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Friday, April 20, 2018

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell | Book Review

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Disclaimer: Thanks to the kind folks at S&S for providing me an advance review copy.

Description: Ellie was the middle child and the apple of her mother’s eye. She was charming, smart, had just started dating, and was excited to finish up exams. But then 15-year-old Ellie disappeared on the way to the library. Normally I avoid these kinds of stories but this was a real page turner. Ellie’s mother Laurel retreats into herself. She goes into robot mode. It destroys her marriage and tests her children. The story is mostly told from Laurel’s point of view 10 years later. Laurel’s husband has remarried. Her adult children are finding their way in the world. And Laurel one day is charmed by a man in a coffee shop. He has a familiar feel but also creates that excitement of new love. The freaky thing is that his 9-year-old daughter Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie. How can that be? Who is this man?

I’m always flummoxed by these types of mysteries where the protagonist takes it upon themselves to investigate vs. going to the police. But I suspect that, if after 10 years the police have failed you, then you might figure things out on your own to a greater extent before involving them and losing the trail.

Perfect Read: If you enjoyed Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train then this story has a similar fast-paced narrative with strong female characters and some emotional twists and turns. I also would compare it to I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers in that there’s a mystery component driving the plot but more so there’s a psychological component about what drives people to do things that are heinous while assuming some moral stance.

Favourite Moment: “The fact that Ellie had been wearing a black T-shirt and jeans had been a problem for the police. The fact that her lovely gold-streaked hair had been pulled back into a scruffy ponytail. The fact that her rucksack was navy blue. That her trainers were bog-standard supermarket trainers in white. It was almost as though she’d deliberately made herself invisible.” I like these passages that created suspense and made your assumptions falter. How audacious—the idea that Ellie has gone missing and that, counter to anything she’d done before, she may have purposely run away. This rattles Laurel for a long time.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell @Amazon.ca
Published by Atria, see it on SimonandSchuster.ca

Or visit https://www.facebook.com/LisaJewellofficial/, or follow her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell | Book Review

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Disclaimer: Thanks to the kind folks at S&S for providing me an advance review copy.

Description: Ellie was the middle child and the apple of her mother’s eye. She was charming, smart, had just started dating, and was excited to finish up exams. But then 15-year-old Ellie disappeared on the way to the library. Normally I avoid these kinds of stories but this was a real page turner. Ellie’s mother Laurel retreats into herself. She goes into robot mode. It destroys her marriage and tests her children. The story is mostly told from Laurel’s point of view 10 years later. Laurel’s husband has remarried. Her adult children are finding their way in the world. And Laurel one day is charmed by a man in a coffee shop. He has a familiar feel but also creates that excitement of new love. The freaky thing is that his 9-year-old daughter Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie. How can that be? Who is this man?

I’m always flummoxed by these types of mysteries where the protagonist takes it upon themselves to investigate vs. going to the police. But I suspect that, if after 10 years the police have failed you, then you might figure things out on your own to a greater extent before involving them and losing the trail.

Perfect Read: If you enjoyed Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train then this story has a similar fast-paced narrative with strong female characters and some emotional twists and turns. I also would compare it to I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers in that there’s a mystery component driving the plot but more so there’s a psychological component about what drives people to do things that are heinous while assuming some moral stance.

Favourite Moment: “The fact that Ellie had been wearing a black T-shirt and jeans had been a problem for the police. The fact that her lovely gold-streaked hair had been pulled back into a scruffy ponytail. The fact that her rucksack was navy blue. That her trainers were bog-standard supermarket trainers in white. It was almost as though she’d deliberately made herself invisible.” I like these passages that created suspense and made your assumptions falter. How audacious—the idea that Ellie has gone missing and that, counter to anything she’d done before, she may have purposely run away. This rattles Laurel for a long time.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell @Amazon.ca
Published by Atria, see it on SimonandSchuster.ca

Or visit https://www.facebook.com/LisaJewellofficial/, or follow her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent | Book Review

