Saturday, February 28, 2015

Month In Review

February was a very cold month in here in Canada, so I spent a lot of time inside reading.  That is always a good thing!  Though I am definitely ready for the weather to get above 0 again and for the sun to start melting.

Here are the books I read in February with my GoodReads ratings:

The Gallery of Lost Species by Nina Berkhout *****
The Beauty of Grace by Dawn Camp *****
The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King *****
She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Zeenat Mahal ****
The Favourite Son by Tiffany L. Warren ****
Coming Home to You by Liesel Schmidt ****
The Bible's Answers to 100 of Life's Biggest Questions by Norman L. Geisler & Jason Jimenez ****
And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier ***
A Beauty by Connie Gault ***
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper ***
Amnesia by Peter Carey ***
When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid ***


Canadian Book Challenge (5), Diversity on the Shelf (3)

What I'm Looking Forward to in March

I have already started my last book for Canada Reads, so I am really looking forward to the debates taking place March 16-19. I'm still working on cleaning out my Netgalley, requesting new books really isn't helping.  But that will be my big focus this month.  And my library pile.  And all the gorgeous new release....uh oh.

What was your favourite book in February?
What are you looking forward to in March?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Black History Month: Children's Books

My final list for Black History Month is of books for kids that teach them about historical events and people as well as culture.  These are all books that I have shared with my own kids (or plan to when they are older).

Henry's Freedom Box - Ellen Levine
Elijah of Buxton - Christopher Paul Curtis
The Kids Book of Black Canadian History - Rosemary Sadlier
Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged  - Jody Nyasha Warner
Up Home - Shauntay Grant
Anansi the Spider - Gerald McDermott
Martin's Big Words - Doreen Rapport
Through My Eyes - Ruby Bridges
The Patchwork Path - Bettye Stroud

What books do you love to read with your children and use to teach them about Black History?

Month in Review - Non-Bookish Things


Black-ish continues to be my favourite show on television.  I often feel as though I'm watching my life play out on screen (the episode where the Mother-in-Law comes to visit) or viewing what life is going to be like in 8 years time (the father dealing with his daughter having a boyfriend.)  My husband was really unsure of what this show would turn out to be but we both spend the entire half hour laughing our heads off.

And the new show Fresh Off the Boat has also captured our attention.  I began watching for the incredible 90's hip-hop soundtrack and Eddie's fantastic t-shirts and ended up enjoying everything.  Any child of immigrants will find so much humour in this show (the line this week, "crank up the a/c to low" is something I'm pretty sure I heard my dad say when I was a kid.)

I'm very glad that these two shows have turned out great because my two previous favourite shows, Big Bang Theory and Modern Family have been letting me down a lot lately.


This was Oscar month and usually I spend the months leading up to it watching the nominees.  But this year, after Selma was snubbed so ridiculously, I didn't feel like it.  I had already seen half of the Best Picture nominees because those were the movies I wanted to see but I just didn't feel like bothering to watch the movies I wasn't that interested in at that point.  I did watch the awards show and am glad that The Grand Budapest Hotel won so many awards (I loved that movie.)  And the acceptance speeches by Common and John Legend, as well as Graham Moore, were so beautiful and necessary for the world we live in.  Of course, it was much more fun to follow along with the show on Twitter.  Because you got moments like this:

This month I watched two great documentaries.  The first is You Laugh But It's True which follows South African comedian Trevor Noah as he prepares for his first one-man show.  It also looks at his life as a mixed race person in Apartheid South Africa where mixed race relationships were illegal, and thus his being was illegal.  Trevor Noah is hilarious and this is a very moving film.

The second is The Drop Box which I was able to preview, it will be in theatres March 4th and 5th.  It is about a pastor in South Korea who installed a drop box in his church where people can place their babies rather than abandoning them to the streets.  Since he installed the box, he has saved the lives of over 600 babies.  I spent most of this film in tears, at the sadness that surrounds the babies and their parents and also the hope that Pastor Lee Jong-rak brings to this world.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"A Beauty" by Connie Gault

Who Should Read This: CanLit fans, readers who like books that are about character-driven.

In a small community of Swedes in the prairies of Saskatchewan lives a young Finnish woman named Elena Huhtala.  It’s the 1930’s and the drought has hit the village of Trevna, and all of the surrounding areas, hard.  Elena has always lived with her father, her mother deceased since Elena was small, but now he has disappeared, taking with him his rifle and leaving a note.  At eighteen-years-old, Elena is all alone.  

