God Help the Child by Toni Morrison [Book Review]

Book Reviews

I have a confession: I’ve never read a novel by Toni Morrison. I know, what kind of reader am I?! So, when I got to choose which novel to review for Random House this month, I chose God Help the Child.

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Documenting all aspects of childhood fear, racism, rape, and yearning for love, Toni Morrison takes her reader on one of the most engaging journeys I have ever read. The story centers around a woman described as black-blue in colour and unbeliveably beautiful. She has a powerhouse position at a make-up company and saunters around wearing all white. Bride’s colour caused her fair-skinned mother to den her all of the simplest forms of love. This causes Bride to tell a lie so intense that it ruins the life of a another woman.

Weaved into her story are accounts told by Bride’s best friend Brooklyn, Bride’s lover Booker, a girl named Rain, Bride’s mother Sweetness, and Sofia. Their pasts and presents collide, leaving the reader feeling unhinged and passionately addicted to their stories. Stories that focus more on forgiveness and love than pain and regret.

Thank you. You showed me rage and frailty and hostile recklessness and worry worry worry dappled with such uncompromising shards of light and love it seemed a kindness in order to be able to leave you and not fold into a grief so deep it would break not the heart but the mind… (pg150)

Written with lush and lyrical prose, God Help the Child is a novel you won’t soon forget.

Love Always
Vanessa Xo

I don’t know about you, I’m feeling 26

Lifestyle/Personal

GUYS! Tomorrow I turn twenty-six, which will technically mark the beginning of YEAR TWO in my latest project This is Almost Thirty (more on that another time). For my birthday, Alex has planned a lovely stay-cation in Toronto, complete with dinner, a hotel, and a few hours of walking around Toronto. I cannot WAIT to be in Toronto again, I miss it. Two years ago around this time I was interning at Random House of Canada and LOVED being downtown everyday. I’d spend the hour lunch I had exploring the neighbourhood I worked, trying out coffee shops, and taking photos of all the new things I’d seen. I wrote SO much when I was working down there!

You may notice that my birthday falls on Easter weekend, which means I’ll be spending a lot of time with my family or with a book in my hand (currently reading Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed). I’m also hoping to plan out a YA novel I’ve been wanting to start FOREVER. I’ll be back on Monday with a weekend recap, a restaurant review, and maybe even a mantra or two!

From My Pen, My Voice

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

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

Hausfrau [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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In exchange for an honest review, Random House of Canada sent me a copy of the gorgeous book, Hausfrau. After reading The Girl on the Train and Still Alice, I was hoping to get my hands on a warmer, sweeter, and less heart-wrenching novel. Fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t quite decide, Hausfrau did not give me anything less than a heart-wrenching experience. In fact, it left me broken.

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her… When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

Jill Alexander Essbaum is an incredibly gifted writer, weaving emotions, time, sex, love, and characters into one another seamlessly. Hausfrau is a haunting novel that is expertly paced. It commands the reader’s attention and allows them inside the emotional turmoil that Anna lives through each and every single day. Essbaum writes in such a way that you cannot help but feel everything all at once. You want to understand Anna, you want to help her, to fix her. Mostly you want her to end her affairs, you want to her wake up and get her to simply enjoy the life she leads. You want her to take control of her life before it is too late. You want her lies to disappear because eventually you actually feel sorry for Anna, you want her to redeem herself so much that you actually think she might. The trouble is that Hausfrau has no intent of wrapping Anna’s story in a pretty pink bow, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself.

“…analysis isn’t pliers, and truth is not teeth: you can’t pull it out by force. A mouth stays closes as long as it wants to. Truth is told when it tells itself.”
Jill Alexander Essbaum, Hausfrau

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

Hausfrau comes out March 17th, 2015!

The Girl on the Train [Book Review]

Book Reviews
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From the Penguin Random House Website

 

Three women, three men, connected through marriage or infidelity. Each is to blame for something. But only one is a killer in this nail-biting, stealthy psychological thriller about human frailty and obsession.

The Girl on the Train was plastered all over my social media feeds for weeks on end. I heard about how jarring and intense it was, how it was the next Gone Girl, how it made its readers uneasy and perhaps a little paranoid, and I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I asked Aliya from Random House of Canada what all the hype was about. Instead of telling me, she graciously sent me a copy to find out for myself.

Although the novel started off slowly, and I found myself making excuses to not pick it up, last Saturday I could not put it down. It begins with Rachel, a raging alcoholic with so many issues the reader cannot keep up. She’s sitting on the train in the morning and looking out at the houses she passes. There is one house in particular that she’s fond of. Every day and every night she sees a couple emerge from their house, onto their terrace. She wonders about them, she makes up names from them, as well as, identities. This, to me at least, is harmless. When I interned at Random House nearly two years ago, I did the same thing. I’d make up stories about my fellow subway riders, the only difference is that I wasn’t obsessed by it or by them.

But I digress. The action in the novel begins when Rachel notices someone different in the home/terrace of her favourite couple. The next day the woman (whom she named Jess) disappears. It seems that all of the action in this novel comes out of nowhere. You don’t know who to trust, you’re sure everyone is connected but not exactly sure how. You’re edgy and confused like a deer in headlights. I swallowed the last hundred and fifty pages or so in one gulp, unable to tear myself away from the book until I reached the very end. Did I love the book? I’m not sure. Was it entertaining? Yes. Did it keep me guessing? Yes. Did it make me uneasy? Yes. Would I recommend it ? Yes.

“Clever and compelling. Hawkins keeps the tension ratcheted high in this thoroughly engrossing tale of intersecting strangers and intimate betrayals. Kept me guessing until the very end!’
—Lisa Gardner, author of Fear Nothing

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

The Wild Oats Project [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Always,

Vanessa Xo

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

All the Bright Places [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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

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

From Pinterest

From Pinterest

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

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

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

Love always, 
Vanessa XX

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

 

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!

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Winners

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

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy [Book Review]

Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanessa xo