The Sweet Smell of. . . Fish?

by | Jul 17, 2017 | Historical Fiction, Sports | 4 comments

Since I started this blog a couple of months ago, I’ve been so much more attuned to similar themes or topics in the books I read, and fishing was a thread I connected in two of the books I recently thoroughly enjoyed.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

This book gets my vote for the most intriguing title I’ve heard in a long time. The title immediately caused me to recall the smells of certain memorable houses from my childhood like my grandma and grandpa’s home in Haney, British Columbia, Canada where my grandma once baked fresh bread every morning. Doesn’t it also make you wonder what your own house smells like to other people?

The Smell of Other People’s Houses tells the emotional and somewhat tragic stories of four teens whose lives intersect in 1970s Alaska. Ruth must bear her grandmother’s constant displeasure at having to raise two young girls, a displeasure that hits a breaking point when Ruth finds herself pregnant. Dora’s parents are drunks, and she’s afraid to hope too much to be loved by her foster family. Alyce wants to dance, but her father depends on her to help him earn a living in his fishing boat over the summer. Hank and his brothers Sam and Jack stow away on a ferry to escape their mother’s dangerous new boyfriend, but Sam disappears mid sail. Eventually, all four characters meet, but readers have to patiently wait for their stories to connect.

Hitchcock masterfully describes her native Alaska and draws her characters so realistically that I could clearly imagine Alyce gutting a fish on the deck of her father’s boat and Ruth waddling outside the abbey to pull dry laundry off of the lines. This story is a treasure, and I specifically recommend it to reluctant readers because its a manageable size at less than 230 pages.

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan

I chose to read this book based on its insanely high average rating on Goodreads, and it proved to be as poetic as the reviewers claimed. In Between Two Skies, readers meet Evangeline Riley and her family who have deep roots in Bayou Perdu, a small fishing community that is virtually wiped off the map by Hurricane Katrina. Evangeline, her parents, her sister Mandy as well as her grandmother, Mamere, survive the storm, but struggle to find their footing in its aftermath as they make a new life for themselves in Atlanta. Evangeline finds comfort in a fellow “Katrina refugee” named Tru, but she longs to be back on the water, and aches to be home. Atlanta feels foreign to her, she misses living with her grandmother and she worries that her sister is so lost and her parents keep fighting. When a FEMA trailer becomes available near Bayou Perdu, Evangeline must decide what “home” means to her.

This book opened my eyes to the long-term hardships experienced by people who were displaced by Katrina. Sure, I saw pictures on the news of houses destroyed and read about horrific events that took place in the Dome, but before this book, I never considered the full and lasting emotional devastation of the storm on surviving families. O’Sullivan artfully describes one family’s pain and suffering in this story, and it’s impossible not to want to hug the characters as you read about their struggles to regain a sense of normalcy.

But I Won’t Do That

Fishing is of key importance in both of the books I’m celebrating this week, so I reached out to my friends Dan and Kris Dotson who are recreational fisher-people and also have access to Lake St. Louis, a local private lake.

Kris was so kind to select “Canadian Nightcrawler” bait for our fishing expedition since I was born and raised in Canada. In fact, this plot driven experience was really special to me because fishing was a favorite pastime of my late grandpa’s. Many years ago, my grandma and grandpa spent some of their summers with friends at Bates Beach where the fishing was pretty great, I’m told. My mom and aunt enjoyed fishing, too.

My mom (left) and my Aunt Janet with more fish than they need!

My grandpa and my mom (pregnant with me!) with impressive coho salmon.

Even though fishing is important in my family history, I had only fished once prior to this plot driven experience, so I really needed Dan’s tutoring! I learned that Lake St. Louis has bluegill and bass, and that I would be using a closed, spincast reel and live, squirming worms as bait. I was willing to try threading the worms on the hook, but I just couldn’t make myself tear the worms into smaller chunks. Dan was very kind to do this for me.

Nope, I won’t do that, Dan.

Once I had thoroughly speared a little worm chunk, I learned how to cast my reel. Slow and steady back, and release at the shoulder.

Trying really hard not to hook anyone, including myself.

Almost immediately, the little fishies started biting. Apparently, bluegill will eat just about anything, and there is an abundance of them in Lake St. Louis.

Isn’t he cute? I will call him Arnold.

I think this is my favorite picture of the day, however, because it looks like Dan is summoning the fish for me. He’s a pretty nice guy!

“Come to me, fishes!” ~Dan Dotson

This plot driven experience taught me that I enjoy fishing. It’s relaxing and peaceful, and exciting, too, when you feel a bite on the end of your line. I’d love to do it again. And I hope my grandpa is looking down at me with two big thumbs up for trying an activity he so enjoyed.

A million thanks to Kris and Dan for making this plot driven experience a reality. It’s my favorite one so far!

Thanks for reading,




  1. Dawn

    Another good installment! I wouldn’t have thought of you as a fisher-person, but it looks like you had fun.
    Might I suggest you read some books about time travel?

    • kellyo

      Yes! Why didn’t I think of this before?

  2. Shannon Steimel

    I think I’m going to order Between Two Skies for my library. Thanks for the heads up!

    Love the old fishing photos.

    I’m off on my own fishing adventure later this week! Well, my wife will fish, and I will hang out on the pontoon boat and read! And, hope she doesn’t decide to push me in the lake like she has threatened.

    Enjoy what’s left of summer, friend!

    • kellyo

      Enjoy, Shannon. Don’t get pushed in! And don’t forget to email me your address so I can send you the book you won last week!


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