Book Review: milk and honey by rupi kaur

So I don’t read poetry very often, but the good folks at Simon and Schuster offered to send me this book in return for an honest review, and I had heard of Rupi Kaur before (on buzzfeed nonetheless) so I agreed to give it a go. I love being able to tell people I read poetry, even if it’s just a short, smug response; ” Why yes, I read a bit of poetry” (with an expression that would say, ‘doesn’t everyone’?).  I am THAT deep of a person, thank you very much. And although I hate landscape and nature poetry with a passion, I do enjoy a bit of humor poetry, or poems with a strong narrative behind them, so milk and honey was a good fit for me.

smugWarning: milk and honey is most definitely not a humorous collection (I thought you might think that, based on the sentence above). It’s split into four sections, and is not for the faint of heart. It basically deals with sexual abuse, a passionate adult relationship following that, the break-up, and then the healing from that breakup. Oh, and there are (sometimes graphic) line illustrations accompanying some of the poems, which really help the reader to understand what the poet is trying to say. So I liked this book because I wasn’t left wondering ‘what the hell did that mean?’ after each poem; her intentions were obvious, which I appreciated.

As a poet should, Kaur had a beautiful way of describing things, and striking phrases that will stick with me for awhile. For instance, on p. 197:

if you are not enough for yourself

you will never be enough

for someone else

Pearl LOVES poetry, as this photo suggests

Pearl LOVES poetry, as this photo suggests

I would even go so far as to say that Kaur is a bit of a feminist. Alot of her work deals with acknowledging the goddess within you, honouring your strength as a woman, etc. I can appreciate this perspective, it’s nice to read as a fellow woman, and I’m lucky to have so many strong women in my life that I think many of them would enjoy this collection as well. But don’t let the ‘f’ word scare you off, read it for yourself and find your own take-aways.

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Book Review: The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson

So this is a first for ivereadthis: a book review of a graphic novel! And what a perfect book to start off this trend: The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, art by Kelly Mellings. Powerful, this book is so powerful, and very necessary.

It tells the story of Pete, a young Aboriginal man who comes from a family with a violent and drug-filled history. We meet drug dealing Pete just before he goes into jail;  he’s convicted of manslaughter for shooting his mother’s boyfriend because he discovers they had sold all their meagre belongings to pay for more drugs, which led to the assault. What I found overwhelmingly sad about this situation was the fact that it’s such a common story for many Aboriginal men and women in Canada, those who live on and off reserves. Luckily, Pete is given the opportunity to attend a rehabilitation program created to help the many Aboriginal men in this situation, drawing upon wisdom from their culture, and teaching them how to use it in a modern day society. This program actually exists in Alberta, which is an uplifting fact to be aware of. From there, Pete learns about how to ‘break the cycle’ and become a responsible member of society again.

Smokey is mulling over what she just read

Smokey is mulling over what she just read

So why is this book so ‘important’? It’s well-written, beautifully illustrated, and engaging for all age groups, so at the very least, it’s a great piece of art in its own right. But this story in particular is a must-read for all Canadians (which is one reason it made the Canada Reads list!), because it very clearly lays out some of the root causes of the Aboriginal struggle with residential schools. I’ve talked about this topic in a past blog, so I won’t re-hash it here, but what many Canadians don’t understand, or are unwilling to empathize with, is how this affects generations of Aboriginal families, not just the people who were sent to these schools.  The picture below was taken from the book, which is something I think every Canadian needs to see. It depicts the legacy of various kinds of abuse within one Aboriginal family and the trickle-down effect it has on its members.

the key to the map is probably the most disturbing thing about this family tree

the key to the map is probably the most disturbing thing about this family tree

I was lucky enough to study Aboriginal literature in school, so I learned about the cycles of abuse there, but I think so many people are either un-educated, or don’t care enough about this problem to properly understand and empathize with this particular struggle. It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. And what’s great about this book, is it offers us a very typical, yet engaging look at the problems these people have, and a concrete, practical way to help them.

So read this book because it will put you in someone else’s shoes, and you’ll also get the added benefit of that immersive experience that a graphic novel like this offers. Yes, this book is a must-read for all Canadians, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it, because you will! What’s even better is that both Benson and Mellings are Albertan, so you’ll be reading local too.

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Book Review: Sleep by Nino Ricci

Sleep. I’m obsessed with it since having a baby. How much am I getting? How much is my baby getting? Is it enough? Is it too much? Is it at the right times of day? When will I ever be able to sleep in again? Probably never, but a girl can dream (pun intended).

How awesome is this book cover?

How awesome is this book cover?

So finding a book titled Sleep, with a premise about a man who never gets any sleep, seemed a fitting read for this time in my life. The acclaimed Canadian author Nino Ricci is the author, so I knew it would be worthwhile too. I wasn’t wrong, it surprised me with numerous plot twists, and the book had an explosive, action-packed ending, which you would never have suspected based on the somewhat dull beginning.

David is an academic with a wife, son, and successful career; but he is diagnosed with a sleep disorder, and his life slowly begins to crumble beneath him. Although the narrative is described as revolving around David’s lack of sleep, it’sshooting more about his developing addiction to drugs as he attempts (in vain) to control his disease. This descent reminded me of Russell Smith’s book Girl Crazy, where his protagonist (also male) falls in love with a woman and slowly falls into a world of violence, drug use and casual sex. In Ricci’s book, once drugs begin to fail him, David turns to the thrill of shooting guns (while on drugs) to give him a sense of wakefulness. Obviously, this puts his career and family in jeopardy.

So Ricci has accomplished something of note here; he’s managed to write a story that is at once intelligent and descriptive, yet fast-paced and shocking. Sex, drugs, and violence mingle with cultural expectations and character studies, keeping the reader entertained and challenged simultaneously.  Read a book that will keep you up at night, and keep you from sleep: pick up Ricci’s latest at your local, independent book store.

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Book Review: A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

Like the title suggests, A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (translated from the German by Charlotte Collins) is literally about a man’s whole life, in only 139 pages. Apparently this book is also an international bestseller, so I had high hopes when I cracked it open. Unfortunately, it was a bit disappointing. I can’t say why exactly, other than the fact I found it a bit boring.

Smokey was also indifferent

Smokey was also indifferent

The prose is wonderful, very stark and to the point, but still including lovely descriptions of the beautiful mountain town that the protagonist Andreas resides. The setting was probably my favourite part of the book; the Austrian Alps is its own character in the story, fulfilling lives, and taking them away all at the same time. Andreas is hard to relate to however, which may have caused my overall disconnect with the narrative. He’s very quiet, and leads a fairly mundane, hardworking existence. He lives in the same town his whole life, only venturing out twice; the first time to participate in WWII, the second time on a spur-of-the-moment bus trip that leaves him disoriented and regretting his adventurous decision. As I write this it occurs to me that Andreas himself is the reason I didn’t enjoy this book-I never really felt as though I understood him. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, so you would think that there would be lots of opportunity for Andreas to ‘muse’ on things, thus creating that connection between reader and character. But that never really happened for me, which leaves me with not much to say now that I’ve finished reading it.

Perhaps an older generation would appreciate this book more than me, I can see the general appeal in reading about someone’s life as a whole in a simple format such as this. But I’m just too busy these days: too busy to care about anything unless it strikes a particular chord within my own psyche. I feel a bit selfish admitting that, but it’s true.

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Book Review: This is Happy by Camilla Gibb

Being a parent is hard, that’s probably a universally accepted fact by now. My theory is that it’s so difficult  because it forces you to confront your personal weaknesses and shortcomings so abruptly, and all at once. Being a single parent is a challenge that I can’t even begin to fathom, as I am not in that situation personally, but when my husband travels for even a few days I find it hard. Can I imagine being on my own, all the time with a baby? No, I can’t, and to be quite honest, the thought terrifies me. However there are many incredible, strong people around us that do this every day, and they, quite frankly, deserve a medal. And a vacation, a really long vacation.

Pearl couldn't relate to the whole parenting theme, but she enjoyed it nonetheless

Pearl couldn’t relate to the whole parenting theme, but she enjoyed it nonetheless

Anyway, all of this is a lead-in to my review of the memoir by Camilla Gibb, titled This is Happy. I was afraid to read it, because I knew it was a story about being a single mother, so I assumed it would be excruciatingly painful to get through. I was wrong, it was actually a delight. Yes, it was difficult reading about the painful first few weeks with a baby (I just did that myself and didn’t really want to be reminded about how emotional it can be) but it was cathartic to read about someone else’s experiences, and Gibb was able to find the beauty and humour within these trying times, which is of course what a good writer should be able to do!

