Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: "The Banks of Certain Rivers" by Jon Harrison

After a tragic accident left his wife, Wendy, in a permanent vegetative state, Neil Kazenzakis has been working on making the best out of his circumstances. Several years after the accident his son Chris is well-adjusted, all things considering, Neil is a popular high school teacher, and he is even managing to have a secret yet loving relationship with one of the nurses that takes care of his mother-in-law. His carefully ordered life manages to fall apart all at once as a student posts a questionable video of him on YouTube, his son finds out about Neil's girlfriend in the worst way possible and Neil begins to receive malicious calls and e-mails. What follows is the heartening story of how Neil copes with everything that has been thrown his way while attempting to protect those that he loves the most.

Harrison's debut novel is truly a joy to read. Despite the fact that our protagonist Neil has had more than his share of bad luck The Banks of Certain Rivers is an uplifting and encouraging story of a man who refuses to let life get him down for long. Right from the beginning the reader wants Neil to find his personal happy ending. This is a man who refuses to give up despite the fact that he lost his wife in every way that counts tragically and at a young age. He continues to hold his head high and, by all accounts, seems to be doing a fantastic job raising his son. When Neil has more trouble heaped on him than one man should have to handle I was on the edge of my seat hoping for a positive conclusion. I appreciated that the story line always felt realistic and never overdone.

The Banks of Certain Rivers is well-written and eloquent with a bevy of characters both well-rounded and sympathetic. What I took from the book is that life is rarely black and white and that when we are handed more than we think that we can handle we need to hang in there while we try to achieve our own personal happy ending. The subject matter could potentially have been depressing, yet it managed to be both uplifting and encouraging. The Banks of Certain Rivers is one of those stories that you won't forget about after you finish the book and if you haven't read it yet I strongly encourage you to do so!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review and Giveaway! "A Hundred Pieces of Me" by Lucy Dillon

Gina Bellamy is starting over. Fresh from her divorce from a man who was always good to her, until he cheated on her, Gina is faced with all of the "stuff" from her previous home and her previous life. Surrounded by boxes and boxes of unknown items, Gina decides to sort through them one by one and to keep only one hundred things that have significant meaning to her. The task seems monumental but as Gina begins to sort through her boxes and come to terms with some difficult events from her past, she begins to realize that perhaps it isn't the "stuff" that has meaning for her, but the memories that her things represent. Helping to make her task manageable are two new friends and a very dear old one, not to mention a dog named Buzz that finds his way into her heart and her home.

I think that the first thing that attracted me to A Hundred Pieces of Me was the great concept. I'm sure that it would be a very welcome feeling to narrow your non-essential possessions down to only one hundred things! Each thing in your home and in your life would have significant meaning in some way, and I think that would lead to each day becoming more meaningful as well! I enjoyed reading about the things that Gina was keeping, and why she decided to choose them over different items.

I enjoyed the focus on Gina's female friendships in this book. Portions of the book were (understandably) dedicated to dealing with Stuart, Gina's ex-husband, but the focus of the book, socially, was on Gina's long-time best friend Naomi and on Gina's new friend, charity shop owner Rachel. Both women were there to support Gina on her new path, and their unwavering support was both uplifting and refreshing. Even Gina's budding romance took a backseat to the place that her friends had in her life.

I can say with certainty that my favourite parts of the book were when the author focused on Gina's budding relationship with her new dog, Buzz. I won't tell you how Gina came to have Buzz in her life but I loved the parallels between Gina's emotional healing, and Buzz's. Dogs are such wonderful, loving animals and I loved how Buzz and Gina healed each other!

Some may say that the ending of this book was not uplifting, or that it was disappointing because it left things open-ended. I would say that the way that this book ended simply left it open to interpretation, and there is nothing wrong with that! Although the potential for sadness is there, so is the potential for hapiness, and as readers we get to choose our own ending for this story.

A Hundred Pieces of Me was an emotional read in many ways. It alternated between being sad and joyous, uplifting and uncertain. It was beautifully written and the underlying message is one that we can keep with us; things are just things, it is the people and the moments that we keep with us that truly matter. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book for review. Be sure to enter the giveaway below (open to US only)!

