Book Talk Friday: Fire In The Stars

Where I talk about books I’ve read and enjoyed. Especially if they’re written by a Canadian and set in Canada. This week I’m talking about Fire in the Stars: An Amanda Doucette Mystery by Barbara Fradkin.

Fire in the Stars: An Amanda Doucette Mystery by Barbara Fradkin

Published: Dundurn Press, 2016

Length: 328 pages

Categories: Mystery / Amateur Sleuths / Canadian Detectives / Canadian Setting

The Blurb:

After surviving a horrific trauma in Nigeria, international aid worker Amanda Doucette returns to Canada to rebuild her life and her shaken ideals. There, the once-passionate, adventurous woman needs all her strength and ingenuity when a friend and fellow survivor goes missing along with his son.

A trained first-aid and crisis responder, Doucette — always accompanied by her beloved dog Kaylee — joins forces with RCMP officer Chris Tymko to discover the truth about the disappearance. Their search leads them to the Great Northern Peninsula, a rugged landscape of Viking history, icebergs, whales, and fierce ocean storms. Elsewhere, a body gets hauled up in a fisherman’s net, and evidence is mounting of an unsettling connection with Amanda’s search for her friend. Fradkin writes evocatively of the beautiful, often hostile, Newfoundland landscape where Amanda soon finds herself fighting for her very survival.

My Thoughts:

Fire in the Stars is the first book in Fradkin’s Amanda Doucette mystery series. Amanda, an international aid worker, has returned to Canada to recover from the trauma she experienced during her time in Nigeria. She plans a camping holiday in Newfoundland with her friend and former co-worker. When she shows up, she finds he’s gone missing along with his young son. What follows is a search through parts of Newfoundland’s more remote areas with the help of RCMP officer, Chris Tymko.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this book and we get a real sense of the rugged and beautiful province of Newfoundland. Amanda is on a mission to find and help her friend, Phil, before the worst happens. This places her in several precarious situations as she’s always ready to wade into trouble. Almost too ready, as she took more and more chances. Some to the point of folly and against sound advice. The author makes it clear that Amanda was in the habit of making crucial decisions with few resources in her former job. Still…it became a bit frustrating.

There is a lot happening in this book. We are learning who Amanda is, what drives her and the lengths she’s willing to go to protect the people she cares about. Dog lovers will enjoy the antics of Kaylee, Amanda’s faithful canine companion. Amanda and Tim grow close as they search for their friend. And plenty of other secondary and minor characters show up. It’s a complicated plot. Bodies start to turn up and the situation continues to escalate. All the different things at play make for a confusing read at times.

Overall, I think it’s an interesting start to a series that will take Amanda across Canada, which is an intriguing concept. If you’re looking for an interesting Canadian setting, a daring amateur sleuth, and a mystery that isn’t the least bit cozy, I recommend giving the Amanda Doucette series a try.

Here is a map of Newfoundland and Labrador. Fire in the Stars takes place mainly on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland.

Other books set in Newfoundland.

Until next time…

Have you been to Newfoundland and Labrador? If you have, what is your favourite part of the province? It’s the only Canadian province I haven’t visited but I plan to some day!

The Bounty of August

August is my birthday month. Wave back if you’re also a Leo. Also true, I don’t read my horoscope. So, I don’t really know much about being a Leo…

I do know that August brings a fullness to the air that signals the end of summer. Flower pots are bursting with colour and gardens are producing. I don’t have a garden but I have a couple of vegetables planted amongst the flowers.

Fresh garden tomatoes are one of my very favourite things. This time of year always reminds me of growing up on a farm and harvest season, both in the field and in the garden.

And it’s all because of the bees.

We have leafcutter bees helping us out in our yard. The pre-built Pine Solitary Bee Barn (with Nesting Block & Larvae) is from Backyard Pollinator, a company that operates out of Imperial Saskatchewan. Jed and Kathy Williams are the sole owners of their alfalfa seed and leafcutter bee operation. 

Our daughter got the kit from her brother and sister-in-law for Christmas. We stored the bees in our garage fridge for the rest of the winter. Our son came in the middle of June to hang the house outside. We’ve had fun watching them go in and out. Leafcutter bees are great non-aggressive pollinators and the last image is proof the leafcutter bees are busy in our yard. You can tell by the careful cutouts in the leaves.

Many of the holes are now plugged, which means the bees have laid their larvea and filled the holes with leaves. At the end of summer we’ll take the nesting block out and put it in a cool spot until next summer.

