Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah

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This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time. I had clients, and close friends, both recommend Winter Garden to me… but the cover just looked so cheesy that I was definitely judged the contents! So when yet another close person to me in my life said, you need to read Winter Garden, I picked it up finally.

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard, while the other traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. The one thing that these two sisters have in common is an unbreakable bond with their father, and an almost non-existent relationship with their mother. But when their father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves having to comfort their cold, and distant mother, Anya. As children, the only connection they had with Anya was the unfinished Russian fairy tale she told the girls at night. When their father is dying, he requests one last wish… that Anya tells the whole tale. This begins a curiosity in the girls, who find out that the fairytale, is actually the real life events of Anya in war-torn Leningrad during WW2.  Between the fairytale, and the bonding with their mother, Meredith and Nina discover the harrowing story of their mother’s life before they were in it.

Okay, so be patient with this novel in the first 100 pages. I wasn’t completely hooked until I realized the fairytale was actually Anya’s real life story. But when things really started to unwind, I found I was unable to put it down! I ripped through the last 200 pages in one day.

This was a WW2 history which I wasn’t aware. Learning the St.Petersburg was actually called Leningrad when Stalin was in power was completely new to me. What’s incredible about this story is it’s just the story of a woman and her experience getting through the war. You realize how much could be lost in just a few short years. Then once the war was over, you are expected to live on. How does one do this? How do you just start over? These are the questions that you are asking yourself this whole novel.

Seeing the sisters develop a stronger relationship with their mother was probably the most rewarding part of this novel. You see just how hiding a part of your past can truly affect the people around you. As a mother, I think we want to protect our children from the bad things that happened to us, or the bad things that we had done to other people. But when we open up and become vulnerable, it lets your children know that we are all just humans trying live.

We women make choices for others, not for ourselves, and when we are mothers, we…bear what we must for our children. You will protect them. It will hurt you; it will hurt them. Your job is to hide that your heart is breaking and do what they need you to do.

If you are a lover of historical fiction, and complex family relationships… then this is the perfect novel for you. Because of the large amount of WW2 fiction being produced nowadays, it’s always refreshing to hear a story that you’ve never heard before.

Anywho, that’s all for now. Happy reading, friends!

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The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory

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Okay, confession time… I would have said a couple books back that I don’t waste my time reading “chick-lit”. But this book is more than that!! After reading The Kiss Quotient, it was recommended to me that I pick up The Proposal… so I did!! Oh my goodness. If I didn’t have a household of people pulling me in every direction, I would have sat down, and devoured this whole book in a sitting. It was SO. DAMN. GOOD!!!

Deciding to spend your life together shouldn’t be a surprise.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Said actor boyfriend is a complete fool, whom Nik had no intention of anything other than sex. So when he proposes, her genuine shock and NO floors him and the whole crowd at the Dodgers game.

At the game with his sister, Carlos comes to Nik’s rescue and whisks her away from a camera crew by pretending to know her. Well, let’s just say from here the two can’t stop thinking about each other… Each not wanting anything serious the two embark on an rebound, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them gets realized the feelings are a little more serious!!

Where do I start?? How about the diversity in the characters… Nik is a successful black woman, Carlos is a super hot paediatrician, Nik’s friends include a lesbian, and a chunky Korean cupcake maven… I just loved the cast! What was so great about this book was there were no dull moments, it rolled along so well that at one point I realized I had reading 150 pages in a sitting… and that never happens! There was also a really background plot of Nik dealing with some past negative relationship stuff… she even joined a women’s self-defence class to help her overcome some of her self-doubt. In this day in age, Nik’s character is just the bomb. She’s a strong female presence, who finally decides that letting a man see the real vulnerable her doesn’t make her any less of the woman she’s worked on becoming.

Reading two well-written, extremely fun, “chick-lit” novels recently has taught me that when I previously judged the genre, I was knocking it before I tried it. I will now be opening up my mind to books that are in this genre. I think that there is a time and place for every book IF it’s well-written!!! I love to read diverse novels, with complex characters, and big issues. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be super fun. This book makes you remember that feeling when you were a kid, curled up around a book and hoping that no one interrupts you!

Until next time, stay warm & keep reading!

The Measure of my Powers, by Jackie Kai Ellis

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I had heard about The Measure of my Powers from a lovely friend, and then on the WSIRN Podcast, it was being recommended as some really good Canadian memoir writing. So while listening to that podcast episode, I requested it from my library. WELL, three pages into to it I decided to stop reading, and go out and buy it that day… it was just too damn beautiful to not own for my own personal library.

Jackie Kai Ellis had seemed on the outside to be perfect. She was married to her “hot” husband, had a successful career, and also owned a home. But within the first paragraph you see that Jackie struggled everyday to have the desire to go on. Her depression was so heavy that she had contemplated on whether she should continue to live. Jackie found her purpose in the kitchen. It all started with a chocolate chip cookie, and the ability to find joy in each bite. She then went on to discover herself through food, and travelling from France to Italy, then the Congo.  

First off, this book is stunning. The sheer weight of it is heavier than your average book, because of the stock of the paper. Each page feels crisp, and just waiting for me to dog-ear it! Sorry all you people who believes books shouldn’t be marked up 🙂 She has also made the pages colourful, and sprinkled her life changing recipes throughout it.

Here’s a list of the things I loved the most about this memoir:

  1. The thoughtfulness that Jackie took in sprinkling her recipes, and her favourite quotes, makes me feel really connected to her. I even felt inclined to reach out to her after reading this book to tell her how much it resonated with me… and she so sweetly replied.
  2. It’s back drop is set a lot in Paris. And I just love Paris, croissants, and all the descriptions that Jackie details. Except now I need to go back!
  3. The authenticity, and rawness that Jackie exposes. Her struggles, I’m sure will resonate with a lot of people, but knowing that she was able to pull herself out of this hard place is so hopeful.
  4. Lastly, her descriptions of food were magical. She could describe each bite so well that you want to stop and enjoy your next meal as much as she does.

Okay, so now that I’ve gushed a ton about this one, I’d love to leave you with one quote from her book that I just thought was so beautifully badass!!!

For so long I had dreamt of dying, to dispose of a life I despised in so many ways. But if I were to throw my life away anyway, I thought, maybe I could waste it living, doing whatever the fuck I wanted, however the fuck I wanted to. I would have been dead anyway.

That’s all for today my friends, I’m off to do what the f*ck I want… and possibly bake some chocolate chip cookies from the recipe in this book!

 

The Dutch Wife, by Ellen Keith

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This book was lent to my by a client… just another reminder about how amazing it is to be surrounded by bookish people. This person also shares a love of great stories, and good writing… so I trusted that this book would be worth reading. THEN, a couple days later, my Dad had told me he had recently read a great book… when I asked him what was it, after a couple minutes of pondering, he said… The Dutch Wife. Two trusted book opinions later, I picked this book up ASAP.

The Dutch Wife is a historical fiction, dual timeline novel based around three different perspectives from the experience of WW2. You have first introduced to Marijke, who with her husband Theo, lived in Amsterdam and were convicted of some illegal activity by the Germans. They were both arrested and shipped off to different concentration camps as political prisoners. When the beautiful Marijke is noticed by the guards, she is selected to work in the brothels that serve the prisoners. Caught between the need to survive, and the morality of her situation, she meets Karl Müller. Karl is a high up German officer, who falls in love with Marijke. The other timeline is Luciano’s story, a young man, who is in Argentina in the ’70’s and being held captive and being tortured. Slowly as these stories are being told, you realize how intertwined they are and you are rushing through this story to see what will happen.

Father, you once said that nobody in this world is truly evil, that it’s all a matter of circumstance. I wonder if you tell yourself that so you don’t have to come to terms with what happened in your own country.

I LOVED this book. It was a perfect historical fiction novel for me. With my dutch roots being satisfied, and also having such an interest in WW2, learning about this side of the war was extremely interesting, and equally upsetting. What the through line for historical fiction for me is that I found myself so fascinated with humans, and their willingness to survive. I fell in love Marijke’s character. I felt like she was such a conflicted woman who wanted nothing more than to survive and find her husband. Alternatively, I also loved Luciano. His story was heartbreaking for a whole other reason… which I won’t give away. But there are some words that he had written for his father that were just perfect. They made you understand just how deeply the mental effects of a trauma can be like a ripple in the pond, growing bigger and more complicated the further it gets away. So often we are told that time will heal things, and this part of the story just really made you challenge that old adage.

One more thing, this author is Canadian… just another reason why I loved this book. So enough of me gushing, just go read this one. You will love it!

Until next time, happy reading!

 

The Rent Collector, by Camron Wright

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One of the best parts of my job as a Registered Massage Therapist is that my clients come in book recommendations, or loans frequently! The Rent Collector came to me from a friend/client who has very similar taste in books to me. I had been telling her how I was in a book rut and couldn’t get into anything… and she handed this on over to me.

The Rent Collector is a fiction novel, inspired by Wright’s son who filmed a documentary in about the large dump, Strung Meachney, in Cambodia. The family featured in the film is the inspiration for this novel. Sang Ly, and Ki Lim, are husband and wife, with their son, Nisay, who is 1 and half years old, and very ill. Sang and Ki struggle to make ends meet with their income coming from pickers of the massive dump Strung Meachney.  Sopeap Sin, the Rent Collector, is forever knocking on their door, looking for the money that they owe her. Sopeap is a drunk, aging, and frequently angry. Then one day, illiterate Sang finds out Sopeap can read. Sang sees an opportunity to learn to read, help heal their son, and possibly change their lives through literature.

This is a great, easy to read story. If you love a fast-paced story, this book will be right for you. But if you love literature, this book will make you remember why. Wright lists Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi as one of his all time favourites, this little fact speaks to his own his love of literature. There were great little nuggets, and famous quotes sprinkled throughout the story.

Another reason why I really liked this book is that I learned about a completely different part of the world that I’ve never read about, let alone visited. I learned a lot about the culture, and realized how much in North America we take being literate for granted… also our healthcare system. In the back of this book there is real photos of the family who this book is based on, and that just made it all hit home.

So, friends, if you love books about books, or about the love of reading… pick this one up!! Until next, keep on reading!

July Wrap-up, August… you’re up!

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July Wrap-up

Okay, humble brag moment… I rocked July. It was a pretty good month for my small goals. Here’s a quick re-cap on the goals; go to farmer’s markets, start journalling, and get to the cottage. All of these were really attainable, and provided so much mental relief.

For journalling, over the years I have had these romantic ideas about buying the perfect journal and writing daily pages. Flash forward, and I now have easily 10 beautiful journals just in my night table with a few pages written over the years in each! Then, I had a client tell me all about how they bullet journal. What they told me was it’s basically like a life planner, journal, list taker, all in one. It’s brilliant… and I’ve been able to keep up with it, and really love the outlet. Check out an example of a bullet journal here. Keep in mind, my bullet journal is incredibly boring. I have a black pen, and my book… that’s it!

August: Pursue a Passion

Ahhhh August. Everyone that knows me in real life, knows that August is actually Hollie-palooza month. It is the month of my birth, and I feel like when August comes around, it’s truly my time to shine. Yes, I’m that person that just LOVES their birthday!!! You also probably know that I have a couple passions… so here’s how I’m going to pursue them:

  • Sign up for a marathon. Ugh, yes. Also confession here, I did this on August 1st… But the thing here that I want to accomplish is just running, not training over the top, just enjoying the process.
  • Write a little more. I have several writing ideas I’d like to pursue, and whether it’s just brainstorming on them, or actually finding a course that would help me… TBA!

That’s it friends, I’m keeping it simple. That is the point of the Happiness Project, working on simple things that make big differences in my life.

Lastly, I’d really like to share with a fun thing that happened to me lately. I was nominated for the Inspire Project in Peterborough. This was such an honour, and am so grateful for this nomination. Take a minute and check out the amazing women that our town of Peterborough has!

 

The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy

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As most of you are aware by now, I’m a huge fan of WWII fiction. Some of my most memorable reads include All the Light You Cannot See, The Nightingale, The Alice Network, and Elie Wiesel’s Night. All of those books have told incredible stories that will stay with me. But I will tell you… this WWII novel is not like anything else I’ve read.

Here’s a quick synopsis: It’s 1939 in a small dutch town, and the Koopman family are the owners of a lightbulb factory. Jacob and Edwin, and their parents are watching as their town, their factory, and the world starts to change with the looming war. Their father decides to send the boys to a German youth camp as Hitler is coming into power. From here you see young Jacob feel torn on what is the right thing to do, and just what side of the war is whom he belongs with.

This impressive debut novel is an emotional ride, from a different perspective. This is the exact reason why it’s different from most WWII fiction. It told the side of the German soldier’s and how they were groomed for the War. I find that most WWII novels just focus on what terrible beings the Nazi’s were, forgetting that they were people too just fighting to live each day. All the Light We Cannot See also did a great job of this. A great thing about this book is the small moments of empathy for strangers that were highlighted. That the small act of kindness that you may have possibly shown someone is a reminder that better days will come.

It is the little stories of our day that hold the only things of value in this world.

It is obvious to that Murphy put an extreme amount of research went into this book.  I quickly formed an emotional connection with Jacob and could sympathize with being so torn about what to do.  The only thing that fell flat for me was the ending, I felt like I just needed to do more. But on further thought, maybe this was intentional. Do we ever really know how things are going turn out? I don’t think so… I think we just live each day in hopes that the next comes and that it is a good one.

So, all in all, I really liked this fast paced, well researched novel. If you like any of the other titles I mentioned, you will LOVE this book.

Until next time, happy reading!