A Book To Read on Remembrance Day

I’m not a “re-reader”. I rarely re-read books mainly because there are so many stories out there just waiting to be read I don’t want to “waste” my time visiting the ones I already know. One story I DO revisit at least once a year is the novel A Long Long Way by Sabastian Barry. I HAVE blogged about this book before. It’s one of my favourites and is one of 5 books I own that I will never lend to anyone for fear of not getting it back. It’s a title you don’t often find in bookstores, and it seems to be always “out of stock” online. The Kindle version is available, however, but this novel is worthy of permanent residency on your bookshelf.

Willie Dunne wants to be a police officer like his father, but he doesn’t meet the height requirement. Hence, he decides that “if he could not be a policeman, he could be a soldier” and at 18 years old enlists in the army to bravely fight on the Western Front. We follow Willie through his training, dispatch to the front, and to the trench itself. The novel is very explicit in its description of trench warfare (trigger warning). Still, I do not believe descriptions of war should be sanitized.

Along with the narrative, Barry inserts letters, letters written between Willie and the woman he loves, his sister, and his father. It is these letters that I re-read. These letters are personal and loving and incredibly heartbreaking. These letters emotionally impact me more than any Remembrance Day service ever has.

“Dear Papa, … I believe in my heart that you are the finest man I know. When I think of you, there is nothing bad that arises at all. You stand before me often in my dreams, and in my dreams, you seem to comfort me. So I’m sending this letter with love and thinking of you” (291).

I am tearing up as I type this.

Besides the letters, I also re-read this small section:

“ Then, when he was all shipshape, his father put his big arms around him, and held him close to him for a few moments. . . like an actor on a stage. It was not a thing you would see in real life anyway, and there was a faraway look on his father’s face like it was all years ago …and he was a little lad. But he was a soldier now of some nineteen years and for all that he was glad of his father’s arms around him, strange as it was, strange and comforting as it was.” (74-75).

Willie comes home from the war for a short visit. He is riddled with lice and ringworm and is exhausted both mentally and physically. What does his father do? He bathes his son, wraps him in a clean towel and holds him tight.

It’s as if his father knows….

So, at least for one day, I will try to transport myself to a time and/or place where true heroes exist and heartbreak is staggering.

I will read
I will remember
And I will weep.

If you find a copy of this novel, be sure to buy it.

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

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

by Kate Beaton

Wow, I did not know what to write for this one.

I loved it. It disturbed me. It made me laugh and tear up and feel insurmountable rage. In fact, the rage that has stuck with me.

Ducks is a graphic novel that tackles a variety of issues: environmentalism, indigenous rights, a sense of home, and sexual harassment. Heavy, I know, however, Kate Beaton doesn’t use her graphic novel to lecture us on these issues No, she simply and honestly retells her experience moving to For McMurray and working at the oil sands. This is an important book that will leave you thinking about it long after you read it. I would definitely use it as part of a novel study in High School Social Studies and English classes.

Me(Moth) by Amber Mcbride

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride

(possible spoilers)

I’m finding it difficult to put into words how much I loved this novel. I don’t often gravitate to novels written in verse but honestly, the cover of this one was breathtaking so I had to take a look inside. For the entirety of my reading, I had to sit still for fear of breaking the magic in which I found myself, magic that kept me transfixed upon the spiritually intimate relationship between Moth and Sani.

It’s been two years since Moth lost her family in a car crash. Although she lives with her aunt, she feels guilty to have survived and has felt displaced and lonely ever since. Moth drifts through school friendless and alone until she meets Sani, a beautiful young man who draws, sings, and plays music. But there is something amiss with Sani, he is loving and creative one minute, and then withdrawn and isolating the next. Moth suspects it has something to do with the medication he sporadically takes.

Moth and Sani form a bond that grows beyond friendship. He too feels displaced living with his mother and abusive stepfather and soon decides to travel to Window Rock on the Navajo Nation to be with his father. Moth, having fallen in love with Sani, goes with him. On this journey, they both discover truths about themselves truths that are both disturbing yet freeing.

After reading Me(Moth) I can say it’s one of the best YA books I have ever read. I found myself consistently writing down beautiful lyrical lines such as “ why do I feel like the dust of your name is buried in my bones (71)  and “ I don’t know how to be whole anymore/whatever you need you can borrow from me. ( 134.) Aren’t they beautiful?!

I read it quickly the first time quickly because I needed to see a resolution of a multitude of thematic strings that had started to weave together, and then I needed to read again so I could pause and savour McBride’s beautiful use of language and imagery. 

If I were still teaching High school I would use this novel or portions of this novel in a literature study. Foreshadowing, imagery, voice, atmosphere, figurative language are just a few curricular links you can make using this text as support; a text that most young adults would find enchanting.

When I read I often read from the point of view of a teacher. I envision how can I use an engaging book or portions of this book in class to teach figurative language, literary devices, or Author Style. If I was still in the classroom, Me(Moth)  would be a mainstay for instruction on author style. More importantly, it is SUCH an engaging read it will definitely inspire a love of reading novels, especially novels in verse.

The novel deals with themes of identity, grief, mental illness, physical abuse, loneliness, culture, the importance of ancestors.

An interesting addition is Moth and Sani’s playlist. The lyrics of a few songs are scattered throughout a section of the text where Moth and Sani go on a road trip. McBride kindly includes this playlist at the back of the novel so if we so choose, we can listen to the same songs as the characters while the story is unfolding before us.

Amber McBride offers her book as “a gift, an iron/to smooth the wrinkles of [our] spirit” 

And it indeed does just that.

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

Over the last year, I have been attracted to gothic mysteries and crime novels. Sometimes I google the genres I’m interested in to see what pops up on the screen. So when I typed “mystery gothic crime novels”, Elizabeth Brundage’s novel came up.
What I thought would be an easy, quick, pulp fiction read turned out to be one that was so incredibly well written. I immediately made Brundage my new favourite author.
The novel starts off with the central crime, a gruesome murder of a young mother (not a spoiler; it happens in the first chapter). The story then proceeds to flashback to introduce and develop the characters directly and indirectly affected by her death.
The little town of “Chosen” has 2 types of residents: those who have always lived there struggling to make a living from a depressive economy filled with bankruptcy and alcoholism, and those with money and education who have moved to Chosen to because of its proximity to the neighbouring university. Needless to say, this diversity leads to all sorts of interesting interactions between residents.
As with most good stories, I loved some of the characters and hated others. Even though the story is centred around the actions of a psychopath, it is also a story about family, strength and redemption.
This novel is definitely one of my favourite of the year so far.

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)


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!

A Meditation on Thornton Wilder

“There arose a perfume of tenderness, that ghost of passion which, in the most unexpected relationship, can make a whole lifetime devoted to irksome duty pass like a gracious dream” (pg. 74)

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.

I have fallen in love with Thorton Wilder because of this quote.

How wonderful would a relationship like this be? Having to get close enough not only in physical proximity but emotional proximity as well, to one person and stay there long enough to inhale that “perfume of tenderness”

where your first instinct would be to wrap your arms around this person and hold them close.

Tenderness without forethought, without premeditation, without an agenda.

No pretension.

To be pleasantly surprised at a love that grows where you didn’t expect it to grow. And you look upon it in wonder, finding it near impossible to believe that it truly exists in you,

the most unlikely of places,

or so you believed.

Where obligation and duty never really existed in its denotative form. All business-like and astringent.

No boundaries set by written laws or verbal promises but rather

a fidelity that is unexpected and natural.

Some of us have found in our relationships some such a manifestation of Wilder’s love

and some of us are still waiting.

Whatever the case I hope we recognize it as such

and hold on to it as a dream come true,

feeling blessed.

4 amazing novels by Black Canadian Authors and the one I want to read next.

I took this book (hardcover copy) to Japan with me on a school trip with students. It was so good I didn’t mind waiting for the slow pokes to get ready to board the bus to Kyoto. I was content to perch on my suitcase and read and read and read. It came out as a television miniseries a couple of years ago but I haven’t had a chance to watch it.

Loved loved LOVED this book. Science Fiction isn’t a genre I normally gravitate to but the premise of this novel was incredibly intriguing. Think “Westworld” but deeper, more profound and definitely more beautifully written.

This is a story about adventure and self-discovery. It has the potential to be a strong piece for literary study in High School. As I was reading I kept thinking “ooh I could discuss the use of symbolism here”, and “note the vivid imagery there”. Its themes are deep and meaningful and accessible to most people. 

Washington Black has been one of my favouite books of this year. It is academic without being intimidating and well worth a re-read in the future.

Sooooo good! Imagine the gods (Hermes and Apollo) giving dogs the gift (??) of human intelligence. The ability to understand human beings. Would they be happier than us? Or is it easier to be happy in ignorance. This one won the Giller Prize a few years back. READ IT! Profound and entertaining.

What I WANT to read (just ordered) is Daughters of Silence by Rebecca Fisseha. The Cover is absolutely beautiful and the premise sounds incredible.

The Paragon Hotel

The Paragon Hotel was the selection for my February book club. I love Lyndsay Faye. It is always wonderful to find an author who not only writes a good suspenseful yarn but also a writer who has a delightful way with words.

Although the Paragon Hotel is a story filled with murder, robbery, and disguise, it is written using charming colloquialisms and vivid descriptions of the cultural milieu at the time. 

“The atmosphere pulses, cigar-dank and gritty. I can practically hear the rushed calls of next time, old sport, as the rats scattered. It’s identical to every other gin and faro joint in these United States of Nonsense with a single exception.

This is now my gin joint” (pg107).

The novel possesses two timelines. One that takes place in the present where Alice has found herself on a train heading for Portland after suffering a gunshot wound. She befriends a handsome porter and ends up at a hotel filled with an assortment of fascinating characters. The second storyline occurs in the past and consists of Alice’s life growing up in New York amidst another assortment of fascinating characters most of whom are members of the mafia.

I loved our narrator Alice aka Nobody. Although her life is riddled with more than just bullets she proves to be one of the most spectacular heroines in literature I’ve ever read. She is smart and brave, resourceful and cunning and incredibly good-natured considering her circumstances.

I want Alice as a friend. The pages where she and the character Blossom are sitting up in Blossom’s room drinking whiskey out of “cut glass tumblers” and discussing life are some of my favourites in the book. Their bantering is entertaining and reflective of a friendship we all wish we had.


Lindsay Faye is a guaranteed delightful read. She is an author who easily transports her readers into a land of story.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Every once in a while I find a treasure. Actually, I went seeking this treasure. I Googled “Best books of 2019”, and up popped The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and the Horse. I thought I’d find it in the children’s section, but bookstore had it shelved under “graphic novel”. Truthfully, there should be a section in bookstores called “books that will make you smile and believe the world is a good place”.
Written and illustrated by Charlie Mackesy this little book is simply filled with pages consisting of a charming conversation between a boy, a mole a fox and a horse each asking each other questions or making statements about life and responding with the most beautiful of replies.

The first page:
“‘I’m so small’ said the mole.”
“‘Yes,’ said the boy. ‘But you make a huge difference.’”

aaaaaand my eyes got leakier and leakier as I read on.
This book would make a beautiful graduation gift or birthday gift (for people big and small). But honestly, go by it for yourself, keep it on your bedside table and read it anytime your feeling sorry for yourself.

Convenient Company

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book”.

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I’ve always relied on books for company. In fact I can remember the titles of specific books that have kept me company during some of the loneliest times in my life. Even when it was difficult to concentrate for any length of time because of some sort of emotional tumult, I’ve always reached for a story to soothe or distract me.

They were convenient company.

As a child my closest friend lived over a mile away and the sisters and I weren’t always the most bosom of buddies so I would lose myself in Nancy Drew. I still have a lovely collection of yellow bound Nancy Drew Mysteries sitting in my cupboard. And discovering Judy Blume’s “Blubber” was a moment I’ll always remember because the voice was familiar and the story could have been taken directly from the halls of my elementary school (and I as a chubby girl so I could relate). But I think the MOST important book of my childhood was “Gone with the Wind”. I would read, and reread the story, reading all of Scarlett O’Hara’s lines aloud pretending to be a “Southern Bell” instead of a Northern Alberta farm kid.

Junior High, that purgatorial time of melodrama and moodiness, I found distraction from bullies and boys with the likes of Agatha Christie (“The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “Curtain” being my favourites). I was also entranced by Mary Stewart’s Merlin series (“The Crystal Cave”, “The Hollow Hills”, “The Last Enchantment”). Puberty was all about murder and intrigue or magicians and knights.

High School, when most of my friends would sit and snuggle in the school hallways with their boyfriends or walk to McDonald’s for a lunch date of fries, I’d sit with my newfound love Charles Dickens. I remember reading “Great Expectations”, paper lunch bag at my side, eating my cheese and lettuce (no mayo) sandwich and questioning Miss Havisham’s reason for warping Estella’s view of men. Years later, after my first break up with a boy, I understood Havisham’s motivation for wanting to rip out someone’s heart and stomp it into a grimy pulp. I also loved Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” and thought Jem was one of the most dashing figures in literature. It’s hard not to fall in love with a horse thief.

At university, when I’d feel insecure in my relationship with the boyfriend at the time, I’d read and re-read “Wuthering Heights”. It just seemed appropriate. As an adult, I remember the titles of books that have kept me company during chosen times of solitude. “Mrs. Dalloway” when took to London by myself. Then sitting on a deck chair by a lake in Jasper trying to get through” Wings of the Dove” by Henry James but being too distracted by the fact I had my heart-broken. “Anil’s Ghost” by Michael Ondaatje whilst on my way to Paris. Sitting silently with my mom on the deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean reading “The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi” by Jacqueline Park and thinking how wonderful it was to have my mother to myself.

The latest “new era” defined by a book started two years ago when I was in an automobile accident. For about four months I was unable to concentrate for any length of time on story and could only consume magazine fodder. Many a night I would lie awake unable to read the pile of books calling to me from the corner of my room. The whole experience was frustrating and distressful. To me, the inability to read for any length of time was like losing the ability to take a deep breath. I could inhale little shallow catches of prose in magazines and newspapers, but I could not breath deeply the essence and delicacies of a well-told story. That was until four months later when I went on a weekend excursion to the “big city” with my sister and attempted to read “Angelology” by Danielle Trussoni.

And I read and read and read and took a deep breath.

Since then I have surrounded myself with books waiting patiently to be read. I think I may be somewhat fearful of feeling alone and desolate without my “friends” though and am over compensating. I now have collected a multitude of hardcovers, several eBooks (as well as 4 digital titles signed out of the library). I wonder if this is a sign I’m afraid to be lonely and feel the need to surround myself with “friends”?


But patiently they’ll sit waiting for me to invite them into my life and keep me company even during the most trying times.

A True Hero Wears No Mask

“Then, when he was all shipshape, his father put his big arms around him, and held him close to him for a few moments. Like an actor on a stage. It was not a thing you would see in real life anyway, and there was a faraway look on his father’s face, like it was all years ago and otherwise and maybe they were still in Dalkey and he was a little lad. But he was a soldier now of some nineteen years and for all that he was glad of his father’s arms around him strange as it was, strange and comforting as it was.” (A Long, Long Way by Sabastian Barry)

The image of a man embracing his child, even if that child is 19,

is one that should be captured in marble.

It is more heroic than any giant slayer, or Roman gladiator and would melt any heart.

Women very easily fall in love with men who show the vulnerability of loving without limits – those who don’t place the parameters of machismo, or entitlement around a type of love.

To me, the father in this excerpt epitomizes manhood. He is characterized as six-foot six Goliath, and is a policeman who regularly knocks together people’s heads. But, this man’s son has gone to war and a flesh and blood piece of himself has placed himself in harm’s way, intentionally.

His son has come out as nothing short of heroic himself and has become mighty ,not in stature perhaps, but in courage.

This father, a man who has the law and his size in his favour can do

absolutely nothing to “save” his son,

except fold him warmly in his arms, feel his heart beat close to his own,

and hold him tight.

When fathers embrace their adult sons- that image should be plastered on every street corner and projected from every sky rise,

so that everyone will know that the true heroes in life wear no mask.