The Deadly Dames Event

The County of Brant Library (Paris Branch) hosts some terrific events for aspiring authors and invited the Deadly Dames to participate in a discussion about writing crime, mystery and suspense.  This quintet of authors form a writers group and share a love for their craft. The authors each gave a reading followed by a moderated discussion and a question and answer period.  These writers were all women who had experienced other careers and were examples that it was possible for the audience to meet goals to become authors.  The panel included:

  • Joan O’Callaghan –  A previous high school English teacher, Joan now instructs at the University of Toronto.  She is a freelance writer and has written fiction, short-stories  and a memoir about her late husband.
  • Melodie Campbell – Also known as the “Queen of Comedy” by the Toronto Sun, she read from the 4th book in her series, The Goddaughter Caper, which is set in Hamilton.  She got her start writing standup and currently teaches writing at Sheridan College.
  • Janet Bolin – Janet writes “cozy mysteries” and starts her writing by inventing “punny” titles like Seven Threadly Sins.  I had never heard of this genre which the books can be referred to as “cozies”.  Basically, these books are crime fiction that is often set in a  small town with sex and violence downplayed or treated with humour.
  • Catherine Astolfo – Catherine is a retired school principal who started writing at the age of 12 but professionally began by writing “how-to” manuals for teachers.  She  likes to combine mystery with social justice issues and has written novels with the setting of Brantford and Brant County.  I have purchased a copy of Sweet Karoline and am hoping to that my book club will invite her to discuss her novels.
  • Alison Bruce – This author has had many careers including copywriter, editor, graphic designer, comic store manager, small press publisher, webmaster and bookkeeper. She is the author of mystery, romantic suspense and historical western romance novels and is able to incorporate the research from editing non-fiction writing into her stories.  She strives to write stories that will have “re-readability”

My question to the panel was what they were all reading and how they balanced reading with their writing and while they all are avid readers, they all enjoy different books.

  • Melodie shared that she reads about 100 books a year by reading for an hour each night.  She had recently read The Nest and found it underwhelming (I certainly agree with that)!  She noted that she had done a casual survey in one of her classes where students read an average of 7 books a year – as a student, I had to stop reading for pleasure or I would have struggled to get my work done so I hope that this is the case and that these students will pick up their reading once they are finished their course.
  • Catherine also reads to go to sleep and has recently been reading the newest Louise Penny novel, A Great Reckoning.  Catherine is currently writing scripts and reading provides the inspiration to keep her motivated.
  • Joan takes an eclectic approach to her reading which she does during her 45 minute subway rides and before bed.  She has recently read The Princes of Ireland, The Camel Club and How to Grow a novel.
  • Alison described herself as a “binge reader” who reads most days and when a new author publishes, she tends to go back and read all of their work.  She loves to re-read and generally has at least 2 books on the go at a time.  She reads on her phone whenever there is time and enjoys audio-books and podcasts as she does her design work.
  • Janet reads for the Evergreen Awards (this was the theme for my August book club and the 2016 contest included Under the Visible Life, They Left us Everything and Birdie which I enjoyed reading).  Janet participates in a local library book club and is reading Still Life with Breadcrumbs.  She also reads to before bed and during the frequent power outages which are experienced in Port Burwell.

The group agreed that it is difficult to “read the same way” after being published.  The audience chuckled as they shared their intolerance for poor beginnings, spelling errors and bad grammar.  The all concurred that they are highly appreciative of well-crafted novels.

It was an interesting afternoon and these women form an active, positive and supportive writing group.  The audience left feeling that it is possible to write and publish a novel and could purchase autographed copies of their books.

Posted in Author event, Event, Fiction, Mystery | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

85. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-9-54-12-am“Walking down to the river across the meadow of unmown grass, Morag realized what it was that was different about this day.  It had been at the back of her mind since early morning, but she had not really seen it until now.  There were no swallows.  Yesterday the air had been filled with their swiftness.  Now there were none.  How did they know when to leave and why did they migrate all at once, every one of them?  No stragglers, no members of the clan who had an imperfect sense of time and season.  Here yesterday, gone today.  There might be a reason, but she would just as soon not know”.

