Recommended Reading List
Favourite Reads of 2014
Download list
Please login or register to use this feature.

Favourite Reads of 2014

By Jennifer D.
1 rating
A collection of the wonderful books I read this year (includes fiction and nonfiction).


also available: Paperback
tagged :

From the award-winning, bestselling author of Galore comes another unforgettable novel. By turns darkly comic and heartbreakingly sad, Sweetland is a deeply suspenseful story about one man's struggles against the forces of nature and the ruins of memory.
     For twelve generations, when the fish were plentiful and when they all-but disappeared, the inhabitants of this remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing res …

More Info
Come, Thou Tortoise

Come, Thou Tortoise


A delightfully offbeat story that features an opinionated tortoise and her owner who find themselves in the middle of a life-changing mystery.

Audrey (a.k.a. Oddly) Flowers is living quietly in Oregon with Winnifred, her tortoise, when she finds out her dear father has been knocked into a coma back in Newfoundland. Despite her fear of flying, she goes to him, but not before she reluctantly dumps Winnifred with her unreliable friends. Poor Winnifred.

When Audrey disarms an Air Marshal en route to …

More Info

The plane is a row of gold circles and a cockpit. One of those circles will carry my head halfway home. I count back fourteen. That circle. In the cockpit the pilots are having a good time. Boy are they. Coffee cups have to be put down. They are really laughing. One puts a hand on the other’s shoulder. Then the one with the hand leans over and kisses the other’s cheek. A quick impulsive happy peck.

A fellow passenger joins me at the terminal window. Hey, I tell her. Our pilots just kissed.

No response.

I’m thinking that kiss bodes well for our safety.

She pretends she has a cup to throw away.

That is my plane. With the word nap resolving on its tail. How do I feel about that acronym. Not great.

My phone rings and it’s Linda.

What’s up.

Winnifred isn’t moving.

Never assume a tortoise is dead. Rule Number One of Tortoise Ownership. What’s the temperature in your apartment. Remember it’s winter. It’s still dark. She ’s not nocturnal. These and other environmental factors have likely caused her to withdraw into her shell. Her heart beats maybe once an hour. Be patient. Wait an hour.

Still, I crouch down next to the window. Feel the heat coming up from the vent. Is my tortoise dead. Should I go back.

My own heart is all apatter. This is being alive. Can you feel the body worry before every beat. I can. Will this be the last. No. Will this be the last. No.

Should I go back.

I look up at the pilots who are possibly in love and I don’t want to catch any other plane but this one. This is my plane.

Yesterday I peered down into her castle and she was beside the pool making the same journey I’d seen her start two days ago. I knocked on her shell. Excuse me, Winnifred.

No legs emerged. No little ancient head.

I picked her up and held her under my armpit. This usually worked. I did have a heat lamp, but paper castles tend to be flammable.

Finally she woke up.

There, I said. I put her in the pool.

I knelt down beside the castle with windows that look out onto my kitchen. Many times I have seen Winnifred poke her head wistfully through one of those windows. Many times I have seen her drop a piece of lettuce like a note.

She climbed out of the pool and creaked over to the window.

I have to go home for a while, I said.

Winnifred is old. She might be three hundred. She came with the apartment. The previous tenant, a rock climber named Cliff, was about to embark on a rock climbing adventure that would not have been much fun for Winnifred. Back then her name was Iris. Cliff had inherited Iris from the tenant before him. Nobody knew how old Iris was or where she had come from originally. Now Cliff was moving out. He said, Would you like a tortoise.

I would not say no to a tortoise, I said.

I was alone in Portland and the trees were giant. I picked her up and she blinked at me with her upside- down eyelids. I felt instantly calm. Her eyes were soft brown. Her skin felt like an old elbow. I will build you a castle, I whispered. With a pool. And I was true to my word.

Hold her under your armpit, I tell Linda.


Trust me.

And I hang up.

That was rude, but I am not myself. I am unslept. I am on automatic pilot. This image brought to mind by the pilots who clearly aren’t. What does automatic pilot mean. I picture an inflatable pilot, but that is from a movie. Automatic pilot is just a computer. It is what flies the plane when the pilots take a nap or make out. It is what kicks in metaphorically when your dad is in a comma, sorry coma, and you are summoned home and you must make arrangements for your tortoise.

