BLOG TOUR: Review | The Impossible Fortress, Jason Rekulak

30753698I love nostalgic 80’s fiction, particularly when it’s geeky. Jason Rekulak’s The Impossible Fortress is more a coming-of-age love story than a full on nostalgic geek-fest like, say, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, but it has a sweet, nostalgic tinge nonetheless.

Rekulak is a hilarious writer, and Incredible Fortress was such a delight to read. Take for example the character descriptions: Billy Marvin is a gawky, gangly teenager (“I wobbled around school like a baby giraffe”) who does computer programming, and his best friends are Alf who looked like the TV alien Alf (“both Alfs were built like trolls, with big noses, beady eyes, and messy brown hair”), and Clark who “rolled out of bed looking like a heartthrob in TigerBeat magazine” but whose left hand had fingers that were fused “into a pink, crab-like pincer.” (p. 4) How fantastically descriptive are these? And how awesome is it to see 80s icons Alf and TigerBeat mentioned?

The story begins when Vanna White appears on the cover of Playboy. At fourteen, the boys are too young to purchase their own copy, so they concoct an elaborate scheme to obtain copies. The plan involved Billy seducing the daughter of a convenience store owner to obtain the alarm code so they could steal the magazines. The complication was that Billy found himself falling in love with her.

To be honest, I was worried at first about how this was going to be handled, especially since Alf in particular was such a sexist jerk about the girl’s weight, and while it’s realistic dialogue for teenage boys, my inner fourteen year old self wanted to slap them for thinking a girl would be easy to seduce simply because she’s fat. Fortunately, Mary Zelinsky actually turned out to be the most awesome character in the novel, and Billy wholeheartedly acknowledges her awesomeness. She’s a brilliant, kick ass computer programmer who ran rings around Billy in technical knowhow but wasn’t a totally perfect manic pixie dream girl. Billy is clearly attracted to her from their first meeting, when he admits he didn’t think girls liked to program and she responds “Girls practically invented programming” and proceeds to list prominent women programmers (p. 27). I love that Billy is so immediately impressed by her computer knowhow, and that while he pretends that he’s meeting her to help his friends steal the Playboy, he very obviously enjoys her company.

The plot thread about Alf and Clark’s continuing plans to steal the Playboy, and constant following up with Billy for the alarm code, became annoying fairly quickly, but that’s only because I was so invested in Billy and Mary’s developing relationship that I disliked anything that put that at risk. The scheme becomes ever more elaborate as the story goes on, and when some rather shady teenagers come on board, all I wanted was an adult to just buy them a copy of the magazine so that Billy and Mary could continue getting to know each other in peace.

There was something that disappointed me a bit, but it involves a spoiler, so be warned: SPOILER (click to view)

Finally, I love the super nostalgic glimpse into 80s computers. It reminded me of a time before MS Word was ubiquitous and Clip Art wasn’t even thought possible by the everyday user. I especially love how Billy and Mary work through a programming problem using an obscure type of computer language. (At least it’s obscure to me, since I always thought computers worked with binary code, or lines of 1’s and 0’s. The bits of computer programming in this story were fascinating.)

The best part? Rekulak worked with game designers to develop an actual playable version of The Impossible Fortress, the game Billy and Mary collaborate to create for a competition. It’s done with 8-bit graphics, and you play using the arrows on your keyboard. It feels very much like some of the video games I played as a kid, not the fancy ones like Donkey Kong or Ice Climberbut more basic keyboard type games like Pac-Man. I got a score of 6,994 on The Impossible Fortress. Can you beat my score?

Author Q&A

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Jason Rekulak | Author Photo from Twitter

1. What was the inspiration behind the story? 

I wanted to write about my experiences growing up in the 1980s, at the dawn of the home computer revoultion. I grew up in a working class family and I wanted to write about how it feels to have big, lofty ambitions that you’re too embarrased to share with anyone.  And I wanted to write something funny that felt like reminiscent of all those great teen movies from the 1980s – Pretty in PinkThe Breakfast Club, all of the John Hughes classics.

2. How much of Billy’s story was based on your own experiences as a teen? Were you also a computer whiz / video gamer?

Like Billy, I was a self-taught computer programmer, working in BASIC (and struggling to learn machine language) on a Commodore 64.  My dream at age 13 was to make video games for a living, and to eventually run my own software company.  But all along I was always more interested in storytelling and “world-building” than actual coding and de-bugging.  I came to this realization about halfway through college, after taking a few writing classes. I entered college as a Computer Science major, then after two years I switched to English, so I could stop wasting time with computer languages and just concentrate 100% on storytelling and fiction.

3. Billy falls in love with Mary because of her computer coding badassery. Can you tell us a bit about your first love, and what it was about her that attracted you?

This question could land me in serious hot water with my wife!  I’ll just say that Mary is a composite of a few different girls that I chased after as a teenager, with lots of imagined attributes as well.  I was always drawn to girls who were way out of my league, and I think that is reflected in Mary’s relationship with Billy. She’s a better programmer, she’s more mature, she already has a very clear sense of personal style, and I think he’s attracted to all of these things without even realizing it.

4. There’s a lot of computer coding referenced in this story, and even something called “machine language,” all of which appears very complex and specific to the technology of the 80s, which I presume means that this language and type of coding are no longer being used today. How did you research this?

I did very little research. I remembered nearly everything from experience. We all have vivid memories of middle school and high school, and I spent a lot of those years school geeking out in front of a computer monitor, trying to figure out how to communicate with a machine. Nobody really works in machine language anymore because it’s incredibly difficult. But back in the days when computers only had 64 kilobytes of RAM, it was the only option for people who were serious about making games.  You had to suffer through it!

5. What was your favourite video game as a teen, and how would you improve upon it if you had the chance?

Not many people remember it, but my favorite video game as a kid was a game called Realm of Impossibility by Mike Edwards, an arcade game set in a sort of MC-Escher-ish landscape.  I wanted the imaginary video game in my novel to look and feel a lot like Realm of Impossibility….so I landed on the title The Impossible Fortress…which lo and behold ended up becoming the actual title of my book.  So I definitely I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Edwards, wherever he is!

Blog Tour Schedule

Check out the other stops in the blog tour below!

blogtour_impossiblefortress

 

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Also, how awesome is the promo package that arrived with the book? I loved the 80s candy, and the awesome ARC cover.

The FOLD #DiverseBooks Reading Challenge 2017

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The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) is back, with an all-new reading challenge for 2017. 17 books for 2017, all with the aim to “diversify your reading pleasure.” The categories seem a lot more specific than the 2016 challenge, though perhaps it just feels that way because of the sheer volume. Personally, I miss the 2016 category of trying a genre you don’t usually read, but I love the inclusion of new category “Book by an author with a disability.”

First, a recap of the 2016 challenge: Blog Post 1, Blog Post 2, Blog Post 3: The Final Chapter.

From my January books, I’ve read and highly recommend titles in the following categories:

#17. Book by a person of colour from another continent

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

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I’m always on the lookout for fresh and exciting contemporary Filipino fiction, and I was thrilled to find Smaller and Smaller Circles so easily available in Canada. Touted as the first Filipino crime novel and featuring two Jesuit priests who investigate a serial killer targeting young boys in Manila slums, this is a fun, fast-paced mystery and also such a fascinating exploration of contemporary social issues. I highly recommend it to mystery fans, and for readers in the Philippines, keep an eye out for the movie to be released this year.

The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei

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If you like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, you’ll love this collection of stories about Kwan Chun-dok, a Hong Kong detective who rises from constable to senior inspector over the span of several decades. The stories are told in reverse chronological order, coinciding with significant events in Hong Kong’s history, and it’s fascinating to see the unveiling of Kwan’s brilliance, initially being reflected in and through his protege in the first story all the way to the bare hints of potential in the final tale. The crimes, even the historical ones, feel urban and contemporary, yet the stories have a classic feel and remind me of Conan Doyle and Christie’s short story collections. Also highly recommended for mystery fans.

#2 Book by a LGBTQ+ writer

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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I heard Emma Donoghue being interviewed about this novel at the International Festival of Authors last year, and was hooked by the mystery of how 11-year-old Anna survived for so long without food and by the subtle critique of religious fervour that would risk a child’s welfare for the possibility of a miracle. Donoghue’s a talented writer, and she does a great job in taking us right into 1859 Ireland, where Lib, a no-nonsense English nurse who trained with Florence Nightingale, is hired to observe Anna’s fast and verify her claim. As a nurse, Lib is conflicted about her role, fiercely protective of Anna but also worried that her very presence may be causing Anna harm. There’s an urgency to Donoghue’s writing that draws readers in, and we keep reading just to find out if and how Anna survives in the end.

Are you taking The FOLD 2017 Reading Challenge?

I’m pretty excited to check out books in the remaining categories. What’s on your reading list?

