Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: The Perfect Summer Read: The Blue by Lucy Clarke

Back in 2013 I was introduced to Lucy Clarke and her first novel, Swimming at Night, by the Bookalicious Book Club. Since then, I've been her biggest fan. Well, at the very least, her biggest Canadian fan. Not only is Clarke's writing impeccable, but from the chat the book club had with her, her replies to readers and posts on social media, she just seems so down to earth and lovely! I hope she doesn't think I'm nuts because I do follow her closely on social media and often comment. Altough, after I read Lucy's literary love letter to author, Maggie O'Farrell, I felt much better about my own author crush ;).

I've been thinking a lot about what I love so much about Lucy Clarke's books (three in total, all from publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada – Swimming at Night, A Single Breath, and now, The Blue) and I've narrowed it down to a few things.

First, her characters are very real. They are people you might know or encounter in your own life. They are “normal”, likable and I become attached to them as I read. With each of her novels, I haven't wanted the stories to end because I want – no, NEED – to know what happens next in their lives. That's how real the characters become to me.

The second aspect of Lucy Clarke's writing that draws me in is how her stories are so raw with emotion. I truly feel what the characters are going through; I am in the moment with them. All of her books have taken me on an emotional ride, but in a good way. I became invested in each of the novels and went through myriad emotions as the stories unfolded.

Last, but most certainly not least, I love how Clarke is able to transport you to exotic locales through her words. She paints vivid pictures of the surroundings her characters find themselves in and the settings come alive on the pages. As I read, I can picture the beaches, feel the sand between my toes, see the bright colour of the water, taste the salt air, and feel the breeze blowing against my skin. Reading her novels is like taking a trip around the world as Clarke has clearly done her research and writes about places she's been and knows.

All of the above encapsulates what I loved about The Blue – the characters, the emotion, the setting - a feast for the senses. The Blue is about best friends, Lana and Kitty, both of whom decide to leave home for different reasons, in search of freedom and adventure. While traveling in the Philippines, they meet the crew of a yacht, all of whom have a story or secret. Lana and Kitty are invited to join the crew and the tale unfolds from there.

Here's part of the description from publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada:

Lana and her best friend Kitty leave home looking for freedom—and that’s exactly what they find when they are invited onto The Blue, a fifty-foot yacht making its way from the Philippines to New Zealand. The crew is made up of a group of young travellers bitten by wanderlust, and it doesn’t take long for Lana and Kitty’s dream of sea-bound romance to turn into reality.

Both women fall under the hypnotic spell of The Blue, spending their days exploring remote islands and their rum-filled nights relaxing on deck beneath the stars. But when one of their friends disappears overboard after an argument with another crewmember, the dark secrets that brought each of them aboard start to unravel.

This novel is a well-balanced dose of adventure, romance, betrayal and mystery. It kept me guessing and I actually said, 'WHAT?” and “Ohmygod!”, aloud a few times as the mysteries were revealed. I read this book while at a cottage and it was the perfect beach and summer read. Although, The Blue, and all of Lucy Clarke's books, make the perfect anytime read.

Do these books sound like something you'd like to read? You're in luck! Simon & Schuster Canada is going to give one of my readers a copy of each of Lucy Clarke's books! That's right, ALL THREE of her fabulous books! All you have to do is tell me in a comment which book you are most anxious to read – Swimming at Night, A Single Breath or The Blue. Remember to include your email address so that I can contact you if you win!  GOOD LUCK!


Contest closes at midnight on Friday, August 14th. The draw will be made on Saturday, August 15th using Random.org and the winner will be notified by email. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the email to claim the prize or another winner will be drawn. The odds of winning depend on the number of entries. The winner will be required to answer a skill-testing question to claim their prize. This contest is open to residents of Canada only.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Kelly's Bake Shoppe - Cupcakes and Cookies and Brownies - Oh My!

