Everything is Perfect When You’re A Liar

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Everything Is Perfect When You're A Liar (Photo: HarperCollins)Kelly Oxford’s book Everything is Perfect When You’re A Liar was featured prominently in a bunch of Canadian magazines I subscribe to last month, so I put in a request for it on the wait list at the Okotoks Public Library. I managed to get it pretty quickly, which is the benefit of having library membership in a town rather than a large city. Thanks Okotoks!

I actually wasn’t aware of Kelly before all the reviews of this one came out, but I guess she’s quite a big (and funny!) deal on Twitter, and she’s from right here in Alberta. There’s a great profile on Kelly in Chatelaine and another in Elle, and once I started reading about her, I thought this was something I could get into.

This book was the perfect escape from my horrendous biology course (yes, that’s still going on, I write my final exam on June 20). It’s a collection of essays about Oxford’s life – growing up in Edmonton, meeting her husband and being a mom to her kids. She’s funny and sharp and irreverent, with a massive unrequited crush on Leonardo DiCaprio. Really, she’s the Everywoman, except that she’s smarter, funnier and better looking than all of us.

Everything is Perfect When You’re A Liar is not a G-rated book, but it’s really, really refreshing – and exactly what I needed in my life right now.

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The Blythes Are Quoted

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It’s no secret that I love LM Montgomery. As a kid, I devoured all of the Anne of Green Gables books, plus Emily of New Moon, The Story Girl and even some of the lesser-known ones that you have to dig through the library to find because they don’t sell them in bookstores anymore (Jane of Lantern Hill, Pat of Silver Bush, Magic for Marigold). As an adult, I return time and time again to the Anne books as a source of comfort and inspiration – you might remember that I recently wrote an essay on the feminist/cultural impact of Rilla of Ingleside for my course in 20th century Canadian history.

Imagine my delight to discover that there was a ninth and final Anne book, delivered to Montgomery’s publisher on the very day she died. The story behind The Blythes Are Quoted would be intriguing even if I wasn’t an Anne fan. And because I am, and the Okotoks public library happened to have a copy in stock, I was doubly delighted.

Delighted that is, until I started reading. Part of The Blythes Are Quoted overlaps with the pre-WWI time period Rilla of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley take place in (for the record, I thought Rainbow Valley was thoroughly meh, even as a kid). The other half of the book picks up in post-WWI Glen St Mary. It’s a collection of 15 short stories that take place in and around the town that the Blythes call home – and indeed, Anne, Gilbert and all the other major players in the Anne books take a backseat here. However, they resurface in small snippets of dialogue in between chapters, where Anne and Gilbert (and from time to time, other members of the family at Ingleside – like eldest son Jem) gather together to discuss poems written by Walter, Anne’s second son, who died fighing in Europe.

Some of the other, later Anne books (especially Anne of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley) experiment with short storytelling and narrative in this way, but there’s always a cohesive thread that ties them altogether. This thread isn’t really evident in The Blythes Are Quoted. In fact, it’s a really weird little book that feels a bit like a patchwork. A random story, some dialogue, a John McCrae-style poem, another random story, etc. It doesn’t feel like an Anne book at all, and with darker subject matter (death, infidelity) than its companions, it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the series. Perhaps Montgomery was playing around with new forms of storytelling. We certainly know she had to deal with some rather heavy mental issues later in life. Or maybe her editors always wielded a heavy hand to turn the rest of the Anne books into the more sanitized, family-friendly novels that Montgomery is best known for.

Either way, I was bitterly disappointed in this book. I had expected a warm reunion with old friends, but what I got was a vaguely unsettling feeling that Anne didn’t end up being as happy in the end as she deserved to be. I wish I had stopped at Rilla of Ingleside – and I’m glad this was a library find. I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my treasured collection of Anne books anytime soon.

A Stolen Life

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I’ve been completely captivated/disturbed by the Cleveland kidnapping stories this week. My parents get a lot of American news channels, and this story is so sensational anyway, that it seems to be on TV all the time. It’s horrifying. Those girls are around my age and it just completely breaks my heart how much freedom was taken away from them.

One thought I keep coming back to is that the girls in Cleveland must be made of pretty tough stuff. This reminded me of Jaycee Dugard – she’s made of pretty tough stuff too. Against my better judgement, I bought A Stolen Life on my Kindle. And then, in a move that displays supremely terrible decision-making, I decided to read it before bed.

While this was a very bad idea if, like me, you are a person who values peaceful sleep without nightmares, this little book is a powerful and moving read. It is graphic, and there are many recollections that are very, very upsetting. Like I said, I didn’t sleep very much last night, and I cried buckets while I read it. But as I’ve said before, good books don’t have to be happy. The best books stay with you. And this one certainly does.

That’s not to say that there aren’t flaws with A Stolen Life. There are lengthy sections taken from young teenage Dugard’s diary in which she expresses her heartfelt love for a kitten, for example. And the book focuses heavily on her earlier years in captivity, at the expense of her later experiences as a mother. Because she seems to draw on her motherhood as a source of strength and resilience, it would have been interesting to see more about this part of her life. But this is Dugard’s story told in Dugard’s voice, so who am I to say what is important to reveal?

A Stolen Life isn’t a light read, although it is short. I finished the whole thing in just a couple of hours. But it will stay with me for days.

The Night Circus

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The Night CircusWhat a lovely surprise this book was! My neighbour Susan gave me a copy of The Night Circus to borrow, and my first impression of the cover was that had the potential to be really, really weird (as a side note, the cover image to the right is not the cover of Susan’s book, but this is what was available from the publisher).

After all, circuses are kind of weird, right? This means that books about circus people are probably also weird, right? Well, hat in hand, I was completely wrong. And I’m so glad I stuck with it beyond the first chapter (which, admittedly, was pretty weird, but made sense later) because this was one of the most surprisingly enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

It’s fantasy without being overly wacky. I’d describe the writing as having a lovely, dream-like quality and there is enough magic to keep things interesting without being over-the-top. There are two parallel stories that take place within this novel – one about the magic of the circus itself, which spans a considerable period of time, and the other about a boy who is enthralled with the show that appears and disappears in the night. Erin Morgenstern has managed to weave together an offbeat tale and an unlikely love story that completely and totally works.

Once I got through the slow-going first couple of chapters, I couldn’t stop. I carried this book with me everywhere. I read it in bed, in the bath and all over my house. It’s an easy, gentle read with a very satisfying conclusion, and coming from a fairweather fantasy fan, this is definitely one worth picking up. Thanks to Susan for her excellent judgement!

Insurgent

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Insurgent (Photo: HarperCollins)What’s the best way to celebrate turning 28? By tracking down some teen fiction, of course.

When my book club read Divergent, I was really surprised and impressed by it – and now that finals are mostly over (one science course to go!), I headed over to my neighbour Elizabeth’s house to see if she had a copy of its sequel, Insurgent.

The book picks up in the chaotic aftermath of Divergent and it’s very pacey. There’s lots of new discoveries to make about how the five factions operate – well, six if you count all the exposure to the factionless, which don’t really have much to do with the first book. We also get to meet a few new characters, most notably Four’s mother Evelyn, who’s a bit of a question mark. Significant time is spent in Amity and Candor, which is sort of a nice change after so much Abnegation and Dauntless in the first book.

Insurgent suffers from typical middle-child-in-a-trilogy syndrome (like Catching Fire in the Hunger Games and The Girl Who Played With Fire in the Millennium Trilogy) in that not a lot actually happens and instead of concluding, the book just sort of stops. Because tensions are reaching a slow boil, I kind of half-expected it to keep going, and it just … ends. That’s annoying, because the third and final book of the series, Allegiant, doesn’t come out until October! It’s not as agonizing as waiting for new Harry Potters, but still. These three would have made for nice binge-reading material over a weekend.