Review: Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

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“Some blows fall too heavy upon those too fragile.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction (19th c.), Fantasy

Reading Challenge: 11 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

My Thoughts —

Okay, so this book didn’t really work for me. I KNOW, I’m like the only person who’s read this book that didn’t like it.

Not that I didn’t like it per se, but I just didn’t love it. Not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. I think the problem for me laid in the structure of the novel. There were essentially two types of chapters. The first was a chapter written sort of like a script, where the characters talked in both a dialogue and in a narrative format. The second was a selection of quotes that appeared to be from different sources that discussed Abraham Lincoln and his son, Willie’s death. Each chapter was so fast-paced and short that I just couldn’t get into the story enough.

I also found the style of the writing to be eerily similar to that of Samuel Beckett. If you’ve ever read Beckett and you’ve also read Lincoln in the Bardo, I’m sure you see what I’m talking about. I’m not a fan of Beckett at all so the similarities in the writing were not great for me.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say! I thought that the writing itself was well done. It’s just that this style of novels doesn’t particularly work for me. But considering the accolades that the book has been getting, I can tell I’m one of the few who sees it this way so don’t let this review deter you from reading it if you’re interested in it!

Felicia x

Review: Daisy Jones & the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1970s), Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 12 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

My Thoughts —

You know when you pick up a book, read the first couple chapters, and just know you’re in for something good? That was this book.

Daisy Jones & The Six has easily become my favourite book of the year so far. It’s so exciting, and multidimensional, and just absolutely fascinating. I love ‘70s music so much. Some of my favourite bands and artists are from the ‘70s, including Fleetwood Mac. So when I started reading this, I immediately noticed the similarities between Daisy Jones and Stevie Nicks, and I think that made it all the more interesting for me.

I really liked how the book started off by already telling you that the band would break-up and when. You knew that the whole book would be a culmination of the tensions which would lead to this massive split in Chicago. I thought that was pretty interesting as then I spent the rest of the book trying to guess who or what would break-up the band. There was a lot of problems for and amongst the band members, so it was a massive guessing game trying to figure out what would be their ultimate demise!

There are so many topics covered in this novel. Overall, it’s about a band making music, bumping heads, and then eventually breaking up. But underneath it all, there’s addiction, love, heartbreak, family, grief, loss, abuse, abortion, and feminism. All wrapped up into one. The author touches on all these topics, weaving them into the storyline and using them to explain why the characters behave in certain ways. Everyone has a story behind their shiny surface. It was particularly interesting how when, for example, the author would have a character describe some event from the tour that shaped their lives forever, the other characters wouldn’t even know it ever happened. It goes to show how you can see someone every single day and think you know everything about that person, but you really don’t know them at all.

I absolutely believe this needs to be adapted into a film or a limited TV series. It’s all set up to be a mockumentary and the album lyrics are there, just waiting to have music added to them and be turned into an incredible soundtrack. It just seems to perfect to not be adapted. Plus, it’s a fairly original concept, different from the typical things you read or watch. Above all, I need the soundtrack to this more than I need air.

CW: drugs/addiction, abortion, abuse

Felicia x

Review: The Gown - Jennifer Robson

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My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 10 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

My Thoughts —

I do genuinely love me a good historical fiction. Lately, as in the past six months, I’ve been reading a ton of WWII books. I don’t think I ever set out to specifically find WWII books, but they sort of always end up in my lap and I always devour them. I’m not sure what our fascination with wartime stories is, though I did read once someone said that it’s us trying to suffer vicariously through somebody else’s pain which I don’t think is it at all. If I had to guess, I’d say we enjoy reading wartime stories because we like to hear stories of resilience, courage, and love. Yes, there’s heartache, but that’s the reality of life. Seeing the bravery of those who fought in the war, even in fictional form, is inspiring.

Anyway, The Gown is a WWII story but in an inconspicuous way, in that it’s set a few years into the post-war era and the war isn’t the premise nor backdrop of the story. The title gives away the plot of the novel, in fact. It’s about a bridal gown, Queen Elizabeth II’s to be exact (although, back then, she was just a princess). But the novel is just so much more than just the embroidery on a dress. It’s about the friendship among women, the bond between family, grief, loss, heartbreak, betrayal, and the difficulties many people faced in the post-war years.

I thought this book was all around perfect. I enjoyed the storyline and I liked hearing about the lives of these three women, how their lives both paralleled and completely opposed one another, even across different generations. If you read my review on The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, you may remember me mentioning how I wasn’t a fan of the use of dual-narratives in that book. In this case, however, I actually thought it was really well done! And Jennifer Robson actually wrote three different storylines/narratives in this book… Triple-narrative??? I don’t know, haha. But anyway, it was very, very good!!

However, don’t expect there to be anything about royalty in this novel. There’s really nothing about the royals except for a) the fact that the dresses are made for them and b) a chapter or two where they discuss the royal wedding, but from the perspectives of the characters who in no way shape or form come into contact with any royal. So, if you were hoping for some Queenie action, sorry! This might disappoint you lol.

TW (spoilers ahead!!) — there is a scene which depicts rape. Please be cautious of this if/when you decide to read this book!!

Are you into WWII novels? If so, why?

Felicia x

Review: The Quintland Sisters - Shelley Wood

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My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1930s), Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 9 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

In Shelley Wood’s fiction debut, readers are taken inside the devastating true story of the Dionne Quintuplets, told from the perspective of one young woman who meets them at the moment of their birth.

Reluctant midwife Emma Trimpany is just 17 when she assists at the harrowing birth of the Dionne quintuplets: five tiny miracles born to French farmers in hardscrabble Northern Ontario in 1934. Emma cares for them through their perilous first days and when the government decides to remove the babies from their francophone parents, making them wards of the British king, Emma signs on as their nurse.

Over 6,000 daily visitors come to ogle the identical “Quints” playing in their custom-built playground; at the height of the Great Depression, the tourism and advertising dollars pour in. While the rest of the world delights in their sameness, Emma sees each girl as unique: Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Marie, and Émilie. With her quirky eye for detail, Emma records every strange twist of events in her private journals.

As the fight over custody and revenues turns increasingly explosive, Emma is torn between the fishbowl sanctuary of Quintland and the wider world, now teetering on the brink of war. Steeped in research, Quintland is a novel of love, heartache, resilience, and enduring sisterhood—a fictional, coming-of-age story bound up in one of the strangest true tales of the past century.

My Thoughts —

So I first learned about the Dionne quintuplets in a women’s history course in university. If you’re not familiar with the case (which you probably aren’t), basically in the 1930s, a woman in Ontario, Canada gave birth to quintuplets. Her and her husband were poor, lived in a farmhouse without electricity, and already had a number of children. Having quintuplets was extremely rare in that time. What was more rare was that all five babies, born two months premature, survived infancy. Shortly after Elzire Dionne gave birth, a doctor named Allan Roy Dafoe who effectively took control over the babies and even created a hospital and nursery nearby where the girls grew up for many years, with a viewing window through which visitors could watch them play (no, I’m not joking). They were massively exploited, used to sell products and advice to mothers. It was all crazy and honestly pretty gross.

This novel is highly fictionalized, which I think is the most important aspect to be pointed out in this review. Please don’t go into reading this novel with expectations of an honest representation of the controversy of the early lives of the Dionne quints, ‘cause you ain’t going to find it here. What you will find, however, is a pretty basic idea of the quintuplets’ story and an entertaining historical fiction about a little bit of Canadian history. Hurray for Canadian representation! We get so little of it, honestly.

The story’s lead character and narrator, Emma Trimpany, is a fictional character who was portrayed as a nurse to the girls in their first few years. Her story is told through diary entries and letters, which I think was an interesting and effective way to format the novel. I think for the most part, this story focuses on Emma’s life rather than the story of the quints. I mean, the quints are a major aspect of the story, however, it’s more about Emma’s personal growth, I believe. At the beginning of the novel, she’s this extremely naive, sort of lost young girl, and her time working with the quints forces her to mature and face some really terrible aspects of the real world.

All in all, it was an entertaining story! I think it was a good story about a piece of Canadian history, with the backdrop of the pre-WWII years. But in terms of being a good fictional retelling of the Dionne quints specifically… meh.

Had you heard of the Dionne quintuplets before?

Felicia x

Review: My Life on the Road - Gloria Steinem

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“If you travel long enough, every story becomes a novel.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Feminism, Memoir, Biography

Reading Challenge: 8 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

My Thoughts —

Last term, I took a Women’s History course in uni which focused on the women’s social movements in North America from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. The content of the course got me really into feminism. I mean, I was already a feminist prior to, but it sort of ignited in me a desire to learn more about the efforts of women in these movements. So I have set myself on a mission to read more books - fiction and non-fiction - by female authors, about female stories.

My Life on the Road is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a while, but didn’t really know much about. I just knew that a) it was apparently a great book, and b) Gloria Steinem was a feminist. Now that I’ve actually read the book, I’ve looked into Gloria Steinem more and am completely blown away with all the activism she has done for the majority of her life. She has spoken up on a ton of issues pertaining to women and equality, and has advocated for women’s control over their own bodies. Truly, she’s inspirational.

I was completely in awe of Gloria’s stories. This is a woman who has literally lived on the road. She has seen so much, experienced things that most people never will. And most of what she has seen was in most American’s backyard - they just haven’t bothered to look for it. I think one of the main messages I took from this book was that there is a whole world out there. There’s so much to see and do and, most importantly, there’s people living lives we could never fathom. We need to seek these things out. Spending our whole lives in a tiny, isolated corner of the world isn’t living at all.

Have you read Gloria Steinem’s book? What were your thoughts?

Felicia x

Review: Emma - Jane Austen

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“I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Classics, Fiction, Romance

Reading Challenge: 7 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

‘I wonder what will become of her!’

So speculate the friends and neighbours of Emma Woodhouse, the lovely, lively, wilful, and fallible heroine of Jane Austen's fourth published novel. Confident that she knows best, Emma schemes to find a suitable husband for her pliant friend Harriet, only to discover that she understands the feelings of others as little as she does her own heart. As Emma puzzles and blunders her way through the mysteries of her social world, Austen evokes for her readers a cast of unforgettable characters and a detailed portrait of a small town undergoing historical transition. 

My Thoughts —

This was the final Jane Austen novel that I read for my third year Austen course in uni last term. As I had literally a million things to do by the time my exam rolled around, I never got to finish reading Emma before the exam and left something like 50 pages for myself to read after I came back from winter break. (In case you’re wondering, I did well on the final!). Well, procrastination at its finest, I didn’t get around to finishing this until mid-February.

Emma is easily one of my favourite Austen novels, now that I’ve gone and read them all (but Persuasion). I really hadn’t heard much about Emma before, as it's not one of the more talked-about Austen novels, at least not in the way of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It’s sort of underrated in that regard. I found it to be wonderful.

Emma is an unlikeable character in a few ways. She’s petty, naive, and extremely selfish. She tries to control situations so that they benefit her, which is clear through her convincing her best friend not to marry a man she so obviously is attracted to because Emma looks down upon his social-standing. But I think beneath it all, she does have a good heart and good intentions as well. Throughout the novel, she does the necessary learning to grow as a person which I think is incredibly important. And honestly, it makes for a better story.

