The Best Kind of People and the voices we need to hear


What I read

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

What it’s about

The Best Kind of People is set in modern-day America and tells the story of a family whose patriarch, George Woodbury–a well-respected and admired schoolteacher–has been accused of sexual misconduct. But instead of telling the story through George’s perspective, or through the victims’, the novel looks at how George’s family and the community are affected.

Written in the third person, The Best Kind of People moves between the perspectives of George’s wife, son and daughter. The novel examines the complex feelings and thoughts the family experiences and also looks at the reactions of the community and media that the family must face.

Why I picked it up

In addition to the intriguing premise, I wanted to read The Best Kind of People since I’ve also read Whittall’s first novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, and liked her writing style.

The Best Kind of People was already receiving quite a bit of buzz–and had made it onto the 2016 Giller Prize longlist–by the time I picked up a copy from House of Anansi’s tent at Word on the Street. The day after the festival, it was announced that the book made the shortlist (as did Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder, which I’ve also read and reviewed.)

What I liked about it

If Whittall had written this novel from the point of view of George or of the victims, it would have been a different book entirely. What makes this story so interesting is that we get to hear the voices of those we don’t usually hear from, whether that be in other books or in the news. There is a lot of inner conflict that’s explored here: the complex feelings and thoughts that each family member deals with. But the book also shows how those feelings and thoughts can vary for each family member. I couldn’t stop reading this one.

You’ll want to read it if…

This is a book for lovers of literary fiction. You’ll want to read it if you like delving into the minds and hearts of characters and going on their intellectual and emotional journeys. There are, of course, events that happen along the way, but what Whittall does so well is illustrate the inner struggles experienced by the characters. It’s one of those books that asks more questions than it provides answers.

Recommended refreshments

I recommend my old standby: a good cup of tea. I just hope yours is better than some of the tea references that I can recall in this book (an unappetizing cup of herbal tea, or a cuppa that’s been steeped for too long and is undrinkable). So choose your tea wisely–and brew it properly.

Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder is hard to put down


What I read

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

What it’s about

Set in the mid-1800s, an English nurse, Lib Wright, is called to Ireland to observe 11-year-old Anna, who has gone months without eating. Anna is becoming known as a miracle child, as many of the Irish Catholics around her believe she must be chosen by God to have survived this long without sustenance.

Lib’s task isn’t to care for the girl but to simply watch Anna over a two-week period, exchanging shifts with a nun, to confirm that Anna is not eating. Non-religious Lib believes she will uncover a hoax, but what she ends up uncovering instead results in her trying to save the girl, despite her orders.

Why I picked it up

Donoghue has written many books, but Room was the only one I’d read before The Wonder. Room was hugely successful and was made into a film, which Donoghue herself wrote the screenplay for.

Reading Room was enough to show me what a good writer and storyteller Donoghue is, but I’m not sure it would have been enough to make me pick up The Wonder. However, I knew I would be attending Donoghue’s talk at the Toronto Public Library, and I while I book-browsed one day, I decided to start reading the novel before the event.

What I liked about it

Donoghue does a good job of creating suspense in this book. I read the first 100 pages of The Wonder over a few days, and then the last 190 pages all at once. The plot went in places I didn’t expect, but they were always places that worked well, and my interest kept increasing as I read.

There is a strong sense of setting here, of being inside that room with Lib and Anna. There is a feeling of darkness, a sense of gloominess that comes with well-written gothic tales.

You’ll want to read it if…

The Wonder is a good choice if you like historical novels with a mystery involved. Like Room, this book confronts some difficult subject matter, so it might not be the best choice if you’re looking for something light, but it’s definitely a book that will stay with you after you’ve put it on the shelf.

Recommended refreshments

Food is obviously a main subject in this book, but it’s more about the absence of it. To stay on theme, you could try reading this book with only a few teaspoons of water. But that’s not a reading experience I can recommend. Instead, maybe grab a mug of hot cocoa. It might warm you up if a chill or two runs down your spine.

Fall in love with books


One week from today, fall will officially arrive. Cardigans, colourful leaves, butternut squash soup–there is a lot to look forward to. But one of the best things about fall is that with all the festivals and new releases, it’s book season.

If you’re a book lover living in, or visiting, Toronto, here are a few suggestions on how to ensure you have a very bookish autumn.

Attend Word on the Street

September 25, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Harbourfront Centre 

While it’s free to attend Word on the Street, be prepared to spend some money here. Even if you don’t find a good deal, it’s hard to resist making a few purchases with so many publishers and bookstores selling books. And it’s not just books or magazines you’ll be tempted to buy. The festival has had some nice merchandise in previous years (tote bags, pins, mugs and more).

The festival is more than a chance for a shopping spree. It provides an opportunity to learn about some great literacy organizations and writers’ associations, and there is some great programming, with many author readings and industry talks happening throughout the day.

