Book Review: Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman

I have been slowly making my way through my backlist of NetGalley titles, attempting to alternate between some new and upcoming releases with titles that have been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for some time. All things considered, many of these “older” books have still be published within the last year, but I’ve missed the opportunity for release day (or close to release day) hype. My bad. (<— do people still say that?)

Over the Christmas holidays, I finally dove into Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman. It’s not one of my regular genres (middle grade fiction) but something about the description called to me when I first requested it. Now, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’m an almost 40-year-old woman. I’m not in middle school. I’m not even sure my children still qualify as middle-school aged (although I think if J. gave this one a chance, he’d enjoy it.) All that being said, I’m not the target audience for this book, and still it mesmerized me.

There is a reason Kadarusman is a Governor General’s Literary Award finalist and this title was issued the JLG Gold Standard. It’s poignant and eloquent, simple without pandering, and absolutely engaging. Touching on issues of conservation, extinction, family roots, secrets, bullying, and neurodiversity, it’s a heart-warming richly crafted novel for the young (but not too young) reader. The publisher describes it as “A moving coming-of-age story wrapped up in the moss, leaves, and blue gums of the Tasmanian rainforest where, hidden under giant ferns, crouches its most beloved, and lost, creature.” I think it was absolutely brilliant (and may gift some copies to elementary teachers I know!)

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Myrick Marketing & Media, LLC; Pajama Press
ISBN: 9781772780543

Note: Amazon’s recommended age level is 8 – 12, grade level 4 – 7

Book Review: A Castaway in Cornwall

Every once in a while a reader will stumble across an author that is such a great match for their reading interests that you know no matter which title you pick up, you’re going to love it. Julie Klassen is one of those authors for me. Her books aren’t always fast paced, but there’s just something about them that works time and time again.

A Castaway in Cornwall was published in December but I just got around to reading it a few days ago. I was not mistaken – I was met, as expected, with a work of fiction that hit all the right notes for me at the right time. It’s an atmospheric telling, obviously about a castaway in Cornwall – a shipwreck survivor – and the woman who nurses him to health, a castaway in her own right. That’s an overly simplistic capture of the plot, but I don’t want to spoil the story – I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. Inside you’ll find a lot of coastal or sea-worthy jargon with an emphasis on flotsam and jetsam (do you know the difference?) and a reflection of the Cornish history of smuggling and wreckers woven into the period piece.

The lead characters in this novel have some depths to them – secrets, pasts, scars – but they’re steadfast – which is not to be confused with boring. The book as a whole is not fast paced, and it’s not a romp – it takes its time to get from cover to cover, but it’s an enjoyable journey nonetheless. I would classify it as historical inspirational fiction with intrigue and an innocent, slow-burn romance. Bonus points for the cover art – I just absolutely love the colour palette and soft design. This title felt quite a bit like a novel written just for me.

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

Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 9780764234224

Book Review: The Thief of Blackfriars Lane by Michelle Griep

We’re well into the third day of the first month of a brand new spanking year that we as a family brought in much like we do every other strike of midnight – sleepy, contemplating bed for the adults, and wide awake, gaming, for the teens. You’d think for someone who spent more time than usual encamped at home this year that my reading goals would have been a breeze to meet, but I miscalculated and by the last of 2020 had not met my benchmark at all. Oh well! A new year… a new book… some new reading goals!

The Thief of Blackfriars Lane by Michelle Griep was the perfect official inaugural read for this booklover. While I technically finished another title prior, that title straddled the line between years and is accounted for somewhere in a reader’s no-man’s land. This smashing work of fiction, however, was published January 1st and seemed the exactly right title to start my new book year fresh. I finished it in the wee hours of the morning, being fully ensconced in this sweet, mysterious, and fast paced romp, aided in part by a miscalculated (but enjoyable) coffee at 9 p.m. last night. As I put my Kindle to sleep around 3 a.m., and contemplated sleep myself, I remembered again how much I truly enjoy Griep as an author of historical Christian fiction. Why do I not read her work more often?

I was swept back in time and settled in for a delightfully vivacious adventure. The author crafts a beautiful word picture that will immerse you in the action, location, and emotion on every page. The romance lends itself to sweetness and naivete, while the need to meet a deadline lends a sense of urgency and need to engage. Through this clever and compelling novel with elements of faith and trust, I was transported through the smelliest, darkest parts of London where danger and deception lurk to the glittering ballrooms of the wealthy (where danger and deception lurk) to the noble halls of the historic metropolitan police. A 5-star read to start the year off right. What a delight!

Publication Date: January 1, 2020
Publisher: Barbour Fiction

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

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

I have had some disappointing reads lately that have just been “blah” and left me in a bit of a reading slump. I haven’t been quick to pick up any new NetGalley titles because I’ve been leery of feeling disappointed and not quite knowing how to weave my thoughts into constructive criticism – which is the whole premise of the program. When a reminder popped up that I was to post as part of the Harlequin 2020 Fall Reads Historical Fiction blog tour for Nicola Cornick’s newest title, The Forgotten Sister, I realised I had procrastinated long enough and it was time to jump into something new. It took me a day to read and it was easy-going – no drudgery involved. What a relief!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

In the tradition of the spellbinding historical novels of Philippa Gregory and Kate Morton comes a stunning story based on a real-life Tudor mystery, of a curse that echoes through the centuries and shapes two women’s destinies…

1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…

Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

MY THOUGHTS:

This was a well-crafted easy-to-read novel. During the opening scenes, I had some doubts about compatibility, but kept reading and was pleasantly entertained. I shouldn’t have doubted, as I’ve read and enjoyed Cornick’s work before. I pondered the relevance of the title at times but that too resolved itself to my satisfaction. This is a fanciful work of fiction with some extrasensory elements. I don’t typically travel to the Tudor period in my historical reading, so was unfamiliar with some of the key characters. The author’s note at the end made it even more interesting to me!

I was able to read the book throughout one day (without neglecting my family!) I was entertained, my curiosity was piqued, and the plot caught me by surprise. Overall I would recommend The Forgotten Sister as it held (without taking away from the merits of Cornick herself as an author) a Susanna Kearsley-esque appeal. Released today, you should be able to pick up a copy from your favourite local bookseller or any of the usual online retailers

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick has written over thirty historical romances for Harlequin and HQN Books. She has been nominated twice for a RWA RITA Award and twice for the UK RNA Award. She works as a historian and guide in a seventeenth century house. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes.

THE FORGOTTEN SISTER 
Author: Nicola Cornick 
ISBN: 9781525809958
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Publisher: Graydon House Books 

Harlequin 2020 Fall Reads Blog Tour – Women’s Fiction & Romance – Rescue You by Elysia Whisler

There’s something about reading in fall – maybe it’s the opportunity to get really cozy with a warm blanket and a hot drink while immersing yourself in an even cozier read. If you follow the publishing industry at all, you’ll know there’s some highly anticipated books hitting the market this time of year. One of those titles, Elysia Whisler’s Rescue You, is being released next week (October 27, to be exact.) My thanks to the team at Harlequin Trade Publishing for providing an advanced readers copy for review as part of the 2020 Fall Reads Blog Tour featuring Women’s Fiction & Romance.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

She needs a fresh start. He’s got scars that haven’t healed. With the help of some rescue dogs, they’ll discover that everyone deserves a chance at happiness.

After a year of heartbreak and loss, the only thing keeping Constance afloat is the dog rescue she works at with her sister, Sunny. Desperate for a change, Constance impulsively joins a new gym, even though it seems impossibly hard, and despite the gym’s prickly owner.

Rhett Santos keeps his gym as a refuge for his former-military brothers and to sweat out his own issues. He’s ready to let the funny redhead join, but unprepared for the way she wiggles past his hard-won defenses.

When their dog rescue is threatened, the sisters fight to protect it. And they need all the help
they can get. As Rhett and Constance slowly open up to each other, they’ll find that no one is
past rescuing; what they need is the right person—or dog—to save them.

