Sunday, May 28, 2017

BOOKS: Leftover Nonfiction

I am trying to review all the nonfiction books I read this year. Let's file these under - Not all Nonfiction Books Will Be My Favourite Reads




How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe - Thomas Cahill, 246 pages

I read the introduction which told how, because it was isolated, books survived in Ireland that were destroyed in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire in the early centuries AD and then spread Christianity during the Dark Ages. That's the main point and after reading the rest of the book, I don't know a whole lot more than that. There's a nice background on Saint Patrick and I have increased my still slight knowledge of the Dark Ages.





The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible - AJ Jacobs (audiobook)

This idea of picking a crazy idea and then writing a book seems to have reached its nadir here. It started with a secular, not very religious guy wondering what to teach his son about religion, and then he decides to live the Bible, Old Testament, for a year. There is some humour and you can tell he is writing this to be a book. I guess I see a difference between doing something, and then writing about it after, versus deciding to write a book about something and then chronicling it as you go. There is a level of artificiality to this, like a reality show that follows famous people on their very contrived adventures. 

A lot of the tasks seem to be doing them just to do them, or finding loopholes to do a different version of things. However, he treats the people he talks to with respect, and his effort at prayer and meditation were getting somewhere. His wife was a saint throughout this. A saint.


The Omnivore's Dilemma: Young Readers Edition - Michael Pollen (audiobook)

I previously listened to Pollen's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and only found it okay. This was the last of last summer's YA Sync I listened to and it was very similar to In Defense of Food. Pollen makes good points, and he doesn't say anything is good or bad, just presents the different facts.  It really is a dilemma! There is a level of judgement though and I find myself arguing what ever point he is making as I listen. 




The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old With Autism  - Naoki  Higashido, 176 pages

I feel bad not liking this book because it is written by a thirteen year old with autism, sharing his experiences and reasons why he does the things he does. It is written as a somewhat guide to dealing with kids with autism with Naoki wrting questions and then answering them based on his experience. I felt there was too much generalizations as I can't imagine that every autistic child is experiencing the world the same way he does. However, I imagine that even seeing his explanation of why things happen they way they do could be insightful.
There were some very beautiful sketches between chapters.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

BOOK: The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

The Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt (9 h 38 min) read by Erin Bennett

I haven't seen Hidden Figures or read that book, but I would imagine the same basic information is covered. I'll have to try Hidden Figures to compare. 

Starting in the 1930s and the rise of rocket technology, The Rise of the Rocket Girls follows the roles that women played in JPL (Jet Propulsion Labs) as they develop rockets for NASA. Women who were strong in math (yay for women in math!) were hired as computers, to do the calculations.

Holt examines the role of many women as they were hired, as they dealt with getting married, working with children, and providing the expertise needed. I couldn't always keep all the women straight, and sometimes Holt goes into way too much detail (the ball game were the last couple outs of the game on television were described. Really?)

Overall, this was a decent read and showing the contribution of women to science in space technology. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

AUTHOR: Jess Walter

Somewhere along the internet, I heard great things about Jess Walter. His books were often on the 'Best Of' lists at the end of the year. I confess, I'm easily influenced by book lists. Unfortunately, some of the books that get listed for awards or Best Of' leave me bored. I'm particularly thinking of Michael Coetzee. Sometimes the themes and writing style that literary critics like is not what I particularly like. So I was surprised to buy my second book by Walter without having read the first. Risky!
Lucky to report, I quite liked Walter's style and both books I've read this year.


Citizen Vince by Jess Walter, 292 pages
Edgar Award Novel 2006

1980s, a week before the presidential election between Carter and Reagan, and Vince Camden, donut maker and small time crook, gets a registered voter's card. This might not seem a big deal, but it is for Vince, who is in the Witness Protection Plan, and was a felon. Vince is trying to live a 'regular' life but finds it a little dull. When he notices someone in Spokane that he recognizes from his former life, life stops being quite so dull.
I really liked this book. The juxtoposition of the election against the mob mentality plus Vince is a guy you kind of hope for, even though he was a rat and a bad guy before. I also liked the 80s setting and the real life events that were happening at the same time. Second book this year with the Iranian hostage story! see also Argo
Walter's writing is so much plot and characters, but the writing is also solid, making me feel I'm reading more than just a genre mystery fiction book. As well, there is a humour present in the descriptions, as well as a crime noir feel.  I feel the higher level of writing, but it doesn't overwhelm me or intimidate/bore me with descriptions or themes. Walter accomplishes a lot in this book, especially keeping me entertained.



Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, 352 pages
NYT Notable Books 2012

This was probably the book that made me notice Walter, a lot because, how gorgeous is that cover? A little village in Italy - divine.
Many strands in this book - I saw it described as 'braided narrative' at Tournament of Books, keep the pages turning.
In 1962 a young American actress takes a break from filming Anthony and Cleopatra in Rome (and yes, Richard Burton makes a cameo later in the book) and arrives at the most out of the way village in Italy, to stay at the Hotel of Adequate View. ha!
Also, present day Hollywood with an old producer guy. And rural Montana with a semi rock star. And a story within a story written from the same village by an American army guy.
Some stories work better than others, but the plot strands kept me interested. Trying to see how the people were connected is always the best part of braided narratives. I liked this one, it was different than many books I read, and I'd read more books by Jess Walter.













Thursday, May 25, 2017

BOOK: A Tap at the Window by Linwood Barclay

A Tap at the Window by Linwood Barclay , 480 pages

Every now and then I like a good paperback suspense read and Linwood Barclay is who I turn to. His books, previously I've read Fear the Worst,  Too Close to Home, and No Time for Goodbye, are all the same with twisty, tight plots and realistic characters. His writing is very good, with little extra prose; I never feel like this could have been shorter. These would be excellent beach or travel books.

Here we have a private investigator from upstate New York dealing with the death of his teenage son from drug use/suicide. One night Cal picks up a girl who is looking for a drive and recognizes him as Scott's dad and while he knows it is not a good idea to drive a young girl, he wants to talk about Scott and maybe get new information. Things go weird with Claire and thus sets us off on the hunt for Claire. Cal is related to the police chief, and Claire is the mayor's daughter so everything is related. And that's the end of my informatioin because Barclay's books are all about the revelations and the search for answers.

I would always pick up a Barclay book at a book sale or from the library and know that I am getting a great suspense book!


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

BOOK: A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold (11 h 25 min)

Sue Klebold writes a very difficult book, putting herself and her family under the microscope and open to much judgement. Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, half of the duo who perpetrated the Columbine killings. 

I was feeling rather judgey at the beginning of the book, because until she explains more of what happens, nearly everyone's reaction, including mine, is to wonder how this could happen in her house without her knowing. But I should have realized it is possible: ultimately, no one ever really knows any other person. You can never say 'He or she would never do that," because no one can ever know. This book really solidifies this idea.

Part of the book details Dylan's life growing up which seemed pretty normal. Nothing stands out and after the fact, in any family, things may have happened that you could look at. Klebold is brutally honest, but who knows what got left out? 

Part of the book deals with the aftermath, as they were grieving their son's death, but were not permitted to be a part of the community's losses. Easy to see both sides of that situation. I was struck by the outpouring of support from across the country the Klebolds got and I was impressed with the people who recognized their loss. Very generous in the wake of such horror. 

There seems to be consensus that Dylan and Eric Harris were suffering from different mental issues. Dylan was suicidal depressive while Eric was homicidal psychopath - bad mix together. Klebold missed that Dylan was depressed. I found this very timely, as a previous student of mine had committed suicide just the week before I read this book. Nobody realized he was depressed. I appreciated the background and research into suicide that Klebold provided in the book. 

The role the school and the school culture played was significant. As teachers, we get to see a different side to students that parents may not, and therefore we can play a role in helping and preventing tragedies. She includes some interviews with people who were not surprised that someone at Columbine snapped which forces a discussion of school culture.

This is a difficult book to read. Klebold toes a fine line between helping to examine what led to her son murdering people and the child she thought she knew. Accepting some blame but not knowing what she could have changed. Dealing with her own grief and guilt. Hopefully it contributes to the mental health discussion.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

BOOK: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (7 h 18 min)

What makes a person a success? Hard work and pluck? Malcolm Gladwell takes his 'anecdotes to explain theories' book concept to examine success. What makes these outliers work?

I feel I've read this before although I know I haven't. Some of the ideas from the book have already become ingrained in our collective understanding of success. 

For example, Gladwell examines the role that birth month has on successful hockey players. We now realize that players born in January, February and March are much more likely to make it to the NHL. They are just that much older and bigger in the beginning of minor hockey when 7 and 8 year olds begin to play. Their slight age advantage makes them stand out, and get picked for travelling teams. They get better coaching and more practice and thus progress faster. And suddenly, it's not necessarily hard work and natural talent that gets you to the NHL - being born in January is an automatic advantage.

I am also already familiar with the 10,000 hours idea - that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice of anything to become an expert. That's why overnight successes are never that, the hours of practice have been put in.  Did you know that of the biggest names in computer technology - Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and some other technology icons were born within eight months of each other.  They were in the right spot at the right time to become interested and have the ability to work with computers at the same time.

Other examples he covers in this book related to the culture you are born into include: why Asians are better in math, why South Korean airlines had so many accidents in the 90s, how feud fights in Eastern Kentucky and a culture of honour also seen in the southern states relate back to a Scottish/Irish shepherding background. It's all quite fascinating!

I can see how this book led to his book David and Goliath, and maybe even includes leftover research. They cover the same theme: success is not based on what you think it might be. Success is more to do with luck of location or hereditary, and what we perceive as a disadvantage may not actually be one. 

Gladwell narrates his own books and he has a good style. His books are so interesting and he covers so many ideas, I could easily re-listen to any of his books again and still feel like I am learning new things.

Monday, May 22, 2017

BOOK: Field Notes by Sara Jewell

Field Notes: A City Girl's Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia by Sara Jewell  232 pages

Sara Jewell writes 'Field Notes' for her local paper in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. This book is a collection of her essays and articles put together chronicling her adjusting to life in rural Nova Scotia after moving from Vancouver. 

Jewell feels she has always been a rural girl who never happened to live in a rural area, having grown up in Ontario. She had spent some summers in the Pugwash area growing up, and her parents had a cottage there. So when she is suddenly getting a divorce, her first reaction is to leave Vancouver and head to Pugwash and her parent's cottage. 

The essays are short but so well-written. Jewell's love of her new life, and appreciation for nature and small town life shines through. After a few years, she meets a local boy and they get married. I thought the book would be a linear narrative of her life after she moves to NS, but once I realized it was previously written essays, I was good and just loved the book. I read a few chapters each day to extend out the enjoyment of these lovely views of life. Jewell's voice is strong and by the end, I felt like I knew her and if I was in Pugwash area, we could get together for a coffee and chat.

I'm not sure how available this book is across Canada. I bought it while in Nova Scotia at a Chapters and I'm sure you could order it online. It is also available at my local Indigo in the 'Local Interests' area. Cumberland County is just across the Northumberland Strait from PEI and I was familiar with some of the areas making this more personal for me. I loved the sketches on the cover and the only thing that would have made this book better would have been including the sketches throughout the book. 

Jewell's blog looks like an extension of the essays that were combined in the book, so if you want a little taste of Field Notes, check it out.


Monday, May 1, 2017

BOOK: The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Nation by Charlotte Gray, 336 pages

In 1915, a Toronto man coming home was shot as he entered the front door. That is was a young 18 year old maid, Carrie Davis, who shot prominent Bert Massey, of the Massey family, made this story sensational, and historical writer Charlotte Gray tells the tale.

Actually, there isn't a ton to the crime story. The whole incident, from shot fired to end of trial took only a few months and was fairly unremarkable. But Gray does more than tell the story of the trial. Instead, I  read about a young country Canada about to come into her own as a nation fighting in WW1, the beginning of the end of the class system in Toronto, the crazy newspaper wars that were occurring, women fighting for rights, immigrant life in Toronto, and some background on a well-known rich Canadian family the Masseys. (I assume this became Massey-Ferguson farm equipment, not to mention Massey Hall) This was a great history book of Canada in the early 1900s, using a crime as the backdrop and to give some real people to anchor to the story.

Gray does excellent research, and I liked her narrative style. The background of many of the characters, including the defense lawyer Harley Dewart, the judge, the whole Massey family, and some of the women fighting for votes and better life for women. Gray even manages to reuse some of her previous research, as she quotes Nellie McClung, a book I read in 2010 about the Canadian feminist pioneer. That's okay because everyone needs to hear about Nellie more often!

This is what history is meant to be and how it is supposed to be taught in school - events happen within a social context and it is necessary to investigate any event, like a random little crime, looking at how life was and what else was going on socially, economically, and politically.

Some other Canadian History books by Charlotte Gray:

  • Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susannah Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill
  • Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention
  • Flint and Feather: The Life and Times of E Pauline Johnson
  • Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike



Sunday, April 30, 2017

BOOK: The Age of Hope by David Bergen

The Age of Hope by David Bergen, 286 pages

This is the story of Hope Koop, born in 1930 in Manitoba. Her life as she passes from young adult hood, marriage, children, post-partem depression, the changing role of women, and into old age. Nothing much happens, as in most of our lives.

Overall the book made a little impression on me, and yet, it was very readable, like watching a movie with real people (neither unlikeable nor likeable). Bergen keeps the reader a little detached from most of the characters, even Hope. She is certainly given the most depth and inner thoughts, yet I never felt a huge connection to her.

The story covers the prime years of women enlightenment - Hope reads Betty Friedan and other awakening type books. She spends some time in an institution, getting shock therapy (mid '60s) after the fourth child, deals with her children coming of age in the 1970s, and suffers the aimlessness of some women who stayed home with their children and then wonder about their role, and life.

This reminded me of Larry's Party by Carol Shields. Set in Winnipeg, following the life of a unremarkable person, and written about the opposite sex character than the author. Shields' writing is a notch more remarkable, but The Age of Hope read for me a lot quicker. It's harder to quickly read Shields' wonderful prose.

It seems like I didn't like the book, but I did enjoy the read. It may not stay with me, but I'd read another Bergen book. Ron MacLean from Hockey Night in Canada defended this book for Canada Reads in 2013 and now I'd like to hear what he said in support of the book. I had only read two of the nominated books that year, so didn't really pay attention to the debates.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

AUDIOBOOKS: YA Sync Books Summer 2017



Don't forget - Free Audio books all summer long!
Starts April 27th Text syncYA to 25827 to receive Title Alerts or sign up for email alerts at http://www.audiobooksync.com/

Each week, 2 young adult audio books are made available. Sign up for email or text reminders, because the books are only available for download for one week, but you get to keep them forever. You can even download one copy on your phone, and another onto your computer.


April 27 – May 3

*Some books not available in all countries. I think we only don't get 1 this year in Canada.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SERIES: up to date on a few series

I've got myself caught up on a number of excellent series this year. Now to wait for the next one in each, but I also have room in my reading for a few new series! 


Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith
#2 Silkworm 
#3 Career of Evil  (audiobook)

Why I like this series? 
Cormoran and his 'assistant' Robin and just so wonderful together. I really, really like Robin and how she is determined to work for Cormoran. Career of Evil ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, so hopefully the next book, Lethal White, will be released some time in 2017. The mysteries are revealed through private detective work, and are fascinating. The London setting is perfect;  JK Rowling has done a fabulous job with this detective series!





Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter
#7 Unseen 
#8 The Kept Woman  (audiobook)

Her last two books have been stand-alones, so I wonder if this series is at its end? Will and Sara can be frustrating as they have so much baggage from their earlier lives, and each makes a lot of assumptions about what the other is thinking. The boss of the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Amanda, is a great character, a super tough woman who has a soft spot for Will. This series has some backstories that get revealed as the series progresses, so I would recommend reading this one in order.



Benny Griessel series by Deon Meyer
#5 Icarus 

Such a well-written series! Set in South Africa, Benny Griessel is a police detective, and so very damaged as he fights his sobriety hard in this book. The supporting characters are also well-developed and the plot moves along lickety-split. In fact, the first Meyer book I read was literally Thirteen Hours, and the suspense was crazy. 

The plots are also topical - here the owner of a web based company that supplies alibis for its clients who are fooling around, is found dead. Clearly, plenty of suspects. There is also a parallel story happening of a wine-maker telling a family story to a lawyer. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

BOOKS: Mini Reviews, Pop Culture Edition

Mini-Reviews Pop Culture Edition - famous people write memoirs and some even make some good points. Mostly all make me laugh.


My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands - Chelsea Handler (6 h 15 min)

She doesn't lie - this is about a series of her one night stands. I haven't seen much of Chelsea Handler so I'm not a person who is a huge fan; this may have affected my enjoyment of her memoir. It is a tad graphic but not surprising given the topic. Her home life stuff as a child was a little funnier, but over all, I won't need to look for any more Chelsea Handler books. Her humour was too mean and she generalizes way too much. Recommended for fans but there are much better memoirs by funny women (Tina Fey, Minding Kaling, Amy Poehler) who also are inspiring, to spend your time with.




Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything - Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (9 h 59 min)

This is definitely for Seinfeld fans, not that there is anything wrong with that. I am one, so I enjoyed listening to the author, also a fan, give lots of behind the scenes adventures and insights from the cast and crew. The thesis is that Seinfeld was a ground-breaking show and she makes her case in how other shows have followed their lead.  The show was called Seinfeld, but Larry David was the driving force behind much of the show The narrator, Christina Delaine, really gets into parts and is very dramatic. I liked going back over the seasons of Seinfeld.




Choose Your Own Autobiography - Neil Patrick Harris, 304 pages

So genius - make your autobiography a choose your own adventure book, just like the ones we read a children. I was boring and read it in order without following the  - if you want to continue studying magic, turn to page 45, if you want to go to university, go to page 68. Harris is a (as he presents himself in this book) a wonderful guy. Happily married with two kids, openly gay, all around nice guy. He balances his professional career with TV shows (Doogie Howser, MD, and How I Met Your Mother) with successful turns on the stage and Broadway. I have been a fan of Harris and I quite enjoyed his story. Overall, a remarkably normal life from childhood to adulthood by a man who recognizes his life is amazing (friends with Elton John still blows his mind) and lives with gratitude.


How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran, 315 pages

I haven't heard of Moran, but I understand she is a presenter/writer in England. This feminist manifesto is her memoir of the steps she went through to become a women, and why being a strident feminist is important. She grew up the oldest of eight, poor, in England, making her way to adulthood with little guidance. She makes mistakes, learns, and grows. Chapter titles include I Become Furry!, I Am Fat!, I Encounter Some Sexism! Why You Should Have Children and Why You Shouldn't Have Children. 

My favourite part was how to tell if some sexism is happening to you by asking the question, 'Is this polite, or not?' or is some misogynistic societal pressure being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, 'And are the men doing this, as well? Nice guide.

I liked her voice and her message and will keep an eye out for  her other book - The Moranifesto.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

BOOK: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (8 h 12 min)
Bailey Prize Longlist

The Hogarth Series is a set of modern books commissioned to be written based on Shakespeare plays.

  • The Gap of Time by Jeannette Winterson (The Winter's Tale)
  • Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson (The Merchant of Venice)
  • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (The Taming of the Shrew)
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (The Tempest) 
  • New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (Othello)
I feel like I always forget how good of a writer that Atwood is. She writes very accessible prose, with lots of dialogue which sometimes surprises me because she gets so many literary awards. Literary award winners can be too intellectual for me at times, but her books, while deep, are readable.

I'm not up on many Shakespeare plays, but reading them as retellings is kinda cool. I knew nothing about The Tempest before this book and I'm sure I missed many, many references. Hag-Seed (one of the Shakespearean insults from the play) tells the story of a man seeking revenge for being fired as a director of a local acting company. Felix (Prospero) bides his time, and eventually becomes a literacy teacher at a prison, putting on Shakespeare plays with the inmates. He enacts his revenge (weakest part of the book - it seemed a petty grievance at best) some twelve years later (best served cold?) during the production of The Tempest, the play he was fired over. His daughter Miranda who died at age two continues to hang around him, which added to the weirdness. I kept thinking Felix was not too stable overall, especially when he explained to his 'daughter' that cars are flying machines of the future. 

The prisoners were entertaining as they plan their version of the play. (As a teacher, the way the students buy into the play ideas was, shall I say, idealistic? But it was entertaining) Raps, after-the-play predictions of their characters, and their swearing with only Shakespearean insults were well-done. I think this would make a good TV movie, with the elements of farce and action in the big climax of the play at the prison.

At the end of the book, the play The Tempest was explained so the reader could see the parallels. There was a lot of information given out there and I re-listened to this several times, trying to make the connections. Atwood did a good job making the parallels, and having the plot hinge on a production of The Tempest was pretty good.

A note on the narrator - R. H. Thompson does a fabulous job! I am a fan of his and getting to listen to him read for 8 hours was a bonus. I remember him from Road to Avonlea, and Glory Enough for All, the story of Banting and Best, Canadian doctors who discovered insulin. Great Canadian actor!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

MEME: Booking Through Thursday




Sorry it’s been so long!
So, here’s a simple question:
What have you been reading lately?

So far April has been a great reading month! I've listened to Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishan Armstrong and Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. All were well worth the listen.

In paper books, I've finished a gothic The Forgotten Garden by the always reliable Kate Morton and Malice in the Palace by Rhys Bowen, number 8 in the fun Her Royal Spyness books, one of the few cozy mystery series I've liked.

I'm reading, a little at a time, How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran and have just started How the Irish Saved Civilization. And on audio, I'm listening to The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs, which is only fair so far. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Most Unique Books I've Read (and loved!)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish each week. This week's topic is Most Unique Books I've Read.  This was my process and decision making - I looked for books I've loved (5 star or 4.5 from librarything) and then there was something about the book, that made me go - Is there more books like this? Why have I not read a book like this before? Sometimes there is not another book like this because this author has really been original and brilliant. Sometimes I am very disappointed by this fact. I was not, however, disappointed by any of these books!
I don't think I included any world building books, like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline or The Colours of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty or The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, even though those are three of the most unique fantasy/scifi books I've read. 





Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz + David Hayward

 Alternating chapters written by Lutz and her ex-boyfriend about a mystery which they begin to disagree in which direction the plot should take, and who should be killed. The connecting passages as they email back and forth make this book hilarious! The fighting between characters and chapters made this such a fun, meta book.


Here in Harlem by Walter Dean Myers

I listened to this from last summer's YA Sync give away. I'm really not a poetry fan, but poems as character studies of people living in Harlem was done very, very well.


Then We Came to an End by Joshua Ferris

First person plural narrator! I haven't found too many of those books since. It seemed like just a neat gimmick used to comment on work life and group think that happens in an office, but suddenly there was a story, a great story and characters. 


Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Modern day fairy tale, set in Los Angeles with early twenties characters finding their way. I've read other Block books, equally unique, lyrical and poetic with great parallels between modern issues and fairy tales.


The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphries

Taking factual events and times - the Thames River freezing over in London, and writing short stories to give life to the event. Often included art - photos and paintings. The closest I've found to a similar book is Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People, a book of short biographies based on paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in London which I haven't read yet. Regardless, Humphries was already a favourite writer before this wonderful book.


The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak
Death as narrator? Colours as emotions. A most wonderful and sad book set in Germany during WW2.


Finding Wonders: How 3 Girls Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins

I just read this last month, but it was wonderfully unique. Three biographies of girls through the ages who studied science and made great leaps in knowledge but written in blank verse. Next verse book will be Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Not an illustrated book, but not a graphic novel. This book uses illustrations to further the story, but there are pages of written text as well. I had to wait for Selznick to write another book, Wonderstruck, to find another book as unique and wonderful as this one.


Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

Philosophy and physics get all tangled up in Einstein's Dreams. Lightman imagines the dreams about time that Einstein might have grappled with before finishing his Theory of Relativity in which he reconfigures the idea of time. Also can be used as a classroom management technique when read aloud to a grade twelve physics class to start the class.


The Incident Report by Martha Baillie

I loved this little book which starts out as incident reports written by a librarian about things that have happened in her library. That so much is revealed about her by the end of the book is testament to some unique writing.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

BOOK: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (8 h 16 min)

This never felt like a nonfiction book and was very fascinating. In the endnotes, the author explained how she got the information and why she wrote it as she did, after moving to India with her husband. She was a journalist, and spent months and months with the people who lived in this horrific slum but managed to eke out a life. The story is written in third-person following a large number of residents of the slum near Mumbai airport. 

There is drama, and people trying to survive when it doesn't take much to be pushed back to the very bottom. The poverty and corruption of India can be stunning and this book looks at what it is like to be living at the very bottom. Very Slumdog Millionaire.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

BOOKS: Reading Ireland in March

An Irish Country Courtship by Patrick Taylor, (13 h, 45 min)

book 5 in the series

Just a delightful, easy listen!

I've been slowing working my way through this series, and sometimes I've found the earlier books drag. Not much happens and it seems the print book could be edited at times. However, I'm finding the audiobooks to be a fast listen. Generally, a 14 hour listen is daunting, but  with this book, I flew through it. I take that as a sign of how I've enjoyed a book: when I listen to it at every chance I can get, I obviously enjoyed it.

It is 1965 in Ballybucklebo, Northern Ireland. The young GP Barry Laverty has been in the village for about six months, working with Dr Fingal O'Reilly. There are local characters (lovable lout Donal, the gruff housekeeper Kinky Kinkaid, the corrupt councillor Bishop) and each doctor has his romantic problems deciding what they want. Barry is learning more and more how to handle patients about town, but is still trying to decide if he should specialize.

Similar to The Number One Ladies Detective Agency books in their gentleness and humour, but a little less zen-like. I'll keep listening to this series. Next one is A Dublin Student Doctor


The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch by Anne Enright, 230 pages

I'm a huge fan of Enright's writing, The Gathering, The Forgotten Waltz, and The Green Road. This older novel is quite different, starting with the topic: Eliza Lynch was a real woman in the mid 1800s who became the 'wife' of a Paraguayan leader. Historical fiction set in South America is a very different plot than the other books I've read.

The writing is still there, less facts than impressions. After finishing this novel I was wanting to look up some information about Eliza, to sense how much was true. (Much.)

The story is told from two perspectives: Eliza's and also Dr Stewart, a Scotsman who makes the trip to Paraguay and stays. I preferred Eliza's version, and overall, I wasn't sure what the main idea was. There weren't enough tangible facts to make it about the war in Paraguay, but I never got a personal sense about Eliza either.

I'll try another Enright: Yesterday's Weather or What Are You Like?


Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, 258 pages

Teacher Man finishes up the memoir trilogy of McCourt that started with Angela's Ashes and Tis,

(Shall we also include his brother Malachy's memoir A Monk Swimming? The title is from a malapropism from the third line of the Hail Mary - makes me laugh every time)

This one started off good - funny stories about getting started out in teaching, so I could relate. It was neat to see how teenagers haven't really changed in all these years as McCourt started teaching in the late 1960s. Kids are all the same. McCourt has a way with words and he survived in the classroom telling the stories about his horrific childhood in Ireland. This probably helped him get his ideas organized for Angela's Ashes.

