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Archive for December, 2012

Non-fiction

1. At Home – Bill Bryson (2010)

Via a room to room tour of his home in the UK, Bryson takes us back in time to explore domestic and social history.  As with other Bill Bryson books that I have read, At Home is a very enjoyable and fascinating read. Full of wit, it shakes the dust off of history and brings it to life.  Definitely my favourite non-fiction read of 2012.

2. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution – Richard Dawkins (2009)

This very enjoyable and fascinating book should be a must read for anyone wanting to learn more about evolution and life on Earth. Since Darwin`s time science has made great progress in discovering more about how life on Earth has evolved over time through natural selection and Dawkins` very readable book explores the evidence for evolution very well to the modern reader. Written as a response to `history deniers` who deny that life on Earth evolved over billions of years, Dawkins cites some, in my opinion, very scary statistics, for example 44% of Americans believe that the Earth and life on it was created in its current form within the last 10,000 years by God. In light of this, as Dawkins himself writes, `this book is necessary.`

3. From This Moment On – Shania Twain (2011)

I was lucky enough to win this book from Simon & Schuster Canada on Facebook. I love biographies and I love memoirs and autobiographies even more. In From This Moment On, Twain comes across as down-to-earth and sincere. Her story is truly a rags to riches tale and reads somewhat like a V.C. Andrews saga  – indeed at one point she describes her childhood as a book called “Roots in the Cellar.” This is not to demean her autobiography in any way, however most of us cannot even begin to imagine the hardships the Twains went through in Northern Ontario. The result: a strong and determined woman who earned her way to the top of the music world, whilst keeping her feet on the ground. A must read for every Shania Twain fan, but even if you aren’t into her music, its still a great read about an interesting and even inspirational woman.

4. Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women of Afghanistan – Sally Armstrong (2002)

Armstrong’s book discusses the plight of women and girls in Taliban controlled Afghanistan at the turn of the 21st century. Armstrong’s book enlightens the reader giving a brief overview of Afghanistan throughout the centuries in order to provide us with a picture of the country at the time of writing. Sally Armstrong is often thought of being a national hero for helping to bring the story of these women to the world, however the true heroes of Armstrong’s book are Dr. Sima Samar and her peers who fought for women’s rights from under the Taliban’s rule. I have long believed that the strength of a nation is based on how women are treated, educated etc. and this book confirms that. Oppression of a people (not just women) is due to a lack of education and ignorance. Armstrong does not blame Afghanistan’s situation on Islam (as many do) but on the sect of illiterate men who have been brought up in a sect of hatred and oppression that ultimately has nothing to do with the teachings of the Koran. I am looking forward to reading the next book “Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots.”

5. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace….One School at a Time – Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (2006)

Mortenson, a registered nurse and mountain climber, after a failed attempt to reach the summit of K2, wound up lost and in the remote Pakistan village of Korphe. This inspired him to raise money to build a school for the village which in turn led to the formation of the Central Asian Institute to raise money and build more schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This book was a very interesting read, however I found out as I was nearly at the end of it, that there has been some controversy over the way the CAI is organized (how much of the money is actually used for humanitarian purposes and how many schools were actually built and being used for their purpose) and the truth behind Mortenson’s story about drifting into Korphe and promising to build a school. When facts are called into questions, it spoils the rest of the book to some extent as the reader then becomes concerned that there are more errors in the story.

However, controversy aside, this book reinforced what I already believed: that the path to a better world is through education of children, particularly girls, and that through education, extremism and bigotry can be suppressed, both in the western and Arabic worlds.

6. Falling For Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love – Anna David (2011)

Thirty-something and single, Anna David, like most women of the same age, wonders if she has made the right life choices, particularly when it comes to her personal life . She comes across a copy of Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown of Cosmopolitan magazine.  Sex was written in the 60s and David connected with it’s message of self-empowerment combined with femininity. Falling For Me is her journey to discover that ultimately she only has to fall in love with herself. An enjoyable read and I wish this had been written when I was single. It is interesting that so many of us women, including David herself, worry and fret so much about relationships with the opposite sex (or lack thereof) when really we need to learn to feel good about who we are.

7. Giant George: Life with the World’s Biggest Dog – Dave Nasser with Lynne Barrett-Lee (2012)

I am a sucker for memoirs and an even bigger sucker for memoirs about pets. Giant George tells the story of how Dave and Christie came to be the owners of not just the World’s Tallest Living Dog but the Tallest Dog Ever. The book goes on to detail George’s life from his puppy days to his Guinness win and the trials and tribulations between. As an owner of a big dog, I can relate, though George would dwarf Blue!

8. Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before – Jean M. Twenge PhD (2006)

A interesting read about the differences between the generations, mainly between Baby Boomers and what the author calls Generation Me (Generation X, Y and Millennials). I am not sure that I agree with lumping all three together as I do think there are differences between Generation X, Y and Millennials. Twenge’s ideas do make sense however and I did see myself and my peers as well as younger people in her discussions. Because I grew up for the most part in the UK in the 70s and 80s, I don’t think that I was given the same sense of entitlement as perhaps my peers were in North America, however this could also be a difference between Generation X and Millennials for example. At first the book was rather negative about GenMe however by the end it almost became a self-help for GenMe (afterall Twenge is GenMe herself) on how to deal with the real world after being raised in a school system that suggests that you can have it all and do no wrong.

