Thursday, 25 June 2020

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

It has been heartening to see the bookish community is using its collective voice to lift and celebrate so many BIPOC writers. The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen is absolutely one title to add to your growing TBR from Black authors.

Ethan is a biracial teen who has been raised by his white father. After an incident at school, Ethan is sent to live with his white aunt and uncle in the small town of Ellison, Alabama. Set in 1955, Ethan's blackness is the only thing anyone sees when they look at him. It also makes him an easy target.

Enter Juniper Jones. A fiery redhead with an open heart and a passion for life. She is determined to befriend Ethan, so the two of them can plan the best summer of their lives.

It's Ethan and Juniper against the world, and as Ethan is confronted with what it means to be Black in America, Juniper tries to help him find joy, even on the toughest of days.

Ethan and Juniper are easy to love, and though this is a fictitious novel, the reality of the events that transpire rings true. I had so many feelings by the end of this book. It will leave you in tears but also wanting to give it all the stars. I have been looking for YA novels by Black authors to suggest to my students, and I cannot wait to tell them about The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones.

Daven's author's note at the beginning is not to be missed as she shares her intention for this to be a novel where one may find empathy for those who look different or where one may simply feel seen.

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones is available now from your favourite bookseller or library.


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

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Very Marrow of Our Bones by Christine Higdon

My latest #quarantineread was The Very Marrow of Our Bones by Christine Higdon. This story begins in the late 1960s near Fraser River, British Columbia. Two women from the town, Bette Parsons and Alice McFee, disappear on the same day. Did they run away? Were they murdered? Lulu Parsons thinks she knows why her mother is gone, but she doesn't tell a soul. The silent egg seller, Doris Tenpenny, suspects Alice's husband is involved, but she also doesn't share her secret.

Told over the span of decades, The Very Marrow of Our Bones dives into the question How do hidden secrets change us?

This novel definitely takes its time to reveal itself to the reader. I nearly put it down after the first 75 pages or so; however, I'm so glad I stuck with it as it picks up steadily and I couldn't put it down by the end. Doris' chapters kept me engaged in the beginning, and she remained my favourite character throughout.

This is a heartbreaking story that sensitively navigates abuse and loss. Christine Higdon writes so well that you will feel the pain of these characters, at times, but you also will feel their hope when those moments come. I truly loved the ending. Given that I read this during the pandemic, this story of missing mothers really made me miss my own mom, and she's only a few hours away.

If you were a fan of the books Oprah used to pick for her book club back in the day, you will quite enjoy The Very Marrow of Our Bones. It's been out for a few years, so look for it at your local library or bookstore.


Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book from ECW Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Dog Diaries: Mission ImPAWsible

Sebastian and I are getting a ton of extra reading time together in quarantine. We finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and this week we sped through Dog Diaries: Mission ImPAWsible by James Patterson and Steven Butler.

I had no idea James Patterson also wrote children's books, and this was such a delight to read! Mission ImPAWsible is the third book in the Dog Diaries series (which is, itself, a spinoff of his Middle School series). Seb and I hadn't read any books from those series before, and Mission ImPAWsible can be read as a standalone. However, we enjoyed it so much, we quickly placed a hold on the earlier books at the library.

Mission ImPAWsible follows the tale (no pun intended!) of Junior as his family plans for a trip to Hollywood. Junior hopes to go with them, but what happens when he is left behind? Junior, along with his neighbourhood puppy pals are in for an adventure.

Told from the perspective of Junior, this book is laugh out loud funny. It has a blend of text and images in the style and reading level of Captain Underpants, Big Nate, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Sebastian enjoyed it a ton! He wanted to make sure I added this warning to my review - do not read the back copy or the synopsis with your children. It spoils a lot of details from the story!

We highly recommend Dog Diaries to young readers. We even loved that a few activity pages, themed to the book, are included in the back!

Dog Diaries: Mission ImPAWsible is out now and available from your favourite bookseller.

Jenn and Seb

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book from Hachette Book Group Canada for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

The Royal We - Book Review

The world loves a good royal wedding, almost as much as they love a juicy royal scandal, and this book has both.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is inspired by Will and Kate's love story through the couple, Bex and Nick. What might it have been like for these two to meet at university? What where some possible challenges in their fledgling relationship? What missteps might have happened along the way? Is true love worth all of the royal drama?

