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?

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

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)