I’m thinking of trying something new for July and August. A weekly glimpse of what a Saskatchewan summer looks like in short bursts with photos, book reviews, easy recipe links, and a look at some of my favourite things. A new normal means we will be keeping a little closer to home and that means a little more time to land her and check how things are going. I promise there will be colour and fun and creativity.
And so it begins…
My Mom knows what a bird nerd her granddaughter is, so she dropped off this tea cup set with the idea we’d turn it into a bird feeder. It was very simple. Some silicone, a tea cup and saucer, some string and you have yourself a bird feeder.
We have a lot of sparrows that come to our yard. A few squirrels. Robins, grackles, and the usual backyard visitors. But this year we also have a pair of friendly nuthatches and a pair of house finches that have the prettiest song. It fills the whole yard and I always wonder how such a small bird can manage to produce such strong notes.
It’s going to be a lovely day on the prairies, the sky is blue, it’s already 27 degrees Celsius, and the backyard is calling.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Memoir and Autobiography: Educated by Tara Westover
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
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
“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
“I believe you,” she whispered while trying to
smile. “That’s why I agreed to meet a stranger named Maverick in a dive motel
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
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.
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?
Since the weather has turned chillier, I’ve been on a reading binge. I’ve also been lucky enough to have been approved to read some Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) of book I’d requested on Netgalley. Netgalley helps out authors by offering ARCs to approved reviewers. And by approved reviewer, I mean someone who talks about books on social media. And there is little I like to talk about more than books.
First up is Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn! Available December 31, 2019 from Kensington Books.
Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Knowing the upcoming marriage of Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée was doomed to fail is one thing, but weaving a secret word of warning into their wedding program is another. Meg may have thought no one would spot it, but she hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .
A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other, both try to ignore deepening connection between them. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .
If you love a slow, sweet burn, you’ll love this book. If you love talk of fonts, and scripts, and signs, you’ll LOVE this book. If you love New York as a setting, you’ll love this book. There’s also more to love because there is meat to this story. The characters work through some real life issues and face serious obstacles, make hard decisions. If you give this one a try, I don’t think you’ll regret it!
Second is Whiteout by Adriana Anders. Available January 28, 2019 from Sourcebooks.
Survival Instincts #1 With a storm coming and a killer on the loose, every step could be their last… Angel Smith is finally ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the remote research station she’s been calling home is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and irritatingly gorgeous glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there’s nowhere left to run.
Isolated with no power, no way to contact the outside world, and a madman on their heels, Angel and Ford must fight to survive in the most inhospitable―and beautiful―place on earth. But what starts as a partnership born of necessity quickly turns into an urgent connection that burns bright and hot. They both know there’s little chance of making it out alive, and yet they are determined to weather the coming storm―no matter the cost.
The action never stops. It’s a nail biter right to the very end. And I don’t know what it is about reading books that have snowstorms in winter when it’s winter for real, but I love them! This book has plenty of thrill and spills, well fleshed out characters and a remote research station in Antarctica. It doesn’t get better than that for this romantic suspense fan!
And third is The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. Coming Out on May 26, 2020 from St. Martin’s Press
Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people―a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others―could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.
I loved this book! And if you are a Jane Austen fan, you’ll want to mark down the release date, or better yet pre-order it because it is full of Austen goodness in the best way possible. It takes place immediately following the end of World War Two and the characters are all suffering from their own traumas. Through a love of reading, particularly Jane Austen, an unlikely group of people come together to preserve history and form lifelong friendships, heal wounded hearts…and more. It’s a gem of a novel that breaks your heart and then puts it back together. Definitely recommend it!
And there you have it! Three very different books but something for everyone. I would happily recommend all three of these books.