What I’ve Been Reading

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Oh boy, where to begin. It’s been a very wild couple weeks. With the talks of re-opening things amid the Covid-19 Pandemic, and then with the Black Lives Matter Movement, I have felt a little bogged down in trying to understand, learn, and empathize. This has me doing a couple things… trying to get my hands on more books with Black authors, fiction and non-fiction, and also trying to open up discussions with people I see or talk to.  Obviously the latter comes with interesting dialogue, but I think these conversations are important.

I’ve always believed that books have the ability to open up minds to different races and cultures, and also start hard conversations. Learning how people live differently, and understanding what their cultural differences are is important. Below I’m sharing with you a couple links that I’ve found quite helpful to diversify my reading life.

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

A Good Neighborhood: A NovelA Good Neighbourhood, by Therese Anne Fowler. (5 stars). Well, this is a timely read. It’s the gripping story of two neighbours, who live in the idyllic community of Oak Knoll, North Carolina. They have very little in common, other than their property line, and both have teenage children. One, a rich White family, the other a single Black woman. When things get complicated between the families, all kinds of things become unearthed. Therese Anne Fowler admits in the beginning of this book that as a White woman, she had to do a lot of research to tell this story. She also recognized that it could seem problematic to tell this story. But, I think this is such an important story to read… especially right now. It investigates privilege, race, class, and the repercussions of decisions… and how that differs between races.

These Women: A Novel

These Women, by Ivy Pochoda. (3.75 stars). This is a really clever novel about a serial killer set in L.A. It’s structure is so different, and is told from the point of view of the killer’s victims. This killer is targeting women of colour, and who were working in circumstances that were deemed unsavoury. Ivy Pochoda has said she wanted to give a voice to the victims, instead of highlighting the killer… which is often the case.It is a really gritty story, and somewhat unclear of what the real story is…which I think is exactly what Pochoda wanted to convey. I think she wanted to highlight just how unjust the system can be when it’s victim’s aren’t White.

Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun, by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie. (5 stars). This is a sweeping saga of a novel, set in Africa in the 1960’s during the tumultuous decade in which the Nigerian War happened. The story of this War is told through five different characters… twins, Olanna & Kainene, their significant others, and Ugwu, a houseboy of Olanna’s. To really capture this story will be hard, but Adichie really nails the fact just how a War really strips a nation, and the people of all they have. I had no clue about the Biafra Nigeran War, and I found the history of this fascinating. She also really investigates the unknowns, and the grief of losing someone, without ever really knowing if they are gone.

I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust MemoirI Want You to Know We’re Still Here, by Esther Safran Foer. (2.5 stars). I was intrigued to read this memoir because of the tagline. A Post Holocaust memoir. I always find it fascinating that most stories of the Holocaust, and Wars finish when those events had ended… and I always wonder how the victims can move forward. Well, this memoir really digs into that. I really found the premise fascinating, but I found her writing somewhat blah. Esther’s research on her family, and their history was quite in-depth and impressive… but I also had some mixed feelings on that, and just really felt a lot of empathy for the people who will really never know what had happened to their family members.

Mrs. Everything: A NovelMrs. Everything, by Jennifer Weiner. (4.5 stars). Oh man this book just hit me at the right place, and the right time. If Forrest Gump, and In Five Years had a baby… Mrs. Everything would be it. This book is a beautiful love story, and it’s the kind that makes you crave to love the ones in your life more fully. Jo and Bethie are sisters, and it starts at the beginning of their young lives in the ’50’s, and this is their coming-of-age story. They both settle into the roles they play in their family, and then real life things happen. As these sisters grow up and work through their problems, they are constantly switching roles, and needs. I loved how this book highlighted many big social justice movements, and also significant points in history. Hence why I had a Forrest Gump feel while reading it!

That’s all for today. I hope you wash your hands, be kind to one another, and read a book!

Last Week in Reading

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Hello friends!

How are you holding up these days? Better yet… how are you getting new reading material these days?? I thought I’d go over a couple things that have been saving my reading life lately.

I’ve been whipping out my e-reader a lot more these days, as my library, just like everyone else’s is closed. So I’ve been cruising the daily deals on BookBub, which has turned into a fun little routine. And also making good use of my library’s e-book catalogue. They use CloudLibrary, and the Kawartha Lakes Public Library has even started giving out electronic library cards for those who didn’t have one before. So if you don’t have a library card, check in with your local library and see if they offer something similar.

