Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Sun Is Also A Star

Author: Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 348
Source: Publisher (RHC)
Publisher: Delacourt Press
First Published: November 1, 2016
First Line: "Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

Book Description from GoodReadsNatasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: A little over a year ago I read Yoon's Everything, Everything) and enjoyed the quirky and witty teen romance.  In this latest book, she has written a story about two teenagers who find each other at very critical junctures in their lives and fall in love.  

This book has it's moments of witty writing, addresses several current issues (illegal immigrants, depression/suicide, parental pressures, cultural differences ...) and has a wonderfully refreshing culturally diverse cast.  But it also had aspects that I struggled with including the weak chemistry between Natasha and Daniel and my lack of connection to them or the plot. Their InstaLove felt needy (and quite cheesy) rather than romantic to me. Perhaps readers who love all things romantic will have an easier time believing the idea of two people falling hopelessly in love with each other within 12 hours. Personally, I couldn't do it. 

While the book focuses on Daniel and Natasha, I LOVED how different perspectives of secondary, and even tertiary characters, were brought into the story line showing how even brief interactions can greatly influence others.  From a janitor, to a waitress, to a security guard and various family members, Yoon gives readers snapshots into characters' lives (as well as interesting random facts) which I think broadened the scope of the book.

Overall, this was a good, light read clearly with the romantic reader in mind.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to DoubleDay Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The Magdalen Girls

Author: V.S Alexander
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington
First Published: December 27, 2016
First Line: "The nuns convened by the doorway like a swarm of black flies."

Book Description from GoodReadsDublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Review:  I love it when I can learn a bit about history while reading a fictional tale.  In The Magdalen Girls, I learned about the Magdalen laundries during the 1960's - a place where women were imprisoned after being deemed 'fallen women' sometimes merely based on speculation and rumour of their unsavoury behaviour.  These laundries were instituted to 'rehabilitate' women who were accused of being promiscuous, reckless, having children out of wedlock, being prostitutes etc.  Their 'rehabilitation' included hard labour, forced prayer, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of nuns, minimal nourishment and ultimately no future. 

These laundries were barbaric places and provide an interesting backdrop and premise for this book. It's appalling that these laundries, which were often run by Catholic nuns, still occurred into the 19th century (with the last of these laundries closing in the late 1990's!).  They occurred not only Ireland but also in the US, Canada, Scotland, England and Australia and were used by families to deal with their daughters who they deemed wayward and not falling into line with family/religious ideals. 

While I applaud the author for bringing this difficult part of history to light the plot fell short for me.  Both the plot and dialogue were more simplistic than I had expected.  There were a couple of escape attempts as well as a twist but they felt predictable and came off as lackluster rather than exciting.  There was the addition of a supernatural element but that felt awkward at best, was only alluded to and didn't play a big enough role.  In the end, this book read more like a light historical fiction novel even though it deals with very serious subject matter.

The character development was also weaker than expected with Nora and Teagan, the two main characters, having such similar personalities that they started to blend together making it hard to connect with them individually.  Lea was the most interesting character but she fell on the outskirts of the main plot. I would have liked to get inside her head to learn about why she felt the way she did about her life at the laundry.

In the end, this was an eye-opening read that educated me about the horrific acts that were committed against young women for many decades by the Catholic Church.  While there were some aspects that were weaker than expected, I applaud the author for bringing this part of history to readers.  I encourage people to read the epilogue for more information regarding these laundries.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Mothers

Author: Brit Bennett
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback - Large Print
Pages: 400
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Random House
First Published: October 11, 2016
First Line: "We didn't believe when we first heard because you know how church folk can gossip."

Book Description from GoodReadsA dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most. Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett’s mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:  This is a book about secrets, loyalty and the repercussions regarding the choices we make.  It's also about an unlikely friendship and an improbably love.  For a debut novel, it had moments of amazing and wonderfully crafted prose.   

"It was strange, learning the contours of another’s loneliness. You could never know it all at once; like stepping inside a dark cave, you felt along the walls, bumped into jagged edges."

