Tag Archives: Memoir

Gizelle’s Bucket List — Lauren Fern Watt

26 Jul

 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Released: March 7th, 2017
Genre: Memoir
Source: ARC from publisher

 

The playful, epic adventure of a 160-pound English Mastiff and the twentysomething girl who grew up alongside her—Marley & Me for a whole new generation.

Lauren Watt took her 160-pound English Mastiff to college—so of course after graduation, Gizelle followed Lauren to her first, tiny apartment in New York. Because Gizelle wasn’t just a dog; she was a roommate, sister, confidante, dining companion, and everything in between.

Together, Gizelle and Lauren went through boyfriends, first jobs, a mother’s struggle with addiction, and the ups and downs of becoming an adult in the big city. But when Gizelle got sick and Lauren realized her best friend might not be such a constant after all, she designed an epic bucket list to make the absolute most of the time they had left.

Bursting with charm, this unique, coming-of-age story of a girl making her way through life is a testament to the special way pets inspire us to live better, love better, and appreciate the simple pleasures. Gizelle’s Bucket List is the humorous, poignant lesson our pets teach us: to embrace adventure, love unconditionally, and grow into the people we want to be.

From Goodreads

 

I do animal rescue and rehab. My husband and I take in sick and needy cats and in the spring we take in injured or orphaned animals and birds and raise them until they can be released. I currently have two senior rescued dogs that are near the end of their lives. I love a lot of sick and dying animals. Give them the best life they can have.  So I jumped at the change to read this book.

I really, really enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. I think it’s the kind of book that any animal love will like but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I was expecting more of the book to deal with Gizelle’s bucket list.

The writing and storytelling was solid, but for me there was something missing. I think I would have liked more depth to the story. (FYI I always feel SUPER WEIRD reviewing memoirs.) What I mean is I think I would have liked a bit less about before Gizelle got sick. It was those chapters dealing with the bucket list that really drew me in and kept me glued to the book.

With that being said, I still recommend this for anyone who loves animals or has had to say good-bye to a beloved pet.

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Field Notes — Sara Jewell

20 Dec

field

 

Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Released: September 30th, 2016
Genre: Memoir, essays
Source: ARC from publisher

 

“When my husband told me he didn’t want to be married any longer, I didn’t call a lawyer, talk to my minister, or even tell my best friend. My first thought—and only plan—was go to Pugwash.”
So begins Sara Jewell’s tender and heartfelt collection of essays. After a childhood of idyllic summers on Canada’s east coast, Sara knew the only place she could begin to rebuild her life—to find her heart and home—was amid the salty air and red dirt roads of Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.

Part humorous observation and part honest self-reflection, Sara deftly explores the people, creatures, landscapes, and experiences that make her life in rural Nova Scotia so different from the big-city one she’d grown accustomed to.

They say you can never go back. But they are wrong.

From Goodreads

Delightful. That’s the word that kept popping into my head as I read Field Notes: A City Girl’s Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia. 

As a former suburban chick who bought a 100 year old farmhouse and 37 acres of land with her hubby seven years ago, there’s a lot that I could identify with in Jewell’s essays. From her obsession with chickens (I have them also) to her desire for more farm animals (I also gave in to a desire for pet goats) I was nodding my head quite a bit while reading.

I am not a social person, so I really enjoyed reading about how Sara found herself welcomed into the community and all the connections she made. She really embraced the country life and I think that’s awesome. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that Christina Martin, one of my favourite singers and an acquaintance of mine, is a neighbour of Jewell’s. Even reading a book about the Maritimes can result in that game of “I know them too!”

Jewell’s writing style is lush and descriptive and draws you right into the scene. She’s writes deep without being flowery and sometimes her essays take you to unexpected but beautiful places.

Honest and interesting, anyone who enjoys memoirs will love this book.

Gratitude — Oliver Sacks

9 Feb

gratitudePublisher: Knopf Canada
Released: November 24th 2015
Genre: non-fiction, essays, memoir
Source: Review copy from publisher

 

 

 

A deeply moving testimony and celebration of how to embrace life.

In January 2015, Oliver Sacks was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, and he shared this news in a New York Times essay that inspired readers all over the world: “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude…. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

Gratitude consists of four essays that originally appeared in The New York Times, accompanied by a foreword that describes the occasion of each chapter. The foreword is written by Billy Hayes, Oliver Sacks’s partner, and Kate Edgar, his long time collaborator.

From Goodreads.

This was a slim volume with so much depth and weight to it. It’s only sixty-four pages, but when I finished I felt like I was a better person for reading it.

Non-fiction memoir pieces always feel like an intimate read, but Gratitude had the added layer that it was written about Sacks dying and I read it after he was dead. That’s a bit of a loaded gun for a book, no matter the length. But the essays never felt like they were over the top or self-indulgence. They were simply a telling by a man who knew that pretty soon there would be no more tales for him, real or not.

Sacks approaches his illness and the fact that it has lessened his time on earth with such honesty that sometimes it made my breath catch. Death isn’t an easy subject for most of us, regardless of our age or health. But Sacks tackles it head on, and in such a way that I didn’t feel sorry for him. These essays definitely weren’t a pity-party.

The theme of gratitude that runs through all four essays wasn’t done in a way that hit me over the head. Gratitude was written about as a way you can chose to live your life, and that’s what Sacks did.

Despite the topic and the themes in Gratitude, this was a quiet read. As I’ve already said, nothing was over the top or grandiose about the writing style or the way that the themes were approached. And because of this, I know it’s a book that will stay with me for a long, long time.

 

Starting To Frame — Roger Gordon

1 Apr

startingtoframe

Publisher: Dogsbody Book
Released: November 14th, 2014
Genre: Memoir
Source: Paperback review copy from author

 

 

 

Marital infidelity, mental illness, and divorce. Some of the most taboo topics you could think of during the 50s and 60s, and Roger Gordon was forced to grow up among all of them.

It’s the late 1940s. You’re a child living in working-class Sheffield. The war has ended. Times are hard. But you’re happy. Your family takes joy in listening to radio programs together, taking trips to the seashore, going to football games and the local cinema (“Picture House”), and, of course, eating fish and chips wrapped in newspapers. You love spending time with your grandparents, which is easy to do because they live in the same house as your parents, your younger brother, and yourself. Your family is a close-knit one. There’s much pleasure to be found in the simple things.

As you grow older, though, your happy childhood turns into a tumultuous one. Your parents argue violently, and your mother often displays erratic behaviour. Even as a child, you sense that her punishments are mean-spirited and unfair.

Your parents’ marriage eventually ends in a bitter divorce, and you and your brother are thrown in the middle of their battle, being forced to take sides. Your mother soon acquires a new live-in boyfriend, and friends, family, and neighbours talk about your mother’s romantic affairs behind your back. You are made to feel like a freeloader, and you’re forced to move out during the time that you are studying at university..

During the years that follow, you must come to terms with not only the mental illness afflicting both of your parents, but your own bouts of depression that you suffer yourself.

Starting to Frame is the story of Roger Gordon’s life. It is a story about the futility of family feuding, the innate human desire to be accepted and loved, and the need to give more attention to mental illness. Above all, Starting to Frame carries with it an important message about reconciliation and how it is never too late to forgive.

From Goodreads

 

I am very picky about my memoirs and quite often have found myself abandoning them partway through. This was so not the case with Starting Frame. In fact it was quite the opposite! Once I started reading I had a hard time putting it down. I was drawn in from the first page and really felt like I was living the memories. The descriptions of places and people were so vivid that it really put me in each and every moment.

This wasn’t alway an easy book to read, and I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult parts of it must have been to write. When I say it wasn’t always easy to read, I’m referring to some of the material (not the writing!). The book deals with mental illness, an important but often difficult subject matter.

Gordon has an easy and engaging writing style that captivates the reader. I really enjoyed the balance between light-hearted and serious, something that is hard to accomplish. The Sheffield dialect was a hoot to read, but thank God there was a glossary at the back!

If you are looking for an extremely well-written memoir, then you NEED to read Starting To Frame. It will definitely be added to my “I must read again” bookshelf.

Falling Backwards – Jann Arden

1 Nov

Oh, Jann. When I think of people I’d love to sit down with over a pot of tea and shoot the shit, you’re always on the list. And after reading Falling Backwards, you have the #1 spot.

Falling Backwards was such an amazing look into Jann’s life and she is so candid about events in her past that I felt like I was getting to know Jann the wonderful person, not Jann the wonderful singer. I actually felt like I WAS sitting down with her. I think the best way to describe Falling Backwards is honest. It was a super honest book.

While there were hilarious moments and descriptions ( as you would expect from Jann) there were also moments of, well, not quite darkness, but of sadness. For me, it was these moments that really made the book so absorbing and addicting. Jann talks about some difficult experiences and times in her life and I really appreciated her opening up.

I don’t read a lot of memoirs but Falling Backwards makes me want to change that.

And if you’re ever in PEI, Jann, let me know. I’ll put on a pot of tea. 🙂

One Bird’s Choice by Iain Reid

30 Nov

Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Released: August 23, 2010
Genre: Memoir, non-fiction, humour
For review from author via publisher

Meet Iain Reid: an overeducated, underemployed twenty-something, living in the big city in a bug-filled basement apartment and struggling to make ends meet. When Iain lands a job at a radio station near his childhood home, he decides to take it. But the work is only part time, so he is forced to move back in with his lovable but eccentric parents on their hobby farm. What starts out as a temporary arrangement turns into a year-long extended stay, in which Iain finds himself fighting with the farm fowl, taking fashion advice from the elderly, fattening up on a gluttonous fare of home-cooked food, and ultimately easing (perhaps a little too comfortably) into the semiretired lifestyle.

A hilarious and heartwarming comic memoir about food, family, and finally growing up, One Bird’s Choice marks the arrival of a funny, original, and fresh new voice.

From publisher’s website.

 

As a book blogger I sometimes get emails from authors and publicists asking if I would be interested in reviewing a certain book. This is fine with me. If fact, I’m at the stage where it doesn’t happen a lot, so I usually end up giggling like a twit when it does. The emails are almost always polite and it’s always a bonus when the pitch is one that actually fits my blog.

I probably would never have heard of One Bird’s Choice if not for the fact that the author emailed me and said that he thought it would be a good fit for my blog. No it isn’t YA. And it isn’t paranormal or urban fantasy. But Iain was right: it was the perfect fit for me and my blog. Because it was a book I could relate to. And it was funny. Oh, and it was well written. VERY well written. In short I loved it.

It’s a memoir, a genre I tend to steer clear of. I read a couple of memoirs that were very boo-hoo it’s so hard being me even though I’m a privileged upper classer. There wasn’t a purpose or a story to those memoirs, and it turned me off the genre completely. Well, One Bird’s Choice has done the opposite.  It’s reconfirmed my new belief that I’ll enjoy reading in any genre as long as the book is good.

I loved this book. Really. As someone who did a return stint at home in her early 30s, I could totally identify with Iain and what he was going through. It’s not an easy thing to do, but my generation seems to be the “boomerang kids”. (Yes, Iain is younger than me and not quite my generation, but you know what I mean.)

There’s a lot of humor in this book, particular in the scenes where he deals with his parents. The great thing is, never once did I feel that that he was taking any cheap shots at them. Sure, his interactions with them were often snort out loud funny, but they were never the butt end of the jokes. He portrayed them as loving and caring, if sometimes overbearing and nosy (but in that good way that parents are overbearing and nosy).

This is more than just a funny look at Iain’s life: there is a thread of desperation and despair running underneath. After all, he’s back home, somewhere he never thought he’d end up again. And he’s clearly floundering, unsure really where his life is headed. But he doesn’t get all woe is me angsty about it. In fact, he shows us his state of mind through his actions (or sometimes inactions) rather than coming out and saying exactly how he’s feeling, which is great. I got the distinct feeling that sometimes he wasn’t even aware that he was a bit depressed and feeling “meh” about where his life was. For me, it made the book, and his story, much more enjoyable than if he had been hitting me over the head with the “my-life-sucks-so-I-wrote-about-it” stick.

The only thing I thought was weird about One Bird’s Choice was that it was written in the present tense. Since it’s a memoir, I thought it odd that I was reading about things as if they were currently happening. But in all honestly I was only aware of this for the first chapter or so. After that Iain’s story and writing style drew me in and I forgot about the fact that it was written in present tense. Now that I think about it, it’s really a matter of preference: I generally prefer books written in the past tense than the present tense. But like I said, it wasn’t a biggie and didn’t distract me from enjoying the book.

I also enjoyed all the animals and the interactions Iain had with them. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s one scene involving a chicken that had me laughing my ass off.

This was a great read and a pretty quick one too. It flowed easily and when I was done I was left with a smile on my face and the desire to know the next chapter in Ian’s life. Both signs of a successful memoir in my books.

 

Review: After the Falls by Catherine Gildiner

8 Feb

Random House Canada, 2009

I’m not normally a fan of memoirs. Quite often I find then self indulgent and more than a little whiny. But when I had the chance to read Catherine Gildiner’s memoir After the Falls as part of an online book club started by Marci at Serendipitous Readings, I thought, What the heck? I’ll give it a go. I started reading it one evening and after staying up until 5 am finishing it, I’m awfully glad I did.

I unfortunately wasn’t around for the 60s, but through the author’s description of the era, I felt like I was there. I was pulled not only into the personal aspects of the book, but the time period as a whole.

While After the Falls is essentially Gildiner’s story, there were plenty of other people weaving in and out of her life. I loved the fact that she would introduce a person and rather than simply let their story end when they were no longer part of her life, she fills the reader in on what happened to them later on. And the switching back and forth from the 60s to other times was done so fluently that it didn’t jar me out of the story at all.

I really, really enjoyed After the Falls. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I just may have to rethink my opinion on memoirs.

Thanks to Marci and the folks at Random House for the review copy.

Browse inside After the Falls.