Summer Reads

Is there anything better than spending a lazy summer day reading? The answer is no, nothing is better. A distant memory of my childhood are summer nights spent staying up way too late, with my head, flashlight and a book under the covers reading until my eyes could no longer stay open, and then, revisiting that world the following night. Now, with the help of a Kobo and an unenforced bedtime, I no longer have to hide my nightly reading habit, however my mornings start a little bit earlier since those long-lost nights of staying awake until the wee hours with a book. Now, most of my reading happens during the weekend lounging on the back deck while I forget about that every-growing to-do list I have to conquer, and instead, I let myself get swept away into a different era, landscape, people and stories that are more entertaining than my chores. And this summer, I spent my weekends with some very interesting characters – there was only one that I wish didn’t get invited to the party, but I’ll get to that in my #aliOreads reviews below. Did you read any of these books over the summer?

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield – Setterfield is a master at telling stories, so I’ve been told, and I was excited to read this novel about a young girl presumed dead, yet is magically still alive. This novel pays homage to the oral story telling tradition in England and skillfully weaves together stories that are all connected. However, I found it a slow burn from start to finish, (read: not the page-turner I was hoping it to be) yet the writing and tone of the novel is very beautiful and dreamy. One needs to be in the right headspace to read this novel.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice – A powerful and haunting post-apocalyptic story about an Anishinaabe First Nations community in Northern Ontario that loses their connection to the outside world at the beginning of a harsh winter. What follows is the portrayal of a community protecting its people. Throughout the novel, Rice includes Ojibwe language and culture, and includes First Nations history and current wrongdoings against First Nations communities. Read this novel.

Daisy Jones & The Six By Taylor Jenkins Reid – I’m a bit late to the Daisy Jones bandwagon, but what a bandwagon it is! If you haven’t read this book, do so asap. An oral history of the sex, drugs, rock & roll lifestyle prevalent in the ’70s that focuses on a fictional rock band, and everything else that comes with being famous: glamour, scandal, heartbreak. A favourite read of 2019.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren – I picked up this flashy paperback on a whim for an easy honeymoon read and was pleasantly surprised that the book’s setting takes places in the same tropical locale my soon-to-be-hubby, at the time, and I were about to jet off to – Maui. It was cheesy, funny, and predictable – do you expect anything else from a rom-com?

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – A heartbreaking story of a girl who is abandoned by her family at a young age. This coming-of-age follows Kya as she navigates life alone along a coastal North Carolina marsh. This is a haunting tale of love, murder, and survival. One of my favourite reads of 2019.

Dirty Work by Anna Maxymiw – A memoir of Maxymiw’s experience as a housekeeper at a fishing lodge in Northern Ontario. For those that have spent their summers working at camps, read this humourous and oh-so-relatable memoir. I gushed about how much I love this book in a recent post found here.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – Glitz, glamour, and gorgeous girls set in New York City in the 1940s. Beautifully written, but I could have done without all of the sex (has that ever been written before?) and with over 450-pages, there is a lot of it that Vivian, the novel’s protagonist, partakes in, even after a sex scandal. Gasp.

My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams – An absurd account of how one woman, Anna Delvey, conned businesses and innocent people into believing she was a wealthy German heiress. Although I did feel bad for the friend, the author of this ‘true story’ who was conned, I couldn’t sympathize with her poor me shtick (check your privilege, girl), and I soon got bored of who perfect she portrayed herself in this memoir.

The Temptation of Gracie – I picked up this paperback purely based on its cover, and the fact that I wanted to be swept away to Italy for a few days without the cost of airfare. This book had it all: mother/daughter relationships, forbidden loves, an art heist, and lots of pasta. A feel-good, lighthearted read.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I am embarrassed to admit that this is my first Gaiman read, and if his other books are anything like this one, then I need to read them all, as TOATEOTL was pure magic with an equal amount of melancholy. This is a short, sweet, magical and scary (not scary as in gory and ghostly, scary as in how adults no longer look at the world with childhood wonder) story that will make you nostalgic for your childhood innocence as well as break your heart because you will never be able to relive that magical short stage of life again.

Books

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

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?

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

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)

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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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

The Nameless Widow

Needing a change of scenery from my drab writer’s den, I headed to a nearby coffee shop to do the detestable: type away on my name brand laptop with a $5 venti latte. However, providence intervened and my laptop stayed untouched.

After ordering my drink, and settling into a corner table, an older lady approached me with her coffee in hand and asked if she could join. I didn’t know how to respond as there were many empty tables, and I had my laptop open and wanted to, no scratch that, needed to finish a deadline. I hesitate before a polite “sure” escapes my mouth.

“Thanks, dear. The weather today is awful, I feel it seeping right into my bones,” she says as she methodically places her purse on the table followed by her teacup and unwinds the shawl she has around her neck and hair. She is wearing a delicate string of pearls, which beautifully complement her purple dress. Rings decorate every finger except her right pinky, and her blush matches the pink hue of her lipstick. I later learn that she had her hair done, a ritual she has adopted specifically for this date. “Today marks the fifth anniversary of my husband’s passing. I just came back from visiting him and I am not ready to walk into our empty home, even though it has been many years of emptiness.’

“I’m sorry,” I mumble. How else is one suppose to respond to death or death’s anniversary?

“Don’t apologize, dear. Death has a funny way of creeping up on us, stealing those we love, and sometimes acquiring the ones we no longer want.”

