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Getting Caught into Watching Television | Review of “Caught” by Lisa Moore (2013) House of Anansi

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There is something engaging when we read a book and then watch a movie or a television show based on that book. Many of us readers do enjoy comparing and contrasting the plot lines from the two medium. And as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prepares to air the latest production that comes from a work of fiction – Lisa Moore’s Caught – many of us readers are already familiar with the book and are keen to see it come to the screen.

Page 21 A Room with a View

Slaney walked up the wheelchair ramp that let to the side entrance of the bar. From there he had a view of rows of cabbages and fields of hay. The clouds tumbled backwards in folds and billows all the way to the horizon.

The door was held open a crack with a stone and it was very dark inside and stank of beer and cigarettes. Someone had been smoking weed. There was a yellow cone of light over the pool table at the far end of the room.

The bartender was a scrawny woman with long silver braids tied at the ends with read glass bobbles. Her skin was tanned dark and her eyes were pale blue. She ware bibbed overalls and had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the cuff of her white T-shirt. Two pairs of eyeglasses hung from chains around her neck. She was emptying ashtrays form the night before.

If you’re here fro the dart tournament it was yesterday, she said.

Harold sent me, Slaney said. He said maybe there was a room I could crash.

Harold say anything about child support for his three youngsters by two different  mothers? The woman asked.

He never mentioned, Slaney said. She reached under the bar and shoved some things around on a shelf and came back up with a key on a wooden fob. She sent it sliding down the bar toward him.

There is something direct and bold in the story that Moore created in the story of David Slaney and his escape from prison in June 1978, but there is also something about the human condition that she has brought forward here. Yes, we get antics of a man on the run but at times we get the thoughts, fears, longings, hurt,  and other deep emotions that many of us endure in our day-to-day lives. It is going to be interesting to see if viewers of the TV show will empathize with Slaney and readers did with the book.

Page 109 Jennifer, Juniper

Before the first trip, they’d had their big goodbye on the sidewalk outside Jennifer’s Gower Street apartment, the Jamaican flag hanging in the upstairs window, sopping K-Mart flyers out the mailbox, her tears wet on his neck while she held him.

Jennifer had thought Alberta, not Columbia. Slaney had said he was going to Alberta for work and as soon as he landed a job he’d send for her and Crystal. He’d have a nice house set up for them he’d buy them everything they’d ever wanted, all the furniture and clothes and toys they could imagine. Jennifer wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore.

Slaney had bent down by the stroller and pulled out Crystal’s pacifier and kissed her and stuck it back in before she had a chance to scream for it. And Jennifer stood there on the sidewalk, one hand on the stroller, pulling it back and forth, waving with the other. She kept waving until the car had disappeared around the corner.

Moore’s descriptions in any of her works are vivid and direct and that is true of this book too. Any reader can visualize any scene or any emotion easily. And the story is bold yet unique. One can feel empathy for Slaney no matter what the situation that he finds himself in to be. In any case the book is a good read and the show should easily mirror the book’s great qualities as well.

Page 147 Skills

After four weeks and five days at the Mansonville cabin Slaney’s new passport was ready. He went to the office and picked it up, along with the driver’s licence and the birth certificate he’d mailed in, and then headed to the rain station and bought a tiecket.

The formality of the photography studio and the blast of the flashbulb had rendered an unfamiliar look in his passport photo. It was an odd angle. Something, perhaps the false name, made Slaney feel like he was not himself.

The large white umbrella in the studio had been set up to bounce light and there was the need to be unsmiling. There was a look of bafflement.

Bafflement is a precursor to wisdom, was that the picture made him think. The picture looked like someone who would have to wise up. They were embarking on the next adventure. They were going to be rich. Look out, world. The guy in the photograph was him and was not him.

The picture said, Look out.

Or it said: Bon voyage.

While it should be an interesting show, most book-fans will be eager to make comparisons to it and Lisa Moore’s book Caught. The book is bold and a unique read, which the show should be able to follow in it’s own right.

*****

Link to House of Anansi’s webpage for Caught

Link to the CBC’s website for the television series Caught

 

RIP William Whitehead | MT of “Words To Live By” by William Whitehead (2012) Cormorant Books

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I have been thinking recently that there is something missing in a lot of our cultural products these days. While there is passion and drive in a lot of what we read and view, there seems to be a level of dedication to craft something for people to ponder and reflect over. This thought really became apparent to me when I learned of the passing of William Whitehead. “Bill” had been a small fixture to many of cultural items I remember from my youth – from the number of Nature of Things documentaries he wrote for to being loving partner to noted Canadian writer Timothy Findley. And his 2012 biography Words to Live By documented his dedication to his crafts and his loves.

Blurb – Back dustjacket

So – who is William Whitehead?

You probably know who Timothy Findley was – an internationally renowned writer know to friends and family by the initials of his full name: Timothy Irving Frederick Findley – Tiff. And if you ever attended one of his public appearances – a reading, a talk, a book signing – you may have noticed someone hovering nearby: someone tall, with a big smile, brown hair and eyes, carrying a bit too much weight and wearing a pen on a cord around his neck.

That was me.

While I had the pleasure of meeting Bill a few years ago, I had often seen him at Findley’s public events always giving a hand or a nudge when needed. But his dedication to life in general shone through in biography. Yes, he was “the guy” in Findley’s life but when I read his book, I realized how many documentaries and shows I had witnessed that Bill had been involved with. His work had influenced me, even when I never even noticed his name on the credits.

Words and Pictures  – Page 179

Another of the writer’s jobs was to devise a title, something I enjoyed. For a Nature of Things on the relationship of bodily fluids to the salt was from which we evolved, I suggested “Blood, Sea and Tears.” For a series on the uncertainties of youth employment” “Future Tense.” Once, when I was asked to write a script for a short film on the creation of soundtracks for dramatic films, I turned the job down, telling the producer that his documentary didn’t need a script. He was appalled. “But how will the audience be able to understand what’s going on?” I explained. Most of the film was split screen – half showing the dramatic action and half displaying the sound man creating the final soundtrack: coconut shells on sawdust-filled pads for hoof beats, smashing a cabbage onto a table for a blow to the head, etc. Then I said, “Look. Instead of hiring me to write a script, how would it be if I simply gave you a title and a subtitle, free of charge?” He was puzzled, until I told him what I had in mind: Track Stars: The Unseen Heroes of Movie Sound.

The unscripted film won a nice award – and certainly not because of the title alone. It was a good piece of work.

But, of course, Bill was involved with Findley and played an important role in his life and his work. In this book, Bill documented his relationship well, talking about the good times and the bad. More importantly he showed us that love – not matter who that person is – must be endured, and the reward for that endurance is a trust and companionship that comforts our existence through this life.

Words To Die For – Pages 214 – 215

As every successful writer knows, he is expected to do much more than just write the words. He must also help to sell them. this means weeks on the road, or on the water or in the air – living in hotels, rushing from interview to interview, often sacrificing lunch or – even worse -trying to answer an interviewer’s questions while also trying to take in some food.

The wors book tour for Tiff was in 1990, for Inside Memory. Nine solid weeks, with only one day free of travel or publicity work. Tiff had to go to an emergency ward in Halifax to deal with exhaustion and the flu. By the time we reached Vancouver, he was again close to collapse. At that emergency ward, the doctor – seeing me – suspected AIDS. While the blood test was being analyzed, he directed us to stand by in the waiting room. When he appeared, he looked grimly at Tiff – and suggested that it might be a good idea if I came along as well. This immediately signalled to us that what we were about to hear was dire.

It wasn’t. the results of the test were negative. Tiff could see that I was ready to explode with accusations centring on “Then why the hell did your attitude imply the reverse!” And he hurried us out of the room.

I began to wonder, though – were Tiff’s beloved words slowly killing him?

Bill has had a rich life in which he created – directly or indirectly –  some wonderful items for many of us to enjoy and learn from. There is a dedication he gave to his existence that was both light-hearted yet engrossing that feels unique and somehow missing from others as we regard their biographies.

Words To Die For  – Page 247

Will there be sun for me tomorrow?

I hope so. I’ve had the most wonderful life. Glorious people, fabulous place and more love and laughter than can be imagined. It’s hard to express how grateful I am for my life: grateful for everything, but not grateful to anything. I’ve never felt the need to imagine some all-powerful being who is responsible for creating everything I know and love. Many have been imagined. I view the various divinities that are worshipped in different ways by different groups, the various eternal paradises that are promised, as wishful thinking. I hope that all such worshipper will allow me to find my own way out of this life in much the same way I found my way into it: innocent of knowledge about how, where, when and why everything I know came into being.

I had shared the news of Bill’s passing on a few social-media fronts and there were many comments back of sadness and discussion threads about his life. But his autobiography is a testament of his life and his unique contributions to lives and loves around him. I encourage people to read William Whitehead’s Words To Live By and to consider and cherish his existence. As I cherish his book on my bookshelf.

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*****

Link to Cormorant Books webpage for Words To Live By

“One big inspiration (of the book) was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it, which involved having good friends you’d live close to and share life with as well as access to art and fewer cars and concerns” |Q&A with author Liz Harmer on her new book “The Amateurs”

 

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It is always a thrill to see a new work come available for us readers to enjoy. Liz Harmer has been in my social-media network for a while now and her novel “The Amateurs” is being published on April 24, 2018by Knopf Canada. Liz was kind enough to answer a few questions about her novel and provide some insights into her writing style.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “The Amateurs?”

At the centre of The Amateurs is “port”, a product released by a tech company called PINA, which proves to be nearly irresistible. People buy it, use it, and soon the world depopulates. The novel focuses on two groups living after this kind of rapturing apocalypse—a few dozen people living in Hamilton-like former steeltown, and nearly a thousand holing up on the PINA campus in California—who are grieving everything and everyone they’ve lost, afraid of and desperately curious about the ports, and trying to figure out what’s next. The novel moves from the steeltown group to California and back.

 

2) How long did it take you to write the book? Was there anyone or anything that inspired you to write it?

 

One big inspiration was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it, which involved having good friends you’d live close to and share life with as well as access to art and fewer cars and concerns. I had a picture of an economy somehow happily collapsed by technology. This mutated, of course, and I ended up thinking a lot about hinge moments in life in which I might have, for example, completely screwed up my marriage—just the sort of fantasies one has around time travel and do-overs. I thought the idea that portals promising a good life might create one inadvertently was funny. My husband Adam was finishing his PhD in Philosophy around the writing of the novel, and we share an interest in the paradoxes of time travel (among other paradoxes), which was another spur.

 

From the first attempted pages, the book took around fifteen months to write, but I had been writing character sketches of Marie and Jason for much longer than that. Then the editing and revising took another year or two. It’s hard to find the boundaries around that kind of timeline.

 

3) “The Amateurs” has been listed as part of Knopf New Face of Fiction program. How did the novel get chosen for that program?

 

I don’t know how that happened—but I am so thrilled to be on that list and to be publishing with Knopf.

 

4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

 

I love Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, and I’m also very enthusiastic about Zadie Smith, Rachel Cusk, Heather O’Neill, and Elena Ferrante. Ottessa Mosfegh’s stories and her novel Eileen were some recent favorites. I’m currently reading Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson—it’s excellent—and I’m just starting Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

 

5) Your website states you also write essays and short pieces of fiction. Do you find any differences between the two forms of writing? Is there one form you prefer over the other?

 

Yes, and I’ve also been recently trying to write poetry. Each form provides something different, though I have a lot of trouble knowing for myself what that difference is. My nonfiction tends to be memoir, and I like all my work to be exploratory and open-ended as I’m very uncomfortable with definitive statements, at least in my writing. I tend to prefer whatever I’ve been working on—right now, I prefer fiction and feel most comfortable within it—I like to create a voice and get to know a character.

 

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

 

Yes—many new things, actually. Partly because I am very busy with young kids and too many responsibilities, and partly because my personality likes novelty, I’m always working on lots of projects at once. I’m several drafts into one new novel (a realist novel about commitment to marriage and to religious belief) and part way into a first draft of another; I’m working on a bunch of short stories; and I’ve been working on and researching a long nonfiction project to do with mental illness in my family.

 

7) You seem to be active on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those sites? Are you planning to use those applications to connect with fans of your writing?

 

Definitely. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and I’m trying to figure out how best to use them. I used to really love blogging, which I think led me to write more nonfiction, and I want to figure out how to enjoy social media that much.

 

8) Are you done any public readings of you work? If yes, is it something you enjoy to do? Are you planning a book tour with the release of “The Amateurs?”

 

I have done a few readings over the past few years, of stories and essays and parts of The Amateurs. I think it’s a skill I’m getting better at, especially with some practice I’ve had reading poetry aloud. I enjoy it and tend to like events—I like going to readings also. My tour will take me to Southern Ontario in May, to start with, with more events to follow.

 

9) Your biographies have you listed as having moved from Hamilton, Ontario to California. How do you like living there now? Do you get back to Canada much?

 

I do get back to Canada fairly frequently, both with and without my family. We moved because of my husband’s academic job, which we were extremely lucky to get, but I suffer from a lot of homesickness. I miss the changing seasons—even the grey skies of the endless Southern Ontario winters—and it was hard to leave friends and family behind, especially when our kids were so young. But we have made wonderful friends here, and pomegranate trees and blue skies can be nice. I was writing The Amateurs during the move—had finished the first part during my last summer in Hamilton and started the second part before we even had an internet connection here—and my mentor with the U of T, Charles Foran, joked with me that I was going through a kind of portal while I wrote my portal novel.

*****

Link to Liz Harmer’s website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for “The Amateurs”

Getting to Know Ava Lee before her Television Debut | Review of The Dragon Head of Hong Kong/The Water Rat of Wanchai (2014) Spiderline

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Readers of crime novels and thrillers are a special breed. They not only have the pleasure of reading their genre through books but also viewing the actions of their characters in television programs. And now that one of the most noted characters is in production to come to the small screen, I figured it was time to introduce myself to Ava Lee via Ian Hamilton’s The Dragon Head of Hong Kong and The Water Rat of Wanchai.

Page 6

“Mr. Lo, even if I can locate the money, how do you expect we’ll get our hands on it?”

His chin slumped onto his chest and he stared at his feet. “I don’t know, but I can’t just do nothing. I can’t leave things the way they are. The pressure at home from my wife and my brother-in-law is going to be unbearable. But I know that if I tell her you’re looking into it, it will buy me some time.

“I honestly don’t know enough about how things operate in Hong Kong and China to be of much help.”

“Please.”

Ava sighed. “Look, I’ll make some phone calls tonight to some people who do know how things work there. I can’t promise you any more than that.”

“So you aren’t saying no?”

“Or yes.”

“That’s good enough.”

How desperate is this man? She thought. “Okay, so we’ll leave it at that. I’ll contact you sometime tomorrow and let you know what I’ve decided to do.”

There is something fresh in the concept of the lead character of Ava Lee. Here we have a detective that doesn’t deal in bodies but chases down unpaid debts by deadbeat liars in exotic locations. ‘Follow the money,’ is the adage of many crime and police plots but here we have an accountant actually chasing money in a tough and rough manner. It is a concept we can all relate to while being whisked away to far-flung corners of the globe.

Pages 212-213

It was a quick ride to the city centre. Their route took them over the Tsing Ma Bridge, six lanes of traffic on the upper deck, rail lines beneath. The bridge always took Ava’s breath away. It was close to a kilometre and half long and soared two hundred metres above the water. The Ma Wan Channel, part of the South China Sea, glittered below in the early morning sun as sampans and fishing boats skirted the armanda of huge ocean freighters waiting to be escorted in Hong Kong’s massive container port.

They slowed when they reached the city proper, caught in the last of the morning rush hour. Hong Kong isn’t a city filled with private cars. Finding a place to park isn’t easy or cheap in a place where office and retail space in rented by the square inch, but there are red taxis everywhere, scurrying like beetles. Sonny drove carefully – too carefully for Ava, but he was a cautious man, maybe even deliberately cautious. It was as if he were restraining his true nature. She had seen this trai in him when he attended mettings with Uncle. He didn’t do that often, but when he did, he remained standing off to one side, his eyes flickering back and forth as he followed the flow of conversation. Ava realized that his body language changed along with the tone of the meeting. If Uncle was having his way, Sonny was placid. Any opposition to Uncle position caused him to tense, his eyes growing dark.

I couldn’t find any new information about the release date of the TV series but I was excited to read that Ian Hamilton has published a new book in the series – THE IMAM OF TAWI-TAWI  – this past week.  No doubt, as I beging to work my way throught the series of the earlier books, I will enjoying the combination of action, footwork and suspense that Ava Lee finds herself in.

Pages 370-371

“I think he’s about to leave,” she said.

Patrick called a number from his cellphone. “Wake up, boys,” he said.

“See the small guy in the apron?” he said to Ava. “He’s one of our leading drug dealers; does most of the imports. He’s also a friend of a friend. Until now it didn’t occur to me that he might be involved with Seto and Ng. After all this is over I’ll have to ask.”

The trio exited the restaurant and climbed back into the Land Rover. Ava held her breath.

They followed the car as it lumbered two blocks and parked at Eckie’s. Seto and the woman climbed down. Ava saw him say something to Ng, who was still in the Land Rover. The black Nissan was four spots farther along.

Patrick used his cellphone again. “Give them about ten minutes inside and then get Ng,” he said. He reached over and opened the glove compartment. Ava saw a semi-automatic in an shoulder holster and sevral pairs of handcuffs. “We need two sets, I imagine,” he said as he put on the holster.

“I want to tape their eyes and his mouth before we get them in this truck,” she said.

“Just his?”

“Someone has to tell us the entry codes for the gate, and I’m sure the house is protected as well.”

Certainly Ava Lee will transfer well into the small screen but until she does, many of us will continue to read her adventures written by Ian Hamilton. And combo set of The Dragon Head of Hong Kong/The Water Rat of Wanchai are great places to start.

*****

Link to Ian Hamilton’s website

Link to House of Anansi’s website for combo The Water Rat of Wanchai/The Dragon Head of Hong Kong edition

Link to Strada Films website

In Defense of Actually Reading Books in 2017 |Mention of Angie Abdou’s “In Case I Go” Arsenal Pulp Press

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This will be my final post for 2017. And there are a few things I want to accomplish with it.  Most importantly I want to reflect on one of my favourite books of 2017- In Case I Go by Angie Abdou. I also know that it has been a bit of time since I posted here and my followers have been wondering why, so here is a quick note. (I have been busy with earning money to purchase more reading material – so expect more posts in 2018.)

Now to In Case I Go. I was heartbroken to read and hear some of the slagging that this book has been receiving. Abdou documented not only for me but for many people I know a reality that is true in this book. The plot deals with a young white boy realizing that his descendants were far from perfect in their actions in dealing with minorities and that the present-day actions of his parents are far from ideal. Now, there has been a lot of empty talk of some of the details that Abdou used to move this plot forward. I admit that I don’t know some of the facts behind some of these discussions but they seem trivial and petty. Abdou has captured for me some of the angst that I remember as a child coming aware in a far from perfect world and that is for me the mark of a great piece of literature. And for many of my fellow readers who work long hours in dirty jobs, have far from perfect credit ratings and who’s feet stink because they been on them all day, this was a work that reflected some of the pain of their reality as well. And it was a pleasure to hear Angie read from this book a few months ago when the staff at a local library made an extra effort to bring her in a Friday night and let us book-lovers hear her words and thoughts.

There were many great works this past year that were worthy of unwinding and pondering over but this book was the one that caught my eye the most. Thanks to all the writers whom captured my attention this past year with their dedicated craft.

However In Case I Go by Angie Abdou is the one item on my bookshelf now that holds a special place for me. I wept when reading it because I found a reality that documents my life. Trust me this is the one book that should be read. (And I spend my days wading through tripe that should be trash but is revered. ) And I know that I am not alone in calling this a great piece of literature.

go

*****

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

 

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.

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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