A Book Review: Empire of Wild by Cherie Dilamine

Empire Of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Broken-hearted Joan has been searching for her husband, Victor, for almost a year–ever since he went missing on the night they had their first serious argument. One hung-over morning in a Walmart parking lot in a little town near Georgian Bay, she is drawn to a revival tent where the local Métis have been flocking to hear a charismatic preacher. By the time she staggers into the tent the service is over, but as she is about to leave, she hears an unmistakable voice.

She turns, and there is Victor. Only he insists he is not Victor, but the Reverend Eugene Wolff, on a mission to bring his people to Jesus. And he doesn’t seem to be faking: there isn’t even a flicker of recognition in his eyes.

With only two allies–her odd, Johnny-Cash-loving, 12-year-old nephew Zeus, and Ajean, a foul-mouthed euchre shark with deep knowledge of the old ways–Joan sets out to remind the Reverend Wolff of who he really is. If he really is Victor, his life, and the life of everyone she loves, depends upon her success.

First Line: Old medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it was laid.

Favourite Line: The creek that ran behind them whispered eight months out of the year, telling anyone who would listen the best way to sit still.

Actually, there were so many lines in the Empire of Wild I could have picked as a favourite. Cherie Dimaline has a descriptive style that is both poetic and unflinching that immediately drew me into the story and kept me on the edge of my seat until the very last page. Her heroine, Joan of Arcand (LOVE it) is both heart-wrenchingly vulnerable and stubbornly determined. There was grief, loss, laughter, cunning, darkness, and hypocrisy. And a Rogarou, a werewolf-like creature found in Metis traditional storytelling. I mean, what more could a reader ask for? Nothing.

I loved this book! and I loved the heroine, Joan, who is now one of my all time favourite characters. I highly recommend it.

Below is a wonderful interview with Cherie Dimaline, talking about her books, love stories, and writing.

Until next time…

Has anyone else read Empire of Wild? What’s everyone else reading going into the weekend?

Hello July! And Summer!

I’m a day late because Wednesday was Canada Day, which means Wednesday I thought it was Friday and Thursday I thought it was Monday. Now I have no idea what the actual day is. Welcome to summer!

Back to Canada Day. All I have to say about the 1st of July is I’ve yet to appreciate the whole and very complicated history of my beloved country. I’m listening and learning and reading and I like to think I’m more knowledgable today then I was yesterday.

I live, work, and love on traditional lands referred to as Treaty 4 Territory, which is the traditional lands of the Cree, Ojibwe (OJIB-WE), Saulteaux (SO-TO), Dakota, Nakota, Lakota, and on the homeland of the Metis Nation.

The first day of July was a beautiful summer day. The perfect kind. With sunshine and birdsong and dips in the pool. There was also food. There’s always food. My husband smoked ribs and I made a rhubarb/strawberry/nectarine galette. It all turned out mighty fine.

The only thing missing was ice cream, which I forgot to buy, but we did have whipped cream and that was delicious too. Also, I may have baked it too long as I wasn’t sure how to tell if it was done and the last thing I wanted was to dig in and find a soggy crust at the bottom. But I’ve learned baking takes practice and that practice makes better. Just like writing.

One of my favourite recipe books for desserts is All The Sweet Things by Rene Kohlman who is a Saskatoon chef and food blogger. She’s busy working on a vegetable cookbook. Follow her blog or on Instagram as Sweet Sugar Bean.

12 Canadian First Nations Recipes: an across the country sample of recipes from First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people. The list was put together by Sharon Bond-Hogg and it makes me think I need to take a trip to Kelowna, British Columbia and the Kekuli Cafe! If you’re in the area this summer make sure and check it out.

Until next time…

Have a favourite summer dessert recipe? I’d love it if you’d share!

National Indigenous History Month

June is National Indigenous History Month is Canada. I realize that I have a lot to learn about the impact systemic racism and colonization has had on the First Nations, Inuit and Metis people of Canada, both past and present. I also understand it’s my job to do the work of educating myself. To do research and gain some clarity before I start to ask uninformed or disrespectful questions.

I always start with books and to that end I put together a list of books to add to my TBR pile. I can’t wait to get started!

There is also a great list of book found in this article: 35 books to read for National Indigenous History Month by CBC Books (Canadian Broadcasting Centre). This Place 150 Years Retold will also be added to my TBR pile! Explore the past 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

Second Story Press has a wonderful list of books for children in honour of Indigenous history month. I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland is based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother.

