What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

imgres-1Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Technically I didn’t read this book.  Rather, I listened to it while walking the twenty minutes home after dropping my boys at school.  I am intrigued by other people’s lives: ordinary people and those swathed in the limelight.  I enjoy listening to memoirs/autobiographies, especially when read by the author and Obama’s smooth baritone served to lull my nerves after the fracas that is the morning routine.  It’s not a political tome, nor is it pushing any agendas.  It’s simply a reflection, a recount of his formative years with the insight that one only has decades later.    The 5+ hours were a welcome distraction and nearing the end, I found myself taking the long way home.

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Bride of New France
by Suzanne Desrochers

Laure’s story begins in Paris in the 1650’s.   Paris of yesteryear was a gritty and dirty place.  The streets teemed with poverty and sanatoriums overpopulated with the physically sick, mentally ill and destitute.  A careful selection of young girls from these institutions were shipped to New France with the intention of marrying them off to the male settlers and populate the area thereby securing the land for France from the native people.  Reading this novel transported me back to 7th grade history and the King’s Daughter by Suzanne Martel, however Desrocher’s account of life as a filles du roi is more suited for adult eyes.

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Turtle Valley
by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

I can’t start a book by Gail Anderson-Dargatz if there is anything pressing I must attend to because once I read the first few pages I am committed.  In this case, I followed Kat on her agonizing journey of self-discovery while she put out fires, both literally and figuratively, while re-awakening a fire deep within.  Kat returns home to care for her dying father and support her mentally ailing mother while coming to terms with the end of her marriage to her stroke-ravaged husband.  To complicate things, the neighbour is her recently divorced former lover with whom she shares a sorrowful secret.  While the drama runs high, the characters are real and lack any of the histrionics you’d expect from a soap opera.

From Carol

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Paradise Lot
by Eric Toensmeier is an account of two young men who buy a small, barren urban lot in Massachusetts and set about creating a “permaculture paradise” featuring more than two hundred edible plants, many of which you and I have never heard of.  I plowed (ha!) through this book, which was made more interesting by revealing parallel exploration and growth in the protagonists’ lives (they meet lovers and settle down).   So much of the literature on permaculture and growing food assumes one has and needs swaths and swaths of land; this book shows how much is possible anywhere and encourages its readers to do what they can, where they are.

imgres-5A bit counter-intuitive maybe, given the subject matter, but Urban Farms by Sarah Rich is like a coffee table showpiece for this particular kind of farm.  A good-looking book that profiles 16 forward-looking farms thriving in city environments,  there’s more of a reporting quality to this book than a heartfelt one, but the featured farms are so innovative that they can almost speak for themselves.  Fascinating overview of what is possible, especially for the reader new to urban agriculture.

From Nathalie

imgres-6Well, I have officially gone down the rabbit hole.  After my wonderfully fun book club, I’m perfume-obsessed.  I’ve spent the last four nights with Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.  It is more than 600 pages long; it reviews 1800 fragrances; I have ordered more than a few samples from Lucky ScentThe A-Z Guide is a hoot.  There is no pretense of objectivity.  This is entirely a subjective, first person and opinionated account of the authors’ encounters with all perfumes, great and small.  The fact that some of my favourites appear on their five star list was no small source of pleasure.  They, too, love Dzing!, The Breath of God, and Cuir de Russie.

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After reading The Perfect Scent, I went back to re-read The Emperor of Scent, Chandler Burr’s book about Luca Turin.  Not only is Turin an eloquent perfume aficionado, he’s a maverick scientist who, out of his love for perfume, comes up with an entirely new theory of how smell works.  He is subsequently vilified and demonized by perfumers and scientists alike, and Burr tells what could easily be a conspiracy theory fairy tale so compellingly and so carefully that it’s hard not to fall in love with both of them.  Absolutely fascinating.  Even the second time around.

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While I’m at it, I might as well tell you about Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, a novel that I liked more for its detail about how perfume is made than for its plot.  An orphaned child has an uncannily sensitive sense of smell.  He learns the perfume business, makes his employers rich and famous with his genius, then embarks on his own life’s work: to make perfume that smells like innocence.  He does not do it innocently.  If, like me, you are tired of the CSI/murder mystery/Cold Case plot that pits a psychopath against anonymous virginal females, consider yourself warned.  Worth reading for the perfume stuff, though!

What We’re Reading: November 2013

Nathalie
Hyperbole and a Half

Allie Brosh

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Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and buy this book.  Based on her blog of the same name, Hyperbole and a Half is best described as an illustrated memoir.  Some episodes are from her childhood, some are from adulthood.  Some of the chapters began as blog posts, others are new material for the book.  I read a review of the book in The Globe and Mail, and sat down to read her blog.  I read it from beginning to end in one day, from her celebration of hitting 100 subscribers, to her current multi-million hits a month.  I was riveted.  I have no doubt that reading the blog enriched my reading of the book, but the book is definitely a stand-alone knock-out.  Do not be fooled by the apparently naïve style of illustration.  Brosh has an uncanny ability to remember what it was like to be a child, and her visual style brings into relief her present self remembering her past self as a child, but also how her actions as a child inform her present behaviour.  (She has ADD and struggles with depression.)   As a parent, I found that I was fully absorbed by her memories of and explanations for her wild behaviour when she was younger.  This post about her dinosaur costume is brilliant.  At turns heart-breaking and hilarious (my husband had to check that I was not choking I was laughing so hard as I read the blog; I actually hurt myself trying not to laugh out loud while reading the book in bed and wake said husband), Brosh is at her best with her acute observations about the progress of depression through stages of apathy, lack of emotion and suicidal thoughts.  Here is a wonderful sample of a chapter of the book.
Longbourn
by Jo Baker

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With the exception of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, I’ve been largely disappointed by attempts to rewrite/continue/reframe Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  I’m looking at you, Death Comes to Pemberley.  (I swore that I would go to my grave with the shameful secret that I sat through the entirety of Austenland.  It was so toe-curlingly dreadful, I actually felt soiled after that experience.)  I digress.  Longbourn is nothing like that.  Told from the perspective of the servants in the Bennet’s household, it is a story well-told and enjoyable.  I always, always wonder, when reading about the gentry, “How are they paying for this?  Who is doing the laundry?’  Longbourn addresses the second question in great detail, right down how the petticoats got stained, how the laundry soap is made and how the maid’s skin cracked and bled from chilblains.  This is fairly light fare: a below stairs romance that plays out with exactly the same times and settings as Austen’s original.  There were several points at which I felt my suspension of disbelief strained a bit too far, but overall, a good read.

Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

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Solnit is my new Must Read Everything author.  I fell head over heels in love when I read Faraway Nearby, a book of connected essays about everything from cancer, to apricots to arctic explorers.  If that boggles your mind, wait until you see how Solnit weaves these things together, time and time again, with a different emphasis on each of her touchstone images in each chapter.   This is creative non-fiction at its best: it employs the tools of creative writing to maximum effect.  Beginning with an essay on caring for her ailing mother, Solnit voyages out as far as Iceland and then back home again in a series of nested essays that link up in wonderous ways.  It’s a book to savour, to take in slow bites rather than my customary gobbles, but, I could not help myself.  I gobbled.  Two of her other books now await me on the bedside table.

Beth-Anne

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

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I enjoy historical fiction, if for nothing else a good story will pique my interest to further delve into the past.  A few months back my book club chose The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay who is well known for her novel, The Birth House that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Set in gritty, impoverished Lower Manhattan in 1871, The Virgin Cure grabs the reader from the first sentence: “I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.”  Her childhood is spent barely surviving amid disease, starvation and crime.  On the cusp of her 12th birthday her mother sells Moth as a servant to an upper-class woman and disappears from her life.  Contrary to what one would think, life does not become easier for Moth and a series of betrayals leads her to a brothel where the Madam secures the maidenheads of young girls for the city’s tycoons.   It is at this brothel where Moth meets Dr. Sadie, a female physician, who changes her life.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

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Well-established, New York author Jami Attenberg explores many complex relationships in her third novel, The Middlesteins.  Richard has walked-out on this thirty year marriage unable to take life with Edie.  Edie, morbidly overweight and scheduled for her second surgery, refuses to acknowledge her addiction.  The comfort food provides her is long-standing and the passages of Edie relishing her food, which Attenberg writes with such fervour, is akin to a passionate love affair.  Robin, her adult daughter, is grappling with her embarrassment of her mother, her mother’s weight and her parents’ failed marriage.  Benny, the lone son, is desperate to smooth things over while his relationships with his parents, his children and his wife all teeter on the brink of disastrous.  Edie’s addiction to food has torn the Middlesteins apart but with her family in jeopardy is she willing to take control of her life?  Attenberg shows readers how food addiction can be just as debilitating, destructive and complex as addition to drugs or alcohol.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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Unless you have been living under a rock, you know of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban on her way to school.  Malala, along with her father, is a champion of girls’ rights to education and is the youngest person to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Malala grew up in the Swat Valley, an area with a contentious history, but life became a prison under the rule of the Taliban.  Freedoms and pleasures that the people of Swat enjoyed for many years were taken away.  Innocents were killed and their bodies displayed in the street as a warning to others.  The valley, once revered for it’s ecological beauty and ancient religious artifacts have to the profound dismay of many, including archeologists, been stripped of any sign of its diverse religious history and is a polluted shell of itself.  Malala’s first hand account of how oppressed people are, in particular women, under this terrorist regime, is both gripping and appalling.  I remember after 9/11 reading this quote by Fred Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Malala is one of those people.  She is a beacon of hope and an example to others how one person can change the world.

Carol

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I read, I really do read, and I skim and glean even more.  But I don’t have much to write about this month, the books I picked up I don’t feel like posting about.  I did, however, forget to write about Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  It questions the dominant paradigm of extroversion in North America, the one which openly views introversion as a lesser way of being.  This is one of those books that doesn’t exactly change the way I see the world, but adds a screen of understanding that helps to make more sense of it.  And it doesn’t just do this for introverts, but for the extroverts who love introverts.  My extroverted husband picked up Quiet and said, “I feel like you come with a manual that I haven’t read.”  The book is filled with fascinating stories of individual introverts and their power, as well as the positive impacts of collected introversion.  It’s just as riveting on the ground where we stand, to facilitate an understanding of the quieter spouses, children, parents, friends, and selves among us.

What We’re Reading

Nothing beats summer reading.  Whether you’re on a beach, under a tree at the park or just sitting on your front stoop, there is something peaceful about reading outside.  Here’s a list of some of the books we’ve read this summer.

From Beth-Anne 

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Sharkopedia: The Complete Guide to Everything Shark from Discovery Channel and Time Home Entertainment was waiting in our mailbox upon our return from our family vacation to Grand Cayman Island.  It was on this trip the boys discovered a love for marine life and the ocean.  This book has become a favourite in our house.  With more than 400 colourful photos and easy to read fast facts, the boys have become quite knowledgeable about sharks.  It’s an engaging book that would make a welcome addition to any home or classroom library.  I will be sure to keep my eye out for more books Discovery Channel and Time Home Entertainment as the style seems to hold the interest of my boys.

