Thursday, 14 November 2019

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin



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

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

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

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

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

xo
Jenn

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

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor


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

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

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

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

xo
Jenn

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

Monday, 4 November 2019

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore - Book Review




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

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

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

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

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

xo
Jenn

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

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Atlas of Monsters and Ghosts



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

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

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



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

xo
Jenn

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

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher - Book Review



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

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

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

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

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

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

xo
Jenn

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

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

How To Organize Your Digital Photos

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

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

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



STEP 1 - MAKE A LIST OF ALL OF THE PLACES YOUR PHOTOS ARE CURRENTLY STORED

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

STEP 2 - DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT

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

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


STEP 3 - DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO BACKUP AND SORT YOUR PHOTOS

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

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


STEP 4 - START SORTING

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

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

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


STEP 5 - DELETE DUPLICATES

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


*Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each year.*


STEP 6 - CREATE A PHOTO BOOK (optional)

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

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

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

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



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




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


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


STEP 7 - CREATE A VIDEO COMPILATION (optional)

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

Tip - grandparents love these videos/links as well!


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

xo
Jenn

Monday, 14 October 2019

A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott - Book Review




A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is award-winning Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott's debut essay collection that holds back nothing as she shares her thoughts on the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada.

These essays are thoughtful, controversial, and absolutely necessary. Part-memoir, part historical exploration, Alicia Elliott opens up about her own trauma and abuse while simultaneously examining the systematic roots of oppression Indigenous people in Canada faced throughout history and continue to face today.

"We know our cultures have meaning and worth, that that culture lives and breathes inside our languages. Canada knew that, too. Which is why they fought so hard to make us forget them."

She tackles the issues of mental health, abuse, language, culture, residential schools, racism, colonialism, poverty, belonging, cultural appropriation, and body image. Additionally, she calls out Canadian political parties (both past and present) for what they have and haven't done to help mend these relationships, so healing in these communities can begin.

"No one should have to feel thankful that their child isn't dark-skinned."


While these essays examine how racism continues to be fed in Canadian society today, Alicia Elliot offers hope for us to be thoughtful about our own voices and choices moving forward. If you're interested in learning more about a modern perspective on Indigenous relations and history, I highly recommend this coming of age collection by a wonderful writer. It's available now from your favourite bookseller.

xo
Jenn

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

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Stretch Marks by Amber Trueblood

Amber Trueblood is the passionate voice behind Stretch Marks, a self-help book designed to help mothers who are feeling stretched in every direction. I know I often feel that my to do list never ends, and that I'm being pulled into a million directions. It's not easy to slow down and prioritize exactly what needs to happen next, for my family, and for myself.




Stretch Marks is designed to help you cultivate true happiness in your life. Amber Trueblood shares personal stories and scientific research to prove that our happiness matters, along with tips and mindsets to help us get there. Andrea is a fierce cheerleader for your abilities and offers practical tricks you can easily adapt into your everyday life.

Stretch Marks currently available on Kindle and will be out in physical format this December (perfect for gift giving 😉). If you're interested in learning more, I encourage you to check out her website and take a peek at her retreats. They sound like the perfect weekend away, and she has one coming up in October!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - Thank you to Andrea Trueblood for sending me a complementary copy of this book.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Ribbons of Scarlet - A Novel of The French Revolution's Women

As a self-professed bibliophile and fancophile, books set in France hit my sweet spot. I studied French history in university and read many academic texts about the French Revolution. When I learned about the book Ribbons of Scarlet, I immediately knew that I'd enjoy a literary novel about this tumultuous time, especially as it's written through the eyes of the women involved. (Unsurprisingly, my assigned academic readings all focused on the main male politicians at the time.)


Ribbons of Scarlet is a historical fiction novel of the French revolution from the perspective of women who were there before, during, and after. What makes this novel initially compelling is that it is authored by six female authors: Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, and E. Knight. Ribbons of Scarlet is simultaneously six short stories and one cohesive novel. I've never read anything quite like it.

