Monday, April 18, 2016

"Eligible" by Curtis Sittenfeld

What would the Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice be like if they lived in the twenty-first century? In this imagining, so much is different and yet so much has stayed the same. To start with, the Bennet family are from Cincinnati in this version. Liz is a magazine writer living in New York City, as is yoga instructor Jane. Kitty and Lydia are focused less on careers and more on CrossFit. Mary is in the process of getting her third Master’s degree online and barely leaves the house except for a mysterious outing every Tuesday. But as some things simply don't change as Mrs. Bennet is focused solely on marrying off her daughters, especially Jane who is quickly approaching forty.

And who has Mrs. Bennet set her eyes on for Jane? That would be Chip Bingley, the handsome doctor and recent star of the reality dating show "Eligible." When Mrs. Bennet wrangles an invitation to a Fourth of July barbecue, Jane and Chip hit it off. But Liz is less than impressed with Chip’s friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, a neurosurgeon from California who has no problems keeping his thoughts on Cincinnati and the Bennet family to himself.

Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld, is a fun and fresh retelling of Jane Austen’s classic masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. Just as Austen tackled the social issues of her time, this book takes a look at gender, race, class, family, and marriage in a very entertaining way.

This is an absolutely charming and enjoyable novel. I breezed through the book, which at over 500 pages long doesn’t seem like it would be an easy feat, because I was having so much fun and did not want to put it down.

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time only a few yeas ago and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t as charmed by it as many people are. I can see why people love it and how it would be such an important book of its time though it just wasn’t the same experience for me. However, this modern re-telling - this is my cup of tea. The Bennet family are from Cincinnati, the daughters are into things like yoga and CrossFit, and Mr. Bingley has starred on a reality dating show. And Darcy, well he’s the same no matter where is living or what time period he lives in.

There is so much going on in this book and it is all so much fun. I really appreciated how it wasn’t so much of just picking up the Bennet family and placing them in a new time period while keeping the same old problems. Sittenfeld takes the big issues of today and sees how the Bennet’s would react to it. This book has characters who are people of colour and who are transgender and it doesn’t shy away from examining how people in the Bennet’s social circle would treat them. The Bennet sisters are recognizable and relatable.

I will definitely be recommending this book to many people (I actually have already been recommending it at work even though it isn’t released until the 19th of April.) I think many classic books deserve modern re-tellings and this one is leading the way. This is a great summer book and one that you will be seeing everywhere so pick it up.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Kid Lit

A quick post sharing what my kids, ages 9 and 6, have been reading lately.

A1, Age 9

Camping Aux Chutes du Niagara - Geronimo Stilton (Field Trip to Niagara Falls)
Shannon the Ocean Fairy - Daisy Meadows
Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

A2, Age 6

Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets - Dav Pilkey
Galaxy Zack, Hello Nebulon! - Ray O'Ryan

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"Making It Up As I Go Along" by Marian Keyes

Welcome to the fun and delightful world of Marian Keyes. It’s a lot like the rest of the world but with keen insight into the everyday issues we all face. Not sure how to break up with your hairdresser? Don’t like answering the “what do you do for a living?” question while on vacation? Fake tan not working out for you? Marian has all of the answers to the dilemmas you face.

Making It Up As I Go Along is a collection of essays, articles, and blog posts written by bestselling author Marian Keyes. Fans of her writing, or her Twitter account, will find themselves laughing their way through the book as Keyes recaps the memorable moments of her life.

This is a cute book. It is divided into subjects - Health and Beauty, Travels, Friends and Family, A Year in the Life - which then include previously published articles as well as some unpublished work by the stellar Irish writer.  Most of the essays are only a few pages long so it is an easy book to pick up when you don’t have a lot of time to read.

I have read a few of Marian Keyes’ books and I’ve always enjoyed every single one of them. I also enjoy her tweets and while I hadn’t read her other non-fiction books (Under the Duvet and Further Under the Duvet) I thought I would give this one a try, hoping for something along the same lines as her Twitter account. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t as funny as I was hoping it would be. In fact, I didn’t laugh out loud until around the 400th page when the book was almost finished. 

There were some giggles along the way though and it was an enjoyable read overall, a quick one as well. There is a lot of warmth to it and Keyes is a very down to earth person, even if she is meeting all sorts of famous people and getting free Chanel make-up products delivered to her home! But it just wasn’t the hilarious I was hoping for. 

I think this is a great book for the fans of Marian Keyes who have read everything (or most of what) she has written, but the casual or non-reader of her work may not be as taken by it. The stories are nice, I especially enjoyed the travel section, but for me there wasn’t a whole lot that made the book stand out from the crowd.

Monday, April 11, 2016

"Exit, Pursued By a Bear" by E.K. Johnston

Hermione Winters is really looking forward to her senior year. She’s the captain of her schools championship cheerleading team and one of the most popular girls in school. She has a bright future ahead of her and she plans to make the most of her last days of high school.

But just before the school year begins her future is changed in an instant when someone spikes her drink at a party. Everyone at school knows about it and now she is being talked about for all the wrong reasons.

But Hermione isn’t going to be “that girl.” She doesn’t want to be known by what happened to her. And with the support of her best friend Polly, her parents, and her cheerleading team, she is determined to defy all of the labels being placed on her.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston, is a touching and poignant story about a young, determined woman and her journey to recovery and acceptance after a terrible crime.

I was pretty impressed by this book. Hermione is a young woman who has been raped (which she cannot remember because she was drugged) and this is the story of how she faces life afterward. For Hermione, it was the support system that she had in her parents, her cheerleading team, and especially her best friend Polly that was able to make her so strong. 

Johnston’s writing is so well-crafted that it is easy to imagine the surroundings and circumstances of this book. The subject matter is deep and intense but the entire time it remains a young adult book and deals with it as such. And yet, as the reader, you don’t have to be a part of that age group to relate to or be impacted by this book.

The important thing to know about this book is that for many people it will seem unrealistic. Some will have issues with the way the book deals with a sensitive topic. But for others this will be its strength. I don’t think it would be fair at all to criticize the book for its handling of the issue because what it is doing is presenting one aspect of the story and one that does exist. How we experience and respond to things in life are never the same and that is what this book shows.

This book is more than just a story, it offers hope and guidance. As Johnston writes in a note at the end, there is a support system out there for you and that is the shining message throughout this book. There were quite a few moments in this book that were extremely emotional for me. It was a quick read for me but it definitely wasn’t short on story.

Monday, April 4, 2016

"Until We Are Free" by Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi’s work as a human rights lawyer has inspired millions of people around the world and earned her the distinction of being the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. But it also attracted unwanted attention for her in her own county of Iran. A brutal regime that controlled the country for decades tried to intimidate her but it was in 2005 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to power that the persecution intensified, culminating in the need to leave her home and never able to return.

Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran is Shirin Ebadi’s story of how she fought for the voiceless in her country for decades, remaining defiant in the face of persecution.

Wow. Talk about bravery, determination, and commitment. When I picked this book up I knew that I would be inspired but I didn’t know just how much. This is an incredible story, one that shows both the beauty and brutality that exists within the country of Iran. It is Ebadi’s tribute to her country despite her censorship and persecution at the hands of her government.

In 1975, Ebadi became the first woman to preside over a legislative court in Iran but following the revolution of 1979 women were prohibited from being judges. She was unable to practice law and instead turned her attention to the fight for democracy and human rights. As her work became celebrated throughout the world the Islamic Republic tried to intimidate her. But it was under the Ahmadinejad government that it became much, much worse. Wiretapping her phones, harassing colleagues, arresting family members, spying on her, sending mobs to her home, breaking up her marriage, sending death threats - all this and more was directed at Ebadi. It got to the point where in order to keep the safety of herself and her loved ones she had to leave Iran, knowing she would never be able to return. And yet, she pressed forward with her fight in circumstances many others would have given up in.

Shirin Ebadi is an amazing woman and it shows throughout the book. Her book gave me new insight into what life in Iran is like, something completely different than what we see in the media. What I loved most is how her love for her country continues to shine through despite what has been done to her. I love the way she wrote about the countryside, her descriptions of the landscape were so beautiful. 

This book is an eye-opening look at life in Iran especially for those who, like Ebadi, are fighting for human rights. She is a tremendously brave woman for standing up for her beliefs in the face of imprisonment and continuing to after she has been exiled from her country. What she is doing takes courage and conviction and she is not the only one who is doing this, every day there are people of all walks of life who are fighting to make Iran a better country for everyone. This book is a well-written and insightful love letter to the country that she is fighting so hard to reform.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"The Hero's Walk" by Anita Rau Badami

Sripathi Rao has made a lot of mistakes in his life but he doesn’t apologize for them. He has a lot of problems but he doesn’t see why he should make any changes because of them. His mother chastises him for never living up to her dream of seeing him become a doctor. His sister is unmarried and well past the average marrying age but that doesn’t stop their mother from scaring off any suitors. His son Arun is involved in political activism but Sripathi thinks he is just lazy. And his daughter Maya is, to Sripathi, the biggest problem of them all.

When Maya broke off her arranged engagement to marry a White Canadian man, Sripathi cut her off completely. He and his wife Nirmala never attended the wedding, never saw Maya again, and never met their granddaughter Nandana. 

But Maya and her husband have been killed in a car accident and Sripathi is seven-year-old Nandana’s only kin. He has to travel to Canada to bring his granddaughter home to their small city of Toturpuram, India. And more importantly, he must face his problems head on and it’s going to take his granddaughter to show him that the only way to do so is for him to make some changes.

The Hero’s Walk, by Anita Rau Badami, is a lovely novel that comes alive with the richness and beauty of its Bay of Bengal setting.

This book was one of the books that vied for the title of Canada Reads this year. It ended up being the runner-up as the last day of debates came down to this book and Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal. It is probably a book that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own (it was published in 2002 and older books aren’t usually on my radar) but I’m glad that it was chosen for this year's competition and I got a chance to read it.

The strength of this book is in the beauty of the writing. The streets of India jump off the page. It takes great skill for a writer to make surroundings transcend the page and as readers journey through this book they will be able to experience the sounds and smells for themselves. That is what I admire most about the book.

The rest of the book was lacking for me. I had trouble connecting with the characters and not in the “I can’t relate to them” way but just that there wasn’t anything about them that made me feel emotion for them.  And because of that, because this book is so character-driven, I had a hard time finding a great connection with this book. I think part of the problem for me was when I was reading the book. This was my last book of the Canada Reads finalists and I had great connections with the previous ones I had read, especially the one I read just before this.

Throughout Canada Reads there was a lot of love for this book and I do think it deserves that. Vinay Virmani defended the book passionately and so much was said about how beautiful this book is and I agree with that. While it wasn’t a solid book for me I can understand how it is for others and I would definitely recommend this book to others even if it wasn’t for me.

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

Friday, April 1, 2016

Month In Review

March wasn't a busy month for me reading-wise but it was definitely busy the rest of the month. Between work, March Break, and Easter weekend there was a lot going on and any down time I had was spent sleeping or watching tv (mostly watching tv, I still feel like I didn't get enough sleep last month.) But the books that I did read were all very good. Here they are, with my GoodReads ratings:

Still Mine - Amy Stuart*****
Girl in the Dark - Marion Pauw*****
Until We Are Free - Shirin Ebadi*****
Bone and Bread - Saleema Nawaz*****
Exit, Pursued by a Bear - EK Johnston****
Becoming Lin - Tricia Dower****

Lately I've been getting into the mystery/crime fiction genre and I must say it is really good. Still Mine and Girl in the Dark are two very good books from that genre. Until We Are Free is an inspiring book about a woman's fight for human rights in Iran and committing to the cause to the point where she had to leave your country, never to return. And Bone and Bread  was a delightful surprise, my favourite of the Canada Reads books.

At the beginning of the month I went to an event at Penguin Random House for Indigo employees. It was a spring preview of KidLit and there were great authors present, fantastic books to get excited about, and yummy pancakes made by PRH staff. You can read my post here.

And of course Canada Reads happened. Lawrence Hill's The Illegal was named as the one book all of Canada should read. You can read my recap post here.

And in non-book event news, the husband and I went to see Trevor Noah perform live and he was hilarious. I've been a fan of his for years, have seen every television appearance he has made on the British comedy circuit, and love him on The Daily Show so it was a fantastic experience.

What I'm Looking Forward to In April
I recently started reading Justin Cronin's The Passage and am reading small bits at a time and I'm loving it so I look forward to continuing it through the month. One recent releases I can't wait to read is The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix-Sweeney. And a new release this month I'm wanting to read is Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.