Circe by Madeline Miller

“I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.”  

This is not a love story. No, this is something far greater that cannot be placed into one category. “Circe” by Madeline Miller is a story that is devastating, heartbreaking and breathtaking. It is a story about magic, betrayal, love, loss and self-discovery. It is about family feuds, ancient rivalries and politics. Moreover, it is about the triumph of a woman living in a man’s world. Here is a book that is rich in Greek mythology with a fierce female character that is unlike anything I have read in a while. Can we also take a moment to appreciate the cover art? I mean, I know we are told not to judge a book by it’s cover, but come on!

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Synopsis:

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

From the moment Circe was born, she was cast aside as worthless nymph. Born into the house of Helios, god of the sun and a Titan, Circe was vastly different from her powerful father. She would be mocked for having a voice of a mortal and no power of her own. Feeling like an outcast amongst the gods and goddesses in her own home, Circe turns to the mortals for companionship and soon discovers her powers for witchcraft. As her powers grow, Circe finds herself being able to transform her enemies into hideous monsters. It is not long until the all-powerful Zeus feels threatened by Circe’s powers and sends her into exile on the Isle of Aiaia. It is on this island where she learns that being a goddess and an immortal will not save her from the horrors this world has to offer. Circe learns to rely on herself for protection on this desolate island by focusing on strengthening her powers. Her exile is long and we join her on her journey as she overcomes some brutal and heartbreaking encounters with visitors on her island. 

Greek Mythology:

I have always been a huge fan of Greek mythology. I liked that while this book focused on Circe and her life, we also got a glimpse of some other important characters. We get a brief encounter between Circe and Prometheus before he is cursed to spend an eternity bound to a rock with an eagle feasting on his poor liver. I loved this part of the story (the encounter, not the liver feasting) as it focuses on the human and gentle side of Circe as she shows some kindness towards Prometheus during his torment. This was such a small part of the book but it left a tremendous impact on Circe and it became a turning point in her life.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

While Circe lives in solitude for many years, she did have a few relationships during her time in exile. The famous Hermes and Odysseus make an appearance in her story, but Circe handles these relationships on her own terms. These are not necessarily happy love stories, but she takes what she wants from each relationship to help her become the person she wants to be. The relationships she has with the mortals are also explored and I found these to be the more interesting relationships in the book.

Themes:

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.” 

As we read about Circe becoming that infamous witch of Aiaia, we see her growth as she overcomes the shadows of her past. While she was treated as a worthless nymph by the gods, she soon finds herself being treated as a toy to be used by some of the monsters in the mortal world. It is not until a harrowing encounter with some of these mortals that she decides to change her narrative by using her powers. It is through her magic that she finds her freedom as she learns to protect herself and those she cares about. Circe’s other tense relationships are explored, notably between her siblings and her father. It is painful to read about how Circe yearns for love and acceptance from her family. The family dynamic is definitely strained and very complex, which leads to many confrontations. It also helps Circe find peace in her solitude and acceptance about her family and their indifference. We also see Circe struggle to understand her place in the world. She is a goddess who has been mistreated by her own kind. She is also a goddess who has a soft spot for the mortals. Reading about Circe trying to choose between these two worlds was probably one of my favorite parts of this book.   

Final Thoughts:

Madeline Miller is quite the storyteller. The writing is beautiful and so descriptive that it feels like I can vividly picture Aiaia in my head. It was very interesting reading about all these famous characters from Greek mythology through Circe’s perspective. If you follow Greek mythology, you will know what happens to these characters but reading it from Circe’s perspective almost feels like you are reading about these characters for the first time. Furthermore, Circe’s growth is what really kept me invested in this story as I was rooting for her from the very first page. You really get a sense of how powerful and intelligent Circe is and you are just waiting for her to realize her potential. I highly recommend this book even if you do not care for Greek mythology. Step out of your reading comfort zone and get lost in this gem.

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Happy reading!

 

Shazia.

 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

What do you get when you have a book filled with family drama, gossiping, scheming, backstabbing and a love story doomed from the beginning? You get a great summer read!

