Wednesday, 26 October 2016

IFOA 2016 Blog Tour - "The Guest Cat" by Takashi Hiraide - Review

Hi everyone! So, I have a very exciting post for you all today. Today is my stop on the IFOA (International Festival of Authors) Blog Tour! I was contacted by the lovely Marcie to participate and I was so excited because I've attended a few IFOA events in the past and really enjoyed them. I am especially excited because the book I'm reviewing for you all today is a translated text from Japan! I love contemporary Japanese literature and poetry, so I instantly knew from the list of texts featured, this one was right up my alley. I'm going to follow the regular Padfoot's Library review structure and at the end, offer you some details about the festival! :D

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
(Translated by Eric Selland)

Publishing Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: WW Norton
Pages: 140

The Premise from the Publisher: "A bestseller in France and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife — the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens…." (Publisher/Goodreads Premise)

My overall thoughts and review: As a graduate student, my current research interests include anime/manga, though occasionally, I like to dabble in a bit of Japanese contemporary literature. I was even considering making that my primary research at some point. I haven't read much Japanese contemporary literature as I would like to, but when I read that this book would be about the poet Takashi Hiraide's 'slice of life' piece, I was quite intrigued. To begin with, you do not have to be a cat person to enjoy this book. I used to have a cat and I'm definitely more of a dog person, but I will have to say that this book definitely tugged at my heart strings. I'm not going to spoil the book, but so many moments, I teared up a bit and had to put the book down, because it reminded me of my late cat but also, made me really miss my dogs. You really feel the gap and emptiness when they are not around. This is not a typical animal-loss narrative though, and in fact, the scenes are quite heartwarming. The scenes when the writer was interacting with Chibi, the guest cat, made my heart swell (especially when they explored the forest together). I also loved reading about how his wife was with the cat as well (how she would leave food out for Chibi). Chibi was the neighbouring family's cat and she often visited them unannounced. She was not to be tamed and she came and went as she pleased. She was described as quite the peculiar cat, who was cautious in her movements but also would show up to show off her wounds/battle scars. Although, the interactions with the cat takes centre stage for this text, the author weaves together narratives about marriage, working as a writer, life in Japan, history and finding oneself. I found myself reminded of Haruki Murakami's writing while I read the book (he is one of my favourite authors ever) and it definitely reminded me of an online question website he made earlier this year (he is also a big fan of cats), and he spoke about how cats are meant to be enjoyed for the time they are around, but not meant to be tamed.. and I really felt that come through in the text. Chibi was linked to everything and she affected everything in the couple's life. She was linked to their life as writers, their life as homeowners and their life as neighbours. I don't know much about Takashi Hiraide, but after reading this, I definitely want to pick up more of his texts. This was a beautiful, heartwarming, heartbreaking and charming read. I think readers who love animals but also love the Japanese atmosphere will definitely enjoy this read.

My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮ (5/5 stars)

Now available for purchase at:
Chapters/IndigoKobo BooksAmazon and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

For more information about IFOA: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram 

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was sent to me by IFOA for an honest review in exchange for my participation in the blog tour & attendance to IFOA. This does not affect my review. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Blog Tour: The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa - Review & Preview Party Event Recap!

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

Publishing Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 368 pages
Historical Fiction

The Premise from the Publisher: "Before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together. A glimmer of hope appears in the form of the St. Louis, a transatlantic liner that can provide Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the St. Louis is like a surreal holiday for these refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba overshadow the celebratory atmosphere, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence. Hannah and Leo must make an impossible choice or risk losing everything that matters. Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a package from Hannah, a great-aunt she has never met but who raised her deceased father. In an attempt to piece together her father’s mysterious past, Anna and her mother travel to Havana to meet this elderly relative. Hannah tells them of her astonishing journey on the St. Louis and, for the first time, reveals how she and Leo honored the solemn pact they had made. By connecting the pain of the past to the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives her young great-niece a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost" (Atria Books).

