April 30, 2009

The I Suck At Challenges Challenge: Update #4

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It's May 1st tomorrow; 3 months down and 2 to go.

So how are we doing this month? Not too bad for me although the month really flew by. I did manage to read a few books for my challenges. I finished Alias Grace for both the Dewey Reading Challenge and The 2nd Canadian Books Challenge. The Uncommon Reader, done, for Dewey's Reading Challenge. During the Read-a-thon I managed to start and eventually finish Cousin Kate for The Love of Reading Challenge. So it looks like this:

The Canadian Books Challenge: 7/13
Dewey's Reading Challenge: 4/5
The Love of Reading Challenge: 3/5 (Ended April)

I'm not sure if I'll be able to read 6 books for the Canadian Reading Challenge in the next 2 months when it ends, but I took my last book for Dewey's Reading Challenge out of the library: Stardust. I'm confident that I'll finish that one.

The Love of Reading Challenge ended this month and I'm 2 books short. Let's have a moment of silence for that one... sigh... I did try.

But wait! I started my own new challenge: The Eco Reading Challenge. At this point, it's a challenge to get participants. I'm willing to let anyone who wants to read any number of books join. Smacks of desperation, I know but I'd like people to join and not be worried about the number of books. 1-5 is okay! Just sign up.

Now for you all reading along for this challenge. Since we're nearly there, let's make this our mantra: "I think I can, I think I can." Maybe you need some visual help. Here's The Little Engine That Could.

April 29, 2009

Wordless: A Handsome Fellow

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Or he could be a she. I think s/he was posing for the camera. The show off.

April 28, 2009

A Couple of Awards- Thanks!

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As usual, I'm a little late at getting around to thanking the people who took the time to pass me on blog awards. It doesn't mean I don't appreciate it. Thank you so much!


Fantaghiro from Coffeespoons gave me this real purdy Splash award. So shiny!

The Splash award is given to alluring, amusing, bewitching, impressive, and inspiring blogs.

Thanks! Please check out her blog!


Jules from Jules Book Reviews passed on the Let's Be Friends Award.

Blogs that received the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers.

Aw, thanks! Go over and introduce yourself to Jules if you haven't already.

I forgot to add that Kristina gave me this pretty award. I'm glad she thinks book-a-rama is lovely! Thanks.


I know I'm supposed to pass these on but I feel funny just passing them on to a few people. I'm going to pass it on to you, my readers. Enjoy!

April 27, 2009

Eco Reading Challenge: My Picks

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I'm still looking for participants for the Eco Reading Challenge. So far I have 3 people including myself. At the risk of sounding desperate *cough* Please Join!

I came up with my list and if you're not sure about what to read, I've been adding to the list of ideas in my original post.

So here's my list:

*Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
*Watership Down by Richard Adams
*101 Ways You Can Help Save the Planet Before You're 12 (I know I'm older than 12 but I won this one)
*Ecoholic or Prodigal Summer (haven't decided yet)
*David Suzuki's Green Guide

Now for my Acts of Green Reading:
*Changed the light bulbs in reading lamps to compact fluorescent ones
*Will read outside more
*Turn the TV off when reading

See, not so bad, right?

April 24, 2009

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith: Review

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In the early 20th century Brooklyn New York, Francie Nolan is growing up. Brooklyn is a wild place- a place where children brawl in the streets and in the schoolyard. Francie would rather read on the fire escape than try to relate to her peers. She doesn't understand their rough ways. She is thoughtful and sensitive, more like her musical father than her practical mother.

Katie Rommely swore she would give up everything just to have handsome Johnny Nolan. She spends most of her life paying for that pledge. She scrubs apartment floors to keep a roof over her family's heads while Johnny occasionally makes money as a singing waiter when he's not drunk. Even though he's unreliable, the children have more affection for fun-loving Johnny than their stern mother. Katie makes nearly everything a hard learned lesson for the Francie and Nealy. She pins all her hopes for a better life on Nealy and knows she loves him more. Still, Katie is determined to have both her children educated.

Francie is by far the better student of the Nolan children. She loves school and thrives there. At times, it seems that getting an education is a dream as the family suffers tragedies over the years.

When I first started reading A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, I was a bit confused as to what it was- a memoir? a series of anecdotes? The writing, while very good, is a bit distancing since I felt like I was just watching the Nolan's rather than being part of them. It starts with Francie at the age of eleven then after a few pages flips back in time to her parents' early married life before bringing us back to Francie's childhood again. By the time it ended, I understood what it was about. Basically, it's about the American Dream. Francie grows up poor and her mother struggles to keep them alive while educating the children so that will not have to struggle the way she did.

Francie grows from a shy and awkward child to a confident young woman. It's not an easy journey. Francie experiences much ugliness in her life, but strangely some of the simplest things are beautiful to Francie. Francie is a very lonely child. It doesn't help that the Nolan family never really fits in anywhere. Katie's expectations set them apart from the people who except their poverty. Katie fights it every step of the way. While Johnny is weighed down by it.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is somewhat an autobiography of Betty Smith's life. Some of Francie's experiences were her own. The book ends on a happy note, although I thought some of the things that happened were to be too good to be true. She implies that no matter how bleak things may seem there is a chance that circumstances can change, either through luck or hard work. Like the Tree of Heaven of the title, the hardy can survive anywhere.

Recommended

April 23, 2009

Eco Reading Challenge

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Today is Earth Day and I've been thinking about doing this on my blog for awhile now.
The Eco Reading Challenge

It's simple. Part One, pick 5 books*** with a Environmental theme and read them in 5 months. Not sure what to read? Here are a few suggestions:

In Non-Fiction, you can read books written by or about famous or not so famous environmental activists like

*An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
*The Big Picture by David Suzuki
*Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson
*Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat
*Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
*Walden; Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau (free ebook from Project Gutenberg)


Other non-fiction, including self-help guides, crafting books, etc. These books have topics such as growing your own food or eating locally, making the home more eco-friendly

*Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
*David Suzuki's Green Guide by David Suzuki
*The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances by Julie Gabriel
*Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made with Repurposed & Organic Materials by Betz White
*The Scavengers' Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
*Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada by Adria Vasil
*Gardening Eden by Mike Abbate (this links to My Friend Amy's Giveaway)

Fiction might be a bit tricky but with some imagination you can find something, like:

*The Children of Men by P D James
*The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
(In both these books men have become sterile thought to be the result of the environment.)
*Watership Down (Rabbits must leave home due to human encroachment).
*Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat
*The Lorax by Dr Suess
*Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
*Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson (Released May 1, 2009, Review by Alea @Pop Culture Junkie)

You can read books about wild animals, environmental disasters, people (real and fantasy) who live close to nature. You could read books where the protagonist has a job as a fishermen, logger, biologist, activist, whatever. Go crazy! Do not limit yourself to these books. These are just examples. Add any books you can think of that would fit in the comments if you like.

Now for Part Two. If you are Canadian you probably know who George Stroumboulopoulos is. He is a news show host on the CBC. Last year, he started a campaign called One Million Acts of Green, asking people to commit to one thing to help the environment. He reached 1 million but is working toward 2 million. I'm not George but we can start a little project here on book-a-rama where we commit an Act of Green Reading.

For example:

*buy used books or books made from recycled materials whenever possible
*take reusable shopping bags when buying books
*replace light bulbs in reading lamps with compact fluorescent ones
*move to window or outside to read instead of turning on lights
*wear a sweater when reading instead of turning up heat
*plant a tree to read under

HOW?

Make a list of your books and tell us your Act of Green Reading on your blog and link it to Mr Linky.

WHEN?
The Eco Reading Challenge will be from May 1- Sept 1. As you post your reviews, add them to the Eco Reading Challenge Reviews blog.

