Monthly Archives: July 2017

Documenting the Thoughts and Emotions of a Neighbourhood | Review of “Interference” by Michelle Berry (2014) ECW Press

Michelle Berry will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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Residential neighbourhoods are suppose to be tranquil areas. They are thought to be quiet areas where families live and children play, but there are things that shatter that serenity into a perceived chaos.  And that is situation Michelle Berry documents in her novel Interference.

Pages 4-5

Tom and Maria are busy raking the leaves. Tom is by the side of their front porch. Maria is out near the sidewalk. Their daughter, Becky, is playing across the street with her friend Rachel and the sky is full of white billowy clouds. The new woman who recently moved into the empty place beside Rachel’s house pulls her car into her driveway, unbuckles he baby from the back and walks into her house. Tom stops raking to admire her blond hair, California-blond, bleached-out but still healthy looking, which is ironic, Tom thinks. Tom knows he’d never have noticed the hair, or at least the health of it, the blond of it, the irony of it, if Maria hadn’t commented on it. They haven’t introduced themselves to this new neighbour yet, but Tom and Maria watch her and Tom assumes, because of this, that hey know a lot about her. The other neighbours have said things. Rachel’s mother, Trish, has mentioned her. They know her name is Dayton. Dayton from California living now in Canada. The baby is Carrie, which reminds tom of the Stephen King movie, of pig’s blood and periods, of a hand coming out of a grave. That movie made Tom uncomfortable. Who would name their child Carrie? Someone named Dayton, he supposes. Tom sighs. Although that’s such an old movie now, Dayton might not even know about it. She looks young. Early thirties? Late twenties? Or maybe it’s just the hair. The name. Maybe she’s older than Tom and Maria. Tom scratches his head and continues raking. there is a dog barking some, but tom isn’t sure where. There are many dogs in the neighbourhood and they are often barking. This includes Tom’s dog.

Berry has given readers a means of defining their reality with this book. The inhabitants of Edgewood Street in Parkville could be easily them or their neighbours in their own quiet lives. And the threats, fears and anxieties that the residents of the street have – cancer, peer pressure, financial obligations, ‘stranger danger’ – could easily fit into the thoughts of any resident of any other quiet street that exists.

Pages 91-93

Hot potato, dodge ball, who’s got the bone. Jude has distinct memories of each of these games, of how he felt playing them, of how they made him feel. Telephone – when everyone sat in a circle an passed the message around until it became so wildly skewed that it had not connection to the original.

At the beginning he watched the grey team, but now it’s the white team he’s taken with. There’s something about their hair under their helmets, the way it comes mostly past their shoulders and is all different – curling or straight, ponytail or loose. their hair is nice to watch, but he also likes their laughter. Peeling. Ringing. High-pitched laughter. Their camaraderie. The way they high-five each other, or pat each other with their sticks. Jude loses himself in these nights, forgets all the things he wants to forget, concentrates on the ice.

Late in the fall Jude was walking out from the rink one night on his way home. He had been sullenly watching the grey team – they weren’t impressing him. Too competitive, too angry. But then he hear the laughter coming from the change room and he stopped and listened. Like bells. A few gruff snorts. Cackles,. That’s when he decided to watch the white team. To forget about the grey team and focus instead on the white. When their laughter rang around him and sent a shiver up his spine.  They sounded like they were having so much fun and Jude wanted to be part of it – in some way – he wanted to share in the laughter. So he checked their schedule on the internet and he hasn’t missed a game since.

***

He interested in them sexually. He doesn’t want them or lust after them or think about them in any way like that. Jude is interested in them mainly because they fill something that is empty inside of him. When he’s here, in the arena, he feels full. When he goes home, he feel empty. But when he leaves the rink on Wednesday nights he doesn’t think about them again until the next Wednesday. The don’t come into his dreams. If Jude were to run into them on the street he wouldn’t even recognize them or make the connection. When he’s here, though on Wednesday night, his mind and body feel satiated.

Berry’s descriptions are simple, but they convey the complex thoughts and emotions her characters experience. She clearly documents  in anxiety, curiosity, fear, anger and confusion into the different peoples she has living on this street. A reader can’t help but have empathy for these residents and in turn a reader can’t help but ponder their own thoughts and emotions while reading this book.

Page 112

Just now, when Dayton watched Caroline head home down the empty, dark street, she wished, with all her heart, that she was as lucky as Claire. Claire has it all: Ralph, he kind husband; two nice children; a safe, easy home for her daughter to head towards. Claire has everything. Even the little argument she had with Caroline on the phone about picking her up. Even that was done well. It’s not fair, Dayton thought.

Dayton wishes that she had that scanner she was talking about in the grocery store. She would scan everything she wants in life, just bleep things into the hand-held device and, at the end of it all, she would drive her car up to the back of a store and load everything into it: a father for her baby, a house, a job, money, the legal right to live here, her groceries, even clothes, everything. Maybe she’d even scan another cat to keep Max company. Bleep.

Upstairs Carrie begins to cry. Dayton sighs and stands. She brushes the fur off her lap, makes sure the fur off her lap, makes sure the front door is locked, turns off the lights in the hall and downstairs, and climbs the stairs to see what Carrie needs. The smell hits her when she reaches the landing.

Michelle Berry has documented the often-untalked about thoughts, fears and emotions of suburbia in her book Interference. Simply-written and gripping, it is a book that quite honestly does what literature is suppose to do – document an element of the human condition and bring it forward for discussion.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Interference

Link to Michelle Berry’s website

Exploring the Confusing Emotions Around Young Friendships | Review of “Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell” by Liane Shaw (2016) Second Story Press

Liane Shaw will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival.

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It is hard to understand people sometimes. It may be the way a person thinks or just a way a group of people act. Trust is a difficult thing to give  sometimes, but we give it – rightly or wrongly – to certain people and we don’t want to loose that trust when others give it to us. Those are the types of issues that Liane Shaw explores in a brilliant fashion in her novel Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell.

Pages 3-4

“Frederick! Please focus. You need to talk to the officer!”

The loud voice startles me right out of math class, and I look up at my mother’s face. She isn’t looking at me, though. She’s looking at a man. Not just a man. A police officer.