In terms of the story itself, I think this is such a perfect example of Jane Austen’s wit. I love the humour in this novel!!!! I find that some of her novels, like Northanger Abbey, don’t really hit the mark for the wit that she’s known for - and that made me love her writing. This one, however, is so clever and just downright funny. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be saying I was giggling while reading a book that was written in the 1800s haha. But, here we are!

In case anyone’s curious, my ranking of the Austen novels (excluding Persuasion) is as follows:

1. Pride and Prejudice

2. Sense and Sensibility/Emma

3. Northanger Abbey

4. Mansfield Park

What do you think about Emma? In your opinion, is it one of Austen’s best novels?

Felicia x

Review: The Royal We - Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

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“I fell in love with a person, not a prince; the rest is just circumstance.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Romance, Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary

Reading Challenge: 6 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Which is how she gets into trouble.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.

My Thoughts —

Warning: prepare yourselves for what might be my longest review yet!

If you know me, you know I’m massively into the British royal family. Or any royal family, for that matter. It’s not that I feel some intense loyalty to the royals, although I do think that as a Canadian, you sort of have an inherent respect for the monarch anyway. No, I just find monarchical rule utterly fascinating, especially now in the 2010s. It’s all so glamorous and yet you know how unglamorous it all truly is. It’s wild to me that as a society, we get so wrapped up in the romanticization of royalty. How we wake up in the middle of the night to watch Princes William and Harry get married, we follow their lives through the Internet or newspapers, we cling to their every move - even those of us who aren’t fans of the royals. And most of all, we all secretly want to know what exactly is going on behind the gates of the palace.

The Royal We actually bring us behind those gates and into the darkest, grittiest shadows of the palace. Mind you, it’s not quite the Windsors but it’s as close as any of us will probably ever get at guessing what their version of reality is.

I think this book’s cover alone tells a lot about our fascination with the royal family. Just by glancing at the cover, you recognize the faceless figures as William and Kate. Easily, too. Anyone who has seen anything about the 2011 wedding would recognize Kate’s gorgeous bridal gown and William’s scarlet uniform. The novel closely replicates the story of William and Kate, however with succinct differences. Namely that Bex - our novel’s complicated heroine - is an American student who has a hell-raising twin sister.

I completely devoured this book. It was dishy and romantic, including just the right combination of royal tradition and modern-day elements to make it realistic. In the past century, royals have truly become celebrities rather than divine rulers, and the authors really incorporated that cultural change. There isn’t a moment of Bex’s life with Nick, the handsome English prince, where she isn’t a subject of the nation’s fascination - and criticisms. I think the pressure of the paparazzi on Bex was hugely important, as that is a very real aspect of the lives of the women who have recently become romantically involved with the royals, from Diana to Kate and now Meghan.

One of the things I thought was most well-done was the timeline. The novel stretches over quite a long period of time, much like the real-life love story of William and Kate did. It follows the main characters through their final years of university, to their early adulthood and then to their mid-to-late twenties. For a novel that’s under 500 pages, it was an ambitious move but I think the authors nailed it! I was pleasantly surprised in that regard. I didn’t find it stretched on too long, or that it was choppy, or anything. It flowed very well and kept me captivated the whole way along.

The ending really took me by surprise. I won’t give anything away, but I didn’t see the ending coming and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it was effective but I’m not sure it’s the kind of ending I expect or prefer in a novel. It didn’t quite tie up the strings well enough for me. But for another reader, I think it’d be the perfect sort of ending.

Are you a fan of the royal family?

Felicia x

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (20th c.), Fiction, Contemporary, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 5 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her story, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. 

Determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career, Monique listens in fascination. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s - and, of course, the seven husbands along the way - Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Written with Reid's signature talent for creating "complex, likeable characters" (Real Simple), this is a mesmerizing journey through the splendour of Old Hollywood into the sobering realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means - and what it costs - to face the truth.

My Thoughts —

I loved this book!!

So first and foremost, I love how Taylor Jenkins Reid made me believe in the story. Often, I had to remind myself that it was a fictional story and that Evelyn Hugo wasn’t actually an actress. I got incredibly invested in Evelyn’s story. But, interestingly, I was extremely conflicted in how I felt about her character. I loved her and I hated her. I was rooting for her and simultaneously not. She was a massively complex character which made her that much more interesting. If she’d been wholly good, there wouldn’t have been much of a story haha.

One of the only aspects of this novel that fell a bit short for me was Monique’s storyline. Honestly, I find that dual narratives are really a hit-or-miss for me. In some cases, the dual narrative is really well done. However, this one didn’t really do it for me. I found that Monique’s storyline was sort of lacking. She has a little bit of a plot twist in the end, a surprise element that kind of brings the stories of the two ladies together, but I found that throughout the first 3 quarters of the story, I didn’t really care about Monique’s story. She seemed more like a vessel for Evelyn’s story. I think this was especially a problem because her chapters were only a few pages filled with prompts for Evelyn’s story.

All in all, this was a really incredible novel. Everyone was talking about how good it was for awhile (which is why I picked it up), I can honestly say that I believe it lived up to the hype.

Have you read it yet? Do you think it lives up the hype?

Felicia x

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

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“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 4 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers. A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he's after Harry. Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius. But Harry can't imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair. Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts. A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry's success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights. A cute fourth-year student catches his eye. And he becomes close with the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father. Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer. But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem. Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series.

My Thoughts —

It feels very odd to be reviewing a Harry Potter book. I actually debated whether or not I was going to go ahead with this review at all. Technically, yes, I did read it this year and it will be counted towards my annual reading goal. But I’ve read it quite a few times and it just feels weird to be reviewing a book that I haven’t read for the first time in, what, 15 years?? Well, here we are. I’m doing it anyway!

