Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Very Long and Spoiler-y Review of The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
Published: June 19th, 2019
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary romance
Tropes: Friends to lovers
My rating: 4.5 stars
Acquired this book: Bought
Warning: This review contains spoilers
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Kristen Petersen doesn't do drama, will fight to the death for her friends, and has no room in her life for guys who just don't get her. She's also keeping a big secret: facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children.

Planning her best friend's wedding is bittersweet for Kristen—especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He's funny, sexy, never offended by her mile-wide streak of sarcasm, and always one chicken enchilada ahead of her hangry. Even her dog, Stuntman Mike, adores him. The only catch: Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he'd be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it's harder and harder to keep him at arm's length.



The Friend Zone is a contradiction in many ways - light and hilarious but also gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, and as I read, I found it difficult to pin down my own thoughts and feelings about the book. If I was rating it based on my heart, I’d give it five stars. My head would give it four or maybe less. It’s been a long time since I read a book that I simultaneously loved and hated. And even ‘hated’ is maybe too strong a word - it’s more that I got annoyed and frustrated and even fed up at times, but the book was so entertaining, so well written, and had sucked me in so completely that I found it impossible to stop reading.

I knew two spoilers going into this book: I read a few reviews that mentioned the infertility storyline and how it was basically all wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end, which made a lot of people angry. I also skimmed the synopsis of The Happy Ever After Playlist, so I knew Kristen’s best friend’s fiance/Josh’s best friend died. Even though I despise spoilers, I was actually glad I knew about Brandon’s death going in because I think I would have ripped the book to shreds and thrown it out the window. I expect hardships in books - every story needs conflict and struggle - but death, especially one that was so tragic, is not something I'd expect in a book like this. It goes back to what I said about this book being a contradiction - it was mostly a light, funny, sexy story and then BAM, a horrible, heartbreaking death.

Now, the infertility storyline. I appreciated it so much, despite having some issues with how things ultimately played out. Periods are rarely talked about in books, but they’re a fact of life for women, and many women have extremely difficult periods. Kristen had dealt with difficult periods her whole life, and fibroids in her uterus caused her to bleed for weeks at a time, often to the point of anemia. She had killer cramps and her bleeding ranged from spotting to blood bath. It affected every aspect of her life - her mood and energy levels, her sex life, her self-confidence. It was amazing to see all of that on the page. Kristen also had OCD; I admit, I found it strange that it wasn’t revealed until almost the end of the book, although if you know the signs you might have suspected. When she first mentioned her OCD, I thought it was in that cringeworthy flippant way people use it, not an actual diagnosed case of OCD until Josh flat-out asked her.

While I appreciated the infertility storyline, I hated that it became the reason Kristen pushed Josh away. Instead of talking to him about it and being honest with him - which annoyed me in itself because Kristen was always very honest and blunt - she hid it and made the decision for him. I do understand that part came down to her lack of self-worth, but it got to be too much. Josh loved her unconditionally; he saw all her faults and flaws and loved her - not despite them, but because of them. He didn’t want to change her, he didn’t want to tame her, he just wanted HER. The way he took care of her and loved her was a thing of beauty...but the way she often treated him was not. I could understand her waffling to a point, but then we reached that point and it went on for 100+ more pages. The back and forth, her pulling him closer only to push him away, giving him hope and ripping it away - it made me nuts. On the one hand, I loved Josh even more for sticking around, being determined to make things work, and never giving up, but on the other hand, I kept thinking ‘enough is enough’.

I know all of that likely makes it seem like I hated the book more than I loved it, but I really did love the book despite those things. Even though I got annoyed by those things, the fact is, they were realistic. Big life problems aren’t solved quickly or easily. Kristen frustrated the hell out of me at times, but I also really connected with her and appreciated how real she was. Her flaws made her relatable. My heart went out to her because her behaviour stemmed from a lack of self-worth. The way her mother treated her growing up and even as an adult made her think no one would ever truly love her. She thought she wasn’t good enough because her mom made her feel like a screw-up at every turn. Josh saw beyond all that and loved every bit of her, unconditionally and without reserve.

The Friend Zone may have left me with contradictory feelings and thoughts, but ultimately I loved this book. It was a story about friendship, perseverance, self-discovery, and unconditional love. I became really invested in these characters and their story; I laughed, cried, swooned, and basically ran the gamut of emotions throughout. It deals with some difficult, potentially triggering subjects like infertility, death, grief, and OCD, among other things, and I do think it’s important that people are aware of those things, but ultimately this is a beautiful, hopeful story. I have a feeling The Happy Ever After Playlist will leave me a crying mess, but I can’t wait to read Sloan’s story and I hope we see lots more of Josh and Kristen.


Have you read The Friend Zone? What did you think? Are there any books that have left you with contradictory feelings?



*Please note I'm an Amazon affiliate, and some of the links in this review are affiliate links. All income made through affiliate sales goes directly back into maintaining Ramblings of a Daydreamer. Thank you for your support!  

Friday, March 27, 2020

Summer at the Highland Coral Beach by Kiley Dunbar: A Perfect Escape From Reality

Summer at the Highland Coral Beach by Kiley Dunbar
Published: March 27th, 2020
Publisher: Hera Books
Genre: Contemporary romance
# of pages: 300
My rating: 4 stars
Acquired this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for honest consideration
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Buy now: Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Kobo

Beatrice Halliday needs a break from life. Booking a trip to the Highlands on a whim, Beatrice hopes learning Gaelic in a beautiful Scottish village might help her heal her grief after losing her baby, her husband and her much loved job in a space of months.

But Port Willow Bay isn’t exactly as the website promised. Instead of learning a new language, she’s booked in to learn the ancient skill of willow weaving, her hotel room is Princess and the Pea themed (with a stack of mattresses for her bed!) and worse still, her tutor is Atholl Fergusson, grumpy landlord of the hotel where Beatrice is staying – and she’s the only one doing the course.

But as Beatrice finds herself falling in love with Port Willow Bay and its people, and as she discovers the kind heart beneath Atholl’s stony exterior, can she really leave?


Scotland has been at the top of my travel wishlist for ages, so on the day of the cover reveal for Summer at the Highland Coral Beach, my first thought - before even seeing the cover or reading the synopsis - was ‘you had me at Scotland’. Then I saw the gorgeous cover and I knew I had to read this book. After reading Kiley’s sophomore novel, Christmas at Frozen Falls, I knew she had a knack for transporting the reader to the setting of the book, and Summer at the Highland Coral Beach was no different. I felt like I made the journey with Beatrice to Port Willow Bay with its coral beach, turquoise waters, and the charming Princess and the Pea Inn.

I really liked Beatrice. She’d been dealt a difficult hand between losing her mum, losing her job, a rocky patch in her marriage, finally getting pregnant and then losing the baby, and then her husband leaving her when he couldn’t handle how she was dealing with her grief. Desperately needing an escape, she booked a holiday to the Highlands on a whim. Port Willow Bay was beautiful, but the Princess and the Pea Inn didn’t exactly live up to what its website promised. Beatrice quickly realized her whim wasn’t the smartest idea and she decided to return home, but circumstances kept her in Port Willow, where she began falling in love with the inn, the charming town, and its people...especially one person in particular, a hot Scot named Atholl.

While this book packed an emotional punch with its talk of grief and loss, it was also funny, charming, and romantic. The characters were wonderfully quirky and the setting was gorgeous (my desire to visit the Highlands has increased exponentially). I enjoyed watching Beatrice’s growth and seeing her figure out you can’t outrun your problems - they go with you wherever you go and stay with you until you confront them head on. She learned how to begin the healing process after loss, and how to move on while still honouring the ones you loved and lost. I also really appreciated that Beatrice was older than your typical romance heroine (just about to turn 40).

Sweet, funny, and emotional, Summer at the Highland Coral Beach was the perfect escape.



Have you read Summer at the Highland Coral Beach? What's a setting you always love reading about? Have you read any books lately that have felt like wonderful escapes from reality?



*Please note I'm an Amazon affiliate, and some of the links in this review are affiliate links. All income made through affiliate sales goes directly back into maintaining Ramblings of a Daydreamer. Thank you for your support!  

