Archive for the ‘books’ Category

My book numbers for March were back up, but that includes one reference book and two books written for children: one a favourite from my childhood, which I happened to see mentioned on Facebook, and one that I had never read but was referenced in Gilmore Girls, which I’m marathoning my way through on Netflix right now. [As for Gilmore Girls, I’m over the target demographic by a few decades, but watched an episode or two and was hooked on the funny writing and the pop culture references.] This post is a bit late, since I was on vacation including three days on a train.

I was thinking about not listing two of the attributes from the 2015 Reading Challenge list – set in a different country, and written by a female author – since so many of the books that I read are one or both of those. I track them on my list, but it just seems silly to keep listing them over and over again here. Living in Canada, pretty much every book that I read is set in a different country, although I do read Canadian authors. The women author issue is interesting, since I’ve never thought much about the gender of the author except for explicitly feminist work, but I do tend to read a lot of women authors. What I found really interesting was a recent post that claims that men don’t read books written by women. I have no idea if there’s any data to back that premise. For now, I’ll keep them on the lists here.

The Paying Guests came up (I think) on one of the “best of” lists. It’s about a lesbian relationship between landlady and married lodger in the years following WWI, and the terrible secrets that they keep. Beautiful writing, especially dealing with the guilt feelings of the main character.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
  • Love triangle
  • Author I’ve never read before
I burned through The Martian in a day, most of that on a 5-hour flight: it’s a great story that moves along really quickly and carries you with it. Lots of technical and scientific detail, fairly well researched from what I could tell. Passed it on to my other half, who almost never reads fiction, and he went through it in a day, too.

Categories checked:

  • Book that became a movie (or will, later this year)
  • Funny book
  • Mystery or thriller
  • Set in a different country
  • Based entirely on its cover (I’ve seen explanations of that this attribute means in this context, and most people interpret it as a book that you select to read based just on seeing the cover, which was the case here)
  • Can finish in a day
  • Set in the future
  • Made me cry (teared up a bit when he re-established contact)
  • Author I’ve never read before
When Judy Blume wrote Deenie in 1973, I was in the right age range but had already given up “kids’ books” and was reading  adult fiction such as James Michener novels. In fact, I don’t recall reading any of her books except Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. However, I’m on a bit of a Gilmore Girls binge on Netflix, and Deenie was mentioned in one of the episodes, and I read it out of curiosity. Some interesting issues about standing up to your parents’ opinion of what you “should” be doing with your life (I became an engineer in spite of protests from my family, so might have related to this), but a too-strong and outdated focus on female beauty norms. Blume wrote this after meeting a fourteen-year-old with scoliosis, using the attitudes of the girl and her mother as the basis for the book, although not biographical.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • One-word title
  • Set in a different country
  • Based on a true story (more like “loosely inspired by”)
  • Can finish in a day
  • From my childhood
I’ve been an avid Margaret Atwood fan since I read The Edible Woman back in high school, and Stone Mattress did not disappoint. The book contains “nine tales”, although several of them are interconnected. It’s very evocative of Toronto, especially bits about going to the Riverboat coffee house in the 1960s (I made it there to prior to its closing in the late 1970s, although a bit too late to see many of the famous acts that played there) and one story that used the recent ice storm as background.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Short stories
  • Book from an author that I love that I haven’t read yet (well, now I have read it)
An Education is the latest read related to the Books on Film series at TIFF; the movie and discussion with Lynn Barber is coming up in mid-April. The movie is based only on the second chapter of the book, which she originally published as a magazine article; the full book came out the same year as the movie.  I found the book overly narcissistic (although I realize that anyone writing their own memoir, or a blog for that matter, has a dollop of that), and didn’t like the author very much by the end of it.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
  • Nonfiction
  • Memoir
  • Can finish in a day
  • Author that I’ve never read before
I ended up buying How Companies Succeed In Social Business (the ebook) after reviewing the library copy: there’s a lot in here that I can use in my work on social enterprise. It has a number of good case studies on enterprise social collaboration, but also a lot about how to manage your external social media, which is not an interest of mine. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover yet, but expect to use it as a reference.

