Canada Reads 2016 Shortlist

Apologies for the delayed post! Still adjusting to a bit a of a routine out here in Hong Kong. Even though I’m halfway around the world, I am happy to say that I am still going to have a bash at getting through this years Canada Reads 2016 shortlist! Even though it may affect my bank account this time around as I won’t be able to get any of these books out at the library here (I checked).

The theme this year is all about “starting over” and the panelists chose books that that they felt best represented  “the trials and tribulations of making a new start in life.”

  • Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
  • Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz
  • The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Radami
  • The Illegal by Lawrence Hill
  • Minster Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

The debate takes place March 21-24th! I should have most, if not all five of the books read by then and will do my best to have the reviews up as well.

Memoirs of A Geisha by Arthur Golden

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 434 pages.
Read from September 28 to October 14, 2015.

Okay, so I’m 10 years behind this bandwagon. I don’t know why, but when I was a lot younger I had a thing against reading the books that became popular. Stupid, I know. And really book-snobby of me as well. While there are still some popular book titles that I am still not interested in reading, this one continued to peak my interest and remained on my to-read list. I also tried really hard to get an original copy of this book that didn’t have the movie cover on it and I succeeded! Movie covers are lamesauce.

Chiyo, or as the reader will come to know her, Sayuri, is a young girl living in an impoverished fishing village in pre-war Japan. After her mother passes away, her aging father sends her and her sister Satsu away with a strange man called Mr.Tanaka. He appears to be kind man but shortly after joining Mr. Tanaka, Chiyo is separated from her sister. Chiyo, is a remarkably beautiful girl with grey/silver colored eyes so she is sent off to become a geisha, while her poor sister with her plain looks is sent to become a prostitute. Poor Chiyo is so young that she doesn’t understand what has happened to her and her sister or the new world she is living. Chiyo is required to work and serve the geisha’s in the okiya, the geisha house that owns her until she is old enough to even apprentice to become a geisha. Sadly, the one that she serves, Hatsumomo, is cruel, manipulative, and vindictive. Despite the effort that Hatsumomo goes to in order to destroy her reputation, Sayuri is taken under the wing of one of Hatsumomo’s rivals, Mameha, an even more successful and intelligent geisha. As Sayuri begins to make her way as a geisha, she is never truly happy, knowing that the one man she desires she can never have.

The narrative is written in first person, as Sayuri recounts her time as a geisha. During those years of hardship she learns the complicated ways of a geisha, and to hide that poor girl she use to be.

Arthur Golden is remarkable author who studied at Harvard College where he received an art degree, specializing in Japanese art. He later earned an MA in Japanese history and learned Mandarin Chinese while he was at it. He visited Japan and did extensive research in preparations for the novel. After writing an draft, he actually met with a someone who was a geisha, in which he realized that he needed to revise his novel substantially. After two drafts in third person, the final draft was written in first person and it was finally the book he was looking for.

The historical facts and traditions of the geisha are remarkably interesting and Golden managed to write a novel that has amazingly captivating characters with an equally as inciting historical plot.  While I’m not surprised that I enjoyed this novel, I was taken back by the quality of the writing and the amount of work that Golden put into creating this novel. The characters and the story also stuck with me after I finished the novel, making me wish that I could go back and enter that world again.

I couldn’t help but feel sad for Sayuri’s sister. You’re not given too much detail about her once Sayuri is grown, but what a tragic and horrible life! Torn from everything you know and love to be pimped out and forced to have sex for money. While being a geisha is fancy word for a very expensive prostitute in a way, Sayuri still had more opportunities than her sister. While geisha’s were never truly independent, at least they were lived a reasonably comfortable lifestyle and were moderately respected.

Overall, this is great novel that is accessible to all readers. Now I just need to watch the movie. Yes, I know. I’m about 10 years behind on that one too.

Jumper by Steven Gould

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 344 pages.
Read from September 17 to 28, 2015.

This book was given to me by a good friend of mine and it was one of his favourite books growing up. The book was originally published in 1992 and was republished with the release of the movie in 2008. No, I have not seen the movie and I have no plans to. For one, I heard it was terrible, and two it’s apparently nothing at all like the book (all the more reason to avoid it).

Jumper follows the story of Davy, a teenager who learns that he has the ability to teleport. He discovers his abilities during an episode of abuse from his drunken father. Having practiced and worked out new found his ability he decides to leave his abusive home and set off on his own to see where it takes him. The first half of the novel is quite dark and graphic, but realistic. After further hardship, Davy realizes he isn’t going to get very far without money so he “jumps” into a bank in New York to make ends meet. Davy however, is a teenager and starts to make some big mistakes after Davy learns more about the mother who abandoned him. From there he delves into the worlds of espionage, politics and terrorism. He wants to use his abilities for good and to know if there are others out there that are like him, but he is also exposing himself to the authorities and they’ve discovered his weak point, his new girlfriend Millie.

What was refreshing about this book is how realistic Davy’s character is. He faces real-life struggles and even with his super-human abilities but it still didn’t change the fact his decisions are those of an impulsive teenage boy.  The dark and graphic side of the book is not something that is prevalent in YA books anymore, as I’m sure some parent or board would make a big stink about it, but the facts are that Davy’s situation, in terms of his abusive home life, are a reality for far too many kids. Books like this provide insights and outlets for readers. That’s the beauty of a book and why books shouldn’t ever be banned or altered. This book was one of the biggest banned children’s books in the 90s. I had heard, though I can’t confirm if this is true or not, that this book was at some point republished and that some of the graphic content was removed and that the original edition that I read, is hard to come by. If that’s the case, I’m thankful for this edition.

I also feel that the emotion that Davy expresses in this book isn’t commonly written about. Davy gets emotional over some of the very tragic incidents that he has to deal with and the author doesn’t hold back in showing the reader Davy’s sadness or tears. Lots of readers didn’t like this, but that’s probably because we’re all acclimatized to having our male characters be borderline macho. Realistically, most people who went through what Davy did would shed quite a few tears, so he shouldn’t be any exception.

It’s easy to see why this would be a favourite for YA reader’s. Davy is an approachable character with feasible struggles and some badass abilities that we all wish we had. Overall a decent read for YA’s or adults, even if you’re not all that into sci-fi.