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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Canada Reads 2017 Shortlist

Get reading for Canada Reads 2017.  This year’s theme is “What is the one book Canadians need now?”

The five contenders have been announced:

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
The book follows a group of dogs who are given human consciousness by the gods Hermes and Apollo.
(This is the only book of the five that I have read.  My review can be found at

Company Town by Madeline Ashby
In this book, a woman working as an elite bodyguard on a city-sized oil rig is drawn into a mystery surrounding the powerful family that owns the rig.

Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji
Set in the indeterminate future in an unnamed city, the book examines the psychological fallout of a society where physical obstacles to immortality have been overcome.

The Break by Katherena Vermette
In a series of shifting narratives, the novel explores the aftermath of a violent crime on a community in Winnipeg's North End.

The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
The book tells the personal story of Inuk activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier and explores the parallels between safeguarding the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture.

The debates will take place from March 27 to 30, 2017.

For more information about the books, authors, and defenders, see

Monday, January 30, 2017

Review of UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino

4 Stars
This is a non-traditional mystery by one of my favourite mystery writers.  It focuses on the fallout of an unsolved murder over nearly two decades. 

In 1973, Yosuke Kirihara, a pawnbroker, is found murdered in an abandoned building.  Detective Sasagaki investigates.  Suspicion falls on Fumiyo Nishimoto, a frequent customer, and her lover, but there is no evidence of guilt and so the case remains unsolved.  After this inciting incident, the book follows the lives of Ryo, the ten-year-old son of the victim, and Yukiho, the daughter of the customer.  Through their adolescence and their young adulthood, misfortune befalls many of Ryo and Yukiho’s acquaintances, friends, and family. 

Point of view is used in an interesting way.  Ryo and Yukiho remain very much in the background because chapters are narrated from the point of view of various minor characters.  Obviously, this is an effective technique to create suspense.  Since Ryo and Yukiho’s thoughts and feelings are never directly revealed, the reader can only guess at what motivates them or at their degree of involvement in events.

The plot can best be described as labyrinthine with numerous twists and turns, but in the end, all the details of the various subplots come together.  How these subplots will be connected is one of the things that keeps the reader’s interest.  The ending is not really a surprise; in fact, I would argue that the book could not have ended differently. 

The cast of characters is massive.  A character may show up in one section and then disappear, only to reappear years later.  Non-Japanese readers might have some difficulty with the names.  The first chapter introduces Yosuke, Yaeko and Ryo Kirihara; Isamu Matsuura; Fumiyo and Yukiho Nishimoto; and Tadao Terasaki.   Other significant characters are Eriko Kawashima, Yuichi Akiyoshi, Miyako Fujimura, Fumihiko Kikuchi, Tomohiko Sonomura, Namie Nishiguchi, Kazunari and Yasuharu Shinozuka, Makoto Takamiya, Chizuru Misawa – and the list could go on and on.  I would advise readers to perhaps begin a chart to remember characters.

The book is certainly dark with some very dark characters.  However, even the villains are in the end shown to be human.  When the reader learns about the backstories, motivations become clear and some sympathy is even felt for the bad guys. 

The duration of the novel is almost twenty years, and the passage of time is shown through references to events in Japan; it is the allusions to advances in computer technology between 1973 and 1992 that are most distinctive. 

This is a clever book which I found to be a compelling read.  I was disappointed when I reached the end of this novel; as lengthy as it is, I would have liked it to continue.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Oscars and Reading

The nominations for the Academy Awards have been announced.  After that announcement, CBC Books prepared a list of film adaptations of books that made the list of nominees.  Check it out at

Read the book, watch the movie, and then enjoy the Oscars on February 26. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction

On January 22, the winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction was announced.  The award was established in 2012 to recognize the best fiction written for adult readers and published in the U.S. in the previous year.  Andrew Carnegie was an American philanthropist who believed in the power of books and learning to change the world.

The 2017 winner is Colson Whitehead for The Underground Railroad.  For my review of this book, go to This novel has already won a number of major awards, including the National Book Award for Fiction.

For further information about the award, see

Friday, January 27, 2017

Readings for Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an international memorial day which commemorates the genocide that resulted in the deaths of millions.  Here are some titles from Schatje’s Shelves which fit the category of Holocaust literature and would be appropriate reading for such a sad commemoration.   (I prepared this list last year.  The title in bold is a book I read in the last year.)
The Zookeeper's Wife - Diane Ackerman
This is the true story about the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo who saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.

Katerina - Aharon Appelfeld
This is the story of Katerina, a Polish housekeeper who works for a succession of Jewish families in the years before WW II.  Raised in a culture permeated with virulent anti-Semitism, she must constantly try to overcome the prejudice instilled by her bitter mother, who beat her, and her callous father, who attempted to rape her.

A Time to Choose  - Martha Attema
Sixteen-year-old Johannes van der Meer’s homeland of Holland has been occupied by the Nazis for four years.  While enduring food shortages and nightly air raids, the people of the Netherlands wait patiently for liberation, but for Johannes the struggle to endure is full of bitterness.  The fact that his father is a Nazi collaborator has made outcasts of the entire family.

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust - Edith Hahn Beer
Edith Hahn was an outspoken young woman in Vienna when the Gestapo forced her into a slave labour camp. When she returned home months later, she went underground and then emerged in Munich as Grete Denner. There she met Werner Vetter, a Nazi Party member who fell in love with her and married her though he knew she was Jewish. Edith recalls a life of constant fear.  She created a remarkable record of survival, saving every document, as well as photographs she took inside labour camps - now part of the permanent collection at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Seamstress - Sara Tuval Bernstein
She was born into a large family in rural Romania and grew up feisty and willing to fight back physically against anti-Semitism from other schoolchildren. She defied her father' s orders to turn down a scholarship that took her to Bucharest, and got herself expelled from that school when she responded to a priest/teacher' s vicious diatribe against the Jews by hurling a bottle of ink at him.  After a series of incidents that ranged from dramatic escapes to a year in a forced labor detachment, Sara ended up in Ravensbruck, a women' s concentration camp.

The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie ten Boom was a leader in the Dutch Underground during WWII. With the aid of her family, she hid scores of Jews from the Nazi invaders. She was arrested along with every member of her family, spending the remaining war years in concentration camps.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen - Tadeusz Borowski
Tadeusz Borowski’s concentration camp stories were based on his own experiences surviving Auschwitz and Dachau. He describes a world where the will to survive overrides compassion and prisoners eat, work and sleep a few yards from where others are murdered; where the difference between human beings is reduced to a second bowl of soup, an extra blanket or the luxury of a pair of shoes with thick soles; and where the line between normality and abnormality vanishes.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne
Bruno is a nine-year-old German boy whose family moves to Out-With where everyone calls his father Commandant.  Bruno hates his new home which is near a high-wired compound inhabited by sad looking people in striped pajamas.

Daniel Half Human - David Chotjewitz
At the dawn of Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933, Daniel and Armin swear eternal brotherhood by slitting their wrists and mingling their blood.  Then, with the scar on his wrist still healing, Daniel receives some life-altering news: he is half-Jewish and, as such, half-hated by a growing number of neighbours, teachers, and friends. Quickly, he decides to keep his identity a secret, conspiring with Armin to join the Hitler Youth.

The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
This is the diary of Dutch Jewish teenager, Anne Frank, written in an Amsterdam warehouse where for two years she hid from the Nazis with her family and friends.

Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz - Rena Kornreich Gelissen
Sent to Auschwitz on the first Jewish transport, Rena Kornreich survived the Nazi death camps for over three years. While there she was reunited with her sister Danka. Each day became a struggle to fulfill the promise Rena made to her mother when the family was forced to split apart, a promise to take care of her sister.

Prisoner B-3087 - Alan Gratz
Yanek Gruener, a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has and everyone he loves have been snatched brutally from him.  And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner and forced from one concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined.

Holocaust - Gerald Green
This book tells the story of the experience of two German families whose lives intersect at certain points. The Dorfs are "good" Germans, loyal to the new Nazi regime. The Weiss family is Jewish, also seemingly "good" Germans, but doomed under the new regime and its determination to exterminate the Jewish population.

Stones from the River - Ursula Hegi
The protagonist is a woman named Trudi Montag who has dwarfism. The book chronicles her life in a village in Germany in the years before, during, and after World War II.

Mischling – Affinity Konar
Two sisters, identical twins, try to survive Mengele’s experiments in Auschwitz. 

Schindler’s List - Thomas Keneally
This novel is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than 1000 Jews from the Nazis at enormous financial and emotional expense.

The Thought of High Windows - Lynne Kositsky
Young, Jewish and on the run from the Nazis, Esther is one of a group of children who manage to flee Germany for Belgium and then France at the beginning of World War II. Since she is from a more traditionally Jewish family, Esther is an outcast among the youngsters in her group, many of whom consider themselves to be "modern Jews." They also tease her about being overweight.

Child of the Holocaust - Jack Kuper
This childhood memoir of the Holocaust follows the travels of eight-year-old Jacob Kuperblum, who comes home one day to find his family and friends gone, rounded up by the Germans only hours earlier

The Kindly Ones - Jonathan Littell
The book is narrated by its fictional protagonist Maximilien Aue, a former SS officer of French and German ancestry who helped to carry out the Holocaust and was present during several major events of World War II.

Number the Stars - Lois Lowry
Set in Denmark in 1939, this novel gives an account of the fears and anxieties of the Danish people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, during the German occupation.

Daniel’s Story - Carol Matas
Daniel, 14 in 1941, describes his family's sense of belonging in Germany and their refusal to flee their country despite the initial instances of anti-Semitism they experience.

We are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust - Patricia McKissack
Diary entries written by five Holocaust victims document the ordeals suffered in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, Hungary, Belgium, and Holland.

Friedrich - Hans Peter Richter
This is the story of a Jewish boy in Germany during the 1930s.  The book tells about the Holocaust in Germany and the racism against the Jewish people.

Sarah’s Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
In Paris in July of 1942, Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Mottele - Gertrude Samuels
This true-life story tells of Ukrainian-born Mottele-Mordechai Shlayan--who at age 12 left his childhood behind when his family was murdered by German soldiers. The young violinist joined the Jewish partisans--resistance fighters-- to take revenge on their enemies.

The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
In postwar Germany, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg becomes the lover of Hanna, a woman twice his age. Then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

Maus  - Art Spiegelman
This graphic novel tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus, by portraying the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice, approaches the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust.

Sophie’s Choice - William Styron
This book concerns the relationships among three people sharing a boarding house in Brooklyn:  Stingo, a young aspiring writer from the South who befriends the Jewish Nathan Landau and his lover Sophie, a Polish, Catholic survivor of the German Nazi concentration camps.  The plot ultimately centers on a tragic decision that Sophie was forced to make on her entry, with her children, into Auschwitz

The Pianist - Wladyslaw Szpilman
On September 23, 1939, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outside.  It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio went off the air. Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble.

Night - Elie Wiesel
This is Wiesel's best-selling memoir/novel of his year spent in four concentration camps as a 15-year-old during the Holocaust.

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
It is 1939 in Nazi Germany.  Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbours during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.