Tag Archives: HarperCollins Canada

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.”

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

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

Writers who are versatile to write for different audiences usually impress me. But writers who can craft books for different audiences about the settings around themselves impress me even more. Jean E. Pendziwol has done both those things. Writing about the Northwestern Ontario region that she grew up and lives in for both adults and children, she is becoming a writer who works should be read and savored. Pendziwol was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “The Lightkeeper’s Daughters?”

“The Lightkeeper’s Daughters” is an atmospheric story of Lake Superior and lighthouses, about love and loss, about isolation and belonging, and what it means to be family. Though Elizabeth’s mind is still sharp, her bones have aged and her eyes have failed. No longer able to linger over her beloved books or gaze at the paintings that move her spirit, she fills her days at the retirement home with music and with memories of her family, especially of her beloved twin sister, Emily. When her late father’s journals are discovered after a tragic accident, she seizes the opportunity to piece together the mysteries of her childhood. With the help of Morgan, a delinquent teenager performing community service at the home, Elizabeth delves into the diaries—a journey through time that brings the two women closer together. Each entry draws these unlikely friends deep into a world far removed—to Porphyry Island on Lake Superior, where Elizabeth’s father served as lighthouse keeper and raised his young family in the years before and during World War II. As a complex web of secrets unravels, Elizabeth and Morgan realize that their fates are connected to each other and to the isolated island in ways that are at once heartbreaking and healing.

2) You have also just released “Me and You and the Red Canoe.” Could you give an outline of that book?

A celebration of the simple gifts of life, “Me and You and the Red Canoe” begins at dawn when two siblings leave their campsite with fishing rods, tackle and bait, and push a red canoe into the lake. A perfect morning on the water unfolds, with glimpses of wildlife along the way. Trailing a lure through the blue-green depths, the siblings paddle around a point, spotting a moose in the shallows, a beaver swimming towards its home and an eagle returning to its nest. Suddenly there is a sharp tug and the rod bends to meet the water. A few heart-stopping moments later, the pair pull a silvery trout from the water, then paddle back to the campsite to fry up a delicious breakfast.

 

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3) So now you have written for both adults and children. Do you find any notable differences in writing for the two audience groups? If yes, how so?

While there are some differences writing for the two audiences, most notably the complexity of language, themes, plot, and characters, what strikes me most are the similarities. Even though most of my work for children is in the picture book format — where the text is usually less than 1000 words — writing for children is not simple nor simplistic. The craft requires the same respect for the reader, the same careful choice of words, the same commitment to story. To me, choosing to write for adults doesn’t mean I have “graduated” or even switched from writing for children, I am still challenged by the picture book format, I love the concept of co-creation combining text and illustration and I love, love, love connecting with young readers.

4) How have you found the reactions to your published works? Are there any memorable comments or actions to your works you care to share?

The most memorable reaction to The Lightkeeper’s Daughters was from Francis McKay whose husband served as lightkeeper at Porphyry Island for several decades, and who herself spent many years assisting with the functions of the light station and living on the island during shipping season.  After she read an early draft of the manuscript, she told me that the story made her feel like she was right back on the island again and that it brought back so many wonderful memories of her time there. A writer could receive no greater praise. 

5) You are scheduled to appear at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival. Do you participate in many public events/discussions of your work? Outside of WOTS, are there any other events you are looking forward to attending?

Yes – I will be at WOTS in the TD Children’s Literature tent with my latest picture book Me and You and the Red Canoe (Groundwood Books). (Link to the WOTS website here) I will also be participating in the Heartland Fall Forum in Chicago October 13, (Link here) and the International Festival of Authors in Toronto and Thunder Bay towards the end of October. (Link here)

6) You seem to have an have an active presence on some social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those applications in relation to your work?

Social media can be distracting, but it’s also a great way for me to connect with readers. (Link to Jean E. Pendziwol’s Facebook page) (Link to Jean E. Pendziwol’s Twitter account) I’m a visual person, so I like Instagram, although I’m not quite sure I’ve figured it out yet. Between pictures of books, I’ll also post snapshots of my chickens (I have five layers), images of Lake Superior (my muse) and some of the crazy activities my kiddos drag me into (among other things, they had me climbing a frozen waterfall this winter.) (Link to Jean E. Pendziwol’s Instagram account)

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

I have a few projects on the go, but nothing I can tease you with yet. 😉

8) Your books seem to be set in and near the Northwestern Ontario region to which your website states you were born and raised. Is that where you are living right now? Are there any specific elements to that area that inspire you to write?

I was born and raised in Northwestern Ontario and still live in Thunder Bay on the shore of Lake Superior. I find that I’m very much inspired by where I live; by my time spent sailing as a child with my family on the temperamental but beautiful Lake, snowshoeing or skiing in the boreal forest, climbing and hiking in the Nor’Westers with my family, or paddling the many lakes and rivers. Place plays an important role in most of my work and I like to bring my readers here, to my home, through my words.
******

Reflecting on the Ties We Bind | Review of “Little Sister” by Barbara Gowdy (2017) Patrick Crean Editions

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There always seems to be a magical and unexplainable bond between people at times. Be it friends, family members or even total strangers, we seem attracted to certain people so much that we are able to sense their thoughts and emotions without even saying a word out loud. And it is that sense of connectivity with certain individuals that Barbara Gowdy has her characters explore in her book Little Sister.

Page 6

Her nose bled.

She overreached the Kleenex and had to steer her hand back. An aftermath of misery clung to her, and she let herself cry a bit. She must have fallen asleep, except the precise, mundane details, not just the spider and the skirt but also her cold fingers, her childish grip on the pen, the background noises – that whole ordinary, filled-in world and its myriad sensations –  had felt as real as this, only (she looked around) in much clearer focus.

Harriet? Who was Harriet? Rose had never before dreamed that she was someone else. Or inside someone else. Yes, inside more accurately described the feeling of visiting, as opposed to having, the woman’s body. She sniffed her empty coffee cup and thought of their new employee, Lloyd, the former drug dealer.

Gowdy has given us readers something profound and unique to ponder over with her protagonist Rose Bowan. Every time a thunderstorm hits, Rose loses consciousness and has visions inhabiting another woman’s body. And while inside that body, Rose witnesses actions and emotions of ‘Harriet’, a professional woman who’s life is about upended by a pregnancy due to a affair with a married co-worker. And while Rose is encased by Harriet’s life and emotions, she begins to ponder her own relationships – a boyfriend, a mother with dementia, a sister who mysterious passed away years ago. It is through Rose’s eyes and thoughts, readers are given ground to carefully consider their own relationships in their lives.

Page 143-144

Ava’s papier-mâché parrot, Tobikumu, gazed sightlessly toward the window. He had been a Christmas present from a great-uncle who had lived for several years in Tokyo. Rose had gotten Kazuyuki, a delicate papier-mâché cellist with elongated fingers resting on fine strings that might have been dental floss. One day she had taken him to the house of a new Japanese friend, and there, within five minutes, the friend’s poodle had town him to confetti.

Under Ava’s care, Tobikumu, the parrot, stayed perfect. Under Rose’s he lost his glass eyes. She put him on her bedside table so that before falling asleep she could look at his sockets and recover the guilt she’d shed during the day, in those moments when she’d been lighthearted or animated or – the most bewildering offence – pleased with herself. She thought of the guilt as survivor’s guilt, and of survivor’s guilt as a guilt necessary for survival. Tobikumu was her victim and accuser both. She counted on him to get her to cry herself to sleep.

She cried secretly, in near silence. Still, her parents saw her misery and sent her to a child psychologist, an old woman who was half deaf and therefore needed to sit next to Rose on the sofa. Rose didn’t mind. Dr. Grewal’s baked-bread grandmotherly smell and her cracked brown face like dried mud were unthreatening and a little heartbreaking. She spoke in a soft, accented voice. She had a tendency to repeat Rose’s answers, for both their sakes, Rose understood, in order that Rose might hear them said back to her, and that Dr. Grewal might verify she’d heard them correctly. Rose never mentioned Tobikumu, and when the subject came around to Ava, she said what any normal girl getting better would say: Yes, I’m still sad. No, not as sad as I was. Yes, I understand it wasn’t my fault. Mostly the dwelt on Rose’s present circumstance, her friends and school, her shyness. To distract Dr. Grewal from asking about Ava, Rose mad her shyness sound like a more serious problem than it was. Year after year, as Dr. Grewal’s deafness worsened and she sat ever closer, Rose offed up the minor troubles and triumphs of her week.

