Sunday, March 5, 2017

February's Great Reads

Okay, so last month I read a whole bunch of great books and I gave 5 stars on Goodreads to ten of them. I'll tell you a little more about those ten (in no particular order).

Don't I Know You? - Marni Jackson
Interlinked short stories follow Rose's life from her teens right up to her 70s. In each story, Rose interacts with celebrities, often in mundane circumstances. I laughed out loud (Keith Richards moonlighting as a surgeon) and came close to tears (Leonard Cohen running an ice cream truck). The canoe trip with Cohen, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Taylor Swift was the perfect finale. Smart. Charming.

     "Leonard, this song of yours, A Thousand Kisses Deep? It is perfect. It cannot be improved upon," Karl Ove said to him. "Can I ask how long it took to write it?"
     "A thousand years, more or less." Leonard rasped. "I write very slowly. I write in geological time."
     "We are polar opposites then. My new book is already over 500 pages and the main character is still in utero." Karl Ove laughter at himself. "My publisher begs me to shut up."

Salt - Nayyirah Waheed
Loved this collection of poetry so much! Clarity of thought expressed in surprising ways. Occasional flashes of simmering rage. Minimalist.

     not ever
     afraid to tell me
     who you are.
     i am going to find

     - blunt

Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad - Alice Oswald
Brief elegies for each of the hundreds who died in the Trojan war. Gorgeous nature and family imagery together with violence. I read with dismay and sadness, yet also found Oswald's words are a balm. Homer's soldiers could be men dying in wars today. Respect for our mortality. This work of poetry filled me with awe.

     Like tribes of summer bees
     Coming up from the underworld out of a crack in a rock
     A billion factory women flying to their flower work
     Being born and reborn and shimmering over fields

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter
This one haunted me and I kept going back to reread parts. It brought to mind a couple of Ali Smith's works (Artful & The Story of Antigone) as well as a novel by Evan Roskos (Dr Bird's Advice for Sad Poets). It is also completely original, like nothing else I've encountered... except maybe grief itself. Surreal, comforting, brilliant prose.

     We will never fight again, our lovely, quick, template-ready arguments. Our delicate cross-stitch of bickers.

The Break - Katherena Vermette
Real. Polyphonic. Important. Sad. Eloquent. Indigenous voice. Hopeful. Heartbreaking.

     "My Kookom." She looks at her grandmother, serious and straight. "Girls don't get attacked in good neighbourhoods."
     Kookoo looks right back, just as hard, no, harder, even with her near-blind eyes. "My Stella, girls get attacked everywhere."

Panther - Brecht Evens
Whimsy meets nightmare in this Belgian graphic novel for adult readers. It's breathtaking, absurd, peculiar, visionary, grotesque, ornate and bizarre. It totally creeped me out and I loved it.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq - Sarah Glidden
What is journalism? A cartoonist records the work of independent American reporters in the middle east. Gilder's watercolour art make individual people and settings personal. Refugees, politics, a travelling companion who's a US vet of the war in Iraq, the financial need to sell stories, the heartbreak of millions of displaced people - each with their own story - this book important.

The Inquisitor's Tale, or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog - Adam Gidwitz
[Listening Library: 10 hr: narration by full cast including author]
Outstanding audio production includes music as well as a full cast. Saintly children and a dog in 13th century France. Farting dragons, cheese that smells like a cow's butt, ass/donkey double entendres. The enormous turnip folktale. A clear message about the importance of pluralism in society. Great for family listening.

Behold the Dreamers - Imbolo Moue
[Random House Audio: 12 hr 14 min: narrated by Prentice Onayemi]
Integrity, warmth, propulsion. Multiple perspectives. Complex characters in two families, one headed by a Cameroonian chauffeur with uncertain legal status in the USA, the other by a Wall Street executive. Set in NYC during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Superb audio narration by Onayemi.

Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
[Phoenix Books: 37 hr: narrated by Lee Horsley]
Of the seven audiobooks that I listened to in February, this is my hands down favourite. Westerns aren't normally by thing, but there are exceptions - Sisters Brothers; True Grit - and now, Lonesome Dove. It's got every doorway into reading - story, characters, setting and language - which explains its wide appeal. If you love hyperbole, don't miss this.

