Quick Time Away In July

At the beginning of July we decided to take a mini vacay and spend three nights in a geodesic dome overlooking the north shore of Buffalo Pound Lake in southern Saskatchewan. It’s easy to sense of history that echoes along the shores of the lake, across the water, and into the valley where First Nation peoples have resided for millennia. Today the valley is home to First Nations, small towns, farmers and ranchers, and cottagers.

It’s so peaceful and relaxing here. The sunsets are amazing. We call Saskatchewan the Land of Living Skies for a reason. They are spectacular.

The domes have a lovely rustic feel. There is a small kitchenette, minus a stove as cooking isn’t allowed inside the dome, but there is a fridge, sink, and countertop area. It comes with dishes and cutlery, other cooking necessities, as well as a gas barbecue. There is a bistro table and chair set and, most importantly, a bathroom with a shower. We stayed in one of the family domes which include a king bed and two double mattress in the loft area. The bed, with its Endy mattress and luxury linens, was SOOOOO comfy! And the view from it is amazing.

As comfortable and cozy as the domes are on the inside, the outside area is still in need of some landscaping. Aside from the view, which was wonderful, the ground was rocky and uneven and there is no shade and little privacy. But the area is under development and I hope some of these issues will be addressed in the coming seasons. In fact, a couple of very comfy Adirondack chairs where delivered to each of the family domes while we were there.

Of course, I read a great book! Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. I loved this book and a Sunday Book Talk review will show up some up in the next while!

**Buffalo Pound Lake is found on Treaty Four land, the traditional territories of the  nêhiyawak (nay-hi-yuh-wuk, Cree), Anihšināpēk (uh-nish-i-naa-payk, Saulteaux), Dakota, Lakota, Nakoda, and the homeland of the Métis/Michif Nation. **

Until next time…

Do you have any vacation plans for the summer? Staycation plans?

Book Talk Sunday: An Image in the Lake by Gail Bowen

Sundays seem like a good time to talk about the books I’ve read! I don’t give ratings, or stars, or gold crowns. Just offering a few of my thoughts. This week I’m taking An Image in the Lake by Gail Bowen, which is an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy).

An Image in the Lake: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery by Gail Bowen

Published:  ECW Press, September 7, 2021

Length: 350 pages

Categories: Mystery / Cozy Mystery / Women Sleuths / Amateur Sleuths / Canadian Setting

Blurb:

A dark secret threatens the future of the Shreve family

It’s August 24 and Joanne Shreve and her husband, Zack, are savoring the last lazy days of summer and looking forward to the birth of a new grandchild; involvement in the campaign of Ali Janvier, a gifted politician with a solid chance of becoming the province’s next premier; and the debut of Sisters and Strangers, the six-part series Joanne co-wrote that focuses on her early life. The series is the flagship of a new slate of programming, and MediaNation is counting on a big return. Joanne and Zack’s stake in the series’s success is personal. Their daughter, Taylor, is in a relationship with one of the show’s stars, and Vale Frazier is already like family to them.

It seems the “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness” will be a bountiful one for the Shreves. But when a charismatic young woman wearing a grief amulet that contains a lock of her dead brother’s hair and a dark secret becomes part of their lives, the success of Sisters and Strangers and the future of Taylor and Vale’s relationship are jeopardized, and only Joanne and Zack can put an end to the threat.

My Thoughts:

Joanne Shreve and her husband Zack are enjoying the last days of summer, determined to spend more time together and less time at work. But strange things are happening at MediaNation. They are about to air the line-up of fall programs which includes Sisters and Strangers, a six-part series co-written by Joanne about her early life. Then people start to disappear. Joanne and Zack are drawn into the search for answers when information comes to light about a group of four young people who are prepared to break the law in their quest to get to the top.

An Image in the Lake is classic Gail Bowen. Plenty of colourful and familiar faces show up, and we catch up with Joanne’s children and grandchildren. The meandering twists and turns that make Bowen one of Canada’s best mystery writers lead us on a slow but dark and entertaining path to the truth. Joanne (Kilbourn) Shreve is one of my favourite fictional characters. There is a calmness and a self-assuredness about her that is immensely appealing. After reading this book, I can tell you she is a lot for forgiving then I am. She’s also a wonderful example of a woman in her fifties who lives life to the fullest. Her life is never perfect but it’s always compelling.

I really enjoyed this book. And always love a Canadian setting. We need more of those. I would definitely recommend it.

An Image in the Lake is set in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada! My home city. I love reading books set in Regina. Regina is also a great city to visit with lots of fun activities and opportunities to offer visitors!

Check out Must Do Canada for other traveling Canada inspiration!

Until next time…

Have you read any great mysteries lately? Or any of Gail Bowen’s other books in her Joanne Kilbourn series?

The Sweet Promise of June

June with its tentative greens and cool mornings. I love June mornings. With my tea in hand, I take a tour of the yard taking note of how my plants are doing, listening to the birds chatter. We’ve having a heatwave right now, with heat warnings and everything. Which is weird for Saskatchewan this time of year. It’s more the ten degrees above the normal temperature. I sense there is wild weather on the horizon.

Lilacs are another of my favourite things about June. This sweet Sensation Lilac is a new addition to our yard. But as the days stretch longer and longer, other delights are making their presence known. Chicks and hen, sedum (another favourite of mine), and my ornamental alliums. All hardy, zone 3 perennials. Great for prairie gardening.

“The smell of moist earth and lilacs hung in the air like wisps of the past and hints of the future.”

Margaret Millar

June feels like it should be a season of its own and last a little longer before we springboard into summer. Where we rush trying to fit it all in before the seasons turn again.

Reading:

An Image In the Lake by Gail Bowen – ARC (Advance Reader Copy) – ebook. Early impressions: Just happy to be catching up with Joanne and the gang again, and waiting to see who dies. LOL Will follow up later with a review.

Hellion by Bertrice Small – audiobook. Early impressions: or more accurately – middle book of the book (I think). Also known as the point where this book swerves sideways into What The Hell is going on territory. This is my first Bertrice Small book, and…I just don’t know…

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron – Print book. Early Impressions: So far, interesting. I’ll be working through the suggestions and exploring the idea for a new series as I read it.

Podcasts:

Fated Mates: A Romance Novel Podcast For romance novel enthusiasts!

What Should I Read Next?: A Book Recommendation Podcast For those looking for reading suggestions!

The Medievalist Podcast: Where The Middle Ages Begin For those, like me, who love nerdy facts about the Middle Ages.

Until next time…

What are you reading to? Or share some of your favourite things to grow? I’m always on the lookout for recommendations!

Book Talk Sunday: Burnout: The Secret of Unlocking the Stress Cycle

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

Burnout: The Secret of Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA

Published:   Ballantine Books, 2020

Length: 304 pages

Categories: Self Help / Personal Development / Non Fiction / Psychology / Feminism

Blurb:

Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things—and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against—and show us how to fight back. In these pages you’ll learn

• what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation
• how to manage the “monitor” in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
• how the Bikini Industrial Complex makes it difficult for women to love their bodies—and how to defend yourself against it
• why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are keys to recovering and preventing burnout

With the help of eye-opening science, prescriptive advice, and helpful worksheets and exercises, all women will find something transformative in these pages—and will be empowered to create positive change. Emily and Amelia aren’t here to preach the broad platitudes of expensive self-care or insist that we strive for the impossible goal of “having it all.” Instead, they tell us that we are enough, just as we are—and that wellness, true wellness, is within our reach. 

My Thoughts:

Who couldn’t use some help dealing with burnout and stress? Life can elevate stress levels at the best of times. Add in a global pandemic and…yikes. Our lives have changed, and continue to change. This book was written in the Before Times, but it’s definitely worth reading in the Now Times. It’s the first self-help book I’ve ever managed to read all the way through to the end.

I learned human Giver Syndrome is a thing and what it means, and things make so much sense now.

Human givers must, at all times, be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, which means they must never be ugly, angry, upset, ambitious, or attentive to their own needs

emily nagoski and amelia nagoski, burnout

By understanding societal norms and living with the daily expectations of what it means to be female, we can avoid disappearing beneath the weight of those expectations. Recovering from the weight of being everything to every one before looking after ourselves can be a daunting task and I was happy to find practical advice.

I wanted a book about stress that centred on the female experience. I wanted relatable content and practical advice. I feel like I got both those things with this book. I feel like I have a better understanding of how necessary it is to acknowledge feeling burnt out, and how to develop strategies to deal with both stress and with stressors.

I felt seen reading this book. I found resources. I found strategies. I would definitely recommend it.

Until next time…

Anyone else feeling stressed these days? Have you read Burnout? What did you think?

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Baking Show Goodness

We’re all looking for a reprieve from pandemic fatigue as we wait for vaccines and for spring to continue doing its thing. The robins are back! I’ve also gotten my first vaccine shot. So, there is a light at the end of this very long tunnel.

Baking shows have taken my mind off pandemic life these last weeks. I’m not sure why as I’m not a baker. More of a dabbler with an interest in expanding my repertoire. But, really, I think I love these shows because it’s easier to watch someone else bake really complicated, beautiful things. than make them myself

Three of my favourite baking shows:

The Great Canadian Baking Show

The Great Canadian Baking Show and Bertie Diaz help the world get happy -  MyGayToronto

Ten amateur bakers compete for, get this, a fancy cake plate. Seriously, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) give the winner some cash! Everyone is nice to each other. I love that. I’m not here for any intense cut-throat competition Chef Canada type stuff. I’m watching because I want to learn a couple of things, see pretty cakes and to be inspired. And, let’s be honest, for judge Bruno Feldeisen. He’s so adorable.

The Great Chocolate Showdown

Great Chocolate Showdown - YouTube

Hello, chocolate! Lots and lots of chocolate from milk, dark, white, ruby and gold. Ten home bakers compete for $50,000! Also, is anyone else fascinated with the way judges taste things? The judges in this show range from itty bitty nibbles to a good fork full. Also, they have a teaching segment which I appreciate. I’m pretty sure I can now temper chocolate. But probably not.

The Spring Baking Championship

Spring Baking Championship | Food Network

Eleven contestants compete for $25,000. This show combines a mix of professional bakers with a couple of home bakers thrown into the mix. I always route for the amateur bakers brave enough to go up against the professionals.

Until next time…

Do you watch baking shows? Cooking shows? Grilling shows? Which one is your favourite?

Book Talk Sunday: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

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…