100. Christmas in Paris (Gaynor & Webb)

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 6.13.30 PMAs part of my Christmas Reading Challenge, Christmas in Paris was set during the Great War in both London and France.  It told the story of Tom, who was reflecting back on his life after the passing of his wife.  He too was dying and was spending his last Christmas in Paris as he reread the letters that had been his lifeline when he was stationed in the trenches.

The book was set in 1968 and was mainly composed of letters that had been carefully saved.  Tom had gone off to war, excited and committed, believing he would be home by Christmas.  He had no idea of the horrors that existed in the trenches and how long he would be part of the fight.

Evie had planned to spend Christmas in Paris with her brother Will and Tom, his best friend.  The trio had no idea the the war would last so long.  Evie wrote to both the boys faithfully.  She supported the war effort by knitting socks and gloves while wishing that she could do more to support the troops.

Christmas in Paris was an enjoyable combination of history and a focus on Christmas.  It is hard to imagine the terror and horrible conditions endured in the trenches and how difficult it must have been for loved ones on the home front.  Tom’s trip to Paris is heart wrenching as he grieves his wife and celebrates his last Christmas in Paris.  The format of multiple letters was challenging to read and it might have been a smoother read with a few less letters.  The letters seemed a bit convenient at times, short and lacking some of the everyday details that would have been mailed but overall it makes me appreciate the soldiers that sacrificed their lives for freedom!

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99. The Christmas Tree (David Adams Richards)

Screen Shot 2017-12-03 at 4.07.24 PMIn these two short stories, David Adams Richards, weaves stories of Christmas that bring readers back to a simpler time.  They combine the wonder of boys, days spent the outdoors and the joy of the Christmas season.

In the first story, Carmichael’s Dog, the boys find a cute puppy, its’ tail frozen into a snow bank.  They rescue it, bring it home and plan to hide it as a Christmas surprise for their mom.

The second tale describes the blustery, December weather of New Brunswick as the brothers head out in an old car to find the perfect Christmas tree.  The weather worsens and they realize their planning is incomplete when they find the optimal tree.

Both stories are heartwarming, set in New Brunswick and have happy endings.  They are easier to read than the despair of Mercy Among the Children yet share the same sense of hope and resilience that David Adams Richards describes.

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In Their Own Words: Meeting the Family of Henrietta Lacks

“Because of Henrietta Lacks, millions of people are still walking around the earth” (David Lacks)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a book that EVERYONE should read – especially health professionals.  It tells the story of a poor black woman who died a dreadful, painful death from cervical cancer in a time where palliative care was not yet a focus.  Despite her death, her cells live on and have saved millions of lives through research,  development of immunizations and new chemotherapy.  Henrietta’s story is remarkable and highlights the importance of consent and ethics in research.  The Lacks family is even more amazing as they learned of the use of her cells many years after her death, accept the fact that her cells were taken without consent and are proud of the difference the HeLa cells have made.

The introduction by Dr. Paola Marignani shared that she, as a bioethicist with ties to the local McMaster University, was using the HeLa cells in her research.  In 2015, she began to hear a story about Helen Lane, later learning that these cells, taken without permission, had belonged the Henrietta Lacks.  This book is a mandatory read for those working in her laboratory and she had stopped using these cells… until she got permission which the family gracefully gave after a question was asked by an audience member.

IMG_0780David and Jeri, two of Henrietta’s grandchildren appreciated the warm welcome from Toronto.  They had traveled North with their families and were looking forward to visiting the Ripley’s aquarium the next day.  The historic Glen Gould Theatre at the CBC building was packed with an audience keen to learn and hear their story.  The siblings shared a slide show, some laughs and the ongoing impact on their family members who described Henrietta as “a giving woman in life and a giving woman in death”.

In the slide show they showed pictures of their Aunt Dale with author Rebecca Skloot, their dad looking at slides of his mother’s cells under a microscope and pictures of the IMG_0756Lacks farm in Clover.  There is now a museum with an exhibit about Henrietta and a gravestone was donated to mark the place of this quiet woman who has impacted the world.  They shared how Bobette Lacks had visited the doctor to discover that Henrietta’s cells were being used for research.  While John Hopkins Hospital has not formally apologized, they do events to share Henrietta’s story and have introduced a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) symposium for youth.  Their father had even accepted an honorary degree for Henrietta!

IMG_0759The family learned much of the history of their grandmother through Rebecca Skloot’s book.  The cell genome sequence was discovered, without permission, in 2013.  To use it scientists must apply to a board including Lacks family members.  The family acknowledged that the cells had been taken “in a time when things were different” and they feel that their grandmother would have been proud of the difference her cells have made in eradicating polio, providing an immunization for HPV and treating cancers,.  They feel that she would have wanted to share her cells and make a difference.

The Lacks family has met the former President Barack Obama and media mogul Oprah IMG_0777Winfrey.  Oprah played their aunt Debra in the movie (interestingly Debra had always said that if it was made a movie, she would want Oprah to play her but sadly she died before the book became a movie).  They felt that the movie shared the story well including “the good with the bad” but wish that it had been a mini-series.  They are proud of the acknowledgments to their late grandmother which include a highway marker, a highschool, street sign, the book, movie and conferences which are dedicated to Henrietta.

The family chooses to move forward and promote the positives.  They encourage patient advocacy, the importance of being informed of patient rights and getting involved.  They noted that it is a “great feeling to visit colleges and universities” as they work to “change the narrative and engage the scientific community”.  Their last message was to:

“Treat everyone like you would want to be treated or want your family to be treated” (Jeri) and to “Try and make a difference, try to make it positive and work together to improve life” (David)

It was a great evening in Toronto.  David and Jeri remained for pictures and book signings and spoke with members of the crowd that included health professionals and researchers.  This book and their talk certainly made me reflect on the importance of research ethics and informed consent!

The siblings were engaging speakers and represented a family that had experienced so many struggles yet despite adversity were caring, giving and generous in the sharing of their family history.   I encourage readers to get a copy of this book and when your children have their HPV injections or you hear of individuals having cancer treatments, please be thankful to Henrietta Lacks who has made a huge difference in the world!

Posted in Book signing, Made into a Movie, Non-Fiction | Tagged | 3 Comments

98. Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe (Stuart McLean)

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 7.04.46 PMIt is not very often that I rate a book 5 stars, but this Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe is a fantastic collection!  The stories are heartwarming and made me laugh out loud at the antics of Dave, Morley, Stephanie and Sam… or really, mostly the antics of Dave.  Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe, written by the late Stuart McLean, will become an annual tradition for me and I will encourage you all to read it or listen to the podcasts.  It is sad to think that this brilliant storyteller has been silenced yet as I read each story, I could hear his voice telling the tale.

The book started off with Dave Cooks the Turkey, a story that is well-known and funny no matter how many times I have enjoyed it.  What could possibly go wrong when Dave is assigned this important responsibility?  The next story describes what can go wrong when Dave is asked to add the rum to the adult punch bowl at Polly Anderson’s Party.  Readers can certainly connect to Morley’s wish to make Christmas Gifts more meaningful with homemade presents and laugh along at the hilarious mishaps in the tale of Morley’s Christmas Pageant.  I was curious about The Christmas Ferret which reminded me of the time our hamster spent roaming the house night after night after its great escape.  The funniest stories were Rashida, Amir and the Great Gift Giving, Fire and Floods and The Christmas Cards.  I truly can picture an inept chef trying to speed up cooking using the self-clean function and Dave crouched up in a mail box.

I hope that everyone will take the time to read or listen to at least one of Stuart McLean’s stories.  He truly was a genius storyteller and these tales will make you smile, laugh and look forward to the holiday season – even with all its challenges, busy days and mishaps!

Click here for links to CBC’s Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean which includes many of these Christmas tales.  The whole family with laugh along!!


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97. Skipping Christmas (John Grisham)

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 6.27.43 PMAs A Year of Books followers know, I am taking part in a Christmas Reading Challenge again this year.  For the month of December, I will mix holiday tales into my reading pile.  To begin the challenge, I listened to Skipping Christmas.  This book, written by John Grisham and published in 2001, inspired the hilarious Christmas with the Kranks movie with Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Now, I have completed the trifecta of reading, listening and watching this story, laughing my way through each medium.  The tale begins as the Krank’s daughter, Blair, heads off to Peru as a volunteer with the Peace Corps.  Luther, an accountant, crunches numbers and decides that, with his beloved daughter away for the holidays, they will skip Christmas altogether and go on a cruise.

Hilarity ensues when the scouts are disappointed he does not buy a tree and the neighbours pressure hime to mount frosty to the roof as part of the neighourhood holiday decoration contest.  Luther loses weight and even prepares for the cruise with tanning appointments.  Each day, the Kranks try to avoid the holiday to the dismay of the neighbours.

At the last minute, with no tree, no festive foods, no presents and no one invited to their annual Christmas Eve party, they receive a call.  Blair is coming home!  The Kranks rush to pull things together and with the help of their neighbours the holidays come together.

This is a fun read, a great listen and a laugh out loud movie.  The antics of the Kranks keep the reader/listener/viewer in stitches and should be an annual tradition.

