Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Far Side Gallery 2


From start to finish all laughs. Which is good, because that is the point of this 'book' right? The odds are good you'll find a good chuckle on every page, seeing as there are on average 4 comics per page. What I found interesting was over the hundereds of 'funnies' in the collection, there was really only a small range of humour; animals in human situations (funny), violence or implied violence (funny), & cruel situations (funniest)...actually, if you take a step back this does not sound funny at all. That's the sign of a good humour, it can skate the line the between rude and just plain mean and split your gut hilarious.

While reading this book I found out how hard it is to describe a 'funny' situation without making is sound horrible. This happened when my five year old asked what I was reading (and laughing at). So, I tried to explain, "you see this? These guys are stuck on a deserted island with only a basketball hoop and ball. Now, look, there ball has popped. Isn't that funny?"

"Oh this is another funny one. See all the people in the airplane are scared b/c they think they are going to crash..."

From the eyes of a five year old these 'jokes' must look very different.

This brings me to the deeper meaning of the book. It is obvious now that this is a very critical view of humanity and our view as being a superior being. It brings to light the fact that our world is full of violence and unjust situations. Larson conveys this message in the best possible way - humour. Thanks oh wise one Gary!

Rating: READ*
*A perk to this book is that there is no plot to follow, which means you can read a page here, a page there, and never feel like your lost.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can You Keep A Secret?

Laugh. Yep, this one will make you do that. The situations this girl gets herself into by keeping a few secrets are actually quite funny. I've written this down as another funny Kinsella book I'd recommend...which I know makes all the difference in the world to you.

This was one of those books I've been meaning to read for about five years now. During which time it has travelled, but eventually made it back to me. I feel it was my destiny to read it. It was initially my wife's book. She bought it when it was new, read it, and said it was good. I had read a couple of The Shopoholic books, so I kept it in the bookshelf thinking I'd read this Kinsella installment soon enough. Well, life moved on; babies, moving, cleaning the basement...which sent this book to the thrift shop/charity shop pile. Luckily, just as we were about to drop it off I had this great money-making idea that I'd sell the books to co-workers. The book was saved for a day or two. I took my pile of books into work and managed to sell them all, making a tidy profit of about $2. This book, however, was snatched up by a co-worker who didn't pay for it, but, promised to read it and give it back. Well, awhile later the book returned to me. Again, it sat on my shelf in the basement. Until just recently, when I felt like reading a humour book...well, look at that Can You Keep A Secret was just waiting for me. Now, that I've read it I can chuck it, or burn it, or 'sell' it to my co-workers again.

A quick rundown of the story is that the main character is on a plane that is about to crash. She spills her guts to the guy sitting beside her. Every small white lie she has ever told. Every embarrassing thought she's has. Her deep dark secrets. Everything! Of course, the plane does not crash and as it turns out the guy she told all her secrets too is the owner of the big corporation she works for. The romance story develops from there. I'm going to spoil the obvious ending - she get with the owner. But, of course, it's the journey that counts...which includes her secrets and little lies being put on public display. Oh, the hilarity.

What I liked was the witty internal dialogue. We've all had some thoughts we keep to ourselves, but, to read them is for some reason so funny. I could especially relate to the office jokes, as I work in an office. And, the supporting cast of characters were just quirky enough to be believable yet absurdly funny at the same time. The english slang is also another high point - oh bugger, oh bollocks, going to nip out for a Starbucks...just another layer of humour for high browers like me.

Rating : READ

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The World Without Us


This is a book to make one think. Depending on your point of view the thinking could be positive and hopeful or as uncomfortable as a prostate exam. The question raised is - what would the world be like without us? If all humans just disappeared one day.

The books starts out simple enough, looking at common things like what would happen to your house, the street out front, the park down the road. Well, your house would rot; shingles give out in the first decade, the roof caves in, the walls rot and fall, the basement eventually fills in with debris and dirt. Within a couple of hundred years your house, heck the whole neighborhood, is a mound a dirt beneath the canopy of some mature forest. Weisman then takes us on a journey through New York city. You'd think this big 'concrete jungle' would never fall down, or when it did it would never change back into a natural jungle. Well, it turns out that might happen faster than you'd think. Mostly because the island New York was a swamp at one point, but, we've covered over it. This water will do some nasty damage to building foundations really really quickly and take down even the tallest structures. That is positive to me, in a strange sounding way. It gives me hope that we haven't completely trashed the earth and it could rebuild itself if given the chance.

Then comes the rest of the book. A closer look at what we would leave behind if we all just took off into space, or died out from a deadly virus, or got so addicted to reading blogs on books that we forgot to eat and all died. What we'd leave behind is scary. The ever popular climate change, a few hundred nuclear reactors, plastic plastic and more plastic, and various other hazardous chemicals. Some of these 'problems', like nuclear reactors, are safe right now because we have people keeping an eye on them. But, with people gone these things would eventually blow up and melt-down. And, apparently plastic never fully breaks down - there is no organism that will eat it (notch that up as a victory for mankind). What a legacy.

I found this book very accessible. There was no tech talk, just plain old english used. Easy to understand the ideas and theories that Weismen puts forth. What I really liked was when I put the book, that didn't come out right...when I started thinking about my own situation. What would my house look like in ten years if I did nothing to it. What would it look like in ten years if the tree out front blew down in a storm and took out the windows. What would happen the van? Would I be able to come back in fifty years and pick out my washing machine? Oh, so many important questions. Dropping the jokes, I found this book very relevant and easy to relate to.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ghost In The Wires

- Kevin Mitnick -

This books makes computer hacking sound super cool & full of action packed adventure (both in the virtual world and the real world). It is a mix between a crime novel and a computer hacker how to guide - great for a geek wannabe like myself.

This is a biography, which means it's laid out from Mitnick's point of view and chronicles his life, obviously paying special attention to the computer hacking parts...which you will find out made up about 110% of his life anyway. It starts out with Kevin's boyhood, which sounded pretty typical for a 'tech-hall' resident - learning the ins and outs of the telephone system to make free calls, modifying your HAM radio to jam the local McDonald's drive thru speakers, driving your computer science teacher nuts by constantly breaking his passwords.

These stories made me root for him to succeed. It was like him against the system, the man, the world...whatever term you use. Using his wits, and dorky knowledge, he managed to pull off lots of small pranks that would never really hurt anyone. Soon it seemed like all Kevin was doing was trying to find ways to get free phone calls, get free Internet, and hack into restricted files. Again, still nothing earthshattering. But, he was getting caught, kicked out of schools, off college campuses yet still he would try to find ways around this - he would just never follow the rules.

Eventually, he went just a bit too far and was rounded up by the FBI and tossed into jail. Since he had been doing this hacking thing for awhile and was very very successful at it he had gained a bit of a reputation. However, his reputation was getting him pinned for crimes he didn't commit. Every big hack the FBI would suspect Mitnick. This rep ended up putting him away for a lot longer than he really should have, had it been another person...oh well, that is how it works sometime right?

So, when he is released do you think he learned his lesson? No, of course not. He continues to hack until he is caught in dramatic fashion and put behind bars for another few years.

The best part of the book was Mitnick explaining exactly how he managed to hack into apparently secure systems. He wouldn't use just his computer, as I would have thought. Most of the time he 'social engineered' (his term) people, i.e. he tricked them into giving him information or access. He had many tricks. It would start by finding out tons of info on whatever company he was going to hack. He'd call and gather a few bits of jargon he could use, or a name of someone important he could use later. Then he'd keep calling different people and trick them into giving passwords. For eg, he'd call someone and say he was from the IT dept, throw in a bunch of internal jargon, mention a name, and find out whatever he needed. "Hey it's Bob from ESIT, the BPS is down and we need to run the BOPS. John Doe (a Sr. Executive) needs the system up for an big client meeting. I see your BOPSS system is running, but I'm getting an error while trying to patch in a fix. Is your password still 1234? Ok, let me know what it is and I'll patch in the fix and call you back". Mitnick had this whole ingenious system for tricking people, oh sorry 'socially engineering'.

The overarching story was the whole FBI tracking him and trying to arrest him. Mitnick keeps coming across bits of info that eventually lead him to the FBI. He finds out they are about to arrest him so he runs for it, changes identities and stays on the run for years. The whole story is almost too surreal to believe, which of course makes for great reading!

Overall, a great geeky read.


Thursday, November 10, 2011


- Yann Martel -

This is one of those books I've been hearing about for years. It has won a Mann Booker award, it is always on people's lists of favourite books, a recommendation for a book club book...and to top it off it was mentioned on one of my favourite TV shows Corner Gas. That funny episode where they form a bookclub and Lacey doesn't believe Brent could have read such a high brow literary book. Well, if he read it so could I! Why not, we had a copy of this book in our bookshelf downstairs, one of the many treasures from the 'box of books for $5' from that wonderful auction, where it was just waiting to be read.

All this hype gave me great expectations...I mean, especially if the book was recommended on a sarcastic Canadian comedy show. And (drum roll) ... the book did not live up to all this enthusiastic chatter. It was well written, no argument there, but the whole plot seemed very short and uninspiring.

In a sentence the plot goes: boy gets stuck in lifeboat with a tiger for hundreds of days floating in the middle of the ocean. So, there is the survival aspect (which I found slightly interesting), the fear aspect (what, with a tiger only 10 feet away from you), and the hours of lonely solitude to reflect on life and religion (the main part of the story I found boring!). I guess I'm more partial to action - no storming of castles on the backs of Dragons in this book. The ending did bring the book up a notch. It's a surprise so I won't spoil it for you.

You could tell the book was written by a storyteller. By that I mean definitely falls under literature, where one thing really means another. Obviously there is deeper meaning in everything, and I'm sure if you spent some time analyzing, like what or who the Tiger represents or what the heck that magic meerkat island was supposed to have to do with anything, the book would be much richer and a more worthwhile experience. I did not do that, nor could not come up with anything that made any sense...I'm thinking it has to do with religion. There is a lot of comparisons between the worlds religions. This is a subject I have very little knowledge or interest in.

What I did like was the Canadian connection. Had no idea this was written by a Canadian and is in part a 'Canadian' book. The lifeboat boy is headed to Canada, Winnipeg to be exact, before he is stranded on the ocean. Just surprised me when I started reading it.
I guess I'm mostly mad that my expectations were set really really high and then I was left feeling disappointed. If I take a neutral step back and revisit the book, it was ok overall, I wouldn't recommend it, but I can see the appeal of it for some.

Rating: Do not read.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Love Times Three

A real life account of Joe and his three wives. They try to bring to light the life of a modern polygamous family; from their fears of social and legal punishments to their daily challenges raising a big family.

This book attempts to erase the stereotype of a polygamous. You know? The ultra conservative, high necked dress wearin', child abusin', male dominated, oppressive, backwoods, cult. The Dargers (Joe, Vicki, Alina, & Val) tell stories about their modern life, which sounds very middle class - they live in the suburbs, have cell phones, go shopping at the mall and Costco, and have jobs (yes, even the women). If you've watched the HBO show Big Love, a show about Bill and his three wives, you'll get a pretty good idea of what the Darger's life is like...well, without all the overdramatized 'compound' stuff.

In my mind there were three parts to this book. The first part was the Darger family explaining why they wanted to 'go public' on this semi-illegal socially shunned lifestyle. What sorts of things they have done so far, like radio shows and Oprah (yes, Oprah!). And, what they hope to achieve by coming out. Already being a liberal minded person, it was like preaching to choir.

The second part of this book is Joe and his wives all telling the story of how they met and became the family they are. This part is a little repetitive; Joe tells the story, Alina tells the story, Vicki tells the story, then Val tells the story. Interesting in a way, BUT, could have been condensed a bit to save on trees.

The next part of the book is what I found the most interesting. Tales of their day to day life, mostly the logistics of a huge family of 24 (or more)! The stats are mind boggling - Ten loads of laundry a day, 5 dozen eggs at brunch, ten cars, kids of all shapes and sizes ranging from the age of two to twenty two! Poor Joe's Sunday 'to-do' list was pages long, ranging from changing lightbulbs to small construction projects. There are also accounts from the children telling their stories on how 'normal' their life is. All of the kids seemed to love their huge family, but, surprisingly not all of them intended to pursue a polygamous life.

I found this book was great to read in conjunction with watching Big Love. There is a bit of jargon used in the book and on the TV show that we don't hear much in life - righteous, priesthood holder, LDS, Fundamentalist. I found since I've watched most of Big Love I already had a good idea what these words meant. So, strangely, I'd recommend watching TV over reading in this case - to really be able to put the jargon into context.

I did not find the writing in this book to be all that wonderful. The stories were not that dramatic and didn't leave that big of an impression on my mind. But, I think it would be a great book to read in a book club. It brings up so many issues that could be discussed.

  1. Should Polygamy still be considered illegal? Should it be legalized?

  2. Is it even ethical?

  3. Have your views on Polygamy changed after reading this book?

  4. Compare and contrast the gains and losses of polygamy for the husband and wife(ives).

  5. Large families, like this one of 20 odd members. Beneficial or a hindrance for children?

  6. How would you deal with one of your children coming to you one day and saying they are marrying into a polygamous family?

  7. Compare and contract this book with Big Love.

Even though I'd recommend this book for a book club, I wouldn't say it's a 'read'. There are many books out there that are a better read than this one.

Rating: Do not read

Tuesday, October 4, 2011



If you want a book that is written well, by a full-of-himself jackass, with some heavy New York city crass...well, this is your book. The writing style is wonderful. You can't argue that Bourdain has a way with words (and uses the four letter ones more than most) and can pull you into a story, even if the contents is worlds away. But, when the content is just Tony griping about 'sell out' celebrity chefs and cream of the crop food critics it makes for less than appetizing reading.

In my mind the book was split into three parts. The first dozen or two dozen pages were great. A quick story about eating an Ortolan Bunting (read the wikipedia link, it's very interesting). It's a 'meal' where you shove an entire bird in your mouth and eat it all except the feet, which is kind of used like a handle to put the bird in. You cover your head with a napkin, b/c I'm sure it is disgusting to watch. Anthony writes in graphic detail about the tastes and the textures and the brains. His attitude is bang on Bourdain - I'm part of this elite club of 'chefs' who eat endangered birds in the most disgusting way possible and I think I'm so cool about it. The kind of content that makes your blood boil, but, keeps your eyes glued to the page to see what other egotistical things Tony is going to say.

He then opens up a bit and loses his elitist attitude. He talks about his struggles with drugs and the breakdown of his marriage. It is raw writing, not medium raw (if you'll forgive the pun). I actually felt a bit of compassion for the guy and was drawn in. Then you flip a page and boom the attitude hits you.

The second part of the book, the next two hundred or so pages (about 95% of the book) were pretty raw too. But, this kind of writing was not baring your soul raw, it was ripping someone's arm off raw...with a lot of swearing in the process. Bourdain bashes countless people, with extreme overuse of profanity - just to prove he is a bad boy I suppose? He fries up The Food Network. He burns celebrity chefs. He cuts up chefs I've never heard of, but, probably would know if I were in the food business. He broils up a pan full of food critics. He even hacks a piece off of the meat slaughtering industry. Two hundred pages of his rantings. He is mad at the world for some unknown reason and his misplaced anger leads to the bulk of this book. Sum it up, the content is bland...but, the prose is excellent. If you get past the lack of a story or any sense of purpose (and that 'I'm a badboy' attitude) the actual writing is wonderful. Bourdain makes great analogies, and his descriptions of places and food is hard to beat.

The last dozen pages or so are also wonderful. Again, Anthony drops the attitude and the anger and just shares a couple of memories. I love his stories of strange things that happen in the kitchen or even stranger people that work them - that is what made Kitchen Confidential so great to read. This 'sequel' was another book I've thrown on the sequels-that-sucked bookshelf.


*Actually, just read the first few pages and the last few pages.

I think this link will give you at least an attempt at understanding Bourdain's attitude LINK

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The Confession

Like a stick of dynamite. That's how I'd describe this book. Just like the dynamite stick in cartoons, with the really long fuse, then it disappears, and just as you think the dynamite will not blows off Wylie Coyote's head! This book is like that, only in a good way?

It starts off with a confession, as the title implies, and the clock starts ticking.

We are given a situation, a young black man on death row who's execution date is a few days away. A minister is told a confession from a sketchy serial rapist that he was the one who actually committed the crime, hence, the young man who is about to die is innocent. The clock ticks as the minister convinces both the real criminal to come clean and the innocent man's lawyer to believe the crazy story this hardened criminal is telling. Sounds like it could be a real nail biter of a story. However, I found it reminded me of a lazy Sunday afternoon. The story slowly revealed itself and progressed, but, at a drawn out easy pace. It seemed very predictable; it would come down to the last minute but everything would be fine in the end.

But does it all work out?



That is when all heck breaks loose. The story explodes with every angle coming together in a brilliant climax. The lawyers, the victims, the courts, the judges, the angry mobs, the Texas Governor...everyone and their dog is involved! What made the reading really interesting is all of the different ways all of these people were effected.

What I like about John Grisham books is that they typically focus on one legal issue. After finishing a book you feel just that much smarter, because you now know all the details around whatever legal aspect the book took on. By smart, I mean lawyer smrt (sic)...that makes one feel good inside.

The Confession was all about the death penalty. How the inmates are treated on death row. How the appeals work. How the Governor can stop the executions right down to the last minute. After reading this book you will probably leave with that prolife feeling because the story takes on the worst possible scenario - an innocent man is executed.

Rating: Read

Thursday, September 8, 2011



- Suzanne Collins -

A good end to the trilogy. Everything was all wrapped up like a nice little burrito...but, a burrito lacking spice. I had high expectations for the end, but, I always do in with these long drawn out book series/trilogies/epics. Endings never seem to make me happy. The rest of the book was pretty good, lots of action, lots of unexpected twists, but the biggest surprise right at the end fell a bit flat for me. Also, Katniss seemed to lose her fiery character which, to me, turned her from the star of the show to an almost mediocre character.

I did find this book, and the series in general, very imaginative. The strange scenarios and even stranger 'weapons' that appear make for good reading. The supporting cast of Peeta, Haymitch, and Gale add some much needed depth to the story. I liked how their personalities were a nice mix of quirky, extreme, and realistic. The rest of the world of Panem was very well described, I thought. It was really easy to become immersed in this possible future of mankind.

Katniss. Hmm, what can I say? I guess, I'll go with her title - The Mockingjay. By the end of the third book she had become just that - a copy cat with no personality! The change in her character over the trilogy was drastic. She went from a self determined fighter to a push over. The epilogue was the icing on the cake, when it mentioned she had a couple of kids b/c her partner (I won't spoil it and tell you who) wanted them. She was so adamant about not having kids in the beginning, and then by the end, boom, pops out a couple?!

Even though I may sound harsh by criticizing the character development, well, that is just my opinion...I guess I just like happier endings. I will give praise to the Collins on the wonderful writing of this drastic change. It was almost too subtle to detect until you look at the big picture. The journey through Katniss' breakdown was interesting, even thought it was often repetitive - with psychological breakdown after psychological breakdown.

The whole 'love story' (blah) was ok, even by my standards. It was very familiar - I kept thinking Team Edward Team Jacob, but in this case Team Gale Team Peetah? So, again left you guessing and wanting to read on to find out the eventual victor.

Another aspect of this book that made it interesting for me was all of the chatter online. It seemed like everyone was reading this series or predicting who would star in the upcoming movie. I found it added another level, outside of reading, to become engaged in the book. I also found myself wondering about the much so I have a strong opinion on what song should be on the soundtrack. Everytime I hear Sprawl II by Arcade Fire I think of this future world described in the Hunger games. I can see the flashy young kids in the Capitol dancing away to this song.

Overall, this is a good book. It does not compare to the first of the series, The Hunger Games, but it is a must read if you make it through Catching Fire. I don't think you'll be disappointed, per se, but just a little bummed that the ending was not mindblowing!


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk


Strange. Funny. Original. It's hard to describe this book the way I want to. While reading it I went from laughing (out loud) to almost vomiting in disgust...what book can do that, all while keeping a light airy feel to it? Overall this is a humourous book that delves into the really dark humour a fair bit. But, the content is just...strange at some points. It kind of reminded me of a mix of Monty Python type humour and some no-name crude stand up comedian who relies on swearing and sextalk to make jokes. So, appealing to all people in some way!?

I found it in the short story section in the library. The book has a strange set up, almost like chapters but almost like short stories. The book is a made up of about a dozen small stories/jokes, some range from a few pages to maybe twenty. They are all quips from different animal's points of view. There are birds, dogs, mice, hippos...and to top it off, there are some illustrations from Ian Falconer (you may know him from the best selling children's series Olivia the pig). The stories/jokes are definitely one's that will stay with you for awhile. They are not easy to retell, say around the water cooler at the office, but they are satisfying jokes to read.

The jokes/stories seemed to favour stereotyping. When read they make you laugh, but, then upon further reflection, I found them almost a jab at humanity - how cruel and awful we can sometimes be.

There was a joke about a black watersnake and a white duck who makes a mistaken racist remark. A faithful dog who is sold out to breed purebreds, but, comes home to his 'wife' everynight. Birds who migrate south and complain about the lazy southern birds. The namesake, a squirrel and chipmunk who cannot date because the parents do not believe in inter-species mixing. These were a few I found laughable.

However, there were many I felt were just strange and didn't leave a good taste in my mouth. The one I found the most disturbing was the sick rat & healthy rat.

The healthy rat is put in a cage with this other rat who has cancer and all these tumors or whatnot. The healthy rat gets on his soap box and rants about how the sick rat should have made healthy choices in life and that cancers and such are a direct result of lifestyle...turns out these rats are in a lab that pumps chemicals into them causing these cancers for research. Anyone order some extreme dark humour? Disturbing in a way, but, so easy to relate to! Turn it around and throw a human in cruel!


*Unless you want to be left with a strange feeling of disturbed happiness.

Catching Fire


What a follow up to The Hunger Games! This series just keeps building up to something huge. Just as in THG (The Hunger Games), there is still that wonderful unexpected feeling that keeps the story exciting. There is also another cliffhanger of an make sure you have the next book on hand.

The story starts off seamlessly continuing from THG, which you will recall ended when Peeta and Katniss had that 'break up' at the train station. The beginning is rather lackluster, Katniss narrates her confused (somewhat selfish) thoughts for the first fifty pages or so...which I found very slow and near boring. A lot of it was her debating her feelings for Peeta (love story, blah!) In fact, if this were any random book I picked up at the library or garage sale for a quarter I would consider putting it down. But, there was this feeling that something big was on the horizon; there were small clues, a scene with President Snow, and a gradual description of life worsening in Katniss' district. Then the unexpected happens - the victors are thrown back into the arena to duel it out again! Peeta & Katniss are pitted against each other...what are they to do?

Well, as it turns out Katniss' stunt with the berries in the first Hunger Games was the spark needed to ignite a rebellion...hence the title Catching Fire. There is clues and hints that a revolt is starting and there is some sort of underground movement or organization that is looking out for Katniss and Peeta, since they were the ones to strike the match on this whole thing. This comes to light when The Hunger Games start again.

The second time through the game for Katniss is much quicker, only a hundred or two hundred pages. There is less time spent worrying, as they are experienced players now, and more time strategizing. Oh, and they form an alliance this time, which is an interesting twist to the games experience. Again, full of action and excitement and unexpected turns of events. Then a nailbiting ending where the game and the capital are turned on their heads! To be cliche: the world will never be the same again!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Hunger Games


As I've mentioned, in some earlier posts, I love books about future dystopian societies. I also happen to love watching that ever popular (and frequently repeating) tv show Survivor. How about a mash-up? Survivor set in a future dystopian society? Ah yes, the ultimate mash-up!

That, in a nutshell, is what The Hunger Games are. Just an extreme version of reality tv survival show where instead of getting voted off you are killed off. This kind of storyline could be taken in many directions. There is high potential for some coat tail riding on the reality tv wave (is it still popular?). However, Collins has not taken the easy ride, instead she has created a literary masterpiece. She has the perfect blend of action, mystery, imagination, even (ugh) a half decent love story.

There are so many level to this book. The action is there, the complex complicated love triangle, then all the symbolic names & sayings & mutated animals (which I'm sure all mean something much deeper that will hopefully be revealed as the trilogy goes on...either that or just leave us all guessing). In other words, this book makes you think, even as you are caught up in all of the fast paced action. If there was foreshadowing I missed it, which made me attempt to predict what was going to happen...and to my delight, time after time I was wrong! The unexpected keeps you moving through the book - you want to hurry along to find that next shocking moment where the unpredictable (yet logical) thing happens. The sense of anticipation in this book is great. Collins does a superb job of keep us readers on our toes.

I'm still pondering the deeper meanings and the symbolisms in this book. I'm attempting to work through the names - Katniss, HAYmitch, Thresh, Clove, Rue...all food related. Cinna (singe? cinder?), coal, fire...seems to me a lot of basic surival references - the basics; FIRE, FOOD, WATER? Ah, I'm lost, but in a good way...I feel like I need some Coles notes. Remember those? Now, don't get me started on my mockingjay theories.

The best part of this is only the first in a trilogy. I have two more books to continue on with. I hope they are just as good (b/c I actually bought these books...NEW!). This book left us with a great base to build off of. We have a handful of strong, deep characters that must have some interesting back stories.

If it is any indication of how good the book was - I read it in about 4 days!


Note - Funny, the last three books I've read (The Book Thief, The Wishsong of Shannara, & The Hunger Games) have all had strong heroines?!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Wishsong of Shannara

The Wishsong of Shannara

- Terry Brooks -

Ah, what could be better than curling up with a nice cool glass of wine, on a hot humid night, with an action packed Fantasy epic...not much! Ok, ok, if that is not your ideal situation, but, for some reason you find yourself in that exact scenario The Wishsong of Shannara is the book to have in your hand.

This is the third book in the original Shannara series, following the mega hits The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara. If you like the Sword & the Elfstones you'll like the Wishsong - they follow pretty much the same story line (even characters for the most part). Personally, I loved the other books which I believe led me to love this book.

The story starts off with the Olmsfords (the same family from the previous books) being paid a visit by the mysterious all-knowing Allanon. Now, you know when Allanon shows up at your doorstep the world is on the brink of ending. As with the other stories, the Olmsfords have special gifts, magic or is just in their blood; they are destined to be the only people in the world who can defeat whatever evil is threatening world domination. This time it is a young girl named Brin. She has the Wishsong. When she sings magic things happen, she can manipulate behaviours of anything. Allanon needs her to open a passageway to the evil pit of death & evil on the other side of the world, and only her magic song can do it. There starts the journey.

What I like about these books is they have a goal. The goal is always to get somewhere, or find something, that will defeat the evil. So, at least you know where the book is headed. Now, it's the journey that makes it so much fun.

This book is set up like the others, as in there is two story lines that sway far apart...but, will eventually meet up. First, Brin & Allanon head for the evil pit. Next, Brin's brother (who was supposed to stay at home) gets caught up in the adventure as well. Both stories have that eventual goal/finish line they are headed for, but, constant interruptions cause them to veer off track. This leads to lots of adventure filled mini-climax moments, and the introduction of many interesting characters. The sidetracking and meeting of sometimes strange people/characters leads us, the reader, to never know what is coming around that next bend. It really does make you want to keep turning the pages.

I've read books before where a hockey-sock full of characters makes the book hard to follow, but, somehow Brooks keeps everything in order. I think it is because even though there are lots of different characters they all have their purposes for moving the story along - they are not just added for useless dialogue.

There was a funny author's note in the book, or at least the version I had from the library. Terry mentions this is the first book he wrote on a computer. This is also the book that takes him from lawyer and part time author to full time writer and retired lawyer.

Rating - READ

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Book Thief


What an interesting book on two fronts. One, the way the story was written and narrated. Two, the unique structure of the book. I will explain.

The story is narrated by death. That's interesting right? Even though death is sad, scary, and dark, when Death is given a personality and comments on his daily life it's almost comical. Death is a busy guy, but, sometimes he shows up to appointments early and has a minute or two to observe humans...which he finds interesting. As narrator he pushes the story along by constantly foreshadowing both the long and short view of the novel. The foreshadowing is vague enough that you don't know exactly what is going to happen, but, it peaks one's interest.

The story revolves around Liesel, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. Books play a major part in her life. The book stealing starts before she can even read and continues on throughout the book. In the end she only really has a handful of books, since she is so poor. Her life is pretty sad, full of death and poverty, but the books are one of the bright spots. I won't give too much away but a book narrated by death in Nazi Germany during WWII is going to have some characters dying. However, even with all this dark subject matter I didn't find the book depressing. In fact, I found it happy, almost light hearted. Liesel seems to find the positive things in life and the narration, as I've mentioned, is funny in a dark way. This makes for a nice read.

Now, the 'unique' structure of the book. At random points throughout the book there are small facts or lists thrown in. They break in between paragraphs to add much needed information, almost like a footnote. Sometimes Death will even intervene, mid paragraph, to add a tidbit of interesting information. This makes the first few pages a little hard to follow until you get a feel for what the breaks in the prose are all about. After a dozen pages you look forward to the 'attention all reader' bulletins (as I've started calling them). Another level to the book that makes it interesting to read - something different.

I was surprised to find out that this book was from the YA (young adult) section of the library. I'm sure this keeps it off many people's book radar, which is a darn shame because it is so good! The only reason I can see it being put in YA is that the main character is a young teen girl? Very strange. To me, it's like the last couple of Harry Potter books. They should probably be thrown in the adult fantasy section rather than young fiction. Anyway, read it!


Wilderness Survival


I took this book out of the library thinking it was going to be a bland 'how to' book on basic survival skills. To my surprise, and delight, it was much more. It is part journal and part 'how to' blended together to put the skills into context. This made for an enjoyable read with all of the practical knowledge to boot. But wait, there was more. The personal accounts of Mark brought in a spiritual philosophical dimension on how natural living effects the soul, the idea that nature is not an adversary, even the concept of time. Reading this book not only filled my soul with more respect and appreciation for the natural world but a desire to reevaluate my own thoughts and slow down life a bit...and of course, try out some cool survival skills!
Most of the book is structured as a journal (ie Day 1). Mark keeps us updated on what skills he used, what they made, or maybe what they caught for dinner. I'm happy to report that there are not many repetitive or mundane journal entries. Each day seems to bring on new challenges or observations of nature. There were a few too many pages on mice tracking or vole sightings for my liking, but that's just me. The journal did progress from a practical account of day to day 'chores' to a much great much broader view of the natural world and humans place in it. By the end of the adventure/experiment the entries had turned into full out rants, blasting society's evils and praising the unforgiving world of nature. I got the impression Mark was not going to be headed home, but instead staying in his leaf/stick debris hut and coming that 'hermit' of the woods that we've all heard about in urban myths.
The prologue and epilogue pull everything together. They are must reads in this book. Mark admits that he has changed a lot since he went on this survival quest. He alluded to a feeling that he was slightly ashamed or embarrassed about some of his rantings. I do commend his apology for breaking a few laws (trespassing, poaching, etc) and agree that to survive he had to do a few illegal things.
Overall, I thought this was a superb blending of 'how to' with an in-context story making for a wonderful read.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Adventures in Solitude


- Grant Lawrence -

This book was funny! One of those rare books where the stories went from mental chuckles to laugh-out-loud (LOL) laughs. The few paragraphs about mullet clad Terry in his jean shorts (jorts), smoke in mouth, tubing behind the motor boat was so funny I reread the page four times, cracking up each time. The countless hilarious stories set a good natured tone throughout the book, but, there was so much more beyond the laughs. There was a much deeper story about Grant's life and the many changes he goes through. There is also a lot of history about the area (Desolation sound on the BC coast) expertly thrown in, used to enhance many of the stories Grant tells. There were also many touching parts where Grant removes his comedic facade and describes the natural beauty around him.

The book is centred around the the Lawrence family cabin. Grant's father, the outdoorsy type, buys a large tract of BC coastline with the intentions of developing it by building a bunch of cottages. The crazy part is that this land is located well beyond any road and is only accessible by boat. Saying it is remote is a bit of an understatement. Even with these formidable obstacles Grant's father manages to sell some cottages and build a cottage for the family as well. The first half of the book is a reaccount of Grant's childhood memories of the place. Grant was a self described 'nerd' without any interest in the outdoors. So, it is mostly made up of fish out of water stories as Grant encounters nature, the odd ball mountainmen, and hippies in the commune nearby. The first few trips up to the cabin are chock full of culture shock for Grant - which makes for great reading. At some points I found myself with the mixed feeling of laughing and pitying this poor 'nerd'. Luckily Grant makes it clear he is laughing at himself too as he looks back.

The book is divided into two parts. The second part is the adult life of Grant. In his young adult life Grant rebels against his family; stops going to the camp, tours the country with his rock band and lives the whole rocker lifestyle. For years he is absent from the cabin and Desolation Sound. After his band breaks up Grant finally concedes to a trip up to the Sound. This trip brings about a huge change, refilling Grant's soul and bringing him back to his roots (which he'd been trying to cut for years). Trips to the cabin became more frequent until he was pretty much living there for most of the year. It was inspiring to read Grant's remarks about the change the cabin was making on him. He went from cynical sounding ex-rocker to a self confident genuinely happy outdoorsman. This part two of the book accentuated his new found appreciation for the area and the lifestyle he had ridiculed for years. The stories in the second part change, focusing on the eccentric behaviours of the locals, the history of the area, and Grant's maturity. Strangely, I found the second part of this book better than the first; with much higher highs and lower lows. The stories had a different feel. They were just more raw. The funny parts were a bit cruder. The introspective parts laid it all out there and were borderline emotional.

The whole book ends wonderfully with Grant triumphing on life and all ending well.

Throughout the reading of the book I felt like I was actually on these journeys to the cabin. I'm not sure if it because of my own desire to own a remote cottage of my own. I'm betting, though, that it is mostly due to the fabulous writing of Grant Lawrence.


Another connection with recent books I've read. The early parts of this book Grant mentions reading Tin Tin books on the visits to the cabin. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain writes about reading Tin Tin books on his family vacations as well. I also recall Tin Tin books were my 'book' of choice for a few years in grade 3 or 4. Strange connection eh? Probably something all great writers do in their early years?

The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Supremacy

The second installment of the Bourne series is again full of action. However, the old proverb - about sequels never being as good as the original - is true.

Wordy! This book just has too many words. It could be a quick two or three hundred page fast movin' action packed paperback, instead of the 600 page mammoth it turned into. Now, there were many scenes that put you on the edge of your seat and kept you turning those 600 pages. There were the expected car chases, the identity changes, the occasional explosions and gun battles that I was expecting (and hoping for). But, there was also so much more...pages to read that is. Pages and pages of dialogue that seemed to drag on and on and one of those phone messages you might get, you know that ones that time out they are so long...

Hey! Hello? Oh, you must not be home? Oh well, it's me. Me! Haha. Calling on my cell. I was calling to set up a meeting time. So, I'll leave a message I guess, haha. Call me on my cell and hopefully you will get me and won't have to leave a message and I won't have to call you back and leave a message haha. Anyway, again just had a moment so I thought I'd call. You know I forget sometimes, so when I do remember I just call. But, looks like you are not home...

You get the idea, a whole lot of blabbering, repeating, and droning on. At points while reading I wanted to yell at the book, "get to the point already! Or, at least move on to a car chase or something!"

I also found the entire storyline a bit too unbelievable, even for an over the top spy thriller. In this novel an assassin has been murdering top Hong Kong business men and diplomats, all the while leaving the calling card of Jason Bourne. The copy cat had to be stopped. The FBI/CIA guys get together and form a plan to motivate the real Jason Bourne to come out of retirement (aka witness protection program) and take on this killer. He is the only person in the world with enough skill to do it.

The plan is to kidnap his wife, whom you may remember as the tough as nails Canadian economist from the first novel? The plan goes a bit haywire after Marie escapes. Jason turns crazy thinking his wife is dead...all making great fodder for an explosive story. Unfortunately, the story gets bogged down with the long drawn out conversations between the government/FBI/CIA folks and the Hong Kong government guys. There conversations try to tell a bigger story about the Chinese wanting to cause a major crisis in Hong Kong so they can take it back over. However, there is a real chance this will turn into a something much bigger - WWIII!!

A big far fetched you say? I was lost too. After reading the 300 or so pages outlining the collapse of the East I was really bored, annoyed, and had eye strain. This, consequently, left me with the feeling that this book was really slow and not that good overall.

Another bone I have to pick with Ludlum is that error on Canadian geography! He writes that Marie is a tough ranch girl and their family has a ranch in Calgary. Makes sense, there are ranches out in Calgary. Calgary is in the province of Alberta which is wide open ranch country. Where the mistake comes up is that Ludlum keeps mentioning the ranch is in Ontario (not Alberta!) Every time he wrote something about Marie being a tough Ontario ranch girl I would cringe. I'm still left wondering how an editor did not catch something like this?

Rating: Do Not Read*

*Unless you are working on increasing your page count, let's say if you are in a contest such as 'who can read the most pages this month'.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eastern Passage


I've read almost all of Farley Mowat's books...and he is always atop my list of favourite authors (he varies from first to third). I have a strange connection to his books, his life, even his view of the world. Like him I started life in Ontario then moved onto Saskatchewan and eventually returned. We have that Quinte Bay (Trenton & Belleville) connection. We have a similar interest in nature...and now Eastern passage has cemented this connection even further. I will elaborate: My dream job - writer. What I've been reading lately (and fantasizing about) - a magazine about living off the land, living off the grid, 'homesteading'. Strangely enough, this book starts out with those two things. It's FM's account of the beginning of his writing career, and as it turns out his homesteading the same time!

This book is just full of surprises. After his return from WWII, Farley meets up with France and gets married. This is a surprise to me since I've never heard of this lady. I didn't even know he was married? Anyway, FM can't stand the city (Toronto at the time) and manages to buy 10 acres from a friend for $50 or $500, don't quote me but it was cheap. The land in way out in the country, lot 4b on cty ln 10 off RR#30 just past the old burned out get the idea? There is barely a road, there is no house, there is no electricity, not even cell phone coverage. Farley takes the spring and summer to put up what sounds like a solid log house. Made with his own hands, a shovel, and a jeep. The next year he takes on the land, which sounds like it was pretty worn out from previous logging and farming. He starts a giant garden, gets a few chickens, and starts reforesting the land. During these first couple of years he writes his first book - The People of the Deer - and sells a few magazine articles. His breakout success with this book brings more confidence and more ideas, pretty soon he has a few books on the go. One of these book ideas, eventually leading to And No Birds Sang, takes him and his wife on a European Vacation. Not the fun Griswold type (we're pigs), but, to reconnect with the battlegrounds and experiences he had during his war years. Then, to my surprise he starts a family?! Another shocker! I never knew he had kids? But, a little boy is born a year or so after the Europe trip. Then Farley promptly takes a voyage on a boat down the St.Lawrence river out to Nova Scotia, where the story suddenly ends. There is some foreshadowing that implies the trip was a bad idea and it would probably ruined his fragile marriage and new family life.

The book was laid out in an interesting way. Farley tells his writing story mostly through letters he had with his editor and his agent. Now, I know writers can be a bit strange and unconventional, but, Farley has to take the cake on this one. In most of his letters to his editor he writes very unprofessionally. He dismisses most of the changes his editor suggest (even if predicted to sell more books), which is normal I suppose. But, then mentions how he could write more if he wasn't always spending his time on that garden. How if he was just sent an advance, even $500, he wouldn't worry about him and his wife starving this winter. Or, he pushes that he should come meet with the editor, if of course they would kindly pay for travel food hotel. Then there are letters that he chats about the weather or some other topic that has nothing to do with writing. He rambles, he swears, he rants, he criticizes the letters to his editor.

There seemed, to me at least, to be a theme running through the book - independence. Mowat shares stories about his homesteading, stressing how his eventual goal was to be self-sufficient. Then there is the a big section about a trip he takes to visit some old army friends who live in the northern part of Hastings county. These people were not part of mainstream society. They were living off the land; fishing and hunting. Farely's stories brought out the best in these rough outliers lives and I felt his tone bordered envy. Then there was his boat trip. What can be more blatantly isolating than being secluded on a boat in the middle of a large body of water...that's one way to get away, especially if there is a strong current pushing you. It was pretty clear by the end of the book that Farley was trying to get away from something at this part of his life. What? I'm not sure, but, that's what good writers do, leave you hanging...and/or encourage you to buy the next book! Or, leave you thinking? Was he running from his war memories? his wife? responsibility? growing up?


As a post script/side note: I find it really weird when you are reading and obscure things pop up in multiple books. For eg. in Eastern Passage Farley rants about Jerusalem artichokes. Kind of an obscure thing to mention. Strangely enough, Jaime Oliver praises these things multiple times in The Return of the Naked chef. Weird, weird, weird. I have never heard of this 'vegetable' in my life, now all of the sudden they are in every other book I read!?

What even makes this even funnier is the passionate contrasting views on these artichokes. Mowat complains about how they are like weeds, they never die and just keep reproducing. He rages that they are almost inedible, look like a 'turd' and are probably just as nutritious!

Oliver, on the other hand, promotes these things as nutritious, delicious, elegant looking food that is underused.

Now, isn't that strange? Almost a Monty python moment - now for something completely different.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kitchen Confidential


Wow, is this book saucy! By that, I don't mean the one description of a great sounding chicken wing sauce, I mean the vulgar language, insults, rants, profanity, sexuality, blood, gore, drugs, dead pigs, rotten get the idea. Nobody under the age of say, 21, should be reading this, IMO.

Bordain uses his words like a chef uses his knife, to cut through all the bullsh** glamorized ideas that the food network cooking shows have given us (his insults on Emril & Rachel Ray are frequent and slightly funny). The world of the cook is not fun, easy, and thirty's 18 hours, smelly, hot, sweaty, and well, working class! The book takes us into the culinary underbelly (as described by the cover of the book), and it kind of a frightening journey to tell you the truth.

In the preface, Bourdain states he only wrote this book for those in the industry, and truthfully thought nobody other than a handful of unemployed chefs/cooks with time to waste would read it...apparently it turned into a best seller? I can vouch for that; I would even buy it! Me, the guy who got mad over 70 cents worth of overdue library is that good.

This quasi-autobiography starts with a young Anthony travelling through France. He was a bratty kid, only eating hamburgers and french fries, shunning anything French. He was always a rebellious kid, which is what starts his food journey. It begins when the fam takes a day trip on an oyster fishing boat. Fresh oysters were offered up by the pirate like captain and nobody wanted to eat them (too weird, too slimy, etc). Anthony finally steps up and eats one, being the rebel of course. He loved it. From that point on he pushed the limits on all food, eating the strangest frenchest things on the menu.

Years later, on a summer break from college, he reluctantly takes a dishwashing job. It was that, or be evicted by his roommates. The restaurant he worked for was filled with crooked, drugged up, crude talking guys. Terrible sounding to me, but, paradise for Anthony.

It is incredible the outrageous stuff that went on in that kitchen was considered ok, even normal. There were lots of drugs, inter-employee 'relationships' (in the dry goods room!), bad food handling, gambling, stealing, just arrogant crass behaviour! And, the competitive atmosphere within the restaurant and with other restaurants down the street was mind boggling. The psychological assaults the cooks played on one other left me surprised that there were not any knife wielding incidents. The scary part - I think Bourdain toned down the stories. Your typical story teller enhances tales (ie makes stuff up). I think Anthony left much of the worst of it out. So, even as shocking as some of these stories are, I think there are worse ones left out.

The book is divided up like a fine meal. There is the autobiographical story of Anthony's career which makes up the entree - the real meat of the story. I say meat because any chef regards vegetarians as the bane of their existence, or at least Anthony does. There is also a side dish of stories about eccentric people Tony has worked with or worked for. This includes many junkies, megalomaniacs, and even the mafia. There are also small tidbits, appetizers and desserts, intermixed in the book. Mostly they are about how a restaurant actually works. You might get the impression these parts would have a textbook feel? Really, how interesting is it to describe what a porter does or how to order stock. But, instead of dry terminology and definitions Anthony gives us some tasteless examples of the criminal behaviour that he expects from porters (such as stealing food and booze). Some of the most effective parts of the book are these small dishes, effective in that they make you want to vomit. Like, why not to eat seafood on Monday. Or, why Sunday brunch should be called something like, 'stuff that should be going out in the trash but let's make a seafood fritatta out of it to save money'.

What I found this book did was bring me right into the noisy, hot, cuss filled kitchen and realize how much I've taken for granted being that diner who comes in for a relaxing meal on a Saturday night. But, other than make me feel guilty, Bourdain also does a great job of making the book relevant to anyone working in a cruddy job. Just like other jobs most of the time is spent in the drudgery of repetition ('the same dish 150 times a day' can easily be compared to 'the same data input into the computer 150 times a day'). Also the camaraderie of being on the same team, taking on the ever present enemy, be it the customer or the boss! The high point of this industry seems to be the personal satisfaction that comes with making a great dish (or 150 of them in a night). Anthony repeats many times that he often left work feeling satisfied deep down.

I do have to warn you, other than the three thousand foul words found in the book, that this is one of those books you are going to be quoting (hence, annoying others) for years to come. Most likely anytime you go out to eat you'll want to share some of your new found knowledge on the workings of the kitchen. Or, at least what NOT to order! Oh, and you'll probably never let anyone send anything back again, unless you like eating spit...or completely ruining the rest of the night for a few lowly cooks.

Overall, this was a book I didn't want to put down. It was a book I wished would go on forever. One of the best books I've read in years! I found the stories and writing just...entertaining on many different levels. The actual words Bourdain uses are all over the place, for eg. where is the last time you saw 'underbelly' used in a sentence? It's funny, which I like. It is also full of 'stuff' (words, phrases, life experiences) that I have never run across or for that matter ever hope to. This out of the ordinary 'stuff' is fascinating. Anthony's personal story, from lazy ass druggie to master chef, is so full of ups and downs you really never know what is going to happen next. So, get crakin'...readin'


P.S. What made me first pick up this book was Anthony's shameless promotion of it on his great travel/food show No Reservations. Funny though, the jokes on Anthony - he promoted his book, which I got free from the library, from his show, which I also got free from the library...oh boy, I'm quite the cheapskate!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Nake Chef Takes Off


Never thought I'd do a write up about a cook book. First off, I'm not what you'd call a cook or a wannabe cook or even an occasional dabbler in the culinary arts. No, I microwave tea ('nuff said). So, to now be praising a book on cooking seems very odd. But, this is no ordinary book full of recipes and detailed instructions on bake times and temps. No, it's a bird, it's a plane,'s Jaime Oliver!

Jamie's charismatic personality and passion for food is palatable in this book. Even though there is very little writing it felt like every word made an impact. The short & sweet stories describing dishes are filled with the right mix of humour, british slang, and Jamie's own strong opinions (pushing organics, quality food, and that obvious disgust for over processed food)

Even though I am no cook, this book makes me want to run out and buy some 'simple' ingredients (or better yet, just grow some on the windowsill), throw them in a pot, cook for an hour and wow my friends and family. Jamie makes it sound so simple! I'm seriously thinking this book could/should be filed under 'motivational' books in some library somewhere.

I think the writing style of the book makes it a good read for all cooking levels. The 'cooking instructions' are so vague that it sounds easy for non-cookers (like me), and so open ended for for advanced cookers to get creative. For eg, there is a page or two on salad dressings. The small story before this section talks about how Jamie just throws all his ingredients in a jam jar (I think it is supposed to be funny, using a jam jar. Maybe in Europe?) and shakes it up - simple and vague. The next page is just a list of simple! This format makes the 'cookbook' so much different than any other cookbook I've glanced through. I'm not scared off by the technical writing stressing times and temperatures.

One of my favourite parts of the book was a rant/prediction by Jamie. He talks about a typical trip to the grocery store. How stores are 'getting better' at stocking organic foods, and he predicts by 2005 that 90% of produce will be organic. He goes on describing a young hip couple who are buying organic arugula and having an argument over what herbs to buy. While there is a nasty mother who has her cart full of Coke, crisps (potato chips for us North Americans), and over processed food (turkey twizzlers and such).

The opening is quite interesting as well. Dedicated 'To my missus, SORRY'.

I would like to think this is a joke, that Jules (Jaime's wife) does not like to be called his 'missus'. So, the book is dedicated to her, but, he does it in a way that he needs to apologize. Could be funny, in an inside joke kind of way?

I like to look on the darker side, like Darth. I have a theory that it is misspelled missus to imply 'miss us', as in Jamie is sorry he is on another one of his projects and is putting all his time, energy, and passion into it. Leaving poor Jules at home, alone. Not to mention he insults her mother's way of boiling spinach into a grey mush. OR, for that matter, he jokes about Jules overboiling vegetables and then having to mush them all together to make a wonderful 'vegetable mash'. But, that is just my take.

Overall, this is a book you just have to treat like a meal; sit down, get comfortable, and TUCK IN!

Tuck in - a phrase used a dozen times throughout the book. At one point it felt like it was the ending of every dish description.


*If you don't feel like reading this book for some reason, you can always watch Jamie's show "Oliver's Twist". It is him at home cooking up a bunch of the same recipes found in this book. He doesn't say 'tuck in' as much, but he does use other funny british slang.

All New Square Foot Gardening


Apparently this is a sequel!? For those of you that didn't know, there was not only a previous book, but a PBS series as well! How did I miss all that?

This book was a birthday present I received a couple of years ago and I'm finally getting around to reading the entire thing. It's one of those books I've look over a few times. Took a peek at the pictures and read a few of the 'tips'. Now, I've taken the leap and I'm in. I'm learning all about how to 'square foot garden'. What is the difference between square foot gardening and 'regular' gardening, you ask? Mostly the layout of a garden. Instead of 'wasteful' long lines of vegetables you squish them all into a grid type system that is a foot square!

From what I've read, I am essentially doing that already. My current garden out back is about four feet long by one foot wide. I have managed to fit in a good variety of different plants and managed to grow lots of vegetables over the years. The closest thing I have to a garden philosophy is what I call 'shove and cram'. Not a strict theory, but, what I have done is to never followed the recommended spacing of plants found on the back of seed packages. Out of necessity, I have to organize my garden in the most 'efficient' way...and ignore the 'rules'.

Mel's square foot theory sounds a lot like mine, only more technical and 'proven'. He has experimented and found that you can throw out the old way of gardening, in long lines, by condensing your garden into little square plots. The traditional long, spaced out lines of plants use lots of space and fertilizer and end up causing a lot of waste, weeds, and work (hard, laborious, time consuming...he went on and on in the book). While, the little squares use soil better, are easy to keep tidy, and grow just as much stuff...using 80% less space! What a wonderful new idea.

And, Mel is not shy about reinforcing that this is a wonderful idea. He makes good use of his proof points and any stats he has come up with, using them every chance he gets. I'm guessing on average 1.25 times per page. He also makes good use of little boxes in the margins to further highlight his idea. By the end of the book I'm guessing you have been exposed to that '80% less space' stat 232 times. You may think I'm stretching the truth...and I guess I am a little, but, you get my point right?

Mel also has tips that he shares, typically in a little box with his picture in the corner and labelled "MEL SAYS". They are usually a little story or tip about something relevant to the topic on the page. There are also 'penny pincher' boxes, that share tips on saving money. Most of them say the same thing along the lines of, go to a construction site and ask for free wood. This is repeated half a dozen times in the book. The best one: (paraphrasing here) Go to a construction site and ask for the foreman. Tell him (yes, a him) that you are building a square foot garden and need some two by fours. Ask them nicely if they can cut the boards to four foot long. They probably will. Are you serious Mel?

Not to sound too obnoxious but '80% less space' could have been used to explain the entire concept. Following the environmental theme that is mentioned in the book Mel should have condensed the book into the size of a magazine...I'm sure that would have provide more than enough room and save many many trees.

I do think the idea behind this book is great and I know it works. It even makes you think outside the box, which is a bit tough in the gardening world which is apparently steeped in tradition. Being critical of proven farming methods that people have been using for centuries is a bit tough. But, Mel has convinced me.

Furthermore, the writing is upbeat and It's a good read, especially considering it is a gardening book. Even though there is a lot of repetition, there is a lot of good information. Even if you don't end up following his method down to every last detail (as prescribed) there are many small things you can and use in your own garden. Or, at the least Mel plants the idea that gardening can be done in a different let it grow from there.


*It would be wonderful to read outside on a lovely day with inspiring things around such as a composter and some free two by fours.

Thursday, April 7, 2011



- David Farland -

I praise books for many reasons. I praise books that I can relate to, like Farley Mowat's Born Naked, since it's almost like reading my own biography. I also praise books I can see myself writing, like Robert Asprin's Myth series, with all the puns and satire. Worldbinder, is not a book I'd ever see myself writing; it's very serious and in depth. I cannot relate to this in a personal way, mostly because it takes place in a made up universe where wizards and kings rule. In fact, this book is the exact opposite. I have some pretty wacky far out ideas whizzing through my head, but, the idea behind this book of two worlds combining has never been one of them...which is very interesting to me, ie I'm praising this part.

Now, for the non-praising. Being one of the most frugal people I know (as fancy Nancy says, frugal is a fancy word for cheap) I have another measurement I use to determine if I think a book was good. If I pay full price for it I like it...I never buy books full price unless I've read them before and I want to have them forever. If I get the book from the library and I manage to accrue an overdue charge and I'm not cheesed-off, then I like it. Worldbinder was a book I forgot to return to the library for a week past the due date. 70 cents worth of overdue charges made me realize I didn't like the book.

I think the problem, for me, was that I wanted more of the same ol' Runelord stories I've been reading up to this point; adventure, blood and gore, endowments. But, this book took a different story path. I do not know for sure what will happen, but, I can make an educated guess. From the few hundred pages I read, this book seems like the start of a long drawn out story that will end with a family reunion type Star Wars, "Luke, I am your FATHER!"

There were many many new characters, and with the combining of the two worlds it seemed like everyone was somehow related. The story was dragging along really slowly as the characters discovered how things and people had changed with the binding of worlds. I guess I'm a bit impatient? But, it's spring and I can finally go outside after a long cold Canadian winter. The NHL playoffs are in full swing, which means hockey every night on TV! Plus, househunting. This leaves only little stretched of time for reading, and I think this is the type of book you need to devote some serious time to. The story is long and drawn out, which can be wonderful if you have the time...but, is a hindrance if you don't.

I think if I really connected with the story I would have made time to read it. Since I didn't I'm afraid I will have to give it my 'do not read' rating...ouch, I'm sure that hurts.


*Unless you have lots of time, and spending upwards of 70 cents on a book does not bother you. As well, this is not a rating on the entire Runelord series, just this particular book.