Gratitude by Oliver Sacks [Book Review]

Book Reviews

9780345811370What I love most about the written word is its ability to transcend time. Books survive their creators, emotions and purpose carrying on regardless of the publishing date. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks contains four essays written in the last few months of his life. Coming to terms with his own death, Sacks recounts  moments filled with love, passion, and work.

It is the fate of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

Although this short book deserves a long review, it doesn’t need one. This is a book that you should read. When things are going well, this book will bring you back down and put life into perspective. When this are going terribly, it will remind you that good things are on the way. Regardless of the ups or downs you’re facing, gratitude is a necessity; without it moments turn into fleeting memories. Without gratitude my life loses meaning and purpose.



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

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

Taste Canada: The Food Writing Awards [Event Recap]

Just for Fun, Products and Brands, Toronto Adventures

On Monday I attended Taste Canada’s Food Writing Awards Gala. Since I’ve never been to these awards before, my nerves ran high the entire subway ride. I got downtown faster than I anticipated so I took my time walking to the venue. Even though it was spitting and the other pedestrians were running passed me, I couldn’t help stopping for a moment to take in the sights. Toronto is beautiful even with mist, fog, and rain clouding my view. When I walked into the venue my nerves finally made way for excitement. Arcadian Court is a gorgeous space with high ceilings, crisp white walls, and breathtaking chandeliers. I grabbed myself a beer (Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA) and sat down to take everything in.

Taste Canada — The Food Writing Awards is a not-for-profit organization. Founded in 1998, it recognizes and celebrates superior writing and publishing throughout Canada’s culinary world, both English and French.

The Gala was hosted by celebrated Chef, Ricardo Larrivée. He was witty, sentimental, and an absolute treat to listen to. It’s clear that he believes in the power of making memories in the kitchen, something I’m sure all food writers can agree with. Although I enjoyed learning about new cookbooks, listening to the winners’ speeches, and watching the tribute to The Cookbook Store, the best part was the reception afterwards. It featured an open bar and several food stations to test out and enjoy. The food was prepared by culinary students from various schools who were partnered with a mentor chef.

With a glass of Samuel Adams in hand (this time OctoberFest), I tried out all of the stations I could. My taste buds relished in the house cured duck prosciutto, tagliatelle topped with willowgrove hill pork and fennel sausage ragu, maple and espelette smoked Ontario pork shoulder, and finally chocolate raspberry buttercream squares. Beer isn’t usually my go-to beverage, but I’ll definitely be reaching for one more often. Samuel Adams OctoberFest has a deep flavour that goes down smoothly. Whether salty, savoury, or sweet, it paired nicely with every dish I tried. The beer enhanced the flavour of the food rather than changing it or distracting from it. There’s even a hint of caramel in the beer that added a balance to my palate and kept me satisfied between stations.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Chan Courtesy of Samuel Adams

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Chan Courtesy of Samuel Adams

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Chan Courtesy of Samuel Adams

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Chan Courtesy of Samuel Adams

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Chan Courtesy of Samuel Adams

I spent my Monday night surrounded by people who love food, books, and beer – what more does a girl need? Congratulations to all of the winners and thank you for sharing your food with me. Check out the list of winners below!

Vanessa Xo

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Chan. Courtesy of Samuel Adams.

Disclosure: I was compensated for attending this event but only wrote about it due to the amazing time I had, the wonderful food I ate, and the tasty beer I drank. Also, I love anything books so this event was a MUST-attend for me!



Culinary Narratives/Narrations Culinaires 

The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis

Les saveurs gastronomiques de la bière by David Lévesque Gendron et Martin Thibault

General Cookbooks/ Livres de Cuisine Générale

The Flavour Principle: Enticing Your Senses with Food and Drink by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol

Dans la cuisine de Danny St-Pierre by Danny St Pierre

Regional/Cultural Cookbooks

Toronto Star Cookbook: More Than 150 Diverse and Delicious Recipes Celebrating Ontario by Jennifer Bain

Single-Subject Cookbooks/Livres de Cuisine Sujet Unique

Gastro Grilling: Fired-up Recipes to Grill Great Everyday Meals by Ted Reader

Les Règles d’or des épices, recettes et récits de Ethné et Philippe de Vienne, chasseurs d’épices by Ethné et Philippe De Vienne

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.


