Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Big Brick on the Foundation of Some sort of Enlightenment | Mention of Brick: A Literary Journal’s 100th Edition

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We get bombarded by a flurry of messages at us every day. Most of it is some sort of marketing or attempt sway our thoughts into acting or believing a certain way. It is no wonder that we are totally exhausted by the time we are exhausted trying to filter out what is important and what is garbage to feed our minds with.  But recently I came home to something in my mail that I knew that was going to truly enlightening and engage my mind. And something that I was eagerly awaiting for months now. Yes, my copy of Brick: A Literary Journal – Number 100 came to my doorstep.

Page 9  – Notes from Our Publishers (et al.) Stan Dragland

Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing to be so little reached as with criticism. Only love can grasp and hold and fairly judge them

– Rainer Maria Rilke

Jean McKay and I kept on with Brick until issue 24. We had fun pasting up the magazine, illustrating the essays with pictures and design elements cut out of old books and magazines. I still have a fondness for the strange look of those first twenty-four Bricks. Non-designer that I am, why wouldn’t I? But the writing was always good. We insisted on that. Number 25 was edited by Linda Spalding. Under her, and then a series of other fine editors, Brick evolved into the eclectic international literary magazine it now is – properly designed! A review section graces recent issues. Back to the roots.

I never cared to love works of art and leave it at that. Like so many of the writers I read in Brick, I want love carried into criticism. I believe Rilke would be okay with that, and I`m glad Brick has printed his words in every number for forty years.

It is somehow comforting for me to learn from this edition that while I was learning my ABCs in the hinterland outside of London, Ontario, there was a ragtag team of people nearby trying to bring a smart journal of thought and discussion forward. I always have enjoyed Brick in someway and form since then finally becoming a subscriber a few years ago. The journal always highlights writers I enjoy (Anybody from Don DeLillo to P. K. Page.) But there is always an element mentioned there that gives me a “a-ha” moment too (I loved an interview published a few years ago where a photographer had taken residents of Istanbul out to the sea for the first time and photographed their emotional responses.) When Brick comes in the mail for me, I can always expect a great and fascinating read.

Page 12 Notes from Our Publishers (et al.) Laurie D. Graham

In my lifelong search for work that doesn’t feel like work, I’ve turned up a few winners: teacher of music to the young, backpackers` hostel “employee,” and anything having to do with literary journals. Journals have kept me patchily employed for – I realize with some alarm as I type this – a dozen years now. And I’ve been involved with Brick for seven of those years, which includes this last year and a bit as publisher. That’s closing in on “career” territory! Yet so often the work doesn’t feel anything like work. Instead, it feels like a close relative of writing, in no small part because Brick is made primarily by writers. And to work in the service of writing with other writers is what drew me to this gig in the first place and what keeps me doing it.

The fact that Brick is now on a serious publication but still maintains a belief that it is a hodgepodge mixtures of views and reviews is certainly appealing. Since I have become a serious subscriber seeing noted writer and poet Laurie D. Graham bring her hard work on the journal has been a pleasure.

Page 137 Things I Know Nothing About: Enlightenment by Michael Redhill

After many years on antidepressants, and finding normal unhappiness just out of reach, I decided at last to try enlightenment. My friends had been going on about it for years, but it always struck me as bunk, like Scientology or the novels of Ethan Hawke. However, after multiple courses of psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, yogic stretching, alkaline eating, papaya enemas, and non-stop gin, I began to wonder if my friends weren’t onto something. Apart from the cost of a few seminars, enlightenment was free. There was plenty of it, and once you had it, you had it for life. And the way my friends said they felt! They was plenty of it, and once you had it, you had it for life. And the way my friends said they felt! They were light of heart and in great humour. Some repaired ancient rifts in important relationships while others made quick money in morally forward investments. All reported increased libido as well as thundering orgasms, especially in elevators.

Brick: A Literary Journal has always enlightened my mind after a long day dealing with the baffle-gab of the social media set. It is a pleasure to turn off all electronics and turn the pages of this journal. Kudos to all involved in it`s 100th edition and I am looking forward to the next 100 copies.

******

Link to Brick: A Literary Journal’s website

 

Exploring the Mysteries of the Arctic | Review of “Minds of Winter” by Ed O’Loughlin (2017) House of Anansi

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There is a certain mystery to the human condition. Time and place draws upon our psyche making us act in strange ways. And asking ourselves why we do what we do and why has a certain introspective beauty to it as well. And that is certainly the simple truth that Ed O’Loughlin documents in his complex novel Minds of Winter.

Page 4 North West Territories

They were driving on the sea ice a mile from the shore when a little brown creature ran out in front of them. It was heading out to sea, but the headlights confused it and it dithered in their beam. Nelson stood on the brakes and the car lurched to a stop, throwing Fay against her seat belt.

‘What is it?’ she said. And Nelson, who found he wanted to impress her, got out of the car and stood over the little animal. I had tied to hide under a tongue of drift snow but they could both see it plainly, the size of a hamster, its fur turned grey by the veneer of snow.

Nelson put on his gloves and picked it up.

‘What is it?’ she said again, and he turned and held it up to her.

‘It’s a lemming. They live under the snow.’

She joined him in the funnel of the lights. I’m standing on the open sea, she thought. It’s the Arctic winter, a month of night, and I’m standing on a frozen ocean, and that man is holding a lemming.

The little rodent stopped struggling and sat quiet in Nelson’s palm, its nose twitching, staring at her with tiny black eyes. She reached out her hand then quickly withdrew it.

​’What`s it doing out here on the ice?’

‘I don’t know.’ He turned a full circle, studying the problem. A mile to the south the North American mainland came to its end, a low snow-covered hump on the snow-covered sea. A timber fishing cabin, shuttered for the winter, sat on its edge, the only visible detail. To the north the sea ice stretched off to infinity, its snow carved by wind into motionless ripples. But there was no wind today, just a tremendous cold, silent apart from their idling engine.

I keep forgetting my own rule that good books should be read in quiet, reflective moments and they should be pondered over. As award season came upon us readers, I rushed out to buy this book and began to read it. But as I rushed through the second chapter, I began to have my doubts that book was worth my time. I threw it in my back thinking I would try it later. My week became even more busy and this 474-page volume always was popping up in my way – in my book bag, on my desk, in my bed – and I finally decided to find a quiet few moments and read this book. I am glad that I finally took the time to properly read and admire it.

Pages 66-67 Lancaster Sound 1848

This private letter is intended only for you eyes, and for our friends in Room 38, so I shall not trouble here with any detailed account of the ruin of the North West Passage Expedition. You will find all you need on this point in the papers of Erebus and Terror, which I ordered Captain FitzJames to inter in the cairn at Point Victory after we gave up our ships. I also include with this letter some surplus instruments that I took from the ships and that I believe might be useful to Room 38. It is to be hoped that my whimsical cairn, built of food tins and gravel, will preserve them intact from the cold and the damp. I have little doubt, James, that you will be the first to come and search for us, and thus the first to open my cairn on Beechey Island. Perhaps you are already near, leading the search for your old friends and shipmates. I wish that I could wait for you, but an opportunity is afforded to me to make a great journey, and if I do not seize it now it will not come again.

To explain myself I must begin with a singular event that occurred in April of this year, but of which you will find no mention in the logs of either ship: I was careful to omit it from my own records, and by that time Captain FitzJames, having become as disordered as most of the men, had ceased keeping his own. We had just passed our second winter beset in the ice off King William Land, stores were running low, game could not be found for hunting, and the crews despaired of the ice ever breaking. The men were near mutiny, and disease and scurvy had reduced our numbers to only one hundred. Our ships no longer kept naval watch, except for a few good men who could still be trusted to stay on deck to keep a look-out. thus my boatswain was alone on deck on the evening of April 18th when I heard him hail me as I worked below on my magnetic records.

There are several different narratives that occur in this book but the beauty of the story is the draw of the Arctic to people. There is a lure of exploring the tundra in the cold winter darkness that is almost undefinable. Is there something in our nature that calls to us for the solitude and emptiness of the north? And is that draw fatalistic for us? O’Loughlin’s well-crafted words explore that mysterious concept in rapt detail in several of the stories.

Page 367 Fort McPherson, North West Territories, July 1931

His sisters had made him paddle to bring on his first long canoe trip. He dipped it in the water a few strokes at a time, aping the motions of his mother in the prow. The swarming black flies had driven them from the slack water under the bank and his mother strained against the strong current mid-stream. From time to time, switching sides with her paddle, she would glance back at her son, sat up on their bundle of furs. His efforts with the paddle threw off her rhythm, dripped water on their cargo, but she never complained. This was how he would learn.

It was just past noon and the day was hot. The canoe came around a wooded bend and there at last was Fort McPherson, a few tin and shingle roofs on a ridge above the Peel.  His mother, who had never been this far south before, rested her paddle, looking for a gap in the alders which grew on the riverbank under the ridge.

The sun smoked off the water, and as the canoe turned broadside to the current the child glimpsed a shape in the heat-haze. It might have been a waterbird holding its wings out to dry, or a sail boat with only its upper sails spread, but as his mother started paddling again the shape turned into a raft made of logs lashed with willows. On it stood a man with a long-handled paddle. He was a white man – his blond-brown hair showed this from tow hundred yards away – but he was travelling light; the boy could see a burlap sack tied to his back but there was no gear on the raft, ono pack or rifle, not even an axe.

Ed O`Loughlin has certainly crafted a great piece of literature with Minds of Winter. Readers should not race through this hefty book but appreciate the tones and the mysteries of the human condition that he documents in it. In short a worthy read done in a few reflective moments.

*****

Link to House of Anansi`s website for Minds of Winter

Link to Ed O’Loughlin’s website

A ‘No-Holds Barred’ Reality | Review of “In The Cage” by Kevin Hardcastle (2017) Biblioasis

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There is always this attempt to categorize writing. “This book is meant for men” or “this book is ‘hillbilly’ fiction”are common phrases that litter certain descriptions of types of books which in turn, spook a type of reader away from reading a specific novel. Kevin Hardcastle has dipped deeply into a realm of gritty reality to write In The Cage, and it deserves to be noted as a great piece of literature.

Pages 11-12

At a backwater clinic outside of Medicine Hat a nurse`s assistant with long red hair stitched his eyebrow and then put seventeen stiches through a cut on his shin. She asked him what he was doing with his life and he asked her the same. She was twenty-one years old and her family was American but she had been born on the Canadian side of the forty-ninth parallel under circumstances she didn’t know or wouldn’t tell. She had spent a few years in British Columbia with her older sister until that sister went home to tend to their sick father. She told Daniel that she had come to Alberta for the work, like everybody else, like him. He’d shied from the first stich and she wouldn’t let him get away with it. A man who got punched in the face for a pittance but didn’t like needles. He had no fights in Medicine Hat again but he pulled his stitches and went back and then he started inventing new injuries and fantastical post-operative complaints. Before the first snowfall of that year he had fought twice more and they were married when the cold and bitter winter came and laid that country barren but for houselights burning in the black prairie night over wasted fields and empty roads.

They had a red-haired daughter in that bleak season. Over eight pounds and she kicked and wailed. if he thought he knew what love was, he was wrong. To be love just for being alive. To be loved to the point of desperation for the little space that you took up. That was how he loved the girl and sometimes he could barely look at her because he didn’t know what to do with it.

Hardcastle has a way of documenting the gritty side of the human condition in bold yet lyrical fashion. And this story is so true of his ability.  Readers easily gain empathy for the main character of Daniel, a once-great Mixed Martial Arts fighter who is desperately trying to maintain an existence doing straight jobs in his rural hometown. But as the desperation builds, he turns to a childhood friend for work doing “muscle” to claim unpaid debts. As much as Daniel tries to keep life quiet and normal, desperation pushes him back into violence and anger – a reality for many people on the fringes of society.

Page 169-170

The cruiser came toward the house at a creep. Dust trailing in the dry, spring air. Daniel sat in a wooden chair on the lawn with three cans of beer bound by the plastic tether, the other three rings empty. He sat in cargo shorts and a T-shirt and he wore no shoes. the sun had been out and lately left and now heavy black cloud rode across the northeastern sky. Warm winds across the fields. Daniel waited. The cruiser slowed and went on again. He made out the cop’s face from far away while the cop was still squinting out at him over the steering wheel. The cruiser sidled up to the road’s edge on the far side of the driveway. The constable got out and walked the length of the gravel drive while Daniel worked another can out of the plastics.

“Dan,” the cop said.

“Constable Smith,” Daniel said.

Daniel pitched the beer at him underhand. The cop caught it and looked at it. Still walking. He smirked and pitched the can back. Daniel caught it in his left hand and cracked it and drank before the foam spilled over the lip.

The constable stopped at the edge of the lawn and put his hands on his hips. the man stood about six-foot-three and he’d an athlete’s build just beginning to go to seed under his blues. Square jaw that he’d not shaven in a few days by the loo of it. The cop had played semi-pro hockey as a young man but he’d been a cop longer than any of that now. He looked up at the sky. Both skies.

“Was a nice day, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” Daniel said.

The cop looked at Daniel. At the house.

“Sarah home? Your girl?’

“Just me,” Daniel said. “Am I in trouble or somethin’?”

“If you have anything you’d like to confess to, I’m all ears”

Daniel took a drink.

“No,” he said. “Fuck. I don’t have the time or the means to get in trouble no more.”

The cop nodded.

“You find out what assholes stole my rig?” Daniel said.

“Not yet,” Smith said.

“Well, I won’t hold my breath on that.”

This is one of those books that I would recommend to many teenagers to read because it faces a reality that is so true, yet many a high-school English teacher wouldn’t approve of it because of it’s frank language and scenes. It is a bold book. And it is direct with “no-holds-barred” approach.  Hardcastle has a way of tired and vulgar scenes and make them almost sing. He deserves kudos on his writing style and imagination.

Pages 108-109

He had the truck idling in the roadside gravel, parked so that he could see clear across a small patch of stony field to where the house stood. Modest two-storey building in one of the town’s older neighbourhoods. He observed changes made to the structure, an extension to the garage. A boat on a trailer out front, in its covers. They’d lately built an above ground pool and it took up most of the back yard. There’d been a pool there that they must have had filled.

That had been his father’s house for forty-seven years and then it was Daniels for just five more before he had to sell it so that he didn’t loose it outright. They’d gone bankrupt not long after Daniel had to quit fighting and they only had the house because it had been left to them. Two years of piss-poor welding job that came and went and paid almost nothing had them remortgaging the place and another worse year had them on a second mortgage from the bank. When they sold the house they had credit cards and a line of credit and they were upside down on the mortgage and couldn’t cover it all. They’d paid the bank but were still paying the other creditors, month by month. Daniel had even borrowed from Clayton the once but swore he’d never again, long as it took for him to work that through that debt with his hands before he could start to earn.

He waited awhile longer until he couldn’t stand to look at the place. As he was putting the truck into gear, somebody came out onto the back deck and looked toward him. Shielded their eyes with the flat of their hand. Daniel wound the window down and stuck his fist out, gave them the middle finger. The man on the deck kept looking. Then he waved. Daniel pulled out from the fringe and drove off.

In The Cage by Kevin Hardcastle is a bold and daring book that is one of the memorable ones I read in 2017. He has documented a reality that is rarely spoken about in detail, making this a great piece of literature. Hopefully Hardcastle will continue his writing career with even more works like this.

*****

Link to Biblioasis` website for In The Cage

Link to Kevin Hardcastle’s website

 

 

A Look at my Collection of Books and What I Read.

How I choose what I read and blog about? That is a question that I am often asked about. When I first started blogging, I use to rely on Advance Reading Copies (ARC) that publishers sent me to review books, and I still do on occasion. But the last little while, I have found myself getting more and more first editions books to add to my library. (Yes, there is a library that exists to “The Library of Pacific Tranquility.”)

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It took Anne Logan’s blog post on her collection of ARCs (who was following Evelina’s lead at Avalinah’s Books) to finally make me sit down and sort through my “to read list.”  Oddly enough, there use to be a huge collection of ARCs in that pile but this month’s selection does not include one. There are items in that mess, that I always mean to sit down and read (Ian Hamilton`s collection seems to be always in there >sigh<) There is always a few items in there from past book festivals that I pick up and read eventually (Rick Revelle deserves some attention from me soon. >sigh<) And there is a few favourite writers that I will make time for soon. (Annie Proulx has been there for a little while though >sigh<)

Do note that Kevin Hardcastle’s In The Cage is on top with a bookmark in it. It is my next review for certain. In the side are items I have reviewed but I am eagerly awaiting for signatures to add to my library. Angie Abdou has put a lot of her heart and soul into her last book In Case I Go. And I am eagerly waiting for her reading and signing in few weeks. William Kowalski is a another writer I admire for dealing with the human condition and his self-published The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo is eagerly awaiting a note from his hand. As is Mark Sampson’s The Slip (perhaps awaiting time we meet again over a Bloody Joseph) and his partner Rebecca Rosenblum’s In Case I Go (she keeps bypassing towns and events that I am attending.) JonArno Lawson’s wit is also awaiting his signature (along with his talented illustrator Alec Demptser) in The Hobo’s Crowbar.

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And here is a snapshot of some of my library’s autographed works. There have been many a friend who has wished to peruse this collection but I tend to guard them VERY CAREFULLY.

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Finally, here is a snapshot of the big mess that is sitting beside my chair. There are items I have collected over the years. They have been sorted and pilfered through on too numerous occasions. So are items that are too, waiting to be signed and moved over to the better shelf. Just not today. >sigh<

I should also mention the two items that are in production. In a back issue of Canadian Notes and Queries, I found a review of Stanley J. Slote’s Weeding Library Collections. I am eagerly awaiting a copy of that book from a dealer in Ohio. Also in production is Brick Literary Magazine’s 100 edition which the noted literary team has been working on for a while.

Well that is it for this blog piece. While it has been an obligatory piece that other bloggers have been writing about, it has certainly been a good mind exercise for me.

A Bit of a Laugh, A Bit of a Think |Review of Will Ferguson’s “The Shoe on the Roof” (2017) Simon and Schuster Canada

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For many of us who read, we have to admit we have problems grasping the way the world around us works. Is there something wrong with our minds when we do something foolish or make people around us shake their heads? And when everything in our lives – relationships, jobs, family, health – seems to build into one unsurmountable crisis after another, do we hang our hang our heads and surrender to the evils of the world. Or do we read in order to better understand ourselves and try to deal with those issues.  Of course we do. But what happens when we encounter a novel in which the plot makes us truly question our take on the reality of our realities? Hmmm. So how should we really take Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof?

Page 3 Chapter One

The one almighty fact about love affairs is that they end. How they end and why, although of crucial interest – indeed, agony – the participants, is less important than that they end. Marriages might linger like a chest cold, and there are friendships that plod along simply because we forget to cancel the subscription. But when love affairs collapse, they do so suddenly: they drop like swollen mangoes, they shatter like saucers, they drown in the undertow, they fall apart like a wasp’s nest in winter. They end.

Thomas knew this, and yet . . .

Will Ferguson’s prose always seems to have these elements of profound thoughts that all-of-a-sudden end with phrase that comes across like a dull thud. And this book is filled with such sections. The story deals with Thomas Rosanoff. He spent his younger life as a test subject for his father’s psychiatric tests which was the subject for a best-selling book. Now younger Thomas tries to escape that shadow that being ‘the boy in the box’ by trying his own hand at medical studies. But when his girlfriend ends their relationship, he decides to try his own hand at researching cures by bring in three homeless men who claim they are the living embodiment of Jesus Christ. But as things slide further and further into chaos for poor Thomas, he finds he must not only clean up the mess he has created but also deal with the voices inside his own head.

Pages 109-110 Chapter Seventeen

Is identity immutable? Or is it malleable? Is it transitory and temporary – something to be donned or discarded at whim – or is it woven into our DNA? Does it even exist? Perhaps identity is simply an agreed-upon fiction, a conglomerate of traits.

Thomas knew full well that the defining characteristic of our interconnected online age isn’t anonymity but reinvention. You don’t cloak who you are: you change who you are. In the either/or of binary equations, you can hide in plain sight, can dress yourself in layers: a dance of the seven veils in reverse. You can even claim the identity of someone else entirely. Your father`s say.

Two weeks, top. That was how much time Thomas figured he would need. A provisional custody order (one month, on review) would be more that sufficient. How much time do you need to jolt someone out of a falsely held identity?

He was equally sure that the request would go through without a ripple. Why wouldn’t it? It wasn’t as though people were constantly stealing mental patients. Far from it. Hospitals were always looking for people to take custody of intractable cases – family, relatives, halfway homes, community groups. It was a matter of paperwork, of filling in the right forms, clicking on the right boxes. No one would step back to look at the larger picture. No one would ask why a patient was being released into the care of one Thomas Aaron Ronsanoff.

Like Ferguson’s previous works, there are moments of profound insights while chaos and hilarity ensues. There are no deep truths however, more of a realization and a matter-of-fact observations about the human condition. In short, of moments of ‘hmm’ and `ah-hah’ that a reader will note before a page is turned.

Page 360

Outside in the dusty heat of summer, a city bus rattled past smokestacks and warehouses, straining uphill and then fighting its own momentum on the way down. (He) was inside, dressed in factory blues, toolbox on his lap.

The driver looked at him in the bus’s rearview mirror. “You seem familiar. Do I know you?”

“Maybe,” (He) said softly. “I used to be somebody.”

And the bus trundled into the haze.

But there is a serious note of truth in this fiction. The scenes have a sense of familiarity to them as do many of the situations that poor Thomas finds himself in. This is a good read for sure. One that makes anybody laugh and think at almost the same time.

Page 369 Acknowledgements

This book began with a story my mother told me. My mom, Lorna Louse Bell, worked as a psychiatric nurse at the Weyburn Mental Hospital in the 1950s under Dr.Humphry Osmond. She often spoke about her time at Weyburn and the stories she shared with us were, by turn unsettling, heartbreaking, occasionally uplifting, and at times inspiring . . . Although inspired by these stories, The Shoe on the Roof remains a work of fiction.

So I have to admit that Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof is certainly a unique and enjoyable read. Like Ferguson’s previous work there are certainly moments of profound insights followed by serious, simple thuds of truths. In short, a good read.

*****

Link to Simon and Schuster Canada’s website for The Shoe of the Roof

Link to Will Ferguson`s website

Making Us Think about History Again | Review of “Lost In September” (2017) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

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Amidst the celebrations around surrounding Canada’s 150th year since Confederation, there was some serious soul-searching about some of the ‘treasured’ events many of us were told were important historical dates in relation to our country. Were many of those dates really just as important and even positive events as our history teachers wanted us to believe? Talented novelist Kathleen Winter has taken a look at one such event and built a narrative around it (making many of us readers ponder history a bit more carefully) in her latest work Lost In September.

Pages 64-65

“Sophie, I need to talk about today. . . . I was thinking on the bus. . . .”

“Hang on!” She’s lit Facebook-blue. this is far from the kind of listening my mother provided, but it’s all I have.

I can’t always recall what happened in combat at Dettingen or in Culloden or at Quebec or anywhere else. Events have become entangled: all my wars now transpire in a single battlefield during one timeless period – darkness cut with spears of flame in whose light any instant of my soldiering might have played out. Sophie is supposed to help me disentangle the years. That has been our arrangement, from our first September to this one.

“Please?”

“Okay, shoot.”

“On the busy today I remembered flames, fire, all the times I made things burn, or made people burn, or when other people burnt things. . . . ~

“Forget about what other people burnt.”

“I never burnt anyone on purpose.”

“Okay.”

“Did I? Not directly . . .”

“You burnt people indirectly?”

“I see them scream and burn – but – I was not barbaric.”

“Weren’t you?”

“The enemy were the barbaric fiends”

“Which enemy?”

The answer to this is always hard to remember.

We all have heard some variation on the line `that ​those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.` But what if we muddle our history. We were all exposed to that infamous painting of General James Wolfe dying on the Plains of Abraham after defeating the French troops. But when we saw that painting in our history textbooks, did we read the story surrounding that battle with consideration or were we good little students and turn the page without giving the incident a second thought? Winter has done something unique here by bringing a version of “General Wolfe” to the streets of present-day Montreal and allowed his thoughts run amok by what he sees and what he thinks.

Page 147-148

I met a rugby coach on the train during my failed attempt to reach Quebec City last autumn, and he said, “I have a riddle for you: What’s worse than losing the championship game?”

“Winning the game,” I said, “is far more injurious to the soul.”

He looked at me anew, taking in my facsimile coat and hat. “Aye,” he said, “I guess a soldier would know.” He proceeded to recount to me the mountains of dolour and grief from which he had to dig his rugby players each season they were victorious. “They get depressed,” he said. “They get to asking what it’s all for. Some of the best hang their cleats up for good and I can’t stop ’em. It’s all I can do not to pack it all in myself and go on the beer.”

“My favourite poem is about that very thing,” I said.

“Favourite what?” He looked the way some people’s faces turn at the mention of coriander, or asafoetida, or even excrement.

I hauled from my pocket the page of my beloved poem, torn from a library copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. He found it incomprehensible. He was a lout, really. He completely failed to understand . I found the man so dispiriting I bailed out the TroisRivières station and caught a Greyhound back to Montreal where Sophie sent to the Mission, having rented my spot to a Cirque du Soleil trapeze artist who’d injured a meniscus.

There is something unique in the story line that Winter has created here. Our concept of history is muddled and confusing and that is what she has shown us here with this narrative. Would our forbearers -many of whom died for their ideals  – be truly impressed with the world around us today? Winter has given us something to ponder over as we read this book.

Page 174-175

A rack near the door has yesterday’s paper languishing on its bottom shelf. I sift through it as I eat, looking to see if anything of importance has happened in the world, but someone has torn half the pages out. Still, what remains is hardly inspiring.

If I had to name my greatest disappointment regarding New French Britain, I might have to say it’s the inconsequential drivel I read in papers purportedly published by the country`s learned set.

***

It’s the same with what I overhear in the streets. I eavesdrop on Montreal hoping I might hear its civilians discuss the latest findings in astronomy, or new perspectives on ancient philosophy, but they bleat the same small-talk I could neither abide nor understand in London of 1752: sports, weather, insipid flotsam sent on the wind by the latest political scandal – details petty and trivial and numerous as Sophie’s froth-flecks on her painted walrus’s sea, ephemeral. You’d think it all the most weighted precious stones, the way people bleat on. this fills me with chagrin and always has done.

Kathleen Winter has certainly made readers ponder over history just a bit with her book Lost in September. It is certainly a unique read and thoughtful book, but definitely a good piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin-Random House Canada’s website for Lost in September

Link to Kathleen Winter’s LiveJournal site

A Lyrical Literary Work | Review of “Deer Life: A Fairy Tale” (2017) Dundurn

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We often confuse ‘being lyrical’ with the creation of song lyrics. But the term should be used for any sort of narrative that flows together in a enthusiastic manner. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that when a song writer and performer like Ron Sexsmith pens a fairy tale, it will flow together like his many songs. Hence his book, Deer Life, is quite an enjoyable read.

Page 11-12

They’d only been walking a few hours when they saw the light of an inn just up ahead. Their  shadows were practically there. Eleanoir and her dog, Jupiter, had found the last town to be a tad unfriendly, even more so than the town before and the town before that – although at first glance, it would be hard to imagine how anyone could take a dislike to either one of them. Eleanoir, for example, was strangely beautiful. (Well, in a frozen lake sort of way, I suppose.) And in keeping with this metaphor, there was never any way of knowing the cold thoughts that swam beneath the surface of her eyes, but then she liked it that way.

As for Jupiter? He was a hybrid, to say the least. Part wolf, part husky, with eyes like frosted windows through which a vague sense of helplessness and other humanlike emotions struggled to see out of. Though at a glance he appeared as loyal as the day or his were long. And as far as anyone could tell, this coldly attractive woman was quite possibly his best and only friend. For when you`re a dog, one friend is oft times all you get. . .

It was  fun to suspend belief from the drudgery of the real world and enter the world of forest, fields, taverns and towns that Sexsmith has created here. And while we have a story filled with witches whose eyes glow a hypnotic purple and boys who are transformed into animals, we are also given a tale of bullying, revenge, hope and dreams. In short there are mystical and magical parts to this story, but there is also some important moral lessons being parted as well.

Page 47

As you can imagine, the events of the last day had taken our young Hedlight completely by surprise. He had hoped the hunting trip would change him somehow for the better, but this was an entirely different animal. A deer, to be precise! He would spend most of the first morning checking himself out in various puddles and streams while exploring the limits and potential advantages of his new found anatomy. The shock of his current reality was matched only by his sudden desire to nibble on twigs, fallen leaves, and other bits of shrubbery that a day earlier would not have appealed to him in the least. When he wasn’t busy doing that, he passed the time mostly worrying about his mother. For how was she to know what became of him? Not knowing would surely break her heart. He thought a great deal about the witch, too, for obvious reasons. He heard all the stories as a boy but never believed for a second they could even remotely be true. He wondered, also, if this spell was something he might just snap out of someday. But whenever he thought of that poor dog, it made him think, perhaps, he had got just what he deserved.

While this book is a small volume, it is certainly a unique one on very many levels. Its wording was simple, magical and entrancing. It was exactly like slipping away from our world for a short while and engaging in a more interesting place. I wouldn’t want to be reading stories like this all the time, but it was a pleasure to engage in at this time in my life.

