Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

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Let me begin by saying, when I started this book I had heard of Trevor Noah’s name, but never listened to any of his content. I knew he was a comedian, but nothing more. After reading Born a Crime, I now know Trevor Noah is so much more than a comedian.

Born a Crime is Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa, in which he was literally born a crime. His mother being a black Xhosa woman, and his father a white Swiss man, meant his birth was punishable by five years in prison in his parents were caught. Noah tells the story of his childhood through eighteen personal essays in which he transforms from a wild, mischievous kid, to an ambitious, and ultimately successful man. His transformation was based around the relationship he had with his mother, or as he calls her, his teammate. She was the one who was determined to save his life, and for his life to have a bigger meaning.

The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what it was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.

This memoir is a funny a lot of the times, sad at moments, and most of all makes you want to give your momma a hug. Trevor Noah has written a memoir about the stark realness of apartheid South Africa. One of the reviews that I read about it, was that this was essentially a love letter to his mother. And it is just that. It is the story of a boy whose mother stood up against the tidal wave of racism brought to a country, and decided to raise a child that would overcome it.

“Learn from your past and be better because of your past,” she would say, “but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.”

There are essays in Born a Crime, that are absolutely, pee your pants funny. He has you killing yourself laughing into the spine of the book. This is definitely a necessary part of the story, because you are really hit with the fact that this country was torn apart from apartheid, and just how lucky we are in our country. Whether it’s the food on your table, the education you receive, or the safety you have in your home… this was not Trevor’s upbringing. But what he did have was a mother whom would do anything to propel him forward. The ending of this novel, left me feeling gutted and crying. 

The world needs this memoir, and also Trevor Noah. He’s exactly the type of person we need as role models in the world. Lastly, go listen to Oprah’s episode of Super Soul Sunday with Trevor Noah. It’s also brilliant, and funny.

Happy reading!

 

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The Gown, by Jennifer Robson

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I can actually say that I’ve read every one of Jennifer Robson’s novels. I was obsessed with her series called The Great War, which featured three novels. She writes historical fiction, which I love, but she’s also from Toronto, Canada… so that makes me want to champion her even more. I adored this novel, and feel like I connected with it on such a personal level.

The Gown is a fictional account of the real story behind Princess Elizabeth’s (now the Queen) much anticipated wedding gown. It’s post-war in 1947 London, England, and the country is feeling the aftershocks of the debt the country is now in. With rations on food, fuel, and even fabric, this wedding brought many mixed feelings for the people of England. Ann, a prized embroiderer at Hartnell, survived war, unlike many people around her. Ann’s work becomes her life, and when she’s introduced to the newest, and highly skilled embroiderer at Hartnell, Miriam, she decides to try to develop a friendship. Miriam is a French, Jewish emigrant who also survived the war, unlike the rest of her family. Keeping the secret of her past heritage, and her harrowing experience in Ravensbruck, she works her way to the top of the embroidery team at Hartnells. Then, when news breaks that the Princess is engaged and choses Hartnell’s to make the gown, the two, along with the rest of the team, work long days until the day arrives. Flash forward to 2016, Heather (Ann’s granddaughter) is gifted a box with her name on it when her Nan, Ann, has passed away. Heather is shocked to find embroidery samples, and pictures of Nan and her friend, Miriam. From here, Heather embarks on a journey to find out the truth of her grandmother’s unknown, and exciting past.

Let me start off by saying, there are just so many reasons I loved this novel. First of all, the Royals just fascinate me. Whether it’s as far back as Henry the VIII, and his many wives, or the most recent Royal Wedding… I’m so there. But, as fascinating as the Royals are, Jennifer Robson has executed a novel which gives you a “behind the scenes” look at the making of the gown. She told the story of the women who made the gown, and these were stories that never told. Ann, and Miriam, were such beautiful characters, who were deeply affected by the War. The secrets that they held inside were the thing that bonded them, although they never really told each other. Eventually, many years later, Heather puts them altogether. Jennifer Robson actually had the opportunity to interview a seamstress that worked on the gown to help her construct this story.

