Monday, June 4, 2018

BOOK: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, 256 pages + notes and bibliography

No extended description of London from that period failed to mention the stench of the city. p8

Isn't it great to find a new nonfiction author who delivers on style and content? Steven Johnson's 2006 book about, well, a whole bunch of stuff, was a wonderful narrative history book, and he's written several other books, three of which are available on audiobook from my library. So, not only did I read a great book, I've got a backlist to investigate as well about popular science topics. Score!

But the finest minds of the era were also devoted to an equally pressing question: What are we going to do with all this shit? p 115

The Ghost Map is about the development of modern cities, the development of public health, and scientist John Snow, all framed around an epidemic of cholera in 1854 London. I enjoyed the history aspect of the development of the mega city and the scientific process of determining the cause of the cholera epidemic. Snow faced a decided opposition who believed that disease was spread through the 'miasma' of the air, and thus, also the moral depravity of the poor who so often suffered through the spread of terrible diseases. By supposing that cholera was spread through injestion of bad water, Snow investigated and was able to stop the epidemic from getting worse. 

Johnson easily moves from the specific story of Snow and cholera on Broad Street to the larger historical context of the spreading of diseases and city development. From biographical details of the main characters like Snow, and the local curate, Henry Whitehead, to the scientific background of bacteria and their evolutionary progress, Johnson keeps his narrative in order and progressing. He even at the end connects the ideas of cholera epidemics to modern epidemics and threats to city living.

Traditional bombs obviously grow more deadly as the populations they target increase in size, but the upward slope in that case is linear. With epidemics, the deadliness grows exponentially. p 243
(the math teacher in me loved this example)

The fact that Snow was able to figure out as much as he did without any understanding of bacteria and microbes is pretty amazing. In fact, I was put to mind the great book I read last year, I Contain Multitudes, a very up-to-date understanding of the creepy crawly stuff we can't see. The two books would be like book-ends in the history of epidemics based on bacteria and viruses. (I'm really just looking for any reason to recommend these two books.)

Johnson  ends with a timely reminder of what is needed to keep humanity living and progressing in larger and larger cities:

1. Embrace - as a matter of philosophy and public policy - the insights of science, in particular the fields that descend from the great Darwinian revolution that began only a mater of years after Snow's death: genetics, evolutionary theory, environmental science.
2. Commit ourselves anew to the kinds of public health systems that developed in the wake of the brad Street outbreak, both in the developed world and the developing: clean water supplies, sanitary waste-removal and recycling programs. p 255

More of Steven Johnson's Books to look forward to:

Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation 

Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age 

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Saturday, June 2, 2018

BOOK: Canadianity by Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens

Canadianity: Tales from the True North Strong and Freezing by Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens , 288 pages

Aw, two Canadian icons (who have a podcast together) have written a book about Canada. Their podcast tries to define Canadianity and now they have written a book to share their stories and travels across this big great country. Just a couple of Bahds, having a little love fest. Needless to say, I enjoyed this book.

Jonathan Torrens is a bit younger than me and lived in my little suburb outside Charlottetown. Most people think Sherwood is just a part of Charlottetown, except people from Sherwood who say they are from Sherwood. You may know Jonathan Torrens from Trailer Park Boys (J-Roc) or maybe you are a bit older and remember Street Cents, a consumer info show for teens. He's a Canadian guy, or bahd, as T &T continually refer. A good guy and very funny.  Someone to have a beer with. Because Jon is originally from PEI, the PEI chapter is quite long which I also loved. 

Taggart was the drummer from Our Lady Peace, not a band I listened to but I've definitely heard of them. He's also middle aged with lots of great stories of growing up in Ontario and also being a rock star. 

Each province gets a chapter, with stories from the bahd's travels or show biz experiences. There are lots of lists for each province - famous people, places to see, food to eat, great bands. Canada is big, but also it's a lot of small places too and it was fun having been to many places and recognizing people and places. 

It's an enjoyable read about the collective Canadian experience (especially for people of a certain, ie my, age). Great job Bahds!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

AUDIOBOOKS: Running Scared (week 3 of YA Sync)

The third week's theme is Running Scared, stories with boys running for their lives. Another fiction and nonfiction pairing.

On Two Feet and Wings: One Boy's Amazing Story of Survival by Abbas Kazarooni

A crazy memoir from the 1980s, when Iran was suddenly under the Ayatollah, fighting a war with Iraq, and Iranians were trying to get out. (I had a student ten years ago whose family left Iran so he wouldn't have to do his time in the army. Lovely student) In terms of time and general theme, this reminded me of Persepolis but it was quite different. In trying to get their nine year old Abbas out of Iran, his parents make plans to flee to Turkey, but at the last minute, the parents weren't allowed out, so they sent him on his own. On his own at nine. A friend of the father's was supposed to look after him, but he barely throws him in a taxi. Luckily, Abbas meets a couple of absolutely wonderful residents of Istanbul. (I love stories of wonderful people in Istanbul.) 

Dear little Abbas manages to make his way in Istanbul as he waits out his application at the British Embassy. His street smarts are pretty good for a nine year old, and his resiliency is amazing. We talk in school about kids today needing to be resilient and this would be a great book. Apparently there is a follow up book about Abbas' time in England, with a not as happy of ending.

Johnny Get Your Gun (Virgil Tibbs book 3) by John Ball

The fiction half of this week's offering and a sequel to a book previously offered, In the Heat of the Night. Both feature Detective Virgil Tibbs (of the famous movie line - They call me Mr Tibbs!). This one was very good, starting out with two young boys and a case of bullying gone wrong. The younger fellow vows revenge, and takes his father's (loaded!) gun to find the older boy. A nine year old on the run with a loaded gun led to much suspense and concern, never knowing how serious the author with make things turn out. I loved the 'noir' feel to the story, little description, all action and the Pasedena/Anaheim setting. I'd look for more Virgil Tibbs mysteries for sure.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

AUDIOBOOKS: Venturing Abroad (week 2 of YA Sync)

The theme for the second week is Venturing Abroad, promising to take the reader to places you might find beyond imagination. I like that this week had a fiction and a nonfiction book.

The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

Wow, this one felt like it was written last year, not in 2004, but it does feel like it was a Pulitzer finalist for nonfiction writing. Starting with an incident where 14 immigrants died from heat exhaustion (and 12 others severely injured), Urrea looks into many aspects of Mexicans travelling and entering the United States illegally. From the people themselves, the border agents, and the guides, there are so many stories and issues beyond 'build a wall'. Listening to this makes one wish that a certain someone would also listen to it and see the shades of grey in the immigration issue. 

Solo by Kwame Alexander

I loved the lyrical writing of this novel in verse. It appears I like and can appreciate novels in verse because this is now the third book that I've read and really enjoyed. Solo is about the son of a famous rock musician. Blade is estranged from his drug-addicted father and trying to forge is own identity. He ends up on a quest to Ghana to find his mother. The audiobook is wonderful, read by the author and including music by Randy Preston, appropriately. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

AUDIOBOOKS: YA Sync : Stories with Histories

The theme of the first week was Stories With Histories and these two books were full of history, both real and literary. 

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War
I like these kinds of books: assorted short stories with a theme, and each author wrote a story about the First World War based on an object. Some stories were set during the war, some were in any of the decades after the war, some were set in other countries. Like any collection, some stories stand out more than others. 

Much variety, and I tried to just listen to one at a time so as to appreciate each one separately. Captain Rosalie was excellent, about a little girl in France whose father is fighting. She thinks she is a secret agent sitting in the back of class, gathering information as a part of the effort.  Maud's Story about women working in the factories during the war. Our Jacko was set in the sixties in Ireland and allowed a  family to recognize the contributions of their ancestors, and brought war to life for kids who like to 'play' war.

  • Our Jacko by Michael Morpurgo, inspired by a Brodie helmut
  • Another Kind of Missing by AL Kennedy, inspired by a compass
  • Don't Call it Glory by Marcus Sedgwick, inspired by a nose of a Zeppelin bomb
  • The Country You Called Home by John Boyne, inspired by a recruitment poster
  • When They Were Needed Most by Tracy Chevalier, inspired by a Princess Mary gift fund box
  • A World that Has No War in It by David Almond, inspired by a soldier's writing
  • A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn by Tanya Lee stone, inspired by sheet music
  • Maud's Story by Adele Gerais, inspired by a war-time butter dish
  • Captain Rosalie by Timothy de Fombelle, inspired by a Victoria Cross
  • Each Slow Dusk by Sheena Wilkinson, inspired by school magazines
  • Little Wars by Ursula Dubosarsky, inspired by a French toy soldier

Pretty impressive collection of authors! 

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavarello

Sherlock Holmes must be one of the most 'inspired by' characters written in modern day, and this one does not disappoint. I knew A Study in Charlotte sounded familiar, as spritereads had brought this to my attention last year. This is the first of a trilogy and I will be reading the rest!

Set in modern times at a New England boarding school, descendents of Sherlock Holmes (Charlotte) and Dr Watson (Jamie) meet up, with all their family history there to cause problems. When a student both Charlotte and Jamie had had bad interactions with is found murdered, they must work together to clear their names. It is so much more than that, with much respect to the original books, and homage with different short stories. The characters were great, the plot was good, even descendents of Moriarty appear. I can't wait to read the next ones: The Last of August, and The Case for Jamie.

Monday, May 7, 2018

AUDIOBOOKS: Free YA books all summer

It's a new season of YA Sync! Time for my annual reminder that you can get 2 free audiobooks, every week for the next 13 12 weeks. I'm late with this as you've already missed the first week, but you have til Wednesday to get the second week's books: Solo by Kwame Alexander and The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea (a Pulitzer NF finalist from 2005) 

Every year there is one classic book that I have read and not enjoyed. This year it is The Scarlet Letter. I'll listen to it, but I expect I'll hate it anew, just like Lord of the Flies and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Instead of The Scarlet Letter, try the retelling in When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, or The Scarlet Pimpernell and pretend it's the book you were looking for, like I once did accidentally. 

Eek, I still had a few, if eight is a few, books on my phone from last year that I haven't listened to yet. Since the new season started, I did manage to get two old ones read.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepety 

I remember when this poor book was released around the same time as Fifty Shades of Gray and it got completely overshadowed. Most people probably didn't even realize there were two different books. This is a Russian WW2 book and definitely not that other book.

I was really not into it at first as I find the Holocaust books so horrific. These were Ukrainians being gathered up by Stalin for what ever reason he felt like and sent to prison camps, after the men were separated from their families. We follow a teenage girl who dreamed of art school as she ends up fighting for her life in the Russian winters. It was well done and I ended up liking it, as well as you can like a book like this. The author at the end explains how it was based on stories from her Ukrainian family that were passed down. 

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Modern day fantasy set in New York, I liked the Puerto Rican folklore aspect mixed with the modern day teenagers. The narrator,  Annika Noni Rose is very good and brings the characters alive. I'm not the hugest fan of fantasy and ghosts but this wasn't too elaborate and I was able to follow it. Sierra is a teenage artist painting a mural when she discovers she is a shapeshifter and needs to help the spirits around her. A discussion with her grandfather sends her on her quest.  There is another book but I don't feel the need to keep reading this one.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

I've listened to 10 out of 21 sections of this history book, but I don't know if I'll listen to the rest. I still have it on my phone and I may pick it up again, but surely, an editor is to blame for this length. So far, it's just case after case of who got tried for being a witch. I guess I feel like the story is not progressing, and something could have been summarized. There is certainly research that was done, and I did discover how to speed up the replay to 1.5X. 

I recently read Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks; I think I'm not a fan of the Puritans, and their religious dogma. This also explains my dislike of The Scarlet Letter. Reviews at Librarything indicate this book may be a bit better at the end, so I may finish it at some point. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

BOOK: Jane of Lantern Hill by LM Montgomery

Jane of Lantern Hill by LM Montgomery   (292 pages)

Jane of Lantern Hill has all the requisite characteristics of a Montgomery book - a lonely child, proud rich older character, misunderstandings and grudges held over a long time, and of course, some Prince Edward Island. I've read a lot of Montgomery but didn't remember this one, although I could predict a lot of the plot. Not that this was a problem - it's what I like about Montgomery's books.

Jane Stuart is living in Toronto with her mother and grandmother, lonely and unhappy, although wise in her observations. When her father requests Jane for the summer on PEI, Jane is surprised and reluctant as she didn't even know he was alive. She falls under the spell of PEI in the summer which is exactly what happens here. I loved her delight with the environment and characters surrounding her as she threw herself into her new life. This changes Jane as she returns to Toronto and cannot be cowed by her grandmother as easily.

I loved Jane's appreciation of her simple life in PEI, keeping house and making friends, loving the ocean and the sky. Montgomery follows her tried and true storyline and of course, a *spoiler* happy ending. I enjoyed by time with Jane and the nature of PEI. It got me feeling like summer in PEI as the weather is turning in a good way, and it's almost time to open the cottage.

Friday, April 20, 2018

BOOKS: Mysteries from Iceland and Australia

I've found two new international mystery series - one from Iceland and one from Australia. My list of series at is getting longer and longer!

Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson (audiobook 6 h 38 min, read by Quentin Bates)
Dark Iceland Series #2

 Iceland with its isolation and the lack of sunlight seems to make it the perfect location for mysteries. I've very much enjoyed the Arnaldur Indridason police series so finding a new series set in Iceland was a major find. Unfortunately I listened to the second book before the first but I'd like to go back and find the first. A policeman is shot, and Ari Thor, another local cop has to look into the people he knows. I always prefer police procedurals, and this one was great. Lots of people with secrets and things to hide, and it is up to Ari Thor to figure out which parts belong to the murder. 
I believe there are 5 written in the series already, but my library doesn't have them so I'll have to look around elsewhere for them.

The Dry by Jane Harper (audiobook, 9 h 44 min, read by Stephen Shanahan)
Aaron Falk #1

I really liked this mystery set in Australia during a drought. A local boy, now living in the big city as an investigator is brought home for the funeral of his childhood friend who has massacred his family, apparently due to debt. Once he gets home, a previous murder from his childhood comes back to the forefront. So a great back and forth in time, with secrets and mysteries from past and present as Aaron Falk deals with his grief and his past. I liked this one so much I've already got the second one, A Force of Nature, downloaded to listen to. This seems like a great series to get in on at the beginning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

BOOKS: Eleanor Oliphant and the 100 Year Old Man

I read two of those 'got to read' books in January and had very different reactions to them. One was the best of the month, and the other was not.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, 400 pages

The clever title makes this memorable and maybe I inferred the type of story from the unusual title. I imagined it would be like A Man Called Ove, a touching growth story. I imagined wrong. So maybe my disappointment with the book was based on wrong expectations, and that is on me. The title event happens early and then some crazy, unrealistic things happen. Some of them I found mildly humourous, but most were so ridiculous that it strained credulity. There was an element of Forrest Gump, the idiot who lands in famous situations - here, Allan Karlson meets every major leader of the 20th century, becomes integrally involved in Chinese, American, Iranian, and Russian politics, and always lands on his feet after blowing something up. The story was mainly narrative - this happens, now this happens, now this happens. There was no character development and plenty of deaths. Also it was too long but I finished it without hating it, just a little bored. The title is the best part, along with the elephant.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (audiobook 11 h 2 min, read by Cathleen McCarron)

