Review: Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson

26150409*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Precious Cargo

Author: Craig Davidson

Publisher: April 12, 2016

Publication Date: Knopf Canada

ISBN: 9780345810533

Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077

Synopsis from Goodreads:
One morning in 2008, desperate and impoverished and living in a one-room basement apartment while trying unsuccessfully to write, Davidson plucked a flyer out of his mailbox that read, “Bus Drivers Wanted.” That was the first step towards an unlikely new career: driving a school bus full of special-needs kids for a year. Armed only with a sense of humour akin to that of his charges, a creative approach to the challenge of driving a large, awkward vehicle while corralling a rowdy gang of kids, and surprising but unsentimental reserves of empathy, Davidson takes us along for the ride. He shows us how his evolving relationship with the kids on that bus, each of them struggling physically as well as emotionally and socially, slowly but surely changed his life along with the lives of the “precious cargo” in his care. This is the extraordinary story of that year and those relationships. It is also a moving, important and universal story about how we see and treat people with special needs in our society.


I’ve been finding myself reading more about Craig Davidson’s works in the past few years, and I’ve been curious about nearly every title. Precious Cargo is an especially heart-warming memoir that shows tremendous growth on the part of the author over the course of the year that this book encompasses. His story is much more fun than I expected and I was pleasantly surprised by his smile-worthy stories and the hilarious children that he encountered throughout his year as a bus driver.

Davidson is in low spirits in the beginning. He is not succeeding as a writer, he can’t get or hold a job, and he’s not sure if he’ll continue to even be able to eat. Luck is on his side one day when he happens upon an ad for Bus Drivers Wanted. He is hired almost immediately and begins the most life-changing year of his life until that point. He drives a short, yellow school bus. He has 6 students on his bus each with a different disability. Although at first apprehensive, Craig comes to love Bus 3077 and the kids he drives to and from school every day. They teach him to love life and the simple pleasures again. He forms friendships with them and they help to bring a smile to his face. He becomes fiercely protective of the bus and the glorious children that he drives.

It’s a sweet story and it will most definitely make you smile. Craig’s narration is so joyful and hilarious. Even in times of struggle, he still managed to make him laugh. I certainly developed a fondness for him and his loyalty and protectiveness of his bus, especially when he camps out overnight in the freezing cold to protect his bus from vandals. Craig learns to control his temper, he learns devotion and loyalty, he learns to understand and be empathetic. His journey is great and he comes so far over the course of this book. It’s a fantastic insight into what started out as a particularly trying time in his life.

Review: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

23590716Title: Birdie

Author: Tracey Lindberg

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 9781554682942

Birdie

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Birdie is a darkly comic and moving first novel about the universal experience of recovering from wounds of the past, informed by the lore and knowledge of Cree traditions. Bernice Meetoos, a Cree woman, leaves her home in Northern Alberta following tragedy and travels to Gibsons, BC. She is on something of a vision quest, seeking to understand the messages from The Frugal Gourmet (one of the only television shows available on CBC North) that come to her in her dreams. She is also driven by the leftover teenaged desire to meet Pat Johns, who played Jesse on The Beachcombers, because he is, as she says, a working, healthy Indian man. Bernice heads for Molly’s Reach to find answers but they are not the ones she expected. With the arrival in Gibsons of her Auntie Val and her cousin Skinny Freda, Bernice finds the strength to face the past and draw the lessons from her dreams that she was never fully taught in life. Part road trip, dream quest and travelogue, the novel touches on the universality of women’s experience, regardless of culture or race.


This book came to my knowledge when it was featured as one of the finalists for CBC’s Canada Reads. I’m always inclined to check out these books because it’s so wonderful to discover new and established Canadian talent. Plus, it’s been compares to Robinson’s Monkey Beach which is one of my most beloved books. I love when Canadians highlight their own, because so often in the book industry, Canadian books are overtaken by bestselling international authors. I couldn’t not pick this book up.

Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie is such a visceral book. It’s a book that encourages the reader to connect through feeling and intuition. It is often disjointed, reflecting the broken life of Birdie/Bernice. Abandonment, abuse, rape, and shame have been a prominent part of Birdie’s upbringing and young adult life. We piece together her story, learning through Birdie’s eyes as she reaches her breaking point. Her story is powerful and moving. She has struggled and she comes so close to failure, to death. Her story is full of her spirit and life. Birdie is a character that the reader comes to love as you turn each page. She is incredibly strong. She refuses again and again to be beaten down, but even she is not immune to the terrible outcomes of a lifetime of abuse and struggle. I love Birdie because even in her darkest hour, she is able to gather her courage and to find a bright light. We learn of her life as she confronts her past. As we read, Birdie heals, drawing on the spirit of her ancestors and family.

Has any one else ready this book? What are your thoughts?

Review: Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devin

25372971*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Tell Me Something Real

Author: Calla Devin

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 30, 2016

ISBN: 9781481461153

Tell Me Something Real

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel. There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments. Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…


Devin’s book is completely shocking and gut-wrenching. The outcome of this novel is something I could never have guessed, not in a million years. And I really liked it for this twist! Even though the twist was hard to stomach. This is a story of a family wracked by terminal illness. Three sisters have united together to survive and to help keep the family afloat. With their mother’s declining health and their father constantly at work, it falls on the shoulders of Adrienne, Vanessa, and Marie to join their mother on trips to the hospital in Mexico, to cook, to clean, and to take care of each other. When Beth and the adorable Caleb move in, suddenly their lives have structure again. But just when things look like they’re turning around, things get completely out of control.

I really connected with the protagonist, Vanessa. She’s a piano genius who processes and feels her emotions best through her music. She wants so badly to pursue this passion, but her complicated life means that she may have to give up everything she’s ever dreamed of. Her sister, Adrienne, is an artist, but she’s also angry, vulgar, and seems constantly on the edge of breaking. I felt her to be the most realistic, although not the most likeable. Her fear and pain is channeled through anger. She’s beautiful, but she lashes out. You see her softer side emerge in her love for her sisters, especially Marie, who she takes care of and crafts with.

Romance provide a bright spot in the story that is absolutely necessary in a very tragic tale. I’m not always a fan of a romance thrown into stories like this, especially one about family struggling in the most terrible time of their lives, but I think it does well here to provide a happier juxtaposition to the tragedy unfolding. It’s necessary and it’s a breath of fresh air in all the darkness. Caleb is recovering, but he is by no means healthy. He’s near-death experiences give him a much wider perspective of his world. He’s no-nonsense and straight to the point. He encourages Vanessa to be open and honest. He wants only for her to be herself and loves her for it. Their relationship is sweet and provides some much needed relief.

Overall, I was quite enthralled by Devin’s text. I read it in a night and would definitely read it again. It didn’t make me cry like I thought it would but it certainly gave me all the feels. I hope you’ll give it a chance!

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

23830990Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Author: Patrick Ness

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication Date: August 2015

ISBN: 9780062403162

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.


I founds this novel to be not only real, but quite funny too. It’s a play on all of the typical tropes that we see in YA Novels lately: vampire romance, zombie apocalypse, invasion of the gods. But the characters don’t seem too concerned with this. They’re the characters who are never part of the action in most YA stories. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the story of the forgotten ones. They’re a little afraid, but they know that as per usual, the Indie kids will take care of it. On the other hand, they deal with very real issues like their sexuality, mental illness, and death. The irony of the teenage tropes creates a wonderful juxtaposition between the serious and the funny. It creates a more light hearted in-between so you’re not sure if the novel is entirely serious or entirely satirical. It’s great.

I really like Mike, the protagonist. He suffers from anxiety and OCD and is learning how to be a good friend even as he faces his own struggles. He and his group of friends face the ups and downs of friendship and romance, often escalated by the danger of the strange situation unfolding around them. I think the novel could have spent a lot more time on his understanding of his mental illness and the way that his friends understand and help him out. As well, there are other characters navigating things like their sexuality, or facing the unknown world after graduation, topics that weren’t as flushed out as I would have liked to see. With a little extra length, this story really could have had full and vibrant characters, but this book is already on its way there.

It’s cheesy, it’s fun, but it’s real at the same time. I really enjoyed it!

Review: We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

19405297Title: We Are All Made of Molecules

Author: Susin Nielsen

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books

Publication Date: January 2015

ISBN: 9780553496864

We Are All Made of Molecules

 

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.  Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink. Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder. They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.


We Are All Made of Molecules is a sweet and touching story of family, loss, friendship, and coming together. Stewart’s mom passed a way not quite two years ago and now his dad is in a serious relationship. The two of them are moving in with his dad’s girlfriend and her daughter, Ashley. Ashley’s parents relationship ended recently when her dad came out. She’s having a hard time accepting this change.

I had a really hard time with Ashley as she’s not a character that I often sympathize with or understand. She’s mean and selfish and has few redeemable qualities. She faces some tough things that she shouldn’t ever have to deal with and she does display some good character growth in the end, but it’s hard to like her at all along the way. On the other hand, her new nearly step-brother is quirky and strange, but he’s genuine and isn’t afraid to be himself. He’s open, honest, and in his words, “cannot tell a lie.” The two together create a great contrast. The reader knows that each can learn so much from the other, if only they can work to get to that point. Time, and a little bit of understanding, leads these characters to understand one another better and to empathize with each other more.

