21. The Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline)

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 10.12.52 PMThe Marrow Thieves is my third read from the Canada Reads 2018 short-list.  A fictional story, it that challenges readers to consider the history and fictional future of indigenous people.  The reader is introduced to the experiences of residential schools, colonialism and global warming in a dystopian narrative targeted for the young adult reader.

Written from the perspective of Frenchie, a young indigenous male, who is on the run from the recruiters seeking indigenous people to capture and harvest their bone marrow.  The marrow is extracted as a cure for the non-indigenous society who are unable to dream.  After his brother sacrifices himself, so that Frenchie can escape, he joins others on the run including elders who impart their knowledge of the past to the children and teens that form their new family.  They live in the wilderness, travelling North learning to fend for themselves and avoid being caught by the recruiters.

Channelling my younger self as I read, The Marrow Thieves it did inspire me to reflect on the shameful Canadian history of residential schools and the scary reality of global warming.  Although bone marrow harvesting for to promote dreams is not realistic, the book would spark conversation in secondary school classrooms.  It would be an excellent learning opportunity for students to research the residential schools and contrast them with the future imagined in the novel.

Dimaline, a Metis author,  has received a Governor General’s award for The Marrow Thieves.  According to an interview on CBC’s Unreserved, she wrote the novel as a reaction to the high levels of suicide among indigenous youth.  The Marrow Thieves started as a short story and her goal was to show the YA audience a story where indigenous youth were the heroes, saving the world.

The Canada Reads debate will discuss 5 books across different genres and target audiences.  Part literary discussions and part game show, the 4 days of debates get Canada reading and talking about books written by Canadians.  Prepare for the debates by enjoying these 5 books:

What is next?  I am in the midst of the Boat People and have American War waiting.  I will be defending  Precious Cargo at Canada Reads: Brantford Public Library edition on March 21 and am looking forward to attending Canada Reads for the opening day and the finale on March 26th and 29th.

Which Canada Reads books will you be enjoying?  I would love to know your reading plans and your thoughts on the short-listed collection.

For local blog followers, please watch for these books to appear in the Franklin Street Little Free Library this week.  Thank you to CBC Books which has generously donated a copy of each book!

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20. Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 8.56.10 PMBorn a Crime is a best selling collection of 18 essays written by Trevor Noah, comedian and host of the Daily Show.  His first book describes his childhood and experiences born during apartheid and growing up in the early days of freedom.  Although I have an copy of the book, I was lucky to get an audio version (thanks May) and it is one of the best audiobooks that I have listened to.

The title, Born a Crime, refers to his being born to a black mother and a white Swiss father.  At the time, this was a crime punished by prison time so he spent his young years mainly inside being shielded from the law.  He spoke of his struggles with his identity as a black boy when he was lighter than his cousins and friends.

Noah is a great performer.  He told of his attempted kidnapping where he was thrown out of a car and shared amusing stories of an active childhood including the time he stole batteries, when he ended up in jail after he “borrowed” a car from his step-father’s shop and how he avoided the corporal punishment from his  mother who wanted to bring him up right.  He grew up poor and although it is sad to hear how his mother struggled to feed her family, the way he tells the story of eating caterpillars was funny.  He also shared the experience of his first date when he arrived at a dance and learned that he did not speak the same language as the beautiful girl he had brought.  With each story, the reader can imagine the scene and the audio version makes the listener want to slow down and enjoy the narration.

Although he saw his white father, he had limited access to him.  His mother was devoutly religious and dragged him along to church, sometimes even attending 3 different church services on a Sunday.  She protected him and worked hard to support him, as a single mother, before marrying the car mechanic who turned their worlds upside down with substance abuse, anger and violence.

Born a Crime was a terrific book and I would highly recommend the audio version.     Memoirs are my favourite genre to listen to while driving and I especially enjoy it when the author narrates their own book.  Noah’s enthusiasm and humour is apparent and I appreciated the voices he used when speaking for his mother and the others characters in his tales.

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Elan Mastai – Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 4.59.49 PMElan Mastai is a screenwriter who wrote his first screen play during university.  He wrote his first novel, All Our Wrong Todays which was described as “a thrilling tale of time travel”. He created the 2016 that people in the 1950s had imagined.  His novel is to make readers think about their choices, who they are and how they want to live?

Mastai was inspired during a life changing 3 month period of his life.  He was a university student, had written a movie, met his wife and lost his mother.  As everything changed so quickly, he thought about “the people in your life and how they change”.  He was also inspired by his grandfather’s collection of pulp science fiction which had fascinated him when he was younger.

Dealing with the loss of his mother, he considered how decisions are impacted by grief.  His character steals a time machine as he deals with loss.

He wrote the book on the side of his day job, writing 200 to 500 words each day.  At the end of 5 months he had a first draft full of short chapters influenced by writing the short scenes of screen writing.  He likes the idea of readers picking it up and reading a couple quick chapters as they wait for the kettle to boil or when they find a quick few minutes to pick up the book in their busy days.


I had not planned to buy a book at the event but listening to Elan Mastai was intriguing.  Many resolutions are broken in January.   Just a few weeks into 2018, I found myself standing in line to purchase a copy of All Our Wrong Todays to be signed and to enjoy!

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19. The Beloveds (Maureen Lindley)

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 8.29.55 AMThanks to Simon&Shuster for sharing this Advanced Reader Copy  (ARC) through a Goodreads Giveaway.  The Beloveds was another palate-cleansing, quick read before I get back to focusing on the Canada Reads short-list.

Set in England, it tells the story of an older sibling with a lifetime of grudges against her “beloved” sister who she had perceived as her mother’s favourite.  Everyone loved Gloria and things always had a way of always working out for her.  She ended up closer to Betty’s best friend, married the man that she felt she should have wed and now, the ultimate shocker, the family home had been bequeathed to her sister and her husband to enjoy.

Betty is spiteful and “things” happen around her as she schemes to get the home back into her hands so that she can restore it to its’ former glory.  The character descriptions were very strong and the reader was left with a very vivid picture of Betty and her nastiness.  The author’s work as a psychotherapist would have assisted in these descriptions and devious scenarios.

Although psychological thrillers are not my typical genres, it is a book that keeps the readers turning the pages.  I did find the scenes in London seem a bit disconnected and a distraction from the country storyline near the end and not wanting to share any spoilers, I will cease comments.  It is not that I need things to end with all the loose ends tied up but I was hoping for greater resolution.  Overall, the book was enjoyable but it feels like I am left wondering what happens next?

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18. Feeding my Mother (Jann Arden)

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 10.35.49 AM“I can’t imagine how maddening it must be for her.  I mean, I get so anxious I feel like crying most of the time.  The disease is taking me over too, even with the help I have.  None of that changes the fact that I am losing my mom, an inch, a thought, a memory at a time”.

Feeding my Mother:  Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen As My Mom Lives with Memory Loss is a very heart-felt, well-written memoir with the added bonus of a few comfort food recipes.  Written in a journal style, it is honest, emotionally charged and highlights both the struggles and appreciation experienced by Canadian singer-songwriter, Jann Arden.

Fans may appreciate Arden’s music and have no idea of the challenges she has experienced.  They may not know that her older brother was in prison for murder, that her father was an alcoholic and that her mother held everything together.  They might not know that she chose to live across the street from her parents, checking in on them and cooking for them.  They might not know how difficult it was to place her dad in long-term care and to have help at home to care for her mother as her dementia exacerbated.  They also might not realize her tenacity as she struggled to balance her family responsibilities with her music career.  The memoir is eye-opening and provides readers with a new perspective on Arden’s life.

The few recipes are simple and made with common ingredients that readers likely have in their homes.  This is appreciated by readers who can easily decided to try to replicate a dish.  I read this book for a Canadian BINGO reading challenge for the CanadianContent Goodreads group.  The square was to read a cook book AND cook or bake one of the recipes.  I have read the book and am contemplating which recipe that I will make – I will post a picture later!

Working in healthcare for over 2 decades, I have met many patients diagnosed with dementia and families struggling with their role of caregivers.  It can be heartbreaking, frustrating, exhausting and rewarding and this memoir puts a face to those challenges.

