Monday, March 31, 2014

Month In Review

This month I managed to read more books than I can fit in the collage (by just one.)  The fact that it was March Break and the weather wasn't great meant that I was able to get in one good week of reading and push my monthly total higher.  Here is what I read this month:

The Midnight Rose - Lucinda Riley *****
Unfinished - Steven K. Scott *****
The Replacement Wife - Tiffany L. Warren ****
The Guestbook - Holly Martin ****
Fortune and Fame - ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray ****
For Today I Am a Boy - Kim Fu ****
All Our Names - Dinaw Mengestu ****
Boy Snow Bird - Helen Oyeyemi ***
The Divorce Papers - Susan Rieger ***
A Heart's Rebellion - Ruth Axtell ***

TBR Pile Challenge (0), Diversity on the Shelf (6), Classics Club (0), Canadian Book Challenge (1)

A Look Ahead
Here are the April releases I'm looking forward to reading

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Headlines - Quiz Edition

Here are some literary quizzes I came across on the internet this week

*Which literary heroine are you?

*How well do you know Irish literature?

*Test your knowledge of literature written in prison.

*How many of the greatest books by women have you read?

*What is Literature Jeopardy Alex?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"The Midnight Rose" by Lucinda Riley

Eleven-year-old Anahita Chavan finds her life is about to change when she befriends Princess Indira, the daughter of Indian royalty.  Her own family is noble but impoverished and her friendship with Indira opens a new world to her as she becomes the princess’ companion.  But it is when the two girls leave India and head to England for school that Anahita’s life really takes a turn.

It is there that she meets Donald Astbury, a reluctant heir to a declining fortune, and his mother who will do everything she can to keep control over the estate.  Donald and Anahita fall passionately in love and following the end of World War 1, they make plans to spend their lives together, no matter what society thinks.  But unfortunately, it is not meant to be.

Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has arrived in England to star in a period film as a 1920’s debutante.  Thrilled to be away from the paparazzi, she settles into Astbury Hall, a now crumbling manor in the countryside.  But she soon discovers that all is not as it seems when the arrival of Ari Malik and his great-grandmother’s life story starts to unravel many of the secrets that lie within the walls of Astbury.  And Rebecca’s resemblance to one of the manor’s matriarchs may bring more trouble than she is expecting.

The Midnight Rose is a sweeping novel by Lucinda Riley, a heartbreaking tale of love and loss that spans a century and continents.  Readers will fall in love with Anahita Chavan, a strong young woman who follows her heart no matter where it takes her.  Travelling between early 20th century India and England, as well as modern-day England, the book transports you back to the place and time, and sweeps you up in an incredible story.

I’ll say this, I rarely stay up late in the night reading.  I need my eight hours of sleep every night and I’m always very good about putting my book down when it’s time.  But this book kept me up late quite a few nights, I just couldn’t put it down, especially the night that I finished it.  I absolutely loved everything about this book.

Every character in this book had me hooked, they are so well written.  Anahita is a beautiful character, with a great story and a charm that jumps off of the page.  Every character that factors into her story and who is trying to piece together her life is well-written and well-used.  No character or storyline felt extra to the book and everything fits together like a puzzle to bring the time period to life.  Readers can feel themselves in India or England with the rich descriptions and beautiful writing.  

This is a big book but you wouldn’t know it while reading.  The story flows from page to page and before you know it, you are through it.  This is the first book I have read by Lucinda Riley and given the impact it has had on me I will definitely be looking for her other books.

There is so much to say about this book and yet the words escape me.  This is just one of the books for me that is absolutely stunning from beginning to end.  I finished the book with tears in my eyes, both happy and sad at how everything came together.  

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"The Divorce Papers" by Susan Rieger

Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl loves her job as a criminal law associate at a New England firm.  All of her clients are behind bars and it means very little personal contact, which for her is perfect.   But one weekend, all of the big partners are away and Sophie must do an intake interview for a woman looking for a divorce lawyer.  Sophie agrees to the interview but doesn’t expect that the client will end up requesting her to take on the case. 

Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim was served divorce papers from her husband while dining at a popular restaurant.  A Mayflower descendent, she is shocked to find out that her marriage of eighteen years is over.  Even more, she is shocked that her husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology, is out for blood.  He wants custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane and to leave Mia with very little while he starts fresh with one of his colleagues.

Told only through personal correspondence, office e-mails and memos, legal documents, and scholarly articles, The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger tells the story of what happens between two people when their marriage fails.  

I gave this book three out of five stars and here is why I placed it smack dab in the middle.  I loved the plot and the story, two well-off people fighting over every piece of the divorce agreement and a lawyer who feels completely out of her depth handling it all.  The character of Mia was wonderful to me, I could totally picture her in my mind, and it was great to see her strength and determination against the difficulties she was having.  Sophie was a bit more difficult for me to get a picture of though.  I also liked the addition of other people such as Fiona, a partner at the firm, and how their stories take you beyond the divorce and show you the politics of privilege and gender at a law firm.

But I absolutely disliked the format.  I’m not against a novel being written in epistolary form, but I don’t think it suited this story well.  The characters didn’t develop enough for me, some of the emotion was lost, and it was just too heavy on the legal documents.  I found myself flipping past many pages because I didn’t care to read statutes, past cases, or financial documents.  It’s obvious from reading that Rieger is a lawyer and is very knowledgable, but it just didn’t work for me as a reader.

Having read other reviews of the book on Goodreads, it seems that the opinion on this book is very divided.  Some people love it, some people don’t like it at all.  Much of the dislike comes from the inclusion of all the legal papers.  If you think it won’t bother you, or you don’t mind flipping through much of the book, then give the book a try.  It’s hard to tell which side you will fall on until you read the book.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"The Guestbook" by Holly Martin

Welcome to Willow Cottage - throw open the shutters, let in the sea breeze and make yourself completely at home.  Oh, and please do leave a comment in the Guestbook!

Annie Butterworth is the landlady of Willow Cottage, a beautiful cottage in the English countryside with a colourful array of guests.  Every guest is encouraged to write their thoughts in the guestbook and do they ever!  Love, loss, happiness, sadness, guilt, affairs, births, and surprises, it’s all in there.  Even Annie’s life gets caught up in the book.

As a young widow, Annie herself is going through some changes.  And the appearance of her brother-in-law, celebrity crime writer Oliver Black isn’t helping.  As the guests of Willow Cottage go about their seaside vacations, Annie and Oliver must figure out how to move on in their lives, and most importantly, if they will do so together.

The Guestbook by Holly Martin is a lovely, sweet, and unique book.  Written in the format of notes left in the guestbook, readers get a glimpse into the life of not only Holly but all of the people who come through Willow Cottage.  And boy do they have stories to tell!

At first I wondered if this format would be able to hold my attention the whole way through but I soon found out that wouldn’t be an issue.  I loved the way it allowed many different stories to be told without taking over the book.  And I loved the way it allowed Annie’s story to develop slowly and mysteriously.  

I often stay at places where a book is left for guests to write in.  I never write in them nor do I read them. But after reading this book, I’m definitely going to be taking a peak, though I don’t think it will be anywhere near as exciting as this book.  I loved all the different stories, and though it has the aspect of being unbelievable (who would write that information about themselves, or correspond back and forth with their mate in the guestbook) it makes every character that stays at the guest house endearing.

Full of charm, warmth, and humour, The Guestbook is a lovely read.  It didn’t just make me want to go stay in a place like Willow Cottage, it made me want to own one!

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.

Monday, March 17, 2014

"For Today I Am a Boy" by Kim Fu

Peter Huang is the prized boy in a traditional Chinese family living in small-town Ontario.  Named Juan Chuan, meaning powerful king, he is the only son in the middle of three girls.  His immigrant father was thrilled to have his one boy to carry on his legacy.  But Peter is carrying a difficult secret, one that he believes will shatter his parents.  Peter is certain that he was born in the wrong body and is really a girl.

