View From The Glen

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Friday Reads: The Secret Adversary

One of the things I thought would be fun for my summer reads was to choose the next book on my list by some inspirational moment or thought or passing fancy in the current book. I thought it might be very cool to harness the power of serendipity and see if the Fates could lead me forward.

(No, this has nothing to do with my abysmal indecision: though my dear husband claims if I were stranded on a dessert island and had to choose between chicken and fish I'd starve to death, it's not true. Or is it? Can't decide.)

I thought this in an offhand way as I was starting the first of my reading list books, but lo and behold, 150 pages in, I found my moment.

P141 The Eight
"The road curved slightly away from the sea. On either side manicured hedges, ten feet high, enclosed large estates. From time to time I caught moonlit glimpses of huge manor houses set back on sweeping snow-covered lawns. I had never seen anything like it near New York. It reminded me of Scott Fitzgerald."

Does it need to be any clearer? Scott Fitgerald was on my list. Obviously the next book had to be The Great Gatsby.

Of course, Fate has a way of playing tricks and though I started Gatsby, I got sidetracked during a long wait in a car when I got out my trusty Kobo and, flipping through the classics it came with, discovered an Agatha Christie novel I had never read. That seemed pretty serendipitous too, and since it was handy and short, I actually finished The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence's first adventure) before getting any further into Fitzgerald.

And that's ok, because Agatha Christie is also on my list this summer. I've read so many of them, but oddly, always stuck to Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories. I really enjoyed this one too, though it was more espionage than mystery.

So that's Friday Reads for this week. My friend Leanne is blogging about books too at My Window On The Journey, and there's a few on her list that I want to add to mine (Left Neglected, Her Fearful Symmetry, The Red Queen), but really, Summer just isn't long enough.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Revisionist History: Leader or Butcher?

Edward Cornwallis.gif

Edward Cornwallis was the Britsh Governor who founded Halifax. Streets and parks, a military base, and a school are named after him.

Sorry, a school WAS named after him. It is being renamed. Here is the Globe and Mail article.

The basic facts are that British policy at the time (mid 18th century)  offered a bounty for Mi'kmaq scalps, and even though part of the reason for this was retribution for the British scalps the Mi'kmaq were taking, native leaders called for the removal of his name from Cornwallis Junior High School to correct what they perceive as a historical wrong. The school board vote was unanimous.

So Cornwallis Junior High will be named something else after community debate. I never went there so that is only of minor interest to me. A school, after all, is just a school.

But this kind of revisionist history does concern me. I feel the same way about the new re-printing of Huckleberry Finn which removes the N word from the book. About our governement spending money on apologies and payments to people that were wronged in some cases hundreds of years ago.

I am all for opening up the past, to look at it in light of the present and our current societal values and mores. And I understand that some terrible things were done through the years to people who did not deserve them.

That's history. It's not nice. In fact it's quite terrible. Always has been. History, after all, is just a record of what men and women have done to each other over the centuries. Proof if you will that humanity is brutal. But you can't whitewash it all and pretend it didn't happen. And if we stopped honouring those whose great deeds were marred by less heroic aspects...there'd be no-one left to honour.

It has been said that history tells the story of the winner, and that is often true. I am glad there are historians who bring forward the other side of the story, who paint in the brushstokes to give us a more clear picture of what really happened. I am glad native Mi'kmaq historians are giving us their persepective of what Cornwallis did and how it affected them. This only adds to the great historic tapestry and weaves a more complete picture.

But where, I wonder, will it stop? For every hero, there is dirty history. For every conquerer, there is the vanquished. They were judged in their own time and made into the figures they were. To say Cornwallis was not a hero because of what he did to the Mi'kmaqs essentially dismisses the other merits and values that were prevalent in the 18th century.We can't apply our standards to the past and if we do, if we topple them all in the name of political correctness, does this do any of us any good?

The past is what has defined us. We can't change it. It would be better for all of us if instead of trying to reconstruct the past using our version of what is right and wrong (and remember, we only think we're enlightened - future generations may disagree), we recognize each other for who we are today and move forward on that basis.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Reads: The Eight

My summer reading list kicked off with The Eight by Katherine Neville. As I mentioned last week, I have read it before, and it's one of those books that surprises you the first time you read it, and so subsequently, the reading experience can never be as good. (Atonement springs immediately to mind, as do any number of mysteries where the ending is something you ddin't see coming.)

Having said all that, later readings of The Eight did impress me with other aspects. I think this was my fourth read of it over two decades, and each time different nuances of the novel made themselves felt. This time around, it was mostly the relationship between the 18th century nun, Mireille and the modern day Cat, and how their resepctive worlds unfolded as they chase (wittingly or not) the legendary pieces of the Montglane Chess Service  that once belonged to Charlemagne.

Because I now know the underlying secret of the book, I found focusing on character more rewarding, though the twists and turns of the plot were still of interest, particularly how Neville weaves all those threads into one, giving us so many clues we don't even know we have until they all come together.

A couple of things imprinted themselves on me this read. The first is that the surprise of the ending is not really a surprise at all. Oh, it was to me twenty years ago, but to a more mature reader, the ending is almost obvious, and I don't think I'd like the book as much if I read it for the first time today.

(It's the funny thing about books - our reviews so often depend on where we are in life, and how we remember them. Try reading any beloved children's book and see what I mean. It's difficult to be obective because the memory of the book is so powerful.)

Secondly, much as I enjoy history, I found the large cast of historical figures annoying even as they intrigued me. Part of what I loved about the book years ago was that I felt I had touched upon understanding some of the great figures of our past: Wordsworth and Coleridge, Napoleon and Catherine the Great, Robespierre and Benedict Arnold,Voltaire and Newton, Bach and Rousseau and Charelmagne....and if this list sounds long it's because it is and this time, I found my credibility stretched, my  patience thin. Some of the characters were one dimensional, and I wanted to know more about them (the fictional Solarin for example); many were just cameos- sort of a historical name dropping.

At the same time, I was impressed with how Neville wove other historical figures into the plot. The Bishop of Autun, for example: Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. His rise to power, influence during the French revolution, relationship with the young Napoleon, years in the US, years in Britain, and marriage to Catherine Grand are all detailed in The Eight with plausible explanations for his role in the plot of the novel.

I still enjoyed it. The twisting narrative, the chess game and the endlessly fascinating Montglane Chess set, the secret codes and mathematical equations all continued to compel me to read and the plot still held together for me. It's a quest, a conspiracy theory, and a legend all rolled into one.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Moments: Listening

Sometimes listening happens when you least expect it.

On a deck at sunset when you are engrossed in a book and a daughter who has been sitting with you all afternoon speaks up. Something has been bothering me at school.

While you are making dinner and walking between the fridge and the stove and your son walks over with a smile There's a secret I've been keeping.

Drifting awake in the morning, your spouse brings coffee and even though you are only half aware, starts to talk. I've been meaning to ask you what you thought.

Driving to soccer with the kids in the back listening to Waving Flag with the windows down and the smallest child pipes up. Do you know what I think this song is about?

Listening is an act of love, to pay attention even though you are reading, cooking, sleeping, driving. It is about the small moments, about making that quiet time, that space for thoughts that may not otherwise be spoken.

About noticing the moment when it arrives unannounced. And tuning into it with all your heart.

This blog is inspired by Capital Mom's Monday Moments. Every Monday she posts a theme. You can read more at her site and follow the links to see what others have written.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Summer Reads

I'm going to try (try, I said) to post about books on Fridays in honour of #FridayReads (if you are not familiar with this, go here). I'm not promising erudite discussion. If you want that, you need to check out An Attitude Adjustment's Maladjusted Book Club, the always insightful Pickle Me This, or the lovely Dove Grey Reader, just a few of the amazing book bloggers out there. (On top of finding time to read books, I have to find time to read book clogs - it's a terrible addiction).

To kick things off, I have made myself a Summer Reading List. As I look over the mix of new and familiar books, I think it may be overly ambitious. But it's summer, and I want to kick back with some good reads both here and at the cottage (and how awesomely I am looking forward to my first ever vacation with my Kobo - no more lugging an extra 20lb bag of books everywhere.)

