Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Best Books of the Year

It is time for me to present my Best Books of the Year, determined by which books I gave 5 star ratings to on GoodReads this year. 

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Emancipation Day - Wayne Grady
Stats Canada: Satire on a National Scale - @StatsCanada
A Cinderella Christmas - Holly Kingston
A House in the Sky - Amanda Lindhout
Crazy Rich Asians - Kevin Kwan
Anchorboy - Jay Onrait
Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi
Get You Good - Rhonda Bowen
Hell-Bent - Benjamin Lorr
The Poisoned Pawn - Peggy Blair
The Rovers Return: The Official Coronation Street Companion - Tim Randall
Ascent of Women - Sally Armstrong

And my choices for Best of the Year:

Best Fiction

Best Non-Fiction

What are your favourite books of 2013?

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Year in Review

It seems like it wasn't too long ago that it was the beginning of the year and I was thinking "oh it's so long until the literary awards season, and so long until I get to make those fun end of the year posts."  Honestly, around last February this time of year seemed so far away.  And yet now, as with almost every year,  I look back and wonder how it all flew by.  So, let's take a quick look back at my year in reading and the things I have learned.

Once again, it's been an eclectic year.  Biography, literary fiction, chick-lit, cookbooks, CanLit, current events, mystery, even an etiquette book, I once again enjoyed reading many different books.  I think this is the trick to me reading a lot, and with only one DNF this year, I seem to have made a good choice in books.  Were there any trends?  Other than taking loads of chick lit with me on my holidays, I don't think there is anything you can narrow down.

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Here a few of my most-read reviews this year:

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield
A House in the Sky - Amanda Lindhout
Emancipation Day - Wayne Grady
Parenting Without Borders - Christine Gross-Loh
Just What Kind of Mother Are You? - Paula Daly
Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi
Ascent of Women - Sally Armstrong
The Poisoned Pawn - Peggy Blair
The Scottish Banker of Surabaya - Ian Hamilton
Eighty Days - Matthew Goodman
The Heavy - Dara-Lynn Weiss

(Find out tomorrow if any of these are my best books of the year)

If there is one thing I learned this year it's that I'm not good at completing challenges.  As in, terrible at completing challenges.  Will this stop me from entering them?  Of course not.

Every year I challenge myself to read 100 books.  Since I've started blogging, I haven't achieved this but this year I'm proud to announce that, thanks to a week long vacation at a resort with terrible Wi-fi leading to a reading binge at the end of the year, I made it to 100!!!

My other challenges:

Canadian Book Challenge - 13/13 (this one runs from July to July)
Back to Classics - 4/6
Around the World in 12 Books - 4/12
Ik Lees Nederlands - 3/5

I'm kind of disappointed with myself that I didn't finish the Ik Lees Nederlands (I Read Dutch) challenge.  However, along the way I did discover some great new (to me) Dutch authors and quite a few Dutch books I want to read, so I'm happy I signed up for it.

The only thing I do worse than Challenges is readalongs.  This year I joined signed up for Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Little Women.  I read 1/4 of Jane Eyre, 2 chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo, and I didn't even start Little Women.  Will this stop me from signing up for them?  Yes.

Tomorrow I'll be sharing my best books of 2013.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"The Rude Story of English" by Tom Howell

We use it every day but do we really give much thought as to where it came from?  I’m talking about the English language.  How did it even start?  How did it evolve to what it is today?  And why doesn’t it have a rude history?  That’s right, why isn’t the story of the English language a rude one?

Tom Howell has always wondered why the story of the English language doesn’t have a hero and why it isn’t rude enough.  And like any lexicographer would do, he set out to fix that.  The result is his new book, The Rude Story of English.  Beginning in 449 AD, he introduces us to Hengest, the legendary Germanic warrior who tripped and fell onto the shores of Britain, the man who will take us on the journey through the development of the English language and to what it has become today.  Spoken all over the world, English is a rich and diverse language and actually very rude.

