Monday, 20 August 2018

Other People's Houses by Abbi Waxman - Book Review




Other People's Houses by Abbi Waxman tells the story of secrets in suburbia. Frances Bloom is a stay at home mom who is in charge of the neighbourhood school carpool. One day, she accidentally walks in on her neighbour, Anne Porter, in an extremely compromising situation. It turns out, Anne has been having an affair with a younger man. When this secret comes to light, it is the catalyst for a number of other neighbourhood secrets to be revealed.

Abbi Waxman is a great writer. She is witty and thoughtful. The nuances and descriptions of suburban life in this book are all too relatable.

"People did weird shit, usually for boring reasons...."
Other People's Houses, Abbi Waxman


If you aren't bothered by "other people's" (see what I did there πŸ˜‰) high drama, you may really like this book. Parts of it are funny, parts of serious, and it really teaches us not to judge others from the snippets we see out our front door.

What kept me from fully enjoying this book is that the overall storyline actually bummed me out. Maybe it's just me, because this is the fourth book I've read this summer that had infidelity in it, but I definitely needed to cleanse my reading palate with something entirely fun and uplifting afterwards. This book was truly one of those books that was just not for me, at least not for me right now.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of Other People's Houses from Penguin Random House Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Book Box Love Review - August 2018


I love learning about new Canadian businesses, especially if they are related to reading! I recently discovered Book Box Love, a new Canadian book subscription box.

Book Box Love has one simple goal - to upgrade your reading experience! Each box features a new Canadian release and exclusive bookish gifts and treats from Canadian businesses.

Cost: $60 for a single box or $48/month for a monthly subscription
*Both prices include shipping :)

This month, the theme is Modern Magic. I love that the items came individually wrapped. It felt like a box of gifts arrived at my door. Let's see what was inside!

Signed copy of Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky
It's always a treat to received a signed book! It definitely adds something "extra" to the overall box. Book Box Love does not guarantee a signed book each month, but it's a nice perk that they are looking for opportunities to do this when they can. Included is also a card with an author note.

I hadn't heard of Radiant Shimmering Light before, but when I took a peek at the synopsis on Goodreads, I am pretty sure I'm going to enjoy this book about female friendships. And I discovered a new Canadian author!



My Kind of Texts bookmark from Queenie's Cards
This bookmark is super cute!



Exclusively made mala bracelet from EVB Jewelry

This bracelet is made of beads in chakra colours and black lava. It's the only item in the box that isn't exactly my style, but it matches the theme of the box and the book well.




Unicorn Notepad from I'll Know It When I See It 

I was pleasantly surprised at how big this notepad is! At 5 x 7 inches, it is much larger in size than other notepads I've received in other subscription boxes in the past. Additionally, the 100-page notepad rotates through 5 beautifully coloured pages. Bye bye boring, plain, white to-do lists!



Wild Strawberry Tea from DAVIDsTEA (25g)
This tea can be served hot or cold. I need to start incorporating more decaf tea options into my tea habits, so I'm looking forward to trying this one out. The tea also came with 3 filters.





Considering Book Box Love includes the cost of shipping in their prices, it is definitely a fair value for $60 but there is solid value in their monthly $48 subscription.

You can sign up on the Book Box Love website. If this box is any indication, I think there are some lovely things coming our way this fall from Book Box Love!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I was sent a complimentary August box for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Vox by Christina Dalcher - Book Review


If you only had one hundred words a day, how would you raise your daughter to be strong and independent?

How would you teach your son to respect women?

What would you do to be heard?

Set in the near-future where girls and women are only permitted 100 words of speech per day, Vox looks at what could happen if you were to deprive half of the population of language. It takes takes the current political climate in the United States and adds a layer of extremism. In Vox, members of Christianity and the "Pure Movement" control the White House and are seeking a shift back to traditional gender roles. Wrist counters, that emit painful electric shocks should someone exceed their word limit, is the main tool used to get women in line.

Dr. Jean McClellan was a neurolinguist before she - and all of the women - were removed from the workforce. After the President's brother is in an accident, she is recruited to help with his recovery and negotiates her reprieve from the word quota, along with her daughter's. As she works on her assignment, she discovers that she is part of a much larger, and more terrifying, project.

As a language teacher, and as someone who is not known for being particularly selective with her speech, Vox (Latin for voice) intrigued me when it arrived at my door.

It's easy to compare this novel to The Handmaid's Tale, and in some respects it is similar. It describes a haunting world, all too easy to imagine, where women have lost their freedom. Vox is pro-feminism, pro-LGBTQ, anti-Trump, and anti-religious right.

The most powerful parts of the novel involve the 6-year-old daughter, Sonia. Watching her navigate childhood while permitted to use essentially none of her language really tugged at my heart.

However, a literary masterpiece this is not. To me, Vox felt like it was written and edited quickly, so it could be released as soon as possible. The last third of the book is especially hurried. Vox begins as a feminist dystopian and ends with the feeling of a thriller, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but here it was rushed. Dalcher wrote Vox in two months, and I wish she had spent more time refining the delivery instead of rushing to publishing.

There are many good ideas in this book and the premise is compelling. It's a quick read, speaks to our current political atmosphere, and isn't too graphic or dark. I also love Dalcher's messages about gender politics and about the importance of our voices. Vox is a reminder that what is simple is not always what is right and that we must never stop offering our voices for those who have none.

Is this the best-written book? No. Is it a timely story with an important message? Absolutely yes.

