Monday, October 6, 2014

Lost in a Book... or Two

I'm starting a new feature. Each month I'm going to let readers know what books I have recently read and my thoughts on them. I'll also tell you what I have planned for the upcoming month. As a writer I tend to write more than I read and reading should be considered an occupational necessity, so I'm hoping this new feature will keep me reading regularly. Feel free to send a Goodreads friend request so we can talk books and see each others reviews and ratings.

In September I read a mystery...

Murder at St. Mark's Place, by Victoria Thompson. Set in New York before the turn of the 20th century, this quick read was a typical mystery with a small cast of characters and interesting insights into some of the issues of the time. At first, I found it hard to like the male protagonist, Detective Frank Malloy but he softened up over the course of the book. Because I read so many Victorian England mysteries I kept forgetting this one is set in New York, and was promptly reminded each time the characters set out for Coney Island. This book offers a simple story line that moves along at quick paced. I'd definitely recommend it for a beach or rainy day read.

And a horror book...

The Troop, by Nick Cutter is set on a small island north of Prince Edward Island. My husband recommended this book to me because it is well written and features my favourite place. The book is about a parasite outbreak that finds it's way to a scout troop isolated on an island for a weekend excursion. It's truly a unique concept... think Lord of the Flies meets a zombie flick.

Because I know the province so well I was struck by a few things in this novel. One is references to deer and wolves as part of a description of the Prince Edward Island's natural habitat. In fact deer are not found on the island. They are better situated to live in neighbouring New Brunswick and Nova Scotia than PEI. I came across this nugget of interesting things somehow and I was so intrigued by it that I never forgot. Given the absence of deer, I imagine wolves would be in short supply as well considering the primary prey are absent but I could be wrong.  Why does this bother me? I don't know. It's so trivial. Perhaps I've written a thing or two in my books that drive readers nuts.

In addition to deer and wolves, there were a lot of little details regarding PEI in general that struck me. The writer's constant references to carnivals and fairs, temporary rides and amusements seemed contrived and overdone. There were other things such as one of the troop member's father being the county coroner. I know for a fact that because of the Island's size all coroner work is done in Moncton, NB and other larger, nearby places. IF the island had a coroner, there certainly wouldn't be one in each of the four counties, that's just overkill.

My husband is also a 8-year veteran of the Canadian military so we know there could be no national research facility in Summerside, there just wouldn't be enough infrastructure to sustain such a government enterprise. I tried to image the writer meant another area because a lot of the plot just didn't make sense for PEI, population 145,000, give or take a few hundred.

I enjoyed the insight into the characters lives but sometimes it broke into the action too much. Artistic in many ways I like the writing style and didn't find it cumbersome. Only when it slowed the pace did I notice any difficulty reading it. If you like horror you will probably like this book which is unique, grotesque and full of suspense. Give it a whirl.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spirit of a Place: Anne's Land

Prince Edward Island is a spiritual place for me. I've felt connected to it for as long as I can remember so it's probably no wonder that when my husband and I wanted to take a road trip this summer we decided to go back to Anne's Land. Our first visit was in 2007 when our kids were 7 and 4. Back then I marvelled at how affordable the island attractions were, and how many sites existed relating to Lucy Maud Montgomery as well as historic places in general. This summer I was thankful for the quiet of the island, the rush of the waves, the feeling of the wind. It was exactly the type of vacation I need.

The island maybe small but it's quite diverse with lots to take in and enjoy.

 Plaque along Lover's Lane trail at Green Gables

Despite a fair amount of rain during our week there, we enjoyed visiting many of our favourite haunts. Naturally we wanted to revisit Green Gables, and L M. Montgomery's childhood home. These two sites are connected via the Haunted Wood trail, and with a slight detour you can visit Maud's eternal resting place as well.

We tend to ignore the numerous 'side show attractions' along the Cavendish strip (think Las Vegas on Valium, not as many lights and buildings but certainly out of place for the location). To me there's no reason to have so many mini-golf and carnival-like venues, even if there are thousands of tourists who visit each summer. It doesn't matter that they all have catchy Anne related names like "Lake of Shining Waters waterpark" or Avonlea Village (yes I consider this pumped up pioneer village a sideshow attraction because other than the name, it has NOTHING to do with Montgomery's books or even Kevin Sullivan's films.) It's a cash grab, and nothing else.

Footbridge on Lovers' Lane trail

View of Green Gables looking north-east

The real places any Anne fan should see are these:

Green Gables (Cavendish)
- owned by Montgomery's cousins, she did base Green Gables off of this site though she admitted not exactly.
"Anne's Room" at Green Gables, recreated to match the books, not the films. You can see her puffed-sleeves dress is brown, as described in the books. The film had her wearing a blue dress. 

