Monday, December 31, 2012

Year In Review

The last day of 2012 has arrived and it's time for me to look back at the year and check in on all those challenges I signed up for a long, long time ago!  Let's see how I did!

100 Books Read Challenge
For the third year in a row, I didn't make this one!  But I came close, 91 which isn't bad at all!  In 2011 I read 88 books so an improvement.  At least I'm read more than the previous year, not less!  Something to aim for again in 2013!

Back to Classics Challenge
This is the first year I joined this challenge.  My aim was to read 9 books and I read 4.  So, not my goal!  Towards the end of this year I joined up with the Classics Club to help me read more and I will definitely be signing up for this challenge again next year.

Mixing It Up Challenge
This one covered a whole bunch of genres and I signed up to read 16 books and I did it!!!  Some new to me genres include Manga, Romance and Horror.

Speculative Fiction Challenge
This is a genre I hadn't read much of so I challenged myself to read 6 books and I got to 5 on this one.  For the first time I read Steampunk (though a short story) and a Zombie novel.  It was a very interesting challenge for me and definitely got me reading books I wouldn't otherwise.

Canadian Book Challenge
I sign up for this one each year and never have a problem with it!  It starts in July and the goal is to read 13 books.  It's halfway through the challenge and I am already at 13.  Last year I read 20, so I wonder what I'll do this year!

So 2/5 isn't that great for completed challenges.  One thing I learned this year is that I can't leave all my challenge reading until the end of the year!  I plan to give myself a bit of a schedule for next year when it comes to challenges.

2012 was a good year for reading (is there ever a bad year for reading?)  I read a lot more classics than I have since I was in school.  I've now read 15 of the 1001 Books to Read.  In addition to joining The Classics Club I also joined the Around the World in 80 Books challenge.  Both are 5 year challenges so I've got lots of time there (assuming I don't leave them all to the end!)  I also had a few opportunities to attend author events this year and meet a few of them, something I had never done before.  I now have a section on my bookshelf just for autographed copies!!!  I discovered that I really enjoy reading mysteries, a genre I didn't read much of before.  And while there were a few genres I just couldn't get into, I did give a bunch of books a chance I wouldn't have before.

So here is to 2012 and looking forward to the year 2013 in books!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Books of 2012

As the year comes to a close it's time to pick out a few books that really stood out for me during the year, books that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone for years to come.  I read a lot of great books this year, but there are 4 that stand out for me.  I am so proud that 3 of these books are Canadian.

 Up and Down by Terry Fallis
If one book could sum up what being a Canadian is all about, it's this one.  

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Original concept, beautiful writing, a great debut novel.

The Beggar's Opera by Peggy Blair
A thrilling mystery set in Cuba, the first Inspector Ramirez novel.

The Stone Thrower by Jael Ealey Richardson
A riveting story of race, identity, football, and a father-daughter relationship.

Have you read any of these books? What are your favourite books of 2012?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks

Confession: I've never seen the movie The Notebook.  And I have never wanted to.  A lot of people are shocked when I say that.  And I get it.  I'm just not a fan of romance movies or books though.  But one of my challenges this year required reading a romance book and I figured if I'm going to go for it I may as well go on.  And so I read Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook.

This novel of love lost and found is a beautiful story that spans decades and looks at the ultimate romantic decision - stay with the dependable, respectful one you're with and take a chance with the ultra-romantic lost-love that has appeared in your life once again.  

In 1932, two teenagers from two very different worlds met one summer and fell in love.  But the end of the summer was also the end of the relationship.  Fourteen years later, a newspaper article brings Allie and Noah back together unexpectedly.  For two days, they return to the summer they spent together, the romance that changed their lives, and the reason why they grew apart.  But like that magical summer, this reunion can't last forever.  Allie needs to decide whether she will return to her life and the powerful attorney she is engaged to or whether she will go against what others want for her and rekindle her romance with Noah.

I love how this story is told from the perspective of 80 year old Noah, looking back at his life while reading to a woman from a notebook in the nursing home.  And I love where the story in the notebook stops leading readers to run through all the possible scenarios as they turn each page.  

This is definitely sappy romance.  Have some tissues ready while you read this book.  It's not so much about the story but the emotions behind it.  Having read this book may not make be proclaim that I love romance books but it has definitely made me want to see the movie now.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Gang Leader for a Day" by Sudhir Venkatesh

Sudhir Venkatesh was a first year sociology graduate student when he took the biggest risk of his life.  Hoping to make an impression with one of his professors, he headed out to one of Chicago's most notorious housing projects, looking for people to take a multiple choice survey on urban poverty.  What he ended up finding would change his life, and the academic establishment, forever.

Somehow Venkatesh managed to befriend a man named JT, the leader of a gang that controlled one of the buildings in the projects.  And for the next seven years, Venkatesh would spend his days under JT's eye, learning everything you could ever know about how an organized gang works.  There he met drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes, squatters, pimps, police officers, community organizers and tenants who were just trying to survive the poverty that surrounded them.  He learned every detail of how to operate a crack-selling business and why residents of the neighbourhood depended upon the gang for their survival.

All of this is chronicled in Venkatesh's book Gang Leader For A Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets.  It is a fascinating look at the inner workings of an urban gang as well as day to day life for many burdened with poverty.  But it's also the story of a unique friendship, of two men who are worlds apart but also not much different from each other.

Sudhir Venkatesh is either crazy or seriously dedicated to his work.  He discovered that popular methodologies of studying poverty weren't telling the whole story and decided that he was going to change that.  It's true - you can't ask someone how it feels to be black and poor giving them the options of answering "very bad, somewhat bad, neither bad nor good, somewhat good, very good."  Embedding himself with a gang ended up threatening his life many, many times but his dedication not just to his work but to tell the story of those he met kept him going.  

Anyone who has read Freakanomics by Steven Levitt will be familiar with Sudhir from the chapter "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?"  It was his work in Chicago that discovered that being in a drug gang didn't actually make you much money.  Foot soldiers and dealers made less than minimum wage and the leaders while better off, weren't living lavish lifestyles.  Instead, he found that the gangs took care of housing problems for the tenants, provided food and clothing, settled disputes, provided security for the buildings and many other things that made life in the projects just a little easier.  In a nutshell, they did for the building what the authorities refused to do.

This is a fascinating book, there is no other way to describe it.  You take an academic from a middle-class upbringing and drop him in the middle of one of the nation's worst housing projects and you definitely don't expect to get this book out of it all.  Moral and ethical dilemmas abound and throughout the book you can't help but wonder how you would respond if you were in the shoes of either the tenants or Venkatesh.  The writing covers years of research and expertly puts it all together in a book that is honest, frank and shocking.  One of the best non-fiction books I've read in a while.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"All Over the Map" by Laura Fraser

As her fortieth birthday nears, travel writer Laura Fraser faces the fact that her life didn't turn out exactly like she thought it would.  Divorced and childless, she found the love she yearned for in a Frenchman she met in Italy, one who would forever be in her life but never be hers.  This affair did one thing though, it re-ignited her passion for travel.

In All Over The Map, Fraser shares how she decided to take hold of her life and her independence at forty and take off travelling the world on assignment and on holiday.  As she travels to places like Argentina, Naples, Paris, Mexico, Peru, Samoa and Rwanda she comes to terms with the fact that for her single life may be scary but it is something that she can face on her own terms.

This book is a combination of travel book and personal memoir and strong on both points.  As you travel the world with Fraser, you are able to soak up the culture and discover these places right along with her.  Anyone with a little bit of wanderlust will instantly be attracted to the book.  But you will also find a lot of perspective on issues many women don't feel comfortable talking about.  Fraser is refreshingly honest about her relationships and about a difficult, life-changing experience that she has on one of her trips.

I love a good travel memoir.  I've had only a little taste of world travel and it ignited a spark in me that never died.  But like many, picking up and taking off around the world just isn't in the cards for me (at least not right now.)  Travel memoirs are the next best thing, going all over the world and seeing it through a personal lens.  This book is not just a wonderful escape around the world but an interesting story to go along with it.  Fraser experiences what many of us do, the realization that life doesn't always turn out the way we hope or plan.  

Pretty much everyone who reads this book will think of Eat, Pray, Love and though I haven't read that book myself I can see why.  I think this book deserves as much attention.  The locations are exotic and beautiful and Fraser writes beautifully about her struggles and realizations, making this the right combination of travel and memoir.  You'll find it difficult to not want to pack your bags and buy a plane ticket as soon as you put the book down.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"The Legacy" by David Suzuki

Academic, activist, broadcaster, eco-champion - David Suzuki is a Canadian icon.  As a fighter for the environment, he has spent decades hosting television shows, writing books and working tirelessly to inspire others to learn more the world around them and find ways to live in harmony with the natural world.

David Suzuki has written 52 books and The Legacy: An Elder's Vision for a Sustainable Future is a culmination of his life spent showing governments, big businesses and everyday citizens how to better care for the earth.  In 2009, Mr. Suzuki delivered his "last lecture," his reflections on how we have arrived where we are and what we can do to build a sustainable future for ourselves.  This book puts that speech on paper with a few extras, sending a call to action for everyone that walks this earth.

Less than 100 pages, this book will shock and inspire you.  With decades spent immersed in the scientific world and studying the environment, Suzuki could have written a tome full of scientific data, scary facts and charts galore.  But instead, he appeals to the reader on a personal level, in a much more philosophical way, imploring us to pay attention and take action.

It's shocking to look at population growth in the form of a chart, to see the explosion of people on the earth in such a short period of time.  Now is the time for us to change our ways.  One of the biggest things I took away from this book is the need for us to redefine progress and measure our well-being in ways other than the GDP.  Current economic indicators aren't accurately showing the effect we are having on our environment and it on us.  This definitely gave me a lot to think about and helped me look at the effects we are having on the earth in a different way.

The phrase "An Elder's Vision" is the perfect way to describe this book.  Cultures around the world respect, honour and adhere to the words of their elders for a reason.  And when it comes to the environment, David Suzuki is everyone's elder.  If we are going to listen to someone on the subjects of conservation, climate change and sustainability, it has to be him.  He has witnessed firsthand the damage we are doing to the environment and been involved in the most important work being done to turn the tides.  Don't let the worrisome nature of the book scare you, it may seem bleak but Suzuki successfully argues that it is not too late to save this planet for future generations.

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

It's hard to believe that there is only one more week of school until the Christmas holiday.  The last few months have flown by, and I certainly miscalculated with how much time I had to finish off my challenges!  I'm working on them though!

Before I get into my reading I must say that my heart and prayers are with Newtown.  As the mother of young children, my daughter a grade one student, I'm heartbroken and grieving for the beautiful little babies whose lives were lost.  And amazed by the heroes who laid down their lives to save others.  May they all rest in peace and may God keep them in His arms until they are one day reunited with their families.

What I Read Last Week

What I Am Reading Now

All Over the Map by Laura Fraser

What I Plan to Read Next

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

All are books that I need to read to complete my challenges.  I'm hoping for a good reading week so that I can spend the Christmas holidays getting some reading and reviews done for the beginning of next year!

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Wylde on Health" by Bryce Wylde

If you live in Canada, chances are you've seen Bryce Wilde on television.  A leading alternative health expert, Bryce has been seen on on his own television show, Wylde on Health, as well as a frequent guest on shows such as Breakfast Television, CityLine, Canada AM, The Marilyn Denis Show, and Steven and Chris.  

His latest book, Wylde On Health: Your Best Choices in the World of Natural Health, brings together the latest information on natural health along with Wylde's expert knowledge to help you navigate the often confusing world of alternative medicine.  Wylde clears up the terminology, gives an in-depth look at the testing available to better understand your health, and gives readers the best natural cures for everything that ails.  Using his own easy to understand rating system he helps readers separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to today's hottest health trends.

I read a lot of books on natural health and I would consider this one a great place to start.  Wylde spends a good amount of time covering every health concern that readers could be dealing with, looking at how it affects people, how to be tested for it, and what to do about it.  He then discusses the popular natural solutions that are available for these concerns.  He rates them based on the claim, the scientific validity of the claim, the ease of using the solution, the cost, and cautions in an easy to read chart with a final overall rating.  The book is highly interactive with QR codes on most pages to give you video clips and more information on the health concerns.  The book finishes off with a section on staying healthy, outlining the importance of actions such as eating right, exercising, sleeping well, etc.

The book covers a wide range of topics and whatever is ailing you will be in here.  It gives a good overview of health concerns and solutions in an easy to use format.  The only negative thing about the book for me is that it doesn't fully explain how or why these solutions work, and doesn't get too in-depth.  That is what the QR codes are for though that is not something I personally tend to use.  However, I would still use this book as my first place to go when something is concerning me and then go to other sources to get more information if I want it.

I'm a huge fan of Bryce Wylde's and any time I see him on television I stop to listen to what he has to say.  This book captures all of his knowledge in one place.  He isn't one to make grandiose claims and he isn't one to shun conventional medicine, he is just passionate about helping people live their optimal health and understand the healing powers of nature and the body itself.  Whether the natural health world is confusing you, scaring you or of interest to you, this book is a must-read.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams

One summer, Blanche DuBois arrives at the New Orleans apartment of her sister Stella having fled her troubled life in Mississippi.  The sisters were born into an aristocratic life and Blanche is shocked to discover the rough, working class life that Stella is living with her husband Stanley.  Stella believes that Blanche has arrived due to the loss of the family home, but as time goes on, Stella and Stanley begin to wonder what is really behind her visit.

When Stanley talks to a man who knows of the intimate details of Blanche's life, he confronts her and the truth of her disgrace comes out.  Her last chance at love is destroyed and at the hands of Stanley's anger and rage, Blanche experiences a complete breakdown and Stella's only choice is to have Blanche institutionalized.

Tenneesee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire is a story of passion, desire, class, fragility and vulnerability.  It is dark and tragic, real and haunting.  It is so easy to be drawn into the world of these characters, to feel sympathy for them and to hurt along with them.

I feel very unqualified to give an in depth critique on a play as it's just not my background.  Especially classic plays such as this one.  I will say that I found this one very interesting as well as captivating.  The stage directions given made it so easy to imagine the world the characters inhabit.  This is a play that won't do with just one reading.  The themes and characters are rich and complex.  Even though it was written decades ago the themes of love and betrayal still just as strong and true today.  It isn't long but it packs quite the punch and I thoroughly enjoyed this classic.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm not going to finish all of my challenges before the end of the year.  I will definitely have one finished and it's looking good for a second, but I doubt I'll finish all 3.  Every year I seem to leave my challenge books until right at the end and I am yet to have a year where I finish them all.  I think I'll start out next year by reading a whole bunch of challenge books up front!

Last week I read:
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

I am currently reading:
 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

I plan to read:
The Child's Child by Barbara Vine
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

What are you reading this week?  Did you finish your 2012 reading challenges?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"A History of the World in 100 Objects" by Neil MacGregor

Founded in 1753, the British Museum is the first national public museum in the world and it grants free admission to all visitors.  It is dedicated to preserving human history and culture and is home to over eight million objects from every corner of the earth, documenting the world from the very beginning.

In 2010, the BBC broadcasted a program for over 20 weeks in which Museum Director Neil MacGregor chose 100 objects from the collection that would document the history of the entire world.  This successful series was published as the book A History of the World in 100 Objects.

This is a fascinating book, not just for history lovers, but for everyone.  The history of each object and the place and time period it is from is described in a few pages, with visually stunning photographs.  The book starts right at the beginning with a Mummy from Egypt and a stone chopping tool from Tanzania and ends with a credit card from the United Arab Emirates and a Solar-powered lamp and charger made in China.  Along the way we see objects from every area of the world and watch as cultures and civilizations develop both in conjunction and independent of each other.

For me personally, the most fascinating objects were the Gold Cape from Wales c.1900 BC, the Rosetta Stone from Egypt c.196 BC and the David Vases from China c.1351.  Many of the objects are so amazing to see in photographs, I can only imagine what a trip to the British Museum is like!  And what an undertaking this project must have been, choosing only 100 objects to document all of human history.

This book is a chunkster coming in at 608 pages.  But it isn't meant to be read in one sitting.  It is a collection piece itself, to be read bits at a time, enjoyed time and time again.  I took this book out from the library but three weeks isn't enough time to appreciate the book fully so I will definitely be looking to add this to my personal collection.

What I really like about the book is the way you can see the different cultures around the world develop at the same time.  Indigenous American, Pacific, Middle Eastern, African and European civilizations were all flourishing in different ways and this book allows you to see this happen side by side.  The accompanying histories of the objects are thorough and include comments from well known scholars who are at the top of their fields making this a complete and must-have collection.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Little Readers

Little Readers is an opportunity for me to share what my children have been reading over the past week.  My daughter is 6 and my son is 3 and we read in both English and French.

My daughter is still very interested in learning about Farms and this is another book she picked out at the library.  It is excellent for young children with lots of pictures and short bits of information.

La pomme rouge by Kazuo Iwamura is a beautifully illustrated book about a young girl having a picnic and when her red apple rolls down the hill, she enlists the help of a few animals to catch it.  The illustrations are pencil drawings with only the apple in colour.  The language is easy so early readers can read it.

Mon nouveau jouet by Mo Willems (I Love My New Toy in English) is one of my favourite books to read!  Lili has a new toy and lets Emile play with it.  But when Emile breaks it, Lili becomes very upset.  Only, the toy isn't really broken and Lili is a little embarrassed.  The illustrations are so cute, the text is so much fun to read, I love reading this book over and over and the kids enjoy it very much.

I have mentioned Chicka Chicka 123 by Bill Martin Jr. before.  My son is obsessed with this book and it is all he wants to read!  We read it everyday and he's starting to memorize it.  Thankfully I enjoy reading this one as well!

This is the only picture I could find for Whose Hat is That? from Ice Water Press.  It is part of their Little Discoveries series and is a lift the flap book.  A little boy has lost his hat and while looking for it finds a bunch of different hats belonging to different people.  This one is being used for my sons speech therapy and he really enjoys it.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"The Tent" by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is a celebrated Canadian novelist known worldwide for her incredible novels of fiction.  Her well-known books cover a wide range of topics and genres including speculative fiction, dystopian fiction, historical fiction and romance.  But she is also a writer of short fiction and non-fiction and this is what we find in her book The Tent.

This book is a collection of short pieces previously published in magazines and anthologies.  They are fictional pieces inspired by real life characters, including orphans, aging homemakers, and warlords, and other daily occurrences that have given her pause for reflection.  Each piece is very short, I wouldn't call them stories with most being just a couple of pages.  It very much has the feel of taking a peek into Atwood's writing journal, her drawings adding a unique and personal touch.  

Atwood draws heavily on the ironies of life and writes with biting sarcasm and wit.  What I enjoyed most about this book is that the short pieces allow you to read on the run, but because of her writing you still feel like you got a lot out of the small amount.  A one or two page piece can give you a lot to think about, a few good laughs, and a strong feeling of satisfaction when you put the book down.  The only thing that ties these pieces together is that they are reflections on the world but they don't need anything else to make them a cohesive collection, Atwoods writing does that on its own.

My favourite piece of the book is Chicken Little Goes Too Far in which the well-known character becomes dismayed that no one will do anything about the falling sky and so he forms a group dedicated to solving the problem.  There are a lot more wonderful pieces like this one that will take you inside the great mind of Margaret Atwood and allow you to see the world the way she sees it.

Advent with Atwood is a month long even hosted by Yvann at Reading With Tea, celebrating the works of Margaret Atwood.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

 It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

For the first time in a very long time I am able to say that I had a wonderful reading week last week!  I read over 1300 pages and finished 4 books, one of which was a major chunkster.  It feels good to start December off like that since I'm going to be spending the month finishing off the challenges I have neglected throughout the year.  I'm also participating in Advent With Atwood hosted by Yvann at Reading With Tea.  And of course I'm still in the midst of the Count of Monte Cristo Readalong, which I really need to get my butt in gear on!  It's a great book so far but I constantly find myself wondering why I didn't get the abridged version!

Last I Week I Read:

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
A History of the World In 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
The Tent by Margaret Atwood

I Am Currently Reading:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood 
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

What I Am Reading Next:


Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"The Island of Dr. Moreau" by H.G. Wells

When Edward Prendick is rescued from shipwreck in the South Seas he is thankful for a second chance at life.  But his rescuer isn't taking him home.  Instead he is taken to an island paradise where behind the palm trees and beaches lies a sinister secret.  A mad doctor who has been shunned by society is conducting terrifying experiments, attempting to turn animals into humans and letting the beasts live wild on the island.  Prendick's only hope lies in getting off the terrifying island.

The Island of Dr. Moreau, written in 1896 by H.G. Wells, is an enduring work of science fiction and horror.  The book was written a few decades after Darwin's famous Origin of Species when the world was deeply concerned with the matters of the natural world, human nature and God.  It's most shocking theme is that of human interference with nature and the results.

I imagine that for those of us reading this book today, it isn't as horrifying or scary as it was when it was published.  With the current popularity of zombies, vampires and horror movies, this book may seem a little tame.  But I can only imagine what it was like for those reading it around the time it was published.  Moreau's practice of vivisection - dissecting a creature that is still alive - was popular at the time for scientific discovery and there were no laws governing the practice.  The ethics that surround it, as discussed in the book, were in hot debate.  And without the salience of science fiction movies and books we have today, this was probably at the top of the list of horrifying possibilities.

However, while the horrors of the island may not give present day readers a good scare compared to other contemporary works, one only has to consider our present day experiments with genetic engineering to see how this novel could still hold true today.  There may not be an island run rampant with hybrid beasts, but the capabilities our science labs possess can be quite scary!  And when we think of it this way, we can see why this book would have been so terrifying at the time.

What makes this book a classic to me is its commentary on human nature.  The book asks the questions about what makes us truly human and what it is that separates us from animals.  It makes readers consider the role of science, the powers that it possesses and the responsibilities that come along with it.  I think it's important to keep in mind Darwin's theories when reading this book as it seems to have influenced this book.

It is easy to see why this is one of the more popular and enduring classic novels.  While the book gives us a glimpse into the time it was written and wonderfully captures the concerns of the time, the themes still hold up today.  It is highly engrossing, the language isn't difficult, and it is fascinating to see what captured the minds of people over a century ago.