     The only man in the outfit who didn't fart frequently was old Bolivar himself - he never touched beans and lived mainly on sourdough biscuits and chicory coffee, or rather, cups of brown sugar with little puddles of coffee floating on top.

Thanks for reading. I'll post my February reading stats below and I hope you'll be back to visit my blog again!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January 2017 Reading Stats plus Audiobook Recommendations

In July last year, I started doing a monthly summary of my reading, which I then posted on my Litsy account. I've decided to start sharing it here too.

I spent over two weeks in New Zealand last month, which is reflected in the number of authors from that country. 

There was a side trip to Australia during that time as well, which adds up to many hours in airplanes. I had expected I would have listened to more than eleven audiobooks, because that's how I prefer to pass the time when flying, but I guess it's because some of these were really long: I listened to 118 hours worth of audiobooks in January.

If you are looking for an outstanding audiobook, I gave 5 stars to three of them this month: 
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Matthew Desmond) - [Narrated by Scott Aiello; 11h 27m] 
I first heard about this about a year ago from Michael Kindness on the Books on the Nightstand podcast and have been wanting to read it ever since. It's such an important, eye-opening book, and so full of heart. Please read it! I guarantee you will not feel the same way about poverty afterwards.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World (Peter Wohlleben) - [Narrated by Mike Grady; 7h 33m; translation from German] 
Quirky and fascinating. Scientific fact and fanciful musings. Some of the new research about how trees communicate with each other was also in Hope Larson's fabulous memoir, Lab Girl, one of my favourite audiobooks of 2016.
Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (Sara Gran) - [Narrated by Carol Monda; 9 h] 
"With each day that passed something ugly was growing in me. I watched it grow. I fed it cocaine. I loved it and held onto it, kept it alive."
Gritty hipster noir set in San Francisco that's more about the deeply-troubled bisexual detective than the solving of her cases. Claire strives to help every underdog except herself, disregarding her own safety and wellbeing. Start with book 1, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, then this. Then pray that Gran will write a third in the series.

More picks (four stars):
The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu) - [Narrated by Luke Daniels; 13h 26 m; translation from Chinese by Ken Liu] 
At about the 3-hour mark, I considered abandoning this when I got a little bored. Then I got swept up in its epic scope. Wow. Harsh lives in mid-20th century China and folks who think maybe it would be a good idea for aliens to wipe out human civilization. Thought-provoking science fiction. The Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, Book 1.
The Reader (Traci Chee) - [Narrated by Kim Mai Guest; 12h 31m] 
Fantasy adventure in a world where nobody reads. Except there is one magical book. Three storylines. Strong roles for women, including pirates and assassins. Love that the young people reject roles laid out for them and choose their own paths. Entertaining! Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1.
Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language (Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz) - [Narrated by PJ Ochlan; 5h 34m] 
I love learning languages and am currently refreshing my knowledge of Slovak. This excellent audiobook has reinforced what I already know works for me: a) learn spoken and written at the same time; b) short, daily time blocks of learning; c) practice remembering and using vocabulary while handling daily objects instead of labelling everything in the house. What I need to add: more visuals of people speaking the language. A cool thing I learned about was the McGurk effect. Watch this video and see how your brain does interesting things when sight and sound don't add up: Seeing Is Believing.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Mary Beard) - [Narrated by Phyllida Nash; 18h 30m] 
"Many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, political violence, empire, luxury and beauty have been formed and tested in dialogue with the Romans and their writing"
"The only genre of mainstream Roman literature that can claim an origin outside of the elite is the animal fable."
"A crucial aspect of any organized community is its ability to structure time. [...] The modern western calendar remains a direct descendant of this early Roman version, as the names we give our months show."
"Adoption in Rome had never been principally a measure for a childless couple to create a family. If anyone just wanted a baby, they could easily find one on a rubbish dump."
An engaging, often surprising, thousand-year chunk of Roman history. Beard makes many connections between ancient history and our modern era, like: "Then, as now, the easiest tactic for a government trying to reduce the pension bill was to raise the pension age."
Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen) - [Narrated by the author; 18h 16m]
"People don't come to rock shows to learn something, they come to be reminded of something they already know and feel deep down in their gut: that when the world is at its best, when we are at our best, when life feels fullest, then 1+1=3. It's the essential equation of love, art, rock 'n roll, and rock 'n roll bands."
I considered bailing on this early on because I was annoyed by Springsteen's overuse of cliche. For example, his father is such a misanthrope that he has no friends, so he "pours his heart out" to his teenaged son, because Bruce is "the only game in town." I'm glad that I stayed with it, however, because he's had an amazing life. I was particularly interested in what he shared about his own and his father's struggles with mental illness.
"My dad would explain to me that love songs on the radio were part of a government plot to get you to marry and pay taxes."
On Trails (Robert Moor) - [Narrated by Jason Grasl; 10h 38m]
"On wild land, wild thoughts can flourish. There, we can feel all the ragged edges of what we do not know and we can make room for other living things to live differently. We must learn to infuse this sense of the wild back into the human landscape. For instance, to see even the trees in our backyards as wild things, and to reframe our understanding of the wilderness so that it can contain us within it."
Environmental journalism, contemplative and wide-ranging. Understanding how humans interact with landscape and how social organization relies on physical ways to connect, from ancient pathways to contemporary long-distance hiking to Internet networks. Fascinating.

Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition (Margot Lee Shetterly) - [Narrated by Bahni Turpin; 4h 11m]
Stories of African American women who have worked in aeronautical sciences since the 50s. Inspiring and enlightening. Suitable for the whole family, if you are planning a car trip.

Friday, January 27, 2017

2016: My Year in Books

Goodreads did this My Year in Books thing that's pretty cool. 

To my faithful blog followers, I apologize for going completely silent here. I've been overwhelmed by unfinished drafts of book posts and I have been considering whether or not to stop blogging entirely. Since May of 2016, I've been spending most of my internet time on Litsy, a social media app for readers. Litsy has been satisfying my need to share quotes, comments and reviews. I really enjoy all of the interaction with other readers. I would be delighted to have you find me there (@Lindy). 

What I miss about this blog is being able to quickly look back on my thoughts about previous books that I've read. Within the Litsy app, it can be done, but it requires a lot of scrolling to go back more than a month to find older posts. I'm not sure that I miss it enough to resume writing separate reviews here, but I might highlight my favourites at regular intervals.

Thank you again for following me at Lindy Reads and Reviews over the years. I started this project back in 2008 and have reviewed over 1,000 titles here. I'm not quite ready to say goodbye yet.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Bingo Summer Reading Project 2016

The idea of Book Bingo is to have fun and expand your reading horizons. Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman of the Books on the Nightstand podcast created online bingo cards with all kinds of categories. If you want to play, go here: BOTNS and refresh the screen to get a new card. I decided to play two cards simultaneously, and started at the end of May. Card #1 is now complete - YAY! - with details below. There are 25 books, so I'll go row by row and make my descriptions brief.

Published the year you were born: The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, audiobook narrated by David Horovitch. English translation by Archibald Colquhoun published in 1960.
     - Unification of Italy in the 19th century, as experienced by a Sicilian prince. Tipping point of cultural and political change. Atmospheric with period details. Understated, elegant prose. Only book on my card that I would not have even known about if not for bingo-related research. It was a rewarding experience.

An academic/campus novel: Yabo by Alexis de Veaux.
     - Layered. Poetic. Mythic. Interwoven lives of two people existing across centuries, from the middle passage to colonial times to present day USA. Black women, lesbians, and a fabulous intersex character named Jules. So good! Parts are set at university in Buffalo, NY, where Zen has an affair with her professor, a Jamaican woman.

Published in 2015: You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman, audiobook narrated by Kelly Pruner.
     - This satire of consumer culture is like a cross between Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last and the Welcome to Nightvale podcast. Wonderful, weird, smart, funny. I remember bailing on this last year after a couple of pages because I wasn't in the right mood. So glad that I gave it another chance!

Recommended in a BOTNS episode: The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson, audiobook narrated by Nathan Osgood.
     - In episode 369, Ann said she had fun with this. So did I. Travel. Amusing trivia. Cranky humour. It's Bill Bryson, how can you go wrong?

