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!

 

Baby News & What I’ve Been Reading!

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Hey Friends!

First off, I feel the need to apologize to you… I’ve been a bit absent. Still reading, but some life changes have stalled my blog writing. We welcomed a beautiful baby girl to our family about a week and a half ago, and oh goodness, I am so in love, busy, and tired!! We named our little babe Alice, and if you know Canadian Literature, you will know that Alice Munro is practically a Queen. I’ve always loved her work, and her ability to embed a story into your soul. Luckily, my husband loved the name as well!

Anywho, enough baby spam. Quickly I also wanted to chat about reading seasons. Do you ever feel like you sometimes you just go through a season in which you need some great fiction? Well, right before I had Alice, there was literally no way I could get into something deep, and introspective. So this summer has been the season of some fun fiction. Some were deeper, some were lighter, but I hope that you have found something in my posts that made you want to run out and grab one of these books!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately:

A Stranger in the HouseA Stranger in the House, by Shari Lapena. (3.5 stars). Tom comes home from work, to find Karen, his wife, gone. She’s left in a hurry, with no phone, no purse, and dinner ready to cook on the counter. Tom eventually finds out that Karen’s been in a car accident, and ended up with a concussion… conveniently forgetting everything from that evening… even though the police suspect she was up to no good. As her memory slowly returns, the secrets of that night unwind, and she finds herself as a suspect in a murder. I enjoyed this thriller, and Shari Lapena can really write a suspenseful novel that will leave you on turning the pages so quickly. I did find that it didn’t really have a ton of depth to it, but it’s the perfect beach book. Easy, peasy thriller.

The Stationery ShopThe Stationary Shop, by Marjan Kamali. (4 stars). Based in 1950’s Tehran, in the middle of a tumultuous political time, Roya and Bahman meet in the magical, literary shop that Mr. Fahkri owns. Their budding romance blossoms alongside their love for Rumi’s poetry, and their passionate views on politics. As the tension in Tehran increases, fate pulls their relationship apart and they are separated for nearly 60 years. Then, fate once again pushes them back into each other’s lives. I really loved this literary fiction novel, and with the descriptions of delicious food, and also the history of the country’s political tensions, I learned a lot!

The Chelsea Girls: A Novel

The Chelsea Girls, by Fiona Davis. (3 stars). I’ve read every book Fiona Davis has published! She has the undeniable talent to write an amazing story, with an entertaining history lesson. This one, was unfortunately, not my favourite of hers. She novels have always been about a famous New York landmark, and this story features two women… Hazel and Maxine, who met during WWII when they were acting on the stage for soldiers. Hazel goes on to write a play, and Maxine an actress, but when Maxine’s past starts to come out it’s clear that their greatest obstacle isn’t getting an award winning play… it’s politics. Set in the McCarthy era in which artists were blacklisted, and sentenced for possible involvement in communism, this book had moments that were interesting. But it didn’t really pick up until 200 pages! Two cool things that I really made this book interesting were the subtle references that Janis Joplin also lived at the Chelsea Hotel, and also that Fiona was inspired by Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids… which I need to read.

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman. (4 stars). Nina Hill is a bookseller, in a failing bookshop, who struggles with anxiety and luck in love. She’s an only child, growing up with not knowing who her father was… until one day she finds out her father has died. And Nina suddenly is thrusted into a very large family, with siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. As if this isn’t enough stress for Nina, she has met a man. Tom, who is perfect, and Nina is completely terrified of the possibility of pursuing a relationship with him. This book is so cute, it’s every booklover’s delight. After reading this book, I developed an even longer To Be Read List, that now includes The Prophet, Pride and Prejudice, and The Thorn Birds.

The Stranger Inside: A Novel

The Stranger Inside, by Lisa Unger. (5 stars). I received this book from Harper Collins Canada as an advanced copy in exchange for a review… Oh goodness, am I ever glad I did!!! I’ve never read a book by Lisa Unger before, but I will be reading her back catalogue now for sure. Rain is living the perfect suburban dream. A new baby, a dreamy husband, and a secretive past! Rain was a news journalist before having a baby, and when an old story resurfaces it brings back all the feelings of chasing a story, and her secretive past starts to slowly bubble up. This book is SOOOOOO good, it’s a thriller that’s so creative, and almost has tones of the HBO tv series, Dexter. I loved it and will be putting it into the hands of all my mystery/thriller fan book friends! It’s publication date is September 17th, so put it down on your list!!

