Category Archives: Books

Two Nests

I just finished reading two books called The Nest and they couldn’t be more different. The first by Cynthia D’ Aprix Sweeney is a cautionary tale for adults about self-sufficiency and the folly of counting your eggs before they are hatched.  Three siblings must decide what to do when their oldest brother makes a horrible mistake that jeopardizes the inheritance they were to receive in their middle age from their parents. They’ve all rather foolishly planned their futures around that money.  The siblings aren’t living what I thought were very meaningful or productive lives and their relationships weren’t healthy. They whined and felt sorry for themselves.  These Americans with their sense of entitlement helped me understand why so many of their countrymen and women feel left out of the American dream and resent those who have inherited access to it. I found it very difficult to like the characters in Sweeney’s The Nest

On the other hand I really liked the young boy Steve at the heart of The Nest by Kenneth Oppel.  Oppel is a children’s author. I’ve read his book Silver Wing aloud to many classes of elementary school students. The main character in Silver Wing is a bat. The natural world plays a role in The Nest as well. Wasps are the antagonists.  Steve is the protagonist who must save a new baby brother suffering from all kinds of medical issues. Steve has problems of his own to battle before he can come to the rescue.  While I liked this book I found it to be pretty dark and scary and I am not sure I would recommend it for anyone under twelve.  I admit my patriotic bias in my evaluation of this book because Kenneth Oppel is a popular Canadian author and The Nest is illustrated by Jon Klassen an equally popular Canadian in his field.

Other posts……..

Getting to Know Emma Donoghue in Person

Who Do Family Stories Belong To?

A Book That Mirrors A News Story

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Thanks Terry MacLeod

Terry MacLeod interviews Pat Barter Cook

In the weeks leading up to the 2017 Manitoba Book Awards gala, Terry MacLeod who was co-hosting the event, roved the aisles of McNally Robinson Booksellers interviewing people about the books they were reading. Videos of the interviews were posted on the Writers Guild Facebook page.  One woman Terry interviewed was Pat Barter Cook and she talked about the book  A Man Called Ove.  She said it was a story about an older grief-stricken man named Ove who got up every morning with a plan to kill himself.  If that wasn’t enough to hook future readers Pat also told us despite the fact Ove was pretty curmudgeonly she had grown to love him almost immediately.  On Thursday when I was at McNallys for my writers’ group meeting I walked past the book  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman displayed at the end of an aisle and couldn’t help but buy it based on Pat’s intriguing interview with Terry.  

I wasn’t disappointed.  The book tells the story of how Ove is forced, despite himself, to engage in relationships with his neighbors and that engages him in life again. This all happens in a very funny touching way.   The book reminded me of a Ted Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger who describes an in-depth 75 year study of the same people’s lives.  The results clearly show relationships keep us happier and healthier.  Social connections are good for us and loneliness kills.  People who have good social connections live longer, are physically and mentally healthier, and are happier. 

A Man Called Ove makes that point in spades!  I throughly enjoyed the novel.  Thanks Terry MacLeod and Pat Barter Cook for the prompt to buy it. 

Other posts……….

A Glamourous Evening at the Manitoba Book Awards

Getting to Know Emma Donoghue in Person

A Novel That Took Us Through Eight States

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Filed under Books, Winnipeg

A Glamourous Night For Manitoba Writing

manitoba book awards programI attended the Manitoba Book Awards on Saturday.  It is an annual event organized by the Manitoba Writers Guild. I have been a member of the guild ever since I moved to Winnipeg six years ago.  It was through the guild I heard about Vast Imaginations the first children’s writers’ group I joined in Winnipeg.  The friends I made there helped me find my way into The Anita Factor a collective of talented and published children’s authors who have been mentoring me in my quest to learn the fine art of writing picture books and novels for young people.  So I was delighted to be able to attend the Manitoba Book Awards last Saturday with members of The Anita Factor.  

at the manitoba book awards (1)

Here I am with some of the members of my writing group The Anita Factor. Larry on the far right is a former Manitoba book award winner, Jodi was a Manitoba book award nominee last year and Pat who is standing next to me just published a book with Pembroke Publishers.

This was the first year the event was held in the elegant Fort Garry Hotel and it was a first class evening in every way.  

centerpieces manitoba book awards

These creative candleholders spotlighted the names of previous Manitoba Book Award winners.

It featured great musical entertainment, professional Winnipeg broadcasters Terry MacLeod and Lara Rae as hosts, a delicious meal expertly served, good wine, and polished and articulate presenters that included last year’s Book of The Year winner Wab Kinew and Rochelle Squires the Manitoba Minister of Sports, Culture and Heritage. We each received a complimentary copy of the latest issue of Walrus Magazine.  They  were one of the offical sponsors of the evening.  That chocolate book in the corner is real and oh so deliciously decadent.   Each attendee received one  from the talented chocolatier Constance Popp

tell them it was mozartAfter the meal I bought Angeline Schellenberg’s book of poetry Tell Them It Was Mozart at the table set up by McNally Robinson Book Sellers.  Angeline’s debut into the literary world garnered her three awards on Saturday night and I consumed her moving book of poems in one fell swoop on Sunday morning. I want to go back and read them all again. 

manitoba book awards 2 (1)It was great to see Manitoba authors celebrated.  Kudos to my fellow Anita Factor member Melanie Matheson who is the executive director of the Manitoba Writers Guild and Ellen MacDonald the guild’s event coordinator who did such a fantastic job organizing the evening. I’m already looking forward to next year’s awards night. 

Other posts……..

Not One Book Launch But Three

So Excited

Writer or Palaeontologist?


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Who Do Family Stories Belong To?

Fanny is an English major working in a pub in order to pay her staggering college debt. One night a famous author comes into the bar and a star struck Fanny begins a relationship with him.  He’s an alcoholic desperately in need of a story for his next novel.  Fanny gives him hers.  Her sprawling family history marked by infidelities, danger, step sibling craziness, revenge, passion and death becomes the core of a best seller and a subsequent movie.  But how will Fanny’s family react when they discover she has literally given away their family’s story? What will they think?  

commonwealthI just finished reading Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and it left me wondering who actually owns family stories.  Many writers use their own family history to create the characters and events in their novels or to pen memoirs .  Do they have the right to use stories from their family?  

It’s a question being asked more frequently now that so many people share their family stories  online.  I share family stories. Some people in my family have asked me not to write about them or have let me know in various ways  they don’t appreciate it when I write about them. Some people in my family love it when I write about them. Others have questioned my version of events.

Somehow I feel it is okay to write stories about family members who are no longer living. But what if other people in the family don’t agree with what I’ve said about the person who has died.  What if they would rather I had remained silent?  What if they feel I don’t have the right to tell a story about someone from our family’s shared past? 

Commonwealth is an excellent novel and the story it spins intrigues and terrifies and makes you reflect on your own family narrative. Who has the rights to that narrative and who gets to decide how it should or shouldn’t be shared publicly?

A link to family stories I’ve shared in this blog. 

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Getting To Know Emma Donoghue in Person

Emma was interviewed at McNally Robinson Booksellers by Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival Director Charlene Diehl

Emma Donoghue’s latest book is set in a Toronto mansion with thirty- two rooms. The house is inhabited by two sets of gay parents, seven children named after trees, a frightened cat, inquisitive rat, crippled parrot and three-legged dog.

You might know Emma as the author of Room. She also wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for the movie based on the novel. I had the pleasure of hearing her interviewed at Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson Book Sellers last week.

Emma, the author of several successful adult novels is currently promoting a new project, a book for children called The Lotterys Plus One. Emma wants to show readers just how diverse families can be and The Lotterys Plus One certainly does that. The four parents in the novel come from India, Jamaica, Scotland and the Mohawk Nation. Many of the seven children are adopted. One has attention deficit disorder, another a physical disability, and a third gender identity issues.

Striking illustrations like this one by Caroline Hadilaksono help readers sort out all the characters in The Lotterys Plus One. 

The children are all home schooled and the parents don’t work because long ago they found a winning lottery ticket that left them financially set for life. Things are ticking along as normally as can be expected in this unusual household until a grandfather moves in because he is suffering from dementia. How will the family cope with this cantankerous newcomer?

We learned quite a bit about Emma’s personal and family life from her talk with Charlene Diehl

Author Emma Donoghue grew up in a large Catholic family in Dublin Ireland but now lives in London, Ontario where she parents two children with her partner Chris. Emma told us she used some of her own parenting experiences in The Lotterys Plus One. For example the children in the novel get head lice, something that has happened several times to Emma’s children. Emma says when her children do something funny or interesting she will ask them, “Can I use that for one of my book characters?”

