Friday, 30 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Do you always finish a book?

I read an advance copy of The Love Monster by Missy Marston for Wordfest. From the back cover " the tall tale of one woman's struggle with mid-life issues. The main character Margaret H. Atwood, has psoriasis, a boring job and a bad attitude. Her cheating husband has left her. And none of her pants fit any more." I did  find it amusing that this main character thinks her best years are behind her at the ripe old age of 35.

Parts of this book I enjoyed- the writing is often witty and social commentary at times biting. I laughed out loud at lines like "Aging is what takes a perfectly nice looking young woman and turns her into Ed F*ing Asner." (If she thinks she's ED Asner at 35 have I got news for her!) But the negativity of the main character wore me down and I considered putting the book aside. She did redeem herself somewhat in the end, yet I'm not sure I cared enough about her for that to matter.

I think this book might appeal to people with a quirky, dark sense of humour. It reminded me vaguely of a Christopher Moore novel although I have enjoyed several of his immensely.

Do you allow yourself to abandon a book that is not working for you or do you force yourself to finish every book?

Once upon a time I felt compelled to finish a book. Now I am more likely to bail on a book that is not working for me.  Recently my reluctant was leery about telling me he did not want to finish a new book I had purchased for him.  He was 100+ pages invested in it. I asked why and he replied that it was boring. Good choice then I said. The relief was immediate on his face.

The right to not finish a book is one of the rights detailed in a great little book about reading. Something all avid readers or people who work with children trying to encourage reading would enjoy.

Pennac's ten rights of the reader:

1. The right to read.
2. The right to skip.
3. The right not to finish a book.
4. The right to read it again
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to mistake a book for real life.
7. The right to read anywhere- one reason I LOVE my e reader- always a book in my purse.
8. The right to dip in.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right to be quiet and not discuss the book with anyone.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Wanakita Charter-good words to live by

Writing about family camp brought back so many fabulous memories. Every year at the opening and closing campfires they would recite the Wanakita Charter. A great way to set the tone for the week ahead. At the closing campfire I was usually reciting it with tears flowing as I so hated the experience to end and knew I was saying good bye to such special people- new friends and old.

If we followed the Wanakita Charter in our daily lives our lives would be richer. Just substitute the name of the city or town  where you live for Wanakita. If you have recently relocated following this may opne you up to your new home.

We who have been before challenge you, who are the present, to make new friends, renew old friendships, experience new skills, discover and appreciate nature and the outdoor life, to participate fully in all activities that are offered to you, and to create memories that last a lifetime.

You are challenged to learn that YMCA Wanakita is not just the buildings, the land and the lake, but the people. It is the people that become so much a part of us while we are here.

Finally, we challenge you to keep your sense of fun and adventure, that no matter what your age, to be healthy in spirit, mind and body, and to make YMCA Wanakita what it really is...
A place to have the time of your life!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- War themes from new perspectives

My second review for Wordfest is a poetically written book, Patient Number 7, (inspired by a true story) that takes the reader into the world of two Austrian families from the 1930s through the second world war into the present.  It is fascinating to watch the evolution of Clara, the main character, a bright intellectual who illustrates how the idea of social concepts may be very different when they are put into practise. Her search to make sense of her world using her schooling infuses the book with a cerebral, reflective air.

As a woman I related to Clara’s determination to stay true to her own life despite becoming a wife and mother in extreme circumstances. There was strength to her character that had her doing for others at personal risk- that trait we all hope we would have in similar circumstances. Using the third person narrative left me wanting a deeper insight into Clara, but perhaps this approach leads her story to stand more as an example of any Austrian woman who survived this.

The author illustrates the impact of war on the Austrian people and in fact on any people. He also broadened my perception of who a German soldier might be. We are often fed a one-dimensional picture of good guys versus bad guys when the world is so much more complicated. One of the lines in the book that resonated with me was, “Because it had given her an entirely new sense of what she and the world were capable of, she treated it with respect…” Fascinating to ponder what we would be capable of in various circumstances.

It also reminded me of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, which I loved despite its harsh topic. From Goodreads: "Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life."
The author tackles the complex issue of what it might have been like to survive the war from a German woman's perspective. It is a page turner and I felt more emotionally connected to the characters in this book than Patient Number 7.
Have you read any historical fiction that is from a less common perspective?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

YMCA Camps a place to have the time of your life

YMCA Camp Chief Hector

We have signed up for a family weekend at Camp Chief Hector, located about an hour from Calgary. Not only will it be a great way to bond with some family friends who have also moved west, it will help us reconnect with a long-standing family tradition.

YMCA Camp Wanakita

One of the family traditions we have missed since moving west is our annual week at YMCA Camp Wanakita in Ontario.  For six summers (at least) we did the long, family car ride to visit my husband's family in Ontario then spent a week with cousins, old friends and great new friends experiencing the wonder of family camp.

closing and opening campfires were a huge hit

I never went to camp as a kid but read lots of books where the protagonist did and I dreamt of camp. So I was thrilled when we first went- I think the kids were too small to even grasp the concept before we checked in.  Family camp is just like residential camp for kids- rustic bunks, tons of activities to sign up for and meals in the noisy dining hall, but the entire family goes. It is the best way to visit with family and friends- a rustic all-inclusive. I am curious to see the difference with a mountain experience this year.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Self Acceptance Workshop near Calgary

As I settle into Calgary and start exploring the learning options, I am increasingly thrilled with what I find. Whether I am looking for parenting workshops, art, recreation or personal growth, there is something available. As much as I miss living in a smaller town, opportunities were a bit more limited. And I know I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what is available in and around this city.

As a woman I find it rare to find a woman who is not critical of her body. As a parent to a preteen I am hyper-conscious of body talk and continue to strive to be accepting of my ageing body- not always an easy task. (I now know why yoga pants are often Capri length- who knew knees sagged with age?!)  So I was thrilled to see and have signed up for this workshop in nearby Cochrane, hosted by a yoga instructor who comes highly recommended by a friend.

 If you are interested in this workshop, visit the site

Are you accepting of your body as it is today?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- My first Wordfest read

 I think writing about books is almost an fun as reading them and spent considerable time last night contemplating what I'd choose for a second book as somehow my weekly book post is about two books. My first book, One Good Hustle by Billie Livingston was a volunteer read for Calgary's Wordfest. My copy was a galley, so I was excited to see the cover art on Livingston's web page.

From the first page I was captivated by Sammie, a sixteen- year-old from a family of hustlers. She is smart, witty, vulnerable and yet brave in many ways. For me, her strength of self was evidenced by her lack of drinking when all around her were experimenting. I was rooting for her to believe in her inner goodness despite the adult influences in her life that threatened to pull her into a similar lifestyle.
This is a gritty read, so I am not ready to share it with my tween reader but it is a book that older teens will relate to as well as adults. I was pleased to be introduced to the work of this award-winning, author and will definitely read some of her other books.  Here's a link to her website.

As a reader I often enjoy stories where characters are struggling to find their way despite difficult home situations. One Good Hustle reminded me of how much I enjoyed several books by Maritime author Jill MacLean. Home Truth, was also definitely a more mature young adult read. It is a look inside the harsh life of fourteen-year-old Brick MacAvoy and his little sister Cassie. Brick, a bully is bullied physically and emotionally by his father. I recall reading it and thinking how powerful a book this would be for a young person who was being bullied- and it' s another great read for this author who came to novel writing when she promised to write a story for her grandson.

This is the new cover when the book was reissued for the Red Maple Award 2012. I will be hoping it wins!

My introduction to Jill Mac Lean's writing was when her book, The Nine Lives of Travis Keating was nominated for the 2010 Hacmatac awards (an Atlantic Canadian children's choice award program for which I volunteered at my children's school).

This is the book Mac Lean wrote for her grandson and contains snowmobiles and hockey as he requested- but so much more! Travis, eleven-going-on twelve moves from the city with his widowed father to a small northern community in Newfoundland. The local bully hampers his ability to make friends and he cannot play hockey as the zamboni is not working. Travis finds a family of abandoned cats in Gully Cove, a place he is forbidden to go. This is a great book about learning how to make friends and finding your courage and sense of self.
In the book Travis befriends Prinny, a girl who struggles to read and is dealing with an alcoholic mother. Prinny, although a secondary character was complex and interesting, so I, like many of Mac Lean's readers was thrilled when Prinny got her own book.

A harsher read than her first book,  The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy is still hopeful. Mac Lean's characters are very real, her dialogue believable. The curious thing I noticed when reading these books before my daughter, was that the issues I was concerned about being too brutal for her (a young man being punched by his father, a young woman being bullied with alcohol), she took in stride. Just another reminder that they are sometimes ready for more mature content than we give them credit for. And of course there are also times that the worrisome content just flies past them.
Happy reading! I am off to finish my next Wordfest book. Remeber, if you are in Calgary they are looking for volunteer readers.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Loving Lentils

I love, love the nutritional powerhouse legume, lentils. I use lentils in soups, hide them in chocolate chip cookies ( recipe from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal & Sue Duncan) and make a super lentil salad or dip (recipe below).

 Did you know Canada grows about 67% of the world's supply? They were not a food I was introduced to growing up on the east coast as they are grown in Saskatchewan and southern Alberta. Now, living in Calgary I can feel I am eating local as well as healthy when I cook with lentils.

Canadian Chef Michael Smith, cookbook author and host of Chef at Home and Chef Michael's Kitchen has teamed up with Canadian Lentils to create a series of online videos, recipes and cooking tips.  I have cooked his lentil and rice recipe for quite some time. My hubby affectionately calls it glop- watching the video I now know why- I've been using the red split lentils which get mushy instead of the green! But mushy or not, this easy side dish is yummy. I look forward to trying it with the green lentils.

Elke's Lentil Salad (Dip)

Dressing: whisk together: 1/2 C vegetable or olive oil, 1/4 C red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. Djon mustard, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cumin, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tsp. curry, pinch of cloves (optional- I never use), 1 tsp. lemon juice (optional). The recipe calls for this amount of dressing but I find it a bit much & usually half the recipe or double the salad ingredients.

Salad: Toss together: 1 can of small lentils, rinsed, 1 red pepper diced, 1/2 C currants or raisins, 3 green onions chopped, pinch of sugar.

Add salad ingredients to dressing. Toss & refrigerate overnight for best flavour. Serve with tortilla chips. Also tasty as a salad (room temperature or warmed up).

Do you love lentils? Or have you tried them? The video on the Canadian Lentil site inspired me to sprout some and try them in salads.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Vampires are everywhere

Last night I attended my daughter's middle school production of Dracula. I was pleasantly surprised at the skill level of the young actors and dancers and the multi-media approach to modernising this ancient tale. In the program, the director encouraged us to read the classic by Bram Stoker. I have started it but never finished so it is on my list of books to read so I can see the connections between it and the modern day proliferation of vampire stories.

The first vampire book I ever read was for my book club, "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova. A long, lush book filled with historical detail (in my mind, way too much detail), where a young woman is drawn into the same quest as her father before her- to find Vlad the Impaler. The novel travels to Budapest, Istanbul and the depths of Eastern Europe, blending fact, fantasy and history. Although I thought much of the novel could have been edited out, the sense of foreboding that permeated the novel had me only reading it during daylight, when I read at night I had awful dreams. Our book club had mixed reviews- some loved it- I only rated it two stars on my Goodreads account.

Having a pre-teen daughter I was drawn into the Twilight series as I like to read before she does to determine appropriateness. My enjoyment of these novels centred more around bonding with my daughter and we loved watching the movies together.

Last summer I stumbled upon the "Blue Bloods" series by Melissa de la Cruz and read several back to back. Yet another YA vampire series but I loved that the rich New York city blue bloods, were blood-sucking vampires. A fast, escapism read, perfect for the beach.

I am curious about the fascination so many have with vampires. Is it their supernatural strength, their immortality that draws us, or the thrill of skirting fear by reading about such evil, similar to the draw of roller coasters and other thrill-inducing activities? My daughter who is actually quite a timid personaility is captivated by them.

The other vampire guilty pleasure I've indulged in is the TV series, "Vampire Diaries". I know what the appeal of these vampires is- young and sexy, pure soap opera. But a 43 minute episode is a great way to keep me on the treadmill!

Are you a vampire lover or a would-be-vampire slayer? Any other series out there you would recommend?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Exciting Volunteer Opportunity for Readers- in Calgary

If you are an avid reader there is a fantastic volunteer opportunity in Calgary- Wordfest is looking for volunteer readers. You visit their office (in Eau Claire Market) and choose a book. You read the book and write a short review, returning the book within two weeks. Free books!

I am on my first volunteer read and will share my review when it is complete. As a reader you have likely felt that intense sense of anticipation and possessiveness you get when you are about to open a new book, feeling like you are the first one to discover its magic. Well, the book I chose is a first for me- it is an advance copy- not yet released - I feel such a sense of privilege holding this proof in my hands.

From their website:

Wordfest is a non-profit arts organization that brings readers and writers together through a premier international writers festival and year-round literary events in Calgary, Banff and the Bow Valley.

In October, WordFest presents an annual six-day literary festival that features more than 70 writers from the local, national and international stage and hosts more than 60 events. This year, the Festival will take place from October 11–16, 2011. The annual Festival is considered one of North America’s premier literary festivals, attracting over 14,000 audience members and offers events in multiple languages, such as French and Spanish.

Although a Calgary-centred event if there is a literary festival in your area they too may need volunteer readers. What a great way to unearth new books.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)

As the movie (based on the book by Lionel Shriver) hits local theatres I was reminded of this powerful story. A work of fiction that is devastatingly real to read; this book is not for everyone. An intimate look into a mother's relationship with her manipulative son who commits a Columbine-style massacre at his high school, I had to keep reminding myself as I read that this was fiction. It is a book which has stayed with me for years. This is the type of writing your creative writing teacher was talking about when they said "show me, don't tell me".

If you can handle the disturbing subject of this book, I highly recommend it. Yet I am not sure I can bear to see the visual representation of this book. I fear that impression will be too brutal and is somehow more lasting than the written word. But my curiosity may win out.

The Post-Birthday World is Shriver book I enjoyed (not a word I use in connection with the Kevin book). It is a fascinating look at how one woman's life might have turned out differently if she chose to stay with her responsible partner or chose his irresponsible friend. The book alternates between the two lifelines. Although I thought the story could have been shortened, I was caught up in the stories and would recommend this book. My enjoyment was enhanced by recognizing some British slang that I'd learned from a dear friend.

Shriver is a very talented writer who depicts often unlikeable characters but endows them with enough humanity to keep you interested in their story.  Born Margaret Ann, Shriver changed her name at 15 as she felt a more traditionally male name would suit her tomboy personaility. She has eight novels to her credit.

I also read Game Control about population control. I have mixed feelings about this book and see widely varied reviews. Often I felt I might be missing some greater intellectual truth but was intrigued by the concept.