Review | The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson

GapofTimeThe Gap of Time is such a beautiful book. Winterson is a master of language, and she plays with Shakespeare’s tale in such clever ways that it feels both homage and update, Shakespeare’s original not so much retold as teased out and turned inside out. There’s a playfulness to Winterson’s tone, a lilt to her cadence that hints that she doesn’t take all of this too seriously, yet there is also such lyricism in the language that she manages to evoke depths of emotion all the same. It’s a linguistic feat worthy of Shakespeare himself, and thus such a fitting “cover” of his work.

Take for example the beginning, where a man named Shep finds a baby “light as a star” abandoned near a hospital, and decides to adopt her as his own:

I played the song and I taught it to her. She was singing before she could talk.

I am learning to be a father and a mother to her. She asks about her mother and I say we don’t know. I have always told her the truth — or enough of it. And she is white and we are black so she knows she was found.

The story has to start somewhere. (page 23)

The words are simple and straightforward, yet the rhythm almost feels musical. Contrast that with the harsh momentum in the story of Leo, a man whose irrational jealousy ends up destroying his family:

Leo swivelled round to the window. He hated his friend for fucking his wife. Weren’t there enough women out there? Everywhere he went, bars, clubs, hotels, boats, there were identical-looking women searching for men. Long hair, long legs, big sunglasses, moulded tits, vast handbag, killer heels. You could rent them for the weekend except that it wasn’t called renting, but both parties knew who paid and who put out. (page 39)

You could just feel his anger bubble up and about to burst through. Winterson’s story isn’t meant for stage, but there’s a stage-like quality to her writing, a sense that you’re watching the action unfold rather than just reading about it.

Gap of Time is a cover version of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. You don’t need to know the original to appreciate this story; the novel begins with a handy recap of the play. One of Shakespeare’s later plays, it was never one of my favourites, mostly because I felt Leontes (Leo in Winterson’s version) got off too easily with his own happy ending despite all the havoc he wreaked on other people’s lives. Winterson’s version makes me appreciate the story more, and while I still can’t bring myself to feel sorry for Leo, I appreciated how Winterson’s book makes clear how much Leo’s darkness is within him and how much his suffering ends up self-inflicted.

I also love the other updates Winterson made to the story. She weaves in issues of race (a white girl adopted by a black man and his son) and sexuality (the tension between Leo and his best friend Xeno is partially due to them having once been lovers and there are hints that Leo’s homophobic comments to Xeno are actually rooted in fear of his own sexuality). She also ramps up the metaphor, but does this so beautifully that it feels natural rather than heavy-handed. Xeno invents a video game inspired by a story of an angel who is trapped in a courtyard, and as time passes in the game, Time itself eventually becomes a character in its own right. I’m not quite sure what it means, and there’s a moment where Winterson blurs the lines so I’m not sure if the characters are playing the video game or moving about in the real world. I didn’t like that ambiguity, but I think the metaphor of the game is beautiful overall.

Towards the end, Winterson breaks the fourth wall and deliberately steps back to let the story play out without her. Up until that point, she has moved the characters around, between London and New Bohemia, between the past and the present, and just before she breaks that fourth wall, she situates the characters just so. It’s masterfully done, a playwright/director creating a tableau just as they signal the curtain to fall. There’s an artifice to Winterson’s presentation, certainly, but it’s deliberate and, to my mind, done really well. We know, somewhat, how the story will end, because we know how Shakespeare’s original ended, and despite Winterson’s weaving in of new themes like race and sexuality, she consistently stayed true to the flow of the original. And yet we are still swept away. The emotions are still real, the characters still fleshed out, and the wordplay simply magnificent.

I loved this book, and I’d love to read more of Winterson’s works, to see how her magic with words can bring her own stories to life.


Thanks to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Review | Re Jane, Patricia Park

ReJanePatricia Park’s debut novel Re Jane is promoted as a contemporary, Korean-American retelling of Jane Eyre, and I think that’s a disservice. Park certainly does a great job in updating Bronte’s classic story — protagonist Jane Re is an orphan who works at her uncle’s grocery store. Park’s version of Mr. Rochester is a brooding English professor who hires Jane to care for his daughter, and his wife, while thankfully not locked away in an attic, exhibits a very contemporary type of madness as a hyper-intellectual Type A control freak. As per Bronte’s novel, Jane falls in love with her employer, and then runs away, only to eventually return.

However, where Park’s novel really shines is where she deviates from Bronte’s original and explores Jane’s struggles with her Korean-American heritage. I love Park’s depiction of the America Jane grew up in, “all Korean, all the time,” where nunchi dictates adherence to traditional Korean values even when they sometimes conflict with more liberal American attitudes. I love how Park presents Jane’s desire to escape, to experience something beyond her family’s neighbourhood, and I especially love that this escape eventually leads Jane to travel all the way back to Korea.

