Tag Archives: romance

That Inevitable Victorian Thing (E.K. Johnston)

3 Oct

Squinks, you really need to read this if you, like me, love stories with British royalty; strong, female friendships; and Canada.  This is my first E.K. Johnston title, and I’m so glad I picked it up!

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Squinklethoughts

1.  Above all else, I feel like this story is a love letter to Canada.  The setting is Toronto and the Muskoka Region (a few hours north of the city), but in a reimagined world where Canada is just one of many colonies of a British Empire that never fell.  There are so many little nods to real life, including (my favourite) a reference to my beloved Leafs tying things up in the third only to lose, spectacularly, dramatically, and not all that surprisingly in overtime.  My husband laughed when I read this part out loud.  Other allusions, like the note from the Minister of Transportation reminding officers to prepare for Friday exoduses from the city to cottage country once warmer weather begins, really made the story more enjoyable than it already was.  You’d think it’s a small thing, but it really adds to the entertainment value of a story when the readers recognize bits and pieces from real life.

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing 3

 

2.  Despite the title, the expectations of Victorian England, as they are manoeuvred by the main characters, are just plot devices.  Yes, there is British imperialism, but that is the backdrop of the book, not a commentary on why or when or how imperialism might be okay.  In fact, Johnston doesn’t shy away from mentioning all the failings and trappings of history’s darker moments, but it’s a different world that plays with the answers to what-if questions.  I chose to read this book because I was interested in the characters and what they could do; I didn’t comb through every reference to other cultures and traditions mentioned in the story only to analyze why this culture is mentioned and not that, or why this aspect of Victorian England is highlighted and not that.  And, truth be told, I read quickly a lot of the “history” stuff.  This book is all about the characters for me.

3.  Let’s talk about those characters.  There are three fun and feisty women in this story, and I love how Johnston develops them.  I particularly like the fact that Margaret and Helena recognize that socialite Elizabeth has more to her than what the paparazzi depict.  Elizabeth is genuinely kind and incredibly knowledgeable of how her world works, using that knowledge to her advantage.  I also like that Helena, who is introduced as more of a homebody than anything else and who has essentially plotted out her path in life, discovers other interests that draw her out of her shell.  She isn’t afraid to stand alone in the corner, waiting for the debutant ball to begin.  It’s great that August, her childhood friend, appreciates that Helena had always been happy with herself.  And Margaret … I think I like her best of all.  I love the push and pull of wanting to do things your own way while knowing you simply cannot.  That kind of conflict has always been one of the more interesting ones for me.  Commoners often think that royalty have it great, but every one has battles no one else can fathom.  Margaret is kind and dutiful, both to herself and to her country, and I think many people will fall in love with her.

4.  I had absolutely no problem with a world in the future that relies on –bots and –grams and all the good stuff that come from advanced technology while also celebrating debutant balls, sending and receiving formal invitations, and … employing servants in households.  I can see how others might be offended with the concept of servants still in use in the future, but there are a few times in the novel that address this and that I think Johnston got spot on.  We can always honour someone’s professional pride regardless of the job that person chooses.  Fanny is an amazingly loyal companion to Helena, and Hiram and his sisters make the Callaghan household run smoothly.  Servants though they may be, they are integral to the lives of those they serve.  (If only this concept had been swallowed by the patricians in Ancient Rome, the Conflict of the Orders may never have happened.  But that’s another reimagined world …)

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing 2

 

5.  I love that Margaret is so sure of her duties and responsibilities and restrictions.  I love that she knows why she can’t do something even if she really wants to.  I love that she’s innately kind and that she doesn’t want to get in the way of others who have found paths that are undeniably less complicated than hers.  We forget, sometimes, that not everyone is brought up in a family (or society) that encourages children to be what they want, marry whomever they want, or even think what they want.  It’s a great notion that we take for granted in our modern world, but we should remember that it’s not universal.  I would have loved to learn more about Margaret.  She was my favourite of the three.

6.  August is so kind and loyal.  Poor guy is in such a quagmire throughout the story.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be for him to juggle the problems at work, his parents’ confidence and trust in him, and his own expectations of being a good husband.  What a good and flawed guy.

7.  Ms. Johnston, can we please, please, have another book?  I fell in love with the three girls and August, and I’m so curious to know what life is like for them after the summer is over.  But seriously, Squinks … It’s been ages since I finished reading this book, and I’m still wondering how the rest of the summer goes for Margaret, Helena, August, and Elizabeth.  There is still so much story to tell!  I really do hope Johnston writes a sequel.

 

5 Squinkles

 

E.K. Johnston’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Indigo/Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada and Dutton Books, for sending me a copy of That Inevitable Victorian Thing in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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The Little French Bistro (Nina George)

21 Jun

I was excited to read The Little French Bistro because I enjoyed The Little Paris Bookshop a lot. I really felt for Marianne at the beginning of the novel when some man rescues her from her suicide attempt. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone? Then, we get more information about how loveless her marriage is (husband leaves her to make her own way home!), so I’m happy that she finds some courage to make it to the coast of Brittany and start a new life.

 

Little French Bistro Squinklethoughts

1.  The author does a great job portraying the small-town charms of the small town that Marianne finds herself in. There is an interesting (but large) cast of secondary characters that envelop Marianne in their lives. I felt that some of the friendships came a bit too easily. Maybe it’s because I don’t reveal myself as easily as Marianne does, or maybe it’s because I don’t live in a small town, but that part felt a little unrealistic. So, too, does the fact that Marianne is able to find a good job and place to live within a day or so of landing at the coast. Is it really that easy? Especially considering Marianne is now in her 60s, I think? I am happy that she is able to reinvent herself, but I would have liked a little more struggle — a few more obstacles besides the sometimes dark thoughts that run around her head — before she could settle in to her new routine.

2.  The ending was definitely a surprise, and I think it saved the story for me. As the novel progressed, I sort of got lost in all of the names of the characters, which meant that there were a few too many for my liking. I liked being alongside Marianne as she grew in her role at the restaurant, but all the other stuff outside of the day-to-day, which is usually what interests me more, didn’t do it for me this time round.

3.  I’d recommend the book for anyone who likes stories about the French seaside, women’s growth, and happy endings … with the caveat that they’d have to adopt a little willing suspension of disbelief, and wade through lots of interactions with Breton neighbours before getting to the good ending.  I’d say that this was just under 4 stars for me.

 

3.5 Squinkles

 

Nina George’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, First to Read, for sending me a copy of
The Little French Bistro in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Geekerella (Ashley Poston)

4 Apr

As much as I love fairytale retellings, I’m equally wary of venturing into them.  I shouldn’t have worried about Ashley Poston’s Geekerella because it is every bit as delightful as I wanted it to be.  Squinks, you’re in for a treat!

 

Geekerella

Squinklethoughts

1.  It was the cover that caught my eye.  I love purple, in general, but there was something simultaneously sci-fi-y and fairytale-y about Geekerella’s cover that drew my eyes to it.  There are also stars, and it almost felt like there would be fairy dust inside the book.  Upon closer inspection, it was the girl in the glasses that sealed it for me.  I just knew I had to read this.

2.  I really like that Poston does not stray very far from the Cinderella story.  I mean, that’s what a retelling is, right?  She’s given it a modern twist and added the spunk to CinderELLEa/DaniELLE that I’ve always felt the original character had bubbling deep inside her.  Elle handles her stepfamily really well, and it is with these characters that I think Poston shines.  The stepsisters are truly UGH.  Very well written.

 

Geekerella 2

 

3.  I like stories that make use of different formats, so I am very fond of the texting scenes.  I did find them a little … bland (sometimes), but then again, I’m OLD and have no idea what texts between teenagers are like today.  Elle’s and Darien’s characters are developed very well through these exchanges.

4.  I totally thought that Starfield was real.  Shows what I know.  But for anyone who’s ever geeked out over Doctor Who or Harry Potter (or any of the tons of fandoms out there), you’ll find a little bit of yourself in Elle.  She’ll win you over, for sure.

5.  There’s a part near the very beginning that has gotten some criticism.  If that bit bothers you, I do very highly suggest that you do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  We all hold different things dear.  There is so much to love about this book, and I hope you don’t measure the whole of the book by that one small part.

6.  Sage.  She rocks.  Everyone should have a Sage.

7.  In other news, check out the book trailer for Geekerella here.  (Can’t you just see this novel being made into a movie?)  Then go out and buy the book.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Ashley Poston’s Online Corners
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Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me a copy of Geekerella
in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Little Paris Bookshop (Nina George)

9 Sep

Of all the stories I read this year, I think the Little Paris Bookshop has given me the biggest book hangover yet. When I was done with it, I simply handed it to my mom and said, “Read it. Trust me.” And she did. And she loved it, too.

 

Little Paris Bookshop 

Squinklethoughts

1. The title hooked me right away. “Paris” and “bookshop”? Yes, please. (My site tagline is “Bouquets de Bouquins” … Doesn’t that tell you something?) Someday, I’m going to go to Paris and be chuckled at for my franglais and my accent québécois, and I will drink my café and have un temps merveilleux.

2. The cover is gorgeous. You know me: I absolutely judge books by their covers. And this one has cotton-candy colours of sunset with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just delicious and completely enticing.

3. There is a map! I can’t begin to tell you how much that fact made reading this book much more pleasant. I seriously think that all books should have maps in them. A writer’s imagery, no matter how well done, can only allow me to visualize individual scenes in my head, but I need them all stitched up in a map, so I know where the characters geographically are. Jean and his companions travel down the River Seine, and it was great to see where along the waterways each chapter occurred.

4. I am a fan of bittersweet moments. I don’t always like them in my own life, so when I encounter characters like Jean, whose life has been full of some sweet but mostly bitter moments, I’m hooked. And that he was the cause of his own sufferings? Captivatingly cathartic.

5. The narrative is particularly beautiful. I’m not sure if it can be wholly attributed to Nina George or to the translators, but there are many lyrical phrases in the book that made me smile.

 

Little Paris Bookshop - Quotes 

6. I know some people didn’t like this story. They thought it was overly simplistic or overly cloying or overly clichéd. I understand – if what they were looking for was a story of grand gestures and perilous adventures and harrowing revelations. For some, they couldn’t connect to Jean or understand his current place in life, but I think it’s because some people skate over the 20 years (and counting) that Jean spends in misery. Once we’re past gut-wrenching moments, it’s often way too easy to forget what it meant to live each minute with heartache. (Being bullied all through elementary school? Oh, yeah, it wasn’t that bad. Eating by yourself at lunch throughout high school? Oh, well, it wasn’t terrible.) Twenty years: that’s 10 512 000 sorrowful minutes that Jean lived through to get to where he is in the story. And this is what I truly appreciate about the Little Paris Bookshop – the author and the book itself appreciate what it means to live practically an entire life with a gnawing feeling in your stomach and an empty hole in your heart.

7. For me, this story speaks to all those quiet moments in the morning, by yourself, smiling at a happy memory from 20 years back, and finding your eyes full of tears. This was all about those lazy summer days of sipping iced tea at Starbucks, flipping through a magazine, only to be greeted by an article outlining the successes of the girl who made your school years a living hell. This was about that poignant feeling I get now, after waving thanks to my student’s grandfather for dropping him off at school, and remembering that I don’t have my grandpa anymore.

8. I love the concept of a book apothecary. Can you imagine being able to read people as easily as Jean Perdu does? And, on top of that, being able to make people’s lives a little better by prescribing the perfect livre du moment? As a school librarian, I try my best, but after reading about Jean’s perfectly tuned skills, I know I’ve got a long way to go.

