Summer Reading Challenges Completed


Well, I’ve done it. On Goodreads, in the CanadianContent group (also here on WordPress at A Year of Books), we were challenged to read a book from each province and territory in Canada over the summer. It could be a book based in that province or a book written by an author from that province. My initial list changed over the course of the challenge, as I found other books that I enjoyed or did not finish another and had to find something else to replace it. I discovered some books that I really, really enjoyed and a few authors new to me and I hope to read more by them.

These 13 books are also part of the #20BooksOfSummer challenge at 746Books. You can see my original list of  Cross Canada books here with others that I thought I would read to  make up the 20. The final list is a bit different.  I’ve actually read more than 20 since June. I have added a  list of seven more at the end of this post and call that challenge complete!

Here, then, is the final list with links to the reviews:

British Columbia:
Title: The Jade Peony (Review)
Author: Wayson Choy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Finished: June 19
Have I Visited B.C.?: Yes

Alberta
Title: Prairie Ostrich (Review)
Author: Tamal Kobayshi
Rating: 5 stars
Finished: July 5
Have I Visited?: No

Saskatchewan
Title: Alone in the Classroom (Review)
Author: Elizabeth Hay
Rating: 2.5 stars
Finished: July 9
Have I Visited?: No

Manitoba:
Title: The Summer of My Amazing Luck (Review)
Author: Miriam Toews
Rating: 3 stars
Finished: July 25
Have I Visited?: No

Ontario
Title: The Only Cafe (Review)
Author: Linden McIntyre
Rating: 4 stars
Finished: July 17
Have I Visited?: Yes

Quebec
Title: Barney’s Version (Review)
Author: Mordecai Richler
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: June 14
Have I Visited?: Yes

New Brunswick
Title: The Town that Drowned (Review)
Author: Riel Nason
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: August 16
Have I Visited?: Yes

Nova Scotia
Title: Ava Comes Home (Review)
Author: Lesley Crewe
Rating: 3.5 stars
Finished: June 11
Have I Visited?: Live here

Prince Edward Island
Title: Chronicles of Avonlea (Review)
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Rating: 4 stars
Finished: August 18
Have I Visited?: Yes

Newfoundland & Labrador
Title: First Snow, Last Light (Review)
Author: Wayne Johnston
Rating: 5 stars
Finished: August 22
Have I Visited?: Yes

Nunavut
Title: Rankin Inlet (Review)
Author: Mara Feeney
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: June 26
Have I Visited?: No

Northwest Territories
Title: Late Nights on Air (Review)
Author: Elizabeth Hay
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: August 30
Have I Visited?: No

Yukon
Title: Gold Fever (Review)
Author: Vicki Delany
Rating: 3 stars
Finished: June 9
Have I Visited?: No

To finish, seven more books to make up the 20 Books of Summer Challenge:

Court of Lions – Jane Johnson. 4 stars, Finished June 25
Electric Shadows of Shanghai – Clare Kane. 4.5 stars, Finished
All is Beauty Now – Sarah Faber. 5 stars, Finished July 20
Persuasion – Jane Austen. 4 stars, Finished August 2
Lost in September – Kathleen Winter. 4 stars, Finished August 6
Holding Still for as Long as Possible – Zoe Whittall. 3 stars, Finished August 11
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy. 3.5 stars, Finished June 12

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Review: Late Nights on Air – Elizabeth Hay

2017: 75
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 2007

Late Nights On Air takes place in the northern Canadian city of Yellowknife in 1975-76. Television was about to come to the Northwest Territories and a hearing was ongoing to assess the impact of a gas pipeline to be built from the north down “south of 60”.  Radio, at the time, was one of the only connections to the outside world and a method of communication in much of the remote North.

A lot of people escape to the North to run from something in their lives or they come North looking for something, and we open with two women who have done just that, Dido and Gwen. They join broadcaster and temporary manager Harry, receptionist Eleanor and other employees of the small radio station such as Ralph, Eddy and Teresa. The book chronicles their lives, their pasts, their journeys including a physical one, a canoe trip that several of them take later in the book.

This novel won the Giller prize. It’s not a fast paced book, it’s a slow moving, character based story and I really liked it.  Some of the characters you will like and some you won’t. You will get a good feel for life in the remote parts of Canada where the radio communicates not just the outside world but passes on personal messages to folks that are listening of things like babies born, family deaths, and transportation delays.  I remember when the radio had “buy and sell” segments and would announce anniversaries if you wrote in and told them.