As part of the Goodreads September group read for the  CanadianContent group, I have enjoyed the slow cadence of The Diviners by the late Margaret Laurence.  Laurence was a revered Canadian author who was on banned book lists, read as part of school curriculums and enjoyed across the country.  The Stone Angel was part of my high school reading list and although I did not appreciate the story as a teenager, I have enjoyed this story of aging as an adult.

The Diviners is the last book in her Manawaka series.  It was written in 1974 and begins as the middle-aged Morag reflects on old photographs from her childhood while she comes to terms with the fact that her daughter has left home.  Morag’s own childhood had been challenging – her young parents had both tragically died leaving her to live with Christie and Prin, a poor but kind couple who took her in.  Christie was a scavenger, collecting refuse for the community to dispose of at the nuisance yards.  A quiet man, he had a great knowledge about his community which he divined from the refuse he collected.  Morag was an outsider at school due to Christie’s role in the community, taunted for her dresses and grew up lonely.  She befriended Jules “Skinner” Tonnere and he was part of her life, on his own terms, coming and going through the years.  Morag fled Manawaka as soon as she could, running away from the town and her history, leaving her adopted family behind.

I found it surprising that this book was banned.  I can only surmise that the fact that Morag’s  choice to be a single mother and her relationship with Skinner Tonnerre, who was Metis, might have been challenging text in the 1970s.  Perhaps leaving her professor husband and having sex outside of marriage was another reason the story was banned although this certainly would not be surprising text in this day and age!

The book remains current today.  The story dealt with the topic of indigenous peoples being referred to as “half breeds” at a time when conversations are changing the vocabulary used to describe indigenous peoples.  Her daughter Pique, is trying to find herself, to learn about her heritage after experiencing prejudice at school in a small town.  The challenges of teens try to find themselves and the corresponding struggle of mothers to accept their children’s growing freedom, as they fledge the nest, remains a current issue.

It is easy to see some of the inspiration for The Diviners in Margaret Laurence’s own history.  She was born in Manitoba and lost her own parents at a young age before moving in with her grandfather. She studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature before marrying and travelling to England and Africa before settling in BC with her daughter and son.  After separating from her husband she spent time in England and bought a cabin in Lakefield, Ontario where she wrote The Diviners.  Like her character, Laurence was a smoker and when she was diagnosed with lung cancer she took her own life leaving behind a legacy of novels, non-fiction and children’s literature.

Laurence was a beautiful storyteller, layering details and storylines while engaging the reader more fully into her text as the pages turn.  She wrote about family, about love, about loss and about living in a touching way the describes the challenges of every day life.  Although published in 1974, this book remains current and I will be interested to reread The Stone Angel, delve into the remainder of the Manawaka series and read her memoir, Dance on the Earth which is in my growing to be read pile.

Posted in Canadian | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

84. The Rainbow Comes and Goes (Cooper & Vanderbilt)

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-10-43-10-pmGloria Vanderbilt grew up with a lifestyle that is unimaginable to most of us.  She was an heiress to a 5 million dollars trust fund at 18 months old after her father succumbed to alcoholism.  Known for her Gloria Vanderbilt designer jeans, she was an artist, a fashion designer, a wife and a mother.  She was also recognized after being the centre of very public custody battle which was known as the “trial of the century” dubbing her as a “poor little rich girl” which was a moniker she worked hard to shed.

The audio version of The Rainbow Comes and Goes is narrated by the authors, Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt.  It is written somewhat like a conversation with the mother and son taking turns sharing anecdotes and personal history.  Although the listener benefits from hearing the author’s voices, the audio version is without the pictures that are sporadically placed through the text version.  The mother/son duo began writing the emails back and forth that would form the book after Gloria’s 91st birthday and both learned more about each other through their communication.

Gloria was born into an extremely rich family.  Her father had inherited his fortune, was not know for his work ethic and drank himself to death.  Gloria initially lived with her mother who was focused parties instead of parenting.  Gloria was raised by her nanny (grandmother) and Dodo (a paid governess) who both meddled in her living arrangements leading to the bitter custody battle.  She ended up living with her Auntie Ger but unfortunately, the two never became very close.

