The Illuminations [Book Review]

Book Reviews
From the Penguin Random House Canada Website

From the Penguin Random House Canada Website

 Standing one evening at the window of her house by the sea, Anne Quirk sees a rabbit disappearing in the snow. Nobody remembers her now, but this elderly woman was in her youth an artistic pioneer, a creator of groundbreaking documentary photographs. Her beloved grandson, Luke, now a captain in the British army is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. When his mission goes horribly wrong, he ultimately comes face to face with questions of loyalty and moral responsibility that will continue to haunt him. Once Luke returns home to Scotland, Anne’s secret story begins to emerge, along with his, and they set out for an old guest house in Blackpool where she once kept a room. There they witness the annual illuminations–the dazzling artificial lights that brighten the seaside resort town as the season turns to winter. (From the Penguin Random House Canada Website)

Imagine a novel about everything. A novel about the past, the present, the future. About time and how quickly it can pass by. A novel about the fine line between love, loss, and hope beyond help. A novel about family and the secrets we harbor to protect ourselves and one another.

“He wanted to help her picture things and put her story together, for him and for her… He wanted to establish her good times.” (247)

I can’t begin to explain what The Illuminations made me feel while I was reading it — a book about everything makes you feel everything. I felt confused and saddened by Anne’s state of mind, but mystified by the stories that she would tell when her mind allowed her to remember. I felt annoyed by Maureen’s need to help a perfect stranger, pitying herself rather than helping her family or letting them into her life. I was tickled by the relationship between Anne and her grandson Luke, what she taught him about life and photography is pure gold. Before the family secrets began to unravel I was less than impressed with Anne’s daughter Alice, but that changed near the end of the novel. And Harry, Anne’s one true love, he was a mystery to me throughout the novel. I’m not quite sure if he deserved Anne but their relationship just goes to show you how powerful hope, faith, and love can be.

The Illuminations is about all of that and so much more. Author Andrew O’Hagan masterfully exposes the secrets to living. He delves into the idea that every life is extraordinary and that everyday things can in fact be wonderful works of art. This is the kind of novel that will have you thinking about your own story, your past, and your goals for the future. The Illuminations will guide its reader into the brightness of the world, if only they dare to open their eyes.

“You’ve got to live a life proportionate to your nature,’ she said. ‘You’ve got to find out what that means and then stick to it.'” (97)

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

* The Illuminations comes out February 17th, 2015

* Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Illuminations from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

The Wild Oats Project [Book Review]

Book Reviews

Someone once told me that I’m not (yet) courageous enough to do something awesome. When I sit down to write my personal essays and narratives (a sort of sequel to My Pen, My Voice), I realize that said person was right. I remember hurting the feelings of a few people by what I wrote in my first book and I can’t see the second one making things any better. I mean, a memoir is only one side of the story right? Am I ready to share that side? I know that I could never share things like Robin Rinaldi in her memoir The Wild Oats Project no matter how many people might be going through the same thing.

unnamedIn my early forties, when I realized I was never going to have children, I decided I needed to belatedly sow my wild oats, a phase I’d skipped in my straight-and-narrow youth. There was just one problem: I was already married. The Wild Oats Project is the story of how I navigated an open marriage while exploring the San Francisco landscape of online dating, orgasmic meditation, neo-tantra, and women’s circles, all in an effort to excavate the untamed feminine. I didn’t write a memoir because I think my midlife crisis was unique. I wrote it because I think it wasn’t. (From Robin Rinaldi’s Website)

I’m never quite sure how to review memoirs, I mean who am I to judge someone else’s life? I’ll tell you this, The Wild Oats Project had me blushing fifty shades of red from time-to-time. It had me reflecting on my own relationship, my own passions, and my own doubts. It had me in fits of laughter, moments of sadness, and minutes of utter fear of how I might feel at the age of forty-five. It made me wonder if I would ever be able to go after my passion regardless of what I might lose. I’m not saying that every midlife crisis will involve sexual enlightenment, nor do I believe that that is the only kind of passion out there. What I’m saying is simply this: The Wild Oats Project is more than a woman looking for her next orgasm. It’s about a woman trying to find herself. It’s about a woman learning how to bond with other women and grasping all aspects of womanhood.

