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

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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

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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

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

Which book do you think I should read next?

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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?

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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

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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

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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

z ring - smallz ring - smallz ring - smallrsz_1rsz_one-half

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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!

***

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.

***

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.

***

(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.

***

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

***

 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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Stuffing the Bibliotaphe Closet

06.23.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

It’s been a few days into our official summer, which means as the summer vacation nears as does the higher temperatures, we’re all afforded the privilege of being outside.

Wherever I am, especially when I’m out, I rarely fail to bring a book with me—just in case. For those moments I’m left waiting—waiting for a bus, waiting in line, or waiting in a reception room. Or for that unexpected moment when I spot a quiet place like a corner table at my favourite cafe, or a bench under a large oak tree. These are not bookish clichés, but real places in which I savour reading.

And so, summer really is the best time for me to stock up on my personal book collection. Even if it means bursting my budget to its already-tight-and-stretched-out-seams.

That said, I, nor this blog would exist, nor be called bibliotaphic if this wasn’t my compulsion—I mean, disposition.

Here’s how The Bibliotaphe Closet has been stuffed this week:

Books for Review:

A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of The Quick by Lauren Owen for review.

The Quick by Lauren Owen

quick***

A special thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride.

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

a girl is a half-formed thing***

Books I (Busted My Wallet Out For) Bought:

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

plain truth***

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

my sister's keeper***

Waking the Dead by John Eldridge

waking the dead***

The Salesman by Joseph O’Connor

salesman***

Who By Fire by Diana Spechler

who by fire***

Astrid & Veronicka by Linda Olsson

astrid and veronicka***

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

heart is a lonely hunter***

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

city of falling angels***

At the Full and Change of the Moon by Dionne Brand

at the full and change of the moon

Open City by Teju Cole

open city***

Mr g by Alan Lightman

mr g***

The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck

secret book of frida kahlo***

The Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter by Brent Hayward

fecund's melancholy daughter***

Entice by Jessica Shirvington

entice***

Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

children of the jacaranda tree***

Books I Won:

A special thanks to Penguin Canada for a copy of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, which I won through a Twitter contest.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

truth about the harry quebert affair***

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

What does your Summer TBR book list look like?

Did you receive any new books for your collection this week?

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Waiting on Wednesday

06.18.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Week of June 23, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

signature of all things***

Fairy Tales from Around the World by Andrew Lang

fairy tales from around the world***

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

everything i never told you***

Week of July 7. 2014

Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronical Roth

four***

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

close your eyes hold hands***

Week of July 14, 2014

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3) by Deborah Harkness

book of life***

The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron

bone orchard***

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

valley of amazement***

Which of the above books are you most interested in reading?

If you could choose only one book to buy this month, which book would it be?

What’s on your Beach Bag TBR List?

***

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Provincial Ontario Election: Why Your Vote Still Counts

06.12.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

It may be the 41st Provincial General Election today where each Ontario resident has the opportunity to exercise his/her right to vote today, June 12—but that doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily been afforded an easy or clear choice.

I went to the polls early this morning after I dropped off my children at school and found myself anxious when faced with the ballot not because I’ve never voted before, but because I was still very much undecided about who to vote for.

I did my research, assessing each point and comparing every issue across political platforms. I even went so far as to rate and tally those issues I not only agreed with, but prioritized. In the end, I was surprised to see which party I actually leaned towards in issues I hoped would be addressed should that particular party come to power.

Still, when faced with the ballot today, I hesitated. I scanned the candidates’ names, those who I was already familiar with, those I had watched on television during electoral debates.

My difficulty remained between choosing the party with the most political issues in its platform that I agreed with and prioritized—yet not entirely trusting the party itself to ensure its promises would actually be delivered.

Or choosing the party with whom I have trusted in the past due to its choices based on integrity and character, and shared, fundamental beliefs—but disliking its political priorities as outlined in its platform.

What I was expecting and hoping for was an alternative on the ballot—an opportunity to “decline my vote,” rather than avoid the polls entirely, in order to send the message to the provincial government that I’m unhappy with the current political choices afforded me at this time—but when I went to the polling station and received my ballot, an opportunity to “decline my vote” was not available.

And while I did my duty as a voting citizen of Ontario today, I have to admit that once I dropped my ballot into the ballot box, I was neither entirely pleased with the choices given me, nor confident in the result of my choice.

I walked away from the polling station with disappointment and a political apathy that I haven’t experienced in this country before.

But, rather than complain about the potential irrelevance of politics and the power it can often times abuse, I thought it more important to vote anyway.  At least vote in such a way that I’m well-informed about platform points and my choices.

Perhaps you’ve attested to loyalty towards a particular party because you have always considered yourself part of this party’s camp. Perhaps you’re indifferent to politics, unaware of the true power of your right to vote. Perhaps you’ve been in this country for a number of years and with the number of disappointments and scandals, which have revealed themselves from poor judgement all the way to political corruption, you’ve decided you’ve given up with the political process altogether and you’re simply apathetic. Perhaps you just need a little nudge and reminder to vote.

Regardless of your political viewpoint, it’s best to vote well-informed.

To see a great comparison list between political platforms, please visit the CBC webpage for more details.

And then go out there and vote—your vote still counts towards the end result.

Be sure to bring your election card and photo I.D. to your closest polling station.

***

Have you voted today for the Provincial Ontario Election?

Do you know the candidates in your riding and who you will be voting for?

Do you believe a ballot that includes an opportunity for voters to “decline” their vote is necessary and/or useful? Why or why not?

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Beauty Review: Bijou Nails & Spa

06.04.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The season went from a long, harsh winter iced with a polar vortex straight into a non-existent spring that quickly dived into summer. Though it’s not technically summer yet, the heat and humidity has called out the sunscreen—and the sandals out of boxes from the basement.

Sandal season means pedicure season. At least it does for me. While I’m madly obsessed with nail polish (I recently downsized my collection to 239 bottles), I’m not really a salon girl. I don’t require the privilege of monthly salon appointments. I don’t even grow my fingernails long because I have two young children running about the house who keep me extremely busy—and my nails unkempt.

I do, however, try to start the summer with a fresh mani-and-pedi. If I can’t maintain it for the entire year, or even the summer, I forgive myself quickly and opt for an infrequent treatment. It’s the least I can do for the public—and my feet.

(Let’s be serious, ladies—it is absolutely gross to see neglected toes, the ones ruined with fungus, cuticle overgrowth, and faded polish peeking out of sandals in the summer! Those who agree with me can put their pretty, little, manicured hands up in the air, yes? Yes.)

And so, today, I opted to submit myself and my feet to a little, but much-deserved spoiling—okay, maybe not spoiling, but rigorous maintenance. It was like taking a jalopy into the shop hoping for a brand new car.

If anything, I felt the most compassion towards the nail technician. She looked like she broke a sweat—or a vein—scrubbing dead skin and callouses off my feet. It was a flurry of the first-time-pedicure-of-the-season-kind-of-gross. And I mean, gross.

But, we both smiled through the awkward embarrassment of it. My toes and her tip counted on it. Which leads me to this review post. I don’t usually post reviews on beauty salons, but my experience at Bijou Nails & Spa was superb that I couldn’t pass it up.

The salon located on 131 Main Street North in Brampton, south of Church, is an aesthetically pleasing spa with a chandelier to greet you in the foyer above the welcome desk and two racks of high quality nail lacquer brands such as O.P.I., China Glaze, and Essie, though I was disappointed not to see some of my favourite nail lacquers from Butter London, Zoya, or Orly.  (Trust me when I say I’m a nail polish lover.)

Nevertheless, I arrived shortly after the salon opened at 11:15 a.m., which I highly suggest patrons do. There were only two customers without the fuss, wait, or noise associated with busy peak times.

The salon is owned and run by a Korean family, while the majority of staff is also from Korea. What was wonderfully pleasant compared to other Asian-run salons that I’ve been to in the past was the quiet demeanor of the staff and the pure, relaxing environment in which I had my nails done.

The staff did not chatter amongst each other, nor yell across the room while working. They each focused on the task at hand, which was much more than just a manicure and pedicure—but creating and ensuring the environment was one in which patrons can ultimately relax and enjoy being pampered.

I was so pleased.

The decor, furniture, salon equipment, and tools all appeared to not only be aesthetically beautiful, but also new, while the salon itself was exceptionally clean. Not only did the nail technicians not talk amongst each other while working, which ensured some peace and quiet, but the music heard throughout the salon was also tranquil and at a volume that created an extremely relaxing atmosphere. I could have shut my eyes and blissfully took a nap. I almost did, but was curious to see how well the technicians would work on my mani-pedi. Yes, it was that relaxing.

The workmanship of the nail technicians were excellent, too. They didn’t rush, but paid special attention to the specific needs of my hands and feet. It wasn’t as if they were going through the step-by-step motions of what is included in the mani-pedi package like most salons do. They were thorough and attentive, willing to work hard at getting my hands, feet, and nails where they needed to be—perfect.

Not only were they thorough and attentive, but also precise. While they worked diligently, they also worked beautifully. My hands and feet have not felt—or looked—this good in a long time.

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

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What’s even better is that the salon is currently hosting a summer special: a manicure and pedicure package for only $30. That’s tough to beat at a high-end salon.

If you’re in the area and would like a truly professional manicure and pedicure, be sure to drop by  Bijou Nails & Spa. I trust you won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t and will be sure to return next month for another manicure and pedicure.

For more details on hours and service, you can visit the Bijou Nails & Spa website.

***

* Disclaimer*

I was not compensated in any way for this beauty review. The opinions in this review are solely my own based on my one-time visit, June 4, 2014.

 ***

What kind of service do you expect when you visit a nail salon?

Have you ever visited Bijou Nails & Spa at the Main Street North location in Brampton? What did you think?

What other nail salons would you highly recommend?

Have you ever tried shellac?

What is your favourite nail lacquer brand / colour?

Was this beauty review helpful?

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Books and nooks. Writing and reading between the pages.