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Urban Leaving to Country Living

THE HOCKEY SWEATER by Roch Carrier, translated by Sheila Fischman


The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories by Roch Carrier photo hockey sweater  others_zps8kwu2pne.jpgThe warm and wonderful book The Hockey Sweater all started with a short story called “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” (An abominable maple leaf on the ice) that was included in a collection published by House of Anansi Press in the late 1970s. The author, Roch Carrier was inspired to write the story when he was asked by the CBC to talk about Quebec and the difference at the time between French-speaking and English-speaking Canada. He drew on an actual childhood experience of his.

When Roch read the story on the air, a producer from the National Film Board of Canada heard it and had the idea of making a short film of the story. The 10-minute film, brilliantly animated by Sheldon Cohen and lovingly narrated by Carrier, was a success, has won many awards and is much loved by fans (including me).

After the film was released, Sheldon contacted a publisher who, unknown to Sheldon, had wanted to make a book of the story since she had heard it on the radio. The same story that was used in the film is used in the book, but animation and illustration work differently, so Sheldon had to think differently about the art for the book. I think you will agree that his work is brilliant.

The boys in Roch’s village wanted to play hockey like their hero Maurice Richard and, of course, wear the jersey of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, for which Richard played. When a mistake was made and Roch ends up with a new hockey sweater with the emblem of the rival team, the Toronto Maple Leafs—well . . . that’s a story.

In ten minutes, Roch and Sheldon create the village of Ste. Justine, Quebec in a mid-twentieth century winter. For years, the opening lines “The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places—the school, the church and the skating rink—but our real life was on the skating rink” were printed (in both French and English, of course) on the back of the Canadian five dollar bill, along with an image of children playing hockey.

200 The hockey Sweater 30th anniversary edition by Roch Carrier & Shelden Cohen  photo hockey sweater 200_zpsh9yke2ou.jpgThis 30th anniversary edition of The Sweater contains the story and illustrations, and much more. There is a history of the story, bonus illustrations by Sheldon, photos, comments from book tours and from the who’s who of Canadian culture, a short essay by Ken Dryden about the NHL in the 1940s, and many other treats including a DVD of the film.

If you’ve never seen the film, I suggest you watch it if you can find it. If you’re Canadian and you haven’t read the story, you owe it to yourself to get this book—beg, buy, borrow—whatever it takes to get a copy.

This is truly a Canadian classic and one of my favourite books of all time. 5 plus stars


P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

PARIS NIGHTS by Cliff Simon with Loren Stephens: Review and Giveaway


Cliff Simon


Loren Stephens

on Tour
October 24-November 2

Paris Nights 

Paris Nights:
My Year at the Moulin Rouge


Release date: July 15, 2016
at Waldorf Publishing

ISBN: 978-194384892-8
197 pages




A memoir by the critically acclaimed actor Cliff Simon.
Paris Nights, the memoir of a South African soldier turned performer in the world’s most famous cabaret, delivers in a hugely entertaining way.

Little did Cliff Simon know that a single phone call and a one-way ticket to Paris would ultimately change his life forever.

Now the acclaimed television and film actor shares his journey from Johannesburg to the Moulin Rouge to Hollywood in his debut memoir, Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge.

From a young age Cliff Simon knew he was headed towards big places. Having grown up as both a skilled gymnast and a competitive swimmer, performance was in his blood. But with the onset of Apartheid and the looming threat of war, he and his Jewish family soon retreated from Johannesburg, South Africa to the London countryside. Before he knew it, he joined the British swim team and was near Olympics-bound with a full-ride offer to a United States university.

But something wasn’t quite right. Instead, Cliff returned home and enlisted in the South African Air Force. Cliff’s habit of impulsive risk-taking would continue but ultimately pave the foundation for an experience most of us would only dream of. After he was honorably discharged, twenty-seven-year-old Cliff worked a series of odd jobs at a resort near the Indian Ocean until he received a phone call from an old friend inviting him to join him at the iconic Moulin Rouge.

