Wednesday, December 13, 2017

It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs

From the publisher: A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.”

That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs’s three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs’s journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

“Whether he’s posing as a celebrity, outsourcing his chores, or adhering strictly to the Bible, we love reading about the wacky lifestyle experiments of author A.J. Jacobs” (Entertainment Weekly). Now Jacobs upends, in ways both meaningful and hilarious, our understanding of genetics and genealogy, tradition and tribalism, identity and connection. It’s All Relative is a fascinating look at the bonds that connect us all.

My thoughts: This was a really fun non-fiction read. I don't read a lot of non-fiction, though I always say I'm going to, but my favourites are the ones that read like fiction. I want to learn something, but I don't want a lot of technical jargon thrown my way. Jacobs has a fantastic writing style that made me want to keep reading because I was enjoying it so much. He's actually quite funny, too. This was an easy to read book that really kept my attention and kept me intrigued.

Learning about your relatives and genes has really blown up over the past few years, and with good reason. We all want to know where we came from. Jacobs explores how we are all technically related, which is a fun thought when you really think about it. The book talks about his plans to throw the biggest family reunion, ever, which was really fun to read about. I do wish there were more details about the actual event. There was the big lead up to it, but I wanted to read more about it. The day probably went by way too fast to really record details.

The book had a lot of fun information about families and genes and how certain factors affect families. I really enjoyed and I definitely want to check out more of Jacobs writing.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I have a weird relationship with Colleen Hoover’s books. On one hand, I usually enjoy them because they’re very compelling and readable, however, on the other hand, there can be problematic elements in them that make me question why I keep reading these books. I didn’t find Without Merit as compelling as I hoped I would, and it left a bit to be desired.
Merit is kissed by a boy who shakes her whole world, unfortunately, she’s pretty sure he’s the boyfriend of her twin. The twin she’s really not that close with. She’s not very close with anyone in her family because of something that occurred when she was a bit younger. There is a lot of build-up to the ‘event’ with her family, and it takes a while to find out why Merit and her family do not mesh very well. It’s a disturbing revelation when it’s finally revealed, too.
I found it hard to like any of the characters, and I didn’t connect to any of them, which is important to me. They were all either shallow, selfish, inconsiderate, or all three. They didn’t treat each other like a family should, and it bothered me when suddenly they were able to resolve all their issues.   There were a lot of issues in this book, but none of them were handled or resolved very well. This book tries to deal with divorce, suicide, incest, abuse, and that’s only a few of them. It just seemed like there was too much going on. I didn’t understand the addition of Luck, either. He didn’t add anything to the story. Can we please talk about the names in this book, too? Merit, Honor, Luck, Sagan, and Utah. It’s silly, but the names bothered me.
I will probably keep reading Hoover’s books, but this one fell short for me.  I read It Ends With Us recently by Hoover, and really enjoyed that one.
A copy of this book was provided by Simon and Schuster Canada, but as always opinions remain my own.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Review: The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti

From the publisher:
“Where did they come from? Why did they fall? The question would be asked a thousand times…

Until, of course, more important question arose, at which time everyone promptly forgot that a thousand birds fell on the town of Mount Oanoke at all.”

In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alecia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alecia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.

My thoughts: This was the perfect book to read this time of year. Kind of creepy, kind of atmospheric, and definitely intriguing. I haven't read Moretti's previous bestselling The Vanishing Year, so I was able to go into this novel without any expectations. This novel is told from four points of view, Nate (the accused), Alecia (Nate's wife), Bridget (Nate and Alecia's friend, and also Nate's co-worker), and Lucia (the missing teen), which means it is very character-driven. Personally, I love character-driven books. I love being able to get inside a character's head, and try to figure out why they act the way they do. I think it allows a unique perspective into the plot, as well.

I found some of the characters hard to like and trust. Nate came across as unintentionally pompous. He had to be liked by absolutely everybody, despite their feelings towards him. Alecia was a bit hard to like, too, but I was able to sympathize with her more than Nate. She didn't know what to believe, which I understood. How easy would it be to deny that your husband is capable of something so horrible? At the same time, how easy would it be to believe once you start finding what you think is undeniable evidence? It's not as easy as one would assume.

Lucia was easy to sympathize with, especially the more you got to know her. She was a teen with typical teen problems, but she also had a difficult home life. She was my favourite character, and I wish we had more from her perspective. I loved her journal entries, and think she was very intelligent. She is accused of being a witch, and you can certainly understand why as you read the novel.

There was a lot going on in this novel, but it all fits together by the end and I loved that you never really knew who to trust. The ending was not what I expected, but I was happy with it. I rated this one 3.5 out of 5 stars, and would highly recommend it to people who love character-driven mysteries.

A copy of this book was provided by Simon and Schuster Canada, but as always, opinions are my own.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
From the publisher: Eve Fletcher is trying to figure out what comes next. A forty-six-year-old divorcee whose beloved only child has just left for college, Eve is struggling to adjust to her empty nest when one night her phone lights up with a text message. Sent from an anonymous number, the mysterious sender tells Eve, “U R my MILF!” Over the months that follow, that message comes to obsess Eve. While leading her all-too-placid life—serving as Executive Director of the local senior center by day and taking a community college course on Gender and Society at night—Eve can’t curtail her own interest in a porn website called, which features the erotic exploits of ordinary, middle-aged women like herself. Before long, Eve’s online fixations begin to spill over into real life, revealing new romantic possibilities that threaten to upend her quiet suburban existence.

Meanwhile, miles away at the state college, Eve’s son Brendan—a jock and aspiring frat boy—discovers that his new campus isn’t nearly as welcoming to his hard-partying lifestyle as he had imagined. Only a few weeks into his freshman year, Brendan is floundering in a college environment that challenges his white-dude privilege and shames him for his outmoded, chauvinistic ideas of sex. As the New England autumn turns cold, both mother and son find themselves enmeshed in morally fraught situations that come to a head on one fateful November night.

My thoughts: Mrs. Fletcher is my first Perrotta book, and I'm not sure how I felt about it. Eve is struggling with her identity as a recent 'empty nester', and after getting the 'U R my MILF' text ends up on a porn site. I thought it was interesting how the text and site led her on such a sexual identity journey. There is definitely some satire in this novel, but it manages to be up to date on current social headlines. I thought there was a lot going on with Eve's character. Discovering your sexual identity is not a linear thing, but I think there was just too much going on. I also did not connect with her, and I know that's not important to some readers, but it is to me.

Brendan made me very angry. He was so privileged and spoiled and he had no idea. He did not treat women well, and once he's finally called out on it, he goes running back to his mom. I don't know if it's because I'm a mom to a son myself (mind you, he's one so not the same) but I was very frustrated by most of Brendan's behaviour and I found his chapters difficult to read.

In the end I rated this 3 out of 5 stars. It definitely wasn't horrible, and I liked the way it made me question some of my own ideas, but it wasn't my favourite. I was a fan of the side characters more than the two Fletchers, and wanted more of their stories.

Good read, but not my favourite.

I received a copy of this book for free from Simon and Schuster Canada, but as always, opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reckless Years: A Diary of Love and Madness by Heather Chaplin

Synopsis: Trapped in a dissatisfying marriage for nearly a decade, New York journalist Heather Chaplin finally summons the courage to leave. On her own, she finds herself intoxicatingly free, pursuing adventure, and juggling romance on two continents in multiple cities. She contemplates the meaning of life; she falls for a handsome Irishman.

But as the adventures progress, Chaplin’s own reckless choices send her spiraling downward—and toward a reckoning she’s avoided all her life. Pulled from Chaplin’s own diaries, Reckless Years is a raw, propulsive debut: unfailingly profound and impossible to put down.  

My Thoughts: I have a hard time reviewing memoirs. I really enjoy reading them, but when it comes time to review them, I always hesitate. Who am I to comment on someone else's reality? Especially a reality that includes some dark times. I love Heather's voice; the way she writes is so descriptive that you actually feel like you're sitting next to her. The book is comprised of actual journal entries, so what you get is so raw, vulnerable, and at times, completely relatable. You'll laugh with her, cry with her, and definitely root for her while reading this book.

I loved watching Chaplin try to regain her life and herself. She definitely didn't always make the best choices, but really, who does? She lived in the moment and I was really impressed (and jealous) with her ability to just up and head to Dublin to see her brother. Also, I really want to know which band her brother was touring with, but that's just me being nosey.

Chaplin's eventual downward spiral can be hard to read because it's so raw, but I loved it because since it's a memoir, you already know how it ends. Chaplin is now the founder of a journalism and design program at The New School. I'm sure she's still dealing with some things, but knowing she ends up successful (and I hope even more, happy) leaves the story with a real sense of hope.

Pick this one up if you're looking for a unique voice and a raw, hopeful story.

A copy of this book was provided by Simon and Schuster Canada, but as always, opinions are my own.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Are you looking for the perfect summer read? Well, you can stop searching now because The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid absolutely delivers a scorching summer read. This book has it all: diversity, romance, humor, and a little intrigue. If you've never read anything by Taylor Jenkins Reid, you seriously need to. I read my first book by her last year and immediately fell in love. She's one of my favourite authors and one I can truly say just keeps getting better. This story is woven together so intricately that you will begin to wonder if you're actually reading a celebrity memoir.

Evelyn Hugo is a 79 year old former Hollywood headliner who is finally ready to tell the story of her seven husbands. Throughout her time in Hollywood she was the seductive blonde with massive sex appeal and more than one scandal to her name. There is way more than meets the eye with Evelyn, though. She recruits journalist, Monique, to tell her story. Monique is fairly young and going through a divorce. Evelyn's choice to recruit Monique leaves her curious and left me wondering if there was some sort of connection between the two.

