Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: Who Do You Love


I love Jennifer Weiner. I love her as an author, as a person, and as a hilarious go-to for Bachelor/Bachelorette snark. I do admit it's been a little while since I've read one of her books but when I heard about her latest, Who Do You Love , released earlier this month, I knew I had to read it right away.

Here's the synopsis:
Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to the emergency room and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again.
Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.
Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they've been running toward each other all along.
With honesty, wit, and clear-eyed observations about men and women, love and fate, and the truth about happy endings, Jennifer Weiner delivers two of her most memorable characters, and a love story you'll never forget.
Even if I wasn't in love with Weiner, I'd want to read this book. I love second chance love stories (something you'll hear me repeat a lot this month...apparently August had a theme!) and I was intrigued about Rachel and Andy and how their story would play out over the years. And, spoiler but no spoiler, it's kind of soul-crushing. They go through so much and I really wasn't sure how their story would end. Would it end completely or would it end with a new beginning? Oh, the feels!

I found it really interesting and refreshing (in the best possible ways) how Weiner wrote her main characters. Young Rachel (and even twenties Rachel) was not a very nice person. I mean, she was nice enough but she was part of the Mean Girls crowd in high school (there's one scene that made me cringe and I imagine would be even worse for anyone who was bullied or did the bullying. So well done but so sad too.) and was in a sorority in college. Young Andy had some struggles but it's adult Andy who becomes someone you can't see yourself looking up to or maybe even associating with. I found all of this interesting because, typically, Weiner writes likeable characters. And I have a feeling she wrote Rachel and Andy the way she did in a very deliberate way. Characters don't have to be likeable and, guess what literary world, chick lit and women's fiction can have characters who aren't particularly likeable. What matters is they are interesting, layered, complex human beings who you want to keep reading about. And they definitely were.

The way the story was told took some getting used to. Each chapter alternates perspectives and takes place in a different year. What this means is you get to see what's happening in each character's life yet you don't get overlapping points of view. I sometimes felt I had missed something (and, in a way, I did: a few years between characters/chapters) but somehow it all worked together. The best way I can describe it is it was almost like interconnected short stories. I actually can't imagine the story being told any other way.

Who Do You Love is a heartbreakingly romantic, well written, engaging novel. I really enjoyed Jennifer Weiner's latest and already can't wait for what she writes next. (So, it's a good thing I have some of her backlist to work through!)

*An ARC of this novel was provided by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review: Jane Austen Cover to Cover


I love Jane Austen (though I wouldn't call myself a Janeite, not yet anyway) and I love book covers (especially pretty ones) so I was really excited for Margaret C. Sullivan's book, Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers, published November 2014.

Here's a description of the book:
Jane Austen’s six novels are true classics, still immensely popular some 200 years after their first publication. But although the celebrated stories never change, the covers are always different. Jane Austen Cover to Cover compiles two centuries of design, from elegant Victorian hardcovers and the famed 1894 “Peacock” edition to 1950s pulp, movie tie-in editions, graphic novels, foreign-language translations, and many, many others. Filled with beautiful artwork and insightful commentary, this fascinating and visually intriguing collection is a must for Janeites, design geeks, and book lovers of every stripe.
This book pretty much lived up to every expectation I had. It was set up in a really aesthetically pleasing way, which made the reading experience so much better. Each page had one cover and a write up. It was clean and allowed you to really absorb every cover individually.

The chapters were divided by years, which I really liked. Chapter One featured the books as they looked when Austen was still alive and it carried on until Chapter Four, which shared the covers up until 2013. Chapter Five featured the movie covers and Six was all about foreign covers.

In addition to talking about covers through the years, the book also shares background information about Austen's life and the book cover process. There were also quotes from the novels, letters from Austen to family members, and biographies. Some of the information was already known to me (I knew, for example, that Austen was not credited as the author on her novels; instead, "By a Lady" was used) but other new tidbits stood out to me. I learned that the binding of books in Austen's time was quite interesting. It was done all by hand and the printed papers were "bound in plain cardboard binding called 'boards'" and "a paper label with the book's title was pasted onto the spine." (page 19) If that sounds flimsy to you, that's because theses covers were not meant to be forever. Wealthy book buyers would recover their books so their library would have a distinctive style. Amazing.

This book is a really quick read since it's a lot of images and a smaller amount of text. You can flip through the book quickly to see all the different covers but I suggest really taking the time to read each description and learn more about why a cover was designed a certain way. The pretty pictures are great but that small bit of text is what elevates the book to the next level.

Margaret C. Sullivan's book is a great one to leave out on the coffee table for guests to peruse. You can even make a game out of it...which cover is each guest's favourite? Mine, for the record, is Random House's Modern Library redesign of Pride and Prejudice, found on page 135. (I love Penguin Threads, just not the one of Emma that's featured in the book.) If you're a Jane Austen fan and love pretty covers, like me, you're definitely going to want to pick up Jane Austen Cover to Cover.

*A copy of this book was provided by Chronicle Books in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Read Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme created by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish. They created it because they're "particularly fond of lists" and since I also enjoy lists, I've decided to participate in this fun feature.

I've read a lot of books in my life. That means I've read quite a few books from the same author. I've only been keeping track on Goodreads for the past few years though so I'm not sure how accurate this week's list actually is. It was actually quite a surprise to see which authors I've read the most from!

Janet Evanovich 
34+ 
My first response to this was "Seriously?!?" Never would have guessed she was my top read author. I've read 21 of her Stephanie Plum books (I've decided I'm not going to read another until the series is done...I'm so bored with it!), maybe 3 of the Between the Numbers books, I think all 6 of the Full series, 1 of the Lizzy & Diesel series (or was it 2?), 3 of the Fox and O'Hare series (ooh, there's a fourth one coming!). and a handful of others. Holy crapola.

Meg Cabot
20?
I've probably read at least 6 Princess Diaries books (I'm going to work on a reread since I want to be totally up to date by the time I get to the latest, Royal Wedding, which I got at BEA.), both All-American Girl books, most of the Vanished/1-800-Where-R-You series, most of the Mediator series, maybe 3 of her teen standalone books, both of the Insatiable books, the 3 Queen of Babble books, and I think just 2 of the Boy series.

Sophie Kinsella/Madeline Wickham 
15 or 16 
I've read the Shopaholic books and all of her standalones but I actually can't remember how many of the Madeline Wickham books I've read and since they're the same person I decided to combine them.

Joanne Fluke 
16
I was surprised by this one, too! Her Hannah Swensen series is a lot of fun. My sister has most of them so I've been able to read all of her copies!

Sarah Dessen 
12
I've read every single one of her books and will read every single other book she publishes.

Nora Roberts 
10
She's my go-to when I need a good, sweet, and entertaining romance! 10 sounds like a lot but she's written approximately a bazillion.

Heather Wardell 
10
I freaking  love Heather and her books. I'm actually a little glad that I'm behind on her books - she has 17 published right now - because it means I have so many more to catch up on. And she's a speedy writer so there will be 18, 19, 20 soon enough!

Laura Ingalls Wilder 
9
I adored the Little House books when I was a kid! I'm looking forward to rereading them soon.

J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith
9
I haven't read the entirety of Rowling's other Potter books (Fantastic Beasts, etc.) so I'm not counting them. But the 7 Potter books add up, plus I've read both of the books she's written as Galbraith (can't wait for the next one).

Emily Giffin 
8
And I actually own all of them, too! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: The Blue


I think Lucy Clarke needs to be placed on my "must read authors" list. I've read all three of her novels now and have thoroughly enjoyed every single one. The Blue is her latest and it was no different. I was hooked from the very first sentence.

Here's the synopsis:
A group of friends.
A yacht.
And a disappearance-at-sea that turns paradise into a chilling nightmare.
Lana and her best friend Kitty leave home looking for freedom—and that’s exactly what they find when they are invited onto The Blue, a fifty-foot yacht making its way from the Philippines to New Zealand. The crew is made up of a group of young travellers bitten by wanderlust, and it doesn’t take long for Lana and Kitty’s dream of sea-bound romance to turn into reality.
Both women fall under the hypnotic spell of The Blue, spending their days exploring remote islands and their rum-filled nights relaxing on deck beneath the stars. But when one of their friends disappears overboard after an argument with another crewmember, the dark secrets that brought each of them aboard start to unravel.
At turns gorgeously scenic and entirely haunting, The Blue is a page-turning thriller about friendship, freedom and wanting to leave the past behind.
It's a testament to how much I adore Clarke's books that I agreed to review this one. Based on synopsis alone I may have decided to skip it because I have so many books to read and it didn't immediately seem like my kind of book. Once I reread the email and realized it was a Lucy Clarke novel, I knew I had to read it.

One of the things I love about Clarke's novels is the scenery. Her books are always placed near the water or, in the case of The Blue, actually on the water. The settings are picture perfect paradise type places which contrasts so well with the gripping and chilling storyline.

The Blue does have a great storyline though it also makes you feel just a bit uncomfortable, but kind of in a good way. You're almost forced to think about what you would do in certain situations while you're reading the novel. Would you agree with Lana or would you side with one of the other crew members? Who would you trust?

The Blue is a novel that will have you turning the pages as fast as you can because you need to know what happens next. The way this one is told, switching back and forth from "Then" and "Now", allows the reader to quickly understand that something has gone seriously wrong. You just don't know what that something is. Clarke kept me on my toes with various twists and I was never quite sure what would happen next.

The Blue is a definite must read for anyone who loves a good story (so, you know, everyone). There are intriguing characters and an even more captivating mystery woven in the pages of Lucy Clarke's newest novel. Don't miss this one!

*I received an ARC of this novel from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Guest Post: Scott Wilbanks


Yesterday I shared my review of the new novel The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. If you missed it, you can read it here. Long story short: I really enjoyed it. Today author Scott Wilbanks was kind enough to share a great post with all of us! In it he talks about how a bad first date led to him writing this novel. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

A BOTCHED FIRST DATE

I wonder how many writers can claim a botched first date as the inspiration for their debut novel? And if they could, how many would actually have the cheek to admit it? As Stephen King said, “Fiction is a lie, but good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” So here goes…
It had all begun so charmingly, really.
I’d lived in the Castro district of San Francisco for a good ten years up until that fateful moment, and can say with a good degree of certainty that our paths had never crossed until that peculiar weekend when I’d spied him at my regular neighborhood haunts five times.
The first of our encounters was so vivid that it even found its way into LEMONCHOLY’s pages.
The cars crawled. A hummingbird inched forward like a slow-motion sequence in a National Geographic special, its wings undulating in the exquisite fashion of a Japanese fan dancer. A dog floated upward in the park across the street, a look of pure joy frozen on its face, eyes focused on a Frisbee hovering inches from eager jaws and spinning so slowly that you could read the word Wham-O on it. Then, whoosh… time repaired itself and Christian was walking all too quickly past the face with the secret smile.
Okay, so I just gave away two secrets right there. Christian—Annie’s best friend, a young man burdened with a debilitating stutter—is based on me. And, as the excerpt reveals, I do love my melodrama.
But getting back to those mysterious encounters. As the narrative indicates, I quickly dubbed the object of my fascination “the face,” and by the fifth encounter (at the gym), one that involved my tank top and a joke about “third cousins, twice removed” that earned me a laugh, I had his phone number.
We met for coffee—a calculated decision on my part—what with dinner showing too much commitment, and drinks at the local pub showing too little class.  In my opinion, coffee for a first date is the equivalent of the third bear’s porridge. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it puts everybody at ease, and is j-u-s-t right.
Truth be told, I’d thought everything was going swimmingly, that is until my date made it clear that it wasn’t by rocking back in his chair to declare, “I think we are destined to be great friends.”
Great… friends.
Not the comment you’d expect when you’re picking colors for a picket fence.—I might have been jumping the gun a wee bit, but who hasn’t? I’d even come up with a name for the dog the two of us would surely be adopting. Sneeze.  I’d already decided that we’d name him Sneeze.
Thirty minutes and a cataclysmic decline into tragically boring conversation later, I found myself driving home—fenceless, dogless (sad face emoji)—and with my tail tucked firmly between my legs when it occurred to me that things are only inevitable when you accept them as such. By the time I’d pulled into my drive, I’d concocted a pair of characters in my head—Annabelle Aster, a modern day San Francisco eccentric with a penchant for Victorian clothes, and Elsbeth Grundy, a cantankerous, old schoolmarm living in turn-of-the-century wheat field —pen pals who write one another between contemporary San Francisco and Victorian Kansas, depositing their correspondences in a brass letterbox that stands in some common magical ground between the two.
I ran upstairs, whipped up a letter from Annie to Elsbeth in which she asked for advice regarding her love-struck friend—me—and promptly emailed it to my date. I know, right?
The following day, I received a call. Amidst the laughter in the background, I was slowly beginning to grasp that my email had made the rounds at my failed date’s office and was a bit of a hit. More were demanded.
“Sadly, I cannot,” I said.
“Why’s that?”
Wait for it now…  (This part is positively diabolical.)  “Elsbeth hasn’t written back,” I responded, as if nothing could be more obvious.
Within the hour, there was an email in my inbox with Elsbeth’s name in the subject line. And while he’d certainly gotten into the spirit of things, I must admit that Elsbeth’s grammar was shockingly poor for a schoolmarm.
These letters became a regular thing, and ultimately formed the core around which I built the plot of my book.
And what my date’s prognostication, you might ask? We did become the best of friends. After all, how could we not? He’d inspired Edmond, the character in Lemoncholy who coaxes Christian’s secret to the surface, curing him of his stutter.
Sadly, my friend passed away two years ago, though I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s rolling his eyes at this little piece of drollery from Heaven.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Review: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster


I used to read fantasy books all the time when I was a kid (hell, I read whatever new to me material I could get my hands on) but as I got older I started to push fantasy aside in favour of contemporary stories. Everyone once and awhile I'll read a book that reminds me how much I like novels that have some sort of fantastical element. Most recently that book was The The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. Scott Wilbanks has written a page-turning novel that kept me up way past my bedtime so I could find out how it ended.

Here's the synopsis:
Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.
Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.
This debut novel isn't exactly a fantasy book in an obvious sense. It's very much a contemporary story that just happens to involve time travel. I enjoyed the way Wilbanks put his own spin on the time travel theme. It wasn't just the same old story but it was still very familiar. I don't think readers who aren't a fan of fantasy should be put off by the magical element.

I do have to say that I was just the teeniest bit confused at the end of this book. I don't know if it's because there actually were small loose ends that weren't tied up to my satisfaction (I have a couple of lingering questions about that door) or because I was finishing the book at 1:30 in the morning. I just couldn't go to bed until I discovered what happened in the end!

The cast of characters in this novel is so refreshingly eclectic. None of them are people you'd normally expect to read about in a book and I loved that. Every major character - Annie, Christian, Elsbeth, Edmund - is a loner and has appeared to come to terms with that. What I loved is that they all care so fiercely for each other and over the course of the novel they all seem to realize that life is a little better when you're surrounded by the best of friends. They all had hurdles to overcome and it was both uplifting and heartbreaking to read as they worked through their various issues.

Finally, there's a mystery in this novel that had so many twists and turns that it was almost hard to keep up. What I really loved was that I really couldn't anticipate many of the revelations. I don't think I've ever read a book that had my jaw dropping so often. It was awesome!

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster is definitely a book for you if you enjoy time travel, mystery, and a damn good story. Scott Wilbanks has written an incredibly engaging first novel and I'm very much looking forward to what he writes next.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a guest post from Scott!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: Four Seconds to Lose


"This is my favourite K.A. Tucker book!"

That's what I say every time I finish one of her books. Every. Time. It was no different when I finished Four Seconds to Lose , the third book in the Ten Tiny Breaths series. I absolutely adored reading Cain's story and Charlie was an intriguing heroine.

Here's the synopsis:
Owning a strip club isn’t the fantasy most guys expect it to be. With long hours, a staff with enough issues to keep a psych ward in business, and the police regularly on his case, twenty-nine-year-old Cain is starting to second guess his unspoken mission to save the women he employs. And then blond, brown-eyed Charlie Rourke walks through his door, and things get really complicated. Cain abides by a strict “no sleeping with the staff” rule. But being around Charlie challenges Cain’s self-control…and it’s been a long time since any woman has done that.
Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Rourke needs a lot of money, really fast, in order to vanish before it’s too late. Taking her clothes off for men makes her stomach curl but Charlie tells herself that at least she’s putting her acting and dancing skills to good use. And though her fellow dancers seem eager to nab their sexy, sophisticated, and genuinely caring boss, she’s not interested. After all, Charlie Rourke doesn’t really exist—and the girl pretending to be her can't get distracted by romance.
Unfortunately, Charlie soon discovers that developing feelings for Cain is inevitable, and that those feelings may not be unrequited—but losing him when he finds out what she’s involved with will be more painful than any other sentence awaiting her.
I always take a break between Tucker's books when they're part of the same series since they are companion novels and I don't always want to leave the perspective I just finished. After I was done One Tiny Lie (review here), I didn't know if I was going to like reading from Cain's POV. Boy, was I wrong. You get a hint of his character from the previous books and you know he's not a stereotypical strip club owner. In this book you really get the chance to find out how he got to where he is and why he acts the way he does. Speaking of the companion books, I really liked having the chance to see what characters from the previous books had been up to.

I liked that there was a bit of mystery surrounding Charlie. You know right off the bat (even if you didn't read the synopsis) that "Charlie" isn't real. But what you don't know is who the girl pretending to be her really is. Or why she's using a fake identity or trying to get a job in a strip club. Tucker sucks you into the story right away and continues to build on the mystery until you're flipping pages as fast as you can to find out what's going to happen next.

You eventually learn Charlie's full history - but I'm not telling you what it is (did you really think I would?). I will tell you that it's pretty intense. And scary. I love how Tucker is able to balance the drama, angst, and sexual tension so perfectly in her books. It's such a gripping story and the hot romance only adds to how good the novel is.

I loved Four Seconds to Lose. Cain is such an interesting character and I'm so happy K.A. Tucker decided to explore his side of the story and give him the woman he deserved. Tucker remains firmly on my "favourite author" list. If you haven't read any of her books yet, I highly suggest you do. They're addictive in the best possible way!

*An ARC was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. Opinions are honest and my own.*

*Note: I finished Five Ways to Fall  (courtesy of my library) not long after this one and that honestly is my favourite one of the series. There was just something about Ben and Reese that I absolutely adored. It was the best way to end the series.