Here begins the story of Cliff’s meteoric rise at the Moulin from swing dancer to principal in the glamour filled show, Formidable; his offstage encounters with street thugs and diamond smugglers; and the long nights filled with after parties and his pick of gorgeous women. Encounter the magic, the mayhem, and the glory that was and still is the Moulin Rouge.


Paris Nights Cliff Simon

Cliff Simon
is a well-known television actor, born in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He appeared for 7 seasons on the sci-fi thriller, Stargate as the evil Ba’al. Some of his recent appearances have been on CSI, 24, the Americans, and in the film, Project Eden.

Paris Nights Loren StephensLoren Stephens
has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize for the Best American Short Story,and her essays and short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Peregrine, the Montreal Review, to name a few.

Her novel “All Sorrows Can Be Borne,” set in Japan will be published in 2017.

Visit Cliff’s website and his fan page
Follow Cliff Simon: Facebook, Twitter

Visit Loren’s website: Write Wisdom

Follow Loren Stephens: Facebook
Follow Waldorf Publishing on Twitter | on Facebook

Buy the book: Amazon | Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Target


My Thoughts

Not being a television watcher, I was previously unfamiliar with Cliff Simon, a successful actor who is well-known in the UK and to US watchers of Stargate. This was thus my first exposure to him.

The memoir was easy to follow. Once the introductory piece set up his move to Paris, we are taken back to Simon’s childhood, teen years and early adult life. There are no distracting spelling or grammatical errors either.

As one can imagine, Paris nightlife can be “colourful” and Simon’s varied background stood him in good stead dealing with fellow dancers, audience members, and various hangers-on. Although Simon stayed for only a year at the Moulin Rouge, no doubt he could have had a long and illustrious career there.

While his year at the Moulin Rouge was indeed interesting, it was but a small part of his exciting life and career, and thus not as major a part of the book as I expected.

Cliff Simon’s fans will no doubt find this well-written memoir of great interest.

I received this book free of charge from the author/publisher.


You can enter the global giveaway here or on any other book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook, they are listed in the entry form below.

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour: tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time! [just follow the directions on the entry-form]

Global giveaway – international:
Five (5) winners will receive a kindle/mobi copy of this book



Paris Nights banner 450 photo paris nights banner_zpsnwz58izq.jpg



#1947 CLUB: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams


 photo The-1947-Club_zpsncnwxjcr.jpgI have watched with interest as Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings hosted the 1924 Club and the 1938 Club, but was unable because of circumstances to join in. When Simon announced the 1947 Club, I was determined to gain entry (but not so sure I could carry out my plan that I announced that to Simon – sorry, guys).

To find what others have been reading, also published in 1947, visit the Club page.


In the forward to the 2004 edition of A Streetcar Named Desire, Arthur Miller wrote that he vividly remembered the first time he saw the play on stage, before it opened to the public on Broadway in December 1947. How could one forget when the original production featured all the players we have come to so strongly identify with the movie roles of popular culture (except that Jessica Tandy , rather than Vivien Leigh, played Blanch DuBois)?

And yet, it wasn’t the players or their acting skills that Miller commented on, but the writing itself. “On first hearing Streetcar . . . the impression was . . . of language flowing from the soul . . . but remarkably, each character’s speech seemed at the same time uncannily his own.” Miller adds that, “What Streetcar’s first production did was to plant the flag of beauty on the shores of commercial theatre.”

 photo streetcar named desire_zps6g3vw1j3.jpgIf you know A Streetcar Named Desire only from snatched clips or even just your friends’ impersonation of Brando’s “STELLL- AHHHHH!”, as I had, then you’ve missed the quality of this writing. But even if you can’t attend a live production of Streetcar, you can still access the beauty of this play in the written word – a slim 179-page volume that reads quickly and easily and, thanks to many school curricula, continues to be in print.

But while the reading is quick and easy, the story that unfolds is anything but. Williams’ classic play begins with Blanche DuBois’s arrival in New Orleans to stay with her sister and brother-in-law, Stella and Stanley Kowalski. Blanche puts on airs of gentility and seems shocked and shaken by Stanley’s frequently aggressive behavior. But Blanche has a secret past that is catching up with her, and the knowledge of it in the hands of her brother-in-law wrecks her last chance at happiness. Not satisfied with that, Stanley also physically assaults Blanche, driving her over the edge of sanity.

Look at the original cast list. Find photos of Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Jessica Tandy and Karl Malden in the 1940s. Then read the play and enjoy the language. You owe it to yourself.


Have you read this? Seen the movie? Attended a live production?


P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

More Rural French Cooking – à la Bruno – and Les Américains


The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker Bruno photo crowded grave_zpsxh0jh4yd.jpg

As I’ve said before, one of my favourite mystery series is Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police. The books are set in Dordogne in southern France.

In the latest book that I’ve read, The Crowded Grave, Bruno is entertaining a visiting Spanish official and introducing him to the foie gras that the region, particularly neighbouring Sarlat, is so justly famous for.

He cut the baguette into five portions and brought out a small pot of onion marmalade he had made the previous autumn.

“Bon appétit, and welcome to the gastronomic heartland of France,” he said to Carlos. He took some of the yellow duck fat he had used to preserve the foie and spread it on the baguette before adding a healthy slice of pâté and a small dab of marmalade.

I happened to read this shortly after finishing a charming memoir-of-sorts by “Les Américains” called Beginning French: Lessons from a Stone Farmhouse. In it, Marty Neumeier tells the story of how he and his wife Eileen McKenna, Americans from California, ended up buying a house in Dordogne, in the very same area that the fictional Bruno lives. It was very intriguing to see French country life from the point of view of real-life North Americans.

Beginning French by Les Americains Neumeier photo beginning french_zpsikc9nfv1.jpgThe couple is joined by their daughter Sara who is a chef, which is a happy circumstance considering that they are now in the “gastronomic heartland of France”. (see above)

I loved Marty’s accounts of the town and village markets, particularly the night markets of which I was not previously aware, and which add to my list of reasons for revisiting southern France. At one of these night markets, the family enjoyed duck burgers with an onion jam.

There are several actual recipes in Beginning French. Many involve using duck breast and other ingredients which are not readily available in rural Nova Scotia, but I was intrigued by the instructions for the onion jam which Sara replicated when she returned to the house.

Onion Jam

Sara’s note: We keep this on hand especially for duck burgers, but it’s also good combined with goat cheese in baked stuffed vegetables, or as a condiment with other roast meats or cheese.

6 large red onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Confit d'Oignon photo onion jam 300_zpsq0m43b8g.jpg Heat oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and beginning to turn golden, about 15 minutes.

Add balsamic vinegar and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until onions are a rich brown, 20-30 minutes. If during cooking onions begin to stick to the pan, add a few tablespoons water (or wine) and stir with a wooden spoon to dislodge any brown bits.

Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

We had no duck burgers or foie gras to try our onion jam out on, but it was delicious on our sausages in a bun.

And I will be sure to have this delightful book with me when I next stay in France. Our rented stone cottage had a full kitchen and I’m sure I’ll be able to source the proper ingredients for a genuine French feast.

P.S. The Crowded Grave goes on:

“This is wonderful,” the Spaniard mumbled through a mouthful of fresh bread and foie gras. He took a sip of wine, and his eyes widened. “Magnificent. They were made for each other.”

The wine that “the Spaniard” is referring to is Monbazillac, a sweet white wine produced in the village of Monbazillac on the left bank of the Dordogne River just across from the town of Bergerac in SW France.

I’m going to be sure to get some of that when I’m there, too.


Weekend Cooking new logo photo wkendcooking 125_zpsljojsy3j.jpg

I’m linking up with Weekend Cooking.




P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.
Also, I received my copy of Beginning French courtesy of NetGalley and the author. This did not affect my review.


Picture Books Read in January 2013


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.

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?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 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


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


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


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.


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


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


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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