Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Benevolence



I chose to read Cynthia Holz's Benevolence during a summer month, and that, to me, was a mistake. The atmosphere of this novel lends itself to winter reading. There is nothing light or airy about the content of the novel; rather, Benevolence is all about insecurities, lack of communication, secrets, and life lessons. It is a dark and cold book.

The novel is based around the lives of multiple characters. Ben, the poetic organ-donor psychiatrist, aches for a child, and is seemingly a lonely and lost man. Molly, Ben’s overbearing and aging mother, is a woman must come to the realization that perhaps a major part of her life is based upon a lie. Finally, Renata, Ben’s psychologist wife, is a woman who desires a child as well, and, despite her ability to solve problems, is unable to foster intimacy with her husband. Each character undergoes a paradigm shift when they interact with a new person they come to care about.

I enjoy reading this novel. Holz has a fluid style of writing, and the story of each character was captivating. My only criticism is that perhaps the novel could have been tightened better, as some chapters took a long time to get to their essential point. Yet, reading this novel still made me want to pursue other works by Cynthia Holz.

More information about the author and her works can be found here.

3.5/5

Information:
Benevolence
Knopf Canada (2011), Hardcover, 320 pages

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Back in February, the pipes froze and sewage backed up into our basement/family room. Chaos ensued, and as part of the clean-up effort, we had to box lots of things away. Many of my books were boxed too, including all of the Song of Fire and Ice series - save A Storm of Swords. Unfortunately, I now want to read said books again (in anticipation of A Dance with Dragons), but can't find them. Hence, I'm now re-reading A Storm of Swords.

Friday, July 1, 2011

update!

Oh god, it's been a really LONG time since I last updated this blog. Now that I'm on summer holidays, I promise that things will be different.

In other news, I've read 49 books for the "50 Book Challenge", and am highly considering challenging myself to 100 books this year!

Briefly below, I'll tell you about two of the books I've recently read:


  • Men and Dogs (Katie Crouch) - Men and Dogs looks at a slightly screwed-up thirty-five year-old woman, and her return home after her marriage fails. The overarching mystery of the novel is whether or not the woman's father, who vanished more than twenty years prior, is still alive. 
To be honest, while the plot was not overly original, I really enjoyed reading this novel. Crouch was able to capture the mood of the deep South effectively, and this mood resonates throughout (slightly southern gothic). It was an easy read, and one that made me laugh.  3/5 

  • Back on the Rez (Brian Maracle) - This was an autobiographical account of a man's move to the Six Nations' Reservation in Ontario. Maracle examines rez politics, social structure, traditions, et cetera, while reflecting on his own life.
The book is divided into brief topic-driven personal essays, and are told in chronological order. As an English teacher, I'm tempted to incorporate some of Maracle's musings and observations into my Grade 12 Canadian English course; I feel that these essays offer invaluable insight into life on the Iroquois rez, and can help students to understand Aboriginal perspectives.   4/5


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Books to Film

Tonight Game of Thrones is on again. Thus far, I feel kind of disappointed with the television adaptation. I find myself nitpicking about most details (needless to say, my boyfriend does not appreciate the "critical lens" being cast on the show), and I keep bemoaning how things are "not as I pictured them to be." 

Basically, I've fallen into that trap where I loved the books so much (yes, I've read them all) that no television series or movie could ever live up to my expectations.

Despite my complaints, I'm sticking with the series, though.

My 5 Favourite Book-to-Movie Adaptations

1. Lord of the Rings - Seriously. Peter Jackson did a fantastic job with this trilogy.
2. Let the Right One In - The Swedish film did a wonderful job interpreting the novel. I read the novel after seeing the film, and I was impressed by how true to the story the film was.
3. The Princess Bride - Ah, a childhood favourite of mine
4.  The Exorcist - Blatty's book is horrifying and so is the movie
5. Field of Dreams - The dark horse in this race. The book is a wonderful American yarn and so is the movie.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Huck Finn

Here is a really interesting link, from Costco (believe it or not), debating if "classics" should be sanitized or not. This is timely, given the recent re-working of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

As a historian and educator, I feel that we shouldn't tamper with the original works. Looking at fiction provides us with insight into the societal and political problems of a decade. For example, Huck Finn gives a modern audience information about racial issues in America. Some are critical of Twain for the language used; however, it is only a product of the times that Twain lived. As another example (although not as controversial), Jude the Obscure (one of my all-time favourite novels) shows us about the treatment of strong women during the 19th century. When Hardy published the book, he was lambasted for depicting sexual relationships outside of marriage, and, indeed, his novel critiques the treatment of these unmarried couples too (poor Sue and Jude!). When we sanitize these historic novels, we deny our own shortcomings as human beings. We need to be honest with literature and with ourselves.

