Monday, March 26, 2007

Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917 - Laura M. MacDonald

The Basics: Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917, Laura M. MacDonald, 2005, 282 pages

How I found it: This book is in every tourist shop around town and is prominently displayed in every book store. Having lived in Halifax for over a year, I figured I should inform myself.

What's it about?: A comprehensive history of the events leading up, during, and after the Halifax Explosion in 1917. It is presented using the narratives of many different people, from school children, to sailors, to doctors and volunteers.

Did I like it?: This book was exceptionally well researched and well written. It presented the issue from many different viewpoints without playing the blame-game about who caused the accident. I had already read a fictionalized account of the explosion, however, Hugh McLennan's Barometer Rising. The books are quite similar, exception that McLennan's novel follows a few people and involes a love story, while MacDonald's follows many and does not too personal. MacDonald's is obviously more factual, but McLennan's did not seem very inaccurate in comparison.

Will you like it?: If you've already read McLennan's book, I would skip this one, unless you are dying to know all the gory little details. If you are looking for a strictly factual account of the Halifax explosion, pick up MacDonald's book. It's very education without ever being boring. Either, way pick up one of them; they're both great.

But don't take my word for it: The usual collection of blurbs from, a review from, one from VariFrank that points out the potential for modern terrorism in a situation like the Halifax Explosion, and a review from

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Song of Kahunsha - Anosh Irani

The Basics: The Song of Kahunsha, Anosh Irani, 2006, 308 pages, hardcover, nominated for Canada Reads 2007

How I found it: I decided to read all of the Canada Reads books this year and this is the final one I read.

What's it about: This is Oliver Twist in Bombay. Ten year old Chamdi learns that his orphanage is about to close so he runs away and begins living on the streets of Bombay with two other children. He quickly learns the rules of the street. He becomes involved in a shady life of crime and soon looses his innocence. The book takes place on Chamdi's first 3 days on the streets.

Did I like it?: This is one of the more depressing books I have read in a while. I was aware of the extreme poverty among street people in South Asia, but this brought my awareness to a whole new level... a level that I perhaps didn't want to reach. The book is told from Chamdi's perspective and at times I was annoyed with is naivete and his constantly climbing onto the moral high horse in such a self-righteous way. Chamdi is meant to be a courageous character, but I found him a bit smug in his bravery and morals at times. Overall, it was an interesting book, but I can't say I enjoyed it that much. I also took issue with it being involved in Canada Reads. The author is now a Canadian, but there is nothing particularly Canadian about the book. I don't think it should have been excluded, I just think there may have been better choices that better reflected Canada. A book doesn't have to take place in Canada to feel Canadian... but to be Canadian I don't think it should feel 100% Indian.

Will you like it?: Do you like The Kite Runner, books by Wally Lamb, everything from Oprah's book club, and being profoundly depressed while reading a book? If so, this is a book for you. If not, you might want to skip it.

But don't take my word for it: The usual positive blurbs from, a positive reader review, a review from journalist Joe Wiebe's blog, one from the London Free Press, another from Blog Critics Magazine, one from the inaugural issue of Desi Lit, and a link to the book's page on this year's Canada Reads.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Stanley Park - Timothy Taylor

The Basics: Stanley Park, Timothy Taylor, 2001, 423 pages, hard cover, nominated for Canada Reads 2007

How I found it: I had read this book before (recommended by Jess I think) but I read it again since I wanted to read all of the Canada Reads books this year and evaluate them for myself.

What's it about?: A struggling youngish chef tries to manage his doomed restaurant, a new girlfriend, and a complicated relationship with his father. Jeremy, the protagonist, has to make tough decisions about whether to sell out or not, whether to tell his girlfriend, his father, and his sous chef about his financial difficulties and what to do about his father's increasingly participatory forms of anthropological study. Jeremy's dad, "The Professor" is studying homeless people living in Vancouver's Stanley Park, but he has begun living among them and losing touch with academia and reality.

Did I like it?: I remember enjoying this book a bit more the first time. This time around it seemed a little pulpy. I think part of the problem is that I didn't identify with Chef Jeremy. He kept all of his problems bottled up inside and didn't tell anyone about them. While that makes a great premise for a book (see Little White Lies), it doesn't make for a likable character in my opinion. I didn't think the character development was very good since I was left wondering why Jeremy had made some of the decisions he did. All in all, an interesting book, but definitely not deserving of the Canada Reads title.

Will you like it?: Despite my criticisms of this book, it is a good one and is worth reading. I just don't think it is spectacular enough to be the one book that Canadians should read. It's a good story and if love food and Vancouver, you will appreciate the small roles both of those factors play.

But don't take my word for it: The usual collection of positive blurbs from, lots of glowing reader reviews, a review from Book Reporter, one from the foodie blog VanEats, an interesting take from the Book Mine Set blog, and an interview with the author from CBC's Words at Large.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Waiting for the Macaws and Other Stories from the Age of Extinctions - Terry Glavin

The Basics: Waiting for the Macaws and Other Stories from the Age of Extinctions, Terry Glavin, 2006, 318 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I believe this book was recommended to me by's recommendations service. Or I could have seen it on either the Tyee or the Canadian Geographic book reviews linked below. Either way, it has been on my list of books to read for about a year but I never really got around to it.

What's it about: Glavin is a conservationist and was an early member of Greenpeace. In this book, he travels around the world visiting the habitats of some of the world's extinct or soon to be extinct species to learn about them and the greater picture of increasing global extinctions. Despite his extremist past, Glavin is quite moderate in his attitude. He does really come to any conclusions about what can be done to save any of these animals and seems to have conflicted feelings on the helpfulness of zoos, breeding programs, etc.

Did I like it?: I didn't mind this book, but it took me quite a long time to get through it. Some of the sections were particularly interesting, especially the final section on the Naga people and their unique agricultural practices in India's Eastern Himalayas. Other sections seemed disjointed and convoluted and I wasn't sure how they tied together. Overall, it was an interesting read, but not a terribly good one.

Will you like it?: This is one of those "the sky is falling" environmentalist books that has become so popular lately. However, it is presented in a way that tells the stories behind the statistics, shows us the people, plants and animals that are threatened. That makes the book worthwhile and lends the cause a bit more credence since we can more clearly see the effect we have on our world.

But don't take my word for it: The usual collection of review quotes and descriptions from, a review from the Globe and Mail, one from Vancouver Review, another from The Tyee, one from Canadian Geographic, and finally, the author's blog.