‘Ditch the communal bemoaning that usually passes for female bonding. Brag to your girlfriends instead of complaining’…  As I began to make pleasure the basis for my decisions, I relaxed. (29)

It’s about a woman taking control of her body and her mind while trying to make sense of her marriage and her dreams. It’s about taking chances and making mistakes. It’s about a woman having hope and finding faith in herself. It’s about finally realizing that you can’t have it all, all of the time. Little sacrifices are what make life exciting and worthwhile.

We had our share of issues, but there was also a deeper battle going on inside me: fear versus hope. I clung to hope. (17)

Rinaldi’s words sing, her descriptions are sultry and dream-like, her passion and talent unrelenting. The Wild Oats Project is an amazingly written, titillating memoir that should be on every woman’s to-read list. Look out for it in March 2015!

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

*Disclosure: I was sent an ARC of The Wild Oats Project by Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

The Long Hello [Book Review]

Book Reviews


I’ve had many conversations with my boss at Caruso’s about getting old. We both fear the same things; losing our sight to the point the we can’t read and losing parts of our mind, parts of our memories. It may sound silly for a twenty-five-year-old to fear things like that, but I can’t help it. Imagine forgetting the people you love most, confusing the past with the present, not being able to remember important parts of your life. Imagine the toll that would take on your loved ones.

The Long Hello is an engrossing memoir about a woman caring for her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s. Cathie Borrie is a ballroom dancer, who dabbled in heath, law and business careers. She also happens to be a wonderful writer who took a powerful personal story and turned it into a breathtaking lyrical memoir for the world to fall in love with. In The Long Hello Cathie moves between memories from her childhood to episodes during the seven years she cared for her mother.

During those years Cathie recorded the conversations she had with her mother Jo. The dialogue takes up a large chunk of the book itself, and provides the reader with a reliable account of the mind of someone with Alzheimer’s. It is raw, seemingly unfiltered, and paints a picture of the relationship Jo had with Cathie and her son Hugh. What I loved most about this memoir is its honesty. Cathie doesn’t see the beauty in what she does for her mother, nor does she seem to realize what a great person she is. Her mistakes, her sorrows, her own confusion do not distract her from the love she has for her mother, and that is an admirable feat.

With sadness, joy, and honesty, The Long Hello brings its readers into the role of caregiver. A role they must take seriously, allowing it teach and nurture them until it’s time to let go.

Love always, 
Vanessa XX

Disclosure: I was sent an ARC of The Long Hello from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

All the Bright Places [Book Review]

Book Reviews


I’ve finished reading my first book of 2015 and it ripped my heart to shreds. All the Bright Places is surprisingly raw and emotional, delving into the deepest crevices of a troubled heart. Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet in the unluckiest of places where the luckiest of things happens. Standing on the bell tower of their high school, six stories above the ground, ready to jump, they save each other. Finch is obsessed with death and thinks longingly of the ways he may die, trying to find something that will make him want to stay awake. Violet is a writer, counting down the days until she can escape Indiana, as well as, her own guilt and the pain of her sister’s recent death.

This unlikely of duo pairs up for a school project where they are to discover the wonders of Indiana. Neither of them know it but from the first wonder to their vary last “wandering” together, their lives are changed completely. There’s a lovely part in the novel where Finch and Violet find one of those chalkboards where random people write what they want to do before they die. It’s in this chapter that the reader really understands who Finch and Violet are together and who they are separately. I couldn’t help but think of the things I would write on a chalkboard like that. I’d write: get published, travel to Europe, get married, make something of myself, help others, make a difference, and feel good about myself. I’d also steal some of Violet’s, “Stop being afraid. Stop thinking too much. Write. Breathe. (135)”.

