Monday 31 May 2010

Literary Treasure

Finished May 31
City of Words: Toronto through her writers' eyes edited by Sarah Elton, photographs by Kevin Robbins
This lovely book collects prose and poetry relating to a variety of areas of Toronto and mixes it with interesting photos of the city. From the historic to the lyrical, the pieces gathered here show how the city has inspired its writers in so many different ways.
I was pleased to see old favourites and intrigued by choices I hadn't been aware of or hadn't yet read (but that are now on my list). The breadth of writers was also very interesting to see.
A great choice for any Torontonian, past or present.

Children's Audiobook

Finished May 28
Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, read by Zelah Clarke
Carrie and her younger brother Nick were evacuated from London to a small mining village during the Second World War. The two youngsters are billeted with kind Miss Evans and her stern brother, who owns a food shop. They also become friends with another evacuee, Albert Sandwich and frequent his billet home, Druid's Bottom, where Mr and Miss Evan's older sister lives. She is an invalid and is looked after by a capable and kindly housekeeper, Hepzibah Green. Also living there is a disabled man Johnny GoToBed, who speaks a language of his own.
Travelling back north with her children thirty years later, Carrie is compelled to return and is haunted by the awful thing she did, and the consequences she envisioned.
A great tale about perceptions and how things and people can be other than they seem.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Great Book for Success

Finished May 24
The Power of Pause: how to be more effective in a demanding, 24/7 world by Nance Guilmartin
This book has got to be one of the most insightful business books I've ever read. The advice given here is simple, they have a good plan to get you going, and I can see how it will really help.
I'm always looking for ways to communicate better, and be a better manager, and this book has got stuff I can take and work with right away. It will take practice (as she tells the reader) to make this stuff a habit, but I can see how you can get better at it.
Essentially, it is about not reacting to statements, actions, etc. right away, but taking a "pause" to think about what you don't know about the situation, the people involved, or the background, and asking yourself how to find out more about those things before reacting. The question to ask yourself is "What don't I know that I don't know" which sounds a bit Zen, but when you think about makes so much sense.
There are additional steps to this system involving rephrasing, seeing the big picture, and knowing your triggers that are also very sensible. This is some advice I can really work with.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Immigrant Stories

Finished May 23
Piece by Piece: stories about fitting into Canada edited by Teresa Toten
This collection of tales by Canadian immigrants shows the different experiences they've had when coming to Canada. Some came as children, some as adults, but all experienced upheaval and difficulty adjusting to their new country. Some already knew English, but their accents and terminology didn't fit. Others had to learn a new language as well as adjust to a new culture.
The writers here have writing in common. All have become writers in Canada or expanded their careers after moving here. Their stories are articulate and well-written because of this and that makes them even more interesting to read. Whether they fled a land they could no longer live, came here for their own or their parent's job opportunities or came for love, they all had adjustments to make. Canada isn't always as welcoming as we think it is and I found it disappointing that most experienced some form of discrimination or racism. Our country still has work to do to live up to our reputation for openness and friendliness.
Hopefully this book will help guide us down that path.


Finished May 22
My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor
This memoir is of Taylor's stroke, how she recovered, and what she learned from it. First she gives us the background to her life before her stroke, and what led her to her career as a neuroanatomist. Then she gives us information on how the brain works, which is useful to see what her stroke affected and why she reacted the way she did. Following this we see what she went through when she had her stroke, her thoughts during this time and her actions. Her stroke was severe and affected her ability to get help for herself. This section was very interesting and informative. Following this are several chapters telling of her recovery, first her making herself strong enough for the surgery required and then her slow recovery beyond that. As she says, her life is different know and as she recovered she made choices to not recover some of the negative things in her life, not an easy task. She ends with finding the peace that is within all of us, something she learned from her experience and wants to share with others who haven't gone through the trauma, but can still access that peace if they try. All in all a very interesting book, offering something to think about.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Gripping Thriller

Finished May 19
Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
As usual Jack Reacher has found himself in the middle of a difficult situation. Riding the New York subway late on night, he observes his fellow passengers and finds that one stands out, causing him to be on high alert. Following the incident on the subway, Reacher finds himself working with a woman NYPD officer and being watched by a couple of shadowy groups, one government and one private.
As he delves into what that one passenger, Susan Mark was doing and why, he finds himself in a race for information against more than one opponent.
Unsure who to trust, Reacher plays it carefully and trusts his own instincts first.
Gripping and entertaining, this is one that will keep you reading.

Audio Memoir

Finished May 18
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, read by Hillary Huber
This memoir covers a time period in Janzen's life that began with a week in which her husband of 15 years left her for Bob from and teenage driver caused a head-on car accident that gave her broken bones and bruises. As she deals with trying to sell the large house she can no longer afford on her own, and recovering from her emotional and physical injuries, she retreats to her parent's home in California. While brought up Mennonite, Janzen has strayed far from this beginning. She finds that the Mennonite community still welcomes her, and supports her in ways she hadn't expected. A combination of tales from her time spent recovering there, and reminiscences from earlier times (both growing up and her marriage), this is a humourous look at the Mennonite way of life and how it helps to deal with what life gives you.
Being of partial Mennonite heritage on my mother's side, I've been exposed to some of the traditions surrounding this way of life (I've made pluma moos, the plum soup she mentions, and have my grandma's recipe for zweibach). So that part of it was very interesting to me. I liked most of her humour, but did wonder about some of her family's reactions to being portrayed in the book. The narrative moves around a lot in time and I found it difficult to say exactly what order things happened in and where on the timeline. It did keep me entertained though and I'll be passing it on to my mother to see what she thinks of it.

Tuesday 18 May 2010


Finished May 16
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
This memoir covers a short time period, around the stillborn birth of her first child. Because she was already a writer, she had a way with words that she could direct to this experience. Her account is emotional, raw, and very open.
She talks about not only her and her husband's reactions to their situation, but also the reactions of those around them, both good and bad. Because this happened in France, she talks about how it affected her feelings about France, and how that experience is not uncommon.
This is a book for those many people who have been in similar circumstances and felt they couldn't say what they felt. This is also for those who don't know what to say when faced with such a situation.
I found it moving and eloquent. A very well-written book about something no one writes about.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Teen Fiction

Finished May 12
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Mia is seventeen and has a wonderful life ahead of her. An accomplished cellist, she has recently auditioned for Juilliard and is waiting to hear back. Her boyfriend, Adam, is part of a band, which is really starting to take off. She has a best friend, Kim, who supports her and abets her in their escapades.
She has supportive parents, and an adoring younger brother as well as other caring family members.
She knows she has choices ahead of her regarding music and love that she dreads having to deal with, but suddenly she is thrust into a situation from which she has only one choice, stay or go, and what she decides will be life-changing either way.
This has a unique perspective, all happening within a very compressed time frame. Stephanie is a girl who is both lucky and talented and knows it. But now she is torn over the decision that only she can make.
Teens, particularly girls, will like this book. A strong character and strong emotions will draw them into this page-turner.

Audio Plays

Finished May 11
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard performed by L.A. Theatre Works
I picked up this dual package of plays at a recent conference.
I went to a live performance of The Importance of Being Earnest when I was 14 (quite some time ago), but had forgotten most of the plot. I had never seen, heard, or read The Real Thing before.
The performances were very well done and very amusing and I enjoyed them both thoroughly.
As the introduction states, Oscar Wilde's humourous plays are a precursor to a variety of humour entertainment today, from sitcoms to Monty Python.  Stoppard's play is witty, with wry humour and shows raw emotion. A great way to enjoy theatre.

Teen Read

Finished May 10
Taken by Norah McClintock
Stephanie lives in a small town, and two girls in the area near the town have disappeared lately. There is talk around a serial killer. Stephanie is having issues with her mother over her mother's new boyfriend. She has run away a couple of times lately. But one night, Stephanie is herself kidnapped. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself bound and alone. As she struggles to survive both physically and mentally, she falls back on the strengths she has been taught, and forces herself to keep going. But with little idea of where she is and no food or shelter she will have to push herself to keep going.
Taut and edgy, this novel will appeal to teens that like a realistic action story. Stephanie is a strong character, and she grows during the course of this book. A good read.

Fascinating Listen

Finished May 8
Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold, read by Barbara Rosenblat
This is the story of the woman who helped to hide Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam. When the Franks were discovered, she found the diary and saved it, giving it to Otto Frank once she knew Anne wouldn't be coming back for it. Miep's story is an interesting one in its own right, with the Frank's story overlayed. This new edition updates the first and adds additional information that has surfaced since that time.
Offering another perspective on the story known around the world, this memoir is brought to life by the wonderful reader.
Oddly enough, I somehow missed ever reading The Diary of Anne Frank, but this story brought the experience to life. I will have to go back and read that one now too. This story is told in a very factual, yet human way, and the details really brought it to life. Miep is self-effacing and humble about her role in the famous story, but she obviously played a very important role.
Well worth listening to.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Short Collection

Finished May 8
On the Art of Making Up One's Mind by Jerome K. Jerome
This short collection is part of a new series of books "on ..." These essays were originally published in 1898 as The Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. The author had already made a name for himself as a literary figure of the time. The meditations here are both subtly humourous and insightful.
Joseph Connolly has written a very good foreword giving us the background of the author, and the environment in which this was written.
The collection includes 5 writings: On the Art of Making Up One's Mind; On the Disadvantage of Not Getting What One Wants; On the Exceptional Merit Attaching to the Things We Meant to Do; On the Time Wasted in Looking Before One Leaps; and One the Inadvisability of Following Advice.
I kept this in my purse, reading it while waiting for various things. It always put a smile on my face.

Engaging Read

Finished May 7
Crow Road by Iain Banks
I've had this book by my bedside reading it slowly for a while. It's a long one, but very engaging. The main character here is Prentice, a young man at university in Scotland. We follow his relationship with his father and the stubbornness of both. We see his fascination for his uncle Rory who disappeared years before. We see his trials and tribulations in his love life. As the book progresses, so does Prentice. He learns about himself, his feelings, and his family. Centered around the small community in Scotland that he grew up in, there is a core of characters, family and friends who all play roles.
While there is a bit of a mystery here around the uncle, this book is really more of a coming of age story, as Prentice grows from a boy to a man. A great read, with a good plot and lots of character development.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Canadian Fiction

Finished May 6
Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor
This book reads like a traditional storyteller, with a wonderful flow to it. We see things from a variety of points of view, which only enhances the storyteller effect.
The tale takes place (mostly) in Otter Lake an Anishnawbe reservation community. The chief is in the final stages of negotiation to buy additional land for the reservation. Her constituents all have ideas about what to do with the property. Add to this that she is a single mother of a young teen boy. Add to this that her mother, matriarch in the community, is on her deathbed. Add to this the arrival of a mysterious stranger. And boy do you have a story.
I loved the quirkiness of some things, like the raccoons. The chief's brother Wayne is another example. There is just so much here to love. I think this will be one of my favourites for the year.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Rediscovered Classic

Finished May 2
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
Discovered this thanks to another blogger (thanks Nymeth). Persephone publishes rediscovered classics with a leaning toward female authors and experiences. Besides this book, I've bought a few others from them for my TBR pile. This is a short one, originally published in 1932 and rereleased by Persephone in 2007, and has a lovely preface by Frances Partridge, Julia's lifelong friend.
The action all takes place on the wedding day of 22-year-old Dolly Thatcham, and all occurs in her home before marriage. We see her younger sister Kitty, her mother, a variety of other relations of diverse ages, and a couple of her friends, Evelyn and Joseph. The point of view changes several times, but lets us into the thoughts of feelings of the characters. So much is going on here in such a subtle way that it shows the wonderful talents of the author. An amazing little book, and hugely enjoyable.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Children's book

Finished April 30
The Shadow Dragons by James A Owen, read by James Langton
This book is part of the series The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica.
The current caretakers have gathered in the woods near Oxford to discuss the current challenge of the young girl Rose, the Grail Child, who was brought through to their time on a previous adventure. They are met by a man who introduces them to even more dangers and in escaping from one situation, find themselves involved in another.
As the Shadow of the Winter King tries to take control of both the Archipelago and the Summer Lands, they must find a way to fulfill the prophecy that prevents this as well as dealing with the disintegration of the Keep of Time and the threats of the Imperial Cartological Society. With a variety of characters from the past, both literary and scientific, and they mythical knight Don Quixote, they look for the way to save the two worlds from a terrible fate.
For children 10 and up this is a deep fantasy novel with elements of this world, other worlds, and time travel. A very enjoyable read.

First Novel

Finished April 29
The Cradle by Patrick Somerville
This novel was shortlisted for the Centre for Fiction First Novel Prize. It has two storylines. The first is around young Matthew Bishop and his wife Marissa. Marissa is eight months pregnant with their first child and expresses a sudden need for the cradle used for her own infancy. The cradle was taken by her mother years ago when she left Marissa and her father. Matthew takes on the quest to find the cradle, following lead after lead on its trail, and discovering something completely unexpected at the end.
The second storyline, set decades later is around children's author Renee Owen, who finds difficulty dealing with her son's deployment to Iraq. She is drawn back to memories of an lost love, and past secrets.
I was entirely caught up in the novel, and found Matthew a sympathetic character. I had some inklings of some of the books developments before they happened, but was still surprised. A very enjoyable read.