Summer reads

I’ve been reading the most wonderful books lately. Everything I pick up turns out to be enthralling. Which is bad for my work ethic and my sleep, but good for my soul!

If you need some summer reads, here are my recommendations:

North of Normal, by Cea Sunrise Person
I met Cea when I was in Ladner for an Authors for Indies event a few weeks ago. She’s this tall, blonde, gorgeous ex-model… who spent her childhood in the backwoods. And when I say backwoods, I don’t mean the backwoods of Crawford Bay, where I spent a few years. I mean the woods behind those sorts of backwoods. The places without roads and without groceries, let alone preschools or libraries or hospitals.

Cea’s in the middle of this picture. I’m on the right, and the lovely Ashley Spires (of Binky the Space Cat fame) is on the left:

ChUHF-_UcAAJVx1

Cea’s grandparents were all about living off the land and, while they failed their granddaughter in many ways, they certainly passed along their resourcefulness. If you grew up in BC or Alberta, and especially if your mother went through that phase where she sewed your clothes from corduroy and grew her own alfalfa sprouts (which I can’t eat to this day), you must read North of Normal.

north of normal

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson
This is 100% a beach read. You need the book, a towel, a sunshade, a snack, and maybe a package of tissues. That’s it. You’re set for a whole week of your summer. It’s a beautiful story about a young Latin teacher thrown into the societal pitfalls of an English town in the months leading up to World War I. There is romance and friendship, with some great twists woven between. It’s sort of like Downton Abbey in book form. What could be better?

Unknown

Pleased to Meet You, by Caroline Adderson
I keep saying I don’t like short stories. Then I read a book of short stories and I love them. Maybe I only like them once they’re bound into book form? Or maybe (gasp!) my tastes are changing? This is a collection of Caroline Adderson stories published a decade ago, but I picked it up at a workshop on the weekend and now I can’t put it down. She’s so adept at wiggling into the heads of quirky characters, from an actuary-turned-poet to a hospice volunteer on the cusp of love. Love — and the yearning for it — is what all these stories are about. So for this one, you’ll need a glass of wine, a chair on the back deck, and a bright summer evening. Enjoy!

pleased

Warm fuzzies

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre released its Best Books for Kids & Teens 2015 edition last week. I’m sure I’m not the only person who treats it as a giant to-read list each winter. I’m also honoured to have a book included.

Minding Nana is a true story I wrote about growing up next door to my grandma, who suffered from dementia. Pearson released a Well Aware series of 60 books for middle-grade readers this year, all focussed on different aspects of mental health, and Minding Nana was included. It was a difficult story to write and I sort of felt as if I had sold my soul by publishing it (much easier to write other people’s stories!), so I am sincerely touched to have it included by the CCBC.

Others included in this year’s Best Books list include my lovely author friends Paula Ayer, Kallie George, Caroline Adderson, Lee Edward Födi, and Lori Sherritt-Fleming. Congratulations, all!

In more warm-fuzzy news, DNA Detective received a wonderful review from CM Magazine. The reviewer thinks I’m smarter than I really am, so please… no one reveal the truth.

Reading by the numbers

Before January escapes me completely, I thought I’d have a look at last year’s reading list.

I read 87 books in 2014, including 36 novels, 40 young adult or middle-grade books, and three short story collections.

There were only eight non-fiction titles on my list, which I think is an inaccurate reflection of the amount of non-fiction that I actually read. The problem: I often don’t finish non-fiction books. I read a few chapters for research. Or I get distracted in the middle of them and never go back. Both Cooked and Consumed, for example, have been languishing half-read in my bedside table drawer for months now. Which is embarrassing. I am a disgrace to the non-fiction world.

But, onwards…

I read seven books by people I know — a number I think I should improve upon, as a supportive fellow writer!

