All The Light We Cannot See


All The Light We Cannot See Photo: Simon & SchusterI’ve been tempted by All The Light We Cannot See a few times over the past couple months, and with an upcoming trip to the UK (a pair of nine-hour flights, plus several train trips), I finally caved and loaded it up on my Kindle.

After a couple of months of very sporadic reading (ultraheavy education theory books and ultralight wedding magazines) during my first-ever teaching contract this spring, I felt I was due a good novel, and this striking piece of fiction fit the bill.

It’s truly beautiful storytelling (it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). One day, if I can write something half as good, I’ll be a very happy lady. There are two parallel storylines at play here. A young blind girl and her father, a museum locksmith, flee Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940. Meanwhile, an orphaned German boy develops a fascination with radios, which earns him a place among the Nazi military elite.

The pace of the plot is pretty much perfect, and by the time the two storylines converge, I couldn’t put the book down. Coincidentally, I started the novel as Matt and I travelled through Manchester, where we spent a few hours at the Imperial War Museum North, which has a comprehensive chronological timeline display of the impact of both world wars on everyday people. I finished it right after we arrived in London, the morning of our visit to the Imperial War Museum London, an entirely different experience with its comprehensive, stunning and sobering Holocaust exhibition. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. The whole experience made for very interesting – and very thoughtful – reading.

There’s lots to love about All The Light We Cannot See – lyrical, descriptive writing, achingly sympathetic characters, beautifully-imagined settings and the magic of radio. It stayed with me for days.

Better Than Before


Better Than Before Photo Credit: GretchenRubin.comTheoretically, one of the nicest things about being a teacher is the long summer break. And next summer, I’m sure I will enjoy the break to its fullest (especially with a wedding, honeymoon and hopefully some camping thrown into the mix). But this year, the summer isn’t exactly downtime. After all, I’ve been a full-time student for the majority of the year. With impending student loan repayments, upcoming wedding costs, a big trip to the UK and day-to-day living expenses, I can’t really afford to put my feet up completely. And, as I discovered in this interesting new read from Gretchen Rubin, I actually don’t think I’m wired that way anyway.

Athough I’m working until late August (I’ve picked up some off and on temp work, and continue to write for Avenue Calgary amid other freelancing opportunities), it’s the kind of work that leaves time for fun reading. Enter Better Than Before, the latest offering from the author of The Happiness Project (which, incidentally, was the first book I ever blogged about here). Rubin has a lot going on in this book, which offers up a study of different personality types (which she calls the Four Tendencies), how they are affected by habits (good and bad), and how each type can actively work to develop and foster new habits. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to developing habits, but Rubin observes that habits and happiness are often intertwined.

I didn’t find that this book broke a ton of new ground (after all, isn’t it just common sense to notice that people are different from one another, and therefore that people are motivated by different internal and external factors as they pursue individual goals?), but what I really liked was Rubin’s straightforward way of explaining why some people find it easier for habits to stick than others.

She identifies a Four Tendencies framework that is really simple, but effective. Broadly, your tendency is your personality type – in other words, whether you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, a rule follower or a rule-breaker, etc. You can read more about the tendencies on Rubin’s website (or even better, you should read this book). The tendencies are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel, and according to Rubin, most people are Obligers or Questioners. Even before I came across the quiz at the back, I immediately identified as an Upholder. I'm An Upholder

“Upholders respond readily to both outer and inner expectations: they meet deadlines and keep New Year’s resolutions without much struggle or supervision. Upholders take great satisfaction from moving smoothly through their daily schedule and their to-do lists. They meet others’ expectations—and their expectations for themselves. 

However, Upholders may feel uneasy when expectations aren’t clear, when they’re worried that they’re breaking the rules, or when they feel overwhelmed by expectations they seek to meet. They enjoy habits, and form habits fairly easily.”

It’s not every day that you find most of the core elements of your personality laid out so clearly. I think that because I identified myself so quickly in the Four Tendencies, I really enjoyed what followed, which is Rubin’s (also an Upholder) analysis of habit as it relates to each personality type.

I guess, like the author, I don’t always remember that everyone is not like me (or like each other, for that matter). What I found most useful about Better Than Before had less to do with my own habits – Upholders tend to be pretty self-motivated, anyway – and more to do with other peoples’ habits. For example, I immediately spotted Matt as a Questioner (and I’m sure that he Questioned me asking him to take a personality quiz on the train from Edinburgh to Manchester to confirm my suspicions). His habits are different than mine because his motivations are different. As they should be, because we’re not the same person!

Like I said, I’m not sure the content is groundbreaking if you have a pretty strong awareness of yourself. But this one really stuck with me (kind of like 10% Happier stuck with me), and if you enjoyed The Happiness Project, this will probably be right up your alley.

Sharp Objects


Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (Photo Credit: Random House)Over the holidays, my brother’s girlfriend Cara tore through Sharp Objects, and then left it for me.

I loved Gone Girl, and she said it was a quick read, so I took her up on her offer. She was right! I polished it off on a couple of busy nights over the Christmas break, although the subject matter may not make it the best before-bed read. It’s a murder mystery, a reporter story and a thriller all in one.

