Review: Tomboy Survival Guide – Ivan Coyote

2018: 9
4 of 5 stars
Published 2016

Ivan Coyote is a trans-man, or rather, “gender-box-defying adult” who is a writer, storyteller and stage performer. In this book, they reveal anecdotes from their life growing up in Whitehorse in Canada’s far north. There are stories about their family, stories about their friends, about meeting the general public when they’re on tour. There are letters  that touch the heart, answers that open your eyes, issues raised and explained, labels cast away because they don’t fit anyway.  Ivan was lucky in some respects. They had a loving family and the support network there for them.

I know several trans people so I’m familiar with some of the issues but I learned something from this book, too. I think it would be a very good book for young adults to read as well. A lot of Ivan’s shows are actually directed towards younger people, maybe to head them off before they become too entangled in labels. This was one of the Canada Reads 2018 books on the long list though it didn’t make the cut to the short list. Too bad, it’s certainly an eye opener, in a good way. Ivan’s stories of their childhood, discovering that they were meant  to be a boy and the hard road to get there,  the bullies, the battle of the bathrooms. We watch them persevere and become the person they were meant to. The road to get to that spot in life is bumpy but ultimately, for Ivan, they find their place in lifel

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Review: Fables of Brunswick Avenue – Kathleen Govier

2018:8
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

2018:8
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

2018:6
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.

Canada Reads 2018 – The Longlist

CBC Today has announced the longlist for this year’s Canada Reads competition, to take place at the end of March (26 – 29). Last year was the first year I really participated in this and I really enjoyed it. I managed to read all of the shortlisted books except one and I think I did read one or two more from the longlist as well. In perusing the longlist (see below), I see a handful of books I might enjoy. They aren’t all within my comfort zone but that’s exactly why I should read them if I get the chance.

This year, Ali Hassan will again be the host of the show. He did a pretty good job of keeping everyone on the same page. I think the panelists get announced at the same time as the shortlist which is announced on January 30.

My plan is to see which of the books I think I’d like to read and get my hands on  a couple before the Shortlist is announced, though I already checked my library’s site and there are not a lot of them available as e-books. The links in the list below will take you to a short blurb about the book on the CBC site. I’ve noted the two I have on hold at the library and put ** beside others I think might be good. Sometimes, Kobo and Kindle put them on sale before the debates so I will keep an eye out there as well.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention the theme of this year’s Canada Reads, it is “One book to Open Your Eyes” and the description is “These books challenge readers to look differently at themselves, their neighbours and the world around them”. The defender of the winner of this year’s competition must have successfully argued that their book is the one that changes how you look at the world. Interesting!

2018 Canada Reads Longlist

 

 

Review: Promises to Keep – Genevieve Graham

2018:2
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2017

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an epic poem written in 1847, A Tale of Acadie, about lovers Evangeline and Gabriel who were separated during the Explusion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755. Evangeline spends her life searching for her lost love only to find him as he lays dying, an old man.

Genevieve Graham’s book is the story of Amelie Belliveau and her family during the Expulsion. Evangeline and Gabriel make an appearance, pre-separation. The story starts as the British army have arrived in the Annapolis Valley and eventually take all the men and boys onto waiting ships for the summer before moving all of the families out of the province so that the British can get their hands on the rich farmland and divest the province of potentially loyal French since the two countries are at war.

Before she is sent away, Amelie becomes friendly with a young British Army Corporal, Scottish Connor MacDonnell, and the two fall in love, dangerous in those circumstances. Connor has promised to do anything he can to protect Amelie and her family but at what cost? The book follows their journey, separation, and, because it’s inevitably got a happy ending, their reunion.

I think it’s very well researched. You get a good feeling for the era. I’m from Nova Scotia and am familiar with the geography of the Annapolis Valley so that helps me picture it while reading. The characters are quite good though I did find the dialogue and descriptions a bit slow and underwhelming at times. I thought at first it was going to be rather disappointing in that respect which was a disappointment since I really liked her book Tides of Honour  but the latter half of the book perked up considerably.