Tuesday 25 August 2020

1967: A Coming of Age Story

Finished August 24
1967: A Coming of Age Story by Richard W. Doornink

I really enjoyed this memoir! It covers one year in Doornink's life, from September 1966 to August 1967 and begins just as his family is ending their vacation and his father is taking on a new job as a sales rep for Rexall based out of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Previous to this, they'd lived in Winnipeg and his father had sold life insurance. Besides his parents, Ricky also has 2 younger sisters, known here as Red and Little Sister.
On their first day in their new home, an apartment, Ricky meets Mark who lives in the same building as him. Mark's father is also a sales rep, and the two are the same age and soon walk to school together in the mornings. Red is also old enough to go to school, and occasionally she is part of the group travelling together. That part certainly took me back to my own schooldays, walking to school on my own even in first grade.
Ricky is curious about everything he sees, but his father expects the behaviour of "seen, but not heard" from the kids most of the time. Their dinner table is quiet, except a bit of adult conversation, as are car trips, even the one where his father takes him to Regina to see a CFL game. It is definitely a more rigid upbringing than my own, where the dinner table had everyone sharing information about their day and discussions and questions were encouraged. Ricky's questions are in his head, and sometimes on his face. He is judicious in who he asks questions of, and what type of questions he asked. This aspect made me a bit sad that this love of learning was squelched down. I liked the inner conversations that went on in his head though, with his questions, and possible answers. One of the early ones was the encounter with the Welcome Wagon lady, where he looked around for her wagon, but didn't ask.
Ricky joins into the group of boys at school, getting his work done and engaging in as many activities as his parents allow. Money is tight and we see him going to get used hockey equipment for the school's hockey season. Later we see his calculations for choosing his first baseball glove: not too expensive, but not the cheapest one either.
While communication in his family is definitely on a need-to-know basis, his mother is not a pushover, and she insists on participating in community activities such as women's curling. They interact with Mark's family, and that was an education as well.
Ricky makes some mistakes in judgement, as young children do as they are learning how to get along in the world. He isn't a bad kid, but he does some things he knows are wrong and suffers the consequences. We see him dealing with moral issues such as theft, honesty, and responsibility for one's actions. He helps out for church activities, and learns about how his behaviour affects others, such as a neighbourhood kid who is picked on.
Ricky's world gets bigger here as he gains independence and increased knowledge of the wider world. I liked him, and empathized with him often.
A book that definitely rings true of its place and time.

The Swinging Bridge

Finished August 23
The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet

This book really took me into another culture that I was unfamiliar with. The main character here is Mona a film researcher who lives in Montreal, but grew up in Trinidad.
Her memories of her childhood are mixed, with moments of happiness and others of suffering and limitations. One of her worst memories is of her father in a drunken rage threatening to kill her brother when he was only nine years old. She also remembers cruel punishments from him for his perceptions of her unacceptable behaviour.
In the present-day, her brother Kello, who lives in Toronto, is dying and wants Mona to go back to Trinidad and purchase the family property that her father sold years before. As she talks to her brother, and visits the home of her youth, she must confront these memories, but also learn more about her family, her parents, her grandparents, and her great-grandparents.
The reader learns along with her, discovering the origins of the Indians who live in the Caribbean, and specifically in Trinidad, brought there as indentured workers following the end of the slavery of those from Africa. There is a hierarchy that has developed there, with the white people at the top and the black people at the bottom, with the brown people in the middle. In her family's history, whenever the women ventured to have relationships that ventured beyond their own people, they were punished and set back on the path that was preferred by the men in their lives. But the history survived, and Mona digs through it, finding the real story of her great-grandmother who came alone from India, losing a lover along the way, and finding a new, but restricted life in her new country.
She finds these stories are not singular, but common, and still happening. She watches her cousin Bess, who still lives in Trinidad deal with the sexism and racism that still influences the life she lives there.
This book was shortlisted for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the Best First Book category and longlisted for the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The author is a Canadian who grew up in Trinidad, which strongly influenced this book. There is a biography and interview at the back of my edition of the book.
I really enjoyed learning about Trinidad and its history and culture, and appreciated the glossary that was included as many of the terms were new to me. The characters speak in the local patois, which helps to bring the story to life in its setting.

