Thursday 31 December 2020

Wrap Up Post for European Reading Challenge

 I did the European Reading Challenge again for 2020. This time I got to 14 countries.

I went for the 5 star level and achieved it.

1. The Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen. Finished January 4 (Norway)
2. The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri. Finished January 5 (Italy)
3. The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton. Finished January 15 (Austria)
4. A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park. Finished March 2 (Romania)
5. Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain. Finished March 20 (France)
6. A Finer End by Deborah Crombie. Finished March 31 (England)
7. Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson. Finished May 3 (Sweden)
8. The Dream Stitcher by Deborah Gaal. Finished May 26 (Poland)
9. A Perfect Waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer. Finished July 25 (Switzerland)
10. The Ignorance of Blood by Robert Wilson. Finished August 8 (Spain)
11. Marrow and Bone by Walter Kempowski. Finished September 6 (Poland)
12. Ever After by Olivia Vieweg. Finished October 21 (Germany)
13. Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis (Denmark)
14. Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran (Ireland)

Wrap-Up Post for What's In a Name Challenge for 2020

I've skipped this one the last couple years, but I've always liked it so decided to add it again. I managed to finish the last one just a couple of hours before the deadline to complete the challenge.

It's hosted here.
This year the six things to have in a book title are:
* an ampersand
& Sons by David Gilbert. Finished December 31
* an antonym
Fire and Ice by Jonathan Mingle. Finished December 14
* 4 letters or less
Lark by Anthony McGowan. Finished August 15
* a given name
Spinster Kang by Zoe Roy. Finished February 29
* reference to children
A Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas. Finished September 4
* one of the four natural elements

Dangerous Waters by Anne Allen. Finished April 3 

& Sons

Finished December 31 
& Sons by David Gilbert

This lyrical novel is told from the viewpoint of a middle-aged man, and yet he often has omniscience into the thoughts and behaviours of others. Philip Topping is at his father Charles' funeral as the book begins, but that isn't the only upheaval in his life. He is recently separated from his wife after she discovered his affair with a young woman, and he has also lost his job as a teacher in a private school due to the scandal. He approaches and talks to his father's oldest friend, Andrew Dyer, a famous novelist, who offers his spare room to Philip for the transition. 
Andrew himself had a marriage breakup due to a similar transgression, only his act resulted in a child. Young Andy is now seventeen and Andrew has been raising him since his mother died when he was a baby. Andrew's former wife Isabel drew the line at raising the child, with her own two sons, Richard and Jamie both grown and living their own lives. 
Richard lives in California and is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, as his his wife Candy. They have two children, Emmett, sixteen and Chloe, twelve. They are coming to New York shortly to visit, the first for the kids. Jamie is a documentary filmmaker, a man who travels the world, has an efficiency apartment he spends little time, and sometimes teaches at New School. He is wrapping up a long-term film that he has done as a special request for his high school girlfriend as she is dying from cancer. 
In common for all these men from Charles and Andrew, to Philip, Richard, and Jamie, and now Andy is the private school Exeter which they all attended. A fictionalized version of this school is at the heart of Andrew's most successful novel Ampersand as well. 
As we see these characters interact, we see the imbalance between the two families, and the competitive spirit of teenage males as they learn to navigate the world. The Dyer family is definitely the alpha in the friendships in both generations, and they aren't always kind about it. While we don't see Charles himself, there are letters between him and Andrew that show aspects of their friendship at some crucial moments in their lives. 
The use of the omniscient viewpoint is interesting as Philip is an unreliable narrator and yet has this insight into the minds, experiences, and actions of these other people. It took me a little while to get into the book, but once I did it really flowed for me. The characters are complex, showing both likeable and unlikable qualities, and they began to grow on me as the book went on. This book is more about the characters and the relationships than the plot and yet the plot is key to those relationships. 
A very enjoyable read.

Jane Austen

Finished December 31
Jane Austen: a Life by Claire Tomalin 

This is an excellent biography of Jane Austen, delving as deeply as possible, considering the lack of primary sources for Jane herself. We Jane's family, her role within that family from her birth onward, her interactions with her community and with friends, and her writing.
I learned a lot about her siblings that I hadn't been aware of before, and I enjoyed seeing her wit respected among them. We also see her friends, both women of similar stature in society and others such as governesses and servants. 
While she lost her childhood home from an impulsive decision of her parents, she managed to eventually recover from this loss and return to her writing, and with her brother Henry's assistance find a publisher. She came close to marriage a couple of times, but ultimately continued to live with her mother and sister, sharing a room with her sister until the end of her life, cut untimely short by an illness. 
I loved to see how she collected others' opinions of her writing, obviously enjoying even the harshest criticism. She was a woman who knew her own worth and who was a better writer than she was given credit for. I have read several, but not all, of her books, and thoroughly enjoyed them. This biography brings the author herself to life and makes me feel like she was someone I could have related to.

Wednesday 30 December 2020

Rosewater and Soda Bread

Finished December 26
Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran

This novel takes place in small town Ireland but the main characters are immigrants from Iran, three sisters that live together and run a cafe. 
The oldest sister Marjan Aminpour is the heart of the business and the driving force. She has guilt from her absence from the family during a crisis, one that led to deep sadness for her middle sister Bahar. She has never told her sisters where she was during those days she was missing, that she'd been active in the actions against the Shah's government in Iran, partly due to her love for a young man, and that the printing operation they were running had been raided and she'd been in prison and been tortured. It is this experience that compelled her to focus on her sisters, and when Bahar returned from her ordeal, it was her that organized their flight from Iran to England, and now to Ireland. 
Her friendship in London with another Irish transplant, a woman her own age whose mother came to Ireland from Italy is what brought them to this town a year ago. Her subsequent friendship with the mother, Estelle, brings her into another situation with a girl running from a bad situation. We don't learn her whole story until near the end of the novel, but it is a compelling one. 
We also see the role of the old guard, the ones that resent change and newcomers and the loss of their power in the community. Here, this is personified by the widow Dervla who lives across the street from the Aminpours and she spends most of her day at her front window watching and judging. She has a group of other women who bring her gossip from further afield that she then tries to act on. 
The youngest sister, Layla is a confident schoolgirl, in love with a local boy and wanting to control her own life and fate through her informed decisions. Marjan must learn how to trust Layla to make those decisions, and also how to help accept Bahar's decisions to move forward with her life in an unexpected direction. 
There are other things going on in the town, from the local priest who becomes a pirate DJ on the side, the local doctor, an immigrant from Pakistan who must walk a careful line to stay out of trouble, and the prodigal landowner who has returned to remake the family manor as a destination inn and restaurant. 
And among it all are the seasonal celebrations like Bonfire Night and All Hallows Eve, and of course the food, both Iranian and Irish. Lucky for the reader, several recipes are included here. 

