Heartwarming without the cheese

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

In this great big scary, f*cked up world, it’s been difficult to find books that strike the right balance. I want something hopeful but not saccharine. Sometimes I want my book to say something, other times I want it to be light hearted and fun.

music shop

The Music Shop, the new book from Rachel Joyce, is a nice light hearted hopeful book that won’t choke you with sweetness.

It’s 1988 and Frank owns a music shop. He only sells vinyl, despite pressure from suppliers to begin stocking CDs, and he will sell you the music that you need, not necessarily what you think you want. He has a special knack for reading people, for seeing the things that they would rather hide, and in his quiet way he’s able to show them that he sees all of them.

But then Ilse Brauchmann walks into his life and he’s completely discombobulated. He just can’t get a read on this quiet woman with the green coat, the dark curls and the intense eyes. When he looks at her he only hears silence. She asks him if he will please teach her about music, the way he sees it and so they begin to meet once a week.

Frank’s record shop is one on a street of mom and pop type businesses. But these businesses have started to close and a development company has been buying up the properties. Frank and his colleagues on the street, Father Anthony with the gift shop, Maud from the tattoo shop, the Williams’ brothers from the Undertakers, all have their livelihood threatened by “progress.”

I wasn’t completely sure where I was going to fall with this book. I was charmed by it early on but I worried that there wouldn’t be enough substance to get me through to the end.

Oh but there was! By the end of this book, I had completely teared up and my heart was soaring. The Music Shop is a lovely book about community and music and love and sticking to your guns. In choosing to set her story in 1988, Joyce has simplified the lives of her characters (in terms of technology) which is one of the only ways I think that this story could have worked. Had it been set in 2017, it wouldn’t have been believable.

And while it’s not unusual to see books that are love letters to reading, I can’t recall ever reading one that was so in love with music. The way Joyce writes about music will have you running to iTunes or even an old record shop to find something that moves you.

Joyce has once again crafted a little story with a big heart but without the cheese. I completely recommend this to those with a bruised heart, or those looking for a sweet escape this holiday season.


In which I’m surprised by my own personality

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

I think my love of Gretchen Rubin’s work is well documented in this space. I learn so much from her books and I have definitely encouraged others to read them as well!


Her newest book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), is no exception!

In this one, Rubin posits that there are four personality tendencies based on how you react to internal and external factors. That is, are you motivated by internal pressures or external? Both? None? Based on this, you have a personality trait: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel.

There’s a quiz at the beginning of the book (and you can find it here if you’re interested. You ARE) so that you can find out where you land before you read the rest of the book.

Basically the Four Tendencies break down thus:

  • Upholder (responds well to external and internal expectations, has no trouble making time for themselves and achieving things others expect from them)
  • Questioner (responds well to internal obligations, will only achieve those things that make sense to them, you have to convince a questioner that something should be done)
  • Obliger (responds well to external obligations, likely to burn out because they don’t say no and don’t make time for themselves)
  • Rebel (doesn’t respond to external or internal obligations, only do things they WANT to do, if you tell them to do something they automatically don’t want to)

There is also some overlap – you can be an Upholder with Obliger tendencies or a Rebel with Questioner tendencies. Each chapter breaks down a tendency and then how to deal with it if you are one, are in a relationship with one, have a child who is one or work with one.

As ever, Rubin’s work is accessible and so interesting. I learned so much about myself, my relationship, the people I work with. I’ve loaned the book out twice already (once to my manager!) and forced so many people to take the quiz! I thought I was an Obliger but it turns out I’m a REBEL! Basically this means that I don’t respond to any factors, I only do things when I WANT to. Very, very true. When I was reading the Rebel chapter, I had to laugh because it said that IF a Rebel was in a long term relationship, it was with an Obliger. Turns out, my husband is an Obliger.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in learning more, I really recommend this one. It’s an easy read – 220 pages. You can feel Rubin’s enthusiasm for the work, she includes anecdotes from people she’s encountered and you can really start to see the people around you in the tendencies as you read. I read this sometime last month and I still think about it all the time.


Bonfire fails to spark

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

HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII. Remember me? I KNOW. But here I am, trying to make some kind of amends.

Today we’re going to talk about Bonfire by Krysten Ritter. I guarantee that you have seen this book in your social media feeds – Ritter has a following because she’s kind of an awesome actress. I always enjoy watching whatever she’s in, although I still have not watched Jessica Jones!


Bonfire is her first novel. In it, Abby Williams, returns to her small town for the first time in a decade. She went away to college, has become a lawyer working in environmental law and never looked back at the life she had before. She’s back in a professional capacity, set to investigate Optimal Plastics, the company that’s lauded as the reason Barrens came back from the brink of extinction.

But they could also be poisoning the water supply.

While she’s back in town, Abby can’t help but remember weird things that happened in the past, especially the illness and disappearance of a former friend of hers, Kaycee Mitchell. Before she disappeared, Kaycee would pass out and one time Abby saw her throwing up blood in the girls’ bathroom.

