Category Archives: Books

Good Reads (Mostly)

I’m running out of names for book posts. Pretty sure I’ve used this one before. Anyway, I am here with some book reviews! And still talking about books I read last year. I think I still have 20 more I want to talk about so I better get on it!

sit in the sun and read

What a dream that would be.

Back in February last year I set a goal for myself to read as many books as possible written by a person of colour, in honour of Black History Month. I think I only got through three during that month but I enjoyed them so much that I kept on with it throughout the year and read about eight more (and I hope to get through a bunch more this year). This book is one of them:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Holy moly, this was so good. I think this book needs to be required reading for white people. It was amazing and I’m pretty sure it changed my life. Well, that might be giving it a lot of credit, but it certainly will stick with me for a long time, and it did change my perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement (or just additional perspective maybe). It also opened my eyes to aspects of my own white privilege that I never before considered. Yes of course all lives matter, but, being a white person, I have never been made to feel as if my life didn’t matter.

When I was growing up it was definitely instilled in me that if I’m ever in trouble I should look for a police officer, because they will keep me safe and protect me. The (black) protagonist of this book, Starr (who I absolutely adored as a character), did not have the same experience. She got an entirely different message from her parents — about how to behave around police officers so she didn’t attract suspicion and get arrested, or worse, shot. This was very eye opening to me. It wasn’t something I ever had to worry about, and therefore never thought about.

As well as being an important, poignant story, it was so well-written, incredibly emotional, and I couldn’t put it down. The book is super hyped right now, but I think it lived up to it. Of all the books I read this year, this is the one that is unforgettable. I can’t think of a single flaw. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Just incredible, and I give it all the stars! If you read one book this year, make it this one!

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich


Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

This book is dubbed Hillbilly Noir, which uh, what? Interesting. That’s a genre I had never heard of before but was intrigued by the sounds of. And I think it was pretty accurate because it seemed like The Godfather, Hillbilly Edition. I’m not sure this is a book I would normally pick up but it was recommended to me a while ago by one of my lovely blog readers! And I’m so glad, because it was so good! Surprising when I think about it because the book is dark, grim, angry, and I don’t think there is a single happy moment. But the story was gripping and interesting and unputdownable in a different way than The Hate U Give. Mountains, moonshine, drugs and dysfunctional families, so you know, good times all around. 4 stars from me. Highly recommend.

The Circle by Dave Eggers


When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public.

Ugh. Awful. I realllly wanted to like this, I thought it was going to be right up my alley. But alas, no. I gave it two stars because I thought it was a great idea and it had so much potential, but then it was all just squandered. Mae was such a weird character. I just wanted to shake her and be like “WHY ARE YOU SUDDENLY OKAY WITH THIS?!” She seemed so out of character for much of the book, but maybe that was just her character: unpredictable in a very annoying way. It really bothered me that she kept referring to her ex-boyfriend as a fat ass and fat f*ck. Excuse you! Also, this book gave me a lot of anxiety when I was reading it — I felt like I was at work! Mae goes into such tedious detailing describing her daily tasks, and every single step she takes to do her job, that I felt like I was there, working. I do not need to hear about every message you respond to and every tiny task you accomplish. I would say a good third of the book was just Mae describing her work day, it was so repetitive. Ugh, and all the social media she needed to keep up with. It distressed me. It got to the point where I couldn’t read it before bed because it made me feel too anxious. And just when you think the book might redeem itself, the ending is terrible. Actually I think I’m going to go back and change my Goodreads review to one star. I really disliked.

I thought the movie was a bit better because, first of all, Emma Watson, and they changed the most annoying things about the book. I remember texting my coworker (we had vented about the book together at length) and saying “this movie is like the book I wanted to read!” And thankfully they changed the ending a bit. Still though, when we were watching it Evan turned to me and said “WHY IS MAE SUDDENLY OKAY WITH THIS?!” I know, right?! Anyway, I don’t really recommend. Life is too short to waste time on this book. The movie though, watch that.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick


A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

I really need to review books just after I read them because I gave this four stars on Goodreads and now I can’t remember why. I listened to it as an audiobook and I remember that it was a quick and fun read (listen) and it made me laugh a few times, but I don’t remember a lot of details. I like Anna Kendrick though and I enjoyed hearing her narrate it, probably much more than I would have enjoyed actually reading it. I enjoyed her weirdness. Oh and I liked that she was open and frank about a lot of taboo things, like sex.