So here's my list, in no particular order:

The Postmistress The Postmistress by Sarah Blake has been highly recommended and in light of the Ethics course I am teaching this fall, I am interested in some of the issues it examines. The book tells ther story of a postmistress' decision not to deliver a letter on the eve of World War II, and the repercussions from that decision.

The Eight The Eight by Katherine Neville is one I have read a number of times before and love. It was one of the first books I remember reading that told parallel stories in two different times, and the first book that I ever read about the Philosopher's stone (now so famous, thanks Harry Potter). It is intricate and historical and long (800 pages) and I look forward to reading it again.

The Book Thief The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - YA and, according to one friend, "Intense, gripping, and overwhelming." (Thanks, Christine). Set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, Liesel shares stolen books with her neighbours and a Jewish man hiding in the basement.

The Bruce Trilogy: Steps to the Empty Throne, Path of the Hero King & Price of the King's Peace The Bruce Trilogy by Nigel Trantner. Whew! After all that heavy reading, how about something light. Well - sort of. The historical tale of Robert the Bruce (this is a trilogy) has been sitting on my shelf for years after a rescue from a library purge, and this is the year I am going to read it.

Murder at the Vicarage (Miss M... Agatha Christie - There is a Christie read-a-thon going on which is what prompted me to add some of these to my list. It's been decades - yes, really - since I first discovered my mother's collection of mysteries and fell in love with these fun, quick reads, and I am going to reacquaint myself with some of my favourites: The Murder at the Vicarage, 4:50 from Paddington, The Mirror Crack'd, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None. Not sure yet. I'll probably spread them out through the summer...

The Art of Racing in the Rain The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein. Told from the point of view of a dog, c'mon, what's not to love? Have not read it, but have heard good things about how this book gives great insight into the human condition. Well, dogs are good for that. The human condition. (Leans down to scratch labrador's ears).

Paradise Lost Paradise Lost by Milton. I might regret this. I am not as into classsic poetry today as I was when I first looked at this epic piece of literature. But I am more interested in the period, so we will see.

Sweetness in the Belly Sweetness In The Belly by Camilla Gibb. Another book that has been on my "to read" list for a very, very long time.

Room Room by Emma Donoghue. I must read this book. I must. I must. But somehow despite knowing this, I keep putting it off, knowing that once I pick it up I will be simultaneously horrified and uplifted.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2) The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley. The second Flavia de Luce book, and the first one (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) just captivated me after a dry reading spell. I am excited to pick up this, and see it whiling away a rainy afternoon up by the lake.

The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. I've read this before, of course, but when I taught short stories last semester at the college, we had an animated discussion on Fitzgerald's Winter Dreams and I sold the students on this book. Sold myself too. Am going to pick it up again. While playing Count Basie. Loudly.

To the Lighthouse To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Another book I have read. But I feel I have never really got it. It's like I almost get it, but then it slips away from me. I think it's a book best read in solitude, and I always have interruptions. My plan is to try again the week of July 16-23. Why that week? Because my three adorable kids will be away at cub camp. All week. Yes, that sigh you hear is anticipation. Me and the dog and the rose bushes. And Virginia. If I don't "get it" then, I never will.

I am also re-reading Jude the Obscure for Jana's Madadjusted Book Club, and either Crow Lake or The Other Side of the Bridge (can't recall which) by Mary Lawson for my Red Tent book club. And some books I have edited are being released over the summer - I'll be reading them. And subs. Got three to read right now.

What are YOU reading this summer? Do share.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer School

School is out soon, and two long hot, fun months of summer begin. I am off this summer - or rather working from home, which is really not quite the same, but will give me the flexibility to take to the kids to parks, the beach, daytrips, the cottage and camping.

And one of the things we do each year is summer school.

I can hear the groans now.

It isn't to be mean, or because the kids need remedial help. Not at all. But two months of summer, while relaxing and rejuvenating and laid back, is also two months away from all the writing and math and french and science, and frankly, when the kids do return to school in September, it always feels like it takes a month for them to get back into the swing of things. A little bit of work through the summer seems to ease that transition.