Categories checked:

  • Nonfiction
  • Antonyms in the title (many would consider “social” and “business” to be in opposition)
  • Author I’ve never read before
The Velveteen Rabbit was a favourite of mine from childhood, and I had completely forgotten about it until someone posted a quote from the book on Facebook recently. I read and reread this book, likely wearing it out as badly as the eponymous rabbit was worn. Delightful book about the magic of loving your toys.

Categories checked:

  • Non-human characters
  • Female author
  • Can finish in a day
  • From my childhood
  • Made me cry (c’mon: it’s about a stuffed bunny!)
  • Contains magic
Big Little Lies was hilarious in spots, but dealt seriously with issues of domestic violence and bullying using a deft hand. Throughout the book, there is an unrevealed (until the end) murder as context. Excellent writing and compelling characters. I’m looking forward to seeing it on the screen.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie (actually a TV series: Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon have signed up)
  • A funny book
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
  • Antonyms in the title
  • Author I’ve never read before

I’ve included the Amazon links above, if you click through on one of those and buy something, I’ll get a few pennies. However, I encourage you to donate the money to your local library instead, and get the books from there.

Following on from January’s reads, I did a bit less in February since I was busy working on a project, and went on a conference/vacation trip for 10 days. Here’s the rundown of my Reading Challenge for February:

The Remains of the Day was the first of the books that I’m reading in preparation for the TIFF Books on Film series: we will be seeing the movie – starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson – plus a live discussion with Kazuo Ishiguro, the author, in March. I saw the movie when it was first released, but have never read the book, which won the Man Booker Prize. The book is beautifully written; the language is a joy to read. It’s sad in a “wasted opportunities” sort of way, and the main character is oblivious to many people’s true nature and feelings, as well as to the changing times around him. Interestingly, having watched Downton Abbey made this richer to read, since I have some additional visualizations of life in an English manor.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Set in a different country
Although the first of the Books on Film series, I read Coriolanus after Remains of the Day, and have to confess that I skipped over parts and read the study notes and Wikipedia entry instead: reading Shakespeare is not my strength. Having now seen the Ralph Fiennes movie adaptation and heard it discussed with Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro and CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel, I definitely understand it much better; I highly recommend the movie although you may struggle with the actual play.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • One-word title
  • Set in a different country
  • More than 100 years old
  • A play
After reading Station Eleven in January, I went on a bit of an Emily St. John Mandel binge, and read Last Night in Montreal. It has a similar driven yet melancholy view of travel as in Station Eleven, and is the story of a slow-motion collision of lives. Well-written but tragic in spots.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Popular author’s first book
Continuing with Emily St. John Mandel, I also read The Singer’s Gun. Lots of great complex interactions between the characters, and everyone has secrets, many of them illegal. Good read.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
I read The Maze Runner as a piece of vacation fluff, purely because I saw some hype about the movie. The story has a good concept, but the writing is terrible: “Goose bumps broke out all over him, a creepy fear trickling down his spine like a wet spider.” Not recommended.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Non-human characters
  • Mystery/thriller
I didn’t read this cover-to-cover, but it was a trusty source in our trip to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Sedona and the Grand Canyon at the end of February. I find the Fodor’s to be very informative and well-organized, and use them often for travel.

Categories checked:

  • More than 500 pages
  • Non-fiction

Only six this month, with one really being a reference book rather than a cover-to-cover read. I am working on two or three others, but not far enough along to include here.

I’ve included the Amazon links above, if you click through on one of those and buy the book (or anything else), I’ll get a few pennies. However, I encourage you to give the money to your local library instead, and get the books from there.

Reading ChallengeReading a book per week isn’t really a challenge for me – I learned to read early, and typically read quite a bit for entertainment as well as learning – so I was interested in the Reading Challenge that originated on PopSugar. Note that some of the categories are ridiculous in that they represent a huge portion of books read so are not much of a challenge, such as a book by a female author or a book set in a different country or an author that I’ve never read before, but there are a few categories that I will have to actively search for.

