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The following reviews composed by Kathy and Dave from 2011-2013 either were printed in the Beaver River Banner or broadcast on KOOL FM Bonnyville. Here they are arranged alphabetically by the author whose work is reviewed.
Biography, like good fiction, can draw us close to a character with whom, at first glance, we have precious little in common. Carmen Aguirre, a Vancouver actress and playwright, has written her memoirs of growing up in a revolutionary family and participating throughout South America in the resistance against the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Her book, entitled Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter , leads us on a journey beginning in the Los Angeles airport in, 1979, when eleven year old, Carmen, hears from her mother that the plan to travel to Costa Rica is a façade, masking the secret objective, which is Lima, Peru. So begins Carmen’s growing up with a mother and step-father who are constantly leading a double life for the sake of revolution, a cause that also claims Carmen as she witnesses poverty, racism and repression in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, and comes to admire the commitment of her parents and their comrades. As readers, we might not share Carmen Aguirre’s radical perspective, but her story helps us understand why people make the choices they do. The resistance movement is just one aspect of this quite wonderful coming of age story. Readers will enjoy Ms. Aguirre’s description of La Paz, Bolivia, a city set in a crater high in the mountains. On Independence Day, “Ladies with ten skirts in every possible colour twirled in unison, bright threads woven through their braids.” Pick up a copy of Something Fierce and come to know this interesting human being, at once a committed revolutionary and a young woman who thrills to see people dance.
The ‘Best Kept Secret’ is the third book in Jeffrey Archer’s suspenseful Clifton Chronicle series. The setting as the story opens is 1945 in London, England and the House of Lords has to decide whether the legitimate son or the illegitimate son will inherit the Barrington family fortune. This is a multi-generational family drama continuing into the late fifties when the Barrington grandson unwittingly becomes part of an international art fraud.
There are great twists and surprises and even a baby found on the doorstep, as Archer spins his intriguing story. I had no trouble enjoying this story on its own and I will definitely go back and read 'Only Time Will Tell' and 'The Sins of the Father', the two novels in the series before ‘The Best Kept Secret’.
Martin Avery has been teaching at Ecole Voyageur in Cold Lake and writing poetry. Ya Ya Yakupov! is his recent collection of sixty four poems in praise of the Edmonton Oilers rookie sensation, Naill Yakupov. His poem, ‘Deadmonton’, wonders that the Edmonton Sun is no longer obsessed with the high homicide rate now that Yakupov is in town. ‘Ecstatic Man’, celebrates the conclusion of the NHL lock-out, where else - at Clark’s General Store. The poem concludes on the frozen lake with this coda, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” Another favourite of mine, ‘Yakupov and I’, finishes with an enigmatic quote from former enforcer, Dave “the Hammer” Shultz, “Put bullying on ice.” Martin Avery suggests in poetry the exuberance Naill Yakupov expresses in sport. Ya Ya Yakupov! is not currently available from any distributor, but we may know a source. You might also be intrigued to seek out Martin Avery’s other works. The last comment in the book describes Martin thusly, “He may not be the Gretzky of CanLit, but he might be the Semenko.”
If you have watched CBC television news at all over the last ten years, then foreign correspondent, Nahlah Ayed, will be a familiar face to you. Given all the conflict that has occurred in the Arab world, Ms. Ayed has been totally immersed in the journalistic task of bringing Canadians a fuller sense of what is going on than who is now out of power and who is in. Her recent book, “A Thousand Farewells”, opens up for the reader this reporter’s personal experience: why these communities of people matter to her and how she is touched by the hopes and the dangers of revolution. The sub-title to her work is “A Reporter’s Journey from Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring.” Ms. Ayed was born in Winnipeg, but when she was six years old, her Palestinian parents chose to return to the Middle East, to a refugee camp in Jordan, so that their children could become better grounded in Arabic culture. For this young Canadian, the transition was culture shock. In a conservative society she had to wear the hijab and keep silent when relatives gathered together. Returning to Winnipeg as a teenager, Nahlah participated with her family in that common story of Immigrants, working long hours in a family store. After the events of September 11, 2001, she changed career direction and became a journalist. Her fluency in both Arabic language and Arabic popular culture made her well suited to bring Canadians this particular story. It is clear in her writing that Ms. Ayed has a point of view, not a political perspective, but empathy for ordinary people. Nahlah really shared the life of people in Amman, Beirut, Baghdad, Benghazi and Cairo. Bombs and beatings took their toll, but glimpses of hope kept her going. I highly commend to you her book, “A Thousand Farewells”.
What Randy Bachman conveys to readers of his Vinyl Tap Stories is his deep appreciation for music and the people who make it. His two hour shows on CBC radio present a great variety of popular music from the past six decades always organized around some theme: songs with a girl’s name in the title or songs featuring particular guitars, Fenders, Gibsons and Rickenbackers. It’s well known that Bachman did not indulge in the kind of excess that is remembered in other rock and roll biographies. This author is all about the music: his own hits with the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, but also the musicians who influenced him from Chet Atkins to Chuck Berry and the artists of more recent times like Jan Arden and George Michael who valued Randy’s support along the way. Hearing his show on the radio I really listen to each song, finding more in that song, even if it’s a number I’ve heard countless times in the past. In the same way his book brings meaning to the music by colouring in stories about how it was made and who made it. “Taking Care of Business” began as an impromptu jam session that was only later developed into a great hit. The book strongly narrates how Randy’s experience of growing up in Winnipeg nourished his musical career. I first heard “Prairie Town” driving between Cold Lake and Pierceland on a frigid winter night, and I had to nod in agreement when he sang “Portage and Main, fifty below.” Mr. Bachman is unfailingly kind to all those whose lives intersected his own, including Burton Cummings, his writing partner for "American Woman", "She’s Come Undone", and "These Eyes". Vinyl Tap Stories is an interesting and positive read. You may be inspired to explore some Lenny Breau or The Shadows, music that mattered to Randy Bachman, or just turn up the volume on "Let it Ride" as with new energy you tackle dirty dishes or whatever domestic chore.
A “flight of Aquavit” is an arrangement of three differently spiced liqueurs that are meant to be imbibed in quick succession. Flight of Aquavit is also the title of the second book in Anthony Bidulka’s Russell Quant mystery series. Indeed our hero finds himself in the bar at the Plaza Hotel in New York partaking of this ritual in the course of investigating a blackmailing scheme that threatens to expose his closeted client’s homosexuality. Quant is an interesting and sympathetic character, a gay private detective in, of all places, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, whose widowed Ukrainian mother arrives in town from the farm to spend Christmas and maybe longer. The bitter cold and the emptiness of the surrounding countryside feature strongly as persons unknown attempt to dissuade Quant from pursuing this case. Quant’s sleuthing is made more difficult by his client’s reticence to open up about his lifestyle, given his marriage and his corporate role. Connections with an assortment of friends paint a very positive picture of Quant’s character, and while the elements of the mystery come clear, there is also wisdom about life and living that emerges by the time Christmas morning arrives. Author Anthony Bidulka opens our attitudes with this very human hero to whom we can all relate. I highly recommend to you “Flight of Aquavit”, not the drinking, but the reading.
“STOMP YOUR FEET! CLAP YOUR HANDS! EVERYBODY READY FOR A BARNYARD DANCE!”
This is the opening to Sandra Boynton’s boardbook ‘Barnyard Dance’. What makes this author’s many children’s books so special is the musical singsong rhyme in which they are written. The cute characters participating on the pages jump and dance along with the words. In ‘Pajama Time’, as bedtime comes, we are all invited to celebrate.
“Pull on the bottoms. Pull on the top.
Get yourself set to pajama-dee-bop-
It’s Pajama Time!”
These books are infectious fun! You probably know kids, who years later, still sing the words of their favourite Sandra Boynton storybooks.
Bricker, Darrell and Ibbitson, John
The Big Shift, a recent book from pollster, Darrell Bricker, and journalist, John Ibbitson, defines its subject in the sub-title: the seismic change in Canadian politics, business and culture. They raise a few interesting questions about what the rising immigrant population means for business, but this book is really about politics. Given traditional loyalties in Western and Atlantic Canada and in the three biggest cities, the authors suggest that Stephen Harper’s electoral success has been based on the increasing votes of upwardly mobile immigrant families in Ontario’s suburban areas. These people born in other countries, but now Canadian citizens, have by and large conservative values. Harper’s own shift in attitude toward trade with China corresponds with the growing power of Chinese Canadians who on the one hand, don’t care to see the land of their birth belittled, and on the other, look to the government of this country basically to curb crime and taxes. The authors set up a straw man, an imagined entity termed “The Laurentian Consensus”. This so-called cabal of elites from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa has been running the country throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, irrespective of which party has been in power. They are responsible for encouraging the very levels of immigration which are now the cause of their downfall. The authors claim to state only a reasonable analysis of fact, and they leave open the possibility that the political situation can change if others will adapt to the demographic situation. Even if this book provokes you from your very first sight of the Tory blue maple leaf flag on the cover, do pick up The Big Shift if you enjoy discussions of Canadian politics.
Today I have chosen the book ‘Caleb’s Crossing’ by Australian-born Geraldine Brooks. It was the author’s own interest and research for this story that began when she stumbled across an old map of Martha’s Vineyard showing the history of the native Wampanoag people. Upon further research she learned that, Cheeshahteaumauk, also known as Caleb, was the first Native American graduate of Harvard College in 1665. Although the story is centered on this theme, it is told through the character of Bethia. Brooks detailed research gives us a rich picture of a teenagers life in the 1600’s in North America. Although Bethia found academics easy and pleasurable, her Puritan faith did not allow her to participate in formal education. Rather she was assigned to housekeeping duties and family care. The story begins with her life in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans, where her father’s position is to convert the Wamoanoag people. It is here where she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain. They enjoy a secret friendship where mutual learning and appreciation happens. Bethia questions her strict faith’s ideals as she experiences the beauty and reverence of the Native people. Since money donations were important to the small colony, it became her father’s project to educate Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. In 1665, this young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. The author, Geraldine Brooks, uses this sliver of historical fact to write an amazing story where a culture is uplifted through the political and social tensions of the day and age. Although the story moved slowly at first, I found myself more and more engaged with the characters as the story evolved through their many hardships and small victories. Several of the author’s previous books also are historically researched and great reads such as her stories: ‘People of the Book’, ‘Year of Wonders’ as well as her 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book entitled ‘March’.
‘We Need New Names’ by Noviolet Bulawayo is on the longlist for the Man Booker Award, which is one of the English language's top fiction awards. This story is told through the brash voice of a young Afican girl, Darling. With her close pals Chipo, Bastard, Godknows, and Stina she endures life through play, laughter and the support of one another. They face hunger, broken families, disease and apartheid every day. The dream they carry is to live in the United States where they imagine they will be free, rich and drive expensive cars. Darling does leave Africa to live with her Aunt’s family in the U.S. but discovers that what she has left behind still lurks in the United States. The ending shocked me but did come full circle in its meaning. I recommend ‘We Need New Names’ for the deepness of the writing by Noviolet Bulawayo, who grew up in Africa.
Bullying is a problem with sometimes lethal outcomes about which we are hearing more and more through the media. Caprice Crane has written a fun to read novel, ‘Confessions of a Hater’ for the 18+ age group, on this subject Although Crane writes with wit and humour she packs a powerful message: retaliation to bullying is ineffective. A psychological study on people who either bully or who have been bullied shows that both groups are six times more likely to have mental health issues as adults. In our story Hailey is being bullied in high school, but she gets the chance to start over when her parents move. With the help of an older sister’s diary she morphs into one of the cool kids in her new school. Unfortunately she also becomes a bully. This is a well written story that looks at bullying from a teen level although bullying happens at any age. Due to some of the mature content it is best for those over 18 years old.
Have you ever dreamed of living off the grid and being self sustaining while not paying utility bills? Ted and Kathy Carns live this life and have shared their adventure in ‘Off On Our Own: Living Off-grid In Comfortable Independence’. Ted writes about learning at an early age by working with his father on creative do it yourself projects. This book is not a ‘do it yourself’ book, but Carns does include several small projects such as how to make a propane bottle stove. The philosophy of self-reliance is dispersed throughout the book as Carns steps the reader through the process that led he and his partner to comfortably flourish while producing their own power, water system and vegan food source. He even offers some of their favourite recipes. Check out the pictures and sampler on stonecamp.com.
