The Last of the Wine – Mary Renault

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that’s had me dashing to the used bookstore to get all an author’s works, but this book did it. It takes place in Ancient Greece and is told in the first-person by Alexias of Athens. Renault’s writing is engrossing, rigorously researched, and feels very true to the spirit of the times and the protagonist (which means that there is little focus on women and a liberal view on love). Similar in character to Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean, I find the feeling in Renault’s work more genuine and better able to transport me to Ancient Greece. This past March, Renault was nominated for the “Lost Booker” award. (submitted by LH)

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Losing My Religion: how I lost my faith reporting religion in America — and found unexpected peace

I found this book riveting and fascinating.  Veteran journalist William Lobdell was in his early twenties when he became a born-again Christian.  At the time,  few reporters were interested in the religion beat – a topic regarded as an antiquated arena for fading journalists. Lobdell had a vision for this position however, and landing it became a powerful calling.  He prayed and waited years for the opportunity. Then it happened in 1998.  The Los Angeles Times hired him for the job and he felt his prayers were finally answered.

For eight years he travelled extensively, looking for inspirational stories in all walks of life, as well as interviewing some of the world’s most prominent religious leaders.  However, he continually found disturbing discrepancies between the tenets of the various faiths, and the actual behaviour of the faithful and their leaders.  Eventually, he let go of his faith and surprisingly, found more peace in “the truth.”  This book  is not a defence of atheism using hard science, instead it is a passionate, spiritual journey full of revelations – a must read for anyone grappling with all the hard questions.

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Power of Half: one family’s decision to stop taking and start giving back

I am starting to give more money to charity.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin.  Help locally?  Help in developing countries?  Help animals, people, or the environment?  And how should I involve my kids so they know how fortunate they are?

Well, this book definitely got me thinking.  It’s about a family whose 14-year-old daughter wants to do more for others.   Her parents are motivated by her good intentions and decide to sell their 6,500 square foot house and downsize to something half as big and half the price.  They plan to give the other half of the proceeds to charity.  This is the true story of this process.  It’s interesting to hear how they chose who to give the money to, and how this act changes their family dynamics for the better.   A short and uplifting book. (submitted by KA)

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

What a lovely surprise: the best book I read in 2008 (and I read a lot of books).  So good that I bought it.  I tell a lot of people about it, when they ask me for a good book to read.  It is Sherman Alexie’s first foray into YA fiction.  It is the story of Junior, a smart and talented boy in Washington state….hmmm…well, I don’t really want to tell you anything else, because it is a marvellous story, well-written, and it makes you laugh and cry…it moves you.  And that’s always the best kind of surprise. (submitted by Jen)

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Too Big To Fail: the inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system from crisis — and themselves

What a soap opera!  Andrew Ross Sorkin uses his behind-the-scenes access to lay out the details of the recent financial crisis, from the failure of Lehman Brothers to the near failure of other key financial players.  This is riveting and page-turning stuff – you can also get updates on this ever-changing drama on his blog, dealbook, for the continuing story.  It’s a big book, and I couldn’t put it down.  If you want a moment-to-moment breakdown of the events and decisions made by the big boys in 2008-2009, you’ll enjoy this one.  I certainly did.  Update: HBO is making it into a movie. (submitted by Jen)

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Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

I felt like I’d been on an extreme rollercoaster ride after reading this book.  We follow Richard Mayhew, a very ordinary Englishman, until he suddenly falls through a crack  into the alternate universe of London Below.  He wanders the subterranean world of the London Underground where he meets up with some very frightening beings, but there is enough humour in this book to make even the darkest moments entertaining.  I never knew what to expect or whether Mayhew would prevail against the dark forces right up until  the end.  The book is based on a six-part BBC TV series. 

 Gaiman is a witty and creative writer and I’ve enjoyed all of his books so far.  However,  Neverwhere is still my favourite.

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Paul Torday

Although I’m not planning a fishing trip anytime soon, I grabbed this audiobook in search of some fun before my summer road trip. What I found was a story about fate, miracles, and ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The story is narrated through letters, emails, and interview transcripts that follow this bizarre plan to introduce salmon fishing into Yemen, between the British government and Yemeni Sheikh.

 It is a great story that makes you believe in the impossible, full of personal influences and political agendas. Funny and inspiring at the same time. Warmly recommended to anyone searching for comedy with bite. (submitted by IM)

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