Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor - A Delightful Work of Historical Fiction


Not that long ago, I shied away from reading historical fiction. The genre just didn't appeal to me and I often said that I only like to read books set in the present. This all changed after I devoured two absolutely wonderful novels by Canadian author, Jennifer Robson. My love for the genre was born and I was very happy when Penguin Random House Canada offered me a review copy of Miss Emily. Add in that it was written by an Irish author and one of the main characters is a young Irish girl, new to America, I knew that I would love this book.

Miss Emily is an imagined account of the young adult life of famous American poet, Emily Dickinson. The Dickinson family, a somewhat eclectic bunch, hire 18-year-old Ada Concannon to work in their house as a cook and maid. The novel is told from both Emily's and Ada's perspectives, alternating voices with each chapter. The voice of Emily is prim and proper as you would expect from a young woman who loves words and is born into a highly-esteemed family, while Ada's voice is a bit more down-to-earth and playful. I love novels written this way.

Despite their class differences, Emily and Ada develop a lovely friendship that is so endearing. They share a love of baking and also discover that they share a birthday. The development of this friendship is so delightful that I wanted to read more and I didn't want their story to end.

When crisis falls upon Ada, Emily, who has become a recluse, must face her own fears to help her dear friend. Their friendship is tested and Emily comes to her friend's aid, against her family's wishes. The subject matter of the crisis may be difficult for some, but I felt it was put forth in a respectful and mature manner and was not dwelled upon.

For anyone who loves historical fiction, I recommend picking up Miss Emily for a great summer read. For those new to the genre, this book would be a great introduction. It is not too long, moves at a good pace and has well-developed characters. Having said that, the only fault I could find with this book was that it was not long enough! I look forward to reading more of Nuala O'Connor's books soon.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Children’s Book Review: Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen by Monica Kulling



Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth's Wonder Kitchen from Tundra Books 

About the book:
Born into a life of privilege in 1878, Lillian Moller Gilbreth decided she did not want to live a pampered life, and went to university to pursue adventure and challenge.  Later, she and her husband, Frank, became efficiency experts by studying the actions of factory workers. When Frank suddenly died, Lillian was left to raise their eleven children alone. Eventually, she was hired by the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company to improve kitchen design, which was only the beginning.  Lillian Gilbreth was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the first female psychologist to have a U.S. postage stamp issued in her honor. A leading efficiency expert, she was also an industrial engineer, a psychologist, an author, a professor, and an inventor.

 
How I have never heard of this amazing woman is beyond me, because she was absolutely incredible! I know that I, personally, benefit daily from some of her discoveries and inventions!  She was the first to study ergonomics, is the reason kitchens are designed the way they are today and even invented such things as the foot-pedal operated garbage can!  Reading about Lillian and all that she accomplished as a widow with eleven children was truly remarkable, especially given the time that she was alive.

I read this book to my 3 year old son and while he sat and listened to the story, I do believe the target audience is quite a bit older. Having said that, I’m sure it was the detailed and beautiful illustrations (by David Parkins) that held my son’s interest so well.  I will definitely hang on to this gem and read it to him again when he’s older, or save for when he can read it himself.  I am now also very interested in picking up more of the Great Ideas Series as they are a great way to teach valuable history lessons in a beautiful, colourful and interesting way.

Would I recommend this book?  Absolutely!  Pick it up for your 6-10 year old. I believe this, and the others in the Great Ideas Series by Kulling, will spark interest in learning more about the remarkable people they tell the stories of.

Thank you, Tundra Books, for sending me a review copy and teaching me something new!

 

 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bubble Bum Inflatable Car Booster Seat - Why isn't this in Canada!?



Friends!  Have you heard about or seen this product - Bubble Bum Inflatable Car Booster Seat?  It's a portable booster seat for kids 4-11 years old or 40-100 pounds.   