Peter and his sisters Adele, Helen, and Bonnie all long to break free from the confines of their home and small town to live as who they truly are.  As Peter’s journey takes him to Montreal, he is free to explore who he is though the shadow of his father is difficult to shake.

For Today I Am A Boy is a coming-of-age book that is sensitive, beautiful, and honest.  The debut novel by Kim Fu, it is a story of what happens when culture and identity clash, and the burdens that we carry with us.

There are two issues at play in this book.  The first is the story of an immigrant family, a father who who wants his family to become Canadian, who wants his family to belong in this culture just like everyone else, but whose ideas and actions remain in his old ways.  The children all long to escape the home and when it is time, go as far away as they can.  The second issue is Peter’s and his knowledge that he is a girl despite his appearance and how he handles it in the context of his family and culture.

Here is what I found amazing about this book.  Peter’s journey as a transgender person doesn’t take up the book.  It is always present but through much of the book it isn’t the main story.  At first, I was surprised about that and also worried that the book didn’t “go there” enough but as I read more I realized just how far from the truth I was.  It’s those little moments, like when a young Peter is asked at school to draw what he wants to be when he grows up and he answers “a Mommy,” that hit home, that make his journey real and tender.  It is Peter’s quiet voice that gets our attention.

I was expecting something a bit more sensational but this book is the opposite and I’m appreciative of that.  Some people may feel that it doesn’t go deep enough into the issues that transgender people face, but either way, the book does tackle the stereotypes and does contribute to the conversation.  As someone who does not personally know anyone transgender, this book helps me to understand the issues and journey in a sensitive way and in a way that isn’t demeaning to the struggle, something I feel is still difficult to find. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Susceptible" by Geneviève Castrée

Goglu is a French Canadian girl who lives with her alcoholic mother and resentful stepfather.  All her life she has been a child surrounded by grownups.  Goglu keeps to herself, her life full of sadness and dreams of breaking free from the troubled lifestyle of her mother.   But as she grows older she escapes into a life of punk rock and drugs.  She tries to start fresh with her biological father on the other side of the country but she just cannot escape the turmoil.

Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée is a coming of age memoir that speaks to what happens to children when the adults that are entrusted with their well-being aren’t up for the task.  This graphic novel is beautifully drawn and heartbreakingly wonderful.  It is painful, touching, hopeful, and mesmerizing.

I had not heard of Castrée until I read CBC Books' 10 Canadian Women You Need to Read.  She has been drawing all of her life though has never studied art formally, and at 32 years of age, this is her seventh book from Drawn & Quarterly.  The incredible drawings and small, handwritten text jumped off the screen at me and though I’m not a reader of graphic novels, I knew I had to give this one a try.

This book was so difficult to read and this was before I knew that it was a memoir.  The character of Goglu, her sad face, the rage of her mother, the hatred of her stepfather, they all jump off the page at you and hit you at your core.  Some pages are filled with comic panels, some pages have just one drawing, and they work together for a meaningful and touching story.  You can feel the author putting all of her into the pages.

Since graphic novels aren’t something I usually read, I can’t comment about this book in relation to the genre.  But I will say that this grabbed me from the beginning and I read it straight through.   It wasn’t what I was expecting from a graphic novel at all.  I agree with CBC Books, Castrée is someone that you need to read.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"All Our Names" by Dinaw Mengestu

Two young men, both named Isaac though not necessarily their real name, meet on a university campus in Uganda while the African revolution rages on the streets.  Though their lives may have had similar humble beginnings, their paths part as they are drawn deeper into the movement.  One works his way up through the ranks of the revolution while the other finds safety in exile to America.

Pretending to be an exchange student, Isaac settles into life in a small-town in the American Midwest and falls in love with his social worker.  But he cannot forget what he left behind, both his part in the revolution and the friend he left behind, the one who sacrificed everything so Isaac could gain freedom.

