Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: Shades of Grey

After reading a few "traumatizing to children" books, book club decided to pick a humourous book for January. We all came up with suggestions, voted, and the winner was...

Shades of Grey
By Jasper Fforde
400 pages

Where do I start? Eddie Russet and his father are on their way to East Carmine, a far away outpost, and thus not really a trip they'd like to go on. As Russets, they see the world as grey, except for red colours. In East Carmine, we meet other "colourful" characters, the yellows, greens, blues, oranges and purples, including the greys - those people who can't see colour at all and are lowest on the social status system. As Fforde continues to build his world, we learn about the cult of Munsell, the social caste system, and the weird ways of the world. But all is not as it seems, and Eddie and his cranky, and somewhat violent maid Jane are on the trail to uncover details that will upset the colour balance - if they can avoid the corrupt bullies and stay alive long enough!

Bad summary, I know, but this book is hard to explain. Parts of this book are very clever. The whole colour viewing social system creation of Fforde's is super neat, and the weird slightly off throw backs to our world added to the neatness. He definitely has created an interesting world, so props for the world building. In the end, I never really knew if the people were people or robots or what. This book would probably make a good movie as it's very visual based. I might tune in.

But contrary to why we chose it, I didn't find this book funny, at least not "laugh out loud" or even "smirk" or "chuckle quietly to myself" funny. The humour is more...British I guess, very reminiscent of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker, Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld, or obviously Fforde's Thursday Next series. So not funny but peculiar. Which is good if that's what you're after. Not sure that's what I was after. Also it was quirkily gorey (lot's of dead bodies), which I wasn't expecting.

There were a few things that disappointed me about this book. First, I realized after I'd finished that it was a dystopian novel. Duh. Of course. Why didn't I realize that straight away: the clues are obvious from the beginning? The reason this is disappointing is I HATE dystopian stories. And this goes a long way to explaining why I just couldn't like the book. Secondly, I found out after that it's the first of a trilogy, which is disappointing because I didn't like the book and don't want to read more but there are unresolved plot issues, which is super annoying. Near the end I could tell he was setting it up for more. Not like reading a series is bad, but he hasn't even written the other two books (which I wont read, but might look up a plot summary on the interwebs, if I even remember this book was a thing by the time he publishes more). Finally, I hated the two twists at the end. It was that feeling where you'd read all the way through the book and then he throws a curve ball which you hate so much it made you wish you hadn't read the first 300-some pages. Just disappointing and sad. But I guess there are no happing endings in dystopia. Especially when there's still two books to come in a trilogy.

In case you can't tell, I didn't really like the book. Sure, it was clever - the whole colour viewing caste system was unique. And the parallels to our world, the inside jokes, some of those were clever as well. But overall, I found I didn't really get to love the characters, and this combined with the disappointing ending, well, yeah. Not a complete waste of time but similar to previous book club choices (The Wonder, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend) this book was disappointing in the end. Maybe reading it after the fantastic All the Light We Cannot See was a bad idea, or maybe the book is just meh. I really enjoyed Fforde's Thursday Next series and will probably reread it one of these days, but I'm passing on his Shades of Grey universe.

The internet loves this book though, so you might too. If you like clever not-overly-violent dystopia, pick it up.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Book club is awesome - the girls are hilarious - and it's got me reading again. The other day I walked into the public library to pick up The Wire season 4 that I had on hold, and a book caught my eye. My boyfriend and I decided, in lieu of ridiculous Christmas spending, we would start following the Icelandic tradition of buying and giving books for Christmas. We picked four book lists (Governor General fiction and nonfiction, New Your Times and the US National Book Awards) and each bought each other one to put under the tree. While scanning the lists for him, I put together a list for myself. While picking up my DVDs, I spotted one I had my eye on, but big was on the Hits to Go shelf - and that means they can only be borrowed for seven days. When's the last time I read a book in seven days? Especially when two days were out because of Christmas festivities? I shouldn't've taken it out at all - what if there was a copy under the tree for me?* But I thought it was a recommendation from book club, and it sounded right up my alley, so I walked out with The Wire season 4, a book, and a challenge to read a 544 page book in five days.

And wow, am I ever glad that book came home with me!

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr
544 pages

A young, blind girl and her father live in Paris during the Second World War. Her father works for the museum, and she is fascinated by nature. He has carved little wooden houses from their neighbourhood to create a model for her to memorize, so she can take walks to the park or shop. Alas, it is war, and they escape to the walled city Saint-Malo in Brittany, to stay with the great-uncle. Again, her father carves her the town. While she waits for it to be finished, she listens to, and broadcasts signals over radios with her great-uncle.

A young, orphaned boy lives with his sister in an orphanage in Germany. He is a radio whizz, which eventually gets him into an academy for the chosen ones of the Hitler Youth. Eventually he ends up on the front lines, tracking Resistance radio signals, all the way to Saint-Malo.

And war. Always the heartbreaking truths of war.

Short chapters switch from Marie-Laure's, Werner's and other minor characters point of view, and from the main assault of Saint-Malo in 1944, to the events that lead up to assault, and then to the future fates of all our main characters.

And it was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. The writing style was simple, accessible, but also eloquent and...beautiful. The short chapters that switched from perspective through time made it a quick read, and I read it over four days - I just couldn't put it down. Just...wonderful.

This, this is the kind of book that reminds me why I read. A rarity these days on my reading list, but a masterpiece, one that has already helped restore my passion for reading.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It was fantastic. Fitting that the best book I read in 2016 was the last book. And here's to more masterpieces in 2017!

*I got this one. What for a review soon!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Review: The Wonder

My new book club (which is awesome and working very well: who knew mixing friends would turn out so fantastically!) decided they weren't into the open genre thing. Disappointing, but I figure that's motivation for me to read the chosen book plus one of my own in a month. This month there was a long process of recommendations and voting but we eventually decided to go with a new book by the author of Room, a book that I read years ago before I blogged book reviews, a book I only half liked...

The Wonder
By Emma Donoghue
304 pages

Anna hasn't eaten in four months, insisting she's been existing on manna from heaven. Lib, a Nightingale trained nurse, is hired to watch over the young child to ensure it's not an elaborate hoax. Set in Ireland in the late 1800s, we follow Lib, Anna, her family, and various characters from the small Irish town as Lib tries to debunk the proposed sainthood.

This book was...stiff? Stern? Flat? Perhaps it's the historical period as it reads like a Bronte or Austen classic. There's a crap ton of strict Catholic religiosity, a dull yet convenient historical romance element, a Room-esque twist, basically one setting (a room in a ramshackle Irish hut) and lots of watching a girl not eat. It got repetitive. The ending was meh but at least exciting. If only it had come 200 pages earlier. And wasn't so darn...convenient.

If you like historical stuff, then I'd recommend you put yourself on the massive waitlist for this book at your local library. I'm really glad I didn't buy a copy, as in the end it wasn't a complete waste of my time, but not a thought provoking page turner either...just...meh. Like Anna, it needed some meat.

Also I'm not reading any more books about traumatised children who are ruined by the abusive acts of those older than themselves.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

I quit my book club and stopped reading. I started to feel stupid. Like I'd lost my words. And as a librarian, whenever I don't read recreationally I feel guilty. Like it's my job or something.

So I started a book club with some super local nearby northsider friends. It was scary at first, mixing different groups of friends but they're all awesome and everyone seems to get along great!

The thing about my old book club I really liked was that it was open genre - we picked a different genre/topic each month and each read different books then talked about them. This really appealed to me because I don't like being told what to read and I don't like wasting time reading what I don't want to read. However, this doesn't appeal to everyone so for this new book club we're going to alternate reading the same book with an open genre/topic. I think. We'll see how month two goes.

Choosing a book was actually not painful. Some people brought recommendations, we discussed, checked goodreads, checked how many copies the library had, noted how many pages. In the end our first choice was a gooder!

The library lost the book while it was on it's way to me so I read most of it on my phone. Last time I tried that it took me months and months and I hated the process, but this time, with the added deadline and time pressure of a book club pushing me on, I actually didn't dread reading off my phone. It was almost...convenient. Still, I wouldn't choose to do so normally: hopefully next month I get to go back to paper.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
By Matthew Dicks
336 pages

Budo is Max's imaginary friend. Max is a special kid (we assume autistic spectrum?), and Budo is a special imaginary friend. The whole book is told from Budo's point of view - which makes it very interesting and insightful so good job to Dicks on that. It's first person pov but not in the way that annoys me. And because Max is a kid and thus Budo is a kid, it's a easy read. Well the language is anyway, eventually the plot picks up and it gets quite deep. But not too deep because afterall, they're just kids.

I really liked the first half of the book - Budo describes everyday life and we get to know the school/home setting and the characters. As a former elementary school teacher, I could really tell Dicks is an elementary school teacher as the setting is pretty accurate. Max is an interesting kid, and I appreciated the behind the scenes depiction of how a child who sees the world differently (we assume because he's somewhere on the autistic spectrum) operates and thinks. I suppose it's hard to know how accurate the author's portrayal of Max is, but as expected and assumed, this insight was a highlight of the book in my opinion. Dicks has also created an imaginary world of imaginary characters and I found it very interesting to learn about the rules he creates for their biology, culture etc. I found myself wanting to read more about the imaginary friends, as if they needed a spinoff series. Basically the first half is a childish romp through third grade and I didn't want the mostly happy stuff to end. But if there was no Sauron there would be no ring and thus no adventure so inevitably the bad plot device occurred and the story moved forward.

I wasn't expecting this particular turn of events [SPOILER] and the book became reminiscent of Room or Lovely Bones. Yeah I was somewhat disappointed my childish calm was spoiled but the action ramped up and the just resolution of the problem made up for it. I ended up [SPOILER] crying mostly happy/sad but not horrified tears to the point where I couldn't read the type on the last page. Yeesh.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes children, identifies with a school setting, or who liked Room or Lovely Bones. It was a great easy, enjoyable, and somewhat emotional first pick for our new book club!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Book Review: Road Tripping: On the Move with the Buffalo Gals

I saw this book at the information centre/gift shop in Elk Island National Park, and it looked interesting so I got it out of the library. Clever title. Cute cover. Very local. Interesting topic. Couldn't be that bad, right?

