40. Fruit (Brian Francis)

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 9.48.17 PMListening to Fruit was like a walk back through the 1980s.  Set in Sarnia, I would have missed this 2004 novel if it were not for my goal of completing the 100 Novels that Make You Proud to Be Canadian List.  Fruit became my 45th book from this list and was a contender of the 2009 Canada Reads (before I became a dedicated fan of this annual battle of the books).

It is the internal monologue of a Peter Paddington, a 13 year old boy who is struggling with his weight and his identity.  As a coping mechanism he begins to create bedtime “movies” in his mind, fantasies that include the fact that his nipples talk to him as his imagination distracts him from his day-to-day challenges at home and at school.  Although there are some amusing anecdotes, especially with his dysfunctional family, it is heartbreaking to understand the insecurity and loneliness Peter experiences as he questions his sexuality and struggles to fit in.

It is interesting to reflect on 1980s details, stores like Consumer’s Distributing, Woolco and Suzy Sheer that were part of my own teenage years (in fact, the downtown Brantford Public Library is situated in the old Woolco location).  He borrowed a sweatband and worked out to the Jane Fonda workout album.  I still remember my mom’s double album set complete with pictures!

As I listened, I reflected on the challenges many young people experience and how difficult highschool can be.  I think that this would be a great book for teachers to read and consider how they can support students.  I hope that it would be eye-opening for students to consider how their actions and comments hurt other students while thinking about ways to support each other.

It was interesting to learn more about Brian Francis.  He hails from Toronto and as I reviewed his website, I realized that I had already enjoyed his second book, Natural Order.

“I always wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. By that I mean, in order to be a writer, I had to write. Part of the problem for most young writers is figuring out what they want to write about. So I spent most of my twenties starting short stories (but rarely finishing them), penning melodramatic poems and fantasizing about how great life would be once I was a published author”. Brain Francis

Like many writers, he loves book clubs and I wonder if he would ever consider traveling West for a discussion with our Brantford book club?  I would love to hear more about his writing process and after reading the above quote (from his website), I am inspired that there is hope for my dream of becoming an author!

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39. Sister of Mine (Laurie Petrou)

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 11.42.44 PMThank you to Harper Collins for sharing a review copy of Sister of Mine for an honest review.  

Sister of Mine is a book that should be read in one sitting.  It is a page turner and it is great to read glimpses of the town of Grimsby in the descriptions of St. Margaret’s.  The novel  is a story of sisters, of loyalty and of secrets.  The crime is reported on the first page leading the reader in a struggle to understand what happened leading up to the fire as they discover the complex relationship the sisters share.

Penny and Hattie are bound together through loss and secrets.  Their father had disappeared,  their mother died, they are well-known in their small, lakeside town.   When a fire saved Hattie from her terrible husband, the sisters were bound closer by their past and their secrets leading to resentment, bitterness and settling the score.

It is difficult to say more about this book without risking spoilers so I will suggest this book for a beach day, a lazy afternoon or a quiet evening at home.

Looking to learn more about the author?  Check out my blog post from the latest Grimsby Author Series event with Laurie Petrou, who spends her mornings writing at the Station 1 Coffeehouse in Grimsby.

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Joanna Goodman: The Home for Unwanted Girls Launch

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 10.13.01 AMIt was terrific to be invited to Joanna Goodman’s launch of The Home for Unwanted Girls on Thursday.  Although it is a challenge to travel to Toronto during the week, Ben McNally Books provided a great setting for the author event.

Who doesn’t love spending time in an independent bookseller?  It was so tempting to buy more books as we browsed the artfully displayed shelves (until I remembered my enormous cache of books from the Brantford Symphony Orchestra sale still waiting to be shelved)!  I could not resist purchasing a copy of The Home for Unwanted Girls to enable signing by the author!

The evening began with some terrific charcuterie, unique cheeses (I did enjoy the green, marbled cheese although have no idea what it was), brownies and tasty meringues with lemon curd.  I wish that I had thought to take a picture as it was so beautifully displayed on natural wood cutting boards.  While the audience snacked and shopped, Joanna Goodman introduced herself and chatted with the crowd while her son kept himself busy and her daughter worked on a school project.

It was terrific to have an opportunity for some one to one conversation.  I was able to ask what she was working on now and she laughed and said that she had received a call from her publisher today, asking her to shelve her current project and work on a sequel to The Home for Unwanted Girls.  It was interesting to learn that the American publisher is keen to learn more about the Quebec Referendum.  She admitted to being a “planner” when writing her books and loves to read.  She recently enjoyed Meg Wolitzer’s newest book, The Female Persuasion which is also on my TBR list.

Introduced by her literary agent, Beverly Slopen, it was interesting to learn that she had began writing this book 2 decades ago!  Originally named The Seedman’s Daughter and redrafted multiple times, she had received approximately 100 rejections over the years!  Two years ago, she hauled out and refined the manuscript, describing a dark chapter in Canadian history, and gave it a title change.  Now it is on the Globe and Mail bestseller list, has been compared to The Alice Project and has been published simultaneously in French!

After listening to a quick reading – not the 4-5 chapters she jokingly promised, we headed home chatting about the event and all the books on our TBR piles.  Thanks to Sarah and Kim for sharing a fun evening in Toronto!

What’s next?  This week I am excited to meet Heather Tucker, author of The Clay Girl at book club followed by a Lunch with Kim Thuy.  I have been wanting to meet the author of Ru, Man and Vi for a long time so am excited for this FOLD festival event.

Watch for more frequent posts as I catch up on my reviews and author events including Lisa Genova, David Chariandy and Peter Robinson.

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38. The Immortalists (Chloe Benjamin)

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 8.23.10 AMIt is not often that I choose a book by its’ cover but The Immortalists’ cover was a deciding factor.  I was also intrigued by the “teaser” (what my daughter calls the cover description) asking “If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?”.  The novel is set in 1969 New York City.  Four siblings visit a fortune teller, discovering the dates of their deaths which impacts their futures.

Each child keeps their dates private but never forget this legacy.  This date shadows their decisions and choices as they grow up and follow their paths.  The book is broken down into sections, each dedicated to one sibling.  It is an engaging yet palate cleansing read which leaves readers thinking about the logistics and impact of knowing when you will die.

Simon is the youngest.  He has a secret and runs away to San Francisco to find himself.  Klara seeks magic, learning the trade of illusion and trickery starting off in San Francisco and travelling to Las Vegas.  Daniel becomes a physician, determining the fitness of military recruits.  He marries and looks after his widowed mother.  Varya becomes a researcher, working with monkeys to study longevity and aging.  She distances herself from her family but always thinks about that date looming in the future.

The book leaves the reader pondering their fate.  Was the date their destiny?  Did each sibling plan their life and make decisions supporting that date?  Could things have been different?

The Immmortalists is Chloe Benjamin’s second novel.  Originally from San Francisco, she lives with her spouse in Wisconsin.  I am always curious about the reading habits of authors so appreciate that she posts a link to books she has read on her website.  I will keep my eyes open for a copy of her first book, The Anatomy of Dreams which also looks like a thought-provoking novel… and also has a fetching cover design!

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Jennifer Robson: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 7.36.32 AMAt the risk of sounding like a stalker, the final night at the Grimsby Author Series was my third time at a Jennifer Robson event.  At each event, I have learned something new about her books and her writing process.  On Monday, she spoke about Goodnight from London, which is her only book that remains on my TBR pile.  Instead of repeating details from the Burlington event where she spoke about the same book or the Brantford evening where she spoke about her pending book, The Gown, I will share only the new insights from the Grimsby event.

Despite many all nighters (more than during her many years of academia), deadlines and waiting for reviews, Jennifer described writing as as “the best job I have ever had”.  She admitted that she was feeling “jittery” after handing in the final draft of her next book early in the day and spoke of the solitary pursuit of her novels when she  “left alone with my thoughts and the people I am creating” along with her dog and cat.

Jennifer is a solid researcher and works diligently to be true to history which is the “scaffolding I hang the book on”.  She writes about strong, “ordinary women who “find themselves in really interesting places” and who “begin in a place of relative powerlessness but by the end find agency and power”.

“No male billionaire will ever rescue my female character, they will rescue themselves”.

After hearing Jennifer speak at multiple events, I respect her commitment to strong, female characters who exist in and accurate, historical narrative. It is great for readers to learn through fiction which is starting point for researching more details about the World Wars.  I look forward to reading Goodnight from London and will watch for her next book, The Gown which takes place in the bleak years, after WWII, as Princess Elizabeth prepares to marry.

Jennifer provided a strong finish to a great season of terrific books and engaging authors.  Thanks to the Grimsby Library, Ken and all the dedicated volunteers and donors who bring together a vibrant crowd of readers to celebrate and share a love of reading!!!

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Laurie Petrou: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 9.36.40 PMSadly, the 2017-18 season of the wonderful Grimsby Author Series ended on Monday.  This is my third year participating and each evening is meticulously organized and a night to look forward to.  What could be better than an sold out event, not one but two authors, wine, snacks and door prizes?  Of all the book events that I enjoy, Grimsby hosts the largest crowd and a fabulous facilitator.  Ken Boichuk always provides a thoughtful, well-researched introduction to each author and engages the crowd with his enthusiasm for celebrating great books and the authors who write them!

Monday night began with local author, Laurie Petrou.  Originally from Markham, she has “put down roots” and is raising her family in the small, lakeside town.  Her two young boys joined many local residents to celebrate the success of Laurie’s novel, Sister of Mine.  She noted that after 12 years as ticket holder, she was thrilled to be a guest author and laughed that that unlike her experience teaching university students, she could enjoy the audience paying attention.

Aside from writing a collection of short stories, and her PhD, Sister of Mine is Laurie’s first novel which she described as a “mainstream, popular suspense novel… a thriller… a book about sisters”.  Ken introduced the book as “not a who done it but a what’s next”?  While a murder is described on the first page, the rest of the book  slowly leads the reader to understand the events leading up to the crime as well as the impact on the sisters.

Sister of Mine engages readers to ponder the strong bond of siblings, the complexity of situations and the way different individuals may have unique recall of the same event.  Readers will think about breaking points and decisions made in the face of adversity.  At the time of the event, I was still finishing the book (thank you to Harper Collins for a review copy) so watch for a future blog post.

During the question period, Laurie shared that she has always had a love of reading.  She loves books about family and is particularly interested in the relationships of sisters (despite not having a sister of her own).  It is interesting to note that she spends her mornings writing at the local Station 1 Coffeehouse yet completes edits in her home office.  She shared that she is currently working on a new book which will be “totally different”.

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37: Shrewed (Elizabeth Renzetti)

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 7.59.46 AMReturning from vacation, I was excited to stop by the library to find Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Woman and Girls with my name on it.  I chuckled when I atttempted to check it out, only to discover that it was no longer reserved for me, as I had missed my hold window, and was waiting for my sister in law!  This collection of essays was worth the wait, leaving the reader pondering the voices in our heads and the messages that we share with our children.

Elizabeth Renzetti is a Globe and Mail columnist, author of a novel, daughter, wife and mother.  She shares her own experiences openly and honestly.  She lays out her truths and writes to inspire women.  She begins with an essay called The Voice in Your Head is an Asshole describing how our inner thoughts curtail our activities, cause women not to apply for jobs unless they completely fit the criteria  and causes us to doubt our capabilities and strengths.