Everything that I had heard about Bonfire before I read it was positive. And I will say that I did enjoy reading it! But I’m not sure that this is a book that I’ll be raving about.

The story itself was enough to keep me invested but it felt like Ritter was trying to do too much. There was the plastics company potentially poisoning the town, the disappearance of Kaycee and that would have been enough. But Abby is also still dealing with the death of her mother years and years ago, and some kind of trauma surrounding her maybe abusive father? She’s also getting involved with two different guys in town – classic bad boy vs clean cut guy and not  all is what it seems – while letting her hometown get into her head and mess with everything she has built.

Sometimes a lot of different elements like that serve to make a richer, more layered story. But in this case it didn’t feel like that to me. The prose felt kind of basic and while it was a fun story to rip through on a weekend, it wasn’t one that will stay with me for much longer.

But hey, I did actually post about it so that’s a win.


Uncommon Type

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

When I first heard about this book, my reaction went something like this: “Tom Hanks?! Tom Hanks the actor? He wrote a book?! Tom Hanks? Really?!”

Write a book he did, kids.

uncommon type

Uncommon Type is a collection of short stories. Their only connection is that in each story there is a typewriter in some capacity. Sometimes it’s the impetus for the whole story, sometimes it’s just a background actor, but there’s one in each story.

The first three stories I really felt like I was reading stories told by Tom Hanks. The first story is one where best friends dabble in something more and it had a kind of You’ve Got Mail/When Harry Met Sally vibe (I know Tom Hanks isn’t in When Harry Met Sally). The second story, one of my favourites in the whole book, is set on Christmas Eve 1953, and sees a man enjoying the warmth of Christmas traditions with his young family while waiting for a phone call at midnight from a guy he served in the army with ten years earlier. The third story is one where an up and coming actor is on a press junket in Europe right when a huge scandal is uncovered that has to do with his co-star.

In all three of them, you can feel the influence of Hanks’ film career: romantic comedies, Band of Brothers, promoting movies.

That’s not criticism, by the way. I really enjoyed those stories! It was just interesting to me because we don’t often ‘know’ the authors so well.

Tom Hanks the author can write. His stories have a depth to them that I found surprising for short stories. I think that short stories have to be among the most challenging to write and he does so with aplomb. He manages to convey a lot in a short amount of space.

I didn’t know what to expect from this collection but I ended up being totally charmed very quickly. The stories he writes are so varied. There’s the one about the single mom in her new neighbourhood, deciding if she wants to have anything romantic to do with the man next door; the story about the bowling strikes that no one believes until they see it happen with their own eyes; the one about the mom coming to spend the weekend with her youngest son after the implosion of the marriage, of trying to impress him with a fast car and an airplane ride; and the one that revolves completely around a typewriter as a young woman in a period of transition spends $5 on a toy typewriter and ends up buying the real thing with visions of writing anything and everything down the road.

Given the chance to read more of Hanks’ work, I’d take it.


She’s back: The Break

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

The last time I read a book by Marian Keyes, it did not go well. And that was a shame because she’s one of my favourites. An author I can count on to make me laugh, probably make me cry and definitely reset my mojo.

But that didn’t happen with the last one.

So I was apprehensive about reading her new book, The Break.


Amy and Hugh have been mostly happily married for years. But the last 18 months or so have been difficult. Hugh’s father passed away and now Hugh is thinking about the finiteness of time. When his best friend dies suddenly not long after, Hugh goes to a dark place where Amy can’t reach him. She engages in a bit of a harmless work flirtation to help her deal with what’s going on at home.

And then Hugh announces that he’s taking a break from their marriage for six months and traveling, doing the things that he always wanted to and didn’t. He’s leaving Amy and their girls, Neeve, Amy’s daughter from a previous marriage who is in the early stages of a YouTube empire, Kiara, Amy and Hugh’s sweet daughter who always knows the right thing to say and do, and sensitive, ethereal Sophie, who is actually Amy’s niece but they adopted and now lives with them.

Without Hugh, Amy wants to feel sorry for herself and lie in bed and cry. But her friends and family tell her she has to live her own life. If Hugh’s on a break from their marriage, doesn’t it also mean that Amy is?

The Break is classic Marian Keyes. Classic Walsh sisters Marian Keyes! I was delighted to read this book. It was the exact mix of hilarity and seriousness that I have come to expect from Keyes. In The Break, Keyes explores fidelity and the crises that come from the deaths of those close to us. She’s also come up with an incredible cast of characters that I really hope we see more of! I can absolutely see Amy’s family members starring in their own books a la the Walshes.

It’s a bit of a doorstopper at 568 pages but it’s such a delight I’m not sure you’ll notice. The Break is an excellent book to tuck in your bag for a long flight or a weekend away. It’ll also do nicely on a rainy weekend with a cup of tea.

If you read The Woman Who Stole My Life and swore off Marian Keyes, you need to change your mind. The Break is a classic.


Little Fires Everywhere is a marvel

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

When I first read Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, I wasn’t sure that I liked it. But the more I thought about it, the more it affected me, the better I understood it.

