Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"The Knockoff" by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

Forty-two-year-old Imogen Tate has returned to her job as editor in chief of Glossy magazine to find that her twenty-something former assistant Eve Morton has taken over.  Eve is fresh out of Harvard Business School and had decided that the high-fashion magazine, best known for its 768-page September issue, would be better off as an app.

But she isn’t stopping there.  Eve has fired all of the “grey hairs,” the older and experienced staff members, and replaced them with a heavy rotation of lookalike twenty year olds who text, tweet, and instagram throughout meetings.  Organic foods and nap rooms are always available not because it is a supportive place to work but because employees are rarely allowed to go home.  And then there are the co-ordinated dances to Beyoncé's music.

Imogen, a part of the old guard of fashion journalism, refuses to let Eve take over the magazine but it quickly becomes apparent that if she is going to hold on to her power, she needs to get up to speed with technology as fast as she can.  And that won’t be an easy feat for a woman who once got her iPhone stuck in Japanese for two days.

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza is a fun, hilarious, and stylish novel about the world of fashion magazines and the people who run it.  Comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada will no doubt abound but this book holds its own as a behind the scenes look at a world obsessed with fashion and technology.  

This is the book that shook me out of a terrible reading slump.  I devoured it in just a couple of days and was sad when it ended.  I wanted to stay in this world forever!  It isn’t just the fashion world that is being taken over by technology, we are all experiencing it.  And anyone who has ever found themselves overwhelmed by the newest social media apps or obsessed with the latest viral videos will enjoy this book very much.

As someone who recently returned to the workforce after a long absence, I could totally understand how Imogen feels.  It’s a different place that is always evolving thanks to technological innovation.  And it really does seem that the new people entering the workforce are getting younger and younger by the day.  But wow, what a force Imogen had to deal with when it came to Eve.

This is such a delicious novel.  The characters are exactly what they should be - Imogen, her assistant, and her friends are all delightful and endearing while Eve is the perfect witch to hate.  There were a few parts of the story that weren’t fully seen through but other than that the book moves at a fast pace with no lulls in the action.  This is the perfect book to crack open on a lazy, sunny day.  

You don’t have to work in the fashion world, or even love fashion, to relate to and enjoy this book.  In any area, it can be hard to keep up with the changing dynamics of technology.  But The Knockoff shows you that with a little bit of help from your friends and a lot of determination, you can come out on top in a very fashionable manner.  

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Hello From the Gillespies" by Monica McInerney

For thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has faithfully sent out her Christmas letter to friends and family around the year.  Titled “Hello from the Gillespies,” it has always been full of good news from their beautiful homestead in the Australian Outback.

But this year, Angela can’t bring herself to write the usual cheerful letter because there’s been very little cheer to speak of.  Her husband is having difficulty keeping things together on the farm.  Her thirty-two-year-old twin daughters have come back home after suffering embarrassing career meltdowns.  Her third daughter is deep in debt having failed at yet another job.  And her ten-year-old-son spends all of his time talking to his imaginary friend.  

And so Angela decides to write a letter full of the truth, not holding back anything.  Of course, it’s purely a cathartic exercise, she doesn’t actually plan to send it out.  But it does get sent and it results in fracturing the family. But when Angela is in an accident and suffers from amnesia, the family must put their hurt aside and pull together to bring Angela back to them.

Hello From the Gillespies, by Monica McInerney, is a moving novel about the highs and lows of families and relationships.  This is her tenth novel, the first I have read, and is a beautiful family novel set in a stunning place.

I loved the premise of this novel.  We’ve all seen those Christmas letters, the ones that seem too good to be true, the ones that are full of good news but not the bad.  Or we’ve sat down to write one and wondered just how much should be shared.  What if someone writes one full of the truth, every difficult bit of it? 

I really liked the Gillespie family.  Angela was an absolutely endearing character, faithful and caring but going through a most difficult time.  The relationship between Angela and her husband Nick felt very real.  Though I have not been married for as long as they have, I know that marriage goes through its ups and downs and the rift in their relationship seemed very truthful.  I enjoyed the stories of all of the children, though I felt like the daughters were much younger than they were supposed to be based on their behaviour.  

While I loved the plot, it is the development of the plot that keeps this book from being an absolute smash for me.  The book is a thick one, it comes in at 606 pages.  And there were a few points, especially in the first half that I felt could have been omitted as they didn't need to be as drawn out as they were.  If this had happened, I probably would have sailed through the book but instead I found myself reading a bit, putting it down for quite a while, then coming back to it only to read a little bit more.  But that was the first half.  I breezed through the second half in two days because I couldn’t put the book down.  

To me, one of the biggest stars of the book was the setting.  Taking place in the Australian Outback, the Gillespie family home is set on a land that is rich in beauty and history.  As a city-dweller my whole life, I was drawn into the descriptions of a life lived in your own place, surrounded by nature rather than people.  I only know the Outback through pictures, but the descriptions in this book were so vivid, I felt like I was there.

