Monday, 11 December 2017

Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme Disease

Author: Yolanda Hadid (with Michele Bender)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 302
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: Sept 12, 2017
First Line: "Gigi - For a whole year when I was sixteen years old, I watched my Mom struggle to understand the pain, confusion and symptoms she was experiencing, but that no doctors seemed to have answers for."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills comes an emotional and eye opening behind-the-scenes look at her descent into uncovering the mystery of chronic Lyme disease.
In early 2011, Yolanda was struck by mysterious symptoms including brain fog, severe exhaustion, migraines and more. Over the months and years that followed, she went from being an outspoken, multi-tasking, hands-on mother of three, reality TV star, and social butterfly, to a woman who spent most of her time in bed. Yolanda was turned inside out by some of the country’s top hospitals and doctors, but due to the lack of definitive diagnostic testing, she landed in a dark maze of conflicting medical opinions, where many were quick to treat her symptoms but could never provide clear answers to their possible causes.
In this moving, behind the scenes memoir, Yolanda Hadid opens up in a way she has never been able to in the media before. Suffering from late stage Lyme, a disease that is an undeniable epidemic and more debilitating than anyone realizes, Yolanda had to fight with everything she had to hold onto her life. While her struggle was lived publicly, it impacted her privately in every aspect of her existence, affecting her family, friends and professional prospects. Her perfect marriage became strained and led to divorce. It was the strong bond with her children, Gigi, Bella and Anwar, that provided her greatest motivation to fight through the darkest days of her life. Hers is an emotional narrative and all-important read for anyone unseated by an unexpected catastrophe. With candor, authenticity and an unwavering inner strength, Yolanda reveals intimate details of her journey crisscrossing the world to find answers for herself and two of her children who suffer from Lyme and shares her tireless research into eastern and western medicine. Believe Me is an inspiring lesson in the importance of having courage and hope, even in those moments when you think you can’t go on.
My Rating: 3.5 stars
My ReviewThe reason I picked up this book wasn't due to Yolanda's celebrity (I've never seen her TV show, Housewives of Beverly Hills) but because my niece, who is now 17 years old, has suffered from Lyme disease for 4 years. I saw much of my niece's story in Yolanda's -- medical professionals not taking her symptoms seriously, misdiagnosing, various treatments (including both going to the Sponaugle clinic in Florida) and some people thinking it's all in their heads. I'm talking about severe joint and muscle pain, brain fog, sight problems, fevers, losing the ability to walk, debilitating migraines ... It's one thing to be sick, but to add people doubting your daily pain is a whole other level of suffering.
One of Hadid's goals was to raise awareness about Lyme's Disease. Many people have heard of Lyme, may even know someone with it, but still don't have a good understanding about the different symptoms, the severity of the symptoms or treatment options. With this goal in mind, Hadid has done wonders for the Lyme community bursting open the door on this invisible, and often, life-altering illness. She has put a face to the illness and, with the help of her TV show, has shown the devastating, crippling, painful and sadly, long-lasting effects of Lyme disease. Lyme isn't a simple disease and is often accompanied by other ailments which often makes diagnosis difficult.
Throughout the book it was obvious that Hadid is a doting and loving mother who puts her children's lives first. They adore her and she them and that was touching. Her husband David Foster didn't fare so well in her recounting of events and if they are accurate (he didn't share his POV in the book) he should be ashamed of himself.
I give this book high marks for bringing much needed awareness and for Hadid bravely sharing her ups and her low, low, lows with her readers. But where my rating falters is in the length. Much of the book is about the numerous treatment options that Hadid went through - most not financially feasible for regular people without Hollywood bank accounts. Some treatments were sketchy, some were odd, and others helped but with each passing year you could see just how desperate she was to get well. This is where the book was overly long for me, but I can see how people suffering from Lyme may get more out of the many treatment options.
Overall, I applaud Yolanda Hadid for informing the public about the severity of this disease and how it is all-encompassing for those afflicted and their loved ones. My hope is that the medical communities (and insurance companies) will see the necessity to focus on successful diagnosis and better, long-term protocols to beat this invisible epidemic.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Feeding My Mother

Author: Jann Arden
Genre: Memoir, Cookbook, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: November 21, 2017
First Line: "I remember the first day it happened."

