Review | The Third Mrs Durst, Ann Aguirre

41091207This was such a fun and satisfying read. Marlena Durst’s husband Michael is an all-too-familiar figure — the ultra wealthy man looking for a trophy wife whom he can mould into exactly the specifications he wants. He selects Marlena because she’s poor and vulnerable, and therefore possibly just desperate enough to fulfil his every whim. His rules are extreme yet unfortunately believable — they include crafting an entirely fictional childhood in Croatia, agreeing to stay indoors under guard until he invites her to go out, dressing in the fancy outfits he buys her, and behaving in such a way that leaves no doubt she is absolutely, positively not flirting with another man.

Yet from the beginning, we know that Marlena isn’t a helpless innocent who’d been sucked into Michael’s world. Having fought and scrapped her way from extreme poverty, she planned to put herself on Michael’s radar and use his wealth to build herself a better life. So while this book does set off my trigger warning alarm bells vis-a-vis domestic abuse, from the beginning, it’s also set up to be an immensely satisfying cat and mouse game, where I was cheering like hell for Marlena to succeed.

The only snag is that once Marlena does become Michael’s wife, Aguirre gives us little hint of her big plan to escape. Marlena tells us often that she’s playing the long game, but we barely see what that long game could be. We learn that Marlena needs her bodyguard to fall in love with her, but we don’t quite know why, and a bodyguard’s support is a somewhat flimsy base for the plans of someone as intelligent and cunning as Marlena. Later on, we learn that she’s tried to look through Michael’s office files, but we don’t actually see her doing so (or if we did, it wasn’t significant enough for me to remember), nor do we know exactly what she’s planning (vs merely hoping) to find.

This lack of transparency does pay off in the (immensely satisfying) ending, but I admit it was a bit of a letdown, especially after we’ve seen how masterful a schemer Marlena was before her marriage. As it was, when things get really bad — to the point that the book honestly became difficult to read — I ended up hitting a point where I doubted she ever really had a plan at all and feared that this was going to be a tragic story of abuse. Marlena deserved better, and I wish we’d seen more of her cat-and-mouse strategy along the way.

Still, overall, this is an exciting and satisfying read. I loved Marlena and her backstory, and with Michael, Aguirre has given us a villain we could truly, fully detest.


Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Star-Crossed, Minnie Darke

41642612Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke is a cute, light-hearted romance about what could happen when you mess around with the stars. Justine (Sagittarius and skeptic) is a copy manager at the Alexandria Park Star, who runs into her childhood friend and longtime crush Nick (Aquarius and true believer) in the market and realizes this could be her second chance at love. Nick lives by his horoscope, and pays particularly close attention to the advice of Leo Thornbury, the Alexandria Park Star astrologer who always faxes his column in and never checks to see what actually makes it to print. So Justine figures it wouldn’t be a big deal to make a few tweaks to the Aquarius horoscope and convince Nick that she’s really his romantic destiny. Except horoscopes are open to interpretation, and the messages that Nick gets aren’t quite what Justine intends.

Minnie Darke’s author bio says that she “wrote this book to amuse herself and to entertain you,” and indeed this novel is just sheer fun from cover to cover. Darke takes a lighthearted, yet never disrespectful, approach to astrology. The novel shows us how we shape our own future happiness, yet also seriously ponders the question of whether our destiny has been predetermined after all, however winding and twisted the path it takes to get there.

Justine’s tampering with the horoscope leads to a comedy of errors, each misadventure funnier and more entertaining than the one before. Near the beginning of the novel, Nick is planning to give Justine a call when he reads the horoscope Justine wrote, which suggests he revisit his past. Justine meant it as a reference to the romantic evening they had as teenagers, but Nick sees it as a suggestion to give another ex-girlfriend a chance. As a reader, you cringe on Justine’s behalf, then eagerly anticipate all the potentially hilarious mishaps that could happen next. Through it all, the novel maintains a light tone and romantic comedy feel, keeping us reassured throughout that, regardless of all the many obstacles that’ll pop up, we’ll somehow still end up with a happy ending.

Justine and Nick are both quirky, interesting characters. Justine is a total grammar nerd who corrects restaurant menus and always crosses out the ‘d’ in the handwritten ‘Advocado’ sign at the market. Nick is an actor who lands a role as Romeo, and is struggling with the decision of whether he should take a more practical approach to his career. I like how well-suited they are for each other, and how good they are as friends beyond the romantic attraction.

I also like how the story touches on other Aquarians who read Justine’s horoscopes and have their lives altered as well. Many of these characters end up playing a role in each others’ stories, further emphasizing the sense that lives are interconnected and quite possibly directed by the movement of the stars. A romantic subplot involving 12 boxes of Prince Charles and Princess Diana wedding china is absolutely adorable and in some ways even more captivating than the main romance. And a subplot involving a one-eyed terrier is utterly heartwarming, and makes you just fall in love with him.

Overall, Star-Crossed is a fantastic summer read, a quick and fun romantic comedy that will make you curious about what your own horoscope holds.


Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



Review | How to Hack a Heartbreak, Kristin Rockaway

41887423How to Hack a Heartbreak is a fun, feel-good, kickass girl power, romantic comedy. It stars Mel Strickland, a help desk tech at start-up incubator Hatch, where all the entitled techie dudebros make her work life a living hell. Her romantic life isn’t much better, filled with unsolicited dick pics and online dating misadventures that many single women today will find all too relatable.

Enter JerkAlert, an app Mel designs as a fun act of self-care one evening that goes viral overnight, thanks mostly to Mel’s PR maven BFF Whitney. A single woman’s answer to dating app Fluttr, JerkAlert allows women to post about harassers and abusers in the online dating sphere.

Enter as well Alex, the only non-dudebro at Hatch who is also handsome and sweet and very much attracted to Mel. She’s falling for him as well, but also cautious — after her father’s infidelity and her own string of dating disasters, she fears Alex is too good to be true, and often jumps to worst case scenario conclusions when they’re together.

The romance between Mel and Alex is sweet, and Alex is a Prince Charming type hero straight out of a heartwarming romance, but this part of the plot almost took a backseat to the subplot about Mel’s career. She is clearly underemployed at Hatch, and the success of JerkAlert pushes her to realize that she’s worth so much more professionally than her current role and work environment lead her to believe. The environment at Hatch is horribly sexist yet also sadly realistic, and I can imagine Mel’s story resonating with a lot of women in tech.

Most of all, I love how much of a focus there was on Mel’s friendships with other women. All of her BFFs, and even her roommate, are talented professionals in various fields, and when they all banded together to help Mel achieve a triumphant victory, I felt like cheering out loud. It was like the Avengers of career women, and so incredibly heartwarming, especially in contrast to the dudebro toxicity of Hatch. Hell yeah to girl power and to the power of female friendships!

Overall, How to Hack a Heartbreak is an empowering and immensely satisfying read. It’s pure hell to the yeah girl power energy, filled with strong women and strong female friendships, and all wrapped up in a fun and lighthearted women’s fiction romantic comedy. It’s Sex and the City for the #MeToo generation, for women in tech and women looking for change in the online dating world. And above all, it’s a helluva fun read. I highly recommend it.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.