Monday, March 18, 2013

Blue Clay People

Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge
Author: William Powers
Source: Recommended by mom
Days to read: 10

Traveling to Liberia to work as an aid worker to fight poverty and help save the environment, William Powers provides an incredible account of his experiences. Upon arrival in Liberia, Powers is eager and ambitious. He quickly discovers that the intricacies of the issues are far more complex than he could ever have imagined.

Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world and many cities lack running water and electricity. Upon his arrival into the capital city of Monrovia, Powers describes a mountain of garbage that is piled in the middle of the street. Children can be seen scaling it in search of useful items. While there are many parts of the book that are down right depressing, Powers also describes the wonders of Liberia such as the beaches, the rainforest and the resilient people who inhabit it. Throughout the book Powers refers to the notion of “enough”. Coming from America where consumerism is out of control, Powers is intrigued and fascinated by this mantra of the Liberian people who have so little. It is a concept that every reader should take from this story.

I really enjoyed reading this one and I learned a lot about Liberia, it’s people and the many complex issues that they face as a nation. We often think other countries problems are isolated to them and do not really affect us/we do not affect them. This book opens your eyes and dispels that argument. Who is purchasing rich and expensive mahogany furniture for their super sized homes? Not the Liberian people. However they are the ones with little choice but to clear-cut their forests and destroy the environment at an alarming rate in order to cash in on North American’s expensive tastes. This is just one example in which outside influence and life style play a major role in the many issues that Powers’ addresses and seeks to find a solution to. 

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author: Muriel Barbery
Source: Ali's book club choice
Days to read: 8

Now this was a challenging book but well worth a read. It is evident that the author, Muriel Barbery is familiar with Philosophy!

The book has two different voices. The first is a middle-aged concierge named Renée who suppresses her intellect and interests in order to fit into the stereotype of a simple, lazy and uneducated concierge. The second voice is Paloma, a 12-year-old genius who is irritated by everything and everyone in the world until she meets Renée. When the new Japanese tenant Ozu moves into the prestigious building, both Renee and Paloma are intrigued to find another individual they consider an equal.  Through joint interests and enjoying each other’s company, Paloma is finally able to see some good in the world and Renee’s spirit is awakened by her new friend Ozu who sees and knows her for the person she is.

We had a really good discussion about this book at our last meeting and the majority of us really enjoyed the book. Both characters hide their true thoughts and feelings and essence of who they are to the outside world. Fortunately, Paloma is young and is able to learn from Renee and appreciate things in life.

There was some disagreement regarding the end of the book. Some people were left sad and disappointed while others felt it came full circle and were satisfied. I hover somewhere in between these opinions. Without giving too much away, a traumatic event occurs that does evoke sad feelings however I felt that this event was only the closing to a bigger story and that lessons were learned and new and wonderful experiences were had and recognized.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carly's Voice

Carly's Voice
Author: Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann
Source: Several professors
Days to read: 6

One of my professors mentioned the book Carly’s voice during one of his lectures and I knew I would have to read it. It is written by Carly’s father and includes some parts that are written by Carly herself.

Carly has Autism and is nonverbal. Through Applied Behaviour Analysis, she was able to learn to communicate by typing. The last few months I have learned a lot about Autism and how to teach those with Autism. The more I read, the more I want to know what it is like to be in their shoes. They feel, perceive and sense things differently than those without Autism. I found this book to be incredibly interesting because it gives the reader a glimpse into the world of Autism for one individual, Carly. It provides the reader with an understanding of the life of not only Carly, but also her family.  There is an incredible financial, emotional and physical stress put on the family and I think this book really gives an honest depiction of how daily life is for them. Carly's journey and what she has accomplished is incredible and inspiring.

Along with Catherine Maurice’s Let Me Hear Your Voice, I would encourage everyone to read this book to gain a little bit of understanding of a diagnosis that is on the rise.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
Source: Everyone!
Days to Read: 3

I actually had several friends ask me if I had read this book, which got me thinking that I probably should get my hands on a copy. So while killing time in the PATH before class, I stopped at the Coles and picked up a few books.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a wonderful story told from the perspective of Enzo the dog. Right off the bat we learn that Enzo is unlike most dogs and is very in touch with his “human side”. The book begins with an elderly Enzo reminiscing about the first time he met Denny and being taken to his new home. He continues to share his stories and adventures that occurred over his lifetime.

Denny is a racecar driver trying to go pro and many evenings are spent with Enzo watching videos of famous races. Throughout the novel, Enzo uses racing strategies and techniques as analogies of situations that Denny is going through in his life.  When Denny brings home Eve, when Eve moves in, when they are married and have a daughter, all of these events are retold by Enzo. He is a rather charming little dog and his insights are quite remarkable.

This book is an easy read and very endearing. The last two pages are my favourite but I can’t tell you why without giving away the happy twist!  
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Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

The Kindness of Strangers
Author: Katrina Kittle
Source: Mom's friend Mary-Rose
Days to Read: 8

I think I need to come up with some sort of scale for rating the books I am writing about. I will think about this and get back to you! Also did anyone notice my little "favicon" in the URL bar? I am so proud of myself!

Moving on... I loved this book. It was a tough read with a lot of emotional content, but it was a great. The book is about Sarah, a widow, and her 2 sons, Danny and Nate who step in to help Sarah’s friend’s son Jordan in his time of need. Jordan’s parents have sexually abused him for many years and as the truth unfolds, Sarah struggles with the emerging truths about her supposed friend. The family is still dealing with the loss of husband and father when Nate proposes that his family foster Jordan. The family comes together in ways they never had expected and together help to heal one another.

As I said, the book is pretty moving and I definitely teared up a few times. But it is also a good heart warming book that leaves you satisfied and happy after the last page is read. 
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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
Source: Kim's choice for book club
Days to read: I don't remember!

It took awhile (about 100 pages or so) for me to get into this book. The basic premise is this - set in a small town called Pagford, the book starts off with the death of Barry, a parish councillor.  You are then introduced to a plethora of characters who were friends, family, students or political opposition. The untimely death of Barry was in the midst of a decision to dissociate with a particular area of Pagford known as “the fields”. Barry supported the alliance and with his seat on the council up for grabs, all those with a vested interest are pushing to fill the seat in their favour.

Along with politics, there are issues of drug abuse, domestic abuse, and family issues.

After I was acquainted with the many characters, the book began to improve. However, I still found some parts to be a little boring at times and I favoured certain storylines over others. I hate when that happens because then you just want to skim over the not-so-interesting storylines to get back to the good ones! BUT, I do have to say that the last 150 pages or so things started to heat up and I raced through those last pages.

Without having read anything else by Rowling, I wouldn’t jump to read her next novel. However I think it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the book if you have read the Harry Potter series. I’m interested as to how it compares to the adult fiction.
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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Book Club Choice

Our next book club choice is Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I just read was made into a movie in 2011! I will definitely have to check it out if I love the book. I started this book today on the train into school and I am enjoying it so far. It is written very well and has won a ton of awards so I'm anxious to get into it. 

I still want to see Salmon Fishing in the Yemen although I doubt the movie follows the same story path as the book (I bet it focuses more on the love story). Has anyone seen it? 
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The House at Riverton

The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Source: Chapters
Days to read: 7

Wow! I didn't realize it had been so long since I last wrote about my books. I should have clued in when I noticed the pile of 4 books on my desk. They were not put away for a reason!

Anyway, YES - I loved this book! If you haven't read Kate Morton's other novel, The Forgotten Garden, read one or both of them! I love historical novels and The House at Riverton is just that. The narrator, Grace, is a maid at the house of Riverton who has kept a secret about the Hartford family for many years. The story unfolds as Grace relives her past through discussion with a movie director who is making a film based on the Hartford family and the events of the summer of 1924 when a young poet took his life. The book keeps you entertained throughout and keeps you guessing as to what the truth is about the mysterious event. I won't give too much detail so you can read for yourself! 

I really like the character development in Morton's novels and I also like how the main character tells the story to someone else, looking back in some form or another. 

This book also gives you an interesting perspective of an Edwardian aristocratic household in the 1920's and how things changed in society as the years went on. The Hartford sister's, Hannah and Emmeline are very different girls. Emmeline embraces the 20's - the new fashions, hairstyles, and partying ways of the young populace, whereas Hannah is more traditional and constantly worrying about her younger sister’s adventurous and sometimes dangerous ways. While watching the young sisters every summer while they are at Riverton, Grace yearns for a bond with the girls. Over time she develops a kinship with Hannah and it is put to the test when she becomes the only other witness (besides the sisters and the poet) to the events of the summer of 1924.
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

I See You Everywhere

I See You Everywhere
Author: Julia Glass
Source: Mom
Days to Read: 8
Wine Pairing: N/A

I thought this book was going to be a heart-warming story of sisterly love. It didn’t quite turn out to be that type of book. Louisa and Clem are two very different people who were never really that close. Louisa seems to have some very bitter feelings towards her sister and envies her personality traits that she lacks: adventurous, attractive and interesting.

The book is about their ever-changing relationship through adolescents to middle age. When Louisa is diagnosed with breast cancer I thought there would be some profound connection or moment that would bring the sister’s together but it seemed to just fall flat.

This is one of those books that has the potential to be really good but I just never felt attached to either of the characters and to be honest, Louisa was kind of annoying (she is so negative!). The final event in the book is a tragedy and again, it fell flat and left me with many questions (but not the good, thought provoking kind).

I don’t think I will give this book a wine pairing because I don’t highly recommend it, perhaps it would go best with a light, watery beer?

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

I Know This Much is True

I Know This Much is True
Author: Wally Lamb
Source: Sister in law Jackie
Days to Read: 13
Wine Pairing: Partager Merlot

While hunting for a sombrero chip and dip platter at the local Goodwill, I stumbled upon this book for $3.00! I was with my sister in law, Jackie, who recommended it and at that price why wouldn’t I buy it?

The book is about twin brothers, Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Thomas is diagnosed with schizophrenia and after committing a gruesome act against himself in a public library, is placed in a mental hospital. Dominick tries to fight to get his brother out of the high security hospital and put back into his regular centre but faces a lot of resistance. He begins to meet with the therapist who is treating his brother and starts his own journey of self-discovery, reliving and exploring the past.

Growing up Thomas was abused by their stepfather and was the shy, sensitive twin who had a special relationship with the twin’s mother. Through Dominick’s sessions with the therapist, he examines his relationship with his brother, his mother, his stepfather and his ever-pressing need to know the identity of his biological father.

For all of the intense and heavy material in this book, it thankfully has a relatively happy ending for Dominick. There were several parts in the book that I thought didn’t quite fit. Example - Dominick being given an autobiography of his grandfather by his mother before her death. There are exerts from the autobiography in Dominick’s story and I didn’t think that it quite fit or really added all that much. It felt like knitting a scarf and then deciding to add a new colour but then dropping the yarn so the end product isn’t woven together tightly.

This book is, like I said, somewhat heavy so I would pair it with a medium bodied, comforting red – my recent discovery a French Partager Merlot – very tasty!
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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Next Book Club Choice

Our next book club book has been selected by none other than... Kim! She has chosen J.K. Rowling's new, adult book, A Casual Vacancy. Review to come mid December!
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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

When God Was a Rabbit

When God Was a Rabbit
Author: Sarah Winman
Source: Jenna's book club choice
Days to Read: 14
Wine Pairing: Cono Sur Merlot 

I have decided, upon suggestion, to include some of my favourite wines that pair well with each book. Given the title of my blog I thought this would be rather fitting! 

Cono Sur Merlot, an inexpensive, Chilean red is one of my favourites. I like dark, full bodied reds and this one does the trick!

When God Was a Rabbit was our most recent book club choice. The consensus was it was good but kind of a downer book. I felt that it lacked a climax or overall message to take away.
In a nut shell the book is the story of Elly. Broken into two parts, the first part of the book is told by a young Elly and for the second part, Elly is an adult. When I say that it was a bit of a downer book, consider some of the events that take place throughout: Cancer, suicide, murder, sexual abuse, physical abuse, accidental death, kidnapping, assault, bombing, stroke, amnesia and last but not least, death of a pet rabbit.

The one aspect of the book I truly enjoyed was Elly’s childhood friend, Jenny Penny.  She is eccentric, bright and complex. Their friendship blossoms in their youth and when Elly moves away with her family they promise to write one another. On their annual Christmas phone call, Jenny Penny is agitated and in a rush telling Elly she and her mother are moving yet again but will be sure to send Elly their new address as soon as she can. Elly never receives the new address and only years later do they reconnect when Elly receives a letter from Jenny Penny who is serving a sentence for murder in prison.

There is also a constant relationship throughout the book with Elly’s older brother Joe. You know him as Elly’s protector and closest friend but never really understand him. You get little tidbits here and there however not enough in my opinion.

Overall the book is a decent read just be prepared for some heavy reading with a not-so-happy ending.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Let Me Hear Your Voice

Let Me Hear Your Voice: A Family's Triumph Over Autism
Author: Catherine Maurice
Source: Several of my professors
Days to Read: 5

I recently have begun a post-graduate program in Autism and Behavioural Science. After working for 4 years in the business industry I was ready for a change. I knew I wanted to work with and help people and have always been interested in the brain and how it functions. With an undergrad in Psychology and having heard good things about this program, I decided to enroll and change my path!

Within the first week of classes I had heard at least 3 of my professors refer to this book in the lectures. Basically, it is written by a mother of 3 children, 2 of which were diagnosed at a very young age, with Autism.

Now maybe I am slightly biased as I have a particular interest and am currently immersed in the subject matter but I do think it’s a great book for everyone to read. It not only provides a non-professional’s take on what autism is but provides a personal experience and is written extremely well. Catherine Maurice also does a very good job at describing what Behaviour Analysis is and compares it to other “treatments” that are out there.

I have told all my friends in my class to read it and my parents and now I’m telling you!
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim

What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim
Author: Jane Christmas
Source: My parents 
Days to Read: 7

Interesting title. This was one of those books that I just dove right into before knowing what it was about. My parents had given me the book and both had really enjoyed it so that was a decent vote of confidence.

Jane Christmas wanted to do something big and unique for her fiftieth birthday. While travelling on a plane to and indulging in some store bought wine, she catches the attention of a flight attendant. After reprimanding Jane for her vino, the attendant mentions a famous pilgrimage in Spain. The idea takes root within Jane and the next thing she knows she has 10 other women signed up and ready to hike Spain’s infamous Camino de Santiago de Compostela!

Before leaving for her journey, Jane visits a psychic who basically tells her she is going to have an awful time with this group of women, she is going to lose some jewellery, she will encounter a celebrity, have a visit from death and meet a hair-haired man.

The book details her physical struggles on this pilgrimage, the wonderful (and not so wonderful) relationships she makes and her own personal ups and downs. Told with a great sense of humour, this book was very entertaining and enjoyable. I don’t think I will be hiking the “Camino” anytime soon but hats off to Jane Christmas for doing it!
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Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Lady of the Rivers

The Lady of the Rivers
Author: Philippa Gregory
Source: Chapters pick
Days to Read: 11

This is the second Philippa Gregory book that I have read. She is probably best known for her book The Other Boleyn Girl (which was also made into a movie starring Natalie Portman). Her novels are based on real historical females that are typically not researched or written about very often.
The Lady of the Rivers is about a Duchess of Bedford, Jaquetta, who befriends the young, new queen of England and her husband, King Henry VI. The book has a good love story, plenty of battles and drama at court to keep the reader interested.

Now these books are fairly light and fluffy as I like to call it, but I do love a good period piece, especially when they take place in England and I did love this book!! It seems to me I rarely read a book that I dislike!

The book that I am currently reading is something totally different from my normal selection. I have recently gone back to school and in several of my classes and the literature I have read thus far, this book has been referred to. It is called Let Me Hear Your Voice: A Family’s Triumph Over Autism. Stay tuned!
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