Midweek Mini Reviews #17


This Midweek Mini Reviews post features two of the books I brought with me on my trip to Vietnam this summer.

Vi by Kim Thúy

What I loved most about Vi was how family was truly the focus of the story this time around. Readers learn about the title character’s family history (starting with her grandparents) well before we get to Vi’s story and even after she goes out on her own, her family continues to have an impact on her life. I also appreciated the fact that another one of the central aspects of this novel was the Vietnamese Canadian immigrant experience which does differ from the experiences of Vietnamese Americans. I also fell in love with Vi’s family, including her brothers who all looked out for her in their own way as well as her mother who “gave” Vi to her friend, Hà to raise so that she can have a better education and future. As a result of this upbringing, Vi is able to have many adventures across the globe which I loved reading about. All that being said, however, I felt that Vi was not as well written compared with Thúy’s earlier novels, Ru and Mãn and the ending left much to be desired. Furthermore, despite being the titular character readers barely get to know Vi before the book ends. In the end, Vi was a decent read as it has Thúy’s trademark stripped-down, exquisite prose, however the lack of lightness in Vi’s story a

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris

Lands of Lost Borders is a memoir that details the journey and life of the author Kate Harris. Harris has always dreamt of being an explorer and it was interesting to read about how she discovered and harnessed her writing talents to get funding for her adventures as a student. That being said, this was a slow and tough read for me because felt long-winded at times with all the history lessons and technical details of biking embedded in the book. I would’ve liked there to have been more on her adventure in present day, including greater details on the characters she came across and the cities and towns she and her friend travelled through. I did, however, appreciated the fact that Harris doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of her journey as they do face many challenges along the way. So as far as travel literature goes, Lands of Lost Borders isn’t high on my favourites or recommend reading list, however I did learn about Central and Western Asia from it. In the end, I think I probably would have been better off with an audiobook for this one given the type of story it was. 

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Midweek Mini Reviews #11

  
Six Degrees of Freedom by Nicolas Dickner, Lazer Lederhendler

Six Degrees of Freedom follow Lisa, Éric and Jay over many years. And while Lisa and Éric are childhood friends, Jay is more of an outsider and is only connected to them because of their “experiments” and her work with the RCMP.

To be honest, this book just wasn’t my cup of tea. While the chapters are indeed brief the book is incredibly slow-paced. I felt that the author took a too much time just to get to the main plot which was the most interesting aspect of this book and unfortunately it did not unfold until the very last chapters of the book. Instead the majority of the book was devoted to the technical elements of the shipping and container industry in addition to the backgrounds of not just the three protagonists but also to the backgrounds of everyone they interact with.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nicolas Dickner’s Six Degrees of Freedom because its synopsis did have me intrigued. However, the execution of the story didn’t do the story justice in my opinion. Lisa, Jay and Éric did have the potential to be compelling characters, however there just wasn’t enough time devoted to their development or to let the reader care about them which made for a rather dreary and long-winded read despite not being a thick book.

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin

Maybe it’s my psychology background, but lately I’ve been really getting into personality dimensions. I’ve taken Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment and my current workplace is obsessed with the Colours Personality Dimensions so I thought it would interesting to read up and learn about the Four Tendencies personality framework. Like Gretchen Rubin’s other books The Four Tendencies is laid out in a way that makes an otherwise complex and intimidating topic more accessible to the everyday reader. The design of the book is also visually appealing and the book has a quiz at the beginning for those who are curious to find out which of the four “tendencies” they are. In addition, there are lots of personal and practical examples that help the reader to understand each tendency better and know how to deal with people from the four tendency types. The Four Tendencies is a great read that is perfect for those who work in a team, parents, people who deal with clients and customers and even those who just want to bring the best in themselves and others. I definitely agree that the more you know about yourself and those around you, the better equipped you are to be more productive and even happy.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

 

Book Review | All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

punysorrowAuthour:
Miriam Toews
Format:
Trade Paperback, 321 pages
Publication date:
February 24, 2015
Publisher:
Vintage Canada
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

“It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other. We held each other tenderly, awkwardly, because she was in a bed attached to things.” (p. 37-38)

Long ago CBC had a radio show called “Between the Covers”, which was basically readings from audio books. I would stay up “late” (after all it was late for me back then) just to listen to people read from books, which were almost always Canadian. I remember one night I found myself listening to a reading from a book regarding the coming of age story of a teenager living in a Mennonite community and her struggles to discover who she was. I was instantly hooked, for the reason that the protagonist was just so complex and compelling that I ended up listening to almost all the chapters (I missed a few since I often fell asleep before it was over). Anyways that was how I was introduced to the writing of Miriam Toews and how I became a fan of her storytelling.

In her latest book which is also her seventh book, All My Puny Sorrows, which can be shortened to AMPS Toews tells a story about two sisters, one who wishes to die and the other who wishes her to live. It is also a story that accurately depicts what it means and what it takes to care for a loved one, and the toil that it can take on the caregiver. Akin to the majority of her books, AMPS is inspired by actual events from Toews’ life and in this case the relationship between Elf and Yoli is based on the real life relationship between her and her sister.

Once again Toews showcases her affinity for telling heartbreaking stories on the subject of families that ultimately ends up being both relatable and uplifting. I believe that AMPS is a vital book concerning both mental illness in addition to suicide, and I believe Toews does an excellent job of also capturing the confusion and anger people feel when a person close to them tells them they no longer has the desire to live. Finally I believe the book itself has an excellent message and I hope that it leads to the discussion of topics in the vein of mental illness and suicide, especially for people and families who often attempt to brush those issues under the rug.

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

ettaAuthour:
Emma Hooper
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 305 pages
Publication date:
January 13th 2015
Publisher:
Penguin Canada
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
At the beginning pages of Emma Hooper’s debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James we learned that Etta, an 82 year old woman and set off on a journey to the sea, leaving only a brief note and a bunch of recipe cards for her husband, Otto. What follows is not only a story of one woman’s pilgrimage across Canada from Saskatchewan to Halifax, but also a story of the past of Etta, Otto and their friend, Russell in addition to a story of the simple lives of people in rural Canada.

There were several things that I liked regarding this book, the first being the prose which was deceptively simple yet utterly beautiful. I love reading on the day to day lives of the people who were left behind during the war and those who assisted with the war on top of the indirect effects the war had on people and even schools back home. I also enjoyed the friendship between Otto and Russell especially when they were young and it was unfortunate that we do not witness greater amounts of interaction between the two in the present. Finally I also liked the employment of the “talking” coyote, James as it provides greater insight into Etta’s character and state of mind in addition to her well-being.

That being understood, there were numerous times throughout the book, particularly near the conclusion where I found it difficult to follow the story. To be more specific I found the timelines slightly confusing to the point that I needed to reread several sections just to figure out what had just happened. Afterwards, I was left wondering this writing style was intentionally done to illustrate the deteriorating mind. Still it you are willing to dig deep, you will find that Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a beautiful novel concerning love, loss and how the past has a way of never completely disappearing. Also for those who loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I think you will definitely appreciate Etta and Otto and Russell and James especially the moment where Etta’s simple journey suddenly gains a following due to the media’s interest. Overall Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a book that is worth picking up if you do not mind a story that is slower in pacing and is driven more by the characters and their actions.

If you like this book, you’ll love: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Mãn by Kim Thúy

Authour:Mãn
Kim Thúy
Format:
Hardcover, 135 pages
Publication date:
August 26, 2014
Publisher:
Random House Canada
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

“I had all of eternity because time is infinite when we don’t expect anything.” (p. 133)

Honestly, I knew approximately a year ago from today that Kim Thùy’s Mãn was to be translated into English, hence for all of 2014 I was eagerly anticipating its release even though I originally only knew two things with reference to it: one that it had references to food in it and two that it was by Kim Thùy, however those two were more than enough for me to wish for to have the book in my possession. However when the English synopsis for Mãn was released and I discovered that the book also had a love affair, I became wary as I don’t tend to take pleasure in reading books where there is cheating. Fortunately, after hearing numerous amazing things, I decided to give caution to the wind and pick it up.

Mãn is not only the title of the book, but also the name of the protagonist, a Vietnamese woman who enters into a marriage that is arranged by her “maman”, the woman who raised her as her own daughter. The marriage, though it is not what westerners would consider a “love marriage” is a peaceful one, and for some time Mãn is content with her life in Montreal, assisting her husband run his Vietnamese restaurant. Eventually, as Mãn starts to open up and develop an identity outside of her family and gain some renown for her cooking, with the assistance of her friend, Julie and later Hông, she starts to desire more in life and this slowly leads to her love affair with another chef who is also married.