MY THOUGHTS:

This title was really immersive, as in, I’m more of a cuddle on the couch type of person than a let’s get sweaty and run 5 miles before we bench-press our bodyweight type of person, but I found myself wanting to hit the nearest CrossFit facility after stopping at the local animal shelter to adopt a puppy. The author brought her environment to life in an engaging and appealing way.

The characters were smashing* in a kick-butt, no nonsense regard. Constance was sweet and sassy, strong and protective – a down-to-earth woman with a very low tolerance for bull from anyone. Rhett is damaged but kind and also, ridiculously fit. I particularly appreciated some of Constance’s realizations regarding her own self-image, workouts, etc. She needed some healing and I think she found that. Beyond that, the story has layers – the primary heartwarming love story, the sisters’ relationship, a dog rescue, and a secondary romance. All the layers mesh together to create this easy-to-read, give-you-all-the-feels, about-what-you’d-expect contemporary romantic women’s fiction. It wasn’t anything spectacularly “out there”, but was warm, stirring, engaging – exactly what you want for a fall weekend read. (*I didn’t know what word to use here… use your imagination.)

Reader discretion advised for occasional language and not-graphic adult scenes (that you can definitely skip over if you choose.) While I enjoyed the novel, I wouldn’t be comfortable lending it to a 12 year old.

Watch for this title to hit all your favourite retailers next Tuesday! Available from the usual spots online for preorder or ask your local bookseller to bring it in.

RESCUE YOU
Author: Elysia Whisler
ISBN: 9780778310082
Publication Date: October 27, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books

Our Hectic Mundane… and A Book Recommendation

It’s a quiet Friday morning in September – it was 3 degrees (Celsius) when I woke up and I can feel in my frozen toes that winter is coming.The boys have headed back to school, but like most people around here, that has meant nothing in terms of routine. As of today, we are officially on our specific schedules which still seems to involve a lot of juggling with varied timetables even though we opted (optimistically) for in person learning. My contract was reestablished and I headed back into the office on a scaled-back schedule.

While I have a few hours to myself (the oldest is only out of the house for 3 hours, every other day) on this dedicated “day off”, I sat down with a Tetley gingerbread tea latte (featuring a combo almond/coconut milk and oat milk froth because I’m eliminating reducing dairy) and realized I have a to-do list, yes, but nowhere and nothing that NEED to be done. If I want to sit in my pajamas all day and read, well, I could do that – guilt-free. (I won’t though, because I don’t think that’s what my body needs today. Yesterday, yes – I worked, I napped, I ate (ugh) cup-o-soup for dinner instead of the veggie stir fry I prepared because I wasn’t feeling up to anything. Not all days are a success on this journey.)

I have been scaling back on my NetGalley reads – the to-be read list is still ridiculously long, but so is my pile of books I’ve actually invested in. I most recently picked up The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri from the fabulous Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge. (It’s one of my favourite independent bookstores – probably my favourite locally!) I’ve been tip-toeing my way through this title because I’m feeling book burnout. It’s an unfortunate state of being. So instead of reading what I “need” to – as I felt I was sometimes missing the pleasure of the read and therefore, perhaps unconsciously skewing my reviews – I opted to read something that grabbed me in the moment.

The Wikipedia summary of this title blandly states: The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a 2019 novel by Christy Lefteri. It deals with the flight of refugees from Aleppo in Syria to Europe during the Syrian Civil War. While a work of fiction, it is based on the author’s experience over two summers volunteering in Athens at a refugee center.

What Wikipedia fails to mention is the passion, heartache, and beauty that has gone into this work. I don’t have a full review for you – I’m only half-way through, but I would, based on reading to date, recommend this title to anyone and everyone. It’s captivating and moving and almost too much for me to read in a binge session. It’s heavy-weighted and I need air in between passages at times, but it’s beautiful. Perhaps my view is a little slanted because as I read, I can’t help but relate the carefully crafted words to the experiences those of my own limited acquaintance have encountered as they lived the plight of the refugee.