The canoe trip that four of the characters underwent north from Yellowknife was particularly wonderful to read. They had more or less replicated a real life journey by a man called John Hornby who did it in the 1920s, whereupon he attempted to spend a winter and he and his companions starved to death. You can read about him here.   I really got a sense of the North, the vast tundra, the wild life, herds of caribou, wolves, bears, the icy lakes even in July, uncertain weather, the utter desolate wildness, peace and beauty of it. That trip changed the characters that went on it, and they felt that difference the rest of their lives.

This book completes my Cross Canada reading challenge. I’ll post something with a round up of all my choices over the next week or so.

Review: First Snow, Last Light – Wayne Johnston

2017:74
5 of 5 stars
Published 2017

We begin with a 14 year old boy, Ned Vatcher, who comes home from school to discover his parents are gone. They’ve disappeared without a word on the day of the first snow storm of the winter, in St. John’s, Newfoundland, November 1936, leaving him behind. Ned has come home from school to an empty house and a mystery. He runs to his sports coach from school, Father Duggan and ends up with his father’s family, a family of fishermen who have already lost one son to the sea. He grows up to make a life for himself in media and other businesses but his parents’ disappearance continues to haunt him. What happened to them? Why did they leave him behind?

A couple of years ago, Wayne Johnston wrote a fictional account of the life of Joey Smallwood, the first premier of Newfoundland called The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. It featured a female journalist, the enigmatic, alcoholic and reclusive Sheilagh Fielding. First Snow, Last Light is told from Ned’s point of view and also from the point of view of Fielding, which is great because she was such a strange and engaging character in that first book. Johnston also wrote The Custodian of Paradise which is mainly about her though I haven’t read that (yet).

Ned’s parents’ disappearance colours his life as he grows up and becomes a wealthy businessman in Newfoundland. Sheilagh Fielding had made friends with his father and reconnects with Ned, his adopted son, Brendan, and  Father Duggan. The novel follows their lives while we wait to see if the mystery of Ned’s parents ever gets resolved. There are twists and secrets, and the ghosts of the past haunt them all.

Wayne Johnston is a very talented writer and his characters are complex with many layers. Ned is not particularly likeable, nor was Smallwood in Colony of Unrequited Dreams but Fielding is again the best character in the book. I wonder if the trilogy of books isn’t really her story, rather than those of Ned Vatcher and Joey Smallwood. I really enjoy his books and they haven’t let me down yet.

This was a Netgalley book for review. It is released in September 2017.

Review: The Chronicles of Avonlea – L. M. Montgomery

2017: 72
4 of 5 stars
Published 1912

Lucy Maud Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables. She wrote many books about Anne Shirley but she also wrote about the Islanders and communities in and around Avonlea where Green Gables is. These are 12 stories about the men, women and children of various communities in the area around Avonlea and Carmody. Anne Shirley even gets name checked or makes a brief appearance now and then but the stories aren’t about her. They’re about an engaged couple that haven’t spoken in 15 years, or a proud old woman who sacrifices to do special things for the daughter of a lost love, or a young lad who has an extraordinary talent for the fiddle or two very different sisters trying to raise a young lad. We get heart warming stories, humourous stories, hopes and dreams all told in the superb prose of Montgomery, never cloyingly sweet or “folksy”, just prose glowing with wit and painting a perfect picture of rural Prince Edward Island and it’s inhabitants.

This book nearly completes my Cross Canada reading challenge. Just one for the Northwest Territories left, that will be “Late Nights on Air” by Elizabeth Hay.

Review: The Town that Drowned – Riel Nason

2017:71
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 2011

Ruby Carson falls through the ice while skating and has a vision as she nearly drowns. She sees her small town and 4 people under water and now everyone thinks she’s as weird as they think her brother is. But then surveyors come to town and the fate of it is to be sealed and flooded for a huge dam. The novel is a bit “coming of age” and a bit about having your home taken away. It takes place in the mid 1960s.

I really enjoyed this book. Ruby as a shy 14 – 16 year old, her interactions with the neighbours and her family are very real. Her younger brother, Percy, would be diagnosed as autistic today but that wasn’t known then. You just had an “odd” child and learned how to work with his need for everything to be the same all the time and how to handle his meltdowns when things changed. Percy is written with a very sympathetic and gentle characterization. We know he’s not weird, he’s just unique and though his mother is more understanding, we also see her worry and frustration and his confounded father’s anger at not having a son like everyone else’s. Ruby is outcast by her peers as well due to her vision which kind of turns out to be true. But the family and their close friends are people I’d like to know.

