Book Review: All the Broken Things

17834903Thank you to Random House Canada for sending us this delightful and tender story that makes your heart ache while reading and continues to give it a squeeze when you reflect upon it.

All the Broken Things is a coming of age story quite unlike any you’ve read before. Before you even read of Bo’s life, you are given one giant eye-opening and powerfully stated “Author’s Note”. It was one that I couldn’t stop reading over, thinking about and sharing. In it tells the wild truths about Canada’s (Ontario) manufacture of Agent Orange, bear wrestling and freak shows.

September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when Bo’s not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.
One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a streetfight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.
   All the Broken Things is a spellbinding novel, at once melancholy and hopeful, about the peculiarities that divide us and bring us together, and the human capacity for love and acceptance.

This is a lovely synopsis really, and while it does clearly sum up what happens in the story, it doesn’t really seem to capture enough about it, you know? I’ve been struggling over the past many days in my attempts to write thoughts full of clarity and charm about this story after closing the pages of All the Broken Things. Then I happened across Kerry’s review over at  Pickle Me This, and found that here, here is what I think I’ve been trying to say:

I finished reading the book the other day and have not quite discovered what I think of it yet. “I think it’s a novel meant to be deeply considered rather than summed up in a sentence or two,” is what I wrote on Sunday in an email to a friend. The novel is a peculiar shape, not quite what I am used to. I found it to be a page-turner, difficult to put down. It’s a novel that moves through time and space almost as quickly as I moved through its chapters, and I have this theory that its plotted more as an epic tale than a novel.

I’ve been staring at this page for a few days on end now, wondering how best to write an appropriate review for a story that I quite enjoyed, a story that was a fast-moving, very enjoyable tale, but as Kerry says, it’s not something you can really write about in a sentence or two. All the Broken Things is written with spare prose, there are no superfluous or overly descriptive words used throughout, and yet, upon closing, its prose haunts your mind for days on end. A wonderful and delightful tale. I do recommend reading it. You won’t be able to stop thinking about it after finishing though, I’m warning you now.

Book Review: Bird in the Snow


What Betty said wounded her. And she put it away with all the other hurtful things gathered up during a lifetime. Like a magpie, she stores things in her heart. Nurtures them and takes them out and goes over them again and again. It’s like counting spoons in a drawer.

She makes a great collection of sayings that have wounded her over the years. She can’t remember her husband’s face sometimes. But she remember the wounds. The wounds that shaped her.

Bird in the Snow is a fairly slim tale about Birdie (Bernadette) Waters. She is telling us her story on the eve of burying her son, Gussie. Her husband has passed sometime before. This is Birdie’s tale to tell, or her thoughts of Gussie, The Vet, as she has always referred to her husband, and her son’s girlfriend, Louise, as she lays in bed on the evening before laying her son to rest. She tells us her story in the way that a very elderly woman only can, remembering bits and pieces here, there and everywhere. Pulling them out from the corners of her mind when they are triggered by a smell, an object, a fleeting memory.

Overall, it’s poignant, it’s tender and it’s sad. But as it is written in that here, there and everywhere stream of consciousness of an old woman, it’s often confusing and difficult to follow along. Birdie’s son Gussie is a very odd duck, but it is difficult to fully surmise the many errors of his ways from Birdie’s almost secretive memories. Yet, there would be moments of clarity when she shares moments from her past like her reasons for disliking nuns, her feelings for her husband and his friend Hughie.

It’s a sad yet heartwarming story about Birdie and how she is now all alone in her home that used to hold her two fondest loves – Gussie and The Vet. The ending is sweet, sad and very tender and your heart tugs quite a bit for Birdie.  Bird in the Snow is the first from my Backlist Challenge, and taken from the Kobo category. It was a book I purchased long ago for my Kobo and after I read On Canaan’s Side, a story I loved dearly. I came across Bird in the Snow after reading a review for it on the Reading Matters blog. She associated this book as being in a way similar to On Canaan’s Side, so I was immediately sold. I quickly purchased after reading this review, but it languished on the Kobo shelf for quite some time. While On Canaan’s Side will always hold a better part of my heart for me over Bird in the Snow, Birdie and her story is a nice read. A 3 – 3.5 star read.

Book Review: This House is Haunted

17621098This House is Haunted was read just around the Halloween time – I thought it would be a nice ghost story to help set the mood. I’ve only read one other John Boyne novel and it was the splendid audiobook and novel, The Absolutist. This gothic ghost tale is vastly different from The Absolutist. Jackie also recently read a John Boyne title, another very different read as well from both The Absolutist and This House is Haunted. (She read The House of Special Purpose.)

A few chapters into This House is Haunted and I already began to appreciate the breadth in which Boyne writes. This novel is very well written in the female voice and with considerable Dickensian flair. Again, it is also considerably different than his other recent novels in voice and context.

