5. Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Madeleine Thien)

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 4.29.08 PM“I assumed that when the story finished, life would continue and I would go back to being myself.  But it wasn’t true.  The stories got longer and longer, and I got smaller and smaller”.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a brilliantly written window into a dreadful period of Chinese history.  Despite trauma, human rights abuse and great loss, the beauty of music plays through the lives of two families.  I don’t know why I waited so long to read this compelling novel with its beautifully written narrative providing a window into a shocking history that I sadly knew very little about.

This Giller and Governor General Award winning book has been on my bedside table since meeting Madeleine Thien and Alexandre Trudeau at the Eden Mills festival.  The pair were promoting their books and discussing their love of China.  I was lucky enough to meet Thien a second time at the 2016 Giller Between the Pages event just prior the award announcement.

The book begins in Vancouver.  Marie is dealing with the loss of her father.  He had visited Hong Kong, never to return,  leaving her mother and Marie to grieve.  At the same time, a Chinese refuge was sheltered in their apartment.  As Marie got to know Ai Ming, she learned about her father’s history and the connections they shared as she sifted through old papers of her father’s.

China has been a land of change.  The elder generation lived through land reforms, Marie and Ai Ming’s fathers experienced the cultural revolution and Ai Ming was part of the Tiananmen Square protests and riots.  Each generation dealt with repression and violence at the hands of the government in stake contrast to Marie’s life in Canada.  I remember the violence of Tiananmen Square but it was shocking to learn of the generations of abuse and violence which are not taught in Canadian schools.

The story began slowly but the drama and connection to the characters slowly built until the reader is left with a feeling of loss when turning the last page.  The pages are filled with so much detail as to the lives of each generation that it left me wanting to know more about the destiny of Ai Ming and Marie.

If you have not read Do Not Say We Have Nothing, it is time.  It is a starting point to understand more about world history and it is a beautifully written story of family and resilience.

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4. Forgiveness: A Gift from my Grandparents (Mark Sakamoto)

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 9.07.34 AMOne of the many wonderful things about Canada Reads is that it encourages Canadian’s to read books… books that you might not normally come across, books that make us think, books that we can debate and books that change us!  As my followers know, I love Canada Reads!  Attending the 2017 Canada Reads finale was one of my book highlights of the year.

The theme for the 2018 Canada Reads is:  One Book to Open Your Eyes and the Canada Reads 2018 long list of 15 books has been announced.  On January 30th the final 5 books and defendants will be announced and I hope to get tickets for this year’s finale to the event which will be held from March 26th to 29th at the CBC building in Toronto.

As I eagerly await the announcement of the final 5, I checked out a copy of Forgiveness from the library.  Once I started reading it, I could NOT put it down and finished it the same day, going to bed with the story still swirling in my head.

Mark Sakamoto lovingly describes how the horrific experiences of his grandparents eventually bring the two families together.  His maternal grandmother was a young girl in British Columbia living in a community with other Japanese families, working hard, bringing up their families with education and kindness.  As the war raged and Canadian intolerance grew for the Japanese families, they were driven out of their homes and sent across the mountains to Alberta, working like slaves and starting a new life living in a drafty chicken coop.  Through these desperate times, the family worked together, grieved together and celebrated love together.

The author’s maternal grandfather grew up on the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  He was a member of a large family with a volatile father and a loving mother.  Once war broke out, he eagerly signed up, modifying his birthdate to go overseas.  He was stationed in Hong Kong and was a valiant soldier in a futile effort to stave off the Japanese soldiers.  He spent most of the war in a prisoner of war (POW) camp, losing half his body weight and witnessing horror and abuse that is hard to imagine.  He persevered and survived against the odds, returning to Canada to marry and move West with his wife’s family.

Both sets of grand parents struggled to improve the lives of their families.  Sakamoto’s parents met and the two families built relationships, supporting the couple as they brought two children, Mark and his bother, into the world.  Life was not easy, Mark’s father worked long hours, his parents split and his mother struggled with addiction but Mark was blessed with a strong work ethic, loving grandparents and shared his experiences in this memoir.

Mark Sakamoto is a lawyer living in Toronto with his wife and two children.  He has shared this epic story of his grandparents and the generations of family that followed.  It truly is a story that opens your eyes.

His grandmother’s experience is similar to Joy Kogawa’s Obasan and is a story that should be discussed in senior highschool history classes.  Where Obasan tells the story of Kogawa’s family being removed from their homes and sent East (along with 23,000 other Japanese Canadians) during World War II, Forgiveness blends this history with the experiences of his grandfather fighting the Japanese in Hong Kong. The stories of marks maternal and paternal grandparents are horrific but Mark is the result of these stories and has shared this experience in this powerful memoir.

