The Widow by Fiona Barton (Penguin Canada) is a dark psychological thriller. Glen Taylor is a smarmy, arrogant bastard. He marries Jean when she’s quite young and she’s blown away. Initially she seems to like him ordering her food and telling her what to wear or do. Glen is older, charming, and she sees it as him introducing her to the adult world. But when Glen gets fired from his job and starts driving a truck, the cracks begin to show. One day the police show up. A little girl has gone missing and Glen’s delivery truck was in the area. Next the media circus shows up, and they are relentless. The family is hounded. Glen is hiding something but Jean doesn’t know what. They both love children, didn’t have any of their own, couldn’t. But Glen wouldn’t hurt a child, or so Jean believes. The police feel differently and it goes to court. It’s there that Jean is truly blown away. Glen was fired for viewing child pornography at the office. He was buying and watching porn at night unbeknownst to her, and there are deeper, darker secrets that are revealed.
What I like about this book is that it opens with one of the reporters smooth talking her way into Jean’s house. The chapters are told from Jean’s perspective, the reporter’s, or the detective’s. Little by little the case is pieced together and the reader realizes the connections at the same time as the case unfolds. There’s lots of little deceptions, unfollowed leads and circumstantial evidence. The scenario is unthinkable, but the plot twists and psychological insights into the wife, the reporter and the detective make this a fascinating, rather than gruesome, read.
You can’t get a better quote than this:
“If you liked Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you might want to pick up The Widow by Fiona Barton. Engrossing. Suspenseful.”—Stephen King
This flight of fancy was a fun afternoon at Ashtons Gastropub in Dublin. €10 for 3 gin. I tried Blackwoods Vintage which was super paired with lime and tonic. Then Sw4 with lemon. And last Gordons Sloe Gin. I have never had sloe gin and didn’t know it was red. This one was a bit sweet and fruity, which could have been the 3 raspberries in it. Anyway, a fab afternoon with new tastes.
Blackwoods Vintage uses handpicked Shetland botanicals. Shetland is off the north coast of Scotland, towards Norway. The North Sea hits the Atlantic Ocean so there are long winters and short summers. All of this makes for good marketing copy and excellent gin. Taste wise this gin is a smooth citrus with a gentle floral and herbal note. My favourite of the 3, but also the first one I tasted.
Sw4 is a small-batch London Dry Gin from Britain, originally Clapham, South London, postal code SW4. It didn’t seem as smooth as the Blackwoods Vintage but it was definitely pleasant. The lemon slice I added made the lemon and juniper more pronounced. It was definitely piney, which I don’t see as a fault.
Gordon’s Sloe Gin. I had no idea what this was and was pleasantly surprised. It’s a red gin and definitely a tasty winter tipple. A modern-girl’s version of sherry? To make sloe gin, you need sloe berries, sugar and Gordon’s. Gordon’s is your best choice because of the high juniper content. The juniper blends with the fruity flavour of the sloes. You let all the ingredients hang out for 2 months or so and then strain your gin to separate it from the berries. Sloe berries? Yes, those are blackthorn drupes, a small berry that looks a bit like a blueberry and is a relative of the plum. It’s tart like pomegranate. Whoever thought to combine it with gin was a genius.
Ok technically we had more than one day in Copenhagen, but if you’re travelling with a 3-year-old boy then the amount of things you do over 3 days is basically what a couple could do in one.
Click the image to view the photo gallery.
Day One: Fly into Copenhagen
It’s super easy to take the train from the airport into the central station or beyond. In the baggage claim area look for the kiosk to get your train tickets so you can avoid the big lineups in the arrivals area. We stayed in Frederiksberg near the metro station Forum. It was pretty central and we had a lovely Airbnb.
Next, go play! Danes are active and there are a ton of parks, bike and run paths along the canals, and nice places to walk.
Even the tiny playgrounds built into little boulevards or courtyards have fun play structures and many have riding toys and other gems.
Our last-minute, hungry-now meal was at Halifax, which is a gourmet burger joint. Really delicious and pretty fun.
Day Two: Play at the Park
While my husband was busy at work, my son and I went for an adventure to Orstedsparken. There is a really cool playground in the park, millions of bike paths, a lake, and a second smaller playground near a cafe. The beauty of playgrounds in Denmark is that most also have public bathrooms, which is super for little kids.
Orstedsparken also has an exit that leads right to Israels Plads, which is a big public square with an amazing food market. If it’s raining or the weather isn’t great, grab a spot indoors otherwise enjoy sitting in the square watching the world go by.