9. This is a great story about the moments, choices, people, and books that leave indelible footprints on our hearts.

10. You really need to read this book.  Read it now, then re-read it after five years to see how much more it resonates with you.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Nina George’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House (Crown) and Blogging for Books, for sending me a copy of the Little Paris Bookshop in exchange for an honest review.

All opinions and suggestions expressed herein are entirely my own.

Tomorrow’s Kingdom (Maureen Fergus)

2 Sep

 

There are few series that have gripped me from the get-go enough to compel me to be first in line at the bookstore to buy the sequel(s) on release day. And fewer still are the number of books that have kept a hold on my heart long after they’ve found a resting place on my bookshelf. Squinks, Maureen Fergus’ The Gypsy King trilogy fits squarely into both categories, and I strongly urge you to run very, very quickly to Chapters or Indigo and grab a copy of all 3 books if you don’t already have them!

Let me tell you about Tomorrow’s Kingdom, the finale of the series that gave me all the feels! A Fool’s Errand left off with such a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that I practically got papercuts from the speed with which I flipped through and devoured the pages of TK’s opening chapters. I literally—yes, literally—had to cover the pages on the right so that I would force myself to slow down and appreciate everything on the left. Otherwise, in my haste to find out what happens to Persephone when she goes against Azriel (again), I’d miss out on the fine nuances in Fergus’ writing that bring her story to life. We’ve talked about this in class many times before: What makes a story so good that you just have to share your new-found treasure with someone else? The content and the writing, exactly.

And peeps, let me tell you how Fergus scores not just the game-winning goal with TK, but the game-7-OT-Stanley-Cup-winning game-winning goal!

 

The Content

This book has:

1. Romance
Um, yeah. There were times when I wished I didn’t care about all the other characters so that I could skip the chapters without Azriel and Persephone. Their love story is just so charming and endearing … I want to read more and more and more of it.

2. Adventure
Forests, castles, glens, caves, rivers, waterfalls … all there!

3. Comedy
Azriel is my favourite, but all of Fergus’ characters have some great comedic nature that I laughed out loud so many times throughout this book. I LOLed alone, with friends, and among complete strangers in crowded rooms … and I laughed often!

4. Heartache
Every great love story has some heartache in it. I’ll let you discover this for yourself …

In short, TK has almost everything I’m looking for in a book. The only thing missing? Magic. But you know what? Fergus’ writing weaves everything together so flawlessly that there must’ve been some pixie dust sprinkled on these pages … which brings me to the other reason everyone should read TK

 

The Writing

Fergus’ writing is:

1. Intelligent
Fergus writes for an intelligent audience, and that is something I appreciate very much. She splashes her writing with a mix of complex and inverted sentences; she loves inserting rhetorical questions; and she makes her characters spout witty, well-timed one-liners, all of which add flavour to an already great story line.

2. Funny
I have found a kindred spirit in any author whose wit and dry humour flow easily across the page, and Fergus has tons of well-placed comedic scenes and one-liners that really strike to the heart of the matter. I love reading everything she writes.

3. Powerful
Check these out:

“[I]t was a truly lovely thing to be cherished by a man who had eyes for none but her and who acted as though she were more beautiful than the stars, more fragile than blown glass, and more precious than a bucketful of jewels.”

“Do this and though I cannot promise we will ever be friends, I can promise that I will honour you … now and forever.”

“It was as if, by mutual accord, they were avoiding speaking of the dangers tomorrow might hold that they might better enjoy the sweet, fleeting moments of today.”

 

For real, Squinks, you know how I always say, “If you want to be a better writer, read”? Well, read Fergus. Read this trilogy. Read everything else she’s written. I can try to teach you how to write well jusqu’à perpète, but it’s so much more effective and entertaining if you read this trilogy. You’ll walk away from TK feeling exhilarated about the ride you were on, a little sad at having to say goodbye to some new friends, and a lot in awe at the great fortune of having just read a masterpiece by one of Canada’s greatest authors.

 

Azriel and Persephone forever!

 

 

Maureen Fergus’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

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