August: Book Reviews

I just noticed that I accidentally skipped July’s book reviews! Blame it on summer vacation mode, but I hope you did a lot of reading over the summer, things that made you feel like you saw something of the world, be it the external world or the interior, psychological one. My reading list sort of dabbled in both, and I’ve already got some great recommendations for September too… which of course will blink by in an instant. ūüėČ

Best Fiction of the Month: The After Party

I never read books about the cloistered lives of glamorous women, but somehow I couldn’t put this down. A story of friendship set in wealthy American south in the 1950s, Joan and Cece are best friends since childhood, until Joan runs away to Hollywood for a year and then resurfaces, keeping her distance from Cece and spiraling into self-destruction. I felt completely transported to this era and this lifestyle, where just leaving the house was cause to get dressed up. The narrator isn’t entirely likeable but it doesn’t matter- her love for her friend goes deep into long-held secrets. If you loved Mad Men, I think you’ll love this.

Best Nonfiction: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved

Kate Bowler was in her mid 30s -with a job she loved, a husband a toddler –¬† when she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. This book is a brief but staggering narrative of how she found out and how she came to grips with a life that is going to be cut short, the way she moves from shock to anger and grief to acceptance and back through the emotions again. The book is loving and brave, and if you need to be remind that life isn’t fair and that you need to make the most of the time you have, this is it.

The One I’m Recommending to Just About Everyone:¬†Tell Me More

I think I devoured most of Tell Me More in a single sitting, because the essay are that good, and Kelly Corrigan has a knack for telling a story that embodies the moments of being human where someone says the right thing at the right moment and we feel seen, understood, and heard. The titular essay, Tell Me More, is the best of the bunch but they all have their resonance. If you loved Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar, then I think you’ll like this one.

The Coffee Table Book that I’m Devouring but It’s Too Big and Heavy to Take Anywhere: Letter of Note

How is it that this just came across my radar?! This book is incredible, with letters by those you have heard of and those you have not, that illuminate the scope of historical events and remind you that good, intelligent people are present in every era. The Queen sent Eisenhower her recipe for scones and included tips on substituting ingredients, someone claiming to be Jack the Ripper taunting a police detective, a freed slave responding to his former ‘master’ when he asked him to come back, Annie Oakley offering a team of women sharp shooters for the war… I could go on and on. The book is spectacular, and letters are a really underrated form of literature. This would be an amazing gift, too.

Crafty/Home Decor/Recipe Book I’m Loving: Get It Together!

This is the funniest home decor book I’ve ever read, and it is full of gorgeous ideas and stunning rooms that actually feel within your reach – except for the cover image, which isn’t that great in my opinion. The rest of the book has far more lovely photos and ideas. I’m all for aspirational home decor, but give me practical tips any day of the week. Orlando’s book is laugh-out-loud funny and utterly beautiful. If you are looking for ideas on how to pick out furniture, maybe do a few DIYs, and figure out how to make a room function for how you really live, give this a whirl.

What have you been reading this summer? Any top recommendations? Share them in the comments!

June: Book Reviews

Yay Summer! I’m looking forward to reading some fantastic books, I’ve seen so many interesting looking everywhere and I’ve got a pile of library books beside my couch… but of course I’m always on the hunt for new recommendations!

Best Fiction of the Month: The Immortalists

¬†Aside from the obvious bias that a knitter wrote this book and it’s been alllllllll over my Instagram feed, it’s a really, really good novel. Four young siblings see a fortune teller who tells each of them the date that they will die. The book focuses on each of the four siblings as they move towards their fates, leaving the characters (and the readers)to wonder – are their death dates fixed because they can’t avoid their fate, or because they are choosing to make the predictions a reality? An excellent cast of supporting characters help keep the book from becoming mired in the self-absorption of the main characters. The only drawback is that the book finished with my least favourite character, but it definitely couldn’t have ended with any of the others. Worth checking out, and supporting a fellow knitter/writer!