Overall this was an enjoyable novel about the difficulties of marriage, the ups and downs of family life, and the love that holds it all together.  This book definitely makes me want to seek out McInerney’s other work.  If like me you find the first part of the book slow-going, stick with it.  You will be moved and touched by this lovely story.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Month In Review

This month I fell into a bit of a reading slump. And because of that, I thought I didn't get much reading done until I started writing this post and realized that I didn't do so bad.  That is all thanks to a reading sprint at the beginning of the month and one at the end.  Here are the books I read this month with their GoodReads ratings:

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison *****
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed *****
Dreaming of Elsewhere by Esi Edugyan *****
Adventures in Saying Yes by Carl Medearis ****
The Mother and Child Project by Kay Warren ****
The Year of Taking Chances by Lucy Diamond ****
At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen ****
AsapSCIENCE by Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown ****


Canadian Book Challenge (3), Diversity on the Shelf (3)

What I'm Looking Forward to in May

 I decided that for the month of May I will be reading only from books I already own.  I was never one to have a very big physical TBR pile, I would always read books as soon as I bought them.  But lately that hasn't been the case and it's been getting out of hand.  So in May it will only be books I own.  I'm looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Month in Review: Non-Bookish Things

April was a weird month for me.  Not a lot of reading, not a lot of watching or listening either.  What was I doing?  Well, here are the few non-bookish things I was doing.



Now that baseball season is in full swing, I’ve been watching less television shows and the Toronto Blue Jays every single day.  Not a bad thing, though I tell you, they put my nerves through something fierce.

I am currently watching Broadchurch.  I’ve just finished season 1 and have moved on to season 2.  This is an incredible show and if you like dramas, I highly recommend it.  As you’ll have noticed if you read this column each month, I watch mostly British television.  And up until recently, it’s always been comedy because I prefer their brand of comedy.  I can’t explain why, but I didn’t think I’d enjoy the dramas as much.  Boy was I wrong.  Between Broadchurch, Happy Valley, and Scott & Bailey, I’m hooked.

I also just discovered Virtually Famous, a panel show about internet videos. So I've watched a few episodes of that.  I'm running low on panel shows to watch, any recommendations?


This month I managed to watch one movie - Furious 7.  When the franchise first started way back when I was in high school I was hooked, mainly because I was obsessed with Vin Diesel after watching Pitch Black.  But for some reason I stopped watching around number 5. We hadn’t been to the movies in a while so we decided to go see this one and I’m glad that I did.  This franchise has a winning formula.  And the tribute to Paul Walker was so well done.  “See You Again” came on the radio while I was at the gym a few days later and I had tears in my eyes while on the bike, it was that memorable.


Other than my usual podcasts, I haven’t been listening to much.  I did find my summer song though and have been playing that a lot while out in the car.  That song is Janelle Monáe’s “Yoga.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season" by Sarah Britton

Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Nutritional Practitioner Sarah Britton has been blogging about healthy, whole foods on her blog, My New Roots, since 2007.  She has been inspiring others to make delicious, simple plant-based eating and now she is bringing 100 all-new recipes to her first cookbook, My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season.

The book is divided into 5 sections: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer, Autumn, and Winter with, as you can guess, beautiful recipes crafted for foods that are at their peak.  The photos in the book are absolutely stunning and will have your mouth watering.  Sarah also shares her own journey to plant-based eating, includes essential techniques, and gives tips for stocking your pantry.

On my first go-through of this book, I picked out three recipes to try that I knew were easy enough for me and new to my recipe collection:

Sprouted Wild Rice with Pistachios and Spring Vegetables - I loved this recipe. I really liked the combination of the green peas and chickpeas with the spicy mustard.  I ended up making only half of the recipe because I didn’t think this was something my husband would try or enjoy.  He ended up going back for seconds and was upset that there wasn’t more.  Coming from a man who wants to be a vegetarian but “doesn’t like vegetarian food,” that is high praise.

Roasted Red Pepper Walnut Dip - this is the first time I have ever made a roasted red pepper dip.  It’s also the first time I have ever roasted red peppers. For this recipe I omitted the walnuts and added lentils for extra protein.  This is a great, light dip, and I enjoyed it very much after a day in the fridge.  I liked it better with cut up vegetables than I did with the pita bread, but overall, this will be something I make for get-togethers.

Salt ’N’ Pepper Chocolate Chip Cookies - I have to start this by saying that I am not a baker.  For some reason, even when I follow the recipe exactly, my baking never turns out the way that it is supposed to.  That being said, these worked and they are lovely.  I made them a little bit too big, but hey, a cookie can never be too big right?  I substituted maple syrup for brown rice syrup and it doesn’t seem like there would be a difference.  The salt and pepper are a very unique touch, though I will use less pepper than recommended the next time around.  I just felt like it overpowered the cookie.

There are so many recipes that I can’t wait to try in this book including Raw Key Lime Coconut Tarts, Pan Bagnat with Sunflower Seed “Tuna”, Heirloom Tomatoes with Oil-Cured Olives and Crusty Bread,  Chunky Banana Bread Granola, and Sundown Carrot and Grilled Corn Salad.

