Canada Reads: The Boat People

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

It’s that time of year again! Canada’s national book competition, Canada Reads, is kicking off once more!

This year the theme is One Book to Open Your Eyes. The books that will be competing are:

And because I’m still working on becoming a better CanLit reader, I’ve only read one of the books this year: The Boat People by Sharon Bala.
From Goodreads:
When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Canadian shores, the young father believes he and his six-year-old son can finally begin a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the “boat people” are members of a terrorist organization infamous for their suicide attacks. As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son’s chances for asylum.
boat people
The Boat People is told from alternating perspectives: Mahindan as he tries to figure out what is happening to him in this new country and worries over his son, who he has been separated from; his lawyer Priya, a second-generation Sri Lankan-Canadian who has never really been a part of Sri Lankan culture and must grapple with her identity and her role in Mahindan’s life; and Grace, the adjudicator, a third generation Japanese-Canadian whose family was interred during the war and stripped of everything they had worked to achieve, who must decide if Mahindan is a threat to the safety of her country, just like people decided her family was all those years ago.
The alternating perspectives provided a lot of layers to this story – Mahindan’s story is told from when he is in Canada but also what happened to him and others in Sri Lanka, that brought him here in the first place. Bala tells the story of Sri Lanka through Mahindan and Priya who learns about what happened to her own family that prompted them to escape to Canada.
But The Boat People can feel heavy handed with it’s message of inclusion and the duty to provide asylum and it’s mostly because of Grace. Grace has been appointed as an adjudicator by a former boss, a minister who is intent on kicking all of these people out of the country because they are probably terrorists. She is terrified of disappointing him and is infected by his xenophobic rhetoric. And as she continues to ignore her own family history, she is doomed to be the reason history is repeated.
There is a lot of complex history about Sri Lanka that Bala has no doubt simplified for her readers. And still I found it really overwhelming. The political history of that country is still something that I do not understand but Bala does do an admirable job of focusing those politics on the people they affected. In this way, Bala focuses on the human toll of political upheaval and forces readers to decide where the line is in offering asylum or shutting the door.
I think that The Boat People can be the kind of book a lot of people should read. It clearly did open my eyes to suffering in a part of the world I wasn’t paying attention to. But I’m not sure that this is the one book that will force the entire country to open their eyes and pay attention.
The competition starts on March 26 – tune in at cbc.ca!

The sinister mystery of The French Girl

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

french girl

Ten years ago, on a holiday at a farmhouse in France, the French neighbour went missing on the last night Katie and her friends were there. Now, Tom is telling her that they found Severine’s body in the well at the farmhouse and a french detective would be coming to speak with each of them once more.

In the ten years since that week, Katie has become a lawyer, starting her own legal headhunting business and doesn’t need the stigma of being involved in a murder investigation. Still, everyone from that week is cooperating – Tom, who is coming back to London from Boston, his cousin Seb, Katie’s ex-boyfriend who she hasn’t seen since they broke up right after that week, Caro, still singular-minded, working at her father’s law firm, and Katie’s best friend Lara, a Swedish transplant who has never had any trouble getting the kinds of men she wants. The only one missing is Theo – it was his family’s farm, he knew Severine the best and after whatever happened happened, he signed up for the military and ended up dying over there.

Lexie Elliott’s The French Girl is a different kind of mystery. The mystery happened ten years ago, there are no flashbacks, no clues uncovered by intrepid investigators or curious friends. We stick with Katie as she is haunted by Severine, as she tries to piece together what might have happened all those years ago, while trying to get her business into the black. She reconnects with the group that was there that week and all of them talk about what the French detective has been asking, what he’s been focused on.

The French Girl is kind of sinister because we don’t have anymore idea what happened all those years ago than Katie. There is no evidence, no trail to follow. The entire book is the interactions this group has with each other and the detective. It’s a unique way of telling this kind of story and I really did appreciate it. I enjoyed my time with The French Girl, reading it in glorious late-winter sunshine.

But I’m not sure that this one will excite everyone. It was clever for sure but was it compelling? Not especially. I wasn’t counting the minutes until I could get back to it. It was an easy, no-pressure read that I would have been happy reading on a beach or poolside. I’m not convinced it would have held my attention on a long flight or a commute though.

I liked The French Girl, I will loan it out, and I’m OK with not getting anything more out of it.


Taking ‘Buckshaw’ out of the Buckshaw Chronicles

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

Recently, I’ve seen people “confess” to their love of the Flavia de Luce books (fine, the Buckshaw Chronicles). Like reading and liking these books is something to feel guilty about, they are some kind of guilty pleasure.

I’m not about that life, guys. Are Alan Bradley’s delightful mysteries set in the 1950s English countryside gritty or dark or violent? Nope. But that’s kind of their charm. They are much more in the vein of Agatha Christie and I for one appreciate their lighter fare. I’ve spent several years loving Flavia and her penchant for solving crimes, chemistry and finding new ways to torture her older sisters.

So I’m not here to rag on these books. I think they are the kind of books that we probably need these days.

But I think Book #9, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, might be the end of the line.


This is the copy I have…

After the shocking end of Book #8 (still not over it), the ever faithful Dogger takes Flavia and her older sisters on a boating trip before they are all off to new lives. As they are making their way up the river, Dogger is just telling Flavia about the wonderful case of the vicar who poisoned three of his parishioners and how they dropped dead right in the front pew, when Flavia literally drags a body from the water. One minute she’s dragging her arm in the water, the next a body is hanging from her hand by its teeth.

Naturally Flavia is delighted and Dogger and the de Luces decamp to the village of the famous poisoning incident. While there, Flavia endeavors to find out not only what happened to the body she dragged from the water but how did the vicar actually go about poisoning his parishioners?

In true Buckshaw Chronicles fashion, Flavia uncovers more than she bargained for and learns ever more about human nature.

If you’re familiar with these books, then you know exactly what you’re getting with The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place. It follows in the footsteps of it’s predecessors. The fact that this one is removed from Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey does mean that we lose access to some of the characters that didn’t come along on the trip. But Bradley has given us a whole cast of new characters that ably fill the void. However, if this IS the last one, the series is going out with a whimper, not a bang. And I can’t decide how I feel about that.


…but THIS version is stunning!

Now that Flavia has made a decision about her future, putting all her skills and training to use in this new pursuit, now that all of the financial issues around Buckshaw have been sorted out, I kind of want to see what direction these books could go in. They really do feel like an homage to Agatha Christie, maybe mixed with The Bletchley Circle and Harriet the Spy. Having freed himself from some of the constraints of the story, I want to see what Bradley comes up with for Flavia.

If you can come to this maybe-final book accepting it for what it is, then I suspect you will enjoy the ride. Flavia is in fine form, finally understanding how humans relate to one another, something that has always eluded her.

Finally, Flavia is all grown up.


A sexy romp: The Wedding Date

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

I first heard about Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date from Roxane Gay. She was the first to tweet about her enjoyment of this book, which put it on my radar. I kept seeing it after that (one of those cases where awareness suddenly shows you something everywhere) and finally, I got the chance to read it.

wedding date

The premise of The Wedding Date is a simple one. Sexy Drew Nichols is dreading being a groomsman at his ex and best friend’s wedding. The night he checks into his hotel, he ends up getting stuck in an elevator with Alexa Monroe and decides to ask her if she’d be his pretend girlfriend at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. Uncharacteristically, she says yes.

Their chemistry is insane and what begins as a pretend relationship, turns into something more as they find ways to spend more time with each other. Each are juggling their own baggage, their careers, but can’t deny that there’s something special here. However, because of the way things started, both continue to question whether what they have is actually real or just playing the part. Does Drew do this with lots of women? Is Alexa just a fetish for him?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun, sexy romp through California that made me smile. Is this book going to change your life? Probably not. But it’s so fun and right now that’s sometimes all I need from a book.

I appreciated so much about The Wedding Date. I liked that she’s black and he’s white, that they kind of have to address that without that being the focus of the book. I really appreciated that the sex was actually hot and not just cringey and kind of gross. It was empowering in its way.

I also appreciated that Drew and Alexa are fully formed characters. They both have their own baggage (he has maybe not been completely honest about the state of his relationship with the bride, she tends to overthink everything and not allow herself to fully enjoy anything), they are both successful professionals who have their sh*t together, and they have to figure out how a life together might work.

I liked that The Wedding Date didn’t ask very much of me. It’s confident in its ability to be a charming, sexy, fun read. I’ve already loaned this book out and am getting more positive feedback. I think if you go in prepared to accept this book for what it is, you’re going to enjoy the ride.


World-building in Artemis

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

One of my husband’s favourite books is Andy Weir’s The Martian. He made me read it and I ended up enjoying it against all odds. Science fiction is very much not my jam and I really don’t like space.

Yeah, I said it.

So not only reading but requesting Weir’s newest, Artemis, was very out of character for me.


Jasmine ‘Jazz’ Bashara lives in Artemis, the colony on the moon. She works as a porter, a low-paying job that has not-super-legal side-gig potential. But she wants to make a lot more money. Jazz is really smart but never had much time for traditional education routes. Having lived on the moon since she was a small child, she understands the colony like no one else.

When an opportunity comes up through a regular smuggling client, she has the chance to make a lot of money really quickly. But she doesn’t realize she’s suddenly in the middle of a power struggle for control of the moon and it’s resources. Jazz must rely on friends and connections to save the future of the only home she’s ever known.

