Saturday, September 27, 2008

Word on the Street

Tomorrow is the big book celebration: Word on the Street, at Library Square in Vancouver. I'm speaking in the Kids Tent at 3:00 pm and would love to see you there! To find out more about the day's wonderful events, go here

Come along, stroll in the sunshine, check out all the authors and have a great day!


Friday, September 26, 2008

The 100 Mile Diet

I loved reading The 100 Mile Diet! What a sensational book!

Two Vancouver writers, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, began a 1 year experiment to eat only food that had been grown and harvested within a hundred mile radius of their home. Little did they know how difficult this challenge would be. Their goals, which included both health and environmental benefits, were to create a strong connection with their food and the local farmers, ranchers, fishers and vintners who produced it. No rice, wheat, bananas, coffee, chocolate and many other foods we take for granted. Over the year, they lost weight, they argued and got the blues, but they never gave up.

To begin, they ate vast amounts of potatoes, but over time learned to add oysters, salmon, goat cheese, dandelion greens, asparagus, squash, berries, walnuts and more. As the months passed, they figured out how to grow and preserve many foods, and how to create a diet that was interesting, nutritionally sound and delicious! The book is divided into chapters by month and tasty recipes accompany each one, giving the readers a great starting point for beginning their own 100 mile diet.

This book, which began as a blog, has galvanized people across North America. Many, many people are now eating their own versions of the 100 mile diet, and finding out about foods that are produced in their own regions. You can find out who's doing this and what they're eating at the 100 Mile Diet website and blog, found here.

The authors suggest that we don't have to give up everything we're used to, but to take small steps, and maybe eat locally for one meal a day, or one day a week, or at least to be conscious of where our food comes and be more supportive of our local growers.

I've always been someone who made a point of buying local fruit and vegetables in season. I go to the farmer's market, I make my own jam and I freeze local fruit for winter consumption. I'm also a big supporter of local wineries. But, I've been guilty (far too often) of buying strawberries or asparagus in January, not thinking about how far they've come from and what the cost is to local growers, the environment and the nutritional value of the food. 

So, now that I've read this book, I'm going to take small steps and move further in the direction of local eating. I won't be perfect, but I will be better. 

Bon appetit!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Book Thief

As promised, here are my comments on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I finished reading earlier this week.

The Book Thief is an ambitious book, with 550 pages of text, and is considered a YA (young adult or teen) novel. It is the story of Liesel, a young girl living with poor foster parents in a small town near Munich, during World War 2. Liesel's foster parents, who are not supporters of the Nazi regime, hide a Jewish man, Max, in their basement for several years. During the course of the story, Liesel collects stolen books and reads them to Max and to other community members as they huddle in basement shelters to escape the bombs. It is really a story about the power of words and books, and how they can be used for either good or evil. 

The narrator of the novel is Death, a character who follows Liesel's story as she ages from 9 to 14 years old.

My new book group discussed The Book Thief on Tuesday night and we were firmly divided into two camps. Half of the group loved the book and found it inspirational and beautifully written. The other half (me included) found it disturbing and dark. My reasons for finding it so, had to do with Death's voice, which often took a flippant tone in its descriptions of tragic events, set against the horrifying backdrop of the Holocaust. 

I think the author may have been using Death's voice to provide some distance from the horror — but in my mind, it made the painful experiences even more difficult. I didn't want to feel distant from the characters.

I know I'm in the minority with my opinion, judging from the glowing reviews and award nominations this book has received. It is narratively and stylistically very clever, but, for me, a troubling read. 

It was, however, a great title to discuss with the book group, most of whom are YA authors. They had a clear understanding of how challenging it would have been to write this book, and it was most interesting to hear them speak. 

If you'd like to read along with us, our next book for discussion is Life is Funny by E.R. Frank.

I'll sign off for now, but tomorrow will comment on The 100 Mile Diet — the other book I've just finished reading.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fall Books!

