Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Girl Who Lived

Author: Christopher Greyson
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Greyson Media Associates
First Published: November 2, 2017
First Lines: "They were coming for her, but Faith wasn't in the mood to go anywhere. Not today."

Book Description from GoodReads

Ten years ago, four people were brutally murdered. One girl lived.

No one believes her story.
The police think she’s crazy.
Her therapist thinks she’s suicidal.
Everyone else thinks she’s a dangerous drunk.
They’re all right—but did she see the killer?

As the anniversary of the murders approaches, Faith Winters is released from the psychiatric hospital and yanked back to the last spot on earth she wants to be—her hometown where the slayings took place. Wracked by the lingering echoes of survivor’s guilt, Faith spirals into a black hole of alcoholism and wanton self-destruction. Finding no solace at the bottom of a bottle, Faith decides to track down her sister’s killer—and then discovers that she’s the one being hunted.

How can one woman uncover the truth when everyone’s a suspect—including herself?

From the mind of Wall Street Journal bestselling author Christopher Greyson comes a story with twists and turns that take the reader on a journey of light and dark, good and evil, to the edge of madness. The Girl Who Lived should come with a warning label: Once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop. Not since Girl on the Train and Gone Girl has a psychological thriller kept readers so addicted—and guessing right until the last page.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: This was my first book by Christopher Greyson. I’m always on the lookout for new suspense authors that can keep me on my toes. I now consider Mr. Greyson one of those authors.

The story starts off strong and is filled with lots of wonderful misdirection and several plausible culprits. This gaggle of possible baddies caused me to repeatedly change my mind about the identity of the murderer who continues to harass Faith.

This is a dark mystery that also brings readers into the life of a person struggling with mental illness. After being incarcerated in psychiatric facilities for a decade, Faith continues to cope with mental health issues stemming from the horror she experienced when her sister was brutally murdered. She’s determined not be sent back to the psych hospital and tries to adhere to her strict regimen of therapy, parole and support group meetings. It’s a rough road for Faith but it’s her deep-seated desire to get justice for her sister’s death that propels her.

Faith was a good main character, but it took time for her to grow on me. Understanding where she’s come from and how she continues to struggle endeared her to me a bit.  She’s dealing with a lot, including survivor’s guilt, feeling like an outcast in her home town and being misunderstood by almost everyone around her.  She remains quite damaged and doesn’t always make the right choices, but she was a character I could get behind.

Overall, I was very impressed with this book.  It’s an addicting, fast-paced read that pulls the reader into the story which includes a few scenes that will get readers’ hearts pounding!  I could brag and say that I predicted the culprit, but I suspected so many of the characters that this boasting should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher  via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Dear Martin

Author: Nic Stone
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
First Published: October 17, 2017
First Line: "From where he's standing across the street, Justyce can see her: Melo Taylor, ex-girlfriend, slumped over beside her Benz on the damp concrete of the FarmFresh parking lot."

Book Description from GoodReadsRaw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: This book slipped under my radar but thankfully, after gushing to a publishing rep about The Hate U Give at a the Ontario Library Conference in January, she suggested I read Dear MartinSo, did I like this book?

I liked it a lot --I read it in one sitting. 

Dear Martin is about Justyce McAllister, a Black teen who witnesses his friend, Manny, get gunned down by an off-duty police officer. Justyce writes letters to Martin Luther King Jr  to vent his frustration and gain inspiration from his hero. The epistolary format gave me pause because it's not my favourite format, but the letters are used sporadically, like diary entries, and help the reader getting into Justyce's mindset. 

Fans of The Hate U Give will see definite similarities in themes - racial profiling, discrimination, police brutality and the influence of small, casual racial comments that sometimes end in blaming the person of colour of being 'too sensitive'. But Dear Martin brings its own unique voice to these issues particularly because Justyce, as a Black male teen, gives his take of the issues.

These issues range from the sense of defeat by some people in the Black community (What's the point of fighting for equality when nothing ever seems to change?), the struggle to be seen as more than skin colour by the outside world and the temptation of joining a gang to gain the feeling of connection and safety. Dear Martin also raises the important topic of 'toxic masculinity’ - that in order to show strength, young men must limit their emotional responses to anger and aggression. 