If you're a fan of The Handmaid's Tale, Black Mirror, or The Power by Naomi Alderman and are interested in a quick read with similar themes, you will certainly enjoy Vox. It is available wherever books are sold on August 21st.

xo
Jenn

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

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

An Interview with Romance Author Stefanie London

Here's a book blogging secret. Free books from publishers are great, but my favourite part of blogging is meeting authors. Each and every time I chat with one, I feel like I'm talking to a celebrity.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Stefanie London at a romance-themed trivia night hosted by Harlequin, and we recently met up again for coffee. It was so much fun chatting about books with her, and I can't wait to read more of her novels.

Stefanie and I talked about her current projects, the influence of the #metoo movement on romance novels, and more. I hope you enjoy our interview!



1. You're currently working on your Bad Bachelor series. Can you tell us about this trilogy and the inspiration behind it?

Bad Bachelors is a sexy contemporary romance series about an app that allows the women of New York to rate their dates. Think of it as Yelp (or Goodreads!) for men. Obviously this kind of idea causes a world of trouble, and each book focuses on a hero who's caught up in the drama caused by the app. The three heroines are also best friends. The series is funny and sexy, but it also takes a look at the effects of social media and how we treat one another online. I wanted to create a series where I could explore the affects of technology, not only on modern dating but also on how we behave as a society. It's a subject I find endlessly fascinating, and since technology and apps (like Tinder, Bumble etc) are such a huge part of dating, I thought it would be fun to incorporate that element into this series.


2. How do you select the names of your characters?

Baby name websites! Which means Facebook thinks I'm pregnant and it continues to show me ads for baby things. I have a very "intuitive" way of picking names, in that I read through lists and when one jumps out at me I know that's it.

3. One of my favourite "literary" places to visit is the real Inn Boonsboro that was the inspiration for Nora Roberts' Inn Boonsboro trilogy. Do you have a favourite "literary" travel destination?

I love reading about fantasy or made-up worlds. There's something about fictional kingdoms and historically-inspired worlds that always captures my attention. I love details that writers provide and the way they create something from nothing. They might not always be the kind of place where I'd want to live, but I do enjoy falling into a good book to "visit" a new and exciting fictional world. One that springs to mind is the Kingdom of Ravka from the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo which is inspired by Tsarist Russia from the 1800s.

4. How has the #Metoo movement changed romance writing?

For me, the main change is that the things I did intuitively before are now done with much more mindfulness and consideration. My books have always featured two people engaging in consensual sex as part of a loving relationship, even if it starts out as something purely physical. When I write now, however, I consciously include enthusiastic consent as part of my sex scenes. I also think a lot more about the power dynamic between the hero and the heroine, especially if I'm writing a workplace romance which is a trope I continue to love, though I now approach it differently. It's important for me to show the heroines in my novels making an active, informed decision to have sex with the hero and expressing their consent throughout the course of the scene, not just at the beginning. And consent is sexy! It doesn't take away from the heat or the strength of the hero to have the characters checking in with one another.


I'm noticing that readers are focusing on this element of romance novels more, as are publishers. This is a great development, and I hope we continue to see writers representing healthy sexual relationships and healthy attitudes toward sex in their novels.



5. For someone who is new to your books, where should they start?

I actually have a page dedicated to this exact question on my website right here! The Bad Bachelor series is something very close to my heart and it definitely represents what I love to read and write (i.e. funny and sexy stories with a hint of the real-world peeking through.) If you're looking for a purely escapist read that will be sure to have you giggling, try my romantic comedy Trouble Next Door. If you prefer your reads with a little more steam, Unmasked is a book I adore with all my heart.


6. What have you been reading lately? Any favourites you can share?

I just finished Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning, which is an urban fantasy set in Dublin with lots of fae lore and dark magic. So much fun! I'm looking forward to working my way through this series. I also LOVE a good zombie book, and FEED by Mira Grant hit the spot when I read it earlier this year.

In terms of some romance recommendations, my top picks so far for 2018 include two Harlequin Presents books: Son of Scandal by Dani Collins and The Virgin's Shock Baby by Heidi Rice. They have everything I love about the Presents line (high glamour and old-school romance tropes.) I also loved Forbidden Pleasure by Taryn Leigh Taylor (I was lucky enough to read an advance copy) which is out next month with Harlequin's sexy Dare line.


Thanks so much, Stefanie!

For more from Stefanie London, be sure to check out her website and follow along with her on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, or join her Facebook reading group.

xo
Jenn

Monday, 23 July 2018

7 Female Authors to Binge Read

Whenever I discover a new-to-me author, I feel compelled to go out and get my hands on everything they've ever written, which is exactly what I did with the authors below.



Sarah Addison Allen

 

I discovered Sarah Addison Allen a few years ago after randomly finding an unread copy of Garden Spells in my mom's basement. I promptly took it home, read it, and fell in love. Her books always have a touch of magic in them that make them unique and enchanting. Garden Spells is my favourite novel of hers, but you also can't go wrong with The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper, or The Sugar Queen.

