In which she falls in love with a Swedish author and a Swedish chocolate bar

I have been on a Fredrick Backman kick this year, reading A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here and Beartown more or less in succession. Have you read any of his books? They’re quirky and warm and poignant and thoughtful – and did I mention quirky? Not to mention occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and frequently delightful.

This summer, I started reading another book by Bachman out loud to Tristan and Simon. My Grandmother Sends Her Regrets and Apologizes is a quirky and whimsical book that features a mythical beast called a wurse that has a love for a Swedish chocolate bar called Daim. So when I happened to be in IKEA the other day (seriously, when am I not in IKEA?) and saw bags of mini-Daim bars for sale, I picked one up to entertain the boys.

DaniGirl is addicted to Daim bars Oh my goodness. Seriously? No wonder the wurse loves them. Best! Bar! Ever!

They’re a little bit like Skor bars, but there’s something about the bite-size format that makes them so much better. I watched Simon’s eyes bug out in appreciation when he first tried one. They’re so addictive that I might have gone back and bought a second one-pound bag to hide in the back of the cupboard. And, erm, maybe a third for my office.

Seriously, I don’t even like sweets that much. I’m a salty chips sort of girl!

Have you tried Daim bars? If so, what do you think? (And if not, get yourself to IKEA, stat!) And if you haven’t read any of Fredrick Backman’s books, you’d better get on that, too. They’d be perfect to read with a cup of coffee and a big bag of Daim bars.

Blogging about a book about a blogger: Mitzi Bytes

I was intrigued by the premise of the book Mitzi Bytes. It’s about a blogger who started her blog way back in the primordial swamp of the blogosphere, a dozen or so years ago, and who kept writing as her family grew and evolved. (You can see why I was intrigued!) Unlike me, however, blogger Sarah Lundy chose to keep her blog identity anonymous, writing under the pseudonym of Mitzi Bytes. The novel explores what happens when Sarah’s carefully separated online and offline worlds collide. It’s especially painful because Sarah has been less than kind in her depictions of those closest to her.

Mizti Bytes, a bookI have to admit, I was reluctant to like this book going in, maybe because it seemed so close to home. It was even written by a fellow Canadian, author Kerry Clare, who also teaches blogging (I didn’t even know that was a thing) at the University of Toronto. I feel like we must be separated by a few degrees of connection at most. And yet, I was quickly hooked by both the premise of the story and Clare’s style.

I’ve long been fascinated by the questions at the heart of this book. How much do you affect the story by telling it, and how many versions of the truth can there be? Much of the book riffs on themes of identity – who we think we are versus who others think we are, and about the persona we create online and how much it parallels or diverges from who we really are.

Mitzi Bytes, the pseudonymous blogger, achieves enough fame to be named one of Time Magazine’s top bloggers, and writes three books, two of which become best sellers. The blogger behind the keyboard, Sarah Lundy, profits financially and eventually pays a painful toll, but she is divorced from the fame of her alter ego. What does fame mean, though, if it’s fame by proxy? And there’s a wryly self-effacing undertone which resonated with me, of being “internet famous”.

Though we have much in common as moms and bloggers and (though never explicit on Sarah’s part) Canadians, I found Sarah prickly, selfish and hard to like. As the meticulously maintained walls separating her online and offline worlds began to crumble, I found myself curious but unsympathetic, which took away from my enjoyment of the book somewhat. I like to be invested in my protagonists, and to cheer for them. In the case, for example, of A Man Called Ove (my favourite book of the year so far), one comes around to be sympathetic toward the thoroughly unlikable protagonist, eventually building affection for him and becoming invested in his story. In Sarah’s case, I’m left at the end of the story thinking, “Well, what did you expect would happen?”

Having said that, the part of the book of which I was most cynical in the beginning ended up being one of my favourite parts of it. Kerry Clare, via Sarah, explains perfectly the addiction of blogging, and why it appeals:

She said, “What’s the point of a blog?” She’d been thinking about this a lot. It’s a question she’d been asking for years. “I wrote it for me, to figure out what I think of things. It was like therapy at first, and I guess I could have written it all down in a notebook and then shut it away in a drawer, but it wouldn’t have done any good for me, then.” The good wasn’t just finding her voice but actually using it, being heard. She was at the lowest she’d ever been, having lost everything she’d thought she had, but all of a sudden, she had stories to tell, and she was funny. That was huge.

It wasn’t that the blog mattered simply because people read it, but when people read it, the blog mattered more. It was looking outward – a letter, not a diary. Though she would have written it even if nobody was reading, but because people were, she forged connections with them, was challenged by their feedback, pushed herself to be sharper, funnier. She’d tapped into a whole other world of friends and readers, and she could be honest there, when she couldn’t be at home.

(Oh, the heady addiction of finding out someone thinks you are funny. That alone kept me coming back for years!)

The main reason that my own blogging has fallen off in the last few years is exactly the opposite of Sarah’s last words here. I was honest, breathlessly and occasionally painfully honest, in the first crazy years of blogging. But as the boys grew up, and social media grew up around them, I became more and more self-consciously aware of the vulnerability inherent in laying everything bare for anyone to see. I wonder, sometimes, how different things would have been had I remained as pseudonymous as I intended when I sent those first few blog posts into the ether, when I’d named the boys (there were only two at the time) Luigi and Franky, based on their middle names. The riches I’ve reaped from the blog are vast, far greater than any gains I think I could have made if I’d remained anonymous, but sharing our stories so openly hasn’t been without challenges over the years. Many, many times I’ve wanted to write more openly about my thoughts, my opinions and my life, but felt the need to censor myself to protect the privacy of those around me. (I have never much worried about my own privacy. Whether or not I should have done so may be a question for another day!)

In writing this, I realized another reason that I might have had difficulty embracing Sarah Lundy and her online alter ego, Mitzi Bytes: I’ve never really followed the most popular blogs. From Dooce to Suburban Bliss to The Bloggess, I have always been able to appreciate their talent but never felt able to connect with them on that personal level that invests you in a blogger and their stories. And of course, the halcyon days of blogging as an act of community are long gone. And yet, here I still am – and I think a few of you are still listening. I think that’s why I also found the simple existence of this book intriguing: a book with a blogger as the protagonist released in 2017? How delightfully anachronistic. And yet, the story feels surprisingly current and relevant today.

In the end, I enjoyed Mitzi Bytes, and I’d especially recommend it for anyone who has spent time thinking about blogging and identity, about the selves we present to others (online and offline) and the selves rattling around in our heads. If you’ve ever sent a blog post out into the ether and felt that thrill of connection and engagement, you’ll find resonance in this book. But even if you have not, Mitzi Bytes is still an interesting story, well told.

Five books that changed my life, and other rambly bookish thoughts

I have been thinking about reading lately. At the end of last month, Goodreads kindly wrapped up all the books I read in 2016 (I’m fairly diligent about recording them) and told me I’d read a whopping 15 books during the year. That includes the five novels I read out loud to Tristan and Simon (Ready Player One, Neverwhere, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Wintersmith, and The Graveyard Book) but not the dozen or so Puppy Palace books I read to Lucas.

It seems like a pretty measly stack for a girl who loves to read. In my defense, a good portion of the year was dedicated to American Gods, Neil Gaiman’s not-insubstantial 635-page epic. And yes, it was the year that I fell totally and utterly in love with Neil Gaiman. All that to say, I’ve decided that I need to spend more time reading actual books and not just random Internet articles from Apartment Therapy and Medium and Slate to feed my soul.

304:365 Antique books

Yesterday on the CBC Radio program The Current, they had a piece on life-altering books. Author Will Schwalbe discussed 26 books that changed his life, and I loved that his list is eclectic and wide-ranging and does not take itself too seriously. It got me to thinking about books that have changed my life. I’m not sure I have the attention span for 26, but here are five that have been meaningful to me.

1. Generation X by Douglas Coupland

In the interview, Schwalbe talks about books that find you when you need them. This is 100% what this book was for me. I was 23 years old and stuck in a rut dug of a series of catastrophically bad choices. Reading Generation X tweaked something in my soul that made me ask, “This is it? For the rest of my life?” and then, after I’d chewed that concept over for a while, “Hell, no!” It changed literally everything for me: within the year, I was divorced, on my own, and heading down a new path that led me to where I am today. I think this is the next book I’ll read out loud to the boys, although I’ve been afraid to revisit it lest it somehow tarnish my reverence for it.

2. Firestarter by Stephen King

I was probably nine, maybe 10 years old when I picked up my mom’s copy of Firestarter off the sofa where she had been reading it and started flipping through it. I think I was first engaged by the fact that Charlie, the protagonist, was a girl of about my age. It’s not even in the top 10 of my favourite Stephen King books, but it was the first, and it gave me a taste for speculative fiction that persists to this day.

3. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro

After reading an Alice Munro short story in an anthology for high school English, I sought out more of her work. This one has stayed with me, though I’ve read so many of her books over the years. It was nothing short of shocking to me to find an oeuvre of work about growing up female in small-town Ontario when I WAS growing up female in a small-town Ontario. But I came to love her work for so much more than just the familiar descriptions of the verdant fields and sleepy towns surrounding London and beyond. Her characters are quirky and thoughtful, leading ordinary lives that occasionally break open to reveal the extraordinariness woven into the fabric of all of us, just below the surface. It was through Alice Munro that I learned to be open to and observe and love the beauty in minutaie.

4. Harry Potter (writ large) by J.K. Rowling

Because Harry Potter. I can’t think of any book I’ve re-read as many times as I’ve read the various books in the Harry Potter series. I started reading them when I was pregnant with Tristan, and the books feel like the literary backdrop to the last 15 years of my life, woven into everything about who I am and what I’ve been doing with my life for the last decade and a half.

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Another gateway book for me. When I read this funny, quirky, magical book in 2015, I wondered how I could have possibly missed reading such a delightful book for so long. Although I’d read one Gaiman book before, it sealed my love for him and introduced me to the delightful universe that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Considering nine of the 15 books I read in 2016 were authored by either Gaiman or Pratchett, the significance of Good Omens on my reading habits cannot be understated. For more than 30 years, if you asked me my favourite author, I’d quote my holy trinity of Stephen King, Douglas Coupland and Alice Munro. Where there were three, now there are five.

I tried very hard to not think too deeply about this list, and to come up with my top-of-mind impressions of books that have been meaningful to me for one reason or another. But thinking about them has only redoubled my desire to feed the beast with MOAR BOOKS for 2017.

So, what are your top-of-mind top five books that changed your life?

2015 is my summer of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I am ready for our summer trip to PEI. I’ve got my packing list, my annotated maps and guides, my camera gear and sunscreen. What else do you really need for an awesome, epic beach vacation? Reading material, of course!

My dilemma is a wealth of riches. I’m at a literary crossroads, and want to make sure I pick the very best beachy book to bring with me.

Down one road lies Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’d read a bit of Neil Gaiman last summer and quite liked his style, but really fell head over heels earlier this year when I read Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. That book rocked me back on my heels: how had I missed it before now?

And then, and THEN, I stumbled onto Neil Gaiman’s beautiful Stardust, an absolutely exquisite fable that entranced Tristan and Simon and me in equal measures as we read it aloud. How I missed a rollicking fantasy on par with the Princess Bride with a hero named Tristran shall remain forever a mystery. And even more delightful, we found the movie to be as fully exquisite as the book – that never happens!

The other literary road under consideration itself has two forks. Down this road lies Discworld, the sprawling epic fantasy series by Good Omens co-author Terry Pratchett. I’m just coming to the end of The Light Fantastic, the second book in the Discworld series, and finding it even more delightfully subversive, wry, smart and delicious than The Colour of Magic. (I’ve also just started reading the first book in the Tiffany Aching subset of Discworld books, The Wee Free Men, aloud to Tristan and Simon.)

I am completely enchanted by the Discworld books, but in a different way that I’ve loved previous epic series. When I think of Stephen King’s Dark Tower oeuvre, for example, I think of how I became immersed in the world of the books, churning through them to find out what would happen next. The characters and world were rich, tangible, and lived fully in my imagination. It’s not so much the story that I’m in love with in Discworld, but the telling of it. Terry Pratchett’s prose is peppered with delightful puns and wordplay and cheeky asides that make every paragraph and page a delight of discovery. The puns pop up in the most unexpected places, often moving me to laugh out loud, and then compelling me to share the funny bits aloud to the nearest warm body. (And thanks to Kindle’s quote-sharing feature, I can share them with the Internet, too!) They’re often as simple and silly and unexpected as this:

‘Rincewind, all the shops have been smashed open. There was a whole bunch of people across the street helping themselves to musical instruments, can you believe that?’

‘Yeah,’ said Rincewind, picking up a knife and testing its blade thoughtfully. ‘Luters, I expect.’

So I can choose to read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I understand to be sprawling, creepy, thoughtful and excellent, or I can choose to continue to explore the quirky Discworld. I think I’m leaning toward Discworld but alas, another decision: follow the books by chronology, in the order they were written, or by character? Beloved stumbled upon this most excellent reference chart that offers a reading hierarchy of the Discworld:

terry pratchett reading order
Image courtesy of Krzysztof Kietzman /

Shall I continue to follow the adventures of Rincewind, Twoflower and the Luggage and move on to Sourcery, which is actually the fifth book in the Discworld series, or move chronologically to Discworld #3, Equal Rites? Oh happy dilemma, to know that it will take me years yet to work my way through 39 more books in the Discworld series, with the last and posthumous book pending publication later this year.

There is nothing more exquisite than discovering a literary treasure trove, especially one that will keep you reading for years yet to come – especially without having to wait for that pesky intermission between publication dates. What books or series have lit you up with the excitement of discovery? Have you read any Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, and which were your favourites? If you’ve read the whole of the Discworld series, how would you recommend they be read?

Oh, books!

Photo of the day: The days are long, but the years are short.

I have always liked this quote, and when I heard that it was coined by Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin, I liked it even more. It seems to fit the dandelion well: the fragility, but the ubiquity. (And, truth be told, I feared maybe you were getting sick of dandelions, so I thought I’d kick it up a notch.)

The days are long, but the years are short.

The Happiness Project has been on my “to read” list forever. I love the concept – you make your own happy, something I truly believe. Have you read it? What did you think?

And don’t you find with every passing year that those years seem shorter and shorter?

10-pages-in: Imaginary Things

I really need to stop accepting books for review, because when I don’t love them I feel horribly conflicted. They gave me a free book, I should give it a nice review! But when it’s a struggle to find nice things to say, I find myself in an awkward position.

Such is the case with Andrea Lochen’s Imaginary Things. I was intrigued by the synopsis:

Watching children play and invent whimsical games of fantasy is one of life’s great joys. But what if you could actually see your child’s imagination as it unfolded? And what would you do if your child’s imagination suddenly became dark and threatening?

Burned-out and broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents’ rural home for the summer with her four-year-old son, David. The sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs forces Anna to admit that either she’s lost her mind or she can actually see her son’s active imagination. Frightened for David’s safety, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon and how best to protect him. But what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son’s imaginary friends truly represent and dark secrets about her own childhood imaginary friend.

Living next door is Jamie Presswood, Anna’s childhood friend who’s grown much more handsome and hardened than the boy she once knew. But past regrets and their messy lives are making the rekindling of their complex friendship prove easier said than done. Between imaginary creatures stalking her son and a tumultuous relationship with David’s biological father, Anna may find it impossible to have room in her life or her heart for another man. But as David’s visions become more threatening, Anna must learn to differentiate between which dangers are real and which are imagined, and whom she can truly trust.

Sounds fun, right? Mothering, magic realism, maybe a little love story on the side – sounds like a great formula for a light summer read. It had great potential, but I just could not warm up to this one. To the author’s credit, I was intrigued enough by David’s experiences with the dinosaurs that I kept reading all the way through to the end to find out how it all turned out.

It was, however, a bit of a chore to endure the protagonist throughout the story. Young, self-centred and vapid, I was surprised to find myself actively disliking her, and found it nearly impossible to relate to her or her choices. When she called her son “whiny” instead of describing him as “whining” I may have actually cringed. I get that she’s supposed to be a young mother and clearly from a different generation than me, but even as a mother to a seven year old with an incredibly active imagination, I just couldn’t find anything in Anna to like. In fact, none of the characters resonated with me, not Anna’s kindly grandparents nor the imaginative little boy at the centre of the story. Only the hunky boy next door who’s “grown much more handsome and hardened” seemed to have much depth at all, and that wasn’t nearly enough to carry the story.

It’s a really neat, imaginative idea for a story, and the end was satisfying enough to make it worth the time to read, but any time I find myself actually rolling my eyes at the conventions in a story, I can’t help but give it a less-than-stellar review.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review. It might be the last!

Ten-pages-in book review: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

How, I keep asking myself, have I missed this book for my entire adult life? It is everything I love in a book – it’s clever, witty, cheeky and just the tiniest bit sacrilegious. It’s irreverent, intelligent and laugh-out-loud funny. It seems like every one of my friends has not only read it but loved it. I feel like a science fiction fan who has somehow missed the entire enterprise that is Star Trek.

This book is Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I at least been aware of Neil Gaiman for years, and have been quite enjoying a few of his books for kids and for grownups over the last year or so. From Fortunately the Milk for the kids to The Ocean at the End of the Lane for me, I was happy to discover a quirky author whose work I had previously overlooked. I was a little less aware of Terry Pratchett – I knew his name, and loosely his genre, but thought he was more straight fantasy in the lines of George R R Martin or David Eddings. In fact, I think I had been confusing him with Terry Brooks, now that I think about it.

As the boys and I started casting about for something to read after we finish the Anne of Green Gables series, Discworld tripped my radar and I realized that Terry Pratchett was revered on par with Douglas Adams for his witty irreverence. And to complete the mental loop, I had just last summer read Neil Gaiman’s biography of Douglas Adams called Don’t Panic. And so, I picked up Good Omens on a lark.

I don’t often literally laugh out loud when I’m reading by myself, but this book had me doing just that. The book is, to do it complete injustice in the summary, loosely the story of an angel, a demon and the coming of Armageddon to a sleepy little English hamlet called Lower Tadfield.

I have to admit, there was a bit early in the novel when I scratched my head and wondered where the hell all the various plot lines were going, but the humour kept me hooked. There was an early and ongoing bit of schtick about how “all tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into ‘Best of Queen’ albums” that had me sniggering, and at least once a chapter I was laughing out loud and thinking to myself, “Self, you have really GOT to figure out how to turn on the highlighting and underlining thingee on the Kindle so you can mark some of these quotes for future reference.

Some of my favourite bits:

Crowley had always known that he would be around when the world ended, because he was immortal and wouldn’t have any alternative. But he hoped it was a long way off. Because he rather liked people. It was major failing in a demon. Oh, he did his best to make their short lives miserable, because that was his job, but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse. Over the years Crowley had found it increasingly difficult to find anything demonic to do which showed up against the natural background of generalized nastiness. There had been times, over the past millennium, when he’d felt like sending a message back Below saying, Look we may as well give up right now, we might as well shut down Dis and Pandemonium and everywhere and move up here, there’s nothing we can do to them that they don’t do to themselves and they do things we’ve never even thought of, often involving electrodes. They’ve got what we lack. They’ve got imagination. And electricity, of course. One of them had written it, hadn’t he…”Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” Crowley got a commendation for the Spanish Inquisition. He had been in Spain then, mainly hanging around cantinas in the nicer parts, and hadn’t even known about it until the commendation arrived. He’d gone to have a look, and come back and got drunk for a week.

And this:

“Anyway, it’s like with bikes,’ said the first speaker authoritatively. ‘I thought I was going to get this bike with seven gears and one of them razorblade saddles and purple paint and everything, and they gave me this light blue one. With a basket. A girl’s bike.’
‘Well. You’re a girl,’ said one of the others.
‘That’s sexism, that is. Going around giving people girly presents just because they’re a girl.”

And this:

“I don’t see what’s so triffic about creating people as people and then gettin’ upset cos’ they act like people”, said Adam severely. “Anyway, if you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive.”

And this:

“In every big-budget science fiction movie there’s the moment when a spaceship as large as New York suddenly goes to light speed. A twanging noise like a wooden ruler being plucked over the edge of a desk, a dazzling refraction of light, and suddenly the stars have all been stretched out thin and it’s gone. This was exactly like that, except that instead of a gleaming twelve-mile-long spaceship, it was an off-white twenty-year-old motor scooter. And you didn’t have the special rainbow effects. And it probably wasn’t going at more than two hundred miles an hour. And instead of a pulsing whine sliding up the octaves, it just went putputputputput …
But it was exactly like that anyway.”

I could really just go on and on pulling quotes from this book. Seriously, HOW did I miss this treasure of a book for my entire adult life? The more I read, the more the stories started to come together, the funnier the lines got and the more I wanted to read. By the half-way point, I had tripped that magic spot where you start thinking about the book even when you’re not reading it, and by three-quarters of the way done, I knew it was going to end up on my top ten faves of all time list. I cannot remember the last time I finished a book and immediately started thinking about reading it all over again. (Oops, did I say “10 pages in” book review? Sorry, I’m a little late on this one!)

You might have heard that Sir Terry Pratchett died this past March, just a few weeks after I realized he was an author whose works I should have been reading since I was a teenager. We were discussing my late-to-the-party adoration of this book on Facebook and a friend shared this list of 50 great quotes from Terry Pratchett. I discovered one that has to be the new motto of anyone who works in social media for the government: “It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere would much rather you weren’t doing it.” And this one, which came >this< close to being the new tag line for the blog: "If you don't turn your life into a story, you just become part of someone else's story" As another wise friend said, "Lucky for you, there's only about 50 more Pratchett books for you to discover. Sad for all of us, there will never be any more than that." I am still perplexed as to how I so utterly failed to notice this book before now. I'm delighted, though, that we have just a few chapters left to read in Anne of Ingleside, and then I can start reading The Colour of Money (aka Discworld #1) by Terry Pratchett with the boys. I think I may cue up a little Neil Gaiman for my own reading next. Where should I go? American Gods? Neverwhere? The Graveyard Book? Clearly I can no longer be left to my own devices when choosing books, or I would have read Good Omens 20+ years ago!

Enlighten me, bloggy peeps – what ELSE have I been missing?

10-pages-in book review: Sweetland

Waaaaay back in the day, I used to write what I called “10-pages-in” book reviews. The idea behind the 10-pages-in review is that early in a book there’s often a tipping point where you decide whether a book is worth the effort. At 10 or 20 pages in, you can still comfortably walk away and not feel like you’ve invested too much to quit. Or, you know you’re so hooked that you start canceling playdates and dental appointments just to make more time to read.

I’m more than 10 pages in to Michael Crummey’s Sweetland, but by the time I’d hit the 10th page I was in love. It’s one of those books where you keep checking to see how much is left so you don’t gorge yourself and read it too quickly – you want to slow down and savour it, but you also want to gobble it up in one big feast.

The Goodreads synopsis for Sweetland sums it up well:

For twelve generations, when the fish were plentiful and when they all-but disappeared, the inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement, and each has been offered a generous compensation package to leave. But the money is offered with a proviso: everyone has to go; the government won’t be responsible for one crazy coot who chooses to stay alone on an island.

That coot is Moses Sweetland. Motivated in part by a sense of history and belonging, haunted by memories of the short and lonely time he spent away from his home as a younger man, and concerned that his somewhat eccentric great-nephew will wilt on the mainland, Moses refuses to leave. But in the face of determined, sometimes violent, opposition from his family and his friends, Sweetland is eventually swayed to sign on to the government’s plan. Then a tragic accident prompts him to fake his own death and stay on the deserted island. As he manages a desperately diminishing food supply, and battles against the ravages of weather, Sweetland finds himself in the company of the vibrant ghosts of the former islanders, whose porch lights still seem to turn on at night.

I am utterly enchanted by this book. I love the way the dialogue perfectly captures the rural Newfoundland idioms without reducing them to caricature. I love the gentle quirkiness of the characters. I love the way past and present are layered so they bleed through each other. I love the protagonist and his obstinate ways. I want to crawl inside this book and live there.

It’s more than a little ironic that given the book is about relocating people off the tiny rural island, a huge part of my heart yearns to move to just such a place. Between reading Anne’s House of Dreams to the boys and this book, I’ve practically packed our bags and moved us to Canada’s easternmost coastline. I’m not sure why PEI and Newfoundland suddenly call to me so strongly, but they do, and these wonderful books with their roots deep in a sense of place are only throwing gasoline on the fires of my imagination.

I’m already dreading the ‘tragic accident’ that’s mentioned in the synopsis, but even more I’m dreading the end of this book. I don’t want it to be done, and have already lined up Michael Crummey’s previous novel, Galore, as my next book.

Have you ever read a book that made you want to crawl inside and live there? What books have captured your imagination like this? To be reading two at the same time is rather dizzying. It also means I’m spending a rather alarming amount of time casually perusing real estate listings on PEI…

Crowdsourcing: What books do I need to read in 2015?

It wasn’t so much that I was resisting getting an e-reader of my own up until now. Beloved got a Kindle way back in the day when they first came out, and I’d use his every now and then, but it was attached to his credit card and it was always a bit of an inconvenience to get him to buy books for me. Besides, I’ve always been loathe to pay for books when the library has stacks of them for free. Then, my mom upgraded to a Kindle Fire and I inherited her old Kindle loaded with hundreds of books, and that kept me busy for a while.

Still, while there is a lot of overlap between what my mom likes to read (Stephen King, John Sandford, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Kathy Reichs, just about any of the good mystery series out there) and what Beloved likes to read (everything from classics to comic books), it just seemed easier to get a Kindle of my own so I could cater to my own eclectic tastes without having to be 357th on the waiting list for interesting new books that come out.

So that’s what Santa, erm, I mean Beloved, got me for Christmas. Hello 2008, I have a Kindle of my own! Of course, now I have to fill it up, which is where you come in.

Thanks to Goodreads, here’s what I’ve been reading lately – although it’s not incredibly accurate. For one thing, it’s got all the books I’ve read out loud to the boys. For another, it’s missed a few that I’ve tagged as read. I know for a fact we read Anne of Green Gables last year as well as at least one or two others in the Hitchhikers trilogy, and I’m sure I read at least one more Neil Gaiman and Gillian Flynn – and yet they’re not showing up here even though they’re on my Goodreads shelves. Who knows with my Swiss-cheese memory what else could be missing? Weird thing is they show up individually, just not in this list. *shrug*

Covers of books I have read recently

I’ve just started reading The Rosie Project, which seems cute but I’m having a hard time not hearing Sheldon Cooper as the narrator. People have raved about it, though, so I’m curious to see where it goes. I’ve been meaning to read Terry Fallis’s The High Road for quite a while now, so that might be next in the queue.

What say ye, bloggy peeps? What do I need to read in 2015?

Book review with a twist: Take This Man, by Brando Skyhorse

Remember when I found out my photo of Lucas playing hopscotch had been turned into a book cover?

I’ve already told you a little bit about how I found the book and started a casual correspondence with the author, and what a truly kind and interesting person he seems to be. But just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the book is in the reading, and when I cracked the cover of Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse, I so dearly wanted it to be a good book. I wanted it to be good because I liked the author, I wanted it to be good because I was curious about the story, and of course, I wanted it to be good because that’s my Lucas on the cover.

It was not simply a good book. It was a harrowing, heartbreaking, funny, tragic, compelling and utterly unforgettable book. It is, I tell you without bias, a story that will rattle around in your brain and your heart long after you turn the last page. It has been called a “most anticipated book of 2014“, (right there under Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King!), a best book of summer 2014, and listed as a “next great indie read” for June 2014, among many other reviews. Pretty serious buzz, right? And I can tell you without reservation or bias, it is worth the read.

Brando Skyhorse has lived a life that is incomprehensible to me, and his memoir moved me deeply. Brando’s Mexican-born father leaves the family when Brando was a toddler, leaving Brando with no real memories of his father. Shy of neither imagination nor chutzpah, Brando’s Mexican-born mother Maria capriciously decides to reinvent herself as a Native American named Running Deer and tells young Brando that his father is an incarcerated Native activist named Paul Skyhorse – someone neither Maria nor Brando has ever met. This abrupt reinvention and declaration marks the beginning of a pattern that repeats throughout Brando’s young life: a father figure is discovered, declared and brought into the family without question, usually without attention to such details as divorcing the previously instated father figure, not once or twice but five times through Brando’s childhood and adolescence.

Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to cover Brando’s convoluted childhood. His domineering and delusional mythmaker mother seeks new husbands in the personal ads in the backs of magazines, and Brando and his mother become co-conspirators of a sort in this ongoing quest to find a suitable surrogate father figure. Brando describes the pattern in the introduction to the book:

Life with each of these fathers followed a similar path. First I was forced to accept them, then slowly I trusted them, then I grew to love them.

Then they left.

“Some boys don’t have any fathers in their life,” my mother would say, bucking me up. “You’ve had five. Plenty for one boy.”

This cavalier obliviousness defines Maria’s relationship with Brando, and the mother in me at more than one point in the book wanted to reach into the pages and throttle Maria for her casual cruelty. One father gets arrested at Disneyland, another steals coins from Brando’s piggy bank. One after another, they fail to live up to even the most meagre expectations of a father figure. Time and again, the circumstances of Brando’s life conspire against him, yanking the metaphysical rug out from under him. And yet, this is neither a maudlin nor a bitter story. Brando’s voice is often dryly witty as he recounts the absurdity of his childhood circumstances. Only toward the end of the book does a sense of defeat and anger begin to outweigh the undercurrent of dark humour, and it was at this point that I found the story hardest to read.

This is truly an unforgettable story, brilliantly told. I held my breath in anticipation at times, cringing and practically reading through fingers splayed across my eyes for fear of what twist might come next at others. Dark comedy melds seamlessly into tragic pathos and back again, and by the middle of the book I was so deeply invested in Brando’s story I wanted to skip ahead to the end to make sure the final twist was a happy ending. Just when I really thought I was going to have to stop reading because I didn’t think I could handle the stress of reading about one more loss in the young man’s life, Brando finds his way through his personal darkness and begins to weave together the frayed ends of his life. As much as a memoir of a living person can’t really have a definitive ending, I can tell you at least (no worries, no spoiler alert here) that you won’t be disappointed with the where the story ends.

This is not just a good book. This is an extraordinary book. So maybe, just this once, it’s okay to judge a book by it’s cover. 😉