And so the table turns, as does each page….slowly

It’s official…I’m in a slump. I’ve had the stomach flu twice, food poisoning, and a bad reaction to antibiotics. Food has become unappealing, bland, and uninteresting. It has been two months and I have started 3 books. They have been forgettable, boring, and made me avoid my reading time. Even this lover of food and books can admit that sometimes they can get disappointing. So if your taste in books is similar to mine, then here are books I DO NOT RECOMMEND.

Lorrie Moore “A Gate at the Stairs” I really enjoyed Moore’s book of short stories “Birds of America”, and attended a very memorable book event she headlined. Unfortunately, her novel was very disappointing. It was overly descriptive with very little plot action. And yet even the couple of interesting plot points, like adoption and a funeral, were almost skimmed over in their minimal detail. 0/5 bacon strips

George Eliot “Middlemarch” I want to like this book. I like classics. Or at least I thought I did. Maybe I only like Jane Austen considering that is the only classical author I can recall reading with excitement in the past few years. This book is in the top 100 books of all time, and I found a copy with a beautiful illustrated cover. I started “Middlemarch” in mid-January and decided to take a break after finishing Part 1. I have yet to get more than a few pages into Part 2. I’m just not interested. The story is taking too long to flesh out and I’ve already gotten the multiple characters confused. I haven’t quite given up on this one yet but for now, I am giving it a “don’t bother picking this up”. (bacon strips TBA)

Kelly Oxford “Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar” Sometimes over-the-top stories are hilarious and humanizing like Jenny Lawson’s books. And other times, over-the-top stories highlight stupid decisions, pot-fueled entitlement, and unrelatable decisions. Kelly Oxford’s book of essays was that. After giving it almost a month, I gave up halfway through to try and find a book that would make me enjoy reading again. 0/5 bacon strips

I hope this post helps you narrow down the many book options out there, so your reading repertoire contain more books you love than books that bore. Here is to finding a book that makes me love reading again! And lip-smacking food my stomach won’t reject. (Pancakes are sounding good about now.)

 

Licking the plate clean-A book that was hard to put down

It is only my second book of the year, and already I found a book that is a contender for my top reads of 2017. This book reminds of this brunch I had at a little restaurant in downtown Oakville. It was my first meal out with a newborn and it was a restaurant I had been wanting to try for awhile. My daughter was sleeping in her stroller and I was sipping the best latte ever when my meal came. I closed my eyes in ecstasy with each bite of the apple butter brioche French toast smothered in blueberry maple syrup. You know when food is so good that you don’t want to ever stop eating it; in fact, you feel like you could eat it everyday? That’s how I felt eating this meal. But soon the plate was empty and my stomach was bursting to full, and I realized that part of what made this food so good was that I didn’t eat it every day….that was this book.

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“The Best Kind of People” by Zoe Whittal was so good that I considered pulling an all-nighter just so I didn’t have to put it down….But then I realized that I have a toddler to take care of and the book would be waiting for me the next morning after a good sleep. George, the husband and father and beloved teacher, maintains his innocence when arrested for sexual misconduct against female students. Whittal takes a unique approach on this timely topic. The reader is taken into the thoughts of Joan, the wife; Andrew, the son; and Sadie, the daughter, who are struggling to decide what to believe and how to continue with their lives in a town divided while waiting for George’s trial. Sexual assault cases are complex and emotional, yet Whittal writes about this charged topic in a way that isn’t offensive and that looks at an angle that I’d never considered-the accused’s family. They have to continue their lives during the months before the trial while facing judgement from the town and grappling with the implications of this event. Whittal satisfies some of our curiosity about George and the sexual assault charges, but doesn’t let the details to overshadow the point of this book, which is to allow Sadie, Joan and Andrew to tell their stories.

Although this book was amazing, I could not read a book like this everyday. I would find it hard to have a life with these must-find-out-more books needing to be read; and books like these wouldn’t seem so special if I encountered one with every read. Plus, the topic of this book was heavy and in touch with the conversations going on today about sexual assault, so very close to reality. How much do we really know about our loved ones? What are we each capable of? How do we protect those we love? How do we continue with our lives after our family is affected by a criminal event?

So be prepared that this book deals with a lot of deep questions, but it is 100% worth delving into them through this storyline. “The Best Kind of People” is heartbreaking, explorative, and shocking.

5/5 bacon strips

(Afterwards, I needed a lighter read so I picked up “The One and Only” by Emily Giffin. It was cheesy and entertaining, which I needed after Whittal’s serious read. Sometimes a book works because it is read at the right place and time even if it isn’t a writing masterpiece. 3/5 bacon strips)

Savour these titles from 2016!

