The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

Elodie is an orphan, which, Tata has explained, means she does not have a mother or a father. When Elodie once asked her why not, she was told quite plainly, “You live in a home for unwanted girls because you were born in sin and your mother could not keep you.”

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a historical novel based on true events in Quebec during the 1950s and ’60s, at a time where the province is governed under Premier Maurice Duplessis dictatorship, and there is a divide between the French Canadians and the English Canadians.

Living in this era is 15 year-old Maggie Hughes, an innocent girl who dotes on her English-speaking father and dreams of one day taking over his seed shop. However, Maggie finds herself torn between abiding by her father’s rule, and allowing her feelings to bloom for her neighbour, Gabriel Phénix, a poor, rough around the edges French Canadian, the type of guy Maggie’s father has ruled her to avoid.

Conflicted between love and honour, Maggie chooses love, and shortly after becomes pregnant with his child and is forced to give up her baby, Elodie. Elodie is sent to an orphanage, while Maggie is forced to continue living a life that never bore a daughter. Meanwhile, Elodie becomes a Duplessis orphan, and is falsely certified as mentally ill.

Following the birth of her daughter, Maggie’s narrative is interwoven with Elodie’s, where the reader has a glimpse into Maggie’s heartache and longing for her unknown daughter, and insight into the horrific treatment Quebec orphans in the ‘50s were subjected to, and what Elodie goes through.

I could not put this book, I was engrossed in the story of Maggie and her daughter Elodie, and did not want it to end. It is a heartbreaking, beautiful and powerful story about love and family.IMG_6815This dark part of Canada’s history was unknown to me prior to reading this novel, and I  feel guilty for not knowing, but The Home for Unwanted Girls (and Google) made me aware of this ugly part of Quebec’s past.

History of Duplessis Orphans
During the 1940s and ’50s, several thousand orphans and children born out of wedlock were “reclassified” by authorities as mentally ill and placed in psychiatric hospitals. Premier Maurice Duplessis’s government was receiving a federal subsidy of $1.25 per orphan, but psychiatric patients were more lucrative at $2.75 each. Overnight, Catholic-run orphanages were converted to hospitals, and the young residents were treated like unpaid servants, forced to clean and provide basic care for other patients. Only later did the stories of physical, psychological and sexual abuse by nuns and other workers come out. (The Quebec government has offered financial retribution to the survivors, but the church has never formally apologized.) (Source)

Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson

I am embarrassed to admit that I tend to shy away from books written by men, especially memoirs. When I read a book I want to feel a connection to the characters or to the story that unfolds with every page turned, and I have rarely felt that way towards anything written by male authors.  I know that this is a terrible way to read, that I am limiting my reading scope, and that I am being a biased (read “bad”) reader, however it’s what I do and I doubt it will ever change. With that being said, CBC’s annual Battle of the Books aka Canada Reads, persuaded me to step out of my comfort zone and read Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson. Let’s just say, I’m glad I did.

Craig finally made it as an author following the debut of his short story collection, and was praised as the next up-and-coming writer, but after the release of his second book, he becomes a flop; the book didn’t sell well and he is dropped as a client by his publisher. In order to make ends meet, he works odd jobs, one of them being a stint at the local library, where he is shortly fired for watering someone else’s plant (office politics, amiright?).

It’s the beginning of summer 2008, Craig is living in Calgary, and at a low point in his life, that is, until he finds a flyer in his mailbox stating “Bus Drivers Wanted.” Maybe it is fate, or the fact that he was broke, but whatever the reason, Craig calls the number on the flyer and registers for bus driving lessons. From the start, Craig decides that his bus driving career will only be a temporary one year transition before he moves on to something else, but what he doesn’t plan are the friendships he develops with the kids on Bus 3077.

The start of the school year is near, and Craig, now equipped with his bus driving license, is ready to drive, and when it comes time to pick his route, he agrees to transport a group of kids with special needs that range from autism to cerebral palsy. This decision made on the fly turns out to be one that creates a lasting impression. What follows is transformative experience for Craig that leads him to evaluate his life, his work, and the way society treats people with cognitive and physical disabilites.

This is a heartfelt memoir, that is lighthearted despite its serious content, thought provoking, beautifully written, and funny. I highly recommend it.IMG_6515

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I vaguely remember the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal; I was too young to be interested in the romantic affairs of politicians, but as I matured, the more I began to learn about America’s most-loved/hated seductress. Now, over twenty years later I read a similar, yet fictitious story in Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin where readers are transported to Southern Florida and meet twenty-year old Aviva Grossman. Aviva is an intern for a “handsome” congressman, and we quickly learn about an affair between the two of them, and so does the rest of the country following a car accident. Aviva is not injured, but the publicity ruins her name, and the fact that she wrote an anonymous blog about their scandalous affair for all to read, while the congressman apologies for his poor judgment and walks away unscathed.

This quirky novel is divided into five episodic parts centered on the woman who are affected by “Avivagate” and the genius part; all sections are engaging, humourous and loveable in their own way. We meet Rachel, Aviva’s mother, as she re-enters the online dating world later in life and how her daughter’s past still makes conversation. We learn about Aviva’s new life post-scandal. We are introduced to the loveable and very curious 13 year-old Ruby. We get a glimpse into the life of the congressman’s long-suffering wife. And lastly, we are taken on a chose your own adventure where we are brought to the beginning on how the love affair began, and because of its first-person narration, we don’t judge Aviva’s actions, but place ourselves in her situation.

Young Jane Young is an easy read that addresses themes of sexism, feminism and relationships: mother-daughter, friendships, mentorships and romantic relationships. Most importantly, this is a story about a woman who was shamed for her actions, yet rebuilt her life instead of being ashamed. I really enjoyed it, and if you read it, I hope you do too. DB462A24-7EF1-4E36-9373-AE6420C6D4C2

Read in 2017

As another year slowly fades into the recesses of our memories and excitement starts to build of what the new year will bring, I find that many use this in-between time for self-reflection of  what hast been accomplished and dreams of new goals to chase. With that in mind, it’s only fitting I humblebrag here and share the fact that I crushed and surpassed my 2017 goal. Nerd alert, it was to read 30 books in 2017 (I ended up reading 35). So, in chronological order from date read, here are the 30+5 books read in 2017:

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
2. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
3. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
4. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King*
5. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay*
6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi*
7. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall*
8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
9. After You by Jojo Moyes
10. The Mothers by Britt Bennett*
11. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
12. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas*
13. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
14. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill*
15. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
16. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
17. Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare
18. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King*
20. Beartown by Fredrik Backman*
21. The Windfall by Diksha Basu
22. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
23. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
24. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
25. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng*
26. A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite
27. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman*
28. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
29. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
30. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
31. Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner
32. Runway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada by Margo Goodhand
33. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
34. No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
35. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
*indicates 2017 favourites 

Since I am a high-achiever, my 2018 book goal is going to remain at 30 (#goalcrusher), but with the added twist of reading what is on my bookshelf before I buy a new book. Let’s see how long that resolution will last before I breakdown and visit the nearby bookstore. Also, is anyone else old school and puts pen to paper of what they’ve read, or do you keep your list digitally through Goodreads?
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Books that Spook

I love a good festive book that sets the tone for an upcoming holiday, and with today being Halloween, I want to share a list of my favourite books that spook without the scare and gore factor– because who am I kidding, I’m the biggest scaredy-cat around.image1 2Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
A graphic novel for young readers, this story follows Cat’s family as they move to Bahía de la Luna a foggy village up the California coast. Cat’s sister has cystic fibrosis and needs the sea air as well as a nearby clinic. The new village Cat’s family moves to is obsessed with ghosts; their neighbor gives ghost tours and there’s an annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. What’s more the ghosts that live here are real. A cute read about the relationship between sisters, and the relationship between life and death.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Where do I begin with this 850 page fictional masterpiece, and its numerous footnotes that assist readers on the contents found within this magical and fastidiously false historical tome? The novel centers around three magicians competing to be England’s best magician. Set in 19th century England where magic is a distant memory of stories and old spell-books, this gothic novel is sure to delight as readers witness three magicians dueling for power. (This novel is one of my all-time favourites!)

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This is a magical, uncanny story that involves ghosts, witches, magical gardens, and black cats. A tale of two sisters, Gillian and Sally Owens, raised by their eccentric aunts in a world of spells, love potions and exotica from which they escape – one by running away and the other by marrying. But everyone knows that you can’t run from magic, or can you?

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay
Somewhat of a sequel to the Virgin’ Cure, The Witches of New York follows three witches, Adelaide, Eleanor and Beatrice as they navigate their magical lives through NYC in the late 1800s. Centuries after the Salem, American witches still quietly reside and young Beatrice is about to become a witch that is made, not born.

Other noteworthy books that spook are Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

What are your favourite Halloween reads?

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“All her life she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never – could never – set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity.” (161)

Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio during the Clinton era of the ‘90s, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng centers on the picture perfect Richardson family who live in a perfectly curated neighbourhood and their new enigmatic tenant, Mia and teen daughter, Pearl.

Mia and Pearl are the exact opposite of the Richardson family – the exact opposite of what Shaker Height’s represents – perfection. Mia is an artist and a single-mother, whereas the Richardsons appear to be the epitome of what upper-middle-class families are to represent in Shaker Heights: Mr. Richardson is a partner at his law firm; Mrs. Richardson is a journalist for the local paper, and their four children, two boys and two girls seem to be the ideal children and students. Although, things are not always as they seem to be, but to Pearl, a girl who has moved every year of her life, finds the Richardsons, and the life they comfortably live, enchanting.

Now mix in another upper-middle-class couple, the McCulloughs, who have been desperately trying to build their own family without any luck of their own, announce that they are adopting a Chinese baby that was abandoned at a fire station. The same baby that Mia’s colleague had given up because, at the time, she was unable to provide for her baby, but now wants her back. A custody battle ensues which drastically divide Mia and Mrs. Richardson. Suspicious of Mia’s motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes obsessed to uncover Mia’s secrets, but at a cost that dispels all three families.

In Little Fires Everywhere themes of family, motherhood and politics are predominant, while silent questions of who is fit to be a mother and have a family resonate throughout the novel: is it wealth, age, or a nuclear family structure? This is a beautifully written book, and a powerful story.IMG_5300.JPG

11/22/63 by Stephen King

“She takes my hand like a woman in a dream. She is in a dream, and so am I. Like all sweet dreams, it will be brief…but brevity makes sweetness, doesn’t it? Yes, I think so. Because when time is gone, you can never get it back.”

I can’t remember how I stumbled upon Stephen King’s 11/22/63, it might have been the fact that I read and fell in love with King’s writing style while reading “On Writing” or it might have been because I watched Jackie and afterwards, wanted to learn everything about the Kennedy’s (through fiction, obviously), but whatever the reason I am so happy that I read the 849 page quasi-historical, science-fiction, love story.

Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine and recently divorced, finds himself in a predicament while facing a time-traveling portal that his friend Al Templeton found inside his Diner: Go back in time starting from September 9, 1958 and stop the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or remain in the present (June 2011) and constantly face the “what if” question. The portal rules are complicated, but two things remain the same: Trips only last two minutes in present day and every visit is a complete reset. Everything that was accomplished on a previous visit will be instantly erased the next time he returns.

What does Jake do? Of course he travels back in time to place the world back on its proper trajectory, where JFK lives. In 1958 Jake Epping becomes George Amberson, and with the guidance of Al’s notes from his visits to the past, Jake/George is able to live in history. He settles down in a small Texas town, becomes a teacher, falls in love, and tracks the movements of Lee Harvey Oswald.  But, as we are constantly reminded, “history is obdurate” and Jake/George is challenged many times as he tries to change history.

In 11/22/63, you will find memorable characters  – who touch us viscerally and make us root for them – and a powerful sense of place and time, which is remarkably described in great detail about the stores, songs, clothes and cars found in 1958-’63 that make this fantasy seem plausible.

I don’t know if I can read anything else by Stephen King, this book was my first fictional read by him and it surpassed all of my reading expectations: made me laugh, made me nervous, and made me cry. I recognize that this type of book may not be for everyone, but if you are up for a “what if” historical tale, then this tome is for you.  image1P.S. Have you seen the series on hulu? I think I may start binge-watching it this weekend.