Friday, April 30, 2010

April In Review

April was a fantastic month for reading! My neighbourhood library branch re-opened after being closed for 2 years for renovations. It's beautiful. There is a huge interactive kids space which my little ones absolutely love and now it's only a two minute walk for me to get books. Perfect! We've been spending a lot of time there, and of course I'm coming home with more books than I can possibly read.

I have challenged myself to read more Canadian literature and this month I read four great books including Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (winner of the Giller Prize in 2007) and What We All Long For by Dionne Brand. The other two books stood out as exceptional - The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood and More by Austin Clarke.

After reading a lot of (great) serious stuff, I returned to my first love - British chick lit! I love a lot of chick lit but for some reason, the British stuff is the best to me! I read The Personal Shopper by Carmen Reid, which has been on my to read list forever, and Forget Me Knot by Sue Margolis, which I randomly picked up at the library. Two of my favourite blogs for keeping up with chick lit are Bookalicious Ramblings and Chick Lit Reviews. They have made my to read list much longer than I will ever be able to keep up with!

Also, check out my list of Earth Day reads. There is such a wealth of great books out there about what we can do to make ourselves healthier and the earth healthier. It's not as hard or expensive to do as you may think.

A special thanks to Bethany at words, words, words for presenting me with the Honest Scrap award and Becki at Confessions of a Bibliophile for presenting me with a Prolific Blogger award. I'm honoured that people are finding my blog useful and good to read. There is such a great book blog community and I'm so glad that I can be a part of it and share my reading journey with such wonderful bloggers.

Crazy for Books hosts a Book Blogger Hop which I just signed up for. Check it out to find some great book bloggers (I'll be doing that as soon as I can get my son down for a nap!)

Hope you all had a great month, and I'm looking forward to a wonderful (and hopefully warm) May.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"More" by Austin Clarke

Idora Morrison, an immigrant from Barbados, has lived in Toronto for 25 years. After her deadbeat husband left for America, she struggled to make ends meet for herself and her son BJ. But now, Idora has discovered that BJ has disappeared into a life of gangs and crime.

For four days and nights, Idora remains hidden away in her rented basement apartment, trying to figure out how all of her best intentions have brought her to this tragic place. She recounts her most memorable moments, good and bad, as a black woman living in Canada. At the end of her self-imposed exile, she emerges with a newfound courage and perspective of her circumstances.

More is a wonderfully written book that does not hold back on its criticism of the state of race and poverty in Canada. Austin Clarke challenges readers to see Toronto from a different perspective, what is often an invisible perspective to so many. Idora’s story is that of so many immigrant women to Toronto, who are striving to make their lives better for their children in a place where every opportunity should be given to them but isn’t.

Clarke portrays the city of Toronto beautifully. It is a character unto itself with its emotions, beauty and contradictions. All of the characters in the book are real and easy to form attachments to.

As Idora recounts her life, the story jumps around a lot. It does not go in linear form, rather it takes you all over Idora’s life depending upon what reminds her of something or how something relates to her life. At times it can take a few moments to figure out where you are, but it really does not take anything away from the book.

More is an incredible book that challenges the way we see others, our city and ourselves. It lends a voice to those who so often feel voiceless in their struggle to survive. And it proves that everyone in this world has a life story that needs to be heard.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Divanomics" by Michelle McKinney Hammond

Michelle McKinney Hammond was a highly successful writer, co-host of an Emmy-winning talk show, appearing all over the world in magazines, on television and in person, living a fabulous life when suddenly she found herself broke and in debt. How did she get there? More importantly, how was she going to remain fabulous?

Many people from all walks of life are finding themselves in financial trouble. Whether it's from overspending, bad decisions or a loss of income, people are finding that they need to make changes in their life in order to gain financial stability. In Divanomics, Michelle McKinney Hammond shows that we don't need to give up our entire lives to get out of debt. Yes, it is possible to remain fabulous when you are broke.

Divanomics is a basic book about reducing debt aimed at women. Hammond does not pretend to be a financial expert, she is simply relaying what has worked for her and how she has managed to change and keep up her lifestyle to get herself financially fit again. She is honest in talking about how she got into debt, taking on the responsibility where many would just blame others.

Each chapter is short and focuses on a different way of living. There are the traditional pieces of financial advice - getting rid of credit cards, starting a budget, using an envelope system. And there are more "diva" pieces of advice - how to eat at fancy restaurants for cheap, how to get designer clothing at less than what you've been spending and how to afford all your beauty products.

On top of all of this, Hammond weaves through the book Biblical teachings on finance and stewardship to show us that while we may be going through a rough time financially, God is still watching over us and will not leave us destitute.

Divanomics isn't going to teach you how to have millions saved for retirement, or give you a solid debt repayment plan, but it will show you practical ways to cut down your spending and save your money. If your diva lifestyle has left you in debt and you don't know where to start to get out of it, this book is the one for you. And no one will know you're having money problems because you will still be just as fabulous as before.

I received this book compliments of Tyndale House Publishers to review. The opinions I have expressed are purely my own.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"The Personal Shopper" by Carmen Reid

Annie Valentine is a personal shopper at a swanky London store, styling and re-inventing some of the wealthiest women around town. As a busy single mum trying to make ends meet, she also sells used clothing on the internet, does at home wardrobe consultations and flips homes so she can keep her kids at their expensive private school. But all of this leaves little time for romance.

Since her husband left, Annie has had little time for dating but she is starting to feel a little lonely. So she embarks on a quest to find a man. Will she meet a man at Discerning Diners, London's exclusive dinner dating experience? What about Ed, her childrens slightly offbeat teacher? Or Gray, the handsome dentist she was introduced to by her mother? Or will she end up finding that the dating world just isn't for her?

The Personal Shopper is a fun, quick read. Combining shopping and romance is a smart idea and makes for a breezy read. If you are into chick lit this is definitely worth a read.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

In 1970, the first Earth Day was the largest, organized citizen demonstration in U.S. history. 40 years later the importance of getting out the message is just as strong, if not stronger. As Christopher Hume wrote today in the Toronto Star, "To say that the planet must be saved is to state the obvious. But ultimately its fate isn't in our hands, it's more the other way around; our fate is in its hands. If it isn't healthy, neither are we."

In honour of Earth Day, here are some of my favourite green reads.

Going Green

David Suzuki's Green Guide - David Suzuki (2008)
Ecoholic - Adria Vasil (2007)
Go Green, Live Rich - David Bach (2008)
The Story of Stuff - Annie Leonard (2010)
Less Is More - Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska (2009)
Slow Death by Rubber Duck - Rick Smith (2009)

Healthy Eating

Food Rules - Michael Pollan (2009)
The Kind Diet - Alicia Silverstone (2009)
Real Food - Nina Planck (2007)
Food, Inc. - Karl Weber (2009)
What to Eat - Marion Nestle (2007)

Green Dvd's

The Corporation (2007)
Food, Inc. (2010)
Who Killed the Electric Car (2006)
Darwin's Nightmare (2007)
The World According to Monsanto (2008)

Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading

Locavore: From Farmer's Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat - Sarah Elton (2010)
Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, The True Cost of What the Global Food Industry Throws Away - Tristram Stuart (2009)
Sea Sick: The Global Ocean In Crisis - Alanna Mitchell (2009)
On a Dollar a Day: One Couples Unexpected Adventures in Eating in America - Christopher Greenslate (2010)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"The Twilight Gospel" by Dave Roberts

The Twilight Saga has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world through books, movies and merchandise. But what is the Christian response to this? Is there one? Should there be one?

In The Twilight Gospel: The Spiritual Roots of Stephenie Meyer's Vampire Saga Roberts finds that while the spirituality and worldview of the books are fascinating, they don't easily mesh with Christianity. His book helps the reader to discern what is healthy and unhealthy and to think more clearly about the many issues that arise in the books.

Roberts has certainly does his research for the book. He incorporates all of the books as well as the movies for the illustrations of his points. Even someone who hasn't read the books will still understand the points he is making. The book is well laid out, easy to follow and to the point. Roberts does not just focus on the negative aspects on the book, he also acknowledges and praises the positives. The book is a fair and balanced approach to the subject.

There are a few spots where the connection between the books and Christianity seem to be a little far reaching. But even if you put Christianity aside, the book is still a good look at the issues arise from the Twilight Saga and the effect that they can have upon impressionable teens.

This book is a good read for any parent who has a tween or teen that is into the Twilight Saga. It will help the parent understand what their child is reading, why they enjoy the books and give them talking points to be discussed with their child. If you are concerned with the books take on occult spirits, life after death, sexuality, personal spiritual power, glamour and materialism The Twilight Gospel will give you more to think about the issues and help you view them in light of the Bible.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy at Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a copy of this book to review. You can check out the blog tour here.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Less Is More" edited by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska

In his 1933 Thanksgiving Proclamation Franklin Roosevelt said "may we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbours."

Less Is More is a book that embraces this ideal. It encourages people to live simply, to live with less so that they may have more. Voluntary Simplicity involves spending less so that you can work less and in turn spend more time with family and building your community. This is what leads to happiness, not material wealth.

The book is a collection of short essays by people involved in the Simplicity movement. The essays define simplicity, give solutions for the individual and discuss how policies need to be implemented at high levels to make a change. Voluntary Simplicity can not only bring individual happiness but help to create a healthy planet and a lasting economy.

The book is great at showing that everyone can achieve some form of simplicity. It's not just about moving to a farm and becoming self-sufficient. There are real ideas that you can incorporate into your life no matter where you live. Even small changes in your life can bring about a big difference. The short length of the essays is a great feature. They don't lose your attention and are very simply put.

This book is a great read for anyone who feels caught up in the busyness of life and is looking to simplify their surroundings. Simplicity is achievable in today's crazy world.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Late Nights On Air" by Elizabeth Hay

In the summer of 1975, an eccentric group of characters make up a small radio station in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Harry Boyd, the station manager, is back in the North after failing at television in Toronto. Dido Paris, the news reader, is an attraction and mystery to all. Eleanor Dew, the station secretary, is rediscovering herself as a Christian. Ralph Cody, the book critic, is a nature photographer in his spare time. Eddy Fitzgerald, the radio technician, has radical leanings and may possibly be involved in some suspicious activity around town. Gwen Symon, the amateur announcer, is the newcomer to the station having driven by herself from Toronto to Yellowknife in search of a job.

Their lives play out against the backdrop of daily life in the Northwest Territories, as well as the Mackenzie Pipeline Project Inquiry. Relationships form, and complications arise. Love, loss, jealousy and trust all play out in this book.

Harry, Eleanor, Gwen and Ralph decide to travel together through the inhospitable Barrens, retracing the route of 19th century explorer John Hornby, who perished along with two others on his journey. Along the way they battle the wilderness, their shortcomings and tragedy, forming a lasting bond and discovering where their lives are heading.

Late Nights on Air is an incredible story about life in the North, it's harshness and isolation, it's sense of community and beauty. The part of the book where the four characters travel the Barren is rich in descriptiveness and imagery. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get to this part of the book. The characters are richly developed and Hay does an excellent job of weaving in the politics of the Pipeline Inquiry, but it does get a little long which unfortunately takes some interest away from the story.

The book will peak your interest in the Canadian North and the beauty that it provides. Late Nights on Air was the winner of the Giller Prize in 2007. While it does not seem like a standout prize winner, it is still an interesting novel and great Canadian read.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Forget Me Knot" by Sue Margolis

Abby Crompton is a successful florist who built her business from the ground up. Her fiance, Toby, is a high powered corporate lawyer with aristocratic roots. Since proposing a month ago, Toby has yet to give Abby a ring, is working late and has no time for romance.

On the night she is supposed to meet her future mother-in-law, Abby becomes trapped in an elevator with a handsome stranger and a bottle of fine wine. Abby shares a few secrets that were best left to herself. After they emerge from the elevator, Abby is thankful she'll never see him again.

In the weeks following, Abby's personal life begins to unravel. She finds out Toby has been keeping a secret from her. Then, after agreeing to allow a film shoot at her shop, she discovers that the director is none other than the man from the elevator! Soon, her life begins to play out just like a romantic comedy.

Forget Me Knot is a fun, quick read and stays true to the chick lit genre. It's cute, it's predictable, but isn't that what's fun about chick lit? There are a couple of moments in the book which are of a sexual nature and quite graphic which seemed out of place and unnecessary for the book. It definitely could have been written in a much more subtle way and made the same point.

If you like chick lit, you'll enjoy this book. It will keep a smile on your face the whole way through with it's charm and wit.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Food, Inc." edited by Karl Weber

If you saw the film Food, Inc., you know that our food industry is in a lot of trouble. We are getting fatter, sicker and poorer. The time for change is now, and we as consumers need to start that change.

The book Food, Inc. is a companion guide to the movie. You don't need to see the movie to read the book. And the book is definitely not just a repetition of what was in the movie. Rather it uses the movie as a starting point and delves deeper into the issues.

It is a collection of essays written by many experts who were featured in the film. Most were written for the book, some are reprints from other sources. Topics covered include the industrialization of our food supply, the benefits of local eating, how organic food is going mainstream, the global impact of food industrialization and how we can declare independence from industrial food.

There are many fabulous features to the book. After each essay there is a section that helps you as the reader learn what you can do on your own to make a difference. There are extensive resources to help you learn more about the food industry and what you can do.

Food, Inc. is a great resource that all consumers should read. Like many other books of the same topic, it's not preachy and does not make you feel guilty for the choices you make. Rather it provides you with simple ways that you can make changes to the way you eat and that we can make a difference when it comes to the food we eat.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World" by Dan Koeppel

Who knew there was so much to the banana, that yellow fruit most of us put in our cart every time we go grocery shopping. It's sweet, the same size every week and always seedless. For many people around the world, it's what keeps them alive. But that same banana has been at the forefront of major developments throughout history, and now it faces an unsure future.

Ancient evidence suggests that the apple Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was actually a banana. In the early 20th century many nations in Central America had their entire fate rest in the banana. Wars were fought because of the banana. And for years, scientists have been searching for the perfect banana, one which won't succumb to the unstoppable diseases that have wiped out previous varieties of banana.

The book is a very interesting look at the history of the banana, the role that science has played in getting our current banana to the supermarket, and the role the banana has played in the development and history of many countries in the world.

Most of the book looks at the science of the banana and the quest to overcome a disease that is threatening to eradicate the fruit altogether, which does get to be a lot of the same at times in the book. The role of the banana in creating and toppling governments as well as starting war is very interesting.

The book is a quick read. The chapters are short which is good for when the information begins to get a little long. It's an easy to follow book written not for those interested in science but for the everyday consumer who wants to know more about where their food came from.

Banana is a good example of how food and science are now intersecting, and the ramifications it can have for our world. It is another book in a growing library showing us that our food has gone through a lot more than we think to make it's way to our table.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"What We All Long For" by Dionne Brand

A family is fleeing their home in 1970's Vietnam. As the three children and two parents board a boat that will take them to a refugee camp in Thailand, the six year old boy follows the wrong pair of legs onto another boat. Years later, the family has made a new life in Toronto but the memory of their son Quy haunts them every day.

In the summer of 2002, Quy's sister Tuyen is an aspiring artist trying to make it on her own in the city. She spends her days with her friends Carla, Jackie, and Oku, each trying to find their own way and living day to day. They try to hide their lives from their families, and their families from their lives but as they quickly learn that is not easy.

Tuyen's brother Binh spends his time trying to track down Quy, who is now a dangerous criminal in the Thai underworld. Their worlds collide in Toronto with unexpected results.

What We All Long For is beautifully written. The characters are well developed and the City of Toronto is a stunning backdrop for the character's stories. It feels as though Toronto is another character in the book.

Unfortunately the actual story of the book was much different than what I was expecting from the book jacket description. The story of Quy played out more as a backstory to that of the four friends. I was expecting much more to his story. The final chapter of the story brings an unexpected, emotional ending, though it did leave me wanting to know more.

Overall, it is a well written book with real and emotional characters. While it was not what I was expecting, it is a good read especially for anyone who knows Toronto and appreciates the beauty and variety brought forth by the city.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"The Story of Stuff: by Annie Leonard

We have too much Stuff. And that Stuff is destroying our environment. In the United States, just five per cent of the world's population is consuming 30 per cent of the world's resources and creating 30 per cent of the world's waste.

While walking down the street in New York City, Annie Leonard noticed all of the garbage piling up on the sidewalks and decided to follow exactly where this stuff went. Since then she has been following Stuff all around the world, through mines, factories and garbage dumps. What she has found has frightening repercussions for our world.

In The Story of Stuff, a book based on her internet film sensation of the same name, Leonard examines the five stages of our Stuff - extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal - and the effects it has having on our health, our homes and our environment.

The book really makes you think about where your Stuff comes from and what went into getting it into your home. Most of us don't realize that the demand for video game systems has caused strife and death on the other side of the world. This and many more shocking details are included in the book.

The book is heavy on the science but in a language that makes it easy to understand. It is not a depressing or preachy book, but one that looks at a very real threat to our world and provides hope and alternatives to our current system.

The Story of Stuff will definitely change the way you think about Stuff and have you paying more attention to where your goods come from, what went into making them and whether or not it was worth all of the trouble to have it in your home. If you are ready to make a change in your consumption habits, read this book. If you aren't ready to make a change, read the book and see why you need to.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood

In the near future, the world is run by corporations with names like HelthWyzer, ReJoove and SeksMart. Order is kept by the corrupt police force known as CorpSeCorps. Many of the animals we know now are extinct and the world is inhabited by new genetically engineered species such as Rakunks, Liobams and Mo'Hair sheep. Social and environmental stability are nearing an end.

Inhabiting this world, apart from mainstream society, is an eco-cult named God's Gardeners. Their beliefs combine religion and science, dedicating themselves to the preservation of plant and animal life. Their leader, Adam One, has long been predicting a natural disaster that will forever change life on earth. And now, it has occurred.

The Waterless Flood has wiped out most of human life on earth. But two women have survived. Ren and Toby are both God's Gardeners. As they search for other survivors, they navigate through a changed world and begin a new life as a part of a new human race.

The Year of the Flood is an incredible and astonishing work. It is an excellent commentary on the future of our earth, the moral compass and the frightening path that science can take. And so many other things. The book is packed full of thought-provoking subjects.

It jumps between the present and past, in a way that is not only easy to follow, but slowly and deliberately reveals information about the God's Gardeners, Ren and Toby, and how the earth came to be in its present state.

Love, fear, power, science and religion weave their way through this fascinating futuristic and apocalyptic tale. What emerges is a dark world, with glimpses of beauty, that will speak to any reader and move you to examine the world we currently inhabit.