Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: The Girl With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

The Girl With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke
Series: The Balloonmakers #1
Published: September 1st, 2017
Publisher: Albert Whitman Company
256 pages (eARC)
Genre: Young Adult Historical/Science Fiction
Acquired this book: From Netgalley in exchange for honest consideration
Rating: 4.5 stars
Warning: May contain spoilers
GoodReads || Buy the book: Amazon US ~ Canada || Chapters

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

The Girl With the Red Balloon is full of magic, mystery, action, romance, and wonderfully diverse characters. Set in 1988 East Berlin, a year before the Berlin Wall came down, there’s so much history and devastation and love and hope packed into Ellie and Kai and Mitzi’s story.

The book started out a bit slow for me, but when it picked up, I could hardly put it down. The last quarter or so was so exciting I was stabbing at my Kindle pages trying to turn them faster and faster. Locke created a complex story that wove together the lives of several generations of people, from the Holocaust to Cold War Germany where a girl from modern times ends up time traveling via magic balloon.

Whenever I read books that deal with Hitler’s Germany in any way, I realize how little I actually know about the horrors of the Holocaust. The scenes told from Ellie’s grandfather’s perspective, which took place mostly in a ghetto in Poland, left me with a lump in my throat, fighting back tears. I knew even less about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, and the intense oppression and fear people experienced in East Berlin. As I was reading, I kept thinking, ‘this is recent history. This isn’t even 30 years ago. I was alive when this happened’. Considering what’s happening in the world and the fact the US currently has a leader who has frightening resemblances to Hitler, this book is one that got me thinking, researching, and having important conversations with friends.

The Girl With the Red Balloon wasn’t just a story about the atrocities of history, though. It was also a story about friendship, acceptance, love, perseverance, and hope. So much hope. I know this is a story that will stick with me - I read it weeks ago and have thought about it every single day since. I can’t wait to read the next book and see what happens.

Have you read The Girl With the Red Balloon? Do you consider yourself well educated when it comes to the Holocaust and/or the Cold War? Do you enjoy books about time travel?

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Monday, October 16, 2017

4 Steps to Planning the Perfect Fall Party

Autumn is the perfect time to throw a party. You have so many options with themes, plus it’s that perfect ‘in between’ time - people aren’t as busy as they are in the summer with travel, family activities, and the desire to be outdoors all the time, and the Christmas rush hasn’t started yet, with its endless parties and get-togethers, shopping, and other things associated with the holiday season.

If you’re throwing a party this autumn and need some help, here are four steps to planning the perfect fall party.

1. Decide on a theme
There are countless options for themes for fall parties. If one doesn’t immediately come to mind, here are a few to get the creative juices flowing:
  • General fall theme ~ If you simply want to host a get-together for friends or family, a basic autumnal theme is sure to be a hit.   
  • Thanksgiving gathering ~ Most people have family obligations around Thanksgiving, but for those who don’t have family, or for tight-knit groups of friends, Thanksgiving is a great time to get together. You can do a traditional dinner or something completely different, like a potluck or buffet of everyone’s favourite foods.
  • Viewing party ~ Most TV shows start back up in September and October. If you have a group of friends who love a specific show, throw a viewing party themed around that show. You could also do a marathon or best-of rewatch of your favourite shows.
  • Sports-themed party ~ Similar to the viewing party, you could host a fall sport-themed party. You could have people over while a big hockey or football game is on TV, or go all out with a theme specific to your favourite team.
  • Oktoberfest party ~ Get down Bavarian style with plenty of German food and beer, music, and even traditional outfits. Take advantage of the weather before winter sets in and fire up your barbecue to grill some bratwurst.
  • Halloween party ~ This is probably the most obvious party to have in the fall, and one of the most fun, too! There are endless choices for Halloween parties: children’s parties, costume parties, haunted houses, specific themes like Harry Potter - the list goes on and on.

2. Plan your menu
What kind of food will you serve at your gathering? Will you have a fancy sit-down dinner? Potluck where everyone brings a dish? Buffet-style where you provide the food? Will it be casual or fine dining? Chips and dip or gourmet appetizers? If your party is a specific theme, it’s a good idea to plan your food around that theme; for example, if you choose a general autumnal theme, you could do flavours like apple and pumpkin. If it’s a party for children or if it’s a mixture of adults and children, don’t forget about food that appeals to kids and is easy for them to eat.

Once you have the food under control, it’s time to think about drinks. Will you be serving wine? Cocktails? Beer or spirits? Will you have a self-serve bar set up, pre-made drinks, or will you or someone else be playing bartender for the event? Is it BYOB? Is it a completely alcohol-free party? For parties with alcohol, don’t forget the non-alcoholic beverages for those who choose not to drink: punch, water, sparkling drinks, etc.

Something important to take into consideration when planning your menu is food allergies and aversions. It never hurts to ask your guests about allergies like gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, etc., and don’t forget to account for vegetarians or vegans!