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Christmas Reading Challenge

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 3.11.33 PMDecember is here!  It is time to turn on the Christmas lights, do a little shopping, some baking and reflecting on the season.  Don’t forget to take time to read!  How about joining a holiday reading challenge.  This can be found on the CanadianContent Goodreads site if you care to “officially” join.  Here is the challenge:

  1. A holiday story set in Canada.
  2. A holiday story set in another continent.
  3. A holiday story celebrating another faith than you participate in.
  4. A reread of a classic Christmas story you love.
  5. A holiday story that you have never heard of.
  6. A holiday story that has been made into a movie

Looking for suggestions?  Ginger is showcasing a few books that I picked up from the library today and I will suggest:

Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe – I am just about halfway through and loving the heartwarming, comical stories written by Canada’s beloved Stuart McLean.  Although his voice is sadly silenced, his humour and amazing storytelling lives on in the Vinyl Cafe series.

Skipping Christmas – I just finished enjoying this book via audio.  It is just as funny as watching the movie (Christmas with the Kranks) which was filmed based on the story.

A Christmas Carol – we all know this classic tale of ghosts visiting the miserly Scrooge but it is a book that needs to be reread!

Get into the Christmas spirit by sitting down with a holiday tale!

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Ross Pennie: Book Club/Book Launch

IMG_3484This review has been pending since June when Ross Pennie launched his latest book, Beneath the Wake, to an enthusiastic, standing room only crowd in Ancaster.  It also includes further discussion from our book club in October when Ross joined us for spirited discussion.  We have been so privileged to have Ross join our group to discuss Beneath the Wake in October and Up in Smoke in 2015.  Both visits have provided our book club with additional insight into his novels and we had memorable evenings discussing his quirky characters and writing process.

Ross shared that he has always had an affinity to cruise ships.  His parents met on a cruise ship in 1949, he had travelled on the Queen Elizabeth 2 and this spring, he had returned from an 128 day cruise around the world.  Cruising has been a beloved method of travelling so it seems fitting that the setting for his latest book had to be a cruise ship!

Who knew that cruise ships are equipped with morgues?  When you reflect on the large number of travellers and the average age of those aboard, it does make sense that cruise ships (often in warm climates) must make a contingency plan to store bodies in case someone dies at sea.  Thinking about a morgue is the last think that anyone wants to think about while planning their idyllic cruise!

Ross was curious about the logistics of death on a ship and learned that 22 million people travel by boat each year and of that population, there are 200-300 deaths.  He discovered that there are often murders, drunken falls, deaths while on shore leave, snorkelling accidents and approximately 50 people that go overboard!

Bodies can be offloaded at ports of call, brought home or, surprisingly, even buried at sea.  The crowd was interested to hear that there are specific rules for being buried at sea including that the ship must be 3 nautical miles out, at a depth of 600 feet and that the body must have bricks attached to the feet to weigh the corpse down.

Beneath the Wake is told from the perspective of different characters – he experimented telling some of the story from the perspective of a teenage boy and provided more detailed descriptions when narrating through Natasha.  He referred to himself as a “master of details” when it comes to characters and keeps detailed descriptions handy.  At the book launch, his wife laughed that it feels like the characters live with them!

It was interesting to learn that he had a more specific plan when writing his previous novels but this time, wrote with no outline.  He shared that his “marvellous” editor “hated” the last quarter which was rewritten.  He also garnered our interest when he shared that he was in the midst of writing another novel, set in Hamilton.

Ross likes to write at home and edit on vacation.  The first draft took 5 months, followed IMG_3485by 3 months of editing and another month of “tweaking“.  He tends to write in the mornings from 830-1130 and found that it was easier to write when he was working (we love that he had been an infectious disease doctor at our local hospital) because it became part of his morning routine.

Ross is a fascinating individual.  He adds bits of his own experiences to his novels giving them authenticity.  He brings a perspective of curiosity to his writing, adding details (like medical assisted death) to the story which make readers ponder the narrative.  If you are intrigued, Ross will be part of the Bell City Author Series hosted by the Brantford Public Library, in April.

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96. Our Little Secret (Roz Nay)

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 9.14.55 PMAfter reading a lot of CanLit, it was time to read another palate cleanser – something lighter, something suspenseful.  Our Little Secret was a page turner that I learned about at an author event at A Different Drummer Books.  It was a quick read with interesting, well developed characters.

The entire story is told from a police interrogation room.  Angela is being questioned by Detective Novak and she slowly feeds him bits of her past life, love and betrayal as she tells the story leading up to a wife and mother who had gone missing.  As she shares her history, the reader struggles to understand if she is weaving a web of lies or is an innocent suspect.

