Category Archives: Books and Films

Take a look

Several blogs I read post links to a selection of interesting posts and sites each weekend. I am not promising anything as regular as that. Any readers visiting here know that there is nothing regular about my blogs at present but I have come across a few posts lately that really appealed to me so I thought I would share.

Take a look if you like:

  • I love wearing scarves so this post was right up my alley:  25 Ways to wear a scarf in 4.5 minutes. I most often wear my scarves in the “The Modern One Loop” but within 48 hours of watching the video I had worn the “Infinity”, the “Bunny Ears” and the “Hidden Knot”! I’ve even taken to  rearranging  my friend’s scarves while they are wearing them.
  • I was quite taken with a post by Layla from The Lettered Cottage. She posted some photos of a very whimsical campsite where she and her mother spent a few days, along with a very personal list of Things I’d tell my 17-Year-Old Self.
  • I came across this dress which is quite lovely.  So…I am going to see if I can make one just like it.
  • Having been introduced to slacklining when we bought one for B11 a few years back, all of us were astounded by the trailer for I Believe I Can Fly. We have now bought the documentary and I can’t wait to watch it.(HT: Cup of Jo)
  • B11 and I were impressed by these paintings by Alexa Reade. They are not quite what they seem or perhaps they are.


Lit Chat

It has been a long time since I wrote a book review.  It is certainly not because I haven’t read any books.  I think it is a little like high school English class, getting the book read was never my problem, writing about it was another matter.  I have been reading quite a bit in the last few months, mainly books that our literature group will be reading in the coming year.

The proposed line up for the older literature group to which L16 belongs:

The Chosen by Chaim Potok
I read several of Potok’s books many years ago because after enjoying the first I was drawn to look for more.  I enjoyed The Chosen just as much the second time round. It centres around two Jewish teenage boys, both fine students, sons of fine Jewish scholars.   One wishes to be a rabbi even though his strength is mathematics.  The other wishes to be a psychologist but is expected to take his father’s place as rabbi one day.  Although the fathers could never be friends, the boys become strong friends.
Pygmalian by George Bernard Shaw
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A great favourite of mine, which I will enjoy reading again from the copy which belonged to my grandfather.
Far from the Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy
Before Andrew and I had any children we went on a Thomas Hardy binge. We read one after another trading and comparing after each one.
Something by P.G. Wodehouse (We have yet to choose what we’ll read)
The Last of the Mohicans James Fenimore Cooper
Unwind Neil Shusterman
L15 and I read this dystopian novel last year. It is set in a crowded world where teens can be “unwound” if for some reason they don’t measure up. It is disturbing but watching the main characters fight the system each in their own way brings up many questions which will make our discussion interesting I’m sure.

The younger group which A14 has joined will read the list below:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speares
The Other Side of the Island Allegra Goodman
Watership Down Richard Adams
The Prince and the Pauper Mark Twain
Who Has Seen the Wind W.O. Mitchell
A novel by a famous Canadian author which I must admit I had my doubts about until well over half way through the book.  I am not sure whether the group will enjoy it or not.  The book meanders through prairie life and the reader gets to see it through the eyes of a young boy.  Consequently the story rests where the boy’s thoughts rest and passes over other things.  This young boy does do some very deep thinking at times though.  I found it hard to get into initially as it didn’t seem to pursue any of the subplots for long; I would just get interested in a few characters and their stint would be over;  someone else would take centre stage.  Having said that, by the end I had been pulled into the ups and downs, lefts and rights of Brian O’Connal and enjoyed seeing him reach the close of his boyhood.
Treasure Island R.L. Stevenson

Double Deckers

I just finished a reading a book to B9 which we both enjoyed, “Dessert First” by Hallie Durand.  It turns out the main character’s name is Dessert, but the book is concerned with dessert also, along with fondue, temptation and making sacrifices.  We were a few chapters in when B9 asked to move onto a new book.  I did not want to move on because I hadn’t found out yet how the child came to be called “Dessert”!

I thought he would like it as it was, in some ways, like the “Clementine” books we had read last year and enjoyed.  His comment part way through was interesting  as he said it was “trying to be like the Clementine books” but apparently it did not quite measure up.  We continued and were drawn in by the awful secret Dessert was carrying around.

What inspired B9 the most was the  recipe for Double Deckers.  Included on the back cover, he was very keen to try it out.  Finally I had all the ingredients and he made it last week.  It is indeed rich and delicious.  He cut it into 30 portions and is determined that no-one will have more than one a day.  I tried several angles to be awarded a second serve, apparently the girls did too, but it didn’t happen!

I’m not sure what the deal is with those sleepy eyes of his.  He certainly was not sleepy after eating a sugar loaded “Double D”!

Highschool literature group

Remember the Group of 4?  This year one of our families has left the group to attend school so we are now the group of three.  Of the eight children in the Group of 3, six attend Writing classes on Friday, classes the mothers (and I believe, the participants) are very happy with.  When planning for this year I spoke to a few mothers of  highschoolers about creating a literature component to supplement the writing classes.  Our writing teacher does a fabulous job and points the students to examples of great writing from great literature but does not require the reading of entire works as part of her writing course.  We wanted to make sure our highschoolers were reading some great literature but didn’t want to add another full subject to their load.

So the literature class, club, group was born.  Initially I was calling it a class but it isn’t; it is more of a discussion group.   We decided to meet once a month to discuss the book just read.  Each month one parent/child team takes responsibility for preparing questions and background then leads the discussion.

We are now onto our fourth book and it seems to be going well.  I don’t think we have chosen a book yet which everyone has loved but that isn’t surprising.  We began with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird which L15 really enjoyed.  I had not read it in a long time and I also enjoyed it.  Unfortunately L was sick the night of the discussion but we were able to attend a few weeks later when the group got together to watch the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck.

The following month we read Animal Farm by George Orwell.  As far as I could tell the boys in the group really enjoyed it and the girls did not.  The discussion, however was very interesting as we talked about the likelihood of being able to stand against the current when all around are being brainwashed and led astray.  Although we talked about the Russian revolution we did not dwell on the historic figures being portrayed by the animals, but talked more about the type of people they were and the character traits they exhibited.  There were quite a few comments which began, “If only they had…”

A few weeks ago we met to discuss Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot.  Naturally the conversation was quite different as we were discussing a biography.  Some members of the group really appreciated the fact that in the book a plane was a plane, it didn’t represent anything else!  Even though the story is now over fifty years old the testimony of the five missionaries’ lives impacted everyone in the group.  We discussed singlemindedness, commitment to eternal things and the incredible trust each man and his wife had in the sovereignty of God.

Currently we are reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Unlike the three previous books I had never read this.  I did not know what to expect and found that it drew me in and disturbed me at the same time.  L15 is not too far in yet.

In April we will read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and then May, which is the month L15 and I are responsible for, has been left for a contemporary novel.  I am currently searching for something appropriate.  There are a couple I think might be good but L has read them already and I would prefer to find something new to her.

Books read this summer (My dad’s list)

As summer draws to a close it is time to recap on the books read in this house over the last few months.  My parents have been staying with us and my dad has spent more time reading here than he would have at home so I will start with his list.  Most books were drawn from the Ottawa Library.  By this point in the post he has taken over writing and I will just wait and post the finished list with his comments and reviews.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

This book was in the house when we arrived. An easy to read insight into life on the Channel Island of Guernsey during the German occupation of World War 2.

Walking on the Land Farley Mowat

I had read several Mowat books on an earlier visit to Canada and have  become aware of his activism in the anti-whaling cause in the Southern Ocean as a visitor to Australia  in recent years. This book recalls a story told in part in some of his earlier writings, a story which put him on a collision course with some people in high places. It is the story of some of the indigenous people of the Arctic whose life and livelihood was destroyed, in large part through the neglect and apparent “could not care” attitudes of people whose responsibility included the welfare of the indigenous people.

The story was new to me, but sadly and remarkably similar to some of the stories that I know only too well concerning the indigenous people of my own country.

The Custodian of Paradise Wayne Johnston

I had read “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams” on an earlier visit and was keen to learn more of Sheilagh Fielding’s story.  Johnston is a great writer and the story engaged me until the last page.  I think there is more yet to be told; perhaps there will be a third book in the trilogy when next we visit.

Baltimore’s Mansion Wayne Johnston

Newfoundland, the last province to join the Canadian Confederation. What a time it must have been. Johnston’s memoir of Newfoundland through the lives of his grandfather, father and his own give a unique insight to the place of Newfoundland in Canada, and a background to the setting of the two novels mentioned above.

Memoirs-All Rivers Run to the Sea Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a Romanian-Hungarian Jew who was a survivor of Auchwitz, though most of his family perished.  The first chapter “Childhood” was difficult – so many people, so many relationships, it was hard to follow and I almost put it back in the library bag.  The second chapter “Darkness” is his memoir of the period 19 March 1944 to 11 April 1945, from the arrival of the Germans into his town of Sighet on the day of the Jewish Feast of Purim to the liberation by American soldiers from Auchwitz just over a year later.  He managed to stay with his father until a few days before the liberation when his father died.

Despite its distressing subject, I found this chapter uplifting in an unexpected way and remarkably without bitterness.  Later chapters tell of his life as a writer, as a journalist and author, telling the story of  the young nation state of Israel and the Zionist hope

Speaking My Mind Tony Campolo

This book is sub-titled “The Radical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians are Afraid to Face.”  Campolo stands solidly in the evangelical stream but he is offering a strong critique of American Fundamentalism, whilst at the same time acknowledging that evangelical churches are no longer “the monolithic mass of social conservatives”, a phrase which may have once been true.   It is an examination of the US scene and the American church, but I see much correlation with Australia Christian scene.

The Right Attitude to Rain Alexander McCall Smith

The World According to Bertie Alexander McCall Smith

I was introduced to McCall Smith during a previous visit to Ottawa. His books have now become very popular in Australia where he has also visited to introduce his characters.  Bertie and his family (and all their neighbours) and Isobel Dalhousie and the dilemmas she confronts provide enjoyable relaxation amidst many of the other books.

Five Generations of the Kennedy Family (returned to the library without noting the author’s name)

I came upon this book in the biography section during the week of Ted Kennedy’s death.  It is a large book of and I read with interest major sections identified from its comprehensive index.  Without question, the Kennedy brothers had a profound influence on American politics and world affairs. With the death of Ted, I am wondering whether there are other family members who will follow.

Prime Ministers:  Ranking Canada’s Leaders J.L. Granatstein,  Norman Hillmer

As a keen student of Australian history and politics, I was interested to gain an overview of some of the major issues of Canadian politics since confederation. This small book provides a very succinct overview. Each chapter provides an essay on the leadership of the respective Prime Ministers and ranks the quality of their leadership from Great through Average to Failure. I don’t think anyone has yet written a similar ranking book of our PM’s, although there are many weightier books to read at home as, no doubt, there are here.

With two more weeks of our holiday, the list is incomplete and the reading continues, but it time to post the entry. It is a privilege to be a contributor instead of an occasional commenter.


Lawn Boy

On the heels of our stock market unit we decided to do a novel study with group of four.  One of the mums found the perfect book which just happens to be funny, appropriate for the 8-12 year old age group, appealing to boys and girls, not too long and related to the stock market.

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen is about a twelve year old boy facing a long summer with little money and no firm plans.  His grandmother, an unusual woman,  gives him her late husband’s ride-on lawn mower.  Understandably Lawn Boy is a little bemused by his grandma’s gift but investigates the machine  only to find that, despite its age, it works fine.  He sets off down the street on his birthday gift and within minutes has the beginnings of a summer job.

He finds out, as he picks up client after client, that the previous lawn cutter was involved in a neighbourhood scandal so there is plenty of work for him.  One of his first clients, Arnold, offers him an unusual deal, promising to pay him in shares, not cash.  He tells Lawn Boy he will buy shares for him and then sell and re-invest in whatever companies look promising.  Lawn Boy agrees, deciding that all he has to lose is the $40 fee.

The business grows beyond what Lawn Boy can handle and Arnold comes to his aid with suggestions and a partner.   Lawn Boy’s business and his stock portfolio  grow without his parents’ knowledge.  There are encounters with  a prize fighter and a local thug, also without his parents’ knowledge.  As Lawn Boy’s circumstances become more and more complicated he tries to explain them to his parents, but it is only when someone’s life is in danger that he finally spills the whole story!

All the children in Group of Four enjoyed the book and wanted to know why they couldn’t make money in the same amounts that Lawn Boy was raking it in.  We did some predicting along the way, but no-one even came close to guessing all the twists and turns.  Each child took  a chapter and converted it into a comic strip page, picking out the main events of the chapter and reading through the descriptions before drawing.   As most of the group are willing to act whenever given the chance, we gave out a couple of scripts taken directly from the  book with  narration removed.

Both weeks of the novel study we started with a story building activity, where the story was started by one child and then passed on to the next who took it wherever they liked and so on around the circle.  The first time we did it with no parameters and the second week the characters and setting were given.  The story made much more sense the second week, but was not as funny!  To make the most of the children’s enthusiasm for making money we asked them all  to think of a job they could do in their own community and make  posters advertising their services.  We’ll see if anything comes of their ideas.

In past novel studies we have given the children an open-ended creative project to  complete over a couple of weeks, then present to the group at the end of the unit.  I am always impressed with the variety and quality of the projects.  This time was no different.  One of the girls decorated a t-shirt with the word “POW” on the front and “Pinch your head” on the back!  (You will need to read the book to find out why)  Another made a movie with playmobil people playing the characters.  B8 made a lego model of Lawn Boy on his mower halfway  around the yard of a lego  house.  There was also a poster and a very detailed 3D bookmark.

I am always on the lookout for new authors, so this introduction to Gary Paulsen has been great.  Paulsen has written a great many books for children, often with boys as the main character.  I’m sure we will be reading more.

Books and cookies

Today was one of those days which didn’t go to plan, it probably went better.  B8 has been coughing for days, not just a little scratchy cough, a big impressive, “that must hurt cough”. So this morning, just as I was about to start Maths with him I suggested instead that he hop back into bed.  He agreed straight away.  This is unusual for him, although he occasionally gets sick, he rarely stays in bed and even more rarely goes to the doctor.

I happened to have borrowed a book on cd, The Penderwicks which had been recommended by Semicolon, so I put it in the cd player and he started listening.  I wondered whether he might go off to sleep but he just kept listening, taking a break for  lunch and then going back for more.  Whenever I looked in on him he related an amusing line or incident.  Toward the end of the afternoon he emerged from his room disappointed that the last cd would not play anymore, in the last chapter of all places.  It ended up not being a problem as I had borrowed the book as well.  He thoroughly enjoyed it, and asked if there was more.  We will try and pick The Penderwicks on Gardam Street up at the library tomorrow.

He is also engrossed by the Mistmantle Chronicles, which I am reading to him.  We almost finished the second of three  this evening.  The characters are all  animals (usually not a big favourite with me) living in towers, fighting in battles, awaiting prophecies and always looking for adventure with a little bit of romance thrown in.  I am just as interested as he is, but don’t take quite as much notice of the battle details as he does.

While he was listening and resting, I caught up on marking and decided it was time to try a couple of gluten free recipes.  I have hardly baked at all since I started eating gluten free but I would like to have a a variety of quick recipes that I can rely on for snacks and treats.  The first were called Marshmallow Ooeys,  and the name says it all.  They are very sweet, too sweet, I think, but I really like the base without the melted marshmallow on top.  I think it would work as a base for other toppings.  The second mixture was for peanut butter cookies, which everyone liked.

I was able to browse through a few books for our Canadian History unit on WW2 also.  Too Young to Fight: Memories of our Youth During WW2 is a compilation of memoirs by some of the Canadian authors we have read before and gives the perspective of the children who watched their world change and made sacrifices on the home front. Canada Remembers is a magazine style book approaching WW2 with the intent of sharing with today’s students the impact of the war on Canada and Canada’s contribution to the war on so many fronts.  So my day of cookies and books was a nice change and hopefully my boy will be feeling quite a bit better tomorrow.

My Seventh Monsoon

At Christmas I received the book, My Seventh Monsoon, as a gift. I was delighted and intrigued as I know the author, Naomi Reed, but had no idea she was even writing a book. I do not know her well but other members of my family do and that is why my parents sent me the book.

My Seventh Monsoon is autobiographical but it is much more than just the story of Naomi’s life so far. The book is full of insight into the way God works in people’s lives to bring about his purposes. It is also about living in two very different cultures: Australia and Nepal. Naomi has deftly woven the strands of her book together to create a memoir which inspires, teaches and captivates.

Naomi’s years in Nepal with her husband inspired the title. Nepal’s seasons, particularly the intense monsoon season, set her thinking about the seasons of her own life, which gave her the framework for her book. Starting back in her childhood she identifies sixteen seasons, and shares with us not only the events and memories of each season, but also the lasting impact that season had on her life. She stresses that she was not aware while experiencing each season that it was just that: a season, a section of her life, a time which would eventually end, leaving her in a new place.

Her early life in a family which hiked, camped, skied was not a life of luxury but a life of adventure and simplicity. Of course she could not know then how it was preparing her for seasons in Nepal, hiking for hours and living with little. Leaving Australia to work as physiotherapists in Nepal was a dramatic move for her and Darren, her husband. Living in a country where the language, food, geography and weather were nothing like she had ever experienced created great feelings of inadequacy for Naomi and brought her to a point of greater trust in the Lord who is adequate in all situations.

As Naomi spent years in Nepal and years back in Australia her son and her husband faced life threatening emergencies. There were seasons of waiting, seasons of relief and refreshment. God was providing and enabling throughout them all. It is hard to describe how easy it was to connect with this book. My life is not that similar to Naomi’s and yet I found her writing totally relevant to me. We do not all have the same lessons to learn but we all face challenges at different times in our lives.   When growing through seasons of hardship and seasons of blessing  it is worth remembering that there is a time for every purpose under heaven.

Additional Note:  I found out this week that Naomi’s book was awarded second prize by the Australian Christian Literature Society in the 2008 Christian Book of the Year category.  I was also thrilled to see that Simon Holt‘s book, God Next Door, was awarded first prize.  Simon is a long time friend from our days in Glen Waverley.