I created a spreadsheet with the categories in the first column of each row, then added each book that I have read to a column header, and ticked off the matching categories. A summation on the left shows me how many matches I have for each category. If I assume, however, that each book can only be used to check off one category, then the matching will get a bit more complex as the year goes on. Haven’t come up with an automated optimizing algorithm yet to decide which category to assign each book to in order to maximize the category coverage, but I have several months to work on that. Smile

January started off with a few of the “best of 2014” reading lists, plus recommendations from friends, plus books that I saw in reviews or even referred to in other books. In all cases, I was able to borrow the books from the wonderful Toronto Public Library, either as an e-book or paper book; so far, I ended up purchasing one e-book since I found it valuable for ongoing reference. I have a long reading list ahead of me, and looking forward to it.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

Station Eleven was the first book that I read in 2015, and possibly my favourite so far (or a close tie with The Bone Clocks). It’s post-apocalyptic and futuristic, with lots of good themes. I saw it on some of the best-of lists, and it was recommended by a friend.

Categories checked:

  • Number in the title
  • Female author
  • Set in the future
  • Author I’ve never read before
  • Takes place in my hometown (Toronto)
  • Recommended by a friend
Before I Go To Sleep was recommended by a friend when we were discussing the book (and movie) Gone Girl; there are definitely some similarities in creepiness. It was a good read, and I didn’t twig to the ending until it was upon me. Good escapist reading, although you may find some scenes of domestic violence disturbing.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Mystery or thriller
  • Set in a different country (UK)
  • Recommended by a friend
  • Author I’ve never read before (that is going to come up a lot this year)
I tried to read Hilary Mantel’s  Wolf Hall, but just could not get that into the history of Thomas Cromwell; maybe that will become the book that I started but never finished for the year. I did a bit better with her short stories in The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, although I found it a bit of a mixed bag. Some were good, some were not very compelling, and some were downright weird. In all, readable but not my favourite read. I’m also not a big fan of the short story form: I would rather dig into a longer novel than a book of short stories, so probably good to have this category out of the way early.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Short stories
  • Set in a different country (UK)
New Slow City had a ton of great tips on living slow and consuming less even when you live in the middle of a big city (as I do), not out in the wilderness (which is the author’s previous experiment). 

Categories checked:

  • Set in a different country (US)
  • Nonfiction
  • Antonyms in the title (I’m considering “slow” and “city” as antonyms in this context, although will search for another title that matches this category in the remainder of the year, as long as I don’t have to read War and Peace)
  • Author I’ve never read before
How To Deliver A TED Talk is the only book that I’ve purchased so far this year, and I did it after I read the e-book from the library. Although I will likely never give a TED talk, there is a ton of great advice in here on preparing and delivering excellent presentations, and I do many presentations each year at clients and conferences. In particular, chapter 2 “Organizing Your Talk” is completely applicable to any type of business presentation.

Categories checked:

  • Non-fiction
  • Can finish it in a day (although I kept it around for reference)
  • Author I’ve never read before
I decided to read Pomegranate Soup after seeing the terrible story about the author’s tragic death: it appears that she starved herself to death while obsessed with writing her next novel in a remote village in Ireland. A contrast with her novel, which was quite funny – with some very dark bits – and about new beginnings. It was quite reminiscent of Chocolat, with the magic qualities of foods plus cultural melding. Also, recipes. I have her sequel “Rosewater and Soda Bread” on my to-read list.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Author under 30
  • Funny
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country (Ireland and Iran)
  • Author’s first book
  • Contains magic
  • Author I’ve never read before.
I really wanted to like Lila, but just couldn’t. I abandoned it about halfway through. Depressing, Dust Bowl-era drifters, and a whole lot of the bible.

Categories checked (although not sure if this counts for a book I didn’t finish):

  • Female author
  • One-word title
  • Set in a different country (US)
  • Didn’t finish Sad smile 
I really liked The Bone Clocks, and didn’t realize that it was written by the same author as Cloud Atlas until afterwards. This is a long book, but I burned through the first half in 24 hours: I started one evening and finally put the light out at 2:30am, finishing it a couple of days later. The supernatural bits leave just enough mystery to keep you guessing, but not so much that you’re totally lost.

Categories checked:

  • More than 500 pages (in paper form, although I read the e-book)
  • Non-human characters
  • Set in a different country (UK and others)
  • Set in the future (ranges from 1984 to 2043)
  • Contains magic
  • Set during Christmas (not the entire book, but some pivotal scenes)
zombie The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home is a delightful collaboration by Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman, available on Wattpad.  Quick read, fun, and some practical advice on the use of garden implements and rhubarb on repelling zombies.

Categories checked:

  • Non-human characters (if you assume post-human zombies to be non-human)
  • Funny
  • Female author
  • Set in my hometown (Toronto)
I didn’t quite finish The Sixth Extinction by the end of January, the last few chapters are lined up for tonight’s reading. It’s a beautifully-written look at how humans are causing massive species extinction, and have been doing so for 40,000 years. It appears to be well-researched (I’m not an expert in this field) and the writing reminds me of the wonderful descriptive prose of Oliver Sacks talking about cycads in Island of the Colorblind or Diane Ackerman’s The Moon By Whale Light, mixing history, science and culture.

Categories checked:

  • Number in title
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country (several of them)
  • Nonfiction
  • Author I’ve never read before

That’s ten in total, although I only got halfway through Lila and haven’t quite finished The Sixth Extinction, so more like nine. February and March I have a lot of work and travel, and the numbers probably won’t be as high, but I will start on the books related to the TIFF Books On Film series that I will be attending over the next few months. Plus, some interesting things on hold at the library.

I’ve included the Amazon links above, if you click through on one of those and buy the book (or anything else), I’ll get a few pennies. However, I encourage you to give the money to your local library instead, and get the books from there.

I’m really enjoying reading William Gibson’s latest, Zero History, which includes such lovely bits of writing as this:

He looked down at the screen, the glowing map. Saw it as a window into the city’s underlying fabric, as though he held something from which a rectangular chip of London’s surface had been pried, revealing a substrate of bright code. But really, wasn’t the opposite true, the city the code that underlay the map?

My friend and neighbour Doug Taylor has just finished his latest book about the history of Toronto, There Never Was a Better Time: Toronto’s Yesterdays. It covers the history of an immigrant family in Toronto during the 1920’s, a dynamic time of urban expansion in the city.

Doug is doing a reading from the book on Sunday, November 30th at 12:30pm at the Metropolitan United Church at Queen and Church.

In addition to being my neighbour, Doug — through some weird cosmic coincidence — taught history at my high school, although a few years before I was a student there.

I should know that any book that compares fundamentalist Islam to Nazism twice in the first half of the book is going to be a bit of a knee-jerk, flag-waving, post-9/11, pro-American piece of thriller fluff. That being said, The Last Patriot wasn’t the worst piece of knee-jerk, flag-waving, post-9/11, pro-American piece of thriller fluff that I’ve ever read: the plot was pretty interesting, I learned some things about Thomas Jefferson and the pirates of the Barbary coast, and the action kept moving along at a brisk pace. You can be sure that there’s a movie in the offing for this, and I actually think that it will make a much better movie than the book, with the help of a good screenwriter who can turn the crudely-drawn caricatures into proper characters (everyone who liked dogs, for example, was a “good person”; I’m fully expecting that the final print version came out with a picture of the author with his pet poodle, Fluffy).

The basic premise of the book is that the prophet Mohammed made a last revelation that could radically change the nature of Islam, then was killed shortly afterwards to hush it up. Thomas Jefferson, while still the US Minister to France, started to uncover some of this secret, then some present-day researchers get close to the secret and start getting bumped off. It’s an interesting story, and one reviewer called it the “Da Vinci Code of Islam” for the way that it purports to reveal secrets about a powerful religion that would greatly impact that religion and its followers.

However, I think that the author may be taking himself a bit too seriously: in an interview with the author just before the book was released, he claimed to be receiving death threats, and stated:

There has been a plot afoot that was set in motion by the Muslim Brotherhood in this country [the US] to undermine the United States and to basically destroy the Constitution and replace our democracy — as crazy and far-fetched as it sounds — with Sharia law.

Crazy and far-fetched? Yup. Worth reading? It’s okay, but you might want to wait for the movie.

Disclosure: this book was provided to me for free by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, through a great program called Mini Book Expo for Bloggers, which allows bloggers to claim a book in order to receive a review copy, in exchange for writing a public review of the book. All books can be shipped for free to bloggers within Canada, and some now can be shipped to the US. You can find the author’s website here.

Update: I have no interest in discussing religion or US politics on this site; this was just a book review. I’ve closed comments on this post to avoid having others use this as a place to promote their religious or political views. Feel free to express those views, just not on my site.

My first book to review from MiniBookExpo, and I picked a light “chick-lit” read to complement the summer weather: Stuck in Downward Dog. Chantel Simmons’ debut novel is a pleasant, humourous read about Mara Brennan, a mid-20’s woman who hits a rough patch — job, boyfriend, apartment, friends — and gets through it while learning something about herself and her friends.

There were a lot of things that I liked about this book. First of all the Toronto setting was used well, and there were great insider references, such as when Mara’s friend tried to pass off her new Mississauga location as “Port Credit” (an accurate place name, but to anyone who lives in the 416 area code, it’s all just undifferentiated suburban wilderness). I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a new boyfriend does not figure in her miraculous turnaround — in fact, Mara does it pretty much on her own, with a bit of help from her friends. There’s a nutritional epiphany about a healthy-sounding smoothie. There’s some great inner monologues of Mara’s thoughts during yoga class.

There were parts of the storyline that could have been improved. First, Mara spends 25 years getting herself into a complete disaster of a life, including the worst two months of it chronicled in the first part of the book, then manages to turn the entire thing around in 3 weeks. A bit unrealistic, considering that she comes off as a bit of a naive pushover. The two girlfriends were painted as cruel caricatures; if they were really such bitches, I can’t believe that Mara, pushover that she is, would have been best buds with them all this time. She refers to her size 10 body as if it were bordering on obese, which is not a great message to be sending to her target audience, even if they are pigging out on those calorie-laden smoothie.

In spite of its flaws, I found Stuck in Downward Dog to be a fun read with lots of laughs, and may even be inspirational to young women who are looking for the courage to find the right job, the right apartment and the right relationship with their friends.

Wow, it’s been over 3 months since I posted here: work and travel have taken up most of my time. I have a ton of billable work to do over the summer, but there’s always time for reading. A couple of years ago, I rediscovered the Toronto Public Library, which was a godsend for me when I was young, providing me with an endless source of books to feed my voracious reading habit. Now, they have their catalogue online, and I can order a book from anywhere in this huge system and have it appear at my local branch.

This week, I saw a link to MiniBookExpo for Bloggers, which promises to be another source of interesting books. They list books that are available for review from the publishers, you add a comment to the post about the book in order to claim it, they send you the book, and you review it. Shipping is free, and there’s nothing about having to return the books, so I can pass them along to the book collection in my condo, or even donate them to the public library if I can figure out how to do that. Looking forward to receiving my first book for review!

Cory Doctorow has released his latest book, a collection of short stories called Overclocked. I’ve listened to most of these short stories on Doctorow’s podcasts, but I like to read things in print as well. Luckily, he gives us a choice: buy the book, listen to the stories in podcast installments (for free on iTunes), or download it for free in PDF and a number of other readable formats.

I know that I said in my review of jPod that there are few books that I don’t finish once starting them: The Emperor’s Children is one of those rarities. I struggled through about half of the book, wading through the overly-complex and pompous wording and characters that I really didn’t care that much about, until I read something that made me realize what a bad writer that Messud actually is, and what a crappy editor that she has: “is comprised of” when she meant “comprises“. Twice. I put the book down and backed away, slowly.