This novel is a really great portrayal of acceptance of open-mindedness. It’s very true in it’s portrayal of cliques in schools and the bullying that occurs. The characters are not super extraordinary, but they’re very much real. They face struggles and are trying to make their way in the shark tank that is high school. I love the way that characters struggle to take a stand, but are able to triumph in the end, even if they fail here and there along the way. these characters are just looking to find a place for themselves where they are comfortable and safe.

It is a very sweet novel with characters that adapt and grow as the story moves along. Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?

 

 

Review: Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

25614984Title: Spark Joy

Author: Marie Kondo

Publisher: Ten Speed Press

Publication Date: January 5, 2016

ISBN: 9781607749721

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Marie Kondo’s unique KonMari Method of tidying up is nothing short of life-changing—and her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has become a worldwide sensation. In Spark Joy, Kondo presents an in-depth, illustrated manual on how to declutter and organize specific items throughout the house, from kitchen and bathroom items to work-related papers and hobby collections. User-friendly line drawings illustrate Kondo’s patented folding method as it applies to shirts, pants, socks, and jackets, as well as images of properly organized drawers, closets, and cabinets. This book is perfect for anyone who wants a home—and life—that sparks joy.


I really wish I could have enjoyed this book, but this turned into one that I could not finish. I will admit right off the bat that I have not read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and perhaps if I had, I would feel a little differently about Kondo’s book. I will also start off by saying that I am a very tidy person to begin with. I clean on a weekly basis and my fiance and I are constantly bringing loads of goods to Value Village or Goodwill. Purging is a part of our monthly schedule. I love nicknacks that tell a story, but I hate clutter and I strongly dislike having to dust many thing. So our home is tidy. It’s not minimal, and I’m sure there are things that we could get rid of, but we’re neat and comfortable.

Kondo’s book for me was so basic, that I couldn’t read it all the way through. I did end up putting this one back on the shelf. I had such a hard time taking the advice seriously and I couldn’t help but see the approach to be a little juvenile. A few of the anecdotes refer back to the authors childhood tidying habit to add a bit of colour to the over all advice. It didn’t hold my attention and I really can’t get on board with the KonMari Method of holding each object in my home to feel if it brings me joy. I’m sure for the person who does not enjoy or is not able to stay on top of tidying, this book is a very good guide, starting with the very basics. Kondo will walk you through each part of the process, step by step. The illustrations are helpful and kind of cutesy but they’re a little too young for my taste.

Not one for me, but I can see why people like it. Perhaps you’ll have more luck with it than I did.

Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

25614934*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Arcadia

Author: Iain Pears

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: August 2015

ISBN: 9781101946824

Arcadia

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Henry Lytten – a spy turned academic and writer – sits at his desk in Oxford in 1962, dreaming of other worlds. He embarks on the story of Jay, an eleven-year-old boy who has grown up within the embrace of his family in a rural, peaceful world – a kind of Arcadia. But when a supernatural vision causes Jay to question the rules of his world, he is launched on a life-changing journey. Lytten also imagines a different society, highly regulated and dominated by technology, which is trying to master the science of time travel. Meanwhile – in the real world – one of Lytten’s former intelligence colleagues tracks him down for one last assignment. As he and his characters struggle with questions of free will, love, duty and the power of the imagination, Lytten discovers he is not sure how he wants his stories to end, nor even who is imaginary…
—–

Right off the bat, Pears’ Arcadia reminded me of Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. This story spans time, but each story is linked so tightly. As you read through, Pears shows how each seemingly separate story and universe feeds into the others. There are so many moments in time that we get to see and many different characters. We have the future where the world is over populated, most animals are extinct, and select intelligent scientists are developing advanced technologies; there is the mid-twentieth century where one scientist finds a safe haven during the time spanning from WWII right into the Cold War; and then there is the world of Anterworld that is devoid of all technology and has quite a fantastical element to it with its simplicity.

This dystopian tale explores the idea of time travel and varying universes. It’s interesting in that it explores the theory that only one universe can exist at a time, and a through technology, you can create a parallel universe that, as it grows, will stretch until it becomes the new reality for the universe that humanity resides in. It’s a really fascinating concept. Angela Meerson is the perfect character to introduce us to this world. She’s one of the most intelligent people to exist in this world and many of her own colleagues write her off as crazy because of the way that she harnesses and channels her intelligence, but when she speaks to the reader–although sometimes fanatical–she’s well informed.

It’s a complex page turner with compelling characters and so many twists and turns. You won’t know what’s going to come next. Characters appear to be one thing and then you find out in an instant that they’re someone so much more that you thought. People disappear and show up in various universes, not knowing what to expect. It’s supposed to be read as part of an app that allows you to move freely between storylines. You can read each character’s story linearly or you can jump between tales as you wish. I read the physical copy as provided by Random House CA and it was still as suspenseful, exciting, and unique as I imagine the app is.