That's some impressive writing for a debut author.  Unfortunately, those moments were far and few between.  The plot itself felt muddled and I struggled throughout the book to connect with and stay interested in the plight of the characters. For a book that deals with serious life issues and multiple relationships (familial, romantic, friendship), the character development was thin and the issues felt too removed from the plot (for example, Aubrey's past which the author doesn't explore).

While I can't say I loved this book, it had its moments.  Certain passages were well crafted and impressive but, while Bennett interested me enough to finish the book, I can't say that she completely pulled me into her story.  Bennett shows good promise as an author and although this wasn't a home run for me I look forward to reading her next literary offering.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


Author: Mike Myers
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Publisher: DoubleDay Canada
First Published: Oct 22, 2016
First Line: "I am an actor, a writer, a producer, a director, a husband and a father but no description of me is complete without saying that I'm a Canadian."

Book Description from GoodReadsComedy superstar Mike Myers writes from the (true patriot) heart about his 52-year relationship with his beloved Canada.

Mike Myers is a world-renowned actor, director and writer, and the man behind some of the most memorable comic characters of our time. But as he says: "no description of me is truly complete without saying I'm a Canadian." He has often winked and nodded to Canada in his outrageously accomplished body of work, but now he turns the spotlight full-beam on his homeland.

His hilarious and heartfelt new book is part memoir, part history and pure entertainment. It is Mike Myers' funny and thoughtful analysis of what makes Canada Canada, Canadians Canadians and what being Canadian has always meant to him. His relationship with his home and native land continues to deepen and grow, he says. In fact, American friends have actually accused him of "enjoying" being Canadian and he's happy to plead guilty as charged.

A true patriot who happens to be an expatriate, Myers is in a unique position to explore Canada from within and without. With this, his first book, Mike brings his love for Canada to the fore at a time when the country is once again looking ahead with hope and national pride. "Canada" is a wholly subjective account of Mike's Canadian experience. Mike writes, "Some might say, 'Why didn't you include this or that?' I say there are 35 million stories waiting to be told in this country, and my book is only one of them."

This beautifully designed book is illustrated in colour (and "not" color) throughout, and its visual treasures include personal photographs and Canadiana from the author's own collection. Published in the lead-up to the 2017 sesquicentennial, this is Mike Myers' birthday gift to his fellow Canadians. Or as he puts it: "In 1967, Canada turned one hundred.Canadians all across the country made Centennial projects.This book is my Centennial Project. I'm handing it in a little late.... Sorry."

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: With the first line of his book Myers relays his love for our mutual  home country of Canada. While many people know of him as an actor from SNL and the Shrek and Austin Powers series (among others), most people who have seen him in interviews know that he is also a fiercely proud Canuck.

As a proud Canadian myself I could relate to much of what Mike described as he shares anecdotes from his upbringing in 'Scarberia' (aka Scarborough), a short drive from where I partially grew up in Markham, Ontario. It was a romp down memory lane as he recalls the Canadian TV of our childhood (Mr Dress-Up, The Friendly Giant ...), our own dialect/jargon (two-four, double-double, EH! ...) and his memories of famous Toronto haunts like the CNE and Sam the Record Man. He also includes stories about his rise to fame on stages in Toronto, London and Chicago as well as his beginnings on SNL. And while this section gave me all the nostalgic feels I couldn't relate to everything mentioned -  like Canadians pronouncing the word 'been' as 'bean' or saying 'aboot' which I have never said and rarely heard.

And that's okay, eh?  This book is Myers' personal account of what it was like for him to grow up in Canada. He also shares his thoughts about our Canadian psyche, our wonderfully dry, self-deprecating humour, heart and humility.  Myers also recounts Canada's history which was well-researched - without sounding like a Grade 9 textbook.

While he hasn't lived in Canada permanently for a few decades he is Canadian through and through. He has the unique aspect of viewing Canada as an insider and as an outsider. He has maple syrup running through his veins, a love for Hostess ketchup-flavoured chips, an abiding love for hockey and our country. 

