Wednesday, December 19, 2012



Max Brand is, as the cover of this novel states, the most celebrated western writer in the world. Hmm...
If this implies Max Brand is the best western writer of all time, I may have to disagree.
I've been reading a lot of Louis L'Amour lately and there is no comparison. This book was lacking the whole western atmosphere. The cowboy lingo, the descriptions of hot deserts, and the countless gunfights. It lacked the galloping pace L'Amour sets and is left in the dust.
For eg. Peter Blue is a legendary gunfighter whose draw hand has been shot. In an attempt to avoid future gunbattles, which he is sure to lose, he hides out in a shack overlooking some trees and a meadow. He ends up falling in love with the local sheriff's daughter and befriending a near senile old timer who likes to plow fields all day...where is the action I say? Eventually, after what seems like a hundred pages, there is a small skirmish that leads to a duel. The duel is to happen...oh, in another hundred pages. Finally, in the last few pages of this novel Peter Blue comes barreling into town shootin' with his left hand.
That's it. No dusty deserts, no saloon brawls, and only two small gun fights.
Not what I expected from a 'Western'. I expect more action, at least twenty shot up bad dudes, and maybe a mention of a cactus or a tumbleweed. Now, it's not that Brand is a bad writer, I wouldn't have made it through the book if he was, it's just that it lacked that Western flair. Maybe it was this particular book? Maybe it was me? I'll try more Max Brand at some point, but, I wouldn't recommend Peter Blue to any of my friends.


Monday, December 17, 2012


(Sackett's #9)

Why is it that good hearted cowboys always seem to get dragged into trouble by dark hearted women?
This is another novel where one of the Sackett boys goes out of his way to help a lady and ends up in a whole heap o' trouble - gunfights, suicidal desert crossings, saloon brawls, etc - because of her. This time Tell helps out a lady named Dorinda. She looks innocent enough at the beginning. Just a lady who needs some help getting to California. It quickly turns into a situation where Tell and this lady are high tailing it across the open desert being chased by some hired thugs. After almost dying of thirst Tell is shot at and almost killed. Through a chance encounter with some good natured bandits he manages to survive. But, of course, he feels there is some unfinished business with this Dorinda lady and the roughnecks that left him for dead in the desert. There was more to this story that needed explained to him.
Well, it turns out this lady was connected with a former pirate (now that's a twist!)...who was thought to have a treasure chest full of coins buried along the coast somewhere. Along with this pirate, there were a mittful of petty criminals and gunfighters that seem to be written into the story just to get shot by Tell.
Through a turn of events Tell ends up helping this former pirate. First he helps him find his gold and then helps rid his house of turncoats (Dorinda being one of them). He does this out of the goodness of his heart. In the process Tell has a run in with one of his kin, a distant relative of the Sackett clan from out east.
In the final scene Tell is surrounded by a crowd of the pirate's former gang, all mean nasty characters who all have it in their heads to finish off Tell. That is when, as put very eloquently on the Jerry Springer show - 'blood is thicker', that distant relative of Tell rides in to save the day.

I really like these Sackett books. In this one you really get to like Tell Sackett. There is not a mean, arrogant, egotistical bone in his body. He is all gentleman. Yet, that is what makes many of his lines sound a bit farcical. Most of his lines are deadly serious, especially when he comments on human nature or his indepth knowledge of the desert. If you have a strong humour streak, like me, there are many times when you read something Tell says and slip in sarcasm mode...for eg. He describes himself as, "big raw-boned mountain boy, rougher than a cob and standing six feet three inches in my socks, with hands and shoulders fit to wrassle mustang broncs or ornery steers, but no hand with womenfolks". So, serious, yet if viewed through the sarcasm spectrum it is hilarious...' his socks", come on, that is funny!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012


(Writing tips from a naive writer)


So, don't quote me, but, shouldn't a writer be able to describe things in:

a) many ways,
b) multiple ways,
3) a variety of ways,
iv) a plethora of ways, 
E) an indefinite number of ways,
-....) in Morse code perhaps?

The Thesaurus is your friend.
So is: a wacked way of looking at the world, an out of the box thinker, and a working knowledge of at least five languages (sign language is included).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


(Sacketts #6)

Another classic Western story where a tough kid from the East brings justice to a fledgling town in the wild West. Apparently, this is number six in a series, yet it felt like both a stand alone novel or the beginning of an epic series. It starts at the beginning (haha), when two brothers, Tyrel and Orrin Sackett, take off to the open country of the West. They face a pile of obstacles; natives, roughnecks, gamblers, drunks, land grabbers...all the common villain types. They end up settling in a small town and start rachin'. From there the two brothers build different lives; Orrin goes into politics, Tye becomes town Sheriff. From there, the big trouble begins. Orrin marries into a family that turns out to be pretty nasty and Tye, as Sheriff, has to shoot down a few people. The ending leaves us with a safe town free of any 'bad guys'. Yet, both brothers have some unfinished business with Orrin's former wife and Father-in-law. As a spoiler, I know this feud between the Sacketts and the Pritts continues on for many books.
Looking over reviews of this book it becomes pretty apparent that readers both love Louis L'Amour and this particular book. There seems to be a read admiration for Tyrel as well. To me, he just seems like all the other good-hearted cowboys in these books. It's interesting to see what motivated people to read this book. Some by accident, some recommended, some because their Father or Grandfather read these books. Many seem to have the same reaction I have, that they really enjoy this genre, even though they'd never consider reading them before. Very interesting.
This particular book I read in LARGE-PRINT format. It was one of the many books I picked up at the box of books for $5 auction. Glad I picked it up. Next year I know to not just glance over the Western section, but, scoop it up!


Monday, November 19, 2012



I have another literary secret that I'm finally admitting to, besides my periodic chick-lit reads, I love Westerns! 
Where else can a guy go to get a taste of cowboy life? A life where one lives on a horse, shoots up bad folk, and can take a bullet (or four) and still live to tell about it. Not only that, but these guys are flawless in a social sense. Their morals are always good, they have great manners, and they appreciate the environment. What more could you want in a character? Maybe a handlebar mustache? Well, sometimes they do sport a nice 'stash.
The storylines in these books, although sometimes predictable, are always full of action and adventure - hence, the 'take a bullet (or four) and still live to tell about it'.
My interest in this genre started earlier this year when I read Stands a Ranger. It was classic. A ranger comes into a dusty desert town and solves a few problems with the local black hats. There were countless shootouts, a saloon fight, and the ranger managed to do it all after being shot a handful of times. In the end the good guys won, hooray!
Recently, I've been listening to Louis L'Amour stories. The Lonely Men was another classic. A lone cowboy, with outstanding morals, saves a bunch of kids from the Natives. Again, countless shootouts, a saloon fight, and a bullet wound that would have killed any other man.  
Both of these stories also featured a strong woman character - who happen to shoot shotguns!  Very progressive in my opinion.
I know it is cheesey, but, I love when the Cowboy/Ranger can take on a pack of five ruffians, shoot them all with pinpoint accuracy, while they only manage to hit the dirt (or maybe a hat) with their bullets. How can you not love a talented man like that? Don't you just want to walk a mile in his boots, wear his hat, sport some chaps...ok, too far.
Although, I do wonder how to justify the hundreds upon hundreds of people these cowboys kill. Yes, they may be 'bad guys', but, how much blood can one hero draw before it's too much? That is the question I leave you with today...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012



What a ride (that was both praise...and shock). Samantha puts down some of the more memorable and humorous moments of her life in this biography of sorts. We start with her childhood - that explains a lot. Then onto her rebellious teen years. Her short stint in crime. Onto an animal story. Her experiences with the male organ. Then a giant rant about putting in some thought when giving a present.
The writing is overly wordy, filled with funny pop references, packed with sexual jokery, and is constantly off topic. But, done very well for that kind of writing. It's the kind of writing that makes you pay attention, in order to get the references and the word play, it sucks you in and takes you away from reality. You are vacuumed (hoovered up) into Samantha's book world and left feeling a bit shocked but in a good mood.
She starts the book off with a few classic Canadian childhood memories. Like going camping or tagging along with a couple while they honeymoon on the East Coast (including taking over their motel room when it rained - and it rained a lot). The Canadian experience continues when Sam starts to date a boy whose family, recently immigrated to Canada, does not approve of her and her Canadian ways. With this boy she helps commit car theft. Ah, true northern spirit. Then onto those awkward feathered hair years trying to catch older boys at heavy metals concerts and county fairs. We've all been there eh? Then the early adult experience of trying to live with roommates. Sam-wiched in with these stories are Sam's recollections of family pets, all shapes and sizes - there were many. As well, she often has a good side story on the more risk-eh? topics to add in the mix. So, overall very funny, very interesting, and could be considered a great Canadian work of some parts of the country (I'm thinking way way up North).

Rating: Read

Additional note: The cover is also appealing to children. They like bees. Or, people dressed as bees.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012



Finally, a book with a Caucus joke. I'm amazed this word is not used more often. I frequently find myself giggling when I'm listening to the radio and hear this word used in a serious news cast. Eg. Today the Prime Minister met with his Caucus to discuss potential problems with the recent low inflation rates. The Best Laid Plans has a Caucus joke (or two) and many more play on words with all that political jargon we often hear. There is also talk of chess, hovercrafts, and the Liberal Party of Canada...all funny topics on their own, but, mashed together by Fallis they become a hilarious story all Canadians need to read.
This is a satirical look into the inner workings of Canadian politics. It starts with Daniel, a burnt out political aid who leaves the Liberal party with one small favour asked of him - to find and run a candidate in a small rural riding. The problem: this riding has almost no Liberal support, let alone candidates, and has been won year after year by one of the most popular Conservative members of all time. 
The impossible begins.
Through some hard work and compromise a reluctant candidate is found (with a promise of not winning) and two unorthodox looking volunteers are reigned in to help run the election campaign. After a few unforeseen twists the impossible happens.
The story then shifts to the inner workings of our nation's capital, showing us many of the flaws inherent in our Parliamentary system, the flaws in many members, and the flaws of a Caucus. The newly elected member turns into a kind of lovable maverick who bucks tradition and acts in a way we would love all of our politicians to act - in the country's best interest with no regard for reelection.
You do not have to be a political buff to appreciate the story or jokes in this book and you don't have to even be Canadian to enjoy the story - although it does help a little. The writing by Fallis is easy to get into and easy to relate to. Most of the funny situations that arise transcend the political world and could just as easily happen in an office, any kind of community council, heck even a bookclub setting. It just seems to be that little bit funnier when it takes place with the leaders of our country, and a little bit scarier too. The characters, for the most part, are believable and lovable...especially that Maverick McLintock, who is the classic hard shelled grump with a soft chewy interior that you just want to eat up after you get to know him. Mmm.




We get to meet the Night Watch in this 8th Discworld novel by Pratchett. You gotta love a ragtag bunch of losers who have no recognizable talents and put no effort into their jobs whatsoever, yet, somehow seem to come out on top. This is the kind of situations that bring out the best in a character...or at least makes them memorable. Carrot, Knobbly (sic), Colon, and the other guy are now etched into that happy spot in my brain.
This toasty offering is just bubbling with laughs. Not only do we have the incompetent Night Watch, but there is a Crazy cat, Crazy dragon lady, a hilarious bunch of argumentative 'brothers', an angry librarian ape, and a dragon in heat. Image the story you can forge with all those characters.
I rank it up there as one of the better Discworlds I have read so far. 

Funny, as with some of the previous Discworld novels, I can barely recall the actual story line(s). What I vividly recall is a patchwork of funny scenes or one of the hilarious discussions/arguments. The book leaves me with more of a feeling than a distinct memory. A good, funny, happy feeling. Strange...


P.S. Think Carrot top.

Monday, October 29, 2012


(Chic-lit secret read #8)

Again my theory on Kinsella proves true. This book sat on satire and now has to run home and change! It's that, good. It is a powerful look at how deep cell phones (mobile phones for you English Englanders) have invaded our lives, how much control they have over people's behaviours, and even how they effect love lives!
There are many lines in the book that really drive home how personal cell phones are to some people. When Poppy loses her phone she says something along the lines of, "I feel like I've lost my life". Later on in the novel when she has the phone, with all her contacts and messages, she says the feeling of it in her hand is 'comforting'. Another example is when a computer tech realizes two people have been 'sharing' a phone he is shocked and calls them 'sick'. Wow, for a person such as myself that does not even own a cell phone I feel like I am missing out on a whole new world. I bet it is the same for those who are blogless, and do not know the rush of seeing your hit count rise or the ultimate enjoyment of seeing comments!
Back to the book now. The story really begins when Poppy loses her cell phone. She is so desperate to remain in contact with the world, for a variety of reasons mostly to do with her upcoming wedding and a missing engagement ring, that she ends up using a phone she finds in a garbage can. Yes, I realize this sounds outrageous and a too far fetched even for chick-lit, but, Kinsella's writing (and slightly crazed characters) make this seem believable. 
It turns out this phone is from the personal assistant of a rich, extremely successful, slightly handsome, emotionally fraught, guy named Sam. Sam is one of those people who is so busy, from all his success, that he leaves most of his life with his personal assistant. Therefore, the phone is chock-full-o-info on this guys life.
Poppy ends up making a deal with Sam that allows her to use this phone for just a couple of days and in exchange she is to forward all messages and emails onto Sam. After a day or two Poppy becomes deeply involved in Sam's life, both his personal life and professional life, thanks to all of the messages on this phone...which she was not supposed to read, but, did to burn time while riding the Tube. Since she doesn't know the entire story, or Sam on any sort of real life level, she starts to make assumptions and acts on them - replying to messages, setting up appointments...trying in her own way to be helpful. Of course these all backfire and make for some good laughs.
As you may well predict, one of those unspoken lovey dovey relationships starts to build. One that can't work because Sam is emotionless and Poppy is engaged. The difference with this one is that it climaxes over text messages. How modern eh?
I will not ruin the ending, but, will only say there are a few twists that make it interesting. 

I really enjoyed the use of text messages in this book - Short. Right to the point. Smiley Face :) conversations gave the book a unique feeling. Near the end of the book the phone needed to be wiped clean, and the tech guys managed to print up all the messages that were sent. When a novel sized stack of paper showing all of the messages Poppy and Sam exchanged it was as if their own personal love story were made into a paperback. Neat idea...and in a satirical way, showed the extreme overuse of text messaging by heavy users.

I listened to the audiobook of this and was very happy with the reader - Jayne Entwistle. Her voice matched the character of Poppy perfectly. Her voice was very chipper and you could just see her reading into a microphone with a great big smile plastered across her face. I was surprised to find out she was Canadian (or at least lived in Canada for a good chunk of her life) because, she narrated the book with a heavy British accent.


Thursday, October 25, 2012


An Oral History of the Zombie War

Now I get the whole zombie craze. Now I get the questions posted in forums and on facebook status updates asking how you'd fight off a zombie? Or your preferred weapon to decap a zombie? You know the questions I'm referring to?
Part end of the world story and part zombie horror flick, this book is hard to label. It is structured like a historical textbook, looking back at WWZ or the world war against the zombies. There are facts and timelines, but mostly interviews with survivors. It was so well done I almost felt like I was reading (or in my case listening to) a true, researched, fact checked, non-fiction. Maybe even as additional reading for a history 408 class at a local college, or something. It was so good it gave me the creeps...and a slightly restless night.
What made me think it was real was the beginning. The zombies start appearing like a sickness or plague. Nobody seems to take it that seriously. Which makes sense. What government or news media is going to take stories of the undead walking around infecting people in rural China seriously? But, then when they finally do, it's too late. The plague spreads too fast to control and before you know it there are cases around the entire world.
Through the interviews we get an idea of how different places dealt with the zombies, how zombies behaved, how they could be killed, why they get an almost scientific look into zombies. We also get many views of how the plague spread, what the world was like when it peaked, and how the survivors banned together to eventually win the war against them.
If you enjoy apocalypse books like The Postman or The Road you'll like this one. There was gruesome accounts of zombies eating guts and sick stuff like that, but, mostly the writing was about how the world changed and how the survivors were dealing with this new world.
I listened to the audiobook and have to say I think it could be better than the written one. Since the set up of the book is mostly interviews the audiobook has different voices for the different characters. That bumped it up a notch making it feel genuine and real. It felt like I was listening to the audio of a documentary.
Before hearing this book I had no knowledge of zombies, other than they make a good halloween costume, but now I feel educated. Yes, educated. One should know a bit about zombies...just in case.

Rating: READ

Friday, October 12, 2012


Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution!

Where is my hoe? I need it now! I want to rush out into the streets and start planting beans, tomatoes, apple trees. Literally, right on the street!
That is the conversation I had going on in my head after finishing this book.
Cockrall-King lays out her new food revolution theory. It's not an instruction manual, or a slogan filled rant, but a well researched look at examples of urban agriculture throughout the world and why it may be essential in the future. It was an eye opening look at all of the different ways we can grow food, not just on a farm outside of the city limits. For a backyard gardener like myself this was inspiring.
Jennifer's argument throughout the book was easy to follow and pretty common sense - that right now, our food system is fueled by oil (fertilizers, tractors, distribution, etc), but, if we are at 'peak' oil what will we have to do in the future? When oil becomes more expensive the cost of food will rise, until at some point it will not be affordable to continue with the current system. She points out that we will need a different way of growing food, a more sustainable way that does not rely on oil. Then she gives us a few examples from around the world and close to home here in the frosty north.
All of her examples stressed local food. Bringing food closer to the consumer seems to be a necessity, since shipping food thousands of kilometers is not sustainable. Different ways of growing food in cold weather was another repetitive topic. Also, integrating the growing of food, not just the eating of it, into our cities and everyday life crept up in most of the examples too.

It was interesting hearing about how other countries have unique ways of dealing with urban farming. I really liked the trip to Paris.
Paris. Ah, those foodie French! Not only are they the experts on cooking, but, apparently the experts on urban farming. Right in the heart of the densely packed city there are stone walled gardens that have been spitting out salad greens, tomatoes, fruits of all kinds (even in the winter), for hundreds of years. These stone walled enclaves are mini microclimates that hold in enough heat to keep producing all year round. Fruit trees are grown and pruned to hug the wall, grabbing all that stored heat, and producing fruit for a much longer time than if in an open orchard out in the countryside. In the winter these plots are the only ones supplying fresh produce, which means they can charge a premium price. This is what has made the system sustainable for so long and will keep it going for years to come.
Another example, that I was vaguely familiar with, was the situation in Cuba.
Cuba. This is the example held up to the world to show that urban agriculture (organic to boot) can work. Cuba was farming the same way as everyone else - using oil for pesticides, fertilizers, to run tractors, and distribute from the countryside to the city. Then the Soviet union collapsed. The US imposed an ultra tough trade embargo. And, well, Cuba is rather poor. So, they lost their oil and had to find another way to feed their people. They had to overhaul their entire way food was produced and distributed. Intensive urban farming was the solution. Tracts of land, right in cities, are set aside and intensively farmed. Produce is sold right from a stall at the end of the 'field' direct to the consumers. There are almost no grocery stores now, and much of the food the people eat is grown right down the street.
Along with the positives, there were a few negative stories. LA was one of them.
LA, USA. Gang ridden, run down South Central LA is full of abandoned industrial sites that leave a nasty blight on the city. The area is a food desert - no grocery stores with fresh produce for miles and miles. A new 'union' of farmers, mostly immigrants from Central American countries, living in the area take over these sites and build community gardens to grow fresh vegetables for themselves. They take back these asphalt covered garbage dumps and make them productive and lively. However, after these places are built up and attractive again, the old owners come and take them back...with the help of the law. It's one of those infuriating stories you hate to hear about.
In the frozen land of the north here, Jennifer shows us how far behind we are. She shows us many great ideas, but, sadly they all seemed to be isolated one-off situations.
Canada. Jennifer did some travelling across Canada and wrote about a few novel ideas she came across. Public orchards was one I found interesting, and left wondering why all cities don't plant a few apple trees here and there? Same as an idea for the food bank to go around and pick fruit from trees on private property (with permission of course). The most interesting idea was one 'farmer' who swapped the use of people's lawns for vegetables. The ideas is this guy would use your lawn as a garden and give you a half or a third of what he produced. He then went on and sold the rest at a farmer's market or to local restaurants. The example in the book told of one guy making an actual living wage doing was a lot of work and bike riding to his three or four different lawns/gardens, but, it was possible.

Food and the City sure gives you something to think about. It's inevitable things will be different in the future, but, what can we do now to prepare for that? After reading this I am even more motivated to expand my vegetable garden out back, and change my flowers out front to blueberry bushes. I have even started urban foraging (picking up walnuts from a tree near where I work), and plan on planting some of these walnuts to give my kids (although more likely the squirrels) even more local food to munch on in the future. I plan on suggesting planting apple trees whenever I can (be it in a letter to the city, next time our school plans a new garden, at our annual condo board meeting) or even joining local activist groups that would take over abandoned parking lots and turn them into herb gardens.
But, that is just me. The book may have a different effect on you.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through The Seasons

A granola-crunchy wholesome book about connecting you, and your family, with the earth. It is a nice mix of inspiring moments, seasonal activities, and crafts - all focusing on finding that natural rhythm of the ever revolving seasons. The book is split into four parts (spring, summer, fall, winter) and each part follows a similar format - a couple of personal journal type entries by Amanda and Stephen Soule that reflect on the way their family reacts/celebrates each season. Followed by an activity and craft (or a few) that are relevant to the season (making soup, collecting leaves or other naturey things, yoga in the park, etc). 
Reading through this book, like with the other Soulemama books, I am reminded to slow down, smell the roses, and keep life simple. It made me want to continue teaching my kids about trees and plants...and build that mystical bond with earth, the wind, the sky...I know, it sounds a little far fetched, slightly embarrassing, nudist-colony-hippie-type thinking...but, it's true (not the nudist part).
Compared to the other books by Amanda (Soulemama), this one had a different feel and style. I think it was the vastly different writing style of Stephen (Soulepapa). He seemed to take a different perspective on things; almost like taking a step back to get that larger panoramic view. I found his writing style edging on poetic and rather wordy. Amanda's on the other hand felt more personal somehow, and easier to connect with. It was just simple, in an easy going kind of way. It was interesting, in a literary way, to see the different writing styles on the same topics. However, personally I enjoyed reading Amanda better than Stephen (sorry, Stephen).
I would say read the other Soulemama books first (if you haven't), then read through her blog, before getting around to reading this one. But, be sure to put it on your list of must read granola-crunchy wholesome books.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012


(#6 in the Shopaholic Series)

- Sophie Kinsella -

I believe this book, and the series, is being marketed under the wrong genre. If you go looking for this book in the bookstore you need look no further than the 'Chic-Lit' table at the front of the store, overflowing with books of similar cover. Usually with witty names and pictures of legs clad with fashionable boots. Books with little substance. Unlike its cousins, whom are full of fluffy relationship stories taking place at say, an ad agency full of houte couture fashionistas drinking Starbucks capp....oh, right, this book does contain similar things. But, there is much more! Really there is.
In reality this book is surprisingly deep. If you change your perspective a bit, it appears to be taking a harsh look at society, with a needle sharp criticism of consumerism. Which is why I believe it is worthy of another label. Kinsella, although she may not have intended for this, is a satirical genius!
Seriously, along with the outrage she elicits through her character's shopping problems she brings out a good laugh. Two things associated with good satire. The ridiculous situations brought up in these books show us, sadly, just how far consumerism / materialism have penetrated some people's lives. And, did I mention they are laugh out loud funny situations?
No part of the book highlights my theory more than the new shopping mall incident. Your typical Becky Bloomwood story, she will soon be telling at a shopaholics anonymous meeting, brought to a new level - she brings in her two year old daughter! First, she makes a deal with Luke not to shop. Then on a trip out she sees that a new shopping mall has been built and there is a grand opening; discounts, gifts, sales sales sales! She cannot resist and makes an excuse to stop. She 'needs' to buy socks for Mini. As soon as they get in the door the purchases start. They are not Becky's buys. No, they are Mini's. Becky has given her an allowance, and let her borrow on her future earnings (to teach her about budgeting). She is apparently in hock for the next twenty two years, but, it was worth it...some real bargains. Then Becky attempts to get Mini to agree to purchase a designer dress that will fit her in twenty years (but, Becky might borrow it for right now, seeing as it would be in her size). It all ends in a tantrum that bans Becky (and Mini) from a store.
Imagine, using your two year old to justify buying a dress - that is how down and out Becky has become in this book. Doesn't that just remind you of some desperate drug addicts worst story? See, change your perspective a bit and this book is deep!
Compared to the other Shopaholic books in the series this seemed funnier and more exciting...same unbelievable ending, but, that's ok sometimes. It had a great mixture of hilarious moments and character building emotional storylines. The majority of the hilarity comes from Becky's justifications for shopping and buying ungodly expensive designer things and from all the white lies she tells to solve problems she runs across. Mini, a typical two year old, has some good moments as well, involving such things as honey sandwiches and accidental e-purchases when she bangs on the laptop (as any two year old is bound to do).
The book was full of all the old characters from previous books in the series, but, there was one storyline that focused on Luke and his Mother. Giving us a bit more depth into both of their characters. Not much development with Becky, but, that's fine with me because I think she is one of the most hilarious characters on paper and I wouldn't want her to change.


*I listened to this on audiobook. I have to say, it was strange to hear a Brit attempting an American accent.

Monday, October 1, 2012




Ah, finally a book one can truly relate too. A book about white trash and redneck culture. Although, not exactly the kind of culture you might initially think of, such as Nascar, Wrestling, and Deep Fried Twinkie eating contests. This delves deeper into the culture of low income, low class, economic slavery. Bageant gives a well rounded, inside view, of how the 'bottom' rung of the American population has went from backwoods hillbillies to mobile home mortgaging right wingers.
The book starts with Bageant recalling his childhood. It sounded idyllic. He was happy, he had a close extended family, he spent most of his days playing outside, he had plenty of local organic food to eat, a warm house in the winter, and even spent countless hours reading library books. All this took place on a small subsistence farm his family had tilled and nurtured for generations. It was ecologically friendly and sustainable. They were pretty much self sufficient and the things they could not do for themselves, well, with the help of some neighbors it could be done. Hard work and thrifty living were values of the culture...debt was avoided as much as possible. And, old Grandma and Grandpa seem to live healthy, active, valuable lives up into their 80s and beyond. It was a fulfilling life.

Boy, that sounds like a mighty fine life to me.

Apparently, this was a very common way of living eighty, ninety, one hundred years ago. A good chunk of the population lived this way. The redneck way.
Then comes 'development'. After WWII, things start to drastically change. Corporations gain more power, people start flocking to the city for a 'better' life, and rural America changes.
Bageant gives a well thought out theory of how Corporations and the Super-Rich use both the government and the media to exacerbate the rarely talked about classes in society. Rednecks, of course, are the low class. The hopelessly stuck, abused, exploited, disposable, 'cheap labour', that keeps the Rich rich. His book outlines how they have been made to leave the farming life and become a consuming, debt drowning, illiterate, low paid, group of people...all so the Corporations can have someone to sell things to, have cheap labour, and keep getting bigger and bigger.
His arguments, for the most part, made complete sense and made me feel the rage - rage against those terrible Multinationals!
But, what makes this book more than a neo-liberal attack ad is the white trash humour Bageant speckles through this book. The stuff you really want to read. The reason you picked up the book in the first place.
Come on? You see 'redneck memoir' and you expect some book about hunting Deer outta the back of your monster truck while drinking Miller Genuine Drafts, don't you?
Well, there are lots examples of stereotypical 'redneck/white trash' behaviour, but, Joe has a way of putting it all into context. Eg, the whole huntin' thing...and, how close to nature these rednecks really are. How they are stewards to the land and forests where they live, not tree huggers (don't ever imply that). They are practical. If there is no woods, there ain't gonna be no deer to hunt. 
By the end of the book I had a new found appreciation for the hardships these rednecks have had to go through and a better understanding of why they behave the way they do. And, if you'll believe the overly repetitive jabs that Joe makes sure to put into every second page - the US is not a classless society. There are a few million rich folk exploiting hundreds of millions of lower class folk. And, the future is looking to get even worse...or, as he ended the book. It will be a natural circle, and we will end up back as hillbilly farmers.




A Detective Rebus collection. Not a novel, but a collection of 'shorts'. It is one of those books you grab in haste because of the author. Or, you are a really really big fan and need to have everything the author has ever written.
Even though I have enjoyed many Rankin books in the past, I am in the 'haste' category.
I picked this up at a booksale. The booksale where you fill a box for $5. The sale is a mad dash into an overly crowded barn with two rows of tightly packed books. You have to fight your way, with your box, into the melee where you grab anything and everything. You see the name of an author you slightly recognize? You grab it! You see a cover of a book that looks slightly interesting? You grab it! You find the fantasy section? Grab everything! After your box is overflowing, or hitting the fifty pound mark and getting to heavy to carry with one hand (because you need the other hand to grab books and fend of others going through your box), you take the box aside and go through it. This is where you realize you've picked up two copies of the same chic-lit book, book 12 and 15 from the same fantasy series (which you've only read book 1 and 2), and a microwave cookbook which you though by the cover picture was some funny memoir about the 80's. You toss these rejects and head back for want to get your $5 worth, right?!
After you get home and start analyzing your box of books you run across things like A Good Hanging. It was picked up because of the author's name. It made it through the barnyard toss, unlike that microwave cookbook, because it appeared to be a worthwhile novel - a real gem. But, upon closer inspection it turned out to be a collection of short stories. One of those books authors seem to put out to get that last little bit of coin from the most die hard of fans. Unpublished and unfinished sorts of things tend to end up in books like this. If you've ever read anything like this you'll nod your head in agreement that the quality of these things tend to be a bit shoddy. Sometimes there will be an anecdote or two that stick with you for years, but, for the most part it's in one ear and out the other.
What you'll find with A Good Hanging is reminiscent of what Sherlock Holmes' I've read; tiny, one off, mysteries that are quickly solved by that magic piece of evidence or through a tricked confession. For the most part entertaining and interesting to read, but, lack the substance of a novel. What I really found strange was the lack of a sidekick, no Siobhan in this book. All Rebus. As long as you know this going in, you should find this book ok. Not one to write home about, but, solid enough to buy for under a dollar.
And, I believe as intended by Rankin, reading this book made me recall that I really enjoy this Detective Rebus. But, what I really like is the non-crime related part of him, where he hangs out in seedy bars and coerces ratfinks to give him bits of underworld info with a 20 pound note (or an arm twisting). This is the stuff you learn about when you read an entire novel, not just the, I hit up the Rankin section at my library.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012



If even a drop of the claims Michael makes in this book are true, then my farthest flung cynical thoughts on the US are also true. Furthest flung thoughts I will stress. These are the unbelievable conspiracy theories you hear about every once in a blue moon from distant left field that sound too awful to be true. The best one: that George W. started the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to make some money on an oil pipeline or two. Imagine, one guy having that power and motivation to start a war or two for a few all mighty bucks? From the way Moore tells it, that is more or less what happened. He backs up his claim with fact after fact, and by bringing forth all of the questionable relationships Bush and his companies had with say, the Osamas? He is a master at highlighting all the hypocracy that comes up with Bush or the US government. I have to say, I would not want to be the opponent of Moore on any level of a debate. He makes a case, and he makes it sound so convincing.
This book is more or less a critical look at how George W. Bush and his government reacted after the September 11th attacks. For me, it was an eye opener. From my vantage point, being a Canadian University student, I was from another country and at a point in my life where I was so self consumed I barely recognized the scale of the events that took place. All I really remember was thinking, 'oh crud, this tighter security means I'm going to have to get a passport to get into the US to do some shopping'. This book quickly gave me a rundown of the patriot act and how the laws and rights of people were dramatically changed from a free open democracy to a secretive big brother type deal.
From there the conspiracy theories start racking up. They range from Bush starting a war for his oil pipeline deal, the news media being highjacked by right wing money, international bribery and coersion, big corporations continuing to feed citizens fear to keep the money rolling in...and on and on.
Michael brings outstanding arguments to prove his theories and after hearing them all I wholeheartedly believed him. But, then, realizing if I did believe him, the entire world would be so f*&4 up that there would really no point in believing in anything anymore; from any politician and any mainstream news company. This book is scarier than anything in the horror section.
Then to top it off, he continued for a few more chapters, drilling home how terrible the 'right' / repulican's ideas are for the country and how they get away with it all.
By the time he was through I was thinking, 'Dude, where is your country?' From Moore's perspective the US has been hijacked by a small minority of fear mongering fat cats who are brainwashing the proles into following their every word...there was an eerie moment when he quoted 1984 and every word sounded like a fact. Scary.
Luckily, I'm a border away, with universal health care, a decent minimum wage, and...a similar right leaning leader (uh, oh).
I have to say the writing style was grade A. Very easy to read and get into. It was set up nicely, asking question after question to really bring home the hypocracey points. I could feel my blood pressure spiking with each question posed, as I'm sure Moore intended. I also loved the humour he laced throughout the book - that sarcastic witty, sometimes absurd comedy, that I personally think is hilarious.
I want him to look into our country next. See what he can dig up on Harper?


I listed to this on audiobook. I kind of wished Michael had voiced this one himself. I think it would have made the book a bit more enjoyable if you could hear Michael getting worked up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012



I made the mistake of starting this series with this book - book 11 as it turns out. I didn't realize this at the time of purchase. All I saw was this book in the bargain bin at the bookstore with an attractive $2 sticker on it! Even though it was book 11, I did not get too lost in the story, even with the 101 references to previous books in the series. Butcher does a great job of explaining all the unique little things that make this 'world' different, like the supernatural beings, the magic spells, the White Council, etc. I'm sure I would have had a much better understanding of the nuances if I'd read the previous 11 books, but, I did not feel I was out to lunch.

This was a book that was easy to get into. What I really liked was the fantasy aspect, with the magic fights and the strange magical community. The 'urban fantasy' twist was interesting too - a wizard doing magical things in modern day Chicago - even though these things always strike me as being too unrealistic. The story was one of those old style sleuth mysteries, I was waiting for gangsters in Dick Tracy style fedoras to pop into a scene. However, that kind of story combined with the relaxed writing style blended perfectly. I got the feeling the protagonist Dresden even realized his life sounded ridiculous. He jokes that his half brother is a Vampire, his friends are Werewolves, and he has Wizards knocking on his door in the middle of the night! 

In this story, Dresden's arch enemy / rival wizard comes knocking on his door looking for a safe place to hide out. This wizard claims that he is being framed for the murder of some other well know important senior committee type wizard...and he only has 48 hours before his super powerful hiding protective spell wears off and he will be found! Even though helping out a suspected criminal wizard like this could mean death Dresden is on the case, trying to solve this mystery before he runs out of time.

For my first taste of Butcher, I found his writing entertaining and quirky. He has created a bunch of interesting characters who I feel would fit well into a series like this. I think you would come to love them after reading the previous 11 books.
The story felt well constructed and moved along at a good pace, I think the deadline helped give it that sense of urgency that made you want to keep reading. The magical world Butcher created, alongside modern day Chicago, was done very well. It was interesting, creative, and actually did seem like it could exist (which I find is sometimes a problem with urban fantasy).

I have to admit, I did not finish this book. Oh, the shame! But, aren't you really thinking, finally, one of those...secrets nobody talks about, like reading Fifty Shades. I would say this fits into a distinct club. There are not many books I pick up, read one hundred twelve pages, then decide to pass on to other unsuspecting friends or a charity shops. But, this is one of those lucky two or three in a year.

After about halfway through the novel I just lost interest. It was not just one thing, but, a variety of things. The story kind of felt drawn out and repetitive, but, it was probably just that mid novel flatlands you sometimes have to suffer through to get to a fantastic ending. Also, I had no connection to this series, which if you are a series reader will know, leads one to read bad or mediocre books just because they are part of your favourite series. And, lastly, because I have a stack of other books that have that appeal of mystery - not mystery genre, but, the potential to be better than this current book.

Rating: READ *

*Would recommend you read the other Dresden Files books first.

Monday, September 24, 2012



Bits. That is what this book is made of - Bits. Not entrails or chicken toes. Not those kind of bits. Just bits of writing. A short account of eating a seal. A page or two on where Chefs and other kitchen staff drink after hours. A few paragraphs about other books by cooks. A rather short travel log about cooking on a cruise ship. Just bits like that.
I did not find this collection much different than Kitchen Confidential or Medium Raw. Yes, Kitchen Confidential had a storyline, but, it was mostly made up of bits like this. No argument that the stories were longer and much deeper, but, in the end they were seperate stories thrown together in one book to give you a glimpse into the world of cooking. Nasty Bits is similar, it is just missing a destination.
Overall, it had that same cuss filled opinionated writing about food and food culture that I was expecting from Bourdain...and secretly craving. I'm still looking for a author who can outdo Anthony in this little niche of the literary scene. The niche I'm referring to is the attitude filled, overly profane, insult ridden, darkly humorous, yet easily readable food and/or food related (including Cookbooks) books. As of yet, I have not found anyone that can best him. But, if you know of someone please instant message me asap.

A lot of reviewers of this book seem to get a really worked up over the structure. I read complaint after complaint about how this book is hard to get into because it's choppy, disjointed...blah blah. Hello?! It implies right on the front that this book is made up of scraps, bits, etc. The preface has Bourdain explaining that he has assembled a collection of articles he wrote for magazines, bits (again with the bits) that did not make it into his other books, and a small work of fiction. Did these reviewers just forget to read the preface. First rule in book reading - Read the Preface! Skip the table of contents, but, don't ever skip the Preface.

My only complain, the same one I had with Medium Raw, is Bourdain's preoccupation with insulting the 'celebrity chef'. Come on, the Bobby Flay or Jaime Oliver bashing gets really old after a dozen go-rounds.


*First read the Preface!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012



Bill takes a trip down under and decides to share it with us. 

Guess I'd better write back.


So, you finally made it 'down under', to the place where the toilets swirl the 'wrong' way? 
I really enjoyed your picturesque descriptions of the landscape, the water, the parks, and all of the cities and towns you visited in Australia. I thought your attempts at humour were pretty good, for the most part. I didn't actually laugh out loud, but, I would smile sometimes. I was getting worried near the end, it sounded like you were getting a bit worn out and grumpy. If fact, you sounded pretty rude - bordering on jackass - on that day in Darwin! Usually, you are pretty upbeat and positive. Did something happen, something you are not telling us about? Did you just long for the good ol' USA?
I noticed many of your comparisons were American references. Luckily, I knew who Lewis & Clark were. Sorry, you didn't understand the whole parliamentary political system. Or, the whole colonial thing. But, I really don't think there is anything wrong with Australians still wanting to be connected to Great Britain. You don't have to berate them for not wanting to be a 'real' country. Us Canadian's are like that. We like having a Queen. It's just for traditional sake anyway.
Along with that, just wondering why you commented on the Australians being 'self consumed' just for having a section in the used bookstore called Australiana. Oh Bill, I've been to your country, and let me tell you, if one country is self consumed it's you guys.
I'm sure you were just having a bad day. Or were you lonely? It didn't sound like you made any new friends, or even talked to more than half a dozen people. Before you left, I thought you said you were going to get a real feel for the country and the people...what happened to the people part? I told you, you've gotta take me next time. I'll talk to people and get the real scoop on the country. I bet your head was probably just stuck in one your books again. All that reading sure paid off eh? I know more about Australian history and geography than one needs to know in a lifetime thanks to you. You do a good job of explaining it too. Perhaps you'd consider a teaching job at the local college instead of this writing thing. You'd be great at it! Trust me.
Oh, I heard you baseball team is doing good this year. Didn't take up cricket yet (haha)? I'm going to have to have a debate with you next time we get together about that; you really think baseball is more exciting than cricket? They are almost the same pace when compared to hockey!
Hey, what was up with your lack of writing on the Aborigines? You snuck in a few teasers about how they have a long long long and rich history, and how there were tons of modern day problems. Now, I'm no editor but, those sounded like they'd make for some great reading.
Um, not meaning to sound too frank (or rude in any way), and I'm hoping this comes across as constructive criticism for your next international travel book. The whole tone of this book made you sound like the stereotypical 'American' tourist. You know what I mean? Where anything not like America is somehow inferior. You just made way too many comments about Australia being backwards or outdated 'like 1950's America'. I found the only genuine sounding comment you made about the people was when you said something along the lines of how they walk in a casual, yet confident way, like Americans. Anyway, you know being Canadian I have an inferiority complex with you guys, so I'm probably blowing this thing out of proportion. Sorry.
I would enjoy hearing more of your travels. I understand you have another account of your trip through the Appalachian mountains. Sounds like a blast.
Well, the wife and kids are good. Planning a trip to Disney next winter, I'll send you my review of it, let you criticize the heck out of it ;)

Sincerely, Bookworm Smith

**I listened to this audiobook. It was read by Bill Bryson himself.

Monday, September 17, 2012



Ok, I didn't actually 'read' this book. I listened to it. Yep, my first audiobook experience, and I'm am still amazed at the guy who read me the book. He rambled on for 11 hours without once making a mistake, taking a sip of water, coughing, clearing his throat, falling asleep, sneezing...nothing. I barely make it through a chapter of Easy Read Level 1 while reading to my daughter at night without a couple of mistakes, a dry cough or two, and on some nights a thirty second nap.

Back to my audio experience: I've been listening to 'talk' radio for years now. I've flipped and flopped between bbcworldservice (for international news with a British twist) and cbcradio (for that Canadian experience). I'm accustomed to listening to informative documentaries while I type away doing 'work'. Listening to WikiLeaks was similar, just on a much bigger scale. Typical radio documentaries are only ten minutes, maybe fifteen at the most. WikiLeaks, by comparison, was 11 hours long! And, it was so good I was disappointed when it ended. Not only because it was interesting, but, because I was not expecting the end to come on disc 8. There are 10 discs in the container. The last two are readings of the appendix! Some appendix eh?!

The story was part Assange biography, part hacker handbook, and part open source manifesto.
If you have not paid any attention to international media in the past few years you may not have heard about all the drama surrounding WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Quick summary: Assange was a computer hacker who wanted to bring more openness to the world. His heroic idea would bring about public information actually being public. No more hidden government memos showing corruptions scandals. No more covered up human rights violations..stuff like that. He ended up creating the 'whistleblowing' website WikiLeaks. Some notable highlights include a trove of reports and videos from both the (second) Iraq war and the Afghanistan war, confirming torture and civilian killings...stuff like that. The peak is when the site gains access to a million US diplomatic memos, letters, reports, etc from all of the US embassies across the world. Most of the reports are just embarrassing stuff, like Diplomats making unflattering remarks about some dictator or some country's president. But, there were also more serious things on security, economies, China...stuff like that.
The book takes a look at everything with a microscope. Right from the beginning we are bombarded with wide ranging fact. Facts about Assange, his childhood, his Mother, his Father, the communities he lived was obvious the writers were very in depth reporters...but, this kind of all encompassing fact gathering mission worked well as the story progressed. Everything about Wikileaks was very complicated. You needed to know a bit about computer hacking culture, how encryption worked, how the US military stored information, a bit about international law, how internet servers worked, the politics of the Iraq war...a huge hodgepodge of things. That is why 11 hours did not seem to be enough time to leave me feeling satisfied that I knew the entire story.
I thought I had a general idea of the Wikileaks scandal from random news reports I'd heard over the past year or two. I knew that Assange was, right now, holed up in the Guatemalan or Ecuadorian embassy in the UK, still fighting extradition charges from the accused rape charges. But, as it turns out, I did not know 1/100th of the story. This book really brought it all together, made the whole Assange and Wikileaks connection make sense. Made the conspiracy theories about the US wanting to extradite Assange and lock him up in Cuba actually believable. After reading this book I feel like an educated world citizen, with a valid opinion on this headlining news story. What a great feeling.

I did really enjoy listening to this book, however, I think it might have been a little easier to follow all the technical explanations and short form codes if I were reading the book. There is a lot of jargon; a lot of explanations on how hackers can use FTP portals and PFP encryption. There were a lot of shortforms used for people, places, file names. It got a bit overwhelming, especially since I was multitasking.