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ExUrbanis

Urban Leaving to Country Living

Picture Books Read in January 2013

February1

reading to grandchildren cassat photo cassat-reading-to-children220.jpgI didn’t intend to read any picture books this month, but some of my library holds from last year started to arrive, and I couldn’t resist reading them!

Z IS FOR MOOSE by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

I reserved this book, which must be quite popular, in late November in a last minute effort to read a book beginning with the letter “Z” in the 2012 Eh-Zed Reading Challenge. In the end, I had to go with a compromise because Z is for Moose didn’t show up until January.

See if it was worth the wait.


IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT
written and illustrated by Todd Parr

When our grandson visits us, everyone in town knows him – because he stands out. In any group of kids, he towered over his fellow three-year-olds and went nose to nose with seven and eight-year-olds. His skin colour is different too: in a rural village originally settled by Mi’kmaq (formerly MicMac) and then Scots, his half-Jamaican ancestry is very noticeable. So when I heard about It’s Okay to Be Different, I immediately reserved it at the library.

Did I find it helpful?


APPLES AND BUTTERFLIES
by Shauntay Grant; illustrated by Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo

Originally, I reserved this book at the library on the recommendation of a friend who had heard the author interviewed on CBC radio. Shauntay Grant was the poet laureate of Halifax, Nova Scotia from 2009-2011 so I expected a book of poetry. Imagine my surprise when I received a children’s picture book.

Here’s what I thought of it.


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Picture Book Review: Z IS FOR MOOSE by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

February1

4.5 star rating
In Z is for Moose Zebra is having a talent show of sorts – animals and objects walk across the stage as called for each letter: B is for ball, C is for cat, etc.
Z is for Moose photo zisformoose_zpsfb174c53.jpgBig, gangly moose is impatient and starts peeking on stage & asking if it’s his turn yet at letter D. Zebra is cool and continues to call letters – and then, after all of Moose’s finagling, chooses Mr. Mouse for the letter M.

Moose realizes he’s been left out and starts to push onstage, trying to appear for any letter. By the letter T, Zebra starts guarding the stage and Moose starts to cry. There’s a happy ending when Zebra announces that Z is for Zebra’s friend, Moose.

The illustrations are delightful: Zelinsky has depicted Moose’s gawky awkwardness and Zebra’s graceful calm is simple pictures.

Moose sounds obnoxious but he isn’t. Okay, just a little, but we like him right away and are somewhat aghast when he is passed over for the letter M. I’m not too keen on the idea that might be conveyed that being pushy and fighting with people is the way to get what you want (in this case, to be in the show) but somehow, that concept doesn’t seem to be what comes across. Instead, we identify with Moose, even if we might be a little embarrassed for him. Perhaps the lesson is that everyone can be included.

In any case, I felt good when I finished Z is for Moose, and rate it 4½ stars.

Link for Canadian readers:
Z Is For Moose


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Picture Book Review: IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT by Todd Parr

February1

4 star rating

It's Okay to Be Different photo itsokaytobedifferent_zps836d3a9f.jpgEverybody wants to belong – especially kids. So when a child is “different” from the others in his or her group, it can be easy for them to feel bad about themselves. Todd Parr wants every kid to know “You are special and important just because of being who are”, and he’s written It’s Okay To Be Different to get that message across.

Illustrated by the author with outlined-in-black figures that are painted with bright primary colours—blue faces, orange hair and so on—this book delivers the message in short, clear statements: it’s okay to have a different nose, it’s okay to wear glasses, to have an invisible friend, to have different moms or different dads, to be embarrassed, to be a different color…. I’m not able to imagine a situation Parr didn’t cover in these 30 pages.

Although I don’t agree completely with Parr (I don’t think it’s okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub, but that’s me – I’m a mean old mom), I love the statement this book makes. I think you’ll want to buy this one so you can re-read it many times. A solid 4 stars.

Link for Canadian Readers:
It’s Okay To Be Different


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Picture Book Review: APPLES and BUTTERFLIES by Shauntay Grant; illustrated by Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo

February1

3.5 star rating

Apples & Butterflies photo applesandbutterflies_zpse3bc97c8.jpg Apples and Butterflies tells the story of a young girl and her family on a fall holiday on Prince Edward Island, based on the author’s own memories.

Although this is subtitled: a Poem for Prince Edward Island, if there is a poem here, it is very free-form and I couldn’t recognize it. I know my poetry senses are untrained but then, so are a child’s (I assume the intended audience).

So I looked at Apples and Butterflies as “just” another picture book. From that point of view it was disappointing. The story does mention some of the delights of PEI but doesn’t develop them before the ideas float away. The illustrations seemed non-descript given the beauty they were intending to capture.

