Thursday, 6 February 2020

Beyond the Trees

Beyond the Trees
Beyond the Trees
By Adam Shoalts

Deemed by some to be “one of Canada’s greatest living explorers”, Adam Shoalts does what most of us would never dare to do – explore Canada’s wild places for months on end, alone.  Shoalts clearly loves the wilderness and feels comfortable with solitude.  But four months alone in the arctic is more than even the most seasoned outdoor enthusiasts would normally attempt.

Nevertheless, Adam Shoalts has experience with exploration and takes readers on a journey through the planning and execution of his arctic endeavour.  His plan is to cross the Canadian arctic from west to east by canoe.  He is aware of many other canoeists who would consider tackling at least some of this journey, but none who would brave these wilds alone.

Shoalts starts his journey in the small village of Eagle Plains in the Yukon, paddling east towards Hudson Bay.  Amazingly, for more than half the trip he is paddling upriver – that is, against the current.  (This, along with his lack of companion, is widely considered a crazy thing to do.)  Readers are privy to his tales of hard paddling, as well as wading and towing his canoe with a rope.  There are also countless portages through unknown territory, oftentimes over boulder-strewn terrain and through swampy, densely-treed areas.

Despite the hardships, Adam Shoalts is totally enamoured with the beauty and magic of the north.  He regularly describes breathtaking vistas as well as close encounters with curious wildlife.  Although he does endure a harrowing ordeal involving a muskox, most of his encounters with wolves, bears, and smaller wildlife are completely benign; these animals are totally unaccustomed to humans, and are neither fearful nor aggressive.

Beyond the Trees is a very readable homage to the wilds of the Canadian North.  Shoalts bemoans our culture’s “24/7 connectivity” and maintains that “immersed in nature, one feels alive,” (p. 72).  If you love an outdoor adventure, Beyond the Trees is for you. 

Monday, 20 January 2020

Red, White and Royal Blue

Red, White & Royal Blue

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston delivers a nice, optimistic, and fun love story that’s a perfect start to a new decade of enjoying books and stories.

In an alternative reality, but similar enough to seem absolutely possible, Alex Claremont-Diaz is the half-Mexican son of the first female president of the United States. He is handsome, charming and passionate about making the world a better place. Then there is Prince Henry, third in line to the throne, and practically the definition of Prince Charming. Alex doesn’t necessarily consider Henry his arch-nemesis. It is just that Henry’s perceived perfection rubs Alex the wrong way, and he can’t help but obsess over the Prince’s actions.

During the Royal Wedding of Prince Henry’s brother, Alex and Henry get into an altercation that ends with them tripping over and onto the most expensive wedding cake in the world. To advert the ensuing international political nightmare, Alex and Henry are forced to convince the public that they are the best of friends. What starts as a series of staged outings and photo ops, transforms into a begrudging friendship and soon into a sweet and passionate secret love affair. But when you live your life in the public eye, keeping a secret such as this is basically impossible, especially during an election year.

McQuiston’s debut novel is a joy to read. The characters of Alex and Henry work very well together, and you can’t help but root for them to get their happily ever after. The dialogue is fun and witty, and the love story is swoon worthy. I recommend this book to fans of romantic comedies and any one out there in search of a joyful, fun, and optimistic story that will make you smile.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng

Shaker Heights is a perfect town outside of Cleveland.  It’s been planned, manicured and held to the highest standards for over a hundred years.  Well-educated parents raise children in Shaker who grow up to be the next generation of perfect.  

Elena Richardson is no exception.  A journalist by trade, Elena is married to a lawyer and has four children, just as she planned.  Lexie, Trip and Moodie are all different but fit well into the grand Richardson design, or so Elena thinks.  Only Izzy is a thorn in her side, constantly challenging Elena’s beliefs and trying her patience.

Enter Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl.  Mia is an artist with little money.  She takes random jobs to survive and has been moving from place to place for as long as Pearl can remember.  This time, Mia has promised Pearl that they will stay put.  Elena feels she is doing them a favour by letting them rent an apartment from her.  She even offers Mia a job cooking and cleaning in the Richardson home.

But Mia and Pearl become much more entwined with the Richardson household than anyone ever imagined.  Teenage Pearl befriends the Richardson siblings, especially Moodie, and begins spending her afternoons lounging on the couch with them watching Jerry Springer.  Izzy, on the other hand, by all accounts a rebel, befriends Mia and insists on helping her with her art.  Mia does not hold Izzy to her mother’s standards and just lets her be who she is.

But Elena becomes curious about Mia.  Who is this woman who has infiltrated her life, and who is her daughter?  As Elena begins to dig into Mia’s past, secrets are revealed.  Little does she know that her own children have many secrets too. 

Little Fires Everywhere is amazingly readable.  As she did in Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng questions parents who require their children to fit into predetermined molds and examines the effects on the children.  Some cope better than others, but all of them hide their true selves from their parents.  

Ng also has an uncanny ability to make you question your own parenting skills.  Her very believable characters all think they are doing the right thing.  But as parents, you never really know, do you?