June 20, 2011

Hawaiian History at its Best - Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

Say “Hawaii” and I immediately have visions of classic TV shows like Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum P. I.  Who can forget those cheesy Elvis movies? The one where he played a guy called Chad as in “Oh Chad, I’m so glad you’re home from the war. Did you miss me? Watch me hula.”  I picture lots of floral leis draping the necks of tanned surfer bodies that strut on the beach wearing bowling shirts in bright bold patterns.
Then I start reading this book called “Unfamiliar Fishes” and the image is totally altered, permanently.  That’s ok. I learned a lot about Hawaiian history and I laughed often because Sarah Vowell is one witty gal.  She reminds me a bit of Michael Palin and his travel shows where well researched educational material is tossed with a pinch of sarcasm, odd facts and jokes to keep it light. If you enjoy history with a twist of humour then I think you’ll like this. I did. It will certainly add a new dimension to your next visit to the islands.
Overall Rating ***** ( 3 stars out of 5) 

Canadian Book Covers on Display at the Design Exchange

If you are on the Financial District of Toronto and are a book lover, may I recommend a free exhibit at the Design Exchange museum? It’s called Out of Sorts and it features books from Canadian publishers with a focus on cover designs.  It’s a lovely display and provides a restful break from the hustle and bustle of the financial market.

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

The book club has discovered a new favourite author!  Everyone enjoyed the book about the bush pilot in Northern Ontario and his niece who wanders to the big cities down south in search of her sister. If we had one complaint it would be that we should have started with the first novel from the trilogy instead of the second. We didn’t know! Oops. Here are some comments from members;
- About ¾ quarters of the way through it, I couldn’t put it down. I had to finish it and find out what happened to the bush pilot. His story was so engaging. He was my favourite character by far.
- I was upset by the violence and drunkenness the author describes in the northern aboriginal communities. At the same time I admired the knowledge of the land and how precious it is for survival.  The hunting scenes and numerous references on coping with the elements were unique.  As a reader you instantly understood the criticality of finding food, having shelter and an aircraft that runs.  I felt relieved that the younger characters showed an interest in preserving these traditions and that elders were able to mentor.
- The structure of the book was fantastic.  I loved how the chapters we’re either from the niece’s point of view or the uncle’s.  Both were confessing and their stories overlapped brilliantly.  Time jumped back and forth filling in gaps, explaining situations and leaving openings for the future.
Overall Rating ***** (4 stars out of five)

June 09, 2011

Blood, Bones & Butter - A Chef's Memoir

I often browse websites to pick new books. One of my favourite is Abe’s best sellers list since it’s based on sales and not what publishers want to promote. “Let the people choose!” I say. I scan the descriptions and if one sparks an interest I place a hold at my local library. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Blood, Bones and Butter. I vaguely recall it described as a memoir of a restaurant owner. Long story short; I read it in 3 days! I could not put it down. It’s not a string of undercover, lurid tales of running a restaurant in NYC. It’s far more reaching. It’s the life of author/chef Gabrielle Hamilton from childhood to middle-age. Sure there are lots of descriptions on food that will have you screaming “I must go to Greece NOW!”  My favourite passages however were the ones covering her relationships. They range from Norman Rockwell family ideals to absolute unrecoverable breakdowns. She’s brutally honest when it comes to her emotions and opinions. I admire her bravery and her self-reliance. She’s the type of person you’d want to drop by your kitchen and have a cuppa while prepping green beans.     
Overall Rating **** (4 stars out of 5)

June 01, 2011

Penguin Canada Features Book Club in May Newsletter

Thanks to Penguin Canada for featuring the book club and publishing our comments on The Help. We all look forward to the movie.

Penguin Canada - The Help