Tag Archives: Dundurn

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

trickster

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.”

“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.

trickster

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Look into the Traditional Algonquin Way of Life | Review of “I am Algonquin” by Rick Revelle (2013) Dundurn Press

Rick Revelle will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival.

9781459707184

There has been some discussions in my circles lately about wanting to know more about Indigenous culture and history. We realize that much of what have learned in our school days was flawed or  important details were omitted for whatever reasons. Literature can help us in a better understanding of Indigenous peoples and Rick Revelle’s I am Algonquin is one such read.

(Introduction)

My name is Mahingan, which means wolf in my language, and In am Omàmiwinini (Algonquin) from the Kitcisìpiriniwak tribe (People of the Great River), one of the eight Algonquin tribes of the Ottawa Valley.

I was born right after the warming period that my ancestors had lived through, mild winters, and warm summers. When I was birthed, it was the start of the great cooling period of colder winters and cooler summers. I was born in the year 1305, and this is my story . . . the story of an Algonquin warrior and a forefather of the Great Chief Tessouat.

While I found this book in the “teen” section, it certainly could easily be included in any adult’s reading list. The story deals with Mahingan raising his family in the early 14th century in what is now Ontario. Through the story, a reader can learn about how the Algonquin people lived. We are given details about: hunting, family life, living conditions, and much more. Revelle uses great details and gives great insight by telling the story through Mahingan’s eyes and thoughts.

Pages 51-52 Happiness And Sorrow

Our shelters were oval wàginogàns (lodges) made out of birch bark and held together by saplings intertwined on the inside. On the outside we used slabs of cedar to hold the birch bark down, tying them to the frame. The birch bark was overlapped so as not to leak. The saplings on the inside were not tied end to end but were joined side to side to avoid poking holes in the birch bark. The young trees were bent in a curve and fastened together with spruce roots.

What caught us by surprise was that no one was on guard and that we could only see smoke coming out of seven of the wàginogàns.

“Wàgosh, announce our homecoming.”
“E-ya-ya-ya-ya,” Wàgosh sang. “The hunters have arrived with food and tales of adventure.”

Then Wàgosh sang a death song announcing the death of Makwa. With that his wife and our sister See-Bee-Pee-Nay-Sheese (River Bird) came out of her home, wailing and crying. I took my sister in my arms and told her that Makwa died a warrior’s death, and he would enter the afterlife with great honour.

See-Bee-Pee-Nay-Sheese would enter her home and douse her fire. She wold mourn face-down on her mat for six days covered by her robes and receive only cold food for nourishment. The families would give her gifts to comfort her. She would not be allowed to marry again until our mother gave her permission.

When an Algonquin warrior marries, he always lived with the wife’s family and helped hunt and protect the family unit.

Revelle has filled this book with descriptive detail. (Including a Glossary and a Algonquin Pronunciation Guide in the back.) And that includes his descriptions of actions too. Be it a canoe ride or a battle scene, Revelle scenes are written out to certainly enlighten and inform. This book is not an easy read, for sure, but it is one that educates if a reader takes the time to properly ponder the scenarios.

Page 122 – 123

When we awoke the next morning, there was a misty rain. Today would bring us to the end of our journey, but there was still one more set of rapids to take.

“Minowez-I, we will have to keep the canoe well spaced when we go through the last set of rapids. We do not want any of the boats bumping into each other and you and your son can send the others at intervals. We will land on the west shore and when you send the next one they will land on the eastern shore. That way if anyone overturns, there will be someone on either shore to help them. ”

“Okay Mahingan. My son and I will control things from here. Don’t worry about us.”

Mitigomij, Ishkodewan and I started on our descent through the rapids. The misty rain moistened our faces and the roar of the fast moving water made my heart race. As we looked toward the white water, the movement made it look like the river was waving us on to make the journey. Taking this as a good omen, we started our descent down the river. We could feel the power of the river beneath our boat. The only sound besides the river was my wolf cub growling and snapping at the water as it washed over the canoe, soaking all in the boat. With the helpful skills of my brother, we rode the rapids and arrived safely but wet on the shore.

I am Algonquin by Rick Revelle certain answer a call for anybody looking for insight in Indigenous culture and history. It is an interesting and enlightening read. As the first in a series of books, Revelle certainly has begun a great story-line for readers to continue on with.

******

Link to Dundurn Press’ website for I am Algonquin

 

The Realities of Modern Korea | Review of “Sad Peninsula” by Mark Sampson (2014) Dundurn

Sad

Many of us have learned only the basics of Korea. It is mentioned in our history books briefly but do we really know anything about this region of the world.  Mark Sampson has given us an eye-opening insight into Korea with his novel Sad Peninsula. And in it has given us a bit of perspective about ourselves.

Page 19-20

You don’t so much see Seoul’s neon as you taste it, like bright hard Christmas candy, reds and greens sprayed out across the city as if fired from a cannon. As our cab races northward toward the lugubrious Han River, I figure I’ll never get used to this non-stop showcase of luminance. a landscape choked with discos and Starbucks outlets and soju tents on the sidewalks, with street-side barbecues and 7-Elevens that will let you drink beer on plastic furniture set up out front. As we settle in for the ride, Rob Cruise begins his complaining. He been a flame thrower at the urinal for several weeks now. The nurses at the clinic near our school have started recognizing him when he walks in; the pharmacist doesn’t even need to see the slip anymore to fetch him the right antibiotics.

Sampson has written a brilliant yet bittersweet novel here. He has basically two protagonists – Eun-young, a former Korean ‘comfort woman’ who is trying hard to come to terms with her past of rape and violence during World War II and Michael, a Canadian who arrives in Korea to teach English in 2003. Their paths cross through Jin, who is challenging the norms and mores around her as well as Michael’s morality.

Page 155-156

On the last day of the journey, Eun-young woke early and found herself wandering the upper deck in a state of near hypnosis. She started to imagine what would transpire once she saw her family again. If her brothers were still alive, they would not be able to look at her. If her mother was still alive, she would fall to her knees at Eun-young’s feet and pour out a symphony of thanks. If her father was still alive, his face would crush up in disgust at the sight of her. And if her baby sister was still alive – well, she didn’t know. Ji-young had only been ten years old when Eun-young, five years her senior, was taken away. Would she have gone through these things, too? It was a question Eun-young had sometimes thought about at night during the quiet times in the camps. Is Ji-young being raped, too? Surely she had been too young. Surely the monsters who had done this would have left her alone.

Eun-young was snapped out of her daze by the sudden blare of the ship’s horn. It rang out in a seemingly ceaseless bellow. Eun-young found herself hurrying to the front of the ship before the horn even stopped, nearly crashing into the rail when she got there. She looked out over the blue-green water. In the distance was the thin line of land that she’d been watching for before. Jags of mountains. Fog. The slightest wisp of rambling green hills. For an instant, she doubted where this place was, where the ship had taken her. Her heart heaved a little. It wasn’t until she could see Pusan Harbour, its long lean piers, its buildings snuggled into the mountains, that she guessed where she was.

This is a frank story told with vivid details. It deals with a lot of desire, hurt and shame. Sampson did a fantastic job with enlightening his readers not only with some of lesser know historical facts about Korea but also with some of the cultural ideals and prejudices that exist there. And in doing so, makes us look at our own failing norms here. A great piece literature that goes beyond what any historical essay or journalistic piece could do.

 Page 314

This is how I’m dealing with the past. By putting one word in front of the other, this thing I once tried so hard to do, this act of aggression against the page, vandalizing it with my thoughts, my voice, my words, my perspective. It’s indecent, it’s arrogant, it’s an act of thievery and narcissism. That’s why I was so terrible at it. I couldn’t muster enough egotism to do it properly. I balked under the responsibility of stealing stories and claiming them as my own. I did not inherit my mother’s pristine self-absorption the way my sister di. I was always the quiet, rumpled guy in the corner who spoke little and was afraid to ask the tough questions. It all seemed like robbery to me. I failed at it; I failed spectacularly. But now, here, on the other side of the world, I’m putting one word in front of the other. I’m crafting a story that doesn’t belong to me. I’m taking these horrific leaps of faith, extrapolating on things I barely understand, filling in the blanks with my imagination, everything I was taught not to do.

And I’m loving every minute of it.

Sad Peninsula by Mark Sampson not only gives insight to the mores of Korea but makes us look at our own values and failures. A brilliant and insightful read.

*****

Link to Mark Sampson’s Blog

Link to Dundurn’ s page for Sad Peninsula