Saturday, May 21, 2016

Audio Dystopia

Until recently, dystopian fiction has never appealed to me, and I think I first decided to give something a try when my cousin told me to read The Hunger Games; she was sure I’d like it. I wasn’t quite so sure, so rather than spend precious reading time on a book I wasn’t sure about, I decided I’d listen to it while doing housework. My cousin was right, I did enjoy the story, and I think I had this astonishing fact in mind when I discovered Oryx and Crake in the Overdrive catalogue of audiobooks.

I had never given the book or the MaddAddam series a chance. To me dystopian fiction seemed full of harsh landscapes, harsh realities, and unrelatable characters. As an escapist reader, I could think of other destinations. I was happily surprised to find that I really did engage with the story, at least enough that I wanted to listen while puttering away at home. At first I needed to know Snowman’s story. Where did Snowman come from, and why that name? There was also something else that kept me listening; something about this ugly world unfolding with each word, and wanting to know who Snowman is mourning, and why he’s so filthy.

By the end of the first book, I needed badly to know what the outcome of this doom might look like, so I immediately downloaded the second book, The Year of the Flood. This story begins in a different time and place with different characters than we met in the first book so my need wasn’t actually satisfied until the final book, MaddAddam. Yet, listen I did. The characters gained vibrancy and personality throughout the books, many becoming quite relatable, and the stories and point of view more humorous.

Enjoying audiobooks as I do, I felt quite excited by having multiple narrators helping to develop the story. Each one was distinct enough that it was easy to tell who was speaking or whose point of view was being represented. Of all the narrators, I only disliked one. In the process of writing up this blog post I realized it happened to (ahem) be Margaret Atwood herself, reading the character of Toby. Interestingly, Toby is one of my favourite characters, but I had a bit of a hard time getting past the tone of her voice reading Toby as though she were uninterested in the world, what was happening, her part in all of it, or life in general; all of which are opposite to my impressions of her character, and reasons why I liked her.

Paying attention to the world around myself, it’s not too far of a stretch to imagine some catastrophe that just may change the shape of my daily life, my priorities, and all the structures I’ve built in life. Deciding to run along with this idea for a while, I next listened to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Read by the prolific Kirsten Potter, the story was at once terrifying and enchanting. Hearing the stories of the characters and how they survived the collapse was nearly inspiring, and the travelling Shakespearean troupe added an endearing familiarity and quaintness.

Both authors set their books, at least in part, in Ontario, my home province, which added to the appeal. All the books include strong characters facing adversity, and the task of carving out an entirely new way of being in the world through the strength of friendship, community and chance.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Fresh Coat of Paint

Spring is here and I am feeling motivated to take on some home improvement projects. Painting is a great way to update your home or apartment on a budget. Having just moved, there are a number of rooms that I would love to freshen up with some new colours. I’ve painted in the past, but I’ve never been thrilled with the results. For me, painting projects always end up being much more challenging and time consuming than I expect. This year, I am motivated to improve my skills and make sure I do the job well. Below are some of my favourite painting resources that I have found at the library.

Here’s How – Painting: 29 projects with paint
Part of the Black & Decker Here’s How series, I like this book because it is concise, covers many topics and includes lots of pictures. This is great if you don’t have a lot of time and want to make sure you are on the right track in terms of supplies, methods and technique. You can also find instructions on creating different specialty finishes, such as a terra-cotta finish, stenciled designs, stamped mosaic, or taped-off designs.

300 Tips for Painting & Decorating: tips, techniques & trade secrets
This book by Alison Jenkins is very detailed and offers tips and tricks for a wide variety of projects. An excellent book for beginners, Jenkins provides extensive advice on what tools to use for different projects (with pictures!). She also provides a large and detailed chapter on project planning and preparation. This book will guide you through your entire project from start to finish, making sure you are well prepared and ready to handle any issues that may arise.

Paint Can! Children's Rooms: patterns and projects for colorful, creative spaces
If you are looking at painting a child’s room, this book is full of fun, colourful projects that kids will love. The author, Sunny Goode, offers step-by-step instructions for such projects as vertical or horizontal stripes, checkerboard, an ocean wave pattern, flowers and vines, stars, and chalkboards. Projects are organized in the book by age group and include lots of handy photographs.

Stanley Complete Painting
If you are only going to look at one book, Stanley Complete Painting is an excellent reference book. Covering both interior and exterior painting, this book provides concise, step-by-step instructions for painting pretty much any surface of your home. Trim, ceilings, walls, windows, doors, flooring, even furniture and swimming pools are covered. They also have excellent information on picking the perfect paint, primers and sealers, equipment, how to clean up and solutions for common problems.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2015 Bram Stoker Award Winners

"The annual for superior achievement in horror literature. Named in honor of the author of the seminal horror novel Dracula, the Stokers are presented for superior writing in eight categories including traditional fiction of various lengths, poetry, and non-fiction."

2015 Bram Stoker Award Winners

Superior Achievement in a Novel
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Mr Suicide by Nicole Cushing

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel
Devil's Pocket by John Dixon

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
Shadow Show: stories in celebration of Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Learning Indigenous Languages

Every so often the call goes out to non-Indigenous Canadians to do our part to preserve the languages of First Nations' peoples. Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson made such an appeal in a Globe and Mail article published this past weekend. As many Indigenous languages are in decline, the urgency of this issue is clear. In the Calls to Action published as part of its summary report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada asks the federal government "to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights." As Clarkson states, we cannot tell Canada's story without Indigenous languages.

Where to begin? There are so many good online resources for learning languages such as Michif (Métis), Míkmawísimk (Mi'kmaq), and many more. The library can help!

On the Halifax (K'jipuktuk) Public Libraries' website, we feature a page devoted to Mi'kmaq Resources with links to documents and sites which provide information on Mi'kmaq history, genealogy, politics, culture, and language learning. We also feature many books and other Mi'kmaq-language materials in our collection. Learn something new and help to preserve something essential to the land we all share. It's never been easier!

Walqupaqtek [Mud Puddle] by Robert Munsch

Wiklatmu'j [The Little Person] by Mary Rose Julian

Long powwow nights!: Iskewsis -- dear mother = Mawio'mi amasiwula'kwl: Iskewsis-- nkij by David Bouchard and Pam Aleekuk

Foundation for Mi'kmaw/Miigmao Language Curriculum

Miigemeoiisoltinetj: Let's speak Micmac (levels 1-6)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Agatha Awards Nominees 2015

The 2015 Agatha Award finalists have been announced. The Agathas recognize mysteries that best exemplify the work of Agatha Christie. Amongst the nominees you will find mysteries of the "cozy" variety, which steer clear of explicit sex, language or violence.

Among the nominees are:

Best Contemporary Novel
Long Upon the Land by Margaret Maron
The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson
Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
What You See by Hank Phillipi Ryan

Best Historical Novel
Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen
Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia Macneal
Murder on Amsterdam Avenue by Victoria Thompson

Best Nonfiction
The Great Detective: the amazing rise and the immortal life of Sherlock Holmes by Zack Dundas
The Golden Age of Murder: the mystery of the writers who invented the modern detective story by Martin Edwards
The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: wickedly good meals and desserts to die for by Kate White

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Pew pew pew!: Kids and Guns

How does it begin? Whether as a relative's passive aggressive attempt to annoy me or a birthday party gift picked out by a classmate, toy guns have made their way, unbidden, into my household. I have tried to avoid exposing my son to violence: I don't own a television or a video game console; I only approve gun-free games for play on my son's sweet retro GameBoy Color; and I have surreptitiously set the parental controls on his tablet to "E for everyone" games only. I've finally given up on "misplacing" the brightly-coloured rifles and pistols that he brings home and I am instead focusing my attention on trying to raise his awareness of the harm that guns do.

Air Warriors Predator (modified)

If you have a tiny gun nut living in your home, these children's graphic novels might help pave the way to a more critical perspective on guns and gun violence or, at least, provide a (gun-free) adventure alternative.

When my son developed an interest in World War I and World War II, we were making our way through the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series. Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood  was an excellent and surprisingly accessible introduction to this complex subject. The storyteller is the author's namesake, Nathan Hale, a soldier and spy who served with the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. (Hale, the historical figure, tells his own tale in the first of the series, One Dead Spy). In each book, Hale delays his own execution by regaling his audience (composed of his rather thick but animal-loving executioner and a gruff British military officer) with exciting stories of future events. Younger readers will appreciate the comic-relief provided by the hangman as well as Hale's efforts to explain politics and historical events in relatively simple terms. No romanticizing here although it's difficult to say whether the book succeeded in conveying something like the scale of death and destruction of the Great War to my sheltered Canadian 6-year-old.

Sheila Keenan's The Dogs of War tells three war stories - from the first and second World Wars and from the Vietnam War - with three dogs (and their handlers) as central characters. We learn about how dogs played important roles in each conflict, not least in their relationships with their human comrades-in-arms. Not surprisingly there is violence in these accounts, though not what I would call the gratuitous kind. The reader will also see moments when soldiers were afraid to fire their guns or held their fire out of compassion for the "enemy". In the last story, we also learn about what can happen when soldiers leave the battlefield in body if not in mind.

I had avoided Hidden: a child's story of the Holocaust, not because I didn't think my son shouldn't be exposed to such a heavy subject (yet) but because I wasn't confident I could get through the book without sobbing. As it happens, Loïc Dauvillier's choice to adopt a child's point of view offers readers a somewhat gentle but somber portrait of one Jewish girl's experience during the Holocaust.