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review: "Fallen for Rock" by Nicky Wells

Buttoned-up, opera loving banker Emily broke up with her boyfriend Nate after one too many nights of listening to him pursue his rock-star dreams by playing his guitar in her apartment. The only problem is that now that she's kicked him to the curb she's realized that he was the right one for her after all and now she can't find him. When VIP tickets to an upcoming MonX concert land on her doorstep, courtesy of Nate before they broke up, Emily knows that the band will be her ticket to winning him back and she attends the concert, even though rock music isn't something that she knows anything about.

Once at the concert she discovers that rock music isn't what she assumed it to be and she develops a new respect for it. Especially appealing is front man Mike. Not only is he talented but he's incredibly sexy and Emily suddenly finds herself playing the role of a rock band groupie, touring with the band from place to place while she takes a short vacation from her job. While on tour Emily discovers a side of herself that she never knew existed, and she surprisingly finds that she likes the new Emily a lot.

After her week of touring like a rock star, Emily returns to work only to find herself unexpectedly unemployed. Suddenly her neatly ordered life has been turned upside down. She has no job, there is still no sign of Nate despite her increasingly frantic attempts to find him, and making things more complicated is the fact that Mike shows up on her doorstep one night desperate for a place to stay away from the relentless paparazzi. However despite the complications Emily finds that she is finding this version of her life far more fulfilling than her old life ever was, and she isn't eager to return to it.

Fallen for Rock was a fast-paced, fun book to read! I really appreciated the character of Emily and how she changes and grows over the course of the story and I felt that her conversion from uptight banker to rock fan was believable. The supporting characters were great too, and I especially enjoyed getting to know Mike. His character was the perfect combination of sweet and sexy, and I loved him. I also appreciated that the story didn't go exactly how I thought that it would. I often can predict the outcome of a book when I start reading it and while parts of it went how I thought that they would, others didn't and I appreciated the surprises! There were some really steamy scenes between a few of the characters and those were well-written and most definitely hot!

The only issue that I had with the story was that a few things came together too neatly for my liking towards the conclusion of the story and that felt unrealistic. I absolutely love it when things come together for the characters in the books that I'm reading but when everything seems to fall into place without any issues it makes that portion of the story feel forced to me.

Fallen for Rock was a story that drew me in right from the beginning. I enjoyed getting to know the characters in a way that made me feel connected to them and I rooted for all of them to find their happy endings! The story was well-written and it flowed well, and I appreciated the insight into the life of a rock star. It was clear to me how much author Nicky Wells loves rock and roll! My thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for review!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: "The House We Grew Up In" by Lisa Jewell

The Bird family wasn't always quite so controversial. Once upon a time bohemian mother Lorelei, a free spirit and a loving mother, ran the household in such a way as to encourage her children to live their lives to the fullest. Sure, the house overflowed with "stuff","stuff" that no one was allowed to sort through or throw out, but everyone was happy enough. Daughters Megan and Bethan, twins Rory and Rhys had a childhood filled with brightly coloured Easter eggs, paddling pools, and rainbows.

Fast forward many years and the Bird family is dysfunctional and controversial. Mother Lorelei has died, alone, leaving behind a house filled with years of junk and clutter, a mess to rival the mess that the Birds have made of their once-vibrant family. Eldest daughter Megan has taken the exact opposite path that her mother has and is obsessed with cleanliness and with giving her four rowdy children the most stable childhood possible. Daughter Bethan has moved to a different continent in order to reinvent herself. Son Rory is paying for the sins of his past and father Colin is involved in an unconventional and distasteful- to- others relationship and is living in a commune in Spain. Lorelei's death brings the shambles of the Bird family back together and it is this event that allows all of the Birds to begin to mend fences that were long ago broken.