I found myself getting lost in this beautiful story. Each section is about Evelyn's relationship with one of her husbands and I could not read this fast enough. There is one person in particular who is the love of Evelyn's life and one of the reasons she has chosen to finally tell her story. I won't spoil anything, though, because it is truly better to not know who her one true love is until she wants you to know.

This story was completely captivating. Evelyn was a fantastic character full of contradictions; humble yet bold, soft yet hard, and a little infuriating at times. She was the perfect actress and one Hollywood would surely be obsessed with today if she were real. I really did feel like she was real at times, which is a testament to Taylor Jenkins Reid. Reid has a way with words, especially when dealing with love and loss. She shines brightest when she's writing about love and loss and what it means to be human. Her characters become real people right before your eyes.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a must-read this summer! It's on sale today, so go out and buy it! While you're there, pick up one of Taylor Jenkin Reid's other books because she is amazing. I would probably read her grocery list and be enthralled.

I'm part of Simon and Schuster Canada's blog tour, so a copy of the book was provided for free, but as always, opinions remain my own. Make sure to check out my fellow bloggers posts; something tells me their feelings will be similar to my own.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Summer Contemporary Reads

I've been all about the summer contemporary reads this past week or so. I went through a big fantasy phase, but now I just want to read stories that take place on beaches or cottages or just anyplace warm. Maybe it's because where I live it's only JUST started to feel like summer. We suffer from Sprinter (Spring/Winter that just won't quit) around here.

Sometimes the setting in a book can feel like a character. In the books I've been reading lately, I definitely feel like this is true. The settings have made me want to just pack up and go somewhere new. If only, right?
Emery Lord is one of my favourite authors. This story takes place at a summer camp, which was amazing. Lucy is a Christian who finds herself questioning her beliefs after her mom's cancer comes back. Her family runs a Christian summer camp, but her mom wants her to spend her summer at the camp across the lake. That camp is for kids who have been through hardships and who don't have easy lives, so Lucy feels like she can't relate.
I loved this book. I loved Lucy and all of the other characters, except her stuffy boyfriend who was way too perfect. I really appreciated the relationship Lucy had with her parents. Too often in YA, the parent-teen relationship is full of angst, which can be true to life, but I liked reading about a good relationship full of respect.
I mentioned that Lucy is a Christian and questions her beliefs, but this is not a religious book at all. It's a book about growing up, friendship, and experiences. The summer camp setting was one of my favourites and I'd like to read more stories that take place at a camp.

I happened to find this on Goodreads while I was browsing and knew I had to pick it up. Jimmy is killed in a fire, and his wife, Jackie, and son, Charlie, are left to pick up the pieces. Jackie decides to spend the summer in her childhood house with her mom, Annie. Annie has been separated from her husband, Buster, for over ten years.
This book was full of fun characters. Annie was the type of grandmother we all want to have; lovable and quite quirky. I thought she was hilarious, even if she was a bit off base at times. Charlie was a sweetheart and my heart absolutely broke for him and everything he had to go through.
This takes place in the Lowcountry, which is one of my favourite settings. I've never been, but books that take place there always leave me wanting to pack up and go. White beaches, churning seas, and lighthouses. Ooh, I have a love of lighthouses.

I've been hearing about this book for ages, and someone posted on Twitter that the ebook was on sale for $1.99, so I grabbed it and started it right away. I read this so quickly! I did not want to put it down, but there's a tiny human who depends on me so I ended up reading this in two sittings. Anna is a 30 year old teacher who is hired to help sixteen year old T.J catch up on his studies after he misses most of the school year dealing with cancer. They're going to spend the summer on an island with T.J's family, but on the way, their pilot has a fatal heart attack and they crash land in the middle of the ocean. What a premise, right?
This book takes place over a few years and I loved reading about the evolution of Anna and T.J's relationship. They're able to meet most of the basic needs, but what about their physical and emotional needs? They find themselves depending on each other for absolutely everything.
This book was honestly so good. I need to read more books about being stranded on an island because the setting was so interesting. I don't even want to say too much because I think it's just better to read it, so seriously, go read it.

I'm currently reading this one and really enjoying it. I'm about 79% done, and it's proving to be a classic Sarah Dessen novel. I've been reading Sarah Dessen for more than ten years now, and I will continue to read whatever she writes as she's one of my absolute favourite authors. I love the setting of her books. Some take place in the fictional town of Lakeview, and others take place on a fictional island of Colby. Dessen's characters are always relatable (even as a thirty year old), and never fail to make me nostalgic. I can't say too much about this one yet, as I'm not done, but I'm having a lot of fun reading it. Louna lives with her mom and helps her with her wedding planning business, while trying to deal with the aftermath of her great love, Ethan. The story of what happened between the two is told slowly, but it really works. Ambrose is hired by her mom for the summer, and Louna finds herself in a dating bet with him. Ambrose is full of life and can be a bit much, but you know his heart is in the right place. I'm excited to finish this one up tonight and see what happens.

I'm forever looking for new recommendations, so I would appreciate any summer contemporary recs you may have. Up next I think I'm going to read Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han, but that could always change if someone recs something even more enticing.