Catching Up With Reviews: 2 Audios and a Book

I’ve been so busy reading that my writing has been falling behind!! Time for a catch up with the last couple of audios and a book that have been read! One was a Critical Era Book Club pick, one came with the recommendation of DROP EVERYTHING AND READ THIS BOOK and the last was a surprise hit (in my opinion) downloaded from the WPL.

15803175The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wade

This is the April Critical Era Book Club book and the kind folks at Audio JukeBox sent us a digital copy to review as part of their Solid Gold reviewer’s program. The story revolves around Jonny Valentine, an 11 year-old pop star discovered on YouTube a la Justin Beiber (in fact, SO many similarities to “The Beibs” that I wondered if he would sue for identity theft!). It was funny to read this book when I did as Beiber’s halo is beginning to tarnish and Jonny is still the squeaky clean image of what Beibs once was. Following him through the surreal and often cruel world of fame made you feel more sympathy than envy for someone growing up in the public eye. Every move is scrutinized and haters gonna hate!

At first I did not know what this book was trying to do– was it mocking pop idol stardom? Was it a cautionary tale highlighting the pitfalls of fame at a young age? Was it merely a coming of age story about a boy put in a unique situation? I am still not sure. What I do know is that the story was engaging, entertaining and interesting enough to keep listening to despite narrator Kirby Heyborne trying to sound like a young boy the whole time (at times the narration was excruciating– the book is written first person from the perspective of Jonny so the young boy voice was non stop; I did like most of the other voices tho– with the exception of his manager/mother Jane– annoying). It will be interesting to speak with Teddy Wayne tomorrow night and hear his perspective. 3 stars.

13707645The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph

When you receive an email from a respected friend and fellow book reviewer saying DROP EVERYTHING AND READ THIS BOOK NOW– you listen! That is what happened with this one and it was, indeed, a very engaging and heartbreaking read! I am not sure I was QUITE as enthusiastic as he was but yes, it was a story that you could NOT put down until you find out what happened.

The story takes place in India. Failed writer and journalist, Ousep Chacko’s beloved and outgoing son, Unni, suddenly commits suicide in a spectacular way– diving headfirst into the courtyard of the building complex where his family lives. There is no note and there were no signs that this would happen. The family is dumbfounded and Ousep will stop at nothing until he finds out why this has happened. Along the way you get to know Unni through the many stories that his friends tell to his father and your heart will just break for Thoma, the brother he left behind and Mariamma his mother who has to put up with a husband she absolutely hates. 3.5 stars.

7963208A Secret Kept by Tatiana deRosnay

If you have never heard the buzz about or read Sarah’s Key what rock do you live under!!?? It was one of those books that anyone who read it puts their hand on their heart and sighs– oh I LOVED that book!!! It has a solid 4.1 rating on GoodReads and it is a favourite Wink 3 Book Club book from way back. A Secret Kept is the follow-up and the overshadowed sibling, if you will. I went into this one knowing it was going to be no Sarah’s Key— the GoodReads reviews for it did not seem too positive but I needed something to listen to and it was available at the Windsor Public Library. You know what? I liked it! A lot!!

The story is about Parisian architect Antoine Rey, a 40-something man whose marriage has recently fallen apart. As a surprise for his sister’s 40th birthday he takes her to the beach town of Noirmoutier– a place they used to go for yearly vacations when they were children before their beautiful and beloved mother, Clarice, tragically passed away at a young age. The trip proved to be a magical one for both Antoine and Melanie– who has also been unlucky in love– until the last day when a memory returns to Melanie from their last trip before their mother died. Melanie runs the car off the road remembering. As Antoine slowly puts the pieces together of what actually happened many years ago he also discovers himself in the process. True, the “secret” didn’t seem all that shocking in this day and age but in the 70’s perhaps it was (or if it was YOUR mother…).

This was narrated by the FANTASTIC Simon Vance who absolutely made the story come to life!! His French accent and pronunciations added so much I really did feel like I was there in Noirmoutier with Melonie, Antoine, Angele and all the rest. 3 stars for the story, 4 stars for the narration so 3.5 for this one as well!

Another Review: LoveStar

This was a Science Fiction novel by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason and the March Critical Era Book Club pick. It was actually written over 10 years ago but was translated from Icelandic to English at the end of 2012. It was nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award for Sci-Fi and ended up receiving an honourable mention (congrats!)! After much coordination, our pal Aaron at Typographical Era managed to arrange an international chat so we could discuss the weird and “wonderful” world of LoveStar with Mr. Magnason himself. The insight I gained from this discussion made me enjoy the story more than I thought I did– I still can’t believe it was written long before the days of Twitter and Facebook. It sure seemed that the message was a cautionary tale of what has already come to be with targeted advertising and product placement on the internet (cute Andri was joking that he should be a billionaire because he must have invented FB and Twitter– always with a 😉 tho!!)


