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Books Read in 2009
Well, my reading goal for 2009 was to read 25 books. Not a lot, but in 2008 I didn't read very much at all, so it felt doable. And it was! I read 44 books total. (Why didn't I finish just one more? I'm only 70 or so pages from the end of one of my current reads.)

Books Read, January through December, 2009
01 – J13 - Weather Makers, Tim Flannery, Review
02 – J15 - The Tales of Beedle the Bard, JK Rowling, Review
03 – J20 - Criminal Minds: Finishing School, Max Allen Collins, Review
04 – J21 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald, ">Review
05 – J27 - A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon, Review
06 – F11 - Divisidero, Michael Ondaatje, Review
07 – F14 - Keys to the Kingdom: Mister Monday, Garth Nix
08 – F22 - Keys to the Kingdom: Grim Tuesday, Garth Nix
09 - M08 - The Supernaturalist, Eoin Colfer, Review
10 – M15 - Keys to the Kingdom: Drowned Wednesday, Garth Nix
11 – M23 - Keys to the Kingdom: Sir Thursday, Garth Nix
12 – M29 - Keys to the Kingdom: Lady Friday, Garth Nix
13 – A05 - Keys to the Kingdom: Superior Saturday, Garth Nix
14 – A12 - God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, Review
15 – M04 - Spook Country, William Gibson, Review
16 – M08 - City of Thieves, David Benioff
17 – M28 -The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, MG Vassanji, Review
18 – J03 - The Accidental, Ali Smith, Review
19 - J05 - Skim, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, Review
20 – J12 - The Mysterious Benedict Society,Trenton Lee Stewart, Review
21 – J19 - The Man who Forgot How to Read, Howard Engel, Review
22 – J25 - Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan, Review
23 – J02 - Born on a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet, Review
24 – J04 - Adverbs, Daniel Handler, Review
25 – J07 - jPod, Douglas Coupland, Review
26 – J12 - When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris, Review
27 – J22 - Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, Review
28 – J27 - Interworld, Neil Gamain & Michael Reaves, Review
29 – J28 - The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews, Review
30 – A03 - Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card, Review
31 – A04 - The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill, Review
32 – A12 - M is for Magic, Neil Gaiman, Review
33 – A14 - Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card, Review
34 – S16 - Little, Big, John Crowley
35 – S23 - The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
36 – O16 - Ghost Story, Peter Straub, Review
37 – O20 - Chasing Vermeer, Blue Balliett
38 – O27 - Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
39 – N12 - Pattern Recognition, William Gibson, Review
40 – N22 - At Last There is Nothing Left to Say, Matthew Good
41 – N27 - The Chrysalids, John Wyndham, Review
42 – D02 - Elizabeth Rex, Timothy Findley
43 – D04 - You Are What You Eat, Gillian McKeith
44 – D10 - Dark Entries, Ian Rankin

Assorted Nonsense About What I read in 2009Collapse )

Goals for 2010

Here is the list...Collapse )

Review: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
It's been quite a long while now since I read Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, but since I've still got a couple books left in this universe to read: here's a quick blurb.

Opening paragraph:
Speaker for the Dead travels far into the future of Ender Wiggin's life. No longer the boy found in Ender's Game, Ender is a man who travels from one colony to another speaking on behalf of the dead. Ender's book "The Hive Queen and the Hegemon", which told the story of the buggers and their destruction, eventually became the basis of his profession: telling the story, both good and bad, of a life. Ender is called to a planet with a known intelligent alien life, piggies, to speak the death of Pipo, a xenologer who studies the piggies and has been brutally killed by them. En route to the planet, he is called again to speak the death of yet another murdered xenologer, Pipo's son Libo, and that of the husband, Marcos, of the planet's only xenobiologist, Novinha, who had worked closely with both Pipo and Libo. Ender arrives to find Novinha an embittered and detached adult who is terrified of the secrets Ender might reveal in speaking the deaths of the three men. Naturally, Ender shakes things up for the entire community, first by showing up at all and then by revealing so much that has been kept secret.More here…Collapse )

Orson Scott Card has written dozens of novels and short stories, including at least eight about Ender Wiggin. Card has won numerous awards, including multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. Orson Scott Card's official website can be found at Hatrack River.

