Tuesday, July 14, 2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Last Ten Books That Came Into My Possession

 



 The topic this week for Top Ten Tuesday hosted at The Broke and the Bookish is Last Ten Books That Came Into My Possession. Two audiobooks each week from YA Sync is taking up the majority of the last books entering my home.



 The Journey by Katherine Lasky (bought, 2nd hand store)
 Youngest daughter, 12, decided to read the Guardians of Ga'hoole by Kathryn Lasky after finishing all the Dear Canada books. We checked the library and the second book, The Journey was unavailable. They only had one copy and it had been boxed up at a library undergoing renovations. We checked out the used book stores and got lucky at the second one.



 

Dark Fire by CJ Sansom (library)
Grabbed this at the library even though I don't need library books. It's been a while since I've read the first in this series.

The Explorer's Club by Nell Benjamin (YA Sync audiobook)
Listened to this already - a two hour full cast production of the play. Reminded me of The Importance of Being Ernest with the absurd British Victorian humour.
 
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (YA Sync audiobook)
Last year there was Time Machine which I never got listened to. After The Explorer's Club, this will be perfect. I like how Sync matches up a classic with a modern book.

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman (book club book, borrowed from library kit)
Do all libraries have book club kits you can borrow? My little book club only reads books we can get through the library. Although it's the 12th in the Tess Monaghan series, it reads pretty easily so far, but I may have a new series to read.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (borrowed, sister's audio library online in another city)
Another short one, I waited 4 months for this and listened to it in one night. 

Orphan Train by Cristina Baker Kline (borrowed, school library)
I grabbed this before my teacher friend could return it to the school library. This was the only book I borrowed from our school library for the summer - I was restrained!

Lord of the Flies by William Golding (YA Sync audiobook)
Hoping this goes much better than it originally did in grade ten. I think I'm ready for it!

 Monster by Walter Dean Myers (YA Sync audiobook)
The second Walter Dean Myers book this summer. Also very short, about a 16 year old on trial for murder.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (YA Sync audiobook)
Part of the Code Name Verity series, I recently listened to Code Name Verity leftover from last summer, so I am ready for Rose.
 

Monday, July 13, 2015

BOOKS: Bailey Prize Books + One Other

I like to follow the Bailey Prize each year. Formerly the Orange Prize, it recognizes women writers in English. This year I requested some popular books from the library and they arrived around the same time, some with shorter times to read, all over 350 pages. This all happened in June, my busiest school month of the year. To add extra activities this year, all three kids graduated from their schools and are moving up to the next level. So to say June was busy is an understatement!

oldest boy graduated from high school

Prom night with his date and me
I enjoyed these Bailey books to varying degrees. Just after I finished these nominated books, I stumbled across another book which maybe should have been on the Bailey list this year. I hope its omission is due to release/qualifying dates and that it will be there next year, because it was a great read! It also reassured me that I can read books with unique form and structure, that I can get a book that is a little different, because after some of the books from the shortlist, I was questioning myself. Granted, I think if I had been discussing some of these books with other people, my enjoyment may have gone up.





A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, 368 pages (2015 shortlist)

By far the most readable of this group of Bailey Prize nominees. Tyler writes of a Baltimore family, and their history, told in stories, as families do. Much of the book revolves around the family home - how it was built, how it came into their possession, their lives in it, and then as it leaves. Sometimes it meanders a little too much, I didn't love all the characters (two in particular were pretty selfish) but it was a great family tale.This actually felt similar in theme and characters to Emily, Alone.



 How To Be Both by Ali Smith (2015 winner)
 The Winner! As chosen by the judges, but not me. There were parts of this that I did like, particularly the first half which has the present day narrator, a teenager dealing with her mother's death. The second half follows a 16th century painter whose painting was a focus of the first half. I've read that there are copies of the book which allow the reader to pick which part to read first. That would have been interesting to see. Smith is known for playing with her writing, the composition, the characters and it was not linear or traditional in any way. I'm okay with that, but since it was focused so much on the art, and art in society my interest or understanding lagged. Thinking about some of the elements after the fact is giving me fonder memories than I had as I read it. The role of women, the painter as a spirit in the 21st century, the mystery of the mother and how she died (did I miss something?): I liked all that. But maybe it was just too hard for my little brain to think about during the end of June, a particularly tiring time for me at work. Let's say wrong book at the wrong time.


The Bees by Laline Paull, 352 pages (2015 shortlist)
The title does not lie - this is about bees. One in particular, Flora 717, seems to be a bit Divergent* (able to morph into different roles in the hive) so the reader gets to experience many different locations. I'm torn on this one, because it was interesting, (but I knew there was Queen trouble early, and knew that Flora would be involved. Does that make it predictable?) but dear Lord, the bees! I'm sure there are some issues with what bees think and do, but it seemed realistic to me. I would have enjoyed a shorter version, because a lot happened at the very end, and seemed rushed.
Also, June.
*Divergent, by Veronica Roth, a YA dystopian novel, recently made into a movie.



The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill (2015 longlist)

Much like O'Neill's first book, Lullabies for Little Criminals, she writes about a bohemian, Quebecois life on Boulevard Saint-Laurant. Nicolas and Nouschka are twins of a (locally) famous singer. They were part of his television show when they were children, so are famous in their own right. What happens to 'famous' people after the fame fades? How do they get that rush, that adrenaline?

This took place during one of the Quebec referendums and I remember that time. Reading from a Quebec point of view was a nice Canadian touch. (Because Quebecois are still Canadians after the referendum.)

What I find fascinating about O'Neill's characters and her writing is that I have no idea what they are going to do or say. Their experience is so far outside my world, that it boggles my mind. Nouschka said what? (great analogies) She did what? (pretty raunchy by times) Nicolas did what? (pretty much a criminal) Nouschka is a touch more grounded, and is trying to settle down (how I'd describe it) after a pretty ridiculous childhood.I recognize that people live this way, but it is not something I enjoy imagining.


Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill (audiobook, a little over 3 hours)
Apparently, The New York Times Book Review calling this book “joyously demanding.” I flew through this in one evening, captivated by the voice of the narrator, only referred to as The Wife but did not find it nearly as demanding as the books on the Bailey list above.
The author herself read the book and she was very good. The beginning felt random, as the narrator in her twenties tries to find love, finds many boyfriends instead. She wants to write, be an artist. Then suddenly finds love, gets married and has a baby. All of this is only clear by putting it all together in an overview. It is linear in the sense that there is an order, but it is stream of consciousness style narration. And I usually hate that! But here it worked for me. In her thirties, the baby grows, her career stalls, and her marriage gets rocky. A similar book for me would be The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan. There are random bits, images, anecdotes, that you have to put together to get the full picture.
I heard of this book from AMB at The Misforturne of Knowing and her review made me want to read this. I'm so glad I did. Go read her, and her husband's reviews because they do a fabulous job of actually analyzing the book.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

BOOKS: Assorted Literature

The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

I've read several Kingsolver books already (Flight Behavior; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; Poisonwood Bible) but I had never read any of her early work. The Bean Trees was a delightful and quirky debut novel. Taylor graduates from high school and to escape her Appalachian dismal future, hits the road and heads west. Along the way, she picks up a baby to adopt, and she and Turtle, the baby, land in Arizona. The book becomes about making your family, fitting in, and finding your place. The friendship between Taylor and LouAnn, another young girl with a child, was very touching.  There is a sequel, Pigs in Heaven that I might look into. It's a book to be shared and enjoyed.

Emily, Alone - Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O'Nan is one of those versatile, reliable authors that I pick up now and then. (Last Night at the Lobster, The Night Country) Emily, Alone is the second book about Emily Maxwell, but this seems fine on its own. Emily's husband has died and she's reluctantly settling into widowhood. Not much happens but life goes on. She gets the house ready for Christmas because 'everyone is coming' and she is really looking forward to it, but of course, it doesn't work out perfectly like she wants. Emily's a bit crotchety, and doesn't like change. The book is simply a character study, also about families.