If you complete the challenge by Sept 1, I'll put your name in a drawing for some tawashis I plan on crocheting out of some beautiful green organic cotton I bought. I haven't made any yet. When I do I'll post pictures. A tawashi is a Japanese scrubber for fruit/vegetables or dishes. Very environmentally friendly.

Please let everyone you know on your blogs, Twitter, etc about the challenge. Thanks!

*** Edited: I'm not married to 5. Please pick any number you are comfortable with (1-5).

Please link to Mr Linky with your Eco Reading Challenge post with book list and Act of Green Reading only.

Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer: Review

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Kate Malvern just lost her job as governess and is staying with her old nurse Sarah until she gets a new situation. Sarah doesn't like the idea of her Kate, whose father was a gentlemen despite being a soldier and a gambler, hiring herself out to anyone who asks. Kate lived under all kinds of circumstances all over Europe so a little hard work doesn't bother her. Still, Sarah can't let it go so with the help of her crusty father-in-law, Mr Nidd, she writes to the only relative Kate is aware of, Lady Broome of Staplewood.

At first, it looks like Lady Broome, or Aunt Minerva, is an answer to Kate's prayers, offering her a place to stay for the summer. Kate starts to feel uneasy when Aunt Minerva gives her lavish gifts. There must be a catch. Lady Broome doesn't seem like someone willing to give something for nothing. When she offers Kate a way to pay back her generosity, involving her handsome but unstable son, Torquil, Kate knows she has to get out of Dodge. Can she enlist the help of her other cousin Philip who thinks she's a golddigger? Or rely on her own witts to disentangle herself from Staplewood?

Every Georgette Heyer novel I read becomes my new favorite and Cousin Kate is no exception. I loved Kate right from the beginning. She's a practical girl with a sensible head on her shoulders. Plus, she's sassy. She can go toe to toe with Lady Broome and her machinations. She also manages to charm just about everyone in the Staplewood household. Lord Broome treats her like a daughter and Torquil is calmer in her presence. Lady Broome is sufficiently nasty without becoming cartoonish. The dialogue between Philip and Kate is the best I've read from Heyer yet. Their back and forth is a lot like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. Philip never really gets the better of her.

Cousin Kate is a fun story with an engaging plot. I wanted to know what the deal was with Torquil and what scheme did Lady Broome have up her sleeve. A cast of engaging characters added some humour to the story. There was nice mix of suspense and romance. Of course, I was never really worried that things wouldn't work out for Kate. This is Heyer afterall!

Recommended


April 22, 2009

The Disappeared by Kim Echlin: Review

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In The Disappeared by Kim Echlin, Anne, a Canadian teen, is in love with Serey, a Cambodian student who loves the blues. Anne and Serey have a few months together while Serey hangs around Montreal where Anne lives. Unable to return to Cambodia because the borders are closed, Serey waits and worries about his family. He doesn't know if they are living or dead, as his country suffers under the brutality of Pol Pot.

When the borders open, Serey leaves Anne behind and she never hears from him again. Eleven years later, she believes she sees him on TV and drops everything to try to find him. What she finds in Camdodia, shocks her.

This is a very short novel which is good because I don't know if I could have finished it otherwise. There were things I enjoyed about the book but the main character, Anne, annoyed me. She's a teen when she meets Serey and I felt that their relationship was more about lust than love. After he leaves, I can understand her moping around for awhile but... 11 years? She even rents his apartment years after he lived there. Then she takes off to Cambodia when she thinks she sees him on TV. When she gets there, she behaves in a reckless way that puts her friends in danger. I couldn't warm to her. She seems to live in a perpetual teenagehood.

Serey was alright but I thought his attitude toward Anne's father was disrespectful. The characters I liked the most were Chan, Mau and Will. They all seemed like people with more sense. I guess if you can't love the lovers it's hard to love the book.

The subject matter is pretty dark but this didn't bother me. I learned a lot reading about this horrible time in history. The Cambodian people suffering terribly. It broke my heart to read about how people lost their families, how simple country boys were recruited to become brutal killers. I couldn't imagine seeing bodies heaped in piles along the roads or burial grounds heaving because too many bodies lay there.

I guess I'm a cranky lady because I couldn't buy the love story but other readers might. I did enjoy the historical aspect of the novel though.

Thanks to Penguin.ca for the copy.

April 21, 2009

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: Review

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In The Importance of Being Earnest, Jack Worthing is madly in love with Gwendolen Fairfax. However, she is under the impression that his name is Ernest and will only marry a man named Ernest. Ernest is the name Jack uses to run around town without his innocent ward Cecily knowing about it. In the meantime, Gwendolen's mother, Lady Bracknell, objects. Afterall, he was a foundling, abandoned in a handbag in a London train station. Who knows who his parents might be?

Gwendolen plans an elopement and Jack needs to be re-Christened- post haste!- (just wanted to use that phrase) without her knowing she's been deceived. When another Ernest, appears on the scene things get a little sticky.

I haven't read a play in years. The last one was MacBeth in university. So this was a different reading experience for me. I completely enjoyed it! It was so silly. I'm sure every Three's Company plot grew from Earnest roots. Everyone is so ditsy but the writing manages to be clever. No one ever says what you expect them to say:

Lady Bracknell: "...I was obliged to call on dear Lady Harbury. I hadn’t been there since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger."

I think it shows very clearly what Wilde thought of men and marriage in Victorian society: they try to get away with as much as they possibly can.

Recommended.

April 20, 2009

Coal Black Heart by John DeMont: Review

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I grew up in a coal town in Nova Scotia. Growing up, teachers told us about the strikes in the 20's, the starvation, the hardship. I don't think us kids really understood. We just wanted to know was it recess yet? Those were the old people's stories. It had nothing to do with us at the time. Seeing it all laid out in black and white in Coal Black Heart by John DeMont, I felt very strange. I knew about it but reading it was different.

DeMont's obsession with the coal industry starts with the Westray disaster in 1992. He was a reporter for Macleans Magazine sent to cover the story. Having family roots in mining but no direct contact with coal himself, the stories he heard peaked his curiosity. He began what would become years of research for this book, tracing the history of coal in Nova Scotia.

DeMont starts at the beginning, when Nova Scotia was covered in tropical forest, moves through the arrival of the Europeans, the glory days of coal, and it's demise in the province. Coal mining is a dirty and dangerous job, even today, but a few hundred years ago it was a death sentence. In England, men, women and children maimed themselves to pull it from underground. When the opportunity to better their lives in Canada came, people from all over moved to Nova Scotia. They found that things weren't much better.

'The Company' practically owned the miners, renting them shacks and requiring them to buy only from The Company stores. Since the miners had no choice but to buy their goods from the store, gauging was the norm and miners found that they owed The Company more than they made. God forbid a man get sick and be unable to work! In the 1920's, the miners could take no more and thousands of workers refused to go underground. They were threatened and beaten, even the government sent troops to force them back to work. They stuck to it for months while the arrogant mine owners bragged that they would starve them back to the mines.

Finally, the workers won and as time went on conditions in the mine and at home improved. When I was a kid, just about everyone I knew had a Dad or an Uncle or a Grandfather in 'The Pit'. Coal was king. Then it fell to pieces with the drop in coal prices. The mines closed and the coal towns shrunk.

DeMont manages to mix historical fact with his own family history which adds personality to the grimness of the book. He mixes in little asides about the characters who worked in the mines and how they lived and shaped the towns that grew around the mines. It's quite a thorough history as well, and helps explain to the world why Nova Scotia (in particular Cape Breton) is the way it is- the good, the bad and the ugly. It is often dark but he manages to end the book on a hopeful note.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in history, especially Canadian.