Bunmi Laditan

 

If you ever need some real-talk about the outrageous expectations put on new moms or the realities of dealing with toddlers, check out Bunmi Laditan's books asap. Confessions of a Domestic Failure is an oh-so-relatable novel about a new mom, and The Honest Toddler is written from a toddler's perspective. Both are laugh out loud funny!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    

















My first Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book was Half of a Yellow Sun. It was a book club pick ages ago, and it completely blew me away. A few years later I read Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions and The Purple Hibiscus. Her books will always leave you thinking about the role of women in the world and the power they can hold. Next from her, I'd really like to read We Should All Be Feminists

Jennifer Robson

     

















Jennifer Robson writes beautiful historical romance with charming touches of romance. Moonlight Over Paris was the first book I ever read by her and immediately ordered everything else from her backlist. I didn't realize it at the time, but Moonlight Over Paris is a book in The Great War series. Somewhere in France is book one; however, each novel can be read as a standalone. I also loved Goodnight From London and am looking forward to her new release later this year, The Gown.

My Favourite Series By Women

An easy way to binge-read an author is to get lost in a series. Here are three of my favourites!

Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery (8 books)

 



I have to confess, I haven't yet read all of the books in this series. I do have them all, waiting patiently on my shelves, but I love Anne, and look forward to happily living in Anne's world again soon. Gilbert Blythe was my first ever "book boyfriend," and the movies with Megan Follows are πŸ’«πŸ’«πŸ’«πŸ’«πŸ’«!









A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas (4 books and counting)





I discovered this series a few years ago and have spent the last year reading and rereading all of Sarah J. Maas' books. The A Court of Thorns and Roses series is my favourite of her two, but I also love her other series, Throne of Glass. If you enjoy/are willing to try a fantasy-romance series, her worlds are easy and fun to get lost in.

Fun fact - A Court of Thorns and Roses begins as a Beauty and the Beast retelling!






Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling (8 books)





What's not to love about Harry Potter? I've been collecting the illustrated editions lately and hope to start reading them with Sebastian soon. 











If I were to write this post in 6 months from now, I'm certain I'd be adding Jasmine Guillory and Helen Hoang to this list. I read each of their debuts this year and sincerely loved their sweet and sexy stories. They each have a second book coming out within the next year, and I predict they will be just as wonderful to read!

Who are some of your favourite female authors to binge on?
xo
Jenn

Monday, 16 July 2018

Our Favourite Game For Introducing Coding To Little Ones

The skill of programming is totally a magic superpower in my mind. I'm not a strong coder at all, but my husband is one. It amazes me what cool creations or interesting solutions come out of the other side of a computer program he's written.

Sebastian is only 6, but I've discovered it is not to early to learn the principles of programming. He's been introduced to them at school through this game, Robot Turtles. And before we get started, I think it's important to share that Sebastian started playing this game at school over a year ago, so he was 4/5 when he first learned to play. He loves this game so much that he saved his own money to buy one for home.


Robot Turtles is a board game that teaches young children how to code. Interestingly, it is the most-backed Kickstarter board game in history! The goal of the game is for each turtle to reach their gem.

You can have 2, 3, or 4 turtles playing at a time. When the game begins, one person "sets up" the board. You can make the game as easy or as hard as you'd like. You can place your gems close to the turtles or far, and you can add different obstacles along the way. You don't have to make the path the same for each turtle, but the day I took these pictures, Sebastian had set up the board symmetrically.

For each turn, the player (or Turtle Master) chooses three cards to move their turtle, places them in a line, and then their turtle is moved according to their directions. They can choose between Left, Right, or Forward. When the player has a second turn, he or she will add three more cards to their line, essentially building/writing their code, and their turtle is moved again.


As your little coder becomes more confident, you can add other elements to the game. There are Laser cards that melt ice walls, and a Function Frog which will repeat a move sequence they have already played.


The Bug Tile (above) is also important because if a player wants to undo a move, they can tap their Bug Tile and shout "Bug!". This undoes their move and lets them fix their mistake. I have used this Bug Tile more than once when I play! I also love that they are using real programming language at an age-appropriate level.

There is much more that can go on in this game, but I think I've shared the main ideas here.

The educator in me is totally impressed with how quickly the littlest learners can handily understand the basic concepts of programming. The mom in me is delighted to see Sebastian having so much fun.

I sincerely believe that Robot Turtles would make an excellent gift for anyone aged 4 and up. You can find out more on the Robot Turtles website, and we bought our copy on Amazon. I'd be gifting it to all of his friends, if I didn't already know they have also bought their own copies!

xo
Jenn

Note - This is not a sponsored post. We just love this game and think you will too! 

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang - Book Review

I have been waiting for another 2018 book to really hit it out of the park, and I've finally found one! The Kiss Quotient, is the debut novel by Helen Hoang, and I cannot recommend this romantic story highly enough!



Here's the premise. Stella is autistic. She has Asperger's Syndrome and sucks at intimacy. Relationships with her family and her co-workers are not easy to navigate and romantic relationships? Well, those are even worse! One thing that does work for Stella is logic. So, logically, Stella hires an expert/escort to teach her how to be good at sex. When Michael arrives for his evening with Stella, he is completely thrown for a loop by his new client. Can he help her? Will he be able to let her go in the end? Will she be able to let him go?

I'm fairly certain I had a smile plastered on my face the entire time I was reading this book. It made me so happy. The first night where Michael and Stella meet is completely adorable, and I loved how understanding Michael was with her.

As Stella and Michael continue to meet, the contrast between erotic and sweet in their relationship is refreshing, emotional, and so very heartwarming. Never before has consent been so sexy. The Kiss Quotient is unputdownable, and I did not want this book to end.

Helen Hoang said that a gender-swapped Pretty Woman was part of her inspiration for this book, and it totally shows (in the very best way!) If you are a fan of that classic movie, I promise you will fall in love with Stella and Michael as well.

