6

Lake Reads: BC Day 2018

We have a long weekend coming up in Canada (hooray for BC Day and whatever you call it in your province!) and even though schedules and weekends no longer actually mean anything in this household (my husband works shifts that jump week to week), we’re still heading out of town for it.

It’ll be the first time we take our small lady on the road and I have no idea how much time I will actually have for reading but I can’t go unprepared. I’m hoping that the addition of some extra grandparent hands will mean I have the chance to sneak off and get some reading done.

Even though I hate packing (you should see the lists for this trip), I loooooooooove packing books. There’s no flight involved so there’s no weight restriction. If I bring it and it doesn’t get read? Oh well.

So, here are the books I’m planning on bringing with me!

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’ve been meaning to read this book about generations of a Korean family for AGES. Ever since Roxane Gay said it was her favourite book of 2017. But it’s an intimidating size and I think I need TIME to spend with it. So here’s hoping that the lake provides the perfect setting to finally get into this one.

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger.  I hated the sequel to The Devil Wears Prada so I don’t have terribly high expectations for this third book. But it’s a quintessential summer book, I’ve seen people I trust read it and enjoy it and honestly, aside from that one book, Lauren Weisberger hasn’t let me down yet. 

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson. I haven’t read a book written by a man in something like 20 books. I think Larson, one of my absolute favourite non-fiction writers, is one of the only men that could induce me to break this streak right now. His book about the deadliest hurricane in history has been hard to find (I’ve read everything else he’s written). When i came across a copy recently, I didn’t even hesitate in buying it. I’m hoping to get it read while I’m up there and leave it behind for my father-in-law.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz. Ah, another book by a man. OK this is maybe becoming a Thing. When you’ve read a lot of crime fiction, it becomes difficult to find books that are original. Horowitz putting himself into this book makes it stand out and it feels like the kind of book that I always crave when I’m at the lake.

Educated by Tara Westover. Everything I’ve heard about this book makes me think it could be kind of a heavy read. So it feels like a good idea to bring it to a place that makes my heart happy. A memoir about growing up thinking the End of Days was coming, cut off from the world with a father who was growing increasingly violent? That sounds like the kind of book that needs to be read in the sun.

I think I’ll probably cap it at five books this time. A year ago, this list would have been a good start, now it’s definitely aspirational. But we wouldn’t be bookworms if we didn’t spend our time thinking about all the books we’d like to read.

Happy long weekend, friends!

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1

Backlog reviews

In an effort to clear my reviewing backlog and ease my conscience, I’m going to batch up a couple of books today. There’s actually no rhyme or reason to the books that I’ve chosen to pair up – wouldn’t it be nice if I had a lovely theme today like Italy or historical fiction or books about awesome people?

Sadly the books that I’ve chosen to pair up today were ones that were just OK for me.

game of hope

First up, young adult historical fiction, a genre I had high hopes for. Sandra Gulland has written some incredible adult historical fiction set mostly in France. She is responsible for a trilogy about Josephine Bonaparte and I’ve read some great ones set at the court of the Sun King. I was excited about The Game of Hope about Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense.

In The Game of Hope, Hortense is a fifteen year old girl relegated to a drafty boarding school on the outskirts of Paris. She is the victim of circumstance, dependent on her mother’s floundering relationship with her stepfather for the outcome of her own life. Desperately in love with a friend of her brother’s, she hopes she will be allowed to marry him. It is 1798 and Napoleon is trying to win power in France – over the course of the book he achieves that.

But Hortense spends the whole book, a book about her, waiting around for things to happen. She waits to be told she can marry, she waits to go home, to go back to school, for the return of her brother and the man she thinks she loves. Nothing happens to Hortense.

It’s a shame because in real life, Hortense goes on to become the Queen Consort of the Netherlands, after marrying Napoleon’s brother Louis. Instead Gulland decides to paint her as a kind of serious, ultimately uninteresting teenager waiting for life to happen to her. I wanted so much to like this, was hopeful that my eyes were about to be opened to a glorious new genre. But alas, The Game of Hope just left me wishing for a different book.

the house swap

I thought that I had some glorious baby-and-work-free days ahead of me when I started Rebecca Fleet’s The House Swap. But I ended up starting it the day before I went into labour and then it took me two weeks to finish (see: life with a newborn). How much the circumstances contributed to my feelings about this book is unknown. I do think it would have been a more enjoyable read had I been able to read it in one or two sittings.