When Little Fires Everywhere came out and it started to show up all over my social media feeds, I was feeling left out! So I was thrilled when a copy showed up at my door.

little fires everywhere

In Shaker Heights, a planned community, everything has always been just so. Homes are painted in certain colours to complement their styles, unsightly garbage is collected behind the homes so no one has to see it, and schools are laid out so that children can walk to them without crossing a single street.

Elena Richardson has lived in Shaker Heights for her entire life and embodies it’s spirit. She, her husband, and four children live in a large home, have a housekeeper, and attend the right kinds of functions. When Mia, a free spirited artist, and her daughter, Pearl, rent Elena’s property, no one has any idea how things will end. As Pearl becomes enmeshed in the Richardson family and as the youngest Richardson, Izzy, becomes closer with Mia, all of them are heading for a collision that will rock the foundation of their lives.

And when a Chinese American baby is adopted by the Richardson’s friends after being ‘abandoned’ by her overwhelmed birth mother, everyone picks a side.

You all know that I’ve been struggling with my reading lately. And initially, I didn’t get time for more than a few pages of Little Fires Everywhere. I wasn’t sure that I was going to love this book like everyone else. But then, miracle of miracles, I had an entire day to spend with it. And I finished the whole thing, greedily turning pages, simultaneously racing through them and wanting to slow down and make it last longer.

Celeste Ng is a marvel. How she manages to craft a novel that covers so much, that sees so much humanity in 336 pages, I will never know. It is a portrait of motherhood, of friendships, of the way secrets tug at the fabric of our lives. It is about mothers and daughters, about the way class systems shape our communities, about being an outsider in the kind of community that is held up as a beacon of progress.

Little things about this book bowled me over. The way Elena Richardson is always Mrs Richardson, never Elena. But Mia is always just Mia, despite the fact that they are likely contemporaries. Ng manages to create a sense of distance with just three little letters. The story moves between points of view seamlessly, so that you don’t even notice it’s happening. Each character is given such depth and history in a short amount of time – really, it’s incredible what Ng has managed to capture in this book.

Little Fires Everywhere touches on racism and classism but never in a way that feels heavy handed or over done. Written with the pace of a thriller, this book is a knock out for book club or your more literarily-inclined friends.

I loved this book. I wish I could read it again for the first time.


CanLit Win: Someone You Love Is Gone

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

Heading into the long weekend, I was planning on reading something easy, a “guilty pleasure” style book. But by the time Monday rolled around, and I still hadn’t finished that particular book (or even really cared to read it at all) I decided that I’d maybe need to admit defeat and move on.

(Remember at the beginning of the year I said I’d be better about not finishing books?)

I looked around the apartment for my next book and settled pretty quickly on Someone You Love Is Gone by Gurjinder Basran. Basran is a local author whose debut novel, Everything Was Goodbye was the winner of the Search for the Great BC Novel contest in 2010 and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Award in 2011. It was also a Chatelaine Book Club pick in 2012.


In Someone You Love Is Gone, Basran explores loss and grief and the coming to terms with a new reality. Simran’s mother has just passed away after a long illness. Simran doesn’t know how to cope with the void in her life; the past couple of years have been spent caring for her mother and suddenly her mother doesn’t exist anymore.

Except she kind of does. As she starts moving forward with her life, Simran’s mother haunts her, sits with her and talks about the past, about her siblings and the need for family in this world. They are just little glimpses of her but they offer Simran some comfort. Especially as she works through her family’s past, decisions that were made and the repercussions that rippled out through the generations.

When Simran was 10, her brother Diwa, always a special boy, believing himself to be reincarnated, is sent away to live with relatives. No explanation is ever given to Simran or Diwa; Diwa is gone and the siblings rarely see each other anymore. Soon a new sibling, Jyoti is born but the age difference means the sisters never become close.

There’s a lot going on in this book; three times are moving forward and while that often irritates me, removing me from one story when I’m just starting to settle into it, in Someone You Love Is Gone, it works. Basran has given each story the time that it needs, she hasn’t weighed it down with extraneous details or complications. Each story fits inside the others, like a series of Russian nesting dolls.

Simran is without a doubt the anchor of the story. Parts of the book are in first person from her perspective and again, normally this would drive me crazy, but here it felt natural and right. You can feel Simran’s sadness, the grief that she’s just coming to terms with, both over the loss of her mother and all the other losses she’s had to deal with over the course of a lifetime. All three of the siblings have grown up kind alone inside this family that just wants to function and get through the days, to not dwell on the bad things that have happened.

I thought it might be heavy novel, dealing with death as it does. I was worried that I’d become mired down in the darkness that I assumed would come with this book. But there is a real freedom in this book, a weightlessness that comes from Basran offering her characters redemption.

Basran has crafted a quiet, thoughtful novel. It is at once incredibly personal, the story of one family, and completely universal as I’m sure readers will be able to see themselves and their own families in it.

Another thumbs up on the CanLit front.