Wildwood by Elinor Florence

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about Molly and her young daughter Bridget, who move from Phoenix to rural Alberta, Canada when Molly inherits a farm from her great aunt. Molly has just been laid off from her accounting job during the recent recession, and worries about four-year-old Bridget, who is extremely shy. The inheritance is contingent on Molly living on the farm for a year, including the long cold winter. Molly’s aunt left a journal about her life on the farm in 1924, as well as old photos, a cookbook, and other keepsakes. Molly and Bridget learn to live off the grid in the old farm house with a wood stove and a pump on the kitchen sink, driving a truck into town monthly to shop and use the internet. In the past, Mary Margaret and her husband are homesteaders, living in a large foursquare house built from a catalogue kit. There is a wonderful sense of place and very likable characters, although a romantic subplot isn’t well-developed. The author’s website has numerous photos that inspired the book, which is suggested for readers who enjoy character-focused novels or fiction set in rural North America. Enjoy!


The River

The River by Peter Heller

Best friends Jack and Wynn are launched on the adventure of a lifetime, canoeing the remote Maskwa River in Canada. They will have idyllic moments of camping, fishing, stargazing, and discussing books. But mostly it will be a desperate race for survival, with an approaching wildfire, rapids to run or portage around, and an increasing threat of violence from bear or man. Wynn is large and optimistic while Jack is wary and no stranger to tragedy. They’re well-prepared, until they lose some gear and rescue an injured woman. This compelling, action-packed novel is almost impossible to put down, and is a stunning, memorable read.


Kingdom of the Blind

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Three people are asked to be executors for the estate of a woman they never met. Young Benedict is a builder, Armand Gamache is the head of the Surêté, currently suspended, and Myrna is a psychologist who owns a bookstore in Three Pines, Québec. Bertha was a cleaning woman who called herself the Baroness, and may or may not have left millions to her three children. A blizzard strands Benedict in Three Pines, where there are several wonderful food-centered scenes. These scenes provide a relief of tension in a rather dark entry in this award-winning mystery series. Gamache is trying to trace a shipment of deadly opioids before it arrives on the streets of Montreal. He doesn’t share all his secrets with his assistants Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste, who’s slowly recovering from injuries sustained in the previous book. The scene I found most riveting is a house collapsing with people inside. Some story lines from previous books are wrapped up here, while some new developments may take this series in an unexpected direction. Suggested for mystery readers who enjoy cunning plots with very well-developed characters. The first book in the series is Still Life.


Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

A remarkable book to savor, about the remarkable journeys made by young Washington, from boyhood on a sugar plantation in Barbados, fleeing by airship and boat to Virginia then following a scientist to the Canadian Arctic. A young slave born in 1830 who doesn’t know his mother’s name, Wash is loaned to his master’s brother Christopher, a scientist building an airship. Pursued by a bounty hunter to the United States, Wash becomes a gifted illustrator and develops a fascination for marine life. Wondering why he was chosen and abandoned propels loyal, curious Wash from the Canadian Artic to Nova Scotia and eventually to London, Amsterdam, and a desert to find his answers. Compelling but not a fast read, character-driven but with a wonderful sense of place, this award-winning novel is one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.




Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox

Porter Fox spent three years exploring the northern border of the lower forty-eight states with Canada. Raised in Maine, he begins in the waters off the coast of Maine and travels the 4,000 mile border by canoe, freighter, car, and on foot. Along the way to the Peace Arch in Blaine, Washington, he describes the scenery and history of the border region, and talks with many of the border residents, border patrol agents, and visits the Standing Rock pipeline protestors in North Dakota. Some border residents have been used to commuting across the border for work, school, or shopping and are finding the border harder to cross in recent years. Some of the most interesting chapters were a freighter voyage across four of the Great Lakes and canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters. I found this book to be a good mix of history, scenery, and armchair travel.

Marilla of Green Gables

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

As a third generation fan of Anne Shirley, beginning with my Canadian grandmother, it was a real pleasure to read her Aunt Marilla’s story about growing up on Prince Edward Island in the 1830s and 1840s. Fans of Green Gables will enjoy spending more time in Avonlea, getting to know Matthew, Marilla’s brother, as a young farmer, and learning some Canadian history, including the role of the Underground Railroad in eastern Canada. Marilla meets her aunt Izzy, a dressmaker, makes friends with John Blythe and Rachel, and visits an orphanage. Knowing that Marilla never married made it a little sad to read about her one romance, and you never learn why Anne has to wait for her puffed sleeves, but overall a very enjoyable gentle read.


Louise Penny and A Great Reckoning

Have you heard of Louise Penny, the Canadian  author of the Armand Gamache mysteries set in Québec? If not, great-reckoning-jacketthen you probably didn’t spend up to an hour standing in a line that wrapped around the block waiting to see her talk about her brand-new book, A Great Reckoning. That was the scene recently in Naperville, when seven or eight hundred fans (including my sister and me) paid and waited to get a signed copy of her 12th book. The author event was great, including an interview of Louise Penny by mystery author Charles Finch, who writes Victorian era mysteries, and plenty of time for questions from the audience. There was much laughter at some answers, and a fascinating look at how hard it is to write a second novel when the first one took you five years or more. It’s truly remarkable that Louise Penny has kept up the excellent quality of her writing for twelve books in a series, including intricate plotting and characters who seem absolutely real.

The first book in the series is Still Life, if you need an introduction to this award-winning series. Three Pines is a tiny village in Québec, near the Vermont border. Only dial-up internet is available, and the town is missing from maps of Québec. In A Great Reckoning,  Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have recently moved to Three Pines, where several of his former cases have led. Now Gamache is the Commander of Québec’s Sûreté Academy, training police officers. The previous administration was corrupt and recent graduates have shown tendencies of cruelty. With a combination of new and current teachers, Gamache tries to reform the Academy. When there is a murder, no one mourns for the victim, but Gamache takes four cadets close to the victim back to Three Pines for safety and to continue investigating a map found in the walls of the local bistro. With links to World War I and plenty of scenes with the unforgettably unique villagers (including a possibly mad poet and her pet duck), this is a very satisfying yet suspenseful mystery that Louise Penny fans will savor. I’m not sharing many plot details, lest I spoil your reading experience. My sister wouldn’t tell me anything about the book until I’d read it, but thankfully she finished our shared copy in only two days. Already finished the series and hungry for more about Three Pines? Recipes based on the books can be found here. And as a follow-up treat, my Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing Charles Finch’s first mystery, A Beautiful Blue Death, in November. Happy reading, or bon appétit!


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

chimney jacketAs Chimney Sweepers Comes to Dust by Alan Bradley

Only Flavia de Luce, amateur detective and chemist, would be happy to have a long dead body fall out of the chimney in her bedroom. Flavia has reluctantly left England to attend boarding school in Toronto, and it’s clear that her sleuthing skills will be needed. Three girls have reportedly gone missing in the last few years, and everyone seems to be keeping secrets. I would have liked more classroom and dining room scenes, and more news from her home in England, but Flavia is as curious and clever as ever. Flavia’s late mother attended Miss Bodycote’s Academy. The teachers remember her mother, and may even induct Flavia into the Nide. a secret society. New to Flavia’s award-winning mysteries? Start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, set in 1950 at Bishop’s Lacey, England. Read all seven books and can’t wait for the final three books to be published? Visit Media on Demand to read the digital short story The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse.

How The Light Gets In

how the light jacketHow the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

In wintry Three Pines, bookseller and retired psychologist Myrna is worried when her friend Constance doesn’t arrive for a Christmas visit. She reaches out to Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec for help. Gamache and Inspector Isabelle Lacoste find that Constance Pineault, 79, has been killed at her home in Montréal. When Myrna reveals Constance’s true identity as the last of the Ouellet Quintuplets, the mystery is only beginning. At the Sûreté, things are not well. Most of Gamache’s homicide department has been reassigned, and he’s thinking of announcing his retirement. Jean Guy, his assistant, is desperately unhappy and is working for Gamache’s nemesis, Superintendent Francoeur, who may be involved in a dangerous conspiracy. As Gamache and Lacoste race to solve one mystery, other friends are looking for information on what Francoeur is plotting, and retreat to Three Pines for safety, possibly jeopardizing everyone in the small village. Gamache knows that the danger could come from young Agent Yvette Nichol, needed for her computer skills. Eccentric poet Ruth Zardo plays a larger role than usual, along with her pet duck, Rosa. The story of the quintuplets and their parents is fascinating, and a nice contrast to the tension of the unfolding conspiracy. I listened to the audiobook, recorded by Ralph Cosham, and both couldn’t wait to find out what happened and hoped the book would never end, and with it, another treasured visit to Three Pines. This may be the best book yet in the award-winning series that begins with Still Life.



Canada by Richard Ford

This novel is as bleak, austere, and desolate as the featureless plains that stretch between Great Falls, Montana and Port Royal, Saskatchewan, Canada, where most of the events in the book take place. The main character is Dell Parsons, a fifteen year old boy, an army brat who has moved all over America with his father, Bev Parsons, his mother Geneva, and his twin sister Berner. At the beginning we encounter Dell and family living in Great Falls, Montana where Bev is enlisted in the Air Force and works at the nearby air base. His mother Geneva (called Neeva) is a substitute teacher at a local school district.

Things really aren’t going very well for this family.  It was a shotgun wedding for the parents, and they don’t get along.  Dell tries to keep his wits while around him the family is disintegrating.  Bev, the father gets involved in some illegal activities with the local Indians, and from there events take a turn for the worse. The parents are involved in a botched robbery attempt and Dell and his sister find themselves cast out into a hostile world.  They separate and go to their quite different fates. With the parents in prison Dell is sent by family to live with a distant relative in Fort Royal, Saskatchewan.  This move is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. In Fort Royal, he meets Arthur Remlinger, a dark, foreboding, and slightly sinister hotel owner and raconteur.  Arthur has a lot of secrets that he wants to keep secret.  He takes a liking to Dell if only for sinister purposes.

The novel is written from the point of view of Dell after fifty years have passed, and the events in the story have faded into the haze of history.  As he puts it “what I know is, you have a better chance in life, –of surviving it—if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be cynical through it all, to subordinate as Ruskin implied, to keep proportion, to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly good is often not simple to find.  We try, as my sister said.  We try. All of us. We try.”

I tried this book because the setting reminded me of books by Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948, which I had enjoyed. I actually finished this book which is a good sign, but it was a real downer. I agree with one of the reviewers on Amazon who stated: “While the basic story is very interesting, too much of the book is taken up with descriptions and un-necessary details.”