Book review

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

On a battlefield, among the ashes of a dying world, an agent finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. So begins an unlikely correspondence between two enemy agents, Red and Blue, each determined to win the war for their faction. What started as a battlefield taunt soon turns into something else, something romantic and epic. But also, something forbidden.
The discovery of their correspondence, let alone their blossoming relationship, could mean death for each of them. There is still a war going on after all, and someone has to win the war. Read More »

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

The city of Bulikov was once the greatest city on the Continent, thanks to the all-powerful Gods who watched over its people. But these Gods also had the power to conquer the world and enslave its people, until they were killed themselves. Now Bulikov’s illustrious history has been censored and its inhabitants subjugated. The city itself was irrevocably altered by the death of the Gods and stands as a constant haunting reminder to its inhabitants of the lives they once lived.
Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. On the surface, she is just another junior bureaucrat sent by the city’s oppressors to lord it over them. But beneath her official veneer, Shara is in fact one of her country’s most accomplished spies. She was sent to Bulikov to investigate a murder but soon realizes that there is much more going on amongst the rubble. And she begins to suspect that the all-powerful Gods may not be as dead as everyone thinks. Read More »

Two Trees Make a Forest, by Jessica J. Lee

After unearthing a hidden memoir of her grandfather’s life, Jessica J. Lee was determined to learn more about her family’s history. So she journeyed to Taiwan in search of answers. Taiwan is an island of extremes: from towering mountains to dense rainforests and barren escarpments. But its political history is also fraught with obstacles, mystery and tension.
Seeking to piece together her family’s past, as they moved from China to Taiwan, and then further on to Canada, Jessica not only has to navigate the tumultuous terrain of Taiwan, but also the treacherous and uncertain world of memory and language. Read More »

Five Little Indians, by Michelle Good

Five children, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie, taken from their families at a very young age, to a remote church-run residential school. After years of horrible treatment, abuse and malnutrition, they are simply released into the world at age 18. Without any skills, qualifications or life experience, the young people find their way to the seedy world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Their paths cross over the decades as they all strive to survive and find a place within this world that doesn’t want them.

Fuelled by rage, Clara finds her way into the dangerous world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalises all of her past pain but keeps putting herself in dangerous situations. Famous among the children for his daring escapes from the residential school, Kenny can’t stop running. Moving from job to job, trying to outrun his memories and find a life. Lucy finds peace in motherhood, but struggles with a compulsive disorder, fuelled by the years of cleaning at the school. After beating one of his tormentors almost to death, Howie serves some time in prison, before being released and trying to re-enter society once again. Read More »

The Right to be Cold, by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

The Arctic ice sheet is melting. Polar bears and other Arctic animals are losing their habitat and their lives. But what of the people who call these cold polar regions home? They are also losing their homes, their livelihoods, and the land which has sustained their way of life for centuries. And yet, nobody is talking about them or their plight. Or indeed the fact that their plight will be shared by the rest of the world if we do not take a stand on global warming.
Sheila Warr-Cloutier is someone who has dedicated her life to bringing these issues to the global stage. As an Inuk, born and raised in the cold Arctic, she knows better than most the struggles that the indigenous Arctic communities have faced, ever since the missionaries first arrived on their shores. But those struggles pale in comparison to what they are now facing. Loss of sea ice and hunting grounds, collapsing buildings and roads due to melting permafrost, health issues caused by invisible pollutants, and many more. Read More »

Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure, by Monisha Rajesh

When British journalist Monisha Rajesh announced her plan to travel around the globe on 80 trains, it seemed like a crazy idea. But with much organisation and planning, it wasn’t long before she had plotted a journey of 45,000 miles, nearly twice the circumference of the world. This route would take her on some of the most famous and infamous trains in the world.
From the vastness of the Trans-Mongolian railway to the cloud-skimming heights of the Qinghai-Tibet railway and the luxurious Simplon Orient Express. With many other less salubrious and diverse trains as well. With just a backpack and her fiancé Jem in tow, Monisha spent seven months hopping on and off trains and meeting some truly remarkable characters along the way. Read More »

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for a Chicago art gallery, is about the pull off the coup of his career. The collection of extraordinary 1920s paintings will not only secure his career but make a name for the gallery. But as his professional life is soaring, the world around him is crumbling. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, his friends are dying one by one. After his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles ever closer and soon the only person Yale has left is Nico’s younger sister Fiona.
Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris trying to reconnect with her estranged daughter Claire. Staying with a friend from Chicago, a famous photographer who captured the AIDS crisis in all of its raw details, Fiona can finally start to explore how much the epidemic affected her life. Read More »

City of the Beasts, by Isabel Allende

When his mother is taken seriously ill, fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold is sent to live with his forbidding grandmother. Kate is not your typical warm and cuddly grandmother, rather she is brusque, adventurous and no-nonsense. Kate is preparing to embark on an expedition into the Amazonian rainforest and, rather than change her plans, she takes Alexander along with her.
They set off with their team, including a local guide and his young daughter Nadia, deep into the rainforest. Their aim is to locate an isolated and potentially headhunting tribe, as well as a legendary marauding creature known only as “The Beast”. As they get further from civilisation, and expedition members start disappearing, they will discover much more than they bargained for about the mysteries of the jungle and its inhabitants. Read More »

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield

From a very young age, Chris Hadfield wanted nothing more than to become an astronaut. But at a time when very few Canadians went to space, this was bound to be a difficult task. Through years of hard work and dedication, Chris finally realised his dream and has logged nearly 4000 hours in space.
During this time, he was the first Canadian to be Commander of the International Space Station, where he also recorded a music video to David Bowie’s Space Oddity. He also broke into a Space Station with a Swiss army knife and was temporarily blinded whilst clinging to the outside of an orbiting spacecraft. He has overcome many obstacles thanks to an unconventional philosophy learned at NASA: prepare for the worst, and enjoy every moment of it. Read More »

Celestial Bodies, by Jokha Alharthi

Three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla live in the small Omani village of al-Awafi. Life is harsh in this tight-knit community, ruled by powerful slave-owning Shayks and centuries of tradition and superstitions. A young girl’s aspiration and purpose in life are only to get married and have children.
Mayya marries Abdallah after a heartbreak. Asma marries from a sense of duty and the desire to experience motherhood. And Khawla daringly refuses all marriage proposals, determined to wait for her beloved who has emigrated to Canada. The three young women and their families stand witnesses to the coming-of-age of Oman to its complex present. Read More »