The chapters in Korea were among the strongest in the book for me, because they highlighted just how much Jane can belong to two cultures and still not fully belong to either. Just as she feels out of place in New York, she also doesn’t quite fit in with Korea, and Park does such a great job in illustrating her heroine’s yearning for home and corresponding fear that she may never find it.

This may also have been a struggle Bronte’s Jane Eyre faced, but by contextualizing it within a Korean-American caught between two cultures, Park has made the story fresh and much more resonant to a contemporary audience.


Thank you to the publisher for an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour | The Searcher, Simon Toyne

25678239A plane crashes in an Arizona desert and a man emerges unscathed. A label in his suit identifies him as Solomon Creed, and he has no memory of who he is and how he got there. All he knows is that he has the uncanny ability to know how to disarm and disable an attacker and a persistent feeling that he is meant to save a man who he learns has died the day before.

Simon Toyne piles up the questions throughout The Searchereffortlessly weaving in drug cartels, corrupt policemen, a grieving widow, and a thread of the supernatural underpinning it all. It’s an intense page turner, and as Toyne draws us ever deeper into the various mysteries within the town of Redemption, Arizona, you can’t help but wonder how exactly the author would pull it all together in the end.

Toyne’s style reminds me very much of Stephen King, with just a touch of Indiana Jones. Toyne is a fantastic world builder — you can just about imagine Redemption as a desolate landscape where dark secrets can abound and multiply over centuries. Like King, Toyne mixes up the mystical and the mundane, and while at times, I wished he’d just go full out into supernatural territory (so many intriguing hints!), I also felt that this disquiet was precisely what the author intended.

Despite the supernatural underpinnings, Toyne manages to keep most of the story grounded in reality. Drug wars form a major plot thread, not quite connected to the mystery of Solomon’s identity but impacting on his quest anyway. And while there are enough car chases and action packed scenes to keep us riveted between commercial breaks (The Searcher has been optioned for TV), it’s the relationships among the characters that ultimately stand out. Toyne doesn’t shy away from the disturbing lengths to which people go for their families. A moving conversation between a son and his father’s killer is surprisingly chilling, and an adversarial conversation between a kingpin and his son is unexpectedly poignant.

The solution to the mystery isn’t quite what I expected, but it fit in well with themes raised throughout the book. The Searcher is the first in the Solomon Creed series, and I can’t wait to find out how the rest of Creed’s story unfolds.


Intrigued by The Searcher? Add it to your To Read shelf for your 50 Book Pledge!


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Want to read what other bloggers thought of the book? Check out the rest of the blog tour below:

Blog Tour | All Inclusive, Farzana Doctor

All Inclusive book coverI absolutely loved Farzana Doctor’s new book All Inclusive. The publisher’s summary begins with the intriguing question “What’s it like when everyone’s dream vacation is your job?” The novel takes place at an all-inclusive resort, and I loved the behind-the-scenes peek at the employees simply going through a work day while having to deal with starry eyed travellers expecting a five-star-everything experience. Anyone who’s worked in tourism, and possibly even retail, may be able to relate.

I love the way Doctor writes about family, and about the tensions that arise from having multiple heritages. One of my favourite parts of her earlier novel Six Metres of Pavement is Ismail’s struggle with his family’s cultural norms in the face of new relationships. Family and self-realization are major themes as well in All Inclusive. Protagonist Ameera, a resort employee whose career is jeopardized by a customer complaint, struggles with never having met her father, who disappeared the morning after she was conceived. Unbeknownst to her, her father Azeez is looking for her, and the reason behind his disappearance makes this quest ever more bittersweet.

All Inclusive Blog Tour Banner

Dundurn Press has kindly invited me to be a part of their blog tour for All Inclusive, and I took the opportunity to ask Farzana some of the burning questions I had while reading the book.


Farzana DoctorQ: Ameera works at what many people consider a “dream vacation.” Why did you choose such a setting, and what insight does this career choice give us into her character?

An all-inclusive resort, rife with inequality, seemed like a good setting for Ameera’s struggles. She hopes the job will provide an escape from her life, but instead she finds herself in a walled-in amusement park where she must face herself.

Q: Ameera and her father Azeez’s search for each other takes a much different form than I expected. Why did you choose to have Azeez’s story take that trajectory, and were there any particular challenges that resulted from it?

