Category Archives: books

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day Seven

Do you read? What are you favourite books?

(Note: Something went tits-up with my blog to make day seven come after day eight. Oh well!)

Yes. Yes, I do.
Two-thirds of what I read is non-fiction and my favourite author is Bill Bryson, who could write a 1,000 page book about gravel, and it would still be both interesting and dryly amusing. My favourite Bryson book is A Walk in the Woods, which is about the authors attempt to hike the length of the Appalachian mountains. Since it is a very long journey lasting several months that could contain mild peril, he decides to enlist the company of a friend. After reaching out, the only real interest comes from an old school friend with whom he has no recent contact. The time arrives for Bryson to meet his old friend at the airport, but the man who disembarks from the plane is morbidly obese, unfit for the trip, and so, hilarity ensues.

Particularly with fiction, I like to know that what I am going to read is going to be good before I delve into it because I have not finishing a book. The only book I have given up on is Fifty Shades of Grey. Got to the seventh chapter before giving up on all the “blushing” and “flushing”, all the mentions of “grey eyes”, the way Anastasia can just wander into work when she feels like it (“Oh, great, you came in today, we’re kinda busy”) and the way the writer constantly describes any particular location with three adjectives every damn time.

I really like Alan Bennet’s style of writing (wish he had more novels). I enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I like funny stuff. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

If you use Goodreads, you can add me here.

Book Review: Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle

Crazy Town Rob FordCrazy Town is a fast-paced narration of how we got to where we are today under Toronto’s most divisive mayor since the last one. With more detail than can be afforded by the numerous but space-limited newspaper articles about Rob Ford, there are a few more revelations here and everything is helpfully brought more clearly into focus by the background information and chronological presentation.

Crazy Town is sensible and journalistic and, thankfully, lacking in rhetoric and hyperbole. Although the bulk of the content relates to the well-known new coverage, there is room for praise and empathy.

I consider myself fairly up-to-date on the politics of the City of Toronto, but there were details here that I had either missed or never heard, particularly in relation to the history of the Ford family. Information throughout is sourced (only rarely sourced anonymously, but often backed up by others or in one case recently dismissed by Doug Ford, backed up by an audio recording), and cannot be dismissed.

My Filthy Closet: Princess Diana’s Maternity Fashion

my filthy closetIn the basement to my home is a closet. A large closet. A filthy closet. To my British readers, this closet is so large it would make an ideal apartment for a first time buyer. Over an unspecified period of time, I plan to try to clear this closet space and I know for sure that, as well as some very strange books, it contains a multitude of oddities.

To begin with, I present to you a book.

First of all, I am greatly amused by the price sticker. It has the name of my bookstore on it, almost 20 years before I ended up working there. Actually, no. First of all, I am greatly amused by the title.

Princess Diana's Maternity Fashion and Nursery HandbookPrincess Diana’s Maternity Fashion and Nursery Handbook. This version is published in 1984 in the USA – note the Americanese spelling of ‘color’. The book opens with the preface which paints a picture unrecognisable today and all the more hilarious for it.

“Both The Prince and Princess of Wales, obviously delighted with their young family, are determined to lead, as far as possible, a normal family life, and they are prepared to break with tradition to do so. Many people say that family life is under threat in the modern world. If so, the example of Britain’s most famous family will surely help to resist it. They can be an inspiration to us all”. INDEED.

“Their practical and stylish approach has also inspired both the dress making and knitting patterns included in chapter four”. Take me to the knitting patterns!! “The Princess’s natural style and flair never waver; they enhance and complement her decided taste and very positive views about clothes. She has lost none of the stylish elegance and naturalness of touch which distinguished her from the outset… Her radiance has been apparent in every picture, and the Princess remains one of the most photographed women in the world”. Especially in Paris. Few women, of course, are subjected to such intense scrutiny as the Princess, but even under the continuous spotlight of public attention she has grown more relaxed and confident over the past three years, and the pleasure and enjoyment that both she and Prince Charles get from married life have been obvious… Charles and Diana’s secure and happy married life will be a source of satisfaction in the years to come, not just to the couple themselves, but to us all”. Now we know who to blame for the trends in divorce rates.