Sorry, this is a pretty useless review. It was fine but not memorable.

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy, the Shocking Inside Story


Ann Rule was a writer working on the biggest story of her life, tracking down a brutal mass-murderer. Little did she know that Ted Bundy, her close friend, was the savage slayer she was hunting.

Evan and I listened to this as an audiobook on a long drive to a friend’s cottage in the summer, and we got through it in a few hours so I’d say it’s a quick read. Ann Rule was the narrator, and I will say that she’s a bit weird and not exactly the best writer or narrator in general BUT. We both really enjoyed the story because HOLY it’s crazy!! I am an avid listener to My Favorite Murder (yes, I am a murderino! And we have a crazy, scary but fascinating serial killer case happening in Toronto right now — the murderer, who is a landscaper, has been hiding dismembered body parts in people’s planters in the city!!!! Horrifying) and although I knew about Ted Bundy, I didn’t really know the details until Karen did it on the MFM podcast. That made me want to read this, and Evan listens to MFM as well so I knew he would enjoy, too. The book went even further into the Bundy details, and it was super interesting and fascinating. And of course, as you would expect, heartbreaking and horrifying. Though it was very matter of fact, not told in an emotional way. I can’t believe how many women he killed and that he got away with it for so long! I also did not realize that he broke out of jail and killed more girls! Ahh he was such a monster.

I do feel, however, that Ann was a bit of a Ted groupie and almost admired him, so that was weird. Anyway, if you like true crime I recommend!


All the Books

I’m almost at my 40 book goal for the year, which seems nuts. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I’m at 38 right now and still going strong so that goal is gonna be mine, all mine! I don’t want to overwhelm you with my thoughts on ALL THE BOOKS, but here’s another five I read this year (my last books post is here).

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The synopsis is long so I won’t post it but you can read it here, and I’ll leave this quote here because I think it gives you a good idea of what you’re in for:

“Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing.”

Ohh, what a great book! I really enjoyed it. Definitely the best psychological thriller I’ve read this year, and I can see it sticking with me for a long time. I went into it blind, though still I guess with a subconscious idea of what it was going to be about, but it was not at all what I expected and was full of surprises. Basically the premise is that there are a certain type of people in the world who are okay to kill because they’re not good people. Obviously I am not saying that I share this point of view, but it was different from the usual narrative and I appreciated that. It got me thinking and questioning things that I had never really given thought to before. The writing style was also really good, which is always a plus. I’m not going to say much more about the story because I think it’s best if you go into the book blind like I did, but I definitely recommend.

Finding Aubrey by Sophie Kinsella


Audrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.

Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she’d thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.

I’m not a big Sophie Kinsella fan, usually because I find her characters to be so incredibly frustrating and make the most self-sabotaging decisions that I just don’t care to read about them or the consequences (mostly her Shopaholic protagonist). But this book was refreshingly different. It was surprisingly adorable, funny, heartwarming and serious all at the same time. I found her depiction of a teenage girl living with social anxiety while she struggled to find herself realistic, and seeing how her family members dealt with it also rang true. I liked it, it was cute and a quick read with a good message.

Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan


When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

This was extremely interesting, and also terrifying. I could not help but put myself in Susannah’s situation, and thinking about my brain suddenly turning on me and making me feel increasingly paranoid, forgetful and oversensitive to light, sound, etc. (and other alarming things) was very scary. I did not even know that was possible! Also terrifying was how close her symptoms were to just being brushed off and misdiagnosed as a sudden mental illness like schizophrenia (treatable with medication but in her case that wouldn’t have made a difference).

I will say though, that the book was very heavy on information and less of an emotional story and I was looking for more of a personal connection with Susannah. I’m surprised that didn’t come across since she was telling her own story. Some of the science descriptions went over my head as well, but overall I enjoyed it. I listened to this as an audiobook, which was read by the author, and that may have added a little something for me. It’s going to be a movie so I had to read it before it came out!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

Again a very long synopsis but you can read it here.

