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

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

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

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

“I think she’s sad because she never fell in love. Except she needn’t worry, because love doesn’t exist.”
“How do you know that?”
Rose wiped a large snowflake from her eyelash and raised her head to try to catch one with her tongue. Pierrot put his hands out to catch some.
“I read it in a Russian novel,” she said, looking at Pierrot again. “The Russians have figured everything out because their winters are so long. It makes them so thoughtful.”

A blend of whimsy, magic and sadness, The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill is a melancholic love story involving orphans, gangsters, circus performers, drug dealers and an imaginary bear; where the lines of innocence and seduction are blurred; and thievery, drugs and sexuality are ordinary ways of life.

Set in moody Montreal during the depression era, talented orphans, Rose and Pierrot, are the novel’s heroine and hero, and readers follow their cohesive, yet turbulent journey as the two navigate a world that is both brutal and fantastical.

Growing up in an orphanage under the care of vile and wicked nuns, the imaginative and dreamy performers are drawn to each other at a young age, and soon are sent to perform music and dance (Pierrot is a pianist, and Rose a dancer) acts to rich city folk in exchange for donations to the orphanage.  After one of their performances and under a snowy sky,  Rose and Pierrot develop a plan to create a travelling clown show called The Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza, and vow to one another that they will marry, become rich and famous, and live happily ever after. At age 15, these star-crossed lovers are separated; Rose is sent to be a governess to children of a wealthy gangster businessman, and Pierrot is sent to live with an old wealthy aristocrat.

What follows are stories of secondary characters that are intertwined in Rose and Pierrot’s narrative after life at the orphanage. But, the beauty of this novel, and its emotional core is the never-ending love Rose and Pierrot have for one another despite being separated for most of the book. Finally, the two are reconnected, and their dreams come true, but not without a new kind of pain.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a provocative and gritty read that may not be for everyone, but if you do happen upon this magical book, the dream-like narrative and loveable protagonists, will linger even after the novel is over.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Heather O’Neill speak as part of The Canadian Author Series in Port Colborne, Ontario. Not only is she a master storyteller, she is hilarious – the room was captivated by her words. If you have the opportunity to hear you speak, go.

image1

image2

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

Imagine witnessing your two best friends being killed: one caused by a drive-by shooting in a public park and the second by a trigger pulled by a cop. Can you imagine it? I can’t either, but for 16-year-old Starr Carter, this is her reality. New York Times bestseller, The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas, follows Starr’s story after the unjustly death of her best friend, Khahlil, who was murdered by a cop, “Officer One-Fifteen.” As the only witness to this crime, Starr has to bear the outrage from her community and of her race.

Starr lives a stable life that is divided by two worlds: the poor black neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy predominately white prep school in the suburbs that she attends. Her father owns a local convenience store and her mother is a nurse. Starr wears expensive name-brand clothes, is a devote basketball player, has two brothers, and unbeknown to her dad, is dating a white guy from her school.

The inner conflict in the novel is the dilemma of right and wrong: Starr wants to do what is right – tell the cops, tell the jury, tell her community what she saw, but telling the truth could also endanger her life. Finally, she summons up the courage to tell the truth to the grand jury, and as the world outside of the courtroom waits to hear if the officer will face charges, tension mounts as the reader suffers with Starr, her family and the community.

The Hate U Give, named for a Tupac’s song, (Thug Life – the hate U give little infants f*cks everybody) is a novel that exposes the injustices of the judicial system, systemic racism, and police violence but it is told with care, intelligence, and honesty. The reader falls in love with Starr, and is connected to her through the use of first-person narration. Starr allows the reader into her world: she is funny, she is authentic; she’s a 16-year-old girl who is faced with a reality that is different from her prep-school peers

As a book found in the YA section of a bookstore, The Hate U Give reminds readers that radicalized violence does not limit itself to one age group, but is everywhere. Not too long ago I was sitting in front of my computer, tears streaming down my face, as I watched the live feed of the injustice, the gob-smackingly blatant racism that tragically ended Michael Brown’s life way too soon. This event opened my eyes to the horrendous and unjust acts people with ‘power’ inflict on the ‘other.’ I know events like that happened before, and they continue to happen,  but this novel, albeit fictitious, mirrored a life that my white privilege shelters me from, yet it served as a tool that cultivated an emotional understanding. This book won’t make racism disappear overnight, but it does have the potential to make one think and reassess their own personal judgments.

Read it! Even if you think you’re too old for YA, do yourself a favour and read it. I’ll even lend you my copy.

On a side note: Have you been watching “Dear White People” on Netflix? A show clueless white people (talking to myself) should watch and learn. Synopsis from Netflix: “Students of color navigate the daily slights and slippery politics of life at an Ivy League college that’s not nearly as “post-racial” as it thinks.”

image1

Always an Anne Admirer

Anne

Have you been watching CBC’s Anne with an E, the wonderful story of the effervescent orphan, Anne Shirley? The same Anne Shirley preteens fell in love with growing up, the same Anne from the 1908 classic, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Unlike the much-loved classic, this adaptation, written by Moira Walley-Beckett, is darker in tone and threads together new narratives, while creating a visceral show that is both real and intimate.

In CBC’s adaptation, viewers are introduced to the red-headed freckled and feisty feminist that Montgomery brought to life, while Walley-Beckett adds a deeper history to the main characters that are not conceived in the original story. However, this addition with its mixed-bag of emotions, adds a beautiful layer to each character: a layer of realness.

The shows intimacy is captured through the flashbacks viewers are exposed to – I use the word exposed, because that is what it feels like. The characters are exposed on a new level to the viewers, a level that we shouldn’t be allowed to see: Viewers witness flashbacks to physical abuse on a young girl; lovers that were unable to unify their love; to regret of words unspoken and actions not acted upon. These past portrayals give viewers an in-depth idea of who each character was before they became who they are in the novel, further solidifying the intimacy of the show. In the novel, readers grow with Anne and share a kinship to her need of belonging, love, friendship and growing up, but while watching the adaptation, viewers share in the universal pain of heartache that is caused by growing up.

I grew up reading Anne of Green Gables and savouring every morsel of her imaginative world that each new chapter brought; after the novel, the movie boxset became an annual movie-a-thon tradition between my mom and I, and I dreamed (still do) of visiting Green Gables in P.E.I and pretending that I am Anne for one day.

In my second year of university, I studied Children’s Literature, to be honest, I registered for the class because Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables was on the syllabus, and like every wanna-be avant-garde feminst student, I decided to write my final paper on Anne of Green Gables. It was a terrible essay on gender-normativity and how Montgomery transcends the ideologies of gender in the form of a Bildungsroman (just a fancy literary term for ‘coming of age’) novel. I may have also argued the homoerotic undertones between Anne and Diana, which contradict the conventional heterosexual binary prevalent of the era. Now you know why I said terrible! If you want to read it, let me know!

Unlike my awful essay, which no one should read, this is a series that everyone should watch, especially if you grew up reading and loving Anne of Green Gables.

If you are watching the show, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show.