Review: Fables of Brunswick Avenue – Kathleen Govier

3.5 of 5 stars
Published in 2005

I read a novel by Ms. Govier last year and liked it (The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel). This year, for the Bingo reading challenge, one of the books to read must be short stories and Fables of Brunswick Avenue is just that. It’s a collection of 16 short stories. The book “blurb” describes them as being about the people who live in the neighbourhood around Brunswick Avenue, north of Bloor Street in Toronto. The stories reflect on the multicultural inhabitants of the neighbourhood in the 1970s, much as it was when the author herself lived there, or so she says in the pre-amble and first story which feels autobiographical but which may or may not actually be.

That’s not exactly the case. The first story is the one reflected in the title of the book and is about the people and the neighbourhood as it was when the author lived there in the 70s. Fair enough. The rest of the stories take place in various locations including Toronto and don’t really seem to be time-era-specific. The stories are not tales with twists or surprises, they are slices of life, character portraits, mostly women but some men as well. Some stories ended too abruptly for my taste, some just fizzled but there were a few stronger ones as well.

She’s a very good writer though I think I prefer her novels. That might be because she’d had more experience by then and because I prefer a longer lasting story. This short story collection will suffice to satisfy one of the Bingo challenge squares, as well.


Canada Reads 2018 – The Short List

The team at CBC Books picks a long list of defenders from a long, long list of prominent Canadians from all areas (sports, media, arts etc). Once they have a reasonable number of candidates, they sit down and chat with each one about books and reading. They’re looking for a diverse set of challengers for the competition so they don’t want each potential defender to have the same tastes in books and reading habits as each other. They are really looking for five people that are very different from each other in personality, background, age, race, gender, politics, likes and dislikes. The more different each one is, the more interesting the debates will be. That’s the whole point, entertainment!

You can read more about the five defenders here. The only one I’m at all familiar with is Jeanne Becker from back in the early days of MuchMusic in the mid 1980s.

As far as the books go, that’s just as long a process. The choice of books goes further than just having the CBC Books staff decide on a list. The candidates themselves can suggest books that they’ve read and loved, too. In the end, the long list is created and the candidates choose the book they want to defend in the debates. They will also read all of the other books in the short list because it’s easier to defend your own book when you know what the other books are about and how their defenders might likely present their arguments. It’s also a bonus if the five final books are different from each other yet embrace the theme for that year’s competition.

I’ve blogged about the long list here and now we have the short list, the five books that will be up for debate on March 26 – 29th hosted by Ali Hassan. He did a great job last year. There will be a lot of features and interviews between now and the end of March on the CBC Books website to keep up the interest level, too.

2018 Canada Reads Short list.

Of these, I’ve read Precious Cargo and liked it. American War, Forgiveness and possibly The Marrow Thieves are three more I might like. All three are very different from each other. I doubt I’ll get library copies in time and I don’t want to spend the money on them but sometimes Kobo or Amazon puts them on sale before the debates so I shall keep my eye open. (Don’t get me started on the high price of ebooks!)

Review: Scarborough – Catherine Hernandez

4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

This will be the second book that is also on the long list for Canada Reads 2018. It didn’t make the shortlist and I need to write a blog piece about that shortlist, too. *note to self*

This book takes place in the working class multicultural city of Scarborough, just east of Toronto. We follow the stories of several adults and several children who don’t have a lot of support to get them through their days. Most of the parents are single parents struggling and the kids navigate life through a virtual mine field. Tying it all together is the voice of Ms Hina, the beloved worker at the shelter literacy centre where many of the other main characters come for some respite from their daily lives. Hina finds it difficult not to get involved in the lives of some of her clients and helps them every way she can, standing up to her own bully  of a regional manager.

Her clients range in age from small toddler to adult. The children in the centre are ragged urchins, some with very tenuous family connections and  your heart breaks for some of the kids and their home lives. The story focuses on survival, the strength of a community and the apathy of it as well. Friendships, family, poverty, champions and tragedies. The story is told from the voices of most of the clients that use the centre, child and adult and from the neighbourhood as well.

The writing is exquisite and the voices are true. The only thing I didn’t care for was the last chapter. I didn’t think it was necessary but in the long run, doesn’t take away from the book all that much for me.