Intrapreneurship Handbook for Librarians

Finished June 24
Intrapreneurship Handbook for Librarians: How To Be a Change Agent in Your Library by Arne J. Almquist and Sharon G. Almquist

There is a common saying that the only real constant is change, but too often we get into a rut and do the same thing because it works okay and we're used to it. But sometimes there is a better way to do something, sometimes it is something we don't need to do anymore, and sometimes there are other things that are even better to do. But it is hard to leave that place of comfort and this book helps you help your library make those changes. 
The book is organized into nine chapters plus a couple of useful appendices. 
Chapter One digs into the idea of entrepreneurs and how entrepreneurship is defined, what it looks like, what the history of it is, and what it has looked like in a library context, giving actual library-related examples, and looking into the motivations of those entrepreneurs.
Chapter Two looks at Intrapreneurs and how they are different than entrepreneurs and how they are similar to them. Here we also have a definition and I really liked the idea of the five Ps that is associated with this: Passion, Perseverance, Promotion, Planning, and Professionalism. This chapter looks at the qualities associated with intrapreneurs, and how they measure success in their actions. It also gives some questions that can help you get going.
Chapter Three discusses the idea of Agents of Change and the idea of intrapreneurial innovation. There are many things associated with these people and actions including creativity, communication and collaboration. The role of strategy is discussed, as well as that of conflict, which will definitely happen at some point. Various barriers to change are introduced from groupthink to collective disfunction, and you will likely recognize a few of them. They also differentiate between true innovation and improvements (both good things!), and give some advice on how to become a change agent. 
Chapter Four gets into corporate culture and how to develop an intrapreneurial culture at your library. These include things like accepting for mistakes, taking risks, considering diversity, and working with professional respect. They also talk about how to support that type of culture and to recognize that you will likely need to pick your battles. The idea of competitive advantage is also given some discussion in terms of opportunities versus choices.
Chapter Five looks at process, the nitty gritty of making changes. Ways to get going includes brainstorming, needs assessments, and thinking through ideas. You will have to be prepared to answer the difficult questions that will come up. It can be helpful to think of it as creating your future. Not everything will work as you originally propose it, and they discuss the process as a form of distillation. There are lots of good tools mentioned here: SCAMPER, SCORE analysis, and feasibility studies are some. 
Chapter Six gets into how to pitch your ideas and get others on board. From writing and delivering your elevator speech to a slide checklist for a pitch presentation, this will help you put your best foot forward. It will also help you deal with the reaction, whether it is acceptance, rejection, or something in between. Also included in this chapter are things such as pilots, project plans, and funding plans. Funding can be internal or external, and donors can be one way to get your project going. 
Chapter Seven looks at the team, how you put it together, what the roles and responsibilities of team members are, and how the team and the project are managed. 
Chapter Eight gets into implementation, including tools for project management, how to analyze the failures that may arise, and how to celebrate achievements. 
Chapter Nine takes you from the completion of one innovation to moving on to the next. You want to make this type of change a part of the expected culture of your library.
The appendices give some tests and commentary that may be useful to you as you decide on how you want to do intrapreneurship. 
All in all, this book offers great guidance for the move for you to get your library looking at change in a more positive way.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Audio Recorders to Zucchini Seeds

Finished June 20
Audio Recorders to Zucchini Seeds: Building a Library of Things edited by Mark Robinson and Lindley Shedd

The authors have solicited input from libraries around the world, of all types and gathered the information here to show you some of the things other than books that libraries lend out to their communities.The book starts with a history of library lending discussing some of the earlier types of things such as curriculum materials, tools, toys and games, a/v equipment, and more. It then moves to a closer look at public libraries and what kinds of things some of them lend. Each example here looks at the history of that particular collection, the community involvement in the collection creation and maintenance, the funding for the collection including the ongoing budget, any special equipment involved, and the management and maintenance of the collection. There are seven collections covered here: Tool Lending; Book a Bike; Library Farm; Seed Libraries; Toys; and Sacramento's multifaceted "Create, Share, Play".
The next section looks at the lending of non-traditional things in academic libraries, again looking at the different aspects of each collection. Here are: technology items such as GoPros and microphones; curriculum material; cameras, tripods, external harddrives and other technology; video production tools; lendable tech like ereaders, calculators, Raspberry Pis and Arduinos; games, both tabletop and video; and scopes and instruments. 
The following section, looking at a special library that offers more esoteric material: from Alaska we see a library that lends furs, skulls, and other animal mounts.
The last section of the book brings together best practices from all of these libraries. It covers: planning; funding; acquisition and purchasing; cataloguing and describing; processing; storage and shelving; circulation; policies and procedures; staff training; collection maintenance; advertising and outreach; and assessment. 
There is an appendix with some useful documents that you can adapt for your own purposes, such as checklists, forms and agreements.
A good overview of this unique area of librarianship.

