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review 2019-06-25 21:48
Don't Lick the Minivan / Leanne Shirtliffe
Don't Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I'd Say to My Kids - Leanne Shirtliffe

As a woman used to traveling and living the high life in Bangkok, Leanne Shirtliffe recognized the constant fodder for humor while pregnant with twins in Asia's sin city. But in spite of deep-fried bug cuisine and nurses who cover newborn bassinets with plastic wrap, Shirtliffe manages to keep her babies alive for a year with help from a Coca-Cola deliveryman, several waitresses, and a bra factory. Then she and her husband return home to the isolation of North American suburbia.

In Don't Lick the Minivan, Shirtliffe captures the bizarre aspects of parenting in her edgy, honest voice. She explores the hazards of everyday life with children such as:

•The birthday party where neighborhood kids took home skin rashes from the second-hand face paint she applied.
•The time she discovered her twins carving their names into her minivan's paint with rocks.
•The funeral she officiated for "Stripper Barbie."
•The horror of glitter.
And much more!


Now, let me begin my emphasizing that this is NOT my genre and I am NOT in the target audience for this book. I’m sure that if you have raised twins, you will probably find things to laugh about in it.

So, why did I read it, you ask? Well, the author is going to be a key-note speaker at a conference that I’m attending in August. I like to have some familiarity with the work of these folks before I attend. So I’ve also read a children’s book by Shirtliffe.

I also hasten to add that I am notorious for not getting written humour. I’m sure that when I hear the author in person, that I will at least smile, if not laugh out loud. I’ll be interested to hear her speak for that exact reason.

As a single & childless woman, I can’t appreciate many of the stories that the author tells. It’s just not my experience. But I can tell that Shirtliffe has spent a lot of time on her writing and is quite skilled at it. If you read mommy blogs and have raised children, you will probably enjoy this book far more than I did.

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review 2018-03-28 18:59
The Shoe on the Roof / Will Ferguson
The Shoe on the Roof - Will Ferguson

Ever since his girlfriend ended their relationship, Thomas Rosanoff’s life has been on a downward spiral. A gifted med student, he has spent his entire adulthood struggling to escape the legacy of his father, an esteemed psychiatrist who used him as a test subject when he was a boy. Thomas lived his entire young life as the “Boy in the Box,” watched by researchers behind two-way glass.

But now the tables have turned. Thomas is the researcher, and his subjects are three homeless men, all of whom claim to be messiahs—but no three people can be the one and only saviour of the world. Thomas is determined to “cure” the three men of their delusions, and in so doing save his career—and maybe even his love life. But when Thomas’s father intervenes in the experiment, events spin out of control, and Thomas must confront the voices he hears in the labyrinth of his own mind.


Will Ferguson once again creates a very readable novel with so many ideas going on in it that it left my brain whirling! And yet, it all worked together and wasn’t confusing or overwhelming. All the ideas that he played with fit together nicely—what is mind? Is religion still relevant? Is science where its at? He even threw in that old “nature vs. nurture” idea.

Thomas Rosanoff is our main character—raised by his father as an experiment after the death of his mother. (There are echoes of the urban legend about B.F. Skinner’s daughter). Thomas is maybe-brilliant, but definitely one of the most self-centred characters I have ever met, but I felt that he meant well. He did want to help people, if only for his own ends.

The coming together of the three mental patients, all of whom believe themselves to be Jesus Christ, could have been very sacrilegious, but despite Thomas’ very materialist views of the world, the mind and the soul, it remains human and even funny. There was a point, when Thomas’ domineering father became involved, when I almost quit reading—I found it painful to see him being overwhelmed yet again by the great man. I’m glad I pushed on and finished the novel, however, as it left me with a glow of good feelings.

Read for my 2018 PopSugar Challenge, a book about mental health.

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review 2016-01-28 16:02
Bitter Lake / Marika Deliyannides
Bitter Lake: A Novel - Marika Deliyannides

Past, present, and future collide when an unhappily pregnant, mid-thirties woman visits her childhood home near the shores of Bitter Lake.


My nostrils shrink from the stink of formaldehyde. The boys can always be counted on to handle the dissections. That’s what I like about boys—they prefer to mess with animal innards instead of ripping each other’s guts out.


I must confess, I often shrink away from books which explore that hellish part of life, junior high and high school. Who really wants to remember all the nasty things we did to each other back then? But this is what Zoe Lemonoupolos must do, as she returns home to Bitter Lake to help her parents move into a seniors’ villa. Zoe is successful in her own way—she runs a thriving business as a professional organizer, she has a dentist husband, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant. Perfection, right? Well, maybe.


It is one thing to sort through other people’s belongings, purging and organizing. It’s another to sort through your own past and deal with what you find there. Even under good circumstances, there are issues that families don’t want to deal with, questions they don’t want to answer, and places they don’t want to go. Zoe has always had a difficult relationship with her parents and her sister, for reasons that the reader is unsure of.


It becomes obvious early in the novel that Zoe has become a professional organizer because she is rigidly controlling her own life, and it spills over into her career choice. What is this intelligent woman running away from? Why is she so unsure of her own mothering skills? Can she sort it out and find happiness in this pregnancy?


Deliyannides nails the small town environment of Bitter Lake—she has obviously spent time in just such a community. Everybody thinking they know enough of everyone else’s business to judge. The business owners in precarious financial situations, the laid-off rig workers getting drunk and abusive, the popular kids at school lording it over the less popular. She also knows the small details—the sliver of old soap melded to the new bar, the throw pillows arranged to cover stains, the sentimental calendar of the old country hanging in an office.


Coming from an Alberta small town myself, I appreciated the accuracy of the details and the complexity of the emotions. A very enjoyable book.


Recommended to me by my chiropractor, husband of the author.

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review 2015-05-25 16:18
Wolf Winter / Cecilia Ekbäck
Wolf Winter - Cecilia Ekbäck

Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow.

While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice.

As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.


This book came to my attention when I heard the author interviewed on local radio—she is Scandinavian, but she now lives in Calgary with her family. What I heard in the interview intrigued me and I waited quite a long time to receive the book from our public library. Wolf Winter is basically a medieval murder mystery set in 16th century Sweden.

Should you read this book? Well, if you like historical fiction, murder mysteries, and Scandinavian fiction, all with a touch of the supernatural, this will be your book. The author is extremely good at producing an aura of creeping dread (to go with the usual rather bleak and somewhat gloomy haze that permeates most of Scandinavian fiction). The reader is left to decide for themselves whether the supernatural elements really happen or if the circumstances are all the result of damaged people (somewhat reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw, I felt).

None of the characters is overwhelmingly good—they all have their own baggage and problems that they are dealing with, some more complicated than others. Correspondingly, no one is absolutely evil, although a couple of characters move closer to that line than most do.

Not a book for everyone (what book is?), but very enjoyable for me.

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