Page 52

After a long day’s journey, it came as a welcome sight to happen upon The Willow Tree just as nightfall descended. Maggie and her two travelling companions (whose names, incidentally, were Griff and Gruff) had plenty of time to get acquainted as they searched in vain for any sign of Deryn. And because the twins were men of few words and possibly even fewer thoughts, Maggie wound up doing most of the talking, which was completely agreeable to her. “Oh, I know this place!” she said, smiling upward at the faded sign. “My husband once stayed here on his way home from Hixenbaugh! If I’m not mistaken, he’d come from visiting a friend there who’d opened a bookshop. At least I think it was a bookshop,” she concluded, before floating on the river of precious memories.”

Ron Sexsmith has certainly given an interesting and unique fairy tale with Deer Life. It is refreshing to see lyrical skills from a musical artist being used in a literary form. Hopefully this won’t be his last attempt at the written word.

*****

Link to Dundurn Press’s website for Deer Life

Link to Ron Sexsmith’s website

The Continuing Lessons of Amanda Doucette | Review of “The Trickster’s Lullaby” by Barbara Fradkin (2017) Dundurn

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Fans of Barbara Fradkin cannot say enough good things about her works. Her books do hold enough of suspense to keep any reader reading, but she also uses just the right amount of details of issues that face society to both enlighten and entertain any type of reader. And that is certainly true of her latest work The Trickster’s Lullaby.

Chapter One  – Page 8

The stranger who hammered on the door made no apologies or introductions. She stood in the doorway, braced against the cold, her breath swirling in the frosty air.

“Amanda Doucette?” she demanded.

At her tone, Amanda stepped back warily. Dressed in a frayed navy park with a red cloche hat and matching mittens, the woman looked harmless enough, but her tone held an edge of desperation. From her years in international aid work, Amanda knew desperation could make people dangerous. She was alone, and even in this quiet country cottage in the backwoods of Quebec, trouble could still find her.

“Are you Amanda Doucette?” the woman repeated, even more sharply this time. A faint Québécois inflection was now audible in her speech.

Amanda glanced at the small Honda parked in the snowy drive. The car had once been white, but layers of salt and rust gave it a mottled look. One headlight was broken and the fender was dented. Like its owner, it looked battered by time. She softened.

This is the second installment of where Barbara Fradkin has sent out her protagonist Amanda Doucette into danger and given readers  a suspenseful tale. (Link to my review of the first Amanda Doucette novel Fire in the Stars) Here, Doucette has organized a winter camping trip for a group of inner-city youth but things turn bitterly wrong when two of the students disappear and a local farmer is found dead. As the search frantically continues, the suggestion of a terrorism arises, bringing Doucette and her group of associates into a bigger realm of danger.

Page 106-107

Sebastien had wanted to return to the base camp to monitor his sat phone for calls from the police, but Amanda had persuaded him that he could answer the phone just as easily from toboggan hill. He flung himself into the spirit, but as evening approached, Amanda grew increasingly restless. She hated being out of the loop. She had made the missing persons report to the police station in Rawdon hours ago but had sensed from their doubtful questions that they suspected Luc was just sic of winter camping. There had been no follow-up call or news about the body. No call from Sebastien’s police friend Danny or from the officer in charge of the death investigation. And now – damn him – no call from Matthew Goderich, who had promised to call her back with more news on Luc’s mother and an update on his sleuthing.

Even while enjoying the fun, Amanda kept a watchful eye on the group. It seemed unlikely they knew anything about the mystery body, but she was less sure about their innocence when it came to Luc. Had he and Hassan really been arguing the night he disappeared? Did Zidane, who’d been so quick to dismiss any concern, know something he was keeping secret? But of all the students, it was Yasmina who seemed distracted and unpredictable, laughing wildly when the toboggan crashed and staring off into space halfway back up the hill.

They were strapping on their skis in preparation for the trip back to camp when Amanda heard the dim ringing of a phone. She snapped her head up and watched Sebastien’s face as he answered. She saw his disappointment and his glance in her direction before he held out the phone to her.

 

Fradkin’s experience as a psychologist has no doubt given her insight to the darkness of humanity and it shows in her writing. But she also adds day-to-day concerns and fears that we all have (i.e. Am I sacrificing to much for my career? What about my love life?etc.) that gives a careful reader pause to consider in their own lives. And Fradkin has a nice clear style of writing that makes this book truly enjoyable, especially at the end of long, busy day that we all seem to suffer from.

Page 228

Freaked out by the bloody knife and the clear evidence of danger, Sylvie wanted to go back to town immediately, but Amanda persuaded her to let her assess the situation first. After wrapping the knife in a scarf for safekeeping, she put Kaylee on a leash and examined the bloodstained snow.

Among the trampled footprints, she found more blood kicked under in the scuffle, creating pink washes in the snow. It looked as if a fight had taken place, but the area was so churned up that it was difficult to say how many people were involved. However, on the periphery, a single set of snowshoes led away northward into the bush.

Kaylee was straining at the leash, trying to pull her along the lone snowshoe trail. Amanda followed carefully, studying the ground. At first there was nothing, but about twenty feet out, another small pink wash marred the snow. Then more, larger and more frequent. The heavy clothing must have absorbed the blood at first, but now it was leaking out faster.

Her adrenaline spiked. It was what she feared. This lone snowshoer was injured and had fled into the bush, perhaps without a plan or a direction in mind.

Barbara Fradkin has certainly given us readers not only a suspenseful novel with The Trickster’s Lullaby but one that is enlightening as well. Well and simply written, it is truly a great read.

*****

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

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

Link to my Q&A with Barbara Fradkin about The Trickster’s Lullaby |“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.”

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

forest

 

Giving Readers Much More than a Classic Read | Review of “Take Us To Your Chief” by Drew Hayden Taylor (2013) Douglas & McIntyre

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We tend to compartmentalize both people and works of fiction into different areas. People tend to come from a certain social group and books tend to belong to a specific genre that follow a certain stylistic guideline. But when those rules are broken – people enlighten us about their society and write in a genre that break the norms  that make up that collection of fiction –  there is a certain element of enlightenment that occurs within the readers of that work. Drew Hayden Taylor may have been thinking what would classic science-fiction themes be like through the eyes of the Indigenous community members but he has added some thought to the greater discussions of the human condition with his collection of short stories called Take Us to Your Chief.

Page 14  – A Culturally Inappropriate Armageddon

“But you never go on the air!”

“I do when Earth is welcoming aliens from . . .” The news crawl at the bottom of the television screen revealed the ship had come from the direction of the Pleiades cluster. “Pleiades . . . Where the hell is that? Sounds Greek. Besides our news announcer hasn’t shown up today. He’s probably at home watching this. I guess he’d prefer to watch history rather than be a part of it. And where is Pat? I need him to write me up some copy.”

Emily was on fire now. There had been rumblings from the board about the station taking a new direction, exploring different options. Emily knew this was just board-speak for getting a new station manager. She had rolled with all the new technologies over the years that had transformed the once small and humble radio station into a slightly larger organization, one of the only independent broadcasters left in the province. After twenty-seven years with her at the helm, maybe those fine listeners who owned the smoke shacks, gas stations and an arts and crafts store felt the pot known as C-RES needed to be stirred a bit. Emily was desperate to keep this job she loved and hated at the same time. This just might be the way.

“Come on, work with me. Can we give this thing an Aboriginal spin?”

This book does something more profound that give us a collection of sci-fi stories.  The stories have the classic element of any science-fiction story (Aliens, possessed toys, artificial intelligence, governmental control mechanisms) but by adding Indigenous themes to these stories, there are some new truths and ideas that come forward to us non-Indigenous readers. These may be simple stories but they do what great literature should do.

Page 44 I am . . . I am

Chambers and King were not close friends; they seldom socialized outside the office. Instead, they found their professional relationship quite suitable. Respect was perhaps the best word to describe the affiliation. Still, he was not particularly happy to see her in his office confessing something he had theorized less than a week ago. Such a rapid turnaround in beliefs was difficult to deal with.

Chambers took a deep breath. “Yeah, I did the SDDPP isn’t the only one that can grow and learn from its mistakes. ”

“The AI . . . how is it depressed?”

Putting her elbows on her knees, Chambers leaned forward to do her best to explain the situation. “It’s depressed over the desolation and destruction of Indigenous people all across the world.” It took a moment for her statement to sink in. She could see the furrows in King’s brow developing. “I think it wanted to be Native. And it didn’t like how the story ended.”

The style of the book is direct and to-the-point. There is no flowery prose or excess descriptive wording. The plot moves to it’s climax – either unwelcoming or shocking or unassuming – and it is down. A new reality exists for the protagonists – simple and shocking. But in getting to that point there are a lot of idea that thoughts to consider, and empathy comes easily for many characters by any reader.

Pages vii-viii Forward by Drew Hayden Taylor

A million years ago when I was a child, I was always fascinated by what could be. I think this was primarily because I was surrounded by what is what was. As a Native person, I was constantly and importantly made aware of our heritage, our culture, everything from the past that made us unique and special. Also I was conscious of the fact that, technologically speaking, we were at a bit of a disadvantage compared to those who showed up one day for dinner and never left.  I clearly remember the first time I was television, played with a computer, got an electric toothbrush, etc. Darn clever, those white people Native people constantly wonder at the clever innovations and devices the dominant culture feels the need to create – everything from vibrators to nuclear bombs.

Admittedly, First Nations and science fiction don’t usually go together. In fact, they could be considered rather unusual topics to mention in the same sentence, much like fish and bicycles. As genre fiction goes. they are practically strangers, except for maybe the occasional parallel universe story. Many would argue that Native people are not known for their space-travelling abilities. Nor their mastery and innovation of that aforementioned modern and world-altering technology. We may have known what to do with every part of a buffalo, but how to cannibalize and utilize the parts from an Apple laptop to make a pair of moccasins . . .  the less said the better.

Drew Hayden Taylor has done certainly something unique and brilliant with his collection of science fiction short stories called Take Us To Your Chief. He has given an interesting insight to the human condition by exploring Native perspective to classical science fiction themes. In short, he has given us all a great piece of literature for all of us to ponder over.

*****

Link to Drew Hayden Taylor’s website

Link to Douglas & McIntyre’s website for Take Us To Your Chief