Book Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

american war


Reviewed by: Bethany
Genre: Fiction
Format: Softcover 

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 5/5 stars
In stock: YAS

Canada Reads 2k18: Take 2

Okay, after having now read two of the Canada Reads shortlist finalists, I’m pretty sure that the theme should have been “stuff that could definitely happen” or “one book to open your eyes before this stuff happens please oh my god”. I was talking to a customer about it and she said she felt that this storyline isn’t all that far fetched. Scary stuff, you guys.

Here’s the blurb from the back of Omar El Akkad’s debut, American War:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted, and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of the secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustice around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Just saying, but the back of the book literally says “open her eyes”, so…

This book is heartbreaking. It’s got civil war, refugees, global warming, and some old dude taking advantage of a child’s grief. At least it’s not a cliché (except maybe that last thing). Basically, I felt a lot of feelings.

Over the course of the book Sarat goes through some very dynamic changes and it’s especially frustrating when you consider the kind of life she could have had if she’d never met Albert Gaines. HE MAKES ME SO MAD. She’s such a victim of circumstance and this civil war really shapes who she becomes.

Here’s what Tahmoh Penikett had to say about the book he’ll be defending:

“An exceptional work of speculative fiction, Omar El Akkad’s book American War imagines the United States during a second Civil War. A war revolving around religious bigotry, regional hatred, racism, sexism and fake news. Triggered by the climate crisis and opposition of ‘off-oil’ northern states versus southern ‘drill baby drill’ states. This arresting and unsettling book teems with brilliant description, colourful characters and echoes of America today. This is the one book to open your eyes.”

I think this book is very relevant to the times we’re living in. Much like life, this book is extremely frustrating, but definitely worth experiencing. #simile

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Book Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

red clocks

Reviewed by: Savannah
Genre: Fiction
Format: Hardcover 

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 5/5 stars
In stock: Yes

This book was amazing! I bought it as soon as we managed to get it in stock and then proceeded to read it over the weekend and couldn’t put it down. All of the hype that I had heard was well deserved. The book drew me in almost instantly and I just wanted to know what would happen. There wasn’t a dull moment. The title was also so clever that once I figured out what it meant and how it related I just couldn’t get over how clever it is. Enjoy the synopsis from Goodreads

“Five women. One question. What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.”

The first question of this synopsis really, for me, sums up the entire book. It takes all of these different women and shows how they all struggle with their own womanhood in a very relatable way. The setting of this book to a time where women have no real say of what happens to their ‘reproductive bodies ‘and where the ‘perfect’ family is two parents just makes this question all that much more essential and highlighted. Is it your ability to be a mother that makes you a woman? Is it your want for personal freedom that makes you a woman? Or is it something else entirely? This book does a great job at asking these questions in such a simple yet effective way.

This book is one that feels slightly like a dystopian future book but also could totally be set in a very current timeline. I think Leni Zuma did such a good job on taking some very real and serious ideas that current politicians have suggested and making it a reality. It’s that perfect amount of scare that Margaret Atwood had with The Handmaid’s Tale in that nothing was too far off of a possibility.

I could also go on and on about how much I enjoy books that feature different character perspectives as this one did such a great job of it. Each character had a signature voice and personality. The writing styles changed just enough to showcase these differences. They were all so perfectly real to me.

I probably sound like a broken record saying that every book I have read this year is a new favourite and I will continue to think about and go back to these books, but if ladies stopped writing beautiful books then maybe I would stop. (PLEASE DON’T STOP! I NEED MORE BOOKS WRITTEN BY TALENTED LADIES IN MY LIFE!). This book was so well written and I may just recommend it to every single woman in my life because it was so great and also so perfect given the current political climate. This book was so amazing and I am worried this review doesn’t do it much justice.

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Book Review: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline



Reviewed by: Bethany
Genre: Fiction
Format: Softcover 

Page count: 180 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars
In stock: You know it.

This year’s theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes.

This is the first completed book in my journey (along with several coworkers) to read the Canada Reads shortlist. One down and four more to go before March 26th.

One of my reading goals from last year was to read more broadly – I tried to choose books written by women or people of colour…or women of colour! A lot of the Canada Reads titles take a step in that direction, which is exciting and important. Perspective is a cool thing.

The Marrow Thieves is being defended by Jully Black, who we all know and love from such jams as Sweat of Your Brow and Seven Day Fool. Jully Black already has me pumped for the debates next month, but I’m looking forward to hearing each panelist’s thoughts on this year’s topic – personally and in relation to the books.

The Marrow Thieves is set in a futuristic world where global warming has drastically changed the world’s landscape and, excluding North America’s Indigenous people, the general population is no longer able to dream. So, we meet Frenchie, a young Indigenous boy who is on the run from Recruiters who want to examine his bone marrow! Weird!

This book tackles two hot button issues: climate change and the disenfranchisement of Canada’s Indigenous people. Similar to when I read The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m bothered by how plausible this story is (aside from the marrow studying, of course). The global warming and the accompanying desperation is an uncomfortable foreshadowing.

