Review | Lion’s Head Revisited (Dan Sharp Mystery 7), Jeffrey Round

LionsHeadRevisitedLion’s Head Revisited is a good, solid, well-paced mystery. When a four-year-old autistic boy is kidnapped during a camping trip, his mothers and his biological father hire Dan Sharp to investigate the disappearance. Dan’s investigation reveals a lot of potential suspects: a former housekeeper who was fired by the family; the ex-husband of one of the mothers, who was previously deceived into believing he was the biological father of the boy; the wealthy but estranged mother of one of the mothers; the drug addict surrogate with a history of extorting money from the family; and the ex-business partner of the biological father.

The reveal was far more complicated than I expected, and I didn’t guess the identity of the ultimate villain, but the mystery was satisfyingly twisty. With so many red herrings and potential suspects, this mystery could very easily have devolved into a super confusing muddle, but Jeffrey Round does a good job in keeping the plot threads simple enough to understand, and in bringing suspects in and out of the spotlight as needed.

I also really liked all the subplots around Dan’s personal life. For example, his best friend Donny has been very distant ever since Dan started dating Nick. I felt bad for Dan, who just wanted everyone in his life to get along, but when we learn why Donny’s been distant, his reasons are also understandable.

*SPOILER* (Not of the mystery, but of something from Dan’s childhood)

The mystery also brings up lots of bad memories from Dan’s childhood. I seem to remember from previous books that his father was abusive. In this book, we learn that when Dan was a kid on a camping trip with his parents, they actually made him abandon his dog Sandy, who had gone running off somewhere when his dad suddenly decided he wanted to leave the campsite. I absolutely hate stories of animals being hurt or abandoned, so this was the hardest subplot for me to read. Reading about Dan’s heartbreak in leaving his dog behind was heartbreaking, and while I’m glad this is fiction, there are horrible people who do this kind of thing in real life, and I wish the author had somehow let us know that Sandy’s story turned out okay.

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Thanks to Dundurn for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, Amanda Leduc

AmandaLeducOh. My. God. This book.

“In fairy tales, disability is often a metaphor, and that is itself a form of erasure.

But my cerebral palsy has never been a metaphor for anything. It has only ever been me — me, myself, my body.” [13%]

I’m not disabled, but I’ve always been a chubby kid and am now a plus-size woman, and I related SO HARD to Leduc’s thesis that fairy tales allow only certain types of bodies to be granted happy endings. Leduc also raises many good points on the trope of transformation in fairy tales and superhero stories, and the message therein that you must “overcome” your less-than-“perfect” body to get your happily ever after. There’s a lot of emphasis on “overcoming” your own obstacle, and considerably less emphasis on the role that a supportive community can play in making your world better overall.

There are so many gems in this book, and I wasn’t sure how to write a blog review because there’s just so much to absorb and to unpack. So I’m going to go with a full-on gush, and just post some highlights that I noted while reading.

  • According to Leduc, the social model of disability acknowledges that the issue around disability isn’t the physical condition of disabled people’s bodies, but rather the fact that society excludes disabled people, whether through stigma or through design of social spaces. Leduc then raises a good point that the trope of transformation in fairy tales suggests that the problem is actually within the individual’s body rather than with broader social structures: “Interestingly, it is never society that changes, no matter how many half-animals or scullery maids are out there arguing for their place at the table.” [15%]
  • While Leduc seems to align with the social model of disability, I love that she also points out its limitations. There are conditions like fatigue and chronic pain that even a fully accessible society won’t eradicate, but the pressure to abide by the social model of disability may make some disabled people hesitant to talk about experiences that may be perceived to critique the social model. [19%]
  • I love this quote so much:

“Princess meets Prince, and falls in love, over and over and over again.

And I have Quasimodo, misshapen and kind, who finds friends at the end of his story and is happy about, because that is the only kind if happiness he is allowed to have.” [32%]

  • I love that Leduc interviews other disabled people about their responses to fairy tales, and why some of them are so troubling from a disability lens. One example is the original Beauty and the Beast story, where the Beast’s beasthood can be seen as a form of disability (because it’s a physical feature that sets him apart from the social norm). In the original version, Beauty agrees to marry the Beast, but hesitates to marry him once he becomes a Prince again, because “When I accepted him, I believed that I was taking pity on something below humanity.” [55%] The idea that the Beast’s difference renders him, first, as a thing rather than a person, and second, as being less than human rather than simply different, can be outright hurtful to some readers. I hadn’t thought about this before, but will now no longer look at Beauty and the Beast the same way again.
  • I also love that Leduc calls out the “invisible hierarchy” of disabled people, where those who are intellectually disabled often face more discrimination than those who are physically disabled. This isn’t a point I see raised often, and it gave me a lot to think about.
  • I absolutely, positively love how Leduc includes mental illness in the conversation on disability. Mental illness does also lead to experiencing many social barriers, but I find it’s often treated as a separate conversation altogether, so I love that this book raises awareness and understanding on how it can be a form of disability as well. Leduc also shares the fascinating — and super troubling — history about how mental health experiences used to be thought of as someone being replaced by a changeling. There’s a story of a guy who killed his wife because of it. Leduc contextualizes this with her own experience of depression, and how her loved ones noticed the change in her. [70%] Stories – and what we learn from the characters in them – matter.
  • At 74%, I was basically cheering out loud while reading this book: YES!!! On how we often have an idea of who ‘deserves’ a happy ending — the grateful protagonist, the obedient princess, etc. And YES!!! on how white privilege plays into that idea, and people who are BIPOC, disabled, otherwise marginalized, may receive less access to mental health supports because they are seen as less than ‘ideal.’

