Sunday 26 August 2018


Uprooted by Naomi Novik had me from the first line: “Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, not matter what stories they tell outside our valley.” There is something about fairy tales that always grabs the imagination regardless of the reader’s age, especially if there is a dragon involved. Novik takes everything I ever liked about fairy tales and combines it into a wonderful story.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Novik brilliantly develops interesting characters and builds a magical world that is both beautiful and terrifying. Agnieszka, the main character, could have easily fallen into the cliché “chosen one” stereotype that is so common in fantasy, but she escapes that horrible fate by being well-developed with strengths and weaknesses. The Dragon in the story is not exactly a dragon, although he might be said to have the personality of one, and the prince is most definitely not Prince Charming. The world Agnieszka inhabits is one of constant danger. The Woods is full of a malignant presence that is constantly taking over land, animals and people and corrupting them. No one knows exactly what this presence is, how long has it been there or why it is doing what is doing. The only clear thing is that is you become corrupted, you will die a horrible death, but not before hurting everyone around you and infecting anyone you touch.

Agnieszka’s town is just on the border with the Woods, and it is under the protection of the wizard known as the Dragon. Every ten years the Dragon takes a maiden to serve him. Agnieszka is terrified of the fast approaching choosing. She knows the dragon will take her best friend Kasia. The Dragon always takes the most talented girl, or the most beautiful, or the bravest; and Kasia is all of those things. No one is more surprised than Agnieszka when the Dragon takes her instead. As happy as she is that her friend is safe, Agnieszka is scared for herself. No one knows what the Dragon does with his maidens, but it can’t be anything good. They all left when their time was done, never to be seen again.

I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys dark fairy tales with a tad of magic, a bunch of danger and a dose of creepiness.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Love and Other Consolation Prizes
By Jamie Ford

Love and Other Consolation Prizes is another lovely historical tale from Jamie Ford, author of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It is based on the true story of a Chinese boy who was raffled off at the 1909 Seattle's World’s Fair, when the owner of the charity house where he had been living put him forward as the grand prize. 

Ernest is that 12-year-old boy who comes to live at the Tenderloin, a high class brothel, when the flamboyant owner buys out the raffle to ensure she wins. Brought to the Tenderloin as the house boy, Ernest’s new home is a welcome change since arriving in America from China on a boat at the age of 5. He quickly befriends two young girls living at the house, Maisie, the daughter of the brothel’s madam, and Fahn, a maid. Ernest settles in and develops a sense of family and home through their friendship. 

However, things begin to fall apart when the house madam increasingly suffers an illness that jeopardizes the well-being of the house and its residents. 

Fast forward to 1962, and the World’s Fair is once again in Seattle and Ernest is reluctantly remembering his life in Seattle fifty years ago. His grown daughter, a journalist, is digging into the past and asking uncomfortable questions to which Ernest does not want to tell her the answers. Ernest struggles to care for his ailing wife, whose memories threaten to expose family secrets he would rather protect his daughters from. 

This historical story is told in alternating chapters from the present and the past, transporting the reader between each time while dealing with equality, social justice, class issues, and women’s rights of the times, yet also giving us a heartwarming story of enduring love and the importance of family and home.

For other popular reading suggestions check out Richmond Public Library's Web site at 

Sunday 5 August 2018

The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie

The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie
The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie

Cecily Ross' The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie is a fictional and very readable account of the life of Susanna Moodie, a Canadian pioneer and one of Canada's earliest writers.

Lost Diaries begins during Susanna’s youth in 1815 England.  In a home of eight children, including six girls, there is little chance that everyone will receive a dowry.  Only the eldest and most attractive sisters are slated for marriage, but Susanna’s interests lie elsewhere: in writing.

Unlike many girls of the time, the sisters receive some education and are able to immerse themselves in London’s literary scene.  Susanna and several siblings, including
beloved companion Kate and older sister Agnes, become writers.  Despite their lack of means, they are well-regarded in the community and find “patrons” who act as second fathers.  Their writing appears in various publications.

Although Susanna is not wealthy, she is unabashedly class conscious, stating, “I have lived in proximity to the lower classes all my life… They had their place and I had mine.” (p. 155)
Against her own expectations, Susanna meets and falls in love with John Moodie, an ebullient man with a zest for life and a hankering to explore.  Once she and John marry, they decide to move to Canada where land is ripe for the picking.

The move brings Susanna’s progressive lifestyle to a crashing halt.  Canada, it turns out, is little more than dense bush, rocky soil and muddy roads.  Its population is undereducated and does not take kindly to being looked down upon by the likes of Susanna.

So begins several years of “roughing it” and producing many children while John Moodie pursues a host of “get rich quick” schemes that sink the Moodies deeper and deeper into debt.  They endure years of abject poverty – a life that Susanna never imagined.

But despite the drudgery, the Canadian wilderness works its way into Susanna’s heart.  The majestic trees and hidden lakes hold a magic that the Moodies never encountered in England.  The indigenous people are welcoming and knowledgeable. Susanna’s haughtiness diminishes in the face of her new-found life and although she continues to write, she is humbled by her fellow wilderness inhabitants. 

Lost Diaries tells of a journey from old world to new, but is also the journey of a human soul. Susanna experiences the birthing pains of a new country, and discovers her true identity along the way.