For as long as I can remember, Prisoner of Azkaban has been my favourite book. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the full Harry Potter series since I was like 9 or 10 years old, so my opinions might have changed now (I’ll let you know once I re-read it all!). I still see why I loved it so much as a kid. Unlike the first couple books, which are obviously geared towards young children, Prisoner of Azkaban starts to delve into the older YA category, at least in my opinion. I think it’s not really until around Order of the Phoenix or Half-Blood Prince that the books go fully into mature themes, if memory serves me right. At this point, there is a serious plot line throughout the novel, but you still get a lot of that cozy, Hogwarts everyday magic that makes the books so warm and endearing for me.

A huge part I love - and have always loved - about this book is the introduction of the Marauders. I love that storyline so much. Much like pretty much everybody, I would have loved to read a spin-off series that focused on that Marauders in their Hogwarts years. Is there still hope for this to happen?! God I hope so, lol. I have a soft spot for Remus, always have, as I think he was a really important male figure for Harry throughout the series, especially after Order of the Phoenix (no spoilers just in case any of you have not read the series yet).

I just find it so interesting to go back and reread the series as an adult, as it’s such a different experience from when I was young but still, the magic of it is still alive in the words. I’ve been very slowly making my way through the series, but I hope to get through at least a few of them this year!

Is Prisoner of Azkaban your favourite? If not, which Harry Potter book is your favourite?

Felicia x

5 Must-Read Books By Women, About Women

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Hello friends, welcome to Day 2 of my International Women’s Day (or, rather, week) posts! Today’s post is a condensed list of my favourite books about women that are written by female authors. Although there are many, many books out there about women’s stories that I adore, I thought that listing them all off would be a bit much. So I narrowed it down, even though it was very painful to let some of my favourites go. I’ll do another post someday with a list of more of these sort of books… Maybe for next Women’s Day!

With that being said, here are 5 must-read books by women, about women…

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Out of this list, this might be my favourite (though, with these contenders, it’s extremely difficult to pick one favourite). The Alice Network tells the story of two strong women from the two World War eras of the 20th century. The first, Eve Gardiner, is desperate to help the Great War efforts in a way that counts and her wishes are granted when she’s recruited as a spy. The second is Charlie St. Clair, a young American who became pregnant out of wedlock and is on a search to find her missing cousin in the aftermath of World War II. The two women reluctantly join together to embark on a search for the cousin, bringing their stories (and hardships) to light. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story and I just love how brave each of the women are, in their own unique way.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

This is actually a book I’ve not quite finished (only about 15% left to read!) but have absolutely loved every second of. You may recall Gloria Steinem from yesterday’s post. My Life on the Road is her memoir about her years of travel, both globally and domestically. In her stories, she recounts incredible tales that you wouldn’t imagine have all happened to one person. Her journeys brought her face-to-face with remarkable women and really opened her eyes to different walks of life, not only across the world but in the very country where she was raised. I loved hearing about the people she met, the things she experienced firsthand, and most of all, her activism for women’s rights and equality. If you’re interested in women’s history and/or feminism, this is definitely one of the first books you should read!

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

I only just read this book at the beginning of this year, but it has left such a lasting impression on me, that I had to include it here. This book is unfortunately based on a real-life incident which occurred in Bolivia. In the fictionalized retelling, a group of Mennonite women gather in the wake of a series of assaults on the women by the men of the community. The assaults occurred while women were drugged, and they were told that they had been visited by demons. Women of all ages, including children and the elderly, were affected. Now, they face a decision: do they flee, do nothing, or fight back? The novel is told through the minutes taken during their meeting by a man who has returned from excommunication. The experiences of the women were so hard to read and it’s even harder to imagine that it really happened in our world, not very long ago (the 2000s). It’s an excellent book that I highly recommend!

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

Yet another very difficult read, sorry! This one is a non-fiction about a group of female resisters during the German occupation of France in World War II. The women engaged in actions against the Germans that were highly dangerous, including the distribution of pamphlets and information to other resisters. Eventually, they are imprisoned and not long after, transferred to Auschwitz. It’s disgusting, and painful, and disturbing. But the point of this novel is not to showcase the horrors of concentration camps, although it does do that very well; it is instead to show the determination and the sisterhood of the women who were captured and arrested. They were all by each other’s sides from the start to the very end, as many became ill or even died. Their heroism was incredibly impressive, especially given the circumstances.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Last, but certainly not least, is a far less gruesome or horrific novel. This actually takes a really depressing real-life story, and makes it far less tragic and even makes it quite funny! Lady Jane Grey had a tough life. She was only sixteen when she was executed, after being Queen of England (maybe not even officially Queen) for all of nine days before Mary I came in and had her - and her hubby - imprisoned in the Tower of London. Her story is short, and sad, and pretty violent. But these ladies decided to change her fate. What if she never died? What if she actually escaped? What if her husband was…a horse? Yeah, it sounds bizarre but you have to take my word for it. This book is phenomenally funny and entertaining, a perfect YA spin on a terrible mark on English history. After all, it wasn’t even Jane’s fault that she was Queen. Why should she punished? This novel primarily features a bunch of strong women, including the not-so-nice Mary I.

Do you have a novel written by a female author that you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments!

Felicia x

Review: The Sun Does Shine - Anthony Ray Hinton

“Everything, I realized, is a choice. And spending your days waiting to die is no way to live.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Memoir, Biography, True Crime

Reading Challenge: 2 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Anthony Ray Hinton was poor and black when he was convicted of two murders he hadn't committed. For the next three decades he was trapped in solitary confinement in a tiny cell on death row, having to watch as - one by one - his fellow prisoners were taken past him to the execution room. Eventually his case was taken up by the award-winning lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who managed to have him exonerated, though it took 15 years for this to happen. Since his release, other high-profile supporters have included Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Amal Clooney.