Again, mixed expectations changed my experience of the book, but this time, in a good way. Eleanor was a complex character, and her back story as it was gradually revealed drew me further and further into the story. Eleanor's sad life and loneliness will break your heart, and then as she gradually makes a friend everything begins to change. Any time a book gets me crying, it moves the book to the excellent pile. Eleanor Oliphant is delightful.
Add this to the loneliness books such as Our Souls at Night and  Eleanor Rigby,

Sunday, April 15, 2018

BOOKS: Nonfiction from March

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman (audiobook 7 h 47 min, read by the author)
I don't watch the Bachelor very much but I do like a lot of reality television so this behind the scenes look at 'a very special episode' tell all is right up my alley. Kaufman is  a fan/journalist who covers The Bachelor. 

If you are a fan of the show, or interested in behind the scenes of television shows, give this one a try. I couldn't tell you any specific juicy details, but they were there. Included are short essays by famous super fans who detail what it is about The Bachelor they like. Also, there is content relating to feminism - does The Bachelor series set back women, or are they empowered by making their decisions? Discuss.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (audiobook, 9 h 52 min, read by Gabra Zackman)

McNamara died in 2016 (Patton Oswalt's wife) and this book, her life's work of research, was partly written by McNamara and partly put together by the editor and her husband. McNamara was obsessed by a particular killer in California and spent years researching. The parts she wrote are very well done and it's too bad that she won't be able to write any more books. Fans of true crime books will want to read this one.

It was full of stories of break-ins and rapes and murders and I managed to freak myself out one night on the way to bed when I thought I heard someone at the door. I froze, did not answer the door, and didn't listen to it late at night any more. I don't usually get spooked like that; I grew up reading Stephen King! 

What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas  288 pages

While reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I never felt the desire to walk a long trail, but this one in Spain almost intrigued me. Maybe it was because the author decided to walk it after she turned 50. Or because she (accidentally) organized a group of women to walk with her. Mostly because it is a huge tourist trail, with hostels and accommodations all along the trail and it sounds very relatively civilized.

Most of the story revolves around how a group of women followed Christmas to Spain thinking they were a group and that they were organized. They weren't; they all had different goals and expectations in going. I felt a little bad for them in that the author did not make them sound very good and mocked them a bit (with pseudonyms). So, when did she decide to write the book - before or after the two month hike?  However, the story was good and my book club, a group of 50 something ladies, all enjoyed the book. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


It's been a while, but looks like it is time for a Top Ten Tuesday again. The topic this week, Books on My Spring TBR, is one I like to make each quarter. Top Ten Tuesday is now hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl and topics for each week are available there. Check out the site for all the TTT posts of the week. My list is a mixture of books I've bought, books I've requested at the library, trying to add a few nonfiction, and then I check out my FictFact for a series book or two to add.

Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Saga by Brian K Vaughan

I'll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

Sovereign by CJ Sansom

Sunday, March 18, 2018

UPDATE: Tournament of Books reads

The Tournament of Books 2018 is occurring now at The Morning News, a literary response to basketball March Madness. Every now and then, a longlist of a competition comes around where I've read a few books already, and more are a) easily available and b) books I am interested in reading. Thus was the TOB this year and I have read six of the fourteen books in the first round. Here are my thoughts and reactions to the first round results. 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (audiobook)

The brilliance of the idea and execution are clear, but there is still something lacking in this book. The judge in this one thought the audiobook might have been better, since it was a cast recording but I thought the paper book might have been better because it was hard to know who was talking.  
Verdict after round 1: Lincoln in the Bardo lost in the first round to Fever Dream and I was okay with that though it seemed like an upset, what with it already having won the Booker Prize.