But that's all the book is. He moves around to a few other schools, back to Ireland for a PhD in literature, back to New York for more teaching. More stories from the classroom. I enjoyed it, but I didn't get a sense of narrative, other than just his stories. They were good, but it felt like there should have been a bit more. Of something.







Friday, March 31, 2017

BOOKS: Newbery Award books in March

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, 152 pages
Newbery Award 2002

Set in 12th century Korea, this sweet little book follows an orphan boy, Tree-Ear, as he takes a fascination with a local potter. Their village in Korea was renown for its pottery and innovation in the art. Lots of information on Tree-Ear learning the process, trying to get along with the master potter, a little road trip to deliver a vase to the king. Social aspects of being poor, fitting in, pride, and moral decisions balance the pottery info. As a kid I probably would have found it boring, but I liked it as an adult.

(I tried to get my 13 year old daughter to read but she found it boring after 15 pages.)


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, 302 pages
Newbery Award 2009

Another win for Gaiman. Lovely book about Nobody Owens (Bod) who grows up in a cemetery after his family is murdered. It takes a little magic to allow him to see the residents of the graveyard but they agree to raise him. Lots of folklore, and mythology as Bod grows up - meeting ghouls, and witches, and a Hound of God. All of these lead to the exciting final chapter as Bod fights for his life.

Easy to read, Gaiman develops characters in a way that you care about them and become invested in their lives. The ghosts in the graveyard are interesting even if they are only mentioned for a small interaction.

If you want to read another book set in a cemetery, try Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Richardson. Someday I will find someone else who has read this fun gothic book.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

BOOK: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell, 7 h

Does any one do popular science and narrative nonfiction better than Gladwell? I've read several books - Blink, The Tipping Point, and listened to most of What the Dog Saw. Gladwell narrates his own book, and he does a great job.

The basic thesis here is that in the *David and Goliath battle, we see David as the underdog. But Gladwell argues that we mostly misunderstand what we think an advantage or disadvantage is. He kept referring to a U-shaped graph, which is just a parabola and he could  have used that big science word after describing what it was.

The examples he uses for his analogies are great and he can use them to continually demonstrate his point. For example, most teachers agree that smaller class sizes are better. (I definitely agree!) However, does this work continually? That is, if 25 is better than 32, and 18 is better than 25, is 12 even better? And I can tell you anecdotally that it is not better. Small is good, but there is such a thing as too small. Not enough variety of voices, difficult discussions, no place to hide, and because they students get to know each other so well, they can bicker like siblings, knowing exactly how to push each other's buttons. (although the correcting does become easier)  Hence, the idea of a parabola. Pardon me, a U-shaped graph. So, immediately I got his point and was with him for the ride!

Other examples of the U-shaped curve are described. In terms of advantages and disadvantages, he uses an example of people with dyslexia and how there are a good number of extremely successful people who had dyslexia. Because of the struggles (disadvantages) they faced in school, they developed strategies to overcome this. And these strategies become their advantages.

His theories are easy to follow, and I like learning with analogies. I am always trying to find analogies to explain concepts to my classes. I think I am pretty good at it too. Here's a quick one: Gravitational mass and inertial mass are two different ideas of describing mass. However, Einstein proved that they are fundamentally the same thing. Just like I have different names in different places - Mom at home, Mrs MacAulay in the classroom, and Liz in the staffroom. And in each place, I have a different role. But I am still the same person even if I do different things in different places with different names.

Northern Ireland, California's three strikes rule, basketball strategies, and cancer researchers are just some of the situations Gladwell uses to demonstrate his point of how underdogs turn their supposed disadvantages into their advantages.

*David: Did you know that the statue of David in Florence was given to the city by Michaelangelo to represent the little guys against the tyranny of the local government? That David statue is the same David from David and Goliath. I didn't know that until I saw the statue in Italy.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

BOOK: Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who changed Changed Science

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who changed Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins, 186 pages

I never would have found this wonderful book without the Women in Science challenge this month, so thank you DoingDewey for hosting. This might be my favourite book of the year!

First of all, look at this wonderful cover. Three girls, faces hidden, as these unfamous/unknown women would become. The white sketches around the edges represent the science that each studied.

Weirdly, I liked this even though it is written in blank verse. This is the first book I've read like this and it would never be my first choice, but it seems to work here. It might be that using blank verse to tell a science story employs both parts of my brain. I like literature and science and to get both at the same time is pretty cool.

The three girls are Maria Sibylla Merian from the late 1600s in Germany; Mary Anning from the early 1800s, in England; and Maria Mitchell from 1800s  America. Nice balance of eras and countries, and subjects - creatures, earth and sky. Atkins does an amazing job of balancing the facts with the story, the science with the life.

