Friday, March 25, 2016

Canada Reads Recap

Well, the favourite week of all Canadian bookworms is over, Canada Reads has come to a close for the year. I thought this years debates were passionate, respectful, thoughtful, and oh so enjoyable. Here are my thoughts on the best week in Canada:

The Defenders
A two-sport Olympic champion, a screenwriter and actor, a retired WWE wrestler, a social entrepreneur, and an adventure travel CEO, the defenders this year represented the spirit and diversity of this country. And in true Canadian fashion, there was a lot of love for the other books while debating and lots of apologies, especially when it was time for eliminations.


The Host
So I will admit that when I heard Wab Kinew was not going to be host this year, I was majorly disappointed. I mean, I'm excited he's entering national politics because he definitely belongs there, but he was one of the best things about the show. And this year, Gill Deacon managed to make me forget that I missed him. She did a great job, was knowledgeable and funny, and just as passionate about the books as the defenders were.



The Debates
Sure they got a little heated at times, what debate doesn't? But it was a debate about books, a NATIONAL debate about books and that was never lost on anyone around the table. The topic of starting over took us into discussions about refugees, reconciliation, diversity, and relationships. And it also looked at the oft-discussed topic in CanLit - what makes a book Canadian.






The Eliminations
Talk about dramatic, nail-biting moments. Some days it was kind of easy to predict which book would be voted off, other days it wasn't. There were definitely some shockers along the way, everyone watching was obviously invested in a book and it's hard to see that book go.


The Winner
The Illegal wasn't my favourite book of the group but it was the one I chose as the winner. It's the one that I think has mass appeal. I work in a bookstore and it has definitely been the most popular selling the book of the group, even before the finalists were announced. Clara Hughes did an incredible job defending it and I know her passion for the book has rubbed off on people around the country.


To Sum It All Up


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Still Mine" by Amy Stuart

Clare is on the run and the remote mining town of Blackmore may be the best place for her to hide. Blackmore was once a prosperous town but when the mine closed after a devastating accident, the town and its residents began to crumble. The people are already suspicious of the newcomer in their midst and when she begins to ask questions about Shayna Fowles, a local girl who is missing, they want to know what she is really doing in their town.

But Clare isn’t the only one with secrets. Jared is Shayna’s ex-husband and suspect number one according to most people in the town. There is also Charlie, the town’s dealer and the one who supplied Shayna with the drugs she was addicted to when she went missing. Shayna’s parents Louise and Wilfred are not only dealing with tragedy of their missing daughter but the deterioration of Louise’s mind.  And Louise’s doctor Derek, who tried desperately to get Shayna to go to rehab, seems to be a little to close to the family. As Clare gets to know them, she realizes that someone knows more about Shayna’s disappearance than they are letting on. But will she be able to figure it out before her past catches up with her?

Still Mine, by Amy Stuart, is a thrilling novel about secrets, lies, and how well people can really run from their pasts.

A few months ago I read a quick write-up about this book in a 2016 Canadian books preview and just from the small blurb I was hooked. Which is interesting to me now because based on that blurb I was also expecting something completely different from what the book actually was but it turns out that is not a bad thing. This book actually surpassed my expectations.

Lately I’ve been gravitating toward mysteries and thrillers and this is another great one. But this book had me guessing until the end which hasn’t happened for me with the genre lately. Usually at the halfway point I can see where the book is going and that did not happen here. I had some ideas, but it turns out I was wrong.

I loved the setting of this book as well as the backstory of the town and its people. There was a very cold feel to the book which made it all the more thrilling. The setting jumped off the page for me and as someone who desperately hopes the word “remote” never applies to her own surroundings, it made this a thrilling read.

The story is about both Clare and Shayna. At times through the book I felt as though I wanted more of Clare’s backstory. I understand that by releasing this bit by bit, the book becomes a much more suspenseful read but I really wanted more. More about Malcolm, more about what brought Clare to the place she is in. I read somewhere that there is going to be a sequel. I don’t know if this is confirmed but I will be very happy if this is true.


