Monthly Archives: February 2016

Enlightening Readers about Addiction |Review of “Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapists’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System” by Michael Pond & Maureen Palmer (2016) Greystone Bookshael Pond &

We all have had our issues with alcohol – be they big or small. We all know somebody who has had issues with substance abuse. Again, be they big or small. But the problem is how we look at those issues – or even openly talk about them. Michel Pond and Maureen Palmer have started many thoughts and discussions on the subject on addiction and how it is handled.  And their book Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System is one venue where they have documented their journey and pondered the difficult road taken.

Page 43 – I Don’t Want to Go to Rehab

I’ve been through enough rehab to know what comes next. Intolerable vomiting, shakes, fevers, chills, blinding headaches. Every noise magnified ten thousand times. Even the softest touch is too much. And that’s if I get off easy.

My first stint in treatment was Pine-Winds Recovery and Treatment Centre in the Okanagan in November 2005. Taylor and a couple of guys from AA ambushed me. I stayed at Pine-Winds just long enough to detox and then I left. April 2006, a few months later, back to Pine-Winds. Fast forward a few more months and I’m in the back of our Honda Odyssey family van gagging and heaving, yet again in the throes of detox. In the front, Rhonda drove as our family doctor glanced over the seat, his face furrowed with worry. We sped to Kelowna, about an hour’s drive away, where Rhonda and my doctor intended to admit me to the psych ward. He wanted to save me, a fellow health care professional, the embarrassment of being hospitalized for alcoholism in my own hometown. All I could think about in the back of that van was my practice. What would become of my practice?

The story of Michael Pond appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary program The Nature of Things. But it is in the book where we see Pond’s true story comes through. He had been a psychotherapist dealing with other people struggles when he lost control of his drinking. We read as Pond describes in simple terms how he lost his practice, his home and eventually the support of his friends and family. We read his struggles through assorted therapies and group homes to help him yet he continually fails, spiraling him deeper into shame.

Pages 222-223  The Last Dance

I wake up Sunday with the familiar ache of loneliness. It’s a classic sunny summer beach day in White Rock. Tide’s out. The smell of the sea wafts up on a light breeze and settles around my little house. I can smell the barnacles and seaweed . Me alone with my thoughts can be a dangerous thing, so I head to the 9 a.m. AA meeting on the beach. I quietly take my seat on a log, settling in amidst some twenty people, mostly men, lounging in lawn chairs. The chair asks me to speak, and reluctantly, I share.

“I’m three months sober now,” I say with a hint of pride.”But with the sobriety, comes the regret, the realization of how much my drinking has hurt those I love.” I feel the tears prick and I try my damndest to put a stop to them, but they trickle down my cheeks. Ashamed, I quickly sit down. Next up, a new guy who has taken over the cooking duties at We Surrender. He reflects on how grateful he now feels, then sits.

Then the man who founded We Surrender pulls his considerable heft off his chair. Normally, he spends the meeting reclined, arms crossed across his chest, observing others with an air of superiority. But now he looks directly at me and erupts.

“You’re so full of fucking self-pity. Why can’t you be like him? He points to We Surrender’s new cook. “He was homeless. He lost everything but he got out of his head and started to do service. That’s what’s wrong with you. You need to be doing service. You need to be giving back to this program that’s saving your life. I’m so sick of guys like you. You’re never going to get sober if you don’t get it. You’re pathetic” He glares at me and sits down.

After his tirade, despite the warmth of the morning sun, I begin to shiver. Maybe he’s right. I should do more service. Tears well again. I sit, stunned, wondering why he feels he has the right to speak to me like that and how he thinks that kind of talk will be helpful. Deep inside, I know this kind of shaming is not part of the AA program. After the meeting, others talk to me. “It’s okay Mike, the main thing is you’re sober. He means well.”

Does he really?

 

There is something noble in the fact Pond has opened up and talked about his experiences and his feelings with his addiction and his long search of a cure. We finally see his success and are introduced to Maureen Palmer, who becomes a guiding force in his life. We all think that life has improved for Pond has we read how they are about to start filming for the Nature of Things documentary. Yet a motorcycle accident send Pond to the emergency room. The trip fills him memories of his days when he was consumed with his addition to alcohol. We read how he tries to fight the urge to drink and relapses once again.

Page 317 The Party

Eyes open. Birds; to loud. My head pounds and my mouth is dry. I lightly touch the puffy line of stitches on my upper lip. With sickening clarity, last night slams in.

Damn it. I drank. I drank a lot. Images flicker through my brain. Shoving aside all the casserole dishes and cookie trays, grasping back deep in the cupboard to retrieve the bottle of Captain Morgan rum. Guzzling it straight from the bottle. Pouring glass after glass of wine. Jamming the cork back in the empty bottle.

What’s wrong with me? What did I do last night? What did I say to Maureen? We had guests. What did they think? What’s going to happen to the film now? After five-and-a-half years of sobriety, I drank. I blew it. The whole world will know. Mike Pond is a hopeless alcoholic. We told you it was just a matter of time. He was getting too cocky. How will I face the shame and humiliation?

I fumble my way out of bed and head to the kitchen where Maureen pecks with purpose on her MacBook. She’s surrounded by research for our film.

She looks straight into my eyes. “We’re going across the line.” A doctor in Bellingham administers  Vivitrol injections, a drug believed to keep cravings at bay for up to thirty days. It’s not available yet in Canada. His receptionist says they can have it ready for you in a few days.

“That’s really expensive. Over a thousand dollars.”

“Twelve hundred American. Plus an administration fee of four hundred . . . And, Mike – we need to bring the camera crew.”

The complexities of this book (and the documentary) are far to many to fairly mention here but the story brought forth is a compelling one. It took skill, time and courage to bring forth both and the effort has enlightened many. No doubt this book will be one of the memorable I will remember of the 2016 season. Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System by Michael Pond and Maureen Palmer is canon for every reader interested in improving the human condition.

****

Link to Michael Pond’s website

Link to “Addiction. The Next Step” website

Link to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s website for The Nature of Things and the episode Wasted

Link to Greystone Books page for Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System.

 

 

 

“For years I’ve been fascinated by the characters who came to the Rockies in the early twentieth century . . .(t)hey never made it into the history books “| Q&A with author Katherine Govier on her novel “The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel”

Fans of Katherine Govier will easily tell you she is a sensitive storyteller. Her novels tell stories where the history books stop and imagination begins. Her latest novel –The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel  –  has been eagerly anticipated by those fans for years as Govier crafted out that tale set in the Rockies. Now, just before the release of the book (March 1, 2016), Govier answered a few questions for me here.

*****

First off, could you give a bit of an outline of The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel.

The novel tells of 100 years in the life of the family of a packhorse outfitter in the Rocky Mountains. In 1911 Herbie Wishart guides a fossil-hunting expedition to a remote, mountain-side quarry, leaving the scientists and their party alone at their request. The expedition never returns. Herbie searches, nearly loses his livelihood, and then recovers to run the hotel of the title. But he and his “stubbornly female”- as the cover copy goes- descendants are drawn into this tragedy and its repercussions. The national park, meanwhile, grows and changes — the wild animals are diminished, and what are we to make of this idealized and sectioned off area of the landscape, where the creatures were meant to be free, and the people to be healed by nature?

 Where did the inspiration come from for “The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel?” Did you do much research for the novel?

For years I’ve been fascinated by the characters who came to the Rockies in the early twentieth century—runaway aristocrats, hunters from Europe, miners, cowboys, Quakers, artists, guides – and the society they created. I heard about these people growing up–some of them were still walking the streets of Banff, where I spent time as a child. They never made it into the history books.

Yes, I did research. I spent time in the fabulous Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. I interviewed local people. I did the hikes, and went out in the storms. I visited the prison camp, and looked at all the national park documents.

In a Q&A you did for me a couple of years ago, you stated that:

It’s set in the Rocky Mountains, over about the past century. It has been fun to write- what a change from writing about Japan! I actually can read the language. The mountain parks in this country are a kind of black hole of human history.  There is just wonderful material there and it’s very close to home for me.

Many writers complain about the editing and re-writing process being dull and tedious. Did you find that with this book or did the thrill continue with the final process?

 

I wouldn’t say it was thrilling all the time! I had to fit all the pieces together. At one point I went to an art store in Banff and bought great big pieces of poster paper a meter long and 2 feet across, the kind you can erase, and scribbled all over them, with arrows moving things back and forward. It was just too hard to visualize on a computer. Then I did it again and again, to get the order right. I hope in the end it feels inevitable.

In that same Q&A, I asked you if your writing had changed since your first novel. Your response was:

It has changed in that I have become more ambitious and at the same time, probably less intense and intimate.

Do you still think that is true with this novel and why or why not?

