A scary bookish tale

Let me tell you about a seriously dark day in my recent past.

It was a Thursday in October. I decided to drive to work, something that I don’t normally do but it meant that I’d be able to get to work earlier and, crucially, that I’d be able to leave and start my weekend sooner.

When I drive, I know that I’m losing out on nearly two hours of reading time. I do not make this decision lightly. But, I also know that I’ll still have my lunch break to read so a book always gets tucked in my bag anyway.

On this particular day, I forgot to bring a book with me.


Do you need a minute to process this? That’s ok. Take your time, I’ll wait.

I realized that I didn’t have any reading material with me as soon as I got to work. My mind started racing with questions: What would I do with my lunch? Go to the bookstore? Go to the library? Would I just pick a book and start reading it? Or spend the whole time browsing?

In the end, I decided that I’d go to the library. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by all the books I have at home to read so if I added to that pile via the library, at least there’d be less guilt over not reading them.

But then! When I got to the library, I didn’t care about any of the books I saw. I didn’t want to read any of them. I was just lamenting the fact that I had forgotten my book. I didn’t care about Ian Rankin, books about Versailles, classics or books that had been on my list for ages. Nothing struck my fancy. I didn’t even wander up to non-fiction to see what was on offer.

It was all very unsettling.

Finally, as I was nearing the end of the alphabet, Zadie Smith’s NW jumped out at me. An odd choice given how I felt about White Teeth last year. But because her new novel is about to come out, Smith seems to be everywhere and I’m very drawn to her.

And then, I ran back to H and grabbed Juliet, Naked because I remembered that I always enjoy Nick Hornby. Pretty sure I have Chelsey @ Chels and a Book to thank for that!

So my tale ends happily: I had reading for the day in question, I’m jazzed about reading and I finished the book that I had so sadly forgotten at home. Just a momentary blip of bookish insanity.

What do you do if you don’t have reading material with you?


2016 TBR Pile Challenge: Matriarch

We’re getting pretty close to the end of the year! Which means holidays, darker days, lots of eating scheduled, and that I’m running out of time to complete the Unofficial 2016 TBR Pile Challenge.

I’m not quite throwing in the towel, but I’m starting to resign myself to the fact that it might not happen this year.

But the year isn’t quite over, so I dug into Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards.

So Queen Mary was the real deal. She was born a Princess, but was one of those impoverished relatives who spent her youth putting off creditors and relying on other, more well-off relatives for extended visits.


At some point, Queen Victoria decided that lovely, clever, dignified Princess May (she was born Victoria Mary Augusta Louisa Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes but was called May after the month of her birth) would be the perfect wife for second-heir Prince Eddy (eldest son of heir Bertie, who would become King Edward VII). But then Eddy had to go and die (he was an odd duck, a possible homosexual and rumoured to have been Jack the Ripper) and after a suitable period of mourning, her “affections” were transferred to Prince Eddy’s younger brother, Prince George (who would go on to become King George V).

Here’s the number one thing I learned about Queen Mary: she believed in the power of Monarchy. She was dignified, a core of strength for her family during some dark days and she revered the position of Monarch.

“Queen Mary had lived her life with dedication to the principle of Monarchy, and she died as she had lived, as her Sovereign’s most devoted subject.”

Seriously – Queen Mary is the reason Queen Elizabeth II is as dedicated as she is. She was the role model for duty before everything else. Also, early pictures of Princess May show a remarkable resemblance to QEII, and now to Princess Charlotte.

She wasn’t a warm mother and most of her children had a distant relationship with her. But everyone agrees that in any capacity (as Princess May, Princess of Wales, Queen Consort or Queen Mother) she was always the very personification of dignity. She loved to dress well and because of her incredibly regal bearing, she was able to wear an insane amount of jewels (ropes of pearls, diamond necklaces stacked all up her neck, tiaras, jewelled stomachers, bracelets, rings and any number of jewel encrusted orders) and look just right.

Queen Mary’s life covered an incredible amount of history: born in the Victorian era, she lived through the reigns of Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI. She died just before the coronation of her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

And while Anne Edwards’ book is very thorough and clearly well researched, the whole time I couldn’t help but think “but this is Queen Mary’s book.”

A lot of this book looks at the reigns and troubles of the men in her life: her father-in-law, husband and later, her sons. And while there’s no way to tell Queen Mary’s story without also talking about the wars, relationships with various Royal relatives (she never got over the fact that they weren’t able to save their cousin Tsar Nicholas II and his family), and her son’s Abdication, their stories aren’t hers. I found myself frustrated  by all the time spent talking about the education of her sons , their loves and travels.

I wanted Queen Mary only.

That said, I’m glad to have finally read this book. It’d been on my list for ages.


You Can’t Touch My Hair

When a copy of You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson showed up at the door, I read a couple of pages.

Right from the introduction, I knew that I was going to love this book.


Robinson’s collection of essays on feminism, race and pop culture is compulsively readable and so, so relatable. She’s one of those writers whose authentic voice shines on every page – I could hear her speaking to me so clearly as I read. If you’ve ever listened to her podcast, 2 Dope Queens (that she co-hosts with Jessica Williams, formerly of The Daily Show), then I would guess you’d have a similar experience.

Robinson’s essays are littered with hashtags, slang, and amazing pop culture references. But don’t let that fool you – Robinson has some real stuff to say.

Essays include “Welcome to being Black” in which she talks about the experience of realizing that she’s somehow Other because of the colour of her skin and “How to Avoid Being the Black Friend” which covers advice like “Do Not Start Any Friendships with White People During the Summer Months”, “Call People out When They Say Unintentionally and Intentionally Racist Garbage” and “Take a Picture and See How Everyone Responds.”

Her essays are funny, obviously, but also not. There’s a story she includes where she was called “uppity”, how she once had to sit through a reading of a classmate’s play that involved a white woman falling in love with one of her female slaves and ended with the slave choosing to stay for love, rather than making a break for freedom  (“no slave is ever, ever, ever, going to say yes to more slavery”), and about getting ignored at a Michaels when all she wanted to do was get a frame.

Honestly, there were times reading this book that made me want to shout. WHAT’S WRONG WITH PEOPLE????

Robinson’s book showcases a millennial black woman’s voice. She is so, so funny, and writes things that honestly make me laugh hysterically but then she calls me back by dropping a truth bomb that I can’t ignore.

If you’re looking for something to add to your Non-Fiction November roster, I would really recommend this. If you have listened to 2 Dope Queens and want more Phoebe Robinson in your life, I recommend this book. If you have no idea who Phoebe Robinson is, I recommend this book.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 


Darling Days: A Memoir

When I started reading Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright, my reading mojo was bruised from two, basically back-to-back DNFs.

I read 10 pages of Darling Days and knew that that wasn’t going to happen here.

Darling Days is iO Tillett Wright’s memoir of growing up poor with an incredibly challenging mother as well as a queer gender identity.

This memoir is unlike any I’ve ever read before. It reminds me of The Glass Castle but I don’t want to compare the two because they are so unique. Darling Days is so unflinchingly honest, Tillett Wright’s life is laid bare but it’s written with so much love.


Tillett Wright’s mother is a Viking warrior queen, a dancer, an artist, a beautiful soul in a cruel, hard world. She loves her daughter fiercely, cocoons them together away from the darkness of the rest of the world the best she can. But before iO is born, her mother suffered the violent loss of a lover. She never quite gets over it, and the medications that she takes to help her cope, to help her to feel closer to that lost love, end up causing their own kind of damage.

iO spends her childhood in awe of her mother, a happy sidekick in the kinds of adventures you can only have when you are very poor – like walking all your stuff to a new apartment after you’ve been fighting eviction.

On top of living with and loving a very complicated mother, iO has her own gender identity to come to terms with. When she is told she can’t play soccer with some kids in the park because she is a girl, she decides that she would rather be a boy and asks her parents to call her Ricky. To her parents’ credit, they both went along with it and allowed iO to live her identity for years. When she’s a teenager, she decides that actually she would like to be a girl again, and the transition is made seamlessly once more.

iO’s story is complex. When life with her mother becomes too much, she tries living in Germany with her father and then a boarding school in rural England. But iO is also a product of her upbringing and always feels kind of other. As a teenager, she feels incredible rage and starts experimenting: with her sexuality, with alcohol and drugs.

The one thing that I really felt the entire time I was reading this incredible memoir was love. The book opens with iO’s letter to her mother, someone who continues to be a tangled presence in her life, basically saying that this is their story but that it’s written without judgement and that she has always loved her and always will and that she wouldn’t be the person she is today without her mother.

I mean, if that doesn’t make you want to cry your eyes out right there, I don’t know what will.

The reason that the love stands out for me will be clear if you end up reading this intense, honest, captivating memoir. Few people live this kind of life, survive this childhood, and come out on the other side with love and compassion for their parents. Even contentment is difficult to achieve and iO has come out with joy, enthusiasm and a delight in what this world has to offer.

iO Tillett Wright is clearly a pretty incredible person and I felt privileged to get to read her story. If you get the chance, I hope you do too.


Get on the bandwagon: The Mothers

Thankfully, since the DNF debacle (I actually DNF’d a weirdly disjointed Agatha Christie shortly thereafter!), I’ve read some GREAT books. I’m going to do my best to talk about all of them.

Today we start with Brit Bennett’s The Mothers.

By now, most of you have seen this book around. The cover is a colourful depiction of a woman, perhaps a stained glass woman. It’s been on Must Read lists all over the place and being lauded as a “dazzling” debut novel.

All of the hype is warranted.

How rare is it to be able to say that?


The Mothers is the story of three teenagers in a small African-American community in Southern California: Nadia, beautiful and motherless trying to find her way out of grief, making the only decision she can see; Luke, the son of the preacher coming to terms with his life after football; and Aubrey, a stranger in the community whose life centers around faith and being good, running from events that haunt her still.

When Nadia gets pregnant with Luke’s baby, the decision she makes ripples out through the years, touching all of their lives. This book looks at the decisions we make when we are young, when we are different from the people we will ultimately become, and how those decisions can define us for years after.

The title comes from the group of women, The Mothers, of the church who see everything unfolding, who see the experiences of Luke, Aubrey and Nadia through the lens of their own experiences, who tried to help where they could.

This book is beautiful. It astonished me. Somehow Bennett manages to weave a story around abortion that doesn’t feel judgemental – incredible when you realize that the story takes place in a community of faith. Although abortion is the device that propels the plot forward, this book isn’t about abortion.

Aubrey, Luke and Nadia come to us as flawed people, trying to forge their path in this world despite the obstacles thrown in their way. It is so, so, so beautifully written.

This is the kind of book that will give you a book hangover. The one that will leave you feeling dissatisfied with basically anything that you read afterwards. The best/most astonishing part? Bennett is only 25! It’s probably safe to say that we can expect more thoughtful, gorgeous, staggering stories from her.

PS she also wrote this.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 


The DNF Chronicles: The Last Days of Night

I was feeling pretty smug about my reading. I was enjoying book after book, amazing title after amazing title. I was starting to feel like my great reads streak wasn’t going to end.

Pride goes before the fall right?

I started reading The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, interested in the story of the battle over electricity rights. Edison sued his competitor George Westinghouse for $1 billion in 1888 and Westinghouse’s response was to hire a baby lawyer (26 years old) to defend him. The tale was supposed to be twisty and turny and showcase Edison as a dangerous enemy, rather than the brilliant inventor. Tesla even makes an appearance!

Around 30 pages in, I noticed something strange: there were no women in the story, just white men. Allowances must be made for the story being set in 1888, I suppose but it left me feeling rankled. I pushed on.

Nearing page 70 and still no mention of a female character (Westinghouse’s wife does make an appearance but only as the hostess of a dinner party for eminent male guests). I started to flip through pages to see if a woman would appear soon – I came across the name Agnes. On page 110.

Sadly, I wasn’t invested in the story at all at this point and didn’t want to read another 40 pages to meet a woman.


Fine, this is a true story from a time when women weren’t exactly running around on the streets. It was nearly impossible for women to have careers outside the home, especially in STEM fields. But that doesn’t mean that I have to spend my time reading that story.

I did not finish this book. It’s still something I have trouble doing but I wasn’t interested in this story  – I kept waiting for something to hook me and nothing really did. Add to the general lack of interest to a scarcity of any women in the story, which actively irritated me, (I would have taken a clever maid at this point) and you get the perfect case for a DNF.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me with one of Moore’s books either. I remember feeling similarly about The Sherlockian. At the end of it, I felt all of “that’s it?”

I’m sure there are people for whom this is a great story, who can’t get through it fast enough; I am not that audience.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 


Lake Reads: Canadian Thanksgiving edition

lake reads

Anyone else feeling like they are heading for a breakdown? Just me? Every day I think about just staying in my house and tunnelling through the books that I want to read. Well, this weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. Which means that for the next four days, that’s pretty much exactly what I will be doing. At the lake. In a log house. Near the fireplace. Cuddling with puppies.

I cannot wait to get away from everything.


The best part is I have GREAT books that I’m bringing. I mean, I assume they are great because obviously I haven’t read them. But I’m really excited to read them.


These are the books I’m spending the long weekend with.

You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson. I started reading a couple of pages of this book and felt like I’d met my other half. I can’t wait to get to the rest of this book of essays about race, dating, and pop culture. Robinson is a comedian and, along with Jessica Williams, host of the podcast 2 Dope Queens, which you should totally listen to because it’s hilarious.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. You’ve likely seen this book around. It’s on Buzzfeed’s list of 21 Books You Need to Read This Fall and people have been talking about it. It’s set in a modern black community in Southern California and it starts with a secret. Can’t wait to get to it.

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright. I first heard about this book because of this wicked list Shannon @ Rivercity Reading put together. And then a copy showed up at my door. It’s a memoir about growing up with a domineering mother and about a moment that made the author, born female, want to be a boy.

The Accidental Empress by Alison Pataki. I’m a little bit obsessed with Empress Elisabeth of Austria. I’ve read a biography of her, and more recently, The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin, which I loved. The Accidental Empress looks at Elisabeth’s early years at the Austrian court. If I like this one, there’s a follow up called Sisi. I’m a little apprehensive about this one – Amanda @ Gun in Act One recently read another of Pataki’s books and didn’t like it…

The Big Four by Agatha Christie. A Hercule Poirot novel for the long weekend. Don’t think I need to say more than that!

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub. I was one of the last people to read The Vacationers but I loved it. I enjoyed Modern Lovers, although not as much as The Vacationers. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is the only one I haven’t read and since I recently returned another book about the stars of the silver screen, this seemed like a good way to get my fill.

The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory. If there is one book that I keep meaning to read, this is it. I can’t tell you how many times I almost read this book, only to put it aside for something else. I used to devour everything Gregory wrote but then we hit a rough patch and I stopped. We seemed to hit a new stride after The King’s Curse (man, was that good) and I am confident that The Taming of the Queen will be more of the same. This one tells the story of Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr. She was incredibly educated (especially for a woman at the time) and managed to survive her domineering, bully of a husband. Maybe I will actually read this!