I'm giving away three (3) Kindle copies of my novella, The Hanover Block, here on Booklikes.
Countries available: Australia, Canada, UK, USA
Currently checked out:
*The Clothesline Swing - Ahmad Danny Ramadan (DUE 23 March)
*The Prey of Gods - Nicky Drayden (DUE 3 April)
On active hold:
Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin (1 of 2 in holds)
*White Houses - Amy Bloom (6 of 8 in holds)
*The Boat People - Sharon Bala (18 of 178 in holds)
*Newish books that likely can't be renewed.
I froze and deleted a bunch of holds, and am not ordering anything else until I get this situation down to something less panic inducing. I'm not completely sure how this happened. I think a lot of things ticked out of hold at once, causing a pile up.
Set in the early part of the 20th century, between the first and second World War, this novel is part love story, part feminist novel. It also sometimes feels like a fairy tale with parts of the story told in such a lyrical way, there should be a musical accompaniment.
In the winter of 1914 in Montreal, two babies are abandoned by their teenage mothers and end up in the same orphanage. Rose and Pierrot are both gifted entertainers and from a young age, use their talents to captivate their fellow orphans. Eventually, people outside the orphanage notice their talent and Rose and Pierrot are paraded through the parlours of the rich to generate funds for the orphanage. Not unexpectedly, none of the funds actually benefit the orphans but rather make the nuns’ lives - a cruel and perverse group - more comfortable.
Separated as teenagers, Rose finds herself sent to a rich home as a tutor for unruly children. Little do the parents know that Rose is not much better than an unruly child herself. Pierrot also finds himself in a rich household as a companion to an eccentric and elderly man who is estranged from his family. While neither situation teach Rose and Pierrot the skills they need to support themselves in depression-era Montreal, it becomes evident quickly that Rose is the pragmatic survivor while Pierrot remains the whimsical artist.
Reconnecting again as adults, Rose and Pierrot renew their love for each other and for the talent and quirkiness that connected them as young children. They work together to build a life and to make their childhood dream of becoming stage performers come true. The story is heart breaking and gritty, with even the happiest of moments shadowed by the harshness life at that time.
The writing in this book is wonderful. Experiences that I have never - in many cases, thankfully - had in my life are made so real through Heather O’Neill’s unique use of words.
A train trip to New York is described as follows:
“They went through a series of old, crotchety mountains. They were so old they didn’t look dangerous anymore. Occasionally a big boulder rolled off them into the middle of a road or landed on top of a deer, but on the whole they had found their place in the world. The rain had worn their peaks down, one argument at a time.”
This story makes a particularly moving statement on women and the struggles they face daily simply to be respected.
“Men were taught to have so much pride, to go out into the world and make something of themselves. This Depression was deeply humiliating. Since women were taught that they were worthless, they took poverty and hardship less personally.”
Or even more of a direct statement that as a woman,
“You were often only an ethical question away from being a prostitute.”
If I have a criticism of the story, I did find that it took a frustratingly long time for Rose and Pierrot to reconnect as adults. I understand that building suspense is necessary however, I felt that I had to suspend disbelief in order to accept the number of times that Rose and Pierrot crossed paths but didn’t actually meet each other. At one point, Pierrot exited by the front door of a room while Rose was entering through the back door.
That said, this book is simply captivating. It was difficult to climb out of the story and go back to regular life - I so desperately wanted Rose and Pierrot to escape the orphanage, find each other again, become rich and successful and live happily ever after! This book is a more realistic than that of course but you won’t be able to stop rooting for Rose and Pierrot.
Sometimes the creator is as interesting to me as the creation. So it is with Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. This collection was originally self-published in 2014 by a then 22 year old Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet, writer, illustrator and performer of Punjabi descent. At 22, I was lucky to find my way home on the bus by myself…Rupi Kaur was writing and self-publishing a collection of poems that bare her soul. Wow!
I’m finding it difficult to express how I feel when I read her poetry because it’s much more than just the words on the page - it’s the whole experience. She writes entirely in lower case and uses no punctuation other than a period. I read online that it’s a shout out to her Punjabi heritage. Here’s an explanation from her website FAQ:
“although i can read and understand my mother tongue (punjabi) i do not have the skillset to write poetry in it. to write punjabi means to use gurmukhi script. and within this script there are no uppercase or lowercase letters. all letters are treated the same. i enjoy how simple that is. how symmetrical and how absolutely straightforward. i also feel there is a level of equality this visuality brings to the work. a visual representation of what i want to see more of within the world: equableness.”
The lowercase writing, the illustrations that are woven throughout the poems and prose in the book, combine to make the experience feel intimate and meaningful. Even the book itself - a flat, black matt cover that is soft to the touch with simple hand-drawn bees the only adornment aside from the title and author - add to the experience.
The summary on the back perfectly describes the book:
this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands
I don’t read a lot of poetry collections. I read individual poems but rarely read a collection of poetry from cover to cover by the same author. As the description outlines, Milk and Honey is divided up into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. I liked “the loving” the best and if I’m honest with myself, I think it’s because it was uplifting and easier to read than the other sections.
be love at
first sight when
we meet it’ll be love
at first remembrance cause
i’ve seen you in my mother’s eyes
when she tells me to marry the type
of man i’d want to raise my son to be like
The hardest reading for me was “the hurting” but it is the one that sticks with me the most. Throughout the collection, Kaur explores violence, rape, love, healing and femininity.
if i knew what
safety looked like
i would have spent
less time falling into
arms that were not
Rupi Kaur began sharing her writing on Tumblr and Instagram and is sometimes criticized by readers who feel that her poems aren’t original or sound a lot like other “instapoets” on the internets. I can only express my opinion and while some of the poems didn’t move me one way or the other, they were in the minority and it certainly wasn’t because I found them unoriginal. Most made me flinch, smile, nod vigorously, look away (and then look back) and in a few cases, laugh.
If, like me, poetry is not your first pick in reading, I encourage you to pick up this collection. It’s accessible, honest and authentic.
This is one of my all-time favourite series. They are consistently 4-star reads for me and from the first time I picked up “The Water Rat of Wanchai”, the first book in the series, I’ve been hooked. The novels revolve around Ava Lee, a young, gay, Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who recovers money stolen in financial scams perpetrated by one shady businessman on another.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Toronto, Canada, Ava is bicultural and as the series progresses, we learn a lot about Chinese culture both in Asia and in Canada. I read a book review in the National Post that describes Ava’s personality and how it is shaped much better than I ever could:
“Like any Hong Kong ID card-carrier, she’s brand-conscious, work-obsessed, pragmatic and loyal to her family. Like any Canadian passport holder, she’s culturally sensitive, well-mannered, able to blend in and independent.” - The Water Rat of Wanchai, reviewed by Kevin Chong, National Post, 2011
In the most recent instalment of the series, Ava gets a call from an old friend of her partner Uncle asking for a favour. Family loyalty kicks in and Ava finds herself on the way to the Philippines to investigate reports of an international terrorist training centre located on the remote island province of Tawi-Tawi. If the reports are true, it will destabilize the Philippine political landscape and economy and more terrifyingly, launch a deadly series of attacks on the world.
The last few books in the series, like this one (which is #10), have taken Ava outside of both Canada and China. This is a departure from the first books in the series but is no less effective in furthering Ava’s story and globe-trotting exploits. It maintains the central theme of the entire series and continues to present Ava with morally ambiguous options where no decision is clearly right or wrong. Ava is required to rely on her own judgement, morals and loyalty.
If you liked “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson, you may want to consider picking up this series. While Ava is not as broken as Lisbeth Salander, her intelligence, kick ass martial arts skills and sheer tenacity are reminiscent.
Finally, a shout-out to the publisher, House of Anansi Press (and their imprint Spiderline). It couldn’t have been an easy choice to publish a series of books where the main character is female, non-white and gay…let alone the first novel which had “rat” in the title. Who picks up a book about a water rat...besides me of course...