Believe me when I say I heard dramatic soap opera music playing in my head while reading this book. Crazy Rich Asians is a book that has been on my radar for a while. It wasn’t until I found out that the movie would be released soon that I dashed to the bookstore to pick up a copy (because who watches the movie before reading the book?). I cannot believe it took me this long to pick up such an outrageously funny and dramatic book. I live for drama in books. I love characters that are so out there that you question if actual people like that exist in the world. This is what I continuously asked myself while reading this book. It kept me on my toes and I was very stressed out for the main character. Let’s get right into it:

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Synopsis:

Rachel Chu is a professor of economics and an ABC (American born Chinese). She has been in a relationship with her boyfriend, Nick Young, for two years. During the course of her relationship, she learns very little about his family. Until the day Nick invites Rachel to his friend’s wedding in Singapore. Finally Rachel will meet and learn more about Nick’s family. While she is nervous at the prospect of meeting her boyfriend’s family, she is in for a big surprise and culture shock.

As it turns out, Nicholas Young is one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors. He grew up in a home that looks like a palace, has access to private planes and has relatives that spend over $25,000 on outfits. Rachel was not prepared for any of this and she finds herself being swept into the stunning world of some crazy rich Asians. While Rachel is both dazzled and overwhelmed by the way Nick’s family and friends live, she soon realizes that she has a target on her back. There are many people who do not believe Rachel is good enough for Nick and will do everything in their power to get her out of the way.

Culture Shock:

I love books that explore different cultures and I must admit that I did not know much about Singapore’s culture until I read Crazy Rich Asians. Of course, the culture that was explored in this book was that of the immensely wealthy Singaporeans. I really enjoyed reading about Rachel experiencing culture shock. There are plenty of hilarious scenes of Rachel exploring their world and trying to wrap her mind around the price tags. It felt like I was learning along with Rachel, and getting shocked as well. I felt overwhelmed just reading the descriptions of the elaborate mansions and extravagant wedding festivities.

Themes:

There were many themes that revolved around family, relationships, class and prejudice. However, what stood out for me the most were the differences between the old generation and the new generation within the families. The older generation was portrayed as holding on to their culture values and their beliefs. They did live extravagant lives but they believed in privacy. Some were set in their ways and had expectations that needed to be fulfilled by their children. The younger generation were portrayed as showing off their wealth and spending their money on the latest designer brands. They were on a quest to own more, be caught on camera looking like the perfect family or just sabotaging those around them to get what they wanted. There were also many “mean girl” moments in this book that had me stressed out. Poor Rachel Chu never had a chance and was not well prepared to deal with the vicious mean girls that labeled her as a gold-digger from the moment they heard of her. She was also not prepared to deal with the older ladies who schemed together to sabotage her relationship with Nick.

Overall:

Crazy Rich Asians was a fun summer read. While you may find that the descriptions of characters and the environment can be long at times, I urge you to read through it because it does help you understand the world Kevin Kwan created. Enjoy and do catch the movie as it comes out later this month.

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Happy reading!

Shazia.

Victoria BC Bookstore Scene

When visiting a new city, what is one of the most important things on your itinerary? For me it is finding the town’s best bookstore and finding food. Since this is a book blog, lets focus on the books.

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When I visited Victoria in British Columbia this past week, I made a note to look up a few bookstores. I also made a note of packing light in case I found more books to bring back home. Imagine my joy when I found out there was a very well known and beautiful bookstore right next door to my hotel. That is what I call serendipity!

Munro’s Books:

Located in the heart of downtown Victoria, this bookstore has is very hard to miss. The first thing that caught my attention as I walked in was the beautiful architecture. You can tell that the building has been modernized but that old school charm has been maintained as well. There are also beautiful fabric banners on one side of the wall that depict the four seasons. Back home in Montreal, I tend to spend most of my time in Chapters/Indigo and sometimes venture out to the used bookstores scattered around our city. It was great to explore something completely different from what I am use to seeing.