Lastly, the relationship between Heather and her Nan was such a special one. Even though they had a strong relationship, Nan (aka, Ann) had never told Heather about her incredible past and how she ended up in Canada. This relationship made me really grateful for the one my Gramma Lisa and I have. Over the years, my Gramma has told me so many wonderful stories to me about her own past. I love hearing about her childhood, teenager years, and becoming a wife, and a mother… and so much more!

What’s special about this novel is the obvious of it being a fascinating time in history… but I think on a deeper level it reminds you to be curious about the past. To ask questions, and to learn about your families history. I think everyone seems to think that their life isn’t all that interesting, but I find when you start talking to people their lives I find them so intriguing.

Anywho, enough of me gushing. Go read this novel!

The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde

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The History of Bees was our latest book club pick. And I have to say, it’s was a great pick for book club. There was a lot to talk about, plus we had dinner at a new restaurant, the Hunter Street Tavern… and it was a hit!! The evening was a win all around.

The novel is told through three different characters, who are all beekeepers from the past, present, and future. In 1852 England, William is a seed merchant/biologist who decides to make himself a name by developing a new design of a beehive. In 2007, The United States, George is the owner of a bee farm, which has been in the family for generations. He battles internally with the idea of whether he should be adopting modern bee farming techniques, and trying to guide his son to become the next generation on the farm. Lastly, 2098, China, Tao works as a pollinator on a fruit farm, as there are no bees anymore. When Tao’s young son is taken away after an accident, she is determined to find out what the cause of his accident was. These three storylines are intertwined with the backdrop of the potential loss of the bees, and their bonds with their children.

Our book club had some great discussions about The History of Bees. Although this wasn’t my favourite book we’ve read, I can definitely appreciate it’s importance. In a world where we are starting to see the affects that our modern technology has had on our earth, it’s great for people to read reminders of how we need to make a more conscious effort to help our world be here longer. The things I didn’t like about this book was the writing was a bit rough for me, and it lacked a flow. But at book club it was mentioned that this is a translation, so this could be a reason why the writing just felt a little choppy. The other part of this book that I didn’t love, was that it felt SO close to home. It made me scared for the world’s, and my children’s future. So although it made me feel uncomfortable, maybe this book accomplished exactly what Maja Lunde was hoping it would.

I found the relationships between these characters and their children fascinating. There was so much internal dialogue, that you as the reader you knew what they were thinking, but their children were left in the dark to their thoughts. This made me think just how much of an issue comes from the things that we don’t actually say to each other. The assumptions that are made on the things that are unsaid, can drastically change outcomes, and relationships.

That’s all for today, happy reading until next time!

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

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As you can tell from the pictures above, I went into to pick up my latest library haul and was greeting with a bunch of amazing books. But when I read the first page of The Great Believers, I had to pick that continue reading! This novel has been getting a ton of praise, and after reading it you see that this is a work that needed to be written, and that also needs to be read.

It’s 1980’s Chicago, and Yale Tishman works at an art gallery in which he is developing their collection. As Yale’s career is starting to take off when he starts working on bringing a collection of 1920’s paintings to the gallery. As he career sky rockets, the AIDS epidemic is growing closer around him. When one of his closest friends Nico dies from the virus, one by one, his friends are also being picked off. Yale, along with Nico’s sister, Fiona, take care of their dying group of friends. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking her estranged daughter, and staying with an old friend. This old friend, just so happens to be a photographer who thirty years ago was documenting the Chicago crisis. In the search for her daughter, old memories of her past are brought up, and the feelings are all too familiar to Fiona.

They meant well, all of them. How could she explain that this city was a graveyard? That they were walking every day through streets where there had been a holocaust, a mass murder of neglect and antipathy, that when they stepped through a pocket of cold air, didn’t they understand it was a ghost, it was a boy the world had spat out?

I don’t really know where to begin. This is such an incredible story, and also so sad. Other than watching Philadelphia, and Dallas Buyers Club, I would consider myself to have very little knowledge of the AIDS epidemic. After reading this novel, I found myself googling, and checking out non-fiction novels to learn more about it. What Rebecca Makkai has accomplished is the beginning of an education for me, and I bet many readers. The AIDS epidemic claimed a generation of people, and has definitely shaped several generations. But the things that we don’t hear are the stories of the people’s lives who were lost at start a fast rate that they couldn’t even grapple with it.