All Our Names is the newest book from Dinaw Mengestu, a talented and acclaimed writer who is a recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 award, The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 award, and a 2012 MacArthur Foundation genius grant.  It is safe to say that when he publishes a novel there are high expectations and this book lives up to them.

Sometimes in a book we want a fast-paced, highly involved plot and sometimes we want one that is less plot-driven and more reflective and insightful on what makes up our lives.  This book is more the second and it hits the spot.  

The book is told from two perspectives.  The first is the story of both Isaacs and a look back at the revolution that brought them together.  The second is from Helen, the white social worker who falls in love with Isaac and examines his life in the current time.  Helen knows nothing of Isaac’s history and he seems to want to keep it that way.

I loved the beautiful build-up of this story, of the bits and pieces allowed to the reader as we watch people and ideas grow.  Two worlds collide in this novel and though on the surface they are different, each one has gone through the turbulence of radical social change and these characters are deeply affected by it.  At the heart of the novel are people who want something better for themselves, but who find it in very different ways.

What I really appreciated was how the settings and conflict aren’t described in depth, aren’t to be taken as a historical account, but are a catalyst for the change and actions we see in the characters.  This is a book about identity, migration, love, and loss.  And it is beautiful and fantastic novel.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday Headlines

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week

*Joseph Boyden's The Orenda won CBC's Canada Reads this week. #WabKinewforPrimeMinister

*The Oscar's were last week.  Here is a look at the CanLit that has inspired films nominated for Oscars.

*HarperCollins Canada's HCC March Madness has begun again.  Make sure you cast your votes.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"My Journey" by Olivia Chow

There are a few things most Canadians know about Olivia Chow - she is an immigrant, politician, and half of one of Parliament’s biggest power couples.  But there is so much more to the woman we see in the media. We know she is a fighter for justice and for many people she is one of the more relatable politicians.  But many may wonder what has driven her passion for politics and commitment to making her country a better place.  Now she is sharing that story.

My Journey, by Olivia Chow, is a candid look at her life in politics and the events and issues that have shaped who she is today.  From her early childhood in Hong Kong to her teenage years in Toronto, she honestly shares the frustrations and hardships her family faced and the difficulties and violence that marked this time period.  She recounts how her life changed when she settled into self-discipline and excelled in school, and how her desire for social change led to her political career.  

As a school trustee first, then a Toronto City Councillor (first Asian woman to hold the role) and on to Canadian Parliament, Olivia Chow has always taken a passionate, grassroots approach to helping others, especially children.  I was amazed to learn how many successful programs we have in Toronto that were put in place by Olivia’s work.  

Here is the thing about a book written by a politician - the people who agree with their politics are going to love it and the people who disagree with their politics are going to hate it.  Some people will read it as an honest sharing of their story, some people will see an agenda behind it.  As someone who holds political views that aren’t represented by any one party in the political arena today, even I am guilty of doing all of the above.  So I will state that I am a great admirer of Olivia Chow and that will probably colour my feelings about the book.

Olivia is an inspiring woman.  I found it refreshing to read about a person whose reasons for getting into politics hasn’t changed, even decades later.  She started from the humble roots many of us experience but not many in power have.  She doesn’t come across as a career politician but rather someone who is committed to a cause and knows she can affect change through politics.  

The first half of this book gives great insight into who Olivia is and what shaped her commitment to social justice.  The second half reads like a resume.  Chow has spurred a lot of change and much of the book recounts what it was and the change that went into it.  Unfortunately, I found that it felt like it was dividing the book into sections, personal and work, rather than balancing the two the whole way through.  

And that’s where a big criticism of the book lies - that once you enter her political journey, it all becomes a little too bland or like one big pat on the back.  I say, if you’re not a staunch opposer of her, give it a little leeway.  And if you don’t agree with her, keep an open mind.  At the end of the day there are a issues that we are all (or should all be) committed to and though we may have different ways of handling them, we can learn from each other.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Boss Girl" by Nic Tatano

Sydney Hack is a single thirty-something with a high-powered job as VP of news for a television network.  But the network isn’t doing well and Sydney is under pressure to get viewership up.  And with her new idea, she is about to strike gold.

