“The City of Brass”: so fun!

You know when you find a book that you can’t stop thinking about, and no matter where you are you think about the characters and muse over what will happen next. That was The City of Brass for me this weekend! I came into work raving about S.A. Chakraborty’s book, a story that includes history, magic, politics, and the supernatural. What a fun read!

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32718027-the-city-of-brass

I found this book on a Calgary Public Library list and was interested. I can’t remember the list, but I seem to find some great books on their lists. Librarians are amazing people! That’s also true in the book: Nahir loves to learn and eventually gets access to a library (and even lessons so she can learn to read the books in the library). There is a define love of learning and reading shared by a few characters in the novel, so I felt at home.

But that’s about as far as homey this book felt; it took place in the desert, in Cairo’s bizarre, and in Daevabad, the city of brass (and the city of her ancestors).Speculative/fantasy fiction is so fun to read because it takes something that the readers are familiar with (or at least mildly familiar with) and twists it a bit. In this case, there are beings of fire, water, air, and earth all living together in a veiled world, next to the human world. Very interesting!

Source: http://www.unboundworlds.com/2017/11/s-chakraborty-djinn-novel-city-brass/

As someone who is curious about world religions and wants to learn more about the Muslim faith, I appreciated Chakraborty’s seamless inclusion of Muslim culture in her novel. She didn’t dumb it down and explain it for readers: she gave the faith tradition an important place in the setting and in the lives of the various characters. Yet I couldn’t help but think, how has religion been used over thousands upon thousands of years to create divisions and other-ness. In the novel, Nahir struggles with others because she doesn’t fully support the religion of her people and she often lets her altar fire burn out. She is often chastised for not fully religious customs, which makes it obvious that she doesn’t fully belong in the city of brass, Daevabad.

Politics and religion aside, this novel made me want to start reading the classic One Thousand and One Nights where this story got its inspiration from. The supernatural characters, the location, and history of a complex city, and the intrusion of new outsiders made this a fascinating book. I knew it was the first in a series, but this is a lovely stand-alone (although I can’t wait to read the next book when it comes out!).

Source: http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.ca/2017/08/the-city-of-brass-by-s-chakraborty.html


“The Great Migration”: more love

Churches should be school of love. Love. This is the premise of Brian D. McLaren’s book The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. In the book, McLaren goes into some dark days of religion: colonization, slavery, oppression. Broken relationships with Indigenous groups around the world, slave and sex trades in the name of God, and oppressing people of colour and different sexual orientations. It’s not a great past. It’s ugly and evil. But the saddest part, that McLaren points out, is the Christian religion hasn’t really changed that much from their violent and wretched past: Christianity is still about exclusion and who believe the right thing, and those how are outside that need saving. In this book, he argues that there is a better way. And there is: LOVE!

Source: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/250879/the-great-spiritual-migration-by-brian-d-mclaren/9781601427922/

The last few years, I have found that I don’t fit into the Church I grew up in. I don’t hold as tight to the beliefs and rules that I grew up believing were the only way to follow Jesus . I find myself in a spot where I just want to love more and seek out opportunities to find challenges to be more forgiving, loving, and compassionate. I’m done with organizations that exclude people, and I’m more about organizations that include and welcome all people. This has been a long, tough journey, but I feel more freedom, which is the whole point of Christianity in the first place: freedom to love others. In his book, McLaren writes more about American churches, yet Canadian churches are just as complicit in evil (look at Indian Residential Schools for starters). He writes that “if our [church] prime contribution to humanity can be shifted from teaching correct beliefs to practicing the way of love as Jesus taught, then our whole understanding and experience of the church could be transformed. That’s why I’d like us to take a fresh look at the church as a school of love”(His emphasis, Pg 48).

McLaren shows the dangers of believing that Christianity is they only way, and excluding other faith traditions: “When we better come together as Christians, we can better join with parallel movements from other faith traditions, because ultimately, the problems we face are not just Christian problems, they are human problems. We are all human, and we need to see each other that way and work together to love each other. Just because you were raised in a certain faith tradition, that does not give you superiority and the ability to take control of what humanity should look like. That has failed miserably. Just look at Central America’s history with Christianity as one of many examples. If the goal in life to is learn how to love supernaturally, then we need to work together as humans to make that happen. It is this idea that had me nodding my head and whispering a joyful YES! as I read this book. Together is better. It’s not necessarily easy, but it is the only way.

