Tag Archives: family

My Family Reads Monday

my family reads monday

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My Family Reads Monday

03.04.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

My family continues to enjoy its quiet time to read. While we haven’t visited the public library in a little while, we have kept our family tradition of visiting our local book store. And so here is my family’s reading picks of the week:

Esly’s Pick

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My husband recently landed a lucrative position at York University and is now privileged to read on his way to work during his morning and evening commute. While he’s often complained he hasn’t had enough time to read, his new job now affords him that opportunity. Esly’s pick of the week is:

A Prayer for Owen for Owen Meany by John Irving

a prayer for owen meany

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Michael’s Pick

michael reading

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Michael continues to enjoy grade three and actively participates in the Reading at Home Program (R.A.H.) initiated by his school where he’s  committed to reading a a book or chapter a day while his progress is monitored by both parent(s) and teacher. The wonderful news is that since he’s started participating in this program three years ago, he’s had a perfect reading record—and a positive and excited attitude towards reading!

Michael’s pick of the week is:

The Star Wars Trilogy: Return of the Jedi

star wars trilogy - return of the jedi

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Mercedes’ Pick

mercedes princess

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Mercedes is only three-years-old and while she doesn’t yet know how to read, she loves to imagine herself doing so. She loves choosing her books and putting them into my lap so that we can enjoy some quiet reading time together. If I’m not reading a story to her, she’s making up a story from her own imagination as she turns each page in a book. Mercedes’ pick for this week is:

Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book

dr seuss abc

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Zara’s Pick

zara - blue frame - 2012

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My To-Be-Read (and Reviewed) Pile continues to explode off my shelves, so it’s important that I continue to press on. I just recently finished reading The Dinner by Herman Koch and am now enjoying a memoir called:

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

buddy

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What kind of bookish activities do you and your family enjoy together? Are you all active readers?

Have you ever thought of creating a book club for your family?

What books are your family enjoying this week?

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Book Review: Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman

zara wallpaper avatar - book reviews

Book Review:

Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman

01.10.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

born weird

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Category:  Fiction

Author: Andrew Kaufman

Format: Trade Paperback, 280 pages

Publisher: Random House Canada

ISBN: 978-0-307-35764-9

Pub Date: December 26, 2012

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Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman is a light-hearted fictional tale about a creative and quirky family named The Weirds after a misspelling of the original name of their ancestor, Sterling D. Wyird, in the process of emigrating from England to Canada.

It’s a story of the grown children’s quest to gather themselves together to meet their grandmother who they all cynically refer to as the Shark, before the deadline of her own prophetic death.

Why must they do this? Because much to what they’ve guessed about themselves, their grandmother reaffirmed their beliefs about being “cursed” with special gifts they each received from her and promises to lift each curse upon her death.

Though the premise of the story sounds absurd, its telling is easily readable and entertaining enough for the reader to be drawn into its fantastical plausibility and magical realism.

The Weird Family consists of intelligent, witty, and creative, imaginative siblings, though different in personality, are all bound by the sentimental act of building a model city together as children from cardboard boxes and their vivid imagination—and also by the trauma of an absent father who is tragically killed in a car accident.

The five siblings—Richard, is given the ability to keep himself safe; Lucy, is never lost; Abba, never loses hope; Angie, is given the power to forgive anyone, anytime; and Kent, has powerful physical strength in order to defend himself.

And while these “gifts” appear as blessings, the bearers are hindered and bound by the absolutism of them, and the gifts essentially become a curse, which the author and the book’s characters themselves call “blursings.”

It’s in their quest to search out and gather each sibling together to make the deadline of visiting their dying grandmother that they’re able to cope and come to terms with not only the confusion and frustration of their individual gifts, but to also face the mental deterioration of their mother who lives in a janitorial closet in a nursing home, as well as the mysterious nature of their father’s missing body.

The pacing of the story moves well while the humour of the dialogue and the quirky characters make this book a fun, light-hearted read even though the underlying story itself is thoughtful and dramatic. Andrew Kaufman is a talented writer who can transform the “weird” elements of life, reflect them creatively and realistically through his characters and plot, put it all together, and make it as an entertaining read as it is tender and heartfelt.

This is a creative, imaginative, and humorous little book—packed with the hope of transformation, redemption, and acceptance—even if it means a little more “magic” than most!

