5 Canadian Books to Check Out this Canada Day

CanLit Canadian Reads for Canada Day

Happy Canada Day, my fellow Canadians! As I was laying in bed this morning, I realized that I’ve posted on this blog every single Canada Day so far. First it was 10 Great Canadian Reads for Canada Day, then it was A #CanLit TBR. I really hate breaking tradition (and love sharing the CanLit love!) so I thought I’d share some new-ish Canadian titles that have really impressed me in the past year or so. (Fun fact: I’ve currently lent out 2 of 5 of these books to friends, so you know I’m serious about recommending them. So, please excuse their absence in the main photo!)

1.Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill
This is the perfect book for the cottage! It’s a short story collection from a CanLit great: Heather O’Neill. O’Neill’s stories are whimsical, quirky, yet poignant. It’s such a great read. Read my full review of the book here.

2. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
Speaking of cottage reads, This One Summer is a beautifully written and drawn account of a young girl’s summer at the cottage. Coloured in shades of purple, the graphic novel is nostalgic, poignant, and a classic that I return to time and time again. Click here to read my full review.

3. Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
You may remember this title from my #CanLit TBR! Well, more realistically, you probably know it for its 2015 Giller Prize win. I struggle between wanting to recommend Fifteen Dogs to dog lovers and telling them to avoid it. Why? In it, two gods are debating whether humans are better off for having self-awareness, and decide to test their theories by granting fifteen dogs self-awareness of their own. If the dogs die happy, then self-awareness is worth it. See how it’s a hard book to recommend to dog lovers?

4. This is Not My Life by Diane Schoemperlen
Remember when I said that there were two non-fiction titles that I couldn’t stop talking about? Well, This is Not My Life was one of them. You might recognize Diane Schoemperlen for her Governer General’s Award-winning Forms of Devotion, but in This is Not My Life, Schoemperlen gets a little more personal. The book is a memoir of sorts about her six year relationship with a prison inmate. Not only is her story incredibly fascinating, it also sheds some light on how complicated it is to date a prison inmate, how pesky ion scanners can be, and how Stephen Harper’s Tough on Crime initiatives affected the inmates (and their partners). I finished this book feeling that I knew another side of Canada a little bit better and I will not stop talking about this book!

5. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
I couldn’t write a post on CanLit without mentioning Margaret Atwood, could I? Last year, Atwood published her newest book: The Heart Goes Last. A dystopian novel that takes a bit of a tonal shift in the second half, The Heart Goes Last is scary, unsettling, and entertaining. What would a society be like if they alternated between freedom and imprisonment month to month? My full review can be found here.

Alright, friends! I’m off to the cottage to read now. Have you read any of the books I’ve recommended above? Do you have a new favourite Canadian book?

#CanadaReads | Day 1 Recap

Canada Reads Day 1

Screen capture from CBC Books/Canada Reads

Happy Monday, friends! I know that I normally post Mondays Musings at the start of the week, but since Canada Reads has started, I thought I’d take a break and write a Canada Reads recap instead. I hope you’ll stick around and share your thoughts with me as well!

If you want to watch the broadcast before reading this post, click here. That being said, I promise to not give away who gets eliminated!

Continue reading

It’s the Eve of #CanadaReads!

2016 CBC Canada Reads Shortlist

When I first started this blog, one of the big things that I wanted to accomplish was to foster a love for Canadian Literature, or CanLit. For a long time, I had discounted CanLit because I had a really outdated idea that it was boring. I don’t even know where I got that thought from! Well, I’m so glad that I have discovered otherwise because there are some truly fantastic Canadian books out there. Not only that — there are also so many ways to celebrate CanLit, including Canada Reads which starts tomorrow!

If you’re unfamiliar with Canada Reads, it’s basically a battle of the books type competition featuring 5 panel members who each defend a book that they believe best fits the year’s theme. This year’s theme is “starting over.” The four-day debate can be watched live online, on TV, or on the radio. Click here for more information!

Like most years, I challenged myself to read all 5 contending books and I was so so close to completing it this year. I ended up reading 4 of the 5 books in full, and unfortunately put down the last book after reading a few chapters because I wasn’t quite feeling it. That being said, here’s my breakdown of the five books:

Birdie by Tracey Lindberg (Defended by Bruce Poon Tip)
First line: “Maggie sits in the old tavern, amongst friends.”
My thoughts: Birdie is a complicated one for me, because I understand its significance but I spent half of the book not quite getting what was happening. It wasn’t until I got to see things from the perspective of other characters that I really truly “got” what was happening. While I think that’s more a shortcoming on my part, it did affect how I felt about it. That being said, I’m so excited to hear Bruce Poon Tip defend Birdie, as I think it will help me understand and appreciate the novel more.

Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz (Defended by Farah Mohamed)
First line: “If you listen, you can almost hear the sound of my son’s heart breaking.”
My thoughts: I loved Bone and Bread. I’m a sucker for family stories — especially if it has to do with sisters — and Bone and Bread was gut-wrenching and beautifully written. This is a book with characters that you’ll want to root for and care for, and I can’t wait to watch Farah Mohamed defend it in the debates.

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill (Defended by Clara Hughes)
First line: “Go home.”
My thoughts: Surprisingly, this was my first time reading Lawrence Hill. I was blown away by the complexity of the book, given how readable it is. Keita Ali has not had an easy life and he is fascinating to read about (and cheer on), but what ultimately impressed me the most about this book was how much I got sucked into each character’s story arc. Now that’s great characterization.

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter (Defended by Adam Copeland)
First line: “She told him there wasn’t another person.”
My thoughts: This is the book that I didn’t end up finishing, so I’m going to really pay attention to what Adam Copeland says about it during the debates. (I always find that I appreciate a book more when I hear someone fiercely defending it.) I didn’t keep reading the book because I unfortunately didn’t feel like I cared about Henry enough.I’m sure the “point” of the book was to watch Henry grow as a person, but I just wasn’t compelled.

The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami (Defended by Vinay Virmani)
First line: “It was only five o’clock on a July morning in Toturpuram, and already every trace of night had disappeared.”
My thoughts: This was another book that I loved. And, surprise! It’s a book about a family. I especially loved this book because it features a child who is displaced to a completely foreign country (from Canada to India). As someone who also moved to a foreign place when they were young (I moved from Canada to Hong Kong in grade four), I could relate to seven-year-old Nandana but also appreciate how hard the adjustment must be for the adults as well. Everyone in The Hero’s Walk has their own story, problems, and regrets, and it was a fantastic character-driven novel.

So, who do I think will win? I have no idea! All five books have characters who are trying to find themselves and start over in a way. I’m just excited to see fellow book lovers defending their picks!

Did you read the Canada Reads shortlist? Are you rooting for a particular book? Let me know!

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?

A #CanLit TBR

Canada Day Canadian Literature Books TBR

Happy Canada Day, everyone!

You may remember how I used to think Canadian literature was “uncool” and how over the past few years I’ve been trying to catch up and keep up on all of the amazing books Canada has to offer. Well, as you may have guessed, there’s a lot that I haven’t read yet, so I thought I’d share with you a portion of my CanLit TBR. (Of course, after I took the picture for this post, I realized I forgot to include Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, which is definitely something I’ve been meaning to check out.) If, after reading this post, you’re looking for even more Canadian reads to add to your list, here are 10 books that I’d recommend! Now, on to my (incomplete) list:

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

One of my favourite books from last year was Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. It was heart-wrenching, beautifully written, and helped shape my worldview. I’ve heard many great things about A Complicated Kindness, so I’m looking forward to being immersed in Toews’ beautiful words and thoughts again. (Fun fact: I didn’t know how to pronounce “Toews” until last year when I finally heard someone say it out loud. I used to pronounce it as “toes.” It’s pronounced “tay-ves.”)

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Canada has a deep (and dark) history with its Native peoples, and Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian aims to shed some light on the relationship between Natives and non-Native peoples in North America. As someone who would love to be more aware of issues like these, The Inconvenient Indian, which was one of the selections for Canada Reads 2015, has made it to the top of my Can Lit TBR. (Fun fact: Thomas King has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award for both fiction and non-fiction.)

Chez L’Arabe by Mireille Silcoff

This collection of linked short stories centres around a woman in Montreal who is suffering from a chronic illness. I’ve actually read the first story from this collection and it is beautifully written. I can’t wait to read more. (Little known fact: Chez L’Arabe was inspired by Silcoff’s own medical struggles.)

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

I picked this up at Coach House Books‘ spring launch and have been meaning to get to it since. Set in Toronto, this book imagines what it would be like if dogs had human intelligence. Need I say more? (Fun fact: To get into the heads of the dogs he was writing about, Alexis went around Toronto to try to imagine how different neighbourhoods would smell like to a dog. “In some ways that’s disgusting because you have to have shades of urine or shades of merde,” he writes in this article on the CBC website.)

