most especially if you are Canadian. It is available for preorder now and comes out on October 17th.


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

Monday, 25 September 2017

5 Picture Books For Teaching Children About Compassion

As parents, every single one of us wants to raise our tiny humans with a concrete understanding of both empathy and compassion. Here are my five favourite books to help with this enormous task.

Red by Michael Hall - In this book a blue crayon is mislabeled as a red crayon. Everyone tries to get him to be a red crayon, and he tries his hardest to be a red crayon as well, but he is miserable. Eventually he meets a new friend who helps him learn to be true to his inner self. Red is such a beautiful story about acceptance and courage.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel - This book is an introduction to Indigenous totem animals. On each page children can identify with the masks of different creatures such as deer, foxes, beavers, etc. I love this book because the short descriptions of the animals act as a guide for young children learning to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein - This is a classic, but if you don't know this story, it's about the relationship between a young boy and a tree. This book is perfect for discussions about the give and take balance in friendships.

Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud - My 4 year-old read this book in his Junior Kindergarten class, and it was a game changer. Both at school and at home we now use the language of "filling someone's bucket" to show kindness or we talk about "dipping into someone's bucket" with a negative action. Readers even learn that it's possible to fill or dip into your own bucket. Have You Filled A Bucket Today? is one of my favourites.

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison - This book is about friendship, bullying, and fitting in. Paula and Maggie have been friends forever, but when some students start picking on Maggie, Paula starts to notice all of Maggie's faults as well and stops playing with her. When the mean girls eventually start to pick on Paula, Maggie steps in to defend her friend. My Friend Maggie is a heartfelt story that packs the same emotional punch as The Giving Tree.


Monday, 18 September 2017

The Last Mrs. Parrish - Excerpt

I'm so excited to share with you an excerpt from The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine. I loved this book, and you can find my review here. It's a psychological thriller that has a very unique twist on the "manipulative woman trying to improve her status in life" plot line. Get a sneak peek below....

Excerpt - Chapter 1

Amber Patterson was tired of being invisible. She'd been coming to this gym every day for three months - three long months of watching these women of leisure working at the only thing they cared about. They were so self-absorbed; she would have bet her last dollar that not one of them would recognize her on the street even though she was five feet away from them every single day. She was a fixture to them - unimportant, not worthy of being noticed. But she didn't care - not about any of them. There was one reason and one reason alone that she dragged herself here every day, to this machine, at the precise stroke of eight.

She was sick to death of the routine - day after day, working her ass off, waiting for the moment to make her move. From the corner of her eye, she saw the signature gold Nikes step onto the machine next to her. Amber straightened her shoulders and pretended to be immersed in the magazine strategically placed on the rack of her own machine. She turned and gave the exquisite blond woman a shy smile, which garnered a polite nod in her direction. Amber reached for her water bottle, deliberately moving her foot to the edge of the machine, and slipped, knocking the magazine to the floor, where it landed beneath the pedal of her neighbor's equipment.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry," she said, reddening.

Before she could step off, the woman stopped her pedaling and retrieved it for her. Amber watched the woman's brow knit together.

"You're reading is magazine?" the woman said, handing it back to her?

"Yes, it's the Cystic Fibrosis Trust's magazine. Comes out twice a year. Do you know it?"

"I do, yes. Are you in the medical field?" the woman asked.

Amber cast her eyes to the floor, then back to the woman. "No, I'm not. My younger sister had CF." She let the words sit in the space between them.

"I'm sorry. That was rude of me. It's none of my business," the woman said, and stepped back onto the elliptical.

Amber shook her head. "No, it's okay. Do you know someone with cystic fibrosis?"

There was pain in the woman's eyes as she stared back at Amber. "My sister. I lost her twenty years ago."

"I'm so sorry. How old was she?"

"Only sixteen. We were two years apart."

"Charlene was just fourteen." Slowing her pace, Amber wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. It took a lot of acting skills to cry about a sister who ever existed. The three sisters she did have were alive and well, although she hadn't spoken to them for two years.

The woman's machine ground to a halt. "Are you okay?" she asked.

