Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Emancipation Day" by Wayne Grady


When Navy musician Jackson Lewis takes the stage, everyone goes crazy.  With good looks reminiscent of Frank Sinatra, Jack is a wanted man.  While stationed in St. John's Newfoundland during World War II, he meets Vivian Clift, a nineteen-year-old who has never set foot off the Rock but wants to see what Canada and the world has to offer.  

Jack and Vivian fall in love and marry, but it's against her family's wishes.  She can't figure out why but there is something about him they don't like.  When the war ends, Vivian and Jack return to his hometown of Windsor, Ontario to meet his family.  But upon meeting his mother and brother, Vivian realizes that she doesn't know her new husband as well as she thought she did.  His life is nothing like he described and Jack's family all look different from each other.  In fact, they look different from anyone she has ever met.  

Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady is a moving and touching novel that looks at how far a man would go to belong and how far his family would go to let him.  Against the backdrop of jazz music and the second World War, this is a novel about love, family, sacrifice, secrets, and race.  

I don't even know where to begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this novel.  It's by no means an easy read but it's an important one when it comes to understanding history, especially civil rights and race relations in Canada.  It's very easy for us to think that because we don't have the same history as the United States that we have a clean one when it comes to race but the truth is far from it.  In fact, even in today's multicultural society, we still see a lot of the issues from the past that we still have not dealt with.

In the book, Jack Lewis is born to parents who at the time were considered "coloured."  But Jack favours the white side of his family, and to those who don't know his parents, he is considered white.  I can look up from my computer at my own family and see how generations of interracial mixing can result in children being born to the same parents but looking very different from each other.  In 2013, there is not much to say about that, but in the 1930's and 1940's when this book is set, it made a world of difference.

There is so much going on in this novel that pulls your heart everywhere.  Jack's desire to separate himself from his heritage, Vivian's naivety and the way that Jack keeps secrets from her, the riots that occur between Blacks and Whites in Detroit and how it spills over into Windsor, a father who is so incredibly hurt by his son but still loves and protects him - all this is so wonderfully written that you just don't want to put this book down.  And with a final sentence that will stay with you for a very long time, this first novel from Grady, already an accomplished non-fiction writer, is bound to be one of the most talked about of the year.

The story behind this book is also incredible.  When Grady began researching his family history, he was stunned to find out that his great-grandfather who immigrated to Windsor from Ireland wasn't actually Irish.  In fact, he wasn't even white.  No one in the family had ever discussed their Black American ancestor.  So he set out to write a book about it.  And it took him 18 years and 22 drafts to finish it.  

Emancipation Day is the highlight of my summer reading.  I will be recommending it for years to come.  The people and places leap off the page, a product of the beautiful writing, the story, and its teller.  I want to see this on the Giller list next month.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra


In war-torn Chechnya, Akhmed finds his neighbour's eight-year-old daughter Havaa hiding in the snowy woods after the Feds kidnapped her father and burned down their house.  Knowing that the Feds will be looking for her and that it's unsafe for him to care for her, he takes her to the only place he can think of - the abandoned hospital where one doctor remains.

Sonja Andreyevana is barely keeping it together.  As the only doctor in the hospital, she spends most of her time amputating limbs.  When Akhmed arrives at the hospital with the young girl in tow, she protests that she cannot take her in.  But when Akhmed, a trained doctor, offers to help at the hospital in exchange for the girls safety, she cannot refuse.

Over the course of five days, Sonja, Akhmed, and others will discover how their lives have intersected over the course of a decade permeated by war and its repercussions.  A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is an incredible novel that takes you inside a place that few of us outside of it know or understand.  It puts faces to the news stories, to a people for whom war has become a way of life.

This is a sweeping novel, one that tells an incredible story while educating the reader on the history of a country most don't know much about.  Marra does this through a variety of main characters, each with their own story and their own role in the war.  While the main part of the book takes place over five days, its reach spans a decade, covering the first and second Chechen wars.

I could write about the various characters and the roles they play in the story but to me, the way Marra unfolds the story is one of the strongest points of the book and not to be ruined.  It's slow, but it works.  Discovering how all of the characters are connected in this book is a wonderful process.  It's a difficult story to read, knowing the truth and tragedy behind it all.  But Marra gets it all across in just the right way.  