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham: A Heartbreaking Look at a Little-Known Aspect of Canadian History

The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham
Published: March 3rd, 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Genre: Historical fiction
# of pages: 350
My rating: 5 stars
Acquired this book from the publisher in exchange for honest consideration
Add to Goodreads
Buy now: Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Indigo 

2018

At ninety-seven years old, Winnifred Ellis knows she doesn’t have much time left, and it is almost a relief to realize that once she is gone, the truth about her shameful past will die with her. But when her great-grandson Jamie, the spitting image of her dear late husband, asks about his family tree, Winnifred can’t lie any longer, even if it means breaking a promise she made so long ago...

1936

Fifteen-year-old Winny has never known a real home. After running away from an abusive stepfather, she falls in with Mary, Jack, and their ragtag group of friends roaming the streets of Liverpool. When the children are caught stealing food, Winny and Mary are left in Dr. Barnardo’s Barkingside Home for Girls, a local home for orphans and forgotten children found in the city’s slums. At Barkingside, Winny learns she will soon join other boys and girls in a faraway place called Canada, where families and better lives await them.

But Winny’s hopes are dashed when she is separated from her friends and sent to live with a family that has no use for another daughter. Instead, they have paid for an indentured servant to work on their farm. Faced with this harsh new reality, Winny clings to the belief that she will someday find her friends again.

Inspired by true events, The Forgotten Home Child is a moving and heartbreaking novel about place, belonging, and family—the one we make for ourselves and its enduring power to draw us home.


There are two things I know I can always count on with a Genevieve Graham book: I’ll learn about an aspect of Canadian history that I previously knew little to nothing about, and I’ll have my heart broken several times before having it stitched back together. In the past, I’ve learned about the Halifax Explosion, the Acadian Expulsion (which I knew a bit - but not much - about since it’s part of my family’s history), the Yukon Gold Rush, and the beginnings of the RCMP. In The Forgotten Home Child, I learned about the 100,000+ children who were taken from the streets, orphanages, and workhouses of England and sent to Canada with the promise of a better life, but who were mostly sold into indentured servitude and treated horrifically.

The Forgotten Home Child alternates between the past and present, following 97-year-old Winny in the present, and her and Jack in the past, starting in 1936 as they’re leaving London. They met on the streets as children and lived for a time with Jack’s sister Mary and a pair of brothers, Edward and Cecil. They stole money and food to survive until they were caught and sent to separate orphanages and then group homes. Winny and Mary were best friends, sisters of the heart, and the only constant in each other’s lives, and they were lucky to be kept together until they were sent to Canada.

As the story unfolds, we see Winny and Jack living in Canada, both on farms, both in rough conditions. Winny slept in a sheep barn, toiled away day and night, and was abused by her mistress. Jack was lucky enough to remain with Edward and Cecil, but his luck ended there; their master was a cruel, volatile, violent man who would beat the boys basically just for existing. We follow Winny and Jack through their years of being indentured and beyond until they’re finally reunited as adults.

I couldn’t put this book down. It’s been a long time since I was so engrossed in a story and let the world fall away completely. It was a powerful, poignant, and heartbreaking story, made even more so by the fact it was based on true events. I think the initial idea of sending children to Canada might have been a good one; when I think of London in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I often think of dirty, gritty streets; countless people who were homeless, in workhouses, and/or working the streets; and orphaned children. So many people couldn’t afford to keep their children so they sent them into the streets or into orphanages, and those children were seen as a blight on already-overcrowded cities. Sending them abroad was supposed to give them a better life - homes, families, opportunities, a chance at a promising future - but with little to no checks and balances in place, the children were left to their fates, which were often worse than anything that would have happened to them back in England.

The Forgotten Home Child is my new favourite of Genevieve Graham’s books. A story about survival, identity, overcoming obstacles and trauma, and the family you create, The Forgotten Home Child will stick with me for a long time. It was heartbreaking, but it was hopeful too. It’ll be a book I recommend often, especially to fellow Canadians, and I hope to see the tragic history of the British Home Children talked about more widely.


Have you read The Forgotten Home Child? Were you aware of the British Home Children? What's an aspect of history you'd like to see written about more?




*Please note I'm an Amazon affiliate, and some of the links in this review are affiliate links. All income made through affiliate sales goes directly back into maintaining Ramblings of a Daydreamer. Thank you for your support!  

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