Book Talk Sunday

Sundays seem like a good time to talk about the books I’ve read! And so begins Book Talk Sunday. I’m not going to give ratings, or stars, or gold crowns. I’m just going to offer a few of my thoughts.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Published:  2021 by Simon & Schuster (Originally Published in 2008)

Length: 528 pages

Series: Slains, Book 1

Categories: Fiction / Historical / Romance

Tags: Scottish / Jacobite / Time Slip / Genetic Memory / Time Travel

The Blurb:

1707. The walls of Slains castle shelter Jacobite rebels, who are conspiring to sail the young, exiled James Stewart from France into Scotland to reclaim his crown—and a young woman caught up in their plot.

Present day. Writer Carrie McClelland is enchanted by an impromptu trip to Cruden Bay, Scotland, and decides to settle in the tiny village, hoping to find inspiration for her novel about the Jacobite uprising in the area’s evocative past—and in the haunting ruins of the castle.

She creates a heroine named after one of her own ancestors, Sophia Paterson, and quickly finds the words flowing, almost faster than she can write them down. But, discovering that her novel inexplicably contains more fact than she can remember researching, Carrie wonders if she could possibly be dealing with ancestral memory—in effect “recalling” what her ancestor lived.

The only way to discover the truth is to continue writing and to bring to light the whole of Sophia’s story. With each new chapter, Carrie uncovers the tale of an innocent entangled in a dangerous enterprise, the secret of forbidden love, and the final betrayal that cost James his throne—and may cost Sophia her heart.

My Thoughts:

It’s probably no surprise that I can’t resist a book who’s main character is a writer. In The Winter Sea Carrie McClelland is busy writing her latest book and has created a character she names after an ancestor that lived in 1707 Scotland. When a brief research trip takes her to Cruden Bay, she feels compelled to stay and rents a cottage. Nearby are the remains of Slains Castle that overlooks the North Sear from its cliff top. The story pours out of her and Carrie soon realizes she knows more details than she should about her long-ago relation’s life, that she has, in fact, inherited her memory.

The characters, both 18th century and 21st century, are richly developed by an author who clearly loves and respects history. The shift in time between the present, written in 1st person, and the 1700s, written is 3rd person, makes for seamless reading. Both time periods are brought to life by the characters, setting, plot, and Kearsley’s attention to detail. I also love how Kearsley handles the idea of Carrie inheriting her ancestor’s genetic memory. It is a type of time travel that fascinates me. There is always some sort of mystical element to Kearsley’s books that draws me right in.

I loved the relationship between Sophie and Moray that takes place in the past. It’s a very slow burn, as much of the emphasis is placed on what is happening around the character and the historical efforts of the Jacobites to return a Stewart King to the throne in Scotland. The relationship between Sophie and Moray is much more nuanced than the relationship between Carrie and Graham in the present. Both are sweet, both are engaging, but the earlier one is definitely given preference.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was entertaining, informative, and gorgeously written. I don’t know what more you can ask of a book. Definitely recommend if you are drawn to historicals that take place outside of Victorian and Regency England. Susanna Kearsley’s books would definitely appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

For me, it’s always Susanna Kearsley’s love of detail, her warm writing, and the mystical part of her books that keeps me turning pages, even when there’s a daunting 528 of them.

An overhead view of Slains Castle, which is also said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s setting in Count Dracula. In a tweet Kearsley explains where the main rooms mentioned in The Winter’s Sea could be found.

Have you read The Winter Sea or any other of Susanna Kearsley’s books? What did you think of them?

Love Audiobooks

Escaping our daily worries can be a challenge, especially these days, and it is no secret that reading can be a powerful tool in balancing our mental health. So, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not reading. Listening to audiobooks provides the same benefits as reading print or ebooks. Each of them is a different experience, but each are valuable. Audiobooks are simply a different way to consume content. They offer us an opportunity to fit books into our day in a new way.

Ways I Listen to Audiobooks and Some Suggestions:

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of listening to the latest hit single on the radio for the 100th time, so instead I might listen to something like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, narrated by Rosamund Pike. Hopefully we’ll be out in our yards and gardens soon. This is one of my favourite times to listen to audiobooks. What better way to pass the time pulling weeds, then listening to something by Nora Roberts, like Northern Lights, narrated by Gary Littman. I’m also clumsy. But I can walk and listen without the fear of getting a concussion. Maybe try a Susanna Kearsley book, like her latest The Winter Sea, narrated by Rosalind Landor. And, these days, when keeping our distance is essential, why not try listening to Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, narrated by Adjoa Andoh, while shopping for groceries and take the boring out of picking out fruit.

The popularity of audiobooks show there is a real thirst for audio content. And as much as audiobooks are for those of us who love reading, they are also popular who people who don’t love books. Not everyone consumes content in the same way. As much as they are a boon to those of us who can’t read enough, they are essential to people who can’t read print or ebooks.

The video below has some great tips on how to get started with audiobooks!

I’m always about romance novel recommendations! Check out Audiofile Magazine’s Listen To These Five Scandalous Romances. “Judge for yourself if these couples are outrageous, skirting propriety, or simply falling in love on their own terms.” With audiobooks by Mary Balogh, Olivia Dade, Rosie Danan, Carly Phillips, and Hadley Beckett.

My romantic suspense series, Aspen Lake (Backlash, Exposed, and Gone), is available in audiobook. So is my romantic suspense, Off The Grid.

I read all three types of books: print, ebook, and audiobook. I don’t have a preference. I just love reading!

Until next time…

Do you enjoy audiobooks? Do you have a favourite narrator? When do you listen to audiobooks? Or drop a recommendation in the comments!

Costume Changes

When it comes to creating a character’s personal style it’s not only fun but necessary to use imagery to emphasize personality. Style is a very visual representation of a character’s personality. Just as a character’s style can change to enhance the advancement of their character arc. Like us humans out in the real world, characters have their good days and their bad ones, often in extremes. How they dress or put themselves together can help reflect their state of mind.

Besides the obvious fact of characters having to wear clothes and having those clothes be appropriate to the story and setting, there is something to be learned from costume designers who provide that imagery in movies and on television. There are incredible examples of costuming in television right now and I have a couple of absolute favourites.

Did anyone else binge watch Bridgerton on Netflix as soon as possible? It’s so lavish and decadent and the costuming is an incredible example of what it takes to build a swoon-worthy period drama for television. Lord have mercy, this show!

Bridgerton features approximately 7,500 costume pieces!

The Netflix series Bridgerton costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick, explained to Vogue that “each family and character tells a story through their clothes. Given the sheer number of people on camera, the Bridgerton costume department had to create elaborate outfits complete with headpieces and gloves. Quickly numbering in the thousands, the show had an entire warehouse dedicated to wardrobe and 238 people in the costume department.” 

She also explained why we didn’t see bonnets and the linen dresses authentic to the time period and why the costumes are a contemporary nod to the regency era. I love the fresh approach, the diversity, and the entertaining and witty nod to women in positions of power in an era that worked hard to restrict the advancement of women.

My second favourite is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. When is the next season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel coming? We need you Midge!

It’s funny, it’s profane, the clothes in this show. Are. The. Best. And how can we not love Midge as she pursues her passion in spite of overwhelming odds.

“Why do women have to pretend to be something that they’re not? Why do we have to pretend to be stupid when we’re not stupid? Why do we have to pretend to be helpless when we’re not helpless? Why do we have to pretend to be sorry when we have nothing to be sorry about? Why do we have to pretend we’re not hungry when we’re hungry?” – Midge Maisel

Donna Zakowska, costumer designer for The Marvelous Mrs. Masiel who’s stunning way with colour says, “These sort of elements really assert the character’s personality. In a way, Midge is a character that never gives in, even if something terrible is going on. It’s always about putting your best foot forward and an optimism that runs in the character.”

I love Midge’s undaunted spirit and her need to speak her mind, to be heard, and stubborn when confronted with a world that means to keep her inside the box it designated for her. And her clothes tell that story. The colour she wears as she goes about her daily life and the black dresses and pearls she wears on stage when she performs her stream of consciousness comedy act. It is, indeed, marvelous.

The following quote is taken from The Secret Lives of Costumes. It’s a great look into the world of costume design.

“I take my cues from the characters and their surroundings as written in the play, as well as from the stylistic choices of the production. In the same way that an actor builds upon the framework of traits and actions of his or her character in the story, I read what the character does and says for clues about what they might wear. I also need to think about how best to reflect a character’s evolution through the development of the story. Sometimes the character is best served by creating contrast between how a character behaves and what he or she looks like.”  Judith Bowden, Canadian Designer

It’s something to think about when creating characters and that it can be much more than adding in interesting bits and quirks. We need to think about style in terms of character development. We all know Eliza Doolittle undergoes a transformation in My Fair Lady. Usually a character’s evolution is not that obvious in terms of wardrobe. Nor is usually as lavish as in Bridgerton or as bold as in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. But using subtle changes can make an impact, too.

Do you love a certain TV character’s style? Have a favorite costume from a movie? Use wardrobe changes as a tool in your own writing?

Merry Christmas

I don’t think I’m ready to delve into what I’ve learned about myself and life in 2020 yet. That will come in time. Now, when the days are short and the nights are long and times are uncertain, I do know that I am thankful.

Thankful for healthcare workers, all hospital staff, those caring for our elderly and all other caregivers, first responders, those who serve and protect, the cashiers and cleaners and all others dealing with the public. To all of you who will continue to battle this pandemic while those of us who celebrate Christmas pause for the holidays, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

Anne Lamott

Until next time…

Stay home. Stay safe. Be well.

The Results of My 2020 Reading Challenge

When I put together my reading plans for 2020, I had no idea that the world was going to implode because of a virus. You would have thought that would have made reading lots of books easier. Nowhere to go, no place to be. But, as many of us have experienced, maintaining focus long enough to finish a book has sometimes proven a struggle.

2020 and COVID 19 has also changed my reading habits. My book club, which had run for almost 20 years (there’s always a debate over our start date), decided not to meet until things settled down. Of course, that hasn’t happened. No one suggested we meet online. I don’t think any of us had the energy, or the desire, to figure out how to make it happen.

I’m finding that’s okay with me. I’m enjoying reading what I want at my own pace without stressing over having to read a book I don’t want to read or choosing one that no one else would find interesting. A break from reading a book club pick each month has allowed me to focus on reading more Canadian fiction with a focus on Indigenous, Black and writers of colour as a way to diversify my reading.

You can read the results of my 2019 Reading Challenge here.

A Classic: My thought was to listen to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier on audiobook. Then the Netflix adaptation came out and, well…I watched it instead.

A Historical: Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback. You can read my review here.

A Cookbook: Didn’t happen. But I have one in mind for 2021.

An Indigenous Author: I read several great books. My favourite was Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline. You can read my review here. Followed closely by Moon Of The Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (Dystopian/Horror) which I really liked but which freaked me out. Followed closely by Maggie Blackbird, Indigenous Canadian romance writer.

A Romance: I read several, because…pandemic. A lot of old school Sandra Brown and Nora Roberts because those books are my jam. But I also read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and loved it.

A Graphic Novel: I bought one, but I haven’t read it. Yet!

A Science Fiction Novel: Also, didn’t happen. Don’t even have one in mind. Definitely could use some recommendations as I don’t even know where to really start.

A Book of Poetry: I have one…will read it in 2021.

A Non-Fiction Book: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. I can’t say enough good things about her writing and how it speaks to me. I’m still crushed by her sudden passing in 2019.