One of my favourite writing techniques used in the book is the way Marra gives glimpses into the future while still writing in the present.  For example:

In Ingushetia he had an eleven-year-old daughter he didn't know about, who was waiting for him to call.  In two and a half years he would hear her voice for the first time. (p. 318)

Setting your book in a war-torn country means it will primarily be one of despair and tragedy.  It's not the type of book that you would expect readers to flock to.  But this book is also one of beauty amidst the rubble, of love and family, of hope and of forgiveness.  Anthony Marra has taken on an ambitious project and come out with a very important read.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blog Tour: "Muse" by Mary Novik, Guest Post + Giveaway

Mary Novik's latest novel is Muse, released on August 13.  Muse is the story of the mysterious woman who was the inspiration behind Petrarch's sublime love poetry.   Today, Mary is stopping by my blog to discuss the setting of her book.

The UNESCO World Heritage City of Avignon, the Setting for Muse
By Mary Novik

Attractively situated on the southern Rhône in France, Avignon is a walled city with spectacular medieval sights. The historic centre has many charms to offer the tourist. Today Avignon is a UNESCO world heritage site, where tourists, not 14th-century clerics, throng the narrow, winding streets and visit the grand palace of the Avignon popes.

The towers of the palais des papes are visible for miles as you approach on the fast train, the TGV from Paris. You must enter the wall through one of the twelve gates where medieval travellers were likely to be greeted by a traitor’s rotting torso or severed leg to warn against committing treason. Today, the main artery running north to the palace is as mercantile as during the time of the popes. At the Place du Change, the hub where the seven parishes converge, the stalls still push their wares aggressively at passing shoppers. In summer, you’ll see buskers, street dancers, and an antique carousel. During the July arts festival, the city swells to twice its usual size, replicating the noise and congestion of the middle ages. Spotting a famous musician in an outrageous costume is today’s equivalent of glimpsing the Pope processing through the streets with his retinue of guards and cardinals.

The palace that visitors enter today was built by successive popes throughout the 14th century,  each one enlarging and decorating according to his taste—Benedict, notably dour, and Clement VI, a lover of luxury. When you are ejected through the gift shop, you can walk along the rue du Chapeau Rouge and stop for a café express in a bar called Chez Cardinal. The medieval layout of the streets is surprisingly intact, though modern maps are an unreliable guide since the street names have changed many times over the years. In the secondhand bookshops, you can find ancient maps and arcane French books, which deal more in legend than in history.

Over the years that I was imagining and writing Muse, I visited Avignon five times to connect to the physical and emotional geography of my heroine, Solange Le Blanc. I wanted to put a human face on life in medieval Avignon. What buildings stood inside the city walls? What clothes were worn, what foods were eaten, what diseases and acts of god shortened a person’s life? I tried to understand the daily life of its citizens and courtiers. What was it like to live in the extraordinary time known as the Babylonian captivity when the popes resided there?

I explored the various quartiers and the streets occupied by the merchants and guildsmen, such as the rue des Fourbisseurs (furnishers) and the rue de l'Epicerie (spice sellers). I calculated how long it would take Solange to travel distances on foot or by horse. I located the surviving cardinals' livrées (Ceccano’s is now the municipal library), and visited the massive churches, many of which were built in the 14th century. Like Solange, I climbed Doms Rock, walked along the top of the medieval ramparts, stood in the cold shade of buildings, and experienced the odiousness (as the poet Francesco Petrarch called it) of the city when battered by its infamous wind. The rivers and canals still flood, the mistral still howls, and local superstition still tells us that, once it starts, it will blow for 3, 6, or 9 days. In the middle ages, the Rhône was a major traffic artery used to transport goods and people. The Saint Bénezet bridge (unbroken then) led to Villeneuve across the Rhône in France. One of the most picturesque streets in Avignon is the rue des Teinturiers, which curves along the Sorgue canal with its ancient listless paddlewheels.

The tourist office gives out a map with historical walks, so that you can follow coloured markers on the pavement to connect with history. However, there is no walk for the famous lovers, Petrarch and Laura, because much of their story is apocryphal. Petrarch lived in Avignon and wrote poems to immortalize Laura and his unrequited love for her. Although Laura was real, likely the wife of Hugues de Sade (the ancestor of the infamous Marquis), there is little evidence of her, whereas Petrarch can be found in many writings both by and about him. The church of Saint Clare is their legendary meeting place, but only the choir wall is standing. The abbey of the Cordeliers, where Laura was supposedly buried, has shrunk to a tower and her bones have disappeared. Petrarch retired to Italy to live with his daughter and was buried there in solitary glory. His poems and letters reward a careful reader, since they allude to a second woman, perhaps the mother of his two children. This was the woman who seeded the idea for Solange Le Blanc, a fiction based on a few intriguing scraps of history.