Yes I think it is true. It is a big sweeping novel. There are moments of intimacy, yes. And it’s more fun. The people have influenced me: it’s full of bravado and tall tales. But strangely, I have not regained a place in my life where I can be as candid as I was in my early stories. There has been so much to protect. But this is more personal than the last few, however. Something to look forward to as I grow older as a writer is that fearlessness you hear the old talk about.

You have started posting dates where you are going to be doing readings of The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel. Do you have an extensive tour planned for this book? If yes, where do you have planned to speak?

I am traveling quite a bit in the next few months. I’m at the Ottawa Writers Festival, the Kingston Writers Festival and the Grimsby writers’ festival. I am doing three events in Alberta in March and then going to Vancouver and Victoria and going back to Calgary in May.

One of the most talked-about questions I always ask on my blog is asking about somebody’s views on social media. You seem to be quite active on Facebook and Twitter. How do you feel about using those platforms in relation to your writing?

I’ve been on Facebook and twitter for years – I’m less active than I was once. I use twitter as a kind of index- finding and following links to news, reviews and blogs. I also like finding and meeting the younger generations of writers- there’s more than one now. Both really connect you to a community, if that’s what you want. And I keep in touch with people from Japan and India, and England- that part is great. I get very annoyed at Facebook for the usual reasons- pictures of pets and wedding anniversaries. But some people are great at it- Susan Musgrave is one I think of. She is always writing something outrageous or getting outraged herself. For the writer hanging around in front of this screen all the time it creates a break. But it is a test of your discipline, for sure.

Are you working on any new writing right now or are you taking a break from writing? (And if you are working on anything new, are there details you care to share?)

I’m not actually. I have just started to read many years of diaries into a digital transcription program so I can have a look and see what I was up to. I’m in 1972. So far, bad poetry.

*****

Link to Katherine Govier’s website

Link to HarperCollins Canada website for The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel

Learning to put some Heart into the Game | Review of “Epic Game” by William Kowalski (To be Released in March 2016) Raven Books/Orca Publishers

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book via librarything.com and Orca Publishing

We all have habits and attitudes that makes us act on instinct instead of doing something rational to improve our lives. These may be traits that we learned from our parents or habits we picked up on during our childhood or just something in our internal wiring that makes us do things that in many cases keep us alone or unhappy. So sometimes external events cause us to force us into breaking those patterns we are stuck in doing and lead us down a different path of life. That is the type of story William Kowalski has brilliantly written in Epic Game.

The story deals with Kat, an independent woman who makes a living as a professional poker player. She learned her trade from her father, whom she had an uneasy childhood with. She has tried hard to distance herself from her past, yet when her best friend commits suicide and becomes guardian of her son, she finds that not only does she have to deal with her past emotions but also begins to question her present lifestyle choices.

Part of the Rapid Reads series from Orca Books, the style of this book is simple making it a quick and easy read. But there are complexities still in the plot that make the story interesting to readers; elements of Kat’s life and memories that we all have that make us ponder our own existence.

Epic Game by William Kowalski may be a quick read but it is an enlightening one. He has crafted quite a story into this book that reflects  important elements of the human condition.

Link to William Kowalski’s website

Link to Orca Books website for Epic Game

Understanding the Views Outside | Review of “The Outside Circle” by Patti LaBoucan-Benson/Art by Kelling Mellings (2015) House of Anansi

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I have to admit that I am new to reading graphic novels. I keeping hearing over and over again from different sources how powerful and enlightening certain graphic novels are so I check them out. And I have to agree that I find the story lines and the images powerful to me and my mind’s eye. Hence why I feel the need to mention The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel by Patti LaBoucane and Kelly Mellings here.

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The imagery is strong in this book and the plot flows well, easily helping the mind’s eye grasp the story. It deals with Pete, a young Aboriginal man dealing with the harshness of modern, urban life. Pete’s involvement with gangs and his mother’s heroin addiction threaten the little comfort he and his family have. It is in jail and through rehabilitation – including traditional  Aboriginal healing circles – that we see Pete rise up and realize his true identity.

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The perception may be that this is a simple book to read but it is one that should be pondered over and reflected upon. It gives insight to a section of humanity that needs to be understood and considered. I certainly found it enlightening to understanding the situation of the Aboriginal communities.

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The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel by Patti LaBoucane and Kelly Mellings is a great piece of literature. It enlightens readers an element of the human condition in a strong and forceful form. A must read for any book fan, no matter what their background may be.