I’ll be using this book for CanadianContent’s Cross Canada Reading Challenge on Goodreads  for Ontario. It may also be able to be used in this year’s Bingo reading challenge.

Review: Precious Cargo – Craig Davidson

3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2016

The full title of this book is Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School  Bus 3077 and it is a memoir of sorts of a man whose career had tanked and needed a job badly. He ends up driving a school bus carrying 5 children of various ages, all of whom have special needs which wasn’t what he expected to be doing. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for him, a real eye opener which, coincidentally, is the theme for this year’s Canada Reads competition. More or Less. It most definitely does tell a story of someone’s eyes being opened and seeing things in a new light and maybe for that reason, it did make the short list and will be one of the books in competition at the end of March.

The five passengers range in ages from 13 to about 16, maybe 17 at most. These kids have challenges they meet daily. Craig learns to accept their differences and support them, the little group end up being a tight knit one. He’s written this book several years after the year in the story and tells about the good times and the rough ones, describing the young people with sympathy and respect. He only gets to know what their lives are like from one point of view, not a lot of insight into it other than what he may observe or what the children tell him, if anything but he does his best to give them a positive experience for the time they have together every day.

I would have liked to find out what happened to the kids in the years up to when the book was written. It wasn’t realistic that Craig would have kept in touch with all the students but he did make particular friends with one boy in a wheelchair. Did they not ever see each other again? The experience has had a positive effect on Davidson, seeming to have bridged the gap between a man floundering to find himself and his career and one who has settled down and made a career in writing and obtained a happy family as well.

What Kind of Reader Are You?

From the good folks at 50BookPledge via @SavvyReader

Me, I’m definitely a Polygamist Reader with no fewer than 3 books open at a time. Currently reading:

A Column of Fire  – Ken Follett
Fables of Brunswick Avenue – Katherine Govier (for the Bingo Challenge and the Cross Canada reading challenge as the author is from Alberta)
Precious Cargo: My year of driving the kids on school bus 3077 – Craig Davidson (One of Canada Reads shortlisted books for 2018)
The Girl in the Glass – Susan Meissner (on the bottom of the priority list because Precious Cargo is a library ebook and there are 2 more Canada Reads books I have on hold that I expect to get any day now as well. Library books trump all others due to time constraints)

Review: Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

4 of 5 stars
Published 1818

Next up in my quest to read all of Jane Austen’s novels is Northanger Abbey. Unlike the other major works, I knew nothing about this one going in. I’ve never read it before nor have I seen any cinematic production of it.

This is Catherine Morland’s story. She’s a young woman from a modest family. She travels to Bath with family friends and there meets the shallow and ambitious Isabella Thorpe and her smarmy brother John. Catherine is naive and innocent. She does know her own mind, but tends to have a vivid imagination. She has her head turned a bit by the glamorous Isabella but resolutely rejects Henry’s attentions.

She also meets siblings Eleanor and Henry Tilney who are much nicer. They invite Catherine to stay with them at their family home, Northanger Abbey which sparks that vivid imagination due to Catherine’s love of sensational gothic horror novels that always take place in shadowy, old abbeys and castles. Once she has lived through several embarrassing situations where her imagination is her own worst enemy, she settles down and learns a few life lessons. The book ends happily as you would expect but it does wrap up a bit too suddenly, I think.

This was the first novel Ms. Austen wrote though it was not published until after her death. The plot isn’t quite as complex or layered as some of her other books but it’s enjoyable just the same. I am also using this for a Bingo 2018 square though may change it later on.

Review: Yum and Yummer – Greta Podleski

2018: 4
4 of 5 stars
Published in 2017

Greta Podleski and her sister were behind the excellent “Looneyspoons” cookbooks. Greta has branched out on her own and come up with a cookbook that promotes healthy eating, just like Looneyspoons did, and offers up recipes made with fresh ingredients. There are plenty of recipes here that are vegetarian that can also be made gluten free and/or vegan.

Each recipe has a gorgeous photo and there’s a QR code which, if you scan with your phone or tablet, launches a one minute video of the preparation of the recipe which is a nice touch.

I haven’t made anything from the book yet but I have a long list of recipes to try! I’m sure there will be a number of “keepers”. This also satisfies one of my 2018 Bingo reading challenge squares though I am required to make one of the recipes. That’s definitely in the plan for the near future.