Ugh, this book was not for me. I love a good historical fiction and this started out very promising but it just got so melodramatic and over the top and cheesy. Sometimes I don’t mind that but the story just wasn’t juicy enough. So cutesy and twee. I found myself rolling my eyes all the way through. I’m also not usually the type to figure out the twists before they happen, but this one was not a surprise to me.

The reviews are really good overall though, so maybe I’m in the minority. One thing I did love was the setting of the Rhode Island coastline. And the cover, that drew me in when I was looking for a light summer read.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

Loved this. I’m not sure why it took me so long to read it. I’ve had this on my to-read list since I worked at Chapters over 10 years ago! It was My Favorite Murder (yes, I am a Murderino and actually saw them live in Toronto!) that spurred my interest again in picking it up.

Capote is truly a talented writer. I was so impressed with how he told this story so impartially. He was so good at relaying facts and details from all sides and he really gave you a complete picture of everyone involved, from the Clutter family, to the murderers and their families, to the investigators, to the lawyers, to the neighbours and people who lived in their community. His telling of the Clutters and their daily routine leading up to their murder was especially heartbreaking — I could get a sense of who each of them were and could picture them clear in my mind as real people. And reading from Dick and Perry’s (the murderers) perspectives was so interesting and disturbing because the entire time you’re asking yourself, why, WHY, what caused you to be this evil? And how can you sometimes seem normal? It was weird. But a really good true crime read. Highly recommend.


Good Reads

Back in January I set a goal on Goodreads to read 40 books this year. My goal last year was 25 books and I was super proud when I slayed it early! But, I was commuting on the bus/subway for two hours a day, so it was easy to burn through the books. Now that I’m driving to work my reading time has been cut down significantly and the 40 books goal may have been a lofty one. I got off to a slow start this year and didn’t read much in the spring when the height of wedding things were happening (I was so overstimulated our entire time in Cuba that I read maybe four pages total). But this summer I stepped it up, I spent a lot of my not-blogging time reading. I’m up to 30 books read now and I think I might get to my goal. I have a lot of books to talk about and I haven’t written a books post since March, so here’s a few of the ones I got through!

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica


In downtown Chicago, Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her roommate Quinn Collins to question how well she really knew her friend. Meanwhile, in a small town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more sinister.

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under the stranger’s spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us.

It was okay. I wasn’t super enthralled. I had a hard time connecting to any of the characters because they just didn’t seem like real people to me. I was surprised at the ending but I also felt at that point that I didn’t really care what happened? It took so long for anything to happen that by the time things started to come together I wasn’t feeling it anymore. I love a good psychological thriller and the slow burn of knowing something big is coming up, but in this case I wasn’t invested enough in the characters to appreciate it. I did appreciate how the two storylines were so different and how in the end they synced up, but I think the book glossed over some parts of Alex’s storyline that would have made the ending pack more of a punch if they had been developed further. So just okay for me, but some reviewers LOVE IT so maybe you will too!

The Girls by Emma Cline


Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Oooh, I liked this one. I don’t even know how I found out about this book but I liked the cover so I added to my Goodreads to-read books. I love a good hippie cult coming of age story (who doesn’t?!). The book was clearly based on the Manson Family, she really only changed a few insignificant details as far as I could tell, so if you know that story well this probably won’t be anything surprising to you, but knowing that story helps to create a good visual for this one. I could clearly see the setting and the girls. It’s definitely a bit overwritten and some of the writing seemed awkward and try-hard which at times was annoying, but overall I was into it. I thought the author did a great job of describing adolescent female insecurity, and I could really empathise with Evie. I remember being that age and just wanting more than anything to be popular (I was not) so the way the author set everything up did a great job of showing how a regular “good” girl could end up with the wrong crowd. The wrong crowd being the Manson cult. She also did a great job of describing Evie’s girl crush on Suzanne. As a reader, I really felt it.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood


Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. 

