Monthly Archives: December 2014

Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (2003)


The most heartbreakingly honest book told from the perspective of a 15-year old boy, Christopher, with autism. The book was published years ago and received a lot of buzz for being such a unique view. There are enough reviews of this book out there, but I’m just going to say that I highly recommend reading this.

I have worked with special needs children for a number of years and if I’ve learned anything, its that you need patience, self-awareness, and a sense of humour. If you take the job too seriously, you wouldn’t be able to function. I understand that Mark Haddon also works with special needs kids and wrote this book based on his experiences. His writing makes the need to have patience, self-awareness, and a sense of humour, all the more apparent.

I’ve knows some wonderful kids, and some great parents. But I’ve also seen the toll that having to care for a child with special needs can take on family life and relationships. Even though this book is told from Christopher’s point of view, you, as the reader, understand what is happening with his parents and in a way can sympathize with what they are dealing with.

The novel is insightful and well written. Haddon finds the perfect balance between heartbreak and humour, and tells the honest story of what life is like for a 15-year old boy with autism, and for those who care for him.

Special Post – Christmas Roundup

I got some pretty great literary themed gifts for Christmas this year, and I wanted to share them all with you. Thank you to all my family and friends for knowing me well enough to know that you can never go wrong with buying me books.

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First up is a set of Reader’s Teas from Indigo. The box states “There is nothing more agreeable than the voice of a book and the quiet of a cup of tea,” and I happen to agree. I love White Teas and am especially excited to the the White Anjou Pear. Now just to find the right book to pair it with.

2014-12-28 20.32.36From the One of a Kind Craft Show come this literary inspired pillow. My apartment is lacking in book related decor, and I love the sentiment expressed on this pillow; “I open a book, it opens my heart.” The pillow is from Lois Ward of Goodlines Décor, based in London Ontario, who makes all her products out of pre-loved fabric and non-toxic ink. You can check out her site and where to buy her products on her webpage.

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Also from the One of a Kind Craft Show is this bookbinding kit from Sprout’s Press. I posted a while ago about how much I loved everything at the Sprout’s Press booth and was so excited to open this on Christmas day. I can’t wait to try my hand at binding my own journal and will be sure to share my experience on this blog.

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Obviously a number of books were on my Christmas wish list. Santa must read this blog because Lena Dunham and Amy Poehler are both hilarious women as well as strong female role models, and anyone who reads my blog knows what a winning combination those two things are. I cannot wait to start reading these so that I can fall in love with both women even more.

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Last but not least, everyone knows that I am constantly carrying multiple books around with me and always have a need for good book bags. The one on the left depicts Queen Street West and was crafted by No Place Utopia, which creates beautiful Toronto themed artwork and decor. The tote with the typewriter is also from the One of a Kind Craft Show and was crafted by Made in Brockton Village. Both of these will definitely come in handy when lugging around my collection.

Finally I also received a gift certificate to Indigo and am torn on which books to buy. Right now I am pretty much set on The Tastemakers by David Sax, and The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray. Anything can happen when I step into a bookstore however, and I have a feeling I will be needing one of my new book bags to carry home all my purchases.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and has a very happy New Year.

Margaret Powell – Below Stairs (1968)


Merry Christmas Everyone, I have still decided to post a review today so enjoy!

Any fan of Downton Abbey will love this true story of what it was like to be a kitchen maid in an English estate in the 1920s. Margaret Powell details the events of her life, including her childhood living in poverty to her many years in service to multiple families. She points out that, as was the case with most other girls, often entering the service was the best option available.

The families that Powell worked for however, were not always similar to the Grantham’s in Downtown Abbey. She did work on some large estates, but also spent a number of years working for upper to middle class families that only employed a handful of people. Powell always knew she wanted to be a cook (as opposed to a kitchen maid) and was able to achieve this goal by working for families of the middling class.