Link to House of Anansi website for The Outside Circle

 

 

 

‘Crime fiction is about the human struggle. . . It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction’ | Q&A with author Barbara Fradkin

There are many readers out there who are looking for a light story to read yet still want a bit of message about the human condition in the plot. Barbara Fradkin fits that bill. Her ‘Inspector Green’ series of crime novels do have thrills twists but also explore important issues of our time. As she was about to launch a new series of books – the Amanda Doucette series – she answered a few questions for me and allowing some insight into the person who holds the pen.
1) Your website states that you have been writing books since 1995. How did you get involved in writing fiction? How does your background as child psychologist help you in your writing?

I’ve always had stories spinning in my head. I daydreamed in school about adventures with exciting, imaginary friends, and as soon as I could spell, I started writing them down. I had a ton of first drafts and unfinished short stories, plays, TV scripts, and mainstream novels collecting dust in my basement, but it wasn’t until I tried crime fiction that I found my true niche. Crime fiction is about the human struggle, about conflict and dark choices, and about what people do when they’re desperate. It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction, and I think my years as a psychologist gave me not only insight into people’s struggles, but also lots of topics and themes to write about.

2) Has your writing changed over time? If, yes, how so?

I hope so! Each novel and story, however bad, teaches me more about character development, story structure, pacing, and balance. And when my first book, Do or Die, came out in 2000, I became much more serious about my writing. It wasn’t just a private venture and a creative outlet, it was a public story aimed at readers, and I wanted to make sure it was the best it could be. With each book, I have challenged myself further to make it better than the one before. My later stories are more layered, with more points of view, and historical stories woven into the narrative.

3) You have written three books for the Rapid Reads series at Orca Books. How did you like writing for that series? Was it easier or harder to write for Rapid Reads as compared to a regular novel?

I have written quite a few short stories, so I was familiar with tight story lines, minimalist writing, and singular focus. I find writing the Rapid Reads stories are halfway between short stories and novels. The guidelines require a linear plot with few characters and no subplots, all of which shape the story. The most difficult challenge is telling a complex, compelling story within these guidelines, while keeping the language simple.

(Link to my review of The Night Thief)

4) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I like the British crime tradition—for example, Kate Atkinson and Denise Mina. However, I like variety and read quite widely, but fairly slowly. With the demands of my own writing and research, I don’t get through as many books as I’d like. This year I had to read several non-fiction books on ISIS for my next book. During the holidays I read God Rest ye Murdered Gentlemen, a light romp by Eva Gates, who is actually my good friend Vicki Delany, and now I’ve just finished reading Fifteen Dogs.
5) How have your books been received by the public? Are there any memorable experiences you care to share?

The challenge for Canadian crime writers is getting exposure, particularly with the reduction in review sites and the dominance of international blockbusters. Much of the growth in my readership has been due to word of mouth, and for this I am very grateful to readers across Canada, and even in the US and UK, who have discovered my books and recommended them to others. People become hooked on the series because they grow to love the characters and want to know what happens to them next. Inspector Green, for all that he’s flawed and exasperating, is a mensch and has people rooting for him. People also care about the other characters and want a say in what I do to them next. Once at a reading, I mused about what I should do next to shake things up for Green, and a reader threatened “Don’t you dare kill off his father!”

Link to my review of The Whisper of Legends– A Inspector Green Mystery

6) You have partaken in public readings of your works in the past. Is that an activity you enjoy? Have any of your works been the subject of any book clubs? If yes, did you partake in the discussions of your books?

In twenty years, a writer can do a lot of readings! Yes, I’ve done readings at festivals, bookstores, libraries, and even at a museum in Yellowknife. I love readings, because I love meeting people who enjoy books. We writers toil alone in our little garret and we send our book out into the world, like bread cast upon the waters. It’s wonderful to find out what becomes of it. That’s the same reason I love going to book clubs, and I have done dozens of them. Most of the time I attend them in person, although occasionally via Skype. Book clubs are great social clubs, and it’s nice to be invited in to share the friendship for the evening. People are very curious about the writing process and what I have in store for Green, but they are always very kind and enthusiastic. If they rip the book apart when I’m not there, I don’t ever find out!

7) I am going to assume that you are doing some new writing and have some new books coming out soon. Are there details you care to share?

