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.

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 

Public Service Announcement

Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal

There was a time when I could sit on my bed with a notebook and write for hours, or simply get lost in my own thoughts. Now I’m constantly reaching for my phone out of boredom or fear of my own thoughts. My cellphone addiction began the moment I added unlimited texting to my plan. I was 17. Between the ages 18 and 22 I went through more phones than I can remember: I always wanted the latest gadget. When data plans became an option and I learned how to use apps such as Twitter, Facebook, and later on Instagram, my entire social life was no longer based on 3D tangible people, who could talk to me or touch me. It became a vast world that I could hold in the palm of my hand. Over the years I’ve gotten into many fights with my friends, boyfriend, and family over ALWAYS having my phone on me. I realized late last year that I am addicted to my cellphone, social media, and the way I am perceived on such platforms. The internet has taken over my life. It’s made me feel small and useless.

From Pinterest

From Bloglovin

I decided that in 2015 I would take control of my life and my social media habits. As a start, I deleted Facebook. Why? Facebook is a creeping mechanism where I look at people from my past and feel sorry for myself. It’s been about two weeks since my last Facebook sign in and I don’t miss it one bit. It gives me one less reason to reach for my phone, one less excuse to put off this article, that story, or my job hunt. The next step is removing Twitter from my phone and only using it when I go on my computer. I love Twitter and have connected with so many brands and bloggers because of it, but I have a problem: NO ONE SHOULD SPEND 7 HOURS ON TWITTER TRYING TO WIN A NEW PHONE. No one.

After Twitter the next mountain to climb will be Instagram. I share everything on Instagram only the good things on Instagram. I’ve written about this before and it still irks me that I find myself obsessed with capturing, filtering, and sharing every moment. When I scroll through my 1300 photos I see a happy book-obsessed woman, with a loving boyfriend, great friends, and wonderful family. She doesn’t have any bad photos of herself, nor does she have photos documenting the fight she had with her boyfriend over something stupid. She doesn’t have photos representing her insecurities or her failures. She is a photoshopped and filtered version of me. I feel like Instagram has made me lose sight of who am I and what I want. I’m obsessed with other people and what they’re doing. I compare my relationship, job, milestones, and friends to theirs. One of their accomplishments belittles mine, one perfect selfie makes me feel hideous. I realized that Instagram and I had an issue when on the stroke of midnight of New Year’s Eve I was clicking away on Instagram instead of making out with my boyfriend in front of my family. I was too busy looking for the next “I said Yes” photo so I could “like” it and feel utterly jealous. What a way to start a new year.

The truth is that I’m tired of keeping up with the Joneses. I’m tired of trying desperately to be a top blogger (mucking with my content because I think I want to be like this blogger or that one). I’m tired of feeling like I owe the world my privacy. I’m tired of feeling anxious when my phone rings because I don’t speak on the phone too often. Something must change. I’m only a week into the new year and I must say that I find fewer reasons to pick up my phone. Apart from sending out a few tweets and pinning on Pinterest, my phone has become a, well, a phone. Phone calls and text messages only. I haven’t been carrying it around with me, I’ve been looking at phone plans with less data, and I’ve actually had more time to write, work, and read. I feel lighter.

There are some days where I wonder if I’m going the right way about this. I’m a blogger, I SHOULD be on social media. I mean how does a blogger who’s taking a step back from technology, blog? There’s no way I can approach companies or brands and ask to try out products or work with them if I don’t have Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. It’s bad enough that I don’t have Google+, Foursquare, or Snapchat. It’s jarring to think about but I am still committed to reviewing only products that I love (especially books), sharing things that I use, and working with brands that truly understand the sentiment behind my blog. I may not have the same reach as I once did but this blog has never been about gaining validation or reaching the whole world. It started as a place to write, to learn, to grow, and to remember.

That is how it will remain, until my very last post.

Love always, 
Vanessa XX

1996 [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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I promised myself that I would read more poetry so I requested a copy of 1996 by Sara Peters from House of Anansi Press. I love requesting books from them because their books are not that mainstream, they’re a little different and not quite cookie-cutter. 1996  did not disappoint my expectations, it was weird, wonderful, and incredibly dark. Sara Peters is an insanely talented poet who isn’t scared to tackle themes like obsession, cruelty, desires, violence, sex and disorders.

(Right now I imagine we’re all feeling

like it’s winter and we’re alone

in a splintering cabin on a crumbling cliff

with the ocean below hurling itself at the rocks

like a child against a locked bedroom door,

but of course I don’t say this out loud.)

Sara Peters has a way of unsettling her readers while making them trust her. You’ll be taken on dark adventure in only 80 pages but is definitely one that you won’t forget. If you’re looking to read beautiful poems about love, serenity, and nature in order to feel ‘happy’ then 1996 isn’t for you. If you want to get in touch with a darker side of poetry and are willing to delve into an unsettling and still enjoyable book, then this collection of poetry is just what the doctor ordered.

