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
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: One Hour in Paris: a True Story of Rape and Recovery
Author: Karyn L. Freedman
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
This book is one of the 8 that I picked from the Canada Reads 2017 longlist. I didn’t get to finish it before the shortlist came out, and unfortunately it’s not one of the 5 contenders. But I continued reading it anyway.
Freedman was brutally raped as a young student traveling Europe. Of course, the event changed her life in many ways, and she still seems to feel it often even though she has had many years now to work on her recovery. The book starts out with that scene in Paris in 1990, and continues with her experiences of the recovery. The author is a philosopher, and as you might expect, she offers her philosophical views on rape and culture. Continue reading
January was a busy reading month for me. The CBC Canada Reads longlist was announced on December 23rd, and I immediately felt the pressure to read as many titles as I could from the list before they announced the shortlist. I picked 8 that I was interested in, and I was able to finish 5 of those by the end of the month. Now that the 5 contenders have been announced, it turns out that I read 2 of them, so it shouldn’t be hard to finish the other 3 before the end of March.
On top of that, I was still finishing up The Light Between Oceans, which I started in December, and I had a couple of books to get through for my bookclub.
This is the list of books I read throughout January: Continue reading
Title: The Reason You Walk
Author: Wab Kinew
My Rating: ♥♥♥
I read The Reason You Walk to discuss at my monthly bookclub. We choose two books per month, and this month it was this one by Wab Kinew together with The Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire (click the link to see my review of that one).
I was busy trying to read as many books as I could from the CBC Canada Reads 2017 Longlist, and so I didn’t get around to starting this one until a couple of days before the bookclub meeting. Luckily, I found it to be a pretty quick read. Continue reading
Title: Waiting for First Light
Author: Roméo Dallaire
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥
This is the fourth book that I have read from the CBC Canada Reads 2017 Longlist, and probably the first one that I can see actually making it into the shortlist. Roméo Dallaire is a retired Canadian Army general, and a former senator. He was in command of a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the genocide in the 90s. This book is about the effect that the horrible, horrible things that happened in Rwanda have had on the rest of his life ever since he came home. Continue reading