Card, Orson Scott. Speaker for the Dead. New York: Tor, 1994.
Finished: 14 August 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 speaking trees
This was my 4th book in August and my 33rd in 2009

Review: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is a post-apocalyptic novel describing a society some thousand years into a future where some catastrophic event, called Tribulation by survivors in Labrador, has laid waste to most of the world, rendering much of North America uninhabitable or gone wild with mutated plants and animals. Animals and plants with mutations are destroyed; mutated people are either killed or rendered sterile and left to fend for themselves in the Fringes, an area bordering the Badlands where mutations are more common than true images.

David Strorm is son of his community's most zealous supporter of the fight to maintain purity; he is also one of a handful of telepathic children in the area. Realizing that they too are mutations, the children fight to keep their secret, but David's sister, more strongly telepathic than any of the others, is incapable of controlling her abilities and inadvertently reveals the secrets of the entire group.

Opening paragraph:
When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city – which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was. But this city, clustered on the curve of a big blue bay, would come into my mind. I could see the streets, and the buildings that lined them, the waterfront, even boats in the harbour; yet, waking, I had never seen the sea, or a boat…
I really enjoyed this book. I have a thing for novels about dystopian futures and also for science fiction that clearly relates to the real world.

More here…Collapse )

John Wyndham was the author of a number of books from the mid-1930s to the late 1960s. (He died in 1969.) His novels include The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, and The Midwitch Cuckoos. He also wrote short fiction, but is most well known for these novels (and The Chrysalids), which were all published in the 1950s.

Wyndham, John. The Chrysalids. London: Penguin, 2008.
Finished: 27 November 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 six-toed girls
This was my 3rd book in November and my 41st in 2009.

Review: M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman's M is for Magic was a disappointment. I hate to say that because I love Gaiman and don't want to feel that way. And generally his books are so good that when I feel kind of iffy about something, I feel like it must be my fault rather than his. How could it be my fault when an author's book doesn't live up to my expectations? Well, in this case, I didn't notice that it was a compilation of eleven stories, of which I'd already read (and in most cases, owned!) nine.

Opening paragraph from "The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds":
I sat in my office, nursing a glass of hooch and idly cleaning my automatic. Outside the rain fell steadily, like it seems to do most of the time in our fair city, whatever the tourist board says. Heck, I didn't care. I'm not on the tourist board. I'm a private dick, and one of the best, although you wouldn't have known it; the office was crumbling, the rent was unpaid, and the hooch was my last.
The idea of M is for Magic was to select and group together stories that might appeal to children. Some stories are meant to be scary, others funny. There is poetry and prose, genres children might enjoy but never have encountered (for example, the noir styled "The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds").

More here…Collapse )

Neil Gaiman has written all kinds of books, screenplays, comics, short stories, and poems, for adults, young adults and children. If you've not read his books, you should. He has a website that I'm too lazy to look up the link for at the moment. Google won't let you down.

Gaiman, Neil. M is for Magic. New York: Harper Trophy, 2008.
Finished: 12 August 2009
Rating: 3 of 5 carved and eaten sunbirds
This was my 3rd book in August and my 32nd in 2009.

Review: Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
When William Gibson first wrote his cyberpunk novels, Neuromancer and the rest, in the early 80s the idea of the internet, of cyberspace, was so new and unknown that it might have turned into anything. It was all (almost all) speculation then, what the technology might become. Now that the internet has become a ubiquitous presence in nearly everyone's life, I don't think there's so much room to imagine what might be as there is to imagine how we might use what we've got. Pattern Recognition was Gibson's first step away from speculative science fiction into the present day.

Opening paragraphs:
Five hours' New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm.
It is that flat and spectral non-hour, awash in limbic tides, brainstem stirring fitfully, flashing inappropriate reptilian demands for sex, food, sedation, all of the above, and none really an option now.
Not even food, as Damien's new kitchen is as devoid of edible content as its designers' display windows in Camden High Street. Very handsome, the upper cabinets face in canary-yellow laminate, the lower with lacquered, unstained apple-ply. Very clean and almost entirely empty, save for a carton containing two dry pucks of Weetabix and some loose packets of herbal tea. Nothing at all in the German fridge, so new that its interior smells only of cold and long-chain monomers.
Cayce Pollard works as both a "cool hunter" (finding new street trends that companies can then exploit for sales) and as a kind of logo-reader, deducing on sight whether or not a logo will work or fail. Cayce is in London to vet a new logo for a sneaker company represented by the marketing firm Blue Ant (which also appears in Gibson's later novel Spook Country).
More here...Collapse )

William Gibson is probably best known for his novel Neuromancer, but he's also published several other novels and books of short stories, including The Difference Engine and Burning Chrome. William Gibson's website and blog can be found here.

Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. New York: Berkley, 2005.
Finished: 12 November 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 ducks to the face
This was my 1st book in November and my 39th in 2009.

Review: Ghost Story by Peter Straub
One of my favourite websites, The AV Club has a monthly book club (link leads directly there), which I've never quite managed to participate in because either the book hasn't arrived on time, I haven't been interested in the book, or I haven't finished reading the book by the discussion dates. (In that last case was the lovely Little, Big by John Crowley. I never did write about that book because as much as I liked it, I equally didn't like it, and didn't know how to articulate the way I felt about it.) I did manage to read Ghost Story by Peter Straub not just in time, but a week early because I had the discussion dates confused.

I'd probably never have picked this book up – it's a ghost story and I do avoid most thriller/crime/mystery novels, except for young adult books – if not for the book club. And I can't decide if I'm glad to have read it or just indifferent. The general gist of the story is that four men, who are creeping up close to retirement age, are haunted by an occurrence from their past, metaphorically speaking, but increasingly it seems also to be a literal haunting with consequences reaching far beyond their own lives.

Opening paragraph:
What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?
I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…
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Peter Straub has written a number of novels, many of them award-winning horror novels, including two collaborations with Stephen King. His official website can be found here.

Straub, Peter. Ghost Story. New York: Pocket Books, 1989.
Finished: 16 October 2009
Rating: 3 of 5 flesh-eating ghosties
This was my 1st book in October and my 36th in 2009.

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Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
When I bought Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game (well, "The Ender Quartet," really) I knew next to nothing about it. I knew it is a highly regarded science fiction novel, originally published when I was a young child. (The story the novel was based on was published in 1977, the novel in 1985.) I knew too that it seemed to be a polarizing book – people loved it or hated it without so many opinions falling somewhere in between. As for me, I loved it, flaws and all.

Opening paragraphs:
"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get."
"That's what you said about the brother."
"The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability."
"Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He's too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else's will."
"Not if the other person is his enemy."
"So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?"
"If we have to."
Ender's Game is military science fiction...Collapse )

Orson Scott Card has written dozens of novels and short stories, including at least eight about Ender Wiggin. Card has won numerous awards, including multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. Orson Scott Card's official website can be found at Hatrack River.

Card, Orson Scott Ender's Game. New York: Tor, 1994.
Finished: 03 August 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 third born children
This was my 1st book in August and my 31st in 2009.

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Review: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes was the winner of Canada Reads 2009 on CBC radio. Basically, the idea behind Canada Reads is that a panel of famous Canadians each choose a book by a Canadian author, which they think Canadians should read. On the radio program, the panellists defend their choices, eventually eliminating four of the books and choosing a winner. I'm not really sure where it all goes from there, if anywhere, since I've never actually listened to the program, but the books chosen do get a fair bit of exposure, winners or not. Probably I wouldn't have picked up the novel if I hadn't heard about it via the CBC website blurbs about Canada Reads. (In some markets, this novel is known by the title Someone Knows My Name, which I think is an insipid title that tells you nothing at all about the story, whereas the Canadian title gives you an idea of the time in which it takes place and of the people the story will be about.)

It's the story of one African woman, Aminata Diallo, beginning with her capture as a child by slave traders in the interior of Africa in 1745. The novel follows her journey to the US (then a British colony) and into her life on an indigo plantation where she learns, in secret, to read and write. Eventually Aminata finds herself in New York, working for the British during the war against the rebels, first as a midwife to "catch" the babies born to the (mostly black) mistresses of the officers and then later as a record keeper, filling in the Book of Negroes, a document detailing some 3000 Black Loyalists who the British sent to other colonies following their defeat. Aminata travels on one of these ships to Nova Scotia, then later to Sierra Leone and finally to London, from whence she writes her story.

