This is your holiday read

I just read the best book. It’s called Roost and it’s written by Ali Bryan who is Canadian. It came out in 2013 and is her first novel. I can’t wait for her next which is called “The Figgs” and comes out May 2018.

Bryan’s novel is the first person story of single mother Claudia who lives in Halifax and works full-time. She shops at Canadian Tire and Joe Fresh, often thinking back to happier days when she didn’t buy her clothes in a grocery store. Claudia lives with her two toddlers, Wes and Joan who are hilarious and so well written they dance off the page. This entire book is so funny I laughed out loud during the whole thing and it’s also so, so smart. I had the treat to go to Toronto to visit my Aunt a week ago and started reading it on the early morning train and I was laughing before 7am in the No-Talk zone! Don’t tell!

Claudia is separated from her husband Glen but still relies on him heavily to help out with household maintenance like finally removing the ugly rooster border in her kitchen. She knows she needs to let go, but not yet. Every time he comes over to help or take the children for his weekend, she notices something new about him; a new car or pair of pants. He gets a new dog and a fancy apartment and takes up painting when Claudia barely has time most days for a shower. Even the kids behave better around him. These details take Glen further and further away from Claudia while she feels like she can barely keep her head above water.

Things get worse when her mother dies; no spoiler here, it’s how the book begins. She and her brother Dan and his wife must find time to grieve while caring for their father who is not doing well on his own. It’s just all too much. Dan’s life is perfect and completely opposite from Claudia’s, until he shows what a jerk he is when his wife begins to suffer from postpartum depression and he can’t understand or help her. There are so many poignant parts that are lovely and make your heart do that happy/sad heavy flippy thing (I know you know what I mean).

It is a story everyone can relate to; family squabbles, overtired children during the holidays, running around but never feeling you’re doing well enough. It’s about having a hard time when things have to change and you don’t want them to. It’s about those lovely and chaotic moments with you kids. It is a short book, just under 300 pages and I’d say perfect for reading over the holidays, one night when you can sneak away from the craziness and take a bath. It is a glimpse into the lives of this family. There are no surprises or lessons learned, just about good people doing their best.

-Sarah C.

Baring one’s soul

The Memory of Light is a beautiful book about a serious situation. It was like reading someone’s bare soul – brave and honest. It breaks through the glorified clichés that so often surround stories of suicide to capture a realistic account of depression.

Vicky Cruz comes from a wealthy family. She has people who love her. She has more opportunities and privileges than most. Her depression is not caused by a specific event or trauma. Her suicide attempt shocks everyone and has her family begging the question ‘why?’. Vicky can only reply that it is possible to be loved and still want to kill yourself.

What I liked best about The Memory of Light is its realism. It’s not a fairy tale where she finds the meaning of life and suddenly all is well. It treats depression as exactly what it is: a disease. It isn’t something that will simply go away – she will have to deal with it for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, there will always be people who fail to grasp that concept. In the book, her father doesn’t understand her illness and probably never will, even impatiently asking her at one point if she’s still suicidal, as if it’s something she should have gotten over by now.

Perhaps the book is so real because author Fransico X. Stork has his own battle with depression. In his author’s note he writes that mental illness has affected him most of his life and he wanted to write a story ‘not about the downward spiral toward darkness, but about the much harder, much more hopeful and suspenseful steps toward light.’

The novel follows Vicky as she takes baby steps to recovery. The ground she walks on is often shaky and uneven. There are no short cuts. But she meets others along the path – young people her own age that are also battling mental illness. Each person she meets is from a completely different background, illustrating the idea that depression does not discriminate.

The Memory of Light is one of those rare stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. I still find myself wondering about Vicky and her family.  I do hope Fransico X. Stork continues writing, as anything he publishes will immediately go on my holds list.

-Lesley L.

A Break from the Chaos

As we head into the holiday season with all the shopping, decorating, cooking and baking, life can get a bit (or very!) chaotic. What better at the end of a long day than to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and a nice, relaxing book?

I recently completed Jan Karon’s latest volume, To Be Where You Are, book 14 in the Mitford series. If you haven’t read any of these yet, I highly recommend you start at the beginning with At Home in Mitford. Mitford is a small fictional town set in North Carolina. From the series’ beginning, Father Tim Kavanagh has been its main protagonist, an Episcopal priest (what we in Canada would call Anglican), whose goal is to serve both God and the flock he’s been given to shepherd. And what a peculiar flock it is!

If you’ve read the previous books, you’ll know that Mitford’s inhabitants face many of the same challenges we do. In the current book Father Tim tries to find his place post-retirement, his adopted son Dooley struggles with the financial aspects of his new veterinary business, Dooley and Lacey parent their adopted child Jack, Dooley’s natural mother strives to right the wrongs of her own parenting. What sets these stories apart from ours are the bucolic environment and Karon’s writing style, which is charming, entertaining, and ultimately gratifying.

To Be Where You Are begins on October 1st and apart from a brief postlude the following June 2nd, wraps up on December 25th. It’s a wonderful book to tuck under your arm and delve into as we head into the winter season.

Done Mitford? Try these cozy series/reads:

The Butternut Creek series beginning with:

welcomecommitteeofbutternutcreek

The Harmony Series, beginning with:

hometoharmony

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion:

therosieproject

And books by Maeve Binchy, Jennifer Chiaverini, Robin Jones Gunn and Miss Read.

-Susan B.