As our country gets ready to celebrate the sesquicentennial (150th birthday) of our country in 2017 Myers shares his feelings and concerns for Canada.  He gives us food for thought about the struggle we have with our country's identity, especially in relation to our neighbours to the south. While we're teased for being quiet, overly apologetic, hockey loving people who add 'eh's' onto sentences we also know how to laugh at ourselves and (hopefully) realize how good we have it here in the Great White North.  

I appreciate how unabashedly and unapologetically proud Myers is for his home and native land. His continuing support, affection and respect for our country warms this Canuck heart. This is a funny and informative read which is, ultimately, a love letter to Canada from Myers. And we love ya right back.  Now pass the two-four and the back bacon on a bun and turn up the Hip, eh?

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

My Favourite Books of 2016

2016 has been a stellar year for me in terms of reading.  I set my reading goal to 102 books (one more than my previous highest number of books read in one year) and I blew that goal out of the water (I've currently read 127 books this year). (Note: You can create your own Reading Challenge on GoodReads)

While there have been some books that didn't rate high in my eyes and I didn't jump on board some of the bandwagons of über popular books overall I had some truly amazing reads this year.  These are books that I will talk until I'm blue in the face about and try to get as many people to read them because they affect me so strongly and they're just THAT good.

So if you're still looking for that perfect book for a special someone (or some new books for yourself) take a look at my list of my favourite books of 2016.

Five Star Books

I don't give out five star ratings easily but this year I've rated seven books 5 stars!  In my opinion, these books hit me hard in a few different ways - the funny bone (if it made this Canadian laugh it was fun-nay!), some made me dig deep and gave me a lot to think about.  Others gave me all the feels. Yes, I may have even shed a tear.

Just click on the hyper link to read my review of the individual books below.

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Darktown by Thomas Mullen

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindout and Sara Corbett

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K Rowling

4.5 Star Books

Not many books get my 5 star rating but there were quite a few that were almost perfect in my eyes that garnered my 4.5 star rating.  Definitely nothing to scoff at - they were just missing a wee little 'somethin' somethin' (technical book term).  They were still amazing and I'd highly recommend you get your hands on them A.S.A.P.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
(audiobook - Anna reads it to you and she's ah-mazing)

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

Home (#11 in the Myron Bolitar series) by Harlan Coben 

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I Promised Not To Tell: Raising a Transgender Child by Cheryl B Evans

Treasures of the Forgotten City (Ultimate Ending #1) by Danny McAleese and David Kristoph (children)

The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

Daughter of Destiny (#1 in the Guinevere's Tale trilogy) by Nicole Evalina

Camelot's Queen (#2 in the Guinevere's Tale trilogy) by Nicole Evalina 

Fifteen Lanes by S.J Laidlaw

Into the Dim by Janet B Taylor (children)

She's Not There by Joy Fielding

While I still have several book reviews up my sleeve for 2016 I wish you all, my wonderful blog readers, a safe, happy and healthy 2017.  Here's hoping 2017 will blow our minds with fantastic books!!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Behind Closed Doors

Author: B.A Paris
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: August 9, 2016
First Line: "The champagne bottle knocks against the marble kitchen counter, making me jump.'

Book Description from GoodReadsEveryone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You'd like to get to know Grace better. But it's difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

Picture this: a dinner party at their perfect home, the conversation and wine flowing. They appear to be in their element while entertaining. And Grace's friends are eager to reciprocate with lunch the following week. Grace wants to go, but knows she never will. Her friends call—so why doesn't Grace ever answer the phone? And how can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim?

And why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows?

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?

My Rating: 3 stars

My ReviewBehind Closed Doors has been the talk of the town since it hit store shelves earlier this year.  Ratings were high and people were throwing stars at it left, right and centre! While it seemed like it would be a home run for me Behind Closed Doors didn't manage to wow me.

It started off strong and I immediately pictured Grace as a Bree Vandekamp-type woman (you know Bree from Desperate Housewives?) with her perfect soufflés, handsome husband and what seems like an idyllic life. The author sets up her story well but around page 100 things started to fall apart for me as the story line became stagnant and there was more telling and less showing the reader what was going on. 

