Sunday, November 19, 2017

BOOKS: audio mystery series update

Maggie Hope Series by Susan Elia MacNeal  books #6&7
The Queen's Accomplice 
The Paris Spy
 It is still WW2, and Maggie Hope is still earnest and perfect. She is working for SOE as a spy. The Queen's Accomplice takes place in London, with a serial killer on the loose. The Paris Spy sees Maggie heading undercover to Paris to look for her missing half-sister and lost spy Erica Calvert.
I think I've figured out what is off about Maggie. I first thought it was her earnestness, or perfection, but I think her reactions to social situations (homosexuality, women in the workplace, etc) are all prefect present day reactions, perfectly politically correct. She is so ahead of her time that is seems a tad off in 1940s wartime London.

Glass Houses - Louise Penny (audiobook) #13
I've enjoyed this series since I started listening to them from the library. I also like that Gamauche is retired and living in Three Pines full time now.

This one had a different type plot - starting with Gamauche testifying at a murder trial, and then flashbacks take us to Three Pines and the murder that occurred. It takes til the very end to discover who is on trial and who was murdered and why. The story continues in a past and present manner, slowly dropping clues and letting the reader discover what happened. Lots of art and philosophy, and symbolism, as per usual. And of course, things are not quite as they seem. Luckily all the regular characters are around, even stupid Jean-Guy, my least favourite character in these books.

Friday, November 17, 2017

BOOK: Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil

Nonfiction November book review:
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil, (6h 23 min, read by the author)

This book reads like a crazy conspiracy theory - hidden algorithms that you have no idea about are controlling your life. Your credit score, your college admissions, your insurance rates. Does it seem reasonable for companies to base rates on mathematical models? How about if you get to keep your job?

The author was a math professor who joined Wall Street and began working for hedge funds, developing algorithms for making money. After the financial crash, she recognized the damage the algorithms had wrought. Looking further, she concluded that these algorithms or models are biased against the poorest and contribute to keeping them poor.

The story of the teacher, who by all accounts was an excellent teacher (parents and principal and colleagues) who was fired based on the hidden criteria intended to weed out the poor teachers is an example O'Neil provides to support her concern about these Weapons of Math Destruction. (lol, clever title). Any time an algorithm has characteristics of opacity (those affected can't see the criteria), scale (how widely it is applied) and damage (when factors contribute to incarceration or poverty cycles) she calls them WMD.

The examples were fascinating and scary. These algorithms are why 17 year old males have crazy expensive car insurance rates, why your Facebook feed can drive you batty, and can be as extreme as deciding who to hire based on your social media followers. Deciding things by proxy - basing the individual on the group characteristics, can be what makes assumptions dangerous.

Real life examples being used to make the point, from the small to the large, make this an enjoyable read, much in the style of Malcolm Gladwell. Plus, getting to read a book written by a smart, math female was awesome.

Monday, November 13, 2017


Week 3: (Nov. 13 to 17) – Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness 
Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I was able to find several themes in my nonfiction reading in 2017 so I am being the expert in recommending some great nonfiction reads around Feminist Theory 101, Biology Topics, and Black History Month.

Feminist Theory 101 
A list called 40 New Feminist Classics You Should Read from late last year informed some of my reading. The list included fiction books as well, some I've really liked, like The Woman Upstairs.  Not all of the books below are from that list.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - funny, memoir, and a guide to growing up female
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai - inspiring, historical
the Lumberjanes Vol 1-5 - wonderful graphic novel full of feminist references, but also fun

The Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt (audiobook) - one of several stories finally shining light on the contributions of women to space science

Shrill by Lindy West
I really enjoyed Lindy West's voice, and have since read articles by her through FB or Twitter. (see Brave Enough to Be Angry from the NYTimes) Together, the essays are also memoir-ish, but they also stand alone. I would certainly reread these again.

Biology Books
I often read science books, skewing toward physics and space, but this year I found some great biological based nonfiction. I Contain Multitudes and Lab Girl were among my favourite reads of the year. 
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (audiobook) - all about microbes

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren - well-written memoir of being a female scientist, but really, applicable to all working women
Crows: Encounters With the Wise Guys of the Avian World by Candace Savage - brief but enlightening look at those crazy smart crows

Complications by Atul Gawande (audiobook)
I remember long ago reading a Michael Crichton nonfictionbook about his time as an intern, Five Patients, and really liking the insider view of life in an ER room. Gawande's book reminds me of that book, and I definitely want to read more by Gawande, like Better, Being Mortal, and The Checklist Manifesto. Very readable, and informative. 

Black History Month
The March books are must reads.  I wasn't aware of a lot of this history (I am Canadian, in my defence) and the hullabaloo around John Lewis in January during the inauguration was what first brought them to my attention. 
March 1,2, and 3 by John Lewis - fabulous graphic novel about the Civil Rights fight in the 1960s. 
The Souls of Black Folk - WEB DuBois (audiobook) - hard to believe this was written over 100 years ago, not enough has changed

Between the World and Me - Ta-Nahisi Coates (audiobook)
Excellent essays regarding race relations in the United States. I saw Coates on The Daily Show and knew I wanted to listen to this book.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Doing Dewey, one of the hosts of Nonfiction November, posted some mini reviews of nonfiction books, which reminded me that I still have some NF books I'd like to review on my blog. If Monday's theme was Book Pairings, finding fiction and nonfiction that go together, these three books I read this year have absolutely, absolutely nothing in common.

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite (6 h 41 min, audiobook, read by the author)

A woman, after the fact, discovers she had married a sociopath. This memoir recounts how they got together, how it all fell apart, and what she learned about her awful husband.The structure is good with back and forth, present and past.

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke (YA Sync free audiobook)

Irene Gut was a young Polish girl during the German invasion of Poland who manages to save a number of Jews. The depravity, and the slight hope, in humanity that Holocaust books always have is certainly here.  Not everyone was as dedicated to the German ideas, as Irene ends up working for a German major who, because of his love for her, lets a lot of things slide in the house.  If you liked The Hiding Place, I'd recommend this one as well.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli, 96 pages

Apparently, this was a best seller in Italy, which just goes to show how different Europe is from North America. I teach physics, but I teach high school, Newtonian physics and modern physics is presented in the book. The ideas are interesting, bit also pretty high level and abstract. As usual, when I read quantum physics articles, I kind of understand it as I go, but couldn't explain any of it, or replicate any information within about two minutes of finishing. That said, it is short, and not indepth, and quite interesting.

Monday, November 6, 2017

NONFICTION NOVEMBER: Fiction + Nonfiction pairing

Week 2: (Nov. 6 to 10) – Sarah @ Sarah’s Book Shelves 
Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Great topic - I love looking for books that fit the pairing idea and I was pretty literal. My guideline was to pick books I've read this year if I can. The nonfiction are all from this year, and I was able to match a couple with fiction reads from this year.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo and Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

The nonfiction Behind the Beautiful Forevers and the fictional Family Matters go very well together as a look at life in India. It probably should have been A Fine Balance by Mistry, but I read both of these books this year so it seemed too perfect. The narrative voice in Katherine Boo's book is perfect for people who don't like nonfiction as she wrote it like a story, but it was all based on interviews and observations in a slum area of Mumbai. Family Matters is set a little earlier, but has Mistry's wonderful style and writing, following a family and the trials and tribulations of surviving in India with very little. Both were excellent books. 


Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins

I actually read these two books very close together and was rewarded as they really go well together! I started with the nonfiction Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - And the World. It was exactly as described - short biographies highlighting the life and contribution to science of some great women. It included everyone you've never heard of, but no Marie Curie as she is always the first woman scientist named. It was inspiring and humbling to realize how few I'm familiar with.
Finding Wonders is classified as fiction, mostly because it is written in blank verse, but all the information in it was factual and I remembered the girls from the Headstrong book. The ability to summarize and detail in blank verse all the information about Mary Anning, Maria Merian, and Maria Mitchell was remarkable. One of my favourite books of the year.

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray 
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Two books both about an early 1900s murder in Ontario, one fiction and one nonfiction. It's been a long time since I've read Alias Grace, but I liked it at the time, and it is timely as a movie has been recently made. The Massey Murder was my this year read and it was a great look as all aspects of the history of the time. Two great Canadian books!



A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold (audiobook) and 
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver or Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland

School shootings is a harrowing topic. I've previously read the fiction books by Lionel Shriver and Douglas Coupland and so in this, my nonfiction reading year, I tried A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, a Columbine shooter. There is nothing easy about any of these books, and reading Klebold's account was heart-breaking. But understanding what happened in horrific events can help, hopefully, prevent future incidents. The discussion about depression and suicide is always important as we learn more about brain behaviour.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Halloween Freebie

Dewey's Read-a-thon was a few weeks ago, and one of the challenges was to list your favourite books published each year that the readathon has operated. I didn't participate in the readathon, but I would like to make my list! This was tricky, because I was picking books published in that year, not when I read the book. It turned out I picked quite a few books that I read this year. I wonder if it was because the memory of them is so recent, or were they great books I've had on my radar since that year and just finally got around to?

2017 Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
A mystery for mystery lovers. If you've read your fair share of Agatha Christie books, you really need to read this. It was excellent!

2016 Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Really well written memoir of a scientist for people of all interests, not just science. But science people will really like it. Also touches on mental health, and working women.

2015 Girl at War by Sara Novic
Very well done recent war novel, set during the Serbian-Croatian dispute war.

2014 The Martian by Andy Weir (I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short)
I'm not sure when to consider The Martian published - it was self-published in 2011 and then redone in 2014. I picked another 2014 book, Martin Short's memoir as an alternate. I've always liked Short, but found he could be exhausting at times. This book will make you appreciate him all the more.

2013 The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
Such a well done mystery with great characters. I read the next two in the series soon after this first one and am eagerly awaiting the fourth. JK Rowling is no one-trick pony. The only author to make my list twice.

2012 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Introverts will identify so much and be able to put into words all their feelings after reading this book. Also good for extroverts with introverts in their lives. It feels like so many people are introverts even though extroverts seem to control the discussions. It's pretty much a problem inherent to the two types of people.

2011 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline/ Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz
I absolutely had to include both of these books from 2011, and is why I couldn't put The Martian in 2011 consideration. Both are unique in their point of view and in their structure. Ready Player one is science fiction with a dash of 80s nostalgia, but Heads You Lose is a rollicking good time of mystery/meta fiction.

2010 Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
I still have extremely fond memories of this book as a gentle yet fun look at older romances and British life. If you get mixed up and accidentally read Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, you won't be disappointed either.

2009 Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
You can't go wrong with a Sophie Kinsella novel. This one was lovely, funny, and poignant. A ghost inhabits a young girl and wrecks some havoc before everyone learns to appreciate what they have.

2008 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
World building extraordinaire along with dystopian future. It's hard to believe this book is almost a decade old. On the other hand, the characters and story are an ingrained part of popular culture.

2007 The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
HP and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
The Deathly Hallows itself was good, but the inclusion on my (and everyone else's) list is as much a tribute to all seven books as its own merits. Again, I couldn't go with just one book, and Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret was so original, so wonderfully sweet, I had to include it.

This list pretty much sums up my reading style - mystery, nonfiction, dystopian, feel-good, young adult, and humour. Have you read all of these yet?

Monday, October 30, 2017

NONFICTION NOVEMBER: Your Year in Nonfiction

(Oct 30 to Nov 3) – Julie @ JulzReads
Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I really enjoyed Nonfiction November the last two years, and in each of those years, I read thirteen nonfiction books. Each year, I was disappointed with the number and quality of books especially when I'd read all the other reviews. I'd see nonfiction books each year that I wanted to read, but I never seemed to get around to them. This year, I decided would be my year of nonfiction books (and Canadian authors and mysteries.)  And read them I did! So far, I've read 53 nonfiction books, 24 of them were audiobooks, and some of them were crazy good.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? 
I don't think I can pick one favourite. Obviously the ones I recommended (in the question below) were excellent reads. I read many, many fabulous nonfiction books this year and some of the very best were:

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet - Neil DeGrasse Tyson
From 2005 when the whole 'Pluto is no longer a planet' debacle hit. Actually not a debacle, and this is the story, with lots of photos and science, from Tyson

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them - Al Franken
Another old one, but history repeats itself. If you've been forgetting how unsettled things were with George W Bush, this will remind you. I must read another Franken!

Argo - Antonio Mendez
American historical story of getting some American hostages out of Iran in 1980.

March Book 3 - John Lewis
Again, this was timely like the Franken, but the civil rights fight from the 60s done in graphic novel form was almost overwhelming. All three books need to be read together.

Field Notes: A City Girl's Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia - Sara Jewell
Collection of essays of a girl who changed her life by moving to rural NS. This was done very well.

Susanna Moodie; Roughing it in the Bush - Carol Shields and Patrick Crowe
A Carol Shields written graphic novel based on a classic Canadian historical settler's book? Yes please.

Sisters in Two Worlds: A Visual Biography of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill - Michael Peterman
The graphic novel on Susannah Moodie sent me to this beautiful book with more detail and background. Did I really never take any history courses in university? 

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavour - Mark Schatzker
This is the food book I've been waiting for, discussing the science about the flavours that have been invented and their effect on our eating habits.

Tiny, Beautiful Things - Cheryl Strayed
An advice book? Only Cheryl Strayed could pull this off, written when she was Sugar, and on-line columnist.

There were other books that could be on this list, but I'll highlight them later in the month in different prompts.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
I passed around the science department at school, because we are all lab girls. This was such a well-written memoir, with lots of plant science if you are into that sort of thing.

Canada by Mike Myers 
The perfect book for people my age to help celebrate Canada150.

I Contain Multitudes:The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
Another book I recommended to all my science pals, all about the creepy crawlies we can't see. Some are very good, some are very bad, and learning which is which and how they interact is a lot more interesting than you might think. (I've never been an anti-bacterial advocate, and I certainly felt justified after reading this book) This was very well narrated.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?  
If I was to pick a type of book I haven't read enough of it would be historical. I also don't read a lot newly released nonfiction books.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
I think the fact that I read so many nonfiction books this year is a testament to what I got out of last year's Nonfiction November. I also like getting rave recommendations for good non-fictions from all the other participants. It helps to get the pre-read and approved titles from all you wonderful book bloggers.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Unique Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday topic this week is Unique Book Titles. Unique could mean interesting, unusual, or memorable. There are a lot of clever titles in the cozy mystery genre, with plays on words and puns, but I went with the titles that stand out to me as memorable and, well, unique.

Check out The Broke and the Bookish for a link of all the lists, and for future topics.

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod
The book is better than the title, and I can't even remember why this book of short stories is called this. But this is a Canadian classic of life in the Maritimes and the title doesn't diminish this.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken
Perfect title by Senator Al Franken, and in the tradition of subtitles in nonfiction books that explain everything, Franken skewers the right in this 2005 book. 

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
Such a fun title, and good book, on the astronomical discoveries that led to Pluto's downfall. 

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Really great novel with a title that stands out, especially once you have read the book. I like this title as it makes me think about the story and I sing the alphabet song everytime I see it. Another book with a title based on a mishearing is A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt, from a line in the Hail Mary prayer.

We Need to Talk About Kelvin: What Everyday Things Tell Us About the Universe by Marcus
Great pun on the Lionel Shiver book, but also about science. I love a book title with an obscure temperature measurement as the pun.

Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Grammar nerds unite!

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley
The whole Flavia deLuce series is made of unique titles. Some series seem to do this - make very unusual titles.

+ I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, A Red Herring Without Mustard, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, etc

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith
The Number One Ladies Detective Agency is another series with some unique titles, and maybe I should have gone with the first one. The titles are usually pretty descriptive of the plot.

I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northwest High by Tony Danza
I really enjoyed this memoir by the likeable Danza. The fact that I am a present high school teacher made it all the more applicable. Danza was thoughtful and respectful of teaching.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Everyone is adding this book to their list, right?