Bone & Bread

Title: Bone & Bread

Author: Saleema Nawaz

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Release Date: February 26 2013

Source: Chapters

Rating: 4/5

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Beena and Sadhana are sisters who share a bond that could only have shaped by the most unusual of childhoods — and by shared tragedy.  Orphaned as teenagers, they have grown up under the exasperated watch of their Sikh uncle, who runs a bagel shop in Montreal’s Hasidic community of Mile End.  Together, they try to make sense of the rich, confusing brews of values, rituals, and beliefs that form their inheritance.  Yet as they grow towards adulthood, their paths begin to diverge.  Beena catches the attention of one of the “bagel boys” and finds herself pregnant at sixteen, while Sadhana drives herself to perfectionism and anorexia.  Goodreads

The fact that this novel was a finalist for Canada Reads 2016 comes to no surprise to me, in fact, it was one of the main reasons why I picked it up in the first place.  Nawaz wrote a powerful story of sisterhood with beautiful prose to match.  The characterization of the sisters, albeit a little two-dimensional at times, have the opportunity to grow and become more intricate with the alternating timelines that intertwine their struggles with teenage pregnancy, mental health, and the death of two parents.

As a Canadian, who lives and Ottawa and who has traveled to Montreal many times, it was exciting to read a novel whose setting was easily identifiable.  It was interesting to be able to follow the characters as they themselves walk around the neighbourhoods of downtown Ottawa and be able to know, to a certain degree, exactly where they were based on Nawaz’ rich and detailed descriptions of the cityscape.

The only thing I’m kind of on the fence about was Libby’s entire subplot within the novel.  I ultimately felt really annoyed with Libby’s character.  She takes forever to actually come out and say what she needs to tell Beena and without giving too much away, what she finally says actually enraged me so much I had to put the book down — it was so, so stupid.

Nawaz truly encapsulates everything life has to offer, all of the good and all of the bad.  And like life itself, this novel made me laugh and cry — sometimes at the same time — because, as we learn from Beena’s and Sadhana’s stories, life is short and we must take everything it has to give.

Around Town: Ottawa’s Best Independent Bookstores

Around Town will be a monthly series appearing on the 3rd Thursday of every month.  Featured on Around Town will be the literary culture, geography and history of a town, meaning I’ll be showcasing upcoming literary events, discussing where to find the best bookshops, and guiding you through literary tours around the world.

Since I live in Ottawa, Canada I thought it’d be best to kick-off the series by sending you off to my favourite independent bookshops here in my hometown.  Ottawa has a lot to offer in terms of a literary scene, and if you’re from out of town or new to the lit scene, I hope to show you a whole new world because Ottawa is so much more than it’s one way streets and grey government buildings.

Let’s begin!

Black Squirrel Books – 1073 Bank St, Ottawa

Black Squirrel Books has changed quite a bit in the last few years. When I first came across this bookstore, it was located in the Glebe on Bank Street.  It was a tiny, crowded shop with books piled on top of each other and barely any space to walk around.  Trust me, it was very difficult to maneuvre yourself through the few aisles when you wore a backpack and moreso if you weren’t the only customer in.  In the last two years, Black Squirrel Books has made a name for itself as its moved to a bigger location further down Bank Street in Old Ottawa South.  It’s bigger location has allowed the owners to run a bar and cafe from inside the shop, as well as be able to hold various literary and art shows every month.  This new location is across the street from the Mayfair Theatre, and right next to House of Targ, so if you’re heading to that part of town, you can easily make a day (and night) of it!

Octopus Books – 116 Third Avenue, Ottawa

I stumbled upon this little bookstore in the Glebe when I was trying to kill time before going into work for the afternoon.  It isn’t really hard to miss, there’s a sign on Bank street to help guide book lovers to their store.  From the outside, it’s a beautiful little place with a giant nautical themed mural on the side of the building featuring a very big octopus.  The inside of the shop smells like old books and, honestly, if poetry had a scent, that’s what it smelled like in there.  I think this shop is mainly used to order political and social sciences text books for Carleton students, but they had a large variety of non-textbook literature available.  In fact there’s a whole section dedicated to graphic novels, which is something I haven’t really seen at any of these other indie bookshops, and I think that’s pretty neat.

All Books – 327 Rideau St, Ottawa

Even smaller than the original Black Squirrel Books is All Books, and it’s smack dab in the middle of downtown on Rideau Street.  It’s never hard to miss this shop as the owners always stack up a table with old milk crates full of books for sale at a few bucks a pop.  In my opinion, All Books is the best kind of store.  It has books piled on the floor and overhanging out and off the shelves that line the store, it smells of old books and their prices can’t be beat.  Literally.  This place is a goldmine.  Luckily, if you’re an English student at the University of Ottawa, some professors will order their course readings through here and you’ll find the best prices since the owner knocks off several dollars off the sticker price.  It’s most convenient feature, is the neighbouring Mac’s Milk parking lot which allows for easy parking space when the twinkle of the Bytowne Cinema’s lights shine down onto the books piled high on the sidewalk glisten in your eyes, hypnotizing you with their affordable and perfect bookshop allure.

Books on Beechwood: 35 Beechwood Ave, Ottawa

This little bookstore will forever have a special place in my heart.  I came across this place when I was meeting someone for a “real people” job interview with an ESL school and the interviewer NEVER SHOWED UP.  I was distraught and confused, and I kept thinking to myself “What the heck is going on?!” Dazed, I took the stairs back down the business centre and when I came out to Beechwood, I found Books on Beechwood.  It’s a clean, spacious, but small bookstore with a penchant for the classics — this was my kind of bookshop!  In a bout of retail therapy I ended up spending over $50 on books (#WorthIt) and the older woman working the cash, noticed this.  She comforted me and gave me a free membership to the store.  Although it wasn’t the cramped and messy type of bookstore I love, for me, this store was perfect — they carry a great selection of books, their staff is very friendly, and even better is that they’re located in the same building at The Scone Witch! Yum.

Are you from Ottawa?  If so, what’s your favourite bookstore?  One of my favourites that didn’t make it onto this list in Benjamin Books located on Osgoode St right by uOttawa.  They have a huge selection of books, but since most of the English department’s professors order their books through Ben Books, I’m pretty sure it’s mainly for university students… but I just love that place anyway, there were quite a few times I was tempted to by books from another class’ reading list.

Joyland

Title: Joyland

Author: Stephen King

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Release Date: June 4 2013

Source: Chapters

Rating: 4/5

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College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart.  But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life — and what comes after — that would change his life forever.  (Goodreads)

I’ll start this off by admitting that before Joyland I had never read anything by Stephen King — which is really strange because I love horror fiction.  I love the feeling of terror tingling up my spine, of my hairs standing up on end, of flipping the pages in anticipation for what’s going to happen.

With that said, I was honestly a little disappointed that this wasn’t a fully-fledged horror story, but that’s my own fault.  I rushed through the book expecting for something horrific to happen until I was easily let down by my friend who told me it wasn’t a horror, but rather a mystery novel.  I felt pretty foolish and I can’t just be like “Dammit, Stephen King!  You’re only supposed to write horror fic!” because that’s rude and it was my own fault for just assuming everything he wrote was horror, so this won’t impact my review of the novel at all.  I just thought I’d let you know that if you buy this book, know that it’s a mystery novel.

Despite this self-inflicted disappointment, I rather enjoyed King’s novel, and it is a story of heartbreak and crime, as what begins as an escape from his breakup, becomes the eerie mystery surrounding the murder that took place in Joyland’s haunted mansion ride.  Although, this mystery drives Jones to stay in North Carolina for the rest of the year, the novel’s main focus is on King’s characters.  It is a story about people, and with Devin, the reader is able to experience his life as he remembers it in his nostalgic old age.

King put a lot of work into making the amusement park setting of his novel realistic and true to the carnivals of the seventies.  The novel is filled with these little tidbits on carny dialect and manner, and you discover this new world through the Jones’ eyes, so it never feels like you’re being force-fed information and facts about carny life.  King writes with such clarity, and the novel reaches poetic at times (fitting because Devin Jones is a writer), and insight into the darkest and most mysterious aspects of life.  As a novel that focuses on the stories of the people, King does a fantastic job at characterization and developing his characters — every character has their own important development, no matter how big or small of a role they play in the novel — they felt like real people, as though they are friends I have known them my whole life.

Overall, Joyland was a quick and entertaining read.  I finished over the course of two days when I should have been studying for exams, but it provided the much needed escape that I needed from my real life, and I seriously considered running away to work on a carnival for a whole 10 minutes.  Ultimately, it wasn’t the novel I was expecting, and although it wasn’t the horror fiction he is known for, I could not have asked for a better story to be my first King novel.