Nico’s death, although being the first friend to die, had such an impact on this story. His friends had taken some of his belongings as ways to remember him, and as each one of them were dying they were passing on Nico’s scarf. These characters and the community in Chicago were all so capable of good things, and then equally quite evil things. I listened to an interview with Rebecca Makkai, and she said that she used this as a tool to make AIDS the real villain. Even to this day, people are unaware to what and how HIV/AIDS are contracted. In this novel the parents of the characters who had died would go into their child’s apartment with masks and gloves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this novel, have you read it? If not, I recommend it. The Great Believers is a book that I haven’t stopped talking about, or thinking about since I put it down.

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

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My mom had been pushing me to read The Boys in the Boat for almost a year! I had picked it up shortly after she suggested it at Vinnie’s Ptbo, and it has been sitting on my shelf since. This year I had made a goal of actually reading books that people suggest to me. Sometimes it’s easy to just get caught up in what you want to read, but there is so much pleasure in being able to share a the thoughts and feelings a great book can bring. The minute I finished this book, I called my mom to tell her she was right. This is a great book, in which you feel adrenaline, you cry, and you fall in love with the characters.

In the middle of the Depression you are introduced to Joe Rantz. He’s been abandoned at their family farm by his family when he isn’t even a teenager, and you learn quickly that even though Joe has nothing, he is unbreakable. He eventually goes to the University of Washington, and ends up on the rowing team. Here is where he meets the 9 man team in which will end up at the 1936 Olympics. This is the story that describes the making of a the boat, the mechanics of rowing, and the rhythm of a team in unison.

To see a winning crew in action is to witness a perfect harmony in which everything is right… That is the formula for endurance and success: rowing with the heart and head as well as physical strength.

Daniel James Brown was approached by Judy Rantz, the daughter of Joe Rantz, because her dying father was a fan of him and wondered if he could talk to him about the story of his rowing team who won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. What he learned was the incredible story that became this book.

What I loved about this story was so many things, but here we go… this is when sport was just purely raw, and beautiful. Before the protein powders, insane calculations about body mechanics, and blood doping. These are boys who literally worked as lumberjacks, farmers, and smoked cigarettes, and ate whatever their hands could get a hold of. Daniel James Brown built a non-fiction book that reads as exciting as a fictional novel. The whole time you have the back story of the dark looming cloud that Hitler would bring upon the world after Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics.

You are introduced to the team, and the coaches, even the man who was behind the building of the boat. I became so intertwined in their lives that I ended up crying several times during this book. I even felt the adrenaline rushing through my veins as the races were being described. It’s an incredible story, that I can’t wait to see in movie form. One of the most interesting things is that in 1936, they had to travel by boat to get to Germany for the Olympics. Some of these athletes partied pretty hardy, others lost tons of weight due to sea sickness, or gained tons of weight because they were eating and not moving for the 2 week journey.

Well, that’s about all I think I will say about this one, otherwise I will be gushing for a LONG time. And Mom… if you are reading this, great book pick and I can’t wait to chat more about it 🙂

The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang

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Having been placed in the “romance” genre, The Kiss Quotient, is a book I normally wouldn’t pick up. Upon hearing two of my fav authors Roxane Gay, and Taylor Jenkins Reid sing high praises about Helen Hoang’s writing, I decided…. okay, maybe this book is worth giving a shot. This book is reminiscent of The Rosie Project, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine… so if you enjoyed those ones, this one is worth picking up.

Meet Stella Lane, a 3o year old econometrician. She loves her work intensely, but dating is just really not her thing. The little fact that Stella has Asperger’s, makes dating seem more difficult. She hates kissing, speaks the whole, blunt, truth, and has quite a bit of anxiety on the whole process. So she does the logical thing, and hires a male escort, Michael Phan. He’s gorgeous, and martial artist, and is also willing to work with Stella’s plan to teach her how to date… and a couple more things. It’s doesn’t take long for Stella to realize that Michael may be her new obsession, and she starts to think that the feelings are being reciprocated. Here’s where the story gets really interested!

