Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dragon Springs Road

Dragon Springs Road

Book covers are such an important feature of a book, inviting readers to reach out and dive in. Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang, is, first of all, a treat for the eyes, with this colourful and well-designed cover and secondly, a captivating story. 

The tale within takes place during the early years of the newly established Chinese Republic. The main character, Jialing, is a young Eurasian girl who is abandoned by her mother in Shanghai and left to fend for herself. We follow the progression of her life as she copes with racism, sexism and political upheaval in an attempt to find a place for herself in the world with the help of a spirit fox.

See if you find this brief trailer enticing.

The characters in this novel are well-portrayed and our hearts bump along with Jialing's at every turning. 

The author, Janie Chang, is an award-winning author. Dragon Springs Road is her second novel. Here is her bio from her website:

Janie Chang draws upon family history for her novels. She grew up listening to stories about ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals, and about life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War.
She is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She is also the founder and main organizer of Canadian Authors for Indies, a national day of support by authors for independent bookstores. 
Born in Taiwan, Janie has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand.  She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada.
Her first novel, THREE SOULS, was a finalist for the 2014 BC Book Prizes Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and one of 9 Canadian books long-listed for the 2015 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD, was released in January 2017.

 If you're interested in Janie's stories about her ancestors and family, click here to read.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

April the Giraffe

For a few weeks now there has been global attention on a private zoo in upstate New York, The Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, NY where April and her mate Oliver, reticulated giraffes, are expecting a calf, April's 4th and Oliver's 1st.

There is a live-streaming YouTube Channel where fans can watch the birth when it begins, although they tell us that the video will be turned off at the moment of birth until the vet can be certain that both April and the new calf are ok. 

Every day that goes by is another day closer to a new-born giraffe.

Watch the live streaming action HERE. April also has her own website at

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Limerick for Mathematicians

St. Patrick's Day is over, but here's a limerick anyway. It's an oldie but goodie.

A dozen, a gross and a score
plus three times the root of four
divided by seven
plus five times eleven
is nine squared and not a bit more

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stolen Beauty, A Piece of the World, Cooking for Picasso

I not sure what the odds are that I would encounter these three books one after the other in my reading. Serendipitous for sure, especially since all three are set in the same time period and all three use the same literary device of dividing the time periods in two and alternating between them. (Is there a name for this increasingly popular way of telling stories?)

Stolen Beauty

A Piece of the World

Cooking for Picasso

All three novels are historical, each featuring an artist from the past, woven into an imagined scenario using actual facts as known. 

Stolen Beauty, by Laurie Lico Albanese, tells the story of the woman in the painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, a magnificence of beauty, magical symbols and real gold leaf, painted in 1907. I urge you to Google it for a better view.

Gustav Klimt 046.jpg

Adele Bloch-Bauer and her husband Ferdinand, actual historical figures, were wealthy Jews living a luxurious life in the grand days of early 20th century Vienna. They attended concerts and balls and collected wonderful pieces of art that years later were "Aryanized" by the Nazis. Adele, an intellectual woman, hosted afternoon salons with speakers on arts and politics at a time when there was increasing anti-Semitism and challenging socialist ideas. Adele befriended artist Gustav Klimt becoming both friend and muse, and, according to our fiction, lover. 

The story also reaches 40 years into the future to the life of Adele's real-life niece, Maria Altmann, who was a newly-wed in Vienna when the Nazis overran Austria. Maria's attempts to save her imprisoned husband as well as her aunt's beloved paintings have been featured on the big screen, but I knew nothing of it, being a book- rather than a movie-buff, so I found the entire novel captivating. 

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline also imagines, using known historical facts, the life of a girl in a painting, in this case, Christina's World by American painter Andrew Wyeth.


The subject of the painting, handily included in the back of the book, is Christina Olson, a life-long spinster who suffered most probably from a rare case of Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome, though it was never diagnosed. This malady caused her pain along with joint and bone malformations from an early age but she refused to give in or to use any aids that we would consider normal today, such as a wheelchair. Instead, she insisted on getting places by crawling/pulling/dragging herself along.  Christina and her brother Al hosted the painter Andrew Wyeth who used their rustic home as a painting studio for many summers when he vacationed in Maine and, as well as becoming close friends, the pair also served quite often as models.

This novel, set in the years 1896 to post WWII, opens a window into both a famous 20th-century painting and a great American artist, as well bringing to life the hardships faced in rural and coastal Maine in this time period.

Cooking for Picasso, by Camille Aubray is a fictional story of the famous painter at a time, in 1936, when he actually went "undercover" in the south of France in the small seaside town of Juan-les-Pins. Of the three novels, this one is the most made-up, but the story is mostly charming, supposing that the fictional Girl-in-a-Window painting is a young girl from a café who brought daily meals to M. Ruiz (P's undercover name) at his rented accommodation. She quickly learns his real identity and surprise, surprise, astonishes him with her perspicacity.

Pablo Picasso, 'Woman at the Window' 1952
this one?

PICASSO: WOMAN, 1937. Pablo Picasso: Woman Seated Before a Window. Oil, pastel on canvas, 1937.:
or this one?

Neither. Of all the paintings mentioned in this novel, Girl-in-a-Window is the only fictitious one and is actually based on an idea of a painting more in the Rembrandt style.

I say the story is "mostly charming" because Picasso was not necessarily a nice person, being a typical man of this time period, with definite opinions about the subservient place of women in society and having both a wife from whom he's separated as well as a long-time mistress. In this story, he "takes advantage" of Ondine, our young chef. To her credit, the author doesn't try to make the man into who he's not, but some readers may take issue with this aspect of his greatness. 

Also, of the three novels, this one has the quickest pace especially when the story turns, as so many novels do, to a time in the future when the granddaughter of Ondine is trying to learn who her grandmother was and what her secrets were. I enjoyed the ups and downs of the plot and could see that this novel might do well on a movie screen. The author, Camille Aubray lives in both the US and the south of France and also has a Canadian connection, having attended the Humber School for Writers and having Margaret Atwood as a mentor. 

I enjoyed this book a lot, although a few recipes in an addendum would have been a nice touch. The author's website,, is printed on the book jacket so I looked it up and enjoyed seeing photographs of some of the Provencal scenes that inspired the setting. There are also a couple of recipes on the site as well as some thought-provoking questions for book clubs. 

You won't go wrong with choosing any of these books for a fascinating read and to learn more about the painters depicted. Just keep your device handy so you can google the paintings mentioned and check on biographical details to enrich your experience. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Wasps, nasty creatures we think, but part of our natural world. If a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, wasps, surely, are insects that are just underappreciated. 

Mattia Menchetti, an Italian biology student has discovered that when captive paper wasps are provided with coloured papers they build colourful nests.



Thursday, March 9, 2017

Big Ben

The clocks change to Daylight Time on Sunday morning, March 12, so it seems like a good time to post this video about Big Ben, the massive bell in London England that has been ringing the hours since 1854.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Maple Syrup Season is Here

Andrew's back with another farm tour, his 8th of a promised 52 in 2017. So far we've had virtual farm tours of sheep, chicken, beef, dairy, bison, goats, grain etc., all owned and run by young Canadian farmers who are passionate about their farm.

This time we visit a maple syrup operation, Fort Rose Maple Company in Parkhill, Ontario, north-west of London. Lots of interesting information in this video.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


I've written before about Budgies or Parakeets and I've also mentioned Jack Perks, more than once. He's a wildlife photog in the UK, specializing in river fish and has recently published a new book

I don't think most of us think about the UK having parakeets flying about, but recently Mr. Perks was in London's Hyde Park where there is a healthy population of these colourful birds. They likely originated from pets that escaped as long as 60 years ago and they have done well for themselves, competing successfully for food and nesting sites with the native birds. 

Here's a short video: