9

DNF Chronicles: Two for the price of one

It is RARE for me to not finish books. It’s something that I have always struggled with and only in the last year or two have I made not finishing books a priority of sorts.

Listen, if you are someone that struggles with this, let it go. It is FREEING to stop reading something you’re not enjoying. Do you know how many books exist in the world? There are so many other books you could be reading right now instead of forcing yourself to slog through the one you’re not connected to, the one that you dread returning to.

Life is too short to read books you don’t love.

So what are the books that I didn’t finish recently?

Well, I was really excited about both of them!

the-wife-s-tale-7

The first was Aida Edemariam’s The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History. It’s the story of Edemariam’s grandmother, who lived alongside some incredible history in her native Ethiopia. I was looking forward to reading about the life of this woman who witnessed history happening while also living her life, married to a man twenty years older than her, the birth and death of her children.

This one lost me because of it’s writing style. It felt almost biblical and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried reading the bible for the stories, but it’s a slog. I couldn’t get into the story because I was trying too hard to figure out what was even happening. The narrative also seemed to keep changing from who was telling the story which added a new layer of confusion for this reader.

It didn’t take me long to get frustrated with this one and give it up – maybe 50 pages. And I’m bummed about it because I’ve not read anything about Ethiopia or its history and I was really looking forward to doing that via a woman’s perspective.

macbeth

The next one was Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth. Last year I posted about Hogarth Press’s project that had authors updating Shakespearean classics. I liked Tracy Chevalier’s take on Othello in The New Boy. I have been a fan of Nesbo’s for ages Macbeth felt like a good fit for him!

I tried really hard to like this one. Nearly 200 pages. In Nesbo’s Macbeth, it’s the 1970s in Fife and a couple of sex workers tell Macbeth, commander of the police’s SWAT team, that he will be the Commissioner but he needs to remove those who are in the way. So, influenced by his girlfriend, a casino and brothel owner called Lady, Macbeth seeks to fulfill the ‘prophecy.’

Part of what makes Shakespeare’s Macbeth so good is the mystical element which is weird and clumsy in the 1970s Scottish underworld. And Macbeth, a trained SWAT commander, reallllllly likes to use his knives as his murder weapons of choice which also just felt like a strange choice to me. I had a hard time with lack of women, which I guess is kind of down to the original but Lady was an old sex worker/brothel madam. I guess an effort was made to have her seem like Macbeth’s partner, but it fell flat for this reader.

Aside from Banquo and his son, everyone in this story is horrible. I don’t remember enough of the original to confidently say that that wasn’t the case there too but I feel like there was a desire to see Macbeth win and I didn’t feel that. It makes zero sense for the man hoping to become police commissioner to go on a junkie bender and murder the people who stand in his way. Does it make sense in a Scotland of old? Yes, absolutely. Less so in modern times.

I want to feel bad for not finishing either of these books but then I look around at the 700 books piled up around my house and realize I don’t have time to feel bad!

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with copies of these books in exchange for honest reviews.

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9

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

If you are a true crime fan, if you listen to the podcasts, you were waiting for the posthumous release of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.

gone in the dark

Michelle McNamara was the brains behind the True Crime Diary blog. When she started looking into the unsolved case of the East Area Rapist – Original Night Stalker, she became obsessed. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is the story of both her obsession and the search for the identity of the man who terrorized California with over 60 rapes and at least 10 murders in the 1970s and 1980s.

This book is amazing and horrifying and great and the worst. I could not read it before bed, in the dark, or if I was alone in the house. Three friends read it at the same time as me and one night one texted me about it right before I went to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep for ages thinking about this book. McNamara lived alongside her investigation and as you read the book, you are living that with her. She once scoured yearbooks looking for waterpolo players because one time a victim said that the guy had muscular thighs. She tracked down a pair of cufflinks with the letter N off eBay because she thought they were ones that he stole from a victim. She spoke with those involved in the case, then and now, and with other online amateur sleuths as obsessed as she was.

McNamara’s brilliance is on display on every single page she wrote. This book was put together after her death by her husband, Patton Oswalt, and some of her research partners. Because of this, sometimes the book feels a little disorganized and disjointed. But don’t let that put you off because this is a classic in the true crime genre. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark will live alongside The Stranger Beside Me and In Cold Blood for always, it’s that good.

It’s hard to think about the fact that she didn’t get to see her book out into the world, that her search for the identity of the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer was cut short. I have no doubt that she would have figured it out, if she hasn’t already. I think the hope of anyone who reads this book is that this will spark interest from others who will figure it out.

If you love true crime, this book needs to be on your list. Just, seriously, don’t read it in the dark. Or alone.

11

In which I’m surprised by my own personality

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I think my love of Gretchen Rubin’s work is well documented in this space. I learn so much from her books and I have definitely encouraged others to read them as well!

four-tendencies

Her newest book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), is no exception!