From Pinterest

From Pinterest

All the Bright Places reminded me of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars but ten times as loveable and painful. As the reader gets to know the characters and follows them on the progress of their school project, they begin to fall in love with them. The fears and angst that Violet and Finch go through are extremely jarring and beautifully written. Their pain edges it’s way into your bones, streams into your heart, breaking it chapter by chapter. Don’t get me wrong, there are some lovely moments in this novel, moments beautiful enough to make your heart melt and your knees weak, but they wouldn’t mean as much to the story if it weren’t for the painful ones.

“Now all I see is someone who’s too afraid to get back out there. Everyone around you is going to give you a gentle push now and then, but never hard enough because they don’t want to upset Poor Violet. You need shoving, not pushing. You need to jump back on that camel. Otherwise you’re going to stay up on that ledge you’ve made for yourself.” (126)

All the Bright Places has the power to help you understand the horror and depression that some people experience. It’s meant to remind the reader to be strong, to be yourself, and to live every single moment to its fullest. It’s purpose is to help the reader remember their perfect days and hold onto them while creating new adventures. All the Bright Places is supposed to make you feel everything all at once, pushing you forward and up to the stars.

Love always, 
Vanessa XX

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of All the Bright Places from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust [Book Review]

Book Reviews
Photo from the goodreads website

Photo from the Goodreads website

I finished book seven of the Flavia de Luce series last week and let me tell you that I’m still reeling with excitement. In book seven we follow Flavia from England to Canada (Toronto to be specific), where she has been banished. She is now a student of  Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy — where her mother once attended as well. A de Luce novel wouldn’t be a de Luce novel without a few disappearances, a bit of chemistry, and a corpse. On her first evening at the academy, a series of events leads to a burned corpse crashing out of the chimney in Flavia’s bedroom. In true form, Flavia nips a piece of evidence off the corpse and begins an investigation going back two years in the history of the academy. Whose body was shoved up the chimney and why were they murdered in the first place?

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is just as wonderfully written as the last six novels. It’s filled with history, mystery, and undeniable suspense. I love how this novel is about more than death, it’s about growing up, making choices and living with the consequences. It’s about adventure and sadness, redemption and love. Alan Bradley has an incredible talent, where he spreads your mind all over the place and brings it right back to the beginning, which is actually the end. Although as the mystery unfolds, the plot gets more complicated, all questions are neatly answered by the very last page.

What could I do? What could I say? The whole world has suddenly, and without warning, revealed itself to be far larger a place than ever I could have dreamed of. I was standing at the edge of a very great abyss whose further lip was so far beyond imagination that only faith could bridge the gap. It was, I suppose, the bridge connecting childhood with whatever vast unknown might lie beyond. (pg 160)


Although Flavia is essentially the same girl, you can tell that her character has grown immensely. Having to be away from any of her comforts has forced her to fend for herself in an entirely different way. The only thing I disliked about this novel was that Buckshaw was nowhere in sight, we barely heard from dear old Dogger and Daphne and Ophelia were nowhere in sight. I missed all of the wonderful characters that Flavia left back in England.

I plan on snooping the Internet for clues that there will be a book eight. There has to be! It just wouldn’t feel right to go another year or two without having an adventure with my favourite sleuth. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust will be on sale January 6th, 2015, which gives you just enough time to read the first six books 😉

– Vanessa

Disclosure: I requested a copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.



Little White Lies [Book Review]

Book Reviews

9780385670784Every time I go through a reading lull, I pick up a YA novel. They’re quick and easy distractions from everyday life and tend to be intense page-turners. Little White Lies by Katie Dale is everything a YA novel should be. It has suspense and romance equal to The Hunger Games, Wild Girls, and even We Were Liars. It’s fun, stunningly intense, and an overall enjoyable read. I read the last 250 pages in one afternoon, flipping furiously because I HAD TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT.

