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Reader Writer Runner (Victoria, BC)
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The Lowland
The Lowland
by Jhumpa Lahiri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
7 used & new from CDN$ 12.27

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Nov. 6 2013
This review is from: The Lowland (Hardcover)
Jhumpa Lahiri is nothing short of my literary hero. She consistently writes with intense depth and clarity, forcing the reader to find meaning in the spaces between her unadorned, declarative sentences. Though the subject matter of her newest novel did not initially excite my interest, Lahiri certainly lives up to her reputation as Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

"The Lowland" tells a tale of two continents in an era of political tumult, growing from a simple tale into a complexity of moral questions and revelations that continue through generations. The protagonist, Subhash, has a cautious and careful manner, avoiding risk unlike his 15-month-younger brother, the impetuous Udayan. Joined at the hip throughout their boyhoods in Calcutta, they eventually choose very different paths: Subhash moves to America to pursue his education and eventually an academic career in scientific research, while Udayan becomes increasingly involved in Indian radical militancy. While Subhash passively waits for his life to unfold, Udayan defies his parents by returning home with a wife he has impulsively courted rather than submitting to an arranged marriage. But when crisis unfolds, Subhash must return to India where he gains a pregnant wife and, soon, a daughter, to bring back to America.

At times frustrating in its circularity, "The Lowland" did not top my list of Lahiri's work. However, the author has ultimately produced a masterful novel spanning more than four decades and vividly creating a family shaped by the events that both tear its members apart and bring them together.

Safe Kids, Smart Parents: What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Children Safe
Safe Kids, Smart Parents: What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Children Safe
by Rebecca Bailey
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Nov. 4 2013
Family psychologist Rebecca Bailey has teamed up with her sister, psychiatric nurse Elizabeth Bailey to produce a helpful and important albeit grim reminder of the threat children face from predators.

"Safe Kids, Smart Parents" contains two sections: one intended for adults and the second for (older) children. Both convey the importance of environmental awareness and vigilance and emphasize that caregivers must teach kids not to trust strangers. The smart and accessible "Safe Kid Kit" towards the end of the book presents separate chapters addressed to different age ranges. Tactics include playing games like I Spy to foster observational skills and remaining in close contact by phone, especially difficult with independent teenagers.

Though at times the book seems quick to install fear and paranoia, the authors do provide some frightening statistics about child abductions. They emphasize the painful truth that parents need to install in their children not only a wariness of strangers but one of all elders including coaches, teachers and ministers.

Little Hide And Seek Things That Go
Little Hide And Seek Things That Go
by Dorling Kindersley
Edition: Board book
Price: CDN$ 7.99
30 used & new from CDN$ 2.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., Oct. 30 2013
This fun, surprise pop-up book encourages hide and seek on every page. Toddlers and preschoolers help workers hunt for their lost vehicles, searching through collections of bright pictures for boats, trucks, cars, planes and farm equipment. Each page contains a riddle, a hidden toy train and a bit of information about how the machines and emergency vehicles work and the final page folds out into an extra-detailed I spy scene. Great for adults and kids to look, learn and play together.

Frostings
Frostings
by Courtney Dial Whitmore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.32
38 used & new from CDN$ 13.20

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Oct. 30 2013
This review is from: Frostings (Hardcover)
A post on the author's website claims that "Frostings" teaches creative ways to style and serve food as well as providing delicious recipes. Indeed, the book contains gorgeous, inspirational photos though it sorely lacks information on how to produce the photographed desserts. ALL it gives readers is frosting recipes, each including a tiny box called "Garnish It!" that contains extremely basic ideas like sprinkling chopped nuts.

The book certainly provides a solid repertoire of frostings, from buttercreams to ganaches to glazes, but it seems awfully unfair to present a photo of a fluffy cupcake piled with hot pink icing and chocolate glaze and then to ONLY give the recipe for the glaze.

Maybe 2.5 stars...

Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
by John Medina
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.64
16 used & new from CDN$ 12.64

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Oct. 30 2013
Brain scientist John Medina has a refreshing aptitude for making neurology accessible to the general public. In "Brain Rules for Baby," he argues that one's behaviour as a parent in the child's first five years of life "profoundly influences how she or he will behave as an adult."

Medina cites seven ingredients of intelligence, starting with the two basics: memory and improvisation, or, the ability to record information and the capacity to adapt that information to different situations. A desire to explore, self-control, creativity, verbal communication and decoding nonverbal communication round out his definition. Starting with pregnancy, Medina identifies four keys to encourage baby's brain development: appropriate weight gain, good nutrition, moderate exercise and low stress levels. From there, he advocates for a year of breastfeeding, talking to your baby frequently, engaging in open-ended play, and taking care to praise effort over IQ.

Medina then turns to happiness, another elusive term, which psychologist Daniel Gilbert breaks down into three aspects: emotional happiness, moral happiness and judgmental happiness. Behaviours that predict happiness include satisfying relationships, performing altruistic acts, displaying gratitude, sharing experiences with a loved one and practising forgiveness. Raising a happy child primarily involves teaching him/her to socialize effectively, displaying emotional regulation and empathy. How? By creating a demanding by warm parenting style, by feeling comfortable with your own emotions, by unobtrusively keeping track of how your child feels and by verbalizing emotions.

Considered individually, Medina's "rules" may seem like no-brainers but his synthesis of information paints a complete, comprehensive picture of best practices in child-rearing. Crucially, he even reminds us that healthy spousal relationships also play a major role in raising a smart, happy child. Beware of sleep loss, social isolation and unequal workload and strive to communicate openly and empathetically.

No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process
No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process
by Colin Beavan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
11 used & new from CDN$ 7.62

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Oct. 29 2013
Modern bookstore shelves certainly lack for neither "how to live greener" guides nor year-long project memoirs. However, in the witty and entertaining "No Impact Man," Colin Beavan combines narrative with philosophical musings resulting in a unique read on an otherwise tired subject.

Spurred by a sudden concern about climate change, Beavan begins by producing no garbage, traveling carbon-free, eating low impact food, and buying only used items. He then progresses to using no electricity, conserving as much water as possible, and, finally, offsetting any remaining impacts through good works such as volunteering for an environmental group. Throughout the book, he confronts difficult questions: do people work in the rat race just as a means to buy more stuff? What are we striving for? What does happiness mean? Ultimately, Beavan realizes that reducing his impact on the Earth has made him happier, has deepened his community and family connections, and has inspired him to exercise and eat healthily without deprivation.

Beavan freely admits that he had no idea what he was getting his family into; he remains candid about his difficulties and confusions. Thus, readers end up cheering for the narrator as he struggles to make the best choices for the Earth and for his family. The book proves that, whether by taking the stairs, eating less meat, carrying a re-usable mug or investing in solar power, everyone can do something. And, more importantly, by learning that a sustainable, low-consumption lifestyle can translate into a happier lifestyle, it shows that society needs a new definition of success, one that does not focus on monetary gain.

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
by Amanda Ripley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
44 used & new from CDN$ 16.92

5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Oct. 24 2013
According to investigative journalist Amanda Ripley’s research, most American students, even those from the top private and public school districts, cannot analyze, synthesize and form their own opinions about the material they study. But why? "The Smartest Kids in the World" attempts to answer this question in a fascinating and brilliant comparison of the US to the homes of three of the most successful education systems in the world: Finland, Poland and South Korea. Drawing on the expertise of US exchange students, Ripley outlines the major reforms and economic imperatives that brought about educational changes in these countries and discusses the day-to-day ramifications of them.

Impeccably researched and engaging, the book comes alive through Kim, Tom and Eric. Kim finds out that gaining admission to a teacher training program in Finland equates to getting into MIT and revels in the freedom teenagers have to manage their time. Eric astonishingly witnesses Korean students, whose school day routinely runs 12-15 hours, sleeping in class on their own pillows. Tom listens to Polish students argue about philosophy in a coffeehouse and finds that, to them, some degree of failure is normal and acceptable. These insider observations provide amusement and illumination, highlighting the values and practices that these countries have cultivated to help their kids succeed.

Finally, Ripley addresses the roles played by child poverty, multiculturalism, technology, extracurricular activities and parental involvement in successful education. The book ends on a positive note, asserting that any education system can reform as long as policymakers, teachers and students can tolerate feeling uncomfortable in the process.

The Slap
The Slap
by Christos Tsiolkas
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.71
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Oct. 23 2013
This review is from: The Slap (Paperback)
In "The Slap," a small incident turns into a big novel: the slapping of a four-year-old brat at a BBQ in suburban Melbourne balloons into 500 pages that follow the lives of eight witnesses. Hector, a civil servant of Greek origin, and his Indian wife, Aisha, host the event while Hector's cousin, Harry, administers the slap to Hugo, spoilt son of ex-hippy Rosie and alcoholic Gary. Hector's parents as well as Anouk, a Jewish, single, 40-something friend of Aisha's round out the cast of main characters.

As the novel digs into the lives of these individuals, the actual slap gets sidetracked as Christos Tsiolkas deftly concentrates on Australia's multicultural relations, balancing tensions, animosities, fissures and relationships. Certainly, his prose sometimes reads awkwardly and some characters pique more interest than others but, on the whole, this edgy book constantly pushes boundaries and questions assumptions. From racism to the contradictions of liberalism to the crisis of masculinity, "The Slap" invokes unease while providing a gripping read.

City Signs
City Signs
by Zoran Milich
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.60
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., Oct. 22 2013
This review is from: City Signs (Paperback)
In Zoran Milich's second picture book, thirty colourful camera shots illustrate how letters, symbols, shapes, and colours communicate important information. Framed by wide white borders, Milich’s city photos cover all the bases. They capture street, park, pool, and beach signs. They include emergency and other transportation vehicles, as well as storefront, directional, and cautionary signage. The signs appear on buildings, posts, windows, containers, booths, fences, and even people.

This attractive early learning and reading resource focuses on early childhood and family literacy. It contains much opportunity to seek out letters, shapes, and colours that appear on more than one page and to watch for the real life signs during walks and drives.

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
21 used & new from CDN$ 10.87

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., Oct. 17 2013
This review is from: Crazy Rich Asians (Hardcover)
As its title indicates, "Crazy Rich Asians" tells the story of, well, crazy rich Asians. A lot of them. So many, in fact, that the novel includes a two-page genealogy to help readers keep track of all its outrageously spoiled and wealthy characters.

The cabal of connected families, from Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland China, Malaysia and Australia possesses limitless funds, a hearty appetite for opulence and gossip and questionable taste. Basically, Kevin Kwan relates what unfolds when Nicholas Young, billionaire heir to the fortune of one of Singapore’s oldest families, brings his girlfriend Rachel Chu home from New York to attend the wedding of the season. The secondary story centres around Nicholas's cousin, Astrid Leong, and her faltering marriage to Michael Teo. But these slim plot lines mostly serve as excuses for Kwan to describe the consumerism and social excesses of the wealthiest families in Asia. The author has obviously studied the goings-on of the real-life counterparts to these families; his jaw-dropping descriptions of such jet-setters embody the train wreck paradox: too horrifying to want to keep reading but too engrossing to turn away.

Though sharp and humourous, the book feels about 100 pages too long. Reading about retail therapy shopping trips for $358,000 diamond rings ceases to provide entertainment after a while and ultimately only underscores the characters' shallowness. That may be Kwan's point but it certainly doesn't foster empathy for any of the characters. Additionally, Kwan's footnotes range from witty to strangely self-referential and end up providing distraction to the point of annoyance.

Though hardly profound literature, "Crazy Rich Asians" provides a great beach read or an entertaining companion for a long-haul flight, especially one to Asia.

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