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 :)

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.


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.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me - Book Review

I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me (What My Favourite Book Taught Me About Grace, Belonging & the Orphan in Us All) by Lorilee Craker. It is a charming true story that weaves together the author's passion for Anne of Green Gables, her own adoption story, and the adoption story of her daughter.

I adored this book right from the very first page. As the author takes us through her own journey and connections to Anne's story, it made me think of my own. While adoption is not a piece of my story, I think we can all relate to Anne Shirley's struggle to find her place with the people she hoped to love, and she hoped would love her in return. Anne of Green Gables is possibly the very first book that I ever truly fell in love with (certainly Gilbert Blythe was the my very first book boyfriend), and I have always identified with Anne as someone who was never "popular", who disparately yearned for close friends, and as someone who sincerely enjoyed school.

Any Anne of Green Gables fan will love revisiting many anecdotes from the novels, and I also learned more about Lucy Maud Montgomery herself. We used to live in New Brunswick, right around the time I was first falling in love with Anne, and my parents took us camping a handful of times to Cavendish, PEI. We visited Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery's birthplace, the beautiful red beaches, and Craker's memoir brought back many of those childhood memories for me.

The writing in this book is beautiful. The author's stories and prose brought me to the brink of tears multiple times (saved solely because I was reading in public). And chapter 7! This one just pulled at my mama heart so much. The chapter on Gilbert Blythe/Jonathan Crombie gave me all the feels.  All of them. I fell in love with Gilbert all over again and, again, mourned the much too early loss of Jonathan Crombie.

Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me has filled me with the desire to re-read all of her books, re-watch all of the movies, and travel back to PEI. While a trip to Prince Edward Island is not likely to happen in the near future (although I promise myself to return one day), I have made it a priority to visit Lucy Maud Montgomery's Ontario home. It's not too far from me, and it is where she wrote, among others, two of the Anne novels - Anne of the Island (1915) and Anne's House of Dreams (1916).

This book speaks to the Anne in each of us and importantly illustrates how our favourite redhead is still relevant today. Craker best summarizes one of the key messages in her book when she says,

"Through Anne, Maud speaks volumes about the desire we all have to belong and to matter to the people we love."

I don't know how some gems get lost in the mountain of publishing, and you likely won't find this book in your local library (I know the Toronto Public Library doesn't have a copy), but I promise you won't be disappointed adding this one to your permanent bookshelf. It is available for purchase from Amazon and Chapters Indigo.


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Spotlight on Blue Mountain Concepts

My parents have always been crafty. I grew up watching them make beautiful creations out of wood or fabric. Hope chests, grandfather clocks, the coziest pyjama pants around. They each have a gift.

Now that they are retired, my parents have even more time to put towards their projects, and because their creations are stunning, they are now selling their products. Their business is called Blue Mountain Concepts. From Blue Mountain Concepts, you can get quality, handmade items for your home.

Here are some of my favourites:

End Grain Cutting Boards ($125-$230)

Tip - these double as really pretty cheese boards!
Here are two of the designs available and custom requests are also taken. 

Cork Trivets ($25-$45)

Cork trivets are made from "experienced" corks (hehe) and come in small square or large rectangle sizes. 

Microwave Bowl Cozy ($10)

We have 5 of these in our house and they get used multiple times a week. Microwave bowl cozies are useful for anytime you need to heat something up in the microwave. The cozy prevents you from burning your fingers when you're removing the hot bowl. They clean up easy with your dishtowels in the laundry.

Microwave bowl cozies come in a variety of colours and patterns. 

You can check out the full Blue Mountain Concepts inventory on their website, and you can place an order by contacting them at

You can also follow connect with them on Facebook