Teaching Resources

My Easter break is almost over, and sadly I have not read as much as I thought I would. Somehow life and other things took over. Drat.

In other news, I've been thinking about whether or not I want to teach both The Road and Lord of the Flies in ELA B30 next year. I'm tempted to drop Lord of the Flies in favour of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. While my students really love Lord of the Flies (or they did last semester, I'm not so sure about this one), I feel like I'm ready for a change, and I do think that BMHaWK would be culturally relevant for these kids. So often, I get questions from them about the Aboriginal experience in the United States, and I can only devote a small amount of time to discussing this history with them. Dee Brown's non-fiction masterpiece might offer a little more insight.

Grrr.

I'm also torn on dropping Three Day Road, in ELA A30, in favour of something else. My students found the book to be long, and I kept on thinking how the entire class was seemingly bogged down in the trenches of World War One. The story of Elijah and Xavier is interesting, but fails to captivate female students - which is a problem. Maybe In Search of April Raintree instead?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chakra Yoga



I took my first yoga class when I was twenty-one (so, uh, around eight years ago), and I've been hooked on it ever since. Back then, I remember being struck by how "free" I felt when I practiced, and how yoga made it easy for me to turn off that constant inner-monologue. Yoga allowed me to feel happier and more present. 

Since moving up North (and far away from any yuppie yoga studios), I've tried to practice at least several times as week (either in the basement or on the balcony). I've also expanded my own views on yoga through dvds, magazines, and books. I've become more liberated and self-assured, along with being more flexible (although, I honestly feel that I'll never ever be able to do a decent cow face). 

In brief, I feel like my relationship with yoga is still constantly evolving and changing - this is a good thing.

As previously stated, I try to learn as much as possible about yoga.  I have books upon books about the varying styles of yoga, and I still get excited to read something new. I recently read Alan Finger's Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-Being. Finger's style of yoga, ISHTA yoga, concentrates of usage of physical practice to stimulate the seven chakras. Through asanas, meditation, and chanting, Finger believes that it is possible for one to create positive energy and to balance the chakras.

Personally, I loved this book. Yep, this book is FANTASTIC!

I found Finger's writing style to be easily understood, and I liked how Finger ties personal experiences with his ideas. As a reader, these personal touches make the book to be an engaging spiritual text rather than a heavy philosophical tome. Finger should be applauded for adding important details on how each pose should be done and including pictures of said poses. Far too often yoga books include poses, but have little details on the finer nature of these poses. Alignment is important! Finally, I found that his daily chakra practices could be easily incorporated into my own routine, and really do feel that these practices have also furthered my feeling of contentment.

Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced student of yoga, I recommend that you check this book out. The practices in here will only help to enhance your practice!

4.5/5 (I just wish there was a little more variation in the routines)

Information:
Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-being
Shambhala (2005), Paperback, 160 pages


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Happiness Project



Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, is a quirky half memoir half self-help book on happiness. It falls a little into the category of "The Reality Television of Books: When People Write Gimicky Stuff"; however, this doesn't mean that the book is crap, rather, it's quite the opposite.


This is Rubin's month-by-month quest to bring happiness into her life. She tackles different areas of her life every month, and, while doing so, goes about opening herself up to new experiences while being true to her own self-interest. Rubin's thesis, that is possible to be more happy, is proven throughout, and, as Rubin discovers, her own personal happiness creates more contentment in the lives of her family and friends.


Rubin's quest for happiness caused me to reflect on how I turn happiness away from my own life. Can be snarky? Check. Is overly sarcastic and scathing? Check. Avoids doing new things? Check. This list could go on and on. Are these things that I should avoid doing? Perhaps. Maybe I'll give my own happiness project (which Rubin pushes on her blog) a whirl, and see the damage (ha ha) that it does.


It was interesting to see that Rubin cites numerous sources. I liked that there were quotes from people like Saumel Pepys and the Dalai Lama. Doing research on how other people interpret happiness and on what brings them happiness is necessary for this type of project. It helps to bring deeper meaning to Rubin's work, and also helps to avoid this book from becoming a trite self-assertion. 


So yes, I liked this book. I'd recommend this book to others. Rubin's style of writing is easy-to-follow,. The book is engaging and perfectly suits the sunniness of spring. It's not a Pulitzer Prize winner, but it is still very good and very happy.


