6

Canada Reads 2017: The Break

Two years ago, I tuned into the Canada Reads debate for the first time. I ended up reading two of the books after the fact (one of which, When Everything Feels Like The Movies stays with me still).

Last year, I read two of the books ahead of the debate (progress!). I bought the winner soon after it was over and have yet to read it (because that’s how I roll).

This year I’ve bought two of the books and currently, I’ve read one. I’ll read the other one but I hope The Break wins.

thebreak

Katherena Vermette’s debut novel, The Break, centres on a sexual assault that takes place in the middle of the night. Stella, a young Metis mother, hears something outside and, fearing that someone is hurt but unable to leave her house and her children, she calls the police. The book tells the story leading up to that night and it’s aftermath from rotating, multi-generational viewpoints: the sisters, cousins, mothers and aunts that make up one Aboriginal family affected, their friends, and a young Metis police officer assigned to investigate the case.

The Break slowly burns into an inferno of a book. It rightfully comes with a trigger warning due to scenes of sexual and physical violence and those scenes are brutal. But they don’t take away from the beauty of this book.

Vermette weaves a layered tale involving perspectives from mothers, daughters, lost children, of Aboriginal women who have chosen to forge a life in the city away from their ancestral lands and traditions. It is a commentary on the value our country has placed on these women, how easily we dismiss their concerns, the destruction of their young. Vermette’s vivid characters belong to a sisterhood long used to fending for themselves, who worry for their children and how the world will view them.

The whole idea of Canada Reads is that we’re supposed to find that one book that the country needs to read. In the face of all that is wrong in this country when it comes to Aboriginal relations, I think it would benefit the country massively to read The Break. It is a the kind of book that breaks you wide open and lets some much needed light in.

 

11

Getting’ witchy with it

Halloween is not my holiday, really.

I don’t like to be scared. Seriously, I hate it. I don’t watch scary movies or read books in any genres that might give me a fright.

I also don’t particularly like dressing up? I’ve only felt like I’ve nailed my costumes a couple of times: Mary Poppins when I was 11, Alice in Wonderland at 22, and Charlie Chaplin when I was 10 except a few people thought I was Hitler on that last one, which was super unfortunate.

(And begs the question, what 10 year old is dressing up as Hitler?)

All that to say that my contribution to Halloween this year is a review of a witchy book: Ami McKay’s The Witches of New York.

I know – daring, isn’t it?

Back in the day, I read McKay’s The Birth House in one sitting. At the time, I couldn’t remember being quite so captivated by a book. It was also one of the first successful forays into CanLit (can someone figure this out for me? McKay was born in the States but lives in Nova Scotia and has totally been embraced as one of our own – does she “count” as being a Canadian author? How does this work? Emma Donogue is another one that this always confuses me with…)

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When The Virgin Cure came out, I didn’t fall in love with it. So I was apprehensive about The Witches of New York. It continues Moth’s story. But this time Moth, now Adelaide Thom has embraced her witchy heritage. She is in business with Eleanor St Clair – they run a tea shop in New York City. Wealthy women come to visit them for a variety of problems that they help solve through spells and potions.

When Adelaide runs an ad looking for a shop girl to help Eleanor, Beatrice Dunn shows up and everything changes. Suddenly the women are in danger from those who are starting to become suspicious about the work that they do. In 1888, the women are quite removed from the Salem Witch Trials but there are still those who would harm them for the work that they do. As Beatrice learns to harness her powers, those who think that their work is evil come ever closer.

I really liked this book. There were some issues that I had in terms of the plot – there are a lot of things happening and I’m not convinced that they all came together. I also think that it doesn’t need to be a 500 page book – there’s a lot of set up that had no pay off and we could have started later and gotten to the same place.

BUT.

I loved the atmosphere of this book. McKay does an incredible job of evoking this time and place with something extra. Her cast of characters, the history infused into this book give the whole thing an ethereal quality that had me looking around wondering if spirits were near.

Also, McKay is here for women. Beatrice, Adelaide and Eleanor make up a sisterhood who help each other in life and love and have built a business around helping other women out of the problems created, oftentimes, by men. There are very few men in this book and only one of them is really good – he’s the only one that actually listens to what they have to say. The others are intent on the destruction of these women for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that they are evil.

McKay touches on the Salem Witch Trials and the historical persecution of women who didn’t fit the mould. It turns out that one of her own ancestors had been persecuted, accused of being a witch – she was hanged in 1692. So the subject matter feels personal and you can tell as you read.

I think that The Witches of New York has been set up as a series and I am more than OK with it. If you haven’t read The Virgin Cure, I wouldn’t say that it’s necessary in order to enjoy this one. But don’t pass up The Witches of New York if you didn’t love its predecessor.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 

5

CanLit: The Fortunate Brother

When I first started reading The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey I was afraid that all my old issues with CanLit were coming home to roost in this book.

But I kept at it and before I knew it, I had spent the entire day with this book and was quite attached to it.

The Fortunate Brother is about Kyle Now. His father, Sylvanus has been drinking heavily since the death of Kyle’s brother, Chris. His mother, Addie has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and wants Kyle and his father to quit drinking and make something better out of their lives. When the local bully ends up dead, with traces of his blood on the Now’s dock, Kyle questions everything he knows and really starts to flounder.

This book is very much of a certain time and place. It’s 1980, in Newfoundland, with all the baggage that that comes with. The Nows have come back to this next part of their story, having featured in Morrissey’s previous novel, Sylvanus Now. That one takes place in the 1950s – for readers of that book (I haven’t read it) this is a chance to see what happened.

This book is tense. Right from the beginning, Kyle is at a loose end, living in the shadow of his dead brother, blaming his sister for her part in it. He’s barely 20 and feels like an old man, trying to figure out what his next step is.

The murder really throws everything off. Morrissey takes you into the community, makes you a part of the drama and the unease. It’s a layered story that’s drawn out with purpose. There is a lot going on – a murder mystery, cancer, a family trying to put itself back together – but Morrissey handles all these facets with care. When I started reading it, I didn’t understand how it could all fit together, so disparate did the elements feel. But Morrissey manages it.

In the end, I was grateful to get to read such a taut, complex, resonant and philosophical tale about family and one’s place in the world.

To really get a sense of the strength of the writing, take a look at this post about the book from Naomi @ Consumed By Ink.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 

6

Bring it to the beach: She’s Not There

Remember that time I read Cartwheel, a fictionalized account of the Amanda Knox case, and felt dirty and voyeuristic?

That’s kind of what I was afraid would happen when I read She’s Not There by Joy Fielding.

In May 2007, nearly 4-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from her room in a Portuguese resort while her parents had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Her siblings were asleep in the room with her.

To date, she hasn’t been found.

she's not there

In She’s Not There, Caroline Shipley’s 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, was taken from her hotel room at a Mexican resort as her parents dined with friends downstairs. Her 5-year-old sister, Michelle, was asleep in the room with her at the time.

Fifteen years later, near the anniversary of the disappearance, Caroline receives a phone call from a 17-year-old who claims to be her missing daughter. This bombshell rips open all the old wounds and forces Caroline and her family to confront the things that happened all those years ago.

In the beginning of the book, I did get that uncomfortable feeling like I was getting enjoyment reading about the very real pain of the McCann family. But we soon moved past the actual abduction and onto the fallout from that night: the Shipleys’ divorce, the uncomfortable relationship Caroline has with her daughter Michelle, the complex relationship she has with her (horrible) mother, Mary, Caroline’s difficulties finding work as a teacher since her daughter’s disappearance and the portrayal of her in the media as a cold, distant, uptight woman.

She’s Not There becomes less about the abduction and more about the emotional toll it takes on the family. The phone call throws everything Caroline thinks she knows on its head and she is forced to confront truths she might not be ready for.

At the centre of the whole thing, of course, is the question: is this girl really Samantha?

I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would. It’s well-paced, trailing just enough breadcrumbs to feel like you are ahead of Fielding. Caroline is allowed to rage against her family, her ex-husband and the media who all have these ideas of Caroline as a terrible mother, a boring person, and an ice queen. I appreciated that all loose ends were tied up and I don’t need to track down other books in a new series.

This is the kind of book that deserves to be read beach-lake-or-pool-side with a cocktail. If you haven’t already read it, keep it in mind when you’re filling your summer totes.

 

9

I’m not on the bandwagon

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Every once in a while, I read a book that others have raved about and feel nothing.

Which makes it kind of difficult to write anything about said book.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad is about Lizzie, or Liz or Beth or Elizabeth, depending on which chapter you are reading. Lizzie is a fat girl and struggles with body image her whole life, even when she becomes obsessive about what she eats and doesn’t eat, how much she exercises and what clothes she can wear. Her entire life becomes consumed by this identity of once being a fat girl.

I liked that each chapter took on a different aspect of Lizzie’s life or was told from the perspective of someone else in Lizzie’s life. Awad is a sharp writer who really understands her characters and how they interact.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t anything to relate to in this book because for most women, I think there is. No matter how hard Lizzie works, no matter what her outside looks like, she will still always feel like the fat girl.

I’m not sure what my issue with this book was. Lizzie is bitter and sad and lonely even when she’s surrounded by friends. She has a mother who adores her, a husband who accepted her and loved her before she lost all the weight. She is incapable of being friends with other women, constantly comparing herself to them, assuming they are making judgements about her. In one chapter she requests the nail technician by name only because this girl is fat and Lizzie lets herself feel superior while the girl works.

I understand Lizzie’s hurt and anger towards a world that refused to accept her as she was as a fat girl. I can see how she was swallowed up by her fears of gaining the weight back again, how she viewed all women as competition but I had such a hard time getting through the 212 pages of this book. I don’t want to dismiss this experience and I don’t want to say I was turned off by her bitterness but this book didn’t do it for me.

I know that’s not the case for everyone – you only have to spend a few minutes on Goodreads to see the strong ratings this book is getting. Just not from me.

13

Books I’m Bringing: Easter edition

I never used to get that excited about Easter. Yeah, there was chocolate involved but it also meant dressing up, lots of church and a dinner that involved a ham which has never been my favourite. But for the last several years, it’s meant an extra long weekend to visit my in-laws at the lake which has pushed Easter onto my list of favourite holidays.

As those of you that have been followers for a while know, this means it’s time to talk about the books that I’m bringing! Sometimes the weather is sunshiney and awesome, other times it’s cold and wet but really it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing because I can read inside or outside.

When I first started thinking about what to bring, I thought this might be a good time for some of the non-fiction I’ve been meaning to get to: Missoula, Bitch, The War That Ended Peace. But with the kind of week it’s been, I’m not sure my heart can take anymore rage.

So fiction it is.

I’m bringing:

The Hypnotist by Lars Keplar. This seriously twisted husband/wife duo wrote The Sandman , a book that I couldn’t read alone at my bus stop. The Sandman was actually the third in the series, The Hypnotist is the first. I think I will have to read this one early in the weekend because I suspect my father-in-law might be eyeing it down and it will stay behind for him.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. A long weekend always seems like a good time to read about beach vacations. Memorial Day weekend in 1938 and a socialite beachfront community? Sign me up. I had been looking for this book for a long time and it always seemed to be sold out. Found it on my birthday for $5 – a sign.

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie. Surely you all know my rule by now: a long weekend must include Agatha Christie. I recently watched the new production of And Then There Were None (recommend) and it whetted my appetite for another good Agatha Christie caper.

Servant’s Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance by Margaret Powell. OK so I guess I’m breaking my no non-fiction resolution a little bit. But since this is a Downton-inspired read, a follow up to Below Stairs, I don’t think there’s too much risk of giving myself a rage stroke from this one.

The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins. I feel like maybe my  life needs some magic right now so what’s better than a book of magic and mysticism, filled with Celts, fairies, mad kings, Druids and a goddess? Probably nothing. I hope that there is some sunshine to be had for this one – I suspect reading would be greatly enhanced sitting in a bright spot in the garden.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson. When I bought this, the woman at the register got really excited. She said it was charming and full of heart and said she thought I would love it. Alright then!

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. I’ve spent the week listening to the panellists on Canada Reads talking about how great this book is, how beautifully written, what wonderful, inspiring characters it has and how readable it actually is. So now I want to find out how right they are.

Where should I start? What are you reading this long weekend?

Happy Easter!

11

Canada Reads – Bone and Bread

For the first time ever, I have read at least one of the Canada Reads finalists BEFORE the competition even starts. Actually, I’ve read two.

I basically exclusively read CanLit at this point.

Today the competition starts. At some point, I will get caught up on what happened but in the meantime, let me add my voice to the flood of Canada Reads posts you’ve been seeing.

I talked about The Hero’s Walk recently – click here to get caught up.

The second book I read was Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz. I liked it a lot more than The Hero’s Walk, but again, I don’t think that’s the fault of The Hero’s Walk  – there’s just something wrong with me.

bone and bread

Bone and Bread tells the story of sisters Beena and Sadhana. Sadhana has died recently, suddenly, and Beena and her teenage son, Quinn, are left to sort through the aftermath of her death. Beena tells us their story, of their unusual upbringing as the daughter of an Indian father and a white Irish mother, and then when each of their parents’ dies, at different times, of their life with their father’s brother, a man who is not equipped to handle two teenage girls in any way.

When Beena is 16 she gets pregnant. This is at the same time as Sadhana starts her years’ long battle with anorexia, a disease that sees her hospitalized more than once. As Beena learns to be a mother to Quinn, without her own mother to lean on, she and Sadhana enter into an uncomfortable relationship that satisfies no one.

This is a complex story of two young women trying to figure out their lives in the wake of a host of complications: the death of each of their parents, an unplanned pregnancy, a disapproving uncle, an all-encompassing illness. At times it felt like Beena and I were having coffee, like she was my friend telling me what was going on in her life. That’s how invested I was in this one.

Beena and Quinn are trying to come to terms with Sadhana’s passing, with the hole she left in both of their lives in different ways. Montreal is almost another character in this one as the setting of most of the story. The girls are born and grow up in Montreal, Sadhana stays when Beena moves to Ottawa with Quinn but now that it’s time for university, Quinn is heading back.

In terms of the Canada Reads theme of ‘Starting Over’ this one is easy. Beena and Sadhana are constantly starting over, forced to make new lives out of the ruins of the old ones. I felt like I’d been put through the wringer after reading this one. Emotionally, I was spent. I’m looking forward to cheering this one on through the debates.

Which book are you rooting for?

cheering