Thanks to Random House for the copy.

April 19, 2009

Read-a-thon Wrap-Up

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I promise this is the last post for the Read-a-thon. First, I want to thank everyone who came by to cheer me on. Whether you are a regular visitor or you came by for the first time, thanks! You guys really helped.

Second, I won a prize. Yay!

Third, from what I can see, I think I might be the slowest reader in the Read-a-thon! lol

Here are the survey questions for the wrap-up:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
Obviously, it was 1 am (Hour 16), I fell asleep. I mean lights out!

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
High interest? Well, The Importance of Being Earnest was pretty fun. YA books are pretty fast an engaging: Coraline, Skeleton Creek

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Not really!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
The blog devoted to the Read-a-thon was a good idea. I also loved Twittering. We had a hashtag: #readathon.

5. How many books did you read?
2 and a half (see my slow reader comment!)

6. What were the names of the books you read?
The Disappeared, The Importance of Being Earnest, Cousin Kate

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
I enjoyed and am still enjoying Cousin Kate but Earnest was really fun.

8. Which did you enjoy least?
The Disappeared

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
N/A

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I'd do it again, for sure! And as a reader again

Finally, a big THANK YOU to Read-a-thon organizers: Trish, Hannah and Nymeth. You guys did a great job. I'm so glad Dewey's Read-a-thon continues on.

Read-a-thon: 2 Hours left

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Well guys, I fell asleep somewhere around 1 am. I'm not what I used to be. I still have 2 hours left so I'm going to read more of Cousin Kate.

April 18, 2009

Read-a-thon: Mid-Event Survey

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I had a few hours to read. I don't feel like I'm getting very far though. It's time for another snack.

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now? Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer

2. How many books have you read so far? 2 finished

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I'm enjoying Cousin Kate very much

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? My husband has been taking care of business around here.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? We had some company. Can't really kick them out!

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? That I finished 2 books!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Make more hours in a day?

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I would probably do the same.

9. Are you getting tired yet? A little. It's a weird combo or tired and tweeked (coffee).

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Take lots of breaks!

Read-a-thon: Back At It

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Hey, I'm back! Still working on Cousin Kate, but it's really good.

I've had 2 cups of coffee and some Lemon Coffee cake. We had visitors so now I feel resfreshed and really to go.

Read-a-thon: I'll Be Back

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I have to go out for a bit but I'll be back later. I'm still reading Cousin Kate. It's good but the print is small. It's slow going.

Good luck to everyone else!

Hour #8: Read-a-thon With Pictures!

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So I went out for a walk just around the yard. The air is quite chilly, there is a bank of fog just offshore. I could see the gray in the distance. It was just the right temperature to wake me up.

Here's a collage of what I saw. Back to reading!

Hour 7: Read-a-thon

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After some tea, a muffin and yogurt, I finished off The Importance of Being Earnest. The silliness was just what I needed.

Now before I start book #3, I'll do what Mini Challenge for Hour 7 says and take a short walk. I also have to do a few things in the house.

Hope you're all meeting your goals!

Fourth Hour: Read-a-thon

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I think it's the fourth hour...

Anyway, ya-hoo! I finished The Disappeared. It's a downer so I'm onto The Importance of Being Earnest. I haven't read a play since university. This is a big change for me.

Thanks to all the well wishers who came by to cheer me on. It's so uplifting to read those comments after hours of reading. You guys are great!

I think I'll grab a snack now.

Hour #2: Read-a-thon

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Well, 2 hours flew by. I'm reading The Disappeared which talks about The Killing Fields of Cambodia. Tough read but short. I'm about half way through.

Hubby made bacon which will get me through a few hours. Hopefully I won't have interruptions...but you never know.

How are the rest of you doing?

Challenge #1

Where are you reading from today? Nova Scotia!

3 facts about me … I'm female ;), I'm wearing a blue shirt, I just ate bacon.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I have 5

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? Just going with the flow.

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? Try to stay away from the computer as much as possible. It is a time suck.

Ready, Set, Go: Read-a-thon

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I've only been up an hour but I'm showered and the coffee is on. I'm ready.

I think I'll start with The Disappeared. Good luck everyone! See you in a few.

April 16, 2009

Read-a-thon: What I'll Be Reading

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Inspired title, no? Ha ha!

Here are the books I'll be trying to read during the Read-a-thon on Saturday. I picked some shorter books this time. The mysteries will keep my attention, Oscar Wilde will entertain me and Heyer is a perfect romantic read. The Girl Next Door is new. The print is big so it should be quick. I really wanted to get Beyond the Heaving Bosoms but my bookstore doesn't have it yet. If all else fails, I still have shelves of unread books.

My husband tells me that he may have to work, which means I'll have the girly to entertain. I'm still going to do it and hope for the best though.

April 15, 2009

Dewey's Knit-a-Long Mini Challenge: Finished!

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Whew! I finally finished my cardigan last night. It was a big job but I love the results.

April 14, 2009

Linen Wool Cotton by Akiko Mano: Review

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The Japanese style of craft is all the rage, just take a look on Etsy and you'll see it everywhere. It's about simple clean lines that showcase the fabric itself. Akiko Mano shares her love of natural fibers in Linen Wool Cotton. Growing up, her parents owned a clothing factory. Akiko was surrounded by fabric in fabulous colours but she was drawn to the natural fabrics in neutral colours.

I was impressed by the projects in this book. There are 25. They look fairly straight forward. The photography is lovely and the model used is adorable. I just want to put her in my pocket. The overall impression I get is of comfort. Even the writing is very relaxed. Akiko writes essays that appear throughout the book.

*******************
Now, I had to try out a project before posting my review and I had mixed results. I choose one of the more challenging projects- I always take on more than I should- the Slouch Bag. I went on the hunt for linen and I did find a nice black bolt at my fabric store.

The first issue I had when I got home was that I didn't have quite enough and I had to sacrifice some length in the bag. Since I had to convert from inches to centimeters, there might have been some loss there. Next time I'll err on the side of caution and buy a bit more.

Things went well until I got to the handles. I couldn't figure out the instructions.*** This is a translation and something might have been lost along the way. I just improvised and did it my own way.

I probably should have started with the handkerchief though.

********************

However, I'm not deterred. I can't wait to try another. This book is part of a series called Make Good: Crafts + Life. A future installment is Carefree Clothes for Girls. Really looking forward to that!

*** Morag pointed out that the pattern does indeed contain an error and a correction can be found at www.makegoodbooks.com.

Thanks to Random House Canada for the copy.

April 12, 2009

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett: Review

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Imagine Queen Elizabeth taking the doggies for a walk when she comes upon a bookmobile. At first, she takes a book out just to be polite but finds she's caught the fever. She becomes a bibliophile. Her new habit,..er...I mean, hobby has unexpected consequences. At first, it's just how she is perceived by the people but then it becomes about how she perceives the world and the people themselves.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is a quirky and funny novella. I ate it up in a couple of hours. I understood The Queen's confusion and frustration with her advisors. Recently a poll was conducted on DailyBlogTips called "Is reading necessary?" and there were a number of people who did not believe it is. Alan Bennett cleverly uses The Queen, a woman apart from the rest of the world, to say how necessary it is. Not having access to people the way the rest of us do, The Queen misses out on experiences you and I take for granted. Through reading she opens up a whole new world for herself. We may not be royalty but we do the same through what we read. I know my life is enriched through books.

I don't think I'll be able to see The Queen the same way again.

I read this for Dewey's Reading Challenge and she loved it so much she planned to read it again.

Highly recommended

Other reviews:
Dewey @ The Hidden Side of the Leaf
Teabird @Tea Leaves
Sheri @ A Novel Menagerie
Nymeth @ Things Mean A Lot

April 7, 2009

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood: Review

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Up to this point, I've only read Margaret Atwood's futuristic-we're-all-doomed-dystopian novels. Alias Grace is something completely different. It's historical fiction based on the case of the notorious Canadian murderess, Grace Marks.

In 1843, sixteen year old Grace was convicted of helping James McDermott murder her employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper/mistress Nancy Montgomery. Grace claimed to have no memory of helping to strangle Nancy, although McDermott swears it is so right up to the moment he is hanged. She has been in prison for 16 years when she meets Dr Jordan a man determined to find the missing memories and prove once and for all Grace's guilt or innocence.

Grace recounts her life, from leaving Ireland and losing her mother, her first job as maid in a fine house in Toronto, to the turbulent months in Kinnear's house before the murders to Dr Jordan. He waits impatiently for the breakthrough that will make his career. In the meantime, his own personal life is falling apart. His mother's frequent letters urge him to marry. He's broke and he's becoming entangled in his landlady's affairs. To his frustration Grace remains as evasive as ever.

Alias Grace is an interesting mix of fact and fiction. Grace was real but Dr Jordan was not. There are other characters who may not have existed but they work for Atwood's story. One name only mentioned briefly in the newspapers of the time takes on a life of it's own and drives the plot. It amazes me what Atwood did with it.

Grace embodies the perceptions of women at that time, both the saint and the whore. One belief is that women are childlike and simple, the other that women are devious and sinful. Dr Jordan can't make up his mind as to what Grace is. Of course, she's just a person and has more in common with Jordan than he realizes. The situation he gets himself into is not unlike the one Grace found herself in. The difference being he is a man and can get himself away. He is a man who wants his cake and eats it too. Although he appears to be a proper gentlemen, he's got some pretty messed up fantasies rolling around in his head.

Sometimes the historical detail is overwhelming. Atwood makes lists. Lists of what was cleaned, what was moved. At times it bogged down the story. Even Margaret Atwood admits that she became obsessed with the details while writing the book. Also the drudgery of Grace's life as a maid depressed me but for Grace this is the happiest part of her life.

Alias Grace isn't just historical fiction but a mystery as well. Was she deliberately lying? Did she really not remember what happened? Even though half the novel is told from Grace's point of view in the form of her interviews with Jordan, she does dangle bits of mystery to the reader. There are things she doesn't tell him. She says what she could tell him but will not. We have to figure out what it means.

It surprised me that Alias Grace ended on the hopeful note it did. Atwood must have had a soft spot for Grace. I like what she says in the author's notes:

"I invite you to meet Alias Grace. May she stop wandering around in my head, and perhaps wander around in yours for a while."

Highly recommended

An interesting note: In Australia, Alias Grace was a one-woman play.

For the Canadian Books Challenge and Dewey's Reading Challenge.

Other reviews:
Dewey @ Hidden Side of the Leaf

April 6, 2009

Why Are You Here?

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No, I'm not being philosophical. I thought it would be fun to look at my keyword search again and see why people came to book-a-rama. And possibly answer some burning questions.

In Which I Play Detective:

where can i find a book review of breakfast at tiffany's from 1958?
Hmm, so is the question about finding book reviews from 1958 or about the book written in 1958? If you are just looking for reviews of Breakfast at Tiffany's, well, I did review it. For reviews from 1958, that's trickier. I would search online for archived newspapers first. You might have to pay for the privilege. If you have no luck, go to the library and search the newspaper archives there. Good luck.

winnipeg dakota library books do they have the book twilight?
Okay, I don't know how you got here from that but if you are looking for a specific book at a specific library, find the library's website (most have them). If you are lucky, they'll have a searchable database. If not, try Ye Olde Telephone and call and ask.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm:

what's the gist of shopaholic ties the knot?
The shopaholic...wait for it... gets married.

wuthering heights what is the book about ending
Wrong place you are. Endings I not give away. (I do searches like this all the time. I wonder what others think of my word combos.)

how to kill a mockingbird summary
To Kill a Mockingbird is not an instructional book on killing birds.

did in anyone in the house of mirth have an education?
I would hope so. One of the main characters is a lawyer.

when was fahrenheit 451 predicted to come true?
Ray Bradbury is not Nostradamus.

and then there were none by kristina agatha
It's Agatha Christie.

