Wednesday, November 30, 2011

FIR '11: How Do You Encourage Others to Read?

In what ways do you encourage others to read or support their reading habits? How do you share your love of reading with others?

I am such a lover of books that I do everything I can to encourage others to read, that's why I became a book blogger! I'm always talking about what book I'm currently reading, what books I have read, what books I absolutely love. I'm always willing to share a book of mine with a friend or family member. My sister loves chick lit so I'm always passing those books on to her when I am done with them. My stepfather likes a good controversial Christian book so I pass those on to him when I'm done. Everyone else I just pass one on when I think they'll like it.

I'm always encouraging my children's reading habits. At home they have a bookshelf full of books in English and French. Whenever I'm at the bookstore I hit up the bargain books shelves in the kids section so we can get more for our money. I also ask family members to give books as gifts instead of toys. I am so thankful our library is a 2 minute walk from our home so we go there often. And we always buy from the book fairs and Scholastic orders at school. I make sure that I read in front of my children often (easy to do since I love reading so much.) And of course, I read to them often.

My husband is a work in progress! For a while, he didn't read anything. Then I noted to him that libraries lend graphic novels. Then he started spending a lot of time in the libraries, even hitting up libraries in the towns outside of the city we live in. And then he got a tablet and now that thing is glued to his hand and he is constantly reading digital graphic novels.

Our family is always looking for ways to share our love of reading. Last year we donated 1/3 of our kids books to the local school. It is overcrowded, boasting a student population of 1900 in Kindergarten to Grade 5. About 95% of the kids come from families where English is not the first language. We decided that it would be good for us to help out the school by donating a bunch of our books to their Borrow a Book program for the Kindergarten kids to encourage reading in English at home.

Holiday Break Reading Challenge

I have signed up for the 2011-2012 Holiday Break Reading Challenge hosted Julie and Karin at Edifying and Edgy. Over the holiday break (December 16 - January 1) there will be daily book related activities. You can participate in one of them or all of them, it's all up to you!

To get an idea of what the activities are like you can check out last year's challenge here. There are tons of prizes to be won and it looks like it will be tons of fun.

Our school break is a bit different than the dates scheduled here so I'm not sure how much of the activities I'll be getting in on but I look forward to doing as much as I can!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Always Something There to Remind Me" by Beth Harbison

Whether they are fond memories or not, everyone remembers their first love. Erin Edwards certainly does. Back in high school she thought she would be with her boyfriend Nate Lawson forever. But after two years of dating their relationship came crashing to an end.

Erin thought she had moved on. She grew up, had a baby who blossomed into a beautiful teenager, and found a demanding but satisfying job as an event planner. Things were sailing along smoothly until her perfect boyfriend Rick proposed. It wasn't the proposal that worried her, it was the fact that the first thing she thought of was Nate. After all these years, what was he doing back in her mind?

Always Something There To Remind Me by Beth Harbison is a tale of teenage love and heartbreak, and what happens when you can't quite get over that first true love. As Erin navigates her adult life, her teenage memories come flooding back to her and she wonders if that intense, head over heels love she felt for Nate was real or just because it was her first. Things become even more complicated when she runs into Nate and he has a few surprises of her own.

The book alternates between the past and present. I found it a little strange that the time periods also alternated between first person and third person. I'm not sure what the point of it was and while it distracted me a bit at the beginning of the book, as it went on it wasn't such a big deal. The alternating of the time periods certainly added to the suspense and need to keep turning the page.

If you're a regular reader of my reviews you know that while I'm not a prude when it comes to sex in novels, I'm not fond of graphic sexual scenes. And this is where this book really turned me off. It wasn't so much the fact that the passages were "well-explained" it was that the passages involved Nate and Erin as teenagers. I get it, teenagers have sex, that's not what I'm complaining about. I just don't think the detail was needed as to what they were doing.