4/5


Information:


The Happiness Project: Or, 
Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, 
Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
Harper Paperbacks (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 336 pages

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holiday

After today, I'll be off for an entire week. This means sleeping in, doing yoga whenever I want, and yes, reading LOTS and LOTS of books. Some books on my "To Do" list are:


  • This Silent Land (Graham Joyce)
  • Invisible River (Helena McEwan)
  • The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)
  • The Letters of Allen Ginsberg
Ah, the sweet delight of curling up with a book in the mid-afternoon,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Othello

"O! now, for ever/Farewell the tranquil mind; farewell content!"

Oh how Othello is most favourite and treasured of all the Shakespearean tragedies! The sexiest of all the tragedies, and, indeed, the most tragic. What a warning against hubris you give to us! Beware of the darkness that lives in us all.

I read you first in high school, when I was an angst-ridden teen who hated any and all Shakespeare because it was "boring". I approached you with disdain, but by the end of the first act I was hooked. For the rest of those O.A.C. weeks, I was completely engrossed in this tale of human emotion, manipulation, betrayal, and vengeance. I wrote an astounding essay on the Moor, and it was empowering to see that I could actually understand and critique Shakespeare's language. Since then, I have read the play numerous times, watched the movies, and have, hopefully (ha ha), passed my love for this play down to my students when teaching.

The universal theme of jealousy is one that resonates throughout the play. As the audience, it touches us because many of us have been motivated out of jealousy, and have allowed jealousy to cause foolish decisions. How many of us have fought with our boyfriend or girlfriend based off a suspicion? How many of us have resented the success of others - feeling that somehow we also deserved this success?I know that I have felt this was on occasion, and, when speaking to my friends about this, they have admitted similarly,  my friends have too. Quite simply, humans are fickle like the chameleon, Iago, or the Moor, Othello.

Living in the North, I have struggled to make Shakespeare relevant to my students. When studying Othello, I do a couple of major things to help with this conundrum (aside from the usual activities). First, I have my students watch O , which is the modern adaptation of the play, as it puts the plot and themes in the applicable teen context. My students like the story of Odin and Desi, and are disgusted by Hugo. Watching the movie, triggers emotions in them. Second, I always use Spark Notes' No Fear Shakespeare: Othello to read. We read the play in modern English as a class, and, I supplement the content by doing notes and discussing Shakespearean language on occasion. I find that this version of the text is easy for my students to understand (especially since several of them are ESL), and, more importantly, they can giggle and laugh at the story.  Suddenly Shakespeare doesn't seem to unapproachable!  While we do work on other activities (essays, questions, crosswords, quick writes, film reviews of Othello, et cetera), I honestly believe that putting Shakespeare into the modern world for my students does wonders for them, and they get the play.

Needless to say, I look forward to teaching this play again next year. 

Readers, what's your favourite Shakespeare play and why?


Monday, April 18, 2011

Phantom Tollbooth

I read this article on what your childhood favourite book says about you. Now I know to thank The Phantom Tollbooth  for my obsessive behaviour. ha ha.

Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years




Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years is a biographical account of Nelson Mandela (duh). Said book examines the man before he became the mythological figure. It touches on Mandela's political alliances, his relationships, and gives us insight into the man that we know Mandela to be publicly today. 

Reading this, it was obvious that Smith is a journalist, as he uses the "exciting" journalist tone that so many journalists-turned-authors use (Robert Kaplan is also big on this). The book was well-researched, and, when reading, one can tell that Smith had passion for this subject matter. Yet, I did feel that it lacked continuity as it seemed choppy in some parts. While there were sources listed in the back, I feel that footnotes might be more appropriate for this text (given the large amount of information).

I recommend this book as an introduction into Mandela's life, but also believe that there are better texts out there on this subject. Perhaps check out Mandela's own autobiography first.

I received this book as part of the early reviewers program on Librarything.



2/5


Information:



Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years
Little, Brown and Company (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 416 pages

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Give Away!

We all love free books. Below, I have linked to a few contests that you should check out:
  • There is a great one going on over here! Check out the celebration this blog is doing for reaching 300 readers. Leave a comment on your favourite book, and you could possibly win too.


  • There is also another ARC giveaway at The Bookish Type. If you like dystopian novels, check this one out! For me, I know my favourite dystopian novels are "Oryx and Crake" and "Brave New World".
  • Wrighty's Reads is also having a great contest. There are many young adult ARC titles that you could possibly win. As a teacher, I would love to share some of these titles with my students.
Read and follow these blogs on a regular basis. It's a great way to find out what's happening in the publishing world, and also, like I said before, a great way to get free books.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sure is Purdy!