ENJOY LIFE AND KICK ASS, 
VANESSA XX

* Quote from page 53 of 1996 

Virgin [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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I think I have found the ultimate beach read — and we still have a few good weeks of summer left so I’d say I’ve found it just in time. Virgin is a novel about a twenty-one-year old woman with her v-card fully intact. She’s had some pretty embarrassing sexual experiences and doesn’t really understand what to do with her pubes. Her name is Ellie and she’s just like us, you know the us we were before we lost our virginity, before we learned about what sex is and how to do it. Before we learned what a Brazilian is or what the acceptable skin- -to-pube ratio is for our downstairs. It brings you back to a time when all of our friends had “done it” and we were left on the outskirts, with fantasies clouding our minds, no boyfriend in reach and wondering when it would finally be our turn.

Radhika Sanghani — the twenty-three year old author — did a great job nailing (no pun intended) all of the insecurities young women go through when it comes to sex. Virgin is one of the funniest novels I’ve read all year. It’s sexy, witty, sassy, and incredibly real, you feel like you’re having a conversation with one of your girlfriends that entire time you’re reading. The characters are totally relatable and you might even be forced to remember some of your sexual fumbles/mistakes/indiscretions as you read about Ellie’s.

I’ll admit that this book won’t end up on my TOP 5 BOOKS OF 2014 list but it is extremely well-written and I love the honesty found within the pages. The author is screaming universal truths and I think that even though it is fiction, a lot of young woman can take away something from this novel, whether it’s a simple few hours of laughter or the knowledge that they are not alone in the futile attempts made to understand love, sex, and your own vagina.

So whoever you are, whether you lost your virginity twenty years ago or you still have it, just accept it. Embrace any STDs you may or may not have, along with the regrets, the disastrous stories, the heartbreak, the pain and the regret. Because if it weren’t for all of this stuff, life would be pretty dull.

-Vanessa

– Quote from page 294 of Virgin

 

Darling You Can’t Do Both [Book Thoughts]

Book Reviews, Fashion & Beauty, Just for Fun, Products and Brands

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I flipped through Darling You Can’t Do Both by Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk — the two creative geniuses behind Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. I call this post [Book Thoughts] and not [Book Review] because for the first time in a very long time I read the titles of the chapters and chose which parts I thought would be relevant to me.

I am not a busy married woman working my way to the top, in fact, I have yet to find somewhere to start working (at the bottom or otherwise), so I couldn’t exactly relate to some of the stories. However, I think many young and older women can. What I found most interesting was their advice on facing gender biases at work and how business is still a man’s world. I liked the way they approached the issue and discussed how to combat it, I liked their advice on how to juggle everything, I loved how they harped on the idea that you don’t have to be a workhorse (working 7 am to midnight) to succeed in the office.

I took to heart when they ask the reader to figure out what they want — to write a list of everything they want their life to include and to remember that list when they’re in the workforce. MY LIST: fitness, books, travel, writing, dinners with my family, playtime with my niece, coffee nights with my best friends, and date nights with my boyfriend.

I loved reading about their personal experiences, their trials, and how long it took to get things right. I admire and feel inspired by their BREAK THE RULES ATTITUDE. One of my favourite chapters is entitled Rule to be Broken: Nice girls don’t get in your face. In this chapter they tell the reader that she needs to speak up in order to get what she wants at work and in life. This is something I have always struggled with, no matter who I’ve worked for it seems like when I need to say something important or ask for time off or anything that might be a little bit uncomfortable, I freeze. I know, I know MY PEN IS MY VOICE and all that. I’ve mastered finding my voice on the page, it’s going from page to mouth that’s proven a little difficult.

‘My advice to any woman who feels like she’s been judged for talking too much is to keep talking, and to encourage her female colleagues to do so as well – it’s the only way that things are going to change.’

 — Jean Hannah Edelstein (The Daily Mail)

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Let's Just Say it Wasn't Pretty [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Family Time, Lifestyle/Personal

9780812994261Last year I read Then Again by Diane Keaton and fell in love with it. When I saw her second book on the list of books I could review from Radom House, I knew it would be the one I chose. In Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, Diane Keaton writes with an honest fever about her own insecurities. She is the epitome of an unconventional beauty and uses this book to gain a better understanding of what beauty is.

In chapters entitled Corrections, Bad Hair Days, and The Eyes Have It, she tells stories about her thinning hair and slanting eyes. Both funny and not-so-funny, Keaton takes the reader through the ups and downs of her career, what it felt like to be in the public eye, and explains the purpose of always wearing hats.

Keaton dedicates this book to “All of the Women who can’t get to right without being wrong” — illuminating the fact that every women is different and beautiful in her own way. She discusses her admiration for strong, independent women who care not about what people think of them. She thinks that when a women is doing something deemed “wrong” then they MUST be doing something right (XI).

photo-7I spent most of my time reading this book in deep thought about beauty. Wondering about my own insecurities and jotting them down. I’m ashamed to say that I took comfort in knowing that a women in her sixties who is beyond successful, and who is beautiful in my eyes could have as many insecurities as I do. As I jotted down my insecurities, I also took note of what I deem to be beautiful. By the end of Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, I decided that I too will try harder to look for what I don’t see when it’s staring me right in the eye (page 87).

 

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty from Random House of Canada in exchange from an honest review. 

The first photo was taken from the Random House of Canada website. 

I took the second photo, it is page 75 of the book. 

The Opposite of Loneliness [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Bursting the Bubble

cvr9781476753614_9781476753614_lgI read about The Opposite of Loneliness in FLARE Magazine and immediately emailed Simon & Schuster Canada to ask them for a copy (please please please please!). They happily obliged in exchange for an honest review, one that I am honoured to give. Marina Keegan a graduate from Yale, died in a car crash five days after graduation. She was an award-winning author and journalist with a play that was supposed to be produced at the New York Fringe Festival AND a job waiting for her at The New Yorker.

Her final essay is where this collection of essays and stories begins, ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ is an essay about graduation and her time at Yale being anything but lonely. This essay was published in The Yale Daily News and went viral with over 1.4 million hits. Marina would have been turning twenty-five this year, just like me. Her fiction and nonfiction resonated with me as a writer, student, woman, and human being. She demonstrates a knack for understanding the human condition and has a way with words that tickles your mind. My favourite of her essays is ‘Song for the Special’, discussing all of those jealousies we have towards other people. All of our own insecurities and the yearning desire to be special, to create something wonderful and amazing. This essay shows not only her wisdom but her humanity.

She seemed to be a regular girl with a remarkable understanding of herself and the world around her. I read her book in awe and sheer admiration that someone so young could write so incredibly well. Her essays inspired me to pick up my pen more often and to think outside the box. I felt anything but lonely while reading this book. I felt like I was talking to a friend, spending time with someone I’ve known my whole life.

I felt the opposite of lonely and I am so thankful I read this book.

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Photo of book and information from the Simon & Schuster Website

The Opposite of Loneliness comes out April 8th! 

Thrive [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Lifestyle/Personal

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Arianna Huffington is the cofounder and editor-in-cheif of the Huffington Post Media Group. I’m sure we can all imagine what kind of life she must lead, being one of the most efficient media outlets doesn’t come without its consequences. Thrive begins with the moment that Arianna Huffington realized she was completely and utterly burnt out. Brought on by exhaustion and lack of sleep Huffington fell, hitting her eye and breaking her cheekbone. Is this what success really looks like? she wondered. There has to be more to success than just money and power, she thought. And so she is redefining success by adding a third metric to the equation: Well-being, Wonder, and Wisdom.

I’m at an impasse in my life; an infuriating and stressful impasse. As such, I sought out a book that could help me get out of my funk — Thrive was the perfect choice. Weaving her personal stories with statistics and facts, Huffington shines a light on the issues facing the modern generation. She helps you answer questions like what kind of life do I want to have? and re-invents what it means to be successful. Thrive opens your eyes with an in-depth look at lack of sleep, technology and the affect that being connected 24/7 has on a person.

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Famous quotes are scattered throughout the book adding an extra emphasis on certain points (my favourite is above). The quotes add a certain wonder and wisdom to the book (two important elements of her third metric). Filled with pointers on meditation, ideas and websites to visit for volunteering, personal stories and anecdotes, Thrive has something for every business woman and man out there. It’s also great for millennials like myself, to make us aware of the kind of world we’re walking into and how WE can make a change.

Thrive comes out March 25th — I urge you to pre-order a copy!

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Disclosure: I chose Thrive from a list of Random House Canada titles and received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Weekends are for…

Family Time, Just for Fun, Lifestyle/Personal

IMG_6679Weekends are for relaxation and silly faces, for spur of the moment decisions, for glasses of vino, and visiting family. Weekends are for walking through the mall hand-in-hand, for coffee shops and sipping the perfect cappuccino. Weekends are for laughing until your cheeks ache, for stealing kisses, for cheating on your diet, and for enjoying everything you don’t enjoy during the work week.

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Weekends are for reading and channel surfing, for writing and napping. Weekends are for catching up and moving on. They’re for preparing for the week ahead and looking back on the week that passed. Weekends are for love and light, for rejuvenation and living your life!

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Weekends are for YOU!

I hope you had as good a weekend as I did!

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo