The Red Garden

Sometimes, a book is just a book. Sometimes, a book is an adventure, an escape, a dream, an other world. Rarely is one book all of these things. So when, a few pages into a book, you realize it’s going to be one of those books, the magical kind that keeps you from sleeping because you just have to read more, you do a little happy dance and sometimes let out a squeal of joy.

The Red Garden is one of those books.

Written by Alice Hoffman, it’s no surprise that it’s a fantastic read.

I had a little moment of doubt when I first started reading. The story starts off with Hallie Brady, a young woman who comes to America and becomes the founder of a new town in the wilderness of Massachusetts. I was so into her story, but after a few pages, it was over. The next chapter was the story of a sad young woman and a man who plants apple trees. Then, a little girl who goes missing.

Soon, I realized that the book was not a person’s story, as a novel usually is. It’s the story of a place. The place is Bearsville, later renamed Blackwell. People come and go, love and cry, hope and dream, live and die. The town grows and some of the earlier stories become legend. Every person leaves their mark on the town, and shapes into a place where magic happens.

Through the stories, we meet an interesting cast of character, including Emily Dickinson and Johnny Appleseed. Some stories are happier than others. There’s a man who’s going blind, but is more of an adventurer than anyone the town has seen since Hallie Brady. There’s the young man who comes home from war broken, only to have his soul healed by a young widow. There’s a young woman who meets a man who lives in the woods, and it changes her forever. My favourite was the fisherman’s wife. Sad, lonely and beautiful, she longs to go back home to be with her one true love. Her home isn’t where you expect it to be.

One of the things I loved the most was how, when a story ended, you might not know what happend to the people later on, but tidbits about their lives would come up in the next chapters, where they were now the current character’s ancestors.

I also love that there is an actual red garden. People don’t know why the earth is red, but you, the reader, know. It like knowing a secret. It feels like being a part of something special, because you’ve been there since the begining.

I finished this book over a week ago, but I haven’t been able to read anything else yet. The collection of episodes, like pieces of a puzzle, are still floating around in my head. I need to read it again, to make even more connections between the people and their stories.

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Today is Alice Hoffman’s birthday, and two very awesome bloggers have put together a bloghop where all of her fans could share their love for her enchanting storytelling. Happy birthday, Alice Hoffman, and thank you for sharing your magic!

I’ve written post about Alice Hoffman’s books before, because she’s just so amazing! Check it out here , here, here and here!

I need more books!

I do. It’s true. I’m actually not reading a book right now! How crazy is that? I finished my last book on Saturday and I haven’t started another one yet. I have plenty to read, I’m just not feeling inspired. So, you see, I need more books.

This week, the Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is the top ten authors I would put on my auto-buy list. Are there ten authors whose books I run out and buy as soon as they are published? Absolutely!

1. Alice Hoffman

I’ve mentionned her before. From magic to history to mystery, her books are a mix of everything I love!

2. Sarah Addison Allen

I wish I wrote like her.  There’s magic, love and hope in each book. I can’t get enough. I reread these on a regular basis. A new one is coming out this year, yay!

3. Siobhan Bantwal

Little glimpses of India and Indian culture, both of which fascinate me. Even if one day, I make it to India, I won’t be in people’s lives. Reading these books makes you feel like you know the characters.

4. Gil McNeil

Small town mums raising crazy kids, usually on their own. There’s a familiarity to her books that I enjoy, with enough twists and surprises to keep things interesting!

5. Sophie Kinsella

What’s not to love? It’s awesome reading about someone who’s spending habits are so much worse than mine! Makes me feel better about buying a new dress now and then. Also, my sister’s name is Sophie. I don’t know why this matters, but it does.

6. Tracey Garvis Graves

Ok, so she’s only written one book so far, but I loved it so much, I am anxiously waiting for her next one. I read they were making On the Island into a movie. I can’t wait to see it and say “The book was better.”

7. Charlaine Harris

I started reading these when about 10 of them had already been published. I’m so glad I did! Waiting for a new one to come out once a year is almost painful. Now that there’s a tv show, I can totally hear the character’s voices in my head when I read. I especially love it when Bill says “Sookie“.

8. Kaya McLaren

This is an author I discovered a couple of months ago. I read How I Came to Sparkle Again and I loved it! I totally judge books by their cover and also their names and this one just screamed out Me! Me! Pick me! Read me, I’m fabulous. And it was. I thought this was her only book, but I’ve just found out there’s more. Yay!

9. Catherine Mackenzie

I read her three books, Arranged, Forgotten and Spin. Of the three, Arranged was my favourite. It’s about a girl who signs up for what she thinks is a dating service, but is actually an arranged marriage service! It’s hilarious. Also, the author is Canadian!

10. Jennifer Cruisie

Every time I go to the bookstore, I check to see if she has a new book. I know I could do this online, but nothing beats discovering that an author you love has a new book, and actually buying, at that very moment! If I look online, I’ll have to wait.

I’m sure there are more, but these are the first ten I thought of, in no particular order. Who are some of your favourite authors?

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Top ten best bookish memories

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week is the Top Ten Best Bookish Memories. I was excited when I saw this week’s prompt. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but it was never a subject for which I had a top ten. But I have many, many bookish memories!

These are not in any order. There is no way I could possibly decide which memory is the most important!

1. Going to the library when I was younger.

I grew up in a small town, and we had new books at the library about every three months. I would read all the books for my age long before the new books showed up. My mom started taking me to libraries in three different towns so I could have more books. I read in English and French, so I had even more options!

2. Discovering The Baby-Sitter’s club.

These girls were so cool. Their lives were perfect, and when they weren’t, it was because they had something important to learn. They were best friends and all the kids they baby-sat listened really well. There was a similarity to them that was comforting. They didn’t age. They had the best vacations. This is the series that started my reading obsession.

3. My first time in a used book store.

I was around 9 years old and on the way, my parents told my sister and I that we could get all of the Baby-Sitter’s club books we hadn’t read. All of them! We got 18. On the drive home, I was looking at them, trying to decide which one to read first. My sister read them in order. We’re different like that.

4. Reading my first grown-up book, Flowers in the Attic.

People read this? It’s so twisted. And awesome! They’re swearing in this book! What? They can’t do that! That lady is crazy! I couldn’t believe how different this story was from everything I had been reading. Now, this series is sold in the teen section, but it was a grown-up book when I was a teen!

5. Reading The Pillars of the Earth and World without End, by Ken Follet.

I actually read the second one first, but there’s a two hundred year difference between the books, so it’s not like I was missing something. I stayed up until two am, four days in a row reading World without End, then bought Pillars of the Earth because the person who was going to lend it to me wasn’t done reading it. There was no way I was waiting!

6. Discovering Alice Hoffman.

Pure magic. The first book of hers I read was Practical Magic. Sisters, witches, love and spells. It made magic real. She also wrote The Dovekeepers, which is probably my favourite book, as an adult. (I have a favourite as a kid too. Like Disney princesses. My favourite from when I was a kid was Ariel, as an adult, it’s Mulan.) I haven’t read all of Alice Hoffman’s books yet. I’m saving some, as a treat for when I need one.

7. Little Women, my favourite book as a child.

I wanted to be one of the March sisters! I was never sure which one, it depended on the day I was having and what adventure they were on. Even now, there is something special about reading that book. When I was fifteen, I got a huge, illustrated copy. One of the best gifts I have ever received!

8. Re-reading books.

I used to think everyone did this, but apparently not. When I find a book or a series I like, I read them more than once. I’ve read the Earth’s Children series so many times, I can open any book to any page and just start reading. Other books I regularly re-read are: The Divas don’t knit series, Leftover Dreams by Charlotte Vale Allen, Practical Magic and any book by Jennifer Cruisie.

9. College.

Here in Québec, we have college, then university. During my two years of college, I was in a litterature program. While other studends studied and did reaserch, I read. Plays, books, poetry, novels, short stories, songs. You name it, I read it. In French and English. I even had Spanish classes. I wrote a lot too. It was pure bliss.