Book Description from GoodReadsBased on her hugely popular Facebook posts and Instagram photos, Feeding My Mother is a frank, funny, inspirational and piercingly honest account of the transformation in Jann Arden's life that has turned her into the primary "parent" to her mom, who is in the grip of Alzheimer's.

Jann Arden moved in to a house just across the way from her parents in rural Alberta to be close to them but also so they could be her refuge from the demands of the music business and a performing career. Funny how time works. Since her dad died in 2015, Jann cooks for her mom five or six times a week. Her mom finds comfort in her daughter's kitchen, not just in the delicious food but also just sitting with her as she cooks. And Jann finds some peace in caring for her mom, even as her mom slowly becomes a stranger. "If you told me two years ago that I'd be here," Jann writes, "I wouldn't have believed it. And yet we still fall into so much laughter, feel so much insane gladness and joy. It's such a contrast from one minute to the next and it teaches me constantly: it makes me stronger and more humble and more empathetic and caring and kind." 

The many people who are dealing with a loved one who is losing it will find inspiration and strength in Jann's wholehearted, loving response and her totally Jann take on the upside-down world of a daughter mothering her mother. Feeding My Mother is one heck of an affirmation that life just keeps on keeping on, and a wonderful example of how you have to roll with it.

Disclaimer: This book was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: When I think of Jann Arden I think of one of my favourite singer/songwriters who also has an awesome sense of humour. She seems like a regular Canadian gal who just happens to have a cool job. I have enjoyed seeing her perform live twice, currently have her Christmas album on repeat and continue to be entertained by her funny tidbits on social media. 

As a songwriter Jann is used to sharing her feelings but this time she makes it even more personal. With this memoir/cookbook, she takes us into her home and opens up about her relationship with her parents, especially her mother as she struggles with Alzheimer's. Jann is candid about her feelings and anyone who has had a loved one with Alzheimer's will empathize with Jann's feelings of helplessness, frustration, fear and sadness. But Jann (and her mother) also show their unrelenting spirit to persevere and find love and laughs in even the smallest of moments. Hopefully readers who have experienced Alzheimer's in their families will find a sense of healing, validation and comfort reading this book.  But it is equally important for those not yet touched by dementia/Alzheimer's as it gives a candid look at how this disease encompasses the entire family.

Feeding My Mother is a touching and inspiring read that chronicles the Arden family's journey with Alzheimer's. Along with some of her favourite recipes, this book is filled with hope and the importance of perseverance and is told with heart, honesty and her signature Canadian humour. 

Favourite Quotes: "I corrected her once and then caught myself when she was talking about it again: why do I need to tell her where she is and what she is on? I have to stop being the memory police, stop needing to be right all the time. It's exhausting and completely selfish." 

"Mom said to me the other day, "You always seem mad at me, Jann. .. " I died a little inside after she let that sentence fall out of her mouth. I told her I wasn't mad, that I was just caught off guard with this new version of her."

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Next Year in Havana

Author: Chanel Cleeton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "Elisa - Havana, 1959: "How long will we be gone?" my sister Maria asks."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

DisclaimerThis digital ARC was generously provided to me by Penguin Random House Canada via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewNext Year in Havana follows the lives of two women – Elisa Perez, a nineteen-year-old Cuban debutante in the 1950’s and Marisol Ferrera, her American granddaughter who, decades later, travels to Cuba for the first time to fulfill Elisa’s dying wish.

The author draws from her own family’s experiences as Cuban expatriates (her own family fled Cuba in 1967) and her deep connection with Cuba is evident by her vivid descriptions of settings, culture, Cuba’s turbulent history and its people. The story is told with dual timelines and while both story lines have romantic elements, it was the political uncertainty and strength of the Cuban people that made the biggest impression on me. I found the romantic side of things sweet but less compelling (mainly due to a mild case of Insta-Love).