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For the previous What We’re Reading, I wrote about The House At Riverton by Kate Morton, a book to get lost in.  I enjoyed this story so much that I followed it up by reading The Secret Keeper, also by Kate Morton.  It’s 1941 and London, England is in the midst of the Blitz.  Dorothy Smitham, a country girl is alone in the city after being disowned by her father for loving Jimmy.  Life is not easy for the lovers, Jimmy, a photographer documenting the atrocities of war and Dorothy an elderly lady’s care-giver.  Together they try to make a life in a city that is crumbling around them.  Fast forward through time and it is 1964 when Dorothy Smitham’s daughter Laurel witnesses a horrific crime that haunts her for years and has her begging her mother for answers more than thirty years later when Dorothy lays on her deathbed and is forced to relive her most darkest days in London at the start of World War two.

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Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth by Edeet Ravel – Years ago I read Ten Thousand Lovers and became a fan of Edeet Ravel’s writing.  Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth confirmed my adoration.  This is a coming of age story, where we follow the lives of Maya and Rosie, two girls living in the suburbs of Montreal in the 1960’s who became fast friends.  Both Maya and Rosie are children of Holocaust survivors and as the story of their teen-age years unfold, we’re privy to how their parents each cope with the traumatic events that shaped their lives – and ultimately how the Holocaust continues to shape and define the generations following the war.  Ravel’s writing is captivating and her characters rich with flaws which makes them so interesting and relatable -this is the kind of book that lives in your mind for days after you’ve finished the final chapter.

From Nathalie:

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Natalie Serber’s Shout Her Lovely Name was sent to us by her publisher, and I’m so glad it was!  I’m going to say this a lot about this month’s batch of books, but I could not put this book down.  A collection of mostly linked short stories about mothers and daughters, Serber’s book nails parenthood: its anxieties, its frustrations, its loneliness.  I was in thrall to the stories, and while each one stands alone exceptionally well, I loved seeing how the linked stories unfolded over generations.  It’s literary, clever, dark, funny, painful and beautifully written.  I loved it.

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I’ve been waiting for this book all summer!  How the Light Gets In is the latest in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries, set in the fictional hamlet of Three Pines in Quebec.  I gobbled it up in a day.  Great stuff.   I had read four of the previous mysteries in a row, and, while each book has its own mystery, they read a bit like a soap opera with the returning characters.  I was dying to find out what happens next in the drama, and did she ever deliver!  It’s a whizz-banger of a book.

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Robert McGill’s Once We Had a Country has been on my radar for a while.  It tells the story of American draft dodgers who come to Canada to set up a commune.  I was immediately drawn in by the characters, and by a quiet kind of menace in the narrative voice.  We know that the high hopes of the commune organizers cannot help but meet with disaster.  McGill has said he had wanted to write about the American migration to Canada from the point of view of the women and children who came with the male draft dodgers, and it is to the female protagonist Maggie that I felt most drawn.  Hers is a compelling tale, deftly told.

imgres-7A Beautiful Truth, by Colin McAdam, is a novel about chimpanzees, how we mistreat them, how alike we are, and how our loneliness cripples us.  So many passages took my breath away.  I will be reading his other two novels as soon as I can get my hands on them.  It’s amazing how a narrator can know people in ways they can never know themselves. I have to say that my attention flagged in the early and middle chapters.  They are written from the chimps’ perspective, and I could not get away from the feeling that the narrative voice was a scientific one.  There was something always of a note of surveillance.  Anyway, a compelling, if sometimes difficult, read.

imgres-8Finally, the big headliner of the fall book releases:  the final installment in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian MaddAddam trilogy.  It’s brilliant!  I re-read The Year of the Flood in one sitting the day before I settled in with the final book, and it was good to have that reminder of what had come before.  (There’s a helpful summary of both books at the beginning of MaddAddam, so it’s not necessary.)  I am no prude, but I did find that there is a fair amount of violence and coarse language, and I felt sometimes like it had gone a bit past what was required by the story.  Didn’t stop me from gobbling the book, though!  Atwood tells the future with a chilling and astute vision.