I had expected a twisty suspense read but it was more of a melodrama. There were a few instances of suspense and while I wouldn't say that the plot or resolution was totally far-fetched it does lay on the far end of the plausibility scale as readers are forced to suspend reality for a large portion of the book.

For me, the characters were the weakest part of the book. They felt more like one-dimensional soap opera characters and I didn't find them believable or even likable. One is very naive and misses clues left, right and centre and another is pure evil (cue the mustache twirling baddie) with no redeeming qualities.  It's hard to get behind characters like that.

That being said, this book was still a page turner at times but I disagree with some readers' comments that it's similar to The Girl on the Train or even Gone Girl.  Readers are privy to several of the twists early on which made the suspense dwindle while the sinister feeling escalated. Where it does have similarities to Gone Girl is that I didn't care about the main characters at all - well, except for Millie.  I liked her.

Overall, this was an okay read.  It had a great premise, super creepy factor but if the characters had been stronger and the reader was given some hard to predict twists this book would have been amazing.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Spicy & Curly Oven Fries

Today I'm sharing a recipe for spicy oven curly fries.  With limited oil these are a healthier option to the deep fried kind of French fries. A garden salad would be even healthier but let's get real. I will always choose fries over salad. Always. 

See, I love potatoes and kitchen appliances (and Ryan Reynolds but that has no bearing on this post). When you combine my addiction to spuds and something that turns those spuds into curly, bouncy bits of yum you have a winning combination. I am but a simple girl.

I recently bought a new Spiralizer.  I had been given a hand held version to review several months ago and it was good but this countertop version is soooo much better.  You plunk a veg onto the tines, choose one of the four blades, turn the handle while you push and presto!  You have curly or wavy potatoes/zucchini/carrots/beets ....  It's magical.

Tri-Blade Spiral Vegetable Slicer
Ain't she a beaut?  I'm thinking that this is how car lovin' people must feel like when they get a stylin' new car, amIright? 

With this appliance added to my arsenal I can now make thick or thin spirals or curls of various veggies to my little heart's content. 

Do any of you own a Spiralizer?  Any good recipes to share?

Spicy and Curly Oven Fries
Yield: 2-3 servings

3 medium potatoes - washed (remove skins if you want, I left them on)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp onion powder
2 dashes of cayenne (or to taste)
2-3 tbsp oil (I used grapeseed)

Some Garnish Options
Sriracha Sauce mixed with Ketchup
Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce mixed with some sour cream (seriously my fav)

Tools needed/recommended
Lettuce spinner

Preheat oven to 425F.  

Spiralize each of the potatoes.  

Cut the curls into smaller ribbons (I cut mine about 3 inches long). Place curls into a big bowl of water to try to remove a lot of the starch -- 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all of the spices.  Mix well and set aside.

Drain potato curls and place them into your lettuce spinner and let 'er whirl to get out as much moisture as you can. If you don't have a lettuce spinner, remove the potato curls from the water and pat dry with paper towel or dish towels to remove as much moisture as possible. 

Pat them dry with paper towel (my spinner got my curls fairly dry so no paper towel was needed).

Place potato curls into a large bowl and drizzle with oil; toss to coat.  Sprinkle spice mixture over curls and toss well so each curl has some spice (I also made some plain curly fries and only added some salt to them).

Lightly spray baking sheet(s) with oil.  Place potato curls onto the baking pan(s) ensuring that they aren't overlapping as much as possible.  Use an extra baking sheet if you have to.  If you let them clump on the baking pan they'll steam and not crisp up.

Bake for 15 minutes - the bottom side of your fries should be getting golden now.  Remove from oven and flip the fries. Bake for another 8 minutes or so (keep an eye on them from this point on - you may need more or less baking time depending on how thick your strands are).  When the fries are golden brown on both sides they're done.

Serve with ketchup or a mixture of ketchup and Sriracha sauce.  Delish!

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation from World Cuisine for a review of their Tri-Blade Vegetable Slicer.  All thoughts and opinions are my own from my personal use.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Scrappy Little Nobody

Author: Anna Kendrick
Genre: Memoir, Humour
Type: Audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
First Published: November 15, 2016
First Line: "Jessica was the first person to mistake me for someone cool."

Book Description from GoodReadsA collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch PerfectUp in the AirTwilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: Before I listened to this audiobook I guess you could say that I was an Anna Kendrick fan.  I enjoy the Pitch Perfect movies and have seen her in the Twilight movies and Into The Woods but it's her sense of humour and the feeling that she's just a regular gal that have always drawn her to me.

With this group of essays Anna brings her readers on a journey through her normal childhood to her time acting on Broadway stages as a tween, to paying her dues in smaller films and eventually being in blockbusters like the Twilight and Pitch Perfect franchises. Along the way, she shares some of her personal moments, fears, awkward encounters, joys and everything in between.

I'm glad I decided to listen to this book because Anna's personality shines through. I'm sure she's equally funny on paper but having her read the book to me was the icing on the proverbial cake.  She is witty, sassy and wonderfully smart assy.  She swears a lot but she's also a charming, self-proclaimed dork who shares her big life moments with her readers. Whether they're cool, funny or awkward you know that Anna will be candid.  

Her personal observations are regularly served alongside some great self-deprecating humour (of which I adore and personally partake in regularly).  She is definitely funny but also inspiring and quite on the money with many of her observations involving relationships, friendships, sex, work, not taking life too seriously.  I particularly appreciated her more feminist views on slut-shaming, double standards of the sexes, and women being empowered to be who they want to be.

While she remains a fairly private person, readers will still get a feel for who she is.  She can be laugh-out-loud funny, let her snark fly, isn't afraid to speak her mind and doesn't take herself too seriously.  Yup, she's a normal gal who happens to have a cool job.  The fact that she hasn't let Hollywood change her makes her all the more appealing. In a nutshell, she's a relatable and candid hoot who is intelligent, not always nice and unapologetically herself. 

How can you not love that?

For those of us who are scrappy little nobodies ourselves Anna is our Queen.  If you have lived through awkward break-ups, held a grudge for years, often feel anxious and hide behind a great sense of humour then I highly suggest you pick up this book and pay homage to her majesty.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies

Author: J.K Rowling
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural
Type: ebook
Pages: 71
Series: Pottermore Presents #1
Source: Own
Publisher: Pottermore Limited
First Published: September 6, 2016
First Line: "Minerva McGonagall was the first child, and only daughter, of a Scottish Presbyterian minister and a Hogwarts-educated witch."

Book Description from GoodReads‘Minerva was the Roman goddess of warriors and wisdom. William McGonagall is celebrated as the worst poet in British history. There was something irresistible to me about his name, and the idea that such a brilliant woman might be a distant relative of the buffoonish McGonagall.’ – J.K. Rowling

Pottermore Presents is a collection of J.K. Rowling’s writing from the Pottermore archives: short reads originally featured on with some exclusive new additions. These eBooks, with writing curated by Pottermore, will take you beyond the Harry Potter stories as J.K. Rowling reveals her inspiration, intricate details of characters’ lives and surprises from the wizarding world.

These stories of heroism, hardship and dangerous hobbies profile two of the Harry Potter stories’ most courageous and iconic characters: Minerva McGonagall and Remus Lupin. J.K. Rowling also gives us a peek behind the closed curtains of Sybill Trelawney’s life, and you’ll encounter the reckless, magical-beast-loving Silvanus Kettleburn along the way.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: As my long-time blog readers know I'm a huge Harry Potter lovin' gal.  I simply adore the universe Rowling created and was more than happy to jump back in and get more detailed information on some of her characters.  

In this book, which is part of a Pottermore Presents series, readers learn more about four Hogwart's professors - Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney and Silvanus Kettleburn.  I'll admit that with Kettleburn I let my Muggle show when I had to Google his name to find out who he was in the Potter stories.  

Ten points from Hufflepuff!

Overall, I think that Harry Potter fans will enjoy this book of short stories. They contain Rowling's vivid descriptions and give readers insight into the backgrounds of some of our favourite secondary characters (and one obscure one - I'm looking at you Kettleburn!). 

