January Reads

Oh, January, you were cold, snowy, depressing and never-ending, but you did gift me ample time to read and binge-watch T.V. and for that, I am thankful.  If you follow my reading adventures on Goodreads, or on Instagram, then you have already seen my January #aliOreads, but I figured new year, new post idea as many of the books I read do not get a dedicated book review on this site, or their own Instagram post. And, I know that you are really interested in what I read, so with that in mind, here’s a peek at what I read in January.

Full Disclosure written by Beverley McLachlin, the former Chief Justice of Canada. This is a quick-pace read, set in Vancouver and centres on Jilly Truitt, a young professional criminal lawyer. This is a court room drama with family feuds, and a millionaire’s wife found dead – a fun whodunnit with a few unexpected twists.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn is a psychological thriller that will ensure you lock your doors and windows. A dark, twisted tale that will definitely give you the creeps.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney is a delightful tale that needs to be on your TBR list. For fans of fashion, New York, and advertising, this read is one that won’t disappoint.

The Only Woman in the Room, written by Marie Benedict, is a historical fiction that left me disappointed – I wanted so much more out of this read. Too much emphasis on beauty, and not enough on Hedy Lamarr, the scientist and inventor.

Sunburn by Laura Lippman is a dark love story about secrets, flawed characters, crime, murder, and lies. A masterfully written novel that you won’t be able to put down. screen shot 2019-01-29 at 1.07.46 pmWhat were some of your favourite January reads, or books that you are looking forward to reading in February?

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

“This, I am reminded, is why I love walking in the city, taking to the streets in pursuit of some spontaneous and near-arbitrary objective. If one knocks oneself out of one’s routine – and in so doing knocks others gently out of theirs – then one can now and again create these momentary opportunities to be better than one is.” (Rooney, 156)

It is New Year’s Eve, 1984, and we meet Lillian Boxfish, an 85 year-old woman who puts on a mink coat, and as the title suggests, takes a walk through Manhattan revisiting past and beloved spots. Spanned over six decades in 287 pages, “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” is a charming tale of a self-assured heroine set in New York City.

While on this evening walk, Lillian ruminates on her past life as a pioneering copywriter for Macy’s in the ‘30s, who goes on to publish volumes of light-verse poetry. She forges a career, becomes a successful name, and, at one point in her life, is the highest-paid advertiser in the country.

On Lillian’s New Year Eve stroll, she chats with restaurateurs, dines with a family, helps a pregnant woman to a nearby hospital, parties with artists, and more, all while short snippets of falling in love with Manhattan during the Jazz Age, taking lovers, and futilely cajoling her boss for equal pay flood her memory. She shares her experience of marriage to the love of her life, and tells readers of her darker days and her emotional breakdown. Yet, the Manhattan of Lillian’s past no longer exists, and in its place, is a city that is deteriorating with crime.

This delightful tale is based loosely on a real one, Margaret Fishback, and Rooney bridges fact and fiction with NYC’s past and future in this elegantly written novel about human connection.
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P.S. I didn’t do a 2018 book recap (life got in the way), so if you’re interested in seeing what I read last year, check out my Goodreads list.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

“This place is magic, kiddo. You just have to open yourself up to it. You’ll see what I mean. But it’s treacherous, too, and don’t you forget that. I think it was Jack London who said there were a thousand ways to die in Alaska. Be on the alert.”

Emotionally triggering and at times infuriating, Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone will pull at your heartstrings throughout her latest historical fiction.

This Alaskan family drama centers around Leni Allbright, the daughter of a beautiful hippie mother, (and submissive wife) Cora, and father, Ernt, a recent Vietnam PoW. The novel begins in 1974, Leni is 13 living in Seattle. Ernt, unable to keep a job, and struggling with PTSD, nightmares, and drinking, inherits a plot of land in Alaska. Believing that this is what he needs, Ernt relocates his family for a happy new start. And it is, at first, but as the Alaskan seasons quickly change, so too does the happy family life for the Allbrights.

This coming-of-age novel is told through the eyes of Leni, and readers quickly learn that the wild Alaska is not the only threat to the Allbright women, but that father and husband, Ernt is the real danger.

Weaved throughout the Allbright family narrative, is a star-crossed lovers tale of Leni and Matthew, mirroring that of Romeo and Juliet. Ernt despises Matthew’s father, and therefore forbids Leni from seeing Matthew, but her father’s warnings and physical actions do not stop Leni from being with Matthew.

I found the novel quite lengthy (it’s 440-pages), and some parts predictable while others parts were a  bit too dramatic, but the novel does make the Last Frontier sound like an adventurous and breathtaking place to visit. Read it, or just wait until it is out in theatres.IMG_8483

Between the Vines

I vividly remember Take Our Kids to Work Day in grade nine, it was the beginning of our high school career signifying that we too will soon enter the coveted workforce and bid adieu to the dreaded school bell. (Hindsight is 20/20, amiright?)

While other kids in my grade were pumped about the idea of tagging along with their parents to the big City to do what grown-ups do best, work, I on the other hand was less thrilled about my dad taking me to his work. A couple of reasons, but the main one being that I was embarrassed to talk about where I went for TOKTWD with my peers. As we all know, high school is tough, mean girls do exist, and 14-year-olds just want to be Cher Horowitz, not some farm kid.

Fast-forward 18 years later (don’t do the math), I am shadowing my dad again for a day in the life of grape farmer under my own volition. Things have changed slightly, like the truck my dad is driving, but everything else still looks the same: the grapes are still purple, the leaves are still green, and the barn is still standing. What is new is the fact that my brothers, all too young at the time of TOKTWD, have found their own niche doing what they love on the farm. IMG_8206

It’s a busy Saturday during harvest and there’s lot of action on the farm. The crew were out early harvesting grapes for an 8am drop-off at a nearby winery, then a rinse and repeat for an 11am drop-off at a different winery. There is much to do and the crew are racing against the impending rainstorm that is on its way. Back at the barn, the group has a long break – their next grape drop-off isn’t scheduled until 11pm.IMG_8190

Since we have some time to kill, I meet up with my younger brother for a quick catchup. After we chat about life, I get down to the nitty-gritty.
“So, what do you do now?” I ask, as I figured they would be picking from 9-5 with a few breaks in-between.
“We catch up on paperwork, clean the machines, help the guys in the vineyard. There’s always something to do.”
“How do you manage everything?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” He retorts.
“You know, all the farms you pick for, what wineries get what, who’s harvesting where?”
“It’s a challenge coordinating everything, but we have a great team that we trust and rely on.” He then shows me the day’s schedule on a dry-erase board and tells me that it is updated daily for the team to check regularly, and further adds that communication is key.
My phone buzzes, “It’s go time. They are about to pick chardonnay on concession 8. I’m coming to get you.”IMG_0258

A few minutes later, I’m tagging along beside my dad like it’s grade nine again, but this time I’m interested. Unlike grade nine, a few colourful words escape my dad’s mouth as stress levels increase due to to the time constraint they are battling.
“Why is the rain bad?” I naively ask.
“We need the weather to remain warm and dry. We can’t pick in the rain, and the longer we wait the more susceptible the grapes are to rot. I can’t sell rotten fruit.”
“Oh” I respond, as I silently pray to the weather gods to not mess with my dad.

We make our way down a bumpy back road and spot the harvester already in one of the rows. A few seconds later, I’m riding on what can only be described as a transformer as the machine straddles a row and picks the grapes. The driver, one of three on the farm, tells me that this is his favourite part of the job, and I can see why. You are on top of the world.
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Nova Scotia, My Heart’s Always Yours

It seems like forever ago when my sister and I boarded WestJet’s new airline, Swoop, and ventured to the east coast for a mini #sistasdoNS getaway, but it was only a couple of months ago and yet, I didn’t get enough and am already dreaming of retuning one day soon.

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a gravitational pull to visit the Maritimes; it all started with a tourism commercial from the ‘90s that proudly showed colourful homes, fishing villages, lighthouses, rolling hills and the ocean. I was hooked by the carefree energy and inviting spirit of the east coast life that these ads portrayed, and twenty years later, I finally ventured to Nova Scotia and experienced a small taste of seaside life. The salty ocean air, the seafood, and the stunning views did not disappoint.

What follows is our very busy #sistasdoNS four-day itinerary, which will hopefully stir up some maritime wanderlust and get you hopping on the next plane to the east coast.

Day 1:
Up at the crack of dawn to experience Peggy’s Cove before the large tour buses took over. From there we drove to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and my favourite part of the trip. If you go, make sure to roam the streets and admire the old homes, visit the Blue Nose, grab a coffee at No.9 (best chai latte I’ve ever had), buy a book or two from Lexicon Books, I recommend this one by local artist Emma Fitzgerald, and grab a lobster roll at The South Shore Fish Shack. We spent the evening in Halifax, and dined at the amazing Lot Six – most creative cocktail list I have ever seen. Visited the Citadel, explored the old streets, and took the ferry back to our super cute Airbnb in Dartmouth.IMG_7095

Day 2:
Up early for the 5-hour drive to Cape Breton Island. Drove part of the Cabot Trail to Ingonish, where we stayed at the adorable Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café in a room overlooking the ocean. If you visit, don’t expect a busy town or nightlife. Come here to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. IMG_7144

Day 3:
Completed our 298km loop around the Cabot Trail, and stopped every 15-minutes or so, which made the drive extra long, but we couldn’t get over the breathtaking views, it was as if the next lookout point was better than the last. Due to time constraints and the long drive ahead of us to Wolfville, we only hiked one of the 26 trails in Cape Breton, the Skyline Trail, but that trail did not disappoint; rugged coastline views of the Cabot Trail and the ocean were on full display as we reached the lookout. Words cannot describe the beauty of Cape Breton Island, and what I write in an attempt to express its grandeur will only fail miserably. It’s no surprise that it’s touted as one of the world’s most scenic drive. IMG_7268

Day 4:
Up early to walk the ocean floor in Blomidon as the tide was out – what an experience! Headed back to Wolfville and visited a few wineries. First stop was Benjamin Bridge, to taste their renowned sparkling, then off to Luckett Vineyards – if you go, make sure to visit the old red telephone box in the vineyard. Last spot and the most anticipated was Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards an organic winery that practices biodynamic viticulture, and the nicest family you will ever meet. Nova Scotia has one wine appellation, Tidal Bay, (Ontario has three: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and Prince Edward County), and every winery produces a Tidal Bay wine. Tidal Bay is a crisp, aromatic white wine that reflects the terroir, coastal breezes and cool climate region, and pairs perfectly with their local seafood. One last sweet stop at the Real Scoop and a quick walk to the Waterfront Park to witness high tide to cap off our getaway before we slowly and begrudgingly made our way to YHZ.IMG_7347There was a somber air to the trip as we realized it may be the last one we take together before new life chapters begin, as they do and as we want them to, so my sister and I savoured every moment, took too many goofy pictures and made new memories to last a lifetime.

Have you been to the east coast, or is it on your travel bucket list? Let me know, I’d love to hear highlights from your trip, or places you’d like to see.  IMG_8165.JPG

Pictures:
1. Lot Six in Halifax
2. Our room overlooking the ocean at Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café
3. View from the Skyline Trail
4. The ocean floor
5. My beautiful sister and I at Peggy’s Cove.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“I have always taken pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor–I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else–there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I’m a self-contained entity. That’s what I’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night, I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk onstage, I just knew.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a refreshing, funny and so very real read. This isn’t a novel about villains or heroes, there is no plot twist or crazy characterization, but what this novel has at its core are honest characters that are lonely, funny, kind and just so darn loveable.

Eleanor Oliphant is a thirty-something year old single woman; she works a full-time job as a finance clerk, rents a flat in Glasgow, drinks too much on the weekends, and has a crush on a unsuitable man. Seems pretty ordinary, but Eleanor is anything but: she’s smart, sophisticated, and extremely socially awkward. She can’t stand small talk, has no friends, is terrified of her mother, and consumes two bottles of vodka each weekend. She lives a structured life, but when an unexpected event changes Eleanor’s scheduled Friday night plans (Tesco pizza and vodka alone), her predetermined days quickly change as new acquaintances become friends and new experiences unfold for this quirky heroine.

Unlike traditional happily ever after tropes, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine does not end with romance saving the girl. The storyline is a bit rom com of sorts, but the love Eleanor finds is the love for herself, which is so refreshing to read in this female-centred novel. IMG_7768

The Old Apartment

Last week I was reminded via Facebook Memories that seven years ago I moved into my first apartment. It was nothing fancy, but it was love at first sight: French Doors, a claw foot bathtub, and hardwood floors. I loved this small 550sq.ft space more than anything. Sure, the floors were squeaky, the neighbours upstairs were noisy, and the water pressure was weak, but it was mine, a place to call my own. It was in this apartment that I adopted my cat, Kingsley; I wanted a companion but not the human kind, and a dog was just too much. It was in this small space that I learned what it feels like to have mere cents in the bank account and no food in the fridge. This was the spot that girlfriends would come over to chat late into the night. And most importantly, this was the place that I finally grew comfortable being on my own.

I remember locking myself out of my apartment one evening in the winter. I didn’t realize until after a few drinks as I searched for my keys inside my purse. As most amazing ideas are the brainchild of booze, my idea of climbing the garbage cans to my bathroom window that was ajar, was a given. After failing, and falling, I had to call my landlord.

I have hazy memories of hanging out with a girlfriend who lived a few blocks away. My back-stoop became the spot we would smoke Sobranie’s, sip rosé or some homemade cocktail and discuss our current life choices; Lana Del Rey’s drowsy voice and the murmur of busy St. Paul Street the soundtrack to those summer nights.

I became comfortably at peace with the place I called home, but after two and a half years of safe refuge, my fear became a reality, as my beloved apartment turned against me. It was an early summer morning, but the city was still asleep when I was jerked awake by what sounded like my door knob turning. Too scared to move, I stayed in bed and reassured myself that it was just a dream. A few seconds later, I heard a deep bellowing voice say, “B!tch, let me in.” I screamed, and jolted out of bed – it sounded like an someone was inside my apartment. With nothing to protect myself, exposed and terrified, I slowly walked towards my kitchen, where I stood face-to-face with an unrecognizable man, my only protection, the window screen that stood on guard between me and this intruder. I yelled at him to leave, colourful curse words escaped my mouth, and with shaky limbs, I slammed the kitchen window closed and locked it. The man did not recognize that his behaviour was unwanted but continued to pound on my door and the walls of the building, spewing profane language, and causing me to feel weak, dirty and isolated. Finally, the man gave up and ran off somewhere, while I remained hidden on my living room floor crying.

After I gained a bit of strength, I called the police, and to my horror, they did nothing but made me feel as if the incident was my fault.

That moment changed my carefree spirit and I became paranoid of what could be lurking around a corner, or across the street. I became a 27-year-old woman who triple checked that the door was locked, and that the windows closed. I could no longer sleep in the dark and had to leave my night table lamp on – shadows that were once familiar scared me and sounds that were soothing became unbearable.

I remained in that apartment for ten more months. When the day came to leave, I was sad; I didn’t want to say goodbye to my first home, to the memories I created in that small space, and to the place that taught me to stand on my own. Although it felt like she abandoned me that one summer morning, in reality, my old apartment protected me.IMG_1028