3. Decorate for the party
One of the reasons I love the idea of hosting a party in the fall is because the decorating options are endless. If you’re going with a fall or Thanksgiving theme, you can do something simple and elegant with leaves, pumpkins, maize, pine cones, and candles of various sizes. If you’re throwing a Halloween party, you could have fun with decorations ranging from cute to spooky to downright scary, depending on your theme.

Decorations depend largely on your personal style. Some people like to go all out, while others want to keep things minimalistic and focus more on the food and drink. There’s no right or wrong here; do what works for you, and also what fits into your budget.

4. Make your guest list and send invitations
For some people, a guest list will be obvious. For those with a bigger group of friends or a larger family, it might be harder to decide who to invite. My best bit of advice when it comes to figuring out the guest list for any party: know your audience. If you’re having a Halloween party and costumes are a requirement, not everyone will be interested in dressing up (shocking, right? I’d give anything to go to a fun costume party!). If you’re having an elegant sit-down dinner or cocktail party but a few of your friends prefer more raucous parties with loud music, free-flowing booze, and entertainment, or simply aren’t the type for ‘fancy’ parties, maybe leave them off the guest list this time around.

Once you’ve made the guest list, it’s time to send out invitations. You can send paper invitations in the mail, or if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly way to invite people, you can send out paperless invitations. These days, most people don’t keep invitations the way they used to, which means they likely get thrown out, creating waste this planet just doesn’t need. Sending paperless e-vites not only reduces your carbon footprint, it also makes it easy to keep track of RSVPs. If you’re looking for a wide variety of beautiful invites for every occasion, check out Paperless Post’s invitations. They have dozens of absolutely gorgeous autumn-themed invitations, as well as Halloween invites that range from cute and whimsical to creepy to elegant.

Now that you’ve chosen your theme, created your menu, bought or made your decorations, and sent out invitations, you have all the elements of the perfect fall party! Whichever way you choose to celebrate this beautiful, colourful season, I hope you enjoy the time spent with your family and friends.

This post was written in cooperation with Paperless Post.

What are some of your best party planning tips? If you could host - or attend - any kind of fall party, what theme would it be?

Friday, October 13, 2017

13 Creepy Books to Read This Halloween

How perfect is it that a Friday the 13th falls in October? Now if we’d only had a full moon on Halloween, this month would have been complete!

I have a confession: I’m a total weenie when it comes to scary things. I avoid horror movies and can only read the occasional scary book. Chalk it up to having an overactive imagination, but if I watch or read anything scary, I spend days looking over my shoulder and wondering what’s lurking in the dark. That being said, I have a lifelong love of Halloween, and in October I tend to venture into the territory of creepy, spooky, sometimes even downright scary books (and TV shows). I know a lot of other people do the same, so I figured what better day than Friday the 13th to share some book recommendations.

1. Servants of the Storm by Delilah S Dawson
Hands down the scariest book I’ve ever read. This book was put-it-in-the-freezer scary (if you get that reference, we need to be friends). Set a year after a devastating hurricane sweeps through Savannah, Georgia, leaving a path of destruction and death, the main character begins to realize the hurricane was more than a force of nature, and there are all kinds of horrifying, sinister things lurking in her city...including her best friend, who died the night of the storm.

2. Sweet Madness by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie
A wonderfully creepy retelling of the Lizzie Borden story, told from the perspective of their maid. This book had me wound so tightly from all the tension and mystery; it was like a ghost story, except the things lurking in the shadows were real people and an aura of madness that permeated the entire house.

3. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
If you like ghost stories, this is a must read. It’s spooky, exciting, suspenseful, and gruesome.

4. The Archived by Victoria Schwab
“Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.” Yes, this is absolutely as creepy as it sounds. This book is a unique, haunting story with lots of mystery and action, plus if you’ve ever read a book by Victoria Schwab, you’ll know you’re in for something beautifully and compellingly written.

5. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
When I first heard of this book, I didn’t need any other details besides the title. I’m one of those people with a sick fascination of the Jack the Ripper and that time period in London. This book put a different spin on it in many ways; it’s usually men (police, Sherlock Holmes, hapless wannabe detectives) who are on the hunt for the elusive killer, but in this case, it’s a teenage girl who has an intense interest - and knowledge - of the ‘gruesome practice’ of forensic medicine. And the ending! Completely horrifying, shocking, and amazing.

6. Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
We all know about Jack the Ripper and how he terrorized London in the late 1800s, right? But did you know during the same time, there was another serial killer on the loose, one who chopped women into bits and threw their torsos in the Thames? As gruesome as these murders were, they were overshadowed by the media sensation caused by the Ripper. This book, though, focuses on the Thames Torso Killer. It's dark, gritty, and fast-paced, and weaves together the supernatural with horror and mystery, all with a backdrop of the shadowy, gaslit streets of London.

7. Apparition by Gail Gallant
Some books are more spooky and creepy than they are scary, but this book is all those things. There’s a dark, sinister vibe to the mystery in this book, and it’ll keep you flipping pages to find out what happens.

8. Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock
This list so far has ghosts, demons, various monsters, plus evil people, but it's lacking a classic horror creature: the werewolf. Hemlock isn’t your typical werewolf story; lupine syndrome, aka the werewolf virus, is sweeping through the nation. Many people who are infected try to hide their symptoms, but an extremist group called the Trackers are on the hunt, and lupine syndrome comes with a healthy dose of bloodlust that’s difficult to control. Dark, suspenseful, and compelling, Hemlock is perfect for fans of urban fantasy.

9. The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong
I couldn’t have a list of creepy books without including one by the Queen of Urban Fantasy, Kelley Armstrong. The Gathering is a unique spin on shapeshifters. This thrilling, action-packed book is full of secrets and mystery, plus plenty of supernatural creatures.

10. As I Descended by Robin Talley
A modern-day retelling of Macbeth with queer characters, As I Descended is a dark, suspenseful, often disturbing story about revenge, jealousy, and the lengths people will go to for what they want. This is a very atmospheric horror story with a hint of the paranormal.

11. Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Another Jack the Ripper story? What can I say, I’m obsessed. This one throws in something else I’m obsessed with: Sherlock. Or, more accurately, John Watson, who narrates this dark tale of murder and mayhem on the streets of London. If you’re a fan of Sherlock, this is an absolute must-read; it’s clear Faye did her homework on this dynamic duo, along with the Ripper cases, and late 1800s London.

12. The Hill by Karen Bass
Stuck in the Alberta wilderness after a plane crash, two boys fall into a parallel universe of sorts where they’re hunted by a monster of Cree legend.

13. Ghost Walk by Heather Graham
When I found out this book was set in New Orleans and featured the manager of a haunted tour who began seeing the dead, I was like SIGN ME UP. I read this book years before I started blogger, and I still about it often and plan to reread it this fall. I love Graham's Harrison Investigation series, but Ghost Walk was my first and remains my favourite.

You might also like:
  ☆10 Books I’m Excited to Read This Fall

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: A Brit Complicated by Brenda St John Brown

A Brit Complicated by Brenda St John Brown
Series: Castle Calder #3
Published: October 11th, 2017
Publisher: Self-published
273 pages (ebook)
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Comedy
Acquired this book: From the author in exchange for honest consideration
Rating: 5 stars
Warning: May contain spoilers
GoodReads || Buy the book: Amazon US ~ Canada || Kobo

Scarlett St Julien likes her job well enough. Her boss? Total wanker. Even if he is sexy AF. After all, they don’t call him Bradley Walking-Sex for nothing.

When Bradley asks her to show him around London, it’s another thing on Scarlett’s task list. At least until the spark between them ignites. And it is H-O-T.

It turns out Bradley Walking-Sex is smart and funny, as well as — you guessed it — oh-so-sexy. But he’s still the boss. A fling with him is one thing. Falling for him? Well, that’s not an option. Is it?

I absolutely loved the first two books in the Castle Calder series, A Brit on the Side and A Brit Unexpected. I was sure I’d enjoy A Brit Complicated, but I wasn’t sure if Brenda St John Brown could top A Brit Unexpected. She did. Each book in this series is better than the last, and as a whole, it’s now one of my favourite series.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Scarlett’s story since the first Castle Calder book. I knew there was more to her than what we saw then, and I loved how complex she was. St John Brown has this completely refreshing writing style that makes her characters easy to connect to and makes you feel like you’re part of the story. Each of her books has surprised me in some way, and A Brit Complicated was no different. I loved that Scarlett was aware of her faults, and if she had something pointed out to her, she was willing to work on it and try to better herself. Bradley was the same way, which was what made them such a great match. Well, that and their electric chemistry! These two were so hot together and it was fun watching how they played off each other, flirted, stumbled over misunderstandings, and slowly fell for each other.  

The side characters in the story were great, too. I especially loved Tom. I also loved getting to see Bea, Jasper, Claire, and Greyson, and see what they were up to. I was fascinated by Scarlett’s job, and as someone who loves London, I appreciated the tribute that was worked in honouring the recent terror attacks. It was woven in so perfectly and made me really emotional (not going to lie, I cried, and I’ve teared up since whenever I think about it). It was beautiful and touching, and Scarlett’s passion not only for her job, but also for her city, made me connect to her even more.   

Brenda St John Brown has outdone herself with A Brit Complicated. This series is romantic comedy gold. Each of the stories can easily be read as standalones, but I highly recommend reading the whole series, especially if you like complex characters, hilarious situations and dialogue, and sexytimes that will leave you fanning yourself.

A Brit on the Side: Amazon US ~ Canada || Chapters || My review
A Brit Unexpected: Amazon US ~ Canada || Chapters || My review

Have you read any of the Castle Calder books? What did you think? Do you have a favourite romantic comedy?

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