48. Marilla of Green Gables (Sarah McCoy)

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 3.12.24 PMAs a lifelong fan of the Anne of Green Gables series (written by L.M. Montgomery), I was thrilled to receive an advanced reader copy of Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy.  Thank you to William Morrow Publishers and Harper Collins for sharing this novel, for an honest review, which delves into the early life of Marilla.  This provides insight into her childhood, her adolescence and her young adult years, long before she adopted and was touched by the precocious, red-head, Anne with an “e”!

Fans of Anne of Green Gables will come to understand Sarah McCoy’s version of what led Marilla to her straight-laced, stern approach to child-rearing.  Readers are introduced to the 13 year old Marilla in 1837 as she awaited the arrival of her Aunt Izzy who had come to assist the family as they looked forward to the arrival of the next Cuthbert baby.

With the help of Aunt Izzy, Marilla learns to make red currant wine and hones her dress-making skills.  She is also influenced by her Aunt’s strong independent streak.  The young Marilla experiences a great loss, takes on household responsibilities and sacrifices her happiness and a chance at love due to her own stubbornness.

It was interesting that this character would be linked to the Underground Railroad.  This was an unexpected twist which I am still pondering.  The Underground Railroad led many slaves to freedom but I had not been aware of a Prince Edward Island connection.  It is intriguing to consider whether the proper Marilla would have become involved in this rescue and makes for a thought-provoking storyline.

Overall, I loved the book!  I have enjoyed rereading Anne of Green Gables and finishing the entire 8 book series so it was a treat to consider the experiences that had formed the severe but kindly Marilla Cuthbert.  In many ways, this book was an opportunity to reflect on a book that I had enjoyed in my childhood, much like revisiting Laura Ingalls in Caroline: Little House Revisited.

Marilla of Green Gables is the first book that I have read that has been written by Sara McCoy and I will be keeping my eyes open for her other novels.  I chuckled to read that her dog is named Gilbert – after Anne’s beloved tormentor (later her husband)!

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47. One Story, One Song (Richard Wagamese)

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 10.43.03 AM“Stories build bridges to undiscovered countries – each other”.

Richard Wagamese was a huge loss to #CanLit but his beautiful stories will endure and resonate.  It is not surprising that Joseph Boyden described him as a “national treasure”.  One Story, One Song is a collection of his experiences and life lessons where the reader is treated to his honesty, insight and perspective which was inspired by his challenging life.

Written by Wagamese, at the age of 54, this is a terrific book to pick up and savour a couple of stories at a time.  It is divided into directions:

East – Humility which he described as the “ability to see yourself as part of something larger… as the great, grand clamour of our voices, our spirits raised together in song”.  In this section he spoke of the bears and the sacred places on the land which grounded him.  It was interesting to learn that he and his spouse bought and renovated a rooming house, removing the active addicts and supporting those that struggled who were “victims of life’s rampant unpredictability”.  He speaks of improving the building both through hard work and paint as well as by hearing the stories of the tenants and helping to make their lives more positive.

South – Trust which he defines as “the ability to open  yourself up for teachings” where he talks about his marriage and his experience learning about the land while living in a foster home.  Even thought the books was written in 2011, his message of not “deliberating on our differences” but using “language to unite us, not divide us”  is an essential message as we deal with current governments, both in the United States and even within Ontario that require lessons in inclusivity and the importance of diversity.

West – Introspection is described as a place of vision, of understanding how teachings can change lives and provide balance.  Highlights of this section include a traditional story of the loon who’s call is to remind us to pay attention and be aware of the teachings.  He shared some of his experience as a journalist covering First Nations issues and how, sadly, so little has changed.  He spoke of the importance of connection, silence (time to reflect) and indulged the reader in describing his writing place.

North – Wisdom is the culmination of teaching and the importance of sharing the learning with others.  He wrote about finding help to understand and worth through his feelings of “unworthiness” and described the love he has discovered with his wife, Debra.  The anecdotes described the care that they have for their tenants and how they try to touch their lives as well as important people along the way, like a teacher who gave him a picture of Martin Luther King when he was being bullied.  He ended with notes on suicide, truth and reconciliation, surviving the sixties scoop and knowing what is important – a simple life and appreciating Canada, “the greatest country on earth”.