This was such a fun read. Bex is a bit of a mix of both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, and she has her own unique characteristics, as well. I loved her as a character, and it was easy to root for her along the way. An American moving to London to study art and then falling for a prince? I really wanted her to have her fairy tale ending. I also loved learning a few insider tidbits about royal protocols. Did you know, to avoid creating a dishy photo op for the paparazzi, royals will weight down the hems of their dresses, so they don't get swept up in the wind?

My only frustration with the story, is that I was a bit annoyed that Nick was so completely clueless as to what Bex was going through throughout the book, both when he kept their relationship a secret and again later on when he finally brought her to the palace. However, I felt he made up for it in the very end.

If you need a royal romance to keep you satisfied until the next Netflix Christmas movie is released, The Royal We is it. The Royal We is perfect for royal watchers and chick lit lovers. Book two in this series arrives this summer, so keep your eyes peeled for The Heir Affair in July.


Disclaimer - Thank you to Read Forever Publishing and Grand Central Publishing for sending me a copy to enjoy. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Sebastian: 8-Years-Old and 20 Questions

Sebastian is 8 today! Having a birthday under quarantine is definitely not ideal for an 8-year-old, but we've managed to find a few ways to make it special. One of my favourite things we did this year was a video we put together with clips of all of his friends and family sending him birthday wishes. It was so fun to watch together this morning, and I know it meant a lot to Sebastian to know that everyone was thinking of him.

Each year, we ask Sebastian these 20 questions on his birthday. This is the 6th edition of his birthday interview!

1. What is your favourite colour? pink (for the six year in a row!) red, orange, yellow, rainbow, light green 
2. What is your favourite toy? my Nintendo Switch that I got for Christmas and my Wii that I got from Derek
3. What is your favourite fruit? watermelon
4. What is your favourite tv show? Captain Underpants
5. What is your favourite thing to eat for lunch? tacos
6. What is your favourite outfit? pyjamas
7. What is your favourite game? Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario Maker 2, and all the other Switch games that I have
8. What is your favourite snack? Starburst
9. What is your favourite animal? cat (for the third year in a row)
10. What is your favourite song? Wannabe
11. What is your favourite book? Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants
12. Who is your best friend? Jude, Mom, Dad, everybody in my family, my classmates
13. What is your favourite cereal? Corn Pops (for the second year in a row)
14. What is your favourite thing to do outside? play games
15. What is your favourite drink? milk and lemonade
16. What is your favourite holiday? Christmas (for the fourth year in a row)
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? my stuffy and blankets and pillows obviously 
18. What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast? waffles and pancakes
19. What do you want for dinner? cake
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? a person that writes books

If you're interested, here are his answers from his 7th birthday6th birthday5th birthday4th birthday, and 3rd birthday.


Thursday, 30 April 2020

One Good Reason by Séan McCann

I finished reading One Good Reason a few days ago, and I still cannot stop carrying this book around. (Not that I'm really going anywhere, pandemic and all, but still, it keeps making its way around the house with me.) And when I'm not carrying it from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom, I'm thinking about it.

I knew this book was going to be a different flavour than the memoirs from his ex-bandmates, but I was not prepared to so profoundly feel while I was reading it.

One Good Reason is written by both Séan McCann and his wife Andrea Aragon. It is the story of the abuse he suffered as a teen, his subsequent addiction to alcohol, and his inspiring recovery. It is a book that proves we can do hard things and that those hard things become easier when we are connected to others, when we hope, and when we never give up.

Reading these honest stories can be an act of empathy, and it can also be unsettling.

Can I still look back at those Great Big Sea concerts with the extreme happiness I felt when I was there? Can I still remember the moments I had with roommates, dancing away to their CDs, with joy? How do I reconcile these memories now knowing they came fuelled from someone's pain? These are questions for which I have no answers.

One Good Reason is full of stories, songs, and art. I could not stop reading and yet I wanted to slow down and savour every word. I especially enjoyed the lyrics and drawings peppered throughout the pages. It added so much to my reading experience to pause and listen to the songs when they appeared in the book.

One Good Reason is deeply personal for both Séan and Andrea, and I admire how open they are willing to be as voices for hope, mental illness, and recovery.

One chapter in the book that really touched me was when Séan wrote about his speaking event at the London Recovery Breakfast in Ontario, September 2014. Inspired by the speaker before him that morning, Séan finally spoke his full truth aloud to the room and shared the secret that had been haunting him for more than 30 years, the story of his own sexual abuse from a priest and family friend. It was heartbreaking to read, and I can only imagine what the energy in the room that morning must have been.

Séan then writes that that same evening he had solo singing event booked at a small room in the bar C'est What in Toronto.

"I have no memory of the show itself, only a feeling of euphoria and release. I let my songs fly like arrows of love and I felt every heart in that tiny room melt together into one. With every song I grew stronger, and for the first time in twenty-five years the stage felt like exactly the place where I was supposed to be. My mask had come off and the people in the audience would finally witness the real me as I evolved into the best version of myself."
Séan McCann, One Good Reason

Friends, I was at C'est What for that show.

These were my pre-Twitter days, so I had no idea what Séan had revealed at the Recovery Breakfast that morning, and while he may not remember the show itself, I do.

Sebastian was only one, and Rob and I still weren't going out much, but when I saw that Séan was coming to Toronto, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for us to get a babysitter and plan a date night.

I remember showing up at the "doors open" time listed on the tickets only to find that there were no seats left in the tiny, little room. C'est What is a restaurant/bar, and many people had arrived for the show early. I had come ready to listen to music, sing along, and enjoy my favourite musician. However, I was still a new mom to a very young child, and my days of standing all evening long in a bar were behind me. I remember feeling a very real panic that we'd have to leave, and I nearly cried (likely from the lack of sleep throughout the year). Saving the day, my calm, easy-going husband, went to speak with the wait staff. I don't know or care what he said, but he somehow convinced them to create some space for us at the centre table. This room was small, friends. There was one longer table in the centre of the room, a few small ones along the side, a simple stage, and that was it.

Matt Wells played a few songs to start. I hadn't heard of him before, but we all enjoyed his set. Then, Séan came on and sang songs from his album, Help Your Self. We sang, we drank, we listened, and there definitely was a special feeling in the room that night. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I could sense that there was something big happening behind the scenes, and yet Séan sang his heart out for all of us. To make the evening even more special, he patiently and happily chatted with every single person who wished to say "hi" after the show.

Reading in One Good Reason about just how special that show was to Séan, and knowing that I was a witness (dare I say participant?) to that event gives me chills and makes me teary, to be honest. His intimate show was perfect, and I left the bar that night with joy and music filling my heart.

One Good Reason is a story of hope. It reminds us that showing up for our loved ones is what matters in the end and that recovery is possible, even after the most darkest of days.

I believe that when we're able to share our struggles with others, it helps everyone feel less alone, and isn't that what we all ultimately need to survive? Connection? Whether it's sharing a meal, singing along with a musician at a concert, or chatting with a friend through Zoom, I think these invisible threads bind us and keep us going from one day to the next.

One Good Reason is out now and available from your favourite bookseller. It's sold out in hardcover on Amazon, so now may be the perfect time to support your local indie. You can also get your hands on a personalized, signed copy when ordering from Séan's website.


PS - For any other Séan McCan and Great Big Sea fans reading this, I have a few previous posts about Séan and the band here and here from waaaay back in 2013 when I started writing this little blog.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger

People seem to be either reading more than usual during the quarantine or much less than usual. I am weirdly falling into the camp of reading more than usual. It's productive procrastination. I feel good about reading a book because when I'm done, it feels like "I finished something".

My most recent read is The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger. The Gifted School was pretty popular when it released last year, and, as a teacher in a private school, I've been curious about this novel.

The story centres around four mothers who have been friends for over a decade. Their children have grown up together, and when an elite school for exceptional children starts taking applications for their first cohort, tensions rise and drama ensues.

Told through prose, news articles, and even a teen vlog, The Gifted School is juicy, entertaining, and compulsively readable. It calls out class, race, and privilege and is timely given the recent college admissions scandal. The characters aren't especially likeable, but I don't think they are supposed to be likeable. Instead, they are representative of many parents today.

This book is perfect for parents, educators, and lovers of literary and contemporary fiction.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy to review.


Thursday, 2 April 2020

Postscript by Cecelia Ahern

Postscript is the sequel to the bestselling novel P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern. Postscript (which can be read as a standalone) meets up with Holly seven years after the death of her husband, Gerry. After hearing about her story on a podcast, a small group of terminally ill acquaintances seek out Holly's help. They are inspired by Gerry, and they'd like to prepare special goodbyes for the own loved ones. Their own special messages and gifts for their families to comfort them in a time of sorrow.

I never read P.S. I Love You, but I did watch the movie before reading Postscript. I had avoided this book/movie, because I thought it would be too heartbreaking, and I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. I found it to be touching and hopeful.

Postscript is an emotional book. The messages about grief and loss are powerful, and the moments Holly spends with the different patients in the book are heartfelt and moving.

Unfortunately, I think this book is a victim of me reading it at the wrong time. This is not a comfort read, and I found it much more heartbreaking than the P.S. I Love You movie. Additionally, I didn't alway agree or understand Holly's perspective, but I've also never experienced profound grief the way she has, so it's difficult for me to judge.

If you loved Holly and Gerry in the first book, definitely read Postscript. There are many flashbacks to the two of them and a few more surprises in store for the reader. Be warned that the theme of death and loss will pull deeply at your heart, so maybe save it until after our pandemic is over.


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

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

Has your reading life changed in the past few weeks? Mine hasn't shifted too much yet, but I am looking for books that are a complete distraction from my real life. I recently picked up The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton. I haven't read a thriller in awhile, and this book did a good job at keeping me from checking the news every 15 minutes!

Here's the premise: Juliette and Nate had a short, but intense relationship that ended about seven months ago. Nate wanted space. Juliette, determined to eventually win Nate back, plays by his rules. She stays away. However, Juliette has a plan. During this time she is remaking herself. She loves Nate, will do whatever it takes to prove to him that they are meant to be, and will not let anyone stand in her way.

Told from Juliette's perspective, The Perfect Girlfriend is eerie to read. Juliette is a compelling protagonist, and the twists in this book were engaging, and I could not have predicted the chilling ending and resolution.

As an aside, Juliette is a flight attendant and Nate is a pilot, and I found it really interesting to learn the inner workings of flight crew.

If The Perfect Girlfriend is sitting on your unread shelf or if you can get an e-copy from your local library, definitely pick it up soon!


Disclaimer - Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for sending me a complementary copy of The Perfect Girlfriend to review.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

27 Tweets To Make You Smile While We Weather The Coronavirus Storm

Covid-19 is all kinds of awful and has changed our entire world. The silver lining, should we be open to seeing one, is that there has been some Twitter gold during this crazy time. We are united in a battle protecting the health of every person on this planet, and heaven knows we could all use an extra smile these days.  Enjoy 💗

1. These are exclusively the type of tweets I want to see in my feed.

2. #truth

3. It sounds so fancy when you put it that way!

4. The connections we maintain with others will help get us through.

5. There is goodness in this world and it sounds a lot like Celine Dion.

6. We can do hard things while we are #alonetogether

7. Don't forget :)

8. It was a different time....

9. It's a mystery.

10. The teacher in me laughed so hard at this.

11. Le Coach by Soprano is my students' favourite song. I love his remix to protect against coronavirus.

12. For all of the educators. We got this.

13. Also, no pressure but...

14. Though seriously, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. It's okay to simply survive the day.

15. Yes :) Let's try this!

16. The Office makes for perfect binge-watching during self-isolation.

17. Same.

18. #sorrynotsorry

19. Too bad they can't answer us back.

20. Sorry to my cat....

21. Dogs are always so joyful!

22. I feel attacked.

23. These all sound like the perfect escape right now.

24. Can someone please write this book?

25. The whole world just feels so weird right now.

26. A wise reminder.

27. I live for this day.


PS - If you need ideas to do with your little at home these days, check out my post about how to keep everyone entertained while school is closed.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Ideas to Keep Everyone Entertained at Home During COVID-19

My March Break began by taking a school group for 10 days to Belgium, France, and England, and it has ended with my whole family in self-isolation for two weeks. And we can expect to still be social distancing after that.

You won't find any colour-coded schedules here, but we need some semblance of organization during this chaotic time.

Here's what I've come up with to help our family navigate our new home life for the next little while.

* Rob did quite a bit of grocery shopping before I got home. He stocked our fridge and freezer, filled the car with gas, and ensured we had a good amount of cash on hand.

* We change out of our pjs, open the curtains, and do our regular morning routine each day. We're not hunkering down for a month of Sundays here. We need to get up and get moving as much as we can.

* We move our body. We're self-isolating right now, so we can't even really go for a walk or head to the park.
Here are some great videos online:

* Tackle that thing you need to do. I'm going to sort and organize our digital photos and video clips from 2019. I give myself 30 mins/day to work on this task. I did all of our previous years last summer, so I have a system in place already. Here's the post about how I got it all done! We also need to do our taxes....le sigh.

I'd like to add that it is 100% okay if you don't tackle the thing you need to do. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and no one needs the pressure to write the next epic novel.

* Keep Sebastian busy. It's inevitable that we'll be getting more screen time than usual around here, but here is a list of the activities I'm hoping will also keep our 7-year-old occupied for the next month!

  • Lego - He's currently working on the Hogwarts Castle
  • Puzzles - I recently purchased this Super Mario one.
  • Snap Circuits - Snap Circuits are a huge hit in our house and are good for hours of fun. We also have the Arcade version.
  • Crafts - Sebastian loves bead design kits that you iron, he has a wooden boat kit to build, and we just bought this Disgusting Science kit.
  • Baking - I've been trying to do this a little more myself lately, so we'll try out some new recipes this month. Weelicious is my to do website.
  • Activity books - Seb loves Sticker Mosaics, Extreme Dot to Dots, or anything with math activities.
  • Board games - Some of our favourite board games we've found at Value Village to save $. We found a few old school Harry Potter trivia and Harry Potter Clue games that we play regularly. We also love UNO, Jenga, and Ticket to Ride. Robot Turtles is an excellent board game that teaches young children coding principles.
  • Family Read Aloud - We are currently reading the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Next on our list is Dog Diaries by James Patterson.
  • Silent Reading - 20 minutes a day. Our 7-year-old loves the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Captain Underpants, and Dogman.
  • Facetime his friends (and grandparents). I know he misses his buddies, and they always have a hilariously fun time when they can Facetime each other.
  • Family Movie Nights
  • Video Games - Sebastian has a Nintendo Switch, and he has a certain amount of time he's allowed to play each day.
  • Virtual Visits to our favourite attractions - Ripley's Aquarium has live events daily, take a virtual ride at Canada's Wonderland.

A few other fun things to try

- Live music online! Many musicians are going live with mini concerts on Facebook and Instagram. Two of my favourites are from Alan Doyle (daily at 5pm EST) and Sean McCann (daily at noon EST).

- What's your little's Hogwarts house? We did the test for Rob and Sebastian, and they are both Ravenclaws!

- Order in your meal. Uber Eats is offering free delivery for local restaurants who have or are arranging take out options. This is a great way to support your local community while at home.

- Josh Gad (aka Olaf) is reading storybooks on Twitter and Instagram each night. A perfect 10 minute distraction for your children at bedtime, or you can catch them later the next day.


- Online learning. Many educational websites are offering free access to their content while schools are closed.

A few I love are:
  • Scholastic (20 days of mini lessons and activities for kids divided by grade level)
  • Brain Pop (Excellent, short, animated videos on a variety of topics. We use them at school all the time!)
  • Kahoot (My students' fav.)
  • Get Epic (35 000 free digital books for children)
  • Duolingo (for language learning - it's always free)
  • Mo Willems is hosting free art tutorials at 1pm everyday. How fun?!

Finally, let's try to enjoy the slower pace. Read a book. Do a face mask. Paint your nails. Nap if you can (maybe that's just my jet lag speaking). Whatever treat you give yourself when you have extra time, do that thing.

Rob and I are both expected to work remotely, and Sebastian's school will start online learning next week, so adding that to the mix will be a new bridge to cross and a new routine to find. It won't be perfect, and we're bound to get irritable, but we'll take it day by day.

I hope you are all able to get what you need during this uncertain season. Resting is important to keep your body healthy and everyone sane. Remember that we will not be able to achieve our normal productivity because we are not living in a normal world with our normal resources. So, I also hope you can show yourself grace. When you don't make the same meals you used to, or when your littles get more screen time than ever before, give yourself grace. You're doing the best you can.

You have made it through hard days before, and you will make it through this.

We all will.


PS - I also put together 27 Tweets that made me smile during the COVID-19 world.