The House We Grew Up In was captivating and beautifully written. Despite the fact that it deals with several difficult and unconventional topics- death, the disease of hoarding, abandoning your child and instances of infidelity- it was difficult to put this book down. Author Lisa Jewell draws you in to the story and refuses to release you until the final pages. I found myself thinking about the book even when I wasn't reading it! Jewell has certainly done her homework on the topic of hoarding and she describes it in such a way that both sides of the disease are presented. At times I found myself relating to Lorelei and her thought processes, even though I am most definitely not someone who hoards things.

The way that Jewell presented us with this story worked really well for me. She begins telling the story in present day- Lorelei has died and eldest daughter Megan is fully realizing the extent of her mothers' disease in a way that she didn't while her mother was alive. Jewell then goes back in time and tells us the story of the Bird family, alternating between present day and the past. We get the full picture of the Bird family, and the secrets of their past are revealed bit by tantalizing bit.

Despite the often unpleasant subject matter I enjoyed The House We Grew Up In. It consumed me while I was reading it and I couldn't wait to find out the secrets of the Bird family- when I think about a book even when I'm not reading it that is always an indicator for me of when a book crosses a line from "great" to "unbelievable". It was a fascinating story about a very dysfunctional family doing their best to stay afloat and I'm glad that I read it. It will stay with me for quite some time. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy for review!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: "Never Google Heartbreak" by Emma Garcia

When her fiance Rob breaks off their engagement for the third (!) time, Viv does what any sensible woman would do and she moves out. Secretly she's hoping that her bold move will bring Rob to her doorstep, begging her to reconsider, but when weeks go by with no word from him Viv is forced to come to the conclusion that reconciliation isn't in the books.

Viv falls to pieces and she's lucky when best friend Max is there to put her back together. Viv discovers that Max has had feelings for her all along but she's not quite sure what to do with that information. Her feelings for Rob are still there and she can't seem to shake them. After a few disastrous turn of events Viv finally discovers what it is that her heart has wanted all along, but is it too late to get the love of her life back?

I loved, absolutely loved, Never Google Heartbreak! It had it all- a romance worth cheering for, a villain of epic proportions, a few funny situations, some decidedly steamy scenes and an ending that left me wanting more. It is my second-favourite book of the year so far! I had a hard time putting it down, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Sure, some of the story was over-the-top and not likely to happen in reality, but that was part of what I loved about the book- it offered me an escape from the everyday.

I don't often refer to others' reviews in my own. Quite frankly I believe that we are all entitled to our own opinion and I think that's what makes book reviewing so interesting, but in this case I found it hard to believe how many people did not enjoy this book when I enjoyed it so much! Some reviewers who did not like the book didn't like it because they found the main character, Viv, irritating. It's true, she did have some irritating qualities, but I think these were present because she was so lost in her own life. Her job wasn't one that she truly loved or even excelled at- she was just going through the motions. Her idea of what love should be had no resemblance to what would actually make her happy, it was just an idea that she had in her head of what she thought that she wanted. I think that Viv was confused, and part of the charm of Never Google Heartbreak was that she was finding her way to happiness by slowly discovering what it was that she wanted, even if some of her choices initially had disastrous consequences.

My one complaint about the book was that Viv decides to create a website called Never Google Heartbreak for those who are heartbroken. Despite the fact that this is where the title comes from, I found that the concept wasn't fully formed throughout the book and the site remained irrelevant to the story in my opinion. There was enough going on that the site didn't feel like a necessary addition and I'm sure that the story would have flowed just as well without it being a part of it.

A true testament to how much I loved Never Google Heartbreak is the fact that I finished it, found out that there was a sequel, and then bought it the same day. If I really love a book I can't wait to find out what happens next! This book was funny and sweet and even thought-provoking at times, and it is a charming story about what to do what you have no clue what you're doing. My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: "Right Click" by Lisa Becker

Renee, Shelley, Mark, Ashley and Ethan are back in Right Click, the third and final installment in Lisa Becker's "Click" Series.  Six months have passed since we caught up with them last, and many things have changed. The group of close friends is navigating the choppy waters of adulthood and they are dealing with parenthood, long distance friendships, infidelity and marriage. Written in the style of e-mails between the friends, Right Click is hilarious and sad, sometimes at the same time!

I picked this up to read on one particularly lazy Sunday and by the end of the day I had devoured the whole thing! I love that Right Click is written in e-mail format. It's perfect for the secret voyeur in us all. I felt like I was spying on this group of friends that I have come to "know" from reading the "Click" series. I appreciate that as the series has matured, so have the friends that the series is about. The first "Click" book is about the friends in their 20's, but now they are in their 30's and they are dealing with so many different issues! Author Lisa Becker doesn't shy away from a few of the more difficult issues and I especially appreciated how she dealt with the dynamics of the long-distance friendship between best friends Renee and Shelley. The way that these issues were addressed felt realistic and I enjoyed the novel even more as a result.

I would definitely recommend reading the first two books in the "Click" series before reading Right Click. It adds so much to the series if you have gotten to know the friends through their previous adventures, and since there are some references to topics from the previous books in Right Click, it is not really a stand-alone novel. I will guarantee that once you pick Click up, you won't want to miss a moment of the series!

Funny, clever, and thought-provoking, reading Right Click feels like catching up with old friends! I definitely recommend not just Right Click, but the whole series, because once you start reading you definitely won't want to stop! I'm sad that the series has ended and I can't wait for more from this talented author! My thanks to the author for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: "Scared Scriptless" by Alison Sweeney

Maddy Carson loves lists and details and these aspects of her personality are what make her a fantastic script supervisor on the set of a successful TV drama. A small-town girl at heart she has very specific rules about Hollywood, one of those being that she will absolutely not date actors! She will, however, take a chance on love and date one of the executives at her company. When Maddy discovers that her beloved hometown of Wolf County is in financial trouble and her parents may have to sell their ski resort and move because of the economy, she concocts an idea for a reality show that could solve all of their problems. However she makes the mistake of involving boyfriend Craig in the project and when he turns out not to be the stand-up guy that Maddy thought, can she still manage to pull off selling her show?

Confusing matters is the fact that Maddy seems to be falling for Adam Devin, one of the new actors on the drama that she works on, despite her rule about not dating actors. As Maddy works her day job, tries to save her hometown from inevitable financial ruin, and tries to resist Adam's advances, she learns that sometimes she has to let go in order to grow as a person.

I haven't read Alison Sweeney's debut novel yet, and I didn't even realize that some of the characters in it reappeared in Scared Scriptless until after I was done reading! It definitely reads as a stand-alone novel, which is great for those who only have the opportunity to read one or the other. Reading it was an enjoyable experience. The writing was surprisingly good. Somehow Alison Sweeney has managed to become a triple threat- she can act, she can host The Biggest Loser, and she can write! Had I not known that she was the person writing it, I would not have not have guessed. There have been times that I have read books written by a celebrity and been unimpressed with the writing but this was not the case with Scared Scriptless! The plot was interesting and this book offered a fascinating look into what happens behind-the-scenes of a TV drama! I'm absolutely positive that Alison's extensive television experience lent a lot of authenticity to Maddy's experiences.

There were a few little things that bothered me about Scared Scriptless. My primary complaint was with Maddy, the main character. I liked her in a lot of ways, but in other ways she was just too timid and she had absolutely no confidence in herself or in her abilities. It was hard at times to stand behind a character that didn't believe that her ideas had any validity. I kept waiting for Maddy to start standing up for herself but it didn't really happen in the way that I was hoping. Another small complaint that I had was that the final quarter just wrapped up too neatly. I love a happy ending, but some of the ways that Sweeney chose to conclude the book seemed unrealistic, especially for Hollywood!

Despite the small things that I didn't love, Scared Scriptless was a great book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is curious about Hollywood and what happens behind the scenes. Those parts of the book were a lot of fun! I hope to go back and read Alison Sweeney's previous book, The Star Attraction, because I would love to know more about the handsome Billy and his background! He was definitely one of my favourite characters even though we don't get to see him as much as I would like in this book. This light read will be the perfect addition to your beach bag this summer! My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.