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.  **

Tea Please [from HealthSnap.ca]

Products and Brands

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Nothing tastes better than a cup of coffee in the morning, except perhaps a warm cuppa tea at eight in the evening paired with a great book and freshly baked cookies. A few weeks ago, my friend Victoria over at HealthSnap.ca sent over a box full of teas for me to try out.

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me ― C.S. Lewis

HealthSnap is a Canadian online retailer based in Toronto. They sell numerous products in various categories (Baby & Mom, Beauty & Skin Care, Diet & Fitness, Household, Medicine, Personal Care, Sexual Wellness, and Vitamins & Supplements). They have even partnered with several pharmacies for their users to order through them for Home Delivery or Pharmacy Pick Up. Since Victoria sent me the teas directly I haven’t actually purchased from the site. They do have some pretty wonderful reviews, free shipping over $50, and great pricing though so I may give them a try.

The Celestial Tea box came with 5 different teas; Chamomile, Lemon Zinger, Peppermint, Honey Vanilla Chamomile, and Sleepytime. I’ve tried them all and wasn’t a huge fan of the Lemon Linger but the Honey Vanilla is the equivalent to having an evening of solitude in the library of your choice (a.k.a HEAVEN). The Sleepytime tea was earthy and minty and worked like a charm! The best part about this brand of tea: no matter how long I steeped it for, the flavour didn’t become too bold or strong. Each tea stayed true to its mild, relaxing, delicious flavour.

I tried the Refreshing Mint the other day at work and was happy when it didn’t taste as though I was drinking a pack of gum. It is calming yet exhilarating (yes, tea can be that too!) and it woke me up enough to get through the rest of my afternoon.

I have yet to try the Detox teas – I’m waiting for a weekend that I know I’ll be at home (just in case) or the Cold & Cough tea since I don’t have a cold or cough! I’m sure I’ll try them another time and I’ll let you know how they were.

Have you tried HealthSnap? What did you think?

Xoxo,

Vanessa

P.S. I was sent these teas in exchange for an honest review, as per my DISCLOSURE, I only write about products I use and things I like.

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 

Long Weekend Loving

Family Time, Lifestyle/Personal
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Long weekends in the summer are perfect for spending time in the sunshine, reading, and partying. This weekend we celebrated Isabelle’s second birthday and attended my aunt’s wedding. Both were lovely affairs filled with laughter, love, and drinks. I cannot believe that my niece is already two-years-old. She has such and incredibly demanding personality that oozes with charisma. She’s funny and loves to make people laugh. She obsesses over music, dancing, and movies. She enjoys my stories about Princess Isabelle and her best friend Waffles. Her smile is infectious, her memory incredible.

As I watched her interact with her cousins I saw how shy she really is, how much fun she has on her own and with others. I held her hand as we stepped into the the kiddy pool and wondered when she’d get to old (or too cool) to hold her Tia’s hand. I thought about how much she’s grown in a mere two years and couldn’t help but wonder who she will become. Then I snapped myself back to the present because she’s only two and time goes by too fast to keep thinking about the future.

“Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape…”
― Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

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

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

summer jam series

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*

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.

WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS [Book Review]

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.

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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

Books I’m Looking Forward to this Spring @RandomhouseCa

Book Reviews, Products and Brands

Last week Random House Canada hosted a Spring Preview for their bloggers. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, BUT I want to share with you some of the titles I cannot wait to read.

9780385685085(06-02-2015)

When a series of passenger airplanes crashed in Elizabeth, NJ within a three-month period in 1951-1952, Judy Blume was a teenager. “These events have lingered in my mind ever since,” says Blume. “It was a crazy time. We were witnessing things that were incomprehensible to us as teenagers. Was it sabotage? An alien invasion? No one knew, and people were understandably terrified.” Against this background, Blume uses her imagination to bring us the lives of three generations of families, friends, and strangers who will be profoundly affected by these events, either directly or indirectly.

9780345808165(05-12-2015)

Oliver Dalrymple, nicknamed “Boo” because of his pale complexion and staticky hair, is an outcast at his Illinois middle school–more interested in biology and chemistry than the friendship of other kids. But after a tragic accident, Boo wakes up to find himself in a very strange sort of heaven: a town populated only by 13-year-old Americans. While he desperately wants to apply the scientific method to find out how this heaven works (broken glass grows back; flashlights glow without batteries; garbage chutes plummet to nowhere), he’s confronted by the greatest mystery of all–his peers. With the help of his classmate Johnny, who was killed at the same time, Boo begins to figure out what exactly happened to them (and who they really were back in America) through this story about growing up, staying young and the never-ending heartbreak of being 13.

9781770497818 (05-12-2015)

Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.
Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.
 
Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.
 
They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

9780771038617 (08-11-2015)

    Starting with something as simple as a boy who wants a dog, His Whole Life takes us into a richly intimate world where everything that matters to him is at risk: family, nature, home.
     At the outset ten-year-old Jim and his Canadian mother and American father are on a journey from New York City to a lake in eastern Ontario during the last hot days of August. What unfolds is a completely enveloping story that spans a few pivotal years of his youth. Moving from city to country, summer to winter, wellbeing to illness, the novel charts the deepening bond between mother and son even as the family comes apart.

9780449016268_0(04-07-2015)

The world of Sweetapolita is sparkly and sprinkly and charming as can be, with 75 recipes for everything from pretty homemade cookies to decadent layer cakes. But what really sets these treats apart are interactive designs that let everyone in on the fun of decorating: Painted Mini Cakes are served with edible “paint” for guests to personalize at the table, the fondant-covered tiered Chalk-a-Lot cake is paired with homemade edible “chalk,” and Rainbow Doodle cookies are made for kids to go to town on with edible markers.

Which books are you excited for?

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

* All photos and synopsis are from the Penguin Random House Website!