Wednesday, 28 November 2012


RuRu by Kim Thúy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An arrangement of poetic vignettes. On the surface, Ru explores family, war, living as a refugee and integration into a new country. Underneath, Thuy ruminates on culture, conflict, language, love and memory. There’s a whole lot going on in this slender, beautiful novel.

What do you take with you when you flee your homeland? It is not what you think.

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Monday, 26 November 2012


419: A Novel419: A Novel by Will Ferguson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two and a half stars.

Winner of the 2012 Giller Prize, 419 impresses when it takes its readers into Nigeria and details the internet scams which have emerged from that country. “419” is the “section of the Nigerian Criminal Code “that deals with obtaining money or goods under false pretenses” (111).

However the author's non-fiction roots are showing. Ferguson favours giving a lot of background information about the 419 scam over story and character development. The book had the potential to be either a great crime thriller or a cultural exploration of Nigeria, but right now, it’s in no man’s land.

Even though the ending is suspenseful, it feels forced. Characters important to the final outcome aren’t fully introduced until halfway into the book. As I read the novel, I struggled to connect the seemingly random storylines. For example, the romantic interest Sergeant Brisebois has in Laura doesn’t seem to serve any literary purpose, except to reinforce the unexpected happy ending.

I also found some of the characters to be problematic. Laura and Warren represent stereotypical Westerners and I didn’t see enough growth in them to find them interesting. Amina wanders throughout Nigeria and the novel, but why? I suppose it is to flesh out Ferguson’s portrait of Nigeria, but I don’t understand how this character furthers the themes or the plot.

I did enjoy how the book described Nigeria and 419 does convey the complexity of the country. Exploring the moral murkiness of the scammers and the scammed had potential, but the novel does not go further than the politically correct response. The Nigerians justify robbing the rich because their wealth is “[b]lood money, all of it. Slaves and diamonds, gold and oil. Even chocolate. It is all stained...The crowns of British royalty glitter with blood, with rubies and emeralds wrenched out of Africa” (120-121). Even Laura, at the end, seems to do the “right thing” after harbouring a festering anger and inflicting her own retribution.

Since the book had won the Giller Prize, I had high expectations for 419. As I'm reading through the list of the other nominated books, I find that 419 doesn't match the depth of its competitors.

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Monday, 19 November 2012

War is Boring

War is Boring: Bored Stiff, Scared to Death in the World's Worst War ZonesWar is Boring: Bored Stiff, Scared to Death in the World's Worst War Zones by David Axe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A quick overview of recent war zones. The narrator is suffering from PTSD and keeps returning to areas of conflict, but only superficially examines his reasons for going back: "As boring as war can be...peace is much worse."

His attitude is displayed in the afterward:

"Everything falls apart. Everyone dies in time. In the great, slow reduction of our lives and history, the things we can believe in shrink into a space smaller than our own bodies. To preserve them, for as long as you might, arm yourself, and be afraid."

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HarveyHarvey by Herve Bouchard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Childhood memories and early loss.

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White Rapids

White RapidsWhite Rapids by Pascal Blanchet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stylist history with discography included.

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Baloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic ActsBaloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts by Pascal Blanchet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moody and atmospheric, a dark fairy-tale for grown-ups. With a playlist.

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The Tale of One Bad Rat

The Tale Of One Bad Rat (2nd Edition)The Tale Of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever imagine reading a combination of Beatrix Potter and a tale dealing with homelessness and child abuse? The Tale of One Bad Rat tackles these topics in an inventive way. Some British dialects may confuse teenage Canadian readers. The story is more hopeful than gritty; it also shows the importance of imagination and art as a means of survival.

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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun Home is a coming-of-age, portrait of a young artist graphic novel. It examines how sexuality, gender, family and art combine to make us who we are. Each chapter could be a short story in its own right. Of course, each revolves around Alison's relationship with her dad, his death, his closeted sexuality and her emerging sexual self.

My debate is who is the intended audience? There are a few graphic images of lesbian sexuality. Since we bought this book for a school library, we've been discussing whether these images are pornography or art.

As well, a high school student may have a hard time following the themes and plot of Fun Home. This graphic novel is very literary: It has an extensive vocabulary, references to older--but famous--books, and it is intricately structured.

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Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Imposter Bride

The Imposter BrideThe Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Imposter Bride defied my expectations. From the book blurb, what appealed to me as a reader was the mystery emerging from World War II Poland: Who is Lily Azerov?I had thought this story would show a daughter involved in a long search for her mother over various countries, continents, and in exotic locales.

Instead, the novel is firmly rooted in Canada and is more the story of the daughter, Ruth, growing up in post-war Jewish Montreal than the concerns of Lily the mother. The question, “Who is Lily Azerov” pulls the reader through the story of Ruth’s life; the plot is carefully crafted not too reveal too much too soon. We know that Lily Azerov is a stolen identity, that the woman comes to Canada for an arranged marriage and that “Lily” disappears, abandoning her three-month old daughter. Despite finding the novel to be a quick and enjoyable read, I was afraid that I would read the entire book and the mystery would not be solved. The writer takes her time revealing all to us through alternating points of view, complicated family relationships, distinctive characters and the subtle layering of clues.

The Imposter Bride is the story of a family and its secrets, the search for who we are, and, yes, lust. “Lust always feels like fate...That’s why it’s so dangerous.” It’s also a beautiful portrait of loss, living with convention and doing the best with what we’ve got.

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Saturday, 10 November 2012

My Name is Parvana

My Name Is ParvanaMy Name Is Parvana by Deborah Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the original Breadwinner Trilogy: The Breadwinner, Parvana's Journey, and Mud City. I have highly recommended these books to students (especially those in ESL) and have found that they loved the books, too. The trilogy focuses on Parvana and her friend, Shauzia, two young girls surviving in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Their lives and dilemmas are intricately revealed.

My Name is Parvana picks up the action a few years later. It seems that the book may have been written to tell fans what happened to these beloved characters. Even though Parvana and Shauzia are made up, it doesn't mean that their troubles are fictional.

In reading My Name is Parvana, I did have several teary moments; however, the novel still felt as if it were written to satisfy an audience more than the author.

Still, I would recommend fans of the earlier books to read this novel, to find out how things have turned out for Parvana, Shauzia and for real Afghani women in the "post-Taliban" era of Afghanistan.

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