Undercover Bromance

Finished December 19
Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

I enjoyed the first book, The Bromance Book Club, in this series so much when I read it this fall, I put a hold on the second one at my local library, and read it within a couple days of taking it out. 
We could already see the start of this romance at the end of that first one, and it involves one of the single guys that is part of the book club, Braden Mack. Restaurant and bar owner Braden is actually the guy that started the club and we get to look back into his past to see how he developed this interest in romance novels and the purposes of them for this group of male readers. He's been using the books, but not as deeply as he needs to if he wants to have a truly meaningful relationship. And so his date gets across to him after a night at a high end restaurant leads to the end of that relationship, a reconnection with Liv Papandreas, pastry chef and sister of his friend, and a mission to uncover fraud, abuse, and misogyny in their own city of Nashville. 
Liv isn't interested in Braden, and she still holds the time he ate her take-out against him, but he's persistent, and he seems to be able to charm even her feminist landlord. 
I like how these books have humour, depth of plot including some bigger societal issues, and a lot of good, sometimes hot, romance. 
Looking forward to the next one!

Maker Literacy

Finished June 16
Maker Literacy: A New Approach to Literacy Programming for Libraries by Lynn Pawloski and Cindy Wall

This book has a ton of ideas packed into its small size. It is organized into different types of programming and each section gives an outline of at least one program and some apps that would work for it. Here are the program sections, with a deeper look at the first one and basic outline for the rest.
The first section is called eTots and has at its core an iPad or Tablet storytime. It is for 2-5 year olds, and focuses on five skills: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. A section of the program has each child and caregiver pair working on their own tablet. It starts, as most storytimes do, with a welcome songs, and involves other songs, fingerplays, and uses a poem to transition to the time on the tablet. The theme-related apps are done as a group, and then there is a portion of the program used for free app play. The program ends with a maker element of either a craft or an activity. One of the things the authors mention here is how small movements are useful to help children focus. There is a whole list of suggested apps, many of which are free, and related lists of themes. For these section they give three themed examples: Frogs, Music, and Robots. 
The second section they call Not Just for Kids and it is focused for kids 4-6 along with their caregiver. To get you in the right frame of mind, they suggest library staff watch the Ted Talk Why a Good Book is a Secret Door, read the book Extra Yarn, and watch the commercial The House That Knits Itself, along with the video of how that commercial was made. This section gives you other creative ideas around wool, along with two other themes: caves and flight.
The third section is for multiactivity programs for ages 4-6 that they call Use Your Words. The themes they give you here are: mail and an alphabet mashup.
The fourth is for Rookie Readers, ages 5-6; the fifth for discovering engineering, ages 5-7; the sixth for art active books, ages 6-7; the seventh for Kidz Kode, ages 6-8; the eighth for No Required Reading, ages 7-10, the ninth for guest reader days, which works well for class visits too; The tenth for a one book program event; and the eleventh for your library maker area itself. 
There is an appendix that lists all the apps mentioned in the book as well. 
This is such a fantastic resource that combines making and imagination and learning. Highly recommended. 

Thursday 24 December 2020

Fire and Ice

Finished December 14
Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World by Jonathan Mingle

This book uses a small village in the Himalayas as a focal point for environmental concerns in a way that makes it even more relevant and personal. Mingle first met the people of the village of Kumik in the Zanskar valley of the Himalayan mountains of north west India in 2012 when he was asked for advice on how to build homes to take advantage of passive solar energy, something he has experience in. The village of Kumik is one of the oldest villages in this part of the world, and depends on water from the glacier above for both its daily life and its sustaining agriculture. But the water has been providing less and less over the years, with the glacier shrinking and most of the remaining meltoff going down the other side of the mountain to other villages. 
The village people have been looking at their options as the fields they plant each year decrease and men work at other jobs, away from the village more and more. They have decided to move the village to a new location, where they can arrange irrigation from a nearby river. They will be building a new village from scratch, and want to do it in a way that takes advantage of things like solar energy as much as they can.
Through Mingle, we see the intricacies of village life, how they depend on each other, and the long history of the social contract "chu len me len chaden" which has neighbours supporting each other with fire and water. Violators of the social system are cut off from both these necessities, putting them in the position of not being able to survive. 
We see his work and his interactions with the villages over a couple of years as they gradually build their new village, have many meetings and make many decisions, and work together for their future.
Mingle looks at why glaciers are shrinking and the role not only of carbon dioxide, but also of black carbon. Black carbon, often appearing as soot has many effects. Not only does it pollute existing glaciers and cause them to heat more and thus shrink more quickly, it also has huge effects on human health (and indeed the health of all living things). Thousands of people die every year due to its effects, all around the world. Black carbon's health effects are seen locally, while its environmental effects are global. Many of the world's poorer countries use cooking and heating fuel that contributes to the production of black carbon, not only through the type of fuel, but also through the way that it is burned, leaving unburned particulates in the nearby atmosphere, both in homes and in the air around communities. It is also an output from the use of diesel fuel, often used for generators in  remote communities, but also transportation around the world. Even in the more developed world, the use of wood burning stoves and heaters contributes to this pollutant. 
I learned that the colour of the flame is a strong indicator of the presence of black carbon as an output.The bluer the flame, the cleaner burning it is. That orange glow we admire is not a healthy sign. 
In many instances this is something that can be tackled even more easily than the issue of carbon dioxide (although that can't be ignored). Development and distribution of cleaner burning stoves and heaters needs investment and government support worldwide. The infrastructure and training to support maintenance of these new units is key as well. The use of local solar generators can be another tool for reducing black carbon. In the developed world, replacing wood stoves with pellet stoves can help this effort. 
I learned a lot from this book, and it gave me hope that we can work together to improve the lot of people, from this small village of hardworking people in the Himalayas to our own communities in cities and suburbs. This recent case of the role of this kind of pollution in the death of a young girl in London spoke to its impact in cities. 
Highly recommended.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