The book is completed with the final words of “to be continued” and I hope that the legacy of his thoughts and words are continued through readers who are touched and impacted by his stories and life lessons.  Richard Wagamese lived a challenging life, with abuse, addiction and loss.  He lived the consequences of his parents experience of residential schools yet he shares powerful stories, lessons of hope and delves into healing and understanding what is important:  love, community, nature.

Both his fiction and non-fiction are beautifully written, powerful stories that Canadians need to read.  Not sure where to start?  I would suggest picking up Medicine Walk (my favourite book) or Indian Horse.  Not feeling like reading?  Watch the movie Indian Horse and share it with others, it is important that Canadians understand the brutal history that has impacted Indigenous Peoples and move forward in a way to celebrate connections and community so that history does not repeat itself.

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Happy Canada Day 2018

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.54.28 AMAs we celebrate Canada’s 151st birthday, it is time to reflect on some great reading!  We have an amazing collection of Canadian authors to discover and enjoy.  My perennial favourites include:

Medicine Walk by the late Richard Wagamese.  I have enjoyed almost everything by this author and would also suggest Indian Horse (and then watch the movie) and Ragged Company as well as his non-fiction, One Story One Song, for Joshua and One Native Life.

Anne of Green Gables is worth a reread if you have not picked it up since you were a child.  I had only read the first 3 in the series when I was younger so enjoyed completing the series of 8, culminating with Rilla Ingleside which follows the Blyth family and details the struggles of Anne and her daughters as the boys head off to war.  If you have already completed the Anne series, I recently discovered (and enjoyed) The Emily of New Moon series.  It has some delightful similarities but was a refreshing collection of audio books.

Margaret Atwood has been seen in the news frequently and many of you have likely been enjoying The Handmaid’s Tale series which is in its’ second season.  If you have Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.59.14 AMnever read The Handmaid’s Tale, or it has been a long time since you finished reading this Canadian Classic, it is time to revisit this powerful story.  This diverse author has written a range of terrific stories that would be terrific to pick up for the holiday weekend.  I am reading Cat’s Eye for our Canada Day themed book club but have also enjoyed Alias GraceHag-Seed , The Stone Mattress and The Heart Goes Last in the last year.  I am looking forward to hearing Margaret Atwood in Stratford this September!

Looking for more suggestions?  Here is my sesquicentennial list to help you read across the country.  You can also join my second annual challenge to read a book from each province and territory this summer!

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.55.36 AMIn the meantime, what are you reading this Canada Day long weekend?  What are your perennial favourite Canadian novels and who are your celebrated authors?  Please add a comment about your “go to” novels and inspire more Canadian reading on this beautiful, sunny holiday weekend!  Happy Canada Day to everyone!!

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46, 49 and 51: Emily of New Moon Series (L.M. Montgomery)

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 9.46.26 AMThe Emily of New Moon series is a sweet and delightful collection of books by L.M. Montgomery.  It was a terrific discovery to listen to during my commutes over the last month.  Like the Anne of Green Gables series it is full of stories about a feisty, orphaned girl who struggles to fit in with her new family in Prince Edward Island.

Emily of new Moon introduces the creative Emily Starr who had only faint memories of her mother who had died years before.  She had enjoyed living with her loving father, who homeschooled her and supported her stories,  until he died of tuberculosis.  She had never met her mother’s family who had been estranged from her mother for many years, angry at her elopement with her father.  The family arrived en masse for the funeral, determined to do what was right and drawing names to decide who would be responsible to bring up the young girl.

As Emily adapted to living with her two maiden Aunts she struggled to conform to expectations.  Her Aunt Elizabeth was very strict and did not appreciate Emily’s creativity and love of writing.  Aunt Laura was loving and was a sweet refuge from the high expectations and cousin Jimmy who had an acquired brain injury from a childhood accident doted on Emily.  Emily adapted to school despite challenging early days.  The fun began as she developed a group of friends including Ilse, Teddy and Perry, who helped to make her days more interesting.

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 9.28.04 AMIn Emily Climbs, Emily moves to Shrewsberry in order to attend highschool.  She lived with her elderly Aunt Ruth who had even stricter rules than New Moon.  Aunt Elizabeth had not been keen to continue her education.  A deal was struck that she stopped writing fiction if she wished to attend highschool.  Emily worked hard at her studies and began writing poems in the absence of fiction.  As she gained success,  publishing her poetry and later writing for the newspaper, she proved that her writing could be lucrative.  Emily had yet frustrated the proper Aunt Ruth as she had fun, got into a few scrapes and experienced misunderstandings with her friends who had also moved to Shrewsberry. to attend school.  Regardless of the challenges, she slowly gained the love and support of Aunt Ruth just as she had done with her family at New Moon.

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 9.35.40 AMThe final book, Emily’s Quest is full of marriage proposals!  Emily received multiple offers in marriage waiting for the one man who has always had her heart.  Like Anne and Gilbert, in the 8 book Anne of Green Gables series, Emily and her love had a series of misunderstandings and it took a long time for them to realize their love at the same time.  During these years, Emily remained single, wrote stories  to support herself and enjoyed her time at New Moon.

The Emily of a New Moon series is a sweet collection of tales detailing the struggles of an orphaned girl who came to love her new family and life at New Moon.  There are certainly similarities to Anne of Green Gables but it is also unique with vivid descriptions of Emily coming of age.  The books describe life on Prince Edward Island during the early twentieth century and helps a reader to reflect on simpler times.  Although technology was not a complication then, Emily experienced the age old challenges of bullying and fitting in at school as she grew into a confident young woman.

These books were great to listen to during commutes, had me chuckling and reflecting on my own visit to Prince Edward Island in 1996.  They are beautifully written and I look forward to returning to PEI and reading more of the works of L.M Montgomery.

 

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45. Warlight (Michael Ondaatje)

Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 9.57.50 AMWarlight describes the time following World War II through the eyes of Nathaniel, a man trying to figure out his life and reflecting back on his time as a fourteen year old boy.  He and his younger sister, Rachel, had been abandoned by their parents at this critical point in their development.  They  believed that their parents had to travelled to Singapore for their father’s job but later discovered their mother’s trunk, neatly packed, still in their basement sparking a mystery to solve.

They are left in their family home, in the care of a mysterious man that they called The Moth.  They meet an odd collection unique individuals who watch over them to keep them safe while they struggle to understand their circumstances.  Nathaniel learned a lot working a few odd jobs including working in a hotel and later helping to smuggle greyhounds with a shady character he called The Darter.

As an adult, Nathaniel reflects on his childhood experiences as he grieves his mother’s death and tries to understand her life.  His experiences lead him to a job with the British Intelligence where he pieces together bits of his mother’s life as a spy.

The Warlight is a slow read, a masterpiece of words which untwines as Nathaniel ages.  It almost needs a second read to really understand and piece the story together.  The book is a one of a kind story which takes place after the war (refreshing since there are so many books set during WWII).  I am disappointed that I was unable to meet Michael Ondaatje when Warlight was released but getting into Toronto on a weeknight is never easy and I am hoping there will be future opportunities.

Reading this book makes me want to revisit The English Patient which I read many years ago!

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44. Love and Ruin (Paula McLain)

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 10.56.10 AMFor lovers of historical fiction, Love and Ruin is a terrific book that not only keeps you turning pages but necessitates google searches to learn more about Martha Gellhorn, her writing and her tempestuous relationship with Ernest Hemingway.  If you loved reading The Paris Wife, the tale of Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley, this is a book for you.  It detailed his marriage to a strong women who despite her courage and success seemed to be dwarfed in Hemingway’s shadow by his selfish personality and his success.  Thanks to my kids for this mother’s day gift which I was keen to read before meeting Paula McLain, for the second time, at the Grimsby Author Series (see my post about meeting her in 2015 here!

I had no idea of the strength, courage and tenacity of Martha Gellhorn.  She was a feisty, female war correspondent in a time when women stayed home and had children.  Sadly, she may be best known for her role as wife of Ernest yet she remarkably lived a mile from the front during the Spanish Civil War and even hid in a hospital ship bathroom to witness the Normandy landings during World War II!

The novel describes Martha and Ernest meeting in a Key West bar.  He was married at the time but became involved with Martha and her family.  Martha later obtained fake credentials and met Ernest in Spain after a very difficult journey into the country.  She covered the day to day impacts and faces of the war.  From their she gained a foothold in the role of war correspondent as she fell in love with the incorrigible Hemingway who was then married to his second of four wives.

The couple wrote together in their home in Cuba yet Ernest had to be the centre of attention.  Martha was the first and only wife to leave Hemingway which she did after 4 years of marriage.  It was interesting to learn, via research, that she continued reporting into her eighties, ending her career after the US invasion of Panama in 1989. Sadly she committed suicide (via cyanide) in 1998 to end her struggles with blindness and ovarian cancer with liver mets.

Paula McLain writes about strong women – Hadley Hemingway in The Paris Wife, Beryl Markham in Circling the Sun and now Martha Gelhorn in Love and Ruin.  She researches women with remarkable lives and weaves engaging stories through history.  Watch for a future post where I discuss meeting Paula, at the Grimsby Author Series and describe her enthusiasm and excitement for her writing and research.

As a lover of historical fiction, her books have been not only entertaining but educational.  They draw a reader in quickly and are difficult to put down.  McLain’s books explore amazing women and provide a jumping off point to learn more about these characters!

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43. Dance, Gladys, Dance (Cassie Stocks)

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 1.52.27 PMAs followers are well aware, I LOVE Canada Reads.  I love the lead up to the event, reading books from the long list, reading ALL the books from the short-list,  following the event and best of all attending this literary knock out event!  Gladys Dance Gladys was a light read (lol – listen) for commuting, taken from the long-list.  It is a book that I would not have chosen had it not been connected with Canada Reads.

The reader gets to know Freida and her struggles.  She saw herself as a failed artist, had ended a relationship, had no place to live and needed to find a job.  She answered a unique classified ad, found a room, living with an elderly man when she met Gladys. Not having read the back cover of this book, it was a surprise to find out that Gladys was a ghost – a ghost who Freida came to know and helped her talk through many issues.

The story was amusing to listen to but I am honestly surprised that it made the Canada Reads short list which was chock full of more serious subjects for debating.  This book read like a young adult (YA) novel yet had more mature subjects.  Having said that, I did enjoy the quirky cast of characters who had me chuckling and found this book to be a palate-cleanser between more serious storylines.

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42. Vi (Kim Thuy)

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 12.52.56 PMLife has been busy and although I have been reading, I have been slow to finish my blog posts.  As fan of Kim Thuy, since devouring her debut book, Ru, I pre-ordered her latest book, Vi in preparation for meeting her at the FOLD festival in Brampton.  The name Vi means “precious tiny one” and the character was lovingly protected by her three brothers during their journey and as they built their lives in Quebec.  Although Vi is a fictional character, there are glimpses of Thuy’s strength, resilience and experiences shared within the novel.

Like Thuy, Vi escaped Vietnam as one of the “boat people”.  Vi’s mother formed a plan to flee leaving her husband behind, to keep her brother’s alive by avoiding their conscription to war or the mine fields.  They were lucky to escape with their lives despite the probable risks of drowning or being killed by pirates.

Since they spoke French, Vi and her family took refuge in Quebec, connecting with other relatives who had escaped Vietnam and rebuilding their lives.  There were high expectations for success and Vi struggled to study linguistics.  This is similar to Thuy’s experience and both the character and the author ended up becoming a lawyer.

After meeting Kim Thuy, it is difficult to differentiate the tales she told at the event from the stories she has written in Vi.  The author and the book are both powerhouses of strength and resilience.  Both the book and the author are full of stories that are condensed into a dainty package which is vibrant, generous and determined.

Reading Vi makes me want to reread my signed, copy of Ru and savour it again after making connections with the author’s experience.  All her books are stories that you can read in one sitting.  Please enjoy them but also read my post about meeting this remarkable woman who shares the stories that are difficult to tell and goes out of her way to meet people to hear their experiences.

Ru, Man and Vi are remarkable books but I hope that Kim Thuy will write her own story in the form of a memoir.  The world needs to hear more about the experience of refugees, to understand and to be inspired to help others!

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Happy Mother’s Day – 2018

 

It is time to celebrate Mother’s Day!   It is a beautiful spring day to celebrate and appreciate our mothers! I know that I am thankful for a great Mom who has not only supported me but is and terrific role model, my best friend and an amazing grandma!

