Review

We interrupt your scheduled blog post for book-shaped hugs.

This week on #TheBookshelf, I *had* planned to share my review of Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

This is not that review.

(Next week, I promise. In the meantime, maybe pick up a copy of the book–or the most excellent audiobook. They’re both awesome, you won’t regret it.)

Instead, I wanted to share something else with you.

It’s been a week, hasn’t it? [Said everyone, every week, since March, 2020–or possibly before.] There’s a lot of hardship out there in the world. From the climate emergency to social injustice to the struggle to make ends meet, it’s a lot.

A LOT lot.

And I’ve got to say, humans, I’ve seen some not-so-nice behaviour from some of you.

There is a quote, often attributed to Robin Williams, that goes something like this: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

And that includes being kinder to yourself, my friend.

Sometimes, when you’re struggling–with your job, your spouse, your kids, your dreams, your life…even your own reflection–the tiniest scrap of light can make a huge difference. Sometimes that beam of light turns out to be the lighthouse that keeps you off the rocks. And sometimes, it takes someone who can say “I’ve been there, I am there, I see you,” to be that light.

This week, I’ve got two books to share with you whose authors know what it’s like to be on those reefs, and in these two small-but-mighty-volumes they share their thoughts on hope, life, and holding on to grace, even when you don’t feel like you can.

Keep Moving by Maggie Smith and The Comfort Book by Matt Haig.
The back cover blurb for Matt Haig’s The Comfort Book

First up is Matt Haig’s brand new release, The Comfort Book.

This book lives up to its name. It is written as a brilliant collection of thoughts, quotes, and lists. Rather like a scrapbook of hope.

Matt Haig is the author of numerous books for adults and children including his memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive; A Boy Called Christmas, which is about to be made into a movie; and his recent bestseller, The Midnight Library.

The Comfort Book is a bit different. It’s like a commonplace book–bursting with little bits of all sorts of marvelous things. You could read it from cover to cover or pick an entry at random and go from there.

No matter how you decide to go about reading this delightfully bright, tidy little book, the light pouring out of it is still just as brilliant. Basically, it’s a book full of hugs…book-shaped hugs!

Nothing is stronger than a small hope that doesn’t give up.

Matt Haig, The Comfort Book.

“For You” The dedication page from Keep Moving by Maggie Smith.

The second of our two books this week, is Keep Moving, Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by the poet Maggie Smith.

What began on social media as a collection of daily affirmations, encouragements, and self-directives–each one ending with the two words Keep moving–became this powerful story of overcoming struggle. Combining those social media posts with short segments of memoir, Maggie Smith has created a book that feels a bit like sitting down with a friend who has seriously seen some s&*t and having them say to you, “Look, whatever you’re dealing with, you can get through it and I’m going to be there to help you get through it.” And then they put the kettle on.

(Because isn’t that what we Brits do when s&*t gets real.)

Keep Moving is structured into three sections: “Revision”, “Resilience,” and “Transformation” and while you could dive in anywhere, it is a journey and best read from beginning to end. And it is a journey well worth taking.

Thank you for joining me on #TheBookshelf this week. Until next time, when I promise we’ll explore the deliciously written, mind-bending mysteries of Stuart Turton, I wish you book-shaped hugs and light when you need it most. Be kind.

[Click on the author names to learn more about Matt Haig and Maggie Smith.]

Featured image by PIRO4D from Pixabay. Book photos by Michelle Woodvine.

Review, Uncategorized

Read Indigenous

This week on #TheBookshelf, I’ve got some great reads for you by Indigenous poets and authors from all over Turtle Island.

There’s a lot I could say about the responsibilities of being part of a settler society, but if you’re here and reading this, then I’m guessing you already know much of what I might say, and you’ve already embarked on a learning journey of your own.

And if you haven’t, then maybe you can start your journey here.

We are never closer as people than when we walk a mile in another’s shoes. Reading fiction and non-fiction from cultures and experiences that are not our own allows us to do just that.

Stories have infinite power to connect us as human beings. Amplifying Indigenous voices–and promoting diversity in the arts as a whole–is important and necessary to us all.

Here are a few of the writers whose work–whose heart-breaking, heart-healing, exciting, hilarious, suspenseful poems and stories–I’ve either already read (and loved) or look forward to reading this summer!

Marilyn Dumont is an award winning poet and educator of Cree/Métis descent. One of my all-time favourite poems is her piece, “The Dimness of Mothers and Daughters” from her collection, Green Girl Dreams Mountains.

Excerpt from Marilyn Dumont’s “The Dimness of Mothers and Daughters” displayed at the Thunder Bay Marina. Photo credit: Michelle Woodvine

There is powerful magic in poetry and it always seems to find me just when I need it the most. I came across this piece shortly after my mother died, when her story–and mine–were all I could think about. These words wrote themselves into my bones. Here’s an excerpt of the poem, displayed at the revitalized Marina complex in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

You can read more about Ms. Dumont and her poetry collections here.

Joy Harjo is a poet of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in the United States. She is currently serving her second term as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate. I love her collection, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky and in particular, her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here.” For me and my family, the kitchen table has always been the most important place in our home, the place where we gather together at least once a day to share meals, to tackle homework, work on craft projects, to talk and share, to learn and celebrate and grieve. This poem captures the essence of family and of life itself–all in a single piece of furniture. Here’s an excerpt:

"The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.


We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.


It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
"

-Excerpt from "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo

Visit the Poetry Foundation here for the full poem.

Pick up Strangers by David Robertson at Indiebound

David A. Robertson is a prolific writer of picture books, graphic novels, YA novels, memoir, and more. He is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and currently lives in Winnipeg.

Strangers, released in 2017, and the first book in his Reckoners YA series, is near the top of my TBR list and based on the blurbs, is packed with intrigue, humour, and magic–I can’t wait to dive in!

His latest work (released in September 2020) is the graphic novel The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga, Book One) and has been called “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations.”

Yes, that sound you hear is my TBR list growing again!

Learn more about Robertson, his writing and his other books in this excellent Quill & Quire interview–or at his website.

Buy Motorcycles and Sweetgrass at Indiebound!

Drew Hayden Taylor, originally from Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario, is a jack-of-many creative trades–from playwright, to author of both fiction and non-fiction, to filmaker, and (not surprisingly) stand-up comedian. His book Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is one of my favourite reads, and is bursting with trickster magic, clever twists on Indigenous folklore, family drama, and loads of magic, charm, and love.

Come for the mystery, stay for the…raccoons. Yes, you heard me. As a Torontonian, I’ve long had my suspicions about those crafty critters…

Read more about Taylor’s work here.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse is a speculative fiction writer from the US, whose latest novel, Black Sun, has been nominated for the 2021 Hugo Award for best novel. (She has won the Hugo Award in the past, not to mention the Nebula, and the Locus, as well as the 2018 Astounding (Campbell) Award for Best New Writer.)

While Black Sun will be on my TBR list soon, it’s the author’s debut novel that I’m cueing up first.

Trail of Lightning came out in 2018. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters—and it is up to one young woman to unravel the mysteries of the past before they destroy the future.”

I mean, really. How have I not read this book already?! Oh, right. I’ve yet to find a job that pays me to read whatever I want all day. Ahhh…someday <cough> Tor.com <cough>. #dream #IDigress

Learn more about Ms. Roanhorse (she’s also written a middle grade novel for the Rick Riordan Presents series and a StarWars novel. I mean how freaking cool is that?!) at her website.

Last, but certainly not least, if you don’t live in Canada, you might not be aware of the national “Battle of the Books”–the literary Survivor–known as Canada Reads.

The 2021 Canada Reads winner was none other than Jonny Appleseed, a novel by the poet, Joshua Whitehead, a two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1).

