Best Books of 2020

2020 felt strange. It was by turns too busy and too erratic, and my reading reflected that.

January: 8 books                                July: 8 books

February: 9 books                              August: 9 books

March: 6 books                                   Sept.: 7 books

April: 5 books                                      Oct.: 11 books

May: 8 books                                       Nov.: 5 books

June: 6 books                                      Dec.: 10 books

As you can see, it seems like when the pandemic first hit here and kids were sent home from school for virtual learning in March, my reading fell off. That is not unexpected. I’m not sure what was going on in June that dropped my reading, but at the end of the year, November was the most stressful at work in terms of workload. December was still stressful for other reasons at work, but I had more days off that month to read and just relax.

Here are some other reading stats I compiled because I was curious in this year of COVID-19 and political unease.

# of Books Read: 95

# of Books Reviewed: 91 (some will be reviewed in 2021)

# of Audiobooks: 17

# of Kids books: 34 (this is where I spent a lot of time with my reluctant reader)

# of Nonfiction: 11

# of Adult Fiction: 23

# of Memoir: 7

# of Poetry: 24

Some of these numbers will include books that crossover into another genre or category. For instance, some memoir were also poetry, while others were audio as well as fiction.

Now, for what you’re all probably curious about — My favorite books from 2020.

Not all were published last year.

I picked my top 2-3 in each category (but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have other books that I considered top books)

Top Kids Reads in 2020:

Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein was my daughter’s favorite book last year, and she wanted this to be a series, but when we checked there was no book 2. Our review is here. We call this one a “page turner.”

Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, which we both wanted to continue reading past her bed time to solve the mystery. Our review is here. “What I love about this series is the harder words that she has to sound out.”

Top Nonfiction:

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic. Our review is here. I said that this “is a love story for our nation.”




Top Memoir:

Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway is a riveting “tale of healing and reconciling the past. Trethewey relies not only on her memory but on her mother’s own writing, testimony, and recorded phone conversations. I was emotionally wrecked by this memoir.” My review is here.

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, which actually will be published in 2021, but my pre-ordered book came quickly and I couldn’t wait to read it. This is a “journey into the poet’s past as she reconciles the abandonment of her father and her struggles with connecting to others. The poetic memoir is beautiful and the landscapes within it (emotional and physical) are tumultuous and heartbreaking.” My review is here.


Top Fiction:

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Buchanan is a book that surprised me this year. It started off slowly, and I typically don’t read this time period, but as Buchanan built the world of the Druids in Britannia, I became more captivated. It’s like the book wove a spell over me. The book depicts a “struggle for survival amid a world of secrets and lies, political gains and losses, and magic.” My review is here.

The Deep by Alma Katsu is a gothic tale aboard the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic. This novel is atmospheric and has ghosts. How can you go wrong with this tale? “Katsu has a wide cast of characters in this novel, but she balances them very well against the historical details, and the suspense is palpable.” I also loved that the ocean played a major role in this tale and became a character all its own. My review is here.

My final pick in this category is actually a tie:

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, which surprised me because it “pays homage to Austen in a way that many other variations don’t. She understands the Austen characters and their motivations, but in creating her characters and their motivations they are not talking to us as Austen’s characters but fans of Austen’s words, her thoughts, her dream.” It also doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage narrated this audiobook. My review is here.

Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd is a collection of short stories that skillfully depict the inner thoughts and character of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet in a variety of modern and historical periods and situations. These stories hit it “out of the park with a range of angst, love, prejudice, and pride.” My review is here.


Top Poetry:

Raising King by Joseph Ross demonstrates the strength of compassion and empathy as a way forward in building a community that will no longer tear at its own foundations and rise up. My review is here.

Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen explores female identity, speaking to the harmful tropes and labels of society. It is a “map in the darkness …” on a road to healing. My review is here.

My Name is Immigrant by Wang Ping is ripe with ghosts who haunt these pages. The collection “haunts, sings, rages, and breathes.” My review is here.


The poetry selections were tough for me this year, because I originally had 8 collections on my list. I pared it down to these three.

What were your favorite reads from 2020? I can always use recommendations (or can I?)

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Source: publisher
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan is like the oral tales of old where facts are distorted by the story teller from ear to ear. During the Roman invasion of Britannia, we meet the Smith family in which Hobble is a runt because of her gait issues, her mother is a healer for the tribe at Black Lake, and her father is the blacksmith. Like the lake with its dark, unknowable depths, much of the nature-based religion and philosophy of the Druids leaves the village’s families tentative in their dealings. With certain families currying favor with hunted meat and others who are too meek to stand up to a dying religion, there are mysteries lurking.

The Smith family was once considered among the best and most generous, but their fall from First Family has left Devout, Hobble, and Young Smith doing their best to appease the lone druid who comes to Black Lake and the Hunter family, who now holds that coveted place in society, are just waiting to pounce and reclaim their place.

Hobble has been training with her father to run fast despite her disability. Weak members or runts are considered possible sacrifices to appease the gods if needed. Devout, her mother, has a secret, and like the Black Lake she is impenetrable, at least in Hobble’s eyes. Their relationship is muddied by the secrets she holds, even as Hobble displays a gift of foresight and an ability to “see” the truth. She is unique compared to the other bog dwellers, but her vision of the invading Romans becomes a serious concern for her family, the village, and the lone druid who comes to seek brave men to join his rebellion.

“Though we do not speak of my birth, I can describe the deep blue veins webbing my mother’s breasts, the slight tremble of my father’s hand as he clenched his knife, and above all, the way she hid the crescent from his view. The finer points of the scene glinted before me with the exactness of a sharpened blade, same as they had for that vision of R0mans at Black Lake.” (pg. 3)

This mystical tale is woven like a tapestry with each strand hard to hold onto until it comes together with the other colors to create a full scene of village life under the druids and the change that hovers on the horizon under Roman rule. In the backdrop the struggle for power plays out just as it does in the foreground between the Smiths and Hunters where the power shifts from one to the other. Buchanan’s story unfolds in a deliberate way to immerse the reader in this ancient time when even writing was not done and knowledge was passed from person to person. Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan is a struggle for survival amid a world of secrets and lies, political gains and losses, and magic.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Photo Credit: Heather Pollack

About the Author:

Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the nationally bestselling novels The Day the Falls Stood Still and The Painted Girls. She lives in Toronto. Find out more about Cathy at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.



Join us for a fun tour with reviews accompanied by progressive excerpts on the blogs and a game of finding out your “Black Lake name” on Instagram beginning Oct. 8!

Please use the hashtag #daughterofblacklake, and tag @tlcbooktours, @riverheadbooks, and @cathymbuchanan.

Devout was once a maiden of thirteen, wandering the woodland at the northern boundary of the clearing at Black Lake. She felt the sun reaching through her skin cape and her woolen dressas she walked, gaze sweeping the curled leaves, twigs, and fallen branches of the woodland floor. She bristled with anticipation. Now that she had begun to bleed, that very evening she would join the rest of the youths eligible to take mates in celebrating the Feast of Purification. Together they would mark the advent of a new season, and in doing so leave behind the cold, bitter season called Fallow and welcome the slow thaw of the season called Hope. At such a promising juncture, Black Lake’s boys offered trinkets to the maidens. With a polished stone or an opalescent shell, a boy made known his desire to take a particular maiden as his mate, and with that gift accepted and then a witnessed declaration, a maiden cast her lot.

Devout told herself not to beselfish, not to set her heart on holding in her cupped palms evidence of a boy’s yearning. It was her first Feast of Purification, and the possibility of a mate remained as unfathomable as the distant sea. Still, the idea of a trinket, of being singled out, of wide eyes and maidens gushing that she had drawn affection—all of it glinted like a lure before a fish.

She stooped to peer beneath a bush, looking for the bluish‑purple petals of the sweet violet she had come into the woodland to collect. The flowerheld strong magic: A draft strained from a stew of its boiled flowers brought sleep to those who lay awake. A syrup of that draft mixed with honey soothed a sore throat. A poultice of the leaves relieved swellings and drew the redness from an eye. She touched her lips, then the earth. “Blessings of Mother Earth,” she said.

Mother Earth would come that night, and in Devout’s mind’s eye, she pictured her arrival, imagining it much like the mist rolling in from the bog. Mother Earth would glide into the clearing, permeate the clutch of roundhouses, and in doing so chase away vermin, dis‑ ease, wickedness. The cleansing put the bog dwellers at ease. Though the Feast of Purification came at a time when the days were growing longer, still night ruled. After a daythat was too short for the bog dwellers to have grown tired, they tossed amid tangles of woven blan‑ kets, furs, and skins, worry creeping into their minds. Would the stores of salted meat, hard cheese, and grain last? Was there enough fodder left for thesheep? Had slaughtering all but a single cock been a mistake? Were the ewes’ bellies hanging sufficiently low? Were their teats adequately plump?

Check out the next stop on the blog tour and the next excerpt at Lit and Life.

Mailbox Monday #596

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant,which I purchased for someone’s good work on virtual learning.

With a lot of searching and a lot of luck, Kaz has found his dog Cosmo, his little brother Little John, his grandmom, and his grandpops. But what about his parents? Or his big brother Finn? Will he ever see them again? Kaz wants to keep looking for his family, but when Claire hears about a ghost at the fire station, Kaz knows it’s a case for C & K Ghost Detectives!

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan for review with TLC Book Tours.

It’s the season of Fallow, in the era of iron. In a northern misty bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, a settlement lies far beyond the reach of the Romans invading hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple–or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honor Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time. A girl named Devout comes of age, sweetly flirting with the young man she’s tilled alongside all her life, and envisions a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, though, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their foreign ways and military might, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout’s young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and community.

Set in a time long forgotten, Daughter of Black Lake brings the ancient world to life and introduces us to an unforgettable family facing an unimaginable trial.

What did you receive?

The Best of 2013 List…

In Descending Order (links to the reviews included):
  1. Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart
  2. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  3. Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy
  4. Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
  5. The Time Between by Karen White
  6. Survival Skills: Stories by Jean Ryan
  7. Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey
  8. Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano
  9. Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer
  10. The Scabbard of Her Throat by Bernadette Geyer
  11. The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, translated by Carolina De Robertis
  12. Six Sisters’ Stuff: Family Recipes, Fun Crafts, and So Much More
Here are my honorable mentions for this year, in descending order (links to the reviews included):
  1. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
  2. Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent by Beth Kephart
  3. Joyland by Stephen King
  4. Seduction by M.J. Rose
  5. Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
What books made your list of favorites this year?

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan is about dreams, dreams that can raise you up out of the most dire circumstances, if only you are willing to work hard and do what you must to survive.  Antoinette and Marie, by turns, are ballet girls in the Paris Opera, with Antoinette learning too late that she cannot hold her tongue or bend her stubbornness.  Imagine a time in 1880’s France when Emile Zola publishes L’Assommoir, which becomes a play about a laundress and the dire consequences of poverty and alcoholism, and when Cesare Lombroso postulates that people who are born criminals can be identified by physical characteristics of the skull.  Buchanan has taken the real-life figures of Edgar Degas, Emile Zola, and Degas’ model for the statute Little Dancer of Fourteen Years — Marie van Goethem — and intertwined their stories with criminals Emile Abadie and Pierre Gille.  Tempted by different fates, Marie and Antoinette’s stories are told in alternating chapters, providing greater insight into certain situations and events as well as the complicated relationship between sisters, particularly those struggling to survive with a drunk mother, deceased father, and younger sister weighing heavily upon them.

“But then the next minute, my mind flipped back to thinking how a smear of greasepaint might hide her sallow skin.  Back and forth I went.  How to diminish.  How to boost up.  All I knew for sure was even if old Pluque saw his way to giving her a chance, even if she clawed her way up from the dance school to the corps de ballet, she was too skinny, too vulgar in her looks, too much like me to ever move up from second set of the quadrille, the bottom of the scale.”  (Page 13 ARC)

Even as each sister raises the other up with praise and support when times are tough, there are moments of doubt — that the love is not enough and that the support is somehow hollow.  Antoinette has fallen from her place with the ballet and is scrambling for walk-on parts in the opera before she meets Emile and gets a steady role in L’Assommoir, while Marie is just embarking upon her journey in the ballet with their sister Charlotte close behind.  There is the push and pull of these sisterly relationships as they compete to be the best in ballet and to earn the most, while still supporting one another and doing the little things that keep them spirited.  However, their world is about to fall apart when Antoinette falls in love and becomes tempted by that love to throw all that she knows away on the belief that her love is real and ever-lasting.

Buchanan also demonstrates through Marie the notion that believing something to be true can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Marie says at one point, “Monstrous in face, monstrous in spirit.”  She does not see herself as the beauty others see, and her self-image is a faulty foundation for her to stand on when she enters the ballet as she compares herself not only to her sister, Charlotte, whom is considered a cherub, but also to the beauty and grace of the other ballet dancers.  Meanwhile, Antoinette does not have as many concerns about her beauty, relying on her wiles to capture the attentions of Emile and hold his rapt attention.  She sees him as her escape from poverty, despite his criminal-like behavior and greater commitment to his friends.

In many ways, The Painted Girls is about the bond between sisters and about the self-fulfilling traps that many of us fall into even when the support system is there to support us.  It is about taking things for granted, about being selfish, and about not giving into temptation.  Buchanan’s storytelling is captivating, and her characters, while rooted in history, are dynamic and flawed — like the criminals spotted by their physical characteristics, Antoinette and Marie are typecast by the law, theater members, ballet instructors and the wealthy sponsors who have designs on dancers.  Buchanan’s portrait of sisters in France during this period is gritty and emotional. Readers will immediately feel the dark, dank alleys of Paris and the heel of class distinctions upon their necks, just as the van Goethem sisters do.

The first contender for the 2013 best of list.

Credit: Nigel Dickson

About the Author:

CATHY MARIE BUCHANAN is the author of The Painted Girls, a novel set in belle époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged 14 (forthcoming January 2013). Her debut novel, The Day the Falls Stood Still, was a New York Times bestseller, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection, a Barnes & Noble Best of 2009 book, an American Booksellers Association IndieNext pick and a Canada Reads Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade. Her stories have appeared in many of Canada’s most respected literary journals, and she has received awards from both the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council. She holds a BSc (Honours Biochemistry) and an MBA from Western University. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, she now resides in Toronto.

Please check out the reading guide.

Mailbox Monday #193

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is BookNAround.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Edge of Oblivion: A Night Prowler Novel by J.T. Geissinger, which came unexpectedly from Wunderkind PR.

In a dark underground cell, Morgan Montgomery waits to die. A member of the Ikati, an ancient tribe of shape-shifters, Morgan stands convicted of treason. And Ikati law clearly spells out her fate: death to all who dare betray.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Thanks to her friendship with Jenna, the new queen of the Ikati, Morgan has one last chance to prove her loyalty. She must discover and infiltrate the headquarters of the Expurgari, the Ikati’s ancient enemy, so they can be destroyed once and for all. The catch? She has only a fortnight to complete her mission and will be accompanied by Xander Luna, the tribe’s most feared enforcer. If Morgan fails, her life is forfeit. Because Xander is as lethal as he is loyal, and no one—not even this beautiful, passionate renegade—will distract him from his mission. But as the pair races across Europe into the heart of Italy, the attraction blooming between them becomes undeniable. Suddenly more than justice is at stake: so is love.

2.  Bowling Avenue by Ann Shayne, which is from the author for review after a recommendation from Alma Katsu.

Welcome to 603 Bowling Avenue, a lush, empty Colonial Revival house tucked away in a leafy Nashville neighborhood. Who’s that in the ratty attic bedroom, holed up like a squirrel, writing real estate ads as fast as she can? Delia Ballenger, former Nashvillian. She’s back in town to sell the house that her tender-hearted big sister inexplicably left her after dying in a car crash. Delia needs to get back to Chicago as fast as possible. But uninvited people keep showing up at the front door: • Her mother, Grace Ballenger. Brilliant federal judge and the number-one reason Delia lives in another state. • A patrician and poorly socialized neighbor, Angus Donald. • Shelly Carpenter, the watchful housekeeper who raised Delia. • Brother-in-law Bennett Schwartz, a wretched surgeon, along with his girls Cassie and Amelia—the nieces she’s never known. • And, most vexing, a charming real estate agent, Henry Peek. Delia finds herself up to her eyeballs in a flood of mysteries, secrets, and the sort of love that sneaks up on you. For everyone who has muttered “You can’t go home again,” here’s what happens when you go anyway. You’ll laugh. You may cry, if you’re the weepy type. And you’ll cheer for Delia even as you wonder how she can eat a Pop-Tart as an entree. Like THE DESCENDANTS, BOWLING AVENUE is a story of learning how to let go, hold on–and bail water.

3.  The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan for review from Riverhead Books in January.

1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

4.  Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark for a TLC Book Tour this month.

London 1887. For Maribel Campbell Lowe, the beautiful bohemian wife of a maverick politician, it is the year to make something of herself. A self-proclaimed Chilean heiress educated in Paris, she is torn between poetry and the new art of photography. But it is soon plain that Maribel’s choices are not so simple. As her husband’s career hangs by a thread, her real past, and the family she abandoned, come back to haunt them both. When the notorious newspaper editor Alfred Webster begins to take an uncommon interest in Maribel, she fears he will not only destroy Edward’s career but both of their reputations.

Inspired by the true story of a politician’s wife who lived a double life for decades, Beautiful Lies is set in a time that, fraught with economic uncertainty and tabloid scandal-mongering, uncannily presages our own.

5.  Murder Most Austen by Tracy Kiely for review from Kaye Publicity.

A dedicated Anglophile and Janeite, Elizabeth Parker is hoping the trip to the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath will distract her from her lack of a job and her uncertain future with her boyfriend, Peter.

On the plane ride to England, she and Aunt Winnie meet Professor Richard Baines, a self-proclaimed expert on all things Austen. His outlandish claims that within each Austen novel there is a sordid secondary story is second only to his odious theory on the true cause of Austen’s death. When Baines is found stabbed to death in his Mr. Darcy costume during the costume ball, it appears that Baines’s theories have finally pushed one Austen fan too far. But Aunt Winnie’s friend becomes the prime suspect, so Aunt Winnie enlists Elizabeth to find the professor’s real killer. With an ex-wife, a scheming daughter-in-law, and a trophy wife, not to mention a festival’s worth of die-hard Austen fans, there are no shortage of suspects.

6. Out of True by Amy Durant for review and giveaway in October.

The poems in Out of True flow through stories of life and love, deep feeling and light perspective, all with a foundation in the elemental core of the human spirit. Amy’s poems speak to all of us with a bruised heart still willing to embrace hope and joy.

7. King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz, which I purchased at Wonderbook for out book club discussion in November.

Solomon, the legend goes, had a magic ring which enabled him to speak to the animals in their own language. Konrad Lorenz was gifted with a similar power of understanding the animal world. He was that rare beast, a brilliant scientist who could write (and indeed draw) beautifully. He did more than any other person to establish and popularize the study of how animals behave, receiving a Nobel Prize for his work. King Solomon’s Ring, the book which brought him worldwide recognition, is a delightful treasury of observations and insights into the lives of all sorts of creatures, from jackdaws and water-shrews to dogs, cats and even wolves. Charmingly illustrated by Lorenz himself, this book is a wonderfully written introduction to the world of our furred and feathered friends, a world which often provides an uncanny resemblance to our own. A must for any animal-lover!

8. The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen, translated by K.E. Semmel, which I purchased at Novel Places.

In The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olsen introduced Detective Carl Mørck, a deeply flawed, brilliant detective newly assigned to run Department Q, the home of Copenhagen’s coldest cases. The result wasn’t what Mørck—or readers—expected, but by the opening of Adler-Olsen’s shocking, fast-paced follow-up, Mørck is satisfied with the notion of picking up long-cold leads. So he’s naturally intrigued when a closed case lands on his desk: A brother and sister were brutally murdered two decades earlier, and one of the suspects—part of a group of privileged boarding-school students—confessed and was convicted.

But once Mørck reopens the files, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Looking into the supposedly solved case leads him to Kimmie, a woman living on the streets, stealing to survive. Kimmie has mastered evading the police, but now they aren’t the only ones looking for her. Because Kimmie has secrets that certain influential individuals would kill to keep buried . . . as well as one of her own that could turn everything on its head.

Every bit as pulse-pounding as the book that launched the series, The Absent One delivers further proof that Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of the world’s premier thriller writers.

9. The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel, which I also bought at Novel Places.

One mild summer evening, a young couple are enjoying dinner while their daughter sleeps peacefully in her stroller under a tree. When her mother steps outside she is stunned: The child is covered in blood.
Inspector Sejer is called to the hospital to meet the family. Mercifully, the child is unharmed, but the parents are deeply shaken, and Sejer spends the evening trying to understand why anyone would carry out such a sinister prank. Then, just before midnight, somebody rings his doorbell.
No one is at the door, but the caller has left a small gray envelope on Sejer’s mat. From his living room window, the inspector watches a figure disappear into the darkness. Inside the envelope Sejer finds a postcard bearing a short message: Hell begins now.

What did you receive?

Cathy Buchanan and Saving Niagara Falls

I recently received an email from Cathy Buchanan, author of The Day the Falls Stood Still (click for my review), about the movement to stop high-rise development on the green spaces of Loretto Academy.  Here’s what she had to say.  I urge you to all consider the issue, get informed, and participate.

Lots of you know I’ve helped found Friends of Niagara Falls, a non-profit organization working to preserve the environment and natural beauty of Niagara Falls.  Our first task is a big one: stopping the high-rise development planned for the green space of Loretto Academy (yep, it’s the convent school where The Day the Falls Stood Still opens in 1915), located atop the bluff adjacent to the Horseshoe Falls.

The treed grounds of Loretto frame the falls in nature, a much more fitting backdrop to a natural wonder of the world than a wall of hotels. The high-rises will cast shadows on the parkland surrounding the falls and the falls itself and are expected to increase the number of rain-like days at Niagara Falls, as has been the case recent high-rise development.

Please show our government your opposition by signing the Friends of Niagara Falls petition. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/stopthewalls/

To get informed and get involved, visit http://www.FriendsofNiagaraFalls.org/

Please pass these links onto friends and family.


FTC Disclosure: Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

Interview With Cathy Marie Buchanan

I already reviewed The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan earlier in September for the Amazon Vine Program; click on the link for my full review. After posting my review, I discovered Buchanan was on a blog tour for her book.

I was happy to learn that she would answer a few questions and sponsor a book giveaway for my readers and its international. Please give Cathy Marie Buchanan a warm welcome.
1. Was the main character Bess modeled on the real wife of William “Red” Hill, whom the character of Tom Cole is based? Or is she based upon yourself or people you know?
(Please see the following photo provided by Cathy Marie Buchanan, courtesy of the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library): “Red Hill Junior moments before his fateful plunge”

In the very first bit of The Day the Falls Stood Still that I wrote−it’s long since been scrapped−Bess was an old woman, bitter and hateful of the river. I’d conjured her up from the little I knew of Red Hill’s wife, who was quoted as saying she hated the river, that she was afraid of it. 

In addition to being a hero, Red Hill was a daredevil. He risked his life shooting the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel three times. In 1951 the eldest of the couple’s sons died attempting to go over the falls in a barrel constructed of inflated rubber tubes, canvas and fishing nets, and another son was killed in an accident in a hydroelectric diversion tunnel under the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario. 

Clearly, she had cause to hate the river. She is where I started with Bess Heath, but once I decided not to incorporate the daredevil side of Red Hill into Tom Cole−that his reverence for the river would run too high for that−Bess evolved into the strong, intelligent, supportive woman I hope readers find in between the covers of the book.

2. What prompted the inclusion of the mock newspaper articles? Was that your idea or something the publisher wanted to include?

I have to give my clever U.S. editor, Sarah Landis, credit for the idea of incorporating the newspaper articles. After reading an earlier version of the manuscript, Sarah came back with the comment that she wanted to know more about Niagara’s fascinating lore and suggested that newspaper articles might be an interesting way of adding more of the stories.

3. For a debut novel, The Day The Falls Stood Still, is incredibly stunning. Niagara Falls is a great location for this emotionally charged story. Do you have plans to write additional books in this setting?

Born and bred in Niagara Falls, I grew up awash in an endless stream of local lore─the Maid of the Mist and her canoe, Sir Isaac Brock and the War of 1812, Blondin and his tightrope, Annie Taylor and her barrel, William “Red” Hill and his daring rescues, Sir Adam Beck and hydroelectricity, Roger Woodward and the miracle at Niagara.  

With such a storied past and the staggering beauty of the falls themselves, it’s tough to definitively say that I won’t write about the area again. Still, I think I’ve told the story I wanted to tell about Niagara Falls. I’m currently working on a story set in and around the Paris Opera in the 1880s.

4. Most writers are readers. Name five of the last books you read and enjoyed. 


I discovered Donna Morrissey this year, first reading What They Wanted. I loved it, and I loved Sylvanus Now, too. No one does the Newfoundlander voice like Morrissey. No one makes you feel the feral beauty of Newfoundland in quite the same way. Another favourite was Laura Moriarty’s While I’m Falling. I happened to be reading it when Elle came out with its September reader’s picks, books that were subsequently pitted against one another in a reader vote. 

I was thrilled to find The Day the Falls Stood Still included in the picks, particularly considering that the other two books on the list were new novels by former Grand Prix Book-of-the-Year winners. My book came in a very close second to While I’m Falling, the very book I was savouring. 