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Description: Oliver Ryan is a deeply unsettling character. The novel opens with him beating is wife and feeling no remorse. Thankfully author Liz Nugent offers several chapters told from the point of view of various characters who “unravel” the mystery of Oliver Ryan, well-loved children’s book author and dotting husband (who has the occasional tryst). Billed as psychological suspense, Unraveling Oliver delivers a fast-paced punchy novel (pun intended). Each chapter unravels another part of Oliver’s history, giving the reader a look at a boy—now a man—who is unloved and rejected by his father (a priest who brought more than the word of God to his parish). Oliver grows up in a boarding school, is looked after by Father Daniels, sent to university where he meets the lovely, vivacious Laura, does some summer travel, falls out of love with Laura, finds a family, loses a family, marries his mousey illustrator and does not live happily ever after.

• Winner of the Crime Fiction Prize in 2014 Irish Book Awards

Perfect Read for those who like BBC crime dramas. This is an Irish psycho suspense novel. The book jacket is spot on with its comp to Patricia Highsmith’s unforgettable noir classic The Talented Mr. Ripley. If you like sinister yet enjoyable tales this is for you. The domestic abuse is limited to the opening and closing chapters. The main guts of the novel are the relationships different characters have with Oliver, and their take on him. Strongly recommended.

Favourite Moment: Oliver, his girlfriend Laura and Laura’s brother Michael are working on a vineyard in France. Michael also has a crush on Oliver yet isn’t out of the closet. To “straighten him out”, Oliver suggests that Michael seduce Madame Veronique, the proprietress of the vineyard. There are several funny attempts that ultimately result in Michael confessing to Veronique that he is gay. It’s the 60s, and Ireland didn’t decriminalize homosexuality until 1993, so there’s a lot of fear and shame in his confession. Veronique changes his life by helping him be comfortable with himself. If there was a character in the book that I wish had more storytelling space, it is Veronique.

(edited to avoid spoilers)
Infamy is a lot more interesting than fame, it seems. It is not just the tabloids who think so. An acre of newsprint was used up in documenting the fall from grace of the successful writer who turned out to be a wife beater. Pundits who might previously have described themselves as close personal friends are now granting interviews in which they claim that they always knew there was something strange about me. They speculate that I was in the habit of beating my wife, despite the lack of evidence at the trial to support the theory, and they relate conversations that never happened that imply I was always violent and that Alice was terrified of me.

 

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent
Published by Simon and Schuster Canada
Liznugent.ie
Twitter @lizzienugent

Monday, March 26, 2018

Uncertain Weights & Measures by Jocelyn Parr | Book Review

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Description: Set in Moscow, 1921, Tatiana and Sasha meet as two young intellectuals in a bookstore. The bookstore is bombed that night and as they run away, hand in hand, it’s the start of their romance. This is a witty and tender book about growing up, losing trust in the system, the bureaucracy of adulthood in an ever-changing Communist regime, and all the small betrayals between mentors, friends, and lovers. These are unforgettable characters who alternate between being wise and foolish. I loved it. In particular the story between Tatiana (a scientist) and Sasha (an artist) and how the idealism and contradictions of Russian politics affects where and how they live, what they believe, and how they grapple with those tensions.

• Shortlisted, 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction

Perfect Read for fans of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing. If you like the slow unfolding of characters and situations, are interested in cultural revolutions or the formation of ideologies, especially through the lens of young minds, then this is the perfect read for you. It has a love story, some history of post-Revolutionary Russia, a cool look at the early scientific research done in brain science, and politics and art.

Favourite Moment: The whole book. The scene where Tatiana and Sasha meet is tender and quiet, despite the fact that a bomb just went off. The drinking and debauchery scenes in the artist studios are full of youthful spirit and the tensions of jostling for position. The strained quiet of the institute where Tatiana works, slicing and documenting brain structures, is creepily cool. It feels like every emotion is explored in a tentative and revealing way.

1921
Before Lenin was dead and before my life had properly begun, I used to spend all my time in a bookstore down on Nikitskaya. I was barely a person then, just a girl, and then just a girl staring down the women I’d meet, wondering if their fate had to be mine. The bookstore had no sign. Either you knew where it was or you didn’t. The entrance was several steps below street level. To find it, you looked for the tobacco place next door because it had a glowing green lamp in its window. When the snow shrouded the entrance on winter afternoons, that blur of green was the only indication that you’d arrived. If you knew to look.

Uncertain Weights & Measures by Jocelyn Parr
Published by Goose Lane

Support an indie publisher and buy direct.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa | Book Review

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Description: A General Theory of Oblivion is an absolutely lovely little book about an agoraphobic woman who bricks herself into her Luandan apartment during civil unrest in Angola in the 70s. Ludo has been brought to Angola from Portugal to live with her sister and brother-in-law. On the eve of Angolan independence she bricks up the apartment door in an effort to stay safe from looters and thugs looking for money and jewels. Her sister and brother-in-law have gone out for the evening and never return. She doesn’t know what’s happened to them, only that she’s afraid, can’t speak the language, and hooligans are threatening to return. The crazy twist is that Ludo stays bricked in for 30 years, living off vegetables that she grows on the terrace and pigeons. This is a story that slowly unfolds, with each layer of the intertwining lives of the characters beautifully unwrapped. A lovingly crafted story about love and survival.

• Winner of the 2017 Dublin International Literary Award!
• Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016
• Shortlisted for the Three Percent Best Translated Book Award

Perfect Read for fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is a winding family tale with beautiful descriptive prose, and such elegance. Applause to the writer Jose Eduardo Agualusa and translator Daniel Hahn.

Favourite Moment: Ludo sacrifices a lot to stay hidden in her apartment, but there is a hilarious moment when the tenants below her house chickens on their balcony. Ludo fashions a noose and nonchalantly nabs the rooster, who doesn’t seem to give a flap and is still happily alive when released. This gives Ludo an idea that this doesn’t need to be a one-off adventure. She can raise chickens too, so she goes after a hen. The hen is far less enthused than the rooster and kicks up a fuss. It’s a funny and triumphant moment for this poor woman.

Although this is fiction, Ludovica Mano died in Luanda, at the Sagrada Esperanca clinic, in the early hours of October 5, 2010. She was eight-five years old. Sabalu Estevao Capitango gave Agualusa copies of ten notebooks in which Ludo had been writing her diary, in the first years of the twenty-eight during which she had shut herself away. In addition, Agualusa had access to the diaries that followed her release and to a huge collection of photographs taken of Ludo’s texts and charcoal pictures on the walls of her apartment. He’s used her diaries, poems, and reflections to reconstruct much of her first-hand account, albeit fictionalized for the novel.

A General Theory of Oblivion
by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn
Published by Archipelago Books

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Muse by Jessie Burton | Book Review

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Description: Bestselling author Jessie Burton delivers! This novel weaves together two stories: one set in 1967 in London and the other in 1936 Spain, just before the Spanish civil war. Odelle Bastien is a new immigrant from the Caribbean and lands a job as a typist at the prestigious Skelton Institute of Art. Her boss Marjorie Quick is a bit like the boss in The Devil Wears Prada. Odelle’s boyfriend inherits a painting that is rumoured to be the work of a Spanish artist who thrilled the art market in the 1930s but then disappeared. The story running in parallel to Odelle’s is that of the painting’s creator. This is a great novel about women in art, and modern working women. Peggy Guggenheim makes a brief appearance as well.

Favourite Moment: The dialogue scenes between Odelle and her friend Cynth are really fun, but so is Odelle’s commentary and observations about her new country and workplace.

For nearly the whole of the first week the only person I spoke to was a girl called Pamela Rudge. Pamela was the receptionist, and she would always be there, reading the Express at her counter, elbows on teh wood, gum poppin gin her mouth before the big fellers showed and she threw it in the bin. With a hint of suffering, as if she’d been interrupted in a difficult activity, she would fold the newspaper like a piece of delicate lace and loop up at me. ‘Good morning, Adele,’ she’d say. Twenty-one years old, Pam Rudge was the latest in a long line of East-Enders, an immobile beehive lacquered to her head and enough black eyeliner to feed five pharaohs.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson | Book Review

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Description: Eden Robinson’s novel Son of a Trickster is a gritty, mess of a tale about that boy everyone knows from high school who was the almost-dropout, who sold weed on the side and had a scary mom you didn’t want to mess with. Jared. Jared is the bad example your mother warned you about. And yet even with the freaky mom, the guns and drugs, the dead beat dad, this kid manages to survive. He’s a good kid, despite it all. This is a novel about life lessons and unpredictable paths. Towards the end of the novel, Robinson veers off into magic realism but it all seems to work.

• Shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize

Perfect Read for those who liked Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals. Fans of Lee Maracle and Thomas King will like this too. Imagine a venn diagram of Indigenous storytellers and Edgar Allen Poe.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
Published by Knopf Canada

And applause for an awesome cover!

Friday, February 09, 2018

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz | Book Review

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Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz available from HarperCollins Canada

Description: This murder mystery is a story within a story. Susan Ryeland is Alan Conway’s editor. He’s submitted his recent manuscript but there’s a chapter missing and he’s turned up dead. As a reader you get Conway’s manuscript, plus the story of Susan trying to solve Alan’s murder.

The perfect read for BBC Mysteries fans. This mystery is Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War meets House of Silk, all 3 of which are written by Horowitz.

Favourite Moment: Conway’s detective series is built around Atticus Pund is a Poiret-inspired figure. Atticus is as likeable as any of the great detectives in literature.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill | Book Review

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Description: Bellevue Square is a much lauded novel, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. The writing was interesting, but I didn’t care about the characters. As the protagonist Jean Mason goes off the rails so did my attention. But this is a novel I should have loved. I like psychological thrillers and mysteries. Jean works in a bookstore near Kensington Market and apparently has a doppelganger. She tries to seek out her lookalike by hanging around in Bellevue Square, where “Ingrid” has been spotted. But in the end she mostly meets drug addicts, scam artists, vagrants, and some locals who are no strangers to the nearby mental health services.

Here are a few of the accolades:
• Winner of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize
• #1 National Bestseller
• Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017
• National Post Best Book of 2017
• CBC Best Book of 2017
• Kobo Best Book of 2017

Spoiler Alert: The novel starts out great, interesting story, but as Jean becomes more and more obsessed with finding Ingrid, it’s clear that Ingrid is not real. Jean has functional delusions and as the novel nears its end, the delusions get more and more elaborate. In some ways the novel reminded me of Roddy Doyle’s Smile, where you’re not certain what is real or not. But for me, I was happy to get to the end of Bellevue Square.

Perfect Read for fans of CanLit. The setting is Kensington Market in Toronto, there are lots of nice nuances to the feel of that place. Plus Michael Redhill’s previous novels have been finalists or longlisted for major prizes so if you like writing that throws you off the trace then this is well-written but tame thriller.

Favourite Moment: Jean and her mother-in-law have some little abrasive moments that are a bit funny; and most of the scenes with her husband Ian and the kids provide light-hearted humour. “Ian’s mother drops the kids after lunch Sunday. They have enjoyed their weekend at the Condo of No Rules. If you want to see what a hangover looks like on a ten-year-old, let him stay up until the middle of the night two nights in a row.” 

Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill
Published by Doubleday Canada

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Smile by Roddy Doyle | Book Review

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Smile by Roddy Doyle (published by Knopf Canada)

Description: Victor Forde is down on his luck and out on his ear. He’s recently split from his wife, has moved into a subpar apartment, and is looking for some social time (without too many attachments). He finds himself down at the local pub where he runs into a former school mate named Fitzpatrick. Victor doesn’t quite remember this guy as a lad he hung out with, but Fitzpatrick knows a lot about their time together at school. The chance encounter gets Victor thinking about their school days at a Christian Brothers school. There was bullying, taunts about being queer, and the ever-present authority of the Brothers.

Disclaimer: There’s a psycho-thriller element to this story and not everything is as it seems.

Smile is the perfect book for Roddy Doyle fans. If you are drawn to dark, gritty dramas then this is a great read, although an unsettling subject.

Favourite Moment: An early scene in the novel sets the stage and provides context for the title of the novel. The boys are in French class and want to get out of their weekend homework. Victor is goaded into making the request on their behalf. Brother Murphy turns from the board and says “Victor Forde, I can never resist your smile.” Creepy!

www.roddydoyle.ie

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Parcel by Anosh Irani

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Description: Anosh Irani is one of those authors that I always seek out. His novels are dark, gritty, and deeply unsettling. There’s typically some moment of joy or inspiration so that it’s not dire straits the whole way through. This novel, though, ugh. It’s such a terrible, heartbreaking story. It took me weeks to get around to thinking about it and how to write a review. The basics are that Madhu is born a boy but knows he’s a girl. There’s no way his family will accept this, it’s an embarrassment to his father and both parents turn their back, maybe unknowingly. Madhu runs away and is adopted into the close-knit clan of transgender sex workers in Kamathipura, the notorious red-light district of Bombay. There are lots of graphic details on the rituals of becoming a eunuch, and about the sex trade. Madhu grows up a beauty and is sought after, but now at 40 has moved away from prostitution and is bringing up the next generation. The hardest part of this novel is reading about the kidnapping and trafficking of young girls, who are sold by beloved aunties or their parents. It’s devastating that is not pure fiction. Madhu has a redemptive moment but, as a reader, this novel left me feeling despair.

Perfect Read for fans of Rohinton Mistry and Yann Martel, who like the darker sides of those reads. This is beautiful writing, and tragic subject matter.

Favourite Moment: I love all the small details that paint a full picture of the scene. Here’s the opening of chapter 2: “Underwear Tree had its name thanks to the array of underclothes that were left to hang and dry in its loving care. It was one giant hanger for clothes, a dhobi’s delight. At any time of day, underwear in all shapes and sizes were caught in its branches like kites. Over the years, Underwear Tree served as a barometer for economic growth. If the elastic of the underwear was tight, it signified that people living in the hutments below the tree were doing well. If the elastic was loose, it meant overuse for the underwear and hard days for the owners.”

The Parcel by Anosh Irani
Published by Knopf Canada

Friday, July 07, 2017

OneCard Vancouver: How to Load a 10-Visit Pass for a Child to Your OneCard

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Want to buy a 10 visit pass for you and your child for Kits Pool? Here’s how. An adult 10 visit pass and a child 10 visit pass cannot be loaded onto the same OneCard as they are age-based packages. You require two separate cards BUT still use the same online account to purchase the passes. You can get a OneCard for your child at any of the community centres or swimming pools. Then online you can set up your child on your account by adding a new family member. Next, when you purchase a child 10 visit pass online and select your child’s name, those tickets are auto-magically loaded on to their OneCard and you are only charged the child rate. When you go to one of the community facilities, you need to scan both cards.

Here’s how to add a 10-visit pass to your OneCard, and how to get a child pass.

First, have two OneCards (one for you and one for your child). Create your online account and add your child as a family member.

To add and buy the 10-visit pass (adult)

  1. Sign-in to your account
  2. Select Passes in the grey menu.
  3. From the list of current memberships, click the one you want to renew or add
  4. Click “Add to Cart”
  5. Select Checkout.
  6. Select Continue.
  7. Confirm your order and select Continue. At some point you will be asked to assign the pass to a person on the account. Select your name and Continue.
  8. Enter your payment information and select Continue.

Those instructions are here:
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To add a 10-visit pass (child)

  1. Sign-in to your account
  2. Select Passes in the grey menu.
  3. From the list of current memberships, click the one you want to renew or add
  4. Click “Add to Cart”
  5. Select Checkout.
  6. Select Continue.
  7. Confirm your order and select Continue. At some point you will be asked to assign the pass to a person on the account. This is where you select you Child’s Name and Continue. The pricing will adjust to the child rate
  8. Enter your payment information and select Continue.

The child pass will be added to your child’s OneCard. The instructions for this on the City of Vancouver website are vague. If you’re not sure if the passes assigned correctly then you can also contact Vancouver Recreation

Happy swimming.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Audiobook Review: Gunpowder Girls by Tanya Anderson

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I had the great fortune of exchanging some correspondence with Quindaro Press and it lead to a review copy of Gunpowder Girls: The True Stories of Three Civil War Tragedies by Tanya Anderson. It was a great audio book, and the narrator is Carrie Olsen. It’s a quick one: only 2 hrs and 3 mins but a fascinating, rich look at women and the work they were doing during the American Civil War in the arsenals.

There are intriguing details about the work itself (facts about the guns and ammunition, how it was produced and assembled, what the issues were with distribution, volume of ammo needed during various periods) and the nature of the work (how the women had to sit close together and were constrained by their huge hoop skirts, the conditions of the arsenals, who did what jobs and why, and the reason these women were working at all).

Here’s my Audible review:

“Fantastic Look at Women & Work”

Would you consider the audio edition of Gunpowder Girls to be better than the print version?
I didn’t read the print version but the audio edition is fantastic. The narrator’s voice is crisp, clear and engaging. There are slight intonations to connote different sections, presumably sidebar material.

Who was your favorite character and why?
This is nonfiction but there are several characters mentioned throughout, some are the foremen or boys who deliver gunpowder but it’s really a book about the women and the work they did during the civil war. There are several personal stories and anecdotes throughout. This is not boring history.

Which scene was your favorite?
The descriptions of two of the arsenal explosions are affecting. You can really imagine that you were at the scene. The descriptions are vivid and the author has done a great job of providing not just the facts but the story and context.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
I listened to this in a few long sessions.

Any additional comments?
The quality of the writing and the narration are superb. As a disclaimer, I received a free review copy but it was a book I requested and very much enjoyed.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Iceland in April

If you want to catch the northern lights and some of winter but not the deepest part of it, then early April in Iceland can be quite pleasant. The temperature ranges from 0 to 6C so it’s not too cold but not too warm either. Apparently, Iceland never really gets warm, especially in spring when the days can be cloudy and windy. But when the sun peaks through, the landscape is dazzling. The greens, yellows and reds really look amazing, especially in photos.
Now, April also means the occasional fog, sleet or snow storm. If you’re doing the self-driving tour then definitely get a 4x4 and download the road-conditions app. Real time info and road cameras are also helpfully available online.
Road conditions: http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/

If you’re stuck on the road or looking for information about road conditions or the weather on the roads, then you can call 1777. This service is open 8-16 in summer and 6:30-22 in winter. An English answering machine with similar road information is available by dialling the phone number 1778.

Now where exactly are you driving? The common tourist route is the Golden Circle but you can also take the longer circle road around the whole country. The Golden Circle is shorter and definitely a worthwhile experience, despite the glut of tourists.

We did this route through Iceland: Mar 31-Apr 3, 2017

Day 1
Presumably you have landed in Reykjavík [point F]. The airport is no stranger to tourists and there’s several shops and restaurants. Alcohol in Iceland is quite expensive so buying duty free alcohol may be your first stop. If you’re stocking up on food then there is a Bónus Stykkishólmi supermarket near the airport. The little town is a quick stop where you can get provisions, or visit the Rock and Roll museum. We stuck to food only but there were lots of signs for this museum.

The flight from Ireland arrives in the afternoon and we booked an airbnb in Reykholt (there are two by the way). The one near Fludir is where we booked [point E]. Our goal was to drive to Reykholt and have dinner at Cafe Mika. We didn’t get there on the first night because we opted to cook at the holiday house instead, but when we went a day later, we loved their lobster soup and roasted lobster salad. If you’re in the area, at Fludir (10 min drive) there is the Secret Lagoon, and a good restaurant at the Icelandair hotel.

Day 2
We were up and out of the house around 9 am in order to back-track an hour to our first stop on the Golden Circle, Thingvellir National Park [point B].

