Taking Pictures

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I take pictures.

I got my first camera when I was 9 years old… from a cereal box. I remember collecting the coupons from the back of the box to send away with $10 to get that camera. It was beige and used 110 film. It was a cheap camera. But it was mine. And with it, I took pictures.

And to tell you the truth, my first shots weren’t really that good. But I practiced. I became our family photographer. Eventually I graduated to more advanced cameras and even developed some of my photos in a dark room.

Today, I use a digital camera and Photoshop is my dark room.

As a kid, all I knew was that I liked to take photos. Today I see my photography as a creative extension of who I am.

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There’s a line in one of my favourite movies, Chariots of Fire. The movie is the story of two runners preparing for the 1924 Olympics. One of them, Eric Liddell, has put his journey to China to become a missionary on hold. The movie creates tension in a scene when his sister expresses fear that he is forgetting his true purpose in life: to go to China. He responds to her: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

I think that’s what I feel when I click the camera’s shutter button. The pleasure of God. I love looking at the world, with all the colour and interesting shapes and patterns. I love the stories that a photo can tell.

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We all have some need to express ourselves by creating. And that will mean different things for different people.

For me, it means that I take pictures.

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

magicstringsBook: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author: Mitch Albom
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Detailing the life of superstar musician, Frankie Presto… his ups and downs… tragedies and triumphs. He travels everywhere with his guitar from his maestro. And then, one day, one of the strings turns blue. That’s when he realizes that his life is affecting those around him.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The narrator is “Music”. I liked how Music is able to give us details of the story that even Frankie himself doesn’t know. I also like the musical lingo and refrains. “Everybody joins a band in this life…”

2) Aurora and Frankie. I won’t give out spoilers here.

3) The rogue’s gallery of real-life musicians and performers. In a way, this book reminded me of Forrest Gump. Now I didn’t care too much for that movie, because I felt the coupling of real events with Forrest’s life was forced. I did not feel the same way with this book. Not every event is Frankie “doin’ Elvis”. There was just enough to make it seem real and legit. Well done, Mr. Albom!

4) Lyle and his friends. I wasn’t sure at first about this little thread, but I loved how that turned out. 🙂

5) The Woodstock story interspersed with other stories. I thought it was well done. A nice twist with Aurora that I was not expecting!

6) **SPOILER ALERT: The daughter. I love the connection made later on with regards to his own adopted father and his rejection of him. And then the realization that you can truly love a child who is not biologically yours. As Frankie loves Kai. END SPOILER**

7) El Maestro.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER ALERT: The final revelation of his death. I felt this was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was expecting something disastrous and awful, and it wasn’t. Part of me is glad, because I didn’t want him murdered spectacularly, but I still have mixed feelings about the ending. END SPOILER**

2) The aunt in Detroit. I felt this scene was almost unnecessary. Almost. What I didn’t like about it is how quick it is. How does Frankie come to even understand everything she tells him? I feel that in real life, Frankie would need a longer time with them to grasp the reality that there is no way his “father” could be his father.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book! The real musicians mixed in with the fiction. I thought it was well done.

Review: A Little Princess

littleprincess.jpgBook: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sara Crewe comes to a boarding school by her rich papa where she is treated like a little princess. Tragedy strikes when her father dies, leaving her penniless and at the cruel mercy of the headmistress of the school.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Sara SHOULD be a spoiled brat. But she isn’t. She really is a princess, but in the best of ways.

2) I liked the friendship between Sara and Becky, Lottie, and Ermengarde.

3) Miss Minchin is a character that you love to hate. Her hypocrisy is evil! Definitely a memorable character :/

4) The scene with the bun lady is a beautiful scene. She is everything that Miss Minchin is not. I was actually glad when she shows up at the end of the story once again.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Miss Minchin. Yes, she appears above in the “What’s Cool” section, but she also appears here. Could a headmistress be this evil? I suppose she could, but really, this character almost doesn’t seem real. I wish Burnett would have given some redeeming quality, even if just to make her a more rounded character.

2) Sara is too good! Consider her next to Burnett’s other heroine: Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. Mary is a spoiled brat who is NOT likeable at all in the beginning of the story. But she has a character arc. Sara really has no character arc. She’s good and wise at the start of the book. She’s good and wise at the end of the book. I like Sara, but I don’t love Sara. Certainly not in the way that I love Mary Lennox.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A re-read for me. I still hate the Miss-Minchin-treating-Sara-badly parts… actually to the point of me not wanting to read the book. Overall, it’s a good book, but not a great book. If you want a great book by this author, check out The Secret Garden.

Reading Pride and Prejudice Backwards

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I’ve read it many times over. It’s one of the books that I’ll just pick up and “spot read”.

I don’t know if anybody else does this, but for me “spot reading” is when I re-read my favourite parts of a favourite book.

Pride and Prejudice definitely qualifies.

This time I started near the end… when Elizabeth first reads Jane’s letter about Lydia and Wickham. I got so engrossed with the story, that I just kept on reading to the end of the book.

That’s when I started to read the book “backwards”. I went back to read about how Elizabeth and the Gardiners first go to visit Pemberley. When I reached the Jane’s letter regarding Lydia, I went back further to the part where Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins.

It’s certainly an interesting way to read a book. I wouldn’t recommend for any book other than one you’ve already read countless times before.

And for me, that’s Pride and Prejudice.

Review: The Dancing Pancake

Book: The Dancing Pancakedancing
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Bindi’s dad mysteriously leaves one day. And her mom and aunt decide to start a restaurant called The Dancing Pancake. All these changes bring an upset to Bindi’s life that she must adjust to.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The depiction of Bindi’s struggles over adjusting to the big changes in her life. She’s moody, but she’s also a very likeable character. I liked the through-line of the need for forgiveness (with regards to her dad, Ruby Frances, etc.). It’s nice to see her grow up in the story.

2) The empathy Bindi shows to Grace, the homeless lady. However, I also like how that plot point does not work out exactly as Bindi originally intends. But still, Bindi learns to accept people for who (and where) they are.

3) The blank verse works well in this book. (It seems to be Spinelli’s thing.)

4) I found the opening-a-restaurant plotline interesting.

5) Characters I enjoyed: Jackson, the little cousin and Ruby Frances, the waitress. I like how their stories intermingle with **SPOILER the theft of the $50 from the cash register. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nothing really to add here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This is an enjoyable book! I loved how she worked an actual dancing pancake into the climax of the story 😉

Review: Paperboy

paperboyBook: Paperboy
Author: Vince Vawter
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: A coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old boy who takes his friend’s paper route for a month in the summer. His greatest struggle: overcoming a debilitating stutter.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I’m usually a stickler for proper grammar. This book does not use quotation marks for dialogue and very little commas. This would normally drive me nuts! But in the case of this book, I am fine with it. It’s all part of the characterization of the protagonist.

2) The stutter. I thought Vawter dealt well with the boy’s struggle regarding his debilitating stutter. The story made me completely empathize with him… How he can’t even say his best friend’s name (Art) and calls him “Rat” instead. However, this changes by the end of the book as the boy starts to push himself to overcome.

3) I loved the relationship between the boy and his Mam. She was wonderful!

4) Ditto for Mr. Spiro… How he treats the boy like a real person and helps him gain confidence. (And all those books in Mr. Spiro’s house? A dream come true!)

5) I liked the fact that we don’t get the boy’s name until the end of the story. Again, because of plot reasons.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) When I was reading it, I wasn’t sure what time period this was. Did I miss something? (Of course, looking back at the book jacket, I realize that it says it takes place in 1959. But I don’t always read the book jacket prior to reading the story. Mainly due to the fact that I want to avoid spoilers.)

2) I was a little uncomfortable with the character of Mrs. Worthington. **SPOILER She’s an alcoholic, painted with a lot of sexual overtones. I felt this was a little too heavy for this age group. And I wasn’t sure what she would do to the protagonist. (Nothing really bad happens, which is good. She’s played more like a victim than anything else.)  END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I loved this book! While I never stuttered quite so badly as the boy in this book, I did have a little stutter as a young child. So, I definitely related to the attempts and struggle of working through getting those words out.

Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

TheWitchOfBlackbirdPond_4821Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic plot: Kit arrives in the Puritan colony of Connecticut, which is a far cry from her home in Barbados. But with her grandfather dead, she has no choice. She and her aunt’s family both experience culture shock. In defiance of her uncle, she makes friends with the “Witch of Blackbird Pond” and soon finds herself the target of a witch hunt.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Speare writes an engaging historical novel. She gets the tone right… the rebellious nature of Kit pitted up against the Puritan community. And this book still has appeal for the modern reader (even though it was first published in 1958. Now, that’s a classic!)

2) I liked the complex relationship of Kit and Nat. How Nat is obviously drawn to Kit, and yet is confused by how to react to her non-conformist ways.

3) The “villain” of the story is set up quite nicely in the opening.

4) The uncle is well-characterized. **SPOILER: I like how he’s clearly one who opposes Kit throughout the story. Yet, in the end, he is redeemed. His character grows to accept her, even though she is so different. I hate it when books make the father-figure evil and awful with a good-riddance to bad rubbish. This book doesn’t do that.  END SPOILER

5) I like Hannah Tupper, the Quaker (i.e. the Witch of the title). I thought her relationship to Kit was very touching. And her fragility as she ages was well-written.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) **SPOILER: Nat gets his own ship at the end of the story. I’m not crazy about the name he chooses. But it sort of makes sense. END SPOILER

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is actually a re-read for me. I read it as a kid. I must say I enjoyed it even more so as an adult! Which says a lot about a book. No wonder it won the Newbery.

Review: The Unforgotten Coat

unforgottenBook: The Unforgotten Coat
Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Julie becomes the “Good Guide” for Mongolian brothers Chingis and Nergui. She helps them learn to integrate into British society, to hide from the “demon” who is trying to “eat Nergui”.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Learning some cool Mongolian facts. After being chosen by Chingis to be their “Good Guide”, Julie researches Mongolia and insists on giving a presentation to her sixth grade class. Of course, Chingis is the one who is supposed to be the one giving info about his homeland, but Julie ends up doing the most talking. Nice touch by the author (especially in light of how this quietness about Mongolia fits in well with how the story ends.)

2) I liked the Polaroid photos scattered throughout the story. At first, I thought they were just atmosphere, but they definitely are important to the plot.

3) Interesting how the fear of these immigrants/refugees manifests itself. Through baking the little raisin man, to taking a different route each day when walking home from school, to insisting that Nergui stay with Chingis in the sixth grade classroom, even though he’s much younger. Coming to a new country is tough under any circumstance. I liked how the author understates this fear. He uses very little suspense and basically presents facts without making a big deal about it. After all, we are reading this story through the eyes of Julie, not the boys.

4) **SPOILER: I like how the ending is not super-happy. It’s not super-sad either. I thought it was realistic that the boys are deported, thus making their fear justified. Eaten by the “demon”. However, the final image gives hope. END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I was a little confused at times. I liked the photos, but they sometimes also brought me out of the story. Was this a true story? Why did he take that photo? When does this take place? It wasn’t until the end that I realized that this is a fictionalized account of some true events. While this isn’t a bad thing (I don’t mind fictionalized accounts!), it’s the being taken out of the story that isn’t so good.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book! I absolutely loved Cosmic and Framed by the same author. I don’t think this book is as good as those ones, but I did enjoy it.

Book Blunders in Narnia

20170317ma_0063Quick Disclaimer: I love the writing of C.S. Lewis! He’s one of my absolute favourite authors of all time. I particularly love the world of Narnia. But that doesn’t mean that the books are free of error. Tiny writing inconsistencies and imperfections… These are the subject of this post. This is not to disparage the books. But like how hand blown glass is more valuable because of the imperfections!

Here I bring up three of the “book blunders” of Narnia…

1) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

When the four Pevensie children first come to Narnia, they find that the White Witch has been ruling for 100 years. It’s “always winter but never Christmas.”

Then we meet the Beavers. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver invite the children to a wonderful spread of tea, including “a wonderfully sticky marmalade roll”. With fare like this, the Beavers don’t seem to be quite as oppressed they claim! It contradicts the whole alway-winter-never-Christmas thing.

2) Prince Caspian

At the end of the book, King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy have to leave Narnia.

“It was odd, and not very nice, to take off their royal clothes and to come back in their school things (not very fresh now) into that great assembly. One or two of the nastier Telmarines jeered.”

A similar thing happens in The Silver Chair. This time, Eustace and Jill return to our world still dressed in their Narnian clothing.

“Eustace buried his fine clothes secretly one night in the school grounds, but Jill smuggled hers home and wore them at a fancy-dress ball next holidays.”

Now compare these to the ending of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“And next moment they all came tumbling out of a wardrobe door into the empty room, and they were no longer Kings and Queens in their hunting array but just Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in their old clothes.”

Where did the old clothes come from? Especially in light of the fact that they had to change clothes in Prince Caspian and Jill and Eustace were still wearing theirs in The Silver Chair!

3) The Horse and His Boy

Shasta grows up in Calormen, under the ruthless hand of Arsheesh. Yet, from time to time, he often acts like a boy from our world, and even sounds more like Edmund or Eustace:

“Oh bother breakfast. Bother everything,” said Shasta. “I tell you I can’t move.”

Oh, Shasta, you sound so British!

Review: Moo

28217808Book: Moo
Author: Sharon Creech
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Reena and Luke move to Maine with their mom and dad. Pretty much on a whim. They instantly go from being city kids to country kids when they begin to help a crotchety old lady named Mrs. Falala with her ornery cow, Zora.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The relationship between Reena and Luke is nice. I like how their parents insist on the kids’ need to be respectful to their elders. Even crotchety old ladies.

2) The book is told very simply. Yet the characters are well-rounded. Zora the cow is a character in her own right!

3) **SPOILER: Reena shows Zora at the Fair. I liked how Zora takes off just as she first appears before the judges and Reena has to chase her. Obviously, this is a completely mortifying experience. But Reena gets “back up on that horse” once she has calmed Zora down. She ends up showing Zora for the next category of judging. I’m glad Zora doesn’t magically win. (She only gets fourth place. Good job, Zora!) END SPOILER

4) **SPOILER: Of course, Mrs. Falala dies near the end of the book. That wasn’t much of a surprise to me. But the secret of her upstairs room (or for that matter, how she wants and learns to draw)… I didn’t see that coming. Which is good 🙂 END SPOILER

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wasn’t sold on the reason WHY they move to Maine. It’s pretty much done on a whim. In fact, I find their reason slightly disturbing (as an adult). As a kid, I would have been horrified at this possibility.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – Which means it’s a good book. While it’s not my favourite book by Sharon Creech, it’s still a fun, fast read. (I think Zora the cow bumps the rating from 3 to 3.5 Stars! Way to go, Zora!)