Prince Charles in a dressPrince Charles in a dress, againPrince Charles in a coat that might hide a dress

The book goes on to cover the historical fashions of royals, particularly royal children. Above are a couple of photos of Prince Charles wearing a dress and one wearing a coat that looks a little like it might be a dress. Or covering one. Or covering nothing *shudder*. In any case, these pictures explain a lot.

DancercisesOne third of the way through the book, almost without warning, we are treated to a few lessons in “Dancercise”. I know it looks like an overweight woman has tripped, tried to reach for a telephone to call the emergency services, thought better of it, tried to get up and then begun a combination of praying and diving. But, no. It’s “dancercise”.

Once we have these out of the way, it’s back to fashion for a while. Then we are onto decor. Specifically of children’s nursery rooms. There’s a couple of fairly boring rooms, even by 1980’s standards and there’s another one that I find quite terrifying.

Nursery Fashion

I just hope that the toys from this room never spring to life a la Toy Story. The whole room looks in some way sinister and I can’t help but feel the lion is an evil bastard. The big rat thing carrying food for the lion hoping that he won’t devour her only remaining child. The lion, smashing plates in the middle of the night and locking innocent toys in the camper vehicle, driving around at break neck speed. The shit.

Finally we are onto the knitting patterns. They do not fail to impress.


Sailor Costumes

Sailor suits, for making your kids look posh (during the 80’s) but not so much in the 2000’s. Not outside of manga conventions and Japanese pornography, anyway. Knit this. I dare you.





nice sweater

And what of this little number? Prince William as a baby is pictured wearing a coat that looks somewhat similar to this, but even the one that he is trapped inside of has a few less garish letter and toy emblems dotted randomly around it. Even a Scouser in the 1970’s wouldn’t be caught dead in this.

This book is a lot of things, but there is one thing it definitely is not.


Hunger Games Movie Review

Mockingjay PinI was concerned. The book version of Katniss Everdeen, is not a likeable character. There are three people that she cares about, and two of those are herself (the other is her sister). Katniss’ self-centred attitude, portrayed in the form of a crippling self-loathing, is all-encompassing. Even taking into account the dystopian nature of the plot-line, Katniss has all the empathy of Saddam Hussein with a migraine.

Katniss of The Hunger Games movie is better portrayed. She is still cold, she is still strong but I found that I actually cared whether she lived or died. There are times during the book, particularly during the long periods of self-pitying internal dialogue, where I actively wanted her to die just so that she would shut up.

There are minor variations in the movie plot, and I enjoyed the politicisation of The Hunger Games, the attempt for Seneca Crane to make his mark as the Head Gamemaker, President Snow reeling him back in to avert an uprising. We are invited into the, almost literally, ivory tower of the Gamemakers’ production room. They smile inanely while inserting “Muttations” into the arena, disconnected from the fact that they are killing the competitors – children, lest we forget. The movie somehow feels more “big brother”, and it better reveals that President Snow is the conductor of The Hunger Games orchestra, even if a couple of scenes in a mysterious Capitol garden feel tacked on.

The “love” between Katniss and Peeta, clearly faked by Katniss in the books, comes too easily. I found myself questioning if she really had fallen for him, and I continued to do so until that conversation on the train back to district 12 and her occasionally distracted looks in-front of the cheering crowds. The strange attraction, the almost forbidden love or at least intense and sudden friendship, between Katniss and Cinna is better portrayed and all the more strange for it.

The overall feeling I came away with was that the behind the scenes political battle to somehow make this film a PG in Canada must have been bloodier than The Hunger Games themselves. (USA is PG-13, UK is 12A). Ratings in Canada have a tendency to be less conservative, but there are difficult deaths, deaths that lack justice, deaths that are psychologically difficult. Parents ought to have a good chat with their kids afterwards, and with the amount of peer pressure to watch this movie, parents are going to be busy.

