Books I Read and Loved in 2016

Well this post is incredibly late, but better late than never. Here are the Top 10 books I read and loved in 2016!

1. Kiss The Joy As It Flies – This book by Sheree Fitch was a pleasure to read. I bought it for $1 from the used book store at the Toronto Reference Library, and to my delight, discovered that it was signed by the author. The title of the book is from the William Blake poem “Eternity” – But he who kisses the joy as it flies, Lives in eternity’s sun rise. It’s about a woman named Mercy who could use a little mercy herself. She is diagnosed with cancer with not long to live, yet finds such joy in life and her journey. In the face of turmoil, Mercy clings to what gives her meaning – she creates a bucket list of things to do before she dies, and tries to repair relationships and uncover secrets of the past. She is charming and humorous, and hates taking advice from others on how to live her life. I read this on the TTC, in bed, and on my way to visit my friend Emily while she was renovating a home in the east end of Toronto.

2. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – I read this as part of my book club. It’s about a woman named Francis who lives in an old town in England and is enamoured with her renter (which they called the ‘paying guests’ at that time because it sounded more dignified). Francis falls in love with Lilian, a beautiful woman who is married to a man named Leonard. Leonard and Lilian seem to be a happy couple but underneath the façade, Lilian isn’t very happy and feels unsettled. She and Francis spend more and more time together and fall in love. But then what to do about Leonard? Well something happens that takes care of him for good. Yes the book is twisted, but also beautifully written. The girls in my book club thought it was just ok, but I absolutely loved it because it drew me in and made me forget about time. I read this book mostly at Starbucks. Sarah Waters is a gifted story-teller who takes you deep into the psyches of the characters and the motivations behind their actions. She knows how to describe love, betrayal, anxiety, and that conflicted feeling where there is a turn in the road, and the decision you make right at that moment determines the rest of your life.

3. The Girls by Lori Lansens – This book is about two conjoined twins who go through life, well, joined together and experience all the highs and lows of life together. I really liked the structure of the book and how it alternates between Ruby’s diary entries and the actual story. The girls are very close to their Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, and this relationship shapes their characters and journey. Lori Lansens is an amazing writer… I hope to write as well as her one day. Her writing makes you reflect on what it means to share your life with someone in the most intimate way – and to experience some of your most private moments with another person. I finished this book in the summer in Ottawa, and then brought it to England to lend to my aunt. She enjoyed it just as much as I did, and had such wonderful insights to share about it.

4. Broken Open: How Difficult Times Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser – I appreciated this book so much. I read it in England when I was going through a really difficult time, at my aunt’s house, and also in the car ride to North Wales. From the back of the book: Will we be broken down and defeated, or broken open and transformed? Elizabeth shares her own story and those of others that were transformed by their pain. I loved the beginning of the book when she talks about her visit to a psychic and how the psychic tells her that there is a significant man named “Tom” in her life, and it turns out that she had dated three Toms recently! The psychic says that this last Tom was important in her life but she wasn’t meant to be with him – she says that he has his own soul journey to go on. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are going through a difficult period in your life and are looking for some inspiration.

5. Veiled Threat by Sally Armstrong – This is one of those books that my parents don’t think I should be reading. It is written by journalist, feminist, and human rights advocate Sally Armstrong. She takes us into the Taliban regime and the way that women were treated during that time as well as the amazing work that was done by women around the world that reached out to their sisters in Afghanistan at the time. We meet the amazing Dr. Sima Samar among others. This book was written in the 90’s at the time when no one was reporting on women’s rights issues. Sally Armstrong was one of the first to report on women’s rights issues and the amazing thing is that she is still at it. I went to see her speak at an event downtown and she spoke about how she is encouraged by how girls and women are joining forces to stand up for themselves, and how social media is playing an important role in activism and effecting change.

6. The Color of Grace by Bethany Haley – This was one the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I picked it up at Book Ends, the small used bookstore at the Toronto Reference Library. It called out to me one Saturday afternoon as I sipped my Balzac’s tea and browsed through the store. Initially I was a little turned off by all the God references (and this is even after I have turned towards God myself), but actually I could not think of a person more fully surrendered to love, duty, and God than this young woman. She goes to Africa to help child soldiers and children who are victims of war crimes, and she witnesses the worst suffering known to man. The children are beautifully resilient, and even in the worst of it all, they are able to smile and be joyful. It is truly inspirational. They heal through art, therapy, open communication, play & sport, and gentle loving care. This book will stay with me always.

7. The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood – This is an analytical, research-based book that looks at human behaviour and why we do the things we do (one of my favourite genres). I loved this book for a few reasons. It was fascinating in its analysis of the human mind and our motivations, and also because I read it on a beautiful summer day when I was doing Walk In Her Shoes. I remember lying on the grass underneath a tree at Osgoode Hall and reading for hours. Even though this is far from a spiritual book, it is interesting to see that the data he collects shows that most people identify their sense of self to physically be located between the eyebrows (also known as “the third eye” in yogic lore). His explorations of free will vs. destiny are also quite fascinating. Be careful reading this book – too much self reflection will make you rethink your own existence!

8. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall – This haunting, intense read was another book club read. I remember reading this so vividly because it was the first time I read an entire book on my phone. I read it during the months where I was crashing on my brother’s couch, late at night before going to bed. It was a real page turner for me, simply based on the interesting plot – a family torn apart by the father/husband being accused of rape. I really related to the character of Joan and how she was torn between standing by her man versus protecting herself – not knowing what to believe, enraged by her lack of control, humiliated, and struggling to be a good mother to her children who were clearly suffering just as much as she is. The book has many twists and turns that keep you on your toes, and is also incredibly well written.

9. True to Life by Beth Kaplan – This book was written by Beth Kaplan, who was the instructor of a memoir writing class that I took last year at U of T.  Every book about writing has a special place in my heart because I appreciate how hard it is to get words on paper, that imperfect messiness that is the first draft, that you want to delete from existence so that there’s no chance anyone will ever read it. Luckily Beth has lots of good advice on how to overcome those nasty negative voices and to get something down that is honest and authentic. I read this book one chapter at a time, sitting at Aroma in Liberty Village, at Tacos 101 on Dundas after volunteering, and during my trip to England. I would recommend this book to anyone that has a story to tell – and that’s everyone.

10. Falling Up by Dana Liesegang – This amazing autobiography tells the story of a woman’s “wild ride from victim to kick-ass victory.”  Dana is a feisty, independent woman who goes through a horrific assault that leaves her paralyzed, and has to pick up the pieces of her life in order to survive. I was so inspired by this book that I would stop and re-read parts over and over. I appreciated the candor with which she wrote, and her imperfect journey in finding the right treatments, people, and path that would lead to her recovery. Along the way, she meets many amazing people, including Tipper Gore and the late Dr. Wayne Dyer, who are blown away by the power of this small person who has overcome so much. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a courage-booster and also for an enjoyable read (Dana has a wonderful sense of humour!).

Notable Mentions

  • Buddhist Scriptures – Edward Conze
  • The Cavendon Women – Barbara Taylor Bradford
  • The Vintage Book of Canadian Memoirs
  • The Secrets of Mariko – Elizabeth Bumiller
  • Shopaholic Gets Married – Sophie Kinsella
  • Count Me In – Emily White


When Will and Grace align, anything is possible

I woke up at around 10 am this morning, the after effects of last night’s evening of magic still on my mind. My friend Gosia threw a fabulous party, where we danced and sang and enjoyed each other’s company. The sounds of the guitar and the rhythms of Ella’s dancing filled the room. I sang “I’m not the only one” by Sam Smith and “Hello” by Adele, and was elated to hear that my voice was strong, that I could reach deep within myself and sing the tunes of my heart.

I went to Raj’s class and he talked about Will and Grace. (individual will, and the grace of God). It was quite uncanny that this morning I had watched an episode of Will & Grace, which I hadn’t watched in so long. Coincidence?! I was kind of led to watch it, because my internet stopped working and I couldn’t watch Netflix, so I turned on the TV and watched the episode where Will and Jack pair up on a business venture that doesn’t end up working. Today was the last of Raj’s class series on finding inner balance. The theme was the story of Jesus, and Raj told the story of the crucifixion. It is a beautiful story.

I went to Casa Loma after class, since it was close by. I love it there! I made a wish and tossed some coins in the fountain – Here’s to hoping my wish comes true.

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Then I made my way to the Khalsa parade,  in celebration of Vaisakhi, and got there just in time to hear mayor John Tory speak. I love going to the parade every year. Usually I go with Jasmine, but she was busy so this year I was on my own, dodging through the crowds, having my hot chai and channa masala. It is such a peaceful gathering, and I feel right at home, and so grateful for the free food!

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Following the parade, I walked down Queen West, where I saw a beautiful tribute to Prince that was painted by my friend Victor the street artist. I can’t believe that he died so suddenly. The songs “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” are two of my favourites, so haunting and beautiful. May he rest in peace.

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My brother told me about an event happening at 567 Queen West – Drake was promoting his new album “Views from the 6” and giving away free t-shirts. I got there and tried to bypass the line by telling the bouncer that I write a lifestyle blog and that I was covering the event. Unfortunately it didn’t work – he said I could cover the event from the line. Haha! It was such a cool vibe though – here is a video of the scene outside the shop:

On my walk home, I saw this beautiful wedding shoot by the lake. So pretty!

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Magical wedding photo shoot, Harbourfront




Books I Read and Loved in 2015

Writing this list has been a life-long dream of mine. I remember making top 10 lists of books from different categories (fiction, non-fiction, self-help, global issues, etc.) and thinking that maybe one day I’ll be able to share my reviews with others and inspire more people to read. It is amazing that this wish is finally coming true! Here are ten books that I read and loved in 2015:

1. A House in the Sky – Amanda Lindhout’s story of survival. I lost myself reading this book. I related to her a lot, a woman who wants to venture out on her own, explore the world, discover other cultures and ways of being, and experience life to the fullest. She is courageous and strong and you can see it clearly when she survives the most horrifying situations. There is one moment that I especially loved, where she sees life differently, realizing that everything is ok in this moment, and she starts to transcend her pain. “The voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking.” This voice asks, “In this exact moment, are you ok?” She answers, “Yes, right now I am still ok”. I read this book in my bed late at night, I read it on the subway, I read it at Balzac’s. This book will stay with me always.

2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – This is my third time reading Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, and as my writing teacher says “You must be a glutton for punishment.” That I am! My favourite book of all time. Oh Tess, you were doomed from the start. But your tale of love and devotion is like no other. When Angel asks Tess’s friend to come with her to Brazil in a moment of lapsed judgment, she says to him that Tess loved him so much, and he asks her if she loves him too, and she replies “not in the way Tess does. She would give her life for ‘ee.” That’s when he realizes the strange and quiet intensity of Tess’s love. I read this book on the train to Ottawa, I read in on the subway, I read it in every moment I could find, and it opened up my heart and soul every time.

3. The Blue Castle – Incredibly beautiful story about Valency Sterling, who is an unlikely heroine. Poor Valency can’t do anything right when it comes to her family. She is getting older, unmarried, and is just a disgrace to the family. But she has a spark inside and a fiery attitude, and decides that she won’t stand for it any longer. I read this book mostly in my apartment, lying on my sofa. The last scene of love reunited made me cry and cry (what can I say, I’m a romantic!). I didn’t think anyone in the world could appreciate this quirky tale of love the way I do, but then I underestimated how similar my sister and I are. She loved it as much as I did, and cherished every word.

4. The Untethered Soul – This book changed my life. The words echo in my mind throughout my days, and it gives me perspective on who I really am. Who am I if not the voice in my head? Michael Slinger says that “consciousness” is the most sacred word that you will ever utter. This book basically clarified human experience for me, especially the inner workings of the heart. I was amazed to discover that past hurts and even past highs and positive experiences are stored in the heart as samskaras (Sanskrit for ‘impressions’) that literally make impressions in your heart and prevent you from fully experiencing life in this moment because of the blockage. He talks about how to become aware of this and how to release – how to keep your heart open no matter what is happening – it doesn’t matter if you are in a prison cell or on top of Mount Everest or talking to a friend – there is never a reason to close your heart. Never. Learning how to keep your heart open no matter what the situation is the key to happiness and boundlessness.

5. Days of Abandonment – Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I read this entire book in one sitting. I devoured it on a magical day, when I went to Type Books near Trinity Bellwoods Park, and ran into Kyle, the guy that works there who I have the best conversations with. I bought the book after searching far and wide for the perfect book, and then I went to R2 cafe just down the road. And I sat. And I ordered tea after tea. And I read. For 4 hours straight. I got up once to use the bathroom. I was taken through the mind of a tortured woman, who is lost and unravelled without her husband (who leaves her for another woman), ravaged by grief and anger to the point of insanity. After I finished reading it, I ran back to Type Books and bought Elena Ferrante’s next book, the first book of the Neopolitan series.

6. Second Suns – Second Suns is the moving, unforgettable story of how two men with a shared dream are changing the world, one pair of eyes at a time. (From the inside cover). I loved this book. Dr. Geoffrey Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit embark upon a journey to restore vision to communities in the Himalayas. They encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles but never stray from their vision. It is interesting to observe the inner conflicts one experiences while trying to stay true to their purpose, especially when that purpose involves disappointing people you love, or forgoing other interests. It is true that pursuing a goal requires some sacrifice, but once you are focused, nothing else matters. Because all you are focused on is this one surgery, this one moment, this one life. I often drew a parallel between the symbol of ‘sight’ to the concept of ‘clear seeing’ in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions. Most people walk around blind, unable to truly see what’s in front of them, unable to see that they are trapped by their own beliefs and conditioning. Life experiences help us to see more clearly – especially if we are fortunate to have a Guru or a mentor to help remove our blindness.

7. Struck by Genius – This is a book that I read one quiet morning at Balzac’s at the Toronto Reference Library, sipping orange pekoe tea and eating a coconut chocolate chip brownie. It is about a guy, Jason Padgett, who is a regular college jock, interested in girls and looking good, when he suffers a traumatic event that leaves him brain-damaged. He loses all sense of who he is, and for years isolates himself and lives in fear, confusion, and seclusion. At the same time, the years where he boards himself up also reveal to him the depths of his soul, and the insights gleaned allow him to forge a new path and uncover a new purpose. He sees the world differently. He sees mathematical shapes (fractals) in ordinary phenomenon; the world through his eyes has a perfection about it, it is beautiful, it is more deep and meaningful than meets the naked eye. He perceives the world differently. I related to Jason and his experiences, and felt they closely mirrored my own. I have a hard time explaining what I’ve gone through, and I’ve often felt that if someone wants to know, they should just read this book! One day I will put it into words, and until then I’m thankful for the countless others who have had the courage and insight, and the passing of time, to access their memories and bring them to life on the page.

8. Outliers – I discovered this book when I went to Beamsville for Gosia’s wedding. I stayed in this beautiful B&B and shared a room with my friend Daniela. I found this book in the living room on the second floor, and I was so happy to discover it. I read this book late at night in the evenings when I would come home from wedding festivities – after the late night bonfires, the barbeques and the singing. It was a beautiful time. The book talks about the factors of success – what makes certain people more successful than others, and are there certain groups of people who are outside of the norm. It was actually uncanny how I could relate this phenomenon to the Waterloo engineering class graduates, particularly those of us who graduated between the years of 2000-2005. I have seen so many grads go on to start their own businesses and do big things in the world. Success beyond the norm. I wonder what the secret ingredient is?

9. The Diary of Anne Frank – There is nothing I enjoy more than reading the true writings of a human soul. In unabridged, authentic form. I guess that’s why I write this blog – to share my diary with the world. I started writing when I was 9 years old, after reading The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time. This last summer, I read it again – at Centre Island, on my way to the refugee centre, in my bed at night, with my sister when I read to her a quote that touched me so deeply and of course made me cry. What is expressed through this little girl’s soul shall be our redemption. In her captivity, she manages to find the love within her own heart, a love that cannot be dimmed.

Anne Frank quote

10.  I Am Malala – Perhaps I saved this until last because it is the most difficult to write about (or maybe it excites me the most!). I read this book slowly, one chapter every time I came across it, at the Indigo at Mount Sinai hospital during my 10 km walks, or at the chapters at the Eaton Centre. Or wherever it happened to be. The story of a young girl that is shot in the head by the Taliban, but does not give up on her quest to pursue her own education, and stand up for the rights to education for all. This girl shows what we are capable of, at a personal level and a human level and as a collective humanity. She represents integrity and truth and hope. I will follow her lead until my grave. She is my inspiration when I give up hope, that there is a way for us to get to a good place – that there is hope for us yet.

Other Notable Books

  • Then Again – Diane Keaton
  • Drunk Mom – Jowita Bydlowska
  • Dropped Threads – anthology of women’s stories compiled by Carol Shields and Marjorie Andersen
  • The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad
  • Writing the Circle – Native Women of Western Canada
  • Bring Me a Unicorn – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
  • The Little Way of Ruthie Leming – Rod Dreher