Young Adult novel: Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki.
     - Monty is an endearing 16-year-old coping with mean girls and rude boys, making mistakes and finding forgiveness. Her parents are caring and in the forefront (rare in YA) and her parents are also lesbians (rare in any novel). I liked this a lot.

A novella: Trouble Is My Business by Raymond Chandler, audiobook narrated by Elliott Gould (who is perfect for this).
     - "I felt terrible. I felt like an amputated leg." Chandler's hard-boiled style cracks me up. "'...he should be there in 20 minutes.' 'Ok, that just gives me time to drink my dinner.'"

About a subject that challenges you: We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greening.
     - Wow. Thought-provoking and compelling. A Black family agrees to be studied while they raise a chimpanzee as a member of their family. Eugenics. Racism. Well-observed interpersonal dynamics. This one has zing and sting!

By any Booktopia* author: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, audiobook narrated by Heather Alicia Simms and Rosalyn Coleman Williams.
     - "My father was a bigamist." One father, two mothers, two sisters. Audio switches to a different narrator when the storytelling switches between the two sisters at the midpoint. Black lives. Bittersweet and satisfying.
*Booktopia events are like mini writers festivals hosted by Michael and Ann at various bookstores over the past few years. BOTNS podcast listeners know about them; I attended one in Bellingham, Washington in 2013 and wrote about it here.

Hated by someone you know: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translation from Korean by Deborah Smith.
     - Poetic. Surreal. Disturbing. Haunting. A short novel about transformation and other heady things. International Man Booker prizewinner. Some people I know through the books social media app, Litsy, hated it, as did reviewer Tim Parks in The New York Review. Loved isn't the right word for how I felt, but it had a strong impact on me. Spent days processing it after it was done.

Speculative fiction: ODY-C Vol. 1 Off to Far Ithicaa by Matt Fraction, Christian Ward etc.
     - I like the idea of this gender-swapped science fiction retelling of Homer's Odyssey better than its execution. Shades of Paul Pope's 100% and Fiona Staple's planet Sextillion from Saga. Prefer Gareth Hinds' graphic novel rendition of the Odyssey.

Humour or satire: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
     - Gender pronouns. Radical queers. Racism. Intersectionality. Polyamory. So many issues, and yet this is a bubbly affirmation about finding one's truth. Delightful.

With an animal on the cover: Some New Kind of Slaughter, or, Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around the World by Marvin Mann and A David Lewis
     - "Stories have the power to guide us through the dangers of the world to a fuller understanding of our place in it." Interwoven flood tales in graphic novel format. Powerful.

Free square in the middle: Kay's Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y K Choi
     - Poignant coming-of-age, balancing traditional expectations of immigrant parents, long hours working in family's convenience store in dicey Toronto neighbourhood, and desire to assert independent identity. Well done. With "lucky" in the title, I had to use this for my free middle square!

Revolves around a holiday: From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi
     - I'd planned to use this for the 'Gifted to you' category - it's from my dear friend Claire in Auckland - but it turns out that this quirky tale of a New Zealand boy obsessed with filmmaking begins and ends with Christmas holidays one year apart. Took a while to draw me in, but things fell beautifully and cogently into place. The final 30 pages are outstanding and I cried at the end. So worthwhile!

With a mythological creature on the cover: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, audiobook narrated by Jenny Sterlin.
     - Battling for women's rights... to perform magic in an alternate England. Excellent historical fantasy with people of colour as main characters.

Gifted to you: Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith.
     - Passionate about books and reading. Loops together unrelated thoughts into creative, profound fiction. Humane. Genius wordsmith. Ali Smith never fails to astound me. My friend Kathy ordered this direct from the UK in order to give it to me at Christmas six months ago. Somehow it got lost in my piles of books until now. So happy that book bingo made me go looking!

With a protagonist/narrator over the age of 50: Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, translation from French by Alison Anderson, audiobook narrated by Norman Dietz and five others; I love it when audio productions do this, especially when the narrative switches between points of view (including, here, a cat).
     - This short novel about a despicable restaurant critic longing for just the right taste before he dies is all about food. Since I've used a different book for that square, I'll  count it here. If there was a square for "made you salivate while reading" this would be perfect.