Overall this book is your standard chick lit with depth. It will tug at memories of your teenage years, your first love, and the spots that people hold in your heart and mind even when they're long gone from your life. If you've ever found yourself wondering what happened to your first love or can't get them out of your mind you will really enjoy this book.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent With Austen

As today is the start of Advent, it is the start of Advent with Austen, hosted by Yvann at Reading, fuelled by tea.

Why Advent with Austen? Because it's been 200 years since Sense and Sensibility was published and because December 16 was Jane Austen's birthday.

Why am I participating? Umm....because I've never read anything by Jane Austen *runs and takes cover* Seriously. I know what you're all thinking, how can we ever trust anything she says about books again? Well, things are about to change.

My plans:

So I don't know how much reading I'm going to get done but the plan is start with Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, hopefully move onto Emma and then if I'm lucky get in a little Northanger Abbey. If I get really adventurous I'll pick up Sense and Sensibility.

I won't just be reading though. Thanks to Netflix, I'll be doing a little watching as well. I'm going to watch the film versions of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. I'll also watch The Jane Austen Book Club and Lost in Austen.

Happy Advent with Austen!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Speculative Fiction Challenge 2012

In my attempt to broaden my reading I have found another challenge to join! The Speculative Fiction Challenge 2012 is hosted by Adventures of 2.0. This is a genre that is very new to me, one that I have often avoided (with the exception of a few Margaret Atwood novels.) I'm already reading 3 books for other challenges so I'm going to aim for the "excited" level of 6 books. I'd really like to go for the "content" level of 12 books but I'm think it may be a bit too high for me.

I haven't decided yet which books I'm going to read but I think I'm going to be reading more of the classic books from this genre. I'm also going to make sure one of the books is a steampunk book as that is a genre that I've only recently heard of and I must say that while it doesn't sound like something I'll really like, it's still fascinating enough that I want to give it a try.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"A Cupboard Full of Coats" by Yvette Edwards

Jinx is a woman haunted by her past. Fourteen years ago her mother was brutally murdered in their East London home. She is consumed by the guilt of the part she played in her mothers death and she has let those feelings creep into every part of her life, including her relationship with her five year old son and her estranged husband.

But when Jinx thinks she has a handle on things, living the life she deserves, an old friend of her mothers appears on her doorstep out of nowhere. Lemon wants to talk to Jinx and revisit the events that led up to that horrible night. As they spend the next few days immersed in the past, Jinx realizes that this is her one and only chance to confess what she did. But Lemon also has something to confess and Jinx comes to see what really happened the night that changed her life.

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards is a family drama full of jealousy, betrayal, violence and passion. Jumping off the page at you is the richness of the East London and West Indian cultures that play a pivotal role in the story. A Booker Prize long list selection, this book is also the debut novel from Edwards and it shows the promise that she has an author.

What I loved about the book was the theme of culture and its influence. West Indian culture plays an important role in the book as does the food. Mmm….the food. I love (and cook) Caribbean food so it's safe to say I was extremely hungry throughout the entire book! The characters dialogue is interspersed with Caribbean dialect but is still easy to understand for readers who are not familiar with it. Edwards paints a beautiful picture with the way she uses culture and food. She also introduces readers to the small island nation of Montserrat, one you don't read much about in literature.

The story of Jinx and her mother is an incredible one and I commend Edwards for tackling this subject. The story is heartbreaking, traumatic and gripping. However, I personally feel that the writing didn't quite live up to the story. As I began reading I was actually pretty surprised that it was a Booker nominee. However, it was still strong enough to make it a page-turner. It held my interest but didn't leave me wowed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People" by Douglas Coupland and Gordon Roumieu

These aren't your average children's stories. And if the title doesn't warn you of this, then the fact that they are written by Douglas Coupland and illustrated by Graham Roumieu should clue you in. With titles like "Donald the Incredibly Hostile Juice Box," Brandon the Action Figure with Issues," and "Kevin the Hobo Minivan with Extremely Low Morals" you will be wanting to keep this book far away from your children.

Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People contains seven short stories with weird, crazy, scary, improbable and inappropriate characters, not just for children but for adults as well. Each story has brilliant and vivid drawings to accompany them and add to the inappropriateness.

Marketed as "deliciously wicked" and "completely hilarious" I personally found this book to be anything but. Highly inappropriate, sure, but the laughs were few and far between. Each story definitely pushes boundaries and the characters are definitely beyond expectations. If the only point of the story is to shock the reader, then it achieves that with it's absurdity. But for me, there was nothing else to it.

I just didn't get it. I've read only one of Coupland's other works, nothing of Roumieu's. Perhaps fans of theirs will enjoy this book. If you think this may be of interest to you, check out these favourable reviews:

Book Geeks

The Toronto Star

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia

The year is 1968 and eleven-year-old Delphine and her two young sisters are leaving behind their home in Brooklyn and heading out to Oakland for the summer. Their father has decided that the girls need to spend some time with the mother they never really knew. But when they arrive in Oakland, they find that their mother isn't exactly glad to see them.

Wanting her home to herself, their mother Cecile sends the girls to the People's Center where each day they attend a Black Panther day camp. But the girls, especially Delphine, had high hopes of getting to know their mother. Slowly, over the course of the summer, they begin to learn not only about Black History but the true nature of their mother and why she left them. And in the end, they form a bond that no one expected.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is the 2011 winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, which is awarded for books about the African-American experience and written for a youth audience. This book is aimed at tweens but is a great book for children and adults of all ages.

It presents a unique view on race relations in the late 1960's as well as a unique view on the Black Panthers - through the eyes of a child involved in their programs. When the girls first arrive, they don't understand the struggle that is happening on the West Coast, it is far different from what they have been taught back home.

The messages in this book are quite powerful given that they are aimed at young children. This is an educational book that children will enjoy. Williams-Garcia has a talent for taking a divisive and turbulent time and making it accessible to young children. This is definitely a book you will want to read to your children while teaching them about the civil rights movement. It can't be easy to take a group as controversial as the Black Panthers and put them into a children's story without getting preachy or critical, but Rita Williams-Garcia did it perfectly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Tales From the Yoga Studio" by Rain Mitchell

When you set foot in a yoga studio you step into a place where everything in the world is left outside, where life becomes about slowing down and breathing in the moment. You instantly become a part of a community of diverse people all working toward the same goal. Yoga isn't just exercise, it's a life-changing practice.

Rain Mitchell's Tales From the Yoga Studio takes you inside this world and introduces you to the many people whose lives are touched by yoga. Lee is the studio owner who is being courted by a trendy yoga chain. Their offer is to good to be true and Lee struggles with letting down her faithful clients who have flocked to yoga at turning points in their lives.

I began a regular yoga practice six months ago so I instantly gravitated to this novel. Knowing how much it has changed my life and the strength I have found through it, I was thankful that someone wrote a book detailing the life changes and friendships that emerge from yoga centres.

This book is a quick, fun read that captures the yoga experience excellently. It isn't about those perfectly toned, extremely bendy yogi's who seem to be off in some other world (though it does include some hilarious extreme types), it's about real people with real problems who turn to yoga to help them get through. And that is what I greatly appreciated about this novel.

I felt that the book was lacking a bit of depth when it came to the characters, their development felt a bit rushed in order to get everything included and tied up by the end of the novel. As well the friendships that were formed between the ladies seemed a little out of the ordinary and I found it a bit difficult to believe. However, this is just the first book in a series so hopefully this will correct itself and in the books to come we'll be able to go deeper in these areas.

If you have your own your own yoga practice or even if you have just dabbled in it a bit you will enjoy Tales From the Yoga Studio. If you don't think yoga is for you, pick up this book anyway, as you will enjoy the theme of female friendship in a new setting as well as the easy read.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mixing It Up Challenge 2012

Ellie of Musings of a Bookshop Girl is hosting the Mixing It Up 2012 Challenge. It is designed to get us out of our reading comfort zones, exploring new genres and reading diverse books. It's the perfect challenge for me as that's exactly what I've been wanting to do lately. For all the rules and to sign up go here.

There are five levels of participation and I have decided to go for the top one - All the trimmings and a cherry on top. This involves reading one book from all of the given categories, a total of 16 books. Here are the books I have chosen:

Classic: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
Biography: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
Cookery/Food/Wine: Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe
History: A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor
Modern Fiction: I've Got Your Number, Sophie Kinsella
Graphic Novels/Manga: Maus, Art Spiegelman
Crime/Mystery: The Accident, Linwood Barclay
Horror: The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells
Romance: The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks
Science Fiction/Fantasy: In Other Worlds, Margaret Atwood
Travel: All Over the Map, Laura Fraser
Poetry: The Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes
Journalism/Humour: How to be a Canadian, Will Ferguson
Science/Natural History: The Legacy, David Suzuki
Childrens/Young Adult: Want to go Private?, Sarah Littman
Social Sciences/Philosophy: Gang Leader For A Day, Sudhir Venkatesh

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Falling Backwards" by Jann Arden

I can't say enough good things about Jann Arden. Besides being a superstar Canadian singer, eight time Juno winner (think Canadian Grammy's), author and radio host, she is one incredibly cool and hilarious woman. So of course I had to pick up her memoir, Falling Backwards, as soon as I saw it.

In the book, Jann shares her pre-celebrity life with stories from her childhood, tales of teenage ups and downs, and the road to making it in the entertainment industry. The book is full of warmth, brilliant insight and moments that will make you laugh until it hurts. What is evident from the first to the last page is who Jann is as a person. She leaps right off the page at you and makes you feel as though you're sitting in a coffee shop chatting with a friend.

She will have you falling down laughing as she talks about her childhood exploits including her penchant for lighting matches, getting her head stuck in the milk chute and having her mother de-worm her using scotch tape. She will have you smiling with understanding as she fondly remembers the teachers who made a difference in her life, spending her summers outdoor with playmates from down the road, and the bad perm that characterizes many a persons high school years. And she will also have a tear or two falling down your cheek as she discusses her father's struggle with alcohol, her experiences with unwanted sexual advances, and her eldest brothers descent into alcohol and drug addiction culminating in a murder charge.

No matter what the subject matter, light or heavy, Jann recounts it all with brutal honesty. She's not looking for a pity party, she's sharing what she's learned from what life has given her, both the good and the bad. The lessons of Jann's life are lessons for all of us. Her family wasn't perfect (who's is?) and they had their struggles but through it all they remained committed to each other and it shows in the person that Jann is today.

Falling Backwards is easily one of my favourite books of the year. It will probably end up being my favourite. I read the book in one day because I just couldn't put it down. It's also the first book this year that I have given 5 stars to on GoodReads (I'm very picky about this designation.) Any Canadian will find this book enjoyable, Jann Arden is one of ours to be extremely proud of, whether you listen to her music or not. And you don't have to be Canadian or even know who Jann is to find the beauty in this book. Jann Arden lays everything bare on the page, she isn't ashamed to be unflinchingly honest, and she is one of the sassiest women out there. Do I really need to tell you to pick up this book?

Thank you to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back to Classics Challenge 2012

Can you believe it's time already to start signing up for the 2012 reading challenges? I can't! Where has this year gone? The first challenge I am signing up for is:
Hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much, the Back to Classics Challenge is just what it sounds like, it's all about the classics! This will be good for me, I have a few shelfs full of classics I have never opened. If you would like to sign up for this challenge, check out it out here.

There are nine categories to complete in the year. Here are the books I have chosen:

19th Century Classic: Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
20th Century Classic: Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Re-read: 1984, George Orwell
Play: A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
Mystery/Horror/Crime: Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Romance: Pamela, Samuel Robertson
Translation: Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne
Award Winner: The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
Foreign Country: Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)" by Mindy Kaling

You most likely know Mindy Kaling from The Office, where she stars as Kelly Kapoor and writes several of the show's episodes. Even if you're not a fan of the show, you probably still recognize her from her film roles. If you don't know who she is, you must go find out. A good place to start? Her new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

In essays, Kaling documents her life as the chubby child of immigrant professionals growing up in America, a university comedy actress portraying Ben Affleck in an Off-Broadway play and finally, having achieved her dream of becoming a comedy writer and actress. A quick read of this book will show you why she is so deserving of all the success she has had.

In the book she takes on topics such as karaoke etiquette, the rights and responsibilities of a best friend, romantic comedies, Irish exits, chest hair and comedy roasts among many, many other hilarious topics. I could totally relate to her revenge fantasies while jogging and wanting to know why men take so long to put on their shoes.

This is a fantastically funny book. The collection of essays present moments of seriousness as she shares how she made it in Hollywood, the struggles along the way and so many moments of hilarity as she shares the strange world of fame and her observations on everyday life.

Fans of Mindy Kaling's and The Office are definitely going to want to pick this up (I can't believe you haven't already!) If you don't fall into the above category you will still find this a funny, enjoyable read.

Thank you to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Half-Blood Blues" by Esi Edugyan

In 1940, war had spread throughout Europe. In Paris, a brilliant young jazz musician named Hiero was arrested by the Nazis. He was a German citizen and Black. Hiero was never heard from again.

Fifty years later his friend and fellow musician Sid, who was there the night he was arrested, is at the premiere of a documentary chronicling Hiero's life. The film spurs Sid to relive their time together, a time of brilliant music and culture but also of trouble, racism and war.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is an engaging, stunning and original novel set in a time that continues to haunt our world. It is a unique story to emerge from the time period of World War two, giving a voice to to the many stateless people who were lost during that time. What makes this story so gripping is the way it is woven with the beauty and soul of the jazz scene the time.

The narrative is in an incredible language of the time, a sort of German-American slang, peppered with jazz and flavour. The use of this language really brings the story to life, makes the characters and their emotions jump off the page. Reading the book you can feel the relaxed, expressive energy of the characters while at the same time feeling their troubles and fear. It is a difficult thing to do, to take oppressed people and make the reader feel their joys despite their troubles, and Edugyan does this very well.

Half-Blood Blues was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize as well as the three major Canadian literary prizes. Just yesterday it was announced that the book won Canada's most prestigious prize, the Giller. This book is very deserving of all its praise. This is Esi Edugyan's second novel, and at thirty-four years of age, she has a promising career ahead of her. This was the book I predicted as the Giller winner and I strongly believe that Edugyan has opened wide a path to becoming one of Canada's great literary voices.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Congratulations to Esi Edugyan on her Giller Prize win for Half-Blood Blues!!!

This win guarantees the 34-year-old new mother booming sales (on an already best-selling novel) and her place in CanLit history. Less than a year ago Edugyan was searching for a publisher for her book after her first company collapsed. Congratulations to Thomas Allen Publishers for picking up this fantastic novel.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Giller Prize Wrap-up and My Prediction

The winner of the Giller Prize will be announced tonight. For those who don't know, the Giller Prize is one of Canada's most prestigious literary prizes. It is a must-follow for fans of Canadian fiction!

This year I aimed to read all of the books on the long list. That didn't happen. However, for the first time I managed to read all of the books on the short list before the winner was announced.

The shortlist (click on title for review)

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt - Nominated for the Man Booker Prize and has already won the Rogers' Writers Trust prize. Has a wide appeal and is very accessible for those who aren't fans of the Western genre.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan - Nominated for the Man Booker Prize as well as all 3 major Canadian prizes. A fantastic story, it's language transports you to the time and place, engrossing you in its beauty. (My review isn't up yet.)

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady - written in a unique format (through the emails of the main character to one person), a page-turning novel about a misunderstood man and his need to be heard.

The Free World by David Bezmozgis - a book I feel captures the beauty and diversity of our country, the story of a family caught between two worlds, waiting to immigrate to Canada.

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner - the only collection of short stories on the short list, this book is a hilariously dark take on society.

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje - a beautiful story about a young boy's voyage and the lasting effect it had on his life. Ondaatje is an incredible writer who is one of Canada's best.

My prediction

How do I pick one? I honestly believe that there is no runaway book or book that will be surprise to win. It seems that it's between Half-Blood Blues and The Sisters Brothers given the fact that they have both been nominated for the major awards of the season. But it's too hard for me to predict who will be chosen by others so I will say that if I were picking the winner I would pick........

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick deWitt

The year is 1851 and Charlie and Eli Sisters, the infamous Sisters Brothers, are travelling from Oregon to California to kill a man. This is what they do as professional killers. But this trip isn't going to be an easy one. Along the way there are many unsettling and violent experiences. And when they arrive in California they find that getting their man isn't going to be as easy as they thought.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt is a fascinating Western taking place in a time when the prospect of gold was enough to make a man abandon all that he has and knows, and when honour and pride are important enough to lead to murder. The book is narrated by Eli, the more sensitive of the two brothers, and chronicles everything whether large or small on their journey.

I'm not sure how much of the book stays true to historical details but that doesn't matter in this story. In fact, it probably makes the book much more accessible to readers who don't consider themselves fans of the Western genre. What matters is the way the reader will be drawn into this distant time in which many of us can't conceive living in. I know for sure that I wouldn't have made it very far in this time and place.

Eli Sisters is a heart-warming character despite his profession. At first the reader can't help but favour Eli over his older brother Charlie but as the book goes on and we are offered glimpses into their lives before they became killers for hire, Charlie becomes a character whom you begin to feel a lot of emotion for. And speaking of emotion, this book will provide it all for you - humour, sadness, empathy, delight.

Written in short chapters, this book is an easy to read, intriguing novel that will transport you to a different time. Right from the start it pulls you in. The Sisters Brothers was not only nominated for the 2011 Man Booker Prize it was nominated for all three of the major Canadian literary prizes, and has already won one, the 2011 Rogers' Writers Trust. It is easy to see why this novel has been hailed as one of the best books of the year.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

Gordon "Rank" Rankin, Jr. is the type of guy that people size up immediately upon meeting him. Larger than other kids his age, he comes across as your typical hockey enforcer and most people expect such behaviour from him. As much as he tries to fight this, it soon catches up to him and he finds himself in trouble, putting everything he has worked for in jeopardy.

But it isn't this incident that has Rank all riled up. Decades after a troubling run-in with the law changed his life, Rank discovers that a university friend has written a book based on his life. Painted as a goon and criminal, Rank is angry that his one time friend has betrayed him. And he is determined to set him straight.

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady is an intriguing, unique novel. It is written in the form of Rank's emails to his former friend Adam who has written a novel based on Rank's life. Rank is determined to correct Adam about his life, angry that Adam has left out some crucial biographical information that made him the young man he was - the death of his mother. However, through the course of the emails (never from Adam), Rank comes to see that the book is not really about him, and Rank manages to find a peace about his life as the reader comes to understand why Rank has spent his life feeling so tormented.

I was really impressed by the writing, how the narrative using emails really added to the story. Even as Rank took tangents and began talking about other parts of his life, my interest was kept. The format gives an interesting view of what could be just another story. The character of Rank is misunderstood and heart-wrenching, you can't help but be drawn to him and feel sorry for him. His emails are angry and honest, there is a complete realness to him that jumps from the page.

This book is a great read. It is a page-turner that will grab hold of you emotionally. It is a quick read but one that the reader will also find themselves invested in. Rank is a character that doesn't leave you once you have turned the last page.