Toward the end of the book, McLaren talks about how we can make this spiritual migration to love (instead of beliefs and rules) a reality. He quotes Richard Roh, a man also dedicated to spreading the message of love: “Richard Rohr says, ‘Pain that isn’t processed is passed on,’ or ‘Pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted.'” (Pg 187). There is a lot of healing that needs to take place in the world, healing that is required as a result of so-called christian actions. Decolonization, feminism, LGBTQ rights, civil rights: all of these movements are an act of healing, and Christians should be involved in these movements toward more love. Enough with the creeds and rules, more with the love and healing. As Shad would say, “What we all want, should look a little more like love.”

“A Discovery of Witches”: before it hits the net

A friend on Facebook recommended A Discovery of Witches. I can’t remember what the context was, but somehow she suggested that I might like it. Maybe because it was becoming a TV show and wanted us to read it before it changed? Anyway,she was right: I did like it.

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Discovery-Witches-All-Souls-Trilogy/dp/0143119680

This book reminded me of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer in that I devoured the book quickly; it was a page-turner. Witches, vampires, deamons, alchemy, ghosts, and more. It was entertaining and fun, which is why it reminded me of Twilight. But what I enjoyed most about this book is a book about books: Diana, a witch and historian, is researching alchemy in an Oxford library. Throughout the novel, books and libraries are key props and locations. Who doesn’t love reading a book about loving books?!

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/529032287459211764/

Throughout the novel, Diana is being hunts by all kinds of creatures because she had access to a long-lost manuscript that describes the history of creatures: witches, vampires, etc. So as a war starts to boil over who should have the book and how to get it back from the library stacks (it is charmed and only Diana can recall it), she meets a handsome vampire who helps her survive and plan for a better future. What if every human and creature just got along? What is vampires and witches could be friends, even become family? Although a bit of a cliche topic, it’s true: what would happen is we just all got along?

This week at work we were talking about starting a GSA which is exciting and asks that same question: what if we made space for everyone to get along and see each other as human. Labels can be helpful, but also dangerous. I think of those who identify as pansexual and they must just shake their heads at the effort and time people put into creating definitions and lines between genders. I wonder: will we ever get to a point where gender and labels don’t matter? What would that freedom look like?

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/410390584763852894/

Overall, I enjoyed Deborah Harkness’ book A Discovery of Witches because it was a fun story of a different world. The beginning had me hooked, I enjoyed the middle, but was left a bit disappointed because the last third of the book points toward a series and ended requiring readers to take on the next book. I thought that was too bad, but I completely understand that Harkness has built up her own world and it’s a great idea and a great world, and I’m sure that the next book will be exciting and interesting and full of exciting history, but I won’t be picking it up anytime soon. I’ll have to wait for the TV show to come out!

Source: https://deborahharkness.com/discovery-of-witches-tv-news-notes/

‘How to Stop Time”: healing first

I follow lots of authors on Twitter, but one of my favourites is Matt Haig. He writes a lot about living with anxiety. I find his tweets so encouraging. I first found Matt Haig when a friend gave me the book The Boy Named Christmas. A great book. So I was curious about his book How to Stop Time. A lot of people on Twitter were talking about the book. I was delighted to find the book at Costco one Saturday afternoon while accompanying my parents on a shopping trip (I’ll be in the book section, Mom.). For a while now I’ve been thinking about the subtle differences between healing and recovering. I appreciate now that there is a difference ,and I loved that my new thoughts coincided with Matt Haig’s novel.


Source: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/563682/how-to-stop-time-by-matt-haig/9780525522874/

From bits and pieces of podcasts, books, conversations, tweets, and I’m sure countless other sources, I’ve really been contemplating the idea that healing is something more internal, spiritual. Recovering is something more external, physical. I remember being extremely uncomfortable when people prayed that my dying Grandma would be healed. Now, I think that I am grateful for those prayers. I knew that my Grandma would never recover, so why were these people praying for that. But perhaps, they were praying that she would find healing in her soul. I truly hope that she did find healing in her illness, even though she didn’t recover. In Haig’s novel, he writes about a man, and an entire society of people actually, who has a rare condition: he ages slowly, so looks to be in the thirties at the age of three-hundred-something years old. Throughout the novel he struggles with the lonely life his condition creates and realizes that he lives in fear of discovery, so never allows himself to become fully human.


Source: https://www.facebook.com/matthaigislost/photos/a.278747858829204.58384.119627424741249/1418502831520362/?type=3

I loved this book for a few reasons, but one was the presence of music. Tom, the main character, learns to play the lute, the guitar, the piano, and several other instruments. But it is Haig’s descriptions of him playing the piano and getting lost in the emotion of playing that resonated with me. Something magical happens when I sit down at the piano and play. Time stretches, or doesn’t exist. I get carried away and I love it. I really like Haig’s description of music on Page 99: “And, yes, it [seeing Tchaikovsky conduct an orchestra] did nothing at first. But then, somehow, it got in. No. Not got it. That’s the wrong way of putting it. Music doesn’t get in. Music is already in. Music simply uncovers what is there, makes you feel emotions that you didn’t necessarily know you had inside you, and runs around waking them all up. A rebirth of sorts.” This! This is healing. Music is such a major part of my life, and when I read these words, I knew that Haig had put words to what I experience when I listen or play music: healing.


Source (and really nifty looking t-shirts!!): https://shop.spreadshirt.com/djbalogh/music?q=T231348

Without giving away too much, Tom finds healing in the book: he comes to terms with his fears and starts to live. Healing comes slowly, yet changes everything for him. I so appreciated this book. It was interesting, funny, sad, engaging, and infuriating at times. Yet I think it was the right book at the right time. There is a difference between healing and recovering. I believe now that healing is essential and might lead, in some cases, to recovery.

How to stop time: kiss.
How to travel in time: read.
How to escape time: music.
How to feel time: write.
How to release time: breathe.

(From Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig)


“Hawk”: it’s all connected

I was sitting at home tonight heartbroken, confused, and saddened by the news that Colten Boushie’s killer walked free after being found not guilty by a jury of non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. Disbelief that a man killed a kid and walks away as if nothing happened. I am seeing the effects of colonialism and systemic racism. A settler society found a settler not guilty according to manipulated settler legal proceedings. As this news was breaking, I was reading Hawk by Jennifer Dance, the story of a young Dene kid who gets leukemia and makes connections to the oil industry upstream from his reserve and connections to the animals who live around him, especially the hawks, whom he is named after.

Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25413713-hawk

I was asked to create a wishlist of books at my new school this year. I did a lot of looking, trying to add a lot of different voices into the library, especially Indigenous and Metis voices. So, Hawk ended up being one of the books approved and purchased. I haven’t read it before. I haven’t heard of it before. But it looked interesting, was written for teens, and was approved for purchase. So now there are students around this school reading this book and I thought I better read it myself.

I realize that life is a constant catch-22, as Dance states in the book, because of the oil sands: we need jobs to support people yet what is the impact of the oil sands on the land, the animals, and the humans who exist by the oil sands. It’s hard to talk about critically about oil in this town without feeling like I’m betraying people and also being a hypocrite, seeing as I am employed by the government that relies on oil money to pay my salary.

But that tension is what is present in Dance’s book. She makes some pretty heavy-handed comments about the oil industry and links it directly to illnesses an, animal extinctions, and land destruction. But she’s not wrong. As Adam, Hawk and he was called as a baby and now called again as an older teen, is diagnosed with leukemia and it changes everything. As he is in the hospital, he connects with a hawk that he and his grandfather saved from a tailings pond while on a tour of his dad’s worksite. In the hospital, he is gifted with the sight of the hawk and sees through the hawk’s eyes. He sees the pain and suffering of the animals and the land that he grew up on. He sees the disruption of migration. He sees the mutations and the deforestation. For his final class project in Gr 10, to move on to Gr 11, he shares his story: Hawk-eye View. He shares his story and his connection to the oil sands and the connection with the hawk to his community in a packed theatre that is sponsored by a major oil company.

Source: https://www.gotscience.org/2016/02/osprey-bird-of-many-names/

So, as I’m reading this book about how settler society has disrupted the lives of both people and animals in Northern Alberta I can’t help but connect this colonozation and push for resources to the Colton Boushie case. This family and this community has been painfully disrupted as one of their young people was shot in the head while seeking help on a farm property in Battleford, Saskatchewan. His cousin, Jade Tootoosis, said, “I pity them [the farmer and his people] because I don’t understand why they feel so much hate for someone they don’t know.”

When I think about Canada’s push toward reconciliation, I feel a responsibility as a teacher to teach the truth and expose this racism. So, I am grateful that there are students in my school reading this book. We need more voices and perspectives shared. This isn’t just a settler country, this is a country of treaties. We are all treaty people. I must have hope that the young people of Canada will learn and will make change so that racism doesn’t mean that young people are shot in the back of the head, or living with illnesses from contaminated water. There is much work to do.

Source: http://www.macleans.ca/opinion/in-saskatchewan-a-high-profile-trials-jury-selection-reveals-a-legal-injustice/

“North of Normal”: stranger than fiction

It;s hard to fathom that Cea Sunrise Person’s memoir North of Normal is real life. Her experiences are very real. I couldn’t put the book down because I had no idea what would happen next. What more could happen? How could something else change? What more could be changed? Person writes with clarity, grace, and feeling.]
 Source: http://ceaperson.com/

Cea Sunrise Person grows up during a unique time in American/Canadian history. When I told my Mom and Dad the premise of the memoir, my Dad replied, “Was this in the ’70s?” He knew. Then I remembered…I have inherited my Dad’s Valdy record collection. He knew.

One of the most striking ideas that hit me as I was reading was the resilience, trust, and then determination of Cea. She lived through some intense, painful, wonderful, gut-wrenching, terrifying, beautiful experiences. On her website, Person has a few Q&A videos. She knew as she was living her life that it was extraordinary. Yet she talks about her shame. Shame in being different. Even as a teen, she realized that she had a story to tell that people would want to read. I can’t help but think of the idea that sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. One of the most moving moments in her first video on her website is that she wanted to tell her story for her Mom, who was suffering with caner.

Writing to deal with and overcome the past. That is what she was seeking: trying to understand her own life by exploring her past.

Source: https://www.ctvnews.ca/new-memoir-recounts-childhood-of-being-raised-off-the-grid-in-canada-s-north-1.1809342

Persons writes a lot about her grandfather, Papa Dick. It was Pap Dick’s idea to move to the wilderness to get off of the grid and to experience the simple life. One of the phrases that stood out to me and stuck with me is what Papa Dick says to Cea: “Welcome this, for life lessons come by experiences and not by chatter” (Pg 120). I realize that in Person’s situation that a lot of what she experienced is abuse. Yet I this phrase stands out: how do we live and learn? By living.

I hope that Person’s life has settled and that she has found peace and forgiveness. I am grateful that she shared her story.

“Counting by 7s”: people matter

I’m trying to catch up on some new books. It’s been a while since I’ve read YA fiction. Lately I’ve read The Hunger Games, Hawk, and now Counting by 7s. I want to know what my students are reading (especially if they are reading as a small-group novel study in class). The Hunger Games was fun. I enjoyed it. Hawk was interesting and I liked it too. But there’s something about Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan that stuck with me.


Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15937108-counting-by-7s

Do you ever have times or cycles where your dreams are vivid, realistic, and disturbing. Those dreams where you wake up and you feel rotten, anxious, afraid, or sad. I can’t always remember the dreams, but I know that they wake me up several times a night. I’m not too sure what my brain is processing, but I hate these dream cycles. While reading this book, my dreams changed. I woke up feeling warm and fuzzy. I woke up feeling happy and connected. Amazing.

But then again, maybe not. Counting by 7s is the story of one young gal, Willow, who is trying to find connections after the tragic death of her adoptive parents. She doesn’t have  any other family. Not even that many close friends. So what’s a girl to do? How can someone connect at a new school in a completely terrible situation. But that what Sloan writes about. Throughout the novel, Willow collects a family. It’s lovely, it’s beautiful, and it’s uplifting.


Source: http://www.theresabook.com/2013/09/guest-post-and-giveaway-holly-goldberg-sloan-author-of-counting-by-7s/

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea that teens are reading about how to build positive relationships. It makes my teacher heart happy to see that students are getting so much out of this novel. It makes my societal heart happy to see teens reading about building positive relationships that build up friends. There is no competition in the book: it’s about genuine friendships and hardwork to form meaningful relationships. I think that’s also why my dreams changed while reading this book: I was so enveloped by hope and joy.

Thank you Holly Goldberg Sloan. Thank you. A wonderful reminder that life is hopeful, that people are good, and that life can be beautiful.


Source: https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2017/02/how-to-make-friends-as-an-adult/