Opening paragraph:
I seem to have trouble dying. By all rights, I should not have lived this long. But I still can smell trouble riding on any wind, just as surely as I could tell you whether it is a stew of chicken necks or pigs' feet bubbling in the iron pot on the fire. And my ears still work just as good as a hound dog's. People assume that just because you don't stand as straight as a sapling, you're deaf. Or that your mind is like pumpkin mush. The other day, when I was being led into a meeting with a bishop, one of the society ladies told another, "We must get this woman into Parliament soon. Who knows how much longer she'll be with us?" Half bent though I was, I dug my fingers into her ribs. She let out a shriek and spun around to face me. "Careful," I told her, "I may outlast you!"
The Book of Negroes is a lovely story and in many ways a heart-breaking one. It's a story about loss, loss of family and homeland and identity. It's about survival as well, and strength and overcoming the odds, not by luck but by knowing when to fight and when to hide. It's an interesting mix of uplifting and heartbreaking because for all that Aminata does, there always remains the backdrop of her lost family and freedom and the fates of so many other enslaved people who weren't so capable or adept at survival.

The historical backdrop of the novel – it spans 1745 to 1802 – is quite fascinating, particularly once Aminata leaves the United States. I think very few Canadians have half a clue about slavery in Canada, me included. I was never taught anything in school about slavery in Canada and have only read one play on the subject, Beatrice Chancy by George Clarke. This book didn't deal so much with Canadian slavery as the lives of freed slaves who'd come up from the US and the misery they found in Nova Scotia. I think it's a subject that many of us could stand to learn a little more about, even if it's uncomfortable to look at that history, even if we only read fictionalized accounts.

It's easy to talk about this book without talking about how well written it is or how successful a bit of storytelling. For the most part it is quite beautifully written. Hill did a pretty good job of rendering the various dialects used by Aminata – the version of English the slaves used amongst themselves, the one they used in front of their masters, and the one used by the masters (and Aminata) themselves. The story had a more contemporary style than I imagine it might have had if it had truly been written in the early 1800s. A few bits didn't (for me) ring quite true for a woman in that time either, particularly of her sex life with her husband. A couple plot points too, which I shan't spoil since they come too near the end of the book, didn't ring quite true. Some of it felt too convenient, too unlikely, too much a nice but ultimately useless touch.

Nevertheless, those few things didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book or from the curiosity it awoke in me about my own country's history. This was such a compelling read and I think an important one. There's a lot to be learned from it. More than that, it's just a pleasure to read. I rushed through the book so quickly, wanting to know what next, what next, that I suspect a second more thoughtful read through would do me some good.

Lawrence Hill has written both fiction and non-fiction, including Any Known Blood, Some Great Thing, and Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada. His website, which includes short excerpts of his books, can be found here. Canada Reads also has an online book club for The Book of Negroes here.

Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Toronto: Harper Collins, 2007.
Finished: 04 August 09
Rating: 4 of 5 moons scarred into cheeks
This was my 2nd book in August and my 32nd in 2009.

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Review: Adverbs by Daniel Handler
There's not a lot I won't try if given the right incentive, so when a co-worker friend offered me a hard-cover copy of Daniel Handler's Adverbs, free, since she couldn't remember either buying it or borrowing it, I decided to give it a try. I liked A Series of Unfortunate Events (with some reservations), so why not a novel for adults by the same guy? She did warn me that it was impossibly annoying, but hey – free book.

Opening paragraph:
Love was in the air, so both of us walked through love on our way to the corner. We breathed it in, particularly me: the air was also full of smells and birds, but it was the love, I was sure, that was tumbling down to my lungs, the heart's neighbors and confidants. Andrea was tall and angry. I was a little bit shorter. She smoked cigarettes. I worked in a store that sold things. We always walked to this same corner, Thirty-seventh and what's-it, Third Avenue, in New York, because it was easier to get a cab there, the entire time we were in love.
I could see almost immediately why my friend gave up on it. It's annoyingly disjointed and enigmatic, but frustratingly rather than intriguingly so. It's not quite a novel, but a collection of stories that occasionally link up and often share nothing more than character names (not characters, just the names) in common, a mention each chapter of black birds, an adverb for a chapter title, and love in a variety of incarnations as the single constant note throughout.

I read this quite a while ago now and I've forgotten all the scathing things I'd thought of to say about it. I can say this: it was an absolute waste of time. I know I didn't "get" whatever it was Handler wanted me to get, if he thought about reader response at all, but I don't care to make another effort at understanding. Some of the individual sections stand up on their own merits, but it's not for me worth the effort of separating those out from the rest.

