Tag Archives: family

Book Review: A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

08.05.2015

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @zaraalexis / @zaraasian

a robot in the garden

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Category: Contemporary Fiction

Author: Deborah Install

Format: Paperback, 288 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-345-81533-0

Pub Date: June 30, 2015

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A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install is a sweet, fictional debut novel about a child-like sentient who calls himself Acrid Tang, a decrepit, but high-functioning artificial intelligence who surpasses even the modern android’s level of programming.

He is first discovered by Ben Chambers as he spies him randomly sitting under a tree in his garden and is quickly taken by him, his unexpected appearance and lack of ownership, and his unique body architecture obviously built by a creative and innovative maker.

With no knowledge of where or from whom this robot originates, Ben Chambers, takes it upon himself to journey across the globe to uncover the mystery behind Acrid Tang’s unusual build, worn-down condition,  and exceptional giftedness. In the process he travels from the United States to Tokyo, Japan, then to Koror, Palau, and back again.

In the process, he not only attempts to uncover the mystery of Acrid Tang’s beginnings, but through his challenging  journey, discovers his own potential for acceptance and healing after the hidden grief of mourning the death of his parents, and a new ability to take on more responsibility without fear.

The result is a sincere look at the interrelationship between an orphaned, sentient being and a grown man capable of new ambition and familial love.

The novel is a light read, its narrative grounded in Ben Chambers’ seriousness and Acrid Tang’s childlike naivety. And while the robot evolves, so does his human counterpart. They both learn from each other, the aspects of trust, the discrimination against the old and the broken, and the ability to see one’s own limitations and choose to move beyond them.

I did, however, find the character of Ben Chambers’ easy wealth, far too easy, in order to substantiate his costly journeys around the world in search for Acrid Tang’s mysterious beginnings. If the reader can forgive this character’s and/or novel’s flaw in the plot, the adventures themselves are neither exciting, nor commonplace, but an attempt to generate movement in the plot’s story and increase the characters’ bond of friendship and love.

Overall, Acrid Tang, is the robot-Pinocchio, whose faulty, cracked cylinder, pulsing heart, and peeling gaffer tape which holds him together, house an innovative program of self-awareness and earnestness unparalleled by any other AI in existence within the novel.

It’s that uniqueness that makes this novel a traditionally “coming-of-age” story—for both its Artificial Intelligence community and the humans who choose to live amongst them.

Zara’s Rating

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About the Author

From http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/authors/257875/deborah-install. Photo by Hannah Montague.
From  Penguin  Random House website.  Photo by Hannah Montague.

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Deborah Install has been writing fiction since childhood, submitting her first book to a publisher at the age of 8. Her love of writing persisted, leading to a number of jobs, including web journalism and her most recent role as copywriter at a design and marketing agency. She lives in Birmingham, UK, with her husband, toddler and affectionate but imperious cat.


–  Bio from inside jacket of novel.

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What is your view of Artificial Intelligence and sentient beings and their place in society today and in the future? Do you agree or disagree with their existence?

If you were an “owner” of a fully functional AI android, what would you like it to do? What would you like its primary function to be?

Do you believe AI androids to be a realistic part of our future? Do you believe AI androids should have full autonomy and be considered persons under the law? Why or why not?

What are the dangers of implementing fully functional AI androids into society as we know it? What do you think would be their limitations?

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Zara - blue fur

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Book Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

11.04.2014

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

lucky us

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Category: Fiction

Author: Amy Bloom

Format: Hardcover, 250 pages

Publisher: Random House

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6724-4

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

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Summary from the Publisher:

“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom is a modern telling of two very different sisters from the 1940’s who must reconcile their fate with each other and the consequential hardships they encounter right from childhood into their adulthood.

It is the story of Eva Logan-Acton and her half-sister, Iris. The two who are thrown together at the loss of both their mothers, one through death, the other through abandonment, left open to the neglect and betrayal of their biological father, Edgar.

Not only is there a dichotomy between the two sisters in look, but also in temperament, the two in their personal failings, somehow find ways to survive poverty, manipulation, and loss.

Though the plot lends itself to the absurd, it’s the characters’ dilemmas and persevering spirit that makes this book at the very least an entertaining read. Is it realistic? No, not really, but it is possible and lures the reader into turning each page with interest.

The heart of the novel is wound in the realism of its characters’—especially the main characters’ personalities. Iris, the drama queen is both self-indulgent as she is tough-skinned, a survivor, and an emotional manipulator, but would be lost without her grounded sister, Eva, to anchor her down emotionally throughout the book.

Eva, self-sacrificial to the point of semi-martyrdom, while formally uneducated, finds ways in which she can survive the drama of her sister, the inconsistency and eventual illness of her father, and the short- term charity of her friend, Francisco’s sisters in the beauty salon where she dutifully sweeps floors and washes sinks. She teaches herself how to read, memorizes her father’s Little Blue Books for abridged versions of knowledge and sometimes useful or non-useful facts, and learns not only how to read Tarot cards, but how to best advise customers with news that encourages them and encourages them to return to the salon for her most-often positive advice.

But Iris and Eva are not the only characters in the novel with unique personalities and circumstances. There is Edgar, whose love for Clara, a jazz singer and closeted albino who cannot redeem him from the mistakes he’s committed in the past, nor the disease he must face in the near future; Francisco, a gay makeup artist and friend-turned-father-figure; Reenie, Iris’ focus of love and borderline obsession; Gus, the ousted husband whose relation to Reenie places him in an unbelievable and life-threatening circumstance; and Danny, the stolen orphan made to seduce and fulfill a gap in a grieving woman’s life.

Together the story unfolds into a highly unlikely plot that still seduces the reader enough to not only continue reading, but also empathize with the characters and their sentimental failings. Somehow the absurdity of the plot doesn’t deter the individuals from eventually finding some form of love and solace, and even a self-imposed, redefinition of family.

Lucky Us feels like a somewhat sarcastic title, but is able to self-prophesy on the story’s behalf by the time the novel ends. I’m just not quite sure who the title is referring to exactly—the characters themselves or the readers who get to witness a highly tumultuous story unravel itself into some form of success or the readers who are lucky enough not to suffer the same type of consequences as the characters that find redemption in their own answers?

Amy Bloom does a good job of creating interesting enough characters that will urge its readers to turn the page and come away from the story with more than an afterthought, but a sense that the injustices of the world still have a purpose even if they insist on sometimes remaining unclear.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of Lucky Us in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

 amy bloom***

Amy Bloom is the author of Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist; A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Love Invents Us; Normal; Away, a New York Times bestseller; and Where the God of Love Hangs Out. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, and many other anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon, among other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. She teaches creative writing at Wesleyan University.

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What do you think is the best thing about having a sister?  What do you think is the worst?

How far would you go on getting what you want? Lies? Murder?

What is your definition of family?

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Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving 2014

October 14.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

In previous years, Thanksgiving was a time to anticipate a tabletop filled with a traditional feast: turkey as its centrepiece, mashed potato with cranberry sauce, roasted, buttered corn, thick lasagna, a creamy potato salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, a little wine, and rich coffee with dessert.

But, the price to pay? A day or two in the kitchen, a potentially aggravating sit-in dinner with a few abrasive, tactless family members who are always compelled to criticize either your job, your spouse, your children, your looks, or your lack of any, and a bloated gut or terrible hangover from a few hours of enjoyable gluttony.

Thankfully, that did not happen this year.

This year, my husband and I, and our two children, rented a car for a few days, packed our bags, and travelled to Kingston, Ontario, to spend our Thanksgiving weekend with my father-in-law and mother-in-law, who we haven’t seen in a long time with our last visit to them over four years ago.

On our way, we stopped at Fairview Mall for an emergency bathroom break and happily discovered a LEGO store for the first time. My eldest son, Michael, a 10-year-old boy passionately obsessed with LEGO had a spaz attack! We spent a good half hour in the store checking out the latest box sets, admiring the coloured LEGO wall at the back, and building our own customized  mini-figures.


Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with LEGO block at LEGO store, Fairview Mall. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Together, we built three customized mini-figures for purchase, one meant to be a replica of my son with his medicine pouch and a weapon of choice to battle the “zombies” of the future Zombie Apocalypse; a Fairy Pie Godmother who brings pie to all LEGO-loving children of the world; and Gardenia, an avid reader, writer, and gardener:

The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The LEGO mini-figurines we customized on our unexpected trip to the LEGO store: Michael, The Pie Fairy Godmother, and Gardenia. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The car ride was loud and enjoyable except for the traffic we were unfortunate enough to get stuck in while on the 401. Still, we gladly took the opportunity to stop at a service station at Trenton to have lunch before arriving to Kingston.

The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids in the car on the way to Kingston. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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[caption id="attachment_8859" align="aligncenter" width="660"]The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved. The kids making faces in Trenton, at our On Route service station. We had Tim Horton sandwiches and soup for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Once there, it was not only a relief to finally arrive, but to see my in-laws after so many years. There were happy tears, hugs, and a thoughtful dinner waiting for us.

Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá and Esly talking over dinner. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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While I was originally nervous about visiting them in respect to not seeing them in a number of years, but also because of the language barrier, once we arrived, their gracious hospitality and love made it so much easier to settle in—and stay.

We stayed for three days and two nights!

Each day was an opportunity for us to relax in our pyjamas, talk—really talk—and laugh, and ultimately spend quality time together as a family, which I found touching and rejuvenating.

Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael with his grandpa, Papá Ramiro—both in pyjamas. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Hugs for grandpa! Papá Ramiro and Xara after breakfast. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The wonderful gift of my father-in-law and mother-in-law is not only their strong, personal faith, but how their faith is alive and active in their lives. Papá, who is a retired pastor, does more than spend his time preaching empty words without consequence or validation. His advice is not only usually faith-based, but sound because he is a living testament of what he believes in. Mamá, too, lives out her faith by action, not simply words. To have spent time with them even for a little while was to be a part of God’s loving grace.

Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Mamá. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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It is so refreshing to be a part of such an open and loving family.

On the one hand, Mamá and Papá, have very little financially. They don’t desire a large home, nor a luxury car of which to boast about to friends and family. They travel about once or twice a year to El Salvador, not for a vacation for themselves, but rather an opportunity to give to the poor and needy while there. And they feel no compulsion to own “bigger and better,” worldly things. They live quite simply and are always content with what they have. But, it isn’t because they can’t afford a lavish lifestyle—it’s because their mindset does not focus on the importance of materialism as one of their priorities.

And yet, they have so much of themselves to give emotionally. They are open and direct, but without the need to be condescending, critical, or controlling. While they want what’s best for their son, me, and their grandchildren, they always speak and act with love, kindness, and understanding.

Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Papá and Esly spending time together talking on the balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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We did not have a giant turkey for Thanksgiving or a lavish feast of any kind. Instead, we ate homemade soup with beef and vegetables, pupusas (a Salvadorean dish made of masa flour and mozzarella cheese with cortido, a cabbage, carrot, vinaigrette topping), mashed red bean, Salvadorean cheese, fried plantain with cream, and coffee and tea biscuits for dessert.

I spent some of my time braiding Mamá’s hair while the kids enjoyed running around the small apartment, and my husband helped Papá with the installation of Spanish accent shortcuts onto his computer/keyboard.

We also had the opportunity to see my brother-in-law, Eli, and visit his new home in Kingston. The kids took such a liking to his jokes and playfulness that they want to sleep over at his house next time we visit!

My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My brother-in-law, Eli, with Esly discussing politics at the dinner table. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Aside from family time, I was also able to visit the artsy core of downtown Kingston. I discovered a nice, little bookstore called, A Novel Idea, where I picked up a Montreal Book Review publication, some Kingston Writers’ promotional cards, a few bookmarks, Kingston Art buttons, and some postcards.

All in all, it was a much-needed getaway from the city, an opportunity to enjoy a long car ride and the autumn sights, to spend some quality time with my husband’s family, and to also get some stationery shopping done, as well as some letter writing to a number of my penpals.

The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The view overlooking the conservation site from my in-laws’ balcony. Kingston, Ontario. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The kids enjoying their long weekend trip to see their grandparents in Kingston. October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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This year, Thanksgiving was so much more than about eating turkey. It was as it’s meant to be, a time for thoughtful reflection and a time for giving sincere thanks for family, friends, good food, great company, and the love and grace of God and His many blessings.

Whatever faith you may have or however differently you may celebrate, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration this past weekend! While I need not worry about a turkey gut, I’ve had my fill of other delicious foods and time well spent.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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How do you usually spend Thanksgiving?

What was most memorable about your Thanksgiving celebration this year?

If you could so something differently for next year, what would you like to do?

What are you most thankful for?

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Mother’s Day Weekend

05.13.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

The second Sunday in May is a sentimental celebration for a lot of women—the arrival of spring, the birth of better weather and the bloom of flowers, and a day to recognize and honour the gift of motherhood.

Not everyone is privileged to be a mother, but everyone is certainly born of one.

I’m blessed to be privileged of both.

If you know me personally or if you’re a keen follower of my blog, you’ll know that a key part of my identity and pride is deeply rooted in my two children, Michael and Mercedes.

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

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But, it certainly hasn’t been an easy road to (and sometimes through) motherhood.

While most in my family highly suspected pregnancy as a reason for my “shotgun” wedding to my husband almost 13 years ago, it wasn’t actually easy for me to conceive. We had, if anything, not thought of having children until quite later in life in the plan of first fully enjoying our independence as a newly married couple. And then when my “biological clock” started ticking (and ticking loudly), my desire to have a child was as natural as it was thrilling—and frightening.

Both of my pregnancies were extremely difficult. I was told on both occasions that I had miscarried. And then in my first pregnancy, I  went into pre-term labour at a mere 25 weeks (six months), which brought upon severe complications for my son and exhaustion and hardship for myself and my husband. My little one was in hospital for three months before he could come home.

Because of the nature of my first pregnancy, I was classified as a high-risk patient and had to be under the care and keen supervision of a neonatologist. This meant more appointments, tests, and restrictions than other women throughout each trimester and a cervical suture operation in order to help carry my second baby further along in pregnancy. Even with this surgery, my daughter still came early.

But, the joy of having children far outweighs my negative experiences with having them.

My son, Michael, who is almost 10-years-old is a sensitive, caring, and extremely obedient boy. While he’s known to talk a lot, speak loudly, and be somewhat hyperactive (which can carry its own burdens)—Michael is always the first to notice others’ needs before his own and the most willing to sacrifice for others out of his depth of compassion. He’s also a keen activist for the environment, which surprised me considering his age. And he is thoughtful and extremely loving, traits I am absolutely grateful for and proud of.

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

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My daughter, Mercedes, who is almost 5-years-old is feisty, rambunctious, and self-assured, which is admirable, but can also be weary and a constant test of my patience. She is, however, extremely affectionate and tender when in the right mood and will often give me the sweetest and most thoughtful compliments when most needed. And if anything, the things she often says will just make me laugh!

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

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While mothers never stop being mothers, working hard to not only raise their children well on a daily basis, but to also advocate fiercely on their behalf, and simply loving, and enjoying who they are in the journey of parenthood—Mother’s Day is a wonderful day to focus on the gift of what it is to be a mother and to also have one.

This Mother’s Day weekend, I celebrated with my mom, my sister, and my immediate family with a quiet, but filling lunch—potluck at my parents’ house that included traditional, Filipino, celebratory dishes like rice, Pancit, Pinakbit, Lumpia, spicy chicken, salad, Dulce Neopolitan cake, and Fudge cake.

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

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And of course, Mother’s Day isn’t complete without those thoughtful gifts that you receive from your children! This year, I was really pleased to receive exceptionally creative gifts!

Xara's Mother's Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara’s Mother’s Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara's Mother's Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara’s Mother’s Day card. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Mercedes who is in Junior Kindergarten and just learning to write her alphabet made me a card that says:

My Mom [is] recognizable because she loves me.

I also got a wonderfully creative paperweight from my daughter. She proudly told me:

Mama, you know what I got you for Mother’s Day? A ROCK! I painted it green so it wouldn’t be ugly. I got it outside when I was exploring and I decorated it in Craft. Do you like it? You can use if on your papers.

I love it!

My homemade paperweight from Xara. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My homemade paperweight from Xara. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And Michael made me a homemade frame to house a picture of himself and a candle. He also went out of his way to buy me the Jennifer Aniston perfume I liked with his own money.

He told me:

Mama, I bought you this, but Papa paid for the tax!

Yay! Now, I have a beautifully framed picture of my son that I set on my desk to remind me of him, a candle that I can light when I want to make the atmosphere more mellow, and perfume that I love (and makes me smell like Jennifer Aniston!).

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

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Jennifer Aniston perfume from Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jennifer Aniston perfume from Michael. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Overall, it was a quiet Mother’s Day with a trip to one of my favourite hot spots—Kariya Park—where I enjoy the tranquility and beauty of cherry blossom trees and the blessings of being a mother to two, amazing kids!

Me, at Kariya Park on Mother's Day. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Me, at Kariya Park on Mother’s Day. (c) Photo by Esly R. Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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To all the beautiful and loving mothers out there, hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day filled with gestures to remind you of how much you are loved and appreciated.

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How do you celebrate Mother’s Day?

Are you close to your mother? How did you celebrate who she is and all she has been in your life on her special day?

Are you a mother? What do you love most about being a mom?

What did you receive for Mother’s Day? What special gestures of love did you receive on Mother’s Day?

***

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Book Review: Moving Foward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo

 

05.05.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

moving forward sideways like a crab

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Shani Mootoo

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67622-9

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

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Summary from the Publisher:

From the author of Cereus Blooms at Night and Valmiki’s Daughter, both nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, comes a haunting and courageous new novel. Written in vibrant, supple prose that vividly conjures both the tropical landscape of Trinidad and the muted winter cityscape of Toronto, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab is a passionate eulogy to a beloved parent, and a nuanced, moving tale about the struggle to embrace the complex realities of love and family ties.

Jonathan Lewis-Adey was nine when his parents, who were raising him in a tree-lined Toronto neighbourhood, separated and his mother, Sid, vanished from his life. It was not until he was a grown man, and a promising writer with two books to his name, that Jonathan finally reconnected with his beloved parent-only to find, to his shock and dismay, that the woman he’d known as “Sid” had morphed into an elegant, courtly man named Sydney. In the decade following this discovery, Jonathan made regular pilgrimages from Toronto to visit Sydney, who now lived quietly in a well-appointed retreat in his native Trinidad. And on each visit, Jonathan struggled to overcome his confusion and anger at the choices Sydney had made, trying with increasing desperation to rediscover the parent he’d once adored inside this familiar stranger. As the novel opens, Jonathan has been summoned urgently to Trinidad where Sydney, now aged and dying, seems at last to offer him the gift he longs for: a winding story that moves forward sideways as it slowly peels away the layers of Sydney’s life. But soon it becomes clear that when and where the story will end is up to Jonathan, and it is he who must decide what to do with Sydney’s haunting legacy of love, loss, and acceptance.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo is a quiet and lucid narrative about a woman named Sidhanni Mahale who yearns to elucidate the truth behind the choice she had to make to abandon Jonathan Lewis-Adey, the son she raised and fostered with her former and long-time partner, India, of 10 years in downtown Toronto before their relationship abruptly came to an end.

In Jonathan’s personal search for the mother he lost as a child, he discovers instead that the mother he knew and remembered as “Sid,” has transformed herself physically into a man who now goes by the name, “Sydney,” and lives in his native birthplace, Trinidad.

Over a nine-year period, and then again, Jonathan returns to Sydney’s side in Trinidad as he lay aged and dying, trying to reconcile the truth of his mother’s original disappearance from not only his life, but also from her own gender from birth into a life-altering decision that ultimately changes and rectifies her sexual identity into a male one.

Much of the narrative is written in personal journal entries or letter correspondence between Sydney and his best friend and long time, secret love, Zain. The letters along with the journal entries reflect the longevity of their friendship and Sydney’s deep affection for Zain, as well as her repressed desire.

While the pacing of the novel in itself is rather slow, the narrative is sentimental and somewhat lyrical, returning often to the storytelling of a life-changing walk towards the clinic where “Sid” eventually began to undergo the process of physically changing into a man.

Much of the novel is dedicated to this journey, its struggle, its tension, its anticipation—its necessity for the main character. And in that explanation, though layered behind the backdrop of growing up and living in two very different cultural environments: Trinidad and Toronto; two opposing genders: female and male; the story which urges to tell itself is one of enduring love for a son that was let go too soon.

In this, Jonathan discovers for himself a “re-discovering” of the woman and the memory of the woman he was so attached to as a child, and the man that woman has become. Jonathan, too, discovers his own liminality, a white man who has grown up most of his life in Toronto, Canada, but whose love for his mother and her native country of Trinidad, has also greatly influenced him and has a special place for him culturally. He is of two places as much as “Sid” and/or “Sydney” is of two genders, once a woman who transitions into man.

While the plot is light with exception to the emotional trauma of Zain’s “unsolved” death by home intrusion for Sydney, much of the book is character-driven told primarily through journal reflections.

There is Sid, whose love and desire for Zain and later other women was only exemplified by what she felt was a betrayal of her own body, one that was born as a woman, but undeniably desired to be a man.

There is Zain, whose love and acceptance of Sid surpassed their geographical and cultural differences, while nurturing a lifelong friendship that perplexed, if also frustrated a number of people in their lives even though Zain herself, proclaimed by her relationships and through her marriage that she was a heterosexual.

There were Sid’s parents who were at most, perplexed by their daughter’s ambiguity, but tolerant and understanding of who she was, up until their own deaths.

There is Gita, Sid’s sister whose intolerance was made evident not only by their emotional distance, but by her inability in the end to attend her sister’s/brother’s funeral.

And also India, Jonathan’s birth mother and Sid’s former partner who had become exasperated with Sid’s slow and gradual change into masculinity and eventually decided to become partners with a man later on in life.

And Jonathan, a sensitive man whose attachment to Sid propels him to travel to Trinidad numerous times over nine years, ends up not only reconciling with Sid as a parent, but becomes the primary witness to the story behind her gender transformation, and later the primary person to perform the last rites for Sydney’s funeral.

It is overall, an introspective novel that spends a lot of time reflecting on the past, focusing on Sydney’s love for Zain and his desire to be a man. In listening to Sydney’s stories, Jonathan learns as much as made possible, the truth of Sydney’s complicated feelings as a person and her/his unrelenting love for him as a son.

***

Characters: 3 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars

Dialogue: 3 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

Shani Mootoo. (c) Photo by Martin Schwalbe.
Shani Mootoo. (c) Photo by Martin Schwalbe.

***

Shani Mootoo is the author of the novels Cereus Blooms at Night, which was a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the B.C. Book Award for Fiction; He Drown She in the Sea, which was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and most recently, Valmiki’s Daughter, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Mootoo was born in Trinidad and grew up there and in Ireland. She immigrated to Vancouver two decades ago, and lives with her partner near Toronto.

– From book jacket

Links:

To learn more about Shani, you may visit her page on Wikipedia.

***

Do you know and love someone who is part of the LGBT community?

What do you think it feels like to feel “betrayed by one’s own body?”

If you read the book, “Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab” by Shani Mootoo, do you think Sid’s romantic love was reciprocated on some level by her best friend, Zain? Why or why not?

***

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Book Review: The Bear by Claire Cameron

02.27.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

the bear

***

Category: Fiction

Author: Claire Cameron

Format: Trade Paperback, 226 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67902-2

Pub Date: February 11, 2014

***

Summary from Publisher:

The black dog is not scratching. He goes back to his sniffing and huffing and then he starts cracking his bone. Stick and I are huddled tight. . . . It is dark and no Daddy or Mommy and after a while I watch the lids of my eyes close down like jaws.

Told from the point of view of a six-year-old child, The Bear is the story of Anna and her little brother, Stick–two young children forced to fend for themselves in Algonquin Park after a black bear attacks their parents. A gripping and mesmerizing exploration of the child psyche, this is a survival story unlike any other, one that asks what it takes to survive in the wilderness and what happens when predation comes from within.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara

from The Bibliotaphe Closet

The Bear by Claire Cameron is an emotional story birthed from a real-life event, the tragedy of Raymond Jakubauskas and Carola Frehe in October 1991 on Bates Island on Lake Opeongo in Algonquin Park, two hundred miles northeast of Toronto. The couple who had planned a three-day camping trip never returned, but were attacked and killed by a large male black bear for no apparent rationale other than predation.

The high interest in this novel is not perhaps the tragedy of its plot, but instead the voice of its narrator, young five-year-old Anna, who must navigate a nearly 3,000 square mile of wilderness on her own in care of her much younger brother, Alex, affectionately known and called Stick, who is only two years of age, after the brutal attack on her parents while on a camping trip.

Though I did find the narrative sometimes distracting  and contrived, obvious in its attempt to sound like a five-year-old while some of the plot outcomes were also somewhat unrealistic, the horror of knowing a child so young must be left alone, unattended, lost, and left to fend for not only herself, but also her little brother in answer to abruptly becoming an orphan without full knowledge of this, is painfully harrowing, a force that will coerce almost any reader to continue to read on.

The heart of the book is in its travesty and loss, a child’s lucid memory, her passionate attachments, the immediacy of her self-preservation, the innocence of her deductions, and the way in which children are brutally candid, and exceptionally thoughtful in their awareness, unbashful in their displays of love and affection.

Which is why children are so easily beloved—they are the uncensored selves we as adults painfully grown out of. And why it is equally horrific to witness the news of a child in danger, which is what propels this book forward.

The characters, as seen through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, are shown in the microscopic detail of her plain and honest view from Stick’s incessant stuffed-up breathing, his heavy-set bottom, his two-year-old waddle, and his insatiable love for cookies; to Grandfather’s scent of pipe, the weariness and nostalgia of his sorrow, to the familiarity of his pull-out chair; and the Lipstick Lady’s clinical demeanor and inability to genuinely connect with children, merely capable of one-sided misinterpretation when attempting to analyze Anna’s response to the tragedy of her parents’ deaths.

The plot, too, while at times, slow—not much seems to happen from the onset of the bear attack to the ways in which the children must meander through the wilderness on their own—the details depicted through Anna’s narrative convey the genuine willfulness a child has in trying to obey his or her mother’s last wishes, as well as the natural frustration a child encounters at being given responsibilities that far exceeds his or her abilities.

While some of the plot outcomes seemed far too unrealistic, perhaps my reading felt so, in conjunction with the narrative writing style also failing to consistently seem seamless. And the language sometimes too juvenile to truly represent how a five-year-old girl might respond to such a crisis.

But, the quest to survive as an instinctual need to move forward as much as it is a direct instruction from Anna’s mother to ride in a canoe, take Stick with her, and wait because they will come, is the thriving action in the novel.

Its power seen most clearly in Anna’s love and connection to her teddy bear, Gwen, who she sniffs often for comfort and security; her frustration at carrying the burden of being an older sister when five-years-old is obviously not old enough to be a real babysitter to her baby brother, Stick; and the tenderness and desperation Anna feels in the ideology that she’s created in her mind of belonging to a family of four.

While Anna is the main narrator, it was Stick, whom I felt most empathy for. A two-year-old in the wilderness, naked from the waist down, hungry with only a few cookies, a few berries, and mud water to quench on, feverish and soiled, falling prey to poison ivy, and at the constant mercy of the elements, and a bossy sister whose lack of nurturing could not be blamed any more than could her age—it was Stick, the secondary character in the book, who made my reading plunge into a well of pity and sorrow, intensifying my need for the two children to succeed.

The Bear will certainly alert its readers to the real dangers of the wild, a sobering wake-up call that requires our knowledge and respect of the animal kingdom we so often tend to underestimate and renew our belief in the autonomy and resilience of our children especially when faced with crisis.

***

Characters: 3 stars

Pacing: 2.5 stars

Cover Design: 2.5 stars

Plot: 2.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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***

A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

claire cameron

Claire Cameron’s first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Authur Ellis Award for best first crime fiction novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Cameron’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and The Millions. She worked as a wilderness instructor in Ontario’s Algonquin Park and for Outward Bound. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

– From inside jacket

Links:

You can connect with Claire on her official website.

You can like Claire on Facebook.

You can follow Claire on Twitter.

***

Imagine yourself as a five-year-old girl or two-year-old boy. What would you do to try to survive in the wilderness without your parents?

Have you ever encountered a bear while on a camping trip? What was your experience like?

Have you read “The Bear” by Claire Cameron yet? What do think of it?

***

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Book Review: All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

02.06.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

All the Broken Things

***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

Format: Trade Paperback, 342 pages

Publisher: Random House of Canada

ISBN: 978-0-345-81352-7

Pub Date: January 14, 2014

***

Summary from Publisher:

September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when Bo’s not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.

One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a street fight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.

 All the Broken Things is a spellbinding novel, at once melancholy and hopeful, about the peculiarities that divide us and bring us together, and the human capacity for love and acceptance.

– From Chapters-Indigo website

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet

All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is a devastatingly marvellous book, a story that focuses on the unfortunate sufferings of its main character, 14-year-old Bo, a young refugee from Vietnam who lives with his highly pessimistic mother, Rose, and his violent four-year-old sister who is severely disfigured from the affects of Agent Orange.

While Bo is burdened with school and taking care of his disabled sister, the responsibilities deferred to him by his incompetent and devastated mother, he is also haunted by the defiant memory of the untimely death of his father, and what it means to be a cultural outsider.

Though he does have some people rooting for him, his happiness, and success, in the form of his teacher, Miss Lily, and mature classmate and friend, Emily, the only way he can cope with his turbulent anger and frustration is by fighting with a schoolyard bully named Ernie.

An outlet for his pent-up rage, he fights Ernie on a daily basis until he is discovered and recruited by a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, who not only befriends him, but eventually gives him his own bear cub to raise, who he names, for lack of a better word, Bear.

While he must fend off the interest of carnival owner, Max, from discovering the uniqueness of his sister, Orange, and deter and manage the depression of his mother, Rose, who is unable to hold a job, or look at, or look after the daughter who incites in her the pain of guilt and memory, Bo, takes solace from secretly training and raising Bear in the confines of his small backyard until they both become nomads in the wilderness of High Park.

The magnificent power of the book is in its quality in both plot and characterization. The plot moves readily from scene to scene, revealing the depth of its characters:

Thao Rose suffers a private anguish and shame at birthing a disfigured child, feels helpless and incompetent to care for her, and feels worthless as a refugee who tries to escape the haunt of dark and old memories—the desperate compulsion to flee her home country because of her visions of war and the imposed victimization to the deadly war toxin, Agent Orange.

Orange Blossom suffers a personal and private imprisonment both by the restriction of her physical body, her lack of verbal language, and the constraints imposed on her by her disgusted and ashamed mother who wishes to keep her hidden from the world, to keep her indoors at all times, to keep her a deep and dark secret from outsiders. Orange retaliates through violence, acting out by hitting and pummeling her brother, or throwing herself against walls and doors. She remains muted for most of the novel, a person described as hideous, and yet, most beloved by her brother, Bo.

Bo, the center of the book, is heartachingly good, a young boy who is forced to survive tragedy and left to fend for himself through the confusion of unfortunate and difficult circumstances and events in his life. Though a young boy, he is burdened with responsibility from a place of neglect, a victim of his poverty, as well as his foreignness. Rather than a child who is taken care of, he is a child who must bear the responsibility of money for his family’s livelihood, his mother’s well-being, his sister’s day-to-day needs, and then eventually Bear’s care and training.

While he succumbs to violence to dull his emotional pain, the conflict in the book is thick and raw with misfortune after misfortune, which leads him to a travelling carnival and finally to center ring. He learns quickly how to put his fighting skills into action, unafraid to face Loralei, the fighting bear, an act he also quickly learns to manipulate and manage. While this earns him some money, it also earns him an opportunity to raise his own cub, which becomes a cathartic friendship, bound by trust, as much as it is by contract and elusive tricks.

With a backdrop between a sullen and secretive home, the turbulence and oddity of a freak show in circus, and the dingy freedom of homelessness in High Park, Bo must come to terms with the disappearance of both his mother and his sister as much as the loss of his home, his homeland, and his father, a victim of Agent Orange.

The plot will unravel the cruelty of the world in its ignorance and biases, its opportunistic abuse of those in need, and the surprising outcome of the absurd.

But, the narrative is both realistic as it is personal. The reader will do more than empathize for Bo, Orange, Bear, and their circumstances, but weep for them also. The book is well-paced and will satiate the reader’s interest long enough to have him or her put the book down in order to rest from its emotional intensity.

It cries out injustice as it does education on issues such as the Vietnam war, the production of Agent Orange, and the horrific results of its exposure to victims of war. It also looks at foreignness, oddity, and the fine line between morality and entertainment in spectacle. But, it hones in on the absolute power of love, friendship, and the meaning of family and beauty.

This is an exquisite and tender novel about the need do more than survive, but to be seen and be loved—as Bo, Orange, Thao, Bear, and Gerry are in themselves—imperfect, beautiful, and even broken.

***

Characters: 5 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 4.5 stars

***

Zara’s Rating

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***

A special thanks to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

kathryn kuitenbrouwer

***

To learn more about Kathryn, you can visit her bio here.

Links:

You can visit Kathryn on her Official Webpage.

You can follow Kathryn on Twitter.

You can be her fan on Goodreads.

You can like her on Facebook.

***

Have you ever heard of Agent Orange before?

What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a foreigner?

How does society’s view on beauty affect those who are severely disfigured? How can we change this?

Do you agree with carnivals or circuses having “Freak Shows?” Why or why not?

How do you think Bo and Bear are alike?

If you have read, “All Things Are Broken,” what did you enjoy most about the book?

***

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Book Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

01.09.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

"The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Format: Hardcover, 352 pages

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Canada

ISBN: 978-0-676-9793-67

Pub Date: September 24, 2013

***

Summary from Publisher:

Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution: the Pulitzer Prize winner and #1 New York Times bestselling author gives us a powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism, and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and  Udayan–charismatic and impulsive–finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America. But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind–including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.

– From Chapters-Indigo website.

***

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is a generational story about a family bound to the ghost of one man, Udayan, whose political passion for the Naxalite movement, a rebellion that aimed to eradicate inequity and poverty at high cost in Calcutta, India, becomes the catalyst to life-changing choices made by those who love him.

The family saga continues with one brother’s opposite journey towards silent duty and secrecy when he first moves and then returns to Rhode Island in America to work in scientific research and then becomes a husband and a father in the name of honouring his brother’s memory.

The story focuses on the re-creation and survival of an imbalanced family dynamic: Subhash, in his tenacious will to endure indifference from his wife by instead showering unconditional attentiveness, love, and tenderness to his daughter; Gauri, in her displacement and restless ambition, searches for self-identity and rejects Subhash and the intimacy of motherhood; and Bela, a precocious, headstrong little girl whose abandonment hardens her into a young woman whose advocacy for rights and justice forms her life choices, much like her Uncle Udayan’s did.

The story, while quintessential “Lahiri” in its context about geographical and cultural displacement, is, in its narrative, not as eloquently rich as the author’s previous works, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The narrative is stripped down to its basic necessity, saying what is only needed, perhaps emphasizing the novel’s seriousness. While the book itself is not remorsefully dark, it is, however, sombre in tone and powerfully introspective.

The plot, while more slowly paced than an adventure novel, reads easily and brings the reader to the depth and realism of its characters, who for their flaws, can still convince the reader to empathy, if not forgiveness.

Thankfully, though, Subhash, in his quiet resilience is redeemed as the story’s victor, awarded for his integrity, his patience, and his tenacity later in the book. Though Udayan is the originating power source to the story’s context in which all characters and their motivations stem from, it is Subhash’s survival and lifelong journey that proves to be the soul of the story.

The book brings into question the bonds of brotherly love and rivalry; the boundaries of true love and companionship; and the true definition of parenthood and family; as well as the dichotomy of how far someone will go to support his/her beliefs and/or protect those he/she loves.

With Calcutta and Rhode Island as its backdrop coupled with Bela’s nomadic lifestyle, which keeps her anywhere and everywhere except from “home,” the displacement of culture and lifestyle is indicative in the choices of those left behind in India, those who must change to assimilate in America, and those who must find a happy medium between the two. This contextual theme is “Lahiri-esque” in story subject matter, which the author’s fans will easily recognize and resonate with.

But, the book’s focus and strength is in its story about love and family—and what that means in its ever-changing and evolving dynamic.

The title, The Lowland, is as much about a place, as it is about a state of being.

***

Characters: 4 stars

Pacing: 3.5 stars

Cover Design: 2 stars

Plot: 3 stars

***

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 this book in exchange for an honest review.

***

About the Author:

jhumpa lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and author of two previous books. Her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award and The New Yorker Debut of the Year. Her novel The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

– From http://www.randomhouse.com/kvpa/jhumpalahiri/bio.php

***

Links:

Find information on Jhumpa Lahiri and The Lowland via the Random House website.

Find information on Jhumpa Lahiri on Wikipedia.

Follow Jhumpa Lahiri on Facebook.

***

Have you read “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri? What did you think of the book?

Do you think it was correct for the character, Udayan, to participate in the Naxalite movement to the extent that he did?

How do you feel about Subhash marrying his brother’s wife?

What other titles have you enjoyed by Jhumpa Lahiri?

***

Thanks for joining me in reviewing Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel, The Lowland.

Happy reading, bibliotaphes!

***

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Happy Birthday to My Dad! 04.05.2013

happy birthday avatar

Happy Birthday to My Dad!

04.05.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I’ve always had a close relationship with my father and I’ll be the first to admit when I was young I happily took on the role of Daddy’s Little Girl. There was no choice, really. I was the first-born, the eldest—a gregarious and precocious daughter, not a son.

And while my sister clung to my mother’s legs like a koala to a tree trunk, I was a rambunctious little girl who spoke her mind, openly, loudly, and most often times, without self-edit—much like my father.

To celebrate and commemorate my father’s birthday today, here are some of my favourite memories I have of me and my Dad:

My Dad strumming his guitar while sitting on the floor and encouraging me to sing along with him, the song, Yesterday, by The Beatles, when I was four-years-old.

My Dad sitting me at the dinner table and teaching me how to write the alphabet in both uppercase and lowercase letters, of which I now owe my penmanship.

My Dad holding the back of my bike seat while I was learning how to ride a bike for the very first time.

My Dad holding my hand in the operating room when I was a child and I had to get stitches on my forehead and he said, “Just squeeze my hand when it hurts, okay.”

My Dad punching a guy out at a party because he said that I was ugly!

My Dad buying me and my sister a Strawberry Shortcake record player from Consumers Distributing. My mother argued that we couldn’t afford it, but my Dad argued back that we still deserved to get something because “it’s for us and [we’re] still kids.”

My Dad being firm with the man from a collector’s agency who was harassing me for payment on a credit card when I was teenager.

Whenever my Dad dances.

When my Dad sings Hotel California on karaoke–and sounds better than any guy who’s in the room.

My Dad holding my hand on the way to a pew on Sunday morning at St. Catherine of Siena Church when I was little.

My Dad telling my husband to go to me while I was in labour with my first child—when my husband fell asleep !

When my Dad told us, “If you don’t stop fighting, I’m going to throw that [toy] racoon out!”—and then did, (out the car window while driving on the highway) because we refused to listen. (We never questioned him after that!)

My Dad singing Dream, Dream, Dream by The Everly Brothers with me in harmony, by the campfire, the summer we went to Bonnie Lake.

Every time my Dad tells a raunchy joke!

When my Dad took me to my very first Toronto Maple Leaf game at The Maple Leaf Gardens—when he could have taken anyone else.

When my husband told my Dad’s co-worker, “I’m married to ____________’s daughter,” and his co-worker answered, “And he let you?!?”

When we were all on our knees working on our front yard landscape and my Dad said, “This is called a peanut, see? Because it’s shaped like a peanut.” (In reference to a mound we were building to plant some bushes.)

The fact that my Dad taught me how to truly and effectively shovel the driveway in winter.

That my Dad called in a favour so a salon would close so that me and my bridal party could get our nails done the night before my wedding.

The fact that my Dad and I share the same taste in mugs, plates, and cutlery.

When I hugged my Dad before leaving for the hospital and he said, “Just go. Don’t worry. God is with you.”

***

Happy birthday, Dad!

Hope you have an amazing day filled with the things you love to do!

And a year of good health, freedom from stress and anxiety, and a lot of happiness and prosperity!

I love you!

***

Zar bottle feeding
My Dad bottle feeding me a few days after I was born.

***

Me and my Dad in Florida.
Me and my Dad in Florida.

***

What great memories do you have with your Dad?

Do you have any special birthday traditions that you celebrate?

***

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Book Review: Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory

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Book Review:

Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory

03.12.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

buddy

***

Category: Memoir

Author: Brian McGrory

Format: Hardcover, 332 pages

Publisher: Crown Publishing

ISBN: 978-0-307-95306-3

Pub Date: November 13, 2012

***

Summary from publisher:

Brian McGrory’s life changed drastically after the death of his beloved dog, Harry: he fell in love with Pam, Harry’s veterinarian. Though Brian’s only responsibility used to be his adored Harry, Pam came with accessories that could not have been more exotic to the city-loving bachelor: a home in suburbia, two young daughters, two dogs, two cats, two rabbits, and a portly, snow-white, red-crowned-and-wattled step-rooster named Buddy. While Buddy loves the women of the house, he takes Brian’s presence as an affront, doing everything he can to drive out his rival. Initially resistant to elements of his new life and to the loud, aggressive rooster (who stares menacingly, pecks threateningly, and is constantly poised to attack), Brian eventually sees that Buddy shares the kind of extraordinary relationship with Pam and her two girls that he wants for himself. The rooster is what Brian needs to be – strong and content, devoted to what he has rather than what might be missing. As he learns how to live by living with animals, Buddy, Brian’s nemesis, becomes Buddy, Brian’s inspiration, in this inherently human story of love, acceptance, and change.

In the tradition of bestsellers like Marley and Me, Dewey, and The Tender Bar comes a heartwarming and wise tale of finding love in life’s second chapter – and how it means all the more when you have to fight for it.

***

Book review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory is a brilliant memoir about the reluctant transition a man must make from content autonomy of singlehood to the selflessness that’s required in a longterm relationship, the unexpected and ever-changing moods of children — and in this case, a house full of pets.

Brian McGrory’s experience as a writer and editor for the Boston Globe since the eighties has clearly given him an advantage in writing novels, which in Buddy, obviously showcases his natural ease in writing an effortless and an easily readable and enjoyable prose.

The writing is indicative of McGrory himself: intelligent, witty, thoughtful, and humble enough to be accommodating to those he cares about.

The history of his life-changing relationship with his beloved golden retriever, Harry, is especially genuine and heartfelt that readers, even professed non-dog lovers, will naturally feel a connection to this intelligent, loyal, and gregarious dog, and a deep appreciation for their exceptional relationship with one other.

In comparison, the reader may indeed get frustrated with Harry’s polar opposite, Buddy, the incessantly pecking and crowing, much beloved and spoiled, self-indulged, and self-important, territorial rooster of the family.

It seemed for much of the book that poor McGrory was not only outnumbered by females, animals, and decisions that often put him last; readers may have felt an undeniable empathy—even pity—for the man who reluctantly accommodated great change in his life because of his love and commitment to one woman in his conceding role as second husband, stepfather to two stepdaughters, and bewildered co-owner to 12 feisty animals: Baker, Walter, Charlie, Tigger, Lily, Dolly, Mokey, Lala, Smurf, Chaz, Buddy, and the nameless frog — in one boisterous household.

I certainly did.

The injustice of McGrory’s desires almost always put last in accommodation to please Pam, his wife, and her two daughters in their desire to appease, nurture, and indulge their beloved and domesticated rooster, Buddy, baffled and infuriated me.

While I couldn’t understand how one’s love for an animal could impede on the desires and needs of a family member like McGrory, the length in which the family accommodated this regal, strutting, pecking, and attacking, feathered bird was over and beyond any pet owner’s natural obligation.

But this family isn’t ordinary. Nor is their lifestyle, which accepted and fell in love with an animal that originally began as a school project.

The bird not only watched television with the children, but day trips were postponed to accommodate the rooster’s emotional needs. McGrory was often cawed and pecked at, even aggressively attacked, and yet the bird was “babied” by the women in the household, much to McGrowy’s silent frustration.

And when the family moved into a new home, a matching, mini-house was built for Buddy as well—with drywall siding, cedar shingles, and a transom window to incite a crude truth from one of the builders who wished, “My next life, I want to be your rooster. This is the nicest chicken house in town,” in which McGrory rightly retorts in his narrative,

“In town? There’s not another rooster in any of these United States that resides in the kind of splendor that Buddy would come to have in my side yard, including a transom window to make it all aesthetically pleasing and high ceilings to create a sense of space. You have got to be kidding me.” – pp.212-213.

But, McGrory wasn’t kidding. This was some high-end, special rooster. So special, in fact, that an entire book in the form of a memoir is written in his honour!

Fun aside, the turmoil in the book is also its comedic release and its source of life lessons as McGrory intelligently and sentimentally creates metaphors in which these lessons are taught and learned.

The memoir itself is a wonderful testimony to the suburban struggle and dream, the tenacity of love and patience, the territorial dance between two males when marking the ground in uncertainty to find place and belonging—and the adventures worth taking when you invest yourself in more than just family, but also the animal kingdom.

(Or in this rare case, a family that includes the animal kingdom!)

There’s a lot to roar about in this book, both in anger and frustration, as well as in fear and anxiety. But, there’s a lot of roaring laughter, too. As well as an unexpected tenderness that can only be revealed by the love induced by the unlikeliest creatures.

Buddy, in nature was a spirited rival, a testy and territorial bird, but a beloved creature whose ability to crow loud and “ruffle the feathers” in any situation made him a presence in the hearts and minds (especially McGrory’s — out of fear and anxiety, mostly)—of the family who was and is his eternal flock.

Readers will want to applaud McGrory’s real-life efforts as well as his writing—and by the end of the novel will do the next best thing: cluck!

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Characters:  4 stars

Pacing: 5 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 4 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unpaid review.

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About the author:

brian mcgrory

Brian McGrory is a longtime newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist. Born and raised in and around Boston, he went to college at Bates College in Maine. He worked for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, the New Haven Register in Connecticut, and has written for and edited the Boston Globe since 1989. He has a twice weekly column that appears on the front of the metro section, for which he has won the Scripps Howard journalism award, and is the author of four novels. He lives in Massachusetts with his entire family.

(From Goodreads.com)

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Links:

Brian McGrory on Twitter

Buddy from Chapters-Indigo

Buddy from Amazon.ca

Buddy from Amazon.com

Buddy from The Book Depository

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Would you ever consider owing a rooster as pet?

Would you ever consider owning an exotic animal as a pet?

What is your favourite animal?

Do you own any pets? If so, what, who, and how many?

How do you think pets frustrate or enrich our lives?

Have you read “Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man” yet?

Was my book review helpful to you?

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