Thursday, March 21, 2019

UPDATE: Tournament of Books

It's March Madness again! In my house, that actually means basketball starting today for probably 12 hours straight. But, it also means The Tournament of Books is happening again. I found the list of eligible books early in the year and so many of them were easily available to me, especially on audiobook. The list of books gives me a vetted list of recently released books that I can hope will be readable and interesting. I managed to find and read 8, and I have 2 more that are in the queue for soon. The more books that get read, the more interesting it is to follow along with the decisions at The Rooster.

Day 1: Warlight vs Call Me Zebra

I listened to Warlight by Michael Ondaatje but it was the kind of book where my listening skills do me no favours. It was just a little too quiet for me, and yet, I did like it, and I think it is one of the few books I'd like to go back and read the paper version. A young boy and his sister are left with some unknown men in London as their parents head to the far east after the war. The boy is narrating, and as he grows up, he looks into the disappearance of his mother. Ondaatje is a wonderful writer and I did not give this book the right format so it did not surprise nor disappoint me to see it move on. 
winner: Warlight

Day 2: Milkman v The Italian Teacher
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman had a great story and I was totally into it. Artist Bear Bavinsky rolls from one relationship and family to another, and everyone placates him because he is an artistic genius. Blah, he was terrible, but because his art and painting were so wonderful, everyone forgave everything. The book follows one of his children, Pinch, as he grows and deals with the legacy of his father. He manages to stay close with his dad, but is taken advantage of /ignored continually. This was written as an epic novel, following Pinch through out his life. It felt like a better story than The Goldfinch (which annoyed me a lot) in that the same characters keep coming back in year after year, there is some statement about art that is above my head, and characters that are almost good, but never get quite redeemed.

I wasn't going to read Milkman, but then it was on the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist and I am now reading Milkman. While it is slow going on my e-reader, I like it. It does not surprise me the outcome of this day, but The Italian Teacher was still a good listen.

winner: Milkman

Day 3: Washington Black v The Dictionary of Animal Languages
I have not read either of these books, and nothing in the analysis is making me want to read them.
winner: The Dictionary of Animal Languages

Day 4: Census v The Golden State
Sometimes you read a short story collection and while the stories are good, they don't stick with you, and they are not connected in any way. That's how I felt at times in Census, paragraph to paragraph. After a terminal diagnosis, a surgeon and his grown son take a road trip with the dad taking a job as a census taker. But, it is some future time and some unrecognizable place, and the census involves stopping at houses, talking to people and tattooing the participants. The son has Down's syndrome. The unnamed father is narrating and reflecting on his life with his wife and their son. Jesse Ball wrote this book as a tribute to his own brother who had Down's. There was an easy to read quality to the book even though I felt confused at all times. The overall feeling of the family and their experience with the son came though, but I like a little more to hold on to in my books.
I was not disappointed that Census did not move on.

winner: The Golden State

Day 5: The Overstory v My Sister, the Serial Killer
How awesome is that cover for My Sister the Serial Killer? This was a disturbing story but I did like it. Lots of good moral dilemmas to think about. There was a bit of black humour, or the Coen's could make the movie.

winner: The Overstory

Day 6: The House of Broken Angels v So Lucky

In So Lucky, the main character breaks up with with her wife, and gets diagnosed with MS. I liked the anger that came through as she dealt with her new reality. Stuff happened quickly, and she handles her symptoms. There was a bit unreal part as online acquaintances deal with seemingly random attacks but maybe they aren't. Might represent the out of control feeling of life changes, and then as she starts to deal with her illness and her love life and her job better, that plot line resolves itself a bit.

I read Urrea's nonfiction book, The Devil's Highway, last year, about immigrants trying to illegally enter the US. It was a Pulitzer winning book from 2005. The House of Broken Angels follows a family of Mexican immigrants, some legal, some not so much. The patriarch is dying, and plans a big birthday party. In many ways, not much happens plot wise - this was more character studies. I enjoyed it overall, but some parts were a bit difficult to follow, as the names of the characters and their nicknames had me someone confused, and there was a lot of Spanish, which I don't understand. You wouldn't read this one for a linear, explicit story, but if you enjoy reading about families and all their warts, this one would work. 

I wasn't surprised to see the result of this one.
winner: The House of Broken Angels

Day 7: The Mars Room v The Parking Lot Attendant
The audiobook of The Mars Room really grabbed me in, and once I realized there were several main characters besides Romy Hall, I was interested in how they would all connect up together. Romy is in women's prison with no chance for parole, two life sentences. Poor people and minorities get no breaks in the justice system. The poor women in the max security jail have such sad stories. Romy, especially once she starts remembering her childhood, is tragic. 

The Parking Lot Attendant kept information from the reader, right from the start. The daughter and her father, are on B___. Maybe an island? I'm not sure. The Ethiopian community of immigrants in Boston are well connected. The daughter begins hanging out at a parking lot, with an older gentleman who runs the lot. There is something weird going on, as she begins to deliver packages for him. Her father isn't happy that she is hanging out there. The relationship between the father and daughter was my favourite part of the book. Because I spent much of the book not completely sure what was going on, it was not my favourite.

winner: The Mars Room

Day 8: There There v America is Not the Heart
I haven't read either of these yet, but I have There There downloaded on Overdrive to listen to. America is Not the Heart won in the Play-In Round over Speak No Evil,  which is the book on the list I actually liked the most of all the books. Go figure.

Speak No Evil has a Washington DC setting for two privileged teens, one white daughter of political players, one African son of rich Nigerian immigrants. But privilege only take you so far. Meredith and Niru attend a posh private school, running track together and best friends. The first 2/3 is told from Niru's point of view; then we abruptly switch to Meredith's. I found this very effective, and while I liked the first part, the second part was when the depth of the characterizations and story played out. The perspective change also changed how the parents of each appeared. Really well done sad story.

winner: There There

Now the second round has begun. However, there is a zombie round, where 2 eliminated books will come back in the semi-finals. The zombie books are voted on long before the competition starts, probably closer to when the books were initially announced. As of today, My Sister, the Serial Killer and Washington Black could still come back. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books on My Spring 2019 TBR

Always a good topic - books on the spring TBR list. I do like to make lists even if I don't always complete them. I do try to pick books that I am really planning to read. I have a few categories that I read from, and I've picked a few from each for my Spring TBR.
Every Tuesday,  ThatArtsyReaderGirl hosts Top Ten Tuesday. Check out her blog for all the posts, and for future lists.

Books from the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist:

Milkman by Anna Burns (ebook) 
An American Marrigae by Tayari Jones (audiobook)

Books I bought so in the last few months so obviously I want to read:

I've read really, really good books by both these authors and that is why I bought these books. 
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo)
Their Finest Hour by Lissa Evans (Crooked Hearts) 

Books from books sales:  it's pretty hard to turn them down for less than $3

Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson (I want to read an Atkinson to get in the mood for the new Jackson Brodie mystery coming out in June!)
The Beggar's Opera by Peggy Blair (a Canadian mystery I know nothing about)

Ongoing Series:

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han (cute YA series)
Unhallowed Ground by Mel Starr (mystery set in 1300 England)

Nonfiction Reads: 

Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity by David Bodanis (I loved his E=mc2 biography)
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell (this wouldn't be my first Vowell)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I've Loved with Few Ratings at Goodreads

Books I've Loved with Few Ratings at Goodreads is the topic at Top Ten Tuesday for this week. Few ratings means less than 2000 people have rated the book. I don't record a lot at Goodreads, as I'm a Librarything girl, but I have started to keep track a bit there. It didn't take me long to realize that I needed to check out the Canadian books I've loved to find the books for this week's topic. I don't my sharing my love of under rated Canadian books. 
Check out Top Ten Tuesday at ThatArtsyReaderGirl for more lists, and for future topics. 

Field Notes by Sarah Jewell
 is a lovely collection of essays written for a local NS paper by a transplanted from the city girl. 

Canada by Mike Myers 
was a Canada150 book, a real love letter to Canada from funny guy Mike Myers. This was one of my favourite books from 2017. 

Canadianity by Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens
Same idea as Canada, lots of great lists, and each province gets some love. This is the kind of book to read around another Canadian to compare what you'd put on their list. Funny stuff.

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod
Almost perfect collection of short stories by a master. Perfectly captures the flavour of the Maritimes

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty
A non-Canadian entry, but this YA book, last in the trilogy, defies description. There is some world building, parallel worlds, super crazy twists, wonderful characters, science, and princesses. I really enjoyed this little series.

Icarus by Deon Meyer
A police procedural with the most flawed lead, Bennie Griesel, set in South Africa. The character development as been top notch in this series, and the crime and plotting is even better. One of the best mystery writers around.

Harry's Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith
I was not familiar with Smith, but around the time he died last fall, Twitter was a buzz. I happened on a free download in honor of Harry after he died, and really liked his musings. 

The Golden Boy by Grant Matheson
I guess there are 116 people from PEI on Goodreads? This memoir is subtitled A Doctor's Journey with Addictions, is a scary, well done read about how quickly an opiod addiction can develop, and how hard is is to break. Luckily, this local Charlottetown  doctor came out the other side, but it was not easy. 

Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky
Another strong Canadian writing short stories, Wangersky is a newspaper columnist in the Maritimes, but his fiction writing is also very good. I've read a novel of his, Walt, that was well done and creepy. 

I Want to Go Home by Gordon Korman
I was having trouble finding a tenth book, and this classic children's book came up when I was recommending a funny book. When a smart aleck goes to camp, and spends all his energy trying to escape. Funniest book I remember reading as a child, Korman was the author of my childhood. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

SERIES: reviews from Martin Beck, Tales from Alcatraz, Chief Inspector Gamache

The Locked Room - Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo #8 of 10

This classic Swedish crime series is considered the OG for mystery writers and readers. The husband-wife writer team commented on the social structure and changes in Sweden during the 1960s and 70s. This mystery has the police investigating a bank robbery, and some bank robbers who had been recently released from prison. All I could think of while reading was Stockholm Syndrome, and that this would have been around the time this phrase developed. I've been very slowly reading through this series and am getting near the end. The first few I read so reminded me of the 89th precinct books by Ed McBain which I devoured in my late teenage years. I believe McBain credits Sjowall and Wahloo with his inspiration.

Al Capone Shines My Shoes - Gennifer Choldenko 🎧 #2 of 4

Moose is still living on Alcatraz in the 1930s, Al Capone is still in prison. Since the last book where Capone arranged somehow for Moose's sister to attend a special school, Capone may want a favor as repayment. Moose is also dealing with friendships as a teenager and the difficult life in a very insular community, especially with a manipulative daughter of the warden. I am quite enjoying this young adult series which while fast moving, and written for children, displays complicated relationships and situations that make them a little more layered than children's fiction. Bonus marks for the inclusion of Moose's (obviously autistic) sister in 1930s life.

Kingdom of the Blind - Louise Penny  🎧 #14 of 14

Book fourteen finds Gamache suspended, and being named a notary, along with Myrna, for a neighbourhood cleaning lady, known as the Baroness. But they have no idea why they have been named as it even takes them a while to figure out why they have been named. While looking into the will, there is a murder. 
Nicely plotted, interesting characters, and, is that a love interest for cranky Ruth Zardo? As usual, it's the interactions in Three Pines with the regular characters that make these mysteries. I'm still not a fan of Jean-Guy - he admires Armand, but expects Armand to let him down every time? I was glad (spoiler - highlight to see text)  when Clara's husband Peter left the series, and I could do without Jean-Guy as well. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Most Recent Additions to My TBR List

The Rooster released its Tournament of Books list in late December which provides me with the topic this week - Most Recent Additions to My TBR List. The tournament will take place in March, coinciding with basketball March Madness. Books and basketball - how perfect for me!

Last year I had read a number of the books and found following the tournament much more fun. I checked out the  new list and then cross-checked with my library and found quite a few that are relatively easy to get my hands on. What I like about this list is it gives me a somewhat vetted list of recent releases that I can try to read. There are so many new books released each year and I generally fall back on my mystery series' books so this keeps me current. And sometimes I find a real gem.

Check out That Artsy Reader for more lists and upcoming topics

Call Me Zebra by Azarren Vander Vliet Oloomi

Census by Jesse Ball

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

The Parking Lot Attendant by Naficoto Tamirat

So Lucky by Nicola Griffith

There There  by Tommy Orange

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Friday, January 25, 2019

SERIES: reviews from Royal Spyness, Number One Ladies Detective Agency, Neopolitan Quartet

I'm keeping up to date on a few ongoing series, both of which are the coziest I happen to read, but are so much fun. 

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen (ebook)
book #12

Everything's coming up Georgie. Our poor (literally) heroine is about to marry Darcy, who is somewhere gallivanting around the world, needs to find a place for them to live after the wedding. Because she is a kind person overall, karma finds her a great situation, but being mistress of this estate is more difficult than Georgie would like. What is going on with the servants?

Georgie, her mum, her grandad, and Queenie are all together - awesome times. This was a great 1930s English tale with a bit of a mystery, but lots of character interactions. 

The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith, 228 pages,  book # 19

Precious Ramotswe is somewhat bullied into running for local council and the business is asked to look into an old hit and run incident. Not much more happens in this delightful zen story but I don't read this for the stellar mystery plotting. 

One thing I am enjoying is the development of Charlie's character. It's been a long time, 19 books, but the wayward apprentice, part-time detective is possibly growing up. McCall Smith gives us a little more look into his life, instead of just being a stock foil for Grace to pick on. 

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrente, 418 pages,  part 3 of the Neopolitan quartet

I found this story a little uneven as Lila and Lena are both married and having children in this book. The unrest in Italy between the fascists and the communists, the feminist awakening of our heroines in the 1970s as they struggle with their roles was slow, but ultimately, the friendship between the two and their relationships with their old neighbourhood gang keep the story moving along. 

I am looking forward to the last book, The Lost Child

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Meant to Read in 2018 but Didn't Get To

Another great list to start the year: the books I meant to get to last year. Or at the very least, books I became aware of last year. I'm trying to stick to books from last year if I can. Some of these I requested in 2018 but the library line, it be long. Check out That Artsy Reader for other lists, and for upcoming topics.

The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder by Sarah J Harris
I got this from a publisher and it looks interesting. A young boy sees things in color.

Elevation by Stephen King
King's recent books have been good. This latest one is a novella.

Run Hide Repeat by Pauline Dakin
I've heard Dakin on CBC discuss her strange childhood, and the mystery of what was going on with her mother. A true life mystery.

Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson
A book like this is practically professionally required for a physcis teacher

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Her list of books at the library is so long, but I want to read so many more. I thought I found this one soon after its release, but I still have another couple months to wait.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
The lastest in the Three Pines mystery series with Inspector Gamauche. He is supposed to be retired, but....

Educated by Tara Westover
This has been on everyone's 'best of' list, and I haven't read any reviews that lessen the hype.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu
I saw this one on a CBC list of recommended Canadian books,and it looks good.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
I really liked Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues, and Washington Black has been on many lists, including this year's Tournament of Books. Sometimes you can't resist the hype.

The Witch Elm by Tana French
I've been waiting for a new Tana French book, but it isn't part of her Dublin Murder Squad series so I am a little leery. Still, Tana French writes great books, so even though this is over 500 pages, I'll give it a try.