Wishlist Wednesday | Canada Reads 2016 Shortlist

This morning, the 15th annual Canada Reads shortlist was announced! If you’re unfamiliar with Canada Reads, it’s basically a “battle of the books” competition. Over the course of 4 days, 5 panelists, moderated by host Wab Kinew, will come together to champion the book that they believe represents this year’s theme — starting over — the most. It’s always fun to watch, and even more fun when you’ve read all of the books!

So, this week, here are the books that I’m adding to my wish list:

  • Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
  • Bone and Bread Saleema Nawaz
  • The Illegal by Lawrence Hill
  • The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami
  • Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

Do you watch Canada Reads? Have you read any of the books on the shortlist?

Book Review | The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood Book Review Can Lit

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Penguin Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

It’s a little embarrassing for me to admit that I had never read anything by the incredibly intelligent and prolific Margaret Atwood until early 2014. But after loving The Handmaid’s Tale — and now The Heart Goes Last — I’m officially a fan.

Like in The Handmaid’s Tale, the characters in The Heart Goes Last find themselves in a dismal situation. Living out of their car and barely surviving after an economic collapse that has created widespread unemployment and the rise of crime and instability, Stan and Charmaine are lured by a new project called the Positron Project, which promises participants self-reliance and a comfortable place to stay for the rest of their lives. The only catch? While the participants are assigned employment and residence, they are also required to serve time in Positron Prison every other month. This is all well and good (and even, maybe, a great idea?) until Charmaine becomes entangled with an Alternate: a resident who lives in her house while she and Stan are in Positron Prison. Soon, the Positron Project doesn’t seem like such a utopia after all…

My first reaction after finishing this book was to go through a mental list of who I could push this book onto because this is absolutely the type of book that you share to any and everyone who will listen to you. It has a perfect mix of everything: social commentary, adventure, and romance. I was absolutely enthralled by the idea of the Positron Project, and how being a prisoner one month and a civilian the next would affect one’s mental state. As the more sinister side of the Positron Project comes to light (yes, it gets even more terrifying!), the book’s plot just propels forward and becomes a full-blown adventure filled with secrets, revenge, and complicated love stories. Not only do the main characters Stan and Charmaine have to endure the crazy situations they’ve unknowingly subjected themselves to, they must also overcome their hurdles as a couple. In a way, Stan and Charmaine’s story reminded me of the romance between Axl and Beatrice in Ishiguro’s most recent work The Buried Giant. Can a love survive transgressions? What does it mean to fully trust and forgive someone?

If it seems like Atwood is trying to tackle too much at once, don’t worry; she is more than capable of balancing these elements and pulling them together. The Heart Goes Last is a riveting book that will have you saying “one more page, one more page” until you’re done. This is a title you will not want to miss this fall.

Verdict: The Heart Goes Last is just as great as you’d expect from Atwood (which is really great). It mixes a fast-paced plot with three dimensional characters to create a world that feels at once far-fetched and eerily possible.

Read if: You’re a fan of dystopian novels, you want to read a masterful work by one of Canada’s greatest writers, you don’t want to miss out on the book that everyone will be talking about.

Ps. I still can’t believe this happened.

Are you planning to read The Heart Goes Last? Are you an Atwood fan? Do you think you could survive in the Positron Project?

Book Trailer | Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

Hi friends! I hope you’re having a great Tuesday morning so far. My day is just getting started, but this little gem of a video is sure making getting up more interesting!

I mentioned in my CanLit TBR post that I’ve been meaning to read Patrick deWitt’s upcoming novel Undermajordomo Minor. Well, that hasn’t changed. My friends at House of Anansi were kind enough to give me a sneak peek of its book trailer yesterday, and I have to say it made me want to read the book even more! If you haven’t watched the trailer I linked to above, what are you waiting for? 😉

I love how quirky and strange it is, successfully hinting at the “ink-black comedy of manners” the book is hailed to be.

If you can’t wait to read Undermajordomo Minor and want it delivered to you on its release date, click here to pre-order a copy from Chapters Indigo! (Disclaimer: I do not get a commission whatsoever for providing this link; I’m just spreading the word!)

What do you think of the trailer? Are you excited for Undermajordomo Minor?

Book Review + Q&A | Alphabetique by Molly Peacock

Alphabetique Molly Peacock Characteristic Fictions Book Cover Book Review

[I received a copy of this book from its publisher Random House of Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

This is going to be a special post! I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to share some questions answered by Molly with you (thank you, Random House Canada!), so keep reading to find the Q&A section at the end of my review (spoiler: I loved the book!). 😉

Once I read Molly Peacock’s dedication — “To all those who imagine alternative lives” — I knew that I would enjoy her new book Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions.

