Review | The Corner of Holly and Ivy, Debbie Mason

38508760The Corner of Holly and Ivy is a second-chance romance between two former high school sweethearts whose family members are political rivals in their small town. Fair warning that this book is part of a larger series, which doesn’t often matter, but in this case, I wouldn’t recommend reading this one until you’ve read the earlier books. There was so much back story and all so dramatic and seemingly central to the plot (a fire that razed the town’s Main Street, a stalker that menaced the heroine’s cousin, a political dynasty family that has a LOT of subtext-type stories going on) that I found myself lost for a lot of the book. It didn’t help that there was also a large cast of characters, and while I’m sure long-time readers of this series will enjoy seeing familiar faces pop up, since I was coming in cold, I found myself playing catch up far more than I should have had to.

The book is also being marketed as a heartwarming holiday romance, which I think sets up some expectations that the book doesn’t quite meet. There are some holiday scenes, and an adorable holiday cover with a puppy, but the story as a whole doesn’t really have a holiday feel. I also often expect holiday romances to be somewhat lighthearted, and so I was taken aback by how angsty this book felt right from the get-go. The heroine Arianna lost her dress shop in a fire and her injuries are so bad that she can no longer design dresses like she used to, so she’s in a pretty dark psychological place because of that. Part of me appreciated Mason’s deep dive into the very real psychological impacts of losing one’s dream, but at the same time, it’s a bit jarring when you’re expecting something more fluffy.

I do like the emotional complexity of the characters, and how both Arianna and Connor have to deal with some very real issues around family, career and self-esteem. Connor is wonderfully patient and caring, and I love how good he is for Arianna. I also found Arianna’s grandmother hilarious, and would totally read a romance starring her as the heroine.

There are also some elements that require suspension of disbelief. The biggest for me was the town council’s proposed solution to the possibility of a tie at the mayoral election. I see why that solution worked for the plot, and I can just about convince myself that small towns operate with their own rules, but it was a pretty big stretch for me. There’s also a matchmaking ghost who doesn’t really do too much, which makes me wonder if she’s simply a thread tying the whole series together. And finally, as someone who volunteers at a cat rescue, one character’s gesture of surprising another with a puppy struck me more as irresponsible than sweet. If the recipient really doesn’t like puppies, or really isn’t ready to make that level of commitment, it’ll be the puppy who suffers, and while it worked out great in this book, it made me wince.

Still, I really liked the ending. I thought the last few chapters felt really sweet and heartwarming, and I just wish the lead up had been just as enjoyable for me.

This is a good romance. Just make sure you read the earlier books in the series first, and don’t expect the romance to be holiday-themed.


Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Review | The Amish Midwife’s Secret, Rachel J. Good

39384449This is such a sweet romance, about a couple who must make compromises on their ways of life in order to be together. Leah is an Amish midwife who strongly believes in the power of traditional remedies and prayer, and Kyle is a doctor who believes in the latest medical technologies. I love the way their friendship and respect for each other’s abilities as a healer developed slowly over time. Even though they each ultimately have very different approaches to healing, I like that both care about their patients enough to be flexible. Leah is willing to take a patient to a clinic when the situation becomes too serious for traditional cures, and Kyle does his research and learns that there are actually a lot of similarities between Leah’s mixtures and pharmaceutical medicines. I also like that their physical attraction is very much also rooted in mutual respect.

I also love that both have to decide whether their love for each other is worth compromising what they believe they’ve always wanted. Leah is very devoted to her Amish faith, and so marrying an Englischer like Kyle may estrange her from the community she loves. And Kyle has always dreamed of working in a big city hospital, so settling down in a small Amish town may mean having to give up that dream. Leah’s also hiding a secret related to a painful incident in Kyle’s past, though I’m glad that revelation didn’t play out as dramatically as I’d feared.

Overall, The Amish Midwife’s Secret is a sweet, heartwarming romance. Leah and Kyle are, quite simply, good for each other, and you can’t help but wish them on towards a happily ever after.


Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

18 Favourite Books of 2018

As I look back on the books I’ve read this year, I realize how lucky I am to have found or been introduced to so many wonderful titles. Many thanks to all the wonderful publishers who keep us bloggers updated on awesome new titles, and a major thank you as well to the Toronto Public Library for having such a fantastic collection. Did you know you can actually recommend books to the Toronto Library to add to their collection? I’ve had a few recommendations actually added in, which is how I got to read such fantastic works as America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

We see a lot of best-of lists to close off the year, and I thought I’d share some of my favourite reads from 2018. These are the books that made me go “oh my god WOW!” Not necessarily because they’re the best crafted story or the most technically impressive prose, but because they managed to touch my heart. And so full disclosure: this list is unabashedly subjective.

I have a soft spot for reading books by writers who are Asian or of Asian descent, so you may see quite a few of them on this list. If you have a similar interest and are looking for your next great read, check out this list of Asian / Asian descent writers I’ve read this year. I also have a soft spot for animals, and have been enjoying a lot of romance novels this year, and you’ll likely notice a few of those on my list as well.

Beyond that, take a look through my list below, which is in no particular order, and I hope you find one that resonates with you too, and helps you find your next favourite read.

1. The Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

The Wolf is an incredibly gripping and dramatic true story about a super badass wolf, Oh-Six, who fights to survive against human hunters, territorial wolves and natural disasters in Yellowstone National Park. As an animal lover, I was Team Wolf all the way, but I like how Blakeslee balances a wide range of perspectives.

2. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

This is the first romance I’ve read with an autistic heroine (Stella has Asperger’s) and also a very rare romance with an Asian hero (Michael is half-Vietnamese). Stella and Michael felt so real and had all these vulnerabilities that only the other person truly got. Their sexual chemistry was also off-the-charts hot, and Stella’s aversion to being touched actually lends itself to one of the most sensual scenes I’ve ever read.

3. Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

This is a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in a Toronto Muslim community. Khalid’s seeming arrogance is a mix of religious conservatism and social awkwardness. And Ayesha is funny and awesome, a substitute teacher by day and performance poet by night who is more interested in figuring out her career than in finding a husband. Ayesha’s family is hilarious, and her romance with Khalid sweet.

4. Still Me (Me Before You #3) by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes took me on an intense emotional roller coaster with this book. What an incredible cast of characters! I loved the glitzy glamorous world of the Gopniks, which started out hilarious then revealed itself to be much more complex than first glance.

5. No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

This is probably the fastest I’ve ever zipped through an audiobook because I just couldn’t put it down! Jamie is an awesome heroine — a necromancer who realizes she’s more powerful than she originally thought. And Jeremy was my first book crush in the Women of the Otherworld series when I started my Kelley Armstrong fandom with Bitten years ago, so I LOVED seeing him in love here.

6. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel

This just took hold of my heart from the very first moment when Satoru discovers a stray cat lounging on the hood of his silver van. I cried so hard at the ending, and it’s just such a beautiful story about the love and lifelong companionship of a cat and his human. So often, these kinds of books features dogs, so as a cat lover, I can only say: finally!

7. Love at First Run by Angel C. Aquino

This book is very close to my heart, because the writer is a friend and I’m so incredibly proud of her. It’s also a really sweet romance, about a woman who finds love when she joins a running club. Diana and Joshua had adorable chemistry right from the start, and I love how their friendship developed almost effortlessly. I especially love a scene where the scent of ramen, of all things, adds a romantic touch.

8. Moonlight over Manhattan (Book 6 in From Manhattan with Love) by Sarah Morgan

A hot but grumpy doctor and a sweet, shy dog sitter… I love this book so much! I love Harriet, her shyness and her stammer, and her determination to challenge herself. I love Ethan, his kindness and strength, and his struggle to open himself up to love. I was drawn to Harriet even in New York Actually (Book 4, about her brother Daniel), because I found her shyness and insecurity so relatable, and in Moonlight over Manhattan, I love how gently Ethan helps her through it.

