Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Muse, a novel by Mary Novik

This is not my usual genre.  The last 3 books I read prior to this were World War Z, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and The Killing Floor.  Why did I read this novel?  It was given to me for a book club discussion.  Reading the cover, and knowing what little time I had to barrel through a book in two weeks, I was skeptical that I could finish it on time for the meeting.  To my joyful surprise I flew through it!   I can honestly say I was blown away by the beauty and poetry of the author's prose. 

The synopsis on the book's jacket really does not do the story justice.  Understandably, I can see how difficult it must be to describe such an epic tale in less than 100 words.  At it's heart, Muse is a story about strength, love and survival.

Birthing a female character into the first half of the 14th century strikes me as a terrifying decision.  What rights would she have, what voice, what influence?   These questions plagued me throughout the book, and yet Mary Novik created numerous strong, honest and relate-able female characters - relate-able even today. 
The story, characters and writing are equally rich and colorful - at times Shakespearean.  I must admit, I required my Dictionary.com app to define (and sound out) a handful of the early French Renaissance phrases and words.  However, I found this just added to the scope and depth of the writing.  

The ending was brilliant, real, and satisfying.  As her story unfolded, Solange inspired me to risk loving deeper, to hold my head high, and perhaps to write more often. 

To Mary Novik:  you have insipred me to write this review at 11pm, on a school night after I had been at my office job for 12 hours.   Is it you or Solange that is the true Muse?

Information about Mary Novik and her books can be found on her website: MaryNovik.com 

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Friday, August 23, 2013

To Meme or Not To Meme... (is Meme a verb?)

Who knows what a meme is?  (who knows how to pronounce "meme"?)

Meme is pronounced "meem" (with a long "eeeee" sound).  It a a noun and it is defined as:

"an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture"

In centuries past, it would take decades, maybe centuries for a meme to take effect on a cultural scale.  Today with the internet (and social media in-particular), memes have the ability to spread ideas, styles and behaviours within days - sometimes hours.  I find this fascinating.
This was a meme.
(I had one on my wall when I was 10)

In a "2-click" culture (by that I mean anything more than 2 mouse clicks away is likely not to get viewed), memes have become an uber popular form of communication.  They are the proverbial "Hang In There" kitten posters.

I started using memes at work to introduce coworkers to Google Apps for Business when we "went Google".  Everyone was nervous about the change but people weren't talking about it - they were grumbling to themselves and unknowingly creating an atmosphere of tension leading up to an inevitable upgrade.  The memes created a bit of lightness and laughter in an atmosphere taught with apprehension.

Each day a new meme was emailed out highlighting a positive feature of Google Apps (Gmail mostly). The responses I received were very positive - people looked forward to opening the emails each day.  They got people talking about what worried them most, they realized they weren't the only ones concerned about potential difficulties, and everyone felt warm and fuzzy inside  :) ... well, at least they were able to acknowledge that some features of Google Apps were cool (this I consider a successful campaign).

(Note: These aren't the memes I used for work, but they will do for this demonstration).  

By changing the image to match your intended meaning, you are able to (hopefully) influence how your message is perceived and taken:
IT response (excited!) 
(staff response: I'm too old for this)
(desired overall response: I know it's hard, but think of the possibilities)

Bringing this concept home might work great with your kids (or it might make you seem more dorkie - but at least your message will be read and more than likely thought about):

Teenager wants a new iPhone after losing/breaking one?  If they've seen Lord of the Rings email them this:

(message: you have to work for it; emotion: I'm frustrated and annoyed)

Kids need to tidy their rooms?  Print this out and hang it on their door:

Thousands of ideas at your fingertips limited only by your imagination. 

I used MemeCreator.org to create the memes on this post.  I personally like MemeCreator.org for it's simplicity and ease of use.  There are LOTS of sites out there, some (like MemeCreator.org) allow you to upload your own image (my kids are such hams in from of the camera I've got too many to choose from).  Just make sure you're aware of the permission rights when you upload personal pictures - some sites might automatically require you to let others use your images... but who knows - your pet might be the next "Grumpy Cat".

(my cat, Calvin)

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Review - World War Z, by Max Brooks

The new "all star" audiobook (unabridged)
is the version I listened to. 
By far one of the most enjoyable productions I've experienced - each chapter is a story from a different person, and each person was played beautifully by a different actor. I love that Max Brooks (the author) is the interviewer/narrator. 

Very unique perspective on how societies (specifically different cultures within societies all over the world) would react to, deal with, and finally continue life after the zombie apocalypse.

It's smart, unique and powerful. Some stories are gripping, others are just accounts. What I found most interesting was the author's ability to write from so many perspectives - and believably so.  More than once I found myself marveling at the amount of research and thought that went into this creation.

Max Brooks delves into SO many details and aspects that have (to my knowledge) never been considered in other zombie movies/books - e.g. what happens to the undead when they fall into the ocean? What about someone who is agoraphobic? How would Japan handle the infection? Russia? Cuba? What happens in different climates? or 12 years after the outbreak?  

Written far before Walking Dead, this book asks a lot of the same questions the writers of the graphic novel & show must ask themselves when considering issues the survivors have to handle.

It's not a traditional "follow a character beginning to end" story.  At no point does the author make you think that it will be - infact Mr. Brooks is very clear right from the start that it is an oral history of individual experiences from around the world. It's an interviewer traveling the world asking people about specific moments in the (now) history of the zombie war. You don't even read about the narrator's travels - the characters have nothing to do with each other.  Essentially it's a bunch of short monologue-type stories put in chronological order.

4/5 stars - Great book, fabulous audio rendition - nothing to do with the movie.

(Nathan Fillion plays the voice of the Canadian soldier!  - yay! get your geek on!)  

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reading Rocks: 5 Books That Shaped Me

I have read A LOT of books but I don't think I could pin down a "favourite".  Over the years my "favourite" book has changed.  I can't decide if current life circumstances influence one's intake of media, or if media influences one's life circumstances.  Did I read Babysitter's Club because I loved to babysit?  Or did I like babysitting because I read Babysitter's Club?

In either case, today I share the books I feel have played significant roles in my life and why: 

1.  Come Over To My House by Theo LeSing - This is a kid's book I've recommended on my blog in the past.  My Dad read this to me and my brother as a child - he did voices of the kids from different areas of the world (Australian, Russian, Scottish, etc) and we would laugh and beg for him to read it again.  It might have influenced my tolerance for other cultures... I found it on eBay after my boys were born, left it at my parent's home and apparently my Dad reads it with the same silly voices to his Grandkids.  

2.  Forever by Judy Blume - I can name 3 Judy Blume books that I would consider influential in my life (Are You There God? It's Me Margaret and Tiger Eyes are the other two).  But Forever was the first book I read with sex in it.  Not erotica sex (erotica is usually as fake as porn - although not often as raunchy).  No, this book had real, first-time teenage sex, and a realistic aftermath.  

3.  Twilight by Stephanie Meyer - this is a book that I am often embarrassed to admit to reading.  Why was it an influence in my life?  It was the first book (series) I picked up after my kids were born.  I remember reading a Dan Brown book the week I was due with my first son (December, 2005).  Until Twilight (June 2008), I hadn't read a single book.  It got me excited to read again, it gave me the "must stay up until 2am to finish" feeling, even though I KNEW I should sleep when the new baby slept.  It also made me realize I could read "fluff" as an adult.

4.  Phantom by Susan Hay - This was the first adult book I ever read.  I think I was 14 years old.  Before Phantom I was reading Babysitter's Club books (like 2 per week), Fear Street, Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan.  At the time I was obsessed with Phantom of the Opera, I had seen it like 3 times in only a year and a half.  This book is about the life of the man who became the Phantom - essentially it tells how he ended up under the opera house and what/who influenced his life and path to become who he became.  Told from different perspectives starting with his birth, it ends where the musical/movie begins.

5. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien - I haven't actually finished the book yet (technically that is).  My father told me the story of the Hobbit as a bedtime story when I was a child.  To this day I can trace my love of fantasy and sci-fi back to this book.  After the movie came out in 2012, I picked it up and (finally) started to read it.  

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Zombie Awareness Month - Really?

Nothing like the fear of a potential apocalypse to bring the world together. Yes, apparently May is  - 
International Zombie Awareness Month no, really, it's on Wikipedia so it MUST be true! (eye role).
From the movie Warm Bodies (great book!)

Don't get me wrong, I love zombies (movies, books, audio-books) , I have close friends who take part in the Toronto Zombie Walk every year.  I suppose I take a bit of offence at the potential to take away from legitimate awareness raising - that is unless some one wonders:  "Zombie Awareness Month... I wonder what other awareness months there are?".

With that in mind, and although it's nearing the end of May, I share with you the awareness campaigns (for the living) in North America for the month of May

*Note: I downloaded this jpg and am therefore unable to make additions/changes.
Please leave a comment below if you notice a cause/colour missing. 

Canadian Awareness Campaigns:
(as listed by www.CharityVillage.org)
Full Month:



United States of America:
(as listed by Awareness Depot)*

Full Month:

  • 1-7: (same dates each Year) National Physical Education and Sports Week
  • 2-8: Children's Mental Health Awareness Week
  • 2-8: North American Occupational Safety and Health Awareness Week
  • 2-8: International Building Safety Week
  • 2-8: Be Kind to Animals Week
  • 2-8: Brain Tumor Action Week
  • 9-15: National Hospitals Week
  • 6-12: (same dates each year) National Nurses Week
  • 3-7: National Mental Health Counseling Week
  • 9-15: Food Allergy Awareness Week
  • 9-15: National Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Week
  • 9-15: (Mother's Day Week) National Nursing Home Week
  • 9-15: (Mother's Day Week) Women's Health Week
  • 17-21: (third week in May) Bike to Work Week
  • 17-23: National Hepatitis Awareness Week
  • 23-29: (last full week) Older Americans Mental Health Week
  • 24-30: Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week
  • 24-June 6: Buckle Up America! Week/Click It or Ticket

  • 1: Join Hands Day, Youth and Adults Volunteering Together
  • 3: Melanoma Monday
  • 6: Childhood Depression Awareness Day
  • 6: (first Monday in May) Project ACES Day (All Children Exercise Simultaneously)
  • 8: (same date each year) World Cross/Red Crescent Day
  • 8: World Fair Trade Day
  • 8: Cornelia de Lange Syndrome Awareness Day
  • 10: National Woman's Checkup Day
  • 11: (first Thursday) National Day of Prayer 12 Fibromyalgia Awareness Day
  • 12: (same date each year) School Nurse Day
  • 18: HIV Vaccine Awareness Day
  • 19: (third Wednesday) National Employee Health and Fitness Day
  • 19: World Hepatitis Day
  • 19: National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • 26: National Senior National Health and Fitness Day
  • 31: World No Tobacco Day

*Note:  in previous posts I listed US awareness days as found on Wikipedia.  However, after researching I discovered that the list found at AwarenessDepot.com was more comprehensive. 

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Love, Loss and Living On

I've experienced different types of loss over the past 15 years.  It's shaped me.  Sometimes it moves me, sometimes I move it.  I feared I was going to become a bitter “life is loss” old lady with 15 cats and a hump back.  I was close to that place, I felt it, I held it, I took comfort along the edges of it.  But early this year I made a life changing decision.  I was tired of talk therapy and medications.  It was time to try something new - EMDR treatments (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).  After only 4 sessions, my seven years of oppressive grief had lifted.  I am able to think about and write about my loss without re-experiencing it.  If you have suffered from any type of trauma (mine was a combination of many “small t” traumas), strongly recommend you look into this treatment.  It has literally changed my perspective on life, and in doing so has changed my ability to live. 

Writing has become my passion again, a passion that was lost a long time ago.  I remember life before my kids as shiny and fairy tale-ish.  I am a fairy tale nut, and so I have reflected on the last 15 years as such.


My tale begins 15 years ago, in a land not so far away... (in fact I still live in the same town I was born)...

Part 1 - in which everything is wonderful.

Once upon a time there was a strong, confident, sexy young woman who worked at the local rape crisis centre.  She organized large, successful fundraising events, managed an office of seven busy women, and provided peer counselling to other young women.  She married her high school sweetheart, they bought a house, and were trying to have a baby. 

All was good. 

Part 2 - in which all hope seems lost. 

It turns out her Prince was a Queen, and married his own Prince Charming.  They remained good friends, and she stayed a part of his larger family (for after 10 years, one cannot casually cut people out of one's life).

But, the confident young woman was broken, lost her way and her faith in Fate - perhaps everything didn't happen for a reason...

She spent months rebuilding herself, learning what SHE wanted, what HER priorities were.  She surrounded herself with other strong, confident women and eventually the pieces came back together.  She felt good, strong and healthy. 

Love at first sight seemed a fanciful myth, one that she could not imagine would happen to her - but it did.  She met another Prince (who definitely liked princesses), with the help of a newly established internet dating site. 

The girl did not want to marry again, but all was good and all were happy, and the kingdom rejoiced. 

Until the Prince’s mother and the girls grandmother both fell gravely ill. 

During this difficult time the girl became pregnant - and this was good, for it gave each family hope and
all looked a little brighter.  The girl was glowing and happy and proud to be able to bring this hope to the families. 

But then, with no warning or sign, after five months of being a part of the girl, the baby died.  A part of the girl died as did the hope the girl had carried.  She was broken again.  The glue holding her together
deteriorated.  How does one fix a vase that has already been mended? 

She lived in grayness the Prince took good care of her and three months later, when his mother died, her fog lifted enough so that she could take care of him, for that is what one does.

The week of the funeral came, and with it the bittersweet joy of another pregnancy.  They married before Prince Damian was born, and drank to his mother, for she had greatly wanted the grandchild, and to see her son married.

All was well once more.

Two years passed and the girl attended two more funerals, lost another baby, and a second prince was born, Prince Dexter.  A month after the second prince was born, the girl’s father became very ill.  She returned to work, only to lose her job after two months. 

Loss seemed to follow the girl. Loss of love, of child, of family.  Loss of job, of friendships and of self. 

Part 3 - in which a light starts to form from within the darkness.

Seven years passed from her first miscarriage before she found a way out of the darkness.  For seven years there has been a ghost living with her, growing older each year.  A ghost of (perhaps) a little princess who would have been a big sister to Prince Damian.  The hole inside the girl will never be filled.  But, with help it has been patched and holds still. 

The girl started to write again, to find herself again.  Her father battles his illness with bravery and dignity, and her mother is a strength unto herself. 

The girl’s life is nothing like she had imagined it would be.  Her boys are funny, caring and healthy, they challenge and press her but also give her great joy and comfort.  

Her Prince, now her King, is by her side still making her laugh and taking care of her. 

And life (after her kids) is good.  As it should be, and as it will be. 

I originally published this post at http://www.journeysofthezoo.com as a guest blogger.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Reading Rocks: Blast From The Past

"There is more treasure in books than in 
all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." — Walt Disney

One of the greatest joys is reading books to your kids that were read to you as a child.  My love of fantasy and action stories (and movies) comes from my father.  Before bed he would tell me the story of The Hobbit - no book, but the images created in my mind have stayed with me my whole life.  To this day I collect copies of The Hobbit for my shelf.  

Bedtime was a time of laughter and stories at my house.  Here are three "classics" that have stood the test of time for me (and my kids). 

Come Over To My House 
by: Theo LeSing (aka Dr. Seuss) 
Originally published in 1966, the story follows a little boy who travels the world as he is invited to friends homes in different countries.  Although the countries are hyper-stereotyped (circa 1960's:  e.g. his friend in the arctic lives in an igloo), the message of friendship across the world and regardless (or perhaps because) of culture comes through loud and clear.     

The Big Honey Hunt
by: Stan & Jan Berenstain
Before the cartoon, before the series of paperback books, even before Sister Bear, there was Mama, Papa and Little Bear (later re-named Brother).  This was a book I learned to read by way of an accompanying audio book.  The story follows Little Bear and Papa as they follow a bee to find honey for their honey pot.   The rhyming is fun and I personally love how Mama is ALWAYS right in the end  :)

Fox in Socks
by:  Dr. Suess
If you think you are good at reading tongue twisters out loud - give this a try!  It's one of the most difficult books to read out loud (in the proper rhythm).  My kids beg me to read it to them and laugh when I get the words mixed up.  By the end of the book I'm usually out of breath.  It's super fun, and super memorable.  Check out this You Tube video to see the "proper way" to read it: Fox on Socks amateur video

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Blue Monday - The MOST depressing day of the year...(annually)

So - I'm back! In order to spare you all from my annual December lamentation, I decided to not blog for a month.  I'm sure you all had lots of nice, warm, fuzzy Christmas and New Year posts to read and keep you busy... but now back to business!

Have you ever heard of Blue Monday? It's the 3rd Monday in January.  Apparently it's the most depressing day of the year.  In 2005 (as part of a publicity campaign by Sky Travel), a (pseudoscientific) mathematical equation was developed to determine the most depressing day of the year:
\frac{[W + D-d] T^Q}{M N_a}
where weather=W, debt=d, time since Christmas=T, time since failing our new year’s resolutions=Q, low motivational levels=M and the feeling of a need to take action=Na. 'D' is not defined in the release, nor are units.
The date was calculated by using many factors, including: weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action. 

Check out the Blue Monday website: BlueMonday.org

SO - prior to January 21, 2013 spend some time making a list of things you're grateful for, of the fabulous people in your life, and of all the fun things you will do in the year to come!  Then, on the evening of January 20th tape the list to the mirror you look at first in the morning (bathroom, bedroom, hallway) and start Blue Monday off on a positive thought!

I also recommend the following for quick pick-me-ups:

  • Watch stand-up comedy
  • Look up images of cute cats and dogs - like this one: Funny cat
  • Go to You Tube and watch cute videos of cats and dogs doing funny things - like this: Ultimate Dog Tease
  • Eat chocolate
  • Go for a walk

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Reading Rocks: My Fav Kid's author (for now)

"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, 
And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall."

— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

As you are well aware by now, I LOVE kid's books.  There is something magical and nostalgic about reading a story to someone who has never heard the tale before.  As my boys have grown, I have discovered MANY MANY great authors.  For a long while my favorite children's author was Sandra Boynton.  Once my eldest turned four I discovered (quite by accident at a library book sale) the UK's Julia Donaldson.  You may know her from her bestseller The Gruffalo.  I had never heard of the Gruffalo, but I found the book Monkey Puzzle (re-named I've lost my Mom in North America) and fell in love with Julia's prose and rhythm.

Here are 3 books by Julia Donaldson that I read out loud more for myself then for my boys:

Monkey Puzzle
Little Monkey has lost him Mum.  A friendly butterfly helps him find her, 
but not before getting it wrong a few times.

Room On The Broom
By far my all-time favorite kid's book!  (as a side note, it was turned into a short stage production in Ontario). The Witch keeps losing her belongings (wand, hat, bow) only to find help from some friendly critters below.  A beautiful, fun story about friendship.

Charlie Cook's Favorite Book
It's great to get lost in a book.  Each character Charlie reads about
in his favorite book has a book of their own that they love to read.

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reading Rocks: It's good to be YOU!

"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, 
And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall."
— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Every week I post a list of 3 books to read to your kids. Buy them, borrow them, read them cherish them, share them.

This week's list represents a handful of my favorite "be yourself" books.  These are fun to read, and great for boys and girls, ages 3+

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet 
by Theo LeSieg (aka Dr. Seuss)
This is one of my favorite books to read out loud.  
As Theo LeSieg, Dr. Seuss was able to write in a
different voice (no made up words or places in this book).  
The beat and rhythm of the verse is fun and catchy.  
Follow the little boy as he thinks about all the things he'd like 
to have only to realize the best thing to be is... himself!

A Porcupine Named Fluffy
by: Helen Lester
Find out what happens when Fluffy (the porcupine) trys to be more... fluffy.  
Hilarious and heartwarming.   


by: Margie Palatini
Try and try as he might, Moose can't do ANYTHING about is unruly mustache.
By the end he discovers he's not the only one with this problem... and that's ok.

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