Book Review: Hunger Games

Mockingjay PinAll the kids are reading it, but the popularity of this book has been late arriving when you consider its September 2008 hardcover release. Perhaps The Hunger Games was a victim of those pages of pant wetting, hormone lathering excitement known as Twilight – the best selling book of that year.

Dystopia is the new ‘vampires’ and so freed from the shadow of Bella and Edward, Katniss Everdeen is our sultry, anti-social hero from Panem, a world of fragmented districts. Every year, two young citizens, one male and one female, will represent each of the 12 districts in a fight to the death presented by a charismatic host and aired on televisions across the world. It might be too much credit to suggest that this is a nod and a wink to our X-Factor obsessed culture.

The narrative moves along at a reasonable pace and, although occasionally cheap, there are  plot twists and devices to keep you guessing. There is occasional gory content that probably makes the book less suitable for the target audience, but on the other hand, many children will likely associate with Katniss Everdeen (or the boy from her district, Peeta). Most of the inevitable kills made by Katniss have a convenient moral context to make them more palatable.  And it’s not like most parents bother to check what their children are reading, anyway. Right, kids?

Unfortunately, the book suffers from occasionally weak writing, both stylistically and in terms of sentence structure. Although Katniss is supposed to be a brooding character and the book is written in the first person perspective, there is a lot of internal dialogue of the “woe is me” variety and not much actual dialogue. This is a shame, because some of the exchanges between Katniss and Peeta, further into the book, are quite amusing and the whining can become tiresome. Unless you are a teenager.

Perhaps I just don’t read enough “YA” (young adult) fiction and I’m being picky. Afterall, Stephenie Meyer said “The Hunger Games is amazing”, and with her level of prose, she should know. Sarcasm aside, Stephen King also enjoyed The Hunger Games. But maybe he was back on cocaine.

The occasional jarring sentence wasn’t enough to prevent me from finishing the book and, oddly, I thought the book suffered less in the latter stages. It also should not be enough to stop you from reading it. Based on the fact that this is a young adult book and not a work of literary fiction, I give it 4/5.

[xrr rating=4/5]

Book Review: The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits…

That full book title? “The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin”.

Well, it is what it is. It’s a book full of tweets, and a small one at that. A pocket bible for the twitterati, in size but certainly not in scope. The 112 pages containing three or four tweets on each, along with the occasional doodle, won’t take you long to read. Perhaps one washroom visit.

Steve Martin is a funny man, and there are some laugh out loud moments. A running theme is that his wife is long suffering in the face of his comical stupidity. While it takes the imagination of Steve Martin to set-up the the context of the mirth, it is often the replies from other Twitter users that are funnier. To demonstrate, “Just saw a duck in the shape of a cloud” is met with the response, “a shotgun will generally have that effect at sufficiently close range”.

[xrr rating=3/5]

Dear Author…

I thought it would be mildly amusing to email a bunch of people who have the same name as famous book authors (but are not the actual author) to see if I would get a reply. The email that I wrote was just odd enough and young enough sounding that the recipient would hopefully feel that it was an innocent and genuine mistake.

I knew the ratio of replies would be low, so I initially sent out around 20 emails to people who share the name Stephen King/Steven King and Michael Crichton.

Here are the emails I sent:

Stephen King Email

Michael Crichton Email

I’ve had a couple of replies from “Stephen King” so far, telling me I have the wrong person – one of them ominously referring to me as ‘friend’, as in, “you have the wrong person, friend”. However, I did get a nice reply from “Michael Crichton”.

Michael Crichton Reply

If I get any more, I will post them!


Boomerang by Michael Lewis – Book Review

Boomerang is a continuation of the financial crisis story laid-out in The Big Short. But while The Big Short was, for the most part, told from the perspective of those within the borders of The United States, Boomerang covers those counties hurting most: Ireland, Greece, Germany and Iceland.

Calling himself a Financial Disaster Tourist, Lewis visits these countries and speaks to members of government, workers and citizens. As with The Big Short, his writing style, the way he recalls events and conversations, causes the book to almost read like a novel, a work of fiction.

But there is no fiction and, as such, there are many ‘woah’ moments.

Responsibility for the $100 billion in Icelandic banking losses spread across the population equates “to roughly $330,000 for every man, woman and child”.

Anglo Irish Bank lost HALF of EVERY dollar that it invested.

In parts of Dublin, “rents had fallen to less than 1% or the purchase price; that is, you could rent a million-dollar home for less than $833 a month”.

Lewis, by writing in his narrative style, seems to struggle to link the events in these four countries to the national character. He may have a point, or he may simply be stereotyping – his coverage of Germany and their supposed schiesse obsession feels like a bit of a strain, pun excusing.

Nevertheless, the book is easy to follow, informative, quick-paced and, at times, mind-blowing.

[xrr rating=4/5]


Hello UK readers! I went into this film knowing how boring I find baseball. Fear not. You don’t really have to understand the sport (or particularly like it) because most of the actual game-play is easy to follow. It will be interesting to see how Moneyball fares at The UK box office. Just as in Major League Baseball, there is a lot of money sloshing around in The Premier League and the basic premise could almost be re-written around a traditional, lower-budget and ultimately mid-table football team struggling to compete against richer teams.

The premise of the film is based around the book of the same title, written by Michael Lewis. His other books, Panic and The Big Short are also excellent, incidentally. The Oakland Athletics General Manager poaches an economist from another baseball team and they begin the process of rebuilding the “A’s” with players they believe to be undervalued due to various biases inherent in the sport. For example, pitchers that throw in an unusual manner or older players assumed to be in decline. For a football parallel, imagine how some managers like Ron Atkinson (for all his faults) began signing black players in the 1980s.

The movie essentially tells the story of the fight between the 150 years of traditional baseball scouting versus the new economic recruiting model known as sabermetrics, but it also manages to capture the romance of baseball – something many UK viewers may not appreciate. But perhaps Brad Pitt may make up for it 🙂

I found the musical score strangely mesmerising. It’s by Mychael Danna, who studied music composition at The University of Toronto. Here’s the trailer:

Now showing in North America, out 25th November UK.
[xrr rating=3/5]

Why I Won’t Shut Up :)

O'Connor Public School Recently, I’ve been posting about how I want you to ‘adopt’ a school. My employer is raising money to buy books for a local school’s library and for every 100 people who ‘adopt’ the school, they will donate another book. It’s totally FREE to ‘adopt‘ the school, yet only a couple of my friends have taken the time to do it. It’s just three mouse clicks. Restore my faith in humanity and facebook friendships. Stop ignoring this.

I know that everyone is asking you to copy something as your status, or asking you to ‘like’ their page or sign their petition, but this is much more real than that. It is very hands on for me personally, and those I work with. If you know me, you know I don’t often buy into this kind of thing, but I’m very passionate about this.

Last week, I visited the school. I met the principle and I photographed their current school library. I saw the optimism that the children had as they waved and said “hi” to the principal as he escorted me to the library. This is not just some faceless, anonymous charity that I have latched onto.

O'Connor Public School LibraryThe library currently has books, but most of them are story books and they are older. Adopting the school (or making a donation) means that they will get new books and it will be the staff and/or children from the school who choose the books.


I am witness to this process. Last year, while working at the store, I helped a couple of librarians choose around $2,600 worth of books. We loaded them into boxes and then transported them to the back of their vehicle to stock-up the library at Warden Avenue Public School.

The year before that, we got books into the library at Crescent Town Elementary School. I was in England on this occasion, but my colleagues were delighted when children from the school came in and chose the books they wanted for the library.

O'Connor Public School Library DisplayO’Connor Public School has around 215 students, and our aim is to provide one book for each of them. Donations go a long way to achieving this goal, but I’m not even asking you for money (if you CAN donate – brilliant). I’m just asking for you to take the time to ‘adopt’ the school. It’s three clicks of your mouse, if you register via your Facebook login.

To adopt the school, click this link and click “Adopt This School” in the right-hand box.

Lastly, if you can watch this and then continue on your way, you have no soul.