Canadian National Day – Let’s celebrate with a book!

Canadian Flag literary style
Canadian Flag literary style

Happy Birthday Canada!

Some of our favourite books of late have been Canada based and three upcoming ones we’re very excited about are Canadian too so perfect for Canada day is a little round up of Canada goodness –

Saskatchewan – A Place called Winter – Patrick Gale

mao if winter

Inspired by a real life family mystery of a family member who emigrated to Canada, Patrick Gale has drawn a sobering picture of love, family duty, self discovery and hope.

Harry Cane is a quiet unassuming man living in London and married to  respectable Winnie Wells. But behind the facade, the dark truth is bubbling and scandal is not far away. When it becomes too much to bear, Harry is forced to leave everything behind and to emigrate to the newly colonized Canadian prairies to work as a homesteader.

In a place called Winter, conditions are tough and this new life very different to what he expected. Winter can be harsh and Canadian winters the most difficult of all…..but that Gale evokes the landscape like no one else.

Whistler, BC and Saskatchewan – The Mountain Can Wait – Sarah Leipciger

mountain can wait

This is the story of the haunting relationship between father and son against the raw rugged mountains of British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Tom Berry is a single father and a loner – quite at home and at peace with his wilderness home. He’s struggled since the death of his wife to raise his sons with the tough love and respect he shows the mountains. his forestry business has taught him all about strength and perseverance and the need for man to respect his surroundings. His relationship with his sons may not be as easy however.

When Curtis is involved in  a  tragic accident and then flees the scene, Tom goes off hunting once again but this time for his son, Whether he can really track him down and reach him this time however is another question.


Three Canadian gems we’re very excited about reading –

The Gallery of Lost Species – Nina Berkhout – Vancouver and Ottawa

gallery of lost specia

Vivienne and Edith are sisters growing up in Ottawa, Canada in a very dysfunctional family where love and patience are not welcome house guests. Their mother sits on her bed of unrealized dreams and regrets and so is fixated on pushing Vivienne into beauty pageants ad more. Edith feels constantly lives in her sister’s shadow, but her imagination is allowed to grow so she she lives in a world of unicorns. oddities and extinct animals

AS Vivienne begins her descent into addition, it’s up to Edith as to whether she wants to stay in her own safe world now or leave trying to track down extinct animals and instead try to bring her own sister back from the brink of life.

Michael Crummey  – Sweetland – Newfoundland

SweetlandThe inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, each of them has been offered a generous compensation package  from the government to leave. Moses Sweetland will not leave however. He is haunted by the past and feels he has to stay. When finally he is forced to head to the mainland, he fakes his own death and stays on the island. The only other people here now are the ghosts of the past and the ghosts of the islanders whose porch lights still seem to come on at night….

And one for the bravest of the brave (which we’re not sure we are but we’ll read it when the sun is out and there are no shadows around –

Terry Boyle Haunted Ontario

hauted ontario

Terry Boyle takes us on a tour of haunted Ontario and around some of the most spooky and haunted sites around. We’re going to journey to the Victorian Beild House Inn in Collingwood and wait for the deceased doctor to make a room call, then pay a visit to see if we can spot the woman in white at the Joseph Brant Museum and ask her what she is looking for. Maybe we’ll stop by historic Fort George and see if we can see the ghosts of the past still pacing the grounds.

Canada has some cracking fiction and non fiction to share with the world and these are our five recommendations but there are tons more. The World needs more Canada? Well yes it does but if you can’t get there for real these books might just be the next best thing.

Canadian fiction eh?  We love it. Happy Birthday Canada!!


The Merit Birds – Vientiane, Laos – Kelley Powell


Why a booktrail?

A journey into a new culture and a new awareness as one boy moves with his family from Ottawa to Laos..


Eighteen-year-old Cam Scott has a lot to deal with at the moment. His dad is not around and his mum has just accepted a job posting in Vientiane, Laos which means a move halfway across the world.  What about his dreams of playing basketball for Ottawa not to mention the strange new culture and life he’s about to have forced on him.

His new life however has some strange effects on him as he begins to make friends and even finds love. There’s a way of building good faith here – you buy a caged bird –  a ‘merit bird’ and that gives you good karma. But when tragedy strikes, Cam finds himself needing a lot of good faith from a culture and people he realises he knows little about.

Place and setting

Laos - Vientiane - Talat Sao morning market Talat Sao is a morning market in Vientiane, Laos. Located at the eastern corner of Lan Xang Rd. and Khu Vieng Rd. in the heart of Vientiane, the morning market is open daily from 07:00 until around 16:00 Mekong River Seng must travel across here and hope that Mother Water saves him. It separates Thailand and Laos Laos - Vang Viend Where Cam says he was on the night of the party Laos - Vientiane  - Patuxai Traffic circle Where the merit birds are captured in cages. Patuxai is a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. Khang Kok Prison ( fictional)  One character ends up  in here - only foreigners go here. Apparently the prisons for Lao people are worse
Laos – Vientiane – Talat Sao morning market
Talat Sao is a morning market in Vientiane, Laos. Located at the eastern corner of Lan Xang Rd. and Khu Vieng Rd. in the heart of Vientiane, the morning market is open daily from 07:00 until around 16:00
Mekong River
Seng must travel across here and hope that Mother Water saves him. It separates Thailand and Laos
Laos – Vang Viend
Where Cam says he was on the night of the party
Laos – Vientiane – Patuxai Traffic circle
Where the merit birds are captured in cages. Patuxai is a war monument dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France.
Khang Kok Prison ( fictional)
One character ends up in here – only foreigners go here. Apparently the prisons for Lao people are worse

The journey to Laos was ‘first happy Millennium, then welcome to the dark ages’. Everything seems in slow motion, everyone is sleepy or relaxed and from the moment they get into a tuk tuk, Cam’s impression is clear

During the drive, I saw that Vientiane wasn’t even a city. It was just a bunch of grubby villages that grew into one another”

The Laos culture, seen through Cam’s eyes is a brutally honest, yet still colourful snapshot of life here. This is no paradise, the palm trees are skinny and the ponds stagnant. A  young woman kills a chicken at the side of the road – the palette of beauty and death mixing in to a glorious ruby red on the street.

From first impressions to some that linger 

They lived by the saying ‘boh penyang’ – ‘no worries.’ They saved their energy for telling jokes and helping out friends or family. It seemed kind of simple, yet profound at the same time. Weird how a poor country like Laos can be so rich.”

The Merit Birds are a way to build up merit and karma in one’s life and so when Cam is sent to Laos prison, the messages of Karma. Buddhist faith, the cultural differences in the country are all explored. How free was he really in Canada? How trapped is he now in Laos? As free as a bird?

Then I came to the last trembling bird. “Go!” I urged him. “Get out of here”. But the bird stayed – so used to the cage and so fearful of the unknown.

The sights, sounds, smells, faces and everywhere from the market stalls to the flashy clubs to the brown paddy fields and of course the inside of a Laos prison all stunningly evoked so the reader gets to experience it as Cam does. In vivid coulour. And those merit birds continue to flap their wings in your mind.

Bookish musings

Not having read much YA before – I know shame on me! I wanted to read this as it sounded very impressive from the outset. The locations were a particular attraction but as soon as I started to read, it was clear how this was going to be a mix of stories -an angry young teenager taken out of his comfort zone, a cultural shock to contend with and one heck of a misadventure. There’s a romance and  a search for the truth and that combination made for some interesting reading.

I felt completely transported to Vientiane and through Cam’s eyes, I felt a confused teenager in a new land with every noise, smell, sight –  even the weather was so very different to those in Canada.

It’s a coming of age story and there were times I could have slapped some sense in to Cam to be honest, but then that’s just me. The whole story is more important than any quibbles I had about him. Might be different if I were a teenager.

A really good blend of cultures, landscapes, teenage emotions and life lessons to be learned. Oh and the idea of Merit Birds was a particular highlight for me. What they are and what they stand for  – something to take away from this book no matter where in the world you’re from.

Brenda Chapman – tea and cake in Canada

Hi Brenda! Come in - I have lemon drizzle for you
Hi Brenda! Author of Cold Mourning set in Ottawa

A little while ago I reviewed the amazing Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman who sets her police procedural against the snowy backdrop of her home city of Ottawa. Well, she was gracious enough to accept some tea and cake with me recently and we had a right old chat! we reminisced a little about Ottawa, poutine in Quebec City and all that snow. And of course I asked her about Cold Mourning – my first post and review can be found here – 

Canadian crime fiction at its finest
Canadian crime fiction at its finest

If you haven’t come across any Canadian crime fiction before, then take a look at Brenda Chapman – you will not be disappointed.

