The Color Purple

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Alice Walker
Genres: Historical Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: June 1982

I had an old copy of this on my bookshelf in Newfoundland for years. I can remember starting it, but I don’t think I ever finished it, so I was really happy to return to it with my book club in time for the movie adaptation coming out later this year. 

The Colour Purple is an American classic, and with good reason. It’s set in the South from the early 1900’s, to around WWII (roughly 1910-1940). It’s about civil rights, but from a different perspective than we normally see. It’s told in a series of letters written by Celie, an uneducated, poor black girl who lives with her Ma and Pa. After being raped several times by her Pa, starting at 14, her children are taken from her. She’s separated from her sister Nettie, her only friend, and is eventually married off to another abusive man, Albert. 

Over the years, Celie writes to God about the injustices she faces, and eventually to Nettie when they are reconciled as adults. It’s an examination of how racism and abuse were still heavily present in the south during this time and how a group of women come to find support in one another to become better versions of themselves.

Most notable is the writing style. Alice Walker writes Celie’s letters from the point of view of a young women with limited schooling, who is confused and overcome by the world around her. It’s extremely hard to read at first, both because of the poor grammar and spelling used in the writing, but also because Celie’s experiences are so unbelievably painful and her confusion around them causes her to become very detached from what happens to her. Celie has such limited ownership over her life that I actually thought the setting was about 100 years earlier, during slavery. However, it becomes apparent pretty fast that slavery was ended in name only and is very much still alive in Celie’s life.

Overall I thought this book was quite radical for when it was published and for the content it addresses. We are introduced to a number of black women and they all bring something very unique to the story. While Celie is very much a victim – we also have headstrong Sofia, confident Shug, compassionate Nettie, and tolerant Mary Agnes. These women move in and out of one another’s lives, but all become a source of support and growth for Celie. Most impactful for me was probably Sophia and Nettie.

I thought Sophia’s story was really interesting because it showcased “modern” slavery and how all it took was for Sophia to stand up for herself once to then wind up in prison for a decade before being forced into indentured servitude. On the other end of the spectrum, I liked Nettie’s story because it showcased the complicated dynamics of being black in America versus being black in Africa and how the two perceive each other. Plus, it examines how sexism is the same on either continent.

So overall, I really liked this. It takes a little bit of time to used to the writing style and I found the timeline really confusing, but it gave me a lot to think about and I can understand why it has become a classic. I’m glad the movie doesn’t come out until the end of the year though because it’s a very emotional read and I don’t think I’ll be ready to revisit the story for another few months. 

Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Elle Cosimano
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. Date: Jan. 2023

I’m a huge fan of the Finlay Donovan series. It’s an outlandish mystery series featuring a single mom turned accidental contract killer. Everything that happens is over the top and requires a certain amount of disbelief, but it’s a lot of fun and never takes itself too seriously.

The first book is definitely my favourite, but the second book was a lot of fun as well. Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun is the 3rd book in the series, but it didn’t feel as anchored as the other books and I found myself questioning at what point this mystery and the out-of-control antics will ever start to become too much?

The first book has closure and is easy to read as a standalone, whereas the third book felt like more of a direct continuation of the second book. I couldn’t remember a lot of details from the second book, but the further you read, the more convoluted the story becomes and it does finally start to enter into the territory of just not believable. Finlay and Vero really push the limits and I thought they were needlessly sloppy in this book. We do get resolution on some of the story points at the end, but we’re immediately propelled into what will form the basis for the fourth book. The longer things go with the same continuing storyline, the harder it is to suspend disbelief that they won’t get caught. It’s easy to see how mistakes can get made and evidence overlooked on one or two occasions, but Finlay is at the center of so much crime that I can only assume at some point she’s going to have a crooked cop working for her.

Which brings me to my next point – I didn’t like the setting of this book. The idea of a citizen’s police academy is just a bizarre concept for me. Is this something they actually do in America? What is the motivation? It seemed like a contrived concept for Cosimano to force all her characters into close proximity, but I couldn’t fathom why such a thing would even exist. The reasoning for Finlay and Vero attending was also weak and felt akin to lighting a cigarette at a gas station. I think the idea could have worked for a portion of the story, like Finlay and Vero attend a 1-2 day workshop with police to try and collect intel, but setting the entire story there really changes the dynamic of the book and turns it into more of a closed-door mystery, which doesn’t work for a runaway train like Finlay and Vero.

More importantly, I’m not entirely sure how comfortable I was with the narrative of policing that’s presented in this book. On the one hand, the fact that Finlay gets away with so much is a scathing indictment of the entrenched injustice in policing; that police can’t see the real perpetrator right in front of their eyes. But the narratives around hyper vigilance and gun-use reinforce the idea that policing inherently requires violence, when a lot of police work could be solved through investing in community and social services instead. In theory, a citizen’s awareness program is great, but that program should be focused on recognizing and providing support to those at risk rather than teaching a single mom how to cuff someone and use a gun. Neither are skills I want the average American perfecting or using as a common citizen and are more likely to lead to more profiling and unnecessary violence from over-enthusiastic vigilantes.

So overall, definitely some problematic elements to this book. It still has a lot of what I liked about the first two though. Mostly that it’s funny and never takes itself too seriously. Vero is easily my favourite character and I was glad to see a primary love interest finally arise for Finlay. I was definitely gunning for these two to be together, but I have to admit, despite all the antics, I didn’t see a whole lot of personal development for any of the characters. But it’s a plot driven novel and if you want something fast-paced, this is definitely it. I will keep reading the series, but I would like to see the author do something a bit different with the next one. At some point I feel like Finlay and Vero are going to have to get caught for something or it feels like there are no real stakes.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Axie Oh
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pub. Date: Feb. 2022

I really loved this book! I’ve been hearing a lot of really good things about it and after reading and loving Daughter of the Moon Goddess, I decided to pick this one up. It’s a short standalone fantasy and I really wish there were more books like this out there. You rarely find standalone fantasy books and I think it’s really special when you find a beautifully written one like this.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is about a 16 year old girl who sacrifices herself to be the Sea God’s bride. Her village has been at the mercy of the sea for 100 years and every year they sacrifice a young and beautiful bride to try and please the Sea God and stop the storms. This year’s bride, Shim Cheong, is in love with Mina’s brother, so Mina jumps into the sea in her place and enters the Spirit Realm. There she discovers that things aren’t quite as they seem on the surface and she starts searching for a way to free the Sea God from a deep slumber and save her village.

The writing is definitely the first thing I want to comment on because it is really beautiful. The story of Mina’s journey through the Spirit Realm is interspersed with stories that her grandmother shared with her as a child. The author connects myth to reality and uses the medium of stories to uncover the truth of the spirit realm. The story is filled with magic and the beautiful prose used by the author only elevates the setting.

It’s hard for me to say whether it’s a character or plot driven novel because I think it is such a good blend of both. The story starts off with a bang and we’re quickly introduced to a whole new world. There is lots of action throughout the book and the world building is very well realized without being confusing. We’re introduced to lots of new characters, but it’s never overwhelming. The book has a lot of depth and Mina’s character not only grows throughout the story, but her storytelling also inspires growth in others.

Overall it’s just a really smart book. There are a few twists within the story, some of them are easy to see coming, while others surprised me. I loved the inclusion of the ancestors in the story and even though I saw the main twist coming, the how and why were still a mystery to me until the very end. It’s a smart book and together all of the elements add together to build something truly magical.

With a 16 year old protagonist, it sounds like YA, but it didn’t read that way to me. There are definitely books out there that feature children or teenagers that are still written for adults. I don’t necessarily think this is one of them, but the magic and prose combined made this not your typical YA novel. It’s my first 5 star read of 2023 and I’d definitely recommend it. I’m strongly debating whether I might be ready to make a soft launch back into the world of fantasy – for me I think it’s more about being intentional about what fantasy books I read and picking up ones that interest me and not just because they’re hyped up on social media (looking at you SJM and JLA). That said, this one deserves the hype.


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Kate Beaton
Genres: Graphic Novel, Memoir
Pub. Date: Sep. 2022

I’ve been seeing Ducks everywhere since the Goodreads Choice Awards, which really surprised me when I learned it was a graphic novel written by an East Coaster about the oil sands (this type of Canadian lit doesn’t usually go mainstream). I finally got my hands on a library copy of this beast of book, just in time for it to be nominated for Canada Reads!

It is a really interesting book. The storyline is subtle and we spend a lot of time in dull labour camps, but it’s still very compelling. Kate Beaton grew up in Cape Breton and after completing her Bachelor of Arts degree in the early 2000’s, decides to follow the horde of islanders heading west in order to pay off her student loans.

She moves to Fort MacMurray, a notorious place in northern Alberta that’s known for the oil sands, dirty money, questionable environmentalism, and eastern imports in the form of people. People from Fort Mac probably won’t like my assessment because they’re just trying to make a living, but as Kate concludes towards the end of the book, her motivations for being there don’t make her less complicit in the work being done.

Kate is from Cape Breton; even though I’m from Newfoundland, this is definitely a story any Newfoundlander can relate to. Since the collapse of the food fishery in the early 1990’s, watching your family members and friends head west in search of work is something that has touched everyone. I actually applaud Kate for her courage in going out there alone without a job as a 22 year old woman.

However, it’s undeniable that the oil sands weren’t a great place to be female in the early 2000’s. I’m sure the camps and companies have evolved in the past 20 years to become more progressive, but I’m also sure there are many more subtle ways in which they haven’t. I haven’t worked in the oil sands, but I did a brief stint on a heavy construction project in Labrador in 2013 where sexism was very much still present. My experience was nothing like Kate’s, but her experiences were still very relatable.

Most of what Kate tackles in this book is about mental health and loneliness and how this separation from society and detachment from reality creates harmful and sexist work and safety cultures. She explores the prevalence of toxic masculinity, gendered violence, and microaggressions in male dominated work spaces, and the dichotomy of character that can result from extended periods of time in this environment. There were lots of good men on the sites that Kate never interacts with because they politely leave her alone, but there were also a lot of lonely and frustrated men who become divorced from who they are when immersed in camp life.

At least that is how Kate looks at it. More jaded individuals might look at her experience and say that for some men, that ugliness has always been there and that the labour camps just expose it. I don’t know which is true, probably both, but I appreciated Kate’s exploration of this character change. After her experience, it would be easy for her to be jaded and think the worst of men, but she’s still willing to think more critically about mental health and loneliness.

What drove this home for me is the inclusion of so many Newfoundlanders in the story. There are a lot of Newfoundlanders in Fort Mac, so it’s an accurate portrayal. Traditionally, Newfoundlanders are known for their friendliness and willingness to open their homes to strangers. It’s something I’ve always been very proud of, though I have found in the past 10 years since I left Newfoundland, that there is a limit to this friendliness that it’s sometimes only extended to that which is familiar. By which I mean that I think there is still a culture of othering and outsiders.

Because we so often look at what we love with rose coloured glasses, it’s sobering to look at this negative portrayal of so many East Coast men. As Kate says, “the worst part for me about being harassed here isn’t that people say shitty things. It’s when they say them and they sound like me, in the accent that I dropped when I went to University. That they look like my cousins and uncles… that they’re familiar.” It’s not that she’s saying the behaviour is indicative of where the men come from, just that it’s disappointing to realize that the potential exists in those we know and love.

In fact, when Kate gets a call from the Globe and Mail wanting to write about her experience, she decides not to take the interview. She says of the interviewer, “I don’t think people like her believe that the men they know wouldn’t be any different. They don’t think that the loneliness and homesickness and boredom and lack of women around would affect their brother or dad or husband the same way – why would they? They don’t think about it at all. They never have to.”

I did really like this book. I felt some improvements could be made; it’s a bit long and there is a lot of interactions and filler that I thought could have been consolidated, but it paints a very detailed picture of what life was like for Kate and of capturing how microaggressions can wear us down over time. I’m glad it’s been selected for Canada Reads, because I think it’s especially important for Canadians. Great storytelling and imagery!

Wrong Place Wrong Time

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Gillian McAllister
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Sci-fi
Pub. Date: May 2022

This was my book club’s pick for February. We picked some duds in 2022, so we needed something fast paced to start off the new year! Wrong Place, Wrong Time is a mystery/thriller with a sci-fi element, and it certainly starts off with a bang! 

Our protagonist, Jen, is sitting at home when the clocks go back, waiting for her son to come home. When she witnesses him kill a man on the street, she falls into her worst nightmare. But when she wakes up the next day, it’s actually the day before and the murder hasn’t happened yet. Every day after, Jen wakes up further back in time, with the opportunity to solve the murder. But maybe there are more secrets in Jen’s past than she realized.

It’s a pretty explosive start and I was quickly pulled into the narrative. It’s a lot to take in at first and you hope there are simple answers, but the more Jen learns, the more confused she becomes about what actually happened and how her son was triggered to murder someone. It’s pretty gripping, but it does get a bit repetitive the further back in time you go. It’s frustrating, but the general feeling helps you to empathize with what Jen is going through. It’s a convoluted story and I thought it took a bit too long to get to the point. It drags in the middle, but eventually the narrative starts to shift and I was gripped again at the end of the story.

I don’t want to say too much about the story itself or give anything away, but I did like the way things progressed. I do think the murder that the book starts with is a bit of a stretch based on what we learn later, but I like how focus of the story changes over time as the pieces start to fit together. It was good storytelling, I just would have liked to see things tightened up a bit. There are a lot of secondary and minor characters, and I found it hard to keep track of everyone. That said, I read it as an audiobook and I don’t think that was the best way to go. If it was a bit shorter with a tighter plot, I think this would be a really great read.

Either way, I still had fun with it. I didn’t care for the epilogue, but again, mostly because I didn’t remember the connection between these particular characters, so I’m hoping my book club can explain this one to me in a couple of weeks. But overall, a fun and fast-paced read!