9. The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! Of Homer – Irwin, Conard and Skoble (eds.) (2001)

A compilation of essays discussing The Simpsons, popular culture and philosophy. Some of the essays I found really interesting and others were somewhat dry. A great read for any Simpsons fan though.  A lot of people would not think that a show like the Simpsons would have any meaning, but this book proves otherwise (although it didn’t surprise me). The book is the second book in a series of books on popular culture and philosophy and I want to read some of these too.

10. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession – Daniel J. Levitin (2006)

Very interesting read, particularly if you are a musician. In this book Levitin discusses why we emotionally connect to the music we listened to as teenagers, how jingles, a.k.a. earworms, get stuck in our heads, and why it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make a virtuoso among other topics. Levitin looks at how music affects the brain and discusses the evolution of music.

Fiction

1. Gold – Chris Cleave (2012)

Gold is the story of three Olympic level cyclists, Zoe, Kate and Jack who met at a training camp at age 19. The book is set in the spring of 2012 as all three, at age 32, gear up to compete in the London Olympics. At the centre of the story is 8 year old Sophie, Kate and Jack’s very sick daughter. Cleave’s novel flashes back and forth between past and present, revealing intimate details of all their lives. This novel was a perfect read for an Olympic summer and it kept me turning the pages! Sophie was endearing and Zoe, though hard to like at first, was a very intriguing character and by the end I had more understanding for her and why she was the way she was. I won this book from Random House Canada on Twitter.

2. Up and Down – Terry Fallis (2012)

New Turner King hire, David Stewart, is thrown in the deep end in the world of PR when he finds himself on a huge project for NASA to vamp up public interest in the space program by sending an American citizen and a Canadian citizen into space to spend time on the International Space Station. In this page-turning story, Stewart negotiates dark waters to “use his head, but follow his heart” and not lose his job in the process. An often hilarious, but on the whole feel good story with a surprising heroine who never gave up her dreams. I won two copies of this book from Random House Canada – one on Goodreads.com and one on Twitter.

3. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini (2007)

Hosseini’s second novel is the story of two women (Mariam and Laila) coming of age in Afghanistan. The novel spans the last 30 or so years of Afghan history from the Soviet occupation to the rule of the Taliban and afterwards. Through his work, as with The Kite Runner, Hosseini provides the reader with an intimate view of everyday people in Afghanistan living within through the upheaval of the nation (to put it mildly). Mariam and Laila’s story was at time difficult emotionally to read as these are two women who suffer so much, particularly from their husband, the cruel Rasheed. Hope shines through however, particularly through the love of Laila and Tariq. This novel about courage and strength in the face of adversary, like it’s predecessor The Kite Runner, kept me engaged and turning pages until the end.

4. Room – Emma Donoghue (2010)

Room is the harrowing story of a woman who has been imprisoned in in converted garden for 7 years. What makes this book so brilliant and readable is that it is told through the eyes of her 5 year old son, Jack, who has known nothing in his short life except for Room, where he was born. Life through Jack’s eyes within Room and Outside, once they make their escape, is a breath of fresh air. This novel would not have been the same if Donoghue had chosen to tell Ma’s story through first or third person.

5. Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter (2012)

The title and the picture on the cover, as well as the connection to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor,  attracted me to this book and as I started to read my way through it I was pleasantly surprised with the journey that the author took me on as it was not how I imagined the story would unfold. Spanning 50 years and more and set in 1960s coastal Italy as well as modern day Hollywood and other places in between, Walter tells his story in fragments, flipping back and forth from the past to the present as the story is unveiled. Walter’s characters are “beautiful ruins” – three dimensional, fragile and all too human.  I won a copy of this book on Twitter from Simon & Schuster Canada.

6. Meridon – Philippa Gregory (1990)

The final book in the Wideacre trilogy follows the coming of age of Sarah Lacey, who, after being raised with gypsies as Meridon, with her sister Dandy, join a travelling performing show. Meridon as a horse trainer and trick rider and Dandy as a trapeze artist. Meridon is haunted by dreams about a place called “Wide” which deep down she knows is home. After Dandy is killed in a trapeze accident, Meridon leaves the travelling show and finds herself finally at Wideacre. A fabulous conclusion to Gregory’s fabulous historical trilogy.

7. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson (2008)

Page-turning! Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired to investigate the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a member of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families and is aided by Lisbeth Salander. The two uncover a lot more than they had bargained for. This is probably one of the best thrillers that I have read in a while and it kept me on the edge of my seat and turning the pages. Can’t wait to read the next one. I received this book for free from Chatelaine Magazine.

8. A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron (2010)

I think that we have all wondered if reincarnation is real and if that beloved family pet from childhood could perhaps be reborn and once again be a part of our world. Cameron explores these ideas in A Dog’s Purpose, a heart-warming, touching and often amusing novel about a dog that seeks it’s purpose over several lifetimes. Told through the dog’s eyes, I was reminded of Anna Sewell’s 19th century classic Black Beauty in a way as Cameron certainly brought to light issues in regards to the relationship between humans and dogs – for example love and loyalty between human and animal as well as animal neglect and abuse. With his use of one dog’s soul over several lifetimes (the dog can remember past lives) , Cameron goes one step further to explore more existential questions such as why we (or dogs) are here and what is our purpose (if any).  A quick, page-turning read that I couldn’t put down. A must-read for anyone that shares their lives with dogs.

9. Triggers – Robert J. Sawyer (2012)

Robert J. Sawyer, writes excellent contemporary science fiction. Triggers, which is also a bit of a political thriller set in a post-9/11 world where terrorists have continued strikes on US soil, was one of those novels that was hard to put down. During experimental treatment for PTSD, a power surge caused by the White House being bombed, enables memory-sharing of those in the immediate vicinity, including the President of the USA who is in surgery following an assassination attempt. The story that follows explores the “what ifs” of memory-sharing between people as the Secret Service races to find the one who shares the President’s memories as well as treacherous colleagues in on the assassination plot. I enjoy novels such as this that involve thought-provoking ideas about human consciousness. Very well done! I won this book from Penguin Canada on Twitter.

10. NW – Zadie Smith (2012)

“NW” is the story of three people that grew up on a housing estate in northwest London, friends Natalie and Leah, and Felix. Natalie and Leah, though living not too far from where they grew up, now inhabit a different world from that which Felix stayed within. “NW” is a novel of how the past can haunt the present through chance encounters with people from the past. I enjoyed how Smith told each of their stories and how each story was intertwined in some way or another. I won this book from Penguin Canada on Goodreads.com.

Humour

1. The Internet is a Playground: Irreverent Correspondences of an Evil Online Genius – David Thorne (2011)

Collection of emails and articles from Thorne`s website http://www.27bslash6.com
Many of these had gone viral and include the infamous “Overdue Account” and “Missing Missy” emails. The “Missing Missy” emails are my favourite. Possibly the funniest book I have read all year, it was bought for me by my brother who has been into David Thorne for a while. Whilst reading several of the articles, I thought “why didn’t I think of that.” However, I don’t think I would want to actually encounter David Thorne. There is a second volume out now and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

2. I Am Better Than Your Kids – Maddox (2011)

This was a Christmas present from my brother to Josh. Truly hilarious! This book containing children’s work graded and commented on by Maddox. It all started with his website http://maddox.xmission.com/ In some ways the same kind of humour as David Thorne. More hilarious pictures and captions at http://www.iambetterthanyourkids.com/  I now want to read his first book The Alphabet of Manliness

3. The New New Rules: A Funny Look at how Everybody but Me has their Head up their Ass – Bill Maher (2011)

Book version of Maher’s “New Rules” segment on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Organized A-Z, this is the author’s hilarious, cheeky and often telling look at the world today. I’ve liked his work since watching Religulous.

4. Seniors’ Discount, Home Sweat Home and Just a Simple Wedding – Lynn Johnston (2008, 2009)

Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse comic strip has always been one of my favourites. I started reading the strip when I came to Canada at age 15 and collected the books for a while. I recently decided to reread them all in order. Different from other strips in that the characters age (though she has stopped this of late), Johnston also details with social issues such as attitudes to homosexuality – remember the controversy when Michael’s friend Lawrence  was revealed to be gay? (That actually got Johnston’s strip removed from some newspapers in the States). Seniors’ Discount and Home Sweat Home are later books in the series and still has the charm of the previous books. Just a Simple Wedding is the last book in the series and Johnston wraps up the “saga” quite nicely by finally marrying off Elizabeth to Anthony.

5. I Hate Everything – Matthew DiBenedetti (2010)

Compendium of “I hate” statements, for example “I hate stupid souvenirs” followed by “I hate when people don’t bring me back a souvenir.” The statements are also accompanied by simple but whimsical drawings. It was delightful to read as most people could relate to most of the statements, most of which are about the mundane things in life that annoy us as well as contradictory feelings that we have over certain things in life.

6. Earth: A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race – The Daily Show, Jon Stewart (2010)

Set out as a guidebook for alien visitors to Earth after humanity’s demise, Earth is a hilarious look at human civilization from the past the present.

7. Poetry for Animals – I. H. Smythe (2011)

Whimsical collection of poems for animals and humans age 12 and up. This is a very different collection and as well has being quite funny, they also make you think.

8. The Last Testament: A Memoir by God – David Javerbaum (2011)

The title says it all. In his memoir, God looks back at the Old and New Testaments as well as the Koran, putting to rights confusion in the interpretations and explaining why he did the things he did. Very tongue in cheek and quite hilarious in parts.

9. The Book of Awesome – Neil Pasricha (2010)

This book started out as a blog where the author posted about all the simple pleasures that make us smile everyday. It certainly made me smile.

10. How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You – The Oatmeal/Matthew Inman (2012)

This book is a hilarious compilation of cartoons regarding cats from theoatmeal.com including gems such as “6 Ways to Tell if Your Cat Thinks it’s a Mountain Lion” and “Cat vs. Internet.”

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