Book Recommendation:

This is a great book full of inspiration and recommendations of the fabulous places this province has to offer locals and eager visitors.

Shortlisted for a 2021 Taste Canada Award and four 2021 Saskatchewan Book Awards

A robust and inspiring travel companion for both local and visiting food-lovers alike that reveals the stories, inspiration, and friendly faces of the people who craft great food in Saskatchewan.

From the province’s southern grain fields to its northern boreal forests, from its city markets to its small-town diners, Saskatchewan is the humble heartland of some of the nation’s most delicious food.

Author Jenn Sharp and photographer Richard Marjan spent four months travelling Saskatchewan, chatting at market stalls, in kitchens, bottling sheds, and stockrooms. Flat Out Delicious is the culmination of interviews with small-scale farmers and city gardeners, beekeepers and chocolatiers, ranchers, chefs, and winemakers. Together they tell the story of Saskatchewan’s unique food systems.

The journey is organized into seven regions (including a chapter each for restaurant hotbeds Regina and Saskatoon), with essays that delve deeper—into traditional Indigenous moose hunts, wild rice farming in the remote north, and berry picking in the south. There are profiles of over 150 artisans, along with detailed maps, travel tips, and stunning photography, making the book the ideal companion for a road trip that involves plenty of stopping to eat along the way.

You’ll meet a lettuce-grower who left a career in the city, and the small-town grad who worked his way up in the Saskatoon restaurant world; couples who are the first in their families to raise livestock, alongside new generations maintaining century-old operations. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or are Saskatchewan born and bred, prepare to be surprised by the abundance of personalities and culinary experiences to be found here in the land of living skies.

Until next time…

Are you a gardener? Do you love farmers markets? And all the beautiful food that this time of year produces?

Book Talk Friday: Beach Read

Where I talk about books that I’ve read and enjoyed because life is better with books. And summer is definitely better with books!

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Published: Berkley, May 2020

Length: 384 pages

Categories: Women’s Fiction / Romance / Humour / Contemporary Romance

The Blurb:

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.SEE LESS

My Thoughts:

January Andrews is suffering from writer’s block. She’s also broke. Grieving the loss of the father she thought she knew, she ends up in the last place she wants to be, the beach house her father left her. Even worse, she finds herself living next door to her college nemesis, Augustus Everett. Turns out he’s also suffering from writer’s block. When avoiding each other doesn’t work, they strike a deal. She’ll write a literary novel. And he’ll write a romance. And they’ll help each other through the process.

I worry when writers, who are not romance writers, write romance. I worry it won’t be a romance at all but an attempt to ‘elevate’ the genre. I also shy away from romances written in 1st person perspective. Just not my favourite perspective when it comes to romance. So, why did this book work for me? The chemistry between January and Gus is immediate. The dialogue is witty and funny and surprising. The writing is clever. January’s grief and sense of betrayal is heart wrenching. So, is Gus’s. Gus is delightfully swoon worthy in a guy-next-door kind of way. And January is quirky and real and just the right amount of over the top.

Also, this was an audio read for me and I have to say the narrator is amazing. Julia Whelan does a fantastic job. I can’t say enough about the great job she does. It’s the first time I’ve haven’t cringed when a narrator switches from a female to male character or vice a versa. I enjoyed her narration as much as I enjoyed Emily Henry’s writing.

This book is a great look at what happens when our egos fail us and the necessity of grieving. And what it looks like to find your way back and forward. Definitely recommend.

Until next time…

What beach reads have you savoured so far this summer? Any recommendations?

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!

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?

Summer Fun and Creative Pursuits

I’m sitting outside, laptop…well, on my lap, listening to the birds chirp and working on getting my word count done for the day. For my writing group’s July writing challenge, I’ve decided on a goal of 500 words a day. I’m so close to finishing the first draft of my current work-in-progress, this first book of a series, but July also encourages the notion of holiday mode. 500 words a day makes me feel like I’m achieving some kind of life / writing balance.

I’m happy to say, I’ve mostly managed to meet that challenge for the first half of July even though my sister and nephews visited for ten days.

A trip to our local Science Centre, where their summer exhibit is all about JOY was an excellent way to have fun and find inspiration. The JoyLab is a collection of experiences designed to provide Instagram-ready moments while discovering how simple things like bubbles in a bathtub or a wall of purple flowers could bring about a feeling of joy. For the record, as someone who loves to take photographs, the experience was a whole lot of fun.