It is an unspecified time in the not so distant future and The LoveStar Corporation (discovered by the enigmatic man also called LoveStar) has taken over almost everything– communication (via bird and butterfly waves fed directly to the brain), advertising (specifically targeted to your consuming needs), death (shoot your loved one into space and watch them become a shooting star rather than rot in the ground) and even love (mathematically calculated love matches will evoke peace on earth). Now it is closing in on cracking the “God” market with their new product idea of LoveGod.

The LoveGod pitch:

“Imagine you were hungry. You close your eyes and pray: Dear God, I want a pizza with ham and pineapple. We receive the message and have an exclusive contract with Domino’s, for example, and if you say Amen, it means the order is confirmed. The pizza will be sent out instantaneously! It couldn’t be simpler!”

The idea of marketing God as a product would make the company even more powerful and, of course, power corrupts. Ragnar, an evil go getter in charge of the mood department at LoveDeath becomes obsessed with getting the LoveGod project off the ground at all costs. LoveStar (the man) needs to choose between allowing this to happen or ending it all.

In the meantime a couple called Indridi and Sigrid are in the midst of a crisis of their own– they have not been “matched” by inLOVE  as they thought they would be and now must be separated. Luckily they have Simon, the secret ad-man, to help them become reunited in the Big Bad Wolf’s zipper stomach by the end of the story (you think that sounds weird– I haven’t even mentioned the man-made Mickey Mice who eat children and have urine that will clean any household stain imaginable, Larry LoveDeath, the replacement for Santa Claus or the LoveStar theme park where they serve puffin sandwiches that don’t taste like fish).

It did end a bit abruptly but I liked how it makes you think about how even intangible things like love, death and even God are starting to become successfully marketed on the internet. This was also another one of those books that I would have never chose to read on my own (I LOVE Book Clubs for that!). True Sci-fi fans might like it a bit better than I did but it was a solid 3 star read for me.

Also, see Penny’s quick view here.

Review: Redefining Success

Ok– let me start off by saying that the experience of reading this book was a bit like a roller coaster ride.

Catapult: It started with an email from W. Brett’s administrator/publicist/fun co-ordinator asking us to review a book that is TOTALLY outside of our normal realm of reading. Is it a business book? Self help? Memoir? Maybe all of the above? All we know is it is “a dude from the Dragon’s Den” and the fun co-ordinator said our blog was “fantastic” and had “great notoriety”! Awwww! Thanks! With dewy eyes we checked out his website (which I thought was quite clever) and, sure, we’ll review it.

First Drop: Penny gets the book in the mail a few weeks later– in all of its over packaged, self-indulgent glory– and we are told we have a deadline! “Please read and review as close to the release date as possible” which is 2 days away. We are thinking “Hand over the pen filled with goat’s blood cos we’ve signed a deal with the devil here ladies!” and we all have a nice laugh.

Airtime: My experience with Dragon’s Den was the commercials I had seen while watching Rick Mercer or The National on CBC. Meaning, I had absolutely NO IDEA who W. Brett Wilson was. Was he the mean bald guy? Was he the woman with the red and grey hair? I had no clue. I get the book from Penny and notice that it is littered with photos of the guy in all kinds of unnatural poses. There are cheesy musings written to describe each contrived photo. All I can think is: He must be full of himself.

Fast straightaway: OK, the guy is quite successful! He started out as an investment banker (at a very high level) and became a bazillionare at a very young age. Ahhhhhh! And I see that he is quite the entrepreneur. His entrepreneurial mind works in a very entrepreneurial way. His MBA in entrepreneurship seems to have really helped him to become successful in all of his entrepreneurial ventures. Did I mention he is an entrepreneur?. Ok– one more time– entrepreneur!

Screeching Halt: The 80’s and 90s were very good to W. Brett. He has it all– success! money! family! He is rubbing elbows with some of the richest people around. There is a lot of name dropping of money giants from around the world that all seemed to be “very successful”, “close and personal friends” that he “learned a lot from” and “highly respects” (I recognized the name Richard Branson of Virgin Records fame but that was about it– my bank account is not that big!). Then, at the height of his success his wife leaves him because he works too much. He still has money but loses his family that he has been making the money for (and oh– he finds out he has really bad prostate cancer at the same time– it comes across as an aside in the book as well). He realizes these mistakes so he completely changes his business philosophy– stay filthy rich but take care of your loved ones and your health first. Bla! Bla! Bla! Cheesy, rich guy– I don’t feel sorry for you. I need a break! The book gets put aside– deadline or not.

Cork Screw: We get a reminder from the fun co-ordinator. “Your review isn’t done yet. When it is done please upload it  HERE.” We (as in I) have committed to reading it so let’s get back to it. I pick the book back up and I happen to be at the Dragon’s Den part.

Twister: Dragon’s Den is a Canadian show where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch to five multi-millionaires, with the expertise (and the money) to turn great ideas into incredible fortunes (I think it was called Shark Tank in the U.S.). As I mentioned I had never watched the show so I Googled some of the products that W. Brett had invested in and that is when I changed my opinion of him. I not only found myself watching 4 or 5 deals from “The Den” but a couple of his presentations, some T.V. interviews and footage from his yearly Garden Party as well. In the book I thought he came across as braggy and conceited but in real life real life he is a lot more soft-spoken, intelligent and charming. I misjudged him by reading his book before knowing who the heck he even was. If you don’t know him Google first, read later (DD bio).

Happy Ending: This is a memoir, not a business book (as I had originally pegged it) and if you go into it with this knowledge you will enjoy it more. I would have liked to know a bit more about his personal life rather than all of that business but I think that is what he knows best so that is what he writes. W. Brett is a true PHILANTHROPIST– which by my definition means that he is rich enough to make a difference and mindful enough of world issues to give a shit. W. Brett gives MILLIONS of dollars of his own money to various causes and he inspires others to do the same. The mistakes he has made in his past made him become a better person, father and partner and investing in people rather than money has allowed him to make a difference in the world. Did he need to write a whole book? Probably not but fans of DD and high power business folk will probably enjoy it better than a broke Lab Tech, Book Blogger but it is uplifting to see that not all super rich investment banker/oil moguls are jerks (and I love that he quotes from Harry Potter). 3 stars.

Men are not known by their abilities, but rather by their choices. ~ Albus Dumbledore

Review: Ape House


I dare say that it would be a challenge to find an author who writes about animals with more respect or more affection than Sara Gruen.  Ape House is such a tale, as Sara shares a story of betrayal and animal rights advocacy concerning Bonobo apes, and their extraordinary ability to communicate with their human companions.

As noted by Sara Gruen:

Most of the conversations between the Bonobos and humans in Ape House are based on actual conversations with great apes, including Koko, Washoe, Booey, Kanzi, and Panbanisha. Many of the ape-based scenes in this book are also based on fact, although I have taken the fiction writer’s liberty of fudging names, dates, and places.

The stars of Gruen’s story, the Bonobos, have been lovingly cared for and taught American Sign Language by linguistic scientist Isabel Duncan.  All is right with the world until their facility is bombed, Isabel is hospitalized, and the Bonobos are sold to a sleazy executive who’s best known for his work in the porn industry.  Interesting.  The executive’s brainchild is to toss the educated Bonobos into a “reality TV” setting (a blockaded home), and air their interactions live to a 24/7 subscribing audience.  Not surprisingly, the program is called Ape House.  The executive surmises that the regular sexual interactions of the Bonobos (part of their social behavior) will be titillating enough to keep viewers hooked.  Predictably, interest in Ape House wanes.  When watching the Apes eating cheeseburgers and M&Ms gets dull, he sends in things like cap guns and blow-up dolls.   It’s up to Isabel to save the Bonobos from this comic-book villain, and his inevitable intent to sell them to the highest-bidding research lab when the ratings slide.

The other half of the book revolves around John Thigpen, a hapless journalist who was originally charged to write about Duncan’s work, only to have the story given to a bratty colleague.  John and his extraordinarily whiny wife Amanda bump through their messy careers, and you know that the book is leading to the “story of a lifetime” for John, with the predictable conclusion of the book.  I felt very little for this pair, and I know I was supposed to care for them as much as Gruen clearly did.  I tried, but just could not muster any empathy or affection.

Overall, while the premise was interesting (perhaps a little sensationalistic), the characters were formulaic.  Every stereotype was available: the animal rights heroine, the struggling journalist, the rotten-to-the-core businessman, the hooker with a heart of gold, the punk-haired assistant, the nasty ex-boyfriend… they were all there, hitting their cues.  This is where the book lost me.  I don’t want to correctly predict a book’s outcomes.  I don’t want to know what characters will say before they open their mouths.  Being one-dimensional, not one of the (human) characters of Ape House had any surprises to offer.  I would have loved a bit of a twist here and there.

Disappointment aside, I must say that the Bonobos stole the show.  Any time Gruen wrote of their behavior, their language acquisition, or their affection for one another, she was clearly in her element.  No — more than that… she shone.  Gruen did a lovely job of capturing the apes’ humanness, and you could not help but feel anger when they were all betrayed.  The gist of the book was clearly that the Bonobos were more human than the people.  Gruen masterfully described every detail of their movements, their facial expressions, and their emotions.  The Bonobos were unquestionably the best part of the story, as Gruen has a wonderful gift for talking on behalf of creatures great and small.  I suppose the book would have held more magic for me if there had been more of the apes, and less of the people.

I will also note that I will pick up another book by Sara Gruen one day, because reading about animals rights from the perspective of the animals is never a waste of anyone’s time.  For that, hats off to Ms. Gruen.  More animals could benefit from her voice.

I’m giving Ape House 3 stars in spite of my disappointment with the human characters, and the predictability of the plot.  I just can’t fault the Great Apes for those things.  I will also not soon forget them.