I've been introducing my students to the wonderful poetry of Al Purdy.

I love Purdy for his uncanny ability to personify Canadian landscapes in a way that is unsurpassed by any other poet. and also for his ability to draw himself, the poet, into the poem. When I think about Canadian poets I love, Purdy is at the top of the list having drinks with Klein, Cohen, and Layton.

 I think my students have been picking up on my passion for Purdy, and that's all I could ever really want for. Hopefully Purdy makes them love poetry a little more.

And now, I present a wonderful Purdy poem:

THE LAST PICTURE IN THE WORLD

Al Purdy
From:   Beyond Remembering - The collected poems of Al Purdy. 2000.


A hunched grey shape
framed by leaves
with lake water behind
standing on our
little point of land
like a small monk
in a green monastery
meditating


                almost sculpture
except that it's alive
brooding immobile permanent
for half an hour
a blue heron
and it occurs to me
that if I were to die at this moment
that picture would accompany me
wherever I am going
for part of the way



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lousy Labels

This program on CBC made me think of There's Lead In Your Lipstick.

The Boy in the Moon



According to the cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome website, CCF (as it is more commonly called) can be diagnosed by some of the following symptoms:

·         • a distinctive facial appearance;
·         • unusually sparse, brittle, curly hair;
·          • skin abnormalities;
·          • heart malformations present at birth (congenital heart defects)
·          • growth delays

As a reader of The Boy in the Moon, I offer you some more information about CCF:

There is no cure for CCF.

It is a genetic condition that a child is born with.

It will be seen as a disability for the child’s entire life, and will cause society to view the child 
(and the eventual adult) differently.

It is extremely rare, and the severity of it can differ from child-to-child.

It impacts lives.

It is CCF that has made Walker Brown who he is, and it is Walker Brown who is the raison d’etre for The Boy in the Moon.

The Boy in the Moon is a memoir, by Ian Brown (Walker’s father). Brown is a reporter for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. Brown had frequently written articles about his son prior to writing this book, and had thus familiarized Canadians with his family’s challenges.

The book examines the relationship that Walker has with his father, his family, and the world at large. This book is Brown’s search for the meaning of Walkers life in our society that has distinct and opinionated views on disabled individuals.

CCF has shaped the Brown family in many ways. The parents, Ian and Joanna Schneller, have been forced to abandon dreams for a “normal life” for both their son and daughter. The parents are permanently attached to their son - in a way that parents of “normal” children will never be – and sometimes suffer guilt for abandoning their son (when placed in a group home) or perhaps even causing his condition. It is CCF that has forced the Brown family to seek solace and support of other advocates for the disabled, and has allowed them to create valuable bonds with other CCF parents. And yet, it is CCF that allows Walker to see the world as it truly is: simple in its joys and mysteries.

It is Walker’s view on the world which Brown desperately grasps at with this book. He wants to insight into his son and his sons actions. Their communication is limited to smiles, grunts, and hits; however, they are still able to understand one another at an almost primordial level. It is Walker that brings about Brown’s search for enlightenment, and who is Brown’s passion for life.

I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers Program, and I voraciously read it. Brown’s writing is hauntingly eloquent, and this book will be, I suspect, read and re-read. The journey of the Walker and his family is one that will not easily be forgotten.

Book information:

The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Journey to Understand His Extraordinary 
Son
St. Martin's Press (2011), Hardcover, 304 pages

Saturday, March 19, 2011

There's Lead in Your Lipstick



I recently read "There's Lead in Your Lipstick", a non-fiction book by Gillian Deacon. 

I had won this book from a contest by Penguin Canada, and had to admit that I knew zero about said book when I received it in the mail. To be truthful, I had only entered the contest because I love winning books, and am always looking for ways to add to my own library. Anyway, after receiving the book, I skimmed the front cover, and decided to read it soon. It looked like it would be an easy read to quickly whip through.

I read the book the same week I received it.

Now, this book was an easy read. It is fast to get through, and as a reader, I was entertained by the information. Deacon's writing style was engaging yet informative, and she offered a plethora of statistics to support her assertions. So yes, this book took me less than two days to finish; however, this book was also eye-opening and incredibly startling. To be frank, I  never knew how much shit I'd been putting on my skin while thinking it was "natural" or "organic". I also never knew about the lack of regulation in the cosmetic industry, and how so many products are linked to cancers, reproductive problems, skin allergies (this I found especially interesting - given my own rash problems), et cetera. So let me rephrase my topic sentence: this book was an easy read but it was also alarming, eye-opening, startling, and frightening.

