O Caledonia

by Elspeth Barker

I was away in Victoria this past weekend. Of course, I visited Munroes, THE most breathtaking bookstore in my neck of the woods. Gift card in hand (from my beautiful friend Debbie), I spent time within its walls doing one of THE BEST things in the world to do: running my fingers along the spines on the bookshelves until I settled on two (full disclosure, I picked 7, realized I only had a carryon, then had to narrow it down to two). One of the chosen was O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker.
Full disclosure, I thought this one could be a quick read. Still, I had to take my time with it….it is so beautifully written but SO unsettling in content. For example:


Halfway up the great stone staircase which rises from the dim and vaulting hall of Auchnasaugh, there is a tall stained-glass window. In the height of its Gothic arch is sheltered a circular panel, where a white cockatoo, his breast transfixed by an arrow, is swooning in death….at night, when the moon is high, it beams through the dying cockatoo and casts his blood drops in a chain of rubies onto the flagstones of the hall .”(pg 1)


The novel starts with the murder of our tragic heroine, so you know how it ends before you even begin (as foreshadowed in the quote I shared above). The story is simply and tragically the story of Janet from birth to her death at 16. Janet is one of the most fascinatingly disturbing characters I’veI’ve met. I sympathize with her, but at times I find her incredibly annoying. She is self-centred, spiteful, and stupid at times, but she is also confused, unloved, and brilliant. She is treated horribly by many people, but then she, in turn, is capable of doing horrible things. I kept reminding myself that she was just a little girl and many of her choices were reactionary and, therefore, not wholly her fault. Janet would make a fascinating character study.
This book left me unsettled. I loved it. I’ve asked people to read it so I can talk to them about Janet.
Find it.
Buy it
Read it.
Then send me a wee message to tell me your thoughts.

2022-2023 Book Club titles

So it’s that wonderful time of the year again when my bookclub meets and votes on what books to read over the next 10 months. We all come with a plethora of suggestions, all of them so wonderful we often have to go for a second round of voting just to narrow it down to 10.  Here they are:

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guin

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

Little Eve by Catriona Ward

Joan by Katherine J Chen

Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

Honourable Mentions

Ducks by Kate Beaton

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

Unreconciled by Jesse Wente

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

Foundling Ann Leary

Akin by Emma Donoghue

Daphne by Josh Malerman

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

How the Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior

Five Wives by Joan Thomas

The Reading List by Sara Nish Adams

The Beekeeper of Alleppo by Christy Lefteri

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin

What Moves the Dead

by T Kingfisher

What a horrifically beautiful cover!

This was the perfect book to start off my summer. The novel starts with our narrator Alex, who is on their way to visit their dear friends Madeline and Rockrick Usher. Before they even arrive, Alex is mesmerized by the woods in which he travels. Although the lake and trees seem to possess a threatening and ominous air, the mushrooms and all things “fungal” seem to enthral Alex the most. The mushrooms “ grew out of the gaps in the stones of the tarn like a tumour growing from diseased skin [Alex] had the strong urge to step back from them and an even stronger urge to poke them with a stick.” Before they get the opportunity to do so, an older woman Eugenia Potter stops them. Eugenia is one of my favourite characters; eccentric and bold; she paints the various fungus she finds with the ambition of having her own name in the books recognized by the “Mycology Society”.
Second, only to Eugenia Potter, Alex is in themselves a fascinating character. As “Sworn Soldier”, Alex carries the courage they possessed on the battlefield in t the horror that awaits at the Usher’s estate. Alex discovers that their friends Madeline and Roderick have wasted (rotted?) away both physically and mentally.

Can Alex determine the cause of this decline before they too succumb to the madness and death surrounding them?
What moves the Dead, a gothic tale inspired by Edgar Alan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, is well crafted with viscerally vivid detail even though it moves at a rapid pace. It is the perfect novel to add to your summer tbr pile.

Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor for the free copy.

When We Stop and Blink

Sometimes there are small quotes from books, another person’s gift of weaving images and metaphors in such a way that sums up exactly what is going on in the readers reality without clinically spelling it out.

One of the most poignant novels I’ve read is The Secret Scripture by Sabastian Barry. It’s the type of novel that must be read slowly, each paragraph sipped and held in your mouth until you really taste and appreciate the significance and intricacies of its style. The novel is filled with beautifully written paragraphs that cause the reader to stop and actually wonder how an author can so eloquently present a truth.

One such paragraph is:

“And the river itself, the Garrovoge, swelling up, the beautiful swans taken by surprise, riding the torrent, being swept down under the bridge and reappearing the other side like unsuccessful suicides, their mysterious eyes shocked and black, their mysterious grace unassailed” (page 125).

How often in life are we like these swans where we’re taken by surprise, and are uncontrollably swept under a bridge of sorts, tumbled and shocked and surprised to have actually made it to the other side? An event, or a circumstance in our life where, while in the midst, we wonder if we ever will make it through without crumbling and shattering to pieces?

But we do.

What I find to be the beauty of the paragraph is the image of the swan at the other side of the bridge. The harrowing tumultuousness of being sucked under, out of control and at the mercy of someone or something else, but yet making it through with an “unassailable” grace.

At the moment there are several people in my life who are being swept under bridges.

But in every case, EVERY case, each person I know will be like the swan and make it through to the other side. They may blink their eyes in surprise, but they will maintain a sense of grace through it all and be all the stronger.

Grace.

2021-2022 Book Club Titles

I’m interested to know how other people are running book clubs during Covid. Is Zoom the “go to” platform for most?  Or is there some other more intimate way to connect with our book people?

In September we had the opportunity to host book club in person for the first time in close to two years. Joy was palpable and we were so excited to see each other in person. Sadly we haven’t been able to meet in person since the arrival of Omnicron (sounds like some interstellar visitation whose sole purpose is to poop on everyone’s parade). Anyway, September’s meeting was  the “first” book club of the season, the one where we share book suggestions and vote on the titles for the year and this year we have some wonderfully diverse genres:

Empire of the Wild by Cherie Dimaline

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hard Castle by Stuart

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

Daughters of Kobani Gale Tzemarch Lemmon

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa

From the Ashes Jessie Thistle

Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom

All’s Well Mona Awad

The Book of Longings Sue Monk Kidd

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

What books are you reading together this year?

Reflecting on 2020 and setting goals for 2021

Welcome, 2021!

Last week I reflected on my year of reading. The titles, the genres, the authors. Around March last year, I had to take the reality of my “COVID mindset” and my inability to focus into consideration and set a milestone much lower than I usually do at 50 books. As an English teacher and book blogger, this felt like a failure. This year, however, I am confident I can air higher than 50 soooooo I’m thinking 60?

So, what have I learned about myself as a reader?

  • I read more non-fiction (yay one of the goals I DID meet)
  • General fiction made up the bulk of my titles (mostly mystery and fantasy)
  • I included graphic novels.
  • A handful of audiobooks made my list (mostly non-fiction)

Favourites?

fiction-  Mexican Gothic (review to come) by Silvia Moreno Garcia

non-fiction- The Heart and Other Monsters by Rose Anderson

audible- Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

YA- Legendborn by Tracy Deonon

Graphic novel: Long Way Down based on the novel by Jason Reynolds artist Danica Novgorodoff 

Fantasy: The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo(review to come) 

Reading goals for 2021

  • 60 titles
  • Increase Science fiction and poetry. 

I need your help, my fellow book addicts, please send me titles of your favourite Science fiction reads and poetry books (preferably contemporary!!!

What was your favourite read of 2020? What are your goals for 2021

Happy reading!

What Was Your First Chapter Book?

Do you remember the very first chapter book you read cover to cover ON YOUR OWN as a little kid? How grown-up you felt. That feeling that you had accomplished something huge, a grand achievement. I signed my first out of the school library when I was in third grade. We returned from the library, and I settled into my little desk in our detached portable classroom. I opened The Story of Dr Dolittle. By Hugh Lofting. Got sucked right into the story, I mean who would want the ability to talk to animals? It must have been a very short read, less than 200 pages I’m sure. And I remember the cover was grey and yellow with etchings of Dolittle his menagerie interspersed between the pages. I loved it. It was the first time I got so enraptured in a story; it was all I could do not to open it up every opportunity I got. In during math, during music…during lunch hour. It was the first time I REALLY felt the magic reading can have on a person.
I thought of Dr Dolittle today because they are remaking the movie (link to trailer here:  based on Lofting’s books. Robert Downing Jr. is Doolittle himself (a perfect choice, I believe). I will absolutely be going to watch the film once it comes to theatres. I’m sure it won’t be as magical as the books, but I’m sure watching Dolittle at work will conjure feelings of third-grade nostalgia in me as I watch.

What was the first book YOU read that introduced you to the magic of reading?

Little Women

Beware, spoilers abound.

I must have been around eleven years old when I first read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. My mother had a collection of classic children’s literature ranging from Black Beauty to Aladdin, Aesop’s Fables, to Little Women. I think I read it in the matter of a day. I loved it. It quite possibly could have been the first time I cried over a book. The death of Beth traumatized. I couldn’t imagine losing my own sisters even though at eleven both were driving me bonkers in their own way.
Needless to say, like most girls, I fell in love with the story of the March sisters. I especially loved Jo. I thought Jo was fearless. Jo was a writer unafraid of sharing her writing. Jo was unafraid to talk to boys. Jo wasn’t afraid of cutting her hair (her only true beauty, according to her sister Amy). And I was so so shy, so I lived vicariously through her.
Jo and her sisters were a lot like me and my sisters.. We skated on a frozen pond, like the March sisters, we created and performed plays for parents and visitors just like the March sisters. We often only had each other growing up just like the March sisters.
The book is so relatable, and so loved so naturally there have been movies made portraying the March family. I first remember a black and white version with Katherine Hepburn. The second I viewed had Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder. The third version, directed by Greta Gerwig, has just hit theatres and it is absolutely wonderful. I would say it is my favourite. Gerwig does take creative liberties but respectfully upholds the integrity and beauty the original story possesses. Last night I attended this movie with one of my sisters. I cried. I laughed. I enjoyed it so much I promptly downloaded from Audible and listened to it on my morning run. And yes, I cried as I ran.

Have you read the book? If you haven’t you must. And if you can, you must go and view the movie. Take your sisters. If you don’t have a sister, take a friend. If your friends are busy, take yourself.
The audible version I bought is narrated by Laura Dern who plays Mrs March in this new movie.