Cherie Dimaline has written some fantastic characters! If you’re not emotionally attached to this group of people by the end of the book, then I worry about you. Speaking of the ending, it has the best/sweetest/cutest ending of all. The subject matter is a bummer, but I’m here for the end. I almost cried, which is saying something.

Let me tell you, you’d be a Seven Day Fool not to read this book. 😉

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Book Review: Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto


Reviewed by: Savannah
Genre: Biography
Page count: 256 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars
In stock: Yes

I am back and ready for another year of Canada Reads reviews, hope you all are too! The theme for this years Canada Reads is “One Book to Open Your Eyes”. This book isn’t one that I would usually pick for myself. I’ve only recently started to get into biographies and so when I read them its usually only for people I know of. That being said, this book was still super good. I enjoyed it quite a bit and it definitely opened my eyes. This book also happened to tie in nicely to my goal of reading more Canadian Non-fiction so double bonus! I’ll give you the Goodreads synopsis now so you can read what it’s about

The heart-rending true story of two families on either side of the Second World War-and a moving tribute to the nature of forgiveness

When the Second World War broke out, Ralph MacLean traded his quiet yet troubled life on the Magdalene Islands in eastern Canada for the ravages of war overseas. On the other side of the country, Mitsue Sakamoto and her family felt their pleasant life in Vancouver starting to fade away after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Ralph found himself one of the many Canadians captured by the Japanese in December 1941. He would live out his war in a prison camp, enduring beatings, starvation, electric feet and a journey on a hell ship to Japan, watching his friends and countrymen die all around him. Mitsue and her family were ordered out of their home and were packed off to a work farm in rural Alberta, leaving many of their possessions behind. By the end of the war, Ralph was broken but had survived. The Sakamotos lost everything when the community centre housing their possessions was burned to the ground, and the $25 compensation from the government meant they had no choice but to start again.

Forgiveness intertwines the compelling stories of Ralph MacLean and the Sakamotos as the war rips their lives and their humanity out of their grasp. But somehow, despite facing such enormous transgressions against them, the two families learned to forgive. Without the depth of their forgiveness, this book’s author, Mark Sakamoto, would never have existed.”

I think if anything, this book opened my eyes as to how ignorant of Canada’s terrible past I have been. In this case my ignorance was towards to internment of the Japanese population. I always knew that it had happened but it never really registered what exactly had happened, and just how recently it had happened. The hardships that the Sakamoto’s had to face broke my heart over and over again. The overt racism was already bad enough but the thought of having to leave my home to either a country or province I have never been to leaving my entire life behind just because the government said to do so is absolutely heartbreaking and unthinkable.

Reading about Ralph MacLean’s past was also just as hard to read. It is basically impossible for me to imagine being in a war. Reading it was also strange in that there’s no way one human has survived that much trauma and makes it out of the war alive, and yet that’s exactly what happened. And you know that the whole way through as if he didn’t this book wouldn’t exist. Yet there was still that small part of me that was preparing for death.

This book was also beautifully written and just a general good read. My absolute favourite quote from it is one that may stay with me for a very long time. “Breaking down is the easy part. Anyone, at any time, can break down. The act of coming together again is what makes a hero. Moving on, with an open heart, seems, at times, impossible. But it’s not.” That was one of those quotes where you read it and then just have to sit there with yourself and let it ruminate.

This was a really good read and I will definitely be rooting for it during the Canada Reads debates.

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Book Review: Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077

Reviewed by: Jen
Genre: Non-fiction – Autobiography/Memoir
Format: Soft cover

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3/5 stars
In stock: Yes


My second 2018 Canada Reads…read. This time around I didn’t feel the sense of enlightenment this year’s Canada Reads theme (One Book to Open Your Eyes) was striving to offer that my first did.

Am I glad that I heard Davidson’s versions of the kids on bus 3077’s stories? Yes. Absolutely. I’d have to be totally dead inside not to truly care about these kids and their lives, and I don’t think I’m quite there just yet. Do I think that Davidson cares deeply for those passengers, and looks back fondly at his time with them, and that their stories are profoundly important and necessary to be told? Without a doubt.

I’m actually hoping to hear from my colleagues that I’m wrong – that my irritation with Craig Davidson’s writing style was perhaps just subject to the times and places I found myself reading it – that it doesn’t actually become derivative or repetitive, and that Davidson isn’t really trying to milk a whole book out of a short story. For whatever reason, I’d love to be told to re-read it, that I was crazy to be annoyed with the random fictionalized chapters that Davidson threw into the mix – that in fact they did flow nicely with the memoir chapters. Essentially, I want to like this book, to root for it.

So with all of that said, I’ll simply insert here a GoodReads synopsis of the book and welcome any input from people who enjoyed it more than me!

With his last novel, Cataract City, Craig Davidson established himself as one of our most talented novelists. But in his early thirties, before writing that novel and before his previous work, Rust and Bone, was made into an Oscar-nominated film, Davidson experienced a period of poverty, apparent failure and despair. In this new work of intimate, riveting and timely non-fiction, based loosely on a National Magazine Award-winning article he published in The Walrus, Davidson tells the story of one year in his life–a year during which he came to a new, mature understanding of his own life and his connection to others. Or, as Davidson would say, he became an adult.

One morning in 2008, desperate and impoverished and living in a one-room basement apartment while trying unsuccessfully to write, Davidson plucked a flyer out of his mailbox that read, “Bus Drivers Wanted.” That was the first step towards an unlikely new career: driving a school bus full of special-needs kids for a year. Armed only with a sense of humour akin to that of his charges, a creative approach to the challenge of driving a large, awkward vehicle while corralling a rowdy gang of kids, and surprising but unsentimental reserves of empathy, Davidson takes us along for the ride. He shows us how his evolving relationship with the kids on that bus, each of them struggling physically as well as emotionally and socially, slowly but surely changed his life along with the lives of the “precious cargo” in his care. This is the extraordinary story of that year and those relationships. It is also a moving, important and universal story about how we see and treat people with special needs in our society.

Precious Cargo made the cut into CBC Read’s 2018 Canada Reads shortlist, and in March will be defended by Greg Johnson, one of North America’s top professional storm-chasers, an accomplished photographer, speaker and workshop leader.

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Book Review: Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T Lee


Reviewed by: Savannah
Genre: Fiction
Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 5/5 stars
In stock: Yes

I read this book for three reasons and three reasons only, 1. The cover was beautiful 2. CELESTE NG RECOMENEDED IT 3. I had heard it portrayed mental health in a very real way. If those three selling points worked for you great I’m probably done this review! If not I guess I will keep typing. I usually find myself liking a book and devouring it in like a day but this book was different. I found myself only reading a little bit every day savoring it. Now that you’re probably curious as to what this book is actually about I’ll give you the Goodread’s synopsis.

Two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it’s Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor’s diagnosis.

Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

Told from alternating perspectives, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its core, a heart-wrenching family drama about relationships and tough choices — how much we’re willing to sacrifice for the ones we love, and when it’s time to let go and save ourselves.”

If you’ve been reading all my other reviews you will know how much I love changing character perspectives so obviously this book started off great for me. There’s just something so magnificent about being in all the different characters heads that makes me so enthralled. In this case especially the chapters told from Lucia’s perspective were so interesting, especially given her mental illness. I don’t fully know how to put into her words how her perspective was something to be noted but it was really great. I think the balance of all the others characters perspectives just helped push the story along and showcase mental illness in such a way. Lucia living in both America and Ecuador was also a really interesting point on how mental illness is dealt with (or not) in different parts of the world. It was all very eye opening and interesting.

I found that all of the characters, despite their flaws were all extremely lovable and I wanted the best for them all. The relationships between all of the characters were realistic and I enjoyed how they all react to mental illness in different ways, just as one would expect. You have characters who don’t believe mental illness is real, those who tried to know everything medically so they could help in that way, and someone who didn’t know how to help. This book covers so many interesting and thought provoking topics that it was a pretty emotional read but one of those reads that you’re glad you finished and you feel like a new person after reading, even though that sounds cheesy its true.

Even though this review really only focused on the mental health angle of the book there is so much more going on and you should check it out even if that component doesn’t appeal to you. It was a really great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it for so many different reasons. I hope that Mira T Lee comes out with more work because I can’t wait to scoop it up. This was an amazing novel. This is a book I won’t stop thinking about and wont stop praising or recommending for quite some time.

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Book Review: Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Liz Amini-Holmes (Illustrator)


Reviewed by: Savannah
Genre: Kids Young
Page count: 112 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars
In stock: No but available for order

I happened across a copy of this book in our Hospice Corner and I figured I’d read it as I have been curious about it with all the schools purchasing it and the subject matter. Given what it’s about I figured it would fit in perfectly with my goal of reading Canadian non-fiction. Here is the Goodread’s synopsis

“The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls — all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school.

In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s collection and striking artwork from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl’s determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.”

I think that this was a really good nonfiction book for children as it helps put names and stories to the horrors of residential schools without getting into all of the terrible details. Personally however, I’m all ready for the nitty gritty that will sadden me so in that aspect I was disappointed but we don’t want children being haunted by those images like I would be. I am also really happy by the fact that schools are introducing children to books like this one as I certainly never knew about Residential schools when I was growing up and they’re such a tragic but vital part of history that everyone should know about.

This book featured some old historical photos of the author’s family and building associated with this story and that’s always a fun bonus. The illustrations in this book were also incredible I loved them and they seemed to accompany and highlight the real photographs so well.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in it, it was pretty good. I feel like it would be a great one in a classroom or to read as a family to open up many dialogues and have some important discussions.

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