Book Review

Whose Book Opinion Matters to You & Why?

The other day I was watching a book haul vlog by the heavyblanks, otherwise known as Jason Purcell (@jvpurcell) and he said something that got me thinking. He says (at the 1:12 mark),

This was a book that was recommended to me by a friend of mine, whose opinion on books I trust, more than almost anyone else.

So then, naturally, I grabbed a pen and wrote down, ‘whose book opinion matters to you and why?’ I wanted to think on it and I’m getting older, so writing things down is always helpful (hehe). What I didn’t realize is that it’s actually a hard question to answer, especially when you work in the world of books. There are so many books landing on my desk at a rapid pace that sometimes I pick up something because I read the title description and I form my own opinions. Sometimes, it’s because the second I hear the authors name, I’m instantly drawn to the book. But without fail, there are five people who are always able to convince me to pick up a book based on their opinion and enthusiastic recommendations.

1. My two colleagues (and friends), Jess and Ainsley – These two women read as much as I do and although we all read differently; Jess loves historical fiction, Ainsley’s a fan of mystery and YA and I love me some Canadian literature, yet somehow we always end up reading the same books throughout the year.

Reading Racetrack

As you can see from our annual Reading Racetrack (that we keep up in Ainsely’s office), we read a lot! Last year, each of us read The Dinner by Herman Koch, The Bear by Claire Cameron and The Circle by Dave Eggers. I also picked up books I never would think of reading, because of these two. It was Ainsley who came in raving about The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and made me completely jump on the John Green train! And Jess recently had an opportunity to read an advanced copy of Jodi Picoult’s upcoming book Leaving Time and came over to my office with tears in her eyes and said “you need to read this book”. They know my taste, I know there’s and their recommendations have expanded my reading list immensely.

2. Editors Of course, one of the BEST things about working in publishing (in my opinion) are the launch meetings. This is where editors from different divisions share books they’ve recently acquired that will be on sale in upcoming spans (usually, the following year). This is where I heard that BJ Novak was writing a collection of short stories called One More Thing and it’s where I learned about the new David Adams Richards, Crimes Against My Brother. It’s always fun getting to hear what peaked the editors interest and how the plot, theme, character and author, all have a role in deciding to publish a book. Their descriptions of the plot and relationship with the authors are why I walk out of those meetings with more and more titles to add to my TBR pile.

3. Steph from Bella’s Bookshelves – I’ve been following Steph’s blog, Bella’s Bookshelves for years now and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that Steph and I read very similarly. She, too, loves Canadian literature and always has her finger on the pulse with what’s new and Steph1happening in the CanLit world. Her blog is filled with great reviews and recommendations. It’s why I picked up This Cake is for the Party by Sarah Selecky and why I first picked up the first Harry Potter book.

She doesn’t just review books, she delves into plots in such an intricate and delicate way that you’ll be opening your Goodreads app the moment you finish reading her thoughts.

She’s a  freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer (for over ten years now; clients include Thomas Allen, LtdHouse of Anansi PressECW PressUBC Press, and UOP. She also reviews for the Quill & QuireSource.

4. Books on the Nightstand – By far, Books on the Nightstand has to be my nightstand-illuminating1favourite podcast to date. Ann and Michael both have an ability to make you feel like they’re with you at a coffee shop chatting about their latest reads. The number of books I’ve picked up because of their book recommendations exceeds ten, so I’m going to refrain from sharing them all, but trust me, that they know their stuff. They also provide answers to questions and inquiries that viewers send in like, reading aloud to kids and abandoning books. If you’re not already listen to this podcast, I highly suggest starting with this one!

5. Laurie Grassi, Books Editor for Chatelaine Magazine – It was because of her book recommendations that I subscribed to Chatelaine Magazine each month (thanks Mom & Dad for the annual Christmas gift). Her thoughts on AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid are why I picked up both books.

She loves reading and is a familiar face I see out at book events where we always have great chats about the books she and I are reading. Her cover photo on Twitter (@LaurieGrassi) is a dead giveaway about her taste in literature. She knows good books and always recommends them with enthusiasm and excitement. I always find myself walking towards her book recommendations when I step into my local bookstore.

To each and everyone of you listed above, thank you for introducing me to books that I’ll continue to cherish for years to come.

These are the people who influence my reading, but I’d love it if you shared in the comments whose book opinion matters to you and why?


[Book Review] Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

IMG_4546Never before in my history of reading have I highlighted a book as much as I did when reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.

Here’s some of what the book is about:

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

Now don’t let the sentence, “this is a book for managers” deter you from picking up this extraordinary book, because it’s for anyone who wants to showcase their creativity in the workplace. It’s for anyone who’s part of a creative team who are keen to contribute ideas (good and sometimes bad) with the understanding that their hands have a part in the final product. Ed Catmull is the co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, so he knows a thing or two about what it means to be creative, but he also knows the importance of relying on his team to create ideas and garner creativity.

The first couple of chapters are about Ed Catmull’s goal of wanting to be the first person to make a computer-antimated movie and his path to achieving that dream; education, working with Lucasfilm (George Lucas’ company) and meeting Steve Jobs.

The reader will then dive into the nitty gritty with chapters and sections of the book titled,

  • Honesty and Candor
  • Hungry Beast and the Ugly Baby
  • Broadening Our View
  • Notes Day

These sections of the book are where you’re going to become inspired, so IMG_4548make sure you have that highlighter handy. Now if you’re thinking to yourself, well, one of the reasons I picked up this book is because I want a behind the scenes look at Pixar, don’t worry, you’ll get that too! Each of these sections and chapters are based around the framework of what he’s learned at Pixar Animation Studios. You’ll get a look at what movies were scrapped, which were tweaked and how the team came together to create a fabulous final product. You’ll also discover how and why the company has become so admired and profitable over the years.

One of the recurring themes throughout the book is Ed Catmull’s humble approach to operating a multi-billion dollar empire. Knowing that you don’t have all the answers, knowing when you’re wrong and knowing that it takes many hands to create something great is the key to success. He often refers to the process of creating Toy Story 2. Of course, we (the public) remember it being such a fabulous movie, but behind the scenes of creating that movie, the team at Pixar were making a lot of internal mistakes; families were neglected and sleep was not a part of their routine. It was after the movie was finished, that Ed took a step back to look at where they went wrong. He vowed never to have the Pixar team operate under those conditions again. Knowing that you’ve made a mistake and working to change it, is the strength of an effective leader.

The best part of reading CreativityInc is that you know that Ed Catmull isn’t just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk. Anyone can see that by watching the beautiful films they create, but it’s also evident if you type the words Pixar Animation into your Google browser.

I thought it would be helpful if I shared snippets of insight from this brilliant and inspiring book, so here are some of my favourite quotes:

  • “Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers int he power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process – reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollower character finds its soul.”
  • ” When experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, not as a frustrating waste of time, people will enjoy their work – even when it is confounding them.”
  • “Rather than trying to prevent all errors, we should assume, as is almost always the case, that our people’s intentions are good and that they want to solve problems. Give them responsibility, let the mistakes happen, and let people fix them.”
  • “I call the early mock-ups of our films “ugly babies.” They are not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be. They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. They need nurturing – in the form of time and patience – in order to grow.”
  • “A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody”

I could continue to share lots of inspirational quotes, or I could encourage you to purchase a copy of Creativity, Inc. to become inspired all on your own. There is something in this book for everyone and you’ll have a different outlook of how you walk into the doors to your job every morning, I know I did.

[Book Review] I Don’t Know What You Know Me From by Judy Greer

Remember Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30? That ‘Thriller’ scene was epic.

Oh and Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses? I’m humming Bennie and the Jets right now.

