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

Summertime sadness is a real thing, yo

This time of year is always bittersweet for me, and I know I’m not alone in that melancholic feeling of summer’s passing faster than preferred. The cooler evenings, late sunrises, and back-to-school jingles are all signs of the changing season – one that I’m not yet ready to embrace. I know, I know, summer is still here for a few more weeks, but the start of September is the month that slowly creeps into fall, and those dogdays of summer slowly revert back into our reverie, becoming a distant blurry memory that is out of reach for another 290-or-so days. Summers are too short, too hazy and too perfect to only last a couple of months. Summer, that’s it, I am putting my foot down, do not leave us yet, it’s just not fair.

I recently read Dirty Work by Anna Maxymiw, and I loved it for many reasons, but the main one being that it brought me back to a time when I was a teen and would venture off to camp as either a helper in the kitchen (holy hell, feeding young kids is hard work), and then as a camp counsellor for the brightest most imaginative souls I have ever met. Maxymiw’s camp work adventures were a bit more strenuous than mine (we’re not comparing cabins to cabins here), but what Maxymiw did do through her book was build a connection to a time in our lives when life was a little less complicated, a little more innocent, the air, at times, fresher, and the food, cheap, greasy and damn delicious, especially after a 12-hour day of non-stop sweaty kitchen chores. If you haven’t read the book, read it. There’s still time this summer to escape to the wilderness, even if it is just through Maxymiw’s words.

Speaking of camp, what screams summer more than camp? Nada! Freedom for a week+ from authority figures, chores and societal rules that bind our day-to-day behaviours. Sign me up. Beach days, sport days, dress-up days; ghost stories, bonfires, week-long crushes that inevitably end when the bus leaves the campground; friendships forged, clothes swapped, numerous rolls of film taken of innocent experiences; laughter, joy, and depending on age, a bit of homesickness that often fades once a friend is made. There is a childhood innocence to summer camp that is fondly remembered, a time when life was easy, carefree and ‘perfect.’ What I would give to relive those days again. Maybe that is why those summer adult camping experiences are such a hit, but this time, a bit of booze is added to the mix. And as we all now, the best stories are made with a little, or a lot, of liquid courage.

Summer is so sweet because that thick humid air wafts nostalgia from summers past. It’s in the fireflies dancing during dusk, the lazy afternoon soundtrack of cicadas in the trees, the endless pool parties, slumber parties, sticky ice cream fingers, grass stains, camping, fireside stories and roasted smores. It’s those memories that we want to relive every year, and every year the season is too short to experience those summers of our childhood past. That 9-5 hussle is great when it comes to making bank (hah) and adult decisions, but it also means saying “summer, bye” to sweet August and July. Mind you, summer 2019 was one for the books – the best book (see #vanderlaenderstietheknot & #vanderlaendersinhawaii), it still evaporated faster than my money in Aritzia. Much like buyer’s remorse is a real thing, so is summertime sadness. So give me all that nostalgic summer memorabilia and let me relive memories of the past to help me imagine the summer memories I will make in the future. I only have 10 months to daydream.Camping

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

Update

I am a dry well: I have nothing to say and no stories to share. Without my words guiding me to shore, anchoring me home, I feel barren and soulless. I haven’t written creatively in over a month, I don’t know what to write; I struggle that it’s not good enough or even worse, that it’s boring and mundane. The cursor on my screen mocks me as I type, delete and then try again. It is a hopeless endeavour.

Like a drought, this won’t last forever, rain is inevitable and so too are my words. I just have to be patient, and let this pass, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help it along the way. I will be like the farmer who waters their land during the dry spell; I’ll pick up my pen and write a line or two about the day, and I’ll continue to read until that eureka moment, then I’ll harvest my words, just for you. Until then.

Currently:
Anxiously waiting to play in the dirt and start gardening
Reading The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Listening to “Nice for What” by Drake
Drinking Malivoire Rosé Moira

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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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Wine & Words for the Holidays

The countdown for that joyous gift-giving season is upon us, the time where presents are purchased and prettily packaged under the tree anxiously awaiting their recipients. However, if you are at all like me, you haven’t started your shopping, and just the thought of visiting a nearby mall makes your anxiety skyrocket more than that time your boss was unknowingly behind you while you were texting. Ooops. Now add in the extra pressure to find that amazing present that silently says, a lot of effort went into finding this gift that oh so perfectly complements your personality, whereas your normal go-to cheap bottle of plonk and lame-o murder mystery novel that simply say I didn’t know what to get you so I picked this up on my way over just won’t cut it anymore.

Have no fear, this wine chugging, I mean loving, bookworm is here to help by pointing you in the right gift-giving direction, but before you go running to the nearby wine store and local bookshop, let’s figure out what type of person you are buying gifts for.

The Flirty Friend
We all know that one person who wins people over by their smile, who bats their eyelashes to get their way and cleverly places a hand on an arm if they want something. Heck, we have even used this friend as bar bait to get free drinks.
Wine: Riesling – Traditionally made on the sweeter side to balance its sharp acidity, riesling is the wine that will make you fall in love. Sweet or dry, you’ll find aromas of citrus blossoms, and taste profiles of apple, lemon and mineral deliciousness.
Book: The Regulars, Georgia Clark

The Au Naturel Friend
This person loves incense, sourcing local ingredients, makes their own deodorant, smells like patchouli and always has a bottle of kombucha on the go.
Wine: Orange wine – Orange wine seems to be the new craze these days, but this winemaking technique has been around for thousands of years. This wine is a bit of a misnomer as it is not made from oranges but from white grapes that are fermented with their skins and seeds with little to no additives (no sugar and yeast, etc.). They taste funky, nutty and sour.
Book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

The So Many Feels Friend
This friend loves love, has a dark and provocative side, but is sensitive to their surroundings. They’re sweet, with an added side of just the right amount of sass. This friend may also need a bit of hand-holding throughout life.
Wine: Pinot Noir – Nicknamed the heartbreak grape because it is a challenge to grow; this is a thin-skinned grape making it more susceptible to rot and disease and is very sensitive to fluctuating temperatures, however, when pinot noir is at its best, it is a seductive wine with aromas of red berries and clove.
Book: Milk & Honey, Rupi Kaur

The Badass Friend
This person does not stand for bullsh!t, even though there are times when this friend gets knocked down they always quickly get back up and walk on like a boss.
Wine: Cabernet Franc – Part of the Bordeaux five (cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot), and parent of cabernet sauvignon (hello, love affair between sauvignon blanc), cabernet franc has just the right amount of tannins and red-fruit characteristics to remind you that this wine is King Queen.
Book: What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Vivacious Friend
We all have that one friend who is up for anything and everything; they are the life of the party yet they also have the ability to make everyone feel at ease. People usually gravitate towards this friend because of their effervescent personality and great sense of style.
Wine: Sparkling – This wine is pretty intense, (who are we kidding, so is this friend) in that it is one of the most technical wines to make because it requires two fermentations: one to make the wine and the other to make the bubbles. When buying sparkling wine ask what grape varieties were used to make the wine as typically chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are the three grape varieties that make up the traditional sparkling wine recipe. Side note: Champagne and sparkling are similar in style but not in name (and price), as wine made outside of Champagne in France cannot be called champagne, hence why bubbly wine made here in Ontario is called sparkling.
Book: The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald

Here’s to happy shopping, yummy imbibing, and good books and most importantly, please drink responsibly and always read adventurously!IMG_5809** Thoughts and opinions in this post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.**