Amber sniffed and shrugged. "It's still so hard, even after all these years."

The woman gave her a long look, as if trying to make a decision, then extended her hand.

"I'm Daphne Parrish. What do you say we get out of here and have a nice chat over a cup of coffee?"

"Are you sure? I don't want to interrupt your workout."

Daphne nodded. "Yes, I'd really like to talk to you."

Amber gave her what she hoped looked like a grateful smile and stepped own. "That sounds great." Taking her hand, she said, "I'm Amber Patterson. Pleasure to meet you."


Later that evening Amber lay in a bubble bath, sipping a glass of merlot and staring at the photo in Entrepreneur magazine. Smiling, she put it down, closed her eyes, and rested her head on the edge of the tub. She was feeling very satisfied about how well things had gone that day. She'd been prepared for it to drag out even longer, but Daphne made it easy for her. After they dispensed with the small talk over coffee, they'd gotten down to the real reason she'd elicited Daphne's interest.

"It's impossible for someone who hasn't experienced CF to understand," Daphne said, her blue eyes alive with passion. "Julie was never a burden to me, but in high school my friends were always pushing me to leave her behind, not to let her tag along. They didn't understand that I never knew when she's be hospitalized or if she'd even make it out again. Every moment was precious."

Amber leaned forward and did her best to look interested while she calculated the total worth of the diamonds on Daphne's ears, the tennis bracelet on her wrist, and the huge diamond on her tanned and perfectly manicured finger. She must have had at least a hundred grand walking around on her size-four body, and all she could do was whine about her sad childhood. Amber suppressed a yawn and gave Daphne a tight smile.

"I know. I used to stay home from school to be with my sister so that my mom could go to work. She almost lost her job from taking so much time off, and the last thing we could afford was for her to lose our health insurance." She was pleased with how easily the lie came to her lips.

"Oh, that's terrible," Daphne clucked. "That's another reason my foundation is so important to me. We provide financial assistance to families who aren't able to afford the care they need. It's a big part of the mission of Julie's Smile for as long as I can remember."

Amber feigned shock. "Julie's Smile is your foundation? It's the same Julie? I know all about Julie's Smile, been reading about all you do for years. I'm so in awe."

Daphne nodded. "I started it right after grad school. In fact, my husband was my first benefactor." Here she'd smiled, perhaps a bit embarrassed. "That's how we met."

"Aren't you preparing for a big fund-raiser right now?"

"As a matter of fact we are. It's a few months away, but still lots to do. Say...oh, never mind."

"No, what?" Amber pressed.

"Well, I was just going to see if maybe you'd like to help. It would be nice to have someone who understands--"

"I'd love to help in any way," Amber interrupted. "I don't make a lot of money, but I definitely have time to donate. What you're doing is so important. When I think of the difference it makes---" She bit her lip and blinked back tears.

Daphne smiled. "Wonderful." She pulled out a card engraved with her name and address. "Here you are. Committee is meeting at my house Thursday morning at ten. Can you make it?"

Amber had given her a wide smile, still trying to look as though the disease was first in her mind. "I wouldn't miss it."

Copyright HarperCollins 2017

The Last Mrs. Parrish is out October 17th. You can also connect with Liv Constantine (the pen name for sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine) on Facebook, Twitter, and their website.


Tuesday, 12 September 2017

It Takes A Tribe by Will Dean - Book Review

In August, I completed my first Tough Mudder Half event. I have completed a few of their, now retired, Mudderella events, but the actual Tough Mudder Half was a whole other ball game. The course was a whole ton harder and a whole lot more fun because of it.

I was on such a high after the event that once I found out CEO and founder Will Dean had a book coming out about the origins of Tough Mudder, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.

It Takes a Tribe is as much about the history, path, and growth of Tough Mudder as it is about resilience. About leadership. About dealing with your crap and moving on to what's next.

I love Tough Mudder, so I really enjoyed reading about how Tough Mudder came to be and the journey the company has been on. I especially loved learning the process for creating and testing new obstacles. The list of "crazy obstacle ideas" that they've passed on was fascinating, and I immediately shared them with my Tough Mudder team. We were all grateful those particular ideas didn't make it through the planning phases :)

Dean also talks about being an entrepreneur and the lessons he's learned starting his own business. He's open about his failures and discusses not only how he started his own company, but also how he was able to set the scene for the birth of a tribal culture among the 3 million Tough Mudder participants. Every person who completes a Tough Mudder event becomes part of "Muddernation". Many Tough Mudder obstacles are designed so that they must be completed with a team. Even for the strongest athlete, it would be impossible to complete 100% of Tough Mudder alone. One of the participants is quoted in the book saying, "there is that human touch point. You don't get held up that much in life, but it's an important thing."

Between each chapter are inspirational stories of individuals and teams who have run Tough Mudder for very special reasons. People who have overcome the worst parts of life: cancer, child loss, blindness, and more waking up and saying "I'm going to do something hard today." It is impossible not to be moved by their stories.

I found It Takes a Tribe to be very encouraging and many sentences of my copy are underlined. It's a quick read, and if you are a Tough Mudder fan, a young entrepreneur, or just interested reading more about the importance of persistence, I recommend you pick up a copy of this book. Mainly, Dean wants you to remember that the obstacle is the point. Whether on a Tough Mudder course or somewhere else in your life, the hurdle in front of you is not "not supposed to happen." You will find your way through, and you will come out stronger on the other side.

And to illustrate the point, Tough Mudder snapped this amazing shot of me slaying the Berlin Walls.
"No matter what place you come in ... 
no one is better than your best, and your best will make you better." 
- Sean Corvelle, Tough Mudder MC

It Takes a Tribe is out today. You can connect with Will Dean on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To just check out more about Tough Mudder in general and find events near you, you can visit their website.


Disclaimer - I received an advance copy of It Takes a Tribe courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are genuine and entirely my own. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

I'll Have What She's Having - Book Review + Giveaway

I love a good romantic comedy, and Nora Ephron can really be considered a pioneer in this movie genre. I'll Have What She's Having by journalist Erin Carlson describes how Nora Ephron directed three iconic films that basically gave birth to the modern romantic comedy as we know it.

In the 80s and 90s, Nora Ephron directed When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail. I didn't realize when I watched them years ago that these movies were all connected in a trilogy of sorts, but now it's easy to see how they are linked, especially when it comes to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

I'll Have What She's Having offers a backstage pass to the film sets of each of these movies and how Nora Ephron pushed to challenge the role of women in film.

This book is perfect for those who love learning the story behind the story. There was lots of information about the making of each film and about Hollywood in general at that time. I particularly enjoyed the fascinating anecdotes that the author learned from her interviews and research. Reading this, you will certainly learn plenty about these Ephron films and many other movies from the 1980s and the 1990s.

At times, I felt like there was almost too much supporting detail, so, for me, this book was best enjoyed a few chapters at a time over the course of a month, rather than a book I'd pick up and read everyday.

True film buffs or anyone who is interested in learning more about the makings of these three films will absolutely find this the perfect read.

If this sounds like it's up your alley, thanks to TLC Book Tours and Hachette Books, I'm giving away one print copy of I'll Have What She's Having over on Instagram. You can enter here.


Disclaimer - I received a copy of I'll Have What She's Having courtesy of TLC Book Tours and Hachette Books. All thoughts and opinions are genuine and entirely my own. To hear what other bloggers had to say about this book, you can visit the whole tour here.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Mini Golf In And Around The Greater Toronto Area

Sebastian and I wrote a post together! His latest favourite activity is mini golf, so we have played a ton of mini golf this summer. I thought it may be helpful to put together a list of the mini golf courses we've tried along with Sebastian's thoughts of each.


Scarborough Family Golf Centre
18 holes, outdoor
Cost - $6.00 for children, $7.50 for adults

My thoughts - I'm starting with my favourite. This medieval-themed course is well-maintained, and each hole has unique challenges to work through. The staff is also super nice. We were there on a day when the course was busy with a children's camp and though Seb and I didn't mind at all, they offered us a complementary game because of the crowds. The ball is not "collected" at hole 18, so you can play through the course multiple times if you want.

Sebastian's thoughts - I loved hole 18 because it goes up, and I loved seeing the ball go down the squiggle paths.

Putting Edge
18 holes, indoor
Cost - $9.50 for children, $11.50 for ages 13+

My thoughts - This one is fun for a rainy day. I'm sure we'll be back in the winter sometime as well. If you've never been to a Putting Edge, it's glow in the dark mini golf, which is pretty fun for kids. There is also a small children's arcade. The balls are collected in the last hole, so you can only play through the course once.

Sebastian's thoughts - I loved it because my shirt glowed white and blue. I also loved the arcade where I won jackpot.

18 holes, outdoor
Cost - 5 tickets for 9 holes, 9 tickets for 18 holes, free with a season pass. 

My thoughts - I was super annoyed that we had to use tickets for Sebastian to play mini golf here after we bought him the children's day pass. The course is pretty minimal and not worth the cost. We only paid for 9 holes, and thankfully they let Rob and I just walk the the course while Seb played.

Sebastian's thoughts - "I was sad I only could play 9 holes, and it was too easy."


Farmer's Pantry
10 holes, outdoor
Cost - $7 per person (gives you access to all of the grounds of the farm)

My thoughts - Farmer's Pantry is a family-run orchard with children's activites in the summer. In addition to mini golf there is a cedar hedge maze, animal petting area, and u-pick fruits. We gathered up some delicious raspberries the day we were there. The mini putt holes are spread out throughout the orchard for you to find. You can play the holes as many times as you'd like.

Sebastian's thoughts - I liked number 10 because it goes onto the grass if you don't golf it the right way.

Georgian Bowl
18 holes, outdoor
Cost - $2 per person 

My thoughts - This course is perfect if you have a little one who doesn't care about keeping score or fancy courses. It's not particularly well-maintained, but it's two dollars, and you can go around as many times as you'd like.

Sebastian's thoughts - I liked it because it of the last level where you had to get it up high on number 18. 

Niagara Falls

Dinosaur Adventure Golf
36 holes, outdoor
Cost - $6.99 for children, $9.99 for adults

My thoughts - This was a fun course right on Clifton Hill. There were water obstacles, caves, and sand traps on some of the holes which made this course stand out from the others. Dinosaur Adventure Golf has two 18-hole courses, and you choose one to play. The ball is collected at the end, so you can only play the course through once.

Sebastian's thoughts - I love that I got a hole in one. I liked when daddy got a hole in one in the rock. I got past the sand trap in my first shot.

Next up, I'm hoping to try out the mini putt at Playdium, and we'll also probably try out the course at Blue Mountain sometime soon. I'll update this post when we do!


Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine - Book Review

It has been awhile since I've read a good psychological thriller, and The Last Mrs. Parrish is one to keep your eye out for this fall. It is the debut novel from Liv Constantine (the pen name for sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine), and I devoured it in just a few days.

The story begins with Amber Patterson. A manipulative woman determined to worm her way in between a power couple from Connecticut. She has her eye on the prize. She wants money, power, and to be the wife of Jackson Parrish. To do this, Amber befriends Jackson's wife, Daphne, and schemes her way into their family. She has Daphne's absolute trust and grows close to Jackson.

But Amber's own secretive past may spoil her plans, and not everything may really be as it seems in the Parrish household.

The Last Mrs. Parrish is a fast-paced thriller with many twists and turns. The initial build up with Amber's schemes makes her a protagonist you will love to hate. She's devious, deceptive, conniving in every way, and completely unapologetic for her behaviour.

As the story builds, it is told with dual perspectives which I always love in a novel. It works so well to give us more insight into this multi-layered story. And as Amber's plan comes closer to fruition, the person victorious by the end of the dramatic conclusion may surprise you!

This was an excellent debut, and I look forward to reading more from these authors. The Last Mrs. Parrish is out October 17th and should absolutely be on your fall to-read list! Read Chapter 1 here.


Disclaimer - I received a copy of The Last Mrs. Parrish from HarperCollins Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

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!"


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.


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.


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


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. 


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!


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 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.


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