Presented as 26 short stories, Peacock imagines the lives of each letter in the alphabet as if they were all alive. From “C, the Softie” to “E’s Encyclopedia of Emotions” and “R and her Great Egret,” these individual letters, under Peacock’s wing, have the capacity to feel real, actualized emotions and live full anthropomorphic lives.

Weaved throughout this unique and inventive concept is Peacock’s lyrical, poetic prose and deft commentary. One of my favourite lines from the book comes from “C, the Softie.” In the story, “c” learns that not all feelings can be translated into words, that “confusion is necessary before conclusion.” Peacock elaborates,

“Not everything charms into words instantly. Some things whinny inside you or skitter out as hooves of colour and later clang like horseshoes against a forge. Some things can’t be crammed into a concept. They just have to be cried.” (page 12)

This is just one of the many poignant statements Peacock makes in Alphabetique. As someone who isn’t always able to express their emotions so beautifully, these small details and observations added an extra element to the book for me to admire and love.

Not all of the stories are so serious though: “While Jiggle Juggles, J Makes Jam” is a pleasure to read out loud due to its abundant alliteration (a device that is used throughout this delightful book); “O’s Full Circle” is a sexy story about a letter learning to feel comfortable in her own body; “T’s Diary” reveals a self portrait that records much more than vanity. As a collection, these stories are wonderful reads for the dreamers and language lovers out there. They are smart, well-written, and have a lot of heart. Some read like poems while others are fairy tale-like. I would be surprised to find someone who doesn’t love it.

Verdict: An impressive collection of short stories that wowed me. The stories put a smile on my face with its intelligence and wittiness. Go ahead and read it – you won’t be disappointed.

Read if: You’re a dreamer, love fairy tales and short stories, and are ready to go on a whimsical, smart, alliterative journey. If you’ve ever wondered what each letter of the alphabet would be like if they were capable of thinking and feeling.

***

Now for the question and answer part!

Q: What’s the importance of noticing in our everyday lives? (I was especially excited to read Molly’s answer to this because from reading her book, it really seems like she picks up on all the little details of life! Her answer is just as beautiful and poetic as I’d imagined it would be.)
A: When you notice something, even if it’s only a button or an orange or the pattern in a sidewalk grate, it’s as if someone has handed you a rarity. Attention creates luxury because it stops time. For a suspended moment you are calmly energized by what you are seeing, hearing, and touching. It brings you back to your senses. Even the gravel beneath your feet becomes a marvel of a mosaic.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Go with the Flaw.

Q: What words do you try to live by?
A: Only do what you can only do.

Q: Pencil or pen?
A: Pencil for poetry on blue lined pads. Computer for prose!

Q: Do you get jealous of other writers?
A: Sure, but then I remember Jean Rhys who said, “we’re all just drops in the ocean of literature.”

Q: What’s your practical advice for writers?
A: Schedule your writing. I mean that. Actually schedule the time you write. Then when your family and your job and Grandma and the wolf and your dentist demand your time, you can actually look at your calendar and say, I’m sorry, I can’t make it then. Can you do 2:15pm instead? If your time to write is actually designated in your ical, or written in your datebook, all those around you (including you yourself) will take it seriously. Your calendar is a monument to your time. Carve it—or be carved.

***
I also recently learned that Molly has an Alphabetique Advent Calendar for those of you who can’t wait to start getting into the countdown spirit! The calendar has already started, but you can subscribe to it here and see the archive as well!

Plus, don’t forget to follow Molly on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.mollypeacock.org!

Thanks again to Random House Canada for this wonderful opportunity!

Have you read Alphabetique? For those of you who have, did you have a favourite letter?

Blog Tour Book Review | Bye-Bye, Evil Eye by Deborah Kerbel

Deborah Kerbel Bye Bye Evil Eye Book Review Cover

[I received a copy of this book from its publisher Dancing Cat Books (an imprint of Cormorant Books) for a blog tour. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

I’ve been itching to travel lately but since I already went to Vancouver this year, I doubt I’ll be able to go anywhere else soon. So, when Dancing Cat Books invited me to be a part of their blog tour for Bye-Bye, Evil Eye by Deborah Kerbel, I jumped at the chance as the first half of the novel is set in Greece. (The second half of the book is set in Toronto!)

