Canada Reads – Finale

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.49.12 PMWhat an amazing day!!  What could be better than spending a great day with fellow book lovers including my daughter and friends at Canada Reads?  After a bit of panic with a delay on the highway, we made it to the GO station and into Toronto to met up with our CanadianContent Goodreads group friends from as far away as Bermuda (yes, I did say Bermuda) and Kingston (Ontario)!

The finale was amazing with two fantastic books squaring off against each other: Homes and By Chance Alone (I am sorry but I am behind in my book reviews so will be adding blog posts about the books soon).  Chuck Comeau was his at his strongest today, highlighting the importance of a young person’s story about his refugee experience.  He took his role so seriously and seemed much more comfortable debating today yet saddened by the loss of Homes.  Like my daughter kept saying, how can you argue against the Holocaust?  It is so important to understand the past to ensure it is never repeated and Ziya Tong led By Chance to victory in a very polished and prepared debate!  Check out day four here.

In the end, the readers won with 5 great books (okay, really 4 as I still struggled with The Woo Woo but some people did somehow find it humorous… I am still not sure what was funny but do agree that mental health is a very important topic).  The authors also won with the brisk sale of their books (not to mentioned the booksellers)  and the audience won with an invigorating opportunity to be in the audience (or listen from their cars, or watch later on the CBC stream).

It was an amazing day!!  Our group is very thankful to both Tara and Chloe at CBC for their help in arranging group tickets and to the CBC Books for a great event!  We celebrated with lunch before we parted ways but are already looking forward to Canada Reads 2020!!!

 

 

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Canada Reads – Day 3

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Canada Reads is down to the final two.  Both books are non-fiction and both tell harrowing tales, one of the horror of the Holocaust and the other the plight of a young refugee whose family had fled Iraq to the safety of Syria only to be plunged into more danger.

Both stories are told by remarkable individuals who have show great resilience and strength.  Both stories need to be shared.  Readers need to understand, reflect and make the world a better place.

Sadly, Brother was voted off today.  It was a story that also needs to be told.  I loved the beautiful prose and appreciate understanding the challenges of immigrant families (particularly this single mom who struggled to support her family, working diligently yet not able to be home when her boys may have needed her) in Toronto.

The Canada Reads t-shirts are here and our group is very excited to be part of the studio audience tomorrow!!  Tune in at 11!!

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Canada Reads – Day 2

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Day 2 was full of great discussion and I was sad to see Suzanne be voted off.  Although it was difficult to like the actions and decisions of Suzanne, it was a book that did move me to consider the lack of choice for women at a time when the expectation was to be a wife and mother.  The book was a beautifully written collection of vignettes spanning the lifetime of experiences of Suzanne.  Not only did I like the story, but the book nerd in me appreciated the quality, linen like, thick pages printed by Coach Books (much like Fifteen Dogs).

The next two days will be exciting.  The remaining books seem quite evenly matched although the defenders of By Chance Alone and Brother seem to have stronger debating skills and a greater comfort level in the high tension atmosphere of a live audience situation.

Bring on Day 3 and I am looking forward to being part of the audience on Day 4 when the winner will be chosen!

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Canada Reads: Day 1

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Canada Reads is the most exciting “book holiday” of my year!!  I love the focus on CanLit, the competition, the strategy and the game show antics.  I have enjoyed reading the books (well, most of them) and am so excited to be attending the finale on Thursday which some equally enthusiastic book friends.

Today, I am thrilled with the result.  Of all the books, I had the most difficulty finishing The Woo Woo.  I could not see the “black humour” that others have commented on.  If her life was truly so bad, why did teachers not see the abuse and the neglect and follow their duty to report?  How could no-one identify and help to rescue this little girl?  Did they not notice that she infrequently bathed, had her feet burned and was verbally and psychologically abused?

I appreciate the importance of reducing the stigma of mental health challenges but this book does not resonate and I am pleased with the results of today’s voting.