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Thanks to House of Anansi for an advance reading copy of The Borrowed in exchange for an honest review.

Event Recap | The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

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Shout-out to fellow blogger Lynne at Words of Mystery who gave me a heads up about this event on the Harper Collins Canada social media accounts, and to fellow blogger Shilpa at Sukasa Reads who came with me to the event. The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig caught my eye for two reasons: the protagonist is autistic, and the author drew on some aspects of lived experience, having himself adopted a teenage girl with autism. In fact, the story was in part inspired by conversations he had with other parents at Special Olympics basketball practices.

 

Ginny Moon is about a 14 year old autistic girl who is adopted and begins plotting her own kidnapping by her abusive birth mother. In the Q&A during the event, Benjamin Ludwig mentions that she worries about something she left behind, and that the adults around her don’t necessarily realize is significant. So there’s a bit of mystery and a coming of age family story.

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Benjamin Ludwig answering audience questions

Some of the things Benjamin said in the Q&A really stood out to me. First, in response to a question about why he wrote an autistic narrator, he said he’s a language nerd and that he’s fascinated by the way people with autism communicate. While there are many differences in persons with autism across the spectrum, he says a common thread is that they tend to express ideas in a different way from neurotypical people (persons without autism). In a way, he says, Ginny Moon is “a narrative impossibility,” because it’s told in the voice of someone with autism but written with a neurotypical audience in mind. He also tried to portray the frustration someone with autism may feel at expressing their ideas clearly yet not being understood by a neurotypical person.

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Benjamin Ludwig signing books after the Q&A

He also spoke about our society’s privileging of strong personalities, and how we train everyone to be leaders in the traditional, extroverted, sense of the word. He pointed out that not everyone can be leaders, and that some people may prefer to stay in the background, and that’s okay. More importantly, their voices are important too. He said we can’t all be wolves, some of us are sheep, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Ginny Moon is one such person, who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, and he wanted to present a character who’s strong without being the one everyone notices. He said, “I want to give dignity, respect, acknowledgement to people who don’t have a voice.” And I think that’s awesome.

This is somewhat reflected as well when I asked him during the audience Q&A who he would like to play Ginny Moon if they made a movie. Much was said during the official Q&A about how unique Ginny’s voice was, and I was curious who he thought could give justice to this voice. He said he’d love it if they would cast a complete unknown, who isn’t a Hollywood star yet but could be big someday. Someone else followed up with a question about if, given the current conversations around representation, he would demand they cast someone with autism in the role, and he said he’s like for that as well, as long as the actress wasn’t a star yet.

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A beautiful package from the event!

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The book came in a beautiful keepsake box that I plan to fill with pretty trinkets once the book itself is on my shelf.

Benjamin and Harper Collins Canada staff were all very careful not to provide any spoilers about the book itself, but based on the author’s responses alone, I’m already really excited to begin reading. The event swag was also gorgeous — the advance reading copy (ARC) had flaps and deckled edges, and even looked like a hardcover from afar! Even better, the ARC came in a beautiful keepsake box, complete with magnetic strip to snap the lid shut and ribbon to lift the book.

The Original Ginny Moon will be published in May 2017, so keep an eye out for it in stores!

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Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for organizing this event.

Review | Finding Jade, Mary Jennifer Payne

27393009Finding Jade is a fun YA fantasy about twins with powers who are called Seers. The heroine is a teenage girl Jasmine whose twin sister Jade mysteriously disappeared when they were kids. When she starts at a new school that turns out to be a training ground for up-and-coming Seers, she learns about her special powers, and is given the opportunity to rescue her twin from The-Place-in-Between where demons dwell. There are also beings called Protectors who are tasked with caring for Seers (somewhat like Giles’ role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). 

The mythology around Seers/Protectors/demons is kept pretty simple, which I liked. Many fantasy books have a tendency to overcomplicate the mythology (see: Divergent), but Payne gives us just enough information to know the roles these beings play in the story. Unfortunately, Payne may have gone a bit too far in terms of giving us too little information to latch on to. To be honest, I’m a bit muddled on the powers Seers have — they’re descendants of witches but don’t really do magic spells. Or Jasmine’s friend Raphael says Seers are stronger and faster than average but Jasmine seems pretty average physically. I’m also not clear on exactly what the demons want and why they’re moving into the human realm (to take over the world? Why?). But I figure these will be revealed in future books.

Finding Jade is a short book so some things resolve pretty quickly, which is great for pacing, but also at times, conveniently. For example, Jasmine has just found out she’s a Seer, is given the most basic overview of her powers, yet is sent to fight demons without any prior training. Then somehow, she is able to defeat a demon at the first try. It isn’t even that she’s a Chosen One or particularly brilliant (thank goodness!); it’s just that she is somehow able to do it. Because powers.

Finally, climate change keeps being brought up in the story, which is interesting because it’s relevant, especially the pieces of dialogue around terrorism and refugees and shutting down borders. But I’m not quite sure how it fits in with the main plot about the battle between Seers and demons in the Place-in-Between to find and save Jade. Will the Seers develop the power to reverse climate change? Will it be revealed that demons are actually behind the humans who want to enforce borders at the expense of refugee lives? Or is the climate change bit just a part of their reality and has nothing to do with Seer powers? The third option is how it seems in this book, so we’ll have to wait for future titles. There’s a time traveling element to the Place-in-Between, and if climate change is as key to the plot as it seems, I suppose there may have been an environmental message as well in the challenges Jasmine and the other Seers faced in the Place-in-Between. (e.g. The plague is caused by poor hygiene and the environment, and during the war, gas masks were required.) But the connection, if it was intentional, was a bit too subtle and at first, I didn’t realize it and wondered how the climate change aspect connected at all to the Place-in-Between.

Still, Finding Jade is a quick and fun read. I’m a bit confused about some of the elements, which don’t seem to fit together quite yet, but overall, I’m interested to see how these questions play out in future books. It’s an intriguing start to a series, and I’d recommend this for younger readers / pre-teens.

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Thank you to Dundurn Press for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Recap | Asian Writers Read in 2016

Back in 2015, inspired by Celeste Ng’s excellent article on the subject, I made a pledge to read more Asian American women writers. It’s something I started doing, then didn’t quite follow up on as much as I would have liked on my blog. Which is a shame, since I’ve read a lot of really good books by Asian writers that I’d love to tell my readers about, but didn’t quite have the time to blog about all of them.

So I decided to make a summary post of some good books I read in 2016 who are by writers of Asian descent. If you are looking to diversify your reading list, or even if you’re just looking for your next read, perhaps one of the titles below may catch your eye.

Contemporary Fiction

1. The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang

A family comedy about an immigrant Chinese family in America who lost their fortune, this one actually fell flat for me. With so many separate storylines that never quite gelled, I thought this would have made a better sitcom than book. I recommend Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series instead.

2. Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Told in Singlish by party girl Jazzy who aims to land a rich ang moh (Western expat) husband and have Gucci children with him, Sarong Party Girls is an utterly engaging story with a dark undertone.

3. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

A beautiful novel with a beautiful cover (designed by John Gall) about encounters in Tokyo between midnight and dawn, After Dark is classic Murakami, full of magical realism in mundane of details.

4. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

A girl whose mother gave her up to an orphanage in Mumbai is adopted by a childless couple in San Francisco. As she becomes more curious about her heritage, her adoptive mother struggles to deal, while back in India, her birth mother longs to reconnect.

5. The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

After his estranged daughter and her Caucasian husband die in a car accident, middle aged copywriter Sripathi Rao travels from India to Canada to take over guardianship of his seven year old granddaughter.

Historical Fiction

1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

A compelling family saga about a Korean family in 20th century Japan, Pachinko is a wonderful doorstop of a book to lose yourself in.

2. A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman

A young servant girl aspires to a better life and a mother of three escapes with her children from an abusive relationship. Their stories touch on class and prejudice in Sri Lanka and end up intersecting in tragic ways.

3. The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

A repatriated Japanese schoolgirl (sent back from Canada after the war) helps her classmate find an older sister who went missing in a red light district. This beautiful, moving tale about love, family and hope was inspired by letters Japanese people wrote to American General Douglas MacArthur after World War II.

4. Three Souls by Janie Chang

A young woman in early 20th century China observes her own funeral and travels back into her own past to figure out why she is being denied entry to the afterlife.

Mysteries

1. The Inspector Singh series by Shalimi Flint

A rotund police detective from Singapore who is a bit of a cross between Nero Wolfe and Colombo, Inspector Singh pursues justice and faces politics and corruption across Asia. The series is a police procedural with a character-driven cozy tone, and I enjoy reading about his adventures.

2. Her Nightly Embrace (Ravi PI #1) by Adi Tantimedh

Short stories about an oddball cast of private investigators, the Ravi PI series is being developed for TV, and I can’t wait to see it on screen.