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,

Virgin [Book Review]

Book Reviews


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.


– Quote from page 294 of Virgin


Then and Always [Book Review and Blog Tour]

Book Reviews, Just for Fun


In April I was asked by Penguin Canada to be a part of the book blog tour for what they hope to be the breakout beach novel of 2014. As the weather that week in was cloudy with a chance of snow squalls, I quickly volunteered to be apart of the tour. Any book that could get me ready for the beach was a book that I wanted to read. Then and Always by Dani Atkins is about a young woman named Rachel whose life is tragically altered by a car accident. She had the perfect life, with a handsome boyfriend, and acceptance to a top-journalism program when tragedy hit. Five years later, back at home for a friend’s wedding, Rachel is faced with the grief and memories of that horrible day. On top of it all she falls, hits her head, and ends up in the hospital. She wakens to a life that is not the life she remembers. Rachel has to piece together her past in order to understand her present — with the help of a few faces she never thought she’d ever see again.


I got through this novel so fast that I don’t think I gave myself time to digest it. Then and Always is an addicting novel with a twisted plot and wonderful characters. I must admit that sometimes I felt as though it was a book I read before and then something else would be thrown my way and I’d be on the edge of my seat. I didn’t weep but my heart raced, my mind turned, and sadness overcame my entire being as I read the last sentence. I know that beach reads are seemingly light and airy but this novel really got to me — the ending is something I’m still a little sore about. I liked it so much that my mom is taking it on vacation with her this month. I have a feeling she’ll like it as much as I do, she may even shed a tear!

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

the storied life of a.j. fikry or…the best book I've ever read [book review]

Book Reviews, Just for Fun, Toronto Adventures


I bought a copy of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin because Lindsey from ReederReads suggested it to me. Lindsey just gets me when it comes to books (and many other aspects of life). She is the person I trust most when it comes to book recommendations and her latest one was a home-run!

A.J. Fikry lost everything, his wife, sales at the bookstore he and his wife owned, and his rare collection of Poe’s poems *which was stolen from his house. He is alone, isolated, and drinks to have visions of his dead wife and then black out. Just when he’s about to sink lower than he ever has before, this bitter bookstore owner gets a package. A package that will change the life he lived and the life he thought he’d have. I can’t say much more about this book (plot-wise) because I don’t want to ruin your experience with it.

What I will say is that this novel moved me to tears on a number of occasions. Everything that I have ever felt about books is painted on these pages. Subtle truths about the human condition, loneliness, and love and the way they are intertwined with the characters is magical.

“At first, he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it’s love. Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin.” (76)

The writing is flawless and had I had the time to read it in one sitting I would have. As I got deeper into A.J. Fikry’s story I decided that I will no longer purchase books online. I will go to the beautiful bookstores located in the city. I would love to have the kind of relationship with a bookstore owner where I walk in and he or she says “Have I got the book for you!” (258). Better yet, maybe I’d like to be that person, that bookstore owner who knows her customers so well that she can suggest the perfect book for every nerd that enters their store.


Who knows…maybe I will be…

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Toronto Adventures

imageI became enthralled by “the Rob Ford Story” because of CP24 — a news station that seemed to be dripping with information about the alleged “crack video”. Every day when I walked into work there would be a new story about Ford and I became addicted. I don’t follow politics, nor did I know who Rob Ford was before all of the hype on TV, nor do I or will I state my opinion about the mayor of Toronto. What I will say is that his scandals make for really good television.

As someone who loves Toronto and hopes to be a resident some day (I live a little north of the city), I thought it would be important for me to learn more about the Ford situation and try to understand what exactly is going on at City Hall. When I heard about the Robyn Doolittle book: CRAZY TOWN, I knew I had to read it. I asked my friends at Penguin for a copy and thankfully they obliged.

Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle was one of three journalists to view the video and report on its contents in May 2013. Her dogged pursuit of the story has uncovered disturbing details about the mayor’s past, and embroiled the Toronto police, city councillors, and ordinary citizens in a raucous debate about the future of the city.