Day Two was The Idiot v White Tears and I know nothing about either of them. 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (audiobook)

Manhattan Beach was the next book that I had read. This was okay. It was historical fiction without the grand epicness that it seemed to need. I listened to the whole thing, and it was good, but it didn't have the epicness or specific history information (unless you were into diving during WW2; I wasn't) that I'd like in a large book. I just wasn't as interested in who and what the book was about. It was still readable but I wasn't surprised that it lost in the first round to Dear Cyborgs, which was also considered a huge upset. 

Day Four was The End of Eddy v Lucky Boy. Again I am not familiar with either of these.

Sing, Unburied Sing by  Jesmyn Ward (audiobook)

The next book in the competition that I had listened to was Sing, Unburied Sing and I was rooting for this one. The characters, story and writing really appealed to me and even with the ghosts and supernatural elements which can be hit or miss with me. I liked the family and the kids and it was heartbreaking and real. Even the horrible mother, when given the chance to tell the story from her point of view, was if not still horrible, at least she became understandable. Definitely my favourite in the TOB this year so I was very glad to see it move on, against The Book of Joan.

Pachinko by Min Lee Jin (audiobook)

As I was listening to Pachinko, another grand historical fiction, I was continually thinking about Manhattan Beach and how much I was preferring Pachinko. This one followed a Korean family through several generations but also has themes of immigration, and family lies and what makes a family. Apparently Koreans can live for generations in Japan and never be considered Japanese. Even after Korea is now two different countries and there is absolutely no where to go back to. I liked how characters kept coming back into the story, and the family. Just a little more epic in scope and interesting in plot. Pachinko won its round against So Much Blue.

Finally a match-up of two books I have read! Well, I am reading The Animators now.

Exit West by  Mohsim Hamid (audiobook)

Has anyone described Exit West as The Underground Railroad but for immigrants? That was my reaction and I liked Exit West better than The Underground Railroad. The different doors and the different immigrant experiences worked quite well.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

I am only a third of the way into this one but I am enjoying it. The judges verdict hints at some twists that are to come, so I am looking forward to reading what happens. 

I had no problems with either book in this pairing moving on, and was not surprised to see it was Exit West.

The last match up of the first round is Goodbye, Vitamin v  Idaho. 

So, fun first round this year with so many books I could have an opinion on. I enjoy reading the judgements and what reasons the judges have. It's even fun to go back into the archives and read about other books I have already read. Pairing these with actual March Madness basketball games, and March is a very exciting month.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

UPDATE: February Reads Vol 3

Hey look at this - three female detectives in some great historical fiction. All very different in their eras and style.

Urn Burial by  Kerry Greenwood (ebook) 201 pages
Book #8

Set in 1920s Melbourne, nobody kicks butt like Phyrne Fisher.  She has enough money to not care what anyone thinks and is progressive enough to upset everyone around her. A Chinese lover? Don't dare tell her it is not acceptable. Plus she is smart and fearless. Quite amazing heroine.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley 9 h 53 min,  narrated by Jayne Entwistle, Book #9

Flavia deLuce is back in 1950s England and her sidekick Dogger is looking out for our teenage busybody.  The series seems to be back on track after a few weird outings.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart, 320 pages
Book #2 

This second volume is the series is based on a true story of a lady cop as she tried to solve crimes in 1910s New Jersey. She still has a sheriff who believes in her, but there are some other problems, like an escaped prisoner on Constance Kopp's watch. I didn't think the follow up was quite as strong as the first book, Girl Waits With Gun but I will try another one for sure. I particularly like the other two sisters and enjoy seeing how they interact with Constance. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

UPDATE: February Reads Vol 2

Some times you get in a little run of great books. My problem is I read them too fast because I am so engaged in them, that I don't get to prolong the experience. These three were all pretty covers and fabulous reads! 

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, 15 h 56 min
narrated by Caroline Lee

Usually when I see an audiobook that is 15 parts long, I shy away. For some reason, probably knowing the TV show (I haven't seen though) is supposed to be very good, I gave it a try. I burned through this book in probably 3-4 days - I could not stop listening! Such a great story - funny, topical, suspenseful, and great characters. The three main characters were strong women. The back and forth, before and after an unknown crime has occurred, the comments by community members was just so well done. I'll be looking for more Moriarty novels in the very near future. Fun, fun read!

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, 288 pages
Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017

Two cranky neighbours, each unhappy in their own ways, are forced to get along. Sounds pretty usual, but setting the book in South Africa with a white and black neighbour adds a few more layers. Besides the apartheid background, the novel focuses on the marriages and expectations the women had for their lives. Easy to read with characters that while not likable, are understandable. As the layers peel back, much of their motivations come clear. Solid, enjoyable read, it's the kind of under-the-radar book I like passing on to friends.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, 12 h 31 min
narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I loved this book the first time I read it eight years ago. I don't often re-read the books my book club picks, but I knew the audio version was raved about as an example of a great audiobook (Cassandra Campbell as narrator explains this!) so I decided to listen. Again, such a great book. So frustrating to see how ignored her family was, and how hard they tried to get their mother some recognition. Actually, all her poor family really wanted was some health care. (Get your act together US republicans, it's not that hard) Skloot does a wonderful job of getting to know the family and while she's been criticized for inserting herself in the story, it makes the reader feel like they are with her, discovering this great injustice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

UPDATE: February Reads, vol 1

I read 12 books in February. After my great last year of reading nonfiction, I only managed one this month, and it was a re-read for my book club. Half my reads were audiobooks, probably because a number of the paper books felt like they took forever to finish. Today I'll review some of the slower and problematic reads of the month. Some other categories I hope to get to include my favourite reads of the month, some continuing series books, and a few featured on the Tournament of Books at themorningnews.

The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder, 363 pages

I read and loved Hayder's Jack Caffrey series. Jack was a great if troubled police detective, and the books veered into super creepy. I tried this stand-alone that revolves around the Nanking Massacre from the 1930s. Two stories occurred in two time periods and I could never decide which if either, story I was liking more. If I thought the Caffrey series was creepy, Hayder ventures into new taboo areas. I continued reading even while it was a very slow set up because I have liked Hayder's writing. I'll give Hayder another chance.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, 150 pages

How such a short book could take so long to read was very disappointing. I liked the Jane Eyre book, I really liked the movie, and I also enjoy reading women writing about their love of Jane Eyre. I missed this whole oeuvre in my younger days and I wanted to read this prequel of sorts, the story of how Rochester's first wife ended up the crazy woman in the attic.
Mostly set in the Caribbean, it was slow, the writing didn't flow for me, and the characters did not evoke any attachments for me. I didn't get a good sense of what the point of the book was, even though I did know. It picked up a bit when Mr Rochester arrived, but not enough to explain to me how she ended up in the attic.

Planet of Exile by Ursula Le Guin (4 h 30 min)

After the death of LeGuin, I looked for an audiobook that was available and fairly short. I'm not a huge fan of science fiction, but I have read some famous ones that I have enjoyed. Two tribes of people have lived for generations on a planet. They stick to their traditional ways, but of course, some one is trying to change things. There's a battle. I know now that general sci-fi is not for me. Sorry fans of Ursula K LeGuin.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, 288 pages

I finally read this multi-award winning book for young adults. Then in the next month, Alexie gets called out for very bad behaviour. I also read and enjoyed Al Franken last year. Stop ruining good reading experiences by being assholes, guys.
This was an easy read, but frustrating at the same time as the narrator deals with racism and trying to take control of his life. Being a teenager isn't easy, and one living on a reservation has extra problems. Alexie writes a thoughtful and engaging book with a great narrator.

