Books of 2014

Here is what I think is a mostly complete list of books that I read in 2014. I used Goodreads to help me compile this list, but noticed some quirks; Goodreads wasn’t pulling up all the books that I had marked as “read”. I have no idea why. Luckily I tracked this year’s books in a few different ways though, so I think I have found most of them now.

I may not have included the smutty ones.

Happy Reading in 2015.

Five Favourites

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Inside by Alix Ohlin
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

The Rest, almost all good, but not The Confederacy of Dunces.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place by Scott McClanahan
Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
We Are Water by Wally Lamb
Far To Go by Alison Pick
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Babylon and Other Stories by Alix Ohlin
Road Ends by Mary Lawson
Requiem by Frances Itani
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Son by Lois Lowry
Messenger by Lois Lowry
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Astray by Emma Donoghue
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Teacher’s Daughter by Richard B. Wright
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

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Writing Prompts

Writing prompts motivate me to write scenes that I might not have ever thought of writing. I keep a collection of them in a file on my computer, holding on to them so that I can use them one day in a story.

I subscribe to Sarah Selecky’s prompts, and I’ve been trying to do them a bit more often lately. In her daily email, she provides the prompt, and then usually asks that you write for ten minutes, and that you write by hand in your notebook. If I do them seriously, it always takes me longer than ten minutes, and I never write by hand in my notebook. Because I’m badass that way.

Sometimes the prompts provoke (or should it be evoke? I looked it up and I’m still not sure) an idea right away, and other times I stare blankly at the screen for ten minutes, not writing a thing. Then there are days when I delete the prompt without even trying, knowing that I won’t be able to come up with anything at all.

Usually you are supposed to write a scene of some kind. For instance a recent prompt asked me to write about a scene that involves a plate of scrambled eggs. I liked that prompt, and I did write something for it. But a couple of days ago the prompt was simply to write a list. A LIST! That’s easy, I can do that.

Spend ten minutes listing everything you know that is orange.

I came up with oranges right away because I’m smart that way. Next was carrots. Then a sunrise. Then… I stared and blinked for a while. This was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. Apparently not only is there nothing that rhymes with orange, but there are not a lot of things that actually are orange. Eventually I came up with a few more orange items, but it was over the course of the day, while keeping my eyes open to all things orange around me.

And as an experiment, I thought I would share the two writing prompts I mentioned above. This may be really uninteresting, or maybe it will provoke (nailed that one) some thoughts and comments about writing prompts.

Nov. 10: Spend ten minutes listing everything you know that is orange.

Oranges (duh)
Carrots (also duh)
A sunset
Orange crush
Orange juice
Wow not a lot of things I can think of are orange other than things derived from, or based on, oranges
Traffic cones
Traffic lights. Well; they’re amber
Candies can be
This is harder than I thought it would be
Pup tent from the 70s
The Hold button on my work phone. Or is it red? Reddish orange let’s say.
Oh, pumpkins!

Nov 4 Write about a scene that involves a plate of scrambled eggs.

He loved making her scrambled eggs. They were easy, for one. The buttery yellow colour was pleasing, for two. The spatula breaking and stirring the eggs until they formed the ideal median between solid and softness, satisfying his inner perfectionist, for three.

The eggs sizzled in the cast iron pan, almost ready. He turned off the flame to let them finish cooking on their own and moved to the cupboard to take out two small plates. He scraped and spooned, giving her just a little bit more. There was no toast; she was Paleo now.

The coffee pot let out a final burp to indicate that it had finished brewing. He added the coffee cream to the cups first, the way she liked, then poured the steaming dark liquid into the cozy brown mugs. Two forks and a tray, and he was ready to take their breakfast upstairs.

He opened the door gently and could see the blue glow of her phone lighting up her still sleepy face.

Good morning.

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Fall Updates

Oh, my poor neglected blog that I am updating mostly so that the first thing you see when you come to this page won’t be my driver’s licence picture. Honestly, what was I thinking?