The most recent book to knock my socks off was Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a collection of linked stories. In every story, she shows a remarkable understanding of human nature. Over the years I’ve read loads of books to my boys. The book that most stands out from the last year is John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I read it with my eleven-year-old, and I think we loved it equally.

Photo Credit: Nigel Dickson

5. You hold a BSc (Honours Biochemistry) and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. What was the turning point in your life that prompted you to write novels and short stories?

I spent my teenage years disgracing myself in English, often getting upwards of 20 percent deducted for spelling mistakes on high school English exams. When it came time to head off to university, I picked my courses using the criteria that I wouldn’t have to write−that is spell−a single thing. Hence, the BSc and MBA. 

I spent the bulk of my non-writing work life at IBM. By then spell-check had been invented, and I took a night school creative writing course, on a whim really. I was smitten, and soon enough I wanted more time to write than that tiny gap that existed between scrubbing my children clean and falling into bed myself. I quit my corporate job and have been writing five days a week while my boys are at school ever since.

I hope you enjoyed the interview with Cathy Marie Buchanan and learning about Niagara Falls.  Please check out the book trailer.

Also, check out the Sept. 30, 2009, teleseminar for the end of Cathy Marie Buchanan’s Virtual Book Tour:

  • What: Going Over the Falls: A Telephone Chat With Cathy Marie Buchanan
  • When: 3:00 pm EST on September 30th
  • Who: Anyone who is interested
  • How: Just dial telephone number 718-290-9983, and enter conference ID code 100925# when promted.  Free, except for normal long distance charges.
  • More info:  http://overthefalls.eventbrite.com/

***Here’s the audio clip link of the teleseminar.***

Hyperion Books and Cathy Marie Buchanan have offered 1 copy of The Day the Falls Stood Still to one lucky reader of my blog anywhere in the world.

To Enter:

1.  Leave a comment on this interview about what you found most interesting.
2.  Leave a comment on the book review and let me know on this post.
3.  Tweet, Blog, Facebook, or spread the word and leave me a link or comment on this post.

Deadline is October 9, 2009, 11:59PM EST.

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Day the Falls Stood Still, like the Niagara River and the falls, flows powerfully with majestic danger. Elizabeth “Bess” Heath is a seventeen year-old woman on the brink of the falls contemplating the beauty of the river and feeling its power pushing her forward. Her family is well-positioned, but a turn of the current pushes them down river and leads to tragedy and redemption for Bess.

When she leaves her school life behind at Loretto Academy, she is thrust into adulthood and embarks upon a journey where she comes into her own, earning the pluck Tom Cole, grandson of the famous riverman Fergus Cole, sees in her during their brief encounters at the gates of Glenview.

“As he walks he holds his head in a way that makes it seem he is listening to the river. His intensity is such that to speak would be to interrupt. ‘It’s worked up tonight,’ he says.” (Page 15 of ARC)

Buchanan prose is calm, providing readers with an anchor amidst the rapids and whirlpools that threaten to toss Bess out on the streets and into the ditches emotionally and financially. Tom becomes her rock to which she anchors herself, and he provides her with focus, love, desire, and strength, just as the river does for him. However, with the outbreak of WWI and troops sent abroad to fight from Canada at the behest of Great Britain and the rise of hydroelectric power, Bess must find the strength on her own to survive without Tom’s guidance and to care for their budding family.

“My Dear Bess,

I am sorry I’ve taken so long to write, but I have been putting it off, waiting for my mood to change. I am not sick in any way, but I am feeling beaten down–by the smell, the smashed men twitching like squashed charred insects the upright corpses mistaken for living men, the landscape of barren, earth without so much as a blade of grass. I am feeling alone, lost, and I can’t figure out how to feel like myself again.” (Page 183 of ARC)

As much as The Day the Falls Stood Still is about the impact of industrialization on the Niagara River, the falls, and the community, it also touches upon the environmental impacts of development, the loss of family, the dangers of progress, and the commitment of a man and wife to their family and their principles. Buchanan has created an emotionally charged novel based upon a real legendary riverman, William “Red” Hill. Complete with mock newspaper articles and historical photos and drawings depicting a variety of major events along the river from Bellini tightrope walking across the falls to the collapse of Table Rock.

Buchanan’s debut novel is undeniably memorable for its historical references and emotional ties to Bess’ family and the Niagara River. The Day the Falls Stood Still will haunt readers after the final page is turned.

Also Reviewed By:
Presenting Lenore