Dual Citizens – Alix Ohlin

Regular readers of this book blog know that I have a specific affection for introspective relationship books. This book by Ms. Ohlin is a perfect read, in my opinion. The story enters on two sisters, Lark and Robin, from their early childhood in Montreal and their complicated relationship with their mother Marianne, to adulthood in New York and the Laurentians. Lark is the main character, someone who hopes that silence will produce invisibility. The story contains vivid descriptions of art, music and film, motherhood and even wolves. The writing is divine; highly recommended.

Little Yellow House: Finding community in a changing neighbourhood – Carrisa Halton

This is a collection of stories and vignettes of living in a  “shitty neighbourhood” in Edmonton: Alberta Avenue (118 Avenue between 101-82 Streets). This is low-income housing with lots of social problems: drug houses, crime, prostitution … the list goes on. But the inhabitants are resilient and the area acquires a distinct personality.  But there is a warning in the last pages: “gentrification is the new colonialism”. A fabulous read, with a breezy style of writing. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.

Chop Suey Nation – Ann Hui

There are two parts to this book. The first is a cross-Canada road trip to visit Chinese-Canadian restaurants that feature the ubiquitous but non-traditional chop suey dish. This epic trip begins in Victoria and concludes with a memorable visit to a one-person Chinese restaurant in Fogo Island, NL. Just the encounter with Newfoundlanders would make this book with reading. But the second part of the book is the story of the author’s father, his early life in China and eventual immigration to Canada. At its core, this is a moving treatment of parental sacrifice. A great read.

A Deadly Divide – Ausma Zehana Khan

A Deadly Divide - Ausma Zehana KhanInspector Esa Khattak and Sgt. Rachel Getty of the Canadian Community Policing (Ethnic Division) investigate a mass killing at a Quebec mosque. In addition to providing a really excellent murder mystery plot, this story is obviously topical in Canada but also topical world-wide given the New Zealand mosque attack. The issue of radicalization to white supremacy causes is treated intelligently. Khattak and Getty make a formidable team, much like Elizabeth George’s Lynley and Havers. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Waiting Hours – Shandi Mitchell

Simply put, this is a fantastic read. The place is contemporary Halifax with three main characters: an ER nurse, a policeman, and a 911 dispatcher. Their lives intersect but obliquely, in a fashion that is never contrived. The backstory lives are complicated, of course, but realistically so. The best part of the book is the feeling of the stories – stress exacerbated by heat and overwork.  By the way, the title refers to the overnight hours of 3-6am when emergency activities are temporarily quiet. Just excellent story-telling.

The Woo Woo – Lindsay Wong

The Woo Woo - Lindsay WongCanada Reads contender. This is an extraordinary memoir about a Chinese-Canadian family in a Vancouver suburb. The Wong family is remarkably dysfunctional; Lindsay regularly received the following comments as a child: “you are fat, lazy and retarded”! She describes her upbringing with candour and does not flinch from castigating her own poor behaviour. Her mother is consumed by fears of demonic possession by malevolent ghosts, the woo-woo. This fear means that mental illness is treated as a woo-woo possession and thus is not treated except with ineffective exorcism attempts. And unfortunately there is a clear family history of untreated mental illness: a paranoid schizophrenic grandmother, a mother and aunt who may be bipolar. When Lindsay is afflicted by a rare medical condition (migraine-associated vestibulopathy), her woo-woo fears reappear. This is a disturbing story with harrowing details of abnormal psychology, interspersed with some splendid examples of comic relief. How does someone overcome such an upbringing? A challenging book, an uncomfortable read but worthwhile.

The Home for Unwanted Girls – Joanne Goodman

The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanne GoodmanOne of the things we learned from Heather O’Neill’s very fine The Lonely Hearts Hotel was that Quebec orphanages were tough places. Goodman’s novel reinforces that reality, beginning in 1950. Even worse, the Duplessis Quebec government transferred illegitimate orphans to mental institutions in order to obtain more federal money for institutions. So this is an angst-filled story over 20 years, the mother who was forced to give up her illegitimate daughter and the daughter’s experience in horrible institutions, so be warned.