What I Read – August 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden (Del Rey, 2017)

Teardown – Clea Young (Free Hand Books, 2016)

Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 – Naoki Higashida (Random House, 2017)

The Golden House Salman Rushdie (Random House, 2017)

Currently Reading:

The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf

The Wind is not a River – Brian Payton

The Wonderling – Mira Bartok

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Book Review: Himself by Jess Kidd

Himself – Jess Kidd (Atria Books, 2017)

When I think of books to compare Himself to, nothing springs to mind. When I think of how to describe Himself, the first word that comes to me is “Irish”. This book is very Irish. From the setting to the dialogue, maybe even to the mystical elements it contains.

Mahoney, an orphan from a young age, a crook, and a very charming man, returns to Mulderrig, the town he was born in. His mother was a wild young girl who scandalized the town before disappearing with her baby boy. Popular opinion says she got on a bus and left, abandoning her baby soon after, but some in Mulderrig believe that she met a more sinister event and so Mahoney begins to investigate.

He does so with the help of an eccentric, elderly former actress and together they launch a play, using the it as an opportunity to interview the people of the town and to try and piece together what really happened. To further complicate matters, Mahoney sees dead people.

While this might sound like it launches the book into the realm of fantasy, Kidd deftly creates this gift of second sight as a defining characteristic of Mahoney. Without it, he might be just another sleazy, good-looking charmer, flirting with the ladies of the town (who certainly don’t seem to mind). However, Mahoney’s constant visions and interactions with the dead around him lend him a depth and a backstory that make his character all the more fascinating. He is haunted and amused and confused by the dead around him, left wondering why his own mother never appears to him, and how much he can trust or understand the stories they tell him. His own true history is slowly pieced together by his interactions with both the living and the dead and it certainly creates a unique type of mystery story.

As a first novel, Himself is very impressive. While it has its uneven parts, it shows a unique voice and a great deal of creativity and I look forward to seeing more from Kidd.

The Rest of the Summer (So Far)

Bella and Pearl – summer beach buddies

As August quickly approaches its end, we’ve started to look ahead to the fall in our household. Peter’s work schedule changes to its more regular hours in a couple weeks and so the rhythm of our days will revert back to its more ordinary flow. In the meantime, we are enjoying our last days of summer. It’s been a good one.

Beach Pearl

We’ve spent as much time as we can at the beach, whether it’s the one near our house or slightly further afield. We’re fortunate to live in a land of beaches, though most of them tend to be pretty rocky. This summer we’ve definitely had our favourites and have tried to take advantage of low tides where hidden sand bars are revealed. Pearl is not much for ocean swimming yet (she’ll wade) but she’s enjoyed splashing around, building castles, and searching for crabs.

Some dear friends of ours came to visit and we loved being able to host them. These are friends we’ve had since before Peter and I were married and we’ve watched each other get engaged, celebrated weddings together, and welcomed each others children. Pearl falls right in between their two boys age-wise and in previous visits, the kids haven’t interacted much. This time, they quickly became friends and it was wonderful to watch our friendship continue into the next generation.

Klein Lake

After our friends left, we headed up to Pender Harbour for a short camping stint. One night is a good amount of time for us at this stage of our lives so we opted to try out Klein Lake, a place neither of us had visited before. It was the perfect spot for camping with a two year old – quiet and right by the lake. We brought up our rowboat and Pearl loved “rowing”. If you ask her about camping now she’ll tell you that she slept in a tent, ate noodles, and that mum fell on the dock. All true.

Pearl’s first Pirate Pak

We made a quick trip to Vancouver to visit with family (fun!) and go to Ikea (less fun!). The older Pearl gets the more fun she has with her older cousins. She works hard to keep up with them. She also got to enjoy her first ever Pirate Pak. For those not from BC, this is a childhood classic. Basically, the kids menu at a restaurant chain here comes in these pirate boats and you can only order them until you’re ten. We’ve just begun needing to order Pearl her own meal at restaurants so our days of dining out as a family are limited.

Courtesy of her older cousins, Pearl came home with this balance bike. She loves it and is so good at racing around on it already. I love it because it’s turned out to be a great way to get her to the park and back at a decent pace. (We’ve only had to abandon it halfway in the midst of a temper tantrum once so far!)

Seven years!

Peter and I recently celebrated seven years of marriage and we were able to take a night away, just the two of us. (Thank the Lord for grandparents!) This was actually the first time we’ve both been away together since Pearl was born. We didn’t go far – a night at the Ruby Lake Resort in Pender Harbour – but it was so good to get away, just the two of us. We also had an amazing meal at the Italian restaurant there and spent time the next day swimming and canoeing on the lake. I’m so thankful that after seven years of marriage (and ten years together total) we still really like spending time together.

Canoe on Ruby Lake

Book Review: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (Blumhouse Books, 2017)

Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero (Blumhouse Books, 2017)

If you ever thought that the Scooby Gang probably needed therapy as adults, this book is for you.

Set in the 1990s, the action of Meddling Kids takes place a decade or so after the final case of the Blyton Summer Detective Club. Four kids (and their dog) foil the plans of a grown man in a monster costume, finally lying to rest the persistent rumours of a lake monster. Now adults, the three surviving members (and a new generation of dog) have never returned to Blyton Hills. Andy’s spent time in prison, Nate’s in a mental hospital, and Kerry (the brilliant one) drinks too much. Peter’s been dead for years but Nate still talks to him a lot.

Suspecting there was more to their final case than the man in the monster suit, Andy rounds up the gang and they return to Blyton Hills to confront their demons. Both literal and figurative. Turns out, a lake monster may be the least of their concerns.

I never watched much Scooby Doo so there may be references that I missed out but I don’t think it mattered much. This story is pure entertainment. Over the top with necromancers, monsters from space, immortal beings, and accidental spells. It’s got a few twists and it’s lots of fun. The characters aren’t particularly deep but are interesting enough that I enjoyed their interactions and it was easy to cheer for them. Realistic fiction this is not but if you’re looking for a fun, fantastical, and a little bit nostalgic read, you may enjoy Meddling Kids.

Book Review: Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

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Stay with Me – Ayobami Adebayo (Knopf, 2017)

I really enjoyed this novel from first time author Ayobami Adebayo. Stay With Me is set in Nigeria, beginning in the early years of marriage between Yejide and Akin. They meet in university and have an instant connection. Despite polygamy being a common occurrence in Nigeria at this time, they agree that this will not be the case for their marriage. However, four years later and no children, their relationship is beginning to be strained, particularly by the pressure of Akin’s family. Until one day Akin secretly marries a second wife.

While the impetus for the unraveling of this relationship – polygamy – isn’t one that will be familiar to most Western readers, it really doesn’t matter in this well-crafted novel. What’s really at stake here is a marriage and the trust and intimacy that goes along with that. Adebayo beautifully captures the vulnerability that comes with betrayal in the relationship that we should expect to be safe1st within.

Also at the centre of this novel is motherhood, infertility, and loss. These made the book a hard and often emotional read for me and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear other parents find the same. Adebayo tiptoes along the edge of the unbelievable with some rather extraordinary events but the emotions at the centre of her characters’ choices remains honest and believable. It helps that in Yejide she creates a legimate character, a woman who is smart and independent and not reliant on the husband she loves, despite the society she lives within.

There are a few allusions to Nigerian politics and history throughout the novel and they, mostly, feel like asides and as though they could easily be removed from the book all together. That said, the political climate and turmoil is crucial to a key event in the novel toward the end. And while my knowledge of Nigerian history is sparse, it would probably feel strange to leave out any political references at all when the book is set during a time of upheaval.

 

What I Read – July 2017

Woefully lately but in the interests of keeping track (for myself because I’m sure no one has been waiting with baited breath), here is what I read in July:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (Harper Collins Publishers, 2017)

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (Knopf, 2017)

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (Blumhouse Books, 2017)

Himself by Jess Kidd (Atria Books, 2017)

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Hogarth, 2017)7

Book Review: Teardown by Clea Young

My boss handed me a copy of Teardown after I detailed my weekend to her recently. Namely that, while in Vancouver, Peter and I went to IKEA with Pearl in tow. We hadn’t been since I was about seven months pregnant with Pearl and had looked forward to the visit. We smugly wandered through the living room furniture, the display kitchens, and the fake bedrooms before we hit meltdown in the children’s sections. (Pearl melted down and let’s just say things suddenly became more tense between my husband and I.)

“You have to read the first story in this book,” my boss told me. “Read it right now.” So I read it where I stood and then took the book home until my next shift. The first story is about a young couple, pregnant with their first child, who visit IKEA and have a pretty epic fight while doing so. (And seriously, there are a lot of pregnant women in IKEA! I had never noticed before.) This is the title story in Young’s collection and gives a great taste of what’s to come.

Young’s debut story collection is truly excellent, full of strong, honest narratives and realistic characters. Many of the stories focus on couples and many of those couples are considering children or are in the early years of parenthood so there was a lot I could relate to. The self-doubt, the exhaustion, the struggle to remain connected and passionate with your co-parent. So much here rang true and I loved Young’s barefaced honesty as she delved into the heart of relationships. We have high school sweethearts on a road trip after infidelity has been relieved. Or the young parents away for New Year’s Eve in Whistler who end up as the oldest people at a trendy night club. Or the recently displaced roommate who takes home the practise baby from the midwifery clinic where she works and things unravel strangely. Yet even when the characters are doing strange and unpredictable things, they feel understandable and sympathetic.

While the stories definitely sparked empathy in me due to where I currently am in life, I think they’re well-written and engaging enough for readers who haven’t experienced this stage of parenthood. They’re an easy length to read quickly and each one feels complete, while also making you eagerly want to jump into the next Young story.