Crazy for CanLit 2014: If They Were Children’s Books

09.13.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @zara.tokiniha

If I was a kid, what would this year’s potential Giller Prize books look like? Based on the ones listed on the Crazy for CanLit Pinterest Board, these are what I would change the titles to if the books were for children—because I’m a kid like that. (You have my children to thank, for constantly coercing me to play Tag, Hide ‘n Seek, Rock, Paper & Scissors, and LEGO on a regular basis.)

Ready, kiddies? Let’s play!

ellen in LEGO pieces***

A is for andre alexis

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what does pastoral mean

***

i don't know how to behave bc im just a kid***

the boy in spanish is el nino***

teddy bear***

fallsy downsies we all fall down***

all the broken things are my fault***

watch how we walk funny***

canadas wonderland***

juliet was a kinder surprise***

 answer to everything is aww do i have to***

tiny wife fits in my dollhouse***

super-man***

walt disney***

How would you change some of the potential Giller Prize books’ titles if you were a kid?

Which is your favourite title change from the list I created above?

***

zara - tokidoki glow

My New Obsession: Tokidoki and Kawaii

09.08.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis / @Zara.Tokiniha

Thanks to Suzanne of the Lavender Likes, Loves, Finds & Dreams… blog I was able to finally articulate my latest obsession: all things known as kawaii—an adjective in Japanese, which means pretty, cute, lovely, charming, dear, darling, or pet and stems from the two kanji words “can love;” it’s the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture, and is commonly used to describe “cute” and “adorable” pieces of Japanese popular culture, clothing, food, toys, behaviour, and even personal appearance.

I have always been attracted to all things kawaii though I was never aware there was an actual term to describe the quality of the things I loved. My best assumption was that the origin of what I really liked simply stemmed from a general, Asian influence. When I discovered the term, kawaii, a whole world of Japanese/Asian “cuteness” literally exploded before me and I soon realized that I wasn’t alone in my own desire to collect and share my love of kawaii goodies. I soon discovered (and gladly so) that there is a large, devoted kawaii collective that is just as passionate as I am about this deeply embedded Asian context and style.

I kid you not, though most would presume that lovers of kawaii are all under the age of 12. And believe me when I tell you, I’m a lot older than that—and a lot older than I actually look. So, no. We may be obsessed with the cuteness of doll-like figures, the bursting fluff of anime characters-turned-plush-toy, or the rage that is Sanrio, but we’re pretty mature in the serious dedication we have to our own personal collections. At least I do.  And I also fulfill one of the kawaii lovers’ given stereotypes especially since the products and the social culture of kawaii is so successfully marketed towards Asians. Yes, I’m Asian (surprise)!

Still that doesn’t deter me from proudly joining what I call, The Kawaii Collective, and its craze, nor does it stop me from nurturing my slow, but steady collection of kawaii stuff. And when I say, stuff, I mean STUFF. All kinds of it. From Hello Kitty vintage, Sailor Moon and My Little Pony keychains, MocMoc bobbleheads, Momiji dolls, rolls of decorative tape and stationery, puffy rainbow stickers, to an extensive variety of Unicorno vinyl toys.

Which leads me to how I discovered my latest craze—Tokidoki. As soon as I discovered it when browsing photos on Instagram, I instantly fell in love with its colourful prints, a collage of a number of kawaii characters created by creative designer, Simone Legno.

Legno, along with his partners, Pooneh Mohajer and Ivan Arnold, created the brand of Tokidoki in 2003 in Los Angeles, California—a brand that has exploded into apparel, handbags, cosmetics, accessories, toys, and more.

It has, by agreement and understanding of kawaii lovers everywhere, proclaimed its justifiable cult status. And yes, while I have always professed to snub elitism; my fashion palette and kawaii sensibility have both succumbed to joining the cult that is known and beloved by all Tokidoki followers. (You can follow me on Instagram here.)

I did indeed gasp at the sight of Tokidoki because…well…because I’m MAD for it, much to the expectation and frustration of my Instagram followers who have had to endure a number of my kawaii and Tokidoki posts.

For my fellow kawaii-loving friends and Tokidoki brothers and sisters, here are a couple of new items that I’ve procured for your visual devouring:

Han Ling liquid eyeliner, blue geisha, red geisha. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @Zara.Tokiniha. All rights reserved.
Han Ling liquid eyeliner, blue geisha, red geisha. Not only are they cute, the brush is more like a sharp stick that helps keep the line clean. Its back print says, “Love” on it. Part of my kawaii cosmetic collection. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

***

Tokidoki duffel bag. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @Zara.Tokiniha. All rights reserved.
My very first Tokidoki purchase, a Tokidoki duffel bag. “With Devotion or Zeal” print. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

 ***

Mashi Maro notebooks and kawaii pen. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Istagram @Zara.Tokiniha. All rights reserved.
Mashi Maro notebooks and kawaii pen from my recent visit to Chinatown in downtown Toronto. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Istagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

***

Tokidoki wallet pouch, green. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @Zara.Tokiniha. All rights reserved.
My Tokidoki wallet pouch, green. “Save the Planet” print. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

***

Momiji doll, red geisha. Kawaii. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.
My newest Momiji Doll, red geisha. Kawaii. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

***

Tokidoki knapsack, green. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.
My second Tokidoki bag, a knapsack, green. “Save the Planet” print. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

***

MocMoc bubblehead, kawaii. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.
MocMoc bubblehead, kawaii beside my Tokidoki print, “Seamless Repeating.” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

***

Tokidoki wallet pouch, blue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.
My matching Tokidoki wallet pouch, blue. “With Devotion or Zeal” print. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. On Instagram @zara.tokiniha. All rights reserved.

***

The Tokidoki brand has within it a number of kawaii characters belonging to a sub-brand with a back story.

Here are a few of my favourite characters from Tokidoki and their stories:

SANDy:

tokidoki - sandySANDy of Cactus Friends zips herself into a cactus suit as a form of armor to face the cold and frightening world. As a representation of the cactus, she represents conservation and purity of water, a source of life.

***

Donutella:

tokidoki - donutellaDonutella of the Donutella and Her Sweet Friends series is from a planet where sugar is used as energy. When scouting for fuel in her donut UFO, she discovered Earth and the large amounts of sweets that she couldn’t resist building a sweet colony here instead of returning to her planet. She now calls Earth her home. And boy, does she make me want to eat a donut.

***

Dolce:

 tokidoki - dolce***

Prima Donna:

tokidoki - prima donnaPrima Donna of the Unicornos was once a pony who just happened to cross a magic waterfall—and ta-dah! Poof! Just like that, she was transformed into one of the many unicornos who discovered a magic kingdom on the other side.  Unicornos now live between the magic kingdom and our world. (I love her because she’s not only a unicorn with a crown, she’s also somewhat of a diva. You go, Girl…er…I mean Unicorno!)

***

Mozzarella and Bulletto:

tokidoki - mozzarella and bullettoMozzarella and Bulletto are both part of the Moofia, a group of sweet renegades assigned to take milk from bullies in the lunch cafeteria or school yard. These guys are loving and kind to the good kids and cute, too, but make no mistake about it—if you’re a bully, they have guns and they’re not afraid to use them. Their aim? Protect the innocent, give them milk to help them grow strong and healthy.

***

Latte:

tokidoki - latteLatte of the Moofia is…well…a latte. And you know how I can’t resist one of those! He’s part of the gang, but he doesn’t believe in guns. Only a high volume of calcium. He may be cute and totally kawaii, but this milk-guy will seriously kick some bully butt. Milk is what makes our teeth and bones strong, right?And boy, it is moo-a-liscious!

***

 Are you familiar and/or a fan of kawaii and/or Tokidoki?

Do you own any kawaii and/or Tokidoki pieces in a collection?

Who is your favourite kawaii and/or Tokidoki character and why?

***

 zara - tokidoki glow

Wednesday’s Wicked, New Books

09.03.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The books have been pouring in, which can only mean a few things:

  1. I have an active constellation acting on my behalf.
  2. My bookshelves are getting a good workout.
  3. My husband will soon suspend my book-buying budget.
  4. I am frantically getting behind on my reading and reviews.
  5. Publishers like me.
  6. Twitter is useful.
  7. Rafflecopter is rigged.
  8. My postman is pissed at me—and I mean really pissed at me.
  9. I squeal and book shimmy about every 10 minutes.
  10. Authors are alive and well and still have a lot of stories to tell.

Here’s a look at the Bibliotaphe’s Closet’s latest additions:

Books for Review:

A special thanks as always to Random House of Canada for sending me the following books for review:

man

Man by Kim Thuy

If this novel is as good as Thuy’s last novel, Ru, then we’re all in for a lyrical read.

book - bone clocks

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

book - ten-o-four

10:04 by Ben Lerner

book - stone mattress

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

If you’re an Atwood fan (and really, who isn’t?), you’re going to want to get your hands on her new collection of short stories. I loved her last collection, Moral Disorder, so I’m excited to read this as soon as I can.

And of course, a special thanks to Quirk Books for sending me the following book for review:

book - horrorstor

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

When this first arrived, I absolutely fell in love with its book design. I don’t actually have to say which catalogue it resembles,  do I? I don’t think I’ll be able to look at my furniture the same way again.

Thanks to author, Eric Smith, for sending me a copy of his book (and its matching poster) for review. I haven’t hung the poster on the wall yet, only because I need to go out and buy a couple of gigantic frames. Nevertheless, I look forward to decorating my office soon with book posters galore. As for being a geek, yes, I am one.

book - geek's guide to dating

The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

Books I Won:

I apparently have an entire (yet unnamed) constellation dedicated to my good fortune. This constellation, though, seems to only favour me in winning only books because I haven’t yet won the lottery—then again, there is a HUGE money pot up for grabs this Friday, which means I’ll have to talk this constellation up for me to have even a little crack at winning.

Nevertheless, I have a heart full of thanks to send out to many generous publishers and authors who have chosen me as the recipient of their book giveaways and contests. Me and my bookshelves are honoured!

Thanks to Penguin Random House on behalf of Razorbill and the Bloggers & Books Network Program for sending me the following book:

book - art of getting stared at

The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

I don’t have the tendency to get stared at, unless of course, I have something on my face like the remnants of the last cupcake I’ve devoured. Only then do people notice me. Still, this book looks good to read.

Thanks to my special friends at Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me a copy of the following for review:

book - mating for life

Mating for Life by Marissa Stapley

Personally, I mate for life. After being married a good 12 years to who I consider the sexiest man alive this year and for every year after, I know I’m in it forever. (I hope this book is as positive about marriage as I am.)

Thanks to Source Books who host a monthly book chat and for sending me a copy of the following:

book - paris architect

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

I love Paris. I haven’t been to Paris, but I love it still. And I look forward to reading this politically charged novel.

A big high-five to the folks at Retreat Random House of Canada for hosting a read-along. I was lucky enough to be one of the winners on the Rafflecopter to score a new edition of this book:

book - remains of the day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Congratulations to author, Josephine Angelini, on her new publication of this bewitching YA, paranormal book. I’m glad to be one of the few winners who snagged an ARC from her blog giveaway:

book - trial by fire

Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini

Tor Books sent me more magic by sending me a copy of this book, plus a cute Tor Books recycling bag as the winner of their giveaway contest. Thanks, Tor Books!

book - copper magic

Copper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson

Steph from the book blog, Feisty Little Woman, sent me a personal note along with my book prize from her giveaway. I was so pleased to receive both. Thanks, Steph!

book - interference

Interference by Michelle Berry

And thanks to the marketing folks on Twitter on behalf of Hyperion for sending me this book from their Twitter giveaway. I’m looking forward to reading all about Rosie:

book - love rosie

Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern

And last, but not least, a special thanks goes out to Giselle, a fellow book blogger whose reviews are as great as her web design! Be sure to check out her the book blog, Book Nerd. She sent me my choice of prize from her August 2014 Book Outlet Giveaway:

book - sharp time

The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell

Books I Bought:

These YA books caught my eye not only because of their plots and cover designs, but because of their unbelievable prices! Yes, I bought these babies on sale and the discount was so deep, they felt like they were almost free!

book - because it is my blood

Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

book - cross my heart

Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould

***

Based on the number of books in this collection, I think it’s fair to say that all the reasons I listed above most likely all apply to why these books may have poured in at once! Thanks to my loyal constellation, the generosity of publishers and authors, and the patience of my dutiful and hardworking postman.

(Here’s hoping that my luck is even better when I play the lottery on Friday…)

***

Of all the books listed above, which are you most interested in reading and why?

Do you have any of these in your collection?

Which ones would you like to add to your bookshelf?

What’s the last prize you won?

***

zara cat stamp

 

Back to the Grind

09.02.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I woke up, blinked, and poof—summer was done. Just like that. And it seems I’m still in a bit of a daze about it. Yes, I woke up extra early today. I hesitantly woke the children up much against their will: there was a yawn, a rollover, and a quiet plea for a little more time under the covers. But, I had to do it. Much against my own compassion for what it is to be a wee one on the first day of school, plus my own desire to simply cuddle my babies to my chest and keep them home, I had to play Mommy and be tough—well, act tough, anyway, for their sakes.

My preparation and anxiety from the night before proved to be helpful: clothes were set out, backpacks were packed, and the lunch menu already pre-planned. I washed the little one, dressed her up in clothes she agreed to wear, and tied up her hair as best as I could without any resistance, which usually happens when I put her hair up in pig-tails. So far, so good.

Breakfast was set, vitamins chewed, and the kids miraculously didn’t argue about which channel to watch on T.V.—YTV or Treehouse, which in the past meant a long and endless tirade of whining and drama that only raised my stress level and magically turned me into a frothing tyrant-referee desperate to diffuse an inevitable violence between two adamant, stubborn children willing to fight to the very end in order to watch either Toopy and Binoo or Scaredy Squirrel—a fight I really wanted to be no part of.

binoo squirrel - collage***

It seemed the morning wasn’t going to be a dreadful start to the fall as forewarned. We walked together, backpacks, and nervous anticipation in tow. Other children and their families in the community were also out in their new shoes, new haircuts, and bustling strides, eager to reconcile with old friends, and former classmates, to size up their potentially great or grave, new teachers—it was, after all, the luck of the draw.

The pre-determined personality of a teacher held the promise of either a glorious or unfortunately grotesque year. This subtle fear was apparent in both the hushed whispers between parents and the over-compensating cackles of kids who grew a couple more inches over the summer holidays. It was a chaotic buzz in the school yard, which marked the beginning of another school year, a testimony to new routines, and bigger challenges. It meant, too, a time to let go.

While I didn’t get an opportunity to meet Michael’s Grade 5 teacher in person because she was late in arriving onsite, I was still able to successfully take my daughter all the way to the other side of the school in greeting her new Senior Kindergarten teacher before the bell rang.