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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 this book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.

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If you could choose which “gift” to be “cursed” with, what would you choose and why?

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Thanksgiving Day: What Are You Thankful For?

Thanksgiving Day: What Are You Thankful For?

10.09.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

The origin of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to the explorer Martin Frobisher who had searched for a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean and gave thanks for surviving the long journey from England. In 1578, he held a formal ceremony in Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (now Nunavut) to give thanks to God.  This tradition of a feast continued as more settlers arrived to the Canadian colonies.

For me, almost the entirety of my family, the Garcia Clan, celebrated Thanksgiving together for the first time under the same roof. And as we said grace before our meal and then salivated at the abundance of food (which was made entirely by my cousin, Myra Tira, who is studying to be a culinary chef), the significance of Thanksgiving was made real in our time spent together.

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Chef Myra

Parties take a lot of work: the planning, the cleaning, the cooking—even the mingling. And sometimes there’s the ever dreaded politic of upholding your etiquette, your appetite, and your end of the conversation.

But yesterday was wonderful in that we simply enjoyed one another’s company—authentically. There’s enough history, personality, and chemistry in my family to keep the conversation perpetual, loud, and even raunchy! And though we can at times be irreverent both in volume, crass, and punchline, we are all trusting and open enough to laugh with one another—and at ourselves. Which was clearly evident between the second and third helpings of turkey, ham, vegetables, stuffing, mashed potatoes, apple crumble, and pumpkin pie with maple whipped cream.

What were you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

For me, it was the freedom from cooking my portion of the usual potluck thanks to my culinary-chef-cousin, the enjoyment of delicious food that reflects the abundance in our lives, and the relationships that I was born into and didn’t necessarily choose, but commit to out of bloodline, tolerance, forgiveness, and respect—those people whom you choose to love even more—simply because they’re yours.

The food, drink, and dessert always tastes better if you have someone to share it with: the right kind of company that will savour the jokes, the revealing family secrets, and the chizmizing stories as much, if not more, than the cranberry sauce or accompanying gravy. The food will always taste better when it’s made, eaten, and shared with proper cutlery, proportioned funds and—love.

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And while I’m usually not a sucker for sentimentality or tear-jerking, emotional flamboyance; this Thanksgiving I had my fill.

Lots of turkey, happiness, and laughs—more than enough in my opinion—to be thankful for.

Gobble! Gobble! Hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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What were you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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Saturday Snapshot. 09.08.2012

Saturday Snapshot

09.08.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post. Please see the linky at AT HOME WITH BOOKS.

Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

 

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He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. – Albert Einstein

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I own copyright to all photos posted and request that any use of my photos be first cleared by permission from me with the use of an appropriate credit line, which I will specify and provide, as well as a link back to my webpage.

Copyright requests may be sent to me via email.

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A Review: Red House by Mark Haddon

A Review:

The Red House by Mark Haddon

08.22.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Mark Haddon

Format: Hardcover, 264 pages

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

ISBN: 978-0-385-67692-2

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

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The Red House by Mark Haddon is a wonderful microcosm of two estranged American families brought together by a holiday in a rented house on the Welsh border, near Hay-on-Wye.

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Though the reader must read actively to connect the story together between the interchanging narrators from one paragraph to the next, the narrative itself is like discordant, yet free-flowing snippets of recollection, intimate thought, and vibrant memory.

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And while the tone of the characters’ personalities ring with a raw angst at the beginning of the novel, the reader is able to step back and take an honest look into a well-written mosaic that makes up the complicated nature of very real personalities and their fluctuating dynamic with one another.

From Richard’s stiff awkwardness towards his estranged and bitter sister, Angela, and his unintentional vanity and pride birthed from privilege and success to Angela’s religious prejudice and emotional absence especially towards her daughter, Daisy.

Louisa, Richard’s second wife must muster the courage to step out of her husband’s shadow and her daughter’s manipulation to not only find a new form of self-assertion, but the beginning of an authentic happiness.

Dominic, Angela’s “man-child” of a husband must rectify his pacified relationship with his family, discover his inner strength, and define his manhood by making a logical and moral choice.

Alex, Dominic and Angela’s emotionally prepubescent son must learn beyond his libidinal urges and preoccupation with girls, sex, and his interest in sports and history to become a more empathetic character in answer to his family’s needs especially those of his younger brother, Benjy, to grow into the man he periodically rushes to become.

Daisy, Dominic and Angela’s newly liberated and pious daughter must come to terms with her newfound identity in the Christian church and beyond with the realization of a facet of herself in her true desires.

Benjy, their youngest, though extremely gifted and innocent beyond his years, must grapple with shyness, isolation, and the disappointment found in peeking inside the sometimes hypocritical and cruel, adult world.

And Melissa, Louisa’s disgruntled daughter manipulates and instills fear in those around her to mask the insatiable emptiness, resentment, and insecurity that plagues her as a privileged teenager of divorced parents. She is steely, mean-spirited, and hard at the fault of her immaturity and distrust, and what I think readers can assume to be severe loneliness.

Together these characters create a very real story amidst absurd and sometimes awkward circumstances. While I found the interchanging narrators somewhat confusing and difficult to read, it was only a matter of time needed to anticipate it and realign my reading style to Mark Haddon’s sometimes brash, yet honest and comedic narrative.

What I found most refreshing about the book is its treatment of its characters. They are importantly neither one-dimensional, nor do they fit the cliché of our assumptions by meeting a usually expected resolution in the story. Their issues continue throughout and most likely beyond the ending of the book. They fluctuate in what they reveal to us as characters, signifying at its very best, the innate complexity and nature of personality—and the turmoil, politic, and resignation to and from the inextinguishable ties of family.

The key to The Red House is a haunting promise of an open door.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Doubleday Canada, an imprint of Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.

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A lot can happen during a holiday. What’s your most memorable holiday or vacation?

Family is both a burden and an assurance. How has your family shaped who you are?

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A Review: Strange Heaven by Lynn Coady

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A Review:

Strange Heaven by Lynn Coady

07.25.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Lynn Coady

Format: Trade Paperback, 216 pages

Publisher: Goose Lane Editions

ISBN: 978-086492-617-3

Pub Date: May 28, 2010

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Strange Heaven by Lynn Coady is a fiercely intelligent and honest, transparent novel about a teenage girl named Bridget Murphy who first transfers herself to a children’s hospital psychiatric ward after giving birth to a baby and putting it up for adoption and then returns home for the Christmas holidays to her rambunctious and irreverent family.

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She is at the centre of the book as its narrator who is surrounded by dysfunctional, yet authentic characters found in the ward as Mona, the suspected pathological liar; Kelly and Maria, starving young girls with anorexia; and Byron, the insecure and attention-seeking megalomaniac.

Together they form a quasi-family of sorts, one that is bound by the common thread of illness, dysfunction, and burden of being ostracized and misunderstood.

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The psychiatric ward becomes a form of escape and refuge for Bridget as well as an experimental outlet in which she can decide how she wants to respond to her personal trauma of birthing and ultimately who she can be as she creates for herself an adamant assertion to remain if not completely cold, certainly distant and outwardly indifferent.

Those in the ward, too, represent the communal angst that reverberates throughout the helplessness and anxiety of the youth destitute towards the banality of pub-crawls and fist fights that daily drinking incurs, caged in a small town. But, they also represent a community in which Bridget’s apathy is not as isolated as she would prefer it to be—that is to say—Bridget Murphy is not alone.

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 And though her escape route to the children’s psychiatric ward is merely temporary since she’s obligated to return home for the Christmas holidays, her experience there has influenced her outlook, however slight and undetected it may seem to be in the novel.

The true story is found in her return to her zany, politically incorrect, and outrageous family which includes:

Margaret P., her bedridden grandmother whose obsession with Catholic religious artifacts are just as strong as her ageing confusion, sharp retorts, and bedpan banging on her bedroom wall to beckon her family to her.

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Uncle Albert, whose persistent cheerfulness is largely due to his good intentions about Bridget’s welfare, his resignation to the bottle after 30+ years of sobriety, and a commitment to return to an active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous.

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 Uncle Rollie, who is developmentally delayed, often the butt of the family’s jokes as perverse affection,  and whose unrelenting devotion to Margaret P. is as evident as his natural talent for woodwork in the forms of the Virgin Mary and other biblical figures and saints.

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 Bridget’s mother, whose compassion and patience is as ready and active as her tongue in sharing the latest news of death in the town as a form of truth and newsworthy gossip.

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 And Bridget’s father, whose incessant hollering is filled with surprisingly witty profanities, politically incorrect comments, and truths that stem from a private sentimentality and protective nature towards those he loves.

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Overall, although the reader may be taken aback by the profanity and the brutal honesty of the subject matter of the book and its dialogue, its irreverence and natural flow is remarkably real and hilarious that it is through the characters’ innate flaws that they become refreshingly authentic and even endearing.

And while Bridget’s apathy seems to confuse her so-called friends and social circle (Heidi, Mark, Stephen, and Alan) as she pulls herself away from the pedantic routine of basement parties, drinking binges, and promiscuity as a result of small-town boredom rather than real need or desire, Bridget herself, though unconscious of her own growing change and maturity, remains  non-judgemental towards her friends and her family. She simply wishes to disassociate herself from them through her resilient silence and unwavering, cool distance.

The audacity of the writing is brave and astonishing as it is real, honest, and from an author’s general inclination, risky. But, that’s what makes this book so revealing, empathetic, and true — not to mention, good.

The reader can finally laugh abruptly—not titter, but guffaw—and empathize with the main character in her clean and raw observations, and recognize the internal war between passivity and action towards either personal potential or ruin—and the dark humour of death, disease, and the enduring and sometimes overbearing connection to one’s own family.

Strange Heaven as Lynn Coady’s debut novel published in 1998 reveals a wise and capable storyteller and a true novelist with profane guts.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Goose Lane Editions for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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Every family has its own “uniqueness.” What’s wonderfully “unique” about your family?

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Book Review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook-Shin

Book Review:

Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook-Shin

05.08.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Kyung-Sook Shin

Format: Trade Paperback, 254 pages

Publisher: Vintage Canada

ISBN: 978-0-307-35920-9

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

Man Asian Literary Prize Winner of 2011

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Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin is not only the recipient of the Man Asian Literary Prize for 2011, it is also a peek at the restrained nuances in relationship within a particular Korean family and a testament to the hidden gift they received from the persevering love of a mother.

Kyung-Sook Shin

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But even then, it is more than that. It is, in its simple and direct narrative by daughter, son, husband, and eventually mother, a slow revelation of So-Nyo’s secret character fuelled by repressed desire and discarded “dreams.”

Slowly, as you read further into the book, 69-year-old So-Nyo’s life and character is revealed through the perception of her loved ones as they attempt to piece together the clues that may eventually lead them back to their mother after her sudden disappearance as last seen at the Seoul subway station.

Seoul Subway Station Line 7

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It is a story filled with sorrow, loneliness, and neglect—a story of how a family can misinterpret a woman, not by who she is, but by who they believe her to be because of her role as a mother.

And this mother, So-Nyo, does in so many ways sacrifice of herself for the sake of her husband and her five children.

Though she was illiterate, she exceeded in her knowledge and gift of domesticity. She knew how to till the earth to make things grow—food, for the survival of her family at a time of poverty and uncertainty.

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She swallowed her pride for the sake of Korean propriety and tradition and continued in her persevering love towards her husband after restlessness, betrayal, and cold neglect—and towards her children after years of indifference, rebellion, irritation, and condescension.

The story is as much a story about So-Nyo’s husband and children as it is about So-Nyo in their response or lack of response to her, after taking her and her role as matriarch in the family for granted.

But the novel is not written in a cruel manner as much as it sounds, but written as a matter-of-fact—a quasi-memoir of regretful and loving memories of one who was an integral person in the core of their family and yet so unknown.

It is a story that will remind us of the importance of honouring our mothers, the elderly, and the sick as a priority in our often ambitious desires and busy lives.

It is an intimate peek at the Korean cultural expectations of mother and wife and some of the injustice associated with that, that is largely due to its acceptance—and the powerful regret that results in honouring and loving our wives and our mothers too late.

Pieta

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For a sober look at Samaritan love and sacrifice and silence and the burden of responsibility, embedded cultural practices, and the difficult choices one must make to honour both, Please Look After Mom, is a sad story, a testimony to motherhood, and a keen warning to us all.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to Vintage Canada and Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.

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To get a chance to win a copy of Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, you can enter The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event Giveaway via The Bibliotaphe’s Closet. Open to CAN & U.S. residents. Ends June 1, 2012.

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To read more posts for The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, you can visit here.

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