• Books,  Tech

    Blinkist, Read a Book in 15 minutes

    Credit: Blinkist.com

    With a full schedule at work sprinkled with school, family and friends, it’s sometimes challenging to sit down to read a good book or to learn new skills. I personally try to squeeze in some reading/learning time when I’m in transit and during lunch breaks but, it’s not always optimal. Either I get distracted by loud passengers on the train or interrupted with urgent matters at the office. When it’s the end of a long day, I’m often too tired to use my brain cells and weekends go by way too fast when binging a good show on Netflix. (Definitely guilty and a little bit too often!)

    When I saw a sponsored ad in my Instagram feed for Blinkist, I was intrigued. “2,500 titles of the world’s best nonfiction, distilling them into key insight summaries you can read in 15 minutes.” It didn’t take more than that to convince me to download the app to see what it was all about.

    The Blinkist app gives access to the summary of thousands of nonfiction books, whether you’re looking to improve your time management skills or be more mindful in your every day life. You can’t actually read entire texts from this app so it’s perfect if you simply want a quick breakdown of the book and its key ideas in a 15-minute-ish read or audio. If you log onto the Blinkist website, it can redirect you to Amazon to purchase the book or have the summary sent directly to your Kindle.

    To fully enjoy the app, a Premium subscription is a must; you can’t really do much without it. Before committing, you do get a free 7-day trial to see if you like the app or not. I recommend taking advantage of the trial period to evaluate your needs and if it’s worth it for you to invest your money. On a monthly basis, the app costs $15.99 CAD.  The yearly subscription comes up to $109.99 CAD, the equivalent of $9.17 a month. It’s definitely not cheap. A free membership gives you one free daily read and audio, and lets you browse the different titles that are available to Premium subscribers only.

    The Pros
    • Easy to use
    • Clean design
    • Wide selection of +2,500 titles (and new ones are added every week)
    • Provides synopsis, who should read it and short bio of the author.
    • Curated list of readings
    • Keeps track of current and finished readings
    • Connects with Kindle and Evernote
    • Easy cancellation
    The Cons
    • Must have Premium Membership
    • One free daily read available to Basic Subscribers
    • Cannot purchase book from the app
    • Cannot send summary to Kindle from the app

    I like the idea behind this app. Sometimes, you simply don’t have the time to go through all the fluff of a self-help book and just want to get straight to the point. The only downside is that not everyone is ready to dish out an entire yearly subscription right away; I would much rather have $9 deducted monthly than paying $110 on the spot.

    It’s a great app to help you keep learning new things and improve yourself whether it’s for work or for your personal life. I personally am not ready for that kind of (costly) commitment.

  • Books,  Movies

    The Books of Oscars 2018

    Roll out the red carpet, put on your best outfit and pop the champagne because it’s Oscars Weekend!

    I’m pretty excited about this year’s nominees because of the diverse film genres and titles that you wouldn’t normally see making it to such ceremonies. Of course, my focus is always on book-to-film adaptations and I’m not disappointed at the ones that became blockbuster hits, and have been in the spotlight at film festivals and award shows this year.

    “Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role by Timothé Chalamet, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song for “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens.

    It tells the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera. Each is unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, when, during the restless summer weeks, unrelenting currents of obsession, fascination, and desire intensify their passion and test the charged ground between them. Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. It is an instant classic and one of the great love stories of our time. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    In the Best Animated Feature category, the Academy fell in love with three children’s books about a baby in charge, a brave eleven year-old Afghan girl during the rule of the Taliban, and a bull not like the others.

    “The Boss Baby” by Marla Frazee

    “The Breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis

    “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf (Ferdinand)

    Christopher Plummer is nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in the movie adaptation of “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson.

    American oil tycoon J. Paul Getty created the greatest fortune in America-and came close to destroying his own family in the process. Of his four sons who reached manhood, only one survived relatively unscathed. One killed himself, one became a drug-addicted recluse, and the third had to bear the stigma all his life of being disinherited in childhood. The unhappiness continued into the next generation, with the name Getty, as one journalist put it, “becoming synonymous for family dysfunction.” Getty’s once favourite grandson was kidnapped by the Italian mafia, lost his car and, after a lifetime of drink and drugs, became a paraplegic. A granddaughter is currently suffering from AIDS. And the Getty family itself has been torn apart by litigation over their poisoned inheritance. But did the disaster have to happen? (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    Netflix has been behind numerous excellent productions such as “Beasts of No Nation” and “1922”“Mudbound”, a period drama film based on Hillary Jordan’s novel, is no different. It received four nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress in a Supporting Role by Mary J. Blige, Best Original Song for “Mighty River” by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson, and for Best Cinematography.

    It is the saga of the McAllan family, who struggle to survive on a remote, ramshackle farm, and the Jacksons, their black sharecroppers. When two sons return from World War II to work the land, the unlikely friendship between these brothers-in-arms—one white, one black—arouses the passions of their neighbours. As the women and men of each family tell their version of events, we are drawn into their lives. Striving for love and honour in a brutal time and place, they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale and find redemption where they least expect it. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    The adaptation of Shrabani Basu’s novel “Victoria & Abdul” is nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

    In the twilight years of her reign, after the devastating deaths of her two great loves—Prince Albert and John Brown—Queen Victoria meets tall and handsome Abdul Karim, a humble servant from Agra waiting tables at her Golden Jubilee. The two form an unlikely bond and within a year Abdul becomes a powerful figure at court, the Queen’s teacher, her counsel on Urdu and Indian affairs, and a friend close to her heart. This marked the beginning of the most scandalous decade in Queen Victoria’s long reign. As the royal household roiled with resentment, Victoria and Abdul’s devotion grew in defiance. Drawn from secrets closely guarded for more than a century, Victoria & Abdul is an extraordinary and intimate history of the last years of the nineteenth-century English court and an unforgettable view onto the passions of an aging Queen. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    The film “Wonder” based on R.J. Palacio’s novel is also nominated in the category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling. When I saw the trailer, I immediately knew it would do the book justice and pull at the audience’s heartstrings.

    August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    Blade Runner 2049 was very much anticipated this year following the success of the first instalment in 1982. Though this neo-noir sci-fi film is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it earned itself five nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. (I can attest to that)

    By 2021, the World War has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacra: horses, birds, cats, sheep. They’ve even built humans. Immigrants to Mars receive androids so sophisticated they are indistinguishable from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans can wreak, the government bans them from Earth. Driven into hiding, unauthorized androids live among human beings, undetected. Rick Deckard, an officially sanctioned bounty hunter, is commissioned to find rogue androids and “retire” them. But when cornered, androids fight back—with lethal force. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    The adapted autobiography by Molly Bloom “Molly’s Game” (Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker)  is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the true story of “Hollywood’s poker princess” who gambled everything, won big, then lost it all. When she was a little girl in a small Colorado town, she dreamed of a life without rules and limits, a life where she didn’t have to measure up to anyone or anything—where she could become whatever she wanted. She ultimately got more than she could have ever bargained for. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    Also nominated in the same category is “The Disaster Artist”. The book written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell is considered to be one of the most important pieces of literature by the Huffington Post.

    In 2003, an independent film called The Room—starring and written, produced, and directed by a mysteriously wealthy social misfit named Tommy Wiseau—made its disastrous debut in Los Angeles. Described by one reviewer as “like getting stabbed in the head,” the $6 million film earned a grand total of $1,800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. Ten years later, it’s an international cult phenomenon, whose legions of fans attend screenings featuring costumes, audience rituals, merchandising, and thousands of plastic spoons. (Source: Chapters Indigo)

    “Beauty and the Beast” based on Disney’s 1991 Animated Feature and inspired by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s story of the same name, is nominated for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design.