And what about Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner? I always think of this movie when I eat brown M&M’s

Judy GreerNow… do you know what all these movies have in common? Besides the fact that they’re all romantic comedies. They all feature Judy Greer as the loveable, yet quirky BFF role! Judy Greer has honed her skills at playing the role of the co-star and she knows it. It only made sense that she’ write a memoir and call it, I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions from a Co-Star

Now here’s what you might not know about me… I own a lot of, what some would call “girly movies”, the only action and suspense movie I own is Speed and that’s pushing it. I’ll be honest and say I bought it because of Keanu Reeves voice. It’s safe to say that I’ve seen Judy Greer pop up in a lot of rom-com’s that star a lead actress that meets the man of her dreams, falls in love, oh no… dilemma, Judy Greer enters with some hilarious, yet wise insight and all is right in the end. So even though some might not recognize her right away or may not recognize her name, this chick flick enthusiast knew exactly who she was. For those in the hipper crowd, you might recognize her as Kitty Sanchez from Arrested Development. Please note: I only say the hipper people will get it, because I never got the whole Arrested Development phenomenon and I’m not cool enough to pretend I did.

When I heard last year that Random House would be publishing her memoir, I was so excited to get my hands on it. I feed on pop culture and I sometimes like to refer to myself as a human IMDB, so I couldn’t wait to hear what Judy Greer’s life was like and what it was like to play the best friend role in so many blockbusters. In I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, I got all that and more.

Judy takes us back to her early days of bad hair and really bad hair (no judgement… I could haul out some pictures that would have you laughing out loud), to a time when she had aspirations to make it in Hollywood. With her parents support and a license plate that literally read “star 2 be”, she notes that in reality, it should have read “co-star 2 be”, she packed her bags and headed to the big city. The memoir is a collection of essays filled with stories, insight and advice that makes you feel like you’re hearing stories and getting tips from a best friend. And as noted above, she plays that best friend role oh so well.

Filled with hilarious antidotes of making it, sharing random texts she found on her phone,

I’ve decided I really want a tee-pee.

to an essay titled, “Ashton Kutcher Gave My Dad a Harley”, I laughed out loud the entire time. Oh and wait until you read about her experience going to the Oscars… all I can say is that poor, poor woman. She has a way of making the glamour of the Hollywood life seem honest, some might even say normal. My Best Friends don’t live in close proximity, but I can honestly say that for approximately two and a half hours of reading, Judy Greer was a great stand in!

Now for the really cool part:


Yesterday, I got the opportunity to meet Judy Greer! Not only was she incredibly nice and might I add, impeccably dressed, but she was really excited to be in Toronto and happy to hear that people were enjoying her book. If you’re someone who’s a movie or TV buff, chances are, Judy Greer has had a role in one of your favourite movies or television shows and you’re sure to thoroughly enjoy I Don’t Know What You Know Me From

If you’re chatting about the book online, be sure to tag Judy Greer at @missjudygreer and use the hashtag #IDontKnowWhatYouKnowMeFrom


[Book Review] Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui

Squawking ChickenElaine Lui, or as many of us know her, Lainey, has been gabbing about celebrities for quite some time on her popular blog Lainey Gossip. Rather than just sharing a couple of pictures about celebs with a small blurb, Lainey’s become known for sharing her opinions about gossip in thought provoking and often hilarious written essays. With all the success she’s had in her career, we Lainey fans were thrilled to hear that she was writing a memoir.  Well… kind of. You see, she’s written a  memoir about her Mother, whom she refers to as the squawking chicken, which is why her memoir is titled, Listen to the Squawking ChickenWhen Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of).

I’ll start my review with a  quote from Lainey,

Most people think I’m exaggerating at first when I talk about the Chinese Squawking Chicken. But once they actually spend some time with her, they understand. They get it. Right away. She’s Chinese, she squawks like a chicken, she is totally nuts, and I am totally dependent on her.

I couldn’t wait to dip into Listen to the Squawking Chicken and after only a few pages, I knew that I wasn’t going to put it down until I finished the entire thing. We’re given the back story of the ‘Squawking Chicken’ and I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t an easy story to read. Her childhood wasn’t ideal but it definitely helped her create a “wailing siren” of a voice. She became strong, independent and was hell-bent on instilling the same values in her only daughter. Their Chinese culture also played a big role in Lainey’s upbringing, it still does. If you’re like me, you’ll thoroughly enjoy learning about the different traditions that their family practices to honour their culture. One example that I found really interesting was that the Squawking Chicken doesn’t call Lainey on her birthday… Lainey’s expected to call her Mother to thank her for giving her life and guidance. If you think about it, it actually makes way more sense than one would think.

Lainey has an intricate way of painting her Mother with a brush that describes her as firm, yet endearing. She shares the blunt advice her Mother provides, but always makes sure to point out that her Mother is always right. Whether it be what fruit she should consume each morning or how to feng shui her home, she does a beautiful job at ensuring the reader that her Mother really does know best.

With the Squawking Chicken’s guidance and lessons of fearfulness, Lainey was raised to speak up. To be heard. And as many of her fans know, she’s done exactly that with her career. This sort-of memoir is a tribute to the women that taught her what it means to be loud. Listen to the Squawking Chicken is a touching Mother-Daughter memoir that will have you picking up a copy for yourself, your Mom and your Best Friend.

Follow Lainey on Twitter @LaineyGossip

[Book Review] The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryDo you want to know why I know you’ll love The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry? Because you’re here. You’re the type of person that reads book blogs and you’re the type of person that’s intrigued enough about a book that you’ve searched the title in google and ended up here.

Now that we’ve determined that you love books, let me tell you why you’ll love this particular book in the words of Allyson Pearl (follow her on Twitter, she’s great), “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a love letter to books and publishing.” I wanted to include her quote because that’s exactly how I feel about the book and how many of my colleagues feel as well. Every person that I know who has picked up this book, has told me that it was a wonderful read. Okay, enough adjectives… let me share with you the premise of the book.

A.J. Fikry is having a rough go at life, his beloved wife has passed and it’s sent him into a spiral of unhappiness. He gets agitated easily, especially when he has to encounter other people. Of course, this poses a problem when you’re the owner of a New England bookstore named Island Books; their motto being, “No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World”. This independent bookstore is struggling financially, which of course is no surprise, but to top it off, A.J.’s prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen.

But things take a whole new direction when not only does he get a new sales representative from Knightley Press who’s determined to try to get him to try new booksbut he wakes up one morning to discover that there has been a baby left in his bookstore. That is what I like to call a loaded sentence! It’s no secret that he doesn’t enjoy change, but when life throws you curve balls, A.J. quickly learns that sometimes change can be a good thing.

Filled with ups and downs of emotions; happiness, sadness, aggravation, this story not only hits you right in the feelings, but it has so many Fikry Eventreferences to that feeling of being a book lover. I was very fortunate to get to go to the launch of Gabrielle Zevin’s launch back in late February at Ben McNally’s bookstore (which was the perfect location for this launch) and Gabrielle shared that she understands what it’s like to be a book lover, telling a story that as a child she sat for hours reading in her local bookshop. She wanted to write a story that spoke to that feeling of being a book lover; people who travel into a bookstore with the “idea” that they’ll buy one book, but end up walking out with four. People who know what it means to smell a book. To say that she tapped into that idea would be an understatement, because in my opinion, she nailed it. This book really is a gift and you’ll find yourself reading it and then passing it along to your friend or Mother in my case, because you know that they’re going to love it as much as you do.

My thanks to Penguin Canada for putting a copy on my desk and reminding me why I love books and how lucky I am to get to work with them every single day.

Check out this great Q&A with Gabrielle Zevin that Penguin Canada has shared on their website.