What’s very interesting is that this story is inspired by real events. There really is a Mactaquac Dam that was built in the mid 60s and the nearby towns were relocated before the flooding. A new planned town, a bridge and a pulp and paper mill were built. This book imagines what the impact would be on the ordinary people that lived in one of the villages that were flooded.

I’m nearly done with my Cross Canada Reading Challenge. This book covers the province of New Brunswick, with just one more province and one territory left to “read”.

Review: Crimes Against My Brother – David Adams Richards

2017:
2 of 5 stars
Published 2013

It’s not often that I can’t finish a book. It used to be that I would stick with almost any book to the bitter end but these days, I have decided that there are too many good books to read and if I’m not enjoying one, I won’t finish it. This was one of those. I managed about 40% before I couldn’t take any more.

David Adams Richards’ books are not easy to read. They’re dark, violent and grim, full of anger and resentment,  at least the two that I’ve read are, taking place in rural New Brunswick with the themes of poverty and struggle at the core. I opened the book to continue reading at one point and within the first half page, one man remembered his father blackening both of his eyes and a paragraph later, his boss was making him do repossessions and stealing odds and ends from those respossessees just because he could. Sheesh.

In this book there are three friends who pledge to be blood brothers but the vow is soon broken by perceived betrayal and the friends drift apart. Each struggles with their lives, each has dreams for their future and with every success, of which there are damn few, comes another failure in the end, often at the hands of a man who has the money and control over much of the area. Manipulation, control, resentment, anger, back stabbing,  it’s all there. It’s well written but can be a struggle to get there. None of the characters are happy, none of them …

If you like “gritty”, you’ll probably like this and his other books. He’s a very good writer, so he does get 2 stars, but I think I’m done with this author. Two books that I didn’t particularly enjoy is enough for me. Just not my thing. I’m publishing the review though not counting it as “read” for 2017. It was one of my Cross Canada books, for New Brunswick but I guess I’ll have to find something else to put in that slot if I can, before the end of August when the challenge ends.

Review: Summer of My Amazing Luck – Miriam Toews

2017: 66
3 of 5 stars
Published 1996

I’ve read two or three of Miriam Toews’ books and they’re fabulous so when I was looking around for a book to read for the Cross Canada reading challenge for the province of Manitoba, someone reminded me that Ms. Toews is from there and many of her books are situated in that province. Oh, yes! I had forgotten that. I looked at the descriptions for the ones I hadn’t read and decided on Summer of My Amazing Luck, which is her first novel, and borrowed it from the library’s digital site.

Lucy is an 18 year old single mum of an infant boy. She moves into a public housing block in Winnipeg known by the residents as “Half-a-Life” and meets Lish, a single mum of four girls. Lish’s two youngest, twins, were conceived on a one night stand with a busker, a man whose name she never got, a man she thinks might have been the love of her life. Years after their encounter, she gets a letter from him fondly remembering their night together and she and Lucy and the kids embark on a road trip to find him.

The novel is filled with great, quirky characters, mostly residents of the apartment building, mostly single women with children all trying to survive on welfare. But this isn’t a story about the grim realities of poverty that these women are enduring. It’s a lighthearted look at friendship and endurance as Lucy tells us about Life at Half-a-Life. The women struggle but they are strong and there’s always hope. There are lots of references to Canadian pop culture, Manitoba weather, and government red tape to be untangled, all of  which I liked. It all contributed to making this story feel “real”.

Lucy is telling the story but she’s probably the least interesting character. Her mother died 3 years ago but she’s not really grieved properly and her father is not emotionally there for her. She’s got a baby and she’s new to the welfare system so it’s overwhelming for her to figure out the system, something the other mothers have already gone through. At 18, she’s clearly not as mature as she thinks she is. She mentions a couple of times that she spends more time interfering in other peoples’ lives yet I didn’t get that at all aside from the one big lie she told to her friend.  Lish is easily the most colourful, with eccentricities in her personality, the way she dresses and the way she raises her kids. The road trip was brief and not a huge part of the book like the description would have you believe. It’s a turning point for Lucy, I think, coming to terms with her mother’s death and her own life. I also seemed to have missed the point of the book’s title. It doesn’t seem to match the story.

This is Miriam Toews’ debut novel and while her more recent ones are more serious and heart wrenching, you can clearly see in this book that she has talent and a grasp of making her characters leap off the page, utterly identifiable to the reader. To me, anyway. I will be working my way through her books and highly recommend her as an author to anyone.

#20BooksOfSummer
Cross Canada Reading Challenge (Manitoba)