God bless this woman, and all single mothers everywhere

God bless this woman, and all single mothers everywhere

Another reason I was able to enjoy this book was because mine and Gibb’s experiences were actually very different. A large part of her story deals with grief; her partner of 10 years leaves her during her pregnancy, so Gibb is faced with the prospect of single motherhood when just weeks before she was in the throes of the very life she had been dreaming of for years. Now I’m normally a very understanding person, and I try really hard to see each side of the story before judging someone, but for the record, I HATE Gibb’s partner (nicknamed “Anne”) for leaving at this time. This wasn’t Gibb’s intention, she didn’t paint her as a villain, but I have no respect or understanding for someone who leaves their significant other when they are pregnant. Feel free to leave angry comments below about this viewpoint of mine, I don’t care.  Anne is a selfish person, and even though she ‘co-parents’ at various times in this book, this by no means makes up for what she did. Anne and Camilla had been trying for a few years at that point to get pregnant, so I just can’t get over how terribly Anne acted, but I digress.

This is Happy also focuses on Camilla’s family, who thankfully, seem to be on the upswing by the last few pages. Mental illness plagued her Father, her brother suffers from a drug addiction,  and depression rears its head every so often in Gibb’s life, so nothing is easy for anyone in this book. But surprisingly, optimism comes in the strangest ways to her; she plants beautiful gardens in her new home when her baby is still small, her live-in nanny becomes a close friend and ally, and she rekindles a relationship with her Mother (who has a super cool background, she worked for MI5 in England!!!). Much like parenting, this book has its ups and downs, but in the end, it’s always worth it. And with an accomplished writer like Gibb, it’s no surprise that the writing was a pure joy to read.

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Book Review: The Winter War by Philip Teir

Translated from Finnish into English by Tiina Nunnally, The Winter War by Philip Teir is a novel that will resonate with many people, from many difference cultures.  It recounts the slow fracturing of a middle-class family over the course of a winter, focusing a few chapters on each member’s perspective to give the reader a 360 degree view of the inevitable. The story is set against the backdrop of a freezing, Finnish winter which only adds to the heightening of emotions that swirl inside each person. But if this sounds dark and dreary, it really isn’t; in fact, I laughed out loud at quite a few sections, most of them belonging to the responsible older sister Helen. I don’t typically use quotes in my reviews, because I find them boring to read through in other reviews, but I can’t resist in this instance. I found this particular one hilarious:

Pearl loves a good family drama

Pearl loves a good family drama

Philip Teir / Nöjesfredag / 5.9.2012 by Cata Portin

Philip Teir, the author

“As in so many other places in the world, families with children had taken over the ferry…At the back of the room there was also a bar that sold beer and pre-mixed cocktails to the parents, whose survival strategy was to numb their brains just enough to forget about the fact that the ball pit was actually a colorful smorgasbord of every kind of stomach-flu virus making the rounds that winter” (p133).

Helen was full of these observations, and I suspect I found them even more funny being a new parent myself. Although we don’t hear from her much, she was by far my favourite character.

In general I found the book very well written and engaging. Stories such as this that focus on character development rather than plot development are typically something I find I plod my way through, rather than devour in a few sittings. However, The Winter War was still a page-turner for me; Teir threw in just enough unexpected developments and satisfying conflict to keep me burning through the lengthy chapters.

House of Anansi sent me this book in return for an honest review, and they included two other reviews of the book that had already been printed (which is a common practice, fyi). Surprisingly, both were not entirely positive, they  found the story ‘lacking’ in a few instances. I suppose some may find this book tedious, simply because it is slower-paced, and no big revelations occur, in fact many of the characters find themselves disappointing other people, or themselves. The depressing winter background may also put people off, especially those of us who put up with colder climates for months at a time. But I enjoyed this book; I wouldn’t call it ground-breaking (in fact it reminded me quite a bit of Hausfrau which I reviewed a few months ago), but I was invested in the characters as I read it, and I know I’ll be thinking of them even as I move onto my next book.