The descriptions of life in Cuba in both eras will be eye-opening for many readers. The actions of Batista and Castro were violent and merciless, and life was often harsh for Cubans - which included regular food shortages, strict governmental control and violent retribution for those who didn't follow the rules. Readers will also see that life continues to be a struggle for many Cubans today. There is a shocking dichotomy between the Cuba that tourists experience and daily life for Cuban citizens and I appreciate that this issue was addressed in this book. 

Next Year in Havana is an impressive debut and a beautiful tribute to Cuba. Cleeton has blended historical facts within a compelling fictional story that is both atmospheric and evocative. This sweeping sage will engage readers with Cuban history, romance and a touch of suspense as it deals with issues of identity, family and sacrifice making it a perfect choice for fans of Historical Fiction.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Little Broken Things

Author: Nicole Baart
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 368
Source: TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: November 21, 2017
First Line: "The little girl's hair is fine as cornsilk."

Book Description from GoodReads“If you liked Big Little Lies, you’ll want to crack open this new novel by Nicole Baart.” —Southern Living

An engrossing and suspenseful novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Amy Hatvany about an affluent suburban family whose carefully constructed facade starts to come apart with the unexpected arrival of an endangered young girl.

I have something for you. When Quinn Cruz receives that cryptic text message from her older sister Nora, she doesn’t think much of it. They haven’t seen each other in nearly a year and thanks to Nora’s fierce aloofness, their relationship consists mostly of infrequent phone calls and an occasional email or text. But when a haunted Nora shows up at the lake near Quinn's house just hours later, a chain reaction is set into motion that will change both of their lives forever.

Nora’s “something” is more shocking than Quinn could have ever imagined: a little girl, cowering, wide-eyed, and tight-lipped. Nora hands her over to Quinn with instructions to keep her safe, and not to utter a word about the child to anyone, especially not their buttoned-up mother who seems determined to pretend everything is perfect. But before Quinn can ask even one of the million questions swirling around her head, Nora disappears, and Quinn finds herself the unlikely caretaker of a girl introduced simply as Lucy.

While Quinn struggles to honor her sister’s desperate request and care for the lost, scared Lucy, she fears that Nora may have gotten involved in something way over her head—something that will threaten them all. But Quinn’s worries are nothing compared to the firestorm that Nora is facing. It’s a matter of life and death, of family and freedom, and ultimately, about the lengths a woman will go to protect the ones she loves.

My Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided to me by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewLittle Broken Things is a domestic drama that reveals secrets and angst-filled drama within a dysfunctional family.

I enjoyed the tension surrounding the identity of a certain character and how the story was told by multiple points of view. But for a book that's deemed a suspense read, Little Broken Things was weak with its predictability (right up to the expected ending). 

This family drama has darker subjects, complete with a nefarious 'baddie', but even with these issues it continued to feel like a 'lighter family drama with a side of suspense'. While the topics were interesting, I didn't feel that the issues were explored enough and the writing suffered from the dreaded 'too much telling and not enough showing' issue. It's in the showing that I connect with characters.

Overall, this domestic drama was an easy read that brings up serious familial issues but I didn't find it as suspenseful as I was expecting based on its blurb (which likened it to Liane Moriarty's work). For readers who enjoy a lighter read that still approaches some big issues fraught with family drama this may be a book for you.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Cottingley Secret

Author: Hazel Gaynor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "Cottingley, Yorkshire - August 1921 - Fairies will not be rushed."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

My Rating: 3 stars

My ReviewThis light, character-driven read is based on the 1917 true story of two English girls who had photographic proof that they had seen fairies near their home. When you add in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's involvement (which sadly ends up being minimal) you have an intriguing idea for a book!

The story is told via dual narratives - Frances Griffiths in 1917 and Olivia Kavanagh one hundred years later - and I had mixed feelings about both. Olivia's story was overly saccharine at times and predictable, especially with her fiancĂ© who was a one-dimensional caricature of a shallow guy. What saved her part of the story for me was the used bookshop setting (swoon!) and how her story line connected with the fairy plot. Frances' side of things had an interesting premise, but I don't feel the fairies aspect and how easily everyone believed in the story was explored enough. Overall, I found the telling of both sides of the story long-winded.