How did Hinton cope with the mental and emotional torture of his situation, and emerge full of compassion and forgiveness? The Sun Does Shine throws light not only on his remarkable personality but also on social deprivation and miscarriages of justice. Ultimately, though, it's a triumphant story of the resilience of the human spirit.

My Thoughts —

As soon as I heard about this book, I wanted to read it. I immediately added it to my TBR and then at my first chance, I went out to hunt for it in the shop. (I actually ended up getting it on sale, thanks Books-A-Million!).

I was shocked that it could be possible that someone could not only be wrongfully convicted, but put on death row for decades. Even more so, his positivity astonished me. If it were me, I would be miserable as I’m sure many others would be. But Anthony Ray Hinton managed to get through it with his head high and full of optimism. He spread light to the other prisoners and honestly made me completely reconsider my perception of the prison system.

I was completely inspired by Anthony Ray Hinton’s story. It made me really reconsider my own position in life and be grateful for my privileges. Ray was imprisoned simply because he was poor and black - we can’t let the world fail people like Ray anymore.

Felicia x

Review: Women Talking - Miriam Toews

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“When our men have used us up so that we look sixty when we’re thirty and our wombs have literally dropped out of our bodies onto our spotless kitchen floors, finished, they turn to our daughters.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Feminism, Contemporary, Cultural (Fiction)

Reading Challenge: 1 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humour to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.

My Thoughts —

1. Do nothing. 2. Stay and fight. 3. Leave. Which one do they choose?

Wow. Just, wow. I have so many thoughts about this novel. There literally aren’t enough words. Or, maybe, just not the right words, to describe it perfectly.

While this is a fictional novel, it’s definitely important to note that the plot was based on the very real events that happened in Bolivia in the 2000s. What happened to these women - the fictional ones and the real ones - is absolutely horrific and appalling. But their bravery in the aftermath of these events is completely incredible.

It was absolutely shocking to me how strong the women in this story were. Not that I don’t think women are strong enough to deal with tough situations, but that I could not even fathom how I could be able to handle the situation if it were me. The women were terrified, of course, but were concerned more about their families, their children, and their loved ones than themselves. It was also horrifying to me, first of all, how they were conditioned to think that they deserved nothing better than the lives they were living, and second of all, they were faced with the dilemma of staying put in the most horrific conditions possible or leave but have no knowledge of the world outside their community. They were uneducated, unable to fend for themselves, and couldn’t even speak the language of their country. Just the thought of it all makes me shudder.

I can’t even begin to say how deeply this book affected me. I had honestly no idea how hard this book was going to hit me. Although, going off the description, I knew it was going to be a difficult read. I will say that a lot of the content, particularly the descriptions of the rape, is extremely difficult to get through. If you’re somebody who finds it painful to It’s awful to think how some of the women thought they had no choice but to obey the men of their community - the same men who have drugged and raped them and their daughters - because they have no options or even education. My heart ached for them and for the women who went through the real experience years ago.

If you’ve been on the fence about getting this book, here’s your sign: go buy it. It’s well worth the read and will definitely get your mind running. It’s interesting (and scary) to try to put yourself in their shoes while you read. What would you do if it were you in their place?

Felicia x

2018 Favourites

Hello everybody!!

As we’ve recently entered a new year, I thought that now would be the perfect time to look back on the last one and reflect on some of my favourite things from 2018! Although in the grand scheme of things 2018 wasn’t my favourite year, it was a really great year for entertainment and beauty products for me. I discovered a bunch of new things that I absolutely love which I can’t wait to share with all of you.

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BOOKS

1) “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn - This book was crazy good!! I didn’t know I needed a book about female war spies until I read this book and it only left me longing for more. [FULL REVIEW]

2) “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman - As this was the last book I read in 2018, I don’t have a full review up for it yet. But trust me when I say that this book is FANTASTIC. In fact, it may just be the best book I read in the whole year. [FULL REVIEW]

3) “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows - I was a bit iffy about this one, but I ended up absolutely adoring it. It was a completely fictional retelling of the history of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days’ Queen. The fantasy elements were both tasteful and hilariously impractical at the same time. [FULL REVIEW]

4) “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” by Louise Gornall - Prior to reading this, I’d never come across a book that I connected to in regards to mental illness. But this one captured anxiety, and mental illness in general, in such a relatable and comforting way. I saw a lot of both my teenage and adult self in the main character, Norah. I really hope that other teens can read this novel and feel like they aren’t alone in the world! [FULL REVIEW]

5) “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell - I loooove Rainbow Rowell, and Fangirl perhaps only reinforced my love for her writing. This is easily my favourite of Rowell’s novels. I love how she represented fandoms and also encouraged aspiring authors to write fan fiction, as it’s such a great creative outlet! [FULL REVIEW]

6) “All We Ever Wanted” by Emily Giffin - Woww this book was insane. It took on such a powerful, contemporary issue. I really hadn’t expected to be as impacted by this novel as I was after reading it!! [FULL REVIEW]

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TV SHOWS

1) The Crown - Technically not a 2018 TV show, but this is one I binged - and loved - this year! I tried to watch The Crown for the first time in 2016 but never really got into it. When I tried to watch it again this year, I absolutely fell for it. Can’t wait for the new season to come out this year!

2) This Is Us - I feel like a lot of people can agree with me on this one. This Is Us seems like it’s stolen everyone’s hearts these past few years. It’s honestly such a heartwarming family drama - and we all know how I feel about family dramas!!

3) Big Little Lies - Again, this one didn’t come out in 2018. I read the book last year around the time that the show came out but I don’t have HBO so I had to wait for it to come out on dvd. FINALLY I got to watch this in the summer and oh my god I loved it so much!!!