It sounds a touch dramatic. And it is. But not in a way that’s distracting or annoying. Artemis is a fun space-romp. There’s a murder mystery, power struggles within a completely made up system of government, and some really fun characters.

One quibble I had was that I’m not sure how real Jazz felt to me. I like aspects of her (her brilliance, her take-no-sh*t attitude, but she didn’t feel like a real person. She’s definitely a woman written by a man – she’s sexy but doesn’t really realize it, all men are automatically attracted to her. And science was a really big part of this book which was hard for me because this kind of science always makes me feel like an idiot.

But it was funny and didn’t try to be The Martian which I really appreciated. It was light, it was fast paced and there was some intriguing world building. It almost seemed feasible that at some point, humans could live on the moon!

It was a solid read for me over the Christmas holidays and I can see it being a fun addition to any kind of holiday packing.


Heartwarming without the cheese

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

In this great big scary, f*cked up world, it’s been difficult to find books that strike the right balance. I want something hopeful but not saccharine. Sometimes I want my book to say something, other times I want it to be light hearted and fun.

music shop

The Music Shop, the new book from Rachel Joyce, is a nice light hearted hopeful book that won’t choke you with sweetness.

It’s 1988 and Frank owns a music shop. He only sells vinyl, despite pressure from suppliers to begin stocking CDs, and he will sell you the music that you need, not necessarily what you think you want. He has a special knack for reading people, for seeing the things that they would rather hide, and in his quiet way he’s able to show them that he sees all of them.

But then Ilse Brauchmann walks into his life and he’s completely discombobulated. He just can’t get a read on this quiet woman with the green coat, the dark curls and the intense eyes. When he looks at her he only hears silence. She asks him if he will please teach her about music, the way he sees it and so they begin to meet once a week.

Frank’s record shop is one on a street of mom and pop type businesses. But these businesses have started to close and a development company has been buying up the properties. Frank and his colleagues on the street, Father Anthony with the gift shop, Maud from the tattoo shop, the Williams’ brothers from the Undertakers, all have their livelihood threatened by “progress.”

I wasn’t completely sure where I was going to fall with this book. I was charmed by it early on but I worried that there wouldn’t be enough substance to get me through to the end.

Oh but there was! By the end of this book, I had completely teared up and my heart was soaring. The Music Shop is a lovely book about community and music and love and sticking to your guns. In choosing to set her story in 1988, Joyce has simplified the lives of her characters (in terms of technology) which is one of the only ways I think that this story could have worked. Had it been set in 2017, it wouldn’t have been believable.

And while it’s not unusual to see books that are love letters to reading, I can’t recall ever reading one that was so in love with music. The way Joyce writes about music will have you running to iTunes or even an old record shop to find something that moves you.

Joyce has once again crafted a little story with a big heart but without the cheese. I completely recommend this to those with a bruised heart, or those looking for a sweet escape this holiday season.


In which I’m surprised by my own personality

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

I think my love of Gretchen Rubin’s work is well documented in this space. I learn so much from her books and I have definitely encouraged others to read them as well!


Her newest book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), is no exception!

In this one, Rubin posits that there are four personality tendencies based on how you react to internal and external factors. That is, are you motivated by internal pressures or external? Both? None? Based on this, you have a personality trait: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel.

There’s a quiz at the beginning of the book (and you can find it here if you’re interested. You ARE) so that you can find out where you land before you read the rest of the book.

Basically the Four Tendencies break down thus:

  • Upholder (responds well to external and internal expectations, has no trouble making time for themselves and achieving things others expect from them)
  • Questioner (responds well to internal obligations, will only achieve those things that make sense to them, you have to convince a questioner that something should be done)
  • Obliger (responds well to external obligations, likely to burn out because they don’t say no and don’t make time for themselves)
  • Rebel (doesn’t respond to external or internal obligations, only do things they WANT to do, if you tell them to do something they automatically don’t want to)

There is also some overlap – you can be an Upholder with Obliger tendencies or a Rebel with Questioner tendencies. Each chapter breaks down a tendency and then how to deal with it if you are one, are in a relationship with one, have a child who is one or work with one.

As ever, Rubin’s work is accessible and so interesting. I learned so much about myself, my relationship, the people I work with. I’ve loaned the book out twice already (once to my manager!) and forced so many people to take the quiz! I thought I was an Obliger but it turns out I’m a REBEL! Basically this means that I don’t respond to any factors, I only do things when I WANT to. Very, very true. When I was reading the Rebel chapter, I had to laugh because it said that IF a Rebel was in a long term relationship, it was with an Obliger. Turns out, my husband is an Obliger.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in learning more, I really recommend this one. It’s an easy read – 220 pages. You can feel Rubin’s enthusiasm for the work, she includes anecdotes from people she’s encountered and you can really start to see the people around you in the tendencies as you read. I read this sometime last month and I still think about it all the time.