Friday, June 15, 2018

A Year of Monumental CanBook Challenge Reading!

What are these logos all about? This year's theme! 

This year we're going to be all about monumental Roadside Attractions; last year we were speed reading along our highways and byways, this year we're going to slow down and check out some of the oversized attractions along the way. 

We'll be crossing Canada in our literature and in the levels you'll reach as you read. As you read this year, you'll advance along a series of roadside attractions from every province and territory, east to west and back again -- it was hard to pick just one for each, so if you have a favourite from your area, feel free to highlight it in the comments as well. 

We have two logo buttons this year: choose the one you like and use it on your blog, review posts, or social media. Both use the same background, found at Large Roadside Attractions of Canada.

If you're intrigued by these monuments, check out Large Roadside Attractions of Canada for hundreds more. 

Here are our reading levels:

1 - O'Leary Potato (PEI)
2 - Nackawic Axe (New Brunswick)
3 - Cape Breton Fiddle (Nova Scotia)
4 - Glover's Harbour Giant Squid (Newfoundland & Labrador)
5 - Montreal Milk Bottle (Quebec)
6 - Sudbury Nickel (Ontario)
7 - Gimli Viking (Manitoba)
8 - Moose Jaw Moose (Saskatchewan)
9 - Vegreville Pysanka (Alberta)
10 - Duncan Hockey Stick (British Columbia)
11 - Whitehorse Mammoths (Yukon)
12 - Yellowknife Mosquito (Northwest Territories)
13 - Rankin Inlet Inuksuk (Nunavut)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

12th Canadian Book Challenge: Countdown!

Less than a month to think about signing up for the 12th Annual Canadian Book Challenge! I've been a little late posting this announcement, but I hope to see many readers joining in this year, as we are going to have a lot of fun with it. 

The Challenge part is easy: to read and review 13 Canadian books of any genre or form from July 1 2018 to July 1 2019. You can do it! 

Get full details and sign-up information here.

I'll be sharing some inspiration for your book choices over the next weeks, along with more details about our Theme and what names our reading levels will take, and a few other fun things, too. 

Share widely, and encourage others to join in this year. Hope to see you reading on the flip side ;)

We have two logo buttons this year, one in retro style reflecting the retro nature of our theme, Roadside Monuments, and the other in modern rainbow colours -- choose whichever you like and use it in your review posts, for sharing on social media, or as a permanent link in your own blog's sidebar. Both use the same background image, a wallpaper made up of all the Large Roadside Attractions of Canada found at the website of the same name. Check this site out, it is fab :)

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Bellewether by Kearsley

Bellewether / Susanna Kearsley
Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, c2018.
414 p.

I loved this book! I received a copy  from the publisher shortly before the release last week, and settled in to read the whole book that night. Couldn't put it down. 

I love Kearsley's mix of history and romance and hauntings -- this book is one of the best of her most recent titles, for me, as it covers an area of history that I personally enjoy: it's set in 1759 during the war between France & England in North America. It takes place in Long Island, where the Wilde family (made up of father and grown children) must board two French officers who have been captured by the English. One of these officers, Jean-Phillippe de Sabran, is much more respectful of the Wilde family than the other officer, and his interest in their lives grows to include the woman of the house, daughter Lydia. 

Meanwhile, in the story's contemporary setting, Charley Van Hoek comes to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum. Charley has family history in the area, including an estranged grandmother who is a big name in the local Daughters of the American Revolution group. Charley must adapt to her job, her connections to the community, and figure out just what is going on at the Wilde House - because she doesn't believe in ghosts. Not really. But the legend of the doomed love affair of Lydia Wilde has been passed down for generations, and spooky things do happen...

The story is enriched by Kearsley's ability to sketch characters quickly, but with depth and interest. The romance in the past was more vivid than the current day one, for me, but I enjoyed both storylines. I really do like the New France era, and there was a lot of detail about the politics and daily life of that time, thanks to Jean-Phillippe. The house/museum itself is a lovely character, well drawn and described in both eras; I would visit it if it really existed. I also liked how the family relationships in both eras were important to the story; it's nice to see those kind of ties instead of an isolated main character who seems to exist independently.

I can't say too much as I don't want to give away the unfolding of the plot and the joy of discovery while reading this, but I did think this was a great addition to Kearsley's novels, and certainly one that I will reread. The pacing, characters and setting all worked together wonderfully. If you are looking for a non-racy romance, a great historical setting, and a solid plot (with ghosts!), you must try it. 

11th Annual CanBook Challenge: May Roundup

Friday, April 13, 2018

Threads: the Delicate Life of John Craske

Threads: the Delicate Life of John Craske / Julia Blackburn
London: Jonathan Cape, c2015.
352 p.

I heard about this book in the bibliography of a craft book I was studying, and thought it sounded intriguing enough to track down via Interlibrary Loan. It delivered, though not in the way I was first expecting.

It is a delicate biography, mostly because it isn't one at all. The author decides to write about this intriguing character, John Craske (b1887, d1943) but finds that there isn't all that much to discover. The book is about more than Craske himself; it's also about her search for him -- the places she goes to do her research, the people she encounters along the way, related to Craske or not, and her own life story is inextricably linked to the narrative, as her husband dies during the course of her writing this book.

It is fascinating and absorbing reading. 

John Craske himself, the backbone of the book, was an English fisherman from Norfolk who suffered from an undiagnosed disease (they think now it may have been some kind of diabetes). He would fall into long periods of invalidism, in which he seemed not to be in the world at all. His wife encouraged him to paint in order to engage with the world, and feel as if he was on the open seas again, which he missed. Visitors noted that all the surfaces of their house were covered with paintings propped up, and even painted right onto the doors and windowsills. When John became too ill to be able to paint, his wife set him onto embroidery, which he could do from his bed. 

His embroideries were fresh and unique; he used his painting techniques to make embroidered images of the seascapes he loved. As a stitcher myself  I could see how these were unusual for the time, being freeform and individual. He uses his wools and threads to indicate wind, waves, grasses, and more; the movement in his stitching is extraordinary. He was working on a huge panel depicting Dunkirk when he died, leaving only a square of the sky undone. 

Blackburn examines not only his life history and the ways in which he turned to painting and then embroidery, but also what happened to his works after he'd died, and the ways in which his reputation was both made and forgotten. Integral to his brief popularity were the writers Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland, who discovered him in his small village, and championed his art after that -- partly out of admiration and partly out of a feeling that he and his wife really needed some financial support. 

Blackburn also visits a couple of small regional museums and institutions that hold a few of Craske's remaining works, finding them poorly stored, not exhibited, or shown a lot of care. They seem to treat them as the output of a local artisan, not worth too much attention. I hope that this book can at least inspire those places to preserve Craske's work for the future, as they are original. 

The book as a whole feels wild and windy, with a lot of open spaces to think and ponder. One of the things John Craske said about being out on the ocean in a small boat was that it made you feel like a small bit of the world; this book's wide-ranging interest and narrative structure also makes you, the reader, feel like one small point in a huge tapestry of life. This was a wonderful, rambling discovery.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Paper Teeth & Bad Endings: Two Canadian Shorts

I recently read two debut collections of short stories, back to back. This wasn't intentional, but although they are not brand new books, they were new to my library and both looked appealing. And I did enjoy them, to different degrees. Here are a few thoughts on both.

Paper Teeth / Lauralyn Chow
Edmonton: NeWest Press, c2016.
240 p.

A collection of connected family stories circling around the Lees, a Canadian-Chinese family living in Edmonton, through the 60s and 70s, this has warmth and humour. The narrator is usually the younger daughter, although some of the stories come from different perspectives.

The book is arranged in sections named after menu items on a Chinese Canadian restaurant menu, and most of them do focus on the kind of domestic, interpersonal issues represented by food and the way it plays into identity.

I found it really absorbing reading; Chow has a unique story to tell, even with the reliance on the kind of family stories we might expect to see in short fiction. Her characters develop more complexity as you read, and see them in different situations and at different ages.

 Her narrative style is also quite fascinating -- she has a habit of adding in parenthetical afterthoughts or commentary, often ironic and/or funny, often a judgement made by an older narrator/writer. It's very entertaining, and I found that particular habit intriguing. I really liked this book. There was good writing and lots of great imagery, as well as things happening -- not just vague or open ended stories about emotional exploration of the self.

Bad Endings / Carleigh Baker
Vancouver: Anvil Press, c2017.
168 p.

This collection has been getting quite a bit more attention than the first, and it is a solid book. My personal preference was for Paper Teeth, as many of the stories in Bad Endings sounded vaguely familiar, similar to much contemporary Canadian short fiction, at least to me.

There were a couple of stories which really stood out for me, especially the one which inspired this beautiful cover art. In that story, there are vivid descriptions of wild rivers, salmon, hard work -- it's active and energetic.

But generally this collection felt MFAish, and not the ideal one for me. Many of the stories featured young people in some kind of life transition. There was drudgery, uncertainty, a bit of squalor, and frequent trailings off into a kind of ending. This may be more resonant for and reflective of millennial life at this moment; perhaps younger readers will engage more wholly with this collection. I admired her writing ability and the lack of academic navel gazing in this book, but it didn't catch me entirely.


How about you? Have you read any good short story collections lately? Anything you would recommend?