Travel the world, from England to Australia, from Newfoundland to Jamaica, and beyond, and you’ll find that we all share a linguistic history.  This is a subject that has always fascinated me.  I grew up here in Canada to a mother whose family spoke a very Canadian English and a father for whom English is a second language.  I’m married to a man who grew up in Jamaica, speaking both Patois and the Queen's English.  It’s safe to say that the way we speak the same language is a little different.  But I’ve never thought about the history of the language and how it developed over time.  

This was the perfect book to teach me about it.  When you think “history of the English language” you probably prepare yourself for a boring, textbook type read but this book is far from it.  Howell writes with such humour that you find yourself immersed and interested the whole way through.  The illustrations by Gabe Forman are an excellent addition.  

Depending on who you talk to (or read) Hengest may or may not have existed.  In this book, he exists for centuries, there for and often responsible for every twist and turn the English language takes.  And as we journey with Hengest and learn about the early Anglo’s penchant for things shaped like genitalia and riddles about genitalia, we see just how rude and funny the language can be.

Okay, so this may not be an *exact* history of the language and you probably don’t want to be referencing much of it for your school paper.  But as a former editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Howell is more than qualified to take you on a journey that helps you become more acquainted with the intricacies and funnier parts of the language you speak every day.  Who knew our ancestors were so sexed up?

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Gift Buying Guide

Christmas is here and everyone is out in full force doing their shopping and buying gifts for their loved ones.  I always give books as gifts and think they're the perfect present for even the most difficult of people to shop for.  And so I share with you my suggestions for book gifts for the different people in your life based on the books I read in 2013.

For the Current Events Aficionado
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

For the Science Lover
An Astronaut's Guide to Life On Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

For the Reality TV Watcher
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

For the Chick Lit Girl
Cupcakes at Carrington's by Alexandra Brown

For the Fiction Reader
Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

For the Yogi
Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

For the History Buff
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

For the Vegan
Skinny Bitch in Love by Kim Barnouin

For the Short Story Devotee
HellGoing by Lynn Coady

For the Mystery Reader
Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

For the Family Genealogist
The Juggler's Children by Carolyn Abraham

What books are you giving as gifts this year?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Cataract City" by Craig Davidson

Owen Stuckey and Duncan Diggs are childhood best friends who grew up in the beautiful town of Niagara Falls.  But to them and everyone else who lives in the town, it’s not the picturesque tourist town it’s known as, it has a grittier side known as Cataract City.  Owen and Duncan think they can make something different of their lives and move beyond the city until an incident occurs over the course of a few nights, changing their lives forever.

As Owen and Duncan drift apart, their lives take very different paths.  And soon they find themselves on opposite sides of the law: Duncan, serving an eight year prison sentence, and Owen, the man who put him there.

Cataract City, by Craig Davidson, takes you behind the bright lights and incredible views of Niagara Falls into a story of two men who are fighting the odds and are not very successful at it.  It takes you into a world where the locals are struggling to get by and into an underbelly of illegal fighting and cross-border smuggling.

The book begins with Duncan’s release from the Kingston Penitentiary and continues on going back and forth through time to show how Duncan and Owen became the men they are now and explain the motives behind the present day incident that is about to change their lives one more time.  The back and forth gives just the right amount of information to keep the story moving and keep the reader hooked.  

This book was shortlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize which is the reason why I picked it up and I’m glad for that because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise.  It all just seemed a little intense to me, a little too gritty, but it turns out that was what I really enjoyed about the book.  I love the idea of exploring the underbelly of a city I’m familiar with as an outsider, of looking beyond the bright lights and tourist attractions to see the everyday, real people who are trying to find their way in that same city.

Like others who have read this book, I did find myself questioning the use of language a bit.  There were a few times where the words used seemed to be at odds with the story that was being told.  But it wasn’t a constant occurrence and while it made me a pause a bit, it didn’t take away from the story.   There were also a few parts I wished would move a bit faster.  However, I was so drawn in by the story of two people who long to escape their surroundings but struggle to do so that the negatives of the book were outweighed.  

This isn’t an easy book to read but it’s a good one.  Chances are even if you don’t have anything in common with Owen and Duncan or any connection to Niagara Falls, you’ll still find this book speaking you to on a personal level.