Interestingly, Mother’s Day, as we know it, was initiated in the 1850s as a way to improve sanitary conditions and decrease infant mortality.  After the Civil War, this led to Mother’s Friendship Day as a way of promoting peace.  The celebration of Mother’s Day has led to the commercial success of this special day.

In considering the history of this day, I reflected on some of the books that I have read since last mother’s day with mom’s and grandmothers.

I hope that readers get to spend some time with their mom, their kids or special role models today!

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Tanya Talaga: Fold Festival

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 11.14.21 PM“As long as there is action, there is hope”.

On Sunday the Fold Festival started with breakfast, singing and important discussion about Tanya Talaga’s  book, Seven Fallen Feathers which investigated the stories and the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of seven indigenous youth who had moved to Thunder Bay to go to high school.

Tanya Talaga spent many years as a journalist with the Toronto Star before investigating this story.  Seven Fallen Feathers educates Canadians to consider the dreadful past of residential schools, the destruction of culture and terrible treatment of indigenous people while highlighting the strength and sense of community that supports these families.  Tanya lives in Toronto and is a single mother to two teenaged children.

The audience could imagine the Northern part of Ontario, a geographic area the size of France which supported a collection of 49 communities.  Many of these commutes are remote.  To travel, one must fly in and fly out.  There are no malls, no highways, no traffic lights.  There are no choices for students who want to continue their education but to leave their community for a highschool education.  These students end up travelling 400-500 km to board with another family just for the privilege of attending school which is something that many Canadians take for granted.

In 2011, Tanya was sent to Thunder Bay on assignment to understand why indigenous people in the North were not voting.  As she started her research and spoke to a chief, he asked why she was not writing about Jordan Wabash?  He was a teen who had been missing for 70 days.  She admitted that she kept asking about the election but soon realized that she needed to listen to the chief’s story.  What she heard led to her research and sharing a story that needed to be told, a story about 7 youth that had died and a story that had not received any national news coverage.

Tanya learned about Jethro, the first boy to go missing.  He had moved South and was lucky to move in with an aunt who loved him.  When she realized he was missing, the police did not take action telling her that he was “probably out partying like all the other native kids”.  The community mobilized and searched independently for Jordon over 6 days before the police reacted.

The audience also heard about Curran Strang.  He was an 18 year old from a community with a high suicide rate.  The school in his community had burned down and there was no clean water.  He moved to Thunder Bay bringing that baggage with him.

“So many threads from the past that echo into the live of the 7 and echo into the future”.

The festival participants appreciated a brief history lesson describing how thousands of children were taken away from “savage” parents (as quoted by John A. MacDonald) to be assimilated in residential schools.  Six thousand children never came home and those that survived lived with a trail of intergenerational trauma.  While many in the audience were likely aware of the story of Charlie Wenjack, I learned that he was only one of nine students who had run away that day.  His death was part of an inquest in 1967 asking why there were not schools in the indigenous communities which is a question that can still be asked today.

This non-fiction book has stayed with me.  How can we have students with no access to high school in their communities?  Why does federal funding for indigenous schools not match the provincial funding for public schools? What can we do to make a difference?

Tanya suggests that we need to “start to embrace the true history of the community, everyone needs to learn a little more”.  She suggested reviewing the truth and reconciliation book as “understanding will foster change”.  Reflecting on the importance of learning, I love that books can be a starting point for learning more about the true history.  All Canadians should read Seven Fallen Feathers, in fact, a portion of her profits support the indigenous high school in Thunder Bay.  Looking for more reading?  It might not be easy but pick up a memoir like Up Ghost River by Edmund Metatawabin which shares his terrible experiences in residential school.  This is a book that I had to put down at times, as the narrative was so difficult to read.  Looking for fiction?  Try Medicine Walk or Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese.  Not keen on reading?  Indian Horse is currently at the theatres.

“There is hope now, we are talking about issues that did not get talked about”.

I am thankful to have read Seven Fallen Feathers and to have had my copy signed.  Tanya Talaga has told the story of  7 remarkable youth, 7 families and the injustice and racism taking place in Thunder Bay (not to mention the province and the entire country).  This is a book that I will continue to recommend!

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