I hope that this book is discussed for Canada Reads 2018 but whether or not it makes the short list, it is a book that Canadians do need to read and meets the theme of One Book to Open Your Eyes!

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3. The Last Neanderthal (Claire Cameron)

Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 4.03.41 PMI have had The Last Neanderthal on my TBR shelf for far too long!  I was so lucky to win an advanced reader copy through Goodreads.  Why has it been sitting on my shelf so long?   I delayed reading it since Claire Cameron is joining the Grimsby Author Series this month and I wanted to story be fresh in my mind for the event.

The book was worth waiting for!  The book entwines the tales of two women, Girl, a neanderthal who was struggling to come of age and to survive as her family grew smaller and Dr. Rosamund Gale, an archeologist who has discovered a neanderthal skeleton and is determinedly working through her pregnancy.  The chapters alternate between the two characters and the reader is dropped into a prehistoric world, helping readers to understand the struggles to live, hunt, keep a family alive while also relating to the challenges of women balancing their careers with pregnancy and motherhood.

The book deals with challenges of humanity across the ages, including how we deal with both birth and death.  The reader can consider both the similarities and differences in what the two women deal with and reflect on their connection through the archeological dig.  The book is thought provoking and makes me want to learn more.  As I finished the story, I found myself wanting to know what was next for Girl and how Dr. Gale would cope with her newborn.  I think that there is definitely room for a sequel.

Like The Bear, Claire Cameron has written a unique tale and has included great description of the great outdoors!  I am looking forward to meeting her and getting my book signed!

Posted in Canadian, Fiction, Goodreads Giveaway, Grimsby Author Series, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

2. Bel Canto (Ann Patchett)

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 9.49.10 AMA special birthday celebration was held for Mr. Hosokawa, a rich business man.  He had been flown to an unnamed South American country,  from Japan, to experience the singing of Roxanne Coss, his favourite Opera singer.  The leaders hoped that his company would invest in their country.  Dignitaries from across the world, speaking many languages were devastated when they were taken hostage by a group of terrorists who abruptly descend upon the party through the air conditioning vents, taking control of home of the Vice President.

The terrorist group had expected take the president hostage but their plans were thwarted when he stayed home to watch his favourite program.  As the hostages adapted to their capture, they learned about their captors and understood themselves and the mistakes they were making in their everyday life and they resolved to make changes if they were freed.  Terrorists realized that there was another way of life and discovered opportunities that they had never considered.

This is a great book and would be fantastic for a book club discussion.  As I was reading, I had a strong feeling how the book would end (sorry, not spoilers here) but found myself hoping that I was wrong.  I loved learning more about the characters, understanding how a few key terrorists were recruited and thinking about how things could be different.

I am thankful that it was gifted to me by Alan, a member of the CanadianContent Goodreads group.  It was a great book and one that I will recommend.  I had previously enjoyed State of Wonder, Commonwealth and was in the midst of listening to This is the non-fiction book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (which so far was a collection of essays about her experience writing) when my time ran out…  I am waiting to finish it as I was disappointed to find out that there were 5 people ahead of me waiting to check it out.

Ann Patchett is not only the author of 7 novels and 3 works of non-fiction but also runs a bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee.  Her website states that she is known as a “spokesperson for independent booksellers, championing books” and I am looking forward to reading more of her work.

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1. Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott)

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 11.46.41 AMThank you to Sarah for the gift of Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life by author Anne Lamott.  This was a great book to start of 2018 with as I ponder the best way to share a special story.

The book was written like a conversation including encouragement, tips and the no-nonsense truth that writing is both difficult and is not likely to make you rich yet “the act of writing turns out to be its own reward”!

Here are a few great tips that I have highlighted:

  • “put a little bit down on paper every day” – Lamott encourages you to write SOMETHING, take notes about what you see when you are out in the world, write about an experience in childhood just write something!  She suggests to “do your 300 words and then go for a walk”.
  • “read all the great books… we can get our hands on” – this is an idea that I love as an avid reader!  She later suggests the exercise of writing to an author we love.
  • “let ourselves make mistakes” – great advice in writing and life, this is how we learn and grow!
  •  “bird by bird” – this was the suggestion that her father gave to her brother when he had left a project to the last minute.  He suggested chunking it out, writing something small and not tackling the entire project at once.
  • “start by getting something – anything – down on paper” – write a “really, really shitty first draft” – expect that the first draft will need a lot of work and is really about getting it all out on paper, quieting the perfectionist voices in our heads and then shaping it through edits.
  • Know your characters“be open to them” as “plot grows out of character”
  • “sound your words – read them out loud” when you are writing dialogue
  • “writing is about learning to pay attention” – experiencing things and then writing them down for future use.  This author uses index cards but many authors use notebooks including Michael Winter who shared that he keeps thin bank books to write down his thoughts (not sure what he will do when he can no longer find these as banks go paperless)!

One constructive criticism of the book is her comments about the Special Olympics.  Even after finishing the book, I am cringing at her comment about “a girl of about sixteen with a Normal-looking face” and how she described runners as they “lumped and careened along“.  I am surprised that editing did not catch these descriptions as I am sure this was not meant to be disrespectful as she described her exhilaration and cheering at the event.

Overall, Bird by Bird is a quick read packed with inspiring tips.  The main message that I will take from this book is to try and write every day, even writing 300 words is a start and seems manageable on a busy day!


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2018 Reading Goals

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 10.31.26 AMAs we welcome in 2018, what are your reading goals?  Are you planning to read a chapter every day? Hoping to read more Canadian? More fiction?  More non-fiction?  Are you hoping to listen to more audio books?  Whatever your goals are, 2018 is a fresh start and this site will share suggestions for great books to read!

What are my goals?  I have set a goal of 120 books in 2018 including at least 50% written by Canadian authors.  I will strive to meet more Canadian authors which provides additional inside into the books that I am enjoying.  I will start the year by meeting Elan Mastai and Claire Cameron at the Grimsby Author Series in a few weeks.

As the moderator of the CanadianContent Goodreads Group, I will be participating in the 2018 Reading BINGO which is a great way to read things that might be out of your comfort zone.

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After enjoying a Cross Canada Reading Challenge in the summer of 2017, I will participate in a year long challenge to read a book set (or written by an author) in each province and territory.  This challenge was a fun way to read books that I had never even heard of and likely would not have known to read.

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Overall, I will continue to read each day, finding spare moments while waiting for the kids, at lunch and before bed and enjoying the great authors who take you away from the daily grind into new settings and adventures.  I am looking forward to sharing my year of books with all of you and hoping you will comment and make suggestions for great books to share!

Posted in Reading, Reading Challenge | Tagged | 4 Comments

2017: A Year in Review

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 10.30.14 AMAs we leave 2017, it is time to reflect on a year of reading and I will share a few highlights from 2017.  Although my stretch goal had been to read 125 books I completed the year with just 106 books. Again this year, I focused on reading more Canadian authors and I am thrilled to report that I have read 63 books by Canadian authors (almost 60%) including a book set or written by an author in each province and territory during a Cross Canada Challenge.  This challenge was great fun and helped me to pick up books that I may never have discovered.

Here are some of my best and worst reads of 2017 which could be added to your TBR lists for the new year:

 2017 Book that EVERY Canadian should read:  The Break by Katherena Vermette is the book that I thought should have won Canada Reads, the fictional tale shared the impacts of colonialism that devastated generations of indigenous families.  It was a tough read but an important one.

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My Favourite Book of 2017 – It is hard to believe how relevant The Handmaid’s Tale by the spunky, energetic and creative Margaret Atwood, remains despite being originally published in 1985.  This is a great novel which I reread prior to beginning the TV series.  I read a number of Margaret Atwood books in 2017 (The Heart Goes Last, Hagseed, Stone Mattress, Alias Grace)and will continue through her collection this year as her books are unique, beautifully written and thought provoking.  If you have not read The Handmaid’s Tale or it has been decades since you enjoyed it, I challenge you to pick it up in 2018!Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 7.42.06 PMBest Non-Fiction book:  As part of my Cross Canada challenge, i borrowed a copy of Drifting Home by Pierre Berton from the library.  The book was published in the 1970s and detailed his families experience following his father’s trek to find gold in the Yukon.  This was a book that I might never have found without a reading challenge and I enjoyed the description of beautiful terrain punctuated by abandoned relics of the past.

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Top 10 Reads of 2017:

Best Audio Book:  Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe (Stuart McLean) is a book that I would recommend for everyone’s holiday.  The podcasts are amazing and the stories are read by the late Stuart Mclean who is the ultimate story teller.  His heartwarming stories will live on in paper and audio and in the hearts of those who enjoy the podcasts and books.

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The Book that I absolutely could NOT finish:  I really wanted to enjoy The Right to Be Cold.  It is an important topic – climate change and the impacts on the North AND it was part of Canada Reads but the book needed a LOT more editing.  With the author trying to give props to all of her friends, colleagues and those that helped her along the way, it read like a boring who’s who of her life and the reader got lost in the tedious details instead of learning more about the North and her experiences.

Author Events:  I have been very privileged to have met 35 authors at events this year.  This has added context to my reading and been a fun way to spend time with friends. My signed books shelf has been growing and highlights include: the Canada Reads finale, the Between the Pages Giller event and the amazing Grimsby Author series.

Our Franklin Street Little Free Libraries celebrated their two-year anniversary and the LFL organization feted the opening of over 65,000 libraries. This milestone has greatly surpassed their goal of 2509 libraries (set related to the # of libraries that Andrew Carnegie had supported in the early 1900s including a library here in Brantford and the current Paris library).  It was exciting that the City of Brantford has “planted” 10 new LFLs which were decorated by local authors and built by my talented husband!

As everyone knows, I love to share CanLit and the CanadianContent group on Goodreads is growing.   If you are looking for a great place to discuss books this is another great place.

2017 was a great year for reading and sharing a love of books.  I am looking forward to sharing new chapters and accounts of meeting more authors in 2018!



Posted in A Year in Review, Canadian, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

106. The Manticore (Robertson Davies)

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 10.03.58 AMThe Manticore was my final book of 2017 and the final read for my 2017 CanadianContent BINGO card.  It fulfilled the square of a Canadian book published in my birth year (eek… 1972 for those who were wondering).

The week between Christmas and New Years was very busy and this was a slow read for me.  I did not enjoy it as much as I had loved Fifth Business and may not get around to World of Wonder, the final book in the Deptford Trilogy too quickly – that and my 2018 TBR pile is massive so choosing my next read is a challenge!

The Manticore focus on the self-discovery of David Staunton as he deals with the unusual death of his father, Boy (Percy) Staunton.  Those of you who have read Fifth Business will recall that Boy threw the fated snowball at Dunstan, which hit a pregnant woman starting a cascade of events which impacted many lives.  David traveled to Switzerland for intense Jungian therapy and as he dealt with his past and drinking problems, he shared his dreams and the recurrence of a Manticore during the night.

Dunstan is a recurrent character throughout both David’s life and this second novel.  The   reader will learn more about him and his impact on the lives of Boy, his belated wife and David and his sister.

Timing is everything in life and when reading.  One passage that strongly resonated as I recover from a broken foot and reflect on the end of 2017 was:

“During your illness I suppose you did a lot of thinking about your situation.  That is what these illness are for, you know – these mysterious ailments that take us out of life but do not kill us.  They are signals that our life is going the wrong way, and intervals for reflection.”

Somehow, it seems that the my takeaway from this passage is to slow down, to be less busy and to focus on family and self-care – likely a good message for many busy parents who are balancing work, activities, car pool, households… and the list goes on!

The Manticore is not a quick read and I am not sure how much I enjoyed the process of reading it BUT, it is a book for reflection and I did enjoy the overall story.   Davies writing and the messages of self-assessment, discovery and growth are memorable.  This is a book (series) worth revisiting if you read them in highschool where the important messages may have been lost in the teenage drama of life!


Posted in Canadian, Fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Holiday Reads Wrap Up (#97-105)

As part of a Goodreads Challenge, I read some lighter fare in December starting with:

97.  Skipping Christmas (John Grisham) – the book that Christmas with the Kranks was based on, which had me laughing through my commutes – see my review here.

98.  Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe (Stuart McLean) – my favourite holiday read of the season which will become a tradition – see my review here.

99.  The Christmas Tree (David Richard Adams) – two reflective short stories.  Review here.

100.  Last Christmas in Paris (Gaynor & Webb) – based on an elderly WW2 soldier reading his old love letters from the war as he reminisces after his wife’s death. Review here.

101.  The Future Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (Charlie Lovett) – a light sequel to A Christmas Carol which had his nephew meeting the spirits and refining his ways.

102.  The Stupidest Angel (Christopher Moore) – this was a quirky tale that blended the unlikely zombies with Christmas.  It read like cult-fiction and was a fun story that I have added to the Franklin Street LFL if others are looking for something unique.  I love that it was shared by a CanadianContent Goodreads group member so wanted to pay it forward and continue to share this book.

103.  Christmas in Ontario – a non-fiction book detailing holiday traditions specific to Ontario.

104.  Landline (Victoria Rowell) – a new take on the lessons of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life which detailed a work-a-holic wife and mother who skips the holidays to work on a new project with a colleague.  As she speaks to her husband on a landline phone which takes her back to their early days together, she comes to realize what is really important.

105.  The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (Frank L. Baum) – this classic was written by the author of The Wizard of Oz and is a different take on the story of Santa Claus, how he was cared for by immortals and the origins of his gift giving.  His writing was beautifully descriptive and this would be a tale worth reading to children over a series of evenings.

The Christmas reading was a nice departure from some of the heavier books that I had been reading but I am ready for some more CanLit in the new year!

Did you complete any holiday reads?  What were your favourites?

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Set a goal for 2018!

Greetings readers, as we finish of 2017 and start thinking about goals for the new year, I am sharing an older blog post to help inspire more reading!  Did I miss anything?  How do you squeeze in more time to read?  Please add your comment and suggestions below!

How to Increase your Reading

Inspired by the article, 8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year, by Neil Pasricha it made me consider the frequency of times that my friends, family and blog followers ask how I read as much as I do.  This motivated me to create my own Top 10 Ways to increase your reading and share it with followers of the blog.

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 2.52.38 PMSince I was a young girl, I have always been the reader who checks out way too many books to read in a week, the one who’s vehicle wants to turn automatically toward bookstores and the one who can’t help but notice what others are reading in waiting rooms, on the pool deck or on the train.  Books have always been fascinating and take me away to another place, expanding my mind, challenging my thinking and keeping me engaged and entertained!

After taking a hiatus from reading fiction while I studied and read amazing books on leadership, change management and influence, I read like a fiend.  After I graduated and could take the risk of picking up a novel without worrying that I would neglect my studies, I devoured books, one after another.  As my loyal readers know, my first year of blogging in 2014, I had set a goal of reading one book a week and I have been steadily surpassing this original goal.  This year, I have set my goal to read 125 books which is a stretch goal but one that I am committed too.

Here are my 10 Tips to Increase Your Reading:

  1. Turn off the television – although the TV might be on in the background with annoying SpongeBob or cartoons, I watch very little TV.  It is time better spent to pick up a book and jump into the chapters and intrigue of another character.
  2. Always have a book in your bag, in your car, in the family room, on your bedside table so that when you have a few minutes, it is easy to get some reading done.
  3. Use time wisely, if you are waiting for an appointment, read a few pages while you wait instead of mindlessly reviewing the latest Facebook tweet or post.  If you are a carpool mom or dad, have a  book to read while you wait for those slow kids to get to the car.
  4. Add e-books to your phone, if somehow, you are caught waiting without a book, there is a book waiting for you.  I don’t like reading on technology before bed but am happy to get in a few chapters from a screen during the day.
  5. End your day with a book!  What a relaxing way to finish a busy day.  Read until you can’t keep your eyes open… although I know that this can be an issue when you are so close to finishing but know you have an early morning.  If you have seen me bleary eyed, you might suspect that I have been caught up with  great book into the wee hours of the morning!
  6. Join a book club!  I am so happy to be part of a book club with a wonderful group of women who love reading.  This inspires us all to read books that might be outside our comfort zone and gets us out once a month, sharing our reviews, other books that we are reading and spending time together outside of our usual routine. We just finished enjoying discussion about the books from Canada Reads 2017 and are going to read short stories by the late Stuart McLean in May.
  7. Download audiobooks from the library for your commutes.  This is a great way to make use of time in the car and there are some great narrators that can share a story in a way that is a bit different than reading a book.  I find that YA and non-fiction are my favourites while I drive.  Right now, I am enjoying Lion by Saroo Brierly.
  8. Read the book reviews in magazines or the newspaper if you are looking for more book suggestions.  This is not only a great way to be inspired by new books but can also share opportunities for book events.
  9. Wander through a second hand store and find literary treasures – it still amazes me what people donate (me being a book hoarder that has trouble parting with books)!
  10. Borrow from a local Little Free Library.  This is a great way to share books with your community and gives you an opportunity to read and discuss books with neighbours.  The Franklin Street LFL is accompanied by a FB page which provides links to my blog and book suggestions.
  11. Ok, I did say ten suggestions but I also need to suggest attending an author event.  This has been a great way to gain additional insights into beloved books, ask questions, meet authors, get books signed and also helps me read outside my comfort zone since I like to read the book before attending.

Overall, it does not matter what you read, but pick up a book!  Get lost in its pages.  Enjoy the story, dog ear the corners if you must (not on my books though!!) and enjoy a book.  Set a goal and set an example for your family by turning off the technology and turning on your imagination!

What are your suggestions to sneak in reading time?  What are you reading?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments