Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

Today is Juneteenth. What is Juneteenth, you ask? Good question. I’m a 38 year old Caucasian women of Dutch descent and just heard about Juneteenth on social media this week. 38. Years. Old. and I knew nothing about a holiday that reflects on an important aspect of Black history, when Union Soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. I probably can’t do justice in explaining all the details of significance, so I’m going to tell you to Google (or, click here) and then ponder what it would be like to find out you were emancipated 2 1/2 years before you were told. Two. and. a. half. years. I’ll never clearly be able to understand or relate. Lord knows, we’ve come a long way since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough. There’s still a lot of hate and inequality in this world and that needs to change. We need to do better. We need love. We need hope. We need people to speak up and speak out and stand up for their friends and neighbours.

One of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read

This post isn’t actually a history lesson, or a conversation on civil rights, but a book review. Seriously. I requested “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” more than three months ago. I downloaded the ARC in February. A few days ago, I decided Young Adult fiction might be the right tonic to get out of a reading slump as *sometimes* (but not always) YA fiction can be a little lighter or less complex. As this title was released this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I was mistaken in thinking it might be light (although there were shimmers of brightness throughout) or less complex. I’ll be purchasing the book for re-reads this weekend.

The novel throws you back to 1955, where you’ll land in small-town Alabama. The narrator is Ethan Harper, a biracial child who’s had some trouble at school and is sent to live with his white Aunt and Uncle in a community that is anything but tolerant. He’s befriended by the strange and lovable oddball title-character, Juniper Jones. Juniper has decided that the summer of ’55 will be the most epic ever, and doesn’t really give her new accomplice a choice but to join her, and their adventures are recounted in beautiful, immersive writing.

There is a lightness and hope that is weaved throughout their summer, but also a heaviness and complexity that comes with the illumination of racial tensions and the wrong-mindedness of the era. You cannot help but to fall in love with Juniper and feel a tenderhearted affection towards her. On the other hand, your heart will break for Ethan over and over again – you’ll want to draw him into a protective bubble and shelter him from the hatred he encounters while wanting to bash some sense into his adversaries. This book will swallow you whole, chew you up, spit you out, and leave you with big emotions to process, but it also brings to light some very unfortunate aspects of history, while balancing the strength and value of true friendship.

The author weaves some unexpected moments in and you’ll be gasping for air as you bawl your eyes out more than once. It’s one of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s recommended for 12 & up (grades 7 – 9) and the author, Daven McQueen, acknowledges that difficult subjects are broached and offensive terminology is used. While I would recommend it unabashedly, if you have a particularly sensitive tween/teen, you may want to read it first, and then use it as a platform for conversation afterwards. For myself, it was a 5 star read for sure and most definitely one of, if not my most, favourite books of 2020.

My thanks to the author and publisher for the complimentary title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020

Book Review: Storing Up Trouble by Jen Turano

This will be a pretty quick review – no small talk before I jump right in. This is mostly because I finished this title last night and want to share my thoughts “fresh.”

Bethany House approved my NetGalley request for Jen Turano’s upcoming novel, Storing Up Trouble. It’s the third installment in the American Heiresses series, but can very easily be read as a standalone. (I know this because I’ve not read the previous titles but most definitely will be adding them to my to-be-read list!)

A Delightful Whirlwind of Enjoyment

Turano is known for her humour and inspirational stories and this title does not disappoint on that front. If it were a person, I’d describe it as that loud, sweet, somewhat chaotic friend that brings liveliness and occasional puzzlement in every encounter. It’s a delightful whirlwind of enjoyment!

With a blend of adventure, snicker-inducing scenarios and dialogue, danger, oddball characters, and sweet romance this book is a fast-paced get-ready-for-a-ride work of art. It also manages to romp through the very pivotal history of suffrage and worker’s rights in North America in a delicate balance of important facts and quirky situations.

As it is inspirational fiction, faith and purpose play a foundational role in the overall story. It is a clean, sassy, sweet work of historical romance. Overall, I can do nothing but recommend this title. My only complaint is that I binged my way through it and now I feel a little lonely.

Published by Bethany House. Publication Date: May 5, 2020

My thanks for the complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: Tasting Grace by Melissa D’Arabian

My routine is looking a little different these days and while I’m not sleeping the day away, I may be sitting in my pajamas. Connection is all being done digitally (because I still don’t like the phone) and sometimes we go for a drive just to get out of the house. Streets are very quiet, many stores are closed, and life just feels uncertain.

One thing that remains is food. My boys seem to be constantly snacking and a trip to the grocery store is something I’m avoiding for health reasons. My husband has been the primary, list in hand shopper, but many times the needed items aren’t in stock yet because people still don’t understand that our food supply chain hasn’t shut down. Regardless, we’re spending time in the kitchen, cooking out of creativity, eating out of boredom, grazing a million times a day because food is there.

I’ll admit that the first reason I selected this title was the cover. The colours stood out and it piqued my interest. Reading more about the content intrigued me even more. Last night, after a meal that was less meal and more snack, I thought I’d dive in, not entirely sure what I’d be reading.

I’ll admit that the author’s name meant nothing to me, although in hindsight I’ve probably seen her one of the random times we’ve binged the Food Network. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read non-fiction but I just kept coming back to this title.

Wow. That’s all I can say (which is obviously untrue as I’m going to say a lot more below.) I read this in one sitting and will be buying a copy to read again, to highlight, to make notes in. I’ll be recommending it to a ton of friends and family members who are about food or passionate about people. That’s how much it spoke to me. My hope is that the tagline reads as true for them by book’s end as it did for me: Discovering the Power of Food to Connect Us to God, One Another, and Ourselves

I’m not entirely sure I interpreted each chapter in the spirit it was given and there were a few statements that made me pause – not in a bad way, but more of a I need to think about this a bit longer. Each chapter includes an invitation at the end, drawing the reader into a real-life application of this refreshed viewpoint on food. I thought of them as little morsels of food for thought – and in all honesty – much of the book itself was food for thought.

Part autobiographical, part motivational inspiration, D’Arabian tackles subjects of acceptance, grief, success, value, identity, connection, and so much more. For such an easy-to-read book, it’s chock full of anecdotes and reflection on a variety of topics relevant to our relationship with food, society, and more. It’s not a follow this diet tome at all, but a gentle encouragement to reshape your connection with food and others.

Throughout, I found myself copying statements that aren’t new, but that hit me with their transparency and how I could relate to them. I felt as if I was having a kitchen conversation with a good natured, down to earth friend.

Overall, Tasting Grace provided a unique perspective into food and spirituality. It’s a gentle call to authenticity and connection, written in a captivating tone as it invites conversation, introspection, and most importantly, a call to accepting grace. I’ll be contemplating this further while I attempt the author’s Potato Bacon Torte.

My thanks to WaterBrook & Multnomah for the complimentary copy via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

This title is available through your favourite bookseller now. It published in September 2019. Go pick up a copy for yourself and let’s compare notes.

Book Review: One Little Lie by Colleen Coble

Being required to stay home with my troops has reinforced how much I need alone time for everyone’s safety. To say some days we’re a little edgy is an understatement. I’m trying to find balance between expectations and reality and still ensure we’re all getting the space and/or attention we need.

After work and chores and sometimes right in the middle, I’m making my way through my NetGalley titles. Hooray for books to keep us sane when the world is tipsy turvy. My latest read was Colleen Coble’s One Little Lie published March 3rd.

From the publisher:

“It started with one little lie. But Jane Hardy will do everything in her power to uncover the truth in this gripping new romantic suspense.”

Coble packed this novel full of intrigue, twists, and turns. More than once I questioned the tangle that must be her mind – and as she’s a talented mystery/suspense writer – I mean that as a compliment. There was so much to unravel in this novel and the pace just didn’t stop. It was gripping, emotional, and had me wondering until the very last page.

The romance element was a little lacklustre, but I think it has potential. As the story continues through a three-part series, I have hope that this aspect will develop throughout.

The characters and plot as a whole are well constructed as a suspense. with cults, law enforcement, murder, conspiracies, and a small coastal town, the romance takes a back seat to the overall quick moving insanity of the murder plot.

“I received a complimentary copy of this book courtesy of Thomas Nelson Fiction. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.”

Book Review: The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

Read with Caution – Gripping and Evocative

I feel compelled to admit that I’m not sure I will find the proper words for this particular review. The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear was a riveting, emotional work of fiction that took a very close look at the Harpe brothers and their crimes from the perspective of an acquaintance of one of their wives/victims. It is part of the True Colors series by Barbour about historical, American crime. Most of the titles I’ve read to date have characters expressing a strong faith-based element or struggling to find their faith as they live through a connection to these true crimes.

Going into this one, I had no idea who the Harpe brothers even were. Let me tell you… they were pure evil, serial killers, sadists, degenerate criminals. They were evil incarnate. If you’re like me, having no previous knowledge of their crimes or terror inflicted on families and travellers in late 1700s Tennessee and surrounding areas, this book was a disturbing introduction to these less-than-upstanding characters of American history. The author does address the difficulty in walking the fine line between the gruesome telling of their crimes and doing justice to the historic, factual events and honoring the victims while still presenting a “wholesome” piece of Christian fiction. Not an easy task…

This novel is graphic and grisly and dark. On the other hand, it has moments of hopefulness, healing, and romance. McNear balances it well so the darkness doesn’t overwhelm the tale – and yet darkness is the body of the unfortunate events depicted – it leaves a stain or heaviness behind.

It’s quite difficult to explain my reaction to this one. It was intense. The novel is very well-written and you may cry more than once – at least I did. It was gripping and evocative. I highly recommend it, but I recommend it with a bright strobing word of caution. You may feel a little banged up upon completion, especially if you’re a sensitive soul. The “true crime” aspect makes it difficult to process and will have you questioning how humanity can be so broken.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Barbour Books (Barbour Publishing Inc.)

Publication Date: March 1, 2020

Harlequin Holiday Blog Tour – Winter 2020

We are midway into December and it’s only 2 more weeks or so until Christmas. I think it’s safe to say that holiday reading and recommendations are in full swing – unless you’re like me and can curl up with a Christmas novel in the middle of July. Sun, rain, snow – I don’t care what the weather looks like outside or what the calendar says, there’s something delightful in the feel-good formula that most holiday-themed tales will deliver.

Harlequin is hosting a Holiday Blog Tour that began December 1st and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. They were kind enough to offer a number of titles to choose from and my selections were CHRISTMAS IN SILVER SPRINGS by Brenda Novak, A WEDDING IN DECEMBER by Sarah Morgan, COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS by RaeAnne Thayne. Read on for a quick synopsis of each title and my own thoughts post-binge.

Christmas In Silver Springs by Brenda Novak

Come home to Silver Springs for the holidays, where broken hearts learn to love again…together.

So much for forever. When Harper Devlin’s rock star husband ditches her on his way to the top, she takes her two daughters to her sister’s place in Silver Springs for the holidays, hoping family can heal her broken heart. But comfort comes in unexpected places when she crosses paths with local Tobias Richardson.

The moment Tobias spots Harper, he recognizes a sadness he knows all too well. After spending thirteen years in prison paying for his regretful past, Tobias is ready to make amends, and maybe helping Harper is the way to do it. But offering her a shoulder to cry on ignites a powerful attraction and a desire neither saw coming.

Fearing her reaction, Tobias doesn’t reveal his checkered past. He’s falling hard, and if Harper finds out, he’ll lose her for good, especially because her famous ex is now trying to win her back. Secrets have a way of coming out, but maybe this Christmas will bring Tobias the forgiveness—and the love—he deserves.

My Thoughts:

I liked the characters – even, ashamedly, the bad guy ex-husband who made so many mistakes. Separation and divorce are never easy, I would imagine, and everyone is going to handle it a little different. As in each of Novak’s novels, she did an excellent job with charisma, emotions, and character tension. Her stories also typically have a bit of steamy heat that you can read through or skip past if you desire. Overall, a 7 out of 10 mistletoes – it was quick and easy, but I didn’t quite find the Christmas “heart” I was hoping for, even though there was, of course, romance and growth all set at Christmas. It just didn’t leave me ready to decorate my tree. That being said, it was an overall enjoyable contemporary romance – Harlequin knows what works.

Publication Date: October 29, 2019
Publisher: MIRA BOOKS
Available now from all major booksellers.
Recommended for: sitting by a fire, tucked into a stocking, winter passenger commuting


A Wedding In December by Sarah Morgan

This funny, charming and heartwarming new Christmas novel is USA TODAY bestselling
author Sarah Morgan at her festive best!

In the snowy perfection of Aspen, the White family gathers for youngest daughter Rosie’s whirlwind Christmas wedding. First to arrive are the bride’s parents, Maggie and Nick. Their daughter’s marriage is a milestone they are determined to celebrate wholeheartedly, but they are hiding a huge secret of their own: they are on the brink of divorce. After living apart for the last six months, the last thing they need is to be trapped together in an irresistibly romantic winter wonderland.

Rosie’s older sister, Katie, is also dreading the wedding. Worried that impulsive, sweet-hearted Rosie is making a mistake, Katie is determined to save her sister from herself! If only the irritatingly good-looking best man, Jordan, would stop interfering with her plans…


Bride-to-be Rosie loves her fiancé but is having serious second thoughts. Except everyone has
arrived—how can she tell them she’s not sure? As the big day gets closer, and emotions run
even higher, this is one White family Christmas none of them will ever forget!

My Thoughts:

First, this novel had me laughing on multiple occasions. The lies we tell can get us into some seriously interesting situations and this family has some issues (don’t we all!) I also don’t mean that in a bad way – they all just wanted to protect each other so badly that things, frankly, often went badly. There was a lot to unwrap in this one as it wasn’t just a quick romance – it had some depth and layers to it. Gorgeous setting and great characters that I loved at times and wanted to throw into a snowbank at others. Some heat and lots of romance and so much poor communication. Overall, 8 out of 10 mistletoes – it had more of the heart I was looking for in a novel set over the holidays without being overly sweet like a gingerbread latte with too many pumps of syrup. Bonus points for the gorgeous cover design!

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Publisher: HQN Books

Available now from all major booksellers.
Recommended for: a weekend snowed in, reading way past your bedtime, tucked into a gift bag with some cozy socks and fancy hot chocolate for the romance lover in your life


Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne

Hearts are lighter and wishes burn a little brighter at Christmas…

Elizabeth Hamilton has been lost. Trapped in a tangle of postpartum depression and grief after the death of her beloved parents, she couldn’t quite see the way back to her husband and their two beautiful kids…until a car accident stole away her memories and changed her life. And when she finally remembered the sound of little Cassie’s laugh, the baby powder smell of
Bridger and the feel of her husband’s hand in hers, Elizabeth worried that they’d moved on
without her. That she’d missed too much. That perhaps she wasn’t the right mother for her kids or wife for Luke, no matter how much she loved them.

But now, seven years later, Luke finds her in a nearby town and brings Elizabeth back home to
the family she loves, just in time for Christmas. And being reunited with Luke and her children is better than anything Elizabeth could have imagined. As they all trim the tree and bake cookies,making new holiday memories, Elizabeth and Luke are drawn ever closer. Can the hurt of the past seven years be healed over the course of one Christmas season and bring the Hamiltons the gift of a new beginning?

My Thoughts:

Admittedly, this was my favourite of the three. It had ALL the heart, some mystery, romance, and the expected feel-goods you look for in a novel touted as a Christmas story. Is it mind-shattering, literary genius? No – but the talented Thayne serves up love, joy, hope, and cheer in a pretty little package that will make you sigh with glee as you get to the very last page. It touches on some heart-breaking real-life issues and I was thrilled with the way it all turned out in the end. New beginnings, indeed. 10 out of 10 mistletoes for this one. It just captured all the essence and magic of a cozy Christmas romance for me. This novel is part of the Haven Point Series but can definitely be read as a standalone – I have only read some of the previous titles and was still enthralled without feeling lost.

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Publisher: HQN Books

Available now from all major booksellers.
Recommended for: reading in a bubble bath with no kids banging on the door, curling up on the sofa with a warm tea and cuddly blanket, wrapped under the tree for your romance-lover with her beverage of choice and box of her favourite chocolate (why can’t I find Guylian anywhere anymore?!?)


My thanks to my friends at Harlequin for the chance to dive into these charming holiday reads! My heart feels warm and fuzzy after these ones.

Book Review: Once Upon A Dickens Christmas by Michelle Griep

I know, I know… Christmas is still months away (14 weeks, give or take a day!) However, I can read Christmas-themed novels all year round. Michelle Griep, self-proclaimed “author, blogger, and occasional super-hero when her cape is clean.” knows how to do heartwarming, wholesome historical fiction.

Heartwarming & Wholesome Historical Fiction

In her three-novella series, she provides a Dickensian-feel to bring on the Christmas cheer and leave you feel like you’ve been sitting fireside – all warm and cheerful on the inside. The three charming Victorian tales (originally published individually) included in Once Upon a Dickens Christmas are:

  • 12 Days at Bleakly Manor: Brought together under mysterious circumstances, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters. What matters most is what Christmas is all about…love.
  • A Tale of Two Hearts: Pleasure seeker William Barlow needs a wife immediately to gain his uncle’s inheritance, and Mina Scott is just the girl to make him look respectable—too bad she turns him down. Ought he give her a second chance?
  • The Old Lace Shop: Recently widowed Bella White is finally freed from the domination of the overbearing men in her life, but when she enters into a business partnership with the handsome Edmund Archer, she begins to wonder if marriage is worth a second chance.

My favourite of the three was the first (12 Days at Bleakly Manor), but they were all appealing within their own right. These titles balance mystery with romance and a sprinkling of faith (but not in a heavy-handed obnoxious way.) The recipe leaves you with a delightful narrative that you’ll want to enjoy curled up in a cozy place with a tea – even better if there’s a Christmas tree illuminated in the corner. Published September 1st, and available for purchase now.

