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 JĂșlia SardĂ  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.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Mom Truths by Cat and Nat - Book Review



"No one will ever have all the answers. Every single mother out there - including the seemingly perfect moms who appear to breeze through life - has highs and lows. Every mother has feelings of both joy and guilt."
Mom Truths, Cat and Nat

This is such a fun book to read. Mom Truths is the first book from the best friends, and motherhood internet celebrities, Cat and Nat. The duo share their own parenting wins and fails, to help you both have a few tips, and also not feel like you're the only one to which crazy parenting crap happens!

Mom Truths vividly brought me back to my maternity leave when I would literally count the minutes until Rob would come home from work. Those were not my best days. In retrospect, Cat and Nat help me see that some are simply days I just needed to get through, and that's absolutely okay. Our children aren't going to remember that part. They are going to remember how much we loved them.

There were one or two chapters that didn't fully hit home with me, but overall I enjoyed this collection quite a bit. The chapters are bite-size and vary in structure which makes this book a quick read. It would be especially easy for a busy mom to pick up and put down if she only has 5 or 10 minutes to herself. My favourite chapters are "Instagram is Bullshit" (I love Instagram, and this is still one of my favourites!), and "Up, Yours Honey Nut Cheerio Bee" which is a chapter full of tips to shake up your routine when you're feeling like you're in a lonesome, repetitive mom rut.

Mom Truths is a perfect read for any mama who has a little one (or little ones) from the newborn to elementary school age. I really hope Cat and Nat write another book when their children become teens. I'm going to need it!

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 May 2019

Sebastian: 7-Years-Old and 20 Questions



I cannot even believe we have a seven-year-old. Here's our annual interview with this growing monkey!

1. What is your favorite colour? pink (for the fifth year in a row!) and red and yellow and white and orange
2. What is your favorite toy? my new poop emoji that I got from Valentine's
3. What is your favorite fruit? strawberries and apples and watermelon
4. What is your favorite tv show? Scooby Doo (for the second year in a row)
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? ice cream
6. What is your favorite outfit? footies (for the third year in a row)
7. What is your favorite game? talking about Plants vs Zombies 4 and playing Plants vs Zombies 2
8. What is your favorite snack? ice cream 
9. What is your favorite animal? cat (for the second year in a row)
10. What is your favorite song? Captain Underpants movie theme song
11. What is your favorite book? Captain Underpants
12. Who is your best friend? Jude and Connor
13. What is your favorite cereal? Corn Pops
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? play (for the second year in a row)
15. What is your favorite drink? milk (for the second year in a row)
16. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas (for the third year in a row) and my birthday 
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Scooby 
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? birthday waffle pancakes
19. What do you want for dinner? tacos (for the second year in a row)
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? book writer

And here are his answers from his 6th birthday5th birthday4th birthday, and 3rd birthday.

xo
Jenn

Monday, 29 April 2019

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne - Book Review

After I read The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne last year, it quickly became a lifetime fav. I was delighted when Penguin Random House Canada sent me a review copy of his next release, A Ladder to the Sky.

Following a book that received the kind of critical and commercial acclaim Furies did likely came with no small amount of pressure for the author. I'm pleased to say that, while A Ladder to the Sky is completely different than Furies, I was not disappointed!


A Ladder to the Sky tells the story of Maurice Swift, a writer who will stop at nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) to achieve success and fame in the literary world.

Nearly all of the characters in this book are unlikeable and infuriating. Most of the time, I couldn't decide if I loved A Ladder to the Sky or hated it. It's clever, chilling, and scandalous. Watching Maurice manipulate every single person around him felt like watching a train wreck over and over and over again. However, Boyne's writing is outstanding, and I know I was feeling exactly what he intended me to feel as the reader of this novel.

I also love that Boyne gives the reader a peek inside the world of publishing. Is the volume of books published each year too high? What is the value of literary prizes? How do women carve out a voice in a traditionally male-dominated industry? At what point does an idea or experience become shared and no longer yours alone? When does ambition become manipulation? How guilty are we of sins we commit in youth or duress?

