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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