Monthly Archives: February 2019

‘Brother’ by David Chariandy

The Canada Reads 2019 debate has the theme, “One Book To Move You” and the majority of the finalists are memoirs. Of the two that are not, one is based on the author’s grandmother’s life, and the other is this one, a novel about immigrant youth and racial profiling that reads like a true story.

It’s going to be tricky for Canada Reads contenders this year, to debate several tragic harrowing stories. How does one decide between racism, genocide, child abandonment, flight from war, and mental illness?

Set in Scarborough, Brother is the heartbreaking story about siblings caught up in a police crackdown following a tragic shooting. They have goals and dreams for the future but their situation is far from hopeful. The writing is beautiful and it is really amazing how much the author was able to pack into a relatively slim novel, exploring race, immigration, identity, masculinity, prejudice, survival, poverty, single parenting, community, family, friendship, loyalty, grief, and loss. But the difficulties for immigrant youth described so elegantly in this novel, are sadly a reality for many Canadians. It actually reminded me of a book I read last year; Brother felt like a poetic version of Why Young Men? by Jamil Javani. Both books are very interesting and eye opening.

‘The Pearl Sister’ by Lucinda Riley (The Seven Sisters #4)

This series is an epic saga; a delicious blend of contemporary and historical fiction. I keep wondering how the author can maintain the momentum, but she has done it once again. And each instalment has been wonderfully unique.

Cece, the quiet sister who was never far apart from her sister Star, has been frustrated by her inability to find herself or her niche as an artist. In the wake of a perceived  abandonment by her sister, she decides to follow the clues left to her by her dear father Pa Salt. Following nothing more than a name (Kitty Mercer known as the “the pearling pioneer”), geographical coordinates, and an old black and white photograph, her quest brings her to Australia (via Thailand) where she not only discovers her family, but also her inner self. I liked how Cece’s new link to an Aboriginal culture where story-telling and art are major forms of communication, make her more accepting of her dyslexia. I loved the descriptions of Australia as harsh and unforgiving, but also full of heart, soul, and opportunity.The plight of indigenous people is considered, as well as the ways of the early settlers: both are treated with respect by the author. Riley intertwines established history with imagined backstories that are thoroughly engrossing. Lucinda Riley’s research is very thorough and her website provides information about the real stories behind the books. For that background information, here is the link.

‘The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family ‘ by Lindsay Wong

Canada’s Annual Battle of the Books has as its theme this year “One Book to Move You.” This is the first of the five shortlisted books I’ve read so far. Since I have tickets to be in the studio audience once again this year, I want to read as many as I can before the CBC debate starts in March!

Like Educated, this is the story of an incredibly horrible and abusive upbringing. When Lindsay Wong, often troubled by dizziness and nausea,  finally breaks away from her family and is living in NYC, she discovers that she actually has a neurological condition that has been causing her crippling symptoms–so, not the woo-woo after all. Lindsay Wong shares her dysfunctional family’s mental health struggles, where illness and weakness of any kind was nothing more than ghosts and demon possession.

It’s meant to be darkly comedic, but her writing style and humour just didn’t work for me. Even though she holds a BFA in creative writing from UBC in Vancouver (which she calls University of a Billion Chinese in Hongcouver) and an MFA from Columbia University, she says this in her acknowledgements, “Writing makes me want to gouge out my eyeballs.” Why would a writer say that when the book was meant to be cathartic? No doubt it was difficult for her to be honest about her upbringing and though I commend her for raising awareness within her culture about mental illness, I hesitate to recommend that this should win Canada Reads 2019 and be a book that all Canadians should read. Though the story is eye opening and harrowing, I found the book to be repetitive, disconnected, and just not that well written. It’s not even clear to me how she survived and how her obvious strength and resilience helped her overcome, which means all that remains is nothing more than a horrible story trying to be funny.

‘Virgil Wander’ by Leif Enger

When you eat something delicious, it’s not uncommon to eat more slowly. You resist the urge to wolf it down because your senses tell you that this is something special and deserves lingering and savouring. This can be true for reading as well.

