From Breakwater Books: Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Italy, England, sisters, shipwrecks, and yoga

Breakwater Books is an amazing independent publisher located in St. John’s, Newfoundland. They have sent me so many wonderful books over the years:

Here are four more!

Settings: Newfoundland, Ontario, Italy, and Prince Edward Island.

Such Miracles and Mischief by Trudy J. Morgan Cole

Below, the grey waves churned. She imagined the salt water soaking her clothes, her hair, dragging her down. It would be icy, but at least it would be over quickly.

To which she imagines her Aunt Tibby saying…

Hush now, don’t be making your life out to be some grand tragedy… Hundreds of people drown in shipwrecks every year, ’tis no great thing to go to the bottom of the sea.

The second book in The Cupids Trilogy (the first being A Roll of the Bones), I was anxiously awaiting it to find out about poor Nancy. Unfortunately, talking about what happened to her–the whole focus of the book–gives away events that take place at the end of the first book. So I will just say that it’s a delicious book, full of adventure: taking place in the early 1600s, journeying across the first three English colonies in North America–Newfoundland, Virginia, and Bermuda. There are storms and sea wrecks, pirates and romance. One of the characters runs into Pocahontas while in Virginia and gets caught up in her life with John Rolfe and their trip to England.

“If I ever see you again, my Kat, what a tale I will have to tell you!”

From the Author’s Note: “What interested me was: how did colonization appear to “ordinary” colonizers–not the leaders or influencers, but working-class people who move to the colonies to better their own situation? When confronted with the fact that their new home was being built on someone else’s land, how did they cope with this knowledge?

Instructor by Beth Follett

As with poetry–and the prose in this book is very much like poetry–I had to read this with a mind open to letting the words flow over me and make an impression, rather than try to figure out what every single word/sentence/paragraph meant. The story is written in fragments and the reader might sometimes need to take a moment to orient themselves to the time, place, and person. Excellent for readers who love character studies.

Ydessa is overwhelmed with grief after the death of her young husband. She decides to spend time at a cottage on the lake where his plane went down. She ends up staying for three months, during which time she spends a lot of time sleeping, drinking, and looking out her window. There are three other characters there who she interacts with from time to time, but it is Henry who is especially taken with her. Henry is an eight-year-old boy who is left to himself – his mother has died and his father copes by immersing himself in his bees. Ydessa is bewildered by Henry’s attention, but tries to be as kind as she can.

Her yearning for answers had filled him with something like a flashing signal, hard and bright. He wanted to pass this signal back to her, to give her something to preserve and safeguard her no matter where each of them might go, no matter the distance between them. She was flamboyant, seeking, arms opened wide, tanned and thin and beseeching, brown against a wide blue sky, with the August pines throwing out their pungent perfume. Tell me what to do, her arms said.

Fifteen years later, Ydessa is living peacefully–on her own–as a yoga instructor. “For fifteen years Henry has been her companion, Henry and the questions he used to ask. She returns to the breath, and the thoughts of Henry vanish.” This is when–as a man of twenty-five and decidedly unsettled–Henry finds her again. “She is nothing and almost everything he remembers.”

The world is immense, multiple, complex, sparkling, and shifting. Barrels of fossil fuel are burning, tons of carbon dioxide curling down through air, being absorbed into the atmosphere. Every day brings with it some newly extinct or threatened or endangered species, every day a pain in his chest becomes more pronounced on account of all he is forever saying goodbye to, infinitely becoming, infinitely passing away.

Most people aren’t very skilled at opening up fully at the crossroads where things happen. Art is good at that.

Love, Life by Bernadine Ann Teraz Stapleton

Love, Life is a short, sweet account of a Newfoundlander in Italy.

The cells in my body are turning inside out in paroxysms of ecstasy. I read the phrase “paroxysms of ecstasy” once in a Harlequin Romance but never believed such a thing to exist. Now I know it does exist. It is what happens when you inhale wine and pasta through your pores at the same time as doing Downward-Facing Dog. You discover that such a thing is possible, and you’re good at it.

Stapleton is searching: she’s searching for the “perfect Italian dress,” the Piazza Bernandini (“my very own piazza”) and for the 1856 Veiled Virgin. But most of all, she is searching for herself. In the past, she has been uncomfortable with herself: her weight (“Orange is the new black. Kale is the new spinach. Upper arms are the new vagina. Just another body part to keep hidden.”), her age (“Aging is the single greatest gift we are given at the moment we are born. And then we fight it all the way.”), and her sexual orientation (“When I was alive, I was dead. Now dead to my mother, I live.”). Her search is poetic, moving, and funny.

I’m discovering the search for my dream Sophia Loren dress is sweeter than actually finding the dress itself. There are many wonderful things about Italy that can only be found when lost, with the map turned upside down, and the even sweeter realization that although I’ll never pass this way again, I’ll wear these experiences upon my heart and face and hips. The most beautiful garment ever made. My body.

A favourite line: “There was a matching fifty-six dollar thong to go with the push-up bra. Which I bought. I put it on one night before I went to bed, and when I woke up in the morning, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I may need surgery.”

The Blue Moth Motel by Olivia Robinson

A very satisfying “sister” book, The Blue Moth Motel tells the story of two sisters growing up in an old motel on the outskirts of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Our entire lives were defined by that ramshackle building with its faded blue siding and crumbling swimming pool.

Their unconventional upbringing sets Norah and Ingrid apart from other children. Besides, they have each other – they are very close. And they have their mother and her partner as well as their grandmother, Ada, who owns the motel.

With a snap of white cotton, Elena unfurled the top sheet so it floated down on top of Ingrid, who watched as it fell. It felt like slipping beneath the surface of the pool, cool and refreshing. The sheet created a gentle whoosh and dust sparkled in the air.

When Ada brings a piano to the motel, the girls begin taking lessons. Norah is a natural on the piano, and Ingrid prefers to sing. After a while, they gain a reputation as a duo and are asked to perform at community events and weddings.

As close as the sisters are, they are also very different. Norah is content to stay at the motel, work at the local book store, and play music for herself. Ingrid has big dreams to get out of there and sing in front of large audiences.

The story alternates between Ingrid in present day England and the sisters growing up at the motel. After several years away, Ingrid receives an invitation from Norah to come for the Blue Moth Extravaganza she’s throwing at the motel. She hopes Ingrid won’t be able to refuse.

Music plays a big part in this novel, and I loved their girlish joy of it. They adored Julie Andrews and would spend a lot of time watching videos of her singing. They loved the 1993 concert in which she wore a gold leaf dress, in particular. (“My heart lifts as she stretches out her arms and twirls.”) They love Mary Poppins and sang “Stay Awake” when they snuck out of bed at night, which is the same song I used to sing to my kids when I put them to bed.

(Side Note: Mary Poppins was mentioned in three recent books I’ve read: The Blue Moth Motel, New Girl in Little Cove, and The Spoon Stealer. Obviously, everyone loves Mary Poppins!)

Literary references: Ingrid loves to read and gets caught up early in Virginia Woolf’s books. While in England, she visits Charleston regularly.

Smells: “The library smelled like musty books and old carpet and crayons.” And “The smell of Prince Edward Island in the summer was her favourite smell in the world. Earthy clay, sharp seaweed, and the hint of salt on the breeze.”

A favourite line: “The giant squid has long tentacles, eyes the size of basketballs, and three hearts… As Ingrid listened, she wondered what humans would be like if they had three hearts instead of only one.”

These are four very different books – do any of them tempt you?

What do you think humans would be like with three hearts instead of one? And do you have a favourite Mary Poppins song?

14 thoughts on “From Breakwater Books: Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Italy, England, sisters, shipwrecks, and yoga

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I think The Blue Moth Motel appeals most, but they all sound like fun. And it’s great to be able to support your local publishers. I love the Mary Poppins serendipity!

    • Naomi says:

      Breakwater Books has been so good to me over the years – and I still have several in my stacks I haven’t read yet!
      To continue the Mary Poppins theme, my daughter and I watched Saving Mr. Banks over her reading break. 🙂

  2. A Life in Books says:

    Instructor is the one that most appeals to me. The use of language sounds so interesting and I like the idea of Henry and Ydessa finding each other after such a long time.

  3. annelogan17 says:

    I love this focus on small presses that you and Marcie are doing! I also really enjoyed your observation re: colonizers, and how they felt about building a life on someone else’s land. It’s such a good question, and I don’t know if we will ever know the answer to that. I imagine they were told (False) stories about Indigenous peoples and taught to be afraid of them, but who really knows?

  4. Marcie McCauley says:

    They all sound good for different reading moods!

    Simultaneously three times as compassionate AND three times as cruel?

    And you KNOW what my favourite one is, but you’re just trying to make me spell it now, aren’t you?!?!?

  5. Marcie McCauley says:

    Heheh You mean the entire comment? I was just answering your questions, in order!

    But if you can’t guess my favourite Mary Poppins song, you’re not going to successfully make me spell that!

    • Naomi says:

      Ohhh! I forgot about my questions – I think you’re the only one who answered them! Now your comment makes perfect sense.
      My thought was more biological – that maybe we could live 3 times as long!
      I was going to choose a favourite song, but I really can’t. But I know what yours is now! Lol

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