Oh hello, OPEN MY EYES! This was amazing. I already love Trevor as a comedian because I love that he doesn’t resort to certain type humour for an easy laugh (poop humour for example). He is clever and witty and doesn’t shy away from talking about controversial issues like race, hate speech, police brutality, white-privilege, etc. I can’t imagine it’s easy to bring out the humour in those issues, but he does. He’s a great storyteller and the stories about his childhood and what it was like to grow up with a white father and a black mother in South Africa during apartheid (when it was illegal for South African citizens to marry or have sex across racial lines — hence why Trevor was literally born a crime), and his struggle to find his identity and fit in, well it was eye opening. Really interesting to read about. His writing is thoughtful and intelligent and he shares his perspective so well, plus he’s hilarious and was clearly a pretty naughty child, so those stories were entertaining. I think it’s an important book to read and one of the best I’ve read in a while.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner


If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

I tried to listen to this as an audio book back in 2016, had a hard time getting into it and stopped listening, and then picked it up again this year. I liked it a lot more the second time around. The plot was interesting and kept me hooked and I ended up enjoying the book overall, but there were a few things I didn’t love. I wish the characters had more personality, or some of the secondary characters had been explored a bit deeper. Thomas (the main character) wasn’t my favourite. And I wish they described Theresa, the only girl, as something more than “pretty”. The “love story” aspect kind of felt like it was just thrown in there and didn’t develop naturally. I was also not a big fan of the ending. Overall, I liked. I bet I would have absolutely this book had I read it back in 2010, but now with so many dystopian sci-fi books to choose from I’m not sure it holds up as well. I do want to watch the movie now!

Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama

The synopsis is here, it’s pretty long.

So I listened to this as an audio book, which is read by Barack Obama, and I would just like to say that I could listen to him talk to me for hours and hours, so that alone made this book a great experience for me. I mostly listen to audiobooks when I’m driving or cooking, and sometimes I find them hard to follow and I tend to start thinking about something else in my head and realize I’m not paying attention and I’ve just missed half the chapter. But with Obama speaking, I was never not paying attention. He has such a commanding, comforting voice, like listening to a trustworthy family member. A loved uncle.

I love that he wrote this before he was president, because somehow it seems more honest and candid than it might have had he written if after. But I think this would be a great book even if it wasn’t written by the former POTUS. I loved hearing more about his background, his family and his upbringing. When he talked about visiting his family in Kenya that was a real highlight for me.

The book provides a better understand of who Obama is and why he is the way he is, how hard he worked for his community. Something that continues to impress me about him, and I really got a sense of this in the book, he is just so pragmatic. He takes the time to look at problems and issues thoughtfully and from every angle. That is an admirable quality. Highly recommend this read.


Black History Month Reading

I mentioned in my last books post that in honour of Black History Month in February I was reading books written by a POC or about the black experience. It took a while for my holds from the library to be available (and I still have a bunch of holds so I’ll be reading more of these types of books for a while — I don’t mind!) so I only ended up getting through three in February. All were fantastic. Here they are.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

This book was incredible, but also horrific. I have obviously read about slavery in the past but every time it hits me anew how horribly these people were treated. It is deeply saddening and disgusting. It makes me so angry that white people thought it was okay to discriminate against people who looked different than them. It’s beyond words awful and, being of British descent (somewhere over on my mother’s side), it makes me feel ashamed.

This book really drove home the point of how slavery and oppression and segregation has affected black people for hundreds of years, and how it still is. It will stay with me for a long time to come. And it was so well written — everyone needs to read it!

My only complaint is that you don’t get to spend a lot of time with each character. Every chapter is about someone new, a descendent of Effia, then a descendent of Esi, repeat, and I got so attached to some of the earlier characters that I could have read an entire book about just them! It moves on quickly, but it’s also pretty long, so I don’t think the author could have fit anymore in. I also enjoyed how the author made the characters imperfect, as they would be, for example in the more recent years the novel spanned, the addict who abandoned his children. People aren’t perfect. They weren’t all necessarily good people, they were absolutely flawed, but they didn’t deserve their circumstances.

It’s a stunning novel and I absolutely loved it. It was a perfect Black History Month read.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.

When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways.

This was the next book that became available on my library holds list and it wasn’t the first book I wanted to read by Chimamanda, but it was her first so I guess it worked out. I really enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down. I loved Kambili and was so heartbroken for her. Her father was an abusive POS and I wanted to reach into the book and slap him across his smug face. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Kambili and her brother (and her mother) living under his rule, for pleasing him to be their only goal in life. Awful.

