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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

We watched the Spielberg adaptation of “The BFG” last night. I felt that it was really well done and true to what I remembered from reading the book many years ago. With that and the release of the Netflix adaptation of Daniel Handler’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”, I got to thinking about how wonderful children’s literature can be. Indeed, the best children’s fiction can be enjoyed by adult readers. When J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books were first published, a woman I worked with, in her late thirties at the time, who was a non-reader, really got into reading them. Good writing gets people reading.

In regards to the film adaptation of “The BFG”, the best part was that both of my step-sons were engrossed in the story, despite the protagonist being a little girl! But this is Roald Dahl’s style: he wrote stories that appealed to both girls and boys alike. I have also always liked that the juvenile characters in Roald Dahl’s work are so strong: it gives strength the reader. In “The BFG” it really is Sophie that shows the BFG how to be strong. It was also wonderful to hear Dahl’s ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’ made-up, vocabulary on the screen.

Another thing about Dahl’s work in general is that much of it is quite subversive in it’s own way. In “The Twits”, the birds, usually destined to end up in Mrs. Twit’s bird pie, band together and outwit Mr. and Mrs. Twit. In “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, Mr. Fox saves his family and home, from three evil farmers, though it broke my heart, as a child, that he lost his beautiful brush. “The Magic Finger” is about an 8-year-old girl who uses her magic finger against people that upset her and make her “see red”. She detests hunting and by pointing her magic finger at them, she turns her duck-hunting neighbours into ducks and makes them mend their ways. (Of note, this was the first book I read that was written in first person.) I also recently watched “Matilda” (I have never read the book) in which Matilda has to overcome horrible parents (played magnificently by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) and an evil headmistress. Certainly Dahl’s work teaches us that not all adults, even parents, grandparents and teachers, are nice and kind. It is nice to see this, as well as the broad appeal, in other popular children’s books such as J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and Daniel Handler’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”. Certainly, not everyone in real life is nice and will be kind to you. It was a shock, even as an adult, to see Matilda’s parents, not just willingly, but gleefully, giving up Matilda for adoption by Ms. Honey, however, we see this in a less simplistic sense when children are given up on in real life through choices that their parents make.

Some may say Dahl’s child characters are insubordinate and that isn’t something that should be incited in children – for example, in “George’s Marvellous Medicine” George basically poisons his grandmother (I will never forget Rik Mayall’s hilarious “Jackanory” narration of this story!), however my grandmother lived to see 93 and neither my brother or I, after reading this book, felt the need to whip up a ‘marvellous medicine’ to give to her! (It probably helped that our grandmother was nice, unlike George’s.)

I was fortunate to come from a book-loving home. I can’t say the school system helped foster my love of reading though with the assigned reading they implemented. I have never forgotten not being allowed to read “Super Gran” by Forrest Wilson (I was about 8 I think), until I had finished the Ladybird “Jane and Peter” series, books that, even at that young age, I found rigid in their gender roles (that is another blog post!). There was an abundance of great children’s literature out there in the late 70s and early 80s that encouraged kids to read. I loved Jill Murphy’s “Worst Witch” series as well as the “Arabel and Mortimer” books by Joan Aiken (illustrated by Quentin Blake, who also illustrated most of Roald Dahl’s books) and then there were older books such as the “Paddington Bear” books by Michael Bond and the pirate stories of Sheila K. McCullagh. There continues to be an abundance of great children’s fiction as writer’s who grew up on the likes of Dahl craft and publish their own stories. It is authors such as these that foster a love for reading from an early age. Authors such as Dahl also do this but perhaps take things a little bit further. I feel that reading Roald Dahl’s work at an early age, helped me to develop an inquiring mind, to begin to question social issues. (Which has been reflective in my choice of reading material ever since.) Books as a sort of rebellion – most fellow bookworms can remember getting into trouble for reading in math class or when they were supposed to be sleeping! But the biggest rebellion is the acquisition of knowledge because with knowledge is strength and power. It all starts with a great children’s book.

 

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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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Many of us have wondered if the concept of reincarnation is real; have we lived before in other lifetimes? I am sure that some of us have also wondered if that beloved family pet from childhood could perhaps be reborn and once again be a part of our world. I know that I certainly have. Cameron explores these ideas and more 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 welfare issues.

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). Like Black Beauty, the dog in Cameron’s novel is a product of its birth and fate-driven journey of life, in which serendipity sometimes somes into play. The novel is not subtitled “A Novel for Humans” for nothing: are we also not products of our birth and how much control over our life do we actually have? Black Beauty and the dog in its various incarnations are at the mercy of the human world and there is no argument that we have a lot more control over our existence than they do, the question is just how much. A Dog’s Purpose is about interpersonal relationships between people (whether canine or human) and how we (even a humble dog) can create change, hopefully better, in someone else’s world.

A quick, page-turning read that I couldn’t put down. A must-read for anyone that shares their life with dogs.

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1. The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric (2010)

I could not put this book down. I love historical fiction especially if it is somewhat dark as this one is. Set in the 19th Century, this is a novel about the Fasan family of Venice and the convent Santa Catalina in Arequipa, Peru. I reviewed this book in more detail in a previous blog post but it was certainly my favourite novel of all the ones that I read in 2011.

2. The Wideacre Trilogy – Philippa Gregory (1987-1990)

After over 20 years, it was time to re-read these favourites and they still remain three of my favourite Philippa Gregory novels. The Wideacre Trilogy comprises three novels – Wideacre, The Favoured Child and Meridon. I reread Wideacre and The Favoured Child in 2011 and will be rereading Meridon soon. Set in 18th Century England, the trilogy follows the saga of the Lacey family, set in motion by the ambitions of Beatrice Lacey who wants nothing more than to be Squire of Wideacre, her family estate. However, due to her gender and the laws of entail, this is not possible and so begins Beatrice’s scheme to plot her father’s death and manipulate her brother in order to control the estate.  The saga continues through the coming of age of Julia and Richard, heirs to Widecare, in the sequel The Favoured Child and through the story of Meridon, the Romany girl in the final novel in the series.

3. The Stormchasers – Jenna Blum (2010)

The Stormchasers explores the reconciliation between estranged twin siblings Karena and Charles and their confrontation of a terrible secret from their past. Charles suffers from bipolar disorder and the storms that he chases mirror his inner turmoil. I gave a more in depth review of this novel in a previous blog post, however, though not a beach book, definitely my favourite read from the summer of 2011.

4. Life of Pi – Yann Martel (2002)

Extraordinary novel about a young East Indian boy trapped on a life boat with an adult Bengal tiger, a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena and an orangutan. Thoroughly enjoyable and I liked the fact that it was not a predictable read but kept you turning the pages.

5. Once… –  James Herbert (2001)

The protagonist of the story, Thom, returns to his childhood home after suffering a stroke. Shortly after he discovers the faery world, which he, as he eventually discovers, is descended from on his father’s side. In true fairy tale fashion, enter the wicked witch, who plots against Thom. Thom has to figure out why all these strange and dangerous things are happening to him and fight against the forces of evil. A modern, erotic fairy tale for adults, this novel is different from Herbert’s previous straight horror works (such as the Rats Trilogy), however it still has grisly details that we expect from this author.

6. The Sinner – Tess Gerritsen (2004)

This is the third Tess Gerritsen novel I have read, the other two being The Keepsake  and The Apprentice.  I would recommend these books to fans of gruesome forensic thrillers. Featuring the characters of Medical Examiner Maura Isles and Detective Jane Rizzoli, this book did not disappoint.

7. The Darkangel Trilogy – Meredith Ann Pierce (1982 – 1989)

I first read the first book in the trilogy, The Darkangel, as a teenager and was kind of mesmerized by it. Back then it was a book that stuck in my mind. These books can be quite hard to come by and I read The Gathering of Gargoyles  years later when I found it and the Darkangel in a used bookstore. I found all three novels in one volume a few years ago and was finally able to finish the trilogy with The Pearl of the Soul of the World. These are books that get a young adult interested in the fantasy genre.

8. Flashforward – Robert J. Sawyer (2000)

A scientific experiment causes the consciousness of all humans to flashforward into the future 21 years for two minutes, before coming back to the present day. This book certainly makes you think about what would happen if you could glimpse into the future and within it we see the characters struggling to come to terms with this knowledge.

9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling (2005)

Finally read book six in the Harry Potter series this year and once again Rowling delivered. I enjoy the detail that she puts into the world of Harry Potter. Looking forward to reading book seven soon and perhaps should not read them so far apart next time.

10. Birdman – Mo Hayder (2000)

Debut crime thriller set in London featuring the character DI Jack Caffery as sets out on the trail of a serial killer. A good thriller should keep you on the edge of your seat and this one certainly did. I am looking forward to reading more of her work.

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1. Fuck It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way – John Parkin (2010)

A humourous, Western expression of the Eastern philosophy of “letting go.”  Great for those of us who need to learn to not worry so much and live in stress about the “shoulds” of life and learn to say “fuck it!” once in a while and go with the flow.

2. The Glass Castle – Jeanette Walls (2006)

I couldn’t put this book down. This book is a memoir about an incredibly dysfunctional family and the bizarre happenings are almost too unbelievable to be true. Kudos to the author who was strong enough to escape her past to become successful in journalism.

3. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia – Elizabeth Gilbert (2007)

Overall I felt this was a great read about Gilbert’s quest for spiritual enlightenment as well as overcoming her life challenges. I felt that I was experiencing Gilbert’s adventures and the countries she was in along with her, however it did get a bit whiny at times, which is perhaps forgivable considering the book was ultimately about how she dealt with her divorce, depression and spiritual emptiness.

4. Self-Made Man – Norah Vincent (2006)

An intriguing book about a lesbian’s experiences in male culture whilst masquerading as a man for a period of time, during which she joins a men’s bowling league, stays at a monastery and attends an all-male retreat among other things. It was very thought-provoking in terms of what Vincent perceived in “male culture” in terms of gender difference and expectations as well as the relationship between the sexes.

5. God’s Lunatics: Lost Souls, False Prophets, Martyred Saints, Murderous Cults, Demonic Nuns, and Other Victims of Man’s Eternal Search for the Divine – Michael Largo (2010)

The title says it all. An A – Z of of bizarre people, beliefs and happenings throughout the history of faith.

6. Possible Side Effects – Augusten Burroughs (2006)

A collection of short memoirs from the author of “Running With Scissors.” Many of which, in true Burroughs style, are tragic but extremely funny at the same time.

7. A Royal Duty  – Paul Burrell (2003)

The autobiography of the butler of the late Princess Diana. Sympathetic to the royals, in particular Diana, and well-written, it gives us a window into the private world of the Royal Family. A must-read for anyone interested in the British monarchy, Royalist or not.

8. I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Heritage – Mary-Ann Kirkby (2010)

The memoir of a woman who grew up in a Manitoba Hutterite Colony but was then forced to adjust to living in the outside world when her family decided to leave the colony. A fascinating insight into a little known and often misunderstood culture and their traditions and issues, particularly in the changing world of the late 20th century.

9. Me: Stories of My Life – Katharine Hepburn (1996)

Stories about Kate, straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Very enjoyable.

10. If You Really Loved Me – Ann Rule (1992)

The first Ann Rule true crime book that I have read, this book details the murder of sociopath David Brown’s wife by his 14 year old daughter. The subsequent investigation of the case reveals that Brown masterminded the whole murder as well as 3 other unsuccessful ones. Ann Rule is a must-read for any true crime reader and I don’t know why I haven’t picked up her books before.

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I came across this book in a new age store in Canmore a couple of weeks ago. I was in Canmore for real estate matters and also to shop for Josh’s birthday present and a wedding gift for a wedding that coming weekend and I was feeling aggravated from work issues, plus I hate shopping for gifts when I only have so much time (and money).

Written by John C. Parkin, a 20 year practitioner of Eastern wisdom, “Fuck It” gives us a way to respond to our increasingly complicated and stressful Western lives. This book expresses Eastern spiritual concept of letting go and living in the now in a way that is inspiring and humourous.

One of the problems with people, myself included, is that we worry about everything too much and are always focusing on the “shoulds” and our problems and concerns, including what other people think of us and things that we have no control over. This is not helped by society as we are bombarded with guilt and “told” that we should live a certain way. There is the pressure to “keep up with the Jones’es” so to speak, guilt to reduce our carbon footprint, guilt to lose weight and eat right among other things.

The Fuck It Way tells us to say “Fuck It” to all this. It tells us that we should say “fuck it” to all the “shoulds” in our lives and do what we want and not care what other people think (as often what other people think, do and say is a result of their issues and inability to say “fuck it”). Now this does not mean that we are to give up being responsible or take on a life of crime, but rather to not micromanage our lives so much and be more accepting and in the “now” and not so fixated on outcomes. It is certainly true when they say “life is a journey and not a destination.”

My big “fuck it” moment was when I quit being a legal assistant to become a real estate agent and a year or so later I decided that I would always make sure that I did something I enjoyed. I said “fuck it” when I hired a cleaner, deciding that I would rather spend that time that would have been spent on housework playing music, riding or even enjoying a good book.

I still have a way to go as I stress over not exercising enough, eating right or spending enough time on my business – precious time better spent doing something else!

I recommend “Fuck it” for those looking to make some changes in their outlook on life and more information can be found at www.thefuckitway.com You can also take a “Fuck It Week” in Italy at the author’s retreat www.thehillthatbreathes.com

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In “The Stormchasers,” author Jenna Blum explores the reconciliation between estranged twin siblings Karena and Charles and their confrontation of a terrible secret from their past.

The novel begins in 2008 with Karena receiving a phone call to pick up her twin brother Charles, who suffers from bipolar disorder, from a psychiatric hospital in Kansas. The two siblings have not seen each other in 20 years and upon her arrival at the hospital Karena discovers that Charles has lied about his condition to the doctors, has been released and has disappeared.

So starts Karena’s search for her brother in which she joins a team of stormchasers in their travels, knowing that Charles will be where the storms and tornadoes are.

I loved how Blum’s novel marvelously contrasts the storms raging in the skies to the storms within Charles and Karena as well as their relationship with each other and Karena’s romantic relationship to Kevin (one of the stormchasers she meets up with at the beginning of her search).  It really gave the reader a sense of the intense power of human relationships as well as extreme weather.

“The Stormchasers” takes the reader on a journey with Karena across the American midwest and through her own and her brother’s psyches. In the beginning, it has a wanderlust feeling about it (which would certainly describe Charles), and Karena, it seemed, was at a point in her life where she needed to find herself; her search for her brother also being her search for her own self, a self that at the beginning seems rather stagnant and stuck in time, perhaps even the past.

A perfect read for hot summer nights, particularly those where you can see and hear the storms on the horizon….

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Set at the turn of the 19th century in Venice and Peru, The Book of Human Skin is a compellingly macabre and horrific read. I couldn’t put it down – just couldn’t stop turning the eloquently written pages!

Told through the eyes and experiences of five characters, this is a novel about the Fasan family of Venice and the convent Santa Catalina in Arequipa, Peru.  It follows the life journey of Marcella Fasan, younger sister to the insane and sadistic Minguillo, who seeks to slowly destroy his sister in any way he can, first just for the pleasure of it and then to ensure the Fasan fortune remains in his evil hands.  It is also a love story and the novel keeps the reader on edge as Minguillo keeps Marcella and Doctor Santo apart with walls and oceans.

Marcella’s journey takes her into the madhouse on the island of San Servolo located in the Venetian Lagoon and then finally to the convent of Santa Catalina in Arequipa, Peru, where she falls into the hands of the equally insane and sadistic nun Sor Loreta.

In Sor Loreta and Minguillo, Lovric has created characters with boundless villainy and I was kept on the edge of my seat wondering what these two would do next. Fleshing out these characters we are witness to their obsessions including Minguillo`s anthropodermic bibliophilia and Sor Loreta`s religious fanaticism and holy anorexia.

Reading this novel I really felt that I was transported back to 19th century Venice and Peru and in particular it really gave me a good picture of the convent of Santa Catalina. Both Venice and Peru are on my bucket list of places to travel too and explore and even more so now.

At the end of the novel Lovric provides us with some background information on the facts within the fiction.  As with any good historical novelist, Lovric has done her research and I finished the book wanting more and will be checking out her other work.

It has also left me hungry to learn more about some of the topics within (I am a bit of a history buff) and I will be checking out a couple of books Lovric cites at least, namely `Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Woman` by Catherine Bynum and `Holy Anorexia`by Rudolph M. Bell.

Definitely my favourite read of 2011 so far and on my favourite authors list.

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