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The selection of books ranged from new releases, classics, autobiographies, cookbooks and so much more. There was a whole wall of fiction, which I gravitated towards right away. I was also grateful for the section with staff picks because all the options were overwhelming me. Needless to say, I was ready to give away all my money to this cute bookstore. There was also a nice tourist section with books about Victoria and it’s many attractions. I quickly flipped through some of these books and added a few spots to my itinerary. The staff was incredibly kind and attentive. One of the staff members even gave me a bit of a history lesson regarding the bookstore and the first owner. There were also various bookish items for sale at reasonable prices. I came close to buying a “I love Mr. Darcy” tote bag but a quick poll on bookstagram gave me the impression that it would be next level cheesy. Looking at my boring tote bag right now, I realize leaving it behind was a mistake. Quick advice: always buy the bookish item!

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Munro’s Books is located at 1108 Government Street Victoria, BC.


Russell Books

I was already on cloud nine from my experience in Munro’s Books. Then comes along a little message in my instagram DM from a fellow bookstagrammer who tells me there is an even bigger bookstore located just three blocks from where I am staying. Needless to say, I fired up my GPS and made my way to the location. Can I say serendipity again?

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Also located in the heart of downtown Victoria, this bookstore was huge. I’m pretty sure if I did not look touristy already, my reaction as I entered the bookstore gave me away. I squealed and did a little spin taking in the endless aisles of books. There was every section you can imagine: cooking, gardening, literature, poetry and a little salute to Harry Potter hidden in various aisle. As I was looking for the fiction section, one of the workers told me I could find that section upstairs. “Hold on…THERE IS AN UPSTAIRS?”

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Yep, there are two floors of endless piles and aisles of books. The fiction section was gigantic. It took me a while to make my way through each aisle and trying hard to pick just one book. There was also staff recommendations when you feel too lost or overwhelmed by all the options. There are piles of books lying around on the floors as well so you never know where your next great find will be hiding. The books were generally in great condition and the prices were very reasonable. Of course the staff was very welcoming and helpful.

Russell books is located on 734 Fort St, Victoria BC.

Chapters:

Of course you are always drawn to what you know. Walking out of Russell Books, I saw Chapters down another street so I decided to give it a little visit. It feels weird entering another Chapters and not knowing where everything is located. It made me realize how I am usually on autopilot in the bookstores in Montreal. Having three bookstores in close proximity to each other made it a fun little afternoon of bookstore hopping. Since I was only in town for a couple of days, I could not spend too much time at each location. Therefore, I believe another trip is due soon to fully experience these places.

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Book adventures:

I brought one book along with me on my trip to Victoria. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins seemed to be an appropriate choice and I thought it would make a great beach read. However, I underestimated how distracted I would become by Victoria’s beautiful scenic views. This made paying attention to the book very difficult. Even reading on the plane was cut short when I looked out the window and saw the mountaintops. Sadly, I did not get far in my reading but my book did end up making its way through many beautiful locations.

Here is my book chilling by the ocean at Beacon Hill Park:

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Here is my book doing a tour with me at Fisherman’s Warf:

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Here is my book keeping my tepid tea company as I completely ignore it due to the beautiful views out my window:35841663_10103694994842647_3773146404671717376_n (1)

If you are going to the Canadian westcoast, it would be really easy to forget about bookstores and enjoy your time by the water. However, I strongly recommend taking a stroll in these two bookstores. Even if you are not a reader, I believe you would enjoy the gorgeous architecture.

Happy travelling and reading!

Shazia.

Author Spotlight: Ruth Ware

I remember reading a comment on Goodreads about Ruth Ware becoming the Agatha Christie of our times and I cannot agree more. Ruth Ware’s books are eerie page-turners that have kept me up till the wee hours of the night reading till my eyes were bloodshot and my mind was reeling. I love psychological thrillers and murder mysteries and I have found that Ruth Ware’s writing has a creepy tone that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. You just feel that something is horribly wrong and something bad will happen. You also find yourself asking many questions throughout the book: Can you trust this character? Can you really trust any character? Who is the murderer? What in the world is going on? Ruth Ware, how do you come up with this stuff? Yep, many questions!

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret
Never to be told

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First off, Ruth Ware’s newest release has the most intriguing cover. Just looking at the black and white cover with the intricate gate filled with magpies and cobwebs was enough to grab my interest.

The novel introduces us to Harriet Westaway, a young woman struggling to make ends meet ever since her mother passed away. Harriet is a tarot reader who has the eye for observing human behaviour and figuring out the reason why people visit her. When a loan shark threatens to turn Harriet’s life upside down, she turns to what appears to be her only hope: a mysterious letter addressed to her stating that she has come into an inheritance left by her grandmother, Mrs. Westaway. The problem: Mrs. Westaway is not her grandmother. Harriet decides that life has knocked her down enough and that money can be her turning point. She embarks on the journey to her “grandmother’s” funeral and starts working her cunning plan to convince the family members that she is part of their family. Things take a dark turn as Harriet’s lies get out of hand and as she gets pulled deeper into the family secrets. She starts realizing something sinister is at the heart of their house and past.

The description of the creepy mansion fit into the storyline so well. The image of the cold, worn down home filled with secrets was so vivid in my mind. The feeling that everyone in this book was up to no good overwhelmed me. I questioned the characters motive and analyzed their behaviour with each turn of the page. I can tell you that I did not see that twist coming in the end. I finished this book in a day and I think I was so wrapped up in what I just read that I could not process what I felt for a couple of days. All I can say is, this is a Ruth Ware novel so be prepared for the creepy factor and a lot of suspense!

The Woman in Cabin 10:

“What was going to happen to me? There were only two possibilities—they were going to let me go at some point. Or they were going to kill me.” 

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When travel writer Lo Blacklock gets an assignment aboard a luxury cruise, she believes she has scored not only a big step in her career but some much needed time away from the drama of her own life. She soon realizes that this voyage will be anything but relaxing and more of her own personal nightmare. When Lo believes she witnessed a murder aboard the ship, she tries her best to convince the cruise staff of what she thinks happened. However, nobody seems to believe her and everyone is accounted for on the ship. There is no evidence of foul play and Lo eventually begins to question her own sanity. The biggest question: Who is the woman in cabin 10? This book had me questioning my own sanity as I kept trying to find answers to my questions or predict what would happen. Of course all my predictions were wrong, but I enjoyed how the mystery unravelled. Another hit by Ruth Ware!

In a Dark, Dark Wood:

“There was something strangely naked about it, like we were on a stage set, playing our parts to an audience of eyes out there in the wood.” 

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What happens when you take a couple of women with a past and place them in a dark and deserted cottage in the woods for a bachelorette weekend? Nothing good that’s for sure! Another eerie story about how lies and secrets from a decade earlier unravel in the most unexpected and horrifying way. I was quite shocked by how this story took a turn in a direction that I was not expecting. This book was a quick read for me and was perfect for those long commutes to and from work. Just make sure you are paying attention to your bus stop (learn from my mistakes folks).

In a Nutshell:

If you are looking to get swept away by a book then Ruth Ware is the way to go. I would take The Woman in Cabin 10 on vacation and I would read The Death of Mrs. Westaway on a rainy day snuggled up in a blanket and a cup of tea. Either way, you cannot go wrong. They are the kind of books you will read fast because you need answers to your questions.

Happy Reading!

Shazia.

Montreal Young Adult Book Festival

Montreal is a city that never sleeps. This city is filled with bright lights and noise from festivals, concerts, new restaurants and fun activities. However, one thing that Montrealers do not get to experience are book festivals…until now!

Montreal’s first young adult (YA) book festival was held in the Jewish Public Library on May 27th, 2018. The day was dedicated to book lovers of all ages who enjoy reading YA books.

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The day kicked off with readers getting a goodie bag from the generous committee behind the festival. Each person received a MTL YA Festival tote bag, a program, a pin and a sampler booklet with the first chapters of four YA books. There was also a table filled with books for sale supplied by Babar Books. Needless to say, all the bookworms gravitated towards that general area many times during the day.

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Authors Everywhere:

For a bookworm, seeing an author is like seeing a celebrity. I will not deny that I was a bit star struck. This event allowed us to interact with the authors as they discussed their writing process and important themes tackled in their books. There were several panels and the hardest part for me was picking which one to attend, as they all seemed so interesting.

Tough Stuff: Islamophobia, Racism, Bullying and more.

The authors speaking in this panel:

Nic Stone – Dear Martin

Samira Ahmed – Love, Hate & Other Filters

Brendan Kiely – The Last True Love Story

Monique Polak – What World is Left

E.K. Johnston – Spindle

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When I was a teenager, YA books rarely discussed the “tough stuff”. Islamophobia was non-existent in YA books. I rarely ever read anything on racism or sexual assault. All this has changed over the years as brave authors have stepped forward to share stories that need to be read and that can get conversations started on what many people may find uncomfortable or controversial. Samira Ahmed discussed what it is like to live in a world riddled with Islamophobia. E.K. Johnston discussed rape culture, while Monique Polak discussed domestic abuse. Nic Stone discussed racism and racial profiling. Together, these authors shared their personal experiences and how the writing process can be therapeutic as these stories needed to be shared through their writing. I was truly inspired and captivated by their conversations. These authors had everyone’s undivided attention as they spoke so eloquently about their own emotions as they write about this difficult subject matter.

New on the Scene: Authors with a book or two under their belts talk about breaking into writing.

This panel included:

Nic Stone – Dear Martin

Gloria Chao – American Panda

S.M. Beiko – Scion of the Fox

J.F. Dubeau – A God in the Shed

Looking around the room as the authors were speaking, I noticed many teenagers eagerly listening to the writing advice while taking notes in their notepads. In a world where the new generation is often portrayed as kids who are glued to their screens, it is great to see many who have a genuine love of reading and interest in becoming writers. The advice handed down by these incredible authors was both helpful and realistic. They did not shy away from talking about the struggles of breaking into the writing world and of continuing writing as a career. Most importantly, what they offered was motivation to keep on writing and ways to work around the negative thoughts that can cause writers block or make us give up on our writing.

Keynote Speaker Nic Stone:

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Nic Stone, the author of New York Times bestselling novel Dear Martin was one of the authors in the panels and was the keynote speaker of the day. Nic discussed writing about social injustices that needed to be shared with the world. I have never met an author who grabs your attention, makes you laugh and delivers such powerful messages all in one speech. Nic Stone definitely has a gift for words and for giving advice. She explored the ideas of reason, humility, investigative savvy, nuances, optimism and self-care while writing your story. The room was full of smiles, laughter and genuine awe after such a wonderful speech.

Book signings:

Of course no book festival would be complete without a book signing. These authors were so interactive during the signings and spent a good amount of time with each person discussing their book and giving personalized messages to each reader.

Samira Ahmed and I had a wonderful conversation about growing up with barely any brown/muslim characters in the books we read. It is refreshing to finally read more and more YA books with diverse characters. I really appreciated this conversation with such a kind author.

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Side note: I believe I have convinced Nic Stone to adopt the Canadian way of saying “Zed”. Ditch the “Zee” folks!

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I would like to thank the director of the Children’s Department of the Jewish Public Library and the founder of this year’s Montreal Ya Festival Talya Pardo for putting together such an incredible event with her committee. Thank you for bringing together this community as we shared our love of books together. I hope this is the start to many more book festivals in Montreal.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Author Spotlight: Khaled Hosseini

Is there a particular author who writes books that make you weep into your pillow? Do you mentally prepare yourself for the emotional roller coaster you will be experiencing when you read his or her books? Does this author write so beautifully that you feel incapable of picking up another book after reading their work? Have you been emotionally destroyed by this author?

Hands up if you answered Khaled Hosseini to all of the above questions!

Author Spotlight: Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini’s books are perfect for book clubs as there are many themes that are explored in his stories. Afghani culture, feminism, oppression, family, marriage and friendships are just a few of the themes that Hosseini explores through expert storytelling. You will feel every emotion while you read his books. You will feel the character’s guilt, longing, sadness, anger and most importantly, love. You will feel the heartache of a mother, the guilt of an old friend, the loneliness of a wife and the hope of a child.

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The Kite Runner:

“For you, a thousand times over.”

The Kite Runner was the first book I read by Hosseini and it shook me to my core. The story is set in Kabul and revolves around the childhood friendship of Amir and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan. At a young age, they were each other’s confidants, but all that changes when Amir witnesses a brutal act of violence against Hassan by their local bully and does not intervene. Riddled with guilt, Amir keeps his distance from his childhood friend and builds a life far away from him and the memory of what took place. Years later, Amir has to face the consequences of his actions, and inactions. The biggest themes in this book are friendship, father-son relationships, guilt and redemption. There were parts of this book that really broke my heart and a couple of scenes that were hard to read. However, it was important to read as well. As tough as it is to read about violent acts, it helps us remember that these acts occur beyond the pages of the book in real life. The Kite Runner was written with a lot of heart and I highly recommend it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns:

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

I remember being in a daze from being emotionally destroyed by this book. A Thousand Splendid Suns is my absolute favorite Khaled Hosseini book. The story revolves around two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, from different generations brought together by war and loss. Mariam is the illegitimate child of Jalil, a wealthy businessman. When her mother commits suicide, Jalil marries Mariam off to a much older and abusive man. For years, Mariam becomes pregnant but cannot carry the baby to term. Her husband, Rasheed, becomes violent as their childless years pass by. Laila is a girl who is in love with her childhood friend Tariq. When a rocket destroys Laila’s home and kills her parents, Rasheed and Mariam take her into their home. Rasheed is eager to have a second young wife who can give him children, and convinces her to marry him after news that Tariq was also killed. These two women form an unbreakable bond in what seems to be a hopeless life filled with violence and sadness. I was rooting for Mariam and Laila throughout the book. The biggest themes in this book are motherhood, friendship, family and women in Afghanistan. The reason why this book is my favorite is because of the relationship between Mariam and Laila. While they start off as being rivals, their relationship develops into friendship and ultimately into a mother-daughter bond. This is a beautifully written book that really pulls at your heartstrings.

And the Mountains Echoed

“I now know that some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely, and without recourse.”

This book is filled with complex characters across generations and continents. Every character has a tragic backstory that interweaves into a novel filled with hardship and lost love. The story begins with a poor farmer who sells his infant daughter to a childless couple in Kabul. We then follow the story of this little girl’s heartbroken brother, who raised her when their mother died. We also follow the story of the children’s stepmother and her own backstory filled with betrayal and guilt. Each story explored different emotions and the outcomes really surprised me, especially the ending.

Why you should read these books:
Khaled Hosseini’s books will take you on an emotional journey, and while some people may not want to read sad books, his books are so much more than sad. There is always a glimmer of hope in every one of his books, despite the tragedy and loss experienced by the characters. You will also learn about the historical, political and cultural aspects of Afghanistan. There is nothing I love more than learning new things while reading books. Khaled will be releasing his new book  “Sea Prayer” on September 18th. This book will shed light on the struggles of refugees who are forced from their homes by war. Mark your calendars!

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

What makes a book exceptionally good you ask? – An unforgettable character!
Meet Eleanor Oliphant, a 29-year-old woman who thinks she is completely fine. Except, she really isn’t. And to be honest, neither was I by the end of this remarkable book.

Facts about Eleanor:
Eleanor has a nine-to-five job that offers very little mental stimulation
Eleanor lives alone and has no friends.
Every Wednesday, Eleanor’s institutionalized mother calls her for a life update.
Every Friday night, Eleanor buys pizza and two bottles of vodka for the weekend.
People find Eleanor strange, but other people’s behaviour is strange to her.
Eleanor survived a traumatic experience at a very young age and has the scars to remind her of it everyday.

What makes this book so captivating is our quirky Eleanor. She was fine living in her perfectly scheduled, controlled and isolated life until she sets her eyes on someone she declares is her soul mate. This sets the path for a hilarious journey as she tries to integrate herself into society and it’s norms. You join her as she discovers the woes of waxing, makeup, shopping and more complex human interactions.

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Themes:
Mental illness is a big theme in this book, but it was presented in a way that I have never read before. The story was funny but also sad when you get to the root of Eleanor’s issues. Her good days will make you smile, but her bad days will make your heart ache. Her socially inept ways will make you laugh out loud, but the scorn she receives from others will break your heart. Her worst days are a glimpse of how darkness can consume a person and make them feel utterly alone.

Secondary characters:
While Eleanor steals the show, there are two secondary characters that leave a lasting impression.

– Raymond, an IT tech working in Eleanor’s office begins interacting with her. While at first Eleanor uses her time with Raymond as an exercise in social interactions, it does develop into an undeniable friendship. What I loved about their relationship is that it was not a love story like many would expect. She does not heal due to a new love in her life. Instead, she finds valuable support and uses her own strength to overcome issues she had swept under the rug for years following her trauma.

– Sammy is an elderly man who falls on the sidewalk and Eleanor and Raymond save him. This character is so colorful and full of life. The positivity he projects has an impact on Eleanor in ways she would have never imagined. The three of them become unlikely friends and help each other through their hardships.

My thoughts:
This book completely surprised me. I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did and I was happy to learn that it will be made into a movie very soon. I cannot wait to see Eleanor Oliphant come to life on screen.

You will cheer for her.
You will cry for her.
You will want to give her a hug.
You will then remember that she is a fictional character.
You will then remember that there are many like her in this world.

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Let’s Talk Young Adult Books

The young adult (YA) genre has really grown over the years. I was an avid reader when I was a teenager. In fact, I probably read more books as a teenager than I do now (let’s hear it for adult life, responsibilities and all that jazz). However, I believe I have discovered some of the best young adult books in the recent years. So I ask the question, is it just me or has the YA book game become stronger over the past few years?

Many of you may believe that the teen section in bookstores is filled with youngsters. I am here to burst your bubble as I have seen many people around my age, and much older, browsing the teen section for their next read. At the age of 30-years-old, I discovered some incredible YA books and nearly half of the books on my to-be read pile are from this genre.

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The Stereotype:

What do you picture when you think of young adult books?

For many people, there is this stereotypical thought of these books portraying the life of teenagers and all the troubles in this stage of life. While some of these books do follow this theme, the majority of books explore worlds and characters beyond your imagination. Clearly these characters are not living the kind of teenage life I remember. There is also a belief that these books are considered “easy” reads. I have read plenty of YA books that took all the brain power I have to remember the complex characters, follow the book map to understand the geography, try to properly pronounce words from the made up language (and fail horribly) and link together all the crazy events that were unfolding. My old brain needed rest after some of these 600 page monsters.

Fierce Female Characters:

Most of the YA books I have read have some of the fiercest female characters going into battle, learning magic, fighting against beasts and discovering new worlds. There have been times when I sat back and thought, “wow, the girl in this book is 15 years younger than me and she just defended her whole country from death by flying beasts and a psychotic magic wielding king. Meanwhile, I’m on my second cup of tea and have not moved from this couch in over 2 hours”. Sometimes these characters motivate you to do better, be more adventurous or just get off the couch and stretch a bit.

It is always refreshing to read the journey of strong female characters, and there are plenty of YA female characters that are fearless, strong and captivating on every level:
I recently read a YA book where the protagonist is a strong female pirate with a whole crew of women onboard her ship:

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I have read a book about a young princess who escapes an arranged marriage for political purposes and ends up leading armies into battle:

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I have also read an incredible series (perhaps my favorite YA series) where a helpless mortal girl who lives in poverty goes on to become a hero amongst the supernatural beings she has always feared. After suffering from immense trauma, she rises from the ashes to become one of the strongest of her kind and paves the way for the life she wants:

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YA Authors:
In these past two years alone I have discovered many incredible YA authors and follow them on Instagram. These authors are very interactive with their fans and often share what inspired them to write such enchanting stories. Some of my personal favourite authors and series are:

Sarah J. Maas – A Court of Thorne and Roses trilogy

Leigh Bardugo – Six of Crows series

Cassandra Clare – Infernal Devices trilogy

Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes series

I lost sleep over these books and experienced major book hangover (yes, this is a real thing) after finishing each one of the books in these series. Let’s not even discuss the emotional distress I had to deal with. It was worth it though, I promise! Just be ready to experience every emotion and find a friend for emotional support afterwards.

YA Fandom:
I cannot even begin to describe how big and diverse this fandom is and how many fun discussions I have had with passionate bookworms. In fact, I discovered many of the above authors thanks to the YA fandom. Hours can be spent discussing new releases, anticipated books, favorite characters and books on our to-be read list. I really do believe that discussing the story with this incredible community is the best part of reading YA books.

Happy reading,

Shazia.

Book Review – Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

First Impressions:
Have you ever come across a book with a title that makes you laugh and feel a bit hesitant about picking it up? Experience in this area has taught me to push the hesitancy aside and read the synopsis, because you never know what treasures are hidden within the pages.

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows definitely made me pause and laugh when I first saw the title on Reese Witherspoon’s book club Instagram page. I was hesitant, but I reminded myself that I love books that shed light on cultures, especially my own, and I might be missing out on something great. So the next time I was browsing in my favourite bookstore, I made a point of picking up this book and reading the synopsis. I realized this book was more than it seemed and I could not run to the cash fast enough. Literally ran (ok fine, power walked) to the cashier with a goofy smile on my face. You know that “I’m-about-to-read-something-great” smile. So began a journey with one of the funniest, insightful and important reads of 2018.

Synopsis:
This story introduces us to Nikki, the modern daughter of Indian immigrants who takes a job teaching a creative writing class for modest Punjabi widows. Nikki realizes that many of the women are illiterate but they have many unexpected erotic stories they want to tell. These widows do not hold back as they pour their creativity, experiences and imagination into their stories, shocking their teacher and giving her a new purpose in life. The stories that make these women feel free and empowered are the same stories that are forbidden by a group of Sikh men who call themselves the “Brothers” and appointed themselves as the town’s moral police. Nikki is about to realize how little she knows about her tight-knit community, and how many secrets she has yet to uncover.

Thoughts:
This book completely captivated me. There are so many colourful characters that jump out at you and come to life in these pages. For me, that is a mark of a talented author. The stories written by the widows were hilarious and I could not get the image of elder women with white dupattas (scarves) on their heads writing such scandalous stories. I lost count on how many times I collapsed in a laughing fit by the dialogue between the older ladies. Brilliant writing!

A big theme in this book is about traditional families and the shame attached to their daughters who step out of line from what is expected of them. The book also explores the consequences of policing women in how to behave. Womanhood is explored through many different perspectives and across generations. Culture is also explored through the eyes of immigrant parents and their modern children. Old secrets that have long been buried resurface and horrendous unsolved crimes are brought to light. From start to finish, there was not a dull moment in this book. One of my favourite take away messages from this book is that everyone has a story to tell, and that there is a writer in all of us.

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Highly recommended!

Happy reading,

Shazia.

Where the Journey Began

Welcome to Khanlibrary!

My name is Shazia and I’m an avid reader from Montreal. I have spent most of my life with my nose in a book, making references to book characters as if they were real and spending hours researching/buying/reviewing books. There is always a book in my bag, because you never know when you will get some downtime to read, am I right? Reading books is one of my biggest passions and it all started thanks to my parents who decided to take me to bookstores early on in life.

The first book I ever read was a Sesame Street book in which Big Bird takes his very first flight to either visit Granny Bird or England. Maybe Granny Bird was living in England? The details are choppy since this was about 24 years ago (yikes!). Regardless, he was going on a trip somewhere and I was taking my first trip with my parents as well. My mom thought it would be a good idea to get me a book showing Big Bird’s travel preparation process. So I read the book with my mom and packed my bags just like Big Bird did in the book. My mom’s favourite part of this story is when I spent most of the plane ride asking if there was a book about Big Bird travelling to Pakistan because that was where we were headed. Yeah, pretty sure there wasn’t. Thankfully my parents ended the Big Bird obsession and introduced me to other books that helped shape me into becoming the bookworm I am today.

As I got a bit older, my mom gave me three books that started the book addiction:

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

These books were the foundation of what would become a lifetime of reading, and probably the cause of my terrible eyesight as well. I have special editions of all three of these books and I reread them every now and then. It is interesting to reread childhood stories with the eyes of an adult. I find a new meaning in these books each time I read them.

I created the name Khanlibrary for my Instagram account where I post pictures of books I have read with little reviews. Discovering bookstagram was such a treat as I have interacted with so many wonderful bookworms from across the globe. It is the bookstagram community that inspired me to start my book blog. So welcome to my blog! I will be posting many book reviews and basically everything book related over here.

Now if you will excuse me I need to go write down ideas for “Big Bird Travels to Pakistan”. I think I have a future bestseller on my hands.

Happy reading!

Shazia.