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Good Literature for Children & Adults

The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter

If you are looking for a book for a 12 to 14 year old girl – I have the book for you! I promise you they will love The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter.

Every once in a while I read a pile of books written for teenagers – believing that if I am bored they will be too. When I recommend a book to a teenager I want to be able to say, “I loved it, and I guarantee you will as well”.

I have no doubts about recommending The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter!

Set in 1978, in rural Newfoundland this is a novel about ghosts, family secrets and for the two 13-year-old girls involved, Ruth and Ruby, it is about a summer of discovery.


Ruby has come from Toronto to stay with her Aunt Doll in Buckle, a small harbour community in Newfoundland. She meets her cousin, Ruby, for the first time and the girls become fast friends. Apart from a striking physical resemblance, both of their mothers died when the girls were very young. Ruby’s father remarried and she has three younger brothers, but it is only this summer that Ruth’s father has married again, and is leaving for a trip to Greece with his new wife. Both girls feel a sense of loss, not only for the mothers they can barely remember, but also for the fathers who seem to have little time for them.

Aunt Doll allows the girls time to get to know each other, and for Ruth, raised as an only child, this new family is a wonderful experience. She meets Aunt Doll’s mother, a crusty old woman many call a witch. And Ruth finally understands why she has been having what appear to be visions – she has the Sight. As far back as can be known, from Ireland, seven generations earlier, some of the women in this family have had the Sight, and many have given birth to twins. Twins who die young, as did both Meg and Molly, the mothers of Ruby and Ruth.

The Ghost Road is a story about the past as much as the present, a past the girls discover through conversations with their Aunt and Grandmother, from the family tree found in the family bible, as they piece together the mysterious past, and the tragic coincidences that recur generation after generation. There is adventure, there is danger, there are family secrets revealed, and in the end there is an explanation for the curse on the twins in this family going back eight generations.

For Ruth and Ruby, two girls just finding their place in new family arrangements, the discoveries they make this summer provide them with a long line of family, and a sense of continuity. For Ruth, it is coming home to a home she did not know she had. She tells Ruby, “The rest of my life, outside of here, feels like a shadow. Or a black and white movie. But when I’m here in Buckle, it’s in colour.” It is the same for Ruby, and the two girls have found solace in each other.

Regardless of the changes in their lives the girls discover they are part of a long line of strong women. Ruth, who has dreams or visions of these women, comes to understand, “I think they’re all inside us, our mothers, our aunts, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They’re in there, living on in us.” 


A Trio of mystery novels

The Black Ascot by Charles Todd begins in 1910. The race at Ascot that year is called the Black Ascot to honour the late King Edward VII. The day ends with a death, and the beginning of a manhunt for the killer. We leap ahead in time to 1921 and find this old case re-opened when the man accused of murder, who disappeared a decade earlier, is sighted in England.

And once again, as always, we have the pleasure of spending time with Inspector Ian Rutledge as he puzzles his way through a complicated investigation. He believes there is enough evidence to prove that this man may be one who was sought in 1910 for the murder of a woman on the day of the Black Ascot. It is important to keep the investigation very low profile, so that it will not come to the attention of the man he seeks, and to avoid the attention of the press.

As always, Ian Rutledge struggles with his own demons, but less so these days. The investigation has our detective driving around the countryside in his lovely old car, staying in pubs and interviewing vicars. All the while building a picture in his mind of what really happened in the past.

Unto Us a Son is Given is Donna Leon’s most recent Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, the 28th! She once again shares with us life with Guido and his family, and his team of detectives. This time it is Guido’s father-in-law who asks for an investigation into the affairs of his close friend. Count Falier has known Gonzalo for many years, and is considered an honorary family member by the Brunetti and Falier families.

Gonzalo, who has never married, has declared that he is adopting a young man. He wants an heir. The Count has misgivings, as do other friends. Brunetti is asked to look into the young mans past to see if he is worthy of Gonzalo’s trust.

Of course there is always more going on than is obvious at first. Donna Leon is in good form with this one, and gives readers a lovely, if somewhat murderous, time among the calles and canals of Venice.       


The American Agent is the most recent Maisie Dobbs novel by Jacqueline Winspear. Everyone is saying the best yet – and I must agree. It is now the fall of 1941, and London is suffering the Blitz, night after night many many citizens of London are killed, and everyone is on edge. These are dark days. The Americans have still not committed to offering assistance, though there are American broadcasters and journalists in London writing and speaking to the people of the United States, urging that America respond. The hope is that if the American public knows what is happening they will put pressure on their own government to take action.  

