Tuesday, July 31, 2018

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This novel is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush.  Alice Blackwell is the First Lady of the United States; her husband, Charlie, having won his first term as President in one of the closest elections ever in 2000.  The first chapter and the end of the book describe Alice's time as First Lady - and in particular the differences in her political views from those of her husband.

However, the more interesting middle of the book tells us about Alice's childhood, young adulthood, courtship, marriage and motherhood.  She was born into a middle class family in a small town in Wisconsin.  Her father was a bank manager and her mother a homemaker.  Her paternal grandmother, having been widowed at a young age, lives with the family and is an enormous influence on young Alice.  In particular it is she who introduces her to books and nurtures her love of reading.  The grandmother is a true character and one of my favourites in the book - she also supports Alice through a tragedy that occurs when she is 17 and which haunts and shapes her entire life.  While I won't give away what happens, part of this tragedy is based on actual events in Laura Bush's life.

Alice moves to Milwaukee and studies first to be a teacher and then a librarian.  She has a true gift for working with young children.  But when she meets Charlie she is swept off her feet and they marry within 6 months.  An only child she is somewhat overwhelmed by Charlie's large family - his parents and three older brothers and their spouses and children (again based on the Bush family).  She is also intimidated by their wealth and political influence - his father had been a governor, his brother is a congressman.

Charlie is the pampered drifter in the family - shortly after his marriage he makes an unsuccessful run for congress.  After losing, and turning 40, he sort of works for his family's meat business, but mostly drinks and has fun.  A crisis in their marriage leads to him finding religion.  And then he also buys the Milwaukee baseball team of which he becomes the general manager (sound familiar?).  It is after finding some success here that he successfully runs for Governor and then President.

Alice's adult relationships with Charlie's family, her childhood friend, Dena, the long time maid of Charlie's family as well as her family and her sister-in-law, Jade, are also interesting.  Though of course the most interesting and realistic relationship portrayed is her marriage.

I found this book to be well written, interesting and not too political despite its subjects.  I recommend it.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Although I didn't find this quite as disturbing as Still Alice it was still an extremely moving account of a man's deterioration due to ALS.

Richard was an accomplished concert pianist; his ex-wife, Karina, a talented jazz pianist in her own right who essentially gave up her musical career to nurture Richard's.  At the start of the book Richard has just received his diagnosis which, most tragically for a concert pianist, begins in his left arm which slowly becomes paralyzed.  Before his right arm can follow, he masters a concerto specifically written for the left hand only.  But despite his desperate wishes, shortly after he loses the use of his left hand too.

Despite a team of dedicated home caregivers, as the disease progresses Richard is unable to live on his own and the best option seems to be moving back in with Karina.  While Karina becomes his full time caregiver they are able to slowly work through their past resentments and come to some sort of understanding while they still can.  Richard is also able to repair his relationship with his college aged daughter and his older brothers.

As in all her books, Genova provides chilling details about what it must be like to come into the grips a terrible, debilitating and ultimately fatal disease.  She expertly conveys Richard's sense of being trapped in his own failing body.

While hard to read at times, I did find the book an interesting read.

Friday, July 27, 2018

And another five books down...

Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander

I had read a previous book by Englander and didn't really like it so was not going to bother with this one until it was recommended by a friend.  And I did enjoy this one even though political novels are not my favourite.  Despite the heavy topic it was well written and fast paced which made it easy to read.  It did not have the same density of prose that often turns me off this kind of book.

The book follows several characters and goes back and forth in time so reads a bit like a mystery.  As such I will try not to give too much away here.  One of the first characters we meet is a nameless prisoner stuck in a cell in southern Israel.  He fears the only one who knows he's even there is the "General", the controversial leader of Israel who is clearly meant to be Ariel Sharon though I do not think he is ever called by his name.  Unbeknownst to the prisoner the General is in an irreversible coma, so the prisoner still writes regular letters to the General pleading his release.  The letters are delivered by the young guard assigned to watch the prisoner - his mother was the General's personal secretary and he is a bit of a screw up so she gets him this job in order to put his life on track.

Other characters we meet are a young Palestinian man in Berlin who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a Canadian businessman as well as an American waitress in Paris of Italian descent who enters into a romantic relationship with one of her customers.  However some of my favourite chapters are from the perspective of the General as he lies in a coma and "reminisces" about his past which was central to the history of the state of Israel.

You really need to read the book to find out how these characters relate to each other and to see who has the titular dinner at the centre of the earth.  In doing so you learn not only about the characters but a lot about the history of Israel and, in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner

This is another easy read but enjoyable book by Jamie Brenner.  While there is no depth and complexity to her writing, she develops likeable characters who have interesting secrets to reveal.  This book centres around Marin Bishop, a woman about to turn thirty who is engaged to a well-liked wealthy man and is working her dream job at a high profile Manhattan law firm.  She is an only child who has always strived to earn her lawyer father's praise and admiration.  But one day she makes a personal choice that leaves her without a job or her fiancé.  As she is trying to sort that out she is contacted by a younger woman who claims to be her half sister.  On a whim she travels with this supposed half sister to Provincetown to meet her supposed paternal grandmother.  While there she learns of the secrets that have impacted her life.

In addition to Marin the book has a lot of interesting characters including her parents, her half-sister and her hippy mother, her grandmother and her same sex wife as well various Cape Cod neighbours and friends.  This was basically a "feel good" book that left you liking everyone despite their flaws and believing all could be well enough in the end, even if there was some tragedy along the way.

Love and Other Words and Roomies by Christina Lauren

As an interesting aside, Christina Lauren is actually the pen name of two women who write quasi romance novels as a team.  In Love and Other Words Macy, a medical resident, is settling into an easy not terribly passionate relationship with an older man when she runs into her first love, Elliot.  Elliot had been her neighbour at her weekend home when she was a child.  They first bonded over their love of reading (and words) and then, as teenagers, fell in love.  All fell apart when they were 17 and in chapters which alternate past and present we learn why.  We also find out whether they can make a go of it 11 years later.

In Roomies, Holland Bakker has spent six months essentially stalking a musician who plays in the subway.  On the night she finally learns his name is Cal, he rescues her from a subway attacker but disappears before speaking to her when she is whisked away in an ambulance.  When she discovers he fled because he was in the US illegally she uses family connections to get him a job on a hot Broadway musical.  But in order for him to stay in the US she also offers to marry him.  And, not surprisingly, while living this marriage of convenience they discover they have actual feelings for each other.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

It took me a little while to get into this book, but when I did I really enjoyed it.  In addition to telling the stories of the characters it gave really good insight into the development of the feminist movement over the decades.

When the book starts Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman at her last choice college.  She is angry with her less than interested parents who messed up her financial aid application denying her the place she earned at Princeton.  She is also in love with her high school boyfriend, Cory, who did make his way to Princeton.  They were originally thrown together as the best readers in their grade, but eventually a real relationship developed.

An early defining moment for Greer is when she is sexually assaulted by a college boy who goes on to assault others.  When he is brought up for disciplinary action he is given a slap on the wrist and allowed to stay at school.  Shortly after she attends a speech by Faith Frank, a 63 year old pillar in the fight for women's rights.  Frank gives her advice about how to deal with the assault situation and gives Greer her card.  After graduation while searching for meaningful work in New York Greer contacts Frank and is given a job working at her foundation.

The book follows Greer's rise through the organization and beyond - and explores her continuing relationships with Frank, her co-workers, Cory, her parents and her college best friend.  In some chapters we see action from the perspective of Frank, Cory, the roommate and even Frank's mysterious financial backer.  And as the action moves through the decades (and sometimes into the past) we see how the feminist movement shifted over time.

I highly recommend this book.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Three more recent reads

The Boy on the Beach: My Family's Escape from Syria and Our Hope of a New Home by Time Kurdi

A photograph of a young boy, Alan Kurdi, dead on the beach in Turkey after the small craft his family was on in a desperate attempt to escape to Europe capsized, galvanized the world around the ever growing Syrian refugee crisis, at least temporarily.  But for Canadian, Tima Kurdi, this photograph was far more personal.  Alan was her young nephew - in fact she had purchased the clothes he was wearing in the photo the only time she saw him on a visit to Turkey.  Even more devastating, Alan's mother and brother also drowned and Alan's father, Tima's brother was devastated and broken by the loss.

In an effort to keep the refugee crisis at the forefront of global discussion, Kurdi wrote this book to tell the personal story of her family, though it obviously parallels the plight of thousands of other Syrian families.  She starts with their happy upbringing in Syria, then tells how various branches of the family were forced to flee as the civil war started then worsened.  Kurdi herself had married and left for Canada before the war began though she returned for visits as often as she could.

What is striking about this story is how ordinary Kurdi's family was before tragedy struck.  It really left you feeling this could happen to anyone.  It was also another illustration of the bureaucracy behind Canada's refugee approach (similar to other books I have read recently).  And while things seemed to improve temporarily after Alan's picture went viral, it is questionable whether the enthusiasm has carried over the years.

While this was not necessarily the best written book, I found the story compelling nonetheless.

Bachelor Girl by Kim van Alkemade

This was a really interesting novel based loosely on historical characters.  Jacob Ruppert was the actual owner of the New York Yankees in the early twentieth century.  When he died in 1939 he left a large bequest to an unknown actress, Helen Winthrope.  This fact inspired the author to imagine the events that led to the bequest.  Though she used Winthrope and Ruppert in her story, her acknowledgements clearly state that the rest of the narrative and characters (other than obvious ones like Babe Ruth) are pure fiction.

The story alternates perspectives between Helen, a young actress living with her widowed mother and brother, who is out of work due to health reasons which are eventually revealed, and Albert, Ruppert's handsome and unwed personal secretary.  Early on we learn he is gay, which at the time was something kept very secret.  Helen is offered a job managing a theatre that Ruppert buys and she and Albert develop a close friendship.  The story follows this friendship as well as Ruppert's  business dealings and his relationship with Helen and Albert, over the course of several years leading up to Ruppert's death.  It is only upon his death that the reason for his interest in Helen is revealed.

Precious Cargo:  My year Driving the Kids on School Buss 3077 by Craig Davidson

I wouldn't really recommend this book though if you are interested it was short and therefore wasn't a big time commitment.  The author was a bit of a loser as he hit his early 30s.  He had one successful book of short stories prior to that and hoped to make his living as a writer but the next novel he tried bombed.  He was unable to get any job other than driving a school bus of special needs students.  The book describes his year on the job and the relationships he built with the kids - the positive outcome is that it gave him some perspective on his own life.  The negative is I was left with the feeling he only took the job so he would have something to write a book about.  It seemed a bit exploitative though maybe that was just my cynical interpretation.  the factual account is interspersed with bits of an unpublished novel based on the kids on the bus.  After a while I just skipped these bits - they weren't terribly interesting.  The only other positive was that some of the kids were very funny and Davidson's recounting of some of their lines was entertaining.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Two Books by Jamie Brenner

I had never read anything by this author, but the first one caught my eye and when I finished it I had no other books on hand so I ordered the second and enjoyed it just as much.  They were both well written, light, had engaging characters and were just a pleasurable easy read.

The Husband Hour
Lauren Adelman marries her high school sweetheart, Rory Kincaid, just as he is breaking into the NHL.  As he plays for the LA Kings she moves across the country after completing college in DC, essentially putting her dreams of a journalism career on hold for him.  After a couple of years in the NHL Rory surprises everyone and enlists in the US Army where he is killed by an IED in Iraq.  After his death Lauren sequesters herself in her grandparents' summer home on the Jersey Shore where she lives alone and works in a diner - trying to keep herself busy to keep the memories at bay.

Almost five summers later her parents decide she should move on, and for personal reasons that are not originally revealed to Lauren, so they move in with her at the beach house, bringing along her sister and her six year old son.  Lauren and her sister Stephanie have had a troubled relationship since shortly before her nephew's birth and they are not happy to be forced together.

Lauren is also troubled by the arrival of Matt Brio, a documentary film maker who is making a film about Rory - and in particular the impacts of concussions sustained in the NHL on his behaviour in the year or so leading up to his death.  Worn down, Lauren agrees to give him one hour of her time to make sure the world sees Rory the way she did.

This hour stretches into several meetings where we learn more about Lauren's past and her relationship with Rory.  There are several surprises which I did not see coming, but which kept the narrative interesting.  By coming to terms with the past, Lauren finally seems ready to contemplate a future.

The Wedding Sisters
Though similar in style, I found this book somewhat more humorous.  There were a lot of entertaining characters!

Merle Becker is a middle aged woman in New York who is thrilled to learn her eldest daughter, Meg, is engaged to a wealthy man from a prominent political family.  She wants to plan and throw her daughter the wedding of her dreams - without financial input from her in-laws.  The problem is within mere weeks her two younger daughters become engaged, also to wealthy men whose families have high expectations for the type of weddings they should have.  And Merle and her husband cannot afford to throw three lavish weddings in the same year - especially since her husband is having issues at work that make their financial situation even more precarious.

So, with a little bit of pressure from the gossip media that begins to take an interest in the family, they decide to throw a triple wedding.  This might be financially viable but creates an organizational circus.

To add to Merle's stress, her elderly mother begins to have psychological issues and is forced to move in with the family.

As the narrative moves toward the wedding we get great insights into all three daughters, their fiancés, their in-laws, Merle and her husband, Merle's mother and a few other characters along the way.  I wouldn't say everyone lived happily ever after, but the book did come to a satisfying conclusion.

Friday, July 6, 2018

A dozen books all at once!

So I get most books by putting my name on the waiting list at the library which means I sometimes go for a few weeks without getting anything.  But then when it rains, it really pours!  I got 12 books in the span of a month.  I made my way through them before I had to return them, but I must admit they became a bit of a blur.  So I'll just give a brief review of each one based on the best of my recollection (in no particular order).

The Leavers by Lisa Ko
I quite enjoyed this book about the experiences of undocumented immigrants to the US.  The story centres around Deming Guo.  When he is eleven, his mother who is an undocumented immigrant from China goes to her job at a nail salon and never returns.  He is left with his mother's boyfriend, his sister and her son (who is also his best friend).  The sister decides she is unable to care for him so puts him in foster care where he is eventually taken in and adopted by a white couple, professors from a small town in upstate New York.  They change his name to something more American sounding and though they pay lip service to his Chinese heritage, they try to turn him into a child more like his white, small town peers.

The story moves back and forth to tell us about how Deming's mother came to the US, her pregnancy and child birth, Deming's early childhood with his grandfather back in China, Deming's return to the US and life in the Bronx and eventually what happened to Deming's mother.  Though Deming loses touch with everyone in the Bronx he is eventually reconnected with the boy who was his childhood friend and who puts him in touch with his mother and uncle.  Through them, while floundering at college and a music career, he returns to China and tracks down his mother.  The story explores the impact this has on both his birth mother and his adoptive parents.

I recommend this book for a good read about the immigrant experience.  It's also a timely exploration of the impact that enforcing laws against undocumented immigrants has on their American born children.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
This is a non-fiction Holocaust story and though I have read many of them, this one was different enough to really hold my attention.  It is written by a granddaughter of a survivor about her family.  The Kurc family live in Radom Poland at the breakout of World War II.  The parents and their five adult children along with several in laws and one granddaughter are very well off for Polish Jews which helps to a point, but they must still figure out how to survive the Nazis.  And they were lucky as they did all survive in various ways - and though they survived separately for the most part they are somewhat miraculously reunited following the War.  We get an inside look at life in ghettos, in Russian work camps, in the Polish underground and army, in hiding disguised as non-Jews, in a friendly convent, in Palestine, Poland, France, Italy, Portugal and even Brazil.  What the family members all have in common is a strong will to survive and to be reunited.  This is a fascinating and very well written account.

Forgiveness a Gift from my Grandparents by Mark Sakamoto
This is another autobiographical account of World War II, but from a very different perspective.  Mark Sakamoto's paternal grandparents were Japanese Canadians living in Vancouver at the time of the war.  Like all of their community they were swept up by the anti-Japanese government actions of the time.  They were not sent to internment camps, instead opting to be slave labour on sugar beet farms in Alberta so that the large extended family could stay near each other.  Sakamoto's grandmother was an incredibly strong woman who gave birth to two children while working as a a labourer.  After the war the family had nothing but the $25 compensation they were paid by the government (the community centre which housed the belongings of the community had burned to the ground).  They were also no longer welcome in BC so moved to small town Alberta where they started again.

Sakamoto's maternal grandfather was from a tiny community in the Magdalen Islands.  In part to escape an abusive childhood he enlisted in the army and was shipped overseas.  In December 1941 he was captured by the Japanese and taken as a prisoner of war.  He spent the rest of the war living in hellish conditions - tortured, starved, and watching his fellow soldiers and friends die one by one.  At the end of the war he was broken but not defeated.  He returned to Canada where he married, moved to Alberta and started a family.

When Sakamoto's parents met and later wed they were terrified about how their respective parents would react, given their wartime histories.  But remarkably they not only tolerated each other, but his paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather became friends.  And his grandparents proved to be very important to Sakamoto when his mother's mental illness and alcoholism tore the marriage apart and took a toll on the children, particularly the author who was the eldest.

I recommend this book for an interesting look at the impacts of war, racism, alcoholism and mental health on a family - and how forgiveness can still be had in these dire circumstances.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I've been told this will be the book of the year for book clubs and it is immediately obvious why.  It is a frank look at racism in the Southern US - and how even the most established of families could not escape its horrific reach.  Roy and Celestial are newlyweds living in Atlanta.  Roy is a successful business executive who has overcome an impoverished though happy childhood to go to university and establish a career.  Celestial comes from a more middle class background and is an emerging artist.  A year into their marriage they return to Roy's home town for a visit and while staying at a hotel Roy is wrongly accused of a crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison.  The beginning of the book deals with Roy's life in prison - where he meets an unlikely person from his past - and Celestial's attempts to cope on her own but eventual turn to her childhood neighbour and friend, Andre.  When Roy is released from prison earlier than expected the three must figure out how to go forward.  This truly is a story of a marriage and how parties struggle to make it work against terrible odds.  But as I said above it is also an examination of issues of race and class and the failures of the judicial system.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
A duplex in Brooklyn in the 1940s is shared by two brothers, their wives and their families.  The family upstairs has only sons while the family downstairs has only daughters.  The wives, sisters by marriage only, are also best of friends.  On the night of a terrible blizzard in 1947 the women give birth to new babies on the same night - at home and attended by a midwife since they could not get to the hospital and the doctor could not get to their home.  On that night the women make a decision that has repercussions for the rest of their lives - and results in the eventual fracturing of their relationship.  Written in alternating chapters from the perspective of several different characters (husbands, wives and children) this book is an interesting look at years of family dynamics.

An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope
Like many of Trollope's novels this one deals with older adults.  Here, Rose, a 64 year old divorced grandmother (whose husband left him for a younger woman after a lengthy affair) finds love again with a boy she knew as a teenager.  Tyler had been living in California for many years and was now a widower.  Relatively shortly into their relationship Tyler proposes and Rose accepts, though we sense she is not as enthusiastic as he is.  Her grown children are even less enthusiastic and try desperately to talk her out of it - even enlisting Tyler's children to support the cause.  Many somewhat humorous events ensue before we learn what Rose ultimately decides to do.  While the focus is on the older couple, there are also interesting side stories about the children and their varied relationships.

All We Leave Behind: a Reporter's Journey into the Lives of Others by Carol Off
The main problem I had with this book is somewhat superficial.  Because Off is a well-known Canadian radio personality I could hear her voice in my head as I read the book - and I'm not really a huge fan of her voice.  That being said, I otherwise enjoyed the story.  Off was embedded with Canadian soldiers reporting in Afghanistan in 2002.  There she met a local man with a story to tell - his story formed the basis for her documentary about powerful Afghan warlords.  Unbeknownst to Off this was a dangerous move for her source who was hounded by one warlord, eventually needing to flee to Pakistan.  Off worked hard to bring him and his family who she became close to to Canada as refugees.  The bureaucratic process she encountered was far more difficult than she ever imagined.  In addition to hearing about the refugee process I was very intrigued by the story of Afghan women - her source's wife and daughters.  They spent years becoming educated despite terrible oppression against women by the Taliban (and even earlier by conservative family members).  If you don't have the voice problem I recommend you read this book.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
First I have to say that the descriptive passages about life in Alaska were mesmerizing.  While they did not make me want to move to small town Alaska in the winter, I could practically feel the cold and see the beauty through Hannah's prose.

Lenora is 13 when her father, a troubled Vietnam vet, is given a piece of property in Kaneq, Alaska by his war buddy who didn't make it.  The family packs up and moves to literally the middle of nowhere.  It is summer but all the townspeople immediately descend upon them to start preparing for the harsh winter when the town is entirely self-sufficient depending on food they have harvested and preserved for winter, wood they have chopped for light and heat, etc.  Lenora constantly catalogues the ways a person can die in Alaska.

Unfortunately the family is ill prepared despite the efforts of their neighbours and, more troubling, Lenora's father's symptoms of PTSD - nightmares, paranoia and violence are exacerbated by the long hours of winter darkness.  Notwithstanding this, for several years they manage to limp along - Lenora is particularly helped by her close relationship with Matthew, the only other boy her age in the one-room school.  Together they make plans to go to University.  Unfortunately Matthew is the son of one of her father's perceived enemies (since he has money and is trying to bring modernizing improvements to the town).  This leads to disastrous circumstances for Matthew, Lenora and her mother.  The latter two must eventually return to Seattle and stay away for several years.

It is only at the end that Lenora returns to her beloved Alaska and we see how her life unfolds there.

I am Nobody by Greg Gilhooly
I don't usually like to write reviews of books when I know the author (and I went to law school with Gilhooly), but I really think this book deserves public praise.  Gilhooly was a victim of sexual abuse by a hockey coach, Graham James, for a period of years when he was a teenager.  He hid the information from everyone for decades while he struggled to "get on with his life".  He eventually came forward, but James has never admitted his crimes against Gilhooly nor been tried or convicted for them (though he has served time for his crimes against several other hockey players).

Gilhooly's book is an incredibly well written and raw account of the abuse, but even more chilling, the horrific impact those years of abuse had, and continue to have on his life.  Though he went to Princeton and U of T law school and had a seemingly successful legal career he describes years of self-sabotage through alcohol abuse, excessive eating and purposely failing in important exams or work requirements when he felt he didn't deserve the success.

What Gilhooly's tremendous success "despite himself" shows is how intelligent and strong he must be to achieve as much as he did while carrying this burden.  In addition to giving us insight into what that was like his perspective on the criminal justice system as both lawyer and victim is unique and insightful.

Congratulations to the author on writing a book that must have been very difficult to do on a personal level but which is an important story for others to hear.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes
This is the third book in the series that started with Me Before You and was continued in After You.  In this book, which is entertaining enough but nothing special, Louisa Clark moves to New York to take on a job as personal assistant to the younger second wife of a wealthy Upper East Side businessman.  While her employer pretends to be her friend, when trouble hits she is less supportive than Louisa expects (though frankly that's just her naiveté getting in the way).  We also hear more about her relationship with Sam, the paramedic she falls for in the second book, and the difficulties that ensue from their long distance relationship.  This book could be read as a standalone but it helped to know the pasts of the other characters that wander in and out of the story.  If you've read the other two books you might want to catch up on this one, otherwise it's probably not worth it.

The Boat People by Sharon Bala
Given the ongoing refugee crisis in the world, this novel, based on real events is very timely.  And, like Forgiveness described above, it shows that Canadians should not be smug about how we treat newcomers to this country.  The story centres around Mahindan, who with his six year old son lands on the shores of Vancouver Island in a rusty cargo ship carrying 500 refugees from war torn Sri Lanka.  The refugees are met at the ship and immediately incarcerated, awaiting a seemingly endless number of refugee hearings.  Mahindan is sent to a men's facility and separated from his son who is sent to stay with a woman refugee claimant who he barely knows (sound familiar?).

The story then alternates between telling us what happens to Mahindan and his son in Canada as well as the events in Sri Lanka that led to Mahindan being on that ship at all.  We also get two other perspectives.  The first is that of Priya who is a second generation Sri Lankan Canadian and an articling student.  She thinks she wants to be a corporate lawyer, but get dragged into this case by the firm's immigration lawyer.  The more she gets to know Mahindan, the more she learns about her father's past and the tension between him and his brother and how it has its roots in the Sri Lankan civil war.  She also becomes rather hooked on immigration law.  The second other perspective is that of Grace, a third generation Japanese-Canadian who is a politically appointed immigration adjudicator hearing some of these claims.  She is appointed by a national security conscious Minister who thinks she will be hard nosed and ensure no terrorists get into the country.  She struggles with that view as well as the view of her mother who, as she slips into dementia, spends more time dwelling on her family's past during World War II (a similar story to that described in Forgiveness).

I really enjoyed this book and, though it is fiction, I think it is very educational about how Canada treats refugee claimants.

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
I actually enjoyed this book more than I expected.  Nina Browning came from humble beginnings but is married to a wealthy, Nashville establishment businessman, Kirk.  Nina spends her time on charity events that her husband approves of and with other high society women.  But her marriage is not as happy lately.  Their son Finch excels in his fancy private school and has just been accepted at Princeton.  I really wanted to like Finch, but Giffin does a good job at keeping you guessing whether he is truly a good person like his mother or just a good con artist like his father.

Tom is the single father of Lyla.  He's a carpenter who lives "on the wrong side of the tracks" in Nashville, but Lyla has earned a scholarship to the same fancy private school that Finch attends.  One night Lyla, who has a crush on Finch, gets drunk and passes out.  While passed out she has her picture taken in a compromising position and Finch sends it to his friends.  Word gets out and Finch must face a disciplinary hearing at school which puts his Princeton acceptance at risk.

The remainder of the book is told from the perspectives of Nina, Tom and Lyla.  We eventually find out what actually happened the night of the party and who really is to blame for the compromising photo.  We also see Nina's marriage crumble further as well as gain insights into her past which explain why she is so concerned about Finch's behaviour and so sympathetic to Lyla.  We also see Tom deal with his failed marriage and the chip on his shoulder that he has carried around since working at a fancy golf club as a teenager.  And we see Nina and Tom bond over the experience and Lyla really grow from it.

I recommend this easy to read book that deals with some timely and difficult subjects.