CRAZY TOWN paints a detailed and interesting picture of the Mayor of Toronto and his family. Robyn’s writing is thoughtful and filled with purpose to the point that this book reads like a novel, like a literary story. I had to remind myself at times that it isn’t some fictional account, it is the past and present of the Ford family. It’s the truth knocking at the door, demanding to be let in. What I liked most about CRAZY TOWN was the fact that Robyn Doolittle isn’t trying to pressure you into feeling a certain way about Ford. She has her sources, she has her facts, and her writing is pure and without bias. She admits to Ford’s good points, stating “Rob Ford might be a genus—if not of the academic variety, certainly of the kind that matters in politics”. You are given a reporter’s side and a mayor’s side — your only job as a reader is to get locked into a fascinating story and it’s not difficult to do.

In writing this book—and preparing these notes—I have tried to be as open and transparent as possible about my reporting process and how I know the things I know.”

I’ll admit that this account is so detailed that some of the politics went a little over my head but I was always brought back with enough information to wrap my head around what was happening. I found CRAZY TOWN to be deliciously interesting, especially the first few chapters about Ford Sr. and Rob’s siblings. My heart raced when Robyn recounted viewing the crack video for the first time and my mind sharpened as it was fed important facts, dates, and names.

I recommend this book to anyone who has felt captivated by Rob Ford’s many scandals, to anyone who wants to know more about the Mayor of Toronto, to anyone interested in politics, and to anyone who loves a well-written book.

Talk soon,

Vanessa Xo

Quote 1: Page 65

Quote 2: Page 314

Synopsis from the Penguin Canada website.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of CRAZY TOWN by Robyn Doolittle in exchange for an honest review. 

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.


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

Creeps [Book Review]

Book Reviews, Lifestyle/Personal

When a copy of Creeps by Darren Hynes showed up in my mailbox I was ecstatic! I love YA novels, particularly ones that are REAL or depict high school in a true light. Creeps is The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets The Fault in Our Stars meets Invisible — three books that I love dearly, so you can only imagine how I feel about this one.


Fifteen-year-old Wayne Pumphrey wishes he were courageous enough to actually send the heartfelt letters he writes to friends and family. He also wishes his father would drive on the right side of the street, his mother would stop packing her suitcase to leave, and his sister would stop listening to Nickelback. But most of all, he wishes that Pete “The Meat” would let him walk to school in peace. After all, how many times can one person eat yellow snow?

Then one morning, while facing Pete and his posse, Wayne is rescued by Marjorie, the girl with a dead father and a mother who might as well be. Together, the two of them escape Pete’s relentless bullying by rehearsing for the school play, and an unlikely friendship is formed. As they grow ever closer to one another, they begin to dream of escape from their small town and restricted lives. But Pete now has plans for both of them—and after a moment of sudden violence, nothing will ever be the same again for Wayne, Marjorie, or Pete himself.

Creeps is a tough book to read, in that it hurts you your heart. For a fifteen-year-old kid to feel so helpless and so alone, to be picked on to the point insanity, whose only comfort is writing un-sent letters, your heart bleeds for this child. The language, scenes, and bullying leave very little room for imagination. They are what they are and there’s no sugar-coating it. Some kids go through hell in high school and this novel is a testament to that. It’s an eye-opener for anyone who doesn’t believe that there are real bullies out there. Bullying seems to be worse now than when I was in high school. It’s harder to ft in, it’s harder to stand out, it’s harder to be accepted.

…I’ll take the job anyway because it’s good to have somewhere to go and something to do and someone other than the wall to look at and say stuff to.” (Page 59)

Wayne, is a character I won’t soon forget, he is everything I was in high school. The kind of kid who likes the quiet, who writes instead of speaks, who knows that the day will come when he or she has to get LOUD, has to stand up for his or herself. His words and his letters will stick with me for a long time. His fears and his insecurities are things that I would never wish upon anyone. He is a great character that can teach readers many things. He can teach you by showing you. He shows you that we all have problems, even if we try to keep them inside. He shows you what it is to be brave in ‘silly’ little ways. He shows you that you’re not as alone as you think you are. He shows you how big of a difference one person can make.

…he wonders how it could be that yesterday he felt so young but now feels like a man and it occurs to him that something begins at the same time something ends, so he’ll always be in motion, moving towards and away from things.” (Page 180)

With his raw and sincere writing style, Darren Hynes has crafted a book that should be on the TO READ list of every ninth-grader.

Creeps will have you turning pages, shedding tears, and hoping for the best possible ending, because Wayne deserves it.


Love Always

Vanessa Xo