This year was filled with many great books – including one written by my mom! Filled with erotic tales, a talking lion, a young boy who makes a difference, and the experiences of a boy growing up in South Africa who eventually gains astounding success, this list is sure to include something for everyone.

Books definitely make my year unique, and it is great to look back at a year of books. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah – This tell-all memoir by Trevor Noah was an absolute pleasure to read. I read it at home in Ottawa over the span of a couple of weeks. The title of the book comes from the fact that Trevor’s very existence was considered a crime in apartheid South Africa, since he was born from a black mother and white Swiss father, which was against the law at that time. The book is a testament to his courage and resilience, and his deep respect for his mother to which he owes everything. There are shocking twists and turns, and the whole time you think about the current Trevor Noah, hosting the Daily Show, and start to have a newfound respect for him. Especially because he is such a funny guy – the trauma he went through shaped him but did not destroy him. Five stars!

2. Erotic Tales for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal – I adored this book! It was an unexpected find at the library (I found it in the Best Bets section, which meant I had only 7 days to read it). It’s set in West London, England, and is about a Punjabi girl Nikki who feels trapped by societal pressures to marry and settle down and do something “worthwhile” with her life – deep down she just wants to be a writer and feel free to be herself. She finds a  job at the Gurudwara (Sikh temple), where she is supposed to teach a creative writing course, but it seems that the course and the women have a different agenda. The book is funny and engaging, and also makes you think about the stigmas we create about older South Asian women – thinking that they are uber conservative, and don’t think too much about sex and erotica. This book definitely proves that swrong! The novel is surprisingly touching, and the author is skilled in her ability to write about stereotypical cultural issues in a real, down-to-earth way. This book is highly recommended for book clubs.

3. Tom Makes a Difference by Bhavana Patel – This timeless tale (written by my mom!) tells the story of a young boy named Tom who is faced with a decision – whether to help or ignore a girl named Sitari who was not very kind to him. My mom used to tell this story to my sister and I when we were young, and she always dreamed of one day turning it into a children’s book. For her 60th birthday, we presented her with a beautifully illustrated first version of the book. It couldn’t have turned out better. This year we’re planning to make more copies, so stay tuned if you would like to order one!

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First edition of Tom Makes A Difference, April 2017

4. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo. Think Revolutionary Road meets Half of A Yellow Sun. Originally I didn’t love this intense tale about a young Nigerian couple who are desparately trying to conceive a child – in fact I rated it a 6/10 at our book club meeting (we each rate the books at the end of the meeting). However, just like fine wine, it grew better with age… as time passed, I found myself thinking about it and reflecting on the haunting tale. Yejide and Akin have been married for four years, and still are unable to get pregnant, despite consulting with healers, fertility doctors, and trying some quite unconventional methods. They’ve ruled out polygamy, which is quite common in their culture, and so resort to another solution which will test them to the very limit. This tumultuous and emotional novel will take you for a ride, and one you won’t soon forget.

5. The Shoe on the Roof – Will Ferguson. I read this at home in Ottawa, on the go train coming back from my friend Tina’s place. As I was boarding the train, a woman’s shoe slipped under the train and I grabbed it and gave it to her. She thanked me profusely as the train started to depart from the station – “A shoe under the train,” I chuckled to myself. The book follows the life of Thomas Rosanoff, a med student and researcher whose life is falling apart. He designs an outlandish experiment that involves three homeless men who all believe that they are Jesus. If they confront one another, will they be cured of their delusions? (or will one of them realize that they really are Jesus? ;-) It’s a quirky and surprisingly philosophical tale that will make you confront your own beliefs about the world and existence, and “the magical reality that lies just beyond the world of scientific fact.”

Thomas, there will always be an unanswerable question at the core of everything; there will always be a shoe on the roof. This world of ours is murky and filled with wonders, and there are fibers of mystery clinging to everything. Better to live with this ambiguity than try to deny it, I say.

– Will Ferguson, The Shoe on the Roof

6. The Ramayana – by Linda Egenes and Kumuda Reddy. I got this book to read as part of my research for my own personal retelling of the Ramayana that I’m working on. It’s written by two women who are practitioners of Maharishi Ayurveda and who have a deep interest in the ancient Hindu epics. I love the opening quote of this book: “So long as mountains and rivers have their place on the face of the earth, the story of the Ramayana will be told in the world.” Even though there are hundreds of retellings of the Ramayana, there is always room for one more. The authors worked on this project on and off for nearly two decades (hopefully it won’t take me as long to finish mine!) and clearly their rendition is a labour of love. It is lyrical and beautiful, gritty and truthful, and adds another rich layer to this traditional story.

7. The Child Finder – Rene Denfeld. This was a very difficult one to read, and perhaps I should have skipped it given the emotional subject matter. But it was incredibly well written and bravely told. The book interweaves the story of Naomi, a private investigator, and a young girl who has been kidnapped. Even though the scenes about the girl’s trapped isolation at the hands of her kidnapper are not explicitly described, even the implicit descriptions are heartbreaking and makes you angry and sad that this happens in the world. The author brings an authentic viewpoint because she was a licensed investigator and has worked within the prison system. Her writing is absolutely brilliant. It will be a long time before I forget Snow Girl and her journey.

No matter how far you have run, no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found.

The Child Finder, Rene Denfeld

8. The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis  – I first encountered this enchanting book in grade three, when my teacher used to read us a chapter each day at the end of the school day, as we all huddled around her in our little portable. I remember the sound of her voice reading while it was raining outside. I read it again recently as part of a novel study for two students I was tutoring, and they really enjoyed it! This book is a classic mythological tale of the hero’s journey, and a group of four children conquering an unknown land to help restore order and springtime to a forever frozen land. They must go head to head with the wicked witch of Narnia, and rely on the strength of Aslan in their mission. It’s a wonderful book, and the movie is well done too. Could read this one over and over and I’m guessing I probably will!

9. The Break by Katherena Vermette – In this powerful book, a horrible crime is witnessed by a young Metis mother on a strip of land called the Break. She calls the police and they arrive at her home, not completely trusting her version of events. The book shifts between viewpoints of different people connected to that fateful night, and we become engrossed in the young victims, the culture that seems to be an obstacle to getting justice, and the perpetrators who are lurking behind the scenes. It is a harrowing yet touching book, and in reading it I found myself reflecting on the unfairness of it all, and deeply admiring the strength of the Indigenous women and elders that weave throughout the narrative. I would definitely recommend it, but perhaps keep a box of tissues handy!

The Morning after goes on cold and quiet, as if nothing even happened the night before. Just hours before. The sky is clear but the snow blows around the Break, covering the dark red with fresh white. Slowly, slowly. Stella watches out her kitchen window. The sun grows brighter, and the blood has all but disappeared.

– Katherena Vermette, The Break

10. You are A Badass How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero – I love love this book! It’s self-help at it’s finest, an authentic voice that has lived through some pretty crazy shit, deeply examined herself and her flaws, and developed a set of principles and tools to emerge stronger and more powerful. “If it’s something you want to do, don’t wait until you’re less busy or richer or ‘ready’ or twenty pounds lighter. Start right now. You’ll never be this young again.” I listened to the audio version of this book, as well as sneak-peeked into a copy I got for a Secret Santa gift – LOL! It is an edgy voice that is much needed at this time, to replace our false set of limiting beliefs and break through the BS that often clutters our minds. And if you’re into meditation and yoga, she draws from those traditions in her quest for truth. Highly recommended!

Notable Mentions

  • The Power – Naomi Alderman
  • Brain on Fire – Susan Cahalan
  • In Between Days – Teva Harrison
  • Behind the Cloud – Marc Benioff
  • Three Weeks With My Brother – Nicholas & Micah Sparks
  • Second Chance – Jane Green
  • Home to India – Santha Rama Rau

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