Michael was preoccupied in speaking with old friends, comparing notes on who ended up on the same roster, and therefore, in the same class to be overly concerned about the formalities of goodbye and good luck from his mother. Thankfully, he was still okay with his Mom giving him a hug goodbye.

Xara, on the other hand, professed she didn’t need a hug from me, that she was now in Senior Kindergarten, and therefore called to be a leader—more specifically, a Bumblebee Leader—a role model to the new kids in Junior Kindergarten who would inevitably need to be shown what to do. Uh-huh, okay.

I did, however, introduce her to her new teacher and she shyly said, “Hi,” before joining her classmates in line. The bell rang, we waved goodbye to one another, and off she went, sure of herself, telling me on the way to school that she knew to put her indoor shoes on, once she got inside, and to put her extra pack of clothes in her new cubby. She is, after all, an expert now.

As for me, I’m still dazed at the success of the morning, clinging to the thought of my children’s safety and success, hoping for the best for them, and missing them, just the same.

But, we’re still here. And even though the future continues to meet us directly, and always too soon, I’m begrudgingly happy to wish summer goodbye and hello to fall, the onslaught of cooler weather, cozier fashion, and a tizzy of new, upcoming books—and yes, to more hand-painted portraits of the my daughter’s creative imagination and marked-up reports of my son’s potential success in multiplication and problem-solving in Grade 5 math.

(Better that, than the news of a first-time girlfriend or boyfriend for each one of them! Then we’re talking about an all-out Zombie Apocalypse for Mommy—and we don’t want that.)

The kids' first day of school, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids’ first day of school, 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

What’s your First Day Back at School been like?

What are you looking forward to learning this year? If not for yourself, your children?

What goals are you looking forward to achieving this year? If not for yourself, for your children?

Which books do you look forward to reading this fall?

***

Hope you have a great day back to school—and back to the grind!

(If it’s any compensation, just think of all the new books you get to read this year.)

***

zara cat stamp

 

 

Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

08.11.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

From anticipating the end of the school year for my children in June, to planning a 10th birthday party for my son who’s obsessed with LEGO, to all the activities planned for the rest of the summer—I blinked, opened my eyes, and realized, OMG, it’s already August, with only three more weeks left until the children return to school in the fall.

Amongst some of those summer activities is continuously adding new books to the Bibliotaphe Closet collection.

Here are some new and great goodies waiting to be read on my shelf:

Books for Review:

A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with the following books for review:

girls from corona del marThe Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

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lucky usLucky Us by Amy Bloom

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luminariesThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

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colorless tsukuru tazakiColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

***

Books Won:

A special thanks to Penguin Canada for sending me the following prize through a Twitter contest:

third plateThe Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber

***

A special thanks to Doubleday Canada for sending me the following book as a prize from a Twitter contest:

distanceThe Distance by Helen Giltrow

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A special thanks to Graywolf Press for sending me two books as my prize from a Facebook contest:

karate chopKarate Chop: Stories by Dorthe Nors

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belmontBelmont: Poems by Stephen Burt

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Books I Bought:

 russian winterRussian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

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slammerkinSlammerkin by Emma Donoghue

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known worldThe Known World by Edward P. Jones

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how it all beganHow It All Began by Penelope Lively

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mercyMercy by Jodi Picoult

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alice hartle's happinessAlice Hartley’s Happiness by Philippa Gregory

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Books Borrowed:

 innocentsThe Innocents by Francesca Segal

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wisp of a thingWisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe

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splinteredSplintered by A.G. Howard

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unhingedUnhinged by A.G. Howard

***

Out of all the books listed above, which ones are you most interested in reading?

Which book do you think I should read next?

***

zara cat stamp

Crazy for CanLit 2014: My Book Cover Poem

08.08.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I’m Canadian. And while I’m not necessarily crazy, I am absolutely mad for Canadian Literature—and the annual Scotiabank Giller Prize festivities that honour the best in Canadian fiction.

Which brings me to this book cover list. While I’m keen on making lists in of themselves for almost everything I do (Post-It notes are my go-to organizational tool), the CanLit book covers eligible for this year’s Giller Prize have inspired me to create a poem made entirely of its book titles. While I didn’t use every book on the list, I was pretty close.

Let me know what you think of my “book cover” poem that reads from left to right:

can lit poem verse 1For today I am a boy

shallow enough to walk through

wallflowers.

can lit poem verse 2The world before us

just beneath my skin

between clay and dust:

can lit poem verse 3frog music, wonder—

all the broken things.

 can lit poem verse 4The road narrows as you go,

the breaking words,

the filthy few,

moving forward sideways like a crab.

can lit poem verse 5The eye of the day,

the opening sky,

the freedom in American songs…

can lit poem verse 6all my puny sorrows

tell

the hole in the middle,

I’m not scared of you or anything.

van lit poem verse 7The river burns

sweet life,

visions,

wild justice.

can lit poem verse 8I don’t know how to behave

consumed

where the air is sweet:

can lit poem verse 9sweet affliction,

the age,

a sudden sun.

can lit poem verse 10When is a man,

man?

The cuckoo’s child

can lit poem verse 11up in smoke,

the fledglings’

fire in the unnameable country,

can lit poem verse 12little bastards in springtime

foxed—loddy-dah!

can lit poem verse 13The answer to everything:

American innovations,

infidelity,

can lit poem verse 14prairie ostrich,

the tiny wife,

some extremely boring drives,

can lit poem verse 15all my sins

(Vienna nocturne),

proud flesh,

polyamorous love song.

can lit poem verse 16My October,

mating for life

the girl who was Saturday night

can lit poem verse 17will

a second chance—

my suicide.

can lit poem verse 18

Whatever Lola wants:

the afterlife of stars,

the location of unknown possibilities,

blood on a saint,

can lit poem verse 19I’m not scared of you or anything

Planet Lolita.

can lit poem verse 20Tell the broken hours,

the ghosts of Smyrna:

can lit poem verse 21the wind is not a river

based on a true story;

the wind is not a river

up in smoke.

can lit poem verse 22Watch how we walk

the incomparables—

how does a single blade of grass thank the sunHow does a single blade of grass

thank the sun?

***

What kind of thematic list can you create from the list of Can Lit books eligible for the prestigious Giller Prize?

***

zara cat stamp

Book Review: Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

07.15.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 elizabeth is missing***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Emma Healey

Format: Hardcover, 284 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada

ISBN: 978-0-3458-0830-1

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

***

Summary from Publisher:

An internationally heralded debut novel of extraordinary warmth, insight and humanity that will appeal to readers who loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Still Alice: Elizabeth Is Missing is at once a page-turning mystery that takes us from post-war Britain to the present day and a piercingly honest portrait of love and memory, families and aging through the lens of an unforgettable protagonist who will seize your heart–an elderly woman descending into forgetfulness, as she embarks alone on a quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared.


Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory–and her grip on everyday life. Notes fill her pockets and dot the walls of her home, increasingly crucial reminders of the immediate world. Most crucial is the fact that she can’t find her only friend–Elizabeth has disappeared: she isn’t answering the phone and doesn’t seem to be at her house. Maud, convinced Elizabeth is in terrible danger, refuses to forget her even if her frustrated daughter, Helen, her carer, Carla, and the police won’t listen and won’t help. Armed with an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth desperately needs her help, Maud sets out to find her. And, unexpectedly, her search triggers an old and powerful memory of another unsolved disappearance–that of her sister, Sukey, who vanished more than 50 years ago, shortly after the Second World War.

     As long-ago memories emerge, Maud begins to uncover forgotten clues to her sister’s disappearance and to piece together the mystery that has haunted her family for decades, discovering new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey’s disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

- From Goodreads

***

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey is an extraordinary novel spoken through the stark narrative of Maud, now an elderly woman whose battle with Alzheimer’s has over time, disconnected her memories, misplacing them throughout a wavering timeline, one that Maud desperately yearns to grasp and recollect.

It is truly an evocative book, one that perceptively showcases the incessant self-doubt and self-questioning that takes place during the internal dialogue of someone who suffers memory loss and the ramifications of how disruptive such a loss can be in daily life.

But, the narrative is not by any means demeaning, nor arbitrary. Maud is a fully realized character, one with complex emotions and intelligence, which is how well this novel was written. The narrative not only gives the reader a microscopic view of what it can mean to be elderly, but what it can mean to be held hostage by one’s own mind.

But, Maud is not alone on her narrative journey. There are those in the novel who must, out of love, and others necessity, move to surround her with as much care and routine as can be afforded.

Carla, one of her carers, while paid to make her a daily sandwich or boil her a kettle of water for tea, also provides some empathetic humour.

Helen, her daughter, while not without the frustration that accompanies taking care of an elderly parent, must for most of the novel, not only be the primary caregiver for her mother and her daily affairs, but also bear witness to the bewildering rate in which her mother’s mental capacity and daily, independent functioning, slowly, but certainly diminishes over time.

Katy, Maud’s granddaughter, is wonderfully understanding as the youth can sometimes be, treating her grandmother’s illness more as an interesting quirk, rather than a lifelong detriment and burden to Maud herself or to the family.

What is wonderful about this book aside from how surprising and almost unbelievable it is that it’s a debut novel because of how well it is written, is how brilliant the writer, Emma Healey is, in conjuring not only a story from a collection of what first appears to be disjointed memories—into a hybrid of parallel stories that gently, yet powerfully weave themselves quite naturally into a gorgeous tapestry of true events and a detailed mapping of Maud’s thought process.

The reader is not only able to piece together the fragments of Maud’s version of events into a fairly cohesive plot and form of understanding, but also decode a subtle movement and pacing of events that divulge themselves seamlessly into the mystery that is the foundation of the novel.

The disconnect between memories also act as a transformative time loop in the story where the narrator, Maud, flows in thought from her present to her past quite fluidly, unaware that her mind has unconsciously shifted from a present moment to a historical one. This ever-present narrative accentuates not only the severity of the character’s illness, but emphasizes the strong, emotional reality these memories pose for the character, and the direct intimacy readers are invited in to witness firsthand through its traumatic drama and first-person narrative.

As readers are consistently bewildered by the disorientation and anxiety felt by Maud as she desperately tries to retrace her thoughts into some kind of cohesive understanding and certainty, the loss of her memory is the battle that dictates and demands the constant disruption of her daily life and those she affects by her perpetuated wanderings, her verbal errors, her uprooting of plants, and painful memories.

But, Maud’s lamentations aren’t without logic. They make perfect sense to her. And it’s often revealed to the reader that the characters who support her also do a great job in misinterpreting what she means when she speaks. If only her internal dialogue would voice itself out loud, rather than betray her by remaining silent, which could essentially give others a better understanding of how one of her thoughts leads to another especially to those who dismiss her mind as one that is hopelessly broken.

Her memory of the past is often intricately detailed that the reader may wonder how the true nature of Alzheimer’s actually works. Maud’s recollection of her past without her awareness of it, propels the reality and trauma of it to the forefront of the story, regardless of whether or not her supporting cast is aware of it.

And what reaches the present is a revealing history indeed. One in which the reader is introduced to Maud’s tolerant, yet heartbroken parents, who at the trauma of the sudden disappearance of her older sister, Sukey, overwhelms the dynamic of their relationship to one another.

There is Douglas, their young lodger whose friendship with Sukey rivals Sukey’s passionate and shady husband, Frank. Between the two characters, Maud is young and coy enough at the time to keep a close eye on both of them in relation to her sister’s disappearance during post-war Britain. But, Maud’s recollection, though vividly haunting, shift randomly into questionable half-truths partly because of her perception and adamant personality—partly because of her diminishing memory.

Added to this cast of real characters, is the woman in black, better known as the Mad Woman, whose restless wandering, peeking into windows, and picking at bushes with nothing more than her babbling and black umbrella (according to Maud), is the intriguing and mysterious woman who greatly resembles Maud herself in future tense.

Together these characters spell out for Maud, a traceable line to the traumatic events that haunt her—the disappearance of her sister, Sukey, and her close friend, Elizabeth, for which this novel is named.

The narrative and Maud’s internal dialogue is an enlightening, yet haunting stream of consciousness that rushes out at the trigger of a thought and flows and ebbs as a tide does in returning and leaving its shore, a mental diadem that seduces its reader to not only care about this character and her plight, but to also easily navigate through the story’s clues, much like the scraps of paper Maud must collect for herself as written clues that propagate her next, vital step. The result? Content that is beautiful, endearing, and literary.

The pacing of the novel is perfectly timed, a story that lays down its foundation in the richness of Maud’s narrative and displacement, and then easily moves into a depth that uncovers more truth about Maud’s story surrounding the disappearance of her sister, Sukey, and her close friend, Elizabeth, even while Maud’s own memory dissipates and her condition worsens. It is as if the story must climax and come full-circle as does Maud’s mind needs to completely unravel.

As eloquent as the writing is, it’s the plot that will beguile its readers into misdirection as much as perhaps does Maud’s own memory pathway that diverges into a fringe of intimacy and vividness, yet skepticism. But, by the end of the novel, the mystery of Sukey, of Elizabeth, of each character’s role in the mystery surrounding their absence, will compel readers to applaud Emma Healey’s deft pen and ingenuity.

Elizabeth Is Missing is a masterful elegy to beloved victims, to the fascinating myriad of the mind, and the ruthless power of the gain and loss of autonomy—and memory. This book is absolutely riveting, a novel literary enthusiasts will not want to miss, nor forget.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Plot: 5 stars

Language/Narrative: 5 stars

Dialogue: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Knopf Canada for providing me with a copy of Elizabeth Is Missing Swimming in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

emma healey***

Emma Healey grew up in London, England, where she completed her first degree in bookbinding (learning how to put books together before learning how to write them), which she followed with an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She now lives in Norwich. Elizabeth Is Missing is her first novel.

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Links:

You can find more information on Emma on her official website.

You can connect with Emma on Twitter.

You can be her fan on Goodreads.

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Do you know someone who is affected with or by Alzheimer’s?

How do you think you would feel if you started to lose your memory?

Is memory a fundamental part of our identity? Without it, do we then lose our identity?

What do you think is the most frightening thing about losing your memory?

If you have not yet read, Elizabeth Is Missing, by Emma Healey, what do do you think happened to Elizabeth?

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Book Review: Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

07.07.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 summer house with swimming pool***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Herman Koch

Format: Hardcover, 394 pages

Publisher: Hogarth

ISBN: 978-0-8041-3881-9

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

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Summary from Publisher:

When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high-profile doctor to the stars, Marc can’t hide from the truth forever.

It all started the previous summer. Marc, his wife, and their two beautiful teenage daughters agreed to spend a week at the Meier’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by Ralph and his striking wife Judith, her mother, and film director Stanley Forbes and his much younger girlfriend, the large group settles in for days of sunshine, wine tasting, and trips to the beach. But when a violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.