The book also made me reflect on my own thoughtless privilege. Leduc shares an anecdote about how she once left a lindy hop dance class after her partner teased her for concentrating too hard and taking things so seriously. That reminded me of a ballroom dancing class in high school PE where I teased my dance partner for the same thing. My immediate response to Leduc’s story was defensiveness — my dance partner wasn’t disabled, and obviously, if she had been, I would have been more understanding about it. But the truth is that my dance partner shouldn’t have to disclose a disability for me to respect her approach to dancing. Whatever my partner’s reasons were for concentrating more than I was on the dance, they were valid, and I shouldn’t have made her feel self-conscious about it. (My teasing also caused us to fall behind from the group, and then bump into our classmates when I sped up our pace to try and catch up. So, in hindsight, my partner may have had the right idea on the concentration front.)

My main takeaway is something Leduc says near the end, which is basically that we need to make space for different stories, where the protagonist with the different body gets their happy ending not because they overcome obstacles on their own but because they have a community that pulls them through. As Leduc says, “My walk, my legs, my body — I am, all of me, a feature. (We are, all of us, a feature.)” [81%]

It’s been a while since a book has affected me this much, and I can only imagine its impact on disabled readers. Read it.

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Thank you to the Coach House Books for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Whispers of War, Julia Kelly

WhispersOfWarThe Whispers of War tells the story of three friends in Britain in 1939 dealing with the potential outbreak of war. Nora’s a socialite who works at the Home Office and is just an overall badass. Hazel is a matchmaker who is herself in an unhappy marriage. And Marie is a German expat afraid of being placed in an internment camp. The three friends band together to keep her safe.

Despite the subject matter, this is a fairly light read. The characters talk about internment camps and air raids, but apart from a couple of scenes, we don’t really get a sense of the danger they face. Rather, the focus is on the friendship between the women, and how having such a strong support system can help you survive even something as horrible as war.

I loved reading about the women’s lives and their friendship. Hazel is probably my favourite, mostly because she’s the quietest of the three, but she turns out to be the most badass in terms of what she does to protect refugees fleeing the Nazis. I also loved her love story, which is sad but also felt real. She’s a matchmaker who’s ironically in an unhappy marriage of her own, but the breakdown between her and her husband is more a drifting apart than an actual break. And I love how her actions to support the war efforts makes she and her husband begin to see each other in different ways.

Nora’s character arc wasn’t quite as developed for me. For a lot of the book, she seemed like the rich and powerful friend who had the clout to keep her friends safe in a tumultuous time. But I love the romance that develops between her and a co-worker. I found it sweet, and wish we’d seen more of it.

Marie was the main character of the three, and her situation drove a lot of the action in the second half. I had no idea there were internment camps for Germans during the war, and I guess I never really gave much thought to the discrimination they must have experienced at the time, regardless of their actual ideological distance from the Nazis. So I like that the author highlighted this totally new-to-me facet of World War II, which I don’t remember ever seeing before in other novels.

That being said, I admit I didn’t really get much of a feel of the danger Marie was supposedly in. We’re told that some Germans could be sent to internment camps, but we aren’t given enough information about these camps to make them feel real. In contrast, of course, we’re very much aware of the horrific realities Jews went through during the same time period, and are therefore very aware of their absence in this novel. I get that it’s because the author wanted to focus on Marie’s situation as a German expat, but I couldn’t help thinking about how Jews had it much worse. There was a scene where Marie is hiding during an air raid, and is comforted by a Jewish German couple, and I couldn’t help thinking that their situation is a lot more dire than hers is.

As well, there’s a scene where Marie remains silent on a bus so other riders don’t hear her German accent — I love this detail, because it shows the fearful experience of trying to pass. But I also couldn’t help thinking of racialized communities who wouldn’t be able to pass as easily as Marie did.

I don’t mean to minimize the experiences of Germans like Marie who faced the threat of internment; I just wish it had been made more concrete. Or at least that the book didn’t so completely gloss over the horrific stuff the Nazis did, and the still somewhat privileged place Marie and her friends occupied in the world.

There was also a frame narrative, set in the present day and featuring Marie’s grandchild Samantha traveling to deliver a package to Nora after Marie’s death. It’s Samantha’s visit that prompts Nora to share the story of how she and Hazel worked to keep Marie safe during the war, but the frame narrative felt completely unnecessary. The historical story was much more compelling. I loved the relationships between the three women and also the romances they had.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.