If, like Petrarch, you tire of the city and seek refuge in the Vaucluse, you can follow the Sorgue upstream along the rue des Teinturiers, and rent a car to drive the route Solange and Petrarch rode on horseback in Muse. You’ll pass past the fictional Clairefontaine abbey, tucked into the Jonquerettes area, and eventually reach the source of the Sorgue, the unimaginably deep cavern beneath the towering cliff at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Nearby, you’ll find what the tourist bureau calls “Petrarch’s House,” now a storehouse of memorabilia where you can spend a pleasant hour or two reimagining his life and his love for two very different women.



Mary Novik's debut novel Conceit, about the daughter of the poet John Donne, was hailed as "a magnificent novel of seventeenth-century London." Chosen as a book of the year by both Quill & Quire and The Globe and Mail, Conceit was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Solange, the heroine of Novik’s new novel Muse, has been called “a stunning fictional creation.” Mary lives in Vancouver and can be found at www.marynovik.com



Don't forget to check out Mary's other stops on the blog tour this week!
August 22: Retreat by Random House
August 26: Cozy Up with a Good Read
August 28: GailAnderson-Dargatz.com
August 29: Sukasa Reads
August 30: Your Hidden Shelf

August 31: Be Nice or Leave Thanks

And now it's time for the giveaway!  Random House of Canada is giving away 10 copies of Muse.  Enter through the Rafflecopter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement" by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis


In 1998, Nick Saul became executive director of The Stop, a small food bank that like many others in Toronto was struggling to provide fresh, nutritious food for its clients.  When Saul took over he recognized that a lot of work needed to be done to turn it from a worn-down, last-hope place for many in search of a meal into a thriving community centre for people to not only get a nutritious meal but to learn about food, build skills, and become active participants in their food system.  And that is exactly what he did.  

The Stop is now an international leader in Community Food Centres.  It consists of community gardens, kitchens, a greenhouse, farmer's market, and a mission to change the food system for the better.  In his fourteen years at the centre, Nick Saul has become a leader of the food movement and an inspiration to countless others trying to make a difference in their communities.

The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement, by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis, is not just the story of the transformation of the The Stop but a lesson in food politics and why bringing fresh, affordable foods to the table is not as difficult as it may seem.

Food banks were always considered to be a temporary fix for the problem of hunger.  They were never meant to become institutions and yet today, record numbers of people are turning to them each month.  Anti-poverty activists are making the case that long-term solutions are not found in simply giving people food, but getting the community involved in the food system.  

This book chronicles Saul's journey to doing this in a warm and intelligent way.  It's not a book that preaches but rather uplifts and inspires.  He introduces you to the people who use the food bank and who volunteer there.  He shares the heartbreaks and the difficulties of maintaining a functioning food bank that treats its clients with dignity.  Saul involved everyone from clients of the food bank to farmers to philanthropists and foundations.   What emerged is an organization that boasts a farmer's market, community bake oven, greenhouse that transforms into a five-star restaurant, and a catering company designed to give back to the community through a drop-in food bank, perinatal programs, and food systems education programs.

As someone who is involved in a small-scale community food program, this book is a must-read.  It has provided us with a blueprint and inspiration for community food activism.  Even for those not involved in such a program, this book inspires you to learn more about the food system and the ways in which every individual can make a difference.

As The Stop website states, "we believe that healthy food is a basic human right.  We recognize that the ability to access healthy food is often related to multiple issues andy to just a result of low income.  At The Stop, we've taken a holistic approach to achieve real change in our community's access to healthy food."  If you ever needed proof that we can alleviate poverty and change our food system at the same time, this book is it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bout of Books 8.0

This will be the spot where I keep track of my progress, day by day, for Bout of Books.  The more I look ahead to my week, the worse it looks in terms of getting lots of reading done.  But that's okay.  My goal was just to make sure I get some reading done in the midst of a hectic week.