10. Watching my students fall in love with books.

I love it when I call their name and they don’t hear me because they’re just so captivated by the story they’re reading. Their eyes light up when I tell them I’m going to read a story. Sometimes, if it was a particularly good book, they clap when it’s done. In a world of so much technology, it’s wonderful to see children surround themselves with books and the magic they bring.

What’s your best bookish memory?

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I buy books like some women buy shoes

When I started my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days, number 77 was to write down all the books I read. I’ve always wondered how many books a year I read. In 2012, I read 52 books. That’s an average of one a week, but it doesn’t really work that way. Usually, if a book is good, I’ll finish it in about 2 days. If I’m not really into it, but I’m determined to get through it, it might take 2 weeks.

The 52 books on the list are from number 16 to number 68. Here is my top ten. They’re not in order of preference, but in the order in which I read them.

1. Knit one, Pearl one, by Gil McNeil

This is the third book in a series. The first book was originally called “Divas don’t knit”, but the title was later changed to “The beach street knitting society and yarn club.” Yeah, makes no sense. Anyways, the books follow Jo, a single mother in England who leaves behind her glamorous job to live by the sea and open a yarn shop. The story is about everyday things that happen to regular people, but the writting is terrific. I’ve read each of the books several times.

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2. Girls in white dresses, Jennifer Close

This is one of those books that has several stories going on, and you kind of wonder where the story is going. It doesn’t take long to get involved with the girls and their stories. I felt like I was reading about my own life when reading parts of this book (not all of it!). I couldn’t put it down.

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3. The lost girls, J. Baggett, H. Corbett and A. Pressner

I normally read fiction, but this book is the true story of three friends who quit their jobs and take a trip around the world. You can tell it’s real life, because not everything works out the way they plan it. Sometimes they fight, and they even rip the top off their rented van! If you like to travel, you’ll enjoy this book for sure.

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4. Wildflower Hill, Kimberley Freeman

I love, love, love this book. I bought it because it was pretty, but I fell in love with the stories. It’s about a ballet dancer who suddenly can’t dance anymore and who moves to the house her late grandmother left her. The book alternates between the granddaughter’s and the grandmother’s stories. Sometimes, with books like these, I get so caught up in one story, I don’t want to switch to the other one. However, both stories in the book are so captivating, I couldn’t wait to read them.

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5. The dowry bride, Shobhan Bantwal

I’ve read all the books by this Indian-American author and I can’t get enough. My favourites are the ones that take place in India, like The dowry bride. A young bride wakes up one night and hears her husband and mother-in-law planning to perform a bride-burning because her parents failed to pay her dowry. She runs away and hides out in the home of a man who is related to her husband, but who is kind and understanding. Her husband tries to find her and have her arrested for leaving him. It’s a glimpse of a culture so different from mine.

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6. The Hunger Games (trilogy), Suzanne Collins

I remember hearing about The Hunger Games, but I had no idea what it was about and I wasn’t really interested in finding out. Then I saw a preview for the movie. I was hooked. I had to know more. I prefer (like most people) to read the book before watching the movie, so I bought the first one, thinking I would buy the other ones after I saw the movie. Yeah, not so much. I stayed up all night reading that first book, then got up as soon as the bookstore opened to go get the other two. If you haven’t read these yet, if you think they’re just for kids or if the idea of teenagers at war against each other in a fight for survival bugs you, get over it and read! You won’t regret it.

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7. The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman

By far, my favourite book of the year. Maybe my favourite book of the past ten years.

The Dovekeepers is set in the year 70 C.E. It tells the story of four extraordinary women in Jerusalem who do what they must to survive in this harsh world of war, for the Romans are determined to overpower the Jews. The desert and King Herod’s palace are the main settings for this incredible story. Four women, Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah, all come to live on the mountain for different reasons and form a sisterhood of sorts while working in the dovecotes. They all have secrets which could threaten their very existence. It is based on the true story of 900 Jews holding out for months against the Romans on a Judean mountain. Two women and five children survived and this is what the author imagined their story to be.

