Saturday, 3 July 2021

Books With Unique Structure or Narrative

 


I love it when I discover a book/author who offers a twist on a traditional fictional narrative. Here are a few of my favourites.


Plot - Cyril Avery was born out of wedlock in a small Irish town. He spends his life discovering himself and where he comes from.
Structure - Beginning with his birth, this story visits Cyril every seven years of his life.

Plot - Fiction that reads like non-fiction about a house that is larger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Structure - A deliberately complex mix of everything. Manuscripts, footnotes, poetry, letters, backwards text, upside down text, and more.

Plot - The battle of Anna Anderson to be recognized as Anastasia Romanov.
Structure - Alternating chapters between Anna and Anastasia. Anastasia's chapters are in chronological order, while Anna's are in reverse, culminating in the truth when the timelines meet.

Plot - A family history is intimately tied to the forests in British Columbia. Also, what will the future look like when trees are rarely found in the world?
Structure - A multi-generational family saga told as though the reader is travelling through rings of a tree. Starting with the youngest generations, the narrative works itself towards the middle with the oldest generation, and then back out again.

Plot - The rise of an infamous 1970s rock band and their mysterious breakup.
Structure - Structured as a documentary, I had to google this book to see if it was true! πŸ˜‚

Plot - Follows two women from Africa who are half-sisters and don't know it.
Structure - Each chapter is from the point of view of one character, and as the chapters move chronologically and without skipping generations, each protagonist is the child of one the reader has formerly met.

Plot - Historical fiction about the French Revolution from the perspective of women who were there before, during, and after.
Structure- Each section of this book is written by a different author, focusing on a different woman, but all six stories flow seamlessly into one larger narrative about the role of women in French Revolution.

Plot - Ana is an ESL student starting at a new high school.
Structure -  When Ana doesn't understand something said to her, the author has blacked out the text, so the reader misses it as well.

Do you have any you'd add to this list?
Jenn

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The (Un)Popular vote by Jasper Sanchez

 

The (Un)Popular Vote by Jasper Sanchez

When Mark Adams witnesses dangerous rhetoric about the safety of LGBTQ+ students in his high school, he decides he can't sit idly by and begins his campaign for student body president. His dad is a well-known congressman, and Mark has always loved politics.

The problem is, Mark Adams is a relatively new student at Utopia High. He moved there so he could transition, and he doesn't know many students beyond his small queer friend group. To make matters worse, his dad continues to pretend he still has a daughter, and not a son, and he has insisted that Mark keep a low profile, lest his transgender child create problems for his political ambitions.

I enjoyed this book so much and not just because Mark and his friends use French Club as a cover for the queer kids to hang out together. The POC and LGBTQ+ representation is excellent. I felt so many emotions while reading this, and I rooted for Mark the entire way.

I'm cis, white, straight, a woman, and nearly 40, so take this with a grain of salt if you need to, but I think The (Un)Popular Vote is probably an accurate description of what life is like in high school for queer kids today. It's a great book for high school students to see that their thoughts, feelings, and voices are valid and necessary.

Funny and heartfelt, The (Un)Popular Vote is definitely a must-read for any teen, especially queer teens and/or those who love politics. I keep a shelf of books I hope Sebastian will read when he's older, and this will be the next addition.

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for sending this copy my way.
xo
Jenn

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Final Report - Rick Mercer

 


When you're looking for a good rant, no one does it better than Rick Mercer. Final Report is a collection of Mercer's greatest rants spanning all 15 seasons of his show, Rick Mercer Report. I listened to this book on audio, and I would argue that the audiobook is a must for reading this collection. Rick Mercer narrates it himself, so you get to hear the passion in his voice as you listen. The physical copy does have a few behind the scenes photos, but they aren't essential to the book.

Final Report was perfect listening for my daily walks in lockdown. The bite-sized rants meant I could pause whenever necessary, and I am certain I learned more about Canadian politics from the six hours I spent listening to this book, than I did in some of my undergrad classes at university. As I listened, I couldn't help but wonder what Mercer's rants would sound like in 2021. Between anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and the 50 shades of grey lockdown Toronto was in for months, there certainly has been no shortage of content.

I definitely recommend this book. Rick Mercer's rants are sharp, witty, and straight to the point. I found myself laughing and nodding along to almost every one.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending this copy my way.
xo
Jenn

Monday, 24 May 2021

Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

If the movies Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Adventures in Babysitting had a book baby, it would be Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson.

Best friends and high school seniors, Kat and Stevie, sneak away to spend the evening in New York City. The plan: dinner and a show. What could go wrong? It turns out... a lot, especially when neither of them have their cell phone.

This is my first Morgan Matson book, and I quite enjoyed it! Matson's writing is bright and engaging. Take Me Home Tonight is a sweet story of friendship. Through meeting a fun cast of characters, and navigating a number of unforeseen challenges in one evening, Kat and Stevie discover what matters most as they begin to think about the next chapter of their lives.

Even with a plot hole or two, Take Me Home Tonight is such a fun read, and I would recommend it to any adult or teen looking for a light-hearted tale. I know those are the books to which I've been gravitating lately. It also made me excited to travel to NYC again one day!

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for sending this copy my way.

xo
Jenn

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Sebastian: 9 Years Old and 20 Questions

 


And, just like that, Sebastian is 9.


The last entry into a single digit year squeezes my heart just a little bit tighter than the before. (Though, if you asked him, he'd tell you that you can put a 0 before the 9, and make it two digits anyways.)

At age 2 he loved puzzles and I Spy books.
At age 4 it was Peppa Pig.
At age 6 it was Scooby Doo and Chirp magazines.
More recently his two big loves are video games and red pandas.

He is forgiving, funny, an excellent snuggler and by far and away my proudest accomplishment.


Every year, I ask Sebastian the same 20 questions on his birthday. Enjoy!

1. What is your favourite colour? pink (for the seventh year in a row!) and red
2. What is your favourite toy? my Nintendo Switch  
3. What is your favourite fruit? kiwi
4. What is your favourite tv show? Scooby Doo
5. What is your favourite thing to eat for lunch? tacos 
6. What is your favourite outfit? footies
7. What is your favourite game? Super Mario Maker 2
8. What is your favourite snack? anything with sugar
9. What is your favourite animal? cat and red panda
10. What is your favourite song? Wannabe 
11. What is your favourite book? Diary of a Wimpy Kid 
12. Who is your best friend? Jude
13. What is your favourite cereal? Corn Pops
14. What is your favourite thing to do outside? go on my trampoline
15. What is your favourite drink? lemonade
16. What is your favourite holiday? Christmas
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? stuffies: Adira and Ruby
18. What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast? waffles
19. What do you want for dinner? tacos
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? YouTuber that posts several videos every day

If you're interested, here are his answers from his 8th birthday7th birthday6th birthday5th birthday4th birthday, and 3rd birthday.

xo
Jenn 

Monday, 26 April 2021

Broken by Jenny Lawson

 


"We are broken. We are healing. It never ends. And, if you look at it in just the right light, it is beautiful.'


When Raincoast Books asked me if I'd like to receive a copy of Jenny Lawson's new book, Broken (in the best possible way), I couldn't say yes fast enough. A book about how the pieces of us that are broken might actually matter the most? I can't think of a message I need more.

In Broken, Jenny Lawson writes about her mental and physical health challenges that have left her feeling, for a lack of a better word, broken. In a heartbreaking and hilarious way, she shares the ups and downs she has experienced, ultimately reminding us that we are less alone when we share these struggles with each other.

"...we often try to present our fake, shiny, happy selves to others and make sure we're not wearing too-obvious pajamas at the grocery store, but really, who wants to see that level of fraud? No one. What we really want is ti now we're not alone in our terribleness."

The chapter An Open Letter to My Health Insurance Company broke my heart, and the chapter Awkwarding Brings Us Together made me laugh until I cried.

I'm sure I'm not the only one that has found the past year more difficult than I could have possibly imagined. Feelings of brokenness, imposter syndrome, not-enough-ness, and fear have been regular companions during the pandemic.

It's serendipitous that a book about finding hope and togetherness in our broken parts has entered the world in 2021, like the Japanese art of Kintsugi that puts broken pottery pieces back together with gold. I think all readers would benefit from reading Broken. Not only because I imagine we will all see ourselves in this book somewhere along the way, but also as an act of empathy to take a peek into what life is like for someone who has chronic mental and physical struggles.

Thank you to Raincoast Books for sending this copy my way. I look forward to reading some of Jenny Lawson's backlist books sometime in the future.

xo
Jenn

Sunday, 18 April 2021

The Seat Filler by Sariah Wilson

 


Ready for a swoony, sweep you off your feet romance? Enter The Seat Filler by Sariah Wilson!

Guys, this book is SO adorable. Meet Juliet and Noah. She's a dog-groomer. He has a dog. She's terrified of kissing. He's a superstar actor who knows the benefits of practice πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰. 

The Seat Filler captured my interest from the very first page. Juliet and Noah have wonderful chemistry. They are fun and playful and partake in some of the dreamiest kisses I have ever read! The storyline and cast of side characters fit well, it was heartwarming and cute, and I honestly didn't ever want to put down this book. I'm sure I had a goofy smile on my face the entire time I was reading.

TL;DR - Read this book.
*happy sigh*

Jenn

PS - Thank you to Kaye Publicity for sending this book my way to review. I definitely enjoyed it and look forward to discovering more books by this author.

Monday, 12 April 2021

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

 


"Some things stay with you, haunt you. Some embers nestle into your skin. Shots cannot be forgotten. And neither can that force of love."
The Stationery Shop, Marjan Kamali

Set against the 1950s political upheaval in Tehran, Iran, The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali is a moving tale of love, loss, and remembrance. It follows young Roya as she falls in love and discovers along the way that love may not always conquer all in the end.

I was not prepared for the emotional journey The Stationery Shop took me on. It has been a minute since a book has made me cry. Kamali's writing is deeply engaging, transporting the reader into an often overlooked time and place in history. I feel like I learned so much about Iran's history and culture. The Stationery Shop weaves together two of my favourite genres, romance and history. It is not a "romance", but it is a love story (more along the lines of The Notebook.)

This is a character driven novel that explores the choices people make, their motivations, their emotions, and the power our memories can hold over each of us throughout our lives. If you love compulsively readable novels that are both heartbreaking and beautiful, I encourage you to pick up The Stationery Shop.

xo
Jenn

CW - child loss, depression, political violence
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for sending this copy my way to review.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

 


1907: Venetia Smith is commissioned to design the elaborate gardens of Highbury House. She never expected that this experience would change her life forever.

1944: Highbury House is requisitioned as a convalescent hospital during the war. The gardens serve a new role offering a quiet space for reflection and recovery.

Present Day: Emma Lovett is hired to restore the gardens to their original beauty. As she peels back the layers of history, she uncovers secrets that have long been kept buried.

This sets up the captivating plot of The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly, a story of secrets, sacrifice, friendship, and love. 

I have a special gift of killing any plant that enters my home, but that didn't stop me from being swept away by the vivid descriptions of the lush gardens at Highbury House. I found the idea of women through three generations being connected through this garden to be so compelling. I felt completely transported to this English country estate.

If I had one critique, it would be that there are many characters to follow spanning the three timelines; however, this didn't keep me from enjoying this book.

The mΓ©lange of sometimes sad, many times happy historical fiction with touches of romance means that fans of Jennifer Robson and Hazel Gaynor will quite enjoy The Last Garden in England.

This excerpt from Julia Kelly's author's note at the end is also not to be missed, "I believe that, much like books, gardens are organic, unpredictable things, revealing their beautiful how and when they choose. It is up to us to remember to pause and enjoy that beauty every day."

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for sending me a complementary copy of this book to review.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai

 


Last year, I read Sara Desai's debut, The Marriage Game, and I knew I had stumbled upon a new favourite romance author. You can read my review of The Marriage Game over here on Insta.

When Penguin Random House Canada asked me if I'd like to check out her new release, The Dating Plan, I couldn't say yes fast enough!

The Dating Plan is full of our favourite tropes: second chance romance, fake relationship, enemies to lovers, and weaves them all together in a fun and hilarious story. Liam was supposed to take Daisy to her prom when they were younger, but he unfortunately never shows. Daisy was heartbroken, and when they bump into each other at a conference ten years later, old wounds are exposed; however, a fake engagement may also be the answer to each of their current problems: Liam can fulfill a requirement for an inheritance and Daisy can get her meddling aunties off her back.

Full of the comedy, heart, and banter I remember from The Marriage Game, The Dating Plan was the perfect next instalment of this series. This is an emotional and heartwarming story where both characters learn from their mistakes and overcome obstacles from their pasts. If you're looking for your next feel-good, quirky, sexy romantic comedy, I can't recommend this one enough.

The Dating Game is also Canadian, #ownvoices, and full of women in STEM, and I am here for all of it! This was a four-star read for me, and if you're a Marvel fan, I bet you will enjoy it even more :)

Thank you again to Penguin Random House Canada for sending this copy my way. I am so excited to learn Sara Desai has another novel coming this November!

xo
Jenn

Monday, 15 March 2021

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner



The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner


What I loved:
* That cover. 😍😍
* The premise: a 17th century apothecary who helps women kill men who have wronged them.
* Themes of feminist rebellion and women taking control over their own lives.
* The historical mystery element and how this apothecary becomes connected to another woman hundreds of years later.
* Nella's character. She was the most interesting by far, and I almost wish there was more of her backstory in this novel.

However:
* The narrative voice for Nella felt exactly the same as it did for Eliza, and Eliza was only twelve whereas Nella was in her 40s.
* While I normally love dual timeline stories, I really wonder where this novel could have gone if it focused solely on Eliza and Nella. I felt like it could almost be a readalike for Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman, but Caroline's present-day story kept inserting itself...
*I imagine many British historians would be green with envy at the ease with which Caroline's clues and research fell into place in a matter of days.

Ultimately, I would say I liked this novel, and I'm rating it 3.5 stars. I would probably encourage you to pick up a copy from the library rather than buying your own. I also hear the audiobook is great because it has three different narrators for the three women.

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for sending a copy of The Lost Apothecary my way to review.
xo
Jenn

Saturday, 6 March 2021

The Lion's Den by Katherine St. John

The Lion's Den by Katherine St. John was the exact book I needed this week. Scandalous and wicked, this book is simply fun to read. 


Belle is invited to join her best friend, Summer, for a week on a yacht with Summer's billionaire boyfriend; however, it doesn't take long for Belle to realize something is clearly up with this whole trip. Their passports are taken, they are locked in their rooms at night, and the days are filled with drama. Summer is hiding something, and Belle had better watch her back if she wants to make it off the boat alive.

This book took me entirely by surprise, and I loved it. I was proud of myself for figuring out one of the twists ahead of time, and I definitely did not see the second one coming, which made me enjoy it even more.

I don't want to say much more to avoid spoiling anything, but if you are looking for a juicy read to distract you from real life and transport you to the Mediterranean, The Lion's Den is it.

The Lion's Den recently released in paperback, and now I definitely can't wait to read Katherine St. John's new book coming in May, The Siren.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for sending this copy my way!

xo
Jenn

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

 



“Sometimes I like books more than people.”

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles recently released, and I looked forward to reading it because the title makes it a perfect Jenn-book. Paris + libraries? Yes, please!

This is a WWII novel told through two timelines. Odile in the 1980s is the mysterious French widow who is especially intriguing to her neighbour, a teenager named Lily. Odile in the past was a librarian at the American Library in Paris during the Occupation.

This book is a love letter to libraries, and to the essential roles they play in society. It is also an ode to how books can carry us through tumultuous times, which is a feeling to which I think many of us can relate over the past year. “Libraries are lungs... books the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive.”

The Paris Library explores the social history of day-to-day life in Paris during the Nazi regime, where the reader gets a glimpse as to how Parisians found small ways to resist where possible.

Jumping to the 1980s, the French teacher in me loved Lily's perspective just as much as she takes French lessons from Odile. I will say, the French teacher in me was a bit annoyed at a French typo that was repeated throughout the novel, but I'll try to let that go, since I enjoyed the rest of this book quite a bit.

In the end, I think Odile was too hard on herself for how certain events transpired, but with the trauma of war, how one feels might not always make sense to an outsider. I know I've definitely been accused of being too hard on myself, so maybe Odile's perspective is a true reflection of human nature after all. If you enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, you will likely really enjoy this book and its delightful cast of characters.

Thank you to @simonschusterca for sending this copy my way.
xo
Jenn

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Book Review: Grown by Tiffany Jackson


There were many times I considered stopping this dark, wicked book, but I just had to find out what happened, and this story is too important to quit.

Grown by Tiffany Jackson draws loosely from the R. Kelly case, as well as from the author's own experience dating an older man while she was in her teens. In this story, the aspiring singer Enchanted Jones is drawn into the orbit of superstar Korey Fields. He promises to be her ticket to fame, as long as she stays by his side. What follows are months of Enchanted living in a nightmare with drugs, abuse, and murder.

It shocked me, though it likely shouldn't have, just how easy it was for so many people to be bystanders while someone exhibited such predatory, pedophiliac behaviour, especially towards some of the most vulnerable people in our society, young, poor, Black women. This book is about the abuse of power of one man, yes, but it is also about how easy it is to turn a blind eye to that which makes any of us uncomfortable. Korey Fields didn't do this on his own. There was a whole industry and cultural system in place to support him. Systems that still exist today.

Grown is a powerful warning shot to parents, teens, and the music industry, or really, any industry. Tiffany Jackson does not back away from the ugly truth and the role we each have to protect others in our society.

Mature YA with a whole host of content warnings. Be sure to review them before you begin reading.

Thank you Harper Collins Canada for sending me this copy to review.
xo
Jenn

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett

 


Any other Outlander fans in the house? I have been slowly working my way through the books and the television series. My process has been to read a book and then watch the corresponding season on Netflix. Along the way, I discovered these beautiful books from Tara Bennett. There is one for Outlander seasons 1&2 and this one for Outlander seasons 3&4.

The Making of Outlander is a guide to the behind the scenes process for the creation of the show. It has interviews with the cast and crew, gorgeous photography, and insights into each episode. When reading the most recent instalment for seasons 3 and 4, I particularly enjoyed all of the details about the visual effects work done to bring the show to life. Who knew digital water could be so interesting?! And true Outlander book fans will be satisfied in learning the reasons why the show sometimes takes creative differences from the original novels.

Finishing this book definitely has me excited to pick up the next book in the series. I'm on The Fiery Cross (book 5). I believe the 5th season of Outlander is coming to Netflix in Canada later this week, so this would be the perfect book to browse through before you begin binging the next season.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me this copy to enjoy. I loved it!
xo
Jenn

Saturday, 2 January 2021

My Favourite Books of 2020 and 10 Hopefuls for 2021

 


Picking my favourite books of the year is never easy. I usually try to stick to a top 10, but this year I just couldn't do it. I had it narrowed my titles down to a dozen or so, but then it felt completely ridiculous to keep going back and forth to decide which books I liked just a little bit more than the others. I didn't want to judge them so much, and it felt entirely unfair to the authors. I read so many wonderful books this year, and I want to celebrate all of them. I read 90 books this year, and I made a stack of my Top 16 (in no particular order).





In 2020, I read 10 less books than 2019, but according to Goodreads, I only read about 600 pages less. I definitely read bigger books this year! #thankslesmiserables. I find it particularly fascinating that I read less given the pandemic. I felt like I was reading more, but it turns out that wasn't the case.




In general, I'm quite pleased with what and how I read in 2020. I read so many incredible stories, I made progress on my unread shelves, I used the library a bit more often, and, while I know it can be better, I did read more Canadian authors and authors of colour this year than I ever have before.

A few more bookish stats (2019 numbers)

34% were published this year (39%)
29% were ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  reads for me (23%)
0.5% were rereads (0%)
17% were nonfiction (27%)
0.5% novellas (2%)
80% were by female authors (85%)
18% were by authors of colour (14%)
22% were by Canadian authors (20%)
0% books in French (2%)


Right now, I own 226 unread books. This year, I want to have as few reading commitments as possible (outside of my IRL book club.)

What I am keeping in my reading life for 2021:
*Focusing on my unread shelves
*Not setting a numerical goal for the year
*Seeking out compelling stories from BIPOC/LGBTQ+/Canadian authors

What I am focusing on in my reading life for 2021:
*Less reading challenges and buddy reads
*Discovering and reading more books in French

Reading from my unread shelves remains a priority for me and on that note, here are my top 10 TBR for 2021.



Friday, 1 January 2021

2021....finally



We are all taking our first steps into this new year today, and it is not easy. We are still in the midst of trauma, and from what I can glean from our social media posts recently, many of us are endeavouring to begin healing at the same time.

So, while I navigate this tension between an ongoing difficult situation and lessons learned, I will walk gently into 2021. 

I will hold space for hope; however tentative it may be.

I just finished reading Wintering by Katherine May, and it has been a long time since I so readily highlighted passages from a book. In one section she says, "Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again."

I imagine us all to be here. At that point when the leaves have fallen, and we are all exposed. We are entering this new year raw and drained and clinging to any light we may find in our day for nourishment. At least, I know I am.

My intentions for 2021 are soft. I hope to be kinder to myself and more patient with others. There will be many days that I forget this intention, but I hope deep breaths and the kindness that is often shown to me by others will help me remember. I hope that for all of us.

"In the meantime, we can only deal with what's in front of us at this moment in time. We take the next necessary action, and the next. At some point along the line, the next action will feel joyful again." Katherine May, Wintering.

xo
Jenn

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