Book Review: The Fiery Cross

I did it, I did it, I did it!

I cannot tell you how proud (and a little bit ashamed) I am to finally be able to say I finished this monster of a book.

Yes, I know, there are longer books. And yes, I know I embarked on this particular one voluntarily. But both these facts are besides the point.

The point here is that past-Erin in a moment of pure brilliance (read: stupidity) decided that the best way to break a several-years-running reading slump was to pick up the longest book she had in her possession. The result of this once-believed-to-be-brilliant plan? I’ve been stuck on this book since March. MARCH.

Thanks…Erin.

However, all of that frustration is now (mostly) in the past as the book has been closed for the last time – it most certainly won’t be a re-read any time soon at least – and I can now write my review. So, let’s get on with it, shall we?

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Solidarity Sunday #12: Ritual

Rowing was a religion for me, composed of a set of rituals and movements repeated until they became a meditation.

Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches

I am just now, very belatedly, listening to the Artemis Fowl series on audiobook. I know, I know, they’re middle-grade and perhaps not meant for a woman of my age, being somehow already in my mid-thirties.

However, I am a firm believer in the idea that books are not meant for any particular time of life. You may read a more adult piece of literary fiction at 15 (as I did when I read Jane Eyre) and find it changes your perspective on life. On the flip side, you may read works meant for young teens in your thirties and find yourself grinning ear to ear at their brilliance (as I am now). Regardless of your age, good writing is good writing, is it not?

I don’t care how old you are – do you not want to dive into these shelves and never leave? Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

OK, Erin, what is your point.

Well, in the first Artemis Fowl book, without giving away any spoilers, we find out that The People (magical beings such as fairies) are required to regularly perform The Ritual to ensure that their magic powers remain topped up and ready to use. If a fairy goes too long without performing The Ritual, their powers may fail them when they need them most.

While we mere humans (or, mud people as we are called in these novels) may not have a supply of magical powers, we too rely on various rituals in order to feel and perform our best.

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Reading Roundup: September 2021

What our lives but a series of farewells and returns, no?

Esi Edugyan, Washington Black

After last month’s triumphant exclamation of having finally found a good rhythm for my reading habit…this past month knocked this nascent habit off course. Again. I’m trying not to get too impatient, however, as my lovely toddler’s sleep regressions are no joke (and in no way under my control).

This isn’t the season of my life when I’m going to do the most reading. I keep having to remind myself of this fact. And, more importantly, reminding myself that I’m not bidding the habit of reading farewell but rather À Bientôt! Because to this habit I will return. Eventually.

But, for now, I did manage to read some interesting articles and blogs in September, if not so many books.

Hmm…there’s a lesson in there somewhere…

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The Beaches: Finale

We do not always remember the things that do no credit to us. We justify them, cover them in bright lies or with the thick dust of forgetfulness.

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

And now we have come, at last, to my final post about our tour of the Normandy Beaches. The fifth in the series. It has been a long road! Not only was this trip all the way back in 2015 (6 years?!) but I wrote my first post about the DDay beaches back in March of this year.

After spending so much time combing through these memories, and getting lost in the subsequent waves of heavy emotions, it’s kind of strange to be leaving this place yet again.

However, there is more death and destruction to come since my Dad and I ended our trip with a stay in The Somme…thanks for sticking around, dear reader, as I attempt to make sense of these experiences. As they happened so long ago, I figured I was far enough removed to write about them without emotional consequence. Boy was I wrong.

I do hope these posts on the Dday landings and their aftermath have not been as hard to read as they were to write. And if they were, while I apologize, I hope they helped reinforce how pointless war is. The cause may be just (depending on who you ask), but is the method ever so? I’m not so sure.

So, without further ado, let’s see this series to the end. Shall we?

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Solidarity Sunday #11: Rest

People who know what they’re doing have a purposeful air to them, even if they don’t seem to be particularly active

Francis Pryor, Home

Hello my dear readers. I hope this missive finds you well, truly well, or as well as can be given the uncertainties of our times.

Yes, I know, all time can be said to be uncertain since all we can do is experience the present as it is without the means (or perhaps even the desire) to change the past or to predict the future. But this last year-and-a-half has seemed even more hazy, has it not? Hazy in the literal sense with the continuation of the horrific forest fires being fought and, unfortunately, succumbed to when all else fails in communities all over the world (to say nothing of the heat domes, floods and, conversely, droughts). But for the majority of us this time has been hazy in the figurative sense as we struggle with a collective brain fog making what were once every day activities seem exhausting and perhaps pointless.

Right now, in Ontario at least, we are in a bit of a lull as far as the pandemic is concerned. This is not to suggest that our frontline workers are not pushing themselves to the limit every day to keep us all safe, fed, clothed and healthy – because they are – but rather that our case numbers have been thankfully reduced to something slightly more manageable overall. For now.

But is another wave coming? Some say yes, some say no. And I will not claim the all-too-common title of internet-accredited epidemiologist whose views are confirmed and bolstered by the echo chambers of the world wide web. I will simply say that I am hoping another wave can be avoided, that I am cautiously optimistic about this, but that I am preparing myself internally for another lockdown if such measures are necessary for us to get through this damn thing once and for all.

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Reading Roundup: August 2021

Each time we found solace in the companions that live in our bookshelves

Valeria Luiselli

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally gotten back into a decent reading habit. And all it took was taking some time off from blogging…

Not only was this month nuts in terms of long-postponed and awaited celebrations finally taking place, but it also marked the first full month that Louis was back at the office and I was officially home full time with Aria balancing fitness, work, household tasks and parenting as so many around the world have been doing forever. I’m slowly getting the hang of it, one day at a time, and every single day brings more appreciation for everything my parents did for us as kids. As enjoyable as most days are, this vocation is not for the faint of heart.

But I digress.

Perhaps you’re wondering where I’ve been? Or, more likely, you haven’t event noticed I was silent for three weeks as you’ve been juggling your own crazy beautiful life.

Regardless if you’re curious or not, I’m going to explain my absence.

Right after publishing my first post for August I had one of those lighting bolt moments of yore when I realized something needed to give. As much as I wanted to be a superwoman of my own making, I knew it was in my best interest to take the self-imposed productivity down a notch. So, I decided to take the month off from blogging and, honestly? It really helped me to take a step back and reevaluate my habits and how they fit into my lifestyle.

Don’t worry, dear reader, this intro is not to announce that I’ve given up blogging. Rather, it’s to joyfully proclaim that I’m back and I have a better and more reasonable plan to stay on top of my writing and reading goals.

Where was I going with this? Ah, yes, reading. I’m finally back into the habit. For real this time. And damn it feels good.

But before we get into the new-and-improved reading habits of one Erin of the Hills, let’s take a look back at the best things I read this month – shall we? After all, that is the purpose of these posts.

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Solidarity Sunday #10: Uncertainty

She wanted so to be tranquil, to be someone who took walks in the late-afternoon sun, listening to the birds and crickets and feeling the whole world breathe. Instead, she lived in her head like a madwoman locked in a tower, hearing the wind howling through her hair and waiting for someone to come and rescue her from feeling things so deeply that her bones burned. She had plenty of evidence that she had a good life. She just couldn’t feel the life she saw she had. It was as though she had a cancer of the perspective.

Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge

Now, let me just preface this with saying that the use of the quote above is not in any way shape or form a cry for help. I’m very aware that I am lucky enough to have an incredibly wonderful life that is so full of joy, adventure and happiness.

And yet.

This quote spoke to me when I flipped through my book of beautiful words today because of the peculiar experience we are all living in this moment (or at least, in most parts of Canada, I recognize each nation’s experience is different).

More and more people are getting vaccinated and as a result, case numbers have been falling and life is starting to open up again. And when I say open up, I don’t mean just economically. People throughout the country are feeling free to once again hug their loved ones, to show off babies born during the depths of the pandemic, to heave a sigh of relief over a long-overdue drink with a dear friend.

And, believe me, I’ve been feeling much of this relief as well. My family has remained fairly careful but we are indeed starting to see more people: if still largely socially-distanced (something my 18-month-old daughter struggles to understand). I even had Aria in Mom-and-Tot swimming lessons this past week which was glorious – and her development has advanced in leaps and bounds simply as a result of those 5 days around other kids. It’s magnificent to watch.

But.

And yes, there is still a but. This isn’t over. While Louis and I are both vaccinated, Aria is not (and nor are any of our friends’ kids). So opening up completely is still out of the question. And then you have the Delta variant emerging more and more causing case numbers to crawl up again and bringing with it the looming threat of further lockdowns.

