Friday, August 31, 2012

Ready, Set, Readathon!

The Ready, Set, Readathon begins now!  It's hosted by Danie at Booktacular and Faye at A Daydreamer's Thoughts and runs from now (midnight on Friday) until the end of Sunday.  The goal?  Read as many books as you can for three day straight.  You can also keep up with it on Twitter through the hashtag #RSReadathon.

My plans for the readathon?  Well first of all, Friday and Saturday are going to have to be my big reading days as I have plans for Sunday.  I'm hoping to finish these two books for sure:
After that I have a large pile of Canadian books I took out of the library in anticipation of the Giller Prize longlist announcement on Tuesday.   I'm not sure which one I'll start with but I hope to also finish one book from the pile.

Day 1 Progress:
Pages Read: 254
Books Read: 1
A Nation Worth Ranting About by Rick Mercer was delivered to me today and I had to start it!  Rick Mercer is to Canada what Jon Stewart is to the US.  He is hilarious, I love his show and I read the book  in one afternoon.  

Day 2 Progress:
Pages Read: 319
Books Read: 1

Total Pages Read: 573
Total Books Read: 2
It turned out to be not the day I had hoped for with reading after my laptop died and I had to head to the Apple Store.  But I did mange to read all of On The Island so still a success!

Day 3 Progress:
Pages Read: 40
Books Read: 0

I'm definitely counting this readathon as a success!  At the beginning I was thinking I was crazy for doing a readathon the weekend before school starts AND with a family birthday party, but it was the readathon that motivated me to read anything at all.  I finished two books and it gave me a much needed boost in terms of having reviews ready for before the posting date!  Thank you to the lovely ladies who hosted the readathon!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry lives in a small English village with his wife Maureen and is recently retired from his job at the local brewery.  Very little distinguishes one day from the next and as each day passes his wife grows more and more annoyed at every thing he does.  They sleep in separate rooms and something remains hanging in the air between them.

One morning Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessey, a woman he hasn't seen or heard from in twenty years.  Queenie is writing to let Harold know that she is in a hospice and she wants to say goodbye.  Harold writes her a quick reply and sets off to the mailbox on the corner, but when he arrives, he can't bring himself to post it.  So he walks to the next mailbox and then next until he convinces himself that he must deliver his message to Queenie in person.  There are six hundred miles between Harold and Queenie but he knows that as long as he is walking, she will stay alive.

With nothing but the clothes on his back, Harold embarks on his cross-country journey.  Along the way he meets a host of fascinating characters and finds himself reminiscing about the joys and losses of his life thus far.  And Maureen finds herself sitting at home, realizing that for the first time in a very long time, she misses having Harold around. 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is an endearing, heartwarming story of one man's journey across the country and through the years of his life that asks whether we can begin our lives again, no matter how many years we've already put in and how many regrets we have.

It is understandable that one might question whether this is the book for them or wonder how one could possibly read a story of a man walking six hundred miles to deliver a letter.  But the miles fly by as you find yourself engrossed in the story of an ordinary man trying to do something extraordinary. 

Joyce is a fantastic writer who has paid a lot of attention to detail.  The descriptions of the people that Harold meets and the scenery that he passes are beautiful, they instantly transport you to Harold's side.  His observations and voice come across as authentic of a man his age.  As I read the book, I imagined the fantastic Clive Swift (of Keeping Up Appearances and Old Guys fame) as Harold. 

The book did drag for me a bit towards the third quarter, around the time when others began to join him on his walk.  Maybe I was annoyed at these people and just wanted them to leave, but I felt that they took Harold away from what he was doing best, thinking and observing.  The book definitely picked back up afterward and as the revelations of Harold's life emerged, I found myself loving him even more, as well as understanding his relationship with Maureen.

I really enjoyed this book, even reading it in a day, and I think it is a solid debut by Rachel Joyce.  There isn't a whole lot of flash to it, and sometimes the miles can drag on just a tiny bit, but it is a thought-provoking look at mortality, love, loss and regret and how life can easily become drawn out day after day when we allow it to slip away.  I think the word that best describes this book is modest.  It doesn't set out to be some grand philosophical tome but has a way of speaking to everyone and making room in their hearts for Harold.  I will admit I am surprised to see it long listed for the Man Booker Prize however, I think it's a book that people of all walks of life will enjoy.

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

 It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  It's a great place to organize your week, get ready for reading and of course, find tons of new books to add to your to read pile. 

This is the last week of summer before school starts for us.  We're doing that whole wake up early test run thing this week to get ready for catching the bus at 7:45 am (the horror!) and I seem to be doing a lot worse than the kids.  Anyways, due to the busyness of this week, I'm going light on the reading.

What I Read Last Week:
The Money Smart Family System by Steve and Annette Economides (click title for review)
The Blondes by Emily Schultz
The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp by Poppy Dolan

What I Am Currently Reading:
 One Way Or Another by Rhonda Bowen
Atlanta reporter Toni Shields will do whatever it takes to get a good story. So when she's arrested for sneaking around the mayor's house, she's prepared. What she's not prepared for is getting demoted--or her run-in with stubborn Adam Bayne, director of the local young men's rehab center. . .

What I Am Reading Next Week:

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"A Door in the River" by Inger Ash Wolfe

The small town of Port Dundas, Ontario is shocked when beloved hardware store owner Henry Weist is found dead in the parking lot of a First Nation reserve cigarette shop.  All signs point to Henry dying of a bee sting but Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef isn't so sure.  When more deaths follow, Hazel and the police force find themselves embroiled in a mystery that involves illegal gambling, modern day slavery and a suspect bent on getting revenge.

A Door in the River is the third offering in the Hazel Micallef series by Inger Ash Wolfe.  I haven't read the first two books but it is not necessary to have done so.  This book stands on its own and any references to the previous books are explained well enough that you don't need background information. 

This is a wonderfully written, deep thriller that pulls you in right away and keeps you hooked until the very last page.  The secondary stories of personnel changes at the police station and Micallef's aging mother do not take away from the mystery and make for a well-rounded story.  I read this book in one day and that is the first time in a very long time I have done this.

I am still fairly new to the mystery genre but this was a perfect match for me.  The circumstances are a little out there, making you wonder if such a thing could really happen, and when you do consider the possibilities it makes you shudder to think of the world we live in.  I didn't become particularly enamoured with the character of Hazel Micallef but that was okay for me as I prefer to become attached to the mystery rather than the sleuth.  I loved that it is set in small-town Ontario, though readers around the world will enjoy it as it could be small-town anywhere.

Mystery readers will enjoy this novel.  The plot never drags, chapters are the perfect length and there is the right amount of intrigue and suspense.  You do have to suspend belief just a little bit in terms of plausibility, but it all comes together as being possible and that makes for a spine-tingling read.

Thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back To School Readathon Final Post

The Back to School Readathon ran from Thursday 16 August to Monday 20 August and was hosted by Katie at Katie's Book Blog.  After coming home from vacation to my large TBR pile, I knew I needed a readathon to get me started. 

Goal: Read a total of 1000 pages and start/finish four books.

Results: Read 1007 pages, finished 3 books and started a fourth.  So I consider this readathon a huge success!

The books I finished were:

All three books were wonderful reads and highly recommended.  Thank you to Katie for hosting the readathon.  And I look forward to participating in another one at the end of the month.  Check out my side bar for more information on the Ready Set Readathon.

"The Secret She Kept" by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Tia Jiles has a dangerous secret.  It is so troubling that she stops herself from getting close to anyone, preferring to dive into her work and keeping her private life extremely private.  But when she meets handsome and successful magazine publisher Lance Kingston, who is head over heels for her, she goes against her better judgment and lets him into her world.

Lance thinks he has won the jackpot when he meets successful lawyer Tia.  He hasn't known her for long but he knows that she is the one and very soon they are married and expecting a child.  But the Tia he loves quickly becomes another person.  The "new" Tia is a raging, violent woman who is a danger to herself and the baby she carries.

When Lance's grandmother tells him "crazy leaves clues," he digs deeper and finds out the secret Tia has been carrying, that since the age of seventeen she has been battling schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Lance knows he's in over his head and when he almost loses his unborn child, he wonders just how much more he can stay committed to the woman he married.

The Secret She Kept, by ReShonda Tate Billingsley, boldly looks at a subject many people tend to ignore or write off.  Even in 2012, mental illness still carries a stigma and many people who suffer from it often hide it because they are scared of what people will think.  I'll admit that I used to be one of those people who thought that mental illness should be kept quiet or was something to be embarrassed by.  Then I experienced anxiety and depression and I understood not only how it takes a hold of you but how we need to release the stigmas that surround it.  This book is going to help others understand why this is so important.

ReShonda is a fantastic writer.  She has taken a delicate subject, put a face and a voice to it and shown the realness of it.  It may be fiction but the characters are believable, relatable and understandable.  I completely understood why Tia wanted to keep it a secret, why Tia's mother thought she could pray it away, and why Lance didn't want to turn his back on his wife no matter how difficult things got.  I admired the way Lance refused to walk away from the marriage when everyone told him he should and when people would have understood why.  This isn't a happy, rosy picture of mental illness or an ideal story.  It chronicles the rough road that everyone faces when dealing with it, not just the person afflicted with it.

I haven't met a book by ReShonda Tate Billingsley that I haven't liked and even though this is a departure from what she usually writes, it is still just as fabulous.  I hope that this book will open up the dialogue about mental illness in circles where it isn't usually discussed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's been a few weeks since I've linked up to It's Monday, What Are You Reading?, a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

The last couple of weeks I've been on vacation.  I managed to get some reading done while away, which is pretty good considering I've got two young children and they don't exactly want to hang out by the pool with a book.  So to help myself catch up I participated in the Back to School readathon hosted by Katie of Katie's Book Blog.  It's helped me get three books out of my to read pile in one weekend so it's been a complete success and I hope to carry that momentum into this week.

What I Read On Vacation (click on title for review):
The Company by Chuck Graham
Be The Mom by Tracey Lanter Eyster
The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
The Secret She Kept by ReShonda Tate Billingsley (review coming soon)

What I Read Last Week (reviews coming this week):
Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong
A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

What I Am Currently Reading:
 The Blondes by Emily Schultz
A mystery contagion is turning blondes of all walks of life into rabid killers - As a blonde myself, I'm totally intrigued!

What I'm Reading Next:
One Way or Another by Rhonda Bowen
The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp by Poppy Dolan

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Short Story Sunday: One More Winter by Rebecca K. O'Connor

Mary has spent much of her life waiting for the time that she can let go of her MIA husband and find closure, not just for her but her daughter Teresa who was very young when her father went off to war.  Over the years Mary and Teresa have learned that grief has its own course and that closure isn't something you can just make happen.  When Mary discovers a dead dog while on a walk, she contacts the owner and quickly finds that her time for closure is upon her.

One More Winter by Rebecca K. O'Connor is a short story that was originally written to help O'Connor through her own experience of loss.  She was the owner contacted by someone else and through the story, O'Connor imagines the life of the person she met only briefly on the phone. 

I thought this was a beautiful, heart-tugging story.  I had trouble understanding the characters of Mary and Teresa only because I didn't connect to them as the age they were portrayed (Mary read to me as being the age Teresa actually was.)  But once I was able to get past that, I saw how grief and hope can really take over people's lives and how there is no one set journey to overcoming the pain.

When it comes to stories about grief I think there is a fine line between making the story poignant and making the story feel depressing.  O'Connor writes in way that connects the reader to the grief without it taking them over, making for a poignant read. 

One More Winter is available for free download on Amazon Kindle here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Blogger Hop

It's been a few weeks since I've participated in the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy For Books.  It's been a busy summer, but it's winding down now and I'm starting to get a little more time at the computer.

For those who don't know, the Book Blogger Hop is a weekly get together where we visit and get to know our fellow book bloggers.  This weeks question is:

What is one genre you will NEVER read?

My answer is Erotica.  When I first started blogging, I would have given you a whole list of genres - young adult, speculative fiction, suspense, romance to name a few - but the beauty of being a book blogger is you open yourself up to so many new books, authors and genres and you discover so many things you thought you wouldn't have liked.  So now I never say NEVER except to erotica, it's just not something that I would touch.

How about you? What genre would you never read?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"The Next Best Thing" by Jennifer Weiner

At the age of twenty-three, Ruth Saunders packed up her life and moved across the country, heading to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming a television writer.  Along for the move is her seventy year old grandmother, who raised Ruth after a tragic accident took her parents lives when she was young. 

Things don't immediately go smoothly for Ruth but after four years she hits the big time when her sitcom, The Next Best Thing, gets picked up.  Based on her own life, the show is Ruth's dream come true.  But the dream is short lived as Ruth comes up against Hollywood executives and demanding actors.  Add to this pressure her grandmothers impending nuptials and a secret crush on her boss and Ruth begins to realize that Hollywood is not all it's made out to be.

The Next Best Thing is Jennifer Weiner's newest novel and a continuation of her short story Swim, first published in The Guy Not Taken.  Weiner's own experience in Hollywood as writer and producer of the television show State of Georgia lends an insider experience to the story. 

The character of Ruth is immediately likeable and endearing.  Sporting the scars of the accident that took her parents, Ruth isn't your typical Hollywood player.  But she dreams of the television world that got her through her difficult childhood and knows she has what it takes to write her own show.  But once there, she's unsure if she has what it takes to survive the roller coaster that is Hollywood.

I love the insider look you get from this novel.  There's nothing juicier than a Hollywood novel written by someone who has been there.  And I love the way Jennifer Weiner uses real stars as the basis for some of the Hollywood players in her own novel.  This book is definitely a page-turner, one that draws you in right from the beginning. 

I had been slightly disappointed by Weiner's last two books but The Next Best Thing has her back on track in my book and proves why Weiner is a firmly established voice for women in fiction.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Back to School Readathon TBR Post

 I had such great success with the Olympic Readathon (1200 pages read while on vacation with my kids!) that I needed to sign up for another readathon now that I'm home.  And the Back To School Readathon, hosted by Katie at Katie's Book Blog is the perfect one for me!

This readathon runs from August 15-20.  There is no minimum to read, just the challenge to make a dent in your TBR list.  I plan on reading the following books:

Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong
A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Blondes by Emily Schultz

I will consider this readathon a success if I can get 1000 pages read in five days.  That will definitely get me motivated to get back into reading after a lovely two week holiday.

Day 1:
We took the family to Canada's Wonderland yesterday so it wasn't exactly a reading day for me.  I managed to get a few chapters in on the way there but not much else.
Total pages read: 31
Total books read:  0 

Day 2:
A much better day for reading.  I finished my first book, Running For My Life, the story of runner Lopez Lomong who escaped a rebel soldier camp at the age of 6 in Sudan and went on to compete at the Olympics for the United States of America.  Fantastic story.
Total pages read: 251
Total books read: 1 

Day 3
I stayed up late last night to finish my book because it was that good.  A Door in the River is a Canadian mystery that keeps you hooked right until the end.
Total pages read: 583
Total books read: 2

Day 4:
The weather was perfect for sitting on the balcony, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying a good book.  I finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry in one day, the first time I've done that in a long time.
Total pages read: 903
Total books read: 3 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Wait No More" by Kelly and John Rosati

There are currently over 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States, and over 76,000 children in the system in Canada.  These are children who are waiting for homes due to circumstances of loss, abuse, neglect and abandonment.  

Wait No More chronicles Kelly and John Rosati's journey as they build their family by adopting four children from the American foster care system.  The Rosati's strongly believe that adoption through the foster care system by Christians is not only a solution for the children, but for the adoptive family to live an authentic, pro-life commitment to God.  They are open and honest in this book as they share both the joys and struggles of adoption and this book will inspire every reader to find ways that they can become involved in such a journey.

This is such a beautiful story.  As someone who genuinely hopes to adopt out of the foster care system one day, the book further solidified this hope.  What I appreciated most about this book was it wasn't just a rosy picture of adoption and having the perfect family.  They are completely honest about the difficulties they faced, including a failed placement and adopting children with special needs due to bad choices made by the birth parents.  But what got them through was their strong faith and making sure that they trusted God through every step of the way.  

This isn't just an inspiring book about adoption but also about faith and it is an incredible read.  You will feel the highs and lows along with the Rosati's and find yourself smiling and in tears, possibly at the same time.  The book will take you on an emotional journey but a good one, one that will inspire and move you to advocate for children in any way you possibly can.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Best of Canada: "Half Blood Blues" by Esi Edugyan

I first reviewed Half Blood Blues in November of 2011 after it was nominated for and won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.  It also won the 2012 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.  It was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and the 2012 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.  It was also a finalist for the 2011 Governor General's Award for Fiction and the 2011 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, in addition to many other honours.

In 1940, war had spread throughout Europe. In Paris, a brilliant young jazz musician named Hiero was arrested by the Nazis. He was a German citizen and Black. Hiero was never heard from again.

Fifty years later his friend and fellow musician Sid, who was there the night he was arrested, is at the premiere of a documentary chronicling Hiero's life. The film spurs Sid to relive their time together, a time of brilliant music and culture but also of trouble, racism and war.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is an engaging, stunning and original novel set in a time that continues to haunt our world. It is a unique story to emerge from the time period of World War two, giving a voice to to the many stateless people who were lost during that time. What makes this story so gripping is the way it is woven with the beauty and soul of the jazz scene the time.

The narrative is in an incredible language of the time, a sort of German-American slang, peppered with jazz and flavour. The use of this language really brings the story to life, makes the characters and their emotions jump off the page. Reading the book you can feel the relaxed, expressive energy of the characters while at the same time feeling their troubles and fear. It is a difficult thing to do, to take oppressed people and make the reader feel their joys despite their troubles, and Edugyan does this very well.

Half-Blood Blues was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize as well as the three major Canadian literary prizes. Just yesterday it was announced that the book won Canada's most prestigious prize, the Giller. This book is very deserving of all its praise. This is Esi Edugyan's second novel, and at thirty-four years of age, she has a promising career ahead of her. This was the book I predicted as the Giller winner and I strongly believe that Edugyan has opened wide a path to becoming one of Canada's great literary voices.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Best of Canada: "The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood.

I first reviewed The Year of the Flood in April of 2010.  Margaret Atwood is a Canadian institution, beloved by all for her incredible writing and her activism.  I highly recommend following her on Twitter, @MargaretAtwood

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.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Best of Canada: "More" by Austin Clarke

I first reviewed More in April of 2010.  It was the winner of the 2009 Toronto Book Award.  Clarke won the 2002 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel, The Polished Hoe.

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.