Lucy Maud Montgomery's Cavendish Home (Cavendish)
- When her mother died 21-month-old Maud was sent to live with her grandparents in Cavendish. This is where she wrote Anne of Green Gables and a few other books before she married and moved to Ontario. All that is left is the stone foundation but the site is owned and operated by her family who keep up the property and are on hand to give insight into how the property looked while Maud lived there with her grandparents.

Everything Anne... It seemed everywhere we went each store had these to sell, Raspberry Cordial. It's actually quite good. I told the kids next trip we will have a pact, each time we enter a store with these for sale we will have to buy some, if only to see how much cordial we end up drinking by the end of our trip. They are all for the idea! 

L. M. Montgomery's Birthplace (New London)
This site has her wedding dress and many scrapbooks kept by the author as well as a plethora of mementos.

Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silver Bush (Park Corner)
This site was owned by her cousins, the Campbell's (mentioned in her diaries). This is where she was married and is also the actual site were the Lake of Shining Waters is located. They have many items belonging to the author and also offers carriage rides in "Matthew's Carriage".

There are other venues claiming connection to the world famous  author but not so direct as the ones I listed above.

Red Cliffs and Farm on the North Shore. 

View of Green Gables from Haunted Wood trail. This would have been the way Maud saw her cousin's farm when walking from her grandparents house to the east. 

Here's a list of places to visit while on the island:

Cabot Beach is a provincial park that offers camping and day-use beach access. The sand is red, red, red and offers stunning views of the famous PEI  cliffs and dunes. The price is FREE and dog-friendly. Not far from Cavendish this beach was our family's favourite. Where else can you swim with jelly fish and not be afraid of getting stung?

The Acadian Museum (Miscouche, outside Summerside) This is a great museum that relays the story of a community of people who first came to Canada from France in search of a better, agricultural life. Displaced by numerous conflicts between the French and English, the Acadians were forced to re-establish communities all over the Maritimes and Quebec, even as far away as New Orleans before being allowed to return to the island.

Founder's Hall (Charlottetown) relays the story of confederation, how Canada changed from a handful of English and French colonies to the nation we are today. An audio tour guides you through the museum taking you step by step through the process of idea to reality.

Sir John A. Macdonald, father of Confederation and our first Prime Minister

Anne of Green Gables- The Musical is a delight! With 50 seasons under their belts it's no wonder they have perfected the stage portrayal of Canada's beloved red-head, Anne with an 'e'. My family finally had the opportunity to see the show this past summer and I fell in love with the tale all over again. It is simply excellent.

Cavendish Beach, part of Prince Edward Island National Park is nice but a bit hyped-up. We brought our bikes this summer and cycled the 9 km paved trail (one way) that runs along the north coast. The boardwalk is nice but we still prefer Cabot Beach. Be aware your pass into Green Gables also provides admittance to the National Park since they are both national sites. Otherwise the price is $17 per vehicle.

The Bottle Houses in Cap-Egmont are incredible. Admission is very inexpensive and the coastal drive to get there is one of a kind. We didn't make it there this past summer but in 2007 we ranked it as one of our favourite sites on the island.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hidden Remains

Hiking is one of my favourite things to do but I also love visiting historical sites. Having either of these activities as part of my day uplifts my soul but having both happen at the same time is just fantastic!

A few weeks ago my family and I completed an 8 kilometre hike at Hardy Lake Provincial Park outside of Gravenhurst, Ontario. It's a gorgeous spot. Quintesenisally Canadian. Though we've hiked numerous provincial park trails we hadn't traversed this one. It's like a hidden gem, a beauty of a lake hidden behind a pretty unimpressive parking lot. Had I not already driven over an hour to get there I doubt I would have stopped to hike it.

I am so glad the internet pointed me there.

Halfway through our hike we stumbled upon a rickety shed and then the remains of a stone foundation complete with stairs to a cellar and central chimney. Previous explorers had compiled a collection of found objects, pieces of china, old glass and other bits of history. They displayed them along one ledge.

My kids wanted to add a discovered Pepsi can to the collection but I drew the line even though it looked to be a logo from the 1970s, I doubted it would fit with the other treasures.

I tried to determine if it was the remains of a cottage or residence. It seemed an odd spot to build a homestead with no roads. The lake as well was small, doesn't connect to other larger lakes in the area and wouldn't make going to town or coming home very easy. My guess was it was a cottage, a mighty fine one at that considering the considerable work that went into the foundation and property.