Overall this is a very good, very strong debut novel and is a great choice for people who love mysteries and thrillers. And it’s Canadian, so it doesn’t get any better! 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Canada Reads Preview


Today is the day! It's time once again for Canada Reads, a national holiday celebrating books. Okay, maybe not national holiday, but it definitely gets the country fired up as five prominent Canadians participate in live debates, each defending the book they think all of Canada should read. At the end of four days, one book remains and is crowned the winner of Canada Reads. Past winners include Ru by Kim Thúy, The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, and The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

This year’s theme is starting over and here are the contenders (click on the title for my review):

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter, defended by Adam Copeland
The Illegal by Lawrence Hill, defended by Clara Hughes
Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, defended by Bruce Poon Tip
The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami, defended by Vinay Virmani (review to come)
Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz, defended by Farah Mohamed

I think the winner is tough to predict. One reason is that the defenders are always so passionate about their books, their arguments can really take hold of the debate. Another reason is that all of the books are very good. My favourite book of the bunch is Bone and Bread. Ever since The Illegal was released I’ve been so passionate about it because I think it is a timely book that we need to be reading given the refugee situation around the world. But Bone and Bread was the best reading experience for me.

Canada Reads can be watched live online at 10am ET on cbcbooks.ca, listened to at 11am local time on CBC Radio One and watched at 4pm local time on CBC.

Have you read any of the Canada Reads books? Which one do you think will win?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"Bone and Bread' by Saleema Nawaz

Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond very few can understand. Orphaned as teenagers, they were left in the care of their Sikh uncle who ran a bagel shop in a Hasidic community in Montreal. Their Uncle didn’t want much to do with them so they were left to raise themselves. But the deaths of their parents led the girls in two very different directions.

Beena caught the attention of one of the boys who worked in her Uncle’s bagel shop. When she became pregnant at the age of sixteen, he took off leaving her to raise her son on her own. Sadhana was driven to achieve perfection and in doing so spent the rest of her life battling anorexia.

Now, Sadhana has died suddenly, her body was left undiscovered for a week. Beena is hurting because she had stopped speaking to her sister only days earlier. She is feeling guilty because if they hadn’t had an argument, if she hadn’t cut her out of her life, then maybe things would have ended differently. As Beena and her son Quinn head to Montreal to pack up Sadhana’s things, she is flooded with memories and forced to deal with the pain and heartache she desperately spent her life trying to avoid.

Bone and Bread, by Saleema Nawaz, is an incredible and powerful novel about sisters, family, love, and the bonds that never break between them all.

Beautiful. This book is absolutely beautiful. When it was first published I heard so much about it and I put it on my list of books to read though I never got around to reading it. I picked it up because it is one of the finalists for this years Canada Reads and I can definitely say that this one is my favourite of the bunch.

The book is 450 pages and yet I sailed through it. I did not want to put it down. Nawaz’s writing is effortless and powerful. This is the story of two sisters whose lives are punctuated by profound loss early on and who have dealt with the loss in different ways. I was so drawn in to the relationship between Beena and Sadhana, the way that they lived their lives for each other, and the way that they were connected no matter where life took them. I felt as though I was mourning along with them, I could feel their loss through the pages, the writing is just so incredible.

There is so much to this book, so much that is covered beyond the relationship between the two women. I greatly appreciated how Nawaz worked in the topics of immigration and integration in Quebec. She writes Sadhana’s struggle with anorexia thoughtfully and eloquently, never sensationalizing it but ensuring that the emotions of it are loud and clear. The entire time I read this book, i never felt as though the people in this book were characters - they felt so real, so true. 


Heartbreaking, insightful, and endearing, for me this is the standout book of the Canada Reads finalists. It is a beautiful and engrossing story that I just could not put down.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"Girl in the Dark" by Marion Pauw

Iris is a single mother with a demanding job as a lawyer. She is trying to keep it together, caring for her son who has behaviour issues and dealing with her judgmental mother. Though she only works part-time, her job has her representing people like a man who is accused of making child pornography. She lives each day thinking that she is a failure, unable to cope.

One day, while she is house-sitting for her mother, one of the fish in her mothers aquarium dies. Iris has never understood why her mother would keep such a large tank filled with tropical fish and her mother always refused to say why. But as Iris looks into caring for the fish, she makes a shocking discovery - she has an older brother named Ray.

Iris’ mother has never mentioned Ray and she can’t figure out why. As she searches for answers she discovers that he is autistic and in a home for the criminally insane, where he was placed after being charged with brutally murdering his neighbour and her young child.

Iris takes it upon herself to meet with Ray, a man who heartbreakingly looks, and acts, like her own son. But what really strikes Iris is that he seems unable to have committed the crime that he is accused of. 

Girl in the Dark, by Marion Pauw, is a page-turning thriller about the lies and secrets that can tear a family apart. Told in the alternating voices of Iris and Ray, this book will have you hanging on to the very end wondering what really happened.

Mystery/Crime Fiction is a genre that I have only recently begun reading a lot of and I’ve been enjoying it very much. When I heard that Pauw is one of the best Dutch crime writers I knew I had to give this book a try and I enjoyed it very much. The character of Iris isn’t the most likeable but you can see how she is struggling to keep it all together and how hard life has been for her. I can’t imagine having her job, having to represent people you loathe. The character of Ray is a shining star, you instantly feel protective of him. And their mother Agatha, well she is a piece of work. Together, these characters make for a story that you just have to know what it is that lies beneath.

I felt that there was a lot of setup of the story in the book and around page 200 I was wondering when it was really going to get into the actual crime itself and who the culprit is. I was worried that it was going to wrap up too quick given how long it took to get through the backstory. And yet, when it did come to it all, I was shocked. Which is funny considering I pretty much had the idea of who did it through most of the book. I just couldn’t figure out why exactly and in the last 20 pages I was impressed.


I was hooked through this entire book and the ending left me deeply satisfied - you can’t ask for anymore from a book.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spring Kids Books from Penguin Random House Canada

Last week, I attended an event at the Penguin Random House Canada headquarters here in Toronto for employees of Indigo to find out what amazing kids books are coming out this spring. I have to say, Penguin Random House sure knows how to throw a party! 

They put on a breakfast for us and not just any breakfast, they made us pancakes. Mine were in the shape of Mickey Mouse and had chocolate chips for eyes. Shout out to the cooks! Then they introduced the many authors they had attending the breakfast and we were all able to mill around after that and get to know them.

The first author I spoke with was Vikki VanSickle. Vikki has written the middle grade novels Words That Start With B, Love is a Four-Letter Word, Days That End in Y, and Summer Days, Starry Nights. Her newest books is a children’s picture book titled If I Had A Gryphon.


When a kitten sneezes it's adorable. When a dragon sneezes? It's a fire hazard!

Sam is already bored of her new pet, a rather sedate hamster. Inspired by her book of mythological creatures, Sam longs for a more exciting pet. But she soon realizes that taking care of these magical beasts might not be as wonderful as she thought. Unicorns are shy, gryphons scare the dogs at the dogpark, and having a fire extinguisher handy at all times makes dragons seem like an awful lot of work. In the end, Sam realizes that her hamster is a pretty sweet and safe pet ... or is he? 
If I Had a Gryphon is a raucous rhyming read-aloud about fantastical beasts in everyday situations--and the increasingly beleaguered heroine who has to deal with them. The perfect primer on mythological and fantastic beasts for young kids not quite ready for Harry Potter!

Vikki spoke to us about what influences her books (her childhood, books she loved, movies she loved), what book she has recently read that she loves (Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea) and what she is working on now (a middle grade novel inspired by the X-Files…I hope I can say that here!)

The other author I spoke with was Shane Peacock. Shane is the author of the Boy Sherlock Holmes series which as nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award. He has also contributed to the Seven series. His most recent book is The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim, the first in a new gothic trilogy. 


Edgar Brim is a sensitive orphan who, exposed to horror stories from his father as a young child, is afraid of almost everything and suffers from nightly terrors. His stern new guardian, Mr. Thorne, sends the boy to a gloomy school in Scotland where his dark demons only seem to worsen and he is bullied and ridiculed for his fears. But years later, when sixteen-year-old Edgar finds a journal belonging to his novelist father, he becomes determined to confront his nightmares and the bullies who taunt him. After the horrific death of a schoolmate, Edgar becomes involved with an eccentric society at the urging of a mysterious professor who believes that monsters from famous works of literature are real and whose mandate is to find and destroy these creatures. With the aid of a rag-tag crew of friends, the fear-addled teen sets about on his dark mission, one that begins in the cemetery on the bleak Scottish moors and ends in a spine-chilling climax on the stage of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in London with Henry Irving, the infamous and magnetic actor, and his manager, Bram Stoker, the author of the most frightening and sensational novel of the day, Dracula. Can Edgar Brim truly face his terror and conquer his fears?

We talked about a lot of different topics with Shane, such as the difficulties of being a writer in the Canadian publishing industry, getting your book into stores, his upcoming picture book The Artist and Me (about Vincent van Gogh and how he was bullied), and the American presidential race.

Overall, it was an amazing event and there are a ton of great kids books coming out this Spring from Random House of Canada. Just check out the upcoming books I picked up! 




Happy reading all!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Becoming Lin" by Tricia Dower

Twenty-two-year-old Linda Wise dreams of escaping her small town where almost everyone knows that she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. It’s 1965 and Linda is realizing there is a bigger world out there that can help her break free from her overprotective parents. And it seems that her saviour has come in the form of twenty-six-year-old minister Ronald Brunson.