From Carol:

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Why Do We Fight?
 
by Niki Walker is a book aimed toward independently-reading older children, but I was happy to review it because I wanted to have a framework to discuss issues around conflict, small and global, with my kids as they get older.  This book does the trick, tracing conflicts from their beginnings and their possible sources, ways in which they get entrenched, and how they either resolve or get out of control.

Walker does a nice job of relating children back to their own day-to-day conflicts, to understand that tension around issues are inevitable, but especially to see that the fundamental nature of fighting isn’t foreign to us, even though their ultimate escalation can be.  In doing so, she necessarily highlights the importance of resolving our disagreements peacefully.  Clear for independent readers, and helpful for those of us working with little ones too.

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Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

This is a staple of the green industry, and the basic premise is that most of our environmental problems are the result of poorly designed goods.  They discuss the difference between the current environmental premise, which is to minimize our adverse impacts on the earth, and the ultimate goal, which is to have good design where the creation and disposal of goods has a positive impact on the earth.  It’s a unique perspective on  what direction we need to take to reverse environmental degradation, as opposed to delaying it.  We are a very long way away from what they are proposing.

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Elevating the Everyday by Tracey Clark

A fun and easy read about what I’m basically already doing, which is trying to take more and better photographs of my family in order to capture fleeting periods of our lives.  I personally feel a strong desire to document what’s happening, partly to make better sense of it, but especially when it comes to my kids, to remember it.  All time is fleeting, but the obvious signs of growing in our children makes this period of motherhood bittersweet, and Clark’s book focuses on just that in advocating for picking up the camera.  She also suggests strategies for taking better photos, and there is an unintimidating section on manual camera functions, which I will refer to in trying to learn more about my camera.

One important message I got from this book:  make sure you are in the pictures, rumples clothes and all.  For yourself and for your kids, to know that you were there with them as they grew.  This struck a chord with me; I am in few pics with my kids.  Clark says to run and figure out the self-timer on the camera, and I am going to do just that.

 

Theme Week: Recipes Inspired By Children’s Literature

To kick off the blog this summer, Nathalie and I, with my older two boys in tow, attended the Smucker’s Bookworm Brunch at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto.

Smucker’s, a beloved Canadian brand for more than 20 years and maker of Smucker’s Magic Shell (perfect atop an ice cream sundae!) in addition to jellies and jams have partnered with renowned children’s author, Ted Staunton, author of Puddleman and the Morgan series, to help get kids excited about reading together as a family.

Ted Staunton treated us to an animated telling of his best-selling story Puddleman and in addition to sharing when his passion for literature and story telling began, Ted offered several suggestions to parents on how they can encourage a love for literacy in their children.

Ted recommends to parents, in this digital age, to make a physical trip to the local library.  Once there allow children to get lost in the stacks of books.  Put time on hold and see where your children’s interests lay.  More importantly, let them see YOU choosing books for yourself.

A clever idea was born from the pairing of Ted Staunton and Smucker’s: using books to inspire kid-friendly, easy-to-make recipes.

Take this recipe for Toasty Campfire for example.  The test kitchen at Smucker’s recreated Morgan’s campfire for the breakfast table by arranging toast “logs” into a campfire shape and “igniting” it with Smucker’s Pure Apricot jam mixed with yogurt.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp each (15 mL) Smucker’s Pure Apricot Jam and Greek style yogurt (embers)

1 piece of buttered toast, cut into strips

1 large strawberry chopped

12 blueberries

Coconut dyed green (grass)

Additional apricot jam for drizzling

Directions:

Combine apricot jam and yogurt and drop by spoon in the middle of a small plate.  Top with chopped strawberry.  Lay toast strips tee pee style to form bonfire.  Surround with blueberry “rocks”, coconut “grass” and drizzle with additional apricot jam for the fire.  For more recipes from Smucker’s, click here.

This unique breakfast would be the perfect companion to breakfast story time and as Ted Staunton says:

“Read with your child every day.  It’s like breakfast – it shouldn’t be skipped!”

