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.
img_8622(1)

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

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 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?
IMG_6026