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!

 

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!)

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.

 

What Blooms From Dust by James Markert

bloomsThis story is set in the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. Jeremiah Goodbye is set to meet his maker in prison via the electric chair, but there is a tornado that rips through the prison and Jeremiah goes free. He travels to his hometown of Nowhere (Oklahoma) to confront his twin brother, his family and ultimately his past.

The writing in this book is awesome. You can feel the dust in your eyes and between your teeth. And you can understand the desolation and lost hope that the characters feel. I mean, who wouldn’t. Basically you sweep up from one dust storm and another one comes right on in.

This story is about family and how complicated relationships are. The twin brothers need to find their way with each other to move towards some sort of reconciliation. There is jealousy, and mourning.

The story is also about hope. I think it’s about what can a person do to make someone’s life better/easier. I don’t want to spoil the plot. What I will say is that ultimately what we all want is to be seen and  understood. That’s a basic human need. What can you do to make that happen for someone? And sometimes it’s the simplest thing that does the trick.

If you are looking for a story with a twist and that shows hope, this is your read.

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

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

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

vintageThe story follows Kate as she is studying for her Master of Wine exam (which is apparently super hard). She travels back to Burgundy, France to spend some time with her family (who are wine makers) and to get a feel for the wines of the region. During her visit she uncovers a picture of a girl and some notebooks which start Kate and her family on a quest to find out more about this mystery girl.

The story of the girl is woven in the novel through journal entries that she made when she was young, prior to and during the German occupation of France.

There are so many layers to this novel and the author handles them so well they they never become burdensome or too much. On one level the book is about coming to terms with your past and embracing your history – even if that history is uncomfortable.

The book is also, obviously, about wine. One of my favourite movies is ‘Sideways’. In it, one of the characters Maya, played by Virginia Madsen, when asked how she got into wine, she talks about what was happening the year the wine was made, about the weather and the sun and how the winemaker was. And that she could taste all of that in the wine. This book reminded me of that speech. The way the author speaks and  portrays the winemakers and the process shows their love of the land, and of their heritage and of the craft of winemaking.

The love of the land and of country is also echoed in the story of the girl in the picture. What would you be wiling to do to save and protect  your land and your heritage? And when does the line of right and wrong get blurred?

I really enjoyed reading this book. For me it was a page turner. It is sometimes difficult to follow a story when it flips back and forth between history and ‘present day’. The author did a great job in keeping the stories separate, but intermingled. I never felt confused, or that the narratives didn’t belong together.

If you are interested in wine, or France or WW2, or just want a compelling and interesting story, this book if for you.

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

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

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

fires.jpgBefore I moved from Toronto, I put myself on a ‘no book buying’ period for a few months. It’s not because I didn’t want books. It was because I didn’t want to have to move the books. I was already worried that the moving people were judging me.

I did have some gift cards that I needed to use up, so I made an exception and did a book buying expedition. This is one of the books I got. As I am sure you know, as a book lover, there was (and is) a lot of buzz about this book. So I thought, why not!

And, as usual (if you are a reader of my reviews) I didn’t look at the synopsis before getting it. I had no idea what the book was about. Except that it might be about little fires….everywhere.

Not to spoil it for you, but I loved this book. It was excellent.

I don’t want to go into the story and what it’s about – you can look it up if you want.

The book is about family, both blood and chosen. It’s also about the paths that people take in their lives and what the consequences are and how other’s choices can make us question what we have done. Does that sound cryptic? I don’t mean it to be.

I had no idea how this story was going to unfold, and I love that in a book. It always impresses and fascinates me when an author can weave multiple characters and story lines through each other and take you to a place you didn’t think you would end up. It’s literary genius, in my opinion.

I really cared about the characters and changed my opinion of them as the book progressed. As I was supposed to. One of the themes of the book is that you really don’t know what someone has gone through and it’s easy to judge them because you don’t know.

This was one of those books that you can’t stop reading it because it’s so good, but you don’t want it to end at the same time because you are invested in the characters.

I would highly recommend this book. Go and get it. Read it on the porch, at the beach or at the cottage. You will thank me.