While this novel will appeal to all historical fiction fans, this is a deeply story about women. About their voices, their value, and their often unacknowledged role in history. Women throughout history are regularly caught in the tension of what society expects women to be and who they truly are. How do you speak when you are asked to be silent? How can you still ensure your words are heard? In Ribbons of Scarlet, the reader learns of, as Heather Webb describes in her author's note, "six incredible women who shaped the French Revolution through their pens, their speeches, their battles in the streets, and their sacrifices."

We hear from Sophie de Grouchy, a woman who embodies the ideals of the feminist movement, Lousie Reine Audu, a revolutionary, Princess Élisabeth, King Louis XVI's sister, Manon Roland, who passionately worked with her husband in government after the royal family was exiled (and executed), Charlotte Corday, who famously assassinated Jean-Paul Marat, and Émilie de Sainte-Amaranthe, a Paris beauty who will capture the hearts of the readers with her story.

The dedication in Ribbons of Scarlett

I can't possibly begin to imagine the planning these authors would have completed to ensure their stories are as historically accurate as possible while being consistent throughout throughout six sections. Not to mention that the majority of the resources available to study for research were likely in French.

This novel isn't perfect. With seven different first-person points of view to read, I did get a little overwhelmed at times; however, the lengthly authors' notes at the end more than made up for it. To save me from having to Google what parts of this story are true, each of the six authors share the research they found, which pieces are speculation, and why they made the decisions they did for the their characters. The women in the novel are real historical figures, and Ribbons of Scarlet encourages us to remember their names. I can see myself rereading it again, as I'm sure there is more to this story that I'd learn should I pick it up a second time.

Ribbons of Scarlet is available as of today (yeah!) from your favourite bookseller.

xo
Jenn

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

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Down Too Deep by J. Daniels - Book Review



I love a good love story, and Down Too Deep by J. Daniels is one of my favourite romances of the year. It is book #4 in the Dirty Deeds series, but Down Too Deep can be read as a standalone. In fact, this is my first book by the author.

Nathan Bell lost his wife suddenly a few months after the birth of their daughter, Marley. Overcome with grief and hiding behind his work, Nathan's parents become the primary caregivers for his daughter. When they force him to seek other childcare options, he has no idea what he's going to do. Until single mom, Jenna Savage, offers to care for Marley for the summer. She already has her own twins, and she's happy to help Nathan out by watching Marley as well. Jenna doesn't simply watch Marley for Nathan, she helps him learn about his daughter and rebuild their relationship.

Cue the sparks and steam ;)

Jenna, Nathan, and all three of their children are heartfelt characters who you will love. There are humorous moments in this story, and, if you are a parent, you will totally relate to how tricky it can be to find intimate moments with your partner with little ones under your feet!

Nathan getting to know Marley after basically ignoring her for the first two years of her life was completely adorable. My heart filled with joy every time he made a new connection with her, and I loved watching their relationship grow just as much as I loved the relationship between Nathan and Jenna.

Down Too Deep is absolutely a sexy romance novel; however, there is a lot of substance here as well. This book deals with grief, guilt, forgiveness, post-partum depression, and suicide. To me, a story with deep meaning is what puts some romances above the rest.

Down Too Deep is available October 8th from your favourite bookseller. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I can't wait to go back and read the rest of the books in this series.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book from HBG Canada. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Friday, 30 August 2019

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang - Book Review


The Bride Test is the latest release from Helen Hoang. I absolutely adored her debut, The Kiss Quotient (you can read me gushing about it here), and I knew I was in for a treat when I picked up her next book.

In this novel, we follow the story of Esme and Khai. Khai is autistic and believes that he is incapable of loving others. While Esme initially thinks that participating in a quasi-arranged marriage with Khai may solve all of her problems, she finds herself truly falling in love. As they get to know each other, Esme longs to convince Khai that there is more than one way to love.

This book was exactly what I had hoped it would be. Sweet, sexy, and heartwarming. Khai was a loveable character, and I could picture him easily in my mind as I was reading. Watching Khai be romantic, while having absolutely no idea that he is doing so, is my favourite part of this book.

Esme shines so much in this story, it's hard to believe she almost wasn't the protagonist! (Be sure to read the author's note at the end for the full story.) With only a few options in front of her, Esme stands up for herself and her values, even if that means not always choosing the path that seems easy. I really admired this about her.

While The Kiss Quotient may still be my favourite Helen Hoang book so far, The Bride Test is an excellent follow up, and it looks like Quan's story (The Heart Principle) is coming in 2020!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of The Bride Test from Penguin Random House Canada to review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim - Book Review



Seeing yourself in a book is such a gift. The moment you read a passage and instantly feel validated or less alone is powerful. More than once, I've reread sentences, paragraphs, and even whole pages because the author was able to put into words exactly how I felt. However, this feeling doesn't come around with the same frequency for everyone.

Well-Read Black Girl is an essay collection of Black women writers reflecting on how they found themselves in literature, how certain pieces of work guided them through childhood and adolescence, and how the words of others inspired them to write as well. It was born from Glory Edim who created the @wellreadblackgirl community on Instagram.

Well-Read Black Girl is small but mighty. I was introduced to so many authors, playwrights, poets, and titles I'd never heard of before. My formative years were vastly different than the women in this book, so reading this collection for me was eye-opening and reminded me how reading can be a powerful act of empathy to learn about others.

As an educator, I firmly believe that it is important for both children and adults to be able to connect with the texts they are reading, and this essay collection reaffirms that we need to ensure that young readers have a wide-range of books at their fingertips. You never know which book is going to connect with which reader, and it is important for them to read about and reflect upon the experiences of others, as well.

Highly recommend!
xo
Jenn

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

Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan - Book Review


Jenny Colgan is a go to for charming, heartwarming stories. I enjoyed The Bookshop on the Corner when it came out a few years ago, and dare I say I loved this one even more?

In The Bookshop on the Shore, you'll see some familiar faces from The Bookshop on the Corner (Nina, Lennox, and Surinder); however, this is a story about Zoe. Zoe is a single mom, struggling to make ends meet in London, England. When presented with the opportunity to move to Scotland and help out with Nina's travelling bookstore during the day, as well as work as a nanny in the evenings, she jumps at this opportunity. However, when she and her son Hari move into the old, majestic-but-falling-apart home where she will work, she realizes that she has her work cut out for her. Their mother disappeared, and they live with their father, who has no idea how to best manage their out of control behaviours. Additionally, she just doesn't have the same knack for selling books as Nina does.

That is the backdrop for a delightful story about the value of books. It's about how we find ourselves in books, about how books can protect us, and maybe even how books can help us heal.

Without spoiling anything, The Bookshop on the Shore has a lot to say about mental health, and especially children's mental health. I love that. I know there are challenges presented in this book that are very real dilemmas for many parents, and I think the messages delivered are important and wise.

The romance in this book is quite light, which I felt matched the story well. I was happy for the main focus to be elsewhere.

The Bookshop on the Shore is already available, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy at your favourite bookstore or library!

xo
Jenn

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

Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks - Book Review




The Chocolate Maker's Wife is the newest novel from Karen Brooks. Rosamund is sold into a sudden marriage by her mother and stepfather. Through this bargain, she is able to leave her abusive home, but what awaits her next? While she tries to navigate her new role as Lady Blithman, she is also given the opportunity to learn and work in her husband's new and exclusive chocolate house. However, she is quickly enmeshed into the Blithman family drama. Set in 1660s London, England, Rosamund is not only fighting for her future, but also her life.

I had such high hopes for this one, but The Chocolate Maker's Wife left me feeling conflicted. I liked it, but I didn't love it, and some things I didn't like at all.

What I liked:
  • I loved learning about the history of chocolate.
  • I always enjoy novels that have a romantic thread woven into the story.
  • There are some timely viewpoints in here on religious tolerance, race, and the role of women.
  • For me, what truly rescues this book is its historical setting. The second half of the 1600s was a tumultuous time in London as it overcomes the plague and the Great Fire, and it was interesting to read a novel set during these catastrophic events.

What I didn't like so much:

  • I wasn't overly in love with any of the characters.
  • The writing. Mark Twain has a great quote, "Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do." and I think the author could have used that advice on multiple occasions in this book. I understand that part of it is that language evolves over time, but there were many phrases where the word choice felt distracting, unnecessary, and, at times, jarring, rather than authentic.

If you think the writing wouldn't bother you, then I'd say this is a book to pick up at the library rather than purchase to keep. It's available later this month.

But that cover and title though...😍😍

xo
Jenn

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

Monday, 29 July 2019

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams - Book Review



It's official. Romances about couples who are already married but working through their crap are my new favourite.

Whitney at @theunreadshelf got me thinking about this with her review of Voyager by Diana Gabeldon, and I completely agree. I want to see more stories about couples who are already together, still having sex, and overcoming obstacles because that's real life, friends. Interesting love stories begin when two people commit to each other forever. More of this please!

The Bromance Book Club is a new novel from Lyssa Kay Adams. Gavin and Thea Scott have been married for three years, are parents to adorable twin girls, and are also going through a pretty rough patch in their marriage. While it's not their only problem, Thea has been faking it in bed for awhile, and let's just say that Gavin doesn't take the news particularly well...

To help him save his marriage, Gavin's friends introduce him to a secret book club where the men read romance novels to help them learn how to be better partners. (Note - this is actually a genius idea, and men should legitimately try it now and then.)

I really liked Gavin, and his renewed energy to keep their family together was so sweet. What I most adored about Gavin was his stutter. My own son has a great vocabulary, but we work on articulation because his speech isn't always clear. On the very day I read this book, my son came home from daycamp and told me someone had made fun of his voice. I loved seeing a hero in a novel with a similar challenge. Thea loves Gavin and his stutter, and it is such an important reminder that our imperfections make us perfect to others.

The Bromance Book Club comes out in November which is perfect timing because, while I wouldn't call this a Christmas romance novel, it is set in the 5 weeks leading up to Christmas. If, like me, you adore romance novels and books about books, The Bromance Book Club will be such a treat to read.

xo
Jenn

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

Monday, 22 July 2019

I Love Indigo For Their Books But Also For Another Reason

I love Indigo. I'm a bookworm, so it makes a certain degree of sense that I love a store full of knowledge and stories, but there's another reason I love this store. I rarely walk into an Indigo without thinking of one, special memory.




Picture a tired, nervous mama. Her new baby is exactly two-weeks-old. She is faced with a full year ahead at home caring for this baby, and she has made herself a vow, "We must leave the house once a day."

That was me. I loved our little baby, but it was spring and sunny and warm and, most importantly, I knew I'd go crazy if we stayed inside all day.

Before my son was born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed if I could, but the thought of balancing both a physical book along with a baby while nursing felt comically dangerous to me, so, shortly before Sebastian was born, I asked my husband to pick me up a Kobo on his way home from work. Perfect.

When our son was born, my mom stayed with us for a week or so to help us get settled, but eventually she left and Rob went back to the office. It was just me and a baby. And 8 hours to kill before my husband would be home from work.

I had two goals that day:
1. Keep the baby alive.
2. Get a cover for my Kobo.

I didn't want to take the subway with a newborn, so I clicked Sebastian up in his carseat, and we drove to Indigo (the Bay/Bloor location in Toronto to be exact.) I parked in the underground parking, put Sebastian in his baby wrap, grabbed the diaper bag, and we went into the store.

We didn't stay long, but as I was walking to look at the Kobo covers, I was stopped by another customer. A sweet, elderly woman who asked to peek at Sebastian. She was kind and warm, and made me feel like such a proud mama as she gushed over my baby. (I mean, she was in a bookstore, and book people really are the best people.)

Anyways, we chatted for just a minute, then she went her way, and I went mine. I picked out my Kobo cover, paid for it, and Sebastian and I went home.

Part of me can see how this whole story is a non-event, but it's special to me. It's the first time I ever drove Sebastian anywhere on my own. We got there and back without any disasters which was a huge confidence boost for me as a new mom.

Now, I'm fortunate that my son is just as much of a bookworm as I am. He loves Indigo. To be fair, he loves it for the toys just as much as the books, but still, he is a reader. And he has no idea that our favourite store also represents such a big milestone in my early motherhood days.

xo
Jenn

PS - This is not an ad for Indigo or anything. It's simply a bookish memory that means a lot to me, and I wanted to share it here with you.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Oven To Table by Jan Scott - Cookbook Review


I am not enormously talented when it comes to the kitchen. One of the things I find most difficult about cooking is getting all of the different parts of your meal to be finished and still warm at the same time. However, I can follow a recipe pretty well. Last year, I started scouring Pinterest for sheet pan dinner ideas, and it quickly became a "go to" dinner solution.

When Penguin Random House Canada asked me to check out their cookbook, Oven to Table, by Jan Scott, I was excited to add new recipes to my rotation. It includes over 100 one-pot/one-pan recipe ideas.

I assumed Oven to Table would be full of main courses and dinner ideas, but this cookbook is so much more than that. There are plenty of breakfast/brunch ideas, dessert ideas, and even a few drink ideas as well! My family loved the Ham and Cheese Croissant Casserole, as well as the Spicy Corn Bacon Frittata, and our most recent breakfast recipe was the Golden Apricot Granola pictured above.

My son isn't a big fish eater, but other recipes Rob and I tried and enjoyed are:
Brown Sugar and Chili-Rubbed Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner
Muffin Pan Tuna Melts

Next, I can't wait to make the Grilled Apple and Brie Sandwiches.

Not all of the recipes are super quick "30 mins or less" type recipes, though some definitely are, but every single recipe I've tried so far has been delicious and healthy.

There is a picture for nearly every recipe in Oven to Table, which is a must for any cookbook I own and actually use. I also enjoy this cookbook because I find flipping through it to be faster than getting lost down a Pinterest rabbit hole. It's out now, so look for it at your local bookstore!

xo
Jenn

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

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Romantic Armchair Travel to London With Jacquelyn Middleton



If a trip to England isn't in your plans this year, add these two books to your summer TBR instead. London Belongs to Me and London, Can You Wait are the first two books by Canadian author, Jacquelyn Middleton.

Both of these books chronicle the relationship of Alex Sinclair and Mark Keegan. When London Belongs to Me begins, Alex has just moved to London to jump into the world of theatre as a playwright. While she works at finding her feet within the drama of cutthroat show business, she reconnects with old friends and eventually meets Mark. A lengthly will-they-won't-they follows; however, it's easy to cheer for Mark and Alex 💗, and Middleton's vivid description of London will make you feel like you are truly there, even if, in reality, you're simply curled up on your sofa with a warm cup of tea.




London, Can You Wait? takes place about a year later. Mark has become an "in demand" actor for hit television shows and movies. Consequently, he and Alex are apart more often then they are together, and this takes its toll on them both. They love each other, but while they also battle through anxiety and grief, is it possible that love simply isn't enough? At once romantic and heartwarming, Middleton's romances always show that the path to our happily ever afters is never straightfoward, but it is worth fighting for.

While London Belongs to Me doesn't end on a cliffhanger, I highly recommend reading both books together as a duology. Not only does Jacquelyn Middleton's writing improve quite a bit with her second book, but reading both novels will give you the fulsome story of Mark and Alex and introduce you to characters that will appear in Middleton's later works.

My favourite Jacquelyn Middleton book is still Until the Last Star Fades (in which Alex and Mark make a little cameo); yet, these two books are delightful contemporary romances that anglophiles will adore. I'm more of a francophile myself, but since my dad was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and I have felt a small kinship with England throughout my life, and it always feels special to go back and visit whether it's in person or in literature.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of London, Can You Wait from Jacquelyn Middleton to review. Thank you, Jacquelyn! All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, 8 July 2019

A Peek Inside Mary Poppins, the Illustrated Edition



Sebastian and I enjoy having a 'read together' book on the go, and his favourites are illustrated chapter books. We devoured the first three illustrated Harry Potter books and while we wait (not so patiently) for the fourth to be published this fall, I thought Mary Poppins would be a good one to try next. His class went to see a play production of Mary Poppins during the school year and has seen the film, so he was open to reading this story in book form.

This particular edition includes the complete, revised text by P. L. Travers. The illustrations by Júlia Sardà are charming, and this may be one of my favourite book covers for a children's book I've ever seen. (That teacup in the top corner? Swoon!)




We're about two thirds of the way through, and we have noticed that this is a case where the book and the movie are quite different! Definitely watch the movie before or after you read this so you and your little one can talk about the similarities and differences.

The illustrated edition of Mary Poppins makes a gorgeous addition to a classic children's library. We've already gifted a copy as a birthday gift to one of Seb's friends :)

xo
Jenn

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

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Under Pressure by Dr. Lisa Damour - Book Review



I have been a middle school teacher for nearly 15 years, and I can confidently say that some of the most significant shifts in education have aligned with the awareness of mental health challenges taxing our teens and how to support them. Under Pressure by Dr. Lisa Damour is a refreshing look at stress and anxiety, and explores how we as parents and educators can help our girls during their tumultuous teenage years. I was fortunate enough to see Dr. Damour speak a few months ago on her book tour. I took pages of notes during her presentation with ideas of how I can best support my students, and I couldn't wait to read her book for more. While Dr. Damour focuses her work on girls, I found so much in her speech, and in her book, helpful for both boys and girls.

Dr. Damour begins her book by sharing the framework through which we should look at stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety have a bad reputation, and it's important to remember that stress and anxiety are often healthy for us. She says, "Stress is what happens when we operate at the edge of our capacities, and when we operate in this arena, we stretch ourselves and grow." Anxiety is closely connected. She describes anxiety as, "the gift that keeps us safe." (She also acknowledges that chronic or traumatic stress and anxiety are real, though different than everyday/healthy stress and anxiety.)

Secondly, we have good kids. Our teens (boys and girls) are the best generation on record. They drink less, smoke less, have less sexual partners, and are doing the most interesting things. This is a hopeful book. Technology has changed the landscape of youth, but it has not made it worse as we may be quick to believe.

With all of that in mind, Dr. Damour explores five areas where girls experience stress and anxiety: at home, with their friendships with other girls, with boys, at school, and as part of the culture society builds for women.

In each chapter, she shares specific examples of girls she has worked with and her advice for coaching them through stressful periods of their lives. Rather than taking a negative view on stress and anxiety, she offers specific language to help girls manage tricky situations in a thoughtful way, so they do not get overwhelmed or scared by their emotions. For example, when a student says she's feeling really nervous about a test, you can reply, "Good! I'm glad you're worried. That's the ideal reaction, because right now you know you're not ready. As soon as you start studying, your nerves will calm down."

Under Pressure is a helpful book for parents, educators, counsellors or anyone else who finds themselves in coaching situations with teens. Through my teacher lens, it gave me much to draw on the next time I need to help one of my students who is feeling stressed or anxious. Through my parenting lens (even as a boy mom), I found much of the book transferrable to how my son may encounter stress and anxiety, and it made me think about how I want to talk to him about his relationships with girls as he grows.

Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of Under Pressure from Penguin Random House Canada for review purposes, and my school covered the cost of my ticket to see Dr. Damour speak. All thoughts and opinions are still entirely my own.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Wreck A Journal With Your Little One This Summer

I love the idea of journaling, but blank pages scare me. I think scrapbooking looks like fun, but also, an enormous amount of work. Ages ago, pre-children, I bought a copy of Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith.



I think I did a few pages in it, but it eventually got stuck on my bookshelf beside all of my other unused notebooks.

Enter Sebastian.

This kid loves any and all things ridiculous, so Wreck This Journal is totally his jam. Here are a few examples of the pages inside:

Tie a string to the journal. Go for a walk, drag it.



Infuse this page with a smell of your choosing.
(He chose chocolate, so he's rubbing a piece of chocolate on the page!)



Close your eyes. Connect the dots from memory.



Draw with glue.



Wreck This Journal is an excellent book to have at home and for your little ones. I guarantee they will love it!

xo
Jenn

Monday, 24 June 2019

Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle - Book Review


Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle has three narrators: Beth, Jeffery, and Marcus. Beth is on the run from a violent husband. Jeffery's wife is missing, and he is the prime suspect. Marcus is the lead detective searching for Jeffery's wife.

The first half of this novel is strong. I was completely engaged, and the three narrators kept me turning the pages. Lots of little twists kept me trying to figure out Beth's true place in everything. Unfortunately, I predicted the main twist about halfway through the novel, so the ending left me feeling slightly underwhelmed. That being said, I would absolutely still try another book from this author. It has been awhile since I've read a domestic thriller, and I'm already wondering about which crime novel I'll pick up next.

