What I Read – September 2015

Here’s what I read this month. Reviews are up or coming.

1. Beijing Confidential – Jan Wong (Doubleday Canada, 2007)

My review is here.

2. The Curse of the Viking Grave – Farley Mowat (McClelland & Stewart, 1966)

Read my review here.

3. What’s So Amazing About Grace? – Philip Yancey (Zondervan Publishing House, 1997)

4. The Navigator of New York – Wayne Johnston (Vintage Canada, 2002)

5. Death Benefits – Sarah N. Harvey (Orca Book Publishers, 2010)

6. My Secret Sister – Helen Edwards & Jenny Lee Smith (Pan Books, 2013)

7. Roverandom – J.R.R. Tolkien (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002)

8. The Lotus Eaters – Tatjana Soli (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011)

9. The Sorrow of War – Bao Ninh (Riverhead Books, 1993)

10. Going After CacciatoTim O’Brien (Broadway Books, 1999)

11. Crazy Love – Francis Chan (Gale Cengage Learning, 2007)

Currently Reading:

The Tenderness of WolvesStef Penney

Love Wins – Rob Bell

Didn’t Finish:

The Everlasting Man – G.K. Chesterton

I told myself I would keep reading it until the end of September and then let it go. I’m pretty close to the end but I’m leaving it be. As close as I am, I’m still not entirely sure what the books about and I don’t agree with much of it. I’d recommend reading Orthodoxy instead.

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Toy-Stealing, Dog-Petting, Beer-Drinking

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Photobombing dog.

Bella the Dog is no longer with us. (By which I mean she went back to her real home. She’s totally still alive.) Our house feels much quieter and afternoon walks are a little less chaotic. Pearl misses her furry friend though.

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Bella seemed to think that I made little beds complete with toys for her.

Life is slipping gently into its new routine. The days are quiet but full and I love each one. Pearl is everywhere and wants to be into all things. She has started trying to climb things which has meant some tumbles. She has yet to learn fear. Or consequences. Or gravity. About a week after she started crawling, she pulled herself up to stand, holding on to the edge of the couch. It’s impressive and terrifying and her new favourite thing. She tries to pull herself up on anything and everything, regardless of its sturdiness. I hover between holding on to her, trying to ensure that she doesn’t ever get hurt, and stepping back just a little to let her try new things. I love watching her learn.

Which is good because I have to watch her all the time. Her favourite things to put in her mouth are things she shouldn’t have in her mouth. And anything leather.

Some photos from life recently:

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My mom bought this for Pearl when she was just a couple of months old and I recently remembered it and pulled it out. A little barn/farmyard with a pig, a chicken, and two cows. (Pearl added the dinosaur and the octopus.) She loves the little chicken, as you can see. The barn folds up and she also loves pushing it around. She loves pushing things around right now.

Speaking of pushing around…

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This is a photo of the first time Pearl took a toy from another child. It’s hard to tell if she’s emotionally attached to her toys or if she just wanted to play with it at that moment and doesn’t understand being nice to others yet.

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I tried that classic parenting trick of letting the kid play in the container cupboard while I made dinner. Pearl was definitely excited but quickly got upset when this lid wouldn’t fit all the way in her mouth.

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I swore I would never be one of those moms who dressed in matching outfits with her daughter (and I won’t be! really!) but how cute are these baby Chucks? I’ve been a Converse fan for years now and someone gave these little pink Converse sneakers to Pearl as a gift.

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This weekend our little town had its second annual Oktoberfest, complete with beer tasting, bratwurst and German techno music. We headed down to taste test from the local breweries represented. Back in November, when we were in Powell River, Peter and I did a tour of the brewery there – Townsite. Since I was pregnant, I didn’t get to taste any of their beers at the time so I was excited to sample what they had. Peter waited with Pearl on the other side of that orange fence – being under 19, she wasn’t allowed in the beer area – and then we switched.

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Then we ate bratwurst and wished we were in Germany again.

And now it’s Monday and it’s sunny and life is good.