    Both “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “War of the Planet of the Apes” received a nomination for Best Visual Effects, while “Logan” is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. A big part of me is thrilled that these three movies are celebrated because no one would ever think that superhero movies would meet the usual standards of the Oscars or how CGI has become an essential part in the making of certain films.

    There you have it! All of the nominated films that once were only in print.

    Which film(s) will you be cheering for Sunday night?

  • Books

    Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

    One thing that I love about taking literature courses is being assigned readings that are also on my TBR list. Though the professor gave us a little over a week to read the book, I finished it in two days. André Alexis was able to captivate me immediately within the first few pages of his novel Fifteen DogsIt won numerous prizes such as the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2015 and was recently named the winner of the 2017 edition of Canada Reads.

    Synopsis: The story begins with a bet between two brothers, the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo. The latter believed that any animal, if given human intelligence, would be more miserable than humans. And so in exchange for a year of servitude, the gods agree on the bet, and grant human consciousness and language to a group of fifteen dogs. As they free themselves from a veterinarian clinic in Toronto, the canines are forced to live and survive at a nearby park. They soon face a challenge that will determine their own future: accept this intelligence or reject it.

    Even though I read this novel from cover to cover in a couple of days, I thought the idea of the Greek gods was unoriginal. It reminded me of another book I read a few years ago called Gods Behaving Badly. Both stories involved the gods of Mount Olympus living in modern day. They become bored and decide to intervene in the lives of mortals for their own amusement. Sounds like most Greek myths involving the divine, right?

    Because the book is rather short with only four chapters, the story evolved quickly. The author made solid parallels with human behaviours displayed by the dogs. It reminded me how awful we could be at times in order to survive, to protect the lives we are accustomed to, etc. Alexis also explored the relationships between humans and their loyal canine companions. Dog owners are surely able to relate to certain parts of the story. I know I did.

    Beautifully written and meaningful, almost philosophical.

    “Fifteen Dogs” by André Alexis
    Publication date: April 1, 2015
    Publisher: Coach House Books
    Pages: 171
    Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

  • Books

    Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters edited by Joseph Boyden

    Every year on June 21, we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. It’s a day to recognize, and celebrate the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Indigenous peoples in Canada. Though it’s an important part of our heritage, most Canadians don’t seem to know enough about the Indigenous peoples living on this land, their communities, history and reality today. Somehow, it’s not a popular and common interest.

    I was always fascinated by Aboriginal culture ever since I was 16 years old when we were introduced to colonial history in 9th grade. I never took the time to explore beyond the beautiful art, mythology and mystical medicine of Native Americans. It was only recently that I learned about what my history teachers never taught us in school: hate, discrimination, violence and injustice. The concealed ugly past motivated me to read more Indigenous writings, to acknowledge their past and to better understand them. Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters edited by Joseph Boyden is one of the many books that I added to my reading list this year.

    Synopsis: Driven by deep frustration, anger, and sorrow in the wake of yet another violent assault upon a First Nations woman in November 2014, dozens of acclaimed writers and artists have come together to add their voices to a call for action addressing the deep-rooted and horrific crimes that continue to fester in our country.

    Kwe means woman in Ojibwe. More specifically, kwe means life-giver or life-carrier in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language. It is a pure word, one that speaks powerfully of women’s place at the heart of all our First Nations.

    These women who bring light and life to our world are in peril. Aboriginal women in our country are three times more likely to face violent attack and murder than any other of their gender. We must take concrete steps to stop this and we must do it now.

    A nation is only as good, is only as strong, as how it treats its most vulnerable and those of us in danger. This book is a call to action. It’s sometimes a whisper, sometimes a scream, but we speak our words as one when we demand justice for our more than 1200 murdered and missing Indigenous women. After all, they are our mothers, our daughters, our nieces, our aunties, our sisters, our friends. (Source: Goodreads)

    While I initially wanted to review this eBook, I felt it was more important for me to state how important the work is in raising awareness and encouraging everyone to put more pressure on our federal government to act and resolve this crisis. Over 50 Canadian writers and artists contributed to this collection of stories, poems and artwork, from Gord Downie to Margaret Atwood. They all spoke out against the violence committed against Indigenous women all across Canada. At only $2.99 with all proceeds donated to Amnesty International’s No More Stolen Sisters campaign, I don’t think there’s a reason not to purchase the book and read it at least once. I wish printed copies were available so that I could carry one in my bag at all times, but my eReader will do.

    “Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters” edited by Joseph Boyden
    Publication date: December 16, 2014
    Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
    Pages: 127
    Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

    To learn more, I invite you to visit Amnesty International as well as the coverage on CBC:

    https://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/indigenous-peoples/no-more-stolen-sisters/kwe-standing-with-our-sisters

    http://www.cbc.ca/missingandmurdered

  • Books

    Vi by Kim Thúy

    Vi by Kim Thuy

    When I first heard about Kim Thúy, a Vietnamese-born Canadian author, I was very excited to read her work and was proud of all the recognition she had received. To my disappointment, her debut novel “Ru” left me feeling empty as it lacked depth, and development both in her story and with her characters. You can read my review here.

    I was hesitant to buy her new book titled “Vi” mostly because I had told myself that I will never read any of her future writings due to the negative experience I had. However, I decided to give the author a second chance as the synopsis seemed promising.

    In Vietnamese, « Vi » means what is infinitely small, microscopically small. In this book, Vi is the name of a little girl, the youngest sister of three brothers, the “little treasure” that finds herself in a big life and its chaos. By leaving Saigon for Montreal, by visiting Suzhou and Boston, by growing up next to ordinary heroes, she witnesses the grandness of the sea, the multiplicity of horizons, the oneness of sadness, the luxury of peace, the complexity of love, the endless possibilities and the violence of beauty. 

    Like a good student, she watches, learns, receives. But will she ever know how to live this big life? 

    While the story is about Vi, the first half of the book is mainly focused on her grandparents, her parents, her mother’s friend whom she fled the country with along with her mother and brothers after the Vietnam War, and how the latter adapted to their new lives upon arriving in Quebec. Her story comes much later and it explores love, friendship, her professional journey and travels. She has a falling out with her mother over a life decision she had made which didn’t feel like it was resolved by the end of the novel. She simply moved on with her life without any particular attachment.

    Once again, Kim Thúy tells her story through snapshots of memories (most likely her own) that often involved unnecessary details that are irrelevant to the growth of Vi’s character. Her family’s past had little influence on her part of the story but Thúy spent close to half of her 144-page book on them. Instead of including minor characters that did not complement the plot in a significant way, it would have been much better to elaborate on certain aspects such as Vi’s emotional struggles or her mother’s. At times, it was difficult for me to know exactly where or when the story is taking place as Thúy tends to jump from one location to another as well as different points in time. When the story is on a continuous timeline, the transition between the chapters is not always done smoothly, again feeling like jumping from one idea to another. The novel ends with thoughts of her estranged father, a person that had little importance throughout the whole book until the last few pages.

    One thing that I cannot deny is how rich Kim Thúy’s vocabulary is. She paints a very accurate portrait of Vietnam and its culture, and her descriptions are precise. What I particularly appreciated is how she described the Vietnamese traditional dress (áo dài). Her words creates this exquisite imagery that seem to overshadow the lack of depth of her story.  

    I am a bit torn as I’m not sure whether I liked this book or not. I thought Vi’s family history was charming, how her grandfather fell in love with her grandmother or the way her parents met. When it comes to what was supposed to be the main story (Vi’s), I felt indifferent though I could relate to certain aspects such as growing up in Quebec and following a more occidental lifestyle. When I turned the last page, I asked myself “That’s it?” Beautifully written but needs a meaningful storyline for the main character.

    “Vi” by Kim Thúy
    Publication date: April 4, 2016
    Publisher: Libre Expression (French edition)
    Pages: 144
    Rating: ♥ ♥ 1/2