Alternatively if you are longing for the pet you’ve left at home, Cafe Miao is a cat cafe nearby that serves standard fair (sandwiches and dainties) and has a number of resident cats who enjoy the attention. I’d recommend the food market myself but if you have a little person who needs to be distracted then Cafe Miao is not a bad option.
Vesterbrogade is a street in Frederiksberg with a ton of restaurants and little alleys that offer great options too. Watch for Les Trois Cochons, delicious bistro.
We went to BOB Bistro, which is another gem. Organic and delicious. Plus kid friendly. The kids menu had roast pork and veg. They are a step above.
Day Three: Play at the HUGE Park
Renting bikes is definitely the way to go in Copenhagen. You’ll get around faster than in a car or cab and it’s pretty safe in that most streets have dedicated bike lanes. The best place we found was Baisikeli. They were cheap and cheerful and the bikes were in pretty good condition. They also rent bikes with a kid seat.
After picking up bikes at Baisikeli we cycled out to Kastellet, which is a cool fort (also there are a few playgrounds nearby). We checked out the Little Mermaid along the seawall then stopped at Amalienborg for the changing of the Royal Guard at noon. This is quite a spectacle.
We then cycled over the bridge to Copenhagen Street Food. This is another amazing indoor food market. There are a ton of vendors offering everything from pulled duck to tacos to burgers to salmon to higher-end fare. There is seating indoors and out and if it’s sunny I recommend watching the boats along the canal.
After lunch we rode out to Faelledparken, which is a huge amazing park. The play structure has towers modelled on famous Copenhagen landmarks, and there was a booth set up with buckets of Lego (originally from Denmark). This park has several sections to it and in one area is a massive wading pool that is also open in the off season as a playground. It would be amazing in the summer. There are sand bars, water canons to fire, little bridges and waterfalls. I loved it, and it was a cool fall day so we didn’t even get the full experience.
I then recommend cycling back through the neighbourhood Norrebro. There are lots of hip restaurants and the vibe here is pretty neat. Thai Pan is a little further along the canal and smelled amazing as we drifted by on a mission to cook at home that night.
If you’re looking traditional Danish fare then try Aamanns Deli and Takeaway. The open-faced sandwiches are delicious and the flavour combinations really interesting. Try salmon or herring, or anything on their menu. It’s all delicious.
Day Four: Return
We returned our bikes, returned the rental suite keys and returned ourselves home. It was all very smooth and we can’t wait to visit Copenhagen again, especially in the summer so we can go to the Tivoli amusement park and eat more amazing food.
Hey it’s Banned Books Week and 99% Invisible has an awesome podcast that is 100% worth listening to. It’s about the Griftschrank, or “poison cabinet”, in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, and other “poison cabinets” or rooms that have been used over the years for banned or controlled substances (like pharmaceuticals, or Mein Kampf) and other works considered dangerous. http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-giftschrank/
Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read. I enjoy the yearly reminder of the censorship and hardship that books can endure. And every year there is some new tip or piece of advice about how to deal with censorship, how to embrace diversity and how to cope with challenges. This year I discovered that NCAC has a censorship toolkit to help parents, teachers and schools deal with challenges and requests to ban books: http://ncac.org/resource/book-censorship-toolkit
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a haunting novel about the end of the world as we know it. SARS has come and gone but a virus called the Georgian Flu starts in Russia and rapidly makes its way around the world. People get flu-like symptoms and are dead within 3-4 hours. This means that families are separated. Parents fall ill at work and never return home. Kids are left to their own devices. There is mass panic as people try to flee—but where can they go? Highway on/off ramps are backed up, traffic is at a standstill, people walk and fall along the road or manage to survive and set up small settlements. There’s no one around to refuel gas stations. The existing gas stores eventually expire. The internet fails, electrical grids turn off, generator power dies. There are no more medicines, no more processed foods, no more new clothes or soaps or other commonplace items. The few people left ransack buildings for food, shelter and other necessities.
Station Eleven is told mostly 20 years after the collapse of the world as we know it. There are small settlements around Lake Michigan and we follow a travelling symphony that performs Shakespeare around the area. Members of the symphony are separate by a maundering group intent on stockpiling food and weapons. The story line is a mix of how they get separate, whether they’ll reunite, and flashbacks to the before the flu and the first years after the collapse. It’s fascinating.
As a thought exercise, this book is a terrible look at what could happen to us when we have to do without. There are friendships, partnerships, and strong group dynamics. But there’s also greed, melancholy and the type of strife that undermines us even today.
I recommend having a little taste of this sci-fi, apocalyptic world full of Shakespeare, music, and the plague.