All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr (audiobook)

 Each time I think I've read enough WW2 books, but then another one comes along with a compelling story. Here, two separate orphans, a German boy with a talent for radios, and a blind French girl living under Occupation, each trying to get along in the war years, with the two separate stories eventually colliding. There is also a legend about a famous jewel, some nasty Nazis, art history, and French resistance (which was my favorite part). This was a long audiobook, but kept my interest and was a great listen.


A Sudden Light - Garth Stein (audiobook)

Multi-generational tale with secrets and supernatural that didn't appeal to me as much as I would have liked. A fourteen year old Trevor and his father head to the father's family home in Seattle during a separation/divorce. There were a lot of previous generations to keep straight, many father-son duos that did not get along. Each next generation had different ideas about the sustainability of the trees, and the need to make money. Trevor's aunt was most annoying and creepy, and I never got a good feel for Trevor's age. Most books with a kid coming to realizations about their parents or the world are in the ten, eleven age (see Stephen King for excellent examples of how to work eleven year old characters) but the author needed Trevor closer to an age where sex is possible, so he was an awkward fourteen, sometimes young, sometimes old. There are many topics tackled, including Alzheimer's, hidden gay relationships, ghosts, greed, tree-industry in the Northwest. It was difficult for me to keep track which is my issue with audiobooks, but I also didn't like any of the characters, at all. And I don't have to like the characters, but I needed something more. I finished it, but did contemplate stopping. I'll still try The Art of Racing in the Rain, the author's book, which seemed to be all the rage a while ago.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 30: Top Ten Books I've Read So Far In 2015





The topic this week for Top Ten Tuesday hosted at The Broke and the Bookish is Top Books I've Read So Far in 2015. Great topic! I've read and listened to some awesome books so far. I wonder what books the second half of 2015 will bring and which ones will be bumped from a year end review?


The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
An older book that was delightful, about what makes a family. Passed this one around the staff room.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett (audiobook)
Fabulous invented historical novel with lots a real people stopping by, like Sweeney Todd and Charles Dickens. I shouldn't have been surprised with Pratchett writing.


The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Really scary because it seems plausible but it also has well developed characters and doesn't make me feel like I'm reading a young adult book; just a really great story.

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie (audiobook)
I'm picking one of the twelve Christie book I listened to, which was the best of them, but all of the Miss Marple books have been wonderful and will be my favorite 'book' of the year. The series is better than any individual book.

I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short (audiobook)
A book which makes me laugh and cry? Even (slightly annoying) Martin Short couldn't ruin this book for me. Great memories of Canadian comedy from my childhood.


Cobra by Deon Meyer
Great mystery, great characters, great setting - Meyer writes some of my favourite mysteries around.


X by Ilyasah Shabazz (audiobook)
A novelized biography of Malcolm X by his daughter, up to the point he was imprisoned. My Malcolm X knowledge was sadly lacking, and I was very impressed by this book.

                                                               The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
There are good reasons why certain books are everywhere - great, surprising plots with characters that make you want to bang their head on a wall! 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (audiobook)
Epic WW2 novel about two different characters.

Walt by Russel Wangersky
I started the year with this creepy little number, and it holds up in my memory after six months.

Monday, June 22, 2015

BOOKS: Young Adult Titles

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

For no good reason, this one took a while to read, but it was easy to pick up and get right back into the book. The narrator had a strong voice, 16 year old DJ who is looking after the farm, and peace-making with her parents and brothers, and having teen-age angst. She agrees to 'train' the rival quarterback before the season, but it only serves to make her realize she wants to play football too. For an easy to read, quick novel, there are lots of topics dealt with here, including a teenager coming out, teenagers dealing with adult problems, and realizing your parents are people too. Pretty good read, easy to recommend.