All the things that make you different make you perfect.

I just loved this book! I ripped through it in three days, and literally took it everywhere. The couch, the treadmill, the appointments, the lunch break, it was everywhere I was. Helen Hoang wrote a novel that is a modern re-telling, of Pretty Woman, with a twist. She has served up a novel that is a really fun story, with also some great writing. Without giving anything away, there are some pretty steamy scenes in this book. So if you are not a fan of that, you could possibly flip through or maybe it’s not the book for you.

In the Author’s Note, Hoang tells us that her daughter’s teacher had suggested the fact that she may have Asperger’s. Hoang was not convinced, but started really researching the subject as any parent would. What she found out was really interesting, Autism is represented differently in girls than with boys. She found out that she had a lot of the tendenacies that would lend to herself having Asperger’s. And at age 34 years old, Helen Hoang was diagnosed with Autism, and her daughter may very well be too. SO, long story short, she wrote a fantastic book with a wonderful heroine who really seems to tell the experience so truthfully.

Okay, so if you need a book to get you back into reading, want a book to read in a weekend, or just love great books…. put this book on hold at the library or go get it at your bookstore. It’s a great novel, and now I’m DYING to read Helen Hoang’s next one. It’s the second one in the series called The Bride Test. But wait for it… it’s not out until May 7th 2019. Seriously?!?! I’m dying!

Until next time, happy reading.

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan

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If you haven’t seen or heard of Washington Black, you must be hiding under a rock!!! It is the “it” book this fall. While being nominated for both the Man Booker Prize, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the accolades for this book are everywhere. BUT, the reason I was motivated to go out and buy this one is that I had gotten very envious when I was told by someone that their book club was reading it… so I thought I’d read it as well, thinking there would be lots to think and chat about in this one. Well, yes, my assumption was accurate!

It’s 1830, in Barbados, on a sugar plantation where you meet Washington Black. He is an eleven year old field slave, who has been chosen by the slave master’s brother, “Titch”, to be his servant. Titch is a scientist, an inventor, and an abolitionist. Titch teaches Washington many things, and gets his help with building a hot air balloon. When the tension at the plantation has risen to an all-time high, Titch decides that he and Wash are getting out of there… via the hot air balloon. From here the adventure begins, with travels around the world, but Wash cannot run away from the trauma of his past. The deep cuts that the plantation has left, and the abuse that was put on the people there are unforgettable. Titch and Wash have a very deep relationship, and as the story unfolds the real adventure begins when they are separated.

Esi Edugyuan’s beautiful prose is a delight to read. It paints a picture so clear that you feel the humidity described, and really feel the characters personalities. What she has done is written a book that makes the reader realize that the trauma of your past can shroud what seems like a bright future. At first I thought this was going to be a story about slavery, but by the end you realize that it’s much more than that. Yes, the terrors of slavery are addressed, but what the real content showed me was how deeply trauma affects someone. Wash went from being a field slave, to a freeman. To the outside eye you would think how lucky his chances were. But the fact that he deals with the guilt, and shame of the people who were his family that he had to leave behind is just all too overwhelming. He deals with the memories that are deeply rooted within the scars of his body, and are resurfaced upon a familiar sight, smell, or feeling.

We must all take on faith the stories of our birth, for though we are in them, we are not yet present.

There were so many fantastic characters in this story. Obviously Wash, but mostly I loved Titch. He was a deeply human character, whom I need to learn more about. I think what would be brilliant to chat with a book club about his story. If you’ve read this book, you will understand what I mean, because his story for me just didn’t feel complete when I finished this book.

This is the type of book that feels like a complete joy to read, but after you close it you continue to think about it. I finished this book over two weeks ago, and just could not figure out the words to write that would give it justice. I just think it’s beautiful, and deserves to be read.

Have you read this one? Please… let’s chat. I’m dying to have a conversation about Washington Black.