Friday, January 30, 2015

Month in Review - Non-Bookish Things

One of the things I wanted to start doing on my blog this year is talk more about other forms of entertainment, mostly what I’m watching on TV and at the movies, as well as what I’m listening to whether music or podcasts.  I figure the best way to do this is a recap at the end of each month, so here it goes.

Television

I don’t watch much “traditional” television. I watch a lot of British shows which I have to watch either online or through Netflix.  I also binge-watch most of my television.  Here are the show I’ve been watching this month:

Coronation Street: Ok so I always watch this one, it is my show. I’ve been watching for over a decade now and am heavily invested in the Street for the rest of my life. So can we talk about how superb the minivan crash scenes were?  The acting was fantastic and so was the filming.  But most importantly, the show won’t be the same without Deirdre Barlow, played by Anne Kirkbride who passed away this month.

Backchat with Jack Whitehall and His Dad: I love Jack Whitehall and I think anything he does with his Dad is absolutely hilarious so this is a great chat show.  It started back for season 2 this month and you can watch it on YouTube.

The Book of Negroes: The mini-series adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s stunning novel that follows the life of a young girl stolen into slavery premiered on the CBC here in Canada this month.  The book is one of my favourites and I think that they have done an absolutely amazing job translating it to screen.  The show will premiere on BET in February for those of you in the US, please check it out.

Movies

Every Oscar season I try to see as many of the nominated movies I possibly can, so far this year I’m about halfway through but haven’t seen many recently so I expect that I’ll be spending a lot of time next month watching movies.

Selma: I can’t express how disappointed I am that this movie is not getting the recognition it deserves.  This movie was flawless, emotional, and so very important.  Of all the Oscar nominated movies I’ve seen so far, it is the best to me.  David Oyelowo TRANSFORMED himself. I didn’t think I was watching David, I thought I was watching Martin.  It felt documentary quality the way he played him.  I think it’s ridiculous he’s been overlooked for Best Actor.  I highly recommend everyone watch it.

Listening


When it comes to music I mostly listen to popular radio in the car because that is what my kids like to listen to.  I rarely buy a full album so when I do, I listen to that one album for months on the end and for the last 6 months that has been Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour.  When I’m on my own, going for walks I prefer to listen to podcasts.  I recently discovered Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown and each week I also listen to The Josh Widdecombe Show.

What non-bookish things were you into this month?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"And the Bride Wore Prada" by Katie Oliver

Who Should Read This: Anyone looking for a book with a modern day Jane Austen feel, Chick Lit fans.

It’s been a rocky road for rock star and aristocratic heir Dominic Heath and his girlfriend Gemma but their time has finally arrived - it is their wedding.  Wanting to have their day to themselves, they escape to the Scottish Highlands where they will (hopefully) be out of the eyes of the paparazzi.

But the weather may put a wrench in their plans.  When a major storm prevents them from getting to their home, they end up at Draemer Castle, with Dom's ex-girlfriend Natalie and her new husband Rhys.  At first, they think they are just staying for a few days with the owners of the castle, Natalie’s friend Tarquin and his wife Wren.  When more snow brings more family members, including Tarquin’s troubled young sister Caitlin, it quickly becomes a case of “the more, the merrier.”  But the arrival of a stranger named Helen may really ruin Dom and Gemma’s plans for a secret wedding.

And The Bride Wore Prada, by Katie Oliver, is the first book in the Marrying Mr. Darcy series, the follow-up to her successful and absolutely lovely Dating Mr. Darcy series.  All of our favourite characters are back, and with the introduction of new ones, this is a fun and incredibly delightful book.

I was first introduced to the Dating Mr. Darcy series after winning one of the books in a contest.  I immediately went out and bought the other two books and read all three of them, one after the other in the span of only a few days.  So I was thrilled to find out the books would be continuing (here are my reviews of Prada and Prejudice, Love and Liability, and Mansfield Lark.)

This book is just as good the other three.  These are great characters that you will want to invest your time in and the same goes for each new character that gets introduced in.  Helen and Colm are a great addition and I hope that we will get to see more of them in future books.  

One thing that I really enjoy about Oliver’s writing is that she keeps quite a few storylines going in one book and she manages to keep it all from being muddled or just too much for one book.  In this book alone you have storylines for Dominic and Gemma, Natalie and Rhys, Helen and Colm, Tarquin and Wren, Caitlin, and Tarquin’s parents.  It really does seem like a lot but Oliver gives you enough to invest yourself in all of the characters and their stories.  

This leads to my one and only criticism of the book and that is that it seems like the stories develop pretty quick compared to the time period in which they take place.  The book takes place over a relatively short period of time but the stories would take much more time than to develop.  But does it ruin the book? Not at all.  It’s something I noticed but didn’t care too much about because I enjoyed the storylines so much.


Once again, Katie Oliver has written a fun and lovely novel for modern day Jane Austen fans.  I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series, Love, Lies, and Louboutins coming out in February!

Monday, January 26, 2015

"The Devil You Know" by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Who Should Read This: Mystery/Thriller fans, anyone who enjoyed The Silent Wife, Before I Go To Sleep, The Girl on the Train, etc.

The year is 1993 and the city of Toronto and surrounding areas are haunted by the disappearance and murders of two young girls.  Evie Jones is the rookie reporter assigned to cover the story, staking out the crime scene and digging around in the past to look at over a decades worth of missing girls.

But all of this brings back the haunting memories of when Evie was eleven years old and her best friend Lianne Gagnon was kidnapped and murdered.  Though the police knew who did it, a man named Robert Cameron, he was never found and arrested.  

As her work takes her into a troubling world, she decides to find out what really happened to Lianne.  But her queries make her mind race toward unimaginable places.  And when she catches a man standing outside her home, watching her through the window, she becomes convinced that not only is Robert Cameron still out there, he may be coming for her.

The Devil You Know, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi, is a thrilling debut novel, one that will keep you spooked with each turn of the page and will stay with you long after you finish the book.

Anyone who grew up in the Toronto area in the 1990’s remembers the grip that the disappearances of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy had on the city.  Though I was still young, I remember the way it changed the way we felt while outside, the way teachers and parents would remind us to stay in groups, the way the news had you on the lookout for the suspicious Camaro car.  The arrests, the discovery of the terrors inflicted on young women and the city, have made Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka two of Canada’s most notorious criminals.  Even now, the names immediately conjure up everything we felt at the time.  

While this book is set against the backdrop of these crimes, it is not a true crime novel.  It examines what happens to a community when a young girl goes missing, the paranoia and anxiety felt by women who are always looking over their shoulders wondering if they are alone, and the terror that sweeps a city knowing that a dangerous criminal on the loose.  de Mariaffi wraps all of this up into one chilling, thriller novel.

This is de Mariaffi’s first full length novel.  She is an established, terrific writer of short stories and this book is a good start.  Much of the book is spent setting up the fear and anxiety of the situation, creating an atmosphere that is rife with tension and fear.  It is an emotional ride that is difficult to put down.  I do wonder though, if I hadn’t lived through this time, would it have been as gripping for me.  


This building of emotion is the strength of this book.  I haven’t read a thriller novel that has created such tension in my mind, that hasn’t made me feel such physical anxiety, probably ever.  But unfortunately, I found the resolution of the mystery to be weaker than I was expecting, given the strength of the writing to start with.

As I said, this book is a good start, a good debut novel.  While I haven't read a lot of mystery/thriller books to compare with, I think that fans of the genre will really enjoy this one.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Author Interview: Katie Oliver



Last year I entered and won a contest in which the prizes were tons of goodies (London Barbie!) from Katie Oliver and a copy of her most recent book, Mansfield Lark. The premise was so good, I got the rest of the series (Prada and Prejudice and Love and Liability) and devoured the books.  Now, Katie is about to release the next books in the series, And the Bride Wore Prada and Love, Lies and Louboutins.  I am very excited that she is stopping by the blog today.

What books influenced you? 
The books I read as a child probably had the biggest influence on me. I devoured A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, raced through the Chronicles of Narnia series, and of course I read all of the Nancy Drew mysteries.  I went through a mystery-loving phase in grade school that extended into high school, when I read every Agatha Christie novel I could get my hands on. My favorites featured Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, a pair of detectives who fall in love while chasing crime. As a teenager, I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, about a young, upper-class woman in nineteenth-century Louisiana who’s trapped in an unfulfilling marriage. The word pictures painted by Ms. Chopin are beautifully evocative and her themes still resonate today.

What inspires your books and characters? 
Anything and everything! In my newest book, for example, And the Bride Wore Prada, I was inspired by Scotland, a local snowfall, and the BBC television program, Broadchurch. I'd read a couple of romance books set in Scotland and loved the idea of using the highlands as a story setting. I only had to figure out why Natalie and Rhys - my main characters - would be in Scotland and not in London. Then I remembered Natalie's good friend, Tarquin. He's not only Scottish, but his family owns a castle! He invites newly-married Natalie and her husband Rhys to spend the holidays in the highlands. And in Broadchurch, I loved the characters of the female reporter and the reticent, broody DI, Alec Hardy, portrayed so brilliantly by David Tennant. I created my own interpretation of those two - Helen, a tabloid reporter, and Colm, a surly groundskeeper for the castle - and threw them together to see what would happen.

Do you have a writing schedule? 
I like to write in the morning, when my brain is fresh and sharp. It deteriorates as the day goes on, so by 3:00 PM, I’m basically useless to write anything more challenging than a grocery list. I write Monday through Friday, and sometimes on Saturday mornings, if there’s nothing else going on. (Which doesn’t happen often.)

If you could use only one social networking site which would it be? 
Twitter, absolutely. When I created my account a few years ago, I was horribly intimidated - I felt like I was at a cocktail party, huddled in the corner with a drink, knowing no one and no one taking any notice of me. So I hung back and watched.  I read other people’s Tweets, got a few followers (friends and family, all six of them), and wrote a few tentative Tweets. The more followers I got, the more fun it became. I’ve met so many wonderful people on Twitter, from all over the globe…people I’d never have met in the normal course of things.

Which actors/actresses would you cast in the movie of your book? 
Ooh, that’s a fun question! For Natalie, I’d definitely cast Felicity Jones. I’ve envisioned her as Natalie right from the start. For Rhys, I’d probably say Ewan McGregor.  Colm has to be Michael Fassbender, and for Helen I’d choose Emma Thompson. (I don’t want much, do I? Lol.)   I’ve always pictured Emily Blunt as Gemma, and Russell Brand would make a stellar Dominic.

You can only watch 2 television channels for the rest of your life, which would they be? 
BBC America and ABC, because they offer great programming like Broadchurch (just starting a new season in the UK) and Forever, starring Ioan Gruffudd as Dr. Henry Morgan, a forensic scientist in New York who just happens to be...immortal.

What is next for you?
Next up, I’m looking forward to the February publication of book 2 in the new Marrying Mr Darcy series, Love, Lies and Louboutins.  Gemma and Dominic face the first true test of their marriage when a dangerous man from Gemma’s past and a female pop star from Dom’s present threaten to upend their relationship. I’ve created a trailer for the book that’s fun and cheeky, and I can’t wait to reveal it. There’s lots of action, adventure, and – of course – plenty of romance.

But first, don't miss out on And the Bride Wore Prada:

What could be more romantic than Christmas in the Scottish highlands?

The first book in the Marrying Mr Darcy series, “And the Bride Wore Prada,” finds Natalie and Rhys Gordon headed to Scotland to spend the holidays with Tarquin Campell and his wife Wren. A mix-up at the Inverness airport leads Natalie to offer a ride to stranded rock star Dominic Heath and his fiancé, Gemma.  A blizzard soon makes the roads impassable, and the foursome barely make it to Draemar Castle.

When tabloid reporter Helen Thomas’s car slides off the road, she seeks shelter at the castle as well. She’s after an exclusive story on Dominic and Gemma’s not-so-secret upcoming wedding. But Helen finds a bigger story when she discovers Tarquin’s brother, Andrew, drowned years before. His body was never found. Is it possible he’s still alive? Her investigation yields more questions than answers.

Could Colm MacKenzie, the gruff groundskeeper with more than a passing resemblance to the Campbell family, be the missing piece to the puzzle?  

Natalie and Rhys are recently married and blissfully happy...until Nat receives unexpected news that changes everything. Hurt by Rhys’s less-than-enthusiastic reaction, she wonders if their sparkling new marriage is over before it’s even begun…

I would like to thank Katie for stopping by the blog today.  If you are a fan of romance, comedy, and chick lit, I highly recommend you check out all of her books, starting with Prada and Prejudice.  Here's a bit more about Katie:

Katie Oliver loves romantic comedies, characters who "meet cute," Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.
Katie has been writing since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it.  With her sons grown and gone, she decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories.  She even finishes most of them.

So if you like a bit of comedy with your romance, please visit Katie’s website, www.katieoliver.com, and have a look.
Here's to love and all its complications...


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

"The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year" by Andy Cohen

Who Should Read This: Fans of the Real Housewives and other Bravo shows.

As Executive Producer of the Real Housewives franchises and host of the successful television show Watch What Happens Live, Andy Cohen has the front row seat and backstage pass to all things pop culture.  And now he’s bringing everyone along for the ride.

In The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Life, Andy shares the detailed diary he kept of one year in his life, inspired by The Warhol Diaries.  Readers follow along as he parties, flirts, and dates his way through life.  He shares behind the scenes drama, trying out Tinder, and finding true love in his dog Wacha.  Readers get to know his family and dear friends, his doorman, and the city of New York.  And if you’re into celebrity gossip, he has a ton for you.

This book can definitely be described as a who’s who of pop culture in 2014.  Lady Gaga, the Housewives, Jimmy Fallon, Kardashians, Anderson Cooper, they are all in here plus many, many more.  It seems like pretty much every celebrity came on his show and if they didn’t appear there, they were at some party Andy attended.  If you’re a fan of celebrity culture, Andy is the one you want to go to.

But if you’re not that big of a fan of celebrity culture, it all may seem a little tedious to you.  A lot his days are the same.  Pretty much every day he touches on his weight and workouts and talks a lot about his dog (which I get, when you love your pet that much, you’re going to talk about them.)  But all the dirt he’s supposed to dish? If you’re not already invested in some of these people, it’s not going to seem like very much to you.  Plus, if you haven’t already read his first book Most Talkative, which I didn’t, you’re not going to recognize who some of the people he talks about are (he refers to him by first name only and some of them aren’t recognizable.) Though in fairness, he does mention this at the beginning of the book.

Some of the “scoops” he shares aren’t scoops by the time you’re reading the book (Bethenny may be coming back to Real Housewives of New York) and names aren’t always dropped (the husbands of the housewives who call to complain) so the book was a little disappointing to me.  It’s not that I read it just for the gossip, but that’s how it’s marketed and that is where it fell short.

But it wasn’t all boring stuff or celebrity gossip for me.  I enjoyed reading about his time at the celebrity softball game for MLB All-Star weekend, going to the Met Ball with Sarah Jessica Parker, and his parents are absolutely endearing.  


Look, the word “shallow” is right in the title, so we can’t be expecting too much out of the book or disappointed when it’s all just name-dropping, massages, and the Hamptons.  But a deep look?  I was expecting a bit more introspection or thought, rather than just recounting of days.  This is one of those books that unless you are a massive fan, it’s better to borrow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

"The Jaguar's Children" by John Vaillant

Who Should Read This: Anyone interested in stories of different cultures and those who follow current events.

A water truck, stranded in the American desert.  It is sealed from the outside to hide its secret.

Inside the truck is human cargo, people who have left their lives behind in Mexico, hoping to make it across the border to America safely.  But the truck has broken down and the coyotes have stolen all of their money and the people are left to die.

Among these people are Hector and his friend César.  César has the only phone that can make calls out but the signal is low and César now lies unconscious.  Hector finds one American number in the phone, a woman named AnniMac, and he knows that their survival depends on his ability to reach her.  

For the next four days, Hector records messages to AnniMac, telling her about his home and life in Oaxaca, the story of his family and heritage, and how he came to be in the water truck.  Through it all, he shares the ties between Mexico and America and what makes a person risk their life crossing the border.

The Jaguar’s Children, by John Vaillant, is a suspense-filled novel about a current event that is consistently in the news.  It explores the relationship between North and South, the connection between the two cultures, and the reasons why people risk all for life in a new land.  

I really loved the unique way that Vaillant chose to tell this story.  We learn about the lives of Hector and César as Hector sends a series of text messages and sound files to the mystery AnniMac.  Through powerful storytelling, we are transported back and forth between their past and present, between the promise of life and the threat of imminent death.  This book is an emotional ride.

This is a timely novel dealing with the illegal immigration situation between Mexico and the United States.   What we hear of it in the media can make you easily detached from the emotion of the situation.  When you can’t understand what propels someone to take those risks, why people put their lives on the line knowing the dangers for a new life, you can’t see the whole picture.  While this is a fiction novel, it adds that emotion to the conversation, breaking your heart and leaving you speechless.

It did take me a little bit to become fully gripped by the story, and I definitely found myself more immersed in the second half but it is still a strong story.  This isn’t just about crossing the border, it’s about the culture and legends of a people, religion, death, and hope.  I really enjoyed the way the topic of genetically modified foods was added into the story.  


This is a topic I want to read more of in fiction.  It is rich in culture and lore, eye-opening, and packed full of emotion.  Vaillant has done a tremendous job of bringing this difficult subject to the page and giving us a different perspective on a heart-breaking topic.

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Author Interview: Peggy Blair

For my first Author Interview, I'm pleased to introduce you to Peggy Blair.  Peggy is a Canadian author of the Inspector Ramirez series, which includes The Beggar's Opera and The Poisoned Pawn. The third instalment,  Hungry Ghosts, will be released in June.

I was very fortunate to meet Peggy a few years ago at the Word on the Street Festival and she is an absolutely lovely person who is always well connected to her readers.  Be sure to follow her on Twitter @peggy_blair.

Peggy has a great story about how she got her first book deal and I'm so happy she is sharing it here with my readers and answering a few other questions.  Enjoy!

What was the process of getting a book deal like for you?

Well, a lot of what happened around The Beggar’s Opera involved sheer luck. Not to mention timing. But also persistence. Honestly,  after 156 rejections by agents, I was ready to trunk the entire manuscript. My friends thought I’d lost my mind and that I should give up and get back to a real job.

I finally decided to put the manuscript into a few international competitions. If it didn’t get any traction, I was done. And I started taking my real estate exams. I’d done my best, I thought. I’ve tried.

I entered The Beggar’s Opera in the St. Martin’s/Minotaur contest in the U.S.  I also entered it in the Unhanged Arthur Ellis competition in Canada, run by Crime Writers of Canada.  I thought I might have a shot at the Ellis, since I had sat as judge on the CWC non-fiction panel. The third, and least likely, was also the most prestigious: the Debut Dagger Award of the UK Crime Writers Association. Canadians had done well in the past, but a Canadian had won the Debut Dagger the year before, another, three years before that. I thought it was unlikely that I’d get too far.

St. Martin’s was a wash. I didn’t even get a ‘thank you for your entry.’ The Unhanged Arthur Ellis short list was long, but I wasn’t on it. And then, the deadline for hearing about the Debut Dagger passed with no news. So I finished my real estate exams and started looking for a brokerage to work with. A few weeks later,  when I got a letter postmarked from England, I actually wondered who the heck I knew there.  “I am delighted to inform you that The Beggar’s Opera has been shortlisted for the Debut Dagger Award,”  it began. And right then, I knew everything had changed.

Once the shortlist was announced, several agents from top U.K. literary agencies contacted me, asking for my manuscript. Was I coming to Harrogate, one asked, where the award would be announced? I hadn’t thought about it.

Since I was still unemployed, my friends fundraised the money for me to fly to Yorkshire. I hoped like hell I would win: after all, that would almost guarantee publication. But I didn’t and I admit; I was pretty disappointed. One of the agents I was supposed to meet didn’t show up. The other managed to avoid my eyes like a waiter in a snooty French restaurant.

I’d spent a lot of other people’s money and was no further ahead. Okay, I thought. I guess it’s real estate. On my last night in England, I went to the bar for a last glass of wine before I returned to the hotel to pack for my red-eye flight back to Canada. The bar was empty. There were sessions going on that I couldn’t afford, and that’s where almost everyone else was.

Which was why I was the only person at the bar when the Scottish author, Ian Rankin, walked by. Now normally,  if I see a celebrity, I leave them alone. But I’d promised the Crime Writers of Canada that I’d take photographs.

“Mr. Rankin,” I called out. “Can I take your picture for the Crime Writers of Canada’s website?”

“Of course,” he said.


Ian Rankin in the Crown Hotel bar

He asked me where I was from. It turned out he had just returned from Ottawa’s Bluefest the week before. He’d been there with his son. If we hadn’t had that five minute chat about the crazy 40 degree heat he’d experienced in my city, I doubt he would have asked me why I was in Harrogate, or if I had an agent or a publisher.  I snorted and told him the manuscript had been rejected 156 times.  “Being shortlisted for the Debut Dagger is quite an accomplishment,” he said. “Have you contacted my Canadian publisher?” he asked and named her.

“Well, no,” I said. “But I doubt she’d accept an unsolicited manuscript. They usually only deal with agents.”

“I’m pretty sure she will if you use my name,” he replied.

I almost fell over. He hadn’t read a word of my work.  I realized later he didn’t even know my name; I’d neglected to introduce myself. “Really?” I said. “You’d let me do that. Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

When I got back to Canada, I contacted Kim MacArthur, his Canadian publisher. “Well, of course, I’ll take a look at it if Ian is recommending it. Do you have an agent?” she asked. “Have you contacted Ian’s agent, Peter Robinson? ”

I found Peter’s email address online and emailed him. I included the entire thread, so he’d know that I’d met Ian Rankin only briefly, and in a bar. It was a very apologetic “I’m sure you’re busy and I don’t want to take up your time” kind of email; very Canadian.

“I’d love to read your manuscript; I’d be a fool not to if Kim and Ian are recommending it,” he replied only minutes later. “But I can’t get to it for several weeks. We’re busy, getting ready for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Is that okay?”

Weeks? I’d waited to hear from some agents for months. That was early one Friday morning. On Monday morning, I came downstairs to find an email from Peter: ‘I read the novel over the weekend and quite literally couldn’t put it down. I love it and on the strength of this would love to represent the book and you.’

Three weeks later, The Beggar’s Opera was on the hot list at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Germany made a pre-emptive offer, followed by Holland, then Norway. And then Penguin Canada purchased the world English language rights.

‘I worked so hard that I got lucky,’ is the phrase that comes to mind. The Beggar’s Opera has since been published in the UK, the US, and the Czech Republic, and will be published in Israel soon. It’s been reviewed favourably by the New York Times.

Which author have you recently discovered that you think we should all read?

As far as Canadian authors go, C.B. (Chris) Forrest is one of the most beautiful, poetic writers imaginable. I’ve actually found myself taking notes when I’m reading his books, jotting down a phrase or two that I want to revisit later to think about. There’s no other author whose writing has moved me to do that. I think he’s brilliant. 

What tv show would you love to do a cameo in?

Oh boy, that’s a tough one but  I’m a big fan of Walking Dead. I think I could play a pretty convincing zombie. 

Which actors/actresses would you cast in the movie of your book?

My movie has always starred José Zuniga as Inspector Ramirez. Latino. Handsome but not pretty, funny, smart.  I can’t take my eyes off him whenever I see him on television. And of course, Peter Dinklage has to be Apiro. Who else could play that complex role? For my Maria, I would  definitely pick supermodel Andrej Pejic: he recently came out as transgendered. 


Thank you Peggy for stopping by! I love reading your book deal story.  You are proof to just keep going and never get discouraged!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Laughing All the Way to the Mosque" by Zarqa Nawaz

Who Should Read This: Anyone who grew up with immigrant parents, or anyone just looking for a book that will make them laugh out loud.

Born in England and raised in Canada by Pakistani parents, Zarqa Nawaz has always lived in two very different cultures at the same time.  Navigating a more liberal culture while staying true to her parents conservative culture made for some very interesting experiences to say the least.  It seems that the best way to remain sane in this sort of situation is to look at it all with humour. And that is exactly what Zarqa has done.

In 2007, Zarqa brought to Canadian television a hilarious, momentous television show called Little Mosque on the Prairie.  Set in Saskatchewan, the show was a comical look at the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in a small town.  And it was hilarious.  Now, the hilarity continues in her fabulous memoir Laughing All the Way to the Mosque.

From being a young girl trying to convince her mother she should take peanut butter sandwiches to school rather than curry chicken drumsticks, to trying to explain to a plumber why her toilet must be within arms length of the sink, Nawaz looks at her life full of culture clashes with fondness and humour.  There is the traditional stuff like arranged marriages and a pilgrimage to Mecca and the non-traditional stuff like playing the Newlywed Game at Muslim youth camp.  There’s serious subjects, like what it’s like to be Muslim in the days following 9/11 and separation of genders in religious services, and hilarious moments involving trying to find enough halal chicken thighs to feed over 100 people the day before Eid.  

I absolutely enjoyed this book. I read an excerpt online and immediately went to get a copy of the book.  I watched Little Mosque each week and many other times in reruns and the humour you see on the screen is what you get here on the page.  I was laughing out loud, reading passages to my husband and making him laugh out loud, and recommending this book to friends.  

Part of the reason why I find this book so funny is because I’ve spent my entire life with people just like Zarqa, people with immigrant Muslim parents whose entire lives have been spent immersed in Canadian culture.  But I will say, that you don’t need to have that experience to find this book funny.  You don’t need to know much about Islam either.  I’m not saying that this is the book to learn all about it, but it definitely challenges any negative attitudes that are directed toward the faith.


At the heart of it, this isn’t just a book about growing up Muslim.  It’s about growing up in a culture that is not your parents, about the clashes between parents and children, and about being the odd one out on the playground, both as a child and in life.  Many people will see themselves in this book, even if they have nothing in common with Zarqa.  Except for crazy family members, we have all that in common.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: 2014 Releases I Meant to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

At the beginning of every year, I make a list of all the books that are being released that year that I want to read. Now, if I stuck to only that list then I would have no trouble checking every book off.  But throughout the year I see other people reading other books that I want to read and I am never able to read everything on my list.  Here are some of the books from last year that I meant to read, but didn't get around to:

1. A Place to Call Home - Carole Matthews
2. What a Girl Wants - Lindsey Kelk
3. The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes
4. The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henriquez
5. Frog Music - Emma Donoghue
6. The Accident - Chris Pavone
7. Landline - Rainbow Rowell

What books did you want to read in 2014 but didn't get around to?

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Cover Before Striking" by Priscila Uppal

Who Should Read This: Besides the obvious short-story lovers, readers who enjoy stories that are a little off-beat.

One of the most common phrases in print is “cover before striking,” a warning to those about to innocently strike a match to be careful not to burn their fingers.

In Priscila Uppal’s brand new short story collection, Cover Before Striking, all of her characters are playing with fire.  These are characters who are testing the limits of both themselves and the world around them.  From an immigrant Portuguese family living in Toronto to the feet of a woman who sleepwalks to a man who loves cats, the characters and their stories are different, eccentric, and intense but poignant and touching at the same time.

Whenever I review short story collections I mention how I have a hard time with them because I almost always feel a little unsatisfied at the end of the stories.  I promise this will be the last time I mention that.  Though I do now because as I began to read this collection it is what came to my mind - it’s happening again.  But fortunately, it was just something that occurred in the first few stories and the collection picked up for me from there.  A few of my favourite stories:

Mycosis - a woman discovers something growing behind the toilet in her apartment. As she gives it a place to thrive, it soon takes over her apartment.  When it comes under threat, she will go to great lengths to protect it.

At Your Service - a woman talks to her sister-in-law who has recently passed away about what happens in the days following her death.

Vertigo - an Olympic level diver who suffers from vertigo undergoes a series of experiments to discover a new sport to participate in.  But during the tests, she begins to suffer from hallucinations.

Priscila Uppal is a very talented writer.  She is a poet, novelist, and university professor.  Her book Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award and Hilary Weston Prize for Non-Fiction.  The title story of this book was the winner of the Gloria Vanderbilt Short Fiction Prize.  


Her work in this collection showcases her incredible talent.  The imagery in her writing is absolutely stunning and there is a beautifully dark shade to the humour.  There were many moments in this book that made my mouth drop.  While for me, some stories were much better than others, overall it is a great collection.

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

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson

Who Should Read It: Everyone.

Raised in both South Carolina and New York, Jacqueline Woodson grew up feeling like each place was both home and not quite home at the same time.  Living in both the South and the North in the 1960’s and 1970’s Civil Rights era, it seemed as though she lived two different lives. 

In Brown Girl Dreaming, the National Book Award winner shares the moving story of her childhood, what life was like for an African American girl growing up in the Civil Rights movement in both two very different places.  

But this book is much more than your standard memoir.  Woodson writes in a beautiful and touching manner, sharing her childhood through incredible free verse.  The book originally is aimed at a middle grade audience but it will move and touch readers of every age.  

Jacqueline was born in Ohio but at a young age moved with her siblings to live in her mother’s hometown in South Carolina.  As a young teenager she then moved again with her siblings to live with their mother in New York.  Along the way, against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, we watch her discover the beauty of words and her ability to share stories.

I had heard of Jacqueline Woodson’s work but never thought I’d read any of it given that I don’t read Middle Grade or Young Adult books.  But after hearing so much about this book in the days after the National Book Awards (and I mean about the book, not just the controversy), I knew that I should read it.

Throughout the entire book I just thought, I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to read it.  I borrowed the book from the library but I will definitely be buying it for her.  Not just that, I want to go get the audiobook and let Jacqueline tell me her story herself.


There is so much to this book that all young people need to read.  It’s about chasing your dreams no matter what your circumstance, about a pivotal moment in a nation’s history, about words and stories and how they affect our lives.  This book won’t just affect brown girls in America, it will affect everyone who reads it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Top Ten Tuesday: Anticipated Debuts of 2015"

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week is about the debut novels we are looking forward to in 2015.  As I looked over my list of books I want to read this year, I noticed that not a lot of them are debut novels.  I think this happens to me every year, I generally don’t discover debut novels until I see other bloggers talking about them.  But there are four on my list that I know I want to read this year.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James - Emma Hooper (January)
The Devil You Know - Elisabeth De Mariaffi (January)
Written in the Stars - Aisha Saeed (March)
Girl at War - Sara Novice (May)

Monday, January 5, 2015

"The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins

Who Should Read It: Mystery fans and anyone who wants to read the books everyone is talking about in 2015.

Each day, Rachel Watson takes the same train to work in London and back.  Sitting in the same seat each day, she watches as lovely suburban homes flash past, thinking about the people who live inside them.  As the train stops at the same signal each day, she watches a couple in their home, living what she imagines is the perfect life.  Rachel gives them a story, even gives them names - Jason and Jess - and these little moments take her mind off the fact that she used to be just like them.

One morning, the train stops at the signal and Rachel sees something that shocks her.  The next day, she learns on the news that Jess, real name Megan, is missing.  Convinced she may know what happened to Megan, Rachel goes to the police, but she isn’t what would be considered a reliable witness.  Convinced she can find Megan, she becomes a part of the lives of everyone involved, including Jess’ husband Scott.

But it quickly becomes evident that she may be not be helping the way she thinks she is.  And with Rachel’s ex-husband Tom and his new wife Anna living down the road from the missing woman, everything becomes way too complicated.  Before she knows it, Rachel is in over her head and it may end up costing her everything. 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is a debut novel that may just become the psychological thriller of 2015.  I don’t read many thriller or mystery novels but I was hooked on this one from the start.  It was my first book of 2015 and I devoured it all in one day.

The story is told by three women: Rachel, Megan, and Anna.  Rachel and Anna’s stories are told in the present time, while Megan’s starts a year earlier.  I really enjoyed this device. Just as I was hooked on the mystery in real time, I was swept back to a year earlier and it was interesting to watch two stories play out side by side, knowing they will soon converge but not fully knowing how.

This book is already being compared to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, and Before I Go To Sleep, and even though I have only read one of those (The Silent Wife), I can see why.  This is going to be a talked-about book, in fact it already is.  

Rachel turned out to be a totally different character than I was expecting.  Her story is difficult, she is lonely and troubled, hurting from infidelity in her marriage.  It is understandable why she allowed herself to become wrapped up in the lives of “Jess and Jason.”  The cast of supporting characters all have their own troubles, their own secrets, showing us that we can’t really know what is happening on the other side of the window.


I don’t generally gravitate toward thrillers, I never felt the pull to read Gone Girl even when everyone was talking about it.  But something about this book grabbed me when I read the blurb and it held on to me tightly from the very first page.  The movie rights to the book were acquired by DreamWorks back in March, so you know that this is going to be one of the big books of 2015.

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

Friday, January 2, 2015

"Saint Monkey" by Jacinda Townsend

Best friends Audrey and Caroline are fourteen-year-old girls growing up in a small town in Kentucky.  Audrey knows that she’ll never get out of the town, so she devotes herself to playing the piano at church. Caroline has dreams beyond the town, dreams of Hollywood stardom.  

But then a chance encounter gives Audrey a way out of town.  Before she knows it, she’s in New York City, a part of the increasingly popular jazz scene and playing on stage at the Apollo.  And now it’s Caroline who needs to accept that she is destined to stay in her backwards little town.

Though the two women grow apart, they forever remain linked through their childhood, their town, and their shared experiences.  And when Caroline finds her way out of the town, and Audrey finds her star fading fast, their paths will cross once again.

Saint Monkey, by Jacinda Townsend, is beautiful coming-of-age story, a first novel about growing up in the segregated South and chasing dreams in Jazz Era New York.  

This is an ambitious novel and one that is very, very moving.  It starts out with young Caroline and Audrey who early on in their lives experience loss and hardship and who both wish for something bigger than what their small town can offer them.  But only Audrey gets the chance to make her dreams come true.

In terms of historical beauty, this is a fantastic novel.  The segregated South and the freer North are played against each other, just as Caroline and Audrey are.  Townsend’s writing really drives home what life was like in the United States for Black men and women.  You can feel the emotion and the rawness through her writing and it was these moments that made the book worth reading for me. 

Unfortunately, I found the novel to be a little slow-going.  It took more time than I usually spend reading a novel because I found there wasn’t enough pushing the actual story forward for me.  There was a lot of “setting the scene” which for a historical novel is a good thing, but I just didn’t feel like it was balanced enough with the plotline.  

Told from the perspective of both girls, this is a story of two girls who are both friends and enemies at the same time, who are growing up in a changing world but for whom the world seems to stay the same. Lives marked by loss and heartbreak with dreams marked by music and stardom, Audrey and Caroline transport you to another place and time.


With a lot of potential that is not fully realized, Saint Monkey is a great read for its incredible and lyrical portrayal of the segregated South but prepare for a story that may move a bit slower than you are used to. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Look Ahead at 2015


Welcome to 2015! A new year, a new me? Not quite, I’m very happy with the me I am now, so maybe just a bit more - more yoga, more sleep, more laughs, more joy.

I’ll be welcoming in 2015 at home today, binge-watching television as I’ve been doing all holidays.  So far I’ve watched Happy Valley, Trollied, The Wrong Mans, The Honourable Woman, and Project Runway All-Stars. Not sure yet what to watch today but I’ve got a huge Netflix queue so I’ve got a lot to choose from.  

Now for a look ahead at another year of blogging.  And oh yeah, 2015 marks 5 years of blogging for me, so WOOHOO!

CHALLENGES
Ok, after 5 years I’ve realized that challenges are just not for me.  I start out with great intentions but soon realize that what I want to read isn’t quite matching up with what I need to read for my challenges.  So this year I’m cutting down to 2 challenges and it’s not so much about trying to get me to read outside my comfort zone, it’s about staying inside it and sharing the books I love with others.

Canadian Book Challenge hosted by The Book Mine Set

I do this challenge every year.  I started out because I wanted to increase the CanLit I read and now I surpass the required 13 books every year.  This challenge runs from July to July, so I’ve completed the current challenge and hope to read 20 books and next year’s challenge, I hope to read 30 books.

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge hosted by My Little Pocketbooks

This is the second year Alysia is hosting the challenge and my second year participating.  Last year I didn’t think it would be difficult to hit 25 books because in past years, over one third of my reading has always been diverse. But this year, I fell short by one book.  Which is crazy to me given that last year was the year of We Need Diverse Books.  

THE BLOG

Last year I worked on expanding my use of social media and I want to continue with that.  I also want to branch out just a teeny tiny bit and post about television, movies, and magazines.  Most likely just once a month though. 

BOOKS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO

Here are a few of the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2015


There are also quite a few books I'm looking forward to but that I've yet to find a cover for.  This includes Peggy Blair's Hungry Ghosts, Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me?, and an untitled essay collection from Kunal Nayyar.

WHAT I’M LOOKING FOWARD TO NON-READING WISE IN 2015

Every year we road trip to the United States and this year one of the places we are heading to is Washington D.C. and I’m excited because I have never been there.  I’m fairly confident Joe Biden will be willing to meet me for a beer while I’m there ;)

What are you looking forward to in 2015?