What if I told you that there was this pretty little bakery in downtown Burlington, Ontario where you could indulge, guilt-free, in the most delicious cupcakes, cookies, brownies and other sweet treats, and... that they were all gluten-free and vegan? Not to mention they are baked using natural, fair trade and organic ingredients (think flower petals, agave, essential oils) and are peanut-free too. And did I mention, absolutely delicious? You'd likely scoff and say something like, “Pfffttt...there's no way gluten-free and vegan desserts can be that good”. Oh yes they can, I say. Yes. They. Can!

Kelly's Bake Shoppe is owned by sensational mother-daughter team Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie. These two are the brains and faces (and beautiful faces, I might add!) behind this oh-so-pretty little slice of heaven on Brant Street. The popularity of the desserts at their vegan restaurant (Lettuce Love Cafe, also located in Burlington), prompted the duo to open a bakery to satisfy the demand for guilt-free desserts of their sweet tooth customers. The bakery took off and is now award-winning, including accolades such as Best Bakery in Burlington, a few times over.

Everything about the bakery is pretty – from the mural on the outside wall, to the d├ęcor inside where you can enjoy a Skinny Cookie (so hearty and yummy!) with a Balzac's coffee, to the pretty pink packaging that the treats come in. I'm a sucker for all things pink and this place makes my heart happy. You may also spot Kelly's Cupcake Bus around Burlington and Hamilton – I saw it just this week! (Insider tip: if you snap a photo of the bus and post it to Instagram or Twitter using hashtags #kellyscupcakebus and #kellystribe, you'll get a FREE cupcake next time you stop by the bakery!)

The menu at Kelly's includes beautiful and decadent cupcakes, donuts, cookies, brownies and so much more. They also offer vegan soft serve to eat in or take home. There are standard cupcake flavours available every day as well as daily and monthly features such as Black Magic, Lemon Raspberry, Pina Colada, Salted Caramel and Rootbeer Float, to name a few.  Kelly's will also bake you a custom cake for any occasion, including weddings. 

In exchange for this blog post, I was given some treats by Kelly's to try. And try I did. The Snickerdoodle cookie barely made it home in the car. I didn't even know I liked Snickerdoodles! I brought the cupcakes and Mile-High Brownie to share at a family birthday party and when I went to take them out of the box at dessert time, there were only crumbs left from the brownie (you know who you are...)! I can only assume that means it was scrumptious. I was already a fan and customer of Kelly's before this opportunity arose, though, and had one of their triple-layer, red velvet cakes for my birthday in April. It was to-die for.

My birthday Instagram post
The cupcakes from Kelly's are hands-down the best I have ever had. The absence of preservatives and artificial ingredients along with the abundance of flavour, sky-high icing and toppings are what make these beauties so incredible. Having dabbled in vegan and/or gluten-free baking myself (with very limited success), I can attest that it is not easy to make delicious desserts that don't taste like they are missing something (“cake-free cake” as my husband has called some of my experiments).  Kelly's has perfected this. 

Next time you're in charming downtown Burlington, why not stop in at Kelly's for a treat while browsing the unique shops or taking a stroll in Spencer Smith Park on Lake Ontario? You won't regret it. Not going to be in the area? Fear not! Kelly's Bake Shoppe will deliver anywhere in the GTA for a $15 flat fee.

Keep doing what you're doing, Kelly and Erinn. Your passion, enthusiasm and incredible desserts are appreciated and loved by many!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor - A Delightful Work of Historical Fiction

Not that long ago, I shied away from reading historical fiction. The genre just didn't appeal to me and I often said that I only like to read books set in the present. This all changed after I devoured two absolutely wonderful novels by Canadian author, Jennifer Robson. My love for the genre was born and I was very happy when Penguin Random House Canada offered me a review copy of Miss Emily. Add in that it was written by an Irish author and one of the main characters is a young Irish girl, new to America, I knew that I would love this book.

Miss Emily is an imagined account of the young adult life of famous American poet, Emily Dickinson. The Dickinson family, a somewhat eclectic bunch, hire 18-year-old Ada Concannon to work in their house as a cook and maid. The novel is told from both Emily's and Ada's perspectives, alternating voices with each chapter. The voice of Emily is prim and proper as you would expect from a young woman who loves words and is born into a highly-esteemed family, while Ada's voice is a bit more down-to-earth and playful. I love novels written this way.

Despite their class differences, Emily and Ada develop a lovely friendship that is so endearing. They share a love of baking and also discover that they share a birthday. The development of this friendship is so delightful that I wanted to read more and I didn't want their story to end.

When crisis falls upon Ada, Emily, who has become a recluse, must face her own fears to help her dear friend. Their friendship is tested and Emily comes to her friend's aid, against her family's wishes. The subject matter of the crisis may be difficult for some, but I felt it was put forth in a respectful and mature manner and was not dwelled upon.

For anyone who loves historical fiction, I recommend picking up Miss Emily for a great summer read. For those new to the genre, this book would be a great introduction. It is not too long, moves at a good pace and has well-developed characters. Having said that, the only fault I could find with this book was that it was not long enough! I look forward to reading more of Nuala O'Connor's books soon.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Children’s Book Review: Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen by Monica Kulling

Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth's Wonder Kitchen from Tundra Books 

About the book:
Born into a life of privilege in 1878, Lillian Moller Gilbreth decided she did not want to live a pampered life, and went to university to pursue adventure and challenge.  Later, she and her husband, Frank, became efficiency experts by studying the actions of factory workers. When Frank suddenly died, Lillian was left to raise their eleven children alone. Eventually, she was hired by the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company to improve kitchen design, which was only the beginning.  Lillian Gilbreth was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the first female psychologist to have a U.S. postage stamp issued in her honor. A leading efficiency expert, she was also an industrial engineer, a psychologist, an author, a professor, and an inventor.

How I have never heard of this amazing woman is beyond me, because she was absolutely incredible! I know that I, personally, benefit daily from some of her discoveries and inventions!  She was the first to study ergonomics, is the reason kitchens are designed the way they are today and even invented such things as the foot-pedal operated garbage can!  Reading about Lillian and all that she accomplished as a widow with eleven children was truly remarkable, especially given the time that she was alive.

I read this book to my 3 year old son and while he sat and listened to the story, I do believe the target audience is quite a bit older. Having said that, I’m sure it was the detailed and beautiful illustrations (by David Parkins) that held my son’s interest so well.  I will definitely hang on to this gem and read it to him again when he’s older, or save for when he can read it himself.  I am now also very interested in picking up more of the Great Ideas Series as they are a great way to teach valuable history lessons in a beautiful, colourful and interesting way.

Would I recommend this book?  Absolutely!  Pick it up for your 6-10 year old. I believe this, and the others in the Great Ideas Series by Kulling, will spark interest in learning more about the remarkable people they tell the stories of.

Thank you, Tundra Books, for sending me a review copy and teaching me something new!



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bubble Bum Inflatable Car Booster Seat - Why isn't this in Canada!?

Friends!  Have you heard about or seen this product - Bubble Bum Inflatable Car Booster Seat?  It's a portable booster seat for kids 4-11 years old or 40-100 pounds.   

I came across this seatbelt positioning booster seat when I was in Florida recently so I bought one!  Have you ever wished you had a booster that you could take with you on vacation, in taxis or in rental cars?  That's exactly what this is designed for. And the price point is great too - only $30 US. 
BubbleBum seats are currently undergoing tests to be approved in Canada, but they meet and exceed all US Federal Motor Vehicle Standards FMVSS213 and the European Regulations EU R44/o4.  I'm sure it's only a matter of time before it's approved for use here in Canada. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to use it before O is of the right age or weight, nor will I use it if it is not approved here, but I will bring it with us if and when we go on a Caribbean or US vacation once he is over 4. 

I really hope that these are approved in Canada soon.  Car safety is so important and the thought of not having a booster for a child while in a taxi or on vacation just makes me cringe. 

What do you think? Would you use it if it was approved here?