I hope you join me in reading one or two of the mentioned books.

Until next time….

If you’ve read a great book by an Indigenous, Inuit, or Metis author, I love to hear about it!

Seven Ways To Celebrate Books

Reading books is good for our health. We know this. But these uncertain times also make it hard to focus. It takes a concentrated effort to read a book. Maybe that’s why I picked up an old favourite of mine, Sea Swept by Nora Roberts. Rereading a book doesn’t require the same level of concentration and I don’t have to worry I won’t like it. Or that what I’m reading will trigger even more feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. That’s important to me at the moment. I’m all about the happy endings, especially these days.

Seven Ways To Celebrate Books

Read Them! Obvious, right? Except for the fact that libraries and bookstores are closed at the moment. Not much of a hardship if you have a stack of unread books always at the ready. But some don’t. Luckily, ebooks are easily accessible online. But if you prefer print books, now might be the time to do what I’m doing and reread a favourite you already own.

Recommend A Favourite Book To A Friend. If there’s one thing I love to talk about above all else, it’s books. If you’ve read a great book recently talk it up to a friend, or mention it on social media. Talking about books is a great way to make new friends and connect with your old ones. We’re all seeking safe and meaningful connections right now.

Write Reviews of the Books You Read. Word of mouth is still the best way to sell books. Write a review on Goodreads, Litsy, or on a bookseller’s website. As I mentioned above, you can also leave your impressions on social media. Your review doesn’t need to be complicated, a couple of lines and a rating are a perfect way to spread the word about a great book.

Read the Book Watch The Movie Night. While we’re self-isolating, why not have a night where you watch the movie of a book you’ve already read. Make some snacks and get ready to critique the movie and why it wasn’t as good the book. Because it never is, right?

Do a Read-a-thon with a Friend. These pop up on Litsy all the time but I’ve never participated. But while we’re all staying home to flatten the curve why not ask a friend or friends that love to read to join in on a weekend read-a-thon. Have Zoom or Skype breaks to chat about the different books you’re reading over tea and cookies or wine and a tasty appetizer.

Listen to an Audio Book. If you’re finding it hard to read print or ebooks these days, you might want to give listening to audiobooks a try, if you haven’t yet. It’s a different and interesting way to read a book.

Listen to a Book-Related Podcast. I’m really beginning to enjoy listening to podcasts. Two of my favourite book podcasts are What Should I Read Next by The Modern Mrs. Darcy and Fated Mates (A Romance Novel) Podcast by Sarah MacLean and Jen Prokop.

Order a Book from an Independent Bookseller. No one champions books like independent booksellers. They need our help right now. So do authors! This is not a comprehensive list but there are some great bookstores listed in the article below. In my province of Saskatchewan there is also McNally Robinson in Saskatoon. A new bookstore called Penny University was set to open its doors at the end of April in Regina when COVID 19 hit. The opening has been postponed by you can order a book subscription online.

11 Of The Dreamiest Bookstores To Get Lost In Across Canada

I’d love to hear other ways to celebrate books. We need all the celebrating we can manage in these trying times. Or let me know what book you’re reading?

Until next time…

Book Reviews The Thriller Addition

What is it about January and February that brings out the thrill reader in me? Is it the snow? The cold? The dark? Or is it because I adore suspense novels.

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica.

If you love unreliable narrators, you’ll love Sadie. The trouble starts immediately after Sadie and her family move to a new town for a fresh start. Mary Kubica is very skilled at creating atmosphere and she doesn’t exactly this with the Fousts’ new home, and the small island off the coast of Maine. It’s dark and claustrophobic and creepy. Soon Sadie is suspected of murder and the more she tries to unravel the reasons why her neighbour died the less she understands. The characters are well developed, the setting is excellently drawn, and the plot is twisty. Definitely recommend.

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Success doesn’t protect people from the worst happening. Enter Marin and Derek, successful entrepreneurs with nowhere to go but up, until their son is kidnapped from a busy, local market. Sixteen months later Marin is still searching for answers when she gets more bad news. Her husband is having an affair. Encouraged by her best friend, and long ago ex-boyfriend, her anger and grief have her poised on the brink of a catastrophic decision from which there is no turning back. Marin’s grief is so real, it made me uncomfortable at times. There is nothing anyone can do to help or make things better for her, or is there… I didn’t always like her. In fact, there aren’t any likeable characters in this book. Then again, you shouldn’t have to bother with likability when you’re grief-stricken. But I admired Marin and there was never a moment I didn’t root for her. Definitely recommend.