I’m at the police station because my mother said that the police wanted to speak with me. That’s what she said when she came into my room this morning without knocking, which was a direct infringement on our room privacy agreement.

“Frederick! You have to get dressed and come with me now. The police want to talk to you!” Her voice shrieks through my door, high and shrill like a chipmunk yelling at you to stay away from his tree. The thought makes me smile a little, and she sees it because she comes in without an invitation.

“Why are you smiling? This isn’t funny. The police called here and want me to take you down to the station. What is this about? What could they want with you?” She’s not looking at me when she asks the questions, so I don’t answer. She’s always told me that you have to look directly at someone you want to have a conversation with.

Her rule.

Answer me, Frederick. What do the police want with you? Did you see something or do something?

I still don’t answer because I’m not sure what she’s asking. I see and do lots of somethings every day. She’s leaving words out of her sentences because she’s upset for some reason, and now she doesn’t make sense.

“Frederick! Are you listening to me? We have to go and see the police!”

It’s interesting the way people say “the police” as if you are going to see all of them. Or as if there is only one of them.

“Frederick. Pay attention to me. Please.”

A reader can’t help but feel sorry for poor Frederick. His odd behavior at school has made him an easy target some of the different cliques there, but he’s gotten use to eating lunch alone in the ‘Reject Room.’ However, Angel has taken a bit of shine to Frederick as well. Now in her sixth school, she has had a hard time making and keeping friends. But she finds Frederick interesting – he’s annoyingly smart and refreshingly honest and she decides to teach him all her rules of friendship. Yet when Angel disappears, Frederick is torn by telling the police where she has gone or break one of those rules of friendship. The decision may even lead Frederick into danger himself.

Page 90

I have emotions. Lots of them. Everyone does. Most people wear them on their faces and in their voices for the whole world to see and hear. I think emotions are private and should be worn on the inside where they’re safe.

“Oh. I didn’t think of that.”

“Well, think about it now. Would you wonder or worry and any other W words if I suddenly disappeared without telling you first?

Would I wonder or worry if I came to school, and Angel wasn’t sitting in the Reject Room at lunch time, ready to fill my ears with words that I only half listen to? Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know there was an Angel. If she wasn’t there anymore would I feel different?

She isn’t going to be there anymore. I’m going to be eating alone again. Quietly. I hadn’t thought of that before. Now one will smile at me and tell me I’m funny, even when I’m not trying to be. No one will talk to me except Robert, sometimes, and Peter Murphy the rest of the time.

No one will ask me to the movies, even though we never actually went.

I was scared at the idea of going to the movie with her, and now I don’t have to do it. I guess I should feel relieved. But I’m not sure that’s what I’m feeling.

Shaw has certainly documented the confusion and the ambiguity of emotions that surround friendships for young people. Her words are clear and concise as she gives us insights to the thoughts of Frederick as he considers his actions in his dealings with his friend Angel and her disappearance. This is a story told from a unique perspective and documents some interesting elements of the human condition.

Page 122

I thought this would all happen a whole lot faster than it seems to be happening. I don’t know why I thought that. I’m pretty sure it isn’t logical to think that. I have a very logical mind about most things. But I have no experience with this sort of thing. Is this a sort of thing? Is there a precedent for someone taking a bus to a strange city to find someone who seems to be missing even though she had a foolproof plan?

If I don’t get back in time for school tomorrow, my mother will find out what I’m doing, and she will be angry with me.

I don’t like anger. I try not to feel it because it’s an uncomfortable and out of control feeling, as if my insides are turning red and molten with heat that burns my common sense until it melts and drips out of my mouth with words that I shouldn’t say. When people are angry they say hurtful things. My mother’s angry words always burn me, and it takes a long time for the scars to go away. I don’t like to make her angry.

Liane Shaw has given readers some unique thoughts and perspectives with her novel Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. A clearly written book which documents some important elements of the human condition. Truly a great read and one for starting some great discussions.

*****

Link to Second Story Press’ website for Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell

Link to Liane Shaw’s website

 

“The earliest seeds of the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad has always had a great love of trees, nature, and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto he missed that, and compensated for the cold Canadian winters by filling our house with trees and plants. | Q&A with Eric Fan, Co-Illustrator of “The Night Gardener”

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There is something enjoyable about book illustration that I find somewhat unrecognized by many adults who read. The skill in creating and honing images for a publication takes an immense time and energy to which the final product is just as enlightening as words on a page. Eric Fan, who along with his brother Terry, have created some wonderful illustrations for some stunning books over the past little while and show no sign of stopping any time soon. Eric recently answered a few questions for me in which he shows us a little insight to the world of book illustration.

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1) So I have been getting some multitudes of comments over my review of “The Night Gardener.” How long did it take for you and your brother to create that book. Was there any personal inspiration or ideas that aided in the creation of that book?

Since it was our first book, we had the luxury of a pretty long lead time. We worked on it for almost a year, but that included doing multiple rough dummies we did before starting the final art. By the time we got to the finals we had a pretty clear idea of how we wanted the spreads to look. Here are a couple of examples from the original dummy to give you an idea of what I mean. The dummy ultimately went through about three drafts until we were happy enough with the pacing, and the overall design.
night gardener dummy
night gardener dummy2
The earliest seeds of the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad has always had a great love of trees, nature, and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto he missed that, and compensated for the cold Canadian winters by filling our house with trees and plants. We have many memories of him carefully pruning the trees, and sculpting his bonsai. He was also a parrot breeder, so there were parrots (and a hummingbird named Woodstock) flying free in the house. It was a little like growing up in an indoor jungle. When Terry and I were doing t-shirt designs many years later, we collaborated on a design for Threadless called The Night Gardener, which depicted a man sculpting a tree into an owl (our dad also loves owls). When we first got our agent, Kirsten Hall, she asked us if we had any ideas for stories, and that image came back to us, along with memories about our dad. We always felt there was a story we could build from that standalone image. So that’s basically how The Night Gardener got its start. 
I actually found our original design submission for Threadless:
NG3
And here was the printed shirt:
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2) How has the reaction to “The Night Gardener” been? Has there been any memorable comments or reactions to the book you care to share?