It is 1867, and Eliza Caine ‘s father dies rather suddenly and tragically following their night out at a reading given by Charles Dickens. Reeling from despair and the realization she is now utterly alone she makes the quick and snap decision to accept the position of governess at Gaudlin Hall. While the ad is very sparsely written and mysteriously signed only using the surname Bennett, she still accepts.

Following a few strange and unsettling events during her travels to Gaudlin Hall, Eliza arrives to find her two charges appear to be living on their own. The mysterious Bennett turns out to be the former governess, a person that seem to have fled in a hurry. She is also actually the frenzied person Eliza accidently bumps into at the train station in Norfolk.

Perplexed by the lack of information or guardianship available in Gaudlin Hall, Eliza must rely on the family lawyer, Mr. Raisin. However, Mr. Raisin is none too forthcoming with information either. Following even more harrowing experiences and near brushes with death, Eliza demands to understand what the true situation is at Gaudlin. Finally, she discovers there were four other governesses before her and only Miss Bennett has escaped with her life.

Although every instinct is telling Eliza to turn and flee this place, she cannot help but stay and continue to care for her two charges, Isabella and Eustace. While Isabella is a head-strong girl, Eliza’s love and tenderness cannot be denied for Eustace. Eliza and Mr. Raisin also have those certain feelings for each other simmering under the surface. 😉

There is an evil and dark presence inside the walls of Gaudlin, but also there seems to be one that acts as a protector to Eliza in some way. Narrowly missing her demise too many more times to count, Eliza fully uncovers the story behind this evil presence and its hold on Gaudlin Hall. It is a tragic and unsettling tale and is one that only cements Eliza’s determination to remain and care for the two children.  It ends in a fierce battle between good and evil, the true identity of the “good spirit” and an epic evening that puts Isabella, Eustace, Mr. Raisin and Eliza in great peril. I cannot give anything away as it would only ruin the ending!

This House is Haunted was a very good read, it was a quick one and also one where I truly appreciated and respected the Dickensian tone in which this tale is told. It’s a 3.5 star read: very good.

Audiobook Review: The Rosie Project

rosieThanks so much to Audiojukebox and Simon and Schuster Audio for sending us Graeme Simsion’s quirky and adorable audiobook The Rosie Project (it arrived just in the nick of time as I could not listen to one single second more of The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls– a book that I could not finish). This story was predictable, a bit over-the-top and somewhat unrealistic but it was as charming as hell and I fell in love instantly with both Don and Rosie.

The story is told from the blunt and extremely logical point of view of Don. He is a genius Professor of Genetics, a black belt in Aikido and most likely has Asperger’s (although he does not see it– he hilariously gives a lecture to parents of children with Asperger’s in one of the opening chapters, obliviously describing his own personality quirks and getting all of the children riled up in the process– “Aspies Rule!!”). He prefers bike riding to driving, keeps a strict schedule for meals and activities and automatically calculates the BMI of everyone he meets (like you do). He enjoys his life but is a bit lonely– he can count the amount of friends he has on one hand. He recalls that his old friend, Daphne, once said that he would make someone a good husband. Launch The Wife Project– a questionnaire that will pick him the perfect mate thus eliminating the need for dating (which Don is disastrous at! The Peach Ice Cream Incident, The Jacket Incident, The Night of the Speed Dating).

Rosie is a mess. She is a PhD candidate in philosophy working as a barmaid at a gay bar. She has struggled with her identity ever since she found out her dead mother’s deep dark secret– a one-night-stand with a fellow student the night of her med school graduation. Her “father”, Phil, may not be her real dad (no wonder he treats her like shit and doesn’t keep his promises). Her life is turned upside down when she meets Don after his best friend Gene “throws her in as a wild card” Wife Project candidate (a swearing, smoking, vegetarian who constantly shows up late and is bad at math? Surely not a candidate for The Wife Project!! HA HA!!!). Their lives will never be the same!

Don and Rosie are TOTALLY unsuitable for each other and their one date creates a chaos like Don has never experienced before. She definitely should not become his wife (in fact, Don considers Rosie to be “the world’s MOST incompatible woman”). But, for some reason he feels a compelling need to help her out and The Father Project is born (Don creates a capital letter title for all events and activities). Queue the hilarity as they collect DNA samples of no less than 100 potential fathers, travelling all over Australia and America to solve the mystery. Hanging out with Rosie to complete this project is frustrating, annoying and extremely confusing for Don but he has also never had so much fun in his entire life. Will Don and Rosie ever find love??

This book just SCREAMS movie adaptation and I will be the first in line at the theatre when it comes out (as long as they don’t cast someone stupid like Jennifer Aniston as Rosie). It made me laugh and it made me cry! DELIGHTFUL!! 3.5 stars.

‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.’