2.28.2015

STACKING THE SHELVES | #61


Time to look at the books I added to my shelves this week with Stacking the Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews! Not necessarily books I bought - also includes books I borrowed, was given or otherwise ended up with. Weeks I don't buy any books I'll scramble around my shelves and find some I haven't shared in an StS post yet!



The Marauders - Tom Cooper
The Shadow Cabinet - Maureen Johnson
Redeployment - Phil Klay

What di d you guys add to your shelves this week? Have you read any of these? Share your thoughts in the comments!

2.26.2015

BOOK THOUGHTS ON THURSDAY | READING ONLY BLACK AUTHORS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH - YAY OR NAY?


The world of books is never boring. Every week (well, most weeks) I'll discuss a different topic related to books, often inspired by or in response to what's going on in the online book community (or something I've seen another blogger talk about). I call this Book Thoughts on Thursday. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, or even write your own post on the topic and share the link with me! 

***

When I was in college we had a "Women's Room." This was intended as a safe space for women to retreat to - whether to eat in private (I remember being told that some religious women's beliefs stopped them eating in public), discuss personal topics (from eating disorders to rape) or to just take a quiet moment for ourselves. It was a place where we felt safe and comfortable.

Inevitably, in one of our Women's Studies classes, the topic came up and some men in the class asked, "Okay, but why don't we get a Men's Room then?" It's a fairly obvious question, and on the surface, it seems a fair idea. But the teacher's response really made us stop and think. She pointed out that, because of systemic sexism and our patriarchal society, the entire world is the Men's Room.

Obviously this is a vast simplification of a variety of very complex issues (not all men fit into patriarchal norms, not every country in the world has the same gender roles we do, etc.), but it was a very interesting point.

This came to mind earlier when I read a Book Riot article entitled "A Defense of Teaching Black Authors During Black History Month (and At All Other Times)" about whether teachers should continue to teach white authors during Black History Month. In it the author discusses whether there is an argument to be made for teaching black authors, but still teaching other more common "classic" authors simultaneously. I think this sentence most sums up the argument for giving minority writers room to breathe:
"There shouldn’t be an issue with teaching Black writers or any other writers from marginalized communities in isolation because we have been isolated from critical thought and theory for far too long."
There is no doubt that there are brilliant works by writers from all backgrounds and cultures. Including white, western ones. But historically, due to both cultural differences in how stories were told and passed on, literacy rates, and racial bias in terms of measuring the value of writers' works, it is primarily white authors whose works were published and have therefore been preserved and passed into "classic" status.

As we address the cultural norms and historical context that have robbed us of a huge amount of cultural capital, one of the important (and sometimes difficult) steps is purposely re-focusing our attention on those authors whose works have been neglected, and making space specifically for them. This may mean dedicating time to a specific gender, racial or social group, or it may mean choosing to pass over some of the classics by white (predominantly male) authors in favour of those by minorities. I think the reaction this can evoke, of feeling like we're cutting something out when we purposely avoid white "classic" male authors, is a powerful measure of just how pervasive this collective voice has been.

My hope is that over time, the voices that have been silenced will become as much a part of our cultural fabric as what we have traditionally seen to be "classic" literature. I hope that we will not always need to correct our biased cultural lens by setting aside time for one or more minorities to shine. But while our cultural landscape is still skewed, I don't think it's too much to ask that we make an effort to devote our attention as much to minority writers as we do to acknowledged classics.

I'm curious to know what you guys think - do you feel like we need reminders to read more diversely? If you're a teacher, would you feel restricted if asked to focus on books by black authors for a month? Are there other perspectives I haven't considered? Join the discussion in the comments!

2.25.2015

MY WEEK ON WEDNESDAY | #1



Wednesdays used to be when I participated in a link-up by the name of WWW Wednesdays, hosted by Should Be Reading blog. But for weeks there has been no link up post, and I suspect this one is no longer. So I decided perhaps it's time to come up with my own weekly feature that serves the same purpose. I'll start off going over the same questions (what I read in the past week, what I'm reading now and what's up next) but I might add in some cool stuff I found on the internet or something I've read on another blog that really piqued my interest. Open up the format a bit, you know? So without further ado, here we go!

Just shelved:


While I was on vacation I had a rather predictable urge to re-read Harry Potter. I normally try to force myself to resist, but this time I went with it. And it was everything I knew it would be. Currently struggling with the urge to continue re-reading!

Currently reading:



These are both review copies. In traveling and then wrapping up my old job, I haven't had time for reading as much as I'd like in the past few weeks, and I'm a bit behind. But I'm making good progress in both of these and hoping to be all caught up soon! Of the two I'm really enjoying One More Thing. Hilarious, smart and creative.

Next up on the TBR list:



I'm also VERY behind in my Green Gables Read-Along (sorry, Lindsey!) so I have to get stuck into the Anne books. But I've also got so many other books I'm really looking forward to reading, so it's going to be hard to focus! I haven't found time for the new Veronica Mars book yet, and I still want to finish Island Beneath the Sea which I began while on vacation.

Cool stuff I came across this week:



This week's Top Ten Tuesday was "Favourite Literary Heroines." Hermione was one of my first picks, obviously. Then I came across this and it was perfect.

In other news:


My friend Julianne over at Outlandish Lit nominated me for an award! I'm currently working on a whole post on the topic, but go check her out - and THANK YOU, JULIANNE!

That's it for this week! Let me know if you like the new format, and if there's anything you'd like to see more or less of in my weekly roundup! I'm open to suggestions and feedback! And, as always, share what you've been reading/doing in the comments!

2.23.2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY | FAVOURITE LITERARY HEROINES


This week's Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish is: Favourite Literary Heroines. I often have trouble cataloguing the books I've read and characters I've met in my mind. But there are always those few brilliant characters who stick with you as if they were flesh and blood. Here are a few of mine:

http://austenprose.com/2009/08/14/jane-austen-allusions-in-i-capture-the-castle-by-dodie-smith/

Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

This is one of the most whimsical, quirky, heart-warming stories I've ever read. And I've read it several times. It's the lesser-known book by the author of 101 Dalmations, but I think it had more of an impact on me than most books I read as a teenager.

https://www.tumblr.com/search/hermione%20punch

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Well I mean come on. Who doesn't love Hermione? She's smart, brave, loyal and punches Malfoy in the nose. Best. Moment. Ever.

http://favim.com/image/1871124/

Hazel Grace from The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

When I was 13, after several weeks of getting sicker and sicker, I was diagnosed with diabetes. It's not cancer, but it still sucked. I remember waking up in hospital, I remember the worry etched on my parents' faces. I remember realizing my life would never be the same again, and that this medical condition would irrevocably change me. But I still can't imagine going through what Hazel Grace and her family did. It takes incredible courage, and I will forever be in awe of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters.

http://www.alicemarvels.com/archives/Author_Corner-detail/horde-blog-tour-how-to-redeem-a-villain-by-ann-aguirre

Deuce from the Razorland series by Ann Aguirre

She's a total badass, and not only that, but she's a believable badass. I loved her character development and that she never gave up being a warrior, even when those around her didn't value her abilities. She's a great role model and her stories were epic.

http://brightestyoungthings.com/articles/best-weekend-bets-221.htm

Veronica Mars from the Veronica Mars series by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

I mean, honestly. This girl is my fictional best friend. I love her spunk, her witty repartee, her friendships and her skills. MAD skills. I basically wish I WAS her.

http://funny-pictures.picphotos.net/the-silver-linings-playbook-oscar-rivals-january-19-screenshot-1/edgecast.metatube-files.buscafs.com*uploads*videos*image*image_168359_1.jpg/

Tiffany from The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I wasn't sure about Tiffany at first. It took a while to understand where she was coming from and why she was behaving the way she did. But in the end, I was won over. Life isn't easy. Sometimes you feel like it has broken you, or that you don't have anything left to fight for. But somehow you have to find the strength to go on living, even if in doing so you alienate those who have never been where you are. The trick is not to apologize for your dreams, to find people worth your loyalty, and not to let the tough moments in life beat you.


Laureth Peak from She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

This chick flew halfway around the world to look for her missing dad... and she's a teenage blind girl with a little brother to take care of. She's brave, she's tough, and she is definitely someone you'd want on your side.

http://www.studentbeans.com/mag/en/news/kick-ass-female-characters-you-shouldn-t-mess-with

Matilda Wormwood from Matilda by Roald Dahl

I fell in love with Matilda when I first read the book as a child. She was one of the first reflections of myself I found in literature. Her story was inspirational and she's a wonderful role model for book-loving young girls.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8127.Anne_of_Green_Gables

Anne Shirley from the Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

Oh, Anne. Sometimes too hot-headed for your own good, often doing silly things because you refuse to let anyone get the better of you, and half the time living in a different world created entirely by your imagination. One of my first literary best friends, and always a favourite.

http://www.moviefancentral.com/quidditchmom/blogs/coraline-gif-party

Coraline from Coraline by Neil Gaiman

It's been a long time since I read Coraline, but I remember being really impressed with how well Gaiman captures the character of young Coraline. She's adventurous, brave and spunky.

There are so many more literary female characters over the years who have come to life as I read and have become part of my mental landscape (Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy, Sara Crewe, Austen's ladies...). Role models and kindred spirits, I will always be grateful to their authors for making my world a bit more vivid, and at times, a lot more bearable.

What about you guys? Which heroines struck a chord and stayed with you? Share in the comments!

2.22.2015

THE SUNDAY REVIEW | ZEITOUN - DAVE EGGERS


The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.
- Goodreads


------

New Orleans isn't like other cities. I mean, there's the obvious: the music, the food, mardi gras, jazz funerals... all the things that you associate with The Big Easy. But there's a foundation upon which all these things were built, a foundation that is both socio-political and geographical. It is a city built on extremes that somehow still thrives. Socio-politically speaking, the cultural influence is obvious. It was one of the major ports for both the slave trade and all kinds of smuggling, not to mention the landing point for immigrants from all kinds of backgrounds and countries.

It is also built between two major bodies of water - Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi. Not only that, but much of the city is below water level. Being in a part of the world that is also prone to hurricanes, New Orleans is a city that faces the possibility of annihilation one season out of every year.

Something about how the culture of the city has evolved around and through these factors has made it a thoroughly unique place.

As you guys probably know, I visited New Orleans for the first time a few weeks ago. Traveling to a new place always leads me to seek out books about or set in that city. But with New Orleans, my desire to re-visit it after coming home has been much stronger than usual. As a result, when my boss recommended Zeitoun, I pounced on it. We went on a Katrina tour while we were there, and I was curious to learn more about the hurricane - what made it different from others that hit the city, why people decided to stay in New Orleans and what it was like.

Zeitoun is the story of a man who stayed in New Orleans during the hurricane and his family, who did not. Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Muslim who was born and raised in Syria. He grew up in a large family, many of whom took to the ocean (Abdulrahman included) to see the world. He traveled for much of his young adulthood before finally settling in New Orleans. Shortly thereafter he met his wife, Kathy, originally from Baton Rouge and a convert to Islam. He eventually set up his own home repair business and slowly, with the help of his wife, built up his business and became a vital member of his community.

Not a man to give up easily or take the easy way out, when Hurricane Katrina was heading towards New Orleans, Zeitoun was determined to stay in town. He had clients and friends who relied on him to prepare their homes for the weather, and he wanted to be on hand in case he could help anyone during the storm. Kathy packs up the kids and heads to stay with family.

When the hurricane hits, Zeitoun isn't too concerned. He's been through worse, and he has no doubt that he'll be fine. His house is well-stocked and sturdy. He waits it out. When the winds finally die down, he is pleased that other than some leaks, the house isn't in bad shape. He expects his family will be able to return within a couple of days, and when he next talks to Kathy, he gives her the good news.

He goes to bed at night, and by the next morning, the water has begun to rise. This isn't normal post-hurricane flooding. A levee has broken. He moves as much of their valuables to the top of the house as he can, and watches as the water rises.

Eventually the water stops, but the most difficult times are still to come. With a small rowboat he bought in a yard sale, Zeitoun patrols the neighbourhood, helping transport those who are stranded and get help for those who are trapped or disabled. Over the next several days he continues to help where he can, using the landline in a building he owns and rents out to keep in touch with Kathy. Finally, he reaches a point where he knows there's nothing more he can do. He is ready to leave the city and join his family to wait for the water to recede.

But before he can make his way to land, he is erroneously arrested by a patrol of police and military, thrown into a makeshift jail in the parking lot of a Greyhound station, and then transported to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center where he is held for nearly three weeks without medical attention, a single phone call to his family or legal counsel. He is treated brutally and stripped of dignity, all because of a misunderstanding that led to him being arrested on his own property.

------

The book is narrative non-fiction, based on a true story, yet told as engagingly as the best novels. I was completely hooked from the first chapter, and could barely force myself to put it down. It left me with a lot of questions, both about how the hurricane caused such damage, and about how things got so bad in the days following the floods.

If you're interested in learning more about Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, or just interested in reading first-person accounts of true events, I'd definitely recommend reading this book, but before you do, watch this video because it will give you an idea of what it was like to be in New Orleans during Katrina:



I warn you that neither this video nor Zeitoun are easy going. The images are shocking and the stories chilling, and the reality of surviving a disaster of this magnitude is unsettling. But there are aspects you don't even think about that will shock you the most.

For me, it was the animals. New Orleans is full of them - dogs, cats - even the horses that pull tourist buggies through the French Quarter. Many of these animals were abandoned, and many died trapped in houses or trying to swim through polluted, fast-moving waters. If you know me at all, you know what a sucker I am for our furry friends, so this was almost harder for me than the destruction. It was worth it, but you've been warned - it's not easy going.

This was the first of Eggers' books I've actually managed to get all the way through. I'm not sure if it was the subject matter, that the story was non-fiction, or just that I haven't given his books a fair shot in the past, but I was impressed by his story-telling. I'll definitely be picking up some of his other works in the future.

------

Book Title: Zeitoun
Author: Dave Eggers
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Vintage
Released: June 15, 2010
Genre: Narrative Non-Fiction, Biography, Natural Disaster, Survival
Pages: 337
Date Read: February 7-10, 2015
Rating: 8/10

2.21.2015

STACKING THE SHELVES | #60


Time to look at the books I added to my shelves this week with Stacking the Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews! Not necessarily books I bought - also includes books I borrowed, was given or otherwise ended up with. Weeks I don't buy any books I'll scramble around my shelves and find some I haven't shared in an StS post yet!


Chasing the Devil's Tail - David Fulmer
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Almost Famous Women - Megan Mayhew Bergman

And thanks to Random House of Canada, I got another lovely book in the mail:


The Half Brother - Holly LeCraw 

I'm excited to read Chasing the Devil's Tail, which is the first in a series of mysteries set in New Orleans. And with Harper Lee's new novel coming out later this year, I've decided it's time to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird. I couldn't find my copy, so I picked up the 50th anniversary edition. Almost Famous Women sounds like a fascinating read that I can't wait to dive into, and I'm already into The Half Brother, which I've heard mixed reactions to, but am enjoying so far.

What about you guys? Add any exciting new reads to your shelves this week? Have you read any of these? Share in the comments!

2.16.2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY | BOOK PROBLEMS


This week's Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish is: Top Ten Book Related Problems I Have. Well, I'm not sure if these are exactly problems...

1. Time

http://gifsoup.com/view/4680802/running-out-of-time.html

 Never having enough to read as much as I want, 
and knowing I'll never finish my TBR

2. When other bloggers get ARCs of books I cannot wait to read

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessk6/your-animated-gif-guide-to-the-walmart-strike-85cj
And I have to keep on waiting for the release date

3. Sticking with books I can't get into

http://memeguy.com/photo/73786/mrw-my-gps-decided-to-make-me-drive-through-new-york-city-for-the-first-time
 But I feel like I have to finish them because they're 
review copies or everyone seems to love them

4. When other bloggers have read 3+ books in the past week

http://giphy.com/gifs/loki-really-XL2PqYwyU9tiU
And I'm still on #1

5. Trying to find room on my bookshelves

https://www.tumblr.com/search/cat-on-bookshelf
And looking for a particular book that isn't in the front layer

6. Buyer's remorse

http://musesoftheminds.tumblr.com/post/103188879587/scandal-finale-review
When I see a nicer cover on a new edition of 
a book I already own

7. Finding the right words to express how I feel about books in reviews

http://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/most-annoying-things-about-working-in-an-office
If I like the book I can't express my love adequately, 
if I didn't like I get stressed out about saying bad things

8. Getting rid of books...

https://tvrecappersanonymous.wordpress.com/category/glee/
 .... any books, ever. Even ones I didn't like.

