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?

Book Review | The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library Haruki Murakami Book Cover North America

[I received a copy of The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (Translated by Ted Goossen) from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

After my first experience with Murakami earlier this year, I’ve been eager to read more from this famous Japanese writer. Well, I’m happy to report that my second encounter with Murakami’s wonderful (translated) writing did not disappoint.

The first surprise, for me, was the book’s presentation. The book was shrink wrapped when I received it, and before opening the package, I thought that the cover was to be removed completely, like a sliding cover of sorts. But, to my delight, I was wrong:

The Strange Library Haruki Murakami North American Book Cover Sample

…instead of sliding off, the book opens outwards! This in itself made the book feel unique and special, but it doesn’t stop there. The book is filled with funky graphics and photographs that really add to the strangeness of the story. It ties the book together in a really uncanny way, and I especially loved the consecutive images towards the end of the story. (Kudos to Chip Kidd, who once again has created an unforgettable work of art.)

But perhaps I should rewind and go back to the basics: the story. The novel (or, perhaps more accurately, graphic short story), is called The Strange Library and a strange library it truly is. Other words I’d use to describe it: peculiar, haunting, nightmarish. The basic plot: a boy walks in to his local library looking for some books about taxation during the Ottoman Empire, and is instead sucked into a confusing labyrinth where he meets a sly old man, a “sheep man,” and a beautiful girl. He soon learns that the library is a prison, and that his captor has no intentions of letting him out. Can he work together with his odd companions to escape? Or will he be stuck in this torturous library forever?

I found this story particularly interesting because there seemed to be a lot of symbolism and imagery that demanded the reader’s attention and begged to be analyzed. I think, on the surface, this is a curious, somewhat scary story about a boy trapped in a library, but underneath it all, is a tale about fear, loneliness, and loss. At 96 pages, I was able to read this book in one sitting but its length is deceiving as it packs a lot into its pages. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember how I sometimes have a hard time with shorter stories; I sometimes find them underdeveloped or too short for my taste (even though I realize that short stories are, by nature, short). However, I did not have problems with The Strange Library‘s length, and I definitely attribute that to Murakami’s wild imagination and Goossen’s translation. Even though I am considering the book read at this point, I still feel like there’s so much more to discover. I will most definitely be re-reading this book.

As a sort of aside, I’m not sure how the book appears on e-readers, but I would suggest reading this in print. The coloured pages and the inventive design makes it so, so worth it.

Verdict: Another strong Murakami read for me. This story is so delightfully haunting and weird that I just can’t stop thinking about it. I’m looking forward to re-reading it and discovering new things every time.

Read if: You’re looking for a short but wildly imaginative read, enjoy books that are illustrated or have a graphic component to it, are a English-speaking Murakami fan that just can’t wait to see what he has in store for us. (I am officially jumping on the Murakami fan bandwagon!)

Have you read The Strange Library? What did you make of everything that happened? Do you think what happened was real? If you haven’t read the book, do you think you will?

Graphic Novel Review | Jane, the Fox, & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Jane the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault Book Review

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

Sometimes you go into a book after hearing it hyped up only to be disappointed. Sometimes you go into a book with no expectations and it completely blows you away. The latter happened to me when I picked up Jane, the Fox, & Me by Fanny Britt and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.

Jane, the Fox, & Me is a children’s graphic novel that follows a young girl named Hélène. Hélène has been the victim of schoolyard bullying for no apparent reason at all, and she copes by immersing herself in literature – Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, to be exact. Then, one day, she is forced to confront her peers as a school-mandated camping trip comes up. When they get there, Hélène feels more alone than ever. Will she ever escape the bullying? How can she convince her peers – and herself – that she is worthy of acceptance, love, and respect?

The first wonderful thing about this book has nothing to do with its content and everything to do with its design. This hardcover book is quite a bit bigger than your average paperback novel and slightly bigger than some standard graphic novels. I thought the larger pages worked really well as it allowed the artwork to really draw the reader in and command the reader’s attention.

Jane The Fox and Me Sample Page

 This is just a sample of the breathtaking artwork that can be found in Jane, the Fox, & Me.

That is not to say that the book relied solely on its artwork and space to do all the work. The second wonderful thing about Jane, the Fox, & Me is its writing. Britt manages to capture the feeling of loneliness so well that I felt my heart tugging as I read about Hélène’s time at school and how isolated she felt from her peers. The sentences are short and abrupt, and the language is easy to understand. Even though there is an underlying melancholic tone, there is still a glimmer of hope between the pages that is extremely comforting and reassuring.

