Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Kyo Maclear. Enough said.

Except that's actually not nearly enough. Kyo Maclear publishes amazing children's books, and I've just started reading one of her novels for adults, for which I have high hopes. A quick search also revealed that she keeps a blog that includes the suggestion of children's books (and also books for adults) with every post! See here on the topic of fear (and the results of the election), for example. (Also on the topic of that blog post, I've been thinking about reading the Moomin novels as of late, since 1/Edition, where I saw one of the first print runs of the reprint of the first book of the series, and now lo and behold, Moomin! And around the end of October or so I started listening to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and covers of it on repeat, and then the sad news of his passing came shortly after. I'm not sure whether I'm simply paying more attention to things that I'm currently very into, or what. I mean, probably most definitely the former, but still. Whoa.)

Note: I will be cross-posting reviews in slightly altered format on my library's For Your Leisure blog, so there will be some overlap in content. Hopefully not too much, but there's only so many books I can read and only so much music I can listen to, to divide up between two blogs!
Note: As I was making sure I was correctly using the word "enamoured", or more specifically using the correct preposition with it - I was learning toward "of", though I'm pretty sure I've read "enamoured by" or at least "enamoured with" before, so I wanted to be sure - I came across this link to Google Ngram and it's the bee's knees!

  1. The Good Little Book by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Marion Arbona
    • This actually is a good little book, in a variety of ways. I would even go beyond that and say it's almost a great little book, if that wouldn't destroy the continuity in references within the book to the book itself. From the very beginning till the very end, Kyo Maclear has created a charming read that sucks the reader into the story both in the progression of the story and by alluding to the reader as one of the characters in the book! Way to break the fourth barrier in a subtle manner! If you're into children's books that double as adult's picture books (because let's not kid ourselves: a good chunk of children's picture books reading is done by the adults), this - and other Kyo Maclear reads - should most definitely be on your list! 
    • As a bit of an aside, though not really because they're integral to the book: the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and not in a way that's standoffish, but engaging and approachable. I don't know how she does it, but Maclear has a way of finding and teaming up with these incredible illustrators (see Isabell Arsenault as well in their equally amazing Virginia Wolf), and I love the results.
  2. Mr.Flux by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Matte Stephens
    • Punny, well-written, non-sequitor in a way that follows the haphazard nature of Mr.Flux himself, the story progresses in a predictable fashion, yet takes you for a ride all the same. Beautifully illustrated, this book most likely wouldn't change the minds of any child (or anyone) who absolutely abhors change, but is a great reminder that the status quo is not always for the best, and that change, despite our efforts, is always inevitable - so why not embrace it?
  3. Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad
    • Another illustrator I love! Check our her How To book. As for the story itself, I was a bit disappointed. I mean, I get that we want to empower children and let them know that sometimes adults can be weird and seem irrational and do (sometimes seemingly) illogical things, but it was a bit forced.
  4. The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Katty Maurey
    • Maclear captured the spirit of a child throwing her tantrum, only to succumb to what it was she was rebelling against, but the second part about the specific ocean seemed almost as though disconnected from the first part of the story. The story was alright, and would be a good read for a child who might not want to go exploring or on vacation, but I would have preferred to have the specific ocean story in a separate book altogether rather than crammed in with the first part.
  5. Le Coeur de Monsieur Gauguin par Marie-Danielle Croteau, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
    • I've already talked about Isabelle Arsenault and how much I adore her illustrations. They work especially well in this context, the paint strokes - I'm still not sure whether they are real strokes or if she coloured in such a way as to make the texture present - on the windowsills and the painting itself were a wonderful thing to behold. Now I'm just wondering how much of it is historically accurate.
  6. Spork by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
    • Delightful (as always)! Even the little description on the inside the book jacket just hooks you in - they're actually a couple of the lines from the story itself. Maclear uses Spork - neither a spoon nor a fork - to illustrate how it's not necessary to try to conform to one (spoon) or the other (fork) group if you don't feel like you belong, and that you can find your own place (inside the fist of a toddler) doing what only you can do. Of course, it's a bit optimistic in that conclusion, but at the same time, Maclear also tackles the fear of mixing with outgroups when she writes that the spoons stay with the spoons, the forks with forks, and that there's generally no mixing; of course there are exceptions, but they're rare. It's just accepted as the way it is in the world of the kitchen cupboard, but there's something in Maclear highlighting this little detail of utensil life that stood out to me: it might just be that she brought it up at all, actually. Hopefully whatever child reads, or is read, this book will also be struck by this mention and start to question why it is that way.
Hopefully you don't think I'm just trying to plump up my list with picture books at this point. Picture books that are well-written and illustrated are appealing to both children and adults alike, and that, I think, is one of the most crucial elements of success for a picture book (author & artist both): how much it engages all parties reading, and whether it has a message or reason for being beyond blind entertainment*.

*Then again, maybe blind entertainment is good enough. It really depends what you're looking for, or what the child is looking for. From my perspective though, it really frustrates me to see picture books that don't seem to have a point to them, and just kind of drag on without any reason to exist (that I can discern at least). The only thing I can say is that perhaps they're just not for me.

Moving on!
  1. An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel (see review here also)
    • McDoniel uses footnotes in An Unattractive Vampire! And carried it off to comic effect, aided most likely also by the overall tone of the entire novel, which you cannot take seriously in the least. I thought for the longest time that maybe, there would be some revelation towards the end that Amanda & Simon are actually the descendants of Erasmus Martin, especially when Yulric's gaze lingered on Simon's back after he had given the orders to all the vampires, but I suppose that would have been much too neat for such a lax style of writing. And I mean that in the best of ways, because it works for this novel. It's satire not even taking itself seriously, and the best (or worst, depending on how you like it - personally, I enjoy both!) part of it is that the tone coupled with the use of footnotes makes it practically impossible for the reader to be unaware of the satire. This is quite unlike, say, Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, which maintains its veneer of seriousness until the very end, regardless of whether you catch on midway through reading it or not.
    • A fun read, though many things were left hanging - I suppose in the end they weren't really all that important, because this novel is not the sort where you would worry too much, not taking it seriously to begin with. I'm curious as to whether McDoniel will publish again, and what type of novel he might come out with if he does; I don't think a second iteration of An Unattractive Vampire, even with a completely different plot, would work again.
  2. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
    • !!!!! It's always the quiet ones.
  3. The Goonies (1985)
    • I was told it's a classic and that I should watch it, so I did, and I can see why it's a classic! It definitely has that sort of feel, although I'm sure it would have held much more charm as a child; watching it now, as an adult, I could only get to the point of mild amusement, which is not to say that it's boring, but it's not for me. I can see its appeal for children though! The good guys win after an arduous journey and although the little guy, who practically did half the work for his brother (e.g. "it'll be dangerous, so you might want to hold my hand"), didn't get the girl, it ended on a promising & humorous note nonetheless. Also! It gave off the message that blood doesn't determine who you are, and not to judge someone by how they look, as the Goonies were able to reconcile their differences with Sloth (as well as their own petty arguments).
  4. The Ninjabread Man by C.J. Leigh, illustrated by Chris Gall
    • Another picture book! I won this as part of a prize at a work party, and this book was what made me pick this over the other bundle of books. It's a fun retelling of the Gingerbread Man story, which has, from memory, a number of reincarnations already. He does, of course (SPOILER ALERT!) get outfoxed by the fox, which I kind of wish didn't happen because that's what happens in the Gingerbread Man story, in the end. At the very end, though, the authors include a recipe on how to create your very own Ninjabread man, which was quite a nice touch! I might just make my own Ninjabread man this year.
    • I just did a quick search on Goodreads trying to find the link to this book, and THERE ARE SO MANY NINJABREAD MAN BOOKS. Not as a series, but rather so many people have already written about Ninjabread men?!! In case you can't see it, each word is a separate link there; in case you weren't counting, that's 6 different Ninjabread men (including the one I'm reviewing here). I'm befuddled. I guess it's not that hard to think up, but come on! 6!
    • I don't really know how I've existed thus far without knowing about Einaudi. I might have listened to his music before without knowing about it, perhaps? It's the sort of music that you listen to and think to yourself, "I'd take up piano again if it means I can play like this". An inordinate amount of time was spent on youtube listening to his compositions before realizing that we have his CDs available at the library. I also started learning to play Divenire and continued until my wrist went on strike. Those are the sorts of feelings Einaudi evokes in me.
  6. Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm edited by Philip Pullman
    • I did not know there was a fairytale that featured a sausage as one of the main characters. The mouse, the sausage, and the bird. In case you're interested, he - yes, he - is a bratwurst sausage. He swims around in the vegetable soup to season it, and depending on how much seasoning the soup needs, he might swim in there for a longer duration of time. That's certainly one that hasn't made the "classic fairytales" list!
    • All in all, revisiting fairytales that I've either heard or read as a child or absorbed indirectly simply by dint of their ubiquity has made it all the clearer to me that these tales are not all that clear cut in terms of what the takeaway is. I mean, they are, for sure! But at the same time, the details, once you think about them, are a bit disconcerting sometimes. Some characters you might expect to get punished go free, and some characteristics like passivity are rewarded (Sleeping Beauty, for example). I've also read another book on fairytales & variations that also did analyses of the tales and their morals, as well how the chosen adaptations fit into them, so it's not like I didn't realize any of this beforehand, but re-reading them as an adult really gives you new perspective. As in life, so in fairytales though, I guess (re: ambiguity of morality & laudable traits).
  7. Agnes Obel
    • I clicked on a twitter link that my friend had tweeted as she gushed about Obel coming to town, and I never looked back. Her music is totally my jam! My local library had Aventine, but I'm thinking about purchasing the CDs for keeps. Also, she's having a concert in Toronto come March!
  8. Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong
    • Armstrong goes through religions around the world giving a pretty quick history of how religion ties in with/is inseparable from politics (quick as in 30 pages as opposed to a book or two that each could easily have taken up), and how the agrarian lifestyle - and the accompanying violence - was a common thread throughout. There's also the sense that autocratic governments seem to be the most successful ones to operate; rule through might rather than through right, I suppose, is the way to go, regardless of whether that's in keeping with your ideals or not. And Armstrong points out several cases where rulers, such as Ashoka, were at a loss as to what to do to reconcile their beliefs in a peaceful rule with the need to keep a military force. It makes sense though, that military force & sheer ruthlessness should win out, considering the peaceful alternatives that are ideals. I'm not saying ideals can never come to fruition - although I do tend to lean way over the fence and into the next part of town in that direction when considering ideals that refuse to adapt in order to survive, I suppose - but rather that it might make more sense to force the existing order into reform, rule with an iron fist, before/while trying to cultivate the ideal. That being said, we'd wind up with the dilemma of, does might make right & do the ends justify the means? Can you expect that, having created a peaceful utopia through the use of force, even if cultivated throughout the years into what no longer requires force to maintain, that it should not actually have become a dystopia instead? You'd probably want to erase or rewrite history completely into a fiction, keeping only those loyal to the cause alive and silencing those who might want to reveal the truth, passing it on over generations. Is it worth it?
    • Armstrong also stresses that a lot of the more extremist violence actually arise as a reaction to oppression or another sort of threat against a group, whether it's trying to better the state of things for the poor in an autocratic country or if it's a more direct threat, which can be physical, directed toward members of the group. When you also take into account how modernization was basically thrust onto certain countries & the peoples that lived in them, and the resulting poverty and overall inequality from the forced and rushed process, what with also past triumphs of the groups no longer in charge and subordinated... well.
    • And that's not all! But I won't try to summarize everything of the book here - I don't think I can, for one, and to be honest I don't think I'd be able to do justice to all of the information (even though it's already condensed as it is in Fields of Blood; I'm sure each topic of discussion could probably fill up books and books), so if anyone's interested in religion and the history/myth of violence associated with religion, it'd be best to read this yourself. To conclude, Armstrong implores everyone to take responsibility for the excesses in violence and their consequences within this global village.
    • There is one thing I'm not quite satisfied with, and I don't know if it's because the book was already getting pretty long and it would've grown to enormous (and ridiculous) proportion had she included it, but I would have loved to read up more on religion & violence in China (she mentions that Confucian ideals informed the emperor up until the revolution, but doesn't go beyond that, specifically what replaced those ideals), and Japan (e.g. invocation of the emperor as a direct descendant of Amaterasu), and the other countries/principalities/governments that weren't really discussed in much detail.
And now onto the list of currently-reading:
  1. Stray Love by Kyo Maclear
    • Enamoured of her books for children as I am, I did a quick search on my local library catalogue to find what else she had written (gotta collect them all), when lo and behold! She writes for adults as well! Maclear, you are a gem.
    • That being said, I haven't actually finished reading yet, and haven't gotten very far, so I can't say much as to the novel itself just yet.
  2. How to Live by Sarah Bakewell
  3. Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays by Albert Camus
  4. The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt by Albert Camus

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