Powell tells her story with humor that only years of time away from the job could provide. It clearly was not nearly as glamorous as Downton Abbey makes it out to be, and many of the families she worked for barely even knew her name let alone spoke to her like a human being. Fans of the show however, will appreciate this entertaining and more realistic view of what life was really like Below Stairs.

Elizabeth Wurtzel – Bitch in Praise of Difficult Women (1998)


If you can work through the fact that this is essentially a diatribe full of huge contradictions, confusing digressions and more pop culture references than and episode of Gilmore Girls, you’ll find that Wurtzel’s book is actually quite an honest and insightful look at women who have traditionally been seen as a “pain in the ass”

The book is a celebration of “improper women”; those who are too selfish, vulgar, violent, or even too beautiful. Wurtzel has no time or place for the traits of the “good girl” – submissive, selfless, and the dreaded “nice” – and insists that to be a “bad girl” means to be completely liberated. Unfortunately society has made life difficult for the bad girls of history and most have led pretty miserable lives (an homage to Sylvia Plath)

This seems to be the root or Wurtzel’s argument but I’m not sure if I’ve even gotten to the bottom of what she’s trying to say. There are points where I had moments of clarity and thought I was following only to have her completely contradict herself in the next chapter. (She hates traditional good girls but saves her greatest praise for the subtle, serene detachment of Grace Kelley and Audrey Hepburn) I guess in a way it made a bit of sense, nothing is as black and white as the “good-girl/bad-girl” or even better “virgin/whore” dichotomy. Being a woman is complicated and many do not fit into these incredibly narrow definitions. It’s a bit unfortunate that Wrutzel could not find her driving point, but I guess on some level it works. This is a difficult read and not for the fait of heart.

Junot Díaz – The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)


This was one of the most unique, well written, and well flowing books I’ve read. Not to mention, Yunior, is probably the most fascinating narrator that you’ll ever meet. The novel follows Oscar De Leon, an overweight Dominican teenager growing up in New Jersey who is obsessed with science fiction and fantasy.

The novel opens with an explanation of fukú – “a curse or a doom of some kind: specifically the curse and the doom of the new world.” And the zafa – a counter spell of the fukú. The story then alternates between the story of Oscar and his search for love, and the lives of various members of his family including his rebellious sister Lola, and his mother’s life living in the Dominican Republic under Trujillo. Later the narrator Yunior, reveals himself to be Oscar’s roommate and Lola’s boyfriend.

The story is a non-traditional one, but still contains all the elements of a classic coming-of-age story. It is heartbreaking but also magical making heavy use of references to popular culture due to Oscar’s obsessions with things like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. The insights and history of life under Trujillo’s regime are painful and honest. The book just flowed with such a rhythm that it was almost impossible to put down.

Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace (1996)


I have previous stated elsewhere that I only enjoy Margaret Atwood’s dystopian futures. Alias Grace is not a dystopian future, but is historical fiction, which is my favourite genre. While it took me a while to get into the story, Atwood likes to switch between the perspective of a doctor and the perspective of Grace herself which makes the story feel disjointed at times, I fell into its pace quickly.

Alias Grace, is Atwood’s take on the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. While I had originally anticipated the book to be Atwood’s reconstruction of the events, the story was much more. The novel is not an attempt to blame Grace Marks for the murders, nor is it an attempt to dissolve her from guilt. It took me a while to realize what Atwood was trying to do, but from my point of view she was trying to show the how Grace Marks was viewed at the time, especially through the eyes of a (fictional) doctor conducting research into criminal behavior, and the media. Atwood also writes from Grace’s point of view regarding events leading up to the murders and after her conviction but when written from Grace’s point of view, the reader is not sure if Grace is speaking or thinking, thus if the events are true, making this read even more intriguing.

There is no question that Atwood is a wonderful story teller and she spins the story of Grace Marks in such a twisted and interesting way. While Grace is the main character in the story, the reader never gets a true grasp on who she really is. Even through her own perspective, Grace’s character seems to shift into all the different roles ascribed to her, a murderess, a seducer, an innocent servant tricked by a jealous farmhand. Just as historically no one was sure if Grace Marks was guilty or not, the reader is left similarly wondering the same thing.