The Rogue Wave

Finished December 12
The Rogue Wave by Paul Nicholas Mason

This short novel mixes mystery and the paranormal in a battle of good and evil. The main character here is Matthew Harding runs a detective agency in Toronto where he handles cases with a metaphysical dimension. A young man, Andrew, comes to him regarding the recent disappearance of his fiancee Hannah. The two were on a tour boat in Nova Scotia when a sudden and huge wave swamped the boat, taking several people, including Hannah overboard. Some people were rescued, some bodies were found, and Hannah remained missing. An acquaintance of Andrew's has recently sent him a picture taken at a wedding in Mexico where a woman who looks very like Hannah is sitting with a man that she looks to be scared of. Andrew is sure that something else is going on, and Matthew takes the case. 
This is when the paranormal starts raising his head. Matthew has a near miss with a vehicle hit and run accident on the street near his office and receives a disturbing text message following that. Throughout the case a combination of threats, accidents and disturbing messages continues to follow him. When he goes in person to Nova Scotia, he finds that there were other weird happenings around the boat incident, and he goes on to Mexico to follow the lead of the photograph. 
Besides the disturbing incidents and the threatening messages, Matthew also encounters some other more benevolent people, who offer help and advice. 
I liked the paranormal or metaphysical side in this struggle between good and evil. and would have liked this book to be longer, going into more detail around some of the characters, like Hannah, and their feelings during this time, and Andrew and his paintings. I'd also like to know more about what happened to some of the people he encountered, like the translator in Mexico. 
This is definitely a unique type of mystery read that may appeal to a different audience than just mystery readers. 

Sunday 20 December 2020

Foreign Correspondence

Finished December 10
Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks

I just love anything I've read by Geraldine Brooks, fiction or nonfiction. This book goes back to her childhood and looks at her years growing up in Australia, her relationship with her parents and some of their history, and her early pen pals. 
Her first pen pal was just across town, a girl from a slightly higher social bracket than her own, but eager to connect, compare and share some commonalities. Her next addition to her pen pal list was a girl in the United States, the country her father grew up in, and they kept up a correspondence for many years. She then added two pen pals in Israel, the first was an Arab Christian and the second a Jew, both boys, and Geraldine imagined lives for them based on her knowledge and adolescent dreams. Through one of her school teachers, she also got a pen pal in France. She'd been hoping for Paris, but ended up with a girl her age in Languedoc. 
We then see how her life grew and changed as she became a journalist, travelled widely and lived in and reported from many different places. She met an American man, who was Jewish, converted and married him. Having already read her collection of essays from her posting in the Middle East, Nine Parts of Desire, I was aware of some of this. We also see how she settles down in the United States.
We see how her life changed in many ways, and her family members as well.
She decided at some point to follow up with her various pen pals to see where they now were, and what their lives were like. She already knew about Joanie, her American correspondent and her sad end, but she connected with Joanie's family, particularly her mother, and they became quite close. Her two pen pals in the Middle East were vastly different than her imaginings. The Jewish man, named Cohen, had not enjoyed his time in the military, and was happily married and living a quiet life. Her Arab pal, Mishal, lived with his family in Jerusalem and moved between communities in his skilled tradesman work. He was definitely more welcoming and friendly and took the time to show her around the area, and kept in contact following the reconnection. I really liked him and his attitude. 
Her pen pal in France also lived a different life than Geraldine imagined, staying in the town she grew up, although marrying a man who came from elsewhere. She lived a busy life, but a wasn't curious about the world beyond. 
Her reconnection with her Australian pen pal was interesting as Nell has also moved to the States and created a life for herself. She done her own travelling, as many Australians do, and was enjoying her life and thinking about her next personal reinvention. 
I really enjoyed this book, and it made me think about a pen pal I had as a tween, a girl who lived in Norway. I wonder what she's up to now. 

Saturday 19 December 2020

Library Service Design

Finished June 12 
Library Service Design: A LITA Guide to Holistic Assessment, Insight, and Improvement by Joe J. Marquez and Annie Downey

This book promises to give methodology and tools for library service design and speak to mindset. In my opinion, it delivers.
The book is organized in three sections, each consisting of two chapters. The first explains services design so that the reader clearly understands it. The second gives example of what service design looks like. The third shows how you can own your library service design and adapt it to your needs. 
The first section talks about Henry Dreyfuss, an industrial designer who brought the human element into design, showing that interconnected elements work to fulfill the purpose of the work, and exposing the problems of decisions made in isolation. The human elements that he included meant that the designer had to work to understand the user, their needs, and even their emotions. He also showed that design is scalable and flexible. This section also discusses what makes something a service. There are three categories here, with overlaps: care, access, and response. What this looks like in the library is facilitating the access to information and enabling the tasks associated with that, which includes things like tables, desks, copies, and computers. Services also have context, purpose and function; an interaction with either another person or a thing; and are experienced rather than possessed. Points of view also come into it, through both the user experience and that of the service provider. Design elements associated with this include scripting, setting, wayfinding, and consistency. There is a sense of making the intangible tangible through some type of evidence of an exchange taking place. The authors caution against default thinking such as "I know my users", and instead encourage open-mindedness and empathy.
The second section includes both phases of the service design process and the tools and techniques used. Phases can include prework, teamwork (including assigned roles and tasks and a set of rules), scope, scheduling, an observation phase, an understanding/thinking phase, and implementation and post-assessment phases. The tools and techniques are wide-ranging and more than one type will be used in any particular case. These include ecology maps, space analysis, interviews, contextual inquiries, surveys, personas, service safaris, discussion groups, design ethnography, customer journey mapping, journaling, scenarios and expectation mapping, five whys, prototyping, analysis and synthesis, focus groups, and blueprinting. Essentially, all the what, why, how, when, who discovery methods.
The third section gets into how you can adapt service design to your specific library and service situation. In particular, it looks at how you choose your team, and the importance of communication with that group, especially listening. You will want people with functional expertise, but also those open to experimentation and learning, with critical thinking and problem-solving skills, diverse perspectives, and big-picture thinking. You will also want a user working group. With this group you also need diversity, motivators or incentives of some type, openness and transparency, and trust. You need to understand your particular context, know what is unique, have knowledge of both culture and the built environment in which you are working and the external environment that is outside of your purview but which has its effect. It also expands into changing your culture to own service design. This means stepping outside of comfort zones and not blindly following trends. You will want to have ongoing assessments that are done in a mindful way, and done regularly, with reflection, consistency, and with an eye to new projects. 
I found this book energizing and enlightening. 

Monday 14 December 2020

Bomb Girls

Finished December 8
Bomb Girls: Trading Aprons for Ammo by Barbara Dickson

I bought this book after listening to a presentation by the author. She's done through research into the facility's history and even had a couple of historical artifacts to pass around during the presentation. 
This is a close look at the GECO facility in Scarborough which produced a variety of ordinance during World War II and became well known for the quality of its output. The facility also had an extremely good safety record, with no fatalities due to the work itself. The only fatality was from a bus accident ferrying workers between the city and plant that happened in the parking lot of the site. 
Besides describing the site, including plans showing the layout, this book looks at the variety of work that happened there, including administrative and support work, and the planning that took place to design the transition from dirty side to clean side and back again, the design of the uniforms that staff wore, the work that was done to help morale and accommodate the other responsibilities of the primarily female workforce, and the history of the two brothers who built and ran the plant.
There are also numerous profiles of workers from both the factory side and the administrative side, which include portions of interviews with them and their families. 
I really enjoyed looking more deeply into this slice of history that Canada can certainly be proud of. Building a complex factory that was producing dangerous goods in record time, and maintaining a largely happy workforce in a safe manner is an accomplishment to be very proud of. 

Monday 7 December 2020

Journey to the Hopewell Star

Finished December 4
Journey to the Hopewell Star by Hannah D. State

This middle grade science fiction / fantasy novel got me hooked early. Samantha (Sam) Sanderson is just about to turn twelve as the story begins. She's been homeschooled, mostly by her grandfather, as her parents are physicists that work for the government. 
The time that Samantha lives in is our own, but more advanced in terms of technology and space travel. Her grandfather makes dinner using some type of technological device, but in more than just this opening scene situation, technology seems to not work as it should. 
Sam lives on a farm in Nova Scotia, but will be soon moving to town to start school as she's come to an age where she needs more in terms of education than her father can offer. When she goes out to the barn at the beginning of the book, she finds more that she expected, and begins a journey that takes her to other planets, our moon, and even into other people's experiences. This first visit takes her to the planet Kryg under false pretences, but she makes a friend and learns more about both that planet and her own, including the precariousness of both the planets' futures. 
In town, Sam quickly makes friends with another girl and the group of friends that include her. Her friend Kato has a twin brother Kobe who seems to be on the autism spectrum. He doesn't talk a lot, but he seems to be noticing Sam. It makes her feel uncomfortable, but also curious. 
When Sam discovers a new skill, the first person that she shares it with is Kobe. And he connects with her in a big way. Their other friend Simon is a techie and provides insight into the technological side of any situation.
All of the kids are aware of the environmental threats that have been growing on earth, through their own experiences. As they begin to connect these threats to a local corporation and its owner, things may be coming to a crisis in other ways as well. 
I liked Sam's confidence in her abilities, and willingness to try new things, and her selflessness when it came to the larger community's needs. We see this in both small ways and large in her actions and thoughts. 
This book will give kids the confidence that their actions can make a difference in the world, and that kindness and connections are important. 
A really enjoyable read. 

The Midnight Library

Finished December 3
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I received this book through a subscription service I joined recently otherwise I might not have got around to it for a while. I'm really glad I read it as I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It has so many themes that spoke to me: loneliness, depression, imposter syndrome, perfectionism, family divisions, and regrets. 
The main character here is Nora Seed a woman who has struggled with loss and guilt for a lot of her life. She was a very good swimmer and her father had high hopes for her to go on to the Olympics, but that isn't what she wanted. In high school, she tried different things, and got into music for a while, joining her brother's band as a singer and songwriter, but she got severe stage fright and had panic attacks and didn't want to fame that went along with such a public career. She got engaged, but never felt heard or appreciated in the relationship and decided not to go through with the marriage. Now, she's been living along with her cat in a small house in the town she grew up in and working in a music shop. When her cat dies, she feels that she has no one that would miss her. Estranged from her family, and unmoored, she decides to end her life.
When she awakens, she is in front of a building and she walks in to discover a library filled with books, and is met by her old high school librarian, a woman she liked a lot. Each of the infinite number of books on the shelf is a different version of her life, a possible world she could have lived in if she'd made a different choice at some point. It may have been a small thing, like letting her cat outside, or a large thing like travelling to Australia with her best friend, but every life would be different in some way. Nora has the opportunity to look at the regrets she has about her life, and decide to see what life she would have if she had chosen differently. 
I think this idea appeals to most of us in some way. What if we'd gone to a different school, majored in a different subject, dated a different person, traveled somewhere differently or at a different time. But is there really a perfect life? After all, none of us is perfect, so why should we expect our lives to be. 
This made me reflect on my own life and consider any regrets I might have, and think about how I feel about my life right now, right here. 
A fantastic read. 

Friday 4 December 2020

A World of Mindfulness

Finished December 2
A World of Mindfulness: Use Your Senses. Find Your Calm. from the Editors and Illustrators of Pajama Press

This lovely picture book showcases fourteen illustrators that have done work published by Pajama Press, putting them together in this work about mindfulness.
This work includes elements from all the senses to help each child find a path to mindfulness that works for them, and thus helps them find a way to step back from this anxious world and find an inner calm.
Mindfulness for children is becoming more common with many educational institutions adding periods of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga to the school day to help manage behaviour and help children cope with whatever worries or agitates them.
Particularly this year, with the lack of structure and routine, proliferation of screen time, and societal anxiety, this book can help children stop and find balance and calm in their lives. 
The illustrations are beautiful and show the beauty of our world and the diversity of our peoples. Each picture has lots of things to look at and can provide an image to meditate on. They celebrate our self, our natural world, small joys of life, and the act of creation and reflection. 
This is a beautiful book and an apt one for this difficult year.

Nightmares Can Be Murder

Finished December 2 
Nightmares Can Be Murder by Mary Kennedy

This novel begins a series set in Savannah, Georgia around a group of women who meet regularly to discuss and analyze their dreams. Taylor Blake is a business consultant based in Chicago who has come to Savannah to see her sister Allison (Ali) and offer some assistance with her candy store. The store is relatively new, but hasn't yet turned a profit and Taylor is worried about Ali's tendency to lose focus. Alison also runs a Dream Club, a group of women who meet regularly to share their dreams, discuss the meaning of them and try to help each other with the life issues that are connected to these nighttime messages. 
When the owner of another business in the area, Chico Hernandez, a charming but smarmy dance instructor, is found dead in his dance studio, Ali is one of the people that saw him just before his death, and thus gets drawn into the investigation. One of the dream club members, Sam, is a police officer involved in the case, and another, Gina, works for Chico and is the one who finds the body. Taylor is determined to dig deeper to solve the case so the neighbourhood can move forward, and she involves her ex-boyfriend, Noah, an ex-FBI investigator who now works as a private detective. 
Many of the women here have their own secrets and agendas, and there are lots of red herrings to take you off the track of the real murderer. This is a cozy and light mystery with a lot of sweet food discussion, but unfortunately no recipes. 

Thursday 3 December 2020

The Library Bus

Finished November 30
The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

This picture book was written by a Canadian who immigrated here from Afghanistan and was inspired to document the struggle for education faced by not only the women in his family, but for thousands of others. 
The main character here is a young girl, Pari, who helps her mother run a library bus that operates in and near the city of Kabul in Afghanistan, and focuses on the literacy of young girls. We see Pari going with her mother on one day. Their first stop is a small village where the girls are eager to learn and exchange their books. Pari's mother does a storytime during the stop as well. They then move on to a refugee camp where Pari is delegated to hand out notebooks and pencils to those that need them while her mother helps them with books before a storytime. Pari notices the outward difference in the girls clothing and surroundings, but finds them all eager to learn. She is glad she is able to help her mother in this task and looks forward to being able to attend school herself and expand her learning. Her mother explains that the girls they served don't have access to schools, so this library bus is one of the only educational resources available to them. 
The book ends with a note from the author and a brief side note on refugee camps.
The illustrations were lovely, with the girls seen as individuals and the eagerness clearly portrayed. I loved the colours used here as well. And, of course, how could I not love a book about libraries and their importance.

The Ever Open Door

Finished November 29
The Ever Open Door by Julie Band

This debut novel was inspired by the author's own grandfather coming to Canada as a Barnado Homes orphan. Here the Barnado is a small but essential part of the plot. 
The main character here is Rachel Gilmore, oldest daughter of a shipowner in Liverpool in 1888. As the story begins, Rachel is at an event where her stepmother is being honoured. Because her stepmother is ill, Rachel is accepting the honour on her behalf and is escorted by her father. 
Rachel is a smart young woman and has been helping her stepmother with the household accounts as well as her father with his business accounts. 
Her stepmother is a trained midwife and has been working with the city's poor for years, and lately Rachel has been accompanying her on many of her visits. Now she has volunteered Rachel to help another agency with their books. Mrs Birt runs an agency that send orphaned children to Canada, and hopefully to a better future. 
Rachel's father's business is tight financially, and the investors and banks are applying pressure, and her father is considering all his options for the protection of the business, but when he is injured during the unloading of one of his ships, the family faces more immediate difficulties. 
Rachel is a girl who is smart and observant, and she notices the expressions and actions of the people around her. But she is also naive, despite her charitable activities and some of her choices get her into difficult situations. With her stepmother still not well, and her father's business tied up in legal situations, she tries to protect her younger sister Emily and herself. But sometimes she finds herself out of her depth and put into circumstances that place her and her reputation in danger.
I liked the spunk of the main character, and her resolve to do the right thing, even when it is a difficult one. She looks for opportunity and has ingenuity in her ideas. She is also a kind girl, raised to treat people of all classes with respect, and this serves her well. 
I also liked how the plot developed, slowly at first and then becoming a real page turner. I want to know more of Rachel's story to see where it leads. 

Wednesday 2 December 2020

December Reviews for the 14th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

Here is where you add the links to your reviews for books completed in December.

 You can add a comment after adding your link.

Monday 30 November 2020

Snow Days

Finished November 28 
Snow Days by Deborah Kerbel and Miki Sato

This delightful picture book looks at all the different kinds of snow and the things that one can do with it, in it and because of it. From the first snow of the season that brings its own special delight to a child to the last sad melting snow that brings a close to the days of snowmen, from the sticky snow to make shapes and figures to the powdery snow that floats and moves effortlessly, this book covers it all. We see the snow angels and the snowmen, the skating and the shoveling, the horrid sleet and the way it makes you narrow your eyes as you walk. 
Sato's illustrations, using paper and fabric in collage, add a lovely dimension to the book. 
The book closes with five fun activities you can undertake with your child to further explore the world and wonder of snow. 

Cinderella Is Dead

Finished November 20
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

This is a completely different take on Cinderella and I loved it. Here, the story of Cinderella is one based on real people in the kingdom of Lille. She's been dead for a couple of hundred years, after dying fairly young. She and Prince Charming had no children, and the princes that followed didn't either. They choose their successor from a distant place where they are trained for this purpose. 
Every year, there is a ball and all the eligible young girls are required to attend. There, they get chosen by the men that attend. If they aren't chosen by the third year of attendance, their lives are forfeit and they either are sent to servitude or death. 
This is Sophia's first year at the ball, and her parents are eager that she make a good impression. Sophia knows that what is happening isn't right, and she desperately wants to escape and live a life that she chooses for herself, but this is not looking like a real possibility. Especially as Erin, the object of her affections doesn't want to take such a risk, but would rather comply with her family's expectations and those of the prince and his men. 
The kingdom has also developed to a situation where many men treat their wives and daughters as possessions and without respect, and many women live sad lives. 
When Sophia, on the run from a desperate situation, meets an independent young woman Constance, who knows more of Cinderella's true story, she finds strength in that knowledge and becomes determined to change the kingdom for the better.
This is a story that turns the traditional fairy tale on its head in every way. And I loved the feisty characters of Sophia and Constance as they fought the established regime. 

Never Tell

Finished November 18
Never Tell by Lisa Gardner

This is a police mystery that has additional elements. It is part of the Detective D.D. Warren series, but we also have the presence of FBI investigators and a former victim who now acts as a confidential informant and seems to be doing unpaid undercover work. 
The novel starts with a crime with a man, Conrad, shot in his home office and his pregnant wife, Evelyn, with the gun in her hand. But she says she shot the computer, not him. And there is an eight minute gap between the first shots reported and the most recent ones. But she has a history. Back when she was a teenager she confessed to accidently shooting her father in the kitchen of their home when he was teaching her about the gun. And that case was one of D.D. Warren's as well. 
Flora, who was a victim years ago of a man who kidnapped her and held her as a prisoner for more than a year, has seen the story of the crime on the news, and she recognizes the victim from her time with her captor. What does that mean, and is she ready to dig deeper into those horrific experiences from her past. It is her that brings Kimberly Quincy, the FBI agent who rescued her into the case, and surprisingly another civilian, one who has extensive knowledge of his own. 
Evelyn has a difficult relationship with her mother Joyce, who idolized her father. Since his death, the two have grown further apart, with Joyce trying to bring her closer through the purchase of material things and Evie determined to build her own life. 
There is a lot going on here, with ties far into the past for both Evie and Conrad, and with Flora opening up those past traumas of her own as well. 
Many people have secrets, and those secrets often lead to more anguish and sorrow. Good intentions, but not always good outcomes. As the truths begin to emerge, this case takes on a different tone, and has more interesting dynamics.

Monday 23 November 2020

The London Restoration

Finished November 17
The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan

This novel takes place in the fall of 1945, with some flashbacks to earlier times during World War II. The two central characters are a married couple who must find their way emotionally to each other. They got married during the war and have only had a few visits since then, and have never lived together. Diana Somerville (nee Foyle) is a student of architecture, church architecture in particular. She loves the churches of Christopher Wren, but is interested in all churches. She is therefore a fount of information on the churches. Brent Somerville, her husband is a professor of theology at King's College in London. His specialty is the gospels by the apostles. The two met in a churchyard, where he was eating lunch and sketching his surrounding and she was admiring the architecture and made the first move in their relationship by approaching him. 
During the war, knowing that she would be bored by many of the tasks available to young women, one of Diana's professors recommended her for secret work at Bletchley Park. They preferred single women, so even though she recently married Brent, she signed up under her maiden name. There she worked on breaking codes, using her knowledge of German and other skills from her education. Brent knew that she worked for the Foreign Office, but wasn't aware of her secret work. He worked as a medic and orderly, transporting wounded, and near the end of the war was wounded himself. He still has trauma related to his experiences and hasn't shared the extent of his PTSD with Diana. 
At the end of the war, Diana's superior Simon asked her to do some work for him relating to a new challenge that he sees for the country, the threat of communism and Russian tactics. She has gone to Austria on this mission for two weeks, missing Brent's homecoming. 
With Brent not aware of what she has been doing, nor of what she was away in Austria for, there is a barrier that has been raised between them. With Brent not sharing his own war experiences, there is also a barrier from his end. The young couple are very much in love, and very smart people, but they must feel their way into this new phase of their relationship. 
When you add that Diana's recent actions may put them in danger, this novel offers a lot of suspense. I hadn't read this Canadian author prior to this and enjoyed the book.

The Weekend

Finished November 15
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

This Australian novel is set around a Christmas season weekend, with three long-time friends in their seventies. It's been a year since they lost the fourth member of their group, Sylvie, and Sylvie's partner is planning to sell her house in a seaside town. The three women will clean out the house, taking anything they want to keep.
It's a good plan, but the women are all dealing with personal issues of their own. 
Jude has worked in restaurants all her life and never married, but she's had a decades long relationship with a married man, Daniel, with him supplying the apartment she lives in. They meet on a regular basis and she's sure his wife must be aware of her existence, but no contact with her has ever occurred. One of the meetings is due to happen at Sylvie's house after the clean-out. They've met there at that time of year regularly. 
Wendy, an internationally respected academic, lost her husband several years back and fell into a depression, one that her dog helped her to climb out of. Her dog is now old and failing, but she can't bring herself to let it die. She has difficult relationships with both her children, feeling more distanced from them that she would like.
Adele is an aging actress, one who hasn't been working for sometime. She has fallen into poverty and her most recent relationship has just ended, leaving her without a place to return home to after this weekend. She is in good shape physically and looks after herself, but is clinging to her identity as an actress and not able to find a way to move forward. 
As the three women learn how to navigate their relationship with each other without their fourth member, they also must figure out the next step in their individual lives.
I really enjoyed this book, with its strong characters and nuanced relationships.

Wednesday 18 November 2020

My Books for Classic Spin #25

 I was successful in knocking off a classic that had been on my shelf for years when I did the last Classic Spin, so I'm definitely up for another one. 

Here's the challenge host post for Classics Club Spin 25

Here is my list of books.
1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
3. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
4. The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
6. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
7. Roxana by Daniel Defoe
8. Remembrance of Things Past 1 by Marcel Proust
9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
11. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
13. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
14. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
15. Dracula by Bram Stoker
16. Persuasion by Jane Austen
17. The Cretan Runner by George Psychoundakis
18. The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
19. Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen
20. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault

Some are definitely more of a challenge than others!

Saturday 14 November 2020

The Grass Is Singing

Finished November 13 
The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing

This novel was one I was due to read with my book club this year, but plans changed. I decided to read it anyway since I had it on my shelves. 
To me this reads as a tragedy. The main character here Mary, grew up in South Africa and Rhodesia, moving around to different stations with her parents. Theirs was not a happy marriage, and Mary escaped to the city young, and became an office worker. Her emotional growth was a bit stunted, never leaving the phase of innocent teenage flirting. She was good at her job, and it was only when she overheard gossip about herself that she became dissatisfied with her life and began to look to marriage as a solution. 
Her impetuous marriage to a veldt farmer in Rhodesia was not the solution she needed, but it is where she found herself. 
We know from the beginning of the book her end, there on the farm, through an act of violence. The book takes us through how she got to that place, the various people that had a role in that life, from her husband Dick to their closest neighbour and the black workers that were on the farm.
This is an immensely sad book, and one mourns the forces that took these characters on this journey. Mental health is definitely one of them as we see the deterioration in both Mary and Dick through their time together. 
So well written, but so so sad.
Language warning: First published in 1950, this book uses racial terms that are not acceptable now.

District and Circle

Finished November 12 
District and Circle by Seamus Heaney

I was feeling in the mood for some poetry lately, so pulled this one that has been on my shelf for some time. 
The subjects of the poems here vary widely. The title poem refers to the London Underground, with others looking at common objects, memories returned of childhood friends, food, an ancient bogman, wildlife, or the feel of a place visited. 
His writing requires concentration for me to focus on the words, consider meaning and allusion and connect the poems to my own life and experiences. 
Poetry is a great way to slow down and thus good for the times we are in. I think I shall pull more poetry off my shelves soon.
My copy of this was used, and I enjoyed the copious notes made by what appears to be a student analyzing the poems. This added to my experience in an interesting way.

A Royal Affair

Finished November 11 
A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair

This is the second book in a mystery series, but I have not yet the first one. The two characters at the centre of the book are Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge. The two women work together to own and run The Right Sort of Marriage Bureau. Iris Sparks worked in an unidentified, but hush-hush manner in the war, and has a bit of a disreputable reputation in some of the "right circles" for some of her improper romantic experiences. She is also a Cambridge graduate. She is currently in the initial stages of a relationship with a mobster. Gwen Bainbridge is a war widow with a young son, Ronnie. She had a breakdown following the loss of her husband, which necessitated a stay in an institution. She is living with her in-laws and struggling for custody of her son. Gwen is of the upper class, came out, and has all the right connections, but her breakdown has made her former acquaintances slightly wary of her. 
The story is set in 1946.One of Gwen's cousin's, Lady Patience Matheson works for the Queen and has come to them on a delicate matter. A threatening letter was sent to Princess Elizabeth regarding one of her suitors, Prince Philip. Matheson asks Gwen and Iris to look into it and see if they can clear things up. With a case of attempted blackmail, at least one dead body, and a few Greeks involved, the two women look into the situation, but find that it is much more dangerous than it seemed at first.
The office of The Right Sort of Marriage Bureau is quite small and they are hoping to expand to the empty office next door, which comes with some lovely desks, but need more funds to make it work. This could be the opportunity they need, if all goes well. As they handle this unusual request, they also continue to match couples for the agency, and encounter some interesting personal situations. 
I like both the characters, women working in a world that didn't see a lot of independent women, and smart ones at that. There is some very good humour, and some suspenseful scenes. A great read.

Invisible Murder

Finished November 8
Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, translated by Tara Chace

I've read the third book in this series and decided to go back are read an earlier one. This is book two. Most of the book takes place in Denmark with the Red Cross nurse Nina Borg, but the story really starts in Hungary, with a young man, Sándor who finds his life upended. He is a law student at university, but he has a secret. His mother is a gypsy, and he started his life growing up with her and his younger siblings, but during a time they were in a children's home, he was taken away by his biological father, given a new last name, and has lived his life in mainstream Hungarian society. When his younger brother Tamás asks a favour, he gets drawn into a situation beyond his control. He cares about his brother, but with his life also in tatters, he feels he has no choice but to follow his brother to Denmark and see if he can help.
Nina is sometimes helping with outreach to groups in need outside of her day job, but she's promised her husband Morten not to do it when he's away working on the rigs. Her relationship with her teenage daughter Ida is a fraught one, with the girl wanting little to do with her. Anton, at eight, is still a joyful child. 
There is also an older man, Skou-Larsen, who is worried about how his wife handles finances, and wants to try to put safeguards in place for after he dies. But there are limitations on what he can do, even though she appears to have fallen for a vacation property scam and lost a big chunk of money. He is also curious about the mosque being build near their home. As a former municipal employee with the building department, he is always curious about permits and details of new developments and worries about whether this one is all it says it is. 
We also see a man, Soren, who is part of PET, the terrorism side of the police force as they hear of a young Hungarian man who has been on some suspicious websites and now appears to be headed his way. His focus on similar online activity at a local university focuses on a young Muslim man who seems to have something to hide.
There is lots going on here, and as Nina gets drawn in to help with a mysterious illness affecting some gypsies squatting in an abandoned gas station, she finds herself in more trouble than she expected, and when Ida gets involved she begins to fear for their lives.
I really enjoy this series, with so many issues in a book. There is racism and religious prejudice, fear of others, domestic abuse, human trafficking, relics of the Soviet times, and so much more.

Friday 13 November 2020

Teaching Mrs. Muddle

Finished November 5 
Teaching Mrs. Muddle by Colleen Nelson, illustrated by Alice Carter

The illustrations were the best part of this book. They absolutely made the story come to life. The kindergarten teacher is perpetually confused about where to go and what to do, and the drawings of her show her confusion and ditziness. 
Kayla, the little girl shown on the cover, meets her teacher Mrs. Muddle on her first day of kindergarten and suddenly all of her worries and problems look insignificant compares to those of the teacher. She is busy correcting and helping Mrs. Muddle all day, and has no time to be worried about school.
From problems matching nametags to kids at the beginning of the day, to going to different rooms in the school as the day progressed, to using snacks as art supplies, the kids learn to work together to get things done and keep Mrs. Muddle organized. Kayla is too busy to miss her mom. 
The endpapers are filled with more illustrations, alphabet pictures of letters and animals whose names start with the letters (or for Xx end with them).