Dear Wife is a quick, distracting summer read to throw in your beach bag or if you're heading on vacation. It's available tomorrow from your favourite bookseller.

xo
Jenn

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

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Day I Finally Asked for Help With My Post-Partum Depression

I walked into our family doctor's office with my husband and our 5 month old son. The late afternoon sun was warm for September, and not at all reflective of the darkness I was feeling inside. We entered and sat in the waiting room with other patients. Rob had taken yet another afternoon off work to come with me to this appointment. One too many panicked phone calls to my husband in the middle of the day tearfully begging him to come home from work and here we were.

We had been in this waiting room a number of times over the last few months. Our family doctor sees all three of us, and we'd been to see her recently for all of our son's regular baby checkups. This time was different. This time we were here for me. Sebastian wasn't going to be bouncing on my lap as a distraction. The nurse called my name, and I followed her into one of the exam rooms. As I walked into the room alone, I felt heavy and defeated. I was finally going to have to admit out loud the challenges and sadness I'd been feeling post-partum.



My limited understanding of post-partum depression was that it meant that you wanted to hurt your baby. I certainly didn't feel that way, so it was very challenging for me to believe that I could have post-partum depression. I was exhausted and drained and often upset, but I was posting happy mommy and baby moments on social media every day. Snuggles, cute onesies, trips to the park, I really did feel joy in those moments. I never wanted to hurt our son or wish him away. We had tried and yearned for this baby for years. I loved him and was afraid that a post-partum diagnosis would symbolize that I didn't really love or want my son. I wanted to feel happy and full of warmth but, I felt weighted down with sadness and guilt. I later learned just how many levels there are within PPD.

As I waited for my doctor to come in, I tried to figure out how exactly I would say the words out loud I'd been avoiding for months. How do you describe these feelings to someone? I felt like I was at confession, and I was ashamed that I couldn't handle the challenge of motherhood. In the end, I just couldn't bring myself to actually say the words "post-partum depression".

My doctor came in, sat down beside me and asked me how she could help. I told her, "I've been feeling really sad. More sad than I think I'm supposed to be." She nodded kindly. I could tell that, thankfully, she understood my code. "Both Rob and my mom really think I should talk to someone," I added.

I was so relieved that she didn't ask me more questions. The acknowledgement alone felt like enough for one day. My doctor logged into her computer and looked up potential psychiatrists for referral. We live in a large city, so it would be easy to get access to psychiatrists that specialized in PPD and even PPD groups if I was interested. (At the time of this appointment I was absolutely not interested in a PPD group. I was embarrassed enough admitting my problems to my doctor, whom I actually know and like.)

My mom and husband had been not so subtly hinting at me for awhile that I should check in with my doctor. I hated that they were right. I felt so guilty that I couldn't handle being a mom. I was supposed to do one thing. Take care of our son. And I was failing.

Before I left my doctor's office, she reassured me that things would be ok and that I would hear very soon from a local hospital with my psychiatrist referral appointment. She made sure I understood I could come back and see her anytime and to let her know if I didn't hear from the hospital within the next few days.

That particular appointment was only a few minutes long, but it was a turning point for me. The truth was finally out in the open, though I didn't leave my doctor's office feeling magically better that day.

I was still scared, and I was still sad. All of those feelings of failure, darkness, and defeat were still coursing through my body, and I was not optimistic that those feelings could change. They were simply too heavy. I was scared about talking about being sad, and I was convinced that my friends and family would judge me for not being strong enough to handle those first few sleepless months. I was afraid I had already failed.

Yet somewhere deep within my heart I knew asking for help was important. Healing could now begin, and there was a tiny truth that I was beginning to learn. Experiencing post-partum depression didn't mean I didn't love my baby and, I was asking for help because I loved my baby.

xo
Jenn

This post was originally published on The Mighty in 2016.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid - Book Review


Daisy Jones & The Six is the latest release from author Taylor Jenkins Reid. It was everywhere I looked when it was published earlier this year, and I was so delighted when Penguin Random House sent me a copy to review. I absolutely loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and I couldn't wait to read another book by this author.

What happened to the (fictional) 70s rock band Daisy Jones & The Six? What caused them to suddenly break up when they seemed to be on top of the world?