I don’t think the synopsis does it justice at all — it’s beautifully written and an incredibly moving and intriguing story with a lot of depth. I loved it.

I also loved learning a bit about the Nigerian culture — the Igbo language, politics, religion and cuisine. One of my former coworkers turned friends (and the woman who is making our wedding cake!) is from Uganda and she would always bring in these dishes for lunch that had a savoury sauce made from groundnuts — usually over plantains or chicken. She explained to me that groundnuts were sort of like peanuts, but had a bit of a different taste. I loved it so much that a couple of times she actually made me a dish to bring home for dinner! In both this book and the next book I read (by the same author) those groundnuts were prominent. I didn’t realize how much of a staple they were in African cuisine. It also made me wish there were more African restaurants in Toronto, beyond the trendy Ethiopian and Eritrean ones.

Anyway, I highly recommend. I couldn’t put it down.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Another absolutely incredible read. I don’t know how I can even begin to review it because there is so much depth to this novel and there is a large cast of memorable characters. I loved Ifemelu and Obinze, together and apart, and I loved Ifemelu’s blog posts that would pop up from time to time. I could fully picture Ifemelu, she had so much substance and her character development was one of the strongest I’ve ever read in a book. She was a real person to me and I feel like I want to know her in real life!

What I found the most interesting was Ifemelu’s thoughts about race after she moved to America, specifically that she had never really thought about it, she never had to. She never thought of herself as “black” until she moved to America, because that was the label Americans gave her.

It’s an amazing read and I highly recommend.

I loved reading books written by people who have had much different life experiences than I did, growing up sheltered in a bubble in the middle of nowhere. I cringe when I think of the person I was before college, and before I moved to the city, when I met people who were different than me. I think it’s important to hear and learn about the various experiences of other people, so that we can try to understand them. This really inspired me to branch out from my usual, and I want to keep that up in the future!


Winter Reading

Now that I’m no longer commuting to work my reading time has cut down significantly. I don’t always miss taking the subway, but I do miss subway reading time (and the stories). I’ve managed to pack in a few books though and I better keep it up because I’ve set a goal for myself in Goodreads to read 40 books this year. I read 36 last year and I felt like I could have read a few more so I upped it. It’s definitely going to be harder now that I don’t have that subway reading time, but I’m trying!

In honour of Black History Month, this month I am only reading books written by a person of colour or about the black experience. I’m currently reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, but I’m hoping to get a few more in so please let me know if you have any recommendations!

Anyway, here are a few I’ve read lately.

It’s Not Okay by Andi Dorfman


Millions of people tuned in to see Bachelorette star Andi Dorfman get engaged to her chosen suitor. But when the cameras turned off and the dust (or rose petals) had settled, Andi realized she was engaged to a man she’d known for barely two months. And as they endeavored to return to normal life, they discovered that happily ever after wasn’t as easy as it looked. In her own words, Andi delivers “plenty of surprise (and some disturbing) details” (Cosmopolitan) as she tells the whole truth about her entry into the exclusive Bachelor family, her experience on the show, and finally, what happened to make it all fall apart.

But this is much more than the diary of a very public breakup—Andi divulges her story along with some no-nonsense, straight-talking advice to other women dealing with their own romantic issues. In It’s Not Okay, Andi is the best friend we all wish we had, telling us the good, the bad, and the ugly to inspire us to always be true to ourselves and remember breakups may be hard, but it’s always going to be okay.

So like most people I really liked Andi in Juann Pablo’s season (because she stood up to him and I HATED him), but didn’t like her as much when she was the actual Bachelorette. And with her book. I enjoyed it when she was giving juicy details of the Bachelor, the cast, and her relationships, but could have done without her preachy breakup advice and to-do/don’t lists. My bestie warned me about that going in, so I was prepared, but I disliked that part of it and definitely did some skimming. I did enjoy that she wrote very conversationally.

