Thursday, May 4, 2017

Books and a Busy April

Another month, another 30 books. Even though I read the same number of books in April as in March, this time I only rated 7 of them with five stars in Goodreads, while March had an amazing 15 of them. Before I tell you about some of the bookish highlights, I want to mention a couple of other April things.
Our house is still cheerful with art, a few days after the show.
We hosted an open house art show and sale of Laurie's art, and so our place still looks like a gallery. I love it. We forgot to put out clean towels and so our guests had to wipe their hands on their clothing (I guess) but other than that everything went well on the big day. Earlier in April, we went to a lot of Edmonton Poetry Festival events and I'm impressed with how the festival keeps getting better. Laurie performed her work at a couple of places and she keeps getting better too. (Ha!)

I also saw a wonderful theatre adaptation of Peter and the Starcatchers at the Citadel Theatre, and a whacked-out dance theatre adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, performed by Toy Guns Dance students. Both of those were a lot of fun.

Now, on to highlight some of the books, starting with stats:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 
[audiobook with multiple narrators: 7 hr 30 mn]
I expected this would make me cry. It didn't. I expected to love this audiobook. I did. So much so that I started again from the beginning after finishing it. Saunders has immense compassion for human frailties, while encouraging us to see the humour in those shortcomings. Lovely. The text loops and circles and dazzles. I wouldn't have guessed that a book about Abraham Lincoln's grief over the death of his child would be my favourite book of April, and quite possibly of the year so far.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, 
translated from German by Susan Bernofsky.
Revolutionary. Funny. Surprising. Surreal. Three generations of polar bears - interacting closely with humans - provide poetic, emotionally powerful viewpoints on personal relationships, culture, immigration, and politics.

The male members of the species Homo sapiens appealed to me a great deal. They were soft and small and had fragile but adorable teeth. Their fingers were delicately constructed, the fingernails all but nonexistent. Sometimes they reminded me of stuffed animals, lovely to hold in one's arms.

I wanted to wrap myself in the black woollen blanket of grief and brood over my clutch of sorrows until they hatched and flew away.

All of them were referred to as birds, even though the only thing they had in common was wings. the sparrow, a brown mixture of modesty and agitation, the blackbird with her unassuming humour, the magpie's painted mask, and the pigeon, who lost no opportunity to repeat her favourite motto: 'Really? How interesting. I had no idea!'

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 
[audiobook narrated by the author: 4 hr 44 mn].
This love story about refugees was even better than I had hoped. Ethical, believable characters. Excellent usage of the terms 'natives' and 'migrants,' emphasizing the common experiences of shifting world populations. The magic doors you may have heard about that are in this book are an unobtrusive plot device used in a similar way to the trains in Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Straightforward storytelling. Short and bittersweet.

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attentions still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable colour, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us. So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed each other's eyes in this new place.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis.
An adorable picture book with anthropomorphic insects and an invented language. I loved it so much I bought a copy to bring as a gift to Geneva next month, for twins who will soon be four years old. They live in a quadrilingual household, so this should be perfect!

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
An amnesiac child, a bizarre underground world, cheeses with killer attitude, wines that alter memories, a populace with faces blank of expression... this dazzling standalone fantasy has a twisty plot full of lies and deception. Ages 10-adult.

Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart
It's been five years since I first read this and it's every bit as good on rereading. Posy Simmonds says there's "no truer portrait of teenage and parental angst." I picked it up when I saw news that a film version is coming out.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
High school is hard enough for Jared without parents who deal drugs and party for days. Then there's the raven who talks to him, and the annoying patter of the fireflies over his girlfriend's head - no one else sees or hears them. If Jared really is the son of a supernatural being, why isn't his life better? Gritty, witty and full of heart.

They had a four-bedroom house, but when they were alone it felt like a one-room shack. She'd talk to him through the door when he was on the can. The red glow of her cigarette was his night light as she sat beside his bed in the darkness. He smelled her Craven Ms in his dreams. A trail of her texts followed him through his day.

Richie disappeared into the cabin and came back carrying an AK-47. [Jared's] mom squealed and clapped her hands. they took turns firing into the trunk of one of the target trees, which quivered until it creaked, cracked, then fell over.
"Tim-ber!" they yelled together.
"Normal people buy their trees from the Boy Scouts," Jared said. "Normal people don't hunt their Christmas trees down and kill them."

"I know all the change in Georgie's piggy bank." Crashpad's mom made a V of her fingers, pointing to her eyes and then to Jared.
What did you say to that? On the one hand, it was hilarious. On the other, how craptastic was your life when old ladies felt the need to threaten you with movie gangsterisms?

In for a Pound by SG Wong
An entertaining hard-boiled female detective mystery, set in an alternate 1930s Los Angeles in which North America's west coast was colonized by the Chinese, and where it's perfectly normal to be haunted by ghosts... except not against your will. Second in a series; it's not necessary to read them in order. Wong is an Edmonton author and my Two Bichons book club was graced with her presence at our meeting in April. What a treat!

And speaking of treats, how about some Coconut Macaroons (from Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky cookbook) topped with Candied Kalamata Olives (from Crossroads cookbook)? Trust me. It's a surprisingly good taste combination! I had fun playing with recipes in these two:  

Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky by Karlynn Johnson 
(from the Kitchen Magpie blog).
Contemporary takes on desserts from the mid-20th century. Signature ingredients: saskatoon berries; chocolate; brown sugar; salted butter. All the good stuff. Photos feature author's vintage Pyrex. 

Crossroads by Tal Ronnen
Mediterranean first, vegan second. Lots of steps, but all six of the recipes I tried turned out great. Signature ingredients: nutritional yeast flakes; Kite Hill almond milk cheeses (I don't think these are available in Canada); and milk made from soaked cashews.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Behold the Awesome Books of March 2017

March might have been my best reading month ever. Out of 30 books, I gave five stars to 15 of them. So many great books! Do I know how to pick them, or what? Read on for highlights.

(Strangely, titles and authors beginning with the letter "O" have been prominent in my reading life.)

Most Outstanding Prose: O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

If I describe this as a coming-of-age story set in mid-twentieth century Scotland, that sounds kind of ho-hum. It was Ali Smith's glowing recommendation that inspired me to pick it up, and then, as soon as I opened it and began to read about a teenager found lying dead on the stairs in her family's crumbling castle, I was hooked on the tale of what brought her to that point. Unforgettable.

"Pudding today was pink junket, the delicacy so relished by Miss Muffet; it reminded Janet of the blanching rabbits in the kitchen bowl, but she had perfected a way of ingesting it with almost no physical contact by tipping tiny fragments into the very back of her mouth and swallowing quickly. Soon the ordeal was over."

"Her name was dreadful too; all the others had names with some romance about them; even Rhona had a suggestion of inappropriate turbulence, a tawny river in flood rushing and foaming about its boulders. But Janet had nothing; its only possible association was with junket."

Best Essay: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

Will Schwalbe wrote that someone once told him that if you want to know what a book is really about, just read the last word. Manguso's thoughtful, gorgeous memoir is a chronicle of her journey through anxiety to mindfulness, and learning to trust in the future along the way. Last word of her main text: now- [with no further punctuation]. Last word of the afterword: faith. That worked! (Try it with something you've just finished.)

"And then I think I don't need to write anything down ever again. Nothing's gone, not really. Everything that's ever happened has left its little wound."

"Before I had the baby I remember feeling tired all the time. But after he joined me I could spend four days in two rooms, pyjama-clad, so tired I was almost blind."

"Living in a dream of the future is considered a character flaw. Living in the past, bathed in nostalgia, is also considered a character flaw. Living in the present moment is hailed as spiritually admirable, but truly ignoring the lessons of history or failing to plan for tomorrow are considered character flaws. I wanted to know how to inhabit time in a way that wasn't a character flaw."

Best Graphic Novel Fiction: One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

Two women use storytelling to outwit cruel and rapacious men. Scheherazade, a creation myth, a moon mother, the 12 dancing princesses... Greenberg draws on tales from around the world in this funny, feminist graphic novel, illustrated in a wood-cut style.

"These women must be charged with sorcery, witchcraft, reading and sassiness! Their behaviour is INTOLERABLE!"
"Lesson: Men are false. And they can get away with it. Also,
don't murder your sister, even by accident. Sisters are important."

Best Science Fiction: Infomocracy by Malka Older 
[audio 9 hr 49 min; narrated by Christine Marshall]

Cyberpunk. Political thriller. Global adventure. High-concept science fiction. However you classify this, it is compelling. If you like novels by William Gibson or Cory Doctorow, check this out.

"The Singapore hub was funded by the massive settlement accorded after People versus Coca Cola et al, the civil action when Americans realized that diet soda was depriving them of their right to be thin."

Best Nonfiction in Graphic Format: March, Book One 
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell

I've been meaning to read this for ages, then my YA book club picked it for March and also there was a "March in March" group project on Litsy, the social media app for readers (where I hang out a lot). It is outstanding. Early life and civil rights nonviolent activism of legendary American politician John Lewis. Emotionally difficult material, very well presented. Powerful artwork. Inspiring! There are two more volumes in this autobiography that I look forward to.

Best Nonfiction: Books for Living by Will Schwalbe 
[audio 7 hr; narrated by Jeff Harding]

Warm and inspiring. Will Schwalbe is my soulmate. We grew up in the same era. We're both queer. We both read books in search of answers about how to live our lives. We've read many of the same books. I only wish I could write as well as he does about the effect books have on our psyches.

"Has any book saved my life? I think it would be more accurate to say that books like James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room helped me choose my life. If it hadn't been for the books I read, I would have wound up with a life very different from the life I now lead. Books saved the life I have."

"You can leave the books that you don't like alone, and let other people read them." [quoting ancient scholar Yuan Chunglang.]

"The greatest gift you can give people is to take the time to talk with them about a book you've shared. A book is a great gift. The gift of your interest and attention is even greater."

Best Lesbian Fiction: Black Wave by Michelle Tea

Tea is a longtime favourite of mine and she is at the top of her game in this one. Vigorous, generous, lusty prose - that alone is enough to charm me through the gritty alcoholism, promiscuous sex and - sure, why not - heroin too. Michelle is pretty much the same herself as in her memoirs and autobiographical fiction... except in third person. Then, in the second part, she moves from San Francisco to LA and it gets even better - all meta and how-do-you-write-your-own-story. And then the apocalypse began.

"Imagine, to stop worrying about money! Michelle was born into such anxiety, it had been her placenta, the water breaking between her mother's legs, dollars and coins scattered on the ground."

"'What's the book even about?' Quinn asked. 'If you've removed the main story.'
Michelle wasn't sure. Couldn't a book just be about life? Me, My Alcoholism, I think. The Nineties. Being Poor. The Feeling Of It All."

"Quinn was only the latest to protest her inclusion in Michelle's story - which, basically, felt like protesting their inclusion in Michelle's life, which didn't feel great, honestly, and besides, what were they doing there, then? But even this tantrum was the last gasp of Michelle's bravado. She'd grown weary of feeling like her writing hurt the people closest to her."

Best Audiobook: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney [audio 9 hr; narrated by Xe Sands]

Loosely based on poet and advertising copywriter Margaret Fishback, the Lillian Boxfish of this novel is a character I adored: forthright and witty, yet also respectful and open-minded. Her life story unfolds of the course of a 10-mile walk through the streets of NYC on New Year's Eve 1984, when she's 85 years old. She has such great interactions with people along the way. Hooray for feisty old ladies!

"I thought at times that poetry might be an elegant way of screaming."

"For though I was raised Protestant, my true religion is actually civility. Please note that I do not call my faith 'politeness.' That's part of it, yes, but I say civility because I believe that good manners are essential to the preservation of humanity - one's own and others' - but only to the extent that that civility is honest and reasonable, not merely the mindless handmaiden of propriety."

Best Picture Book: Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka

I thought this Governor General award winner would be a retelling of Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House, because it starts off similar, but no. This is a much better version of happily-ever-after, because instead of having to leave an urban environment to find happiness, nature conquers the city. Yay! A subversive Canadian picture book that will make readers of all ages smile.
"Deer foraged in office lobbies. Rabbits burrowed under library carpets."
Best YA (tie): American Street by Ibi Zoboi 
[audio 8 hr 38 min; narrated by Robin Miles] and
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon [audio 8 hr; narrated by Dominic Hoffman, Raymond Lee and Bahni Turpin]

Similarities between these two:
  • perceptive 
  • poignant
  • Caribbean immigrant teens in USA
  • narrative structure incorporates tangential backstories of other characters
  • importance of family bonds
  • a light metaphysical touch: Fate, in Yoon's work; Haitian Vodou spirits in Zoboi's
  • a fierce, smart & determined young woman at the centre
Best Mystery: The Dry by Jane Harper 
[audio 9 hr, 48 min; narrated by Steve Shanahan]

Riveting and atmospheric multiple-murder mystery set in a small, drought-stricken Australian town.

Best Youth Nonfiction: Pride by Robin Stevenson

For age 9 and up. It's especially nice that this Stonewall Honor* award winner includes lots of young people in historical and world contexts. For example, we learn that trans woman Sylvia Rivera, who was in the first Stonewall riot, was kicked out of home and living on the street at age 10. A contemporary 12-year-old Canadian has filed a human rights complaint arguing for removal of gender designations from all birth certificates. Lots of bright photos celebrate diversity.
*Awarded by the American Library Association for GLBT books.

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!