Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Fiction, Satire
Publisher: Sceptre, 2015

First Lines:

"Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That's just how it is.

Anyone who doesn't agree needs their head examined.

That's what Elsa's granny says, at least.

Elsa is seven, going on eight. She knows she isn't especially good at being seven. She knows she's different..."

Book Description from Goodreads:

The hilarious, heart-breaking new novel by the author of the international bestseller A MAN CALLED OVE.

'Granny has been telling fairy tales for as long as Elsa can remember. In the beginning they were only to make Elsa go to sleep, and to get her to practise granny's secret language, and a little because granny is just about as nutty as a granny should be. But lately the stories have another dimension as well. Something Elsa can't quite put her finger on...'

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy. Standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa runs to her grandmother's stories, to the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. There, everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

So when Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has hurt, it marks the beginning of Elsa's greatest adventure. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones-but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman's bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.

My Review: 

I must have a Swedish sense of humour. I really enjoyed reading this and laughed out loud, hopefully in all the right places. Of course it's not all happiness and light - granny dies, after all, and there's a threatening, shadowy figure, a danger to those who dwell the apartment building. But there are heroes, wurses, Laughers, and all sorts of other fairy tale characters that populate the book's pages. I enjoyed Elsa, granny, all of the flawed adults in Elsa's universe, even Britt-Marie. Backman created a believable world full of complex relationships and weaved everything together into a satisfying ending.

My Rating: 4 stars 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: Congratulations, Graduate... Now What?

CongratulationsGraduateLargeFrontSubtitle: Help in Figuring Out Your Future
Author: Denise Fawcett Facey
Publisher: Crosslink Publishing, 2015
Genre: Non-fiction, goal-setting

First lines

"Congratulations, Graduate! Classes are over and your graduation day is finally here. You may have begun this last year of school thinking, I can't wait to graduate and be out of here. Now you've done it and your life is about to change in so many ways..."

Book Description from BookCrash:

A graduation book that goes beyond Scriptures and quotations to provide specific, step-by-step guidance and solutions, Congratulations, Graduate . . . Now What? helps recent graduates figure out their lives, guiding them in setting and attaining goals. Real-life examples and anecdotes assist readers in determining what’s best for their individual lives while reflection questions at the end of each chapter help them apply the chapters’ suggestions. Ultimately, they have a clearer view of their future, ways to correct mistakes and the means to achieve fulfilling, enjoyable lives and peace with God.

My Review:

When I first started reading this I wasn't sure if the tone of the book would connect with graduates as it seemed a bit young. As I read on, however, either the tone changed or my perception of it did. The author is an "award-winning educator with many years' experience teaching and counseling young people...", so you would expect her to know how students communicate and how to reach them. 

The book succeeds best with high school graduates, though anyone who's unsure of his/her future direction can benefit. In fact, I would give this to students the year before their final year of high school (junior year in the US or grade 11 in Canada), so they can get the best use of the author's advice. 

Each section begins with a story that serves as an illustration for the chapter. Chapters include (but aren't limited to) 'Know Who You Are,' 'Define Your Success,' 'Reject Limitations,' and 'Defy Stereotypes.'  There was lots of good information and I wished this book had been around to guide me through the process of choosing my career when I was starting out.

For me, the least successful chapter was 'Trust God.' I understand what the author was trying to accomplish here, but something was missing, and I think it was the heart of the gospel - the fact of what Christ did at Calvary. Facey talks more about the benefits of accepting Jesus and not enough about faith in believing that He is who He claims to be. On page 144, in the context of 'Jordan's' story, she says that 'although God was present in Jordan's life, He was still on the outside looking in. Jordan had never invited God into his life to guide him...' If Jordan had never invited God into his life, how could God be present in his life?

Anyway, apart from this one flawed section, the book has a lot to offer students in figuring out their future, and I do recommend it.

My rating: 3.5 stars  

You can purchase it on Amazon or directly from the publisher.

