Saturday, 31 May 2014

Women in flight

Joyce Spring
   Our local library book club enjoyed listening to Joyce Spring talk about the female pilots that she has researched while writing her non-fiction books: "Daring Lady Flyers: Canadian Women in the Early Years of Aviation", and "The Sky's the Limit: Canadian Women Bush Pilots".  Joyce is working on the final book of the trilogy and the book club was cheering her on to finish.  They even envisioned a documentary of Canadian women in Flight.

  I really enjoyed reading about women such as Olive Stark. In 1912, she was the first woman airplane passenger in Canada.  She sat beside her husband on the lower wing of his 'Curtiss'. The plane was a mass of wire and bamboo.  Her feet were dangling and she only had the wire rigging to hang onto.

Madge Graham

Madge Graham, in 1919, navigated for her husband as they flew at tree-top level from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to Grand’Mère, Quebec.  The noise from the engine made conversation impossible so Madge rigged up a miniature clothes-line to send messages. The 800 mile trip took five days and nine hours to complete with crowds greeting them at every stop.  But not everyone was impressed.  Admiral Byrd (the first man to fly the Pole) declared, "Flying seaplanes over land is suicide and taking a woman along is criminal."

  Certainly the flights were experimental and dangerous, but women continued their interest in flight and soon were taking off on their own. And now many women are qualified commercial pilots as well as bush pilots and military pilots.  Even the Snowbirds have a female wing commander.

  Joyce gave us an interesting look at women's role in aviation, but also the history of flight in Canada.  We were fascinated!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Rosie Project

   I just finished reading this book and discovered that there are
many different covers.  The book was just published last year.  It was written in Australia. 
  The English covers are interesting, but there are other covers in different languages.

We will be discussing this book in an upcoming book club, so I won't comment on it now, but it is very popular and funny.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

World Book Day

World Book Day was organized by UNESCO in 1995 to promote reading and publishing.  It began on April 23, 1995 and is celebrated every year on April 23.

Since I had written a series on "Why I Love to read", I was interested in this information, put out by the National Reading Campaign.

On the right is an 'infographic'.  It tells us that "Readers Save the World!"
"Reading is good for you! On average readers have better physical health, empathy and mental health."  Wow!
"Reading for as little as 6 minutes can reduce stress by 60%, slow heart beat, ease muscle tension and alter your state of mind!"  Wow!
I didn't include these reasons for reading in my series.


I was fascinated to see how Moose Jaw responded to world Book Day. They were declared
 Reading Town Canada.
Many, many activities were planned over the week of May 3-10 this year.  The students were doing a reading flash mob at City Hall.  That sounds fun!
Heres' another activity:
Blind Date with a Canadian Book: Didn’t your mother tell you not to judge a book by its cover? Moose Javians (that’s actually what they call themselves!) who stop into the popular cafe 23 Main Street can pick up a book wrapped in plain paper. On the house! There will be some hints about the book’s content written on the paper, but it will otherwise be a completely blind date with a Canadian book.

But my favourite:

Ceremonial Walk & Read

Robert Sawyer's short story, "The Stanley Cup Caper" was posted on the windows throughout the town. The mayor led a ceremonial walk along the main street to begin the special week.

Moose Jaw is a great town with 47 fascinating murals painted on the buildings.  I would love to have been there for World Book Week and see Robert Sawyer's words posted throughout the town.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The silent Wife

The Silent Wife
   This book is called a psychological thriller.  It certainly contains a lot of psychology, since the protagonist is a psychotherapist.  However, it didn't appear to be a thriller.  The language and feel of the book lacked suspense. In fact, the ending is announced on the second page: "a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her." Perhaps it could be called a psychological drama.
A.S.A. Harrison
   I read it on a three- day bus trip.  It kept my interest in spite of all the chatter and other bus distractions.
   There was considerable psychological theory- Freud and Adler, in particular.  Both Jodi, the protagonist, and her "husband" of 20 years had serious issues from their childhood and it seems that they were just playing out their parents' mistakes.
  There were some surprises, but also some dead ends.  Rather interesting and gets better on reflection.

The author, Susan Harrison died of cancer, at 65, before the book was published. She lived in Toronto.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Amish fiction

Wanda Brunstetter is familiar with the Amish community although she is not a part of it.  She has written a ton of Amish literature- adult fiction (series or stand-alone), novellas, cookbooks, devotionals, photography, children's books.
Her fiction series centre on Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
I just returned from that area and was very interested to see one of Wanda's books made into a stage musical.
My reaction- bizarre!
The plot is bizarre- Emma Yoder, a widow, decides to offer quilting lessons.  She gets six replies- three men and three women!  The men are: a widower with a baby, a biker fresh from jail, and an angry hen-pecked husband.  The women are: a disillusioned minister's wife, a sulky, goth teenager, and a bossy wife.
The presentation is bizarre!
They constantly break out into song, with Emma joining in on all the dance moves!  Bizarre!
Also, they added a scene about the war.  The young father was a school teacher in the book, but in the play he was a soldier.  So there were weird flashbacks.  Very unsettling and unnecessary to the plot.
The Amish are peace-loving and that addition was bizarre!
I love the Amish and feel that they are an important and wonderful  part of Pennsylvania.  I was trying to decide if this musical was making fun of the Amish.  It was unsettling!  Bizarre!
My daughter, a quilter, did not like the book - too far-fetched.  I thought it was-bizarre!
Wanda's books are all simple, easy-to-read, with God solving everyone's problems before the final page.
I prefer the real stories of the Amish.  There are many road-side stands run by Amish people in Lancaster county, and they are often willing to engage in conversation.  I admire them greatly.

Wanda Brustetter has a great following.  Amish fiction is becoming extremely popular.  Many women are  entering this field, with names like Amy, Cindy, Linda, Laura, Suzanne, Tricia, Jody, Beth.  No men!
My favourite and perhaps one of the 'originals' is Beverly Lewis.  She has written over 80 books.
The cast of "half-Stitched"

The musical is called "Half-Stitched" and is presented in a bare basement room, with folding chairs, in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Under the Wide and Starry Sky

I greatly enjoyed Nancy Horan's novel about Frank Lloyd Wright, "Loving Frank", and was sure that Robert Louis Stevenson's life would be just as fascinating in Horan's new book, "Under the Wide and Starry Sky".
The connecting theme between the two books turned out to be the women who loved these men. Both Mamah Cheney and Fanny Osbourne fell so deeply in love with these men that they gave up everything, including their children.
Fanny Osbourne was married with three children when she fell in love with Stevenson. She left her home in San Francisco to live with him in France.  When her youngest son died, she returned to the U.S.A. to try to put her marriage back together, but when she sent a message to Stevenson "I'm lost and sick- need you", he dropped everything in Scotland and traveled to California- almost dying in the process.  When he arrived she was healthy and still married.  He wandered off and nearly died.
However, eventually they married and traveled the world to find a healthy climate for his fragile health.
They finally settled in Samoa, where they built a huge house and brought all their fine furniture (including a piano), paintings and china.  That is where Stevenson died at 44.


                                                                            Robert Louis Stevenson. 1850–1894

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.


Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, an American, married Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880.CrI was prepared to love this book, but it took a long time to really get involved in the book.  I considered quitting often.  By about page 150, I began to get so involved that I didn't want to put it down.

I expected to love this book, but really struggled through the first 150 pages.  At that point I became totally engrossed and didn't want to put it down. But the book is long and by page 400, I was again losing interest.
Much of the story seemed improbable but I know that the author had many resources to rely on and tried to pack all the details into the story.
It is often mentioned that they had no money, but they traveled constantly- England, Scotland, U.S.A., Switzerland, France.  They lived in fine hotels and rented private ships.  They were looking for a good climate for Louis' poor health.
There is great detail about his writing and the reactions of his friends in the literary community.  I think overall, my problem with the book is that too much was jammed into it.
Stevenson's most famous writings were: "Treasure Island", "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde". and "Kidnapped".  He also wrote "A Child's Garden of Verses".

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.


Friday, 2 May 2014

A Life Well Used

I belong to and every morning, an e-mail arrives with the word of the day and lots of talk about 'words and their meanings'.  There is also a quote for the day.  Recently the quote was:
"As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death" (Leonardo de Vinci)

Well, this morning I made my monthly visit to a near-by nursing home,  delivering books for the public library. Many of the people are in their last days and sometimes the visit seems sad.  But I have discovered a lady that really makes the visit interesting. I would like to have her picture, but I wouldn't ask because she wouldn't understand why I wanted to take her picture.  Well,  perhaps she understands much more than I thought!  She was reading "The Case Against Darwin" by James Perloff.  She has always questioned the theory of evolution and found this book very much to her liking.  However, she also is planning to read a book that favours the theory of evolution.  She is interested in reading both sides of the argument. Imagine- at 90!
I felt so connected to this lady.  She actually doesn't need books from the library because her family buy every book she mentions.  And she reads magazines to keep up-to-date on books that are hot off the press.
And so, we had a lovely 'book chat' about what she's reading/what I'm reading.  What a delight!

I also deliver books to a retirement home that has a very different atmosphere.  These residents are active and healthy.  One resident attends (and leads) a book club.  A few months ago she told me about the book that she was preparing to discuss: "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom.

So I decided to read the book.
It is a long book, following three generations on a plantation beginning in 1791, when Lavinia McCarter, aged 7, is taken to the plantation because her parents had died on the ship from Ireland.
Although it was difficult to get into the book, I was totally involved after a few chapters.  I loved the description of the routines in the lives of those in 'the big house' and those in the 'kitchen house'.
The climax was chaotic and every time it seemed that things couldn't get any worse, they did!
Reading the book was a large investment of time and I would have liked it to be better edited, with a more satisfying ending.

When I returned to the retirement home the next time, the resident was delighted that I had read the book and she went to her room for her notes and we sat and chatted about the book.  Delightful!

Another well spent day!

Thursday, 1 May 2014


I am reading "Too close to the Falls", a memoir written by a psychologist, of her early years in Lewiston, New York.  It surprises me that the author can remember so many details of childhood events.  Can she really remember conversations from many, many years ago, when she was a very young child?  Could she really read proficiently at four and help with pharmacy deliveries?

I realize that there is often a question about the truth in biographies.  Certainly time changes incidents of your childhood.  And, of course, two people remember the very same incident in different ways.
However, I always enjoy both biographies and autobiographies, realizing that there is fiction in both.

James Fry was publicly humiliated when the details of his autobiography "A Million Little Pieces" turned out to have some fictional aspects.  But there was great emotion in the book and I felt that I understood addiction better after reading that book.  Perhaps the fictional aspects were what kept me engrossed.  The introduction was fascinating:
"The young man came to the Old Man seeking counsel.
I broke something, Old Man.  How badly is it broken?
It's in a million little pieces.
I'm afraid I can't help you.
There's nothing you can do.
It can't be fixed.
It's broken beyond repair.  It's in a million little pieces."

The author was an alcoholic, drug addict and criminal.  He began drinking at ten (football games, parents' parties).  He smoked pot at 12 .  He blacked out at 14 - coke, acid, crystal meth at 15, etc.
He talks about "The Fury" that he has always felt- never connecting with his parents.
There are no sentences or paragraphs - free style writing. It was compelling!
I learned a lot about addiction and didn't worry whether every detail was completely accurate.

"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" by Terry Ryan was a light and interesting biography.
The subtitle is: "How my mother raised 10 kids on 25 words or less".
In 1953, with 10 children to support, Leo Ryan worked in a machine shop making $90.00 a week and spending $30.00 of that on beer.  His wife, Evelyn, wrote poetry and jingles to supplement that.

When they were being evicted, she won $5.000. and bought a house.  She also won a 5 minute grocery shopping spree. ($411.44 worth of food).
"Her delight in living rose out of bed with her every day.  It was the one thing Dad couldn't drink away."
When Evelyn died, all 10 children returned to the family home and reminisced about their mother's resilience and creativity.

"An island to someone who has never left it is the world". 

"The land is more important than the country".
I have enjoyed reading Wayne Johnston's fiction stories that are set in Newfoundland and I enjoyed reading this biography of his family.  The men are the main characters- Wayne, his father Art, and grandfather Charlie.  I still remember, years after reading the book, the descriptions of travelling with horse and buggy in the winter.  Sometimes the driver fell asleep and the horses found their own way home.
There are interesting descriptions of the forge and blacksmithing during Charlie's life. Art was an inspector for the Department of Fisheries and made some interesting trips. The train trip across Newfoundland (Art and Wayne) described some of the geography as well as introducing mummers.

George Dawson was featured on one of Oprah's shows.  He learned to read at 98.  He was studying for his GED at age 103 when he died.

Dawson was born in 1898 in Texas.  He saw lynchings and feared the Ku Klux Klan.  He travelled until he married and had seven children.  He always helped them with their homework even though he couldn't read. He also drove a car until he needed to take a test, so had to give up driving.A man came to his door and invited him to attend an adult education program.  I enjoyed Dawson's memories and also his attitude.  He was hard-working and honest.

Quote: “Things will be all right. People need to hear that. Life is good, just as it is. There isn’t anything I would change about my life.”—George Dawson

I have recorded 63 biographies and autobiographies that I have read.  Several of these are about a spiritual search.  Others are appreciated for the sense of time and place, such as "Lemon Swamp and Other Places: a Carolina memoir".  Mamie Fields, born in 1888 in Charlston, had collected a lot of writing over the years and her granddaughter helped her work on the book for 8 years, with the publication accomplished when Mamie was 95.

I really enjoy biographies in any form.  "Loving Frank" (Frank Lloyd Wright) was great and I am planning to read Nancy Horan's latest book "Under the Wide and Starry Sky"- a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson.