Review: White Heat – M.J. McGrath

2018: 10
5 of 5 stars
Published 2017

White Heat takes place in a small settlement on Ellesmere Island in the most northern part of Canada there is. The tundra is bleak, the wind is chilly at the best of times and can flashfreeze your skin at an instant’s notice.

Edie Kiglatu is a teacher and guide who takes curious tourists out on hunting expeditions. On one fateful expedition, while Edie was in the forest, one of her two tourists is killed but not by the other one. A few weeks later, the other tourist returns to try to find evidence and he, too, dies. Another tragedy closer to home shatters Edie. Grief and anger take over and she takes matters into her own hands when the local law authorities and tribal elders are more than willing to sweep it all under a rug. People are dying and Edie needs to find out why.

One thing I loved about this book was the excellent descriptions of the Northern environment and culture of the Inuit, what they believed, what they ate, their customs, and more. The writing and detail is so good that you really feel like seal blubber might actually be a tasty treat! These far northern settlements do not make for an easy life but for the First Nations that call it home, it’s the only way of life they know so they get on with it. Other people have arrived for a variety of reasons, to stay or just to visit.

The author is British but has done a lot of traveling including to Ellesmere Island where this book takes place. Her research feels meticulous and I would enjoy reading the other two books she has out about Edie.


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

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: Promises to Keep – Genevieve Graham

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.