Gowdy’s writing style has a direct feel to it. The story is not filled with excess descriptions or extra phrases. Readers are thrust into Rose’s train of thoughts or paths of actions without being given any room for second guessing or looking back. Readers are stuck following Rose’s life like poor Rose is stuck observing Harriet’s life during one of her trances.

Page 152

She would never love him, but she wanted him to love her. The man you were with was supposed to love you. Besides, he had loved his wife and often told her so.

Then one morning she stopped caring whether he loved her or not. She went to sleep caring and woke up asking herself, what am I doing? Apart from the strain of listening to his countless specific and indefinite resentments, there was the fact that he preferred to see her mid-morning, during those hours when, normally, she would be having breakfast and doing household chores. But how do you break up with a lonely, recent-immigrant widower?

Barbara Gowdy has certainly given us readers some considerations in regards to our relationships as we read Little Sister. The plot is matter-of-fact and direct, and  it is certainly one that is worthy of reflecting on.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Little Sister

Link to Barbara Gowdy’s website

 

 

‘What I do now will cause . . .?’ | Review of “Me (And) Me” by Alice Kuipers (2017) HarperCollins Canada

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(I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book. I will add pull-quotes to this review once I get my hands on a true printed copy.)

It is never easy of any person to make a decision, let alone one that needs to be made at the spur of the moment. Consequences need to be considered to words said or actions  made which may  have long lasting results. And for  an adolescent, those decisions  can be heart-wrenching, especially if their young minds are already guilt-ridden  from past traumas.  That is  one of the major themes Alice Kuipers brilliantly explores  in her book Me (and) Me.

The story of the book deals with Lark, a young girl who is just in the process of celebrating her seventeenth birthday. She has mixed feelings about the day, since it brings back memories of her mother’s passing a few years ago. Readers witness Lark’s day  starting off in a well-enough manner; The sky is clear. She has just finished writing a ‘kick-ass’ song for the band and she has a date with the gorgeous and Alec out by the lake. Alas, things  take a turn for the worse when a neighbourhood girl begins to drown and Alec gets himself into trouble as well trying to save little Annabelle. Lark is in a quandary as she tries to decide which one of the two to save.

Kuipers uses the concept of parallel universes in this book in a brilliant fashion to explore the roles of cause/effect. Reader’s witness the two Larks – one where she save little Annabelle from the depth of a lake and suffering from a long-lasting coma AND the other where she saves Alec from the same fate. Both Larks are guilt-ridden by their decisions and their guilt becomes overpowering that they both act out in different manners.

Alice Kuipers’ Me (And) Me is truly a unique read. The book does an excellent job in exploring cause/effect roles in the actions of human beings. A great read and an enlightening one for the younger set.

*****

Link  to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Me (And) Me

Link to Alice Kuipers’ website

Link to my Q&A with Alice Kuipers about Me (And) Me – (M)y books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world

 

 

 

(M)y books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world | Q&A with author Alice Kuipers on her novel “Me (and) Me”

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Alice Kuipers is a very popular author of Young Adult fiction and one of good merit.  Her newest book  –  Me (and) Me –  is already garnishing praises on from all manners of readers and bringing new fans to her works. Kuipers was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and include me in her blog tour of her new book.

*****

1) First off, could you give an outline of the plot of Me (and) Me?

Hi there. Thanks for interviewing me! The description of Me (and) Me from my website is this: It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

That gives the opening. After that the book is structured around both of Lark’s lives as she tries to figure out how to put her life back together again. Each choice has good things and bad things about it—but Lark spends the book encountering glimpses of the life she isn’t leading and that sends her into a tailspin. I’m not sure how much to say without spoiling the story!

2) Was there anything that inspired to write this book? (If yes, what was it?) Is there anything you are hoping the book will accomplish?

I started writing this book when I was eighteen, but I had a whole different set of characters and ideas at the time. Suddenly, about three years ago, the character of Lark came to me and from there, the ideas from the unpublished book I wrote when I was eighteen realigned. As to what I hope the book will accomplish, well, that’s an interesting question. I don’t really think while I’m writing the book about anything other than the story. And then when a book goes into the world, I let it go. A book is a co-creation between the author and the reader, so, if anything, I hope that I’ve given the reader a lot of room in the story to bring their own ideas and imagination. I hope the story becomes the living, breathing thing it was for me when I wrote it.

3) Your website lists this book as your seventh published book. Has your writing change since you began writing? If yes, how so?

My writing has changed because when I first started writing I had no idea what I was doing. I had to spend a lot of time reading books on grammar and studying writing to be able to write the ideas in my head—that’s why the first time I tried to write this book, it didn’t ever get read by anyone else. I just didn’t even know how to punctuate speech correctly (to be fair, that is hard!) My first published book was at least my sixth attempt at writing a completed novel. And then during the editorial process for each of my published books I learnt so much about writing that I felt like a beginner all over again. As a writer now, I am more confident sentence by sentence, but I find it very hard to create a whole book—and that’s what stimulates me as a writer too—the challenge.

But thematically, my books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world. Lark is a singer-songwriter and she uses her songs to help her deal with her new, crazy life. That part was really fun to write.

4) Are you planning a book tour or any public readings of Me (and) Me? If yes, are there any particular events or dates you are looking forward to? Are public readings something you enjoy participating in?

This blog tour is a great way for me to share the book with readers, along with public events and readings. I have four small children so I try to do a lot of publicity from my couch—but I’m looking forward to the Literacy For Life Conference in Saskatoon (Link here) on May 1st and 2nd, when I’ll share the book with 2000 local students. The Festival of Words in Moose Jaw (Link here) is going to be great fun too—me, plus the children, plus my partner (Yann Martel) who is a writer too, plus the spa in Moose Jaw, plus a lot of eager readers and writers! I do enjoy doing events but they make me a little nervous. Speaking to a big group of people can be intimidating, until I remember that I am not talking about me but about my books. And hopefully I’m giving the people I’m speaking to some ideas about writing that are useful for them, too.

5) You seem to be active on numerous social-media sites. How do you like using those sites in relation to your writing? Is there one platform (like Facebook or Twitter) you enjoy hearing from fans of your work?

I love hearing from readers and I think as an author for teens it’s a good way for them to reach out to me. I enjoy being active on social media—it’s a fun way to procrastinate and connect with a bigger world. (Link to Alice Kuipers’ Twitter account) (Link to Alice Kuipers’ Facebook account) Writing involves me tuning out of the world—I am alone with my thoughts and my books. Social media opens the world up so that I can hear from readers and writers about the books and stories that spark their worlds. I like all of the platforms that I use, but my current favourite is Instagram where I regularly post writing prompts for people.

6) You have a program on the internet called Freeflow: A Writing Journey in which you have had budding writers learn skills on how to write? How has that been working out?

That course is free for anyone who signs up to my newsletter and it has a lot of people working through it online. I also have a course with Children’s Book Insider (Link Here) called Chapter Book Blueprint that has been a lot of fun too. I love working on online courses as, again, I’m reaching out from my sofa. It means I can share my ideas about writing with other writers, but then turn to my bouncy children (who are all under the age of eight) and spend a lot of time with them too. I can work around their schedules.

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

Yes, I’m always working on something new. Right now, I’ve been working on a YA novel about a girl who claims to be from the future, and a YA memoir about travelling around the world with panic disorder when I was eighteen. I’ve also got a chapter book series upcoming with Chronicle Press, which is exciting. The first book comes out in 2018. It’s called Polly Diamond.

8) Your biography on your website lists you as living in Saskatoon. How do you like living there? Are there any cultural institutions or landmarks there that you enjoy that help you with your writing?

I’ve been living in Saskatoon for thirteen years now and we have a good life here. The children go to a great school, we have a close community of friends, and we enjoy everything the city has to offer. The winters are a bit long for me, but I’ve learned to cross-country ski, which helps. This year we did a lot of ice-skating too. Saskatoon influences my writing, absolutely. Walking by the river seems to come up for my characters in all of my books now, based on my walks along the Meewasin Valley Trails.  (Link here) I also enjoy Living Sky Café (Link here) in the old Mendel Art Gallery space, and The Children’s Discovery Museum (Link here) is a great place to hang out with the kids and get ideas for stories. I spend a lot of time at my children’s school at the moment—meeting with kids and talking about writing with them seems to help me with my own writing a lot too. And then I go to D’Lish regularly (Link here)—which is the name of the café in Me (and) Me.

*****

Link to Harper Collins Canada’s website for Me (And) Me

Link to Alice Kuipers’ website

 

 

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Engaging the Younger Audience on their own Terms | Review of “The Death of Us” by Alice Kuipers (2014) HarperTrophyCanada

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I am always asked to recommend books for young adults, usually by parents looking to recommend something for their kids to read. It is usually something I am somewhat nervous in doing. I am not sure that I understand the lives that most teenagers have these days. But there are books that are written for that age group that I enjoy. And The Death of Us by Alice Kuipers is certainly one of those books.

Callie Page 5

I get it, I do. The have a baby now and they’ve done their part: what a successful, balanced teenager they’ve created.

I don’t take drugs. Check.

I don’t drink. Check.

I don go to wild parties. Check.

Okay I have a couple extra piercings in my right ear that Mom  hates. And I’ve dyed my hair black, which Dad moans about. And he definitely can’t understand why the dark-blue nail polish, with one green nail on the fourth finger of each hand. I’ve told him there’s nothing to understand.

Still, I keep my room tidy. Check.

I get my homework in on time. Check.

I’ll get into any university I want, probably. Check.

I’m perfectly bone-crushingly normal. Check. Check. Check.

If only I didn’t feel like I do right now around my parents, we could all just get along like we used to.

I originally picked up this book for research into another blog piece but I feel it deserves to be mentioned here. We have three protagonists in this story  who move the plot along by giving their points of view: Callie, Ivy and Kurt. Callie seems to be up for going through an average summer until her old friend Ivy shows up after a three-year unexplained absence. Although somewhat hesitant at first to renew the friendship, Callie is soon going to parties and trying new clothes and much more new activities with Ivy. However when a handsome boy appears on the scene, the friendship grows more than toxic.

Ivy Page 49-50

Kurt beeps the horn outside my house. Mom’s asleep on the couch. She’s gorgeous when she’s sleeping. I spot a text on her phone from Kevin. Dirty words. Gross. I tuck the phone next to her. She stirs, the sour stink of her rising like steam. Screw it, Mom, two days we’ve been back. Don’ you think Kevin’s gonna notice? I take the bottle.

The room is dark, curtains drawn. No one’s watching but I check around anyway. I put the bottle to my lips and hold it there. Then, slowly, I take the bottle away from my mouth. I won’t drink. I’m notlike her – see how easy it is, Mom not to drink? We’re the result of the choices we make every day and this is my choice. I pour the bottle out into the sink, wishing she didn’t always find a way to get more. But I’m not going to waste energy thinking like that. I count one, two, three, four, five.

I’m ready for the boat trip. Summery dress for a sunny, summery day. Kurt beeps the horn again. I’ve made him wait long enough, poor boy. Men are like dogs, they need training, and every dog needs a reward when he’s done good. Kurt has been very patient. I pop my gum in my mouth, step down the porch stairs and slide into the back because there’s another guy in the passenger seat – a thin guy with a beard and glasses, crouched over because he’s so tall . . .

Kuipers has written a narrative here that is honest and frank. The language hasn’t been filtered or corrected by any means, making it an honest read for any young mind to follow. The issues in the story are current for today’s audience. Kuipers drops hints during the story that something massive is going to happen to the trio in the end but does an excellent job in keeping readers in suspense, ensuring readers are enraptured to the end.

Kurt – Pages 119-120

I glance at the black coffee. I can’t drink it. Inertia. I don’t like it about myself, wish I could be more decisive, but when things get tough I blank out. Freeze.

It was the only way to protect myself when I was a little kid. When my mom tore up the world around me. There’s no way to explain to most people, people like Callie or Xander, that life can be so bad sometimes the only way to deal with with it is to pretend none of it’s happening. Or, the opposite. Life can be so good, the possibility of the future so awesome that the only way to protect yourself from ruining it is to sit back. Let the opportunity slide by.

The Death of Us by Alice Kuipers is a unique and enlightening read for  a younger audience. It is a page-turner and a great exploration of thoughts and emotions. In short, a truly exceptional book.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for The Death of Us

Link to Alice Kuipers’ website

Not Only a Smooth and Lyrical Read but an Enlightening One as well | Review of “Dragon Springs Road” by Janie Chang (2017) HarperAvenue

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Many of us who read appreciate a story line that is smooth and lyrical. We enjoy slipping into a narrative that seems to float us away from our reality to another world. And it takes a certain type of writer who has that skill. Fans of Janie Chang realized she had that ability to do that with her first novel, and they eagerly awaited her second book. Now Dragon Springs Road has been released, and book readers have the ability to slide into another great story.

Chapter 1 – November 1908, Year of the Monkey – (Pages 1-2)

The morning my mother went away, she burned incense in front of the Fox altar.

The emperor Guangxu and the dowager empress had both died that week. My mother told me our new emperor was a little boy of almost three called Pui. A child less than half my age now ruled China and she was praying for him. And for us.

My mother knelt, eyes shut, rocking back and forth with clasped hands. I couldn’t hear the prayers she murmured and did my best to imitate her, but I couldn’t help lifting my eyes to steal glances at the picture pasted on the brick wall, a colorful print of a woman dressed in flowing silks, her face sweetly bland, one hand in blessing. A large red fox sat by her feet. A Fox spirit, pictured in her human and animal forms.

The altar was just a low table placed against the back wall of the kitchen. Its cracked wooden surface held an earthenware jar filled with sand. My mother had let me poke our last handful of incense sticks into the sand even let me strike a match ot light them. We had no food to offer that morning except a few withered plums.

The Fox gazed down at me with its painted smile.

After we prayed, my mother dressed me in my new winter tunic.

“Stay here, Jailing,” she said, pushing the last knot button through its loop. “Be quiet and don’t let anyone know you’re here. Stay inside the Western Residence until Mama comes back.”

But three days passed and she didn’t come back.

The story deals with Jialing – a seven years old girl whose her mother abandons her in a courtyard on Dragon Springs Road near Shanghai, China  in 1908. Jialing is a mixed race child – Eurasian – and faces contempt from both Chinese and Europeans alike. While she settles into a life of a bond servant to a family who cares for her in turn, she suffers extreme prejudices and hardships. She finds limited comfort with Anjuin – the eldest daughter of the family she serves – and Fox – an animal spirit who has lived for centuries.

Page 121-122

As the date of Anjuin’s wedding drew near, I worried about the promises we had made to each other. I knew I owed the Yangs much, but I longed to be free of my dependence on them. to be free of them all except Anjuin, even though the prospect of being a maid, even one in a house where Anjuin was mistress, didn’t comfort me the way it had when we were children. I didn’t know what a life outside Dragon Springs Road might be like, but between school and Fox, my horizons had stretched wider than I had ever imagined possible.

As for my childish hopes of finding my mother – how was I ever to accomplish that if my fate was tied to the Yangs? Now I understood it would take money because neither fate nor Fox were about to help me Fox had know me for years and had never mentioned my mother.

My grades were passable, my English scores very good. I wouldn’t be able to attend missionary college since I didn’t qualify for a scholarship. I needed a livelihood. At school, one of the teachers had passed around a newspaper article about the Shanghai Women’s Commercial and Savings Bank. The bank’s new general manager was a woman.

“Perhaps I could find work there as a bank teller,” I whispered to Leah.

“I wouldn’t count on any job that put you in front of customers,” she replied in her blunt way. “They don’t want our kind waiting on them.”

Chang has crafted – note the word crafted –  a complex story here filled with facts, emotions and mysticism. A reader can easily get absorbed in the book and find oneself not only enlightened but educated about life in Shanghai, China in the early 1900s. In bringing the story of Jialing to life, Chang has given us thought about the plight of Eurasians in that time period.

Page 194-`195

In the weeks before graduation I spent my lunch hours in the library poring over newspapers for job listings. I wrote application letters in careful brushstrokes if in Chinese or took my turn on the old school typewriter if the job was advertised in one of Shanghai’s English-language papers.

Clerical or secretarial, tutorial or child care, I replied to them all. All this effort, even though I knew it was futile. There were just too many people in Shanghai, too many with more skills than I could offer. There were people willing to work for almost nothing. There were few enough ways a woman could earn a livelihood, and the decent work went first to young women whose family had guanxi, connections, women whose families could afford red envelopes of cash to ease an introduction. Families whose daughters weren’t tainted with foreign blood.

The Shanghai Women’s Commercial and Savings Bank advertised for a filing clerk. A position suitable for the secondary school graduate. Must be tidy in dress and grooming, with clear handwriting. It was the first bank founded by women, a fine place to begin a career, place where I could use my English skills. I wanted this job very badly and was thrilled to receive a reply to my application.

“This is just a small bank, Miss Zhu,” the manager said. Her hair was pulled back in a large bun, the only ornament on her black tunic a small pearl brooch. “We prefer girls with family connections, girls who can bring us more clients. I didn’t notice you had graduated from a mission school. That was my mistake.”

Her words were pleasant enough, but disdain clung to the corners of her lips. It was another, typically brief interview, the sort that was over as soon as I entered the door. I had let my self hope, a mistake.

Janie Chang has created not only a lyrical novel with Dragon Springs Road but also one that enlightens as well. With a well-crafted plot and story, it is definitely a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Janie Chang’s website

Link to Harper Collins Canada’s website for Dragon Springs Road

Link to my Q&A with Janie Chang “(T)here are many, many details that made their way from family history and into DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.”

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“(T)here are many, many details that made their way from family history and into DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.” Q&A with author Janie Chang on her new novel

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Janie Chang enthralled many readers with her first novel Three Souls. She had carefully crafted that work with a mixture of history, emotion, mysticism, and romance. Now Janie has come out with a second book called Dragon Springs Road and it promises to be just an equally endearing read. Chang recently answered a few questions for me.

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1)      First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Dragon Springs Road?

The novel is set during the early decades of 20th century China, and opens with a young girl named Jialing who’s been abandoned in the courtyard of an old estate outside Shanghai. She finds out very quickly that her life is going to be terrible, because she’s a girl, orphaned, and worst of all, Eurasian. Even though she’s taken in as a bondservant by the family that moves into the estate, Jialing’s life is always going to be difficult. The two main concerns in her life are: how can she survive once the family is done with her, and how can she find her mother? It’s a turbulent time in Chinese history – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the birth of a new republic, the rise of warlords, and all sorts of social upheaval. There’s a murder, political intrigue, supernatural elements that include a Fox spirit, and themes of race and identity, acceptance and friendship.

2)      Your website states that you draw on family stories for your inspiration for your writing? What or who inspired your to write this book?

 My first novel, Three Souls, was inspired by my grandmother’s life, so the premise was taken from family history. Dragon Springs Road, on the other hand, started off as a detour while researching turn-of-the-century Shanghai when I came across references to the Eurasians who lived during pre-War China. Imagine pre-War Shanghai and its decadent reputation. There were thousands of children born to prostitutes and poor women. If they survived infanticide the girls were often put to work in brothels. They were unwanted and unacknowledged by Chinese and Westerners, an embarrassment to both sides. So I tried to imagine what life might’ve been like for such a child, to grow up in a society that valued males, family connections, and lineage. 

But there are many, many details that made their way from family history and into Dragon Springs Road – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.

3)  On your website, you have enclosed photos that provide readers some insight for the book. Did you do much outside research for the book? If yes, what exactly did you do?

Wow. I’m so glad you checked out the Gallery (Click for link). It’s meant to help readers visualize the world of the novel. As for research, you start with the least expensive – online research. And that includes looking for books that might be helpful. I bought a LOT of books, because while they might be available at a library, I like to have them right there on my shelf to flip through as needed. It feels as though I used only 10% of all the information I researched! If you love history, you have to be disciplined when doing research or else you end up down the rabbit hole.  Even though both Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road contain elements of fantasy, they are solidly researched. They are historical novels.

It was actually quite challenging because there were almost no contemporary accounts of the lives of Eurasian orphans and the poor; I found some academic books about Eurasians in China, but much of those accounts were of biracial Chinese from the upper and middle-classes, who were literate and whose lives were documented. There was almost nothing when it came to the far larger population of the poor and orphaned; back in those days, no one wanted to know. Then a friend suggested looking into the memoirs of women missionaries and that really helped because those women were the ones who ran schools and orphanages, who could remark on what happened to the children. 

4) Dragon Springs Road may have just come out but it looks like reaction to it has been very positive. Is that the case? Have there been any memorable comments to the book that you care to share?

 This is my second novel, so I think my publishers have more to work with in terms of readership and media attention – they’re no longer trying to promote a one-book author! Memorable comments? Well, I suffered from the Dreaded Sophomore Novel Syndrome while writing Dragon Springs Road and thought that it was going to be a terrible book! So when my editors came back after reading the manuscript and said it was an even better, more accomplished novel than the first, I was so relieved! So the email from my editor was definitely memorable.

5)      Are you planning on partaking on any public readings of Dragon Springs Road at all? If yes, are there any dates/events that you are looking forward to participating in?

I’ve had a couple of events locally (in the Vancouver area) including the Canadian launch; also the US book launch at Kepler’s Books (Click for link) (Menlo Park, CA) and Vroman’s Bookstore (Click for link) (Pasadena). I’m really looking forward to the first literary festival of the year, which is the Galiano Literary Festival (Click for linkheld on one of our beautiful Gulf Islands. Everything that’s been scheduled for sure so far is on my Events page (Click for link).

6) You seem to be active on both social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Are you hoping that readers connect with you through those means to comment on this book? How do you like using those means of communication in relation to your writing?

Social media is a requirement these days for authors unless you’re Elena Ferrante, who every author envies for having sidestepped the time drain that’s social media. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter, probably more Facebook than Twitter. In general, social media makes me nervous. My background is in high tech and I am so aware of the privacy issues surrounding these free services, such as what corporations can do with data mining to cross-reference your personal information from different sources. And don’t even get me started on the decline of civil conversation in an age of tweets. 

On the other hand, I’ve become friends with readers and other authors through social media, from reaching out to them and vice versa, so I shouldn’t complain. I know that social media makes it easier for readers to ask questions. When I don’t have time to write a good blog, Facebook is a good place to post an article about something that I’m reading and thinking about.  There are friends I would lose touch with if not for social media.

7) Your website offers a special section for book clubs (and states that you will even participate in a book-clubs discussion groups via Skype). Have you participated in many book-club activities? Is that something you enjoy doing?

It’s good to get out of the writing den! Skype is not as nice as face-to-face, but it means you can meet with book clubs anywhere. Last year HarperCollins New Zealand organized one with a book club in Queenstown, on the South Island of (New Zealand) !

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

Absolutely. Novel #3 is all outlined. I’m really excited about the premise and can’t wait for the flurry of promotion for Dragon Springs Road to be finished so that I can really get down to writing. What I can say is that the third novel is inspired by family history. Again. And it mixes history with the supernatural. Again.

*****

Link to Harper Collins Canada’s webpage for Dragon Springs Road

Link to Janie Chang’s website

Illustrating Canada One Letter At A Time | Review of “Canada ABC” by Paul Covello (2016) HarperCollins Canada

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Scanned image of my copy of the cover of Paul Covello’s Canada ABC (2016)

Since I have been asked to give my opinion about childrens’ books, I have been impressed with the details, the planning and the design that goes into what appears at first a simple item. And that is what I found interesting about Paul Covello’s Canada ABC book too. But as I flipped through the book, I found myself thinking that there may be another use for his book as Canada prepares to celebrate it’s 150th year since Confederation in 2017.

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“H is for Hockey” Illustration by Paul Covello. Scanned image from my copy of Canada ABC by Paul Covello (2016)

Covello has a great book here. He documents every letter from A to ‘Zed’ with unique Canadian concepts and icons. The images at first appear to be simple. (For example – A setting with three or four animals). But then one looks at the pictures and realized there is a bit of hidden detail here. (A collection of leaves, a grove of trees which use geometric shapes, colours that compliment each other and so forth.) The joy of this book is not just looking at the definitions and the images that are here, but to look at the details and – if one is sharing with others – discuss the details of each of the images.

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“B is for Beaver.” Illustration by Paul Covello. Scanned image from my copy Canada ABC by Paul Covello (2016)

While this may be a book for little minds, I believe that I will be giving copies of this book out to visitors to Canada who come to see me during the celebrations of our country next year. The simple concept would help people whose English skills may be limited still understand the concepts of what makes up Canada today. And the brightly illustrated pages are more unique than any tacky souvenir that is available for purchase.

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“V is for Voyager” Illustration by Paul Covello. Scanned image from my copy of Canada ABC by Paul Covello (2016)

Paul Covello’s Canada ABC may appear to be a simple book, but it is a unique discussion piece when one gives a few careful moments to look it over. It is a perfect gift for so many people as Canada prepares to celebrate it’s 150 anniversary since Confederation.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s webpage for Canada ABC

Link to Paul Covello’s website