This is Roz Nay’s first novel, written at her kitchen table amongst lego, glitter and crafts.  I appreciated hearing that it grew from a writing assignment into a novel.

It is hard to give more details in the review as I certainly want to avoid spoilers but look for a future blog post about the Burlington author event.

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Scotiabank Giller Prize Books

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 2.44.41 PMThanks for the Scotiabank Giller Prize group which has donated a complete set of the 2017 short listed books to the Franklin Street Little Free Library!  These books can be enjoyed by our community and will be greatly appreciated!

Please note that I am hoping to share these with as many neighbours as possible so have added a note to the front requesting that these are returned once you are finished reading so that others can read them!  Please add your name to the inside cover and we can see how many of our neighbours are able to enjoy he books!

In the library are:

I have read and enjoyed my own copies of the 4 of the books except for Minds of Winter (which I am working on) and they are a treat to read.  They are a diverse collection of literature, thought provoking and will remain in your mind once the book is returned.

For more information on each book and the authors click on the links above and also see the post on the Between the Pages Giller event which was held in Toronto in early November.

Thanks again Scotiabank Giller Prize Group for this generous donation!!!




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Hillary Clinton in Toronto – September 28

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 1.26.16 PMIt was a busy week, in September, when I saw Canadian hero Roberta Bondar followed by Hillary Clinton the next night.  I joined 5499 other individuals (mostly women) to promote her book What Happened and to hear her speak about her experience running for President.  At the time, the Invictus Games was also being held in Toronto and she spoke about how much she appreciates Canada’s diversity, support for immigrants and the invitations for her to relocate to Canada!  As much as she enjoyed Canada, she plans to stay in the United States and be part of the ongoing resistance.

Writing the book was painful at times, as she reflected on the mistakes that she had made and she shared that she feels “ok as a person but worried as an American”.  Here are four lessons that she learned:

  1. Everyone gets knocked down – we all face loss and disappointment but she encouraged self care (she appreciates yoga and the alternate nostril breathing that is not my favourite meditative type of breathing) and shared the importance of moving onward together through activism and engagement.
  2. “The only way to get sexism OUT of politics is to get more women into politics” – this sentiment got enthusiastic cheering from the crowd as she spoke of the double standard for women, referenced Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg and shared that “just by being at the table, in a room,  you are making the government more representative”.  She applauded Trudeau’s gender balanced cabinet and got more cheers as she repeated his comment that it was balanced “because it is 2015”!
  3. The forces at work in the 2016 election are still happening in the US – she spoke of the “perfect storm” of an undercurrent of anger, press obsessed with her email mistakes, the FBI investigation and interference from the Kremlin to undermine democracy.
  4. “There is no such thing as an alternate fact” – it is hard to believe how much fictional news was planted making it difficult for individuals to determine fact from fiction including the refusal to accept science.  Social media makes it so easy to spread lies and rhetoric.

Hillary feels that “democracy is under assault” and hopes that the “lessons we should learn from 2016 will help heal democracy and protect the future”.   She encouraged the crowd to “refuse to be silent in the face of sexism, racism, bigotry and rhetoric” while “working together to face and solve problems”.  Although this message was shared in September, it continues to ring true with respect to the many allegations for sexual assault and harassment that are being reported.

Regardless of your political views she encouraged everyone to “find every opportunity to be active participants” and “get back to listening to each other” showing that “extremism and authoritarianism has NO match for democracy and free thinking people”.

Hillary spoke of Trump as the “first reality TV candidate” which “enabled him to be Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 1.26.32 PMoutrageous day after day”.  She described how she wished that she could have said “back off you creep” when he got into her personal space during the debates but how she felt that this was not the kind of reaction voters would want to see from their potential president – perhaps this approach might have been appreciated!

Her overall message was to encourage women to get involved, that women’s different leadership styles and ways to approach problems would be beneficial.  She encouraged the crowd to participate, support other women, VOTE and turn out at political events.  She encouraged women not to give up and noted that she will continue to “use my voice and platform to get even more people involved and to support democracy”.

Her final message was to “get up every day to resist, insist, persist and enlist.

The crowd was electric, engaged and the event was positive and well managed.  We had purchased general tickets so were quite far back in the crowd but could see her up close on the large screens.  Afterwards, I learned that there were secret service and RCMP agents in plainclothes within the crowd.

I wish that I had brought my daughter so she could hear the lessons and hope that women become more involved and have equal representation in politics going forward!  A few days before the event MacLeans published this article which is worth a read as we wait for a future with an American President who can behave like an adult, bring the country together, treat everyone fairly despite their gender or diversity and work with other world leaders for peace.

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