Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It the most wonderful time of the year ....

Yes, it is just days away from being Christmas but it is also week 4 of the CBC's Canada Reads Festivities. For details visit the site.

As an avid reader of Canadian literature, it is my most favourite time of the year ... anticipating the books that are being defended by the all-star Canadian celebrity panel and being able to share a love with the entire country - or at least those that listen to the CBC. Last year my family collectively purchased me the entire collection and I read them all prior to the debates. I hope to do the same this year. Once again I have not read any of the books (or at least I don't recall doing so) so this will be very exciting. I am really interested in reading Gen X by Douglas Coupland. I may have read this some time ago, I'm not sure. I have read Life After God and Jpod both of which I loved, so I am almost certain to enjoy this modern Canadian classic. The one selection I am not as excited by is Nikolski. This novel has been translated from French to English, and while it won a GG award for the translation, my experience with The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant last year which I didn't like at all has weakened my interest for translations. Something gets lost. But we'll see. I plan to read it anyway and will post my review on this blog.

The Time In Between

The Time In Between by Canadian author David Bergen is a sad and almost haunting tale of a man, Charles Boatman, and his journey back to Vietnam in an attempt to shake himself of the demons that have haunted him since his time as a young soldier in the Vietnam War. Whether he is looking for love or redemption or forgiveness, he is not sure of, he just knows he must leave his home in remote BC and find out. When he doesn't return home, 2 of his children travel to Danang to find him. The story switches in narration from his daughter Ada and Charles himself. Ada's travels to this country become her own personal journey of discovery of understanding herself and her father and finding forgiveness for him. Once I got into the story I had difficulty putting it down as Bergen's character development and the narrative drew me in. I would recommend this book.

This is my fourth read for the Canadian Book Challenge. I think that somewhere along the line I missed putting in a review of the book I read previous to this. I am still not finished Blackstrap Hawco as I cannot seem to get engaged in the story.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Leave Toronto Noir in the Dark Where it Belongs

One of the books I picked up for my vacation was a collection of short stories called Toronto Noir edited by Janine Armin & Nathaniel G. Moore. This was my 3rd read for the challenge. It is a collection of short stories set in different neighbourhoods in Toronto. It is part of a series of books from other major cities and Toronto is the first Canadian city to have its own book. There is a Chicago Noir, Paris Noir, Delhi Noir and three volumes of Brooklyn Noir. I thought this might be a nice light read and a fun way to re-discover Toronto neighbourhoods. I was wrong. The stories I read - the first 5 - were very simply written, with basic storylines that were completely predictable, uninteresting and just plain silly. One of the stories was set in Little India and used stereotypes that I found distastefull. I kept hoping the stories would get better but they didn't. I do not recommend you bother picking up this book to read. A complete waste of paper.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fire, Ghosts and a Mysterious Carpet Bag

While in Geneva on vacation I finished reading my second read for the Canadian Book Challenge - Turtle Valley by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. This was a fantastic book that I started just before we headed to the plane and kept wanting to go back to as the story completely drew me in. The setting is Turtle Valley in British Columbia where a fire is raging in the forest threatening farms and homes in the valley. Kat, the main character returns to her parents home to assist in packing up the most precious of family items in preparation for the notice that they will have to evacuate this home that has been in her family for multiple generations. While there, Kat finds her grandmother's carpet bag that unlocks the mysteries of this woman's life, including a few secrets about the family's history that Kat thought she knew. Kat stuggles with her present marriage while being faced with her lover from the past. Mysterious spectors haunt her in this journey. This was a fabulous read from cover to cover that I would highly recommend.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Nothing to Fear in Fearsome Particles

This week I finally finished Fearsome Particles by Hamilton author Trevor Cole, my first official read for the 3rd Great Canadian Book Challenge. Like his first novel, Norman Bray in the Performance of his Life, Cole weaves complex and interesting characters that both amuse and make this a fantastic read. This novel blends both humour with serious subject matter including the Canadian military in Afghanistan. Being a Hamilton resident myself and residing in the same neighbourhood as Cole, I read between the lines, sensing some local inspiration including some of the minor characters, but perhaps this was just my imagination. Cole is working on a new novel that touches on a subject that is near and dear to my heart, so you will know that this will be on the top of my must read list.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trevor Cole - Local Hamilton Author

I have just started my first read for the challenge - Hamilton, Ontario author Trevor Cole's The Fearsome Particles. This is Cole's second novel which was short-listed for the 2006 GG's Literary Awards and is a National Best Seller. I met Trevor at a course I took through the Ontario Arts Council and realized that I had already read his first novel Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life which has been optioned for film. I can totally see Kevin Spacey as Norman Bray. This was a great novel which I highly recommend. I just loved it. For information on Trevor Cole, visit his website at http://www.trevorcole.com/ I am looking forward to finding more time to get into FP as the summer art show season winds down for me. My review will follow.

3rd Canadian Book Challenge Eh

It is that time again for the start of the 3rd Annual Canadian Book Challenge Eh!. This is my second year doing the challenge. Last year I didn't start until 3 months in but still managed to read 18 books over the course of 9 months. I am going to do this again this year. If you are up to the challenge visit The Book Mine Set for more information. The goal is to read 13 CANADIAN books (Canadian is defined on the site) over the year starting this July - okay we have already started, but you can do it. I am already into my first read.

A Delayed Fine Balance Completion

I finally finished A Fine Balance by Rohinton Minstry and while it was sad, it was a great book. Enough said.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor

I just completed the Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor, by Sally Armstrong, my 17th read for the challenge. This is an epic true story about Charlotte Taylor, who was considered the first woman settler of the Mirimichi (the Baie de Chaleur which is now part of New Brunswick) as written by her great great great grandaughter Armstrong. This was a wonderful novel, chronicalling the life of of Charlotte and her journey from England escaping with her lover, the family's butler, to the West Indies where he dies and she is left alone and pregnant, to her journey to Canada where she settled and eventually had their child Elizabeth and another 9 more children leaving a long ancestry in Canada. I really enjoyed this novel and always looked forward to finding out what challenge Charlotte was going to face next and how she would overcome the obstacles placed before her including husbands who died way to young and securing the deeds to the lands she cleared and which supported her growing family. Armstrong's amazing writing honours Charlotte's strong character and allows us to follow Charlotte's story seeing her beat the odds and achieve essentially all that she set out to do. It also honours the connection the native people of the area and how their history became intertwined with that of the British settlers who wanted to own land. A great read and highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wild Geese

This is officially my 16th finished read for the Book Challenge and it was a great story. Set in the prairies of Manitoba, this novel written by Martha Ostenso was first published in 1925. It follows the story of a farming family lead by Caleb, the father and controller of all who live under his roof. He is a tyrant, a bully, not only to his family but to the farming community where he lives. He wields his unique brand of power especially over his wife, essentially bribing her to do as he wishes otherwise he will reveal her deepest secret and bring shame to the entire family. While this secret would be scandalous at the time this story was released, this same secret would not be were this set in the present day. Caleb is a character I despised, yet I loved reading this book to see how the power of love and passion can alter the future of those he tries to keep under his thumb. I would recommend this book.

I did not end up finishing A Fine Balance, having had to return it to the library, however I have started on the Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor by Sally Armstrong which was lent to me by Kristin and which I am enjoying so far.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Fine Balance is a fine read so far

After having this on my bookshelf before and not reading it, I have finally cracked the spine of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and I am so glad I am. It is, as a few people have told me, a suprisingly quick read despite its size. I managed to devour more than the first hundred pages the first morning I had the book in my possession. I have heard some mixed comments about this book and am interested in hearing from people about how they feel about this book - without spoilers please as I am just about a 1/3 into the book. So far there seems to be an interesting divide by gender. From what I have read so far, this book has some very bleak moments and I am almost certain this will get quite worse, particularly when reading in bed and Robert says "so who has died so far?". Oh dear. As with The Book of Negros, the story weaves around actual historical occurrences, in this case, India around the time of Partition. Historical fiction is something I had previously avoided, however I have begun to enjoy this in my reading more recently. I have always felt I had a poor understanding, or more likely poor retention, of world history and in some ways these stories help restore my memory. I am certain I will have more to write on this book, but until then, goodnight and happy reading.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Just One Week

It took me less than one week to finish my 15th read, The Birth House, lent to me by my best friend Kristin who is an avid reader and always has a great book to pass along! As I mentioned in my previous post I loved this book. What I found interesting in this book other than the story and the characters created by Ami was the images of old advertisments which I assume were either authentic or closely resembled ads of the time that were sprinkled throughout the novel. These ads were for special "cures" for women and their supposed delirium or histeria .... of course you will have to read the book to find out the "treatment" that Dora had both at the doctor's office and then through self-medication!

I am hoping to pick up my next read(s) very soon. I plan to finally read Rohinton Minstry's A Fine Balance but am also waiting for Wild Geese, by Martha Ostenso.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Birth House is just lovely

I have very little left to read of this great novel where author Ami McKay knits a wonderful story of Dora Rare, a young woman who is married early and despite her husband's wishes becomes a midwife and healer trained by her beloved friend and pseudo-mom Miss B. This story combines tragedy and disappointment with humour. I find it has been hard to put this book down, reading well beyond the late night news, and then waking and wanting to read more. The author has a great website/blog where followers of this book can get recipes, join the OKS (you have to read the book to find out what this is) and get a sneak preview of the author's upcoming book - check it out at http://www.thebirthhouse.com/

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Winner is Announced

I am overjoyed ... ecstatic really, that The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill won Canada Reads 2009. I was a little worried there for a while when following the debates on the CBC this past week. I was surprised that some even voted for it to be eliminated on the days when there were votes. I was elated, sorry, but it is true, when The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant was eliminated on Thursday. As I mentioned in my review, I felt no connection to the characters in this story. I missed the last of the debates but understand that Fruit was in the final two. I think this was a great choice by the panelists. I was sad and shocked that Mercy went first .... All the info on Canada Reads, the new Book Club they have launched and so on can be found on www.cbc.ca/canadareads . I am currently reading Ami McKay's The Birth House. So far so good. Stay tuned for my review!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Through Black Spruce

My 14th official read for the challenge, Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden was a great read. It is a novel set in Northern Ontario about contemporary aboriginal life, and the difficulties faced by a people coping with life both in the forest and in the city, where for some, addiction and crime rein supreme and takes over and controls the direction their lives take. This theme is not something I have read in fiction before and I was struck by the difficulties faced by the main characters which likely mirrors the lives of people living this reality today. On the edges of the story it touched on subjects heard on the news - youth addicted to sniffing gas, alcholism etc. It also touched on some of the aboriginal traditions that are maintained by some today. It took me a few chapters to get into the story and figure out that each chapter alternated being narratted by a male character - Wil - and a female character - his neice Annie. Once I understood how this was being narrated, I found that I continually wanted to get to the next chapter to catch up to where the narrating character's story continued. I don't want to spoil the end, so I would recommend reading this novel and letting the story and the curiousity of how it will end carry you away!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Number 13 a Good One

While catching the last of the afternoon rays of sun by the pool I finished The Outlander by Gil Adamson my 13th read for the Challenge and my final read for Canada Reads 2009. I was pleasantly surprised with this book. I had originally thought it was going to be a wild west epic sort of novel, and thus not really something I would be interested in. But it turned out to be a lovely story with a little bit of mystery, some adventure and a little bit of a love story mixed in. It was beautifully written and I found myself completely engrossed in the story of 19 year old Mary Boulton and she flees from the death of her husband by her hand in hot persuit by his brothers. Fantastic read. But, Book of Negros remains my number 1 choice for Canada Reads.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant

This book by Michel Tremblay was my 12th read for the Challenge and my fourth read of this year's selections for Canada Reads. So far, this was the most disappointing book to date. As I mentioned previously, it could be related to the fact that there was something lost in the translation from French to English. Perhaps also it was too personal to the author such that some detail was not included that would help the reader along. It did improve about half-way through the book, however I cannot say that I really enjoyed it - with some exceptions. There were so many characters that I found following the book a bit confusing. Each section flipped from one family to another and sometimes I was about a paragraph in before I realized who he was talking about. I had particular difficulty keeping Victoire's family straight as there were so many living in the one household - mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses, children. This book just did not hold my attention and I was almost glad to be finished with it - sorry!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Probably the Best Book I Have Read

With great sadness I had to read that last page of The Book of Negros (my 11th read for the Challenge and my third Canada Reads 2009 selection) which meant the end of what must be one of my favourite reads. While I have loved many of the other books I have read, the last book that left me feeling this way was 2007 CBC Canada Reads winner Lullabies for Little Criminals. Perhaps this is my own premonition for this year's winner??? I am not sure what else I could add for my official final entry and review for this book that I haven't mentioned below. The depth of character was spectacular. The narration was such that I felt that I was right there inside the story, a witness to the many hardships felt by our heroine as her life abruptly changes from a free Muslim to a slave facing conditions that most could not (and did not) survive. The book ended much quicker than I expected and I in fact finished the same night as I wrote my previous entry. There was a great number of pages where the author indicated how he researched this book and the reference materials he drew from. Interestingly he noted areas where characters in the novel actually existed and where he diverted from history to make the story more interesting. This addendum also included information on his family and why he wrote this book and many acknowledgements for the people who helped him in putting this spectacular historical fiction together. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this addition to the book as it helped fill in some of the blanks and answer some questions I had about this time in history that I was not familiar with. Wow. I loved this book.
And now I have moved onto my 4th read - The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant. So far I am disappointed with this read. Perhaps there is something that has been lost in the translation from French to English. In reading the back of the book which describes the story, it seems that there is supposed to be some subtext that I seem to be missing. Perhaps it will come together soon.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Book of Negros

As I am not quite finished this fantastic book, this is not my official review of my 11th read for the Challenge, however I couldn't wait to post something. While it is difficult to compare books that are as different as apples and oranges, I have to say that The Book of Negros by Burlington, Ontario native Lawrence Hill is probably leading the pack for me of the 3 books I have read so far in CBC's Canada Reads 2009 selections. The others may surprise me, but I think this one probably has a very good shot at winning. This historical fictional story is intensely detailed in its description of Aminata's journey from her village of Bayo to the coast of Africa, the Carolinas in the US, New York, Nova Scotia and back to Africa again where she is in my current spot in the book. It is as if Aminata wrote it herself as a true account of her life story. I have not read background on how Hill conducted his research to produce this story but it is more real and alive than I could have imagined anyone could write that had not experienced it themselves which says much of the talent of the author. I will save more for my official review. While I could devour the rest of this book tonight, I want to savour the last few pages in the journey of a remarkable woman who likely existed at least in part in many of the people who were taken from their villages, and forced into a life of slavery - that is if they even made it across the sea with the terrible conditions on the slave ships. An appropriate read as the United States inaugurates its first African-American President - President Barack Hussein Obama - as the world watched with great hope and inspiration for all of our futures.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fruit, A Delicious Tale

I flew through Fruit: A Novel About a Boy and His Nipples by Brian Francis finishing it just this morning. This is now my 10th read for the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge Eh! and my second Canada Reads 2009 read. I absolutely loved this book, so much so that I was sad as I was nearing the end as I really wanted to read more about Peter Paddington and his life as he approached the end of grade 8 and anticipated in dread the approach of highschool. Francis completely endears this wonderful character to his reading audience. You not only totally believe this story, but at times I know I felt that I was Peter myself experiencing his trials. We all have a bit of Peter in us. Perhaps we are not overweight or experiencing feelings of being attracted to the same sex (and what is hiding in their red parachute pants) but I know I felt for him as he was ridiculed, bullied and feeling like an outsider. Kids can be mean as we know and it is very difficult when you feel like you don't fit in. Thankfully we are able as adults to look back and laugh at what we went through and our feelings at the time and realize that the people who we thought were the cool ones or who bullied or shoved us asside weren't really worth our time anyway. While heartbreaking, many of situations Peter is faced with, including his ongoing dialogue with his swelled nipples is done with humour.
What was interesting to me is that I saw myself in this story as it takes place in the same time period as I was at Peter's age - mid 80's. At one point in the book I actually flipped to the author's bio to see if I knew him or if he grew up in Hamilton, because I could have sworn I was a part of this same cast of charcters ... perhaps I was one of the other "outsiders" in the book that Peter refers to. In high school I was part of what I now refer to as the "goody goody gang" as Francis refers to in this fantastic book. As with most writing, I expect that some of the authors own experiences were reflected in some way in the various characters in the book, which makes it even more real.
This book was a complete departure in style from my previous read which makes it very difficult to figure out which of these two Canada Reads selections I feel should be the big winner. I loved them both for very different reasons. I am now moving on to The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill who is from Burlington, Ontario.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mercy Amoung the Children A Heart Wrenching but wonderful story

The other night I stayed up and finished the last pages of Mercy Amoung the Children by David Adams Richards - my 9th read for the Canada Book Challenge Eh! and my first read for Canada Reads 2009.
It is a tragic fictional story narrated by Lyle Henderson, the son of Sydney Henderson, a gentle man who while not formally educated is extremely intelligent, having taken it upon himself to read everything he he could get his hands on. Sydney believes that truth will always win out in the end and redemption will be received by those who deserves it and thus is only passive when he and Lyle's mom Elly are blamed for tragedies that befall their small community in Eastern Canada. This causes much distress for Lyle who throughout his narration of this story grows from a boy to a teen and sees his poor struggling family continue to be beaten down. He turns the other way, aligning himself with some of the less desirable in what he believes is the means to regain his family's reputation. Interestingly, on my drive to Florida I was enjoying listening to a few of the volumes of the children's fiction - A Series of Unfortunate Events. Mercy could also be given a similar title in that just as you think in the Series of Unfortunate Events that the Bodelair siblings will get away from Count Olaf and things will get better for them so to the reader continues to read on in hope that there will in fact be redemption for the Henderson family and that Lyle's life will finally turn around for the better. This novel was wonderful. It was well told and while very sad and extremely tragic at the time was very true and a value to have experienced. I can see why this received the Giller Prize in 2000 and is part of Canada Reads 2009. It is my first completed book in series and I have already started and am enjoying Fruit: A Novel About A Boy and His Nipples by Brian Francis. This is a complete 360 from Mercy - a humourous tale about an adolescent boy going through puberty who has noticed that his nipples look like ripe cherries and his efforts to counteract this as well as deal with the other terrible things that we all went through as young teens. I am enjoying this one so far. I am now wondering if either of these will win Canada Reads. It will be interesting this year to follow the debate on the books as I hopefully will have read them all by then. Speaking of which, I have joined another group that are reading all the Canada Reads Selection. This blog can be found at http://www.roughingitinthebooks.com/
Keep on reading!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Late Nights on Air Worth the Read Into the Night

I just finished Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay. It took some time to get into this fictional story about an eclectic group of individuals who work at the CBC radio station in Yellowknife and how their lives and some of the other locals intermingle and weave together in a sometimes complicated web of relationships. It had a slow start but, the book picked up speed around midway to two thirds into it when 4 of the characters - Harry, Gwen, Eleanor and Ralph embarked on a canoe trip in the remote Barren Lands. The description of the landscape of the north during this part was breathtaking and made me want to go where they had gone. This story was humourous in parts, sad and suspenseful in others, but I enjoyed following the lives of these characters through till the end of the book. I would recommend this 2007 Giller Prize winner as an enjoyable read. Of course I am starting to think that I could almost like anything I read ...
Santa was very kind this year and I now have the entire Canada Reads 2009 selections. I have started Fruit but should get back to Mercy Amoung the Children and find out how that ends. I hope to blog some more while I am away so check back here for my literary reviews and also my ceramic blog at www.taralynnefranco.blogspot.com - I hope to post images of my drive down from Hamilton to Port Charlotte Florida on this blog.