The Girl Who Rode a Shark

Finished August 23
The Girl Who Rode a Shark & Other Stories of Daring Women by Ailsa Ross, illustrated by Amy Blackwell

This is a fantastic book that highlights contemporary and historical women who've done interesting things. The book is divided into six main sections by genre. The sections are Artists, Pioneers, Scientists, Activists, Athletes, and Seekers. Each woman gets a one page biographical summary, and a one page illustration of them engaged in their work or activity. Sometimes map drawings are included as well. At the end of each biographical summary, other women that have similar activities or accomplishments are mentioned. A map at the beginning of each section identifies the origins of the women covered in that section.
The introduction outlines the purpose of the book, to show girls women's amazing achievements across the ages in order to provide inspiration, to show them the possibilities open to them.
Artists profiles women writers, painters, photographers, dancers, and musicians. Here we have Lady Sarashina, the first travel writer, who lived in the 11th century; Marianne North, the 19th century flower painter; Isabella Bird, the 19th century photojournalist; Nellie Bly, the reporter who wrote about the world; Zora Neale Hurston, anthropologist and writer; Freya Stark, travel writer and flower farmer; Emily Hahn, a writer who traveled through Africa and documented her travels; Josephine Baker, cabaret singer, activist, and spy; and Mihaela Noroc, photographer;
Pioneers profiles women who blazed trails, making a path for other women to follow. Here are Teuta, pre-Christian pirate queen; Isobel Gunn, 19th century Canadian wilderness explorer; Sacagawea, 18th and 19th century teen expedition guide; Amelia Earhart, pioneer pilot; Beryl Markham, record-setting pilot; Ada Blackjack, expedition crewmember and castaway survivor; Lucy Nabiki Takona, safari guide; and Aisholpan Nurgaiv, teenage eagle hunter.
Scientists profiles women who have voyaged from deep seas to space to understand the world. Here are Maria Sibylla Merian, the 17th and 18th century painter who documented butterflies; Jeanne Baret, the 18th century explorer who was the first woman to sail around the world; Wang Zhenyi, the 18th century astronomer; Ynes Mexia, scientific explorer and botanist; Sylvia Earle, underwater biologist; Roberta Bondar, first neurologist in space; Nalini Nadkarni, dancer and treetop scientist; and Bolortsetseg Minjin, paleontologist  and educator.
Activists profiles women who've spoken up, surmounted barriers, and fought injustice. Here are Naomi Wadler, superstar activist for black girls; Joan of Arc, 15th century teenage warrior; Nzinga, 16th and 17th century queen and warrior; Bessie Coleman, first black female pilot; Whina Cooper, Maori activist for land rights; Gertrude Blom, anthropologist and early environmental activist; Shannon Koostachin, indigenous education activist, Noor Inayat Khan, Indian princess and secret agent; Anita Roddick, entrepreneur and ethical cosmetic advocate; and Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Prize winner and advocate for survivors of conflict and disaster.
Athletes profiles women who pushed their limits in pursuit of goals and ambitions. Here are Annie Londonderry, the first woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle; Diana Nyad, champion long distance swimmer; Cheryl Strayed, writer and hiker; Kimi Werner, chef and shark rider; Silvana Lima, surfer; Arunima Sinha, amputee who climbed Everest; Mira Rai, soldier and trail racer; Laura Dekker, solo world sailor; Ashima Shiraishi, rock climber; and Jade Hameister, polar explorer.
Seekers profiles women who journeyed for a purpose. Here are Isabel Godin, 18th century woman who crossed the Amazon rainforest; Hester Stanhope, 18th and 19th century woman who became known as Queen of the Desert; Alexandra David-Neel, opera singer and Buddhist adventurer; Isabelle Eberhardt, writer and explorer of the Sahara desert; Robyn Davidson, crosser of the Australian desert; Manon Ossevoort, who drove a tractor from Europe to the South Pole; and Nujeen Mustafa, wheelchair refugee from Syria.
At the back of the book is a glossary that covers scientific and historical terms used here; a list of indigenous people referred to in the book; and a short summary about the changing nature of geography.
I loved the diversity of the woman chosen for this book, the way that it didn't chose women that we already hear a lot about (although they are mentioned as others to look at); and the inclusion of both historical and contemporary examples.
The author, Ailsa Ross, lives in Canada and is a human rights advocate and the illustrator, Amy Blackwell used her skills to make these women come to life and place them in their world. Fantastic resource for any parent or library.