Yes, I am currently working on a new series. I have taken a trial separation from Inspector Green, much to the chagrin of some of his fans, in order to explore new characters, settings, and story structures. I don’t want to fall into a rut; I want to stay fresh and continue to grow, so that I enjoy the process of writing as much as those who are reading. The new series is not a police procedural. I’d say it’s a hybrid mystery thriller. The main character is a thirty-something international aid worker, Amanda Doucette, who is back in Canada to recover from a traumatic experience on her last assignment. But her passion for social justice and helping people leads her into tricky situations. The first in the series, Fire in the Stars, (Link to my review) is due out this September, and I am now writing the second one, entitled The Trickster’s Lullaby.

8) You seem to be active on the social-media fronts (Facebook and Twitter) How do you like using those platforms?

I don’t like Twitter, and haven’t figured out how to use it except for retweets and for very immediate notifications. Tweets are lost in a matter of minutes. Facebook, on the other hand, allows for much greater interaction with friends and readers, and I love the way it has allowed me to connect with old friends, family, new readers, and fellow writers. I feel as if I have truly made friends on Facebook, and should I meet them in real life, we would already have a base. I do have an author page, but tend to post only on my personal page, because readers have become friends and friends have become readers.

9) Do you have any advice for any want-to-be writers?

Read, read, and read the type of book you want to write. Don’t worry about trends or hot tips for the break-out novel. Write the story that excites you, because that excitement will shine through and make the story sparkle with life. Also make sure it’s the absolute best story you can make it before sending it out. Ask a few trusted, experienced book people to read it, and give their advice careful consideration.

*****

Link to Barbara Frankin’s website

Entering the Realm of Amanda Doucette | Review of “Fire in the Stars” by Barbara Fradkin (To be Released – Sept. 2016) Dundurn Press

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the author and Dundurn Press.

A few months ago I was introduced to the writing of Barbara Fradkin. I was impressed with her style and her vivid descriptions that I became an immediate fan of her works. Recently,  I had the pleasure of of receive an advanced reading copy of newest work, Fire in the Stars. In it, Fradkin begins a new series of novels with the protagonist Amanda Doucette. Again I was completely impressed with the details of the story and I needed to mention the book here.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

I’m very excited to spread my wings and introduce Fire in the Stars, the debut novel in the brand-new Amanda Doucette series. My Inspector Green series has been a critical success that has garnered several awards and, more importantly, many readers over the past fifteen years. I’m proud of how it has grown, but after spending ten books with Michael Green, I wanted to get out a little.

Literature is suppose to be about the human condition – allowing readers to grasp and understand what makes people think and act the way they do. And Fradkin has done that here. While the novel has all the trademarks of a mystery novel – a plot that twists and turns having a reader on edge of wondering what will happen next – Fradkin has characters that are believable yet confused with some deep flaws that we all can relate to in some way.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

As a psychologist, I have always been interested in the dark side of humanity – ordinary people’s social, personal, and moral struggles. The mystery, suspense, and psychology that were Inspector Green’s trademarks will continue, but in this new series, I widen my lens to the broader canvas of world issues. It follows a cross-Canada path, from the east coast to the west. Each book will have a different iconic setting and explore a Canadian take on a global human issue. First up, Newfoundland and refugees.

This was a book I devoured in any free moment I had in the last couple of days since it’s arrival. The descriptions are vivid from the scenes to the meals the characters enjoy to the breath of emotions that Fradkin has each of her characters go through. A page turner from the beginning to the end.

Letter from Barbara Fradkin to the Readers of Fire in the Stars

Amanda Doucette is a woman to be reckoned with. Adventurous, resourceful, and caring, she has worked as an international aid worker in some of the poorest corners of the world. But a brutal experience in Africa left her shake, questioning her future. In Fire in the Stars, she has returned to Canada to regain her footing, only to find that her closes friend and fellow trauma survivor, Phil Cousins, has gone missing from his home in Newfoundland, taking his young son with him. As she follow his increasingly bizarre trail into the wilds of northern Newfoundland, she fears for his safety. Is he desperate? Suicidal? Or is there another motive at play? Does it have anything to do with the boat full of refugees adrift in the ocean?

Fire in the Stars by Barbara Fradkin is an exciting start to the world of Amanda Doucette. The descriptions are vivid, the characters are believable and the plot is well-organized. A must read for not just mystery fans but for readers interested in the human condition.

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Link to Dundurn Press’ page for Fire in the Stars (to be released Sept. 2016)