All it takes to unravel a life is one little secret…

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family—until their world falls apart the day their son Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding Sebastian, she learns that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman. This discovery sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix.

Permanently.

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Billed as a cross between a historical psychological thriller and a Swedish gothic, this book was intense and beautifully written. Wolf Winter follows the journey of Maija and her family from Finland to Blackasen, where they hope for a fresh start. Then a man is found dead and Maija is certain it is not animal related, but murder. Compelled to investigate, she learns more about the history of the people living in the shadow of the mountain, and the mountain itself, which is brooding and menacing. Winter comes and it is one of the worst in memory. I loved Maija. She is a strong, stoic, take charge type of character who battles the elements, the residents, and her station in life in order to solve a mystery. She unearths long buried menacing secrets that threaten to destroy her and her daughters. At times, it’s a bit disjointed and a bit wandering, but overall I loved it. Highly recommend.

Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow.

While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice.

As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

Good Lord, this book is twisted. But somehow not violent. Which is weird considering the nature of the book and the characters’ extracurricular activities. But the actual violence exists in the background, which is somehow both a relief and disturbing. Because isn’t this what happens in real life? Our fascination with the perpetrators of violence far outlasts our concern and sympathy for the victims. But this book doesn’t pretend to be about the victims. It’s about the killers, a married couple who become serial killers to spice up their fifteen year marriage. Sounds horrifying, doesn’t it? Told in first person by a husband who is charming, likeable and straddles a fine line. He loves his wife and is trying to do what’s best for his family. I found myself oddly charmed by him and having to remind myself he’s one of the bad guys. Like he’s a REALLY bad guy. One of the worst. Then things start to unravel and he wonders how well he knows his wife…Recommend.

A couple’s fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting...

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We’re your neighbors, the parents of your kid’s friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

There you have it! Four books with varying degrees of suspense and intensity. Perfect for any night.

Until the next time…

What’s everyone reading?

Creativity Goals 2020

In 2019 I started on a journey of pursuing a more creative life. There is some much information out there and so many different ways to take it in that I needed something to offset the deluge and that gave me the time to process and absorb things. It was also a way to make the things I care about a priority. I purposefully sought out inspiration and tried things that interested me but also scared me a little. Something other than reading, which I still adore most of all.

I wanted these creative endeavours to be about the process. To be an outlet. A nod to self-care. I have my writing, my primary creative focus and something I take seriously, and I needed this to be different, to feel different, to be about something else.

My goal was to cultivate a consistent daily dose of creativity. I wanted to learn some new things, but more than that, I wanted to create the habit of, well…creativity. I wanted to focus on the journey and not label my efforts as successes or failures. I wanted to have fun and to embrace the mess and my mistakes. I wanted to play and experiment and learn how to shift my focus when I felt stuck on something in my writing, or everyday life.

I started small. I went to a big box craft store and bought a palette of watercolour paints for seven dollars. I picked up some cheap brushes to go with it. I started to experiment. I didn’t know what I was doing but I studiously ignored the rather loud voice in my head that told me to wait until I did, that suggested I should hit the pause button until I was better prepared to start. I ignored that voice. I went for it. All last year was about ignoring that voice. I also posted my efforts on Instagram and I continue to do so even if they’re not perfect – which they never are, at least to my eyes.

Then I stepped all the way out of my comfort zone and I took an Adult Art Sampler class, geared towards beginners or anyone interested in experimenting with new techniques. I tried alcohol inks, pottery (on an actual wheel), charcoal sketching, and printmaking. I took a modern calligraphy workshop. I watched YouTube videos on watercolour techniques. I found artists I favoured to follow on social media. I tried cross stitch.

But I didn’t limit my forays in creativity to the visual arts. I bought an ice cream maker and made the most incredible salted caramel ice cream (after my first attempt at the custard base curdled) and then baked the worst chocolate brownies ever to accompany it. I’m learning how to make bread. I made a pie from scratch. I’ve always planted the same flowers in the same pots. This past season I experimented. Full disclosure, that experiment was not a success. I planted the wrong plants in the wrong spots, and in the wrong kind of groupings. Not everything is going to work out.

I’ve never thought of myself as much of an artist. In the back of my mind, I still don’t. After all, it’s just doodles or a loaf of bread. But I’m creating. I’m learning. I’m expanding my mind. And for someone who struggles with anxiety, it’s also a way to be more mindful, to live in the present.

If you’re looking to add some creativity into your life and for inspiration, I love Lindsey Bugbee’s blog post The Postman’s KnockFive Creative Goals for 2018 – on setting creative goals.

What I’m reading: Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

What I’m listening to: Seize The Fire by Laura Kinsale

Until next time…

What are your favourite creative pursuits? Or what are your hobbies, in general?

Reading Challenge 2019 Results

This is the first year I’ve devised a reading challenge as a way to diversify my reading a bit. I used it as a guideline while also granting myself permission to abandon it if it became to onerous. I’m happy to say that I did not abandon it and that I’m judging my experiment relatively successful.

I had originally assigned a genre or category to a month, knowing full well I would be reading out of order. Because I’m a member of a book club and need to read assigned books, I also need to be able to read what speaks to me at a particular time.

There were three categories that I didn’t manage to complete and categories that I read for the first time and really enjoyed. There are some categories I would swap out for others, such as wanting to add a cookbook category. I loved every book (even when a couple of them made me uncomfortable) on this list and would recommend them without hesitation.

My goal was to diversify my reading and I think the above list proves that I did. I’m thinking of setting up another challenge for 2020 and I’m open to category suggestions. Or book suggestions!

Until next time…

Do you set a reading challenge or goal for the year?

Romance Flash Fiction Piece

Merry Christmas and best wishes for 202

Back in June, at a writing retreat, we had a brief discussions about words. No big surprise there. But this was a words-of-the-year type discussion which I took to heart and decided to write a romance flash fiction (sort of) piece that included 10 pre-detemined words, I looked up the Top 10 Words of 2018 according to Merriam Webster and gave it my best shot.

The Top Ten Words of 2018

  • justice,
  • nationalism,
  • lodestar,
  • epiphany,
  • feckless,
  • laurel,
  • pissant,
  • respect,
  • maverick,
  • excelsior.

Sin City Escapades

It was justice, Laurel supposed, that she was forced to spend their one night away in Vegas at a cheesy motel named the Excelsior. There was nothing upward or onward about it. Payback she was sure for her last year’s insistence they immerse themselves in the wonders of 19th England and take in the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, where the famous author had written Persuasion, Laurel’s favourite book, as well as Northranger Abbey.

With its Roman baths, the quaint city had charmed them both, or so she’d assumed. Now she was forced to re-evaluate. Because this excursion was either payback for dragging him to Bath, or her husband had lost his mind. She had neither the time nor the energy for either of those possibilities. She tightened the belt of her ridiculously short trench coat.

Good grief, could there be an anymore back of the pack motel than this soggy excuse for a building. But Maverick, because she and her husband were all about the code names suddenly, had warned her not to judge the book by its cover.

She knocked on the door of number six, per his instructions while rolling her eyes. Then she pressed her ear to the door when she heard no reply praying he hadn’t gotten himself murdered. She knocked again and thought she heard a faint bid to enter.

Inside the room, her apprehensions eased. A quick glance around proved it was clean, the bed was a decent size and Jason – pardon her, Maverick – was lying in the middle of it wearing a tux and sipping a drink and completely intact.

“What are you drinking?” she asked because she needed a companion to whatever was in his glass. Like pronto.

He swirled his drink and winked. “Martini. Shaken, not stirred.”

Because, of course it was. She wasn’t sure she had the energy for all this secret assignment business, but then he gave her his usual rueful smile and it somewhat made up for his insistence they take separate cabs from the airport. Like their budget could support the extravagance.

She dug her phone out and before she knew it he was off the bed and wrestling it from her hand while managing not to spill his drink. Which was kind of impressive, actually.

She frowned at him when he tossed her phone onto the zebra print bed cover. “What are you doing?”

“No phones.” He ran a finger down her cheek.

“But the kids-”

He pressed a finger against her lips. “Remember, darling, Project Lodestar is high security. No one can know where we are.”

“Okay, you have got to stop it with the fake British accent.” She waved a hand at the drink in his hand. “With all the rest of it, it’s too much, honestly.”

Jason waggled his brows, then set his drink down and reached for her. “We’ll work on your sense of nationalism later.”