Road Tripping: On the Move with the Buffalo Gals
By Conni Massing
264 pages

The Buffalo Gals are a group of friends who take a yearly road trip around Alberta - but not to the big tourist attractions - to the quirky, off the beaten path, usually a bit weird attractions. Massing writes about where they go, but also how they got there )and especially what they ate).

The first chapter was interesting as it was about the Torrington Gopher Museum, and since I've been there a couple times it was quite nostalgic. [The Torrington Gopher Museum is quite epic and awesome and you need to go because you've never seen anything like it. Best $2 you'll ever spend. Stop at Peter's Drive In in Red Deer on the way and check out Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park while you're in the neighbourhood too.] Every trip encompasses a number of quirky and/or food stops in a small area of the province - as detailed on an annotated map at the start of the chapter. Also included are a number of stops at some of Alberta's "Big Things", which also drew me to this book because I have a secret dream to one day see them all.

So really this should've been a rocking good road trip read!

Meh. Too many inside jokes. Too much chatter about the people and not enough details about the neat places they visited. And a lot of the restaurants in the small towns they stopped at aren't open anymore so I was disappointed I couldn't recreate the perfect pie pitstop. Honestly, I got through the first half and then skimmed the rest. Should've been mostly interesting, but was a bit boring in the end.

Read this book if you want a tour of quickly Alberta "stuff", most of which you can still visit yourself. But skim through the van conversations if you want. They get to where they're going eventually.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Folk Fest 2016: When the People Rocked the Music

When they announced this year's lineup, I was super disappointed. No big names. No Quebecois band. No one I loved. Heck, very few I even sort of liked!

In fact, I almost didn't go. It's such hard work and quite stressful, but one of my music people really wanted us to be there for her, so go I did.

And I don't regret it. Because while the music was meh, the people were awesome. I love my tarp family, and cherish the moments I get to spend with them. So much so, that despite the lineup, I'll be there for 2017 too.

But here's a Top 3 nonetheless:

1. The Year of the African Bands
I always try to see an African Band at the folk fest, but this year was their year and I had all the time for them. Friday's second session with Daby Toure, Black Umfolosi, Joel Fafard and Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar was probably the best jamming session I saw.

Joel Fafard, Black Umfolosi, Daby Toure and Samantha Martin et al.

I took in Black Umfolosi's concert and it was as joyful as ever. Here's a quick video I shot of my favourite song of theirs.

Black Umfolosi

And the last small stage concert of the weekend, Jah Prayzah and the 3rd Generation Band, had my tarp family up like dancing fools and it was a fun time to share together.

Dance Party with Jah Prayzah!

Next year, I'll make an extra point to check out the African groups!

2. Sometimes I surprise even myself, but I really enjoyed The Cat Empire's afternoon main stage concert. I'd definitely see them again.

3. Besides Friday's jammy session, the second best session I was was on Sunday and included Martyn Carthy, Matt Molloy and John Carty with Arty McGlynn, Dervish and the Kruger Brothers. It was a celtic jammy master class and very enjoyable. I had forgotten how funny Cathy Jordan ("Cathy Dervish") is.

Martyn Carthy, Matt Molloy and John Carty with Arty McGlynn, Dervish and the Kruger Brothers

Honourable Mention

The Step Crew was a little showy (they remind me of Barrage), but put on a good side stage concert.

The Step Crew

No super stand outs, besides the African contingent, but another year of perfect weather spent with perfect people with a perfect view of the hill. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

iRodeo 2016: Or Why It's My Favourite Music Festival

Interstellar Rodeo handily won over the crown of my most favourite music festival. Civilized. Relaxed. It was a fantastic venue for spending time with my favourite music family.

Here's my top 3 of 2016:

1. Marty Stuart
I knew I'd enjoy him, because my dad used to play his 'Tempted' cassette tape all the time, but I was surprised he was the top highlight of the festival. The music. The showmanship. The voice. The outfits. And he capped it all off by shaking fans hands as he walked off the stage. A set can't get much better than that!

2. The Strumbellas
You gotta love singing along, knowing all the words, dancing in your chair. They are a great live band.

3. Kathleen Edwards
Since she's technically retired, it's always a privilege to see her in concert. She was high-larious, with her own brand of self deprecating humour, and the songs are as always fantastic. She brought out Luke Doucet to play a few songs with her too.

Honourable Mention:

Henry Wagons only did a tweenter but he won over the crowd with his song 'Willie Nelson'. Dude needs his own full set next year! Check out a short video I shot of my favourite song.

Whitehorse was back, and while I love the duo and their music, I don't 100% buy into all the looping and electronic stuff. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland's voices are so amazing that I feel all the extra takes away from that. But fun to watch nonetheless.

Six Shooter Records (we love them!) have treated us fans so well over the years. We'll be back next year for sure!!

Just be awesome...