Everything I Never told You [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Uncategorized


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.




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.



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

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

Book Reviews


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


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


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.

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.


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

The Sunken Cathedral [Book Review]

Book Reviews

I make it a point to never write negative reviews on anything. This isn’t to say that I haven’t received books to review that I haven’t liked or even products that I didn’t enjoy. It doesn’t mean that I’m afraid to share a negative opinion on a book or product, it just means that there is enough negativity in the world and I would much rather write about something I love than something I hated. That being said, sometimes I love a story, but not so much how it’s been presented, and I think it’s okay to write about it.

From the Simon & Schuster Canada Website

From the Simon & Schuster Canada Website

The Sunken Cathedral is a story with so much going on that it seemed hard for me to keep up. I felt confused by the long footnotes, which I think would have worked better if they were worked into the story. Although the writing includes a smorgasboard of vivid descriptions, to me the writing felt pulsed, broken, as if a comma or dash was inserted between each wonderful exotic thought, emotion, and description.

BUT, THE STORY. OH the story! It is wonderful, intricate, and deeply moving.

“This is the only certainty. Here: your sensations; your body existing for its moment in time. Everything else is crap.”

Love Always, 

Vanessa Xo 

*Disclosure: I received a copy of The Sunken Cathedral from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review. The synopsis is from their website. Quote is from page 84 of the ARC.


Book Reviews

A few weeks back my Instagram feed became cluttered with photos from my friends at Random House of Canada of a little book with capitalized bold blue letters entitled WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS.


Naturally, I Googled the book and found out that is an essays derived from a TEDx talk that its author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie previously gave. After putting in a request for a copy from the lovely people at Random House of Canada, it arrived at my door. I read the tiny, yet powerful essay in a half-hour with a bold cup of dark roast coffee.

“…that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage: you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don’t wear make-up, you don’t shave, you’re always angry, you don’t have a sense of humour, you don’t use deotorant.”  (11)

As Chimamanda discusses the varying circumstances and degrees in which she and her female friends have been discriminated against because of their gender, I couldn’t help feeling thankful. Let me explain: the premise of this essay is to not only make people aware of the injustices that are still very much alive today, but to open the eyes of the public and perhaps get them to raise their children differently. I was raised to think for myself, to thrive, to be whomever I wanted to be. I was never told (directly or indirectly) that my goal as a woman is to marry and have children. My parents always told me to work hard, to succeed, and to start my own career. Most (if not all) the women in my life (especially from my generation) were taught the same thing. I’ve never felt unequal or belittled by any man who I’ve working with or for and I am thankful for that.

Chiamanda defines a feminist as a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes (47) and I agree with her. I am a feminist by those standards and even though I have been spared a lot of the sexism that women in other countries or cultures go through, this little essay has opened my eyes to the kind of feminist I want to be, the kind of woman I hope my niece can look up to. As Chiamanda states: there is still a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better (48).

We Should All Be Feminists is a tiny book filled with the grandest ideas that could change the way you look at the world.

Love Always,
Vanessa Xo

Hausfrau [Book Review]

Book Reviews


In exchange for an honest review, Random House of Canada sent me a copy of the gorgeous book, Hausfrau. After reading The Girl on the Train and Still Alice, I was hoping to get my hands on a warmer, sweeter, and less heart-wrenching novel. Fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t quite decide, Hausfrau did not give me anything less than a heart-wrenching experience. In fact, it left me broken.

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her… When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

Jill Alexander Essbaum is an incredibly gifted writer, weaving emotions, time, sex, love, and characters into one another seamlessly. Hausfrau is a haunting novel that is expertly paced. It commands the reader’s attention and allows them inside the emotional turmoil that Anna lives through each and every single day. Essbaum writes in such a way that you cannot help but feel everything all at once. You want to understand Anna, you want to help her, to fix her. Mostly you want her to end her affairs, you want to her wake up and get her to simply enjoy the life she leads. You want her to take control of her life before it is too late. You want her lies to disappear because eventually you actually feel sorry for Anna, you want her to redeem herself so much that you actually think she might. The trouble is that Hausfrau has no intent of wrapping Anna’s story in a pretty pink bow, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself.