Recommended by a librarian or bookseller: The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales, audiobook narrated by four different narrators as the perspective switches around; all are good and Natasha Soudek is my fave.
     - It's girls with superpowers trained as assassins, or not that but a secret organization battling evil, or not that exactly but fireballs of love and revenge, or maybe it's not that but something else entirely. Wild. Genre-bending. Loved it. Liberty Hardy from All the Books podcast recommended this.

With food as the theme: Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi, audiobook narrated by author.
     - Memoir. Immigrant/international fashion model/celebrity chef/former wife of Salman Rushdie. Cooking has helped Lakshmi cope with hard times and she includes recipes. I'd like to try making her kumquat chutney when the fruit is in season.

A literary magazine or journal: Geist, Fall 2015.
     - This issue has an excerpt from Ivan Coyote's latest: Tomboy Survival Guide. It wasn't hard to get my hands on something for this category, since we have stacks of Geist, Eighteen Bridges and Room Magazine around the house.

Poetry collection: Shift by Kelly Shepherd.
     - Humble things: animals, trees, rubber tires, manual labour, even in the oil camps of Fort McMurray - all are transformed by grace in these compassionate, intimate poems. So lovely. "close to a fire, we no longer / see the night sky; we / are seated around a star."

A dark, upsetting, or sad book: The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni, audiobook narrated by Xe Sands.
     - As melancholy as can be (in the best possible way). Elegiac. Atmospheric. Nature, red in tooth and claw. A wildlife photographer mourns her mother during a year on an island bird sanctuary. Human behaviour is as interesting as that of any other creature.

With a blue cover: Sistering by Jennifer Quist.
     - (Trust me, the cover in person looks more blue than the image above.) Dark comedy. Chapters alternate between five sisters' points of view. Lots of domestic drama in my hometown, Edmonton. At one point, a sister was doing something that made me want to put my hands in front of my eyes so I didn't have to witness it, like I was watching a movie, saying no no no no no!

Sports-related: Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs.
     - Powerful and compassionate narrative verse captures soul of mid-20th century hockey and glimpses into psyche of one goalie. Terry Sawchuk takes stitches to his mouth without anaesthetic in order to stay in the game; hit in the shoulder by a 120 mph slapshot, he stands up and keeps playing; blocks all but 3 of 108 shots in back-to-back games (losing both) then is too tired to lift his hand to smoke; gets traded and traded again; plays for two decades. I felt something change inside me as a result of reading this book. That was unexpected, because I'm not a hockey fan.

Manga: Planetes, Vol 1, by Makoto Yukimura, translated by Tokyopop.
     - The opening scene in this character-based manga takes place on July 13, 2068, my 108th birthday! Three garbage collectors working in space. Traditional right-to-left Japanese comic format. Solid writing and appealing art.

Thank you for reading this very long post! I hope you will return for bingo card #2.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Best Fiction So Far in 2016

I've read 150 books so far this year. In an earlier post, I compiled my top 10 audiobooks, so this list is just for non-audio, narrowing things down even further by only including adult fiction. Here's a baker's dozen of favourites.

Overall Hands-Down Favourite:

At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison [2015] - A cross between lyric nature writing and fiction. Storytelling that circles back to the opening scene via multiple points of view; broad cast of characters whose lives connect tangentially; references to myth within a realistic setting; close attention to the natural world; changes to a landscape through human activity over time. Beautiful prose.

Best Canadian Fiction Combining Elements of Music, Historical Fiction and Contemporary Realism (tie). I'd like to read more in this category, please:

Under the Visible Life by Kim Echlin [2015] - Alternating storylines. Women's lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Canada and USA. Mixed ethnicity. Female friendship. Opportunities taken/not taken. Jazz. "I was not lonely with Coltrane and Tyner inside me. I thought, 'This music is what marriage could be, playing solos at the same time and ending up together.'" 

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thein [2016] - "Don't ever try to be only a single thing, an unbroken human being." Three generations of individuals in China's tumultuous 20th century. Eloquent. Classical music. Tragedy. Survival.

Best Lesbian Novel (tie):

One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks [2015] - Brief chapters chart inner and outer weather over the period of a messy lesbian break-up. Atmospheric. Made me glad I don't live in Vancouver.

