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.

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!

Every Summer After

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Carley Fortune
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pub. Date: May 2022

I was really feeling in the mood for a romance and oh my goodness, I devoured this one. Every Summer After has been making the circuit on social media this year and I was particularly excited about it being a Canadian author and novel. I love Canadian lit, but a lot of it is really heavy and often weird. I found this to be one of the most accessible Canadian contemporaries and I loved the setting in Toronto and rural Ontario. It is surprising how much more realistic and relatable a book can seem just from a familiar setting (even though I’ve never even lived in Ontario).

Every Summer After is a second chance, friends to lovers romance between Persephone (Percy) and Sam, beginning when they meet at age 13. Percy’s parents purchase a lakeside cottage in the sleepy town of Barry’s Bay and she quickly becomes fast friends with her next door neighbour Sam, spending every summer with him until they start university. Because it’s a second chance romance, it’s a dual timeline – split between when Percy and Sam first meet, and their reunion a decade later for Sam’s mom’s funeral. I find dual timeline stories can be very hit or miss, but I thought this one was actually really well done. Both timelines were compelling and I found myself equally invested in both (a rare occurrence). 

Second chance romance isn’t one of my favourite tropes. I always find it a bit unbelievable and sad that 2 people could still be madly in love after 10 years without being able to resolve their differences. I don’t buy into the idea that there’s only one person for someone and while I do believe in soulmates, I think they are made through the shared experience of growing and loving together rather than by fate. Knowing the reason why Sam and Percy’s relationship ends the first time around, I could buy into the premise for this second chance romance. I would definitely need time and space from the other person if this happened in my relationship, though I also think I would never have been able to reconcile.

However, as a friends to lovers romance, I adored this story! Booktok is obsessed with enemies to lovers, and they can be fun, but friends to lovers will always take the number one spot in my heart! Friends to lovers stories are so much more believable to me, both because I value emotional connection with people, and I think it’s so easy to fall in love with someone you already like and who already takes up valuable real estate in your life. 

Percy and Sam’s love story was so beautiful and believable to me. It had a very natural progression, with both of them connecting on so many levels before starting a physical relationship. I found Sam to be somewhat frustrating, though I understood his trepidation in getting too serious, too fast. Likewise, I could understand why Percy was upset with him, though I couldn’t excuse the big ugly thing that happens.

But it’s so easy to fall in love at 13 years old and it does become an all-consuming thing to teenagers. Percy and Sam were both so young and trying to make incredibly grown up decisions that they frankly didn’t have the maturity for, so I could forgive both of them for their mistakes. I still fell in love with them – they are good people, even though they are flawed and make errors in judgement, just like anyone else.

I do want to say that this book had too much cheating and almost-cheating for me to really be able to overlook it. The author tries to explain away some of the cheating (the characters hadn’t made a formal commitment; they just broke up; etc) so I guess it really depends on your own personal definition and code when it comes to cheating. I felt that the way the characters bent the rules in some cases to still be hurtful and unfair and I want to acknowledge that you can emotionally cheat on your partner, which for some people is more hurtful than a classic affair. I personally have zero tolerance for cheating, so it was hard for me to overlook it.

So overall I’m a bit uncomfortable with giving this 4 stars, but I can’t deny I was transfixed by the story. All of these characters felt intensely real to me. I wouldn’t call it a fluffy romance novel because there is a lot of depth here. I haven’t read a lot of other second chance romance novels, but the ones I have read didn’t feature characters with the same kind of history as Sam and Percy, which is why I didn’t really like them. Sam and Percy definitely had a lot of history and I’m glad the author dedicates the time to taking us through that history. The reason for their estrangement is very believable and because they were so young at the time and such good friends before that, I could believe the draw between the two of them to want to reconcile, even 10 years later.

So while I don’t condone everything in this book, I can’t deny I still really liked it! Carley Fortune has another book coming out this year, which I will probably read, but from the synopsis, it’s sounds very similar to this one. It’s another second chance romance, but without the history between the characters that Sam and Percy have, so I’m a bit on the fence about it. Either way, I’m glad I read this one! I might be a teensy bit in love with Sam Florek now…

Brown Girls

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Daphne Palasi Andreades
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Jan. 2022

I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s a short book told in a series of vignettes from the perspective of the chorus “we” of American brown girls. It takes us through the lives of brown girls and the 2nd generation immigrant experience, from childhood to death, so it’s pretty ambitious in scope.

I loved the style of the book. I don’t think I’ve ever read an entire book told from a perspective like this and the short chapters made for an easy reading experience. It’s not quite prose, but the writing is lyrical and I liked that the story wasn’t limited to one perspective or protagonist. Even though the structure is ambitious, I liked that the author takes us through the lives of brown girls over time. I viewed it as a snapshot at the different stages of life and I thought there were some really perceptive ideas here. My favourite chapter by far was “Those who leave and those who stay”, which was a gutting read for someone who chose to leave.

What I was unsure of was whether the author really has the credentials to write from this perspective. It’s a bold claim to try and represent the experience of so many different cultures and countries. I’m sure there are lots of common threads and similarities with the immigrant experience, but despite the “we” of the book, a predominant voice still emerged of a 2nd generation woman who got out of Queen’s by going to good schools and ending up with a white partner. This is definitely a perspective, but I know it’s not the only perspective. I would have liked to see more varied perspectives if you’re going to rely on a chorus narrator to carry your story. It’s ambitious for any single author to carry such lived experience.

To an extent the structure is also a weakness because we only skim the surface of brown girls experiences, so it is somewhat lacking in depth. Personally this didn’t really bother me though because I feel there are lots of other single POV novels out there that get into the nitty gritty. This was a higher level look, just maybe not high enough to represent such a broad spectrum of voices and identities.