LGBTQ

 

1. The Parcel by Anosh Irani

A powerful and disturbing story of a hijra (third gender) former prostitute who has to prepare a “parcel” (a kidnapped young girl) for the sex trade, this is an emotionally devastating read.

2. She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya

A beautiful book, this novel includes a re-telling of a classic Hindu myth alongside the story of a bisexual man who is trying to reconcile his identification as gay with his growing attraction to a woman.

Young Adult

1. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

A YA romance between geeky teens in an arranged marriage who meet in computer coding camp, this gave me the feels and is probably the best YA book I’ve read in a while. Out in May 2017 — mark your calendars and add this to your To Read shelf stat!

2. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

This is a lighthearted and moving look at a woman’s struggles with body image over time.

3. Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y.K. Choi

A coming of age novel about a Korean-Canadian girl who is figuring out who she is while navigating both cultures in 1980s Toronto.

Romance

1. When Sparks Fly by Ines Bautista-Yao

Shy photographer’s assistant Regina falls in love with the guy who broke her best friend’s heart. The flirty banter between Regina and Ben is great, and I also like the focus on the friendship between Regina and Lana.

2. Tough Love by Melissa Salva

A shy karate brown belt challenges her fears when she trains at sparring and faces her true feelings for her handsome karate teacher. There are some awkward moments (particularly when the karate teacher practically bullies her into confessing the truth), but still a fun read.

Stories with Animal Characters

1. The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

Alley cats and their magical indoor cat Seeker in a Delhi neighbourhood who are in danger of losing their home — this book reminded me somewhat of Ursula Le Guin’s Catwings series and, really, how can I not love this book?!

2. The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Sun-Mi Hwang

Charming and rather sad, this little book about a dog named Scraggly who encountered quite a number of things in her short life, from dognappers to bully neighbourhood dogs.

Non-Fiction

1. Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz

A silly and irreverent memoir about growing up Muslim in Canada, this is also a profoundly honest book about the experience of straddling two cultures.

2. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

A tongue-in-cheek take on the travails of romance in the modern world, Ansari’s book also includes some fascinating stats about love to geek over.

 

Review | Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

29983711Pachinko is a beautiful and engrossing multi-generational family saga that spans most of the 20th century, from 1900s Korea to 1980s Japan. The story begins with Sunja, the daughter of a poor yet proud family who runs a boarding house. An unexpected pregnancy involving a married man threatens her family’s honour until a young, frail minister offers to marry her and take her to Japan.

I’m not familiar with Korean history, so it was fascinating for me to read about the racism they experienced in Japan, and how much they struggled just to make ends meet. The family’s story also intersects with the social and political turmoil of their era. Christianity is forbidden, and a character is imprisoned when they were caught mouthing the Lord’s Prayer at a Shinto temple instead of pledging allegiance to the Emperor. Characters fear for their family members back in Korea, where the communist government is said to kill farmers for their land.

I couldn’t help but lose myself in the story of Sunja’s family. I was fascinated to read about the kimchi business Sunja and her sister-in-law set up, and how homemade sweets and kimchi were sold in the streets to hungry commuters. Lee does a beautiful job setting the scene, such that I can almost imagine being there in the heat and among the smells. I also loved reading about the cast of other characters, from the sister-in-law who became her best friend, the brother-in-law whose pride and machismo threaten their family’s well-being, and Sunja’s two sons. Bookish Noa and fun-loving Mozasu couldn’t be more different, yet their stories unfold along surprisingly similar paths. And when Noa’s birth father, the man who abandoned Sunja in Korea yet never stopped loving her, finds her again, the story teases away at the tensions within family and identity, blood and upbringing, and how much you’re willing to give up for financial security.

The title comes from pachinko (pinball) parlours, which according to the story, is how many Koreans made their wealth in Japan. The characters seem to have a complicated view of pachinko. On one hand, it’s a way to escape poverty and become successful despite their Korean heritage, but on the other hand, pachinko parlours are associated with gambling and organized crime, and are therefore not seen as a good future. It’s introduced fairly late in the novel, yet is a rich metaphor for all the questions, tensions and emotions that are roiling about through this family’s story. Lee is a very talented writer, and while the narrative itself is fairly linear, Pachinko feels like the kind of story that will be experienced differently each time you read it. It will also likely resonate on a much richer level with readers who are familiar with the history of Koreans in Japan, and may catch references to things that I was just learning about as I read.

