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Reader Writer Runner (Victoria, BC)

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Sleeping Naked Is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days
Sleeping Naked Is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days
by Vanessa Farquharson
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., May 4 2014
After watching "An Inconvenient Truth," journalist Vanessa Farquharson feels compelled to become more "green." She decides that she will make one environmental change per day for a year and blog about her progress. Her changes run the gamut from the simple (changing to recycled paper towels) to the slightly silly (sleeping naked to reduce laundry loads) to the extreme (turning off her refrigerator and oven). "Sleeping Naked is Green" doesn't read like a compilation of blog posts but rather like a diary. Each chapter opens with a chart of the author's changes for the entire month, then journal-like entries for especially interesting or pertinent days follow. Along the way, readers learn about her green changes, their impact on her days and a great deal (perhaps too much) about the inner workings of her personal and professional life.

Farquharson displays her skill as a writer; readers will laugh as her cat accidentally dives into a 'fermenting' toilet bowl and as her homemade worm compost bin accidentally falls apart on the living room carpet. The author marvels at the internal changes to her own body when she adjusts to life without much heating and air conditioning and subsequently notices "hot flashes" in other people's homes. As such, the book provides an entertaining read even without such interesting green information as the fact that many non-organic beekeepers kill their bees at the end of each season, whereas most organic beekeepers do not because of the expense of getting a hive certified as organic.

But the book certainly bears its flaws. A self-described cynic, Farquharson maintains a careful lightheartedness but also maligns the green movement in shallow and childish ways. She deems others too idealistic ('eager beavers'), too serious ('serious activists'), and too fashion-impaired (she hates Teva, Birkenstock, and Gore-Tex) while spending and entire pay check on one pair of pants and frequently bemoaning her lack of a boyfriend. Her casual approach can also sometimes undermine her message: she pledges to drink local alcohol, organic produce, and "happy meat" but admits to eating out more frequently on purpose because restaurants provide an exception to her rules. And, while she offsets her travels with carbon credits, she does a LOT of flying to Europe and Israel to visit friends and relatives. I somehow doubt that going to the bathroom before boarding to save the extra gasoline required to carry her full bladder makes much difference on a 3000+ mile haul.

Some of the author's supposedly green choices may raise eyebrows. She continues to eat meat and signs up for a butchering class to raise her own awareness of where her food comes from, but she shuns any rennet-based cheese because she finds the process "horrifying." Indeed, Farquharson can come across as endearingly shallow, too metropolitan, and too willing to bend her rules when it suits her. On the other hand, she does make countless serious and brave changes, including giving up her fridge and living with vases filled with carrots. She laughs at her own mistakes and foibles while supplying readers with thought-provoking ideas; bio-degradable pens, kitchen scrubs made from recycled plastic, organic honey to save the bee population, Diva Cups, and corn-based cat litter are just a few suggestions from this ultimately clever read.

Boom! Boom! Boom!
Boom! Boom! Boom!
by Jamie A. Swenson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 13.71
28 used & new from CDN$ 8.46

4.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., May 1 2014
This review is from: Boom! Boom! Boom! (Hardcover)
"BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!" depicts a brave young boy who comforts his friends during a thunderstorm. Swenson begins, "One stormy night, I jumped into bed. Safe with a book and my bear named Fred" and, from there, introduces a cast of unlikely friends that ultimately band together to overcome the scary weather. The book handles fear with a combination of first person matter-of-fact narration, wit, energy, and rhythmic language. As a bonus, Swenson includes an engaging counting element as the snug bed grows more crowded page after page. With soft colours and a touch of humour, the charming illustrations by David Walker offer anticipation and reassurance throughout the story.

This narrator offers young children a strong role model as he remains calm and welcoming in the face of fear. An excellent illustration of the fact that we can not choose our feelings but we can control our reactions.

Big Rig
Big Rig
by Jamie A. Swenson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 12.99
30 used & new from CDN$ 6.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., April 28 2014
This review is from: Big Rig (Hardcover)
"Big Rig" follows Frankie, a giant semi with an even larger personality, on a rollicking cross country adventure. Colourful illustrations accompany a lively text rich in sound effects; indeed, Swenson, a children's librarian, capitalizes on all the fun noises trucks make to produce an entertaining out-loud read for both adults and kids.

Truck-crazy youngsters will surely request this book over and over but fear not: the charming prose stands up to re-reads!

Twenty-six Pirates: An Alphabet Book
Twenty-six Pirates: An Alphabet Book
by Dave Horowitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 13.14
30 used & new from CDN$ 2.58

4.0 out of 5 stars Story Time Again..., April 26 2014
Not your average ABC book, "Twenty-Six Pirates" combines the alphabet, rhyming, AND a litany of pirates to create a swashbuckling adventure!

An initial warning to all non gender-stereotyping readers: this book contains only boy pirates whereas Horowitz's companion, "Twenty-Six Princesses," covers the girls. If you can get over the latent sexism, you'll appreciate the book's humour and uniqueness. Progressing through the alphabet, each page displays a boldly illustrated pirate, who the text names and describes in short rhymed sentences e.g. "Pirate Doug. Needs a hug." and my personal favourite: "Pirate Ulysses. Swims with the fishes."

The pirates all have comical facial expressions and some wear rings, hats or necklaces bearing initials, turning each page into a mini-treasure hunt. A fun, interactive read for 4-8 year olds!

By Deborah Cohen - A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic - and How We Can End It
By Deborah Cohen - A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic - and How We Can End It
by Deborah Cohen
Edition: Hardcover
4 used & new from CDN$ 21.43

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., April 25 2014
Around one in two hardware stores sells food. This telling statistic sums up the thesis of "A Big Fat Crisis": Thanks to an aggressive food industry, nowhere are we free from the temptation to make poor dietary decisions. Deborah A. Cohen, a medical doctor and senior scientist at the RAND Corp., takes the blame for obesity away from those carrying extra pounds and smacks it on their environment. Just as cancer results from exposure to a carcinogenic environment, she argues, “obesity is primarily the result of exposure to an obesogenic environment.” She presents a credible diagnosis though her proposed cure in the form of expansive government regulation requires a big stretch of realism.

The first section of the book describes a litany of cognitive vulnerabilities. Cohen describes our susceptibility to subtle behavioural triggers that tell us to indulge. And because of an evolutionary landscape of scarce sustenance, we overeat when the opportunity presents itself. On average, Americans weigh 20 pounds more today than 30 years ago. Did everyone simply become more irresponsible? Unlikely.

The environment in which we make our food choices HAS changed in recent decades. In the second section of her book, Cohen highlights three big fattening factors: the reduced price of food, the increased availability of food, and the increased intrusiveness of food advertising. These first two sections cover a lot of already-covered ground but the book's third section presents radical, ground-breaking and, to some, upsetting policy recommendations.

Cohen’s first policy proposal involves the standardization of portion sizes; she thinks restaurants should serve food in single-portion units just as bars serve alcohol in units. Second, she argues that the government should limit “impulse marketing” by banning food from stores that aren’t dedicated to food, restricting combo meals at restaurants and keeping drive-thru windows closed outside meal times. Third, she advocates for counter-advertising that would make the downsides of fattening food more salient.

Dramatically but poignantly, Cohen compares the current obesity crisis to 1800s London, when people tossed filth out the window and left rotting carcasses in the streets, leading to widespread disease. England finally enforced sanitation standards, which required reengineering centuries-old towns to build sewers. Cohen maintains that only the same drastic reengineering will reverse the obesity epidemic. “People are suffering,” she writes, “and thus need protection.”

The 21-Day Sugar Detox: Bust Sugar & Carb Cravings Naturally
The 21-Day Sugar Detox: Bust Sugar & Carb Cravings Naturally
by Diane Sanfilippo BS NC
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 25.04
39 used & new from CDN$ 22.13

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., April 24 2014
I approach all diet books with extreme wariness, especially those which label a whole food group as evil. But "The 21-Day Sugar Detox" falls into the "everyone else has read it" category so I figured I'd get with the proverbial program and give it a skim.

Whether new to a sugar-free, grain-free diet or looking to fine-tune current habits, Diane Sanfilippo's program can help readers reset taste buds and focus on whole foods. Thankfully, it requires buying neither supplements nor shake mixes. It doesn’t entail living on juices, smoothies, and fat-free dairy and it doesn't restrict caloric intake. Instead, The 21 Day Sugar Detox touts high quality animal source proteins, good fats, nutrient-dense vegetables and small amounts of low-glycemic fresh fruits. The plan includes three levels of adherence, each targeted to groups with particular needs. Athletes, pregnant or lactating mothers, pescatarians, and those with an autoimmune disorder can all find an appropriate level along with three weeks of easy to follow menus.

While not exactly a fad diet, this sugar detox seems neither sustainable nor recommendable beyond 21 days. The plan's restrictions mean a huge amount of shopping and food prep and, while cutting down on sugar and refined carbohydrates can certainly improve one's health, entirely eliminating whole grains and fruit will not get the thumbs up from most nutritionists.

The book's well-presented recipes contain ingredient tips, chef’s notes, suggestions for sides, and substitutions. The "Banola" (grain-free granola) has a mild sweetness and satisfying crunch while the Creamy Herb Mashed Cauliflower provides a satisfying alternative to mashed potatoes using a much more nutritious, fiber-rich vegetable. Just don't forget to serve some multi-grain toast on the side!

All Joy And No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
All Joy And No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
by Jennifer Senior
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.00
37 used & new from CDN$ 9.43

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., April 14 2014
Helicopter Parents...Tiger Moms...Panda Dads...bookstore shelves groan under the weight of resources explaining the effects of parenting styles on children. But how does having children affect parents? In the fascinating "All Joy and No Fun," Jennifer Senior connects a barrage of scholarship to her own case studies of numerous middle class families in an attempt to answer this complex question.

Senior organizes her chapters loosely by stage of childhood, explaining how each stage impacts parents both physically and emotionally. Infancy leads to sleeplessness, toddlerhood to constant negotiation, middle childhood to overscheduled lives, and the teenage years to inevitable self-reflection. Senior does not offer a how-to manual for parents here; she writes about parent-HOOD not parent-ING and gracefully shows how each generation of children inevitably and irrevocably changes the generation of parents who bore them.

Senior proves her talent as a writer throughout the book, transporting the reader into a family's Brooklyn kitchen on one page then beautifully glossing a complicated academic text on the next. Additionally, Senior does not shy from offering a dissenting opinion on oft-cited studies, making her a wise and cautious guide on the subject. As the mother of a 3.5 year old, my head nodded the whole time I read as I found numerous passages that begged to be shared with friends.

Yes, Senior concludes, life as a parent might not be much "fun." But something else lies in the experience of sharing life with children: meaning, connectedness, legacy and, above all, joy.

Bark: Stories
Bark: Stories
by Lorrie Moore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
6 used & new from CDN$ 11.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., April 9 2014
This review is from: Bark: Stories (Hardcover)
Although Lorrie Moore fans will have likely already encountered many of the eight stories that comprise her latest collection (four appeared in "The New Yorker"), familiarity does not, in Moore's case, breed contempt. Her opening story, "Debarking," (first published in 2003) for example, in which the newly divorced Ira begins a relationship with a quasi-insane pediatrician, Zora, as U.S. troops muster to invade Iraq, collides past with present. Time has added a layer of dramatic irony to a masterpiece of a story, creating a devastating feeling in the heart of the reader.

"Debarking" shines as the collection's hit: linguistic wit and slapstick comedy couple with sad moments of solitude in the face of war and culminate in a shockingly perfect ending. But each story in "Bark" recommends itself. The longest of the bunch, “Wings,” depicts the uneven relationship between KC and Dench and invites readers to ponder the dangers of co-dependence, the nature of time and the worth of marriage's daily absurdities. In "Referential," the collection's dark horse, a mother and her ex-boyfriend, Pete, visit her institutionalized, suicidal son on his 16th birthday. The story does not impress or satisfy as instantly as the others but it may leave the biggest impression, haunting the reader long after its end.

A deftly wrought variety of stories that collude hilarity and heartbreak.

The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.99
13 used & new from CDN$ 9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., April 2 2014
This review is from: The Rosie Project (Paperback)
"I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem." Such an opening sentence carries enormous potential: are we about to read a murder mystery? An adulterous romance novel? A relationship self-help book? As it turns out, "The Rosie Project" classifies more as an endearing romantic comedy featuring a socially inept but somehow charming narrator. Thirty-nine year old genetics professor Don Tillman has never experienced a second date and boasts a total of two friends: his colleague, Gene, and Gene's wife, Claudia who together have an open relationship that allows Gene to pursue his ambition of sleeping with a woman from every country in the world. Gene and Claudia try to help Don find love based on the "traditional dating paradigm" but, after a string of failures, Don takes matters into his own hands and hatches The Wife Project.

Don designs a detailed questionnaire to filter out unpromising candidates (the tardy, the overweight, the vegetarians, the drinkers and the smokers) but then meets Rosie, who fails on almost every score. Although on paper a romantic relationship with the drinking, smoking French nymphomaniac seems unlikely, Rosie enlists Don's genetic expertise to help find her natural father (The Father Project), throwing the pair into an entertaining series of comic set pieces and occasionally life-threatening situations.

Graeme Simsion's warm-hearted, well-pitched novel only suffers from predictability and occasional cheesiness. With lightly worn but profound themes, this enjoyable read teaches us both to see the humour in our own incomprehensible behaviour and and embrace the differently abled.

by Jo Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81
18 used & new from CDN$ 12.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., March 27 2014
This review is from: Longbourn (Hardcover)
"It is a truth universally acknowledged" that one could fill a bookcase with prequels, sequels and other reworkings of Jane Austen’s novels. None of them would match Austen's quality, of course, but Jo Baker's "Longbourn" might come closest. This engaging and imaginative new novel focuses on the downstairs life at Longbourn, the house where the Bennets of “Pride and Prejudice” live. Refreshingly, the author does not attempt to imitate Austen’s style and actually pays little attention to Austen’s major characters. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet receive some fleshing out though Baker focuses most closely on the "help": teenaged Sarah and Polly and a newly hired servant, James Smith.

In great detail, "Longbourn" depicts the mountain of work that the servants face daily: James serves meals, cares for the horses and drives the Bennet girls around town; Sarah begins her day at dawn pumping water and ends it late at night after emptying chamber pots, washing clothes, cleaning the floors, running errands, helping in the kitchen, cleaning boots, mending dresses, fixing hairdos, lacing stays and fastening many buttoned gowns.

Baker also deftly compares the interests of the servants to those of the Bennets. It comes as no surprise that the residents of downstairs have little time to contemplate the Bennet's family affairs though one fact weighs on everyone's minds: they lack a son to inherit the house. Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, fears that when Mr. Collins inherits the house, he will bring with him his own staff, putting them all out of a job. Thus, downstairs sees his marriage to Charlotte Lucas, who knows and appreciates the Longbourn servants, as a blessing whereas upstairs Mrs. Bennet deems it a disaster. Similarly, Wickham’s marriage to Lydia, a serious evil to the Bennets, takes his lascivious eye off Polly, the little maid whose life would be ruined if she paid him as much attention as he paid her.

Jo Baker’s thoroughly researched description of the servants’ toil ultimately depicts a life now impossible to imagine. She also thoughtfully adds a back story of James‘ life as a soldier in the Peninsula War in response to critics who have complained that, though Austen set “Pride and Prejudice” during the Napoleonic wars, she paid them scant heed. Perhaps most importantly, “Longbourn” invites questions about why “Pride and Prejudice” still exerts such influence on writers and filmmakers. Possibly its characters, each with his/her own charms and difficulties, open the door to the imagination. At any rate, of the many literary rethinkings of Austen’s work, “Longbourn” ranks among the most rewarding.

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