February Reads

Being gifted with a short month during the winter is a nice treat, yet when one has a race with time because of an impending major work event, and a very major life event, 28 days is just too short. Where did you go, February? Minus the work and life stresses, I was still able to zoom through four reads. So, here is a belated (sorry) roundup of the books I read in February.

My (not so) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella is part love story part work drama, and a fun read that I could not put down. Before Cat Brenner was a junior associate at a branding firm, she was Katie, a farm girl from Somerset who dreamed of living in the big city. Living in London is all that Katie wanted, but the life she lives is not as glamourous as the life she posts on social media. She lives in a tiny flat, on a very tight budget, and works for a flaky, demanding boss, Demeter, who has no idea who Cat is or what she does. But this is nothing Cat can’t handle, that is, until  Demeter fires her, and Cat/Katie returns home to the farm, and slowly returns back to her true self.

Heart-Breaker by Claudia Dey is a tale of a missing mother, a cult, everything 1980s, and weird traditions told by three primary narrators – a girl, a dog, and a boy. A strange story, that I am still questioning what I read.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory begins with Nikole on a date at a Dodger’s game with a guy she is casually dating. In front of a stadium of cheering fans, and to her horror, he proposes to her on the jumbotron. Nikole wants to and needs to say no, and she does, but needs help when the camera crew bombard her and make the situation even worse. Here, we are introduced to Carlos, and the rest is history. I loved the diversity in this book, the humour, and the portrayal of  relevant, yet tough topics.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is a tale told through letters, journal entries and newspaper clippings. Based loosely on the 1885 Alaska expedition led by Henry T Allen, this novel follows Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester as he treks through wild Alaska, and his wife Sophie, who navigates her own frontier. A beautifully written novel on love, loss and longing.Feb. Reads

An Ode to Stuff

It’s been almost two months since the Marie Kondo phase hit households via television sets and social media, and it is no surprised that Tidying Up with Marie Kondo took onlookers by storm. The show was released during the gloomiest month, New Year resolutions were still top of mind, and to boot, Marie Kondo appears to be the most genuine person to ever appear on TV. Viewers went wild about tidying, folding, and sparking joy; #KonMari posts went viral, memes were shared, and people kept folding their clothes into tiny little rectangle shapes (what is that kind sorcery?!) I admit, I joined in and purged my clothes, but quickly stopped after I realized that the donation pile had more clothes than what I had left in my closet. Maybe that is the point.

As we witnessed in Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, it is difficult to part with items that have served as protection, securement, and enjoyment. Not only is it difficult, in some cases, it is truly daunting. No wonder so many basements are scary, they are haunted by the ghost of lives lived past. Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging one to hoard every odds and ends they meet; if it no longer provides comfort, happiness, or value, then out it goes. Personally, I have discarded/donated many things that no longer hold any meaning (pictures, notes, agendas, clothes), and the act of disposing something that is no longer a loved item is quite cathartic, especially if the mementos being trashed are from toxic experiences. There’s peace in a clean space, just as there’s peace in a clean heart. Yet, there is so much happiness looking at a shelf that holds trinkets from travels, memorabilia from yesteryears, and sacred possessions handed down from generations.

The types of reality shows where we are invited in to see someone else’s chaos makes us feel better about our own mess, be it physical or internal, and these shows allow us the opportunity to quietly judge those on the screen from the comfort of our couch. I could never live that way. How could they let that happen to their home. Thank goodness my place does not look like that. Maybe that is another reason why Tidying Up quickly became such a sensation, Marie Kondo seems to truly care about the people and their homes that she entered.

As the saying goes, “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure,” so who are we to judge the state of someone’s home. And TBH, a home that is lived in is better than a house that is pristine. I want that fridge door that is crowded with little one’s artwork, school pictures, and postcards. Give me a bookshelf that is overloaded with stories shared with kids, friends, and novels read in peace. I want a house with blankets on the couch, shoes at the front door, and coats hanging on the hallway hook. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and besides, who wants perfect anyways, it’s too much gd work.IMG_1359

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.