Canada Reads 2018 – Favs and Predictions

Debates kick off next week. Have you read them all yet?

It’s almost time! The debates kick off next week from March 26-29, 2018. In advance of the debates, I have read all five novels and have broken down the five into two lists. One, based on which ones I enjoyed the most and two, based on how the book best fits this year’s theme. Don’t forget to click on the links to read my full reviews on each novel!

Let’s start with the theme: One Book to Open Your Eyes. Here is how I think the debates will unfold and which book I think will be the winner.


5) The Marrow Thieves –  Putting a dystopian YA novel in with other quality pieces of literature is always going to be a gamble and while the topic of the treatment of Native Americans is important the execution of this story just didn’t match up with the other contenders. The loose concept of dreams being stuck in bone marrow was a bit of stretch too.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this read. It draws attention to children and families living with disabilities. The writing is lighthearted and humorous but lacks the depth of the other contending novels.

3) Forgiveness – Rife with Canadian history as well lesser-known war details about Canada’s time in Hong Kong during WWII. The author’s grandparents come to terms with the terrible misfortunes that the war has brought them and learn to forgive as their families come together.  The writing can be a bit clunky and did not feel like a finished whole.

2) American War – Another dystopian though catered to a very adult audience. The content of this book is violent and brutal and draws a lot of attention to the realities of war and the politics behind it as well as the people that suffer in its wake.

1) The Boat People – Despite the slow start to this novel, this book takes the cake when it comes to the theme this year. The book is inspired by a real refugee crisis that happened in Canada in 2010 and it really opens your eyes past all the media and politics to the real issue facing refugees.

In terms of the books I enjoyed the most, however, I would rank the novels as such. It was tough this year as I found the difference in genres made it challenging as I enjoyed a few of the stories equally.


5) The Marrow Thieves – This book just didn’t click with me. The storytelling tradition aspects of the book are beautiful but the general YA premise just didn’t work for me.

4) Precious Cargo – I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as it was the most uplifting of the five. Had the other books not been as poignant it would have been higher up on this list.

3) Forgiveness –  Despite the issues I had with the writing style, the content about Hong Kong and the author’s time in a Japanese POW was absolutely captivating.

2) American War – This book surprised me the most. I was completely drawn into this world and the ending left me gutted.

1) The Boat People – Based on the first quarter of this book, I thought it was going to be on the bottom of this list, thankfully the dry story quickly came together to create something phenomenal and beautiful. This book combines dynamic and visceral characters paired with a memorable and important story that will be sure to tug on anyone’s conscience.

What do you think of my predictions and favourites? Do you agree? Comment and let me know!

Here are a few more details to get you prepped and ready for the debates! The contenders and their chosen books are:

Ali Hassan from CBC’s Laugh Out Loud will host for the second year in a row.

The debates will air on CBC Radio One at 11:05 a.m. ET, CT, MT, PT; 1:05 p.m. in Atlantic Canada; and at 1:35 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. They will also be live-streamed on CBC Books at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on CBC Television at 4 p.m. local time.

Nocturne by Heather McKenzie

“The only way I can protect the ones I love…is to disappear.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 363 pages.
Read from March 13, 2018 to March 19, 2018.

I was thrilled when Heather reached out to me again to review an ARC edition of her latest novel in the Nightmusic Trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in her series, Serenade, and am thankful I have had the privilege of continuing to read and review the series.

Nocturne picks up right where it left off in Serenade so I would recommend starting with Serenade if you are interested in the series or you will not have a clue what is going on in Nocturne. If you have read Serenade then you are in for a treat as all of the best characters make a come back in this novel as well as few stellar new ones.

Kaya feels free. Finally. Well, as free as you can feel being away from an oppressive and murderous father who wants you dead to ensure he gets full control of his billion-dollar pharmaceutical company. But she has Luke and that is all she needs. Despite her good fortune with the help of her friends in her initial escape she is still being hunted and is constantly be on the run. She soon learns that she is being hunted by more than just her father which has brought a few unwanted people back into her life. This knowledge came with a violent scene in which Kaya tragically learns that if she truly wants to protect the ones she loves she must leave them. Kaya heart-wrenchingly lies to those close to her and then sets off on her own, something she has never been allowed to do before. She is picked up by a cowboy named Ben who invites her to work on his ranch for room and board. Kaya is gutted with the loss of Luke and tries her best to maintain herself but will she be able to stay hidden? Is this what her life is now going to be like? No longer a sheltered princess living in a castle, Kaya grows and learns about her own capabilities and is finally free to make her own decisions. Luke and the ones who love her are not so easily deterred from protecting her, and as the story climaxes, Kaya will be thankful for their persistence.

Nocturne definitely keeps the same intense pace as its predecessor! This is the kind of action that needs to be in more YA novels with female leads. The novel is exciting, action-packed and suspenseful. The story is constantly moving and changing, creating nail-biting anticipation as Kaya and her friends literally fight their way away from those wanting to harm her. The story does not shy away from gun violence, blood, gore or from the characters getting a little frisky! The characters emotional reactions are visceral and the scenes invoke fantastic imagery. It is also nice to see a plot set in Saskatchewan, Canada. While it isn’t the most glamorous place, it is nice to see real rural Canadian settings in a YA book and I think that will speak to a lot of local readers.

Fun Fact:
Heather McKenzie decided to write a book because her own daughter wanted to read a story that did not have vampires, werewolves etc. but rather something set in real life.

As with a lot of YA novels, I struggled with the romance aspects of the plot and this book is sappier than Serenade. The massive love triangle was not as appealing to me as the extreme in which the characters cared and lusted for each other seemed like a stretch, but then again, I am not a teenager. I have not forgotten the fierceness I felt with my first love or how all-encompassing it felt so I think that the romance in this story would be very engaging for most teens. The other new characters in the story, like Thomas and Marlene, are fierce, smart and funny and are fantastic additions to the story.

There is one character and aspect of this story that I question and that is how the new character, Ben, was handled. Without spoiling the story, Ben makes some reprehensible choices under the guise that he was drunk and didn’t mean it. Just because someone is drunk does mean that they are not in control or not responsible for their actions. Ben also had a track record of the behaviour. However, Ben is a complicated and dynamic character, which is not always seen in YA, and he really added some depth to the story. I don’t think you’re supposed to like Ben or even feel sorry for him and thankfully the other supporting characters reactions and fortitude make up for his failings. Some of the novel’s focus is on Kaya’s desire and her desirability, which, of course, every teen girl wants to feel! So as a teen reader these plot nuances are a way to build on that and for the reader to play into a fantasy of desirability, which is completely understandable. So perhaps I think I just need to turn my adult-brain off and just enjoy the story for what it is, and it is one that I actually really enjoyed.

In fact, I demolished it over the last few days and bemoaned when I had to put it down. I feel really lucky to be one of the first to get my hands on this book. If you are a teen, a lover of YA fiction, action and romance then you are going to love this book. It is a great follow-up to Serenade and I can’t wait to see what the final book has in store for Kaya. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait too long for the final addition in this series!

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

“Canada is not in the business of turning refugees away. If we err, let it be on the side of compassion.” – Brian Mulroney, Former Canadian Prime Minister

4/5 stars.
ebook, 363 pages.
Read from March 6, 2018 to March 12, 2018.

The Boat People is inspired by a real refugee crisis as detailed in the author’s notes. The MV Sun Sea incident happened in 2010 when a boat docked in British Columbia carrying nearly 500 illegal refugees who were trying to escape the Sri Lankan civil war. The journey took three months…three months of squalor and close living quarters, three months without a proper bath or meal, three months of nightmares from the horrors they left behind. Yet the intentions of the refugees were questioned when they were detained at the harbour. This work of fiction tries to capture what may have gone on during that time, not only for the refugees but the works, lawyers and politicians working with and against them.

The actual boat, the MV Sun Sea, arriving off the coast of Victoria full of Tamil refugees in 2010.

According to the author, in the real incident, there was a man who was a mechanic back in Sri Lanka that had to work with the Tiger terrorist group and it was this man that inspired the main character, Mahindan. After Mahindan’s wife dies in childbirth he becomes the sole provider of his son Sellian. As civil war tensions rise, Mahindan is left with no choice but to try and get aboard a smuggling ship to save the life of his young son. The horrors and death that Mahindan had to live with in order to board the boat are shocking and graphically detailed but when he and his other refugee countrymen are received in Canada they are detained and chained, placed into a prison, where Mahindan is separated from his son. The story also follows the perspective and family lives of the adjudicator, Grace, a Japanese-Canadian who is responsible for deciding the fate of the refugees, as well as Priya, a young Tamil-Canadian student lawyer who has found herself defending the refugees. The novel encompasses all perspectives and opinions on immigrants and refugees making you empathize with every party and giving you an encompassing image of the stresses and issues surrounding the story and the real-life issue itself. Grace is an example of a stressed and broken system in which people with no experience or right to making such hefty decisions are making and breaking them. Fred, Grace’s boss, represents the narrow but well-meaning persona of a conservative politician.

I saved this book to read last out of the five Canada Reads 2018 shortlist candidates because it has the best reviews. I have to admit, the first 120 pages were a slog. I felt disconnected from the characters and the story and felt bogged down in politics and details. I was baffled as to why people were in love with this book. However, that quickly changed. After I passed the quarter mark of the book the stakes got higher and I was soon enraptured in an emotionally gripping story.  And that ending! I was not prepared for it. Looking back, however, I feel it was the best way to end the story as it leaves the reader with the decision based on their own views of Canada.

This book opened my eyes and will open many others who read it on what the real realities of refugees.  In today’s world, especially in a Trump era of fake news, it is imperative that stories like this exist. Even for a fiction, it may be the only voice that some refugees get that someone will listen to.

The real incident changed Canada, for better or for worse, depending on who you ask, making it harder for refugees to come to Canada. The situation is worse in America with Trump’s reign and in the UK with the major vote of Brexit being based on the false belief that immigrants are stealing jobs. I hope that Canada will always be a safe place for those seeking refuge. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said it best, “Canada is not in the business of turning refugees away. If we err, let it be on the side of compassion.”