This is just a quick post to start off the 2017 year. I’ve got a new review in the oven, but I realized I never posted my Top 5 Must-Read books from my 2016 reading list. I have included the link to my review of each book so you can get an idea of why I recommend them, or a short blurb for those I have neglected to blog a review of (sacrilege I know!). Happy reading!

  1. Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis click here (I know this one was only 4.5/5 bacon strips but it’s unique story and the fact that it is still stuck in my mind after 5 months is what pushes it over “The Poisonwood Bible” onto my Top 5 list)
  2. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson click here
  3. Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb click here
  4. Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend (This is a non-fiction book that I finished in December 2016 and it has changed my life. Cloud & Townsend provide wise advice in setting appropriate boundaries in your relationships, your work, and even with yourself. There is a Christian angle to many of their chapters, including a chapter on boundaries in your relationship with God, which I found very insightful. But if you are not a Christian, this book still provides invaluable guidance that will improve your relationship, help you find a better life balance, and really live out your value. It’s not easy (change rarely is), but the results are 100% worth the effort; as is finishing this book. 5/5 bacon strips)
  5. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (Another well-written and captivating story from Genova that made it easy to flip each page, although heartbreaking to read the experiences of Sarah. After a car accident, Sarah experiences a brain injury that erases the left side of everything from her perspective (left hand, left side of the room, the fork on the left side of the plate). It was a strange concept for me yet Genova describes this odd injury so well that I was able to really picture what Sarah was going through. Genova also expertly navigates how neurological conditions affect family relationships as well as the life these patients once lived. I was caught up in cheering on Sarah as she attempted to find an equilibrium between the person she was and person she is now. 5/5 bacon strips)

Books of special note: “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” by Harvey Karp were the most helpful parenting books I read this past year. The first is great to read when you are expecting a baby or in the first few weeks of having a newborn, and the latter for any children ages 1-5 years old. Highly recommend both!

 

Comfort food=”Furiously Happy”

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“Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson is the best non-fiction book I have ever read. I’m not sure whether to call this book a memoir or a collection of essays, but whatever genre it falls under, it was captivating, hilarious, and heartwarming. Lawson skillfully writes episodes from her day-to-day life and brings the reader into her innermost thoughts. What makes her thoughts and daily stories so interesting is that they are fueled by her crazy antics with her cats, her silly fights with her husband, and her obsession with ethically-sourced taxidermy. And all of these stories are influenced by her battle with mental illness and insomnia.

Lawson is honest about her struggle with depression and social anxiety in a way that is rarely documented. She details her battle so you get a clear picture of how someone with these issues survives each day. Yet even though she describes her raw moments and offers words of encouragement to fellow battlers, this book is filled with laughter on each page as she reveals the humour in her craziness. This book shows that even though living with mental illness is hard, joy and love and laughter can still exist in your life. For Lawson, the way that mental illness has shaped her personality and her story seems to be the reason for the humour in her life.

As someone who also struggles with depression and anxiety, I was encouraged to read an honest account of someone living with mental illness and still thriving by the world’s standards-marriage, family, house, career. I was constantly laughing out loud at Lawson’s description of her various sleep disorders, her attempt to introduce her cats to water beds, and her adventures with her beloved stuffed raccoons (one is featured on the cover). I’m not giving away more than that, because you need to read these stories in her own words. The shock value of them is part of their hilarity. I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to laugh at people’s crazy antics and to anyone who struggles with mental illness. You are not alone and there can still be bright moments in life as we seek to be “Furiously Happy”!

5/5 bacon strips

Gobble it down!

You know how there are some foods that once you start eating you can’t stop until the bag is gone or the plate licked clean? My weakness is popcorn…especially those jumbo kettle corn bags from the farmer’s market…seriously, I will eat the entire bag in one sitting and then deal with an upset stomach the rest of the day.

I have also had a similar experience of “can’t stop until it’s finished” with books. Over the past few weeks, my baby was sick twice, I was sick twice, and we went on our first family vacation up to the lake. What that equals is a busy month with no blog posts but plenty of books read. These are the books I just couldn’t put down once I started, although not all of them left me satisfied when I finished.

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“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a story of a Baptist family from Southern U.S.A who become missionaries in the Congo in the 1950s. A stern father, an abused mother, and 4 daughters brimming with their own personality; an unforgiving jungle environment, a brewing civil war, and a complete lack of understanding by the Price family of their Congolese neighbours….the mission is obviously doomed from the start yet I was still caught off guard by all the twists in the story. Plus, Kingsolver’s use of first person narrative for a different Price woman each chapter is captivatingly effective. No wonder this was a book I couldn’t put down!

5/5 bacon strips

“Fifteen Dogs” by Andre Alexis

In modern day Toronto, two Greek gods give a pack of dogs human intelligence to settle a bet as to whether human intelligence causes more misery or contentment. And so begins one of the most interesting book concepts I have ever encountered. I couldn’t put this book down as Alexis drew me into the minds of these canine characters. I was anxious to find out how this strange story played out, and mulled over the connection of contentment and human intelligence long after I’d read the last page. A strange, interesting read.

4.5/5 bacon strips

 

“Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

I’m a sucker for anything related to Jane Austen. I read this book within a couple of days because it was an easy read and I was very interested to see how Sittenfeld would work in all of the elements of the Pride and Prejudice story. “Eligible” is a modern take on the Pride and Prejudice story. I enjoyed some of the modern spins on plot points such as the aging of the Bennett girls (Jane is approaching 40), the ignorance of Mr. & Mrs Bennett regarding their finances, and how Darcy and Liz first reveal their attraction to each other (not giving away more details since I don’t want to spoil it for you). I disliked the use of the reality show “Eligible” and Jane’s reproductive issues, as I found it cheapened the love story between Chip and Jane. I also think that is challenging to fit this story into contemporary time as the plot is built around 19th century society where it was normal that people married while knowing relatively little about each other. Today, it is often viewed in North American society as impractical and desperate to marry someone after only a few dates. Although I gobbled this story up, I wouldn’t dig into it again. (Check out “Longbourn” by Jo Baker for an amazing retelling of Pride and Prejudice.)

3.5/5 bacon strips

“China Rich Girlfriend” by Kevin Kwan

I was lucky enough to attend a discussion between Kevin Kwan and Elaine Liu, which was a pleasure to listen to and made me even more excited to read this sequel to “Crazy Rich Asians”. This book reminds me of the ease I feel in reading an Emily Giffin book: characters reveal their innermost thoughts simply, fashion and food descriptions abound, and reality show drama ensues. I quickly completed the book but didn’t feel the same satisfaction as I did with Kwan’s first book. The poison twist at the end seemed a little out of place with the novel’s high society drama, and more fitting for a crime novel or femme fatale plot. Still worth picking up if you want to revisit the characters of Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young, and get another peek into the whirlwind luxury life of the wealthy Asian elite.

4/5 bacon strips

Is there a book you read recently that you just couldn’t put down?

Trix and Chick Lit

Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids.

Silly English Major, Chick Lit is for not for serious readers.

Or at least that what I thought until my third year of university when I took a course called The Woman Writer. We read a large variety of literature written by women including a harlequin book, a blog, a memoir, and bestseller fiction. The large lesson I took away from this course is the value that all writing has and the genre it is put in should not dictate your judgement on that writing.

Chick Lit gets this reputation as silly books for women. It is a label often put on light-toned books centred around romance with a female protagonist. I’m not going to get into an opinion on why chick lit gets that reputation and what it says about society. But I am going to say that I enjoy Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas, Margaret Atwood, Ann-Marie MacDonald (insert other “serious” authors here both classic and contemporary)…AND I enjoy Chick Lit. Jojo Moyes, Philippa Gregory, and Emily Giffin.

After finishing “Sweetland” by Michael Crummey, I needed something I little more light-hearted to delve into, so I pulled out my Emily Giffin books and quickly read through each book. They were like a glass of deliciously sweet, refreshingly chilled pink wine.

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I used to feel guilty about reading books that do not belong in “serious” literature. Then I finished my English major degree and thought, “Who cares? People have been telling me what to read for the past 4 years, I am going to read what I want to.” So I started trying books from different genres and selecting more books by authors I enjoyed instead of those that one the Man Booker prize or were declared the “Dickens of our time”. (On a sidenote, I’ve also stopped trying to develop a more sophisticated wine palate and admitted that I like sweet rose wines, so that’s what I’m going to buy!)

Giffin’s books “Something Borrowed”, “Something Blue”, and “Baby Proof” deal with some pretty serious topics like adultery, divorce, and pregnancy. But the tone that Giffin uses is more like one friend gossiping to another about their mutual friend’s story. There are lots of personal details and fashion updates, and the focus stays on the relationship to self and others. I love that in all three of these books the protagonist is a strong, independent woman who stands true to who she is while also evaluating what she really wants, and by the end, pursuing what she really wants.

