Donna Milner: Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Somewhere In Between

We're pleased to feature new list of unlikely love stories compiled by Donna Milner, author of After River and the new novel, Somewhere In-Between.

About Somewhere In-Between

Following tragic events from which Juliee O'Dale believes she will never recover, she buys into her husband Ian's dream to give up their comfortable city lives and retreat to the isolated Chilcotin area of British Columbia. Only after purchasing the remote six hundred-acre cattle ranch do they realize that they have inherited the reclusive tenant who occupies and old trapper's cabin on the property. As both Juliee and Ian wrestle with their individual guilt over their deteriorating marriage and their sorrow, they also have to contend with the wilderness at their doorstep and the mysterious tenant, Virgil Blue.


On first look, neither these books nor my own new book are love stories. It appears that the more common theme here is loss, personal and family tragedy, broken relationships, heartache and heartbreak, rather than romance. War often raises its ugly head.

But on second look, hidden beneath all the sorrows, hardships and conflict, there is also the truth that there is no life without heartache, no romance without heartbreak. At the core of all these novels is the resilience of the human heart and the underlying universal nuances of what it means to be human, to love and be loved. And in the end, isn’t it always about love?

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden: I have read and re-read every one of this author’s books, just for his mastery of the written word. His latest work took my breath away. In The Orenda, Joseph Boyden has taken a historically charged subject and delivered a brutally brilliant novel that is already a Canadian classic. Beneath the tragic realities of this powerfully woven tale, it is not hard to find the love—love of family and the affinity of community, love of the land, and of a way of life.

Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell: This tragic saga of two Ukrainian families who have immigrated to Alberta to escape the tyranny of Stalin in the 1930s is told with gut-wrenching honesty. Catastrophe after catastrophe follows after the father of one family, Theo Mykolayenko, returns home after serving two years in prison for the crime of stealing his own grain. The unspoken love and conflicts between husband and wife, brother and sister, and cousins pull the reader through the heartbreak of circumstance. Each time I recommend this novel to a friend, I find myself telling them that "the story will break your heart, but the writing will make you sigh."

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson: Mary Lawson’s third book, Road Ends, was published last year. I read it the moment I could get my hands on it and, like her last two novels, I loved this story. Still, my favourite is her first, Crow Lake, an emotionally charged tale of tragedy and redemption, the abiding joy of family love, and the sacrifices made in the name of that love. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention how delighted I was to discover that in Road Ends, Lawson brings back one of my favourite characters from Crow Lake, Bo Morrison, and we get to see how this feisty little girl has grown to become a feisty young woman.

Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway: Based on a real-life cellist who, every day for 22 days, sat out on a street in war-torn Sarajevo with sniper fire surrounding him, and played his cello to honour 22 citizens killed by a mortar shell while standing in a bread line. If that’s not love I don’t know what is. Told with a sense of love for a place—which I was surprised to learn this young author had no ties to—you will find it easy to imagine that the storyteller was there, saw it, felt it, because he makes certain that you do.

The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart: A cross-generational saga, this story spans an immigrant family’s 19th-century arrival in the Ontario wilderness to a post-war world on the silent battlefields of Vimy Ridge. It is a passionate tale of love found and then lost to the Great War, and the power of love to heal. Urquhart’s fictional tale paints a picture of Vimy Ridge, and the building of the great stone monument on the French countryside, which honours the thousands of Canadians who fell there, far more vividly than any cold fact history book ever could. 

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields: This timeless novel has the great distinction of winning both the Governor General’s Award for English Literary Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Every few years, I re-read this story of Daisy Goodwill, whose life begins in the first decade of the twentieth century and ends in the last. Spun through the backdrop of the times, The Stone Diaries shares one woman’s trials and tribulations, her loves and struggle for love, which most everyone can relate to.

Broken Ground by Jack Hodgins: The clichéd phrase, "I couldn’t put it down,” is one that authors never tire of hearing. This was exactly how I felt as I read Jack Hodgins’ emotionally charged tale of family and community, all trying to carve out new lives on Vancouver Island in the wake of the First World War. The array of characters and their individual stories are both heart-wrenching and inspiring. And the bonus is that many of these characters reappear in a number of Jack Hodgins’ other books, which, once you have closed the last page on this one, you will want to search out.

A Good Man

A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe: The final novel in Saskatchewan author Guy Vanderhaeghe's trilogy is set in the waning years of the nineteenth century. This one is my favourite of the three, in that the love story is so beautifully woven amongst Vanderhaeghe’s use of historically accurate figures, fictional characters, and in his depiction of events that occur between the Sioux Nation and the Canadian and American governments along our shared border. I read these three books in order of publication, but you can start with any one of them and it will stand on its own. But do read them. The writing is simply brilliant.

Cool Water by Diane Warren: I just have to include this quiet story that takes place over a 24-hour period in Juliet, Saskatchewan, a town of just over 1000 people. Light and energetic, this humorous and heartwarming portrayal of an ordinary day in the lives of ordinary people is perhaps the most suitable choice for Valentine’s Day. The writing is clear and never overly sentimental, yet will have you rooting for Warren’s cast of flawed characters as their lives intersect. Simply exquisite.

Book Cover A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: Few books have affected me as much as this one did. Perhaps in its bleakness and misery most would say that it does not belong on a February reading list, and I would agree—except I believe it is one of the finest books ever written. It is dark and bleak, yes. It will run your soul through a gantlet of emotions, wring out your heart and leave it hung to dry. But through Mistry’s understated, matter-of-fact narration, you will find yourself falling in love with these four characters. You will find respite in moments of compassion and laughter, kindness and love, that seem so much larger because the cost is so dear. So if you haven’t read it, do so with the warning that it will make you weep. Then again, perhaps save it for the rainy month of March. 

Donna Milner

Donna Milner is the author of After River, an internationally acclaimed novel, published in twelve countries and translated into eight languages. Her second novel, The Promise of Rain, was a Globe and Mail top 100 pick for 2010.

Born Donna Jones in Victoria, British Columbia, Donna spent her childhood in Vancouver. As an adult she relocated to the town of Rossland in the heart of BC’s West Kootenay, and ten years later moved to the central interior city of Williams Lake. She now lives in an off-the-grid, eco-friendly lakeside home in the Cariboo woods with her husband, Tom, and their dog, Beau. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

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Win a copy of Somewhere In-Between on Goodreads

February 10, 2014
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