Best Nonfiction: Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling

Aside from the cover image (makes it look like chick lit, don’t you think?), this book is a really in depth tool on helping anyone sort through literally anything in their life – good, bad, or blah. Full of genuinely interesting journaling prompts for things like productivity, getting organized, stretching your creativity, focusing on joy, writing your way out of compare & despair, making any situation fun, texts from yourself, making any job more enjoyable…. there are 55 different journaling prompts divided into different categories to tackle just about any trouble spot you might be having. If you would like to journal more, this is definitely for you.

Currently re-reading: Coming Through Slaughter

I’m pretty sure this is the 4th Michael Ondaatje book I’ve recommended since January, but I can’t help it – I’m obsessed. I haven’t read Coming Through Slaughter in probably about 15 years, but it is stunning. A novella told in fragments about a brilliant jazz musician, it’s half poetry, half fiction, wholly beautiful.

The One I’m Recommending to Just About Everyone: Big Magic

If you struggle with creativity in your life, or feel like you are going through a creative slump, this book is a lifesaver. I especially recommend the audiobook version- anytime I feel my creativity flagging, I find a lot of wisdom in this book. I often listen to it in the morning while I’m getting ready, it’s a wonderful way to set the tone for the day. Encouraging without any of the cheerleading ‘you can do it!’ vibes – it’s authentic and positive and encourages you to find your own thing that sparks you, whatever that spark may be.

Crafty Book I’m Loving: The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I was rewarded with introspective, beautiful essays on all aspects of the knitting life. Okun struggles with anxiety and mental health challenges and wasn’t afraid to lay them bare, expertely weaving them into how her craft supports and helps, how it soothes, and why we knit the things we knit. The book isn’t laugh-out-loud funny; instead it is thoughtful, lyrical essays on the knitting life.

What have you read lately that you are loving? Anything interesting, thought provoking, or just wonderfully entertaining? Share in the comments!

May: Book Reviews

This is a little bit late — last week I was swamped with last minute projects and opportunities that I couldn’t pass up! I read a lot in May, and here are my favourites from the month….

Best Novel of the Month: Warlight

Disclaimer: I’m a huge Ondaatje fan. I went to the launch of this book, got it signed while barely containing my fangirl glee, and then immediately devoured the book. It has a lot of the hallmarks of a quintessential Ondaatje novel, but it took me a while to really see where we were going with the plot – In the immediate aftermath of WWII, two teenagers are left in the care of some odd characters while their parents go to Asia for work, which is quickly revealed to be a rouse. The payoff is worth the perseverance, the second half of the novel is brilliant.

Best Short Story Collection of the Month: That Time I Loved You

This is a collection of short stories set in a suburban Scarborough neighbourhood in the 1970s, after a trio of suicides take place. Each story shifts around to different characters, tells different perspectives, and reveals the complex inner lives of various neighbours. Reminds you that you really don’t know your friends and neighbours as well as you think you do. I always like when short story collections interlink like this, and I was completely sucked in from the very first page.

Best Nonfiction: The Beauty of Discomfort

What makes successful people so successful? They seek out the discomfort of a situation and learn to get comfortable with it. We all have different ways of dealing with challenges and discomfort in our lives, but the way we choose to handle those events help shape us. THis book is mainly about developing the mental tools to help increase our resiliency, but also is about happiness – happy people are those that are resilient when life throws curve balls, and they are able to not take things personally, and can to meet those challenges head on.¬† Some of the key takeaways for me were about how detrimental it is to internalize criticism (ever play out a negative scene in your head over and over? Yeah, that’s make you miserable and distracting you from moving forward), what to do instead, and how stretching outside of your comfort zone in the direction of your goals means you are making progress, not stagnanting. Because sometimes I need a reminder that not every waking moment of my life is supposed to be easy.

Currently Re-reading: The Summer Book

This is a deceptively simple book about a six year old girl and her grandmother spending summers alone in a cottage on an island. Tove Jansson (of Moomin creation fame) drew heavily on her own experiences, and at times I feel like she is keenly aware of having been both the little girl and the grandmother. This is the kind of book that hold up well to re-reading, and I’m glad I did- I originally ordered it (It was hard to find) as a birthday gift for a friend, then ended up reading it myself and couldn’t part with it. It’s a great vacation read, if you like your vacation reads to be murder-plot-twist-free.

