Conversations for Two [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

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These are pieces of my story. We carve out our world in sections of memory. Some things take root.

I finished reading Conversations for Two by Jacqueline Markowitz almost a week ago and it’s still haunting me (in the best kind of way).  When someone close to you passes there is a period of time where you are flooded with memories you shared with them. A period where you try to understand who they were, what they loved, and what they could have become.

When one woman comes across her brother’s writing twenty-five years after his death, she is transported through fragments of memories that piece together who he really was and what he loved most. As someone who diligently keeps a notebook at arms length, who writes down everything, I was completely enthralled by this concept. What would people learn about me from those notebooks? What kinds of emotions would it evoke?

Conversations for Two is filled with unanswered questions, quaint memories, and heartwarming poems. Written with sincerity and literary tenacity, this novel is reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje’s work. It is a dark, deep, and transcendent read. I warn you that this novel demands your attention. It requires your focus and your heart. It’s the perfect novel for those few days between Christmas and New Year’s when your heart is filled with joy and magic is around every corner.

Xoxo, 

Vanessa 

Disclosure:  I was sent a copy of Conversations for Two in exchange for an honest review.

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Everything I Never told You [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

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This weekend I read Everything I Never told You by Celeste Ng and subsequently had my heart broken in a million different pieces. Although my family is the type who says what they feel, I’m fairly certain that we’ve all held on tight to our own thoughts and feelings at least once. I often kept my thoughts to myself, letting emotions build until I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

The Lee family does that over and over again without realizing it. The unravelling of their relationships begins slowly and intensifies as time goes on. Dreams and pressures are transferred from mother and father straight to their children, depositing unrealistic goals and expectations. It is not until Lydia’s body is found that the Lee’s are forced to take a look at the state of their fragile family.

Going back and forth through time, the reader is transported into the mind of each character. Reading their innermost thoughts leaves you with a guilty knot in your stomach, as if you’ve stumbled on pages of their dairy. You find yourself aching to shake them while screaming “SAY SOMETHING, SAY ANYTHING!” But I guess that’s kind of the point…

“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”

― Celeste NgEverything I Never Told You

Everything I Never told You will delight, sadden, and entertain its readers. It will force them to remember all of those things they wish they said to someone. It begs its reader to not only be true to themselves but to be honest to those that love them.

 

Xoxo,

Vanessa 

Disclosure: I requested this novel from Penguin Random House Canada and was sent a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks [Book Review]

Book Reviews

9780345811370What I love most about the written word is its ability to transcend time. Books survive their creators, emotions and purpose carrying on regardless of the publishing date. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks contains four essays written in the last few months of his life. Coming to terms with his own death, Sacks recounts  moments filled with love, passion, and work.

It is the fate of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

Although this short book deserves a long review, it doesn’t need one. This is a book that you should read. When things are going well, this book will bring you back down and put life into perspective. When this are going terribly, it will remind you that good things are on the way. Regardless of the ups or downs you’re facing, gratitude is a necessity; without it moments turn into fleeting memories. Without gratitude my life loses meaning and purpose.

Xoxo,

Vanessa

** Disclosure: I was sent a copy of Gratitude from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.  **

Where have all the good books gone? 

Book Reviews

You may have noticed that book reviews on My Pen, My Voice are virtually non-existant right now. I assure you that this doesn’t mean I won’t write them anymore, nor does it mean that I haven’t been reading. Like all readers, I go through reading lulls from time to time. I either eat a book up or nurse it over a two to three week span. Sometimes I’ll even carry around a book for months and read random passages, short fragments, and chapters whenever the mood strikes me.

That’s the best thing about books though; regardless of how, why, or when, they’re always there for you to open them up. Recently I devoured Room, had my mind blown by Big Magic, laughed through Why Not Me, and nurtured M Train. Each book offered up a different experience that I enjoyed equally, so why haven’t I reviewed them? It’s mostly due to time constraints. The last month or so has been insane and book reviews deserve thought and dedication.

Although each of these books deserve a separate, all I can offer right now is this: read them. Whether it be slowly, quickly, or in fragments; they won’t disappoint.