Thankfully, Deacon is a pragmatist and not a complete pessimist. While telling the reader about the disgusting chemicals in soaps, shampoos, face creams, hair dye,...et cetera, she also offers alternatives so that the reader no longer has to rely on such toxins. Deacon has included lists, for each chapter, of truly organic products (complete with company information, and websites for the savvy internet shopper), and has also included a myriad of homemade natural beauty remedies that the reader can try at home. The brand information is incredibly helpful for someone like me, a in internet shopper, who often doesn't have the time (or even know where to begin) researching these brands. And the recipes, I know that I can't wait to try some as they are simple and can be done with little fuss.

This book is a wonderfully handy thing to have around your house. I recommend that others purchase it as quickly as possible, and become aware about the "lead in their lipstick". I know that I will continue to refer to this book for years to come.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Passage

The most recent book read was a novel, The Passage, by Justin Cronin. As I'm on my way out to Saskatoon, I'll post a longer review later; however, I will state that I did like this book. I wasn't super into it always (oh god, I sound one of my teenage students) as I read it; yet, upon finishing said novel, I've gone back to re-read certain passages and chapters. These characters stuck with me. I'm excited for the sequel.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nothing



"Nothing matters. I have known that for a long time. So nothing is worth doing. I just realized that."


Nothing, by Janne Teller, is a Danish novel that’s told in a way that those Nords do best: creepy, stark, and haunting. The descriptions and dialogue are straight-to-the-point, and the author never deviates from this rule. Sometimes one sentence is more powerful than ten.

The novel centers around Gerda, an intelligent Danish teen, and her friends. These adolescents try to find meaning in their lives after another peer, Pierre Anthon, climbs into a tree, and proclaims (in a true nihilist fashion) that there is no meaning to life.  Of course, Gerda’s journey to find meaning isn’t whimsical or light-hearted; rather, it is dark and demonstrates the savage nature of the human psyche. Somewhere, on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Jack would approve of Gerda and co.'s actions.

I feel that this book is more appropriate for adults than for teenagers. The content might be hard to understand without a philosophical context. Brush up on  your Nietzsche before reading!

This book offers insight into an end of innocence that every adult feels in their life. Read it, and remember when you lost your childhood bliss too.

5/5

Information:


Hardcover, 227 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Atheneum

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Random

I often order off of The Book Depository, because it has great prices, an excellent selection, and free shipping. Anyway, I've now come to also really appreciate this site for its amazing live feed. Yes, that's right you can watch people shopping and find out with bizarre things they choose to buy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Halfbreed



My students, in ELA A30, finished reading Halfbreed last week. Their feelings about said memoir were mixed. A few felt it was "boring" and lacked "action". These students believed that Campbell's history was uneventful, and not too different from what these students have experienced in their own lives. Yet, other students found it to be depressing and hauntingly moving. These were my kids that felt Campbell's grief at the passing of her mother, and whose hearts' bled when Campbell left Smoky behind. And, finally, some others were forced to realize the price that Aboriginal and Metis communities have paid in the name of colonization. These students were stunned and horrified to discover that Metis peoples hadn't always ha status, and that their lives had been just as full of discrimination and hardship as any other Aboriginal group.  Luckily, none of them, though, regretted having read Maria Campbell's autobiography, and I honestly believe that all of them took something away from this book.

In other words, this book is a classroom hit!

As an educator, a woman, and a Canadian, I highly recommend this book. It should be taught in schools, as it helps to put into perspective the hardships that marginalized populations faced. It also provides students with invaluable history about the Metis peoples, and, furthermore, a way of life that has since vanished. As a female, one can identify with the womanly issues that Campbell faces, such as maturation, pregnancy, and domestic violence. This book is a feminist call-to-arms, and demands that women abandon their blankets of shame just as all minorities should abandon their blankets of shame too. As a Canadian, I felt that this book was a wake-up call to me, and forced me to realize that Canada is not quite the just country that Canadians like to believe it is. Read this book!

5/5

Information:


Halfbreed
University of Nebraska Press (1982), Paperback, 157 pages

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kindness

I checked our mail today (mail comes twice a week), and found that my dear friends, Ahil and Bill, had sent a package of books to me. Well, actually books AND chocolate. It was the most wonderful present ever, and a perfect way to start off February.

