1

Aud Thoughts: City of Saints and Thieves

Sometimes I get lazy and ask my sister to write content for me. This is one of those times. She’s an art school student, cat sitter, instagram wizard and one of my favourite sisters – here’s Audrey.

Wow it’s definitely been awhile since I’ve written a review. Let me just tap the dust out of my keyboard, crack the rust out of my fingers and get this gal moving.

So, Eva asked me if I’d write a little something for one of the books she was sent and so here I am, in the digital flesh and blood. 

This time I read City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson, a book that before it was given to me I had never heard of before, not because it doesn’t deserve attention but because my nose was so far stuck up school work and fantasy books that it had been awhile since I had popped my head out into the open. 

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City of Saints & Thieves is best described, I think, as a mystery thriller with a side sip of romance and definitely a bunch ton of thievery and running away like an epic badass – as Tina totally is. 

Tina is a teenage girl who is living with one of the more prominent gangs in Saigon City, having fled the Congo with her mother as refugees long ago. They come to this city and her mother gets a job with one of the big, rich important man, that make a lot of money off of the land but also off of some less savoury things. While staying there, her small family gets entangled with the man’s family, the Greyhills and thus sets off a series of events that end with her mother dead and Tina taking her sister and leaving the family behind, promising vengeance and ruin on the man she blames for her mother’s death. 

It isn’t until years later that Tina gets her opportunity and that is where the books opens up, Tina sneaking into the Greyhill’s estate and attempting to rob them blind – only of course things don’t go as planned. 

So when I started reading this book I had absolutely no idea what to expect and it was kind of exciting. I didn’t look up what it was about online, didn’t check any other reviews, I don’t think I even really read the description, I just dove in. 

And what a dive.

The first line itself, is one of my favourite lines, seriously, what a great opener. 

If you’re going to be a thief, the first thing you need to know is that you don’t exist.

I mean, how do you come back from that not interested?

So I finished this book, stumbling across this story and being sucked into this world that I didn’t know and being amazed that it wasn’t strictly fantasy, that this was a world people lived in.

On this escapade to seek revenge for her mother, and prove who murdered her, Tina finds herself winding through the intricate ties of secrets, greed and dark, dark answers that will leave you otherwise breathless and praying for sunnier days. 

It was a wonderful young adult book, illuminating the tenacity of a young girl who against all odds has chosen to be the epic badass that she is and of course her friends are as lovable as they come. 

It is definitely a sampler of a true thriller for an audience that isn’t constantly straining to hope no one dies. While the book describes itself as “nail-biting” I wouldn’t quite say that. It was definitely 120% interesting and I found that it was well paced, but the urgency that perhaps was intended wasn’t always immediately present. Still, the way this book was written achieves the feat of beauty in simplicity, really bringing you directly into Tina’s thoughts and feelings and making you understand what it is to feel angry and upset at the world and still come out to make something more than what the world has tried to hand you.

So if you need to feel like a badass, like you can do anything, like the world can be crap and kick you down and you get the hell right back up again, give this book a try. Tina might just teach you something. 

Paperback Princess note: Just saw that Universal has bought the movie rights and KERRY WASHINGTON is producing so I might have to take this book back and read it ASAP.

11

Shonda Rhimes the person

You know how sometimes, you hear about books and you don’t read them, don’t read them, don’t read them, keep hearing about them, don’t read them until finally you do and wonder what took you so long?

That’s what happened with Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person.

Shonda Rhimes needs no introduction. She is, of course, the genius woman we have to thank for Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice and How to Get Away With Murder. She is the powerhouse behind TGIT, an entire night of network television dedicated to her universe. Lainey Gossip and Duana Taha are big fans of hers and talk about her and The Year of Yes often on their podcast, Show Your Work.

(Have you listened? It’s dedicated to work within the celebrity ecosystem and is brilliant and endlessly fascinating)

I bought a copy of this book almost a year ago. I finally read it.

What took me so long??