Between The Kiss Quotient and The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory, I can say without a doubt that the two best romance novels I've read so far this year have featured diverse characters and were written by diverse authors. (Helen Hoang herself has autism, and Michael is biracial). I sincerely cannot wait to see what these two authors write in the future, and which new authors will come after them as these women prove again and and again that different voices matter to us all.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of The Kiss Quotient courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Fitness Goals For Someone Who Loves Nachos

I've been thinking about this post in my head for months. Mainly because I've been thinking about my lack of fitness routine for months. A small part of this is about weight. I have gained weight in the past 4-5 years, but, mainly, this is about health.

I'm tired of feeling sore when I get up off the bed after sitting there cross-legged for a bit.

I'm tired of feeling disappointed in myself for going up a pant size (or two!).

I'm tired of feeling like I "should" be exercising.

My hope is by writing this post is twofold:

1. I hope that by writing this all down, it keeps me more accountable to my intentions.
2. I hope that maybe others feel the same way about fitness and can relate.

Last year, when I had my annual physical with my doctor, I told her I knew I had gained weight since my last visit. She said that I was still well within the normal range, and that it was more important that I exercise than worry about a number on a scale.

Since then our scale broke, and I haven't replaced it. A bit out of fear of what that number is now (I'm certain it has not gone down), but also because I don't want to obsess over a number. I want to go by how I feel.

What makes me feel strong?
What am I doing to keep my heart healthy?
What stretches help my body feel at its the best?

I consume books like I breathe air. I set reading goals, I complete reading challenges, I track what I read, I reflect on what I read, and I keep a journal of books I've read and books I want to read. I talk to others about books, I have bookish apps on my phone, and I feel like I've learned so much about literature and publishing as I've immersed myself into that world.

I don't know if I'll ever be the person who wakes up and says, "Yes! Let's workout!" I will always prefer a book to a run, and I love carbs, Netflix, and caramel macchiatos, but, for my own health, I need to move my body. I need to create a plan and a goal that work for me and go for it. I need to try and apply to fitness the same habits and diligence I apply to reading.



As a teacher, I have a gift of time over the summer, and I'm hoping the next two months will give me the boost to get my fitness life back on track, so I can decide what parts will continue to work as I begin a new school year in the fall.

Finding time to exercise, especially as a mom, is not easy. I have to schedule it or it won't happen. Rachel Hollis has this amazing quote where she says, "Hope is not a strategy. You need to have a plan." I can't just hope myself a finished workout. I can't hope myself the time or willpower to go exercise. I need to take a the first step (pun intended πŸ˜‰).

Maybe that first step is writing down "run" on your calendar for Saturday morning. Maybe the first step is letting your partner know that you want to do this, so he/she needs to know they will be watching the children for an hour. Maybe the first step is browsing a fitness class schedule at a local gym or yoga studio. Maybe your first step is getting a new tank top for working out! Whatever it is, do it. Then, decide what's next.

You won't see before and after pictures here, and I am not going to try and sell anyone anything. Below are the current ideas in my plan, and maybe a piece or two sound appealing to you as well. We can cheer each other on!

Helpful Apps


Couch to 5K

Cost: $2.99

What it does: Provides you a 9-week training program to running 5K (or close to it).

Why I like it: This app is for beginners. Rob and I are both working through it right now. It starts with run/walk intervals and slowly builds up your endurance to eventually running 30 minutes. But don't be scared of the end. The first few weeks are actually more walking than jogging!

The training plan is scheduled for 3 runs per week, but you can work this app at your own pace. Do it more often or less. It's up to you! For April and May I did it once a week. In June, I didn't do it at all. The past two weeks, I've picked it back up and am going out every other day. The pace is very reasonable, and it is fun to watch your progress.







Carrot Rewards

Cost: free (only available in certain Canadian provinces)

What it does: Carrot connects to your phone's pedometer or your Fitbit to track your steps for the day. It sets a personal goal for you and gives you rewards to a loyalty program of your choice on the days you meet your goal.

Why I like it: It feels like you get rewards for just doing whatever it is you normally do in your day. Everyone has their own personal step goal based on their average daily steps, so your goal is really just for you. I chose Scene as my loyalty program, so I earn 2 points each day I meet my goal. You also have the opportunity to earn bonus points if you complete your Step Up Challenge (meet your goal 10 times in 14 days). After 14 days, the app re-evaluates your step goal and will raise or lower it depending on if you slayed your goals or not.





My friend and I also like the Step Together Challenge. If we collectively meet our goals 10 times in a week, we both earn bonus points! The top row is me, the bottom row is my friend on our current challenge.

Sometimes at work we'll walk and grab a coffee to help meet our step goal if we're feeling like it's a low step day. I joke that we're not using the app properly when we do this, but it was recently pointed out to me that the mental health break of going for a walk with a friend is just as, if not more, valuable.


Find a buddy and run a fun race

I have noticed I keep up with my exercise when I have registered for a race or event. 

I really like obstacle courses, because it's a little bit like interval running, which I prefer. You can read about the first time I ever did it here. That specific event doesn't happen in its current form anymore, so last year my friends and I signed up for Tough Mudder - Half. It was tough but we did it, and it felt so amazing afterwards. We've signed up again this fall. And we are not superhuman athletes at all. We are regular people who love nachos. The Tough Mudder - Half event is perfect because it's the fun and crazy muddy obstacles of Tough Mudder without the electrocution or fire obstacles. Tough Mudder also has a 5K, that I'm sure is a blast. You can check it out here


The other event I've signed up for (in a few weeks, which I why I need to get my butt in gear right now) is the 5K Foam Fest. I've never done this one, but it looks like a crazy amount of fun. 