I should add that I love Books 4 – 6 in this series overall. Harriet and her siblings Daniel and Fliss grew up with an abusive father who broke their mother’s heart, and I love how their childhoods all impacted their approaches to and experiences of romance.

9. Family Trust by Kathy Wang

Finally — a book to satisfy my post-Crazy Rich Asians cravings! This is a biting yet heartfelt comedy on a wannabe rich Chinese American family in Silicon Valley. It’s a story that feels universal — any rich family can have a similar battle over inheritance — but the Huang family’s ambitions also feel very Silicon Valley, and there are little touches about their experiences that feel uniquely Chinese-American, and first + second generation immigrant.

10. Little Green by Tish Cohen

Cohen has written a story about a marriage undergoing tremendous strain, and then pushed to the breaking point when the unthinkable happens to the couple’s daughter, and I love how real, nuanced and complex the characters and their relationships are. I immersed myself in it on a hot summer’s day, and felt so much for all of the characters.

11. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

This is such a lovely graphic novel, about a prince who secretly likes wearing dresses and the seamstress who designs him the most beautiful gowns. I love Sebastian and Frances’ relationship, and I love this story about pursuing one’s dreams and the need sometimes to put one’s dreams aside to help a friend. At the end of the book, Wang talks about her decision to draw the characters young, and I think that decision added a touch of tenderness and vulnerability to the whole story.

12. Glass Houses by Louise Penny

It’s always a treat to return to Three Pines with Chief Superintendent Gamache and his neighbours. In Glass Houses, Gamache puts everything (his career, his reputation, the peace in his small town) on the line to go after the big game: winning the war on drugs.

13. Into the Wild (Warriors # 1) by Erin Hunter

Warrior cats battling over territory and facing treachery in their own clan! And the hero is a former ‘kitty pet’ who feels the call of nature and joins up with a group of cats in the nearby forest.  It’s fast paced and exciting, with lots of compelling characters to cheer for. And yes. I, an adult woman, practically devoured this middle-grade book and immediately borrowed the next one… and the next… until I finished the entire six book series. It’s just really compelling storytelling, and the best part is there is an entire collection of miniseries to check out within this universe.

14. Bella Figura by Kamin Mohammadi

This is such a lovely, pleasurable read. It makes me want to go spend a year in Florence myself, eat all the delicious and all-natural foods she describes, and live the bella figura way.

15. The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi

I couldn’t put this book down. Faruqi is a gifted storyteller, and has built a beautiful world under the sea. I love the nerdy scientific factoids that popped up randomly and the character of Coralline, a mermaid apothecary who must find a mythical elixir to save her younger brother. This book kept me absolutely captivated the entire time.

16. Convenience Store Woman by Sayata Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

This book is a helluva punch, and it’s so beautifully written — tremendous emotion barely contained by the narrator’s detached language. It’s a wake up call to readers to question our relationship with social norms, and how we respond to people who don’t quite conform to expectations. Can one be happy without being “normal”?

17. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

Hollis’ premise is simple: women spend too much time apologizing for our dreams when we should just own up to them and realize we have every right to prioritize ourselves and our own happiness. Favourite advice: imagine your commitment to your goal as a coffee date with Chris Hemsworth. What will it take to make you give up that date, and why can’t your commitment to yourself be as important? Girl, Stop Apologizing isn’t out till March 2019, but Hollis’ earlier book Girl, Wash Your Face may be just the inspiration you need until then.

18. Merrily Ever After by Jenny Holiday

What happens if, after you achieve your happily ever after, you realize you must break a promise to the man you love? Elise and Jay got married on the understanding that they would never have kids, and when Elise discovers she’s somehow become pregnant, she needs to figure out how that will impact their relationship. I love the raw emotion and honesty in Elise and Jay’s relationship, as well as the super sexy chemistry and deep underlying love that just makes you cheer for them the entire time. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, sexy and heartwarming holiday cheer.