Gloria was looking for love, married 4 times, had 4 sons.  She was reported to have had lovers such as Marlon Brando, Howard Hughs, Frank Sinatra and Roald Dahl.  Her first husband was involved with the mob and their marriage ended when he became abusive.  She married a much older composer the second time and they had two sons.  Her fourth marriage was to Anderson Cooper’s father who taught her what it was to be a parent.  The couple remained happily married until his untimely death during heart surgery when Anderson was just 10 years old.  The loss was devastating for Gloria and her youngest 2 boys.

Anderson shared his own life in the book and it was clear how much he loved his Daddy and was impacted by his death.  He and his mother are clearly close despite his frequent travel in his role as a CNN journalist.  He described his coming out as a gay man, their closeness and how they dealt with both his father’s death and the suicide of his brother.  Anderson and Gloria share a strong work ethic and an independent streak which causes them to earn their own way.  Anderson used his father’s name instead of using the Vanderbilt legacy while Gloria had to rebuild her fortune and pay back taxes after trusted advisers fraudulently took advantage of her.

The book ends by Gloria writing a letter to both herself as a young woman and to Anderson to keep to reread after she is gone.  She also shares her wishes for the end of her life and her funeral suggestions in a pragmatic fashion.  During my commute, I listened as Gloria shared an honest account of her struggles, losses, loves, mistakes and successes.  She is a strong woman who continues to live life to the fullest, even in her nineties,  making life a positive experience despite the challenges along the way.

Although I have never been a fan of the sensationalist coverage of CNN, I find myself impressed by Anderson Cooper’s drive to make his own success.  He has been very open in sharing his intimate conversations with his mother along with their family history. I will view his broadcasts with a different perspective and respect in the future.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes is a very interesting memoir and I can only hope that I will be a s bright and motivated when I am in my nineties.  Gloria Vanderbilt has experienced her share of challenges and despair yet has remained positive and strong.  She will forever be known for the very public trial and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans but I hope readers will remember her for resilience and healthy aging.

Posted in Audiobook, Memoir | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post by Erin: Fate of Flames (Sarah Raughley)

dsc_0158When the phantoms began terrorizing the world there were four girls to save it. Each one with an elemental power. As one dies another one is chosen in a never-ending chain of links. Maia Finley is chosen as the next fire Effigy (successor of the great Natalya Filipova). She must bring together the other three Effigies to take down Saul (a mysterious male, who has similar powers of the four Effigies and more).

While battling phantoms and being a celebrity, Maia has to deal with her haunting past and make tough decisions regarding the Sect and Aidan Rhys (a boy who may be more to her than just a Sect agent). Will Maia be able to handle her duties as an Effigy and stay strong throughout it all? Find out in the action packed, humorous, sci-fi fantasy novel known as Fate of Flames.

Sarah Raugley’s Fate of Flames was maybe one of the best books I’ve ever read. It kept me on edge throughout its entirety. With the right amount of action, secrets, surprises and humor. I couldn’t put it down. Most books start off dull, and become more interesting as the story line progress’s. For the first book in the Effigy series that was not the case, I was hooked from the get go. With all the characters being diverse and relatable.

If you are going to give this book a try I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that the cliffhanger in the end got me frustrated. I just wanted to know what was to happen next; screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-9-47-32-pmbut a good novel always keeps you hanging on even after the last chapter. This is exactly what Fate of Flames did to me.

I cannot wait until the second novel is released. It is definitely a series anyone who likes action/sci-fi fantasy books should read. I will surely be reading the next book.

Congratulations to Sarah, this is only her second published novel and although I haven’t read Feather Bound, I will definitely be adding it to my reading list.

Overall this book was amazing and it comes greatly recommended from your favourite thirteen-year-old reader!

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing this Advance Reader Copy for an honest review!

Posted in Canadian, Guest Post, Young Adult | Tagged , | 4 Comments

In Conversation with Alexandre Trudeau & Madeleine Thien – Eden Mills Writers Fest

img_1544The keynote event of the Eden Mills Writer’s Festival took place at the University of Guelph’s War Memorial Hall today.  It featured a lively conversation, about China, between authors Alexandre Trudeau (yes Sacha, brother of Canada’s current Prime Minister) and Madeleine Thien.   Both authors share a deep love for China instilled by their parents. Trudeau has written a memoir about his experience travelling in the country while Thien wrote a fictional, generational tale including the protest at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

img_1557Alexandre Trudeau is a journalist and documentary film maker who has had an enduring fascination with China since his childhood visit with his father Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  He has visited more than a dozen times, discovering China and discovering himself.  He spoke about the opposites and extremes of China and how he hopes that in each chapter of his book Barbarian Lost, readers “will find a piece of deep logic which will challenge them to see how it makes sense”.  Trudeau seemed a bit uncomfortable with the attention and applause and had difficulty keeping on topic, at times, perhaps because the time was limited and he had much more that he wanted to share with the audience.

Interviewing Trudeau was Canadian author, Madeleine Thien.  I enjoyed reading her earlier img_1553novel, Certainty this summer, as part of my quest to read the CBCs 100 Novels that Make You Proud to Be Canadian.  I am looking forward to reading Do Not Say We have Nothing which is her latest novel.  Described as a “powerful, intergenerational saga”, it has had the honour to be short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and long-listed for the Giller Prize.  Thien has a connection with the University of Guelph having been the writer in residence in 2014.

Trudeau and Thein share a few similarities.  They were born 5 months apart, have both lost a parent and have both had parents who “instilled an idea of China that exerts a hold on us” (Thien).  Trudeau described his father as having a sense of energy and balance that travels with him. Thien travelled alone in 2002 while grieving the loss of her mother who had died suddenly in the midst of  planning their trip to China together.  Since their original trips, they have both felt the pull to return to China in the “shadow of our parents” (Thien).

Trudeau shared that he never planned to be a writer.   After his reading describing a failed trip to a brothel to interview a sex worker he shared “what I just read, that is not possible to film” and that “what would have been a failure in film, in writing, failure becomes a success”.  He referred to himself as a Barbarian with an understanding that “the written word has so much power”.

Thien described China as being “so big, yet being a microcosm” with a tension between the “revolutionary self and the old man self”, between new ideas and tradition. Trudeau described the culture as pragmatic, at peace and as a country that “has kind of seen it all”, a land of contradictions that we can learn from.  While the West is concerned with the significance of the individual, China is a society focused on connection and a dependency on others. Both share a sense of optimism for China’s long-term future while Thien remains pessimistic about the short-term in relation to human rights

When questioned about visiting China and writing the book as being a spiritual journey, Trudeau shared that he learned that boats make him depressed.  (Incidentally, he does not include canoes in this thought because he shared “I love a canoe because I am in charge”).  He described that the chapter when he describes going down the river, staying in a cabin of a boat, was the most difficult to write.  He had to embrace his depression and write about what was happening to the environment.

Trudeau was asked if he would write fiction and he described the process of writing as lonely, needing both intellect and courage and requiring a belief that it will be appreciated and understood.  He felt that his writing was simple in many ways, requiring a description of what he saw yet there is “a lot more on your shoulder when  creating a fictional space” with characters so “real that they tell you what to do”.  He hopes that he does have the courage to write a novel but was honest in that “at the end of the day, with 3 kids, being tired and exhausted, sometimes reading is too hard and that film and TV brings images dancing into you”.

Both authors inspired an interest in China and I am looking forward learning more about China while reading their books.  The discussion was well moderated yet I wish Thien had been able to speak about her novel while moderating the conversation with Trudeau.  I am guessing that the event was likely planned prior to all the excitement about Thien’s book being nominated for the Giller Prize and short-listed for the Man Booker prize.  It is unfortunate that Do Not Say We Have Nothing was not highlighted!

Good luck to Madeleine Thien!  Canada is proud of your nominations!

