Haven by Emma Donoghue

Father Artt had a dream. A dream of an island far off the coast of Ireland where he and two other men will build a monastery. Artt recruits old Cormac and young Train to come with him. Each monk possess skills that will be important for the successful manifestation of Artt’s dream.

Using Skellig Michael as the setting for most of the story, Donoghue weaves a tale filled with external and internal conflict. On top of fighting the elements, tension also arises between the men. But what I found particularly interesting is the inner conflict each man experiences with a crisis of faith towards God and humanity.

This novel isn’t heavy on plot. Instead, it serves as more of a character study. Each of the three main characters are incredibly intriguing however,  Donoghue only gives us glimmers of their backstories making Haven a fascinating read. (I especially love Cormac, I want to know more about his life before his holy vows).

Haven would make for a compelling novel study. Students could learn more about: Elements of allegory, characterization, beautiful detail, and a variety of themes (blind faith, disillusionment, adversity, resiliency, conformity, guilt, environmentalism, just to name a few). 

This novel is both sophisticated yet accessible and rich enough to serve as a class novel study and/or a mentor text. 

Haven will be published August 23. Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown and Company for the advanced copy.

The Woman in the Library

by Sulari Gentill

The Woman in the Library is a twisted tale of a murder that occurs in no better place than a library. Winifred Kincaid (Freddie), is a writer looking for inspiration in the wonderful setting of the Boston Library. There, she sits at a table in the Reading Room looking for inspiration. She finds said inspiration in the various individuals sitting at her table whom she dubs “Freud Girl” ‘Heroic Chin” and “Handsome Man”. Suddenly, all are startled when a bloodcurdling scream slices through the silence. 

After a quick scan of the library by security and no source of the scream is found, library patrons are allowed to leave. Freddie and those and her table having quickly bonded over the startling experience,, leave  the reading room and go for coffee. 

That evening the evening news declares that that the scream belonged to a murdered woman whose body had been discoverd by the night cleaning crew.

Soon, through a series of weirdly coincidental events, Freddie begins to suspect it may be one of her new found friends. 

Freddie’s storyline alone makes for an intriguing mystery, but the author also embeds another story. Each chapter ends with a letter to “Hannah” signed by “Leo”. In these letters, Leo critiques the plot of the chapter that precedes it. Leo’s correspondence is both helpful and condescending and soon becomes creepily familiar.  

This novel is a well written, intriguing mystery with twists and turns that make it anything but predictable.

Thank you to Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advanced copy.

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood


I love old fashioned murder mysteries, murder mysteries along the lines of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or Ms Marple.
The Maslow Murder Club is one such novel. Our protagonist is a charming septarian, Judith, Who loves to skinny dip in the river behind her old mansion. On one such excursion, Judith witnesses the murder of her neighbour. So when the police doubt her story, she takes it upon herself to find out who committed the crime. Not because she was especially close to the victim, but because she loves a good puzzle. In fact, she creates cryptic crosswords for the newspaper. Judith has a way of finding the tiniest details and piecing them together to form a solution. Judith is joined by a free-spirited dog walker named Suzie and a prim and proper vicar’s wife named Becks. These three ladies find themselves in all sorts of predicaments on their way to solve the crime some of them deathly dangerous.
Thorogood’s novel is a sophisticated “whodunnit” that is charming and funny and thoroughly engaging. A great read to put on your summer reading list!

The Book Eaters

by Sunyi Dean

Devon is not human, she is a book eater. She does not get her nourishment from food but rather from eating the written word. With each text she consumes, Devon absorbs the knowledge each text possesses. And her blood runs black like ink.

The chapters in this novel alternate between the past and present. We learn about Devon and the Fairweather family one of Six families of book eaters where few females are born. Although this makes Devon a princess it also makes her a prime commodity for marriage for the explicit purpose of propagating their species. Love is irrelevant. 

Next, we are thrown into the present where we learn Devon has escaped the family with her son and is living life on the run, hiding from not only her own family but from the “knights and dragons” whose mission it is to preserve the secrecy and sanctity of the Families.  Escaping hasn’t been easy for Devon, having her five your old son with her makes it difficult, especially if the child is a mind eater. Devon must find the drug “ Redemption” in order to control her son’s need for consuming the brains of others.

Fast-paced, viscerally gripping, and descriptive beyond measure. You’ll spend all night reading until its resolution.

Alone

by Megan E. Freeman

Twelve-year-old Maddie is a normal teenager who just wants to do normal things like having a party at her grandmother’s vacant house without her parents knowing.

Maddie has it all arranged: she will tell her mother she is staying with her father and tell her father she is staying at her mother’s. Having succeeded in this ploy she then buys junk food and awaits the arrival of her two best friends. Unfortunately, her friends cannot come so Maddie spends the night alone with her junk food and old black and white movies. 

Now, everything would be fine and dandy if the political situation hadn’t been precarious. With curfews and military vehicles a common sight, life for Maddie and her family has been different, to say the least. Tragically, the evening Maddie decides to trick her parents and stay at her grandmother’s, the state is evacuated and Maddie is left all alone with nary a human around to help her. Soon the power is cut off and food becomes scarce and Emma is forced to use her imagination and grit to survive both the physical and mental hardship she encounters. 

This novel is written in verse, and in being so adds a wonderfully melancholy tone to the writing. It reads like a stream of consciousness, therefore, making Emma’s experience more emotionally impactful. 

How does Emma spend her days? Will Emma survive? Will her parents ever come to realize she has been left behind?

A great book to have in a classroom library or middle school book club.

Escape from Chernobyl by Andy Marino

Escape from Chernobyl is a fictional account of the Chernobyl disaster, a global incident that most young people know nothing about. 

16-year-old Yuri Formichev is an intern at the Chernobyl power plant in Pripyat Ukraine on the border of what was then the Soviet Union. Yuri’s dream is to be an engineer at the nuclear reactor but in the meantime, he is assigned as a custodian hoping to impress his superiors so that he can work his way up to intern as an engineer. Yuri lives with his Aunt, Uncle, and his two cousins Alina and Lev. 

The story immediately throws us into the action of the story. Yuri has just arrived for his shift at the reactor when he feels a shaking of the walls. Soon the walls crack and other workers are covered by debris. In the meantime a man is knocking at the door of Yuri’s family telling them they must leave the city for their safety. If they leave they will be abandoning Yuri.

Will Yuri survive? Will Alina and Lev escape the radiation that is beginning to permeate the area?

Escape from Chernobyl is a perfect read for reluctant readers. It is short, engaging, and accessible to people of all reading levels.

The Speed of Falling Objects

by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Life hasn’t been easy for Danielle “Danny” Warren. When she was 7, her adventurous father leaves her and her mother to become a famous “Reality Star”. Danny believes her father abandoned her because she suffered a horrible accident and lost her eye, an accident that not only stole her sight but also her courage. When her father invites her on a trip with him to the Amazon to film an episode of his Reality show, Danny believes it would be the perfect time to get to know her father and prove to him that she is not the frightened little girl he left behind. Unfortunately, the plane crashes into the jungle, and Danny not only has to face but she must also come to accept the man her father truly is.

The Speed of Falling Objects is truly an adventure story where the protagonist experiences more than her fair share of peril all the while falling in love for the first time.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

I’m a nerd. I love books. I especially love books about books, libraries, and words. I also gravitate towards feminist literature. Lucky for me, The Dictionary of Lost Words is a wonderful combination of both.
Our protagonist Esme loves words as well, probably because she spends her childhood under the table in the scriptorium where her father works compiling words and definitions for the Oxford English Dictionary. While there, little treasures in the form of words accidentally fall from the table, and she reverently gathers them up and keeps them safe. However, as she gets older, Esme notices that other words are carelessly left and that these words tend to be more relevant to the world of women. So Esme takes it upon herself to collect as many words as she can so that she can build a dictionary that will acknowledge and preserve these words.
I love Esme. She is curious and brave and so, so smart. I love the relationship he has with her father; for a man who works with words, he can find no word appropriate enough to express the love he has for Esme.
I fell into this story immediately. William’s vividly transported me back in history, where I viewed a world from the shoulder of a fictional character whose story was inspired by true events. What a wonderful place to experience history!

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?

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)

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!

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.