Category Archives: #canlit

On the Quest for a bit of Alone Time. | Review of Michael Harris’ “Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World” (2017) Doubleday Canada

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Since starting my little reading blog here, I have noted that many of my followers crave some quiet down time to read and even think a bit. Yet getting that down time to put their feet up is limited. Well dear followers, here is one more book I have read for you and note for your consideration while you go through your hurly-burly day. And that book is:  Michael Harris’ Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World.

Pages 17-18

Aristotle defined humans as social animals and he was only too right. Making sure other people have positive impressions of us is one of our central motivations. And when we use screen-based social media instead of face-to-face interactions to groom each other, we’re able to be more strategic about that self-presentation. For example, when confronted with a Facebook post about someone’s new job, my lovely but nervous friend Jocelyn may write and rewrite her comment for several minutes before finally landing on the tapioca-scale inoffensiveness of “So happy for you!!!” (If she’s feeling crazy, Jocelyn may add a martini glass emoji.) Unsurprisingly, a 2015 study found that, of the roughly 1.5 billion regular Facebook users, usage spikes among those with social anxiety – in particular, those who have a high need for social assurance. The technology becomes a salve, a way to calm our worries about fitting in or belonging. And with astonishing speed, the compulsion to groom online has been absorbed into our idea of the natural: Only 8 per cent of adults in the United States used social networking sites in 2005. Meanwhile, nearly half of Americans now sleep with their phones on their bedside tables, using them as surrogate teddy bears. To be human is to be social; to be human in the age of screens is to be massively social.

And yet . . . In the same way that many people are forced to engineer healthy diets for themselves in a world overflowing with the salts and sugars and fats we’re designed to hoard, it’s possible that we’re such compulsive social groomers that we must keep ourselves from gobbling the fast-food equivalent. Has social media made us socially obese – gorged on constant connection but never properly nourished?

Has the neocortex – the very thing that made us human, the thing that kickstarted our cities and our politics, our religions and our art – been hijacked one to many times?

I have been reluctant to use the term Zeitgeist for a while but Harris has indeed documented what many of us feel is the “spirit of the times” with this non-fiction book.  Our modern lifestyle demands we be tuned-in to a multitude of devices and online platforms, and if we miss one tweet or post, we will be the social pariah at the conversation around the water cooler or dinner party. So what would happen if we were to totally tune out not only our toys but all of our friends and just be alone with ourselves and our thoughts. Many of us have been tempted to do so but Harris gives the notion some serious and well-researched thought.

Pages 53-54

Physicists like Einstein and Newton are among our most fundamental thinkers, and they were particularly aware of what solitude brings to serious thought. Felicity Mellor, a researcher at Imperial College London, criticizes the new generation of advanced study institutes for emphasizing collaboration and social atmospheres at the expenses of such solitary contemplation. The institutions Mellor studies exhibit what she calls a “near exclusive focus” on communication between scholars and, in their own words, call for “international engagement” and “collaborative research projects.” The Francis Crick Institute, in London, which opened in 2016, is a paradigmatic example: it’s designed with open-plan labs and glass walls to ensure collaboration. The institute’s strategy documents cheers how “how scientists will be drawn together at interaction and collaboration facilities located at the centre of each floor.”

“The need for periods of withdrawal and solitude,” Mellor writes, “are no longer acknowledged as a means of facilitating intellectual advances.” Although every fundamental shift in physics has required a good dose of solitude, “reticence and silence seem to have no place in the modern research agenda.” Peter Higgs, the Nobel Prize-winning godfather of the Hadron Collider, backs Mellor up, saying his trailblazing work would be impossible today because the peace and solitude he enjoyed in the 1960s has vanished. We can only imagine how premature sharing could deflate a unified field theory or mangle an explanation for the origination of gamma rays bursts.

What is true for institutions is also true for individuals. We all have daily proof that moments of aloneness allow for the drifting, unfocused mind to be inspired. Like others, I`m hit by my better ideas firs thing in the morning, even lying in bed, before the world has poured any noise or hassle onto me. A novel thought might strike me in the shower, or while I’m drinking my coffee and fuzzily apprehending the patterns of birds outside. Almost all my writer friends swear by early-morning writing. And the psychiatrist Anthony Storr found the same, sayin that “by far the greater number of new ideas occur during a state of reverie, intermediate between waking and sleeping.” It’s as though the brain is allowed to have its genius moment before our lumbering, bureaucratic ide of thinking puts on a tie and gets in the way.

This is a unique read. It is one I would recommend that a person buys a print-edition of it,  sits down and ponders over it. Harris certainly took time out to research and reflect on the subject on how our interconnectedness is influencing our minds. He not only talked with a myriad of experts on the subject, but brings a wealth of knowledge to the discussion. And then in the final chapter, he documents his attempt at what many of us desire –  some solitude and alone-time.

Pages 215-216 The Cabin in the Woods

By the time I finish this tuna sandwich, I’ll have been alone – completely alone – for longer than I’ve ever been before.

It’s a startling thought. But, sitting here on this rotting deck, and looking out over both the ocean and the last thirty-six years, I find it’s true. Weirdly true. I have never, in my life, been completely alone for longer than twenty-four hours. Always, there was some quiet interaction with the guy making my Americano, at least. Or, if I was stuck in my apartment with the flu, there’d be an email exchange while curled in the nest of my duvet. But there was always some connection, some comfort.

From infancy onward, I have been perpetually witnessed, judged, hugged, chatted-up . . . .

But that changes now.  I’ve taken the ferry from Vancouver to Pender Island, about two hours off the coast of British Columbia. From the docks, I hiked another two hours to my family’s cabin. An old A-frame, built by my grandparents in the days when a parcel of land on an island’s waterfront wasn’t so impossible a thing to purchase. There’s a rope swing from when I was five; it dangles noose-like from one of the trees. A set of rotten steps leads me, muddy and skidding, down to the pebble beach where my brothers and I used to build rafts out of driftwood. We tied logs together with ropes of bull kelp.

The cabin door shunts open and there’s the smell of cedar planks, wet dog, ashes. I tug provisions from my pack: one week’s worth of oatmeal, raisins, tuna fish, canned chili. A paper bag of apples, one for each day.

I’ve come here for a week with myself. I plan not just doubling or tripling my solitude record but stretching it to point where I’m talking to myself.

Michael Harris has both brilliantly documented and done what we all have desperately crave with his book Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World. This is truly a work that must reflected and pondered over. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s webpage for Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World

Link to Michael Harris` 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

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

 

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

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

 

“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