Oh, and a glamour shot of Bella:

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Book Review: The Curse of the Viking Grave – Farley Mowat

The Curse of the Viking Grave, McClelland & Stewart, 1966

The Curse of the Viking Grave, McClelland & Stewart, 1966

I’ve had this book – a copy that my dad apparently received as a Christmas gift in 1966 – on my shelf for years and never read it or realized that it’s a sequel to Lost in the Barrens. Fortunately, you don’t need to have read that more famous novel to follow the plot in this one.

Farley Mowat is in a league of his own when it comes to Canadian literature. And in most other things. He famously held himself apart from popular Canadian authors and never seemed too concerned with being accepted by either them or the population in general. I’m not sure if he would have been a pleasant person to spend time with or not (he had a lot of strong opinions, to put it mildly) but he definitely would have been fascinating to talk to and I do know that when a friend of mine wrote Mowat a letter a couple of years ago, Farley Mowat wrote a kind and personal letter back.

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The Curse of the Viking Grave follows the adventures of Jamie, Awasin, and Peetyuk, as well as Awasin’s sister, Angeline, as they journey even further north of Hudson Bay to collect a Viking treasure they found previously. (I believe this discovery occurs in Lost in the Barrens.)  They need money desperately to help their guardian and Jamie’s uncle, Angus, who has fallen ill away from home. They are also evading capture by the Mounties. The reader follows their summer journey, first by dog sled, and then by canoe down the Big River. We watch the Inuit tribe hunt caribou and learn about the trap lines the boys keep. There’s lots of neat information folded into the story in a readable manner.

This is a quick and easy-to-read adventure story. Like other books by Mowat, there’s a lot of information packed in. We learn about nature, a little of history, some local mythology, and about the ways of First Nations Peoples living north of Hudson Bay. Although some of the language Mowat uses is dated (referring to Peetyuk’s people as Eskimos, for example), it’s understandable giving the era in which the book was written and Mowat is undeniably respectful of the people he wrote about. We are given lots of reasons to admire their methods and ways of life and he doesn’t infantilize them or disparage them. If any of the characters come off poorly or needing help, it’s Jamie. (The way Peetyuk’s speech is written did drive me crazy though.)

Where the story lacks is in tension. Since the Viking treasure was found previously to the action of this novel, they’re really just going to pick it up and take it to another place. I never doubted that they would do so successfully so, when you think about it, it’s the story of one long errand. Mowat’s writing, however, remains engaging and fascinating and I think would still grab a young and maybe reluctant reader who might be interested in adventures and wilderness. The setting is done well and is really the highlight of this story.

Next Week’s Review: What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey

Unsolicited Advice

I’ve been the mother of one child for six months now so I am obviously an expert. And everyone loves receiving unsolicited baby advice, right?

  1. Three weeks post-partum is too soon to try on your pre-pregnancy pants. Just don’t do it. You’ll feel sad. You have lost a lot of weight. But not that much.
  2. Breastfeeding may or may not “melt the baby weight away” (thanks, every female celebrity who has had a baby, ever) but it doesn’t restore muscle definition. It also doesn’t make my bellybutton look the way it used to.
  3. Speaking of breastfeeding – it’s okay not be starry-eyed about breastfeeding. I’m thankful for it and I do feel proud over the fact that somehow my body can single-handedly nourish a person, but sometimes I also want to sleep in on weekends or have a second beer or not plan my outfits by their ability to undo in the front.
  4. Oh, and another breastfeeding fact: The parenting classes lied. Breastfeeding does hurt at the beginning but for some reason no one tells you until you already have your baby and are gritting your teeth and trying to figure out why your baby’s latch looks just like the baby’s in the video but causes so much pain. Don’t worry, it does get better.
  5. The amount you brag about your baby’s sleep is exactly inverse to the amount of hours your baby will sleep that night. Babies can hear you and they want to keep you humble.
  6. You can’t spoil a newborn. You just can’t. And you will never look back and wish you had cuddled your baby less. (Well, maybe you will. I guess I’m not that far along and my baby is still a baby so I haven’t hit that point yet. It seems unlikely though.)
  7. Do whatever the heck you want while the baby sleeps. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is so drummed into parents but you need awake time without baby too. I’m a big fan of “read when the baby sleeps”. Or eat ice cream while the baby sleeps. Or paint your toenails or just sit and stare into space while not being responsible for keeping a person alive. (I also lean towards, “Check if the baby is still breathing while the baby sleeps.”)
  8. If someone tells you your baby’s name is “an interesting choice” (which we all know is a polite way of saying “what a weird name”), you can respond by telling them their baby has “an interesting face”.
  9. People will judge you on the length of your baby’s fingernails. Baby fingernails grow fast; it is a battle you will never win.
  10. You can live on less sleep than you think you need. There will come a time when you pray for just four uninterrupted hours. Please, baby, just give me four hours! (Related: Sometimes you might join in with your baby’s crying. Especially when it’s three in the morning and you just fell asleep after spending an hour getting the baby to sleep and she think thirty minutes of sleep is enough.) (Also related: This scenario actually hasn’t happened to me in a couple of months. It does get better! Or, at least, it got better for me and my super baby who sleeps so well! I’m such a good mom!) (See #5)
  11. Your life, much like this list, will revolve around feeding your child and trying to get more sleep. This may go on for the next ten years. Twenty years? I don’t know. I have no idea what I’m doing.
  12. The correct response to any and all unsolicited baby advice is, “Hmm, I’ll think about that.” This includes responding to this blog. (What you think may be, “That is insane advice. What a craze-o!”)

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Book Review: Beijing Confidential – Jan Wong

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Beijing Confidential, Doubleday Canada, 2007

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost ten years since I last set foot in China. It’s been even longer since I’ve been to Beijing – all the way back to the summer of 2002. Since then, the city has hosted the Olympics and, no doubt, changed drastically.

Jan Wong details many of these changes and more in Beijing Confidential. In it she relates a trip with her family to Beijing gearing up to the 2008 Olympics. Her goal is to find a former classmate she once reported to Communist authorities.

The book offers a good, general overview of Beijing’s history as a city and as a capital. A Canadian of Chinese descent, Wong was a foreign student at Beijing University in the 1970s. Describing herself as a “True Believer”, Wong was fervent in her support of the Cultural Revolution and Marxist ideology. So when an acquaintance expressed a desire to Wong to leave China and visit North America, Wong reported this “counter-revolutionary” thought to her supervisor. Years later, and with a better perspective on China and its politics, Wong came to realize how she may have destroyed this young woman’s life. So with only a name, she returns to Beijing in hopes of finding this woman and apologizing.

As a former Marxist and a Canadian, Wong has a unique view of China and its 20th century history. (She was also the Globe and Mail’s Beijing correspondent in the late 80s and early 90s.) She writes of the city with love, confusion, impatience, and amusement. The book does a great job of showing how quickly Beijing and its people have changed and how many of those changes are only possible in a country like China. Much of this is shown through Wong’s reunions with former teachers and classmates, as well as scenes with the younger generation of Beijing.

The book is readable and fascinating, whether or not you’ve ever set foot in Beijing. My one beef with it is fairly minor – Wong translates all of the Chinese names into English and it just didn’t work for me. Her own Chinese name translates as “Bright Precious” and so, in the book, that’s what her friends call her. The name, which is probably fine and even lovely in Chinese, becomes ridiculous to an English reader. I’m not sure if she thought readers wouldn’t be able to keep track of the Chinese names but I wish she’d given us more credit. Aside from that, I found Wong to be a strong writer and am interested in reading more of her work.

Next Week’s Review: The Curse of the Viking Grave by Farley Mowat

Life Lately

The past weeks have brought big changes around here. With September, a new schedule sets in for our family. With summer over and Peter back to work, Pearl and I had to get used to hanging out just the two of us again from Monday to Friday. We have lots of fun together. Pearl loves her dad and is always super excited to see him when he gets home. A big smile spreads over her face and she’ll reach her arms out to him. Quite often now, if Peter’s around, she prefers to be held by him rather than me. It’s pretty freaking adorable to watch those two together.

