Tag Archives: holiday

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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Green Books Aren’t Only for Leprechauns

03.17.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, aside from wearing a green t-shirt, green leather gloves, green sunglasses, and Neely by Zora nail polish, I thought than rather feature Irish writers as most bloggers might do today, I would feature excellent books that also happen to have green covers.

Cover design is an integral part of a book’s overall interest and success. And these books are not only in my personal collection (with exception to one or two), they are also very good pieces of literature.

You won’t need a four-leaf clover to choose your next great read when scanning the list below. Because really—green books aren’t only for leprechauns.

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

late nights on air cvr

Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

alone in the classroom bk cvr

Absolution by Patrick Flannery

absolution

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

stranger's child

Emperor of Paris by C.S. Richardson

emperor of paris book cvr

The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan

boys in the trees

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

salvage the bones cvr

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

alif the unseen

Tamarind Mem by Anita Rau Badami

tamarind mem

The Persian Bride by James Buchan

persian bride

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

sweetness in the belly

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

lotus eaters cvr

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

please look after mom bk cvr

Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch by Dai Sijie

mr muo's travelling couch

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

snow flower cvr

The Year of Finding Memory by Judy Fong

year of finding memory cvr

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

sisterland

Weird Sisters by

Pink House

The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

other side of the bridge

California by Edan Lepucki

california

The White Mary by Kira Salak

Follow Me by Joanna Scott

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Splintered by A.G. Howard

splintered

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

INSURGENT by Veronica Roth

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Of all the books listed above, which would you like to read the most? Which book did you enjoy the best?

What other titles do you know of that have green book covers?

How important is the cover design according to your desire to purchase a book or desire to read it?

How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today?

***

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Happy National Reading Day! 01.23.2014

01.23.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Reading is so fantastic and integral to society that its been given its own holiday. And while most book lovers already read on a daily basis, it’s wonderful to advocate literacy just as often. At least it has a day dedicated to itself in which people are encouraged to read and to honour a genuine love of books.

While this holiday is recognized in the USA and is primarily targeted towards the advocacy of literacy for children, literacy and the love of reading can be celebrated by anyone anywhere.

With the number of publishers and imprints in Canada, the number of genres to choose from, and the number of Canadian authors who are highly acclaimed, the written word has never been more ripe than it is now. Even with the evolution of technology and the way in which people read, there seems to be a continual commitment to producing the best and most diversified forms of literature.

And though there has been a general fear in the decline of both books in print and/or bookstores, there still remains an avid group of readers that devotedly borrow, buy, collect, and read books.

Reading is not to be underrated in its importance both in a general understanding for the individual to survive and function successfully in society, but also the way in which reading builds confidence, and an opportunity to actively participate in the gift of creativity and imagination. Literature as art not only shares stories with its audience as a form of performance and entertainment, but can also house a significant comment on society at large, and can be both a reflection of society, as well as a catalyst for its change.

If anything, the works of our time can showcase and encourage important dialogue about who we are and where we are going. Stories, too, are treasure troves of the semantics of language, narrative, dialogue—all lexicons of how we think, speak, and interact with one another.

While writers can range from the obscure to the fully formed and realized literary idols, they are in essence the gatekeepers to the language and life others know, but cannot articulate.

In honour of National Reading Day, let’s relish in the ability we have to read, but also the freedom in which we can choose what to read.

Perhaps in celebration of National Reading Day, you could do (one of) the following:

  • make a book recommendation to someone personally or online
  • lend a highly recommended book to a friend or family member who’s hesitant to read
  • trade a book with a fellow bibliotaphe
  • donate some well-loved books to a book charity
  • join a book club
  • create a book club
  • create a reading room
  • host a book giveaway
  • host a book party
  • donate money to a book foundation
  • in lieu of toys, commit to buy books for children instead
  • allot time in your day/evening to read
  • commit to reading with your child(ren) on a daily basis
  • take your children to your local, public library and register them for a new library card
  • take your children to a local book store to browse and see what kind of books interest them
  • volunteer at your local library to tutor others in reading
  • become a reading buddy
  • write a thoughtful fan letter to one of your favourite authors
  • write a thoughtful letter of thanks to one of your former English teachers
  • make a reading list and commit to reading each title until it’s completed
  • join the 50 Book Pledge 2014 through HarperCollins Canada
  • create a small, free homemade library on your property
  • leave a book in a public space for someone to pick up and pass on

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What do you plan on doing to celebrate National Reading Day?

What are you reading right now?

How can you personally advocate literacy today?

Which of the above suggestions might you participate in today or in future?

What do you love most about reading?

***

zara stamp

A Spook-tacular Halloween

zara-halloween wallpaper-avatar

A Spook-tacular Halloween

11.01.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

This year’s Halloween festivities were busy. While my children bought their costumes early this year, we still needed to pick up a few things at the very last-minute to add the finishing touches to their looks. And if it wasn’t mob-like lineups, or out-of-stock makeup, it was a parking hazard at the malls for my fellow Halloween procrastinators.

I even stayed up into the wee hours bagging pencils and erasers, making DIY Halloween tags, and decorating things with gold ribbon for every kid in my children’s class. And because my son’s teacher threw his class a Halloween party, I got A+ points for baking peanut-free cupcakes for the wee goblins, vampires, and ghosts.

The day was filled with a morning school parade where each child was able to showcase his or her costume in each classroom and then through the school gym where parents and grandparents were able to snap some photos and give the children their praises.

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Michael as the infamous web-slinger, Spiderman. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Michael as the infamous web-slinger, Spiderman. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Xara as Superman's first-cousin. Super Girl! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Xara as Superman’s first-cousin. Super Girl! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Aside from a day of board games, costume-flaring, cupcake baking, and candy-sharing, we hosted one of Michael’s friends to a night out of trick or treating. After school, the three kids played together, put a couple of puzzles together, and enjoyed pizza for dinner.

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Spidey putting an Avengers puzzle together. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Spidey putting an Avengers puzzle together. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The Lizard working on HIS Avengers puzzle, too. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Lizard working on HIS Avengers puzzle, too. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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The Trick or Treaters Halloween 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Trick or Treaters Halloween 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And then in the evening we went to my sister’s house to continue the Halloween festivities for more photos and a candy scourge of the streets. While it was fairly warm on an October night, it was unfortunately extremely rainy and windy, which forced us to battle against our own umbrellas for most of our Halloween trek. This didn’t deter the children, though, from going door-to-door to collect some candy. By the third house, they were experts, always courteous to remember to say “thank you” to their Halloween patrons.

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Lizard, Super Girl, Spiderman, and Iron Man. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Lizard, Super Girl, Spiderman, and Iron Man. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

Spidey & Iron Man tussle. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Spidey & Iron Man tussle. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Michael really getting into character. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez, All rights reserved.
Michael really getting into character. (c) Photo by Zara D, Garcia-Alvarez, All rights reserved.

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Super Girl going for her pre-flight before a night of Trick or Treating. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Super Girl going for her pre-flight before a night of Trick or Treating. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Iron Man shoots his repulsor blast! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Iron Man shoots his repulsor blast! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Iron Man shoots his repulsor blast! (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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

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How was your Halloween celebration?

What did you decide to dress up as this year?

What are you thinking of wearing next year?

If money was no limit, what costume would you choose to wear?

What’s your favourite treat?

***

zara bird autograph

Saturday Snapshot: “I see you…”

 

Saturday Snapshot:

“I see you…”

11.03.2012

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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My husband and son by Lake Louise in Banff on our holiday.

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The digital camera is a great invention because it allows us to reminisce. Instantly.
– Demetri Martin

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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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