Sorry, Shauntay. I think it’s worth only 3 stars – plus another half for the Atlantic Canada connection. 3½ stars

Link for Canadian readers:
Apples and Butterflies: A Poem for Prince Edward Island


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Picture Books Read in December 2012

January6

reading to grandchildren cassat

A snowstorm on the last Sunday in December sent me scurrying to my picture book shelf to read about snow.

I found three “winter” books and a couple about dogs (that seemed cozy, too).

What’s Wrong with Rosie is now on my “all-time favourite books” shelf. Rarely does a picture book move me as this one did.

Click on the links to read my (very short) reviews.

Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow

No Roses for Harry

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

danny*s first snow


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WHAT’S WRONG WITH ROSIE? by Pippa Jagger, illustrated by Gavin Rowe: Bookish Thoughts

January6

What's Wrong with Rosie5 star ratingWhat’s Wrong With Rosie? has been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I had no idea it was such a treasure!

Nan and her yellow Labrador Rosie live in “the Dales.” Nan is happy with Rosie but Rosie is perhaps lonely. After a scare with Rosie’s health as she getting older, Nan ends up with a new puppy for both of them.

This is a lovely, gentle story that I could read again and again. The language is wonderful. “The silver hairs gleamed on Rosie’s once golden face.” .” The emotions that it describes are complex and real but painted with only a few deft strokes. “She felt as though someone had switched all her lights off.”

And the pictures! They’re full of wonderful detail of a modest house and a country life. The cover doesn’t do the inside art work justice.

I can’t imagine that my four-years-old grandson would appreciate this book for several more years. It’s a picture book but it’s really for older children, or even adults. This adult certainly loves it.
5 stars, easily

Written by: Pippa Jagger
Illustrated by: Gavin Rowe
Published by: Magi Publications London 1997

Canadian link:
What’s Wrong with Rosie?


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JILLIAN JIGGS & the GREAT BIG SNOW by Phoebe Gilman: Bookish Thoughts

January6

Jillian Jiggs - Snow4.5 star ratingThe back cover of this book tells me that “Phoebe Gilman is one of Canada’s best-loved children’s book author/illustrator.” After reading Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow, I can see why.

When I read a picture book, I speak out loud, as if I were reading to a child. To do that with this book is a real pleasure. In two-line rhymes, Gilman fairly bounces us through the story of Jillian, excited by the snow but not allowed out until she finds her hat. Her mom says:
“Jillian, Jillian, say it’s not true.
How do you lose all things that you do?”

By the time Jillian finishes her play outside, she is minus her scarf, hat, and both mittens and her friends and her sister have repeated this mantra several times.

The imagination in the snow play is wonderful – the children build Martians and monsters, and roads for Mars. And the issue of lost outerwear is very realistic – a perennial problem with children.

The illustrations, “created in gouche and coloured pencils”, are also excellent – bright and cheerful with just the right amount of detail. I stop and examine the pictures and point out to myself what I would to a child: a small cat in the house scenes, various implements and activities in the outdoor scenes.

I didn’t expect to like this book much, but I did and I highly recommend Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow, especially to children who live in snowy climates! 4½ stars

Written and illustrated by: Phoebe Gilman
Published by: North Winds Press 2002

Canadian link:
Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow


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NO ROSES FOR HARRY by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham: Bookish Thoughts

January6

No Roses for Harry4.5 star rating No Roses for Harry! is part of a series of books featuring the “white dog with black spots”. It was published in 1958 and I think my (taped & well-worn) copy of this charming tale was printed then.

Harry receives a gift from Grandma: a green sweater with yellow roses. He doesn’t like it much and tries to lose in a department store, to no avail. despite his cleverness trying to disguise the sweater in the spots he leaves it.Then a bird unravels a loose thread and takes Harry’s sweater to build a nest. When Grandma comes to visit, Harry doesn’t have his sweater! But Harry’s story has a happy ending – of course. Zion’s story is delightful.

What is it about Margaret Bloy Graham’s drawings? In this book, they’re line drawings with two colors- in this case, the green & yellow that are in the sweater. But what a use of those two colors! A house with windows with curtains and plants, clothes on the line, a toy truck, the sun, the trees, the other dogs, all in green & yellow. But the pictures are far from boring; they are full of detail while seeming simple.

I love reading about Harry’s antics and looking at the house & town that Graham brings to life. Maybe I can’t be objective about Harry so I’ll only give this 4 stars. But then I’ll add another half for the sheer nostalgia. 4½ stars

Written by: Gene Zion
Illustrated by: Margaret Bloy Graham
Published by: Harper & Row, NY 1958

Canadian link:
No Roses For Harry!


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Robert Frost’s STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING illustrated by Susan Jeffers

January6

Stoppng By - Jeffers3 star ratingI love Robert Frost’s poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, and even if you are in the minority that doesn’t feel the same way, you’re no doubt familiar with some of the lines.

I was very pleased to see this book on a sale table and snapped it up, looking forward to reading the poem again.
But the artist Susan Jeffers has used only the first and last stanzas of Frost’s poem, along with a couple of stray phrases from the third verse to accompany her drawings of snowy woods. To me, the original rhythm of the piece was lost and despite the art, I was disappointed.

In addition, the rotund figure with the white beard in the horse-drawn sleigh suspiciously styled after Santa’s disturbed me. I don’t believe this was ever intended to be a Christmas poem and I resent that Jeffers seems to have appropriated it for that purpose.

I might have forgiven that if the poem had been intact. The artwork deserves 3 stars.

Written by: Robert Frost 1923
Illustrated by: Susan Jeffers 1978
Published by: Dutton’s Children’s Books, NY 1978

Canadian link:
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening


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danny*s first snow by leonid gore: Bookish Thoughts

January6

Danny's First Snow2.5 star rating
(I’m thankful that the author used capital letters in the text of the story.)

I had forgotten that I had read danny*s first snow before—when Steven was living with us. But I remember now his reaction to it: he didn’t get it.

Gore has drawn “delicate pastels and acrylics” of snowy outdoor scenes where the trees and bushes look like different animals. Steven couldn’t figure out where the animals were. On one page where he did see them, he didn’t understand that it was also a picture of a tree with snow on it.

But I can hardly blame him – I’ve never seen trees and bushes that look like that and I’ve seen plenty snow-covered nature. The story itself wasn’t anything special, either.

I’m sorry, Leonid, but I think it’s worth only 2 stars.

Written & illustrated by: Leonid Gore 2007
Published by: ginee seo books NY 2007

Canadian link:
danny*s first snow


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PICTURE BOOKS Read in November 2012

December15

At the beginning of the year, I was reading picture books to my four-year-old grandson, who was living with us at the time. Since he’s moved across the country, November saw me scrambling to fulfill a couple of challenges and enjoying these picture books on my own.

Harry the Dirty Dog

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham

I’m very fond of Harry, the little white dog who wants to do ‘dogly’ things and ends up so dirty that his family doesn’t recognize him. How can he make them see it’s him?

Harry, of course, appears in several books, including No Roses for Harry!, a copy of which still sits on my book shelf.

a few blocks

A Few Blocks by Cybele Young

When I hear the title of this book, I think of building blocks. Don’t you? But it’s actually referring to the few city blocks that Ferdie and his older sister Viola have to walk on their way to school.

The illustrations in A Few Blocks are lush pastels, complex drawings of Ferdie’s imaginary adventures, within the cut-out shapes of every day. Very clever and should appeal to ages 4-8.

Eloise

Eloise By Kay Thompson

Eloise is six years old and lives in the penthouse at the Plaza Hotel. She is ‘precocious’ which means that she is spoiled and causes all kinds of trouble.

I don’t remember reading Eloise when I was young: maybe my mother decided she wasn’t a good role model!

Gimme Jimmy

Gimme-Jimmy by Sherrill S. Cannon

Jimmy is a boy whose favourite phrase is “Gimme”. One day, Jimmy’s hand starts to grow every time he says that, and he must learn how to reduce its size by sharing and using manners.

Told in rhyme, it hits the nail on the head, even if perhaps it does it a few too many times.


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419 by Will Ferguson: Book Review

October5

4 star rating

419, Will FergusonIf you’ve been around the Internet any length of time, no doubt you’ve received one of those Nigerian “I’ve millions in government money that needs to be smuggled out” or “please help this young girl escape her enemies” emails. These scams are called 419s. “The name comes from the section in the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with obtaining money or goods under false pretenses.” Hence, the title of Canadian writer Will Ferguson’s latest novel, which has been short-listed for Canada’s prestigious Giller prize

Divided into four sections (Snow, Sand, Fuel, Fire), 419 opens in wintry western Canada with the apparently accidental (or perhaps homicidal) death of Henry Curtis, retired father of two grown children. After police determine that her father deliberately drove his car over a cliff to his death, Laura Curtis resolves to find out what drove her father to suicide, and left her mother with no assets. When she discovers that he was the victim of a 419 crime, she becomes obsessed with finding the author of the emails.

Meanwhile, over in Nigeria, we follow the stories of Winston, the author of those emails; Nnamdi, a boy/man from a Delta village that thrived on fishing until Shell Oil took over their land and killed the fish & more; Amina, a young woman refugee from a desert tribe; and Ironsi-Egobia, a truly monstrous crime boss in Lagos. The five story lines meet and run parallel, intertwine with, and oppose each other until the book reaches the totally unexpected (at least by me) climax that is seared into my brain.

The plot development in 419 seemed a bit uneven to me, and when Amina’s tale began, I was bewildered. But the book was always easy to read and parts of the story will never leave me. It was perhaps coincidental that I was reading at the same time The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard, in which she explains the exploitation of third world people and natural resources by large corporations. Nnamdi’s village seemed to be an almost living example. Maybe 419 wouldn’t have affected me as strongly as it did if I hadn’t been reading Stuff. But I was, and it did.

So – memorable story, a clearer understanding of third world exploitation, new knowledge about 419 schemes and what drives some people to perpetrate them, and a tragic climax; but uneven character and plot development. I rate it a 3.5 stars for the writing and an extra half for the STORY.

Will it win the Giller Prize? I think not. (BUT – I was wrong – it did win the Giller!) Should you read it? Oh, yes, definitely. 4 stars

For American readers: 419


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THE STORY OF STUFF by Annie Leonard – Book Review

October2

5 star ratingSub-titled How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing Our Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health — and a Vision for Change

The Story of Stuff, Annie LeonardAn expansion of the 20 minute Internet film of the same name, the book The Story of Stuff explores the five facets of the linear economic system in use in North American today: extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. You might want to watch the video before reading on. I promise: it’s anything but dry.

The overall message of both book and video is that our current economic system is not sustainable—because it is linear, and because it trashes the planet and people at every step. And Leonard makes this point over and over again. Not that the book is repetitious. No, it is that one arrives at the same conclusion at every step of the process, when faced with the facts.

We all recognize that life in 1900 was a great deal different from the way it is now. In the first half of the twentieth century, productivity skyrocketed in ‘developed’ countries: the assembly line reduced the time required to create products and the rapidly diminishing cost of computing power allowed for greater and greater automation.

“With this huge increase in productivity, industrialized nations faced a choice: keep producing roughly the same amount of Stuff as before and work far less, or keep working the same number of hours as before, while continuing to produce as much as possible. As Juliet Schor explains in The Overworked American, after World War II, political and economic leaders—economists, business executives, and even labor union representatives—chose the latter: to keep churning out the “goods,”: keep working full-time, keep up the frenzied pace of an ever-expanding economy.”

In her introduction to her book, Leonard says: “The belief that infinite economic growth is the best strategy for making a better world has become like a secular religion in which all our politicians, economists, and media participate; it is seldom debated, since everyone is supposed to just accept it as true.

Retailing analyst Victor Lebow, quoted in The Story of Stuff says: “our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard, consumerthat we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

Leonard says in her film that a staggering 99% of what we bring into our homes today will be disposed of within six months. And our economic model has made this consuming easy: encouraging us with, among other things, buy-now-pay-later, planned & perceived obsolescence, & advertising.

Consumption is the mindset articulated by the chairman of President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors in the 1950s. He stated, “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.”

Think about that for a minute. Wouldn’t it be better, as Leonard points out, if the ultimate purpose of the economy would be to provide quality of life for citizens: good education, health-care, clean air, required infrastructure? As Leonard says: “Accepting and living by sufficiency rather than by excess offers a return to what is, culturally speaking, the human home: to the ancient order of family, community, good work, and a good life; (…) to a daily cadence slow enough to let us watch the sunset and stroll by the water’s edge; to communities worth spending a lifetime in(.)

Leonard’s scenario is appealing – and many of us have reached a point in our lives where we are ‘simplifying’, often by getting rid of Stuff. “In today’s world, especially in the United States, we throw a ton of Stuff away. Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard, curb-side garbageOut it goes—when we don’t know how to repair it, when we want to make room for new Stuff, or because we’re sick of the old Stuff. Sometimes we throw something out thinking it will be easier to replace later than to store it until we need it again. Sometimes we even consider throwing things away a cathartic activity and congratulate ourselves on a productive day of getting Stuff out of the house.
Guilty as charged. It appears that simply getting rid of stuff is not the answer.

In the same quick, easy to understand and engaging manner that her film is presented, Leonard examines each step of the linear economic process in detail, providing greater particulars and statistics. Despite the details, the book is very readable (with the exception of the “production” step where the author almost lost me with the lists of toxic chemicals that are inserted into our stuff – the manufacturers’ fault, not the author’s). I liked this book so much that I bought a copy to loan to my friends, and to have on hand to refresh facts in my mind.

Since reading this at the beginning of the summer, I have been extremely conscious of what comes into my house – and even more so of what goes out. We’ve reduced our garbage to about half a bag per week. I have been diligent about finding homes for books, clothing and other items that I would have previously just tossed into the trash. (We’ve discovered that hard cover books are not accepted for recycling here in Nova Scotia but must be set out for ‘garbage’ (read ‘landfill’). We’ve solved this problem by removing all the hard covers and burning them, recycling the now “soft-cover” books.)

And I have talked about this book to whomever will listen.

But not everyone is happy with message of The Story of Stuff. Leonard has been accused of being anti-American, ant-capitalist, and unpatriotic. The American Family Association has condemned the video saying that it “implies Americans are greedy, selfish, cruel to the third world, and ‘use more than our share.’”

On the other side, the Story of Stuff project has been cited as a “successful portrayal of the problems with the consumption cycle”, and hailed as a ”model of clarity and motivation.”

If nothing else, The Story of Stuff has stirred up a great deal of controversy. 5 big stars

I urge you to read this book and talk about it to your family and friends. Do you agree with it or disagree? Is your “back up”? Is what the book promotes even feasible? Would you be willing to adjust to a lower standard of living (one that met all of your needs)? Tell me what you think.


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P.S. And, yes, Leonard recognizes that books are a special case. “Books occupy an odd space in my relationship to Stuff: while I feel uncomfortable buying new clothes or electronics, I don’t hesitate to pick up the latest recommended title. I asked my friends about it and found I’m not alone in feeling like books are somehow exempt from the negative connotations of too much Stuff.” You probably feel the same way.

For Canadian readers: The Story of Stuff

WE BOUGHT A ZOO by Benjamin Mee: Book Review

September13

I haven’t seen the movie version of this book but just read a brief review of it by Barbara on Views From the Countryside. But I did read the book before I started my blog, and thought you might be interested in the review I posted on LibraryThing at that time.

3.5 star ratingWe Bought a Zoo, Banjamin MeeWe Bought a Zoo is subtitled: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever

Given that, the story takes a little time to get off the ground. We find the author, a free-lance writer, living in rural southern France with his wife & two children and refinishing two dirt-floor stone barns. When word comes through his sister that a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside is for sale, the author & his extended family take action to purchase it. This is not an easy endeavour and the business details fill the first quarter of the book. Note also that a BBC film crew got wind of the endeavour and asked to film the process.

The thing is, I don’t think I’d like Benjamin Mee if I met him in person. He uprooted his family once, by selling their beloved flat in London to move to his personal idyll in France, and then again, back to England because, after all, HE’D always wanted to own a zoo and now his French dream wasn’t what he wanted after all. On both occasions, he overrode his wife Katherine. This was especially appalling to me the second time because Katherine was newly diagnosed with a brain tumour & receiving (excellent) treatment in France. The fact that his (possibly) dying wife wasn’t enthused about this new venture didn’t faze him a bit.Benjamin Mee

In addition, although Mee has experienced staff and certified professionals advising him, he ignores their advice in serious decisions at least twice that he reports. In both cases, things ended up favorably but, rather than be grateful for twists of fate that may have affected the situations, he boasts and struts.

But the story? Animal lovers, once you get past the purchase transaction, there’s plenty of goodies for you amidst the details of the continuing financial issues, grim living conditions (for the family), and Katherine’s disease and eventual death.

Imagine the day staff moved Tammy the tiger without proper restraint precaution, only to have the beast gain consciousness as they moved her. Mee describes the situation as being “beyond fear, to total calm”. But the fear lingered when, sometime later, Mee & his brother are startled by a large animal moving behind them while checking some reservoir pipes, & spring to defend their lives – against the neighbor’s cow. I believe they were less afraid when one of their younger wolves was running loose through the nearest town. And there is an amusing exposé: what happens “When Porcupines Go Bad”.

Perhaps the most likable animal in the zoo was Zak, the elderly alpha wolf, who “maintained his grip on the pack now, not with brute force, but through sheer charisma and experience.” The account of his surgery to save him from testicular cancer will be a source of angst among male readers and of glee to the women.

Zak

I would have loved to have seen more photographs of the animals Mee brings to life in his stories, but the colour pictures included are disappointing. Nearly half are of their project in France, and the ones of the animals include many that are not named in the book, and exclude many that are.

I really did learn a tremendous amount, though, about the running of a zoo. It’s a highly regulated & examined business – and an almost unimaginably expensive one to run. The money and the struggle to get it, manage it & plan for making it, are a major part of the book.

And, animal lovers with the same dream, please note that, despite the months of Herculean effort by Mee, his family & his staff, the zoo would not have succeeded financially if the BBC (whose film crew had been on location for those many months) had not run the four-part television series Titles “Ben’s Zoo” in November of their opening year. That brought more paying visitors and made endless opportunities for additional moneymaking venues such as this book (and ensuing movie rights). Without that, the zoo would have closed, broke, after the first summer and the animals would have been dispersed. In other words, “Kids, don’t try this at home!

Should you read it? Even though I personally dislike the author, he does write well and the book held my attention from beginning to end. There are no bogged down bits – it’s all moving forward. If you like animals or are interested in learning about the world of zoos, then by all means – read it & enjoy! 3.5 stars

For Canadian readers:
We Bought a Zoo


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MANNERS FOR WOMEN (1897) by Mrs. Humphrey – Book Review

September6

Manners for Women, Mrs. Humphrey

Manners for Women is said to be a 1993 reprint of the book of the same name published in 1897. At first, I wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t a parody of such a book, but Internet sources (at least) tell me otherwise. The word out there seems to be that this is the genuine article, although I’m still not entirely convinced.

What made me think it’s a satire of a manners book? Besides my naturally suspicious nature? Such ‘modern’ comments as:

(I)t would be a good day when a League for the Mitigation of Outlay on Marriages should be started …

Doubts aside, Manners for Women was enjoyable to hold and read: it measures 4″x7″ (10cmx20cm), is soft-covered & light, and printed on an ivory matte paper. The advice is interesting: said to be aimed at the middle or merchant class – those who did not have these manners ‘bred’ into them as the gentry did, but who wished to be able to hobnob with them. But the language has a modern feel to it, certainly not as ‘wordy’ as a newspaper or a magazine of the era, and seems many times to accommodate today’s sensibilities:

At this end of the century one is first a woman, then a possible wife. There is one’s own life to be lived, apart from the partnership that may be entered into by and by. The idea used to be that it was a wife’s duty to sink her individuality completely, and live only for her husband.

Really, were attitudes this enlightened then? If so, the author writes with wit and candor, and with foresight beyond her times.

postmanGenuine or a clever counterfeit, Manners for Women certainly shows that some things change:

In the country house there are usually but two, or at most three, postal deliveries daily, and the “rat-tat” [of the postman’s knock to pick up mail] is seldom, if ever, heard.

while others stay the same:

Nowadays (…) we live at such high pressure that it is only from friends living abroad that we ever expect a real letter.

Plus ce change plus c’est le meme chose

I’m looking forward to reading the author’s companion book “Manners for Men”.


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UCONTENT: The Information Professional’s Guide to User-Generated Content by Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo – Book Review

August31

4 star rating
UContent, Nicholas G. TomaiuoloI requested UContent through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program, so I can blame only myself if the book wasn’t intended for me. It turns out that “Information Professional” really means librarian and those of us who are book lovers, blog writers and information junkies don’t make the cut. There is a touch of condescension while the author defines his audience. To be fair, though, Tomaiuolo doesn’t exhibit any more professional self-importance than any other expert in any other field would exhibit—perhaps less, while making clear his audience is the professional librarian.

So was there anything here for me? You bet!

Tomaiuolo defines UContent as “the production of content by the general public [such as bloggers] rather than by paid professional and experts in the field”, and not generally considered a reliable source of information. But Tomaiuolo recognizes that there can be nuggets of information out there that can be used by “information professional.’

The material is presented in a logical manner. Each chapter considers a separate UContent source. Topics include blogs, Wikis (including the grand-daddy Wikipedia), podcasts, online product reviews, self-publishing, and citizen journalism. The author also considers information sources within Facebook, Yahoo!Pipes, Flickr and custom search engines. He explains tagging & folksonomies, as well as cybercartography.

Tomaiuolo discusses in some detail the source of information in each category of UContent. His research appears to be extremely thorough (there are copious endnotes in each chapter). He includes an interview in each chapter with a professional in a related field – a professor of journalism, a self-published author, and so on. He also includes well-established on-line sources that will provide updated information before another print edition of this book could be published.

Nicholas G. TomaiuoloNext, Tomaiuolo performs a surprisingly balanced assessment of each subject’s use, and its relevance for the information professional. He describes how libraries might contribute to the Content (for example, having blogs or being on Facebook) and also how librarians might find relevant information and use it in their own environment, both for their own use and use by the public.

Each chapter of UContent is a veritable goldmine of information. I enjoyed reading it through like narrative non-fiction, although it isn’t that. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about using the Internet and finding information thereon, but Tomaiuolo taught me lots I didn’t know (what is/are folksonomies anyway, and why should I care?)

This book should become the bible of UContent reference for libraries. It is also a first-rate handbook for students doing research using the web. You’ll want to buy it and refer to it frequently. It’s well worth the investment!

For the rest of us non-professionals, it’s a valuable overview of web content for any blogger or generator of other UContent, plus it’s interesting to read, and it’s full of useful data. For us, I rate it a solid 4 stars.

(Thank you Library Thing Early Reviewers)

For Canadian readers:
UContent: The Information Professional’s Guide to User-Generated Content


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FALLING INTO GREEN by Cher Fischer – Book Review

August31

3 star ratingFalling Into Green, Cher FischerFalling Into Green is billed as an “eco-mystery” and features Esmerelda (aka Emerald) Green, an ecopsychologist who uses horse-back riding, among other techniques, as patient therapy. Esmerelda quotes a report that says: “Ecopsychology acknowledges the environment as an important part of the human psyche.” Indeed, there are environmental concerns woven throughout both the mystery and the lifestyle of the protagonist.

I had a hard time liking Esmerelda (‘Ez’) Green. She comes across as a self-righteous fanatic about environmental issues. Her reasoning seems faulty to me.

Wondering why materialism has come to mean the same thing as beauty. I realized that if the idea of beauty is also connected to health, and subsequently cancer, we may all be jumping off a cliff. Really. How can we expect to survive if our health is connected to a beauty that seeks to find itself in the money derived from polluting ourselves?

Huh? How did we get from materialism to cancer?

Don’t get me wrong – I ‘m concerned about the planet too. I recycle, compost, hang my clothes to dry six months of the year, heat with wood instead of fossil fuels, and buy natural fabrics when I can. I drive a small car albeit not an electric one, I support wind power projects, buy locally when I can, and reuse rather than buy new if possible. clotheslineBut Ez rubs me the wrong way. She doesn’t seem to realize that there’s always more that all of us can do – her included, and that there are no easy answers to the issues facing the environment. Ez’s old couch with the ‘organic stitching’ just doesn’t impress me.

Note: Falling into Green is written in the first person simple present tense. This is no doubt a matter of personal taste, but I found this irritating, especially when it deteriorated into what seemed like stream-of-consciousness. This was especially the case when Ez goes into a trance (“fusing” with her horse, or hearing her dead mother talking through the jacaranda tree in her backyard).

The mystery hidden in all this judgemental posturing is actually decent. Ez is drawn into the current death of a young woman at the same cliff where her childhood friend killed herself 15 years earlier. She finds the two deaths to be related, and in doing so uncovers an environmentally sinister past & present of a local manufacturer. I think a couple of the main characters (the villains) seem over-drawn but I suppose that’s the price to pay for a plot of global proportions.

According to the author bio “Fischer has long been involved in environmental issues and is passionate about the green movement in the United States.” I would have been surprised to hear otherwise: she has an axe to grind and is trying to hit us over the head with that axe through her fiction.

3 stars for the solid mystery. I won this ebook format from Library Thing Early Reviewers.


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Short Story #3: THE $64 TOMATO by William Alexander

April18

Warmer weather has finally come to Nova Scotia and, although it may not stay, I know it will soon be time to be getting out in the garden. With that in mind, I’ve been reading a lot of gardening-related “short stories”. Okay – they’re really essays, but I’m stretching this to give you some variety in Dead Book Darling’s Short Story Challenge.

Farmer seed 1934Introducing the piece The $64 Tomato, The Gardener’s Bedside Reader says:
“Vegetables harvested from the garden have a freshness and fullness of flavor well above and beyond anything one can buy in a supermarket. But how does a homegrown tomato, for example, compare in price to one purchased at the local Piggly Wiggly? In this excerpt from the book The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden (…) William Alexander does the math, with surprising results.”

The results aren’t actually that surprising, given the title of both the essay and the book, but you get the picture. This was an entertaining excerpt of what promises to be an entertaining and down-to-“earth” book. (Sorry – the fresh air’s gone to my head.)

CHICKENS, MULES & TWO OLD FOOLS by Victoria Twead: Book Review

April16

Subtitled Tuck into a slice of Andalucían Life, Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools is a personal memoir written by (former) UK resident Victoria Twead.

Chickens & MulesTired of the dreary British climate as she and her husband Joe neared retirement, they decided to sell in Britain and move to sunny Spain. The book begins with (Victoria’s) discontent with England, the process of their decision to make the move, and their search for the ideal piece of Spanish real estate (“The House”). Finding a reliable real estate agent was aided greatly by their serendipitous meeting with another ex-pat who had lived in Spain for some time.

The Tweads found a run-down terrace house with rudimentary bathroom facilities and less-than-that kitchen amenities, in a small village tucked into the mountains. They set about making (extensive) renovations and moving their worldly possessions. They made friends with their neighbours and became acquainted with the villagers and village life, all the while receiving what seems a steady stream of visitors from England.

With a fresh perspective and laugh-out-loud humour, Victoria shares all of this with us. I tremendously enjoyed reading Chickens & Mules because

• Victoria’s voice is down-to-earth. She finds the humour in village life and is not afraid to laugh at herself too. There are also no judgements as to superiorities of one culture over another. I believe this is a key reason the Tweads were successful and happy in their move.

• It was well-written and edited. There are no bumpy repetitions, badly constructed sentences, or annoying typos.

• There are photos! On my Kindle, they are in black and white. On a Kindle Fire, Nook Color, iPad, or other reading device with color graphics, you’ll see them in their full glory. BUT. Only a few of the books on my Kindle have a desk-top component – I’m not familiar enough with the technology to know why or why not—and Chickens and Mules is one that does. THAT desk-top copy of the book has colour photos. The paperback version of the book also has b&w pictures, but you can also view them (and MANY others) in colour on Victoria’s website.