Told in a documentary/oral history style, this novel answers those questions. From the exhilarating highs to the tragic lows, we learn what brought Daisy Jones & The Six together, along with what would ultimately tear them all apart.

This book really worked for me. The interview format makes it a quick read, and I think it's worth the hype it's getting. I'm not a 70s music guru even a little bit, and I loved it. I can tell that Taylor Jenkins Reid is an excellent writer because as she describes the emotion behind the creation of the songs, I would feel the tension between Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne (lead singer of The Six) and ache to hear the music in real life as I was reading. At the back of the book you can find the lyrics to the (again, entirely fictional) Daisy Jones & The Six album. I can't begin to imagine how much work and research went into writing not only this book but an entire rock and roll album as well! I'm excited to hear that Daisy Jones & The Six is going to be an Amazon Original Miniseries. It's easy to envision this as a real documentary as you're reading it.

Lastly, and importantly, similar to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid does an exceptional job at giving a voice to women and the vastly different paths our lives may lead. I don't want to share more on this because it's spoilery, so I'll simply say that how she writes female characters really stands out to me.

Daisy Jones & The Six is the type of book that will appeal to many different types of readers. I even bought seven copies to gift to all of my son's teachers at the end of the school year!



Thank you again to Penguin Random House Canada for sending a complementary copy my way to read and gush over.

xo
Jenn

Saturday, 8 June 2019

A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum - Book Review



"Everything in our universe is made of pieces. There's no one point at which anything is truly distinct." 
- Rachel Barenbaum, A Bend in the Stars

A Bend in the Stars is the debut novel by Rachel Barenbaum. Set in 1914 Russia, with WWI looming, Vanya, a young Jewish physicist, is in a race to prove Einstein's theory of relativity. For if he can complete the math necessary, solving this puzzle is the ticket for his family to escape their dangerous lives in Russia and move to America.

However, his journey takes him, and his sister's fiancé, far away from home. With the help of a stranger, Vanya's sister, Miri, is determined to find her brother and reunite their family.

I would have never believed that a novel about proving the theory of relativity would be fast-paced, and frankly, interesting, but that's exactly I got with A Bend in the Stars. As the characters are in conflict with both a solar eclipse and the czar's control during wartime, this is a game of cat and mouse that will keep you engaged. The characters are likeable, and I always enjoy when there is a little love story along the way. A Bend in the Stars is rooted in real history, and this novel had me googling events afterwards to see exactly which pieces of the story are true.

I will say that to help those of us who aren't quite as well-versed in Russian geography, a map at the front of the book would have been helpful.

I look forward to reading more from Rachel Barenbaum as she grows a writer. She definitely knows how to tell a story. A Bend in the Stars is available now through your favourite bookseller. I hope you pick it up!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this novel from Grand Central Publishing and Read Forever  for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman - Book Review



I first discovered Fredrik Backman when my book club read My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, a few years ago. Then I fell further in love with this author when I read Beartown, twice. He has a way with words, and they seem to always hit their mark.

When I discovered that he had a non-fiction book coming out with advice for his son, I knew I'd want to read it. I have a son. Tell me what he needs to know! Because, seven years in, I often still have no idea what I'm doing.

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World is a collection of essays and anecdotes Backman shares with his son about early fatherhood. It's interesting to get a peek into an author's life after becoming such a fan. Additionally, I have read a lot of parenting books written from the perspective of women, so it was really wonderful to get a father's point of view.

I have a good sense of what's important to most moms, but what do dads think about?

Bravery, friendship, and love. As well as bacon and video games.

This collection is witty and heartwarming and full of love. It will absolutely make you smile, pull at your heart, and give you a few things to think about in your own life. I already look forward to rereading this someday. I admire Backman's writing so much that I'd read his grocery lists at this point.

Here's a flavour of what you can find in here on becoming a parent:
"The realization that you will, from that moment on, draw all your breaths from someone else's lungs hits you harder when you aren't prepared." - Fredrik Backman, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World

And on finding a partner:
"The majority of things in life are about picking your battles. You'll learn that too. And that will never be clearer than when you're at IKEA." - Fredrik Backman, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World will live right beside Beartown on my bookshelf, a slowly growing collection of books that I hope my own son will one day read.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada for review. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

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