Tag Archives: Canadian Literature

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

Deer

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

978-1-55152-703-1_incaseigo

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

Chapter One Page 15

We quit the city to save our lives.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seven Page 93

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

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

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

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

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

Pages 218-219

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

She loves two.

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

This love is the simple kind.

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

*****

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

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

Link to my Q&A with Angie Abdou | “With this 2017 novel, I went in a different direction, writing many scenes in the early 1900s and including a fantastical element, something I’ve never before experimented with.”

 

 

 

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.”

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

sometheories

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

Theories (Page 2)

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

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

LET’S PLAY OIL SLICK (Page 10)

CHARACTERS

BOY

GIRL

BOY: Let’s play oil slick.

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

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

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

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

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

BOY:  Who will rescue us?

Girl: Nobody.

END

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

 

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

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

*****

Link to Kathryn Mockler’s website

Link to a website about David Poolman

theories

 

 

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

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

Interrogation in the Celery Forest (Page 1)

We shoulder it onto the slab.

It squirms. Water. Electric-white

 

Raindrops fast into absence.

No bridge as believable as all this.

 

Pliers were used. And absence.

A heart – skewered through skeins

 

of red nets and milk from some aimless

animal on the drowning cloth.

 

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

you must answer.

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

Owl in the Celery Forest (Page 24)

Owl, you never asked to be wise

or a companion to the witch.

 

Fly in for the scurry – vole, field mouse,

creatures with eyes scuttling through grass,

 

Then pluck the tumour out of my breast

with you sharp, curved talons –

 

let the only thing that spreads be your wings.

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

Fireflies (Page 49)

Little green fires that do not burn,

yet blink and float

outside the cottage window

stringing night

into Christmas trees.

When you returned

as a firefly, I heard

what happened –

your winking battery

broken because you merely

grew in size.

Jealous of Dad`s sighting,

not knowing you would appear

decades later as pure

waves the moment I broke

free from anaesthesia’s grip.

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

*****

Link to Catherine Graham’s website

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

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

Take-Us-to-Your-Chief

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

A Gritty Book and a Great Piece of Literature | Review of “Debris” by Kevin Hardcastle (2015) Biblioasis

Kevin Hardcastle will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival

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There is a beauty in the way a writer can capture a series of lives that are bitter and downtrodden. To use language that is direct and frank takes not only a certain skill but also requires a writer to a have an awareness to a segment of society that isn’t pretty or polite for most of the time. Kevin Hardcastle has certainly captured a ‘gritty’ reality of a series of people with his collection of short stories called simply Debris. And it is certainly a unique read.

Pages 28-29 The Rope

She got undressed with the door open and it didn’t seem to bother her. When she had her regular clothes on she came back through the house sat at the kitchen table. She smoked there at the little table and Matthew sat across from her in his dress pants and undershirt.

“Okay, ma?” he said.

Maryanna nodded and smiled funny.

“How d’you feel now?”

“Not very good. Not very good at all.”

Matthew studied her long he felt like getting up and walking the room but he didn’t.

“You been havin’ bad thoughts?”

“Sometimes.”

“Like what kind?”

“Its the stress of it all.”

She stubbed out and sand back with her hands in her lap.

“You don’t got a plan, do you?” Matthew said.

“I’ve got a rope.”

“Where?”

“In the bedroom drawer.”

Matthew stayed still but his heart beat way up in his ears. He took heavy breaths and it was hard for him to keep them in check for he’d a bone-broken nose that let air in poorly by the one nostril.

Maryanna reached over and took his hand in the both of hers. She seemed to have woke up all of sudden and she scooted her chair in close to him.

“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’m not gonna do that.”

This book is one of those reads that any English teacher in high school would have cringed at if it came up as a read. The language is frank, bold, violent and vulgar. But it reflects a gritty reality that exist. Hardcastle documents lives of people who are desperate and bitter yet know no other means of escaping their existence either with the intake of substances or the use of violence. This book may not be a comfortable read with a lot of the cultural elites but it is a good piece of literature.

Pages 68-69 To Have To Wait

Matthew wouldn’t stop shaking his head. When they had long since cut through the township he still had a troubled look on his face. Paul knew his brother wasn’t  fretting that hard about the ramshackle zoo. He waited soon enough Matthew spoke up.

“How has she been without him there?” he said.

Paul held the wheel in one hand and ran the other through his hair. He wiped a palmful of sweat on his shirtsleeve.

“You know, you take for granted the kind of feelings they got for each other, forget they been through shit that would kill most folks,” Paul said. “Then you see one of them without the other . . . Shit.~

“Yeah.”

Paul bit at his nails, then put his free hand back on the wheel.

“She goes to work and she fusses around the house and gets on with it, but there’s nothing behind it. All those old routines don’t mean shit anymore. They just past the time.”

“What about when he was home?”

“Before, when  he was there between the treatments, he wasn’t really himself. They put you under and hit you with that juice and it saps the life right outta you. He came home worn out. Couldn’t remember a lot of things. It was weird. So this last time he asked just to stay in there until it was done.”

Hardcastle’s descriptions – especially on those telling about locations and emotions – are simple, direct and vivid. No excess flowery prose or over-used psychoanalytical terms are used. Just direct and to the point. And the voices he gives his characters sound like they are conversations that occur today. Again, no excess phrases or the use of ‘proper’ grammar or restraint of use of obscenities.

Pages 118-119 One We Could Stand to Lose

In the early morning Arthur heard two drunks screaming at each other through the plaster walls. One woman called another woman a cocksucker. He turned his radio on and sat on his mattress. The bed linens were clean because Arthur bought them long ago and laundered them himself. He had torn up his carpeting near the turn of the century and carted it down to the alleyway dumpster piece by piece. When Arthur got up to piss at night he walked barefoot on creaky hardwood, and he often sat in his chair barefoot and read late with his feet on the cedar planking.

He’d not slept long when someone knocked his door. By the clock it was eleven a.m. Arthur got up and went over to see by the peephole. He opened up on a frantic clerk who worked the morning shift. The man was near dancing on the hallway carpet. Eyes agog and his face gone red.

“What is it, Tim?”

“It’s goddam chaos down there. They come in through the front door and then came some more and they just started goin’ at it”

“Who did?”

“Most of `em ran. But the dude from two-six-teen is face-down in the lobby with all kinds of stuff comin’ outta him.”

Kevin Hardcastle has certainly documented elements of gritty and downtrodden lifestyles well in his collection of short-stories called Debris. Simply written yet expressive, it is a read that is a great piece of literature. And no doubt a writer who`s future writings are worth looking into.

*****

Kevin Hardcastle’s next book is entitled In The Cage. Link about it here

Ljnk to Biblioasis’s website for Debris.

Link to Kevin Hardcastle’s WordPress site

 

Learning that a “Place” shapes our Identity as well |Review of “The Lightkeeper’s Daughters (2017) Harper Avenue

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

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‘Place’ plays an important element in our identities. Where we are from and how we were raised in those surroundings play important parts to our personalities. Yet sometimes we forget where we came from and wonder why we feel so ‘lost’ in our modern-day lives. And that is the theme that Jean E. Pendziwol explores in her novel The Lightkeeper’s Daughters.

Page 10-11 Morgan

“All right.” Ms. Campbell sighs, extending the folder in her hand. “You’re Morgan Fletcher,” she removes her glasses and places them on the desk. “I see.”

I know what she sees. She sees what she wants to. She sees my straight black hair, dyed so that it shines like midnight. She sees dark kohl circling my gray eyes, my tight jeans and high black boots and the row of silver studs along my earlobes. She sees my pale face that I’ve made even paler, and my bright red lips. She doesn’t see that I am, maybe just a little scared. I won’t let her see that.

I slouch back into the chair, and cross my legs. So that’s how it’s going to be. Fine.

Ms. Campbell opens the folder. “Well, Morgan, community hours, is it? I says here that you have agreed to clean up the graffiti and assist with further maintenance work under the direction of our maintenance supervisor.” She looks at me again. “You’ll be here every Tuesday and Thursday right after school for the next four weeks.”

“Yup.” I tap my toe against the front of the desk and look at my fingernails. They are painted red, like my lips. Blood red.

“I see,” she says. Again. Ms. Campbell pauses for a moment, and I can tell that she is studying me. I know what’s in that folder. I don’t want her judgement. Worse, I don’t want her pity. I shift my gaze to a spider plant on the top of the filing cabinet. She sighs again. “Well, then I guess we`d better get you introduce to Marty.” She leaves the folder containing my past on her desk, and I have no choice; I follow her down the hall.

This is Pendziwol’s first novel and has become one of my favourite’s of the 2017 publishing season. She does two things in a work of fiction that I enjoy  – uses a lyrical style that helps the plot flow AND documents an element of a human condition that conveys a feeling we all endure; wondering who we are and where we come from. The plot weaves between two main characters. Morgan, who is a teenage, angst-ridden, and confused young woman and Elizabeth, a blind, elderly resident of a nursing room. As the two meet and converse, they find out they both have a common history descending from a family who were lighthouse keepers on a series of islands in Lake Superior. Each chapter is told through one of the two women as they slowly learn elements of their common family history.

Pages 76-77 Elizabeth

They stay only about half an hour, and then the nuggets find a resting place in the garbage pail beside the sofa, the latest toy is dropped into the Hello Kitty backpack, and Mr. Androsky is wheeled back to his room, slurping up the last few sips of milk shake. It is a ritual I dismissingly tolerate, but secretly envy.

I have no family to come visit me. No weekly offerings of barely digestible fast food, no cards on my birthday, no one asking if I am well that week or need anything. It is only when I hover on the periphery of Mr. Androsky`s life that it occurs to me that I am missing something. Emily was my life. Yes, there was Charlie, too, for a time. But I could not bring myself to reach out to him. I could not forgive his misguided actions or contemplate an apology from him, should he even wanted to provide one. And I could not be sorry for those things that he would not forgive. So we lived in mutual exile from each other.  He was never acknowledged, never present, but always a shadow that hovered just beyond our existence. We had been so close, the three of us; he our champion and we his adoring followers. But darkness swallowed us, and when I had to choose,  I chose Emily.

This is one of those books I would recommend a person takes a few minutes at the end of a busy day to sit down with and ponder over. While it is a lyrical read, the prose is also simple and elegant. Pendziwol is also able to capture the speech patterns of each of her protagonists here perfectly. A reader can clearly grasp both what young Morgan or elderly Elizabeth are thinking and desiring. Empathy comes easily with the well-crafted phrases Pendziwol uses here.

Page 274 Elizabeth

I stand beneath the shower, hands gripping the chrome bars fastened to the tile walls. Water rains down, trickling like a thousand streams across my body. I close my eyes and lift my head, allowing the drops to flood my face and mold my hair until it hangs, sleek and thick, a snowy river dripping puddles that collect at my feet and disappear down the drain in the floor. I can feel the wolf, prowling. He is becoming more persistent, visiting almost daily now. He is patient. He sits, watching, waiting. I wipe my eyes, but they fill as quickly, and I don’t bother clearing them again. I reach out a hand, exploring the wall until I find the tap and turn it fully it fully to the right. I gasp when the cold water stabs at me, as cold as the Lake. My eyes flash open at the shock, but still they see nothing. My skin prickles. My pulse quickens.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is certainly one of my favourite reads of the 2017 season. It is emotional and lyrical and enlightening. Certainly a great piece of literature and hopefully not one of the last of novels from this author.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

Link to Jean E. Pendziwol`s website

Link to my Q&A with Jean E. Pendziwol – “Place plays an important role in most of my work and I like to bring my readers here, to my home, through my words.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do readers say about Amanda Doucette?

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

 

What event are you most looking forward to?

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

 

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

 

What’s next?

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

 

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

 

Who came up with the striking cover?

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

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

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

 

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

*****

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

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Pages 9-10

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

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

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

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

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

Page 171-172

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

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

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

Pages 208-209

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

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

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

 

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada`s website for Tell