• Victoria includes three dozen yummy-sounding recipes for everything from Spanish Spinach to English Sticky Toffee pudding, with the emphasis on Mediterranean dishes.

I recommend Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools: Tuck into a slice of Andalucían Life to anyone who’s ever dreamed of moving someplace sunny (and who hasn’t it?!), anyone contemplating moving to another country and culture, and to arm-chair travellers, no matter how house-bound; in fact, to anyone who’d like to share a few laughs and a few dreams with a charming couple.

P.S. Victoria is kindly offering a free download of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools to anyone who’d like to read it. You can get the coupon code and/or subscribe to a free Village Updates newsletter here.

P.P.S. After spending this time getting to know Victoria and Joe, and having viewed the photo of their renovated guestroom, I’d visit too!

For Canadian readers:
Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools: Tuck Into a Slice of Andaluc an Life

Kindle version:
Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools


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THE SECRET RIVER and SEARCHING FOR THE SECRET RIVER by Kate Grenville: Book Reviews

April14

The Secret River The Secret River by Kate Grenville is the highly touted first book in the Thornhill trilogy which centres on the settlement of the colony of New South Wales in Australia. While I enjoyed this book and recommend it, it didn’t knock my socks off.

Perhaps that’s because I read the back story about Grenville’s research, in the non-fiction Searching for the Secret River, before I read the novel.

It was a quandary: I signed up for Amanda’s Truth in Fiction Reading Challenge which requires me to  read  book pairs that are comprised of one fiction book and one related non-fiction book. Whispering Gums suggested that I try these two books and I immediately reserved them at the library. Unusually, they arrived the same day, so I had to make a decision: which would I read first? The non-fiction was an inter-library loan with no renewal allowed & $1 fine for overdues, so it won the toss.

When Grenville first considered the idea of searching her family history, she thought she would write a non-fiction book about her ancestors. However, she found complications in this concept. As she says “When you were a white Australian, investigating your own family history could lead you into some murky territory.”

Grenville is referring here mainly to the treatment of the Aboriginal people – a tragedy repeated as well in North & South America as white Europeans moved to those places to live, displacing the native peoples who occupied the land before them.  Grenville determined that she “might not be able to enter the Darug consciousness, but (she) could make it clear that there was one.

This approach to the story required that she be able to imagine her great-great-great-grandfather’s attitudes and reactions, of which there was little record. It became apparent to her that a piece of fiction would allow her greater scope in telling the story and taking into account the windows into the cultures of both sides that she hoped to deliver.

searching for the secret river Before I started Searching for the Secret River, I was afraid that I might be bored with dry facts and history. Indeed, not. Grenville’s writing is simple and lovely to read, both in fiction and in non-fiction. I particularly enjoyed the genealogy aspect of her search as I also have, in the past, traced my family tree. Her descriptions of the thrill of standing on the very dock on which her ancestor worked, or in finding the court records which contained his “voice, speaking directly across nearly two centuries! The actual phrase he used!” brought back similar elations in my genealogical investigations.

Knowing the “facts” then, I began the fictional account, The Secret River.  The story is told from the point of view of William Thornhill, born into poverty, and an apprentice riverman in late 18th century London. Grenville tells us of the temptations of his work:
He loved the docks for their excess. So many casks of brandy, sacks of coffee, boxes of tea, hogsheads of sugar, bales of hemp.
With such a quantity, how could a little be missed?

Thus, Thornhill is drawn into thievery which leads to a sentence of death – or exile in Australia. He & his wife Sal and their young son make the long journey down under. Once there, they face the challenge of building a new life in a strange climate and unknown country, inhabited by mysterious black people whose culture is unlike anything they have experienced.

The author has done an excellent job of providing insight into the lifestyle of the aboriginal people and the culture clash that occurred between them and the new settlers. She also helped me to understand how the British culture that the Thornhills and their countrymen tried to establish permutated into a new set of values – one that by necessity took into account the very land which they tried to subdue.

But, having read the back story, I knew how the novel ended and that compromised the suspense that other readers might feel in the plot. Having said that, I still maintain that it was a very good reading experience.

If you haven’t read either of these books and both interest you, you’ll probably enjoy the fiction account more if you read it first. There’s always the possibility that you’ll then be bored by the build-up to its writing in Searching. But if you enjoy history, genealogy, or just observing the birth of a really good story, you’ll still want to read the non-fiction as well. Four stars to both.

The Secret River qualifies for the Truth in Fiction Reading Challenge, as well as for the What’s in a Name Reading Challenge, the Global Reading Challenge as my Australian entry, and the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge.

Searching for the Secret River
qualifies for the Non-Fiction Non-Memoir Challenge, the Seconds Reading Challenge, the I Want More Challenge, and the Dewey Decimal Reading Challenge.

For Canadian readers:
The Secret River
Searching For The Secret River


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