She wrote about harassment of women, from being groped on the subway, to catcalls and highlighted the video, Ten Hours as a Woman.  The video is shocking but makes me think back to my younger days.  I considered how my own daughter had accepted that the calls from passing cars as “normal”, not sharing the experience walking home at lunch, until especially awful comments were yelled at her friends.  It is scary to think that our young women are so used to this behaviour that they just ignore it.  I am sure glad that my boys know better!

She included letters to her children, shared the inspiration she gained from her mother, a retired nurse, and lots of details about her first hand experiences.  I enjoyed learning that she had taken her mother to see Hillary Clinton when she visited Toronto in the fall.  It is interesting to think that our paths crossed that even when 5000 women (there were a few men in the crowd) listened to a strong, woman speaker who had failed in her bid for presidency despite being one of the most qualified candidates in history.

Shrewed is a great collection of essays.  I greedily read them all at once but think this is a book to savour, to pick up and read one essay at a time.  These are essays that need to be discussed – at the dinner table, at the water cooler, with other women, with men, with young girls and young boys.  It signals that change is needed and that feminism is important inn 2018!

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Happy Canada Book Day 2018!!!

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It is a beautiful day to celebrate Canada Book Day!  Pick up your favourite book and enjoy!

Grab a classic like Anne of Green Gables, reread a Canadian Classic like Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale.  Revisit a book that you read in highschool like Fifth Business!  Improve your team work skills with Collaborating with the Enemy by Adam Kahane.

Pick up one of the 2018 Canada Reads titles or this year’s winner Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto  Celebrate books written by the late author’s Richard Wagamese by reading Indian Horse and then going to see the heart wrenching movie, learning about history through his amazing storytelling.

If you have little ones, enjoy a story together.  Some of our families’ favourites are the Paper Bag Princess, Murmel Murmel or I Have to Go Pee by Robert Munsch.

It is a special day to promote reading and celebrate books written by Canadian authors that make this country proud so pick up a book and enjoy!!!

What Canadian authors are your favourite?  What books are you reading?  Add your comments below!!

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Karin Slaughter & Alafair Burke @ Burlington Public Library

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.59.16 AMOn Thursday, the Burlington Public Library brought together Karin Slaughter and Alafair Burke in a terrific event moderated by Melodie Campbell.  This dynamic duo travelled from their homes in Georgia (Karin) and Manhattan (Alafair), all the way to Burlington, Ontario to delight a room full of readers.

Karin has had a prolific history in publishing, writing 18 books which have sold over 35 million copies in 36 different languages!  She focuses on writing characters, honouring stories of assault and told the audience how she had been influenced by growing up in the time of the Atlanta child killer.  Her idyllic community was on high alert because of the serial killer which led to a more supervised childhood, more time spent inside and more television.  Her parents did not share much information about what was going on so Karin began making up her own stories.  She became a paid author when her dad rewarded her with a quarter for each book!

“Crime fiction’s job is to hold up a mirror to society” (Karin Slaughter)

Alafair is a busy woman – not only does she spend time writing books but also teaches criminal law and is a former prosecutor.  She can’t say no to work and grew up in a house of reading and writing.  Her father (James Lee Burke) is also a popular author yet she attributes her writing to her mother who took her to the library each week.  This excursion gave her father time to write and opened up a world of books for her.  She described her childhood in an era of latch key kids, being careful to lock the door, being mindful of creepy vans and calling 911 many times due to her active imagination.  In speaking about the #MeToo movement, Alafair noted that her books speak to the “worst fears of women” and what happens when we can’t trust those that are closest to us.

Although Karin’s sense of humour is not reflected in her books, she had the audience laughing throughout the evening.  The two authors had a great camaraderie on stage and appeared to be close friends.  Both women are avid readers.  Alafair just finished an ARC of Karin’s later novel and feels that the worst thing about being an author is that she has less time to read.  Karin loves to read and spoke about the loss of Sue Grafton since her books were “like a new friend every year”.

“I write the kind of book I want to read” (Karin Slaughter)

The moderator asked some great questions, starting with inquiring about unusual experiences when researching books.  Karin shared that she had swam with sharks in Melbourne.  She cheekily noted that she had also eaten peameal bacon which got laughs from the Canadian crowd!  She had also completed training exercises at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and attended a simulated school shooter drill  which helped lend authenticity to a novel.  Alafair reflected that “research can be a writer’s worst enemy” and notes that she chose a job that enables her to sit at a desk.  She has had a few research trips including a visit to Quantico.  Her approach to writing is to “spend more time with the characters” and admitted that she has a great “electronic rolodex” of experts.

The authors described their writing days starting with Karin noting that Steve Barry gets up and writes at 6 am laughing and saying “what an asshole”!  She admits that she is lazy and tends to “forget about everybody” and  binge write at her cabin in Blueridge, Georgia where she will go for two weeks at a time creating a “creative shell from not bathing”, staying in her PJs all day and surviving when her father leaves both notes and soup at her door.  Alafair says the “magic” happens when she is up “super late at night” and that she is sometimes writing until the wee hours of the morning.

What are they working on now?  Alafair is doing a project with Mary Higgins Clark (wow, it has been a long time since I read a Mary Higgins Clark novel which were my favourites in the early 90s).  Karin is finishing Pieces of Her which should be out in August and has plans for another Will Trent novel next year.

Both women take their writing seriously and are grateful to be successful authors acknowledging that many authors need to work other jobs or they would live below the poverty lines.  Although Alafair has regrets about her first book, she spoke to the “world of friends” she has made through writing.  While the writing process is isolated, she has a great team of writers and publishers.

I loved hearing Karin’s tale of her first published novel.  Her version of a Gone with the Wind type of book had been rejected, she asked for copies of the rejection letters.  What she found in the redacted letters was that the publishers liked her storytelling style but not the story.  The agent encouraged her to write a thriller and amazingly, she sad down for 17 eighteen hour days, finding her voice and completing Blindsighted.  While her agency took 6 months to read it, she completed a sequel.  When it took the agent another 3 months to read it, she wrote a third book!  She ended up with a 3 book deal over a 10 year period, launching her career.

“Not many people get to do for a living what they really want to do for their lives” (Karin Slaughter).

Despite her success, Karin is mindful of the cost of books.  She remembers her days as a student with limited resources and always wants to give 110% to the readers.  She laughed that it she wrote a “bad book”, it would be the only one readers would remember.  Alafair, who has written 12 books, feels that it gets harder as she writes more books as she wants each one to be better but not similar.  She feels the need to “up the game, or keep moving the game”.

Although crime fiction is not my go-to genre, I had intended to read the books prior to the event.  Since my TBR pile is so large, I sadly ran out of time but am now inspired to enjoy these books and reflect on the fun evening with the authors.

Thank you to the Burlington Library, Harper Collins and  Different Drummer for arranging a great evening!  Thanks also to Kim, for taking great pictures at all the events,  and Shalom for sharing a fun evening!

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Happy Earth Day 2018!

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Artwork by Brendan

“Earth Day 2018 is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behavior about plastics.” (Earth Day Network)

It is a beautiful, sunny day to celebrate our planet!  Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970, starting in the US and spreading worldwide, as more and more individuals learn how important it is to take care of the planet.

What are you doing to be kind to the earth and reduce your plastics?   In our home, we are trying to consume less packaged products, eat less meat, use reusable produce/snack bags and share books through our Little Free Library (double impact as it reuses books and inspires reading)!  I am planting some herbs to keep inside until the weather is warmer and planning my small garden so we will have some fresh produce this summer.  Today, we will get outside and enjoy the sunshine and this week, my daughter’s geography class will be planting trees!

Here are a few great book suggestions for today:

How are you celebrating Earth Day 2018?  What environmentally friendly habits do you have or are you adopting?  Please comment below as to how you are celebrating Earth Day 2018!

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