Saturday, March 31, 2012

Getaway, by Lisa Brackmann

I'm not sure why, but I didn't have high expectations for this book. I thought it would be a struggle to get through, but honestly--and I know this is a cliche--it was a struggle to put it down!

The basic premise is that a recently widowed woman, Michelle, is vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when she decides to be spontaneous and give in to a sudden urge, which results in her sharing a bed with a man she barely knows. Before she even has time to regret it, masked strangers burst into the room and attack her companion. He's not seriously injured but he does end up with her cell phone by mistake. Within the next 48 hours our unlucky heroine finds herself arrested on trumped up drug charges, followed by police, bugged by a mysterious American, and without her phone and her passport. She does get the phone back but the rest only gets more complicated from there.

Getaway is the sort of novel you take with you on vacation. It's light, genuinely engaging, full of intrigue (but not too difficult to follow, even if you were on your third margarita while sunbathing on the beach). It makes me wish I were lying in the sun reading it...though probably not in Mexico.

The one thing that did bother me about Getaway was...

Hit the jump for more--

Hippie Boy: A Girl's Story, by Ingrid Ricks

Things seem to go from bad to worse for thirteen-year-old Ingrid when she escapes her overbearing Mormon stepfather and religious zealot mother to go on a roadtrip with her travelling salesman dad, only to discover that he is not the reliable parent she needs him to be. When he gets himself arrested, Ingrid has no one left to rely on but herself.

It sounds like a YA novel but this memoir by Ingrid Ricks is filled with heartbreak, triumph and unadorned honesty. I found myself wanting to reach into the pages and give teenaged Ingrid a hug.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Philosophy of the Beats, by Sharin N. Elkholy (ed.)

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Oh, to be a Beat! Even two generations later I am still enamored of the Beats, or at least the idea of them. If you'll notice, my name on this very blog is listed as "Beatnik Mary." 

As a poet and spoken word artist who would love to fancy herself as oh-so-very counter culture, while living a life of mainstream privilege in the suburbs, I have always had a soft spot for those university-educated middle class poets of the 1940's and '50's who declared themselves oh-so-very disaffected and "dropped out" of mainstream society, while never having to actually go hungry. It's all so romantic, so beatnik, but without any real hardship.

But even I found the daddies of the Beat generation--Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg--a little inaccessible. They're all so very male, so masculinist, that it was hard for me to relate to them directly. I always felt that if I were a contemporary of any of them, none of them would be interested in what a "girl writer" had to say.

So I was more than gratified to discover the book Philosophy of the Beats, a collection of essays that doesn't just focus on the three most famous voices of the movement, but looks at some of the--glory of glories!--female beat poets like Diane di Prima. 

Ah, to be a Beat indeed!

Against Their Will: North Carolina's Sterilization Program and the Campaign for Reparations, by Kevin Begos, Danielle Deaver, John Railey, and Scott Sexton

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Against Their Will examines the horrors of the forced sterilization program of North Carolina from the 1920's until the 1970's. Although the majority of states in the U.S. had, at one time, policies of forced sterilization for those considered "dangerous, ill or feeble-minded," North Carolina stands out for expanding their program when most states were ending them, after the atrocities of Nazi medical experiments came to light in the 1940's.

Undeterred by the negative attention forced sterilization had received, North Carolina continued to sterilize thousands of people without their consent for decades, most for no other reason than that they were poor, uneducated and Black.

Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (by Rebecca Skloot), Against Their Will takes a hard look at how the "expert scientific opinions" of doctors and government officials are--and always have been--influenced by the personal, socioeconomic, cultural and racial biases of their time. The North Carolina sterilization program is clearly an example of racism and economic elitism in the medical field which resulted in thousands of people having their basic human rights violated "for their own good."

Read more after the jump--

Central Park, by Andrew Blauner (editor)

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Central Park is a collection of short stories and essays about one of New York's most famous locations (you guessed it--Central Park). For those of us not from New York, Central Park is an iconic landmark, the uncredited extra cast member in Woody Allen movies and Law & Order episodes. But for New Yorkers, it is so much more, as this collection makes clear. It is, as editor Andrew Blauner points out, the paradox of New York City, the calming green space in the midst of one of the world's most bustling cities, the point that "divides...separating East Side from West Side...but also unites...somehow simultaneously defines and defies the city."

Central Park contains short stories from famous authors, as well as essays from New York City Parks officials. One story of note is "The Sixth Borough" by Jonathan Safran Foer, a version of which appears in  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The fable of the sixth borough was one my favourite part of that novel, so I was delighted to see it included in this anthology.

The Bodacious Kid, by Stan Lynde

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My partner Mike and I both refer to this as "my cowboy book" ("Honey, have you seen my cowboy book?" "I think you left your cowboy book in the kitchen.").

It's no secret that I have little experience with Westerns. I watched Bonanza as a kid and may have seen a few minutes of the movie Shane on TV once. The only Western book I've ever read is the recent The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick Dewitt, but that had more in common with No Country For Old Men than it did with Gunsmoke, at least in tone. But I knew that Western novels were the sort of books that friends' grandfathers would collect and read by the dozens, so I figured many of them must have a "cozy fiction" feel to them that I could relate to.

So when I saw that there was a giveaway for a copy of the paperback edition of Stan Lynde's The Bodacious Kid, I thought, "Why not?" Mike teased me that I might have a new favourite genre and started saying things like "howdy" and "I reckon." But honestly, he might be right!

Read more after the jump, plus a link to the Stan Lynde fan club!

The 'Men's Only' Book of Toilet Trivia, by Wally Zubric

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Heh heh. When my partner Mike saw me reading this he scoffed (actually scoffed!) and said, "Free book, huh?" To which I responded with, "Did you know that the average person produces approximately their own weight in excrement each year?" He left the room.

Over the next few hours, I gleefully followed him around the apartment regaling him with fun facts such as, "The average person ingests a litre of other peoples' flatulence every day" and "The koala has two penises." Despite his eye-rolling and hands-over-the-ears gestures, I could tell he was enthralled.

Okay, maybe not enthralled. The 'Men's Only' Book of Toilet Trivia didn't seem to appeal to the man in my life. I was met with a lot of groaning and "Where'd he get that fact? Did he cite his sources?" (For your information, Mike, Wally Zubric did cite his sources...mostly Wikipedia and something called Factoidz). Okay so maybe his "facts" wouldn't hold up to even the most rudimentary of criticism, but whatever, Mike. Whatever. It's a fun book.

And did you know that the plural of "clitoris" is "clitorides"? Exactly. You're welcome.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

On the Edge, by Gill Shutt (a novelette)

Gill Shutt's fantasy novelette, On the Edge, follows a group of monkeys (monkey-like creatures, but sentient and with a rudimentary belief system...on a planet with two moons) who go to the edge of their territory, only to discover a band of strangers (other monkey-like creatures, but with a slightly different and more violent belief system) huddled there in the "Home Trees." The strangers proceed to insinuate themselves into the existing community, separating the young from the old, the males from the females, the leaders from the followers, and slyly eliminating any who oppose them. The story, I think, is meant to be chilling and sad, and perhaps is meant as a commentary on human behaviour.

More after the jump...

my name on his tongue, by Laila Halaby

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Laila Halaby was born in Lebanon to a Jordanian father and an American mother, and was raised mostly in the United States. The breadth of her cultural experience is reflected in her gorgeous collection of poetry, my name on his tongue, which addresses the issues of cultural identity, racism and belonging with honesty and elegance. Her poems are divided into chapters such as "No matter how much za'atar you eat, you still gotta work to be an Arab/writer/woman" and "My grandma and your grandma were sitting by the fire..." Her words blend seamlessly the personal and the political, such as when she is dismayed when a wealthy liberal mom at her child's daycare tries to "share her outrage" over the American invasion of Iraq "then tells me about the gourmet dinners she arranges with fellow liberals to discuss her disgust."

More after the jump...

Death of a Kingfisher, by M.C. Beaton

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The Hamish Macbeth series is my all-time favourite series in the cozy mystery genre. In fact, it is one of the reasons I love the genre so much. I have plowed through many a book for no other reason than that I hoped it would contain just a little of the charm of a great M.C. Beaton tale. Having said that, Ms. Beaton has been at this a very long time and some books are bound to be better than others.

Death of a Kingfisher is still very good and it's certainly not the total misstep that Death of a Chimney Sweep turned out to be, but it is not exactly a home run either. The main problem--and this is characteristic of many of the books in the series--is that half of the plot action takes place in what feels like a very long anticlimax. That is to say that our hero, the intrepid Hamish Macbeth, solves the titular crime about halfway into the book (in this case it is not only a kingfisher whose death is being investigated but several human victims as well, obviously) and then the rest of the book is told as a jumbled assortment of facts from the points of view of several characters but without any real suspense or mystery. It's like only the first half is a whodunnit while the second half is a bafflingly long epilogue.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

(Slightly) New Look Coming Soon!!

Since you're probably wondering, the picture above is of me doing a performance art piece in which I had words written all over my arms that I then washed off with water. I don't want you to think my arms are covered in poorly done, illegible tattoos. That would be weird.

But I posted it to illustrate a point. That is, it's time for a new look!

It's no secret that when I started Cozy Little Book Journal (or CLBJ, as no one is calling it) it was just an online version of my own personal book journal that I'd been keeping for years. It never occurred to me that--gasp!--people might one day read it. Well, it's been a little over two years (despite the blog posts labelled as 2006, 2007, etc.--those were deliberately back-dated to reflect when I read the books, not when I posted the review online--I've only had the blog since around March 2010) and I'm thrilled to see that people ARE reading and that my readership is growing. I've gone from someone who nerdishly and bashfully records in a little notebook every time she finishes a book to a BOOK BLOGGER (someone who nerdishly and PROUDLY posts online every time she finishes a book). It's an exciting time to be a nerd, truly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz, by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri

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This is a shorter version of Eva Mozes Kor's biography, this time adapted for a young adult audience. Having said that, it's a devastating and captivating story, accessible to both teens and adults. Eva and her twin sister Miriam were taken to Auschwitz in 1944 when they were just ten years old. Their parents and older sisters were all killed but the girls managed to survive only because they were twins, brought into the sadistic experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel of Death. They were starved, injected with disease and shot at, but somehow they survived.

At only 152 pages, this is a book that can be read in a few hours but leaves a big impact. After reading Eva's story, I plan to find her previous biography as well, Echoes from Auschwitz: Dr. Mengele's Twins: The Story of Eva and Miriam Mozes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Funny Frank, by Dick King-Smith (illustrated by John Eastwood)

Guest blogger: MAGDA!

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Magda's dad and I finished reading this book aloud to her on March 24, 2012. I interviewed Magda about it on March 26, 2012. Here's what she had to say:
What book is this?
     Funny Frank
Do you know who wrote it?
     Uh, Dick King-Smith!
What’s it about?
     Dick King-Smith!
Haha, no, I mean what happens in the book?
     He gets killed.
Who gets killed?
     Uh, Funny Frank’s family.
Oh yeah, some of them do get killed.
But not his mom. Who saves his mom?
     The fox come and she was killed but she wasn’t killed.
Who scared the fox away?
     Uh, Funny Frank!
That’s right! So what kind of animal is Funny Frank?
     A duck!
Is he really a duck?
     He is.
So can he swim in the pond with the other ducks?
     No, he can’t.
Why not?
     He can’t.
But ducks can swim. Isn't he a duck?
     No, he’s not. He’s a chicken.
Continue reading after the jump (and see our play dough "Frank Pond") 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

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Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not of the boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. (book jacket)

In this haunting novel--a descriptor that is overused but in this case apt--Lionel Shriver tries to answer the question: Why'd he do it? What happened? We read about these kids on the news, the ones who take weapons to school and go on a rampage in the cafeteria. What happened? Were they abused? Were they bullied? Were they crazy? More often than not the newspapers give us few answers. In We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eva Khatchadourian tries to make sense of her own son's rampage. Why did he do it? Where did it all go wrong?

But Lionel Shriver is asking another question in her novel. What happens if you don't love your child? The character of Eva is ambivalent about having children, ambivalent about pregnancy and painfully ambivalent about her own child when he arrives. She, in her words, feels nothing. It's easy to say that this is common, that it is postpartum depression, and that the attachment will come with time. But what if it doesn't? Eva is so disappointed in her own disappointed at motherhood that she keeps her child at arm's length and never forms the bond she assumed would come naturally. Is this why he became a killer? Or was she naturally distant from him because he was born a monster?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The 13th Tribe: The Immortal Files, by Robert Liparulo

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The 13th Tribe is a story of a group of immortals (the titular Thirteenth Tribe), cursed to roam the earth for all eternity as punishment for turning away from the god of Moses at Mount Sinai and instead worshiping the golden calf. They seek out vengeance against those they perceive as sinners as a twisted attempt to win back God's favour. Caught in the middle is the unlikely named Jagger Baird, a former Army Ranger with a prosthetic arm and a (stereotypical) chip on his shoulder.

You can always tell when a writer takes their research seriously and when they just make it up as they go along. I have not read any of Robert Liparulo's (apparently quite popular) books, but if The 13th Tribe is any indication, he falls into the latter category. On the one hand, when you're dealing with supernatural creatures and a far-fetched fantasy story, you're going to take a lot of liberties with reality. On the other hand, I've always felt that these are precisely the stories that most benefit from attention to detail and accuracy about the "non-fantasy" aspects of the manuscript. After all, if the author creates a world that feels real, fleshed-out and believable, it is much easier for the reader to follow him on the journey into the fantastic.

The Hundred Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais

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Richard C. Morais' debut novel, The Hundred Foot Journey, is a travel book for anyone who has ever watched The Food Network and thought, "Wherever that kitchen is, that's where I want to go."

Food is the language of this book. The character of Hassan Haji sometimes struggles with issues of identity and belonging as he travels from Mumbai to London to Lumiere to Paris, but always this struggle is phrased in terms of food: to make curry or frogs legs, to seek out tiffin boxes or fish and chips. Even his Muslim identity is mentioned rarely except when relating to diet: to eat pork or not. Ultimately Hassan's true identity is food. His religion is food. His ethnicity is food. His blood runs with curry and wine and butter and garlic and the jus of fresh oysters.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tip for Readers: Follow Your Favourite Publishers!

If you're interested in getting the latest news about your favourite authors or to sign up for contests and book giveaways, I highly recommending checking out publishers' web sites. Most of them have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts that you can like or follow, and many of them have newsletters that you can get by email. It's a great way to keep up-to-date on new releases and to occasionally snag an ARC (advanced reading copy) of a book if you're a book reviewer. Plus, it's a nice way to support smaller publishing houses, like the ones that publish that children's book about your home town or the anthology of regional ghost stories you loved as a kid.

A little extra promo for Alphabet Everywhere...

Recently I reviewed the picture book Alphabet Everywhere by Elliot Kaufman. Check out their Facebook page--they cite my review! Very cool.

Normally I don't promote Facebook pages on my blog but, hey, if they're going to link to my site I'm more than happy to link to theirs. Thanks, Abbeville Press!

Yellow Crocus, by Laila Ibrahim

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Laila Ibrahim's debut novel, Yellow Crocus, follows the story of Mattie, a slave in pre-Civil War Virginia who is taken away from her young baby in order to act as wet nurse to Lisbeth, the daughter of the couple who owns her. Mattie must trust the care of her own newborn to the other field slaves while she spends her time in the Big House raising another woman's child. It is a story of heartbreak and loss, love and loyalty. Above all, it is a story of slavery. Laila Ibrahim works hard to stay true to the characters she has created without letting it turn into yet another story of a white lady swooping down and fixing the problem of racism (bookstores and movie theatres are already overflowing with that story, told a hundred ways). She has been compared to Kathryn Stockett (The Help) but, frankly, Kathryn Stockett wishes. Laila Ibrahim does not turn her black characters into caricatures and her white characters into heroes. If I do have a criticism, however, it is that she does not go far enough into the grim reality of slavery and racism. She loses her nerve, wishes too much for her characters to all have resolutions that leave the reader feeling comforted and comfortable. I don't want to reveal too much, but I do think the story would have been even more powerful than it was if some of the characters, particularly Lisbeth, hadn't turned out to be quite so sympathetic. But either way, I do urge you to decide for yourself and read Yellow Crocus (a recommendation I never would have made for The Help, by the way).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Alphabet Everywhere, by Elliott Kaufman

In this gorgeous 32-page picture book (making it the perfect size for children--ever notice how almost all preschool books are 32 pages long?) Elliott Kaufman transforms everyday scenes into magic by capturing "natural" occurrences of letters in the everyday world. A bridge becomes the letter W, a door handle the letter B, a swirly lamp post the letter J. It's charming and inspiring. Each page has a handful of different photos to represent a letter of the alphabet. Some are easy to see--like the mosaic tiles that spell out the letter F--while others are trickier--like the twin silos that form the letter M, but only if you look at the negative space above and around them.

I've seen photos like this sold as individual prints (Groupon always seems to have deals for them) that you can purchase in groups to spell out a word or a name, but it wasn't until I saw the whole alphabet laid out like a charming coffee table book did I fully see the appeal. I can't wait to show my daughter these photos. Maybe she and I will go on an "alphabet hunt" nature walk with a camera in hand.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Voice New Testament (published by Thomas Nelson Inc)

The Voice New Testament
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One of my favourite things about having a book blog, which I've expressed before, is that publishers sometimes give me free books that I might not otherwise read but for which they ask my opinion anyway. Now there are a few things that appeal to me about that. First, they're free. Second, they're asking my opinion. I love giving my opinion! And third, it's like a book recommendation. Here, read this. You might like it! I'm always looking for new books to read, and when someone recommends one, I almost always check it out. I might not like it, but at least I've expanded my reading horizons that much more.

So when I got an email from Thomas Nelson publishing saying they had sent me a free downloadable copy of a new Bible translation called The Voice, I had clicked "Accept" before I even gave it a second thought.

The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, by Jennifer Ouellette

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I received this book as a present after complaining that I always felt bad about how calculus and I left things. After being a solid math student in high school (downright "stellar", in the earlier grades) I went on to fail calculus in university. Twice. Embarrassing, yes. Frustrating, yes. But secretly I keep thinking, "I could do it. Right?"

So I got this book as a birthday present. My copy has a quote on the front from the author of Math Doesn't Suck, a one Miss Danica McKellar. That's right, Winnie from The Wonder Years. Sweet little Winnie, who grew up to become a semi-famous mathematician, endorses this book. Good start. On the back there are more endorsements, including one from A.J. Jacobs (My Life as an Experiment, The Know-It-All, My Year of Living Biblically). I like him too. Maybe I'll like this book.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl

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Once again we are joined by our two-year-old book blogger, Magda. This time, it's The Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl. Daddy read this aloud to Magda finishing around March 13, 2012. Mommy asked Magda some questions about it on March 17, 2012. Here is what Magda had to say: 

(Note: Her answers are based on listening to the book and looking at the illustrations only. She hasn't seen the movie version of any of these books. We're not a TV and movie kind of house. We're book people.)

Hit the jump for the full interview...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thank-You, Stan Lynde, for the free book!

Western writer Stan Lynde was having a promotion in which he gave away a signed copy of his book, The Bodacious Kid, to anyone who signed up for his newsletter and fan club. The promotion is now over, but here's the link in case you want to check out his site:

I got my copy in the mail the other day and I can't wait to read and review it! Now I'm not typically a Western reader, but the lure of free books--that I can read and then write about--is often enough to get me to stretch the limits of my reading habits, well into unknown territory. It's actually my favourite thing about book blogging.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Stan Lynde's The Bodacious Kid!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Seriously...I'm Kidding, by Ellen Degeneres (audiobook) (read by Ellen Degeneres)

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I'm not a huge fan of audiobooks, but I got this one as a present. I would have preferred the actual book, but whaddya gonna do? Anyway, it's pretty good and it's always fun to hear Ellen talk, but I think I'd still rather read the book. Especially since she mentions on the audiobook that there are several chapters that only make sense when seen on the page. Grrr!

UPDATE: The book is great, just like the audiobook. One of the chapters that is for “readers only” is a translation of teen text speak. It’s cute. I like that she compensated by having a “listeners only” chapter of random funny sounds.

Hit the jump for the cutest picture from Ellen and Portia's wedding...just 'cuz

Sunday, March 4, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Stuart Little, by E.B. White (illustrations by Garth Williams)


Mommy (along with Daddy and Nanny) read Stuart Little, by E.B. White, aloud to Magda (she's two-and-a-half), ending around March 4, 2012, then interviewed her about it on March 7, 2012. Here are some of her thoughts on the book:

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Mommy- What book did we read after Charlotte’s Web?
     Magda- Stuart Little.
And who wrote Stuart Little?
     Mo Willems wrote Stuart Little.
No, not Mo Willems. Stuart Little, by…
     Robert Munsch!
No, the same person who wrote Charlotte’s Web.
     Uh, the guy...
What’s the guy’s name?
     (laughing) E.B. White!
Did you like Stuart Little?
     I did!
What happened in Stuart Little?
     The boat was broken and the kids were still playing with the boat.
What is Stuart Little?
     I can’t remember.
What animal?
     Uh, Stuart Little. He is Stuart Little.
Is he a cat? Is he a pig? What is he?
     Nope, nope. A cat!
A cat?
     (laughing) He is a mouse!
What are some of the things that Stuart Little does?
     Rowing his boat!
What was your favourite part of Stuart Little?
     Charlotte’s Web too!
Did you like Charlotte’s Web better?
Yeah, me too.
     Do you like Some Pig, by E.B. White?
I do. What happens at the end of Stuart Little? Does he go back home or does he keep travelling?
     He keeps travelling.
In his car or his boat?
     Uh…(thinking) in his car!
That’s right. Do you think Stuart will find Margolo?     Uh, he shouldn’t.
Why not?
     Because she will eat him!
Margolo the bird? I don’t think she will eat him.
     She might!
Magda said her favourite part was when Stuart had his canoe on the river, so she drew a river:

Thanks, Magda!!