Daniel Handler also wrote The Basic Eight and Watch Your Mouth, as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket.

Handler, Daniel. Adverbs: a novel. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2006.
Finished: 04 July 2009
Rating: 1 of 5 birds attracted to shiny objects
This was my 2nd book in July and my 24th in 2009.

Review: The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
So Miriam Toews' The Flying Troutmans. I was expecting, because of previous experience with Toews' work, that this would be a story about Mennonites and possibly also the clash between their culture and Canadian culture. I wouldn't have been bothered if that's what I'd gotten because I quite enjoyed A Complicated Kindness and it's something that Toews does well, that sense of connection to a shared culture, while also trying to break free of it. I'd been pleased enough by what I read before that I didn't even read the back of this book before buying it.

The Flying Troutmans is a road trip novel. When her boyfriend leaves her for an ashram in India and her unstable sister Min needs to be admitted to a psych ward, Hattie Troutman finds herself suddenly in charge of her niece Thebes (11) and nephew Logan (15). She doesn't know what to do with them or how to deal with their behaviour so she decides to take them to North Dakota to find their father, Cherkis, who'd left the family (on Min's orders) years earlier. They end up in California before finding him, but as in any road novel I can think of it's really about finding oneself.

Opening paragraph:
Yeah, so things have fallen apart. A few weeks ago I got a collect call from my niece, Thebes, in the middle of the night, asking me to please come back to help with Min. She told me she'd been trying to take care of things but it wasn't working any more. Min was stranded in her bed, hooked on blue torpedoes and convinced that a million silver cars were closing in on her (I didn't know what Thebes meant either), Logan was in trouble at school, something about the disturbing stories he was writing, Thebes was pretending to be Min on the phone with his principle, the house was crumbling around them, the back screen door had blown off in the wind, a family of aggressive mice was living behind the piano, the neighbours were pissed off because of hatchets being thrown into their yard at all hours (again, confusing, something to do with Logan)… basically, things were out of control. And Thebes is only eleven.
My memories of this book are pretty clouded and that's not a good thing since I finished it just two days ago. I don't know if it's that that book wasn't memorable, that the feeling rather than the events were more important (and so I'm left with good feelings but few memories), or that the books I'm reading now are so good that they've pushed out everything else already. Or all of it together.

This is such a lovely novel – it's comfortable and awkward, funny and heartbreaking, absurd and insightful. It strikes a real balance between all sorts of extremes, just ebbs and flows between them, and you slip along as a reader through all of it until you've come out the other side and hardly have noticed the journey at all. I enjoyed the reading of this immensely. I believed Hattie's voice throughout (and the kids for most of it). I felt good at this book – gut instinct told me to rate it high on my book catalogue sites. I did.

Two days later I wonder if maybe it’s a bit of an illusion – I'm not sure there is any real insight or message or whatever. Maybe there's not meant to be one. Or no, it's not even that. Maybe it's more that the "finding yourself" aspect of the road trip doesn't really play out. I'm not sure there really is any growth or change for any of the characters. Oh, I don't know. Whatever. What remains of my muddled mind is that it was immensely enjoyable to read, whatever it did or didn't do by the end. I read it in just a few short days because I kept picking it back up to read just a little more. The biggest bone I wanted to pick with Toews is her continued attachment to old-fashioned and/or ridiculous names and nicknames. There isn't always a Nomi, Lish, Hattie, or Thebes around every corner. Try a Jennifer, maybe. Or an Amanda.

If you're a reader, you could try this book. Maybe your brain could pick it all apart and say what is or isn't wrong with it a little better than I can. I bet you'd laugh, because it's funny, and I bet you'd enjoy it, because it's enjoyable.

Miriam Toews is the author of A Complicated Kindness, A Boy of Good Breeding, and Summer of My Amazing Luck, as well as a non-fiction book or two. She won a Governor General's award for A Complicated Kindness. She's also acted in a Mexican film, Luz silenciosa.

Toews, Miriam. The Flying Troutmans. Toronto: Vintage, 2009.
Finished: 28 July 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 plastic holsters with pistols
This was my 7th book in July and my 29th in 2009.

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