Title: When Breath Becomes Air
Author: Paul Kalanithi
My Rating: ♥♥♥
You know, if this wasn’t such a tragic and moving story in and of itself, I would probably have given this book two stars. But I feel like I should give the author a break since he was terminally ill and he actually passed away while he was still writing the book. I feel kind of bad giving it only 3 stars.
Look, it’s a sad and moving story. Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the age of 36. That’s only a couple of years older than me. But, in my opinion, there was something missing in his telling of his story. I have read some reviews describing the writing as “poetic” and “moving” but, to be honest, I felt that it was quite dry and clinical. It felt to me more like a text book than it should have.
I found that the most moving parts of the book were the foreword by Abraham Verghese and the epilogue by the author’s wife. In the middle were stories and anecdotes, mostly from the author’s experiences as a neurosurgical resident in the hospital. How hard he worked and the passion he said he felt for his work.
I think maybe I was ready and prepared for a different kind of book. I thought I would be learning about how a neurosurgeon would have a unique perspective on life when his own was ending at such a young age. And I guess that was delivered, but it was a bit too dry and factful for my liking.
Title: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of Trevor Noah until I read this book. Most people know him as the host of The Daily Show, but I don’t really watch much TV, and so I hadn’t even heard his name when his book was chosen, along with Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o for my monthly bookclub. But I’m really glad that I was led to this book and had the chance to read it and get to know a bit about this guy.
Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984, during a time when interracial unions were a crime punishable with significant jail time. His mother was a black Xhosa woman, and his father a white Swiss man. So you can see where the title Born a Crime came from.
I think it was somewhat inevitable that Trevor Noah would grow up with an exceptional sense of humour after the things he had to live through as a kid. He couldn’t even go out and about with his own mother because the colour of his skin would reveal the crime that his mother and father had committed! Continue reading
Title: Dreams in a Time of War
Author: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
I was glad that this book was chosen along with Born a Crime by Trevor Noah for my monthly bookclub. I haven’t read many books about Africa or by African authors, and I haven’t traveled to that part of the world at all, and I think reading books like these is one of the best ways to learn about the history of different parts of the world.
Thiong’o’s childhood memoir certainly didn’t disappoint me. He grew up in Kenya in the ’40s and ’50s, which was a time of intense turmoil in that country. This book is a collection of the author’s recollections from early childhood right up to the time he leaves for high school. He is a wonderful storyteller, and he expertly weaves in history “lessons” and interesting, engaging stories.
The anecdotes are told mostly from the point of view of the child that the author was when the events happened. I think this lends a charming perspective to the story, and it lets the reader do a bit of their own thinking about what went on. Now I really want to read some more of Thiong’o’s works to see if and how his perspective changed as he grew up and moved to the western world.
I would also love to know more about Thiong’o’s mother, and I wonder if any of his other books go into more detail about her. She is a strong woman. She was kicked out by her husband, basically because her livestock and agriculture were doing better than his at a time when he was down and out. At the same time, she had two sons fighting on opposite sides of a horrible war. And all the while, she encourages Ngũgĩ to always do his best. You get the feeling that she doesn’t even really have a goalpost against which to measure his achievements, because every time he tells her about something she replies with “But is that the best you could have done?” even when he gets into the prestigious high school. Nonetheless, he is inspired and encouraged by her throughout his childhood.
Title: A Daughter’s Deadly Deception
Author: Jeremy Grimaldi
My Rating: ♥♥♥
I first heard of this chilling story on my favourite true crime podcast, Casefile (seriously, if you’re into true crime, you have to check it out). I was surprised and excited to hear about this local Toronto-area case on the Australian podcast, and so of course, I had to look it up for more information. Of course, the book has a lot more detail than the 2-and-a-half-hour podcast, so it was great to delve into this case.
Jennifer Pan was the daughter of immigrants from Vietnam who had worked themselves silly trying to give Jennifer and her brother a better chance at life. In primary school, Jennifer was a golden child, with almost perfect grades at school and numerous awards in piano and ice skating. Something started to change in her when she hit grade nine, and that’s where it all started going downhill for her. Suddenly she wasn’t doing so well at school, so she started down a rabbit hole of lies by fudging her report cards. When she failed a subject and her university offer was withdrawn, the web of lies deepened and she started to pretend she was going to school. And all of this so as not to look like a failure in her parents’ eyes. Continue reading
Title: The Appetites of Girls (Audiobook)
Author: Pamela Moses
My Rating: ♥♥1/2
Francesca, Ruth, Opal and Setsu. These four girls couldn’t really be any more different from each other, yet they are thrown together as suite mates in their first year of university at Brown. The book tells each of their stories from childhood through to the present time, in particular weaving in each of their relationships with their mothers and with food. Continue reading
At the moment, I have quite a few books waiting for me on my Overdrive virtual bookshelf, as well as a few of my hotly anticipated titles on hold.
There’s an interesting hodge podge on my virtual bookshelf (checked out from library and need to read in the next coupe of weeks): Continue reading
Title: The Exclusives
Author: Rebecca Thornton
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
My partner recently read The Exclusives and recommended it to me. She couldn’t put it down, and I found that I couldn’t either once I got into it!
The book is set in an exclusive girls’ boarding school in London, UK. Josephine and Freya are the best of friends, and after Josephine is named Head Girl in her boarding school house, they head out to celebrate one last time before the heavy responsibilities of the year set in. The author reveals very early in the book that something awful goes down, and it seems to be something that changes all of the girls involved significantly and fundamentally. But the charming thing about this book is that you don’t really find out exactly what happened that night until close to the end. Continue reading
Title: The Dark Net: Inside the Digital World
Author: Jamie Bartlett
My Rating: ♥♥♥
I heard about The Dark Net in a podcast I was listening to about the horrible things that people get up to on corners of the internet. The author was interviewed on the topic, and it sounded like he had some interesting things to say. I’m sure I must have heard about the “dark net” before, but it didn’t stick and it felt like I was hearing about it for the first time. A world of secret websites where anything goes and you can’t get there using a normal browser? Tell me more! Continue reading
Author: Joseph Boyden
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
Stories about Indigenous Canadians have been my flavour of the month. I started out with Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire, and continued with The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew. My Canada Reads 2017 favourite was The Break by Katherena Vermette (sadly voted out on day one, but that’s another story for another time).
Wenjack tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year old boy who ran away from a residential school in 1966. Sadly, he didn’t know that his family lived hundreds of kilometres away when he set out to walk home along the train tracks, and he passed away after only a few days out there. Continue reading
Title: The Break
Author: Katherena Vermette
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
I hope this book wins Canada Reads 2017. There you go. Out of all of the 6 or 7 longlist and shortlisted books I’ve read so far, this one stands way ahead of the rest in my opinion.
The book starts with Stella, a mother who hears and sees a terrible attack outside her house. With her baby and young daughter in the house, she can’t really run outside to help, so she calls the police. From there, the story slowly and delightfully unravels, with each chapter told from the perspective of a different woman from four generations in the same family. Continue reading