With these stories, Rowling adds another layer to her already rich characters that we've come to expect and also gives her fans one more opportunity to delve into the magical world that we've come to love.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Destressing the Holidays -- Finding Calm in Christmas

While the holidays are a wonderful time for the four fabulous F's - fun, friends, family and food let's all be real for a second.  Christmas has turned into a huge, often stress filled, 'event' and takes a small army to plan and execute.  Presents need to be bought, flights may need to be booked, guest rooms organized, food prepped and your house cleaned and decorated within an inch of its life. 

Or does it?

Just thinking of all the prep work that the holidays entail gets me feeling stressed and rather Grinchy. 

So I've come up with some tips to decrease or even defeat the stress to make this holiday fun for everyone!

1. Accept and/or assign food dishes for family members to bring.  

  • Even though you're hosting supper it doesn't mean you have to cook it all!  It takes about two hours to eat a big Christmas feast but hours and even days of prep work ahead of time to pull it all off.  Most people have one dish they're good at so let them bring it.  And don't forget to enlist your kids!  If your kids can handle texting or video game controllers they can help make cookies, peel potatoes or set the table.  If someone offers to bake or buy some pies LET THEM!
2. Expect the unexpected 
  • The holidays are all about family so that automatically means a little ca-razy drama and chaos will ensue.  With my extended family of 19 (including 10 kids), plus a few extras and four dogs racing around there is not a lot of peace to be had per se but there's a whole lot of noise, laughs and food!  People are there to see you, not rate the cleanliness of your house or whether there are *gasp!* two green sparkly balls beside each other on your tree - oh the horror!!  Expecting the crazy makes it a little less scary when it happens.

3. Let go of perfection
  • A perfectly clean house is great (and practically impossible) but so is not losing your ever loving mind right before guests arrive.  The holidays are meant to be fun for everyone ... yes, even Mom.  Will people pat you on the back because you spent two hours engraving personalized name cards out of paper you made yourself?  Um, probably not.  Will they wax poetic about your perfectly washed floors and lack of dust bunnies?  Nope again!
From: Clipartkid

The way I see it you have four options in regards to the cleanliness of your house.  
  1. Get stressed out over the fingerprints, mismatched hand towels in the powder room and toys in the family room etc (not the preferred option).  
  2. Enlist your spouse and kids to help to clean the house (even wee ones can put away toys and spouses have been known to clean a window.  I know my guy does a better job than yours truly)
  3. Have a 'good enough' attitude and do your best (and possibly drink enough wine so you don't hear a family member make snide comments about the dust on your buffet or the spots on your stainless fridge).  Do an Elsa and let ... it ... go.
  4. Hire someone to come in and clean a few days before to do the deep cleaning - the floors, bathrooms and windows etc.  That way all you have to do is a quick touch up the day before.  You save your valuable time, you know the job will be done with your high standards and all you have to do is look forward to spending time with your family. 
4. Make gift giving easier and less stressful.
  • Buy for less people.  Set up a gift exchange.  Limit gifts to children after a certain age (we do age 15 as the last year for gifts from Aunts and Uncles).  Or give to charities as a group donation instead of individual gifts. Many of us don't 'need' another pair of PJs or gift card to The Gap.  Keeping our patience and sanity is the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Shop on-line.  You can shop at 2am in your jammies, y'all!!  No traipsing around the mall muttering curses at people who cut you off making you wonder if you have worn your invisibility cloak to the mall.  'I'm WALKING HERE!!'
  • Use an app to keep track of gifts - gift ideas, what you've bought and what you've already wrapped and have under the tree.  I've been using the app The Christmas List for years now.  Keeps me organized and I can archive past years to make sure I don't give the same gift again.
5. Save a tree. 
  • Send out a Christmas email instead of 100 hand written cards or better yet, give people a call to catch up!
6. Keep your to-do list to a minimum.  
  • Does every place setting need a hand carved wooden replica of Rudolph?  No.  Do you need individual place cards engraved with everyone's names?  No, you are not Martha Stewart and no one expects you to be.
7. Take some me time and breathe! You've got this!  Laugh at the unexpected blips in your general plan, enjoy the food that your guests have prepared, relax and enjoy the holiday.
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