Slade House by David Mitchell is a fast-paced, gripping ghost story about two immortals who prey on visitors to Slade House. Norah and Jonah Grayer are twins who learn the secret of eternal life. Yet the magic that sustains them requires the soul of a particular type of person, who they elaborately lure into their web every nine years. The novel spans from 1979 to 2015 with each episode taking place on the last Saturday in October (close to, or on, Halloween) when a secret entrance to Slade House is revealed to its intended victim.
Each episode is narrated by the newest victim, which lets Mitchell experiment with the tone of each era and the social and political dynamics of the scenes.
Slade House is a clever, creepy tale that started as a series of tweets. In some ways it is a companion to Mitchell’s previous novel The Bone Clocks, but really it is a continuation of the great uber-novel he has been writing for the last 15 years. Each of his novels has references to characters, settings or background details from the previous works. And although each novel stands alone, together they construct a sprawling universe.
This side gate at Powerscourt reminded me of Slade House.
The complete guide to the burgers of Dingle. It’s a short list. Go to Chewy, a pop-up burger stand beside Dick Mack’s pub and order a double cheeseburger and shoestring fries.
Sure, there may be other places in Dingle that serve a burger, but if you mean business then take your business to Chewy. Run by a man named Aussie, Chewy is a pop-up burger stand beside Dick Mack’s pub that has been around for about 3 weeks. Chewy burgers are made with West Kerry beef and freshly baked Courtney’s brioche buns. Aussie is, hands down, serving the best burger in Dingle.
Dingle is a modest town in County Kerry, Ireland, with several shops and pubs, a whiskey distillery and two Murphy’s Ice Cream parlours. Dingle is a common stop on any tour of the Dingle Peninsula. Follow the stream of tourists up to Dick Mack’s and grab yourself a beer, then slip around the side of the building to Chewy’s.
The double cheeseburger is a massive thing of beauty, and the single is no laughing matter either. The burger and shoestring fries combo is a winner.
You might have a 15-minute wait if there’s a big queue or a larger order before you but don’t falter. This is the burger you want. Stick it out. And when you have that tasty burger and fries in hand then wander across the street to the secret gardens behind the church.
Mark Cameron, author of Goodnight Sunshine has a fun BC tour planed this summer.
4200 km, 25+ locations
1 family of 4 in a camper van
Goodnight Sunshine is Cameron’s debut novel and he’s hustling the book with a 6-week working vacation that will stop at 25+ municipalities around the province (mostly readings at libraries, with a few farmers’ markets and bookstore signings as well. He’ll be charting the course via twitter @markofwords
Sleepwalking through life on a quiet island near Seattle, Oliver Bruce is struck twice in one day. Emerging unscathed from an accident that leaves his SUV a crumpled mess, Oliver finds a fragment of a letter about an invention that could change the global energy sector. The discovery brings Oliver face-to-face with the widening chasm between the life he is living — a tedious existence as a café owner, husband and father — and the richer life he longs for.
Drawn toward the mystery behind the message he intercepted, and to the wife of the man who wrote it, Oliver finds himself on a mission to locate the invention — a journey that takes him into the jungles of Ecuador.
Told against a backdrop of colorful characters and exotic locations, Goodnight Sunshine unwinds Oliver’s gradual descent from youthful optimism to mid-life malaise, ultimately forcing him to re-evaluate his core beliefs and to face the true source of his discontent.
‘Come here to me’ is Dublin slang used to mean “Listen to this” or “I’ve something to tell you”. These phrases tend to imply a secretiveness or revelatory importance to the upcoming piece of information.
Julian Barnes’ latest novel is a fictionalized account of how composer Dmitri Shostakovich survived Stalin. The Noise of Time is perfectly titled. Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is described as “muddle instead of music.” Just noise. The problem with this bad review is that it’s Stalin condemning not only the opera but also the man. From then on Shostakovich lives in fear of execution but his punishment is worse. He instead lives through the noise of time. The noise created by inferior composers who are willing to tow the party line. The noise he must make himself to protect his family, all the while losing his sense of integrity. Shostakovich is brought to America to praise the Soviet system, to denounce composers he wholeheartedly admires, to compose music that gets approved. It’s a crushing experience beautifully articulated by Barnes.
The Guardian review (Jan 22) offers a fantastic description of the “conversations with Power” that Shostakovich is subjected to throughout his life. As a reader unfamiliar with Shostakovich, Barnes provides a well-researched, and very intimate, perspective on the systematic pressures put on artists in the Soviet Union and the propaganda machine that influenced art.
In May 1937 a man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return.
A slim and powerful novel. A story about the collision of Art and Power, about human compromise, human cowardice and human courage, it is the work of a true master.