Ronald’s passion for social justice ignites a determination in Linda. His stories of freedom rides, protests, and imprisonment fuel the fire in Linda. They marry, and he takes her far away from Stony River, New Jersey, to a prairie town in Minnesota.  Over the next seven years, Linda finds herself caught up in the turbulent world of civil rights and war resistance, all while performing her duties as a mother and pastors wife. But Lin soon realizes that if she is truly going to be free and become the woman she needs to be, she needs to confront the trauma of her past and put herself first.

Becoming Lin, by Tricia Dower, is a coming of age story that covers a wide range of topics. Civil rights, Vietnam, war resistance, equal rights, psychology, sexual assault, love, marriage, and motherhood, it is all covered through the life of Linda.

This is a lovely story about identity and one that I think a lot of women will relate to even though the time period is different. There are so many roles that we all have in life and often we can end up playing them all without feeling that we are living as our authentic selves. Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find that. Lin’s journey from a young girl to a self-assured woman shows others that they are not alone.

In terms of the reading experience, the book started out a bit slow for me as it set the story up. At first I wasn’t sure about how the book went between the past and the present each chapter, but by the end of the book I really appreciated how that method was able to best show Lin’s transformation. The strength of this book for me was through the middle section where it stays in one time period and shows Lin’s experience with the war resistance movement. It is a fascinating time period to read about and put a much more personal experience on something I have really only read about in a text book.


Lin first appears in Dower’s novel Stony River, which tells the story of Linda as a young girl and of the sexual assault that occurred. Some of it is referred to in this book and is covered in a way that gives you enough information that you don’t really need to read that novel first. I haven’t read it but I have read great reviews of it so I think it would be a great idea to read these two together. I will definitely be reading Stony River as I have very much enjoyed Dower’s writing in Becoming Lin.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

KidLit

Just a quick post to share some of the books my kids, ages 6 and 9, have enjoyed over the past few weeks.

A1, Age 9


Bas les Pattes, Tete de Reblochon! - Geronimo Stilton (Paws Off Cheddarface in English)
The Ultimate Fairy Guide - Daisy Meadows
Drame - Raina Telgemeier (Drama in English)

A2, Age 6

Green Eggs and Ham - Dr. Seuss
The Adventures of Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey
Stink the Incredible Shrinking Kid - Megan McDonald


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy" by Sue Klebold

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into their high school in Littleton, Colorado and committed what would forever be remembered as one of the worst high school shootings in America. Twelve students and one teacher died and twenty-four were injured before the boys took their own lives. 

In the days, months, and years that followed many questions were asked about how such a horrific incident could have happened. People looked for places to lay the blame and they did so everywhere they could find. One of those places was on the parents, and Dylan’s mother Sue completely understands why. For the last sixteen years, she has wondered how her loving and caring son could turn into a hateful and violent young man. She asked herself, like many others did, how could she not have known that something was wrong? She spent years searching for clues she might have missed and answers she would never find.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, by Sue Klebold, is an honest and heartbreaking story of how one mother was forced to come to terms with the most horrific of realities. 

I’ve mentioned in other places that the Columbine shootings are forever seared in my memory. I was in the same grade as the boys and I can never forget the feelings we all had returning to school the day after watching the terror unfold on the news. For months on end, we were bombarded with media coverage, question after question being asked. 

From the point of view of watching it through the media, one couldn’t help but question the role of the families in the tragedy. But now, as a mother, I can see how tragic and difficult it must have been for the parents. And this book shows just how easy it can be for any parent to miss the warning signs when they don’t know that they should be looking for.

Sue Klebold doesn’t write this book to make herself look better or to try to absolve her son. This book is written to help other parents recognize when a child is in distress, understand the importance of brain health in adolescents, and to help other families who are grieving the loss of their child, especially those who have lost their child in a manner in which they are responsible for the loss of other lives. This book shows us that hindsight is 20/20 as Sue writes that when she looks back at the time, she can see some of the warning signs. But at the time, Dylan was able to hide from everyone that he was suffering from depression and was suicidal. As well, he went to great lengths to cover up his plans to carry out the attack from his family and his best friends. 

This is a very emotional read for so many reasons. Readers will relive the tragic day through the eyes of Sue as well as learn more about the investigation and what it uncovered. I found myself often crying at the generosity and support she found in those around her and the people from far away who reached out to share their stories. Even after reading the book, I still can’t imagine the grief she felt or how she made it through.


I can understand why some people may criticize Klebold for writing this book but it doesn’t sensationalize what happened nor does it try to make any excuses for what happened. In the past few years, Sue has found her place in the mental health and suicide prevention community and this book is aimed at showing people what to look for in their loved ones and how to help them. All profits from the book are being donated to mental health initiatives.