For the record, I received this book free of charge from the publisher through the Book Crash review program, but my review reflects my sincere and honest opinion.                                          

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: A Gift of Hope: Helping the Homeless

Author: Danielle Steel
Genre: Non-fiction, Inspirational, Celebrity Memoir
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2012

First Lines:

"For eleven years, I worked on the streets with the homeless, and without question it altered my life. It is life-changing to be there, to look into the eyes of people who are lost, suffering, sick in body and mind, most of whom have lost hope. They are the forgotten people, whom no one wants to think about or know..." (from the foreword)

Book Description from Goodreads:

In her powerful memoir "His Bright Light," #1 "New York Times" bestselling author Danielle Steel opened her heart to share the devastating story of the loss of her beloved son. In "A Gift of Hope, " she shows us how she transformed that pain into a campaign of service that enriched her life beyond what she could imagine. 

For eleven years, Danielle Steel took to the streets with a small team to help the homeless of San Francisco. She worked anonymously, visiting the "cribs" of the city's most vulnerable citizens under cover of darkness, distributing food, clothing, bedding, tools, and toiletries. She sought no publicity for her efforts and remained anonymous throughout. Now she is speaking to bring attention to their plight. 

In this unflinchingly honest and deeply moving memoir, the famously private author speaks out publicly for the first time about her work among the most desperate members of our society. She offers achingly acute portraits of the people she met along the way--and issues a heartfelt call for more effective action to aid this vast, deprived population. Determined to supply the homeless with the basic necessities to keep them alive, she ends up giving them something far more powerful: a voice. 

By turns candid and inspirational, Danielle Steel's "A Gift of Hope" is a true act of advocacy and love.

My Review:

The message is clear: the homeless need help and it is up to individuals to come to their aid. Steel shares her own story of helping those on the street, a task she and several friends undertook for several years and paid for from Steel's (arguably deep) pocket.

The main points:

1. as stated, the homeless need help
2. governments and social agencies aren't succeeding in doing the job on their own or are not doing the job well
3. the homeless problem is complicated and difficult to address
4. the homeless aren't just homeless, they're people too
5. most of the homeless are men and most are likely suffering from some form of mental illness
6. the best approach is one where the giver has no agenda other than to help
7. she met many memorable people and never asked how they wound up on the street (though they sometimes volunteered their story)
8. individuals need to step up and form groups similar to hers
9. the homeless need to know that others care

I'd have given this book three stars but for the fact that it's soooo repetitive and could have been compressed into an essay rather than a multiple chapter oeuvre. Also, when I discovered that Steel and her crew had withdrawn from their work on the street due to lack of finances, I looked for an indication that proceeds from the book would go to rekindling their efforts, but found none. With every library system in North America and die-hard Danielle Steel fans buying at least one copy of the book, I imagine she earned quite a bit in sales.

I do believe Steel has the heart and willingness to continue helping the homeless and I commend her for what she has done. Did her book move me to help? It certainly made me think about it and was most effective when she shared her encounters with individual homeless people.

My Rating: 2 stars

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lily Visits Wasaga Beach

c. Stephen Bridgett, with thanks for permission to use!
Last week's Ten on Tuesday post invited us to write about what we love about the city, and this week we tackle the country. I've chosen to write about a specific place, a couple of hours from home.

I recently spent a long weekend at Wasaga Beach with two girlfriends from high school. One of them owns a house there, so it was a convenient place to stay while getting away from home. If you don’t know, Wasaga is the world’s longest freshwater beach, at  14 kilometers (or 8.7 miles). Some of the things I loved about visiting Wasaga and vicinity were: 