It’s been ten years since Enger’s other hugely successful novel Peace Like a River. Virgil Wander is not a fast read and has a few loose ends, but is not cumbersome. It is character driven and takes some time to unfold, but Enger’s sentences are rich and surprising; he’s funny, thoughtful, whimsical, and is a master storyteller. It’s the ordinary stuff of life that he makes extraordinary in this novel.

Virgil lives in Greenstone, Minnesota on the shores of magnificent Lake Superior, the largest freshwater inland sea in the world. In some ways the town is rather inconsequential and perhaps even dying, falling on some hard times. Strange hard luck sorts of things keep happening that suggest something sinister is going on. There’s plenty of symbolism to pick apart and themes to discover: about the raven, and the sea, and a man walking on water. I wonder if the author’s choice of the name Virgil refers to Dante’s guide through hell? Certainly he wanders in his attempt to get back on his feet after an accident that propels the reader straight into the book at the beginning!

Virgil Wander’s car flies off the road one snowy night into icy Lake Superior. He survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer so familiar to him. Virgil begins to piece together his personal history but also the lore of this broken town, with the help of a cast of unforgettable characters—from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man, to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.


True Confessions of the Hilarious Kind

How did this happen?????

This is so truly embarrassing that I just have to share it with you. I have already failed miserably in my New Year’s resolution to be more measured about what I check out from the library. And we’re not even halfway through February yet! In my New Year’s post, I outlined a plan to limit and ration holds to avoid library book hoarding, a really great idea that I was so excited about, and now look what I have in my house! And to top it off, I have e-books waiting on my Overdrive Bookshelf and I just purchased one on my Kindle as well. This is too funny!

Now, there are reasons for this, let me explain, only because it will make me feel slightly better: (excuses excuses)
– book club meeting coming up
– got tickets for Canada Reads so I want to read as many on the shortlist as I can before the debate
– picked one up from a library display when I went in to pick up a hold (just one!), except I did this a few times…
– an extra hold I slipped in, because really what’s one hold a month and surely it wouldn’t come through right away?
– thinking I would just quickly finish off a series because they were both sitting right there on the shelf!

Oh well, back to the drawing board. There’s no harm done, as long as I remember to renew…:) but I’m back to keeping book piles in various rooms so no one really knows how many I have out…shhhhhh!

‘Raymie Nightingale’ by Kate DiCamillo

(Age 10+) What I love about this award winning author for young readers is that she doesn’t talk down to children. She does not spare them the difficult bits of life but presents them in a real and uplifting manner, soul stirring, but focusing on the kinds of things that carry us through hard times, like family and friendship and being challenged in life to courageously keep going when everything seems dismal. I love her perspective and her ability to write literary fiction for children that is captivating for adults as well. There’s hope, humour, and adventure in addition to feeling sadness in your very bones–it’s the stuff of great literature…for kids! Among her award winning novels are books that I own because I want to read them to my grandchildren, often. Among others, books like Because of Winn Dixie (Age 9+) The Tiger Rising (Age 12+), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Age 7+), and The Magician’s Elephant (Age 8+), and The Tale of Despereaux (Age 9+). Years ago I did a feature post on this author: click here.

DiCamillo introduces us to the ‘Three Rancheros’ in this book. Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana, three 10 year old girls who meet at a baton lesson and become fast friends. They are:
Raymie: whose Dad left town with a dental hygienist and wants to enter the baton throwing context so that her Dad will see her name in the paper and come back
Beverly: who knows how to pick locks and is incredibly brave, but often has unexplained bruises
Louisiana: whose parents are dead and lives with her eccentric Granny, never has enough to eat, is too poor to have furniture or electricity, and is desperately trying not to end up in the social services county home.

(Age 10+) The story of Louisiana carries on seamlessly in this companion novel to Raymie Nightingale. Granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave immediately. A few weeks ago Louisiana would have accepted this without question, but now she can’t bear to leave her new friends Raymie and Beverly and she’s not sure she will ever return!