Book Review: Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T Lee

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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)

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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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Book Review: The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Reviewed by: Jen
Genre: Fiction
Format: Soft cover

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
In stock: Yes

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My first 2018 Canada Reads…read. And for me, it hit the nail on the head in the interest of this year’s theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes, celebrating titles that challenge readers to look differently at themselves, their neighbours and the world around them’. Having come off a spree of reads about first world problems, hipsters and suburbanites, humor and privilege, it felt right and important to get my eyes pried open with the fictionalized stories based on the true events of the rusty cargo ship that arrived in Canada from Sri Lanka in 2009.

This book, Sharon Bala’s debut novel, must have been a feat to complete (yep…poet, know it). While it may be dangerous to use fiction in this way, I feel better for having had what I’m deeming to be a pseudo-crash course in the Sri Lankan civil war, and in the experience of refugees arriving in Canada. I really appreciated all the different perspectives that the narrative took, from the refugees themselves, to the immigration lawyers handling their attempted entry into Canada, and the adjudicator who decides their fate. It got me right in the feels quite a bit, but also was written in such a way that I looked forward to picking it back up when I could. I didn’t break into tears until the very end…but that could’ve just been hormonal.

I’m ashamed that I lived in Vancouver at the time the real life events this book is based on took place, in the place where 500 refugees actually landed, facing the threat of deportation, and had no idea. I’ve got an awful memory, but I’m almost certain I didn’t register the boat’s arrival, nor the national backlash that was supposedly cheered on by the government. Bala not only opened my eyes to the stories and many perspectives surrounding this event, but also to the reminder of how lucky I am to know the home, comfort and many blessings I have.

The Boat People made the cut into CBC Read’s 2018 Canada Reads shortlist, and in March will be defended by Mozhdah Jamalzadah, a Kabul-born, Vancouver-raised musician, dubbed the “Oprah of Afghanistan”. I will absolutely be tuning in!

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Book Review: Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga

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Reviewed by: Savannah
Genre: Non-fiction
Format: Soft cover

Page count: 376 pages
Rating: 5/5 stars
In stock: Yes and currently 25% off

I think I have decided that one of my goals for this New Year will be to read more Canadian based Non-fiction. So naturally, this was the perfect start to said challenge given its interesting premise and all of the attention it’s been getting and the number of awards it has won. First of all, Ill give you the Goodreads synopsis.

In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied.

More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the minus twenty degrees Celsius night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau’s grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang’s. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie’s death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water.

Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.”

This book was one of those reads where you feel your heart breaking the entire time and yet you can’t put it down and you just want to keep reading. It is not an easy read but it is an important one by all means. As someone who indulges in so much fiction I kept waiting for that twist that leads to a happy ending but spoiler alert: it doesn’t happen. Canada and Canadians haven’t been kind to our Indigenous population like ever… 😦 This book does a good job of highlighting a lot of injustices that the Indigenous population faces in these instances specifically a lot of injustice happens from the police department. They don’t seem to investigate these cases like they should. I read a review that stated “this book is one I wish didn’t exist but am glad that it does” and that perfectly sums up how I feel about this book.

This book was great in not only detailing the lives and the events of everything that transpired after these children went missing but giving background history of related events and issues happening in Indigenous communities. For example, Tanya Talaga delves into the crisis of young children committing suicides at such high rates in these communities.

I hope anyone thinking about reading this book does do so and recommends it to others around them. I know I gladly will be doing so. Also, if anyone has other good recommendations for woke and diverse Canadian non-fiction please let me know!

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Book Review: Magic of Unlucky Girls by A. A. Balaskovits

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Book review by: Josie

Magic for Unlucky Girls

By: A.A Balaskovits

☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Rated: W for Whoa

 

 

“The fourteen fantastical stories in Magic For Unlucky Girls take the familiar tropes of fairy tales and twist them into new and surprising shapes. These unlucky girls, struggling against a society that all too often oppresses them, are forced to navigate strange worlds as they try to survive. From carnivorous husbands to a bath of lemons to whirling basements that drive people mad, these stories are about the demons that lurk in the corners and the women who refuse to submit to them, instead fighting back — sometimes with their wit, sometimes with their beauty, and sometimes with shotguns in the dead of night.” –Back cover

Being honest, this book isn’t quiet what I expected it to be. In a way, it was more and, it was less. I don’t typically read collections, but this one caught my attention one day. The description for one pulls you in, which is why I decided the quote the entirety of it word for word rather than paraphrase it.

The first story is a very interesting take of humpty dumpty- rather than have a person prone to breaking; we have a city, and a man who is unbreakable. Another story is based vaguely on Little Red Riding Hood. But rather than being saved by the huntsman, dear little Red is taken in and raised by the wolf. One other story, which I personally can’t figure out what story it’s based on, is about a father alchemist, who is determined to bring his dead wife back to life, but in turn neglects his daughter.

The array of stories leaves me in a tricky spot to write a review, so for the review I’m trying to convey how the book as a whole made me feel. Each story left me feeling a different emotion, the manner they’re written in is truly something else- and after finishing each story, I was left wanting more. Some stories left me wondering, others, left me on the verge of tears, while some- left me baffled. I overall am left feeling very neutral about this book, and am struggling to find the words to describe this book properly. One thing I have to admit, is that this book isn’t for everyone. Some stories are very dark, depressing, and gory, and in other words, certainly aren’t suitable for everyone. Most of the stories are written to reflect the original morals of fairy tales, leaning towards the Brothers Grimm tellings, rather than the Disney ones most of us know and love. And honestly, if you go into this book expecting Disney, you are going to be slapped in the face. So reader beware.

But please don’t be daunted. This book is truly an experience, and is definitely worth your time and effort. I’d recommend this to people who love fantasy, tragedies, and stories that don’t always end with happily ever after.

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Book Review: Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

Reviewed by: Jen
Genre: Fiction
Format: Soft cover

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Page count: 272 pages
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
In stock: Yes

**Longlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize
**A Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017
**A Quill & Quire Reviewers’ Book of the Year

I don’t always Instagram the books I’m reading, but when I do it’s because I’m compelled by the need to express, by caption, such sentiments as: But it’s just so exciting when you’re only a few pages in and you feel like you know the characters intimately already and the author’s tone flows like the voice in your head and you have butterflies that this read will be full of ease and enjoyment and not effort, though.

I was only a few pages in when Next Year For Sure made me ‘that girl’, the cliché Insta-reader, but the sentiment held up throughout and following my time with this book. It was a quick time, because I was keen whenever the opportunity arose to quickly get back to my ‘old pals’, the protagonists, Kathryn and Chris.

Here’s what the inside cover will tell you about the book: After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy. They speak in the shorthand they have invented, complete one another’s sentences and help each other through every daily and existential dilemma. When Chris tells Kathryn about his attraction to Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the laundromat, Kathryn encourages him to ask her out on a date — certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather whatever may come.

Was I out specifically to read about open relationships? NO! (Seriously). But did I really want to know more. I liked visualizing the story unfold in its setting I know very well: Vancouver. I loved hearing the characters’ thoughts on modern relationships, the good parts, the challenging parts, the comfortable and familiar parts, the scary parts. All of it spoke to me deeply; the fact that the experiential parts of Kathryn and Chris’s delving into polyamory was foreign to me was totally irrelevant. In fact, Peterson spoke to CBC Books about exactly that, saying I feel like my book is about polyamory the way Moby-Dick is about a whale. What I was really drawn to is identifying that something isn’t working and being willing to experiment and invent. I feel like we’re given these ideas about what a romantic relationship is or what a partnership is and what it’s supposed to look like. Sometimes those things are helpful or aspirational or informative. But sometimes they’re just limiting and result in people going through the motions, rather than identifying how they want to organize their life and their family and their love. That’s what really appealed to me. Not so much the open relationship, but the being willing to throw out the blueprint that they’ve been given and try something.

That this is Zoey Leigh Peterson’s debut novel is truly impressive to me. I will be quick to grab whatever she puts out next.

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Book Review: We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Reviewed by: Savannah
Genre: Non-fiction
Format: Hardcover

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 5/5 stars
In stock: Yes

This book was a really strange read emotionally, as I simultaneously didn’t want to put it down and also got so bummed out reading it that I wanted to stop. It’s basically just a collection of essays originally published in The Atlantic that also include new essays written after the fact about the Obama administration. I’ll still give you some of the Goodreads synopsis:

But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period–and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective–the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.”

This was my first time reading anything by Ta-Nehisi Coates and his work lived up to all of the hype that’s for sure! I had actually been contemplating reading this book for a couple weeks and then I saw video of him giving a talk at a school and then suddenly I HAD to read it. I honestly didn’t know a lot of the facts in this book, such as the racism in the housing market and the scams that happened. I learned a lot reading this book, which in my opinion is the point of reading nonfiction. #getwoke. I don’t really know what to say about this book other than you should read it because it was really good but it was also a major bummer and be prepared to be sad about how history has played out and racism. (WE ALL KNEW IT WAS BAD I DON’T HAVE TO REMIND YOU). Even if you have read all of the previously published essays that are put in this book I still highly recommend reading it. The combination of introduction essays and well researched essays are a perfect ‘taste’ of the last eight years. Overall, it was a really powerful and moving book that will teach you some things and make you feel some things. I highly suggest this to anyone and everyone.

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