Mindy Kaling – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (2011)


Another hilarious read from another incredibly funny woman. Through her writing Mindy Kaling reveals that she is a completely different person from her character on the Office. (Also on the Mindy Project although this book was published before the show started)

The best parts of her book included her anecdotes and stories about the Office, and her sworn “frien-imie” Rainn Wilson. I was always jealous of Mindy’s and B.J Novak’s interactions in real life (twitter arguments, instagram fights, etc) and her stories about working with Rainn make me even more jealous.

Mindy is a great writer, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering her main role on the office was that of a writer. I think that in most cases her character takes over, and people forget that she is a writer first, and an actress second. My only criticism was that at times, Kailing appears to be trying a bit too hard to be Tina Fey. That being said, Bossypants was amazing so I can’t blame her. I also just have to say, I don’t think anyone will ever understand how much I appreciated Mindy’s desire to remake A League of Their Own. That movie is flawless, much like Mindy herself.

Serve With
Chai Spice Cupcakes! Like Mindy these cupcakes are cute, delicious, and amazingly simple to make. View the recipe here!

Carolos Ruiz Zafón – The Angel’s Game (2009)


How do you improve on perfection? With perfection I’m talking about Shadow of the Wind, my absolute favourite book. The Angel’s Game, its prequel, was a good book, but I was so, so, so very disappointed with it. Shadow of the Wind, Zafon’s first book, was just so good, and I feel like everything that comes after, will pale by comparison.

The Angel’s Game is technically a prequel to Shadow of the Wind, and while some places will seem familiar, like the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere & Sons bookshop, the events of The Angel’s Game do not have any real connection to the story told in Shadow of the Wind.

Zafón is still an amazing writer, and his storytelling abilities have no limits. He weaves this beautiful tale and a complicated multi-layered story that keeps the reader turning the page, wanting more. The climax however felt rushed and was a bit of a mess. The twist in Shadow of the Wind was so carefully constructed and completely unexpected. The Angel’s Game however ends with too many twists and maybe even a few too many corpses.

I would honestly recommend reading this book before Shadow of the Wind. It was still a great read, but didn’t seem that way after having Shadow of the Wind first. After all how do you improve on perfection?

The One of a Kind Craft Show

Today was the last day of the One of a Kind Craft Show in Toronto. I wanted to share some of the literary crafts that Sprouts Press Designs had to showcase. In addition to beautiful handcrafted journals, the booth also had these adorable Christmas Ornaments for “Christmas Curmudgeons” all containing pages from Charles Dickens’ works. I also loved the idea of a bookbinding kit which contains all the materials you need to make your own hardbound journal. If that’s not enough, Sprouts Press also offers bookbinding workshops. Check out their upcoming workshops and products on their webpage.

Rick Fontes – The Time of the Preacher (2014)


Rick Fontes’, The Time of the Preacher, will appeal to anyone who has a love of the Western genre. While the book has some issues, it proved to be a fast paced and enjoyable read.

Fontes’ book centers around the character of Brian McFee, an Irish immigrant who get’s mixed up in some questionable dealing in the Western United States before trying to reform himself by becoming a preacher. Unfortunately the Irishman’s past follows him, and he never gains full control of his temper.

While the story is compelling, at times things feel a bit rushed. Fontes definitely could have spent some more time on character development and flushing out the details of the plot instead of trying to make it a fast-paced, like many other Westerns. I would have loved some more information about Brian McFee’s past, and it could have definitely added another dimension to the character. The character of Salome too, who generally plays the role of a victim throughout the novel, could use some more development. There were a number of times when I didn’t really understand the motivations behind her actions.

I did appreciate that Fonte’s did not get too attached to his characters, and acknowledged their flaws. With a bit more editing and time, this novel has real potential to be quite something.