The Door is Ajar: Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith.


Public Library and Other Stories – Ali Smith (2015 Penguin Canada)

Smith’s collection of short stories was gathered together to celebrate the role of public libraries in personal and public life, of the value they bring to community, and the wealth of knowledge and the opportunity for engagement, thought, and creativity that they invoke.  Public Library is also a protest against the closure of libraries in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world, the quashing of budgets, collections, and services in libraries that remain, and the overall decline of government and popular support for these previously-revered institutions.  Smith’s stories are framed by quotes from writers, thinkers, and other figures as they explore their personal emotions and connections to libraries, books, reading, and writing.

The stories themselves were a delight for me and I devoured them in a couple of very short sittings. I am not familiar with Smith’s other work and I loved her style and juicy depth of language as she wound her way around several accounts of relationships gone sour, reimaginings of history, and family life.  It’s difficult to pick a favourite out of this collection, but “The Ex-Wife” and “The Poet” are special standouts for me.  Highly recommended.

The Door is Ajar: Invasive by Chuck Wendig.


Chuck Wendig – Invasive (2016, Harper Voyager)

A strange murder and the discovery of genetically engineered ants lead survivalist and FBI consultant Hannah Stander on a trip to Hawai’i – where things quickly escalate from paradise to apocalypse in Chuck Wendig’s blisteringly good novel Invasive.  Wendig reigns in his signature over-the-top style a smidgeon and produces a tight, brilliantly-characterized, and perfectly-paced thriller. The dustjacket comparisons to Michael Crichton’s work are definitely warranted – I’d say this is Wendig’s finest book to date.  More, please.

The Door is Ajar: Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley.


Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – Alan Bradley (2016, Doubleday Canada)

The eighth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series packs a right-between-the-eyes knockout punch – and no, I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say this is an even bigger deal than her temporary “exile” in Canada, where she attended a private boarding school, solved a weird murder involving a body stuffed up a chimney, and learned more about her family’s connection to a secret organization which I shouldn’t discuss further.  (Go get book seven, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, and read it right now.  It’s a ragged and uneven go, but it serves as a decent set up for the new book).  In Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Flavia returns home to her beloved Buckshaw just before Christmas, to find that her father is ill and the household is unsettled and cold.  The accidental finding of the body of a wood carver while running an errand cheers Flavia up immensely, as she goes to great lengths and concocts elaborate lies to uncover the murderer.  Despite remaining endearingly irrepressible, Flavia is definitely taking on a more mature, experienced voice (if that can even be possible) as the series develops and she approaches her teenage years.


What are you reading this weekend?

Writing updates.

I’ve been super-busy and there are a few more articles and stories pending publication early in the new year, but here’s a list of some of my work that has been either very recently published or will go to press very shortly….

Garden Writing ~

Available now:

“Lacto-Fermentation with Herbs” in The Herb Quarterly, Fall 2015 issue – on North American newsstands

A couple of my sea buckthorn berry recipes are posted on The Canadian Organic Grower’s website – you can check them out here.


“Growing Gooseberries” in The Prairie Garden 2017: Fruit and Berries (available for pre-order; book launch is 27 November)


“Herb Straw Bale Gardening” in The Herb Quarterly, Winter 2015 issue

Short Stories ~

Available now:

“Sheeple” in the Wolfsinger Publications anthology Under a Dark Sign (available through Smashwords and Amazon)

What happens when a long-suffering evil villain finally gets his due?

“The Commute” in the Strange Musings Press anthology Alternate Hilarities 4: Weirder Science (available through Amazon)

An alien races home to attend to an urgent family matter.  The only thing he hasn’t counted on?  Getting stuck in heavy commuter traffic on Earth.  


“GEUs” in Fossil Lake’s anthology Unicornado

Genetically engineered unicorns?  Yeah, I went there.

For Children ~

Available now:

“Pet Horoscope: Warthogs” in the Fall Fun 2015 issue of the Canadian children’s magazine Bazoof! (formerly Zamoof!) – on Canadian newsstands


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Saskatchewan snapshot: Sunset.


Photographed 11 July 2014.

The field featured is almost in Alberta – it’s actually in Saskatchewan, at a place called Alsask (fitting, if lacking originality).  I initially thought that Alsask was like Lloydminster and Cypress Hills, and was partly in Alberta and partly in Saskatchewan, but apparently, only the former village’s cemetery is in Alberta.  Alsask was the site of a military base between 1959 and 1987 but it no longer even holds status as a village; rather, it is considered a “special service area” incorporated within the nearby town of Milton.  I rather wish we had stopped to explore; according to Wikipedia, most of the original buildings are gone, but one of the military radar domes and an indoor swimming pool (used in the summer to this day!) are still there.

Forest fires were burning throughout Alberta and the Northwest Territories at the time, so the smoky air lent an eerie glow to the sun.   I just loved the way that power lines looked against the sky; there’s something vaguely alien about the landscape to me, it’s a bit like something out of a science fiction novel.

Speaking of novels, what is currently on your reading list?  Anything that stands out for you – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatever?  I’m dividing my time between several excellent cookbooks (including Karen Solomon’s Asian Pickles, and Small Adventures in Cooking by James Ramsden) and Kimberly Elkins’ debut novel, a fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bridgman called What is Visible?.  (I’m barely into it but it’s captivating so far). 


Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part Two).

Well, let’s see this thing through to the very end, shall we?  😉

Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down

By Sheryl Normandeau

Offensive Tactic #3.  06/04/11. 19:17. Habanero peppers. 

Forget the oft-advised cayenne pepper, one blogger insists.  It’s not strong enough.  Her reasoning is sound enough, I conclude, so I toodle off to the grocery store and pick a bag of scorching hot habaneros.  (The woman selecting button mushrooms next to me keeps shooting withering glances at me as if I’m the most sadistic cook on the planet; her sympathies clearly lay with my husband).  Chopping the peppers requires gloves and a keen air of hopefulness.  I am convinced that this will work, I am convinced that this will work, I am convinced….

Field Report 4.0.  06/05/11.  07:34. 

Forget the habaneros.  Apparently hares have a yen for painfully spicy stir fries containing half my herb garden, my tender stands of Swiss chard, and certain pre-cut hot peppers.

Offensive Tactic #4.  06/05/11. 13:45. Cat hair and used cat litter. 

I cough delicately to hide my embarrassment.  “Mom, um, I need a bit of Miss Flossy’s used litter.  And some hair from her brush.”

Mom doesn’t even blink.  “No problem, dear,” she says.  “Is this for a gardening project?”

Field Report 5.0.  06/06/11.  05:47. 

Now, this is just getting insulting.  In an act of complete defiance, my tormentors have left a generous pile of fresh bon bons right next to the cat litter I spread around the perimeter of my perennial bed.  This battle is clearly escalating.

Offensive Tactic #5.  06/06/11.  10:36. Coyote urine.

Part of me wants to know how this particular product is, um, harvested and bottled, and part of me really thinks I should leave well enough alone.  Many of my Internet sympathizers have sung its praises, however, and despite my flagging confidence in the efficacy of their suggestions, I go to the garden centre and purchase some eau d’coyote.  As I pour the musky elixir into a spray bottle, I ponder the indignities I have endured so far on this quest to rid my garden of the marauding hare horde.

Field Report 6.0.  06/07/11.  08:56.

Surely, this is a marketing gimmick – either that, or I bought a bad batch.  (It smells so awful I can’t tell if it’s turned and I ought to return it to the retailer).  Undoubtedly, as they dined by moonlight on my asparagus and marigolds (also a “WILL NOT EAT” plant), my nemeses had a good chortle about the funny yellow liquid in the spray bottle.  Me, I’m reduced to hysterics.

Offensive Tactic 6.  06/07/11. 15:59. The final straw.

“He who wishes to fight must first count the cost,” the same wise warrior wrote.  He wasn’t kidding.  Rottweiler puppies sure eat a lot of kibble.


Related posts:  Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part One).

Hasen stewing.

Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part One).

How far would you go to protect your garden from a marauding horde????

Flowery Prose does fiction this week!  It always lends a little credence when you say something is “inspired by a true story,” so I’m going with it.   The emergent – and now, chewed up – vegetative matter in my flowerbeds stands as proof that I’m not totally lying.

Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down

By Sheryl Normandeau

 Field Report 1.0.  06/01/11. 06:45. In the line of sight. 

Early a.m. reconnaissance produces evidence of digging and heavy snacking.  Defoliated, deflowered crocus bulbs have been ripped from their roots and stacked in neat piles on top of the soil.  Newly planted white bellflower has been bitten down to the quick.  Larkspur is shredded like newspaper in a cat’s litter box.  ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus has been thoroughly mashed in the manner of boiled potatoes.  Certain lop-eared, long-legged aggressors have prompted me to throw down the gauntlet.  This means WAR. 

“Know thy enemy,” a wise warrior once said, so I Google it.  Lepus townsendii:   white-tailed jackrabbits.  Funny, but all of the descriptions I hit leave out “utterly voracious, completely unstoppable plant eating machine, guaranteed to inspire madness and indignant rage in the souls of afflicted gardeners.”  It seems that some people actually consider the heinous beasts cute, in an “oh, but jackrabbits are related to adorable, fuzzy, sweet-eyed cottontail bunnies” kind of way, but you’ll of course find that jackrabbit sympathizers are either under the age of six, or they buy their plastic clamshell-encased produce from MegaSuperBigBoxEmporium.  Me, I’m not amused.  I just spent twenty dollars on a flat of gazanias, and I’m not about to see them disappear into the gullets of my furry adversaries.

I check the gardening forums on the ‘net for intel.  Unfortunately, the thread posts seem depressingly contradictory:  “They seemed to leave my petunias alone,” BettyFlower9 announces cheerfully, while GardenNinja82 sadly confesses that his own petunias have gone the way of the dodo, along with his burgeoning arugula and kale seedlings.  Crocuses and larkspur are definite “WILL NOT EAT” plants on one blogger’s list, but, of course, I know better.

“How can I stop rabbits from eating my plants?”  I query the search engine.  (I’m feeling lucky, indeed).  Thousands of blog posts, forum threads, and gardening websites pop up, instantly at my disposal and full of the latest advice.  I take a sip of coffee, crack my knuckles, and tap my wireless mouse.

Field Report 2.0. 06/02/11. 10:26. Implementation of Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down. 

Offensive Tactic #1:  Bloodmeal. 

Bloodmeal is made from dried cow’s blood, and my informants on GreenGardenGrows suggest that heavily-preyed upon animals such as rabbits might be put off by the scent.  Dried-up blood sort of scares me, I figure, so with a rambling sort of logic, it might frighten the rabbits.  No matter, it’s worth a shot:  it’s cheap and nutritious for the plants.  I apply it liberally out of a large bucket, broadcasting granules over the soil while little murmured hopes linger on my lips.

Field Report 2.1.  06/03/11.  05:52. 

A.M. reconnaissance finds a juvenile enemy troop lounging in the middle of my catmint.  Obviously he is too young to be aware of the certain dangers of desiccated cow‘s blood.  I sigh, and shoo him away.

Offensive Tactic #2.  06/03/11. 11:32. Hand soap. 

“Use the smelliest soap you can get,” my digital advisors helpfully suggest.  The stuff I purchase does permanent damage to my olfactory senses and makes me nauseous as I cut it up into small shavings.  I’m a bit alarmed by the way the bright green soap stands out against my rich brown bark mulch after I apply it, but my fervent desire to drive away my long-eared opponents overrides my sense of aesthetics.

Field Report 3.0.  06/04/11. 16:05. 

It rains overnight, a deep soaking that ordinarily would be cause for great rejoicing.  (I’m lazy and don’t haul out the garden hoses unless absolutely imperative).  A.M. reconnaissance finds my plants poking out of a suffocating sudsy lime green bubble bath.  And, wouldn’t you know it? – this afternoon one of the hort society ladies stops in for tea.  She’s the first to notice that the enemy has decimated my ‘Baby Star’ head lettuce.

Jump over to Operation Let-Your-Hare-Down (Part Two) now!