Monday, February 29, 2016

Month In Review

After a strong month of reading in January, things slowed down in February. I found myself passing up on a few books that I was really looking forward to but just couldn't get in to. And I don't think that it's the books fault, I was just not in the right mood for them. What I did read though was pretty good and there were a couple of 5 star stand out books for me. Here is what I read with my GoodReads ratings:

She's Not There by Joy Fielding *****
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold *****
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad ****
This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp ****
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight ****
Café Babanussa by Karen Hill ***

The Bat by Jo Nesbo
The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
The Motorcyclist by George Elliott Clarke

A Mother's Reckoning was such a heartbreaking and emotional read. I was full out crying in many parts. Sue Klebold is brave for writing this book and putting herself out there and I think it's a very important book that should be read by all. She's Not There is a great ripped from the headlines mystery that I just could not put down. I was very much looking forward to Café Babanussa but I found the dialogue lacked emotion and I had trouble connecting to the book because of this. I DNF'ed The Bat and The Book of Memory because 100 pages in they just weren't grabbing me. I DNF'ed The Motorcyclist 25 pages in (very rare for me) because I could just tell that it wasn't going to be my thing.

What I'm Looking Forward to in March
Canada Reads! I still have two more books to read but I have copies in my possession so I should be ready to go when the shows air. New release-wise I'm looking forward to reading Until We Are Free: My Fight For Human Rights in Iran by Shirin Ebadi and The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix-Sweeney.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Weekly Wrap-up

We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are - Anaïs Nin

Reviewed on the blog

She's Not There by Joy Fielding
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Bookish news of the week

Last week was Freedom to Read Week. Here is a list of 12 Canadian books that have been challenged.

Open eBooks is a program that is making thousands of e-books available to low income children. On its first day it had 50,000 sign-ups.

TIME magazine released a list of the 100 most-read female writers in college classes. And of course, the list included one man.

Me! On the Internet

I decided to resurrect my Tumblr account and use it as a reading journal. You can check it out here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

"Sofia Khan is Not Obliged" by Ayisha Malik

Sofia Khan has decided to swear off men for good after breaking off her engagement to a man who was a little too close to his family. Okay, “a little too close” is an understatement - the man wanted them to live in a house with an actual hole in the wall that led in to his parents house next door. Much to her parents dismay, Sofia has had enough. 

But the people she works with at a publishing house have a different idea. They think a Muslim dating book is a fantastic idea to fill a hole in the market and that Sofia is the best person to write it. She loves having the opportunity to write a book but it means that she’s going to have to jump back into the dating pool to do so. As the deadline approaches quickly, she’ll have to deal with her marriage obsessed relatives, internet dating, disastrous dates, and love where you least expect it.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, by Ayisha Malik, is a fun, fresh novel about dating and finding Mr. Right. Told from the perspective of a South Asian Muslim woman living in London, it is a book that readers from all around the world will easily relate to.

I absolutely adored this novel. For me, it was hard to believe that it is a debut book because it was so polished and so true to the genre. And oh my goodness, did I laugh out loud. Written in the form of a diary it will easily be compared to Bridget Jones’ Diary and I definitely agree with this in that it is a modern take on the book, but this one doesn’t need the comparisons to be successful.

Sofia Khan is just like every other woman who is navigating the dating world. Relationships are hard, especially when you are watching your friends marry off. But add to that relatives who are obsessed with your marital status and you know that things aren’t going to turn out well. Then add to that the challenge of being a hijabi in London, dealing with racist tube riders and co-workers who just don’t (or don’t want to) understand you and well, it’s just one big mix of hilarity and heartache. I thought Malik did a great job of writing a character that many women will see themselves in. 

This is what I consider to be chick lit (I know many people don’t like the term but for me it has always been a positive one) and it is so good to see diversity coming to the genre. I love the way that Sofia is told by a co-worker that they had no idea Muslims were allowed to date. This book takes on stereotypes and shows that when it comes to love and relationships we all face the same pressures, no matter what our culture or religion. This is a book that all women will relate to and find funny no matter what culture they are from. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hot Topic: Books on Refugees

Recently, I had a customer come into the store asking for books about the refugee experience. As I rattled off books I've read she said "wow, you're really interested in this topic." It is something I'm interested in and for me, it's not enough to learn about current events through the news, I want something more that books can give me. So I thought I would share with you the list that I shared with my customer. These are all books that document the experience of leaving one's home country for reasons that are beyond control.


Ru - Kim Thuy
A Long Walk to Water - Linda Sue Park
Black Mamba Boy - Nadifa Mohamed
All Our Names - Dinaw Mengistu
The Illegal - Lawrence Hill
Cities of Refuge - Michael Helm


Running For My Life - Lopez Lomong
War Child - Emmanuel Jal
Citizens of Nowhere - Debi Goodwin
City of Thorns - Ben Rawlence
Intolerable - Kamal Al-Solaylee
Outcasts United - Warren St. John

Monday, February 22, 2016

"She's Not There" by Joy Fielding

Fifteen years ago, Caroline Shipley was on vacation in Mexico with her family and friends, there to celebrate her tenth wedding anniversary.  Fifteen years ago on that vacation, her life was changed forever.

On the last night of their trip, Caroline and her husband Hunter left their children, five-year-old Michelle and two-year-old Samantha, asleep in the hotel room while they had dinner with their friends a few floors below. Checking in on the children every half hour, they told themselves everything would be okay. Until they returned to the room at the end of the night to find Samantha missing from her crib.

Fifteen years later Caroline is divorced and alone, dreading the yearly calls from reporters that force her to relive the kidnapping. But when the phone rings this year, it’s a voice she wasn’t sure she would ever hear. It’s a seventeen-year-old girl who thinks that she may be her long-lost daughter. While Caroline has been disappointed by calls like this before something is telling her that what this girl says could be true. But as the story of what happened all those years before begins to unravel, she may not want to find out that the answers she has been looking for are dangerously close to home.

She’s Not There, by Joy Fielding, is a ripped from the headlines psychological thriller that will have readers hanging on with every turn of the page.  

This is the first book I have read by Fielding and I am very glad that I started with this one. It is an absolute winner for me and it now has me wanting to read everything else she has written. I enjoy books that are based on real life news stories and this book is similar to the disappearance of Madeline McCann. I think we can all remember our shock and horror when the little girl went missing while on vacation and I’m sure we all had moments where we questioned the thoughts and motives of the parents. This is an emotional read, especially if you are a parent, and this book really gets into the raw emotions felt by the parents as the days and years go on. This is something we don’t get from the media when it comes to the real-life case.

I was pleased at how well-balanced the book is between the life of the family after the disappearance and the actual mystery of what happened to their daughter. This isn’t a straight forward whodunit, it’s also a story about how a family holds it together in the aftermath of a tragedy. That is the strength of this book, that it isn’t just about any kidnapping, but one which could have been prevented if the parents themselves had taken different actions. I can’t imagine what it is like to live with those feelings but I think the book gets pretty close to what that would feel like.

I did not want to put this book down and I pretty much didn’t. I read a little bit of the book one evening and I could tell that it was one I wouldn’t want to stop reading once I really got into it so I made sure I set aside a good amount of the next day to just read until I finished. I certainly neglected a lot of the housework and errands to get to the end of this book but I certainly don’t regret it! This was a 5 star read for me.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Weekly Wrap-up

Make a difference about something other than yourselves  - Toni Morrison

Reviewed on the blog

Karen Hill's Café Babanussa

Bookish news of the week

Emma Donoghue is releasing a new book in September titled The Wonder. I loved Room, didn't like Frog Music, so it will be interesting to see which way I go with this book.

The literary world lost two greats this week - Harper Lee and Umberto Eco.

Toni Morrison turned 85.

Internet Fun Stuff of the week

Writing the great Canadian novel but stuck on the plot? Use the CanLit Generator.

Already read Mindy Kaling's two fantastic books and need more of her in your life? Read what Mindy is reading.

Me! On the internet!

I was interviewed by Claire of CMClaire for her "I Love Your Blog" feature. Check out the interview.

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Café Babanussa" by Karen Hill

In the 1980’s, a young mixed-race woman moves from Canada to Germany in search of a new life. Berlin is full of dreamers, artists, and travellers, and Ruby Edwards quickly finds her place amongst them. She is able to break free from her overbearing family and the claustrophobia of her all-white neighbourhood in Canada and discover the person that she was meant to be.

But just as Ruby is finding her place and building her life, she finds herself hospitalized for mental illness. As she leans on her family and her tight-knit community she is able to fight her way through it but for Ruby it is something that she will be fighting every day of her life.

Café Babanussa, by Karen Hill, is a moving and heartbreaking novel based on the authors own life experience of race, immigration, and mental illness.  It is especially poignant knowing that Hill passed away a year before it was published and was never able to see the finished product hit the shelves. 

This was an anticipated novel of 2016 for me. Hill comes from a very talented, artistic family and I was happy to see that what she had worked on for decades was to be shared with us. Knowing that this was a novel based on her own struggle with mental health, which I had read about prior to the book coming out, I had very high hopes for the book.

Here comes the “unfortunately.” Which doesn’t mean that the book isn’t a good read, just that it didn’t meet the expectations I had for it. Unfortunately, I found the dialogue to be very basic and lacking in emotion. I found it hard to believe that was how the characters would speak in those situations and because of this I found it hard to connect to them and the book.

I did feel that the book became stronger in the second half as the mental illness took over Ruby’s life. Here I was able to feel much more emotion and understand the character better because I could tell that it was written directly from Hill’s own experiences.

In the foreword of the book, written by Hill’s brother Lawrence, it is mentioned that when she passed away she was in the process of finding a publisher. Because this did not happen until after her death, it was a decision made by the publisher and her family that beyond a few basic edits, it would be left exactly as it is. Which is understandable and commendable. I think that within the editing process, the dialogue would have been worked on and with that it would have been a much stronger reading experience.  Included at the end of the book is an essay written by Hill titled, On Being Crazy, and I had more emotional connection with the essay than I did the book. 

Overall, I think this is a book worth reading. Hill’s story is heartbreaking, tragic, moving, and inspiring. Despite the issues I have with the dialogue, it puts a face and heart to the lifelong struggle of mental illness that many are facing and that makes it a good read. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

"13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl" by Mona Awad

For all of her life, Lizzie has never liked the way her body looks. Her friend Mel says that she’s the pretty one, but all Lizzie really sees is a fat girl. And as she gets older, she’s convinced thats how everyone else sees her as well. So she loses weight. She counts every calorie, deprives herself of the foods she loves, logs every mile she travels through exercise, and eventually she becomes the thin person she's wanted to be.  But she quickly realizes that being thin isn’t the solution to all of her problems because being thin doesn’t mean she sees herself as anything other than a fat girl.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, by Mona Awad, is a novel told in thirteen short stories. It is a moving and heartbreaking story of a young girl who is spurned by the body-obsessed culture that surrounds her and who struggles through her whole life to conform.

This is such a unique and interesting book. I didn’t know what to expect going into it and I found myself moved by the character of Lizzie right from the very start. I found myself having a very emotional connection to her, not because I have been in her shoes but because I haven’t been and this book broke my heart to hear the internal struggles she faces. From time to time I did wonder if this portrayal was realistic or if this was the authors idea of what it must like be for someone who is overweight. Reading the thoughts of others who have read this book though has shown me that for many people, this book gets it pretty right.