Lastly, it is interesting to read a book about a shady author after following the #copypastecris drama on Twitter earlier this year. The short version of this story is that there is a romance author who has allegedly plagiarized parts of her novels from over 90 other books written by over 40 authors (including Nora Roberts and Diana Gabeldon, to name a few). The story of Maurice Swift may be imagined, but what makes this novel so compelling is that I do not think it would be much of a stretch to turn this work of fiction into one of non-fiction.

xo
Jenn

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

Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick - Book Review and Giveaway



I'll never be able to think of this book without thinking of spraining my ankle. While I did try to take a picture of this gorgeous book about a library in an actual library, things didn't work out as planned (you can read the embarrassing story here). However, I did end up spontaneously being all matchy matchy with this book at a coffee shop, so I suppose the lesson here is not to over-plan life.

This is not exactly unconnected to some of the themes in The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick. Librarian Martha Storm spends her life creating colour-coordinated lists and being the "go to" person for any task needing completion in her small town. From completing laundry for her neighbours to repairing decorations to volunteering at the library, Martha has dedicated her life to helping others.

One day, the discovery of an old book of fairy tales knocks her off her current course. There is a dedication in this book that indicates her beloved grandmother may not have died when Martha was told she did. Is Zelda still alive now? What other family secrets are in hiding? As Martha dives into this mystery, she discovers hidden truths about her past that may change her future.

Initially, I did not like Martha. She is a doormat in the extreme when we meet her, and I was annoyed that so many people around her were taking advantage of her desire to be helpful. The first half of this book will definitely have you evaluating how often you say, "No." in your own life. However, I grew to enjoy Martha's character more by the end. She goes through a necessary journey in this novel and comes out better for it. And the bookseller she meets, Owen, is quite charming :)

Ultimately, The Library of Lost and Found is about our personal connection to books and how stories bring us together. I have a soft spot for book about books, and this one fits that genre nicely.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, I'm giving one copy of The Library of Lost and Found away over on Instagram this weekend. Check it out here!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book from TLC Book Tours and Harlequin Books for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, 22 March 2019

HealthTea Book Crate March 2019 - Unboxing


Ever since Novel Editions closed down over a year ago, I've been hunting for a book box that featured excellent new releases and high-quality products. I've tested quite a few, and I've finally found one that is perfect for me!

HealthTea Book Crate is a bi-monthly subscription box that always features recently released fiction (often hardcover and signed by the author), tea, and other luxury bookish/self-care items.

My husband gifted me a six-month subscription (3 boxes) for Christmas, and I enjoyed their enchanted forest holiday box so much! I unboxed it on Instagram here.

The March 2019 box is themed mindfulness, and I love it just as much!


Included:
* The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray (hardcover with a signed book plate, plus #diversereads for the win!)
* Morning Harmony loose leaf tea by Leaf & Twig
* Happy Floral Notebook Set by Seedlings (set of 3 notebooks with a plantable belly band)
* Fluttery Mix Pencil Terrarium by June and December (set of 5)
* Breath Deeply Essential Oil Towelettes by Happy Spritz (set of 4)
* Ways To Be More Mindful art print by HealthTea Book Crate

If you're interested in learning more, visit their Subscription page for the various pricing and gift options. Their next box is in May, and it's their one-year anniversary box, so it's sure to be wonderful!

The whimsical packaging details, and the luxurious items selected make HealthTea Book Crate such a treat to open. While the cost of shipping to Canada is (understandably) high, this was the perfect gift, and I'm hopeful Rob renews my subscription for Mother's Day 💖.

xo
Jenn

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

California Girls by Susan Mallery - Book Review





If you're looking for a fun, light, heartwarming read, Califorina Girls by Susan Mallery is the perfect fit. It's the story of three sisters who get dumped in the same week....

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation... While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancĂ© sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I quite enjoyed Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery a few years ago, so I was excited to bring California Girls on vacation this week, and I was not disappointed. All three storylines with Ali, Zennie, and Finola moved quickly and were fun to get lost in for a few days. Daniel is super dreamy and the chapters with him and Ali were my favourite. Susan Mallery writes novels that are perfect for readers to love their romances not too spicy, and I love the way she writes the banter between the characters.

The only character I didn't like in this story was the mother. I suspect she was supposed to be unsupportive and over-the-top, but I just couldn't believe that she was so insensitive towards her daughters after their breakups. Maybe I just have a great mom and other moms are actually like this? I don't know. That was the one part that kind of pulled me out of the story now and then. That being said, I still really had fun with California Girls, and would absolutely recommend it!

Bonus - I'm giving a way a copy this week over on Instagram!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book courtesy of TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Literary Matchmaking With My Parents

I'm a big fan of Anne Bogel and the podcast What Should I Read Next?. My friend, Sara, and I even did a little literary matchmaking for each other here and here.

I thought it would be fun to try this with my parents as well.



My Mom
Books I have loved:
1. The Immigrants by Howard Fast
2. A Nurse's Story by Tilda Shalof
3. For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston

A Book I Didn't Like:
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Currently Reading:
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

My mom likes happy endings. She wants a "feel good" story that isn't going to break her heart to pieces. She also likes books that tell someone's story, especially strong women. My mom prefers novels that are set within the last century. She likes historical fiction, but not too far back.

For my mom, I recommend:
1. Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen
2. Love and Ruin, Paula McLain
3. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid

Bonus suggestions: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and Where I Belong by Alan Doyle


My Dad
My three favorite books:
1)  Aztec by Gary Jennings
2)  The Memory Illusion by Dr. Julia Shaw. It sheds a whole new light on how well we think our memories are.
3)  Foundation trilogy by Issac Assimov

A Book I Disliked:
Camino Island by John Grisham. This started out as a page turner but after the first chapter, it turned into something completely different with a very lame ending.  Definitely a waste of time and money.

Currently Reading:
I'm halfway through the first book of Sapiens. I'm enjoying it but it is not something you can spend more than 1 hr at a time on it.

My dad reads both fiction and non-fiction. He likes books that offer glimpses into different cultures and eras, and he likes learning what makes people tick. He loves a compelling story and doesn't want to be bored.

For my dad, I recommend:
1. Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
2. Station Eleven by Emily St. Jean Mandel
3. Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese

Bonus Suggestions: Midnight Light by Dave Bidini.

Happy reading!
xo
Jenn

Monday, 11 February 2019

On Boards by Lisa Dawn Bolton - My New Favourite Cookbook



The kitchen is not my favourite room in the house. In fact, it scares me. I can cook *just* enough to feel that I put together quasi-healthy meals for my family, but I am not a confident chef by any means.

When I discovered On Boards by Lisa Dawn Bolton, I immediately knew this cookbook would be perfect for me. I related to her entirely on page one when she described, "following the recipe to the letter, closing the oven door, and just praying it works." That is exactly how I feel in the kitchen. Her alternative is a cookbook with very little actually cooking. Sign me up!

On Boards is a collection of 50 different meals to serve on a charcuterie board. Her hope is to share ideas for us to plan gorgeous meals that you can prepare in advance for your family or your guests. You can say goodbye to living in the kitchen when your friends are over or stressing about timing for each part of the meal!


Over the past month, I've made four of the boards in this book (Vegan Vibes - pictured above, Eggs & Soldiers Brunch Board - pictured below, Something Sweet, and Date Night In.) Each board comes with a list of "components" (rather than ingredients) and an image to give you inspiration when arranging your own.



Creating these boards has been wicked easy and so much fun. Chop, arrange, snap an photo for Instagram, and serve! I've been inspired to purchase foods I might not have otherwise picked up on my own. One example is the burrata cheese that was a huge hit with our guests recently. No one around the table had even heard of this delicious, fresh-tasting cheese beforehand.

I can also attest that these boards are kid-friendly. There are some boards especially for playdates and littles, but so far my six-year-old has devoured each board I've put in front of him.

I can't recommend this cookbook highly enough. Anyone, no matter your confidence level dans la cuisine, will love it.

On Boards is available anywhere books are sold. For further inspiration, follow @lisadawnbolton on Instagram!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a complementary copy of On Boards to review. It is getting a lot of love in our house!

Monday, 4 February 2019

17 Non-Fiction Books on my TBR

I'm a huge fiction lover. The past few years, I've read 100 books a year and over 80% of them have been fiction. I love getting lost in stories and escaping real life.

This year, I'm again focusing quite a bit on my unread shelf (which has some non-fiction in it), while I'm completing two different reading challenges:

1. #theunreadshelfproject2019
2. The Toronto Library 2019 Reading Challenge

As I planned out how to meet these challenges, work through my unread books, and tackle a few others I've heard are excellent, I *think* these are going to be 17 non-fiction books I read this year.


Books I own already

We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I've read three other books by this author, and they've all been excellent. I'm looking forward to this one as well. Her words are alway so powerful.

Midnight Light, Dave Bidini - I saw Dave Bidini speak in the fall, and though Midnight Light is not a book I would ever pick up on my own, he was such a compelling speaker that I am looking forward to reading this book about his time in Yellowknife.

I'd Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel - I'm probably the only blogger left that hasn't read Anne Bogel's newest book which is essentially a love letter to readers everywhere.

The Orchid and the Dandelion, W. Thomas Bryce - Both the teacher and the parent in me are intrigued in this book about why some children succeed and how all children can thrive.

Daring Greatly, Brené Brown - This will be my first Brené Brown book, I am pretty certain I will love every word.

There Are No Grown Ups, Pamela Drukerman - I often feel like I'm too young to be an adult. I suspect this book will show me I'm not alone!

Expecting Sunshine, Alexis Marie Chute - A friend gifted me this book last year after knowing the struggle we went through with pregnancy loss before Sebastian was born. I don't expect it will be an easy read, but I always say that the more we can tell our stories if we are able, the less we all feel alone.

Howards End is on the Landing, Susan Hill - A book about reading your unread books!

Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis - The more I think about Rachel Hollis, the more skeptical I feel. I was totally drinking the Girl, Wash Your Face juice when her first book came out, but there are a few things I've reflected on that make me wary about some of her messages moving forward. We'll see how this one goes...

Final Report, Rick Mercer - I love Rick Mercer, and I can't wait to read this collection of some of his best rants. And I know my parents want me to read it soon, so they can get their hands on my copy!

I'll Be There For You, Kelsey Miller - Any other Friends fans in the house? This book is a behind the scenes look at the iconic show.

Well-Read Black Girl, Glory Edim - I've been seeing this book all over Instagram lately. It's a collection of essays by black women writers on the importance of literature.

On Boards, Lisa Dawn Bolton - Can I count a cookbook? I'm doing it anyways. I'm reading though this book right now, and, even as a non-chef, I love every page.


Books I'll Get From The Library

Adulthood is a Myth, Sarah Anderson - This graphic novel looks super relatable.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou - One of the topics for the Toronto Library Reading Challenge is to read a book recommended by a librarian. I told my friend I liked memoirs, and this was at the top of her list.

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown - This book about the about the American rowing team that stunned everyone in the 1936 Olympics is supposed to be extraordinary.

Seven Fallen Feathers, Tanya Talaga - Another challenge from the Toronto Library is to read a book from their Read Indigenous list. I'm thinking of reading this one about residential schools.


What non-fiction books are you hoping to read this year?
xo
Jenn

Monday, 28 January 2019

Until The Last Star Fades by Jacquelyn Middleton - Book Review


Until The Last Star Fades is the newest release from Canadian author Jacquelyn Middleton. If you've read her previous two books, London Belongs to Me and London, Can You Wait?, her new novel takes place in the same world with a few of the same characters popping by; however, it can be read as a standalone. That's what I did!

In this book, we meet Riley and Ben. NYW student Riley is looking for a distraction from some heavy challenges in her life. Here on a temporary visa, British Ben is looking for maximum fun with minimum commitment. They seem like a perfect match. However, Until The Last Star Fades is so much more than a simple love story.

It's difficult to review this book without giving anything away, because there are a lot of layers to this novel, but I want you to know that if you are in the mood for a book that is fun but has substance, you will not be disappointed.

This book tackles both mental and physical health in an emotional and touching way. Life is messy, and it's nice to read a romance that feels real. Even though it's not easy, I like to believe that it's okay to feel hope and fear at the same time. I could tell that Riley and Ben were struggling with that too.

What made me tear up the most when reading this book; however, is that Until The Last Star Fades is, unexpectedly, also a love letter to mothers everywhere. Because moms really are the best.

I hope you pick up Ben and Riley's story, and I sincerely can't wait to read more Jacquelyn Middleton books in the future!

xo
Jenn

PS - One thing that Riley and Ben love to do is send each other songs. To bring Until The Last Star Fades to life, you can listen to the 4 Riles/ 4 Benjamin playlists from the book directly on Spotify. Check out the link here on Jacquelyn Middleton's webpage to listen.

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book courtesy of the author. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Callisto Crate Review - Inaugural Box + promo code



Callisto Crate is a monthly Canadian book box that launched last year. Their mission is to create book boxes that feature strong women and their compelling stories. #shereadsfiercely The novels selected span a variety of genres. Some examples so far have been historical fiction, women's fiction, and fantasy. In addition to the book, the box includes items inspired by the novel and its characters.

I love that this company was started by two moms who met at the playground. I love their efforts to include local vendors, and I especially their commitment to donate 1% of all profits and products to the Kamloops Y Women's Emergency Shelter to support women and children seeking safety from violent situations.

Cost: $49.95 + shipping. There is a discount when you sign up for a 3-month subscription. You can also take 10% off your order with the promo code messy10.
*Also - be sure to check out their sale on past boxes. The shipping is currently free!

Let's peek inside!

 

To begin, there is an art print from one of the founders, Tara Pastro. This watercolour is connected to the story because the protagonist of the novel hates tulips. On the back of the print is a summary of the box theme and contents. This theme is The Elephant in the Room.


The debut Callisto Crate featured a debut author: Gail Honeyman and her novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I haven't read this book yet, and I've heard nothing but good things. Such a wonderful selection! Plus, this bookmark with a quote from the book is such a nice touch.


Next is an elephant tea strainer and Darjeeling tea (Eleanor's favourite!) from Teaberry's. I was pleasantly surprised with how much tea was included. It will last me a long while.



Eleanor always has a shopping bag with her and has frog pouf at home, so those two traits where represented together with this frog shopping bag.


Eleanor has pesto pasta every day, so this box includes pesto mix from Made With Love.


To celebrate their inaugural box, Callisto Crate also included a small candle with a quotation from the book.



Finally, a crossword puzzle about the novel because Eleanor loves crossword puzzles!

The products selected really bring the theme together nicely. Many of the items are custom-made, so it's not easy to give exact values for each item; however, I really love this box and the vision of this company.

To sign up for future Callisto Crates, or get your hands on a past box like this one, visit their website. And remember to use the code messy10 for 10% off!

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I was sent a complementary book box from Callisto Crate for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

2019 Reading Goals

I love lists, and I find writing down my goals very helpful. Even if I don't meet every single one; it gives me a direction, and I feel great when I can check some of them off!



Here's what I'm hoping to read in 2019:

1. The 12 challenges for #theunreadshelfproject2019 
My current unread shelf count is 252. I'd like this number to be closer to 200 by December.

▪️January - any unread book
▪️February - a book gifted to you
▪️March - the book that’s been on your shelf the longest
▪️April - the book you most recently acquired
▪️May - a book you bought because of the movie/TV/theater adaptation
▪️June - a book about travel or set in a country you’ve never been to
▪️July - a book from a series on your shelf
▪️August - a book voted for you to read by Bookstagram
▪️September - a book you can buddy read with someone
▪️October - a book that scares you, whether because of length, content, or actual horror level!
▪️November - a book from your favorite genre
▪️December - the shortest book on your shelf


2. Get caught up with the books I've been sent for review (about 25 books)
Sometimes I am sent book for promotional purposes on Instagram (which I don't stress about reading right away), and there are other times I am sent books for review purposes. The publishers and authors I work with are amazing and never pressure me about my reviews; however, this pile is starting to grow taller than I'd like, and I want to get caught up in a serious way. My dream is that every book I was sent for review in 2018 and every book I receive for review in 2019 is reviewed before the end of the year.

3. Read or donate the misc unread books I have by authors with the last name A-I (about 50 books)
I've been reading my unread shelves in alphabetical chunks, and as I work my way through new letters, I always end up acquiring new books from past groups! I've been working on H since August, but I got distracted by a million other books. I'm still working my way through this tower and then will move onto I.


Other soft goals for the year...
  • Read 6 books in French (one every other month or so)
  • Read 100 books for my Goodreads Challenge
  • Read more Canadian authors
  • Read more authors of colour

Here's to some excellent reading in 2019!
xo
Jenn

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