And, as always, some of my favourite reads were recommended by friends, either real-life friends or virtual. Here are my three top picks (books, not friends), in case you’re looking for something to read this January:

Ellen in Pieces, by Caroline Adderson, was raunchy, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Usually all in one page. Plus, it has the most gorgeous cover of the year.

elleninpieces

Annabel is the story of an intersex baby born in rural Labrador. The journey the father goes through, from denial to acceptance to unconditional love, was wonderfully done, and I found myself thinking about it long after I’d closed the book.

annabel

Derry Collier’s Open Secret is a crime novel that goes beyond clever to be warmly, insightfully smart. Plus, it’s set in my (fictionalized) hometown.

Open-Secret-web

That’s it for 2014! A big thank you to Denise Jaden, who included Anywhere But Here on her list of favourites for the year. I already have my copy of Denise’s Foreign Exchange, waiting to be read!

Writer in pieces

I’m on the final pages of Ellen in Pieces, the new grown-up novel by Caroline Adderson.

elleninpieces

Isn’t the cover the most fabulous thing ever?

I say the new “grown-up novel” because I know Caroline more as a kids’ writer. She lives nearby, we attend CWILL BC meetings together, and I’ve read her chapter books. So I knew she was smart-funny.

But I didn’t, until this week, know that she was sharp-funny, wicked-funny, or raunchy-funny. And it turns out she is. Also, capable of writing scenes of chest-crushing sadness.

I’m going to look at her in a whole different way now! And I’m also going to look up her backlist…

Vanishing family history

Caroline Adderson’s Facebook project, Vancouver Vanishes, has made me see local real estate in a whole new, more nostalgic way. Especially since across the street from me are two bungalows bought 50 years ago — one by octogenarians George and Inta, who still live in their home, and the other by a woman who’s lived in a nursing home since before we moved into the neighbourhood, ten years ago.

That house went up for sale earlier this year for $1.8 million, a price which reflects mainly the land value. And since surveyors were here for three straight days a few weeks ago, I’m guessing at an incoming triplex-plus-coachhouse.

Now, I’m not the best heritage advocate. Particularly since I’ve been rabble-rousing all year to get my kids’ death-trap of a school upgraded, which in this case likely means “rebuilt.” (Yes, those are asbestos tags in the kindergarten classroom. Thanks, Rachel, for the photo.)

asbestos

I’m also living in a relatively new duplex which replaced the lovely brown home in this photo:

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 12.42.12 PM

But, it’s hard to watch old buildings disappear. Especially when the building has family history.

This home, at 39th and Blenheim, was once a private nursing home owned by my grandparents. My mom was fairly horrified to drive by during a recent Vancouver visit and see the building in its current state.

blenheim1

The good news: because it’s a heritage building, it can’t be completely torn down. From what I’ve read, there’s hope it will be bought and converted into luxury suites.

blenheim3

Original owner William Morrisette probably didn’t have the granite countertop option, but with his love of verandas and columns, maybe he would have approved.

If I had a million (billion?) dollars, I’d snap it up and restore it’s faded glory!

Best moments

I’m going to stop talking about the TWUC AGM soon, but I wanted to share a few favourite moments:

Watching Margriet Ruurs knit during panel discussions. This is a woman who travels the world, writes books, runs a bed and breakfast, stays active in the writing community… and knits. Women truly are amazing multi-taskers.

Hearing Thad McIlroy say, “don’t be defensive; it attracts predators.” A quirky way of telling people to embrace change.

Listening to Cynara Geissler of Arsenal Pulp Press talk about being in “all spaces” — on-line, in print, in person — as a promotion strategy.

Noticing that most of the CWILL BC members at the conference — Linda Bailey, Margriet Ruurs, Caroline Adderson, Ellen Schwartz — were dressed in brown and turquoise. How did I miss that memo, and what was I doing in pink?

Marvelling that I could spend eight hours in a room that many writers and not have a single person ask about my rather black-and-yellow eye. I decided this was probably because they were all IMAGINING their own scenarios… how frightening.

Admiring the dedication of all those people who spend hours studying things like lending rights and copyright.