My May Reads


The irises are in full bloom, the Rhodos are putting on a show, and the peony buds are swollen and poised to open. Spring took its time getting here, but then it seemed to arrive almost overnight, bringing hotter-than-normal temperatures and a rush of garden-related tasks. Everything seemed to sprout at once, including the weeds. I’ve been busy pulling them out (not all of them; I love to harvest nettles for tea), spreading five yards of fish compost and getting all the seedlings into the ground. Luckily, I can work in the garden after dinner these days. Or at least I can until the mosquitos come out (they seemed to arrive overnight too!), but by the time they show up, I’m ready to come inside and pick up a good book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.  

All Signs Point to Paris by Natasha Sizlo

The Dog I Loved by Susan Wilson

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

Number of Books I’ve Read in 2023: 29

Eclipse Season


On May 5th, the first lunar eclipse of 2023 happens and will be visible from Antarctica, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Though we won’t see it in North America, scientists here are still talking about it because studying eclipses helps them learn about the moon, and the sun and how they influence life here on Earth.  

Friday’s event is a penumbral eclipse when the moon passes deep into the outer part of the Earth’s shadow (known as the penumbra). By scientific calculation, this is the deepest penumbral eclipse we’ll have until September 2042.

Eclipses, as you probably know, always come in pairs. Friday’s lunar eclipse finishes the cycle which started with a solar eclipse two weeks ago, on April 19th. People who love astronomy (and astrology too) call this time of year eclipse season because the alignments that cause the eclipses to happen take slightly more than a month to play out.

There are many myths about eclipses. The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was the sign of angry Gods and the beginning of death and destruction. On a more positive note, Italians still believe that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colourful than flowers planted at any other time of the year.

Lunar eclipse myths can be somewhat frightening, with many ancient cultures interpreting the moon’s eclipse as wreaking ‘havoc in the sky’ and believing that the same havoc was destined to happen on Earth. The Batammaliba people from Togo and Benin in Africa have a different, more optimistic take. Their ancient myth tells them that the sun and moon are fighting and that eclipses are a natural time to come together and resolve old feuds and anger.

Authors have also been inspired by eclipses, sometimes using them as important plot elements. Consider A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain; Nightfall by Isaac Asimov; Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King; Eclipse and Shroud by John Banville. And for younger readers, Sunwing by Kenneth Oppel and Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass both utilize eclipses.

To me, eclipses signal change and new beginnings, which happens to fit perfectly with the start of spring. Happy Eclipse season!

My April Reads

Spring is flirting with us this year. Today, as I write this, it’s cool and drizzly. Last week we had hail! This week, I’m only now harvesting wild nettles to eat fresh and to dry for tea, something I normally do in mid to late March. And here it is virtually the end of April. However, the forecasters are calling for a warming trend, so by the time you read this, I could be heading to the garden and leaving my books behind. In the meantime, though, here’s what I’m currently reading.

The Man Who Came and Went by Joe Stillman

Moon Gardening by Matt Jackson

The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng

Books read to date in 2023: 24

Happy International Women’s Day


My mind is on power, my home electrical power and also the power of women. Here at home, we’re losing our power at breakfast on March 8th and we won’t  have it back until dinner (our local hydro authority has to replace a pole).  At the same time, March 8th is also International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate and honor powerful women. And what better way to do that than by reading a book written by or featuring powerful women? There are so many, though, that it’s hard to choose. So, rather than listing out just a few titles, I’m listing out a few links to give you more choice.

The titles selected by Off the Shelf highlight themes of resilience, friendship and family:

Over at Tolstoy Therapy, the titles are chosen to inspire courage:

And last but definitely not least, the Vancouver Public Library has curated a list of books (fiction and non-fiction) that address the issues of women’s rights from past to present:

Happy International Women’s Day!

It’s Going to the Dogs


Today, February 22, is National Walk the Dog Day. Our Luna doesn’t always chomp at the leash to head outside – she’s slowed down quite a bit the last little while – but we still take her for a morning walk every day. Or an early morning stroll, if I’m being honest. It’s one of my favourite things to do. It gives me a chance to connect with nature . . . with the other dogs who live around me (and with their humans!) . . .  and it deepens my connection with my sweet girl too. On a more pragmatic note, walking almost always shifts something in my mental hard drive, giving me a fresh perspective on life or on my current work in progress. Knowing I was coming home to write a blog on dog walking this morning, I began thinking about dogs in literature. There are many!

