Monday, November 23, 2015

NONFICTION NOVEMBER: Young Adult Non-fiction Echoes of Courage

Two short audiobooks from the summer, courtesy of YA Sync. YA Sync is the most awesome program around - two free audiobooks each week, pairing a classic and a newer young adult book. Just get on their mailing list and you'll get a reminder to download the books each week. That's the only hard part - the books are only available a week at a time. Don't forget - it will hopefully start up again in May 2016.

Courage Has No Color : The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers - Tanya Lee Stone (3 h 3 min)

Good historic look at integration in the US Army during the second world war with the first black paratroopers. The hypocrisy of the Americans fighting tyranny in Europe and Asia when their own citizens were unable to fight with them is galling.

Courage Has No Color was paired with Under a War-Torn Sky by L. M. Elliott

Echoes of an Angel: The Miraculous True Story of a Boy Who Lost His Eyes but Could Still See- Aquanetta Gordon (7 h 23 min)
I remember seeing an episode of 20/20 featuring Ben Underwood, the blind boy who used echolocation to move around and was fascinated. This is the book written by his mother about Ben's life. Her book focuses on her (and Ben's) Christian faith as they deal with the health issues of Ben and the difficulties in their lives. I would have been more interested in the science of his clicking technique to 'see', but that is not the fault of the book. It is heavily Christian, and I mostly enjoyed it, but had more about the mother and her life than I was interested in. Again, not the book's fault - this is her story she wrote. Ben was very inspiring in all that he faced, and he was a very special human, and could make a person wonder about angels on earth.
Echoes of an Angel was paired with Budda Boy by Kathe Koja

Monday, November 16, 2015

NONFICTION NOVEMBER: Nontraditional Nonfiction

Nonfiction November 2015 

This week we will be focusing on the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction. Nonfiction comes in many forms. There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, and enhanced books complete with artifacts. So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats.  We want to hear all about it this week!  hosted by Rebecca (I’m Lost In Books)

What a perfect topic for me! Looking at my numbers, this year I read 14/15 nonfiction books (so far) that were audiobooks. The only book that wasn't audio was a graphic novel. For me, audiobooks are how I 'read' nonfiction. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but nonfiction books are how I started listening to audiobooks in the first place. Audio isn't my strongest input of information so I didn't know how well I could hold characters in my head. However, nonfiction books are just like listening to CBC radio - little documentaries or stories for 20 minutes to half an hour or more.

Looking back to 2012, the first audiobooks I listened to were If You Ask Me by Betty White and then Bossypants by Tina Fey, reviewed here. Interestingly, I'm still listening to memoirs by comedians this year, including Sarah Silverman, Lena Dunham, and Martin Short.

The next type of audiobooks I listened to that year were science type books - Annoying by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, and Quiet by Susan Cain. Science and memoirs are my two biggest categories of nonfiction books and I'm only limited by my library's selection.

Or am I? I've found a loophole in acquiring audiobooks from my library. Since all the interactions are done online, I asked my sister, who lives in a different province in a larger city, for access to her online library. (I gave her my account number as well.) Now we each have two libraries to choose from. Her library has more choices, but often longer waits for books. Digital books are automatically deleted on the due date, so no overdue fines are possible. Of course, automatic deletions leads to my saddest audiobook adventure - a book being deleted when I only had less than one hour left in the book! So, if your library doesn't have a great selection, find a relative or trusted friend in a large city and trade library cards.

Just browsing the nonfiction audiobook section of my library has led me to listen to some books I may not have considered. Reasons why I pick certain audiobooks - they are available, I recognize the author, they are short, they are available, they are short, I've heard of the title, I am cheap and listen only to audiobooks I can get at  my (or my sister's) library. Libraries like requests so always feel free to ask your library to get a book you'd like to listen to.

Some nonfiction books are the perfect blend of topic and narrator, and don't underestimate the effect a good narrator has on an audiobook. I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and loved it, but I've heard other bloggers rave about the audio version enough to make me think about listening to it. It's no surprise to see Cassandra Campbell as the narrator of that book - she's always great! Some authors read their own books as well, like Malcolm Gladwell and all the comedians.

Great topic this week! Does anyone else listen to nonfiction audiobooks?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

BOOKS: Dancing Barefoot, In the Garden of the Beasts

 Nonfiction November 2015

Two reviews from January. That's a long time ago, isn't it? Details are sketchy, but I do have an overall vibe from these books.

In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin - Erik Larson, 12 h 52 min

I read and really liked Larson's book, Devil in the White City. I also picked up  Thunderstruck at a used book sale, but available audiobook can trump hard copy at times. Part of what I liked about Devil in the White City was how Larson told two stories at once - the crazy serial killer and World Fair being held in Chicago. In the Garden of the Beasts isn't quite two separate stories like that. An American diplomat and his family are sent to Berlin in the 1933, as the Nazi's are taking off. The family, the Dodds, primarily the father,William E and his daughter, Martha were not memorable. Not horrible enough to hate, not virtuous enough to cheer for. Just there in Berlin with horrible people doing horrible things.  It's not fun reading about how the Nazi's came to such power, and the horrible things they were doing as people saw and couldn't or wouldn't do anything to stop it. The facts are true, and looking at it from the Ambassador's family was a on-the-ground unique way of telling the story, but it wasn't quite enough for me. I'll try another Larson, but I don't think this was his best.

Dancing Barefoot - Wil Wheaton, 2 h 11 min

I listened to Wheaton read Ready Player One, and he was adorable as usual. I think these were some stories left over from his other book, Just A Geek: Unflinchingly Honest Tales of the Search for Life, Love, and Fulfillment Beyond the Starship Enterprise, or from his blog. Dancing Barefoot is five essays on Wheaton's life. Easy to listen to, Wheaton is around my age, so we have the same cultural markers. If you are a Wheaton fan, or Trekkie, you'll enjoy this one.

Friday, November 13, 2015

BOOKS: Great Canadian Writers (who happen to be women)

Did I not write about any of these books yet this year? They were all fabulous, each in their own way.  I shouldn't be surprised because they are written by some quality writers, who happen to be Canadian, and who happen to be women.

Rush Home Road - Lori Lansens, 416 pages
Also read: The Girls, The Wife's Tale 

Did I like this better than The Wife's Tale? Maybe, this was very good, and so different from her other books. It's the end of the underground railroad, but in modern day Ontario. A five year old girl Sharla is left with her seventy year old neighbour, Addy. That shouldn't be allowed to happen obviously, but no one has ever been looking out for Sharla, and Addy ends up being the best thing for her. And it turns out Addy needed Sharla too. The introduction of Sharla sends Addy back remembering her life as a child and young girl. Life can be tough for women, what with the lying men all around. I just loved how Lansens framed the story with the back and forth in time, how she incorporated the history of the African community in Canada, and the evolution of the delightful character of Addy.

Next up: Lansens' latest book, The Mountain Story

The Empty Room - Lauren B Davis, 320 pages
already read: Our Daily Bread

How bad is it when an alcoholic reaches rock bottom? Horrifically bad. Colleen is nearly fifty, and in such denial. Most of the novel takes place over one very long, very depressing day in Colleen's life, essentially a country song as she loses nearly everything (job, apartment, friends) and the only coping mechanism she has had, alcohol, is letting her down. She's very close to drinking herself to death. How engrossing the story, how inside Colleen's head we get is a testament to the author.
 Next up: The Stubborn Season, or The Radiant City, or Against a Darkening Sky (which looks really good, it's the latest!)

Republic of Love - Carol Shields, 384 pages
Also read: every other novel Shields wrote

This was the last novel I had left to read by Shields, and I'd been putting it off. What if I don't like it? What if I do, and then there are no more? You can see the dilemma. I did like it, and now there are no more for me. This one ends up being one of my favourites, along side Unless. It's a simple story, about two people, finding love. That's it. There are no big dramatics, everything is watching these two different people, who have not been able to 'settle down' get together. Much of the book is waiting for them to meet. It's delicious waiting to see how their Venn diagram of acquaintances will eventually overlap.
Next up: no more novels :(

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

BOOKS: Korean Deli and Vanished Smile

Nonfiction November 2015

I'm going to take advantage of Nonfiction November to review all the nonfiction books I read this year. Two books from November are My Korean Deli and Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa.

My Korean Deli - Ben Ryder Howe, 8h 47 min 
read by Bronson Pinchot

The author, an editor at The Paris Review with George Plimpton, along with his wife, decide to buy a deli for his mother-in-law, a Korean immigrant. The author suffers from culture shock all around him - at home living with his in-laws and working at the deli in the evening. A self-proclaimed WASP from New England, working in a Brooklyn deli with his hard working mother-in-law showcases all his differences. Pinchot does a great job reading, and the story is easy to listen to. George Plimpton is also a character in the story, because I think he was a character wherever he went. I like reading about life in New York and quite enjoyed this slice of life memoir.

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa - R.A. Scotti, 6 h 44 min read by Kathe Mazur (who also read Quiet)

In 1911, Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre. She stayed missing for 2 years before reappearing. The mystery is never completely solved, but this book looks at several theories, the facts of the case, and all the related information about Paris, art forgery and theft, and how Mona Lisa went from a painting on the wall to the most famous and loved painting in the world. I quite enjoyed following the trail of clues and the side tracks that make up the whole story. 

Monday, November 9, 2015


This week in Nonfiction November, participants are asked to pair a fiction book with a nonfiction book that you would recommend. I listened to Modern Romance this summer and was pleasantly surprised. I expected a stand up routine type comedy book by actor Aziz Ansari about the dating scene. Instead, I was treated to actual science experiments and results, with statistics and everything. My little science heart beat wildly.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, (6 h 14 minutes)
How do people meet now a days? What is texting etiquette in modern dating? Aziz Ansari, comedian and actor from Parks and Recreation, wrote this social science study of modern romance along with Eric Klinenber. They did research, interviewed people in the dating scene now, and older people from previous generations. They analysed data and made statistics - this book is more than just comedy.
Aziz read the audiobook, and his humour is throughout. My over-riding thought as I listened to the audiobook was be so thankful I'm not, and will not be, dating in this age of smart phones, Tinder apps, and sexting.

What better book to pair this look at attempts at romance and looking for love than with the classic chick lit book, the girl who struggled with the dating scene to hilarious results: Bridget Jones!

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

There isn't much for me to say about one of my favourite books of all time. It's funny, has Mark Darcy, and never fails to make me smile. If you really like Bridget, the books continue with The Edge of Reason and Mad About the Boy. Realizing that Bridget Jones is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen made this book even better. How fabulous! And then the whole Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in the movie adds a level of meta that can't be beat.

My second pairing is The Martian by Andy Weir along with Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. It's a bit of a cheat because I haven't read The Martian yet, but I fully intend to soon! I'm on a list at the library, and my sister promises me I'll love it, and I believe her. I can say with great belief that both of these nonfiction astronaut books are extremely readable and either fun (Packing for Mars) or inspirational (Life on Earth)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

NONFICTION NOVEMBER: Your Year in Nonfiction

Jumping in to this a week late, but I found myself listening to two nonfiction books in a row this week, so it seems fated. Hosted by several bloggers, [Leslie (Regular RuminationKatie (Doing Dewey,Rebecca (I’m Lost In Books) and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkness) ]  more information can be found here. Each week there are different prompts, and it ends with a read-a-long discussion of I Am Malala. I just checked my library, and unfortunately, I won't be reading along with Malala. By the length of the waiting list, I may get it for next November!
Nonfiction November 2015

Week One: Your Year in Nonfiction

Some numbers: 
13 nonfiction reads, and all but one (a graphic novel) were audiobooks. (Nonfiction books are how I got myself listening to audiobooks. It felt more like I was listening to a documentary on CBC that just continued whenever I wanted it to.)  
Four were about comedians (Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Lena Dunham, and Martin Short). Two other books by actors: Wil Wheaton's book of essays and Aziz Ansari"s study into Modern Romance.
I also read 2 books which, while novels, were fictionalized accounts of real people (Malcolm X, and Beryl Markham) where I learned so much that I felt like it was a biography. 

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? 
Can I pick two? Cause they were very different? 
Brain on Fire  by Susannah Cahalan was a  look at the author's descent into madness, which turned out to be a brain infection. Very scary. She pieced together, based on her journals and her parents, plus hospital records, what all happened to her during her illness. 

 I Must Say: My Life as Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short and read by himself. Mostly for making me like him far more than I usually do, this book impressed me. It's still full of full-on Martin, but the famous people he knows, and how they broke into the big time, plus his beautiful marriage and unabashed Canadian-ism made me a fan.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
Probably Quiet by Susan Cain, a book about and for introverts. I also recommend How I Killed Pluto and Why it had it Coming by Mike Brown often to my high school physics students because it's a pretty good look at how Pluto got demoted.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? 
Um, everything? Nonfiction is about learning; about people, and history, and science, and philosophy and life. I tend to read more memoirs and science related topics and I don't see that changing very much.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
Remembering how much I like nonfiction when I pick it up, thinking about the nonfiction I've read this year, and maybe finding what are some other great nonfiction books books to add to my list.