9 Book Reviews From My Recent Spring/Summer Reads

Educated by Tara Westover
Educated by Tara Westover

One of my recent posts, on self-care, talked about my love for reading and how important it is in my daily life. Over the years, I have gone through phases, sometimes reading a lot and sometimes, especially when my kids were younger, not reading much at all other than magazines and newspapers. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, ever. It’s relaxing and it calms me down. It educates and entertains me. And, it connects me to periods in history that only books can do.

My earliest memory of reading is indelible: reading about Dick and Jane the summer before I entered Kindergarten. Growing up in an expat community in Saudi Arabia and reading about the neighborhoods and adventures of these siblings and their parents captured my imagination and my love for anything American. I don’t remember any other books or authors from that time of my life, other than how good I felt when I was reading.

I’m not a sophisticated reader, meaning philosophy books, poetry, and Shakespeare are not number one on my list, although I enjoy these genres from time to time. My preferred reading list includes self-help and parenting books and historical fiction. I enjoy Danielle Steel, Elin Hildebrand, Debbie Macomber, Barbara Delinskly, and Maeve Binchy. I enjoy bestsellers and thrillers, the latter more so when I’m in a certain mood. I love classics like W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon & Sixpence and all of Jane Austen’s books.

The books that resonate the most with me, and that I really love, are about immigrants. I enjoy immigrant fiction from around the world (The Lowland and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri; Pachinko by Min Jin Lee), with my favorite books set in tenement Brooklyn and the lower East Side of Manhattan from around 1890 through the early 20th century [The Rise of David Levinsky (Abraham Cahan), Brooklyn (Colm Toibin), A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Betty Smith)]. I could read stories about that specific time and place in US history all day long. There’s something about the poverty and humanity of that time period that endears me to the characters who are born into circumstances that were never in their control. And there’s something about the characters missing their homeland that resonates with me.

I thought I would start a bit of a blog series where I share my recent reads, starting with what I’ve read over the last 6 months. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen these books on my Stories or in my carousel feed. These blog posts/reviews will go into the books in a little bit more detail: nothing too long, just what I thought of the books and why I liked them. I’d love to hear your comments below and I welcome any suggestions!

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Spanning several generations, Pachinko is the story about a family of poor Koreans living in Japan in the mid-1900s and beyond. Sunja, the only daughter of a poor but ‘good’ family falls for a wealthy married man and gets pregnant. She ends up marrying Isak, a priest who lovingly and willingly accepts to raise her illegitimate son and protect Sunja. We follow Sunja and her family throughout this book as they learn to survive and do well, always against the background of what it’s like to be a Korean living in Japan, where the former always feel like outcasts and visitors, even though Japan is the only country they have ever called home. This is the story of the importance of family and loyalty, and ultimately the story of understanding that people do what they have to do to survive and that huge sacrifice is inevitable.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I’m not sure why this book was not on any of my high school reading lists, but I’m so happy I finally got around to reading it. The New York Public Library selected A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as one of its Books of the Century and this makes sense to me.  A Tree follows Francie Nolan through her poverty-ridden immigrant neighborhood childhood in the early 1900s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She loves her father, a drunk, who has a hard time providing for his family, and she loves her mother and brother and her colorful aunts and their stories. A child with hardly any friends, she reads a lot and observes what goes on around her. It’s semi-autobiographical and Betty Smith does an excellent job of showing us Francie’s daily life struggles and the lessons about the reality and cruelty of life. I thought that this book would be more of a positive ending love story, to be honest, but I was satisfied that the ending flowed with the rest of the book.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
This is a fast read, but not a book you will easily forget. Based on the interviews Heather Morris had with Lale Sokolov, this biography is a love story as well as the story of hope during the Holocaust. Lale is charged with tattooing the arms of the prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau and this is how he meets Gita, the love of his life, to whom he was married for 60 years. Lale uses his privileges with members of the SS to help prisoners get food and other items. The book is funny at times as you understand that relationships and human interactions were real and necessary during imprisonment. Ultimately, this is the incredible true story of survival, bravery, and love.

When Life Gives You Lemons by Lauren Weisberger (photo from amazon.com)
When Life Gives You Lemons by Lauren Weisberger (photo from amazon.com)

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisburger
Total and complete mind candy, When Life Gives You Lululemons does not disappoint as the sequel to The Devil Wears Prada. We meet Emily again, now a PR maven in LA, when she visits her friend in suburban Connecticut, where the story is set. Emily, who is very ‘LA’, meets her friend Miriam’s social circle and the two worlds couldn’t be more different. Emily is the same brash character from Devil and it’s fun to hear her take on these suburban women. Maybe it’s because I’m a SAHM/WAHM and I could recognize the mom characters in the story, or, maybe because it’s just a fun and entertaining novel, but I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it as a vacation or anytime read.

Next Level Basic by Stassi Schroeder
Next Level Basic by Stassi Schroeder

Next Level Basic by Stassi Schroeder
I’m a proud reality TV watcher and I’m not ashamed of that! It’s what keeps me entertained on the treadmill when I don’t want to concentrate too much on what I’m watching. Stassi is from the Bravo reality show called Vanderpump Rules, a show which follows a group of millennials who work at and around SUR, a hip restaurant in LA. This NY Times bestseller is Stassi’s first book where she is completely herself as she takes you through why and how it’s important to be yourself. She’s very honest about the mistakes she’s made because she opened her mouth before checking the facts. She’s lost sponsorships and opportunities this way, but has learned from them. The purpose of the book is to teach you to embrace who you are. Another fast and fun read.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Written in three sections, Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, is a book that you will be thinking about for a while. Each of the sections stands on its own, but there are subtle linkages. The first section follows an aspiring writer, Alice, and her affair with a much older Noble Prize winning author named Ezra Blazer (loosely based on Philip Roth) who is always worried about his next book and his waning fame. The second section is Alice’s fictional writing, which tells the story of an Iraqi-American economist and his return to Kurdistan to see his brother. And the third section is a radio interview with Ezra Blazer, the Noble Prize winner from part one. It’s up to the reader to understand how these stories connect… or not, but they certainly make you think about the different lives we all lead around each other and how our lives and events could possibly intersect.

Educated by Tara Westover
Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover
It only took me one year and 24 hours to read this book, but I wish I had read it a year ago for my book club, where I could’ve discussed this book more fully. Educated (a #1 New York Times bestseller) is the biography of Tara Westover, who grew up as one of seven children in the mountains of Idaho to survivalist parents: her dad was always preparing for the end of the world and the kids had to help. She was home-schooled and only set foot in a classroom when she entered Brigham Young University at 16 or 17. What a story. So well-written and so honest, sad, real, and yet, up-lifting.

Tara does an amazing job of taking you through the emotional hold her dad and the mountain, Buck’s Peak, had on her. We learn she was abused by her brother and that her parents never want to admit this fact. She begins to question her memory and even doubt this abuse. Confronting her family gets her nowhere and she realizes that leaving the mountain and most of her family is the only way for her to find herself…his becomes her education.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelidis
I’m a very picky reader of thrillers and I admit that I practically need a personal recommendation to read one. I saw many people I follow on Instagram reading this book, and The Silent Patient does not disappoint. This is a fast-paced book that is very cleverly written with a twist that is partially anticipated. Theo Faber is a psychotherapist who seeks out Alicia Berenson, (accused of shooting her husband) in order to treat her and get her to break her silence. I can’t tell you more or I will ruin the story, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Goodbye To All That edited by Sari Botton
Goodbye To All That edited by Sari Botton

Goodbye To All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, edited by Sari Botton
Joan Didion’s original essay, Goodbye To All That, written in 1967, is the jumping off point for 27 authors to write their own love affairs about New York City. Each author recounts his/her experience and I loved all of the references to familiar places. So many of us love New York and dream about living there, but not all of us follow this dream. These essays are written by authors like Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Melissa Febos (Whip Smart) and Chloe Caldwell (Legs Get Led Astray). I first saw this book at the bookstore in The Museum of the City of New York and knew I wanted to read it for all the nostalgic feels the authors evoke about New York.

Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed these recommendations and super-mini reviews. And, I’d love to get some book suggestions from you!

Email This Post Email This Post Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

Here’s Why (I Think) I’m Going To Be Okay On University Drop-Off Day

Here’s Why (I Think) I’m Going To Be Okay On University Drop Off Day

Our oldest is going off to university the first week of September, and, admittedly, I’ve been a bit of a hot mess over here. I’m not ready for my daughter to leave the nest. Some days are good, others are not so good. My heart is sad and heavy, but my thinking is more along the lines of ‘it’s going to be okay’. Over the years, I’ve heard many parents talk about their experience, listening intently because I knew my turn would come. It has.

I spent the last months of my daughter’s senior year thinking about missed opportunities of being together, yet also understanding that a teen’s school and social life can take precedence. Sometimes I felt guilty about how I could’ve parented her differently as a kid. And, sometimes I just cried a lot.

When we first found out we would be parents, my husband said it best: ‘we’re going to have a visitor for 18 years!’ I was impressed with how insightful he was about raising kids and then letting them go. I’m a bit slower about accepting and understanding my role, but time has been the perfect teacher.

Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

7 School And Work Lunches Approved By My Daughter And Husband

7 lunch ideas for Back to School
7 lunch ideas for Back to School

(This post first appeared on the Kitchen Stuff Plus website, on August 7, 2018. You can read that post here and follow the hyperlinks there to learn more about the highlighted products.)

After meal planning and making lunches for many years, my family and I have decided to shake things up for our upcoming back to school and work routines: we’re eating more fruits and vegetables and trying out different food combinations and ingredients.

Recently, I sat down with my high school daughter, who prepares and takes lunch every day, and my husband, who brings lunch to work a few times a month, to discuss new and fun ideas.

My daughter tested these lunches when she was at her summer day camp job and my husband enjoyed the leftovers from the photo shoot – yup, all the meals got a thumbs up!

Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

What I’m Sending To University With My Daughter This Fall

 

Getting ready for back to school with Kitchen Stuff Plus
Getting ready for back to school with Kitchen Stuff Plus

(This post first appeared on the Kitchen Stuff Plus website, on August 1, 2018. You can read that post here and follow the hyperlinks to learn more about the highlighted products.)

Although it’s going to be very hard to say goodbye to my oldest daughter when she goes off to university in September, it makes me feel better knowing she’ll have what she needs to make her dorm room feel a bit like home.

When we looked at the Kitchen Stuff Plus website, there were many room décor and snack accessories to choose from! We chose items that are reusable and environmentally friendly, conducive to healthy eating, and durable – so she can still use them when she eventually moves off campus.

Clothing & Shoes Storage

Non-slip hangers and underbed storage containers
Non-slip hangers and underbed storage containers

These velvet-covered hangers ensure clothes stay put without sliding to the bottom of the closet. Because they’re all the same, the closet will look more organized and aesthetically pleasing.

Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

5 Ways To Make Toronto (Or Any Big City) Feel Smaller

Nathan Philips Square at Toronto City Hall
Nathan Philips Square at Toronto City Hall

Ever feel like Toronto is getting too big, too busy, and too hard to get around? Well, you’re not alone. In 2016, the census metropolitan area of Toronto was almost 6 million and is growing at a faster rate than the national average. In fact, Toronto ranks as North America’s 4th largest city in terms of population, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit, after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles.

I love living in a big city. There are always new exhibitions to see, restaurants to try, and quaint neighborhoods to discover. In fact, I often feel there are so many options to choose from, and that I miss out on some fantastic opportunities because I just can’t be in two places at the same time!

One of the things that I’d like to share more with you, the readers of my blog, is how to live slow and intentionally. I didn’t realize there was a term for how I like to live. I’m an emotional person, love connecting with people, and tend to overthink things. But I also appreciate all the things life has to offer, the big and the small, the material and the immaterial. I like being alone as much as I like being with others. And, I like walking outside as much as I can, enjoying nature and just feeling a part of the world. Yes, even in a big city, you can experience much of mother nature. Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

7 Reasons I Love Visiting With Family

Broummana, Lebanon
Broummana, Lebanon

7 Reasons I Love Visiting With Family

In the last month, I’ve visited with family in two very different parts of the world, and I wanted to share with you why I loved these two family visits. In early March, I went to Lebanon to visit my parents, brothers, and extended family, and, in late March, we went to the US to visit my husband’s family. Although these trips were in places far apart from each other, the reasons I enjoyed the visits are very similar.

As part of being mindful of how I spend my time, I really paid attention to the visits I had and why they were so important and meaningful. Visiting family seems like something you do because it’s associated with a certain holiday or milestone. Sometimes you feel like you need to make these visits out of obligation or expectations. Sometimes you love making the trips and taking the effort. And, sometimes, you’re just so darn grateful for the opportunities and savor each moment. The latter is how I felt in the last month.

Here are the 7 reasons I loved visiting with family recently. I hope they inspire you to plan more visits!

Reason 1: My family is a part of my history
This sounds so obvious, but it’s really deeper than having people who are related to you. I’m talking about the family resemblance, the common cultural background, a country’s understood traditions, and the feeling of connectedness. When you’re around your immediate and extended family, you see where some of your mannerisms and points of reference come from. For example, in Lebanon, we’re a bit of loud family. We yell from room to room or outside to someone in the garden. The neighbors pretty much know what we’re up to! In my family in particular, we are bitterly honest with each other and we tell it like it is. For spouses and in-laws, this may seem harsh at times, but it’s what we’re used to and how we grew up. It’s done lovingly, really. Engaging in this banter made me understand that growing up like this was normal for me, but that it might not seem so normal to my nuclear family of my husband and two teens, or for my in-laws. Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

Sharing the ‘Little Things’ That Made Me Happy In A 24 Hour Period!