Last night I stepped outside carrying Winnifred in her castle and the sky was busy with stars.

Look, Win, I said. The past. Because the past is what you are looking at when you look at the stars.

Winnifred looked up.

That’s where I’m going tomorrow, I said.

We drove out to Oregon City where the streets are all named after presidents in the order they were elected, so you can’t get lost if you are American and know your presidents. Linda and Chuck live on Taft. When I pulled up, Chuck was outside smoking with his actor friends.

Evening, Chuck.


As I climbed the steps, one of the actor friends said, Am I hallucinating or is she carrying a castle.

Yes, a castle.

Four people at my gate are knitting. Knitting needles are allowed on planes again. At security there was a new and definitive list of Objects You Cannot Take in Your Carrion Carry- on Luggage. All the usual weapons from the game of Clue were there, minus knitting needles, and with the addition of snow globes.

I patted my pockets and said, Where’s that snow globe.

The security woman in blue pinched the bridge of her nose like I was causing her pain right there.

Move on, please.

In the little kiosk inside security there were knitting needles and wool for sale. Christmas colours. So knitting is enjoying a revival.

I limped on to my gate.

Earlier, in the apartment, I had tripped over my carry- on bag in the dark. I had lain in the dark and thought, I won’t go, I’ve been hurt. I lay there and looked up at the sloped ceiling, still bumpy with Cliff ’s climbing holds. Cliff liked to refer to the ceiling as an overhang.

I had sent him an email saying, My dad is in a comma and waiting for me to open his eyes. Must depart. Apartment available for your use. Tortoise with Linda and Chuck.

No reply.

I sent him a second email: I meant coma.

I lay on the floor. My cab with its little Napoleon hat was puffing in the street.

Get up. Go.

When the right person arrives at the bedside of the comatose person, the comatose person opens his eyes. Everyone knows this. This is Rule Number One of Comatoseness.

Yesterday Uncle Thoby called and said, Oddly. There’s been an accident.

Which word made me sit down on the kitchen floor. Accident, I said.

Your dad received a severe blow to the medulla oblongata as he was walking home. From, this is unbelievable, a Christmas tree. Hanging sideways out of a pickup truck.

Uncle Thoby’s voice was okay until he got to pickup truck. Then it broke down. I didn’t understand. Hit by a Christmas tree. Or walking home from a Christmas tree. Or what.

Hit by. On his way home.

I thought about this. Finally I said, I have a question. Are you ready.


Here it is. I’ve got it. What is a medulla oblongata.

A brain stem.

Oh. Right. So a Christmas tree stem had collided with my dad’s brain stem. And now he was in a coma. I put my hand on the back of my neck. I had forgotten that the brain has geography. The human brain is 1,400 cubic centimetres of geography. Our heads fit inside airplane windows for Chrissakes. We are small and we can be pitched out of our geography.

I’ll come home, I said.

close this panel


also available: Hardcover

Award-winning novelist Joan Thomas blends fact and fiction, passion and science in this stunning novel set in nineteenth-century Lyme Regis, Englandthe seaside town that is the setting of both The French Lieutenant's Woman and Jane Austen's Persuasion.
More than forty years before the publication of Th …