Posted in Author event, Canadian, Fiction, Meet the Author, Memoir, Non-Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

83. Boy: Tales of Childhood (Roald Dahl)

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-8-50-32-pmIn preparation for Roald Dahl Day (today, September 13th) I have enjoyed learning about the author’s childhood in his memoir called Boy:  Tales of Childhood.  It was published in 1984 and this biographical account reflects on Dahl’s heritage, childhood, school days and the beginnings of adulthood.  Similar to his other books, he includes black and white drawings and also photographs and sections of the letters which he had written to his mother.

Dahl’s parents were Norwegian.  His father had moved to France and then Wales as he built a ship broking business.  His father had two children with his first wife who died, returned to Norway and quickly married Dahl’s mother.  The couple had 4 more children and it was interesting that he would take his wife on “glorious walks” during the last 6 months of her pregnancy with hopes that the baby would grow up “to be a lover of beautiful things”.

Unfortunately, Dahl’s 7 year old sister died from appendicitis and when his father contracted pneumonia (in the days before antibiotics) he gave the fight and passed away, heartbroken with the loss of his daughter.  His mother, pregnant at the time, chose to stay in Wales and send Roald to boarding school as his father had wished his children to have an English education.   Dahl considered boarding school a great adventure.  He detailed fun times but also described abuse in the form of caning and corporal punishment that was meted out to students.

One amusing recollection when he was 9 years old and still attending day school was the great mouse plot.  He had his friends frequented a local candy store.  The boys were thrilled by the range of treats and made up stories about how candies were made (for example a friends father had described liquorice bootlaces being made from rat blood) but found the filthy owner to be “a horror”.  The boys played a prank of placing a dead mouse in the gobstopper jar which was funny until the punishment received was a caning at school.    Later in boarding school, the boys were “taste testers” for Cadbury’s and Dahl ended up with a lifelong love of chocolate, keeping a red plastic box with chocolate for the end of each meal.  It was easy to see his love of candy reflected in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory story.

Dahl experienced trauma in childhood, having his adenoids and tonsils removed on the kitchen table – without anaesthetic and later after a car accident.  His sister was driving a new car after only 2 hours of instruction.  Misjudging a bend in the road, the family was thrown from the car with Dahl’s nose being almost completely amputated!  It was hanging on by a strip of skin yet was reattached, again on the kitchen table!

After surviving years of boarding school, Dahl declined the offer for college wanting to start working so he could seek out excitement through travel.  He ended up working for Shell Oil in Africa before he enlisted in the RAF during WW2.  He was shot down in Egypt and seriously injured.  The memoir ends at this point and fails to describe his married life as a parent or his years of writing.

It was interesting to note that through Dahl’s years at boarding school, in Newfoundland, working in Africa and through the war, he wrote to his mother weekly.  She kept all of his correspondence in the original, stamped envelopes –  32 years of writing which exceeded 600 letters!

In honour of Roald Dahl Day, relax, laugh and enjoy one of his books.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Roald Dahl Day

Beloved author Roald Dahl would have turned 100 years old today.  His stories have enchanted generations of children across the world and are enjoyed in schools, on the big screen and at bedtime, inspiring creative thought and fun.  He has sold over 250 million copies of his 19 children’s books.

His magical stories were inspired by his childhood experiences.  His Norwegian heritage is seen in The Witches and his opportunity to be a taste tester for Cadbury’s and life long love of chocolate in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Dahl’s sister and father died when he was young leaving his mother to care for 5 children and leading to the adventure of attending boarding school which influenced Matilda.

Like his stories, Dahl sought out adventure.  Instead of accepting tuition to Cambridge University from his mother he chose to work for a company that would help him travel the world.  He sailed to Newfoundland, took a job for Shell that brought him to Africa and enlisted in the Royal Airforce becoming a fighter pilot until he crashed and sustained serious injuries in Egypt.

Dahl married and had 5 children.  His bedtime stories inspired him to write his children’s books.  There is a great article featuring his grand-daughter, Sophie‘s remembrances of “Mold” or “Moldy”, (it was hard for her to say Roald with the Norwegian pronounciation), in the Guardian today that provides insight into his close relationships with his family.

Recently my son and I have read The BFG and The Witches is in the works.  We enjoyed George’s Marvellous Medicine last year and I have just read his childhood memoir Boy this week.  He has invented his own vocabulary of words and uses provocative terms and words that might be considered inappropriate today (i.e. the twits) which is part of his appeal to children.

Roald Dahl died of an unspecified infection in November of 1990 at the age of 74 but has left a legacy of characters, frivolity and beloved stories for generations to come!  He has also left 10% of his royalties to the Roald Dahl Marvellous Children’s  Charities which helps to make life better for seriously ill children in the UK.  The charity includes Roald Dahl Nurses to provide medical and emotional support to children with serious and rare conditions and believes that every child has the right to a more marvellous life, no matter how ill they are, or how short their life may be.

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” (Roald Dahl in The Twits)

Posted in Children's, Family | Tagged , | 1 Comment

82. A Number of Things (Jane Urquhart)

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-9-39-02-amAfter reading Away, I was thrilled to receive an advanced reader copy of A Number of Things:  Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects by Jane Urquhart.  This literary celebration of Canadian history will be released in time to honour Canada’s 150th birthday!  Urquhart’s narrative is combined with detailed illustrations drawn by Scott McKowen who also contributed by providing his own suggestions for the 50 things.

An overall theme of gratitude and appreciation was shared for the indigenous people who first inhabitated this beautiful land.  Themes of resilience, perseverance and hard work, represented the challenges of building a life in Canada.  Although the items became the titles and the pictures, the descriptions meandered and ended up describing other Canadian objects within the original story.  For example, the chapter on Rope described Louis Riel who was charged with treason and hung to death in 1885 yet is now widely “regarded as both a hero and that found of that province” (Manitoba).  The chapter Samplers told the story of a specific piece of needlework being passed through generations to Canada’s own winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, Alice Munroe.  Each story is packed with history and appreciation for Canada!

It was surprising to learn, in the chapter Cowcatcher, that Prime Minster Sir John A. MacDonald had a spirited wife who chose to ride the “cowcatcher” of a train during their trip to the West Coast.  Looking for excitement and a better view, she shocked the conductor by asking to ride the final 600 miles on the front of the train.  Sir John A declined to share this trip and could only be persuaded to join her for 30 of those miles.  Following the trip, The Yoho and Glacier national parks were created to preserve the beautiful terrain.

The Cherry Tree represented the terrible internment of Japanese Canadians during WW2 (referenced Joyce Kogowa, author of Obasan which is a book on the CBC’s 100 Novels That Make You Proud to Be Canadian list that also includes Urquhart’s novel Away). The history and pride for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was described by the Horse chapter, telling the tale of Nero, a challenging equine that was described as fierce, yet beloved and who remains preserved at the RCMP heritage centre in Saskatchewan.  I also enjoyed reading about the history of Stratford and the building of a hub for Shakespeare, in the chapter Memorial, along with the reference to the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie who provided financial support for their library (and many other’s across Canada).  Somehow, I had missed learning about the history of Lester B. Pearson who had helped create the first Peacekeeping force of the United Nations leading to his Nobel Peace Prize and appreciated reading this in the Medal chapter.

Urquhart incorporated her own family history in these 50 things which provides more insight into her Irish-Canadian heritage.  The beauty of the 50 Things is that it inspires the reader to consider Urquhart’s choices.  Would the reader choose the same items?  What would they describe?  What is meaningful to their own history of Canada?  There are no “right or wrong” answers and the author challenges Canadian’s to research their own list of 50 unique items with a goal of having a greater understanding of our wonderful country!

This is a fantastic walk through Canadian history and would be a great book to keep close at hand to discuss, chapter by chapter, interesting facts at the dinner table.  I found myself reading sections aloud and sharing details with my own family and realizing how important it is for Canadians to continue their knowledge of this great country beyond what is learned in highschool history classes.  It would have made a much bigger book but I find myself wishing that there were 150 items representative of 150 years!

Urquhart shared that “Canada is always under revision and probably will remain a work-in-progress as long as it exists”.

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for sending this free copy in exchange for a review.

Posted in Canadian, CBC's 100 Books That Make You Proud to be Canadian, Non-Fiction | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Dolly Parton: “The Book Lady”

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-10-19-27-am

From the Imagination Library site

Everyone knows that I am all about books – reading books, talking about books, finding books, recommending books and sharing books!  Last night, I took a break from books and joined thousands of fans including my colleagues on the local Imagination Library Committee to hear the talented Dolly Parton belt out some tunes and share some heartfelt stories about her life.  I have to admit that I have never been a country music fan but I was in awe of her strong voice, energy and ability to pay multiple instruments.  We had a great time listening to a popular playlist spanning almost 3 hours and ranging from country, bluegrass, folk and pop music.

What many of you may not know is that in 1995, Dolly Parton created The Imagination Library, in her hometown in Tennessee.  It was her goal to share her love of reading with pre-school children by helping them build their own libraries by mailing them books to their home each month.  As Dolly spoke of the Imagination Library she honoured her father for inspiring this wonderful program.  Although he didn’t know how to read, he was the most intelligent man she ever met.  She shared how proud he was when children called her the “book lady” and her website notes that she has shared more than 70 million books with children across the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia.

Dolly shared how poor her family had been, living in a one room shack in the Blue Mountains, four to a bed yet she highlighted the love and care that filled her family.  She not only spoke of her hardworking father but of her Mama who “would sit and sign and tell us stories” saying that she “would paint these pictures” with her voice when they didn’t have a television or movies.  Painting pictures is what Dolly has done with her songs and she told us the story of how much she loved the Coat of Many Colours that her Mama had lovingly made for her as a girl.

Dolly showed her appreciation for her fans in Canada, commented on the beautiful night (except for the bugs) and showed her sense of humour.  She had the audience laughing when she suggested that she should run for president as she certainly had the hair and that maybe more boobs were needed in the race!

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-4-44-42-pmI admire Dolly’s energy and commitment to both music, her songwriting and to sharing her love of reading with children by ensuring that they have their own library of books.  Ontario’s Premier Wynne was lucky enough to meet Dolly and I hope that she is busy considering how to support this fantastic, economic program to help children to learn and grow!

To learn more about the Imagination Library check out this video of Dolly sharing her enthusiasm for the program or to register your child link with the Canadian website.

Posted in Event | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

81. The Queen of Katwe (Tim Crothers)

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-10-57-39-pmMy book club is reading the Queen of Katwe this month.  It was chosen because the story is becoming a movie and at the recommendation of one of our members.  The story of how chess has changed Phiona’s life is inspiring.  It certainly makes the reader appreciate the resilience and strength of mothers raising their children in the slums and how children struggling to survive are learning while living in abject poverty, never knowing if there would be a meal.

The story shares a great deal of history of the individuals who formed the chess clubs and their past experiences that led to this altruistic effort.  Unfortunately, this detail was too much and made it a challenge to keep the characters and history straight.  In fact, there was so much historic detail that Phiona was not really introduced until one third of the way through the book.  The descriptions of the generations of poverty provided a picture of the desperation this family experienced but in more detail than was necessary.

I think that the author clearly wished to share Ugandan history but some details would have made the story leaner and more focused on Phiona’s story.  For example, the section relating to the Ugandan runners added little to the story and distracted the reader from Phiona’s experience with Chess.

The underlying story of Phiona was intriguing.   With a good editor, I believe that the book could have been shortened providing a stronger narrative about the girl’s experience and the benefits of chess in helping her break away from the poverty of the slums.  The author did a good job of helping the reader to picture the shacks, the leaking rain and open areas where sewage covered the ground providing empathy and understanding for the way of life of many individuals across the world.

I was glad to read that the proceeds of this book and the pending movie have assisted Phiona’s mother to move out of the slum and into a house where she can grow vegetables to sell.  I would be interested to know what Phiona is doing now as her bio on the Queen of Katwe website does not provide a current review on her experience.  Overall, I liked the story of Phiona and her experience with chess but the book could use more focus, more editing and I think that this may be one case where the movie which has been made by Disney exceeds expectations and is better than the book.

Posted in Book Club, Memoir, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment