Canada – From coast to Coast – Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper

ettaAndOtto2

Why a booktrail?

A love story spanning fifty years, two continents and a great ocean

Story in a nutshell

The past and present of three very different people living in the vast open space of the Canadian prairies.

Etta is a school teacher who settles in the vast Canadian prairies during the time of the Great Depression.  Years later she is now elderly and suffering from Alzheimer’s when she decides to go for a walk from Saskatchewan to Halifax to see the sea.

As she walks, the only thing she takes with her is a note which says ” Etta Gloria Kinnick of Deerdale Farm. 83 years old in August.” A reminder of who she is in case she forgets. She is later accompanied by a coyote who she calls James.

As she walks she thinks about the time she met her husband Otto, before he left to served in the army. She also remembers Russell who lives on the farm next door.

This is the story of Etta and Otto and Russell and James and how their stories interweave into threads of love, hope and nostalgia.

Place and setting

A rough guide to the Journey Etta takes us on!
A rough guide to the Journey Etta takes us on!

The Canadian prairies

Etta walks the story of her and Otto’s life – back when she was Otto’s schoolteacher, when they lived on a farm in a rural town close to their childhood friend and Ella’s not very secret admirer Russell.

From the past….

The farming community back in the day is a harsh environment with farming families needing large families to live off the land, Otto is from a large family , all of them ‘ruddy enfants’ . Russel is learning how farming works and how hard life is. Etta is left behind as Otto fights, waiting for his return.

To the present…

Now years later, the roles are reversed and Otto is forced to wait for Etta as she undertakes the journey of her life. As he waits, he tries to live as best he can. He draws a dotted line across the globe they have and imagines tracing her path and leaving a trail that he hopes will allow her to find her way back to him. He tells her of the day to day life on the farm in her absence and the fact if anyone asks, he tells them she’s out.

As she walks

Soon she meets and befriends a coyote who she calls James. The journey then takes on a magical, mystical feel as it becomes ever more risky for an elderly woman walking alone.

The days get hotter and longer with the sun coming up before five thirty and going down well after nine. The feeling of wandering, of a stream of consciousness portrays Ella’s mind as well as the vast and rural landscape which stretches out before her.

This is the story of a journey steeped in the past but stretching out in to the future and the horizon of their lives.

Left - North Saskatchewan sunset - (C) Tourism Saskatchewan and Greg Husar Photography Right - Saskatoon sunset (c) Tourism Saskatchewan/Hans-Gerhard Pfaff
Left – North Saskatchewan sunset – (C) Tourism Saskatchewan and Greg Husar Photography
Right – Saskatoon sunset (c) Tourism Saskatchewan/Hans-Gerhard Pfaff

Review

What a sweet and endearing novel! It’s hard to write too much about without alluding to what happens but it’s more of a  novel you experience and slowly get to know the characters through until you feel you’re walking alongside Etta. Poor Otto though! I really felt for him and his mapping out her journey on the globe. I felt his sadness and sense of abandonment but it was clever how roles were reversed and Etta had once been the one left behind.

This was a sad novel but a heartwarming one – well with a coyote called James who talks, there has to be some poignant moments. The whole story had an ethereal feel to it and a sense that like life, you are never meant to know or interpret everything as sometimes, things are best left open ended and vague.

A sweet, meandering novel and a love song to Canada at the same time. The music of which has lingered in my ears ever since.

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.

https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/a-place-called-winter-saskatchewan-canada-patrick-gale/

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.

https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/the-mountain-can-wait-canada-sarah-liepciger/

flag

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 Mountain Can Wait – Canada – Sarah Liepciger

mountain can wait

Why a booktrail?

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

Story

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.

Place and setting

Literary locations in the book
Whistler
Where the book opens and the accident occurs
Fort St James
A significant town close to the loggers plantations
Takla Lake
The men are leaving for the logging camp at Takla Lake
Trembleur
One of the lakes in the logging area
Kamloops
“Hills so old they were like old piles of bedsheets”
Nanaimo (the port and harbour)
The search for Curtis leads to here and Vancouver Island. Aguarush island appears to be fictional yet it could be any one of the small islands here

Literary tourism snapshots

Photos courtesy of Sarah Leipciger
Photos courtesy of Sarah Leipciger

Set in a stunning but scarred Canadian landscape, the landscape is at one with the story unfolding and the characters involved in it.

The story takes us from Whistler to Quesnel, Vanderhof, Fort St James and Takla Lake. A significant place is Aguarish Island near Vancouver island and the ferry ride to that place. The place names – Crossbow Creek, McCleod River and Black Pond reveal the close relationship of man and earth.

But the landscape here is something more of a persona experience too for the author not only evokes but recreates the raw and rugged life as a worker on the  lumber plantations of the Canadian Pacific Ranges. This is a lifestyle and setting unfamiliar to many but the details from the author bring this to life –

The logging camp in a dusty, rocky clearing, was small and functional; five long boxcars couple together in a row, elevated on concrete blocks

Accustomed to waiting the planters dropped their bags to the ground, sat against them, and smoked.

As well as the lumber workers however this is the story of the lesser known planters and the competition they face working on the mountains. The main threat however is the climate and the weather where a life in the mountains shapes everything in daily life –

“Weatherman says it only going to keep getting hotter and drier, we’d like you to move to fire hours”

The planters are known to smoke which is a fire hazard and so ‘if seedlings were handled in the middle of the day when it’s baking” they will dry out. Weather here more than anywhere dictates the rhythm of life and work.

The landscape which dictates and shapes everything in this place –

The uniformity of this place had a way of lulling a person into something like a dream

Land and people as one.

Bookish musings

Stark raw prose blends landscape and story well together. Tom searches for his son in a physical and emotional sense and the pain and scars are hard to face. Having had no knowledge of this part of the world and the world of the loggers and planters, it was a fascinating read of the mountains and the superiority of the landscape versus men. In fact the landscape was the central character for it shaped characters and story and I felt drawn into the land and its weather beaten ways.

A slow story for characters and plot but one which lingers with you and builds up a picture of a different life, a different way of thinking, and a father searching for his son in every sense of the word.

The relationships between a single father and his son is not one I’ve read much about and so this was both unique and interesting in equal measure.But it’s the setting which really shines.

A Place called Winter – Saskatchewan, Canada – Patrick Gale

mao if winter

Why a booktrail?

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.

Story in a nutshell

1900s London

Harry Cane is a quiet unassuming man who is also shy and eligible marriage material and so soon becomes married to Winnie Wells. Her family appear as respectable and the match a good one. Indeed marriage seems good and a baby soon follows.

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. Yet he finds something unexpected

Place and setting

The map at the start of the book
The map at the start of the book
BOOKTRAIL HALIFAX - Moose Jaw Winter Where Harry settles and the titled town of the novel Yonker Just down the line from Winter North Battlefields The HQ of the Dominion Lands office was here Cut Knife “There was sign of life in Cut Knife”
BOOKTRAIL
Moose Jaw
Winter
Where Harry settles and the titled town of the novel
Yonker
Just down the line from Winter
North Battleford/Battleford – The Battlefords
The HQ of the Dominion Lands office was here
Cut Knife
“There was sign of life in Cut Knife”

Three very different settings and their differences are highlighted by their stark contrast

The Asylum, Canada

As the novel opens, Harry is fighting to stay sane and alive in an asylum where he is forced to undergo treatments to settle his mind and to solve his ‘ troubles’. The treatment is harsh and unexpected. What has led to this? What is Harry’s story? Even a more comfortable establishment, causes Harry to have flashbacks on his life, taking us to London and then back to Canada at the start of the railways…..

Edwardian London

In London, Harry is a shy young man with a stammer and a lazy attitude to life in general. When at last he is married into the Wells family from Strawberry Vale in Twickenham,  London, it’s more a platonic relationship than anything else and his life is once more a societal expectation rather than a free reign. Observing women in the street-

Were they blameless less or scarlet?

Of course it was in the nature of respectability to reveal or imply nothing but itself.

These are the times with plenty of expectations and social constraints – taking a bath in Jermyn Street or attending the musical theatre of the Gaiety girls with his wife. They settle in Herne Bay and for a while life is good if not boring. Such strict constraints and expectations are shattered when he falls in love with another man. When people find out, the consequences are shocking.

Canada

To feel that emigration is the best solution to avoiding a relationship and the shame it would bring on your family is shocking and sad to read. Under the threat of total social isolation, he sets off to Canada where the saying is ‘Civilisation will follow the railway’ Harry becomes  homesteader and a labourer on  a remote Saskatchewan prairie.

The Canadian wilderness with its new railway towns is harsh, cold and very very remote and the settlements are changing the face of the landscape. On a  map of the Canadian Pacific Railway System, you can find Castle Battleford the home of the Dominion Lands office.

Another lesser railway went on from there to stop at places like Unity, Vera, Winter, Yonker and Zumbro. “Troels says the places are named in alphabetical orders because there’s nothing else to call them in  such a vast, empty space.”

The land and the work is harsh. The development of the railways and the men working on it is fascinating as it is hard to imagine the scope of the work they are doing. Painful, laborious and brutal conditions. Indeed even the packing list which all immigrants were issued with before arrival seemed harsh, then the reality once they get there is all the more so.

Two pairs Canadian mittens

A cholera belt

Two jerseys (Guernsey knit for endurance)

In this harsh climate far far away from the troubles of uptight and clinical London, Harry forms a new life and new friends but the threat of war and of other things is not too far away –

Where are the shackles around Harry’s ankles the tightest? In cold static London, the Canadian wilderness or the asylum?

mao if winter

Bookish musings

This was such a personal and heartbreaking story of loss and endurance that it was unbelievable that this poor man went through so much just because of who he was and the time he lived in. The author has taken a personal family story and has turned this into something poetic and haunting. Edwardian London contrasts with the working conditions of the harsh Canadian landscape and follows the struggles of one man, but I imagine representative of so many.

The setting of Canada and the part of history where the railways were booming and towns were growing up along the line was fascinating to read about. The lives of these people, the homesteaders and the roles men and women played were insightful and fascinating. Details such as the list given to those emigrating and the way the towns were named along the line drew an interesting picture of the Canadian wilderness.

A haunting story of one man’s quest to be himself and to escape the past.

And we think the book of 2015 that is not to be missed!

Canada Day!

Canada Day!
Canada Day!

Today is Canada Day – the national day of Canada – my adoptive land. It’s a country I feel a real affinity to and always celebrate the day – usually by making some home made poutine (chips and gravy with cheese curds) but it’s never the same.

And I’ve been back to Canada so many times I’ve lost count Well a ticket there only costs the price of a book or the use of a library ticket if you travel via fiction!

So for this Independent Book Week, I thought it was apt to buy a book set in Canada. Well, that was the intention. I ended up buying a few… and even went to places I hadn’t been before. This is the one I wanted to read first, and so this is my IBW2014 choice for Canada Day, eh!

Cool Water is useful in the desert environment...
Cool Water is useful in the desert environment…

Think Canada is all snow and vast urban landscapes? 

There is a very interesting and unique place, not perhaps known to as many people outside of Canada as within, but one which totally surprised me and lead me to buy a book as so much I wanted to go back there.

Saskatchewan

The mysterious ' desert' sands of Saskatchewan
(A) Moose Jaw, (B) Medecine Hat (C) The mysterious ‘ desert’ sands of Saskatchewan between Winnipeg and Calgary

Setting – Juliet, Saskatchewan – may be fictional yet  a character study of the people and the setting of a small prairie town in Western Canada.

Set amongst the sand hills in Saskatchewan yes that’s right -there is like a mini desert right in the middle of what assume to be a cold country. Well, I was as shocked as the next person – particularly as I had just passed through a place called Moose Jaw. Oh and after the sand hills, we passed through another town called Medicine Hat. (Does JK Rowling know about this? I feel this could appear in another HP story if she ever returns to the series) Already I liked the area-

The setting

Inspired by the area of  the Little Snake sand hills Saskatchewan and possibly even Swift Current, Saskatchewan, it really does seem to paint a broad picture of prairie life and the weird and wonderful facets of human nature. How does nature and environment affect the people who live in a chosen spot?

This book is a look at the people who live in the small and fictional town of Juliet. Apt that the town has a human name for it’s almost a character in itself. The story flows from one character to the next, the stories blending into each other – much like the sand on the sand hills themselves. Yet each small grain is important and together forms an interesting, larger picture.

The sand hills are made up of many different types of grains – some are sad such as the middle aged couple or the wife of the bank manager who realises after his death just what she has lost.

Other stories are light heartened and humorous but still retain the sense of poignancy that runs through the book. Every character is complex but as the book cover a little over 24 hours then the focus on them is tight and like a spotlight bringing every little detail into focus.

Fancy a trip to Canada like no other?

Take some Cool Water for the heat of Saskatchewan….