The Break by Katherena Vermette

A story of strong women on the path from trauma to recovery.

But even in sleep, her ghosts all hunt her down, wanting her to look at them, remember them.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 269 pages.
Read from March 8, 2017 to March 14, 2017.

Huzzuh! I am nearly done all the shortlisted Canada Reads 2017 books. I think is one of the best selections of books in the last few year (I have been following since 2014) and I know that it is going to be hard for me to select my favourites for the winner. At the rate I am reading I will have all the books read and reviewed before the debates kick off so I will post my thoughts on what I think the top five should be.

It’s winter in Winnipeg and during one cold night a Métis mother named Stella looks out her window to witness a violent assault taking place. Afraid for herself and her children the only thing she can do is call the police. From here the story shifts between narrators, all of whom are connected somehow to the victim of the assault. From the Métis police officer who is not sure how to cope with his Métis identity,  to members of Stella’s extensive families, along with their personal histories and individual traumas and pain that they have all had to deal with that are unique to their heritage and upbringing. The narratives string together the real story of the assault that Stella witnessed outside her window and how traumas can change and affect a whole family or community of people overnight.

This book deals with so many tough issues. It discusses with rape culture, Native American and Métis specific cultural issues, as well as topics of identity, family and community. The Native American and Métis characters all struggle with perceptions from the outside world about their race and identity and they come from varying degrees of dysfunctional families. The dysfunction details the realities of growing up poor and different and the tragedies of those that are stuck within a rigid system of expectations.

The women in the book have all dealt with one trauma or another and are intensely strong and resilient, making the book ending overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. While there is no assurance that everything will end up being okay, it emphasises the support of family, community and specifically on other women and how essential that is to heal from the trauma the each individual has faced in the novel.

This book is a phenomenal contender for the winner of Canada Reads 2017. With the question: What is the one book Canadians need now? This book fulfills in answering this question many times over with the multiple topics it breaches. This book outlines rape culture, which is massively important with our neighbours below us stirring the pot politically on feminist topics, as well as discussing and bringing light to the importance of how missing and murdered Native American women are being viewed and treated negatively and are not given the the serious attention that their cause deserves. Additionally, the books ends with hope. That through supporting each other, our backgrounds, identities and communities that a better tomorrow can be attained.

The quality of the writing and character development is superb as the author depicts the realities of living with trauma. I would not recommend this book to people who are sensitive to trauma, especially sexual related traumas, as it does not spare details. It could however prove to be a healing tool for those that are ready to approach it. For everyone else, this is a phenomenal book of trauma and recovery.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

A company town is a place where practically all stores and housing are owned by the one company that is also the main employer. – Wikipedia

3/5 stars.
ebook,  241 pages.
Read from March 1, 2017 to March 7, 2017.

Book number three out of the Canada Reads 2017 five shortlist nominees. This science fiction novel was a nice change of pace from the general fiction genre that normally dominates Canada Reads. Science fiction often gets a bad rap so it is nice to see great stories, regardless of genre, getting the attention they deserve.

Hwa lives in a company town. Almost everyone does these days. Hwa is different than the rest of the people living in the rig as she is nearly completely organic. In the future people use bionics and engineering to enhance their bodies, looks and health. Hwa is a bodyguard for the sex workers on the rig and she is very good at what she does. Having a spiteful mother and upbringing, in combination with the loss of her brother as well as her skills in taekwondo, has given Hwa rough persona, making her an ideal bodyguard. Her skills do not go unnoticed and she is soon asked to be the bodyguard to the heir of the Lynch family who own the large company that owns the town. The Lynch’s are strange and all of their hopes are on this one boy that Hwa must take care of. Soon after she starts this new job watching the Lynch boy,  people she knows start to be murdered in a horrific fashion. Faced with questions about the involvement of the Lynch family and the murders of her friends, Hwa risks her life to find the truth about what is really going on her in her company town.

Hwa is a fantastic character. I only wish that there were more like her: strong, smart, brave (all in the masculine sense too) and she can kick some serious ass. Her Korean heritage was a great addition too. Even the romance that evolves in the story suited me. I actually enjoyed it. It was subtle and didn’t detract from the main story. There is nothing I hate more when an intriguing story is taken over by a lame romance so this novel made me very happy in that aspect.

However I felt that this novel was not as well executed as it could have been. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with all the bionics and tech in the beginning. Additionally, the killer in the story, while not who I expected, did not feel like an important enough character through the book to have such a pinnacle role. I felt confused and disappointed at the end in that sense. I actually had to go back and reread a few parts because I wasn’t even sure how he came into play through the story.

While I feel there are important themes in this books, especially in relation to how massive the oil companies and rigs are in Canada, I don’t feel it has the same potency as the other two books that I have read so far and does not meet the Canada Reads 2017 question (What book do Canadians need now?) as well as the others.

Overall this is a great book for those interested in strong female protagonists and the science-fiction genre.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Mortals never win when the god’s play games. Not even dogs.

“I wonder,” said Hermes, “what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.”

I’ll wager a year’s servitude“, answered Apollo, “that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 235 pages.
Read from February 19, 2017 to February 21, 2017.

This is the first book I tackled off the Canada Reads 2017 shortlist!  I have approached the short list this year not knowing anything about the current books that are being discussed and I find that kind of exciting. It allows me to read each book without any bias too. After reading the first chapter of this book, I knew I was in for a treat.

Greek gods have always found a way to cause trouble and misery for mortals. We are just pawns in their big game. Well as Apollo and Hermes, the sons of Zeus, are having a leisurely drink in the mortal realm, they make a bet. Apollo believes that human intelligence binds us to being unhappy while Hermes disagrees. To settle the bet, they agree to give fifteen dogs inside one vet clinic the “gift” of human intelligence while also allowing them to remember their previous life before beforehand. Following this gift, most of the dogs agree to leave the clinic and join as a pack. Murder and betrayal are quick to follow. Vivid, descriptive and unique, André delves into a first-person perspective of what the world would look like through the eyes of these dogs, while also relaying a philosophical approach to our own humanity.

I loved this book. It was truly a treat to read. The writing styles is gorgeous, fluid and consistent while the author also made easy work of the characters and plot despite its complexities. Why aren’t more novels this length? Novels, like movies, are becoming ridiculously large these days and people seem to have forgotten the art of being concise. It is much harder to be concise than it is to write at length. This book is a perfect example of beautiful and poignant writing.

Can I also say, that I wish I could have a relationship with my pets the way that Nira and Majoun had. What would my silly cats say? I can’t imagine that either of them would be as philosophical as Majoun, but hey, you never know! I enjoyed reading the banter the two of them and the differences in how they perceived certain situations. For example, Majoun does not understand why Nira finds it so repulsive that he enjoys the taste of his own poop or that he sees her mate as the leader of the pack and not her. Majoun still makes sense of the world through the culture of dogs despite coming to some basic understanding of human culture. And kudos to André, if dogs could communicate and think the way that humans do, I believe this is exactly what would they would think like.

In terms of the Canada Reads question: What is the one book Canadians need now? – this book analyzes our humanity, both the good and the bad, and focuses on the positives of: language, poetry/art, and companionship in relation to happiness and purpose. With the current political atmosphere, this book helps reminds of our need to connect and communicate, to ultimately respect the differences of others, and just how essential this is to our happiness as a species. As with the dogs in this book, hate only leads to more hate, hurt and tragic endings.

Even after the bet is over, Hermes and Apollo still, even after all this time have not come to a complete understanding of mortals. To know what it is to die or that your life has an expiry date is an inspiration and a curse that an immortal would never be able to understand, which is why their fascination will never cease.