I was initially interested in the magical aspect of this book, but I was also eager for a historical mystery surrounding the alleged sighting of fairies. Unfortunately, readers are privy to the real story from the beginning so the 'mystery' aspect fell flat. 

This is a hard book to rate. I liked the premise but didn't love this book nearly as much as other readers. It had a lot of promise but I wasn't fond of the execution of the story, nor did I feel as engaged in either the story or characters as I thought I would be. This story is about the magic people needed to believe in during and after the devastation of WWI and while I liked that it was based in fact and well researched, overall this was just an okay read for me.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

If There's No Tomorrow

Author: Jennifer L Armentrout
Genre: Teen Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 376
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "I couldn't move and everything hurt -- my skin felt stretched too tight, muscles burned like they'd been lit on fire, and my bones ached deep into the marrow."

Book Description from GoodReadsLena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially at the start of her senior year. She's ready to pack in as much friend time as possible, to finish college applications and to maybe let her childhood best friend Sebastian know how she really feels about him. For Lena, the upcoming year is going to be epic—one of opportunities and chances. 
Until one choice, one moment, destroys everything. 
Now Lena isn't looking forward to tomorrow. Not when friend time may never be the same. Not when college applications feel all but impossible. Not when Sebastian might never forgive her for what happened. 
For what she let happen. 
With the guilt growing each day, Lena knows that her only hope is to move on. But how can she move on when her and her friends' entire existences have been redefined? How can she move on when tomorrow isn't even guaranteed?
My Rating: 3 stars
My Review: This was my first Armentrout read and I wasn't sure what to expect. If There's No Tomorrow quickly dives into some weighty subjects but is balanced by a sweet (at times, leaning towards cheesy) relationship between Lena and the boy she's had a crush on pretty much her whole life. 
While I liked the 'Dawson's Creek-esque' relationship, the depth of emotion and the general story line fell a little flat for me. I applaud Armentrout for bringing up emotional and timely subjects but I'm not sure they were handled as well as they could have been.
What I particularly liked was how Armentrout focused on the idea of 'good people making bad decisions' and the impact one small decision can make. But I felt that Lena (and the reader) got tangled up in her feelings of guilt, loss and grief for too long with issues being rehashed over and over. Once Lena understood her feelings better, the ending was rather quick, leaving the reader without enough closure. An epilogue would have been a great addition.
Overall, this was a sweet love story that is surrounded by big issues. This was a good book, but it didn't reach the 'great' level for a few reasons. This story will hopefully give readers important food for thought and has some emotional impact as readers see Lena struggle with her feelings. I guess I just wanted a little bit more.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk

Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Genre: Historical Mystery
Series: #1 in the Anna Blanc series
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 306
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
First Published: November 14, 2017
First Line: "Los Angeles, California 1908 - Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man."

Book Description from GoodReadsLos Angeles, 1908. In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former boyfriend, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. Her lover has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese. Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. So does good-looking Mr. Jones, a prominent Chinese leader who has mixed feelings about helping the LAPD and about Anna. 
Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fueling existing tensions. They are poised on the verge of a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger. 
Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family's sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the author's publicist in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: Ever since I read the first Anna Blanc book two years ago I've been itching to read the next book in this historical mystery series. Anna set herself apart from other main characters - she was sassy and ahead of her time in terms of women's right to choose what they want to do with their lives. This series is a mystery, with sides of humour and romance, set in 1908 Los Angeles. But 1908 wasn't a good era to be Anna Blanc, an impulsive debutante who wasn't satisfied to follow the expected plan for a woman of her standing. She didn't want to be a man's wife if it meant that she couldn't follow her dream of being a police matron.

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk is the second book in the Anna Blanc historical mystery series and it opens with an amazing, attention-grabbing first line 

"Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down 
Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man."

This time around, the humour is downplayed slightly but readers will still see Anna's spunky personality as she and Detective Joe Singer try to figure out their relationship and solve the murder of a young woman found in a trunk in Los Angeles' Chinatown. 