A Quote to Ponder:

This is a quote from The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman and I re-read it, and thought I need to copy this one down. Nina quotes a line from The Prophet;

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.”

What I’ve been Reading Lately (08.05.19)

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Hey friends!! In Canada, we are celebrating a long weekend with some gorgeous sunny weather where I am. And our family has been sticking pretty close to home in the anticipation of (fingers crossed) I may going into labour! But that’s okay, there is a lot of fun to be had close to home. Plus, I’ve been reading some pretty great books lately… so here they are!

What I’ve been Reading Lately:

The Mountain Master of Sha Tin

The Mountain Master of Sha Tin, by Ian Hamilton. (4 stars). This is the 12th instalment of the Ava Lee series, and if you have been following me for awhile, this is one of those series that I will always be waiting for the next book to come out. But the last couple of books have been lacking that Ava Lee kick ass style… WELL this book brought it back. Ava and her team are thrown into a triad war in Hong Kong, where her enemy Sammy Wing, and his nephew are trying to reclaim old territory. This book brings back the old kick ass, Ava, and had me flipping through the pages so quickly! I love this series, and the newest instalment did not disappoint.

Stop Doing That Sh*t: End Self-Sabotage and Demand Your Life BackStop Doing That Shit, by Gary John Bishop. (3 stars). The title of this book is exactly what Bishop is addressing. He has a no bullshit attitude in which he thinks that whether it’s a health rut, money problems, or a life stand still… that getting over the excuses and using your subconscious to empower your thoughts can translate into the life you wish you had. I think that the first 10 chapters of this book were kind of lame… but the last three made up for it. He actually had some really great advice on how to stop doing sabotaging yourself, and things that I took notes on and will definitely be trying to put into action.

Searching for Sylvie Lee: A NovelSearching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok. (5 stars). Oh, this mysterious, family drama was so damn good. If you loved Miracle Creek, or Little Fires Everywhere… this book is for you! Set in Amsterdam, Sylvie Lee visits her dying Grandmother and goes missing. Her younger sister Amy, seems to be the only one worried about Sylvie, and goes on the hunt for what has happened to her. What she finds out is a load of family secrets, and that her perfectionist sister, may not be so perfect. I really loved this novel, and the beautiful prose, and setting made the plot just perfect for me!

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead. (4.5 stars). This was a highly anticipated one. After Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for his last novel, I think bookworms all over have been excited for to see what he would produce next! The Nickel Boys, is a historical fiction novel, based on a real reform school in the Jim-Crowe era Florida. The truth of what this reform school was is told through the relationship of the two characters, Elwood and Turner, who have been sentenced to it. This novel tells a history that needs to be known. With over 100 bodies found on the Florida Reform School for Boys site, and some being unmarked graves, the atrocities of what happened here range from sexual abuse, physical abuse, to murder. As a Canadian, it is very similar to what had happened at the residential schools, and what Wagamese’s novel Indian Horse was bring to light the horrors that had happened. I think that Whitehead’s novel will resonate in a very similar way, and allow a history to be known to more people.

A Quote to Ponder:

This passage is from The Nickel Boys, and Elwood had taken the spoken words of Dr. King, and applied them to his life at a young age… I think it’s a beautiful way that Whitehead honoured Martin Luther King Jr.

We must believe in our souls that we are somebody, that we are significant, that we are worthful, and we must walk the streets of life every day with this sense of dignity and this sense of somebody-ness. 

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!

 

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 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!

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

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I think most readers have a list of books that in their lifetime they want to have read. One Hundred Years of Solitude is on that great big list of books I want to read, so when our book club had it come up as the next one to read I was thrilled to finally have the push to crack it’s spine.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is an epic family story that spans 100 years of their lives throughout this novel. Gabriel García Márquez is a Nobel Prize Winner, and is said to have written this novel based on the stories his grandmother told. Along with the family story, it is a story based in the magical realism genre, and García Márquez is said to be the creator of it. It was incredible how the setting was so real to life, then in the next sentence something out of this world was happening. There was contagious insomnia, people eating dirt, and also coming back from the dead! Below is a quote that I think is such a great example of why this novel is so unique and brilliant:

A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.

This is the type of classic that you will feel strongly one way of the other… love or hate. I loved it. I felt like with every page the writing was making me feel smarter, and develop a deeper understanding of what great literature is. BUT, here’s the thing, this isn’t the type of book you can blast through. Each sentence requires such attention that I think this is why some people will not be able to read it or enjoy it.

García Márquez used this novel to also intertwine historical Columbian events such as, the Thousand Days’ War and, the Banana Plague. Along with these events, there were some big themes on solitude, fate, and the parallels that the novel ran with Catholicism. I love when a fictional novel can expand your knowledge on something you didn’t know, and for me, that is why reading is so powerful.

So friends, that’s all I have to say on this one! I’d love to hear if you’ve read it, or what book(s) is on your lifetime list.

Until next time, happy reading, friends!

 

 

 

I Was Anastasia, by Ariel Lawhorn

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I Was Anastasia was the book that I waited for on hold at the library for a LONG time. Between the hold list, and all the buzz in the bookish world, when I got this book in my hot little hands, I was pretty excited to crack it open.

This novel flops back and forth between two timelines. One being Russia, 1918, at the height of the revolution with Anastasia Romanov, and the entire imperial family, where they are forced into a damp basement in Siberia where their fate has brought them in front of a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed. The second timeline is Germany, 1920, when a young woman who closely resembles Anastasia Romanov is pulled from a freezing cold canal. This young woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia. From here, the reader is forced to try to make sense of whether this is or isn’t the real Anastasia.

Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.

This novel had great potential for me. I love historical fiction, and an interpretation on what really may have happened at a point in history. But this book, despite all the buzz, fell flat for me. I felt like the plot was could have been sensational, but the thread that should have held the book together just was not compelling at all to me. I felt this book lacked a passion behind it’s writing.

What I will tell you though is this book has been either a huge hit, or a huge miss for readers. I had reached out to some other readers over on Instagram and found that some people gave it a 5 star rating, and other’s were in the 2-3 range.  So my conclusion is that I think if you are a reader who love the bones of a book… great writing, and big themes, this may not be the book for you. But if you are the reader who loves a driving plot, and twists, this is one that you would probably really enjoy! I also think that this book could have some great discussion in a book club.

Please let me know what you think, I love hearing other opinions. Until next time, happy reading!

 

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood

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I have to be honest with you, the only reason I picked this book up off my shelf was because the series Alias Grace popped up on my Netflix feed. And now this book will be on my FAVOURITE BOOKS of all time. I can’t believe I have been bypassing this battered book that I picked up at Vinnie’s for $1 for a while now, and am really glad I decided to read it.

Here’s a quick synopsis: It’s 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. When Dr. Simon comes to interview Grace, he tries to unravel the truth of this crime.

Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word – musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.

Atwood is an incredible writer, but she’s also just a ballsy woman! She has the power to make you feel inside her character’s head, and to make you miss them the minute you finish reading her novels. She also takes really important topics, and weaves them through an entertaining plot. As a Canadian, this book is fascinating… it’s setting is at a pillar of Ontario history, the Kingston Penitentiary, and also Toronto area.

Grace’s character is mesmerizing. This whole novel you have no idea whether she had committed the crime, or was falsely accused. She is an excellent seamstress, and this is a big part of her character. Constantly weaving her clothing, and quilts, as she weaves her story of a crime.

And inside the peach there’s a stone.

Margaret Atwood put in so many interesting quotes, letters, and based this novel off of a real crime! It’s a fascinating story and I truly think that you need to read the book, or watch the Netflix show, as this is really interesting time in Canadian history… plus it’s just really entertaining.

Until next time, happy reading!

the Arrangement, by Sarah Dunn

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Okay, this one wasn’t my favourite… It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book I haven’t liked. And that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this one, it actually brought up a lot questions and situations that made me squirm! It was kind of like a train wreck.

Here’s the premise: Lucy and Owen have been married long enough to have lived in New York City and moved to the suburbs, have an 8 year old autistic son, decide to get 19 chickens, and be involved in their communities. Long enough to fall into a comfortable place within their marriage. Then after a very drunken night with some friends, they discuss the rules that they would place within their relationship if they planned on having an open marriage. After a long day, and a lot of thinking about how she has lost herself, Lucy decides to propose to Owen that they should do this as a trial for 6 months. Owen agrees… and I bet you can guess where this story is going to.

This book had a great potential to have some really deep, dark feelings get examined, but I feel like it fell short. It lacked a depth that I was craving within this story of relationship. Albeit the story was super juicy, and that kept wanting to read right till the bitter end. For anyone looking for a fast, beach read… go pick this one up! It fits the bill completely.

Until next time, happy reading!!!