Caroline and Francis are giving their marriage another go after some difficult years. Caroline was unfaithful and Francis had been in the middle of addiction but they are looking at their week at a house in a London suburb as a fresh start, a chance to focus on each other. While they are in this house, the home’s owner is enjoying their own time in Caroline and Francis’ home up north.

Right away, Caroline notices strange things about the home: there doesn’t seem to be any personal effects in the home and she could swear that some of the things that are there are messages to her. But that’s crazy right?

The novel is broken up into sections telling the story from present-day Caroline’s view, Caroline from two years ago and Francis-then. Slowly a full picture forms of what exactly happened two years ago.

Like I said, I think if I’d been able to sit and read this book in one shot, it would have felt different. It could have been a fun light thriller. But partly because I dragged it out and partly because the solution to the mystery was pretty obvious, The House Swap just wasn’t what I hoped it would be. It had some of the ingredients to make for a decent thrill ride – infidelity, death, sinister house, neighbour with a ‘vibe’ – but mixed altogether it was missing something crucial to make me care.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with copies of these books in exchange for honest reviews

3

Hemingway as a footnote: Love and Ruin

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

In the early days of having a new baby, I wasn’t sure I would ever have the mental capacity to be able to read properly again. In the month after she was born, I finished two books. It was hard work and I’m not convinced I could tell you more about those books than “good.”

But then the days started to take some kind of regular shape and my brain started working a little again. Which is when I decided to read Paula McLain’s Love and Ruin.

I’m one of the only people (I think) that didn’t love The Paris Wife. I hated that the book was so much about Hemingway, rather than his wife who the book was supposed to be about. But then I really liked Circling the Sun about female aviator and all around sh*t disturber Beryl Markham. So even though Love and Ruin has to do with another of Hemingway’s wives, I decided that I did want to read it.

love and ruin

Martha Gellhorn is 28 when she travels to Spain, alone, in 1937 to cover the events of the Spanish Civil War. She lives in derelict hotel rooms trying to find her voice in the cacophony of male journalists reporting on what’s happening. She focuses on what the events mean to the people, the women and children in particular, who live in the affected areas.

And while her days are thus spoken for, her nights are spent with new friend Ernest Hemingway, the writer she most admires who she met back in Florida. Their friendship soon becomes something more and eventually, Martha becomes the third Mrs Hemingway. Ernest and Martha retreat to Cuba after the devastation they witnessed in Spain and spend months fixing up their little house there, a respite from the events unfolding in the world. But both are restless, each working on their next story.

When Martha finds journalistic success by writing about conflicts around the world, thus becoming more than just ‘Mrs Hemingway’, she must navigate the new realities of her marriage. Her husband isn’t used to sharing the limelight.

Love and Ruin reminded me of Z: A Novel. That book too was able to spotlight the wife of a famous man, to show the realities of living with such a talent and show Zelda’s story in her own right. Martha Gellhorn was herself a talented writer, a woman who reported on basically every major conflict over the SIXTY years of her career. Her marriage to Hemingway was a blip in her life, arguably one of the least interesting facets of her life and McLain is able to show that. Hemingway becomes a kind of footnote to Martha’s life, no small feat in my opinion.

I was hooked on this book immediately. The opening pages echoed sentiments that can be found today, of watching history happening and not being able to sit quietly by and watch.

It may be the luckiest and purest thing of all to see time sharpen to a single point. To feel the world rise up and shake you hard, insisting that you rise, too, somehow. Some way. That you come awake and stretch, painfully. That you change, completely and irrevocably – with whatever means are at your disposal – into the person you were always meant to be. […] There wasn’t any choice to be made, in the end. I would have to go to it, with my eyes wide open, and my hands open too, willing to pay the price.

I’m not sure that Love and Ruin will be found in too many people’s beach bags this summer (although it wouldn’t be the worst thing to read in the sun!) but I think people will find this one in the fall and feel like it was the perfect time to read it. Love and Ruin manages to balance the perceived frivolity of a love story with the gravity of current events. It was a powerful novel about finding one’s voice and vocation and I really enjoyed every page.

For once, I was sad to finish reading a book featuring Ernest Hemingway.

23

Some personal news

Oh HEY.

Remember me? I have (once again) been woefully absent from this space. May was a fairly decent reading month and I was taking notes and planning for blog posts, including a Literary Wives post that just never happened.

I have the best possible excuse this time: I had a baby!

My daughter was due in mid-June, but she showed up at the end of May and turned our entire life upside down (in the best possible way). I thought I had more time to get my life in order.

I’ve been brain-dead, sleep deprived, unaware of days, unshowered and often trapped under a sleeping baby for three weeks now which hasn’t left a lot of space for here. I wanted to pop on quickly (my girl is sleeping in her bassinet after terrorizing me all night with hourly feedings) and let you all know that I’m not ignoring this space, I’m just putting it on pause.

I will try to post some content in the coming weeks – for my own sanity if nothing else (newborns are adorable and sweet but kind of boring?) – but there probably won’t be tons here for a few more weeks.

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I’ll definitely be back though!

3

A very pleasant read: Women in Sunlight

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

You know how sometimes you are just in need of a solid three star read? Something that doesn’t really need anything from you, it doesn’t stoke strong feelings either way, is just thoroughly pleasant?

That’s kind of what Frances Mayes’ Women in Sunlight was for me. Completely and totally pleasant.

women in sunlight

Kit Raine is an American writer living in a village in Tuscany. Her neighbour is renting out her house for the next year to a group of older American women – after the year, they will have the option to buy. Kit witnesses their arrival and becomes a part of their quest to upend expectations and figure out what the next chapter of their lives look like.

Julia, Camille and Susan meet as they all tour a retirement community, thinking it might be the next logical step. Camille and Susan are widowed, Julia has left her husband and a tragic situation. Instead of signing up for little homes in this community, Susan convinces the other two to follow her and move to Italy. And so these three women move to a small hillside Tuscan town and jumpstart the next phase of their lives: through food, art, gardening and learning to embrace an Italian way of living.

Nothing unpleasant happens in this book – everything bad or tragic has already happened before the story begins. In this way, the story doesn’t really have a huge impetus to move forward. It’s more a meandering through a year in Tuscany, living in a glorious villa, making friends with locals, eating all the greatest food and discovering the delights that Italy has to offer.

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this – shouldn’t something happen?

But then I realized, I actually really like these kinds of books, the ones that are just a collection of everyday happenings that together make a life. I really appreciated the representation of mature female friendships – these women don’t compete with each other or tear each other down. They are supportive of the others’ desires and need for space or time to work through what is going on. Each allows the others to live this life on their own terms, working together to create a paradise of their own making.

I mean, this is the dream no? Retire and move to Italy for a delicious and beautiful second act?

If you end up reading Women in Sunlight, for the love of all that is holy make sure that you have good food on hand. You will die if you have to read this book without food. The description of eating and drinking in this book will end you. So consider yourself warned on that score.

4

Beach Bag Read: Other People’s Houses

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

We’re getting to the time of year where we all start dreaming about uninterrupted reading time in the sunshine, preferably near a body of water.

Which means that we need to start thinking about what titles are going to be included in said time.

I think I have a good one for you today: Abbi Waxman’s Other People’s Houses.

From Goodreads:

As the longtime local carpool mom, Frances Bloom is sometimes an unwilling witness to her neighbors’ private lives. She knows her cousin is hiding her desire for another baby from her spouse, Bill Horton’s wife is mysteriously missing, and now this…

After the shock of seeing Anne Porter in all her extramarital glory, Frances vows to stay in her own lane. But that’s a notion easier said than done when Anne’s husband throws her out a couple of days later. The repercussions of the affair reverberate through the four carpool families–and Frances finds herself navigating a moral minefield that could make or break a marriage.

other people

This is the kind of book that’s all about the things we don’t know about other people’s lives and relationships. Waxman has created a neighbourhood cast of characters that all have things going on that they don’t necessarily share with each other. Nothing bad or nefarious or life-destroying, just things that they aren’t totally comfortable bringing out into the light.

I liked how easy this was to read, how realistic it was about it’s portrayals of relationships without depressing the sh*t out of you. Other People’s Houses admits that life isn’t always what you think it will be but you will come out on the other side of whatever crap it throws at you.

I was charmed by Frances and her neighbourhood, how with all the residents’ foibles they still all pitched in and helped each other out when it was needed. I laughed out loud a few times at the situations that they all got into – not like Lucy and Ethel level shenanigans, more like Mad About You level misunderstandings.

This was a book I devoured in a couple of sittings and I think it would make for entertaining airplane reading, a great companion on a road trip or tucked into a beach bag for a glorious summer day of doing nothing.

My copy is about to be loaned out, potentially for some combination of all three.

9

DNF Chronicles: Two for the price of one

It is RARE for me to not finish books. It’s something that I have always struggled with and only in the last year or two have I made not finishing books a priority of sorts.

Listen, if you are someone that struggles with this, let it go. It is FREEING to stop reading something you’re not enjoying. Do you know how many books exist in the world? There are so many other books you could be reading right now instead of forcing yourself to slog through the one you’re not connected to, the one that you dread returning to.

Life is too short to read books you don’t love.

So what are the books that I didn’t finish recently?

Well, I was really excited about both of them!

the-wife-s-tale-7

The first was Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History. It’s the story of Edemariam’s grandmother, who lived alongside some incredible history in her native Ethiopia. I was looking forward to reading about the life of this woman who witnessed history happening while also living her life, married to a man twenty years older than her, the birth and death of her children.

This one lost me because of it’s writing style. It felt almost biblical and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried reading the bible for the stories, but it’s a slog. I couldn’t get into the story because I was trying too hard to figure out what was even happening. The narrative also seemed to keep changing from who was telling the story which added a new layer of confusion for this reader.

It didn’t take me long to get frustrated with this one and give it up – maybe 50 pages. And I’m bummed about it because I’ve not read anything about Ethiopia or its history and I was really looking forward to doing that via a woman’s perspective.

macbeth

The next one was Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth. Last year I posted about Hogarth Press’s project that had authors updating Shakespearean classics. I liked Tracy Chevalier’s take on Othello in The New Boy. I have been a fan of Nesbo’s for ages Macbeth felt like a good fit for him!

I tried really hard to like this one. Nearly 200 pages. In Nesbo’s Macbeth, it’s the 1970s in Fife and a couple of sex workers tell Macbeth, commander of the police’s SWAT team, that he will be the Commissioner but he needs to remove those who are in the way. So, influenced by his girlfriend, a casino and brothel owner called Lady, Macbeth seeks to fulfill the ‘prophecy.’

Part of what makes Shakespeare’s Macbeth so good is the mystical element which is weird and clumsy in the 1970s Scottish underworld. And Macbeth, a trained SWAT commander, reallllllly likes to use his knives as his murder weapons of choice which also just felt like a strange choice to me. I had a hard time with lack of women, which I guess is kind of down to the original but Lady was an old sex worker/brothel madam. I guess an effort was made to have her seem like Macbeth’s partner, but it fell flat for this reader.

Aside from Banquo and his son, everyone in this story is horrible. I don’t remember enough of the original to confidently say that that wasn’t the case there too but I feel like there was a desire to see Macbeth win and I didn’t feel that. It makes zero sense for the man hoping to become police commissioner to go on a junkie bender and murder the people who stand in his way. Does it make sense in a Scotland of old? Yes, absolutely. Less so in modern times.

I want to feel bad for not finishing either of these books but then I look around at the 700 books piled up around my house and realize I don’t have time to feel bad!

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with copies of these books in exchange for honest reviews.