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Book review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown

I'm super late to the Brown Sisters party but now that I'm here, I'm never leaving!

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is the story of a young woman with a debilitating chronic illness who's more than a little tired of how blah her life has become. If something were to happen to her, she suddenly realizes, she'll die never having ridden a motorcycle! Or gone camping! Or enjoyed a drunken night out!

She meets Red, an artist who's broken emotionally with issues that he's still having difficulty overcoming. BUT he rides a motorcycle, and he's a camping pro. And he can hold his liquor.

Red agrees to help Chloe complete her seven-item list and, as they check off the items, they begin to set right what is wrong in each other. The story of their healing journey is sassy and steamy and a lot of fun, and I can't wait to read the next in the series. Take a Hint, Dani Brown is out in June so you still have time to read this one first.

It's always kind of awesome to love a book and then find out the author who has written with such confidence and mastery of her craft was only 23 at the time. I'm looking forward to many more years of great stories from Talia Hibbert.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Book review: The Flatshare

What if you had a roommate whom you'd never met, but could discern the kind of day he was having by the notes he left or the supper he cooked, or whether he had washed his coffee cup?

Because Tiffy has an insane ex and Leon is temporarily broke, the two strangers agree to share a single bed flat, which they can do because they work opposite shifts. Implausible, yes, but I totally bought into it.

The Flatshare is told from the two characters' POVs and even though quirky Leon speaks/writes without pronouns or articles for most of the book, the story is engaging and lots of fun. Tiffy is bold and vivid, Leon is a kind and gentle person that one falls in love with almost immediately, and the secondary characters are fantastic. I think we need a next book, about Richie and Rachel!

One of my favourites this year.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Book review: Island Affair

Island Affair is an easy breezy read centred around a fake fiance trope, but in it I also found a story of love and hope and so many more elements that offer comfort and reassurance. And I really needed that in these crazy times! That the story is set in lush, tropical Key West is the cherry on top of a delightful summertime confection.

Sara Vance is a social media influencer who's in recovery from personal health issues when she's blindsided by a deadbeat boyfriend who jams out on a Florida vacation with her family. The "fiance," Luis Navarro, is a firefighter paramedic who's the silent and hot type but battling his own problems, who for reasons of his own agrees to play the part of Sara's fiance. Both the Vance and the Navarro families have complicated dynamics they're struggling with as well. There are definitely lots of issues here that need working through.

We all know how the love story will be resolved, but the fun is in reading how the real relationship gains traction while the deception is carried out. Sara and Luis's back-and-forth rang true for me, and I was moved reading about Luis's Cuban familia and the universe that author Priscilla Oliveras created for this series. There's sweetness and steam and so much love on numerous levels, and I can't wait to read the next book.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Book review: The Authenticity Project

The Authenticity Project is one of those books that will stay with me a long time, for many reasons. If you've read the blurb, you know that an elderly man, Julian, leaves behind a notebook in a cafe. In it, he's written his story, and he challenges the next person to write their truth. Monica, the cafe owner, finds the notebook, and adds her story. In total, six people put their stories in writing in this notebook.

So first, I love the structure of the novel: It's told through the eyes of six different characters and as each person adds another little bit, the story begins to build. It's not told in a strictly linear fashion. Characters come in and out of each others' stories, and some questions that are raised in one person's story are answered later in another person's story. Not every person is given the same amount of time to "speak," and in fact one character who comes in a bit later adds only a few paragraphs to the notebook. Writing in this style cannot have been an easy feat to pull off; done well, as it is here, it's fascinating. As a bonus, each chapter is short so this is a very easy read.

Secondly, the characters: I found myself reading more and more slowly as I neared the end, just because I didn't want to finish this book. Not to sound terribly needy or anything, but I think the characters are all people I have elements in common with, and I wanted to continue hanging out with them just a little longer. Julian, the elderly man, starts things in action. Monica, the cafe owner, is the touchstone of the book. Alice is a new mom and influencer whose life is nothing like she presents it to be on Instagram. These characters, plus three more who write in the notebook, all have quirks and foibles that resonated with me on some level.

Third and very importantly, the writing is stellar. The more I read, the more invested I became in the story. I started rooting for characters, and being disappointed when they let me down. I hoped the romantic pairing that I wanted to happen, would happen. Some of the stories unfolded the way I wanted but there were definitely surprises, including some I didn't like. Some of the ways in which the notebook made its way into the hands of the next recipient stretched the boundaries of belief ... except that I totally bought into it because the author persuaded me with her writing that it could have happened this way.

I'm thrilled to have discovered author Clare Pooley, and I hope we'll be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Virgin River filming sites: Doc's house

I've never been the type of person who visits houses that are listed for sale out of curiosity. But I suddenly saw the appeal of doing so when I learned of a showing for the home that's "Doc's house" in Netflix's Virgin River series.

