The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

4/5 stars.
Read from January 10 to 20, 2016.
Paperback, 390 pages.

This book came as a recommendation from my mom, meaning that this book could go one way or the other for me. The last two books she recommended to me I was completely split on. One of them was Outlander, which I was not keen on, and the other was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thankfully, this one was absolutely worth reading.

The Snow Child is set in Alaska in the 1920’s where, Jack and Mabel have recently decided to make a fresh start at life. They are an older couple and they are childless. Mabel desperately wanted a child but was unable to and now, what they thought was going to be their fresh start, is slowing tearing them apart. Jack is worn out by the constant demand of the farm and living in Alaska while Mabel is tortured with loneliness and despair. During one brief, and long overdue glimpse of happiness, Jack and Mabel build a child out of snow during the first snowfall of the season. When the next morning comes the look out to see that their snow child has some how disappeared. Yet starting that day, both of them glimpse a small blond haired girl in the forest that they have not seen before.

Slowly, this girl begins to present herself more frequently. Jack and Mabel finally learn that her name is Faina and that she hunts with a red fox at her side. Who is this child that has stepped into Jack and Mabel’s life as if from a fairytale? Once spring begins to make its appearance, Faina disappears until the first snow fall of the next winter. Jack and Mabel await every winter anxiously as they have come to love Faina as the daughter that they never had. While Mabel believes that Faina is something magical, Jack tends to believe a different and more practical story based on some secrets that Faina has shared with him. What neither of them know is just how much Faina has affected their lives and what awaits them.

What made me almost cry in this book was the hardship and love between Jack and Mabel. They have trouble communicating and each of them is struggling in their own way, yet they don’t know how to reach out to each other. They learn so much about each other in Alaska and you’re able to watch them get over so many hurdles. I suppose that my emotions may have also been affected by my circumstances at the time of reading this book, as I was in the process of moving out of my home country to meet my boyfriend who I had not seen in almost a month and a half.

One complaint that some readers have made is that some of them found the story a bit cheesy, which I suppose I could understand. However, this isn’t a perfect teenage love story, this is about an older couple going through some very real turmoil, which is something that anyone in a long term adult relationship can relate to. I mean, I’m the first to say that I really dislike it when a good plot is ruined by a superficial love story and this book didn’t do for me; I enjoyed the developments in Jack and Mabel’s relationship.

What’s interesting is that there really is a legit Russian folklore story called The Snow Child, though I won’t reveal how the different endings go in this folk story as to not spoil this book.

This book will have a massive appeal to anyone that has had fertility issues as well. Mabel reveals the struggles she has with infertility and the devastating sorrow that it’s caused her. The book is a consolation to anyone that knows exactly how she feels.

Overall this novel ended up being a book I really enjoyed. I feel that author did a very good job doing justice to the characters, plot, historical setting, and romance in this book and I would recommend this book to anyone that wants a feel-good read.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

4/5 stars.
Read from December 28, 2015 to January 09, 2016.
Paperback, 220 pages.

This is the second novel I’ve read by J.M. Coetzee and this book left me with way too many feels. Mostly rage. But in a good way. This book won the Booker Prize in 1999, despite it’s controversial characters and subject matter. Based on the other reviews that I’ve read on this book it’s left people with a lot of mixed views.

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, an egotistical Professor of Communication and Romantic Poetry. After being divorced twice, David gives off the impression that he believes that he is some how God’s gift to women, regardless of his age, and lives an emotionless life with regular visits with a prostitute once a week. While he is no longer prominent at the university, he is complacent with his duties and believes himself to be happy.

However, when his regular prostitute will no longer see him, he resorts to seducing a young student which has dire consequences. After a trial with with university, in which he does nothing to deny the seduction, he refuses to make a public apology which results in his termination. Disgraced, in many ways, David goes to live with his estranged daughter in the countryside to escape some of controversy and gossip. Still remaining fairly emotionless, David does not appear to be bothered by his scandal and is looking forward to reconnecting with his daughter.

His daughter, Lucy, is unmarried and living on her own in the country side, a dangerous situation in post-apartheid South Africa. She is fiercely independent and has a passion for rescuing animals, so she is quick to recruit her father’s help. However, a horrifying situation is about to unfold that will upturn both of their lives. David, will come to truly know what disgrace means and will find a measure of understanding for the women he has mistreated.

Let me just say, that David is a despicable human being. Ugh. He is such a pervert. But, as Coetzee is such a fabulous writer, he ensures that as a reader that you feel an appropriate amount of resentment towards David but are still able to see past his flaws to continue reading the story. It was challenging as a woman to read about his “seduction” of one his young female students. David abused his power with her and practically raped her. She didn’t say no, but she definitely didn’t say yes. It was just one of the challenging scenes in this book.

Now I went from being annoyed, to feeling absolute rage after the main incident that affects Lucy and David. I wish I could say more without spoiling it but I just cannot fathom or understand Lucy’s choices in dealing with the situation. I was actually siding with David! While the situation made David a better person in the end, I still couldn’t get over the rage I felt even when the book came to the end.

Now that I’ve read 2 books by Coeztee, I would say that his writing style and approach is definitively made for more of a male audience. Not that he is being inclusive and this is not by any means a complaint because as a woman, it provides a different perspective.

Enjoyable is not a word I would use to describe this book but it was very good. The book makes you feel a spectrum of emotions, most of which are on the angry, sad and frustrated side, but it was hard book to put down. This novel is also a great representation of personal growth as well as a reflection post-apartheid South Africa. I would recommend this book to those that are not too sensitive to misogyny in literature and for those willing to use an open-mind on personal growth in regards to that topic. Again, not that misogyny is something to be endorsed but it is a sad reality in which this author has chosen to reflect on. I believe this book is worthy of its appraised award for addressing a historical time-frame and for discussing a character, that most, would not like and showing the reader that people can change.

Canada Reads 2016

I almost finished reading and reviewing all five of the Canada Reads novels in time for the debates. So close! It’s the fastest I’ve read through them since I’ve started keeping up with Canada Reads these last few years.

In general, I found that the selection for this year was a bit lacking than the previous years, though I did enjoy a few of them. This is also the first time that I’ve successfully predicted and agreed with the winner! Check out how I ranked the books this year and don’t forget to click on the titles for the full reviews!

How I ranked the books this year:

5) Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter – Follows the life of Henry,  a worker in northern Alberta, who then goes to work in Afghanistan to try and piece back his life together when his girlfriend leaves him. A tragic and horrible accident occurs in Afghanistan leaving Henry with guilt and consequences. Sadly, this is the worst book I’ve read in years. I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. Read the full review to find out  why.

4) The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami – Follows a grief stricken Indian family who have to deal with the loss of a daughter they disowned and now have to care for her only child. Another disappointing read for me. I did not care for most of the characters and felt little sympathy for them as the situations that arise in the story are ones that they alone create. Isn’t that the story of us all though? Read my full review to learn more.

3) Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz – Two sisters who are brought up by mixed parents and mixed religions have a bond that not many share; one that is shaped by extreme loss. Sadly, the tale is narrated by the one sister who is reminiscing over their shared childhood as she is coming to terms with the sudden death of her sister. A book with a potent tale, that’s for sure, but I couldn’t determine whose story it really was in the end. Read my full review to learn more.

2) Birdie by Tracey Lindberg  – Is the spiritual and highly poetic story of a young Native American woman named Birdie. She begins a sort of vision quest by finally learning to deal with her abusive and very-troubled past. A beautiful and potent read that stresses some real issues that Native American women today still face. Read my full review to learn more. 

1) The Illegal by Lawrence Hill  – Keita wants to be an elite runner and he definitely has the skills to do it but unfortunately for Keita, he was a born in a country with a tyrannous government and the country that he flees to is unforgiving with refugees. While the countries in the book are technically made up, it’s easy to see which one’s they’re making reference to. A massive reflection on some very present day issues. Enjoyable read with memorable characters. Oh and, RUNNING! Yay! Read my full review here. 

How Canada Reads ranked the books:

5) Minister Without Portfolios by Michael Winter

4) Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

3) Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

2) The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami

1) The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

I was spot on in my own ranking with two of the books this year in comparison to the final list which, I think is the best I’ve done so far.

Want to read about previous Canada Reads years? Check out my rankings and reviews for 2015 and 2014!