More Info

They were powerful charms, curiosities. The people who came to Lyme Regis to take the waters would pay sixpence for the meanest little snakestone, and carry it for luck. Mary’s mother had worked the curiosity table until lately, and if a customer had trouble parting with his coin, she would fix a soft look on him and offer a charm against wizening. She was not bold in her manner and the gentleman would startle and wonder at her meaning. But usually he bought, after that.
Now that her mother had the baby to look after, the curiosity table was Mary’s job. Mary had come out early to get set up for the coach from Bath. Her wares were all organized on the table, and the square was still empty. There was just the brown hen tethered beside her, and the pauper Dick Mutch lying in stocks a few feet away in front of Cockmoile Prison. Mary sat deep in thought, her eyes on the moon, a useless, daylight moon, floating in a blue sky.
Wizening – it was a complaint particular to men. She needed a more general charm. Blindness, she finally decided. She tried it out in a low voice: “They be a powerful charm against blindness.”
She watched the moon impale itself on the steeple of the shambles, and then she bent back over her wares: Devil’s toenails, sea lilies, thunderbolts, brittle stars, verteberries, snakestones. Mary had lined them up in rows by kind. The loveliest were the snakestones, coiled serpents in gold and bronze – missing their heads, though, in their natural form. Mary’s brother Joseph had come home on his dinner break expressly to rectify this. He used a tiny stone chisel to make a pointed smile on the outer coil of each snakestone, unconsciously holding his mouth in the shape he was aiming for. Then he took up a drill to make the eyes. Six snakes had been so improved before he ’d had to pelt back up Church Street to work. On second thought, Mary slid these six out, and made a separate row for them at the front of the table.
Just as the moon freed itself from the steeple, a silver bugle sounded from the top of the hill. This was the signal for every peddler in town to pour into the square. Then there was the coach itself, plunging down Broad Street in heavy pursuit of its wild-eyed horses, and in a flash it sat, a black and gilt cage, gleaming in front of the prison. The footman had a stool at the ready and the door burst open. First out were two small dogs, touching smartly down on the footstool, and then a collection of gentlefolk, dazed by their harrowing descent and by the brouhaha of the men in the prison, who stuck their arms through the beggars’ grate and set up howling at the sight of strangers. Last off were the poor, struggling down a ladder from their perch on the roof.
In a trice, the visitors were set upon. Mary got to her feet but she did not call out. It was not in her nature to hawk, and in any case, buyers always came to the table on their own. The curiosities drew them – Mary had often experienced this power when she collected on the shore. And indeed, two ladies strolling over to look at Annie Bennett’s lavender had spied the curiosity table over Annie ’s shoulder. And then Annie lost them, they were making their way eagerly towards Mary.
“What curious stones!” said the larger of the two, picking up one of the snakestones with her gloved fingers. “What on earth are they?”
“They were living serpents one day, but Saint Hilda turned them to stone. She were clearing the earth of serpents for the protection of innocents.” As she spoke, Mary deftly turned her boot to hide the clot of mud on the hem of her skirt.
The lady wore a red and blue braided jacket, all in vogue with the high-born since the war began. As though these ladies fancied they might be called upon to fight Bony! She held the snakestone up to the light, admiring the way the snake rested its chin on the round coils of itself with a smile.
“King George himself would be proud to wear such a beauty on a sash on his belly,” Mary offered. “If he had the wits to know it.”
“If he had the wits,” cried the large lady to the other, as though a dog had made a jest, and Dick Mutch in the prison stocks (as mad as the poor king himself ) set to cackling, so that Mary must smile and say, “Pay the poor lummick no mind.” The lady set the snakestone back on the table and made to open the reticule on her arm, but her companion leaned in and said something Mary could not hear, and without another word or even a glance at Mary, the two of them went off across the square with their dogs running behind them. It was foolish to mind the discourtesies of the high-born, but Mary did mind. I should have spoke of blindness, she thought.
The square cleared, and it seemed she would have no luck at all that day, but then a man with a dirty blue bag tied to his saddle rode up on a horse. After he had gone, Mary was burning to go down to the cabinetry shop and tell her father what had transpired, but first she must pack up their wares. Sliding the curiosities onto the tray, she named them all to herself, using the queer words the stranger had used for them: the ordinary snakestones he had called ammonites, and the beautiful snakestones worked in gold and bronze, pyrite ammonites. But then, before she could go downstairs, Mrs. Stock from Sherborne Lane came bustling up to the house, and Mary must stay in the kitchen with her mother.
Mrs. Stock came inquiring after Percival, who lay like a wax doll in his cot by the cold hearth, hardly bigger than the day he was born. She was a widow with an ardent, reproachful manner that implied she would one day be more than she was, and should be heeded. She sat on the rush chair in the kitchen and darted her hungry eyes around the bare cottage as though their misfortune was secretly to her taste. Percival began to make his mewling cry. Molly picked him up and sat down in the chimney corner, opening her blouse and inching her shift down on the side away from Mrs. Stock. She spread her fingers so a leathery nipple popped out in the crotch between them, and stuffed it between Percival’s lips. He gave a tiny cry of helplessness and Molly tipped her head, resting it against his.
Mary sat on the bench and willed Mrs. Stock not to see her mother’s breast, which had been full to bursting when Percival was born and hung slack now like an empty bladder. This was down to Percival, who, for all he was an infant, had a part to play in maintaining his own keep and did not seem inclined to play it. At the end, the second Henry had been ill and thin like Percival was now, although Mary remembered him as having a queer smell to him that Percival did not have, a smell of chaff or uncured hay. The doctor came and gave him a medic, and just before he died, he coughed up two worms, both of them dead. It was the medic that killed them all three, Mary’s father said.
Mrs. Stock sat talking, talking, puffed up like a rooster with news. She had learned of a lad who had the power to heal, by virtue of being a seventh son. “The seventh son of a seventh son has the power to raise from the dead,” she explained, with the air of a teacher instructing the dim-witted. “But this boy is purely a seventh son.” The lad was only twelve, not much older than Mary, and already he ’d healed boils, dropsy, a child with a withered foot, and a woman vomiting black bile. He lived in Exeter, not so very far away.
Mary’s mother hated Mrs. Stock (she had privately said so more than once), but she couldn’t help but listen – she was a slave to the hope Mrs. Stock carried into the kitchen. They had no coals, so she sent Mary next door to the Bennetts’ to boil the kettle for tea. Mary measured out just two dippers of water so the kettle would boil quickly. When she came back, her mother was still nursing Percival and Mrs. Stock was working her way through a list of questions. She inquired as to the exact date Mary had turned eleven, as though she was hatching a plan for her. Then she turned to Lizzie, who was playing with oyster shells on the floor. “And you’re three now, my pretty one?”
Lizzie kept her head down and did not reply. “Four,” Mother said.
“And your big lad? Fourteen, I reckon? And he’s well? You had good success with the onion?” This last in a clever voice.
So then Mary saw why Mrs. Stock had come, and marvelled that she had waited this long to ask. A few weeks before, word of the pox had spread up the Dorsetshire coast, and Mrs. Stock had advised peeling an onion and hanging it from a string in the doorway to draw the pestilence to it. Mary’s mother had followed the advice, and she told Mrs. Stock so now. She had peeled the onion and hung it in the middle of the lintel. It was Richard who made her take it down – he had no use for jommetry. “He’s a history and a mystery, my Richard,” Molly said, laughing in a shamefaced way. “He will always strike his own path.”
“So I’ve heard said,” said Mrs. Stock grimly. “Well, give us a look, then.” Molly told Mary to roll up her sleeve and show Mrs. Stock the three little circles at the top of her arm. They were healed now, as dry as fairy rings in grass. “God forgive and protect us all,” Mrs. Stock cried, closing her eyes and crossing herself. “There were many who told me, but I swore it could not be true.”
It had been early morning when they first learned about the pox – Mary’s father was going out to the latrine on the bridge when a man came up from the Cobb and told him. Six dead in Bridport, he said. At first, there was excitement in the town, people standing in the square going over who had told them, and what exactly was said. But at noon Mrs. Bennett came running up Marine Parade and announced in a shrill voice that the isolation hut on the Cobb was being turned into a pesthouse, where you could pay to have a bit of pox put into your arm and lie between life and death while the contagion was sweated out of you. Mary saw her mother’s face and then she grasped the terror the pox brought with it, although it seemed her mother dreaded the cure more than the disease. “It’s one thing to wait till the pox comes to you,” Molly said. She was standing in the workshop in the cellar of their house with Percival slung over her shoulder. “It’s another thing altogether to go to the pox, and die in a hut with strangers for your trouble.” In the light from the high window, her own pox-marks showed on her white cheeks like discs drilled lightly into chalk.
“The beast in the field waits,” said Mary’s father.
It was an empty argument, thought Mary, sitting on the workshop steps. Where would the Annings find the coin to take themselves off to the pesthouse?
That night, Richard went out to the Three Cups. He was redcheeked and singing when he came home, lit up by cider and by his bright new idea. He had taken a pint with Farmer Ware and they’d fallen to talking about the pox visited on cows at Ware Manor Farm. He was at the bottom of his third pint, he said, when the idea came to him: he would try his own version of the pesthouse cure, a barnyard version inspired by the fresh cheeks of milkmaids everywhere. Molly kept them awake with her crying, but the next day he took them anyway, just Mary and Joseph, took them out to Ware Manor Farm with its mossy yard the colour of the limes you saw loaded into ships in nets. The farmer led them into the cowshed, where a boy mucking out the stalls was made to put his fork down and pull up his smock. Red sores bloomed across his belly. They used the point of a clasp knife to scrape the boy’s cowpox into Mary’s and Joseph’s arms, three cuts each for good measure. In payment, Richard Anning gave Farmer Ware a thunderstone for the dairy, to keep the milk from souring.
“We be all one in nature,” Molly said vaguely. Mary rolled her sleeve back down. She kept her dark eyes fixed on Mrs. Stock. Mary was a healthy, God-fearing girl with a drop of animal humours in her, and if asked, she would assure Mrs. Stock that she felt better for it, although in truth she would have favoured a livelier animal than a cow – a fox with its dashing ways, or maybe a magpie.
Mrs. Stock finally fastened her crimson shawl with a clasp pin and took her leave, and Mary, almost choking by then with impatience, tried to slip down to the workshop. But her mother called her back. She had put Percival on his side in the cradle and she was at the chimney corner, prying the loose brick out to get at her leather pouch. She spilled the coins on the table – it was all half-groats and farthings. “Count it, Mary,” she said.
Mary slid the coins into rows by kind. The shillings the strange man had given her were pressed into her waistcoat pocket. “One shilling thruppence,” she said, keeping her voice flat.
“What is the fare to Exeter?”
It was sixpence to Axminster and Exeter was ten times as far. “Five shillings, if you ride outside,” Mary said.
Molly picked up the baby again and cupped his little head, straightening his cap. Then she carried him down into the workshop and Mary followed. Mary’s father was standing at the workbench fitting a dovetail join in a drawer. Molly went over all boris-noris and said, “Pray let me see the cash box.” Mary’s father laid the two parts of the join side by side on the workbench with a thunk. He reached the cash box from the cupboard shelf and handed it to her. He would suffer her to count the money, but that did not mean he would suffer her to spend it.
With her free hand, Mary’s mother slid the top off the cash box and moved her fingers over the coins inside, not really counting. “There be more than enough,” she said. Richard did not say what she wanted him to say, he did not ask, For what? “That were the Widow Stock upstairs,” she said in a heated-up voice. “There be talk of a healer in Exeter. A seventh son.” Richard turned back to his drawer and pressed his lips as he wedged the join together. He reached for his felted hammer and tapped at the join, and its two sides squeaked into the perfect little dovetail cells they made for each other. Her mother waited in silence another minute and then she turned and climbed back up to the kitchen.
Mary sat down on the workshop steps, her excitement about the gentleman on the horse suddenly falling away. She took off her bonnet and set it on the step. By what arithmetic did you compute which child was a seventh son? she wondered. They were four just then – Joseph, Mary, Lizzie, and Percival. Mary herself was either the first daughter or the third, depending whether you counted the dead in with the living. Or possibly she was the fourth: between her and the second Henry, there had been a babe that opened its eyes once on the world and shut them again, too early to say whether it was a boy or a girl. The parts were not made yet, Mary’s mother said (although, Mary noted, it had eyelids to close). Mary could hear the cradle rocking on the floor above, and her mother’s tread. Molly would be making a soft mush to try to get into Percival. Two shillings sixpence weighed still in Mary’s pocket. She had not offered the money from the curiosity table and her father had not offered the money from the cash box. There would be no help for Percival in Exeter; it would have to come from another quarter.
Mary sat and watched her father as he took up the second drawer and began to fit it together. He was working from the light of the window, which showed the sky in three rows of its panes, and then the sea. In the soft sawdust on the floorboards, she could see his footprints like the tracks of animals on the shore. This was a collecting cupboard he was making, with shallow drawers for the curiosities. For the rich, who could afford to horde what the Annings must sell. It was a strange passion with the high-born, filling their drawing rooms with thunderbolts and snakestones, although they could buy all the china figurines they chose. Richard was lining up the dovetails, bracing the drawer on the workbench. He needed a helper. But he’d apprenticed Joseph to Armstrong the upholsterer on Dorcas Lane. I’ve enough aggravation in my day, he said when Molly argued about it. Armstrong can have the thin-faced nesseltripe and welcome to him.
Mary stood up. “I’ll brace it,” she said.
“No,” he said. “Ye ’ve not the meat on your bones to hold it steady.”
So then Mary’s anger swelled up and sealed her mouth shut, then she could not tell him. About the strangeness of the man, the way he ’d sorted the curiosities according to the names he gave them, shoving the carved snakestones to the side as worthless. The way he ’d tried to speak to her as though she were a child, and how she’d shown him. “Last time I was at Lyme,” he said, “I ran into an antique fellow wandering the shore with a staff in one hand. On the search for the creatures he ’d refused onto the ark.”
Mary had stood up to her full height and declined to smile. “Noah,” she’d said.
“It was, lass,” said the man, regarding her with surprise. “I’ve been burning to know if these cliffs were here before the Flood. But he wouldn’t put his mind to the question. Shun the sea, he cried. He shook his staff at me. Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink! He had only two teeth left in his head, the sorry old codger.”
“But it were rain that made the Flood,” Mary said. “He could have drunk rainwater.”
The man had laughed, high colour rising in his cheeks. “Sharp as a blade,” he ’d cried.
Richard was fixing a handle to the second drawer of the collecting cupboard. He moved to the shelf for his screwdriver. His back was turned fully to the window and his face was erased by its glare. Something stirred in Mary at the sight of his bony form looming large and black against the glass. Then he stepped away from the light and she could see his face again (intent and inward, with no thought of her upon it at all). “Any trade off the coach?” he asked.
“Not off the coach.” She paused, and then she finally said it. “A man came on a horse and bought seven curios.” She reached into her waistcoat pocket and took out the coins.
Her father’s black eyebrows lifted and she caught the gleam of his approval as she opened the lid of the box and dropped the coins in. Then he turned back to the cupboard. “The Philpot dames have spoke for this cabinet,” he said. “Pick out a beauty snakestone. We ’ll put it in the top drawer to start them off.”
The Philpot dames! Miss Elizabeth Philpot always smiled kindly at Mary and was a healer in her own way, with a salve she offered anyone who came with a wound to her door. There were three sisters, but it was Miss Elizabeth Philpot who loved the curiosities, although she would not go down to the shore to collect. Mary ran upstairs to the tray she had left in the kitchen and picked out the best pyrite ammonite, one Joseph hadn’t yet got his hands on, and slipped it into her pocket.
As Mary carried the curiosity tray down to the workshop, Molly called and reminded her to go for water. Almost no one was out on the street – it was the afternoon lull. Broad Street rose up between proud shops and houses, and Mary climbed quickly towards the spring, wondering where the man with the blue bag was lodging. If he was lodging in Lyme at all. She could not determine where this man fit. He wore a top hat like a gentleman, but also a robe like an apothecary. He spoke like a gentleman, but he carried a dirty cloth bag. The degrees of the poor Mary could tell at a glance, but she was not skilled in the degrees of the rich. The degrees of the poor were the artisan, the servant, the labourer, the working poor fallen on hard times, and the true pauper (who had never been anything but). So three full degrees lay between a cabinetmaker’s daughter like Mary and the pitiful Dick Mutch lying in the stocks, although the high-born coming off the coach made no distinction between them at all. But Miss Philpot did, and it seemed this gentleman did as well. Mary thought of the familiar yet courteous way he’d spoken to her. As she climbed Broad Street swinging the bucket, she went over their entire exchange.
“Where did you find this gryphaea, lass?” he’d asked, looking at her with pale, protruding eyes.
“The Devil’s toenail, sir?” Mary said. “On the Devil’s beach.” It was Monmouth Beach she meant.
“The Devil’s toenail?” he said fiercely. “The Devil’s beach? Where did you get such notions? Our Lord made everything that is.”
How startled Mary had been at that – startled to her core! As though the man had peered into her head and pounced on what he’d seen there, a question that troubled Mary constantly. Everything you saw was made by man or God or the Devil; even Lizzie would have been able to tell you that. As Mary walked, she noted the handiwork of man on either side: the shops and houses built of brick and thatch, the window in the millinery shop that reflected back her bonneted head, the ordure floating in the sluice lake along the border of the street. But here and there, the hand of God broke through – in the green moss growing along the rim of the sluice lake, and the wisteria drooping purple on the kitchen walls at the backs of the houses. God also made the brambles that climbed up and choked the wisteria, and the stones that sprouted in the farmers’ fields, and the weeds growing up around the stones, and the pox. It was here the question grew perplexing. Some of God’s works were to serve man and some were to test him and punish him. So how could you be certain where the works of God ended and the works of the Devil began?
Mary veered off Broad Street then, still carrying the bucket. She took a detour to the meadow on Pound Street and, stopping at the edge of it, looked down on the town. All the world she knew lay below her. More than her world – to the east, you could see the Isle of Portland, so far away that Mary had no expectation of ever setting foot upon it in her life. To the west lay Monmouth Beach, exposed now by the outgoing tide. In counting up the handiworks of the Devil, Mary always named Monmouth Beach (over which a mist of wickedness hung even now, from the smugglers working that shore, and from her own sister Martha wailing in terror while the tide washed her around the point to her death). And of course the Devil made the dragons that lived at one time in the cliffs and gave their shape to the cliffs, the shape of their bodies curled up in a lair. So, if the Devil made the dragons, it seemed reasonable that he’d made the cliffs, and certainly Black Ven, glooming over the shore to the east between Lyme Regis and Charmouth.
But with an air of authority as grand as a king’s, this gentleman had given it all to God!
Mary stood a minute longer, looking down at the calm sea. The lopsided moon was floating above it. That moon was wizening – the tides would be slack next week. Then she turned back up towards the spring.
She was glad she’d not told her father about the conversation with the stranger. He’d have pinned a sneering name on the man. Her father took pride in scorning what others esteemed. A thought that had flickered in her mind when she saw Richard at the window came to her now: he had never had the pox, her father. But nor had he taken the cure at Ware Manor Farm. He is a history and a mystery, she said to herself.
But so was she! She thought of the moment the man had trotted into the square. It was his horse she’d noted first, a big-jointed mare of striking ugliness. The man was not looking in her direction at all – he seemed intent on going down to the shore – but Mary had called as loud as a costermonger, “Curiosities!” With no sign from its rider, the horse had stopped abruptly and dropped its head, moving loose lips over the cobbles in search of an errant stalk of hay, and the gentleman had had no choice but to swing off and come towards the table. Why had Mary  (who never cried out) cried out so suddenly at the sight of him?
But what especially chawed at her mind and would not let it go was this: that the man had looked at the curiosities without surprise. Not as curiosities, but as something known, calling each by name, wrapping each one carefully in a separate cloth from his blue bag. All with a bustling and a business-like air, as though he had come into town expecting and prepared to meet Mary Anning.

close this panel
The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers

also available: eBook Paperback Hardcover
tagged : literary

Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Stephen Leacock Medal, the Prix des libraires du Quebec and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and a #1 national bestseller, The Sisters Brothers is a violent, lustful, hung-over and hilarious odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier.

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die: Eli and Charlie Sisters can be counted on for that. Though Eli has never shared …

More Info


also available: Paperback

Following on the Giller Prize-nominated and Governor General's Literary Award-winning success of Ru, Kim Thúy's latest novel is a triumph of poetic beauty and a moving meditation on how love and food are inextricably entwined.
          Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband--a lonely Vietnamese rest …

More Info

Maman and I don’t look like one another. She is short, I am tall. Her complexion is dark, my skin is like a French doll’s. She has a hole in her calf and I have a hole in my heart.

My first mother, the one who conceived me and gave birth to me, had a hole in her head. She was a young adult or maybe still a little girl, for no Vietnamese woman would have dared carry a child unless she had a ring on her finger.

My second mother, the one who plucked me out of a vegetable garden among the okra, had a hole in her faith. She no longer believed in people, especially when they talked. And so she retired to a straw hut, far from the powerful arms of the Mekong, to recite prayers in Sanskrit.

My third mother, the one who watched me attempt my first steps, became Maman, my Maman. That morning, she wanted to open her arms again. And so she opened the shutters in her bedroom, which until that day had always been closed. In the distance, in the warm light, she saw me, and I became her daughter. She gave me a second birth by bringing me up in a big city, an anonymous elsewhere, behind a schoolyard, surrounded by children who envied me for having a mother who taught school and sold iced bananas.

Very early every morning, before classes started, we went grocery shopping. We started with the woman who sold ripe coconuts, rich in flesh and poor in juice. The lady grated the first half-coconut with the cap of a soft drink bottle nailed to the end of a flat stick. Long strips fell in a decorative frieze, like ribbons, on the banana leaf spread out on the stall. The merchant talked non-stop and kept asking Maman the same question: “What do you feed that child to give her such red lips?” To avoid that question, I got in the habit of pressing my lips together, but I was so fascinated by how quickly she grated the second half that I always watched her with my mouth partly open. She set her foot on a long black metal spatula that had part of its handle sitting on a small wooden bench. Without looking at the pointed teeth at the rounded end of the spatula, she crumbled the nut at the speed of a machine.

The fall of the crumbs through the hole in the spatula must just resemble the flight of snowflakes in Santa Claus country, Maman always said, which was actually something her own mother would say. She spoke her mother’s words to hear her voice again. And whenever she saw boys playing soccer with an empty tin can, she couldn’t help but whisper londi, in her mother’s voice.

That was my first word of French: londi. In Vietnamese, lon means “tin can” and di, “to go away.” In French, the two sounds together create lundi in the ear of a Vietnamese woman. Following her own mother’s example, she taught me the French word by asking me to point to the tin can then kick it, saying lon di for lundi. So that second day of the week is the most beautiful of all for Maman because her mother died before teaching her how to pronounce the other days. Only lundi was associated with a clear, unforgettable image. The other six days were absent from any reference, therefore all alike. That’s why my mother often confused mardi with jeudi and sometimes reversed samedi and mercredi.

Before her mother died, though, she’d had time to learn how to extract the milk from a coconut by squeezing chunks of crumbled flesh saturated with hot water. When mothers taught their daughters how to cook, they spoke in hushed tones, whispering so that neighbours couldn’t steal recipes and possibly seduce their husbands with the same dishes. Culinary traditions are passed on secretly, like magic tricks between master and apprentice, one movement at a time, following the rhythms of each day. In the natural order, then, girls learned to measure the amount of water for cooking rice with the first joint of the index finger, to cut “vicious peppers” (o´t hiê?m) with the point of the knife to transform them into harmless flowers, to peel mangoes from base to stem so they won’t go against the direction of the fibres . . .

That was how I learned from my mother that of the dozens of kinds of bananas sold at the market, only the chuô´i xie^m could be flattened without being crushed and frozen without turning black. When I first came to Montreal, I prepared it as a treat for my husband, who hadn’t eaten it for twenty years. I wanted him to taste once again the typical marriage of peanuts and coconut, two ingredients that in south Vietnam are served as much at dessert as at breakfast. I hoped to be able to serve and be a companion to my husband without disturbing anything, a little like flavours that are hardly noticed because they are ever-present.

Maman entrusted me to this man out of motherly love, just as the nun, my second mother, had given me to her, thinking about my future. Because Maman was preparing for her death, knowing that one day she would no longer be around, she sought a husband for me who would have the qualities of a father. One of her friends, acting as matchmaker, brought him to visit us one afternoon. Maman asked me to serve the tea, that was all. I did not look at the face of the man even when I set the cup in front of him. My gaze wasn’t required, it was only his that mattered.

He had come from far away and didn’t have much time. Several families were waiting to introduce him to their daughters. He was from Saigon but had left Vietnam at twenty, as one of the boat people. He had spent several years in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to Montreal, where he’d found work but not exactly a home. He was one of those who had lived too long in Vietnam to become Canadian. And conversely, who have lived too long in Canada to be Vietnamese again.

close this panel


also available: Hardcover Hardcover Paperback
tagged :

Robert Ross, a sensitive nineteen-year-old Canadian officer, went to war—The War to End All Wars. He found himself in the nightmare world of trench warfare, of mud and smoke, of chlorine gas and rotting corpses. In this world gone mad, Robert Ross performed a last desperate act to declare his commitment to life in the midst of death.


More Info
comments powered by Disqus

There are two ways to make a reading list

This way:

  1. Click the "Create a New List" button just above this panel.
  2. Add as many books as you wish using the built-in search on the list edit page.

Or that way:

  1. Go to any book page.
  2. In the right-hand column, click on "Add to List." A drop-down menu will appear.
  3. From the drop-down menu, either add your book to a list you have already created or create a new list.
  4. View and edit your lists anytime on your profile page.
Contacting facebook
Please wait...