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Books I’ve Read in 2015

It’s that time of year again folks; it’s when I list all the books that I’ve read in one year so you can see how much reading I do and how little I  actually parent my child. No-I don’t post this list to brag, in fact, I think many people actually see it as proof that I am as lame as they suspected. And no, I don’t get out much, but when I do, I try to sneak a book into my purse so I can get a bit of reading in wherever I am.giphy

For those of you who are just seeing this list for the first time (you can check out my lists from 2013 and 2014 too), I’ll run down the rules quickly. This lists each book in the order I read it in, and I will link to my review of the book if I indeed wrote one. If I didn’t write a review, it’s not because I didn’t like it, I simply ran out of time. Keep in mind that many of the books I review I receive directly from publishers in return for an honest review (like many of my fellow book bloggers), but a small percentage of the books have been given to me by friends and family (for example, the Murder She Wrote books). No one would ever notice this, but I feel the need to mention something else; in some cases I will have read parts of one of these books previously for a book-related gig in the past, but I list the books here once I’ve read them completely. So, for instance I read parts of Matthew Thomas’s book We Are Not Ourselves in October of 2014 when I hosted the Wordfest gig he was in, but I wasn’t able to read it cover to cover until 2015.

Many of my reviews are positive, because I typically refuse to review books I know I won’t enjoy and I can usually find something good to say about almost everything I read. If you want to see me post more negative reviews, let me know in the comments section and I’ll consider upping my standards in 2016! Just kidding, don’t do that.

  1. Indian Ernie by Ernie Louttit
  2. Not the First Thing I’ve Missed by Fionncara MacEoin
  3. Wildness Rushing In by dee Hobsbawn-Smith
  4. A Crack in the Wall by Betty Jane Hegerat
  5. The First Principles of Dreaming by Beth Goobie
  6. Rose’s Run by Dawn Dumont
  7. Wiseman’s Wager by Dave Margoshes
  8. Between Clay & Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi
  9. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  10. Bark by Lorrie Moore
  11. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  12. The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith
  13. Neverhome by Laird Hunt
  14. What I Meant to Say: The Privates Lives of Men-Edited by Ian Brown
  15. No Man’s Nightingale by Ruth Rendell
  16. 7 Ways to Sunday by Lee Kvern
  17. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  18. Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger
  19. As Chimney Sweepers Came to Dust by Alan Bradley
  20. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  21. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
  22. If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie
  23. Suitcase City by Sterling Watson
  24. 12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen
  25. Welcome to the Circus by Rhonda Douglas
  26. A Beauty by Connie Gault
  27. Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
  28. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  29. Time Will Say Nothing by Ramin Jahanbegloo
  30. The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw
  31. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
  32. The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens
  33. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
  34. Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie
  35. A Measure of Light by Beth Powning
  36. The Incarnations by Susan Barker
  37. Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
  38. Wake the Stone Man by Carol McDougall
  39. In Another Country by David Constantine
  40. His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay
  41. Blackout by Sarah Hepola
  42. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
  43. Under Major Domo Minor by Patrick deWitt
  44. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
  45. Close to Hugh by Marina Endicott
  46. Honeydew by Edith Pearlman
  47. Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
  48. The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel
  49. The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger
  50. The Wrong Cat by Lorna Crozier
  51. Ghostly-Edited by Audrey Niffenegger
  52. One Night Markovitch by Ayelet Gundar-Gostaven
  53. Long Change by Don Gillmor
  54. Sutterfeld, You are Not a Hero by Tom Stern
  55. Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
  56. The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair (this was a parenting book I read, and because I have no idea what I’m doing as a parent, I don’t feel comfortable writing reviews on parenting books quite yet)
  57. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
  58. Manhattans & Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
  59. Yuletide Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
  60. The Winter War by Philip Teir (review to be posted shortly)
  61. This is Happy by Camilla Gibb (review to be posted shortly)

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New Year, New Look

I was getting sick of the way my blog looked before, so I gave it an update, thanks to the fine themes they have available through wordpress. I personally find change difficult, but I hope you, dear readers, appreciate this transformation, because I would like my blog to be more user-friendly; if you can’t find what you’re looking for on my site, than that’s not good for anyone! Thankfully they made it easy for me, because changing the format of this site stretches the very limits of my formatting abilities. That being said, I’d  love to hear your thoughts on ivereadthis’s new look.