I really like the use of a bunch of short stories about one character rather than this just being a chronological novel. It’s unique and it allows for the reader to get right into the heart of the story. While most of the stories are told from Lizzie’s point of view, a few are told by other people in her life and this shows how Lizzie's struggles don't just affect her but those around her.

I did find that, for me, the strongest stories were the ones that were told after Lizzie had lost weight. While most people imagine that losing weight will be the solution to all of the problems, we see how Lizzie’s life continues to revolve around her weight. This is where the book truly broke my heart. Which it also did each time Lizzie decided she wanted people to call her by a different variation of her name. To watch her go from a young girl to a woman who seeks validation from others and thinks that strict control over her body will bring her happiness, but who never finds what she is looking for, is difficult.

This book truly soars as a commentary on the culture we live in today. We’re so self-conscious, so body-obsessed that we’ve made it okay to shame other people for how they look. And it shows just how detrimental this can be when you realize that even after the weight is physically gone, it remains mentally and emotionally. What have we become that this is an acceptable thing to do to people?

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Reasons to Stay Alive" by Matt Haig

At the age of 24, writer Matt Haig found himself standing at the edge of a cliff, wanting to jump off. In Reasons to Stay Alive he shares why he didn’t jump and how he learned to live with the anxiety and depression that had brought him to that point.

The statistics show that 1 in 5 people will deal with mental health issues at some point in their life. But how it presents itself is different for each person and that can often make it difficult to talk about.. Those who are going through it feel as if they are the only person who has ever felt like that.  Those who have a loved one experiencing it feel at a loss of how to help them. This is a book that will help everyone.

A few years back, I struggled with anxiety. I did not understand it, nor did I talk to anyone about it and for quite a few months I suffered in silence until it turned into a depressive episode. That is where I sought medical help that changed everything for me. But even as I worked my way through it, I felt that mine was different from the experiences of close friends who suffered with depression and I also felt that my loved ones could not understand it. This book is the first time I found someone else who had such a similar story - especially the part about being prescribed pills for anxiety when much of your anxiety centres around taking pills.

What I loved about this book is that it is not a straight-forward book about his own experience. It is part memoir, part self-help. Amongst Matt’s story, he shares great lists with titles like “things people say to depressives that they don’t say in other life-threatening situations” and “things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression.” He also shares the experiences of other people that he collected through social media using #reasonstostayalive. Trust me when I say I got more out this book than I did from any therapy session or any other self-help book.

If I had to recommend a book about depression or anxiety to anyone, it would be this one. This isn’t a medical book or a psychology book, it’s about how you make the most of your life when the fog of depression is hanging over you. And it shows those who aren’t sufferers how to love and support the ones they know who have it. It’s not a one size fits all prescription but it doesn’t claim to be. It puts a face to depression and it shows other sufferers that they are not alone. It brings hope and light.  There is no asking “is this book for me?” because this book is for everyone.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Behind Closed Doors" by B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace, that perfect couple everyone wants to be. He is a handsome lawyer, who represents women who are victims of domestic violence. She is a beautiful and doting wife who takes immaculate care of their home. It’s safe to say that their friends are in awe and possibly a tiny bit jealous.

But if you take a closer look at Jack and Grace you’ll notice some cracks in the facade. They are never apart. She never answers the phone and she always cancels last minute when she has plans. And the house has a security system that not only keeps people out but also keeps them in.

Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris, is a chilling and terrifying thriller that shows how no one can really know what goes on in a marriage.

Wow. As I sit down to write about this book a month after I read it, all I can still say is, wow. This is a good read. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with page-turning suspense, that I must absolutely keep reading because I have to know what is going to happen. This book was creepy and intense and there were moments where I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to handle it all.

Jack and Grace are that perfect, immaculate couple that everyone admires. It is so easy to picture them at dinner parties amongst their friends and the way that they would command everyone’s attention. But when the parties are over, the horrors return. To say that Jack is controlling is an understatement. Everything to do with Grace’s life is dominated by what Jack wants. And just when the reader is wondering what it is that keeps Grace from running and seeking help, it is revealed what kind of monster Jack is. It’s obvious why the publisher has chosen #StaySingle to market the book online.

