Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Rest In Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin" by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

He is the boy whose murder shocked the world. They are the parents whose grief and loss launched a movement. 

In February of 2012, on an average evening in a small town in central Florida, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death while walking home from the store with a bag of candy and a can of juice in his pockets. The head of the neighbourhood watch got out of the car against the advice of the authorities he had contacted regarding a suspicious person and followed the young man. This encounter ended with the man drawing his gun and taking Trayvon’s life.

In the days that followed, Trayvon’s parents tried to get answers from the police but were ignored. They couldn’t understand how the man that murdered their son was allowed to walk free. Their grief overtook them but they knew they had to fight for their son and as time went on the world joined them in calling for justice for Trayvon and all victims of racism and gun violence.

Rest In Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin, by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, gives readers an understanding of the young man that Trayvon was, what happened on the night of his death, and how his parents have coped with their grief.

I applaud and thank Sybrina and Tracy for writing this book. On every page you can feel the strength it took them to tell their story. At a time when all one would want to do was to quietly grieve their son, they were thrust into the spotlight and became the public faces of a movement that gained millions of allies across the world. What they do in this book is extraordinary.

The book is written in chapters that alternate between Sybrina and Tracy. It runs chronologically, discussing their lives before Trayvon was born, his childhood, and his years in high school. The book spends time going over the shooting, sharing how the parents weren’t notified until almost a day later about their sons death even though it occurred steps from his home. The book discusses the investigation and trial, giving readers new information and a new understanding of the flaws that exist in the justice system.

It is hard to believe that it has been five years since Trayvon’s death or that he would now be 22 years old. Like so many others I was shook by this murder and I absolutely could not understand how the justice system worked in this case. I learned so much more from this book than I did from the media coverage at the time and it all still baffles my mind. Reading this book, my heart broke all over again for Sybrina and Tracy and all the anger I felt toward the killer and the justice system bubbled up again.  This is a powerful book and a must-read. We can’t pretend that something like this can’t occur again and we must honour Trayvon’s memory by fighting to stop it from happening.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, January 13, 2017

On Ancestry, Identity, and Telling Stories...One Reader's Perspective

If you haven’t heard, celebrated Canadian author Joseph Boyden has come under the microscope over his Indigenous heritage. This isn’t the first time it has happened. Boyden, author of the novels Through Black Spruce, Three Day Road, The Orenda, and most recently the novella Wenjack, has for years been positioned as a spokesperson for Indigenous people in Canada. In the past, some have posed questions surrounding Boyden’s heritage and pointed out inconsistencies in his own personal stories. But it seems those questions were largely left to be minor discussions in the public realm.

Until a couple of weeks ago when Jorge Barrera, journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) and blogger Robert Jago raised the question again, this time having done research into Boyden’s genealogy based on his own words and coming up with no evidence to back up what he has claimed.

For a little while, Boyden remained quiet on the subject other than issuing a statement reaffirming what he believes is his Aboriginal ancestry. This week, he finally made an appearance, though a rather controlled one, to speak about the controversy with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC.) This appearance did not do much to clear things up but did see him announce that he was stepping out of the space as Indigenous spokesperson he has for a long time occupied.

I have no Aboriginal heritage. This isn’t a discussion for me to wade into with any commentary as to how anyone should feel. I do not defend Joseph Boyden. I do not speak for or, more importantly, to any First Nations people as their voices are heard loud and clear on this issue. And I do not want to tell anyone what they should feel about this issue. I know that the land I live on was stolen from the people it belongs to. I’m proud to be Canadian. There is so much about this country that makes me feel this way. But I also know the pain this country has caused the Indigenous people over hundreds of years and I acknowledge the lack of understanding we have of the cultures of those people.

So I speak only for myself when I say I have been taken by Boyden.

Increasingly over the last few years, I have wanted to learn more about our Indigenous cultures not from textbooks but from the people themselves. And to do that, I most often turned to books. Boyden’s works were some of the ones that I turned to and he was a person in whom I placed great trust and admiration due to his visibility in the media. While he wasn’t the only voice I listened to, he definitely dominated the airwaves. And if this is only through his own self-identification, then I’m annoyed with myself that I let celebrity take precedence over who I put my faith in.

For me, the issue is not about whether a person can write a book about a culture that is not their own. I believe that many people can, and do, write appropriately about something other than what they have lived. But they cannot position themselves as a spokesperson for that culture. Especially when there are so many other voices that could more eloquently and appropriately take that position. Whether through a conscious decision to market himself as Aboriginal or unintentionally misleading people and not speaking up to correct, Boyden has taken that position away from the people who deserve that place.

