Monthly Archive December, 2011

Down-to-Read with Daniela: As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto
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***************NATIONAL BESTSELLER***************

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Full Title:
As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl

Genre:
Non-Fiction, Biography, Canadian, Gender Identity, Historical, Journalism, Mental Health, Science, Social Commentary

Summary:
In 1967, following a baby boy’s botched circumcision, his family agrees to surgically alter the boy to live as a girl. From there, Bruce became Brenda and under the vigilance of renowned doctor John Money, Brenda was nurtured to enjoy feminine things, such as wearing frilly dresses and helping her mom in the kitchen. Lauded as an indisputable success by the influential Money, Brenda’s case was revered in the medical community and became the impetus for future infant sex re-assignments.

But everything didn’t turn out perfectly for Brenda. Knowing that something was not quite right with her body, Brenda struggled to fit in with her peers at school. She was rough and tumble and never truly identified with girls. She would beat up her twin brother and play with her brother’s toys rather than her own dolls. Brenda turned into a despondent, angry child. Her grades slipped and she became increasingly wary of medical professionals, especially Money.

Finally at the age of fourteen, Brenda reverted back to the gender that she always felt at her core: boy. Narrowly evading suicide, Brenda became David, and went on to face corrective surgery, get married and raise three children.

The experiment that inspired generations of medical professionals was suddenly a failure. David, determined to save other children from the same fate, was finally able to face the world and share his sad story and his indomitable will to survive.

My Thoughts:
Fascinating topic for a book! You might remember David Reimer’s amazing story from a late 1990s episode of Oprah. Reimer’s life will make you think twice about gender identity politics. Following the debate surrounding nature vs. nurture, David’s case and others like him reveal that boys and girls are not always “made.”

Colapinto’s novel is at times less of a biography of Reimer, and more of a broader ethical discussion of infant sex-reassignment surgery. His journalism is painstakingly detailed and his stance is clear. At times, Colapinto’s portrayal of Money can be a little one-dimensional. Money is vilified as a staunchly stubborn and even perverse doctor. But after all the facts are revealed, you can’t help but feel that Colapinto is quite justified in his conclusions.

Borrow As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl from your local Vaughan library today!

Mondays are murder
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I am only going to say this once – I like comics.  There.   Now it’s out there.  I enjoy sequential art, graphic storytelling, that “kid stuff.”  And I know I have said this before, but I will say it again (and continue to say it until I am in the grave) – there is a lot more to comics than just superheroes and “kid stuff.”  I can guarantee you that no matter what you like, no matter what you don’t like, there is a comic or graphic novel out there that will appeal to you.

Perusing the shelves not too long ago, I ran across a set of titles that appeals to me!  Vertigo is the “mature” arm of DC Comics, and they have a series called “Vertigo Crime.”  In this series, writers who are well known in other arenas (Ian Rankin anybody?) are called in to write crime stories that are then drawn by famous comics artists.  I scooped up the four I found on the shelf and read them all, one after the other.

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I am not going to make you suffer through a summary and comments on all four of them!  Suffice it to say, if you like your crime dark and gritty, if violence doesn’t offend you, and if you are interested in a non-traditional look at the world we live in, then you could do worse than reading some “Vertigo Crime.” 

I will say that of the four, Ian Rankin’s Dark Entriesand Peter Milligan’s The Bronx Kill were my favourites.  The first because Rankin so easily constructs so layered a story.  The second because it is not a “traditional” murder mystery, even though it is chock-full of NYC Irish cops.  But Area 10 and The Chill were also good.

I’ve said it before, and I am sure I will say it again: give graphic a chance!

A note: I will be taking a short break from weekly posts at the start of the new year.  I am taking this break in an attempt to put together a structured sequence of murderous reading for 2012 – so please bear with me, and I hope it will all be worth it!

Down-to-Read with Daniela: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
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Age Group:
Young Adult

Genre:
Realistic Fiction, Poetry, American Fiction, Coming-of-age, Romance

Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, clarinetist and bookworm, lives contentedly in the shadows of her spirited older sister Bailey. But when Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie is forced to accept life as an only child – and as the new center of attention around town. Suddenly, her melancholic mood is attracting two different boys. Toby, formerly engaged to marry Bailey, seems inexplicably drawn to Lennie and the deep, deep sorrow that the two now share. Plagued by guilt, Lennie struggles to cope with the suddenly physical relationship that is growing between them.

But a ray of sunshine bursts into Lennie’s life in the form of new classmate and Parisian import Joe Fontaine. Joe, untouched by loss, is full of energy and passion, and Lennie can not helped but be drawn into his compassionate embrace. Soon Lennie finds herself torn in two, divided by her overwhelming sense of despair and her desire to find joy in life once again.

My Thoughts:
A celebration of life, love and passion during a time of immense sorrow and grief, The Sky is Everywhere has much to say about death and how it feels to be the person left behind. Lennie is a realistic character, whose emotions perfectly capture the experience of loss. Lennie’s eccentric Gram and uncle Big are also plausible figures who mirror Lennie’s grief and enable her to survive it. This is a sexy, fierce novel that ebbs along at an enticing pace.

Borrow The Sky is Everywhere from your local Vaughan library today!

Wednedays at the Movies
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Dufferin Clark’s Wednesay At the Movies programming continues! Every other Wednesday evening, starting at 6:30 pm, we will screen a movie and offer juice and popcorn to snack on. We hope to see you there!

December 21 – Disney’s A Christmas Carol (PG – Parental Guidance)

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On Christmas Eve Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits who try to convince him to change his life.

 

 

 

 

January 4 – Gracie (PG – Parental Guidance)

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A teenager faces an uphill battle when she fights to give women the opportunity to play competitive soccer

 

Mondays are murder
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It’s that time again – time for me to veer wildly off the well-trod track of police procedurals, serial killers and rogue private eyes.  Time for me to stretch the definition of “murder” well beyond the point of credibility in order to talk to you about a book I just finished reading and l.o.v.e.

I had heard rumblings from professional literature about Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  Wonderful things were being said; rave reviews were popping up here there and everywhere.  Someone even had the audacity to call it “Harry Potter for adults.”  On this point, I must quibble.  Just because something has magic in it doesn’t mean that it is like Harry Potter.  (As an aside, if you DO want to read what I consider to be Harry Potter for adults, check out Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians and its sequel The Magician King.)

The magic Erin Morgenstern writes of in her debut novel is a much more subtle magic than the highly physical wizardry of Potter and his ilk.  It is a tale of ancient ritual and invisible power, imprecision and balancing.  The arena for this expansive magic is The Night Circus – a mystifying black-and-white-striped wonder that arrives without warning and departs just as suddenly.  It is only open from nightfall to dawn.  And it contains layer upon layer of wonder, stacked with delight, topped with awe.

But more than a showcase for the impossible, The Night Circus is a battleground.  Celia and Marco have been trained up, bound to each other in an ancient game to demonstrate the superior prowess of one sort of magic over another.  Their competition provides the heart of the circus and makes possible the impossible, the fantastic, the magic that circus-goers enjoy.

To tell you any more would be to deny you the delights of the book itself.  Each page reveals a new clockwork masterpiece, a new tiny delicacy.  Each word suffused me with longing for the experience of this circus.  The Night Circus is the best sort of fantasy – the one for which you find yourself pining, wishing against all hope that it was real, leaving one breathless with the completely impossible dream that upon arriving home, there will be a collection of black-and-white-striped tents where this morning there was but the dog’s food dish and pile of leaves to be raked.

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In tone, The Night Circus reminded me of both The Invention of Hugo Cabret (the majestic children’s book by Brian Selznick on which Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo is based) and Clockwork, or All Wound Up (a truly frightening fairy tale of the old sort, by Philip Pullman, who wrote the His Dark Materials series).  Perfect reads for autumn as it edges into winter.

Down-to-Read with Daniela: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
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Full Title:
Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America

Accolades:
New York Times Bestseller

Age Group:
Adult

Genre:
Non-Fiction, American Literature, Investigative Journalism, Social Commentary, Economics

Summary:
What is it like to live poor in America? To answer the question, Ehrenreich embarks on a completely immersive journalism experience, from juggling customers at big chain restaurants to folding women’s clothing at Wal-Mart.

Through a variety of low paid, back-breaking labour, Ehrereich uncovers an “invisible” world rich in corruption and manipulation. What she discovers will either confirm your suspicions, or open your eyes to an unseen world. Backed by plenty of hard hitting facts, Nickel and Dimed is sure to get you thinking about the plight of low-wage workers in America (and even Canada!).

My Thoughts:
Eerily reminiscent of my own days as a low wage worker, Nickel and Dimed brings poverty out of hiding, forcing readers to acknowledge the power struggles that are happening all around them.

As a young adult I remember working the front lines of customer service for bare minimum pay. First there was my four year stint at McDonald’s beginning at age 15. That was a crash course in coping with unreasonable, obstinate customers, intimidating managers and awful hours. Then there was a garden center job, where you could often find me trying to lift 50 pound flower pots filled with wet soil (gah!). And finally working at a pet store, where I met a 19-year-old girl who was struggling to raise two young children, deal with the children’s deadbeat father and cope with her own mother’s alcoholism. I still can not even fathom the struggles she was enduring at that time. All of these jobs were humbling experiences where I learned the value of hard work, tenacity and even gratitude for my sheltered, privileged life.

But the difference with my situation was that I always knew, like the author, that it was only temporary. And I always had the cushy support of my working middle class parents who helped support me through university.

Nickel and Dimed is a wonderful eye opener that is certainly worth a read. For a more recent book with a similar concept, try the riveting Working in the Shadows: a year of doing the jobs (most) Americans won’t do. You can check out my review here: http://www.vaughanpl.info/leisure/?p=3067.

Borrow Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America from your local Vaughan Library today!

Mondays are murder
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Inspector Tom Tyler has seen his share of war.  His generation fought what was supposed to be the war to end them all.  Instead of lasting peace, though, Tyler is instead witnessing the disintegration of his son – returned on leave from the Battle of Dunkirk.  Jimmy won’t talk about what happened on the beaches, at least not to his father.  And Tom doesn’t know how to even begin to ask.

Inspector Tyler soon has an immediate distraction from his family woes, though, when a beautiful and vibrant Land Army girl is found murdered on the roadside in their quiet part of Shropshire.  Suspicions run high – the Luftwaffe is bombing London and around every corner is a Jerry spy or paratrooper who snuck in under the cover of darkness (perhaps not really, but that is certainly how everyone is feeling!), not to mention that enemy alien internment camp on the outskirts of town.  When the coroner discovers that Elsie Bates was hit by a vehicle and left conscious and paralyzed shortly before she was shot in the head, the case takes one turn too many.

In the midst of this investigation, which Tyler is desperately trying to solve with his own stalwart group of constables and sergeants without interference from outside, he discovers that his long-lost love has returned to the village of their youth.  Clare is back from the continent and working as an interpreter at the internment camp.

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Maureen Jennings has written a compelling period mystery in Season of Darkness.  Already known for her Detective Murdoch Mysteries, which are set in Victorian Toronto, Jennings ventures back to the motherland for this outing.  Although Inspector Tom Tyler is a compelling lead – thoughtful, confident, with pathos to spare – this one reads like it could be a one-off.  So be sure to lose yourself in the dark depths of World War II England, where the shabow of a greater global evil touches basic human events.

Down-to-Read with Daniela: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Genre:
Historical Fiction, African American, Social Justice, American Literature, Humourous, Realistic Fiction

Summary:
Set in 1962 Mississippi, The Help chronicles the lives of two distinct social classes of women: the white ones with all the money and the black ones who clean their houses. Through the narrative voices of three main characters, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny, readers are introduced to an America steeped in prejudice, hypocrisy and downright contempt for its black inhabitants.

Aibileen and Minny struggle as maids for the rich and cruel women of Jackson. Skeeter, a twenty-two year old white graduate of journalism in search of a provocative story, witnesses the racism in her neighbourhood and decides to make a change. From there she embarks on a mission to interview the help, compiling a series of memoirs that is sure to shake up the town of Jackson forever.

My Thoughts:
A memorable and touching story tackling racism in the white South. Stockett does an excellent job of capturing the viewpoints of her characters, breathing life into them with rich detail, humour and compassion. Aibileen is quiet, hardworking and loving, while Minny is a little firecracker who refuses to back down. These two come together to help the tenacious Skeeter with her project.

The ensuing hi jinks will have you laughing out loud and wishing swift redemption for the down trodden. An inspiring novel that has garnered much well deserved attention. The movie is also fantastic and definitely worth a watch!

Borrow The Help from your local Vaughan Library today!

Mondays are murder
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I finished On, Off by Colleen McCullough on the bus, rushing breathlessly to the end, trying to find out how this tale could possibly end!

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Carmie Delmonico is a Lieutenant with the Holloman Police Department in Holloman, Connecticut.  Holloman is known for its university, its hospital and medical school, and its “Hug.”  The Hug, as the prestigious neuroscience research centre is known (for reasons I will leave other readers to discover), is a formidable place – richly endowed, lavishly run, overwhelmingly blessed with scientific talent and acumen.  But all the outward graces in the world cannot protect the Hug from a monster intent on destruction.

The dismembered body of a teenager is found in the refrigerator in which the Hug’s researchers place their deceased lab animals for disposal.  It quickly becomes apparent, because the discovery was a freak accident, that the refrigerator has been used as a conduit for disposing of murdered human remains before, and with frightening regularity.  Lieutenant Delmonico must infiltrate the alternate universe that is a prestigious scientific research facility – with all its in-fighting, its internal squabbles, its singular personalities, every single one of which has something to hide. 

Delmonico and the entire Holloman Police Department long for the days of “regular” crimes committed by “regular” criminals – known offenders and those easily ferreted out – for the Connecticut Monster is nothing but a ghost, managing to kidnap and murder with seeming impunity under the careful watch of police throughout the state.  In 1965, the serial killer is a much less familiar figure than today, and Delmonico fears that he is ill-equipped to capture this ghost and stop his reign of terror.

Colleen McCullough is best known as the author of The Thorn Birds.  What I didn’t know about her is that she is a neuroscientist by training and practice – researching and teaching in the Department of Neurology at Yale Medical School.  Her training is evident in the meticulous characterization of the Hug and its unique scientific occupants.  She has also drawn a remarkably likable character in Lieutenant Carmine Delmonico.  On, Off is a well-balanced book.  There is tragedy and horror, love and family life, betrayal and come-uppance, a vivid portrait of a world on the brink of seismic change (1965 America), solid police work and red herrings galore.  McCullough’s perspective tends toward the epic, which makes this novel much more than justa murder mystery.  Though I am looking forward to reading about Delmonico’s further adventures in Too Many Murders and Naked Cruelty.

Down-to-Read with Daniela: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
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Age Group:
Young Adult

Genre:
Fantasy, Adventure, Coming-of-age, Fairytale, Fiction, Suspense

Summary:
Meghan Chase is hiding a secret. One she never could have imagined. When life starts getting weird – a mysterious stranger’s lurking around and her prankster friend is becoming oddly protective – Meghan knows something is up. Suddenly her brother disappears and she is forced into a mysterious world of fairies, gnomes and dangerous new enemies. Meghan’s life is changed forever when she discovers she is fairy royalty. And she’s about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime to save herself and the ones she loves.

My Thoughts:
The Iron King is a fantasy novel with plenty of twists and turns, making it a very fast paced read. Meghan is a relatable character who sticks to her guns. The book also isn’t too fluffy in the romance department, making it an accessible read for both guys and girls. Readers looking for a unique concept with plenty of adventure and action will find The Iron King irresistible.

Borrow The Iron King from your local Vaughan Library today!