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
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
From the outside deck we could sit in the geothermal hot tub. Not a bad option on a cloudy night.
Or cuddle inside and get almost a 360 view through all the windows.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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