Enjoying the little things in life

When you enjoy the little things in life, you feel happier. It sounds simple, and it is. You know what I’m talking about: the little things like appreciating a blue sky after a few days of rain, walking around comfortably in above zero temperatures after weeks of freezing weather, and engaging in a pleasant 15 minute conversation with your teen.

In today’s busy world, I feel like I’m always on the go and that I don’t have a second to myself. Well, in the last few days, I’ve enjoyed a lot of little things that have made me happy, despite running around and overscheduling my time. Perhaps inspired by the little notebook I picked up from the dollar store recently or perhaps inspired by mindfully appreciating every moment I have with friends and family, I thought I would share the simple things that brought me joy over a 24 hour period.

Here are the little things that made me happy over the course of a day: Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

5 Tips For Hosting An 18th Surprise Birthday Party!

My oldest daughter turns 18 in February and we decided to throw her a surprise 18th birthday party. She’s got a lot going on during her last year in high school including balancing school, social life, and university applications. We knew she wouldn’t have time to plan something that we could work on together, so I thought it best to throw her a surprise. I’m glad we did, because, a few days after her party, she said that she would not have had time to plan a party on her own.

I’d never thrown a surprise party at home before, so this was new to me. The hardest part was hiding some of the decorations and the cake, as well as orchestrating her being out of the house. Also, having 3 hours to decorate and get the food and activities ready was quite a challenge. But, I had lots of people helping me and it all worked out. I think the main thing to keep in mind is that kids like to be together, no matter what the occasion.

Here are my 5 tips for throwing a successful 18th surprise birthday party: Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

Say Hello to Stress-Free Meal Planning with HelloFresh Canada!

Sesame Beef Stir-Fry by HelloFresh
Sesame Beef Stir-Fry by HelloFresh

It’s the little things that make a big difference. Last week, not having to plan, shop, or think about my meals made my week so easy – this, thanks, to a delivery from HelloFresh Canada.

I usually do the meal planning, shopping, and cooking for my family and I love doing it. Being a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, I have more flexibility in shopping and cooking than most households but, every once in a while, I find myself in a rut and out of time and out of meal ideas. The kids complain that the meals aren’t up to their expectations and ‘why can’t we have something good’! I’m not upset when I hear those words – I just ask them to make a list of their top 5 favorite foods and I go from there.

Having said that, getting HelloFresh Canada delivered to my door last week was such a treat!

Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh
Roasted Pork and Peppercorn Sauce by HelloFresh

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, HelloFresh is a service that makes meal prep and family time fun. The chefs at HelloFresh come up with meal ideas based on in-season produce, and they source everything locally, which I love.

All you have to do is go online, choose your meals, and then get everything delivered to your door. You choose the type of plan you want (pronto meals, which are ready in 30 minutes or less; family meals; or veggie meals), the number of people you want to feed, and the delivery date. It’s a subscription service that you can stop by following the instructions online.

HelloFresh Canada Delivery
HelloFresh Canada Delivery

Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram

8 Steps To Stress-Free Holiday Baking!

Holiday Baking TipsI love to bake and it’s something that I do several times a week, all year long! People ask me what I do with all the baked goodies, but the truth is that we eat most of them, take them for school lunches, and share them with friends. The latter is especially true around the holidays, because we end up gifting a lot of baked treats. It does take a bit of planning to get it done effortlessly, so I’m sharing my 8 steps for stress-free holiday baking!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 1: Make a list of what you want to bake
This step sort of starts itself around the beginning of October when you see holiday baking magazines in the check-out aisle. It’s easy to get inspired and reminded about what you want to bake. I usually take out holiday baking books from the library and do some online searches. I also ask my husband and kids what their favorite treats are, and I add them to my list. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes, because it’s always fun to find new favorites. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on some new treats I’m going to bake this year!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 2: Clean out the freezer and fridge
Although we have a frost-free fridge, I still find that there is some frost build-up in the bottom of the freezer. This is probably because of the uneven temperatures in our kitchen and because we open and close the fridge a lot. I find the beginning of the holiday season to be the best time to do a big clean. Purging expired and freezer-burned food clears space for storing all of the holiday goodies. This takes me 24 hours to do as I let the fridge sit overnight, but it feels so good to start the holiday season with a clean and empty freezer!

Holiday Baking TipsStep 3: Take an audit of your ingredients, spices, and flavourings
Continue reading

Facebooktwitterpinterestinstagram