Category Archives: Canadian Literature

A Literary Journal Worthy to Mention | A Note about “Canadian Notes and Queries” on the Publication of their 100th Edition

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I have to confess to a new awaking in my mind recently. Since starting this blog, I have made a serious attempt at finding new items to read and review. Originally I had started blogging to kill off two of the most annoying questions I had received at dinner parties (“You have a media background – do you blog?” or “What are you reading right now?”) but as I continued to work on the site, I found that there were a group of people like me who were stuck behind complex bits of technology for their job who were looking for something to engross their psyche’s need for words when their day was over. So I have been keen on not only writing the blog but finding new sources of material for writing it. Hence my little mention of the literary journal Canadian Notes and Queries here.

While CNQ has been in my periphery for the last little while, it wasn’t until my recent visit to the annual Toronto Word on the Street festival where I purchased a subscription from the noted publisher Biblioasis. I was given a copy then and I check out a few back issues since. And I have to admit that there have a been a few items reviewed in that magazine (both new releases and old) that have gotten my attention. Plus there have been a few discussions of bookstores that I have been known to frequent.

Quote from CNQ’s website

The story so far:

Canadian Notes & Queries was first published in 1968 by William Morley as a four-page supplement to the Abacus, the newsletter of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Canada. Modelled on the British Notes & Queries, it was a journal, as Morley wrote, “of little discoveries encountered, often by serendipity, in the course of scholarly investigation,” and queries which often arise in the course of research which are beyond one’s “present resources to solve.” Morley passed on the magazine to Douglas (now George) Fetherling 22 years later, and Fetherling, sensing that the internet would soon take over the magazine’s function as an academic bulletin, reinvented it until it took on something more closely resembling its present format: a journal of literary, cultural and artistic history and criticism. Fetherling continued publishing the magazine with either “charming” or “calculated” irregularity—until 1997, when he passed it on to Tim and Elke Inkster of the Porcupine’s Quill. The Inksters published 18 more issues over the next nine years, before selling it to Biblioasis in 2006.

I was thrilled to see in my mail box last week that the first edition I received was CNQ’s 100 printed edition. Not only did it include insights from noted booksellers David Mason and Jason Dickson (although I have to question why my hometown of London, Ontario is referred to as sleepy in Dickson’s biography) but some insights into the workings of publishers McClelland & Stewart and House of Anansi. Also included are two pieces by noted author Mark Sampson (His views on archiving in the digital age are unique as is his book review –  which I just ordered based on that recommendation.)

In any case, this is just a quiet note to my fans of my blog who are looking for a bit more insight into what to read. Canadian Notes and Queries is worth checking out. When you are done with your workday of course.

*****

Link to CNQ’s website

The Search for Truth can be a Difficult One | Review of “In Case I Go” by Angie Abdou (2017) Arsenal Pulp Press

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We all try to find out truths in our travels through life. Be it historical truths, truths in our relationships and our desires, or even the truths behind our names. But the thing is that when we gain understanding of those truths, they may not be the beautiful or enlightening elements that we thought they may be. That is the main theme that I felt was in Angie Abdou’s book In Case I Go.

Chapter One Page 15

We quit the city to save our lives.

Mama says, “The city quit us, and that made leaving easy.” But that’s silly. Cities don’t care who goes or who stays. This new town, though, it cares. Here, the very ground we live on cares.

Mama quits many things – coffee, sugar, wheat. Late at night, when she thinks I’m sleeping, her finger tracing a half moon around my ear, her warm toothpaste-breath against my forehead, she says, “I want to be a better person, Elijah. For you.”

I’m only Elijah in the dark. By day, I’m Eli. It’s a nickname I like when she says it to rhyme with sly, but not when she makes it rhyme with belly. Elly Belly. That’s a baby name, and Lucy claims I’ve never been a baby. Not really.

“You were born knowing everything, Elly Belly. You came out of that incubator like it was your first year of college.”

I can’t help but feel that Angie has empty many bits of her soul to give us this book. The story of Eli and his parents returning to their family home is a familiar one for many of us. Yet as in many cases, that return isn’t as calming and restorative as the family had hoped. And as young Eli friends Mary, a young Ktunaxa girl, spirits begin to haunt him, making him question the past actions of his family and the longings and desires of the present-day adults around him.

Chapter Seven Page 93

Sometimes, if I try, I can hold onto a dream for a long time after the sun rises. One time I dreamt of Lucy and Nicholas and me planning a road trip, but we couldn’t actually decide what way to go.

“Kiboshed by our own indecision before we even get out of the driveway,” Nicholas said. I remembered that –kiboshed. I liked that word. Lucy must have liked it too because she laughed and laughed, her hand on Nicholas’s bare thigh in a way that made me a bit embarrassed, even in the dream.