Monday, March 12, 2018

BOOK: The Lumberjanes, Vol 6 and Vol 7

Lumberjanes Vol 6:  Sink or Swim

The campers of  Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types are having another adventure, this time on the sea. New counsellor, Seafarin' Karen is battling some selkies and the girls must work together to deal with these magical creatures. Graphic novels are quick reads (for me) and as usual, my favourite part is the exclamatives based on famous women, some of whom I have to look up. But any book that gets you researching is probably a good book.

Annie Edison Taylor - American school teacher, went over Niagara Falls in a barrel

Ching Shih - Chinese pirate in early 19th century

Grace O'Malley - lord of the O' Maille dynasty in west of Ireland, in 16th century

Gertrude Bell - English writer and traveller, archaeologist

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz - first woman to sail single handed around the world

Vol 7: Bird's-Eye View
I like the mix of supernatural that happens at the camp and that everyone just accepts, after freaking out somewhat. The High Council is coming to inspect the camp, the neighbour campers have kittens  but they are not your ordinary kittens. Hijinks ensue. I feel like I missed a few of the famous women exclamatives but these were three very good ones!

Agatha Christie - wrote mysteries

Katie Sandwina - circus strongwoman from Austria

Valentina Tereshkova - first woman to fly in space, Russian

Monday, February 5, 2018

UPDATE: January Fiction Reads

I feel I was all over the place in my January reading. Paper books are taking me longer and longer to read, yet I can zip through an audiobook in a few days. I realized in my end of the year recap that I hadn't read many/any short story collections, and I usually enjoy short stories. Somewhere, once upon a time, I marked some books at Goodreads from a list of connected short story collections, so I hope to find some of those this year.

Emerald City by Jennifer Egan is not one of those books.  I don't think. But some of the stories have the same type of characters (con men, models, daughters of adulterers) enough that made me question whether they were the same characters. None of the stories are happy, everyone has something to hide or reveal. I like short stories that are a little diabolical.
(5h 32 min, narrated by Richard Waterhouse, Madeleine Lambert, Charlie Thurston)

A couple of graphic novels series I have been following are the Lumberjanes and FBP (Federal Bureau of Physics)
FBP Vol 3: Standing on Shoulders by Simon Oliver is a science fiction world where something is happening on earth that defies the laws of physics and the FBP investigators. The series is only four long I believe, so I'm getting near the end. Each so far, besides detailing some of these black hole/dark energy issues, backstories the main investigators. Now that all of them have been thoroughly introduced, the final edition should be a doozy.

The Lumberjanes Vol 6: Sink or Swim by Shannon Watters was, as usual, excellent. I've got Volume 7 out from the library, so will review them together next month.

There are some classic novels I have no interest in reading, like The House of the Seven Gables, or Ulysses by James Joyce and there are some that seem intriguing (and short. That helps.) Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is one of those classics that seems worth reading. I was pleased that it ended up being a free YA Sync book last summer. It was readable, and a guy actually woke up turned into a giant bug. His family has to figure out what to do with him. It's the kind of book that makes me go look up Sparknotes to find out about themes and motifs and such.
(2h 12 min, narrated by Martin Jarvis)

While I'm getting better, I still get pulled in by books that win awards or get lots of praise. There has to be more than just prize-winning (in this case,  Booker Prize) to make me get it. I've read George Saunders' short story collection, Tenth of December so was predisposed to like him. Then, Lincoln in the Bardo was selected as one of the Tournament of Books. The cast of narrators is much too large to name, and it's more of a cast recording, so I chose to listen to it.

Ghosts surrounding Abraham Lincoln's son after he died tell lots of stories. Distractingly, real quotes about the person or event are included. I had to look up "op. cit." which was just a bibliographic reference to a book that had been previously quoted. I actually think the paper edition might have been better for me as I didn't recognize hardly any of the famous voices, and all the real quotes didn't help my listening. Parts dragged, but parts were humourous and interesting. Overall, Saunders created a unique style to tell a story, and for those interested in American History. I can see why it won the Booker Prize.

And finally, two books to round it out will get their own reviews later. 
The Dud: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and 
The Best: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (audiobook)