Etta and Otto and Russell and James (Can. Summer Reading Challenge Week 1)

Week 1 of my Canadian Summer Reading Challenge has ended.

I read Etta and Otto and Russell and James, the debut novel by Emma Hooper. I’ve been wanting to read this book since this interview popped up in my Twitter feed earlier this year, and I finally went out and bought a hardcover copy a few weeks ago. The concept of the novel appealed to me right away, from the moment I read Emma’s interview.

After reading reviews online and watching book vloggers from various parts of the world review it, I knew I had to read this quirky, Canadian novel. Following (guess who) Etta, Otto, Russell, and James, the 305-page book offers the readers a fresh, surreal, almost fantasy experience in watching 82-year-old Etta walk from Saskatchewan to Halifax to see the ocean.

I finished Etta and Otto and Russel and James. #amblogging #canadianreadingchallenge

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Living in mainland Nova Scotia, I’ve always been a mere hour’s drive away from the nearest beach, basin, or waterfront. My maternal grandparents loved the ocean, which my mother inherited, and sea shells, sea glass, and star fish have always been a part of the interior decor in my grandparents’ house and mine. Even though the ocean has never been a large financial or traditional part of my upbringing, I’ve always had access to the ocean through day trips, stories, and beach-themed bathrooms. Sometimes I forget that not every Canadian has a relationship with the ocean that I’ve grown up with.

My grandparents loved the ocean.

Etta’s desire to see the ocean for the first time in her eighty-two years of life is something I’ve never experienced, and never will, and it was lovely and enlightening to follow her desire across the majority of Canada.

Jumping back and forth from past to present, the novel blurs conventional storytelling in a beautiful, complex, confusing way that I thoroughly loved. There’s a lot of blank spaces for the readers to fill in for themselves–or maybe they’re left blank simply because it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t have to make sense, it just is.

The relationships between the characters are not defined so deeply in the novel so the reader knows exactly who they are and what they’ve gone through together. We’re given tidbits, teasers, and hints to keep us guessing. As Emma said in her interview,

“It’s meant to drift in and out of understanding a little bit, and it’s meant to make the reader not work but be involved so you can’t just sit back and be totally passive and just skim through on a surface level.”

We see little windows into Etta, Otto, and Russell’s past, but we miss the sixty-plus years between the time the war ends and Etta leaves for Halifax. We don’t know what happened between Etta and Otto, Etta and Russell, Russell and Otto. We’re left in the dark like a bystander rather than the intimate experience we as readers are used to having with the characters.

I really loved this novel for its unique format and style, and its habit of twisting cliches so you barely even notice the cliches, and I know I’m going to read it again. This is one of those books where you know you missed something the first (second, third) time around.

*Update: quick note on the end of the novel I forgot to add. I’ve heard mixed things from different people about how they feel about the novel’s end. While there is no obvious conclusion, and it’s left in the hands of the reader, there is a clever link to one of my favourite lines in the book. “It’s a loop, Otto. It’s just a long loop” (pg. 304). The book’s end could be its beginning. You could read it again and again in a long loop. Which I probably will.

So one week down, fourteen(ish) more to go! This week I’ll be reading Great Village by Mary Rose Donnelley.


Canadian Summer Reading Challenge 2015

April is the cruellest month.

There’s final papers, spring blizzards, sleep to lose, food to stress eat, and exams to study for (maybe even oral exams, if you’re a lucky student of the University of King’s College).

But it’s done. It’s over. I survived my first year of post secondary education at the oldest chartered university in North America.

I read hundreds of books from 2100 BCE to the 21st century. I read Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, de Beauvoir, Kant, Heidegger, and Arendt. I read until my eyes hurt and my brain stopped absorbing information.

During this year, as I squinted at the musings of many different dead white dudes mainly from central Europe, I began to miss the Canadian voice. The comforting, familiar humour, kind will, dependable dry wit, patriotism-inducing, big city buzz and small town silence of the Canadian voice is one I grew up with.

