My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

restI have to be honest, I don’t quite know how I feel about this book. I didn’t dislike it. I read it quickly and it kept me interested. But I didn’t like it. Truthfully, maybe I am just not the right demographic for this book. Who knows.

The (unnamed) narrator of the book lives in Manhattan, has enough money to be self-sufficient, is beautiful and in theory has everything one could want and one does envy. But she isn’t happy. So she decides to take a year off of life and sleep. Through flashbacks and her relationship with her ‘friend’ Reva, we get a glimpse as to what drove her to this decision.

The story is set in 2000/2001 (and we all know what happens in the fall of 2001 in Manhattan). So it’s definitely a different time in terms of technology and most importantly (I think) it’s the pre-911 world and that has a different feel to it. I did find it interesting to see that world through my post-911 experience.

This book reminded me of two things, one was Infinite Jest – with the excessive prescription drug use and details about them (although happily this book does without the ad-nauseam footnotes detailing each drug). This also reminded me of the book ‘How Should A Person Be?” by Sheila Heti. I had the same reaction to that book as I did to this one.

I get where the book is coming from and I guess for me, I just didn’t fully relate to the characters (they all seem shallow, vapid and self-centered), or buy into the overall premise. As I said, I didn’t dislike the book. It’s well written and crafted, that’s for sure.

I can’t say I highly recommend this one. However, if you are a fan of her work, or you are looking for something different then this is a good read for you.

I gave it a 3/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Thanks NetGalley!)

Clock Dance by Ann Tyler

clockThe interesting thing about reading books and then reviewing them is that you need to figure out why you like it (or not) and then explain it. In my first year art history class, we went to the university’s art gallery. The professor said for us to look at the painting, and ask ourselves the question, do I like it or not? Not is it good or bad or whatever. And then you ask why. No answer is wrong because its what your thoughts are on the painting. I try to apply the same process to books, but it’s not that simple. Or, I am making it more difficult than it is (which is true to form for me).

One of the things that I am starting to appreciate having read books to review is that the simpler the story and characters, the better. Not saying that the book needs to be simple, but less is more to a certain extent. There doesn’t need to be a million characters or tons of action for the story to be interesting and moving. This ‘simplicity’ is the case in this book.

The story follows Willa Drake and the highs and lows of her life. But what the story is really about is the moments that define us – ok, that define Willa. And how those moments lead us to make decisions today.

This book is almost in two parts – the first half follows Willa and checks in on her almost every 10 years starting in 1967. The second half is set in ‘present day’ when she goes to take care of her son’s ex-girlfriend’s daughter for a short period of time. Without the first part, you don’t really get why she makes the decisions she does.

Although the premise is simple, the message and the undercurrents of the novel run deep. This is about family – the ones that you are physically related to and the ones we choose to be our family. It’s about community – what does being part of a community mean. And ultimately it’s about making choices, and sometimes you need to make the difficult choice to be happy.

I want to say this is a really nice book, but that sounds condescending. It’s a good book. It’s an endearing book. It’s one that you can take as much or as little as you like from it.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from First to Read for a fair and honest review. Thanks to First to Read and Penguin Random House!

 

Fourth of July! By the book…

1067See what I did there? By the book…it’s a book blog…

Anyway…

So this is my first fourth of July living in these United States. The first thing I will say is it’s definitely a different experience than how Canadians celebrate Canada Day (which was July 1st). I will say that Canadians are better (more enthusiastic) about embracing their nationalism but it’s nothing like it is in America.

However…..on to books…

American history is way more interesting than Canadian history. There, I said it. Is it because it’s more or less interesting? Not particularly. But I do think Americans are better at selling the origin story. There are heroes: George Washington, Paul Revere and more “recently’ Alexander Hamilton. I dare you to name a hero of Canadian confederation? I’ll wait over here…<plays Jeopardy music>

Admittedly I have read more books on US history and presidents than I have about Canada. In my defense, I have read books on Trudeau (Pierre, not Justin), Montcalm and Wolfe….and, well that’s possibly it. I did start one about Sir John A. Macdonald (the first PM of Canada) but I couldn’t finish it. I won’t bother to start a list of American related history books I’ve read, we would be here all day.

The one that comes to mind is 1776 by David McCullough. First off, McCullough is a master storyteller. I have read a few books by him and they are all extremely entertaining. You feel is if you are reading a novel, not a history book. And the story of 1776 is interesting – a bunch of guys who wanted to create a new  country and wanted to vanquish the big bad king. (Or something like that.) It’s a good vs. evil story. You have rogue dudes. A guy riding at midnight on a horse with a lantern. And fancy hats!

In his post, BJ mentioned that his step-father didn’t learn about US history in his British school. But being as I was in Canada and we are next-door neighbours, we definitely learned about US history in school. So it’s more familiar to me.

Anyway…..enjoy the day! Have a hot dog and enjoy some fireworks. Happy Independence Day!

 

 

 

How To Be Famous by Caitlin Moran

famousI read How To Build A Girl, really liked it and was super pumped when this book came up for review. I didn’t realize that this was a ‘sequel’ to that book. D’oh! In my defence I read a lot of books and I read the former book about 4 years ago. Here is the thing, this reads as a stand alone book.