In this one, Rubin posits that there are four personality tendencies based on how you react to internal and external factors. That is, are you motivated by internal pressures or external? Both? None? Based on this, you have a personality trait: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel.

There’s a quiz at the beginning of the book (and you can find it here if you’re interested. You ARE) so that you can find out where you land before you read the rest of the book.

Basically the Four Tendencies break down thus:

  • Upholder (responds well to external and internal expectations, has no trouble making time for themselves and achieving things others expect from them)
  • Questioner (responds well to internal obligations, will only achieve those things that make sense to them, you have to convince a questioner that something should be done)
  • Obliger (responds well to external obligations, likely to burn out because they don’t say no and don’t make time for themselves)
  • Rebel (doesn’t respond to external or internal obligations, only do things they WANT to do, if you tell them to do something they automatically don’t want to)

There is also some overlap – you can be an Upholder with Obliger tendencies or a Rebel with Questioner tendencies. Each chapter breaks down a tendency and then how to deal with it if you are one, are in a relationship with one, have a child who is one or work with one.

As ever, Rubin’s work is accessible and so interesting. I learned so much about myself, my relationship, the people I work with. I’ve loaned the book out twice already (once to my manager!) and forced so many people to take the quiz! I thought I was an Obliger but it turns out I’m a REBEL! Basically this means that I don’t respond to any factors, I only do things when I WANT to. Very, very true. When I was reading the Rebel chapter, I had to laugh because it said that IF a Rebel was in a long term relationship, it was with an Obliger. Turns out, my husband is an Obliger.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in learning more, I really recommend this one. It’s an easy read – 220 pages. You can feel Rubin’s enthusiasm for the work, she includes anecdotes from people she’s encountered and you can really start to see the people around you in the tendencies as you read. I read this sometime last month and I still think about it all the time.

4

Non-Fiction November: New to my TBR

And here we are, the final day of November, the last post for Non-Fiction November. This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week is hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review.

A whole month of non-fiction bingeing begs the question: what books made it onto your TBR List?

This year I actually kept track! These are the books that replaced the ones I read this month (and then some because it was not a strong reading month for me!):

Thanks again to Katie, Julie, Sarah, Lory and Kim for hosting another great month of non-fiction. Even though I definitely didn’t get as much non-fiction reading in as I wanted or hoped to, the non-fiction that I did read was pretty great.

(Any event that gets Catherine @ Gilmore Guide to Books to read non-fiction is a success!)

And I’ve added some great new titles to my TBR juuuuuuust in time for Christmas.

 

10

Non-Fiction November: Non-Fiction Favourites

Week 4 of Non-Fiction November is upon us! This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week, Kate at Doing Dewey is hosting a discussion on what makes your favourite non-fiction titles your favourite:

We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

I’ve had to have a bit of a think about this one. It’s tough to nail down what I loved about my favourite non-fiction titles.

I love stories and really, that’s just as true about my fiction reading as my non-fiction reading. I love non-fiction about women, especially women who were ahead of their time in some capacity. I love biographies of Princesses or Queens, Duchesses, Countesses, actresses who didn’t take any sh*t, women who fought fascists and Nazis and lived to tell the tale.

I love non-fiction where you can tell that the author totally geeked out while writing it. Those non-fiction titles tend to have a really strong author voice running through them. Erik Larson, Malcom Gladnwell, Gretchen Rubin all come to mind. Even Sheryl Sandberg. I recently read a joint biography of Marguerite de Valois and her mother, Catheine de’ Medici, where the author’s footnotes were pure gold. One of them even referenced a preferred sexual position with the note that the reader should “look it up.”

Ultimately I love gossip. And I know I say that I a lot. But I love non-fiction books that make me feel like I’m getting the inside scoop. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish either – especially not for more academic authors. When it’s done well, it can make reading a 500 page book about people long dead so exciting and fun.

And now, here’s a list of some of my very favourite non-fiction titles for you:

27

Non-Fiction November: Be the Expert

It’s already Week 3 of Non-Fiction November! This month long celebration of all things non-fiction is hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

And this week it’s Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness hosting Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I’ve elected to Be the Expert again this year. Because this year I wanted my non-fiction reading to be more frivolous than it’s been recently, I’ve decided to focus on Hollywood this week. And while there is tons of interesting non-fiction on modern aspects of Hollywood (I do really need to get my hands on some of those Scientology books one of these days…), I’m looking at old Hollywood Stars.

My love of Hollywood Stars started on Sunday  afternoon movie marathons with my grandmother. Which led to reading biographies of Shirley Temple and Audrey Hepburn when I was a tween. Before I became obsessed with Royal Women, Hollywood Movie Stars were my jam.

So if you’ve  been looking for some delicious, gossipy books, read on!

marilyn

If you’re going to read biographies about Hollywood you cannot go wrong with anything written by J. Randy Taraborrelli. He is one of my absolute go-to biographers. His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor really stand out for his ability to actually get to the person at the centre of their myths. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth are really worth your time. (I also wholeheartedly recommend his biography of the Hilton family – the Zsa Zsa time alone is worth it).

 

 

avaAva Gardner: Love is Nothing by Lee Server. Oh this one was full of scandal! Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Howard Hughes – Ava Gardner bewitched them and then some. Ava was a firecracker who was ahead of her time in many ways. I had an idea of Ava going into this book and finished it feeling like she’d been misrepresented for years and years.

 

 

 

natashaIf tragedy is more your thing, might I suggest Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood by Suzanne Finstead? A child star whose mother was ultra protective after being told her daughter would die in dark waters, burdened with being the bread winner in her family, and ever after seen as a precocious child star, Natalie Wood’s life was ably and sensitively covered in this book. I’ll never forget the detail that Christopher Walken was on the boat the night she died.

 

 

me and my shadowsSpeaking of family tragedy, Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by Lorna Luft was one of the early celebrity memoirs I bought for myself. Lorna Luft is Judy Garland’s daughter and her telling of growing up with her beautiful, talented, but ultimately damaged mother is one that will stick with you for years.

 

 

 

joan

This summer, thanks to Feud: Bette and Joan, I became obsessed with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I cannot recommend The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine enough as it was the inspiration for the show and contains the most delicious gossip I’ve ever read in a biography. I haven’t yet read a book about Bette, but the one I read about Joan, Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford by Donald Spoto made me see Ms Crawford in a completely different light. Incidentally, Spoto has also written a biography of Audrey Hepburn that I read years ago.

 

In keeping with my brand, there are no male movie star biographies listed here. It’s just not as interesting to read about the white men who had the world at their feet. It was like reading about Grace Kelly – so beautiful, so boring. She did everything she was supposed to her whole life.

So there you have it: an old Hollywood biography starter pack. Are there any you’ve read that you think I should give a spin? I’m always looking for more.

And don’t forget to check out Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness to see what other Non-Fiction Novemberites are reading about!

15

Non-Fiction November: Fiction/Non-Fiction Book Pairings

Annnnnnd it’s Week 2 of Non-Fiction November!

Non-Fiction November is an annual appreciation of all things non-fiction hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Julie at JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, Lory of Emerald City Book Review, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

This week Sarah is hosting fiction/non-fiction pairings. That is:

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This year I tried to think about this BEFORE the week started. Read on to see what I’ve come up with.

Guns in America

Early this year I broke my heart over Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America. He picks a random day and looks at all the deaths of children on that day – there were 10 on the day he chose, but on average, there are seven.

This summer, everyone was talking about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. And for good reason. This book about the aftermath of the shooting death of a teenage girl’s friend is wonderful. I was so invested in this book right away – I loved Starr and her family and Thomas does an incredible job writing about something very difficult in a way that’s totally accessible.

Indigenous Peoples

I’ve already told you all about Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga. It’s one of the most important and eye-opening books I’ve read this year. It really made me think long and hard about the things my country has done to these communities.

Earlier this year, thanks to Canada Reads, I’d read Katherena Vermette’s The Break. The book did not fare well on the show thanks to super closed-minded male readers but it really made an impact on me. A woman is raped in Manitoba in the ice and snow. Another woman hears something and calls the police. The Break is about that rape’s aftermath, rippling out through an entire family. It touches on family and community and culture and also how forgotten and ignored Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous women are.

Bodies

I will always read everything that Roxane Gay writes and even I was blown away by the force of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. In it she lays bare her life and her struggles with her own body and the way the world reacts to it. She talks about being gang raped at 12 and how ever after she made her body big so that it would be safe. About how humiliating it can be on planes, at events, at the grocery store when people take food out of her cart. I read this with my book club and it was one of the best discussions we’d ever had.

Last year I read and loved Dietland by Sarai Walker. Plum, our heroine, is biding her time, getting through her days, until she gets her weight loss surgery. Soon she notices that she’s being followed by a girl in striped tights and eventually gets pulled into a feminist group intent on disrupting the world with their actions. This group wants to show the world that their definitions of beauty, of womanhood, are dangerous and outdated. It’s the story of a girl learning to be comfortable in her own skin, no matter the size and kicking ass along the way. A delight.

Ballet

I’m flipping the order here – I’ve actually read The Chosen Maiden but I have not yet read Bolshoi Confidential. I am hoping to this month!

The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak is the fictionalized account of the lives of the Nijinski siblings, Bronia and Vaslav. It charts their lives through the Twentieth Century alongside their accomplishments in dance. It’s a story of dance but also family and the costs that can come from working with those closest to us.

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today by Simon Morrison promises to be a gossipy read about ballet. And if you know anything about ballet, you know that it can be a brutal world. Remember that director who was attacked with acid? Morrison talks about that. Prima ballerinas, professional audience members, faked credentials; I’m getting excited to read this just thinking about it.

Alright, now I’m going to hop around and add more titles to my list thanks to everyone else’s recommendations! If you’re interested in participating, or just lurking in the wings, head on over to Sarah’s Bookshelves to find out more.