Reading 1912 by James Chace, I was struck by how the modern world quite suddenly arrived on the scene at the turn of the century. The American politicians running in that 1912 election had to respond to issues such as child labour, the domination of business by big trusts led by Morgan, Rockefeller, and Carnegie, and the often violent conflict between workers and management. Chace describes the dynamics of the four parties involved at the time, the familiar Democrats and Republicans, the Progressive Bull Moose party that had split from the Republicans, and the Socialists under Eugene Debs. Teddy Roosevelt, who had already served as President from 1901 to 1909 found himself estranged from a man who had been his friend and vice president, the Republican candidate, William Taft. TR was an adventurer, a warrior, an environmentalist, a truly larger than life character applauded wherever he went. Woodrow Wilson, who won the election for the Democrats, was not as sympathetic a character. Chace’s thesis, however, is that Roosevelt’s progressive idealism, the notion that government can soften capitalism’s harsh impacts, somehow found its way into the policies of Woodrow Wilson and later Democrats, while the Republican Party inherited Taft’s conservatism. Okay, so books on American history strike you as a hard sell.
If you are looking for a fast moving thriller set in the present, but soaked in history and legend, then The Red Templar by Paul Christopher is for you. This is the fifth title in a series, but I had no trouble coming into Christopher’s work fresh. John Holliday is a retired U.S. Army ranger well versed in history, having taught the subject at West Point. It’s not just the quest to uncover relics from the Medieval Knights Templar and Tsarist Russia that provides interest. Borrowing from Dan Brown, there is a Vatican angle: and given recent events, a frightening appraisal of Vladimir Putin. Concerning the recent and the distant past, the reader might question whether the author has his history exactly right. His description of Rasputin’s death does fit with the latest solutions to this mystery. However, I’m not convinced that current patriarchs and cardinals conspire to assassinate anyone; but it really doesn’t matter. Remember that this is fiction! American authorities don’t come off any better in this story than do other potentates, (including a particular Canadian leader described as having plastic hair.) The reader sympathizes with our hero because he is on everyone’s hit list. Holliday and his afro-Cuban buddy, Eddie, careen from Istanbul to Moscow via a Bulgarian monastery, St. Petersburg with its famous Hermitage Museum, and Yekaterinburg where the last Tsar was shot in 1918. They fly rickety airplanes, climb through rat infested sewers and hitch a ride on a snow plow. Our adventurers’ goal is the mythical sword of the north forged for the Templars by Alberic, the dwarf. Somehow, the lost sword is connected with a non-canonical gospel whose discovery is what really concerns all the powers arrayed against our dynamic duo. Ultimately I thought The Red Templar was a buddy story, about two people from different backgrounds who share friendship and a thirst for adventure. Join them on this journey and, by all means, lock your seat in the upright position and fasten your safety belt.
Big Man is a frustrating book to read, especially if you are an admirer of the book’s subject and author, the late Clarence Clemons, saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band. The book’s subtitle is “Real Life and Tall Tales”, but the real life and the soul of Mr. Clemons are only partially disclosed here and there, for example in the photos of Clarence as a teen at his mother’s graduation. The tall tales are printed on darker grey pages, and some of these are entertaining such as Clarence’s story of accompanying Hunter Thompson to Cuba to shoot pool with Fidel Castro. However the reader sometimes wonders whether the whole book is smoke and mirrors. Mr. Clemons’ co-author, Don Reo, pops in and out of the text, sometimes lifting up Clarence, after Clarence has expressed praise for Bruce Springsteen. One gets the impression that Clarence Clemons would much rather blast into his legendary sax solos than write about himself. It is Christmas time and we can be forgiving, particularly to a man whose smile and music lit up the night.
Each Bryce Courtney book that I read reminds me of what a compelling story teller he is. ‘The Power of One’ tells of the growing up of Peekay, a South African of English descend. At five years old he is sent to an Afrikaans boarding school because of his mother’s hospitalization due to mental health issues. He endures horrible bullying through his schooling but learns to survive by blending in, not showing his real abilities and persevering. A boxing champion takes him under his wing and influences Peekay into becoming a boxer. The background of South Africa on the eve of World War II creates another layer of depth to the story. It’s interesting to me that Bryce Courtney’s own growing up parallels Peekay’s in many places. Although Courtney died last November he leaves behind many more great stories. ‘The Power of One’ is one of his earlier works and I look forward to reading many more. If you are looking to find a good author for the summer I highly recommend Bryce Courtney.
Pressures can come from many directions in life. What would it be like to just get into your car and drive away from them all? Barbara Delinsky gives us a poignant answer to this question in her story ‘Escape’. Emily and her husband James are two high powered lawyers living the dream in New Your city. Yet, in reality, both are work alcoholics, compelled to work long anxiety packed days, rarely seeing each other, in an attempt to get further up the corporate ladder. One morning Emily gets into her car and drives away and leaves her life behind. What unfolds is a story of coming to terms with this decision. It is perhaps is a gentler version of what it might look like for most, while attempting this escape plan. I recommend this book for an escape from January’s cold.
If you want a glimpse of Nigeria and can’t afford the airfare then pick up Will Ferguson’s new book entitled ‘419’. Through his story we see the Niger Delta area, before and after the discovery of oil, and we glimpse how resource development has affected the people’s way of life. There is an unsavory side to the emerging changes. You may not recognize the title of this book, but you probably have received in your email box invitations to make money by sending a small sum first to someone in Africa. Our story follows the death of a retired Alberta school teacher who loses everything through an internet scam. His grief-stricken daughter Laura, travels to Nigeria, against all wisdom, to find and confront the thief. Will Ferguson weaves a fast paced, tangled story, as brassy as the drivers in Nigeria who prefer horns to brakes. This is Kathy at Lots-a-Books saying if you want a great story that hits close to home, pick up ‘419’.
I enjoyed reading this week’s book however I did not like the ending. In her current bestseller ‘Gone Girl’, Gillian Flynn writes with exciting twists and turns. In the first few pages we meet Amy and Nick on their fifth anniversary. It is a picture of marital bliss as they enjoy breakfast together. Amy, we learn, is the only child of psychologist parents. They have become wealthy from authoring a series of children’s books entitled ‘Amazing Amy’ where the little girl in the story always chooses the correct way to behave. Shortly after Nick and Amy’s anniversary celebration, Nick arrives home to find the front door open and their ‘indoor’ cat sitting on the steps outside. There has been a scuffle in the house and Amy is missing. The crime investigators soon point to Nick as a main suspect. The point of view alternates between Amy’s diary and Nick’s reality as more and more evidence is uncovered. I won’t say any more about the story line, but shockers are dropped chapter after chapter. I definitely enjoyed the roller coaster story line!
The idea behind the recent book from Diane Francis, Merger of the Century, is spelled out in the sub-title, Why Canada and America Should Become One Country. You may react negatively to the idea, but this well known business writer has done her homework. She analyzes the current global context and the accomplished mergers to date such as that in Germany. She spells out the downward drift of Canada and the U.S. without a merger. There are strengths that each nation can bring to a new union. There are particular characteristics of the other country that need to be emulated whether full merger takes place or not, the entrepreneurial spirit in America and the openness to appropriate government leadership in Canada. Ms Francis’s hopeful word is synergy, the notion that union brings more than just the sum of its parts. We have resources to be discovered, accessed and developed, but it isn’t helpful for us to be totally dependent on resource extraction. And are we wise to throw ourselves into the arms of China?
In book one of Diana Gabaldon’s wildly popular Outlander series, our heroine, Claire, is accidentally transported back in time to the 18th century in Scotland. Life in a Scottish clan for a Twentieth Century ex-army nurse is both strange yet compelling as she learns how they used herbs and treated disease two centuries ago. At one point Claire even undergoes a trial for witchcraft because of her ability to heal. She knows she must choose between returning to post-war England and the husband who has lost her or choose to stay in the hardships of the Scottish wilds with the handsome and loving Jamie Fraser. The Outlander contains time travel, mystery, romance, fantasy and horror. Thanks to our customer Suzanne for recommending Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. It is a really great read.
A story well told, whether fiction, biography, romance, horror or fantasy, is always a good read. Neil Gaiman’s fantasy tale ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ begins with a middle aged man returning home for a funeral and revisiting a strange part of his childhood. He remembers when he was a seven year old boy and lived in the area. He returns to the pond that his neighbor and friend Nettie called an ocean. Even at a young age he realizes that Nettie, her mother and grandmother are old souls who have lived forever. When evil strikes Nettie tries to intervene but through the young boys foot a doorway to another destructive dimension is opened. Our hero is caught between saving the world and doing what his parents are telling him. Nothing is as it seems. ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ is a wild ride. I loved it.
The sub-title says it all in the recent effort by former Suncor CEO, Rick George, Sun Rise: Suncor, the Oil Sands and the Future of Energy. So don’t expect a detailed biography. Mr. George tells us only a little about his background in Colorado, his academic career and his wife. The book is really about Suncor’s journey under his management and his perspective on associated issues, particularly the concern for the environment in the context of increasing global demand for energy. The most hopeful image in the book is Wapisiw Lookout, the transformation of a tailing pond into restored boreal forest. Another hopeful image is the man, himself. I cannot imagine a better poster boy for the oil industry than Rick George: reasonable and successful, a modest team player when it comes to crediting success, and yet single-minded about the need to impose Suncor’s culture after the merger with Petro-Canada. In spite of Rick’s articulate reasonableness, readers will certainly detect bitterness in his comments on Hollywood environmentalists such as Daryl Hannah and James Cameron. Rick George knows that this conversation must and will continue. He often repeats his claim to be optimistic. It makes me optimistic to believe that a corporate leader doesn’t focus solely on share value, but responds to public concerns about the industry’s activity. I eagerly anticipate reading critical but reasoned analysis of Mr. George’s actions and his arguments from environmentalists who know the science. From a business perspective I can’t imagine MBA students doing case studies and finding any fault. Sunrise is a book well worth reading, particularly in this part of the world where we are all involved with oil, if only because we share in the economic benefits and the lifestyle energy makes possible.
Giffords, Mark and Gabrielle
Gabrielle Giffords, a member of the United States House of Representatives from Arizona, was shot almost one year ago while she met with constituents at a Tucson shopping centre. Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope is an inspiring book about this plucky woman, her recovery from severe brain trauma and her relationship with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, before, during and after the tragic events of January 8, 2011. False media reports immediately after the shooting suggested that Gabby had not survived. The first few weeks of care were critical. Dr. Rhee, the surgeon in Tucson, assured Mark,” She will not die. I do not give her permission.” Indeed Gabby regained consciousness and after one month spoke her first word, and her journey of recovery continues.
The voice throughout the book, save for a page of Gabby’s thoughts near the end, is Mark’s voice. It is clear that he loves and admires this woman. Having met each other on an exchange sponsored by the National Committee on United States-China Relations, it was Gabby who initiated their first date, a fact finding visit to the Arizona State Prison. Mark was the divorced father of two daughters, and initially he was cautious. He acknowledges that the rapport between his daughters and Gabby has seen some rough patches along the way, but tragedy has a way of bringing people together. These are two high powered personalities, Ms. Giffords a businesswoman, a state and then a federal politician, and Captain Kelly a pilot who flew combat missions in Desert Storm and later the commander of the space shuttle, Endeavour. Even with Gabby’s recovery four months along Mark went into space knowing that this is what she would want him to do. A touching moment in their story comes when Mark returns from his trip to the space station and the two re-unite.
The congresswoman is still in speech therapy trying to put sentences together. The day will come when she will be able to express herself fully and offer more of her experience from her own perspective. Much has been made of the polarized political discourse in the United States and how Gabby’s assailant may have been encouraged by the crosshairs symbol over her district on Sarah Palin’s website. A detail that shocks me, living in a society less infatuated with guns, is that the shooter purchased the bullets that very morning at a nearby Walmart. But the tenor of this book is personal, not political. As she regained strength, Gabby was told of the six people killed in this incident, her constituents and a staffer who was close to her. She absorbed that news. She moved from institutional to out-patient care. She even made her way to Washington for a crucial vote in Congress. On You-tube you can see Gabrielle Giffords doing her best in a recent interview with Diane Sawyer. Her story adds to my hope this Christmas season.
