The Long Walk Home – Will North

long walk

Okay, The Long Walk Home is a book that I thought would be right up my alley. You know – because I am a single woman of a certain age who still kinda hopes that  the possibility of romance still exists out there, although perhaps a little closer than a mountain in Wales.

Handsome Alec Hudson has walked all the way from Heathrow to Dolgellau, which is located in North West Wales. Why didn’t he just rent a car and drive? Well, he’s on a bit of a mission. His ex-wife (and dearest friend) Gwynne has died and her final wish was that her ashes be scattered from the summit of Cadair Idis, a nearby mountain. He arrives at Tan y Gadair, a B & B run by Fiona, a petite, forty-three-year-old who “still had her looks.” Yes, people, we are going there.

Fiona is married, but her husband David lives in a converted hay barn on the property because several years previously  he’d been poisoned by the sheep dip ( a pesticide used to cure scab mite) and then suffered a heart attack. He never really recovered and his environmental sensitivities and mood swings, coupled with his penchant for whiskey make him difficult to live with. Fiona brings his food, but they no longer live as man and wife. And really, although David was a decent a guy back in the day, theirs was not a fairy tale marriage. That’s what makes Alec so immediately appealing: he’s good looking, he knows his way around the kitchen and he’s a great conversationalist. He’s the perfect man.

No surprise here – they fall in love.  It seems like I am mocking them, but I’m not really. They’re decent people. Alec pitches in around the old B & B, which is also a working sheep farm. By day two, he’s helping Owen, the farm’s hired hand, deliver lambs. By day three Fiona is crying in his arms after a particularly nasty visit with her husband. By day four Alec is confessing: “I am afraid I am very much in love with you…and I don’t know what to do about it.”

I can’t quite figure out why I didn’t like this book all that much. There are no bad guys. Everyone is witty and  kind and  good. They all make selfless decisions.  The only asshat in the book is Fiona’s daughter Meaghan’s boyfriend , Gerald, who is summarily turfed by Owen. And, yes, okay, technically Fiona shouldn’t be having sex with another man – but she hasn’t slept with her husband in years. When that big event transpires it was so treacly, my teeth ached.

So, at the end of the day…I didn’t send The Long Walk Home to the Book Graveyard and while that’s not a ringing endorsement by any stretch,  it at least lets you know that I read the whole thing. If you are interested in lambing, climbing, cooking, and listening to a middle aged woman say things like,”Yes, darling man, please,” then by all means, read Will North’s book.

A picture of Cadair Idis.


See You at Harry’s – Jo Knowles


I spend as much time reading about YA fiction as I do reading the books, it seems; I am always adding new titles to my list and often the same book will be recommended time and time again. That was the case with Jo Knowles’ book See You at Harry’s. It was waiting in my mailbox at school today – I’d ordered it from Scholastic before the March Break. I started reading it during my third period Grade Ten English class and just finished it a few minutes ago.

The happiest day of  Fern’s life was the day she “threw up four times and had a fever of 103 degrees.” It’s a day lodged in Fern’s (yes, she’s named after the little girl in Charlotte’s Web) memory because it’s the day she didn’t have to share her mother with her two older siblings Sarah and Holden (yes, he’s named after that Holden).

That day at home, my mom spent every minute with me. My older sister and brother were at school, and my dad was working at my parents’ restaurant. I was eight and had never been home alone with just my mom before, at least not all day and definitely not with her full attention.

Shortly after Fern’s recovery, her mom discovers she’s pregnant and instead of being the youngest, Fern suddenly has to contend with a new baby brother, Charlie.

When See You at Harry’s begins, Fern is twelve. Her sister is eighteen, Holden is fourteen and Charlie is three. Her world is chaotic because her family is chaotic…and while Fern might not always get the attention she craves, in that self-centered way all twelve-year-old’s crave attention, she is by no means neglected. She shares a close sibling bond with Holden and there is much to admire in their relationship. Things are little more complicated with Sarah and there’s Charlie.

“I wanna go to school,” he says.

“School is overrated.”


“Look. All little kids want to go to school. And kindergarten is pretty great. But it just goes downhill from there.”


“Enjoy your freedom, bud.”

Fern knows what she’s talking about, too. She’s just starting seventh grade and it starts to go downhill on day one. I think a lot of middle school kids will see themselves in Fern. She is, as her mother once told her, “a special soul.”

Fern’s parents run the family restaurant. Her mom is a little on the flaky side and her dad is always coming up with crazy  and embarrassing schemes to improve the business. In all the ways that matter, though,  this is a nuclear family. They aren’t perfect, but they are real. They’re distracted and selfish and  human and fragile.  It takes a  terrible  tragedy to  fill up their empty places.

While this book might not appeal to some of my  students (it is geared for middle school readers, after all), I think many of them will be quite moved by Fern’s family’s story. I was.


The World More Full of Weeping – Robert J. Wiersema

worldCanadian writer Robert J. Wiersema packs a punch with his novella, The World More Full of Weeping. On the day before going to spend a week with his mother in the city, eleven-year-old Brian disappears in the woods behind his father’s house. Wiersema manages to capture both the frantic search, and Brian’s journey in the forest in 77 short pages.

Part of the novella’s success can be attributed to Wiersema’s split narrative. Beginning in present day, Brian shares breakfast with his father who explains to him that his mother will be picking him up at four. Brian clearly doesn’t want to go, but lacks the ability, it seems, to articulate his feelings. Instead, he tells his father, Jeff, that “Carly said you wouldn’t understand.”

Carly’s true identity is just one of the mysteries of The World More Full of Weeping. Who is  Carly? At first she just seems like a girl Brian meets in the woods. But after Brian goes missing  and Jeff calls over to his neighbour John’s to see if he’s seen him, the mention of her name causes John to encourage Jeff to call “Chuck Minette at the Search and Recuse…call him right now.”