The Rest of the Week + Wrapup
And here is where my reading started to fall off.  I knew it would happen.  Between hosting a family barbecue and then heading out of town, I wasn't expecting much to happen.  I did finish Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady (a fantastic book) and got a start on About A Girl by Lindsay Kelk.  I can definitely say that if it weren't for the readathon I probably wouldn't have finished one book this week.  But I made sure that I set aside a little bit of time each day.  I also enjoyed the few challenges I managed to participate in.  I am definitely looking forward to the next Bout of Books happening in January, I will definitely have a lot of time to devote to that, as the kids will be in school and I tend to hibernate during the winter.

Thursday

Another day spent out of the house but managed to get some reading done before bed.
Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hour
Total Amount Read: 70 pages

Wednesday

Spent the day at the amusement park, no reading.

Tuesday

Busy day running errands, taking the kids out, etc.  You know, life always getting in the way of reading.
Total Time Spent Reading: 1 hour
Total Amount Read: 30% (e-book)
Books Finished: 1 - "Sabbath in the Suburbs"

Monday

I started Monday by reading the last 43 pages of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, a book I have been reading for a while because I keep putting it down to do other things.  But I'm glad I finally finished it because it was a great book.  I spent the rest of the day reading between errands.

Total Time Spent Reading: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Total Amount Read: 80 pages (print), 40% (e-book)

"Cupcakes at Carrington's" by Alexandra Brown


Georgie Hart may have had a difficult upbringing, but now as an adult, she is making her own way.  Sure, life still isn't easy but she has a job she loves selling luxury handbags at Carrington's Department store in a seaside English town.  The bills are piling up but it's nothing a red velvet cupcake with buttercream icing in Carrington's café can't take her mind off of for a bit.

But like all retail companies, Carrington's is feeling the pinch of the recession and changes need to be made immediately.  Enter femme fatale Maxine, who is ready to make cuts wherever she can.  Pitting employee against employee, all while keeping a smile on her face and every hair in place, Maxine is set to turn Carrington's upside down.

While Georgie is prepared to do whatever she needs to in order to keep her job, she is not ready for what Maxine has in store for her.  Add to that the romantic feelings developing between her and her boss James, as well as the arrival of hot new employee Tom, Georgie finds herself thrown into complete disarray.

Cupcakes at Carrington's, by Alexandra Brown, is a delightful novel that will definitely have you reaching for the sweets while you indulge in the delectable story.  

This is another chick lit book that I took to the beach to read with me and it made for another perfect read to escape with.  The sun, the waves, and the book - a perfect combination.  I loved the department store setting.  If you're a fan of the television show Mr. Selfridges, you'll enjoy this too.  

One thing that I admired about the writing in this book is that there are a lot of characters to keep track of, lots of secondary stories and a lot going on, but it was easy to keep up with it all.  Sometimes the inclusion of a lot of characters with their own stories muddles a book but that isn't the case here.  However, I did feel like outside of the characters of Georgie and her best friend Sam, it was a little difficult to get a picture of the characters in my head.

The plot of the book is great.  Brown keeps up the mystery of just what is going with Maxine and Tom and what is happening behind the scenes well without dragging it on.  Georgie is such a loveable character and there is a depth to her story lines.  And while you can kind of see the ending coming, it is still very satisfying.

I'm very happy to see that this is the first in a series of three books (the second novel, Christmas at Carrington's will be released in December.)  Fans of the chick lit genre will happy to have found a new character to love and follow in Georgie Hart.

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

It has been a few weeks since I've done a post for this meme.  We took our family vacation so I've been away from home for the past few weeks, which would explain the lack of posts around here.  But now I'm home and with school looming it's back to routine.

What I Read While on Vacation




When I go on vacation, I like to take along British chick lit.  It makes for fantastic reading by the pool and on the beach.  And so I read Kate's Wedding by Chrissie Manby, Cupcakes at Carringtons by Alexandra Brown, Here Come the Girls by Milly Johnson, and Summer Daydreams by Carole Matthews.  I also read A Family Affair by ReShonda Tate Billingsley.  It's Urban Christian Fiction, and every year when I go on vacation, I take one of her books with me.

What I'm Reading Now
Sabbath in the Suburbs by MaryAnn McKibben Dana is about a family's year-long goal of setting aside one day each week for complete rest.

What I Plan to Read Next
This week is the Bout of Books 8.0 read-a-thon.  Though it's going to be a busy week for me, I'm hoping to really get a push on reading.  I have chosen Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady, About a Girl by Lindsey Kelk, and Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan.  Should I actually finish all of those books, I have a few of the Booker Prize nominees coming into the library for me this week.