At least I have someone else to cuddle with…

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We also have Bella the Dog staying with us for a couple of weeks. So I have two girls who love attention from me and want to be at the door when Peter walks in. It gets a little chaotic.

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I took this picture the other day at the park and felt very mom-ish with my baby in her stroller and a dog impatiently waiting for me to throw the ball. Also, very fall-ish with a scarf on and a mug of tea. (Contrary to what seems like every blogger in North America, I do not love fall and refuse to acknowledge it until September 21st.)

Pearl remains a committed fan of Bella. Sadly, her love is unrequited. It might have something to do with the fact that her method of petting involves grabbing handfuls of fur. Or her current fascination with eyes. Bella is very patient

The other morning, I had them both on our bed with me and they lay holding hands for a few minutes:

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Since Pearl hit six months, we’ve slowly been introducing solid foods. She’s very interested in putting things in her mouth and she loves her little spoon. As far as the food goes, she doesn’t seem too impressed. She does love sitting in her little high chair with us at the table though and I enjoy my tiniest lunch date every day.

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The biggest thing that’s changing my life though? We have a crawler! Pearl’s been pretty close for a while now – able to inch worm around and, more recently, getting up on all fours and rocking back and forth. Then, a week ago, it just clicked and now she’s non-stop. She can now chase the dog more efficiently. And I can’t hide from her. (Jokes! I never hide from my baby!)

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It’s pretty amazing to watch her development. She’s into all corners and tries to get her mouth on absolutely everything. Strap and buckles of all kinds are a favourite. I caught her trying to climb into her car seat so she could get her mouth around the buckle.

A crawling baby is also a great way to realize that your floors are filthy. Even if you just finished sweeping them.

Her latest skill is pulling herself up to stand. I wasn’t prepared for that one but a week of crawling and she’s suddenly trying to climb up next to me on the couch. (Pearl doesn’t really seem prepared for standing either because it generally ends in a tumble.)

And in the neighbourhood…bears!

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(There was also a cub to the right.) The forest fire in July and the drought conditions of the summer have combined to result in a lot of bears around here recently. This picture was actually taken on our way home from walking Bella on some trails. Our neighbourhood bear is smaller than this one and has three paws. I’ve seen him twice and Peter came across him early one morning at the bottom of our driveway. Apparently, he’s a regular in the neighbourhood for the past few years. Despite living in a more rural area for the past three years, this is the first time I’ve seen a bear close to home. Win for the suburbs!

So that’s us lately. The skies are grey but the smiles are big!

Big Fir Hike

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Peter and I have always enjoyed hiking and exploring areas around us here on the Coast. So this has been something we’ve definitely wanted to continue now that we have a baby. Some lovely friends gifted us this sweet Deuter child backpack (the Kid Comfort III, if you’re interested). Now that Pearl’s six months and can sit up better, she’s big enough for us to use it. (On previous hikes with Pearl we’ve used our Ergo carrier, which has been and continue to be great. Now that she’s older though, we’ve noticed she was really straining to look around and observe. In the Deuter carrier she sits up higher and has more ability to see about her.)

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At the risk of sounding like an ad for Deuter, this thing is amazing. It’s extremely lightweight and comfortable to wear, as well as being comfortable for Pearl to sit in. She’s well-cushioned and supported so she’s not being bounced around. The carrier also has several pockets and sections to carry things (like wipes! and diapers!) and even has a spot for a hydration bladder. Those Germans – they know how to design stuff.

On this particular hike, we headed to Halfmoon Bay and took the trail to the Big Firs. These are the largest trees on the Sunshine Coast and I had never seen them before.

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There are lots of mountain bike trails around here too. The trail is pretty easy though, due to recent heavy rains, there were some major puddles.

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This area was heavily logged (and is still an active logging area) so I’m not sure how some of these old growth trees survived but it’s pretty neat that there are still a few of these massive, centuries old trees.

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There’s a small picnic area by the two Big Firs and we stopped there to eat sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies. Pearl didn’t seem that impressed by the big trees but everything is big to her so maybe she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

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Apparently, being carried around in a cushioned carrier is existing because Pearl fell asleep on the way back to the car. Fortunately, there’s a cushion for her to rest her little head.

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Happy Labour Day

What I Read – August 2015

August was a good reading month. Two things helped. 1) Having no internet for the first twenty days and 2) Long periods of wakefulness with a baby for the first half of the month. (The way I get through nighttime feedings is with a soft light and a good book.) Here’s what I read:

Half of a Yellow Sun –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Vintage Canada, 2007)

I really like Adichie’s writing.This is the first novel of hers that I’ve read and it did not disappoint. The rest of her writing is on my List.

I knew very little of the Biafran/Nigerian civil war going into this and I think Adichie does a great job of telling the reader this history through the story. Both of my parents had childhood memories of hearing about Biafra and I was surprised that this was where our idea of “starving Africans” comes from. This is a sad, hard story to read but a wonderful example of the power of storytelling and how important it can be.

The Mysterious Benedict Society – Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown & Company, 2008)

This book series has been a popular one among pre-teen readers for the past few years so I was eager to read it. Reynie Muldoon responds to an ad in the newspaper, takes a few strange tests, and is swept into a secretive world full of mystery and a little bit of espionage. This is a fun book and easy to read (even for its target audience, I think). The characters are likeable and interesting. The illustrations by Carson Ellis add nicely to the story.

Where the book struggles is in background information. Is this story set in our world? Our future? An alternate version of our world? We are told that there is an “Emergency” but we’re never told what this really entails. As a result, stopping the Emergency doesn’t feel that high stakes. You might want the characters to succeed but it doesn’t much feel like it matters.

The Joys of Love – Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2008)

It is my opinion that most books published posthumously were not published by the author for good reasons. Unfortunately, as much as I like so much of L’Engle’s work, this is true of The Joys of Love. (Also, a terrible title.) It’s a book about theatre and young adulthood and first love, set in the late 1940s. It’s a harmless story but it doesn’t make much of a case for its own value.

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001)

The mind of man is capable of anything – because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.

Somehow I made it through high school and university without reading this one (is it a short story? a novella?) It had been on my list for a long time; surely, I thought, a story so famous was worthy of reading. I was hugely disappointed and, honestly, disgusted by this one. While I can understand much of its racism has to do with the time in which it was written, that certainly doesn’t excuse its popularity in the 20th century (let alone the 21st). Frankly, I found it hard to read the descriptions of Africa and the African people.

Almost as bad is the fact that the story is mostly narrative and very little action. I never felt like we were given much example of Kurtz’s behaviour but simply told that we should be shocked. There was potential in parts but the long-winded explanations and the heavy-handed racism make this a poor read.

A Very Long Engagement – Sébastien Japrisot (Plume, 1994)

translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

While I might wonder why some books are so famous, I also wonder why others are not more famous. A Very Long Engagement is one of those books. I was hugely impressed with this one. It’s sad and funny and endearing. Beautifully detailed and a story wonderfully told.

Set primarily in the aftermath of World War I in France, Mathilde is searching for the truth of what happened to her fiancé. Official reports say that he was killed in action but as Mathilde traces the last days of his life and meets the men who were there, it turns out that there is much more to the story, and that there are those who don’t want the truth told. The reader is told the truth early on but Japrisot does a magnificent job of unfolding the events as various characters tell their versions and as Mathilde learns the truth.

Japrisot’s characters are really where the book shines. Each one, no matter how minor, is given depth and reality. Some we only meet through letters, some show up steadily throughout the story and Mathilde’s life, but each one feels like a real person.

Rapture Practice – Aaron Hartzler (Little, Brown and Company, 2013)

This is a memoir of a young man’s journey from unquestioning faith in a particularly conservative brand of Christianity to what I think turns out to be agnosticism.

I grew up in a fairly conservative Christian home and I went to Christian school for six years of my childhood education. I’m familiar with much of what Hartzler describes and I’m pretty sure I read the same Dr. Dobson book on adolescence and puberty that he does. Overall though, my upbringing was far less conservative and more forgiving than his was. The Christianity he describes is a rule-based one, with very little grace, and it makes me sad when people view that as what Christianity is.

So while I think it’s healthy when young people question the faith (whatever faith that may be) that they grow up in and decide whether or not they want to claim it for their own, it also makes me sad when people think this is what Christianity is.

Honestly, the book stops just as it gets interesting. We don’t get to learn about where Hartzler’s faith is at now or how his adult relationship with his family is. (Mostly, he portrays his parents in a pretty forgiving light. His father is the closest thing the book has to an antagonist but I got the sense that Hartzler stopped short in his re-telling because his parents are alive to read this memoir.)

The book mostly focuses on Hartzler’s teen years and there was a lot of teen boy stuff that I just couldn’t relate to or find all that interesting. Overall, I think this one falls short of what it could have been

Dancer – Colum McCann (Phoenix, 2003)

They built roads through drifts with horses, pitching them forward into the snow until the horses died, and then they ate the horsemeat with great sadness.

I love Colum McCann’s writing (check out that opening line!). He does historical fiction well. In Dancer, he tackles the subject of Rudolf Nureyev, a Russian ballet dancer who defected from the Soviet Union in the 1960s (and someone I was unfamiliar with prior to reading this novel).

McCann tells the story through other people’s experiences with Nureyev – his parents, his sister, his teacher, his classmates, his servant. Only briefly and as a child do we get into Nureyev’s own head. It’s a fascinating way to tell a story. In general, it’s not one that flatters Nureyev. We read a portrait of a man who is flamboyant, headstrong, stubborn, immensely talented, and rather heartless. Here and there are glimpses of someone softer, someone more sympathetic but we are meeting a man whose fame and childhood hardship stand continously in contrast and keep the rest of the world at bay. It’s a sad story about art, about a country of suffering, about human relationships and how hard they are. It’s beautifully told.

“And I will tell you this, since it is all I want to say: Anna, the sound of your name still opens the windows of this room.”

The Cougar Lady – Rosella Leslie (Caitlin Press, 2014)

This is a very Sechelt book. A memoir of a uniquely Sechelt character, written by a Sechelt author and published by a publishing house based here on the Sunshine Coast. I’d heard of Bergie and her sister Minnie before I ever moved here since my husband remembers seeing them in town occasionally when he was a child. Most locals who were around while the sisters were alive have a story or two.

Bergie lived in a remote area of the Sechelt Inlet, hunting and fishing and mostly following her own rules. Reading about her life and story, I got the impression that she was a person who outlived her time. The Sunshine Coast was a remote, forested village for a long time but Bergie was still alive as it became a town. One with hunting licenses and fishing regulations. It’s hard to say if Bergie would have chosen the life she lived had any other options ever been presented to her. Rosella Leslie offers up the facts of Bergie’s life but they mostly serve as a sad picture of a woman with a rough childhood and who subsequently had difficulty building relationships and adapting to the world as it changed around her.

A Northern Light – Jennifer Donnelly (Harcourt, 2003)

“Lots of things are true. Doesn’t mean you can go around saying them.”

This young adult novel is based on a true crime in the early 20th century (the same crime that An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser is based on). Donnelly creates a fictional young woman, Mattie Gokey, to parallel the real life victim of Grace Brown. It’s an interesting way to demonstrate the narrow options of a young girl in that era. The book is an easy read though it doesn’t always explain itself as well as it could. My biggest question was with Mattie’s relationship with Royal. It’s hard to see why she would ever agree to marry him (and their engagement is an important plot factor) and the story would have had a lot more tension if it ever seemed at all likely that she might actually go through with the marriage.

The Sword in the Stone – T.H. White (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1939)

I remember reading this story in elementary school but as I began to re-read it, I found I didn’t remember it at all. This isn’t a historically accurate or factual telling of the Arthur legend (if such a thing can even exist). It’s full of anachronisms and it’s set in entirely the wrong time. White offers up the reasoning of Merlin living backwards through time but he isn’t trying to defend his inaccuracies really. The point is the story and the idea of what Arthur’s (or The Wart as he is known here) childhood might have been like before he pulled that sword out of the stone. I remembered really enjoying this book years ago, which is good because I didn’t much enjoy the re-read. It went on rather long and I kept waiting for more action and adventure. Much of the story reads more like a biology or philosophy lesson.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies – Raziel Reid (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014)

(If you can read that title without getting Iris by the Googoo Dolls stuck in your head, you are a stronger person than I am.)

This short young adult novel won the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award in its category. Shortly thereafter, a petition was started to get the award rescinded and to keep this book out of schools.

Loosely based on the real life and murder of Larry Fobes King, this is the story of Jude. Jude lives in a small, cold, unnamed Canadian town. He is flamboyantly, unashamedly gay and he enjoys wearing make-up and dressing up in his mother’s – who works as a stripper – clothes and shoes. He longs equally to leave his small town and to be famous. He narrates his own life as if he’s the star of his own reality TV show, referring to his classmates as fans or paparazzi. He’s infatuated with Luke, a popular classmate, whose friends bully Jude mercilessly.

Jude is the star of his own show and it’s a sad, sad show to watch. His father makes only sporadic appearances, his mother clearly loves him but is caught up in her own tragedies, his stepfather is abusive and hateful. Jude’s best friend betrays him and the one person willing to be physically intimate with Jude won’t admit it even to himself. Jude relies heavily on drugs to deal with his own life. He’s strong, cocky, often funny; in subtle ways Reid shows us that this is a character who might have been someone if every circumstance in his life was entirely different.

Jude certainly isn’t a character to be admired or to draw inspiration from. He’s a fictional portrayal of the ways real life kids fall through the cracks. And this is a story of learning to deal with emotions, with love, with pain. It’s a sad story.

I’m anti-censorship so I’m glad to see schools and libraries keep this on their shelves. I think it’s important for teenagers to read all kinds of books and I think it’s equally important for the adults in their lives to talk with them about those books. This is definitely a book that should be accompanied by a lot of conversation. Jude isn’t someone I’d want my teenager to be but, sadly, he’s a realistic portrayal of the life many teens live.

Jesus Among Other Gods – Ravi Zacharias (Thomas Nelson, 2000)

…truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of a pretended tolerance.

This is a controversial statement in our world today. Zacharias, one of my favourite Christian theologians, doesn’t shy away from controversy in this book where he explores what makes Christianity unique among other religions. Raised in India – a land of many gods – Zacharias delves into the other major religions of the world and addresses some of the big issues and questions that people have when comparing Christianity to other belief systems.

I would describe Zacharias’ writing as fairly academic. I don’t find him as readable as someone like Philip Yancey, but his insights are equally valuable and compared to some of his other books, Jesus Among Other Gods is not a difficult read. For anyone interested in comparative religion and Christianity in particular, I think this is a great place to start.

Those who smirk at His walking on water have forgotten the miracle He has already performed in the very composition of water.

The Giver – Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993)

Like so many other people my age, I read this years ago but I don’t remember much. While up late with Pearl one night, I finished the book I was reading and pulled this off our shelf. We meet Jonas who seems to live in some sort of future utopian society. At least, utopian if you consider a society where no one has strong emotions and every aspect of your life – from where you work to who your children are – is dictated by the authorities to be a utopia. Jonas is nearly twelve, the age when his future career will be decided upon by the Elders. He’s nervous and excited but he has no idea what’s in store for him when he is assigned the unique job of Receiver.

On the off chance there are people out there who haven’t read this one, I won’t say anything further because I think the book is better left as a surprise. It’s a great young adult book; it’s full of concepts that raise questions and conversation. If I were judging it from an adult perspective, I think it does fall short in really establishing its own world and how this society can actually work. Some more backstory would probably aid it but it’s an easy and fascinating read just the way it is.

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Previous to this novel I’d only read Smith’s novella, The Embassy of Cambodia. I enjoyed that one though so was eager to read On Beauty. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a story of race, of class, of education. The characters are (mostly) well-fleshed out and interesting, though only a few of them are very likeable. It’s the story of two feuding families – the Belseys and the Kipps – and it starts off with the son from one family falling in love with the daughter from the other family. It’s not a Romeo and Juliet story at all though; it’s much more complicated than that.

Set mostly in a university town outside of Boston, the novel focuses heavily on the power and effects of education. The patriarchs of each family are professors and rivals (unfortunately the character of Monty Kipps is never much more than a caricature) and their children’s lives become more and more entwined as time progresses. There are lots of unexpected turns in the plot and Smith handles them well, with realistic characters reacting in ways that feel honest and true.

Currently Reading:

The Everlasting Man – G.K. Chesterton

Art is the signature of man.

Beijing Confidential –  Jan Wong

What’s So Amazing About Grace? – Philip Yancey

A Pearl Health Update

IMG_5808It’s been six months since we brought Pearl home. It has been six months of smiles, laughter, naptimes, a few sleepless nights, and some tears. Pearl can roll over, coos and chatters, and drools like crazy. Our guess is that she is moments away from crawling. She loves to cuddle, loves to put anything and everything in her mouth, and usually wakes up with a smile.

After the turmoil and anxiety of the last few weeks of pregnancy, her good health has been a gift that we are thankful for every day. Before leaving the hospital, we were told a few warning signs to watch out for. None have cropped up and she has yet to have even a cold. At each of her check-ups, Pearl has been right on target with her weight gain and hitting every appropriate milestone. She is beautifully healthy and looking at her now you would never know that it was ever in jeopardy.

In July, Peter and I returned to the hospital in Vancouver for an ultrasound of Pearl’s kidneys. She had two renal ultrasounds in her first week of life and because they told us nothing definitive, we knew we’d be heading back in a few months to check again.

I was surprised by the rush of emotions that accompanied our return to Children’s Hospital. This is the same place where we went for the in-depth ultrasound a few weeks before Pearl was born. This is the parking lot where I sobbed after being told something was wrong with our baby’s heart. This is the hospital where our beautiful girl came into the world and we heard that initial, amazing cry. My breath caught as we passed the doors to the NICU and I thought of that first, excruciating day of her life. And I thought of how incredibly fortunate we are to have a healthy baby because there are babies who enter that NICU and never leave and how can that not break your heart?

Peter accompanied Pearl last time she had this ultrasound so I hadn’t been in this part of the hospital yet. Pearl hated being set down on the bed in a strange room, despite the warm blankets the tech wrapped her in.

“She’s so angry!” commented the tech. Yep, my girl doesn’t like new places unless she’s in the safety of a parent’s arm. She cried the whole time and I attempted to calm her while trying to peek at the screen. Of course, the images meant nothing to me. The tech checked with the radiologist before sending us on our way.

“She seems pretty ok,” she said before telling us we could go. (Obviously, I spent too much time trying to guess what this meant/referred to.) “Stay healthy,” she told Pearl, “Don’t come back here.”

Basically, her ultrasound was pretty ok. A little better than the last one but not yet perfect. The swelling seems more concentrated than before but in line with what they spotted on ultrasounds before she was born. It looks like we may have to return for another ultrasound at some future time. Yes, we’d hoped to be told everything was perfect but Pearl is healthy. There has been no sign of infection, no discomfort. I don’t know what will happen with her kidneys down the road but we trust and know that God is still at work, still in control. We are fortunate to very rarely think of our baby’s health. I know that’s not the case for so many families.

I’m sharing this because I know that many of you have prayed and thought of our girl and our little family. Thank you. I want to share how powerful those prayers have been and still are in our lives. Thank you for your ongoing prayers.  I am constantly in awe of the work God has done in her little body and that He will continue to do. Thanks for taking this journey with us.