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The Year of Yes is kind of like one of those “I did this thing for a year and this is what happened” books. Except it’s Shonda Rhimes and she simply started saying “yes” to things that she always said no to. Her sister mentioned, offhand one night, that Shonda never said yes to anything and it got her thinking and she decided that for a year, she would say yes: to speaking engagements, going on Kimmel, spending time with her kids, having difficult conversations, to compliments, to saying no.

A few things struck me about this lovely little memoir.

  1. Shonda’s writing style is so conversational. She pulls you in like you are having a conversation with her, like you are her friend and this is all casual over dinner or drinks. It’s an incredibly effective way of making you care about what she has to say right off the bat.
  2. It’s so honest. Shonda holds nothing back. She lets you in fully. The one time she keeps details somewhat private are when she is talking about someone she was in a relationship with, who she didn’t end up marrying. She deftly manages to convey her side of things without bring anyone else into it. She is honest about how much help she has at home, her struggles with her weight, her mental well-being in certain situations – she writes it all.
  3. Shonda Rhimes is responsible for so much of our cultural lexicon! Reading this book, it really struck me what a massive impact Shonda Rhimes has had on our cultural memories, the things we say and the television events we all remember.
  4. Her relationship with Cristina Yang is intense (in a good way). Shonda talks about how she’s extremely introverted and Cristina Yang was the vehicle she used to say a lot of the things she wanted to say before she was able to be the one actually saying them. It was really interesting to read about this relationship with a character she created and what it was like saying good bye when she left the show.
  5. That even though she is pretty well single-handedly responsible for diversifying TV, she hates the concept of diversity. She just doesn’t see what the big deal is about making her shows look like what the world actually looks like.

I’m so glad that I finally read this book. It was light, funny, and so enlightening. She talks so much about self care and what that looks like for her (something we all think about a little more these days) and I so appreciated getting to know Shonda Rhimes the person. I read this book in one sitting, I couldn’t stop. It’s rare to get to read a memoir that is so captivating and offers its reader so much at the same time.

It was a delight from start to finish.

7

Why I buy non-fiction

A couple of weeks ago, on a post about monthly library usage, Buried in Print left a comment about buying versus borrowing non-fiction that I’ve been pondering ever since.

The exchange ended with the question: Have you always bought more NF than fiction, or has it become a habit over time?

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since, about my relationship to non-fiction versus fiction, why I’m drawn to one over the other when I buy books, why it’s important to me to buy non-fiction but I almost never take it out from the library.

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A few times a year, I go through my collection and purge. Physical books obviously take up space and when you have as many as I do, it gets out of hand quickly. There are some books that I read that I just don’t love and I don’t mind giving them away to make space for some that I might fall for. And even though I donate books a couple of times a year, almost none of those books are ever non-fiction.

Still, I own a lot of books (I have forgone formal dining space in the apartment in favour of setting up a library). Once I started earning my own money, it became important to me to buy books. That has mostly remained true over time. I do go to the library fairly regularly, in an effort to keep the numbers of books I own down somewhat.

But given the choice to buy or borrow non-fiction? I will pretty well choose ‘buy’ every time. I impulsively buy non-fiction in a way that just doesn’t happen with fiction. Partly, this is because I have been haunted by non-fiction titles that I walked away from once only to spend months and years trying to find it again. So now? I just buy the book.

And partly, it’s because when I was a kid, I dreamed about one day having the kind of library that could be used as reference for school work. It seemed like an insane luxury not to have to troll the baby internet for knowledge, not have to physically go to the library. And that’s not to say that there were no books in my house – there were. Just not on the kinds of things I needed for my homework.

It’s important to me to buy non-fiction because I like being surrounded by history, politics, feminist voices, biographies and the kinds of books that are labelled as social science. I like being able to look something up when I want to, to look at pictures of things that happened a hundred years ago.

When I’ve not been able to afford to buy books, I’ve used the library a lot. And I always end up reading amazing non-fiction books that I then have to give back. And as is so often the case, those books haunt me as I realize that finding them to buy is no simple thing.

So buying non-fiction was a habit born of a childish desire to learn everything, to have that knowledge on hand when I needed it, for this introvert to be able to stay at home and have access to the information I need.