“I don’t understand why we can’t be plain, ordinary Canadians. I mean respect to the British and all, but…”

Jason tugged her closer and pushed an escaping strand of hair behind her ear. “Can we just stick to the script? Okay? You said anything I wanted for my birthday.”

She had said that, but in her defence she hadn’t expected him to request they act out some trashy Bond-style fantasy. In Vegas.

“Did you wear it?” he asked.

She was so making him go to Prince Edward Island to visit the Anne of Green Gables museum next summer. They were going to spend hours strolling down Lovers Lane and holding hands by the Lake of Shining Waters and drinking raspberry cordial until they puked.

At his hopeful, pleading look, she sighed. “Yes, I wore it.”

And if the reaction of the feckless little pissant outside the airport bathroom where she’d changed clothes was any indication, she didn’t look half bad. Still, she’d purchased a very over-priced trench coat to cover it up.

“Let me see it.”

Damn it, he knew she loved his growly voice. He untied the belt of her coat then slowly slipped it free of the belt loops and let it drop to the floor. Undoing one over-large button at a time, the low cut, thigh-length, body hugging, red dress was revealed and the coat slipped from her shoulders.

“You look beautiful.” He pressed a kiss to her lips, slipped his hands around her waist.

“Same.” It seemed churlish not to return the compliment, because he did look good in a tux.

And, okay, maybe it had been awhile since they’d taken their time with each other. That epiphany gave her the courage to push his own jacket from his shoulders and run her hands over the white crisp linen of his shirt. She breathed in hints of citrus and sandalwood and felt his smile against the skin of her neck.

Laurel forgot about needing to make arrangements for the kids’ activities next week, or the report due at work. But not the fact that her mother was dying. Pancreatic cancer, stage IV.

Jason took her face in his hands. “We’re going to get through this.”

She nodded as she blinked back tears.

He rested his forehead against hers. “I promise.”

“I believe you,” she whispered while trying to smile. “That’s why I agreed to meet a stranger named Maverick in a dive motel in Vegas.”

His hands reached around her shoulders to the top of the zipper. “As much as I love this dress, I think you should take it off.”

The fake British accent was back but the encouraging smile was all Jason. A little of the weight lifted as the dress fell from her shoulders.

She grinned up at him. “Does the bed vibrate?”

Until next…

Merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year!

Some Of My Favourite Things

I don’t know about you but I love The Sound Of Music movie. It’s one of my favourites to watch at Christmastime, along with Die Hard and The Muppet Christmas Carol. My tastes are eclectic if nothing else. But when Julie Andrews sings, Bruce Willis kicks butt, and/or Gonzo and Rizzo tell the tale of Scrooge, it starts to feel like a lot like Christmas.

Since I’ve watched two out of those three movies, and I talk about books all the time, and I’m definitely in a holiday mood, here are some of my other favourite things to give and to receive for Christmas.

Experiences! In my city, like all places, there are places to go to have fun, try something new, or do the same thing again and again, whatever you like. Like a public art gallery! My local art gallery, The MacKenzie Art Gallery, is a delightful place to spend time, get inspired, or search out calm and serenity. And in winter, a place to go to where you can stretch your legs. A yearly membership costs only $30. That quite the deal. Or your local science centre, like our Saskatchewan Science Centre! Perhaps tickets to a festival, like the Saskatchewan Festival of Words, or concert. An art class at Cathedral Art School.

Going For Coffee! Or tea, in my case. And maybe some dessert! There are coffee shops everywhere! One of my personal favourites is Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective where the vibe is somehow energetic but also laid back flavoured with a comforting sense of community. Don’t their coffee mugs look like you need to fill them with something warm! Another one is the patisserie Le Macaron, which is cozy and where we have our writing group meetings. I can vouch for the decadent goodies!

Local Handmade Crafts. You can find creative people everywhere, so while you may not have an art gallery in your small town, I one hundred percent guarantee you have artisans. Like the talented people behind Marilynn’s Quirky Quilts or Make it Cozy blankets, or Sew and Tell Handmade essential oil storage bags, baskets and tons of other things.

Supporting Local businesses! With doors and personal service and everything nice. In my neck of the woods it might mean visits to shops like Zippity Zoom Toys. Or check out Mortise and Tenon, a modern day general store. Visit the Paper Umbrella for all your stationery and writing implements and Handmade Saskatchewan with it’s incredible variety.

There you have it! A few of my favourite places and things.

Until next time…

Where are some of your favourite gifts to give and receive?