Dolly Wilde (aka Johanna Morrigan) is 18 years old and living in the midst of all the hub-bub and working for a music magazine. The book is set in 1995 London at the height of the brit pop movement with Oasis, Blur, Suede, Stone Roses…and the list goes on. I was a huge fan of Britpop and was jealous that I wasn’t in London hanging out seeing Blur and Oasis live. So this narrative was right up my alley.

So here is the thing, Dolly is 18, living in London hanging out with bands and drinking. She is a self described Lady Sex Adventurer…and this gets her into some trouble. I won’t say what. However it’s not pretty.

This book ends up being about how to take back your reputation as a woman and as a sexual being. It was relevant in 1995 and is obviously relevant (STILL) in 2018. This is also about embracing yourself and finding out who you are. In the story Dolly is 18, and the author keeps reminding us of that…because occasionally you go WTF?!? And then you are like, right, she is only 18!

The other thing is that Dolly is astute and smart and funny. There is one line that stuck with me:

You can’t meet your heroes — because they are, in the end, just an idea that lives inside you.

The idea being that people you read/listen to/whatever…you enter into a relationship with them as an artist. They help get you through bad times when you listen to their sone 1,000 times after a break up. But the artist doesn’t know you. So when you meet them, you think of them as a friend, they see you as a…..fan. Anyway, that blew my mind. I never thought of things that way before.

Anyway…..

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoy the author’s style and what she has to say.

If you are looking for a female empowerment book with a touch of sassy, this is your summer read!

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from Edelweiss for a fair and honest review. (Thanks Edelweiss!)

Happy Canada Day eh!

img_0280It’s Canada Day in my homeland. A day where we celebrate all things Canadian: hockey, poutine and apologizing. Actually it’s usually just an excuse to sit outside, or at the dock and drink beer for most of the day until the fireworks start.

BJ and I were trying to think of what to make for dinner today to celebrate. We were researching Canadian food and I remembered that I had a Canadian cookbook. What? Yes, it’s true. There is a picture above.

I borrowed this book from my mom a while ago. I had a hankering for date squares and the ‘good recipe’ was in this book. I did ask if she wanted it back recently but she told me to keep it (honest, you can ask her)!

This is an old book, well it’s older than me! My aunt gave it to my mom as a gift in 1967 (per the inscription on the front page).

As I was flipping through the book the thing that struck me the most was the strong memories some of the recipes had for me. The ones I remember my mom making were mostly cookies at Christmas. There are two – one for shortbread and one for thumbprint cookies.

I remember sitting in the kitchen, when I was little, with my mom as she pressed out the shortbread cookies with a metal press into different shapes: stars, Christmas trees, wreaths, and helping her decorate them with red and green cherries.

I remember being excited to be old enough to help her roll the cookies in walnut pieces for the thumbprint cookies, make the indentation in the cookies and help fill them with jam once they cooled from the oven.

And the date squares. I recall they are one of my dad’s favourites. I don’t LOVE them, but I do have a hankering for them occasionally and they taste like home.

So on this Canada day I am thinking of home and all my friends and family!

Have a beer for me, eh?!

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

sevenBack in the fall when we started this ol’ blog, this was one of the first books I requested to review. And promptly got declined for it. I saw it on my recent foray into the library and thought, why not!

As any regular reader knows, I don’t usually read the blurb about the book. I usually literally judge a book by its cover. As was the case with this. With a quick look, I thought this book was set in Washington. The house on the cover looks like the White House (kinda sorta) and the blue background with the red flag. When I started reading it I was very confused, it’s set in England at a country house. See, I really need to pay more attention to these things.

Anyway…

This story follows the Birch family over the Christmas holidays while they are under quarantine.  Their daughter has just come back from treating the Haag virus and the mom (sorry..mum) thought it would be a good excuse to have the entire family together….for a week…when no one can escape. Nothing can go wrong, right?

It turns out that all the folks in the Birch family have a secret they are keeping. And no surprise that a week in close quarters force these out into the open – whether the family is ready to reveal them or not.

This book is about family, and life and death. And the sacrifices that we make for our family and for the greater good. That sounds dreadfully dark. But it’s not. It’s actually heartwarming and honest.

If you are looking for a good read that would be perfect for your deck/porch/beach/cabin reading pleasure, this is the one for you.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

 

Brothers Karamazov: The end of part one

springerLet me say this is one crazy family. It’s like the equivalent of a Real Housewives franchise or a Jerry Springer episode.

One of the sons clocks the father (it’s looks like he is going to die there for a minute….did someone say MURDER). There is a romantic….square? Like a triangle plus one, involving the Karamazov patriarch, the eldest son (Dmitry), Grushenka (the possible prostitute)…and wait for it, Katarina, the woman that Dmitry is engaged to. What? You read that right…we see Katarina kissing Grushenka’s hand in a very awkward scene where Alyosha (the youngest brother) goes to break off the engagement for Dmitry.

See, it’s a Jerry Springer episode!

We end book one with much unresolved and a lot of tension with the family. We are only 200 or so pages into this thing and we have already seen more action than in the first 800 pages of War and Peace (I might be exaggerating a bit).

So far I really like this book. There is quite a bit of action and suspense and surprise. There is a bit of exposition on religion and politics and the human condition, but it’s been minimal. The story is moving along at a brisk pace.

There is about 800 pages or so to go. I feel like the murder that was alluded to earlier in the book is going to happen soon. Grushenka is going to cause a whole lot of trouble.
And I think the Karamazov boys are all going to get married. Those are my predictions. We will see how I do as we go along.

On to book two!