Feeding My Mother would be helpful for other families to read.  There is no instruction manual for dealing with dementia but this book will remind them that they are no alone.  Arden has done a great job of sharing her experience in an open, honest and at times, humorous way.

Posted in Canadian, Family, Memoir | Tagged , | 2 Comments

17. I Am, I Am, I Am (Maggie O’Farrell)

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 9.59.03 AMI Am, I Am, I Am is a collection of short stories based on the authors near-death experiences which I had seen on the Goodreads Giveaway site (sadly I did not win but was able to borrow it from the library).  The tales spanned from her childhood encephalitis, teenaged near drowning, traumatic labour and delivery experience and ended with the frantic story of her daughter’s experience with exzema, allergies and anaphylaxis.

Each story is preceded by a picture of a body part that is impacted in the story.  It is a quick read and the stories are a combination of timing, decisions and circumstances that help a reader to appreciate and be grateful for a life that can quickly change or be lost.

O’Farrell, who lives in Edinburgh and is the author of 7 novels, seemed to provide an honest account of her near-death experiences.  I question why the experiences were not placed in sequential order.  Understanding her childhood experience with the encephalitis would have helped the reader understand later events impacted by the lasting neurologic deficits.

My only other query was why she ended with the story of her daughter.  It was very descriptive of the challenges she experienced as a parent, watching her daughter struggle, but was an outlier in the midst of the rest of the collection which were about her own near-death experiences.

This is a quick read if you feel like pondering and reflecting on life and our own vulnerability.

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Claire Cameron: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 4.59.31 PMThe Last Neanderthal was not only an entertaining story but encourages a reader to reconsider the experiences of living 40,000 years ago.  It helps to reconsider history and understand new discoveries following the sequencing of neanderthal DNA in 2010.  Readers can ponder the challenges of survival and gain a new respect for neanderthals.

With all the advertisements for DNA testing, Cameron discovered that she had 2.5% neanderthal DNA.  This led her to research beyond the colonial narrative of human evolution which deigned neanderthals as primitive and humans as evolved.  In fact, she discovered that neanderthals and humans were similar and co-evolved.  She started to write an interesting story, underpinned by research and science.

Cameron used her love of the outdoors and canoeing in Northern Ontario as inspiration for the setting and her experience as an Outward Bound instructor to channel the theme of survival.  Interestingly she has included bears in all 3 of her novels including:  The Line Painter, The Bear (best seller) and The Last Neanderthal.

Her husband is usually her first reader and felt that this was the best book she had ever written but asked her to consider whether she meant the neanderthals to speak like english was their second language?  For her third draft she worked with a scientist who helped her find all the areas that her “science was soft”.  He assigned her readings and she used his notes like a “creative constraint”.

For her modern story, she spoke with women in science about the challenges of balancing their families with field work.  Her own challenging delivery of her second child who arrived with the cord wrapped around his neck, helped her describe the terror she experienced and the feeling of being one with the women who have delivered babes for 40,000 years.

I had delayed my reading of The Last Neanderthal which I had been lucky to win as an advanced reader copy from Penguin Random House (thank you!).  As much as I wanted to read it right away, I delayed so that the book was fresh in my mind for the Grimsby Author Series.  It was a great evening and I was able to encourage the author to write a sequel as I was not ready for the story to end and am still wondering what is next for the characters.

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16. The Woman in the Window (A.J. Finn)

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 11.32.22 AMAfter meeting A.J. Finn at a Harper Collins event a couple of weeks ago, I held off reading The Woman in the Window as I wanted the story to be “fresh” in my mind for book club.  This novel is a psychologic thriller which centres around the life of Anna Fox, a psychologist, unable to venture out of her New York home due to her agoraphobia.  Her husband and daughter no longer live with her and she engages with her neighbours through a pattern of voyeurism and spying via social media.

Anna spends her days watching black and white movies, paying chess and helping others through an agoraphobia website.  Her psychologist and physiotherapist attend appointments in her home and the downstairs tenant assists her with errands.  A new family moves in next door and when she witnesses a violent act, no one believes the sad, wine drinking woman with mental health problems.

Canadian author, Louise Penny describes the book as “an absolutely gripping thriller”.  The story provides a glimpse into the mental health challenges experienced through trauma and is an entertaining read.  It was inspired by the film Rear Window which debuted in 1954 with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly which I am now planning to watch.

This “hard to put down” novel was suggested to our book club by Robyn Harding and should spark entertaining discussion.  Interestingly, when we got out books signed and mentioned Robyn Harding, this American author immediately mentioned her book, The Party.

Wondering about A.J. Finn?  It turns out, according to the Globe and Mail review, that A.J. Finn is a pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, who was an executive editor at William Morrow publishing, an imprint of Harper Collins. He is a fan of mysteries, black and white movies and shared his own challenges with his mental health.

A.J. Finn’s first novel has become a New York Times Best Seller and we can look forward to the film adaptation of The Woman in the Window.  It was a great, palate-cleansing read for the long weekend and I am looking forward to book club!

Posted in Author event, Book signing, Thriller | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Linden MacIntyre: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 3.55.10 PM“Every atrocity creates ripples that travel through time and space”.

Linden MacIntyre’s visited the Grimsby Author Series for the third time, in November, to talk about his latest novel, The Only Cafe.  He is the author of 7 books including the 2009 Giller Prize winning, The Bishop’s Man (which unfortunately I forgot to bring to be signed.  Ugh!!!)  MacIntyre was an engaging speaker who shared glimpses of his 38 years as a CBC journalist which have melded into his work as a novelist.

Lessons of survival came from a lost story from Ukraine during the Nazi roundups.  A person who had been a child shared how a group of Jewish individuals pooled their resources to hide in the cellar of a warehouse.  To keep the group safe, a 17 year old being sent up for use by the men upstairs.  These kind of stories inspired MacIntyre to think of the secrets that people carry with them and don’t want to talk about, “secrets that are buried in shame”.

Named after an actual cafe on the Danforth (Toronto), The Only Cafe tells the story of a man troubled by his past in Lebanon.  After his mysterious death, his son planned his memorial, a “roast” at the Only Cafe and began to learn about his father’s past life.  At the gathering, he met an Israeli man, who had known his father before he took refuge in Canada, and he began to learn about his father.

The experienced journalist had spent time in Lebanon and Beruit during the massacres.  Two thousand people had been killed and he was able to get into the country with a resourceful driver and the cover of surgical masks.  He spoke of standing amongst bodies that were almost unrecognizable and seeing, in midst of the horror, the arm of an infant while nearby, a front end loader dug out bodies.  This scene and the look of terror on a group of young teenagers has never left him.  He acknowledged that we all have accountability for these situations and that the “consequences of violence travels”.   He shared his gruesome experience with the crowd and said that he feels that “when you get a chance to talk about it, you should”.

“Flashing lights tell me that lives have changed forever”

At the end of the evening, mention was made of his wife, Carol Off.  This couple of journalists, who have both recently published books, must have interesting conversation at the dinner table!  Off is also on my wish list of authors to meet and I have a copy of her book, All We Leave Behind near the top of my TBR pile.

As always, this Grimsby Author Series event was fascinating and the audience was spellbound listening to Linden MacIntyre.  He is an engaging speaker and certainly has more stories to tell!

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Alison Pick: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 3.55.36 PM“Fiction is about empathy, about imagining ourselves in a different world”.

The November session of the Grimsby Author Series included novelist and poet, Alison Pick.  She joined to  speak about her latest book, Strangers with the Same Dream.  Described by the host, Ken,  as “a riveting and sensitive novel”, which is “part love story and party mystery”.  Set in 1921 Palestine, it tells the story of Jewish settlers, setting up a kibbutz, from 3 different points of view.

Pick’s own family had hidden their Jewish roots, escaping Auschwitz by converting to Christianity.  She had converted back to Judaism and travelled to Israel, visiting a kibbutz three times, feeling a sense of belonging which inspired this book.

“Fiction is about opening up questions, asking more questions”

Pick “loves everything about writing, except titles”.  She spent 3 years working on this novel, plotting it out on 3 sheets of bristol board.  She feels that she has a great responsibility to get the story correct so has taken her research and fact checking seriously.

Although I have not read any of her work, I am looking forward to reading my signed copy of her memoir, Between Gods.

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