Then a stranger shows up at a country dance in his Lincoln Roadster, mysterious and catching the eyes of all the young women.  Elena needs only one dance before she jumps in his car and leaves the town behind.  As they travel through the prairie towns, unsure of where they are headed, they meet an incredible group of people, all struggling to make their own way through the difficult times.  But then Elena meets a young girl named Ruth and both of their paths are changed forever.  

A Beauty, by Connie Gault, is a beautiful novel about the lives of everyday people forever changed by the appearance of one captivating woman.  

I wanted to read this novel because it instantly jumped out at me as being in the same vein as Cool Water by Dianne Warren.  Everyday people, simple surroundings, complicated lives - I was instantly reminded of that book when I saw this one and that is why I picked it up.  And the comparison was worth it, if you enjoyed Cool Water, you will enjoy A Beauty.

The writing in the book is beautiful, rich in description, transporting you to another place and time.  As a reader, you sit and observe a host of people, investing yourself in the characters, no matter how long or short you’re in their lives.  This was the strength of the book for me, the writing of these people who aren’t the main characters but give life to the setting and the story.

In contrast, I found the story of Elena to be weaker.  I just couldn’t connect with her the way I did with the other characters.  Was it just me?  I’m curious to find out from others who have read the book.  For me, she was mostly a good mechanism to take us on this journey through small-town Saskatchewan and meet these other fascinating characters.  Her story just didn’t draw me in as well as I was drawn into theirs.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read.  I may have felt that some parts were stronger than others, but the strong parts make up for the weak parts and thus, this is a good book.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others looking for CanLit, especially people who enjoy books about this part of our beautiful country.

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Black History Month: Biographies

Another list for Black History Month, this one of biographies.  I decided this time to focus on more recent biographies, rather than on historical figures.  Some of these books cover the Civil Rights Era of the 1960's but were written recently.  These books also cover the stories of Black people from all over the world.  There are some about war and some about breaking barriers.

I wish this list was longer.  Because I'm including only books I am familiar with and can confidently recommend, there are a lot of good ones that will be left off.  I wish I have read more life stories.  Compiling this list has made me realize I need to fix that.

A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah
The Other Wes Moore - Wes Moore
War Child - Emmanuel Jal
The Stone Thrower - Jael Ealey Richardson
Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson
Running For My Life - Lopez Lomong
While the World Watched - Carolyn Maull McKinstry
Left to Tell - Immaculee Ilibagiza
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina - Misty Copeland
Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany - Hans J. Massaquoi
The Measure of a Man - Sidney Poitier

What books would you suggest to help me make this list longer?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America" by Thomas King

What does it mean to be “Indian” in North America?  This is the question that Thomas King looks at it in his book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America.  Serious and funny, history and anecdote, this is a timely and important book that will open readers eyes to the narrative of the history of the continent.

The relationship between Natives and non-Natives has been going on for centuries and the entire time has been fraught with difficulties and misunderstandings.  There is a lot that the history books have either misinformed or omitted completely when it comes to the history of Native peoples in North America.  And this has led to a complete lack of understanding in our present day lives.  To counter this, King takes a look at historical events and figures, politics and pop culture, to create an account that isn’t easy, but must be read.

The history of the First Nations people in North America is longer and richer than any one book can capture.  And King takes this into account right from the beginning of the book.  He starts out by saying that the book is his own approach to it, is very personal, and is what he thinks needs to be said to give readers the beginning of an understanding.  And that is exactly what this book did for me - it made me begin to understand, not the history of Native peoples but why it is important for me to learn so much more than what my history books taught me in school.

There is so much in this book to discuss. What I found most fascinating was the differences between the history in the US and Canada.  It was interesting to look at when things were happening in one country compared to the other and to see where paths crossed and diverged.  The discussion of the way Native culture intersects with Hollywood was also interesting to read.  But most importantly for me was learning about what really happened in our countries history.  In school you would learn about which treaty was signed when and for what, but this book shows you the effect the treaties had on the people who signed and the intentions behind them.  In other words, the real story.  

The history of Native peoples in North America is one that is brutal, cruel, and downright wrong.  And yet, King writes it in a way that can be called entertaining if it weren’t about the destruction of a people by another.  It’s by no means a feel-good book, it’s very uncomfortable, and it leaves your world-view shaken up.  But you finish the book knowing that you had to read it, that you need to know this.

As King himself mentions, this isn’t a history but an account.  To call it a history implies it’s going to be some sort of academic tome which it is not.  King is a story-teller and that is what you get here.  The story of a people whose voices aren’t heard enough.  Too much of the history of Native people in North America is told by voices that aren’t their own, and I hope that this book changes that and paves the way for more of this.  Engaging and accessible, this book should be mandatory reading in all history classes, not the other stuff. 

(With only one other book from the list to read, this right now is my choice for winner of Canada Reads 2015.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Amnesia" by Peter Carey

Who Should Read This: Those interested in Australian politics and history.

When a young Australian woman unleashes a worm into the computerized control systems of the Australian prisons, she sets off an international incident.  Not only are the locks of hundreds of prisons throughout Australia thrown open, but so are the locks of 117 US federal correctional facilities, 1700 prisons, and 3000 country jails.  All because Australian prison security systems were designed by American corporations.  

But could the young hacker have known that this was going to happen?  Was she protesting Australian immigration policies or was she declaring a cyber war on America?  The only person who can get to the truth seems to be disgraced Australian journalist Felix Moore.  He has been hired to write the biography of Gaby, the hacker.  But the people who have hired him may not be who they seem.

Amnesia is the latest release from two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey.  Set in Australia, it takes readers inside a world of cyber terrorism, politics, and social activism.  

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is nothing like the blurb on the cover.  I thought this was going to be about the actual incident, taking readers inside the world of cyber terrorism, about what happens in the world after the inmates are set free.  I thought it would be about the politics that led to this and about relations between Australia and the US.  Instead, I got a book about a disgraced journalist who is forced back into his past when he realizes he knows the parents of the hacker.  The story is about everything that leads up to book blurb.  And it’s not as intriguing as it is made it out to be.

So much of my disappointment with the book is based on the fact that it was not what I was expecting based on the way it was described.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good points to the book.  There is a lot of Australian history that I knew absolutely nothing about.  From the relationship between the US and Australia during WW2 to the 1975 Constitutional Crisis and US military bases in the country, I was amazed at how much there was to know.  At times I did feel as though I should have read an Australian history book before I read this one, though how much of the real story do we get from history books?

I wish the two threads had been two different books.  I found the book to be strong in the beginning, dragging through the middle, but finishing up strong.  The book starts out with a very promising story that gets muddled up throughout.  There is such a strong statement within this book, so much commentary on the world we live in now, that didn’t need to be mixed up with the rest.  

The reaction to this book by readers is all over the map.  Check out the book on GoodReads and you’ll see people who absolutely loved it and people who absolutely hated it.  I think what it comes down to me for this book is it wasn’t what I expected and I just couldn’t get past that.  It’s a 3 star read for me - the writing is good, there are a few intriguing threads, and I definitely learned from the book.  But nothing jumped out as remarkable.  I think people familiar with Australia and its politics will really like this book.  Everyone else, I think it’s hit or miss.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" by Zeenat Mahal

Who Should Read This: Romance fans, those who love fairy tales.

For years, Zoella has been in love with her best friend’s older brother Fardeen.  But ever since they were kids, Fardeen barely registered that she was there.  And why would he?  He’s engaged to a gorgeous socialite named Neha from the upper echelons of society and Zoella will never be able to match her.  Now that she’s of marrying age, Zoella needs to put her crush behind her.

But a car accident leaves Fardeen scarred and disfigured.  No longer the handsome prince everyone thought he was, his fiancée has left him and he has pushed away everyone around him.  When Zoella falls on hard times, Fardeen’s family propose a solution that will give both of them a second chance - marriage.

This Fardeen is not the man that Zoella fell in love with though.  He’s hard and bitter, lashing out at everyone around him, especially her.  When an opportunity to return to Fardeen to the man he once was presents itself, he realizes what a terrible man he was to her.  But it’s too late for Zoella.  He has pushed her past her limits and she is ready to show Fardeen just what a beast he has been.  

She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Zeenat Mahal is a modern day version of Beauty and the Beast.  Taking place in Pakistan, it gives a new and unique cultural twist to a story we’re all familiar with.

With the re-telling of a fairy tale, you always wonder what is going to make it stand out and what is going to make it different from all the other versions out there.  In this book, it’s the beautiful South Asian culture that sets it apart from the rest.  Mahal brings it to life on the page without making readers of other cultures feel lost or out of sync with the story.