A Canada Reads Book: So…I picked Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward’s Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles. Then the pandemic hit and I could tell by page ten it wasn’t going to happen. Not that it wasn’t a fabulously written book but I knew it was going to be intense and I just didn’t have it in me. Luckily, I’d already read Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, which I loved.

A Memoir: Mistakes to Run With by Yasuko Thanh. It was raw, honest and articulate. Highly recommend.

A Young Adult: I know I’m late to the party, but I finally read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and wished I’d read it sooner because it’s such a great book.

There you have it. I think I had a pretty successful reading year, despite finding it difficult to focus at times.

I’d love to hear about other reading challenges you did this year. Or if you have any reading recommendations, I’d love to hear those too.

Until next time…

Fall on the Prairies

It’s October and the temperatures and cooling down. I’m enjoying the moment and the last of the fall days. Being able to be outside these last four months has been a lifesaver. Hopefully, October will see lots of backyard fires, blankets and cups of tea under the Big Dipper and the North Star.

Fall is raking leaves, blowing out sprinklers, cleaning out flower pots. I love fall, but it can be short in this part of the world. Winter is on the horizon. I even ordered a new winter coat yesterday. I’m determined to spend more time outside this winter.

Somehow fall also means organizing to me. Watching The Home Edit on Netflix was timely incentive. I’ve tackled the storage area in the basement and gotten rid of the first of the things that need to be recycled or taken to the dump and put together a donation pile.

But I still had time to read some books!

My Thoughts On:

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Just when you think you have nothing left to lose, they come for your dreams.

Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden – but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

I’m one of those people that love to read dystopian books, even in the midst of a pandemic. I LOVED this book. There is a reason this book has won or been shortlisted for many awards. Though The Marrow Thieves is a young adult book, it’s also a book for all ages. Set in a near future ravaged by pollution and climate change. it’s the story of group of Indigenous companions who struggle to make their way north while being hunted for their marrow, their very essence, by white people who have lost the ability to dream and their humanity.

Each member of the tight knit group of characters has a coming-to story, a harrowing tale of what they survived before they found the group. By witnessing their stories, we learn how the destruction of the world began and what lengths people will go to save their way of life. Both the hunted and the hunter. A talented writer, Cherie Dimaline has a way with words. With storytelling. With craft.

It is gripping, and bleak, and enlightening. But hopeful. Dark, but somehow full of colour.

“‘Dreams get caught in the webs woven in your bones. That’s where they live, in that marrow there.’”

Miig, The Marrow Thieves

Until next time…

Do you like to organize your spaces? Have you watched The Home Edit? Or read The Marrow Thieves? What did you think?

Canadian Book Settings

I love Canadian settings. I think it started when I was a young girl with Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery which was set on the beautiful province of Prince Edward Island. It continued with Gail Bowen‘s Joanne Killbourn mystery series, which remains a favourite of mine, that is set in and around Regina, Saskatchewan. And so many others. For much of my twenties, I read a lot of Canadian literature. A lot.

Canada is more than maple syrup and hockey.

Not knock an often touted cliche, but while a picture can give you a great first impression of the sights, a book gives you the whole picture. A book can describe the tastes, the smells, the sounds, and the texture of a place.

Books can take you to a place you’ve never been, especially in a time when we’re not going anywhere, and if you want to know what life in Canada smells like, tastes like, sounds like, or feels like, there are a no end of books that can bring you here.

I’m going to leave you with four books that are not recent releases, with the exception of Mistakes to Run With, but ones that will give you a glimpse into the corners of Canada that you might not know existed or have read about, and not all of them paint a pretty picture.

Elizabeth Hay, Late Nights on Air

Richard Wagamese – Indian Horse

Miriam Toews – A Complicated Kindness

Yasuko Thanh – Mistakes to Run With: A Memoir

Until next time…

Anyone have a book recommendation that includes a Canadian setting? I’d love to hear it!

How Is It August Already?

If you’d like another month of summer, raise your hand. I know I would. For a couple of reasons. One: another month before September, and flu season, are once again upon us would be awesome, as COVID-19 continues to take a toll. Two: I’m not ready for summer to be over.

Our Saskie mermaid! She’s a strong swimmer and even though it’s an incredibly cute product I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who is not a strong swimmer and very comfortable in the water. I am not! Putting this tail on causes me all kinds of no-thank-you-I-prefer-not-to-drown-today.

A Saskatchewan summer usually means hot, dry weather and our province averages the most sunshine of any Canadian province or territory. Which is a good thing because I’m fuelled by sunshine. I don’t mind the odd rainy day, but otherwise I’m solar powered. Much like the summer cereal crops we grow here. Or the pulse crops. Or the oilseeds.

What I’m reading:

SOMETHING ABOUT YOU

FATE HAS THROWN TWO SWORN ENEMIES…

Of all the hotel rooms rented by all the adulterous politicians in Chicago, female Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde had to choose the one next to 1308, where some hot-and-heavy lovemaking ends in bloodshed. And of all the FBI agents in Illinois, it had to be Special Agent Jack Pallas who gets assigned to this high-profile homicide. The same Jack Pallas who still blames Cameron for a botched crackdown three years ago—and nearly ruining his career…

…INTO EACH OTHER’S ARMS

Work with Cameron Lynde? Are they kidding? Maybe, Jack thinks, this is some kind of welcome-back prank after his stint away from Chicago. But it’s no joke: the pair is going to have to put their rocky past behind them and focus on the case at hand. That is, if they can cut back on the razor-sharp jibes—and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension…

I’ve been exploring new romance authors in July and August and I’m really enjoying Julie James. Someone To Love is an older book. You can read a sample here. Generally, these cutesy covers send me running in the other direction. But I took a chance on this book because of the blurb. It appealed to my suspense loving nature, and I’m enjoying that part of the book although it’s definitely lighter on the suspense and heavier on the romance.

Until next time…

Is anyone else enjoying the heck out of the August? Or are you a Autumn person? Let me know what you’re reading?

A Summer Tea Party

Doing summer during a pandemic takes some creative ingenuity. But trust my daughter to come up with a fun activity. A tea party, which proved to be an excellent stay-at-home activity.

Everyone should have tea parties. They are a blast. Hats, ties, special treats, china cups and laughter. That’s a win in a time of anxious uncertainty.

And what a way to engage the imagination. We got very adventurous and made pavlova nests we filled with a lemon curd. I would definitely make these delightful little nests again using the right type of piping bag and decorating tip. Kudos to my sister for doing an amazing job despite the improvised tools. Also, I baked them a smidge too long and they weren’t a nice crisp white. But they tasted delicious. And practice makes better!

Menu decided, we dressed up, donned hats and ties, and sipped from china cups my mom donated for the occasion. We gave ourselves fancy names and thought of as many British words as we could manage.

Until next time…

Who else has had to think outside the box for activities this summer?

Photo of the Week: Summertime

I took a beginners photography class this spring – part in person and part online – because of the Covid. I love taking pictures. I can’t wait to get out there with a camera and take more pictures as I’ve got a black and white project in mind for a very blank wall that needs some creative touches. Also, photography is one of the ways I recharge my creative batteries. And in these uncertain times, that is a must.

This photo won’t be used in any art project, but it is a glimpse of our new backyard patio area where we love spending time. This space used to be a no-man land’s of wasted side/front yard that never saw any use. We’ve reclaimed it as part of our backyard and we couldn’t be happier with the results. And, again, in this new normal we’re adjusting to, this space has seen a lot of use because we simply aren’t out and about as much.

What I’m reading: Child of Mine by Jana Richards

Favourite Podcast of the Moment: Fated Mates: A Romance Novel Podcast with Sarah MacLean and Jen Prokop

Until next time…

Have you created any new spaces for yourself? Or found any safe, new spots to spend time in this summe?