Friday, November 25, 2016

Book Review: The Wonder

My new book club (which is awesome and working very well: who knew mixing friends would turn out so fantastically!) decided they weren't into the open genre thing. Disappointing, but I figure that's motivation for me to read the chosen book plus one of my own in a month. This month there was a long process of recommendations and voting but we eventually decided to go with a new book by the author of Room, a book that I read years ago before I blogged book reviews, a book I only half liked...

The Wonder
By Emma Donoghue
304 pages

Anna hasn't eaten in four months, insisting she's been existing on manna from heaven. Lib, a Nightingale trained nurse, is hired to watch over the young child to ensure it's not an elaborate hoax. Set in Ireland in the late 1800s, we follow Lib, Anna, her family, and various characters from the small Irish town as Lib tries to debunk the proposed sainthood.

This book was...stiff? Stern? Flat? Perhaps it's the historical period as it reads like a Bronte or Austen classic. There's a crap ton of strict Catholic religiosity, a dull yet convenient historical romance element, a Room-esque twist, basically one setting (a room in a ramshackle Irish hut) and lots of watching a girl not eat. It got repetitive. The ending was meh but at least exciting. If only it had come 200 pages earlier. And wasn't so darn...convenient.

If you like historical stuff, then I'd recommend you put yourself on the massive waitlist for this book at your local library. I'm really glad I didn't buy a copy, as in the end it wasn't a complete waste of my time, but not a thought provoking page turner either...just...meh. Like Anna, it needed some meat.

Also I'm not reading any more books about traumatised children who are ruined by the abusive acts of those older than themselves.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

I quit my book club and stopped reading. I started to feel stupid. Like I'd lost my words. And as a librarian, whenever I don't read recreationally I feel guilty. Like it's my job or something.

So I started a book club with some super local nearby northsider friends. It was scary at first, mixing different groups of friends but they're all awesome and everyone seems to get along great!

The thing about my old book club I really liked was that it was open genre - we picked a different genre/topic each month and each read different books then talked about them. This really appealed to me because I don't like being told what to read and I don't like wasting time reading what I don't want to read. However, this doesn't appeal to everyone so for this new book club we're going to alternate reading the same book with an open genre/topic. I think. We'll see how month two goes.

Choosing a book was actually not painful. Some people brought recommendations, we discussed, checked goodreads, checked how many copies the library had, noted how many pages. In the end our first choice was a gooder!

The library lost the book while it was on it's way to me so I read most of it on my phone. Last time I tried that it took me months and months and I hated the process, but this time, with the added deadline and time pressure of a book club pushing me on, I actually didn't dread reading off my phone. It was almost...convenient. Still, I wouldn't choose to do so normally: hopefully next month I get to go back to paper.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
By Matthew Dicks
336 pages

Budo is Max's imaginary friend. Max is a special kid (we assume autistic spectrum?), and Budo is a special imaginary friend. The whole book is told from Budo's point of view - which makes it very interesting and insightful so good job to Dicks on that. It's first person pov but not in the way that annoys me. And because Max is a kid and thus Budo is a kid, it's a easy read. Well the language is anyway, eventually the plot picks up and it gets quite deep. But not too deep because afterall, they're just kids.

I really liked the first half of the book - Budo describes everyday life and we get to know the school/home setting and the characters. As a former elementary school teacher, I could really tell Dicks is an elementary school teacher as the setting is pretty accurate. Max is an interesting kid, and I appreciated the behind the scenes depiction of how a child who sees the world differently (we assume because he's somewhere on the autistic spectrum) operates and thinks. I suppose it's hard to know how accurate the author's portrayal of Max is, but as expected and assumed, this insight was a highlight of the book in my opinion. Dicks has also created an imaginary world of imaginary characters and I found it very interesting to learn about the rules he creates for their biology, culture etc. I found myself wanting to read more about the imaginary friends, as if they needed a spinoff series. Basically the first half is a childish romp through third grade and I didn't want the mostly happy stuff to end. But if there was no Sauron there would be no ring and thus no adventure so inevitably the bad plot device occurred and the story moved forward.

I wasn't expecting this particular turn of events [SPOILER] and the book became reminiscent of Room or Lovely Bones. Yeah I was somewhat disappointed my childish calm was spoiled but the action ramped up and the just resolution of the problem made up for it. I ended up [SPOILER] crying mostly happy/sad but not horrified tears to the point where I couldn't read the type on the last page. Yeesh.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes children, identifies with a school setting, or who liked Room or Lovely Bones. It was a great easy, enjoyable, and somewhat emotional first pick for our new book club!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Book Review: Road Tripping: On the Move with the Buffalo Gals

I saw this book at the information centre/gift shop in Elk Island National Park, and it looked interesting so I got it out of the library. Clever title. Cute cover. Very local. Interesting topic. Couldn't be that bad, right?

Road Tripping: On the Move with the Buffalo Gals
By Conni Massing
264 pages

The Buffalo Gals are a group of friends who take a yearly road trip around Alberta - but not to the big tourist attractions - to the quirky, off the beaten path, usually a bit weird attractions. Massing writes about where they go, but also how they got there )and especially what they ate).

The first chapter was interesting as it was about the Torrington Gopher Museum, and since I've been there a couple times it was quite nostalgic. [The Torrington Gopher Museum is quite epic and awesome and you need to go because you've never seen anything like it. Best $2 you'll ever spend. Stop at Peter's Drive In in Red Deer on the way and check out Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park while you're in the neighbourhood too.] Every trip encompasses a number of quirky and/or food stops in a small area of the province - as detailed on an annotated map at the start of the chapter. Also included are a number of stops at some of Alberta's "Big Things", which also drew me to this book because I have a secret dream to one day see them all.

So really this should've been a rocking good road trip read!

Meh. Too many inside jokes. Too much chatter about the people and not enough details about the neat places they visited. And a lot of the restaurants in the small towns they stopped at aren't open anymore so I was disappointed I couldn't recreate the perfect pie pitstop. Honestly, I got through the first half and then skimmed the rest. Should've been mostly interesting, but was a bit boring in the end.

Read this book if you want a tour of quickly Alberta "stuff", most of which you can still visit yourself. But skim through the van conversations if you want. They get to where they're going eventually.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Folk Fest 2016: When the People Rocked the Music

When they announced this year's lineup, I was super disappointed. No big names. No Quebecois band. No one I loved. Heck, very few I even sort of liked!

In fact, I almost didn't go. It's such hard work and quite stressful, but one of my music people really wanted us to be there for her, so go I did.

And I don't regret it. Because while the music was meh, the people were awesome. I love my tarp family, and cherish the moments I get to spend with them. So much so, that despite the lineup, I'll be there for 2017 too.

But here's a Top 3 nonetheless:

1. The Year of the African Bands
I always try to see an African Band at the folk fest, but this year was their year and I had all the time for them. Friday's second session with Daby Toure, Black Umfolosi, Joel Fafard and Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar was probably the best jamming session I saw.

Joel Fafard, Black Umfolosi, Daby Toure and Samantha Martin et al.

I took in Black Umfolosi's concert and it was as joyful as ever. Here's a quick video I shot of my favourite song of theirs.

Black Umfolosi

And the last small stage concert of the weekend, Jah Prayzah and the 3rd Generation Band, had my tarp family up like dancing fools and it was a fun time to share together.

Dance Party with Jah Prayzah!

Next year, I'll make an extra point to check out the African groups!

2. Sometimes I surprise even myself, but I really enjoyed The Cat Empire's afternoon main stage concert. I'd definitely see them again.

3. Besides Friday's jammy session, the second best session I was was on Sunday and included Martyn Carthy, Matt Molloy and John Carty with Arty McGlynn, Dervish and the Kruger Brothers. It was a celtic jammy master class and very enjoyable. I had forgotten how funny Cathy Jordan ("Cathy Dervish") is.

Martyn Carthy, Matt Molloy and John Carty with Arty McGlynn, Dervish and the Kruger Brothers

Honourable Mention

The Step Crew was a little showy (they remind me of Barrage), but put on a good side stage concert.