“Well,” the dream-me said, trying not to show how bad I wanted this road trip. “We’ve come this far wet. We might as well keep going that way.”

I held onto that dream for days. I told Lucy if we could somehow dial up dreams on Netflix, I would like to watch my Road Trip Dream forever to see where we ended up and if we stayed that happy. But it slid away, like almost all dreams do.

While I have been a big fan of Abdou’s earlier writings, this is a book that touched me like no other cultural artifact has for a long time. She has captured so much of the angst,  fears and concerns of our time here – questions about identity, family, heritage, relations with Indigenous people, and so forth – all in the thoughts, dreams and possessed visions that young Eli has. This is crafted, well thought-out and deeply emotional writing that deserves to be considered literature and read by all.

Pages 218-219

I put my hand out and touch Lucy’s forearm. She doesn’t look my way, and I won’t check to see if she has tears. I run my hand up and down her arm and squeeze. I’m not mad anymore – not about the way she feels about Sam, not about what she’s done to Nicholas, not about the twisting and squishing in my stomach when I saw Sam’s hand on Lucy’s hip in the museum. I understand.

She loves two.

Or maybe it’s not that. Not the same. There are different kinds of love. We want to simplify love and desire – squeeze them into easy words – so we can pretend to understand. We want there to be a right way and a wrong way to live. Right and wrong should be easy. Lucy loves Nicholas, she knows Nicholas, but she wants Sam. She only wants Sam. She wants only Sam. Her life, though belongs to Nicholas. Tamara might not understand that pull, the war between belonging and wanting, but I understand. I squeeze Lucy’s forearm one more time and then lean my forehead against it. She puts her forehead on the back of my head, and her hand on the back of my neck, gentle and full of love. I relax into it.

This love is the simple kind.

Angie Abdou has not only given readers what I consider one of the best books of 2017 with In Case I Go, but one of the most touching books I have read in a long time. I am eagerly waiting to get this book signed and then giving it a treasured spot on my shelf.

*****

Link to Arsenal Pulp Press’s website for In Case I Go

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

Link to my Q&A with Angie Abdou | “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.”

 

 

 

A Product to Ponder and Reflect Upon | Review of “Some Theories” by Kathryn Mockler and David Poolman (2017) Some Theories Press

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It easy enough to ignore a lot of the phrases and images that swirl around us in this day in age. Our media-rich lives are bombarded with words and phrases that we ignore most items that come our why. So it takes a person with a well-honed talent to make most people notice their product. And the small volume called Some Theories by Kathryn Mockler and David Poolman is such an excellent example of a product for willing readers to notice and ponder upon.

Theories (Page 2)

People with children do not want to listen to you theories about the end of the world. Ghosts do not want to hear from the living. People without swimming pools do not want to know that people with swimming pools had a good swim.

Mockler has been a writer who has always made me question my reality in a round-about way and this book certainly does that. (Check out her Instagram feed where she posts interesting and poetic comments under the hashtag #thisisntaconversation (Link here)) Mockler’s phrases sound absurd at first until a reader considers the statement. We realize that the world is absurd and Mockler has made an observation showing that in a bold and frank way.

LET’S PLAY OIL SLICK (Page 10)

CHARACTERS

BOY

GIRL

BOY: Let’s play oil slick.

GIRL: I get to be the bird, and you can be the rescuer.

BOY: I want to be the bird. Now wash my hair.

GIRL: You wash my hair. You were the bird last time.

BOY: I’m not playing unless I get to play the character I want.

GIRL: Why don’t you be the bird, and I’ll be the sea otter?

BOY:  Who will rescue us?

Girl: Nobody.

END

Poolman’s illustrations are just as illuminating as Mockler’s phrase. They appear simple and somewhat puzzling yet as one ponders the image, they are complex messages about items we hold dear in our lives.

 

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Scanned image from Page 41 of “Some Theories.” Illustration by David Poolman.

Some Theories by Kathryn  Mockler and David Poolman is certainly a unique read. If a reader takes the time to look at it beyond a simple volume and thinks about the images and words, they will note the unique perspectives this book brings forward.

*****

Link to Kathryn Mockler’s website

Link to a website about David Poolman

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The Detailed Views from this Forest |Review of “The Celery Forest” by Catherine Graham (2017) Buckrider Books/Wolsak and Wynn Publishing

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Constantly I hear that we need to make time to ponder our reality and at least consider the state of the world we are in. But to find the time to sit and reflect is at a premium. Then something occurs in our lives that forces ourselves into a state of shock to dwell on ‘the meaning of life.’ Catherine Graham has been a writer I have enjoyed for years. And I knew for months on had that she had a work coming out with the imagery-rich title  The Celery Forest. So I gleefully purchased my copy of her book when I saw it and raced over to meet her to get her to sign it for me. But when I walked away from that signing session and read the phrase on the back of book “this is the topsy-turvy world she found herself in after learning she had breast cancer,” I knew this was a volume that I needed to find time to carefully read with deep consideration. So I waited impatiently to enter Graham’s Celery Forest until I had the time to reflect on the sights and sounds I would witness there. And the journey in there was truly an enlightening one.