Bye-Bye, Evil Eye is a young adult novel that follows 13-year-old Dani as she vacations in Greece with her best friend Kat. Dani is “pretty, rich, and popular” and, at times, a bit vain. She’s committed to finding her shy best friend Kat a boy to kiss for the first time while in Greece, and everything seems to be going well. That is, until she’s cursed. Bad things keep happening to her and it only gets worse. Now, she has to figure out a way to undo the curse or risk bringing danger to her friends and family.

I had fun reading Bye-Bye, Evil Eye. My travel bug was tempered as I followed Dani and Kat to Greece’s beaches, lying in the sun and checking out the cute boys. It definitely made Toronto’s cold, rainy weather a little more bearable. Dani and Kat’s friendship was entirely believable, so I enjoyed reading about them and tagging along on their vacation. I also found myself quite invested in finding out who cast the curse on Dani. Thanks to my English degree, I’m the type of reader who has to analyze everything and dissect the implications of certain plots. Thus, it really mattered to me who the spell-caster was.

**SPOILER ALERT – please skip the next two paragraphs if you do not want to know who was the one behind Dani’s misfortunes.**

It turns out that Kat’s mom, who was with the girls on their vacation, was meddling with Dani’s stuff – poisoning her food, vandalizing her car, etc – because Dani was getting too close to a boy named Nick who was in an arranged marriage of sorts with Kat. In the end, Kat expresses that she does not want to marry Nick at all, and Kat’s mom learns the hard way that love can’t be forced.

Initially, I wasn’t sure about the ending, but after thinking about it for a while I think it was ultimately about the mother-daughter relationship and how sometimes, what a mother thinks is best isn’t always right. I do think that Mrs. P learns a lesson by the end of the book and I am hopefully that she will become more open and accepting of her daughter’s wishes moving forward. I think this ended up being a great way to end the novel and the mystery of the “evil eye” curse!

**SPOILER SECTION ENDS**

Overall, Bye-Bye, Evil Eye was an entertaining adventure. It was a quick, light read and assuaged my desire to travel (for now!). If you want a book to make you feel like you’re on a warm vacation but also has a bit of drama to it, Bye-Bye, Evil Eye may be the book for you!

Verdict: A quick, fun book. I’m satisfied with the way I’ve interpreted the book, but I was initially unsure.

Read if: You’ve ever wanted to go on a vacation in Greece, like reading about young friendships, want to read a book that is more complex than it initially lets on.

Book Review | The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin my review of this book. The World Before Us immediately captured my attention with its opening scene and just kept getting more and more interesting as the book progressed. While, looking back, I wish we could have gotten more of an answer when it comes to a certain part, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who fits in the “read if” category below.

The book starts with a mysterious “we” arguing on how to start the novel. With “near infinite” ways to begin, they are having trouble settling on one particular way. They eventually decide to start with Jane, “because our stories are tied to hers and everything depends on what she does with them” (1*). The narrators then take the reader head first to a day in 1877, where three patients – two men and one woman – escaped from the Whitmore Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics. The trio, undetected by the hospital’s attendants, walked into the woods near the hospital that afternoon but only the men returned. The book’s protagonist Jane, an archivist in a London museum that is about to be shut down, has spent countless hours investigating what happened, hoping to find out where the woman, known as N-, went. While it seems natural that an archivist would be interested in disappearing persons from the past, Jane’s fascination with the missing N- stems from a personal experience: when she was fifteen, Jane was babysitting a five year-old girl in the very same woods when the girl she was minding seemingly disappeared into thin air. The police were never able to find her and this has haunted Jane’s life ever since. Will Jane, now in her thirties, find a connection between the two lost girls through her research? Will she ever find out what happened to them in the woods and gain closure? Who are the mysterious narrators of the novel and what role do they play in Jane’s life?

The first thing I have to say about The World Before Us is how beautiful its writing is. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not usually one to tab my books, but my copy is now filled with sticky flags as I couldn’t help but mark down my favourite passages. In Hunter’s words, blood on a shirt is described as “an impossible red flower” (327); a rug is not just a rug, it has a “border of green leaves and butter-coloured flowers” (175)… the attention to detail and masterful wording makes The World Before Us a piece of literature worth reading based on its language alone.

That being said, The World Before Us doesn’t just rely on its wonderful writing. On top of being quietly poetic and evocative, the novel touches on everything that interests me as a reader: the Victorian era, memory, history, identity, and dreams. Here’s a particularly beautiful observation about memory and history:

“Memory being what it is, we sometimes remember backwards, or sideways, or inside out. …Applause spilling out from an audience might equal heartache; a leaflet for the Fancy Fair might put the taste of toffee in our mouths. History is never perfectly framed, although the photographs in the museum may suggest otherwise.” (198)

Insightful thoughts like these are scattered throughout the novel and together they set the book apart from other plot-driven novels that I’ve read. I will reiterate my earlier point in thinking that the book isn’t 100% perfect, but overall I would still rate it a 5-star read. (In fact, writing this review just made me want to re-read this book right now…)

Verdict: A strong book that is plot-driven but injects some wonderful writing and sentiments into the mix. I am a huge fan of this book and I’m glad I had a chance to read it!

Read if: You’re as fascinated with the Victorian era as I am, love beautifully-written prose, want to immerse yourself in a world that is like our own but is just strange enough to feel other-worldly.

Are you a fan of the Victorian era? Why do you think novels about missing people are so popular?

*All pages quoted in this review are from the advanced reader’s copy and may be different from the finished book.

Book Review | Sweetland by Michael Crummey

Sweetland by Michae Crummey Book Review Book Cover

[I received a copy of Sweetland by Michael Crummey from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the book in any way.]

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I am a fan of CanLit (Canadian Literature). I spent many years misguidedly rejecting the genre because I thought it was all about landscapes and prairie life and things I couldn’t relate to but, while my experiences don’t always exactly mirror what I read, I have come to realize that that’s exactly the point of reading: to learn about things that are unfamiliar to you, to get to know different types of people, to step out of your comfort zone and experience new things. This is exactly what Michael Crummey’s new novel Sweetland gave me.

Sweetland centres around Moses Sweetland and his hometown of the same name. It’s a small island off the coast of Newfoundland where generations of inhabitants have lived and died. When the novel begins, we learn that the government is in the process of reclaiming the land and all but a few people have accepted their compensation package to move off the island. One of the stubborn residents refusing to take the package is Moses Sweetland, who is extremely tied to the land and its history. He will not back down, even as the government threatens him and his fellow Sweetlanders try to persuade him to leave. Throughout the novel we learn more and more about his (and his family’s) history and relationship with Sweetland and that knowledge helps us to understand why Sweetland is so reluctant to leave. So will he be persuaded and take the package in the end or will he be left alone on the island to fend for himself after everyone has left? You’ll have to read it to find out.

The part of the book that didn’t work quite as well for me is actually the aspect that I learned from the most. I have always been a city girl and have never been to the maritimes, so there was a lot in the book that I simply didn’t understand or needed a while to get used to. And while I do think that my unfamiliarity with these terms and concepts did affect my enjoyment of the book, I also know that I have benefited from reading about these new things. I learned the proper fishing and hunting jargon as I followed Sweetland as he performed his daily tasks and glimpsed into a life that I have never (and probably will never) live. I truly believe that my horizons have been broadened, and I’m thankful for that.

That being said, there were definitely aspects of the story that I really enjoyed. I loved learning about the relationships Sweetland had with his fellow Sweetland residents. They are all unique, well-rounded characters, from Jesse, his great-nephew whose (imaginary) best friend is Sweetland’s dead brother, Queenie Coffin, who has not left her house for many, many years, to the Priddle brothers who are a rambunctious pair who don’t really fit in. There’s also a darker side to the community; there’s a priest who leaves and comes back, and a secret about his brother that Sweetland has been holding in for a long time.

Overall, I did enjoy reading Sweetland as it took me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to new things. The characters are wonderful and it’s truly inspiring how tied to his hometown Sweetland is. As someone who has moved around all her life, that’s something that I admire and wish I had. Even though I wish we were able to go into Sweetland’s head a little bit more (rather than being shown everything), I think this book is one that will be adored by many. To me, this is the quintessential Canadian Literature that I used to reject but have grown to love.

Verdict: A book that took a little bit of effort on my part to truly understand (due to the jargon that was unfamiliar to me) but ultimately taught me a lot about island living and feeling an intense connection to a community and place. Sweetland may be difficult for some at parts (again, the unfamiliarity aspect), but if you’re willing to keep an open mind, it is one that pays off.

Read if: You want to read about a loyal, stubborn man and his connection to the land he grew up in, want to learn more about living on an island where self-sufficiency is key, want to broaden your Canadian Literature horizon.

Ps. Naomi at Consumed by Ink has a really wonderfully-written review of this book on her blog that I would suggest checking out. Her perspective on the book positively affected my reading experience and helped me appreciate it a lot more despite my minor frustrations with it.

Are you a CanLit fan? Have you read any Newfoundland literature? Will you be checking out Sweetland?

**Sweetland by Michael Crummey will be published by Random House Canada on August 19th, 2014**