FILMS

1) Love Simon - Is it possible for a movie to simultaneously warm and break your heart?? Cause this one sure had that effect on me. Personally I think this movie was long overdue, but I really hope that now this one’s come out, it’ll pave way for more LGBTQ films in the future!

2) Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - I’ve literally waited ten years for another Mamma Mia film and I’m sooo happy that it finally came out. This movie was everything I wanted - comedy, amazing music, strong female characters, and a fabulous storyline!

3) Bohemian Rhapsody - Ohhh my gosh. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of a film about Freddie Mercury, and Bohemian Rhapsody surely did not disappoint. Rami Malek did such an excellent job as Freddie, I was truly blown away!

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MUSIC

1) Hamilton - Many of you probably already know that I’m 100% obsessed with the musical, Hamilton. Like OBSESSED. And have been for like three years. But this year, my obsession only strengthened because I found out that the musical is coming to Toronto in 2019!! So exciting!!

2) Shawn Mendes - Shawn Mendes released his third album this past May and I loved it. He’s one of my favourite artists, everything he puts out immediately grips my heart. I just love him. I think my favourite song on this album has to be Lost in Japan. Sooooo good. Can’t wait to see him live in concert this year!

3) 70s Music (Fleetwood Mac) - This past year, I got very into 70s music. I’m into old music as it is, but before I primarily stuck to 80s, 90s, and country music from the 60s (weird I know). But aside from my already steadfast love of Queen and ABBA, I decided to broaden my horizons a bit this year and got really into Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and Dolly Parton - all of whom I liked before, but now I totally love!!

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BEAUTY

1) E.l.f. Cosmetics Eyebrow Duo Kit - This has been one of my favourite beauty products for quite a few years, but I always have to mention it anyway. Considering how much I use eyebrow products, I can’t justify buying really expensive ones. But this is definitely the best drugstore brand eyebrow product I’ve come across!

2) Rimmel London Wonder Lash Mascara - I’ve been straight up obsessed with this mascara since I picked it up on a whim during the summer. It makes my lashes soooo bloody long and thick oh my goodness. I think the argan oil infusion really does a lot to help.

3) Too Faced Peach Blur Translucent Smoothing Finishing Powder - I was gifted this for Christmas last year and absolutely loved it.

4) Too Faced Just Peachy Mattes Palette - I picked this up this summer and am completely in love with it. I’ve been very into orange-y shades in 2018 (and into 2019 as well), so this was completely perfect for me!!

5) Colourpop Lippie Stix - The Colourpop lippie stix have basically been my go-to for lip colour in 2018. I love these so so so much. They’re perfect, long-lasting matte lipsticks and they come in soo many different gorgeous shades. The majority of the ones I have are dark reds or mauves lol.

What were your favourites of 2018?

Felicia x

Review: Beartown - Fredrik Backman

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“Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Contemporary

Reading Challenge: 37 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

My Thoughts —

It’s not very often that I give a book a 5-star review. I’m the type of person who can be a tad too generous with throwing around 5-stars, even if a book doesn’t fully deserve it, so I try to be a bit more critical and put more thought into my ratings these days. That being said, Beartown deserved every point on each and every one of these five stars - and more.

It’s pretty funny, in hindsight, how much I loved this book because when I bought it, I had the wrong idea about what it’s about. Like completely wrong. I thought it was just a feel-good novel about a small town that rallies together to help their local hockey team with the championship game. Yes, there’s a hockey team. Yes, they’re from a small town, that does support them fully. But that’s where the similarities end. There’s so much more of a complex storyline to this book that I couldn’t even begin to describe without giving away all the suspenseful bits that made it so enjoyable to read.

The writing is what initially gripped me. Fredrik Backman knows what he’s doing, that’s for certain. The first few pages completely engulfed me in intrigue and excitement. I wanted to know what would happen. I wanted to devour this book in a day. Unfortunately, it took me a month to read because of finals and Christmas events. I was constantly itching to get back to reading this novel. Apparently, it wasn’t even originally written in English. That just blows me away. Not a lot of novels translate well, but this one definitely did.

Honestly, if I were to only recommend one book that I read in 2018, it would be Beartown.

Have you read Beartown? Did you love it as much as I did?

Felicia x

Review: Love & War - Melissa De La Cruz

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“We will only stand if we learn to accept and even embrace each other’s differences rather than allow them to divide us.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (American Revolution), Young Adult, Romance

Reading Challenge: 32 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

As the war for American Independence carries on, two newlyweds are settling into their new adventure: marriage. But the honeymoon's over, and Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler are learning firsthand just how tricky wedded life can be. Alex is still General George Washington's right-hand man and his attention these days is nothing if not divided--much like the colonies' interests as the end of the Revolution draws near. Alex & Eliza's relationship is tested further by lingering jealousies and family drama.

My Thoughts —

If you haven’t read my review of the first book in this trilogy, go ahead and give that a read here first!

I’m gonna come right out and say it. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the first book, Alex & Eliza. I felt like this took a really different approach to the Hamiltons’ story than I was expecting. I get that it’s a YA series, so it may not deal with a lot of the more mature themes of their marriage (i.e. death, infidelity, etc.). But it just seemed a bit too light-hearted, if that makes sense? Even the conflicts they faced seemed to be solved almost immediately. It just seemed like they were living their own fairytale which, if you know the true history, you’ll know is not realistic.

I really hope that the final book of the trilogy, All For One (which is scheduled to be published in spring 2019) will be closer to the Hamiltons’ story. I just found that this novel was a lot more fiction than it was historical fiction. Sort of like Reign, but maybe even more far-fetched?

Have you read Love & War? What did you think?

Felicia x

A Book Lover's Dream

Despite being a book lover for the past twenty years of my life, I have never found my way into a secondhand bookshop before. Can you believe it? Years of dreaming about the romance of small independent bookshops, even writing about them 24/7, and I’d never even stepped into one. I guess the problem was that I was raised in a large city, where local businesses weren’t very popular and every corner was another chain store. I grew up in Chapters and Indigo shops.