So, you have this confluence of society opening up, vaccines being doled out to those willing to take them, and new more contagious and dangerous variants leading to a perfect storm of…uncertainty.

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Reading Roundup: July 2021

His money went largely towards books, which to him were like sacred objects, providing ballast for his mind.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It only took me months to do so (or years really if you look at when it was published) but I finally finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming this month and I must say it was well worth the time commitment. Now, let me be clear, I do not mean that this is not an especially long book but rather that finding 18 hours to listen to the audiobook proved challenging with an 18-month-old to run around after. But, I did it! It has finally been moved to my “Read” list. And it feels damn good.

This book is infinitely quotable. Michelle’s writing style is lyrical and moving filled with keen observations and oh so much heart. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing reviews of audiobooks on here – I suppose that depends if I remain in this slump of physical book readings – but consider this my highest recommendation. Do give it a go if you have the chance!

While I won’t be doing a deep dive into my reflections on her book here (perhaps in a later post…) I will say that the quote I featured above actually elicited an unexpectedly joyful reaction in me as I recognized part of myself in the former President of the United States (and one of the few I have legitimately admired while in office – don’t sue me).

Ask my husband, our house is chockfull of books. I’m talking more bookshelves than any other piece of furniture we own, and each of them completely filled to the brim. And the piles, oh the piles of books without a home. And the worst part? Most of them I haven’t even yet read! I just can’t help picking up every single intriguing book I come across. They truly are irresistible to me.

Well, OK, I guess I’m not treating them like sacred objects if I’m piling them all over the place but…they are most certainly a ballast to my ever-turbulent mind.

And with that, let’s take a look at all the not-books I read this month instead of rescuing some of the ever-multiplying tomes from their dusty prisons!

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The Beaches: Part Four

Stephen felt, as he had done before at moments of extreme tension, a dislocation in his sense of time. It seemed to stutter, then freeze.

Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong

The mind truly is a fascinating bit of machinery – I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before.

When the mind is at peace, bathing in a sense of calm, moments somehow fly by and before we know it, the peace is gone and we have encountered a new problem to solve or responsibility to take care of.

I know this from the little meditation I have done in my life. When I am truly able to calm my mind and focus on my breath, 5-10-15 minutes go by in a snap and suddenly the meditation is over and it’s time to get going on my To-Do list again.

And yet, in moments of stress or tension, time seems to slow down or even freeze completely. It’s almost as if our mind wants us to savour every single second of intense anguish so as to ensure that we keep ourselves as far away as possible from similar situations in the future.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for the opposite to be true? For happiness and peace to drag on forever while sadness and strife are over in the blink of an eye?

If you know a trick to make the mind’s mechanics flip like this, please let me know. Because in today’s blog, I’m going to talk about a painful experience which seemed to last for ages. An experience which cemented my firm belief that all life is immensely precious – a belief I hold sacred especially in today’s day and age with the Covid-19 pandemic still ravaging the world and mass graves of Indigenous children being found throughout the country.

But, I digress….

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Book Review: Things Fall Apart

This one has been on my to read list for an embarrassingly long time. I’m talking a decade or so…I’m very pleased to have finally checked it off as read!

This is another book I read quickly (for me) – it brought me right back to my African Lit classes in University.

I am a huge advocate for expanding one’s shelf and reading works by authors from different cultures, countries, mother-tongues, etc… even if it means some of these reads will be more difficult to fully grasp. I definitely caught myself frowning at some of the villager’s practices as a white-middle-class-Canadian and I tried to take these moments to delve deeper into why these practices were in place instead of judging these people as backwards or “un-civilized” as the colonizers described them.

Regardless of bias, however, there are certainly some very disturbing scenes in the book – for those who have been relatively safe from witnessing violence first-hand – so be warned.

My one criticism is that the ending seemed to be rushed, with the coming of the colonizing forces only happening in the last quarter of the book or so but perhaps this was intentional in that it left the majority of the book free to devote itself to the people central to the novel. Perhaps I am just not used to reading books that don’t drive relentlessly towards some kind of climax. Looks like I need to read yet more widely!

Overall, would recommend approaching this book with an open mind and an understanding that some of the cultural practices may shock or upset you. Don’t give up on it, I think the message is worth it.

final rating

have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any similar books to recommend? Let me know in the comments below!