I really liked this one. Like Gone Girl, the themes are adult and dark, and it does have a decent twist (although it wasn’t a WAIT, WHAT? twist like Gone Girl’s. Have you read it? If you haven’t, and you haven’t seen the film, you really should. It’s great). I predicted the ending, but not the pathway that Gillian Flynn took to get there, so it was still a worthwhile mystery. Cara and I both work in different branches of the journalism industry, and it was nice to see a female reporter as a protagonist, although Camille Preaker’s mental instability would likely be a real-life roadblock. You have to be made out of tough stuff to work as a reporter (which is why I mainly stick to lifestyle work these days).

One bad personal note – I ate a pomegranate and it dripped all over the book, so it looks like I either killed someone while reading it, or had a very bad accident. So I’m sorry, Cara. I owe you a book. I really enjoyed reading Sharp Objects, and it was quick and easy over the holidays. It’s no Gone Girl, but it’s worth a look.

Golden Boy


Golden Boy (Photo: Simon & Schuster)This is a very long-overdue post. August sort of got away from me – I took on some exciting freelance writing assignments (including some for Avenue magazine, a well-regarded local Calgary publication, that I’m quite thrilled about) and unfortunately, one of the downsides of getting paid for my writing (well really, the only downside) is that blogging sort of takes a backseat. Classes started up again this week too, which has meant a few days of chaos and stress. Don’t worry though – I haven’t stopped reading. You can expect reviews for Jane Christmas’s excellent travel book What The Psychic Told The Pilgrim, the beautiful book of poetry by Cynthia Rylant called God Got a Dog and the other books I muddled through in August shortly.

Today though, I want to tell you about Golden Boy, which is one of the most gripping novels I’ve ever read. I can’t believe that Abigail Tartellin is only 26 (or that she was waitressing when she got called by a publisher for the rights to this book). She’s amazing, and she’s only going to get better – and quite frankly, she puts small-time writers like me to shame. She has a real gift and her book is brilliant.

I gave up my bookstore job this fall in favour of a different opportunity with slightly better pay and more sociable hours, but I’m sticking around once a month to run a book club for teenagers there in the fall. So I attended the Fall Gala at Indigo Signal Hill on Saturday night to promote my new venture, and my friend Meg couldn’t recommend Golden Boy highly enough. Convinced by her enthusiasm and glowing review, I had a look and I was intrigued.

Max is the 16-year-old intersex son of a high-profile golden couple in a satellite town of Oxford in Britain. Max is well-adjusted, funny, compassionate and everything a 16-year-old should be, until a shocking betrayal forces him to re-examine everything he thinks he knows about himself.

I won’t give anything else away, except that it’s twisty and brilliant and poignant and sad and very, very well done. I have barely been able to put it down since Sunday, and have been reading it in fits and starts around my ethics and law readings for my education classes. I just finished it ten minutes ago and my face is streaky from mascara and I feel like I need to hold everyone in my world just a little bit tighter.

Please read Golden Boy. I think I may have found my new favourite novel of the year. Thank you again, Meg, for recommending it!

North of Normal


North of Normal (Photo: HarperCollins Canada)You know what’s great about a vacation? Reading time.

Right now, Matt and I are spending a few days at his parents’ cottage in Nova Scotia. We’re actually car-less for a couple of days, and we’re kilometres away from anything, so unless I’m out for a run, we’re BBQing or napping off the jet lag and the after-effects of our red-eye flight, we’re out on the beach reading.

I wasn’t sure about North of Normal at first. It’s been out for a little while, and it always seems to be a popular pick at the bookstore. There was a time in May/June where we could hardly keep it in stock. I think what turned me off was the whole wilderness-girl-turned-supermodel angle. Unique, to be sure, but I wasn’t sure it was me.

This is why the Kindle is so great. I stocked up on a couple of books before leaving home (I wasn’t sure about the Wi-Fi capabilities at a cottage, although it’s been quite reliable, and I prefer to travel with my Kindle because it’s so light and easy), and the Kindle edition of North of Normal is pretty reasonable – certainly cheaper than the physical book. So all of a sudden, a book I was kind of on the fence about became a book I was really excited to read.

Person’s memory of her earliest years is vivid, striking, and graphically shocking. I wouldn’t recommend this book to people who are bothered by profanity, sex or drugs – although this is part of Person’s message. Her unconventional childhood – growing up in the Canadian wilderness in British Columbia and Alberta in a tipi with her free-love hippie grandparents, her teenage mother and a series of unstable aunts and uncles – doesn’t make for familiar or light reading.

But the story Person tells – of perseverance, survival and drive – is an important story to tell. As she grows up and begins to learn how to overcome her upbringing and move beyond her self-professed “crazy” family, she realizes that she has the skills and tools she needs to survive in an adult world at just 13 years old.

I enjoyed reading North of Normal more than I thought I would. I especially liked the local connections to Calgary and Morley. And most of all, I enjoyed reading this book in two sittings right here:

Who wouldn't enjoy reading with a view like this?

Who wouldn’t enjoy reading with a view like this?