Azeez’s story came to me by magic. During a period of deep discouragement I heard a voice telling me about his character and his back story. I listen to voices when I can hear them—they always guide me well. At first I didn’t want to write what I was being told; I don’t have personal links to the real-life tragedy in the story and I worried that it might not be respectful to those who do. But the more I researched the issue, the more obsessed and compelled I felt about writing it.

Q: Ameera is compared to a house with a roof and windows, but no walls, because of her lack of knowledge of who her father is. How important is an understanding of one’s origins to one’s sense of rootedness?

It’s not essential, of course (many people don’t know their ancestry). However, I chose this to be an important part of her journey. On a personal note, being connected to my roots makes me feel more grounded.

Q: Ameera is very unfamiliar with the South Asian aspect of her heritage, and the story’s setting away from Canada adds another layer of uprootedness. What is it about this double separation from heritage/home that intrigues you, and how difficult/easy was it to put yourself in Ameera’s shoes?

I wanted to create a liminal space that would magnify her sense of otherness for the reader. This in-between place also offers her freedom to explore things she cannot at “home” in Canada. You know, it wasn’t that hard to put myself in her sandals! So many of us diasporic folk feel this sense of not belonging anywhere.

Q: In one of the most (to me) touching scenes, Azeez advises the pre-teen daughter of a con artist that her parents’ problems are not her own, yet the daughter’s shoulders remain stiff and unyielding. How much do you think children take on their parents’ burdens, and is this reflected in Ameera’s relationship with either or both of her parents?

We know that trauma can be inter-generationally inherited, even if that trauma is not directly witnessed. In this example, the child might not realize exactly what her parents are doing, but she senses the wrongness and stress. Ameera inherited her mother’s solid, independent approach to life. She mostly inherited her father’s physical attributes, but I also wanted to imagine how his losses might impact her without her knowing.

Q: Did you do any fun research about Mexico and resorts for this book? If so, what was the highlight of this research trip?

The research wasn’t intentional. I went to an all-inclusive resort in Huatulco about six years ago and was very awake that trip. I noticed the foreign tour reps and wondered how they lived. I saw the intense beauty around me. I cringed at the unequal relations between workers and vacationers, the food and water waste, the history of land appropriation. All this fed my imagination and helped me create “Atlantis”.


Thanks to Farzana for answering my questions!

And thank you to Dundurn Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour!

All images courtesy of the publisher. Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #AllInclusiveNovel.

Review | Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter

unfinishedbusinessThis is such a good book! Unfinished Business is an intelligent and well-balanced discussion on work/life balance. I love how Slaughter eschews a one-size-fits-all solution and instead talks about how this could work given a range of circumstances.

I thought the reframing of the question on work/life balance to re-evaluate how much caregiving should be worth is really smart. Slaughter also gives a broad understanding of the term “caregiving”, applying it equally to caring for a child, an aging parent, a spouse, a friend or whatever other type of loved one. Too often the discussion on work/life balance focuses on working mothers, and as a single, child-free woman, I’m glad to see my own experience finally included in this discussion.

Slaughter as well gives equal importance to working dads and distinguishes between making men equal partners in the home and having them help with household duties (the first accords them responsibility and a sense of ownership.) She also points out that same sex couples are unable to rely on traditionally held social notions of the gendered division of labour, and so their experiences demonstrate how bread winning and caregiving can be distributed equitably between both partners regardless of social assumptions about gendered capabilities.

Lots of food for thought in this book, and Slaughter raised a lot of interesting points. Hopefully this book sparks discussion on these topics and makes us all re-think how we see careers, competition and caregiving.


Thanks to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Loyalist to a Fault (Dead Kid Detective Agency 3), Evan Munday

DeadKidLoyalistI’m a huge fan of Evan Munday’s Dead Kid Detective Agency series, so I was thrilled to hear that book 3 was coming out this Fall. Loyalist to a Fault has all the trademarks that make Munday’s writing such a treat — 1980s/90s pop culture references, middle school hijinks (school dance!) and a historical mystery. Throw in a ghost pirate who breaks into the town’s museum, and my little museum nerdy heart was all a-twitter.

The unifying thread behind the Dead Kid series is a mix of Scooby Doo meets Nancy Drew goes goth — October Schwartz befriends some tween ghosts in her neighbourhood cemetery, discovers that they’ve all died under mysterious circumstances, and vows to solve each of their murders in turn. The ghost whose death is investigated here is 18th century British settler Cyril Cooper, whose story involves spies, pirates and some mysterious historical documents involving his family.

Munday ratchets up the antics in this instalment, which wasn’t a huge draw for me, but which I admit may appeal to the kids this book was actually written for. Among the ghosts’ superpowers is the ability to detach and reattach body parts, and all the tossing about of heads and limbs was just a bit much for me.

I did enjoy the middle grade romances in this book’s subplot, in particular a couple of romantic possibilities for October herself and a potential match between a couple of the dead kids. The scene at the school dance was hilarious and fun, and shows just how perfect a battleground a school gym can be. I did wish the subplot involving October’s living friends was explored a bit more (the resolution felt a bit of a letdown), but I’m glad there are several more books in the series for this to play out.

I’m a total museum geek, and I especially geek out over historical archives, so I was glad that Munday made the Sticksville Museum such a huge part of this story. As a fan of British cozy mysteries in small towns, I have to admit being disappointed that the Sticksville historical celebration wasn’t quite given as much focus as I’d hoped, but to be fair, I can imagine that most other readers would have chosen to focus on ghostly pirate battles as well.

The mystery behind Cyril’s death is solved, somewhat, but a whole lot of other questions remain. We end the book knowing who the murderer is, but unless I missed it completely, still completely in the dark on the motive behind the killing. Instead, Munday teases us with some big revelations about the overarching mystery of the series, hinting at a major series-end reveal that would explain everything. More significantly, he also hints at a link to October, which ties her in even more with the ghost kids and possibly explains the mysterious phone calls she’s been receiving.

Munday is as witty and full of pop culture references as ever, but none of the lines quite struck me as much as the witticisms in his earlier books. I’d also be curious to know how his middle grade readers respond to the humour — I geek out over it because I understand the references to 80s cartoons and 90s TV shows, but I’d love to know how it connects with kids born after 2000.

Overall, this is a solid instalment in the series, one that seems stronger as an instalment in a larger story than as a stand alone title. I’m intrigued by all the various plot threads Munday has in the air, and am curious to see how they all tie together in the end. And if you’re looking for a fun book to read this Halloween, you just can’t go wrong with a ghost pirate mystery.

Review | Jigsaw Man (A Mark Tartaglia Mystery), Elena Forbes

JigsawThe fourth in the DI Mark Tartaglia series, this book features a double mystery: a burned corpse turns out to be an assembly of parts from four different bodies and a young woman killed at a hotel turns out to be the sister of Tartaglia’s former partner Sam Donovan. I’d read and enjoyed the first book in this series a few years ago, where I commented that Tartaglia and Donovan clearly have some chemistry — from this book, I can see it had developed into something more and then ended badly, so there’s an interesting bit of tension from their shared history.

I was definitely intrigued by the plot of Jigsaw Man — in particular the stitched up bodies because how creepy and gruesome is that? There was also the interesting coincidence of Tartaglia having been in the hotel on the night of the murder, and I could just imagine a detective like Hercule Poirot having his ego completely bruised at not having noticed anything amiss. For Tartaglia, because he knew the victim, his response was more guilt than a bruised ego, and made the crime personal.

Unlike the first book Die with Me, Tartaglia’s personal life is brought front and centre in this novel, with the investigation taking somewhat of a back seat. As a result, I felt like there was so much of a backstory that I missed, and while Forbes does a good job of cluing new readers in, I wondered if the case would have meant more to me if I’d known the victim as well, or at least remembered more of Donovan’s character. As it was, it read as a fairly standard police procedural.

I mentioned in my review of Die with Me that nothing in particular about Tartaglia stood out to me, and I think that was a part of why I couldn’t really get into this book. When the story is so contingent on a mystery’s effect on the main character’s personal life, you have to care about the main character, and in this case, I just didn’t find Tartaglia compelling enough.

Again, as with Die with Me, I found Donovan to be a more interesting character. She is no longer a police officer in this novel, yet her background naturally makes her want to be involved in tracking down her sister’s murderer.  I found it annoying at first, mostly because I was no longer familiar with her background within the series and I thought she was just interfering in other people’s jobs. Later on, she then hides key information from Tartaglia because she wanted to take her own revenge, and while it’s an understandable impulse, it’s also a trope that annoys me in detective or superhero fiction, mostly because that kind of storyline always progresses predictably.

The mystery of the stitched up body parts didn’t make much of an impact on me — it mostly felt tacked on and while we follow the police procedural to solve that case, it felt more a background subplot to the actual mystery involving Sam’s sister.

Overall, I wonder if having read the other books in the series, or even having read the first book more recently, would have made me enjoy this book more. As it was, the book was okay. I found myself mostly bored by it, until Donovan’s perspective kinda takes over near the end. I may give the Tartaglia series another shot, but also wonder if Forbes may have plans of doing a Donovan stand-alone. That one, I’d definitely read.


Thank you to House of Anansi for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.