Something that really bothered me was that she was so upset about Nick slut-shaming her on After The Final Rose (when he asked her why she would make love to him when she wasn’t in love with him), however she herself seemed to slut-shame other women MANY times in her own book. She also mentioned several times that she wasn’t slutty, wasn’t a whore, never slept around, etc. Um, we get it, but who cares? I’m not sure why that was necessary to mention. But maybe she still felt insecure due to her jealous and controlling ex-fiance who always thought she was cheating on him. That I can understand because I also have a jealous and controlling ex-boyfriend who constantly thought, for no reason, that I was cheating on him when we were together, so I also tended to get defensive about stuff like that. Josh reminded me a lot of that ex boyfriend, so it was interesting to read about his jealous behaviour because I recognized so much of it. In her book it felt like she was STILL trying to prove to him that she wasn’t slutty. That came across to me.

Other things that bothered me… Most of her stories/anecdotes seemed to put herself in the best (read: coolest and most laid back) light possible, and sometimes when she was explaining things that happened they just didn’t ring true. Especially when she described things she did after her breakup. I could sense a ton of exaggerating. And OMG when she was talking about her revised life timeline! She was saying if she wanted to get married and have kids now, by the time that happened she could be 35 and would be the oldest mother in the neighbourhood. 35. THE HORROR! She is STILL under 30. She was what, 27, 28 when this book was written? Her revised “emergency” timeline for life events is MY ACTUAL, PLANNED, TIMELINE. Ugh, STFU. It was enraging.

Something she wrote that I resonated with though was that she learned something from each of her relationships chronologically. I feel like that, too. I’ve learned things from each of my past relationships and those lessons have finally lead me to the creme de la creme, Evan. I hope she really did learn something this time and does not go back to her preferred jocky type of dude bro again. Andi, they’re all the same.

Whew, I didn’t realize how many opinions I had about that book until I started writing. Anyway, 2 stars. Not as good as Courtney Roberts’ book in my opinion, but Andi dishes!

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter


Sisters. Strangers. Survivors.
More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.
The disappearance of a teenage girl and the murder of a middle-aged man, almost a quarter-century apart: what could connect them? Forming a wary truce, the surviving sisters look to the past to find the truth, unearthing the secrets that destroyed their family all those years ago . . . and uncovering the possibility of redemption, and revenge, where they least expect it.

Going into this book I had NO IDEA how graphic and sexually violent it was going to be. So, just a heads up on that. It caught me off guard and I do think there should be a warning somewhere because I could see it being triggering to many people. It was one of the most extremely graphic books I’ve ever read. HOWEVER, maybe something is wrong with me because I loved it and I was enthralled the entire time. I could not put it down and it reminded me how much I love reading a good thriller! Though it was disturbing and admittedly left me feeling heavy, I think that the extreme graphic violence was almost necessary for the punch of the storyline. It was startling. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely going to stay with me for a long time. I thought it was a good psychological thriller and I give it a solid four stars.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer


In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is – a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.

Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friends – an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably – but only because it’s over.

I also gave this four stars and now I’m having a hard time remembering why. It was pretty good, though I was certainly not sobbing uncontrollably because it was over. I liked it more than Amy Poehler’s book, but less than Tina Fey’s and Mindy Kaling’s. I don’t think that I’m at all a prude (um, see the book above I just gave a raving review to), but sometimes Amy gets a bit cringey for me. I like that she’s upfront about sex — I feel that’s hard for women to do without being called certain labels. However, I think she relies a lot on that shock factor for laughs, which to me has always seemed like a cheap way out. I prefer a sharp wit.

I enjoyed reading about her family life and her childhood. I’m not sure if her parents would be able to say the same, though… Overall, she seems like a real, regular person, and I appreciate that. So, it was pretty good.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. With wit and wisdom, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between these four women and their American-born daughters. As each reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined.

One of my former coworker friends, who is Chinese, recommended this to me. I do not know a lot about Chinese culture, so that was new to me and interesting to read about, and I enjoyed reading about the mother-daughter relationships and the rivalries between the women. I also like reading stories about people who have immigrated to North America in general (both fiction and non-fiction). But, it took a while for me to get into it. I found it picked up the last third of the book or so and then I was thoroughly engaged and into the story, but it was a long slog until that point. I’m okay with that because the last third had so many redeeming qualities, but I did put the book down and read others before coming back and finishing it.

I found the characters confusing, also. I’d start reading someone’s chapter and be all “wait, whose daughter is this again?” and have to go back to the character chart at the front of the book to confirm. That was a bit annoying.

It did sort of feel like a mandatory high school read but overall it was pretty good and I’d recommend it.


Good Reads

The holidays are coming up so just in case you find yourself with some leisure time and are looking for something to read, here’s a few books I’ve read lately.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty


Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Heyyyy likeable characters, it’s been so long! A lot of the books I’ve been reading lately I’ve strongly disliked the major characters so this was a refreshing change. I didn’t read a synopsis or any reviews of the book before I started reading it so I did not realize it was more of a mystery and that a major theme was going to be domestic violence. But that was actually a pleasant surprise. While being a playful, light read it manages to cover some pretty serious topics. I’m really liking Liane Moriarty lately. This book had funny moments with women who felt like real people and who had believable relationships. I liked it a lot and I had a hard time putting it down once I got into it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Once I realized this entire book was written in letters, a la Where’d You Go Bernadette, I was worried I wasn’t going to like it. But this book was so lovely. The letters back and forth between Juliet and her new friends gave the book a personal touch, it gave a glimpse into their lives, and I loved the way Juliet’s character in particular wrote. She was witty, funny and a good storyteller. I totally fell in love with her. I also loved hearing about this fantastic, badass woman Elizabeth. I actually felt like I knew the characters after reading their letters and I wish I could just take a boat over to Guernsey and meet them all! This is one of the first WWII book (well, aftermath WWII but it did describe disturbing events) that I’ve read that is funny and felt lighthearted. I have to say though, about three quarters of the way through I felt a change – the story sort of turned into more of a romance, a few minor plot things seemed to be dropped or downplayed, and I felt that it ended abruptly. I did not realize until afterwards that unfortunately the original author passed away before finishing the book and someone else stepped in and completed it, so I think that was probably the reason. I still loved it though. And it made me want to take up writing letters to my friends.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Twenty years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all.

A Canadian author! And you could tell, too. The story starts off in Toronto and the author name drops just about every Toronto landmark and downtown street name in the first chapter. Which I of course appreciated as a Torontonian, but it got me thinking – is it common in books for the city the book is set in to be like a minor character, or was I just hyper aware because the scenery was familiar to me? I still don’t know. It even mentioned Allan Gardens, where Evan took me with spiked coffees on our second date! So yeah, I experienced some nostalgia. Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. It made me want to read other apocalyptic novels (if anyone has any recommendations I’d take them!). Some things didn’t feel realistic to me (apocalypse aside), like seriously no one could figure out how to generate electricity again after 20 years? That surprised me for some reason. But I really enjoyed the plot and the characters, especially when the book went back and described their lives before the collapse. I do wish some more time was spent in the immediate aftermath of the collapse and how the characters made it because that was super interesting. Overall, I liked!

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri


The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

Ehhh. I was disappointed. It was okay but I expected so much more! I feel like there was so much potential but nothing really happened! I read it a couple months ago and when I think about it now no events stand out to me. Basically the story is about an Indian family assimilating into American culture as immigrants and what kind of adjustments they make to their lives. I really think that has the potential to be interesting but it just…wasn’t. The author is a beautiful writer, but the book consisted of a lot of descriptions and filler and a ho-hum main character. There was no payoff and the story needed more. In my opinion anyway, it does have some rave reviews. I don’t know what I was expecting but I did not love.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes.

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.

I guess I’m on a Liane Moriarty kick! I still love her and I liked this. It got me thinking how much my life has changed in 10 years and if something happened to me and I forgot everything and thought the year was 2006 and I was still living the life I was then… Actually, you know what, I’m glad I’m not. 2016 is much better for me. What I thought was the most interesting is that when Alice loses her memory everyone around her starts seeing their own lives in reflection to what her memory is of them 10 years ago, and they don’t like themselves, either. Another book that deals with some heavy topics (divorce, death, infertility, the breakdown of a family) but still manages to remain light and sometimes funny. I thought it was smart and thought-provoking and I enjoyed.