Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Bird Factory by David Layton

David Layton’s The Bird Factory is an upbeat and peculiar account of a couple’s attempts to get pregnant from a man’s point of view. Julia wants a baby and will go to great lengths to have one. She’s willing to try fertility drugs as well as in vitro fertilization if they can’t have one naturally. As for Luke, he’s apathetic. Not just about the baby, he’s apathetic about everything. He doesn’t want to fix what isn’t broken; he doesn’t want to rock the boat. He’s perfectly content with Julia and his life with her, so he can’t figure out why she wants to bring children into the mix.

I really enjoyed this story. It was a fun and quick read with unique, quirky and eccentric characters. While I didn’t like Luke or Julia all that much, I did think Philip was sort of interesting. Even though it was hard to get to know him, he really grew on me after awhile. Luke’s childhood sounded a bit absurd with his father’s homemade river running through his basement and his mother disappearing and reappearing periodically. I’m surprised he wasn’t more screwed up.

My favourite part of the book, though, was the bird factory. Over the years, I’ve developed a fondness for birds, even the wooden kind. I was fascinated with the descriptions of the birds and the factory itself. Even though it was filled with strange characters, it sounds like a place I’d like.

Recommended. I’d definitely read another book by Layton.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Big-Ass Book of Crafts by Mark Montano

In The Big-Ass Book of Crafts. Mark Montano offers crafters a multitude of crafts that are “home-worthy”. They are hip, trendy, fun, inspired but most of all absolutely beautiful. The book is filled with colourful photos of the creations; some projects even have step-by-step photos to supplement the instructions. Those are always handy.

Within each project, Mark has included a list of needed materials (most should be very easy to find and many crafters will also have these items on hand already) and instructions on how to complete the project. While a few of the crafts were a little short on instruction, a crafter should be able to figure out how to complete the project without too much trouble.

You don’t have to get further than page 8 to realize Mark has a wonderful sense of humour and that this book is going to be fun. On that particular page called “Kid Art”, the list of supplies includes: “Kids, preferably nieces and nephews. If you don’t have your own, borrow some!” and “premade cookie dough”. The first instruction is “Put the cookies in the oven”. [Hey Mark. Wanna come to my house to play? I didn’t have a cool uncle who baked me cookies.] For even more fun, the chapter names are hilarious! They include: “I made this for you…so you better love it!”, “I’ve been Felt up” and “More stuff to dust” just to name a few.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a few Popsicle stick projects in the book. These types of crafts were popular when I was a kid. I didn’t realize they came back into fashion, but they really fit in with the other projects in the book. Awesome.

My favourite thing about the book is the number of ideas I had by looking at Mark’s projects. As I flipped through the book, I thought of at least a dozen other projects to create using his ideas as stepping off points. I’ll be sure to give him full credit when someone asks me “Where did you get that idea from?”

My husband may even be interested in a few of these projects. He’s not a ‘crafty’ person per se, but he is handy when he wants to be. The “Copper-Tube Lantern”, “Copper-Tube Candelabra” and “Wood Scrap Book Mirror” are right up his alley. I might be able to turn him into a crafter yet. (Ok, I’m not going to hold my breath, but a girl can dream, can’t she?) And, oh, my sister is going to love the outdoor chandelier. It’s going to fit with her backyard décor perfectly.

I laughed out loud when I saw a “coffeepot” in the list of supplies. Step one in any of my projects is: Make coffee. I’m glad Mark and I agree that coffee is a much-needed item in crafting. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

This book will be used and treasured for many years to come.

Highly recommend and a must have for cool crafters.

Love Falls by Esther Freud

In Love Falls, Lambert invites his daughter, Lara, to holiday with him in Tuscany. He is going to visit an old friend, Carolyn who is not well. Even though Lara is not close with her father, she accepts his invitation. While there, Lara meets some of Lambert’s old friends and their children and enjoys the company of one particular young man, Kip. She doesn’t realize that danger is right around the corner and she could lose more than her heart.

I really enjoyed this book. It was well written and a good escape for a dreary February. The story is written from Lara’s point of view so we see the story, the countryside and the other characters through her eyes. What a different story this would be had it been written from Lambert’s or Kip’s. After reading Freud’s description of the Palio, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on TV. [We used to get an Italian TV station with our cable package.] I can see why Caroline was so excited about it. It provided some excitement and contrast to the sightseeing trips, picnics and walks in Tuscany.

While Lara was the typical teenager and was very likeable, I didn’t care much for Lara’s father. He was so distant and I had a hard time understanding why he even asked Lara to accompany him to Italy. He paid so little attention to her on the journey there and once they arrived. The author hinted at his past with many of the characters, but she didn’t get into anything concrete. That left me with tons of questions and wanting more information. I’m left to conclude that the author purposely left Lambert’s past as vague as possible to put the emphasis on Lara’s life.

My one complaint is the use of Italian. I love being exposed to other languages, but almost always need some help from the author to understand what’s being said. Freud didn’t always provide a translation and I couldn’t decipher what was being said from the context. I felt like I was missing part of the story. I finally looked up a few on the Internet, but it just wasn’t the same.

I’d definitely recommend this book. I’m looking forward to reading more works by this author.

Londonstani by Gautam Malkani

“Londonstani” is a powerful and fascinating novel about 4 young men who are struggling with growing up, fitting in, traditions of the desi (Asian) cultures, parents and “complicated family-related shit”. Hardjit, the Sikh; Ravi, “a sheep following the herd”; Amit, whose brother is about to marry; and Jas, the narrator, become involved in a cell phone scam and meet nefarious individuals that can only mean trouble.

Written in a mixture of text speak, British and teenage slang, Punjabi, and “gangsta rap” (as well as regular English), the story was a little hard to follow at first. As I read further, I got used to the writing and the story really came through. After a few chapters, I didn’t want to put the book down. The writing slowed down my reading quite a bit, but it was so worth the effort. It’s definitely a worthwhile read.

I loved this book. I had some reservations at the beginning, but it didn’t take long for those to evaporate. Despite some of the distressing events that happen in the book, the story is funny and entertaining. It’s also touching, disturbing and educational. I learned a lot about the different cultures, including dowries and traditions, as well as a little about cell phones and the criminal environment in which these boys have found themselves.

My favourite character was Jas, the narrator of the story. We get to see this the gang and the different cultures through his eyes. Because he was awkward, he didn’t quite fit in with the other members, even though he desperately wanted to. He was constantly tormented by the others, yet stuck around and took it all for the sake of fitting in. I also loved reading about Amit and Arun’s mother. In her eyes, her family wasn’t receiving the respect it should from Arun’s fiancée and her family. With all due respect to the culture and traditions of it, I thought some of her complaints were a bit neurotic. However, I can relate because my sisters and I often conflict about our old Christmas family traditions. I’m the one that refuses to let them go.

The ending, I think, was the biggest surprise of the book and it’s not to be missed. While some elements of the story remain “unsolved”, the ending is pure delight. I’m still shaking my head with amusement as to how the author brilliantly pulled it off. Well done.

Highly recommended.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Glamour, Interrupted by Steven Cojocaru

In Glamour, Interrupted: How I Became the Best-Dressed Patient in Hollywood, Steven “Cojo” Cojocaru takes the reader along on his journey with polycystic kidney disease (PKD). He gives a behind-the-scenes look at the doctors, the disease, the pills, the donors, and the transplants.

Before I read this book, I had barely heard of Cojo. I’d seen him on TV a few times, but didn’t know anything about his life or his disease. I didn’t even know that he was Canadian. I suspected that he might have an interesting story to tell and I was right. He’s charming, sensitive and laugh-out-loud funny.

I really enjoyed reading this book. His presentation is touching and informative and he adds just the right amount of humour and “edge” to make it entertaining as well. For me, he gave the disease a face. He wasn’t writing this as an “outsider”, he’s lived through this experience, knows the disease intimately and shares that with the reader. I think that shows great courage and strength. It was all very interesting. While modern medicine has made huge advances in transplant surgeries, I had no clue how many drugs/medications/complications there are associated with transplants. From that perspective, this story was also educational.

I’m sure fans will enjoy this book, but I’d also recommend it to anyone looking for a touching, very human story or to those wanting to know more about PKD from a patients perspective.

I’ve put Steven’s Red Carpet Diaries: Confessions of a Glamour Boy on my list of books to pick up on my travels. I hope it’s as good as this one.

Happiness for Two by Alexandra Stoddard

In Happiness for Two, Alexandra Stoddard offers 75 helpful hints to improve your relationship with your significant other and to find happiness together. However, it’s not only for couples. She also provides information on bettering yourself. The chapters are short, but the subject matter and points she makes are important. Each one starts and ends with an inspirational quote from various sources. Some of these are real gems.

I really liked this book. The information is great for couples, but it would also benefit those in between relationships and those “looking for love”. One of my favourite chapters is “Set aside Times to Sit and Read Together”. My husband and I started doing this about 2 years ago and it’s one of our favourite relaxing pastimes now.

Most of the hints are straightforward and expected. These include points like remembering important dates, not correcting each other in public and using eye contact when talking to your partner. However, some of the hints surprised me. These include points like writing each other’s New Year’s resolutions (you write them together) and being careful with surprises. Not only has this book given me lots of stuff to think about and act upon, but also it’s sure to provide interesting topics for our dinner table discussions. [Yes, that’s another hint Stoddard gives – eat as many meals together as possible.]

I’m going to save this book and reread it. However, I’ll probably read one or two points a day rather than try to read the whole thing within a week or two. Perhaps I’ll even get my husband to read it. Well, maybe just parts of it (like the chapter on bringing home flowers or the one on treating your wife like a queen…well, ok, there’s a chapter on flowers, but not one on queens, but there should be.) Maybe I’ll just tell him what it says. ;) This really isn’t the kind of thing he likes to read, but I’ll try. I think it’ll be beneficial to us both.

Recommended. I’m looking forward to reading more works by Stoddard.