So today, I leave you with that recommendation and quick glimpse into our current life. Myself? Well while the dishwasher runs, my toes warm under a blanket on the couch, and the kittens (yes, we adopted two kittens this summer) run amok through the house, I will take a few breaths, enjoy my few hours of freedom, find joy in the sunshine, and peace in our special hectic mundane (which may or may not involve unclogging a shower drain – oh the glamour!)

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Susan Mallery is one of my go-to authors when it comes to contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of steamy romance, quirky humour, and lots of heart. I wasn’t about to let the opportunity to participate in the Harlequin blog tour with fellow booklovers slip me by as Mallery’s newest release, The Friendship List, hit shelves yesterday.

From the Publisher:

Already a worldwide success in mass market and trade paperback formats, Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story about two best friends who are determined to help one another shake things up and live life to the fullest…only to discover that possibilities are everywhere–especially in the most unexpected of places.

Ellen and Unity have been best friends basically since birth, but they couldn’t be more different. Unity married her childhood sweetheart just after high school and became an Army wife, moving from base to base…until her husband’s shocking death in the line of duty leaves her a widow. Grief-stricken, it’s time for Unity to come back home to Ellen—the only person she can trust to help her rebuild her life. But Ellen has troubles of her own. Boys never seemed to notice Ellen…until one got her pregnant in high school and disappeared. Her son is now 17 and she’s wondering what to do with herself now that he’s heading off to college and he’s literally her entire world.

But now that Ellen and Unity are reunited, they’re done with their stale lives. It’s time to shake things up and start living again, knowing that they’ll always have one another to lean on. So they create a list of challenges they have to accomplish–everything from getting a tattoo to skydiving to staying out all night. And whoever completes the most challenges is the winner. But with new adventures and love just around the corner, there’s no such thing as losing…

My Thoughts:

Full of Mallery’s quirky humour and the strong bonds of friendships, this was a book that celebrated self-awareness, growth, and romance. The characters are quirky and real and the novel has a cadence that carries you from start to finish in a blink of an eye. While it wasn’t my favourite title by Ms. Mallery (her Fool’s Gold series has a few books to hold that honour), it was an easy-to-read contemporary story that will make you value your friends and want to try new things for yourself. You may find yourself wiping away a tear or two, groaning in frustration, or laughing out loud! You’ll be pulled in cover to cover and the ending will leave you feeling pretty content!

I was provided with a complimentary title via the publisher to download via NetGalley. I’ll leave my standard content warning for adult situations – reader discretion advised.

About the Author:

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.

Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She’s passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.

Buy Links:

Check your favourite bookseller or buy online.

The Friendship List: A Novel 
Susan Mallery
On Sale Date: August 4, 2020
ISBN 9781335136961, 1335136967
Hardcover
$26.99 USD, $33.50 CAD
Fiction / Romance / Contemporary 
384 pages

Book Review: Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr

Robyn Carr is one of those writers that I will always invest time in – usually without disappointment. She authored by beloved Virgin River series (that I may not think Netflix did the best job of bringing to screen…) and a number of other titles that I’ve truly enjoyed. In general, what she does works and I find the cadence of her writing truly appeals to me. When I was initially invited to participate in the HarperCollins blog tour celebrating the release of her newest title, Sunrise on Half Moon Bay, I didn’t have to think twice. Of course I was going to participate. I went ahead and downloaded the digital ARC (advance reader’s copy) and then promptly forgot to confirm my participation in the tour. Whoops! Regardless, I’ve read the book and I’m sharing my thoughts.

Set in the stunning coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California, Robyn Carr’s new novel examines the joys of sisterhood and the importance of embracing change.

As always, the characters – whether you like them or not – are real. Real issues, real drama, real feelings. I didn’t love either of the lead characters when I started, but I was interested in their stories, and by the final chapter, they felt like friends (valued despite their flaws!) The voice of this novel, the descriptions, the dialogue, the characters, the setting – speak to the strength within us and the bonds of family. It spoke to triumph in change (or despite change), personal growth and maturity, the treasures of friendships. It didn’t however, truly speak to me.