“…analysis isn’t pliers, and truth is not teeth: you can’t pull it out by force. A mouth stays closes as long as it wants to. Truth is told when it tells itself.”
Jill Alexander Essbaum, Hausfrau

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

Hausfrau comes out March 17th, 2015!

The Girl on the Train [Book Review]

Book Reviews

From the Penguin Random House Website


Three women, three men, connected through marriage or infidelity. Each is to blame for something. But only one is a killer in this nail-biting, stealthy psychological thriller about human frailty and obsession.

The Girl on the Train was plastered all over my social media feeds for weeks on end. I heard about how jarring and intense it was, how it was the next Gone Girl, how it made its readers uneasy and perhaps a little paranoid, and I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I asked Aliya from Random House of Canada what all the hype was about. Instead of telling me, she graciously sent me a copy to find out for myself.

Although the novel started off slowly, and I found myself making excuses to not pick it up, last Saturday I could not put it down. It begins with Rachel, a raging alcoholic with so many issues the reader cannot keep up. She’s sitting on the train in the morning and looking out at the houses she passes. There is one house in particular that she’s fond of. Every day and every night she sees a couple emerge from their house, onto their terrace. She wonders about them, she makes up names from them, as well as, identities. This, to me at least, is harmless. When I interned at Random House nearly two years ago, I did the same thing. I’d make up stories about my fellow subway riders, the only difference is that I wasn’t obsessed by it or by them.

But I digress. The action in the novel begins when Rachel notices someone different in the home/terrace of her favourite couple. The next day the woman (whom she named Jess) disappears. It seems that all of the action in this novel comes out of nowhere. You don’t know who to trust, you’re sure everyone is connected but not exactly sure how. You’re edgy and confused like a deer in headlights. I swallowed the last hundred and fifty pages or so in one gulp, unable to tear myself away from the book until I reached the very end. Did I love the book? I’m not sure. Was it entertaining? Yes. Did it keep me guessing? Yes. Did it make me uneasy? Yes. Would I recommend it ? Yes.

“Clever and compelling. Hawkins keeps the tension ratcheted high in this thoroughly engrossing tale of intersecting strangers and intimate betrayals. Kept me guessing until the very end!’
—Lisa Gardner, author of Fear Nothing

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

Single, Carefree, Mellow [Book Thoughts]

Book Reviews
From the HarperCollins Ca Website

From the HarperCollins Ca Website

I was sent a copy of Single, Carefree, Mellow from Kaitlyn at HarperCollins Canada the other day and knew I had to get started right away. The novel is a collection of short stories (I love short stories), which has gotten rave reviews from Lena Dunham, Jennifer Close, and Stephen McCauley. Kaiti’s press release describes Single, Carefree, Mellow perfectly: Infidelity is a theme woven all throughout the book as it explores all women in all walks of life and in all walks of love. I am less than a hundred pages in and have already laughed, cried, and whimpered.

Katherine Heiny writes honestly. Her words appear to be a conversation of thoughts that would flow in your head, seamlessly from one to another with no end in sight. She writes with confidence and conviction, which I find a necessity in short stories. She writes about relationships and love in the same way you would talk about it with your girlfriends. Her stories could be pulled out of any young woman’s diary. In honesty, I’ve had to remind myself several times that these are short stories and not personal essays (which I also love).

Life is full of good things—buttered toast, cold beer, compelling books, campfires, Christmas lights, expensive lipstick, the smell of Vanilla—and Sasha is by no means immune to them, but how many things are just flat-out interesting? How many things are so fascinating that you can’t stand not to do them? Not many, in Sasha’s opinion. (from page 15 of the ARC)

Katherine Heiny underlines in bold black permanent marker the fear, beauty, and excitement that all relationships are made of. Single, Carefree, Mellow would make the perfect Galentine’s gift for the lady in your life.

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

* Disclosure: I was sent a copy of Single, Carefree, Mellow in exchange for an honest review.