Insurgent by Veronica Roth (audiobook) book 2 of 3 in the Divergent series

The factions are falling apart; the dystopian world not working out; surprise! Tris and Four are dealing with their divergent qualities, their parents, and betrayers all around. Because I am listening, I am not as into the characters as I probably might be, but it is a simple divergence (ha!) and I'm planning to listen to the final in the trilogy this summer. It's no Harry Potter or Hunger Games, but it's a good teenage dystopian series.




The Dead & the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
A number of years ago, I read Life as We Knew It, and found it a very compelling read. It was just reasonable enough to be scary and realistic future world building. Pfeffer writes realistic characters that are easy to cheer for. (I confess, I spent months after the last book imagining how I would deal with a disaster like this - how would I get food? would I survive? would I think of the things I'd need to get for my family? Should I have a wood stove?) I took a long time to get to this book, dealing with my usual trepidation - would this next book be as good as the first? And it is. This isn't so much a sequel as a companion book. At the same time as Miranda in Pennsylvania (Life As We Knew It) is dealing with the natural effects of an asteroid hitting the moon, Alex is dealing with the same problem in New York City in The Dead And the Gone. Alex's parents are both away from home when the disaster strikes, and Alex is left to look after his two younger sisters. The realism of these books is what makes them so scary and tragic and Pfeffer writes great stories. I waited seven years between books, and both books were fabulous. There is a third book, where Alex and Miranda meet up, This World We Live In, and I think it may be part of my summer reading.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl (audiobook)

YA Sync 2015 is back! Two free audiobooks each week, pairing a classic and a newer young adult book. This was the first book I listened to, and it was a ridiculous, fun mess. [This was paired with Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier which was unavailable in Canada, to my extreme disappointment!] Narrated by a 16 year old Ethan, there are witches and vampires, and southern history (Confederate flag type history) and he is the perfect first boyfriend!. The plot is crazy and predictable but still it was a blast to listen to. This is book one of six in The Castor Chronicles (six?) and while I have no intention of seeking out any more in the series or watching the movie, it was still enjoyable enough. The narration was perfectly Southern and dramatic.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

BOOK: The Green Road by Anne Enright

The Green Road by Anne Enright, 309 pages

I do like Anne Enright. I particularly loved The Forgotten Waltz, closely followed by The Gathering. This book places third, but is following some great books that I've loved. Some authors just match your brain, and Enright is in mine. I 'get' her half sentences, her Irish sentiment, her family sense. I love her writing. I liked the structure of this book.

Family. The love and hate and relationships that can't be explained, but you spend your whole life trying to define. You know so well, but yet, you spend little time with them. Enright has it all down pat. This story is about four siblings, and each gets a section of the book, all at different times in their lives, in different places in the world (Ireland, Mali, New York, Toronto). Not necessarily connected or even mentioning the other. Then, about half-way through, their mother decides to sell their family home, and they all come home for Christmas to 'deal with mother.'

Nothing happens, but family. As Enright can write, with similies like nobody else. (Poor example, that's why I'm not a writer and Enright is!) If you have a sibling, or mother, or father, there is something to relate to in this book. What's that quote: " Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." from Anna Karenina? There's your theme, set in Ireland, by the amazing Anne Enright. Can't wait for the next book.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Most Anticipated Releases For the Rest of 2015

The topic this week for Top Ten Tuesday hosted at The Broke and the Bookish is Most Anticipated Releases for the Rest of 2015.  I'm not really someone who gets excited about new books (mostly because I don't buy them often). I'm usually waiting for the library to get a copy, but I do get excited if I'm the first to request it before it comes in and get it first. First!  I'm often not even very aware of new books, except for the next in a series, which is what my list is mostly:

.

Mrs Roosevelt's Confidente: A Maggie Hope Mystery by Susan Elia Macneal
(I like to listen to this slightly earnest series, so will wait for the library, but it must be coming soon)

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
(Inspector Gamauche - I liked listening to the last book, so I may wait for that to be released, although the narrator of all the other books has sadly died.)


A Beam of Light by Andrea Camilleri (19th)
(another trip to Sicily...)


The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander Mccall Smith
(next in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series)


Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
(From the Bailey Prize for Women's Fiction longlist)

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
(This girl rocks - smart and funny)

Circling the Sun by Paula Mclain
( I really liked her book, The Paris Wife, and would give her next book a good look)

The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens
(It was already released in April, but anything in 2015 counts for me)

That's all I can come up with for now - what are you looking forward to?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

BOOKS: Audio Nonfiction

Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart - Lisa Rogak (audiobook 6h 16 min)  narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I enjoyed this biography of Jon Stewart, reading this in anticipation of his ending tenure at The Daily Show. Nothing controversial here - Rogak covers his early life, his soccer career at University, his comedy beginnings. Stewart's take over of The Daily Show, how his past informs his comedy, a few controversies from the show. The reviews at library thing complain that there is no new information, nothing very deep, but it was all I wanted and I listened easily.


 Brain on Fire - Susannah Cahalan (audiobook 7 h 48 min)
 narrated by Heather Henderson

I'm not even sure how I found this engrossing read, but this was a great investigative journey into the author's 'month of madness.' Susannah Cahalan was a reporter with the New York Post when she had a seizure. Or something. She quickly devolved, and had some psychotic episodes, became erratic, and couldn't function. She ended up in a psych ward and without the devotion and determination of her divorced parents, and a lucky consult from a particular doctor, she might still be there. That doctor determined she had an infection and her immune system had attacked her brain - rare form of encephalitis.

After the fact, the journalist in her looked back at records, journals, and even video tape from hospitals to piece together what had actually happened to her, as she had little memory. It was a scary story, how quickly she changed, and how no one really knew what was the matter. There is now more awareness of this and more people are being diagnosed, but looking back, it's believed that perhaps others with this may have been diagnosed as schizophrenic or possessed by the devil.



I Must Say: My Life as Humble Comedy Legend - Martin Short (audiobook 8 h 40 m)   read by the author 

I've always been conflicted about Martin Short - I've watched a lot of his work over the years, especially SCTV and Saturday Night Live when he was on it. Include some great movies, like Three Amigos and The Father of the Bride and the man has an impressive resume. But some of his stuff is so over the top (I'm looking at you Jimminy Glick) and Short's apparent incessant need for attention can be annoying. However, this memoir was fabulous, and has improved my impression of him. He's still over the top and goes too far too often in his comedy, but he comes across as so down to earth, and kind, and so very Canadian that I guess I am a fan.

There are tons of names dropped here, and it must have been a great time in the 1970s comedy scene. He and Andrea Martin were married to siblings, he dated Gilda Radner, Paul Shaffer is a pal, Victor Garber is a close friend, as is Tom Hanks and Steve Martin. He appears to have stayed good friends with a large circle of famous people and yet, he never succumbed to a rich and famous life style, living in the same house in Pacific Palisades with his long time wife, and maintaining a cottage in Canada. His family was close and funny, and he was orphaned by the age of twenty, but he never seemed to let these sad events, including his brother dying as well, define him. His Canadian-ness is also very important to him, even though he has lived in the States for so long.

I'd recommend the audiobook version of this book, as all the characters appear, and his ability to do impressions of people is so evident and funny. There is behind the scenes stuff from SCTV (the best show ever!) and SNL with Billy Crystal, plus so much more, His love for his wife comes through loud and clear - they married in Toronto before he was famous, and they stayed together until she died in 2010 of ovarian cancer. I had almost forgotten about that and then suddenly remembered just before I got to the chapters that detail her death. So the book has very funny, and very sad. Their love story and friendship was quite beautiful, and his remembrances of her after her death were very touching. I especially liked him when he was being sincere and smart, and wasn't 'on'.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

BOOKS: Canadian Reads

 I've been reading, and listening to a lot of books in the past few months. Here's a few quick reviews of some Canadian books that I'll use to fill in my Reading Bingo, Eh card:


Strange Heaven - Lynn Coady
 I read this the beginning of April and my impressions are fading. A 17 year old Bridget from Cape Breton goes to Halifax to have a baby. She ends up in a teenage mental ward with depression after giving up the baby. Some of the story was from home, before and after, some of the story was in Halifax. There were interesting characters as befits Cape Breton, and life was tough there. The psych ward was challenging as Bridget improves, and deals with the other kids. A slice of life story, as Bridget grows up and observes the people around her.





Anne's House of Dreams by LM Montgomery (audiobook 8h 22 m)
narrated by Susan O'Malley

Lindsey at reederreads is hosting a Green Gables read along. Last summer I started listening to the series, and Anne's House of Dreams fits in here for both. (I wasn't able to find Anne of Windy Poplars in audio) Since I've read all these multiple times, I'm only really commenting on my new impressions from audiobook.
This time around, I loved Miss Cornelia tons! Previously I found her overbearing, but now I adored her, and her friendship with Anne and Gilbert, and the way the narrator would exclaim: "Isn't that just like a man?"
This book is certainly a darker than the previous books and Anne's happy ever after is only partially there. And of course, I still cried when Captain Jim 'crosses the bar'. I noticed the nature descriptions more in this book than in the first three and not really in a good way. Clearly Montgomery's life had been through some upheavals before this one was written and it comes through. Still, can't beat an Anne book.


 Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

I thought this was going to be a short story book, being Munro and all, but this one is actually a series of short stories-novel following Del Jordan growing up in small town Ontario. Starting as a young child, and ending as she finishes high school, Del deals with growing up, and discovering where she fits in relative to her family and friends.

I read it, I liked it, but it didn't reach me or move me in any particular way. Good writing (she has won a Nobel prize after all) but there is an intimacy that I find missing. Sometimes I like a story better with a little less writing, and more story and people.


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley (audiobook 10h 52 m)
narrated by Jayne Entwistle
I was ready to give up on the series after the last book. It felt like the series had run its course and that with this book, with Flavia sent to boarding school in Canada, the series would take a new direction with new characters to develop and interact with. I thought this was a good idea, but that I wouldn't continue. I did find out that this was a one-off in Canada so decided to give a listen.

I'm not sure that this is a successful outing. I think it probably would have been better to take the series in a new direction and stay in Canada. Instead, we get new students and teachers that won't be sticking around, and we just miss the local flavour of Buckshaw, missing Dogger and the Inspector and Flavia's sisters. Maybe listening wasn't my best bet, but I've had other series where listening to a book or two reinvigorated the series for me, but this did not. The narrator was a good Flavia, and the mystery was okay - all the mysteries are thin in Flavia books. Their charm has been the characters and Flavia's interactions with them, so I missed that here.

(Plus, another review mentioned how they hoped it would be Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School For Young Ladies that Flavia attended. A fabulous idea, and I think that ruined it for me! Ten points for that reference.)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

BOOK: Torn from Troy: Odyssey of a Slave by Patrick Bowman

Torn From Troy: Odyssey of a Slave by Patrick Bowman (5 h 28 min)
narrated by Gerald Doyle

Neat take on The Odyssey by Homer. I have not yet read the original, but have read some other versions, including The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds in graphic novel form, and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood last year. Here we have a young Trojan boy taken as a slave after the Greeks leave Troy. Alexi's father had been killed in the invasion, and as the Greeks retreat, his sister is killed in the final battle. Being able to watch the story of Odysseus (here called Lopex sometimes) from a different point of view is fun for readers who already know the story, but would also introduce the legend to new readers or children.

This is one of my last books from last summer's YA SYNC downloads and was an easy and enjoyable listen. It is the first in a series, so that was a little disappointing as the full journey of Odysseus doesn't get told. Alexi does get to experience the Lotus-Eaters and the Cyclops; he gets to know Odysseus, who recognizes Alexi's strengths as a healer and his intelligence, as well as Yuri, a mean Greek who would love to kill the little slave. Life on the ship is interesting and original, against the backdrop of the well known mythology.

This was my first read for the Once Upon a Time challenge and would be a mythology book.