Hurrah for acts of kindness and lovely friends.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Three Day Road



Part of the joys of being a teacher on a Cree reservation is trying to teach materials that are culturally relevant for the students, and will actually engage them when they’re reading. Usually Aboriginal stories are good enough for my students, but they also enjoy anything that has to do with trapping, survival, and humor. I try to stay away from stories that deal with domestic violence, because, quite frankly, for most of these kids, they’ve already lived it and don’t want to relive it again. Anyway, Three Day Road , by Joseph Boyden, came to me as a recommendation from another teacher. He’d had tried it with his grade twelve students, and told me that they absolutely loved it. Such a glowing review, made me decide to check it out.

Ah Three Day Road, despite the glowing reviews, I was honestly hesitant to read you because I believed you looked like a boring book. I thought you would be filled with endless prattle about the land and cheesy Cree dialogue. I felt that I wouldn’t be able to relate to anything being told, and that you would be a complete and utter waste of my time. Lucky for both you and me, my predictions were wrong: you are truly an amazingly powerful and intense novel.

The story is told in a non-linear format, circular in nature, and is built off of the structure of traditional Aboriginal stories. Reading it is like taking a walk in the woods  - you start somewhere, and then you meander, and, in the very end, you return to where you started; however,  you’ve changed a little and the environment around you has changed a little too. You’ve become a slightly different person in those moments of awareness.

This novel surrounds three characters: Niska (a Cree medicine woman), Xavier Bird (Niska’s nephew, and a returning war hero), and Elijah Whiskeyjack (the trickster of the tale and Xavier’s best friend). In the first storyline, Niska is recalling her life while nursing the war-wounded Xavier. She speaks of assimilation, and the struggle of her people and herself to keep  culture and independence alive. Her story is tinged with sadness, and the awareness that the old way of life is dying (which relevant on reservations even today). In the second storyline, the wounded Xavier is remembering his experiences during World War One, and how the war affected both he and Elijah differently. This storyline, in my opinion, was the most memorable and also most horrific, as it dealt with a descent into madness and brought the witiko myth to life. Both Xavier and Elijah are portrayed as flawed individuals during World War One, whose surroundings cause them to do things that they would have never thought possible in the bush before. Throughout the novel, Boyden does an excellent job at maintaining the unique individual voices of each character, and thus is able to create characters that seem like living breathing people.

Boyden has done his research here. First, The horrors of World War One are portrayed accurately, and his descriptions of the lice, mud, disease, and madness are unforgettable. Reading it, I felt like I was actually experiencing a first-person account of trench warfare.  The imagery used burned itself into my brain, and there are some scenes I doubt I will ever forget even if I never read this book again. Second, not only has Boyden done an accurate portrayal of World War One, but he has also done a magnificent job of incorporating historical figures from the Cree people into this novel. For example, Niska’s father is modeled after Jack Fiddler, a famous shaman and witiko killer that died in police custody. As another example, Xavier and Elijah were inspired by World War I heroes Francis Pegahmagabow and John Shiwak, and it is easy to see these men portrayed in the novel’s main characters. Third, the Cree language is used as part of the story, and the title of each chapter named in Cree, helps to unlock a deeper meaning to the stories being told. Fourth, the information about residential schools, while disturbing, is also truthful, and helps to remind the reader of the atrocities that Aboriginal peoples suffered at the hands of both churches and the federal government. In my opinion, it is hard to find novels better-researched than this one.

So yes, I did love this book, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it and teaching it to my students. I feel that this book has a lot to offer to Canadians, whether they be Aboriginal or not. I feel that I will always be returning to this book, like a walk in the woods, and each time I read it again, my perception will shift, and I’ll become a little more aware of everything.

5/5

Information:
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Canada; Seventh Impression edition (May 6 2008)
  • Language: English


Friday, January 28, 2011

Ebooks

The Telegraph has a great article on the influence of ebooks on the publishing world,  check it out! Also, let me know what you think: do you think the published word is dying?

I know that I will never be able to get into the ebook phenomenon. For me, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about holding and reading an actual book. Even if books go the way of the record, I'll be the nerd still holding her books and listening to her records.

The Walking Dead Six



Last night my order from Amazon.ca arrived. Inside the package was a copy of Three Day Road and The Walking Dead Six. Three Day Road I’m going to have to read for my students’ grade twelve novel study, and so I’m putting aside for now. Basically, I want to save up my brain power before I undertake the arduous task of coming up with questions for them, analyzing theme, looking for symbolism, et cetera. Instead, I reached for my copy of The Walking Dead: Book Six, and promptly finished it this morning.