There is something in here for everyone.  In each section, Britton includes breakfast foods, drinks, side dishes, main dishes, and desserts.  Whether you are wanting to try more plant-based eating or are full-fledged vegan, you will find something in here to enjoy and love.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, April 27, 2015

"God Help the Child" by Toni Morrison

Bride is a stunning woman, a woman with blue-black skin always dressed in white.  Everywhere she goes she turns heads.  Everyone is amazed by her beauty and her confidence.  But her looks haven’t always been a source of pride in her life.  Bride’s light-skinned mother saw her dark skin as a detriment and because of this, she withheld her love and any affection from her.  So when she was a child, in order to earn her mothers love, Bride told a lie that ruined an innocent woman.  

Booker is the man that Bride loves, but he has walked out on their relationship.  There is an anger that he can’t shake and a decision that Bride has made it even worse.  As an adult, he continues to deal with the trauma of the murder of his brother when they were children.  When Bride goes looking for Booker, trying to get answers about the end of their relationship, they are both forced to face the lingering effects of their childhood and how much has been carried into their adult lives.

God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison, is a deeply moving novel about the way a person’s childhood shapes their adult life.  

This is the part where I shamefully admit that I really haven’t read much by Toni Morrison, in fact this is only the second novel of hers that I have read.  The first novel of hers that I read, Home, was good but not spectacular in my opinion.  But this book, this one makes me want to run out and read everything else she has written.

This book broke my heart.  I can’t pretend to understand the complexities of race that led to Bride’s mother treating her the way she did, but I have enough experience in my own life with this issue to know that it is something people deal with every day and that leaves lasting effects.  Anyone who writes a review dismissing this shouldn’t be writing about books.

This is a small novel that packs a big punch.  We don’t know what people are carrying with them through their lives and the relationship between Bride and Booker, the reasons why their relationship failed, prove this.  Morrison doesn’t need to go in depth about what happened, she doesn’t need to get descriptive as to the abuse that Bride suffered at the hands of her mother because her writing is so beautiful and strong.  She paints a picture with her words rather than handing you what you need.

Raising children is a hard job.  Too often, we place our fears or our experiences on our children unnecessarily.  Morrison shows us in this book just how deep this wounds. My heart just ached through this whole book, which is a testament to the writing.  

Home may have made me wonder if I was missing something but God Help the Child has shown me why Morrison is a Nobel Prize winner and why I must read every word she has written.  

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"Written in the Stars" by Aisha Saeed

Naila Rahman has grown up with conservative immigrant parents who have always allowed her the freedom to make her own decisions in all areas except for one - marriage.  As is their cultural tradition, Naila will have an arranged marriage, her parents choosing her husband for her.  

While Naila has always been the perfect daughter, doing well in school and being respectful of her parents, she is hiding one secret from them that will change her life forever if it gets out.  Naila is in love with Saif, a boy at school.  And though Saif is from the same background as she is, her parents will never allow the relationship.

When they do find out about Saif, their anger at Naila can’t be contained.  Convinced that she has turned her back on everything they have taught her, they take her on a trip back home to Pakistan.  But this isn’t a vacation for Naila and her family.  They are going there to find her a husband and if they do, Naila will not return to America.  

Will Naila be able to escape a marriage she doesn’t want to be a part of it and make it back to Saif?  Or has her fate already been determined for her?

Written in the Stars, by Aisha Saeed, is a heart-wrenching young adult novel, about a clash of cultures and a young woman’s determination to make her life her own at the sake of family and tradition.

This is such a moving book.  Even though it is not my culture, I have such a personal connection to it because I know many women from the same background as Naila.  And of those women, some are in happily arranged marriages, some in difficult arranged marriages, some who were able to choose their own marriage from the start, and some who had to fight to choose their own marriage.  This is a very complicated issue for those of us who don’t have the practice of arranged marriage in our culture.  But I think we can all understand a little bit what it is like to want to make your own path when others are trying to forge it for you.

The characters of Naila and Saif are the kind of characters I want in a young adult novel.  They possess a maturity that a lot of people don’t think teenagers are capable of these days and their young romance definitely took me back to my high school days.  On top of that, they represent the many teenagers who find themselves caught between the culture they live in and the culture their parents grew up in.  Saeed writes these characters brilliantly.

From there, this becomes such an emotional novel.  Naila’s parents go to great lengths to get her to do what they want her to do.  It’s not that Naila is willingly being disobedient but there is great pressure on her parents to do what they think is right according to their traditions.  I think the strength of this novel is not that it paints the parents or the culture out to be a terrible thing, but that it looks at it honestly and cautiously.  

There was so much in this book that was heart-breaking for me because on a daily basis I encounter girls like Naila and people like her parents.  For the most part, these issues work out for the best of both sides but there were will always be girls forced into the situation like Naila was.  I commend Saeed for writing such an honest and brilliant novel.  I can only imagine how much it means for girls in Naila’s situation to be able to see their stories on the page (ahem, why we need diverse books.)

I highly recommend this book.  This story could have been told in a number of ways and in different genres but the young adult genre was the way to go.  This is one YA novel that adults should definitely be reading.  The style may not be what you typically read, but the story will move you and educate you.