Monthly Archives: April 2015

Answering The Calls We All Feel | Review of “When Calls the Heart” by Janette Oke (1983) Bethany House

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has begun to announce it’s summer broadcast schedule for 2015. Among one of it’s shows it is airing is an adaptation of Janette Oke’s When Calls The Heart and the book deserves a read before it is aired.

Page 17

I had never even considered “moving on” before. I was very much a “home person.” I wasn’t even especially take with the idea of marriage. Oh, I supposed that somewhere, someday, there would be someone, but I certainly had no intention of going out looking for him, nor had I been very impressed with any of the young men who had come looking for me. On more than one occasion I had excused myself and happily turned the over to Julie. She also seemed pleased with the arrangement; but the feelings of the young men involved, I must shamefully confess, concerned me very little.

And now I was to “move on”?

This was an endearing read. We are given the story of Elizabeth, young, sophisticated and educated, is plucked from her Toronto home in the turn of 20th century and sent out to teach children as the Canadian frontier is beginning to open up to settlers. We follow her journey from her comfortable urban home, along a long train ride westward and witness her clumsy start at her teaching career in the wilds of the west.

Page 74

I was lingering by a window of the school building, taking one last fruitless peek into the dark interior, when a blood curdling, spine-chilling howl rent the stillness of the evening hour. It seemed to tear through my veins, leaving me terrified and shaking. The scream had hardly died away when another followed, to be joined by another.

I cam to life then. A wolf pack! And right in my very yard! They had smelled new blood and were moving in for the kill.

I sprang forward and ran for the door of my cabin, praying that somehow God would hold them back until I was able to gain entrance. My feet tangled in the new -mown grass and I fell to my hands and knees. With a cry I scurried madly on not even bothering to regain my feet. The sharp stubble of the grass and weeds bit into the palms of my hands, but I crawled on Another howl pierced the night.

“Oh, dear God!” I cried, and tears ran down my cheeks.

Howls seemed to be all around me now. Starting as a solo, they would end up in a whole chorus. What were they saying to one another? I was certain that they were discussing my coming end.

Somehow I reached the door and scrambled inside. I struggled to my feet and stood with my back braced against the flimsy wooden barrier. I expected an attack to come at any moment. I heard no sound of rushing padded feet, only sporadic howling. But Julie had  said that western wolves were like that – catlike and noiseless, silently stealing up on their victims.

My eyes lifted to the windows. The windows! Would they challenge the glass?

Oke has a simple style here that still is descriptive. The story is easy to follow and includes well-researched facts that enlightened the reader about the time period. While it is not an intellectual read it, is a brilliant book nonetheless.

Page 102

I was up with the birds on Monday morning. I was far too excited to sleep. I had always enjoyed teaching, but never before had it affected me in quite this way; the eagerness of the people in the area had rubbed off on me.

The bell was to be rung at nine o’clock. I felt that I had already lived two full days that morning before nine o’clock arrived.

Dressing carefully, I did my hair in the most becoming way that I knew. it really was too fussy for the classroom, but I couldn’t reason myself out of it. I tried to eat my breakfast but didn’t feel at all hungry, so I finally gave up and cleaned up my kitchen area.

I left early for the classroom and dusted and polished, rearranged and prepared, and still the hands on the clock had hardly moved.

The first students arrived at twenty to nine. Cindy and Sally Blake were accompanied by their mother and father. Mr. Blake was a quiet man – but every family can use one quiet member, I decided. Mrs. Blake was chattering before she even climbed down from the wagon, and didn’t actually cease until the schoolroom door closed upon her departing figure.

The Clarks came together – seven of them. It took me a few moments to sort them all out, and the harder I tried the more confused I became. It helped helped when I learned that there were two families involved, cousins – three from one family and four from the other.

When Calls The Heart by Janette Oke is an enlightening and endearing read. It has a simple plot yet is filled with well-researched facts. A must-read before the TV series airs.


Link to Baker Publishing Group/Bethany House Publishers website for When Calls The Heart

Pointing Out the Foolishiness of Our Ways | Review of “The Purpose Pitch” by Kathryn Mockler (2015) Mansfield Press


We all do things that make no sense at times. Be it a bad habit or a misused word or even a glance at something forbidden, we are all engaged in something that makes no sense or serves no purpose. But in our day-to-day lives, do we see that how nonsensical or foolish or even harmful those actions are. Kathryn Mockler has given us a mirror of some of modern civilization’s foolishness in her collection of poetry called The Purpose Pitch.

