Book Reviews and Indie Authors

Ontario Canada Book Club

As an indie author, getting book reviews is very important. So when a book club in Ontario asked for a video conference with me at their monthly meeting, I was delighted to participate. Receiving honest feedback from these women helps me to grow as an author and I feel as if I’ve made some new friends in the process.

To read additional reviews, please go to Amazon and Goodreads or follow book bloggers Amy and Mari.

St. Patrick’s Day is in May

Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in May.

“Bollocks!” you say.

“It’s true,” I insist. “I was there.”

You see, in March of 2001, Ireland experienced its first outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1941. And Ireland quickly set up measures to control the spread of this disease. As a result, many tourist attractions and outdoor festivals were closed, including the popular St. Patrick’s Day parade.

But my friend Chris and I felt that that spring was a perfect time to re-visit the Emerald Isle. Tourism to the UK and Ireland was down due to tourists being wary of exposure to the dreaded foot-and-mouth. That meant flights were bound to be much cheaper and there would be far fewer tourists getting in our way to view the same attractions. We were right on both counts.

We packed in as much as we could into our trip to Ireland, from strolling the south strand in Skerries, Co. Dublin to kissing the Blarney Stone in Co. Cork. From listening to traditional Irish music whilst imbibing Guinness in the sleepy but picturesque fishing town of Kinsale to exploring Cashel Rock in Co. Tipperary. We went from admiring centuries-old Celtic crosses to scratching our heads at Irish road signs attached haphazardly to a post with directions written only in Gaelic!

Although we weren’t anywhere near Dublin, I suggested to Chris that we back-track to the city to catch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Chris is reluctant to do so as we were well on our way to Galway on the opposite coast at this point.

“It’s just a parade,” says she.

“We have to go!” I plead. “What are the odds of us being in Ireland to see a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever again?

I’m able to convince her at length, and we catch the next train to the east coast. The train station in Dublin is about a 20-minute walk to the parade route. We still have plenty of time before the parade starts so we stop at the real Guinness Brewery gift shop, which just happens to be along the way, to purchase some souvenirs.

May 19 and 20, 2001 is dubbed the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and festivities have already begun. There is music. And there are street performers. And there are Elvis impersonators everywhere. But when the actual parade starts, we are pleasantly surprised. This is no ordinary parade. Sure, there are horses, a few floats and marching bands including one from New York that got to participate in two St. Patrick Day Parades in the same year but on different continents! But, for the most part, this parade is more like the Mardi Gras Carnival. Stilt walkers. Colourful, colourful costumes. And even elaborate, precision-engineered, human-controlled “pedestrian floats”.

When the parade ends, I’m anxious to partake in some pub grub and to raise a glass of Guinness to this amazing day. Chris, not so much. Not that she has anything against this activity, but she is worried that we might miss the last train leaving Dublin. If we do, our plans to explore the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are in danger of being delayed or even terminated.

“You know how long it takes to get to the train station from here and we’re already familiar with the route,” I remind her. “We have plenty of time.”

But she will not be swayed.

“OK. You go,” I tell her. “But I’m going to find me a pub.” Darkey Kelly’s sounds like a good choice and I squeeze past the revelers to order my pub food and Guinness. Lively traditional tunes fill the air, and everyone is in a celebratory mood including two couples who are pub-hopping.

“This is so much better,” says one of the women. “We were just at the Temple Bar and you can’t even move there.”

Wow. And I thought this place was packed! I eat my pub grub, drink my stout and visit with my new friends while listening to traditional Irish music. I imagine heaven to be just like this.

Two hours later, I arrive at the train station to find Chris patiently sitting on a bench waiting for boarding call. I think the past two hours might have been slightly more enjoyable for me than they were for her. Just a hunch.

This was one incredible human-powered “float”!

Paperback Sale

Only 3 days left to get my paperback memoir, A Squatter in London, on sale! On March 1st the price goes up. Check it out on:

Amazon Canada      Amazon US      Amazon UK

E-book also available for purchase but you’ll miss out on vintage 1970s photos. Be sure to tell your non-fiction, like-the-feel-of-paper, reader friends before it’s too late!


Hockey Night in Saskatchewan

Re-blogging this for all you hockey fans.

Irene Pylypec

taylor-friehl-1301748-unsplash“Let’s play hockey!” was an oft repeated phrase by kids growing up on the Canadian prairies. For me, a kid who grew up on a farm four miles from the village of Yellow Creek, Saskatchewan, that meant lacing up my skates and heading to the outdoor rink at recess with my classmates – boys and girls alike.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, hockey took a slightly different twist. Hockey pucks were expensive and had the curious habit of disappearing into snowbanks never to be seen again until spring thaw. So, frozen horse turds served as an admirable substitute in a game of barnyard shinny. When my older brother’s friends dropped by, play resumed on our private playground – the frozen slough in the midst of the Gryba bush. The Gryba family owned the mostly-uncleared piece of land across the grid road opposite to our farm but did not live there. …

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The Sugar Shack

“There’s a crazy little shack beyond the tracks. And everybody calls it the sugar shack…”

In Canada, the land of maple syrup, the sugar shack is a building where sap from the sugar maple is boiled to produce maple syrup. This sweet treat is produced in eastern Canada, primarily in the province of Quebec.

However, in the 1960s sugar shacks could also be found on the western prairies. And yes, every little town in Saskatchewan had one.

The sugar shack was a thing of enormous mystery. It seemed to be founded by the males of the species and the exact location was always shrouded in secrecy. Whenever the topic of the sugar shack was discussed amongst my high school classmates, I would pester the boys – imploring them to let me in on the big secret. I was told that it was a boys-only clubhouse and that they, and only they knew the location of it and were the only ones who could enter inside its hallowed walls. Defeated, I accepted that explanation until I found out that one of my girlfriends who lived in town knew all about it and had even been inside! Now I’m being told a slightly different story by the boys. Now they tell me that sometimes the girls from town get a special invitation to see the clubhouse but I live too far away on a farm. Well, I’m having none of that! I approach one of the boys afterward and insist that he take me to the sugar shack. Reluctantly, he agrees to take my friend and me to show us the place.

I’m really excited to solve the mystery of the sugar shack: where is it? What does it look like? What goes on there? I fully expect to find the sugar shack somewhere in the bush, possibly beside the railway tracks. Much to my surprise, we are escorted to the opposite end of town. And there it is, an unassuming building hidden in plain sight. It’s just up the hill on the southeastern edge of downtown, two houses away from my relatives’ house. And it may be small, but it’s not a shack at all!

Instead of the rundown shack situated in some covert location in the woods, we enter what appears to be a newly-constructed tiny house. The room itself is sparsely furnished with a table, a couple of chairs, and even a bed.

“So, what do you guys do here?” I ask innocently.

“Oh, we mostly just hang out here, talking and reading comics,” replies our host. Sometimes, we get somebody to pull us a case of beer. And, of course, nobody can see us,” he continues, pointing to the curtained windows, “so we can smoke here anytime.”

“Well, we better be going!” he says abruptly. Girls aren’t allowed here. And I’m one of two guys who has keys to this place. If somebody else wants the key, I don’t want them to see you girls here. Don’t tell anyone I took you here,” he pleads.

What really went on there? Was it really a clubhouse for prairie boys to hang out with their buddies while reading comic books and drinking beer? Or was it more like a love shack where, far removed from parents’ prying eyes, they would take their ‘sugar’?

Wait. What’s that sound I hear? Oh, I believe it’s the collective snickering of seniors reliving their adolescent dreams in a prairie sugar shack. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. I really don’t know the answer. All I know is that there wasn’t so much as an ounce of maple sugar produced there.

Looking to Escape the Cold this Winter?

And are you looking for a good book to read while you’re relaxing under a swaying palm tree, viewing an ocean paradise from the comfort of your beach lounge? It’s not too late to buy that perfect book! My memoir, A Squatter in London, is currently available  in paperback from Amazon at a reduced price. It’s also available as an e-book, but you’ll miss out on the vintage 1970s images that are offered in the paperback version.

Hurry! You only have until the end of February to benefit from the special price. Even if you’re not going to the Dead Sea.

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