After reading this book, I now understand the meaning of “spine-tingling read.” I think the only thing that stopped it from being a perfect book for me was the way it jumped between past and present. I would have preferred a chronological story, because the jumping back and forth was driving me crazy - I wanted to find out what the deal was! So I guess that’s also a good thing because the suspense it created was incredible. So really, the only thing that kept it from being a perfect book is a personal preference.

This isn’t a book for the faint of heart. It is very disturbing and could certainly be too much for some people. But if you’re a fan of the psychological thriller genre, this is a book you should read, because the chills factor is off the chart with this book.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher, Harlequin. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, February 8, 2016

"This is Where It Ends" by Marieke Nijkamp

At 10:00 am, the principal of Opportunity High School in Alabama has finished the same speech she gives every year, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester. 

At 10:02 am, the students all get up to leave but the auditorium doors will not open.

At 10:05 am, someone starts shooting.

This Is Where It Ends, by Marieke Nijkamp, is a story told over the span of 54 minutes in which a high school shooting occurs. Shown from four different perspectives, it relates the horror and heroism that takes place as one student commits the most heinous of crimes against his peers.

I was in high school when the Columbine shootings took place. I still vividly remember the feelings of returning to school the next day and how the place felt different. Nothing like that had happened before but now it’s an epidemic. Each time I hear of another school shooting, I’m reminded of how those days felt and that is what drove me to pick up this book.

I thought that telling the story in “real time“ was a good and unique idea. For me, it added to the pain of the story, made it feel more real. This method doesn’t allow for fleshing out the cause of it or for really developing back stories for the characters, but for me this wasn’t what the book was about. 

I also appreciated that this book was told from multiple points of view.  The shooting is told through the perspectives of Sylvia and Claire who are in the auditorium, Tomas who is one of two students in the school but outside of the auditorium, and Claire who is running track outside of the school.  It also includes texts and tweets from students inside and outside of the school, which is haunting given the way social media brings new perspectives to situations like this (the part where the reporter is asking students questions by Twitter hit me pretty hard.)

I know that reviews of this book are pretty split, some love it and some hate it. I do agree with some of the criticisms, mostly that I felt like the diversity of the book felt forced. I want to see diversity in books but it should be natural and not stereotypical. Also, the flashbacks took away from the story for me.  I think this story should either have been written completely in real-time and only about the shooting or it should have delved deeper into the emotions and psychology, past and present.

I think this is a book that people need to read for themselves. We all have different experiences and feelings surrounding situations like this and what one may feel is based on that. I didn’t come in to this book looking for the psychology behind school shootings, I was expecting a real time storytelling of a school shooting and that is what I got.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"City of Thorns" by Ben Rawlence

Deep in the desert of Northern Kenya lies the Dadaab refugee camp, where almost half a million residents live, unable to go back to their home in Somalia and unwanted by the Kenyan government. Dadaab is considered a humanitarian crisis. Only supposed to house a few thousand people for a few years, it has for over two decades grown into a city.

Ben Rawlence spent four years in Dadaab, witnessing first-hand the struggles of the people who call it home.  They ended up there trying to escape the civil war in Somalia but now it looks like many will never escape the desperation and difficulties.

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, by Ben Rawlence, is a heartbreaking and intimate look at life inside Dadaab.  The nine stories are interwoven to give readers a well-rounded understanding of the political landscape that created Dadaab and the forces that keep people there. The lives lived in Dadaab are unimaginable for so many of us and this book shines a spotlight on the crisis that has been unfolding in Kenya for years, with no end in sight.

In the West, it can often seem like humanitarian crises come and go like trends. Civil wars, famines, natural disasters, one happens and it’s all that we hear about until another happens and then we forget about the first.  The thing is, just because we don’t hear about them anymore, doesn’t mean they have ended. 