There is another reason. So much of what they do in school is done, well, in school. But teachers as we all know are spread thin with so many students, and summer is a chance for me to focus in on what the kids do well and help them in areas where they may struggle. The one-on-one experience also allows them to try new things, and to expand on the learning they are already doing.

For us, summer school is largely self-guided. I want to have them read books that interest them, and be able to write about them. I want them to research a topic that fascinates them, partly because research ability is crucial, but also to show them that it can be fun. I want them to get comfortable with thinking and discussing the kind of topics that you may never get a chance to do in school. And most of all, I want to show them that learning is active and hands on and exciting when you are able to engage with your subject.

So summer school. But no desks. The world will be our desk.

Monday, June 13, 2011


There is nothing....

And I mean nothing....

As cool....

As crazy....

As macho....

As watching knights on horseback....

Charge each other.....

With solid wood lances......

(That's 5000 lbs of force right there.
Like driving your car at 60km/hour into a wall.)

For fun.

Summer always feels like it has started when the Upper Canada Village Medieval Festival comes to town.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Angry Birds

I am one of those people who hides all game updates on facebook. I don't care about farmville, or wheel of fortune, or mafia wars, or angry birds...

Then this week I realised that I have my very own version of angry birds right here.

A couple of weeks ago I was out in my rhubarb patch collecting stalks for a cake and with a startling, chirping whoosh, this little lady flew past me, sat on the nearby current bush, and proceeded to shout at me.

As I cut the rhubarb, I realised why. She had a nest of eggs in there. For the past few weeks, evertime I have gone to get rhubarb, she's been there telling me off, and I've been cautiously picking rhubarb that doesn't disturb her nest.

Hey, it's my rhubarb!

Then there is my starling. She is nesting in the rafters between the new veranda and the roofline, where it is not quite finished. And every time I go out the front door, there's a flutter of panicked wings and she brushes past me to sit on a telephone wire and hurl insults at me.

What are you doing? Get away from my nest.

Hmmph. It's my veranda!

There are a couple of fighting robins too. As I sit outside in the afternoon with my coffee, watching Mamma Starling bring food to her young (who get louder each day - mom, mom, mom, mom - just like kids), the robins dance and squawk and chase and squawk and fight each other in flight and on the trees. So much for the peaceful countryside.

And this morning, my angry rhubarb nesting bird got even grumpier, flying at Anna and Grace whenever they got too close to the rhubarb.

The reason...

See those little guys in there...

Angry birds, indeed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Normally, I post personal things on this blog. Things I do with the kids and with Andrew (we went to Kingston last weekend to see Anna compete in a speech competition - way to go, kiddo!), things that are happening on the farm (three new lambs this past few weeks) or within my extended family (my cousin and his wife in the UK had bought healthy twin boys into the world last week), and things that interest me (books, wine, food, etc).

And those of you who follow along will know how I switched gears earlier this year and left the corporate world to focus on teaching and editing. Teaching is out for the summer now, but the editing is going strong, and today I am pleased to announce that Carina Press, the company I work for, celebrates its first year of publishing. Yes, one year ago, Carina published its first set of e-books, and has been going strong ever since.The world of e-book publishing is exciting and fast-paced, and growing every day. It's so much fun to be part of it all.

Carina Press is an imprint of Harlequin. And yes, there are lots of romances. Being a digital publisher, however, gives us more leeway and so we publish a wide range of other books, including non romance. As an acquisitions editor, I get to read so many fantastic stories, and those that really resonate with me are the ones I edit. I tend towards historicals (no surprise there), but also enjoy mystery and suspense, and contemporary stories. I'm brushing up on steampunk, which I am discovering I really enjoy reading, and hope to start editing some of those one of these days too.

Today, Carina Press is hosting an anniversary blog tour. Carina editors and team members have blogged on the sites of some of our authors. A complete list with links can be found on the Carina Blog.

I am hosted by Marie Force, and will be checking in throughout the day to respond to questions and comments.

Hope to see you there.

Oh, and Happy Anniversary, Carina.