If you are lover of physical books, you can still purchase your books! I encourage you to check out the local bookstores and buy from them. Small businesses need all the support they can get these days, and by buying your books through them is a great way to do that. In my area, Hunter Street Books, and Kent Bookstore are both places you can still shop!

Lastly, I think this also a great time to pick up the unread books on your shelf. Or pick up an old favourite and give it a re-read. You have these books on your shelves for a reasons, and maybe a global pandemic was what you were waiting for. I know I’ve been tackling a lot of books of my unread shelf right now, and feeling like… why did I wait so long?!?!

Last Week in Reading

The Likeness: Dublin Murder Squad, Book 2

 

The Likeness, by Tana French. (5 stars). Here’s a readerly confession for you… this book has been on my shelf for 3 years! Just shy of 700 pages, I had put it off, because I need to be ready to commit to a big book like that. But I’ve been craving a literary thriller since I read Long Bright River. This book filled that void. I loved it so much, and for so many reasons. Cassie Maddox is a detective, and when she is called to a murder scene, it’s discovered that the body is her identical… and the body is also carrying her old undercover name as ID, Lexie. Cassie is then put into Lexie’s life undercover in hopes that she can find who the murderer is. Like I said, I LOVED this book. It’s smart, it’s literary, and told is a way that you just want to savour every word. I highly suggest it, and it’s very much based in the “big house thriller” genre. Tana French pays respect to Jane Eyre, and Rebecca-esque themes. This was fantastic, go pick it up. It’s also the 2nd in a series called the Dublin Murder Squad, and soon to be a BBC series!

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running: A Memoir 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. (4.5 stars). This memoir was absolutely wonderful. It was about running, yes, but also much more about life as an introvert. You can understand probably why I loved it so much, because I can relate 100% to him. Haruki Murakami is a renowned author, who also runs, and  memoir is really just essays about the role running played in his life. I just loved it, and related to it so much. So many quotable sentences, but there were a couple that are now committed to my memory wholly. Running is an act that takes years of dedicated practice before it becomes a piece of you. For me, running is something that is so intrinsically motivated that if I don’t do it, I feel a void. I just love it…. but it’s not for everyone. And for this reason, I’m so glad that I’ve found something that I love to do that much. I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.

Well, that’s all for today. Stay home, and happy reading!

 

We Wish You Luck, by Caroline Zancan

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Hey friends! In these tough times when the news, is both fascinating and terrifying, I’m hoping I can bring you a bit of good reading material and discussion throughout it. So, stay home and read!!!

I was really excited to get this book, as I’ve heard multiple people’s book taste that I trust just raving about it. It wasn’t my favourite this year… but once I got about 150 pages into this one, I was super intrigued. Let’s call this one a slow burn. I was immediately interested, because the narrator is really unique. It’s written from the perspective of a whole class, and gives it a “talking behind your back” kind of feeling.

We Wish You Luck is set on the Fielding campus, in which the students that are enrolled there in the MFA program meet twice a year, for 10 days. The whole class seem to be enamoured with their glittery, popular classmates, Hannah, Leslie, and Jimmy. Between their writing periods at Fielding, a tragic situation happens, interrupting the three popular kid’s triangle. From here this becomes a story of friendship, and revenge on someone who interrupted that friendship.

This book is really character driven, with tons of intricate details on all the class members in the MFA program. I love a good character driven novel, but while I was reading this, I found my mind wandering. I can appreciate that she was slowly building these characters, and was inserting little details to help you figure out where this plot was going. The sentences were LONG, as in sometimes 4-5 lines, and no chapters… so if this is something that may frustrate you, this may not be your book. This book is definitely in the literary fiction genre, but gives you all the slow burn, thriller vibes.

The thing that Zancan did beautifully was create a really toxic, “talk behind your back” environment. Although these characters only spent 10 days here and there with each other, they spent all day everyday together. When we spend a days like these with people, we tend to get to grow strong bonds and get to know them on a really intimate level. We start to notice the small details that make them them. We also start to nitpick and notice small idiocincies that tell us about who they are.

People only seem to think something’s a problem when it’s a problem for them.

This novel was based on Caroline Zancan’s own experience at Bennington, in which she did a similar MFA program. I found this little detail fascinating, and would secretly love to run away and do a program like this! She also wrote one of the best, classiest burns I’ve ever read in a book. I literally said aloud, “ouch”!