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Book Review: Murder, She Wrote: Murder Never Takes a Holiday by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

It’s Christmas, and I have the perfect way of celebrating: settling down with a cozy mystery featurning my favourite detective, Jessica Fletcher. But Santa has been kind to me this year, and brought not one, but two Murder, She Wrote (MSW) books my way. Murder Never Takes a Holiday features two Christmas-related stories within it: Manhattans & Murder, and A Little Yuletide Murder. A wonderful aunt gave me this collection a few years ago, and I’ve been saving it up ever since so I could indulge during the holidays season-and it was worth the wait!

As I’ve stated in an earlier review of an MSW book on this blog, Donald Bain is the author of these fabulously entertaining reads, although Jessica Fletcher is listed as a co-author as well; which is really an adorable touch, something the entire MSW audience appreciates no doubt. And once again, we get an inside look at the real Jessica Fletcher within these pages. Something we learn about her this time is the fact that she doesn’t subscribe to a specific religion, which is surprising considering her age, but once again, another reason I love her. And I also learned that she’s a ngiphyervous flier, just like me. Of course, this has me convinced that Jessica Fletcher and I are kindred spirits, even more so than I previously thought.

IMG_20151222_170923729Manhattans and Murder was my favourite of the two stories, it takes place during one of Jessica’s press tours over the Christmas season, when she witnesses an old acquaitence being gunned down in the middle of the street. I preferred this one simply because it involved her ‘book life’ a little bit more. It describes her book signings, press appearances, publisher relationship, etc. Being a book-lover first, and mystery-lover second, this is one of the reasons why the character of Jessica Fletcher is so appealing to me.

A Little Yuletide Murder takes place in her hometown of Cabot Cove, where a local man is found dead in his barn just a few weeks before their famous Christmas festival. Of course, she solves both mysteries with a little help along the way, and everything always ends well: the true hallmark of a cozy mystery. Although I enjoy watching the tv episodes that take place in Cabot Cove, I much prefer to read about Jessica’s adventures elsewhere, it’s better at keeping your attention as a reader.

I can’t say I have much in the way of criticisms of this collection; both books were just what I needed this holiday season; reading them is like watching the television show: pleasant, calming, and quick. I suppose I’m a bit biased because I’m such a huge fan of the Murder She Wrote franchise that I can’t really find any fault with the books based on the series either. Oh well, ’tis the season to be generous, right? Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you also get the chance to curl up with a great book sometime over the next few days!

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Book Review: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Before I began writing the review for Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg, I googled Clegg, just to see what I could find on him, as this can colour my thoughts on a book. I knew for sure that he would have a website, because he’s also a literary agent, so he knows how important it is for authors to market themselves. But what I discovered was very interesting; he has two different sites, one for his recent novel, and one for his memoirs from a few years back. I’m not sure why he would do this, most likely due to the fact that he had two different publishers, and they are both still managing marketing for his different books. But still, why wouldn’t he take control of his image and merge these sites together? Or is he trying to make a strong delineation between his fiction and non-fiction by doing this? You can see how the simple fact of his having two different websites has me second guessing the intentions of this author…at the very least I’m much more curious about him now than when I first started reading his novel!

Smokey particularly enjoyed the understated cover of this book

Smokey particularly enjoyed the understated cover of this book

No matter how many websites he has, his writing is without a doubt, fantastic. It’s detailed enough to be intelligent and thought provoking, but not so full of adjectives that you can’t discern what’s going on. The plot of his book moved back and forth effortlessly, and although it jumped around in time, I could easily follow along. It was obvious to me that Clegg has been in publishing for a long time, he didn’t make rookie mistakes that debut novelists typically do (over-stating things, employing too much useless detail, including over-wrought narratives, etc.) and it was clear that he knew the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of creative writing.

So is this book amazing? One I would recommend to anyone and everyone? I would definitely recommend this book to those who want to discover a new writer. Clegg is on the right path and will undoubtedly come up with more stories that will be lauded by critics everywhere. But, something in this book didn’t ring true to me, and I think it was the overwhelming cast of characters.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like it when I have difficulty keeping track of character names in books. Considering I typically read one book in the span of one week, it’s usually easy for me to keep everyone’s names straight, seeing as I get through significant chunks each day. However, Clegg’s novel included such a wide range of characters with first person perspectives, some with only a few pages, I had to pause every so often and think “now who is that again?”.

That alone isn’t a reason to dislike a book, and let me be clear, I didn’t dislike this book, in fact I enjoyed it. But Clegg still has some work to do on his road to literary stardom, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for his next novel with high hopes.

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