Thursday, May 31, 2018

Heart Berries

Terese Marie Mailhot's cathartic memoir Heart Berries gives us a rare type of introspection from a young writer. Her words are real, raw and riveting.  

Much like the style of the book itself, I've noted some interesting snippets. 

About white people: "White people are brutally awkward, even you." Mailhot wrote when referring to boyfriend Casey listening to a Spanish radio station to "immerse himself in the language."  

"You ruined me with a touch. It was different than exploitation." Also Casey. 

She described a blond mutt that looked like a white woman's dog as "the type of dog that was meant to be roadkill, but rescue missions for stupid dogs interfered with the natural world." 

She and her mother found an eagle carcass with it's feathers plucked, and her mother's comment was "White men." 
"Feathers are a gift and flexible protein. Mom out down tobacco and ran her fingers over its exposed parts. She told me the salmon run was coming, and this bird would have wanted for nothing. She wanted me to see the deficit white people leave." 

With pain, she explains why she was near tears over poor service from a server. She doesn't tell Casey how she & her mom were always disregarded by white waitresses and heckled by men.  

Her mother didn't foster self esteem in herself so she couldn't teach it to her daughter. She thinks "self esteem is a white invention to further separate one person from another. It asks people to assess their values and implies people have worth. It seems like identity capitalism." 

When she didn't understand a group counselor saying to forgive isn't for the perpetrator, but for one's self.  "In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don't even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I'm not sure that their dichotomies apply to me." 

About poverty: "The strange thing about poverty is that maintaining a level of desperation and lack of integrity keeps the checks rolling in." She caught hell when she was a child for lying and telling someone who called from the unemployment office that her mother was at work. 

About Paul Simon: "I began to suspect they were flirting when I went with my Mom to the library to look up if Paul Simon had a wife. I didn't want Paul Simon to be my father. I saw an album cover once. He wore turtlenecks. He was pasty. He had beady eyes." 

About love:  "I realized that love can be mediocre and a safe comfort, or it can be unhinged and hurtful. Either seemed like a good life."  

She "wondered if falling in love looked like a crisis to an observer." Said about a man she was with but didn't like, and didn't want to be distracted from the man she wanted to be with. 

About reality: "...having the baby didn't make things better."

I received Heart Berries in a GoodReads giveaway. 

Until next time,


Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Seasons of my Mother

Actress Marcia Gay Harden wanted her creative mother's legacy to be about her travels and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), not the Alzheimer's that has taken over her life. So she wrote a lovely memoir for and about her mother, with some of her own childhood experiences and start in Hollywood mixed in. 

The details that Gay Harden remembers from growing up are impressive: the precise outfits her mother wore; conversations they had, down to exact dialogue; and every single flower used in all those arrangements 

A curiosity about The Seasons of my Mother is why there were no pictures. I wished I could see examples of Beverly's ikebana. I imagine though she chose to rely on memory and let her descriptions bring the arrangements to life. It certainly worked for the climb to a New York City apartment rooftop she and her mother took. I could visualize the beautiful star filled night sky arrangement her mom created through her well written description 
I enjoyed learning about her family's sweet tradition of creating Mad Day bouquets and delivering "anonymously" to neighbours. 

Beverly loves sunshine, smiles, and joy - essentially the good things in life, Gay Harden says. When she then mentions that their homes always had many night lights, I found that to be interesting, it's her mother's way of getting some light in the darkness. This book is surely the brightness against the darkness that is Alzheimer's.

Her army wife description helped me see it from their, (her mother's) point of view, and understand all the change, flexibility and adapting they must do. 

The way she explained her feelings, I could understand the let down she felt over bringing her mom instead of a boyfriend who just dumped her to New Zealand. 
Totally relatable is how bad moods of, as in her example, her dad, affect the household. Also, her realization that in frustrating, tense situations, her mom didn't remain quiet because she was timid, but she was practicing self control. That's big right there. 

The life lesson she learned from her mother, to stand still and appreciate beauty, is something we all could stand to remember and practice. 

Gay Harden has an enviable, close relationship with her mother, and it was nice to read about some of their cherished moments together. 

I received The Seasons of my Mother in a GoodReads giveaway. 

Until next time,


Monday, April 30, 2018


It was when I googled Ben Indra (I didn't know who he was. And I still don't.), that I learned Anna Faris and Chris Pratt split up. 
I felt sad then reading anything she wrote about him and their marriage, especially the chapter she dedicates to what a fabulous guy he is. 

The things I could relate to in this book:

A high school teacher told Anna that based on an intelligence test score, she should be a secretary. (Because I sucked at science, a junior high science teacher told my mom I should go to beauty school.) 
Not being into weddings (There were 40 guests at mine). 
Staying into relationships too long, long past their expiry date, and always trying to make it work (I won't name names). 
The whipped cream in her hot chocolate comment when she was 13 that started her off on body image issues. (Where to start? Where to start? Just too many food and body remarks heard in adolescence to mention.) 

The things that were bothersome: 

She wimped out in the way she told her husband she was leaving him. It was callous and her excuses were lame. The first of many appearance of her selfishness - something she says a few times about herself. 

Faris is into singing her own praises. She even takes credit for discovering Chris's celebrity first and makes instances of fans approaching him about her. 
She repeats herself a lot. 
She likes to claim she's not about the Hollywood life, and makes many anti-Hollywood remarks. But how she went from her first husband to her second husband was a very Hollywood starlet move.  

I didn't find Unqualified to be as much about advice as a memoir by a comedic actress. It wasn't my type of read, and I didn't find her to be as humorous as she thinks she is.  

I received Unqualified in a GoodReads giveaway. 

Until next time,


Sunday, April 22, 2018

First Snow, Last Light

Being born in the east coast (Nova Scotia), I was pleased to hear of Wayne Johnson's latest novel taking place in Newfoundland. Just like I enjoy reading a setting in Toronto, I'm also always curious to read stories from the Atlantic provinces. I also found Johnson's The Son Of A Certain Woman to be compelling, if not disturbing. I heard that it wasn't necessary to read the rest of the trilogy, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams or The Custodian of Paradise first. 

Johnson wonderfully developed the unusual story of a notorious St. John's family. I felt sympathy for teen Ned Vatcher when he came home from school to an empty house, and his parents never returned. He then lived with his sharp-tongued grandmother and mute & mysterious grandfather. 
Just like the landscape, Newfoundlanders are rugged and uncommon. Ned lived his life always searching for his disappeared parents. As an adult, he wasn't a personality I was drawn to though. Journalist and family friend Sheilagh Fielding was the most interesting, likable character. 
Just shy of 500 pages, this book was 200 pages too long. It dragged on, but luckily, we were given a satisfying conclusion.  

On love, Sheilagh tells us to "Never give all the heart" (W.B. Yeats). "Hold back something, just in case. Reserve an uncommitted space, however small, because the person will never be born who might not change. Leave something untainted by love, something that, in time, might redeem the rest."  

A passage about human nature that stood out for me was: "When virtue is tested, as ours was in those woods that night, it will not stand." 

"For even the most noble of souls, there is a set of circumstances under which the animal, or evil, will prevail. We are all such stuff as murder is made of." 

I received First Snow, Last Light in a GoodReads giveaway. 

Until next time,


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Be Ready for the Lightening

Veda and her brother Conrad (Connie) are the main characters in a group of five close friends that grew up together. Everyone tip toes around Conrad's constant fighting that began in adolescence, which to me, is the meaning for the title Be Ready for the Lightening. Veda and Conrad's parents ruminate over why Conrad didn't change after high school. The expectation for him to attend university and then get a proper job was shattered when he didn't snap out of it. 

Narrator Veda hooks up with one of The Five, Ted, and they fall into a relationship of convenience. She unfortunately spends many years hoping he will become the boyfriend she wants. It's when she becomes a hostage on a New York city bus that the most fascinating part of this book takes place, when she develops character. The interaction between her and the hijacker is unusual. 

Hearing Veda describe the disturbing incident that happened to her when she was 12 years old sent a sinking sensation in me. It's a bit too familiar attack that many girls in grade school face. You know, the boy that likes you, the unwanted touching, the assault, and not telling anyone about it, trying to ignore him and what happened. For Veda, her pain went further by lying about her disheveled, dirty state. She felt the need to come up with an excuse, blame herself, as many unfortunately do. 

Author Grace O'Connell has interesting descriptions of beautiful women. She said about Sunny that she's "not a pretty woman - a beautiful woman. The kind of beautiful that other women look at twice on the street, stare at with a sort of awed, cowed crushed feeling, with a sudden realization that they were not themselves beautiful, because here was beautiful."

Sunny & Annie upon meeting each other: they "eyed each other in the quick, appraising way that beautiful women do, to see who is the better looking of the two and who is therefore dominant."  

I did wonder why Conrad's childhood bike accident resulting in a concussion was never mentioned as a possible cause for his rages. I kept expecting it to be brought up again, as it was early head trauma. 

Certainly a different novel, Be Ready for the Lightening left me wishing Conrad would have told his story though. 

I received Be Ready for the Lightening in a GoodReads giveaway.

Until next time,


Monday, March 12, 2018

Life 3.0 - Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Life 3.0 was written by scientist Max Tegmark, and the writing style wasn't especially up my alley. Many chapters were difficult to get through. However, I did find many parts that spoke to me. The terminology cheat sheet was helpful, as was the common myths about super-intelligent AI figure. The bottom line summaries at the end of each chapter were useful. In Aftermath: The Next 10,000 Years, Tegmark outlines many scenarios for how society could function with Artificial Intelligence. It will be interesting to see if any of the suggestions, such as Egalitarian utopia or "1984" will in fact be our society of the future.

The use of robo judges to provide efficient and fair judgments is brought up. AI would supposedly not make human errors, like show bias. 

Would AI save more lives in transport and health care?  Self driving cars have better safety records, and computer diagnosis are said to be as good as human counterparts. These examples certainly make a great case for the use of robots. 

When it comes to jobs, Tegmark advises kids to have a career that won't become automated, which is, of course, sensible advice. 

I appreciated when he spoke about the people in his life, the FLI (Future of Life Institute) team and told stories: humanized the book if you will.  

I received Life 3.0 in a GoodReads giveaway.

Until next time,


Saturday, February 17, 2018

All is Beauty Now

Not your average family drama, All is Beauty Now immediately begins with the disappearance of a 20 year old daughter at a beach near Rio in 1962. Author Sarah Faber tells the unique story from each very different family member's perspective.  

We first hear from the mother Dora of this well-to-do family. She struggles to keep it together for the sake of her two young daughters and husband, who struggles with a mental illness. She busily plans a memorial, goodbye parties and prepares for their departure to Canada, where it's hoped Canadian born Hugo can receive the treatment he needs. All the while, guilt and anxiety take over her. 

Evie and Magda are the daughters "left behind". They can't go to their preoccupied mother with their grief, and can count on their father for fun & adventurous distraction, depending on his unpredictable moods. 

I understood Hugo's comparison from Rio to Toronto, the grey. The Six is described as scolding & puritanical, with grey faces & grey minds. He escaped the grey city for Bacchanal in Brazil
Hugo describes so well how heightened his senses are, how very aware he is when he's amped up in a manic state. You can feel Luiza's pain and care for her father when she's with him at those times.

Faber's writing is descriptive and brings you right to Brazil. This story certainly took me to a world not like my own, with complex characters. I can't say I found any of them endearing though, but I was curious to see the plot unfold, and how family friend Carmichael figured into it. 
Interestingly, Faber is from Toronto, but now lives in Cape Breton, the opposite of me. 

I received All is Beauty Now in a GoodReads giveaway.

Until next time,