The One I’m Recommending to Just About Everyone:

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead

Whoa, this book. You don’t need to be going through a major challenge in your life to learn an incredible amount about how we process our our failures.¬† It covers all the hard stuff of being human and what it means to really look at the how and why of our feelings when we stumble in life (in both big and small ways), and how taking a deep look at those moments helps us actually learn and grow so that we do better, rather than stuffing down feelings of guilt, shame or assigning blame elsewhere. It’s basically all about getting really honest with your feelings and your experiences, so that you can get back up from whatever setback and be a better person for it.¬† Basically if you are a human and you have feelings, read this book.

What are you reading this month? I just got a copy of The Alice Network (which came so highly recommended from the comments in a previous post), and it is already so good!

April: Book Reviews

And just like that, April is done! Here are 6 of my favourite reads from the past month. If you have an recommendations, I’d love to know about them- I’m always looking for new books, especially fiction. I usually reserve recommendations at the library to check them out. Let me know in the comments!

Best Poetry: Bright Dead Things 

This is a wonderful collection of poems by Ada Limon, an American poet whose work I’ve admired for a while. Poetry is such a niche literary form that usually poets from one country don’t often get much play in other countries. So as a Canadian, I definitely had to take a chance and just order the book, based on a couple of poems I read. The Amazon link does allow you to ‘look inside’, and if you like the first poem, I bet you’ll like the whole book.

¬†The One I’m Recommending to Just About Everyone: All Our Wrong Todays

Fast-paced, funny, moving, and a great choice if you are looking to gift a book to a man in your life (I can see a lot of men enjoying it, possibly more than women). The story is set in the current day, but endless clean energy developed in the 1960s has created a global utopia and ALL our futuristic dreams have come true.

Everyone is living their best life except for Tom Barren, our protagonist – son of a genius who can’t possibly live up to any expectations, in love with a brilliant woman whose life he’s utterly destroyed by accident, he makes a foolish choice to go back in time with his father’s newly developed time machine and (of course!) unwittingly changes the entire outcome of the present day. Tom wakes up in our current day (in Toronto!), and it looks just like how we know it. As he sets about trying to find people he knew from his previous life, everyone is an alternate version of the people he knew from before- including the woman he loved. Grappling with the side effects of memories from his original life and the life he has in the new timeline, he sets about trying to fix his mistakes from both timelines. The ending a little too fast-paced (are there any books with time travel that have a truly satisfying and believable ending? Probably not) but this book was hugely enjoyable, and compulsively readable. My copy is about to start making the lending rounds of everyone I know.

Best Nonfiction: What Happened

I don’t remember exactly why I took this out of the library- I know I read some very good reviews somewhere- and I was surprised at how engaging it was, even to a Canadian (sometimes she was talking about American politicians that I don’t know from a tin of soup, I just glossed over those parts). This book is not without its flaws – if you are a huge Bernie Sanders fan, it’s clear there is no love lost between those two – but it is a surprisingly moving account of someone who has failed at achieving her dream on a level so huge it will always be a part of American history. No matter how any of us fail, it will never be so big as all that. How does someone move on from that? How do you accept the revised version of your life? Clinton doesn’t mince words, she faces down her own failures as well as the absolutely batsh*t crazy Russian involvement that the rest of the world is all kind of surprised isn’t a bigger deal in the US. If you are trying to get over a spectacular failure in your own life, I bet reading this book will make you feel a million times better — At least you are not Hillary Clinton.

Currently re-reading: Big Little Lies

If somehow you haven’t heard about this book (now HBO series), I’d be surprised. A trio of moms whose kids are all in the same kindergarten class are center stage when a series of events and a death threaten to expose the secrets underlying their carefully constructed lives.¬† I’m re-reading this book because as a writer, I’m incredibly impressed with how addictive this book is, especially when there are 3 main characters and a cast of supporting characters that rival a russian novel in their number.¬† This book completely deserves to be a bestseller – it’s just a mighty good book. I wish I had written it. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend, it would be an especially good beach read.