In recent months years the amount of Canadian authorship I’ve consumed has dwindled, partly because I have less free time than I used to, and partly because I’ve been trying to get as many pretentious-sounding classic novels under my belt as possible like a good little history nerd.

I’ve never read a Margaret Atwood novel for Pete’s sake. What kind of monster am I?

Over the winter I decided that summer 2015 would be dedicated to reading Canadian-written books (with special effort to read Canadian authors who are women and/or people of colour and/or Atlantic Canadian).

I hope to conquer one book a week until the end of August–this should put me at around 15 books (taking away one week for when I’m in the UK, and another for to allow for laziness the potentiality of day trips that will take momentary precedence).

Each week I’ll either write a blog, a series of tweets, or maybe EVEN A VIDEO WHO KNOWS? sharing my Canadian reading experiences. I don’t want to say I’ll be writing solid reviews for each one, but I’ll definitely share my thoughts about each little Canadian literary nugget that finds its way into my hands.

I also caved into getting an Instagram account, which I plan to be using as a visual extension of my blog. I’ll be posting what I’m reading as well as general attempts at making a square of pixels aesthetically pleasing.

Ashley's staff pick. Book 1 of my Canadian Summer Reading Challenge.

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I’ve compiled a tentative list of the authors I want to read, some for the first time and some to revisit, but none of these are set in stone, in part because I’m not yet sure what books I’ll have access to. I’ve already bought two books, but before I buy more I need to be reunited with my dutiful library card.

Sadly I am made of neither money or Canadian fiction.*

Do you have any reading challenges this summer? If you’d like to take part in the Canadian Summer Reading Challenge with me (or a more/less intense version of it), please send me a link to where you’re posting your progress, or leave comments/tweets to let me know what you’re reading and how you’re doing!

Happy reading!

If you have any suggestions for books, please leave a comment or tweet/Instagram me.

*If you’re a Canadian (especially Atlantic Canadian/woman/person of colour) author and you want to send me a copy of your book in exchange for a review, please send me an email at or DM me on Twitter! 🙂

I did some writer things

If I’m a writer that means I’m a writer everyday, right? I don’t just don on the writer hat when I’m writing or doing writer things. I always wear that hat, right? Along with my human hat and chocolate addict hat, yes?

Of course, some days I don’t feel like a writer at all, just a stressed, unemployed student with hardly any time to read or write thanks to university preparation, job searching, and upcoming graduation. It’s been awhile since I felt like a “writer.”

Last week I was feeling particularly writerly, however. On June 12 I ventured with Zozie to Calabay Cafe in Truro to participate in a night of music and poetry, organized by local poet Chad Norman. The night featured local musicians Brian Porter, Dave Hayman, and Dale McCabe, and poet Paul Zann along with Chad and myself. Paul Zann is amazing reader. If I can ever read as engagingly as he can, I will be perfectly happy.

It had been awhile since I had done a reading in public, and I forgot how great it is to share poetry (and music) with people who enjoy it as much as I do.

Naturally I’m an introvert, and for the most part pretty quiet, but I love reading to others and hearing others perform. Whatever nerves I have (most of them being stamped out through seven years of 4-H public speaking) vanish when I start with introducing whatever it is I’m reading. Poetry is something I’m happy to share. I enjoy it. And it’s when this happens that I remember that I am a writer, not just an anxious, penny-pinching student.

And, to show you how small Nova Scotia is, two of the audience members were past graduates of my high school (one of who was a lovely gentleman kind enough to buy my book).

Calabay Cafe is beautiful, the staff is wonderful, and the chai lattes ARE TO DIE FOR (THEY ARE GLORIOUS CLOUDS FROM HEAVEN IN A MUG). I highly recommend stopping by — the chai lattes alone are enough to make me go back.

What else have I done to make me reaffirm the ownership of my writer hat?

I did an interview with Colchester Weekly, posted on the Truro Daily website.

I sold the seventieth copy of my book (which is currently out of stock, by the way).

I’m in the process of designing a bookmark.

I’ll be publishing something (it’s a surprise) at some point in the very near future.

And I’ll (hopefully) be able to spend some time this summer working on my YA novel.

Bonne chance, mes amis!



PS: Chad Norman is organizing the third annual RiverWords Poetry and Musical Festival for July 12th in Bible Hill, NS. I participated last year, and this year has a great line up. Spread the word and help support local artists. 🙂RiverWords 2014 (2)-page-001

Rainy Cafe

I just wanted to pop in from my busy life and share this with you!

This came up on my Facebook newsfeed a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been using it ever since when it comes to writing or get work done. (Who are we kidding? Writing IS getting work done.) You can fill your ears with the sound of rain, the sound of a busy café, or both. You can play with volume and whatnot, but this has been a surprisingly helpful focus agent for me.

Happy writing/reading!

Keep on loving, dudes,

Enter the rainy café here.

oscar wilde world

10 New Year’s Resolutions Everyone Should Do

Happy New Year, everyone! Whether you celebrated last night with sequins and alcohol, friends and a movie, or a kiss with your significant other, the good news is that we made it to 2014! And we all know what New Year’s Day means. Resolutions. We have to make resolutions, to shape a new me, make ourselves better, newer, shinier. Lose the weight, get the girl/guy, write a book, give up drinking or smoking…

Last year I compiled a list of 10 New Year’s resolutions on my old blog. To update, I failed to finish A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (I made it 7/8 through Book Four and for some reason stopped…and now I don’t remember what happened, so I have to start it again), I did not become the godmother of William and Kate’s little Prince George, and I didn’t meet the love of my life (but if you’re out there, 2014 isn’t too late). I did however, publish a book. It wasn’t a novel and it didn’t become a film or a teen fettish, but hey. I did it. I kind of blogged more…sort of. Here I am, anyway.

The birth of Prince George was one of the highlights of 2013. Click for Source.
The birth of Prince George was one of the highlights of 2013.

But let’s cut to the chase.

New Year’s resolutions are about making yourself better (apparently). Here are 10 smallish resolutions I’d like to attempt, and that I think everyone else should too.

1. Watch a foreign film.

Like, who watches foreign films? We see them flaunted a wee bit during awards season, but that’s it. We don’t follow up, look it up, go through the pleasurable pain of illegally streaming it from the internet, sitting on your bed at 1 am and squinting at the captions glowing on your screen. At least I don’t. But spending two hours watching and listening to another culture, without leaving the comfort of your duvet? This way you can be cultural, sophisticated, and lazy, the best North American combination.

Here’s a list to help you out.

Click for source.
1. Foreign films are like silent films…no one really watches them. We should change this.

2. Go mud sliding.

Because if you haven’t, you should, and if you have, then you’ll know exactly why you should do it again.

It's so fun. Just do it. Click for source.
2. It’s so fun. Just do it.

3. Learn to cook or bake something new and exotic.

For me, this should be easy since my culinary skills cover mac n’ cheese and pancakes, and that’s about it. Becoming a pro at a Greek dish or Italian tradition not only tastes good, but it’s highly impressive as well.

Here are some ideas!

I don't know what this is, but it looks good, and it came up when I googled "Greek food." Click for source.
3. I don’t know what this is, but it looks good, and it came up when I googled “Greek food.”

4. Read a biography.

Don’t go for something predictable like JFK or John A. MacDonald or Elvis. I’m not saying these people aren’t important, because, duh, they are, but try someone you don’t know anything about! Maybe Frida Kalho or Maya Angelou? Maybe Georgia O’Keefe or Rosalind Franklin? (I didn’t intend for all my examples to be female…it just turned out that way.)

Not only are you learning about someone imperative to life as we know it (or maybe as you will come to know it), but you’ll be bursting with facts that will awe the people you converse with. You will appreciate people who aren’t often appreciated by the general public, aside from in English and art classrooms and cafes.

Search biographies on Amazon!

Frida Kahlo, artist. Click for source.
4. Frida Kahlo, artist.

5. See/research an usual piece of art, visit it in person if you can.

Because who doesn’t love unusual art? My favourite piece, which I would LOVE to see in person some day is The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago.

Here are links to

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. Click for source.
5. The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago.

6. Read a really hard book.

Jane Eyre, The Lord of the Rings, Anna Karenina, Homer’s The Odyssey, Utopia…you pick. Read a really hard book, one that you maybe gave up on in the past. I’d like to re-tackle Jane Eyre, and maybe LOTR.

I have it...I just haven't managed to read it...yet!
I have it…I just haven’t managed to read it…yet!

7. Eat a “weird” and/or disgusting food.

For me, that might be sushi. I’ve never had it, and it doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, but this is my chance to prove myself wrong. It’s all about being cultured, people!

Hmm...any sushi lovers out there?
Hmm…any sushi lovers out there?

8. Take yourself on a date.

Whether you’re single or happily attached, do yourself a favour and take yourself on a date, at least one. You can dress up or dress down, go out or eat in. Take yourself to dinner and a movie, or go to an art gallery maybe your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband/etc would never set their foot in. Make yourself your favourite meal and spend a night in your pajamas blasting Imagine Dragons and reading your favourite books.

Only you know what your ideal date is, so it only makes sense that you would be the one to take yourself on it.

(I’ve done this before, and I’ll be doing it again.)

I like this idea...
I like this idea.

9. Play with a little kid.

Because they’ll make you remember what it’s like to be five or seven or nine, when everything was simple and big and the most important observations are made. It’ll be awkward at first, because maybe it’s been a long time since you played, but do it. Little kids love teaching adults, especially how to play.

Kids are the greatest, really.
Kids are the greatest, really.

10. Love yourself and others.

This is literally the corniest thing I could say, but I don’t give a damn. It’s true.

Maybe this year is the year you’ll make new friends, better ones, ones that love you, too. Maybe this is the year you’ll be good to yourself, stop blaming yourself, stop filling your body with toxins, stop hiding. Get to know yourself, get to know the people who you love or the people you want to love.

Dagnabit, just love. It’s the best thing anybody can do.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? Are you prone to keeping them, or not?

[Disclaimer: I didn’t intend to infringe any photographic copyrights!

Image Sources:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.]

What I Want in a Book

I have a book problem.

I love to read. When people ask me what genre I favour, I usually laugh and reply, “A little bit of everything!” I read mostly classics and YA fantasy and and sci-fi and poetry and biographies and histories and the occasional romance. I read quotes and blogs and magazines and dictionaries. I read the backs of cereal boxes and labels on people’s clothes. I read some books that are popular and some that aren’t.

I like adventure and discovery and a strong female character. I like small towns and bookworms and tall, dark, mysterious strangers. I like star-crossed lovers and ill-fated relationships and I like reading about the banter between siblings. I like flirty things and daring things and weird things and sometimes murderous things. I like make believe worlds and real worlds, and I like wise, old mentors with beards and witticisms.

Prince Charmings with a dark side, collections of exotic teas, and funny uncles with top hats and awful comb-overs. I like scarves and rain boots (which sound so much more poetic than rubber boots) and something that won’t take a lot of energy to read but will still make me think about life differently. I like sexy things but think sex in books is a bit unnecessary. I like things that are realistic but don’t like reading about things that go against my strongest morals.

I like books that remind me of mellow music, elegant music, angst-ridden and pure sadness music. Books that remind me of bleached out photographs from the ‘70s and old radio shows and my childhood.

My favourite books are the ones that taught me something, whether it be a moral or an idea or a word or character development. Some of them are just pretty. They sit nicely in the nooks of my brain. Not all of them are deep, dark, disturbing novels, but some of them are. Some of them are light and fluffy and simply easy to read.

I like elements of Alice in Wonderland (“It’s a vegetable. It doesn’t look like one, but it is.”) and Pride and Prejudice (“They parted at last with mutual civility, and possibly a mutual desire of never meeting again.”) and Harry Potter (“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”) and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (“Uncle had learned long ago that obeying a rule in fact but not in spirit was very hard on people who say we for I and who do not allow dogs on their premises.”) and Fade (“So he endured. Did not cry.”).

These are things I like in books.

I know it’s a tall order, and that’s why I’ve yet to find ONE book that contains ALL of these things. If I found a book with these criteria, I daresay it would be my favourite book of all time.

The books I turn to when I’m bored or feeling a little blah are the books I read and read again when I was a pre-teen: A Riddle of Roses and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place and Walk Two Moons and Stargirl. They aren’t particularly deep and don’t leave me exhausted like Game of Thrones or Emma, but instead leave me refreshed, rejuvenated, in love with life again, and maybe a little poignant that life doesn’t turn out for everyone.

I love these books. I still read them, still love them.

I want to read books like those books, but for a YA/NA audience. Give me a 17 or 19 or 21-year-old Margaret Rose Kane of Outcasts or a Stargirl as a university undergrad, with the same tone of voice the original presented to my pre-teen self.

So, to suit my picky, aimless search for the perfect book, I think I may just end up writing it. I want the whimsical, witty themes of my favourite pre/early teen novels with more mature content. I want to read it and be changed but not scarred or exhausted. I want to laugh and maybe cry at its pages. I want funny uncles and dark prince charmings and adventure and feminism and bleached out photographs of the ‘70s.

These are what I want in a book.

And I’m taking matters into my own hands and writing a book I want to read.

I mean, to write a book and have it meet the standards I described as “my favourite book ever” is only a wee bit pretentious, but if I want a book like I’ve described, I imagine a couple other people out there would like to read it, too.

What do you look for in your own “perfect book?” Have you found it? Have you written it?

WOTS, Oscar Wilde, and Fall

Yesterday across the country thousands of authors, readers, and publishers flocked together to celebrate reading and writing in Canada! The weather was perfect, often as we remember September days to be, and bookworms bustled around the Halifax waterfront — quite literally. Tents canopied over stacks of books and book paraphernalia and booksellers and, well, more books. Readers occupied seats as local authors read from their creations, bags of reading swag and brochures sitting on their laps and clutched in protective hands, and under one tent a bucket played home to finger puppet versions of Oscar WIlde, Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mother Theresa. Mr. Wilde had the honour of coming home to live with me. Miss Austen will join him next year, and eventually I’ll have more finger puppets than fingers!

WOTS is always a blast. This year a couple of my writing friends and I spent the day wandering through tents and stacks of books and stuffing our bags with The Hobbit posters and flyers for local publishers and businesses. At one point, only an eager swarm of approximately 75 people deep separated us from Jian Ghomeshi. We managed to glimpse the top his head. We also took the opportunity to pose for awkward/hilarious pictures at various landmarks on the waterfront, like the famous Dr. Suess-esque lamp posts, and with the Bookworm.

One of the highlights of the day was meeting the lovely Laura Best, author of Bitter, Sweet and Flying With a Broken Wing. Laura and I have interacted through our blogs before, and it was great meeting her in person! I’ll be reading Flying With a Broken Wing through the week (I’m so busy it’s ridiculous) and I’m very excited!

In other news, it’s fall! My favourite season. Full of purple asters and ripening apples and pumpkins, and the edges of the leaves are tarnished red and gold. It’s time for scarves and knitted hats and boots (not that summer prevented me from wearing any of these…). The air smells alive with dying things and things getting ready to sleep for winter, and is meant for crisp evenings reading with a mug of hot tea.

Can you tell I’m thrilled at the arrival of fall?

I’m hoping to get more writing done this season with the world providing daily inspiration — work on my next anthology and maybe, just maybe, dip back into my WIP novel.

In the meantime, did you attend your local Word on the Street? What’s your favourite season? Any new books to read this autumn?