Waiting for Brenda, tea ready, just waiting for the freshly baked cake to cool down before serving.
Waiting for Brenda, tea ready, just waiting for the freshly baked cake to cool down before serving.

Hi Brenda, come on in

Can I take your coat? The cake’s just out the oven, would you like a slice? It’s lemon drizzle. An old favourite of mine

Here, let me take that owl off that chair. He gets everywhere bless him. He’s in the pics and thinks he’s the star of the show!  I can’t wait to get chatting. I’ve got tons of questions. Are you sitting comfortably hehe?

I want to talk about your new book which is not out until March 2014 but which I want to give a heads up about! Cold Mourning….

 1. You’ve written a series of mysteries but this is the first in the Stonechild and Rouleau   series. What made you want to write this book?

Like many mystery readers, I am a fan of the police procedural series. Not only do I enjoy a suspenseful plot, but I also want to follow the development of characters and their relationships. My first adult murder mystery, In Winter’s Grip (Dundurn 2010) was a standalone, but I knew that this was a warm up to creating a series where I could take the characters and readers on a longer journey. In Kala Stonechild and Jacques Rouleau, I’ve created two complex, flawed cops who are intelligent and interesting enough to make me want to keep writing about them.


 2.How important is your snowy Ottawa setting to the plot?

For me, two of the most important aspects of the reading experience are to feel empathy for characters and to feel a strong sense of place. I studied poetry in university and have always been moved by the evocative use of language—words that bring me into the setting along with the characters and feel what they are feeling. One of my goals in writing this book was to describe Ottawa in winter well enough to have the setting feel like another character and for readers to experience something of what I feel when, for example, I step outside into a freezing winter evening or lie in bed at night, listening to the wind howl around the house.

3. How do you like Ottawa. I lived there for a short while and thought it amazingly friendly. Very pretty too with the feel of a small town. Where would Stonechild and Rouleau take me to in Ottawa?

I grew up in a small, isolated mill town of 2000 people on the north shore of Lake Superior, but moved to Ottawa after university. Ottawa is nearing a million people now, but still manages to maintain the small town, community feel with the countryside just a short drive away. With Ottawa as the setting for Cold Mourning, this allows me to draw on both my small town and city experiences.

Stonechild and Rouleau would take you on an insider’s tour of the city: the mansions of Rockcliffe and the colourful Byward Market. We’d follow Elgin Street to the Canal through the Glebe into Chinatown, Little Italy, Hintonburg, and my own neighbourhood, Westboro. We could take a trip across the Ottawa River into Quebec for a drive to the Gatineau Hills—spectacular in autumn when the leaves turn colour.


 4.How important was your Native American character Kala Stonechild. What you did try to show via her working relationship with Rouleau from the Ottawa police?

Kala Stonechild became the central character as I wrote Cold Mourning. I’d intended for her and Rouleau to have an equal share of the spotlight, but her storyline rose to the fore. Perhaps this is because Stonechild has such an interesting, disturbing past and she’s a newcomer to the police department. In addition, she’s out in the field investigating while Rouleau spends more time coordinating work back in the office. The fact that she is Native American, or Aboriginal as we say in Canada, is key to her character—her past is slowly be revealed throughout the series. The relationships that she develops with Rouleau and others on the force have room for a lot of intrigue, misunderstanding and conflict.

5. You create a lot of tension and twists and turns along the way. Did this novel take a lot of plotting?

I’m actually not a big plotter aside from broad strokes; for example, I decide on a crime, victim and perpetrator. I have an idea of the characters but they take shape as I write, sometimes with new ones appearing out of nowhere. Once the story gets going, I spend a good deal of time reworking scenes and thinking about the next chapter. This means that I sometimes have to rewrite sections later on to make everything fit.


6.What kind of research did you do?

The type and depth of research that I undertake depends on the project. In addition to writing, I work as a senior communications advisor for the federal government and so track stories about my files in the media. I’ve worked on Aboriginal files for the past four years, and while I cannot use anything I learned specific to these files, I can use the general knowledge I’ve gained through reading news articles and information available to the public. Kala Stonechild is the result.

To keep the storyline authentic, I had a retired Ottawa police officer read the Cold Mourning manuscript to give me feedback on the crimes and clues. He gave me insight into the police working environment that I would not have had otherwise.

I also use Google maps extensively, but know Ottawa intimately since I’ve lived here over thirty years. Still, there is nothing like first-hand experience when it comes to writing about a location; I made two field trips to locations on the Rideau River to find the perfect location to kill off a character. My brave husband came along on the isolated walks through the woods, although I had to promise not to reenact any of the scenes.

 7.Here in the UK, Canadian crime fiction can be somewhat overshadowed by that from American or Scandinavia. What makes Canadian fiction unique?

Great question. Every country has its own geography, history, customs and way of viewing the rest of the world. Canadians are no different in this regard, and our stories are no less fascinating.

Canadians are known for being polite and cooperative, but we are so much more than these traits. We come from explorer stock and have been shaped by a vast, rugged landscape with long winters and immense, untamed stretches of wilderness. The multi-faceted geography is evident the lives we lead. It has made us survivors and innovators; and while we’ve worked to control our environment, deep down we know that it is our environment that has the final say. A person living in Newfoundland has a much different reality than someone living in the Prairies, the Arctic or Montreal. We Canadian writers bring this wealth of multicultural experience, geography and flavour to our stories along with a haunting, intangible quality that is uniquely Canadian, and is shaped I think, by our closeness to the land. We also share a droll, dry sense of humour and an ability to see the absurdity in life.


 8. You attend your ideal book fair and meet your 4 favourite authors or those who have inspired you. Who would they be?

When I was growing up in that small northern town, my favourite author was Enid Blyton—the Famous Five, the Secret Seven—her mystery stories shaped my love for working out clues and solving a good puzzle.

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is the novel that taught me about creating empathetic characters against the backdrop of a well crafted story. This was a book I read over and over when I was in high school.

Current day, I would love to while away an evening in the pub with Michael Connelly, Denise Mina, John Harvey and Liza Marklund, all writers whom I respect and admire for their great story-telling and believable, flawed characters.

Thanks Brenda for answering all those questions I’ve thrown at you! Very kind of you. I do like a good natter about a good book. I hope you’ve enjoyed the cake and tea. There’s more in the pot. Care for another slice of cake too?

Think we’ll leave it there for now but not before I share two things with you – Brenda’s website and the link to a future Canadian classic 


Cold Mourning in Ottawa


Cold Mourning is the first book in a new series by author Brenda Chapman – a well known and well respected mystery writer

Set in Ottawa, Canada, the plot is as chilling as the cold, snowy setting

Native American Kala Stonechild moves to Ottawa for her job and for something else as well. She lands herself a job in a special unit of the Ottawa Police Department headed up by detective Jacques Rouleau.

Both Stonechild and Rouleau have a past and this is one of the novels strengths -we get to know them on a much deeper level and start to care for them early on in the story.

They have a case to investigate and so must work together – business man Tom Underwood has gone missing and Rouleau’s team is charged with finding what has happened.

When the case later turns to a murder investigation, family, friends, and business colleagues are all under suspicion. Everyone could have had a motive and the twists and turns through out the book made it hard to guess which makes the end a nice treat. There might be so many motives but no real evidence. Each character is flawed, and the subplots and background set up a perfect backdrop to this first in  a series of novels.

You see, Tom is not your ordinary business man – he has a very disfunctional family and questionable friends. Not to mention the character of the man himself –

 Tom Underwood looked across the room at his wife and wondered how it would feel to place his hands around her slender neck and throttle the life out of her

Meanwhile, Kala has her own mystery to solve – she needs to find her cousin, with whom she once shared a horrific nightmare of brutality and murder.

A cold winter in Ottawa
A cold winter in Ottawa

A multilayered novel with a unique premise made all the more chilling by the frosty cold environment of an Ottawa winter

The snow there was soft and deep, but years in the bush made her sure-footed and quicker than most in the shadowy darkness

If you haven’t read any Canadian fiction, you would not go wrong starting with Brenda Chapman – an Ottawa gem