Wallflowers [BOOK REVIEW]

Book Reviews

I genre binge. Historical fiction, short stories, memoirs, chick-lit, YA, and literary fiction are on my obsessive genre cycle. Lately I’ve taken a liking to short stories, I love how much can be said in so few pages. I love knowing only a fraction of the character’s life, probably a very significant section of their life. I love that when I’m busy I can read one story at a time, as slowly as I need to. I love short story collections because the stories share an overarching theme, but have many different settings, characters, and sometimes even genres. I’m still plugging away at Wallflowers by Eliza Robertson. I read the entire collection once and am reading over the stories that I loved, as well as, the stories that went right over my head.

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Eliza Robertston has created a cast of unique and wholly engaging characters. Here are the swindlers and innocents, unlikely heroes and gritty survivors; they teach us how to trap hummingbirds, relinquish dreams gracefully, and feed raccoons without getting bitten. (From back cover flap)

Eliza Robertson has the kind of impressive writer’s resume that I can only dream to have. She won the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, has an M.A. in prose fiction from the University of East Anglia (where she received the Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer), she was a finalist for the CBC Short Story Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2013 Journey Prize. Intimidating right? I haven’t the time to gush about all of the praise her collection is getting but you should probably Google it. 

After reading several reviews and articles about the collection, I knew that it would be very literary, eloquent, and tough. Robertson’s short stories demand focus and attention. They are deep, highly metaphorical (almost poetic) stories that capture your attention and keep it. Once you get over how intense and wonderful the writing is and really sink into her words, you get a kind of reader’s high. The high you can only get from well-written, visually stunning words. Where you’re learning new things about the world, understanding basic human conditions in a new light, and delving whole-heartedly into each and every story. I found it to be a vast and sometimes challenging read, but one that I would recommend to any lover of fiction. 

Here two of my favourite lines from my favourite short stories in this collection. I hope it gives you a taste of the wonderful visual writing and character profiles that Robertson creates. They’re beautiful, even out of the context of the story. 

“PS — I think she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I think this is what redeemed her. She lived by a wild, unreasoned, breathless devotion to beauty. And not just her own.”

Roadnotes (122)

“The living room bulb was dull, but light filtered in from the window, from the street lamps and rolling headlights, which grazed their shoulders toward the wall. Neither of them spoke. She wanted to stay here, in the hinge of this moment, before it tipped into the future or back into the past.” Electric Lady Rag (164)

Do you know of any awesome short story collections I should pick up?

 Let me know!

Talk soon,
Vanessa

Wake [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Giveaways, Just for Fun

Blog Header- Wake by AnnaHope

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach…Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front…Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed-she recognizes the symptoms of “shell shock”-and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core…

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

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I am absolutely thrilled to be part of Random House’s blog tour for Wake by Anna Hope. As a huge fan of historical fiction I couldn’t say no to such an interesting debut novel!

I read this novel in two days, unable to keep the manuscript version of it out of my paws. The story goes back and forth between Ava, Evelyn, and Hettie, all grieving for someone, all stuck in a sleep-like trance, barely there, barely living. I found myself transfixed by Hettie and this mysterious man James, my heart ached for Ava and Evelyn and the losses they both suffered. All I wanted for them was to wake up and find peace, to make their own peace. As the story progressed and I learned more about how all three women are connected, I felt my anxiety grow. The way that Anna Hope intertwines the lives of these three women is remarkable and entrancing. Her characters (and their pain) is so raw that you can’t help but feel attached and responsible for them — and I’m not just talking about the three main women in the novel either. Flashbacks to fighting in the war, the horrible things that war made the men do, the life altering injuries they suffered, the nerves and shell-shock that they go through rocks you to your core.

What I like so much about Wake is the way that Anna Hope shows you both sides of the war, it wakes you up to its harsh realities. This warm and fluid novel leaves you breathless to the very last sentence… and FYI, the last sentence…it kind of rocks.

“I’ll remember you, he thinks, and as the gun carriage, with its coffin and its dented helmet pass him by, he closes his eyes.

Nothing will bring them back. Not the words of comfortable men. Not the words of politicians. Or the platitudes of paid poets.”
― Anna HopeWake: A Novel

Interested in what the other bloggers had to say about it? Click here, here, here, and here.

Then leave a comment below to enter to win a copy of WAKE from Random House of Canada!

Contest closes on February 16th!

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Disclosure: I received a copy of Wake from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review. 

Photo Credit and Synopsis: Random House of Canada

Quote from: Goodreads

The Signature of All Things [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Just for Fun

Have you been following along with Penguin’s Daily December Delights? If you have, you’ll know that today’s featured book is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittakera poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henrys brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her fathers money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Almas research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite directioninto the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artistbut what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

I was introduced to Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing with Eat, Pray, Love, a book that took me around the world, taught me something each step of the way, and helped me to re-evaluate my own life. With The Signature of All Things, I was taken around the world but in a different time period, following a different journey. This novel follows the journey of a very wealthy, stubborn, and hardworking man, and trickles into his daughter’s journey. As a lover of historical fiction I found Elizabeth’s depiction of this time period truly fascinating. You can tell that an intense amount of research went into forming this novel and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about various plants and how they were used/what they were used for. The Signature of All Things is such a detailed account that it didn’t leave much left for the imagination, which is something that would normally trouble me, but I found it worked well for this novel. Every character is alive, you can see them, hear them, and fall in love with them. Alma is a wonderful character and one that I won’t soon forget. I love how her curiosity never ceases and how she is constantly trying to answer why or how. 

“She wanted to understand the world, and she made a habit out of chasing down information to its last hiding place, as though the fate of nations were at stake in every instance…and when given the answer–demanded to know why this was certain.”  (51)

I must admit that the length of this novel and the detailed descriptions had my attention waver a few times. It’s the sort of story that’s easy to get sucked into but you have to be in the mood for it. You have to be sitting up and paying attention to what’s going on in order to get the most out of it. It’s not Eat, Pray, Love (if that’s what you’re looking for) but it is just as relatable if you give it a chance. I would recommend this novel to any historical fiction lover on your list – there’s only three days until Christmas but that’s plenty of time for a last-minute gift!

Don’t forget to head over to Penguin’s Daily Delights to enter to win your very own copy of The Signature of All Things!

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Red Joan [Book Review]

Book Reviews

If you’re looking for a suspenseful, romantic, and quick read then pick up a copy of Red Joan by Jennie Rooney. If you like a little historical fiction, love affairs, war, and secrets in a novel, pick up a copy of Red Joan. I chose this novel for my second Random House Read for May and although it took me a bit to get into (in all fairness I was on vacation in Vancouver when I started to read it and therefore quite distracted) I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Joan’s voice is almost a whisper. ‘Nobody talked about what they did during the war. We all knew we weren’t allowed to.’

Joan Stanley has a secret. 

For fifty years she has been a loving mother, a doting grandmother and an occasional visitor to ballroom dancing and watercolour classes. Then one sunlit spring morning there is a knock on the door.

It would appear that Joan has quite a few secrets and each page lays the foundation for a new confession, a new realization. Going back and forth from past to present, you get swept up in Joan’s world and all of her secrets. You fall in love with Joan, you sympathize with her, and sometimes you want to shake her and tell her to stop being so naive. I don’t want to say too much about the plot of this novel because I don’t want to ruin it. I want you to get so into this novel that you’re hunched over on the edge of your bed wondering what will happen next. I want you to feel the same concern for Joan as I did. I want you to wonder about Leo — to be cautious of him but undeniably attracted to him. I want you to see the flashbacks happen in black-and-white. I want you to meet Max and enjoy every moment with him. I want you to remember what it was like to be 18 and have your whole life ahead of you.

…she finds that she can still remember the feeling of that year with absolute clarity; the breathless sensation brought on by the knowledge that if she didn’t go somewhere and do something then her lungs might actually burst out of her chest…She is eighteen years old and impatient to leave. There is no particular reason for this impatience other than an underlying sense of life happening elsewhere…” (page 12)

I want you to remember what it feels like to stand up for something, what it feels like to be honest, and what it feels like to do what you know in your heart is right.

I want you to get so into this novel that you don’t even hear your phone ring, just like I did.

Love Always

Vanessa Xo

P.S Red Joan by Jennie Rooney comes out tomorrow (May 21st, 2013)! 

**Synopsis from the Random House of Canada website**

The Aftermath [Book Review]

Book Reviews

coverMy first Random House Read for May is The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. Before I spend the next 300 words or so praising the crap out of this novel, I’d like to share the synopsis with you.

Hamburg, 1946. Thousands remain displaced in what is now the British Occupied Zone. Charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, Colonel Lewis Morgan is requisitioned a fine house on the banks of the Elbe, where he will be joined by his grieving wife, Rachael, and only remaining son, Edmund.

But rather than force its owners, a German widower and his traumatized daughter, to leave their home, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged and claustrophobic atmosphere all must confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

The Aftermath is a stunning novel about our fiercest loyalties, our deepest desires and the transformative power of forgiveness.

The Aftermath is officially in my top three favourite historical fiction novels of all time, tied with The Purchase and The Aviator’s Wife. It is a wonderful story about forgiveness, loyalties, and giving into your deepest desires. Rhidian Brook has created a complex story with unbelievably real characters, characters you can feel sympathy for, characters you can have a connection with. Each character experiences some kind of loss — a loss so heartbreaking that none of them know quite how to face it. This story is as much about trying to rebuild a nation, as it is about rebuilding relationships and having sympathy and compassion for your fellow human beings.

A huge part in my love for this novel has to do with the flawless writing. It’s smooth, concise, descriptive, and wonderfully thought-provoking. I love how Rhidian Brook allows you to see and understand so many sides of the same story. The way his writing shows you something extremely important about humanity: that we all feel pain and we all heal differently. That forgiveness can literally save lives.

What else can I say about this novel? Well, I don’t want to say too much or I’ll ruin it for you, but I will say that there were so many twists and turns I could barely keep up. I was literally on the edge of my seat, holding my breath, waiting for something to happen (or not happen). I strongly suggest that you add it to your “to read” list — it comes out on May 7th 2013.

He could see  a whole new city growing out of the desolation. A fine city fit for children, parents and grandparents, lovers and seekers, for the broken and the fixed, the missing and the missed, the lost and the refound.”

Love Always 

Vanessa Xo

** The synopsis is from the Random House of Canada website **
** The quote is an indirect quote from page 321 of the novel **

Please, don’t call me ‘sweet girl’

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Last week I tweeted “don’t get offended so easily, (most likely) the world isn’t out to get you”. That was a note to self – one that I really needed. Sometimes I have really good advice, I just need to follow it once in a while. I need to stop being so sensitive. I need to speak up. I need to be strong. I need to let some things slide. I need to just take a nap and get over things, forget them. I need to stop giving merit to other people’s opinions.

I need to be more like the main character in The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon.

Pytho is smart, educated, and unafraid to be different. She is the daughter of Aristotle and she lives in a time where a woman who can think, read, write, or swim is considered unlovely – well then heck I must be the most unlovely woman of them all! Imagine if we lived in a time like that, a time where only the gods valued women.

“‘ The gods value women.  They understand the power of women… In their world, the greatest women are a match for the greatest men. Thinkers, warriors, healers,” (page 15).

Not in Pytho’s world, where she’s called “sweet girl”. A term that made her skin crawl. An ‘endearing’ term synonymous with “obedient girl” and “good girl”. Pytho did what she wanted,when she wanted- she was a strong girl. If this novel does one thing, it’s reaffirm my faith in the fact that women have come a long way, that we can do anything that a man can do. I think the fuel behind my quick reading of this novel was Pytho’s character, her determination. I wasn’t expecting where this novel lead, which direction her character took but I enjoyed it (even if I was confused at times). I enjoyed it because of the strength in her character and even though it was also a historical fiction, it wasn’t as strung up on details as The Purchase. I don’t know which novel I liked better but I will say that the The Sweet Girl is great if you want a quick read that isn’t too light.

OH! I’m off to the Random House Canada Bookstragaganza event tonight and looking forward to checking out their Fall must-read books. I’ll be sure to let you know how it went ;). I’m also stopping in at Roots before heading downtown, I have a gift certificate with my name on it and a blog post to write!

Thanks Roots!!

Have a fantastic Tuesday and if it’s a little shitty, remember this;

‘”The worst never lasts long. Especially if you’ve thought through all the alternatives, and you have a plan.” – The Sweet Girl

Love Always
Vanessa Xo
__ __
Synopsis (from the Random House of Canada Limited website)
Pythias is her father’s daughter, with eyes his exact shade of unlovely, intelligent grey. A slave to his own curiosity and intellect, Aristotle has never been able to resist wit in another—even in a girl child who should be content with the kitchen, the loom and a life dictated by the womb. And oh his little Pytho is smart, able to best his own students in debate and match wits with a roomful of Athenian philosophers. Is she a freak or a harbinger of what women can really be? Pythias must suffer that argument, but she is also (mostly) secure in her father’s regard.
 
But then Alexander dies a thousand miles from Athens, and sentiment turns against anyone associated with him, most especially his famous Macedonian-born teacher. Aristotle and his family are forced to flee to Chalcis, a garrison town. Ailing, mourning and broken in spirit, Aristotle soon dies. And his orphaned daughter, only 16, finds out that the world is a place of superstition, not logic, and that a girl can be played upon by gods and goddesses, as much as by grown men and women. To safely journey to a place in which she can be everything she truly is, Aristotle’s daughter will need every ounce of wit she possesses, but also grace and the capacity to love.

Please, don't call me 'sweet girl'

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Last week I tweeted “don’t get offended so easily, (most likely) the world isn’t out to get you”. That was a note to self – one that I really needed. Sometimes I have really good advice, I just need to follow it once in a while. I need to stop being so sensitive. I need to speak up. I need to be strong. I need to let some things slide. I need to just take a nap and get over things, forget them. I need to stop giving merit to other people’s opinions.

I need to be more like the main character in The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon.

Pytho is smart, educated, and unafraid to be different. She is the daughter of Aristotle and she lives in a time where a woman who can think, read, write, or swim is considered unlovely – well then heck I must be the most unlovely woman of them all! Imagine if we lived in a time like that, a time where only the gods valued women.

“‘ The gods value women.  They understand the power of women… In their world, the greatest women are a match for the greatest men. Thinkers, warriors, healers,” (page 15).

Not in Pytho’s world, where she’s called “sweet girl”. A term that made her skin crawl. An ‘endearing’ term synonymous with “obedient girl” and “good girl”. Pytho did what she wanted,when she wanted- she was a strong girl. If this novel does one thing, it’s reaffirm my faith in the fact that women have come a long way, that we can do anything that a man can do. I think the fuel behind my quick reading of this novel was Pytho’s character, her determination. I wasn’t expecting where this novel lead, which direction her character took but I enjoyed it (even if I was confused at times). I enjoyed it because of the strength in her character and even though it was also a historical fiction, it wasn’t as strung up on details as The Purchase. I don’t know which novel I liked better but I will say that the The Sweet Girl is great if you want a quick read that isn’t too light.

OH! I’m off to the Random House Canada Bookstragaganza event tonight and looking forward to checking out their Fall must-read books. I’ll be sure to let you know how it went ;). I’m also stopping in at Roots before heading downtown, I have a gift certificate with my name on it and a blog post to write!

Thanks Roots!!

Have a fantastic Tuesday and if it’s a little shitty, remember this;

‘”The worst never lasts long. Especially if you’ve thought through all the alternatives, and you have a plan.” – The Sweet Girl

Love Always
Vanessa Xo
__ __
Synopsis (from the Random House of Canada Limited website)
Pythias is her father’s daughter, with eyes his exact shade of unlovely, intelligent grey. A slave to his own curiosity and intellect, Aristotle has never been able to resist wit in another—even in a girl child who should be content with the kitchen, the loom and a life dictated by the womb. And oh his little Pytho is smart, able to best his own students in debate and match wits with a roomful of Athenian philosophers. Is she a freak or a harbinger of what women can really be? Pythias must suffer that argument, but she is also (mostly) secure in her father’s regard.
 
But then Alexander dies a thousand miles from Athens, and sentiment turns against anyone associated with him, most especially his famous Macedonian-born teacher. Aristotle and his family are forced to flee to Chalcis, a garrison town. Ailing, mourning and broken in spirit, Aristotle soon dies. And his orphaned daughter, only 16, finds out that the world is a place of superstition, not logic, and that a girl can be played upon by gods and goddesses, as much as by grown men and women. To safely journey to a place in which she can be everything she truly is, Aristotle’s daughter will need every ounce of wit she possesses, but also grace and the capacity to love.