9. Reading a book everyone else likes...

http://memeguy.com/photo/73786/mrw-my-gps-decided-to-make-me-drive-through-new-york-city-for-the-first-time
...and not getting why they loved it so much

10. Never being able to read my favourite books again for the first time

http://memeguy.com/photo/73786/mrw-my-gps-decided-to-make-me-drive-through-new-york-city-for-the-first-time
And being jealous of my friends who haven't read them yet

Oh, the difficulties of being a book lover! The torment never ends.

What about you guys? What bookish problems did I forget? Share in the comments!

2.15.2015

THE SUNDAY REVIEW | A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD - ANNE TYLER


From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author--now in the fiftieth year of her remarkable career--a brilliantly observed, joyful and wrenching, funny and true new novel that reveals, as only she can, the very nature of a family's life.
     "It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family--their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog--is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.
- Goodreads

 
------

There's no denying that Anne Tyler can string words and sentences together beautifully. In this, her 20th (and final) novel, Tyler delicately unfurls the story of the Whitshank family - all three generations of it - who inhabited the beautiful house built by the family patriarch, Junior Whitshank.

Though not told chronologically, the book catalogues the daily lives of Junior and his wife, Linnie Mae, their son Red and his wife Abby (who take over the house) and finally their children, Stem, Denny, Amanda and Jeannie. We learn about how Junior and his wife Linnie came to Baltimore and how Junior built, fell in love with and eventually purchased the Whitshank house. We get to know Red and Abby (especially Abby) as they settle into retirement and try to maintain their relationships with their now-grown children. And we learn the secrets that each is hiding from one another, and the toll these secrets take.

I'd never read any of Tyler's books before this, so I don't know if this detailed character development is her particular writing signature or if this book was unique. I can tell you that I've rarely come across a book quite like this. Tyler's writing shows her experience as a writer and a particular attention to detail that make it objectively flawless.

From a personal perspective, however, I have to admit that I struggled a bit with this book. It moved so slowly that even when major plot events occurred, it still felt like not much was happening. By itself, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I have read and loved many books that focus on the mundane to create a compelling, character-based story (Barbara Pym's books come to mind). I think the problem for me was that while it was fascinating to delve into the Whitshanks' lives to such an extent, I can't say I enjoyed these particular characters. Which makes all the difference when the characters are the focus of the book. Even in the more likable characters, unpleasant or annoying character traits were revealed as the book progressed. They turned out to be by turns selfish, snobby, oblivious, unreliable and critical. As much as these ugly aspects are part of every person, and a realistic part of any family, it made for difficult reading at times.

As I said before, this isn't an action-packed book. It's a book best suited to readers who are fascinated by the opportunity to peek into other people's lives, see what it's like behind their closed doors and figure out what makes them tick. It's a study in the unerring fact that people are never exactly what you imagine them to be - even your own family. And Tyler's writing will cause you to pause at times to re-read a particularly insightful or well-written passage, like this one:
But still, you know how it is when you're missing a loved one. You try to turn every stranger into the person you were hoping for. You hear a certain piece of music and right away you tell yourself that he could have changed his clothing style, could have gained a ton of weight, could have acquired a car and then parked that car in front of another family's house. "It's him!" you say. "He came! We knew he would; we always..." But then you hear how pathetic you sound, and your words trail off into silence, and your heart breaks. - p. 39
If you're a fan of Tyler or enjoy learning the details (for better and worse) of a family tree, you'll find this book to be right up your alley.

------
**Thanks to Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**

Book Title: A Spool of Blue Thread
Author: Anne Tyler
Series: No
Edition: Hardback
Published By: Bond Street Books
Released: February 10, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Character-Driven, Family
Pages: 368
Date Read: February 4-14, 2015
Rating: 6/10

2.14.2015

STACKING THE SHELVES | #59


Time to look at the books I added to my shelves this week with Stacking the Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews! Not necessarily books I bought - also includes books I borrowed, was given or otherwise ended up with. Weeks I don't buy any books I'll scramble around my shelves and find some I haven't shared in an StS post yet!


1 Dead In Attic - Chris Rose
City of Refuge - Tom Piazza
American Sniper - Chris Kyle

I'm really interested to read American Sniper - and determined to do so before watching the movie. I think all three of this week's books will be difficult reads based on subject matter, but worth it.

What about you guys? Pick up any great books this week? Pull any off your shelves and dust them off? Share in the comments!

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