Of course, one could argue that the internet and smartphones have made this desire obsolete. But you all know that there is no way that I would ever trade my books for the internet.

Especially my non-fiction titles.

6

A different Canada

In Canada, we like to think that we are totally accepting and open with everyone. All colours, creeds and religions are welcome in Canada.

Right?

Not quite.

I recently read B. Denham Jolly’s memoir, In The Black: My Life and came to see a side of Canada that I’d rather was comfortably in the past.

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Jolly was born in Jamaica in 1935 – in 1955, he came to Canada for the first time for school. He writes about a Canada where people smile at him but throw his resume in the garbage, where he wasn’t allowed to socialize in certain places, where even when he had paid back a student loan in full, he wasn’t eligible for another one, where schools hadn’t officially desegregated until 1954 and bad feelings lingered.

Once he finished school, he had to return to Jamaica – when he had first come to Canada, he had to sign a form saying that after he finished school, he would go home, that he wouldn’t try and stay in Canada. Jolly enjoyed his time in Canada, had built a life for himself in Toronto and wanted to stay. The reason why there were so few black people in Canada is because there were unofficial policies in place limiting the number of black people allowed to immigrate. Despite his education and his standing within the community, Jolly was shown the door.

Eventually he made it back to Canada and he was ready to start his life. He was a teacher in a small community where he met his wife – together they had three children. Jolly also set up a nursing home business, eventually owning a number of properties. And he was incredibly active within the black community, working with other activists to ensure that black Canadians were heard, that their contributions were valued and most of all, that they were given the same opportunities as white Canadians.

In The Black was an eye opening read for me. It challenged me to think of Canada in a different way. We like to think that we are better than other countries, notably our neighbours to the south, when it comes to race relations. Jolly’s experiences (and he opens the book with a run in with police that happened when he was in his 70s) illustrate that we haven’t come as far as we like to think we have.

Although Jolly sees that we have come a long way, he posits that there is still more work to be done. That even as an old man, who has lived in Canada for more than 50 years, who is very much Canadian, he is still seen as a Jamaican immigrant. As he writes about the work that has already been done, he urges young Canadians to keep working towards a better future, to recognize that the work isn’t finished.

I think this book will challenge a lot of Canadians. But it’s an important book, a reminder of where we were, where we are and where we could be. In The Black includes the history of one man, of a community demanding more, of a country trying to be better.

We can still be better.

8

The American Dream: Lucky Boy

Every once in a while, a book shows up that I didn’t know I was looking for.

That’s kind of what happened with Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy.

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At the age of 18, Solimar Castro Valdez leaves her small Mexican town for the U.S. After an incredibly dangerous journey, she finds herself on her cousin, Silvia’s doorstep, pregnant. Silvia takes her in, helps her find work as a housekeeper for the Cassidys and supports her as she tries to figure out her place in this new world. But neither of them are in the U.S. legally and know that their positions are precarious.

Kavya and Rishi Reddy have a beautiful life in Berkley. Kavya is a chef for a sorority, and Rishi works at a massive tech company – they are both on their way to fulfilling the dreams their Indian parents had for them. But while their lives are successful in so many ways, they have been unable to have a child of their own. Their struggle tests their marriage and sets them in a crash course with Solimar.

When Solimar finds herself in immigrant detention her son Ignacio, barely a year old, is placed with a foster family. Eventually he is placed with Kavya and Rishi who find room in their hearts for this little boy, even though they are both terrified of what could happen should his mother be released.

This book’s emotions are so layered, it was delicate work to peel them all back. There are Soli’s dreams of coming to America, of what her life will look like and how she handles the reality, the love she feels for her son and how that fires her up to do whatever is necessary for his wellbeing; Kava’s yearnings for a child of her own, her frustrations in her marriage when she and Rishi aren’t necessarily on the same page, the euphoria of realizing her heart is meant to adopt; and Rishi, trying to succeed on his own terms within the confines of the expectations of his Indian heritage, comparing himself to those around him, the difficulties he has figuring out how to be a father to someone not his own.

Sekaran’s prose is beautiful, parsed along sparingly until it overflows with love and anger and need. She so ably captures opposing sides of the spectrum of life in America. This is a dense book  – I felt like I had lived several lifetimes when I finished. But it was worth every page. It was a good reminder of what can happen if we open our hearts to those around us.

If you’re heartsore about what’s going on around you, read Lucky Boy, if only to remind yourself of what the American dream used to look like.

2

Portrait of a Husband

Back when I first read The Scent of Secrets, Jane Thynne’s series centred on a German movie star/spy, I expressed an interest in learning more about the Nazi wives.

Well, when I was at Powell’s last year, I found Magda Goebbels: The First Lady of the Third Reich by Hans-Otto Meissner. I didn’t even hesitate picking it up.

This book was published in German in 1978. Meissner begins the book by telling readers that although his own father, Dr. Otto Meissner was the head of the Reich Presidential Administration from 1919 until 1945, he and his father were both acquitted of wrongdoing during the de-Nazification tribunal in 1947.

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That’s part of what makes this book so compelling: the author knew his subject. They socialized together! Her friends felt comfortable telling him stories afterwards because they were all part of the same social circle.

This was always going to be an interesting book – Magda Goebbels was married to the man in charge of Nazi propaganda! She died with him at the very end, taking their six young children with them. The fact that the author knew Magda and her friends added something to this book that I wasn’t expecting.

However.

This also limited Meissner. I got the sense that parts of his portrait of Magda were softened, intending to make her more of a victim than a perpetrator. In speaking with some of her friends, he agreed to keep some names out of the book because they were still living and quite well known. In this way, Meissner reminds readers that he was on the inside, and we are not.

The biggest issue I had with this book though (and if you’ve kicked around here for a while, you won’t be surprised) was that for much of the book Meissner looks at Joseph Goebbels.

Look, obviously Joseph Goebbels was a big deal. But I didn’t pick up the book Magda Goebbels to read all about Joseph’s hopes, dreams and frustrations. Like, is it so impossible for those who write biographies about women to just write about the women? Yes, sometimes their husband’s work or personality has bearing on what happens (and that’s certainly true here) but the focus should still always be on the women. Whole chapters of this book were dedicated to Joseph Goebbels and his education and how he became a Nazi. Overall, I still don’t feel like I know anything more about Magda.

In the end, Meissner scored some points with me for ending his book thus:

If there is a hell and its ruler incarnate, Goebbels would presumably have been greeted warmly as a kinsman. A place at the devil’s table must long since have been kept for the monster who so richly deserved it, right next to the Prince of Darkness himself.

I mean, damn. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a biography where the biographer inserts himself so fully into the book. It was an interesting experience and no doubt I would have enjoyed it so much more had I actually come to understand Magda Goebbels herself at all.

I’m still on the lookout for more books about Magda and the other Nazi wives…

21

Library Checkout – January 2017

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Even though I’ve committed to reading more of the books I already have in my possession, I am not actually capable of turning my back on my library.

Partly it’s that I need the peace and quiet in my work days (my library is a block from my office) but I also just really like accessing free books.

Because dear Shannon is busy being super brilliant and academic, she’s handed the reins of the Library Checkout over to Charleen @ It’s a Portable Magic (Hi Charleen!). Same idea, new home.

My month at the library looked like this:

Read
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (whyyyyyyyyy didn’t I buy this?)
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith

Did Not Finish
Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in the Seventeenth Century England by Lita-Rose Betcherman – I should have been ALL OVER this. But I was so bored reading about all the men doing things.

On Hold
Thought about putting holds on Canada Reads finalists but…every other book nerd in Canada will be doing the same thing. I bought two of them instead.

Returned, Unread
The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

Currently Out
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

If I’m honest, I might be returning the last two unread. I think I’ve lost interest? They are due back early next week, maybe over the weekend. Are either of these must reads?

How was your month at the library? Visit It’s a Portable Magic to link up!