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

This is actually an upcoming title from House of Anansi Press, but I’m extremely excited to dive in because I’ve heard great things about deWitt’s writing, especially in his previous book The Sisters Brothers. The back of the book describes Undermajordomo Minor as “a triumphant ink-black comedy,” which has me intrigued to say the least. (Fun fact: 2011 was a huge year for deWitt as The Sisters Brothers was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, Scotiabank Giller Prize, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and Governor General’s Award for English language fiction alongside fellow Canadian writer Esi Edugyan.)

Have you read any of the books on my list? Is there anything that I missed and should read ASAP? If you’re in Canada, how are you spending your Canada Day?

Book Review | The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

The Mountain Story Lori Lansens Book Cover Review

[I received a copy of The Mountain Story by its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

“On his 18th birthday, Wolf Truly takes the tramway to the top of the mountain that looms over Palm Springs, intending to jump to his death. Instead he encounters strangers wandering in the mountain wilderness, three women who will change the course of his life. Through a series of missteps he and the women wind up stranded, in view of the city below, but without a way down. They endure five days in freezing temperatures without food or water or shelter, and somehow find the courage to carry on.”Goodreads

I first heard about The Mountain Story when I saw Random House Canada tweet it months before it came out. What intrigued me initially was that Claire Cameron (the bestselling author of The Bear) had written a blurb for it. Claire is someone who I really admire, so hearing her positive review of the book beforehand really piqued by interest. That being said, I was still not expecting to love this book as much as I did.

The Mountain Story has one of the best taglines I’ve seen in a while. “Five days. Four lost hikers. Three survivors.” – it really doesn’t get more interesting than that. Even before I started to care about the characters, that plot point alone kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime. Would suicidal Wolf be the one who doesn’t make it down the mountain? Or would it be one of the Devines – Nola, Brigid, Vonn – that fall short with their lack of hiking experience? I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that I was very satisfied with that aspect of the plot, as morbid as that sounds. If I were Lansens, I don’t think I would have done it any differently (though I doubt I’d have the skill to come up with something so right in the first place).

The pacing of this story was perfect, as was the writing. Not being much of a hiker myself, I was pleasantly surprised by how invested I was, and how easily I could put imagine myself in the characters’ situation. But beyond the survival aspect of the story, I was also drawn to the characters’ histories: what led Wolf to the mountain and his decision to end his life in the first place? How have the lives of the Devine women been before this? I felt so deeply for Wolf as he slowly revealed his past to readers, especially as he remembers his friend Byrd, while the complicated dynamics between the Devine women were relatable and ultimately heartwarming.

The Mountain Story is not just a survival story: it’s a coming-of-age story, a (subtle) love story, and a story that pushes its characters to keep going, even if it seems like all is lost.

Verdict: A well-written story with an impossibly intriguing tagline that is sure to keep you turning the pages. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it.

Read if: You like a good survival story, you want to feel like you’ve gone hiking and survived without actually having to do it, you need to know who the casualty is and how the survivors adjust after they’ve made it back down the mountain.

Are you a fan of survival stories? If you got lost on a mountain, what kind of hiker would you be? (I’m not sure I would be a very optimistic lost hiker…)

Book Review | The Gallery of Lost Species by Nina Berkhout

The Gallery of Lost Species Nina Berkhout Book Cover Review

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

I have to admit that I’ve been putting off writing this review for quite a while now. Part of the reason is because I’ve been surprisingly busy these past few weeks, but a bigger reason, I think, is because I wanted to let my thoughts and opinions settle before sharing my opinions. The Gallery of Lost Species was a book with a synopsis that immediately grabbed me – it’s about the relationship between two very different sisters – and so I was extremely excited and thankful to receive an advanced reading copy from House of Anansi (on my birthday, no less!). Unfortunately, the book started out strong but ultimately fell a bit flat for me.

The set up of the story was my favourite part: the book starts with the main character, Edith, telling readers about her unicorn sighting when she was 13 years old. She was hiking with her family at the time, and her father encouraged her belief that it was real. Edith then takes us back to her childhood, letting us in on her family dynamics, which includes an artistic father, a pageant mom who entered her eldest child (Viv, Edith’s sister) into competitions for her own wish-fulfillment, and Edith herself, who is quiet and observant. I really enjoyed reading about the sisters’ childhoods, and developed a soft spot for their dreamer of a father. I grew weary of their mother as the girls did, and found myself feeling quite invested in the story.

It’s a shame that the latter half of the book didn’t quite hold my attention in the same way. While I still wanted to keep reading and find out what happens to Edith and Viv, I couldn’t help but want more from Edith’s character development. She spends years living in her sister’s shadow, and it seems like she becomes defined by her sister and her complicated relationship with Liam. I can see an argument for that kind of character development, but a part of me found myself wanting to learn more about Viv than Edith.

That being said, even though the characters didn’t work 100% for me, I still think The Gallery of Lost Species is worth a read. The writing is beautiful, and it offers poignant insights to sisterhood:

“My sister didn’t share her emotions, secrets, or aspirations with me. i wished I could get her attention more often. It saddened me that we weren’t all that connected.” (p 23 of the Advanced Reading Copy.)

The bond between sisters is a unique one, and Berkhout does a wonderful job of portraying its complexities. How can we feel so burdened by someone we love so much? How far will we go to save one another? They are compelling questions, and ones that The Gallery of Lost Species attempts to answer.

Verdict: A book that I enjoyed overall, but I wish that Edith’s character would have felt more multi-dimensional. I did admire the writing and the fact that it focused on a sisterly bond, though.

Read if: You love reading books about sisters, are interested in cryptozoology, want to read a well-written book.

Have you read The Gallery of Lost Species? What did you think?

#GreenGablesReadalong | 5 Reasons Why I Love Anne of Green Gables

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Hi everyone, happy Sunday! First off, I’d like to apologize for the unexpected blog silence. It’s been a very busy week and I’ve so far failed at scheduling posts (so much for those new year resolutions…). But! I am here today with a belated but exciting post! Lindsey from Reeder Reads is hosting an Anne of Green Gables readalong where participants will read one book in the series each month and I’m so excited to be a part of it. Click here to find the schedule and join us!

I’ve only read Anne of Green Gables once before, and that was for a class in university. (Shocking, I know!) But I have yet to meet anyone who can say they disliked the book once they’ve read it. I think a lot of it has to do with the strength of Montgomery’s characters – they are all so endearing, especially the fierce, imaginative Anne. If you haven’t read the series before, I would highly recommend it! And if you need extra convincing, here are 5 reasons why I love Anne of Green Gables:

5. The beautiful descriptions of Avonlea.

While Avonlea doesn’t exist in real life, L.M. Montgomery descriptions make you feel like you’re really there admiring all the greenery and beautiful landscapes. With her extensive descriptions, plus Anne’s made up names for places like “Lake of Shining Waters” and “Lover’s Lane,” you’ll feel like you’re right there basking in the Avonlea sunlight with the residents.

4. Matthew and Marilla.

When Matthew and Marilla find out that an orphan girl has been sent to them instead of the boy they requested, they don’t know what to do. Their initial reaction was to send her back (girls can’t really help Matthew in the field, after all!). But, after some consideration and some very amusing speeches by Anne, the siblings decide to keep her. Throughout the book, you’ll start to love them just as much as you love Anne; Matthew for his quiet and loving nature, and Marilla, for her stern appearance but secretly warm heart. Was there ever a more perfect fictional family?

3. Quotable moments.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Have you heard this quote before? Yep, it’s just one of the many quotable things Anne says in Anne of Green Gables. Another one of my favourites is this gem about following fashion trends: “…I’d rather look ridiculous when everyone else does than plain and sensible all by myself.” Let’s bring puffed sleeves back, Anne.

2. The Gilbert/Anne competition.

Yes, every heroine needs a nemesis. In Anne of Green Gables, poor Gilbert Blythe struck the wrong chord when he made fun of Anne’s red hair. Anne, the master of holding grudges, becomes fiercely competitive with Gilbert every year in school. It’s so fun to read Anne’s one-sided hatred towards Gilbert when he’s so good-natured about their relationship for the most part. Will they ever become friends??

1. Anne Shirley

Anne, Anne, Anne. She is probably one of my favourite fictional characters ever. She has such a bright personality that you would have to be cold-hearted to not love her. She’s spunky and so full of life. Besides being a fun character to read, she also inspires me to exercise my imagination, and to love everything with all of my heart, from beautiful mornings to romantic writing. I will always thank L.M. Montgomery for creating such a vivacious character.

Have you read Anne of Green Gables? What is your favourite part of the book/series? Are you participating in the #GreenGablesReadalong? Don’t forget to use the hashtag on social media so we can all follow along together!