It was easy to read and typically quick-moving (but not fast-paced, but not mind-boggling) – you don’t have to invest a lot of deep thought or heavy reading sessions to “get it”. It is, at face value, a feel-good, cuddle on the couch, piece of women’s fiction – a great way to pass an evening or two – while offering simple reminders about the value of finding your way and standing up for yourself. There were a few twists, but I wish it had a bit more scenery and perhaps a few more dynamic interactions. It’s not a world-changing piece of literature, but it worked for a Friday night read – a good title to toss in your bag for poolside lounging, sitting in airports, or tucked away on your back deck to escape the kids.

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

Published by: Harlequin / Mira
Publication Date: April 14, 2020 (Available now!)

Book Review: The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck

Two things that remain certain in these very uncertain days ahead are 1) my need to escape into fiction and 2) my supply of books to be read. I was disheartened when I heard that the local library would be closing temporarily, but also know that my physical and digital bookshelves are fully stocked well enough to carry me through a 2 week period of social distancing if not 2 years. We’re good.

One of the recent titles to read and love was Rachel Hauck’s The Fifth Avenue Story Society. The concept, a group of individuals with seemingly little in common but an anonymous invitation to connect at a small, historic Fifth Avenue library, is not entirely original in and of itself. However, I found that the further I delved into this one, the more I found it enchanting and unique.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story line. Seriously, read this one for yourself. I will tell you that it’s not fast-paced or even particularly exciting. It is, however, emotionally engaging and you’ll feel like you’re a part of this elite and varied circle of strangers becoming friends. The individual tales weave into a beautiful tapestry of hope, healing, and second chances with a healthy dose of love, sweet love.

I believe I stated in my review of Ms. Hauck’s The Wedding Dress Christmas that it was my favourite title of her’s so far… but I was mistaken. This title while completely different, is definitely my favourite title by the author so far. The Fifth Avenue Story Society hit shelves February 4th so practice safe reading… and order online, by phone or email, from your favourite independent bookseller or retail chain… and spend some quality time with a good book away from in-person friends.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Book Review: A Simple Wedding

For those who haven’t looked at a North American calendar in sometime, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. A day of romance and wooing and overpriced flowers and gifts to say “I love you!”

My husband and I no longer “really” celebrate Valentine’s Day. Sometimes we’ll order in (but that’s not an unusual occurrence around here) or I’ll try to make a special dinner for my guys (it usually fails.) I prefer my dashes of romance between the pages of a book and leaving the real life “I love yous” to a shout while dashing out the door or with help folding the laundry. I’m not a relationship expert, but it works for us and we’ve been married 15 years so why mess with it. I’ll appreciate that love even more if I’m given some alone time to jump into that romance novel.

A few days ago I picked up “A Simple Wedding” by Leigh Duncan. It’s published by Hallmark which means you probably don’t even need to keep reading my thoughts. (Please do.)

It’s set in “Heart’s Landing” – an east coast wedding destination. (This should also tell you plenty.) It’s dripping with sappiness. (My phone just tried to autocorrect sappiness to happiness and I mean, it’s not wrong.)

And yet… all sappiness aside, I loved it. Fluffy and sweet, easy to read, likeable characters, charming setting, and just enough of a twist on the typical Hallmark romance to make it interesting – interesting enough that I’ll be looking for other titles in the Hearts Landing series.

A little unbelievable at times, but it’s fiction… and contemporary, enchanting romance at that. The whole premise is that a successful personal assistant is planning a wedding for her famous cousin while not divulging she’s not the actual bride. Through the absolute ridiculous requests and the truth coming to light, I feel that even though our heroine is sweet as pie, everyone was entitled to a meltdown and they all just rolled with it.

Is this a 5-star literary masterpiece? Not even a little bit close. Is it a feel good impractical reminder that romance isn’t dead? Absolutely. Will it leave you craving decadent cupcakes and small town friends? Yes. It’s a quick and easy read that will warm your heart and tempt your tastebuds. Watch for this title to hit shelves on March 10th!

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