The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

McKay_WitchesI have been enchanted with Ami McKay since her first novel, The Birth House, and it seems she still has me under her spell. (See what I did there? This book is about witches. You get it.)

With both The Birth House and The Virgin Cure, McKay has set a precedent as an author of great skill and imagination, and The Witches of New York certainly rises to the occasion. No matter the story, McKay writes evocatively, effortlessly transporting the reader back to a early 20th century Nova Scotia or late 19th century Manhattan. She has a knack for convincingly integrating fact (historical tidbits about the setting, medical practices, high society, etcetera) and fiction, and a talent for creating incredible women characters who are vivid, strong, intelligent, and able to persevere and thrive in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Witches is technically a sequel to The Virgin Cure—it returns to the story of young Moth, now Adelaide Thom—but this new installment is entirely able to stand on its own. It’s also the first of McKay’s novels to venture into the mystical, and even the touches of magic are so well integrated that they seem almost normal—as if psychics and spell keepers and young girls who could commune with the spiritual world have always been a part of the natural fabric of Manhattan and McKay has just pulled them straight from history, finally telling the stories of the witches of New York.

No. 12 on my challenge. Ami McKay lives in Nova Scotia and my edition of the book was published by Knopf Canada.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples

Saga.StapletonI had no idea what I was going to read for our graphic novel category, but before I even had time to fret about it, the lovely Rosie came to my rescue—she sent me the first volume of Saga through the mail. Snail mail no less!

And I’m going to tell you right now, I’m glad she did.

It’s a strange story about love and family in a universe that’s totally bonkers, but from the first frame it effortlessly transports you to a world that you’re inexplicably fascinated by. Cyborgs with human bodies and computer screens for heads are royalty, alligators are butlers, horns and wings are typical human appendages, bounty hunters have eight legs and no arms or a lie-detecting cat, and ghosts are a secret weapon in an age-old war (and great babysitters). Its universe-so-crazy-you-can’t-help-but-accept-whatever-comes-next aesthetic has garnered more than a few comparisons to Star Wars, and I totally see where they’re coming from.

It’s creative and crazy and violent and sentimental. It’s jam packed with fully realized characters that are neither good nor bad, but who are fighting in accordance to their orders, their moral code, or their desire to be free of a senseless war. Oh, and it’s absolutely beautiful and unexpectedly funny. I can’t wait to get into Volume Two and beyond.

No. 25 on my challenge. Thank you, Rosie!

 

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Hang on to your hats, folks. My first post in nearly three months just happens to be for a book that I adored and from which I scribbled down pages of notes and quotes, so this might take a while . . .

kendrick_scrappylittlenobodyIf you’ve been paying attention, you probably know by now that I read a lot of memoirs, celebrity or otherwise. My love for the genre started with The Glass Castle and ran amok from there. Some of my favourites are Augusten Burrough’s A Wolf at the Table, his brother John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye, Una LaMarche’s Unabrow, Amanda Lindhout’s A House in the Sky (seriously, this one), and of course Jenny Lawson’s brilliantly hilarious Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy. These authors, and many, many others, have captivated me simply by telling their stories, their history, their truth (fair warning: Augusten Burroughs doesn’t define truth the same way that we do).

I’m pretty sure, though, that this is the first time I’ve read a celebrity memoir that is just so.darn.relatable. (Now, you’re thinking, “Yeah, right, Tori. You relate to Anna Kendrick on a personal level. I’m sure.” Give it a minute.)

I have always loved Anna Kendrick as an actress and as a famous personality. She can act with the best of them and she’s got a set of pipes that nobody expected to find hiding in her tiny frame. She seems quirky and hilarious and genuine and I was very pleased to find that, between the pages of her well-written memoir, she is just as weird and adorable and ridiculous as she portends to be. She convincingly demonstrates, through many amusing and wacky anecdotes, that despite her current career she truly is just a scrappy little nobody that happens to be insanely famous. And she manages to do it without being arrogant or pompous.

So here it is, the relatable part, as exhibited via selected quotes. Read this and tell me you don’t feel a kinship to this little weirdo:

She’s afraid of getting too comfortable in her career 
I’d moved away from everything I knew and loved at seventeen in spite of how scared I was. I wondered if I would still have it in me to do something I found so daunting? Aren’t you supposed to get more independent as you get older? Shouldn’t I be bolder, more self-sufficient? Have I gotten comfortable? Have I stopped pushing myself the way I did when I was trying to ‘make something of myself’? Was that a fluke?

She doesn’t believe she’s special, and some days can’t believe this is her life
Saying other kids were mean felt like I was saying I was more kind, which [I] definitely wasn’t . . I guess all I was feeling was that I was different. Sometimes I’ll be at work and get that same feeling. I am not like these people. I don’t know what I’m doing here.

She’s bitterly sarcastic and delightfully self-aware
I lost a Tony Award to Broadway legend Audra McDonald when I was twelve, so I’ve been a bitter bitch since before my first period. I’m very proud to have lost that Tony to Ms. McDonald. She is one of the finest talents in the theatre world and genuine Broadway royalty. I also feel that if I had won and made a televised speech at age twelve, the delayed embarrassment would have been so severe, I’d currently be a Howard Hughes-style shut-in, but without the money for the mansion or the planes or the legion of servants to take away bottles of my urine.

She’s not sure if she’s an adult or if she’s just really good at playing one
Renting an apartment on my own and going to work at Lincoln Centre made me feel very grown-up. I was constantly congratulating myself for the smallest things. Yeah, I’m just riding the subway to work in New York City like it’s no big deal. Which of course meant that to me, at every moment, it was a HUGE deal. I wish I could say this masquerading-as-an-adult-and-getting-away-with-it feeling was exclusive to being seventeen, but so many things in my life are still like that. Yeah, I’m checking my email on a laptop I own like it’s no big deal.

She’s got a healthy dose of self-doubt
I think I’m supposed to act as though I always knew I’d find success (not out loud, obviously—just using some heavy-handed subtext), but moving to Los Angeles felt like that dream where you’re naked in a grocery store, hoping that no one will notice. I figured I’d be discovered and thrown out at some point. I’m still waiting.

The simple act of moving to the big city didn’t mean her life was instantly amazing
How do I describe my personal life during this time [after moving to LA]? I met funny, interesting people, I went to art galleries downtown, I performed a one-woman show for free on the street corner. Except none of that’s true. I was alone and freaked out and I stayed in my room a lot. I spent most of my time trying to find ways to occupy myself without spending money or ingesting calories. I didn’t have any friends. Well, I didn’t know anyone. Which is the less depressing way to say I didn’t have any friends.

She’s just as gullible as she is naive
“I’ve seen you on meth?!”
“I would say, for the last year, you’ve only seen me on meth.”
I’m the biggest idiot on the planet.
“Why do you think I never wanted to eat the food you were baking?”
“You said you didn’t have a sweet tooth! I believed you! Because, you know, I believe people when they say things!”
He was laughing now. I’d gotten shrill and frazzled. I was laughing with my friend about how he was hiding a meth problem from me. This is when I learned that I cannot tell when people are are on drugs. At all.

Romance and relationships are an enigma to her
It’s not that deep down I want someone to “take care of me”, it’s that I’m exhausted, and occasionally overwhelmed by self-doubt. I’m steering the ship, but I don’t know what I’m doing. None of us do. But it would be so nice to believe that someone out there did, and that maybe they could take the wheel for a little while. It’s a seductive feeling. It would be great if it were real. But I guess I’ve got to count on myself. Which is not great news.

She’s clueless when it comes to fashion
When Up in the Air was chosen to premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, Paramount Pictures hired a professional stylist for me. I suspect word had gotten back to them that I enjoyed dressing like a teenager who lived in her car, and while that was spectacularly endearing, it would be in their best interest to have someone help me dress like an adult woman.

She’s a tightfisted bitch who knows how to stretch a dollar because even famous people need budgets (my personal favourite)
“The Louboutins are a little pricier than the others, but it’s your first big premier, and I think they’re really special.”
“Okay, how much are those?”
“One thousand ninety-nine.”
Dollars? A thousand dollars?! That’s more than my rent! Like, a lot more! Maybe you’ve noticed that I live with two dudes and sleep in an Ikea twin bed. Or has living in a world of luxury for so long left you unable to recognize the signature lines and craftsmanship of the Malm collection? (For context: my stylist was earning more to dress me for Up in the Air-related events than I did for making the actual movie.) There was a feeling from the people around me at that time that although I hadn’t made much money yet, things were about to start going so well that huge checks were right around the corner! I should spend whatever I had to, even if it seemed imprudent, because I’d have tons of money in just a few months! I’m glad I was such a tightfisted bitch, because the money didn’t follow for about two years. In fact, Twilight was the only thing keeping me above water. I’ve said in the past that without that series I would have been evicted, and people think I’m joking. Nope. Me and my Oscar nom would have been living in my car. Which is a charming story now, but at the time I did not find it funny.

This
Now, I know just enough to know that I don’t know anything.

And, last but not least, she’s still figuring out what it means to grow up
With every birthday, I have stupidly expected to feel different only to discover that I’m still me: tragically lazy and childish . . . Every now and then I test the waters of self-improvement with some practical changes . . . I expect to take an interest in my retirement plan, understand general car maintenance, and do my laundry on a schedule instead of three days after I run out of underwear. But just thinking about that stuff makes me want to lie on the floor and eat packets of Easy Mac until I feel too swollen and turgid to do anything but dream up elaborate ways to murder everyone who says “life hack.” I power through. I’m still an embarrassment to civilized society, but now I change the toilet paper roll instead of resting it vertically on top of the old one. There’s hope.

 

I could go on, but I don’t need Touchstone tracking me down for copyright infringement, so I’ll stop here and get to the point: I’m just like Anna Kendrick. And the brilliant thing is, if you read her book, you’ll realize that she’s just like you, too.

No. 24 on my challenge.

Odetta by Rag’n’Bone Man

This is such a gorgeous song.

 

You were always tryna fill the void, my brother
A habit so old, tryna find that something new
Never stare in the arms of a lover
Seeking darkness wherever light may shine through

Along came a morning of another
Blindsided by your sweet surprise

Odetta, don’t you know
That you saved this young man’s soul?
And he can watch you getting wise
And you can watch him growing old

You’re always searching for destruction
Now you bare the scars of a path in which you chose
It takes a brave and a stronger kind of woman
To follow where such a broken man can go

Along came a morning of another
Blindsided by your sweet surprise

Odetta, don’t you know
That you saved this young man’s soul?
And he can watch you getting wise
And you can watch him growing old

You got to hold him close
Odetta, don’t you ever let him go
Might be a long, wide road
Although we may need you then we need you now more than ever

Odetta, don’t you know
That you saved this young man’s soul?
And he can watch you getting wise
And you can watch him growing old
Odetta