Review | Gone but Still Here, by Jennifer Dance

Gone but still hereGone but Still Here is a moving and emotional story about a family whose matriarch has dementia. The story is told through multiple perspectives: the matriarch Mary, her daughter Kayla whom Mary moves in with, Kayla’s teenage son, and their golden retriever Sage.

The main through thread of the plot has to do with a memoir Mary is writing, urged on by the spirit of her deceased husband, and the struggles they faced as an interracial couple (the husband is Black) amidst the racism of the 1960s and 1970s. Mary’s love story is heartwarming, and it’s utterly heartbreaking to see the moments when her lucidity fades. At times in chapters told from Mary’s perspective, we see her confusion as a younger woman (Kayla, whom Mary doesn’t recognize) gets teary-eyed over some story from long ago, and it’s heart-wrenching because we know Mary doesn’t realize everything that story actually represents.

The scenes narrated by Sage add a welcome touch of levity to the novel, especially as Sage (ineffectively) battles Mary’s cat for household supremacy. Yet Sage’s side of the story also provides deeper insight into various characters’ vulnerabilities. For example, she notices how Kayla, who’s the alpha of the house, seems to give up her alpha status when Mary moves in, or when her son complains about some of the changes in their lives. Sage also feels confused why Mary keeps calling her by a different name (a dog from Mary’s childhood), yet instinctively knows when Mary needs a bit of comfort.

I’m about two-thirds through this book (page 220) and am tapping out. I’m DNF-ing it not because it’s a bad book or badly written — on the contrary, the writing is beautiful, and the story packs an emotional wallop without ever feeling maudlin. However, it’s just not the kind of book I want to read right now. I need happy, light-hearted stories that make me feel good, or pulse-racing thrillers that keep me breathless. There are definitely moments of joy in Gone but Still Here, and the story itself tackles perhaps one of the most life-changing adventures that unfortunately will affect many readers’ lives. But it’s a tad too much reality for me, so I’m tapping out, but I’ll definitely highly recommend this book if you’re in the mood for that particular form of emotional catharsis and transcendence from your fiction.


Thank you to Dundurn Press of a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Kimchi, Kimchi Every Day, by Erica Kim

Kimchi“I eat kimchi every day. I like kimchi every way!” This picture book is an adorable and utterly charming ode to the delicious Korean dish kimchi. The young heroine gazes with adoration at a Sunday feast filled with kimchi, and flings her head back in Snoopy-like joy at Wednesday’s dish of “kimchi stew, in a pot, bubble, bubble, steaming hot.”

The rhymes are super catchy, and the illustrations just bursting with happiness. Think of a little kid being presented with their favourite treat — that’s this book on every page, and honestly, it’s a joy to see the young heroine get so much of her favourite food for an entire week.

In a lovely touch of additional love for her Korean heritage, author-illustrator Erica Kim uses Hanji, a paper from a native Korean mulberry tree, for her cut paper art technique. It’s a subtle homage that, at least for me, enhanced my appreciation of the fun artwork.

The final few pages also include a kimchi glossary, with a bit of an explanation of the various kimchi dishes featured in the book. Fun facts I learned from the book: November 22 is National Kimchi Day, and there are actually kimchi museums in Korea! Perhaps catering to readers raised on North American cuisine, Erica advises trying kimchi on dishes like burgers, tacos, and fries. I’m glad she included that; I like to think this book can inspire readers unfamiliar with Korean cuisine to try out the flavours by adding kimchi to foods they may be more comfortable with.

Overall, this book is absolutely delightful. Read it with some kimchi on-hand — you’ll definitely be craving the dish afterwards!


Thanks to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Over Her Dead Body, by Susan Walter

OverHerDeadBodyIt’s a classic set-up: aspiring actress Ashley Brooks thinks she’s hit her big break when her dog wanders into the home of legendary casting director Louisa Lake George. Louisa offers to introduce Ashley to important folks in the industry, and even offers Ashley the opportunity to do some audition tapes for an upcoming role! Except that a day later, Louisa turns up dead, and to the surprise of her beloved nephew Nathan and her estranged children Charlie and Winnie, she leaves the bulk of her fortune to Ashley.

Each of the parties involved responds to the situation in different ways, and the result is a tight, twisty, and just plain entertaining thriller. Walter does a good job in parcelling out little bits of information about each person’s life and motivations, and the particularities of their relationship with Louisa. Louisa herself is a fascinating character, and the motivations behind her will are TV mini-series gold.

While part of me liked seeing various events from multiple perspectives, there were also moments when the device felt a bit repetitive. I felt this especially with the relationship and quasi-romance between Ashley and her roommate Jordan. While this plot thread eventually pays off and Jordan turns out to have an important role to play, it just bogged the story down in the beginning, when the machinations of Louisa and her family were much more interesting.

A big reveal near the end about what actually happens to Louisa also rubbed me the wrong way. It made sense within the narrative, and the author does a good job in explaining the motivations behind the person who made it happen. But for all Louisa did, I think the person went too far, and their motivation was just plain petty. I wish there had been more of a comeuppance for them, so the ending still left me somewhat dissatisfied.

That being said, overall, this was a fun read. Very much a popcorn kind of book, wonderful for a weekend or after-work treat!


Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.