Chosen for the 2016 Citywide Reading for Children Campaign run by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Dublin City Council’s Libraries Services.
The Book of Learning is the first in a trilogy from ER Murray about 12-year-old Ebony Smart. It seems that Ebony has had nine lives. She doesn’t discover that until her Grandpa dies. The strange circumstances of her Grandpa’s death push her into the arms of family that she doesn’t know and doesn’t trust. Are they responsible for her beloved Grandpa’s death? Why did he never mention them? It’s a mystery and poor Ebony only has her wits, her pet rat and a riddle-filled Book of Learning to guide her way. Who’s on her side? Were there really eight other Ebony Smart’s? Ebony needs to find her Grandpa’s murderer before it’s too late. http://www.mercierpress.ie/irish-books/book_of_learning/
This adventure book is set in Dublin and is full of mystery and wonder. There’s obviously more story brewing as it’s the first of three novels. If you’re looking for strong, defiant characters, a good story and a bit of magic then this is a great read for 8-12 year olds. Younger readers might find some of the scenes scary but that shouldn’t deter parents from reading it with under 8s. And I enjoyed it as an adult reader so it would be fun for over 12s as well.
The Rathmines library had stacks of this book on display and I’ve seen bus posters and promos around Dublin. There’s good coverage of this campaign.
Kate Atkinson, author of Life After Life, is one of those novelists whose writing is very clever yet it comes off naturally. Where Life After Life explored infinite chances, as lived by Ursula Todd, A God in Ruins is the life lived by her younger brother Teddy.
Teddy is a pilot with Bomber Command during World War II and his story is wonderfully told in the most non-chronological way. This is the cleverness I speak of. Atkinson tells the story in this patchwork fashion where the reader comes to understand the whole story but the characters often seem well ahead of the game, it being their life and all. Atkinson moves the reader back and forth between a present time and a past. It reminded me of The Time Traveller’s Wife in that way, which I enjoyed very much.
I was fascinated by the details of the air raids because of the first-hand accounts I have from James’ grandfather. Of the 120,000 who served, 55,573 were killed including over 10,000 Canadians. Teddy is British, which doesn’t get him extra luck one way or the other. We know early on that Teddy survives the war because we know that he has a wife and child. But his wife dies. We don’t know why, but we do know that his daughter is a bit of a terror, and probably was from birth anyway.
There are lovely repeated references throughout the book, like the exaltation of skylarks (the lifting of birds/planes), quips about whether a certain character believes in reincarnation (which is funny if you’ve read the previous title), lucky charms, and references to poetry and novels that offer opportunities to think deeper if you so desire.
Although the setting is during the war, or the present day is seen through that lens, it’s not a war novel. It’s more about the mystery and revelation we have throughout our life. The knowledge we gain after the fact, and how we choose to respond or not respond.
This novel is a strong contender for favourite read of 2016.
I used to keep track of my favourite reads each year so back at it. For 2015, my favourite new fiction title was Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt. Quirky, funny, gothic romance. This novel reminded me of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
My favourite non-fiction was Separation Anxiety by Miji Campbell. Ordinary woman goes through ordinary growing pains but with notable wit and perseverance. This memoir reminded me of Mindy Kaling, with a Canadian-girl-next-door vibe.
Now, what does 2016 hold?
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson, Knopf Canada
I turned 40 on Nov 16 and as my friends know, there is no such thing as celebrating only on the day. Here’s what I was up to in Nov.
November 1st was an absolutely gorgeous day. The perfect way to kick off a birthday month.
We had an awesome family day at Belgrave Square playing in the leaves.
November 3-5 was Web Summit, a huge technology conference that takes place in Dublin every year, except next year it’s in Lisbon. I felt privileged to go. It’s like a Euro version of SxSW.
The first talk I went to was great. It was part of the Marketing tract and Thomas Crampton from Ogilvy talked about deep social. Worthwhile for sure.
Marie Kondo on the magic of tidying up was inspirational. She had a translator and I always love the chance to sit back and absorb another language.
Dan Brown was my last session of the conference and he was fantastic. The talk was about spirituality and technology and where there are gaps, there is religion.
Food Summit was also on the go during Web Summit. Irish food producers had lunch on offer. This is the duck dish I had. Delicious.
IDA Ireland was active at Web Summit too. James spoke on behalf of Slack for one of their evening panels. The canapes at this party were divine.
Fall is absolutely beautiful in Ireland. And you finally see more than shades of green.
I got a bunch of nice birthday cards around my birthday.
The weather continued to hold.
I went to a Publishing Ireland trade day on Nov 13 and met some Irish publishers and heard about the challenges and opportunities facing the industry here.
The event coincided with the Dublin Book Festival.
And the publication of this creative annual, which is full of essays, interviews and creative pieces by various Irish artists, writers, journalists, filmmakers, etc.
Swimming is still a big hit in our house. Don’t misread that. We go to a community centre pool, we don’t have a pool in our house.
My birthday weekend. On Sunday night Julie flew in from Bonn, Germany and we had a party at our house with a mutual friend Ger and her 3 kids. It was super fun and we drank champagne. Thanks James. Then Monday, Nov 16, James flew to Paris (the multiple shootings/bombings happened on the Friday). Julie and I went for coffee after dropping off Finlay at creche. Then we headed to the National Gallery to see a few exhibits before carrying on to the Shelbourne for afternoon tea with Ger. After we did some shopping, visited the Little Museum of Dublin and then headed back into Rathmines to pick up Finaly and home for dinner.
Nov 17, Julie and I dropped off Finlay and made our way through the rain to a rental car then off to Summerhill Spa in Wicklow, near Powerscourt Garden, where we then stopped for lunch. I had a fab massage and Julie a facial. While we were waiting for our treatments, this beautiful rainbow appeared.
After a few recovery days at home, James, Finlay and I were off to Scotland. We landed in Edinburgh and drove to St Andrew’s. We stayed at the Fairmont where James had a conference, and Finlay and I vegged out on tv and toured around the village. St Andrew’s is where Will and Kate met so it was fun to see places like the North Point cafe and the university campus, which is integrated into the town.
The cathedral and St Rule’s Tower ruins were my favourite spot.
And Forgan’s was a great Scottish restaurant. Finlay and I had a date night. Great Scotch broth and an amazing spicy chickpea, butternut squash salad.
The golf course at the Fairmont is spectacular as well.
James “Bond” went off to a party at Stirling Castle.
And I met Alan Santry, who made the scarf worn by Hermione in the last film.
Edinburgh was a beautiful city on a cool, crisp day.
We found a playground for Fin, just below Edinburgh Castle, where JK Rowling did a huge book release that I was involved with many moons ago.
The Christmas markets have started through Europe. And they all seem to have carnival rides.
Finlay was keen to go on Helter Skelter, which is featured in a Peppa Pig episode that he enjoys.
And I took him on his first rollercoaster ride. He loved Helter Skelter, which is an external swirly slide, whereas the rollercoaster was a bit too fast and jarring on one of the corners. Less fun.
In an attempt to get Fin into a nap, James and I walked the length of Edinburgh (practically). This is just passed the government buildings.
The walk back to the car was especially pretty as the sun set.
On our last day in Scotland, we drove up to Dundee, where James’ great grandfather was born. May 2, 1872. Dundee is home to one of the six oldest ships in the world.
The HMS Unicorn launched in 1824 as a 46 gun frigate for the Royal Navy.
Since young boys are uninterested in sightseeing, we stopped at an indoor play area to get out of the rain and into some exercise. Peppa Pig made an appearance.
Not to waste any moment of my birthday month, shortly after returning from Scotland, I snuck in a trip to Bonn, Germany to visit Darren and Julie and experience the German Christmas markets. Darren was off to Paris for the Climate Change talks, but we snuck in a quick visit to the UN. This is one of two UN campuses in Bonn. Both are along the Reine. The building on the left is a UN building.
The grotto along the way.
The Marshall Room. A WWII war recovery plan was settled here.
Bonn wasn’t heavily bombed during WWII so the architecture is really interesting.
Darren, Julie and I celebrated American Thanksgiving in Germany with a French meal.
Then Julie and I hit the Christmas market.
Dublin, St Andrew’s and Bonn all have very distinct building styles. I especially liked the Munster in Bonn.
Bonn is the birth place of Beethovan. His statue is supervising the Glühwein drinking at the Christmas market. I wonder if Ludwig liked mulled wine.
Julie and I took the fast train from Bonn to Mainz to visit the Guttenberg Museum.
I love all the public squares and pedestrain thoroughfares in Germany. Here’s Mainz.
The Dom, right next to the Guttenberg Museum.
Guttenberg printing press.
A page in one of the two Guttenberg bibles on display.
The Mainz Christmas market was our lunch stop. Yum.
Back in Bonn on my last day, Julie and I did a little trek to a lookout.
Then, since it was noon, we stopped for some Kolsch, which is the regional beer to drink in Bonn.
One last zip around the market then off to the bus and back home to Dublin.
As the month drew to a close, Finlay organized our Christmas decorations.