I came across this seatbelt positioning booster seat when I was in Florida recently so I bought one!  Have you ever wished you had a booster that you could take with you on vacation, in taxis or in rental cars?  That's exactly what this is designed for. And the price point is great too - only $30 US. 
 
BubbleBum seats are currently undergoing tests to be approved in Canada, but they meet and exceed all US Federal Motor Vehicle Standards FMVSS213 and the European Regulations EU R44/o4.  I'm sure it's only a matter of time before it's approved for use here in Canada. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to use it before O is of the right age or weight, nor will I use it if it is not approved here, but I will bring it with us if and when we go on a Caribbean or US vacation once he is over 4. 

I really hope that these are approved in Canada soon.  Car safety is so important and the thought of not having a booster for a child while in a taxi or on vacation just makes me cringe. 

What do you think? Would you use it if it was approved here? 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blog Tour Book Review: The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes





I’m sure many of you are familiar with uber-popular Irish women’s fiction author, Marian Keyes, so I know you will appreciate that when Penguin Random House Canada asked if I’d like to receive an Advance Reading Copy of her new book, The Woman Who Stole My Life, I was thrilled!  I have read other books by Keyes and have thoroughly enjoyed the quick pace, conversational tone and witty characters she dreams up.

First, here’s a synopsis from the publisher:

One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life. For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That's okay. She doesn't really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car). But in this meeting is born the seed of something which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart. Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad? For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it? 

Now, my thoughts...

I had a real love-hate relationship with this book. The conversational tone and quick pace mentioned above were both present in true Keyes’ fashion.  Despite being 500+ pages, I found it to be a quick read and the story moved quickly.  The book shifts back and forth between past and present which wasn’t hard to follow, until closer to the end (what’s with the HIM, HER and ME headings?  They made no sense to me.).  I did think that the time shifting was a great way to unravel the story and I like books that are written in this manner.

One important piece of the story that the publisher's synopsis doesn’t share is that Stella falls victim to a rare disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome that leaves her paralyzed and on death’s door. This is the issue mentioned above that wrenches her family apart.  Completely paralyzed, Stella’s only means of communication is blinking her eyes and over time she develops a way of speaking to her doctor this way.  I found these parts of the book very thought-provoking. I could genuinely feel Stella’s frustration with not being able to speak or move. Her struggle was palpable as she watched her family unravel before her eyes, yet she was powerless to do anything about it.  Well done, Marian Keyes!

Unfortunately, the characters really fell short for me.  I had a hard time even liking Stella, the main character, right from the get-go.  As the mother of a teenage boy who may not fit the “average” teen mold (i.e., into sports, “tough”, etc.), I found Stella’s opinion and judgment of her son appalling.  Shouldn’t a parent embrace and foster a child’s uniqueness?  I also found her to be a push-over and sadly, just not all that interesting.  Her sister, Karen, also made me angry most of the time.  She was arrogant, condescending and just downright mean!  Who talks to their sister like that?  Maybe it’s because I have such a close relationship with my sister, who is the one person in the world who will be my cheerleader no matter what, that I found Karen’s treatment of Stella absolutely terrible.  And don’t even get me started on Ryan, her husband-turned-ex-husband.  His character was annoying, un-relatable and just plain odd.  Then there’s Mannix, Stella’s neurologist, who started out as a nerdy, quirky, soft character who suddenly morphed into a stallion.  I didn’t buy it for one second.  Also, he’s too young to a) be a neurologist and b) be into Stella, who is 41.

There were other things in the story that I found confusing and unbelievable as well.  Would a neurologist quit his job for TWO YEARS to become a literary agent?  I doubt it.  And speaking of literary agents, Stella’s agent (before Mannix took over) was a horrid character.  Is that really what authors deal with?  I certainly hope not.  I also felt that the title of the book was puzzling and misrepresentative of the story.  At one point it seems that Stella is the woman who stole Ryan’s life, but then it seems that it was Gilda that was stealing Stella’s life (insert confusion here. See how I didn’t even mention Gilda before?).  Gilda’s character wasn’t developed enough early on in the book to make me really believe the closeness of her relationship with Stella and what was happening in the last 100 pages (I will say no more so as not to spoil for those who will read it). 

If you loved Marian Keyes’ other books, I think you’ll be disappointed in this one.  I’m sorry Marian, but you just didn’t hit the mark for me with The Woman Who Stole My Life.  

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Book Review: Claudine by Barbara Palmer


When Penguin Canada contacted me about reviewing a yet-to-be released book by a Canadian author, I was a wee bit excited, to say the least.  When I found out that I’d be reading and reviewing Claudine, I was even more thrilled.  

You see, at the risk of causing some of my readers (Mom!) to blush (and perhaps even blushing myself while I type this) I have just recently forayed into reading erotic fiction and have been very pleasantly surprised.  Well, let me take a step back.  I read the now famous “shady” trilogy and was extremely disappointed for several reasons (which I will not get in to here).  But then I read another fantastic erotic fiction trilogy by a Canadian author and was absolutely delighted.  This is a genre I had never explored before but was interested in reading more. 

The story of Claudine is about more than just the “steamy scenes” and that’s what I liked most.  Having said that, said steamy scenes are hot, Hot, HOT and pretty enjoyable ;).  Maria, who moonlights as a high paid escort named Claudine, is a strong, in control, Yale graduate student.  She fulfills her clients’ fantasies, but is always in charge and delights in the experiences as well. 

Maria, who was a Hungarian orphan, hasn’t led the easiest life and as the truth about her childhood and upbringing surface you begin to empathize with her and understand why she is who she is.  The painful experiences that shaped her character were very sad and at times, hard to read.  These pieces of the story are, however, essential to character and plot development and in no way do they bring the tone or story down nor do they dominate the book.

Another great element to Claudine is that not only is this a work of erotic fiction, but it’s also a thriller!  When Maria’s and Claudine’s worlds begin to collide, her safety is jeopardized.  There were some edge-of-your-seat moments that had me really intrigued to know what was going to happen next.  No spoilers, but there are a few close calls!

Ladies, if you haven’t read any erotic fiction yet, you should start and I recommend starting with Claudine.  You’ll get a good story with interesting characters and a bit of mystery too.  Claudine was released by Penguin Canada on September 2nd, so don’t delay in picking up your copy!   You and your husband/partner will thank me ;)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On the Eve of the Second Anniversary of Dad's Passing


F. David Alger
Nov 9, 1947 - Apr 16, 2012

Two years have passed since I lost my Dad.  Two years.  Wow, that's strange to say.  In some ways it feels like he's been gone a lot longer and in other ways it seems like only yesterday. There are days when I couldn't shed a tear if I tried to and there are days when the pain is still raw. 
                                          
My Dad sure wasn't perfect and he was the first to admit it. There were times when he infuriated and frustrated me and times when he disappointed me. But there were also lots of funny, happy times and the thing I never doubted was his love for his kids and grand-kids and how fiercely proud of us he was.  Sometimes the way he would brag about us made me wonder if he was looking at us through rose coloured glasses :)

I miss Dad terribly and I have regrets.  Things I should or shouldn't have said, times I should have invited him over, times I should have called.  He didn't even get to be a senior citizen and he's missing seeing my children grow up.  He is missing Rob Ford's antics and he doesn't know that Brayden has tattoos (wait, maybe he wouldn't want to know those things...).  It all really sucks.

But the last thing Dad would want would be to see us cry. He'd want us to laugh, celebrate, succeed and be happy.  His death changed me and not for the good...yet.  I'm trying and I think I'll get there. 

Me and Dad on my wedding day
October 31, 2010

Not only does this week mark the two year anniversary of his passing but it's also the last days of my 30's.   *GULP*.  There are lots of things I've learned in my almost 40 years but there is also a lot I still need to learn and many things I need to change.  I plan to work on those changes and make my 40's the best decade yet - for Dad, but more importantly for my husband, my children and for ME.