Crafty Book I’m Loving (okay, it’s actually a cookbook): Jamie Oliver Five Ingredients

I’m not usually a cookbook person – I’ll make 3 recipes and then never touch it again. But this one is my new favourites- tonnes of recipes that are super easy and really do just have 5 ingredients (not including things like salt and pepper, etc). Perfect for weeknight suppers, and quick desserts, which is pretty much how I live. I have about twenty different recipes marked, and none have failed me yet- every one is worth making again. If I was going to give anyone a cookbook, it would be this one.

Lila and James are Loving: Cookiesaurus Rex

This book has both Lila and James in hysterics! It’s about a dinosaur cookie that wants to have fancier frosting than all the other cookies, and the baker keeps remaking the T-rex over with different costumes that he just does not enjoy. The humour is perfect for little kids, Lila asks for this book all the time.

 

Looking for book reviews from the previous months? Check them out here.

March: Book Reviews

I read a lot of books this month, but hardly anything seemed to be really recommendation worthy, so this month’s list is a bit leaner.¬† What was the best thing you read in March? Share your recommendations!

Best Fiction of the Month: Mr. Fox

I’ve been meaning to read Helen Oyeyemi’s work for a while, and was really happy to have started with this novel. It’s a literary cat-and-mouse retelling of the Bluebeard fairytale, with Mr. Fox a well known writer of slasher books where the women are always killed on his pages.¬† A woman named Mary Foxe begins writing him and the two create a long distance collaboration on writing stories together that don’t involve murdering women…. but is Mary real? What is ‘real’, anyway? The stories-within-the story are wonderful, and Oyeyemi’s clever handling of the language and the characters sucked me in right away. This isn’t a breezy beach read, but if you are looking to get sucked into a novel and be thinking about it even when you aren’t reading it, then I think you might like this one.

Best Nonfiction: The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris 

I confess that I didn’t love this book, but I completely understand why it’s a bestseller and cropping up everywhere- it’s sort of like Eat Pray Love and A Homemade Life: Stories from My Kitchen Table combined into one. The structure, of a woman’s memoir of divorce, depression, and finding herself through baking and Paris, is interspersed with recipes, excellent quotes, and beautiful photographs; making it feel very immersive and covering up the haphazard structure. But my biggest problem wit this book is I couldn’t identify at all with the author’s perspective, even though it should have been pretty easy for me- I kept getting tripped up by her relentlessly lousy self-esteem that bordered on self-obsession, and it coloured everything. But hey, that’s a gorgeous cover and it sure looks pretty on Instagram.

Currently Re-reading: The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje is one of my favourite writers, and my first introduction to his work was this novel – this gorgeous, lush, heartbreakingly beautiful novel.¬† The story focuses on the intersection of lives of four people after the end of WW II, and how they are grappling with loss and how to move forward — if moving forward is even possible. There is another Ondaatje novel that I love, In the Skin of a Lion, which also has the story of two of these characters from before this book, which is an excellent companion piece. But it’s The English Patient that I suspect will still be treasured and read a couple of hundred years from now, by people whose great grandparents have yet to be born.

The One I’m Recommending to Just About Everyone: M Train¬†

I loved M Train even more than her far-more-famous Just Kids. M Train is a wonderfully crafted collection of Smith’s thoughts and reflections on so many subjects –¬† cowboys, dreams, coffee, travel, secret societies, what makes a home, the nature of being alone – and yet deftly weaves them together into a stunning tapestry that never feels contrived or ridiculous, despite the fact that her life is pretty bloody extraordinary. A friend recommended the audiobook version, as Patti Smith reads it herself in her hallmark new Jersey accent, and I agree- it’s fantastic.

Looking for book reviews from the previous months? Check them out here.

Did you read anything amazing lately? what about a craft book you are currently loving? I’m always on the hunt for new books t take out of the library!