Pachinko is a wonderful, immersive story that you can just lose yourself in. It’s an intimate portrait of several generations that is also full of rich, fascinating historical insight. It made the list of my top 10 books read in 2016, and I’ll definitely be on the look out for her earlier novel Free Food for Millionaires.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

The FOLD 2016 #DiverseBooks Reading Challenge: The Final Chapter

The FOLD Festival of Literary Diversity recently released its Diverse Books Reading Challenge for 2017, which reminded me that I still have reviews pending for some of the titles I read for the 2016 Reading Challenge. (Recap: Blog Post 1 | Blog Post 2) And so, before I kick off the 2017 Challenge, here are other #DiverseBooks bookish highlights from 2016:

The FOLD’s 2016 Reading List

  1. A book you’ve had for more than a year.
  2. A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.
  3. A book you buy at an indie bookstore.
  4. A book by a person of a faith (different from your own).
  5. A book by an Aboriginal author.
  6. A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author.
  7. A book by a Canadian person of colour.
  8. A book by a FOLD 2016 author.

#3. A book you buy at an indie bookstore

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I’m actually rather ashamed to admit I don’t remember which indie bookstore I bought this in. I visited a friend in Belleville last fall, and as we are both total bookworms, we went indie bookstore hopping in the area. We must have visited two or three that afternoon, and I remember buying at least one book at each store. A Disobedient Girl is the first Ru Freeman book I’ve read, and I love how beautifully she manages to evoke a sense of place. Set in Sri Lanka, the novel is about a young servant girl named Latha, who aspires to the wealthy lifestyle of Thara, her best friend and the daughter of her employers. A wilful act of rebellion leads to horrible, long-reaching consequences that threatens their friendship and brings realities of class and power to the fore. Parallel to Latha’s story is that of Biso, a mother of three who takes her children on a train to escape her abusive husband. As she fights to hold on to her freedom, her story unfolds to reveal threads that eventually intertwine with Latha and Thara’s story.

It’s a moving and beautifully told story that just completely transports you to the characters’ worlds. There are many beautiful passages, but one that stands out to me is from the very beginning, where Latha takes slivers from the family’s bar of Lux soap and rubs it into her armpits and the insides of her wrists. I remember Lux soap from childhood, and the image of such a young servant girl using such a strong flowery scent and having access only to tiny slivers, is such a potent image of wealth, privilege and the burning, heartbreaking desire to be part of that world.

Other books I bought on that trip are Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas’ Angel Catbird (hilarious and fantastic, particularly for this crazy cat lady) and Anosh Irani’s The Song of Kahunsha (I haven’t read it yet, but I loved The Parcel).

#4. A book by a person of faith (other than your own)

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I’m not sure if Jonathan Safran Foer is Jewish, but his novel Here I Am delves a lot into Jewish experience. The novel is a compelling, thought-provoking family drama that asks what it means to be an American Jew. I grew up Catholic, and found a lot of the references to the Torah (Old Testament) familiar, and I enjoyed seeing how the familiar story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is framed somewhat differently in Jewish tradition. The questions that protagonist Jacob Bloch asked about identity and one’s responsibility to their homeland resonated with me as an immigrant, and overall, I found Here I Am a hefty book, physically and mentally. It’s one to digest slowly, and well worth the effort.

#6. A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author

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The first in Jeffrey Round’s mystery series starring gay missing persons investigator Dan Sharp, Lake on the Mountain begins with a potential murder on a yacht then reveals a much bigger and more tangled mystery involving various members of a wealthy family. It reminds me somewhat of an Agatha Christie novel, with story being driven by characters and their secrets more than by the crime itself, and I will likely check out other books in this series next time I feel like a mystery novel treat for the weekend. I also really like the interaction between Dan and his son, and look forward to seeing that develop further in future books.

Books I Wanted to Read in 2016 But Didn’t Get Around To Reading

Alas, in the end, there just weren’t enough days in the year to finish the challenge. Or perhaps these happened to be the categories I found most challenging?

#1. A book you’ve had for more than a year

Octavia’s Brood is an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements that seems like something I’d love immediately, but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

#2. A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.

Short stories aren’t usually my cup of tea, but I’ve always wanted to try Octavia Butler, so I thought I’d give Bloodchild and Other Stories a try.

#5. A book by an Aboriginal author.

 

I heard great things about Indian Horse when it was on Canada Reads.

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Have you read any of the books listed above, or do you have another recommendation for any of the categories above?