I also really want to try the Color Run, and a friend of mine does a Chocolate Race every spring. There are so many fun way to achieve your goals.

Find a fitness class

This one is trickier for me, because Sebastian doesn't love being dragged to the gym daycare, but finding a fitness class and/or instructor you love is great way to stay motivated and accountable to your workout. My favourite is BodyFlow at Goodlife Fitness, and I'm determined to go the mornings Sebastian is in camp this summer.


Read to get motivated

If you're a reader, the perfect book can be excellent encouragement.

It Takes a Tribe by Will Dean is as much about mental grit as it is about the history of Tough Mudder. I really liked this one. You can read my review here.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis is my next read. It's about the lies we tell ourselves that end up keeping us from reaching our goals and how to overcome them.

Confessions of an Unlikely Runner by Dana Ayers is a memoir of an "average" person who decided she wanted to participate in athletic events like the ones I described above. She shares her mishaps and adventures in this book.


So that's it! That's what I'm going to do. Finish the Couch to 5K app, run two fun obstacle courses with friends, try a handful of fitness classes, and read an encouraging book.

I won't be able to sustain all of this in the fall, so I'll reassess where I'm at then and decide on a new plan.

What about you? Anyone want to join me?
xo
Jenn

Monday, 2 July 2018

Romances to Read in the Summer

There is just something about summer that shifts us towards lighter and brighter stories. Towards reading simply for pleasure. Towards happy endings.

With that in mind, I've put together 15 romance novels that make perfect summer reads. Some take place in the summer, others are set on a beach, and a few are simply delicious to read on a hot summer night.

Coincidentally, the very same day I started working on this post, my friend's husband (who is a proud, self-declared book snob) sent us both this article - In the defence of the trashy summer read. I'm a teacher, therefore summer is really summer around here, so I am all for books about love and encouragement and redemption. Life is good right now. No reason to dive into something that wants me to feel otherwise. So here we go!



My favourites:

Sweet Cheeks, K. Bromberg - A second-chance romance! When Saylor is invited to her ex-fiancΓ©'s wedding, she accepts plus one. The problem is she doesn't have a plus one. Enter Hayes Whitely. Hayes and Saylor were a beautiful once upon a time; however, he ended it when he left for Hollywood. Now a hot movie star, he offers to take Saylor to the wedding. And maybe see if they can pick up where they left off? Sweet Cheeks is one of my favourites!

Hollywood Dirt, Alessandra Torre - A-list actor and bad boy, Cole Masten, is filming his latest movie in Quincy, Georgia. However, things don't start off as planned and the tension between him and Georgia native, Summer Jenkins, lead to heat on and off the screen. And once you're finished reading this one, you can watch the movie on Passionflix.

A Week to be Wicked, Tessa Dare - In this historical romance the hero and heroine have to travel to Scotland together and fake an elopement along the way.

Fresh Brewed, Pamela Ford - Brenna Mitchell has been dreaming of her summer vacation for ages. When a storm ruins the hotel she's booked, she secures a beachfront home with her friends, as long as she pretends to be the girlfriend of the owner's grandson.

Almost a Bride, Jo Watson - After an ugly breakup, Annie is treating herself to a tropical vacation. Unfortunately, her ex-boyfriend is at the same resort with his new lady. Annie meets Chris and he helps her craft a story to save face. But what will happen when her fictional feelings become real?

The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory - This delightful novel tells the story of Drew and Alexa who meet in an elevator where Alexa agrees to be Drew's plus one to a wedding. One date turns into two, and soon this couple is navigating a long-distance relationship. This book was so sweet, and you can read my review here.

Save the Date, Mary Kay Andrews - A florist, puppies, and a lavish wedding. What could go wrong? I thought Clara and Jake were cute and this story made me smile and laugh the entire time.


On my TBR:

The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang - This book has been everywhere on #bookstagram! Stella has Asperger's and sucks as intimacy, so she hires an escort to teach her the ways of love :)

Unmasked, Stefanie London - A spicy Cinderella-esque retelling. Can a naughty fantasy have a happily-ever-after? Retellings are always fun to read! Stefanie London's Betting the Bad Boy is also set in summer!

Lucky Harbour Trilogy, Jill Shalvis - Spend the summer in Lucky Harbor! I picked up this trilogy on a discount shelf with all three books together as one: Lucky in Love, At Last, Forever and a Day.

Suddenly Last Summer, Sarah Morgan - I love Sarah Morgan's novels! I've read many of her Christmas-themed books, and I look forward to trying a summer one soon.

Sweet Filthy Boy, Christina Lauren - A one-night stand during a college graduation trip to Vegas turns into a summer fling in France. I loooooove any and all books set in France, so I can't wait to read this one.

Happy reading, friends!
xo
Jenn

Monday, 4 June 2018

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain - Book Review



I read and loved The Paris Wife by Paula McLain when it came out. I had never read anything by Ernest Hemingway, but his is an iconic name in the literature world, and the book is historical fiction set in one of my favourite cities. What's not to enjoy?

Fast forward a few years. I still haven't read any Hemingway, and yet I continue to be fascinated with his life and his wives.

In Love and Ruin, Paula McLain introduces us to Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's third wife. A writer herself, she and Hemingway fell in love while chasing stories together around the globe.

Gellhorn published novels, novellas, essays, and was especially known for her work as a war correspondent. She was ambitious, independent, and courageous.

All of these qualities are illustrated within the novel, and it's not hard to see how Gellhorn and Hemingway were on a collision course even before their marriage began. It's not often I read a novel and look forward to the couple parting ways; however, Hemingway became so terrible to her, that I silently cheered every time she made a decision for herself and her career.

Love and Ruin is a novel that demands to be read slowly and encourages you to savour this slice of history you are learning at the same time. McLain is a gifted writer. I especially think that anyone else who is a writer (of any kind) will enjoy this book. Both of the protagonists are writers, and McLain shares many relatable descriptions of the experience during the writing process.

"Until a few months ago, it had been my general understanding that if you were a writer, you pummelled your own soul until some words trickled out of the dry streambed, enough to fill a saucer or a teaspoon or an eyedropper. And then you wept a little, or gnashed at your teeth, and somehow found the fortitude to get up the next day and do it again."
Love and Ruin, Paula McLain

Fans of The Paris Wife will surely enjoy reading another chapter from Hemingway's story. Love and Ruin is available now wherever books are sold.

xo
Jenn

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

Monday, 21 May 2018

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon - Book Review

I Was Anastasia is the latest release by Ariel Lawhon. This historical fiction novel reads like twin memoirs. One from the perspective Anastasia Romanov in 1917 and 1918 and another from the perspective of Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the missing Russian duchess.



I knew nothing about the Romanovs before beginning this novel (Including in even which century this all happened! I had heard of the Romanvos but assumed this scandal/mystery was centuries old.) I also didn't know whether Anna really was Anastasia or not, which I think made this saga especially interesting for me to read. I won't tell you either, so you need to read the book to find out!

I love stories told with dual timelines and perspectives, and what makes this structure unique in I Was Anastasia is that while Anastasia's timeline moves forward in a traditional narrative, Anna's moved backwards Momento-style, and they two timelines meet at the end of the book in 1918. I will admit, the Momento/backwards timeline takes a bit of getting used to, but it's worth it, so keep going!

Ariel Lawhon writes beautifully and turns mountains of research into a gripping and fascinating historical tale. Even when I wasn't reading this book, I was thinking about it and carrying this puzzle with me. Was she really Anastasia? How was her survival possible?

Importantly, the Author's Note at the end is 100% part of the reading experience for this book, so be sure not to skip it.

I Was Anastasia reminded me of The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor. If you enjoyed the real-life mystery behind that story, you will probably really enjoy this one as well.

I Was Anastasia is available wherever books are sold. You can connect with Ariel Lawhon on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

xo
Jenn

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

Monday, 14 May 2018

Sweet Reads Box - May 2018




The tagline for Sweet Reads Box is "me time. delivered." and their boxes are curated each month to include:
  • a bestselling novel
  • a delicious drink
  • a sweet treat
  • an item (or items!) connected to your novel 
  • a card explaining each item and why it was selected
Sweet Reads Box aims to provide you with everything you need to for some quality alone time with an excellent book.

The cost per box is $49.99 CAD + shipping, and there are discounts if you purchase 3 or 6 month subscriptions. At this point, they only ship within Canada.

Let's check out what was in the May box:



The Shoe on the Roof by Will Ferguson

English Toffee from Sweetsmith Candy Co

Colombian Irish Cream Coffee from Kyoto Coffee

The Week From Hell Hand Lotion from Walton Wood Farm

Shoe Eraser from Fred and Friends 

Leather and Vanilla Soap from Perth Soap Company


Let's talk pros and cons, because I didn't enjoy this box as much as I did in February, unfortunately.

PROS
- I still love the focus on Canadian authors and Canadian vendors.
- I think this box would appeal to both men and women which is pretty unique in the book box world.
- The English toffee was delicious!!

CONS
- The value this month is not strong. My rough calculations came out to less than the cost of the box. This is probably because I gave no value to the hand lotion. There were three of the same lotion samples included, and I could get sample one-time use lotions many places for free so..... :(
- The scent of the soap is a little masculine for me. Rob likes though, so he's got a new soap now!
- This book is not one I'm interested in reading, but I recognize that's a personal choice.

If you want to give them a try, check out the Sweet Reads Box website. I think it could be a unique gift for the male book lovers in your life who have never tried a book box.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I was sent a complementary box for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are true and entirely my own.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Sebastian: 6 Years Old and 20 Questions



Every year, Rob and I do a little interview with Sebastian on his birthday. Here's the 6-year-old edition!

1. What is your favorite color? pink (for the fourth year in a row!)
2. What is your favorite toy? Scooby Doo toys
3. What is your favorite fruit? watermelon
4. What is your favorite tv show? Scooby Doo
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? tacos
6. What is your favorite outfit? footies (for the second year in a row)
7. What is your favorite game? Scooby Masks (half Scooby Doo half PJ Masks)
8. What is your favorite snack? gummies 
9. What is your favorite animal? cat
10. What is your favorite song? Scooby Doo songs
11. What is your favorite book? Scooby Doo books 
12. Who is your best friend? Mommy and Daddy (for the second year in a row)
13. What is your favorite cereal? red berries (Kellogg's Strawberry)
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? play
15. What is your favorite drink? milk
16. What is your favorite holiday?  Christmas (for the second year in a row)
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? stuffies 
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? cereal
19. What do you want for dinner? tacos
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? helping Daddy (for the second year in a row)

And here are his answers from his 5th birthday4th birthday, and 3rd birthday.

xo
Jenn 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory - Book Review

I'm so excited to share with you my latest romantic read. I recently finished The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory, and it is such a delightful story!


In The Wedding Date, Alexa and Drew meet while they are briefly stuck together in a hotel elevator. Alexa agrees to be Drew's last minute date to his ex-girlfriend's wedding. They pretend to be a couple in front of Drew's friends and seemingly have a blast all weekend long. However, is it real? Or is it just part of the act they are putting on? As they continue to see each other casually via a long-distance relationship, Alexa and Drew begin to wonder, is this really casual? Or is it something more? And could they even make it work if they wanted to?

Alexa and Drew make an adorable couple. Their playful banter and secret feelings will have you rooting for these two to finally snap out of it, be honest with each other, and live happily ever after!

Plus, there is an Anne of Green Gables reference that is totally on point, which cemented, for me, how much fun this book is to read.

The other element that makes The Wedding Date a unique read is that Alexa is black and Drew is white, so they have to work though the dynamics that brings to their relationship, for Drew especially. I don't often gravitate towards diverse books, and I am clearly missing out because there is so much here that is relatable and relevant.

The Wedding Date is Jasmine Guillory's first novel and is available now, but I am already counting down the days until her next release in the fall, The Proposal!

You can connect with Jasmine Guillory on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and her website.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this novel courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions and love of Anne of Green Gables references are entirely my own.

Monday, 30 April 2018

My Lady's Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris - Book Review



Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure novels from the 80s? Well, buckle up for the grown up version! My Lady's Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris is a new interactive romance novel that allows you to choose your hero and your fate. Will it be a Scotsman helping orphans? Or perhaps a brooding single father (who may or may not be a werewolf?).

Simply put, this book is funny and fun. I found I best enjoyed it by reading one of the stories between my other full-length novels. It's on purpose over-the-top and doesn't take itself too seriously at all, which I absolutely loved. To best get a feel of what you can expect, here's a short excerpt:

"The opportunity to mingle with the upper-crustiest of society's upper crust is supremely tempting. Indeed, with your humble background, you'd be a fool to turn down such a rare invitation to improve your standing in the company of your betters. And the presences of Sir Benedict....well, that certainly doesn't lessen your intrigue. 

Yet you cannot help but be intrigued by the Scotsman's offer. You've always had a tender heart for children, and something about his rugged altruism sparks a dangerous and recklessness in your chest. 

What will be next?

If you wish to rub elbows with the ton - and Sir Benedict's elbows in particular - hustle your bustle to page 159.
If you think doing good for poor kiddies is infinitely better than pretending you can hang with the elites of London (and you can't help your curiosity about what Mac's got under his kilt), hop on over to page 208.

- My Lady's Choosing, Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

My Lady's Choosing is also illustrated with some very swoon-worthy men (and women!). Any reader passionate about historical romance or classics such as Pride and Prejudice, has to try a few of the stories in this book. They will be certain to enjoy them!

My Lady's Choosing is available now wherever books are sold. Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me this copy.

xo
Jenn

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

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Other Mother by Carol Goodman - Book Review



Trigger warning - Women experiencing post-partum OCD should not read this book until they have received treatment.

The Other Mother is the latest novel from Carol Goodman. In this psychological thriller, we meet Daphne Marist a few months after she gives birth to her first child, Chloe. Daphne struggles with post-partum OCD and intrusive thoughts. To help her cope, she joins a post-partum support group where she meets and befriends Laurel Hobbes. Laurel is everything Daphne wishes she could be: outgoing, relaxed, wealthy, etc. As their friendship progresses, Daphne becomes less and less certain about who she really is and what will keep her baby safe. Daphne even assumes Laurel's identity to take a live-in job with her baby as she tries to escape her husband.

The Other Mother is a meticulously-plotted, twisty tale that will keep you fascinated from page one right to the very end. There are two narrators, both of whom are unreliable, creating a thrilling read. The reader will want to believe Daphne, but it is not easy. You're never quite sure what is true and what is not until the revelations at the end.

While I do not have experience with post-partum OCD, I did work through post-partum depression after my son was born, and I can relate to so many of the descriptions of new motherhood in this novel. I still remember the fatigue, guilt, and overwhelming unsureness that came with being a new mother who was struggling.

"I do resent Chloe - her constant crying, her tantrums, her demands. But that doesn't mean I don't lover her. Does it?"
The Other Mother, Carol Goodman

The Other Mother is available for purchase at HarperCollins, Amazon, or wherever books are sold near you.

You can connect with Carol Goodman on her website or on Facebook.

xo
Jenn

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

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer - Book Review


Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Shaefer is a non-fiction book that explores the evolution, triumph, and power of female friendships. Beginning with the history of the traditionally male-dominated word "friend", progressing through the portrayal of female friendships in television, movies, and literature, and complete with interesting interviews and stories from real life friends, Text Me When You Get Home will validate the importance of having strong women by your side, no matter what.

What I found particularly interesting was the discussion of how friendships are unique relationships in our lives because there is nothing legally tying us together. This is not true of parents, sisters, husbands, wives, children, and even work colleagues. (Not that work colleagues can't be friends. Some of my closest ones are.) But friendships are different. We could walk away at anytime, and we don't. Further, it's not uncommon for friendships endure even longer than some of these other relationships in our lives. That is something to think about.

Christina from Grey's Anatomy says it best when she tells Meredith, "You're my person."