To show their commitment to reading and children’s literacy, Smucker’s generously donated $5,000 to the Lillian H. Smith Library!

It goes without saying that both Nathalie and I were inspired by the creativity of the Smucker’s team and anytime there is a book involved, we’re tickled pink!

So without further ado, the theme for this week encouraged by Smucker’s Bookworm Brunch is a week of kid friendly recipes inspired by the characters and/or plot of well-loved children’s stories.

Welcome to our guest blogger, Christina Markham, a mother of three by day and a gymnastics coach in the evening

Happy Reading and Bon Appetit!

What We’re Reading

From Nathalie:

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton. 

I could not put this book down.  It’s beautifully written and illustrated by Leanne Shapton, whose stunning Native Trees of Canada was wallpapering my neighbourhood bookstores a few years ago.  She has now published a memoir about her years as a competitive swimmer, and aside from a fascinating view into the life of a competitive athlete, Shapton treats us to beautifully articulated insights into what it means to live for that life of competition.  Here is a sample of her precise prose: “Say I’m swimming with people, in the ocean, a pool, or a lake, and one of them knows about my history as a swimmer, and remarks to the others, ‘Leanne’s an Olympic swimmer.’  I’ll protest: ‘No, no, I only went as far as the Olympic trials—I didn’t go to the Olympics.’  But the boast bobs up like a balloon, bright and curious to some, wistful and exposed to me.”  Her ability to see herself from these multiple angles is, I think, the key to the success of this memoir, and though I am about the farthest you could possibly be from a competitive athlete, I found a lot to identify with in her observations about herself and her place in her world.

Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley.bradley

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries are, hands down, my all-time favourite mystery series.  Flavia, the narrating detective, is an expert in chemistry (knowledge which always serves her detection efforts), and she is eleven.  Her limits as a narrator, and the wonderful ironic gaps that emerge when a child narrates a murder mystery, only add to the books’ charms.  I don’t know how I managed to miss news of a new book from Bradley; I usually have these things on wishlists months ahead of publication.  Imagine my delight when I opened my weekend Globe and Mail books section, and saw a review.  I kid you not, the minute I read about its publication, I ran out of the house to buy it.  I had read it all by bedtime.  Bradley is Canadian, but he captures life in an English manor house and village with an impeccable ear for dialogue.  If you have not heard of these books, begin at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and delight in the fact that you have four more books ahead of you.  As my gluttonous devouring of this book may indicate, I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.51MZ8248R0L__AA160_

Originally published in 1980, this is a book that calls to be savoured.  I read a book like this and think, “This woman was born to be a writer.”  There is a voice and a vision here so powerful, so her own, that there is no doubt that she has a vocation for it.  This is not the work of a writer’s workshop or of an agent and editor who will take a manuscript and try to make something marketable out of it.  It was a beautiful and devastating read.  The narrator is a girl whose mother has committed suicide, and she and her sister are left to navigate their way through childhood with a series of hapless guardians.  The plot is unhurried, the prose is some of the best I’ve ever had the joy to read:  “The immense water thunked and thudded beneath my head, and I felt that our survival was owed to our slightness, that we danced through ruinous currents as dry leaves do, and were not capsized because the ruin we rode upon was meant for greater things.”

From Beth-Anne:

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Small Wars by Sadie Jones.  We meet Hal Treherne at his graduation from Sandhurst where it is revealed he has aspirations to follow in the footsteps of his decorated father and grandfather.  At this celebration, Hal meets Clara, the sister of a classmate.  Clara and Hal marry and settle into a happy, mundane routine but Hal grows frustrated by his post World War 2 military desk-job and longs to see action and prove his worth to his military family.  Hal readily accepts a transfer to Cyprus and Clara, although hesitant to leave their neatly carved existence with their young twin daughters, agrees and is hopeful that they will find a peaceful life safely ensconced within the confines of the British base and the sun-kissed Cypriot climate.  Shortly after they arrive, Cyprus explodes into a full-fledged revolution and Hal is charged with regaining order of the British colony.  Hal’s eyes are soon opened to the atrocities of war and he quickly learns that not everything is as black and white as his days at Sandhurst.  Sadie Jones writes with such rich description and her characters are achingly real, deeply flawed and stayed with me days after I finished with the book.