Some updates.

I have had to give up coffee.

It has been about three months since I realized coffee was making me feel very unwell, and I’m still in mourning. I thought I was getting closer to acceptance, but now cooler weather is hitting and I’m realizing the impact of waking up when it’s dark and cold this winter and having to drink….tea.

I like tea. But tea is not coffee. Not coffee at all.

Coffee. I miss you.

Next, I have a child who is playing a competitive sport. A child of mine!  She has my nose and freckles, but other than that she is hardly recognizable as belonging to me. We have the basketball schedule for the next few months, and it is essentially going to rule our lives. This was not supposed to happen when I decided that having children was a good idea. Genetics alone should have made this impossible. Plus? I can’t pick up a coffee on the way to a cold gym on an early Saturday morning, and all I can do to console myself is to be grateful that I am not at a hockey rink.

Finally, my older daughter is taller than me and has started middle school. She is playing the alto sax and is making magnificent sounds while playing her scales. She also had a story published in an anthology from a contest that she entered last year. How absolutely wonderful is that?




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Which Mug is Which?

People don’t willingly share their driver’s licence photos on social media, right? Right. I’m clearly not like most people.

Well I just got a new licence, with a new photo, and it looks EXACTLY like my old one. I mean, I know I look older, but really.

I guess after five years of looking exactly the same, it may be time to consider a new hairstyle.

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Back to Back 

I bumped into a friend at the school’s big fundraiser a little while ago. This friend was a very supportive voice to me when I was looking for a way to explore my writing, and she was an important motivator for me in starting this blog. At the fundraiser she told me that she hadn’t seen many blog posts from me lately. Well, yes, that’s very true. I told her that I don’t feel like I have anything to say here anymore, and she replied that she thinks newspaper columnists often feel that way too. That made perfect sense to me, and yet columnists push through that block and keep writing and publishing their work. I would like to do that too.

I am writing though, just not here. I submitted a newish short story to Sarah Selecky’s writing contest, and when I count them all up, I now have seven short stories completed, four of which are linked stories that I am considering building into a novel. It’s a lofty goal for someone with two full time jobs (Mom and Government Peon), but I would really love to try.

I do have news though. After months of my youngest daughter asking 12-year-old Niamh and me to stand back to back, Niamh is now officially taller than I am. I thought I would make it to August, but there is clearly a growth spurt happening because she is visibly taller almost by the day. We have been wearing the same size shoes for a while, though her foot is much narrower than mine. Well in fact all of her is much narrower than I am. I bought her some new shoes for her grade 6 graduation (!) and I made sure they were really nice ones because they will be handed down to me in a few months.

And have I mentioned how much she looks like me? At that same fundraiser the other week, she walked into the room where I was volunteering and I felt like I was looking at myself. It was uncanny and surprising and it took my breath away. 

So this was a long way of say that I really do want to keep writing here, but it may not be very often. Only when I have something to say.

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I’ve been working on a set of linked short stories on and off for the last three years and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with them. There are four of them, for a grand total of 10,000 words; it’s hardly a book waiting to be published.

I had to stop looking at these stories for a while but I think I’m ready to get back to them. I read them all from start to finish and I didn’t hate them and I only cringed a few times. A promising new start.

It was time to send them out to my writing group. Have I mentioned I love my writing group? It’s so motivating to have a deadline and people who I know will be nice and kind and hold my hand as I work my way through this process. Sometimes we’re all a bit too nice because it’s easier to nod and smile and say I loved it than to to give something more valuable. It’s also really really hard to come up with honest and constructive criticism, but it’s something I think we’re all getting better at.

One of the most interesting comments that I got back when I shared these stories was to consider changing the order of things. Instead of keeping them as short stories, I could blend them together and turn them into a short novel or novella. I would need to expand and add on a lot, but it might be something I could do. Could I?

Then what?

Publish? Self publish? Let it sit on my computer for eternity?

I’m reading up on self publishing a wee bit, thinking about hiring a professional editor one day, and will keep plugging away with the ongoing support of my writing group.

Happy place

Happy place

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Who doesn’t love a good coincidence?

In early February our family was lucky enough to spend a week in Florida being retiree-wannabees at my Dad’s snowbird home. I was flipping through Facebook while I was there and saw my friend Tash had posted this picture:


Well that looks familiar. This is the pool I was at earlier the same day:


So either they build all the pools and their surrounding buildings the same in Florida gated communities, or we were in the same place. Also? She is a better photographer than I am.

Sure enough, same place. Her parents have a condo in the same community as my Dad, and her aunt lives a few doors down from him. I had even met her aunt a few nights earlier on a girls night out.

Tash and I hadn’t seen each other in a few years, but we were able to catch up in between zumba and yoga one morning. We may have been chastised by the instructor for being too chatty.

Now let’s see if we can meet up in our same hometown sometime before next winter?

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Walk Commute

I’m lucky that I can walk to work. It saves on money of course, plus I get 225 minutes of exercise built into my week without having to lift myself off the couch at the end of the day when all I want to do is watch the Good Wife on Netflix with a glass of wine. My life is one big parteeeeee.

I listen to the radio as I walk, but I’m a daydreamer and often zone out and realize I haven’t heard a word of the story I’ve been listening to.

If I don’t want serious, I listen to music but I only do this on the way home for some reason.

One day I worked on the opening line to a short story in my head while I walked. Opening lines are very important. So this:

Leslie thumbed through the large and colourful book in the bookstore. Practical Guide to Home Landscaping.

Became this:

The yellow rose bush on the bookcover caught Leslie’s eye – Practical Guide to Home Landscaping.

I think it still needs work.

I pass two grocery stores during my walk, and when I don’t have a lunch packed I try to pick up a salad or veggies so that I don’t have to eat cafeteria food. It is the new year after all.

Occasionally I slip on ice.

Some days I run into a neighbour and stop for a chat, though lately it has been much too cold for this. And unless they have their dog with them I don’t recognize them anyway since everyone is all covered with hats and scarves.

I always people watch.

I wonder if I’m losing weight or toning my butt muscles while I walk.

On super cold days sometimes neighbours offer me rides, but I try to only accept when it’s very cold or snowy or rainy or windy out. Or if I’m tired and hungry. It’s a slippery slope.

I try to think up ideas for blog posts. Usually I forget any ideas by the time I get to my destination.

I sometimes even think about work.

I worry about what my hat or precipitation or humidity are doing to my hair.

I see some weird things:


Gazillions of ants

Two dead mice on the sidewalk (no photo – you’re welcome)


A lit Christmas tree in a construction zone

And a bird dive-bombing my head, though technically I never saw the bird attacker.

I watch for cars at intersections. It would be good if some of you could be a little less rage-y.

On my way home I think about food. The salad or veggies have long disappeared from my belly and it’s time to make dinner without eating all the things as soon as I walk through the door.

The best part is that I have had time to decompress after work and before I get home to start the second half of my day. It’s a hamster wheel, for sure.

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Ten Books

Who doesn’t love a book meme?!

This one was floating around Facebook for a while, and it recently migrated over to the blogosphere where I found it at Bibliomama. What are ten books that have stayed with you? Here are my ten, in no particular order. It was hard enough to narrow down my choices to ten, so my brain would definitely freeze if I had to rank them too. I also had to Google some of the plotlines because I forget everything I read soon after I’ve finished. It makes talking about one of my favourite hobbies awkward at times.

It’s a good thing I embrace the awkward.