Many years ago, Jeff also went missing in the woods only to turn up the next day. When men from the community come to help look for Brian, it’s clear everyone thinks his disappearance might be a case of “like father, like son,” with the same happy outcome.

While the search for Brian continues, we see him in the woods with Carly, who is always in the same thin dress despite the uncertain March weather, her cheeks “pink and rosy.” Carly knows secret places in the woods, places Brian has not ever seen.  She asks him if he wants to “see more hidden things” and promises she can show him “a whole hidden world in the forest.”

There are no concrete answers in The World More Full of Weeping. The only certainty is that when given the opportunity Jeff and Brian made different choices. Perhaps some readers will take comfort in Brian’s decision, but for me I can’t quite get the picture of Jeff on his knees, crying for what is lost,  out of my head.

A magical and profoundly moving story.

The White Devil – Justin Evans



SHE walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellow’d to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impair’d the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!

Justin Evans has written an intriguing and creepy novel inspired partly, I’m sure, by the year he spent at Harrow School. That’s right, the Harrow school in The White Devil  is a real place situated about 40  minutes from London’s West End. From the look of its website, it’s  prestigious and slightly stuffy.

The White Devil cashes in on verisimilitude of another sort: Lord Byron was once a pupil at Harrow. Byron (George Gordon Byron 1788-1824) was quite notorious, even in his own life time and not just for his Romantic poetry. He was sexually voracious and had several lovers including his half-sister. It has long been speculated, although likely not by Byron’s peers, that he was bisexual.


Andrew Taylor, the novel’s 17-year-old protagonist, has been sent to Harrow in a last ditch effort to make him agreeable to American universities. He’s been turfed from his own school back home for drug-related crimes and this is his last chance to get his shit together – so to speak. From the moment he arrives at Harrow, though, Andrew feels out of place. He doesn’t understand the humour or the customs or how he’s going to survive a year in this place that is “dank, cramped and old.”


When Andrew’s first friend at Harrow is found dead under somewhat suspicious circumstances, things start to go a little hairy at Harrow.  For one thing, Andrew is the person who found the dead boy. For another, he thinks he saw the person who did it. And he’s been having these dreams. Because there’s apparently a ghost at Harrow. And for some reason the ghost seems focused on Andrew. By lucky or rather unlucky (as it turns out) coincidence, Andrew is a dead ringer for the dead poet.

As the ghost at Harrow becomes more menacing, Andrew tries to figure out who it is and what it wants. He’s not alone. Helping him are Piers Fawkes, the school’s tortured poet-in-residence; Judith Kahn, a crisp librarian and Persephone, the headmaster’s daughter and the only female student at Harrow.

The White Devil is delightfully twisty and I’ll tell you one thing, it made me very curious about Byron’s life. I have read other novels featuring Byron: the YA novel  AngelMonster by Veronica Bennett and Tom Holland’s excellent Lord of the Dead, but The White Devil really brought its A game: it’s well-written, smart and a lot of gothic fun.

Evans talks about the book here.

Claws – Will Weaver

Claws-9780060094751There’s something for everyone in Will Weaver’s YA novel, Claws, but that might have been part of the reason I didn’t love this book. Is Claws a family drama, a suspense thriller, an adventure novel?

Jed Berg is sixteen. He lives with his parents, Gary and Andrea, who are successful (a freelance house designer and lawyer respectively) and according to Jed, “the most successful couple [he] can think of.” Sometimes Gary even lets Jed drive his mint 1969 Camaro. Jed is a good student, a better- than – average tennis player and goes out with Cassie, a popular and pretty senior. Life is good. Until it’s not.

Weaver admits that he “set out to write an unremittingly sad novel.” Partial to a quote by Chekhov which states that “life will sooner or later show its claws,” Weaver endeavors to unravel Jed’s surprisingly uncomplicated teenage life. He says: “I essentially wrote the novel around that idea (of life tipping upside-down).”  (from the author’s website)

And Weaver isn’t lying. Crap starts heading towards Jed at a rapid rate starting with Gertrude, a surly pink-haired girl who has evidence that Jed’s father is having an affair with her mother. Unsure of how to handle this new information, Jed tries to figure out whether or not he has a clear picture of his parent’s marriage. But then, Weaver throws the reader another twist: Gertrude isn’t being exactly honest about her identity. And then when all the infidelity cards have been played, Jed finds his own life going off the rails in ways that are both realistic and, perhaps, slightly melodramatic.

I have to give Weaver props; I kept turning the pages. Jed was likeable and intelligent. His parents and older sisters were sketched in, though,  and so it wasn’t easy to see things from a perspective other than his, but I suppose that’s the point. When you’re a kid, you want to believe that your parents will always be together. I still remember sitting at the top of the stairs with my brother, Tom,  listening to my parents talk about divorce. I was twelve. That’s 40 years ago and I have the clearest memory of it.

I wish Weaver had found another way to show his claws at the end of the book, though. It felt slightly contrived to me, but I suspect that the climax will elicit the desired result from teenage readers. It’s certainly well-written and deserving of its place in my classroom library.

It’s World Book Day!

Well, every day is World Book Day for me…because I sure love books. And I always have. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. Given a choice between buying new shoes or new books, the books would win hands down. Every. Time.

Just a little over a year ago, I wrote about my early reading days in a post called My shelves, my life. I think that post pretty much sums up my feelings about books and the important place they have in my life. Reading is a gift that keeps on giving.

I wish every single person could find that one book that speaks to them. I try to help my students do that because I know…I know what a profound impact reading will have on their lives.

So, yeah, Happy World Book Day!