Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

When at the OLA Super Conference at the beginning of the year, I was excited to see that there were author signings of The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. I enjoy reading any books featuring Jane Austen and went to stand in the line early on to ensure that I received a copy of the ARC. I was beaming when I walked away with a signed copy of the book.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Blurb:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

My thoughts:

I felt a connection with the characters in this novel as they all enjoy reading the novels by Jane Austen, as do I. The story is set in the place where Austen lived (Chawton) and so that added another connection for me. The story is set in the period after the World War and focuses on a group of people who have all experienced some sort of suffering. Even though the novel references the start of the Jane Austen Society, it is not a work of historical fiction.

Many references are made in the novel to Austen’s work, in particular Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I loved these references and they added another dimension to the story for me. I figuratively rubbed my hands in glee when I caught a reference.

The Jane Austen Society is not a fast-paced novel. Instead it moves at the pace of Austen’s novels as we glimpse into the lives of the characters – characters who experience ordinary lives and come to realisations that ordinary people do. This is a novel that embraces change and quiet strength. This is a novel that embraces ordinary people who get together to create a tribute to someone they admire. This is a novel that embraces healing. This is a novel that I savoured, enjoyed, and will probably re-read. The Jane Austen Society is a must-read for anyone who enjoys Austen’s books and any references to her in novels.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 47th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau

I picked up the novel Blue Bear Woman by Virginia Pesemapeo Bordeleau to read for the Toronto Public library challenge. Even though it is suitable for the category of a book written by an indigenous author, I chose it to be a book that is under 200 pages.

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Indigenous

Blurb:

Blue Bear Woman is the first novel in Quebec written by an Indigenous woman. The story of a young Cree woman’s search for her roots and identity, this is also the author’s debut novel, originally published in 2007, and it will be her second book to be published in English. The novel has been described as a “texte de resistance”, showing contemporary Indigenous life and the impact on the Cree of the building of the Eastmain dam in northern Quebec, posited as “virgin” territory, yet which has actually been part of the Cree traditional territory since time immemorial. In search of her roots, Victoria takes a trip to the country of her Cree ancestors with her companion, Daniel. It is a long journey to the north along the shores of James Bay. Colours, smells, and majestic landscapes arouse memories that soon devolve into strange and haunting dreams at night. In bits and pieces, uncles, aunties, and cousins arrive to tell the story of Victoria’s family and bring with them images of her childhood that are tinged both with joy and sadness. Guided by her totem, the Blue Bear, she returns home to make peace with her soul, as well as release the soul of her great-uncle, a hunter who has been missing in the forest for over twenty years.

My thoughts:

The novel, for me, was an interesting one in that it showed me a culture that I am not too familiar with. It was for this reason that I was eager to read the story.

However, I found the beginning of the novel to be confusing when the character Victoria moves from the present to the past; and from the dream state to reality. Often I was unclear as to what state she was in and found myself rereading paragraphs to clarify the story in my head.

I also found the writing of the text choppy at times. I remembered that the novel had been translated from French and have wondered whether the fluidity of text was lost in translation. There are moments in the novel when the text does flow beautifully thus cementing my thought that the translation may not always have been sophisticated.

This short novel gives a snapshot of Cree traditions and their way of life. Mention is made of the alcoholism that is rampant on the reservations, as well as the teenage pregnancy issue. The story is not an easy read despite it being short as the topics referred to in the novel and its format means the reader has to take time with the words.

Blue Bear Woman contains pockets of beautiful imagery – especially the second half of the novel which encouraged me to feel emotional. It is for this reason that I gave the novel three stars instead of two.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 8th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book of the Month: January 2020

I am a little late with my monthly wrap-up. With all that has been going on in my work life, my routine has been a little skewered. 😦 As I have finished reading my first book for February, I thought I had best do my wrap up post before posting the review of my completed read.

During the month of January I managed to read 7 titles:

  1. Courtney Alameda & Valynne Maetani Seven Deadly Shadows – Young Adult Fantasy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5 stars
  2. Rebecca Raisin The Little Bookshop on the Seine – Women’s Contemporary Fiction ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4 stars
  3. Lamar Giles Not So Pure and Simple – Young Adult Contemporary ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4 stars
  4. Christina Lauren Twice in a Blue Moon – Romance ⭐️⭐️2 stars
  5. Martin Michaud Never Forget – Police Procedural ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5 stars
  6. Abbi Waxman The Bookish Life of Nina Hill ⭐️⭐️⭐️3 stars
  7. Karen McBride Crow Winter ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5 stars

The title of my favourite book kept shifting as I read more books during the month. After reading Seven Deadly Shadows by Courtney Alameda & Valynne Maetani, I was sure that this amazing fantasy novel would remain my best read. However, Never Forget by Martin Michaud was just as good, though a different genre. After reading Crow Winter by Karen McBride, the novel immediately took first place as I knew it would be my favourite.

This debut novel touched me to the core in unexpected ways. The imagery used was beautiful; and I loved seeing the growth and development of a young woman as she overcomes her grief for her father and connects with the cultural traditions of her ancestors. The story also has a sub-story as colonialism is referred to. The Anishnaabe group are seen as grieving over the loss of their culture; and yet there is hope as the young people turn back to the ways of the past and the Europeans living on the traditional lands attempt to make restitution. If you are interested in reading more about my thoughts on this novel, you may find it here.

Many of the books I read in January were good choices and I look forward to seeing what February will bring me.

What was your favourite read in January?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Book Review: Crow Winter by Karen McBride

This year I am attempting the reading challenge of our city’s library. One of the themes is to read a book written by an indigenous author. I had seen on Twitter an extremely positive mention of Crow Winter by Karen McBride so when I saw a copy on the library shelf, I picked it up quickly.

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Indigenous

Blurb:

Nanabush. A name that has a certain weight on the tongue—a taste. Like lit sage in a windowless room or aluminum foil on a metal filling.

Trickster. Storyteller. Shape-shifter.An ancient troublemaker with the power to do great things, only he doesn’t want to put in the work.

Since coming home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, Hazel Ellis has been dreaming of an old crow. He tells her he’s here to help her, save her. From what, exactly? Sure, her dad’s been dead for almost two years and she hasn’t quite reconciled that grief, but is that worth the time of an Algonquin demigod?

Soon Hazel learns that there’s more at play than just her own sadness and doubt. The quarry that’s been lying unsullied for over a century on her father’s property is stirring the old magic that crosses the boundaries between this world and the next. With the aid of Nanabush, Hazel must unravel a web of deceit that, if left untouched, could destroy her family and her home on both sides of the Medicine Wheel.

My thoughts:

I did not think that I would enjoy this novel as much as I did! There are moments when the writing is so exquisite that I had to savour the sentences. I came to empathise with Hazel Ellis, the main character, as I read of her struggling to overcome her grief. In addition to being a beautiful story, Crow Winter showed me a part of the Anishnaabe tradition. The folklore of the tribe is woven into the story and the learning, for me, was integrated with my enjoyment of the story.

Crow Winter is a story about grief and how it is overcome. The grief mentioned by the writer, however, is not one dimensional. We read of Hazel’s grief for her father; but we also see the grief experienced by a group of people at the loss of traditional lands, as well as a culture which is slowly being forgotten by the younger generation. The novel does give a message of hope, though, on the grief experienced on all levels.

During the novel, the main character (Hazel Ellis) grows as a person. She finds the way to heal and, while healing, to connect with her ancestral traditions. It is for this reason that I say the story is one of hope – hope that the younger generation will find a way to connect with the culture historically practiced by their people. Through the character of Hazel, the writer also suggests that turning back to one’s roots does make a person stronger and more whole.

Crow Winter is a story that resonates with your soul. It is an #ownvoices story in that the main character finds the strength to speak out and express what is inside of her being. This diverse read shows the reader the beauty of a culture indigenous to Canada.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 7th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

I was happy when I won an Instagram giveaway the ARC of Catherine McKenzie’s latest novel I’ll Never Tell. I enjoyed her previous novel and looked forward to reading this one.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Thriller, Mystery

Blurb:

What happened to Amanda Holmes?

Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.

Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it’s sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family’s center, hasn’t made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done. 

But then the will is read and they learn that it’s much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?

My thoughts:

McKenzie’s storytelling did not disappoint. I enjoyed this tale as much as I had enjoyed her previous one, and her words kept me reading and invested right until the end.

The story moves between the past and the present as the reader gets to know the different personalities in the story, as well as what happened in the past. The movement between the time frames is done seamlessly and at no time was I confused. McKenzie paced the information perfectly so that I was neither bored nor disconcerted. Each bit of information that she gave, led me towards understanding the sequence of events as well as my understanding of the characters in the story.

As with all mystery stories, I tried to figure out the solution before reaching the final chapter. I’ll Never Tell is not predictable and therefore had a few surprises. These little twists in the story are believable and added to my enjoyment of the tale.

If you enjoy mystery stories, then you will enjoy this Canadian author’s novel. Unlike the modern psychological thriller, I’ll Never Tell is more a mystery story which the reader attempts to solve while reading.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 74th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley

I often enter giveaways on Instagram and, for the first time, I won a copy of The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley. I was excited to read the novel as I had heard good things about Stapley’s writing.

Genre: Suspense, Thriller

Blurb:

The Harmony Resort promises hope for struggling marriages. Run by celebrity power couple Drs. Miles and Grace Markell, the “last resort” offers a chance for partners to repair their relationships in a luxurious setting on the gorgeous Mayan Riviera.

Johanna and Ben have a marriage that looks perfect on the surface, but in reality, they don’t know each other at all. Shell and Colin fight constantly: after all, Colin is a workaholic, and Shell always comes second to his job as an executive at a powerful mining company. But what has really torn them apart is too devastating to talk about. When both couples begin Harmony’s intensive therapy program, it becomes clear that Harmony is not all it seems—and neither are Miles and Grace themselves. What are they hiding, and what price will these couples pay for finding out?

As a deadly tropical storm descends on the coast, trapping the hosts and the guests on the resort, secrets are revealed, loyalties are tested and not one single person—or their marriage—will remain unchanged by what follows.

My thoughts:

The novel starts with a man filled with anger, and a suspicion that he is dying. The story continues with the events that lead up to the climax: Stapley slowly releases the knowledge we need to know in order to come to an understanding of the story and the characters who play an important role in the events. The murder that has occurred has a reason; and it is a reason that will surprise you.

The Last Resort is not the typical murder story. Instead it is a story that highlights some issues for the reader to think about: the grieving process and the loss of a child; the need to embrace ourselves for what we are; the relationship between spouses; abuse in a marriage. These issues are intertwined in a story that is fast-paced and keeps one reading. Stapley keep me feeling a range of emotions while reading her writing; and she kept me engrossed in a story that was more than what I had expected.

The Last Resort is an expertly crafted story that readers of murder mysteries will enjoy. The subtle twists will keep you guessing and the ending will give you a sense of satisfaction.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 63rd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Launch: The Chai Factor by Farah Heron

Last night my friend and I attended the book launch of Farah Heron’s debut novel The Chai Factor. The rain had stopped and the city was muggy yet we looked forward to venturing out and meeting an author whose book I had enjoyed. (My review can be found here).

The event was in the Kensington area at a small reatuarant with an unusual name: Supermarket. I smiled when I saw the supermarket trolley attached to the wall – definitely unique!

As we stepped into the venue, we noticed that we were a bit early. This posed no problem as we chatted between ourselves and met the author. We slaked our thirst with a cup of tea – chai, of course – and snacked on some sweet potato crisps.

It was a pleasant evening but the highlight for me was listening to a barbershop quartet. Their presence at the launch was intentional as the male character in the novel is part of a quartet. The numbers that were sung by the men took me back to the time I would continuously listen to melodies such as these. I love the Big Band era, and their singing reminded me of this.

My friend and I had a pleasant evening and I look forward to discussing the book with her as one of our buddy reads.

Have you listened to a barbershop quartet before?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2017

(This post is linked to Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

Book Review: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

I had come across Roselle Lim on Twitter through a giveaway. I liked her feed and therefore decided to follow her. When I saw she was having a book launch for her debut novel Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, I decided to support her and attend. Of course I had to make use of the opportunity and get a copy of her book signed!

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Fiction

Blurb:

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this novel so much more than I expected I would. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is so much more than a contemporary romance. It is a novel about a young woman who comes to certain realisations about herself as well as her community. It is a novel about people who come together to support one another through difficult times. It is a novel about knowing when it is the right time to begin a romantic relationship. It is a novel about following your dreams and doing what is right for you.

The imagery in Lim’s novel is beautiful. The flavours of cooking are referenced throughout the story, as well as the imagery of birds. The unusual imagery captured my attention; and connects so much to the Asian influence in the novel. The references to food, as well as the recipes that are mentioned, made me want to rush out and get myself a plate of juicy dumplings! The mouthwatering flavours described by the author linked the story to my personal experience and added another level to my reading experience.

Natalie Tan’s experience is so much like what many people experience in their life time: the death of a parent; the realisation that childhood experiences do not tell the entire story; the understanding that one’s community can help during difficult times. Because of this, the reader can connect with Lim’s protagonist and understand the actions that she takes as well as the decisions she makes. While reading the novel, I came to the realisation that romance is a small percentage of the story and that Natalie Tan’s personal growth is the centre point of the tale. I enjoyed the fact that this book is more than the romantic connection between two people. Instead it is so much more – just like our own lives are.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is a book that has so much happening in it. I loved it so much that I encouraged my friend and book buddy to read it too.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 55th in my book pledge for 2019)

Grateful for Mid-Week Get Together

This week I got together with a friend of mine who lives quite a distance from me and who was prepared to drive down to the city to attend a bookish event with me. I had told her about my experiences and she was keen to join me. On Wednesday, the book launch of debut author Roselle Lim, writer of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, became the reason we chose to meet up and spend an evening away from home.

The event was held at an independent bookstore that I had never before visited, so I was curious to see the venue. I loved the sign placed outside the store front and felt welcomed before I had even entered the shop.

A number of people had already arrived and soon the bookstore was buzzing with even more patrons. Roselle Lim was nervous, as any debut writer would be, but she smiled graciously as she welcomed those who were there to support her.

She read an extract from her novel and I wish she could have spoken a bit about her writing experience and the inspiration for her story. First time nerves maybe?

Anyway, my friend and I enjoyed the outing together. We sipped a glass of wine, chatted a little, and enjoyed the ambience of the environment. This week I am grateful for the excuse of a book event to meet up with my close friend. Together we will now read the novel we had signed by the author – which will lead to a number of texts flying between us, I am sure.

What are you grateful for this week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is part of my weekly gratitude reflection. You are welcome to join in and share your post in the comments.)

Book Review: The Chai Factor by Farah Heron

During the OLA Super Conference this year, I was lucky enough to receive a signed ARC copy of The Chai Factor by Farah Heron. The cover definitely attracted me and I was doubly sold when I learned the story was a romantic comedy written by a Canadian author living in Toronto.

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

Thirty-year-old engineer Amira Khan has set one rule for herself: no dating until her grad-school thesis is done. Nothing can distract her from completing a paper that is so good her boss will give her the promotion she deserves when she returns to work in the city. Amira leaves campus early, planning to work in the quiet basement apartment of her family’s house. But she arrives home to find that her grandmother has rented the basement to . . . a barbershop quartet. Seriously? The living situation is awkward: Amira needs silence; the quartet needs to rehearse for a competition; and Duncan, the small-town baritone with the flannel shirts, is driving her up the wall.

As Amira and Duncan clash, she is surprised to feel a simmering attraction for him. How can she be interested in someone who doesn’t get her, or her family’s culture? This is not a complication she needs when her future is at stake. But when intolerance rears its ugly head and people who are close to Amira get hurt, she learns that there is more to Duncan than meets the eye. Now she must decide what she is willing to fight for. In the end, it may be that this small-town singer is the only person who sees her at all.

My thoughts:

This novel was perfect for my mood: a light-hearted story that made me smile; and a story that describes a protagonist that finds love unexpectedly.

Amira is a determined young woman who is very sure of what she wants in life and in love. She reminds me of so many young women who want to put themselves first and are not in a rush to marry. She wants to focus on her studies in order to graduate with her Masters; she wants to advance in her work; and she wants a man who is of the same culture as she. But life does not always work out the way that you want it to – as Amira soon finds out.

What I enjoyed about this story is that it does not only focus on the love aspect of Amira’s story. We read, as well, about her relationship with her mother and grandmother; and we learn a bit about her work and her relationship with an admired colleague. During the story, Amira comes to some realisations about her life – realisations which help her accept the changes that could happen to her. The Chai Factor, however, is not a story in which the man saves the day. Instead, it is a story about a woman’s personal growth which eventually leads to her accepting that her life can embrace some changes (and one of those changes happens to be a relationship).

As I was reading, I caught a hint of the Pride and Prejudice scenario – though this book is not a retelling of Austen’s classic – in the description of Amira. She is proud of who she is – proud of her culture, her brown skin, and what she has achieved in her life thus far. She also makes certain assumptions about Duncan (a white musician), assumptions which indicate her prejudice. Slowly her prejudices are shown for what they are and it is this clarity which helps her develop as a character.

While reading Farah Heron’s novel, I embraced the description of a culture that is not well-known by me. Hints of this culture are subtly woven into the fabric of the novel and added another dimension to the story for me. The story is set in Toronto and I smiled at any venue mentioned as I could see exactly where it is in my mind’s eye.

I enjoyed reading Heron’s debut novel. It is a relaxing read that depicts the story of opposites attracting – opposites not only in personality, but also in culture.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 44th in my book pledge for 2019)