Moving into a small town really gave me a new perspective on small, local businesses. My town only has a population of 10,000 people - literally 72x smaller than my hometown. Take a second for that to sink in. So it was a huge adjustment. Living in a small town made me realize how important it is to support local businesses. Unfortunately, there isn’t a bookshop in my town (yet…one day I’ll put one in there myself).

A few towns over, there’s a bookshop called Pickwick Books. When I used to live in Mississauga, I sometimes would drive home through the town Waterdown and would always pass by Pickwick on the way. I loved the look of it. There was something about it, this little adorable shop on the corner, that completely piqued my interest. I had to know what was in there. Flash forward two years and I still hadn’t gone in there. In my defence, it is about an hour away from home.

But this Saturday morning, my boyfriend told me to get dressed to go out, as he was taking me on a surprise date. And much to my delight, we pulled up to Pickwick Books an hour later!!!

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Pickwick was everything I could ever dream of. It was a small shop with dozens of shelves around the shop, filled to the max with books. On a stack of books was another stack of books. Everywhere you looked - to each side, on the ground, above your head - there were books. It was a cozy little cave of books. The woman running the store was so kind and let us browse without following us around the shop, which I was so grateful as I’m particularly introverted and would rather browse alone.

One of my favourite areas of the shop was the Book Vault. It was an extremely small room (literally only my boyfriend and I could fit inside and we were in very close quarters) with just three walls full top to bottom of historical books, separated by era. Literally every era of history you could imagine. It was absolutely a dream come true for me, being someone who loves books and is a history fanatic. I wanted to live in that vault forever.

The other really cool thing I found in the shop was that they sold old, rare editions of books. They had collections of famous author’s books that were from the 19th century, going as far back as even the 1830s. I was in awe. There were Charles Dickens sets from the mid-1800s, when Charles Dickens was writing his books. It was absolutely incredible to see in person. Of course, I didn’t buy any of those since I don’t have $500 to spend on a set of Dickens novels, especially since I already have a set haha. But it was very cool to see, especially the books which were still in volumes as they were popularly released back then.

I ended up leaving the shop with one book for myself, a beautiful hardcover copy of Selected Poems & Letters of Emily Dickinson. I got it for $25 and when I got home, I searched it online to find out it typically goes for $50 USD because it’s a 1959 edition. I was sooo pleased with my purchase!!!

Here’s your little reminder to check out your local businesses. They’d love to have you shop there and who knows what you’ll find tucked away in a shelf.

Felicia x

Review: Gmorning, Gnight - Lin-Manuel Miranda

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“Good night now, and rest. Today was a test. You passed it, you’re past it. Now breathe till unstressed.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Poetry, Nonfiction, Self Help

Reading Challenge: 31 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

Before he inspired the world with Hamilton and was catapulted to international fame, Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspiring his Twitter followers with words of encouragement at the beginning and end of each day. He wrote these original sayings, aphorisms, and poetry for himself as much as for others. But as Miranda's audience grew, these messages took on a life on their own. Now Miranda has gathered the best of his daily greetings into a beautiful collection illustrated by acclaimed artist (and fellow Twitter favorite) Jonny Sun.

Full of comfort and motivation, Gmorning, Gnight! is a touchstone for anyone who needs a quick lift.

My Thoughts —

So I may have mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again for the new readers: I absolutely adore Lin-Manuel Miranda. I think he’s oh so talented and practically the most inspiring person of our time, not to mention adorably dorky. And now he’s gone and created the most adorable, uplifting book I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

I really loved reading this book. It went by so quickly since it’s only about 200 pages and there’s only a few lines per page. But the little time I did spend with this book was lovely. Every passage was uplifting and empowering. I took to putting Post-It notes on the pages of my favourite passages, but that ended up being about 90% of the book by the end lol. I loved everything so much. Lin really has an incredibly way of putting things into perspective and making you appreciate the small things in life.

I think this would be a really excellent graduation gift idea, for those who know someone that’s graduating high school or post-secondary education! Also, if you want to read more of his “Gmorning, Gnight” style tweets, you can find those on his Twitter.

Are you a Lin-Manuel fan, like me?

Felicia x

Review: Alex and Eliza: A Love Story - Melissa De La Cruz

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“And you, Colonel Hamilton, are mine, and I am yours always.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (American Revolution), Young Adult, Romance

Reading Challenge: 30 out of 50

My Thoughts —

Their romance shaped a nation. The rest was history.

1777. Albany, New York. 

As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival that of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball. 

Still, she can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

My Thoughts —

Recently, I’ve become super obsessed with the musical, Hamilton. I’ve been in love with it for a few years now for whatever reason, my obsession has skyrocketed in the past few months. Sadly, I’ve not yet had the chance to see it. My boyfriend tried to get tickets for the two of us to see it in NYC last year, but they came out to about $2,000 US!! So that was NOT happening. Since it won’t be coming to Toronto until the 2019/2020 season, I’ve had to find other ways to fuel my addition - like reading Hamilton-inspired lit apparently.

Melissa De La Cruz was actually one of my fav authors when I was a preteen, back when Girl Stays in the Picture came out (THE THROWBACK). When my reading tastes changed, I moved on from her books. But I was excited to read another one of her books again after all these years and see what I’d been missing.

I loved this book!! As you may know, I’m a huge YA fan. This is so up my alley that it’s crazy. The love between Alex and Eliza was palpable and I think it really was the perfect kickoff for the long history of the Hamiltons. I thought this novel read a lot like a modern-day Jane Austen novel. Not even just because it was set in the 18th century, but because it has a romantic storyline with a strong heroine lead and it ends in a wedding. I loved the Austen-esque elements and although I’m not sure if the author intended to include them, I think they were pretty perfect!

