The Gates by John Connolly

The Gates by John Connolly

A few years ago I read John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things and absolutely loved it, it’s a title I recommend to library customers all the time. I was thinking about re-reading it a few weeks ago, when I thought ‘why haven’t I tried to read anything else by him?” So I decided to check-out “The Gates” on audiobook.

What a sweet, adorable, and hilarious book based on a young boy defending Earth from Satan and his demons. One evening Samuel Johnson stumbles upon his neighbors summoning the devil, an act they try upon out of pure boredom. It all works out, you see, because the Hadron Collider over in Switzerland has accidentally released a God-particle at the exact same moment as the summoning, creating a lot of chaos as finally the gates of Hell are open to the world. Who hasn’t been there before, am I right?

Samuel and his friends team up with Nurd, a demon who doesn’t particularly want to be a demon, as they attempt to fight back against the ensuing evil army. Connolly writes these characters with lots of affection, I loved their relationships with each other and how they treated and cared for one another in the face of certain doom.

This is a great book for both adults and young adults, although the jokes about hell and demons may not appeal to a devoutly religious person, so just be forewarned. I would definitely recommend it to Douglas Adams or Kurt Vonnegut lovers, and readers who enjoy a humorous take on very serious subject. The book is also the first of a series, so definitely something to try out if you’re looking to fall in love with Samuel and his heroic dog, Boswell. Lastly, I highly recommend the audio-book version, the actor Johnathan Cake did an amazing job and truly brought these characters to life with his talent and skill.

The Gates by John Connolly

Published on: September 27, 2009

I read this as: an Audiobook from Hoopla

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Cover image provided with permission from Penguin Random House Canada

From the outside Eleanor appears to be okay, maybe even completely fine. Sure, she is socially awkward, has no verbal filter, is unable to be anything but completely literal, and her closest friend is a plant, but none of this seems to really bother Eleanor, as she puts it:

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Once we start digging through the layers of Eleanor, we begin to see that she is far from fine. However, as the shroud of her heartbreaking past and the mystery around it begins to fall, Eleanor learns about herself and develops meaningful relationships. She meets Raymond, her office IT guy, and through her friendship with him she saves Sammy, an older man who falls in the street. Even though Raymond and Sammy are a little confused by Eleanor initially, they see the kindness in her and open their friendship and families to her, giving Eleanor a chance to experience loving relationships, perhaps for the first time.

This book is about trauma, but even with everything stacked against her, Eleanor is a true heroine; she is brave, kind, someone you simply cannot stop rooting for. Despite the sad parts, Eleanor is unwittingly hilarious, I loved the depictions of her experiencing something for the first time, such as dancing in public:

“I found myself not thinking about anything, sort of like how the vodka worked, but different, because I was with people and I was singing. YMCA! YMCA! Arms in the air, mimicking the letters – what a marvelous idea! Who knew dancing could be so logical?

During the next free-form jigging section, I started to wonder why the band was singing about, presumably, the Young Men’s Christian Association, but then, from my very limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and fire-starting and Emily Brontë novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender and faith-based youth organization?”

I DIED.

This novel was so endearing, funny, and sweet, I loved it from start to finish. Learning about Eleanor opens us up to understanding people who are different, even if they are off-putting and strange, and in this way the book reminded me a lot of A Man Called Ove. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys quirky and like-able characters, character-driven story-lines, or someone who enjoys cheering for the under-dog.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Published: May 9, 2017

I read this as: A library book

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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Cover image provided with permission from HarperCollins

I keep telling people how much I enjoyed this book and I get uncomfortable, embarrassed looks in return based on the title. If you also feel a little shy because of the first two words of the book’s name, don’t worry you are not alone! However that’s not worth skipping out just because of the title, I absolutely loved it.

Nikki, the modern daughter of Indian immigrants to London, has become a little lost in her search of what exactly she wants to do with her life. She picks up a side job in what she assumes will be teaching creative writing to women in the local Sikh community of Southall. However when she begins working with the women she realizes:

  1. Their idea of creative writing is much more “creative” than anything she could’ve ever imagined (see: the title).
  2. The women who attend her class are for the most part, illiterate.

Although at first she is a bit patronizing of her students, as she learns more about them Nikki’s relationships with these women grows, in many ways hilariously, but also with a twist of heart-warming friendship. On top of the amazingly original premise of the book, it also contains a mystery and a love-story. And in case you were wondering, yes, there really are erotic stories in the novel, albeit not an extreme amount, but if that is 100% not your thing then it’s better to be forewarned.

Jaswal’s book is beautiful in its first-person account of life as an immigrant, and a first-generation children trying to navigate life on a completely different path from their parents. The book made me think of the sacrifices mothers and fathers often make for their children so that they can have better opportunities, and how children struggle with meeting the expectations their hard-working, ever-sacrificing parents have for them:

“You waste everything because you’ve always had everything.”

This was Reese Witherspoon’s bookclub pick for March 2018, and I couldn’t agree with her more; I found this story thoroughly delightful from start to finish and would would recommend this to a reader looking for a fun, open-hearted, plot-driven story that’s fast-paced and has something for everyone: a love, mystery, friendship, personal growth, and yes, erotica.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Publication Date: June 13th, 2017

I read this as: A library book (hardback)

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Delaney, Brigid 2018.02My husband teases me regularly about my frequent change in diet, which I try to take in good stride because he’s mostly right. In our eight years of marriage I have been a vegan, which morphed into pescatarianism, a phase that lasted 4 years until a personal trainer told me I wasn’t eating enough protein (who can eat fish 3 meals a day?). This transitioned me back to meat-eater, then I stopped eating sugar, which lead to not eating carbs, which lead to not eating gluten, and now I maintain a sort of “paleo, gluten-lite” type diet (which I occasionally cheat on), and I try to eat a lot of probiotics, which I’ve been told will help me avoid Alzheimer’s. I also attend 4 yoga classes a week, have a Fabletics subscription, and listen to Pema Chödrön audiobooks when I’m feeling stressed out. In the club of Western woman searching for wellness, I’m a pretty active member.

Wellmania is about that search, but Delaney, a travel journalist, doesn’t settle for attempting the latest fad diet or trying Pilates at her local gym. From taking on 101-day-fast to practicing transcendental meditation, Delaney thoughtfully balances out what she gains from these experiences with the challenges of maintaining a picture-perfect version of health. She considers the consumerism driving this search: after all, isn’t it only wealthy people who are able to attend 90 minute, $20 yoga classes, travel to Thailand to learn meditation with a Buddhist monk, and eat organically?

 What I loved about this book is the author’s honesty and frame of mind, she’s doesn’t try to paint herself as a guru or the embodiment of wellness, and she doesn’t try to hide her hedonistic side, she enjoys when her experiences demonstrate that she could do both:

“This is my path – what C.S. Lewis called a ‘secret road’ that we are all walking on, but each road is different. I like to think that I’m walking in the middle of the road, between the wellness lane and the hedonism lane, trying not to get run over by cars. Maybe I am meant to pick a side. But right now, I can’t – and that’s okay.” (page 149)

Ultimately Wellmania made me think about how I practice wellness, my occasional obsession with it (and then lack thereof), and what a realistic healthy life that is good for the entire planet should look like (hint: it’s probably not the one that Lululemon is trying to sell me. No hate.) I genuinely loved this book, was surprised by it, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in health, yoga, modern society, or enjoys irreverant life advice from an honest, funny, writer.

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

I read this as: Edelweiss ARC*

*This book was published in another version that came out in 2017, I’m not sure why it is being republished or what the differences are between the two. I like this one.