My only negative about this book is that I wish that there had been more time for character development. While Justyce is a sweet character, I didn't feel as connected to him as I would have liked. I also felt the secondary characters could have used more depth since some felt a little one-dimensional.

Overall, Dear Martin is a powerful read that packs a lot of emotion and big topics into its pages making it an excellent selection for book clubs or middle-school/high school reading lists. THUG and Dear Martin both encourage readers to talk about prejudice and give a sense of hope that there can be change. I encourage everyone to read both.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Every Note Played

Author: Lisa Genova
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
First Published: March 20, 2018
First Line: "Richard is playing the second movement of Schumann's Fantasie in C Major, op. 17, the final piece of his solo recital at the Adrienne Arsht Centre in Miami."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom neuroscientist and New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice comes a powerful exploration of regret, forgiveness, freedom, and what it means to be alive.

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: After hearing of Stephen Hawking's death yesterday, a brilliant man who lived with ALS for decades, I decided to post my review of Every Note Played, which focuses on a talented pianist who suffers from ALS. 

In Every Note Played, Lisa Genova once again explores the emotions and issues surrounding a neurological disorder. This time, she focuses Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a progressive and chronic neurodegenerative disease that gradually paralyzes a person, leaving them with mental acuity but trapped within their bodies until eventually they are unable to breathe.

Genova, who has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard, educates her readers on the disease and debunks some myths but readers won't feel overloaded with information. The facts are blended well within a story about a fractured family and readers will come away with a better understanding and sympathy for those who live with this disease and see the toll the disease has on the family as a whole. 

Genova has lost friends to this disease and her connections to her characters and the issues are evident. This is an emotional read about family, loss, making amends and regret.  Keep the Kleenex box handy for this read.  I dare you not to tear up as you witness this once proud, professional pianist lose everything he 'thought' was important to him as he battles this incurable disease.

Currently there is no cure but to help create awareness and fund research for a much needed cure, Genova provides ways readers can help and get involved.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Everything Here Is Beautiful

Author: Mira T Lee
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
First Published: January 16, 2018
First Line: "A summer day in New Jersey."

Book Description from GoodReadsTwo sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister's protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it's Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor's diagnosis.

Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

Told from alternating perspectives, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its core, a heart-wrenching family drama about relationships and tough choices — how much we're willing to sacrifice for the ones we love, and when it's time to let go and save ourselves.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: This is a raw yet sensitive look at mental illness. The reader is introduced to two sisters, Lucia and Miranda, but it is Lucia's struggle with mental illness throughout her adult life, that is central to the story.

It's soon evident how her mental health influences Lucia's life and the lives of her family and close friends. Readers will cheer when Lucia overcomes some of the obstacles that her illness presents, fear for her as her demons keep trying to bring her down and sympathize with Lucia's family and friends' feelings of love, frustration, concern and often impotence as they struggle to help Lucia.

Lee gives a clear description of a life with mental illness and I applaud her for not glossing over the difficult parts. Life is often about the gray areas in life, the complicated decisions, the little moments of clarity and the regrets.  Mental illness can be an all-encompassing struggle and I appreciate the realism that Lee brought to her story and characters.

But I had some issues with the book. I wasn't fond of the pacing which often lagged and the back and forth between the viewpoints feeling disjointed much of the time. Also, based on the book's blurb, I was expecting a much closer relationship between the sisters. Instead, they were apart much more than they were together with little page time devoted to Miranda. Readers are told of their bond but don't witness much of it.

Overall, this was an impressive debut that sensitively deals with the topic of mental illness. It isn't a happy read but the issues are important and more prevalent than many imagine. I hope this book raises sympathy in those untouched by mental illness and I think people who have experienced mental health issues in their family will empathize with some of the characters' experiences. 

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Morning Glory Muffins

I love muffins.  They're the perfect snack for those busy weekdays or a nice addition to a cup of coffee as you're relaxing on a Sunday afternoon.  

Do you know what I also love?  Clearing out my pantry and fridge. There's nothing quite like getting your fridge and pantry back to ground zero and this recipe uses lots of little goodies that you may have hanging around in your kitchen -- a carrot or two, that last bit of sour cream in the container, a can of pineapple you've had since Betty White was a Golden Girl ...  It feels so good to use what you've got and making space in your fridge and pantry at the same time.

Morning Glory Muffins, are a one stop shop for home baked goodness. They are a moist muffin with a nice spice to them and are filled with all kinds of delicious additions (which you can add or omit according to personal tastes). Don't like coconut? Leave it out. Do you love diced apple in your muffin? Add it in!

Now that I have 18 of these muffins baked up, my weekday lunches are looking a whole lot better!

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large carrot - shredded (approximately 2 cups)
1 can crushed pineapple, drained well
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup raisins (see tip below)
1/4 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
3 large eggs
1/2 cup oil (I used grapeseed)
1/2 cup sour cream (or plain applesauce)
1 tbsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line muffin tins with 18 muffin papers and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients together: flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugars.  Combine well.  Fold in carrot, pineapple, pecans, raisins and coconut.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs well.  Add oil, sour cream and vanilla.  Mix well.

Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently mix.  This is not the time to get an arm workout! If you overmix you'll get dense muffins.

Using a large melon baller (or spoons), fill muffin papers to approximately the top of the muffin paper.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.  Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.  Store in an airtight container or freeze.

Raisin Tip: Raisins are polarizing ... you either love 'em or hate 'em.  Admittedly, they can be gross if they're dried out and have lost their plumpness. To add a bit of plumpness, I put a small amount of water in a small saucepan, add my raisins and bring it to a boil. Once it's boiling I remove the pot from the heat and let them sit for a bit (usually while I'm putting together the muffins, rice pudding etc.). Then I rinse them with cool water, drain well and add them to my recipe. This technique gives dried out old raisins a new life and turns them into something you'll look forward to finding in your baked good.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Queen of Hearts

Author: Kimmery Martin
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: February 13, 2018
First Line: "Almost a hundred years before I was born, a man named Samuel Langhorne Clemens -- better known to us as Mark Twain -- said this about the human heart: You can't reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns."

Book Description from GoodReadsA debut novel set against a background of hospital rounds and life-or-death decisions that pulses with humor and empathy and explores the heart's capacity for forgiveness...

Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they're happily married wives and mothers with successful careers--Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years.

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie's life--both professionally and personally--throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick's unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Lately I've been binge watching Grey's Anatomy on Netflix so when I heard that Queen of Hearts was a medical drama with main characters which aren't unlike Meredith and her group of medical misfits, I knew I wanted to read this book.

The story is set in North Carolina and focuses on the long friendship of Zadie and Emma - their home lives, work lives and their close bond. These BFFs are joined by friendship as well as a big secret, a handsome doctor and medical mayhem. 

While the book is a medical drama filled with secrets and lies, little bouts of humour are interspersed to lighten things up. I particularly loved Zadie's young daughter who is filled with quirk, sass and a great vocabulary. Martin's writing is impressive for a debut and her experience as an emergency room doctor comes into play as traumas are vividly described. I loved this part and, with my extensive "Grey's training", I didn't find it hard to understand what was happening.

The story is told in the alternating voices of Zadie and Emma, past and present, but this switching back and forth wasn't as smooth as I had hoped. Their 'voices' were so similar that I found it difficult to remember who was speaking and would have to backtrack to check. And, if I'm being honest, I didn't find the big secret all that big. 

This is a medical drama with a side of secrets. The cover is stunning and it's a fun read but with some stronger characterization (and a less obvious twist) I would have given it a higher rating.

I liked it. I just didn't love it like Izzy loved Denny, or Christina loves cardiothoracic surgery. I think this book has its niche and fans of medical dramas with a mild soap opera feel should enjoy this book. 

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Ebb and Flow

Author: Heather Smith
Genre: Middle School, Canadian, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 232
Source: Borrowed from co-worker
Publisher: Kids Can Press
First Published: April 3, 2018
First Line: "One summer, after a long plane ride and a rotten bad year, I went to Grandma Jo's."

Book Description from GoodReads

One summer,
after a long plane ride
and a rotten bad year
I went to Grandma Jo's.
It was my mother's idea.
Jett, what you need is a change of scenery.
I think she needed a change of scenery, too.
One without me.
Because that rotten bad year?
That was my fault.

Thus begins the poignant story, told in free verse, of eleven-year-old Jett. Last year, Jett and his mother had moved to a new town for a fresh start after his father went to jail. But Jett soon learned that fresh starts aren't all they're cracked up to be. When he befriended a boy with a difficult home life, Jett found himself in a cycle of bad decisions that culminated in the betrayal of a friend - a shameful secret he still hasn't forgiven himself for. Will a summer spent with his unconventional grandmother help Jett find his way to redemption?

Writing in artfully crafted free-verse vignettes, Heather T. Smith uses a deceptively simple style to tell a powerful and emotionally charged story. The engaging narrative and the mystery of Jett's secret keep the pages turning and will appeal to both reluctant and avid readers. This captivating book offers a terrific opportunity for classroom discussions about the many ways to tell a story and how a small number of carefully chosen words can have a huge impact. It also showcases the positive character traits of empathy resilience, courage, and responsibility.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: This is a story about an eleven-year-old boy who has weathered a tough year filled with mistakes and poor judgement and now he must learn to come to terms with the consequences. Once again Smith uses her superpower of using a simpler writing style yet still conveying big issues and empathy for her main character.  Like in her previous book, The Agony of Bun O'Keefe (which I adored!), Smith deftly captures the inner talk of preteen Jett and has created a character that readers will connect with.

This simpler, free verse style of writing is a unique way to tell a story but may not be for all readers. I liked it but can't say I loved it. Yet, even with this simpler style, Smith conveys Jett's emotional journey, throws in a twist and keeps readers engaged in Jett's life. I loved the supportive and touching relationship Jett had with his grandmother. Everyone needs a Grandma Jo in their lives.

This is a heartwarming tale of an eleven-year-old boy as he weathers the ebb and flow of his sometimes tumultuous life and learns to come to terms with his past decisions. This book would be a good pick for readers from middle school to adulthood.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Family Next Door

Author: Sally Hepworth
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: March 6, 2018
First Line: "I've spent my whole life wanting you."

Book Description from GoodReads:  A gripping domestic page-turner full of shocking reveals, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty, Amanda Prowse and Kerry Fisher.
The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It's the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.
Isabelle Heatherington doesn't fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.
But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange's compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won't let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park - and returned home without her.
As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread - and they'll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I'm a fan of Sally Hepworth 's writing and have enjoyed her previous three books. Usually, her genre is Contemporary Fiction leaning towards Women's Fiction but this time out, she's written more of a suspense read set in suburbia that begs the question ... Just how well DO you know your neighbours? If it's anything like this bunch, there's a whole lot of lying, cheating and stealin' going on.

The Family Next Door focuses around a group of women who live on the same small court in suburban Melbourne. As the book progresses, readers witness the secrets, lies and betrayals that are occurring behind closed doors. Let's just say, per capita, it's a lot of secrets!

I think this book had good bones - a solid premise, lots of characters but it grazed over the many issues it raised and the characters felt flat. I liked that some of the struggles of early motherhood are raised but didn't feel the usual emotional connection I expect from a Hepworth novel.

This is a good choice for people who enjoy a book with a toned down Desperate Housewives/Big Little Lies feel. It's an easy read with a twist or two but with a lack of depth to the characters and issues, I fear it's not a story I'll remember for long.

Even though I wasn't as enamoured with this book as I have been with her previous books, I remain a Sally Hepworth fan and look forward to reading her next bookish offering.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

My reviews of Sally Hepworth's previous books:

Click the links below for my reviews ...

The Secrets of Midwives
The Things We Keep
The Mother's Promise

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Let Me Lie

Author: Clare Mackintosh
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: March 13, 2018
First Line: "Death does not suit me."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the newest psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of I Let You Go and I See You, Clare Mackintosh brings us a gripping story about how those who love us never really leave us...

Two years ago, Tom and Caroline Johnson committed suicide, one seemingly unable to live without the other. Their adult daughter, Anna, is struggling to come to terms with her parents' deaths, unable to comprehend why they chose to end their lives. Now with a young baby herself, she feels her mother's presence keenly and is determined to find out what really happened to her parents. But as Anna digs up the past, someone is trying to stop her. She soon learns that nothing is as it seemed.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Clare Mackintosh, you have officially given me my first Book Hangover of 2018!

Last year I enjoyed Mackintosh's suspense read, I See You. So, last week, when the publisher sent me surprise book mail with this title, I jumped at the chance to dig into it before its publication date (my reaction 'may have' included a happy dance).

The overall feeling of this book is a slow, tantalizing building of tension and intrigue with twists thrown in to keep readers on their toes. Mackintosh provides many viable culprits and an overall story arc that slowly takes hold of the reader until they're sneaking off for 'just one more chapter'. I had several hypotheses about what was going on but the only thing I suspected correctly was that Mackintosh would pull the rug out from under me with a few final twists.

The story is told using multiple points of view and this approach worked well to build the tension and give readers insight into characters' motivations. Both the main and secondary characters have enough depth and backstory to keep things interesting and I couldn't help but have a soft spot for the investigating officer, Murray McKenzie, and his complicated relationship with his wife. 

Mackintosh has 12 years experience on a British police force, including time in the Criminal Investigation Department, and this experience shows in the details. She also examines some big issues with sensitivity while blending these issues deftly within her overall plot.

This gripping, psychological thriller is a complex, intriguing web of lies and deceit that will lead readers on a wild path and keep them reading well past their bedtimes. You've simply got to read this book.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Boat People

Author: Sharon Bala
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 388
Source: Publisher
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
First Published:
First Line: "Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes."

Book Description from GoodReads: In the tradition of Lawrence Hill's The Illegal, Chris Cleave's Little Bee, and Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and inspired by real incident, The Boat People is an extraordinary novel about a group of refugees who survive a perilous ocean voyage to reach Canada - only to face the threat of deportation and accusations of terrorism in their new land.

When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka's bloody civil war reaches Canadian shores, the young father believes he and his six-year-old son can finally begin a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the "boat people" are members of a terrorist organization infamous for their suicide attacks. As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son's chances for asylum.
Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer, Priya, a second-generation Sri Lankan-Canadian who reluctantly represents the refugees; and Grace, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan's fate, The Boat People is a spellbinding and timely novel that provokes a deeply compassionate lens through which to view the current refugee crisis.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: The Boat People is a timely book that focuses on an important issue - the refugee crisis. It is based on a real-life incident that occurred in 2010 off the coast of British Columbia when a cargo ship of 500 Sri Lankan refugees were seeking asylum in Canada.

Bala uses a few different viewpoints to tell the story but I was most engaged with Mahindan and his son who, along with the other refugees, fear deportation as the Canadian government determines who can stay and who will be sent back to an uncertain future. The other POVs were from Priya, a young Canadian-Sri Lankan lawyer and Grace, a Canadian-Japanese adjudicator whose job is to determine which refugees stay, but I found these story lines much less compelling.

I applaud Bala for addressing this important issue and can honestly say I know more about the refugee issue, but I struggled with this book. There is a lot of information given about immigrant issues but how the information was given gave the book a narrative non-fiction feel, instead of the intended fictional style. There was also a lack of flow and nuance to the telling and some plot points, namely Grace's mother's story, felt forced and didn't mesh well with the refugee issue. Similar, but not the same.

Overall, this debut gave me much to think about and handles the topic with compassion and sensitivity. Bala shows the complexities, emotions, politics and frustrations of the refugee issue but the story fell a little short for me and left me with a frustrating ending. I think this book is a good starting point for readers to sympathize with the issues refugees face and would make a good book club selection.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

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