IMO:

a book to read if i liked ethan fromme
If you liked Ethan Frome, you might like other Edith Wharton novels. I'd start with House of Mirth.

scarlet letter is a terrible book
It's funny how many people get to my blog with that opinion. I thought it was pretty good. Go figure.

which is better? house of mirth or age of innocence?
House of Mirth


Things That Made Me Laugh:

Oprah said it's the best thing since sliced bread
lauchlin of the bad buy
wittiest austenite

Burning Questions:

when will the sequel to skeleton creek come out
October 2009

How did henry die? time traveler's wife
No matter how often you ask, I'm not going to tell you.

how to get a copy of the novel of breakfast at tiffany's
I used the library.

Well, no matter how you got here, I'm glad you came.

April 5, 2009

Weekly Geeks #13: Children's Books

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For this week's Weekly Geeks I chose Option A: Children's Books.

Luckily, this week we had a few new books arrive to our house. Two of them happened to be written by Mo Willems. He is a popular favorite with both myself and my daughter. He always makes us giggle. Mo Willems has a blog where you find the latest news on the Pigeon and other characters.

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. We have Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, so The Pigeon Wants a Puppy was a natural choice when the Scholastic flyer came home from school. In this one, the Pigeon tells us of his desire for a puppy. While he rhapsodizes about owning a puppy, it becomes clear that he has no idea what a puppy is. What will he do when he comes face to face with one? I love the Pigeon, even though he has a bit of a stubborn streak.

Not only has the Pigeon just turned six years old but he's up for two Children's Choice Book Awards. Congrats Pigeon! Plus, the Pigeon has a website.

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct. Edwina is a very helpful dinosaur. She's very community minded. She helps little old ladies cross the street and bakes everyone cookies. Everyone loves her, except for Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie who knows dinosaurs are extinct and so Edwina should not exist. He tries to tell everyone but no one will listen. He finally gets someone's attention- I'll let you guess who! Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct is funny and the illustrations are adorable. Reginald reminds me of my girl. Once she gets an idea in her head, that's it. She has to make her point.

Not only do I enjoy reading these books (and acting out the parts), my daughter enjoys reading them aloud herself. They are very interactive books. You just can't resist hollering out the loud parts.

April 1, 2009

The I Suck At Challenges Challenge Update #3

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"As God as my witness, I will read again!"

Time for another "I Suck at Challenges" Challenge Update!

Last month wasn't such a great challenge reading month for me. I ended up reading mostly ARCs that I agreed to read. In fact I only read one challenge related book, Year of Wonders for the Dewey Reading. Not one book was read for The Canadian Books Challenge or The Love of Reading Challenge. Sigh...

But, I will not give up. I already started Alias Grace for the Canadian Books Challenge. This will be my 7th book. I'm also going to pick up Uncommon Reader from the library today for the Dewey Challenge. I will have the determination of Scarlett O'Hara this month- without the mean streak. I will start reading my challenge books again!


So it looks like this:
The Canadian Books Challenge 6/13
Dewey's Reading Challenge 2/5
The Love of Reading Challenge 2/5

So my friends, how was March for you? Did you complete any challenges? Are you flying along? Or were you grounded? Maybe like me you need the will of a fictional character to get you through. Who would you choose? Tell us.

Remember tomorrow is another day.

Leave a link to your update post. Thanks!