One of my favourite elements in this novel is the portrayal of female relationships. From Mãn’s relationship with her “maman” to her friendship with both, Julie and Hông, I adored how positive the relationships were. These women were both supportive and fiercely protective of each other which is always pleasant to read. Additionally, I liked how similar of her previous book, Ru there are allusions to the Vietnam War and how it impacted the Vietnamese people. In particular the flashback to one character’s experience of being separated from their family and thrown into a jail that had such horrid conditions was absolutely heart wrenching. I am acquainted with various people who have personally experienced a similar separation from their family, and even a few people who met their relatives for the first time only after both the North and South became united. And while I do not believe anything justifies an extramarital affair, I suppose there was one positive consequence of Mãn’s affair, which was that it encouraged her to become an extra loving and affectionate mother to her children. It also helped that the affair was only a minor though significant piece of Mãn’s story.

All in all, Mãn was a book that I without a doubt enjoyed more than I initially thought. It was a short but emotionally powerful, in addition to being a somewhat romantic book which is reminiscent to Kim Thùy’s previous book, Ru. Once again Kim Thùy has managed to sweep me away in both time and place thus making it feel like I was standing right there beside the characters in her book. Reading Mãn was an experience I would describe as akin to the feeling I have after finally eating banh xèo (the Vietnamese crêpe described in the book that Mãn makes), after craving it for a long time; I felt satisfied although I still have room for more.

20140824-110708.jpg
Making bánh xèo, this one isn’t actually for me, as it has bean sprouts in it.
One finished product, ready to eat!
One finished product, ready to eat!

“At that precise moment, I knew that I would always remain standing, that he would never think of making room for me beside him because that was the sort of man he was, alone and lonely.” (p. 10)

If you like this book, you’ll love: Ru by Kim Thùy

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | No Relation by Terry Fallis

Authour:norelate
Terry Fallis
Format:
Advance Reader Copy, 395 pages
Publication date:
May 20th 2014
Publisher:
Douglas Gibson Books
Source:
Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
So who here has a weird name? Who here shares a name with a famous person? And who here has both? As in an odd name that is also the name of a well–known celebrity? I’m lucky that I have a fairly normal name though the same can’t be said for the protagonist in Terry Fallis’ latest novel, No Relation and many of the characters he encounters.

Earnest Hemmingway aka “Hem” whose name sounds a lot like a certain famous American writer, is a copywriter and aspiring novelist who recently has had a string of bad luck in his life on top of his chronic writers’ block. Unemployed and suddenly single, he finds he has a lot of free time and uses it to form a “support group” of sorts called “NameFame” for people like him meaning people who share a name with a famous person. As a result the reader gets introduced to many interesting and hilarious characters such as a hot tempered Indian man named Mahatma Gandhi who hands out butterscotch candy when apologizing for his sudden outbursts and Diana Ross, a woman who works for the NYPD, and who has an amazing voice but can only sing when drunk because she gets severe stage fright otherwise. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I loved this cast of well written, wacky supporting characters as the whole group is like a group of true companions who are always true for one another when they need it like when a bunch of members get together to devise the “Ernest Hemingway Exorcism World Tour” plan to help Hem get over his writer’s block. I fell in love with almost all the characters in the NameFame group and couldn’t help but root for them throughout the book.

Another thing I loved about this book was how it portrays family relationships as both complicated but importance influences in our lives. Hem is the heir to a major underwear company although he doesn’t want to take over as CEO. On the other hand his younger sister wants the job and seems like she’d be the best candidate for the job but because she isn’t the first born son her father refuses to acknowledge her as the best candidate to take over the family company. This is a major conflict in the book and I kind of liked how it played out in the end as the entire Hemmingway family realizes they need to do a better job of communicating with each other.

Terry Fallis does a good job of highlighting the challenges of sharing a moniker with a famous player. He makes you feel sorry for some of the characters at times but he also doesn’t take things to seriously and thus the readers can see that despite a few extreme situations the characters themselves aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves because of their names. The only thing I wasn’t really a fan of was how it kind of seemed like all the characters in the NameFame group were paired off by the end which felt a little bit unrealistic and convenient though I get that it plays into the idea of tying up all loose ends by the book’s conclusion.

This was an amazing book that I adored because it had me chuckling throughout. I would recommend No Relation to anyone looking for a fun Canadian book to read.

If you like this book, you’ll love: Up and Down by Terry Fallis

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.