World 1 (Page 12)

World,  I’m worried about you. Everything is so sad. I had a dream I died and being dead was like being behind a glass wall where you could see and hear everything but no one could see or hear you like a fly in a jar. When you’re a ghost you are constantly spying constantly spying, constantly eavesdropping, but you don’t have anyone to tell your secrets to – even if you witness a murder or an elaborate plot by the government against the people. When you are dead there is no CIA. Ghosts can’t gossip with other ghosts. It’s not part of the plan.

Mockler uses different styles of writing AND different scenes to show us what is off in our civilization. It takes a careful reading and re-reading at times to grasp at the message that she is trying to convey but the euphoria that the mind’s eye receives when it grasps a concept is illuminating and addictive.

The Blob (Excerpt – page 25)

-A blob is sitting on the couch because people have become blobs. People can also time travel and talk to each other from the future and the past.

-You mean when you are fifty you can talk to your husband when he was ten he’ll talk back to you?

-Yes. Or your mother or sister or you best friend.

-That is confusing.

-It’s how we communicate now. We’ve solved the issue of time.

-It sounds like we’ve made time more confusing.

-You’re just saying that because you are ten. When you are seventy like me, you will understand how great it is. You’ll understand that you as a seventy-year-old have been worn down by life and lost all of your pizazz. For example, I’d rather talk to my husband before he had all those back problems. I’d rather talk to that version of him than the person he is now. Now he’s always sore, always complaining. Nothing is good enough.

-It sounds like you are putting him down. It sounds like you don’t like him anymore.

-Not at all. In fact, since the time travel, we hardly ever fight.

Mockler on occasion will mash-up or mix-up elements comments from our society to show a common trait or thread in society. By doing so she awakes many observations and thoughts in our minds which – perhaps – will lead to change and improvement.

APRIL 3- MAY 31 2014 (Except page 54)







This book may appear to be a slim volume but the thoughts in it are complex and need to be read carefully to fully appreciate what is being said. These are thoughts that need to be pondered in all senses of the meaning of the word. This isn’t a book that rushed through and forgotten.

WORLD 8 (Page 87)

World, if it was just you and me standing at the edge of a cliff, and I could only save one of us, I wouldn’t take a moment to even think. I’d give you a little nudge to speed things along as you tumbled all the way down and cracked into pieces. But don’t worry. This is a good thing. I’m glad I discovered just how much I despise you. I really feel better about myself now. I feel better about where thing stand between us. I would have come to talk to you sooner, but I got busy and then I forgot.

The Purpose Pitch by Kathryn Mockler gives us an opportunity to consider the unnoted foolishness in the world. Her words and phrases need to be carefully pondered here but the effort is worthwhile for the enlightenment it brings.

Link to Kathryn Mockler’s website

Link to Mansfield Press’ webpage for The Purpose Pitch

Enlightenment without Words | Review of “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press

Groundwood Logos Spine

It is difficult to imagine a poet bringing a story to life without words. And it hard for us adults to imagine being moved by such a story in a book form. But JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith have created such a book with Sidewalk Flowers. In it, they remind us how the world appears through the eyes of a child which is something we adults have forgotten and need to learn again.

Scanned image from “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books

“Sidewalk Flowers is about a walk I took with my daughter through Toronto, seven years ago, as we headed home to my wife and two little sons. It’s about how she found flowers, and then gave them away very unselfconsciously,” JonArno Lawson told me in a Q&A recently and left it to that. (Link to that Q&A here) But both he and Sydney Smith have crafted a much deeper narrative with this book. We follow a little girl and her father on a walk through a black-and-white urban landscape. As we follow them, items in the little girl’s vision come to colour; her red coat, fruits in a seller’s stand, a vibrant pattern in a passerby’s dress, and so on. Eventually what comes to the forefront are sidewalk flowers she busily picks while her father is absorbed in more worldly and mundane matters.

Scan image from
Scanned image from “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books

As we follow their journey further, other items come into the little girl’s vision; a dead bird, someone sleeping on a bench, etc. She deposits each one of her flowers on each of her observations, bringing attention and a little innocent joy to  the world around her. Even as she takes her father’s hand as they walk in through a park, she deposits a few of her flowers, adding colour to the world.

Scanned image from
Scanned image from “Sidewalk Flowers” by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (2015) Groundwood Books

While catalogued as a children’s book, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith provides a wordless message to both the young and old. A great read and a great item to ponder upon afterwards.


Link to JonArno Lawson’s blog

Link to Sydney Smith’s website

Link to House of Anansi Press page for Sidewalk Flowers

“I’m not going to get into whether I was a dope addict or if I lit fires or anything like that…but I will say that the book came from me sitting down and writing about a world I knew. ” | Q&A with author Jesse Gilmour.

