Tuesday 26 February 2008

TBR Challenge Books 2008


I've just joined this challenge.

Here are my twelve books for the year:

1. River at the Centre of the World by Simon Winchester

2. Defining the Wind by Scott Huler

3. Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print edited by David Wallis

4. River of Darkness by Rennie Airth

5. Library: an unquiet history by Matthew Battles

6. The 8:55 to Baghdad: From Suburbia to Iraq on the Trail of Agatha Christie by Andrew Eames

7. The Fellowship of Ghosts: A Journey Through the Mountains of Norway by Paul Watkins

8. Avoiding the Cosmic 2x4 by Rita Louise

9. Snowstruck: in the Grip on an Avalanche by Jill Fredston

10. The Coast of Bohemia by Edith Pargeter

11. The Second Life of Samuel Tyne by Esi Edugyan

12. The Dangerous Edge of Things: a Village Childhood by Candida Lycett Green


1. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behaviours by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

2. The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

3. Burned Alive by Souad

4. Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour by Joseph E Persico

5. Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia by Frank Welsh

6. Kim by Rudyard Kipling

7. The Treehouse by Naomi Wolf

8. A Literary Atlas of Canada by Noah Richler

9. One City by Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh

10. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

11. The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

12. Underwater to Get Out of the Rain: A Love Affair with the Sea by Trevor Norton

Monday 25 February 2008

Different viewpoint

Finished February 25
Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea
This book was first published in Saudi Arabia in 2004, and this is the English version. The book is written in the form of emails by a young upper middle class woman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She discusses the lives of four friends of the same class, but with differing backgrounds over the course of several years. We learn of their lives, private and public, the real-life circumstances of being a young woman in this country, and their innermost feelings. We seem them go through the trials of love, breakup, school and career success and learn a lot about the culture they exist in. I found this novel very interesting, with engaging characters. The naivete sometimes shown is believable and so is the strength of character. An interesting glimpse of a different culture.

Kincaid and James

Finished February 24
Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie
This is the latest in the series featuring Scotland Yard's Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. When the pair go to Duncan's parents place over the Christmas vacation with their children, they immediately encounter mysteries. Duncan's sister Juliet finds a baby's corpse when she demolishes some plaster work on a building site she is working on. Juliet is also having marital issues and they are affecting her children, Sam and Lally. Lally is also still upset over the recent drowning of a high school classmate. Both Duncan and Gemma find themselves being drawn into the events taking place even as Gemma adjusts to her role as part of Duncan's larger family. Kit, Duncan's son also finds himself being drawn in as he connects with Lally and questions her relationship with her friend Leo. More secrets emerge, and the family discovers how little they really know about each other's lives. Lots of action, character development and issues.

Saturday 23 February 2008

Mystery Series

Finished February 23
Cries and Whiskers by Clea Simon
This is the third in the series featuring Theda Krakow, freelance journalist and music lover. Theda writes a regular column on music for a Boston paper and picks up other jobs to make a living. She has a cat Musetta and is friends with Violet, a musician who runs a cat shelter. When an animal activist is killed in a hit and run accident, Theda helps Violet try to locate the feral cats near an old bottling plant by the river. Theda is always working on a story about a new pop band that has appeared out of nowhere and is asking questions about their background. In one of her many visits to the clubs, she sees a young girl who has a bad experience with an apparent party drug and starts asking questions about that as well. As she gets answers, she also starts having more questions about these different happenings. She is also looking out for friends who are injured, acting oddly or going through life-changing events. Lots happening, music and cats and events that keep you reading.

Friday 22 February 2008

Audio Classic

Finished February 21
On the Road by Jack Kerouac, performed by Matt Dillon
This was another of those classics that I'd never read, and I'd heard this audio version was good so decided I should take a listen. Perhaps I'm from the wrong generation (born in the early 60s) but it really didn't engage me.
I was surprised to find how much of this book was not what I expected. I guess that with a classic one starts to get certain ideas about the kind of book it is and I'm not sure even where all of the those preconceived ideas came from. It was less a travel book (I expected a book about America, similar perhaps to Steinbeck's Travels with Charley) and less a book about a certain group of people from a certain generation. I was surprised as well about how much non-conformist behaviour occured prior to the sixties. Sal's peers are actually a little before my own parents (born in the late 30s) and yet seem so much more radical.
I was put off by Sal's friend Dean and his behaviour. He never really seemed to take responsibility for his actions and his treatment of the women he met was definitely demeaning.
I'm glad I've read it and it made me think about some things in a different way, but it's definitely not a favourite.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Fun Picture Book

Finished February 19
The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman, pictures by Dave McKean
This fun book tells the story of a young boy who admires his friends new goldfish and tries to get him to trade for one of his possessions. Nothing will do until he offer his dad. When his mom arrives home later that day and discovers what he's done, she sends him and his little sister out to reverse the trade. But of course it isn't that easy, and the story follows the two children as they track down their father. While the story is great, the illustrations really bring it to life, with the hapless newspaper-reading dad, the wonderful thought processes of the children, and their adventures along the way. Having read a previous picture book by this duo I knew it would be good, but was still pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Teen Version of Fairy Tale

Finished Feburary 19
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
This story is based on one of the lesser known tales by the Grimm brothers, Maid Maleen. Hale has set this story in the area of Mongolia and used that landscape and culture as part of the story's background as well as fleshing it out.
Dashti is born a mucker, living in a felt tent called a gher. After tragedies that decimate her family, Dashti takes their last animal and goes to the nearby city to find a job. Due to her healing skills, she is trained to read and write in order to be a lady's maid to the local lord's daughter.
Immediately upon taking her new position, Lady Saren is placed in a tower with Dashti because of refusing to marry the man her father has picked for her. As Dashti struggles to keep the lady and herself alive in the tower, she does as she is bid by Saren, even to impersonating her to her preferred lover, Tagus. Dashti's strength of mind and sense of loyalty keep the two girls alive until they run out of food and eventually find a way out of the tower.
Dashti leads them to the land of Tagus to bring Saren back to her gentry life and overcomes many obstacles along the way.
The is a beautiful telling of the story, with the characters coming alive before you.
There is some violence, but this book could also be read by younger readers.

The Way We Communicate

Finished February 18
Um...Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean by Michael Erard
This engaging book discusses the variety of verbal errors we make and the various studies that have been done about the reasons behind them. They include not only those place-fillers like uh and um, but also sentence stutters such as "I said, I said that we weren't..." and sentence correction such as "We went, some of us went to the game." It talks about the famous (the Reverend Spooner as well as George W) and the real versus the legend. Studies range from the psychological to the pedagogical and Erard shows how theories have changed over time. This is an interesting overview of a lesser-known area of language.

About Books

Finished February 16
Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading edited by J. Peder Zane
i've had this book by my bed for a while, reading one chapter at a time, but not regularly.
I found that the choices made by the authors were interesting as well as the descriptor and reasons for choosing it. We have the classic "most memorable" as well as the loneliest, most dangerous, maddest, hippest, queerist, and most unpleasant just to name a few. The essays about each book are interesting and informative and tell you something about the author as well as the book. The authors are current (Bret Lott, Elizabeth Hay, Jonathan Lethem) and their ideas interesting. I've put some more books on my list!

Friday 15 February 2008

Great Teen Novel

Finished February 14
Just In Case by Meg Rosoff
I was totally caught up in this great book. It starts with fifteen-year-old David Case rescuing his one-year-old brother Charlie from tumbling out a window and this incident drives David to recreate himself. He chooses the name Justin, and goes to a thrift shop for a whole new wardrobe. This is where he meets Agnes who helps pick his new look and is one of the new people he meets who has an impact on his life. Another is a new friend at school, Peter, who is smart and nice and provides a wise voice and support.
It is hard to describe the book as it is so very different from most novels. Most of the book is told from Justin's point of view, but we also see glimpses from Agnes, Peter, Charlie and other characters. Justin is also caught up in what he believe fate has in store for him, and fate has a voice as well. This is a great look at teenage angst and the sense that many teens have of being very caught up in themselves.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Disappointing Read

Finished February 13
The Heroines by Eileen Favorite
I felt the blurbs on the cover were misleading: "adolescent angst meets metaphysics, screwball-comedy trysts with the underpinnings of reality. It's funny and tender..." and "... a fun take on the impact literature can have on our lives." are examples
I did not find this book fun at all. Yes, as the inside cover synopsis indicates the main character, 13-year-old Penny Entwhistle and her mother Anne-Marie run a bed and breakfast that is often visited by heroines from literature who need a break from their storylines. However when Penny meets up with a hero searching for the heroine in the nearby woods, it is not fun. He is seriously dangerous, more so than she realizes. Because she is caught up away from home after dark her mother has called the police and her bruises lead to an examination at the hospital, where she is admitted to a mental ward. Here is where things get seriously scary. The manipulative staff, the treatment of the patients and the level of danger are off the scale.
When everything gets wrapped up at the end, it is very sudden and many things are not explained very well. Don't bother.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Black History

Finished February 11
From Midnight to Dawn: the Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad by Jacqeuline L. Tobin
This history of the underground railroad concentrated on the movement of blacks from the United States to Canada, particularly into southwestern Ontario.
One thing that I really liked about the book was that Tobin looked at the women who played roles in this movement, an aspect often forgotten.
Some players came to Canada temporarily, going back for either the Civil War itself, or its aftermath. Some however returned to Canada, finding the new black codes implemented in the south after the war too imposing.
The tales of individual fugitives offer much detail and bring the history to life.

Sunday 10 February 2008

A Fun Story of Dreams and Luck

Finished February 10
One Red Paperclip: or how an ordinary man achieved his dreams with the help of a simple office supply by Kyle MacDonald
This fun read follows the true story of how Kyle MacDonald, a young Canadian man, managed to use the system of barter, along with some luck, to turn a red paperclip into a house. Kyle has a lot of support from his family, and takes advantage of what circumstances bring to him in order to not only do well for himself, but have a lot of fun along the way. His attitude is optimistic and open and he has a good sense of humour, going with the flow even when he is not sure where it will take him.
This is a feel good book, that will leave you with a grin on your face.

Canadian Fiction

Finished February 9
The Letter Opener by Kyo Maclear
This novel is written from the point of view of Naiko, who works in the Undeliverable Mail Office in Toronto. Naiko's mother is Japanese and her father is Scottish. Her family think that the job is less than what she is capable of, and want more for her. Naiko's boyfriend, Paolo, is from Argentina. Naiko loves her work and feels a sense of accomplishment when she can bring an item together with its intended recipient.
Naiko becomes friends with a new co-worker, Andrei, a refugee from Romania. Andrei fled Romania with his homosexual lover, but they became separated in the escape and he has not seen Nikolai since. As there friendship continues, Andrei gradually tells Naiko his story, and when he suddenly disappears with no word to anyone, Naiko clings to his stories and tries to find the answers to his disappearance.
Naiko's own family issues also reflect here. Her parents separated years ago and her father moved to England. She feels distanced from him emotionally and has little contact with him. Her older sister is a successful journalist travelling overseas and making Naiko feel inadequate. Her mother has developed dementia and Naiko has made the decision to place her in a nursing home, visiting her regularly and trying to find a connection with her. Paolo wants more from the relationship than Naiko has been giving and she must deal also with his resentment at her fascination with Andrei's disappearance.
An altogether engrossing story of families, connections, memory and loss.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Teen Read

Finished February 6
Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
This book follows Rowan, who is almost fifteen, and now the unofficial head of the household. After her brother Jack's death a couple of years ago, Rowan's family has gradually fallen apart. Her mother has retreated into depression, her father has moved out, and she has ended up looking after her younger sister Stroma, who is now six. Rowan sometimes resents the role of responsiblity that she has taken on, but she loves her sister even while missing her brother. When a young man hands her a photographic negative that he insists she has dropped, she initially dismisses it. When an older student at school, Bee, offers to help her develop it she accepts as a way to gain Bee's friendship. As Bee and her family develop a friendship with Rowan and Stroma, Rowan learns that she doesn't always have to be the only one who cares and that others can also care for her.

Lovely Foreign Novel

Finished February 6
Miss Chopsticks by Xinran, translated by Esther Tyldesley
I took a snow day yesterday and was able to finish a couple of books. This novel is a lovely novel by a Chinese journalist who now lives in London and writes for the Guardian. Xinran was inspired to write this story after hearing a man in a rural area of China referring to daughters as chopsticks and sons as roofbeams. With the current trend of young peasant women moving to cities to get jobs there, she decided to show that "chopsticks" are not as detrimental to family life as some fathers think. She was inspired by some city workers that she met and took three different stories and made the women sisters. The sisters are three of six daughters whose father didn't bother with names, but simply named them One through Six. The three that get city jobs are Three, Five and Six and their different stories not only inspire, but also work together to show the new reality of life in China.

Monday 4 February 2008

Another Medical Memoir

Finished February 3
Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years by Michael J. Collins
This is the second memoir of a doctor's residency that I've read lately, and I found it just as engaging as the first, although in many ways it is quite different. Collins was a orthopedic surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This memoir tells of his four years there. He talks about his relationship with other residents, his relationship with other hospital staff, the patient cases he dealt with, and his personal life. One thing that I found eye-opening was the very low pay the residents got, which made it necessary for Collins to moonlight at a nearby rural hospital and still watch his finances very carefully. This memoir is very open and discusses many issues that come up during the training of residents.

Great Read

Finished February 2
The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown
This is a delightful read. Most of it takes place over the summer right after Alice turns ten. If it wasn't for her age, I'd be tempted to call it a coming of age novel. It is over this time period that Alice becomes aware of the adult world and the issues and worries that are present there in a way she hadn't perceived before. This is due to the presence of two new friends in her life. Theo is the mixed race grandson of the older couple next door. He was supposed to be spending the summer with his grandparents, but ends up spending it with Alice's family. Theo is both more adventurous and more fearful than Alice, and coming from New York City is more worldly than she is. Kenneth is an older man, who has come home to live with his middle-aged sister from a cosmopolitan life as an artist. Kenneth has AIDS and is physically frail, and asks Alice to come and read to him. The three choose the journals of Lewis and Clark as reading matter, and Alice and Theo are inspired to build a rope walk for Kenneth so that he can walk alone in the woods behind his house. Alice has grown up with five older brothers and her father, a university professor, so in some ways is older than many children her age, but they have also protected her from the outside world in many ways. Her development over the summer is engrossing to witness and I thoroughly enjoyed this book