Sunday 23 August 2020

Girl from Nowhere

Finished August 21
The Girl from Nowhere by Tiffany Rosenhan

This debut novel for teens is fast moving. Sophia Hepworth has grown up with loving parents, but constantly on the move and not really making any friends along the way. Her parents appear to be diplomats, but they are definitely more than that. Her father's public job is facilitating NGOs in developing countries, working for the State Department. He is a spy and many of the skills needed to survive in that world have also been taught to Sophia. She can handle a gun, a knife, and many other tools of defense. She is in good physical shape and can hold her breath underwater for long periods of time. She can get her bearings quickly in places she hasn't been before. She speaks quite a few languages fluently, and knows a decent amount of even more. She has been trained to survive many dangerous situations.
When her family lived in Istanbul, something bad happened to her, and she's been running ever since, and not really recovering from that incident.
Now, her family is finally back in the United States and her parents have retired. They've moved to a small town in Montana, called Waterford. Furniture and smaller items she hasn't seen in years are coming into their new home. Sophia is attending the regular town school and making friends with other girls her age. And there's a boy who she finds compelling.
Of course she stands out. In her first class, French, the discovery that she is fluent has the teacher moving to move her to a different language class, but all the ones on offer are ones that she is fluent in, so she stays. And now her classmates know this about her. They are friendly, but have lots of questions. She answers as truthfully as she feels she can. She has been told that she is no longer in danger, that the men hunting her since Istanbul are all dead, but she still can't be completely honest about her unconventional life.
The boy saves her from a dangerous situation, and only later did she learn his name, Aksel Fredericksen. Then he rescues her again. She notices that he has some of the same skills that she's learned, and that he doesn't seem fazed by her. She likes that. As their relationship grows, the situations that they find themselves up again grow more dangerous. She begins to wonder if she is really as safe as her parents have led her to believe.
This novel is fast-moving and has an edge of the seat plot interspersed with bits of normal love and some romance. It kept me engrossed.

Saturday 22 August 2020

Death of an Addict

Finished August 20
Death of an Addict by M.C. Beaton

This book is part of the Hamish Macbeth series. Hamish is a policeman in the small village of Lochdubh, responsible for a large area of the country around it. The nearest big town, and where he reports into, is Strathbane. Hamish has done well for himself, and turned down promotions several times as he likes where he lives and what he does.
Here, Hamish goes to see a crofter Parry McSporran that he knows is renting out cabins to see how it is going. Two of the cabins are on long lets, one to a young English woman environmentalist Felicity Maundy, and one to a young man Tommy Jarrett who is working on a book. The latter's name sounds familiar and Parry has him do a check to see if the young man has a record. He does have one for possession of drugs, and Hamish goes to talk to him and decides Tommy is being honest when he claims he is clean now.
The day after Hamish visits, Tommy is found dead, with suspicion of an overdose. This doesn't sit right with Hamish and he decides to dig a little, against the wishes of his superiors. His digging leads him to the drug world and has him going undercover with a young female officer, who is superior to him in rank.
As usual, Hamish is quite a character, a man who pays attention to details, but who is a bit naive at times. He gets in over his head a couple of times here, but he learns a lot and uncovers some criminal activity. Blair, the man he reports to in Strathbane is on leave as the whole thing begins and isn't pleased when he returns to discover Hamish is impressing their superiors once again.
As always I enjoy this series and Hamish.

Land Girls

Finished August 16
Land Girls by Angela Huth

This historical fiction novel is set in late 1941 and 1942 except for a prologue and epilogue. Three young women have signed up to be land girls and do their part in the war. They've gone through their training and been assigned to a farm in the West Country area. The farm is owned by John and Faith Lawrence a middle-aged couple with one grown son. Their son Joe suffers from asthma and so is working on the farm as well. Faith has made over the attic into one large room for the three young women. They also have a local man who helps out, Ratty. He worked as a hired hand for years, until his age lessened his ability to do some of the work. He is a man who has been dealt a bad hand, marrying a woman who proved herself to be more a hindrance than a partner in his life. I found his story a sad one.
Prudence (Prue) was apprenticing as a hairdresser with her mother, who owns a beauty parlour in Manchester before volunteering. Prue loves makeup, clothes, and having fun. She is up for a good time, but comes across as a well-meaning happy young woman looking for her way in the world. Ag, was an undergraduate at Cambridge who wants both a family and a career. She had met a young man briefly in college, never dated him, but seems to hold out hope that he is the man for her. She plans to study law after the war. Stella is from Surrey and her family is well-off. She recently started a relationship with Philip who is in the Navy, and she hopes to have a future with him.
Joe has a fiancee, a girl he's known since they were kids, Janet. Janet is working quite a long ways away putting together spark plugs in a factory. She has access to her father's car, and a couple times a year comes to the farm to see Joe.
As we see the girls get to know each other, and get to know their host family, we also see them engage in the work they've come there to do. From milking cows, cleaning up pens and the yard, working in the fields, and hedging, there is a lot of hard work here and that is made clear. But the girls do their work and get along quite well with each other. They have things they prefer to do, and we see them develop and grow. Prue develops a fondness for the large sow and gets territorial about tending to her needs. She's also proud of her ability to plow a straight furrow. Ag shows a distinct knack for hedging that John is impressed with.
I liked all three girls and was interested to see how the developed and what happened to them after the war. I also found it fascinating to read about the farm work and see what was involved in some of the tasks they undertook.
A very enjoyable read.

Thursday 20 August 2020


Finished August 15
Lark by Anthony McGowan

This children's book is the fourth book in a series following two brothers, Nicky and Kenny. Kenny is developmentally disabled, and Nicky has learned how to help him manage different situations. They've had a tough childhood, with their father drinking to much and their mother leaving them due to the stress of everything. Their father is sober now, and has a new girlfriend that they get along with and their lives are more stable. Thus, things are going better for them now, and their mom is coming soon for a visit from Canada where she now lives. Kenny is excited about the upcoming visit, but bored because it is the Easter holiday and not much is happening. Their father suggests they go for a walk on the moors, remembering when his dad would take him there.
Nicky gets the map on the Internet and plans the walk, and the two boys and their small dog Tina, take a couple of buses to get to the starting point of their hike. By the time they get there, the weather has deteriorated, and the bus driver reminds them to keep to the path.
As they walk, they enjoy the first part of their adventure, but then they get above the tree cover and the weather worsens further with snow building up. As they get colder and more tired, they decide to try to take a short cut over the hill, but that gets them lost and they are really in trouble then.
The action is page turning as the reader worries about the boys and whether they will find their way back to the path and to home. As they get colder, and their map gets wet, they also find that their phone isn't getting any signal.
Things definitely go wrong for the boys, and you see all the ways they are unprepared for their adventure, and the bad luck that befalls them. It would probably be helpful to read the others in the series before this as well, but you can read this as a stand alone.

The Cat Psychologist

Finished August 13
The Cat Psychologist: Understanding Your Cat by Mardie MacDonald

I read this book, looking to see if it dealt with some of the behaviour exhibited by my cats. The author has had a lot of experience looking after cats, first her own, then other peoples when she ran a cat sitting business. After ceasing that business and taking a break, she announced herself as a cat psychologist, able to help people figure out why their cats were misbehaving, exhibiting signs of unhappiness, and other issues. She makes it clear that she is not training in veterinary science and tries to ensure people have consulted with their vet where appropriate.
Her examples in the book are relatively straightforward for anyone who has owned a few cats and cares about them. She is very much against commercial pet food, preferring to make her own food from basic ingredients.
Some of the behaviours that I have seen in my current cats and previous ones I've had did not appear in the examples that she gives, although I believe they are not uncommon. So I was a bit disappointed on that end of things. It was a quick read, and does provide some useful advice for cat owners. I should note that it is also about thirty years old, so the knowledge of cat behaviour in general and for those specialized in it have grown during that time.

Close Call

Finished August 12
Close Call by Stella Rimington

This novel is the eighth book in a series featuring MI5 agent Liz Carlyle. I've also read the first one, At Risk. Here she works with MI6, the CIA, and the French intelligence authorities. Liz is in a relationship that is starting to get serious with Martin Seurat, one of her French counterparts at the DGSE. He has started talking about retiring and going into private security.
The story here starts in the Syria, where an American agent has a close call while infiltrating rebel groups. He is transferred to Yemen to try and move a rumour forward to discover whether it has merit in intelligence with a government minister.
Liz is just back from vacation with Martin when she is brought up to date by her deputy Peggy Kinsolving. This includes a "watching brief" on a possible smuggled arms shipment. This involves MI6 as well as the CIA. The first thing to come up on this brief is news of a meeting in Paris. The French are running the show there of course, with other countries involved, but a young agent makes a move that unnerves those meeting and they lose contact with the men. Photos of them however bring an unexpected surprise. One of the men is a former French agent, who got in trouble and has now moved to the side of the bad guys, including running arms. They are surprised he risked his home ground of Europe, but it does make it more likely that they can nab him and try to learn more.
Liz soon finds that the drop of arms is expected to be in England, in Cheshire. When she reaches out to Special Branch to find out more about the man they suspect of being involved she learns that a man from her past is also now in Cheshire. They didn't part on good terms, and Liz isn't sure that he can be trusted based on her past experience, so she explores different routes of gathering intelligence and mounting surveillance. The man in Cheshire has been suspected of human trafficking as part of a club and prostitution service he runs, but arms would be a new venture for him.
I enjoyed the action here and also like when I learn more about the personal lives of the main characters, to humanize them more. There are several things going on here, but they all relate to each other, and offer a fast-moving plot.
The author used to head up MI5 and so writes from experience and knowledge of the real world espionage services.

Wednesday 12 August 2020

Material Visions

Finished August 10
Material Visions: A Gallery of Miniature Art Quilts by Stampington & Company

This is a glorious collection of art quilts, featuring over ninety quilts from forty artists. Most of the artists are American, but there are a couple from Australia too. The materials used include traditional quilting materials as well as other fibres, found objects, paper, and natural materials.
A few of the artists have multi-page coverage, where they discuss their inspirations and how they work to create their works.
Others have short descriptions of the quilt, the materials and methods involved. Each quilt includes at least one photography and sometimes closeup images as well.
I found myself inspired by these pieces and I kept thinking "Oh, I can do something like that, but with this instead..." as I read my way through it.
An absolute delight to see how many different ways artists can make their visions happen.

