Review | That Time I Loved You, Carrianne Leung

35564928In That Time I Loved You, Carrianne Leung takes us into Scarborough in the 1970s, where an idyllic veneer barely conceals the various dramas in the lives of its residents. The book starts with June, a Chinese-Canadian girl who observes her neighbours with unnerving insight. She tells us that parents in their neighbourhood are committing suicide, and that the children can’t understand why. As the book goes on, we begin to understand the lives of the residents, and while we don’t delve too deep into the specific motivations of the residents who killed themselves, we do get an underlying sense of despair and various forms of loneliness among the residents in general.

The book started off a bit slow for me, and while the lives of the characters portrayed in the first few chapters had their interesting moments (one woman heard hateful words from the flowers she tended and another woman seemed trapped in her fairly new marriage), none of them really grabbed me. It was the later chapters I found most compelling, and made me bump up my rating to 4 stars on Goodreads.

My favourite chapters, and to my mind, the strongest by far, are:

  • “Things” – Darren’s story about being Jamaican-Canadian and dealing with a math teacher who keeps picking on him for no discernible reason feels heartbreakingly real. There’s a moment where he remembers something his mother told him at a mall when he was younger that was just bam! in terms of emotional impact. We get a hint about how his actions in the chapter turn out later on, but I would have loved to spend a lot more time in his life.
  • “Kiss” – Josie’s story about feeling overshadowed by her more outgoing best friend June and trying to be the perfect daughter and niece was very relatable, and I wanted her to have a starring role in a story all her own. In this chapter, she also had to deal with a situation that was horribly wrong, and I thought Leung was masterful in her portrayal of Josie’s growing discomfort.
  • “Sweets” – June’s grandmother Poh Poh getting used to life in Canada after immigrating from Hong Kong — I love, love, love the subtlety of the details that are revealed about her life and her character, and the delicacy with which each bit of information is revealed over the course of the chapter.
  • There’s also a side character named Nav who I really wish had gotten a chapter of his own. I loved him in the “Sweets” chapter, and would’ve loved to see more of him.

Overall, this was a strong book. There are many examples of suburban fiction that subvert the idyllic image of suburban life, but often those books focus on white, middle class families. Leung in turn subverts the suburban fiction genre with the sheer diversity of her characters, and it’s a welcome perspective as it likely does represent the diversity of Scarborough suburbs in the 1970s, and finally brings the stories of these communities to Can Lit suburban fiction.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | This Fallen Prey, Kelley Armstrong

34953116One of my favourite things about Kelley Armstrong’s work is how well she writes kickass, diverse women characters. This Fallen Prey is no exception — its protagonist Casey Duncan is a half Chinese-Filipino, half Scottish detective who solves crimes in Rockton, a remote town in the wilderness of Canadian mountains. Like many of Armstrong’s heroines, Casey is smart, kickass and just all around awesome, and the men in her life respect her and her abilities without turning her into a special snowflake.

In This Fallen Prey, Oliver Brady, a wealthy, young alleged serial killer, is brought into Rockton to be imprisoned for six months, until he is convinced that his father’s proposal of house arrest is the preferable option. Casey and her boyfriend, town sheriff Eric Dalton protest that Rockton isn’t equipped to provide the level of security required for such a dangerous person (they have one jail cell and Rockton residents who commit crimes are often just sentences to hard labour), and true enough, Brady escapes and there’s evidence that he had help from a Rockton resident.

This Fallen Prey is gripping and thrilling, one of Armstrong’s most exciting page turners yet. I love the moral ambiguity Casey faces in her dealings with Brady. Brady insists he’s innocent and being set up by his stepfather, and Casey can’t figure out what the truth is. When she’s forced to hunt him down and sees the body count rise in his wake, she realizes all too well how an error in her judgement could lead to a vicious killer (whether Brady or otherwise) getting away.

The big reveal was satisfying — it validated a lot of the clues dropped along the way, had its disquieting moments, and pushed Casey’s character towards becoming a better detective. The book ended on a cliffhanger that will hopefully be resolved in the next Casey Duncan book, and I’m definitely liking where Armstrong is taking this series and these characters.

My one caveat is that it would be strongly advisable to read the first two Casey Duncan books before this one. Armstrong plunges us immediately into Rockton and drops in a lot of series characters with minimal introductions. I had read only the first book, City of the Lostbut not the second, and as I read City of the Lost back in 2016, I had completely forgotten much of the background of this town and its residents. I got to know and love the main cast fairly quickly — Casey, Dalton, Anders, the wonderful dog Storm — and some secondary characters Matthias and Isabel. But there were a lot of other series characters who played larger roles in the mystery and I had a hard time keeping them straight. Casey would make a startling realization about a character and I’d have to flip to the beginning to remind myself who this was. Or Casey would reference major traumatic events from a character’s past (that I presume happened sometime in the first two books), and it was hard to keep the back stories straight. So if you have the first two books, I’d highly recommend re-reading them before this one, or if you haven’t read them yet, definitely read them first.


Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place (Flavia de Luce 9), Alan Bradley

35137747The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place returns Flavia de Luce to all the things I loved about the series in the first place. It’s a small town mystery and thankfully without a whiff of the international intrigue / Flavia as spy turn that soured me on the Canadian Flavia stories. It also has a lot of the characters we’ve come to love from Buckshaw, all of whom seem to feature more prominently in this mystery than in previous Flavia instalments. Grave has all the elements you’d expect of a great Flavia de Luce story, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t outright love it as much as I thought and hoped I would, and I’m not completely sure why.

[SPOILER for the previous book below.]

The story begins with Flavia and her sisters mourning the death of their beloved father, who was Flavia’s foundation of strength for most of the series. Flavia, Daffy, Feely and their manservant / family friend Dogger go on a holiday at an idyllic small town, and while rowing on a river one lazy day, Flavia accidentally discovers a dead body. She investigates the death, locks horns with the local cop, and digs up secrets that some of the townspeople would rather stay hidden.

I like how the secondary characters played important roles in this mystery. Poetry-loving Daffy discovers one of the suspects is a famous yet reclusive poet, and her analysis of the poetry unearths some clues for the case. Feely has become estranged from her boyfriend Dieter, yet they meet up in this book and later play a crucial role in the mystery’s big reveal. We also get some fascinating hints about Dogger’s past, and possibly an important figure in it, and I really liked that insight into his character.

The mystery is solid Flavia fare. The corpse in the water leads Flavia to a series of murders committed years earlier, as well as some desperate characters in the present. The villain’s motivation is disturbing, but not too delved into. There’s also a lot of science as Flavia — and even Daffy at one point! — use chemistry and scientific knowledge to investigate.

There’s a nice, bittersweet tone to this story as Flavia comes to terms with her father being gone. There’s also a nice segue to the future of the series on the final page, and it’s a turn that feels fitting for the characters and the way the series as a whole is progressing.

So in short, it delivers everything you’d expect and want in a Flavia story, yet it didn’t wow me as the others have. It’s not that the series is getting stale — there’s a lot of new character development in this book and, as I said, there was a welcome adding of depth to secondary characters. Flavia’s ghoulishness was off-putting (what kind of person accidentally picks up a corpse by the mouth and get all giddy with excitement?!), but she’s always been somewhat ghoulish and it’s only started to bother me in recent books. Possibly it’s just me feeling a bit tired of the series, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the books. I’ll still check out the next Flavia book, as I do like that Bradley appears to be returning the series to its roots while still acknowledging the growth the characters have gone through, but I don’t think I’ll be eagerly anticipating it as much as I used to.


Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.