It’s a quick read, as most graphic novels/comics are, and can be finished easily in one-to-two sittings.

The aesthetics of this book are beautiful. It’s a hard cover masterpiece, and is completed by glossy pages. There are even colour graphics thrown in and creator notes at the back. The quality of this design adds to the pleasure of reading it. The publishers didn’t skimp when making the book, and that is the reason for the book’s somewhat hefty price-tag of $30.00 plus dollars. It’s not cheap in either way.

I enjoyed the book, but perhaps not as much as the previous books (ok, well I have the fifth book and also the compendium). I found that these comics focused more upon human relationships, and that age-old struggle between civilization and savagery, rather than lots of good ol’fashioned zombie killing. Because of the exploration of the human aspect, I found the plotline to be slow-moving and a little bit dull. There was no suspense in Alexandria for me, there was only boring conversation between tired and contrived characters. Robert Kirkman, quite simply, there wasn’t enough of Michonne wielding her katana!

The only “exploration of human relationships” that I found truly compelling involved Dale and Andrea. I suppose I was interested in this because I felt like I knew Dale and Andrea from the previous books. Andrea was the smart but a little screwed up woman who was in love with a kind and caring older man. The age discrepancy in their relationship and their feelings toward it made sense in the fucked up post-apocalyptic world. And so, I was saddened by Dale’s misfortune, and my heart hurt for Andrea and her grief. Of all the relationship deaths in this story, this one was the most tragic and heartfelt.

After reading The Walking Dead: Book Six, I’m still looking forward to the next compilation in the eventual seventh book, and I’m also in anticipation of the second season AMC’s The Walking Dead.

3.5/5

[THE WALKING DEAD, BOOK SIX]The Walking Dead, Book Six 
By Kirkman, Robert(Author)Hardcover On 26 Oct 2010)
Image Comics (2010), Hardcover

Monday, January 24, 2011

Halfbreed



I've started a literature study on Halfbreed with my students. I love this book (and I'll post a review of it too, I promise), but it's a little strange teaching Aboriginal students about the products of white assimilation and structural violence in Canada. There's a little bit of my own racial guilt going on, I suppose.

I hope my students take a lot away from reading this book. It will tell them a lot about the history of the Metis, and the history of their own province. They'll learn about injustice and tragedies, and I suspect they'll recognize many of Campbell's problems in their own lives. I also want them to become empowered to speak out against assimilation and colonization, and to question their own role within Canadian society. I want them to dig deeper, and to emerge from this literature study with a deep awareness.

Friday, January 21, 2011

another teen novel

Yes, I finished reading another teen novel. I'll post my review later on, but for now, a little information about the author.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011



The sewage line backed up, and flooded our basement. Yes, we had about 3 inches of  fetid water all over the basement floor, and it destroyed a lot. Right now, my common-law and I are currently in the process of cleaning it up. Since we’re on the break, and I need something to take my mind of the crappy situation (ha ha), I’m going to finally review New Moon.

Well, as you already know New Moon is a continuation of the Twilight saga. The plot continues to revolve around everyone’s favourite manchild vampire, Edward Cullen, and the simpering object of his thirsty affection, Bella Swan. In this book, Edward flees after a certain incident, and leaves a heartbroken Bella to pick up the pieces. Any teenager with a good sense of angst and melodrama will adore such a book.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about the melodramatic nature of the plot. Critics disliked the fact that Bella’s life seemed to end when Edward left; however, as someone who suffered through high school breakups and sees them all the time with her students, I can say that life does seem to end after a traumatic romantic separation. You have days where everything seems meaningless, and you want to pine away. I thought this was a realistic feature of the novel. Personally, I felt the plotlines involving Italy, the Volturi, and the werewolves were the less interesting aspects of this novel.

Our characters continue to act very much in the same way. Bella continues her self-absorbed obsession with the Cullen family, and continues to tempt males with her amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing beauty (honestly, I don't know what they see in her - she's boring!). Edward continues to be the perfect period piece man and loves the whining of the damsel. Jacob, while transformed into a gang werewolf, is still naive and powerless against Bella's wiles. Finally, dear ol' Dad remains doting and completely clueless. Nothing new here. Seriously.

With this novel, Meyers has been able to write another fast-paced best-seller. This book doesn’t ask any major existential questions or journey beyond simple plotlines and basic themes; yet, there is something endearing about New Moon. I would recommend it.

Ok, back to cleaning the basement.

3/5

Information:

New Moon (The Twilight Saga)
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2009), Edition: 1 Reprint,
Mass Market Paperback, 576 pages

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fixing Delilah Hannaford



Whenever I read a teen novel, I ask myself, “Will my kids enjoy this book? Is there enough drama, tension, romance, and angst in here that they will be able to relate to? Is this a quality book for teens?”  And, when reading Fixing Delilah Hannaford, I asked myself these same questions. Thankfully, all the questions were answered in the affirmative – this novel is the quintessential great read for adolescents.

Our protagonist, Delilah Hannaford, is troubled. She’s been caught shoplifting, cutting class, and going around with a “non-boyfriend”. The only route to her redemption lies in taking a cathartic family vacation to Maine, and dealing with not only her grandmother’s death but also unanswered family skeletons. Of course, no summer is complete without a cute boy, so Delilah meets one, and romance ensues. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that Delilah becomes more mature as the summer progresses.

The author, Sarah Ockler, has written a quality novel. This book is powerful, enticing, and moving. I would recommend it to any  young audience, or any adult who has an interest in teen literature.

4/5

Information:

Fixing Delilah
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 320 pages

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Last Duchess



I just finished reading My Last Duchess. I found the book to be a bunch of easy-reading malarkey, which I suppose should have not surprised me given that said book was marketed as a "historical romance". The author, Daisy Goodwin, had borrowed much of her plot from A Portrait of a Lady, but, unlike James, Goodwin was unable to make the story truly compelling. I found the book to be weak and unremarkable.

The heroine of this novel, Cora Cash, is a self-absorbed American heiress, that seemingly escapes an overbearing mother in order to marry a ludicrous prig, the Duke of Wareham. As you might have guessed, I have little sympathy for Cash or the "conflicts" that she finds herself to be embroiled in. Cash's lack of personality and her boring marriage doesn't really leave me rooting for her when threats arise.

This book is the type of book you buy in an airport, read on the plane, and then never bother looking at again.

2/5 

Information:

My Last Duchess
Headline Review (2010), Paperback, 448 pages





Friday, January 14, 2011

Poetry Break

Yesterday, I exposed my students to this and powerful beautiful poem by Sharon Olds:



Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941

That winter, the dead could not be buried. The ground was frozen, the gravediggers weak from hunger, the coffin wood used for fuel. So they were covered with something and taken on a child's sled to the cemetery in the sub-zero air. They lay on the soil, some of them wrapped in dark cloth bound with rope liek the tree's ball of roots when it waits to be planted; others wound in sheets, their pale, gauze, tapered shapes stiff as cocoons that will split down the center when the new life inside is prepared; but most lay like corpses, their coverings coming undone, naked calves hard as corded wood spilling from under a cloak, a hand reaching out with no sign of peace, wanting to come back even to the bread made of glue and sawdust, even to the icy winter, and the siege.

It made them think of the influenza epidemic of 1919, and how stories related to that tragedy      are handed down in families. Of how bodies weren't placed in coffins, but merely
placed in a shroud. Bodies taken away to an island for an anonymous remembrance.

After reading said poem, one my students asked, "Alexis, do you like death like a lot?" I had 
to think for a moment (because I had made them read The Black Cat, Do Not Go Gentle, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, and The Cask of Amontillado)  to think about my
 response. I realized that I had picked poems/short stories that relate to death because death 
poetry and short stories usually have a lot of figurative language in them.  This makes it easy for students to analyze for literary devices (oh metaphor!). Furthermore, death is a universal theme, of which everyone can relate. Reading about death, quite frankly, makes one think about their own personal experiences, and usually forces students to think critically about the poem or 
short story at hand.

And there, my dears, is my story.

Thursday, January 13, 2011



While my grade twelves were writing their final English exam, I sat down and read Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris. Some of these essays were amazingly funny. Indeed, during several parts, I found that  I was in quiet hysterics. I'm pretty sure my kids thought I was laughing at their own personal exam hell. Such are the immense powers of works such as "SantaLand Diaries" and "Six to Eight Black Men".

So yes, really really really funny book. Check it out if you like sarcastic essays that point out the absurd nature of today's society.

The only thing I thought was weak about this book was in the inclusion of Sedaris' short stories. Quite frankly, I feel that Sedaris tried a little to hard to make his short stories 'amusing' and 'hilarious' for his readers, and it didn't work. They actually made me yawn. Seriously. 

But I'd buy this book just for its essays.

3.5/5 

Information:

Holidays on Ice
Back Bay Books (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 176 pages