I take a sip of my coffee and casually assess my surroundings to see if anyone else in the shop has noticed this woman, or her talk of death. Everyone else is too immersed in their laptop or smart-phone to notice me or this woman.

“Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I loved George dearly, but sixty-four years is a long time to be with someone, and after awhile love just starts to feel like a routine. How old are you, my dear?” She asks as she takes her first sip of tea.

“Thirty,” I shyly reply, as if my age will reveal something I am not willing to share. She takes another sip and I am reminded of a fortuneteller I visited years ago in Toronto; she, along with that fortuneteller, appear to have the ability to look past my exterior armour and into my naked soul, to my secrets – secrets that bare no value to strangers.

“So young, but not really,” she states.

“I know,” I sigh. “Lately I have been dealing with my own insecurities of not being the person I envisioned I would be at thirty.”

“And what is that?” She asks.

“I don’t know. I just thought life would be different, it wouldn’t look like this. I’m happy and I’m loved, but there are days when I ask myself, ‘Okay, what is next?’”

“There is that word again, love. Do you let that word define you?”

I lean back into my chair, look directly into her eyes, and say “Yes, I do, but don’t we all?”

“That is where you falter, my dear. Love is ubiquitous – it’s always there inside of you, you just need to know how to ignite it yourself and not be dependent on someone else because sooner or later, that person will diminish that love.”

“I politely disagree,” I rebut. “Yes, you need to love yourself, but a person is allowed to equate happiness by being loved. Isn’t that what we all want: to love and be loved in return? Cliché, but true.”

“I often forget the banalities of love,” she states, almost as if she is pushing aside the significance of the action to love. “My parents arranged my marriage to George, I was eighteen, and he was 21. I was in my prime to marry and conceive,” she emphasized prime, as if prime was the only reason she married. “But nature had a different plan and left me childless for many years. I prayed to a god every night to give me a baby, more for George than for me, as he so badly wanted children and to be a father. I was impartial though, but I knew a man’s legacy must continue and if I didn’t give him children then he would have gone elsewhere, and he did, many times, and I turned a blind-eye, like a good housewife. We stayed married, and eventually my prayers were answered, like god took pity on me for abiding by my husband while he strayed. I gave birth to a girl and boy, exactly two years apart. Do you have any children?” She asks as she glances at my ring finger.

“I do not.”

“Sometimes it’s for the best.”

“My partner and I want children, we just don’t have any yet,” My response is a tad over-zealous, but I don’t want her to assume that we share a similarity, although a part of me feels an affinity towards her, as if our past lives somehow intertwined once.

“These days, you can never tell with women.” She takes another sip of her tea, which must now be lukewarm. She glances around the room and studies those around us, as if she’s looking for someone. “When I was your age we were married, our children were in school and our afternoons were spent drinking vodka martinis gossiping about the latest Hollywood scandal. Our only worry was making sure we were home in time to fetch the kids from school and to make sure that a proper meal was placed on the table for our husbands.”

“Do you regret it?” As soon as the words slip out of my mouth, I fear that I went too far.

“Not at all. That was the way of life; it was what we knew and how we lived. Mind you, it would have been fun if the roles were reversed and I was the one that left for work in the morning, shagged who I wanted in the afternoon, and returned home in the evening to my dotting family. But that’s just a lascivious dream.”

The bell over the café door chimes and we both turn to look.

“Oh, would you look at that, it’s Max, my driver. He must have been wondering what was taking me so long.”

She quickly gathers her things as Max walks towards us.

“It has been a pleasure talking to you, my dear,” she says as she stands up.

I mirror her actions and stand as well. “You too,” I politely respond.

I look down at my mug of coffee, half empty, and cold since it sat mostly untouched as I was too engrossed with the conversation to move my body to something so mundane as sipping coffee. I glance up and see the back of my acquaintance.

“Wait, I didn’t get your name.”

“That’s the funny thing about names, they ruin a person’s aura.” And with that she walked out of the door.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

“Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.”

Claire Fuller’s latest novel, Swimming Lessons, imbues a catharsis of emotions as one family attempts to piece together the mystery of their missing mother and wife, Ingrid. In what is described as a spine-tingling tale, this novel lacks that nail-biting instant thriller, but slowly unravels a dark family secret. Told through alternating literary techniques (epistolary and prose), the reader is swept back in time by reading past letters and then quickly brought to the present with each new chapter.

The novel begins with Gil Coleman seeing his long-lost wife, Ingrid, walking on the street, he follows her, but to no avail, and while walking  back he takes a near fatal-fall. Nan, the eldest daughter, is on-hand at the hospital with her father, while Flora is enjoying an intimate foray with a lover, which we later learn is a similar trait of her father’s. What follows is an ebb and flow of heart-aching stories told through letters Ingrid wrote to her husband that she sporadically places in novels strewn throughout their home, while the other thread follows present day daughters, Flora and Nan, as they deal with their dying father and the true history of their parents’ relationship.

I did not love this book (I gave it three stars on my Goodreads account), however I did enjoy the unconventional way this story was told, and the references to the other books that Ingrid hid her letters in. Each letter  is hidden in a book that mirrors the letter’s theme. It’s a short read, only 295 pages, but I found the storyline too slow, and the dark family secret a bit too predictable.

What are your thoughts if you read the novel? I’d love to hear them.image1