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

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.