This week's book was recommended to me by several of our customers. After reading 'The Book of Negroes' I agree that this is a riveting story and hard to put down. Over the last few years it has not only won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Overall Book, but also the Rogers' Trust Fiction Prize, and the winner of CBC's Canada Reads. There are many intertwining themes in this sweeping story that takes the reader from a West African tribal village to a plantation in the southern United States, to the docks of Nova Scotia, on to London and finally to Sierre Leone. The strength and determination that the heroine of the story, Aminata Diallo, portrays through the many, many soul destroying events in her life, is inspiring. Meena, as she is called outside her village, goes beyond triumph of willpower to learn to read, write and master other languages. These skills save her life many times.
Abducted at eleven years old in West Africa she is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. Years later, she works toward freedom by serving the British when they pulled out of the 13 Colonies in America. At this time she registers her name in the historic "Book of Negroes", a short but hugely revealing record of Loyalist slaves who were freed and granted permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia. Over 3000 slaves were shipped to the Maritines in 1783. Once there they were to find more oppression in what they were led to believe would be a safe haven. Meena's story continues with her working toward freedom even through the pain of the loss of loved ones and the loss of friends who were weak and deceptive. At the end of the book, author Lawrence Hill, says that although the story is creative, it does reflect the history of the Black Loyalists and their history. He also includes a chapter highlighting other books for further reading about the history of the slave trade.
In the New York area Vivian Nixon directs an agency providing programs for women who have been imprisoned. Amy Lehman brings a floating health clinic to the communities around Lake Tanganyika in Africa. In Guatemala Maria Pacheco incubates businesses in villages and ensures that the products find markets. These are just three of the twelve vignettes in Jill Iscol’s book “Hearts on Fire: stories of today’s visionaries igniting idealism into action.” Readers meet fourteen activists who have dedicated themselves to raising standards of health, quality of life and opportunity in the United States and in developing countries. These individuals share something of their life journeys, why they have taken these paths, and how they have imagined new solutions for the world’s problems. The book is not a difficult nor a long read, and it just may be worth a second read.
If you read the book 'Requiem' by Francis Itani, you will come to understand how the gift of story-telling is a step beyond simply being able to write. Itani weaves her tale from both the perspective of a young Japanese boy in a 1940's Canadian internment camp and then from the same person as an adult after the war. We are taken into the shacks of Canadian Japanese people who have been uprooted from their homes and livelihoods following the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December, 1941. Although most of these people were born here in Canada they were still removed from the coast and sent to a barren piece of land upstream near the Fraser River. The young boy, Bin, finds solace in drawing while living with the kind, childless man, to whom he is given. Bin plays Beethoven's music on a tree trunk which replaces his confiscated piano. Through hope, faith and love they live through incredible hardships while being interned and then adjusting to life years later. Frances Itani's writing moves with the rhythm of a great composer. I highly recommend the story 'Requiem'.
Jensen, David H.
The book, Living Hope by David H. Jensen, is a recent work of Christian Theology. Reading about religion or philosophy is not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are several aspects of this work that might stir interest and enhance accessibility. Professor Jensen is writing about the last things, the end times, heaven and life after death. He is writing primarily for an audience of church goers who usually avoid these topics, mainstream Christians who share modern culture’s aversion to apocalyptic themes. Whoever you are, hope and meaning are probably going to be essential issues for you. This writer understands that. And so Jensen mediates between biblical texts and a coffee shop conversation of diverse young adults. He weaves in current issues such as climate change that seriously do threaten life on this planet and even the Left Behind series and other works of those Christians who are quite clear about how the eschaton will unfold. Affirming in respectful and inspiring ways his own faith understanding, Jensen addresses a non-theological lay audience. I find him helpful, for instance, when he notes that, far from glorifying violence as God’s way, the Book of Revelation really holds up the victims of violence. If the writer minimizes the biblical witness to Armageddon, Antichrist and the millennium, it is not to ridicule people who emphasize such terms, but to give greater emphasis to God’s vulnerable and healing approach to creation in Jesus. The subtitle to Living Hope is “The Future and Christian Faith” and the author’s essential point is that the future is not to be separated from the present but anticipated in our own lives of compassion and care for creation. Well, another plus for this book is its brevity, and before my review reaches too far into the future and becomes a sermon, I will sign off saying simply that I liked it.
The Ukrainian capital of Kiev may not be your idea of a January escape, but that is the setting and the season for Andrew Kaplan’s latest thriller, Scorpion Winter. Ex CIA and now lone ranger secret agent, Scorpion, is paid to prevent from taking place a political assassination during the run up to the Ukrainian election. In the dangerous background are the delicate balance of power and spheres of influence between Russia and the west. As with many thrillers, the lead character is stoic, silent and super-competent, but Scorpion has one vulnerability, and her name is Iryna, assistant to the more pro western of the two candidates running for office. The author’s description of the cities, the culture and the current political climate in that country feels authentic. There are a variety of bad guys and questionable guys who intersect with Scorpion along the way, mostly not to their benefit. Our hero has his work cut out for him, so pick up a copy of Scorpion Winter and cheer him on.
Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are book series that many kids grew up reading. I reread Nancy Drew’s book #2, ‘The Hidden Staircase’ this week. Did you know that the first books in this sixty-four set series were written in the 1930’s by a number of authors published under the pseudonym, Carolyn Keene. At that time, the character Nancy Drew presented the model of a female-teen, full of courage and determination. In ‘The Hidden Staircase’ , Nancy investigates a ghost haunting at a mansion while she deals with the fact that her father has been kidnapped. During the course of this suspenseful story, Nancy is able to get confessions out of criminals, find secret staircases and help the police find her father. Good work Nancy Drew! Over the years necessary revisions have been done to the stories in response to changes in society. If you happen to have any of the original books, hang on to them as they are becoming more and more valuable collector items. The success of these series is often due to nostalgia and the passing down of the books to children and grandchildren. I enjoyed rereading this Nancy Drew story, reprinted in 1987. And there are sixty three books left to go. This is Kathy from Lots-a-Books encouraging you to pick up again a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book for the pure fun of it.
Alien Vs. Alien by Gini Koch is a Science Fiction novel set either in the near future or some alternative present. Friendly aliens from the Alpha Centauri solar system are living among us , marrying humans and having hybrid children. Kitty, the heroine of this novel, is developing super abilities like hyper-speed and empathic/telepathic communication with animal creatures. She attains these gifts in the process of carrying and giving birth to her hybrid infant daughter. The appearance of doctored photos of Kitty in compromising positions is just one of several incidents indicating that dark forces threaten the Centaurans and their human friends. Centauran traitors, anti-aliens associated with Club 51 and assorted other bad guys, pop up in and around The Centauran embassy in Washington D.C. and other locales to cause mischief. Kitty and her crew need to discern the true intentions behind the diversionary tactics. Somewhere in the first hundred pages a colleague tells Kitty that she talks too much. For my taste there was too much dialogue and not enough description in the beginning. Diverse characters came into the conversation and it was hard to keep track of who they were and what was their agenda. But patience is a virtue, and I gradually became familiar with the different players. Gini Koch’s story caught my interest and took me on a fun trip. Now Sci-fi and urban fantasy aren’t normally my preference, but a reader’s effort is often rewarded when you seriously try something different.
Time Expectancy, an earlier novel by Dean Koontz, has it all. It is a good story with great character development and enough suspense to keep one reading long into the night. Jimmy Tock is born at the same moment that his grandfather dies. But before he dies, the grandfather wakens from a coma just long enough to predict both Jimmy’s birth as well as five days of castrophic events that he will endure, the first dark day to come during his twentieth year. The story continues with the first four events unfolding as predicted. Jimmy trusts that he must survive these four dark days to get to the fifth. These five events with their twists and turns, and thankfully some humour, keep this fast paced story moving along in Koontz style as the human spirit perseveres against evil. I highly recommend it.
I had never read any books by Dean Koontz as I assumed he wrote for readers who like lots of scary and sinister moments. When a customer walked out of our used book room with ten of his novels, I decided to read one for myself. I chose ‘Watchers’ and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the story. Two genetically altered animals escape from a top secret government lab. Both have had their genes altered to render an almost human level of intelligence. That’s where the similarity ends. The one animal is a beautiful golden retriever who knows how to love, while the other, a hybrid monster, has a disposition of pure hatred. The monster unremittingly hunts the dog and his new owners, setting in motion this spine tingling story. Koontz paints an entertaining picture of what life with a super intelligent dog might be like. So I was correct in anticipating a frightening story line, but I am amazed to find powerful themes in the novel of healing love, the ability to overcome one’s past and change no matter what the circumstances. I have new admiration for Dean Koontz.
While wandering in the used book section of our store my attention was caught by ‘Your Heart Belongs To Me’ a title from Nov. 2008 by bestselling author Dean Koontz. Koontz probes the deepest terrors of the human psyche with this story. We meet Ryan Perry, an internet guru who has made millions by the time he is thirty four. His company’s name, Be2Do, says it all; be in control of life to make it happen. Then his life spirals out of control as he is diagnosed with heart failure and given only a year to live. What takes place throughout the rest of the story is at times chilling, even downright creepy, but never boring. Surprisingly it also offers wisdom and parables for life. A hired investigator, shares with Ryan her understanding that the deepest root of violence is “the hatred of truth… and the enthusiasm for the disorder that comes from it.” Ryan continues to gain control through a second chance at life with a heart transplant but will he find he’s living a curse worse than death? This was my first time reading a book by Dean Koontz, a detour from my usual picks. I am glad that I ventured into this compelling and fast-paced thriller from this master of suspense.
Adam Lebor’s recent book, Tower of Basel, surveys the history of a bank I had never before heard of, the Bank for International Settlements headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. The BIS came into existence in 1930 supposedly to facilitate German reparations following the First World War. Those in the know welcomed its’ undeclared purpose which was to provide a meeting place for the central bankers of the world, to build relationship, share information and formulate policy in private. Central bankers like Mark Carney, now with the Bank of England, have today become celebrated public figures, but Adam Lebor raises questions about the level of accountability and transparency characterizing their joint actions. Through the offices of the BIS they have bailed out bankrupt countries and stonewalled creditors. During the Second World War, the BIS collaborated with the Nazis when the banks of conquered countries, under duress, asked for the transfer of their own gold assetts to the account of the Reichsbank. Lebor wonders how this unaccountable community of technocrats today consistently demands austerity no matter what the repercussions for national economies. I thought it was a good read: a hint of conspiracy, a slice of history and relevant to right now.
Raylan is the first Elmore Leonard story that I have read, and he has been publishing novels, short stories and screenplays since forever. Raylan Givens, a marshal in Harlan County, Kentucky, unfailingly says little, figures out much and shoots fast. The three loosely connected episodes in this book begin with the discovery of a man in a tub of ice missing his kidneys. The characters: the nurse who steals vital organs for ransom, the gangster who directs drugged out dancers to rob banks, the coal mining PR woman who murders senior citizens, and assorted others - are basically bad. The reader finds Leonard’s bad guys and girls disturbing because they make us face the resentment, selfishness and sheer stupidity that motivate our own misdeeds. Judgment, not redemption, is where this author goes. I didn’t care for Leonard’s minimalist style with truncated sentences, little description and undrawn characters to whom I felt indifferent. On the other hand, I didn’t put the book down, either. Elmore Leonard’s style does appeal to many, so read Raylan and judge for yourself. The New York Times reviewer thinks he’s a genius.
Victor Lethbridge, an Albertan author, has written another wonderful children’s book. ‘Little Chief and The Gifts of Morning Star’ tells a heartwarming story that includes themes of loss, grief and hope from a child’s perspective. Little Chief finds himself in an extremely dangerous situation while out riding his horse. What unfolds is a story about compassion and sacrifice, life and death. The tale is written in both a short and longer version. On the included CD the author Victor Lethbridge reads the story in English and First Nation Elders read the short version in Cree, Blackfoot and Lakota . ‘Little Chief and The Gifts of Morning Star’ has much to teach us about history and culture. I highly recommend this touching children’s book.
KOOL FM listeners have heard about the much awarded movie: The King’s Speech. Geoffrey Rush portrays Australian elocution teacher, Lionel Logue, and Colin Firth channels George VI, the father of our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. For twenty-five years the king was treated by Logue to overcome a debilitating stammer that made public speaking a nightmare. The book of the same name follows these two over the course of their lives, adding biographical depth unearthed by Mark Logue from the correspondence between his grandfather and the king. The book begins slowly with Logue’s roots in Australia. My interest grew with the story of speech therapy’s early years. As the narrative built on events that are more familiar I became fully engaged: the infatuation of Edward VIII with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, and Edward’s abdication leaving the throne and its responsibilities to Bertie, this unprepared younger brother who was suddenly crowned George VI, and then the pressure this king carried to defeat his defect in order to rally country and commonwealth through the dark days of the Second World War. His words were broadcast from Buckingham Palace shortly after war was declared. “In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself.” The title, The King’s Speech, plays on the difficulty King George experienced with speaking, the anxiety he suffered, and the effort he brought to overcoming this problem - with Logue’s help and with the strong support of a woman who died only nine years ago, the woman most of us have come to know as the Queen Mother. There were in fact many speeches including the customary Christmas messages we still hear from the current monarch today. But let me end this speech by commending to you this book. It’s not too long, and I liked it.
What often comes to mind when we think of a children’s Christmas story, is the good old “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse….” It is a great classic yet there are other less known excellent Christmas stories. “One Hundred Shining Candles” by Janet Lunn paints a vivid picture of what Christmas might have been like in Upper Canada for many of the settlers a hundred years ago. Family hardships of cold, hunger and illness were common. In our story we learn that the family’s traditional Christmas present is a baked loaf of bread made with white flour, a luxury, and so different from the usual course brown flour. Their mother always makes an extra small loaf to give to the birds on Christmas Day. This year though is going to have an extra special present. Lucy and her younger brother Dan hear their teacher tell about a Christmas time when he saw one hundred candles lit to celebrate Christmas and it excites Lucy’s imagination. The children plan to make candles as their present for their careworn mother and father. This story reminds us that gifts need not be expensive to be meaningful. Sometimes handmade gifts are the most cherished along with stories read and reread from one generation to the next.Although this book is aimed at elementary level everyone will enjoy the ingenuity and mishaps that happen along the way for Lucy and Dan.
"One Hundred Shining Candles" is about giving, remembering the pleasure in the simple things in life, and gratitude for small comforts. This is a great message for this season.
Here is a book that readers may find provocative, incomplete or irrelevant. Cloud-Capped Towers: The Utopian Theme in Saskatchewan History and Culture by Alex Macdonald was published in 2007. This one hundred page essay begins with a thoughtful introduction both to the concept of utopia and the history of Saskatchewan. What follows are sketches and interviews related to Hutterites and Hungarians, Mennonites, Nudists, poets, politicians, co-operatives and credit unions: how people succeeded and how they failed to live visions of a perfect society. The Temperance movement around Saskatoon and organized attempts to settle blocs of land like the Barr Colony that brought English Anglicans to the Lloydminster area and German Catholics to east of Regina: these are well known historical movements to shape community according to a particular vision. Tommy Douglas and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation have near mythic status, both in this volume and in the hearts and minds of people on the part of the political spectrum still inspired by such visions. The author never endorses any particular utopia and he is careful to suggest that utopias and ideals must remain dreams, never completely realized, but always containing a critique of how things are. I would appreciate a more updated version, if Professor Macdonald is willing, that would include the contributions of recent popular culture, television shows such as Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie. Of course they are not about life as it is, but about how it could be, where foibles bring laughter rather than loss. The book does remind me that hope and ideals are essential, as well as healthy doses of pragmatism and acceptance.
Character and setting are two elements working really well in Edmonton writer, Janice MacDonald’s, latest book, Hang Down Your Head. Like Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, “Randy” Craig is a woman with anxieties and insecurities, a bit of a trouble magnet, a character to whom we can all relate. Randy has a temporary position at the University of Alberta helping to develop the Folkways Project. A prominent Edmonton widow left a large bequest to help in this purpose which will include liaising with the Smithsonian Institute and with recording artists as they perform at the Edmonton Folk Festival. The grant money enabling Randy’s work is jeopardized when the body of the widow’s son is discovered in the tunnel under Belgravia Road, “stabbed, strung up from a beam, and a note was hanging from the handle of the knife. . .Hang Down Your Head.” All good folkies recognize the reference to Tom Dooley. Author, Janice MacDonald, cleverly blends fact and fiction. Descriptions of Hawrelak Park during Heritage Days and then the Folk Festival by Connor’s Hill really come alive, especially for readers who may have attended these events. Backstage, Randy keeps providing water bottles for the folk performers after their sets, and her policeman boyfriend, Steve, patrols on bicycle near the beer tent. After the Friday night crowd disperses with their tarps and packs, another body is found on the hill. Will our heroes survive till Sunday Night and the final chorus of Four Strong Winds? The note above the book’s title asks, “Who knew folk music could be hazardous to your health?”
Janice MacDonald has produced an intriguing follow- up to Hang Down Your Head, her 2011 mystery about murder at the Edmonton folk festival. In her just released work, Condemned to Repeat, intrepid freelance academic, Randy Craig, is building a website for Rutherford House, the historic home of Alberta’s first premier located on the University of Alberta campus. For extra cash Randy helps out the Friends of Rutherford House at a dinner theatre event that gets rudely interrupted when one of Randy’s colleagues is discovered dead in the bathtub. Everything is narrated from Randy’s perspective and we follow her to Old Fort Edmonton, the Provincial Archives, Whyte Avenue and the High Level Diner, amongst other places. I warmed to the book’s fascination for historical research, and I continue to appreciate this main character, Miranda Craig, her vulnerable humanity, her connections with police boyfriend, Steve, and buddy, Denise, and her engaging way with the variety of people she meets along the road to the mystery’s conclusion. I always enjoy novels with a strong sense of place. In Janice MacDonald’s work that place is Edmonton.
The reader who tackles Hilary Mantel’s book, Wolf Hall, had better have an interest in and at least some knowledge of Sixteenth Century English history. King Henry VIII needs a male heir and Queen Katherine has not produced one. Also in the background is the stirring of the Protestant Reformation whose ideas are beginning to seep into English society. Thomas Cromwell is the main character in Mantel’s book: a lawyer, parliamentarian and adviser to kings and cardinals. History has been divided about this individual, sometimes seen as an opportunistic foil to the more principled Thomas More. Hilary Mantel offers a revisionist, thorough and sympathetic portrait of Thomas Cromwell, not to be confused with the next century’s Oliver Cromwell. The narrative richly expresses Cromwell’s perceptions and experiences - as he works closely with some such as Cardinal Wolsey, the King’s Lord Chancellor, and as he guardedly encounters others such as Anne Boleyn, the King’s mistress and wannabe Queen. Both Wolf Hall and its more recent sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, are winners of the prestigious Booker Prize. They require patience from the reader, patience that just may be rewarded. The cast of characters printed at the front of the book is helpful as you make your way along Thomas Cromwell’s journey. A New York Times review asserts that Wolf Hall has texture. I cannot think of a better word.
Each story in the ‘Dear Canada’ series of books is set in a particular historical time and told through the voice and diary of a fictional Canadian young person. The newest release in this series, ‘Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz’ tells Rose’s story about coming to Winnipeg as an orphan. Over one thousand European Jewish orphans were resettled in Canada at the end of World War II. This small story about one little girl paints for us a picture of the horrors for the people who were victims of the Holocaust. Although written for young readers Rose’s diary can be read and deeply appreciated by all ages. I know it stayed with me long after I finished reading it.
With father’s day just around the corner I thought I would review a couple of favourite children’s stories. In Mercer Mayer’s ‘Just Me and My Dad, Little Critter goes camping with his dad. Although a few difficulties come up, Little Critter’s tries his best, and tasks such as putting up the tent turn out well. Mercer Mayer writes borrowing from his own, his children’s and his grandchildren’s stories of growing up. “They always remind me of what it is like to be little." Says this author. In the story ‘We Love Our Dad’ the Berenstain Bear cubs decide on Father’s Day to do all Papa Bear’s work so he can have the day off. It turns out that the Papa Bear’s chores are difficult for the bear cubs but, can you imagine, once again in the end it all turns out well.
Dr. is well known for his television talk shows where he helps people work on their problems in life. Dr. Phil has become influential because of his ability to explain psychological issues in everyday language. His strength as a communicator certainly spoke to me as I read his current book ‘Life Code’. The subject of bullying in adolescence has been much discussed recently, and we all know that people in adulthood are vulnerable as well to the more subtle kinds of aggression and manipulation. In ‘Life Code’ Dr. Phil looks at people who have hurt him in his own life. He found emerging patterns of similar characteristics in these game players and in the tactics and tricks they used to lure him into letting his guard down. He shares his analysis of the techniques used by dysfunctional people, for example, promises and flattery as a way to enmesh themselves into your life.
It is best, he counsels, for you to run in the opposite direction of these people. Dr. Phil gives helpful wisdom on how not to become targets for these types of people. ‘Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World’ is a must read book.
Denise Mina’s latest book, Gods and Beasts, requires patience from the reader. A grandfather waiting at the post office puts his grandson in the care of a tattooed stranger, steps out of line to help a masked man who is robbing the establishment - only to be shot by this same man. Immediately we are transported to a highway where two of Strathclyde’s finest stop an Audi whose driver invites the police to take the bags of cash in the boot. In the third chapter we meet a Scottish politician being heckled at a Christmas dinner because he faces serious accusations. Detective Sergeant Morrow will seek to unravel the mystery tying these three threads together. But who is Alex Morrow? She has two young children at home, and a gangster for a half brother. That’s about all we know. In this third installment of the Alex Morrow series, our heroine strikes me as competent, but not nearly as colourful as the quirky and shady supporting cast of characters. Thrillers are black and white, but in Denise Mina’s writing, Glasgow has seldom been so grey. The author’s portrayal of the good, bad and in between in people is what keeps mysteries mysterious and patient mystery readers happy.
Rick Mofina’s thriller, “The Burning Edge”, starts with a bang. Four masked men on motorcycles roll into a service centre to interrupt the transfer of ATM money into the armored car. They kill the guards and an unfortunate agent on the scene. Lisa Palmer, a young widow, is the FBI’s only eyewitness to see one of the killers up close. We follow the thoughts and actions of Lisa, the shadowy killers, investigating agent Frank Morrow, and journalist Jack Gannon. The reporter, Gannon, is the interesting character. He digs and pushes, but respects his source’s privacy. He resents his editor’s bullying and relies on his instincts. I was on the edge of my seat throughout this roller coaster ride. Rick Mofina is a former crime reporter for the Calgary Herald who covered an armored car heist in 1998. This is the fourth book in his Jack Gannon series. Pick up “The Burning Edge” now and fasten your seatbelts!
The subtitle of this book , “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time” underscores the motivation behind Greg’s work to build schools in impoverished villages , to counteract extremism, by building schools, especially for girls, throughout areas where the Taliban takes power from the poverty and lack of education available. The title of the book comes from a Balti proverb: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family..."Three Cups of Tea is a truly inspiring story and also a very readable action-adventure! Mortenson came as mountain climber to the famous K2 mountain and left with a promise to raise money to build schools in Pakistan despite the many obstacles. To do this he helped to found the ‘Central Asia Institute’ for this cause. Now after saying all this, I recently heard a 60 Minutes broadcast on April 17 that alleges inaccuracies in the book as well as the book’s sequel, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 60 Minutes has asked Mortenson for an interview in light of the allegations; he has not responded to their request Mortenson however did write in a statement saying, "I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of the Central Asia Institue’s work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students.”
I believe that we live in a time when we need role models who choose to help make the world a better place for all to live. If Greg Mortenson’s story inspires others to further this kind of care and passion then this is good. I leave you this book to read and for you to make your own decision.
The Canadian author of books for children, Robert Munsch, is most well known for his bestseller, Love You Forever, which has sold over eight million copies. Here at Lotsabooks, even Munsch’s titles from the nineteen eighties, such as Thomas’s Snowsuit, Fifty Below Zero and the Paper Bag Princess continue to fly out the door as quickly as they come in. A Munsch title first published in 1995 with which I was not so familiar is From Far Away, based on the true story of Saoussan Askar’s experience as a little girl leaving the violence of Beirut, Lebanon and then coping with Kindergarten in Canada, understanding neither the language nor the customs. Rather than being a source of comfort and fun, the scary costumes of Halloween remind Saoussan of her scary experience of the civil war in Lebanon. When you cannot speak the language, even a task as simple as excusing oneself to go to the washroom becomes a major challenge. Perhaps Saoussan's story will particularly resonate with many of the people of Lebanese origin who live now in the Lakeland. Robert Munsch has a unique ability to give expression to both the fears and joys of young childhood. This adventure, however, is really Saoussan's story, told from the perspective of a Grade Two student writing a letter about her memories to her reading buddies. Well, we will all be her reading buddies as her tale helps both adults and children to better appreciate the courageous spirit of all those who immigrate to Canada, who cope with the strangeness of this land until it becomes familiar, and who find a place amongst its people
without losing that strong sense of identity, the gift of their countries of origin, from far away.
Canadian author, Alice Munro, has recently won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. It was surprising and at the same time wonderful that this award should go to a short story writer. Alice Munro’s writing, depicting life in small towns, draws the reader quickly into the story as the narrative unfolds with clarity and psychological reality. In her book, ‘Open Secrets, in the short story ‘Carried Away’, Louisa, a librarian begins a letter writing relationship with a young man who is serving in the 1st World War. He saw her one day before leaving for the war and admits in a letter to being taken with her. Upon his return we are presented with a moral conflict and disastrous consequences for all involved. Many of her story endings leave existential questions, and for me, at least, the need to reread the story to find why she ended it as she did!
O'Donnell, Liam and Deas, Mike
Often at the bookstore we are asked for suggestions for young readers who aren't all that interested in reading. We are seeing more and more books published that address this audience. Fast paced graphic novels that tell a story through pictures as well as workds are fantastic for catching a young readers eye and imagination. Eventually these readers work their way into chapter books and discover a real passion for reading. The graphic novel I want to talk about today is called Wild Ride, the first in a series called Graphic Guide Adventures. Author Liam O'Donnell and illustrator Mike Deas tell the story of three kids-Devin, Nadia, and Marcus- who fly into the B.C. interior to join their parents who are working to stop a logging company from clear-cutting a remote valley.
When their plane crashes enroute they suddenly find themselves stranded. A government business man, Wiley, who is on board, also survives... but who really is he. Trying to survive a fire, an angry bear, and, something even more frightening, the three have to draw on all of their survival skills. Although it appears to be a comic book , there is a learning element in the basic wilderness survival lessons. For example, when they encounter the bear, Devin, reminds them not to make eye contact as the bear is a frightened animal and will think they are challenging him if they do. They also must build a shelter and make a fire if they are to live through this adventure in a very challenging enviromment. These books can interest even the most reluctant reader with their colorful graphics. A book that is fun to read makes reading something to look forward to.
Kevin O’Leary’s recent book, Cold Hard Truth, is , in spite of the title, an enjoyable read. O’Leary stars on the CBC reality show, Dragon’s Den, as a wealthy magnate who hears the pitch of an inventor/entrepreneur and then decides whether to invest or publicly and perhaps cruelly offer the cold hard truth. The story of Kevin’s life in and out of business grabbed me: his learning disability that he overcame, his conversation with the Walmart CEO who demanded that he provide software that could retail for $19.95, his difficult but lucrative merger of The Learning Company with Mattel Toys in 1999 and his television journey through Business News Network, CBC and ABC’s Shark Tank. Throughout his narrative, Kevin O’Leary sums up his experience with some bullets on business and motivation. Frankly, his life story is more compelling than his assertions that monetary wealth is the only currency worth seeking. On the other hand, there is something refreshing about O’Leary’s directness. Either do your homework or don’t waste his time. Now do I take O’Leary’s recommendations about dividend bearing equities seriously because he has come out well financially or because, like him, I am getting long in the tooth and the markets have whacked us all in the past few years? Read his book, Cold Hard Truth. Appreciate his spirit and tenacity, and take only what you want and what you can from his particular perspective.
Today’s young adult book review is about the book ‘Witch and Wizard #1, by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. You may remember James Patterson, in the Young Adult books, from his Maximum Ride and Daniel X series amongst others. Witch and Wizard is a great, fast paced thriller. The story starts off with an evil, new government who has seized control of society with the aim to control the world. The New Order, or NO for short, has arrested teens, Whit and Wisty Allgood, and sentenced them to execution. Now what if you were a teen who was awakened in the night to discover that you and your brother were being arrested for being a witch and a wizard, ripped out of a totally normal teen-age life. There parents have also disappeared. Life has become a wide awake nightmare for them. They have been accused of holding incredible powers that they never dreamed possible and even scarier is the fact that they are discovering that they do in fact have these magical abilities. With their parents disappearance they have little outside help or guidance in the realm of magic which makes for some challenging adventures especially while breaking out of prison. Can this newly realized witch and wizard master their skills in time to save themselves, their parents–and maybe the world? Just think…. What if…..
In the Middle East, a person of high social standing is called an effendi. Michael Pearce’s mystery novel entitled Death of an Effendi has to do with the murder of a Russian businessman in Egypt in 1909. He is shot at a hunting party in the reeds of a shallow lake in the Fayoum, a fertile area with promising potential for development. It is left to the Mamur Zapt, the head of Cairo’s secret police, to solve the case. The fact that he, Gareth Owen, is a Welshman, typifies Egypt’s complexity at the time. Egypt’s ruler, the Khedive, was nominally responsible to the Ottoman Empire, but actually constrained by the nations to which Egypt was financially indebted, France, Russia and Great Britain. The reader who will appreciate this novel must have a strong interest in history. The author succeeds in richly portraying a society caught between greed and nationalism, and between the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. In my opinion, however, to drive the narrative forward, he relies too much on dialogue between characters too thinly drawn for us to care much about. But pick up Death of an Effendi by Michael Pearce, anyway. Maybe your opinion will differ.
What if you happen upon a great book in the middle of a series? You have to scrounge in used book stores for earlier volumes and stay posted at new book stores for later ones. We solve this problem by carrying new and used books. Dead Cold is the second in Louise Penny’s soon to be nine volume Inspector Armand Gamache series. The setting is winter in Three Pines, a village in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. There is much magic like at Olivier’s bistro where the Chief Inspector feasts on rack of lamb. The young sidekick, Jean Guy Beauvoir, prefers to work only with facts, but Armand knows that feelings are what lead to murder. The writing contrasts the gentleness of the place and the rage that is present in some people. A conspiracy to bring Gamache down weaves a dark thread through the whole series, while on a lighter note, the mix of cultures gives ample opening for humour: see Jean Guy’s lack of appreciation for curling, an opportunity for Anglos to wear plaid. But it’s precisely the commotion over a curling shot on the frozen lake that provides cover for the murder that must be solved.
Canadian mystery writer, Louise Penny sets much of her Inspector Gamache series in Quebec’s Eastern Townships between Montreal and the Vermont border. Where Ian Rankin darkly describes the grittiness of Scottish cities, Louise Penny sits you down with a cool aperitif in an Adirondack chair overlooking flowers, stream and forest on a hot summer’s day. In her latest novel, A Trick of the Light, the warm sunshine of the village of Three Pines and the graciousness of the Sûreté du Québec chief inspector who so often finds himself in that bucolic place contrast sharply with the dark conspiracies of Montreal’s arts community. Colleagues and gallery people trek out from Montreal supposedly to celebrate Clara Morrow’s artistic success with a party in Three Pines. The next morning a dead woman is found in Clara’s garden. Later on, a beginner’s Alcoholics Anonymous chip is uncovered nearby. Will Armand Gamache and his sidekick, Jean Guy Beauvoir uncover the deceased’s full story, and in that classic mystery tradition, gather all the suspects together en famille and invite the murderer to confess? Peut-être! It doesn’t matter that this is the seventh installment in the Inspector Gamache series, the reader can jump right in. You will find revenge and redemption, humanity glimpsed, healing journeys partly accomplished, and unfinished business left for the future; in short: a thoroughly satisfying read. If your taste runs more to complexity of character than to car chases, then A Trick of the Light is for you.
The Beautiful Mystery, the title of Louise Penny’s eighth installment of her Inspector Gamache series refers to the sublime power of Gregorian chant to convey the voice of God. In the remote forests of the Mauricie region of Quebec, a community of monks find themselves divided over the commercial success of their one recording. Do they continue their devotion to God in obscurity or do they share their talent and their message with the world? Murder in the monastery has been done before, most notably by Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose. Don’t let that stop you from immediately diving into this rich and rewarding book. Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec and his sidekick, Jean-Guy Beauvoir arrive at the abbott’s garden crime scene to discover the dead prior clutching what appears to be an ancient manuscript filled with Latin words and strange symbols. Readers are drawn in by the mystery elements: a conflict carried out with glances and shrugs by men vowed to silence, an ancient building with hidden rooms, and a comfortable routine where each monk sets to a particular task in between the many sung services of the day. The peaceful atmosphere has been interrupted by one of their own number, and it is up to the very secular officers of the Surete to restore serenity to this sacred space. But will Armand and Jean-Guy overcome the strains, both in their relationship and in the police force that they serve. I highly recommend Louise Penny’s book. Like plainsong chant, her stories speak to me deeply, yet gently.
Canadian author, Louise Penny, has had an amazing September. Her first book in the Inspector Gamache series, Still Life, was turned into a made for television movie that aired on CBC a few Sundays ago. Her latest book, How the Light Gets In, debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. This book, Gamaches’s ninth and perhaps last outing, will be appreciated by readers who are familiar with the series. The characters in the village of Three Pines and the characters in the Surete de Quebec run their full course. The historical Dionne quintuplets are the story behind the story, and the author invites us to sympathize with personalities who become captive to the public. How will Armand Gamache overcome the forces aligned against him? His greatest weakness is his greatest strength. Gamache is kind.
It is that time of year again when children may ask if there really is a Santa Claus? The classic story ‘Yes Viriginia, There is a Santa Claus’ answers this question well. In 1897 a little girl named Virginia wrote her local newspaper asking if there was a Santa Claus. The editor replied to her in the newspaper saying ‘Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’ as shown through hope, generosity and the spirit of Christmas. The children’s book by Chris Phelal brings this story to life with its heart-warming story and beautiful illustrations. If you need reassurance about Santa drop in and find this book because yes Kool FM listeners, there really is a Santa Claus! This is Kathy at Lots-a-Books saying you better watch out… Santa Claus is coming to town.
In her most recent book ‘The StoryTeller’, Jodi Picoult tells, not just one good story, but three interwoven stories. Sage Singer, a young woman who hides from her scarred past, befriends an elderly German man who is a beloved community member in their small American town. His story emerges as they get to know one another and as Sage also begins to delve into her own family history. Sage learns that her grandmother, Minka, was a Holocaust survivor. Minka’s storytelling saved her life while being imprisoned at Auschwitz. Jodi Picoult challenges us through these characters’ stories to look seriously at the many sides of justice and mercy. I appreciate an author who can tell a good story and Picoult is an author that I enjoy time and time again.
I started to put down the book Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult as the first few pages seemed just too farfetched to be believable. The story begins with Luke Warren, a husband and father leaving his family to locate and integrate himself into a wolf pact in the wild. He walks into the forested area of Quebec with little more than the clothes on his back, a snare and a hook. But as always Picoult chews around the edges and creates interest as to who this person is and how the family copes. I learned a lot about wolves and how they use their senses and instincts within their packs and each pup is given a specific role at birth.
The story parallels the human family elements and wolf pack mentality. Luke is critically injured, not by wolves in the wild, but by a car accident. As chances for recovery dwindle, his son, daughter and estranged wife question from differing perspectives which direction to take. Lone Wolf dissects what it means to be family - from acting out of love and caring to the more animal instinctual motivations of fear, protection and responsibility. I am glad that I persevered past the first chapter, as this book really is a great read right to the end.
The Canadian actor, Christopher Plummer, will be remembered by most people for playing Baron Von Trapp and helping to showcase Julie Andrews as Maria in the Sound of Music. I well remember going in the mid-sixties to the Seville theatre on St. Catherine Street in Montreal to see that movie. I must have been twelve or so and that movie gave me a sense of wonder. The early parts of Plummer’s recent autobiography, In Spite of Myself, describe his growing up in Montreal and his affection for that city: Mount Royal, the Lake of Two Mountains, the Ritz Carlton and so on. Right after completing High School, and failing the entrance exam to McGill, Plummer embarked on his career in theatre. His fifty years and more in the entertainment business include movies and television, but his own words and his recurring trips over the decades to the three Stratfords in Ontario, Connecticut and England, reveal a man devoted to theatre, and in particular to Shakespeare. Plummer’s book, In Spite of Myself, reveals a special human being who certainly lived to the full and partied hard, a man who has come to acknowledge both his shortcomings and a debt of gratitude to others. His writing expresses the fondness he still feels for many of the people he encountered, from famous actors of Hollywood and Broadway to unpretentious hotel staff in Bermuda and Salzburg. Plummer invites the reader into the developing entertainment world when television was in its infancy, when actors who had started out in silent film were still plying their craft, when Shakespeare’s plays were presented in tents and when movie studios set up operations in exotic locations to produce big budget spectaculars - which as often as not ended up as box office flops. Plummer usually found something positive to take from both theatrical and cinematic flops. I know you’ll enjoy reading about his television adventures with alligators in the Everglades. The author shares his recollection of many, many personalities - from Truman Capote and Jason Robards to Gloria Vanderbilt and Natalie Wood. He is honest about his personal life, and thankful to Fuff, his wife of the past forty years who confronted him about his self-destructive side. I very much enjoyed reading In Spite of Myself , but I warn you. You will not polish it off in a weekend. I needed the time to explore Wikipedia articles on some of the characters Plummer mentions from the fifties with whom I am not very familiar. But I have to tell you, Plummer’s story-telling leaves me with a sense of wonder.
Like me, you may have heard of the term PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sharlene Prinsen, who has just published her book, ‘Blind Devotion’ gives us a deeper understanding of this mental health issue based on her experience. She shares with readers her roller coaster ride. She fell in love and then married her husband, after he had just returned from his peacekeeping tour in Bosnia. Soon his behavior, such as abuse of painkillers, became dangerous to them both. Sharlene’s is a true story of pain endured and forgiveness offered and reoffered while coming to understand that her loved one’s PTSD controlled both him and their life together. What stood out for me was the mistaken attitude in society, that curing symptoms of the disease, such as addictions, could be the answer, when the deeper issue has not been addressed. Sharlene persistently stayed by her husband, becoming his advocate even when the toll became too much for her to bear. Besides telling a story, her book also offers advice and lists resources available that will help identify the various facets of PTSD. Although heartbreaking, the book ‘Blind Devotion’ has helped me come to understand more about PTSD, particularly the need to see deeper than the symptoms to the core disease.
If you like a well told tale based on a true historical story, then you will enjoy Kate Pullinger’s book ,‘The Mistress of Nothing’. The author has certainly done her research into the experience of Victorians in Egypt in the 1860s. Lady Duff Gordon leaves her upper-class English family and sets out to live in Egypt’s desert dry air to lessen the effects of the tuberculosis from which she suffers. With her comes her devoted maid, Sally Naldrett. Lady Duff Gordon's story is told through the actual archived letters that she wrote to her family, but it is Sally and the Egyptian servants who are the focus of the book. From the beginning, we come to know that some force is going to upset the easy life that Sally and Lady Duff Gordon find in Egypt. It is interesting to discover both what the British thought of the Egyptian way of life, and how the Egyptian people dealt with these wealthy foreigners intruding into their world. Sally, the story’s main character, is only mentioned in passing in the Lady Duff Gordon’s historical letters. But author, Kate Pullinger, imagines well what life for such a devoted servant would have been like, knowing that her devotion is not returned. The ‘Mistress of Nothing’ is a compelling read on a cool, fall evening.
Every December one of the jazz standards we hear on the radio is the song, “But Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” In 1948, Sayyid Qutb heard that song while he was studying in the United States, being sponsored by the Egyptian government to glean whatever might be helpful in western culture. Sayyid was shocked, that a church would host a dance and that such a suggestive song would be played. He turned from being an admirer of the West into an eloquent critic who over the next decades inspired the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the faction with the greatest influence right now in Egypt. In his award winning book, The Arabs: a History, Eugene Rogan wonderfully lifts up Arab perceptions of their own history. The book is comprehensive: covering events from Iraq to Morocco from the fifteenth century right up to the recent fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Rogan’s work is quite readable for anyone with an interest in global history or current events. It is, of course, a mostly tragic saga, but there is always some hope. The author provides sufficient statistics about numbers of civilians killed and billions of dollars of damage done. I was more engaged by the personal narratives of Arab men and women. Even though I am familiar with the outlines of this history, reading Rogan’s book, I became completely confirmed that so many policies of western powers and Arab elites over the past century have achieved precisely the opposite of their intention. The only result from violence and repression is an embittered population ever more open to fundamentalism. The book gave me a new sympathy for so many of my neighbours in the Lakeland who have come from such war torn countries as Lebanon. Well, history’s purpose, they say, is to help us learn from our mistakes. Either that, or one day it will be really cold outside.
What is it that makes an Ian Rankin mystery such a satisfying read? The city of Edinburgh, in its grittiness and its grandeur, is vividly present. The corrupt and the criminal are convincingly sleazy. The mysteries that need to be solved are intricate, and the character of the detective is always interesting. Over twenty years Rankin wrote a series of seventeen books featuring Detective Inspector John Rebus, a brooding, cynical, rule-bending personality who occasionally sought refuge in alcohol; and yet readers cared about him and cheered him on. Now past the age of sixty, Rebus has retired, and so Rankin is starting a new series based on a detective who works for the Complaints. This title, The Complaints , refers to the Complaints and Conduct department, and one of its constituent parts, the Professional Standards Unit. My immediate association with this aspect of policing was the ever suspicious Lieutenant Scanlon of Internal Affairs who tried to sniff out misconduct at the twelfth precinct on the old Barney Miller television show. I’ll never forget his grin when he thought he was close to ending someone’s career. DI Malcolm Fox is applauded at the beginning of The Complaints for having exposed and brought to account a fellow policeman. Now his superior is asking him to investigate another officer suspected of involvement in child pornography. Malcolm’s sister, Jude, is soon visited by the police because her abusive lover has been found murdered. Who is the one sympathetic detective attending to this matter? That would be Jamie Breck, the very man that Fox is investigating. The author paints a bleak and very contemporary picture of falling markets, half finished condo developments, streets torn up with construction, thuggish types smoking and spitting outside of pubs, and a police force with problems. There are many things about which Detective Fox could complain: the February weather, his aging father’s forgetfulness, the untrustworthiness of superiors, the hardness of hitting bottom and as a recovering alcoholic choosing not to find comfort in that particular medication. But rather than complain, Detective Inspector Fox simply gets on with it. He uses brains and blarney until closed lips speak and scattered pieces fall into place. Delve into Ian Rankin’s new series and its first installment entitled The Complaints. I assure you, about this book, there will be no complaints.
Saints of the Shadow Bible is Ian Rankin’s twentieth book featuring John Rebus, the one- time Detective Inspector demoted to Detective Sergeant now that he has come out of retirement. Thirty years ago Billy Saunders got away with murder because Rebus’s colleagues protected him as a useful snitch. Recent changes to the double jeopardy law allow Scotland’s Solicitor General to pursue a new trial against Saunders and an investigation into police corruption. Even as Rebus investigates a suspicious car crash, he, himself, is under suspicion concerning the past practices of Edinburgh’s Criminal Investigation Department at Summerhall. Rankin weaves into the narrative DI Siobhan Clarke, once Rebus’s protégé and now his superior, Malcolm Fox from the hated Complaints Department, and spokespersons for both Yes and No sides of the upcoming Independence referendum who are also brought under investigation. Will John Rebus turn out to be saint or sinner or some combination thereof? One can enjoy Saints of the Shadow Bible even without having read earlier volumes in the series. But if you are already an Ian Rankin fan, then you won’t want to miss it.
The guitar intro from Jumping Jack Flash is the same intro from “I can’t get no satisfaction”, only run backwards. I gleaned this nugget of information from Keith Richard’s recent autobiography entitled “Life.” The Rolling Stones’ saga will grab readers who have an interest in all the cultural and musical changes since the nineteen sixties . There is Keith’s story : growing up in a working class family east of London, forming a band with Mick Jagger, then coping with international fame, connecting with models and musicians, experimenting with drugs, and so on. The book also gives you Keith’s personality, often cynical but just as often, warm, sometimes crude, sometimes articulate, a friend who confides in you, a wise survivor who cautions you. Pick up this book or pick up a guitar and pick out the notes Keith made famous.
Author Diane Robinson from St. Paul, Alberta has won the 2012 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award for literary artist with her book ‘Sir Princess Petra’. This story of the brave Princess Petra can be enjoyed by all ages. On the ninth day of the ninth month of her ninth year, the princess requests an unusual birthday present. She wants to become a knight in her parent’s
kingdom. Her parents, although alarmed and fearful, allow her to proceed with the rituals that knight wannabe’s must go through. Princess Petra proves that with ambition and creativity what seems impossible can be achieved. Diane Robinson tells this tale with humour and interesting twists
and turns. It’s an encouraging story for girls and boys who may be worried about facing new situations. Princess Petra reminds us that the obstacles life gives us can be overcome.
The book I chose to review today is one that is on many bookclub reading lists. From the very first page, I was drawn into this mysterious story by Peter Robinson, entitled ‘Before the Poison’. Chris Lowndes returns to England to live reclusively and grieve his wife’s death and make a new life for himself. The old manor which he buys, sight unseen, turns out to have a troubled past and hides secrets that cry out to be acknowledged. Grace Fox, who lived there sixty years earlier, was hanged for the death of her older husband, the town’s doctor. The more Lowndes discovers about Grace’s life and her volunteerism as a Second World War Queen Alexandra’s nurse, the more he comes to believe that she did not murder her husband. As he is drawn in, he begins an exciting quest culminating in a surprising climax, all the while dealing with issues of evil, punishment, guilt and self-sacrifice. This is an author I would definitely look for again, as he writes a great story.
I confess that I really enjoyed reading the book, Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues. This is the second in Author Diana Rowland’s white trash zombie series. One reviewer describes it as a marked improvement from the first book, My Life as a White Trash Zombie. Rural Louisiana resident, Angel Crawford, works at a morgue. That’s a good thing, as she needs to feed on a steady supply of human brains so as not to decay. Angel also requires consistent employment to keep her parole officer off her back. Her job, however, is threatened when she reports that a stranger stole at gunpoint a body for which she was responsible, and no one believes her story. While studying to pass her high school equivalency test and taking care of her alcoholic father, Angel discovers more of what life as a zombie is all about, and she begins to piece together the mystery of this body snatching. Readers have to cheer for Angel. Being turned into a zombie has been her redemption, giving her a chance to veer away from her earlier self-destructive ways. Her new powers help her put a bully in his place. But will she drink enough brain smoothies to survive multiple gunshot wounds and bring to account the really nasty culprits who threaten humans and zombies both?
Ruiz, Tom Miguel
We are coming to that time of year again when we celebrate new beginnings with graduates, couples newly married and friends moving away from our community. I highly recommend as a gift for these occasions a book that is filled with sage advice and wisdom , ‘The Four Agreements ‘ by Tom Miguel Ruiz. This author, who was born into a family of healers, returned to his roots after studying to become a surgeon. His book’s four essential points present very fundamental ways to live with integrity. Ruiz helps us become open to the best life can offer. This down-to-earth advice reminds us to communicate honestly with oneself and with others. We are not to take other people’s words or actions personally. Under all circumstances we are challenged to do our best. Although it is a short book and easy to read ‘The Four Agreements’ holds great truth that can be revisited again and
again to remind oneself of what healthy living is all about.
Today I want to review the book ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ by Eileen Schuh, who is from St. Paul. I first researched the meaning behind the title: Schrödinger's Cat. In 1935 an Austrian physicist, Erwin Schrodinger, devised a thought experiment involving a cat in a box that is either alive or dead and dependant on an earlier random event. Like the experiment, this book surprised me with its quirky thought twists and turns. In our story, Chordelia , a young mother, finds herself living within two realities. In the first reality she and her husband are dealing with the fact that her daughter is dying. People close to her judge her as not being able to cope with her grief and the legal battles begin. In her other reality her daughter is healthy, however Chordelia faces other serious issues that I will leave for you to discover. The young wife and mother finds herself at a point where she must make a choice in which reality she will remain. Read this thought provoking book to find out what decision she reaches and what the consequences will be.
Maria Semple’s recent work, ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette,’ is not likely to make my 2012 ten best books list. The story is told through emails, newspaper clippings, letters and bits of conversation, all of which I found a bit quirky. However, the humorous side of Bernadette’s struggle to survive her everyday life as a wife and mother, while suppressing her passionate creativity, drew me in. The tale of Bernadette’s disappearance is told through her genius, fifteen year old daughter whose research goes to incredible lengths to find her mother. In order to discover what had happened to Bernadette I persevered and finished the book. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a light read, but it does touch on some of our deep human connections.
Dr. Seuss books remain amazing popular as new generations of parents remember hearing them when they were children and now read them to their children. Theodore Geisel began writing under the pen name Theo LeSieg and then later as Dr. Seuss. What is interesting is that he actually pronounced Seuss as ‘Soyoss’ (rhymes with voice) but as the general public pronounced it ‘Seuss’ (rhymes with Mother Goose) he went with this pronunciation. Geisel wrote forty six children’s books which were full of strange looking characters and written with an entertaining rhyme. Some of his well known titles are Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and, Horton Hears a Who!. He seems to have truly understood children as he said that although his stories do have a moral, they are very subversive because children can spot them a mile away. Did you know that when he wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1957, it was to rebuke materialsim and consumerism. The Lorax written in 1971 expressed his views on environmentalism. Now I want to reread them and see if I am able to discern his subversive messages! So I will leave you with this question:
Do you like to read a book
In a chair or in a nook?
Have you books in great galore?
Then come and visit our bookstore
A newly published book that just came out in October caught my eye. It is entitled, Into the Abyss: How a Deadly Plane Crash Changed the Lives of a Pilot, a Politician, a Criminal and a Cop by Carol Shaben. Remember that 1984 Northern Alberta plane crash with only four survivors. Grant Notley, leader of the Alberta New Democrats, was among the six who died. One of the survivors was Larry Shaben, Alberta and Canada’s first Muslim Cabinet Minister, whom I had the honour of meeting a few years ago. It is his daughter, Carol Shaben, who has written this book. Carol is a former CBC writer/ broadcaster and international trade consultant. Her will-researched account explores the events that led to the tragic plane crash. The four survivors, as the subtitle suggests, were from very different backgrounds. But they fought together to survive the winter’s night in the wilderness. Through their strength and courage, they made it and lifelong friendships were formed that night. Carol Shaben graciously charts these men’s journeys after the crash in her powerful narrative. Although Larry Shaben died before the book was finished, Carol Shaben reflects her father’s voice as a person of integrity and concern for all people, whatever their position. I highly recommend this Alberta story.
If these cold temperatures in the Lakeland make you long for warm Greek islands, then let mystery writer, Jeffrey Siger, lure you to the Cyclades with his Chief Inspector Kaldis novels. Target: Tinos, the fourth in a series, has Andreas Kaldis off to the island of Mykonos to marry Lila. Unfortunately, as head of special crimes, he is ordered to first close a case concerning two incinerated gypsies on the neighbouring island of Tinos. The investigation is complicated by the secretive nature of the tsiganis, and the foreign workers from Eastern Europe lovingly referred to by the Greek expression, metanastes. At times I thought there was too much use of dialogue between Andreas and his police colleagues to convey the progress of the investigation. On the other hand the Greek islands and their way of life are richly described. You can see the domed churches, stone walls and the blue Aegean Sea, and taste the olives in the tavernas. If your taste in reading runs to mysteries in interesting settings, then I do recommend Target:Tynos.
Next Sunday, November 11th, we stop to remember the men and women who have served Canada during times of conflict. Therefore the book I have chosen to review today is ‘Freddy’s War’ by Judy Shultz. With a background in journalism, Shultz writes a fictional story about a young man, Freddy McKee. Freddy lies about his age to be old enough to join the Winnipeg Grenadiers in 1941. Soon he embarks with his Canadian troop to fight in Hong Kong. Only six weeks later Freddy becomes a prisoner of war. When he returns home five years later he is greatly changed. Shultz says that although the story is fictional, it is based on a family friend who survived the battle of Hong Kong and yet never fully recovered. It is a story of love and heartbreak as Freddy is reunited with his Chinese bride in a small, isolated Canadian town. This well written story helps us to have some fragmentary sense of the fell that was has been and continues to be for those who have served.
“We can think of the word flower but never sense the flower’s aroma. We can paint that flower on canvas, but never lose ourselves in its textures and colors.” So Dr. Daniel Siegel powerfully describes how the frontal cortex, the analyzing part of the brain, is impoverished without input from the sub-cortical areas, from where direct experience is conveyed. In his book, entitled Mindsight, Dr. Siegel describes how we can use the mind to attend to the varied functioning of our mind’s different regions: the logic of the brain’s left hemisphere and the direct experience grasped by the right hemisphere, the emotions bubbling up in our limbic region and the capacity to regulate emotion’s storms in the prefrontal cortex. That sounds like heavy theory, and some may find it heavy going. However, the theory of Part One is soon demonstrated in Part Two’s case studies, where you find yourself closely identifying with Dr. Siegel’s patients as they literally grow connections between the different parts of the brain, as they integrate new capacities of the mind to make their lives happier. This is cutting edge, not pop-psychology. Anyone interested in personal growth will find the book most helpful. Well, listeners, let’s get back to Allison’s programming and lose ourselves once more in the textures and colors of music. And don’t forget to nourish the soul as well your frontal cortex by losing yourself in a good book, such as Mindsight by Dr. Daniel Siegel.
Daniel Silva’s latest thriller, The Fallen Angel, has strengths and weaknesses. Set in the near future, the book, like its context of Arab/ Israeli tension, is steeped in the past. The book’s hero, Israeli secret agent and art restorer, Gabriel Allon, is supremely competent in both his vocations, but he is afraid of dogs and he carries a lot of grief. Allon is both interesting and sympathetic. Allon’s Jesuit friend, Monsignor Donati, once upon a time a revolutionary, is now a defender of the institution. He only matters in the early chapters. Otherwise, Israelis are good guys, Arabs and Iranians are bad, and Europeans are ambivalent. How does Silva not see this type-casting as being similar to anti-semitism? But then thrillers are not about character or nuance. The story begins when the body of a young art restorer is discovered on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The twists and turns that follow are definitely entertaining if the one sided political observations don’t leave you too aggravated. The excitement moves through Rome, St. Moritz, Berlin and Vienna, then finally of course to Jerusalem.
The Kingfisher Navigator series informs young readers on everything from Sharks to Extreme weather to Pirates. Having just read the Navigators book on Ancient Egypt, I think it would be accessible to children ten and older. The text certainly does not talk down to anyone. Realistic, yet colourful, illustrations draw younger and older readers into ancient Egyptian life. Each turning of the page leads to a two page theme such as “Stairways to Heaven”, or “Mummification”, the former describing how pyramids were designed to help the dead pharaoh climb to the sky, and the latter outlining an embalming process that was news to me. The themes are briefly explained in one large print paragraph with related information arranged here and there in the main two page illustration. For instance the “Egypt at War” theme includes a caption revealing the strategy used at the particular battle depicted as well as notes on amulets worn to protect the warriors, and surgical methods needed when the charms did not work. Each one of the twenty themes, laid out chronologically, offer weblinks, connected with the British Museum, the BBC and other organizations, to which one can go for further information. I highly recommend “Ancient Egypt” by Miranda Smith. Reading this book was a pleasure. Plus, I learned something!
If you want to be distracted from the bone chilling winter weather, then read Touch of Power by Maria Snyder. This fantasy, young adult story is loaded with adventure, magic, man-eating plants (who also eat women) and romance as well. Avry, a young woman is the last survivor of her family, as far as she knows. She is also the last healer left in the land of the Fifteen Realms. The politics of the time have persuaded the people that the healers are to blame for a devastating plague that has killed most of the people. The excitement in this story starts immediately as Avry must choose between healing a dying child and being outed as a healer or running away to save her life. Our heroine of course heals the child. She is captured and condemned to die the next morning simply for being what she is, a healer. Unknown to her however, there are others who require her healing skills in order to gain power in the Realms. These mysterious others must rescue her and keep her alive. Readers are taken into a medieval-like world as the action kicks into gear and the story unfolds. I recommend Touch of Power to fantasy romance readers who are looking for a series debut with a sequel soon to follow.
Author, Nicholas Sparks writes stories that are close to the heart. His stories tell of the human experience of love and relationships that endure, are lost, and continue even through death. He has written several international bestsellers with six already made into films: Message in a Bottle (1999), A Walk to Remember (2002), The Notebook (2004), Nights in Rodanthe (2008), Dear John (2010), and The Last Song (2010). Today I am reviewing his latest story entitled The Best of Me. This story centers around two main characters who are high school sweethearts. Amanda and Dawson begin a relationship that is doomed from the beginning. Dawson comes from the wrong side of town and Amanda from a prominent family in their small town. Although they are deeply in love they decide to go their different ways after high school and life goes on. Eventually there is a death of a mutual friend that brings them back together at middle age and they are able to reassess how life has been. Amanda is married with three kids while Dawson has chosen to remain single. Sparks surprises us with a build up to an anticipated result and then twists away from it unexpectedly. The rich development of his characters connects everyone throughout the story. It is a ‘page turner’ as life brings them together through surprising incidents. It is an easy and enjoyable read and not a surprise at all that the story is going to be out in film soon. If you like Sparks’ books, it is worth catching up on his previous novels as well.
Have you ever heard of the sub-genre of mysteries known as cozies? Out of The Deep I Cry is the third installment in a series by author Julia Spencer-Fleming featuring Episcopal priest and amateur sleuth, Clare Fergusson. For me there was certainly suspense as Clare and local police chief, Russ van Alstyne investigate two disappearances roughly seventy years apart in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Events from the past are woven in to the story: a diphtheria epidemic, the damming of rivers and flooding of fields, and the perils of encountering bootleggers transporting rum from Canada to New York City. In the present, the townspeople of Millers Kill are anxious for the future of their Free Health Clinic. The facility is threatened both by a protestor who blames inoculations for her child’s autism and by the clinic’s benefactress who considers shifting her funds to help a different cause. Okay, so there are no sadistic terrorists in the bad-guy corner. It’s not a crime to enjoy a cozy mystery where criminals are still human and character and setting count for something. One reviewer accurately describes Julia Spencer-Fleming’s work as “cozies with a kick.”
It has been ten years since the Al Qaeda attack on the United States and the subsequent American invasion of Afghanistan. It has been thirty two years since the Soviet occupation of that same unfortunate country. The initial superpower interventions were not difficult to accomplish. Not a single American soldier lost life in the overthrow of the Taliban regime. The difficulty is what comes after. This subject matter concerns us all. Our own country has sacrificed much. However justified we feel about the contribution Canada has made, deep down we really do wonder where it is all going. British journalist, Jonathan Steele, advocates negotiations and a political settlement with the Taliban. In his recent book, Ghosts of Afghanistan: the Haunted Battleground, he provides readers with context and analysis of these past three decades, drawing many parallels between the Soviet and the American experience. The author debunks thirteen popular myths so that readers can grasp the situation in all its tragedy and complexity. Some of this we already knew, for instance, that the Americans, constrained by Cold War thinking, supported the Mujahedin against the Soviet backed regime even after there no longer was a Soviet Union, and elements of that same Mujahedin morphed into the Taliban who captured Kabul in 1996 and provided sanctuary for Osama Bin Laden. The author’s intention is not to assign blame for the past, but rather to encourage policy makers to learn from mistakes. A review of this book in The Telegraph, a conservative British newspaper, faults Steele for being “wooly” and “workmanlike.” I can understand some readers having the same reaction. Steele has been a well known journalist for the Guardian, another British newspaper with a decidedly different slant on issues. Frankly I appreciated the workmanlike nature of the book, which is not onerous at around four hundred pages. Steele strikes me as being very informed, having travelled to Afghanistan many times over thirty years, having interviewed Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbecks, Russians, and secular Afghans now resident in Europe and America, and having thoroughly studied all the Wiki-leaks information from diplomats and military officers. The author is very aware of the country’s problems, the high child mortality rates, the low education and the oppression of women that pervades the whole culture. There is hope and opportunity for Afghanistan, but only peace will make it possible. Can peace be ensured by the continuing presence of military advisers aiding a regime beset with corruption amidst inter-ethnic suspicions? Can the west accept a result that is closer to the messy conclusion of the Korean conflict than to the clear victory of the Second World War? Disappointing for me, there are only one or two mentions of Canada in the whole book, but then it’s not really about us. It’s about the Afghan people and their future. So give Jonathan Steele a hearing, and read “Ghosts of Afghanistan”. You will come away better informed, and possibly more hopeful, in a sober realistic way.
I like a story that remains with me long after I have finished reading the book. ‘Still Missing’ by Chevy Stevens is such a story. It is set on Vancouver Island where Annie, a realtor, is closing up after doing an open house. A good looking man pulls up in his van and asks if she might stay and still show him the house. What happens is a heart-chilling and disturbing abduction. We do know from the beginning that she escapes as the story is told through Annie’s sessions with her therapist. But if her captivity and harrowing fight for survival at the hands of a twisted, sadistic criminal aren’t enough to grab your interest, just wait for the surprising twist at the conclusion. I recommend ‘Still Missing’ if you enjoy a book that is hard to put down.
In the early nineties Rick Steves burst on the scene with his Public Television shows on European travel. He suggested that independent travel could be fun, hassle free and within the average budget. All of Rick Steve’s guidebooks are wonderfully opinionated as to which villages in the region and which neighbourhoods in the city offer the traveler the best value in terms of sites and accommodation. Rick Steves’ Best of Europe 2013 would be really helpful to anyone planning a first trip to Europe and wondering where in particular to go. There are only a few colour photographs, but lots of description, enthusiasm and, especially, helpful advice: on when to splurge with that gondola ride, and what sort of pass to purchase for a city’s subways. His best counsel is there in the travel smart section of the intro. “Enjoy the friendliness of the local people” and “slow down.”
Lee Stringer was working in the oil sands in Alberta in 2008 and writing. His collection of short stories published in that year is entitled ‘Watching the Road: every life has a story”. Each of Lee’s stories painted a picture for me, a portrait of an everyday person, in a small Newfoundland town, just as though I were there in Bluff Harbour enjoying a coffee and catching up with them. In each story the author presents a special opportunity for growth and renewal should the main character accept. One particular story presents Curt who buys his mother a computer for her 52nd birthday despite her protests that she is too old to learn how to use it. Weeks later she is not only learning to surf the internet but she has found a friend in a chat room. Curt’s father is the one given an opportunity to join in and learn along with his wife or not. I really enjoyed the characters and setting in Lee Stringer’s stories.
When reading a book about a particular conflict, I find it difficult to remain completely objective and not be somewhat sympathetic to the author’s point of view. Such has been my experience yet again with the book, The Tower of Babble: Sins, Secrets and Successes Inside the CBC. Richard Stursberg, the author, was head of English services (both radio and television) from 2004 until he was fired in 2010. He set out to increase ratings by making the CBC less elitist and more popular. He encouraged the production of successful television shows such as Little Mosque on the Prairie and he takes credit for getting news host Peter Mansbridge out from behind his desk to stand at a lectern. According to Stursberg, he met a lot of resistance along the way. While the tone is naturally one sided with a dash of bitterness, I found the book an intriguing read. How does a manager move an entrenched institution? How does a public corporation compete with private networks for NHL, CFL and Olympic rights? With a national mandate, do you sustain English language service in Quebec City or start such service in Hamilton? Now not everyone cares about the CBC one way or the other, but those for whom it does matter will do well to read The Tower of Babble, not necessarily to vindicate the writer, but to get informed about the issues.
Experiencing a stroke at 37 years old, Jill Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain scientist started a journey literally from the inside out. The massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain quickly disabled her to the point that she could not walk, talk, read or write. Within the first few hours she tells us about the euphoria and sense of complete well-being and peace that came through to her as the uninjured right hemisphere of her brain took over. We learn that her struggle to call for help before her logical, sequential left brain was completely lost was an important part of this story. She includes very helpful information on the “Warning Signs of Stroke.”
It is worth hanging in through the first few chapters where she writes about the complexity of the brain, in easy to read terminology. Her story develops as she tells of her eight years of hard work to complete recovery. In bold print she states “I desperately needed people to treat me as though I would recover. . .I needed people to love me-not for the person I had been, but for who I might now become.” Jill’s stroke became a blessing along with invaluable learning for her. In a left brained analytical society she found how important it is for “stepping to the right” side of the brain for feelings of well-being and for finding that place of deep peace. The good news is that we can make choices about how we think. We can teach our brains to process in healthier ways. How we think can become patterns that can form our ways of living and can leave us looking at life as half full rather than as half empty. It is within our power to reprogram ourselves and therefore enjoy better mental health. For those who have been impacted by a stroke or for those who have interest in the mechanics of the human mind, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor is an excellent book. I highly recommend it.
A newborn is a time for celebration. A special book on this occasion can be a great gift idea. ‘On the Night You Were Born’ by Nancy Tillman is a lovely choice. The cover has two polar bears dancing in the moonlight which sets the tone. Then we look out the window with the baby in the bassinette and read that “the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you.” This book reminds us of how special every newborn is. “The sound of your name is a magical one. Let’s say it out loud before we go on.” The gorgeous illustrations depict nature and the heavens playfully attending to the little child, hoping to see a smile. This is a great little book for new mothers, fathers and grandparents to read over and over to always remind their little one how special they are.
I feel sympathy for Pete Townshend, lead guitarist for The Who, the third most popular British rock group of the late sixties after the Beatles and The Stones. Townshend’s recent biography “Who I Am” compares unfavourably for many with Keith Richard’s “Life”. These are two very different characters. In contrast to the Stones’ bad boy guitarist, Pete Townshend is complicated: deep but overblown, self-aware but capable of stupidity, charitable toward others but sensitive to criticism, a rock star who is awkward. No ghost writer was needed for this work as Townshend is accomplished with words, having produced regular columns in a popular culture magazine and then working for a time with the publisher, Faber and Faber, to say nothing of being The Who’s main lyricist and the creator of the rock opera “Tommy”. Readers are getting Pete’s voice in this bio. A better editor would have streamlined that voice. You may be familiar with the major events of the Who’s career: the appearance at Woodstock, the production of “Tommy”, the death of drummer Keith Moon and then scandal around Townshend’s investigation of bank complicity in child pornography. The book, Who I Am, is a long read. I was interested in Pete’s childhood trips with his musician father to the Isle of Man, his perceptions of contemporaries like band mate Roger Daltrey and his life-long love of sailing. However there were dreary and drawn out sections about the band’s management and the technicalities of making music really loud. But as I noted earlier, I give Pete Townshend the benefit of the doubt. When I was a teenager I had the privilege of seeing the Who perform live. If you like the music, you will have patience with “Who I Am.” If you don’t, then give Pete a pass.
Here’s a question. Shania Twain, is she a country singer or a pop singer? Early in her autobiography, From This Moment On, she remembers all the music that mattered to her growing up in Timmins, Ontario. In the family living room with her cousin, Kenny, she would sing along with the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Waylon Jennings, all artists who transcend the boundary between pop and country. What has always mattered to Shania Twain is to just make music without being constrained by strict categories. Listen to That Don’t Impress Me Much. Parts of the song lean to country and parts lean to pop. After arriving in Nashville, she was patient with producers until she established the credentials to assert her own voice. Another dichotomy that this Canadian star bridges is rags and riches. Eileen Twain grew up dirt poor in a dysfunctional family, but Shania Twain has lived in a Swiss chateau. She writes in an honest and heart-felt way about her often depressed mother and her First Nations father. Tragically they died in a car accident before they could celebrate their daughter’s success. From This Moment On is motivational reading. Shania Twain comes across as both a strong and vulnerable human being. She planted trees in the wilderness. She adores animals. Along with success, she has had to absorb much sadness, including the betrayal of a close friend and the breakdown of her first marriage. However, enduring these tough times, she has discovered wisdom and deep values. Pick up this book. There will be much to which you can relate. Personally, I found Shania’s story to be compelling.
Twisted Journeys authors
I’ve got a fantastic book series for the “I’m bored” summer holiday crowd. The ‘Twisted Journeys’ series is the next step up from the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books geared towards grades 2-5. These fast paced, exciting stories are written in a hybrid format, a combination of chapter book and graphic novel. Once a book in this series is picked up it is definitely hard to put down, even for a reluctant reader. Each story contains many different outcomes as the story progresses. The reader controls the action choosing which way the story will continue. In book #22 ‘Hero City’ you get to choose between being a superhero or a super villain. It’s all good… or is it???? Whether it is an older brother or sister enjoying the story with a younger sibling or mom or dad, everyone is sure to enjoy the outcome, or two or three outcomes.
At the bookstore we sometimes meet readers who express reservations about the imagination and insist on non-fiction. To each his own, of course. In reviewing Guy Vanderhaeghe’s new novel, A Good Man, I want to tell you how powerfully this author brings his readers into the real history of the west, not merely listing the names of North West Mounted Police officers and Indian Tribal chiefs, but revealing their perceptions, celebrations and frustrations, in short: their late nineteenth century world. Wesley Case, just retired from the NWMP, is a fictitious character. As we follow him from fighting Irish-American raiders in Southern Ontario to ranching near Fort Benton, Montana shortly after the battle of Little Big Horn, we learn much about that period of history: the intricacies of American/Canadian and Native/White relations, and the complexity of the human condition, how people cope with failure, pride and acceptance. People have changed in the past century and a quarter. But reading this book we understand that this is very much where we come from. Saskatchewan’s Vanderhaeghe is a gifted story-teller. He seasons with romance. He amplifies with drama. He weaves in a variety of characters, delving into their past to explain what drives their present. Vanderhaeghe richly and believably describes the rhythms of life in the old west. He uses Wesley’s journal entries and letters as well as the omniscient third person narrator to carry the story along. Trust me, you’ll ride along with him. Like American Idol judge, Randy Jackson, I want to say, “Best book I’ve read this year.”
Cold Lake resident Wally Wolfe has created a unique comic book describing in image and caption the RCMP pursuit of Albert Johnson, the mad trapper of Rat River. Wally Wolfe’s creation is entitled Encounter on the Eagle , highlighting the climax of the chase when Johnson was shot and killed by the RCMP Posse on the Eagle River in Yukon Territory on February 17, 1932. The story begins, however, with Albert Johnson’s arrival in the area just south of the Mackenzie delta in the Northwest Territories in the summer of 1931. As the tale is told, we see from the beginning both Johnson’s skill in the outdoors as he builds his cabin, and his disregard for others as he sabotages the traps of local natives and shoots at police. Wally’s artwork vividly describes the northern setting in a brutal winter and the action of the subsequent chase up the rivers and across the mountains with dog teams, sleds and snowshoes, and several skirmishes along the way, including the one where RCMP constable, Ed Millen, was shot and killed by Johnson. As a former aviator, himself, Wally pays particular attention in his telling of the story to the role of legendary bush pilots, ‘Punch’ Dickins and Wilfred ‘Wop’ May, who not only supplied the police posses but also tracked the fugitive from the air. I recommend for your reading pleasure and historical edification Encounter on the Eagle, a self-published comic book by local illustrator, Wally Wolfe.
Author Jan Wong took a courageous step when she wrote 'Out of theBlue', her own story of living through the debilitating disease of depression. She helps open conversation around the social stigma and shame of having a mental health disease. Jan details the institutional betrayal that brought her into depths of despair. The Globe and Mail newspaper, where she was for many years a columnist, denied her depression, and ordered her back to work in spite of several psychiatrists identifying her illness. This bullying tactic lasted over two years. The institution’s fear was that Ms. Wong would set a precedent and open the door to others coming forward with mental health issues. The Globe and Mail tried to slam the door shut, but Jan Wong stayed stubbornly strong. Because of her honest book, conversation can continue within families, businesses and institutions, when a person’s behaviours suggest a mental health issue. Instead of being left to sink even deeper into illness, with support of therapists, friends and family they can find their way to healthier and happier life. Thanks Jan Wong!
Malala Yousafzai, the teenage advocate for girls’ education, who was shot last year by the Taliban in Pakistan, has survived to receive a Nobel nomination, to speak at the United Nations and to write a biography, entitled I Am Malala. She had a correspondent’s help, but her own warmth and honesty shine through in her book. She is fiercely connected to her family and to her people, the Pashtuns, to her home in the Swat Valley of Pakistan’s rugged north-west and to her Islamic faith. Malala carefully distinguishes between faith and culture. There is much of her culture she embraces even as she criticizes those aspects that have limited the freedoms of girls and women. Malala is a teen-aged girl who competes with her friends and fights with her brothers. Malala is a keen observer of life, the beauty of her land and its’ hardships of poverty, earthquakes, floods and civil war. Malala expresses an idealist’s anger towards those who have power but do not use it for good. Pick up her book and find your own hope renewed.