  1.  The special treat of seeing friends I rarely get together with and the opportunity to catch up on our lives over the last few years. 
  2.  Relaxing. My friend Emme kept repeating, “Isn’t this nice? When do we ever get to sit and do nothing?     
  3.   Hanging out on the beach. At 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday, hardly anyone was there. Granted, it was a little chilly with the wind blowing, but the sun was out and we sat in our camp chairs and read, talked and people-watched for two hours before moving on.
  4.  Eating out. Who wants to do a lot of cooking on a mini-holiday? We had one breakfast and two lunches at ‘home’ and ate out the rest of the time. 
  5.   Speaking of eating out, the locals breakfast at the ‘Mosley Diner,’ and so did we one morning. We arrived around 9:30 a.m. and the place was noisy with people. It didn’t make for a space with quiet conversation, but the food was good and the service friendly and attentive. They also made a decent cup of coffee and kept it coming. 
  6.  Collingwood is nearby. We drove over and walked up and down main street Collingwood. They have pianos out for anyone to sit down at, so we were entertained by a couple of excellent pianists. Who knows? Maybe they were professionals! 
  7.   Blue Mountain is just a bit further than Collingwood, so we drove there as well and browsed the shops. There were some decent deals on clothing, but we didn’t buy anything. I was introduced to L’Occitaine and would have tried their eye cream, but at $76 a tube, it was a bit expensive for my wallet.
  8.  Book stores! Collingwood has two or three small ones that were fun to poke into, but we had to drive to Barrie for the ‘local’ Chapters. While I didn’t buy anything myself (saving money for a new roof), Emme and Kaye both got several items to read. That always warms a librarian’s heart.
  9. Breathing in the fresh air.
  10. Long walks (even though I wound up with 21 mosquito bites!)
Since I had a bonus item for Toronto, I'll do so for Wasaga as well:

11. A backyard bonfire. Even though it was minus the S'mores - Kaye doesn't like marshmallows and we were all 'fed up' from supper - it was nice to sit around and talk while the sun went down and the stars came out. In the country, you can actually see them!
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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lily visits Toronto

This week's 'Ten on Tuesday' blog hop asked us to share our favourite things about visiting the city. We could speak generally or talk about a particular place. Since the main place I visit is Toronto, I decided to share what I love about it. (What I don't love are the traffic and crowds, but that would be the subject of another post).

1. There's no place like home, right? So one of my favourite places to be in Toronto is in my old neighbourhood. My mom still has the house I grew up in and when she's there, we walk up to the corner market, the bank and the grocery store. If we have to go out in the car, it's fun to drive by my former schools, and to remember which of my friends lived in which house.

2. Speaking of friends, I enjoy hanging out with some of the people I went to school or worked with in Toronto. It doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like, though.

3. We don't often visit the tourist attractions, but some of the best in Toronto include:
  • the Toronto islands - for a refreshing break from downtown, take the ferry to  Hanlon's Point, Centre Island or Ward Island.
  • the Royal Ontario Museum - the current featured exhibitions are Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano and Viva Mexico: Clothing and Culture
  • the Art Gallery of Ontario - the current featured exhibition is Picturing the Americas
  • the Canadian National Exhibitionrides, entertainment, food, shopping; the International Building, Food Building and Horse Palace were some of my favourites growing up, but I also loved the rides (especially the roller coasters!)
  • the CN Tower -  classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1995; it's the tallest tower in the western hemisphere. I just found out that a friend of mine did the EdgeWalk -
    the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m/1168ft (116 storeys) above the ground. That is something I don't think I could do to save my life (or anyone else's!).
  • Black Creek Pioneer Village - "become immersed in the lifestyles, customs, and surroundings of early residents who built the foundations for modern Toronto and Ontario at the typical crossroads community village found in the Toronto area during the 1800's" (from the website)
  • Fort York -  Canada's largest collection of War of 1812 buildings and 1813 battle site. With all due respect to my friends state-side, it's a running joke that the Americans still think they won.
4. I enjoy driving by the beautiful University of Toronto campus downtown, where I spent six years in post-secondary education, first obtaining a degree in English and Psychology, then a Master of Library Science. 

That's technically ten (7 under Toronto attractions), so here's a bonus, because what's a visit to the city without shopping?

5. Shopping at Yorkdale. It's a lot fancier than it was when I was growing up, with more trendy and expensive stores, but in my opinion, it's still the go-to shopping centre, with lots of parking and easy access to the highway (401). I do miss Sears, though. For your Sears fix in Toronto, go to Fairview Mall. It's easily accessible from the 404.