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xoxo,

Vanessa 

A Robot in the Garden [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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I read the loveliest book from Penguin Random House this past weekend. A Robot in the Garden is a coming-of-age story about finding love in the unlikeliest of place. It’s about self-love and self-worth, about grieving and forgiveness. It’s about taking chances and doing what is right, regardless of the risks involved.

For floundering 34-year-old Ben Chambers the answer is obvious: find out where it came from and take it there to be fixed, even if it means risking his marriage in the process. Determined to achieve something for once in his life, Ben embarks on a journey that takes him and the endearing robot, Tang, to the far side of the globe…and back again. Together they will discover that friendship can rise up under the strangest circumstances, and that Artificial Intelligence can teach a man what it is to be human. 

WHY I LOVED A ROBOT IN THE GARDEN 

  • There is so much beauty in it, from the cover to the characters to the words
  • It’s been a while since I picked up a book and got the warm-and-fuzzies with every page I turned (I haven’t cried this much over a book since The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)
  • I could tell that Deborah Install LOVED writing this book, you could feel her passion for the written word and the basic human condition in every single sentence
  • It made me feel good about life
  • It is essentially about finding love and creating your own happiness, and I love love.

Here was a robot who didn’t understand the concept of ‘why’, who struggled with the idea of motivations…But of all the complex human emotions he could have settled on, he seemed to understand love. (page 168 of the ARC)

Look out for A Robot in the Garden in June! 

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo 

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better [Book Review and Author Interview]

Book Reviews

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I was approached by Red Deer Press and asked if I wanted to reviews a book by Toronto Writer and Comedian Monica Heisey. Before reading the synopsis of the book I had to pause and Google her name. I’d recognized her name from somewhere, and that somewhere was She Does the City. Monica wrote one of my favourite column the Grown-Ass Woman’s Guide, so obviously I had to get a copy of her book in my hands.

I Can’t Believe it’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life was witty, ironic, sarcastic, and hilarious. I had no doubt that Monica was a terrific writer, but there’s something about the way she strings together thoughts and tells her stories that is unique and utterly brilliant. Her book reminded me of Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham but funnier and even less-filtered. It’s one of those books that you just have to read – so read it already!

Red Deer Press sent a few of my cheesiest-blogger questions to Monica as an interview of sorts, here’s what she had to say. Enjoy!

From: She Does the City

From: She Does the City

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing forever, basically. As a kid I used to write short stories and plays and make my sisters act them out with me. I was kind of a classic word nerd, I worked at my student newspaper and then started a blog when I moved to London in 2010. The blog was all I had as writing samples when I applied for an internship at VICE at year or so later. 

What are your writing rituals?

I don’t know that I have any sure-fire rituals to get things started. I deal with all my emails and admin stuff first, so that I’m not distracted by it throughout the day. I try to make sure I’m not hungry, and I like to be somewhere with good natural light. I feel the most like a Successful Writer when I get up before 9:30 and take a little while to make a nice breakfast and good cup of tea before sitting down to start work.

What was your favourite section to write in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better?

This is going to sound really cheesy but all of it was really fun! It felt kind of surreal to be doing it in the first place, and I was writing about things that make me and my friends laugh, so I just tried to approach every section like I was having a conversation with my best friends. That made it pretty enjoyable. Obviously, there were an equal amount of nights where I was like “WHAT IS ANY OF THIS” and wanted to throw my computer out the window, but those experiences were spread evenly across the multiple sections too. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? (Or bloggers like myself who want their voice heard)

If you’re writing for free, write for yourself. My early blog was something I wrote to amuse myself, and it really allowed me to develop my own voice and interests. I think knowing who you are and what you have to contribute or say is crucial for anyone hoping to be heard. Why should people listen to you? About what topics? That’s stuff you can figure out in the early days, before you have to deal with the house style of individual publications or assignments or whatever. 

You’re clearly a traveller – where are you headed next?

I’m going back to London to do some comedy. It’s festival season soon and the big music festivals usually have comedy stages with great acts. I’m on a littttttle stage off to the side in a forest, I think it’s going to be pretty magical. After that I think my husband and I are going to Iceland for our honeymoon. 

Have you ever regretted publishing (in print or online) anything that you’ve written?

Oh, some stuff I wrote as a teenager or early-twentysomething makes me cringe, but I figure it’s going to be like that forever. I’ll look back at 30 on the stuff I wrote this year and be like “girl, no.” So I try not to regret any of it and just look at it as part of the process of getting better. 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on getting VICE’s new women’s-focused project, Broadly, ready for launch! It’s going to be so exciting, and the quality of the work we’ve got so far is just blowing my mind. I’m also getting ready to move to New York to work there full-time. 

Who are your favourite writers?

I feel so spoiled by the Internet. I have so many favourite writers. I think Anna Fitzpatrick and Haley Mlotek from the Hairpin are just unbelievably smart, funny geniuses. Jazmine Hughes (formerly of The Hairpin, now of the NYT magazine) is amazing too. I love reading Julieanne Smolinski’s stuff, and Leah Finnegan is just so great, ooh and Josh Gondelman, and and and andddddd… I read a lot. For less contemporary writers who make me laugh, I love Nora Ephron (always), Fran Lebowitz, Charles Dickens, and P.G. Wodehouse.  

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Oh god, I really feel like I’ve regressed past the point of hireability in any kind of “real” job. I really enjoyed working at a cafe when I was in London. My friend Emily and I have a longstanding probably-never-gonna-happen dream of opening a little coffeeshop that’s very cool about flexible schedules so the servers can nurture their passions on the side. Flexible part-time work is vital to emerging artists. 

When writer’s block hits, what do you do?

When I feel blocked I like to really Lean In. I find I work pretty well under a deadline, so if I’m procrastinating and have room to do so, I’ll take the day off and go for a walk or meet some friends for a drink. If I don’t have time to be blocked, I find I’m generally not blocked. 

Monica will be doing a signing at Indigo Bay & Bloor on May 27th at 7pm!

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

Wake The Stone Man [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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In April I received a copy of the Beacon Award for Social Justice Literature (2014) winner, Wake The Stone Man, from Fernwood Publishing. At first I didn’t know what to make of it, there was so much going on! But once I was ready to take it all in I became completely enveloped in the story.

Molly and Nakina meet in Fort Mckay, a small Northern town, with a mythical stone man who “watches” over the inhabitants. Nakina is Ojibwe, which translates to having a difficult time fitting in and keeping safe. She is beautiful, womanly, and strong. Molly, on the other hand, is rail thin and quietly curious. I really got into the story when I realized how similar I am to Molly. We like to read, watch, and then create — for her it’s art, for me it’s words.

Wake The Stone Man depicts a friendship that many readers can relate to; filled with fear, guilt, love, happiness, and regret. Their losses both individually and together fuel the novel and give the storyline its gumption. It is written from Molly’s point of view with honesty and integrity. Carol McDougall has written a novel ending with an epic reminder that life can indeed go wrong, but sticking around is sometimes the best thing you can do.

She reminds the reader that circumstances have a way of going full-circle and that it is important to continue to search for answers. McDougall reminds her readers that they have the strength and courage to change their own lives, and the world.

“…I decided goodnuff wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted out. I kept thinking about that girl I’d seen trying to escape over the fence of the residential school. I figured she wanted out too.” (11)

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

SYNOPSIS

Set in a small northern town, under the mythical shadow of the Sleeping Giant, Wake the Stone Man follows the complicated friendship of two girls coming of age in the 1960s. Molly meets Nakina, who is Ojibwe and a survivor of the residential school system, in high school, and they form a strong friendship. As the bond between them grows, Molly, who is not native, finds herself a silent witness to the racism and abuse her friend must face each day.

In this time of political awakening, Molly turns to her camera to try to make sense of the intolerance she sees in the world around her. Her photos become a way to freeze time and observe the complex human politics of her hometown. Her search for understanding uncovers some hard truths about Nakina’s past and leaves Molly with a growing sense of guilt over her own silence.

When personal tragedy tears them apart, Molly must travel a long hard road in search of forgiveness and friendship.

The TO-READ Pile

Book Reviews

A book collection screams to be added to, regardless of whether or not you actually read the purchased books right away. There’s something beautiful about receiving a book in the mail or scouring shelves in the local Chapters until you find that one perfect read. I go through book-buying binges and am lucky enough to receive books from publishing houses too. As such, I always have a number of books stacked neatly on my bookshelf, in a special spot I’ve designated for the TO-READ Pile. Right now I’m reading The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules by Catharina Ingelman Sundberg, but I’ve still got three more books that I want to finish this month!

“It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read.”― Lemony Snicket

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Nice Is Just A Place In France by The Betches: LOOK, MAYBE YOU’RE A NICE GIRL, but we’re guessing you’re more like us or you probably wouldn’t have picked up this book. Not that we have a problem with girls who are nice people. But being nice is just not the way to get what you want. And this book is about getting what you want. Not in like a finding happiness, giving back to the world, being grateful for what you have sort of way. But in a ruling your world, being the most desired, powerful badass in the room way, so you can come out on top of any situation: guys, career, friends, enemies, whatever.  How does a betch make that happen?

Spinster – Making A Life Of One’s Own by Kate Bolick: Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better by Monica Heisey: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better is a collection of stories, essays, advice, and drawings from writer and comedian Monica Heisey. Created to help you live your Best Life, this book offers tips on everything from workplace politics to sexting, from how to make your apartment look like you read design blogs to where to cry in public. Important guides like “How To Watch Literally Hours of TV At A Time” will help you sort your life out for good, while thought—provoking personal essays such as “Pizzas I Have Loved” and helpful exercises like “Are You Being Flirted With, A Quiz” provide some gravitas and perspective to help you navigate this modern world. Plus there is a very weird short story about bees.

What books are in you TO-READ pile? Plan on reading any of the three I listed?

Want to start a book club? Let’s chat!

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

*Synopses from links above*

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison [Book Review]

Book Reviews

I have a confession: I’ve never read a novel by Toni Morrison. I know, what kind of reader am I?! So, when I got to choose which novel to review for Random House this month, I chose God Help the Child.

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Documenting all aspects of childhood fear, racism, rape, and yearning for love, Toni Morrison takes her reader on one of the most engaging journeys I have ever read. The story centers around a woman described as black-blue in colour and unbeliveably beautiful. She has a powerhouse position at a make-up company and saunters around wearing all white. Bride’s colour caused her fair-skinned mother to den her all of the simplest forms of love. This causes Bride to tell a lie so intense that it ruins the life of a another woman.

Weaved into her story are accounts told by Bride’s best friend Brooklyn, Bride’s lover Booker, a girl named Rain, Bride’s mother Sweetness, and Sofia. Their pasts and presents collide, leaving the reader feeling unhinged and passionately addicted to their stories. Stories that focus more on forgiveness and love than pain and regret.

Thank you. You showed me rage and frailty and hostile recklessness and worry worry worry dappled with such uncompromising shards of light and love it seemed a kindness in order to be able to leave you and not fold into a grief so deep it would break not the heart but the mind… (pg150)

Written with lush and lyrical prose, God Help the Child is a novel you won’t soon forget.

Love Always
Vanessa Xo

New Mantra: Write Like A Motherf*cker

Book Reviews, Lifestyle/Personal
From Buzzfeed

From Buzzfeed

Over the last week or so I’ve been reading Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. It was recommended to me by Kaiti from HarperCollins Cananda and my cousin Amanda. I don’t want to finish it. It’s a compilation of the columns Cheryl wrote for The Rumpus and goodness it’s gorgeous. It’s an advice column but raw, unfiltered, honest, and breathtaking. You get sucked into Dear Sugar’s words and end up feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the day.

One column in particular had me in tears before work. A twenty-six-year-old depressed writer asked Dear Sugar how to get out of her writing-funk. How she could write a book to be proud of. She asked: how does a woman get up and become the writer she wishes she’d be? Dear Sugar’s response is my mantra today and forever, I hope you’ll find solace in it too.

 

You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug. That you’re so bound up about writing tells me that writing is what you’re here to do. And when people are here to do that they almost always tell us something we need to hear. I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart.

So write… Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

*Quotes from The Rumpus Website