It is written so beautifully that, although it takes place in a time in history where savage customs reigned and women were not the equals of men, it is impossible not to be captivated by the incredible will these women had to survive and create a better world for their children. It doesn’t feel like a history lesson, it doesn’t leave you sad. It is a book you cannot put down and want to share with everyone you know. You want them to feel that extraordinary sensation of having discovered a wonderful secret, a mystery unraveled. I have not been touched by a book like this in a very, very long time.

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8. On the Island, Tracey Garvis-Graves

I bought this book one day because I wanted to buy one, and I couldn’t find anything. I picked it up and thought “This’ll do.” It’s the story of Anna, who is 30 and T.J., who is 16. They get stranded on a desert island. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it, because I thought it might be weird, depending on how the author approached the relationship between them. Turns out, it’s a wonderful story of love and survival. I could not stop reading it!

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9. The Help, Kathryn Stockett

My friend lent me this book and I put it on a shelf, not particularly interested in it. One day, I had nothing to read so I picked it up. Am I ever glad I did! I enjoyed the way the story was told from many different points of view. So many strong women had things to say in Jacksonville in the sixties, but some of them could not, because they were black. Enter Skeeter, a white journalist who opens everyone’s minds and hearts. The movie is also good, but the book is better!

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10. Room, Emma Donoghue

I wasn’t sure about this book. The narrator is a five year old boy named Jack and Room is his home. He lives with his mother and sometimes, at night, after Ma hides him in the wardrobe, Old Nick comes to see her. His mother was kidnapped by Old Nick 7 years ago and Jack was born inside Room. He’s never been Outside. He doesn’t know Outside is real, or that people actually go to the store or wear shoes, because he’s never done these things. He is living a nightmare, but he doesn’t know it. It’s worth a read, but it takes a while to absorb it all.

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What were your favourite reads of 2012?

Porcupine spine

This weekend was the first weekend during my 30 day yoga challenge where I didn’t have 12 million different things to do. I had no plans, except for yoga. No birthdays, no sewing to do, no family dinners, no plans with friends. Nothing. I was excited. I’m not antisocial or anything, but the thought of having 2 days to myself was pure bliss.

Saturday, I went to a vinyasa flow class with Julie and another friend. It was a good class, even though I had very little energy. Afterwards, we got lattes and walked around for a little while. When I got home, it was 1 pm. The whole afternoon stretched out in front of me with nothing I had to do.

I decided to start reading a new book. I love to read, but for the past 28 days, I haven’t been reading much.  I’m always tired or sweaty or something just need to get done and I don’t have the time or desire to crack open a book. I am a huge Alice Hoffman fan, and I bought The Dovekeepers a few weeks ago, so I started on that.

I read for part of the afternoon, then decided to go outside and do other things. But what I read stayed with me. I thought it would be a good idea to go to bed early this weekend, because I’ve been running on very little sleep, but I wanted to read a little more. Well, I read untill 1 am. The book is that good.

I finally got some sleep, but ended up in some weird position that made my back sore. When I got up this morning, I felt stiff. I was glad I was going to a yin class.

When I got to class, Edith said we would be focusing on our spine. I swear, that girl can read my mind. I had an oh yes/oh no moment when she said this, however. Oh yes because I knew I would feel better afterwards and oh no because I felt like a porcupine lying on its back, and feeling better was going to start by feeling worse.

This is how I felt this morning. Would you want to lie back on this? I tried to find a picture of a porcupine lying on its back, but apparently, they’re too smart to do that.

I hung out in rag doll, got my sphinx on, chilled out in supported fish, did some squat thing I don’t know the name of, suffered through dragonfly, tried to get my toes to touch the ground without bending my knees in plow and relaxed in happy baby pose. I also did this weird twist with my stomach on a block. Strangely enough, it felt great.

I came out of class feeling like I had just gotten a massage. I am a porcupine no longer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to read.