Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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There are really three stories going on this novel. I feel part of the most modern story, narrated by Marie, is excessive and tepid. It seems every book set in the past—and this one is, during China’s cultural revolution—must have a retrospective layer. Groan. The book’s best parts are set in the 1960’s and tell of Kai (Marie’s father) who plays the piano beautifully, his friend Sparrow who is an amazing composer, and Sparrow’s cousin, Zhuli who is a violin prodigy. The writing beautifully captures the futility of the revolution, and then, decades later, the protesting in Tiananmen Square. I learned a lot and really liked parts of this novel.

Gwenamon says: Fractured, but gripping in parts

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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“Homegoing” is described as the story of two half-sisters who are born in Ghana in the 1700’s. Their lives are shaped by slavery. But each chapter is really a short story about each sister’s descendants. So although the chapters are incredibly well written, I couldn’t keep the characters straight or get absorbed because they only stuck around for a few pages.

Gwenamon says: Incohesive

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, must learn to embrace their differences as they endure WWII in France. Before “The Nightingale,” I’d never read about citizens who had to share their homes with German soldiers. Hannah’s writing of that tense relationship was my favourite part. This book is very readable – I honestly couldn’t put it down. But it’s also very sentimental and ties up too neatly.

Gwenamon says: Very readable, but too tidy

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

ove

Ove is a neighbourhood curmudgeon who has a young family become his next-door neighbours. Everything changes. This book is easy to read and heartwarming. But I also found it predictable and in need of a good edit.

Gwenamon says: Decent

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

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This is a hard one to write. I’m in awe of Boo’s tenacity and power of observation. She spent three years researching and living among the residents of Annawadi, the slum by Mumbai’s airport and luxury hotels.

No surprise, this is a hard read. It deals with people living in horrible conditions, struggling to just survive, dealing with acidic tensions between neighbours, and at the same time – holding onto hope for a better life. I also found this novel hard to read because I didn’t like Boo’s narrative style. It often felt overwrought, in my opinion.

Gwenamon says: An incredible telling that’s often overdone

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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

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A diligent housekeeper with a ten-year-old son cares for a retired math professor. Each day has many beginnings because the professor only has short-term memory for 80 minutes. Their arrangement also is the beginning of a particular and beautiful friendship.

Gwenamon says: Well written and well read – an enjoyable, unique novel

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Half a Life by Darin Strauss and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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I’m lumping these two books together because they’re both about extremely hard topics. However, both novels are also over-written in parts, making them harder to digest because of their style.

Strauss’ “Half a Life” is a compelling memoir. He killed a girl in an automobile accident when he was 18-years-old. His account of the accident and living with it for the next half of his life is sometimes hard to read because, I believe, we all can imagine the same horrible thing happening to us. He vacillates through memory, fact, and guilt adroitly…most of the time. But the smoking scene at his high-school reunion was just too much for me. It was like his editor told him that ALL of his writing had to have a new, fresh and, therefore, verbose take.

Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” is a captivating, bittersweet tale of teenage love. Hazel has cancer and  meets Augustus, who’s in remission, at a support group. They fall in love and join forces to make contact with Hazel’s favourite author, a recluse. Even if the book’s title is inspired from a line of Shakespeare, it can’t justify how eloquent and witty the two teens are. Their dialogue is so unbelievable that it really annoyed me at times, especially because I liked the book overall.

Gwenamon says: Over-written, but still worth reading

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