Away by Jane Urquhart

This book was a Christmas present from my Mom (hi Mom!) a long time ago and it led to my collecting many many volumes of Canadian writers on my bookshelves. The book takes place in Ireland starting in the 1840s, and then ends in Canada. The author wrote this about how the idea for the book came about:

Midway through a casual conversation in a pub in Ballycastle, while I waited for the ferry that would take me to the mysterious Rathlin Island just offshore, an old man told me that a person could be stolen by “those from the other world,” and that if this were to take place, a seemingly exact replica would be left in the stolen one’s place. Except, he explained, there would be something distant and different about the one left behind, something indefinable, but perceivable nonetheless, and that this person would then be said to be “away.”

This is a magical and poetic book.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

When you don’t know what to read, turn to Twitter. Bel Canto was recommended to me by @janatude and is a fictional account of the Lima Crisis where in 1996 the Japanese embassy was taken over. The book explores the relationships between the hostages and hostage-takers in the house over a few months. This book is simply amazing.

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

My favourite of all my book club books, and also based on a true story, it tells the story of Otto and Elise Hampel in Berlin during WWII who wrote anonymous postcards telling people to resist Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. They left these postcards all around for people to find. Small but very dangerous acts of resistance that had big consequences. Everyone I have recommended this book to has loved it. The writing is just so simply elegant.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

The night that we were given this book as assigned reading in grade 11 English class, I stayed up until 3am reading it.  I was finished it before the next English class when we were given class time to read. I was completely shocked – SHOCKED – when my classmates complained about it being boring. I love love love this book and would probably call it my favourite of all time if pressed.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

I could have jointly listed Carol Shields’s other books Larry’s Party and Unless here too. I think what I love most about Carol Shields’s writing is that she turns the lives of ordinary characters into compelling stories that you can’t put down. Definitely one of my favourite authors.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

I need to read this one again because I have forgotten so much of it. So, from Wikipedia: A Fine Balance is the second novel by Rohinton Mistry. Set in Mumbai between 1975 and 1984 during the turmoil of The Emergency, a period of expanded government power and crackdowns on civil liberties, the book concerns four characters from varied backgrounds…who come together and develop a bond.

The characters and story telling in this book are still with me, even if the plot has faded in my mind.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

I’ve read this book at least five times in my life, the first time being when I was ten. You read books on different levels at different ages, and so when I first read it, I could only see Anne’s perspective. The unfairness and the annoyances that were her life in hiding. The last time I read it was just a few years ago, and I deeply identified with what must have been the fears of Anne’s parents, about the uncertainties and hopelessness they must have felt and how they had to try to carry on no matter what. 

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

 I do seem to read a lot of tales of family tragedy. This one may just be the tragediest of them all.

Room by Emma Donoghue

I can’t possibly describe the plot for this one so from the author’s website (  )

Room (London: Picador; Toronto: HarperCollins Canada; New York: Little Brown, 2010), my Man-Booker-shortlisted seventh novel, is the story of a five-year-old called Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside. When he turns five, he starts to ask questions, and his mother reveals to him that there is a world beyond the walls. Told entirely in Jack’s voice, Room is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.

I would have thought writing an entire novel from the point of view of a five-year-old would have been impossible to get right. This book nails it. The filter of innocence is of the horrors of the story is amazing.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I read this one in the third grade and it was the first book I remember not being able to put down. This would have been the book that flipped the switch to make me a lifelong reader.

This post was hard to write. It’s not easy to explain why you love a book or to describe what it’s about without resorting to blurb speak. I’d love to hear your list of books that stayed with you too.

photo (39)

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It’s still fall

We’re easy to recognize. Our hats are pulled down; our scarves are pulled up. Our eyes are slightly teary and there is frost on our eyelashes, hats, and any hair that’s poking out from under our winter gear.

We’re wearing some sort of snow pant and ridiculously sensible footwear that crunches loudly over the frozen sidewalks.

We recognize one another, and there is usually a knowing look and a smile, but you can only tell there’s a smile from the crinkling around the eyes. Yes, we think we are a little bit better than everyone else.

We are walk commuters in Ottawa.


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