I’m also stretching my creative muscles with markers and watercolour paints. I love to doodle and my daughter-in-law created a lovely July Instagram list of bullet journal art prompts. Here’s my Lichtenstein inspired self-portrait for Day 7. Creating a self-portrait was an interesting exercise that can bring out your inner self using many mediums. If you’ve got children at home, or grandchildren to entertain this summer, here are some excellent ideas for unleashing their (and your) creativity with self-portraits.

If I could spend the summer playing Scrabble, I would. It is by far, my favourite game. Having said that, you’d think I’d be better at it. We also set up the cotton candy machine and as a result our home smelled like the fair grounds at a summer festival. We also played Bird Bingo and Bug Bingo. The boys played marbles and Battleship. We swam in the pool. They hiked trails and played in parks.

And what’s summer without a little indulgence, which we have embraced wholeheartedly. I’m so full of food, drinks, and snacks, I don’t feel like I fit inside my skin. Getting back to normal is gonna be hard.

Cheers! I’m not sure how July came to be half over but I do know that this weekend I’ll be attending The Saskatchewan Festival of Words in Moose Jaw, hanging out and having more fun. And food. And drinks. But more on this next week.

Until next time…

I hope you are finding inspiration all around you. Let me know how and where you’ve found it? Or what your summer plans are?

Creating Secondary Characters

In every book I write there is a secondary character who’s tried to take over the story. In OFF THE GRID it was Sophie’s sister. I could have written a whole series based around Marnie’s character as a Finder in the infamous Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. In BACKLASH it was Jason, Lily’s student, a teenage boy who was targeted by gang members. In EXPOSED, Sunni, the mistress of Kate’s father, Bill Logan, drew me in and she could have had her own story, too. Ian Connelly in GONE stole my heart from the beginning with his silence and his gruffness.

They are essential in helping tell the story of the protagonists by either supporting or resisting them. They are a great way to drop hints, reveal information the reader needs to know but the protagonist might not, and to foreshadow events. They also represent the state of the world being created in the story. They have essential knowledge of the inner workings of your world, be it contemporary, paranormal, or historical. They have secrets, their own lives, and their own motivations but remain in the background. They are the stalwart mentor, the quirky best friend, the loyal confident, the cynical co-worker, or the jealous family member.  

If you’re a Harry Potter fan and I mention Dolores Umbridge, her snickering laugh and pink outfits will instantly come to mind and make you shudder. Large Marge in Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone is a strong, resilient big-city transplant who represents the landscape of Alaska and what is needed to survive there. Often in romance, secondary characters are way to introduce the protagonists of the next book in the trilogy or series. They are a way to carry the theme or premise of the series to the next book and give us a delicious insight to what will happen next.

And, ultimately, they exist to help keep us entertained!

Until next time…

Who are some of your favourite secondary characters?

Introducing Jana Richards (Love At Solace Lake Series)

I’m so happy to be able to tell you about my friend, Jana Richards‘ newest releases. Her Love at Solace Lake Series is available this month. All. Three. Books! Can you believe it? No waiting months to see how the story ends. Part of me is very unhappy with you, Jana! It takes commitment and organization to be able to deliver three books in one month. Lies and Solace, Book One was available March 14. Secrets and Solace, Book Two is available today. The final instalment of the trilogy, Truth and Solace, is available for pre-order and will be delivered to your ereader on March 28.

Jana Richards

Love is worth the risk…

When their grandfather dies, the Lindquist sisters, Harper, Scarlet and Maggie, inherit the northern Minnesota fishing lodge that had been in their family for three generations. The inheritance is bittersweet. They were raised at the lodge by their grandparents. The natural beauty of the place hasn’t changed, but the building itself is crumbling and desperately in need of repair. The lodge also reminds them of what they lost. Twenty-two years previously, their parents died there in what was ruled a murder/suicide.

As the sisters struggle to breathe new life into the failing lodge, old fears and questions rise to the surface even as new love presents itself. Why did their father murder their mother? What truths did their grandparents keep from them? The sisters must fight to keep the wounds of the past from putting their futures, and their fledgling relationships, in jeopardy.

Five Things you need to know about Solace Lake

  1. It’s based on a real place in Minnesota. Sort of. North-central Minnesota is a lovely place with lots of trees and beautiful lakes. My husband and I have golfed in the area a couple of times, and we stayed at a very nice golf resort. I used that resort as the model for Miller’s Golf Resort, the neighbour to the Solace Lake Lodge, and the place of employment for Harper, the heroine of book 1, LIES AND SOLACE. However, Solace Lake and the fishing lodge that Harper is trying to save are entirely products of my imagination.
  2. A murder/suicide took place in Solace Lake. Twenty-two years before book one begins, the Lindquist sister’s parents died in the lake in what the police called a murder/suicide. The sisters, then aged ten, eight and sixteen months, were raised by their maternal grandparents at the fishing lodge.
  3. Their parents’ deaths leave scars on each of the sisters. Harper is left with feelings of abandonment. Scarlet feels guilty, somehow responsible for their deaths. Maggie never knew her parents. Everything she knows about them came from someone else’s remembrances. She feels cheated.
  4. The Hainstock brothers come from a dysfunctional family. Their father was an alcoholic and their mother an enabler. Their childhoods were chaotic, and both of them, especially Cameron, have vowed that they won’t do that to their own children.
  5. Luke and Maggie have a history – They first fell in love when Maggie was fourteen and Luke eighteen. But too many years, and too many secrets have put a wedge between them that’s going to be difficult to overcome.

Jana Richards

She can’t live with one more lie. He can’t tell the truth.

Harper Lindquist is convinced she’s found the answer to her financial prayers. Unless she pours cash into crumbling Solace Lake Lodge, she’ll lose her family’s legacy. Her would-be savior arrives in the middle of a Minnesota blizzard and she’s determined to prove to her reluctant, and trapped, financier the lodge is a sound investment. But Harper isn’t completely honest with him. And she has no idea the lake is hiding secrets of its own.

Ethan James is a liar, but his money is very real. He isn’t convinced a broken-down inn is a smart investment opportunity. But the more he understands Harper’s dreams and desires, the more he wants to be the man to make them come true. The trauma in both their pasts means neither can fully trust the other. They must find the courage to love, to trust, and to accept, or yesterday’s sorrows will keep them apart.

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079TDDSY4

UK:https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B079TDDSY4

CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B079TDDSY4

AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B079TDDSY4


Jana Richards

No matter how deeply buried, secrets rise to the surface.

Scarlett Lindquist has agreed to help her sisters rebuild the dilapidated fishing lodge in Minnesota they inherited from their grandparents. Although the lengthy restoration is bringing the three sisters closer together, Scarlett’s support is temporary. Her leave of absence from her job in Chicago is temporary and she has no intention of staying at Solace Lake Lodge, where the lake holds dark secrets. When frightening childhood memories resurface, they are tempered by her fascination with an irritating contractor. If only she could trust her feelings for him. If only he could trust her.

Cameron Hainstock meets Scarlett at his brother’s wedding to her sister and their attraction is instantaneous. But Cam avoids the beautiful marketing executive. All his efforts are aimed at battling for custody of his only child. When the unimaginable happens and Cam faces the biggest challenge of his life, he’s reluctant to accept help to halt his downward spiral. Can they learn to trust each other and fight for a future together or will they go their separate ways?

US: http://www.amzn.com/B079WGSNWD

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B079WGSNWD

CA: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B079WGSNWD

AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B079WGSNWD

Jana Richards

The truth could destroy them. Or set them free.

Maggie Lindquist left Solace Lake determined never to return. Circumstances have pulled her back and she’s helping to restore her family’s dilapidated fishing lodge. When she agreed to the plan she didn’t expect to have to work side by side with the man who abandoned her ten years earlier. She didn’t expect to like him, or want him ever again. But can she trust him as she once did?

Luke Carlsson rushes home to tend to his ailing mother. Her lengthy illness means he needs to stay, at least temporarily. And to stay, he needs to work. Solace Lake Lodge offers him a job and an opportunity to work with the woman he’s never stopped loving. But the restoration is unleashing secrets hidden for decades and no one is left unscathed. Especially not Maggie and Luke, whose love needs to be resilient enough to forgive, and strong enough to build a future together.

US: http://www.amzn.com/B079WFZXV2

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B079WFZXV2

CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B079WFZXV2

Au: http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B079WFZXV2

Congratulations again, Jana! Book One is next up on my ereader! I can’t wait to learn more about the Lindquist sisters and Solace Lake!

Dear Reader, do you love romances set in remote communities? Small Towns? or Resorts? I know I do!