February Summary

You wouldn’t think that 3 days would make that much of a difference, but only having 28 days in February always makes the month go by so quickly!

I’m really happy about the 3 books I challenged myself to read in February as part of my goal to read to 3 books about Canada. I think it would have taken me a while to get to any of these books if I hadn’t publicly challenged myself to do so. To be honest, I even debating dropping the last one from the list and just reading 2, but I’m glad I pushed myself to read all 3 because I really liked them all! It’s only been 2 months, but actually taking the time to do some research and thoughtfully pick my challenges has been paying off with some quality literature.

Anyways, let’s jump right in with my February Summary:

Books read: 9
Pages read: 3,276
Main genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Favourite book: Saga, Volume 8

February started off with a stream of half-star reads. I don’t like giving half star ratings, but it’s a fine line between 3 stars and 4 stars and sometimes you just need to compromise. So I gave my first 3 reads of the month all 3.5 stars.

I started off with Tiger Lily, which is a re-telling of Peter Pan from Tinkerbell’s perspective, featuring Tiger Lily as the main protagonist. I thought this book was actually fantastically written, Jodi-Lynn Anderson’s writing is very beautiful and lyrical, but I struggled to get into the story, hence the 3.5 star rating. I already bought a copy of Anderson’s latest novel, Midnight at the Electric, and I’m excited to check out some more of her writing.

Next I read an advanced reader copy of Lisa Jewell’s latest book, Then She Was Gone, that I got from Netgalley. I’ve been dying to read some of Jewell’s stuff, so I was happy to give this one a try. I liked it in that it was formatted quick differently from any other mystery/thriller that I’ve read, but it was a little bit predictable in parts and I also found it extremely disturbing. However, like Tiger Lily, I’m intrigued to try some more of Jewell’s work next time I’m in the mood for another mystery!

The last of the 3.5 star reads was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I have to admit, I really didn’t want to read this one. It sounded a lot like The Rosie Project to me, which I didn’t like, but my book club picked it for our February read and I’ve been seeing a lot of good press about it, so what could I do? This was probably my least favourite of the 3. I found it kind of boring, but I do think it was a well written book (definitely better than The Rosie Project) and I appreciate what the author was trying to do with this novel.

As you can see, I was kind of putting off tackling any of my Canadian reads for my Monthly Challenge, so after I finished Eleanor I decided to tackle The Boat People and The Break. Both of these books were fantastic! I feel like it took me forever to get through The Boat People, but it was a fascinating read about immigration and morality and it really made me think. In contrast, The Break is a family drama about a Métis family and all the hurts and grievances they’ve weathered together over the years. It was a inter-generational read that was just so well written and had so much depth, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Actually, in between those 2 books I snuck in a quick reading of the latest Saga volume, which came out at the end of December. I slowly worked my way through the first 7 volumes of Saga last year, and while I really liked them all, this one affected me more than the rest. I think Brian K. Vaughan actually went a little more heavy-handed than usual on the social commentary in this one. At first I thought it was a bit much, but I guess I was wrong because this volume just stands out more than any of the others for me and it was pure enjoyment from start to finish. Vaughan tackles abortion, miscarriage, and grief in this volume and it really packed a punch, especially at the very end when parts of the cast are finally re-united.

I was avoiding starting the final book in my February Challenge all month, mostly due to length, so I fit in a quick read of The Lightning Thief. This is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and I’ve been wanting to read this for ages because everyone seems obsessed with everything Rick Riordan writes! This was another book that was just a lot of fun. The writing was hilarious and there was so much action packed into this middle grade book! Percy was witty and I loved his sidekicks, Annabeth and Grover. I would like to read more of these, but I suspect it may take my a while to get to them, but they’re definitely good if you’re looking for a laugh.

The final book in my Monthly Challenge was The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston. I admit, I did not want to read this one, but like I said, I’m glad I pushed myself to finish it. I had a lot to say about this one that I don’t want to get into again, so I’ll just say that it’s historical fiction about Newfoundland’s first premier, Joey Smallwood, who helped usher Newfoundland into confederation with Canada. Check out my full length review for more details. This book was meaningful to me as a Newfoundlander and I’m really proud that I finally read it. I gave it 4 stars.

And the last read I squeezed into February was The Power. I’ve been wanting to read this one since it came out at the end of last year since it’s been called the new ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ (along with Red Clocks). It’s dystopian science fiction where women develop the ability to produce electricity and use it through their hands. The book has such a great premise, but I was really disappointed with the author’s follow-through on the premise; I thought the book lacked focus and was poorly executed. It still make me think a lot though, so I gave it another 3.5 stars.

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The Boat People

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Sharon Bala
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Read: Feb. 2018

Oh my goodness, I feel like this book took forever to finish! Between going on a ski trip last weekend and the Olympics stealing all of my attention, it took me a bit longer than anticipated to get through The Boat People. But I finally finished!

This was the first book of my February Reading Challenge and I am a little concerned I might not fit them all in this month because I am just completely obsessed with the Olympics! This month I challenged myself to read 3 books about Canada and this was my pick from the Canada Reads 2018 shortlist.

The Boat People is written by Sharon Bala, who fascinatingly was born in Dubai, raised in Ontario, and currently lives in Newfoundland, and it’s about a ship full of refugees from Sri Lanka who landed on Vancouver’s shores in 2010. It was a bit of a thrill to read a book about the place where I currently live, as I don’t read that much Canadian literature, and this was a fascinating bit of history about an event I knew shockingly nothing about.

Sri Lanka has been torn apart by war for decades, driving many people to desperation to escape the violence in any way they can. These 492 Sri Lankan’s board a cargo ship bound for Canada in an effort to seek out a better life. Fortunately everyone survives the journey and they are thrilled when they first see the coast of Vancouver Island, but the welcome party is cut short when they are promptly separated and detained in two prisons while the government fumbles to try and decide what to do about them.

I knew very little about the process for migrants who show up un-announced at the border and this was very eye-opening. Refugees must first seek permission to request asylum and then go through admissibility hearings for their request to be granted. In this case, the government was worried about terrorists being on board and wanted to delay the process as much as possible to assuage the public’s fears. The adjudicators had very little information to go on outside of the refugee’s testimony and because the government wanted to delay the process to dissuade copycat voyages, the refugees were forced to remain in these detainment prisons for months while their hearings were repeatedly denied and postponed.

I did struggle a bit with this book as there’s a lot of legalese in it, a lot of (slightly confusing) Sri Lankan history, and a lot of character names and stories that I struggled to keep straight, but I really liked how Bala wrote this book and she was not shy in tackling a lot of different issues.

The story is told from 3 perspectives: Mahindan, a single father who made the journey from Sri Lanka with his 6-year old son Sellian; Priya, an articling student (of Sri Lankan heritage) who’s firm takes on 5 refugee cases pro bono and has her help out on the cases; and Grace, an adjudicator (of japanese heritage) who is assigned by the xenophobic Minister of Immigration to adjudicate the detainment hearings.

This is a morally-gray book and I appreciated Bala for not making this a straight-forward morality tale. She tackles so many issues in this book; the xenophobia of the Canadian public, the refugee diaspora, the immigration process, Canada’s past failings, the importance of history and remembrance, reconciliation, culture shock, and the list goes on.

The novel first presents us with the refugees, ecstatic to arrive on Canada’s shores, and the brutality of their arrival and immediate imprisonment. In my opinion, you can’t help but empathize with them and think the government harsh. But then Bala gets into the morally gray areas of war and how good and innocent people can be forced and coerced into participating in what western countries view as terrorist organizations.

Are we right to studiously evaluate every refugee who comes into Canada for terrorist affiliation? I think yes, but do we need to steal their humanity from them in the process? No. Do we have the right to deport people when deportation will mean certain torture and death? People may be split on that opinion, but it’s a question that requires empathy and understanding that we will never have by “othering” people and fearing them.

Innocent people are forced to do bad things in wartime, but how to we evaluate those acts and decide if the intent was forced or malicious? What’s direct involvement in acts of “terrorism” and what’s proximate? These are impossible questions to answer and as much as I often disliked Grace’s line of thinking, I could appreciate the pressure that was put on her in these quasi-legal proceedings. All she has to go on is the migrant’s story and how is she to know what is truth? That said, she was an adjudicator appointed by the government in power, which begs the question if she should have the power to make those decisions at all.

However, I liked the contrast of Grace’s story and how Bala demonstrates how cyclical history can be. Grace is the grand-daughter of Japanese immigrants and takes a hard line on border safety and who should be permitted to enter Canada. She is determined to safeguard her daughters freedom to move around without fear, while at the same time struggling with her mother’s declining health. Her mother, Kumi, has Alzheimer’s and is slowly regressing into the past. Her parents had been interned during WWII and lost everything. They never spoke up about the injustice and kept their heads down to give their children a chance to become “true” Canadians. However, now she worries that the apathy of her parents has been passed down to her daughter and grandchildren and that Grace has forgotten the injustices of the past, perpetuating the cycle of oppression.

I thought it was an interesting theme on how people who were once oppressed and othered can learn to be oppressors themselves. And on how important reconciliation is, not just for righting our wrongs, but for protecting against repeating them, to keep fresh an empathy for others.

So while I did feel like it took me forever to get through this book, it was worth it. The Boat People made me think a lot and while it definitely was more ‘liberal-leaning’, it wasn’t a straight forward good vs evil narrative. It’s complex, gritty, and heartbreaking. A fabulous and meaningful debut for a Canadian author.

February Reading Challenge

January’s reading challenge was a roaring success, so I’m excited to set a new challenge for February. I loved all 3 of the books I read in January and hopefully I can replicate it again this month. You can see my January Summary here.

I was really torn between two challenge ideas for February. I have a pile of fantasy novels piling up on my shelf, so I was tempted to read 3 of them for February, but I decided to actually challenge myself and get a little bit more specific with some books I’ll be less likely to read anyways. That said, I may set a genre challenge every third month or so to help work my way through my TBR and try and keep my challenges from being too heavy or onerous.

So without further ado, my reading challenge for February is:

Read 3 books about Canada

It’s pretty embarrassing how few Canadian novels I’ve actually read and with CBC posting the 2018 shortlist for Canada Reads, I was inspired to try and knock back a few of my Canadian authors! My 3 picks for February are:

  1. The Boat People by Sharon Bala
  2. The Break by Katherena Vermette
  3. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

I’ve been anxiously waiting for CBC to drop the 2018 shortlist for Canada Reads and I decided to pick one of the 5 contenders for my reading challenge. The Boat People is based on the true story of a cargo ship of refugees from Sri Lanka that landed on Canada’s shores in 2010. However, instead of finding sanctuary all 500 of the refugees were thrown into a detention centre. The story is told through several different perspectives of both the refugees and people involved in the case. That’s all I really know about it and I’ve decided to read the book before I do any further research. So I guess I’m not done with immigration stories yet, but I didn’t read any books about refugees last month, so it’ll be interesting to get this perspective.

I’m trying to get a diverse selection of books, so I like that The Boat People is written by a woman of colour and that it features Vancouver a little bit (my current home). However, I literally just looked up the author to learn a little bit more about her and I was actually ecstatic to discover that while she was born in Dubai and grew up in Ontario, she currently calls St. John’s home (my hometown!!).

My second pick, The Break, was recommended to me by a co-worker and then I started seeing it everywhere and have only heard good things about it. It’s about a Métis woman in Manitoba who potentially witnesses a crime on the break outside her house. I don’t know a whole lot about the plot, but the book synopsis informs me that it’s a inter-generational saga that features the narratives of all the people who get tied up in the case. I’ve been loving family dramas lately, so I’m excited to dive into this one. The Break is also written by a woman of Métis decent, so I was inspired to give this in a read in order to support more first nations writers. Side note: The Marrow Thieves has also made the 2018 shortlist and sounds fascinating, so I’m hoping to find time to read this one in the near future as well.

Finally, I wanted to read something about Newfoundland since it is my homeland and I have a deep love for the island, even though I’ve been loving living in Vancouver for the last 4 years. There is a surprisingly amount of literature about Newfoundland, but it was hard to find one that was super appealing. I decided on A Colony of Unrequited Dreams, which is historical fiction about Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first premier when we joined confederation in 1949.

I read Greg Malone’s Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders a few years ago, which is an exposé about how Newfoundland came to join Canada. I found it fascinating and wrote a whole blog post on it here, so I’ve decided to expand my knowledge and give this book a try. I’m a little nervous about it though because my copy is 600 pages of tiny font. Usually book length doesn’t bother me, but I’m worried this one won’t be an easy read, so we’ll see how I do.

Anyways, wish me luck and I’ll check back in in a month!

American Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism
Read: Jan. 2018

Ibi Zoboi! Way to rip my heart out and stomp on it! What even? I was not expecting this.

This was the last book in my January Challenge to read 3 books about immigration. I read Girl in Translation and Pachinko earlier this month and loved both of them. American Street was a whole different kind of story, quite unlike either of the others. It was probably my least favourite of the 3 books, but still really good.

Fabiola Toussaint was born in America, but raised in Haiti because her mother didn’t have citizenship. Her Aunt Jo and her 3 cousins, Chantal, Pri, and Donna all live in Detroit and regularly send money back to Haiti to help out Fabiola and her mother. When Fab is entering her junior year of high school, they send enough money for her and her mother to finally move to America for good. Fab has American citizenship, but her mother has to get all the necessary visas to “visit” America. Unfortunately, when they enter America, Fab’s mother is detained at the border and she is forced to go on to Detroit without her.

Her aunt and cousins live at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Fab has been desperate to come to America to live in the land of the free, but she doesn’t feel very free with her mother detained in an immigration prison in New Jersey and navigating her cousins’ world is scary and overwhelming. Her cousins are notorious at school and a little rough around the edges. Fabiola is pulled into their world and discovers the dark underside of what it costs to chase after the american dream.

Like I said, this was really different from any of the other immigration books I’ve read this year. I think Zoboi really captures Fab’s Haitian spirit and what it’s like growing up black in Detroit. She intertwines some cultural elements, like Haitian vodou, which is very much a spiritual thing for Fab, but is usually interpreted more like witchcraft in modern society. She weaves in some magical realism which surprised me and first, but I thought really worked with the story.

Voice was key for me in this novel. I’m a privileged white girl who grew up in a predominantly white town, so I definitely can’t relate to Fabiola or her cousins, yet their voices rang so true. I had no trouble believing in Zoboi’s characters. Fab’s uneasiness when she first arrives at her aunt’s house; Chantal’s desire to chase education but her reluctance to leave her family; Donna’s inability to say ‘enough is enough’; and Pri’s fierce and protective love for her sisters. My only complaint would be that Zoboi didn’t actually go deep enough into each of these characters. She formulated some really excellent characters, I just wanted more of them.

I really wasn’t anticipating where the plot of this story went. I thought it was mostly going to be about Fab trying to re-unite with her mom. While this was definitely an underlying conflict throughout the entire novel, Zoboi tackled a lot of other issues in this story. Although I would have liked to have heard her mother’s story as well and learn about what it’s actually like to be detained. I never really knew where the story was going and felt quite out of my depth with some of the content, much as I imagine Fabiola must have felt arriving in Detroit and trying to fit in with girls attacking each other over boyfriends and drugs passing hands on the sly. But Zoboi was quite unflinching in her delivery. I really did not see the end coming in this book and parts of it and brutal.

So like I said, probably my least favourite of the 3 books that I read, but actually very complimentary because this offered a totally different perspective than the other two. The characters in Girl in Translation and Pachinko are very meek and I loved Fabiola’s strength in this novel. She makes some pretty big mistakes, but she’s not afraid to chase after what she wants and she is very brave and courageous. Her culture shock was quite different and I liked getting another perspective. She could have let herself be pushed around, but she wouldn’t stand for it and decided to make her own place. Family is a central theme to this novel and I enjoyed the messiness that was the Francois sisters and Fabiola’s relationships with them.

Way to go Zoboi, this is a great debut novel!

Pachinko

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Min Jin Lee
Genres: Historical Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018

It feels like I’ve been working on Pachinko for ages, but I finally finished it. I flew through several books at the beginning of the year, but it was nice to settle down with this one, which is definitely an epic and had a lot of depth.

If you’ve been following along, I decided to read 3 books about immigration for my January Challenge and Pachinko was my second selection. I read Girl in Translation earlier this month and loved it. I picked Pachinko because it’s been getting rave reviews and it’s one of the few books I found about immigration that wasn’t a story about immigrating to America.

Pachinko begins in Korea in 1910 and takes us on a journey with 4 generations of the same family as they are forced to leave their ancestral home and build a life for themselves in Japan. This was a great history lesson and I learned a lot about both Korea and Japan and the touchy relationship between the two. Korea was colonized by Japan between 1910 and 1945 and split into North and South Korea after the second world war.

The story starts with Sunja and her parents, Hoonie and Yangjin, who run a boarding house in the small town of Yeoungdo in southern Korea. Sunja falls for a wealthy Korean visiting from Japan and becomes pregnant. Fortunately, one of their boarders, a young christian minister Isak, feels led to marry Sunja to save her from the shame of bearing a child out of wedlock and so that her child might take his name. Isak had been on his way to Japan for an appointment with a church when he stopped at the boarding house and they marry and Sunja accompanies him to Japan.

Relations between Japanese and Koreans were not good at this time and there is a lot of racism against the Koreans. The Japanese believe themselves to be the ruling class and think of Koreans as dirty and stupid. Sunja faces a lot of challenges living in Japan and the novel takes us though 80 years of history through Sunja’s children and grandchildren.

This is definitely not a fast read, but it is very impressive in it’s scope. I haven’t read a lot of historical epics (Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants trilogy is the only other one that comes to mind) and at times Pachinko felt very slow moving, while at other times I was really into it and wanted to know what would happen next. With 4 generations, we inevitably experience many deaths in this book and some of them were actually quite shocking and emotional!

There are so many great themes in this book. I loved Sunja and Kyunghee’s characters and their experiences as women and with motherhood. Lee continuously explores women’s roles throughout the novel and the expectation that a woman’s lot in life is to suffer. Their husbands and family were everything to Sunja and Kyunghee and it never occurred to them to seek happiness for themselves outside of their family. They both had dreams for their lives, yet they were always secondary to the dreams of the men. With each new generation it was interesting to see how women’s roles would change and I enjoyed when Sunja starts to question what her life might have been or could be now if she had made other choices.

The familial relationships in the story are heartbreaking. There’s so many different relationships presented in this book and they were all very beautifully written (although sometimes tragic). This family is tried again and again. They all suffered an enormous amount as Koreans, but their tenacity was inspiring in what they were able to accomplish. I really liked Kyunghee and Kim and I was really intrigued about what happened to the Koreans who returned to North Korea after the war. Lee leaves us with quite a lot of unanswered questions, but I think this is very much indicative of the relationship between Japan and Korea. North Korea was very much a big black box and you never knew what happened there. Many Koreans had to live their entire lives without ever finding out what had become of their friends and family.

I liked Mozasu’s story with the Pachinko parlours as well and I loved the themes Lee tied in with the parlours. So many Koreans were trapped in a cycle of poverty in Japan. They were 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants who had come to the land of their colonizers in search of prosperity and were then later emancipated from their homeland. It was so hard for Koreans to succeed in Japan and they were always looked down upon, yet there was nothing in Korea for them to go back to.  Pachinko parlours are gambling dens where you can play these pinball-like machines in hopes of winning. Because of the gambling, parlour owners were often mixed up in dark criminal underworld and linked with the Yakuza, the Korean gangsters. I liked that despite being rough around the edges growing up, Mozasu was able to discover who he really was in the Pachinko parlours and become an honest man, despite how easy it would have been to become corrupted.

“Every morning, Mozasu and his men tinkered with the machines to fix the outcomes – there could only be a few winners and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones. How could you get angry at the ones who wanted to be in the game? Etsuko had failed in this important way – she had not taught her children to hope, to believe in the perhaps absurd possibility that they might win. Pachinko was a foolish game, but life was not.”

As a book about immigration, Pachinko was fantastic. There are so many thoughtful nuggets of information and shared experiences about immigration in this book. I was particularly moved when Mozasu had to take Solomon on his 14th birthday to get his fingerprints taken and get his documentation card so that he could remain in Japan. Even though he and his son had both been born in Japan, they were forced to renew their identity cards every 3 years and could potentially be deported to South Korea – a country neither of them had ever known. This is so relevant to what’s happening all over the world with white people spewing hate at immigrants that have been living and contributing to their countries and economies for years.

I’ll finish with a quote from Solomon towards the end of the novel which I loved for it’s hopefulness despite the decades of discrimination his family had experienced. I appreciated the relationships Lee built between the Koreans and the Japanese, to remind her readers that we are all just people. There are good actions and their are bad actions, but we are each our own and we can each actively make the decision to accept and support each other, rather than hate.

“Kazu was a shit, but so what? He was one bad guy, and he was Japanese… Even if there were a hundred bad Japanese, if there was one good one, he refused to make a blanket statement. Etsuko was like a mother to him; his first love was Hana; and Totoyama was like an uncle, too. They were Japanese, and they were very good.”