2014 TBR Pile Challenge

2014tbrbuttonWith the new year upon us it is time to conquer new challenges, and here is another book related on for me: The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge brought to you by the Roof Beam Reader. One of the reasons I’ve signed up for this challenge is because sometimes i get too caught up in all the new books out there and I forget to read the ones that have been sitting on my shelves for year (some that even journeyed from Canada to Scotland with us!).

In accordance with the rule of the TBR Pile Challenge, I have selected 12 books and two alternates just in case one or two of the twelve don’t appeal to me.

  1. The Magic of Saida by M.G. Vassanji
  2. The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal
  3. The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
  4. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
  5. The Registrar’s Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages by Sophia Hardach
  6. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
  7. The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
  8. In The Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
  9. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  10. White Teeth by Zadie Smit


  1. The Prime of Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  2. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett et al.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I know! It’s about time I got around to reading the Booker shortlisted A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki! I don’t know why I put it off for so long. It’s a book that checks all of my boxes: Zen buddhism, the Pacific Northwest, a lost diary and fleeting references to Proust – yes, yes, yes and yes! And yet, while I really enjoyed the novel, I did not love it and I can finally understand why it did not win the Booker.

A Tale for the Time Being is about Ruth who finds a red diary washed up on the shore of one of the gulf islands in British Columbia. Part of the story is about her life on the island while reading diary, the other part of the story is the diary itself. It belonged to Nao, a Japanese-American teenager forced to move back to Tokyo from California after her dad looses his job. Somehow (the 2011 tsunami?) the diary has made it to the west coast of North America.

I found the parts about Nao to be absolutely captivating. The diary recounts the bullying she experiences at school, her family’s problems and the amazing life of her 104 year old great-grandmother. Unlikely as it sounds, perhaps the most interesting part was the summer Nao spent in a Buddhist monastery with her aged great-grandmother.

Less interesting to me were the parts dealing with Ruth’s life. Perhaps that would have been better served as a framing story, rather than a full half of the book.

Who would like this book? I think A Tale for the Time Being would make a particularly good book club read. There is a lot to talk about, especially when the book delves into more philosophical territory. The book also does a wonderful job at providing glimpses at parts of Japanese life I knew little or nothing about. I was also fascinated by the parts that were about a kamikaze pilot during WWII and the training he had to undergo. My question for you is this: would Haruki Murakami be a good follow up to this book? I’ve never read Murakami (major oversight!), but as Japan’s most eminent writer, perhaps I should.

Stats Corner: My first 100 reviews

Oh yes BookRiot podcast listeners, it’s time for Stats Corner. (But please do not march me down to Methodology Lane. Methodology is not my strong point!)

This past year bookish media has focus much of its attention on gender bias in the reporting of books. With that in mind, I wanted to see if there was gender and other biases in the books I choose to read. I like to believe that I read widely, but will the numbers bear that out? The data has been collected from my first 100 book reviews here at 52 Books or Bust.

Male Vs. Female

Looks like I’m fairing better than the New York Times!

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Fiction Vs. Non-Fiction

I am not a natural born non-fiction reader, so this isn’t looking half bad to me. Notably, of my non-fiction choices 5 were books about books, and 4 were about food.

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This was a little bit more difficult to quantify. Authors tend to be global citizens, so how do you classify a individual born in India, educated in England and now living in the United States? I did the best I could. I am surprised, however, at how little Canadian literature I read, and how much British literature I read.

And as an interesting aside 23/100 books were by visible minorities, or what my dad would call ‘ethnic’ (cringe). Way to go multiculturalism!

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Watch How We Walk by Jennifer Lovegrove

watch-how-we-walkFor me, 2013 has been the year of novels about lesser known and often ridiculed Christian sects. Weird, I know. And the even odder thing is that I have really liked all of them, especially The Friday Gospels, Elders and Amity and Sorrow. Well throw Watch How We Walk by Jennifer Lovegrove onto the pile as well, because it was amazing.

The thing about Watch How We Walk is that it just get better as you read. The first chapter left me thinking it was good, but nothing too special. But as all the pieces start to fall together and the subtleties glide to the forefront it wallops you in a really great way.

The story focuses on Emily and her coming of age in a Jehovah Witness family. Her older sister is overtly rebellious and dapples in punk music. Her father clings to his religion like it is a life buoy and her mother seems uninterested in the JW life. So where does Emily fit in? The story also jumps ahead to when Emily is in her twenties. The hints at psychological trauma alluded to in her childhood become the major force in her life.

There are so many stunning scenes in the later part for the novel that I literally shut the door and told my family to leave me alone. I read the novel in less that 24 hours and loved just about every second of it. Lovegrove does a great job at exploring the complexities of life through the lens of a pre-adolescent.