Am I the only one who imagines what it would have been like fully constructed, wood smoke rising from the chimney while sitting out on the porch listening to the loons on the lake. What a lovely pioneer image!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Peter Ainsley... in Triplicate

I hit a milestone this summer. I published my third novel, which also happens to be the third instalment of the Peter Ainsley mystery series.

THE DEAD AMONG US continues the story of Peter & Margaret who face off against a horrendous criminal who is targeting pauper children.

It's been such a wild ride writing these books, and self-publishing them has been just wild. I remember agonizing over what to do with Chorus of the Dead. I wondered at the validity of self-publishing and whether the publishing industry would look favourably at my choice. All three of my books are now ranked in Kindle's Top 100 for mystery/thrillers-historicals. They generate hundreds of downloads each each month, narrowing in on one thousand for July. This translates as a nice income for myself, compensating me nicely for the hours of dedicated work I put in to each title.

But there's still work to be done.

Mystery is a difficult genre to compete in. I still have less than 10 reviews for each of my books and often that muddies the waters regarding my success. I honestly don't know how to generate more reviews. I don't believe in hard core soliciting or creating duplicate accounts (sock-puppeting). I don't believe in spamming my twitter feed or spending hundreds of dollars on internet ads. What I do believe in is a good story and that is where I lay my focus. I want to tell the best story I possibly can.

Recently another indie pointed out to me that I am a slow writer. Each of my books have been published a year a part whereas others aim to have a new title every 3-4 months.  I may not be out-selling other indie-authors  and my sales maybe paltry compared those in erotica or fantasy but I stand by my stories. I stand by my process, slow as it may be.

I do not see self-publishing as a get rich quick scheme. I have been writing and educating myself on writing since I was in high school. I majored in Journalism in college and achieved an advanced diploma in Creative Writing shortly thereafter. The only thing I have ever wanted to be was a writer so I can safely say I am not going anywhere.

I will continue to write compelling stories with layered characters and fabulous covers (cheeky, aren't I?). I have recognized a trend with each of my books, a steady incline in readership and loyalty. This is what I will build my career upon, without chasing trends or including gratuitous sex.

I am a writer.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Old Man Winter, I'm taking the pineapple down!

If you have ever toured an old, manor house I have no doubt you've seen carvings of pineapples in the wood trim, mantel decorations and displayed on staircase bannisters. In Victorian times the pineapple was a symbol of hospitality. A home which displayed a pineapple prominently, usually at the formal entrance and often attached to the bottom of the stairway bannister, either inside or outside, meant guests were expected to arrive and would be welcomed.

These bulbous displays, also known as finials, could sometimes be removed and replaced with a sphere or other non-symbolic item. It was widely understood that a guest had outstayed their welcome when a pineapple was removed.

It's no secret that in my neck of the woods the snow and ice have been persistent this winter. As I type this the temperature outside sits at -24 degrees Celsius, and technically the transition to spring is only days away.

My friends and neighbours are desperate for the spring thaw after a particularly harsh winter. Because of this I have decided to revoke my hospitality, and invite you all to follow suit.

Old Man Winter you have outstayed your welcome. Feel free to move along. We will welcome your next visit when the time comes, but for now take note, the pineapple has been removed!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

BOOK: Jane Austen's Guide to Thrift

This book, JANE AUSTEN'S GUIDE TO THRIFT, is on my night stand right now. I am a huge fan of the well crafted, entertaining non-fiction read and I have been delighted by this unique look into Jane Austen's famous novels.

Anyone who has read most of Austen's books (and really who hasn't) will know money plays an important role in the characters lives. Either the revenue abounds or there is a complete lack thereof. An independent female at a time in history when females were not valued or protected by law, Austen had her own small nest egg to handle and handle it she did. She did well to stay within her means and left a tidy sums for her family upon her passing.

Austen's opinions regarding prudent spending and careful penny pinching abound in her books. Men who gambled their money away were painted as rogues, the types of men who could not be trusted. The men and women who were careful with their expenses came across as wise and organized.

This book has a different take on thrift than others I have read (and believe me I have read many, many books on the subject) and that makes it entertaining, fascinating and fun. Halfway through the pages I have yet to stumble upon any nugget of information that I had not come across before but that is not where this book gets it's value. The value is in the comparison between what Austen's characters would do, how they would perceive a situation and how Austen imparted her own opinions on the subject through the deeds and misdeeds of her characters. Call it a wake up call from two centuries prior. Debt was still debt in the Regency era with the only major difference between then and now being society's willingness (dare I say eagerness) to take it out.

All in all, it's an interesting book for fans of Austen and anyone looking for a recharge to their financial health. But I would charge you not to buy it, rather check your local library first and Jane Austen would approve.