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Summer Reads and Reviews

*WARNING - This post contains foul language.

There's nothing better than reading in the grass on a hot summer's day with a cold drink in hand. Or, camping with a fire crackling, kitty leashed up and hiding in the ferns, with a good book by your side.

This summer was guaranteed to be different than others because of COVID-19. After a strange school year, and not knowing what school would look like in the fall, I decided to forego the mountains of professional development (teaching) books that I would usually peruse, and instead focus on getting through another of Robin Hobb's lengthy novels. Of course, eventually I needed a book (or three) on the side to break up the novel a bit, and ended up reading far more books than I had intended this summer.

Below are reviews of the books, as well as links to their GoodReads pages and author biographies.

Mad Ship - Robin Hobb

The second book in the Liveship Traders Trilogy, I recommend you check out my review of the first book, here, to learn about this series (rather than me giving away spoilers by explaining partway through). I love Hobb's writing, because it's very detailed and contains interconnected plots with lots of twists, but I find her books very long to get through so if you're looking for a quick read, these books aren't for you.

The Last Fairy Door - N.A. Davenport

The Last Fairy Door is a great tale for lovers of magic and adventure!

There are many aspects of this book that make it well written. First, within the first fifty pages, the author paces it beautifully. Right away, the reader is introduced to the main character, setting, and the problem, including carefully written detail that doesn't take away from the pace of the story. There are also gentle clues of foreshadowing throughout the entire book that would make it great for practicing predicting and inferencing!

The characters themselves are very relatable, and I think even moreso nowadays for children, as the main character speaks at times about feeling anxious. It normalizes this, showing that there are stressful situations where one can feel anxious, and the character pushes through and bravely faces her fears. The main fairy in the story is a male, which I think is just a lovely way to reverse gender stereotypes - plus the chemistry between the two works much better this way I think than if this fairy were female.

When I first got this book, I really wanted to read it to my 7-year-old niece, as she loves fairies! I wasn't sure with the context of the main character's dad being on his deathbed whether or not it would be okay for her to listen to, so I decided against it and just read it on my own. I think after having read it, I would invite my niece to read it with a parent, as the scenes in the hospital are quite detailed and might be a bit much for a 7-year-old. I would love to hear the age it was targeted for, as it isn't written on the cover. If I were to guess, I would think it's probably written fro 9-11 year olds, as it's a chapter book with a couple of tougher words throughout it that might help this age group further develop their vocabulary, and they are old enough at that point to think about loved ones dying.

Overall, great read! Looking forward to checking out more by Davenport.

Yoga for Hikers // Yoga Anatomy

These aren't typically the type of book that you would read start to finish, so over the years I have flipped through these on numerous occasions. This summer though, I really wanted to understand more of the mechanics of yoga and interconnected pieces backed with science, so I read the first few chapters of these books to learn more. After having done so, I've been able to flip throughout the book and be able to better apply what I've read and am reading to myself during yoga practice and day-to-day.

The Dalai Llama's Book of Awakening

This tiny book introduces Buddhism and the schools of thought behind the main teachings. Having read other books on Buddhism, I found this one had far too much jargon and was not very easy to follow - it was informational, not focused on practices, but the teachings behind them. I hate that I didn't love it, but would recommend a few other books before this one to someone who is just getting started to mindfulness or learning about Buddhist teachings related to mindfulness. - I should do a post for you on mindfulness books that I've found useful, as I've read quite a few over the years.

Swamp Thing - Vol. I & II

It had been a few years since I had read Swamp Thing, and I had forgotten both how enjoyable and quotable it is!

There is a large collection of Swamp Thing issues written and illustrated by numerous people. It is one of the classic comics that has been around for years, but this one by Alan Moore is the only version I've read. A comic-lover friend of mine had recommended it as being the best one, but I can't really speak to this since I haven't read others. However, there are many aspect of this one I enjoy. For example, when Moore took on this, he decided he wanted to rebuild who Swamp Thing is, so the first book looks at Swamp Thing's story and sort of revamps it in a way that shares what's needed about previous issues, but also sets him up to take on a new life of his own.

The artwork and story are kind of a gothic horror, with underlying themes in politics and the environment. A perfect combination of darkness and life!

How to Stay Human in a F*cked Up World - Tim Desmond

Fantastic title, isn't it?

This one came up in a list recommended by Wholesome Culture, and right away I went to Indigo to order it. This title is exactly how I feel about the world. My depression and anxiety stems from the decisions society makes/creates as a whole, like mass pollution, ignorance around the Coronavirus, the ways in which the government is corrupt... Basically the lack of humanity in the world.

This book is a survival guide.

Upfront it says, yes, the world IS fucked. And you have a choice. You can choose to focus on the lack of humanity, or, you can find the glimmers of humanity and amplify them.

...So very true.

This book looks at mindfulness and how it can be used to cultivate more happiness in your own life, and less pain. But it does this through a completely original lens that I've never seen before. The author writes:

"They say mindfulness is about taking deep breaths, sitting on a cushion on the floor, or watching your thoughts and feelings with disinterest - like you're watching a boring TV show.

When Thich Nhat Hanh uses the word mindfulness, he's describing a way of relating to the world (and specifically to suffering) that contains compassion, joy, equanimity, and wisdom. It is precisely the quality that allows us to stay human in fucked-up situations - to stay open, caring, and able to relate." - p. 13

He also simplifies the Four Noble Truths in a way that really makes sense to me:

Everyone suffers sometimes (Noble Truth of suffering)

Suffering has causes (Noble Truth of causation)

Well-being is possible (Noble Truth of cessation)

Well-being also has causes (Noble Truth of the path)

Doesn't this make far more sense? The book works through each of these, however I'm only about 1/4 through the book. Already I've tried some of the exercises, and have noticed how they've already started reshaping the way I see things, and evoking more compassion from my heart even in difficult times.

If you're looking for a different take on mindfulness, I highly recommend this book!

Zero Waste Home - Bea Johnson

As someone who cares deeply for the planet (I'm actually writing a YA graphic novel with themes around environment and mental health), I couldn't put this book down when I first got it! I read the first hundred pages within the first few days, making notes, and adding stickies to pages for easy reference.

At this point, I've decided to take a break from reading it, simply because once I read about a way to reduce waste, I want to implement it right away, and already I've completely turned around our household in the last week since getting the book.

One thing I really like about Bea's writing, is she shares about her journey to Zero Waste, and it becomes clear how much groundwork she's done for her readers. She's researched, tested, retested, tried and failed, succeeded, and simplified. Zero Waste can literally take over your life, and some things that sound like a great idea really take so much time and effort, one has to wonder if it's sustainable. She shares these things in her book to A) give her readers an out - you don't have to do it all! That's not possible to sustain on top of regular life. And B) to help readers save time and energy by learning from her own trials.

She also shares straight up that Zero Waste is not truly possible with the world we live in and systems in place for dealing with waste. BUT, one can certainly significantly reduce their waste. There are five steps the author shares, which also shifts the way we look at all things in the home:

REFUSE - Don't bring freebies home, refuse receipts and unnecessary waste, buy unpackaged/paper packaged over plastic packaging, etc.

REDUCE - Declutter your home. Think ahead to reduce packaging - buy in bulk, or bring your own containers, think of alternatives to high waste habits.

REUSE - Repurpose things that would otherwise end up in the recycling or compost. Often people will just throw things in those bins thinking they're doing a good thing, but in reality, a lot of what ends up in the recycling actually goes to the landfill, so whenever you can reuse something, it is usually better than throwing it away, even if you think it will be recycled. Of course, this applies to food too! Sure, soil is great that is made from your compost, but there are often ways you can use up food instead of throwing it in the bin.

RECYCLE - We all know what recycling is, but most people do it wrong. Looking into your local recycling program to check what exactly they accept on the curb, as well as what they accept dropped off at the recycling centre is key. I'm totally guilty of tossing old condiment bottles in the recycle without rinsing them first, but guess what? They don't recycle those dirty items - those just end up in the landfill. Half of my garbage-can used to be filled with clean plastic, which is accepted at my local recycling centre. Just rethinking these habits and being very purposeful with waste is important. It is super important to Recycle as the fourth step instead of one of the first. It's not doing anyone any good if it's just going to end up in the landfill, or downcycled into unrecyclable plastic, or pumping chemicals into the air during the recycling process when it could have been Refused, Reduced, or Reused.

ROT - Food waste shouldn't be sitting in a landfill. Unfortunately, lots of places don't offer compost pick-up, so people are left to take care of their own food waste. The district I live in does have compost pick-up, but not in the part of town I live in, so I feed my food waste to our neighbour's chickens in exchange for free eggs. However, this doesn't take care of soiled paper or coffee grinds, which is accepted in the compost pick-up. When you break down everything like this, it becomes really apparent the amount of waste humans produce, and how complicated disposing of things is.

After reading the first bit of this book, I've revamped my garbage/recycle/compost system to better reflect my local options and further reduce my waste. I've also shifted where I grocery shop, and what I buy. Lastly, I've been trying to reuse far more often. A couple things I've done in this regard include chopping the white part of the watermelon rind (no green and no red) to pickle and to candy. The pickling is finished and is surprisingly delicious! And the candying is still drying out, so TBD how that one turns out. Chopping the watermelon took a couple of hours, but the yield was nine cups of rind! Another thing I've done is switched to making homemade iced tea for my partner, as he loves having juices around, but buying juice is so wasteful. I got some loose-leaf tea (did you know that tea bags have micro plastic in them?) and add whatever fruit is on hand that needs to be used up for extra flavour and variety - these teas have been a hit!

I have found that in the past week, I spend far more time in the kitchen reusing and cooking things before they go bad. This is great as it saves me from wasting food, but it is very time consuming. I don't know how I would manage this lifestyle while working (I'm a teacher and am off for the summer) or with kids (I don't have any, but fair warning to those who do).

Regardless, this book is packed with helpful suggestions, and in general just totally shifts the way you think and see everything around you. I highly recommend it!

Pacific Northwest Foraging - Douglas Deur

This summer we've spent a lot of time berry picking, and as we approach mushroom season, we wondered what else we could harvest from the wild. This book popped up as a recommendation on Amazon when I was ordering the ones below, and I took a gamble and bought it. It turned out to be SUCH a great find! Not only are there countless plants in the book that grow everywhere around here, but the setup of the book is just so user-friendly.

Each page is broken into general information about the plant, a description of what it looks like, where and when to harvest, how to prepare it to eat (not in detail, just tells you whether you eat it fresh, roast it, turn it into flour, etc.), AND how to encourage the species to continue growing (i.e. plant some seeds, leave part of the root). I love this last piece because it is so important that when people are learning to forage that they understand the impact this can have if not done correctly and allowing the plant to come back next season is essential for most species.

Another fantastic thing about this book, is that there are actual colour photos for each plant. Most books like this have hand sketched drawings or just describe the shape of the leaf in words instead of pictures. It can be very hard to confidently identify when you don't know you're looking at, so the colour photos (and often multiple to show different types/ripeness) are very useful.

The book is also set up in alphabetical order, which some people might not love, but I'm coming to really like it, because it encourages me to learn the name of a new plant that I've identified - or at least, I think "It starts with an 's' - towards the back of the book!"

Of all of the foraging books I have, I would probably recommend this one first to someone looking to get into it on the west coast.

Pacific Feast // All that the Rain Promises and More

These two are another couple of foraging books I would recommend.

Pacific Feast includes recipes for all of those yummy foods found by using the pocket guide that goes with it, or a different guide like Pacific Norhtwest Foraging (above). There isn't as much detail in this book for harvesting, but it is so useful to have a book full of recipes and information on preserving local delicacies, as harvesting books don't often go into details on these things.

All that the Rain Promises and More is the most comprehensive mushroom field guide I've seen. It doesn't include every single mushroom (you would need a mushroom bible for that), but it is laid out to help people determine which type of mushroom they have found. It features coloured photos, a flow chart, and lots of detailed information for mushroom lovers.

And that brings me to the end of my long summer reading list. Let me know in the comments if you have read any of these or if any now catch your eye!

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