Yabo by Alexis De Veaux [2015] - Layered. Poetic. Mythic. Interwoven lives of two people existing across centuries, from the Middle Passage to colonial times to contemporary USA and Jamaica. Black women, lesbians, shapeshifters, and one fascinating intersex character named Jules.

Best Historical Fiction (3-way tie). All three of these expanded my view of women's lives in other places and times:

Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea [2015] - Real historical figures: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Colourful first-person voice of Lizzie Burns, an illiterate Irish woman who grew up working in the nineteenth century mills of Manchester and became the common-law wife of Engels. Complex lives and a rich historical setting.

The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman [2016] - It's a retelling of Honore de Balzac's Cousin Bette, set in 1950s New York City. I tried Cousin Bette and bailed  at the midway point, but that didn't stop me from diving into Schulman's latest novel. I love everything she writes. "Bette liked a novel whose insights into the human mind were not predictable and yet, upon revelation, were stunningly and obviously true." I like that kind of book too. A masterful novel just like this one.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart [2015] - A small dispute with an unsavoury businessman escalates into a campaign of terror against a trio of unconventional sisters in 1914 rural New Jersey. Based on historical fact. Danger. Mystery. Comedy.

Best Contemporary Fiction (tie):

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill [2015] - A novel about people, not horses. Brief chapters, quick pace. Narrative alternates between Ginger, an Anglo alcoholic in upstate New York, and Velveteen, 11-year-old Brooklynite with a Dominican single mother. Everyone is negotiating emotional minefields.

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie [2016] - Adorable! Lessons about being true to yourself. Warmth, wackiness and squirrels.

Best Speculative Fiction (tie). Both are blends of fantasy and near-future science fiction, with elements of environmental catastrophe. Both also happen to be steeped in queer sensibilities:

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders [2016] - A couple of misfits take different paths as they grow up - will it take magic or technology to save the world? Ethics and responsibility. Exuberant. Whimsical. Hopeful. Refreshing.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan [2015] - Folkloric. Evocative. Quietly enchanting. A drowned world with most living on water and few on islands. A travelling circus. A self-imposed solitary existence. Forgiveness.

Best Short Story Collection:

American Housewife by Helen Ellis [2016] - Hilarious! Short stories interspersed with other short pieces; reminded me a bit of Rebecca Makkai but Ellis has her own sly style. The things her housewives get up to, you would not believe!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

10 Best Audiobooks So Far in 2016

Out of the 48 audiobooks I've read so far this year, here are 10 of my favourites.

Overall Favourite:
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren [2016] - Loved this so much. SO MUCH! Natural science research, mental health, friendship. Clever comparisons between plant and human behaviours. "People are like plants, they grow towards the light. I chose science because science gave me what I needed - a home as defined in the most literal sense: a safe place to be." Audiobook is narrated by author and her voice catches with emotion at times. So many layers of wonderful, I could gush about it for a long time.

Best Nonfiction:
Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon [2012] - Important. Relationships between parents and offspring who are different from each other, i.e. down's syndrome, deaf, gay, prodigies, mentally ill, criminals, or transgender. It's long and it's fascinating and it has won awards. I listened to it and then also read it in print. Narrated by the author.

Best Memoir:
A Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes [2015] - Ebullient. Warm. Inspirational. Not ever having watched any of the television shows Rhimes created (i.e. Gray's Anatomy), I didn't know what to expect. I was astonished by the power of her story, and the impact is all the greater because the author narrates it herself.

Best Historical Fiction:
Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee [2016] - Enthralling. From the 19th century wild west to the opera stage in Paris, it's an operatic epic starring a woman who uses her wits and talent to survive numerous reversals of fortune. Made me want to hear the music of Puccini, Gounod and Verdi. Narrated by Lisa Flanagan.

Best Speculative Fiction (tie):
The Fireman by Joe Hill [2016] - Thriller. Near future. Dark humour. Plague of human spontaneous combustion. Narrated in the gorgeous voice of Captain Janeway: Kate Mulgrew.
The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales [2016] - It's girls with superpowers trained as assassins, or not that but a secret organization battling evil, or not that exactly but fireballs of love and revenge, or maybe it's not that but something else entirely. Narrated by four excellent performers, including Natasha Soudek.

Best Short Story Collection:
Mothers Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell [2015] - Rural noir. Gutsy. Gritty. Insightful. Droll. Narrated by the versatile Christina Delaine. Following is an excerpt from 'Daughters of the Animal Kingdom' -
"My students never believe me at first about the love dart, the gypsobelum, that needle-sharp arrow made of calcium or cartilage. A snail or slug will shoot the dart from its body like a hormone-slick porcupine quill to subdue the object of its desire. Sometimes they don't believe me until the quiz, though I've drawn love darts on the board and explained how they can be long enough to pierce a semi-slug's foot, pinning her to the ground. A love dart can take an eye out. In all fifty states, it is against the law for a person to shoot anything resembling a love dart at another person, but there is no such law protecting the daughters of the animal kingdom."

Best Children's Book (tie):
Pax by Sara Pennypacker [2016] - Loyalty, friendship, survival. Alternating storylines between a boy and his pet fox. Cost of war to both humans and animals. Dramatic. Heartbreaking. Narrated by the youthful-sounding Michael Curran-Dorsano.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan [2015] - Unique. Enchanting. A magical harmonica links several stories that are otherwise historical realism. Undesirables in Nazi Germany. Orphans in the American Great Depression. Migrant workers and Japanese-Americans in post-Pearl Harbor California. Four talented narrators plus musical recordings combine to make this an outstanding audiobook.

Best Essays:
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay [2014] - A thought-provoking collection about definitions, human failings, and reconciling contradictions. Narrated by the talented Bahni Turpin.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Edmonton Book Club Enjoys A Year of Reading Local Authors

Cassie (left) is now deceased. There's a new
Bichon in her place: Thor. Nenette is not so
much of a party dog since this photo, but
still takes a turn in each lap during meetings.
My friend Maureen and I started "Two Bichons Book Club" (because we both have Bichon Frise dogs) in 2009. Up until this year, the only criteria we've had in choosing books for our group has been that they are written by women. In January 2016, we embarked on a special project: A Year of Reading Local. We've been enjoying it very much, and not only because of the Edmonton settings. Some members have commented that they had never read a local author before and had no idea that there was so much talent right here in Edmonton.

January: A Wake for the Dreamland by Laurel Deedrick-Mayne
          Friendship. Self-sacrifice. Closeted gays. Pacifism during wartime. Mental health. A moving story about two very young soldiers and the woman who loves them both. The trio of friends are well-drawn and the many details of daily life during the 1930s and '40s make the setting vivid. Special highlight: the author graciously attended our meeting. That's one of the perks of reading local. It was so interesting to hear about her research and it also deepened our appreciation for this wonderful novel.

February: Rumi and the Red Handbag by Shawna Lemay
          Reflective. Ethereal. Secrets. Through working together, a friendship develops between two women of different ages and backgrounds. Slim in size, but mighty in content. Women were observed hugging this book during our meeting. We took turns reading aloud our favourite parts. Gorgeous prose!

March: The Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea
           Multiple storylines converge in this novel about children with Down syndrome. Changing views about disabilities across decades. Ethical dilemmas. This book provoked so much discussion! Members reported buying copies for friends and colleagues.

April: The Sicilian Wife by Caterina Edwards
          Mystery regarding a double fatality car crash is the hook in opening scene. Multiple timelines and settings. Mafia. Girl striving for independence within traditional Sicilian family. Chauvinism faced by female police officers. Dysfunctional families. Most of us liked this quite a bit but the member who read it in ebook found it hard to follow.

June: Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium by Myrna Kostash
           Quest to learn why a Greek saint, known for killing Slavs, is popular with Slavic people. Memoir. Travel. Spiritual journey. I think I was the only member who made it all the way through this. Under 300 pages but dense with history and religion. On the plus side, I flagged many passages for discussion. Bonus: we shared a special Ukrainian meal in honour of the book.


July: Sistering by Jennifer Quist

October: A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail by Jenna Butler

November: Santa Rosa by Wendy McGrath

December: Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

It has been fun discovering new authors and there are many other titles that we could add to this list. Our project is going so well that we are considering continuing with it next year.

Please look for Two Bichons on Goodreads if you want to see what else we've read over the years.