Simply Stitched

Finished August 9
Simply Stitched: Beautiful Embroidery Motifs and Projects with Wool and Cotton by Yumiko Higuchi, translated by Kyoko Matthews

This lovely book was originally published in Japanese and was inspired by the author's love of combining stitching with wool and cotton on linen. She liked the way it added texture and dimension to her work.
This book has eighteen motif and fourteen projects, described in detail, and sections on materials, tools, and techniques are included. She also includes a stitch guide for the stitches she used.
The projects are all for practical items that one can use.
Projects included:
* Floral Motif (used in a fabric belt)
* Thistle Motif (used in a needlecase)
* Ivy Motif (used in a clutch)
* Anemone Motif (design alone)
* Rooster Motif (design alone) (center cover image)
* Holy Night Motif (used in Christmas stockings)
* Little Flowers (used in winter hats)
* Marguerite Motif (used in a zip bag)
* Garden Motif (used in a pillow) (upper left and lower left cover images)
* Poppy Motif (used in a tote bag) (middle left cover image)
* Candy Motif (used on cardigan sweaters)
* Tree Motif (used on a teapot cozy) (lower right cover image)
* Dahlias and Daisies (used in sachets) (middle right cover image)
* Pigeon Motif (used in greeting cards)
* Leaf Motif (design alone)
* Tulip Motif (design alone)
* Spring Flower Motif (used in a mini tote)
* Bee Motif (used in bunting)
They are simple, yet charming. A lovely way to approach stitching in a new way.

The Ignorance of Blood

Finished August 8
The Ignorance of Blood by Robert Wilson

This is the last book in a series of four books featuring Javier Falcon of Seville, Spain. Javier is a busy man, involved in many things. He is an inspector with the local police, but also has ties to the intelligence community and is running a spy for them, a man he has become close friends with.
As the book opens a Russian mobster is switching from one mob to another, taking money and information with him, when he is killed in a freak accident. Falcon gets called to the scene and overseas the transfer of the information and cash to a secure location.
He has been working on a case involving a local judge who is in jail for killing his wife, who also happens to be Falcon's ex-wife. This is also tied to a construction case, where a bomb was set at a site. Falcon isn't sure of the judge's guilt, and is looking at a woman that he was having an affair with, a woman who definitely is hiding something. As he tries to trace back the woman and who she has had contact with, and put some pressure on her, things get ugly, and there seems to be government connections involved.
Meanwhile the man he is running as a spy is having a crisis that he goes to Falcon for assistance on, and Falcon wants to help but feels out of his depth.
And then the youngest son of the woman Falcon has fallen in love with is kidnapped, and he is sure that it is to put pressure on him.
So many storylines, and so much happening emotionally for Falcon as well. He is an upright and honest guy, at least mostly. And when he steps over a line, he doesn't try to blame anyone else for it. He has a good team of officers, ones that work together and are really committed to their work. But for him, when the situation became personal, he changed his feelings about things.
I really liked Falcon, and the strong woman he is in a relationship with. I will look at the earlier books in this series to get more on these characters.

The Sweetest Fruits

Finished August 6
The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong

This book goes deep into the life of Greek-Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn's life through four women that were important in his life. Hearn was a writer I wasn't aware of before reading this book, and he doesn't come across in a very positive way here. I was definitely interested in all four of the women who tell the story though.
The first woman to appear is Elizabeth Bisland. Bisland was a journalist and traveller who wrote a biography of Hearn that her portions draw from. The two met when they both lived in New Orleans in the early 1880s. Interestingly, I had recently been made aware of Hearn and her travels through a book that showed her and Nellie Bly circumnavigating the world in opposite directions, Liz and Nellie. I love it when these serendipitous connections happen! Sections of her biography are interspersed between the accounts of the other three women.
The second woman is the first one in Lafcadio's life, his mother, Rosa Antonia Cassimati. Her life was a difficult one. She was born and lived on Cythera, Her mother died when she was young, she was uneducated despite being from a well-off family, and once she hit puberty her father severely restricted her life, not wanting to pay a dowry for her. She was being groomed for the life of a nun when she was able to use her unsupervised visits to a local church to make a connection with an Irish officer from the fort nearby. Once she became pregnant and her father turned her out, she moved with Hearn when he was transferred to Lefkada, and they married there after the birth of their first son. Lafcadio (Patrick) was the second son, Rosa and the young boy moved to Ireland when he was still a toddler. After a cold welcome, she moved in with Hearn's aunt Sarah, but never settled and moved back to Greece, leaving Lafcadio with Sarah. She gave birth to their third son, James, on the trip back. This was the last she saw of her son.
The third woman was Alethea (Mattie) Foley, a young African American woman that Hearn met when he lived in Cincinnati. Their marriage was against the law in Ohio, and the two had issues before eventually parting. This was an interesting section to the book, giving a glimpse into the life of a young black woman in Cincinnati during this time and a sense of her independence and fortitude. I really liked her. She was a good woman with a sense of her own worth.
The last woman was Koizuni Setsu, a Japanese woman of a samurai family. Setsu married Hearn and he eventually took a Japanese name and was adopted into her family to stay in Japan, which he would not have been able to do as a foreigner. Setsu was educated and a skilled seamstress and weaver, with her family in the textile business. Under the Japanese regime that began just after her birth, the samurai families lost their status, and the family struggled throughout her life. The couple had four children, and most of Hearn's time was spent teaching English or writing about Japanese myth and culture. Hearn died in Japan in 1904 of a heart attack at the age of 54. Setsu eventually wrote her own book about her husband.
I learned a lot about Hearn, but really enjoyed learning about these women and liked how the characters of his mother and wives were brought to life here.

How To Do It Now Because It's Not Going Away

Finished August 3
How To Do It Now Because It's Not Going Away: An Expert Guide to Getting Stuff Done by Leslie Josel

This book is written for high school and college students to help them with their schoolwork. As the cover indicates, it deals with issues like procrastination, time management and other skills relating to studying and homework. The introduction really lays out the purpose of the book and how to use it. Students can read through it in order, but the author really encourages them to focus on the chapters that deal with the things they struggle with most, and not to try to make too many changes at one time, which can be real issues. I liked the approachability of the language here, how it was directed to the students and the case studies that she used to illustrate particular issues. She notes that every individual is different and the student should think about what works and doesn't work with them to pick new habits that will work most successfully.
The chapter titles are phrases that students often use that relate to each topic.
* I Have Time
* It's Not Due Till Friday
* I Read Over My Notes
* I Don't Need to Write It Down
* I'll Remember
* I Know Where Everything Is
* Five More Minutes
* I'm Not in the Mood
Various options are given to address each circumstance and topic and there are lots of great ideas. Wish something like this existed back when I was a student!

This is My Daddy

Finished August 2
This is My Daddy by Mies van Hout

This delightful toddler book explores colour, shapes, and other early learning concepts. There are a series of pages with picture of a young animal on the left side of the facing pages and four smaller pictures on the opposite page. Each young animal asks who is their daddy. The reader can look at the four choices and evaluate which one is the match. The following set of pages tell the correct answer. The illustrations use strong, vibrant, coordinating colours, which I loved! and while some, such as the tiger on the cover can be determined by the reader by looking at colour, shapes (such as the stripes on the tiger) and similarities, others are less obvious, and will engender discussion about how animals are different in different stages of their lives.
There are great option for the father in each set, with some element of the option relating to the youngster. For example the small animal with prickles coming out of them has four options that are prickly or fluffy. Young animals included are: tadpole (surprise!), hedgehog, beaver, snail, tiger, caterpillar, and rhinoceros. The book ends with a human youngster, with a bit of a twist that you need to look closely to catch. This book is great fun and the end pages provide more information on the animals.
I just loved this book, for the thought that went into it and the lovely pictures. There is humour and fun throughout.

Wednesday 5 August 2020

Maria Chapdelaine

Finished August 1
Maria Chapdelaine: A Romance of French Canada by Louis Hémon, translated by Andrew MacPhail, illustrations by M.A. Suzor-Cote

This classic Canadian story is one that I've meant to read for a while, and part of the reason I chose it for my book club July pick. The copy I've got is quite an old one, with interesting illustrations scattered through it.
Maria Chapdelaine is the oldest daughter in her family. She has mostly brothers, and one much younger sister, Alma Rose.
Her father Samuel is a man who is more of a settler than a farmer. He has cleared land, and created a homestead before, but then felt the urge to move to a less settled area and start again. His wife has recognized and accepted this about him, though she would like to be closer to a parish. Maria is at the age when young women of her time and situation considered marriage, and as the book moves on, we see that there are three young men interested in her. They are quite different from each other, but all good young men. François Paradis is the first one that we meet. Their fathers knew each other well, and Maria met him when she was younger. Paradis has sold his farm and makes his living guiding other men through the Canadian wilderness and facilitating trading and sourcing resources. He is ambitious and and bright.
The next one we see is Eutrope Gagnon. He is the Chapdelaine's only neighbour, having taking a concessions two miles away with his brother the year before. His brother, like many of Maria's brothers, works in logging camps during the winter. He is clearing the land mostly on his own (we never see his brother in the novel), but making good headway and once the land is cleared, will build a better house so that he can begin a family. He is a hard worker and a good neighbour in hard times.
The third and last suitor we meet is Lorenzo Suprenant, a young man who has sold his father's farm in Quebec and gone to work in Maine in a factory. He speaks of the joys of urban living, the good wages he earns, and the large contingent of Canadians who live in the same area and provide a community. He wants to offer Maria an easier life than the one in the wilderness she lives in now.
As we watch Maria's family work to clear their land, gather crops, reap fruits from the surrounding wilderness, and hunt to provide meat, we see the reality of their lives and the hard work that goes into survival. Maria must evaluate her emotional connection and her vision of the future with each of these men, based on her experience this far. Her parents offer support, but do not advise her on this important choice.
I enjoyed the story and the independence that Maria had to choose her own life. Her family was a supportive one that worked together to make a good life for themselves and I could see how they cared for each other and worked as a team.

Monday 3 August 2020

Classic Spin Reading Challenge

I've just heard about the Classics Club Spins (now in its 24th iteration), and I’ve determined to use the opportunity to get one of those TBR books off my list.

What is the Spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 9th August 2020, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your list of classic books.This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.
On Sunday 9th August, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th September, 2020. I’ll come back and highlight the one that corresponds with that number on my list. 

My Spin List.

  1. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolff
  4. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  5. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  8. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  9. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  10. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  11. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  13. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  14. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  15. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  16. Beowulf
  17. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  18. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  19. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  20. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

Sunday 2 August 2020

Protecting Pollinators

Finished July 28
Protecting Pollinators: How to Save the Creatures That Feed Our World by Jodi Helmer

This book is full of information on the importance of pollinators and how we can act to help them survive. Pollinators are responsible for one-third of the crops that feed us, but half of their 200,000 species are threatened, some quite significantly. The percentage of pollinator-dependent food crops has increased 300 percent in the last 50 years, but despite this reliance, the pollinators themselves are more endangered than ever. This book is mostly focused on the United States, but as pollinators don't recognize borders, discussion sometimes goes beyond.
This book is organized into seven chapters. Within each chapter there are side columns that go deeper into certain aspects of the subject. Chapter One, Bees and Beyond tells us about the wide range of pollinators that exist, beyond just the ones that easily come to mind like bees and butterflys. Helmer gives information on the state of research into different pollinators and the public awareness of them. Side columns here are Plant Sex, The Rusty-Patched Bumblebee Made History, Raise Your Glass to Pollinating Bats (main pollinators of agave, from whence tequila), Are High-Tech Drones the Next-Generation Pollinators?, A Presidential Plea to Protect Pollinators (Obama administration), and Pollinators in Peril.
Chapter Two, No Place Like Home, talks about pollinator habitat and feeding needs. Here Helmer discusses the ways that habitat, even in small plots, can be added back to both urban and rural areas. Side columns here are Habitat Affects Honey Flavor (I love my buckwheat honey!), Pollinator Strips Might Not Work, A Cotton-Pickin' Boost for Pollinators, Could the Farm Bill Help Pollinators?, and Fireflies Are Burning Out.
Chapter Three, Taming Toxins brings into discussion the various chemicals, like pesticides and non-native flora and fauna, that have affected pollinators. Some are outright lethal, others are sublethal in that they affect the pollinator physiology and behaviour and make them less able to do their work. Side columns here are The Pests Decimating Honeybee Colonies, Harmful Herbicides, Neonics Not Welcome, White-Nose Syndrome and Pesticides, and Could Crop Insurance Promote Pesticide Use?
Chapter Four, The Need for Native Plants, looks at how the introduction of plants from other parts of the world have driven out some native plants the pollinators rely upon, or due to their different flowering cycle, changed their migratory habits. Side columns here are Venus Flytraps Control Their Appetites for Survival, Identifying Invasive Species, Ten Pollinator-Friendly Native Plants, Doggy Detective Keeps Bees Safe, Replacing Honeybees with Native Pollinators, Adopt a Trail, Eat the Invaders (some tasty invasive species can be eaten into extinction), and Caprine Cleaning Crew.
Chapter Five, Lessons from a Warming Planet discusses how climate change is affecting pollinators. In some cases the plants that pollinators rely on and the pollinators are in sync as the climate grows warmer, but in other cases they are not, which can mean the pollinator appears in the spring before or after their food source has, leading to population decline or possible extinction. Side columns here are Bats Help Save the Rainforest, Developing Mite-Resistant Bees, Climate Change Could Be Poisoning Monarchs, and Climate Change Helps Invasive Species Thrive.
Chapter Six, Helping Without Hurting, discusses how some things people are doing that they think are helping are not, and what they could do that is similar but different that would be a real help to the pollinators. Side columns here are Retailers Help Keep Gardens Neonic-Free, The Unexpected Consequence of Your Favorite Drink (more than you knew about almond milk), A Desire to Help the Bees Drives Honey Demand, Beekeepers Feel the Sting of Stolen Hives, Are Bee Hotels Bad for Bees?, and Don't Forget About Trees.
Chapter Seven, Stand Up and Be Counted discusses the huge impact that citizen scientists can have on data collection, observation, and positive change. Side columns are Putting Milkweed on the Map, Ten Principles of Citizen Science, Pollinators Seek Out Urban Addresses, Three Ways the Public Participates in Citizen Science, Citizen Scientists Honor the Stars, and the important Twenty-Nine Ways You Can Help Protect Pollinators.
There is also an extensive bibliography for those who want to learn more.
This is a great resource to learn about this important and critical subject.

The True Story of Ida Johnson

Finished July 28
The True Story of Ida Johnson by Sharon Riis

This short novel is quite different. Ida Johnson grew up in southern Alberta on a farm near a small town. She was a loner and different and her only friend was a young native girl, Lucy, who went to school in town briefly. She and Lucy were very close and spent a lot of time outdoors and playing imaginative games. Ida is now a waitress in another small Alberta town.
A trucker driving from B.C. through the Crowsnest Pass in winter is surprised to see a young man lying by the side of the road. When he stops and approaches, thinking the young man may be dead in the cold, the man sits up. The trucker takes him along, but feels put off by the stranger, who doesn't say much, except that his name is Luke. When they stop at a small town diner, Luke stays. Ida is on shift, but when her shift is over, Luke asks her to sit and talk.
The story moves around in time and viewpoint, sometimes showing us what Lucy did after leaving Alberta when she was young. We hear about Ida's peripatetic life, her triumphs and betrayals. She still remembers Lucy with fondness.
Although it is never stated, one feels like Luke and Lucy are the same person in different guises. And that sometimes Ida is aware of this.
Ida has done some terrible things, and yet she doesn't seem to regret any of them. Her story is matter of fact, not holding anything back.
Because this book was written in the 1970s, some of the terminology is no longer appropriate, and was on the edge even for that time. I really don't know how I feel about this book, it is unsettling and yet because it is told in such an unemotional tone, somehow just a sad story. 
Interestingly, the blurbs on the back of my copy are from Margaret Atwood and Marian Engel, which speak to its uptake at the time it was first published.

A Perfect Waiter

Finished July 25
A Perfect Waiter by Alain Claude Sulzer, translated by John Brownjohn

This book is set in two time periods, the earliest begins in the summer of 1935 and goes into the following summer. The second time period is three decades later.
The waiter that is the main character is Erneste and he works at a grand hotel in Switzerland. He has no aspirations beyond this career and behaves with perfection in his role. He is unfailingly polite, quiet, and observant enough to anticipate needs. In 1935, he is nineteen years old, and a new young staff member has arrived, Jakob, from Germany. Erneste is smitten, and Jakob notices and the two begin a love affair. They share a room in the staff quarters of the hotel, and soon share a bed. Erneste is careful not to show his feelings elsewhere, treating Jakob with the quiet friendly manner he treats the other staff. When the season ends, Jakob returns to Germany and Erneste to Paris, each promising to be back the following summer. In 1936, Erneste arrives at the hotel first and settles in. When Jakob arrives, he seems less ardent, but Erneste explains it away, and their affair continues. But Jakob is noticed by another person, this time a guest, also from Germany. Julius Klinger is a famous writer, who has spoken out against the rising Hitler in Germany, and when his words have no effect, he is looking to leave Europe for the United States.
The second time period has Erneste still working as a waiter in Switzerland at a hotel, when he receives a letter from the United States from Jakob. It is not the reconciliation that Erneste has dreamed of, but a request for help. Despite Jakob's betrayal of their love, Erneste is still compelled to submit to Jakob's wishes, and when he does, he learns more of his lover than he imagined.
This is a tale of love, one that happened during a brief time with great passion and was then left as a memory of a great love of Erneste's youth. Erneste is a perfect waiter in more ways than one, as someone else observes. This is sad, and one feels for Erneste as he deals with the truth of the man that he held strongly in his memory, and still cared deeply for.

August Reviews for 14th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

Boy that first month went by fast!
I had no takers for the book club read for July, Maria Chapdelaine.
Fill out the comment form at the bottom of the blog if you want to join in for the August book club read, which is The Afterlife of George Cartwright by John Steffler. I'll include you in the invitation for the Zoom meeting. Here's the link to the Overview of the Book Club option for the Challenge.

For August reads for the challenge, fill out the Mr. Linky below. Add comments too!