Monday, 30 December 2019

10 Books I Loved in 2019

Picking my favourite reads of the year is always tough. I've read 100 books this year, and I've become relentless at abandoning books I'm not enjoying, so that means I've really enjoyed the books I've read this year.

There are always a few that rise to the top, and I've tried to spread the love through different genres. Additionally, I read some really fantastic library books and books I gifted forward to others, but my list includes only books I have kept in my home library.

Of the 100 books I read...  (2018 numbers)

39 were published this year (29)
23 were ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  reads for me (21)
0 were rereads (12)
27 were nonfiction (12)
1 was a novella (+ 1 collection of novellas) (3 + 1 collection)
85 were by female authors (92)
14 were by authors of colour (7)
20 were by Canadian authors (10)
2 Seb and I read together (1)
2 books in French (1)

In no particular order, because ranking them would be actually impossible, here are 10 books I loved in 2019!

1. On Boards, Lisa Dawn Bolton
If you follow me on Instagram @jennbairos, it's no secret that one of my new passions this year is making crowd-pleasing charcuterie boards. On Boards is my "go to" cookbook for inspiration! Read more about On Boards in this post.

2. A Ladder to the Sky, John Boyne
The Heart's Invisible Furies made my top ten list last year, so A Ladder to the Sky was a highly anticipated read of mine this year. With an antihero you will love to hate, this is a compelling book. Perfect for book clubs! You can read my review here.

3. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Alicia Elliott
One of my reading goals this year was to read more Indigenous literature. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground was a beautiful book that landed in my mailbox earlier this year, and I'm so glad it did. These essays are thoughtful, controversial, and absolutely necessary. Here's my review. (Also, Goodreads tells me this is the highest rated book I read this year coming in at 4.58/5!)

4. Us Against You, Fredrik Backman
I read four (!) Backman books this year, and it was hard to pick a favourite. A Man Called Ove is wonderful, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World is charming and relatable, but being back in the world of Beartown tugged at my heart the most.

5. Until The Last Star Fades, Jacquelyn Middleton
I read all three of Jacquelyn's books this year and was lucky enough to meet her in person! I love her romances, and Until The Last Star Fades is my favourite. Here's my review.

6. Dear Mother, Bunmi Laditan
I love pretty much anything Laditan writes, and her first poetry collection touched the core of my mama heart.

7. Under Pressure, Lisa Damour
The best book for professional reading I did this year is Under Pressure. I was also able to see Dr. Damour speak earlier this year. Hearing and reading her words about how we talk about stress and anxiety among teens has profoundly shifted how I address these topics with my students. Read more here.

8. All We Ever Wanted, Emily Giffin
This was my first Emily Giffin book, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it! 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. Read my review here. It's perfect for fans of Beartown by Fredrik Backman.

9. My Lovely Wife, Samantha Downing
I've learned that I am super picky about my thrillers. They seem to be published left, right, and centre, and I read a handful this year, but My Lovely Wife is the only one that really had me on the edge of my seat. I cannot wait for her next release!

10. Daisy Jones & the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo made my favourites list in 2017. Daisy Jones is a completely different style, but also similar with a strong woman at the core of the story. Here's my review.

What was one of your favourite books this year?

If you're interested, here are my top 10 reads from 2018 and 2017.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Bibliostyle by Nina Freudenberger

"I don't want to sound pretentious, but I don't understand people who don't have books."
Emmanuel de Bayser.

Bibliostyle By Nina Freudenberger is a beautiful coffee table book that would be the perfect addition to any bibliophile's home. It is full of breathtaking photography of some of the most compelling personal libraries and bookstores from around the world.

A few highlights for me were peeking inside the home library of Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus, and learning about how Coralie Bickford-Smith designs the gorgeous clothbound Penguin classic covers book lovers have come to adore.

If you feel like you are always running out of bookshelves in your house (I know I am!), you will find comfort in seeing how other readers live at home with books in every corner.


Disclaimer - I received a complimentary copy of Bibliostyle courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Monday, 23 December 2019

5 Authors I Discovered In 2019

One of my favourite things I like to do at the end of the year is reflect on the new authors I discovered that year. Here are five writers I came to know and love this year.

Diana Gabaldon - I have finally joined the Outlander fandom! I read the Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager this year, and I have fallen fully in love with Jamie Fraser. Rob and I are about halfway through watching season 3 of Outlander on Netflix, and then I'll dive into Drums of Autumn.

Jacquelyn Middleton - If you want a love story with a lot of heart, I encourage you to check out Jacquelyn Middleton's books. I read all three of her novels this year. Until the Last Star Fades was my favourite by far. You can read my review for it here.

Lyssa Kay Adams - I love discovering new romance writers, and Lyssa Kay Adam's book, The Bromance Bookclub, is excellent. Plus, it's a married romance! I can't wait to read her next release, Undercover Bromance.

Samantha Downing - I've learned that I am pretty picky when it comes to my thrillers. I was lucky enough to win a copy of My Lovely Wife in a giveaway over on Instagram, and it blew my mind. It's a little bit dark and twisty but compulsively readable.

Heather Webb - So, I haven't actually read a book written solely by Heather Webb, but I did read Ribbons of Scarlet and have started Meet Me In Monaco, and she did collaborate on both of these wonderful historical fiction novels. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

If you're interested, here are the "new to me" authors I discovered in 2018 and 2017.

Did you come across anyone new this year? Who was it?


Sunday, 22 December 2019

The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin

The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin wove together all of my favourites: Paris, books, true love, and the movie, The Holiday.

Sophie needs an escape from the drama of the city and Sarah is ready for an adventure outside of her small town. The two friends agree to a last minute bookshop exchange, and Sarah finds herself managing an adorable bookstore along the Seine in Paris, with views of the Eiffel Tower to top it all off. She's delighted to be in the City of Light, but not everyone who works at the bookshop welcomes her with open arms. Sarah must navigate managing the busy shop, preparing for the holidays, all while trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge.

Rebecca Raisin crafted a beautiful Paris setting, that will fulfill your armchair travel needs while you cozy up beside the fireplace this winter. Her descriptions of the sights and sounds in Paris were so vivid, I could truly picture myself there with Sarah. I also really enjoyed the mystery surrounding the stack of old letters Sarah discovers in the store.

I will say, that I did feel that Sophie was a bit unreasonable towards Sarah throughout the novel. It was Sophie's idea to switch bookshops, with almost no notice right around the holidays, and she still gave Sarah a hard time when there were bumps along the way.

Overall, this cozy book is such a treat to read. I loved watching Sarah build her confidence and take risks. The French culture and history peppered among the pages are delightful, and the characters are easy to cheer for.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine comes out January 7, 2020, and I'm giving an early copy of this book away over on Instagram this week. Click here to find out how to enter!


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

Saturday, 21 December 2019

The Uniquely Bookish Box - December 2019

The Uniquely Bookish Box is a subscription box that combines two of my favourite things: great literature and Canadian businesses. I was recently invited to help them promote their boxes this winter, and I couldn't be more delighted to show off what was inside their December box!

Here are the details you need to know first:

What's in each box - a recently released or classic novel along with 4-5 self-care and bookish items from small Canadian businesses.

Cost - $56.99 for one month. There are discounts for purchasing 3 or 6-month subscriptions, and shipping is a flat rate of $15. Use the coupon code SPLENDID10 to receive 10% off any order. Shipping is available to Canada and the U.S.

The Uniquely Bookish Box alternates between shipping a classic novel and a recent release; however, if you'd like only classics, or only recent releases, simply choose that option at checkout!

The December theme was Winter Woods. Here's what was inside.

I have received compliments every time I've worn this necklace, so far. My friend, Jen, said to me, "It really makes you look and keep looking."

And these book nerd socks are so cozy! My very unofficial estimate is that the items in the box have a value of around $80 which is well above the cost of the box. If you're looking for a bookish box that will give you cozy, hygge vibes, I absolutely encourage you to check out The Uniquely Bookish Box. And remember to use the code SPLENDID10 for 10% off.

Their upcoming January theme is Read, Write, Relax and will feature a classic novel.
Their upcoming February theme is Journeys and will feature a highly-anticipated 2020 release.


Disclaimer - I was sent a complementary December box from The Uniquely Bookish Box for promotional purposes. All thoughts and opinions are true and entirely my own.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Our Favourite Children's Christmas Books

Does anyone else have a special library collection they pull out only for the holidays? One of my favourite things to do is snuggle up with Sebastian by our tree and read cozy, Christmas stories together. Here are some of our favourites.

Christmas is Coming, An Advent Book by Katie Hickey - This is a beautiful, hardcover advent book full of crafts, activities, stories, and songs for you and your little ones as you countdown to Christmas. Sebastian loves the little flaps on the cover for each day, and the art inside this book is stunning.

A Very Marley Christmas by John Grogan - The author of Marley and Me also wrote an adorable children's series about Marley. My 7-year-old loves these books because Marley is always stirring up trouble!

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig - A great chapter book for the holiday season!

1001 Things To Spot at Christmas Sticker Book - My son loves all things I Spy, so this book was a huge hit when I first brought it home. He still keeps it and plays with it each year. We also have this I Spy Christmas book, but it's actually less Christmas-y.

Santa is Coming to Toronto (and the similar Santa is Coming to Canada) - It's always fun when children can see their own community in a book, so these two books are great fun. There are a few "Santa is Coming" books, and the Canada one is perfect if your specific town or city doesn't have one yet.

The Best Worst Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson - I have such fond memories of my own mother reading me this book when I was little. It is a hilarious chapter book about a Christmas pageant gone awry.

Disney's Countdown to Christmas - Countdown to Christmas with 25 Disney stories! One for each day, these short stories revisit all of your old favourites (Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, Cars, etc) as they get ready for the holidays.

A Merry Scary Holiday - My son is obsessed with Scooby Doo, so if your child is as well, this is their holiday themed reader. Keep your eye out for it in thrift stores.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss - No collection is complete without a copy of this classic!

Merry & Bright isn't a picture book, but it is a beautiful keepsake journal to help you cherish your holiday memories. This book is where you can record special events, movies, gatherings, gifts, and photos from your Christmas celebrations. There are enough pages and prompts for you to use this journal for a decade, so it will keep us going right until 2029!

What are some of your favourite Christmas stories?

Disclaimer - Thank you to Raincoast Books for sending us copies of Santa is Coming to Canada, Christmas is Coming, and Merry & Bright.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Middle School Matters - A Must Read for Parents!

Did you realize that every middle schooler today was born after September 11, 2001?

Their world is completely different than the one in which we grew up. While much has remained the same ("Oh no! There's the boy I like." or "I'm not going to try out, because I know I won't make the team."), so much is different ("Should I vape with my friends?" or "She posted that picture on Snapchat just to make me jealous!").

I don't yet have a middle schooler of my own; however, I have spent the last 15 years teaching middle school. It certainly has its ups and downs, but I firmly believe in the importance of the middle school years in a child's development. Students in Grades 6 to 8 need adults in their corner as they test boundaries, emerge from childhood, and discover who they are going to be in the next chapters of their lives.

However, if there's one thing that's predictable about middle school, it's that it's unpredictable! Phyllis L. Fagell is a licensed clinical professional counselor who works actively in schools and in private practice with parents and their children. She wrote Middle School Matters as a guide for parents (and educators) with the key skills we can help foster in our middle schoolers.

I found myself nodding along in the scenarios she described, as I have seen many of them in our day to day life at school. Fagell tackles shifting friendships, bullying, sexual health, anxiety, academics, and more. What I love most about this book is that throughout each chapter, she provides possible conversation starters you can use to speak to your children or students.

Since I teach middle school, my students all head off to high school after they're finished with me, and then many of them plan to attend college or university. It's easy for me to get locked into the mindset of preparing them for high school; however, I loved being reminded that the purpose of school isn't to get into another school. Our purpose as teachers is to prepare them for their career and for their relationships with others as they grow. This resonated quite a bit with me.

I wonder about the middle schoolers who don't have a supportive home life. How might we help them see their value in this world? How might we guide them during difficult moments in their lives? How might we build our relationships with these students in a meaningful way to be their safe space?

Middle School Matters is a must-read for parents with children middle school. I quite enjoyed it, and I suspect parents of middle school students will glean important insights and tips for all of the ups and downs that come along with this transitional period in their children's lives.


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

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory is an author I have come to count on for fun, contemporary romance. I first fell in love with her last year with The Wedding Date, and I also enjoyed her second book, The Proposal. I also have a soft spot for all things Christmas romance, so when I learned she had penned a Christmas love story called Royal Holiday, I was eager to pick it up.

When Vivian Forest's daughter has a work opportunity to be the personal stylist for a Duchess in England over the holidays, she invites Vivian to accompany her on this trip. While in England, Vivian meets Malcolm Hudson, the Queen's Personal Secretary and so begins a charming holiday fling.

Royal Holiday reads exactly like a Netflix Christmas movie. There's royalty, champagne, mistletoe kisses, and two people who come from different backgrounds. It was refreshing to read a romance where both of the main characters are over 50 (because, let's face it, friends...I'm closer to 50 than I am to 20), and I loved imagining that the unnamed "Duke and Duchess" were Harry and Meghan.

If you're looking for a cozy, cute holiday story to read by the tree with a cup of hot chocolate, pick up Royal Holiday. It's available now from your local library or favourite bookseller.


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

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!


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.


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.


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.


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.


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 :)


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.*


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. I've also noticed that many iPhone images are saved now as HEIC images. This website explains how to convert them to .jpg photos on a Mac.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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!


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!

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!


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this novel from Harper Collins Canada. 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.


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.


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!


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.


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.

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.


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!