Maisie and her friend Priscilla are on nightly duty with the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service and with them, one evening, is an American journalist, Catherine Saxon. A short time later Catherine is murdered, and Maisie is called to take the case. What follows is another complicated investigation, involving many of those who knew the victim, one of whom will be the murderer. Everyone is suspect, including a man from the past who it is clear is attracted to Maisie – and she to him.

These are three of the most recent novels in some of our most popular mystery series – if you have not read any, start with the first and you’ll enjoy spending all summer with Ian, and Guido, and Maisie.  


The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason

Daniel Mason is a Psychiatrist in the United States, “his research and teaching interests include the subjective experience of mental illness and the influence of literature, history, and culture on the practice of medicine”. He is also an author, known for his earlier best-selling novels The Piano Tuner and A Far Country. This past week I read his most recent book The Winter Soldier, and it is truly a great novel.


The Winter Soldier takes place during, and just after, the First World War. The story begins in Vienna where we meet a young medical student, Lucius Krzelewski. Lucius is of Polish extraction, the privileged only child of an affluent couple who found business opportunity in Austria.

When war comes, in desperate need of doctors, the army allows medical students who are close to graduation to become military doctors, and Lucius is off to war – to a field hospital in the Carpathian Mountains. He is welcomed by a nurse, a nun, Sister Margarete. Pan Doctor Lieutenant is quickly taught his trade by this nurse, who has overseen the field hospital in the absence of a doctor for some time. She has managed, as best she can, to control the spread of disease, and infestations of lice, and she has been amputating limbs – many, many limbs. Soldiers have arrive with injury from battle, and with frostbite. The only hope to save a life is to amputate and stop the spread of infection. For Lucius this is all so far removed from his studies in Vienna he can only follow her lead, identifying patients by name, battalion, and injury or diagnosis. It is only later that Lucius makes the transition from student doctor, with text book training, to a doctor who sees the complications of the patient, and the impact of disease on both the patient and their family, particularly after the war when families are reunited.


The challenges that faced Lucius during the war were many, and he is left haunted by his fears, and guilt. He also found a brief, precious and unexpected, love that was quickly lost. After the Armistice, Lucius returned to Vienna where he worked in a hospital treating returning soldiers who are suffering from the psychiatric toll of war. During this time Europe is in a state of great unrest, with borders shifted, and so many people displaced. There are prisoners of war returning and masses of people attempting to find loved ones lost to them in the upheaval of war. Lucius, too, is looking for the woman he loved so briefly. He travels, again, to the remote valley where he worked during the war, on a quest that will bring him the opportunity to come to terms with what he experienced, to reclaim who he was during that time, and free him of his burden of guilt.

One of the things I found most absorbing about this book, apart from the story of the individual characters, was the fact that it takes place on the Eastern Front. There are many books about the First World War that take place on the Western Front, about the Canadian, American or British war experience, but the Eastern Front was an entirely different battleground. Here battles were fought by Cossacks and Hussars in a massive territory of plains and mountains, a place and history vividly portrayed in The Winter Soldier.






Lines On The Water – A Fisherman’s Life on the Miramichi by David Adams Richards

Centuries ago, when I was a child, we spent our summers at my grandparent’s farm near Sussex, New Brunswick. This was the farm where my mother grew up, the middle of eleven children! We were, at a very young age, allowed to go off for the day as long as we returned for supper. My brother and I would take a stick and a string and a hook, dig some worms from behind the pig pen (always fearing a pig would come out of their shed), and go down the hill behind the barn, and across the meadow to the brook. The brook was shallow and we could walk along it without getting lost. We fished along the way, catching brook trout with ease. We cleaned them, and took them back to our grandmother who rolled them in a bit of flour and fried them in butter on the woodstove – the stove was always going no matter how hot the day as there was no electricity on the farm until 1965. I know this sounds like I grew up in the dark ages – but I suspect that life was much the same on the farm before 1965 as it was in 1865.

Every once in a while I have pulled out a fishing rod at the cottage and dropped it in the water, but it never had the same appeal as fishing in a brook. After reading Helen Humphrey’s most recent book Machine Without Horses, about the real and imagined life of Megan Boyd, a salmon-fly dresser who lived and worked all of her life in a small village in Scotland, I decided to book a fly fishing lesson.