My thanks to the author and publisher, Shiloh Run Press, an imprint of Barbour Books. I was provided with a complimentary title via NetGalley and all thoughts are my own.

Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

It’s the May long weekend here in our tiny corner of the world. The weather is finally cooperating for outdoor book binges. We had a birthday party yesterday and I have this weird thing about parents judging my housekeeping skills, so we cleaned like mad before the 12 year old boys showed up to make a mess again. Thankfully, clean-up was a breeze so today lent itself to indulgent backyard gazebo time with a rosé lemonade (meh) and a book (amazing!)

I’ve had The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek on my to-read pile for months. I’ve put it off, and put it off, and put it off… until I decided to give it a go last night. I made it to chapter 13 (when I should have been sleeping but we all know I’ll give up sleep for a good book.) The wee hours of the morning finally got to me, so I put it down knowing I’d have the afternoon to while away in 1930’s Kentucky hill country. Oh. My. Word. Why didn’t I read this book sooner?!?

Why didn’t I read this book sooner?!?

From the first paragraphs, this title is evocative and transports you to another time and place. It’s rife with folklore, superstition, and old home remedies – balanced with an honest and colourful depiction of a difficult era and landscape. Inspired by the historical and truly remarkable Kentucky Pack Horse library service and gentle-hearted blue-skinned people of Kentucky, Kim Michele Richardson weaves a poignant and heart-wrenching telling of poverty, misogyny, racial prejudice, and poverty. Through it all, books bind humble souls together – feeding the mind when the land won’t yield food and families are dying of starvation.

I don’t want to share any spoilers so I’ll leave you with this: pick up a copy of this book, book off a chunk of free-time, and dive right in! You’ll find yourself invested – infuriated with the wrongness of so many situations, in tears because of the heartache and loss, and absolutely in love with the Book Lady, Cussy, and the family she builds through the care and gifts for her patrons. Honestly, one of the best books I’ve read in awhile!

This complimentary title was provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Book Review: A Forbidden Love

I feel a little sheepish admitting that I procrastinated in reading this title. It was published earlier this month and I like to post my NetGalley reviews while the books are still fresh. So I ‘forced’ myself to read it… and oh my word, I wish I had cracked it open sooner.

Set during the Spanish civil war, which I admittedly knew very little about, A Forbidden Love by Kerry Postle follows the intertwining lives of a number of individuals in a sleepy little Spanish town. They are rocked by the human tragedy that befalls their village when Nationalists bring conflict to their doorsteps.

Descriptive, colourful prose and well-developed characters experience friendship, love, loss, anger, pain, betrayal, hope and more in this historical love story. While the main female lead is admittedly self-absorbed, brash, and impetuous, you can’t help but feel for her loss of innocence in such a terrible situation. She makes unwise choices, lives with the guilt, but ultimately is not responsible for the horrors of war that befall her family and friends. You see her maturity develop as she faces remarkably challenging situations that no one should ever experience.

The author beautifully presented this historical era with emotion and poignancy. I appreciated how she drew attention to atrocities committed against woman by their own countrymen. She honoured their innocence and memory.

Overall, I was truly engrossed once I was a few chapters deep. It’s a stirring account of oppression, corruption, and survival. It may leave you feeling a little raw and vulnerable by the final chapter, but in awe of the bravery and desire to fight for what is right. A tale extraordinarily told that asks if the enemy can be loved and truly forgiven. Pick up a copy for yourself!

I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publication date: April 2, 2019

Published by: HQ Digital (Harper Collins UK)

Book Review: Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman

I was excited to see a memoir written by Fredrik Backman on the new release lists for spring. More commonly known for his lovable curmudgeonly characters overcoming loss and kindling unlikely friendships in entertaining fiction, I was curious to see what a parental letter from the beloved Swedish author might include.

I was not disappointed. With his telltale blend of wry humour and droll wit, Backman tackles all manner of issues and advice to his young son in this heartwarming, comical read.

Whether you agree with all the author’s philosophies on life or not, you are sure to appreciate the authentic and self-deprecating account of the wild and wonderful world of parenthood. (It involves a lot of poop…) Beautiful and amusing anecdotes ooze love for wife and child while sardonic commentary balances the overly sweet.

Ultimately, the author manages to convey his desire for his child to one – be a better person than he is, and two – know he’s loved unconditionally… just like the best of us as parents wish for our children.

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World is a remarkably enjoyable piece of non-fiction. Available for purchase April 30th – would make a fantastic Father’s Day gift for the reader dads you might know!

I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley with thanks to the author. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Simon and Schuster Canada
Publication date: April 30, 2019