Friday 29 June 2018

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore
The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore
By Kim Fu

Located on the wild coast of British Columbia, Camp Forevermore is a place that girls dream of going.  A week away from parents while hiking, swimming, doing archery and kayaking is a thrilling experience for most.  No one imagines what can go wrong.

Nita, Andee, Dina, Siobhan and Isabel are an average group of pre-teen girls.  Nita and Andee bond immediately. They are tough girls, quick to make the others feel small.  Dina is beautiful and popular – a coveted friend.  Siobhan senses her own deficits and is desperate not to be the outcast.  Tiny Isabel says almost nothing.  As the other girls go about their business, she is not even a consideration.

The five girls are assigned to Jan for their overnight trek to a nearby island.  Jan is older than the average counselor – more like a grandmother.  But she’s tough, no-nonsense and knowledgeable.  Jan deftly leads the girls, each in her own kayak, across the coastal waters to a nearby island.  Each girl worries about this trip but Jan’s take-charge attitude assuages their fears.

Away from the main camp, the unthinkable happens.  Nita, Andee, Dina, Siobhan and Isabel must make some decisions.  On the surface, they come together as a team.  Underneath, their individual survival instincts are bubbling up.  With little food and water, can the girls keep each other alive?  Or will survival of the fittest win the day?

The unfolding tragedy at Forevermore and its aftermath is interspersed with the lives of the girls as they become women.  They are all very different, but all are deeply affected by their terrifying ordeal on a lonely island.  Loves gained and lost, family complications, career triumphs and disappointments, all lie in the future but give us insight into the girls that exist on that fateful outing from Forevermore.

Kim Fu’s novel explores the darkness that lies beneath the surface of every human being.  Lying in wait, the darkness appears when one is torn away from the day to day niceties of civilization.  Each girl experiences her own darkness and learns what she is capable of.

Fu also skillfully examines the way that one incident can weave its way into future lives, forever informing one’s choices.

Readable and absorbing, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore is a must-read.

Saturday 23 June 2018

The Geography of Bliss

Image result for geography of bliss

The Geography of Bliss: One grump’s search for the happiest place on earth. The title says it all really. Using data from the Happiness Research Institute, Eric Weiner travels the globe to explore the world’s happiest and least happy places. His mission? To find out conclusively what makes people happy! 

He explores a variety of different countries that are a bit off the beaten path including Qatar, Bhutan, Iceland, and Moldova. On his global tour, Weiner explores a number of common themes we associate with happiness: sunshine, money, freedom, sense of community.  Interestingly, these factors don't always lead to a perfect utopia. How can it be that one of the poorer nations of the world, Bhutan, ranks so high on the happiness scale, while Qatar, one of the wealthiest nations, scores relatively low? As Weiner travels from country to country, the characteristics that encourage happiness take shape in often surprising ways.

Weiner (pronounced whiner), a self-proclaimed grump, is a relatively tongue in cheek narrator sprinkling his writing liberally with witticisms that are often laugh out loud funny. Both introspective and fun, the book gives readers the opportunity to think about their own experiences while also not taking the process too seriously. The book flows rather seamlessly from country to country and gives the reader something new to chew on every step of the way.

My only complaint about this book is that there were some dated remarks about the threat of terrorism that are very reminiscent of George W. Bush's time in office. That said, the Geography of Bliss was written in 2008 by a journalist working as a foreign correspondent throughout the hay day of the war on terrorism. This point aside, I loved reading about how people from around the world approach their own happiness and how their nation and culture impact the ever sought after happiness equation! Fun, thoughtful, and informative, this is a wonderful summer read for people who enjoy a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Image result for erotic stories for punjabi widowsErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal is a family saga, mystery, comedy, and romance twisted together through a teasing multi-storyline tale.  The main storyline follows Nikki, an independent university drop out in her early 20s struggling to find her path. The daughter of Punjabi immigrants, she has spent much of her life trying to distance herself from the traditional Sikh community.

Through a series of miscommunications, Nikki finds herself teaching an English literacy class to Punjabi widows. After an errant erotic novel finds itself into the hands of one of the literate widows, the class evolves from a literacy class to an erotic storytelling class.
In a community where everyone gossips, the topic of their class must be kept secret. As one would expect in any close knit community, word gets out and the community discovers more than they ever expected about these white clad widows.
Full of vivid imagery, likeable characters, and an immersive cultural experience, Balli Kaur Jaswal provides an entertaining and informative glimpse into the Punjabi immigrant community in London.  The narrative follows a Sikh mother who has recently lost her daughter, Nikki’s budding relationships with the widows in her class and a young man from the community, and finally, the erotic stories themselves.  These pieces are all woven together to create a fun-loving and heartfelt story of community and self-acceptance.  

 I loved how the author presented fairly stereotypical characters then turned them into something entirely different. The humour from the book was particularly fun but I also appreciated learning new things about the Sikh community through this humour.  You will find a similar read in Everything was Good-Bye by Gurjinder Basran, but otherwise, there’s really nothing quite like this book.