Boyden has stated before that while a small part of his ancestry is Indigenous, it makes up a big part of who he is. This is a subject that has been much discussed in my home since it all came out. My husband has Indigenous ancestry, he can point to recent names on the family tree to tell you where that ancestry comes from. But for his family and many people where he comes from, it is ancestry, not identity. The only connection he has to the group is through his blood. He wasn't raised in their culture and his personal opinions is, how can he speak for a group of people especially when there are people who are in much better positions to do so.

There is a difference between ancestry and identity and it seems to me that Boyden has confused the two. What place this comes from, I don’t know. His books are fiction, always have been and always will be and there this nothing wrong with reading them as long we as recognize them as such.  Fiction can often expose us to and teach us about other cultures. But the identity of the author is important when this happens. This is very important when we elevate this author to the status of spokesperson, when we take their voice away from the page and into cultural discourse. And it is most important when it is the cultural discourse that is the most visible to outsiders.  When we speak about Indigenous issues, we must remove Boyden’s name from the conversation. There are other people who are telling these stories and those are the voices we should be listening to when we seek to gain understanding of the Indigenous experience.

Boyden’s publishers, as well as many in this industry, are standing by him and that’s fair for them to do. But it’s time that as non-Indigenous readers elevate other names to the status we gave his.


APTN: Author Joseph Boyden's shape-shifting Indigenous Identity

Peggy Blair: Joseph Boyden's Disputed Status as Indigenous Spokesperson and Why It Matters

Globe and Mail: There is room in our circle for Joseph Boyden

CBC: Joseph Boyden's first interview 'a start' but it leaves unanswered questions

Toronto Star: The Boyden affair just got murkier

CNW: Statement by Joseph Boyden

CBC: Who gets to speak on behalf of the Indigenous community?

Cheryll Toney Holley: Award-winning Canadian Author Claims that Dartmouth Indians are Really Nipmuc?

As I try to gain more understanding, these two Twitter accounts have given me much to think about:

Monday, January 9, 2017

"The Trophy Child" by Paula Daly

Release Date: March 7, 2017

Tiger mothers have nothing on Karen Bloom. Things may have not turned out so well with her son Ewan but she is definitely not letting her daughter Bronte slip through the cracks. Straight A’s, music lessons, and dance classes dominate the young prodigy’s life. Karen expects her family to always be at 200 percent and nothing less.

But behind the facade of the perfect family lies a wealth of secrets. Karen’s husband Noel, a successful small-town doctor has a taste for women and alcohol. Noel’s teenage daughter Verity is under strict discipline at school and at home due to her aggressive behaviour. And Bronte, the one on whom everything rests, longs to run away from it all.

When Bronte actually does go missing, a domino effect hits the family. As tragedy strikes the family again, all of their secrets and lies begin to spill out, leading readers to wonder how far people will go in their quest for perfection in The Trophy Child by Paula Daly.

After reading What Kind of Mother Are You, Paula Daly became an author whose books I will always pick up. I love a thriller and her books easily make their mark in a genre that is becoming increasingly popular. I also like how all of her novels are set in the Lake District of England. There is something about a small, close-knit community setting that makes these books even more interesting. 

This book caught my interest because of this whole notion of the perfect family. It seems that the advancement of social media has taken this idea of painting a picture of perfection to new heights. It’s no longer about keeping up with your neighbours, it’s about keeping up with people around the world. And if there is one thing we know about social media, it’s that not all is what it seems. It’s easy to paint a picture that doesn’t actually exist. And yet many people fall into this trap of illusions, just as Karen Bloom does in this book.

Paula Daly really knows how to write characters that will grab on to the reader. I felt so much emotion for the children in this book and so much anger toward Karen. The lack of emotion I felt toward the husband Noel also shows just how well Daly has created characters that feel real.

I think the title could have been different for this book. It leads one to think that the book is more about Bronte when it really is about Karen and what her quest for perfection has done to her family. Because of the title I was really wanting more of the emotional side of it all for Bronte. 

This book actually ended up being more of a picture of a dysfunctional family than actual thriller for me, which is okay, but I really didn’t read the book I thought I was going to. A good read, not my favourite of Daly’s, but a good commentary on the notion of perfection.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Canada Reads 2017 Longlist

Every March, the CBC hosts a one week discussion surrounding the question "what is one book that all Canadians should read?" (I know, just when you think Canadians can't get any more awesome, you find out we have literary debates on national television.) The longlist for this year's event, taking place from March 27 to 30, was announced this past week. Here are the contenders:

Company Town by Madeline Ashby
A brilliant, twisted mystery, as one woman must evaluate saving the people of a town that can't be saved, or saving herself.

even this page is white by Vivek Shraya
Vivek's debut collection of poetry is a bold, timely, and personal interrogation of skin - its origins, functions, and limitations.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
Alexis's contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of human consciousness.

I Am Woman by Lee Maracle
One of the foremost Native writers in North America, Lee Maracle links her First Nations heritage with feminism in this visionary book.

Knucklehead by Matt Lennox
Knucklehead is a riveting, powerful crime novel about fathers and sons, the limits of friendship, and the terrible, necessary choices we make.

Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji
A taut, ingenuous, and dynamic novel about a future where eternal life is possible, and identities can be chosen.

One Hour in Paris by Karyn L. Freedman
One Hour in Paris weaves together Freedman's personal experience with the latest philosophical, neuroscientific, and psychological insights into what it means to live in a body that has been traumatized.

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer
The Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author explores the thin line between good and evil that every human being is capable of crossing.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, a thriller fuelled by an earthshaking mystery - and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

The Break by Katherena Vermette
A powerful intergenerational family saga, through various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about the lives of the residents in Winnipeg's North End.

The Elephants in My Backyard by Rajiv Surendra
An inspiring tale of taking risks and following one's dreams, of process and determination, and looking back on one's endeavours - be they successes or colossal defeats - with new appreciation and meaning.

The Just City by Jo Watson
Created as an experiment, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future - all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
One of Canada's most passionate environmental and human rights activists addresses the global threat of climate change from the intimate perspective of her own Arctic childhood.

Today I Learned It Was You by Edward Riche
Hilariously sending up the drama and dysfunction of local politics, overzealous rights activists, and perils of contemporary social media, Today I Learned It Was You, is another bitingly brilliant comic novel from one of Canada's funniest and most astute literary talents.

Waiting For First Light by Roméo Dallaire
In this piercing memoir, the retired general, former senator, best-selling author, and one of the world's leading humanitarians delves deep into his life since the Rwandan genocide. 

Five celebrity panellists will choose a book from this list to defend and the short list will be announced on January 31, 2017. Ali Hassan, from CBC's Laugh Out Loud, will be the new host. Last year's winner was The Illegal by Lawrence Hill and other past winners include Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion, Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes, Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness, and Kim Thuy's Ru.

In the past few years the competition has had a theme for the books chosen. Last year's theme was "Starting Over," and past themes were "Turf Wars" (Canada's major geographic regions), "A Novel to Change Our Nation," and "One Book to Break Barriers." Looking at the longlist, I'm not sure if there is a theme or what one could possible be. And given that I have read so few of the books, I'm looking forward to diving into this year's competition.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah

It takes a brave person to fill the shoes of Jon Stewart, one of the (if not THE) most successful satirical news hosts on American television. At the helm of The Daily Show for 16 years, Stewart built the show into a 23 time Emmy-winning show that averaged 2 million viewers each night, becoming the authority on news and politics for the younger generation. It is only natural that his successor would be held to a scrutiny that few could withstand. But Trevor Noah was more than ready for the challenge.

Everything in Trevor's life was leading him to The Daily Show. Starting as a young comedian in South Africa, he took all sorts of jobs that would eventually lead to him headlining one of the biggest stand-up shows the country had ever seen. Pretty soon, the rest of the world came calling and Noah was set on the path to taking over one of the most coveted seats on television.

But it is the start of Trevor’s story that is most compelling. Born in apartheid South Africa to a white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother meant that Trevor literally was a criminal act. This shaped his early life as most of it was spent avoiding the government who at any moment could take him away and put his mother in jail. 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah, is a sensitive, heartfelt, and hilarious look at Trevor’s early life. Written in eighteen essays, readers are taken on a adventure that is so incredibly unique to Trevor’s own circumstances and yet at many times evocative of childhood experiences around the world. No matter who you are, this book is relatable and understandable.

I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah. Ever since his first appearance on 8 Out of 10 Cats in 2013, I’ve been trying to watch everything he has ever done. This includes seeing his live show last year. He touches on his childhood in South Africa throughout his comedy routines and I felt like I already knew so much about him. But this book brought so much more to his story and I was blown away by his honesty and his heartfelt approach to this book. I also appreciated how he weaved the history of South Africa and apartheid through the book, giving readers a more intimate understanding of the history of the country than a textbook could.

The standout star of this book is his mother Patricia. The book can be read as a love letter from a son to his mother and it should be. His mother was fearless and determined and she raised her son to be the same way. She challenged the system and lived her life the way she wanted to regardless of the punishment she could face. This is like getting two books in one - you get the story of Trevor’s childhood and how it shaped who he is but you also get the story of a woman who stood up for her beliefs and who survived no matter what life threw at her. 

If you waited until December to get a copy of this book for Christmas you probably found yourself out of luck. The bookstore I work at sold out very quick as did most of the stores around us. At one point I was in a store and overheard the manager say to an employee, “is that a copy of Trevor Noah’s book? Where did you find that? Hold on to it!”  The demand for this book is very high and deservedly so. If you see a copy, grab it! 

 I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Here's to a New Year!

"Out with the old, in with the new," has never been a more appropriate saying than it is for 2017!

Today marks my 7th year with this little blog. Over the last year it has suffered quite a bit with my trying to balance family life, work life, and writing life. Sadly, the writing life has suffered greatly. But as New Year’s Day brings about another year of blogging, I’m committing to a refresh and once again giving it my attention.

My holidays have been a busy one. It was full-on right up until Christmas Eve (everyone who works in retail knows what that is about) but I’ve thankfully been able to have some good downtime to spend with my family and, of course, watch television. Because I’m all about the binge-watching. These holidays have been spent doing a massive Coronation Street catch up but also getting reacquainted with my Netflix account and watching Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, The Crown, and Black Mirror. And of course my beloved British Christmas specials - 8 Out of 10 Cats (Carrie Fisher was brilliant until the end), A League of their Own, The Last Leg, and The Big Fat Quiz of 2016 (my new favourite line to say is “I don’t get it, but I believe it is a functional joke.”)

Though I haven’t been blogging as much, I am still reading. Not quite as much as I used to, but still a lot. And that’s a good thing. Work may be taking up more of my time, but I work in a bookstore so there is absolutely no complaining!

2015 was the first year I started tracking what I read by different categories and it was a lot of fun to compare years. 2016 was the year I gave up on challenges and just read whatever interested in me. I was excited to compare because I wanted to see what the variety in my reading was like when I wasn’t selecting my reading material based on diversity versus when I was making an effort. Here’s a look at my reading in 2016:

83 books read (a far cry from my goal of 105.) That is 13 books less than last year.
26,427 pages read. 957 pages less than last year, so less books this year, but obviously some longer ones.

27% of the books I read were Canadian, down 4% from last year.
77% of the books were written by female authors, up 8%
39% of the books I read were diverse books, up 1%

14% of the books I read were Mystery. This is a genre I really didn't read before 2016 but this is the year I got hooked on the Psychological Thriller.

Now it's time for my Best Books of the Year

Best of the Year - Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
(I knew back in May when I read this book that it would be my favourite of the year)

Bone and Bread - Saleema Nawaz
I Let You Go - Clare Mackintosh
March Book 3 - John Lewis
Wenjack - Joseph Boyden
My Not So Perfect Life - Sophie Kinsella (2017 release date)

Best of the Year - Born a Crime - Trevor Noah
(I can't deny my love for Trevor, this took it to a new level I didn't know existed.)

Troublemaker - Leah Remini
Wellth - Jason Wachob
A Mother’s Reckoning - Sue Klebold
Until We Are Free - Shirin Ebadi
Canada - Mike Myers

A Look Ahead at 2017

Once again, I'm not letting my failings of the year before dictate what I go for this year. I may have only made 79% of my reading goal last year but I'm still aiming high and going for 100 books read this year. I'm also staying away from challenges and reading what interests me but I think that this year I'm definitely going to try and read more non-fiction.

Here are a few of the books I'm looking forward to reading this year:

On the personal front, I have finally decided to jump in and start Bullet Journalling. I was having a hard time finding a planner that would work for me as I want it to be part planner, part journal and so this was the perfect thing. We sell bullet journals at work and I've been admiring them, along with #bujo pictures on Instagram, for so long I decided to jump in and I'm very excited to do so. I'm also looking forward to our yearly road trip and hopefully a few other travels here and there. Road tripping with my husband and two kids is definitely one of my favourite things to do.

Happy New Year and here is to a peaceful and prosperous 2017!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

October Releases

It's such a busy reading time of the year with all of the amazing books nominated for the big three Canadian literary prizes. In fact my physical pile of books to read was already so high at the beginning of the month. But there are still so many good books coming out this month that I cannot forget about. Here is a look at some October new releases that have my interest.

October 4
The Wangs vs. The World - Jade Chang
Something in Between - Melissa De La Cruz
Today Will Be Different - Maria Semple
News of the World - Paulette Jiles
You Can't Touch My Hair - Phoebe Robinson

October 11
Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood
Hungry Heart - Jennifer Weiner
Bridget Jones' Baby - Helen Fielding
Around the Way Girl - Taraji P. Henson

October 18
Wenjack - Joseph Boyden
The Candidate - Noah Richler

October 22
Canada- Mike Myers

October 25
Thanks for the Money - Joel McHale

What are you looking forward to reading this month?