I was curious how Emma had found the switch from writing for adults to writing for children. She says writing for children is much harder. It took her six years to write The Lotterys Plus One. She is a busy woman with as many as ten writing projects on the go at once, short stories, poetry, novels, screenplays and children’s books. She collects ideas for all ten projects in separate files on her phone. She finds inspiration everywhere and making notes in her phone is the handiest way to keep a record of things as soon as she sees or experiences them. Later she transfers these files to her computer.

Emma answers questions from the audience

After Emma’s interview the audience had a chance to ask her questions. One young girl said she wanted her mother to write books too and asked Emma if she could teach her Mom how to write a book. Emma said, “Everyone has a book in them. Your Mom does too. She just needs the time and space to write it.”

Another audience member said she had never seen the movie Room because there was no way it could compare to the book. Emma said she loves the movie version of Room. She thinks the director did a marvelous job with her story.

I asked her what books she had read as a child and she said pretty much anything but did mention Jane Austen, Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. She said she had loved fairy tales.

My friend Wendy getting her copy The Lotterys Plus One signed by Emma Donoghue

Her new book is a bit of a modern fairy tale and I think Emma knows that, but she also hopes the diverse family in The Lotterys Plus One will help her readers realize it can be enriching and positive to have an open mind about what  we consider to be “ideal” when it comes to family life.

Other posts………

Writing For Children- Not As Easy As I Thought

Writer or Palaeontologist?

Chocogasm Course at McNally Robinson Booksellers

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Filed under Books, Canada, Childhood, Writing

Vintage Maeve

Maeve Bienchy is one of my favorite authors and after she died in 2012 I had to come to terms with the fact that she wouldn’t write another book. That’s why I was delighted to find an anthology of her short stories in an Arizona bookstore. A Few of the Girls is vintage Maeve and is lovely to just pick up and read whenever I have a few minutes. As always Maeve’s narratives are about ordinary people dealing with circumstances and questions that many readers can recognize. Resolving things with a difficult relative, entertaining a demanding houseguest, handling a  child’s friendship with a rebellious peer,  wondering how to make badly needed changes to our personal or work life, going on a diet, or kindly advising a friend who is clearly making bad choices. In her gentle way Maeve helps us see these problems from a new perspective all the while engaging us with her finely drawn characters and good stories.

Other posts……

Mennonite Corner Gas

Jane Austen Overload

The Age of Hope


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Agatha Christie’s First Trip on the Orient Express

Aleppo has figured prominently in the news of late. We are used to seeing pictures of the devastation the war in Syria has caused there. But did you know that Aleppo is also where writer Agatha Christie wrote her famous mystery Murder on the Orient Express?

Agatha christie and husband public domain

Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan at one of their archeological digs.

Agatha and her second husband archeologist Max Mallowan spent a great deal of time in the Middle East. Agatha helped with photographing, data keeping and restoration at her husband’s sites and continued writing her novels while she and Max worked and traveled. She was spending time in an Aleppo hotel while she worked on the manuscript for Murder on the Orient Express. 

woman on the orient expressI just finished the book The Woman on the Orient Express by Lyndsay Jane Ashford. It is a fictionalized account of Agatha Christie’s first trip on the famous railroad in 1928. In the novel she visits an archeological dig where her future husband is at work.

The book should probably have been called Women (plural) on the Orient Express because it is told from the point of view of three British women, Agatha the mystery writer, Kathleen an archeologist, and Nancy a young woman  running away from personal problems. Kathleen and Agatha try to help her.

As we hear Agatha, Nancy and Kathleen’s stories we learn a great deal about what life was like for women in the 1920s. Divorce was scandalous and almost always blamed on the woman. Unmarried pregnant women faced dire social criticism and discrimination and there was absolutely no broad understanding of the science of genetics or gender identity.

I learned so much about social history, Agatha Christie and the way the Middle East has changed from reading this book. I have downloaded Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie on my e-reader. I have never read it but Ashford’s novel has got me interested. 

Other posts………

A Book That Mirrors A News Story

Great Reading and Great Writing

A Novel That Took Us Through Eight States


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