A few weeks ago I spent an exhilarating and idyllic day on the Grand River, near Fergus, on a particular stretch of the river that is stocked with Brown Trout. The day I was there was one of great bird activity – hundreds of swallows swooping for bugs, Great Blue Herons and Osprey fishing for themselves, red winged blackbirds in abundance, and a lone oriole. There were a very few other fishermen, up and down stream, but no one except the Osprey caught any fish – and they very few. And, at least to me, it did not matter in the slightest. I learned how to tie my fishing lines together, and to tie the hook on to the line. I learned to cast overhead and from the side, learned some of the terminology, and best of all I had a day outdoors doing something that takes enough concentration to leave no room in your head for any thoughts other than to get that line where you want it to be. I was more than a little concerned that I’d be too uncoordinated to learn this, but apparently I was a natural. Once the rhythm of the cast is achieved it becomes both relaxing and controlled at the same time.


Looking for books to read about fly-fishing I re-discovered Lines Upon the Water by David Adams Richards, published in 1998, it was re-issued as a Penguin Modern Classic last year. David Adams Richards grew up near the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, and he has fished this river, alone or with friends since he was very young. He writes, “Fishing even then could take me out of myself”, something as much as, or even more important than, the catching of the fish! This is a memoir about fishing, in a place returned to, all of his life, no matter how far from home he has lived. He writes about his family and his friends, many who are guides, and some of the people he has met on the river. Adams has fished in all kinds of weather, with success or not, it seems there is no place he’d rather be. Fisherman or not you will enjoy this story, both humorous and profound, of time spent in the outdoors and the friendship of men.

Anna of Kleve – The Princess in the Portrait – by Alison Weir

Each year in the early spring readers of historical fiction look forward to a new book in the Six Tudor Queens series from Alison Weir. Beginning with Katherine Of Aragon, The True Queen, and continuing with Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession, Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen, and now Anna of Kleve, The Princess in the Portrait.


These are great big books, and have I read each of them in the early days of May each year in Newfoundland, when I have long days of uninterrupted reading. I may be looking out at eagles and icebergs but I am transported to Tudor England.

The earlier books in the series were about Queens I had already read about in books by other authors, but this Queen, Anna of Kleve, I knew nothing about and found her story a fascinating one - though far less dramatic and tragic than those who came before her.

Anna of Kleve was a European princess and her marriage to Henry VIII was arranged as an alliance between Kleve and England. A portrait was sent to Henry when he was shopping around for a 4th wife. Anna had long ago been promised to another, but a marriage to Henry was more politically advantageous. Though anxious about leaving her home and going to England Anna knew her duty was to her family and her country, and she found herself looking forward to marriage to a great King.

Anna becomes the wife of a man who has already had three difficult marriages; he is now an older man, and unwell, and they are not, it seems, physically attracted to each other. Henry may be hedging his bets, and Anna may or may not have any idea about sex and reproduction. In any case it is an odd marriage.

Of course, Alison Weir puts words into Anna’s mouth, and thoughts in her head, in order to create a story. And though the author has used original source material in her research she has also created as much fiction as fact.

Anna of Kleve is an interesting character and the time in which she lived is one of great change, as the alliances in Europe shift and religious observance in England is in flux, from Catholic observance to Protestant and back again. Henry VIII’s young children, one from each of his previous wives, are growing up and all develop a relationship with Anna who it seems is anxious to be a mother to them.

Fortunately for Anna, when her marriage to Henry ends she is not beheaded but simply put aside and continues to live as a “sister” to the King. And quite a nice life it is with her castles and properties and her many servants – but it is also a life in which she must be ever vigilant that she does not do or say anything that will cause her problems with the many factions that would be happy to see her removed.

I am always struck when reading Alison Weirs novels, that while writing historical fiction, she is able to make these women so contemporary in both their desires and their woes. In this case we see Anna, the discarded wife, attempting to make a life for herself while mourning the loss of her marriage.

Henry VIII dies in 1547, while Anna lives until 1557. In the decade after Henry’s death his son, Edward, becomes King, followed by Mary as Queen, with much political and religious upheaval.

Another series of historical fiction I have been reading this the past year is the series of mystery novels by CJ Sansom that take place at much the same time as the Tudor Queen novels and, of course, feature many of the same historical figures, with the addition of the fictional Master Shardlake.



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