June 29, 2012

Beyond the Rear View Mirror, by Shelley Streit

Last month I was introduced to Shelley Streit via twitter (gawd, I love you twitter!), and shortly after she sent me her book, Beyond theRear View Mirror, to read. I love when opportunities like this arise and you are introduced to books you might never otherwise be aware of or come across. I’ve always been a fan of biographies (if the subject matter interests me), and when I found out Shelley’s story takes place mostly in Alberta, I knew I wanted to read her book.  There’s something about reading a story where you know the places, the towns and even the streets that the author mentions.  It makes the reading experience, for me anyway, that much more intimate and real. This is not to dissuade anyone that is not from Alberta from reading her book though – Shelley’s story is still one worth reading regardless of where you are from. 

Shelley had a less than ideal childhood. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the abuse started at an early age. Her parents also split up when she was young, and her mom took off to Alberta, leaving Shelley and her brother behind to live with her dad and their grandparents. Eventually, Shelley’s mom moved Shelley and her brother Jason out to Alberta to live with her and her boyfriend, Loren. Shelley, only five or six at this time, only a child, just wanted to be loved and accepted by her mom. Loren was as far from the perfect father figure as one could be, and the emotional and physical abuse was high once again. Shelley learned at a young age that she would have to stick up for herself as no one else was doing it for her. But standing up to her mom and Loren had its costs, and at age 12, Shelley found herself a part of the child welfare system.  From here, Shelley bounced back and forth between foster homes, her dad’s home and group homes. 

Even when the universe seemed to be rooting against her, Shelley knew she wanted more, and her story proves she is a fighter. Rather than succumb to a life as a victim of a child from the welfare system, where abuse and abandonment were plenty for Shelley, she chose instead, to rise above her setbacks and strive for success. Today, Shelley is a passionate entrepreneur and public speaker, as well as a financial advisor.

I loved that this book told it as it was. There weren’t hundreds of pages of filler just to make the book longer. Shelley gets right into it, opening with her first account of sexual abuse in the second paragraph.  While her story is not overly graphic (for those sensitive to that kind of topic), it is an honest account of her life growing up. It grabbed me from the first paragraph and I found myself devouring the pages, wanting – needing – to know what was going to happen next. 

I felt honoured to be able to read Shelley’s story, but humbled at the same time. This strong, amazing woman defied all the odds placed against her even when the simplest things seemed impossible. Yet, her book is not preachy and definitely not ‘show-offy’. Like she says, everyone has a story, so why share hers? Because, her story is worth sharing. Shelley states in her book her reason for writing her story is to find peace on her healing journey.  But, I also know  without a doubt that woman all over are going to be able to relate with Shelley’s struggles on some level ,and sometimes that in itself is reason enough to share your story. And even if you can’t relate, per se, I challenge you to read this book and not feel inspired to be a stronger, better you.

To learn more about Shelley and her journey you can:

June 24, 2012

Saigon Sundays: Planting Trees

We were lucky when we bought our house that all the landscaping had already been done. This is rare when you purchase a new home, but something we have been so thankful for. That being said, it's pretty bare and we decided that we wanted to add a few bushes and trees. The house that I grew up in had two beautiful lilac bushes in it and I will always remember my mom having a vase of freshly cut lilacs on the kitchen table during the summer. So, when we were at home depot yesterday and I saw the lilac plants for sale, I knew exactly what I wanted to plant in our back yard. And by plant, I mean Jim planted while I read a book on the deck and took pictures. Of course, no chore would be complete without our little helper, Saigon.

I have never met another dog that is so "up in your business" at all times. He's always underfoot, checking out what we are working on. It's fascinating and amusing to us.

All done!

June 19, 2012

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell (Audio Review)

Esme Lennox has been locked up in a mental hospital for the past 61 years. Her great-niece, Iris, who has no idea of Esme’s existence, receives a call one day that Esme is being released and arrangements need to be made to pick her up. Even though Iris never even knew Esme existed before she received this call, something urges her to go to Cauldstone Hospital and consider taking Esme home with her until further arrangements can be made.  Iris’s parents are both gone, and her aunt Kitty - Esme’s sister - is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  While Esme is deemed harmless, what sorts of secrets does she harbour that could possibly turn Iris’s world upside down?  What unfolds in The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is the story of Esme’s and Kitty’s childhood and the harrowing events leading up to Esme’s admission to Cauldstone.

This was my very first audio book ever. I’ve listened to comedians in the car many times, but never an actual book.  I had an epiphany back in January, that I should start listening to audio books on the 3-hour round trip drives I frequently take to visit my sister-in-law and nephews.   What a great idea – another way to get through more books in a year! I went into Chapters one day specifically on the hunt for a *cheap* audio book (sheesh – audio books are EXPENSIVE!) and came across a copy of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. Which was kind of “a sign” as this very book had just been recommended to me on Twitter, followed with the information that it’s hard to find a copy of it nowadays. So, naturally, I had to buy it. But the best part? It cost me less than five bucks! 

So I excitedly left the next morning on my “road trip”, eager to start listening to it. Here’s what I learnt right away. Listening to an audio book is hard. My mind wandered constantly and every few minutes I would zone back in and think, “whoa whoa whoa, what is going on – rewind!” I blame a lot of this on the fact that I found the narrator’s voice very annoying (she kind of reminded me of Daphne from Frasier – not that Daphne is annoying, but just so you have a picture of what the voice sounded like).  Secondly, after a bit of research on goodreads, I figured out that this book in the written form reads quite choppily and a lot of the sentences “just end” as a lot of it is the character’s thoughts. I did not feel this translated well onto audio. I had a difficult time realizing when the narrator had switched characters. Having different narrators for each character might have been helpful. 

My biggest issue with the story-line though was I didn’t understand why Esme had been kept in the mental hospital her ENTIRE life. If she was deemed sane enough to be allowed to live with a complete stranger when the hospital was closing, why hadn’t she been discharged earlier? Was she ever given the chance or an opportunity to leave the hospital as an adult and live her own life? It just made me so frustrated and downright mad that Esme had spent her whole life locked up for pretty much no reason at all! I know things were different “back in the day”, but still. And how could her own parent’s just leave her there forever?!  I started this audio book in January and this still bothers me when I think about the book. I just wanted more answers or at least some discussion about this.

I’m disappointed that my first audio book experience was a flop and I’m also disappointed that I didn’t like this story. I truly wanted to like it. I honestly feel like I owe this book a second chance and vow to re-read it if I ever come across a hard-copy of it. If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know what you thought of it and why. And, if you have any good    audio book recommendations, don’t hold out on me!

June 13, 2012

Ethel & Ernest, by Raymond Briggs

June Book Club Pick

I’ve never before been interested in Graphic Novels (although I do love Archie Comics), but I was quite intrigued when I discovered that June’s book club book is in fact, a graphic novel.   And then I realized that I actually already own another graphic novel by Raymond Briggs - Gentlemen Jim - which I picked up over a year ago at a second hand bookshop, because the title and the premise made me think of my husband, Jim. I will have to do a proper read of that one since I enjoyed Ethel & Ernest so much. 

I’m not used to reading a story where so much happens but takes only about 30 minutes to read. I actually read Ethel & Ernest at a coffee shop while sitting next to my good friend Lindsay last week. It was fun to “awww” and “ooooh” at the same times. And while some of the British-isms were lost on us, I don’t feel it made the story any less enjoyable.

Ethel & Ernest is a charming, honest account of the life of Raymond Briggs’ parents. It starts with how they meet in the 1920s and follows the ups and downs of their lives as they learn how to thrive (and survive) together during times of war, financial crises, raising a child and growing old.  It’s sad at times, with a good dose of humour, but mostly, I found it quite full of love. To be talented enough to pay homage to your parents in such an art form – with not only words, but illustrations to boot – is beyond amazing to me.  

If you ever come across this little gem, don’t hesitate to pick it up. It’s worth the quick read, I promise.

June 03, 2012

Saigon Sundays: Building Bookshelves

I fell in love with our new house immediately because it has a small, open office/den space at the front of the house that I instantly knew I wanted to make into my library. I've always dreamed of having my own library but, one can not really have a library without bookshelves. And while I would love to have built-ins, it isn't in the budget right now. Luckily, IKEA makes some really nice, actual wood bookshelves. And as luck would have it, said bookshelves were on sale during the first week of May! Jim and I like to tackle things slowly, so it's no surprise that it took us 3 weeks to build the bookshelves. Also, our foreman wasn't the easiest guy to work with at times...

At one point we realized Saigon had left the room. I found him fast asleep upstairs on our bed!

All done! Just need to fill 'em now!

June 02, 2012

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

 May Book Club Pick


This book was all the hype over Christmas season at the book store. But, I’m stubborn and often won’t read books that are pushed on me. Luckily, my book club had chosen this book for May and I’m so glad they did. It’s not that I didn’t want to read this book, I just needed to find the right time to read it, ya know? Sometimes book club is awesome for this. 

The premise, at first, is simple: the circus arrives at night, without any warning and is gone come dawn. It travels around the world, popping up with no notice. Everything is black, white and shades of grey. This is no ordinary circus though. Once you pass through the gates, you enter a whole other world, one I wish so badly I could physically experience myself. Instead of one main tent, the night circus is many individual tents, each with something magically unique and amazing inside. You are free to wander and enter tents as you wish. The circus may be black and white, but the story is not void of colour. The prose is rich with detail and the illusions that fill the chapters jump off the page. If I’ve ever wanted a book to be desperately made into a movie, this is it. While I had no trouble escaping into the world of the night circus, I believe this story would translate amazingly onto the big screen, where the magic and illusions could come to life. 

The book mostly follows main characters, Celia and Marco. We first meet Celia and Marco when they are just children and have been chosen by two experienced magicians to compete in a game where only one winner can be declared. Celia and Marco are unaware of each other’s identity, and when and what this competition will entail remains a mystery to both the characters and the reader.  Thinking back to the story, I’m not even sure myself if I fully understand just what this so-called “competition” was for, but somehow this didn’t seem to matter to me too much while reading it. The circus serves as their medium in which they perform and showcase their individual strengths and talents.  But when Celia and Marco start to fall in love, naturally, everything changes.  

While I didn’t feel this was a story that was character driven, I still found myself invested in Celia and Marco and anxious to find out their outcome. Unfortunately, their love story was not deeply developed, and sometimes I had trouble believing in their love.  Luckily, they aren’t the only characters in this book, and I found myself more invested in the story and fate of the twins, Poppet and Widget, who you will meet at The Circus. 

The most confusing aspect of this book though, was how it jumped around from year to year. Even though at the beginning of each chapter it states the year, I still found I had to take a minute to think about where that particular year fell in relevance to the story. It made the story so disjointed for me, and I even read this book in two sittings, so I can’t say it was from reading it in too small of chunks! (Which I am often guilty of when I read before bed!)

So, if you’re like me, and have been putting off reading this book, then I urge you to pick it up and escape into the enchanting world of The Night Circus!