Jonny Appleseed has been nominated for–or won–numerous awards and is described as “A tour-de-force debut novel about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to his reserve.”

Then I read the publisher’s blurb and was immediately hooked:

“You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine” is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling debut novel by poet Joshua Whitehead. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez”–and his former life–to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages–and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.

Sounds amazing, right? Seriously, my TBR list rocks so hard.

Wait, what was that? You’re looking for more?

Awesomesauce! Check out this fantastic round-up from CBC Books: 35 books to read for National Indigenous History Month. Covering adult fiction, non-fiction, YA, graphic novels, and poetry, this article includes links to some great interviews and loads of resources for further reading.

Happy reading!

(And if you lovely folks at Tor.com are looking for a nerdy reader/writer/editor/gamer/knitter/plant girl…well, you know where to find me.)

Review, Uncategorized

Creep factor

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
Cover design by Faceout Studio and Tim Green

This week on #TheBookshelf we delve into the deliciously creepy Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

I loved everything about this book. From the exceptional cover design by Faceout Studio and Tim Green, to the wonderful sense of dread that grows with every moment spent within its pages.

Warning: this book is un-putdownable.

At first glance, you might mistake 22-year-old Noemí Taboada as nothing more than a party-going socialite. But it soon becomes apparent that there’s a lot more to Noemí than meets the eye. Fiercely intelligent, she is determined find a way to further her education, despite her family’s reluctance.

Fate steps in when Noemí’s father, a wealthy industrialist, makes her an offer: he will allow her to attend the master’s program she has her sights set on, if she is willing to first travel to the remote mining town of El Triunfo and check on the well-being of her cousin, Catalina. It seems that Catalina, recently married to Virgil Doyle, in a match that doesn’t quite sit right with the family, has sent Noemí’s father a desperate and somewhat garbled letter that makes it pretty clear that all is not well with her. Out of concern, and (perhaps more so) in the hopes of avoiding any family scandal, Noemí’s father dispatches her to High Place, the ancestral home of the Doyle family.

The plot is insidiously clever, drawing you in even as a claustrophobic sense of dread blooms–only to then sink under your skin, spreading deeper and deeper until you grasp the true horror of High Place.

Noemí shines as a brilliant hero: smart, open-minded, brave, and with a big heart. Almost from the outset, you feel the impact of her victories and her setbacks as if they were your own.

Photo credit: Alex Iby, Unsplash

As for the setting, it’s almost a character unto itself. High Place, damp and neglected, perched on its lonely mountain, is overflowing with horrors inside and out–from the devastating history of English mining operations in the area, to the deadly cliffs and deep crevasses hiding in the mist. As truly isolating as any desolate moor.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing is wonderful, putting you into each scene without getting in its own way. If you’re a fan of gothic horror and/or fiercely intelligent, beautifully human heroes, don’t miss this brilliant book!

Spoiler alert! (select the rest of this line to view): you will never look at mushrooms the same again.

When you’ve read the book, check out this great interview with the author.

(Featured image credit: Pixabay)

Review

The Kids Are All Right

On #TheBookshelf this week is the wonderfully weird and slyly compelling Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson.

Twenty-eight-year-old Lillian is stuck—and seems destined to stay that way. Resigned to her fate, she lacks the energy to fight her way out of the hand she’s been dealt, comprising two dead-end jobs and her sweltering attic room in the house she shares with her coldly indifferent mother. A letter from her high school best friend, containing a job offer and money for a bus ticket to Tennessee, might be just the jolt she needs to change her life. And for once, Lillian decides to jump.

The job? Governess to her friend Madison’s stepchildren. The catch? The ten-year-old twins spontaneously combust when they are agitated. Madison and her husband need to keep the kids out of the limelight, so their “condition” doesn’t disrupt the carefully crafted trajectory of his political career.

What follows is a laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming story about finding your weirdos and making them your family…about discovering what matters most and deciding to fight for it—glorious flaws and all.

(Featured image: Pixabay)