May 31, 2011

2 years on

While walking through the grocery store parking lot tonight I overheard a mom say to her daughter (teenager) "You should read this book I'm reading." I wanted to reach over and tell that daughter to read the book. Take advantage of the moment. How many times did my mom say that to me? Seriously...a million times. And how many times did I read the book...not many. So, here I am aimlessly making my way through her bookcases, searching for that connection.

Two year after her passing...I have been reading, a lot. My husband and I never thought we would own a home with a library, but now we refer to the basement as the library. We check books in and out. He has made his way through a number of authors...currently stuck in a never ending P.D. James book.

The question of whether or not I have learned anything about my mother through reading these books isn't quite clear. I seriously cannot believe that when my parents divorced my mom didn't have a wild affair with a "no-good" per all the female detectives in her books. Of course it's entirely possible I just wasn't privy to this information.

I suppose what I have learned is that she really and truly loved mysteries. Maybe it was because, being an adopted child, her life was sort of a mystery. Maybe it's because she started a family at the young age of 18...adventures were not commonplace in her day to day life. I'm still searching for more clues in the pages of these books.

Do I like the same books as my mom? Maybe. If you asked me what genre of books I enjoy, I'm not certain I could answer. I float around. I am enjoying reading her books. I love putting them to good use. I love laughing at the little jokes, my heart racing at the thrilling moments and crying when everything falls apart. Finding comfort in knowing my mom felt the same emotions as she read the same words. What will I do if and when I ever finish reading her books? I'm not certain. I joke that they take up "too much room" in my house and at times it is oppressing. But how could I ever let go?

March 23, 2011

Old School Charlotte

Something drew me to the books by Charlotte MacLeod. Possibly the name Charlotte? It could have been the hand drawn artwork on the front jacket cover. Then there was the photo of Charlotte MacLeod herself on the back cover. The photo is of a lovely, hatted older woman, pouring a cup of tea from a delicate white china tea pot into a matching tea cup...very intriguing. What sort of mystery novel would a woman of her appearance write? Surely nothing too risque or too brutal (see Dean Koontz). Can you judge a book by its cover is the question?

Yes, you can!

I decided to begin my exploration of Ms. McLeod's novel's with her book titled "The Corpse in Oozak's Pond: A Peter Shandy Mystery." I enjoy, as did my mom apparently, a series of novels with the same detective. I enjoy watching the character evolve. So, why not start here?

Well, Charlotte did not disappoint. This novel is set in a small, rural college town, Balaclava Agricultural College, in north-eastern US. It involves the discovery of the body of an unknown man in the middle of the College's pond. Who is he, how did he end up there and why was he in the pond are the outstanding questions. Peter Shandy is a professor at the College who has taken the role of resident detective in this town. The novel moves S L O W L Y, ever so S L O W L Y. It is filled with conversations that frankly, aren't necessary. Unfortunately, as a reader I had no great desire to know what had happened to the corpse. No real connection was established between the dead man and the reader. No reason to care about the who and the why.

The same held true in the second novel of MacLeod's that I read "The Gladstone Bag". This novel followed an elderly woman, much like MacLeod herself, who stumbles onto a mysterious murdered man washed up on the beach on a private island in Maine. Sound familiar?

In an attempt to date these books, whose language is quite antiquated, I scanned the copyright page at the front of the book. While looking for the publication date I came across the "this is a fictional novel" disclaimer. I have never read this disclaimer before, assuming they all say the same thing. This was not the case. Here is what I found.

"Maine has many islands off its coast, and maybe even some private gold buried somewhere, because Maine is an enchanted state where anything can happen and often does. However, the place, the people and the events in this story are all, as the old folks used to say, made up out of whole cloth. There is, as far as the author has been able to discover, no island named Pocapuk outside these pages: and if any of the characters seem to resemble actual persons the reader knows, it's either coincidence or wishful thinking."

This quotation sums up MacLeod's attitude in her books. She uses humour in a slightly snobby and overtly witty way. Curious how my mom happened upon this author. What made her collect five of her books? To this point in my reading journey, I have found that my mom's books have been high drama, graphic and fast paced thrilling mysteries. Perhaps she was charmed by the female characters, or Charlotte MacLeod herself. That is understandable. Clearly you could see yourself sharing a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits with these old world women.

PS - When I was searching my mom's bookcase for the second MacLeod book to read...something in my mind told me to look for novels by Charlotte Webb. It was only when I returned upstairs and looked at the first book that I realized I had confused the book "Charlotte's Web" with the author Charlotte MacLeod! Duh?!

** photo sourced from

March 3, 2011

And the winner is...

The debates are over, and the decision has been made. The book that everyone in Canada should read, according to CBC Radio, is "Best Laid Plans" by Terry Fallis. Good news because I've already read it!

A few weeks before the debates were to be held I requested 2 tickets to the live taping of the debates. I got the tickets and invited my mother-in-law to come along. My mother-in-law has a passion for reading and had already read two of the books...I knew she was the perfect person to invite. After all she was the person who lent "The Best Laid Plans" to me well over a year ago.

Here is how our little adventure unfolded.

The tickets were for the Monday morning taping...the first of three days of debates. It was requested that we arrive an hour before the doors opened. The tapings were taking place at the CBC Broadcasting Centre, downtown Toronto. Since my mother-in-law lives in Hamilton, she spent the night at our place so we could get an early start Monday morning. The plan was to leave home at 7:30am...arrive at 8:30am...1 hour before the doors were set to open. The stars were aligned that morning., the streetcar arrived soon after we got to the stop. The ride downtown was uneventful. As we walked and chatted our way to the broadcast centre we laughed about how early we were arriving, just about 8:15am.

As we entered the building however, we were shocked to see a line, of mostly women, reaching almost to the door. We jumped in line and hoped that we wouldn't be bumped from attending. The tickets had come with a warning - they overbook for these tapings and some people would not get in...could we be those people? We stood and waited, and waited. Until finally a young woman came along and checked our names off the master list. As she stepped away from us, another woman joined her and brought along a stanchion. This second woman placed the stanchion directly behind us and informed the 20 or so people behind us, that they would be on stand-by...they might not get in! We made it! By the skin of our teeth.

Well, more waiting. By now it was 9:30. We had been standing in the same spot for over an hour. Our feet were sore, and we were beginning to wonder if we had been forgotten. Then the line started to move. We left the poor stand-byers behind, and marched toward the elevators. At the elevators, we were last in the door. Of course, this meant last one in...first one out. We moved up a few positions in line as a result of the elevator ride. Once upstairs, there was more waiting to be done. Almost another hour passed before we were let in the studio to find a seat.

The room was dark. The chairs were configured in a circle around the table and chairs, for the debaters in the middle of the room. We managed to find a spot for two people. We were sitting facing Jian Ghoemeshi...staring at a couple of the panelists backs.

The "warm-up" woman came out and told us the standard rules about bathroom breaks, or lack there of, and the need to CLAP and LAUGH LOUDLY. No problem! When she was done with her speech out came Jian. After his opening remarks and a quick question from the audience about his socks (Paul Frank socks) was time to introduce the celebrity panelists.

Ali Velshi - The Best Laid Plans
Lorne Cardinal - Unless
Debbie Travis - The Birth House
Georges Laraque - The Bone Cage
Sarah Quinn - Essex County

The debate began. If you would like to hear the debate from the first day follow this link. At the end of the hour it was obvious what the outcome would be...and it was confirmed with the final vote...Essex County was OUT. Essex Country is a graphic novel and according to the panel it was deemed to not be a "novel". Thus, it was eliminated.

Interestingly enough, when the recorded broadcast was completed Jian took questions and comments from the audience. I think the celebs were all taken aback by the overwhelming support for Essex County. The opinion that a "cartoon" cannot be considered great literature was not supported by the people in the crowd. The theory that this graphic novel can be seen as a "gateway" to reading was shunned by the panel, yet supported by the audience.

I have not read Essex County. It has just recently been added to the Toronto Public Library's catalogue...and there are 149 holds on 43 copies...I think I am around number 100.

Our experience was over. It was lunch time. Time to meet up with my bro-in-law and head to the food court for lunch.

As the next couple of days of debates progressed the panelists narrowed the list to "The Birth House" and "The Best Laid Plans". In the end "The Best Laid Plans" took the title. Both books I have read, and enjoyed. Do I agree with the final victor? I'm not sure. I understand that BLP is a fun, satirical look at Canadian politics, something we should all be more interested in. So, yes it is quintessentially Canadian. However, TBH is a beautiful historical novel..and to be honest after all the murderous and mysterious novels I have been reading of late (see my many previous posts) it was a nice distraction. I guess I believe that it wouldn't hurt for Canadians to read both novels.

Today I picked up "The Bone Cage" from the finished 4th. I'm curious to see if a novel about olympic athletes can pique my interest. We shall see.

PS - "The Best Laid Plans" began as a podcast...when author Terry Fallis couldn't find a publisher he decided to take matters into his own hands. You can listen to the chapter by chapter podcast at CBC's Canada Reads site.

** "The Best Laid Plans" book jacket image sourced from

February 2, 2011

No thanks Dean Koontz

I have more proof that I am a complete wimp...and my mom was possibly a sociopath. I attempted to read the Dean Koontz book "Whispers". By attempted I mean I read the first chapter. I am not keen on books that involve single women, alone at home, knife weilding men popping out of front hall closets, chases around a house, threats of rape and anything else that was in that chapter. While it ended with the woman threatening the man with a gun and him leaving...I'm not sold. It's pretty clear he will be back...and he will be crazier and better prepared!

About a gazillion people have read these I can't do it. I guess my fear is a testament to Dean Koontz ability to pull a reader into his novels with descriptive and compelling text. Do I get too emotionally involved in the books I read, perhaps. This is one situation where I wish I could ask my mom how she could read this stuff without being psychologically scared. Although, maybe she was?!

So, you can take your Dean Koontz books and keep them on the shelf...they are not for me. Too many nightmares and sleepless nights in my future if I read those. Crazily enough my mom owns about 10 different Koontz books! Seriously?!

I need a mental break...bring on the Sidney Sheldon...what will he bring to the table?

January 24, 2011

The Birth House

Well, I can see why Ami McKay's "The Birth House" was selected as a finalist for CBC Canada Reads this year. McKay captures a particular time and place in Canada quite vividly and lovingly. As someone who has not ventured to the east coast of Canada, I must say she painted a beautiful picture. Not beautiful in that it was all "sunshine and roses", but rather the beauty of hardworking people who embraced their landscape...their environment.

This novel weaves pieces of Canadian history through it's pages. Set in the days of WWI, and encompassing the great Hamilton explosion to the devastation of the Spanish Flu. I must say the passages that dealt with the Spanish Flu had me wondering why I hadn't made it to the doctor's office yet for my shot this year!?

All of these moments in history were wrapped around the story of Dora Rare, a young woman who unwittingly becomes the small rural community midwife. In the beginning she is apprehensive, timid. By the end of the novel, having lost her mentor and lived through the death of her husband, Dora stands as a pillar of strength for the community.

I must say the debate over midwifery versus modern medicine (aka hospital birth) still exists today. In the past midwifery was thought of as witchcraft - that belief is gone. The debate in the year 2011 revolves around safety. The safety of the baby and the mother. Is it compromised when children are born at home and not in a hospital setting? I don't dare wade into this discussion.

From personal experience I have two children and two very different birth stories. My first child was born in hospital...during the SARS scare of 2003! Not the best time to have a baby. Aside from the crazy restrictions...I didn't have a "comfortable" delivery. Long story short, the narcotics I elected to take instead of an epidural, made me sick. I became so weak they had to use an epidural and administer saline. Unfortunately, no one realized the saline was pooling in my legs...thus my legs were HUGE and HEAVY. After they stopped the saline, we could get on with the delivery. My daughter was born on a Friday...and the doctors wouldn't release me until they had my doctor's approval...who on Monday morning said "what are you still doing here?"

My second daughter was born in my home bathtub, with the assistance of a midwife. Reading this book I felt like this birth was similar to the ones in the novel. My daughter was overdue so I was taking Black Cohosh. When that didn't work and we were 24 hours away from my being admitted to hospital I said give me all you've got...let's get this baby outta here! And so my experience with castor oil began! It worked. A few hours later I had a little baby girl. My mom and my older daughter listening from the next room...and able to hold the babe minutes after her birth. What a different experience.

I often refer to women's labour and delivery stories as the female equivalent to a man's fishing tale. "I caught a fish this big! Really." But for women the story goes "It was this terrible..." I try not to tell my stories too often. It's hard for time not to distort your memory.

Anyhow, I did enjoy this novel. Is it the best novel of all time? Maybe not. Did it educate me about the difficulties of living in rural Nova Scotia in the early 1900's? Definately. I can't wait to listen to the debates on February 7th.

Have you read "The Birth House"...what did you think?

January 21, 2011

Taking it on the road

Well, I have my first journalism assignment. I'm taking my notebook on the road to the CBC Canada Reads debate on Monday February 7th. I've invited my mother in law to join me for the live taping of the first day of debates. Which means...I don't have very much time to finish reading the books.

"The Best Laid Plans" - done
"Unless" - done
"The Birth House" - in progress
"The Bone Cage" - on hold with TPL
"Essex County" - not available at TPL, going to have to buy

I'm getting there, one page at a time.

January 19, 2011

Take 2 and call me in the morning

What did you do with your afternoon? Really? Well, I finally got to that big box of my mom's prescription meds. You know the one that has been haunting my closet for the past 20 months!

It's true that along with clothing in my closet, I have drugs...and lots of them! Well, not anymore. This is a tough one. What do you do with all those expired pills? While I had an exceptionally large amount of could probably open your medicine cupboard and find at least one expired bottle of prescription poison. Whether it be those vitamins you didn't get to or your child's prescription of antibiotics from last years ear ache. So, what do we do with them?

Well, I know that throwing them in the trash is a HUGE mistake! Over time those little pills breakdown and seep their way into our watershed...effecting everyone's ponds, rivers, streams, lakes...drinking water. While your few pills might not seem very harmful, multiply them by everyone on your street, in your neighbourhood, in your city...we are talking about mass pollution! So, DO NOT PUT YOUR PILLS IN THE GARBAGE!

What about the good ol' theory of flushing those tablets down the toilet? One whoosh and they are gone for good. Nope. When George (Costanza that is ) said "they're all pipes" he wasn't really that wrong. Especially in our neighbourhood. When you flush the toilet, when your dishwasher drains, when your laundry tub drains and when your sinks drain...this water is all going to the same location. The destination is our city's combined sewer. In our neighbourhood's case, this sewer flows along collecting both sanitary water from our homes and rainwater from our streets. Therefore, when there is a large rainstorm our sewer can fill sending both sanitary and storm water into the lake! Yikes! A pleasant thought indeed. (cities do not build new combined sewer systems any longer, it's an out of date design)

Ideally, weather permitting, where does the water in the combined sewer end up? Well, the water from our streets (catch basins) flows, untreated, into Lake Ontario. Thus, the little painted fish around our catch basins are a friendly reminder that whatever you wash away into the catch basin will end up in our lake. The water from our homes flows to one of the city's waste water treatment plants where it is treated. Once treated it too is expelled into the lake. Unfortunately, some components of prescription medication cannot be broken down during the treatment process...thus potentially sending components of the pills you flush into the ecosystem. (Take a look at this to find out more about the treatment of wastewater in the City of Toronto's) FLUSHING IS NOT A SUITABLE OPTION.

Knowing this it was time to research what is the proper option. After a quick chat with a lady at the drug store I had my plan. Step 1, empty the pill containers into one clear, large Ziploc-type bag. Step 2, drop the bags of pills at the drugstore. Step 3, remove any identifiable information from the empty containers and throw them in the garbage (I couldn't find "prescription bottles" on the city's recycling list). That's it. Problem solved. Not too difficult at all.

Of course, I made this call about 19 months why wait? Why did I keep the drugs so long? Well, the usual excuse of "life is busy" does apply here. However, it might not be the only reason. I was in charge of the drugs when my mom was ill. I made a super awesome chart that clearly outlined when she was to take each drug, what it was for and what to take if that drug didn't work. I filled the weekly pill organizer. I went into her room every night to make sure she had taken her night time pills, and got her morning pills and water all set up on the table. I set her alarm and turned on the radio, so she could listen to the CBC as she fell asleep. That was one part of my role. Why I loved doing that nightly ritual was because I always got to get and give a hug and a kiss...say my "I love you" and "good night". Those ridiculous pills gave me those moments that I would pay any price to have back again. Now they are gone. Properly disposed of. My closet now only holds pants, shirts, shoes and the odd skeleton.