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.