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    Tuesday, July 28, 2015

    Blueberries - nom, nom, nom

    Today's Ten on Tuesday post asks - what are your favourite ways to enjoy blueberries? We're in the thick of blueberry season, and I've certainly been gobbling up this most delectable fruit:

    1. blueberries in a bowl: on their own, my favourite way to eat them. You get all the flavour with no competition.

    2. blueberry pie, with or without ice cream. Aside from blueberries on their own, does it really get any better? (Read on to decide for yourself)

    3. blueberries with yogurt and granola: easy to combine, and you get all those wonderful antioxidants with your probiotic!

    4. made in my favourite homemade blueberry muffin with cornmeal

    5. as a blueberry sauce over pancakes or vanilla ice cream. Yummm...

    6. blueberry grunt. Never heard of it? Basically berries baked with a sweet dumpling topping. 

    7. blueberry pudding, the way Grandma used to make it. I miss that woman!

    8. as a topping on my oatmeal

    9. in a smoothie

    10. blueberry crisp - I probably prefer apple or rhubarb crisp, but if I don't have apples or rhubarb on hand, and I have blueberries... voila, another dessert possibility!

    What's your favourite way to enjoy blueberries? One of mine or something completely different?
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    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    Wednesday Hodgepodge

    1. Is your home air conditioned? If it's not air conditioned, is that by choice? Did you grow up with air conditioning? If not how did you cope with the heat? Share about a time or place you remember as being too hot-the temperature kind of hot, lest anyone be confused.
    Our home is air conditioned! When we purchased our home thirteen years ago, the house inspector told us that the a/c unit didn’t have much life left in it, but it’s still going strong. Thank goodness, since we need a new roof this year and wouldn’t be able to afford both. I did not grow up with air conditioning, though, and I don’t remember having to cope. Maybe I didn’t feel the heat as much then? Maybe I made a point of hanging out in cooling spaces (libraries, malls, etc.)? The hottest temperatures I’ve experienced have been during holidays in the southwestern States (Colorado Springs and Phoenix, to be specific). 

    2. What's something in your life right now that falls under the heading 'up in the air?

    My mom’s housing situation. She’s still trying to figure things out, so for now she’s with us.

    3. Your favorite light and airy dessert?
    Chocolate mousse or tiramisu.

    4. When did you last feel like you were 'floating on air'?
    That’s a toughie. I don’t feel that way too often these days. But I was pretty excited to meet my online friend, Debbie, this spring. We’d been corresponding for about thirteen years, so it was great to finally connect in person.

    5. Airport, airmail, airtight, airhead...which have you most recently encountered? Explain.
    I’d say airport (May), but there are an awful lot of airheads out there. People, who for one reason or another, just don’t get it. Or think they can get away with something when it’s blatantly obvious that they’re in violation of some law or policy. Case in point: the young man who is known to our staff by name, but tried to say he wasn’t using someone else’s library card to get extra time on our computers. Pfft…what an airhead.

    6.  Have you ever been to the Alps? If so where did you go? If not, is this a destination on your must-see list? If you were headed that direction this summer, which of the following would be your preferred activity...a gentle walk, a serious walk, a bike ride, a boat ride around one of the lakes, or summer snow skiing?
    No, I’ve never been to the Alps and the only real draw for me there would be to see my German friend who spends part of her year in Switzerland. Haven’t seen her since sometime in the ‘80s and we don’t e-mail very often. Of the suggested activities, I’d most enjoy a boat ride around one of the lakes.

    7. What is one saying or phrase that was considered 'cool' when you were growing up?
    “Gag me with a spoon!” – used to express disgust or extreme dislike of someone or something.

    8. Insert your own random thought here.
    My mom used to talk about building a house in Newfoundland. Sometimes my husband and I toss around the idea of having a cottage. We’ve rented a week somewhere the last couple of years – the first place was nice, the second not so much, though we were able to take our dog along. We’ve concluded that one home is enough to care for and that we don’t want to be stuck going back to the same vacation place year after year. There’s too much of the world left to see… But if my mom ever does get that place in Newfoundland, I might have to quit work so I have unlimited vacation time. :)