The Clay Girl- Heather Tucker

Heather Tucker has created some kind of magical being in Ari Appleton in The Clay Girl. I loved this book. I loved the chaotic mess of Ari’s life, being told from this touching and alive prose, and the way the story was horrific but never overbearing due to the writing style.

The Clay Girl is focused on our narrator Ari, her father who kills himself at the beginning of the story, her worthless mother and her five sisters. We also meet a caring step-father, a dick of a step-father, wonderful teachers and friends, some unlikely kinship in step siblings and a pair of spectacular aunts. Ari has the most chaotic life, but also the biggest heart and it is always a mystery how she manages to not let the world bring her down to a mean asshole status. The book is set in the 1960’s between Toronto and Cape Breton and I feel that Tucker really gets the setting right, the book has a real good feel to it and it’s almost like you can taste the decade.

Ari’s imaginary seahorse Jasper is a wonderful addition, not a self defeating seahorse but one that is a voice of calm and reason. How Ari manages to see the best in everyone I have no idea, but in the end we see how the resilience of the human spirit is stronger than anything we could have ever imagined.

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PS- I read on Heather Tucker’s website that there is a sequel and I am just praying that a publisher picks it up soon!

 

 

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Radiant Shimmering Light- Sarah Selecky

radiant lightIf you have read some of my posts before, you might know I have a bit of a problem with the whole “branding of influencers” and having a “personal brand” and people always advertising products. Sometimes I feel like Instagram is just a place where people can try to sell you things and make believe their life is perfect.  I also have a bit of an issue with people trying to sell “safe-care”. The self-care industry is worth billions of dollars in North America, with people shelling out money everyday for crystals, malas, and energy aligners. I don’t necessarily think that this is bad per say, but I do think there is something wrong with trying to get people (mostly women) to buy things they don’t need to make themselves feel better, getting into more debt and ending up feeling worse. And most of the people who sell these items are white women, but that’s a whole other story. Let’s get back to the book.

This book is about Lillian, a pet portrait artist, who is barely getting by, but feels pretty content in her life, in most ways. She has always looked up to her cousin, Florence but has been out of touch for many years, due to the fighting of their mothers. Lillian is someone who spends too much time on Instagram, comparing herself to others. It is through the world of online media that she realizes her cousin has re-branded herself as “Eleven” and is now a powerful lifestyle guru. She sees that Eleven is holding an event in Toronto and receives a surprise message inviting her to come along for free! From this meeting Lillian ends up moving to New York to work for Eleven at the “Temple” and “find herself.” Of course once Lillian gets there it is a whole new world to figure out, a world of appearances, newsletters, selling products and “being your best self”.

This satirical and humourous book made me think a lot. I couldn’t put it down, I found the story very compelling and written in a very unique voice. It felt a lot different than most of the books I read, in a good way. I like how the author put in email newsletters from a lot of the characters directly into the book, they made me laugh and were so telling of the world we live in today.

It made me feel a little bit better about the appearances people give us and the way we are all hiding behind perfection. Maybe at the very least, it’s going to make me pull back a bit from constant comparison to others and the chase of a non exsisting perfection.

Also, I liked the ending, the way we are left wondering what choices Lillian has made and not knowing for sure. I am hoping the best for her.

 

 

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

simonEvery now and then I just love to read YA. I also like to keep up on YA that is hot at the moment and I kept seeing information about this book. It might have something to do with the fact that is it now a movie, Love Simon but I really wanted to be in the know. Was the hype worth it?!

Simon vs. The Sapiens Agenda is a lighthearted book with a heavier underlying theme about being gay and coming out to your family. Simon is a 17 year old high-school boy who has come to the realization that he is gay and part of this is through his emails to the anonymous Blue, someone who he knows goes to his school, but has no idea who he is. With Blue he feels like he can really be himself and reveal his true feelings and he is sure Blue feels the same way. So why is he resisting meeting in real life so much? And once someone at Simon’s school discovers the emails and is blackmailing him, will this all blow up in his face?

I am a sucker for a good romance and this book certainly has that “cute I am going to squeal” teen love feel.  But it also had underlying themes of accepting yourself for who you are and how you feel, even if it is different that everyone else. I also love the mystery aspect to it. I was honestly guessing, trying to figure out the whole time who Simon was emailing and I really wanted to know! And Becky Albertalli got me, I didn’t guess it until it was revealed to me.

A sweet, heartwarming book that I believe could be loved by all ages.

 

The Year of Less- Cait Flanders

You know after I finished this book, I was not sure I liked it. I have been very into social justice lately, and something about this book just rubbed me the wrong way. I felt that the author’s viewpoint was one of privilege, and that does not mean that it is not valid, just that I had a hard time relating to most of it.

However, I finished the book on Saturday and I have not stopped thinking about it.

Essentially, Cait stops shopping for a year, gives away 70% of her belongings and tries to save a large portion of her income. I would not call this book “self-help” and might put it more in the “memoir” category. And even though there is much I can not relate to, including stopping myself from buying take-out coffee lately and splurging on books (I already only make coffee at home and use the library) there are always points in our life where we can see we have abundance and we can cut back. This book served as inspiration for me.

I tend to be a second hand shopper, but I often shop for things I don’t need. I am a real “I am just going to take a cruise into Winners and see if there is anything on sale” kind of person. I wonder why I am still in debt, yet am such a “smart shopper”. Well, I do buy things I don’t need, that much is clear and just because something is cheap does not mean I have to buy it. I pride myself on getting good deals, but wouldn’t the better deal have been to never buy it at all?

This book did work for me then, in a way, because it has caused me to take a good long look at my own spending habits and commit to less. I am putting myself on a three month “shopping ban” and I will see how that goes. I don’t NEED anything. I have plenty of clothes, makeup and beauty supplies. Of course I will still buy food, gas for my car and I am not cutting myself off of drinks with friends, or a dinner out. Just STUFF. I don’t need any more stuff, mindlessly buying books because shipping is free or clothes because jeans are on sale, or nail polish because I see a good deal. No longer. I just want to be mindful of what I am buying and make sure I see that I already have more than I need.

I already have everything I need is my motto. And I hoping that when these three months are over I will have my debts paid off. I am almost there and I know with a little clarity it can be done.

BLESS.

the year of less

 

Little Fires Everywhere- Celeste Ng

Every now and then I just need to read a good story that I can’t put down, a story that makes you go to bed at 9:30, so that you can give yourself an hour and half to read. I have been reading a lot of heavy non-fiction lately, so this was a good change.  I picked up Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng on Sunday from the “Rapid Reads” shelf at the public library, and here we are, early Tuesday morning and I am finished. I knew this book was popular and kept seeing it written and Twitted about by book people and I am glad I finally read it. This is a good story, essentially about the complicated relationships between mother and daughters. It is an easy and quick read and very capivating.

The Plot

This book centers around the Richardson family. A perfect family with four children, hard-working parents, wealth and ease. They live in Shaker Heights, a near-perfect community, where the rules are tight and the plans are tighter. Enter Mia, and her teenager daughter Pearl, the new tenants of Mrs. Richardson’s rental home in the community.  Everyone in the Richardson home (except the dad, we never really get deep into him) becomes in some way, obsessed with the new arrivals and their artsy-vagabond lifestyle, so different from their own.

As their tidy world begins to unravel a bit, we learn a bit about what it means to be perfect on the outside, but not on the inside, dreams we might have buried deep inside and the secrets in our past that might define us. We see that as much as we might try to plan our lives, keep everything in perfect lines and planned out to a tee, there is always going to be something inside of us threatening to rumble out.

A legal battle over a Chinese American baby is at the center of it all, with strong opposing sides breaking between the family and their new tenants. Does the baby belong with her mother, who made a big mistake while overwhelmed, or with her rich, white adoptive parents? I think the book does a good job at looking at many aspects of the complicated issues of what makes a mother.

A fast paced character driven novel, easy to devour, like sugar.

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Forgiveness- Mark Sakamoto

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Mark Sakamoto’s Forgiveness is on the short list for the CBC Canada Reads prize this year, and as I write this, it is one of three left in the running to win the whole shebang.

I really liked this book, I thought it has both emotional and historical value. I mean I know that men from Canada fought in WWII (my great grandfather was one of them) and I know that Canada detained the Japanese at the same time, but I learned a lot more about both of these events through this book. I also learned about personal forgiveness and the power of letting go.

Mark Sakamoto is the son of a white, Scottish mother and a Japanese father. His grandmother on the Japanese side was detained during WWII and lost her place in the world, her home of Vancouver and was sent basically, to do slave labour at a sugar beet farm in Alberta, newborn baby in tow. His grandfather spent four years in a Japanese detainment camp during WWII and almost lost his life many times. Yet both of these strong figures were able to get past the obstacles set in front of them and love their grandson and support the union of his parents.

Mark faces his own demons, through difficult relationships with his parents and learns his own meaning of forgiveness. I think most of us have a fear of forgiveness, because sometimes holding on to resentment can be a safety blanket.

This book has many layers and overall is a wonderful story of the power of human forgiveness and moving on. The things that happen in the book prove that people are stronger than we think and can get past anything with resilience and love.

Also this book made me cry, and I am not a crier. Sakamoto melted my cold, cold heart.

 

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Octavia E. Butler- Lilith’s Brood

Well, I finally finished Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler and it was a BIG one. This whopper comes in at 746 pages and let me tell you, it uses small print! This book is a collection of an entire series and includes three books in one: Dawn, Adulthood and Imago. 

lilith's broodI was at my short story book club last month when we read one of Octavia E. Butler’s short stories. I really enjoyed it, and is often the case, Googled a bit more about her. I was shocked to learn that I had never read her before. Octavia E. Butler died in 2006, but she was a pioneer in the sci-fi industry for being both a woman and black and is deemed the creator of “afrofuturism”.

Also she was 6 feet tall by the time she was 15 (same as me) so we are like soul sisters. There is something about a fellow tall woman that just gets my blood going, you know?

Man, this woman could write! And the imagination and world she creates is truly astonishing. She tackles so much ahead of her time, including gender issues, black women in power and the certain demise of our earth.

It is hard to know where to start in a collection like this, other than to tell you to read it. It sends you to another world, literally, and truly has everything you could want in a book. Romance, weird sex stuff, adventure, non-binary gender and excitement!

The series centers around Lilith, one of the few human survivors discovered alive by aliens after humans had a giant war and completely fucked up their planet. Wow, how surprising? (I say this with jest, as sometimes I  believe that is where we are heading). Lilith has been in suspension for 250 years, “saved” by her rescuers, the powerful, unearthly, three gendered beings, the Oankali. The Oankali are basically this crazy alien race that are drawn to other specifies and to healing others, by merging genetically with humankind. In order to help humankind, they need to mate with them, otherwise there is no way humans will survive. However, the Oankali will not let anyone survive on their own. Mate with them or be infertile forever. They have chosen Lilith as their “helper” someone to wake and train the remaining humans. But will they accept the Oankali and Lilith’s help or will they resist these strange beings and become dangerous?

So much amazing literary comments on humankind, the problems with our species and the way we act to destroy ourselves, this is a must read. I don’t want to tell you too much else. I started it without knowing much about it, and I dove headfirst into this oddly beautifully complex trilogy.

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Here So Far Away- Hadley Dyer

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Here So Far Away is written by award winning YA author Hadley Dyer.  The novel is set in the early 1990’s and is centered around George (she goes by her middle name), a typical misunderstood teenager just trying to escape her mundane existence. She is living in a small town “where bean sprouts were still considered an ethnic food” and is itching to graduate and leave town, and to not end up like her parents. The precious edge of adulthood just around the corner, George is often misunderstood, lonely and isolated by her too earnest nature. She ends up driving most of her friends away, subsequently falling for an older guy who moves to town, someone who she believes “gets her” even as she pretends to be years older than her age. She imagines herself as an adult having grown up conversations where she doesn’t mispronounce words, a time where everything is better, just by being with him. George has to learn who she is and how to stand on her own feet. We read as she experiences her first pangs of love, how to balance this newfound feeling with friendship, and the loss of friends you thought you knew. The story has many layers, including her depressed and injured father, a lovely friendship with an elderly man, and a sweet brother with an adorable Victorian disposition. The novel can be heavy at times and might be best suited for older teenagers or adults.

Dyer writes with an authentic voice, like she has captured the very tortured soul of being a teenage girl, deep with distraught when everything feels so helpless. Her characters are real and occasionally shocking with their cattiness and self-hatred. Any reader can relate to the yearning to just be different, to just grow up, to finally escape the mundanity of adolescence.

The writing is often very witty, yet Dyer goes for the jugular and in the end creates a heartbreaking novel dealing with secrets, loss, and the mess that arises from not living truthfully.