47. The Underpainter (Jane Urquhart)

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 1.31.38 PMAfter reading Away and and advanced reader copy of A Number of Things written to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial , I was thrilled to meet the fascinating Jane Urquhart at the Hamilton Public Library event. After the event, I was keen to read another one of her novels in which her love for the rugged shores of Canada and for history shine through the words on the page.

The Underpainter is the story of an artist who was able to paint the beauty around him yet struggled to appreciate the beauty and find happiness in his own life.  In his seventh decade, he is reflecting back on his life including his childhood spent with his eccentric mother sharing walks and visiting graveyards before her untimely death.  He considers the emotional spareness of his father and his teen and young adult years spending time on the Ontario side of Lake Superior after his father discovered the lucrative mines.  He met interesting friends including the young man, turned soldier and then veteran who returned broken yet painted intricate pictures on fine china.  He tried to understand his friend and support him by listening to his partner who had been hospitalized on her return from nursing the injured soldiers.  He pondered the relationship he had with his mistress whom he had visited, painted and exploited each summer, using her and then returning to his regular life each fall.

His reflections and stories slowly tell the tales of each of the characters and how they impacted his life as he covers over the underpaintings with new colour, new feelings and fresh paint.  The story is beautifully written, slowly savoured and would be perfect read at lakeside retreat!

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46. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 8.28.48 PMIsland of the Blue Dolphins has been on my TBR list for a long time.  My daughter had enjoyed it so when I saw it was available from my library’s overdrive list, I signed it out and listened to it over a few commutes.  As I have mentioned in the past, YA fiction is terrific to listen to in the car.  Island of the Blue Dolphins tells the story of Karana, a young girl separated from her family, living alone on an island.

Karana lived through trauma, death and loss yet learned to take care of herself, plan for the winter, protect herself from wild dogs and survive independently.  The story blends history with strength, resilience and survival.  After reading Hatchet, earlier this spring,  Island of the Blue Dolphins is similar yet with a female protagonist.  I can see that both of these books would make excellent choices for a grade 4 or 5 student.

After listening to the book, I learned that the tale was based on a true story of Juana Maria or “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island” who had lived alone for 18 years before being found during a sea otter hunt.

A great book for young girls to read, it helps them contemplate history and is an example of a strong and capable female character.  It won a Newberry Award in 1961 and a sequel, Zia, was written in 1976.

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45. Start With Why (Simon Sinek)

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 5.55.32 PM“It all starts with clarity.  You have to know WHY you do WHAT you do”

Start with Why was an inspiring book to listen to during my commutes – so inspiring that I needed to purchase my own copy!    Simon Sinek is a great narrator and brings excellent examples to the readers demonstrating the importance of why since “WHY is the thing that inspires us and inspires those around us”.

Sinek focuses on the importance of why, asking what is your purpose?  your cause?  your belief?  He encourages the reader to think about why they get out of bed each morning?  He reinforces that why creates lasting success, innovation and flexibility.

Rather than reading a review, here is a great youtube video of the author talking about his golden circle and how to start with why.

“No matter the size of the organization, no matter the industry, no matter the product or the service, if we all take some responsibility to start with WHY and inspire others to do the same, then, together, we can change the world”

Sinek is also responsible for How Great Leaders Inspire Others, which is known as the 3rd most popular YouTube video of all time which is based on his book, Leaders Eat Last.  I am looking forward to his next book, Find Your Why which is coming out in the Fall of 2017.

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Happy Father’s Day!!

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 10.19.11 AMAs I reflect on Father’s Day, I think of how lucky that I am to have an amazing Dad who is always here for me, treats my husband like his own son and supports and has a lot of fun with his grandchildren (not to mention builds terrific Little Free Libraries).   As I scrolled through some old pictures, I found that there are very few pictures of my dad alone – he usually has at least one kid with him, sometimes multiple and there seem to be a lot of shots with ice cream, tractors and the dog!  Here are a few of my favourites as well as some book suggestions to enjoy on Father’s Day!

Happy Father’s Day to my awesome Dad, my husband who is an amazing dad and all the other great Dad’s we know.  Enjoy some downtime and some Father’s Day reading today:

The Last Lecture (Randy Pausch)

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Letters to my Grandchildren (David Suzuki)

The Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page (or any other book or podcast by Stuart McLean)

All Out (Kevin Newman and Alex Newman)

for Joshua (Richard Wagamese)

Firestarter (Stephen King)

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin)

Us (David Nicholls)

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Michael Kaan: Author Event

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 10.28.37 PMDifferent Drummer books in collaboration with East Plains Church, in Burlington, hosted a trio of authors on May 2nd including Michael Kaan, Jennifer Robson and Jamie Tennant.  I have been tardy in posting this review but am looking forward to reading The Water Beetles which is the first novel of Michael Kaan, who I first “met” on the Canadian Content Goodreads group.

From Winnipeg, Michael, who works in a veteran’s hospital and was originally scheduled to visit Ontario for a work function.  It was cancelled but the publisher sent him to this event which was appreciated by the audience.  I had not planned on purchasing any books until I conquered some of my growing “to be read” pile but walked away with a signed copy and am interested to reading another perspective of World War II history.

Michael has a remarkable family history.   Although fictional, Water Beetles is based on his father’s memoir and experience as a 9 year old during the war.  Michael shared that his dad was the 17th of 18 children, born into a wealthy, family.  When Japan attacked China, after the bombing of Pear Harbour, his grandmother kept her family safe by sending them to different parts of rural China .  His dad was sent away with a responsible adult – a seventeen year old girl!  It is hard to imagine the terror of sending your children off during war, not knowing if they were safe, being unable to communicate and hoping for the best!

The story is told through the eyes of a 12 year old boy alternating with his perspective as a man.  The mother split up her family, sending 3 of her children to the country.  They travel from village to village and are taken to a concentration camp.

As always, I am curious about the author’s experience planning the book and Micheal revealed he did not have a detailed outline but had a broad idea and knew the ending of the book.  He acknowledged that it is important to have a writing habit and that writing the plot was the hardest part.

I have recently enjoyed a number of books based on WW II including The Nightingale (WW II  experience in France) and The Translation of Love (set during the post-WW II occupation of Japan) and look forward to learning about the experience in Hong Kong during the war.  It is always shocking to read fiction and realize how much history has not been taught in school and to reflect on how lucky we are to be Canadian in peacetime.

It was a nice evening meeting Michael Kaan and I appreciate having a signed copy of his book.  Water Beetles is on my summer reading list!

Posted in Book signing, Canadian, Historical Fiction | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Canadian Favourites

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 9.14.15 AMHi fellow CanLit lovers!!

I am planning on a Canada 150 blog post to celebrate the sesquicentennial and need your help.  I am hoping that followers of http://www.ayearofbooks.com will share their favourite Canadian book and the reason why is a book you love.

Please feel free to comment below or send me an email at ayearofbooks@rogers.com.

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Jane Urquhart (Hamilton Public Library Evening for Book Lovers)

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 8.58.45 PM“Had it not been for libraries, I would not be a writer”

It was a pleasure to attend the 3rd Annual Evening for Book Lovers at the Hamilton Public Library on Friday.  A capacity crowd heard book recommendations from devoted library staff, enjoyed listening to Annette Hamm (Master of Ceremonies) and learned that The Best Kind of People will be this year’s Hamilton reads title.  This was the lead up to hearing the esteemed Canadian author and Officer of the Order of Canada, Jane Urquhart.

Jane was introduced as a Canadian with curiosity and fascination with language, places and history.  Her latest book, A Number of Things:  Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty  Objects was described as a “lively birthday present to Canada” which is celebrating its’ 150th birthday on July 1st.  Having received an advance reader copy (ARC), I had been privileged to read this in September before it was published and learned a great deal about the resilience, perseverance and hard work that represented the challenges of building a life in Canada.

The author shared details of her own childhood, growing up in the northern community of Long Lac.  Her father was a prospector moving the family north where her mother missed access to books and a library.  Jane laughed that she was an avid reader and would actually have copies of The New Yorker dropped from a bush plane.  Her mother struck up a friendship with a former librarian and the two opened their own library in the glassed in porch of their log cabin, sharing books with each other and the miners of the small community.  Jane told a tale of a great forest fire.  Her father was commanded to fight the fire and as the fire came closer to the cabin, her mother and friend ended up rowing out to the middle of the lake with a bottle of scotch, 50 books and 10 bone china tea cups!  The read by the light of the forest fire and miraculously the only loss to the community were some outhouses!

Later, Jane moved to Toronto and told the audience that she could still remember the allure of the adult section of the library.  After seeing Roger & Hammerstein’s Music Man, in New York, she informed the librarian that the play cast a librarian as a star and was allowed to choose from the adult section.

As part of the lead up to the Canadian sesquicentennial, Jane was approached by an editor from Harper Collins about writing a collection about objects spanning the 150 years of Canada.  She admitted that this was not as easy as she thought and that the research would keep her up at night.  She noted that there were two common themes to her research, the importance of indigenous people and the use and misuse of natural resources.  The book is accompanied by illustrations of each object drawn by Scott McKowen.

She provided a reading of her research about Lady Susan Agnes MacDonald (wife of Sir John A) who rode through the Rocky Mountains seated on the cowcatcher which was attached to the front of the train.  Her husband was not quite as adventurous and spent only a short time with his spouse.  She spoke of the importance of samplers which were needlework pieces often created by young girls and this Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.00.16 PMsection ended with the information that the sampler pictured was passed down through the family of Alice Munro (another Canadian treasure).

She was asked how she chose the 50 items (and I would say that this book has many more than 50 items since each section expands to discuss other objects and Canadian history).  She noted that as a “collector of weird things” there were certain things that she knew had to be included such as Montcalm’s skull, the legging, the CBC and the tiger skin rug from the Bengal Lounge at the Empress Hotel.  This walk through history is both interesting and entertaining and readers can reflect on Canada as they learn these facts.

When questioned about which of the descriptions was most important to her, Jane shared the story of the big black rock in Montreal.  It was a memorial to the 6500 Irish immigrants who died of typhus (aka as ship fever) and were buried in mass graves.  They had immigrated to escape the potato famine and sadly died on arrival.  She told the crowd that there were over 1000 orphans adopted by residents of Quebec at the time, many had been babies that didn’t even know their names.

Jane entertained questions about the writing process.  Yes, she did all of her own research, leading to intriguing discoveries.  She did thank her copy writer who helped ensure accuracy.  She shared that she had always wanted to be a writer, that it was “in my blood”, laughing that she would get exams back with nothing correct yet the content was “well-expressed”.  She said that she “honestly never believed would be able to live the life of a writer” but that she had both luck and timing on her side, coming of age at a time when Canadian writing was encouraged.

Her advice to aspiring writers was – reading, stating that you need to “ingest a lot”.  She also encouraged the audience not to let the “inner critic get on your back when you are writing” and to forget what your relatives might say if you write about them.  She said that “my relatives either get mad at me because they think they are in my books or get mad because they are not”.

I had been tempted to skip the event after an extremely exhausting week but am really glad that I ventured to Hamilton.  Jane Urquhart is an amazing storyteller and was very inspiring.  You can tell how much she loves weaving Canadian history into her tales and I was thrilled to have my collection of novels signed.  I had previously enjoyed reading Away and am now in the midst of reading The Underpainter and enjoying her beautiful prose.

For those of you taking part in the Canadian Bingo or the Cross Country Challenge, her novels would be great additions to your reading!

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44. The One-In-A-Million Boy (Monica Wood)

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 4.35.15 PMI might not have picked up The One-In-A-Million Boy if it weren’t for the Brantford Public Library Goodreads Online Book Club but it was a sweet little story of perseverance, hope and unlikely friendships. The audio version of The One-in-a- Million boy was difficult to follow at first since the narrators voice was so low and almost seemed a bit mumbly at times.  I had to turn up the volume quite loud to catch all the words but eventually got used to his tone.

The story had a unique group of characters including Ona Vitkus, a 104 year old woman who had outlived her family.  She met the boy (who is never named in the whole book) who volunteered as Boy Scout to do odd jobs and record her life story for a school project.   They developed a friendship and he convinced her to seek a Guiness world record for the oldest licensed driver.

Sadly, the boy died and his father, Quinn Porter,  showed up the following Saturday to finish his son’s commitment.  As he got to know Ona, he learned to love his son who he had spent little time with since he divorced his mother.  Ona shared stories about the time that she spent with the boy and the enthusiasm that he spread which encouraged her to seek the world record.  Their relationship helped each of them in different ways.  Quinn filled a lonely void as Ona reflected and shared her past and he healed as he spent time with the centenarian.

This was a great book to listen to on my commutes.  It was a light read and I enjoyed the story and love books with spunky seniors.  Ona was capable, indpenendent and  had such an interesting life to talk about!

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43. Rainbow Valley (L.M. Montgomery)

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 10.09.16 AM“Once, looking from the attic windows of Ingleside, through the mist and the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm, they had seen the beloved spot arched by a glorious rainbow, on end of which seemed to dip straight down to where a corner of the pond ran up into the lower end of the valley.  “Let’s call in Rainbow Valley,” said Walter delightedly, and Rainbow Valley thenceforth it was”.

Anne of Green Gables is a beloved Canadian classic novel which I have read at least 3 times.  Set in Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, it is the tale of Anne Shirley, a feisty red headed orphan adopted by Marilla and her brother Matthew.  The Anne series is appreciated across the world and and estimated 125,000 tourists flock to Prince Edward Island, to visit the Green Gables Heritage Place, each year.  After rereading Anne of Green Gables last summer, my goal was to finish the 8 book series which includes:

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 10.11.46 AM

  1. Anne of Green Gables
  2. Anne of Avonlea
  3. Anne of the Island
  4. Anne of Windy Poplars
  5. Anne’s House of Dreams
  6. Anne of Ingleside
  7. Rainbow Valley
  8. Rilla of Ingleside
  9. Christmas with Anne (a collection of short stories which is in addition to the Anne collection)

Rainbow Valley is set in the village of Glen St. Mary as Anne and Gilbert raise their six children.  Much like Anne, as a child, the children are involved in hijinks along with the four spirited children of the widowed minister.  The Meredith children have little oversight by their distracted father and cause much gossip and speculation in the village as they run rampant in the graveyard, attend church with no stockings, and form a society to self-punish themselves.  The children gather together in Rainbow Valley, befriend an orphaned runaway and try their very best to stay out of trouble.  The novel is a light, easy read with beautifully, descriptive prose and makes one wish to travel back in time to the island.

According to Anne Quick Facts, her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, was published in 1908 and quickly sold 19 thousand copies.  It is now believed to have sold over 50 million copies!  There have been many film adaptations, a musical (it is the longest running musical theatre according to the Guiness World Book of records and holds as special place in my heart after participating as part of the chorus in a high school production in the mid 1980s) and the University of P.E.I even has a designated L.M. Montgomery Institute.  L.M Montgomery has an Ontario connection and I am hoping to visit the Manse where she lived and wrote after marrying her husband who was a presbyterian minister.

As mentioned in my previous reviews of the books in this collection, the Anne of Green Gables series is a series that every Canadian should read!  It describes the experience of this loveable orphan from the time of her adoption, through her school and courting years, her marriage and her experience as a parent.  Tundra books (series pictured above) have reprinted the books with beautifully illustrated covers which look terrific on my bookshelf!  Next up, Rilla of Ingleside!

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Beauty (Bill Wallace)

Thanks to my youngest son, I have another book to add to my ‘to be read’ list!  I loved reading his review of Beauty, which he read with his grade 4 class.  I have added a picture of the recommendation portion of his review above.

Reading this started my day off with a smile!

He is now in the process of reading Dewey:  The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World which he is enjoying.  I think that I will need to make him a cat litter box cake when he is finished!

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