Fardeen and Zoella were very interesting characters for me.  I loved Zoella right from the start and I loved how we watched her grow into her strength throughout the book.  I think that for those of us in the West, it can be easy to stereotype women from South Asian cultures based on what we see and hear in the media and Zoella provides us with a true and opposite view.  

Fardeen was someone who was difficult to like, though that’s the point right?  But my goodness, if you ever want to reach through the pages and slap a character, Fardeen is it.  And toward the end of the book you may feel like Zoella needs one too.  Just when I thought that characters were going to kiss and make up, more difficulties abounded.  It was a little frustrating for me, I couldn’t figure out if it was just to keep the book going a little longer or if it was necessary for the story.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect release date for this romantic novel.  In a world that is going crazy over a different type of romance novel and movie, it is refreshing to read a story that is a modern but classic romance.  Some stories stand the test of time and popularity and Mahal proves that with this wonderful re-telling.  

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Black History Month: Contemporary Authors

My second list for Black History Month is a list of Black contemporary authors.  Again, while there are many more authors who could be on a list like this, I am including only authors I have already read.

Lawrence Hill
André Alexis
Dany Laferrière
Afua Cooper
Carole Enahoro
Yahaya Baruwa
David Chariandy
Dionne Brand
George Elliott Clarke
Yejide Kilanko
Esi Edugyan
Austin Clarke
Nalo Hopkinson
Cecil Foster
Suzette Mayr
Horane Smith

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Terry McMillan
Tayari Jones
Carleen Brice
Dinaw Mengistu
Lalita Tademy
Jacqueline Woodson
Connie Briscoe
Nadifa Mohamed
Lola Shoneyin
Teju Cole
Toni Morrison
Chibundu Onuzo
Yvette Edwards
Heleen Oyeyemi
Eric Jerome Dickey
Andrea Levy
Taiye Selasi
Chika Unigwe
Bernice McFadden
Jacinda Townsend
Rosalyn McMillan
Zadie Smith

ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Victoria Christopher Murray
Tiffany L. Warren
Rhonda Bowen
Stacy Hawkins Adams
Sharon Tubbs
Angela Benson
Marilynn Griffith
E.N. Joy
Tia McCollors
Michele Andrea Bowen
Jacquelin Thomas
Shana Burton

Who would you recommend for me to add to this list?

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Etta and Otto and Russell and James" by Emma Hooper

Who Should Read This: CanLit fans.

Eighty-two-year-old Etta has spent her whole life in Saskatchewan and has never seen the sea.  And one day, she decides she is going to change this.  She leaves a note behind her for her husband Otto that simply says “I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.”

Back at home, Otto is waiting patiently for Etta to return.  He knows that this is what she wants, so he does not plan on going after her.  But their friend and neighbour Russell cannot sit idly by.  He’s loved Etta for more than fifty years and he thinks someone should go after her.

But Etta isn’t alone on her 2,000 mile journey.  Shortly into the trip she is joined by a coyote named James who keeps her company and keeps her safe.  And when she ends up in the news, it isn’t long before everyone knows who she is when she arrives in their town.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper is a debut novel that spans decades and provinces as it takes readers on a journey right along with its main character.

I’m on the fence about this book.  I was really looking forward to it as it’s one of the talked about books on the Canadian literature scene for 2015.  The book jumps back and forth between the present and the past and I think this is where it really lost me because I absolutely loved reading about the past but didn’t care so much about the present.  

For me it was almost as though the book needed to pick one time to stay in.  If the book was about the characters during the period of WW2, this would have been a fantastic book for me.  If the book had stayed in the present and focused more on Etta’s walk and what she encountered throughout the country (because it’s a very diverse country), then this plot line would have worked.

With the story being about a woman walking across the country, this book is obviously going to draw comparisons to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  And I think that this is not a good thing for the book. This book is less about the walking journey and if that is what you focus on, it doesn't really compare to Harold Fry.  The focus in this book needs to be about the relationships and about the characters. 

That being said, I think that story that takes place in the past is so strong.  I found it so fascinating to learn about life in the Prairies during wartime.  I've never been to this part of the country (or this time period) and yet I felt like I was right there with the characters.  The writing here is absolutely beautiful.  This certainly made up for the fact that I didn't really connect to the present day stories and kept my interest throughout.

I think that readers will be split on how they feel about this book.  I can see why there has been so much early talk about the book and I would totally understand why people love this book, even if it wasn't as big of a hit for me.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Black History Month: History Books

For Black History Month, I will be sharing what I consider to be required reading lists.  First up are History Books that share the stories and issues that are central to the Black Experience.  There is a wealth of books out there but for this I will be sharing only books that I have read.

Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America by Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equinao by Olaudah Equine
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr.
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
The Blacks in Canada: a History by Robin W. Winks
Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
The Confessions of Nat Turner by Nat Turner (there is a fictional account with the same name and is based on this but I recommend reading the original version, published by a lawyer and based on jailhouse conversations.)

What books would you recommend I read to add to this list?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"When Everything Feels Like The Movies" by Raziel Reid

Who Should Read This: Someone looking for a young LGBT voice in literature.

Sometimes life is just like the movies.  In the case of Jude Rothesay, sometimes it’s better to imagine that life is a movie rather than deal with the reality of it.  

Jude is a gay teenager, something that doesn’t go over well in his small-town, especially at school.  He celebrates who he is but others around him don’t, and this results in horrific bullying both at school and home.  Along with his best friend Angela, he remains an outcast.  But Jude knows that he is destined for fame, he just needs to get to Hollywood.  Until that day comes, he lives his life as though he’s already there, even if the public can’t see what makes him so special.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid is a young adult novel that takes on the very adult issues many young people are facing today.

There is a lot to be said about this book and I don’t even know how I’m going to say it.  First off, I wouldn’t have picked up this book if it wasn’t a Canada Reads finalist.  Mostly because I probably wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise, also because I don’t read much young adult.  Before I began reading it, I came across a lot of talk online about the type of book it is, whether it is too much for young adults, and whether or not it should have been awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature.  This definitely got my interest up.

I had so many hesitations while reading this book but that doesn’t mean that it’s not an important read.  The voice of gay and transgender teens is one that needs to be available in books for young people who need to see themselves in the media, as well as the people around them who need to understand what they are facing.  But is this the kind of book they need to read?  Ugh, I don’t know.

My first thought was, this can’t be what teenage life is like these days.  I get it, I’m old.  But I’m not THAT far removed from teenage-hood.  I remember the bullying, drugs, sex, and sexuality issues.  But is it so much more predominant these days?  I found it very difficult to believe that the characters in this book are middle school age.  That would make them, what, 13 at the most?  It was just too excessive to make it believable to me.  My husband teaches high school and he hears all sorts of stories but this books blows them out of the water.  I would love to hear what others think about this aspect of the book.

This won’t be a book for everyone.  I always make it clear that I really don’t like swearing in books because I think it’s unnecessary.  So yes, it got to me in this book.  But I also get that that is how teenagers speak.  I don’t like gratuitous or unnecessary sex but I also get that that is an issue for teenagers.  

I can’t say that I liked the book but I can’t say that I didn’t like the book.  This is a hard review to write.  I found the ending to be very powerful even though it felt like it was wrapping up one big long buildup in a very quick manner.  But this book is tackling a very important subject and I give a lot of credit to it for that.  I think that if Jude’s story was tackled in a different manner (less of the movie theme, more getting to the deep feelings of Jude and others around him) it would have been a stellar book. But at least this book will get a very important conversation going.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What Reading Diversely Means to Me

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion going on in the book world and especially on social media about the lack of diversity in the publishing world.  This has led to many book bloggers and readers making a commitment to highlight diversity in their reading life and show the publishing industry that we want more diverse voices.

But this brings up another topic - just what do we mean by diversity?  Diversity can mean different things for different people.  And I don’t think that any one person’s definition of diversity is more important than another person’s.  The important thing here is that we are supporting voices and experiences that are different from ours as well as voices and experiences that don’t get the attention and promotion that others do.

So, it is important for me to establish just what diversity means for me.  I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a world-class, multicultural city.  Diversity has always been reality for me.  I am a white Canadian woman whose parents are from Europe, am married to a man from the Caribbean, and have 2 beautiful multi-racial children. I live in a neighbourhood where all 3 of the races in my family are the 3 least-represented races.  I want to read books that reflect my world.

When I talk about diversity in books, I’m talking about race specifically. I’m talking about people that do not look like me (white, European ancestry.)  I think it’s very important to read books that represent the LGBTQIA community, to read books that represent characters and authors who are disabled, and to read and learn about different religions.  And if that is what you include in diversity in your reading, that is great.  But right now, for me, this is about the racial inequalities that exist in the book world.  And I’ve found so far, that in paying attention to race in my reading has included these other diversities into my reading.  The key here, is to pay attention to which books you are choosing and how they reflect the world outside of who you are.  When us as the readers do this, the publishing industry will pay attention.

How are you defining diversity in your reading? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, February 2, 2015

"Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes" by Kamal Al-Solaylee

Who Should Read This: Anyone interested in the history and culture of the Middle East. Anyone wanting to know about LGBT life in Middle Eastern culture.

Kamal Al-Solaylee was born into a wealth family in Aden, in the South of Yemen, in the 1960’s.  Though his mother was illiterate and married at an early age, his father had spent time in England and relied upon Western values as he crafted a career as a property owner.  But as his country began to move away from its colonial roots, the family found themselves on the losing end, all of their property confiscated, and forced to leave the country.

They first moved to Beirut, but it quickly became a dangerous place to stay so the family then moved to Cairo.  There they were able to enjoy the lifestyle they valued so much, one that placed importance on education and freedom.  Kamal and his siblings grew up in a very cosmopolitan world, listening to American music, frequenting the cinema, and watching Western movies and television.

But as the rise of hard-line Islam began to sweep through the Middle East in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the family found their liberal ways falling under scrutiny and soon a more conservative way of life entered their home.  As life became more difficult in Egypt for foreign born citizens, the family surrendered themselves to the idea of returning to Yemen.  But when they arrived in the capital city of Sana’a, they found themselves in a completely different country than they remembered.  

Kamal found himself having to leave Egypt just as he was beginning to find his place in the world as a gay man.  Arriving in a country that would publicly punish people for homosexual behaviour, he knew that if he had any hope of being happy in life, he would have to leave the Middle East. But even as he moved to England, and later to Canada, he found that he would never be able to shake off his roots, culture, and the family he left behind.

Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes is Kamal Al-Solaylee’s fascinating memoir about growing up in the Middle East in a time of instability, of being on both ends of extremes, and of discovering his sexuality in a culture that isn’t always accepting of who he is.

This is an incredible book.  I pretty much read it in one sitting because I became so absorbed in the way he tells his story.  This isn’t just a book about growing up gay in the Middle East, it takes you on a journey of the region, of its history and how the politics of the last half century have led to what we see today.  

This is a timely book in a few ways.  Al-Solaylee charts the journey of his own family members as they go from “bikinis to burqas.”  In a short period of time, they went from living a life marked by freedoms and liberalness to a life that is marked by hard-line religion and intolerance.  It is so hard to imagine going through that big of a change in beliefs and actions in one lifetime.  It is also a great book in terms of the narrative it adds to the stories of the gay community.  There are many cultures in the world that are still not open and accepting of homosexuality and Kamal gives a voice to the many people who are trying to live an authentic life in a culture that does not tolerate them.  

I picked up this book because it is nominated for this years Canada Reads, which is looking at books that will break barriers.  This book not only teaches about Middle Eastern history and culture in the last six decades, but shares the story of the many people in the region who struggle because of their identity.  And it gives a voice to the people who have to leave their home to be able to live their lives they way they deserve to.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Month In Review

I love January, just for all the fun lists I get to put together of books I want to read in the year and for starting fresh on challenges.  This year, I'm aiming to read 105 books after reading around 100 for the past few years.  And 2015 is off to a good start.  Looking at my collage above, my reading this month was much more eclectic than it has been in a while and I hope that keeps up this year.

Here are the books I read in January, with my GoodReads ratings:

And the Bride Wore Prada - Katie Oliver *****
Intolerable - Kamal Al-Solaylee ****
The Jaguar's Children - John Vaillant ****
Cover Before Striking - Priscila Uppal ****
Laughing All the Way to the Mosque - Zarqa Nawaz ****
The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins ****
Jesus Without Borders - Chad Gibbs ***
The Devil You Know - Elisabeth de Mariaffi ***
The Andy Cohen Diaries - Andy Cohen ***


Canadian Book Challenge (5), Diversity on the Shelf (4)

What I'm Looking Forward to in February

Usually I list the books that are being released next month that I'm looking forward to but mostly this month I'm focusing on finishing the Canada Reads books (I have 2.5 to go) and cleaning up my list on Netgalley.  There's been quite a few good books on there, so I want to get finish up as many of them as I can.

What Was Your Favourite Book in January?
What Are You Looking Forward to in February?