She had a beautiful face, but it was from the wrong century.

Well, all in all, I think people will either love or hate this book. But one thing it will do is spur up conversations. Fielding, albeit fictional, is a place that seems like a character…  I wish that I could go visit and write there.

That’s all for today, stay home and read a book!

 

A Tale for Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki

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A Tale for the Time Being is our most recent book club’s pick. Before this I had never heard of this novel! It was published in 2013, and was a Man Booker Prize Finalist. And boy, oh boy, am I going to have a hard time giving you a review about this one. I am going to keep it spoiler free, but really try to punctuate the parts that moved me. Because that’s exactly what this novel did, it moved me.

It’s a story told in two voices, one being Nao in Japan. She’s writing a diary in which she’s trying to tell the story of her great grandmother’s life, Jiko, who is a Zen Buddhist Nun. The diary ends up also intertwining Nao’s personal struggles with wanting to end her own life.  The diary then ends up washing up on the shore of a Vancouver beach, in which a novelist, Ruth finds it. From here the mystery of this diary ensues as Ruth becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what has happened to Nao following the Fukishima disaster, and also through her family, and personal struggles.

Sometimes when she told stories about the past her eyes would get teary from all the memories she had, but they weren’t tears. She wasn’t crying. They were just the memories, leaking out.

Where do I begin? Ozeki has written a novel that opens up like nesting dolls. As you slowly start to delve deeper into the novel, and into memories in which both characters are reflecting on, the novel picks up with such a pace that you just need to know what’s going to happen. I think that many people who read this novel will all say just how awesome a character Jiko is. Nao portrays her as this calm, and sweet soul, but one who has a strong voice and an incredible sense of humour. There were sections I was laughing out loud! Then the next moment, you are struggling to read through Nao’s battle with bullying, and suicide. There are such complex themes in this culturally rich novel.

Lastly, the most beautiful part of this novel is the fact that Nao’s book fell into the right hands. And reader’s will know the feeling of when they love a novel, and pass it on to someone who also adores it! Ruth was the exact right reader for Nao’s diary. Ozeki places some of the most beautiful quotes throughout this novel from Proust, Socrates, Baudelaire, and more… and I just loved this little detail.

You might notice that one of the main character’s and the author share a name… Ruth. Until the Fukishima disaster, Ruth was writing a totally different book, with different characters. And then that tragedy had changed Japan, and possibly the world forever. Ozeki had decided to write herself as a fictional character responding to the events. She’s even said that using fiction to deal with the reality of great tragedies is as good as anyway to deal with the pain of it.

53D60719-FE92-44E7-9147-2F0C8555D227I could go on and on about this novel. I literally post-it marked, dog-eared, and underlined my way through A Tale for Time Being. There is SO much I haven’t told you about this novel, ranging from climate change to kamikaze pilots in WWII. But I’m not going into that, you will have to read it to find out 🙂

Until next time, happy reading!

 

A Share in Death, by Deborah Crombie

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The cooler fall weather has me craving two things… red wine, and cozy mysteries. I stumbled upon this series when I was listening to the Currently Reading Podcast with Anne Bogel as a guest. She had said that Deborah Crombie’s series will give you all the Louise Penny vibes, so I immediately put the first book on hold. But unfortunately, it was only available in the e-reader format… so I did like any curious reader would do, I broke out my rarely used Kobo and dug in.

Scotland Yard’s Superintendent, Duncan Kincaid, has been gifted a week’s holiday at a time-share in Yorkshire, England. After investigating an intense string of murders, he is looking forward to some rest. Even though he’s on vacation, he has a hard time leaving work at home… especially when a body is discovered floating in the whirlpool! As Kincaid gets to know each guest he starts to try to put the pieces of this mysterious murder together, even though he is trying to let the local authorities handle it. He eventually calls his assistant, Sergeant Gemma James, to help him when a second murder happens.

A Share in Death is just a delight, and yes, I’m aware of the irony here! It’s one of seventeen in the series, so if you like it there is a lot of reading to be done here. It gave me all the cozy, British mystery vibes that I was needing. The other thing that I really loved about this novel is that Superintendent Kincaid is a total bookworm. There are numerous hints at some literature based in the Yorkshire moors, like James Herriot, and Jane Eyre. Kincaid is a witty, dark, brooding character, who I am looking forward to getting to know better. There was also a hint of a romance that may be starting between Kincaid and one of the characters in the novel… I think the key to a great series is the combination of a couple of genres, and I have a feeling that’s where this one will take it’s readers.

This novel read like an Agatha Christie, Louise Penny, or Shari Lapena. It was such a smart, but easy read. It’s the type of book that you could easily pick up, or put down, but also had left you wondering what the characters were up to next. I already have the second book, All Shall Be Well, picked up from the library!

Until next time, happy reading!

Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo

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I sat on this review for awhile. I wasn’t sure if I should write a quick little blurb post with a pile of other books I’ve been reading lately, or if I had enough gumption to sit down and write exactly how this book affected me. Well, I guess you figured it out. You are getting a whole dose of my thoughts on Three Women.

Three Women is a the captivating true story about the sex lives of three real women. Lisa Taddeo had spent almost decade writing, and reporting for this book, and it shows. It’s told with such raw details, and a style that is so immersive at times you believe it’s fiction. The first woman is Lina, is a stay at home mother. After 10 years of a passionless marriage, she embarks on an affair. Second is Maggie, depressed and with no dreams for the future, has decided to step forward finally with the story of her high school trauma. When she was seventeen, she becomes interested her handsome, married English teacher. When the nightly texts, phones calls develop into a physical relationship, it becomes clear that this trauma has caused massive ripples in her life. Lastly, you are introduced to Sloane, a beautiful entrepreneur whose husband likes to watch her have sex with other men. She has become the talk of the town with rumours swirling about her sex life.

Let’s be clear, this book is full of triggers, from rape to eating disorders. If you are in a hyper-sensitive person, this book may be a tough one… but also a very important one. Lisa Taddeo did an exceptional job of writing a book that is a fascinating look at the shame/guilt, the loneliness, and the insecurity that is wrapped up in the female brain when it comes to sex. I hate to say that a book is important, but this one is.

Maggie’s story was the hardest for me, and I’m sure most readers. Taddeo really captured the essence onto paper in which the guilt and shame that is put on a victim in her situation. Not only was it hard to read, but it was infuriating as well. The fact that there was so much evidence in her case that this man took advantage of a teenager, and yet it was still her fault… it made me want to throw the book across the room.

We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.

If you decide to read this book, I think there is a high chance that you will finish it with some strong feelings. It will remind you that even if you haven’t experienced something like what these women have gone through, at some point you’ve probably felt feelings/thoughts similar to these women. What I found was I was rooting for each of these women so strongly, and had no judgements towards them… although it seemed like in their own lives they had received endless judgements. That is the magic of Taddeo’s writing. It’s beautiful, and told with the lyricism of great literary fiction.

Lastly, I embedded the link to a fascinating interview with Lisa Taddeo on Moms Don’t have Time to Read if you are interesting in listening! Anywho, I hope you read Three Women and have all the feelings from it. Because after all… isn’t that what reading is all about.

Stay tuned, because this week I will be putting out a post that’s a quick fire of all the books I’ve been reading lately. Until next time, happy reading!

 

 

The Last Romantics, by Tara Conklin

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I have been seeing The Last Romantics all over, and people raving about it… but you know that feeling of everyone is loving something, so you think I’m not going to be the person who jumps on the bandwagon. That’s how I felt… until my cousin mentioned that she was reading The Last Romantics, and I got a mad case of book envy. I’m so glad that I got a little green, and decided to dig into this book. This is a 5 star book all around!

Fiona Skinner, renowned poet, is speaking to an audience when a woman named Luna, stands up and asks her some questions that delve into her family life. This starts Fiona into telling her families story, one that begins with a death, and sets off the four siblings lives into their own directions. You slowly get to know Renee, Caroline, Joe, and Fiona, and their deep sibling connection. Their connection helps them all battle through all sorts of tough times sometimes together, sometimes forcing a divide between them.

This novel was a beautifully told story, and the minute I finished it, I felt the need to pick up the phone and check in with my brothers! The thing that is so beautiful about this story is it reminds a reader of their childhood, and the small moments that you will forever remember, and one day cherish. The Last Romantics is a multi-generational tale that explores what binds a family together, and the obligatory duty of being a family member. I think what is so special about this novel is the way it’s told. It flashes back and forth from where Fiona, at 102, is speaking to an audience of fans, and to the past.

The quote below is from the last page, and it was just too beautiful not share. Conklin just captured exactly what love really is, and the fact that there are all different kinds of love, but none of them are always easy.

I was wrong to tell you that this is a story about the failures of love. No, it is about real love, true love. Imperfect, wretched, weak love. No fairy tales, no poetry. It is about the negotiations we undertake with ourselves in the name of love. Every day we struggle to decide what to give away and what to keep, but every day we make that calculation and we live with the results. This then is the true lesson: there is nothing romantic about love. Only the most naive believe it will save them. Only the hardiest of us will survive it.

One last thing to share… Jenna Bush Hager did this novel as a book club pick, and had the opportunity to interview Tara Conklin. If you have read this book, check it out. It even tells you what who Tara Conklin believes that “Luna” is. Anywho, if you are looking for a big that will give you some big feelings, The Last Romantics did this to me!

Until next time, happy reading!

 

Waiting for Eden, by Elliot Ackerman

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While in one of my deep, dark rabbit holes of lurking Instagram one evening, I saw two ladies whose book taste I really trust had posted about Waiting for Eden. They had both said similar things in that it’s a small novel, that will give you all the feelings. So yes, I put it on hold at my library and it came in days later.

Eden Malcom is in a hospital bed, stuck in a body that is no longer recognizable, and even worse he is imprisoned in his own mind unconscious. He will never be the same, and never get to see friend and fellow soldier who didn’t survive the attack in a war-torn country. His wife, Mary, spends her days on the couch waiting for him to wake up, and torn between who she should be with, Eden or their daughter. When Mary makes the hard decision to go home for Christmas, she gets a call that Eden has gained consciousness. He begins to try to communicate to the nurses, his wife, and to his friend who has died. You learn the couples troubled past, through love, loyalty, and acceptance.

Holy smokes, this is a little novel, coming in at 192 pages with small pages, but as sparse as it may look to a reader, it packs a big punch. The telling of this story is so important, for me it created so many feelings of empathy. You sit infront of your television, or computer, and have probably all heard the stories of the lives that soldiers have lost. You think of they families, and you have all the feelings. Then what happens, is you get up and go on with your day, and forget about it. This story makes you crawl into the skin of the family who has been deeply affected by the atrocities of war.

What Waiting for Eden isn’t, is… is a happy book. It will leave you feeling a little shattered. You learn the past of their relationship is rocky, but you see a wife who rallies to be by her husband’s side. It’s so moving, and sad. But very necessary.

The author, Elliot Ackerman, has served 5 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the recipient of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. I can’t help but wonder how much of this novel has been written as a way for him to deal the the terrible things he’s seen, heard, and experienced.

Stay warm, friends, and I hope you are curled up under a blanket with a book that you don’t want to stop reading 🙂

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!

December: Embracing it all.

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The year has come to an end, and so has my Happiness Project. I dedicated December to embracing all the things that actually worked for me this year.

Here’s what I’ve learned throughout this process. That happiness isn’t actually a state, or a personality trait. Happiness is a fleeting moment, it’s the smile of your child’s face when you walk in the room. It’s quiet moments of hot coffee and books while the household is sleeping. It’s the complete bliss of actually being in the moment for once, instead of looking at your phone or ahead to the future. I think that the idea of being eternally happy initially sounds great, but how do we know true happiness if we haven’t experienced the lows.

This project was definitely productive as I picked up some great habits in which I will carry with for hopefully a long time. Here’s my quick list of things I will continue to do:

  • Breathe. Take moments to take a deep breathe, and really enjoy how your lungs feel when they are full.
  • Pursuing passions. After finally signing up for a marathon again after 6/7 years, what I realized is that I am so capable of anything I put my mind to. So whether it’s running, a fun hobby, or reading, I want to continue to pursue and working towards goals for fun. No pressure to do certain times, or setting high bars… just purely enjoying doing something.
  • Saying no. This includes not over scheduling, telling people what I actually want, and focusing on what’s most important for our family.
  • Dates with my Husband. This was life changing. We have actually been really keeping this goal up, and it’s been great to get out as a couple again.
  • Yoga. Enough said… perfect for my mindset, and my body.

Well friends, that rounds up a whole year of working on happiness!! If you are interested in reading about the my personal project, check this link out. If you are interested in doing a happiness project, feel free to drop me a line, or a comment. I’d love to chat!