As someone who was bullied in school, I could completely relate to Hélène. My heart ached when I saw how unhappy she was. Understandably, the bullying at school has affected her self-image, and I quickly became protective of her and wanted everything to be better for her. Perhaps that is why I couldn’t pull myself away from the pages; I just had to keep reading to make sure that Hélène would be okay in the end, whether it be because she finds solace in her reading or in a friend. I won’t say too much more as this is really a book that you should experience for yourself, but I will say that this is one of the most affecting graphic novels I’ve ever read, and would confidently recommend it to readers of all age groups. Loneliness is truly a universal feeling, and if we can’t immediately shake the feeling, then at least we can share our loneliness with loveable and relatable fictional characters, right?

Verdict: A book that would have been a helpful friend to me during my years in middle school. Jane, the Fox, & Me is a beautifully done, well-executed novel that delights in its relatability and immersive artwork. I can’t recommend it enough.

Read if: You want to lose yourself to a relatively short book that packs an emotional punch, you, like Helene, enjoy escaping the real world by reading, if you’ve ever felt lonely, sad, or just need a friend.

Have you ever escaped loneliness through reading? Have you read Jane, the Fox, & Me?

Graphic Novel Review | This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

We’re almost halfway through July and if you haven’t read This One Summer by cousins Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, I would highly recommend it. I think it’s going to be the graphic novel of the summer (and not just because it has the word “summer” in the title). Continuing their partnership after the success of Skim, their first graphic novel together, the Tamaki cousins have created a poignant and beautiful story about a young girl’s summer at her family’s cottage.

For as far as she can remember, Rose and her family have been going to their family cottage in Awago Beach. Her days there are filled with summery activities with her cottage friend Windy. This year though, things are slightly different: Rose’s mother seems more distant; she can’t seem to relax and her parents keep having small fights. At the same time, the teenagers that hang around the convenience store seem to be getting in their own kind of trouble. Will the cottage ever be peaceful again?

This book reads like a dreamy haze, like you’re reading and watching a snapshot of someone’s life. It makes you feel detached and involved at the same time. It reminded me of that one episode of HBO’s Girls in season 2 (“One Man’s Trash“) where Hannah spends a few nights at a stranger’s house, living his life for a while only to return to her real life afterwards as if it never happened. I could imagine Rose thinking back to that one summer and feeling the same way we do as we read the novel.

The artwork in this book is stunning. It’s so detailed and realistically drawn while keeping with the dream-like atmosphere. The book is printed with various shades of purple which I found was a good, unique choice. Jillian Tamaki does a great job illustrating This One Summer with innovative panels and she uses the space to her full advantage. Honestly, you can get lost in the art alone. (I sure did – every page was as breathtaking as the last.)

This One Summer sample page Mariko Tamaki Jillian Tamaki

Rose sits at the table while Windy waltzes around the room.

Of course, a graphic novel wouldn’t be a graphic novel without the writing. I love how the story juxtaposes idyllic summer cottage life with intense personal and family issues. Mariko Tamaki’s writing is short and sweet but I think it captures the thoughts of a young/teenage girl really well. Everything is written realistically and you can easily sympathize with the characters (except for certain teenagers…) I’ve read critiques that say “nothing happens” in the book but, because I read it as a glimpse into someone’s life, I found that comment to be unnecessarily harsh; we don’t see some of the conflicts resolved because the conflicts haven’t fully resolved themselves yet. After the summer the characters will still be figuring out their lives and moving on from the events that occurred. Personally, I found the story to be engaging enough for me to want to keep reading, especially when paired with Jillian’s breathtaking art. Plus, I do think that everything was explained quite well by the end of the novel and it made total sense to me. So do yourself a favour: pick up this book this summer. You will not regret it.

Verdict: Might not be everyone’s cup of tea (as indicated by the critique above) but definitely mine. It is poignantly written and structured with astounding artwork. I’ve already started my re-read and I will say, without a doubt, that this novel gets better with every read (the details revealed by the end will alter the way you read the novel the second time). I will definitely be reading this again and again.

Read if: You’re looking for a quick but beautiful read for the summer (or during the year when you want to feel like it’s summer), you like graphic novels, like novels that are realistic and probing.

Have you read This One Summer and/or Skim? Do you read graphic novels? What’s your favourite summer memory?