Category Archives: Books

10 Things About The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  1. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is really different than most books I’ve read.  I’m not sure how to classify it genre-wise. In the novel, a pair of master magicians set up a competition involving their two young apprentices Celia and Marco.

    With my niece Amanda

  2. The book was recommended by my niece Amanda who often steers me to interesting books.  Was my niece drawn to the addictive descriptions of the unusual circus which is the setting for the competition between the two young magicians? I know I certainly was.

    With our friends the Nikkels visiting the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum in Sarasota Florida

  3. The novel reminded me of my visit to the Circus Museum in Sarasota Florida. There I learned about the cast of thousands needed to keep a circus going. The circus family in Morgenstein’s novel is huge and the characters who populate it very intriguing. There’s a Japanese contortionist, a pair of young twins each with unique magical gifts, a skilled clockmaker, and an extraordinary fashion designer and seamstress just to name a few.
  4. The Night Circus has connections to The Tempest, the Shakespeare play I know best. Celia one of protagonists in Morgenstein’s book is haunted by her father who is the namesake of Shakespeare’s The Tempest character Prospero. Prospero’s relationship with his daughter Celia is an important source of conflict in the novel’s plot.

    New York Times graphic for the novel by André da Loba

  5.  I love a good romance in novels and the one in this book is most unconventional. It makes you think about how much of any love relationship is grounded in fantasy. The tension about whether Celia and Marco the competitors will eventually end up together is at the very heart of the book.
  6. The book is set at the turn of the century during a time period I’ve researched extensively for a novel I’ve written.  The time period is particularly important in the case of a young man named Bailey who will become crucial to the story but Morgenstein takes a long time letting us know how that will happen even though we meet Bailey early on in the novel.
  7. The book is being made into a movie and I am not sure how I feel about that.  Each tent in the circus in this novel is a wondrous place and one of the things I enjoyed about The Night Circus was the way I had to use my imagination to envision each of the tents.  I think I may be disappointed when I see how the film director envisions them.

  8. Reviewers feel very strongly about this book. They either seem to love it or hate it.  I would not be as passionate one way or the other.  I loved many things about the novel and I was glad I read it, but it did jump around in time a fair bit and I found myself checking the dates at the start of each chapter to help me keep things straight and the plot did tie up perhaps a little too neatly at the end.
  9. Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes.  The future is never set in stone. That’s a quote from the novel that’s gone viral. You can get posters, T-shirts and dresses imprinted with those words.
  10. As an author who is trying to get a book published herself I am always a sucker for a novel by a new author who landed a dream deal after endless rejections.  The Night Circus manuscript was rejected by thirty literary agents before one accepted it and sold the manuscript to Doubleday. It spent seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Other posts…………

Ten Things About Singer Bessie Smith the World’s Greatest Blues Singer

Six Things That Help Me Stay Positive About Our World

Five Things I Believe About Children


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My Dutch House

A house is the main character in Ann Patchett’s latest novel The Dutch House.  The mansion got its moniker from the VanHoebeeks, a couple from Holland who originally built The Dutch House. The house retains a special place in the hearts of Maeve and Danny Conroy whose father purchased it complete with all the furniture, art and books the VanHoebeeks left behind when the last member of their family died. 

Sonia Pulido’s Dutch House illustration for the review in the New York Times

Even though Maeve and Danny are eventually evicted from the house by their stepmother they continue to go back to look at it constantly throughout their lives reminiscing about the people and events from their past connected to the house.  The house and what happened there creates a supportive and essential bond between the siblings and remains an ongoing part of the Conroy family narrative for generations. 

I just finished reading Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House and it had me reflecting on how certain homes take hold of our imagination like the house in Patchett’s novel.

Outside our house on Beaverbrook Street in Winnipeg, ready to go to the lake with my Auntie Millie and her children.

I have lived in twenty-six different homes in my life. But the one that I think of the most often, the one whose rooms are brought to mind as locations for scenes in almost every novel I read is the house my family lived in for just a year on Beaverbrook Street in Winnipeg.  I am not sure why that house has such a hold on me.

Hanging stockings on our fireplace in the house on Beaverbrook Street

Again when I was reading The Dutch House I imagined the scenes in the novel taking place in the bedrooms,  living room, kitchen, yard and hallways of that house even though our home on Beaverbrook was certainly no mansion and really in no way resembled the house in Patchett’s novel.

With my mother and siblings in front of our house on Beaverbrook Street.

I once interviewed an architect who truly believed that buildings had souls. The Dutch House certainly has a soul for Maeve and Danny Conroy much the way that house on Beaverbrook Street has a soul for me.  In the novel Maeve and Danny are hard-pressed to adequately explain their connection to the house just as I can’t explain my connection to that house on Beaverbrook Street or why it continues to take up so much space in my imagination compared to the other twenty-five places I have lived. 

Do you have a house like that from your past? 

Other posts………..

Who Do Family Stories Belong To?

Do Buildings Have Souls?

Little Bee-Three Connections

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albatrossAlbatross is the third Terry Fallis book I’ve read. Fallis novels are quirky and interesting.  The intriguing premise in this one is that there is a mathematical formula to determine whether someone has the perfect body for a certain sport.  The protagonist of Albatross Adam Coryell has the perfect body for golf. His highschool physical education teacher discovers this and Adam goes on to great recognition and wealth as a golfer. But…… he is not happy.  He may be the greatest golfer in the world but what he really wants is to be a great writer. 

Terry Fallis makes us think about what it means to be successful in Albatross. He also introduces us to the fascinating world of fountain pens, throws in a charming romance and passes commentary on the state of publishing in Canada which is dire.  He also gets us to think about the importance of making libraries available and accessible to everyone.  We are a society that exalts and worships sports stars.  Adam Coryell isn’t interested in that kind of recognition even though he is an Olympic champion, multi-millionaire and has worn the Masters’ green jacket.  Fallis makes us think about whether our adulation of sports figures may be misguided and perhaps even harmful.

Albatross is an easy read and Fallis is a straight forward writer not given to flowery description or deep literary prose.  I read this book on a bus, in a car, by a swimming pool, in a restaurant and at a ball game.  It kept me engaged.

Other posts about books by Terry Fallis……….

Best Laid Plans

Poles Apart


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Three Likes and Three Dislikes

Three things I liked about the novel Akin by Emma Donoghue were………….

  1.  I fell in love with the city of Nice, France. One of the main characters Noah, a chemistry professor nearing 80 was born there and in the book, he takes his 11-year-old great-nephew Michael on a trip to Nice.  Donoghue does a good job of introducing us to the city as we read the book. We learn about its history, its culture, its geography.  I have never been to France but it is on my list of places to visit and when I do Nice will definitely be included in the itinerary after reading Akin
  2. The book highlights the important role women played in the resistance movement against the Nazis during World War II.  Noah who was a child during the war was sent to live in America in order to keep him safe. He finds out his mother who remained in France played a key role in the resistance against the Nazis. Finding out about what exactly that role was, is one of the mysteries that drive the plot of the novel. Often war stories focus on the role of men (think of the recent movie 1917) I liked it that this one revolved around a woman. 
  3. In the novel, Noah’s deceased wife Joan keeps giving him bits of advice and making commentary on what is happening in his head.  I liked Joan and she was one of my favourite characters in the novel even though she is dead. Although some reviewers panned Donoghue for using this technique I found it believable and Joan’s voice helped us get to know her husband better.  I often hear my mother’s voice in my head telling me things and she died in 2013. 

Emma Donoghue

Three things I didn’t like about the novel Akin by Emma Donoghue were…………….

  1. Emma gives us a lot of information about Nice, about science, about photography, about history in her novel but sometimes this is delivered in an almost lecture sort of way and it made me feel that the characters were just mouthpieces for filling us in on all this information and what they were telling us didn’t really contribute to us getting to know them better as people. 
  2. I found both Noah and Michael a little hard to like.  They are both interesting characters to be sure and I know writers have to give characters a balance of positive and negative traits but somehow I just couldn’t get attached to Noah or Michael.  Perhaps Donoghue wrote them a little too much to the stereotypes of crotchety, absent-minded octagenarian and rebellious, technology addicted near teen.  
  3. Nothing gets totally resolved by the end of the book.  Is Michael’s mother really not guilty of the crimes that have her incarcerated?  Can her case be revisited?  Was Michael’s father really a drug dealer or was he set up? Did Noah’s mother give in to the Nazis when she was tortured? Will  Michael be allowed to continue living with Noah when they return to New York? 

I think you should read the book, Akin.  It is by an excellent author and the premise for the story is stellar.  But I have to admit it was not one of my favourite reads.  Have you read the novel?  What did you think?

Other posts…………

Getting to Know Emma Donoghue in Person

It Isn’t the Hand Maid’s Tale- A Review of Testaments

Five Wives by Joan Thomas

The Quintland Sisters


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More Than A Library

The door to the library at Bethel Mennonite Church

“Can I take my drugs in the library?”  I am the librarian at my church and last Sunday an elderly woman came to the door and asked me that question.  She had a beeper that went off when it was time for her to administer her medication and that had just happened.  She needed a place to sit down and take her pills before she forgot.  I told her we were a full-service library and she should come right in. 

One thing I am noticing about our church library is that it is much more than just a place to get books.  For example, before the Sunday morning worship hour, there are a couple of regulars who like to hang out in the library because the noise and hubbub in the lobby before the service is just too much for them, either due to hearing difficulties or because they are of a more introverted nature. We have a couple of nice comfy chairs that provide a safe space for them. 

Parents whose children are having trouble sitting through a church service also come into the library to read stories, or walk around in an open area that provides an alternative to the confining pews in the sanctuary.

The cool new sign for our Kid’s Corner was made by Ike Derksen a talented graphic artist in our church

We’ve just finished setting up a Kids’ Corner in the library to invite even more of that kind of use of our space. 

A group of dedicated volunteers take turns working in the library each Sunday and chatting with church members

Many people come in just to chat. They may start off asking you to recommend a book for them but then the conversation quickly veers to a family matter that is troubling them, a social issue on which they have an opinion to share, a physical ailment that is challenging or something in the church that is of concern to them.  I often get caught up for quite some time in one of these conversations as do the wonderful volunteers who work in the library each Sunday helping people sign out new books and returning the old ones to the shelves. 

I just put up a new bulletin board display of books we have added to the library in recent months

We do have our critics, although certainly a minority.  They come in because they don’t agree with the selection of books we have, or they aren’t happy with the way the books are displayed, or they are concerned about the church perhaps spending too much money on library books or they are sad that I have removed an old book from the shelves that was really important to them. I actually enjoy chatting with these folks and am pleased they are taking such an interest in the library.  Their concerns have led me to develop a Book Selection policy that has been approved by the church’s education committee which oversees my work in the library. 

And then, of course, there are the library patrons who are devoted literary fans. They come into the library to see if you have the latest title which is in big demand, to discuss a book from the library they know I have read too, to have me recommend a book I think they will like, to donate a book to the library, or to tell me about a book they have read that they think should be on our shelves. 

We recently added an Indigenous Relations section in the library

And our library is used for other things too. Church committees sometimes reserve the library for meetings during the week. Families may gather there before a funeral service. People sometimes slip in to find a quiet place to take a phone call or have a one on one conversation with a friend. Folks who are visiting the church for the first time wander in because they are curious or are looking to connect with someone. 

I was just asked on Sunday by our church’s gift discernment committee if I want to continue my work in the library for another two years and I answered yes immediately. I love being in the library at our church not only because I enjoy reading books and talking about them, but because I love the fact that so many other things happen in the library besides taking out books and returning them. 

Other posts………

Love These Guys

Are You A Book Hoarder or a Book Minimalist? 

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Books and Brushes – Please Join Me!

If you’ve been at McNally Robinson Booksellers recently you will have seen this attractive display of Margaret Atwood’s books. The display is advertising Books and Brushes a feature we run several times a year at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in cooperation with McNallys. Books and Brushes is a book club and an art gallery tour combined. On February 4th at 11:30 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, we will be discussing Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments which won the 2019 Booker Prize. 
I’ve been reading The Testaments and looking for artwork currently on view at the WAG that might connect with the novel. It hasn’t been hard to find lots of interesting pieces that relate to scenes in the book.

I’ll try to pique your interest in joining us by showing you four of the art pieces we will take a look at.

Afternoon Tea or The Gossips by John Everett Millais- 1889

Esther and Ahasuerus by Melchior Lorck- 1560

Tree Movement by Emily Carr 1937-1938

Delilah by Kent Monkman and Chris Chapman-2017

We will be looking at lots of other art pieces too and of course, having a lively discussion about the novel.  If you’d like to join us you can get all the details and register here.  Hope to see you next week. 

Other posts……………

Esther and Ahasuerus- A Storyboard in a Painting

Emily Carr- Talk About Defying Convention

The Family of Jesus Portrayed in a Controversial Way

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Olive Again

When I first started reading Elizabeth’s Strout’s book Olive Again I didn’t really care for the heroine Olive very much.  Olive is a prickly old woman, blunt and hard-nosed.  She isn’t easy to like.

Author Elizabeth Strout

In fact, Elizabeth Strout has said that Olive is so irritating and brutally honest that only some of the chapters in Olive Again have Olive at its centre because Elizabeth found it difficult to spend too much time with Olive, even though Elizabeth is the one who created her character.

Despite all her annoying behaviours……….. Olive can be extremely empathetic.  In one chapter she has the courage to spend time talking honestly and regularly to a neighbour dying of cancer.  Other people don’t know what to say to the neighbour and avoid her.  At a baby shower where one of the guests goes into labour, Olive is the one to take matters in hand and delivers the baby in the backseat of her car.  One of the nursing aides sent to look after Olive after she has a heart attack is a Trump supporter and Olive hates the American president with a passion.  Yet, she takes time to listen to the aide’s deeply troubling family story.

Illustration by Wesley Allsbrook for the review of Olive Again in the New York Times

The novel and its beautiful, beautiful writing made me think about how……….

Everyone’s life has sadness in it and if we really get to know people we will always find that sadness no matter what kind of cheery exterior they may project.

We all have regrets about the way we lived our lives and it takes courage to go on living and maintaining relationships with people when we have regrets about how we interacted with them in the past.

Everyone is lonely sometimes and we have a choice to stay that way or reach out to the people around us no matter where we are and change our lonely state.

Some people will like you and some people won’t.  That is just the way it is and there’s no use beating yourself up about it or letting it stop you from getting joy and meaning out of life. 

I was weeping when I finished Olive Again because at the end of the book Olive was in a situation I am getting to know oh so well as the members of my family in the generation just ahead of me near the end of their lives and as I get ever nearer there myself.  

Olive Again is a rich and moving novel and it touched me in ways I didn’t expect when I first started it.

Other posts……..

My Name is Lucy Barton

All That Belongs

Where Do the Crawdads Sing For You?





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