It got a wonderful reaction, which was a nice surprise for us. We really didn’t know what to expect, or how it would be received. I think the first time we were able to breath a sigh of relief was when it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and then Kirkus. Some of the most memorable reactions came from book sellers who saw the book early on, sometimes only in its F&G form. We even became friends with some of them, like Sarah Ramsey, who manages one of the Book City stores in Toronto. She really loved the book from the first time she saw it, and hand-sold it to many of her customers. The other memorable reactions came from readers, and kids inspired by the book. Some of them created their own topiaries out of paper, or made video reviews on Youtube. There was even a school in the U.K. that did an entire Night Gardener student art show, which was beyond amazing.

3) What is it like to work with your brother Terry on a regular basis? Is there any sibling rivalry between the two of you while you work?

I think a little rivalry can be a good thing, since it continually pushes you to do your best work. It’s great to have a fellow collaborator, because you always have someone to bounce ideas off when you get stuck. Making a book can be a daunting project sometimes, so it’s nice to have someone to share that workload with. When one of us falls down or falters, hopefully the other one is there to save the day. That’s happened on numerous occasions.

4) You both worked and published a book with Astronaut Chris Hatfield called “The Darkest Dark.” What was like to work with him on that book?

It was incredible. How often do you get to work with an actual astronaut? The story of The Darkest Dark is semi-autobiographical – how Chris was inspired to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut as a child. For that reason, it was important to us to remain true to that and have a degree of verisimilitude. Chris was gracious enough to invite us up to his childhood cottage on Stag Island where the story actually took place. It was an incredible inspiration, since we got to see his childhood bedroom and the neighbouring cottage where he watched the moon landing in 1969. 
He also took us flying in a four-seat Cirrus, which was a thrill. I even got to pilot the airplane for ten minutes, which was both incredible and terrifying. At one point Chris looked back at Terry, who was in the back seat, and shouted “your brother’s flying the plane!” I think Terry almost had a heart attack. One of the best parts of the project was just getting to know Chris better, and his wife Helene (and their pug Albert). They’re both such wonderful, inspiring people, and we’ve remained friends with them to this day.
Since I think it’s fun for people to see the process of the book, I’ll share another dummy rough, this time from The Darkest Dark:
DD Dummy2B

5) You both have a new book coming out called “The Antlered Ship.” Could you give a bit of an overview of that book?

“The Antlered Ship” is written by Dashka Slater (link to her website), and it’s a lovely, imaginative text. The first time I read it I could immediately see certain images pop into my mind, which is always a good sign when you’re illustrating a book. The story centres on a curious fox named Marco who is full of questions. He sets out to find the answers to those questions by joining the crew of the antlered ship (comprised of three deer and a flock of pigeons). On their adventures they encounter stormy seas, pirates, and a threatening maze of rocks, all in the hopes of reaching “Sweet Tree Island” where Marco thinks he might find other foxes to answer his questions. The story is ultimately about friendship, and finding what you’re looking for even if it turns out to be right under your nose. The writing is wise, gently humorous, and philosophical and we had a wonderful time living in that world for a while. (Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s website for “The Antlered Ship)

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

Right now we’re just finishing up on our next book that Terry and I wrote together, which is called “Ocean Meets Sky.” The story centers on the magical spot between sky and sea, and a magical journey to reach it, but I won’t say too much more about it until it’s closer to its release date, which should be in early 2018. We also just started working on the dummy for a book called The Scarecrow, written by Beth Ferry. (Link to her website) It’s scheduled to be published by HarperCollins in 2019, so it’s a little ways down the road, but it’s a very beautiful and poignant text. 
The other exciting project we’re illustrating is called “The Lifters,” written by the amazing Dave Eggers – his first foray into middle grade books. (Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for “The Lifters”) I can’t really describe the book better than Dave Eggers himself, so I’ll just use his quote: “The Lifters has been on my mind for almost ten years. That’s when I had the idea that a simple cupboard handle could open a hillside to a warren of kid-sized tunnels under a town — and that it would be up these kids to keep everyone living aboveground upright and safe. My goal was to write the book I would have wanted to read when I was a middle-grader, with enough adventure and jokes and mystery to keep even an antsy reader engaged.”
Here is the cover we did, which they just released to the press:
Lifters

7) You and Terry are scheduled to attending the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival. Do you participate in public events for your work often? If yes, do you enjoy meeting the public to discuss your work?

We really love meeting fans of the book and always appreciate meeting book sellers and librarians as well. We don’t do a huge amount of public events, or speaking engagements, partly because we’re quite busy, and partly because were both a little intimidated by public speaking. I think a lot of artists pursue art because they’re somewhat introverted, so public speaking can be a bit emotionally taxing. That said, we really loved going to the Forest of Reading festival in Toronto. There was so much positive energy, and genuine enthusiasm from the kids. 

8) You seem to be an active participant on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those tools in relation to your work. Do your fans actively seek you out and chat with you about your books?

I’ve had a few people approach me to chat through social media. I think Facebook (Link to the Eric Fan Illustration page on Facebook), Instagram, (Link to the Eric Fan Art page on Instagram) and Twitter (Link to Eric Fan’s Twitter Account)are all great platforms to connect with readers, fans, and friends. Working from home, I have to be a little wary about how I parse out my time. It’s very easy to get sucked into Facebook or Twitter and fritter away hours that would be better spent working on art. That said, it’s a balance, and you want to be present and visible and direct a certain amount of energy towards social media and promotion. 
******
Eric and Terry Fan will be participating at 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

Enlightened by the Works of the Fan Brothers | Review of “The Night Gardener” by Eric and Terry Fan (2016) Simon & Schuster

Eric and Terry Fan will be at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

 

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Front cover of “The Night Gardener” by Eric and Terry Fan. Image linked off of the publisher’s website

I allowed myself to be absorbed into the magic of the world of books this past weekend, amid the hurry-burly of the modern adult world. I turned off the ringer on all the phones, I shut-down the computer. I even pull the batteries from the remote control for the television set. And I allowed myself the luxury of child-wonderment of entering the world of The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers. And, boy was I pleasantly amused.