Jesse Gilmour gave us The Green Hotel (Link to my review) which gave us insight to a reality that is bitter yet honest. Although a small novella, it contained some themes that many mainstream novels wouldn’t dare look at. Gilmour recently answered a few questions for me which provides insight not only to his writing but his character.

1)  You have quite the literary family. Was it difficult for you to write “The Green Hotel” with others in your family who have written books as well?

One of the main themes in The Green Hotel is competition. In the book the father and son are competing for life, for oxygen. In real life, I remember in my early twenties telling my mother, the wonderful actress Maggie Huculak, that I wasn’t competing with other writers my age – I was competing with my father. I think that was the proper course of action, too. One should set the bar as high as possible.

There were troubles that came along with that, though. My father was my main influence and favourite writer growing up, and there are parts of us that are quite similar, and so for a while there I found myself, consciously or sub-consciously, working the kind of subject matter that he’s generally been associated with. I stopped letting him look at my work when I was about twenty one because I’d take in his notes and start writing and all of a sudden this unmistakable tinnyness would come into the dialogue; the narrative, just hours before something organically mine would have distorted and I’d be hitting brick walls on almost every turn. I stopped discussing my work with him altogether by the age of twenty-two. I knew it was going to be difficult to break away from his influence but I knew it had to be done. Whatever’s left over, I’m comfortable with.

And finally there’s the paranoia. For about a solid year before the book came out I entertained fantasies of people yelling “nepotism!!” out of car windows. Pretty much the opposite’s been true. The book has been reviewed generously and it’s barely been brought up.

2) How has the reaction been to “The Green Hotel?” Any memorable responses you care to share?

The reaction to The Green Hotel has been pretty favourable right across the board. Good sales, good reviews – it seems to have deeply affected many young women I’ve spoken with. There really aren’t any women in the book, and I suppose The Green Hotel could be classified as a “young guy’s book” or whatever so that was a nice surprise. It also seems to have spoken to young men who don’t generally read. It’s no secret that our education system has a tendency to suck the joy, the mystery, the entertainment out of reading; and young guys today don’t have the strongest attention spans – so hearing things like “that’s the first book I’ve actually liked in ten years” makes me really, really happy.

I still don’t feel like I’ve been given my due as far as attention for the book.

I believe I should win The Giller or The G.G or both….and I’m not joking or being provocative when I say that.

3) Where did the inspiration for “The Green Hotel” come from? Did you do any research for the novella?

That’s always and interesting question and always a difficult one to answer.

There was an interesting article in Granta by Richard Ford entitled “Where does writing come from?” that anyone reading this should check out.

I’m not going to get into whether I was a dope addict or if I lit fires or anything like that…but I will say that the book came from me sitting down and writing about a world I knew. And then re-writing and re-writing until this odd, unexplainable electricity started to take over. Myself, I can feel it in my body when it’s happening: you’re being truthful, but you’re not telling the truth. You’ve hit a point where you’ve distanced yourself enough from the actual feelings behind the story so that their still alive yet malleable. I suppose you could say that you’re ‘distilling’ the truth. Catching these moments, these people, these situations, on the side – that’s where the electricity is, on the side, if that makes any sense.

5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

Raymond Carver was the first writer that really affected me; where I’d put one of short-stories down and smoke a cigarette and feel kind of cozy and lost at the same time.

Cormac Mcarthy, especially Blood Meridian. He isn’t afraid to go after big terrain, big philosophy. I also really like the lack of humour in that book. Everything is a joke these days, there’s an undercurrent of irony to everything. It can disguise itself as intellectual superiority but when I read stuff like that I get the feeling that the writer (a) doesn’t really believe in anything (and who would want to read a book by someone like that?)

Or…and this is probably closer to the real situation, that they’re too scared too fall into cliché (which means they’re unable to accept that every story has been told…but not by you…”

So they’d rather polish irony in a corner somewhere until it’s gleaming and walk it around as if it actually fucking means something.

As Nietszsche said: write it in blood or save us the time.

Right now I’m going back and forth between Martin Amis’ The Information and Heather O’Neill’s The Girl who was Saturday Night – both of which I’m really digging.

Others of note: Ron Currie Jr. Ernest Hemingway, Leonard Michaels, Jules Lewis.

6) Have you participating in any public readings of “The Green Hotel?” Has it been the subject of any book club reading? If yes to any of those questions, what was the experience like for you? If no, is it an experience you would like to partake in?