Apologies for not posting this past week, but I have an excellent excuse. It's fall book season and I am reading, reading, reading. Like the gardeners and farmers who are reaping their harvest at this time of year, I am gathering in the books and staying home to enjoy the literary bounty of the season. What am I reading? Three books at once...

I'm racing to finish The Book Thief (550 pages!) by Markus Zusak, in time for a new YA (young adult) book group that's having its first meeting on Tuesday. I'm 450 pages in, and it's been a marathon read. One hundred (dense) pages to go. I'll post my impressions once I'm finished. 

I was mid-way through two other books before I began The Book Thief, and I'm excited about getting back to them. They are both wonderful! One is the new Miriam Toews novel, called The Flying Troutmans, which has some of the best dialogue between siblings I've every read. It is authentic, painfully sad and comical, all at the same time. Toews (author of the Governor General's Award for A Complicated Kindness) has an amazing ability to juxtapose dark and funny, and make you feel like laughing and crying in the same breath.

The other book (which I'm reading a year after it was published) is The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, Vancouver authors who began a one-year experiment to eat only food that had been grown within 100 miles of their home. It is truly amazing to read of their struggle to find enough to eat, and also enlightening to understand how this book has helped revolutionize our thinking about what we eat and where it comes from.

I'll post more about these books as I finish them, but for now, it's time to get back to The Book Thief. For all of you writers who have contributed so generously to the fall bounty of books, I send my sincere and grateful thanks.

Happy Reading, everyone! 

P.S. If you'd like to email with your fall book recommendations, I'll gladly post them. Send them to:


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Our Southern Friends...

This weekend, I'm thinking about all the folks in the path of Hurricane Ike, as it bears down on Houston and other southern US cities. I'm especially thinking about my new friend, Ana Maria Rodriguez, who left Houston with her sons yesterday to seek shelter a few hours inland. I hear that up to 4 million people are without power today, and that the power company says it may take two to three weeks to have it restored. Tough times ahead, I'm sure.

Take care, all of you southerners. We wish you well and keep you in our thoughts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Feast of Fields!

Sunday was the annual celebration — Feast of Fields — of local chefs and wineries serving up food and drink, grown and harvested by local farmers and vintners. What a celebration! The sun was bright, the musicians were playing, and we wandered around the UBC farmland, wine glasses and linen napkins in hand, sipping and chewing the bounty of our region.

Highlights included fresh scallops, crab and salmon cooked up in a myriad of tasty variations; herb salad wrapped in piping hot flatbread; mouthwatering blackberry gelato; and quality wines from many of our Okanagan and Fraser Valley wineries — all offered by friendly, hardworking chefs from under big white tents. Mmm... It made me think I should write a cookbook. Watch for it in a year or so!

If you're interested in a West Coast organization that supports local food and farmers, check out the Farm Folk/City Folk website here. To see more about Feast of Fields, go here.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fall Review Season

Fall book season is upon us. For writers with new releases, it's a season we approach with trepidation. Many of us fluctuate wildly between states of eager anticipation and intense fretting, as we open up the newspaper or fire up the computer to see how our lovely new book is faring out there in the world. Some of us might even term this time of year, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Author Brad Meltzer has taken this matter into his own hands and transformed his not-so-kind reviews of the season into a very humourous video. It's a shining example of turning lemons into lemonade! Thanks to YA author, kc dyer, for posting it on her blog. Please check out Brad's video here.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Globe and Mail Review!

What a lovely surprise to open up the Books section of Saturday's Globe and Mail to see a review of my two newest books — Desert Animals and Wetland Animals — by Susan Perren, editor of Children's Books. 

In her review she says, "Habits as well as habitats, prey as well as predators, of hippopotamus and anaconda, mallard duck and moose, are presented in word and picture in an engaging and appropriate way for the books' intended audience." 

These books — the third and fourth in the Who Lives Here? series — are designed for children, ages 4-7. The books take a playful look at how animals' bodies and habits are suited to the place where they live. For more information on the series, please click here.

A big thank you to the talented illustrator, Pat Stephens, whose beautiful art graces these books.

Happy Labour Day, everyone!