(Excerpt)

William looked out his window

to find a commotion on the street.

He quicly dressed, ran downstairs,

and raced out the door to discover . . .

The wise owl had appeared overnight, as if by magic.

William spent the whole day staring at it in wonder,

and he continued to stare until it

became too dark to see.

I am often asked my opinions by parents looking for items for their children to read which allows me to look at wonderful things like this book. The Fan Brothers (Eric and Terry) have carefully crafted a wonderful item here which is lyrical in both in the story and its images. Readers easily witness the main character William trying to figure out how large topairies appear in his neighbourhood every morning and gain his curiosity through the story.

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Pages from “The Night Gardener” by Terry & Eric Fan. Image linked from the publisher’s website.

The images are detailed and exciting even on their own to look at. One – no matter what age the person may be – can almost spend hours alone admiring the small elements of shading, the use of lines and the sparing use of colour on each page.

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Pages from “The Night Gardener” by Terry & Eric Fan. Image linked from the publisher’s website.

The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan was certainly a wonderfully crafted book to escape the hurry-burly of the modern world for a while. The words and images come together to tell a lyrical story which would enlighten and engage any reader of any age.

*****

Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s website for The Night Gardener

Link to the Fan Brothers’ website

 

“With this 2017 novel, I went in a different direction, writing many scenes in the early 1900s and including a fantastical element, something I’ve never before experimented with.” | Q&A with novelist Angie Abdou on her new book “In Case I Go.”

Angie Abdou is one of the most popular writers on the Canadian literary scene right now. Since being a finalist for the Canada Reads series a few years ago, her works seem to reflect a reality that is consistent with many readers in their day-to-day lives. Now with her latest work, Abdou digs a bit into the past a bit. Abdou was kind enough to answer a few questions not only her upcoming work In Case I Go, but also a few of her upcoming projects as well for me.

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1) First off, could you give an outline of “In Case I Go” ?

Eli’s parents (Lucy and Nicholas) have reached a rough spot in their marriage and decide to leave the hectic city in an attempt to find peace in a small tourist, mining town in the mountains. They move into a little miner shack originally owned by Eli’s great-great grandfather and namesake, Elijah Mountain. While Lucy and Nicholas deal with their own adult problems, Eli befriends the next door neighbours, a Ktunaxa man named Sam and his troubled niece named Mary.  Gradually it becomes clear that Eli must make amends to Mary. They’re haunted by the mistakes of their ancestors, and are challenged to find a way to reconcile.

2)  Was there any research involved in writing this book? Is there anything you are hoping to accomplish with it?

 
Yes, I did a lot of research. First, I read theoretical texts about history and haunting. I didn’t intend to write a historical novel but, of course, I kept getting pulled that way. Initially, I resisted scenes set in the far past, but eventually I had to give up that resistance. The characters are, after all, haunted by … the past. Once I realized the book had to go there, the Fernie Museum Director Ron Ullrich proved tremendously useful – with details on everything from what kitchen clocks would look like to what women’s bathing suits would look like to what men would have stayed home from the war to how much one might pay for a prostitute.  What do I hope to accomplish? My main hope is that readers will be entertained and compelled to finish the book, enthusiastically even. After that, what each reader takes away from the book is up to that reader. But I’m very curious. I’m ready to hear from readers.

3) There is some confusion over official release dates of the book – Can you confirm the official date of its release? Are you planning a reading/book tour in connection for it? If yes, are there any particular dates/events that you are looking forward to attending?

The book will launch September 14th in Fernie BC. The launch is co-hosted by the Fernie Heritage Library (as the first BOOKED! event of the season) (Link to BOOKED! event page) and the Fernie Museum (as the opening event for the fall Chautauqua). (Link to the Fernie Museum website)
 

4) You mentioned in our last Q&A “I learn things with each book I write, and apply those lessons to the next.” Now that you have written another book, do you still feel that is true?

Lately, I’ve heard myself saying that each book is a reaction against the last book.  My 2014 novel BETWEEN was very contemporary and rooted in realism. With this 2017 novel, I went in a different direction, writing many scenes in the early 1900s and including a fantastical element, something I’ve never before experimented with.  With this 2017 novel, my biggest challenge was the Ktunaxa element, what stories I could tell, whose voices I could depict, and how to do so as carefully and respectfully as possible. With my 2018 book, I’m reacting against that challenge and telling a story that is entirely my own: the memoir of a hockey mom.

5) Your fan page on Facebook mentions that your hockey memoir “HOME ICE: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom” will be published next year. Am I right in assuming this is your first non-fiction book that has been published? How did you like writing this book as opposed to your fiction work?

I have this delusion around writing. The last book I wrote was always “super fun” to write and the next book I write will be “super easy.” The book I”m currently writing is always torture.  I”m currently writing HOME ICE.

6) You also mention on Facebook that you have a collection of essays on sports literature being published. Could you give a bit of a description about that work? How did you get involved with that?

My day job is university professor, and I often teach sport literature courses. These types of courses are increasing in popularity in Canada and US, and as author of a swimming-wrestling novel (THE BONE CAGE), I frequently get invited to speak to students of sport lit. During these visits, professors have complained about a lack of secondary sources, essays to which they might direct their students as samples or use as material to write lectures. Jamie Dopp and I put together this collection in response to that complaint. There are ten essays on the Canadian sport lit books taught most frequently, novels like King Leary, The Good Body, and Shoeless Joe.

7) (So here is the dreaded question I ask writers but I get yelled at by my followers of my blog if I don’t ask it.) Are you working on any new fiction right now? If yes, are there any details you can share?

My attention right now is focused on the hockey-mom memoir. But there are some fiction ideas simmering – nothing I could articulate yet.

8) As I talk to a lot of writers right now, they are getting a little fatigued with social media. Yet, many fans of their writings use social media to connect with their favourite writers. Are you still comfortable with social media as a means to connect with your fan base?

Finding a balance with social media and not letting it take up time that could be directed to more real activities is always a challenge. However, for now, I do think I need to be there. I appreciate the way it keeps me connected to writing and reading communities throughout the country. It allows me to live remotely without feeling isolated or disconnected.

9) Is Fernie still an idyllic place for you to live in and write? How is your family reacting to your writing career?

My husband tolerates my writing career, barely.  I travel a lot with writing commitments and when I am home I’m often stressed about deadlines. He’s not a writer, or even much of a reader, so he tires of both those things – the absence and the anxiety. My kids love books, though, and they’re proud that I’m a writer, though they talk as if “Angie Abdou, the writer” is someone different than “Mom.”  “Mom” is far less interesting.
In 2015, I moved to Alberta for work – I’m a professor at Athabasca University – but I still own a place in Fernie and am actively involved in the arts community there, helping run a writers’ series called BOOK!.  Yes, it is idyllic.
*****

“I wrote these books because there was nothing written about the Algonquin (Omàmiwinini) people and I wanted to find out who I was.” | Q&A with novelist Rick Revelle

Literature can allow readers to grasp realities outside their own. That is at least what happened to me when I read Rick Revelle’s book I am Algonquin this past month. (Link to my review) By reading it I was able to learn about the lives of the Indigenous peoples who lived in the area I grew up and lived in before Europeans arrived. But as I was researching and talking with Revelle, I realized his writing his Algonquin Quest series was an equally profound a journey for him as reading them was an enlightening one for me. Revelle was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and share his story about writing these books.

AlgonquinQuest

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of the “Algonquin Quest” novels for anybody who may not be familiar with the series?

 My three novels in the Algonquin Quest series take place in the early 1300’s pre-contact, of what is now Eastern Canada, the Ottawa Valley, Northern New York State, Southwestern Ontario, Minnesota and The Dakotas. They follow the lives of four brothers and their family unit as they try to survive against the elements and their enemies. The brothers names are Mahingan (Wolf), Wàgosh (Fox), Kag (Porcupine) and Mitigomij (Red Oak). You will be introduced to shape shifters, Native legends, powerful warriors men and women.  There are two warrior women who are part of this family group that are two spirited and feared by all their enemies in battle, there is a handicapped warrior who is mysterious and powerful. My stories tell the reader how the Native people accepted these people and why.  The novels use the Native languages of the Anishinaabe, Lakota, Mi´kmaq, Mohawk,  Omàmiwinini (Algonquin), and Ouendat (Huron), in the vernacular. All the geographical places in the books that I talk about you can physically walk up to them today and know there were Native people there 700 years ago. The books are fiction, however the culture and way of life that I talk about are non-fictional. My books are a story of survival, family, love and respect for you allies and your enemies. They are stories of what Turtle Island was like before the coming of the Europeans. A society that cared for the people around them and would die defending them.  

2) What were your personally reasons for writing these books? How are you finding the reaction to the series so far ? Have there been any memorable reactions to the book you care to share?

 I wrote these books because there was nothing written about the Algonquin (Omàmiwinini) people and I wanted to find out who I was.  To do this I decided I would research and travel the country and put what I found in a story for other people to know who these people were. “Unless You know where you have came from you will never know where you are going.”

The reaction to my books so far are surprising me weekly. It is hard to imagine that someone you do not know will come up to you and say I like what you have written. It is surreal at times. The Frontier School Board in Manitoba which is north of the 54th parallel have taken the Algonquin Quest Series from the beginning and introduced it into all their schools as class reading and reference. Currently The Frontier Board and Dundurn Press are working diligently to have I Am Algonquin translated into Cree for these students. The Limestone District School Board in Kingston Ontario told me in May that my books were going to be put in all 60 school libraries in their system. That was a very humbling moment for me. I know that many other school boards use my books. Plus two of the largest owned Native book distributing companies in Canada who distribute Native books written by Natives to schools and universities carry my series. Goodminds from Six Nations Ontario and Strong Nations from Nanaimo British Columbia both have honoured me with distributing my books under their Native banners.

One reaction to my books among the many that stands out was what a Métis fisherman and hunter from Nova Scotia told me. Alvah D´Entremont never in his 50 odd years of life ever had time to read. His brother-in-law Larry Porter gave him my first book I Am Algonquin to read. Among other things he told Larry, who is a good friend of mine, that he was totally amazed at what I had written and how I was able to put him right there in that time frame in the woods and that he couldn’t put the book down. Alvah has read all my books now and has said they are the best books he has ever read in his life. Well the fact is, they are the only books that he has ever read in his life. As a writer that will always stay with me.

3) “I am Algonquin” was published in 2013. “Algonquin Spring” was released in 2015. And “Algonquin Sunset” was released last June. Has your writing style changed much since you first started out? If yes, how so?

 I think I have become obsessed with the research as I moved along in my storylines. I never starting writing until I was 56 and some things have not changed for me, I am terrible on tenses and that keeps my home town editor in business to clean things up before it goes to the Dundurn staff. Thank goodness for editors. I love taking long bus rides and train rides and writing long hand. Twenty pages from my notebook will get my forty once I fill in the research and dialogue. I love writing that way. I am self taught and find it a little harder to sit at the keyboard and pull words out of my head. But when I write in a notebook it like a river sometime, everything flows out of my head. In the end I would have to leave that question to my readers. They would be the ones who could say if they have seen a change.

4) You are slated to appear at the Toronto Word on the Street festival in September. (Link to Revelle’s profile page on the Word on the Street website) Are public events and readings something you enjoy doing? Outside of WOTS, are you participating in any other public events in the near future?

I love public events. During the school year I am kept busy visiting schools and talking about my books and the era they take place in. I travel with a I call a small museum of artifacts of that era that the students love seeing and touching. Children and teens love being read to an I love reading and bring my stories to life.

For the next six or seven months I have a few things booked.

I am in Brockville July 29th at Coles book store from 11AM to 2PM signing books.

On August 5th I am signing books during the Princess Street Promenade in Kingston (Link to the event’s website) at Novel Idea from 10AM to ?. This is a event that runs from 10 AM to 4PM where they shut down the main street of Kingston Ontario for about eight city blocks and merchants and vendors put up tents and of course open their stores. It is done twice a year and attracts 8,000 to 10,000 people.  

On January 16th 2018 at 7:30PM I will be speaking at the (Hastings County) Historical Society monthly meeting at the Maranatha Church. (Link to their website)

Then on May 2nd 2018 I will be speaking at the monthly Probus meeting in Manotick Ontario at the St James Church. (Link to their website)

Plus all the school visits that will be requested once the new fall term starts.

5) You seem to have an active presence on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you as a writer like using those tools? Do many of your fans contact you and give you support for you work via social media?

Well my wife handles my three Facebook pages for the three different books and she tells me that there are comments and likes. (Link to the “Algonquin Sunset” Facebook page) I send her what I would like put on there. Twitter, after many urges from my publisher I have started using that and I find it very helpful in getting the word out as to where I am going and what I am writing about. (Link to Rick Revelle’s Twitter account page) You have to realize I am old tech, I have no cell phone, no bank card and no microwave oven. My wife is amazed that I am self taught on the computer and can do what I do at age 65. Me, I have having the time of my life. In fact I call getting published with three books out at my age, “sugar at the end of my life.”

6) You biographies have you listed as living in Glenburnie, Ontario (Just outside of Kingston) How do you like living there as a writer? Are there any social or cultural institutions in that area that inspire you as a writer?

 I have lived in the area all my life. I grew up in two very small towns of under 1000 people. Odessa and Wilton Ontario. We have lived in Glenburnie for 30 years. Our son only went to one elementary school and one high school so he was very happy. Before I was 18 my family moved seven times. In forty years of marriage we have moved three times. My sisters have been regular nomads like our Algonquin ancestors. Living in the Kingston area enables me to get in our car, on a train or a bus and travel within a day’s drive to do research or go to a writers festival or visit a school. Kingston is very central to Toronto, Montreal and all points in between. I am an avid canoeist an hiker and my stories relate to these experiences. I can practically step out my front door to hiking trails, lakes and rivers. What inspires me in this area is the closeness to nature. We live in the country and the coyotes howl at night the birds are at our feeders and the raccoons are in the yard in the evenings. I do not need to go far to get material to write about. Plus I am an avid golfer and from the social aspects of this I get the ideas for the characters in my books.

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

When I finished Algonquin Sunset I closed up a lot of loose ends. Except maybe one. I am working on a book, I do not know if I will finish it. It takes place in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with the characters that went west at the end. It will explore the beginnings of the Saulteaux Nation who were the Anishinaabe that went to this area, plus their foes the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy of the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood) and Apa´tosee (Northern Piegan) Nations. The novel would be called Algonquin Legacy. To do this book properly I will need to travel to Manitoba and Saskatchewan and research these nations and their languages.  

 

I just need a couple of bus and train trips and I will be good to go.

*****

I am extremely honoured to be able to answer these questions for your readers,

Miigwetch,

Rick Revelle

*****

Link to the Algonquin Quest series webpage on the Dundurn Press website

 

A Look into the Traditional Algonquin Way of Life | Review of “I am Algonquin” by Rick Revelle (2013) Dundurn Press

Rick Revelle will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival.

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There has been some discussions in my circles lately about wanting to know more about Indigenous culture and history. We realize that much of what have learned in our school days was flawed or  important details were omitted for whatever reasons. Literature can help us in a better understanding of Indigenous peoples and Rick Revelle’s I am Algonquin is one such read.

(Introduction)

My name is Mahingan, which means wolf in my language, and In am Omàmiwinini (Algonquin) from the Kitcisìpiriniwak tribe (People of the Great River), one of the eight Algonquin tribes of the Ottawa Valley.

I was born right after the warming period that my ancestors had lived through, mild winters, and warm summers. When I was birthed, it was the start of the great cooling period of colder winters and cooler summers. I was born in the year 1305, and this is my story . . . the story of an Algonquin warrior and a forefather of the Great Chief Tessouat.

While I found this book in the “teen” section, it certainly could easily be included in any adult’s reading list. The story deals with Mahingan raising his family in the early 14th century in what is now Ontario. Through the story, a reader can learn about how the Algonquin people lived. We are given details about: hunting, family life, living conditions, and much more. Revelle uses great details and gives great insight by telling the story through Mahingan’s eyes and thoughts.

Pages 51-52 Happiness And Sorrow

Our shelters were oval wàginogàns (lodges) made out of birch bark and held together by saplings intertwined on the inside. On the outside we used slabs of cedar to hold the birch bark down, tying them to the frame. The birch bark was overlapped so as not to leak. The saplings on the inside were not tied end to end but were joined side to side to avoid poking holes in the birch bark. The young trees were bent in a curve and fastened together with spruce roots.

What caught us by surprise was that no one was on guard and that we could only see smoke coming out of seven of the wàginogàns.

“Wàgosh, announce our homecoming.”
“E-ya-ya-ya-ya,” Wàgosh sang. “The hunters have arrived with food and tales of adventure.”

Then Wàgosh sang a death song announcing the death of Makwa. With that his wife and our sister See-Bee-Pee-Nay-Sheese (River Bird) came out of her home, wailing and crying. I took my sister in my arms and told her that Makwa died a warrior’s death, and he would enter the afterlife with great honour.

See-Bee-Pee-Nay-Sheese would enter her home and douse her fire. She wold mourn face-down on her mat for six days covered by her robes and receive only cold food for nourishment. The families would give her gifts to comfort her. She would not be allowed to marry again until our mother gave her permission.

When an Algonquin warrior marries, he always lived with the wife’s family and helped hunt and protect the family unit.

Revelle has filled this book with descriptive detail. (Including a Glossary and a Algonquin Pronunciation Guide in the back.) And that includes his descriptions of actions too. Be it a canoe ride or a battle scene, Revelle scenes are written out to certainly enlighten and inform. This book is not an easy read, for sure, but it is one that educates if a reader takes the time to properly ponder the scenarios.

Page 122 – 123

When we awoke the next morning, there was a misty rain. Today would bring us to the end of our journey, but there was still one more set of rapids to take.

“Minowez-I, we will have to keep the canoe well spaced when we go through the last set of rapids. We do not want any of the boats bumping into each other and you and your son can send the others at intervals. We will land on the west shore and when you send the next one they will land on the eastern shore. That way if anyone overturns, there will be someone on either shore to help them. ”

“Okay Mahingan. My son and I will control things from here. Don’t worry about us.”

Mitigomij, Ishkodewan and I started on our descent through the rapids. The misty rain moistened our faces and the roar of the fast moving water made my heart race. As we looked toward the white water, the movement made it look like the river was waving us on to make the journey. Taking this as a good omen, we started our descent down the river. We could feel the power of the river beneath our boat. The only sound besides the river was my wolf cub growling and snapping at the water as it washed over the canoe, soaking all in the boat. With the helpful skills of my brother, we rode the rapids and arrived safely but wet on the shore.

I am Algonquin by Rick Revelle certain answer a call for anybody looking for insight in Indigenous culture and history. It is an interesting and enlightening read. As the first in a series of books, Revelle certainly has begun a great story-line for readers to continue on with.

******

Link to Dundurn Press’ website for I am Algonquin

 

Gaining Enlightenment about the Northern Night | Review of “Once Upon a Northern Night” by Jean E. Pendziwol and Isabelle Arsenault (2013) Groundwood Books

Jean E. Pendziwol will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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I am always amazed by the amount of enlightenment and enjoyment a simple picture can give off to me as an adult. The book may include a small amount of pages but the details that are given into both the drawings and the words on those pages is worthy of any reader of any age. And that is certainly true of the book Once Upon a Northern Night written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.

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There is a beauty in the way the words and the colours of the images blend together to comfortably explain the night of the northern sky. The words flow together with a careful ease, while the images seem muted with a carefully chosen highlight here and there to beautifully illustrate a point.

(Excerpt)

Once upon a northern night

a small,

small mouse

with big,

big ears

scurried along the deck,

searching.

Across the table,

mounded with snowy white

like vanilla ice cream,

he ran,

tunneling beneath the drifts

to a midnight feast of seeds

that lay scattered

beneath the bird feeder.

One has to admire the complexity of this simple book. Both Pendziwol and Arsenault have detailed work here yet the story is easy to understand and grasp. It has all the details that readers prefer to peruse at the end of a busy day, yet simple enough to engage a young mind to want to read this book (and many more like it).

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Once Upon a Northern Night, written by Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is a wonderfully simple book with complex details. The story flows well through both the images and the words, giving a strong sense what a northern night is truly like. A great read for anybody of any age.

*****

Link to House of Anansi’s website for Once Upon a Northern Night

Link to Jean E. Pendziwol’s website

Link to Isabelle Arsenault’s website

 

 

 

Updating the Concept of the ‘Immigrant Experience’|Review of “Soucouyant” by David Chariandy (2007) Arsenal Pulp Press

David Chariandy will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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For many of us who descend from immigrant backgrounds, we had to deal with a lot more baggage than the label of “multiculturalism” can truly define our families. We had to deal with: racism, ethnic traditions and stereotypes, untold stories and whispers of events that our elders may not what us to know about, etc. etc. Those hardships become more acute as our parents become older and depend on our care for their well-being. And it is that element of the human condition that David Chariandy documents in his novel Soucouyant.

Page 9

I stay with Mother, though I haven’t truly been invited to stay. On that first evening of my return, Mother walks suddenly out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor. I hear the low grate of a deadbolt. later, i make my way up to the other bedroom on the second floor. The bunk bed that I once shared with my brother is still made, though the sheets and pillows smell of dampness.

My bedroom window looks out over the weathered edge of the bluffs to a great lake touched by the dying light of the city. Below, some forty feet down, a few trees lean about on a shore of sand and waterlogged litter. Dancing leaves and the tumble of an empty potato chip bag. Despite the view and the fact that many consider the surrounding neighbourhood ‘a good part of Scarborough,’ our place is difficult to boast of. We are alone in a cul-de-sac once used as a dump for real-estate developers. The house is old and bracing now for the final assaults of erosion. Even in summer, all windows facing south are kept shut. Because of the railway track, scarcely ten feet away.

Chariandy has written an insightful bit of literature here. Readers glide into the thoughts of a son who returns after a two-year absence to his Caribbean-born mother suffering from dementia. Upon his arrival at his childhood home, he not only finds the easily-confused individual who is his mother but also a young woman who also occupies the house. As the son continues his stay at the home, he is forced to confront memories and hidden secrets of his mother and his family.

Pages 47-48

Please, Mother. Please.

There are the ironies, of course. Mother can string together a litany of names and places from the distant past. She can remember the countless varieties of a fruit that doesn’t even grow in this land, but she can’t accomplish the most everyday of tasks. She can’t dress herself or remember to turn off taps and lights. Increasingly, she can’t even remember the meaning of the word ‘on,’ or the function of a toothbrush, or the simple fact that a waste-paper basket isn’t a toilet.

‘It happen . . .’ she tries again. ‘It happen on fore-day morning when the sun just a stain on the sky. When the moon not under as yet. Me, I was a young girl running . . .’

‘I know, Mother. It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.’

‘You’re here now . . .?’

‘You arrived, Mother. You told me the story, remember? There were lights . . .’

She had trouble arriving. The plane banked around the airport for almost an hour and the pilot had announced that an ice storm was hitting the city and the ground crews were clearing the runway. An ice storm, she thought. What on earth could that be like? What fearsome beauty, falling jewels of ice? When the plane banked a last time for the approach, she looked out of the wind to see the city once more. No buildings at all, only countless dazzling lights. A land of lights.

She came here as a domestic, through a scheme that offered landed status to single women from the Caribbean after a year of household work. This was in the early sixties, before the complexion of the cities and suburbs of this land looked anything like it does today. The administrators of the domestic scheme set her up in a small apartment above a building housing a butcher’s shop and a Negro hair-cutting salon, hope that she would feel at home., realizing that no other person would be willing to put her up. It was smelly and the cockroaches ran and ran when the overhead bulb was turned on, but she didn’t mind. Everything seemed wonderful to her, even the scraggly trees and slushy sidewalks. The snow-accented trees.

The snow.

While the details that Chariandy documents in the story are unique to immigrants from the Caribbean region, the experiences his Canadian-born and residing protagonist endures are universal to any descendant of any immigrant of any background. The attempts of trying to fit into the mainstream society, the questions of past experiences of one’s parents, the embarrassment of old mores and customs from an old culture that no longer fit in our modern society. And Chariandy documents the situation of a child trying to deal with an elderly parent whose actions are not proper in any situation.

Page 83

Later in the evening, I stumble upon her in the kitchen spilling sugar from a large sack over wedges of lemon and then eating away, rind and all. There’s a grainy stickiness all over the linoleum and white streaks on the rug leading out of the kitchen. Mother winces with each of her mouthfuls. ‘Like eating lightning,’ she says. She looks at the leaking bag of sugar and explains it is broken would some please call the  . . . electrician. She insists that the whole house deserves a good sweeping, and starts calling for the girl to give her a bath.

‘I can bathe you.’

You can . . .?’

‘I can do it too. I’m your son.’

She nods warily at this. I accept the bag of sugar from her and guide her upstairs to the bathroom. I make sure the water in the tub is just right, and I add the salts. I help her out of her clothes, her hands balancing on my shoulders while I slip her underwear off. Her private skin so pale and unwrinkled, even childlike. Her elbows pressed tight against her sides.

‘Don’t get my head wet,’ she says.

David Chariandy has documented an important and delicate element about the human condition in his novel Soucouyant. The book is lyrically and well-crafted and is certainly a great read. One worthy of any serious reader’s time and thoughts.

*****

Link to Arsenal Pulp Press’ website for Soucouyant

Link to a page on Wikipedia about David Chariandy

Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for Brother –  David Chariandy’s newest book – to be released on Sept. 26, 2017.

 

 

Thrilling the Mind out of its Slumber | Review of “The Substitute” by Nicole Lundrigan (2017) House of Anansi

A big thank you to Anne Logan at “I’ve Read This.” for bringing this book to my attention.

I purchased this book at Ben McNally Books in Toronto. A great bookstore!

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There is something about an excellent psychological thriller in the way it awakens the mind out of a state of slumber. A reader is forced to consider plot twists of a story plus become enveloped in the moral dilemmas of the characters. Then the reader of the story seems to become obsessed with finishing the story at all costs. Nicole Lundrigan is an expert in writing great fiction, and her book The Substitute is a perfect example of how great she is in her craft.

Pages 1-2

Though I am not afflicted by it, I wonder about guilt. When I was a child, I would crouch on the cement floor of our basement, building elaborate contraptions, and thinking, Which piece of this system is culpable? Sometimes a slender knife would fly forward and mar the wallpaper, or a needle would lift and destroy a balloon. Once I even built a system where the sharpened legs of a scissors closed on photographs of my father. Straight through his skinny neck. As the grainy image of his face drifted left, and his suited body drifted right, I questioned what part of my machine was responsible for that destruction. The systems were nomore than a mess of inanimate objects: croquet balls, yardsticks, greasy springs, plastic bowls, and bent spoons. If each one followed the simple rules of cause and effect, could the steel bearing be accused if it never came in contact with the flying paint? Would the rubber band be guilty when it had no choice but to stretch and snap? I imagined the liability lay somewhere within them all. Guilt trapped inside the weighty potential of the machine. Never in the tip of my finger. Never in the bend of my wrist. Never cupped in the palm of my hand.

I have adored Lundrigan previous writings (Link to my review of The Widow Tree) and this book is just as thought-provoking as her previous works. Here we are vaulted into the life of poor Warren Botts. He is in the process of attempting to teach middle-school science and having a rough time of it. In the thick of the his attempts is thirteen-year old Amanda – soft-spoken and introverted – who is in desperate search of acceptance and guidance. When Amanda is found dead, hanging in Botts’ backyard. Botts becomes somewhat confused and unglued and is unable to give the police proper explanations for what had happened. Suspicions mount from both the police and his neighbours and Botts becomes even more frayed. Meanwhile another voice appears in the story – unknown whom it is to us – giving us chilling details and showing strong emotional detachment to the events swirling around the story.

Page 23

My father looked peaceful in the casket at the funeral home. They had his hair combed straight down to disguise the wreck of his forehead. Thick beige makeup was substantial, and while there was too much pink in the cheek, my swollen mother had insisted on extra. “He doesn’t look well,” she tearfully told the director. “His colour is off.” No joke.

His hands were folded together across his chest. Nails trimmed, four fingers resting upon four fingers. When I stood near the box, I reached out, touched his cool skin. I could almost detect a hint of warmth still lingering there, and I entertained the thought he would wake up once weighted under the soil.

Glancing behind me, I noticed funeral-goers were granting me some time alone. A tender moment to say goodbye. I ran my hand over his, then gripped his middle finger, his “swearing finger,” as I had heard kids say at school, and I squeezed it. “Oh Dad,” I whispered, “Where are you now?” With another quick look over my shoulder, I cranked his finger backward, pressed down, felt dead ligaments tearing a distinct and pleasant pop.

When I stepped aside, his finger remained displaced. My mother waddled up for a subsequent pass, and noticed. Cheeks flushing the same natural colour as her husband’s, she tried to reposition it, tried to slip it underneath his index finger. Tried to bend it the other way. No luck. It rose up again. Telling the world what he thought of them. I noticed the other mourners smirking, nodding. I hope the bastard stayed like that forever.

There are some deep thoughts that run through this book. I found myself reading and rereading some of the passages over and over again just to simply regain some of the  emotions that Lundrigan has so brilliantly conceived with her wording. A carefully patient reader with this book can’t help but gain empathy for certain characters, even if their actions are questionable or even horrid.

Page 233

“Yes. Overwhelmed.” For a moment, he closed his eyes, imagined the cube-shaped room flipping outward, and instead of being on the inside of the die, he was standing on one of the faces. All he had to do was shuffle backward, and he would tip over an edge. Detective Reed would stay on the six, and he would slip ninety degrees onto the four. No longer facing each other, a right angle between them.

“Botts?” She continued to crunch, pulverizing the sugar in her mouth. “You got my attention.”

The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan was certainly one of the boldest reads I came across in 2017 and will be, no doubt, one of my favourites of this year. It is a thriller that kept me thinking and reviewing. And certainly a great piece of literature.

******

Link to House of Anansi’s website for The Substitute

Link to Nicole Lundrigan’s website