- From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch is a dark, family drama that centers its story around the events that take place during a hesitant, yet preplanned family vacation between Dr. Marc Schlosser, his striking wife, Caroline, and their two lovely daughters, Julia and Lisa, with newly made friends: a famous actor, Ralph Meier, and his attractive wife, Judith, a successful film director, Stanley Forbes, and his young and pretty girlfriend, Emmanuelle, at the Meier’s summer home on the Mediterranean.

The strength of this novel is largely based on the pessimistic realism voiced in the first-person narrative by its main character, Marc Schlosser, who in his brutal honesty entices the reader into a relationship of interest and trust, as well as infuse the novel with a dark humour and a surprising psychological insight into the thoughts of a general male practitioner in the medical field. While doctors are held accountable by the Hippocratic Oath they take as healthcare professionals, what’s eerily disturbing about the reader’s discovery while delving deeper into the novel is the nature in which Dr. Marc Schlosser’s logic and discernment stems from a complete lack of integrity for the oath which he and other doctors are bound to by ethical and moral standards. While this seems on the surface, uncomfortably funny, the underside of this kind of psychology is quite terrifying. It begs the fearful question posed by vulnerable patients—“Is this what my doctor really thinks about?”

While the novel isn’t as largely character-driven as other books, readers get enough of a glimpse of personality through the book’s plot and dialogue. The characters themselves aren’t nearly as substantial as I would like as a reader, but the dialogue in the book is excellently convincing, which helps to make the book extremely readable.

Characters like Caroline, Marc’s trusting wife, is a camping enthusiast, the obvious worrier between both parents, and deemed the more natural disciplinarian towards their two young daughters, Julia and Lisa. Caroline is also physically attractive, enough to unintentionally claim the voyeuristic attention of the famous actor and new friend, Ralph Meier.

Judith, on the other hand, Ralph’s wife, while seemingly more uptight in the way she believes her household should be run, or how her husband and children should act, is surprisingly more open when it comes to her beliefs on monogamy.

And while Ralph is the most gregarious character in the novel, a man who doesn’t shy away from openly objectifying women, he is sexually confident and open as he is considered naturally extroverted and charming.

Stanley, a well-known film director is overly confident about his influential power and is able to easily woo a young girl nearly 35 years his junior into being his partner. His confidence, too, reveals his tendency for aggression, hypocrisy, and perversion when faced with getting what he desires.

Like most of Koch’s work, his characters usually appear to be quite different than they actually are and reveal themselves to be deeply flawed when faced with serious conflict.

While the plot is not as harsh or as controversial as his previous novel, The Dinner, its internal dialogue reveals a dark and disturbing truth, one that explores the lengths in which someone is willing to go in harming another person in retribution. Koch’s works are compelling in that his plots together with his dialogue and narrative, work together to provoke his readers into shock, even repulsion at the lack of at least one of his character’s empathy and ethical compass.

And while readers may tend to judge one character over another, in Koch’s work, the true culprit is usually the one readers believe to be the least guilty.

And what is most surprising about the plot is the cause of one of the character’s call to violence when readers may be led to believe the source to be quite different. This is what makes this novel not only readable, but interesting.

But, the novel does not only question the ethical motives of its characters, it also in its intelligent way, undermines the presumptions of its readers and poses even broader questions:

  • What is worse—the doctor with a poor bedside manner, but ethical standards who cares deeply about the welfare of his/her patients?
  • Or the doctor who is superficially social and understanding, yet a hypocrite, and could care less about the health and care of his/her patients?
  • Who is worse—the man who openly and lustfully looks at a woman and/or a number of different women, or the man who commits adultery?
  • Who’s more at fault when a sexual conflict arises? The sexual predator or the seducer?
  • Who is worse—the rapist or the murderer?
  • What are the boundaries of family? Friendship? Forgiveness? Revenge?

Summer House with Swimming Pool is a book that exemplifies how the judgement of another can be made far worse when a sobering look at oneself is dismissed entirely, and how a bad and misinformed attitude can only lead to even worse choices—ones that can undoubtedly, if unchecked, bring about the most harm.

This book at most is a testimony to passion running amuck and pride racing itself to dangerous power, one that escalates into violence and deception—a vacation most parties would rather blot out of their itinerary altogether.

Its dark humour will bring you at odds with your own presumptions. The calculated, immoral precision of one of its characters will terrify you—and may warn you against the danger of how taking one small step in the wrong direction can lead you quite quickly into a number of steps that delve you right into the quicksand of immorality.

And unfortunately, there is no such doctor, nor prescription that can save anyone that suffers that affliction. At least, not in this novel anyway.

As for me, I’m best reminded to mind who I decide to become friends with, which vacation I should or should not plan nor participate in—and when visiting my family physician for a serious ailment, ensure I’m wise enough to get a second opinion.

 

***

Characters: 3.5 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

Language/Narrative: 4 stars

Dialogue: 4 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Hogarth for providing me with a copy of Summer House with Swimming Pool  in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

From: http://sprakeloosverhalen.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/het-diner-herman-koch/
From: http://sprakeloosverhalen.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/het-diner-herman-koch/

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Herman Koch is the author of eight novels and three collections of short stories. The Dinner, his sixth novel, has been published in 25 countries and was an international bestseller. He currently lives in Amsterdam.

- From bio found in novel.

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Links:

You can learn more about Herman Koch on Wikipedia.

You can become Herman Koch’s fan on Goodreads.

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Have you read any of Herman Koch’s novels? If so, what do you enjoy the most about them?

How wise is it, do you think, a family should go on vacation with newly made friends?

Do you ever wonder what your own family physician really thinks when you visit him or her?

How far do you think people should go in protecting their family?

Is revenge ever the right answer? If so, when? And who decides?

Answer one of the questions I provided in my review.

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Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club 2014

07.03.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For my children, June 27 was the last day of school—the day when the bell marks one of the most anticipated moments in a child’s memory—the transition from end-of-school-year to the full freedom of summer vacation.

Xara on the last day of school with her favourite JK teacher, Mr. Vilku. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara on the last day of school with her favourite JK teacher, Mr. Vilku. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The whole family with Michael's Grade 4 teacher and friend, Mr. McCutcheon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The whole family with Michael’s Grade 4 teacher and friend, Mr. McCutcheon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

And now we’re here, a full two months of summer freedom, the opportunity to sleep late and sleep in, endless events to choose from, activities and crafts, and lots of free play. As a parent, it can be daunting to try to plan an entire summer that will not only entertain your children, but also keep education involved in their activities without making them feel like they’re back in school.

One great opportunity is to participate in the Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club 2014, hosted by a number of public libraries within the GTA.

Parents can sign their children up online at their local library, receive a membership ID number for future login, an activity booklet, a reading log book, a page of stickers, and the encouragement to keep reading throughout the summer.

For every two books read and logged online, equals an entry into a ballot to win a number of prizes hosted by the local library running the summer reading club. Members can win a Chapters Gift Card and an ice cream scoop from Baskin Robbins. A prize is also awarded to each club member who completes the 15 book challenge.

At the end of the summer, club members who have logged at least two books will be entered into the final grand prize draw for a chance to win a Kobo Arc!

Eureka Summer Reading Club 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Eureka Summer Reading Club 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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It’s a great motivator to keep your children eager and interested in reading all summer long with an opportunity for them to create their own, personal reading goals. It’s also a great way to keep record of the books your children have read.

As of today, both my children have been logging in the books they’ve read so far (my son tallies at six books and my daughter tallies at five) since they have both signed up for the program.

Here’s to summer—and all the great books to be read!

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If you have children, are they participating in a summer reading program?

Which books are you looking forward to sharing with the children in your life?

Have you heard of the Eureka! TD Summer Reading Club? Do you think you will enroll your children in the club?

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Happy Birthday Canada—and Michael!

07.01.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The first of July is always a special day for our family, not only as proud Canadians, but as grateful parents.

Ten years ago to the day, I had my own set of fireworks—in labour. My son was born at 6:18 p.m. at 25 weeks and fought to survive at a mere 1 lb. and 8 oz. It was for him, a full three months in hospital, full intubation, and a number of life-threatening close calls.

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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For the first four years of his young and fragile life, he suffered chronic lung disease, battling an incessant case of severe asthma attacks, having to visit our local hospital with a worrying amount of frequency and unfortunate familiarity. He had at his disposal a number of neonatologists and specialists interested in his care, a miracle baby who could provide statistics and current results to their medical and neonatalogical studies.

Ten years later, while the frequency in which he visits the hospital has largely decreased, colds and influenza still pose a threat as a main trigger to my son’s asthma.

Yet, he’s thrived as a young boy and we’re grateful that he’s reached this important milestone.

He’s a recent graduate from Grade 4; a thoughtful, creative, and active boy; one who loves to read books everyday; one who cares enough about the environment to help protect and care for it by actively reminding others to recycle products or participate in conserving energy; an obedient boy, but a talkative and extremely social one, too; one who loves to greet people he sees in passing, or to make new friends he meets at the park.

michael reading
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Aside from loving to ride his bicycle, or playing with his younger sister outside, he’s obsessed with collecting LEGO minifigures and creating LEGO structures inspired by his active imagination.

(c) Michael's LEGO creation. Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Michael’s LEGO creation. Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

It’s with great pride and gratefulness that we wish our son, our miracle baby, a very happy 10th birthday—one he shares with Canada every year!

Michael's 10th Birthday cake. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael’s 10th Birthday cake. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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(c) Photo and collage by Zar Deenas. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo and collage by Zar Deenas. All rights reserved.

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 Do you know anyone who was born at high risk and extremely premature?

Are you Canadian? How did you celebrate Canada Day on July 1st?

If you are Canadian, what do you love most about being Canadian?

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Books and nooks. Writing and reading between the pages.