My overall thoughts and review: When I was first pitched this book, it was mentioned to me that if I loved The Nightingale, I would definitely enjoy this. I listened to The Nightingale in audiobook form earlier this year and I absolutely loved it. I don't read historical fiction often, but when I do I really prefer WWII era.I also love when books draw attention to events that are not widely spoken about.. and in this case it was about the MS St. Louis. Ruta Sepetys wrote Salt to the Sea (which I also loved) and it focused on MV Wilhelm Gustloff - another focus on ocean liners/ships. I love the idea of ships to begin with (I have to admit, I've never been on one!) and I just love reading about day to day interactions on-board. As the premise states, the narrative switches from Anna Rosen in present day New York (2014) and Hannah Rosenthal in Berlin in 1939. The reader learns the events of 1939, where Hannah and her family attempt to secure safe passage to Havana. I really enjoyed reading the scenes between Hannah and Leo. Those passages made me especially happy and just seeing how their relationship was, was really heartwarming. In present day, you see how Anna worries for her mother and attempts to learn more about her father. I really empathized with this story line because of how close Anna is with her mother. It reminded me of my relationship with my mother and my aunt. Overall, I can't say much without spoiling the book, but Armando weaves together a wonderful narrative about love, family, friendship and loss, all the while introducing the reader to an event that took place years ago that is only being formally acknowledged in the recent years. The records and documents have been ignored for years in the history of Cuba (classrooms and textbooks) and it was interesting to learn the role that Canada played in it all. After reading this, I definitely want to look further into the history of St. Louis. If you are a fan of The Nightingale, like me, you will definitely enjoy this read. Where The Nightingale highlights sisterly bonds, The German Girl focuses on mother/daughter relationships and friendship.

My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮ (4/5 stars)

Now available for purchase at:
Chapters/Indigo, Kobo Books, Amazon and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

Preview Party Event Recap
On August 23, 2016, I was lucky enough to attend the Preview Party Event for the book downtown Toronto at Barsa Tabern. My good friend and fellow book blogger, Michele from JustaLilLost was also in attendance with me. When we first entered the venue, we were greeted by the lovely folks from Simon and Schuster, and I immediately recognized Armando from afar because of his red glasses from his twitter profile photo! xD I had only read half of the book by then, but I was really excited to learn about his influences. The party venue was actually decorated with artifacts that Armando collected during his research. There were old photographs, transcripts, magazines and photos blown up as portraits hung around the walls. I was also super excited to see menus from St. Louis. It was amazing what Armando had collected over the years. When we finally got to talk to Armando for a bit, we learned that he had even more at home and the collection on display was only a small faction!

Armando's editor spoke about the book and introduced him and Armando then went on to show us a slideshow of some photos of St. Louis and spoke about his inspiration behind the story. He was always fascinated with the events and wanted to explore that further. He also spoke about how he came to meet Ana Maria Gordon, who was one of the survivors of MS St. Louis, who now lives in Toronto. Ana was the special guest of honor that night and after Armando spoke, she spoke for a little bit as well. She is now 81 years old and she speaks about how it is difficult to recall most of the events because she was so young.. and unlike most people, she was able to live a happy and safe life after the events of World War II. It was so lovely seeing her and Armando together and it was great seeing a book come to life in a sense. I saw that night and I can also see in reading the book, how important the events are to Armando, and how he pays tribute to the victims and survivors of St. Louis. I had a great time at the event and I really hope Armando will do a book tour this fall in Canada. (I definitely am pushing for him to visit my local bookstore!)

(image from Simon & Schuster Canada) 

Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour! The other stops feature some amazing content and there is even a giveaway for a finished copy at one of the blogs! :)

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was sent by Simon and Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Review: The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Publishing Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Aladdin - Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Pages: 304
Middle-Grade Fiction - Ages 8-12

The Premise from the Publisher: "Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one. But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star. Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else" (SS).

My overall thoughts and review: So before I start my review, I have a confession to make. This is my first ever Jennifer Weiner read. *hides* I've been meaning to pick up her books for a while now, I just never got around to it.. but after reading this, that fact will surely change ;) Since I started working in a bookstore, I made it a personal goal of mine to make sure I read more in every section, besides teen fiction, regular fiction and manga. I wanted to introduce more middle-grade and children's books to my repertoire and I have to admit that when I read this premise, and learned that one of the main characters had the same name as my boyfriend, I was pretty excited. Also throw in boarding schools, camping, exploring the unknown.. I was pretty much in. The reader is introduced to three point of views: Alice, Millie and Jeremy. I have to say, I wish there was more "Jeremy" in the book since the book primarily revolved around Alice and Millie, but that's ok because I enjoyed it nonetheless. When you first meet Alice and Millie, they both feel kind of lost, and not really accepted where they are. Alice feels like her family is ignoring her, whereas Millie feels like she is being consumed by her family and can't be her true self. Millie is also a Bigfoot and dreams of joining the No-Fur world. The two of them meet when Alice saves Millie from an accident and they bond immediately. I loved seeing their friendship unfold and seeing Alice finally being accepted and same with Millie. I especially enjoyed how Millie attempted some phrases and quoted the show "Friends" every now and then. This was a really enjoyable middle-grade read and it definitely has me intrigued to read more by Weiner. I also saw that it *might* be a series, which I really hope to be true because I really want the three of them to be really good friends *fingers crossed* - This was a lovely read and I think readers of all ages will surely enjoy it!

My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮ (4/5 stars)

Now available for purchase at:
Chapters/IndigoKobo BooksAmazon and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was sent by Simon and Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Blog Tour: Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly - Author Guest Post!

Hi everyone! So I have something a bit different for today's post. I was asked to participate in the blog tour for the upcoming release of The Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly and so, for today you will be getting a special author guest post from the author! I will have a review up for this book separately, so be on the look out for that! For now, I hope you enjoy the guest post and be sure to check out the book! ;)

Guest Post – Cars & Research by J. M. Kelly

My father's an automotive mechanic and I grew up around old cars—mostly ones from the thirties that didn't run, but also others that did—like a 1948 Chevy Sedan Delivery. If you don't know what that that looks like, think of a cross between a min-van and a bread truck. The interior was completely torn out except for the driver's seat and a lawn chair on the passenger side. My brother and I rode on the floor in the back cargo area, sitting on blankets and being bounced around (I'm aging myself because no one would let their kids do that now!). The floorboards were so badly corroded that there were rust holes worn through and we could see the street below us as we drove along. We thought it was fun.

When I was in high school, my dad bought my brother a 1969 Mustang fastback, which was the inspiration for Crystal's car in Speed of Life. Like hers, the car was a project car. My brother got a job and funneled his wages and tips into the car while my dad rebuilt and restored it pretty much from the ground up. In the end, he had a really beautiful car—the one Crystal plans to turn hers into eventually.

I personally love the cars from the fifties and a few years ago, I owned a 1959 Studebaker Lark for a while. I'm still a bit heartbroken that we sold it when we moved to Canada, but we didn't have a garage to keep it and leaving it out in the elements is just not something someone who loves cars is willing to do. There's a line in the book where Crystal quotes her boss as saying something like, "We don't own these old cars. We just steward them for a while and then they go on to someone else." I got that from my dad and most of the "old car guys" will tell you the same thing.

The thing about writing books is that they require detail and preferably accuracy, so even with my general automotive knowledge, I had a fair amount of research to do. My father was a great source of information. I would call him up and ask something like, "I need a car repair that isn't too serious, but would cost Crystal around a hundred bucks." He'd immediately start giving me options, "How about a bad battery. She could spend a hundred on a good one. Or—" Then I would say, "That's great. Thanks. I have to go write now."

Those were the easy bits. Google and YouTube were a godsend to me for a lot of the research. I wanted a moment where Crystal's car surges while she's driving it. She had to fix it in the next scene, too. First I Googled "what makes a car's engine surge?" There were several answers, and I chose a dirty throttle valve. Then I went to YouTube and watched a video on how to clean a throttle valve. I did the same thing when she had to fill a dent, and change a tire. 

