Ghost Forest

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Pik-Shuen Fung
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Jul. 2021 (read Mar. 2022)

I’ve been putting off my review for Ghost Forest because I don’t have a lot to say about it, but I do still want to write a short review because I think this is a very understated book and I really loved it!

I stumbled upon it at my local indie bookstore and admit to be primarily drawn to it for the cover art, but it’s also Canadian lit, so I quickly purchased it and let it sit on my shelf for a few months before finally reading it. I guess I forgot immediately after buying that it was also written in prose, or likely I would have read it sooner since it’s a quick read.

Ghost Forest features an unnamed narrator, a young girl whose family immigrates to Canada in the 1990’s. Though most of her family settles in Vancouver, her father continues to work in Hong Kong as an “astronaut father”. The novel explores her relationship with her father over the years, as a young girl living in Canada, to a young adult also living in Hong Kong when her father becomes very sick. Over time her relationship with her father has become strained as she never really felt like he was around and she re-examines her family history as her father becomes sicker.

The writing is really beautiful and I loved how the author explored family dynamics and all the ways in which immigration and new cultures can fracture a family. While the book centers around the protagonist and her father, it also features an oral history of her other family members, including her sister, mother, and grandmother. It’s a family history, but it’s also a book about love, grief, and memory. How things became what they are and the thoughts of what might have been. Many returned to Hong Kong years later, but this family opted to stay in Canada, even though they partially relocate back to Hong Kong when the father is sick. It explores identity and belonging and is a classic immigration story that I’d recommend to any Canadian. A quick read filled with gorgeous prose!

Talking to Canadians

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Rick Mercer
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Humour
Pub. Date: Nov. 2021 (read Nov. 2021 on Audible)

Last year I read Rick’s book Final Report and was a bit disappointed when I discovered it was just a collection of rants from throughout the years. Somehow it’s just not as interesting to listen to Rick rant about Stephen Harper 10 years later. But I was interested in Talking to Canadians when I learned it would be a proper memoir and decided to read on Audible.

Talking to Canadians definitely has a niche market, but I found it to be an interesting read. Rick goes pretty in depth about how he got his start in comedy and it covers everything up until he started doing the Mercer Report. There’s a lot about how he found comedy and acting in high school and his years on 22 minutes, which I did find pretty fascinating.

Of course, Rick makes for a great audiobook narrator and I would highly recommend doing the audio if you’re reading this book. I read it back to back with Mark Critch’s new book, which I also did with both comedians last year. Between Final Report and Son of a Critch, I’d give the edge to Critch, but overall I preferred Talking to Canadians to An Embarrassment of Critch’s, though they’re both great books. They actually make surprisingly complementary reads as well since both men have 22 minutes to thank for jumpstarting their careers. I read Critch’s book first, but if you’re going to read both, start with Talking to Canadians, it makes a bit more sense chronologically.

Overall a fun read if you like memoirs and funny Canadians!

Consent

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Annabel Lyon
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Sep. 2020 (read Sep. 2021)

I picked up Consent at my local indie bookstore because it’s written by a Vancouver author. I was slightly deterred from purchasing because it has quite low ratings on goodreads, but the plot featured two sets of sisters and sounded really interesting to me, so I decided to go for it. Now that I’ve read it, I would say that Consent is one of those uniquely weird Canada lit books that really works for some people and doesn’t work at all for others. I admit I do like a good weird book and fortunately, this one worked for me!

It’s been a while now since I read it, so bear with me if some of the details are a little foggy. The book features two sets of sisters that briefly connect with each other within the story, but aren’t really related to one another. The first set of sisters, Sara and Mattie grow up in Vancouver in their large family home. Mattie has a cognitive disability and lives full time with their mother, while Sara goes off in search of a different life in Toronto. With the death of their mother, Sara begrudgingly returns to Vancouver to take care of Mattie.

The second set of sisters, Saskia and Jenny are about a decade younger and are twins. Despite their closeness, they lead very different lives and when Jenny is in an accident, Saskia begins to question everything about herself, her sister, and their relationship. It’s a character driven story that focuses primarily on Sara and Saskia and examines familial bonds and the effects of both grief and guilt. Both sets of sisters experience tragedy and discover they have a common link between them in the character of Robert, who was connected to each set of sisters.

I can see how this book wouldn’t work for a lot of people, for the most part, the characters are pretty unlikeable and have very questionable motivations, but I found it to be a really interesting character study and liked how different each sister was. Despite the strained relationships, each woman’s choices are guided by a sense of affection and I liked that the author delves into the complicated relationships that exist within many families. Skip this one if you need likeable characters, but check it out if you like character driven family sagas that examine some of the grey aspects of our psyche.

Em

Rating: 
Author: Kim Thuy
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: Sep. 2021 (read Oct. 2021)

This is going to be a short review to match a short book. Em was the last of the Giller Prize nominees that I read. I’ve seen the author’s other book, Ru, floating around the Canadian Lit scene for years and decided to give this one a try when I saw it on the longlist. I was intrigued by the time period, ‘Operation Babylift’, and the impact of the Vietnam War on the beauty salon industry in North America, as detailed in the synopsis.

I’ll say upfront that of all the nominees I read, this was my least favourite. I did still like it and was impressed by how much history Thuy was able to cover in such a short book – I thought it was a solid 3 star read. But it was an ambitious novel and I felt it just didn’t deliver on what I thought I was getting from the book jacket. The book is told mostly in prose, which makes for a quick reading experience, which is exacerbated by how quickly Thuy jumps from topic to topic.

I can see why it would be nominated for it’s unique style and it is perceptive. She says a lot with a limited amount of words, which is definitely a skill, the style just didn’t quite work for me. I think the first part of the novel is the strongest, which focuses on the My Lai massacre. This really drew me into the book and it was interesting the associations Thuy made to move the story along. I just wanted more from the rest of the narrative and didn’t find the part of the story set in America to be as tightly executed. It almost worked, I just wanted a bit more from it.

Park Bagger

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Marlis Butcher
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pub. Date: Apr. 2021 (read May 2021)

Congratulations to Marlis Butcher for having visited every National Park in Canada! That is an amazing accomplishment and I very much enjoyed reading about it.

I really liked how the book is organized by region, with an entry for every National Park. It makes it easy to reference if you just want to read about a specific park or region, though it does make some sections a little bit tedious. I honestly had no idea how many national parks Canada has in the north of the country. It makes sense because many of the parks are dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat. Many of the parks are difficult to access and in some cases, Marlis is one of a very limited number of visitors. A lot of the parks aren’t set up for tourism and Marlis brings a keen sense of adventure to every park she visits, many of which are not for the faint of heart!

I loved reading about these remote parks because each one was very much its own unique expedition for Marlis, with lots to write about it terms of gear, itinerary, terrain, wildlife, and activities. The many smaller parks of the provinces do start to blend together after a while though. Because of size and accessibility, her trips to many of these parks were shorter, leaving less of interest to write about, so I did find some of these sections a bit slow, but still enjoyed the opportunity to learn about every park.

Marlis is a good writer, she’s not a great writer, but I don’t expect her to be. The idea of this memoir is to share about her unique experience in our park system, so I never expected this to be a literary masterpiece and she does a good job. I would definitely recommend this to nature lovers and really enjoyed the experience of visiting every park in Canada through Marlis’ eyes!