Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The historical scenes in this book are outstanding.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.

This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.

Marie (Li-Ling) is a first generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family.  Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being genius composer.  The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.

If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story.  There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry.  I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel too me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning however, the writing is not.

I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

This debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

He was still bleeding.” I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.”

4/5 stars.
324 pages, ebook.
Read from April 7, 2017 to April 8, 2017.

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC and for fueling my crime and murder intrigue!  I would like to point out that I technically finished this book in one sitting whilst on a 14-hour flight that crossed over between two different days. Yeah, high-fives for me!

Everyone knows the story, or at least the song: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” On August 4, 1892 in Fall River Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was charged with murdering her father and step-mother with an axe. Lizzie was later acquitted of the murder, despite the majority of people believing she was guilty, because basically it was thought that women could not be capable of committing such a brutal act. Narrated from many perspectives, this debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

Toying with the idea that Lizzie was spoiled and functioning at a child-like capacity (it was easy to forget that she is actually a grown woman), the novel reflects on how her sister Emma has been trying to escape the family home and getaway from Lizzie since the passing of their mother. Their overbearing father, Andrew, always favoured Lizzie and did little to spare Emma any responsibilities after the passing of their mother, even though he has since married a plump woman named Abby.  The home was tense and unhappy. Even the maid, Bridget, is saving every spare coin she had to getaway from the argumentative and strange family.  However trouble is brewing on the horizon and someone has it in for Andrew Borden. With an intense climax and twisted ending, this book will not fail inquisitive minds.

Schmidt is the queen of acute and sensory descriptions. There are few books that can describe blood and vomit in such an uncanny way.  If you are at all squeamish, this book may be a bit unsettling for you but don’t let that stop you. I promise it is worth it. The book is intensely visual and the author has an immense talent in bringing her words alive.  The characters, especially Lizzie, are curious, disruptive, complicated and disturbing and the plot adds a new twist to an old story.

I expect to see a lot from this author in the future as this novel is a killer debut! Ha, see what I did there? Bad joke… yeah. Anyway! If you are at all interested in true-crime, historical-fiction, murder, or just curious characters with great visuals then add this book to your to-read list ASAP and pick up a copy this summer when it comes out in August.

The North Water by Ian McGuire

This book is violent. You have been warned.

Henry Drax is either dead or he’s in Canada, which if you ask me is near enough the same thing.” p. 199 (Just one of the many fantastic lines in the book)

4/5 stars.
ebook, 222 pages.
Read from December 20, 2016 to December 26, 2016.

This book was another one that got my attention off Goodreads. I patiently tried to wait for my library to get a copy but it didn’t happen so I caved and bought an ebook copy; it ended up being a very worthwhile purchase. This historical-fiction not only has a riveting and gruesome plot, it also spares no details in how the men on whaling were really like. Some of the characters are likeable, commendable even, while others are down right disgusting.

It is the 19th century and people still rely on whale blubber for many of their everyday resources. The whaling ship, the Volunteer, is about to head out towards the Arctic on an expedition that will end up becoming its last. To say these expeditions were brutal is an understatement. However, life aboard with the nasty Henry Drax makes a brutal expedition go foul. Drax is a thief, a cheat, a rapist and a murder and will do whatever he needs to get ahead. Also aboard is an ex-army surgeon named Patrick Sumner, who has shady past that he will not discuss. As it is his first time aboard a whaling ship, the crew wonder why someone of his standing would want to work such a crude job. Having discovered a horrible crime that Drax has committed, Sumner does what he can to make sure that he sees justice. Drax however has his own devious plan in mind. When the whole crew gets stranded it becomes apparent that not everyone will live to see the winter.

This book is as close as you are going to get to the savage and filthy environment of a whaling ship. Disease, dirty, horrible smells and a lot of grueling hard work. However, if you do not like violence, especially against women or children, or anything to do with rape then I would not read this book. This is probably the most violent book I have ever read. Having said that, the author is talented enough to keep it subtle and let your imagination do the rest, which is exactly the kind of adventure story I love. If Moby Dick had been more like this I can assure you every high school/university student would have loved it; more gore and less whale anatomy.

He is not ashamed of what he has been or done: a man makes his mistakes, he tells them, a man suffers as he must suffer, but the readiness is all.”

As much as I despised Henry Drax, he sure made the book interesting.  The writing style suited the characters and the plot was brilliantly delivered. In all honesty, this is one of the best adventure novels I have read in years and if you have the stomach for it, I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys history and adventure.