The series is filmed throughout Metro Vancouver, and the Queen Anne-style home that is Doc's house is located in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster. It's up for sale for $2.25 million CAD, and when I learned there was going to be an open house recently ... well, that's the day I became a looky-loo.

The house is stunning! It has five bedrooms and is 5,363 square feet in size. It sits on a lot that's a quarter of an acre in size, just steps from a great park. It has some serious star appeal too: Besides Virgin River, the house has starred in the shows Supernatural, Jinxed and Caprica, to name just a few.

Most of the filming for the Virgin River series is done on sets that are built on soundstages. But exterior shots and establishing shots are done at the house, and the sets themselves are based on the look and layout of the real house. Here's a look in photos:

The real "Doc's house" is on a quiet residential street in the Queen's Park area of New Westminster, a Vancouver suburb.

There's been a lot of discussion about the two doors: The solid outer door and the stained glass inner door. Here's a look.

The foyer, first seen in Episode 1 when Mel enters the house to meet Doc.

The room that's seen most often is Doc's waiting room with adjoining examination room. IRL, it's the home's billiards room.

Doc's office. IRL it's actually the first room off the foyer.

The kitchen is completely different in the show -- it's a set -- but this is the home's real kitchen.

The home has a beautiful sun room that wasn't seen in Season 1. I hope they shoot some scenes in it in Season 2.

The elegant dining room, also not seen in Season 1.

The TV room. The TV is in the cabinet to the right of the fireplace.

Um yes ... of course I had a photo taken at the front door of the house!

Snapshot: The Guest House at Graceland

When I was planning a trip to Memphis, the idea of staying at Graceland was absolutely off my radar. It's not cheap, and to that cost we would be adding about 37% for the CAD to US exchange rate.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of staying on the Graceland grounds. After all, this is the iconic home of Elvis Presley. And chances were that we would not make a second trip to Memphis. So I booked it, and I'm so glad I did. If you can do it, you absolutely should.

To be clear, this is not actually Graceland, Elvis' home. But it's the next best thing: The Guest House at Graceland is the hotel on the grounds next to the mansion. You're within walking distance of Graceland, the home and the behemoth museum adjacent -- but take the free shuttle because, the humidity!

Here's a look inside The Guest House at Graceland.

This is the key card to your room, with a photo of The Guest House at Graceland on it.

This is the real Graceland, Elvis' home. It's not that big by superstar standards: Only about 10,000 sq ft in size.

This is a standard room at The Guest House at Graceland. It's spacious and modern and pristine.
The bathroom is gorgeous.

Full confession: I never take hotel toiletries home -- but I did this time.

The lobby. You'll see a lot of pilots and flight attendants here as it's the closest nice hotel to the airport.
This is the kind of artwork you'll see throughout. It's subtle. But you will hear Elvis songs 24/7 in public areas.
The hallways look like this. (Because I believe you can tell a lot about a hotel from its hallways.)
The back of the hotel, plus the pool area.

We spent a lot of time hanging out at the really great pool.
The most fun thing about the hotel is that every night between 10 and 11 p.m., there is a PBJ station.

You can make a sandwich before bedtime just like Elvis used to do! Be prepared for lineups, though.

New Orleans: There's so much to love about the Eliza Jane Hotel.
Singapore: I stayed in a university dorm.
Boston: The Marriott Moxy Downtown is fabulous.

Chowder, lobster rolls & more: 5 great Boston restaurants

I went looking for great clam chowder in Boston and I found it ... but the unexpected treat was the lobster roll, which I hadn't had before. I learned that there are two types -- the lobster salad roll and the hot & buttered lobster roll -- and that both are incredible.

Here are my five favourite Boston restaurants. If you're visiting, you can't go wrong at any of these. Bon appetit!

1. Atlantic Fish Co.: Prior to my visit, I asked my credit card concierge to compile a list of the best clam chowder restaurants in Boston, and Atlantic Fish was on the list. I'm pretty sure I'd eat here at least every other day if I lived in Boston. Don't be deterred by the white tablecloths; the vibe is friendly and you won't have to whisper during your meal. The New England clam chowder in a bread bowl was the best I had during my week in Boston, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I also loved the Maine lobster roll and the crab grilled cheese with king crab meat, cheddar and Muenster cheeses, tomatoes and scallions on grilled challah bread.

2. Luke's Lobster: This restaurant is a chain that can be found in quite a few U.S. states. In Boston, there are at least three locations in the downtown-ish area. Luke's is casual and self-serve, but don't think this means the food is of cafeteria quality. The chowder is very good, and the lobster roll is juicy and succulent. There isn't a lot of seating so be prepared to dash quickly from the order line if you spot a table being vacated, throw your coat on the chair, and then run back to the line. Or just go with someone.

3. Legal Sea Foods: Another great choice in Boston. I liked the lobster bisque here, but the clam chowder definitely takes marquee billing. I can also recommend the steamed mussels and the baked oysters. This is another restaurant chain with a number of locations in many states but it started in Boston.

4. Ned Devine's Irish Pub: Save Ned Devine's for the day you're visiting Faneuil Hall Marketplace and eat your lobster roll (served here on grilled bread) and chowder while people-watching at your outdoor table. You won't experience a more uniquely Boston experience.

5. Union Oyster House: Another great choice for chowder if you're downtown. If you're not downtown, you should make the trek. The chowder is very good and the restaurant -- the oldest in North America -- has a great ambiance. There will likely be a wait for a table but I think the best seat is at the bar, where you can watch multi-tasking staffers serve chowder and beer, shuck oysters and chat up the customers, practically all at the same time.

And one more: But wait ... You're not done! It's time now to head over to Parker's Restaurant at the Omni Parker House hotel, which is the country's longest-running hotel, for some Boston cream pie. This is where it was invented! We got ours to go, but it was no less delicious for having been eaten on the run.

Pahty time in Boston: 10 awesome things to see and do.
Where should I stay in Boston? Check out Marriott's Moxy Boston Downtown.

Pahty time in Boston: 10 awesome things to see

Goooood clam chowder, and "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

These two things pretty much summed up everything I knew about Boston before I visited the city recently. The first thing is self-explanatory. I had thought the clam chowder would be good; in fact, it's extraordinary in Boston. The second thing is the tagline from the classic movie Love Story, starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw and their tearjerker of a story set at Harvard College.

But as I learned quickly, Boston is a great tourist town for a lot of reasons. There are SO MANY things to do, a lot of it free or very low-cost to see. The city is also incredibly walkable, and the T subway system -- the oldest in North America -- is intuitive, efficient and cheap.

The GBCVB is a great site to start planning your trip, but if you're looking for a quick Top 10 here, in no particular order, are mine.

1. Faneuil Hall Marketplace: You'll easily spend the better part of a day here exploring Faneuil Hall and the three adjacent buildings that make up the marketplace. Faneuil Hall is where civic leaders first met to discuss independence from Great Britain so it's drenched in history. The other three buildings have lots of shopping (chains and independent stores) and restaurants (all price points).
Tip: Don't broadcast your touristy-ness: It's pronounced Fan-yul, like Daniel.

2. Old State House: I love this building so much. Built in 1713, the Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in Boston, and the site where the seeds of the American Revolution were sown. The Declaration of Independence was first read to the public from this building! Now surrounded by skyscrapers, the building is part museum and also the entryway to a T subway station. It is also the site of the Boston Massacre and there is a memorial in the front marking that tragedy.
Factoid: Five colonists died in the Massacre but the population of Boston was only 20,000 at the time. Proportionally speaking, five deaths would be like hundreds today.

3. Boston Common: Founded in 1634, this is the oldest public park in North America. It's massive and you should take the time to stroll through it properly.

4. Harvard University: It's super easy to get to Harvard on the T, and their free student-led tours are informative and interesting. The name-checking is awfully fun, as of course anyone who's anyone went to school here. ("When Bill Gates attended, he stayed in that residence; of course, he dropped out after his first year to found Microsoft." "When Matt Damon attended ..." "When Nelson Mandela gave the commencement speech ...")

5. Sports, sports, sports: Bostonians love their sports! See a Celtics game, a Bruins game or a Patriots game. TD Garden is a wonderful venue, and the T takes you there in 15 minutes from downtown. You can actually enter TD Garden right from the subway.

6. Freedom Trail: There are a lot of Freedom Trail tours in Boston. The one that we took was led by a direct descendant of a man who fought in the American Revolution and I highly recommend it for the knowledge that's shared as well as the entertaining nature of the tour. The tour comprises a 4-km walk that stops at 16 locations that are an integral part of the history of Boston and of the United States. You'll see Paul Revere's grave, hear about how Americans camped on what is now Boston Common as they rose against the British, the Boston Massacre, and so much more.  

7. Paul Revere House: It's small but well worth seeing. Paul Revere was the third or fourth owner of the home, and a lot of people lived here in very cramped quarters. There is a guide in each room who is able to answer questions about Revere's life and times. From here, walk on to visit the North End, the city's oldest residential area, and savour a delicious Italian meal.

8. Boston Public Library: Book nerds will love this, but it's worth seeing even if you're not one, just for the fabulous Reading Room.

9. The food! Clam chowder, lobster rolls and Boston cream pie in the city that invented it! Here are my top five restaurants in Boston.

10. Cheers bars: There are actually two Cheers bars in Boston. If you only have time for one, visit the replica bar at Fanueil Hall Marketplace because the fake re-creation is actually more complete than the real bar. Don't forget to have your photo taken with the giant cardboard cutouts of Cheers characters like Norm and Woody. There's a great gift shop, too; I loved the T-shirts that say: "I don't even know my name."

Where should I eat in Boston? Chowder, lobster rolls and more: My favourite Boston restaurants.
Where should I stay in Boston? Check out Marriott's Moxy Boston Downtown.