When Lou meets Christian she knows that he’s hiding something, but for some reason she can’t build up the gull to call him out on it. In spite of her own lies and deceit she falls in love with this hair-dyed, blue-eyed mystery man. Not realizing how dangerous his secrets are, Lou finds herself in compromising situations. As the lies (from both Lou and Christian) pile on, Lou finds it difficult to keep up. Her tangled web of lies forces her to make a tough decision between her family, the man she loves, and the truth.

“I don’t want to be me anymore. I’m out of my depth and now I don’t know what to think, what to believe, what to feel. I don’t know what the truth is, what I want the truth to be…” (page 234)

What I love about Little White Lies is that although it is pure entertainment, it has meaning. It is a well thought out story and it plays on the idea that everything is connected. It understands that fate exists even if it needs a helping-hand. It delves into the heart of wearing masks, keeping secrets, and doing the right thing no matter the cost. It questions the meaning of a lie and begs to ask if telling a white lie is okay. It pulls apart the very fabric of truth and reminds the reader that just because lying is easier, that doesn’t mean it will make things better.

Little White Lies gets five stars from me and would recommend it to any YA lover or anyone who needs a great book to get them back into their reading groove!


– Vanessa

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of Little White Lies from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

The Woman who Stole my Life [Book Review]

Book Reviews


Never have I ever read a ‘chick-lit’ novel with so much happening in it! Stella Sweeny is no fan of karma and has a bone to pick with destiny. One shameless day, this Dublin wife and mother of two decides to do a good dead on the road for a man in a Range Rover. This results in a massive car crash that changes her life.

Spoiler alert, Stella meets Range Rover man again, in a most unlikely situation. It turns out Stella contracts a rare condition where she can’t move or speak. The only way she can communicate is with blinking, and the only person who seems to really communicate with her is her neurologist.

Next up, Stella’s life is torn apart and flipped around. True happiness is just within her reach but in order to grasp it up, she has to risk so much. Somehow or another, this ordinary Mom finds herself living an extraordinary life, one that some people just might want for themselves.

The Woman who Stole my Life is a whirlwind novel that keeps the reader on their toes and in a constant frenzy of flipping pages. I’ll admit that there were times when I wasn’t loving the characters, where I thought this stuff just doesn’t happen, Marian make it better. But in the pages that followed each of those thoughts, I’d find answers and understand reasoning behind that character’s decisions.

If you’re looking for a smart, sassy, and sexy novel that will keep you guessing, The Woman who Stole my Life is for you!

– Vanessa

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy [Book Review]

Book Reviews


I chose to review The Long Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy from Random House Canada on a whim. I’d never read anything by Rachel Joyce before, but I was feeling romantic — my best friend is marrying my cousin in a few weeks and I’ll be celebrating six years with Alex next month, so why not.

When you meet Queenie, she has just sent a letter to the love of her life, Harold Fry. She tells him that she is in a hospice, that she has terminal cancer and the end is near. She is remembering her past and thanking him for his friendship. She claims to be at peace but thoughts of him prove otherwise. Harold writes back, telling her to wait for him. He will walk the length of England to see her. She thinks it’s impossible to wait, she fears that she’ll never get the chance to tell him the truth. When a new volunteer suggests that she writes Harold a letter explaining everything Queenie reluctantly agrees.

Queenie didn’t win me over right away, it happened slowly, growing with each memory she wrote down. Her love and passion for a married man bugged me at first, and then just made me sad. Imagine loving someone for twenty years and never letting them know. Imagine holding onto secrets and guilt, letting it eat way at you while you become a recluse. Imagine having to run away to save a life in order to diminish your own.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is not what I expected. Yes, love played a huge role in this novel but so did change. Personal growth, honesty, acceptance, and letting go of things that you can’t control overshadowed the love that Queenie had for Harold at some points. During those moments the characters came alive in an unbelievable way. The characters who shared the hospice with Queenie became prominent, funny, and beautiful — from the blind to the deaf to the old and cranky. Queenie herself become more flawed and extremely loveable.

“We write ourselves certain parts and then keep playing them as if we have no choice. But a tardy person can become a punctual one, if she chooses. You don’t have to keep being the thing you have become. It’s never too late. (Page 89)

I didn’t know that a novel could open up a new place in my heart, a place where change and growth are no longer daunting but part and parcel of loving myself. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is an absolutely stunning journey that will keep you waiting and reaching for tissues until the year last page.

Vanessa xo

US by David Nicholls [Book Review]

Book Reviews


When I asked Kaiti from HarperCollins Canada for a jaw-dropping emotional smorgasbord of a book, she sent over a copy of Us by David Nicholls. She warned me of the sadness and tenderness that this novel encompasses but I don’t think it prepared me enough for the outcome.

Douglas Peterson is the narrator of the story. He reminded me of genetics professor Don Tillman from The Rosie Project; quirky, brilliant, a little weird, and loveable beyond all measure. Us follows his journey nay, mission to keep his family together. After nearly twenty-five years of a happy marriage, Connie (his wife), turns to him one night in bed and says that she thinks she wants to leave him when their son goes off to university. Douglas does not see this coming and vows that on their last family trip across Europe he will mend his relationship with his wife and create a better relationship with his son Albie. He’s a thinker, a fighter, and in spite of his shortcomings, he loves his wife more than anything.

The fact was I loved my wife to a degree that I found impossible to express, and so rarely did.
(Page 27 of the ARC)

What you endure while reading this novel is nothing short of breathtaking. Douglas’s walks down memory lane, his awkward moments with his wife and son while in Europe, and his regrettable mistakes make him the most loveable character I’ve ever encountered. He is very much himself and David Nicholls has a wonderful way of bringing his voice to life. I found myself writing all over my copy of this book. I love all kinds of love, I love family and relationships, and I love hope and change. So every single time I found a line I wanted to remember, I circled it, highlighted it, and read it aloud to my mom.

Still, as the decade drew to a close things were clearly happening, albeit elsewhere and to other people, and I quietly wondered if a change was due in my life, too, and how I might bring that about. 
(page 10 of the arc)

The fact of the matter is that life is full of changes, ones that you have control over and ones that you don’t. David Nicholls has a brilliant way of examining these changes and portraying them with brutal and loving honesty. I think anyone who has ever been in a relationship can gain something from reading Us. Even those who haven’t will undoubtedly learn something about themselves and the way that this crazy world works.

‘Why would you want to have the same experience as everyone else? Why join the herd?’
(Page 71 of the ARC)

Vanessa xo


Not That Kind of Girl [Book Review/Thank You]

Book Reviews


I’ve been excited to read Not That Kind of Girl since my interning days at Random House Canada when the book was first announced. I’ve watched Girls on HBO and love it but my admiration for Lena Dunham has more so to do with her words and her kick-ass attitude than her acting. Not That Kind of Girl feels like you’re reading a script from Girls, except it’s a tad more poetic and 100% real. Lena holds nothing back, sharing insights and stories about love, sex, her body, friendship, work, and family life. She writes with honesty, conviction, and passion. In sharing everything she’s “learned’ you can’t help but learn something about yourself or about the person you want to be.

Lena’s book doesn’t need to be reviewed. No matter what I say fans  will still flock to bookshops and purchase their own copy. In the big scheme of publicity, my review will not boost her sales or gain her fans, so instead of writing a review I’d rather write a thank you.

Thank you for expressing everything that I have ever felt, witnessed, or experienced in a kick-ass, unforgiving way. Thank you understanding the basic human condition, that we are all assholes who are afraid of death. Thank you for making the personal essay cool, valid, relatable, honest, and smart. For publishing the kind of words that fill voids, generate laughter, and banish embarrassment. Reading your book has given me the courage to continue writing personal essays, to share my thoughts with the world, and to challenge myself as a writer. Thank you for showing me that every story is important and that my thoughts are valid.





Vanessa Xo