Friday, October 31, 2014

Month In Review

After a disastrous month reading-wise in September, I definitely got back into the swing of things in October.  This was mostly due to the announcement of the Giller Prize longlist mid-September.  I always try to read as many books on the longlist as I can before the winner is announced at the beginning of November.  This year, I look poised to read 11/12, my best year so far.

Here is what I read in October (with my GoodReads ratings):

Paradise and Elsewhere - Kathy Page *****
Us Conductors - Sean Michaels ****
Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab - Shani Mootoo ****
The Betrayers - David Bezmozgis ****
Choose Your Own Autobiography - Neil Patrick Harris ****
Priya in Heels - Ayesha Patel ****
Tell - Frances Itani ***
American Innovations - Rivka Galchen ***
My October - Claire Holden Rothman ***


Canadian Book Challenge (7), Diversity in Books (2), TBR Pile (0), Classics Club (0)

What I'm Looking Forward to In November

Christmas books!  I've pre-ordered two Christmas-themed Chick Lit books (The Great Christmas Knit-Off by Alexandra Brown and One Hundred Christmas Proposals by Holly Martin) plus got a few Christmas-themed ARC's so I will definitely be having Christmas in November.

What do you plan to read in November? Any Christmas-themed books line up?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Paradise and Elsewhere" by Kathy Page

The rubble of an ancient civilization. A village in a valley from which no one comes or goes. A forest of mother-trees, whispering to each other through their roots; a lakeside lighthouse where a girl slips into human skin as lightly as an otter into water; a desert settlement where there was no conflict, before she came; or the town of Wantwick, ruled by a soothsayer, where tourists lose everything they have. These are the places where things begin.

Paradise & Elsewhere by Kathy Page is an incredible collection of short stories that balance the line between fantasy and reality.  Described as a collection of short fables, the stories in this book take you to far-away worlds, ones that are both familiar and strange.

I absolutely adored this book of short stories.  I’ll admit that I have never been much of a fan, I prefer full-length fiction but this book hit the spot and gave me new appreciation for the genre.  What did it for me was the fantasy element of the stories.  Another genre I don’t read much of, these stories all had a perfect blend of fantasy and reality, making it difficult for the reader to tell just what is possible and what isn’t.

My favourite stories:

The Ancient Siddanese - a story of a group of tourists exploring the site of a long ago culture.  But where on earth would this culture have lived?

We The Trees - a university professor tries to track down one of her students who is studying cross-species communication.  Exactly how far will this student go to communicate with the trees?

The Kissing Disease - the story of a town quarantined because of a disease that spreads through kissing.  Will the town be able to keep the healthy apart from the sick?

These stories, and the rest, are so beautiful and haunting, they stick with you.  These are stories that are set in the imaginary worlds but also inhabit our own.  They will definitely make you think about the way we live.

This was a 5 star read for me, which I honestly never thought I would give a short story collection.  Usually with stories they end up leaving me wanting a little bit more but in this case, it was the complete opposite.  I was so satisfied by every story and I just could not put the book down.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Plenty More" by Yotam Ottolenghi

Four years ago, Israeli-raised and London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi released Plenty, a vegetarian cookbook.  The book became an instant classic, not just amongst vegetarians.  Ottolenghi’s incredible recipes elevated vegetables to star of the plate status with exotic flavours and incredible combinations.

Now, Ottolenghi has released a follow-up, titled Plenty More, once again giving vegetables rock-star status with flavours from around the world.

How does this sound?

Hot-and-Sour Mushroom Soup
Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt
Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil
Buttermilk-Crusted Okra with Tomato and Bread Sauce
Bitter Frozen Berries with White Chocolate Cream

Is your mouth watering yet?

This collection of recipes is absolutely incredible.  And what’s amazing is even if the names and pictures make the dish appear difficult, the recipes quickly show you how easy it is to make such great-tasting dishes.  

I picked 4 recipes to try right away: Mixed Vegetables and Yogurt with Green Chile Oil, Baked Orzo with Mozzarella  and Oregano, Batata Harra, and the Parsley, Lemon, and Cannellini Bean Salad.  All 4 now have a place in my regular rotation.  The Cannellini Bean Salad makes for a great appetizer or lunch.  I combined the Mixed Vegetables and Yogurt with the Batata Harra (roasted potatoes) as suggested and it made for a great dinner.  All of these dishes are light and flavourful and pack incredible combinations and flavours I wouldn’t have thought of putting together.

The book itself is just as wonderful as the recipes.  From the gorgeous hard cover, to the colourful and tempting photographs, everything about this book will make you realize that vegetarian eating isn’t bland boring after all!  I highly recommend this book.

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab" by Shani Mootoo

Jonathan Lewis-Adey had an idyllic childhood, growing up in a beautiful Toronto neighbourhood and raised by his mother, India, and her partner Sid.  But one day, at the age of nine, Sid disappeared from Jonathan’s life completely.

Years later, as a grown man and writer of two books, he tries to reconnect with the woman he so dearly loved as a child.  But when he arrives in Trinidad, Sid’s home, Jonathan discovers that she is no longer as he remembered.  Sid is now Sydney, a man.  

Over the next decade, Jonathan continues to make trips to Trinidad to get to know Sydney, hoping to find out why he disappeared all those years ago.  But as Jonathan tries to find his beloved parent within this stranger, he finds himself struggling to understand the effects love and acceptance have on all of us.

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, by Shani Mootoo, is a moving novel about love and family, identity and acceptance.  Inhabiting both the vibrant landscape of Trinidad and the difficult winter of Toronto, this is a beautifully understated book that examines the things that determine who we are and who we become.

I picked up this book because of its Giller Prize nomination, not knowing what it was about.  It was evident very early on in the book the topics it would be tackling - identity, gender, family, racism - and this drew me in.  Using Jonathan in search of his parent to explore these themes was an interesting device.  As Jonathan discovers Sydney, so do we.

My criticism of this book would then be that this didn’t move along as fast as I hoped it would.  Learning about Sydney through the lens of a childhood friendship was another interesting way of telling the story but I felt as though there was so much more that could have been there to move it forward.  I would have preferred Jonathan to be a character that relays the story to us, that hears it at the same time we do, rather than also having to deal with his need to understand Sydney.

The issue of homosexuality and gender identity in the Caribbean is not something that is addressed in fiction often enough.  I feel as though people living outside of these countries do not truly understand the importance of these issues and that is why writers like Mootoo and books like this are so needed.  This novel is a first-rate example of how books shape our world views and how they bring to life the stories that need to be heard.   

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"My October" by Claire Holden Rothman

Luc Lévesque is known as the Voice of a Generation in the province of Quebec.  A celebrated novelist, his combination of books about his Montreal neighbourhood and his separatist views have made him a hero to many.  His wife Hannah, faithfully translates his book into English.  But she has spent her adult life distancing herself from her family, especially her father who was a special prosecutor during the October Crisis.

Hugo is the fourteen-year-old son of Luc and Hannah.  Growing up in Montreal, in a dual French/English household and in the shadow of his father, he struggles with finding his own identity.  One day, when he commits a reckless act at school, the whole family must deal with the fallout.  

My October, by Claire Holden Rothman, is the tale of one family in whom the past and present of a province collide.  A family that is torn apart by history and language, the book explores what happens to a family when they all struggle with language and identity.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way it looks at a major moment in Canadian history through the lens of a modern family.  The October Crisis is well-known but for those of us who were born after or not from Quebec, the ramifications and the cultural importance is not as well-understood.  There are many layers to this book that move it beyond being a work of fiction.  

I enjoyed reading this book but felt a little let down.  I wanted more out of the story of Hugo, to understand more of his thoughts and motivations.  I felt as though that storyline was competing with the marriage between Luc and Hannah and I didn’t feel fulfilled by either of them.  The book felt crowded and it's as though to get it all in, some things had to be sacrificed.

That being said, there was good intent there and the book does provide much thought.  I personally enjoy reading about real-life events through the lens of fiction because it provides us with so much more of the little things than a news article or textbook can.  But because this is a book about relationships and identity meant to parallel a political event, I wonder how well this book will read outside of Canada.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Choose Your Own Autobiography" by Neil Patrick Harris

Famed child actor, star of two hit television shows, Tony winner, popular award show host, husband, father…Neil Patrick Harris has lived a full life and now you can live that life too.  When NPH writes his autobiography, he doesn’t do it in the regular way.  Instead he writes, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography.

It’s pretty safe to say that most fans of Harris’ already know much of his story.  Born and raised in New Mexico, he came into our homes as the boy-genius doctor on television’s Doogie Howser, M.D.  But when the show finished, he was unable to escape the Doogie image.  It wasn’t until he appeared in the 2004 film, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle that he was able to shed that image and get on the path to becoming the NPH we all know today.  Read this book and see if you will follow the same path he did.

When I first heard about this book I pretty much thought the same thing everyone else did - “a Choose Your Own Autobiography book? Who other than NPH could write such an awesome book?”  Honestly, this was such a fantastic read.  A twist on the same old celebrity memoir, this book is so much fun to read and will have you laughing and smiling the way Harris’ characters make you do the same.

All of the warmth and humour that Harris exudes when you see him hosting an awards show or giving an interview jumps off the page in this book.  He is completely open and honest about his career and personal life.  He knows his audience and speaks directly to them.

The choose your own adventure format is so much fun.  At many points I found myself taking way too long trying to decide which path to go down because I just wanted to know everything that happened.  The only thing that bothered me is how it is written in the “you” perspective.  You are Neil Patrick Harris and obviously that was how Choose Your Own Adventure books were written but that kind of got on my nerves.  If it had been written that the reader chooses Neil’s adventure, and instead of “you” it uses “Neil” that would have removed what annoyed me.

One quick note - this is one of those books that needs to be read in paperback.  I cannot imagine how it would be to read this in e-book format.  

Are you a fan of Neil Patrick Harris?  Chances are you have probably already read this book or at least put it on your to-read list.  I mean, do I really need to convince people to buy his autobiography?  I didn’t think so.  So I will just say this, it is everything you hope it will be and more.

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top New Series I Want to Start

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

When it comes to Chick Lit books, I love reading a series.  Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series was the first one I read and I loved it.  Then came Carmen Reid's Annie Valentine, Lindsey Kelk's I Heart series, Alexandra Brown's Carrington's and most recently, Katie Oliver's Dating Mr. Darcy.  I just love being able to visit my favourite Chick Lit characters over and over.  So Chick Lit is the genre I look to whenever I'm in the mood for a new series.  

For this I have chosen three series by the same author, Jenny Colgan.  I read her novel The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris and enjoyed it so much, I want to read more.  I'm pleased to see that many of her books are parts of series and I'm having a hard time deciding which series to start with.

Little Beach Street

Cupcake Café

Rosie Hopkins

Have you read any of these series?  Which one do you think I should start with?

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Priya in Heels" by Ayesha Patel

Priyanka Patel has always been the dutiful daughter.  The only child of traditional Indian parents, she has always made choices that reflect her culture and respect for her parents.  She is finishing up her medical residency and has agreed to let her parents find her a man from their community to marry.  But when Priya meets the sexy musician who lives down the hall from her, her perfect life looks to be crashing down around her.

Tyler O’Connor first met Priya in the emergency room where she treated his sprained ankle.  He couldn’t get her out of his head and when he discovered that she was living down the hall from him, he put everything he had into pursuing her.  But Priya’s decision to put her family’s wishes above her own leave him devastated.

Priya and Tyler quickly discover that love isn’t something you can just set aside.  But is it stronger than the bonds of family and culture?

Priya in Heels by Ayesha Patel is a New Adult novel that blends Indian tradition with American culture in a story that explores what happens when two people from different cultures fall in love.

This is the first New Adult title I have read and as someone who has not read a lot of Young Adult because I don’t connect with them, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But I must say I was pleasantly surprised.  This novel was basically a chick lit novel but not as fluffy as I usually read.

The Indian-American female character is not one that is represented well in contemporary literature and that was part of the reason why I grabbed this book.  Growing up I had many friends who were straddling two cultures and I have quite a few friends who ended up in the exact same scenario as Priya.  It was very refreshing to see this story being told.

Patel does a great job of writing about Indian culture for North American readers.  She includes many traditional elements and does a great job of incorporating them into the story so the readers learns but also so much of the book isn’t spent explaining them.  She assumes the readers has some knowledge of Indian culture but if you don’t, there is a glossary at the end that explains it.

I really enjoyed this book but I did feel like the story dragged on a bit.  There was too much going back and forth, Tyler and Priya getting together, then being apart, then getting back together, then being apart.  In my head I was yelling “just hurry up and get together” and if it had gone on any longer than I probably would have yelled it out loud.  The book could have been about 100 pages shorter for me.  

I hope that this book starts a new trend of diverse main characters and intercultural romances in the women’s fiction genre.  Books like this represent the world we are living in and the challenges that people face growing up in cultures that are not their own.  If you’re looking for diversity in fiction, this is a great place to start.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Shopaholic to the Stars" by Sophie Kinsella

It is finally happening, Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) is moving to Los Angeles!  Becky and Minnie are joining Luke who is managing the career of famous young actress Sage Seymour.  But is Hollywood ready for Becky?

Becky arrives in LA convinced that she will become Sage’s personal stylist and then her career will blow up to include every A-list celebrity.  But when she arrives, things don’t work out the way she plans.  She quickly realizes that the only places that will hire her are retail stores and so in order to achieve her dream, she takes a job as the stylist of Sage’s archrival.  But this development doesn’t sit well with Luke, and when his ex-girlfriend enters the picture, their Hollywood dream is thrown upside down.  Will they survive Los Angeles or will they hightail it back to England?

Shopaholic to the Stars, by Sophie Kinsella, is the seventh book in the Shopaholic series, the adventure-filled stories of the loveable Becky Bloomwood.

Now I know that by the seventh book a series can start to feel stale (many times this happens well before the seventh book.)  And I know that the last few books of the Shopaholic series have divided readers, many loving them just as much as the first and many feeling that Becky has transformed into a character that is hard to like and somewhat annoying.  But while I feel that the last few books weren’t as fantastic as the first, this book took me back to the beginning of the series and made me fall in love with Becky the way I did then.

Los Angeles is the perfect setting for a character like Becky and I think Kinsella did a great thing by taking Becky out of her comfort zone and the locations we’ve seen her through the last few books.  The new setting definitely made the series feel fresh again and brought a new dynamic to it.  I found myself laughing more during this one than I had in the last few books as well.  The land of spiritual retreats, paparazzi, and reality television definitely put Becky back in my good books.  

The only thing I didn’t like so much about this book was the storyline that was given to her father.  I’m not going to ruin the book for anyone by discussing it here but it felt out of place and every time attention turned to it in the book, I felt let down.  I would have preferred to see Becky’s story play out continuously.  And the ending that leaves the story dangling, I could have done without that as well.  

All in all, I enjoyed this book.  I had hoped that this series would never disappoint me and unfortunately after the last couple of books it was going that way for me.  Which was upsetting because Kinsella’s standalone books during this time have been so wonderful.  But this book makes me want to continue reading the series.  If you haven’t already given up on the series and are still sitting on the fence, I recommend continuing with this book.  The opinion is divided on it but my opinion is that it is an enjoyable read and who doesn’t love visiting an old friend.  Sometimes they change, sometimes we don’t like their decisions, but it’s always nice to know what they are up to.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes" by Chris Hadfield

When Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, he became a celebrity, not just in Canada but around the world, all due to his use of social media while in space.  In his downtime on the ISS, he took photographs of Earth, showing us our planet in ways we have never seen before.  

Now, Hadfield has published a book of his photographs titled You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.  He has chosen 150 of the most striking images which have never been seen before.  

This is a stunning book and it’s not just for photography or science nuts.  Everyone will enjoy this unique view of our planet.  My husband, seven-year-old daughter, and I all read this book together, marvelling at the beauty.

The book is divided by continent and the pictures are accompanied by not just captions of where they are, but historical, scientific, and cultural explanations of how that part of the earth came to look the way it does.

I was absolutely blown away by the photos of rivers around the world.  It’s amazing to see the path that rivers actually take, the way they wind through the land and settlements.  One of the pictures that also stands out to me is of the islands in Turkey that form a perfect exclamation point.

Words cannot describe how great this book is.  Stunning, beautiful, incredible, these words come close but the beauty of this book can only be understood by reading it.  This book is not just about the photographs, it’s about history, nature, and ways that humans influence and change the landscape.  A must-have book for all.

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

"The Betrayers" by David Bezmozgis

Baruch Kotler is an Israeli politician whose extramarital affair was exposed by his political opponents after he refused to back down from his contrary position on the West Bank settlements.  Now, he finds himself fleeing the country with his mistress, Leora, to Yalta, the place of his youth.  But what happens there is something he never would have expected.

Baruch and Leora rent a room from a woman they meet at the bus terminal.  After settling in, Baruch discovers that her husband is his former friend, the man who denounced him to the KGB 40 years earlier, which resulted in Baruch being sent to a gulag.  Over the next 24 hours, Baruch is forced to deal with not just the man who betrayed him but those in his own life he has betrayed.  

The Betrayers, by David Bezmozgis, has been short listed for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize and rightfully so.  It is an incredible story of fate, forgiveness, and love.  It is an insightful novel, one that tells the story of a specific group of people yet touches on universal themes experienced by us all.

If there was ever a book that would have you wondering, “could I forgive?” it is this book.  But this isn’t the only place it will have you thinking.  The concise writing doesn’t merely tell a story, it turns things back on the reader, getting them to reflect on the part that betrayal has played in their own life.

Baruch Kotler is by no means a perfect man.  When he refuses to change his stand on a political issue, he is blackmailed by opponents and his imperfections come to light.  He has betrayed his wife, his two children, and himself.  His solution is to flee.  But he runs straight into the one person who can stop him in his tracks.  Valodya Tankilevich had a choice to make.  To save his family, he had to give up his friend and because of his actions, his friend was imprisoned for 13 years.  While his friend became a cause célèbre, Tankilevich lived the rest of his life as a disgraced man.  

A story of the choices we make and the consequences we face set against the history of the Russian Jewish people, this is a remarkable story.  Of course this book was written before the instability in Crimea but it gives a readers a better understanding of the culture and politics of this area and adds more to the story we get from the media.  Timely and thought-provoking, this novel is very deserving of award nominations.