Interrogation in the Celery Forest (Page 1)

We shoulder it onto the slab.

It squirms. Water. Electric-white

 

Raindrops fast into absence.

No bridge as believable as all this.

 

Pliers were used. And absence.

A heart – skewered through skeins

 

of red nets and milk from some aimless

animal on the drowning cloth.

 

Now, intruder, bird`s-eye, pip,

you must answer.

Cancer seems to vaulting us into states of shock all the time. It afflicts friends and loved ones and we really never seem to be prepared to deal with it.  And while there may be a technical definition to the disease, truly understanding what people go through when it hits them only really can be understood through the works of literature. Graham has given insight to her experience with cancer by creating this ‘forest’ and allowing us to witness the sights and sounds there. There is a hodgepodge of images and emotions which require careful reading (I admit to mouthing certain phrases to truly understanding their meanings) but by documenting her thoughts here, Graham has given us something to at least ‘get a grip’ when cancer throws us into a reflective state.

Owl in the Celery Forest (Page 24)

Owl, you never asked to be wise

or a companion to the witch.

 

Fly in for the scurry – vole, field mouse,

creatures with eyes scuttling through grass,

 

Then pluck the tumour out of my breast

with you sharp, curved talons –

 

let the only thing that spreads be your wings.

There is a collection of opposites in Graham’s forest. There is angst but there is joy. There is some darkness but there is some light. There is urgency but there are moments to enjoy nature. There is some ugliness but there is also much beauty. We adults may have matured beyond the understanding that our stories don’t close with a ‘happy-ever-after’ ending but Graham does show some enchantment of life with it’s  continued existence.

Fireflies (Page 49)

Little green fires that do not burn,

yet blink and float

outside the cottage window

stringing night

into Christmas trees.

When you returned

as a firefly, I heard

what happened –

your winking battery

broken because you merely

grew in size.

Jealous of Dad`s sighting,

not knowing you would appear

decades later as pure

waves the moment I broke

free from anaesthesia’s grip.

After reading Catherine Graham’s The Celery Forest, I realized my act of getting her to sign my copy of her book was not a flippant act, but one of my craving for a enlightened understanding of the human condition. Graham’s bold and detailed exploration of ‘the forest’ certainly enlightened me. And this book will hold a special place in my library.

*****

Link to Catherine Graham’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s website for The Celery Forest

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“What amateur sleuth does not go off half-cocked? It’s one of the big challenges of writing about a character who has no business investigating murder in the first place.” | Q&A with author Barbara Fradkin on her novel “The Trickster’s Lullaby”

The new book season is almost upon us and we can hardly wait. One such release that is coming out that has us book fans excited is the second Amanda Doucette mystery titled The Trickster’s Lullaby by Barbara Fradkin. No doubt this will be a great mystery novel filled with vivid detail and realistic situations.  Fradkin was kind enough to let me in on some of the details of the book before its release.

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What is “The Trickster Lullaby”  – the latest Amanda Doucette novel –  about?

In The Trickster’s Lullaby, former international aid worker Amanda Doucette embarks on a winter camping trip with a group of inner-city young people in the remote Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. With a view to bridging cultural divides, she brings along a mixture of Canadian-born and immigrant youth.

Trouble begins when two of the teenagers disappear into the wilderness during the night: Luc, a French/English-Canadian with a history of drug use, and Yasmina, an adventurous young woman from Iraq who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. Although frantic, their parents are strangely secretive amid suspicions of drug use and forbidden romance. But when a local farmer turns up dead and terrorist material is found on Luc’s computer, the dangers turn deadly. Now in a battle against both the elements and police, Amanda and Corporal Chris Tymko discover a far greater web of secrets and deception.

As Amanda races to save the young people from danger, she finds herself fighting for stakes far higher than their own lives.

What do readers say about Amanda Doucette?

Many of my long-time readers are very attached to Inspector Green and were only grudgingly willing to meet my new hero in FIRE IN THE STARS. (Link to my review) Fortunately, most old and new readers have enjoyed her spirit, compassion, and never-say-die attitude, even if some felt she had a frustrating tendency to go off half-cocked. What amateur sleuth does not go off half-cocked? It’s one of the big challenges of writing about a character who has no business investigating murder in the first place. At one hilarious book club I was invited to, the members, most on the dark side of forty, felt I should have given her a sex life. I promised it was coming.

 

What event are you most looking forward to?

I have numerous appearances lined up this fall. I am always excited to meet readers and talk about my books, but I especially love my book launches, because I get to invite all my friends, both old ones from my former work life and new ones from my book world. Some of them I rarely see otherwise, so it’s really a reunion. As in past years, I have two launches planned, in Ottawa and Toronto.

 

However, this year I am also really excited to be appearing at the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival for the first time, (Link to the Festival’s website here) with an internationally renowned crime writer whom I greatly admire. The details have not been made public yet, but mystery lovers are going to be thrilled.

 

What’s next?

It’s part of a writer’s life to be juggling multiple writing tasks at the same time. Often we are doing promotional events with one book while doing final editing on the next and writing the first draft of the third. Right now, in between planning book launches and tours for THE TRICKSTER’S LULLABY, I’m also hard at work writing the third Amanda Doucette book. First drafts require a certain momentum to keep going and on track, so I try to write a scene or two every day and hope to have something rough (and always terrible) hammered out before the September book tours start. I am not sure it’s going to happen, which means that I will be taking my draft on the road with me and working on it in airports and hotel rooms.

 

The next book is called PRISONERS OF HOPE, and it is set in Georgian Bay during the late spring. Each book in the Amanda Doucette series takes place in a different iconic location across the country, as part of my homage to Canada. In this book, Amanda is planning a kayaking retreat for her next charity adventure and during an exploratory paddle, she and her tour guide rescue a woman whose boat has swamped. The woman turns out to be a Filipino nanny fleeing from an island mansion where her employer has just died. Each of the Doucette books has a Canadian twist on a global social issue, in this case the plight of foreign temporary workers. But I hope at its heart, it’s mostly a good, thrilling tale.

 

Who came up with the striking cover?

I do love this cover, and many people have commented on it. My publisher, Dundurn Press, allows me a lot of input into the covers. First they ask if I have any vision for the image, colour, or theme. Later they will send me the mock-up for feedback, and they do take my comments seriously. Sometimes the mock-up goes back and forth several times. With THE TRICKSTER’S LULLABY, I wanted the bleakness and danger of the winter wilderness to leap out at people. I combed through the Internet for pictures of blizzards and snowy mountains, collecting several promising photos in the process. But I also came upon the close-up of the Siberian husky and thought what spooky, menacing eyes!  So I sent it along with the landscape photos to the designer, never thinking she’d combine the concepts. She came back with this cover. Perfect first time!

The joys of social media (and connecting with fans online)

Facebook and I have reached a stage of mutual appreciation, but I still don’t know what to make of Twitter. Both are essential tools for getting the word out and, more importantly for me, fostering friendships with readers I meet either through book clubs and appearances or simply online. It takes time to keep up with Facebook and reach out to others, but I gain a lot from the connections and truly cherish my expanded circle of friends around the world. Twitter is much more impersonal and, because it’s just short bursts of information, I never feel much of a connection. I will use Twitter to inform a broad readership and other book business people about an event, review, upcoming release, etc.

 

Another social media site, Goodreads, has now reared its head, and writers are urged to have a presence there. Because it’s designed for and by readers, it’s more difficult for authors to figure out how to use it for promotion, and so I sense another steep learning curve. And more distractions from actual writing. We can’t be everywhere, and we do have to write.

*****

Link to Dundurn’s website for “The Trickster’s Lullaby”

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Major Events Tend to Disturb Quiet Lives |Review of “Tell” by Frances Itani (2014) HarperCollins Canada

Frances Itani will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival

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Major events tend to disturb quiet lives. And while World War I may have occurred 100 years ago, it’s effects on the occupants of  small towns in North America were truly trying and emotional. That is the rich narrative that Frances Itani explores in her wonderful novel Tell.

Pages 9-10

There was no escaping the wind. Gusts blew in off the bay, gusts beat against shirts and trousers and linens pegged to the clothesline. Air pockets were trapped; sheets snapped out furiously. From inside the closed veranda at the rear of the house, Kenan Oak could not shut out the sound.

He closed the outdated newspaper he’d been reading and made an effort to align its edges. Once he folded it along the creases, he’d placed it on top of a neat and growing stack beside his chair. He had read about but had not attended the fall reception in town, nor had he attended the sports dinner or the grand ball – all of which had been held, as editor Calhoun, of the Post, had reported, “to thank Deseronto’s red-blooded manhood for its sacrifices, its heroism and is gallantry on the far-flung battlefield.”

The town had waited until late in the year for the big celebration. “Decorate! Decorate!” Calhoun had urged the town. “Decorate your lawns, decorate your homes, decorate your places of business, decorate your streets, decorate your autos – but decorate.

And people had responded, at least from what Kenan could see from his parlour window. Yes, the town had decorated, and waited until everyone was home – those who were alive to come home. The nearby city of Belleville had sent a brass band for day time events and a orchestra for evening. Kenan, who had lived in Deseronto all his life, felt far-flung indeed, having brought the battlefield home with him. Or so Tress, losing patience one day, had accused. Kenan had come back as a “walking wounded,” but he had not walked out of the house since the day he returned and set foot in it.

Itani’s  works have been on my radar for a while so I was glad to be able to make time to read this book. The story deals with characters from her previous works but the fact that I hadn’t read any of those other books didn’t deter me from enjoying this book. The story felt comfortable while reading, like I was settling myself in so many communities I had experienced in my younger days. Readers are slid comfortable into the lives of  the residents of Deseronto, and witness young Kenan – damaged and disfigured from the war –  try to come to grips with civilian life again. His wife, Tress tries to help him regain that existence and goes often to find advice from her Aunt Maggie. But Maggie and her husband Am have their own bitter past to deal with. Readers easily gain empathy with each of the characters as their pains and emotions are carefully revealed by Itani’s well-crafted words.

Page 171-172

Maggie was impatient. She wanted to work at something, but Am was in the tower. She wanted time alone, wanted to practise her solos. She wasn’t able to sing when he was around, even if he could not be seen. No matter where he was in the apartment, she was aware. He went up and down the ladder with such regularity, she could tell when he was carrying something and when he was not. She was aware of him standing, sitting aware of his shoulder slump, his breathing, his imagined expression, his squinting to see, his sighs over whatever pain he was trying to hold in, his right hand pressed to his lower abdomen. She wondered if he had a problem with his bladder. Dandelion fluid, she said to herself. Sarsaparilla mixOne spoonful before bedtime. But she could not concoct dandelion fluid at this time of year.

She thought she would go to the bedroom to sing, but she heard footsteps above, as if he were deliberately asserting his presence. She could not free herself of the weight of him. She heard him descend the ladder, and suddenly he was in front of her She looked at his face and her body went cold. He was about to speak, but he must not speak. Maggie brushed past, went to the kitchen, busied herself at the table, turned her back. She heard his footsteps on the ladder again as he went up.

The narrative feels like many other classic stories about life in small towns but there is a bit of freshness to the plot. Itani gives us deep emotions like anguish, passion and fear like no other story I have encountered before. Readers sense the tranquility of the town and the order it has but readers are compelled to read on to find out why some of its occupants are truly unhappy and what they plan to do to regain some balance in their lives.

Pages 208-209

He hadn’t forgotten the hard fall during his first skate, and he was determined not to stumble this time. He  reached the ice, tested, felt his blades scratch against the hard surface. He tried to relax, to let go, and surprised himself with a sprint that took him to the far end of the rink. He had not fallen. He had not once looked toward the wall of snow. He couldn’t stand the sight of it.

He stood still after the sprint and considered what to do next. His body would cool quickly if he stayed in one spot. A low wind was blowing in off the bay and he wanted to keep moving. He pushed off again, kept his knees bent, felt his blade carve ice, heard the sound – harsh, familiar, satisfying agins t the night silence. He tried to warm up, move faster. Tried again to let go, drop his weight, allow his legs to prove their strength. He skated the length of the rink, straight up the centre, reached the far end and almost panicked knowing hed have to turn. Then, one foot crossed over the other, right foot over left, and he executed a quick three-step on ice, the dance of the feet, naturally, smoothly, the way hed always done. One of his blades struck an uneven patch, a ridge in the ice, and he went down, but not so hard this time. He sat on his ass and laughed abruptly into the dark.

Frances Itani has told us some interesting tales in her book Tell. The plot reads like a many other beloved stories of small towns coming to grips with a new era, Itani does explore some new thoughts and emotions in a tender way. A great read and a great piece of literature.

 

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada`s website for Tell

Learning a lot from a Young Girl’s Fears | Review of “The Missing” by Melanie Florence (2016) James Lorimer & Company Ltd. Publishers

Melanie Florence will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival

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There are many issues that come to our attention via the news. But it is through a good work of literature that one truly gains some insight and understanding to how a situation affects certainly members of our society. While there has been much discussion and focus on the plight of indigenous women in Canadian society recently, it is a work like Melanie Florence’s The Missing that helps bring understanding and empathy to them.

Page 11

I was outraged and – and terrified for Carli. But given the history of the police with the Aboriginal community, I wasn’t that surprised. Carli was a foster kid. We all knew to the police that equalled a high-risk, unwanted kid who got what she deserved. It made me sick I watched the news. Aboriginal women were going missing or being killed across the country and the police just ignored it and turned a blind eye.

A group of girls passed us in the hallway, talking loudly.

“I heard she was giving blow jobs for twenty bucks down by the river bank,” one girl said, smirking.

“Well, I heard she went down to that rec centre to score drugs. Probably got a bad batch of meth or something,” a tall blonde with a pixie cut cackled to her friends. “Aren’t all those Indians on drugs?” My face coloured and I grabbed Mia’s arm as she lunged towards them.

“We’re not all on drugs, bitch. But we do know how to hunt. Remember that,” Mia yelled at the retreating group.

“I don’t know how to hunt,” I commented dryly.

Mia grunted at me, pushing the hair out of her face and glaring down the hallway at the girls.

“Do you know how to hunt?” I asked Mia, trying to distract her.

Mia glanced back at me and smirked. “Oh shut up. Of course not. I was born in St. Boniface and grew up in Osborne Village. I don’t get back to the rez too often.”

I closed my locker and nudged my friend as the bell rang.

“Come on, Mia. We’re going to be late for English.”

Florence has given detailed insight into the concerns and fears of Indigenous women by documenting not only the actions but the thoughts of her protagonist Feather in this book. Readers witness Feather’s anguish as a school friend is found dead in a nearby river. But that anguish turns to shock as she hears that police have ruled that death a suicide. Then Feather’s best friend Mia disappears. And while Mia’s mom and abusive stepfather label Mia a frequent runaway, Feather knows it is up to her to learn the heart-breaking and bitter truth about what is happening to her friends around her.

Pages 40-41

We didn’t often get to have dinner together as a family anymore. My mom worked a lot of hours. With her usually working late and Kiowa away at school, I often spent dinners in front of the TV or reading in my room. Having all three of us home at once called for a big, home-cooked meal. We all pitched in. I chopped veggies for a salad while Kiowa barbecued steaks. My mom made dessert: home strawberry shortcake that looked delicious.

As we sat around the table and talked about Kiowa’s classes, which neither my mother o=nor me actually understood, I couldn’t help but think again about how different my home life was from Mia’s. We both had single mothers but my mother had focused on raising my brother and me. She worked hard to provide for us, while Mia’s mom paraded one useless boyfriend after another through Mia’s life. Now she had to lock her bedroom door against her creepy molester stepfather. I knew if my mom ever brought home a guy who touched me like that, I could tell her and he’d be gone in a heartbeat. Probably with a black eye.

This led my thoughts back to Carli. She was shuttled from house to house and expected to fit in and not complain. I didn’t know as much about what happened in her foster homes as I’m sure Ben did, but I knew had been with a family who liked to hit their foster kids for any wrongdoing – real or imagined. I had seen her with black eyes and an arm in a cast. That wasn’t even the worst situation she had been in. I couldn’t imagine being Carli, moving from place to place and having to fly under the radar so you don’t make waves. I couldn’t conceive of a home where I didn’t feel safe and secure with people looking out for me. What choice did she have but to find other kids like her and seek a refuge where they could all eat hot meals and not worry about being hurt or touched? It was starting to make sense. Not everyone had someone to talk to or count on. Not everyone had someone who worried about them.

Florence’s prose is direct, simple and frank yet it gives readers insight into the lives of Indigenous women in today’s era. Her descriptions of emotions, thoughts and even the whole mise-en-scene that she gives describing Feather’s world, easily create understanding and empathy with any reader of any age group. This is a book that is simply written but works like a great piece of literature.

Pages 161-162

I hadn’t been down to the river at night before. It was completely different when it was dark. During the day, the Riverwalk was populated with young moms with jogging strollers and tourists with cameras slung around their necks. Couples strolled hand-in-hand along the riverbank on romantic dates. It was a safe place to walk and get some nice views of the city during the day.

But at night, the riverfront came alive with street kids, homeless people, people looking to score drugs and sex workers looking for dates. I felt completely out of place until I remembered that I was in disguise. I walked past a group of kids about my own age, passing a joint back and forth. They nodded at me as I walked by, maybe thinking they knew me from some other night below the overpass.

As I walked toward the bridge, I looked at each person I passed, hoping one would be Mia. It never was. But the sheer number of Aboriginal girls hanging out alone or just with one other girl was mind-boggling. Didn’t they know how dangerous it was for them Hadn’t they read the statistics? I wanted to yell, “Get out of here! We’re four times more likely to be killed than that white girl over there! But I didn’t.

I saw places where the street lights didn’t penetrate the darkness. I was afraid to look too closely after hearing some of the moaning sounds coming from the darkness. There were too many places where someone could hide. Could watch. Could reach out and grab. Far too many places where someone could drag a girl and make it sound like they were on a “date.”

Melanie Florence has given readers a deeper understanding of issues of Indigenous women with her novel The Missing. While the language is simple and frank, it is a read that is enlightening for anybody who reads the book. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Melanie Florence’s website

Link to James Lorimer & Company’s website for “The Missing.”

The Causes and their Effects on our Lives | Review of “The Gallery of Lost Species” by Nina Berkhout (2015) House of Anansi

Nina Berkhout will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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There are a number of things we collect through our lives. Artifacts. Memories. Friends. Thoughts. Ideas. It is what we do with those items as we get older that makes us who we are. And to ponder and reflect on those items we have collected, lost or tossed away can be an interesting thought process for any serious reader of literature to endeavour. And Nina Berkhout has given us something to start our own journeys of personal reflection with her novel The Gallery of Lost Species.

Page 17

Of the four of us, only Viv didn’t have the compulsion to gather objects around her.

You’d think she’d have copied Constance, cluttering her vanity with makeup and costume jewellery, but outside the pageant world. my sister remained unadorned.

She ignored her shelves of trophies and her reams of rosette ribbons. Her room had minimal furnishings and laced decoration other than the jagged mirrors and a dark mound of clothes at the foot of her bed. She didn’t look into the mirrors and draped her sweatshirts over them when she wasn’t practising at the barre. Regularly I peered beneath the fabrics to examine myself, squeezing at the overhang of fat above my waist and striking poses to appear thinner.

Unlike Viv’s Spartan quarters, my room was jammed with books that Henry told me were important to my future education. I read before school and at night and whenever I could in between. I still didn’t get through all the tomes, and the ones I did finish, I couldn’t make sense of.

 Berkhout has divided this book into two sections; the first part where she has her protagonist Edith Walker growing up with her somewhat dysfunctional family and the second part that has her trying to deal with the results of her upbringing as an adult. We see Edith witnessing her overbearing mother drag her sister from beauty competition to competition then Edith must try to deal with her sister’s drug and alcohol abuse later in life. Berkhout has brilliantly documented not only a coming-of-age novel but also shown cause/effect issues which occurs in all people’s complex lives.

Pages 164-165

I found Viv outside the Laff, talking to a guy in a toque whose jeans were so low-riding I wanted to pull them up for him. I called to her from across the street. She pecked him on the cheek and ran over. She was so thin her purse looked like weighed more than she did.

“Garbage head,” she said breathlessly.

“Huh?”

“That guy. He’s a garbage head.”

What’s that?”

“A junkie.”

“You don’t do drugs, then?” I stopped walking and stood in front of her.

“Hell no.”

“I found a pipe in your room once.”

“That’s a lifetime ago.” She turned to keep walking.

I grabbed her wrist. “Promise?”

“Yes. Let go.” She wrenched her arm away. pulling sunglasses from her purse and checking a cellphone.

“How can you afford a cell?” When she didn’t respond. I studied her protruding cheekbones. “Why are you so gaunt?”

“I have a fast metabolism. You know that.”

I didn’t warn her that Liam was staying with me. I needed him to see her as she was now. So he’d be over her once and for all.

When we got home, Viv asked if she could use the shower. I offered to put her clothes in the laundry and I made up the pullout. Then I ran to the pizza place on the corner. By the time I returned, Liam was storming out of the house.

“What the fuck!”

Berkhout is brilliant in the use of her prose in this book. The thoughts and conversations that Edith has are done in such a modern-day tone and feeling that a reader can almost feel as if they were standing by the young woman as she expresses herself. Yet the moments where Edith is quietly contemplating a piece of art or a person’s expression are vivid. Berkhout is not only an expert wordsmith but also a detailed observer of the human condition.

Page 181

The next day at lunch, I dropped the millefiori into my cardigan pocket, grabbed my purse, and roamed through the Canadian galleries. I thought about how Henry likely came here on his lunch breaks too, before his years on night shift. He probably stood in the exact same spot I was standing in now, in front of The Jack Pine by Tom Thomson.

Pictured was a dark green, solitary tree on a rocky shore, its threadbare branches deformed against the yellows, m father’s favourite work. We sold laser reproductions, mugs serviettes, T-shirts, and magnets of it in the gift shop. I bought Liam the Jack Pine hotpot holder after we’d planned to go camping in Algonquin Park, but I never saw him use it.

In the same room was The Tangled Garden. This painting, which soothed my mother all those years ago, had the opposite effect on me. The closer I got to it, the more I felt the tumultuous garden of all summer endings. Where cyclopetals in the shadows, surrounding the viewer in vibrant mayhem. There was no sky, no air. I passed it as quickly as possible, puffing on my inhaler and detouring through the Hirst room on my way back to the office.

Nina Berkhout has not only written an excellent coming-of-age novel with The Gallery of Lost Species but also looks at the effects of the events of youth on a adult. A great read and a notable work of literature.

******

Link to House of Anansi’s website for The Gallery of Lost Species

 

A Coming-of-Age novel Worth Pondering Over | Review of “Life in the Court of Matane” by Eric Dupont – Translated by Peter McCambridge (2015) QC Fiction

A “Thank you” to QC Fiction for sending me a sample of their work!

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It is amazing the amount of baggage of memories we carry with us from our childhoods.  While the incidents may have occurred many decades ago, the simplest thoughts and emotions from that period of our lives still haunt our thoughts and dreams, almost still bringing us to paralysis. But somehow reliving some of memories of other people help up get over our own fears and memories. And one such classic coming-of-age novel is Eric Dupont’s Life in the Court of Mantane.

Pages 9-10

I turned forty recently, the age my grandmother was when I came into the world. This made me wonder how I would react if, on a trip back in time, I happened to come across the little boy I once was. I wonder if he would agree to become my friend  and, especially, if he would let me be his friend. I very much doubt it. In his eyes, I would have all the flaws his parents had – or at least those he would be able to see on the rare occasions we managed to meet, since I work all the time. He would certainly not my appalling propensity, inherited from my father, to suspect others of being as dumb as a stump. Although we might both like the same music. One thing’s for sure: I’d probably get on his nerves, telling him to calm down all the time, insisting that things would work out just fine, that becoming an adult would end many of the torments of childhood. Far from being consoled, he would think I wasn’t taking he troubles seriously. In short, I wonder if we would have much in common. His verbosity would annoy me, I’m sure. Plus, I don’t like people who live in fear, and this boy was, if memory serves, absolutely terrorized three days out of five. He would have a very strong country accent, too. Concerned for his education, I would correct his pronunciation. He would be offended and end up hating me forever. Perhaps it’s for the best that we never did meet.

Dupont documents well the thoughts of a young lad living in the Gaspé region of Quebec in the 1970s. We witness the turmoils and dreams of this boy as he patiently plans his escape from his father and his wife. Readers are literally vaulted between a boy watching Nadia Comaneci’s performance at the Olympic Games to elements of bullying and abuse in the school yard to a odd family home life all in one book.  He must try to not only deal with these elements but try to define them in some manner. And his vivid imagination leads him to bitterly hope to escape one day.

Page 189

For my twelfth birthday, Henry VIII (my father) gave me twelve hens. It was, he said, time for me to take on my responsibilities, and the birds were the perfect way to teach me. Some fathers try to do the same by offering their children a magnificent pony of a gleaming moped to ride, making all the other children instantly envious and proving key to their popularity in the schoolyard. The idea of becoming a teenager while raising poultry left me skeptical, but I was willing to give the king the benefit of the doubt.

When Jewish boys turn thirteen, they celebrate their bar mitzvah, where they are given the world on a silver platter. The world or a condo in Florida, depending on the family’s means.

In our house, it was hens that were given. By the dozen.

He had chosen Rhode Island Reds, perfect for budding poultry farmers looking for high egg returns. Hens of this breed lay somewhere between two hundred fifty and three hundred eggs per year. A phenomenal return. Rhode Island Reds are considered docile and low-maintenance. Now, I’m willing to take the farming brochures at their word, but after my terrible experience with hens in 1982, I swore never to encourage the reproduction of what I still to this day consider to be feathered vermin. The Rhode Island Red is the state bird of Rhode Island. Naturally. It had no say in the matter.

In practice, I think the hens were a roundabout way for the king to put me back in my place.

I know I have said it often enough on this blog but I will state it again. ‘This is a coming-of-age novel that a reader needs to carefully read and ponder over in a quiet space.” Even with the book being set in rural Quebec, there are elements that Dupont brings forward in the plot that are universal in all our experiences growing up during the 1970s and 80s. And reviewing those issues now and reconsidering them sort of helps with the traumas

Page 153

Supper in Saint-Ulric invariably ended with an order from the king or queen. “The dishes.” Staring out at the forest from the kitchen window, my hands in warm soapy water, I wondered who would help my sister do the dishes if I blasted my brains out all over the ceiling. I wasn’t cruel enough to leave my chores to her. “You can dry, Sis! And make sure you wipe off all the sauce stains. Otherwise Anne Boleyn will shout at us again.” Just behind us we could hear the wet sounds of the sovereigns kissing. Their bellies full, they rubbed their moist snouts together. It turned my stomach in the most indescribable way. Nausea.

Life in the Court of Matane by Eric Dupont is certainly a unique coming-of-age novel that documents the emotions of growing up in the 1970s well. A read that is worth pondering over making it definitely a good piece of literature.

******

Link to QC Fiction’s website for Life in the Court of Matane

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