You can't always count on the internet though, and if you want to be sure you've got it right, that's when your experts come in. Whenever I write a book, I always have a whole slew of experts in various fields willing to help. And I make sure I get them for anything I'm not really familiar with. Sometimes I only need the answer to one simple question. Other times, we communicate over the whole course of the novel, making sure I'm not making changes that are erroneous. Generally, if it's important, I end up having the expert read either the whole book, or at least the scenes that apply to their area of expertise.

In Speed of Life, in addition to my father reading for my car facts, I also had a former high school teacher help me with all the Spanish. She was an ESL teacher, so she was able to help me figure out what words a native Spanish speaker would use when speaking English too. In other books I've written, I've had help with boating, fishing, septic tanks, fiddle playing, musical theatre, sewing, police procedure, film photography, guitar, piano, upright bass, mandolin, and many, many more areas. The internet is a great place to start, but you can't know for sure you've got it right without help from real people who know their stuff. 

Writing is a group effort and you should never shy away from asking for help. It will make your book stronger, and you'll have lots of people to than in the acknowledgements section which will make you look like you have loads of friends!

Thank you so much for this awesome post, J.M! I really enjoyed reading about how researching the old cars was helpful for your book and learning about the writing process! :) 

And that's all. I will update this post when the book review post is live! But in the meantime.. be sure to check out other stops on the blog tour as well!

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Blog Tour: Secrets in the Snow by Michaela MacColl - Review & GIVEAWAY!

Secrets in the Snow: A Novel of Romance & Intrigue by Michaela MacColl

Publishing Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Pages: 262 pages
Historical Fiction

The Premise from the Publisher: "Jane Austen's family is eager to secure her future by marrying her off. But Jane is much more interested in writing her novels, and finds every suitor lacking-until the mysterious Mr. Lefroy arrives. Could he be the one? Before Jane can find out, she must solve a murder, clear her family's name, and face a decision that might cost her true love" (Chronicle Books).

My overall thoughts and review: When I first read the premise for this book, my immediate thought was the 2007 film Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy. I've read a few historical accounts of Jane Austen's life but something about her relationship with Tom Lefroy has always intrigued me. And here came a book with the promise of looking at that, Jane's relationship with her family with a twist of a mystery.. I was pretty excited. I'm happy to say that this book did not disappoint. From the first page, I was already enjoying myself. I loved all the mini epigraphs before each chapter with a quote from one of Austen's works and I really enjoyed how readable the text was. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of Curtis Sittenfield's Eligible. It wasn't attempting to depict a different narrative, but rather it felt like meeting old friends again in a book. It was fantastic how MacColl wove the story with the history of Jane's family. I really enjoyed the passages between Jane and Eliza, and in some ways it reminded me of reading Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and the relationship between Lizzie and Jane. I don't wish to spoil this book, but I will say the "intrigue" in the title is definitely there with a mystery. I loved how everything unraveled in the end. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a real delight to read! I highly recommend it to fans of Jane Austen, but also those who are not quite familiar with her history because this book allows you to understand a bit more about one of the greatest literary writers ever. MacColl has also included an author's note (which I really appreciated), about the differences from her book and history & she's included a bibliography (yay!).

My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮ (4/5 stars)

Now available for purchase at:
Chapters/Indigo, Kobo Books, Amazon and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

The lovely folks at Raincoast Books have offered to send a finished copy of this book to one of my readers. The giveaway will run for one week (Ends October 11/16). All you have to do is comment below saying why you want to win this book. You can earn additional entries by following Raincoast and myself on twitter. The giveaway is for CANADIAN RESIDENTS ONLY (sorry international friends!) Good luck!

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour and show my fellow book lovers some love!
Disclaimer: A finished copy of this book was sent to me by Raincoast Books for my participation in the blog tour in exchange for an honest review. The giveaway prize is also sponsored by Raincoast Books. All opinions are my own.