[Book Review] The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Here’s a tip to those heading on vacation this summer, pick up a copy of The ImageVacationers by Emma Straub to read while you’re on holiday. The cover and the title were enough to convince me that this would be the perfect book to kick off my 10 day holiday to Nova Scotia. While I’m fairly positive that the characters in this book would love a visit to the beautiful East Coast of Canada, their vacation took them to a very different location. A family of four (two parents, two grown children) from Manhattan, NY pack up and head to Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean Sea for two weeks. What they hope will be an escape from reality, turns into a vacation full of truth bombs.

Franny and Jim are celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, but both are carrying a deep, dark secret. Their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high 9781594631573Hschool, but hasn’t had many experiences to date and is determined to create some on this trip. Their son, Bobby, lives in Miami selling real estate and lives with his much older girlfriend that no one really likes. They’re also traveling with family friends who are biting their nails waiting to hear if they’ll be approved to adopt a child. So as you can see, they are with some physical and metaphorical baggage.

This book is literally the definition of a beach read. I know at this time of year, the term “beach read” gets tossed around a lot, but you really will want to read this fun, light read while sitting on the beach or while you vacation at your childhood home (case in point). In full disclosure, you will be left with some unanswered questions, but you’re going to be able to create your own conclusions as to what you think happens. It’s an enjoyable, quick read that will have you handing it off to one of your friends to read, hopefully with sand on the pages.

What are some of the books you plan on reading on the beach this summer? 

[Book Review] After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

After i doBack in February, I got this book in the mail and instead of putting it on the back burner while I prepped for Fall conference like a responsible adult, I jumped right in. If you’re a frequent visitor of my blog, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s work and her newest book, After I Do delivers!

This is the story of Lauren and Ryan’s marriage. Sadly, today’s divorce rate is higher than successful marriages and like many, Lauren and Ryan are headed for the higher statistic. Arguing over petty, silly things, they are both able to recognize that there are some major cracks in their matrimony. Rather than jumping the gun, they decide to make one more attempt to fix things by agreeing to take a year off from their marriage. Their hope is that by taking a year away from one another, they’ll find a way to remember the good times and somehow find a way to fall in love with one another again. The one catch, they can’t contact the other. Both, Lauren and Ryan agree that this break from one another is the only way to take a step back and look at the big picture.

After I Do is told entirely from the perspective of Lauren and in a recent interview I conducted with TJR I asked her,

When you originally came up with the premise of After I Do, did you know that the narration would only be told from the point of Lauren?

It took me a long time to figure out how to make this a book about both Ryan and Lauren without using two narrators. I wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea of two narrators but I just felt that two narrators would turn this into too much of a He Said/She Said — a dynamic I’m actually quite fond of but one that I didn’t think worked for this. So I settled on seeing the world through one of their eyes, and Lauren seemed the most natural fit. Luckily, I found a way for Ryan to speak up throughout the book.

Ryan is well represented through this story from the eyes of Lauren’s family, who are quietly rooting for them to make it work. His voice is also well represented in a unique and creative way that I don’t want to spoil, because it adds so much depth that giving it away might spoil it for you. I do want to add, that you’ll come to fall in love with Lauren’s entire family. You don’t just scratch the surface with these characters, each and every one of them make an impression on you in the best way possible.

Mesmerizing and heart breaking at the same time, this is an unconventional love story that I’d compare to titles written by Emily Giffin and Sophie Kinsella. It has the readability factor that catches you by surprise, because you want to know, you need to know how this modern marriage experiment will play out in the end.

I’m so excited that now all of you can read it and then we can discuss the ending. This book will be available on July 1st.

Thanks to Carly Watters from the PS Literacy Agency for sending me an advanced reading copy.


[Book Review] Lazy Days by Erlend Loe

Loe - Lazy DaysYou know how you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover? Well I broke that rule when I saw the cover of Erlend Loe’s Lazy Days. Then I read the description on the back of this beautiful package of a book and I knew I was hooked. It reads,

From the bestselling author of Doppler, a wry and very funny look at the pitfalls of human existence . . . and the charms of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson.

Aspiring playwright Bror Telemann loves all things British. His wife, Nina, loves everything German. So a family holiday at the foot of the Alps, south of Munich — which Bror believes to be the birthplace of Nazism — is bound to cause tension. Especially when Bror spends the whole time virtually stalking (and constantly fantasizing about) his greatest obsession, British chef Nigella Lawson.

Can Telemann continue to bear the pressure of his empty existence? Or will his long-suffering family be the first to snap?

We’re all different people when on vacation. We let our guards down, stress goes out the windows and sometimes you do things a bit out of character. Lazy Days is the story of a Norwegian family’s holiday to Germany. Telemann isn’t a fan of Germany, his wife, Nina is a big fan. This obviously creates a lot of tension, but tension hits an all time max when you mix in an extreme crush on Nigella Lawson. Using his love and passion for theatre as an excuse to have alone time to “think”, takes the reader on a strange and sometimes hilarious journey. 

While reading Lazy Days, I was reminded of the movie, ‘This is 40′, starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd. You know at the end of the day they love one another, but you’re pretty sure that they can’t stand each other. I remember seeing this movie in theatres and thinking that it was funny, but kind of sad at the same time. That two people have disconnected in such a way that they end up resenting one another. The same premise applies in this book, you know that they have love for one another, but it’s very obvious to the reader that they’ve become disconnected, in an obvious and sad way. At one point, Nina whole-heartingly believes that she’s allergic to Telemann.

Reading this book was an interesting experience, because I found myself enjoying the writing, but not loving the characters all that much. I think that’s okay though, I think sometimes we’re not supposed to connect with the characters, so that we can learn something new and possibly look at things a little differently. Charming, smart and witty; Lazy Days is a great Saturday afternoon read.


[Book Review] Crimes Against My Brother by David Adams Richards

IMG_4757Being from the East Coast of Canada and not reading David Adams Richards seems like a bit of a crime (no pun intended), but in my case, it’s the truth. In full disclosure, I was tasked with having to read Mercy Among the Children for a Canadian Literature course, but I didn’t get around to it… I know, I’m a bad English Major. So when everyone in our office was raving about the new David Adams Richards novel, Crimes Against My Brother (on sale next Tuesday), I wanted to finally get on the DAR train and hear what all the fuss was about and I’m so glad I did, because now, I get why people classify him as a literary great. Crimes Against My Brother was a complex, smart, sad and wonderful novel.

Here’s a brief description from Goodreads:

Harold, Evan and Ian are inseparable as boys–so much so that one night, abandoned in the forest by the careless adults around them, and raging against society and the uncaring gods others worship, they seal their undying brotherhood with a blood bond. But soon after, a horrific accident scars each of them in a different way, testing their bonds and leaving each with a debt to be paid. As adults, seeking to rise above debt and advance in life, each man decides upon a very different path–but over time, all three discover they are tied to each other in intricately tangled, sometimes violent, and surprising ways that none of them has been wise enough to foresee.

Debt is the recurring theme in this 416 page novel and as we all know, debt can make people do unimaginable things and act in unthinkable ways. As the description states, all three boys share a blood bond, but the bond quickly falls apart when money gets involved. The town hustler, Lonnie Sullivan, has a system down pat when it comes to making money. He gives the boys (never men, he learned that lesson the hard way) an advance and those poor boys are forced to work long, hard hours to try to pay it back. Of course, they are never able to get ahead.

The sign of a well loved book.

The sign of a well loved book.

The act of wanting and needing more grows as the boys get older. Now with relationships with women forming, these young men take different paths to form a quick buck. There were times while reading that I was frustrated with the characters. For instance, each character (in the first part of the book) is vying to get their hands on a fortune that one man by name of Fitzroy, has piled up in his home. None of the men have earned this money, they haven’t worked for it at all, but Ian, Evan and Harold feel entitled to receive it. The whole time I was reading this part, I kept thinking, “but why do you think you deserve that money?” but as I continued to read on, I quickly realized that I think that was the point David Adams Richards was trying to make. It’s not their money, but their sense of entitlement comes from greed and their greed blinds them of any moral obligation.

I’ve been chatting about this book a lot with my pal Shona (be sure to follow her on Twitter @wayfaringreader). After three separate discussions, we both discovered that this book has a little something for everyone in it; Canadian backdrop, small town, love, greed, mystery and intrigue. We actually have so much to say about this book that we’re going to be recorded ourselves chatting about the book and our reactions on audio. Give it a listen here.

I felt smarter for having read this novel and I was disappointed in my twenty year old self for not having read David Adams Richards sooner. It was a complex, fascinating read that will leave you wanting to put it a friend’s hands just so you can discuss it with them when you finish.

*It’ll be on sale on May 13, 2014. 

Whose Book Opinion Matters to You & Why?

The other day I was watching a book haul vlog by the heavyblanks, otherwise known as Jason Purcell (@jvpurcell) and he said something that got me thinking. He says (at the 1:12 mark),

This was a book that was recommended to me by a friend of mine, whose opinion on books I trust, more than almost anyone else.

So then, naturally, I grabbed a pen and wrote down, ‘whose book opinion matters to you and why?’ I wanted to think on it and I’m getting older, so writing things down is always helpful (hehe). What I didn’t realize is that it’s actually a hard question to answer, especially when you work in the world of books. There are so many books landing on my desk at a rapid pace that sometimes I pick up something because I read the title description and I form my own opinions. Sometimes, it’s because the second I hear the authors name, I’m instantly drawn to the book. But without fail, there are five people who are always able to convince me to pick up a book based on their opinion and enthusiastic recommendations.

1. My two colleagues (and friends), Jess and Ainsley — These two women read as much as I do and although we all read differently; Jess loves historical fiction, Ainsley’s a fan of mystery and YA and I love me some Canadian literature, yet somehow we always end up reading the same books throughout the year.

Reading Racetrack

As you can see from our annual Reading Racetrack (that we keep up in Ainsely’s office), we read a lot! Last year, each of us read The Dinner by Herman Koch, The Bear by Claire Cameron and The Circle by Dave Eggers. I also picked up books I never would think of reading, because of these two. It was Ainsley who came in raving about The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and made me completely jump on the John Green train! And Jess recently had an opportunity to read an advanced copy of Jodi Picoult’s upcoming book Leaving Time and came over to my office with tears in her eyes and said “you need to read this book”. They know my taste, I know there’s and their recommendations have expanded my reading list immensely.

2. Editors Of course, one of the BEST things about working in publishing (in my opinion) are the launch meetings. This is where editors from different divisions share books they’ve recently acquired that will be on sale in upcoming spans (usually, the following year). This is where I heard that BJ Novak was writing a collection of short stories called One More Thing and it’s where I learned about the new David Adams Richards, Crimes Against My Brother. It’s always fun getting to hear what peaked the editors interest and how the plot, theme, character and author, all have a role in deciding to publish a book. Their descriptions of the plot and relationship with the authors are why I walk out of those meetings with more and more titles to add to my TBR pile.

3. Steph from Bella’s Bookshelves – I’ve been following Steph’s blog, Bella’s Bookshelves for years now and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that Steph and I read very similarly. She, too, loves Canadian literature and always has her finger on the pulse with what’s new and Steph1happening in the CanLit world. Her blog is filled with great reviews and recommendations. It’s why I picked up This Cake is for the Party by Sarah Selecky and why I first picked up the first Harry Potter book.

She doesn’t just review books, she delves into plots in such an intricate and delicate way that you’ll be opening your Goodreads app the moment you finish reading her thoughts.

She’s a  freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer (for over ten years now; clients include Thomas Allen, LtdHouse of Anansi PressECW PressUBC Press, and UOP. She also reviews for the Quill & QuireSource.

4. Books on the Nightstand — By far, Books on the Nightstand has to be my nightstand-illuminating1favourite podcast to date. Ann and Michael both have an ability to make you feel like they’re with you at a coffee shop chatting about their latest reads. The number of books I’ve picked up because of their book recommendations exceeds ten, so I’m going to refrain from sharing them all, but trust me, that they know their stuff. They also provide answers to questions and inquiries that viewers send in like, reading aloud to kids and abandoning books. If you’re not already listen to this podcast, I highly suggest starting with this one!

5. Laurie Grassi, Books Editor for Chatelaine Magazine – It was because of her book recommendations that I subscribed to Chatelaine Magazine each month (thanks Mom & Dad for the annual Christmas gift). Her thoughts on AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid are why I picked up both books.

She loves reading and is a familiar face I see out at book events where we always have great chats about the books she and I are reading. Her cover photo on Twitter (@LaurieGrassi) is a dead giveaway about her taste in literature. She knows good books and always recommends them with enthusiasm and excitement. I always find myself walking towards her book recommendations when I step into my local bookstore.

To each and everyone of you listed above, thank you for introducing me to books that I’ll continue to cherish for years to come.

These are the people who influence my reading, but I’d love it if you shared in the comments whose book opinion matters to you and why?