If you are lucky enough to still have one or both of your parents living, hug them, appreciate them and be kind to them.         
                
I miss you Dad and tomorrow on what we've coined, "Dad Day", I will think of you and your wild stories, booming laugh and big heart with immeasurable love.

Dad and Oliver
February 2012 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Does The Biebs Deserve a Break?

Let me start by saying that in no way do I condone drug use, driving under the influence of anything, and generally acting like an irresponsible idiot.  I would also like to establish that I am not a Justin Bieber fan. The only song of his that I am vaguely familiar with is the one with that annoying hook that goes something like, "baby, baby, baby, oooh, baby, baby, baby".  Lyrical genius right there.

I also don't profess to know anything about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the law, or psychology. But, what I do know a bit about are teenage boys. I know that many (not all) can be immature (naturally), and have a difficult time making good decisions or thinking long term. Even teenage boys who have zillions of dollars and whatever they want at their fingertips are still just that - boys. There is lots of research out there that says that the teenage brain (and yes, even 19 year olds) aren't fully developed and aren't completely "wired" yet.  They are a work in progress.  Google it if you want more info about that.  

So what am I getting at?  I know that Justin Bieber has made a real ass of himself lately and has been doing things that are inexcusable.  But I do feel for the kid.  And even more-so for his mom.  Without getting into details that would make my own teenage son disown me, we've had some rough patches in the past few years and it is hard.  HARD.  Heart-breaking. Gut-wrenching.  You feel like a failure as a parent, absolutely helpless, sad, worried, like you are to blame and that everything that boy is doing is in some way your fault.  It sucks.  I don't know anything about Bieber's mom, but I would guess that she's feeling at least a little bit of this.  This is her CHILD.  Think of your kids.  Do you wish them any harm? Do you hope that they'll grow up to be charged with assault or test positive for drug use?  No, of course you don't.  And I'm sure she doesn't either. 

I feel for the kid growing up on the world's stage.  It's a choice, I know, but in the end, he's someone's child. He's just a kid.  I never thought I'd say this, but I actually kind of agreed with the oh-so-controversial (and big TURD for lack of a better word) Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, when he defended The Biebs. You can read about that HERE.  We need to stop bullying this kid and hope that he gets the help he needs and doesn't end up six feet under well before his time. 

A friend at work recently passed along a poem called "Letting Go" (author unknown) that really hit home to me.  I don't know Justin's mom, but maybe, somehow, she'll find this post or maybe stumble across these incredible words somewhere.  In the meantime, I truly hope they find help, peace and that they are always there for each other. 

Letting Go - author unknown
To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring,
it means I can’t do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off,
it’s the realization that I can’t control another.
To let go is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness,
which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another,
I can only change myself.
To let go is not to care for,
but to care about.
To let go is not to fix,
but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes,
but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
To let go is not to be protective,
but to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny,
but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires,
but to take each day as it comes.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past,
but to grow and live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.

Updated February 3, 2014:  I wanted to update with some more thoughts that came to me after reading comments and thinking about this more.  I do not in any way excuse Justin Bieber's behaviour and I completely agree that he needs to be held responsible for his actions.  You do the crime, you do the time.  Also, as a role model to many, he has a responsibility to act in a certain way.  I totally get that.   My point really is that unfortunately, when someone is in the spotlight it seems OK to judge, condemn and bully.  That's got to stop. And again, I feel for his family and especially his Mom.  Following the tragic and untimely death Phillip Seymour Hoffman (again, do not cast stones, we do not know about his personal journey), it brings to light the downward spiral that can happen to those both in and out of the public eye.  Did you read that interview where PSH said that if he was 19 and had all that money and fame that he wouldn't have lived very long?  BIEBS - READ THIS!!
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