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
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Buy now: Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Indigo 


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...


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!  

Friday, February 21, 2020

Postscript by Cecelia Ahern: Heartbreaking, Insightful, and Healing

Postscript (PS I Love You #2) by Cecelia Ahern
Published: February 11th, 2020
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary women’s fiction
# of pages: 300
My rating: 5 stars
Acquired this book: From the publisher in exchange for honest consideration
Add to Goodreads
Buy this book: Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Indigo 

Seven years after her husband's death - six since she read his final letter - Holly Kennedy has moved on with her life. When Holly's sister asks her to tell the story of the "PS, I Love You" letters on her podcast - to revisit the messages Gerry wrote before his death to read after his passing - she does so reluctantly, not wanting to reopen old wounds.

But after the episode airs, people start reaching out to Holly, and they all have one thing in common: they're terminally ill and want to leave their own missives behind for loved ones. Suddenly, Holly finds herself drawn back into a world she's worked tirelessly to leave behind - but one that leads her on another incredible, life-affirming journey.

I was equal parts excited and wary when I heard Cecelia Ahern was releasing a sequel to PS I Love You. I read and loved PS I Love You many, many years ago, and I’m a huge fan of the movie. There was a time when I was obsessed with Cecelia’s books and devoured all of them, but in recent years I haven’t been as much of a fan. In fact, I DNF’d the last two books of hers I attempted to read, which broke my heart. That fact added to my wariness about Postscript.

But...Postscript was everything I didn’t know I needed for so many reasons. I reread PS I Love You right before going into Postscript because it’s been well over a decade since the first time I read it. I’m glad I did because I hadn’t remembered how vastly different it was from the movie, so it was good to be reminded of Holly and Gerry’s story as Cecelia herself told it.

Postscript picks up seven years after Gerry’s death. Holly is doing well; she’s moved on, she’s found love, she has strong friendships and a job she enjoys, and while she still grieves for Gerry, it’s not as all-consuming as it was. She’s changed and grown in many ways, and she knows a lot of that was because of Gerry’s death and the upheaval it caused in her life. It was also partly because of his letters and how he helped her through that first year after his death. After doing a podcast with her sister about grief and Gerry’s letters, Holly is contacted by a group who were inspired by her story. The PS I Love You Club is a motley crew of people with one thing in common: they’re all terminally ill. Holly is hesitant to help them; she doesn’t want to get sucked into the past, she doesn’t want to fall back into the deep, dark pit of grief, she doesn’t want to relive her worst days, even if it means helping these people. But they win her over, despite her reluctance and the warnings from her family and friends, and she embarks on a surprising, heartbreaking, life-affirming journey filled with bittersweet lessons about life, love, and death. 

This book broke my heart, but it also healed it. I’ve known grief for most of my life; my dad died at the age of 49 when I was just ten. In the following years, I lost my Poppy, various aunts and uncles, people I went to school with, and the hardest death of them all eight years ago, my beloved Grama. Even after all this time, I grieve for her as if she had just died. She lived a long, full life, unlike my dad and unlike many of the people I know who were taken too soon, but losing her was like losing a part of me. Her death left a hole in my heart that will never be filled or healed. Last year was especially difficult for a variety of reasons, which I won’t get into, but you can read about here if you’re interested. Because of that, this book felt very timely. I cried within the first few pages and I cried a lot more during the course of the book, including a section that made me full-on sob. It was incredibly thought-provoking in so many ways, and made me think about life and death and grief. Grief is different for everyone, but this book truly made me feel seen in the way grief was described - the actual feeling of it, the living with it, the questions you have that will never be answered. 

One of the things I appreciated most about this book was that Gerry’s death didn’t magically transform Holly into a different person. She was definitely a different person than she was when he died, but it was a natural progression, the way all of us change over time. She didn’t suddenly have it all together after he died and while his letters helped her learn to move on, she still struggled. Basically, she was a bit of a hot mess before his death and she was still a bit of a hot mess, but that made her so relatable and I loved her for that. I loved that no matter what happened, she was able to pick herself up, dust herself off, and keep going, even when it was painful and even when she was unsure what she was doing.

I feel like I could talk about Postscript forever because it touched me so deeply. I’ve thought about it a lot since finishing it, and I know I’ll continue to think about it for a long time to come. I also know I’ll be recommending this book a lot. While Postscript has its heartbreaking moments, it’s also full of heart, hope, and humour. It’s beautifully written and insightful. I loved Holly’s journey and I felt like I was right there by her side, laughing with her, crying with her, sympathizing with her, and rooting her on.

Have you read Postscript? How about PS I Love You? What's the last book that made you cry?

*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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