I’ve done some readings. I enjoy them. And would do them again. The only issue is that I believe writers should be paid to do those things. Even at the very small level I’m at…it took me a while to get here and I think it’s just fair that I’m compensated.

7) You used Toronto as a setting for “The Green Hotel.” How do you like living there as a writer/playwright? Does it’s cultural scene offer you enough to engage you for your writing?

The manuscript was originally called “Toronto” but my publishers nixed it. They were right to.

Just the city’s name kind of explodes for me…I’m deeply, deeply connected to this city – but I’m a writer, and I grew up here, so I don’t think there’s much mystery there.

8) You seem to use both Facebook and Twitter a bit. How do you like using those platforms as a means of communication?

As an emerging artist; if you don’t have Facebook or Twitter…you don’t have a shot.

Necessary evil.

9) How did you get involved with Quattro Books?

My agent Sam Hiyate introduced me to Luciano and Allan. Those three guys saved my life.

10) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I am working on something new. It’s been a real slog since the book came out and just in time for spring I hit something on the side…just the other day.

Link to Quattro Books page for The Green Hotel

Cursed by Living in ‘Interesting’ Times | Review of “Under the Hawthorn Tree” by Ai Mi/Translated by Anna Holmwood (2013) House of Anansi


The expression “May you be cursed by living in interesting times” has been attributed to the Chinese. No doubt by their history, they have had their share of interesting times. Political upheaval, war, revolution has dotted their history. But the Chinese are also human like us. They endure love, hate, gossip, desire and so forth like we do. Ai Mi’s Under The Hawthorn Tree not only enlightens us in the west about life in China in the 1970s but also enlighten us about the human condition in general, making us not feel alone with our fears and desires.

Page 14

She couldn’t remember ever before being so aware of what she was wearing: it was a first for her to worry about making a bad impression in this regard.  She hadn’t felt so self-conscious for a long time. When she was at primary and secondary school, the other students bullied her, but once she got to senior high school none of them dared look her straight in the eye. The boys in her class seemed scared of her and turned red when she spoke to them so she had never given any thought as to whether they liked the way she looked or dressed. They were silly, just a bunch of little monsters.

But  the well-dressed man before her made her so nervous her heart hurt. His brilliant white shirt sleeves peeped from under his unbuttoned blue overcoat. His shirt, so white, so neat and smooth, must have been made from polyester, which Jingqiu definitely couldn’t afford. His rice-grey top looked homemade, and Jingqiu, who was good at knitting, could see that the pattern was difficult. On his feet he wore a pair of leather shoes. She looked down at her own faded ‘Liberation shoes’ and thought, he’s rich, I’m poor, it’s like we’re from different worlds.

The plot of this book is quite lyrical. It is set in the middle of the Cultural Revolution and a new set of norms are being set down on the people. High-school student Jingqiu meets up with Jianxin and they fall in love. They come from opposing social backgrounds and live in a political atmosphere that forbids the relationship. Yet in spite, of all the trials and tribulations against the relationship, their love endures.

Page 86-87

The scenes from their walk on the mountain road flashed through her mind, one by one, like a film. She couldn’t make them stop. A whole string of them flashed by, her head was spinning, she didn’t know what to think, say, or do. The memories went round and round like a stack of photos, each one capturing its own moment. The image that appeared and reappeared was when Old Third had startled her, telling her there was a ghost that looked like him under the tree, and before she had known what was happening he had grabbed her, kissed her and tried to press his tongue in her mouth.

Knowing now that he was engaged, it was as if the photos had aged, their clarity faded. Whenever she was with Old Third she felt lighter, as though her proud judgement, her restraint, were falling away. He was a strong wind that blew her feet from the ground when they walked together.

She thought of the day she had left West Village, when they walked together over the mountain and he had told her stories. He had used the story of Romeo and Juliet  as an example to defend a man who had dumped his fiancée, but now she knew he had been talking about himself. The next evening he also admitted, inadvertently, to having held someone else’s hand. She was eaten up with regret. Why didn’t I understand? Had she understood, she would have lost her temper with him when he came to hug her, she would have stood her ground and shown him how much she hated him doing that. The worst of it was, not only had she not lost her temper, she had admitted to liking holding his hand. She couldn’t understand why she had done such a stupid thing.

While Under The Hawthorn Tree by Ai Mi is quite the lyrical novel, it isn’t something that should be rushed through in reading. The details in the thought-processes of the protagonist gives a reader enlightenment in the human condition of love and desire. It is a book that should be pondered, considered and reflected on over and over again.

Link to House of Anansi Press page for Under The Hawthorn Tree