The Step Crew

No super stand outs, besides the African contingent, but another year of perfect weather spent with perfect people with a perfect view of the hill. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

iRodeo 2016: Or Why It's My Favourite Music Festival

Interstellar Rodeo handily won over the crown of my most favourite music festival. Civilized. Relaxed. It was a fantastic venue for spending time with my favourite music family.

Here's my top 3 of 2016:

1. Marty Stuart
I knew I'd enjoy him, because my dad used to play his 'Tempted' cassette tape all the time, but I was surprised he was the top highlight of the festival. The music. The showmanship. The voice. The outfits. And he capped it all off by shaking fans hands as he walked off the stage. A set can't get much better than that!

2. The Strumbellas
You gotta love singing along, knowing all the words, dancing in your chair. They are a great live band.

3. Kathleen Edwards
Since she's technically retired, it's always a privilege to see her in concert. She was high-larious, with her own brand of self deprecating humour, and the songs are as always fantastic. She brought out Luke Doucet to play a few songs with her too.

Honourable Mention:

Henry Wagons only did a tweeter but he won over the crowd with his song 'Willie Nelson'. Dude needs his own full set next year! Check out a short video I shot of my favourite song.

Whitehorse was back, and while I love the duo and their music, I don't 100% buy into all the looping and electronic stuff. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland's voices are so amazing that I feel all the extra takes away from that. But fun to watch nonetheless.

Six Shooter Records (we love them!) have treated us fans so well over the years. We'll be back next year for sure!!

Just be awesome...

Book Review: Graphic Novels by David Alexander Robertson

I can't remember how I found out about David Alexander Robertson, through the rabbit hole of the internet at work one day. Robertson is of Cree heritage, and the author of many graphic novels portraying Aboriginal history and present day issues.

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story
By David Alexander Robertson and Scott B. Henderson

A story about a murdered indigenous women, this is an emotional read with not a happy ending.

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story
By David Alexander Robertson and Scott B. Henderson

This poignant story about a residential school experience, ultimately ends with strength and hope.

7 Generations
By David Alexander Robertson and Scott B. Henderson

Collecting four stories in one volume, this novel traces a family from 1800 to present day, through tragedy and bravery and strength.

All of these graphic novels were great reads and I recommend them to everyone. I opened my mind and learned. I sure hope Robertson's works find themselves in schools across Canada!

Book Review: Buffy Sainte-Marie: It's My Way

In June of 2015, I happened to be in Ottawa for a library conference at the same time as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada wrapped up. I happened to be walking by the park where Buffy Sainte-Maire was performing, just in time to catch her entire set. I was mesmerized. The music was amazing, and she was just...well she's one cool lady. I spent the next six weeks listening to her CDs, and a month later she played a fantastic show at Interstellar Rodeo. Her music continues to get heavy play as my office music.

So I was pleased to come across her biography recently, and excitedly learned more about one of the world's great women...

Buffy Sainte-Maire: It's My Way
By Blair Stonechild
282 pages

And learn more about Buffy I did. Though not strictly chronological, Stonechild takes us through Buffy's life from childhood, to university, to her early music career, to her artistic pursuits, to her advocacy and impact on Aboriginal education and culture, to her later/current music career. She's lived a fascinating life, and I was especially interested in reading about her early music experiences (like the story about the connection between Buffy and Joni Mitchell) and her work with Aboriginal education. Stonechild uses extensive footnotes, and via interviews with Buffy and the people in her life, as well as media stories, I believe he presents an accurate biography. His writing is very accessible: this is not a hard read. In the end, I got confirmation that Buffy Sainte-Marie herself is a fantastic role model, a principled woman who stuck by herself and her heritage, and as I said cool lady.

The neatest thing about reading this book, was the mentions and stories of all the songs and CDs. Some I knew, and could sing in my head. Some I listened to on youtube while I was reading. Some I googled the lyrics for. This really added to the experience of reading the book. It reminded me of the time I visited the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels a lifetime ago - you wear a set of headphones as you tour around, and when you are standing outside a display, the sound of the instruments automatically plays for you via sensors in the ceiling. It was a fantastic way to experience a gallery, and I found myself wishing the book came with a similar well timed soundtrack!

I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about a Canadian music legend! And pick up the new CD, it's great!