I've been participating in the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by The Book Mine Set. I was pretty good up until Christmas at getting my reviews posted in a reasonably timely manner, but I've slipped since then. I'm still reading - I just haven't posted any reviews. The only way that this is going to happen is if I start lumping books together and write mini-reviews. I will cover the Canadian novels I've read since Christmas in this post, and write about the poetry books tomorrow.
I read this book back in February (I finished it on Reading Week while visiting a friend). It first caught my attention last year when it was one of the contenders for the Canada Reads competition, and even though it was eliminated early, it caught my attention. It is the story of two sisters dealing with tragedy - their father dies when they are young, and their mother dies a few years later. The older sister, Beena, seeks affection wherever she can find it and becomes pregnant at age 15, while the younger sister, Sadhana, develops a severe eating disorder at the age of 13. One of the most striking images in this book is of Beena getting bigger and bigger with her pregnancy while Sadhana is fading away.
The book jumps back and forth between the present when Beena is coping with the unexpected death of Sadhana as well as a moody 17-year old son, and the past as Beena and Sadhana are trying to navigate their life as orphans. This style worked for me. The story wasn't just presented as a straight-forward narrative - instead, I was engaged with the characters, and interested in how they would grow and develop. I ended up reading this book in just a couple of sittings, inhaling large chunks of it all at once. In the three months since I finished it, the characters have stayed with me - I really cared about what happened to these sisters who were suddenly set adrift. The emotions felt real to me.
And now for the not-so-good. The best way I can describe this book is unmemorable. Mary lives with her mother and grandmother, has a boyfriend renting the apartment upstairs, and has a cousin and aunt and uncle in very different circumstances. Mary tries to be the person who holds the dysfunctional family together, but her mother and grandmother keep sliding further and further into squalor while her cousin's rich family falls apart from not being able to communicate. Talk about clichés!
I was frustrated because Mary didn't seem to grow at all during this book. The family seems to resolve a bunch of issues over the course of the year, but Mary doesn't seem to learn anything - she just escapes the chaos and continues to float through life. I also found the writing to be flat - it didn't capture my imagination.
The one fun part of the book is that it is set in Nova Scotia (the province where I am currently living). The family lives just outside of Sydney which I am not very familiar with, but they make a trip into Halifax and I was able to recognize some of the places mentioned. The local references resonated as well - Mary works in the local Sobey's, for example.
I used to read Kathy Reichs' books faithfully, as soon as they were released, but the past several years I've fallen behind with the series. But when I was in a used bookstore back in April, I found the next book in the series for a couple of dollars and decided to pick it up. I'm glad I did - I flew through this book on the long weekend last month.
I've commented in the past that I've found this series to be quite uneven. The books were really good early on, then deteriorated to the point that I almost gave up on the series, but then started to improve again. Fortunately this book has continued the trend, and I found it to be as good as her best books.
I'm not going to spoil the mystery, but I will comment that this book acts as a sequel to her earlier book, Monday Mourning. I barely remembered the plot of the earlier book - I might have enjoyed this book more if I had recently re-read the earlier book, but I was still able to follow along without too much difficulty as the relevant plot points of Monday Mourning were revealed in this book, usually in the form of characters bringing other characters up to speed. I did guess the "who" of the mystery, and part of the "why," but not the "how." I didn't want to put this book down; it kept me up a bit too late for a couple of nights in a row - #baddecisionsbookclub - and it gave me the slight anxiety in the pit of my stomach and sitting on the edge of my seat that I look for in a good mystery. I don't do horror, I don't do paranormal, I don't do terror, but I do enjoy a good mystery!
And if I've done my math right, this brings me up to 12/13 books read and reviewed for the Canadian Book Challenge!