musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... here there be cat

Saturday, February 14, 2015

time travelling ... it's all about love

Last month I wrote about discovering my Aunt Margaret's autograph book and shared some gems she collected at high school. For me, the most special autographs her album were those from our family. I can't think of a better post for Valentine's Day than this one, full of their love and humour.

My favourite was inscribed by my Mom. She was much younger than Margaret, age 7 in 1930 when she wrote this. Made me giggle. I wonder what she thought it meant?

Margaret May is your name
Toronto is your station
lucky is the little boy
that makes the alterations.
Mom (right) and Aunt Margaret, circa 1930.
Mom used to tell me her mother put a bowl
over her head and trimmed her hair around it.
She hated the look. I can see why!
Another favourite is this autograph from my Uncle Ernest Osborne, Margaret's beau at time of writing. They later married and lived happily ever after. Funny thing is, I always thought of Uncle Ernest as someone who completely lived up to his name: serious, thoughtful, lacking in frivolity... especially the latter! But reading this bit of whimsy makes me think of him in a whole new light.

They strolled the lane together
The sky was studded with stars
They reached the gate in the meadow
He lifted for her the bars
She raised her brown eyes to him
For there was nothing between them now
For he was just a country boy
And she a jersey cow.

The next two are from Margaret's mother and father, my grandparents. I spent a lot of time with Grandma and Grandpa as a youngster and their familiar handwriting and wise advice really tugs at my heart.

Look up and not down
Out and not in
Forward and not back
And lend a hand. - Father

There is room for me in your album,
There is room for you in my heart,

 There is room for us both in heaven,
Where true friends never part. - Mother

Here's the family in 1941, 11 years after those autographs
were signed. Left to right:
my Dad, Philip Cooke, wearing his
Regiment of Canada Kilt - this must be just before he went overseas;
Aunt Margaret; Uncle Ernest; Grandma and Grandpa May.

Mom is missing so I'm sure she took the photo. (She
was famous for her unintentional head cropping!)

The rest of the family autographs are from aunts and uncles, some I remember but others are a mystery. Label your photos, people! And make time while you still can to talk to your elders about family history. You'll be glad you did.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

time travelling ... back to the 1930s

I made the most wonderful discovery last week, while going through some of my Mom's old papers  - a small, leather-bound book with gilt-edged pages. Judging by the worn spots and scuffed corners, it had been well-loved and handled often. A single word, 'Album' was embossed in tarnished gold on the cover.
I opened the book, expecting to see my Mother's familiar handwriting, "this book belongs to Phyllis..." but instead found the following inscription to Mom's older sister:
Presented to Margaret May, member of winning team in Bowling Tournament held by Bellefair Young People's Society, Monday, January 6, 1930.
I turn another page and time falls away. I'm transported eighty-four years into the past, sitting in a classroom at Malvern Collegiate in Toronto with Margaret. The little leather book is new, its pastel pages clean and crisp.
"Psst." Tap a curly-haired girl on the shoulder and hand the book forward. "Autograph, please, and pass it on."
I blink and am back at my desk in 2015, turning pages, reading the thoughts and wishes of schoolgirls whose lives were just beginning. Most, like my aunt, probably passed from this world years ago. But their words, heartfelt, teasing, silly, and hopeful, live on.
From Theressa:
You asked me to draw but I can't
You asked me to paint but I shan't
And so to spoil the look of this autograph book
I am writing these words on a slant.
From Helen:
One is a friend for a reason
One is a friend for a rhyme
One is a friend for a season
But I am your friend all the time.
From Marion:
In the pantry of your heart,
Consider me a lemon tart.
A musical message from Queenie:
Never B sharp
Never B flat
Always be natural
From another Margaret:
Some write for fortune,
Some write for fame,
But I write simply to sign my name.
From Daisy:
When the gold sun is setting,
And your mind from care is free,
When of other girls your* thinking,
Won't you sometimes think of me.
(*Even back then the dreaded your vs. you're marred social media!)
From Melba:
To meet, to know, to love, to part
Is a sad, sad fate of a school-girl's heart.
And finally, the class clown makes her mark ...

From Margaret #3:
When on this page you look,
When on this page you frown,
Remember the girl who spoilt your book
By writing upside down.
Each of these autographs is dated February 7, 1930 - a time capsule of young women in their third year of high school. Did they marry? Have children? Write a novel? Did any of them imagine their future would include a second World War or human beings walking on the moon?
After graduating from Malvern Collegiate, Margaret attended Toronto Normal School (teacher's college), and collected more autographs there, as well as a few intriguing photos of her classmates which I'll post another time. Margaret married in 1940, had two sons, and lived a long and happy life in a little house in the East York area of Toronto. She collected Royal Doulton figurines and Laura Ingalls Wilder books, which are part of my library now.

Her little autograph book was also passed around for family signatures - I'll share some of those surprising autographs in a future post.
I know many people still pursue celebrity signatures, but whatever happened to personal autograph books? Does anyone collect these days? I remember having one in grade school, although I've no idea where it is now. I do recall my grade five teacher's inscription, though: "Step up the stairs, don't stare up the steps." Good advice, Mrs. Mackey. Good advice.

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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Books of 2014

Happy New Year and welcome to my fourth annual New Year's Day Booklist!
I read a total of sixty-six books in 2014. Slightly more than half were audiobooks - I listen while driving to and from work - and the remainder are about evenly split between ebooks and books on paper. Most enjoyed? It's so very hard to choose! I absolutely loved Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Lodger: A Novel by Louisa Treger, and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. New to my best-loved mysteries list are Steve Burrows' series debut, A Siege of Bitterns: A Birder Murder Mystery, the Father Christmas Mystery series by C. C. Benison, and the Cait Morgan series by Cathy Ace. I'm eagerly anticipating more from all three authors. And speaking of anticipation, I'm positively itching to read more from Ben Aaronovitch, Susan Elia MacNeal, and Judith Kinghorn. Yes, 2015 is shaping up to be a very good reading year.

Just a few of the sixty-six...

Here's my complete 2014 list, in order of reading:

Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood
Terms of Surrender by Sheila Seabrook
Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland
Manna from Hades by Carola Dunn
A Fatal Thaw by Dana Stabenow
Bryant and May Off the Rails by Christopher Fowler  
The Vault by Ruth Rendell 
A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia #3)  by Alan Bradley
Double Shot (Cue Ball Mystery #2) by Cindy Blackburn
A Serpent’s Tooth (Walt Longmire #9) by Craig Johnson
Sick of Shadows by Marion Chesney (aka M. C. Beaton)
Murder of the Bride by C.S. Challinor
Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Our Lady of Pain by C.S. Challinor
Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering
The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths
His Majesty’s Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal  
The Windermere Witness by Rebecca Tope 
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia #4)  by Alan Bradley
The Memory of Lost Senses by Judith Kinghorn

Still Life by Louise Penny (re-read)
Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (re-read)
A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows
A Colourful Death by Carola Dunn
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (re-read)
The Ambleside Alibi by Rebecca Tope      
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny (re-read)
Dying to Sin by Stephen Booth
Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood
The Baker Street Translation by Michael Robertson
Fated (Alex Verus #1)  by Benedict Jacka
Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (re-read)
The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude
The Valley of the Shadow by Carola Dunn
The Corpse With the Silver Tongue by Cathy Ace
An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)
The Corpse With the Golden Nose by Cathy Ace
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal  
A Quiet Kill by Janet Brons  
Murder Most Frothy – A Coffeehouse Mystery by Cleo Coyle
The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price
Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia #5)  by Alan Bradley
Daggers and Men’s Smiles (Moretti and Falla #1) by Jill Downie
An Unwilling Accomplice (Bess) by Charles Todd
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
Silver Totem of Shame by R.J. Harlick
The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Unlikely Traitors by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
A Breach of Security by Susan Hill (Serrailler Short)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler 
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Dry Bones (aka Extraordinary People) (Enzo #1) by Peter May
Forever Dead: A Cordi O’Callaghan Mystery by Suzanne F. Kingsmill
A Demon Summer by G.M. Malliet
The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill (Simon Serrailler Book 8)
Falcon’s Return by Rebecca K. O’Connor
The Lodger: A Novel by Louisa Treger
Gone West: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery by Carola Dunn
Cold Mourning: A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery by Brenda Chapman
Bryant and May: The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler  
The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia #6)  by Alan Bradley
The Cornish House  by Liz Fenwick
The Walker on the Cape (Sgt. Windflower Book 1) by Mike Martin

Ongoing: The Complete Journals of L. M. Montgomery, The PEI Years, 1889-1900, editors Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston. For me, this isn't a 'sit down and finish it' sort of book, rather I pick it up every once in a while to read a few entries. As a life-long Anne of Green Gables fan, I'm enjoying the personal glimpses into the author's life as a young girl.

First up in 2015:

Audiobook: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Kindle: The Body on the T by Mike Martin
Paper: I can't decide! Something from my tottering TBR pile.

What were your most memorable reads of 2014? Recommendations are always welcome because there's no such thing as too many books!


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Monday, December 01, 2014

walking between the pages

On my travels this fall, I wandered into the small Ontario town of St. Marys. Even though I was positive I'd never visited before, the feeling of homecoming as I drove down the main street was strong enough to raise goosebumps. 

Crossing the Thames River bridge, into St. Marys, Ontario

I stopped to explore "The Stonetown" - so called because of its many lovely old buildings made of limestone from a local quarry - and suddenly I knew. This was the real-world version of Riverdale, the small quarry town Anne Norman and I had created for our novel, Rock Solid. And there came the goosebumps again. It was like walking into the pages of our book.

"Main Street, Riverdale" - Rock Solid

"She craned her neck to see around the horribly overgrown hedge of Chinese elm
that hid his house from the street. Good. No sign of the shiny black car." - Rock Solid


"Wandering leisurely through Street's backyard and along the riverbank, Rachel was charmed by the peaceful setting. Vivid images of its eventual transformation crowded her mind as she carefully measured distances and scribbled notes on important features and interesting plants. This would someday be a very special place, she thought, anxious to begin her sketches and see the project under way." - Rock Solid

"Riverdale Place" - Rock Solid

Town Hall in The Stonetown, St. Marys

My unexpected ramble through St. Marys is a pleasure to remember - it's a town I'll forever imagine as the face of Riverdale. For more information about the real-life Stonetown, visit their web site at

Rock Solid by Cheryl Cooke Harrington and Anne Norman is available from Montlake Romance in hardcover, paperback, and for your Kindle.


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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Books of 2013

Happy New Year! It's time for my third annual New Year's Day Booklist. I finished reading sixty-one books in 2013, caught up with some 'old friends' and discovered some wonderful new authors and series.

a few highlights from 2013

Here's the complete list, in order of reading:

Cambridge Blue by Alison Bruce
The Siren by Alison Bruce
Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet
Away by Jane Urquhart
Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths
The Calling by Alison Bruce
Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor
A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
Necessary as Blood by Deborah Crombie
A Double Death on the Black Isle  by A. D. Scott
On What Grounds – A Coffeehouse Mystery by Cleo Coyle
The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie
Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
Royal Flush: A Royal Spyness Mystery  by Rhys Bowen
More than Sorrow by Vicki Delaney
Royal Blood: A Royal Spyness Mystery  by Rhys Bowen
Rack, Ruin and Murder by Ann Granger
Death of a Dancer (aka A Dangerous Affair) by Caro Peacock
The Silence by Alison Bruce
A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore
Jack the Ripper: And the women whose lives he took by Susan McNicoll         
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal         
The Cure by Athol Dickson
Inferno by Dan Brown
Naughty in Nice: A Royal Spyness Mystery  by Rhys Bowen
Wool by Hugh Howey
Bryant and May and the Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler  
Giving up the Ghost by Mary Logue
Bolero by Joanie McDonell
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delany
Latte Trouble – A Coffeehouse Mystery by Cleo Coyle
Walking into the Ocean by David Whellams
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)
Wiped Out by Barbara Colley
The Backs by Alison Bruce
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Proof of Guilt (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery) by Charles Todd
Always Remember by Sheila Seabrook
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
Room with a Clue, Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery #1 by Kate Kingsbury
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
A Cold Day for Murder (Kate Shugak #1) by Dana Stabenow
Blue Monday by Nicci French
No Corners for the Devil by Olive Etchells
Shadows in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope
Playing with Poison (Cue Ball Mystery #1) by Cindy Blackburn
Pagan Spring by G.M. Malliet
Heirs and Graces: A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen
Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler 
Bricks and Mortality by Ann Granger    
Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood
Do Not Disturb, Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery #2 by Kate Kingsbury
Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison               
Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison               
Ten Lords A-Leaping by C.C. Benison               
Longbourn by Jo Baker
Beneath the Abbey Wall  by A. D. Scott
Valley of the Lost by Vicki Delany

First up for 2014:
On the Kobo Mini: Terms of Surrender by Sheila Seabrook
On Kindle for iPad: A Fatal Thaw (Kate Shugak #2) by Dana Stabenow
On Audible: Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood
And on good old-fashioned paper: Manna from Hades by Carola Dunn

What were your most memorable reads of 2013? Recommendations always welcome because there's no such thing as too many books.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Grandma's Kitchen

I've often thought it strange that I'm unable to recall my childhood in any sort of detailed chronological order. I'm quite certain I was a happy child, despite a habit of solitary days spent reading on the porch or camped out in my hide at the end of the garden. If only I'd known my youth would become such a mystery to me, I'd have kept a journal from the time I could write. If only.  
Instead of a timeline, I have random but brilliant spots of recollection, as vivid today as they were at the time. Grandma's kitchen is one of those spots. I can close my eyes and find myself seated at the long table, legs dangling beneath a too-big-for me chair as I snack on tinned cherries from a blue willow bowl. I see Grandma at the sink, her back to me, wearing a yellow, paisley-patterned apron, its strings tied in a neat bow. The countertop is red, the walls a buttery cream, and there's bright sunlight streaming through the window.
Behind me, in the corner, is the cot where I sleep when I visit overnight. Grandma made the coverlet from swatches of suit fabric, stitched into cotton-stuffed triangles and knotted together at the corners with bright strands of red wool. I remember playing with those swatches when they were still bound into display books, dozens of them, with stiff cardboard covers and a red needle-and-thread logo. I have no idea where she found them but the transformation from surplus fabric samples to warm and wonderful blanket was typical of Grandma's "waste not, want not" philosophy. A patchwork of blue serge and houndstooth, pinstripes and checkerboards…oh, how I miss that funny old blanket.
I remember waking in the cot one morning feeling as if my face and neck were stuffed full of the same cotton wool as my blanket. Grandma took one look and proclaimed, "Mumps!"  Her kitchen doubled as infirmary for the next ten days and I was stuck there for the duration. I don't remember my confinement but I vividly recall the day it ended. I was sitting at the table, enjoying that bowl of tinned cherries, when my Mom and Dad arrived with a big cardboard box. I thought it must be very heavy and probably fragile because they seemed to be worried about dropping it, whispering and struggling to balance it between them. Truthfully, I was more interested in the cherries than whatever boring thing they'd brought home from their shopping trip. Until the box woofed at me, that is. If I'd known having the mumps would earn me a puppy, I'd have had the mumps a whole lot sooner!
Cookie and me, 1956
Cookie Cooke - best dog ever - and me (a few years ago).
Now that I've started writing them down, memories of Grandma's house are crowding into my mind, each one calling another into the light. I haven't found the funny old blanket, but I'm almost certain Grandma's yellow apron is packed away somewhere with keepsakes from my mother. I'm going to look for it – imagine the stories it has to tell.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

about that parachute...

"...And then I panicked. Earthbound, height-phobic, bit-overweight me was about to go up in a two-seater Cessna.  Not just go up. I was going to fly the thing. What was I thinking?"  Click on over to Book Babe to share my pre-flight jitters and find out what happened next.
Many thanks to the lovely Tara Chevrestt who runs the show at Book Babe, where strong is sexy and women in aviation rule.

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