Dadaab was created 25 years ago to help people who were fleeing civil war in Somalia. Over time, it also became home to people fleeing famine and drought. At one point, in 2011, over 10,000 people were arriving each month. The camp grew far beyond its resources could provide for. Each year, thousands of children are born in the camp and Dadaab is now starting to see a third generation being born there. For many, this is the only home they have ever known.  For a while, the eyes of the world were on Dadaab, with money and other resources pouring in, but time and shifting public attention has changed things. The global war on terrorism has put the camp back into the spotlight, but for different reasons. And what continues to get left behind are the people who spend their days in Dadaab.

In City of Thorns, Rawlence introduces us to nine people and their families who call Dadaab home. This includes Guled, forced to be a child soldier for Al-Shabaab; Tawane, who came to the camp as a young boy and is now a youth leader; Kheyro who knows that her education is the one thing that can help her escape the camp; Monday, a Lost Boy of Sudan, a Christian who married a Muslim woman; Nisho, a porter in the market who was born en route to Dadaab; and Professor White Eyes, born blind but later recovered his sight and became a successful businessman in the camp. Their stories, and many more, are combined to tell a story that is difficult and heartbreaking.  

This is an incredible book. While I’m familiar with Dadaab through newspaper and internet articles, this opened my eyes to what day to day life is like in a modern refugee camp and it is beyond anything I could have imagined. I was amazed at the way the camp economy took shape, the community that grew out of it, the way the multinational humanitarian organizations ran the camp, but mostly I was just heartbroken for the people who face life in these conditions. Refugee camps are meant to be temporary but for many, Dadaab is for life.

I think I would have preferred this book if each of the stories were told individually. By weaving them all together, Rawlence is able to tell a story that plays out chronologically and paints a big picture of the camp but I found that with so many stories between the main people and the secondary people, I was getting lost and often forgetting people and places. While reading the story of one person, I would be wondering what had happened to someone else. 

A little while ago, I read an article that stated camps like Dadaab will be the new future for refugees. As we watch the plight of Syrian refugees unfold before our eyes, it seems scary but true. This book will open your eyes to an experience that is happening to millions of people around the world.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Month In Review

The start of a new year is always so much fun as a reader. It's the time when all the lists of "must-read" books are out and we get to make our lists of what to read, what to buy, and what to put on hold at the library.  That always inspires me to do a lot of reading and that definitely happened this month. Here is what I read in January with my GoodReads ratings:

Troublemaker - Leah Remini *****
Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig ****
City of Thorns - Ben Rawlence ****
City of the Lost - Kelley Armstrong ****
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist - Sunil Yapa ****
The Outside Circle - Patti Laboucane-Benson ****
Behind Closed Doors - B.A. Paris ****
The Crooked Heart of Mercy - Billie Livingston ****
Birdie - Tracey Lindberg ***
The Royal We - Heather Cocks ***

The Expatriates - Janice YK Lee


Troublemaker was absolutely amazing! It is currently not for sale in Canada so I had a family member purchase it while in the US.  Leah Remini does not hold back!  Reasons to Stay Alive is a book I think everyone should read - people who struggle with depression/anxiety will find so much comfort in this book and those who do not struggle with it will gain a better understanding of what it is like.  If you're looking for a good mystery, I really recommend City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong.   And The Outside Circle and Birdie are two great reads about Aboriginal Canadians.  I did not finish The Expatriates, I got just over 100 pages in and found there wasn't much connecting me to the story and I didn't see the point in continuing.

What I'm Looking Forward to in February

There are some great CanLit releases out this month. Yann Martel is back with The High Mountains of Portugal and Karen Hill's posthumous debut Café Babanussa is out along with Mona Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Tricia Dower's Becoming Lin and Joy Fielding's She's Not There.

I have two more books to read from the Canada Reads 2016 contenders so I hope to read at least 1 of them if not both.