If you or your child have already read the Bone series by Jeff Smith, then you know that it's possible to find thrilling adventures for children that are entirely absent of guns, bombs, and related weaponry. If you haven't read (or reread) the series yet, you should. You really, really should.

Both younger and older kids (and adults), will enjoy the Avatar, the Last Airbender series which features tribes of "benders" who use the four elements - Water! Earth! Fire! Air! (+ metal) - to engage in and resolve conflicts. The episodes are written around wholesome themes like ethics and friendship and (unlike the awful feature film version by M. Night Shyamalan) are inspired by Asian and Inuit culture.

Best of luck on deprogramming your child in a society that glorifies gun violence! If all else fails, pass out Super Soakers instead.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

9 Books to Watch for This May

In addition to new titles from big Canadian names David Adams Richards (Principles to Live By -- May 17) and Madeleine Thien ( Do Not Say We Have Nothing-- May 31), this month is chock-filled with great sounding titles from new and new-to-you authors from Canada and beyond. MAY I suggest one of these interesting looking books coming out this month?|library/m/halifax-horizon|1892270|library/m/halifax-horizon|1892181

I Let You Go by Clare MacKintosh (May 3rd): I'm getting very used to seeing books advertised as of interest to fans of Gone Girl or the The Girl on the Train. Here's the latest, but it's got a bit more than just publisher hype to support the idea it might be a big hit. A debut novel, but it was released in the UK in 2014 and became a bestseller: now it's hitting our shores. "On a rainy afternoon, a mother's life is shattered as her son slips from her grip and runs into the street . . . I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and the rest of her painful past. At the same time, the novel tracks the pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of this hit-and-run. As they chase down one hopeless lead after another, they find themselves as drawn to each other as they are to the frustrating, twist-filled case before them."

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall (May 3): A new book from British author Morrall, whose 2003 novel Astonishing Splashes of Colour was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. This one sounds very The Children of Men in its premise, but Morrall is sure to take us in new and interesting directions. "In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity. For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She's safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes."

Perfect World by Ian Colford (May 7): Halifax-based author (and librarian!) Colford returns with his third book. "Tom Brackett has created the perfect world for himself: he has a good job, a perpetually supportive wife, two kids, a mini-van, and even a golden retriever. But then, his mental instability causes him to commit a terrifying act of violence." Colford is a previous winner of the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award for his short story collection Evidence.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby (May 17): Fans of Canadian Sci Fi take note, this long awaited dystopian novel is finally arriving. "They call it Company Town--a city-sized oil rig off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes, now owned by one very wealthy, powerful, byzantine family: Lynch Ltd.Hwa is of the few people in her community (which constitutes the whole rig) to forgo bio-engineered enhancements. As such, she's the last truly organic person left on the rig--making her doubly an outsider, as well as a neglected daughter and bodyguard extraordinaire. Still, her expertise in the arts of self-defense and her record as a fighter mean that her services are yet in high demand. When the youngest Lynch needs training and protection, the family turns to Hwa. But can even she protect against increasingly intense death threats seemingly coming from another timeline?Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city's stability and heightens the unease of a rig turning over. All signs point to a nearly invisible serial killer, but all of the murders seem to lead right back to Hwa's front door."

Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (May 17th): Physician, scientist, and writer Mukherjee returns after his 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Emperor of Maladies with an examination of genetics: its history and the implications of its advances. "Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices."

It's Ok to Laugh: (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmont (May 24): The title kind of says it all with this book, a memoir of love and heartbreak that promises to be "a fierce, hysterically funny memoir that reminds us that comedy equals tragedy plus time." "Twentysomething Nora McInerny Purmort bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend and job to job. Then she met Aaron, a charismatic art director and her kindred spirit. They made mix tapes (and pancakes) into the wee hours of the morning. They finished each other's sentences. They just knew. When Aaron was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer, they refused to let it limit their love. They got engaged on Aaron's hospital bed and married after his first surgery. They had a baby when he was on chemo. They shared an amazing summer filled with happiness and laughter. A few months later, Aaron died in Nora's arms in another hospital bed. His wildly creative obituary, which they wrote together, touched the world." 

Happy Family by Tracy Barone (May 27): I'm intrigued by any book that describes itself as "mordantly funny" so this new novel -- a debut -- piqued my interest. "Trenton, New Jersey, 1962: A pregnant girl staggers into a health clinic, gives birth, and flees. A foster family takes the baby in, and an unlikely couple, their lives unspooling from a recent tragedy, hastily adopts her. Forty years and many secrets and lies later, Cheri Matzner is all grown up and falling apart. Ironic and unapologetic, she's a former cop-turned-disgruntled academic, a frustrated wife trying to get pregnant, an iconoclastic daughter bearing war-wounds from her overbearing mother and the deeply flawed by well-meaning father who has been dead for several years. Thrust into an odyssey of acceptance, Cheri discovers that sometimes it takes half a lifetime to come of age."