Tagged: CanLit

The Shore Girl by Fran Kimmel


My rating: 4/5 stars

Rebee Shore’s life is fragmented. She’s forever on the move, ricocheting around Alberta, guided less than capably by her dysfunctional mother Elizabeth. “The Shore Girl” follows Rebee from her toddler to her teen years as she grapples with her mother’s fears and addictions, and her own desire for a normal life. Through a series of narrators–family, friends, teachers, strangers, and Rebee herself–her family’s dark past, and the core of her mother’s despair, are slowly revealed

The first sentence in the synopsis is bang on. Rebee Shore’s life is fragmented. So was my reading experience. So is this review.

I’ve been paralyzed for six months in writing this review. The reasons are uninteresting, but most come down to the fact that I don’t quite know what to make of the book. I enjoyed it, but my reactions were a little strange. Like how I didn’t cry while reading, despite many tragic circumstances, but cried suddenly and heartily upon finishing the last page. Because I was going to miss the characters? Because I had a bad feeling about the main character, Rebee? I think it was supposed to be a optimistic ending, but I had this sinking feeling…

I can tell you now that I’m all grown up, that I don’t need a mother to keep me safe. That might be a lie.

Continue reading


After Alice by Karen Hofmann

After Alice by Karen Hoffman | Published in 2014 by NeWest Press| Source: Review copy from the publisher

After Alice by Karen Hofmann | Published in 2014 by NeWest Press| Source: Review copy from the publisher

My rating: 4/5 stars

Having escaped the place in her youth, retired professor Sidonie von Taler returns to her ancestral Okanagan valley orchards still very much in the shadow of her deceased older sister Alice.

As she sifts through the detritus of her family history, Sidonie is haunted by memories of trauma and triumph in equal measure, and must reconcile past and present while reconnecting with the people she left behind.

Karen Hofmann’s debut novel blends a poetic sensibility with issues of land stewardship, social stratification and colonialism. Her eye for period detail and characterization is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin” or Margaret Laurence’s “The Stone Angel,” while her lyrical realization of bygone B.C. pastoralia recalls the work of George Bowering.

The blurb is right: After Alice reminded me of The Stone Angel, big time. This is good, because TSA is one of my favourite books, but it’s also bad, because nothing can really measure up. Eventually, I realized there are enough differences here for After Alice to stand on its own, majorly influenced by Laurence, perhaps, but not derivative.

Where The Stone Angel fascinated me with it portrayal of aging – of a woman aging, specifically, and reverting back to childhood impulsiveness and petulance – After Alice frightened me. Hagar was 90, an age one may or may not reach, but Sidonie is in her 60s, and her stubbornness, her ambivalence towards her nephews and nieces (which reminded me of Hagar’s hate-on for Martin,) the creeping suspicion that she had mattered too little, had left no mark – is too close for comfort.

Sidonie’s retreat to her abandoned childhood home and subsequent illness are very reminiscent of Hagar’s journey into the wilderness. It may just be a coincidence, but I recently read yet another book with the “aging woman wanders into wildness, is stranded, and reflects on life” thing (Malarky, review forthcoming.) Is this becoming a cliche? It is effective though.

There are also shades of The Grapes of Wrath in the plight of the seasonal workers, both necessary and marginal. The reverse colonization, where Japanese labourers are brought in, during Sidonie’s childhood, is contrasted with present-day gentrification.

After Alice isn’t just about aging and pastoral scenes. It’s about importance of relationships, or sometimes, the lack of importance. I was struck by how few words are given to the recounting of Sidonie’s married years. The fact that Sidonie’s married life wasn’t central to her story was unexpected and I don’t know what that says about me, but it certainly conveys that Sidonie is an unconventional character given her age and background.

Hofmann is really effective in revealing the ambivalence in close blood relations – siblings, children, cousins.  The sisters, Alice and Sidonie, especially. After sniping at each other in a way that is horribly recognizable, Alice lets her guard down for just a moment and Sidonie realized she doesn’t know her sister anymore:

“I pity you,” Sidonie says… “because you’re married to Buck, who, everyone knows, is a drunk and a bum, and you’ll always be poor and have black eyes and get fat.”

And then Alice opens her mouth in a sort of grin that is also a snarl, a rictus, and Sidonie sees what Alice has been hiding with her hand, her tight-lipped speech. Both of Alice’s upper eyeteeth are gone, pulled out, and dark spaces agape. Alice is missing teeth. How has this happened?

I was also fascinated by Alice as a mother, disgusted with her deaf child Claire; and how Sidonie related to Claire after Alice was gone, and then, in the present day, how Sidonie placed so many hopes on Claire’s child, teenager Justin. The portrayal of Justin and his two teenage cousins was great. They are at times sulky, entitled and “emo” but then suddenly caring and resourceful. The kids gave this book a hopeful tone that I welcomed, after the slow revealing of Alice’s death and Sidonie’s childhood trauma.

That slow reveal is so well done. Hofmann tells a story over many generations and places and not only makes it coherent, but makes you want, no, need to know more. Not a lot happens in the present, but after the halfway point, actually, right around the point of that excerpt, I needed to know. What happened to Alice?  To Sidonie? Who was to blame? How did they seemingly end up trading fates?

After Alice has the makings of a CanLit classic, with complex characters, heavy themes done with a light touch, and expert pacing. Did I mention that this is Karen Hofmann’s first novel? I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Thank you to NeWest Press for the review copy!

For an amazing review of After Alice, check out Pickle Me This.

2014 Preview: Diversity, CanLit, Classics, and Second Chances

I’m still catching up on 2013 reviews, but 2014 reading is well underway. Here’s what you can expect this year on Reading in Bed.

I am pretty dismayed that off all the books I read last year, only 12% were by authors of colour. Here are some of my current and planned reads that will help tip me over 25% this year:

orendabridgeofbeyondinside outsixmetres

  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. It’s my current read and HOLY CRAP IS IT GOOD.
  • The Bridge of the Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. nybooks.com says: “This is an intoxicating tale of love and wonder, mothers and daughters, spiritual values and the grim legacy of slavery on the French Antillean island of Guadeloupe.” Yeah. Plus, that cover.
  • Inside Out: Reflections on a Life So Far by Evelyn Lau. An excuse to write about how Lau’s first memoir, Runaway, changed my life.
  • Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor. My favourite calendar girl in Bare it for Books.

Follow book blogger Leonicka for lots of resources on diversity in Canadian literature. She’s going all out and reading 85% authors of colour this year!

Local Authors!
My next local read will likely be Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak. As for new #yegwrites stuff, so far I’m looking forward to Marina Endicott‘s fourth novel, Falling for Hugh and Laurence Miall‘s debut novel Blind Spot.

Here’s a great roundup of Edmonton books in 2014.

Apart from the Edmonton stuff, here’s my most anticipated CanLit:
frog musicthegirlwhocrimeagainstmy

  • Frog Music by Emma Donoghue. She’s got a way with titles. I loved Room and Slammerkin, so my expectations are high.
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill. I’ve been waiting eight years for O’Neill to write another book. Bring it on!
  • Crime Against My Brother by David Adams Richards. Apparently brings the main character of Mercy Among the Children back – one of my favourite books of all time.

I will also solider on with the Storytellers Book Club challenge. It helps that I won a set of all five books in their contest last year!

I haven’t forgotten about The Classics Club! In fact, I’m right on pace. I chose 50 books to read over five years, and approaching the one year mark, I’ve read eleven.

I’m also contemplating Behold the Star’s Russian Literature Challenge. Krisitlyn of Reading in Winter gave me War and Peace for Christmas, plus I hear reading Chekhov can improve your life.

Back from the DNF

tristramcovertinkerThe English Patient by Michael Odaantjehouseofsandfifthbusiness

I might set this one up as a challenge hosted here on the blog. I’ve abandoned a few books over the years, and this is the year I give them another shot. I’m including books that I straight up DNF’d (did not finish) and books that I finished, but didn’t really appreciate, often because I read them too young. Here is a sampling, with my excuses for not finishing in the first place. Watch for an introductory post soon (and if anyone wants to help me design a button, that would be cool…)

  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne: Pregnancy brain
  • Tinker Tailor Solider Spy by John LeCarre: Baby brain
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje: Too young. Attempted at 22 or so and got really lost.
  • The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubuois III: Too young. Read at age 20.
  • Fifth Business by Robertson Davies: Too young. Forced to read in high school, I hated it. Read a description of it recently and it sounds AMAZING.

This sounds like a lot of books, but I’m leaving room for random books, recommendations, read-alongs, and review books; you know, the four Rs. 

Obligatory end-of-post question: what are YOU planning to read this year?


Eat It edited by Nicole Baute and Brianna Goldberg


Eat It: Sex, Food and Women’s Writing edited by Nicole Baute and Brianna Goldberg | Published in 2013 by Feathertale | Source: Review copy from editor

My rating: 4/5 stars


What’s the best way to poison one’s husband? What happens when the body itself becomes a source of food? Can a potato be political? EAT IT ’s contributors explore these questions and more with equal parts humour and gravitas, revealing that for many women food is about love but also power, biology, social obligation, experimentation, nourishment, pain and pleasure.

My husband says that my sister and I are obsessed with food. It’s true that any time we’re together, the conversation tends toward it, but, isn’t it normal, almost necessary, to talk about something you do three, (okay, seven,) times a day? I suppose it’s true that a vegan (her, not me) always has more to consider and plan. But are we really that weird for talking about recipes and restaurants and our mutual crush on Chef at Home?

Eat It made me feel a little more normal. Here’s a whole bunch of people just talking about food, and writing poems about food, and imagining menus and remembering childhood meals. Of course, it’s not only about food. As the subtitle suggests, there’s more at play, and for women there are usually extra helpings (sorry) of guilt and shame on the one hand, and love and acceptance on the other.

Let’s address the all-women thing: this book isn’t *for* women. Anyone who enjoys a good short story or poem or creative non-fiction will get something out  of this. But I love that this book is written, edited, and published by women. I’m paraphrasing @snpsnpsnp (again!) when I say that feminism isn’t making stuff for women, it’s women making stuff, and so this right here is feminism in action!

The stories are grouped into sections that correspond to life stages. This made me wonder: what is it about relationship status and food? The ice cream for the single and broken hearted, the home cooked meal for the domesticated, pickles for the pregnant? Why are these images so enduring in our culture? I don’t have an answer after reading this book, but I do have a whole bunch of perspectives on food and life from some awesome writers.

Now, the stories: I have a few favourites to tell you about, but the whole collection is quite strong. There aren’t many big names; former Giller short lister Sarah Selecky is probably the biggest. The variety of forms and tones and voices is quite impressive for such a slim book. It really would have made a perfect stocking stuffer for my food-obsessed sister; I just wasn’t done reading yet.

  • “Pot Luck of Nutritional Tips” by Sara Hennesy. You may have seen Sara on Video on Trial, which I shame-watched regularly back before I had to worry about my kids repeating everything they hear. Her monologue had me laughing and nodding (“Slather my lady junk in yogurt for all the right reasons? Done and done.”) and it’s a pretty good commentary on the ridiculousness of media messages about women and food.
  • “A Lady’s Gotta Eat” is the story of one woman’s quest for the perfect hamburger and also maybe an orgasm? I don’t know, I was reading all sorts of stuff into this one.
  • “Left Over” by editor Nicole Baute is a very short piece about loss and remembrance and it made me cry.
  • “Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows” by Katie Daubs, for the title, and the first line, “Girls started dressing like sluts for Halloween in 1997,” because that was the first year I did it, too.
  • Stories about breastfeeding! There are two, one poignant and one hilarious. This is very relevant for me as my two year old nursling shows no signs of stopping, and even I, pro-breastfeeding, quasi-attachment parent, am questioning whether it’s time to shut it down. The whole “if he can ask for it, he’s too old” thing is clearly baloney, but where’s the pithy saying for a 35 pound toddler who motorboats you and screams “I need it,” because this was not covered in What To Expect. Uh, your mileage may vary on this one.

A note on how to find this book: it’s a little tricky, as it’s likely to be stocked with literary journals, but I’m told the easiest way to is to order online here. I would lend you mine, but it’s going to my sister next.

(Psst, Cait: I made Isa Chandra’s vegan chocolate cookies last night and they were amazing. It’s the molasses, I think. We ate them all, sorry.)

Thank you to the editors for providing a review copy of this book!

Reading in Bed Year in Review #4: Best Books and Blog Stats

I love statistics. You’re probably sick of them by now, what with the many end-of-year blog posts, but I love how they’re both meaningless and mean everything; how “numbers don’t lie” but they can tell whatever story we want them to tell. Here are the numbers that made up my year of reading.

…but first, a public service announcement: Goodreads has a sweet stats thiny that shows you how many books you’ve read, how many pages you’ve read, how you rated your books, and more! Go to “My Books,” then “stats” which is on the left side in tiny font, then click “details.” It’s magic! Here’s mine. You can also export your books to Excel to do EVEN MORE analysis – click “import/export” in that same tiny, left hand menu.

Books ReadFavs

  • Books read in 2013: 52 (Book a week!!)
  • Books read in first six months: 12
  • Books read in last six months: 40

I knew my reading picked up after I finished Moby-Dick this summer but I didn’t realize the extent till now. I never thought I’d read 50 books in a year, but it looks like I could reasonably go for 75 next year!

About the Author

  • 35 Female (67%) 16 male (31%) 1 various (2%)
  • 22 Canadian (42%) 16 American (31%) 9 British (17%) 2 French (4%) and 1 each: Columbian, Russian, Irish. 
  • 48 white (88%) 6 visible minority (12%)

I didn’t restrict myself to female authors this year, but I did stack the deck a bit by choosing female authors on the Classics Club list, and, by accepting review copies from independent presses – I have a feeling that female authors are over represented in smaller publishers. I won’t set any specific goals for next year, but I’d love to read more books by minorities.  I’m sure I’ll still read lots of CanLit, butI gotta read some more World Lit too, beyond the States and the UK. Anyone got any good world lit reading challenges happening? I’ll probably do the Russian Lit one but would love to broaden my horizons even further…

Genres and Lists

  • 18 classics (35%), 25 contemporary lit fic (48%), 3 non fiction (6%), 3 YA (6%), 2 romance (4%), 1 anthology (2%)
  • 11 1001 Books for a total of 115 read
  • 11 Classics Club picks for a total of 11


  • 10 five star reviews (19%), 19 four star reviews (37%), 14 three stars (27%), 3 two stars (6%), and 2 one star reviews (4%).

Compared to the average Goodreads rating…

  • I rated 22 books higher. The most underrated book was The Testament of Mary, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.56 rating.
  • I rated 28 books lower. The most overrated book was Dragon Bound, which I rated a 1, compared to average 4.19 rating.

Blog Stats


  • 17,000 page views in 2013. Compare that to 900 in 2011 and 3,500 in 2012. As Disco Stu would say, “if this trend continues, HEY!”
  • Most viewed post of 2013: What’s The Deal With Infinite Jest? It’s a year later and I still don’t know what the deal is! It’s funny because I wrote it in a very unplanned, stream of consciousness style, which I don’t often do. I’m just happy to share the WTFness and the DFW love.
  • Most viewed post that was actually written in 2013: The Fault in Our Stars: Use Your (Literary) Allusion. I get searches for “Fault in our stars allusions” on a daily basis, particularly in the summer, which tells me that a lot of students write papers on TFioS, and makes me realize how different writing papers must be these days.

And now, on to the good stuff: my best and worst reads of the year!

Continue reading

Storytellers Book Club #1: The Progress of Love by Alice Munro


For all the details on The Storytellers Book Club, see my introductory post or Douglas Gibson’s website

This update’s been a long time coming. I signed up for this CanLit challenge back in August. Alice Munro’s Nobel win inspired me to get cracking with The Progress of Love. I’m down to the wire here – I have till Dec. 31st to review a book club selection for a chance to win all five books, including selections from CanLit heavyweights Davies, MacLennan, MacLeod and Gallant. I’d tell you to get on it too, but with two days to go, you’re either in or you’re out by now!

The Progress of Love: Review
I was third in line for this book at the library for a couple of weeks, which is unusual for something published 25ish years ago. Must be that Nobel buzz! But you wouldn’t know this book is 25 years old. Munro’s stories are timeless, and you feel they could have been written 100 years as easily as 10 years ago.

The Progress of Love isn’t Munro’s most famous collection. It won the Governor General’s Award but her two Giller winners, The Love of a Good Woman and Runaway, seem to be the most well known. My only experience with Munro is Too Much Happiness, and with only that for a basis of comparison, The Progress of Love didn’t quite measure up. The first five stories were so good that the rest were slightly disappointing. My favourite was “Miles City, Montana” which shows us that the Mommy Wars are nothing new:

I had a dread of turning into a certain kind of mother – the kind whose body sagged, who moved in a woolly-smelling, milky-smelling fog, solemn with trivial burdens. I believed that all the attention these mothers paid, their need to be burdened, was the cause of colic, bed-wetting, asthma. Continue reading

Hellgoing by Lynn Coady

Hellgoing by Lynn Coady | Published in 2013 by Astoria | Paperback: 240 pages | Source: I bought it

Hellgoing by Lynn Coady | Published in 2013 by Astoria | Paperback: 240 pages | Source: I bought it

My rating: 4/5 stars


With astonishing range and depth, Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Lynn Coady gives us nine unforgettable new stories, each one of them grabbing our attention from the first line and resonating long after the last.

Equally adept at capturing the foibles and obsessions of men and of women, compassionate in her humour yet never missing an opportunity to make her characters squirm, fascinated as much by faithlessness as by faith, Lynn Coady is quite possibly the writer who best captures what it is to be human at this particular moment in our history

I apologize for posting the following self-congratulatory tweet, but for book bloggers, I don’t think it gets better than being acknowledged by an author you love. The Giller Prize’s Twitter account asked us to review a long-listed book in 13 words exactly:

Hellgoing Tweet

It’s true, though, “trapped” was the first word that came to mind after reading this collection. Reading these stories was uncomfortable and claustrophobic. I was literally squirming at times. Coady gets us so close to her characters, it’s almost embarrassing, and I have a real problem with vicarious embarrassment. I’m one of those people who have to change the channel when a character is too exposed, or being made a fool of.

The first and last stories were the strongest. Maybe that’s just primacy bias, or maybe it’s my own experience that made these stories devastating – the first is about an alcoholic, the second about a teenage pregnancy, both topics that tend to punch me in the gut.

“Wireless” opens with a hangover, and it’s one of the best descriptions of one I’ve read:

She lay flat on her back for twenty minutes, gauging the pain, the depth of her dehydration. The song in her ears. She sat up, and a second later her pickled brain slid back into its cradle in the centre of her cranium. Time to throw up.

I haven’t had a hangover in five years and reading that made me shudder. The whole story is disconnected and fuzzy, like that poor, pickled brain. What’s with the two mentions of Beanie Babies? What’s with the title? What’s the deal with Ned, the man Jane meets, another alcoholic who is lying to her for unknown reasons? We never find out.

The last story is “Mr. Hope,” and it’s another strange one. This is the one that really prompted my “uncomfortable” response. There’s something off about the whole thing and I can’t figure out what. Is it because the narrator refer’s to her teachers large belly as his “D,” as in the shape of a “D,” given the (gross) internet meme thing “she wants the D?” Because the way Mr. Hope interacts with the kids is kind of age inappropriate, and you wonder what else inappropriate is going on? Like this scene, where he is inexplicably trying to force a grade one class to come up with a definition for “love:”

“You: gap-tooth.”
“Love is when you hold a puppy.”
Mr. Hope slammed his fist against our sweet-faced grandma-teacher’s desk.
“LOVE IS NOT,” he bellowed, “WHEN YOU HOLD A PUPPY.”
Behind me, I could hear someone’s breath hitching rapidly in and out and I tried to shush whoever it was as quietly as I could.
“Where is it?” Mr. Hope demanded to know. “What is it? Think about that, people. You’re all so sure about this thing, and you can’t even answer the question. I’m not asking you when it is. A rock is a small hard round thing. Okay, that’s not great, but at least it’s a start. So what kind of thing is love? Big or little? Soft or hard? Black or white? Or coloured?”

And it gets more awkward from there. I reread this story in it’s entirety for this review, and it struck me differently this time. That’s the great thing about these stories – they’re ambiguous, not in an unresolved way, but in a way that you can read into differently each time.

A few of the other notable bits include:

  • A story that’s made the best use of texting I’ve encountered in fiction- and I know that’s quite a feat, have heard from authors who’ve set their stories in the past specifically to avoid having to deal with technology,
  • An Edmonton winter story that should have been in the 40 Below anthology; I know so because I drove myself nuts searching for it in my copy of 40 Below while writing my review,
  • Stories about self-harm, anorexia, self-doubt, and general dysfunction. Cheery stuff.

Some of these stories stuck with me. Some of them made little impression at all. I want to see what Coady can do with a novel-length story. I know, it’s probably a book-snobbish way to think, but it’s true. Rather than the recent and critically acclaimed The Antagonist, I want to start with Strange Heaven which sounds right up my alley. Another story about a teenage mom – I really should branch out.

The Giller Effect
Reviewing the book’s Goodreads page, I was surprised to see only 101 ratings. The Giller Prize was announced a few weeks ago, and the long and short lists have been out for months. I’m not sure if Goodreads ratings is a valid criteria, but it’s easy to do a few comparisons:

Past Five Giller Winners:

  • Hellgoing – 101 ratings
  • 419 – 4000 ratings
  • Half-Blood Blues – 6563 ratings
  • The Sentimentalists – 1691 ratings
  • The Bishop’s Man – 3187 ratings

The other 2013 shortlisted titles have around 100 ratings each too, so maybe they just need more time. Though somehow long-lister Claire Messud has nearly 10,000 ratings for The Woman Upstairs!

To ensure this wasn’t a Canada thing, I checked out the recent National Book Award recipient Good Lord Bird – 500ish ratings. Maybe people (or, more specifically, people who are active on Goodreads) don’t give a shit about award winners. Compare (and weep) with Dragon Bound’s 15,000 ratings.

As for whether or not Hellgoing  deserved to win, well, you’ll have to wait for my review of Caught for my final thoughts. I only read these two, so I can’t weigh in on the travesty of The Orenda not making the shortlist. Totally a coincidence that I read the two female authors on the shortlist too, I swear!


Snap Scene: Picture Me Reading

Apparently using memes and GIFs is a “controversial” technique for reviewing books. While I’m certainly not clutching my pearls over this (I’ve used memes and GIFs myself,)  I agree with the article’s assertion that they can be overused and just as cliche as calling a book “staggering” or “unflinching” or whatever.

So, maybe you should create your own visuals. Yeah, you can take a picture of your copy of the book, but that’s pretty boring too. Why not take things a little further and recreate an entire scene? Or take a picture of something that evokes the ambiance or the theme of the story? This is the idea behind Snap Scene, an Instagram project from Jessica Kluthe, author of Rosina, The Midwife (my review here.) From Kluthe’s website:

What is Snap Scene? It’s a simple concept. It offers another way for a reader to encounter a story/book/novel: through a photograph (a “Snap Scene”) that illustrates an otherwise text-only scene. It will offer the viewer some value by taking the viewer inside the story, the novel, the book, the essay…

If you’re a writer/author, this is a great chance to connect with some new readers. If you’re a bookworm, this is a great chance to find your next read.

What do you need to do? Stage a scene that illustrates a passage from a book/novel/story/essay. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you please. Along with the scene, in the caption below the photo I’d like to include 3 – 4 sentences from passage that inspired your Snap Scene.

Here’s an example Snap Scene of Love Letters of the Angels of Death, reviewed here not so long ago:

“I love how his headstone is so elegant and simple,” you say, defying the prejudices of no one in particular. “Remember that when you’re ordering one for me, Brigs. I don’t want anything too fussy–no statues or angels or lambs.” “I thought gravestone lambs were just for dead babies.” You’re turning away from me, waving one hand. “Everyone’s the same age in heaven.” – From Jenn Quist’s Love Letters of Angels of Death.| #author submitted #snapscene| http://www.jenniferquist.com

To date, Snap Scene’s contributors have mostly been local authors promoting their own books, but I think the potential for reader participation is huge. It’s a cool way to share what you’re reading and help other people discover a new book that’s a little more creative than #FridayReads. It also reminds me of wildly popular Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90201, where literary quotes are juxtaposed with pop culture images, so the appetite for this kind of thing is there. Continue reading

40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology edited by Jason Lee Norman

40 Below: Edmonton's Winter Anthology edited by Jason Lee Norman | Published in 2013 by Wufniks Press | Paperback: 205 pages | Source: Review copy from the editor

40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology edited by Jason Lee Norman | Published in 2013 by Wufniks Press | Paperback: 205 pages | Source: Review copy from the editor

My rating: 4/5 stars


40 Below is Edmonton’s Winter Anthology. Stories, poems, and essays about or inspired by winter in Edmonton.

Like many (most?) book bloggers, I have some writerly ambitions of my own. Last winter, I spent the tail end of my maternity leave picking away at a submission for the 40 Below anthology. There’s nothing like a new baby and a two-year-old to make you feel the isolation of an Edmonton winter, so my story wasn’t particularly positive. Nor was it particularly good. Earier this year I received a very nice, personalized rejection email from editor Jason Lee Norman (author of Americas, my review here.) I have absolutely no hard feelings (it was pretty bad) and really enjoyed the whole process of writing and revising. If nothing else, it gave me something to do at 2am other than the usual dead-eyed scrolling through Twitter.

I was excited to find out who did make the cut. It’s a who’s who of Edmonton writers, including a whole bunch who’ve been reviewed here on Reading in Bed: Michael Hingston, Jessica Kluthe, Diana Davisdon, and Jennifer Quist. Not that it’s all #yegwrites establishment. There are plenty of authors I’ve never heard of, and even a couple of kids. Variety is the strong point of the collection. With that in mind, here are a few of my picks:

  • Story that I related to on a personal level: Sirens by Diana Davidson. It actually resulted in a Twitter therapy session as two other Edmonton book bloggers and I read it around the same time. They both happen to be pregnant, and Davidson’s story is about a first-time mother struggling with postpartum depression in the dead of winter. I brought my first baby home in literal 40 Below weather and went through postpartum depression too. Davidson gets it just right and I was shaking at the end.
  • Favourite very short story, I’m talking 9 sentences: Moon Calling by Don Perkins. Mostly for the last sentence: “But that moment of the infant embracing its own future ripeness, that’s the moon that calls.” You have to read the other eight, trust me.
  • Story that’s really a parenting lesson: A Winter Lesson by Alan Schietzsch. That lesson? Go outside. Your kids don’t feel the cold.
  • Story that reminds you exactly of being a kid: Sandwich Season by Margaret MacPherson. Kids are weird and do weird things, just like in this story.
  • Story that I didn’t want to end: Conversation by Ky Perraun. I read it and then read it again because I need to know what happened!

This book is an obvious buy for anyone who is into the arts scene here in Edmonton, but I think it has some crossover appeal too. It’s actually a great gateway drug for people who don’t read short stories. The pieces tend to be very short, and the theme is very accessible, so it’s easy to dip in and out. It would be so cool if people in other Northern climates, or even those who don’t talk about wind chill for six month of the year, picked up this book. I’d love to read some non-local reactions. I also think it would make a great bathroom book and I mean that as a compliment.  I am very picky about what books are kept in my bathroom.

Oh and if you were wondering, my story was about my memories of New Years Eve 1997, when we got the first snow of the year and the temperature dropped from zero to minus twenty over the course of a few hours. I was out without a coat (because: teenager) and made a rash decision based on getting out of the cold that affected my life for years afterward. Maybe I’ll try to fix it up someday!

 I hear winter’s about to hit Edmonton this weekend. Should be plenty of snow on the ground for the two 40 Below launch events:

Thank you to the editor for sending me a review copy of this book!

PS: Reading in Winter reviewed it too. 

Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson

Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson | Published in 2013 by Brindle & Glass | Paperback: 288 pages | Source: Review copy from the author

Pilgrimage by Diana Davidson | Published in 2013 by Brindle & Glass | Paperback: 288 pages | Source: Review copy from the author

My rating: 3.5/5 stars


Pilgrimage opens in the deep winter of 1891 on the Métis settlement of Lac St. Anne. Known as Manito Sakahigan in Cree, “Spirit Lake” has been renamed for the patron saint of childbirth. It is here that people journey in search of tradition, redemption, and miracles.

On this harsh and beautiful land, four interconnected people try to make a life in the colonial Northwest: Mahkesîs Cardinal, a young Métis girl pregnant by the Hudson Bay Company manager; Moira Murphy, an Irish Catholic house girl working for the Barretts; Georgina Barrett, the Anglo-Irish wife of the hbc manager who wishes for a child; and Gabriel Cardinal, Mahkesîs’ brother, who works on the Athabasca river and falls in love with Moira. Intertwined by family, desire, secrets, and violence, the characters live one tumultuous year on the Lac St. Anne settlement; a year that ends with a woman’s body abandoned in a well.

Set in a brilliant northern landscape, Pilgrimage is a moving debut novel about journeys, and women and men trying to survive the violent intimacy of a small place where two cultures intersect.

If you ever need a reminder of why access to reliable birth control is so important, read this book. Today, women go on the pill in adolescence and have IUDs inserted as soon as postpartum healing allows. We send our partners to be “snipped” or we go to the corner store and choose from an array of gimmicky condoms of dubious “for her pleasure” claims. One hundred years ago, women were at the mercy of their fertility or lack thereof. Or, more to the point, they were at the mercy of the men that might make them pregnant. Diana Davidson takes us back in time, but not far from home, to tell us about three women whose lives were changed by pregnancy. Continue reading