Looking forward to day 2…

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January Book Review Blitz

3.  Eat Move Think:  The Path to a Healthier, Stronger

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 8.40.36 AMJanuary was a month of thinking about resolutions and Eat Move Think was the book to inspire a few changes.  The book was a little light on research but it was an easy read to inspire readers to make healthy living goals for 2019.

I liked that it had references from Canadian sources and sparks thought which may lead readers to more research.  For me, this book helped me to set goals to some new 30 day challenges like not eating snacks after dinner, ensuring that I get in my 10 sets of stairs daily (easy to track with a fitbit) and get to bed earlier working towards at least 7 hours of sleep.


4.  The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules (Catharina Ingleman-Sundberg) 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 9.10.07 AMFor February Book Club, the plan was to finish the books from pas book club Christmas exchanges.  I had been especially delinquent and had a copy of The Doomsday Book, The Little Old Lady and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.  My goal had been to finish all 3 for our discussion but I did not quite make it in time!

This was a light, amusing read about a group of pensioners, frustrated by the lack of amenities and control of their own lives in their retirement home.  They began testing the boundaries and breaking rules which led to a life of crime!

Readers need to set aside their need for realism and just enjoy the antics of these seniors rather than judging the actual possibility of the success of these crimes.


5.  A Well-Behaved Woman:  A Novel of the Vanderbilts 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 9.11.47 AMAfter loving Z, the novel written about Zelda Fitzgerald and the opulent life of parties and excess, I was happy to listen to A Well-Behaved Woman during my January commutes.  Based on the extremely wealthy Vanderbilt family, it was interesting to read about the lifestyle and challenges of being a woman at this time.

This thought-provoking, creative fiction was woven with actual history and told the story of women in the late 1800s.  It was a time where women did not always marry for love but had to consider their husbands with a focus on money and security.  Women could not vote and had limited ability to make independent decisions.

The Vanderbilt family lived a life of excess and it was interesting to read this book and think of the impact these family members had on their future generations.  As I listened to this tale, I reflected on what I had learned listening to The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.


6.  Good Night Mind: Turn off Your Noisy Thoughts and get a Good Night’s Sleep

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As someone who periodically has sleep challenges, i was interested in learning some new tips for quieting my mind. Although there were helpful tips, there was nothing new but lots of common sense suggestions.

 

 

 


7.  Small Fry (Lisa Brennan-Jobs)

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 9.26.53 AMAs I type on my MacBook Air, communicate on my iPhone and take notes at meeting with my Apple pencil and iPad, it is easy to see the genius and vision of Steve Jobs.  I had already learned about his eccentricities and selfishness in his biography but it was really quite sad to read of his daughter’s experience in her biography, Small Fry.

His daughter and ex lived in relative poverty during Lisa’s early years, her parentage was denied and there was no support despite his ample income.  When he did spend time with Lisa, his behaviours were often mercurial. He was mean, even mentally abusive at times yet loving and over the top at other times.  He lived in a mansion where he had not even been in some of the rooms.  The home was crumbling around him.  He attempted to get his family to eat his extreme vegan diet, stopped paying Lisa’s tuition and demanded she choose one parent over the other.

I am thankful for his vision which allows me to carry a “computer” (iPhone) in my pocket but it is hard to reconcile the technological brilliance with the selfish, petulant man described in Small Fry!

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2. Remember Us (Lindsay Blake/Layne James)

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 2.30.22 PMDid I tell you that my friend Layne has written a book?  How amazing is that??  She is a busy mom, photographer and has recently went back to school to finish a masters program… yet somehow, she has found time to write and publish a book!!!

Remember us is a story full of challenging family dynamics.  Feelings and frustrations escalate  when Reese and her brother Ben return home to care for their father who has been diagnosed with cancer.  As they struggle to care for him, their estranged mother arrives and turns their lives upside down as she attempts to rekindle relationships and make amends after being absent for thirteen years.

The characters are quirky and readers have to wonder how much of these antics are pulled from real life situations?  This story follows Reese who struggles to answer questions such as whether to forgive her mom?  Which love interest to choose?  How to move forward with her life?

