Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Selected Poems of Langston Hughes"

During the 1920's and 1930's a cultural explosion occurred in the African-American community of Harlem.  Novels, plays, music and poetry all emerged out of the Harlem Renaissance documenting the plight of Black Americans and redefining Black identity.  One of the most famous names to come out of this movement is Langston Hughes.

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in 1902, an African American descended from relationships between slave owners and slaves.  He grew up in an educated, politically inclined family that instilled in him a strong sense of racial pride and activism.  In his twenties he began to write poetry that expressed the attitudes and difficulties of Blacks in America.  He wrote to uplift his fellow people and to preserve their experiences.  

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes is a collection of poems that Hughes himself felt were important for preservation and includes unpublished material.  First published in 1959, this collection addresses racism, identity, religion, poverty, love, and freedom.  Hughes' poems are strong and powerful, touching and haunting, written in a style that evokes the Black culture of the time.

If you want to understand the Harlem Renaissance and what life was like for Blacks in America in the period between the two world wars, there is no other place to go than to the poetry of Langston Hughes.  I'm not a big reader of poetry, but this collection goes beyond beautiful words, it paints an incredible picture and brings history right off the page.

One of my favourite poems is Mother to Son (1922):

Well, son, I'll tell you: 
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it, 
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor - Bare.
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners, 
And sometimes join' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now - 
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin', 
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
(Pg. 187)

Hughes' is an accomplished, prize-winning writer whose voice came to represent the Harlem Renaissance and Black America.  Though he wrote on a variety of subjects, I personally feel he was at his strongest when writing about the racial climate of America, an example of this being the poem Merry-Go-Round (1942):

Colored child at carnival

Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and coloured
Can't sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There's a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we're put in the back -
But there ain't no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where's the horse
For a kid that's black?
(Pg. 194)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Little Readers

Little Readers is where I share the books that my kids have been reading over the past week.  These are their favourites, or ones that I really enjoy for learning points.
Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton
This is one that my son read at his speech therapy.  The farmer has fifteen animals and they all seem to be named Bob!  Bob is great for the articulation my son has been working on, but all kids are going to find this book cute and funny.
Le club des verts by Annette Aubrey (The Rainbow Club in English)
Kids at school start a club where it's members wear green but other kids begin to feel left out.  A great book for talking to your children about bullying and the feelings that go with it.

J'ai perdu mon chat by Philippe Beha (I've Lost My Cat in English)
A little boy has lost his cat and his friends try to find him.  But they end up bringing home animals that don't quite match the entire description!  A huge shout out to TD Bank Group and The Canadian Children's Book Centre for their Grade One Book Giveaway Program.  Each year, every grade one student gets a free Canadian book to bring home.

My daughter likes to pick a topic and then go to the library and find all the books she can on that topic. This week she chose the farm and I really like these books by Sharon Dagleish.  Working Dogs, Sheep, and Pigs have a wealth of information about the animals from beginning to end but presented in a way that young children will learn a lot.

I'm linking this post up to The Children's Bookshelf at What Do We Do All Day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Heads in Beds" by Jacob Tomsky

Following his college graduation, armed with a philosophy degree, Jacob Tomsky found himself with a lack of career direction and a lack of incoming funds.  And so he took a job as a valet parking attendant for a brand new, large, luxury hotel in New Orleans.  He never planned to make a career of it, but he quickly learned that once the hospitality business lures you in, it doesn't let you out.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality is Tomsky's memoir of over a decade of his life spent in the hotel industry.  He has done it all from parking cars to managing the housekeeping department, but most of his time has been spent at the front desk where he's on the front lines and knows the deep, dark secrets of everyone who checks in.

This is a fun, fantastic book that anyone who has ever stayed in a hotel will want to read.  At first I thought it was going to be one of those "bring your own black light and/or sheets" type of books.  Which I was totally up for reading.  But it's actually a book that takes you behind the scenes of a hotel, teaches you all the tips and tricks for getting extras and upgrades (as well as what not to do) and spills some juicy gossip about the various types of customers his luxury hotels have accommodated.

Tomsky writes in a down to earth, between friends, "you won't believe the customer I had to today" manner that keeps you hooked the whole way through.  Who knew it was so easy to eat from the mini-bar and watch pay movies then get them taken off of your bill!  Who knew how much power the front desk agents had to make or break your vacation!  The biggest takeaway from this book is the power of the tip.  Never underestimate it.  Oh, and be sure to check your car for damage before you drive it away from the valet station.

This is a very entertaining memoir.  I could have done without the use of dialects to repeat what people had said (for example the New Orleans drawl or the Engrish of the Japanese couple.)  But other than that it was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me.

Anyone who has worked anywhere in the service industry will be able to relate to this book.  Anyone who travels will enjoy this book.  One would think that this type of book could end up in whining territory but it really doesn't feel like that.  Tomsky is open, honest and funny.  If you don't like cursing in your book, try to overlook his language because this book is fun.  Read this book before your next trip.

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

Monday, November 26, 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 way to connect with other book bloggers, get your reading week organized and add to that never-ending to read list!

Last week I took an unplanned reading and blogging break.  Life got busy and it was just one of those things where I didn't feel any motivation to do very much during my downtime.  Though I did manage to catch up on a months worth of Coronation Street episodes (oh man, was it a good month!  Let me know if you watch the show, we can chat!)

What I Read Last (2) Weeks:

Beware this Boy by Maureen Jennings

What I'm Reading Now:
This week I really need to focus on The Count of Monte Cristo for the read along.  Only a few more weeks and I really need to make a dent on it if I'm going to finish on time.

What I'm Reading Next:

I'm reading both of these books for the Mixing It Up Challenge (which I also need to get working on!)  

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

*Giveaway* "The Housewife Assassin's Handbook" by Josie Brown

Josie Brown's The Housewife Assassin's Handbook just broke the top 100 in Amazon's Romantic Suspense Category and to celebrate she is giving away e-copies of the book!

You can read an excerpt from the book here and read my review of the book here where I call it a fast-paced read with great gadgets and the right combination of mystery and humour.

To enter, leave your email address in the comment box below.  The contest runs until midnight ET on December 20th.  I will draw 3 winners at random and pass your email on to the author.

Good luck!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Little Readers

It's time to check in with what my kids are reading this week!

My daughter loves ballet.  She is very excited that next month she'll be old enough to take the proper ballet lessons in our neighbourhood.  This week she picked up Bea at Ballet by Rachel Isadora and Dogs Don't Do Ballet by Anna Kemp at the library.  Bea at Ballet is a fantastic book for any young girl or boy who is taking ballet.

This week my daughter's Scholastic order arrived and thus our favourite French book this week is Fraisinette: Ma première soirée pyjama by Presses aventures.  It's a cute little book about Strawberry Shortcake and her friends having a sleepover, with one of the girls being nervous because she has never been to one before.

Where is Boots? A Lift the Flap Story by Kiki Thorpe and Troubles with Bubbles by Frank B. Edwards are the two books my son has been reading this week for his speech therapy.  They are repetitive books that work on lip rounding, which is something he needs to practice given his oral motor speech problems.

I'm linking this post up to The Children's Bookshelf, hosted by Erica at What Do We Do All Day?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Beware this Boy" by Maureen Jennings

It's November 1940 and war is spreading throughout Europe.  In Britain, the Blitz (a sustained strategic bombing by Germany) is underway.  Men have gone off to fight and those who remain face the regular occurrences of air raids, while doing their part on the home front to support the war effort.

The city of Birmingham was already an important industrial area in England when the war broke out and many factories devoted themselves to the war effort.  It was in these factories that many women went to work for the first time manufacturing munitions, putting their lives at risk for the war effort.  And it is one of these factories that Maureen Jenning's Beware this Boy begins.

An explosion has ripped through a factory, killing or badly injuring several of the young women who work in the dangerous area.  It seems like an unfortunate accident but the chief of police calls in an investigator just to be sure.

Detective Inspector Tom Tyler works in a small Shropshire town but is called into Birmingham where police resources are stretched thin.  Tom is expecting a quick accident investigation but as he begins to talk to employees of the factory he soon realizes that there is more than meets the eye.  Divisions begin to appear within the employees and it seems as though communist sympathies may be finding their way in.  Add an American documentary filmmaker who carries a secret and an AWOL soldier risking his life as he puts his faith in a shady group of characters and you have a dynamic, page turning mystery on your hands.

This book is the second in the Tom Tyler trilogy that takes place in England during World War 2.  While there are bits in the book that allude to things that happened in the first book, this book does stand alone and there is no need to have read the first (though this such a great book, you will probably want to start at the beginning.)

This book is full of characters, all of whom are endearing and heart-warming, even the ones who are up to no good!  What I found interesting about the book was the way the characters and the mystery shared the spotlight.  Each person introduced brings a new way of seeing how life was turned upside down during the war as well as the strength of those who continued on their daily lives under the threat of the Blitz.  The characters are regular people living in extraordinary times and this book is a fascinating look at life during the war wrapped up in a rich, page-turning mystery.

Jennings is a skilled writer who knows how to make a mystery work.  Even though the characters responsible are introduced early on, she keeps up the mystery of who they really are and why they are doing this.  Readers may wonder if it all has been given away too early (which I did at one point) but it turns out that this is not the case.  I had a hard time putting this book down and was left fully satisfied at the end and looking forward to the next offering in the series.

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Classics Club Memes

Each month, the wonderful hosts of The Classics Club post a meme question for all members to answer.  Since I just joined recently, I'm going to catch up on the monthly questions in one post!  And if you haven't joined The Classics Club, what are you waiting for?  If you don't feel like the commitment you will still find a great list of books and reviews.

August 2012 - What is your favourite classic book? Why?

I don't have one stand-out, all-time favourite classic book but there is one that is very meaningful to me in my reading journey.  In school we didn't really read the classics, at least not the ones you hear everyone else saying they read in school (The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird, anything by Austen or Dickens, etc.)  We mostly read Canadian literature (which has some great classics itself.)  1984 by George Orwell was the first classic that I sought out myself to read when I was about 16.  I was amazed at how the novel stood the test of time, how it didn't feel like an "old" book.  It was the first time I understood why books are called classics and it made me want to seek out more of them.  I recently re-read it and I love how different it was for me than it was when I was 16.

September 2012 - Pick a classic someone else in the club has read.  Link to their review and offer a quote from their post describing their reaction to the book.  What about their post makes you excited to read that classic in particular?

The Story Girl's review of Les Miserables

I've been wanting to read Les Miserables for a long time.  Back in my younger skating days, I was in an on ice version of it and I came to know the story that way.  But of course, it being a long book, I was a bit put off.  But then I read The Story Girl's review of it and it was a well-written review that definitely got my interest piqued and this quote has me wanting to read the book

Les Miserables is a masterpiece, and I don't really feel up to the task of finding appropriate words to truly express that. I think anyone who takes the time and effort to read it will be duly rewarded.

When words can't express how great the book is, you know you have to read it for yourself.

October 2012 - Why are you reading the classics?

Think about how many books that are released each month, every month, every year.  That's a lot of books out there.  Now think about how many are considered classics.  A very small percent.  Which means that those books have to be fantastic.  And who would want to miss out on that?

November 2012 - What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why?

For a long time I was intimidated by most classics.  Now that I've dipped my toe in the water, I've realized there is nothing to be afraid of (in fairness, I had to read a lot of political classics in university and there books like Thucydides' The History of The Peloponnesian War really threw me off.)  Now, I'm just intimidated by the chunksters.  It's just that when I think about the time that I have to devote to them, I get a little put off.  I'll let you know if I still feel that way after I finish The Count of Monte Cristo.

Monday, November 12, 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 way for book bloggers to share what they are reading and do what we do best - add books to our to read lists!

My reading has been pretty slow lately, just finishing about a book a week.  I'm focusing on finishing up my challenges and just working on finding more time to read.

What I Read Last Week:

Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé (click on title for review)

What I'm Reading Now:

Beware This Boy by Maureen Jennings
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

What I'm Reading Next:

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes

What are you reading this week? Any challenges you need to finish up for the year?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Diet for a Small Planet" by Frances Moore Lappé

Originally published in 1971, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé was an important book that was ahead of its time.  A call to eat a more plant-centred diet, it was the first major book to critique our meat production system, calling it both wasteful and a contributor to the global food shortage.  Lappé praises and encourages a vegetarian diet while identifying the major issues that arise within the current food production system.

Today we see an abundance of books and documentaries on our food production system.  Vegetarian and vegan diets as well as organic and non genetically modified food movements are now common household knowledge.  Diet for a Small Planet is the original food Bible and there is a reason why this book has endured for decades as a bestseller.

This book really puts into perspective the way our food system works, why hunger throughout the world isn't a product of a global food shortage, and the ways that big agricultural is hurting both our food and our resources.  It is also fascinating to read it now in 2012 and take a look at what the issues were decades ago and the ways that they have both changed and stayed the same.  Overweight and obesity rates have shot up since this book was written and you can see how they knew the issues were going to become worse.  

There are many features to this book.  In Book One, Lappé talks about her personal journey to writing the book, what the meat production system is like in the United States, reasons why people are going hungry when we aren't experiencing global food shortages, the necessity of protein in our diet and how to get an adequate amount without eating meat, and ways that everyday citizens can become involved in food activism.

In Book Two, Lappé discusses the vegetarian diet, giving tips for eating meatless meals as well as many meatless recipes and menus.  I'll admit, a lot of the recipes didn't seem that appetizing, probably because these days we have such a wealth of vegetarian recipes and these ones were pretty basic.  But I'm sure they were a big deal back when the book was originally published!

If you're not vegetarian this book is still an important read.  It's important for us to know where our food comes from and how it is sourced.  There is a fantastic amount of information in this book about healthy eating and readers will learn a lot about how to make good food choices at the supermarket as well as learning more about the way a few companies control the majority of those choices. 

If you're interested in this topic and have been reading a lot about it, then you must read this book, consider it the original on the subject.  And if you're not at all interested in the subject, pick this book up anyways.  It's a good place to start and hopefully it will help you see the food on your plate in a different way.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible" by Tim Gunn

From the fig leaf to the toga, from corsets to the miniskirt, fashion has undergone some major transformations since the beginning of time.  Today's skinny jeans, graphic tees and stiletto heels are the results of clothing evolution.  For many people, clothes are more than just something we wear to cover up with - they are political and cultural statements, influenced by weather and emotions, and can say a lot about who you are.

Tim Gunn is one of fashions big names and foremost experts and he is bringing all of his knowledge to his newest book Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet.  In this book, Tim reveals the history behind every article of clothing that is out there, from beginning to now.  He takes a look at Helen of Troy's sandals, Queen Victoria's corset, Madonna's cone bra, Hillary Clinton's pantsuits…if it was worn, he mentions it.  And it's not all about the good, it also includes the worst of fashion (jeggings anyone?)

This is a must-read book for the fashion lover but it's also for the people who don't consider themselves fashionistas.  It's an interesting look at history through the eyes of our clothes.  It's fascinating to take a look at things like the first bikini and the origins of shape wear and learn new things such as baby clothes were originally designated pink for boys and blue for girls!  Throughout the book, Tim also includes his tried and true fashion advice on how to buy proper fitting clothes and how to get your closet in order so you can look your very best.  

I'm a big fan of Tim Gunn's.  I love him on Project Runway where he is so endearing and wonderful to the contestants.  I think he is such an upstanding man who reminds people that chivalry isn't dead and manners go a long way.  I also enjoy a bit of the fashion world and am more into enduring, personal style than I am into trends and Tim definitely projects the same thing.  And there is no one more qualified to write the fashion Bible than Tim - he was a faculty member of Parsons The New School for Design for 15 years as well as its chair of fashion design for 7 years, Liz Claiborne's chief creative officer, host of his own television show Tim Gunn's Guide to Style and for the past 10 seasons has been mentor on Project Runway.

If you're a fashion lover or just wondering the history behind an item in your closet, this is a fantastic read that you will be pulling off the shelf for years to come.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Goodbye For Now" by Laurie Frankel

Sam Elling works in the IT department of an internet dating company, but can't find a date for himself.  So he creates an algorithm that will find a persons soul mate and it works when he meets the love of his life Meredith.  It also gets him fired since it works so well and the company begins to lose customers.

Out of work, Sam spends his day doing not much of anything.  But when Meredith's grandmother Livvie dies suddenly, he puts that time to use creating a computer program that allows Meredith to continue communicating with her grandmother.  Using her computer history, Sam creates a computer simulation of Livvie that responds as though she were still alive.

Meredith loves it but others aren't so sure.  Still, Sam and Meredith begin to consider just how this program can help others deal with their grief.  With the assistance of Meredith's cousin Dashiell, they form a company called RePose.  The company takes off with a steady stream of people wanting to come into say goodbye their loved ones.  But unfortunately, there are also the people who can't let go.

As they deal with the success and difficulties of their company, Sam and Meredith's love for each other grows deeper and they find that they cannot live without each other.  But what if one them has to?

Goodbye for Now, by Laurie Frankel, is a story of love and loss, a romance with an intriguing and original premise.  It is a very emotional read that will have readers thinking deeply about life and death and how we mourn the loss of our loved ones.

Unfortunately, I just didn't click with this book.  From the moment I read the premise I couldn't wait to read it.  This is such a creative idea, new and fresh.  But I just couldn't connect with the characters well enough to get past the fact that it was all a little too long for me.  I felt that too much of the first part of the book was setting up the story.  I found myself putting down the book for periods of time and coming back to read, only to put it down again.  However, it did pick up for me in the final third of the book.  I was able to make a final push to the end, but was still left feeling that it just wasn't enough.  For me personally, if the book focused more on the company and the people using it, rather than all the set-up and background stuff, it would have worked.

There are a lot of people who read this book and felt much different than I did.  Since enjoyment of books often comes down to personal taste, it would be a good idea to read their reviews before making a decision on this book from my review.  Here are a few of the reviews:

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

Monday, November 5, 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

With only two months left for the year I have realized that I need to spend my time finishing off my challenges.  Which means I'll probably be reading a lot of classics over the next two months, as those seem to be the ones I've left for the end!

What I Read Last Week:

The Selector of Souls by Shauna Singh Baldwin
The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

What I'm Reading Now:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (for the Back to Classics Challenge)
Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé (for the Mixing It Up Challenge)

What I'm Reading Next:

Beware this Boy by Maureen Jennings
...and some Classic because I need to read a bunch of those to complete the challenge!!!

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"The Imposter Bride" by Nancy Richler

A young woman arrives in post-war Montreal to marry a man she has never met.  But when Lily Azerov steps off the train, her fiancee takes one look at her and leaves.  Her would-be brother-in-law takes pity on her and marries her but it quickly becomes apparent to those around her that Lily isn't who she claims to be.  And when she disappears, leaving behind her husband and baby daughter, all of the questions surrounding her identity remain unanswered.  

As her daughter Ruth grows older she begins to wonder about her mother.  Who was she, why did she leave, and where did she go?  With only a few clues, she sets out to find the real woman behind the mother she never knew.

The Imposter Bride, by Nancy Richler, is an incredible novel full of mystery, heartache, love and longing.  From the first page I was drawn into the story and mystery of Lily Azerov and I didn't want to put it down until all of the questions were answered.  Richler does a fantastic job of not giving away too much right at the beginning while at the same time not dragging the story along.

This novel was shortlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was my pick as the winner (though not the actual winner.)  It was such a beautiful story, I really enjoyed the characters and how developed they all were.  It was a great idea to tell the story of Lily from the perspective of her daughter trying to find out more about her as she grew over the years, rather than just telling the story of Lily.  Chapters jump between time and people but it works in this book, it's not disjointed or confusing.

I did find the ending to be a little anti-climactic just because I found myself so wrapped up in the story and so invested in Ruth discovering the truth about her mother that it all felt just a little too quick in the end.  However, the rest of the book certainly makes up for what it lacks there.  

Richler is a beautiful writer.  She transported me to a time and places that I have no experience with.  The book takes place in Montreal, Poland and Palestine, beginning around World War II, in Jewish communities.  And yet, I never felt like I couldn't place myself there while I read.  That is an incredible feat for a writer to be able to do that for the reader.  As I mentioned above, this is my favourite book from my reading of the 2012 Giller season and I would recommend this to anyone looking for a good character driven story.