Within the story, Kincheloe addresses the racial tensions and outright discrimination against the Chinese population and continues to show the restrictions set upon women of the time. Her descriptions were eye-opening, and I appreciated the research involved to bring this era and setting to life.

While I enjoyed this book, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first book. The romance element lacked tension and the mystery, while detailed and twisty, wasn't as intriguing as I had expected (especially their romp in the wilderness).  

Overall, this was a solid follow-up to one of my favourite debut mystery series. It is well researched with a unique setting and main character.  Anna's signature sass and compunction to get into trouble are in the forefront and I look forward to seeing what new scrapes she can get herself into.  

Note: I highly recommend starting this series with The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Murder For The Books

Author: Victoria Gilbert
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Type: e-book
Series: #1 in the Blue Ridge Library series
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
First Published: December 12, 2017
First Line: "Anyone who claims there are no stupid questions has never worked in a public library."

Book Description from GoodReadsFleeing a disastrous love affair, university librarian Amy Webber moves in with her aunt in a quiet, historic mountain town in Virginia. She quickly busies herself with managing a charming public library that requires all her attention with its severe lack of funds and overabundance of eccentric patrons. The last thing she needs is a new, available neighbor whose charm lures her into trouble.

Dancer-turned-teacher and choreographer Richard Muir inherited the farmhouse next door from his great-uncle, Paul Dassin. But town folklore claims the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife, who was an outsider. It quickly became water under the bridge, until she vanished after her sensational 1925 murder trial. Determined to clear the name of the woman his great-uncle loved, Richard implores Amy to help him investigate the case. Amy is skeptical until their research raises questions about the culpability of the town’s leading families... including her own.

When inexplicable murders plunge the quiet town into chaos, Amy and Richard must crack open the books to reveal a cruel conspiracy and lay a turbulent past to rest in A Murder for the Books, the first installment of Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: This is the first book in a new Cozy Mystery series and as a Library Assistant myself I enjoyed that the main character is a librarian. I appreciated that Gilbert realistically showed what life can be like for library staff -- quirky patrons, the library as a community space where library staff aren't pinched-faced shushers but instead love books and want to share their knowledge of researching and the library's numerous services with the public etc. Libraries are cool, y'all!!

There is a good mystery here and it was more complex than I was expecting. Actually, there's not one but three mysteries, in two time frames, that are being solved! This raised this book up to a Cozy Mystery 2.0 designation - it has all the makings of a typical Cozy but with the additional mysteries and the tension at the end it gives readers a little something more.

The writing was good (if overly descriptive at times) and I think this was a solid start to a new series. There are a lot of characters to keep track of which became a little messy and convoluted figuring out how people were related to each other. But within this group, Gilbert gives her readers a gaggle of shady characters, each of whom could plausibly be the culprit, to keep her readers guessing. There is a romance (but of course!) but I wasn't quite as smitten with it as the characters were with each other. It had an Insta-Love vibe and smelled strongly of fromage. I think the story could have easily done without it.

While the book felt a little sluggish in the beginning the energy ramps up considerably in the end for a solid conclusion. Overall, this was a good start to a new series with a solid community of characters, a nice small town feel and a main character who can get into enough scrapes to keep things interesting. Readers are also left with some questions regarding certain secondary characters which could prove to be good fodder for future story lines.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
First Published: April 11, 2017
First Line: "I'm on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and wondering how mermaids pee."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: The Upside of Unrequited focuses on teenage Molly who feels that she's constantly struggling not be left behind by her twin sister and friends when it comes to the teenage experience. Not all teens sail through those years unscathed and it was refreshing to see how her anxiety and insecurity wasn't handled by those around her with derision or shame. Molly is how she is and they accept her but encourage her to step out and try new things.

The story itself is simple and focused on the relationships, which ranged from quirky and humourous to compelling and heartwarming. Molly is blessed with a good support system of friends, co-workers and family who are a lovely and diverse bunch in terms of race, age and sexual orientation. 

I loved that LGBTQ relationships aren't highlighted for their uniqueness but because they represent many friends and families out there. Albertalli shows a regular ol' family who just happens to have two moms and these moms aren't relegated to the far reaches of the story but are an important support system for their kids. How unique! Molly's relationships with her moms, outspoken grandma and twin sister were wonderfully complicated and I think that Albertalli handled the sister bond well. As the older of three sisters I can attest to the fact that the sister bond can be complicated, awesome, frustrating, hilarious, sprinkled with jealousy and competition and be supportive - sometimes all within the same day. It's a lovely, messy and important bond and it felt authentic.

Along with the teen angst and relationships, many issues are addressed such as teen sex, body image (yay Molly for being a 'bigger girl' and still enjoying food!), underage drinking and mental health (albeit not in a great amount of depth). 

The teenage years can be confusing and overwhelming and Albertalli focuses on the anxiety that some teens feel. But, sometimes Molly's low self-esteem was hard to read and it her inability to speak up for herself was frustrating when a little conversation could have cleared things up. But I'm speaking as someone who is a couple decades removed from teenage angst and while I think her anxiety explained some of her inability to speak up for herself it felt like her 'should I?/shouldn't I?' went on for a little too long.  

Overall, this was an enjoyable and entertaining read. It has a nice amount of quirkiness (I do love me some quirk), sweet romances, a relatable character, humour and focuses on various relationships and issues facing teens. And it also features the life-altering importance of Cadbury Mini Eggs. You gotta love that. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Pumpkin Pie Trifle

For Canadian Thanksgiving a month ago, I decided to bring a dessert to share with the 20 of us. But I wanted something different. Something everyone would like. 

And something easy.  

Growing up we always looked forward to my Aunt Jean's trifle.  Mmmm.  Cake, pudding, whipped cream and fruit.  Deeelish.  Sounds perfect!

It feels like there's an unwritten rule that a certain percentage of all food/beverages made/consumed within September to November must contain pumpkin spice (or at least it feels that way).  If this is the case, then at least I could rest easy because this Pumpkin Pie Trifle fit the bill. Phew!

Since we were celebrating Thanksgiving at the family cottage I didn't want to be baking while everyone was having fun hanging out so I baked the cake at home. This left me with only having to make the pudding and putting it all together at the cottage surrounded by all the family chaos fun time. Putting it all together was easy breezy, but I was left with quite a bit of leftover pudding and even some cake. Luckily, I had some help from the kids and we were able to polish off some of the excess in our post-trifle building glory. Kids are always great helpers, aren't they? The next time I make this I may try with only one box of pudding.

This trifle was a hit from the 8-year olds to the oldies because you can't go wrong with something that tastes like pumpkin pie.  You just can't.

With American Thanksgiving soon upon my American readers I thought I'd post this recipe in time for your long weekend but honestly, this is something that can be enjoyed year-round and tweaked according to your tastes, cake/pudding flavours/fruit that are available.

1 (515g) spice cake mix (and ingredients to make it)
4 cups milk
2 pkgs (99g/4oz -- 4 servings) butterscotch instant pudding mix
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
15 oz pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 (12oz) carton of frozen whipped topping, thawed

Garnish - pumpkin pie spice

Prepare spice cake in a 9x13-inch pan according to package instructions. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely.

Cut cake into small, bite-sized pieces. Crumble enough cake cubes to make 2 tbsp of crumbs and set aside the pieces and crumbs.

In a large bowl, combine pudding mix, milk and pumpkin pie spice and mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or until pudding begins to thicken.  Fold in pumpkin.

In a 3.5 quart trifle bowl complete the following layers:
- 1/3 cake cubes
- 1/2 pudding mixture
- 1/3 cake cubes
- 1/2 of the whipped topping
- 1/3 cake cubes
- 1/2 pudding mixture
- 1/2 of the whipped topping

Sprinkle with the reserved crumbled cake crumbs and lightly sprinkle, if desired, with some pumpkin pie spice.

Refrigerate until serving.  Store uneaten portions (who's kidding who, there will be no leftovers) in the fridge.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Inspired by: Pumpkin-Butterscotch Gingerbread Trifle Recipe

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