It’s not just the personal, casual tone that makes Giffin’s book fall into a category like Chick Lit but also the fantasy that plays out in a real-life setting. All three books describe a scenario of falling in love that is unlikely to happen in reality (most love stories I know are a little bit more down-to-earth: friends meeting each other other, falling in regular love, and then living a normal life together). In Giffin’s books it is: a romantic trip to Lake Como, Italy in a life already filled with spontaneous high-end travel; finding a rich, handsome boyfriend while unemployed and pregnant with twins in a foreign country; settling into a comfortable life of love with your best friend’s fiance with little guilt repercussions. Not really that realistic.

But who cares?! Part of the reason we read books is for entertainment. I do think we should read books that broaden our perspective, but I also think that we should read books just because we enjoy reading that particular book! I enjoyed reading these books by Giffin. I give them all 4/5 bacon strips.

So Mr. Rabbit grab your bowl of Trix and chow down happily with the kids. And Dear Reader, whether you like graphic novels, harlequin, young adult fiction, vampire series, children’s fantasy, Chick Lit, or any other genre, celebrate your consumption! And let’s stop judging others for the books on their shelves, and just be glad that we are all readers.

Disappointing 2nd helpings

I am sitting in a Starbucks since I needed a break from the house. I’ve been at home far too much over the past week taking care of my sick baby. And what better way to tap into my non-mom entity than to write a blog post. Because although the posts have been few, my book reading has amped up in recent weeks so I have books to review and literary things to discuss! Books are a beautiful thing; their ability to make me laugh, to take me into another world, to transform language. After loving one book in an author’s oeuvre, I am piqued to pick up another when I encounter it on a bookshelf. But all books, even by the same author, are not created equal. And so it is with the books in this blog post.

IMG_2136 [553027]“The High Road” by Terry Fallis

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, the name Terry Fallis may strike you as familiar. That is because I have written 2 blog posts praising his previous works (Up and Down and The Best Laid Plans). I was excited to read “The High Road” and to laugh at the Parliament Hill adventures of Angus McLintock and Daniel Addison once again. There were some good moments in the book and I still enjoyed Fallis’ portrayal of Canadian politics (and perhaps subtle suggestions on how to better the system). However, I found, contrary to his other works, that the balance between antics and reality went sour in this book. The events were overboard instead of being funny especially the incident with the boozy President’s wife. Daniel’s clumsiness was overkill to the point of becoming an annoyance instead of an endearing, comical characteristic. The plot also went too far in creating a happy ending. It wasn’t believable that McLintock’s admirable character and public speaking changed the mind of half of the country and the important political figures to alter the federal budget according to his report. The last straw in the believability was the heartless “Flamethrower” Fox questioning his well-established negative campaigning after encountering McLintock. This book tried too hard to tie up all of the loose ends to make a dish as pleasing as its predecessor, and ended up flavourless in comparison. One disappointing book in a bunch is not enough from trying more by this author; that is how much I enjoyed his previous offerings!

2/5 bacon strips

“Sweetland” by Michael Crummey

Crummey’s book Galore was one of my favourite books from 2015, so I recommended to Tori that we read “Sweetland” for our first shared book discussion. Crummey maintained his high level of writing in “Sweetland”, but the tone was even darker than “Galore”, which had given its darkness a mystical quality that detached it from reality. “Sweetland” has no redemption to the darkness and one event was so heart-wrenching that it caused the book to be added to the small list of books that made me cry. I had to dive into multiple light-hearted novels to pull me out of the sad slump this book put me in. But that also shows how amazing Crummey is at attaching your heart to his characters and pulling you into their stories.  If you like a dark read that explores survival in a solitary environment, lost love, old man stubbornness, death and the Newfoundland landscape than this is the book for you. As for me, I’m not convinced I want to try another Crummey book as it sat too heavily in my stomach.

2/5 bacon strips

“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

I was engrossed by the first person narrative and unique plot of “Never Let Me Go”. The front of “The Remains of the Day” had a quote from The New York Times Book Review calling it “A dream of a book.” This book did remind me of dreams…because it was so boring I almost fell asleep. The tale is told from the perspective of an aging British butler reviewing his life while taking a road trip through the English countryside. I thought that there would be something deeper to that concept or a shocking revelation like in “Never Let Me Go”, which is what kept me reading to the end (although I did skip over some of the passages when he began talking yet again about the indescribable quality that makes a good butler). But the end was as boring as the middle and the beginning. Bland and barely palatable, I do not foresee going up for more servings of Kazuo Ishiguro.

1/5 bacon strips

I’d like to hear from you! (especially as I’m always looking for a good book recommendation)! What book disappointed but whose author still remains beloved to you?