I have thrown together a bunch of books I’ve been meaning to write about for ages but for various reasons haven’t done it yet. Not, as you will see, because I didn’t like them enough. It hurts me not to write about the books I’ve liked. But it’s tidy-up time at our house and I’ve got to get my stacks under control before my family members decide to take matters into their own hands.
Things Worth Burying by Matt Mayr (Baraka Books, 2020)
Joe and Sarah live in the north with their seven-year-old daughter Anna. Joe and the land are inseparable, but Sarah needs to get away. When Sarah leaves Joe for Toronto, Joe is given the opportunity to reflect on his past; his alcoholic father, his timid mother, his estranged brother, and the root of his anger. He is determined to get beyond his own anger and drinking to take care of his daughter.
Over the course of the book, Joe starts to come to terms with Sarah’s decision to leave and what it means for himself and for Anna. He starts to recognize that not everyone can survive in the north. He works to break the cycle of anger and addiction started by his grandfather. He brings up the question of fathers and sons versus fathers and daughters, which is the way things are in Joe’s world, and possibly the key to breaking the cycle.
My family legacy, I thought: the only things worth burying were whiskey and guns.
Things Worth Burying is a powerful story of abuse, addiction, family, and forgiveness. It explores questions of what it means to be a good parent in the face of tragedy, loss, and addiction, as well as the idea of loyalty versus doing what is right for oneself and one’s family. Enveloping it all is a strong sense of place and attachment to the land.
It’s the land that makes the person, never the other way around.
In the dead of winter, the bush slows to a standstill. Black trees and white snow and a deathly quiet except the howl of the wind, the grains of snow blowing across the hardened snowpack.
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor:
I think I would actually be okay with not writing about this one because so many other people have. So I’m just here to tell you that it’s as good as everyone else says it is. I could quote the whole book. I can’t wait to read more from him. It was Susan’s review in particular that put this one on my radar.
I loved the repeating cycle of seasons, year after year. It could have been boring and repetitive, but it was beautifully done. The nature happenings and village happenings are interwoven with no pause or distinction, lending just as much importance to the creatures and landscape as the humans in their village.
By the river a willow came down in a storm and carried on growing as though nothing had changed, the branches all bending slowly toward the sky.
The Sweetness in the Lime by Stephen Kimber (Nimbus/Vagrant Press, 2020)
“A mojito is like life… You must find the sweetness in the lime.”
The protagonist of Sweetness in the Lime is not quite so optimistic. He’s more likely to say things like: “Some days I liked my life better when I didn’t care” or “nothing good could come out of anything that seemed so good.”
Eli Cooper is a lonely, single, fifty-something copy editor who has just lost his job. And his father. Out of a sense of guilt, his sister gives him the gift of three weeks in Cuba to get away and have some fun. He goes, but does not expect to have any fun.
Eli decides to travel off the resort to Havana, where he meets Mariela, and suddenly he cares about life again. He no longer wants to be alone. “I had gone from alone but never lonely, to pathetically lonely and parenthetically alone.” By all accounts, his success with Mariela should be nil, but Mariela is tormented by her past and sees opportunity in Eli. Will it end in disaster, or happily ever after?
What I enjoyed most about this book was the portion of the story set in Havana. Eli spends his time there with an interesting cast of characters that help bring the city of Havana to life. And where Eli and his friends consume many mojitos.
The Rogue Wave by Paul Nicholas Mason (Now or Never Publishing, 2021)
Andrew and his fiancee Hannah are whale watching in the Bay of Fundy when their boat is hit by a rogue wave. Everyone is rescued and accounted for except for Hannah who is presumed drowned. Weeks later, a link to a video is sent to Andrew showing a woman who looks just like Hannah at a wedding in Mexico. Andrew hires a detective to get to the bottom of it. What follows is a fast-paced thriller that takes us from New Brunswick to Mexico to the UK and eventually back to Peterborough, Ontario. And just when you think it’s over, it isn’t.
Matthew’s first destination is New Brunswick, where he stays at the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea (a resort that is on my list-of-places-to-stay-once-my-kids-have-left-the-nest). It’s not long before Matthew realizes his life is in danger. In addition to his life being threatened, other strange and noteworthy things are happening: the same messages and characters show up over and over, and it becomes obvious that there may be supernatural elements at play. How does an ordinary detective measure up to the supernatural?
“You’re a modern man, my friend,” said his companion, “but I think you know that there is more to the world than what you can see and touch and taste.”
The Rogue Wave is a fun, suspenseful caper across North America and the United Kingdom. (I feel I should warn you, though… the cat doesn’t make it.)
On the Edge by Lesley Strutt (Inanna Publications, 2019)
When I finally picked up this book it was perfect timing, because it really hit the spot. And I was so excited to let Lelsey know how much I enjoyed her book. But, sadly, I discovered that Lesley Strutt is no longer with us. I hope her book helps to fuel readers’ imaginations for years to come.
Emma has been raised by her aunt and uncle on a farm near Kingston, Ontario. Her only friend is an elderly lady who teaches her how to sail – Emma loves to sail. After overhearing some mysterious talk about “protecting” Emma and “keeping her safe”, she finds out that her mother might be in the Bahamas. She escapes in the night from the farm ad takes the sailboat, determined to find her mother.
First Emma has to get through the Great Lakes canal system without being detected. She then has to overcome navigational mistakes and storms at sea while evading discovery, on her own without a passport. To make things even more stressful, by the time she reaches New York, she suspects someone is following her.
Emma finally gets it. She gets the enormity of what she has done. She can never go back. Never, as long as she lives.
I do love a good sea adventure, and this is a good one for all ages
Throw Down Your Shadows by Deborah Hemming (Nimbus/Vagrant Press, 2020)
Throw Down Your Shadows is set in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. Some of the words used to describe it in the blurbs are: compulsive, haunting, intoxicating, and enthralling – and I would agree with them all. Despite the fact that the main characters are a group of teens, I too was enthralled and unable to put the book down.
Life is going smoothly for Winnie and her group of friends–who she calls “my boys”–until Caleb comes along and insinuates himself into their group. They all feel drawn to him, like it or not. (“I hated him for having the ability to disgust and disarm me in the same moment.”) He seems to wield a strange power over the other kids, and is not afraid to take risks. But how far will he go? And how far will Winnie go to get her friends back?
His hand was a stop sign, but we mistook it for a green light.
I think what kept me hooked on this story was the psychological aspect; you know something sinister is going on, but you’re not sure how far it will go. We do know that there was a terrible fire, because the narrative alternates between ‘before the fire’ and ‘after the fire.’ The ‘before’ narrative works its way forward while the ‘after’ narrative works its way back, narrowing in on the truth of the event itself.
If Sylvie Had Nine Lives by Leona Theis (Freehand Books, 2020)
This book is for those of us who like to read about multiple lives – or wonder about how our own lives might have turned out. This can be a tricky thing to write about plausibly, and Leona Theis has done a lovely job of it. In fact, halfway through my notes I have jotted down, “What a delicious book. Same Sylvie, different choices. All equally plausible.”
As she danced, the image of a river came to her. A river branching into multiples of itself, no longer a single stream but a delta. And if her life were such a delta she might let the flow take her in a direction far from the current she was in now. If only there were more Sylvies, to ride the separate streams. The further she went, the further she’d be from herself. She could end up way down the shore, so far from this Sylvie,… that all she could do would be to wave, and hope to be seen.
At the beginning of the book, there is a “map” that looks very much like a river with separate streams to help you situate yourself as you read. The first story takes place in 1974 and the last in 2014, and sometimes there is more than one story for each year.
… it would be a treat to peek around door after door, but I don’ want to hear the one behind me slam shut.
In a way, each chapter reads like a short story with overlapping characters, except that each story is also a result of a different choice Sylvie has made in her life. So she often has some of the same people with or around her, but her relationship to them is not always the same. In one story she may be very close to a person while in another she only hears of them indirectly or from a distance.
Inside herself was another Sylvie, and the two of them had been in a wearying wrestling match for decades.
Which is the best life for Sylvie? That is up to you to decide.
Do any of these tempt you? Can you recommend anything that involves waves or fires or multiple lives?