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The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele.  Beth and Peachy couldn’t be more different.  Beth lives a self-absorbed, face-paced life in the New York City and Peachy, a stay-at-home mom to two young boys lives a simple existence with her husband and their hippy, hair stylist, draft-dodging father in rural Ontario.  The story is not very believable and is painfully predictable but what separates this story from any run-of-the-mill drugstore paperback is Lisa Gabriele’s writing.   On page 122-123 Peachy gives her sister Beth a complete run-down of what she can expect from her day as a stay-at-home mom.  The passage extends for two pages by the conclusion packs a punch that is illustrative of the spunkiness and complexity of her characters.

“ Get Sam to help you carry things, Beth.  He’s strong enough and he likes to.  Your show’s on tomorrow night, so make sure you tape it for Lou because he plays softball.  He’ll pick up the boys.  They eat hot dogs for dinner there.  Beau meets them after work.  But since you’re staying, make Beau’s supper tonight.  For tomorrow, it’s Chinese, but pick up some iceberg lettuce at Silvano’s next to the Laundromat.  But don’t buy anything else there, it’s too expensive.  Lou likes to make the dressing.  While Beau eats, draw a bath for Jake.  Make sure you get behind his ears.  Sam takes showers.  But if he’s in there more than 15 minutes, knock.  It’s rare for him to seize in there, but you never know.  Don’t let him think you’re checking.  Just pretend you have to go.  They can have dessert before bed.  Nothing chocolate.  And kudos to you if you can find the time to fuck my husband again in between all of that.”

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The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee.  It is not as common to come across stories about World War 2 not set in Europe. Janice Lee transport her readers to 1940’s Hong Kong, a vibrant expat community, living lavish lifestyles and caring little about the impending war until it is much too late.  The story is about a British national who finds himself in an interment camp while his Chinese-Portugese lover remains on the outside facing challenges of her own to ensure her survival.  Lee intertwines two story lines, the second in post-war Hong Kong follows many  of the same nationals who are trying to rebuild their lives in the midst of a mystery that has left several of their own dead and a new comer at the centre of the storm.  I devoured this book while a blizzard blanketed much of the Eastern seaboard and while the snow fell, I was lost on the gritty and sour streets of Hong Kong.

From Carol (whose books appear to be thematically related)


urban homesteadThe Urban Homestead:  Your Guide to Self-Reliant Living in the Heart of the City 
by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen.  An entertaining, amiable read about how to live more sustainably in urban environments.  Everything from creating systems for water re-use to permaculture to raising (small) livestock in a backyard.  I particularly enjoyed the combination of matter-of-factness and humour of these authors, and their general optimism about their pursuits.


urban homesteadingUrban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living 
by Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume.  More of the same, with lovely photos, and some useful five year plans for larger projects.  But the tone was heavy and less engaging that The Urban Homestead – if you’re curious, I’d recommend the light paperback by Coyne and Knutzen over this almost coffee table book.


farm cityFarm City:  The Education of an Urban Farmer 
by Novella Carpenter.  A memoir about a woman who sets up a farm on a vacant lot in a rough neighbourhood in Oakland, California.  Carpenter is a good writer, and the book unfolds easily, both informative with an interesting spike of inspiration here and there.  She also has good material, and recounts the adventures of raising and killing animals, including two pigs (not pygmies) in the inner city.  As a squeamish reader who doesn’t eat meat, I skimmed/skipped the passages that related in detail the demise of these creatures, but still found the book to be a wonderful read.