Sydney realizes that like herself, many over-thirty women want a chiselled young trophy buck on their arms.  And she thinks, why not give it to them on their nightly newscast.  Imagine, instead of the older male/young beauty queen combination that is currently on television, you pair an older woman with a piece of male eye candy.  When her brilliant idea becomes an overnight success, she and three of her fellow female managers are catapulted to national fame and their very own 24 hour network.  

The four women are ready to infiltrate the Old Boys Club and they’re going to do it acting just like men do - casting couch included.  That’s right, Sydney and her friends take advantage of a decades old tradition and not only are their young male anchors starring on television, they are also starring in the women’s bedrooms.  

Boss Girl by Nic Tatano takes you behind the scenes of television news into a world where pretty much anything goes, and shows you that women are capable of doing everything men do - and I mean everything.

I’m going to start off by saying I was so conflicted about this book.  The premise sounded fantastic and I’m all for a woman getting her man, no matter who they are.  Older woman, younger man? Go for it.  But I did not realize that it was going to all get a little creepy.  

These women sleep around.  A lot.  They sleep with every man who works for them.  They share men.  They hold a draft to see who is going to get to sleep with who.  They even have a loft in the studio where the women can go to sleep with the men during working time.  That’s where it all became ridiculous for me.  I get that this is an age-old tradition for men in the entertainment industry and why shouldn’t women be able to behave the same way.  But I don’t think it’s something that should be celebrated, male or female, and that’s exactly what it felt like in this novel.  If this part of the novel had been toned down a bit, alluded to, or not as frequent, I would have really liked this book.

I often say that I don’t like sex in my chick lit novels and by that I mean I don’t like graphic descriptions of sexual acts.  I’m cool with the characters having sex no matter what their situation as long as it isn’t descriptive and I will credit Tatano for going this route.  He could have gone into detail about what was happening in the loft but he didn’t and this was smart writing on his part.  

I did enjoy this novel because the writing was very good, the premise was great, and Tatano writes four strong female characters, something we need more of in our books.  I also loved that we have four high-powered, go-getter women who have a fantastic friendship.  It goes against the stereotype we have of women and I like that this book represents those women that do exist! It’s refreshing to see these kind of women being written by a man.  And Tatano uses his years of experience in the news industry to make this a well-rounded book.  

Like I said, I was conflicted about this book because I loved it and I didn’t love it.  I would be reading and enjoying everything that was going on, then the discussion of the women’s sexual lives would come up and I’d be disappointed.  So it went back and forth like this for me through the whole book.  

If the sexual attitudes in this book are something you can deal with then I would definitely recommend this book to you.  If that wouldn’t ruin a novel for you, then you will enjoy this book because it is well written, smart, and funny.  But if you don’t think you can handle the sort of behaviour I’ve mentioned, then it might be a good idea to give it a pass.  I hear his first novel, Wing Girl, isn’t like this so that might be a good one to try instead.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Month In Review

I just realized that I didn't do a month in review for February.  Once again, it was a great month.  I got quite a few great chick lit novels through Netgalley and also read some great Canadian fiction and non-fiction including a graphic novel which is totally outside of my reading comfort zone.  Here are the books I read this month with the ratings I gave them on GoodReads.

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishamel Beah  *****
Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée  ****
The Bear by Claire Cameron  ****
How to Get a (Love) Life by Rosie Blake  ****
Never Google Heartbreak by Emma Garcia  ****
The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan  ****
Reclaiming Eve by Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright  ****
Boss Girl by Nic Tatano ***

TBR Pile Challenge (0), Diversity on the Shelf (2), Classics Club (0), Canadian Book Challenge (3)

A Look Ahead
Here is what I'm looking forward to reading in March