Who would like this book? This book would appeal to a wide range of people, but I am going to pin point children of the eighties. It seems like all good books set in the eighties have a pretty kick-ass sound track to accompany them, and Watch How We Walk is not different. Emily’s sister is moving into punk territory and music I was not familiar with, but she also references The Cure, The Cult and The Misfits. The music beautifully accompanies the angst of fitting in, especially when you come from a conservative background. If the growing up in the punk ’80s aspect appeals to you then I beg you, you must go read Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson. It is one of the most underrated and under-read great novels of the last five years.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best New-to-Me Authors of 2013


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovelies over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme: Best New-to-Me Authors of the year. Not surprisingly several of the authors mentioned hail from the UK.

1. Jenn Ashworth. The Friday Gospels is Ashworth’s third book, and yet I had never heard of her. It would appear that her talent hasn’t reached North America in any big way yet, but I can assure you that she is worth checking out.

2. Amber Dermont. She has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Need i say more? The Starboard Sea is her first novel, though she has published numerous short stories.

3. Jennifer duBois. I can’t tell you how shocked I was to find out that Cartwheel was not her first novel, and that her previous work has met with much acclaim. This is a writer I should have known and should have read. And you probably should have as well.

4. Kristopher Jansma. His debut novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards blew my mind. Jansma is someone I’m going to be keeping my eye on.

5. Lisa O’Donnell. Closed Doors is this Scottish writer’s second novel, and I have her first, The Death of Bees, sitting on my desk as we speak. O’Donnell is a captivating storyteller.

6. Sathnam Sanghera. He was picked as one of the Waterstone’s Eleven this year and I can understand why. Marriage Material may have been one of my favorite books of the year. People in the UK are talking about Sanghera, but I don’t think he is so well known in North America.

7. Maria Semple. She seems to be on everyone’s list. Where’d You Go Bernadette is a funny and heart felt novel that was almost impossible to put down.

8. Graeme Simsion. Simsion, and his novel The Rosie Project,  have taken the world by storm. If there is one book this year that I’d recommend to just about anyone is it The Rosie Project. A perfect ray of sunshine from Australia.

9. Abigail Tarttelin. The Golden Boy was A.MAZ.ING. Tarttelin is an all around artist. This comes through in her writing as well. Unlike many of the other UK writers I’ve mentioned, Tarttelin is finding a fair amount of success on the other side of the ocean as well.

10. Mindy Quigley. An American writer with considerable ties to the UK. Her debut novel, A Murder in Mount Moriah, is highly entertaining. Light, humorous and insightful. And I guess I should mention that she is a good friend.

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

My father-in-law recently borrowed Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland from me, without me knowing. Let’s just say I was horrified. I’m fine with him borrowing my books, in fact I welcome it, but this book? No way. Not his cup of tea. Let’s just say it is about a truly reprehensible individual who takes swearing, sexual innuendo and political incorrectness to a new level. This is not a book I want my father-in-law reading, nor is it the kind of book that I want him thinking I enjoy.

Worst.Person.Ever. is a far fetched tale about a British cameraman who is dispatched to an unknown Pacific Island to tape a reality show. He hires a local homeless man to be his assistant, wrangles with his ex-wife, falls in love, witnesses a nuclear explosion and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything that comes out of our protagonist’s mouth is offensive to someone. Is he a provocateur? Or is he insensitive?

Stylistically, the novel hearkens back to the success Coupland had with Generation X. He once again makes use of catchy definitions and explanatory notes. Unlike Generation X, Worst. Person. Ever. does not do a whole lot towards providing insightful commentary on contemporary culture. Instead it just derides everything.

By the end of the novel I found it a little tiresome and was plagued with the question as to what was Coupland’s motivation in writing it. I found it difficult to separate the opinions put forth in the book from Coupland himself. Is this actually what he thinks? Is this type of thing running through his head all the time? These are not the kind of things I want to associate with Coupland, who I (used to) see as a very creative individual.

Who would like this book? I’m not quite sure. I’d be very hesitant to recommend this book to anyone. It is offensive most of the time. However, I did enjoy parts of it. As a fan of certain reality TV shows and travel, I could relate to some of what he was saying. But take as a whole, I would guess that the book would offend most people and maybe that’s the point? Bottom line: if you want to read Coupland go for Generation X, Microserfs or Player One or some of his non fiction. I’d give this one a pass. 

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR List

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovelies at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme: Winter TBR (to be read) List.

This first five on my list are no-brainers since, as always, I will be participating in Canada Reads. BAM! There you go.

I am also participating in Jazz Age January hosted by Leah at Books Speak Volumes, hence

That leaves two spots remaining. In truth I hate to pre-plan my reading, so I’m just going to leave them open.

What are you reading this winter? Anything I should know about?

The Gift Giving and Getting Guide – 2013

Here’s a list of books worth giving or getting this Yuletide season with as little suggestion as to who would like them. All links go to my reviews.

For those who like a little comedy with their reading:

  • Malavita by Tonino Benacquista. This novel about a Mafia family in hiding was made into the film The Family earlier this year. Good Fellas meets Analyse This.
  • The Hive by Gill Hornby. Was life on the school yard always this hard? A social satire plotting helicopter moms against the more laid back.
  • Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman. Think you’re family is crazy? Think again. Compared to the Weirds you are as normal as they come.
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Social satire about the rich and jet set in Asian. Crazy, indeed.
  • Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Semple wrote for Arrested Development. Enough said.
  • The Rosie Project. by Graeme Simsion. A romantic comedy in book form. It just makes you feel good.

Light and fun mysteries. No blood, no guts, no gore.

  • Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackman. Her books have consistently made the NYT’s Notable Books list.
  • Anything by Janet Evanovich (#19 and #20). If you’re not familiar with the series but enjoy a character driven, light mystery, this is who you go to.
  • The Case of the Love Commandos by Tarquin Hall. Hall’s mysteries are set in India and give a humorous window on the culture and food of the subcontinent. And Vish Puri always gets his man.
  • Murder in Mount Moriah by Mindy Quigley. Bringing some Southern Comfort to the world of Civil War re-enactments. Meet Rev. Lindsay Harding as she solves crime in the South.
  • The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker. Follow Bruno the food loving police chief as he solves yet another murder in the Dordogne region of France. Who knew gastronomy could be so dangerous?

Not to be missed books that appeal to just about everyone.

  • Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois. Well paced, well written character driven page turner base on the Amanada Knox trial.
  • The Dinner by Hermann Koch. Rarely have I been this floored by a novel. Do me a favor and just read it, please.
  • The Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin. Like The Dinner, this was one of my favorite books of 2013.

For the non-fiction reader in your life.

  • The Juggler’s Children by Carolyn Abraham. For those interested in genealogy and DNA. And for fans of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
  • Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. What if you contracted a virus that made you crazy and no one believed you? For those interested in the brain, psychology and the American health care system.
  • The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray. If seeing the Massey name excited you, then this book is worth a read. Also for those interested in the social history of Toronto.

For a hard hitting literary read.

  • & Sons by David Gilbert. About New York literary life.
  • The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. Post-modern and meta and hard to describe. But wonderful and deserving of a re-read.
  • Want Not by Jonathan Miles. A novel that doubles as a a meditation on consumerism, consumption and the first-world problem of having too much stuff.

Inside the Dream Palace by Sherill Tippins

inside-dream-palaceThe Chelsea Hotel is a place of literary legend, so when I saw Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel I knew I had to read it. The Chelsea is one of those places that makes you think ‘if these walls could talk’ and that is what Sherill Tippins attempts to give you in her social history of the hotel. Starting from the early days of the Chelsea’s first conception, Tippins leads the reader through its construction, famous inhabitants and infamous scandals.

For the most part I was fascinated by what I found in Inside the Dream Palace, and given the long list of culture makers who lived there, who wouldn’t be? But I also felt a little bogged down at times. I was expecting a quick and dirty recounting of the who, what, and why of the Chelsea. At times Tippins narrative delves a little too deeply into events outside of the Chelsea. That being said, she does give a marvelous account of the social history of the time, i just would have made it about 200 pages shorter.

I didn’t know they lived at the Chelsea!

I was shocked by the variety of people who lived at the Chelsea. We all know that Sid Vicious lived there and that the 1970’s and 80’s were a tumultuous time for the Chelsea, but both before and after there were characters that I didn’t know lived there.

– Arthur Miller lived at the Chelsea for a really long time. I didn’t even know he lived that long!

– Arthur C. Clarke was at the Chelsea for years while writing 2001 and he was highly influenced by Allen Ginsberg.

– Leonard Cohen moved from Montreal to the Chelsea to find fame.

– Germaine Greer ushered in a new wave of feminism from the Chelsea’s halls.

– Sparkle Hayter penned at least one of her novels while living there in the last years of the Chelsea.

And one thing I didn’t know is that Dorothy Parker never lived there.

Who would like this book? This book is for the historian of popular culture. That goes without saying. It would also appeal to those with an interest in the philosophy behind utopian living communities, for that is how the Chelsea got its start. From here, this book will propel me towards books like Just Kids by Patti Smith and perhaps a biography of Arthur Miller.

Top Ten Tuesday: 2014 Book Releases I’m Dying To Read


I don’t often participate in memes, but when I do it is usually for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.


nancy-horan1. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. I like books about real people. This one is about Robert Louis Stevenson and his love affair with an American divorcee. Do I smell a little scandal? Also, I really liked Horan last novel Loving Frank, about Frank Lloyd Wright.

local-customs2. Local Customs by Audrey Thomas. Thomas is one of Canada’s best (under-rated) writers and it has been a long time since she’s had a new book. Local Customs is also based on real life characters – the Governor of an African colony and the mysterious death of his poet wife.

astonish-me3. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. I don’t even know anything about this aside from the fact that it is by Maggie Shipstead and that is enough to have me sold!

setting-sun4. The Setting Sun by Bart Moore-Gilbert. Moore-Gilbert is a South Asian historian whose stuff I read quite a bit of when I was in grad school. In this book he examines his family’s colonial past and the unwanted secrets that emerge. I can’t wait.

worst.person.ever5. Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland. This book is already available in Canada, but doesn’t come out in the UK until later in the year. It’s Douglas Coupland. What can I say? He’s the voice of Gen X.

Okay, so that’s only five books, but maybe you can suggest five more that I should be dying to read!