Book Review: Women Talking

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.

Review:
Wow, what a book! I’ll admit, I was nervous about reading this one because it sounded so heavy and absolutely horrific. The premise the book is based on, that the women and girls of an isolated Mennonite community were systematically and repeatedly raped in the night by male members of their community, is absolutely unthinkable.
However, this book is about the women. It is a record of their conversation after the fact, when the men are gone, and about what they plan to do next. This is powerful.
These women talk for 3 days about their choices and their limitations. They talk about their lack of education, their beliefs, what God would want them to do, where their duties lie. This is a book exactly about what the title says it is about, Women Talking. This may not sound compelling, but it absolutely is. I loved seeing how these women viewed themselves, their community, religion, their decisions, … On the cover of my Canadian edition, the words ANGER and LOVE are highlighted, and that is exactly what this book boils down to. And though the book may feel like it will be slow and strange, I found it hopeful and empowering to see these victimized women decide what to do for themselves.
This is the first time I’ve read a book by Toews, but it will definitely not be the last. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting, well told, and thoughtful book that explores important issues.
Thank you to the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Witches of New York

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

The beloved, bestselling author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure is back with her most beguiling novel yet, luring us deep inside the lives of a trio of remarkable young women navigating the glitz and grotesqueries of Gilded-Age New York by any means possible, including witchcraft…

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind?

Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.

As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?

Review:
I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the three great main characters, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice. They each brought interesting aspects to the book and shone a light on how women, especially women outside of the norm, were treated in the 1880s, something which appeals to me.
McKay has created a wonderful and rich world in this book and has brought historical New York to life with interesting detail, but not so much as to get in the way of the compelling story. There were a times where the story dragged briefly, but not enough that I wanted to put the book down — I was invested in finding out what would happen with our heroines, and Eleanor’s pet raven whose mystique I loved.
I love books that portray friendships between women and this one did not disappoint. I am anxious to pick up the novella that comes after this book so I can immerse myself in this world and its characters again.
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Book Review: Son of a Trickster

Son of a Trickster (Trickster #1) by Eden Robinson

With striking originality and precision, Eden Robinson, the Giller-shortlisted author of the classic Monkey Beach and winner of the Writers Trust Engel/Findley Award, blends humour with heartbreak in this compelling coming-of-age novel. Everyday teen existence meets indigenous beliefs, crazy family dynamics, and cannibalistic river otter . . . The exciting first novel in her trickster trilogy.

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.

Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.

You think you know Jared, but you don’t.

Review:
Son of a Trickster is an interesting book and Robinson is clearly a gifted storyteller. There were parts I loved and I was really looking forward to the supernatural aspect. Also, being from BC, I love reading books set in the familiar landscape of my province.
Most of the book is about Jared and is life and how he deals with what is going on around him. There is a lot of drinking and drugs. A lot. I found this part of the book to get repetitive, though I did like Jared and felt for him. I liked how he was friends with his elderly neighbours, how he loved his dog, and how he tried hard in his own way. He is a well developed character with depth when he could easily have been a stereotype.
There are definitely some difficult situations in this book, situations that too many kids have had to go through and that is hard to read.
I especially loved the end, when the magical aspect became more prominent, leaving me anxious to read the next book in this series and find out what is next for Jared.
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Book Review: Ayesha At Last

Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist 

AYESHA SHAMSI has a lot going on.  Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

Review:
This book was fantastic. I loved the writing, the storytelling, the characters, the ending, and the humour.
Ayesha at Last is a modern Pride and Prejudice retelling set in the Muslim community of Toronto. As a Canadian, I love reading books set in Canada. The novel doesn’t take itself too seriously and Jane Austin fans will find some fun plays on phraseology and themes.
Ayesha is a wonderful character. I felt for her and quickly became engaged with her dilemma — which was about getting married but also about what she really wanted from her life and how to follow her dreams.
Khalid ultimately had a similar dilemma, though he didn’t always think that he did, which really added to the book.
I’d highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a light read with romance, and yet still has other aspects to the story.
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