I saw myself so often in the anecdotes and research shared that Text Me When You Get Home made me both laugh and cry. I thought of many wonderful memories I've had with my girlfriends (our road trip to the Inn Boonsboro came to mind), and I was reminded of how important these friendships have been to me over the years. My friends were life-giving when I was struggling with pregnancy loss and the early days of motherhood.

This is one of those books in which I have underlined many quotations and starred full paragraphs because the ideas resonated deeply with me. Right from the beginning there were passages I had to stop and reread, just to savour them again.

"The words, and corresponding texts we send when we do get home, are a web connecting us, winding though the many moments we spend together and apart, helping us understand that whenever we're unmoored or terrified or irate or heartbroken or just bored, we're not by ourselves."
Text Me When You Get Home, Kayleen Schaefer

Text Me When You Get Home is a quick and delightful read. It will make you fall in love your friends all over again and strengthen your own commitment to your female friendships in the very best way. I hope you pick it up to enjoy.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of Text Me When You Get Home courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Reading Confessions

I thought I'd share a few of my reading confessions to give you a glimpse into my bookish life. It's basically a post of unpopular opinions, so here we go!




1. I'm pretty meh about bookmarks
I have a couple that I love, but it's not something I'll go out of my way to collect or spend money on. I feel like they get damaged so easily!! I really like the #currentlyreading wooden one from Nook and Burrow because it's super sturdy, but I'm just as happy to use a meaningful card or picture my five-year-old has coloured.

2. I'm also pretty meh about the "classics"
I can appreciate that Pride and Prejudice is pretty much the first romantic comedy ever, and I do love Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo, but the classics in general are not reading material to which I turn often. Which is ironic if you take a look at #3....

3. I used to be a huge book snob
Huge! Like so so super judgey. Fantasy, romance, horror, basically anything that wasn't historical fiction I would silently (and sometimes not-so-silently) declare trashy and beneath me. I feel particularly proud of myself for overcoming this flaw. Now I read Harlequin romance and young adult fantasy on the regular. I still read historical fiction, and I love a good memoir, but those other previously shunned genres are also very present in my reading life. My friend Dan calls them "dessert" :)

Also, check out this essay by Neil Gaiman. It will get you rethinking your perception of what literature we "should" be reading.

4. My TBR pile of books I already own is out of control
Like 200+ out of control. I'm actually surprised Rob doesn't give me more of a hard time about it. The thing is, the more I read and the more I write about books, the more book piles seem to grow in our house!

I have been trying to tackle this situation more thoughtfully with #theunreadshelfproject2018. You can read about it here. I also post about it pretty often on Instagram @jennbairos.

5.  I don't really understand audiobooks
I've listened to a few audiobooks on long road trips, but overall, this is not a book format that I can get to work for me. I always catch myself drifting off or checking my phone and missing parts of the story. I can't multitask when listening to an audiobook, so I figure, why not just hold the real thing?

6. I don't enjoy novellas or short stories
Novellas are a pet peeve of mine. Just put it in the freaking book! Don't make me hunt down the other "bonus" storylines. I mean, if I loved your book, I'll do it, but I'll be annoyed about it.

Short stories I'm unlikely to read all together. I love being fully invested in my characters and storylines. Trilogies are my jam. A short story always feels too quickly wrapped up for me. I need more.

7. I don't always keep autographed books
Five-years-ago me would have never let go of a personally autographed book. Ten-years-ago me would have never thought I'd be lucky enough to own an autographed book at all.

We live in a small house, and I can't keep every book I receive, and even if it's autographed, if I didn't love it with all my heart, I'll pass it along to the free little library on our street. I know this probably sounds like I'm complaining about all of my good fortune, but I do hope that someone else will enjoy the nice surprise that comes there way when they see that special signature.

8. Sometimes, Possibly too often, I let Sebastian play on the iPad so I can read
I justify this because I feel like it's great that he knows reading is an important value in our home, and it's soooo easy to hibernate at home in the winter, but I hope to do this a bit less now that spring is on the horizon.


What about you? Do you have any unpopular opinions when it comes to books? Or do you share any of mine?

xo
Jenn

Monday, 19 February 2018

The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross - Book Review



The Queen's Rising is the debut YA fantasy novel from Rebecca Ross. In this book we meet Brienna. She is studying to become a passion of knowledge. After she completes her study, she is pulled into a plot to overthrow a king of Maevana, a nearby kingdom, to raise the rightful queen to the throne. Although Brienna does not know the identity of her father, she knows he is from Maevana and she feels loyal to restoring peace in that land.

At its heart, The Queen's Rising is a book about fierce females and found families. The first half of the book is strong and Brienna is a likeable character. However, Cartier was my favourite. Cartier is one of her mentors at school and wondering if they would ever see each other again after her studies are over is a big part of what kept me interested in this story. There is a touch of romance, but it's very PG and appropriate for middle grade or teen readers.

“But I will say this: no matter which path you choose, I will follow you, even unto darkness.”
The Queen's Rising, Rebecca Ross

I loved the girl-power premise of a queen's realm that passed on to the crown women in each following generation. I would have enjoyed a bit more tension to pull the reader in as the conflict progressed; however, overall this is a good debut, and the author shows her potential in this novel. Also, that cover is ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐!

Caution - Brienna's parentage and family history are a key part of the story, so my advice is to not look at the family trees in the first few pages of the book. Otherwise, it will spoil some of the plot twists for you.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a copy of this novel courtesy of HarperCollins Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

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