Check out the International Festival of Authors (IFOA)

October 20-30, various times, Harbourfront Centre

Unlike Word on the Street, you’ll have to spend a few bucks to attend the talks and readings happening at the IFOA. But the festival runs for over a week, so there is a lot to choose from. There’s something for everyone, with many writers and genres to explore. Books will also be for sale, and there are opportunities to get your books signed by authors in attendance.

Go to a used-book sale

various locations

There’s something exciting about hunting through piles of books and then finding a little treasure (or a few) that seems to be marked at a price that’s much lower than what it’s worth. Autumn in Toronto offers several opportunities for this experience.

A few book sales to consider are happening at Trinity College, Victoria College and the Toronto Public Library. Bonus: You’ll know that the money you do spend at these sales will contribute to a good cause.

Visit an independent bookstore

various locations

Shopping at your local bookstore is fun no matter what the season. But with so many titles released in the fall in anticipation of the holidays, there will be lots of new books to choose from. And independent bookstores offer more than a place to browse or buy books. Many stores host book launches and other events. Two to check out are Ben McNally Books and Type Books.

Enjoy the weather with a book

anytime, anywhere (or all the time, everywhere)

It’s a pleasure to read a book in any season, whether it’s sitting outside under a tree in the summer, or getting cozy on the couch under a blanket in the winter. But in the fall, you can have weeks when weather conditions are perfect for both of these scenarios. And what’s really nice is when you can combine the best of both worlds: reading outside with a hot beverage in hand.

Cordelia Strube’s latest novel shines


What I read

On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light by Cordelia Strube

What it’s about

The story centres around Harriet, an 11-year-old artist who is independent and resourceful, and her little brother, Irwin, whose medical condition is the focus of their mother’s and stepfather’s attention. Harriet plans to escape her family and head to Algonquin Park, where she can live and paint like Tom Thomson. But not everything works out the way Harriet plans.

This is a story that explores the complexities and imperfections within families. It’s a story that’s sad and tragic, but there’s lots of humour inserted that gives the narrative balance and also makes it true to life. There is darkness, and there is light.

How I got my hands on it

I quite enjoyed Strube’s last two novels–Milosz and Lemon–so the author was on my radar. I knew I wanted to read this one when it was released earlier this year, but I only recently picked up a copy at my favourite independent bookstore.

What I liked about it

As with Lemon, Strube does a fantastic job of creating interesting and complex young female characters. But it’s not just Harriet’s story that kept me reading. There are so many fascinating and flawed characters in this book and several subplots. There is a well-executed twist in this book, too. Who can resist a good literary twist?

You’ll want to read it if…

This is a great book to pick up if you like stories about families and especially about sibling relationships. If you live in, have lived in, or have a fascination with Toronto, you might get a kick out of the mentions of many of the city’s landmarks, too.

Recommended refreshments

In the book, Harriet often visits a convenience store where the owner gives her some of the damaged treats he can’t sell. So I suggest opening a bag of broken Doritos, biting into a smashed Caramilk bar, or, if it’s a lucky day, guzzling down a bottle of Orangina.

Musings on The Muse


What I read

The Muse by Jessie Burton

What it’s about

In 1967, 26-year-old Odelle Bastien has taken a job as a typist at the Skelton Art Gallery in London, England, after moving from Trinidad a few years earlier. Soon after starting to work in the gallery, Odelle encounters a painting that connects her with southern Spain in 1936. Odelle is compelled to piece together the mystery behind the subject of the artwork, the artist who painted it and the story of how it ended up where it did. 

The novel follows two narratives–one taking place in 1967 and the other in 1936–and demonstrates the power of art and how art is bigger than, and separate from, the artist.

How I got my hands on it

I first heard about Burton through the Twitter account of her literary agent, Juliet Mushens, when Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist, came out two years ago. The Miniaturist received much acclaim, but I didn’t read it because the premise didn’t interest me. But when I started hearing things about The Muse, it piqued my interest. I bought my copy at my favourite independent bookstore.

Things I liked about it

I love stories that show interconnectivity between people, time periods or geographical locations, and this book does all three. What’s more, the story makes these connections through discussing art–an ekphrastic tale of sorts. Also, Burton does an excellent job of placing the reader in two separate time periods and locations; there’s a different feeling and landscape to each narrative.

I also like that while Odelle and the reader put together the story of the painting, not all details are left neat and tidy. It makes for a satisfying ending that’s also realistic.

You’ll want to read it if…

You might enjoy The Muse if you’re a fan of art, mysteries or historical fiction. And if you like all three, that’s even better.

Recommended refreshments

Gin and tonic with a slice of lemon. That’s what Odelle and her new boss partake in when they have lunch during Odelle’s first week at the gallery. And, really, art and libations are a classic pairing.