Lassie in Lassie Come-Home, written by Eric Knight, was the first to come to mind. Then Toto in The Wizard of Oz. by L. Frank Baum. And Clifford, The Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell. Buck in Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Nana in Peter Pan. More recently, young readers bonded with Winn-Dixie in Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie and Brodie in Dan Gemeinhart’s Good Dog.

I have a couple of dog-centric books on request from the library. One of them, London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency – a Memoir by Kate MacDougall, seems fitting for this week’s theme. I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m also looking forward to What the Dog Knows, a juvenile novel by Canadian author Sylvia McNicoll that came out late last year.

Who’s your favorite dog in literature? Or in life?

Perfectly Imperfect


I’m planning a trip to Japan. I’m not sure when I’ll go, but it’s on my longish short list of destinations to visit. “You must go in spring,” a friend told me the other day. “It’s a perfect time.”

Perfection seems to be the theme of the week. Maybe it’s the way the stars are aligning, or maybe February calls on our inner perfectionist, or maybe it’s simply coincidence. Whatever the reason, people seem to be tossing the idea of perfection around like happy celebrants tossing confetti at a wedding.

It’s starting to annoy me. Not the celebratory confetti thing; that sounds like fun. Although, having just googled confetti and the environment, I should probably find another simile. Or is it a metaphor? . . .

Now back from five minutes of checking the difference between simile and metaphor and thinking maybe I should scrap this idea entirely lest I make a mistake and write an imperfect blog.

There it is, the whole perfection/imperfection thing cropping up again.

Full disclosure: I have been known to have (cough, cough) perfectionistic tendencies, especially in a few areas of my life (those who know me well can stop laughing now). It’s a tendency I’m trying hard to overcome. That’s why my house is currently a mess (at least, that’s my excuse).

I didn’t start the week thinking about perfection. First, there was that conversation with a friend about Japan and the perfect time to go. Then there was an interview and tour I did for a feature on a new home build. The home is stunning. It could – and probably someday will – grace the cover of Architectural Digest Magazine. The word perfect was bandied about a lot during my tour, including a few apologies for areas that ‘weren’t quite perfect yet.’ Finally, there was a walk with friends where I learned that Bruce Springsteen has hair plugs (I’m not sure how I survived this long without knowing that, but amazingly I did). That morphed into a conversation about his plastic surgery which led someone to comment that they’d much rather watch him perform with a full head of hair and no wrinkles. He would be perfect that way.

We were walking in the woods when I learned about Springsteen. It had rained heavily overnight; the trail was muddy and littered with leaves. The trees around us were bent and twisted. Moss and Old Man’s Beard dangled haphazardly from the occasional branch, waiting for wind or a forager to carry it away.  Nothing about the view was perfect, yet it was perfect in its imperfection, as nature always is.

Our culture promotes the idea of perfection. We’re told everything can be improved: our bodies, homes, and relationships, to name only three. In the middle of writing this, I received an email from a local garden retailer extolling the virtues of the perfect patio plants now available to order. A few weeks ago, I learned that women in their thirties are getting Botox or ‘soft’ facelifts as a preventive measure to avoid ‘future imperfections.’

In Japan, they have something called wabi-sabi. An integral part of their culture, it’s the practice of celebrating and embracing imperfections. In fact, the Japanese have dedicated a 400-year-old art form – kintsugi – to putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. Kintsugi is designed to highlight the ‘scars’ and to create something more unique, more beautiful and even more resilient in spite of its apparent inadequacy. Many of the antique bowls used in the Japanese tea ceremony have cracks, uneven glazes and imperfect shapes. And they are highly prized for their supposed deficiencies.

When I write novels, I’m always careful to develop characters with flaws. Most writers I know are careful to do that too. We recognize at a deep level that flawed characters are more believable, more relatable, and more likeable. Yet it can be a real challenge to accept and let our own imperfections show.

That, I decided, was the lesson of this week. In a culture that favours the flawless, the perfect, the hair plugs or preventative Botox injections, I need to honour the beauty of imperfection. I need to let the housework go for a little longer still. Let the dirt collect a bit more in the corners. And I also need to book that trip to Japan. Even if I can’t figure out the perfect time to go.

My January Reads

 The volume of my reading last year was on the low end of average. I read about 85 books, slightly lower than my usual two books a week. I’m aiming to boost that number in 2023 but we’ll see. I want to increase my writing output, I have an overhaul in mind for a section of the garden, and I have plans to study and travel this year too. So many opportunities . . . and so many books to read! In fact, six of the books I’d requested from the library arrived all at once last week, so the year is off to a good start that way. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food & Love From a Year in Paris by Ann Mah

Sensitive is the New Strong by Anita Moorjani

Books read to date in 2023: 4

My November Reads


The leaves are falling, and my neighborhood raccoons are feasting. Because of the cold, late spring, we didn’t get many apples or pears this year, and the fig tree outside our bedroom window set fruit late. So late, in fact, that most of the fruit didn’t mature. It’s no good to us, but the raccoons love it. They show up to the feast at about 2 am, activating our motion sensor light and waking us up. It didn’t take them long to strip the tree, but that didn’t seem to matter. Our yard is now a preferred stop on their middle-of-the-night rambles. We’re contemplating disconnecting our motion sensor light. In the meantime, there’s always a book beside the bed if we’re woken up. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

We Are the Light by Matthew Quick

Grow Now by Emily Murphy

The Sugar Thief by Nancy Mauro

Books read to date in 2022: 74

The Sound of Music


On November 16, 1959, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music debuted on Broadway. As many people know, it was based on a true story – the 1949 memoir of Maria von Trapp which told the story of the von Trapp family singers from Austria. But like most adaptations of true stories, liberties were taken in the stage (and later the movie) production.

For instance, did you know:

There were 10 von Trapp children, not seven, and Marie came as a tutor for one of the children rather than as a governess for all of them. As well, Maria and Captain von Trapp were married 11 years before the family left Austria. But perhaps the most significant historical inaccuracy was the film’s climactic ending, where the family escapes to Switzerland over the Alps as the Nazis invade Austria. In reality, the family pretended they were going on vacation to Italy by train the day before the Austrian borders were closed. And once they arrived in Italy, they made plans to travel to the US.

When it comes to fictionalizing memoirs or moments in time, it’s been said that emotional truths are more important than factual ones, and that seems to be the case for the von Trapps. Family members accepted virtually all of the liberties taken in telling the fictionalized version of their stepmother’s story, except for one. They didn’t like how their father was portrayed. In the first half of the movie and stage production, the patriarch is shown as a detached and often harsh taskmaster, when in fact, he was a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed the musical activities with his children.

That small quibble wasn’t enough to prevent the real Maria von Trapp from making a brief cameo appearance in the film version of The Sound of Music. If you look carefully, you can see her walking past an archway while Julie Andrews sings “I Have Confidence.”

But Is It . . .


. . . good?  

That’s the question all creatives ask themselves at one time or another. Whether we’re writing a book, painting a canvas, or creating a song, a sculpture, or even a garden, at some point, we all stop to wonder – is it good?

Readers want to know that too. Lately, I’ve been working a few days a week in the local bookstore in our little village. It’s been an interesting opportunity to learn about publishing from the book-selling side of the aisle. And something that happens regularly is customers come in and ask, ‘is this book good?’

It’s a challenging question to answer because good is difficult – I’d argue nearly impossible – to define. Must a book be an award winner to be deemed good? Must it be literary (whatever that means)? Does a likeable (or unlikeable) character make a book ‘good?’ Should a good book have lyrical prose or spare writing? Be a certain length? Have a linear plot line or one that’s more innovative? Does a good book deal with weighty subjects or sweep you away in a froth of escapism? Should it have a happy ending . . . an ambiguous ending . . . or an ending that makes you think?

Good, I’d argue, is subjective. For instance, I don’t like to eat anything custard-related, so no matter how well-prepared, I’d never find a crème Brule or a Spanish flan ‘good.’ One of my friends strongly dislikes yellow, so any garden with a lot of yellow isn’t good for her. Art – books – are different, you say? I don’t think so. Good, by definition, is open to individual taste, and even that can vary depending on timing and circumstances.

As an example, I always enjoy books by Lianne Moriarty. Yet a few years ago, when my dad was hospitalized, and I was dealing with multiple weighty issues around that, I had to put her novel Nine Perfect Strangers down. It’s a thriller with ten points of view, and it’s dark. I didn’t have the concentration to follow ten characters and a good read for me then was something more uplifting. Conversely, I’m not usually a fan of gothic or vampire novels, nor do I like New Orleans as a setting (I don’t know why), but years ago, I ripped through Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series and loved it. I don’t know if the novels would hold up for me today, but back then, I called them a good read.  

One of the definitions of good, as stated by The Cambridge Dictionary, is ‘being of a kind that is pleasing or enjoyable.’ For me, as a writer, that means being satisfied or pleased with what I produce and knowing it’s the best I can do at that moment. For me, as a reader, it means immersing myself in a story or narrative that enriches my life in some way, regardless of the techniques it uses to do that.

Good, in the end, is a feeling that’s hard to measure or define. But feeling is the keyword there. And in the words of Paul Sweeney, “You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you’ve said goodbye to a friend.”