Thingvellir National Park

The Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most significant place regarding Icelandic history. The place is huge and there are many parking lots that give tourists and locals access to different areas. The visitor centre is near the viewspot at Hakio, where a footpath leads down into the great fault between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park

If you’re travelling with kids and need to know the bathroom stops, this is one. The service fee for the lavatories is 200 isk.

The name Thingvellir in Icelandic means “Parliament Fields” and this location is where one of the oldest parliaments in the world was establish (930 AD). At the Lögberg people gave speeches and pontificated on important issues.
From the Hakio viewpoint, you can see Thingvellir Church, which looks darling from above. And there are all sorts of little paths and trails that can be followed along the continental drift or into deeper areas of the park.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park rock formations

Our next stop was the famous geysers at Haukadalur [point C], which is a geothermal active valley. There are hot springs all over Iceland and you can see the steam rising in various places as you drive the Golden Circle. All the geothermal activity also means that Iceland has a huge number of greenhouses, and as a result, great produce.

geysers

Iceland is a pioneer in geothermal energy and geothermal powers 25% of the country’s total electricity, the rest is other renewable energy from hydropower—ya 100% renewable! Iceland also boosts the cleanest, purest water in the world. It was amazing to drink.

But about those geysers. The most active is Strokkur, and this geyser spouts hot water every 5 minutes or so. One blast of water is really high then the next is middling but still impressive, then back to a big one. It was entertaining to watch over and over. The column of boiling water starts as a half bubble before bursting upwards. The height of the spray can be 15-30 metres.

Geysers

Geysers

There are 3 geysers grouped together: Strokkur, Geysir and Little Geysir. Little geyser, which looks very tame in comparison to its blasting brothers, is still an impression 80-100C. You can see the water boiling.

geysers at Haukadalur

The rotten egg smell wasn’t as bad as I imagined. Nor were the tourists. Haukadalur has a huge gift shop with lovely Icelandic sweaters and gifts. The restaurant is done in beautiful wood and stone carvings, and they have quite a delicious spread of food.

Visitor center near geysers at Haukadalur

I wasn’t sure what to expect but Icelandic food rates very high on the foodie scale, lots of unique flavour pairings, and great seafood options.

Our next stop was Gullfoss waterfall [point D]. This was one of the most beautiful places we stopped. The water comes down the big, wide river Hvítá into beautiful curved steps, like a staircase. The viewpoints are all spectacular and it’s worthwhile going down to the lower point to see if you can catch a rainbow in the mist.

Gullfoss waterfall rainbow

The upper viewpoints offer a different perspective and a nice walk along the footpath. The water is roaring! The mist is cooling. The view is spectacular.

Gullfoss waterfall pathway

Gullfoss waterfall

The Hvita river disappears into a ravine making the whole place seem even more magical.

Our last stop of the day was Reykholt [near point E] where we stopped in at Fridheimar farm. This is an amazing food experience where you enjoy lunch or drinks in a greenhouse among the tomato plants. It smells incredible.

Fridheimar Farm, Reykholt

The menu options include the famous Friðheimar tomato soup with fresh baked bread. There’s some great crusty bread in this place. And you have to book in advance but if you’re unprepared, like us, then you can do some takeaway soup and bread, or order hot tortillas to go. The little gift shop also offers some of the drink mixes. I stocked up on the green tomato, honey, lime and ginger. Add some sparkling water and gin and this is an amazing cocktail.

2017-04-01 15.58.45

You can also buy their Tomato Jam, Cucumber Salsa and Tomato Drink. Everything home made. Everything is delicious.

Aside from the greenhouse visit, you can see a horse show. Icelandic horses are famous for their gaits. The Tölt is the special one. These horses are also super cute!

Icelandic horses

After our snack of tortillas, we made our way to Café Mika in Reykvolt. The pizzas, salads and everything I had that had lobster were all very good. Eating out in Iceland is not cheap (especially if you’re ordering lobster), but if you get the unique items then it feels like a special occasion anyway.

Cafe Mika roasted lobster

No Northern Lights on this trip, the evenings were overcast. The aurora forecast seemed quite accurate but I set my clock and kept checking regardless.
http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/

From the outside deck we could sit in the geothermal hot tub. Not a bad option on a cloudy night.

holiday house near Reykholt

Or cuddle inside and get almost a 360 view through all the windows.

holiday house near Reykholt

Day 3
Our last full day. We had to pack a lot into a short trip, but I understand some people see even more things in fewer days. The Golden Circle is possible to see in a day, but that’s a 6-8 hour day.

So our last stop was the Secret Lagoon at Fludir [point E]. The Blue Lagoon is near the airport and higher on the list of tourist destinations. But the Blue Lagoon is more of a spa whereas the Secret Lagoon is a unique natural hot spring. This is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland (made in 1891). It’s been upgraded since. The change rooms and shower area are clean and quaint. Icelanders shower naked and it’s rude and unhygienic to do otherwise.
This hilarious shower etiquette video features the mayor and a shower warden.

Secret Lagoon at Fludir

The temperature of the swimming area is perfect at 38-40C, but beware of the 80-100C pools just beyond the swim area. There’s a grassy bank that separates you, but still.

Secret Lagoon at Fludir

Secret Lagoon at Fludir

This place feels very wild in comparison to the Blue Lagoon, which looks more spa-like. Here you are floating around in nature. There is a geyser just beyond in the field that spouts water and when we were there it also started to rain lightly and snow. Magic.

Secret Lagoon at Fludir

The Secret Lagoon, like the Blue Lagoon, requires a booking, which was fast and easy to do online.
http://secretlagoon.is/

After a float in the Secret Lagoon and a spot of lunch, we were off to Reykjavik.

Secret Lagoon at Fludir

We could have stopped in Selfoss, Kerið Crater Lake, or Stokkseyri but it was raining heavily so we carried on.

Selfoss on the banks of the Olfusa river has another amazing waterfall to see. Kerid Crater Lake is a red volcanic crater and the deep blue water is supposed to set off the red and green vegetation. Stokkseyri, right along the coast, looks quaint and worth a visit, especially in summer. I was keen to visit Orgelsmidjan, the pipe organ workshop and exhibition. And the travelling companion might have gotten a kick out of the campy Ghost Centre. But alas, rain and time meant we clipped along to Reykyavik.

Our first stop in Reykjavik was at Hallgrimskirkja. This is the largest church in Iceland, and the tower offers visitors a great overhead view of the town. The church is stunning and designed to look like basalt lava flows. The tour to the top was a couple of euro. And it’s not really a tour but an elevator ride and then some lookouts. Anyway, great view of the capital city.

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik

Organ. Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik

Reykjavik from the tower at Hallgrimskirkja

Our next stop was the Harpa Conference centre. Everything in Iceland, all the architecture, seems really modern. Harpa is all glass and looks like inter-connected honeycomb. The inside is as cool, if not cooler, than the outside.

Harpa Conference Centre

Harpa Conference Centre

Harpa Conference Centre

For the last dinner in Iceland it was a toss up between the famous hot dog stand that Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain recommend—Baejarins Beztu Pylsur— or Eldsmidjan Pizza (Iceland’s first, and best pizza restaurant). The closest of the hot dog stands from Harpa is the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in the old harbour. And Eldsmidjan pizza had two locations nearby. We opted for sit-down, eat-in pizza and were not disappointed.

Eldsmidjan Pizza (Iceland’s first, and best pizza restaurant)

Eldsmidjan Pizza (Iceland’s first, and best pizza restaurant)

The flight back to Ireland was at 6:15 am so we spent the night at the Airport Hotel that is a 2 minute walk from the terminal. This is a great way to get rid of any remaining local currency. We paid part in cash and the rest on the card. 

Depending on where you fly to, there are several queues, and one for passport control before you get to your gate so it’s worth it to be early and on time. Iceland had 1.7 million tourists in 2016. That’s a lot of people to move through a small airport. It all ran smoothly and we made it home to Ireland with lots of great memories.

I trace the interest in genealogy in Iceland to the lack of tress. Because of the sparsity of tress, people opt for family tress and find themselves forests among their forebears…” Einar Már Guðmundsson, Angels of the Universe

 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

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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