I also thought it was quite interesting how the novel was told from both the perspectives of Alex and Eliza. Especially since there was a fair chunk of the novel where Alex was off doing war-related things. It was pretty cool because then you got to see both sides of the story. It also gave readers the opportunity to be introduced to other key historical figures such as the Sons of Liberty. I’m very 50/50 when it comes to dual narratives, but when they’re done effectively I’m quite keen on them and I think it was done very well in Alex & Eliza!

There were obviously a ton of differences between this novel and Hamilton which I think ultimately comes down to picking and choosing which details to include and which to omit. For instance, in the musical, a lot of details were excluded or altered to work with the storyline - this was also done with Alex & Eliza. I did find that with Alex & Eliza, everything was a lot more fluffy which makes sense as it’s a YA novel. So if you’re looking for a hard-hitting, authentic Revolutionary War retelling, maybe look elsewhere.

I’m really interested to see how this series progresses throughout the next couple books! I already started Love & War which is the sequel, but the third and final book isn’t being released until April 2019 - so I have a bit of time left until that one! Until then, keep an eye out for my Love & War review!

Are you a Hamilton fan?

Felicia x

Review: All We Ever Wanted - Emily Giffin

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“Who was the person you trusted enough to be your most transparent self with, in both good times and bad?”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary

Reading Challenge: 29 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

Nina Browning is living the good life after marrying into Nashville’s elite. More recently, her husband made a fortune selling his tech business, and their adored son has been accepted to Princeton. Yet sometimes the middle-class small-town girl in Nina wonders if she’s strayed from the person she once was.

Tom Volpe is a single dad working multiple jobs while struggling to raise his headstrong daughter, Lyla. His road has been lonely, long, and hard, but he finally starts to relax after Lyla earns a scholarship to Windsor Academy, Nashville’s most prestigious private school.

Amid so much wealth and privilege, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her overprotective father doesn’t help—but in most ways, she’s a typical teenage girl, happy and thriving.

Then, one photograph, snapped in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the Windsor community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame.

At the heart of the lies and scandal, Tom, Nina, and Lyla are forced together—all questioning their closest relationships, asking themselves who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.

My Thoughts —

So I actually ordered this book this summer whilst sitting at the Port Orleans resort, beignet in hand, trying to decide which three (yes, three) books to order from Indigo. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make because a) I’m already indecisive enough and b) the five or so books I wanted were all so interesting and I couldn’t bear to part with even one. But this one really stuck out to me. Like, something told me I needed this book immediately after reading the synopsis.

This book was wild from start to finish y’all. I really had a difficult time putting it down. It’s intense but not in a suspenseful, action-packed way. I think that most importantly, it really speaks to my generation. With social media being so prominent in our society, things can get really messy. Social media is great in that it links our worlds together and creates an opportunity for mass communication and social change. But it can also become a nightmare real quick, if it’s used for the wrong thing. I think this book really shows the dangerous side of social media and the novel presents itself in a way as a cautionary tale to parents and even teens. Are teens reading Emily Giffin? I did in high school but who knows!

I thought that the characters of Lyla and Finch were really well-represented as modern teens. Every time I read novels by authors long out of high school, I keep an eye out for how the teenagers are portrayed because I think that sometimes authors are out of touch with the young-ins (lol). In All We Ever Wanted, this wasn’t the case at all. I could definitely see Lyla and Finch as being real teenagers at my old high school. Having authentic characters really enhances the reading experience for me. I don’t know if it bothers anyone else as much as me. Is it a me problem? Who knows.

Honestly, just go read this book. You won’t regret it. I can’t say much about it without giving away the plot. But it was so gripping and it dealt with a ton of intense conflicts outside of just the social media issue that I think makes the novel that much more important of a read. Definitely pick this up at your bookstore immediately. Like go, right now!

Have you read All We Ever Wanted? If you have, what did you think?

Felicia x

Review: Dear Mrs. Bird - A.J. Pearce

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“If there was anything I wanted most in the world (other, of course, than for the war to end and Hitler to die a quite grisly death), it was to be a journalist.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (WWII), Fiction

Reading Challenge: 28 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

A charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist—a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

My Thoughts —

If you hadn’t already noticed, wartime fiction has sort of become my jam this year. It’s had a pretty substantial presence on my reading list. Recently, historical fiction has become one of my favourite genres to read, especially ones set in WWII or post-WWII era. I can’t get enough of it!

Quite simply, I found this book to be very cute. I don’t think that it was nearly the hardest-hitting of all the wartime novels I’ve read this year but I do think it was an important look at women’s efforts during the Second World War. I’ve been studying women’s history this term in university and the past little while has been all about interwar years and WWII so it’s definitely been interesting to see the parallels between my school stuff and my recreational reading.

I think that Emmy was a bit immature, considering that she was in her early twenties and involved in war efforts. I would think that war would make people, even young people, mature quicker due to the circumstances and focus more on the important issues. But Emmy’s primary concern was becoming a big fancy war correspondent and the rest was just ~whatevs~… I also thought her best friend was immature and sometimes annoying as well.

(Side note: I also have to mention the fact that some things were capitalized randomly throughout the novel to draw emphasis, and it absolutely bothered me to not end. If you remember my review on The Alice Network, you probably remember how this sort of thing in writing is my biggest pet peeve!)

Honestly I just saw this as more of a lighthearted adult fiction that just so happened to be set during the war, as opposed to a wartime novel. It was a cute, heartwarming story. I loved the focus on women breaking into the paid workforce, but it just didn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi you know?

Have you read Dear Mrs. Bird? Do you agree with me?

Felicia x