If it is not enough that the characters come together in their family home, they take off on a road trip in a rust volkswagen bus.  I don’t want to share any spoilers so I will end this review sharing that there was a bit of a shocker towards the end which leaves readers pondering.

Support a local author!!  Ask for Remember Us at the library, or buy a copy from Coles or Chapters.  Layne lives locally and is excited to join book clubs for discussion and I am looking forward to my May book club where we can get our books signed and ask questions about the writing experience, specifically the challenges in writing a book with a friend.

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1. Bear Town (Fredrik Backman)

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 8.57.05 AMMy apologies to the readers who follow this blog.  Although I had good intentions to stay on track in 2019, the busy days have taken over so I have some catching up to do!

I started 2019 with Bear Town.   If you have not read it, please do pick it up and you will not be disappointed. Friends kept asking me if I had read Bear Town and sharing just how great it was and yet I procrastinated. Finally, I picked up a copying, hoping that the book was not too steeped in hockey and knowing how much I had enjoyed the the audio version of Backman’s book, A Man Called Ove during my commutes in 2015.

To be honest, for the first third of the book, I kept wondering what all the hype was about.  I slogged through the hockey details, got to know all the sport-obsessed characters and learned about the politics of a town that was hoping for renewal if it was chosen as the location of a new hockey school.  If I hadn’t heard so many recommendations, I might have put it down at this point but I continued on…

Similar to a hockey game, the book started slow and then the punches started.  The drama continued and I became so engrossed that despite the late hours, I could not put the book down!  I won’t share any spoilers, but the whole town became involved in turmoil, lives were impacted and individuals, families and the community had to reconsider their actions, the sport and the collective mindsets in this town.  Living in a hockey town filled with families hoping that their children will be the next Wayne Gretzky, perhaps this is the book for those parents who are reliving their own missed opportunities instead of simply supporting their kids in the fun of the game.  (Check out this article detailing over 30 parents who were and were involved in a “brawl” at a game played by eleven and twelve year olds in Simcoe this winter!)

Frederik Backman is a Swedish author yet it was great to see a small Canadian connection in this book.  His beautiful prose draws the readers in and I would also recommend the short stories in The Deal of a Lifetime which I had enjoyed this past December.

What did you think?  Have you read Bear Town?  Did you love it?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts and also to finding out what happens next in Bear Town as the sequel, Us Against You is on my ever-growing TBR pile!

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2018 Review – update

For those of you that read my posts by email please note that the wonderful books that I have recommended seem to be mixed with those that I would suggest avoiding so please read the post here.

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2018: A Year of Books Review

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It seems that 2018 has flown by!  It was an year of less reading, many exiting author events and a hectic pace as I successfully ran for school board trustee (hence less reading).

Did I meet all my reading goals?  Not quite, but I am still pleased to have read 90 books in 2018.  Of this reading, 51 books were written by Canadian authors (57% of my overall reading).  A third of my reading was non-fiction and I listened to 14 books  which kept me engaged as I commuted.

My friend, Kim, had a goal of meeting 50 authors in 2018 as a way of celebrating her 50th birthday.  Although I am not quite at this milestone, it was a fun challenge and I had fun meeting 55 authors.

I had a great time at the Canada Reads finale with friends from my in person and online book clubs (and am looking forward to the 2019 long-list announcement on January 10th).

 

Another fantastic event was the FOLD (Festival of Literary Diversity) where I got to meet Kim Thuy (author of Ru, VI, Man), Shannon Bala (The Boat People) and Tanya Talaga (Seven Fallen Feathers).

Over the year, my author highlights included:

  • Lisa Genova
  • David Chariandy
  • Thomas King
  • Paula McLain
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Kate Morton

as well as my husband’s favourite authors:

  • Daniel Silva (the biggest event I have ever attended with 1000 people appreciating this spy thriller author in a Toronto synogogue)
  • Ian Rankin

If you are looking for recommendations to read in 2019, I would suggest:

 

You can’t win them all so here are a few books that I would suggest passing on:

 

Overall, 2018 was a great year of reading, book events, book club meetings, online discussion and books in general.  Here’s to more great books and events in 2019!!!

What were your book highlights and lowlights of 2018?  Please comment below!

 

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Book Review Blitz – December

Clearly, my blogging has been a bit behind this fall so I am catching up and providing mini-reviews of the last books of 2018 as we end the year.  Tomorrow, I will post my reading highlights and lowlights of the year as we turn a fresh page to 2019.


80.  Too Young to Escape (Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.00.38 PMThis was a terrific story, written with a middle-grade reader in mind.  It is a story of bravery as a family escapes Vietnam for a better life, ending up in Canada.  This families’ plight should be taught in school and enable those born in Canada to understand the life and death choices that families have made to get to freedom.

As a mother, it is hard to imagine sending off my husband with one of the kids, hoping for the best and waiting months before knowing if they had reached safety.  It is hard to imagine a time before the internet, before texting and apps like Facebook that provide quick responses when this family had to wait for a letter bringing news that their loved ones had made it!  As a mother, I can’t imagine that dreadful choice of escaping to dodge bullets and keep 3 young children safe yet knowing that the youngest was left behind in Vietnam.

I loved meeting this amazing family who were all reunited after many years apart and appreciate living in Canada, a country where they can be safe and have opportunities that they would not have experienced in Vietnam.  As in all her books, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch has done a fantastic job capturing the raw feelings of hope and resilience.  She helps students consider the plight of others, living through war and devastation. I look forward to her next book and am thankful that the Branford Public Library held an event to launch this terrific book!


81.  The Christmas Star (Donna VanLierre)

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As part of a December challenge to read Christmas Stories, I listened to The Christmas Star during my commutes.  It was pleasant, light and predictable.  It told the story of a little girl, living in foster care who befriends the school janitor, introducing him to a woman at the after school program.  Both adults care for the young girl and the magic of Christmas creates a happy ending.

 


82.  Becoming (Michelle Obama)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 6.59.40 PMAlthough Becoming had a bit of a slow start, I loved learning more about the strength and caring of Michelle and Barack Obama.  I had no idea of that Michelle had grown up living in a tiny apartment above her aunt’s house.  Her mother stayed home to care for Michelle and her brother while her dad never missed a day of work at a water plant.  Her parents supported the importance of education and Michelle studied diligently, eventually completing a law degree from Harvard.

As she worked in her first law office, she was assigned the mentorship of a new law student who was none other than Barack Obama.  Despite “fake news”, I learned that Barack Obama had his own complicated upbringing and certainly did not grow up with a silver spoon!

Reading Michelle’s life story, the commitment of this couple to the greater good and all the sacrifices to family time, helped me understand the power of this couple to make a difference in the world.  From her vegetable garden at the White House, her commitment to healthy children and to Barack’s fierce determination to be president, they made a difference to the people of America.

This was an inspiring read and I am looking forward to the Michelle Obama event in Toronto this May.


83.  The Bookshelf of Yesterday (Amy Meyerson)

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The Bookshelf of Yesterday was an entertaining book to listen to during my commutes.  It was the story of a young woman’s search for answers after her Uncle died, leaving her a scavenger hunt of clues.  The hints were deliberately hidden in books and old letters that had been entrusted to others for safekeeping.  Her Uncle left a trail of family history which enabled her to learn about her past and discover herself.

 

 


84.  The World According to Garp (John Irving)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.01.30 PMJohn Irving’s The World According to Garp celebrated its’ 40th anniversary this fall.  I eagerly picked up a copy, expecting to love it a second time around.  It had likely been about 25 years since my first read through and my first copy had experienced an unfortunate accident in the bottom of a canoe.  At that time (early 90s), relaxing on a camping trip, I had loved the story.

The second read took me about 3 weeks.  I struggled to get through it, remembering snippets and slowly recalling the story.  Although it was ahead of its’ time in many ways, with feminist ideas and a strong transgender character, it was so obviously written from the perspective of a  man and had me rolling my eyes at times.

Lessons learned, sometimes revisiting an old favourite is just a disappointment!


85.  The Tent (Margaret Atwood)

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It was amazing to receive a signed copy of the tent from my CanadianContent Goodreads Group Secret Santa.  These, very short, short stories were a couple of pages and were a great way to end each night.  Having said that, I will need to revisit them as reading Atwood’s prose before bed is not the best time for contemplation!

 

 


86.  The Crown (Jennifer Robson)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.03.54 PMThank you to Harper Collins for sharing an advance reader copy of The Gown.  I had looked forward to reading this novel after hearing Jennifer Robson speak at the Brantford Public Library where she shared the idea of this novel as well as at the embroidery she had attempted during a trip to London to research the book.

This was an engaging story of a young embroider who was living independently after losing her parents and her beloved brother before and during the second World War.  It highlights the perseverance of a group of women to complete, with painstaking detail, the beautifully embellished wedding gown of Princess Elizabeth at a time when England needed something to celebrate.

I love historical fiction and think that this book struck a chord as I thought about my late Grandmother who had attended the Queen’s coronation a few years after the setting of the book.  Robson continues the pattern of her meticulous research and has woven a story that not only entertains but helps readers have a greater understanding of England following World War II.


87.  The Deal of a Lifetime (Frederik Bachman)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.04.17 PMThanks to my husband for this great collection of 3 short stories which he picked up, knowing how much I had enjoyed A Man Called Ove.  I had mistakenly thought that this was a holiday book when I started reading it on Christmas morning.  As I powered through the stories, I was especially struck by the second tale which described the experience of a grandfather, son and grandson as they  came to terms with the grandfather’s dementia.  This collection is poignant and beautifully written and it just might be a good idea to have a box of tissue handy for the middle story!

Finishing this book reminds me that I must read Beartown which has been recommended to me multiple times (Sarah, Layne, Shannon).


88.  The Library Book (Susan Orlean)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.04.39 PMThanks to my brother for another great Christmas gift, The Library Book.  This non-fiction book told the story of the Los Angeles (LA) Public Library which sustained an enormous amount of damage and the loss of many books during a fire which was thought to be arson.

The book not only described the fire and investigated the suspect but it shared details about libraries, the loss of books during war, the past history of library administration in LA along with  the complex workings of the shipping department as it shared books with multiple branches.

While I loved the topic and detail of this book, it would have benefited from a bit more editing.  There were a couple of repeated parts and I struggled, at times, to keep up with the way the chapters jumped back and forth between topics.


89.  Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.04.59 PMIn 2018, I have read Cat’s Eye, The Tent and now Oryx and Crake, the first of a dystopian trilogy.  I was lucky to meet Margaret Atwood at an event at the Stratford Theatre and appreciate her creativity and spunk each time I read her work.

Reading Oryx and Crake made me think about both The Hunger Game and Divergent series and wonder if Atwood’s writing had inspired these authors to write their tales which had many similarities?

The reader slowly comes to understand the stories of Oryx and Crake through the eyes of Snowman, the remaining human who had been born in a previous way of life.  He is supervising the “Crakers”, designer humans in a world devoid of technology and community while he tries to stay safe and avoid the pigoons and wolvogs.

This first book, in the series, describes how the world had gotten to this point and I look forward to learning more about Snowman and what is to come in the next two books including The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam.


90.  Spark of Light (Jodi Picoult)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.05.25 PMThe January book club read is Spark of Light which is a fictional tale of an abortion clinic under fire.  It is told from multiple perspectives and it begins at the end of hostage deliberations after some hostages have been released.  It then travels back by the hour to help the reader to understand what had happened before.

Again, Jodi Picoult has spent a great deal of time researching her topic (including witnessing abortions at different stages and speaking to individuals who had chosen to terminate pregnancies).  She brings the issue to life including the perspective of a young girl  and her aunt awaiting an appointment for birth control, a woman that has just had the procedure, an “anti” who was disguised as trying to obtain information for an abortion and the doctor and staff who supported women to make choices.

While I struggled with the literary device of telling the story backwards, I enjoyed this quick read which makes a reader ponder their own feelings on the issue.  I for one, am glad to live in Canada where women have choice!  I am sure that it will be a dynamic discussion on Wednesday!



 

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