Maria Sibylla Merian was the Painter's Daughter who studied caterpillars and moths and butterflies. Recognized that caterpillars were born from eggs, and documented the life cycle of insects. With her painting background, she also painted the life cycles. Merian travelled to Suriname  with her eldest daughter to study bugs in other countries. Nobody in those days just travelled like that.

Mary Anning was the Carpenter's Daughter who became expert at finding fossils in the rocks along the shore in southern England. Desperately poor, Mary sold her fossils but then was the first to find a full body dinosaur fossil. Uneducated, she never got any respect and just 'found' the fossils, but she knew as much as anybody about the creatures she found. I knew quite a bit about Anning because I read Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. (I highly recommend!)

Maria Mitchell was the Mapmaker's Daughter who loved to study the night sky and discovered a comet. She broke away from her Quaker background eventually, and became a teacher of astronomy at Vassar.

They all had father's who encouraged their daughter's search for knowledge. They all followed their passion for knowledge. They all were remarkable.
Once again, she takes her time sweeping her telescope,
slowly as a painter shifting the tip of her brush,
or a girl scanning stones. Beauty rambles more than it rushes.
There's always more than what's first seen.
This is a sample of the blank verse - not so hard to read. It made me even more impressed with the author and how she managed to tell these three stories in such a unique way, short but thorough. (Each biography is only about 60 pages)

Reading this book so soon after Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby may have helped my enjoyment as I had just read a snippet of a biography of each of these women so they were somewhat familiar.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

BOOK: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby, 226 pages, plus 50 pages of notes, bibliography, and index

A 2013 obituary in the NYT for Yvonne Brill started with 'world's greatest mom' and followed up with describing how she made a mean beef stroganoff and followed her husband around in his work. Eventually, her work as a rocket scientist made the obit. The uproar over this lack of respect was the inspiration for this wonderful biography of 52 STEM women. Two main criteria - no longer living women, and not Marie Curie. Not disrespecting Marie Curie, she's just usually the first woman scientist, or the only one, that gets mentioned. Swaby does a great job writing, keeping things light, sometimes sarcastic but jam-packed with details, and makes this an easy to read and highly interesting book.

Some names I knew - Mary Anning, Rosalyn Franklin, Rachel Carson and because I have a poster called 'Women in Science' in my classroom, Maria Mitchell, Lise Mietner, Ada Lovelace, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and Barbara McClintock. I didn't always know the specifics of their contribution but this book filled in the gaps. The categories of study were divided into Medicine, Biology and the Environment, Genetics and Development, Physics, Earth and Stars, Math and Technology, and Invention.

Each woman gets a short (3-6 page) biography, with a little about their life, but mostly about their love of their subject, and the tenacity that was required to do the work they did. Many had to work in universities for no money because women technically weren't allowed in. Too many worked with collaborators who took the credit.

The nature of the book means that I don't remember the name and the contribution of very many of the women. Too much info for a reader like me who doesn't take in names very well. The overall effort and contributions will be remembered however. I think I would really like to have this book as a resource in my classroom, to be able to look up scientist and her work, and her challenge.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BOOK: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen

                                                               Beware the Kitten Holy

                                                                 Friendship to the Max


                                                                     A Terrible Plan

                                                                      Out of Time

                                                                      Band Together

These graphic novels are a wonderful series! A group of five diverse girls from one bunk house, along with their semi-hapless bunk leader, find themselves in a series of adventures. The adventures have a supernatural element - other worlds, mermaids, werewolves, monsters that sneak into the otherwise real life setting of the books. Each book I read was a compilation of four individual comic books that combine into one story arc. The end of the volume also contains extra artwork, which seems to be many other cartoonists' take on the characters,  or other covers for each comic. 

The girls (Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo) are great friends, and respect each others strengths and quirks. There is lots of humour in the books. Even the names of characters are based on famous people. I recognize some - I assume Ripley is from Alien and Jo is a little woman. Their bunk leader, Jen, is continually misnamed by the camp director, as those J names can be easily confused. One of my favourite parts of the books is the exclamatives pronounced instead of swearing, that are famous (women) names. I miss a good number of them, but as soon as you recognize one, you realize that all the names are famous kick-ass women. What in the Joan Jett? It is such a cool part of the books that there are websites which document the names, and gives a biography of them. Here's a good one. I'm very pleased with myself when I recognize one.


There are lots of great details, including the badge requirements, the pledge, and the supporting characters - the Scouting Lads across the lake show up sometimes, but the girls always save the day. 



Which Lumberjane Are You?

You got: April

You’re small but mighty! When push comes to shove, you’ve got a cute scrunchie and two fists. Your friends need the perfect nail polish to go with their skirt? A stone god defeated to save the day? You’re the one they call.