What Are You Reading This Week?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Kate's Wedding" by Chrissie Manby


The eyes of the world were on England in April of 2011 when commoner Kate Middleton wed Prince William in a Royal fairytale.  But Wills and Kate weren't the only ones planning their wedding, though one suspects the planning process was a little different.

Thirty-nine-year-old Kate Williamson was getting used to the idea that she may never find her true love.  After her boyfriend Ian proposes to her atop the Eiffel Tower, she finds herself planning the wedding she didn't think she'd have.  But when life throws curves at her, she begins to wonder if her wedding will happen the way she wants it to, or even at all.

Diana Ashcroft was born on the day of the Royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer.  Named after the famous Royal, she lived her life in true princess fashion.  Now that she is engaged to Ben and she has Daddy's credit card in hand, Diana has become a Bridezilla of epic proportions.  

As both women prepare for their big days, their paths cross again and again.  Each woman is preparing for their big days in very different ways but will either of them get their happily ever after?

Kate's Wedding, by Chrissie Manby, is a great novel that takes all of the excitement of the Royal Wedding and extends it to a fun, fantastic story.  I took this book on holiday with me and made it a true "beach read."  I found myself wrapped up in the story and ignoring the glorious waves that were before me.

While I don't often enjoy books that jump between characters from chapter to chapter, I enjoyed the way the writing compared two very different brides.  Kate is an older bride who was looking for a small wedding, close-knit and meaningful.  Diana is a younger bride who has painted her fiancé into a corner and believes that money is no object when it comes to the day she rightfully deserves.  I loved how Manby had the brides crossing paths at various places to highlight the differences between them.  

So much of Diana's part of the book I found to be absolutely hilarious.  Titanic-themed engagement photos?  A unicorn-drawn carriage?  Yes, Diana will definitely have you shaking your head and laughing through pretty much the whole book.  

Sometimes I find that books like this try to pack too many "extras" into it, that being additional story lines that aren't really necessary.  While the blurb for the book states that it is "set against the backdrop of the other couple getting married in April 2011," the royal wedding doesn't take over the story at all, which it could have ended up doing.  When it comes to Kate's story, there is more than just planning the wedding and it's just the right amount.  I do however think that the storyline of Melanie, the owner of the Bridal shop, wasn't necessary for the book.  It doesn't take away from the book, but it felt extra.  

I'm such a fan of Chrissie Manby.  Every book of hers I have read so far has been a hit for me.  Her writing flows well, her stories are creative, and you're always guaranteed a good laugh.  Anyone who found themselves caught up in the Royal wedding fever will enjoy this book.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bout of Books 8.0

I've been sitting on the fence about whether or not to join the Bout of Books read-a-thon.  I love a good read-a-thon and I have always enjoyed this one but the timing isn't exactly great for me.  But as I thought about it a bit, I thought that's a good thing.  Amidst the craziness of getting ready for back to school and hosting a family barbecue, this will make sure that I get in some good reading.  So here goes:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team.

My goals

I typically read 2-3 books a week, so this time I'm going to aim for 4 books.  My choices right now are:



Are you participating in Bout of Books 8.0?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Classics Club Spin

It is time for another Classics Club Spin!  If you're not familiar with The Classics Club, go here to find out about it and sign up (because once you read about it, you'll want to sign up.)  The premise of the spin is easy: pick 20 books from your list and number them.  A number will be randomly chosen and you will read the book that corresponds with that number.

Last time around, I failed miserably.  I don't think I even started the book (though in all fairness, I was in a serious reading slump.)  This time around I've picked 20 true classics that have been around for a while (instead of the more recent classics on my list.)  I won't mention which numbers I'm hoping are not picked!

  1. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
  2. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
  3. Pamela - Samuel Robetson
  4. Native Son - Richard Wright
  5. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Robert Tressell
  6. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
  7. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
  8. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
  9. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Jules Verne
  11. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
  12. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  13. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  14. Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
  15. Emma - Jane Austen
  16. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
  17. Candide - Voltaire
  18. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
  19. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie
  20. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Menu Confidential" by Megan Ogilvie


We all know when we're hitting up the drive thru that what we're about to eat isn't the healthiest choice.  But do we know just how bad it really is for us?  Menu Confidential by Megan Ogilvie gives you everything you want to know and probably some of the things you don't want to know either.

It's difficult to know how many calories and how much sodium is in every bite we take.  Finding out the nutritional information of our take-out food can be a big job.  So it's great to find someone who has done all the research for us.  And it's even better to find someone who has done the research for Canadians, as Ogilvie has done in this book.  That's right, prepare to be shocked at how much sodium you're eating the next time you're at Timmie's.  

This book is perfect to read through then take with you wherever you go.   In addition to teaching the basics about nutrition, it covers the best and worst choices you can make at breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack time, the grocery store, the convenience store and at bars and restaurants.  And if you're a lover of poutine like I am, maybe stay away from the Canadian Classics section.

The photography by Christopher Campbell is stunning.  The book has a very glossy feeling, kind of like reading a magazine and it gets straight to the point.  Each menu item that is highlighted gives you the serving size, calories, carbohydrates and sodium.  One of my favourite features is that the amount of sodium is given in both mg and the number of shakes it would take to get that amount from a salt shaker.  That slice of Pizza Pizza pepperoni pizza looks pretty different when you find out it has 40 shakes of salt in it.

There are many features to this book beyond the nutritional information of our favourite foods.  The "Dare to Compare" section puts what you're eating into perspective - for example, 1 order of Jack Astor's Cheese Garlic Pan Bread is the equivalent of eating 5 slices of pepperoni pizza in terms of calories and fat.  The "Take Away" gives you tips on how to make the best choices, how to cut down on the bad stuff, and ways to make the bad foods better.  And the "At A Glance" charts give you a rundown of the same item at different restaurants.

This book has definitely opened my eyes to what I'm eating.  I know that I'm not always making the best choices, but I didn't know some of them were that bad.  The sodium amounts were the biggest surprises to me.  And while I'm not ready to give up my movie popcorn (that's pretty much the reason I go to the movies these days), this book will help me make better food choices on the go in the future.  I recommend all Canadians pick this up.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"Studio Saint-Ex" by Ania Szado

The year is 1943, the world is at war and twenty-two-year-old Mignonne Lachapelle has left Montreal to make it as a fashion designer in New York City.  It is there that Mignonne falls in love with France's greatest living writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and is swept up in their affair.  But Antoine's estranged wife, Consuelo, has set out to win her husband back and when she enters into a business relationship with Mignonne a love triangle full of passion and artistic pursuits emerges.

Set against the back drop in which Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote his best selling book Le Petit Prince, Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado is a fictionalized account of his relationships, love, and the loneliness of art.  The backdrop of New York City during World War Two is spectacular, instantly drawing you back into the time and the world of the French expatriates who live there.

When I first read about this book, I knew I would pick it up as Szado is a Canadian writer but to be honest I wasn't sure if the plot was going to be one that would hold on to me the entire way through.  I was completely wrong.  I instantly fell in love with Mignonne.  To be young and creative, making her way in a big world, opening herself to all of the opportunities in front of her, even when they become difficult, is a wonderful dream to be swept up in.  

Antoine and Consuelo were a little more difficult to fall in love with.  I felt like I didn't learn much about Antoine until just toward the end and I had difficulty gauging just what kind of people they were.  But at the same time, the three characters together made for an interesting dynamic.  I found myself wanting to read just about Mignonne in the first half of the book, but wanting more of the three of them toward the end.  For me though, I definitely found the original character Mignonne to be much more interesting than the real characters.

I'm always curious about writers who choose to write fictionally about people who have existed.  It's one thing to pick a time period and write within it but to choose people who are well-known can be tricky, especially when deciding what to stay true to and what to create yourself.  In this case it was a little difficult to tell what was supposed to be holding it all together.  I had expected more about the writing process, more about The Little Prince, more of Antoine and actually less of Consuelo.  But that's the thing about expectations, you can't get mad when the book isn't written the way you want it.

I only just read The Little Prince before reading this book.  It's hard to believe it took me so long, but it's easy to see why it is a classic.  Any fan of this book will enjoy learning more about the man behind it, what drew him to writing it, and what (or who) his inspirations were.  One doesn't need to have read the book to be drawn to this one though.  When I first picked up this book it reminded me of Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls, a historical novel inspired by real life people set in an artistic world.  I may not have felt as strongly about Studio Saint-Ex as I did about that book, but I think this one is definitely one of the must-read Canadian books of the year.