Author Jodi DeLong
$29.95 (pb) 978-1-55109-798-5, 264 pp. Nimbus Publishing
Reviewed from an Advance Reading Copy
All azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. Who knew? I had no idea my azalea was related to the two rhododendrons flourishing nearby. Plants for Atlantic Gardens is bursting with information that is entertaining, interesting and helpful to new and experienced gardeners.
Author Jodi DeLong, a prolific and knowledgeable gardening writer, provides answers to the many challenges of gardening in the Atlantic region. Despite soil issues, late springs, an overabundance of deer and slugs, she says there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of plants that grow well here. For this book she has selected a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials—some native to the region, some introduced, some old and some new.
The first section features about forty shrubs and trees, and begins with planting instructions. Arranged alphabetically from Acers to Weigela, DeLong tells us what works best where, what will turn off deer and what will attract birds. Everything you need to know is here—bloom period, growing requirements, zone, size, propagation, how best used and potential problems. For every species is a list of recommended cultivars. The photos are an added bonus.
The perennial section is equally impressive, from Achillia to Veronica, encouraging us to open our hearts to plants that might not thrill us—such as Hosta—by discovering different varieties. She even includes a list of plants to approach with caution but reminds readers that “one gardener’s pest can be another gardener’s pleasure.” DeLong alerts us to always learn the size of our plants at maturity.
There’s a book list for further reading as well as lists (without page numbers for quick reference) of deer-resistant plants, pollinators, salt-and-drought-resistant plants and plants for moist or wet soil. She admits her list of nurseries is not exhaustive and two of the best known are missing— Bayport in Nova Scotia and Corn Hill in New Brunswick.
The author shares her personal moments throughout—memories of her fondness for lupins as a child, a wooded hillside that was her backyard in St. John’s where she learned to identify so many plants and the excitement of buying a property in the Annapolis Valley with her “long-suffering” spouse with room for her dream gardens. DeLong has extensive personal knowledge that she happily shares with her readers, while respecting what she has learned from gardeners and horticulturalists throughout the region.
Plants for Atlantic Gardens will inspire gardeners to a whole new world of possibilities. —Valerie Mansour
Author Jo Ann Yhard
$12.95 (pb) 978-1-55109-819-7, 176 pp. Nimbus Publishing, May 2011
Although barely a teenager, Alex, the main character in Lost on Brier Island, is dealing with very big issues. Battling a tangled ball of anger, grief and guilt due to the tragic death of her twin brother Adam, the fourteen-year-old is sent from her home in Halifax to live with her Aunt Sophie on Brier Island for the summer. Adding to Alex’s intense sadness is the obvious turmoil present in her parents’ marriage and the awareness that her once close-knit family unit is quickly unraveling.
To help shift Alex’s focus away from her painful loss, Aunt Sophie introduces her to a cast of warm and caring characters including: Gus, a lobster fisherman who takes tourists on whale sighting tours; Rachel, Gus’s thoughtlessly curious but well-meaning niece; and Eva, Gus’s love interest and local coffee and pastry maker.
One day, a reluctant Alex accepts an invitation from Gus to board his boat, the Evania Rose, and take part in a whale-watching excursion. The decision leads to a brief encounter with an adventurous baby whale with a risk-taking spirit who opens Alex’s heart to the beauty of Brier Island—and to the process of accepting that Adam’s death was not something she could have prevented.
Things soon take a suspenseful turn when the baby whale, who Alex names Daredevil, is not seen for several days. Her growing concern for Daredevil’s welfare puts Alex in the middle of a dangerous situation. Trapped in dense fog and racing against rising tides, Alex takes extreme steps to save a beached Daredevil who is tangled in a fishing net. As she struggles to free him and ensure her own safety, Alex comes to terms with the unfortunate choices that led to her beloved brother’s tragic accident. She also learns that she is much stronger than she ever allowed herself to believe.
In Lost on Brier Island, Jo Ann Yhard skillfully tackles sensitive subjects and delivers an intriguing and uplifting story with important messages about self-identity and acceptance. Intended for a teenage audience, Yhard focuses more on dialogue than descriptive scenes and maintains a steady pace filled with adventure. The nature of Adam’s accident is strategically revealed as the novel unfolds and Yhard successfully uses this incremental unveiling to profile the depth of her main character as she reaches a place of resolution. Lost on Brier Island is a wonderful story with something to offer audiences of all ages. —Clare O’Connor
Author Christy Ann Conlin and Jen Sookfong Lee
$9.95 (pb) 978-1-55451-286-7, 160 pp. Annick Press, 2011 / $19.95 (hc) 978-1-55451-287-4
Single Voice series
Christy Ann Conlin’s debut novel Heave (Doubleday 2003) earned her a reputation as a gifted, vibrant writer. Heave was shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award, the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and the Dartmouth Book Award. Hailed as a Globe & Mail notable book, Heave made the long-list in the recent round of CBC’s Canada Reads. No surprise then, that Conlin’s young adult novella Dead Time is riveting. As one half of the duet in the Single Voice flipbook series for senior teens, published by Annick Press, Dead Time is a short, but powerful read.
A psychological thriller of sorts, Conlin ventures into the volatile mind of Isabella, an incarcerated teen, as she waits clearance on a murder charge. From the first gripping sentence Isabella insists she’s innocent. As her tale unfolds we learn she was a bystander when Sergio, her boyfriend, killed his former girlfriend in a twisted act to prove his love. Conlin controls the story’s tension and the details are so evocative, the book’s a chilling read in the truest sense. (Move over, Stephen King.) By the time Conlin ratchets up the tension to the actual description of the murder, there’s a lot that does not add up. So what did actually happen and why? This is where Conlin’s story succeeds. By book’s end we have been given much to reflect on, much to reconsider. Isabella’s story will linger not just because of the high octane pace or sensational situation of Dead Time. Conlin probes into the depths of her character with poetic prose that is efficient, lyrical and in this example, heartbreaking:
“My mother used to tap her shoe when she wanted something done. She’ll have been gone for three years in the spring and I can still hear the click her high heels made on the ceramic tile.
Click when the door closed behind her. The click the phone made when she’d hang up during our Sunday call after she left and moved. She always said she had to hang up before I was ready to stop talking. And then I would hear the sound of the call ending.
Clickity, clack, I’m not coming back.”
Conlin’s other half is west coast writer Jen Sookfong Lee. Her novella is Shelter.
In Shelter, we meet Abby, a high school student whose family’s former happiness has collapsed under financial pressures into a messy dysfunctional unit. Appalled by her mother’s lifestyle, sister’s rebellion and saddened by her overworked father, Abby assumes the role of the reliable one. She’s a good student and a planner, a volunteer at the local animal shelter. When she meets Sean, the new night supervisor who exerts an animal magnetism of his own and offers sympathetic ear, Abby is smitten—she falls in lust, love and longing. Lee portrays this convincingly at times and with touches of wit. Abby herself admits: “I’ve suddenly become a quasi-speechless, idiotic obsessive who crouches in shadows and stares at a man who barely knows I exist.” The consequences are serious, however, and by the time the teen realizes she’s made a big mistake, she’s lost a lot more than her better judgment.
If this duet is any indication of the entire series, high school students and their teachers will get high-interest, fast-paced, literary reads with much to discuss after the flipping is done. Annick Press knows how to see talent and target market. I look forward to a one-of and more from Conlin. —Sheree Fitch
Author Jill MacLean
$14.95 (pb) 978-1-897151-96-9, 278 pp. Dancing Cat Books, September 2010
When it comes down to it, Brick MacAvoy is a bully. He takes pleasure in intimidating younger, weaker boys and he’s a difficult boy to like…until you learn a little more about his own carefully-concealed life, a life that he spends in a constant state of fear, dread and shame. Living with Floyd, his ticking time-bomb of a father, Brick has spent his entire life knowing that nothing he does will ever be good enough to earn Floyd’s praise and that he can never predict what one small thing will trigger his wrath and result in a severe beating. He does his best to shield his four-year-old sister Cassie from Floyd’s violent rages and he counts the days until he’ll be able to take off and leave the humiliation far behind him.
In this latest book Jill MacLean has created a remarkable portrait of a bully, taking readers carefully into his mind and heart. There we see, as he himself does eventually, that the pain he inflicts on others is a way of releasing the pent-up anger that he feels as he suffers beating after beating at his father’s hand. MacLean adroitly captures Brick’s feelings of helplessness, rage and despair, particularly once he realizes that he can’t possibly leave Cassie at their father’s mercy. She also draws attention to the fact that there are no easy answers for Brick: no one can promise him that if he goes to the authorities about Floyd that he and Cassie would then be able to stay together. His options are frighteningly limited, and it is a sad and unfair situation for any fifteen-year- old boy to be in.
While the story does not have a fairytale ending, it does leave readers with hope. Brick has opened up to a few people that he can trust, he has begun to see who and how he wants to be and he has found a way to confront Floyd. Maybe, just maybe that will be enough to see he and Cassie through. This is an intense and sobering look at an all-too-common experience, and an invitation to look beneath the surface of the characters we encounter in our lives. —Lisa Doucet
Author Philip Roy
$10.95 (pb) 978-1-55380-105-4, 229 pp. Ronsdale Press, September 2010
In this third installment of Philip Roy’s Submarine Outlaw series, Young Alfred finds himself preparing to sail up the St. Lawrence River into the bustling city of Montreal, an entirely different challenge from any that he has yet undertaken. He is making an effort to seek out his father; the man who had abandoned him as a baby and never once contacted him since.
With his characteristic determination and thirst for adventure, Alfred sets out with his stalwart crew—Seaweed the Seagull and a small dog named Hollie. From the very beginning, this trip feels unlike Al’s previous ones, and he is dismayed when he finds himself making several careless mistakes. After a few calamities he vows to be more careful. Once he arrives in Montreal, the process of locating his father begins in earnest. He becomes so absorbed in achieving that goal that his complacency once more leads to some tense moments. But in spite of the mishaps he encounters, Al succeeds in his mission and makes some surprising discoveries along the way.
Submarine Outlaw and its sequels have firmly established themselves as a riveting adventure series that has gathered a significant following who are anxiously awaiting this next installment. And they will not be disappointed! This personal quest and the internal struggles that it evokes for Alfred give this book a new dimension and allow his character to be more fully developed. Al remains the likeable, capable and confident young man that readers have enjoyed getting to know, but the mistakes that he makes along the way coupled with his uncertainties and mixed feelings surrounding his father create a more balanced picture. Readers will continue to enjoy his knowledgeable handling of the submarine and his level-headed approach to each problem that arises, but they will also relate to and empathize with his feelings of frustration and anxiety. Roy continues to keep this series fresh and engaging. We will all join Alfred in anticipating his next voyage. —Lisa Doucet
Author Valerie Sherrard
$12.95 (pb) 978-1-55455-170-5, 192 pp. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, October 2010
When Luke stumbles upon a new girl in the field near his house he is more than a little taken aback, particularly when she starts pelting him with questions. Gracie Moor turns out to be like no other girl that Luke has ever met, and despite the fact that he often finds himself flustered and apologetic in her presence, the two become fast friends. Even once school starts and the girls all compete to win Gracie’s favour Luke still knows within himself that Gracie is the best friend he’s ever had.
But things quickly become difficult for Gracie and her mother Raedine in this sleepy prairie town. When rumours about their past make their way to Junction, the news spreads quickly. Gracie soon finds herself ostracized by the very girls who had recently vied for her friendship. Bravely she endures their taunts and small cruelties but the whole town seems bent on condemning Raedine and Gracie. Luke struggles to make sense of their righteousness and anger. When tragedy strikes he is confronted with questions and confusion, along with guilt and shame.
This latest gem from wordsmith Valerie Sherrard is a poignant and powerful tale that captures a time and place even as it gently reveals truths that are timeless and heartbreaking. Luke’s voice rings clear and true as he narrates this story simply, sensitively and with the innocence of a small-town boy in 1947 who can’t even make sense of his own feelings much less of all the outrage and anger that his community has chosen to direct at its newest members.
Sherrard has filled her book with memorable characters and raises many provocative questions. She casts a light on some of the more disquieting aspects of human nature, and she doesn’t provide the happy ending that might allow readers to breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, there is heartbreak and sadness and a lack of closure, as is so often the case in real life. Yet somehow Luke makes his own peace with what has happened as does the reader in this finelywrought tale that is as touching as it is unforgettable. —Lisa Doucet
Author Doretta Groenendyk
$12.95 (pb) 978-1-894838-49-8, 28 pp. The Acorn Press, October 2010
An unconventional response to a traditional question in the holiday season opens the door to a time honoured, yet regrettably oft forgotten, ritual.
Everybody likes a great book but everyone loves a great story and with Doretta Groenendyk’s latest offering, Snow for Christmas, you get both—and an even bigger gift. Set on Christmas Eve with family “sharing food and smiles” someone asks the age-old question “What would you like for Christmas?” A young girl responds with the unexpected answer of snow. This revelation propels Granddad Bumpy to muse over a Christmas snow memory from his youth and other family members chime in with their reflections and recollections.
Delightful memories of frivolous games and holiday traditions are as fondly recalled as neighbours helping neighbours in need. Each voice is heard; the stories of old and young are respected as Groenendyk honours each contributor with descriptive and vivid imagery in their stories.
We are so often rushing on to the next thing and trying to find the most efficient way of completing our tasks that the art of telling a story is being endangered. Not just legends and folklore, but in relating to friends and family. Snow for Christmas serves to remind us of the gratification felt when hearing and being heard while recalling our past experiences and journeys we have made.
This is all beautifully matched with the whimsical, colourful, almost folk-art feel that Groenendyk uses to grace her stories. A graduate of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Groenendyk’s quirky, wonderful style of illustration emits warm, timeless imagery on every page.
Reading a story to a child is a gift, going on an adventure together, making discoveries and hopefully sparking conversation and questions. Let Snow for Christmas offer an even bigger gift—let it compel you to tell a child a story and be ready to listen to theirs. —Deb Malbeuf
Author Jill Barber
Baby’s Lullaby makes the perfect, soothing companion to baby’s bedtime ritual.
This new board book by singer-songwriter Jill Barber springs from her song, Lay Down, included in a CD collection for Read to Me!, a non-profit early literacy program in Nova Scotia.
The folksy wording (“rest your sleepy eyes; and let your heart be light”) is sure to lull your little one—and probably you, as well—as you cuddle together in bed or sway in a cozy rocking chair.
Barber, who lived in Halifax for several years before relocating to the west coast, hits a home run with her first children’s book. It doesn’t hurt that I can hear the popular chanteuse’s sultry voice as I write this review, thanks to a free download of the original song available to people who purchase (or receive as a gift) this sturdy board book.
The Juno nominee and multiple East Coast Music Award-winner croons “the moon is slowly rising; moving with the tide,” in a sweet and gentle fashion, a rhythm ably captured in the transition to the page.
The simple yet vibrant illustrations by HildaRose are a treat. While Baby’s Lullaby begins and ends with a human mother-baby pair, each page contains a charming surprise—parents and babies in the form of birds, fish (my personal favourite), raccoons and more.
The Prospect Bay artist—who previously illustrated Nimbus Publishing’s Kisses, Kisses Baby-O!—enchantingly employs a spare selection of bold colours, sure to please baby’s eye.
While my kids would argue they’re too old now for lullabies, this book left me longing for those delectable days. I’ll surely be giving Baby’s Lullaby to the newer parents on my Christmas gift list. —Skana Gee
Author Bryan Elson
$24.95 (pb) 978-0-88780-913-2, 96 pp. Formac Publishing Company Limited, September 2010
It may surprise many Canadians to discover that the first of their 66,573 countrymen to die in the First World War were sailors rather than soldiers. That dubious distinction belongs to four young midshipmen— known as “mids”—from Halifax’s Royal Naval College of Canada (RNCC). In August 1914, shortly after the First World War broke out, William Palmer, first in his graduating class, and Arthur Silver, senior cadet captain, both from Halifax; Malcolm Cann of Yarmouth and John Hatheway from Fredericton joined the crew of HMS Good Hope, a Royal Navy armoured cruiser and flagship of a squadron under Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock.
Within six weeks, all four would be dead—along with the 900-man crew of Good Hope, including Cradock—the result of a fateful encounter with a German squadron under Admiral Graf von Spee off the coast of Chile on November 1. On the way to that battle, the reader learns about the founding of the Royal Canadian Navy and the RNCC, the education of young mids and the strategy and tactics employed by the Germans and British as a deadly game of cat-and-mouse played out in the eastern Pacific.
The first round clearly went to the Germans at the Battle of Coronel, in which four outgunned and outranged British ships bravely attacked four German adversaries and were soundly defeated. Round two however, went to the British, who hunted down von Spee and defeated his squadron at the Battle of the Falklands five weeks later. The sacrifice of the four Canadian mids was avenged.
Dartmouth author and retired navy captain Bryan Elson brings the same high standard of historical research and accuracy to this book as he did to his well-received 2008 Nelson’s Yankee Captain: The Life of Boston Loyalist Sir Benjamin Hallowell. This is a great read for anyone interested in First World War or naval history, especially with its local connections. A large selection of excellent period photographs, drawings and maps enhance the text. —John Boileau
Author Wayne Curtis
$19.95 (pb.) 978-1-897426-20-3, 240 pp. Pottersfield Press, September 2010
In his thirteenth book, Long Ago and Far Away, Wayne Curtis uses the oral story telling tradition of the Miramichi to present a family memoir, beginning with Grandfather (Papa) Tom Curtis, whose memories as a log driver and hunter extended back to the 1880s. Curtis, who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in a three-generation home six kilometres from Blackville, writes, “I carry a part of him inside me even now. I feel this when I taste spruce gum, hear a mouth organ, see a bone-handled hunting knife or drive past a field overgrown with shrubs.”
In prose at times lyrical, at others spare, but always honest, Curtis, with a discerning eye for detail, describes the hardships and the joys of rural Atlantic Canadian life. Like the caribou herd Papa witnessed walking north on the frozen Cains River in 1921, never to be seen again, these traditions have long since disappeared.
Long Ago and Far Away, however, is far more than a nostalgic account of life on the Miramichi, “where the smell of gun smoke was steeped in the landscape and the autumn breezes.” Curtis transcends his roots to ask the big questions we all ask ourselves, no matter where our ancestral roots may be. How can we stay true to our cultural values in a modern society that promotes conformity and materialism? How can we maintain our identity and integrity?
At age eighteen, Curtis sold his .44-40 carbine and .22 revolver for a one-way ticket to “the promise of a better tomorrow” in industrial Ontario. But for him, “there was something superficial about the scene...I felt I was being slowly integrated into a plaster-of-Paris mould.” Ten years later he returned to the Miramichi, “a place that held recuperating powers for a soul that had been without nurturing and in need of meditation.” After his return, however, he found the lure of the hunting adventure, which he’d missed, no longer held the same thrill and he began to feel “tenderness toward all things living.”
While the term “coming of age” has become a cliché, Long Ago and Far Away could be considered a “coming of old age” story. With the accumulated wisdom of his grandparents and parents which he shares with his sons and grandsons, Curtis has forged his own unique path as a Miramichi River guide and as a Fredericton writer who David Adams Richards calls “the greatest unsung talent in the country.” After reading his memoir, I’m inclined to agree. —Margaret Patricia Eaton
Edited by Marion Douglas Kerans
$14.95 (pb) 978-1-55266-381-3, 96 pp. Roseway Publishing, September 2010
Anyone who doubts if one person can make a difference in the world may become a believer after reading A Legacy of Love, a remembrance of activist Muriel Duckworth who died on August 22, 2009, at the age of 100.
Marion Douglas Kerans—the author of Muriel Duckworth: A Very Active Pacifist—has compiled people’s memories of Muriel during her last twelve years, memories that touch on “her views on education, religion, death, war and love.”
Muriel Helena Ball was born in Austin, Quebec, in 1908. She had a wonderful first role model in her mother who, she admits, “did remarkable things”. Among those things, “she emptied our china cabinet and put books in it and made a little lending library. She read Nellie McClung [an early women’s rights pioneer], fed hungry people off the train, welcomed homeless young girls, [and] raised money to start a seniors’ home.”
At McGill University, Muriel became active in the Student Christian Movement, and cited that as “the most important part of her university education.” She married Jack Duckworth in 1929, and they moved their family to Halifax in 1947, when he took up the position of general secretary of the YMCA.
The book offers glimpses of many of the highlights of her long and extraordinary peace and political activism. She was the national president of the Voice of Women (a peace organization), and she helped found seventeen provincial and national groups. She was awarded twelve honourary doctorates, the Order of Canada and the Pearson Peace Medal, among others.
A Legacy of Love is a lovely tribute to Muriel Duckworth by family and friends from many walks of life. Some share small remembrances but all combine to create a picture of a woman who believed that the world could be a better place for all.
In her entry, author Heather Menzies remembers Muriel “being so present in the moment with everyone she encountered that whoever she was talking with not only felt as important as anyone else, but also believed that what they shared in that moment really mattered.” —Sharon Hunt
Author Deborah Carr
Naturalist and activist Mary Majka has lived several lives over the past eighty-seven years. The first was as a child of some privilege, growing up in pre-World War II P Upload File
oland, a life shattered by that war and by years in a forced labour camp while still a teenager. Following the war’s end and her marriage to young doctor Mieczyslaw “Mike” Majka, Mary left Poland for Canada, where she has made her home—her sanctuary—for nearly sixty years.
After ten years in Ontario, Mary, Mike and their two young sons moved to New Brunswick in 1961, taking up residence in a cottage on Caledonia Mountain, not far from Hopewell Cape and the mighty Bay of Fundy. Surrounded and inspired by the landscape and wildlife of the mountain, Mary became passionately dedicated to educating others about the value of nature and of local history. Over the years she has been a champion of preserving local habitat for shorebirds and other types of wildlife, helping to establish naturalist societies and nature interpretation centres.
A recipient of the Orders of Canada and New Brunswick as well as of numerous other accolades, Majka was instrumental in seeing the establishment of the Mary’s Point Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve. Although passionate about nature, Majka has also been a tireless advocate for the preservation and restoration of structures of historic worth, from a nineteenth-century bank building to some of New Brunswick’s aging and unique covered bridges.
Author Deborah Carr wanted to capture the stories of Majka’s life because, as she has noted in interviews, she was worried that if she didn’t do it, the stories would be lost, as Mary herself was “too busy” to create her story herself. In 2003, Carr began weekly meetings with Mary, whom she had gotten to know as a neighbour over fifteen years, but whom she had first been exposed to as a child, when she had watched Mary’s weekly television show, “Have you Seen?” Carr recognized some similarities between her life and that of her friend and mentor, both of whom reinvented themselves in midlife, developing completely new careers for themselves.
It is no small feat to be able to compress a life as fully lived as Mary Majka’s has been into a readable, entertaining volume. Carr has done an admirable job in collecting up the myriad threads of Majka’s life and weaving a living history and legacy that is honest without being sycophantic. —Jodi DeLong
Author Allan Donaldson
$19.95 (pb) 978-155109-776-3, 304 pp. Vagrant Press, September 2010
A basic tenet of our justice system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and when this principle is put aside the potential for harm is great. This is the theme explored by Allan Donaldson in his latest novel, The Case Against Owen Williams.
The year is 1944 and the war is not going well. The inhabitants of the fictitious town of Wakefield, New Brunswick have become somewhat inured to the anxiety and dread of waiting for news of their loved ones serving overseas but they are unprepared for violence and death to occur in their own town. When the body of a teenage girl is found brutally raped and murdered, suspicion falls on Owen Williams, the last person known to have been with her before her death. In addition, there are discrepancies in Williams’ account of the evening of the murder and he belongs to the Zombies— those men who were conscripted into the army but who refused to go into active duty. Everything seems to point to Williams, everyone wants it to be Williams, yet for Lieutenant Bernard Dorkin, who has been sent by the army to observe and report on the hearing, something bothers him about the investigations. Is Williams the vicious killer he is painted to be, or has due process been usurped by position, power and public opinion and created a convenient scapegoat?
The Case Against Owen Williams is not the usual whodunit. Dorkin is something of a philosopher detective who seeks not only the truth about the murder, but also examines the value we place on human life and if it is possible to balance fairness and vengeance when confronted with violent death. Why, he wonders, does the fate of one man—a man he does not even much like—matter when thousands are dying every day? What is it about him, Dorkin, that makes him unable to walk away as everyone else seems to have done?
These questions, delivered with Donaldson’s smooth, adroit writing style, imbue the novel with a haunting, disquieting atmosphere throughout this very satisfying mystery. —Ralph Higgins
Author Darren Hynes
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-897174-66-1, 224 pp. Killick Press, September 2010
Flight opens with a scene that is not at all uncommon: an exhausted young mother brushes off her husband’s amorous advances and slips deeper into sleep. But what comes next sets the nightmarish tone for the rest of the book: rather than sulking or feeling resigned, the husband, Kent, douses his wife, Emily, with a jug of cold water. (And not with just any jug. He takes the time and energy to retrieve the fancy crystal jug from the top shelf of the china cabinet.)
As shocking as this treatment may be, it is trifle compared to some of the physical and mental abuse that Emily has suffered over the years. She has finally stored up the nerve and resources needed to take her two young children and leave the man she has come to despise and fear. This story takes the reader through Emily’s final five days in her old life.
First-time novelist Darren Hynes cleverly underscores Emily’s plight by mirroring her grim reality in the situation in her hometown of Lightning Cove, Newfoundland where the fish plant is slated for closure. Hynes is able to develop Kent into a character who is more than a cardboard bogeyman by showing him as a compassionate and competent manager at the plant.
Emily’s escape is complicated by her exhaustion, by her fear and by the people around her such as her smitten boss, Terry, and her sullen pre-teen son Jeremy—a boy who already shows signs that the cycle of abuse may indeed be unbreakable. She comes very close to exposing her secrets and plans, but manages to carry out her flight from Lightning Cove. Yet the question remains at the end of the novel: what will become of Emily and her children? —Kate Watson
Author Chris Benjamin
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-55266-369-1, 320 pp. Roseway Publishing, September 2010
Readers in Halifax will be familiar with Chris Benjamin from his environmental column in The Coast newspaper, but those weekly dispatches do not hint at the giant storytelling talent unleashed in his first novel, Drive-by Saviours (Roseway Publishing).
Set in Indonesia and Toronto, it follows Bumi, an ill-starred boy growing up under the Suharto regime, and Mark, a morose Canadian social worker. In alternating chapters, we learn about Bumi and Mark. Bumi invents a new fishing system on his remote island to give the men more time to relax with their children, but it leads to a population of lay about drunks. He dreams about going to school, only to be forced into an education system that rejects his inquisitive mind. Things get worse for Bumi when suspicion falls on him for the unsolved murders of children, compelling him to stage his own death and flee to Canada, packing only his obsessive compulsive disorder.
Poor Mark, meanwhile, is coping with a job that isn’t quite what he’d like to be doing. It gets worse when he discovers a hidden talent for grant writing that lands him his dream job. To top it all off, his relationship with his charming girlfriend, who is a model, is not quite as dreamy as he dreamed. After a blackout sends Toronto into an alternative-universe version of itself, with packed buses chugging along darkened streets as commuters struggle to get home, Mark takes to staring at strangers in public. One of the strangers he stares at is Bumi, freshly stranded in Canada. The two embark on an insightful, darkly funny relationship wherein Mark seeks salvation as Bumi tries to shore up his own collapsing existence.
Despite a few lapses (Bumi’s oceanic journey to Canada seems surprisingly pleasant when contrasted to the real-life summer arrival of Tamil refugees in British Columbia), Benjamin does a superb job of weaving the two tales together in a way that belies legends of the “white man’s burden” to save the world. The lyrical unraveling of Bumi echoes Rohinton Mistry’s sweeping narrative power.
Drive-by Saviours is confident proof that great Atlantic Canadian literature need not involve kilts or Cape Breton. —Jon Tattrie
Author Lesley Choyce
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-897235-80-5, 300 pp. Thistledown Press, September, 2010
Raising Orion is filled with backward-looking characters pursuing their own journeys, a bit in the meandering tradition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Several stories run parallel, most of them intersecting at various points. Choyce’s main characters include a whimsical Halifax bookstore owner whose family kept a lighthouse in the harbour, a previously suicidal Ottawa university professor who comes to Halifax to research an explorer, an aged rich woman gathering details of her son’s death and a fourteen-year-old boy without a future. Add to the mix a philosophical northern native who works as a janitor, doggedly non-conformist high school students who have a band named Dumpster Teeth, a taxi driver whose poetic taste runs to Leonard Cohen and a retired school principal who trusts her instincts.
At the centre of the story is bookstore owner Molly whose parents were able to summon the moon and the stars when she was a much-loved child on their island. What they could not do was prevent the victims of a plane crash from washing up to the rocky shore one morning. Molly helped drag the victims out of the sea and her father carried them up to the lighthouse where each was placed in a bed in a separate room until rescuers could arrive.
Choyce employs a nearly-invisible peripheral character to have Molly visit cancer- ravaged fourteen-year-old Todd in hospital because his emotionally-battered family is from out of province. In recounting her fanciful childhood, Molly is able to provide a measure of release for the boy who almost immediately falls in love with her. The enchantment soon gives way when his family, hospital staff and ultimately police are confronted with a shocking scene in his hospital room.
Eric, the divorced and disillusioned university professor who is the other main character, initially appears in opposite chapters. He struggles to understand why his carefully constructed suicide attempt failed, although he grows increasingly grateful for the outcome. Transformation comes when he realizes who led him through the stormy winds and over frozen ground to the home of an Inuit family.
It is a convoluted, even bizarre story but Choyce, a prolific writer, skillfully propels it along to a dramatic finish. —Rosalie MacEachern
Author Ada J. Gillard
$16.95 (pb) 978-1-894463-58-4, 136 pp. Flanker Press, May 2010
Northern Newfoundland Cooking offers a glimpse into the past—a time when Figgy Duff, Turnip Tops and Fish and Brewis were on every Northern Newfoundlander’s table.
These recipes are from a half century ago, a time of isolated communities and no electricity. The harsh climate and short summers led these strong, self-sufficient people to create a unique diet which focused on food they could grow, kill or catch and preserve over the winter.
The book begins with directions on “The Art of Making Bread” with a suggestion to save little pieces of dough to fry up as “toutons” to be eaten with molasses and butter.
The recipes are basic and clearly reflect the reality of the era, climate and geography— no fancy ingredients here. These auttentic recipes place us in outports along the Viking Trail, with directions on how to cook cod tongues, partridge, rabbit and moose. Of course there were no greens, so salads consisted of potato, macaroni or jelly.
Newfoundlanders will feel nostalgic reading this and perhaps be happy to have a recipe for old-fashioned molasses pudding, stuffed squid or Jiggs’ Dinner.
At the end of each recipe is a Newfoundland saying, a bit of vocabulary or weather lore. There’s a list of unusual place names, with a culinary connection: Plate Cove, Ladle Cove, Spoon Cove, Butter Cove, Sugar Loaf and Turnip Cove.
The book concludes with a list of trivia and tips, some food-related, some not. There are also several pages for keen readers to add traditional recipes of their own.
While Northern Newfoundland Cooking might not send everyone running to the kitchen, it’s a fun and accessible book to read, that provides an entertaining, culinary glimpse into Newfoundland’s past. —Valerie Mansour
Author Heather Kuttai
$18.95 (pb) 978-1-55266-342-4, 143 pp. Fernwood Publishing, May 2010
“I am an agent. It is hard work. But it’s good work.” From the epilogue of her autoethnography, Heather Kuttai encapsulates her motivation for writing Maternity Rolls. A mother of two children from Saskatchewan, who is also a paraplegic and wheelchair user, Kuttai shares her unique and intensely personal experience with pregnancy and childbirth. She put it into a broader social context to change perceptions and misinformation about disabilities, to improve accessibility and to recognize the realities of other women who are lacking resources or are seeking points of reference for their own experiences.
The title is a play on words that becomes more meaningful after every chapter as Kuttai explores her struggle from childhood to define her own identity as a woman in the face of general social devaluation of a disabled woman’s sexuality by many considered “abled”. Throughout, she demonstrates the lack of accessibility and lack of expectation from the medical profession, and people generally, about a disabled woman’s “role” as a sexual being and mother.
Despite impressive achievements as a Paralympic medalist in target shooting, from which Kuttai gained strength and confidence as a young woman, she struggled through her childhood and adolescence to find a sense of self and sexuality, finally feeling validated as a whole person/whole woman through her experience with pregnancy and childbirth. While some feminist literature rails against women who identify themselves strictly in relation to motherhood, Kuttai’s experience emphasizes how deeply personal and unique our identities are and how they are shaped. She aptly points out that “identity is an action”: what you do determines who you are, not other people’s perceptions of you.
The book is largely autobiography anchored by journal entries, punctuated with thesis research and theory on disability and gender issues. Many entries are fraught with justifiable anger and frustration, and occasionally she seems to project her own assumptions onto others; her self-consciousness may not always have been accurate reflection of other’s judgments. But these entries are balanced by Kuttai’s introspective analysis and distance from events.
The organization of the text is more thematic than chronological, which can be confusing at times. Headings and meaningful song lyrics structure the content, but overuse is disruptive and some transitions are abrupt. For its brave and intimate portrait of a relatively unexplored subject, and its challenge to readers to consider their attitudes about disability issues, this book is indeed a “good work.” —Kimberley Hicks
Author Jerry Lockett
$29.95 (pb) 978-088780-920-0, 198 pp. Formac Publishing Company Limited, September 2010
Jerry Lockett’s biography of the great explorer Captain James Cook delves into two related mysteries, the first how a seaman with so little formal education achieved such distinction as an explorer and map maker, the second how his years in Atlantic Canada—between 1758 and 1767 he was in the region most of the time—would mould the man who became Captain Cook.
Lockett begins by re-establishing Cook’s extraordinary legacy, the great scope of his explorations in the Pacific and his achievements in mapping. One of his New Zealand charts was so accurate it did not need to be resurveyed until 1996. The author then takes the reader on a journey detailing Cook’s genuinely humble upbringing, as the son of a Yorkshire farm labourer.
Lockett wisely avoids imposing too many theories upon Cook’s motivations but rather lets his narrative, richly laced with social insights—and in particular, comparisons between merchant shipping and the navy—suggest a wealth of possibilities. An apprentice to Quaker ship-owner John Walker, Cook may have found Quaker ideals “integrity, sobriety, plain speaking” rubbing off on him, Lockett suggests.
And the young Cook needed a cool head. The North Sea coal trade, upon by which Cook was employed for Walker, was a dangerous one, requiring navigation through treacherous shoals. Ships were frequently preyed upon by unprincipled pilot boatmen.
In 1755 Cook made a momentous and surprising decision. He turned down a command in the merchant marines for a lowly post in the navy, a move that Lockett examines from every social and historical angle. Imminent war with France saw the navy bulging with ambitious young seaman; in terms of pay, work load, rations, a patriotic calling and opportunities of advancement and learning, the move was in fact a far sighted one.
In war-torn Nova Scotia Cook met and struck up a friendship with military surveyor Samuel Holland who explained the workings of a surveying tool, the plane table. In Newfoundland he met engineer officer Joseph F. W. Des Barres, whose ability to map and draw accurately was likely a great influence on Cook.
The 1763 Treaty of Paris meant the British navy urgently needed to map newly acquired territories. Cook soon became involved in a major survey of western Newfoundland. Within this chapter Lockett explains the uses of the various surveying tools—plane table, theodolite, telescopic quadrant—and we have a tangible sense of the slow emergence of a man who would become a master surveyor.
The illustrations are telling, and we see Cook’s work, including a plan of Halifax Navy Yard overlooked in other biographies. But one of the strengths of this well-researched and thought-provoking biography is that the Atlantic Canadian angle comes through in an unforced manner, and within a full context of both his subject and the times. —Paul Butler
Author Jon Tattrie
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-897426-18-0, 192 pp. Pottersfield Press, July 2010
For many Nova Scotians, the English language has three synonyms for the diabolical excesses of racism. “Cornwallis” (i.e. Governor Edward Cornwallis) is synonymous with the attempted mideighteenth-century extermination of the Mi’kmaqs. “The Expulsion” (also “The Deportation” and “Le Grand Derangement”) refers to the “racial cleansing” of the same period when the Acadian settlements were systematically destroyed and the population was forced to flee its ancestral lands. Lastly, and in contemporary times, there is “Africville”, the centuries old black community on the Bedford Basin which was the target of the 1960s expropriation, demolition, dispersal and resettlement in the name of bridge building, industrial expansion and urban renewal. It is the last of these historical horrors that is central to journalist Jon Tattrie’s monograph, The Hermit of Africville: The Life of Eddie Carvery.
At the outset, let me explain my description of the publication as a “monograph”. There is no table of contents, index and the limited bibliography is to be found in the “Afterword”. The result is a potpourri of information that loosely extends from the late eighteenth century to the 2010 official apology to the Africville descendants by the mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality, Peter Kelly. Woven throughout the history of the 1960-2010 period and the focus for most of the writing is the story of Eddie Carvery, a descendent of one of the original families and an impassioned advocate for the restoration of the Africville community.
The Eddie Carvery story is written as creative non-fiction. Given the limitations of its length there are tempting tidbits of the influence of the Coloured Hockey League, the appearances of Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther leader, Martin Luther King, the immortal civil rights advocate, and jazz legend, Duke Ellington to name only a handful. Similarly, the reader wants to know more about Eddie Carvery’s employment opportunities (and the always present racial discrimination) in the fisheries including a brief time on a Norwegian sealer. Proportionately more space is allotted to the cyclical effects of alcoholism and hard drugs, the resulting bouts of violence, exploitation of women and their sexual abuse followed by failed attempts at rehabilitation. It is not a heart warming tale but rather a patchwork of cameos giving some insight into the life of a driven person, fighting constantly against his own demons and obsessed with the conviction that Africville, as he remembers it from childhood, is still home. —Paul Robinson
Author Katherine E. Bellamy
$16.95 (pb) 978-1-89731-773-0, 219 pp. Flanker Press, June 2010
Some might find it surprising just how many Canadians do not support public health care or at least that which is government funded. Even liberal Toronto’s literary unrequited lover Alice Munro made implicit remarks in a 1994 Paris Review lamenting the sad effect this country’s welfare state has had on Canadian mentality. Libertarians and theo-cons hungry for the blood of Marci McDonald alike can find inspiration from the tale of this Catholic and privately funded public hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
This book is primarily sourced from a document titled St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital, 1922—1982 by Sr. M. Fabian Hennebury. The book will be interesting to general residents of St. John’s and Newfoundland with an interest in healthcare’s local history. The story of these nurses and this private hospital is a remarkable one and those who find fault in the effects of socialized medicine and centralized government in Canada hould also take an interest in its events, such as the aborted career of Sr. M. Loretta who could no longer work as an anesthetist in the hospital—though trained for it and in that role for twenty years—because Canada did not recognize nurse anesthetists.
There do seem to be some chronological and causal disparities in the book however. For example, in 1835 it is suggested that an outburst of smallpox leads Bishop Michael Fleming, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland to the desire to found a school to better educate girls and thus make healthier futures for them. The problem is that a few lines later it is noted the school was founded in 1833, two years prior. There are other temporal issues as well. For example, chapter two partially addresses the time after the second word war; chapter three, the time before. The book doesn’t always have a clear narrative arc, though the word “story” on the cover suggests it should.
The book is so favourable to its subject that it may have spent just a bit more time on mistakes made. For example, one page briefly mentions major and long lasting leaks in a seven-story extension to the hospital, but not when this occurred or whose fault it was. In sum, the book presents a glowing and excited description of the hospital, its history and the people who made that history. —Michael Follow
Author Simon Falconer
$35.00 (hc) 978-0-86492-620-3, 192 pp. Goose Lane Editions, June 2010
For anyone who has ever enjoyed a performance of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo—whether they have seen it only once or several times—this is a book that stylishly captures in both words and pictures the true spirit of what has become the largest annual indoor show in the world. Author Simon Falconer and Fredericton’s Goose Lane Editions have once again teamed up to produce a book that is sure to be a best-seller.
Falconer, author of 2008’s well-received Canada’s Black Watch: An Illustrated History of the Regular Force Battalions 1951-1970, has done an outstanding job in selecting hundreds of the very best pictures from more than 75,000 official photographs taken of Tattoo performances and performers over the years—both backstage and on the Metro Centre floor. The result is a colourful kaleidoscope of international and Canadian military marching bands, dancers, acrobats, jugglers, gymnasts, precision drill teams, musicians, historical vignettes, singers and several other entertainers that have graced the Tattoo since its inception in 1979.
The story of the Tattoo’s beginnings is one of many that are told in the book; a show hastily put together for the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother to the first ever International Gathering of the Clans held outside of Scotland—which “almost didn’t happen,” due to several ongoing and last-minute glitches. It was the success of this first Tattoo that led provincial politicians and senior naval officers to press for its continuation as an annual event. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Falconer tells several other behind-the scenes stories from thirty years of Tattoo performances; anecdotes that will both amuse and amaze. To date, the Tattoo has been seen first-hand by more than a million spectators, a remarkable record of longevity and artistic creativity. This lavishly-illustrated book, which also comes in leather-bound and cased editions, was published to recognize the Tattoo’s thirtieth anniversary. It does so with the same style and flair that has made the Tattoo such a favourite with audiences for so many years. —John Boileau
Author Darryll Walsh
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-89742-621-0, 176 pp. Pottersfield Press, June 2010
The Maritimes are rife with stories of ghosts and other spectres from the world beyond. Nova Scotia has a particularly rich legacy of such stories, and Ghosts of Nova Scotia is filled with many of them. This tenth anniversary edition has been updated and expanded. The stories are generally short—you can read a few with a cup of coffee—and the subjects are varied.
In his introduction, Darryll Walsh—a lecturer at the Nova Scotia Community College and host of “Shadow Hunter”, a series on the Space Channel—writes, “I began my initiation into the unknown as a small child… I was put to bed early to make room for adult discussions, but I stayed awake for I knew that … the conversation would turn to the mysterious.”
It did and he has gathered a great assortment of the mysterious in this book. For example, in the story entitled “Amherst”, there is “one of the most documented and strangest occurrences of ghostly phenomena” involving a young woman named Esther Cox. After breaking up with her boyfriend, she began experiencing sounds under the bed, objects moving by themselves and ““Esther Cox, you are mine to kill” was written by a ghostly hand in front of a half-dozen witnesses”, among other frightening events.
Meanwhile, “Isle Haute” has legends of buried treasure, and “Spidell Hill” was, for many years, the location of a ball of fire. A ghostly woman walks “Evangeline Beach” and, on the anniversary of a massacre of British troops, Bloody Creek runs red in “Bridgetown”.
If your interest runs to sea creatures, don’t fret; they make appearances here, too. In “Cape Sable Island” there are stories of a sea creature with tusks and red eyes, while in “St. Margaret’s Bay” there have been sightings of one that was “seventy to one hundred feet long … [with] a long mane.”
Pirates enter the fray, as do headless ghosts, and even a little dog thought to be the Devil strolls through the book, making Ghosts of Nova Scotia a fun and interesting compendium for the curious and for the believer. —Sharon Hunt
Author Ian McKay and Robin Bates
$34.95 (pb) 978-0-77353-704-0, 472 pp. McGill-Queen’s University Press, May 2010
Ian McKay and Robin Bates make marvelous mischief of Nova Scotia’s social and political traditions in their assiduously indexed and foot-noted tome about one of Canada’s first signatories to Confederation.
Reading it, I might even imagine they’d spent decades as flies on the walls of their various academic bunkers in Atlantic Canada, observing events unfolding over 143 years. But, sadly, no. McKay is a professor in the Department of History at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario; Bates is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Chicago.
Still, however they spent their time assembling their fulsome indictment of East Coast mercantilism, they worried enough about their own swing on things to insert a choice morsel into their acknowledgements: “This [analyzes] the relations between tourism/ history, liberal order and the logic of commodification in capitalist society.”
Oh, bien sur mes amis, now we get it. This is just another 500-page trip down a left-wing polemicist’s memory lane. Or as Messrs. McKay and Bates stipulate, “The present work can legitimately be read as a sequel to the investigation into the cultural contradictions of capitalism in Nova Scotia initiated in Quest of the Folk (1994).”
In fact, the outrage In the Province of History drips like a clown’s tears as the twoauthors gleefully deconstruct the meaning of provincial poster art designed to “sell” Nova Scotia to its nearest neighbours and the world during the 1930s. To wit: “Each photo portrays an individual, none of whom has an intrinsic connection with any of the others... These people seem not to share any collective way of life. By implication, they inhabit distinctly separate gender spheres: women on the left, men on the right... Though paired in male-female duos, they seem not to be positioned as three heterosexual couples, for their eyes do not meet.”
Three-hundred-and-sixty pages later, the authors bookend their central argument— that tourism marketing is poor history... uh, no kidding—with another trenchant examination of the meaning behind the picture (circa 1950) that graces their front cover. “For the young couple,” they write, “captured by the well-known Canadian painter Franklin Arbuckle in a promotion for the Dominion Atlantic Railway, the romance seems to have only just begun... At least they have the means and the manners to dress properly for dinner.”
Ah-hah, it is funny stuff. And, to be honest, there’s a lot if it in here. On kilts: “The novelist Hugh MacLennan... recorded it as a ‘plain fact that the kilt was never worn in Cape Breton until the tourists came.’” And on Peggy’s Cove: “A little fishing village on St. Margaret’s Bay, almost entirely absent from tourist geography before 1920, became central within it after circa 1928.” Indeed, on dear, old Joseph Howe: “[He] agreed in substance with the critics of ‘dirty-phiz’d radicals and red-headed Highlanders’ when he condemned the ‘degrading and paltry bickerings’ of the Scots.”
This book won’t appeal to everyone—certainly not the recondite among us who refuse to reconsider Nova Scotia’s rather weird march through time in the clear light that wit and humour bestows—but it does open new vistas of appreciation for those of us who have always wondered: Who was that man behind the curtain, and why was he smiling? —Alec Bruce
Author D.C. Troicuk
$14.95 (pb) 978-1-89700-943-7, 166 pp. Cape Breton University Press, April 210
Loose Pearls and Other Stories is a gritty but polished collection of short stories by Glace Bay writer D.C. Troicuk.
These varied stories focus on the immigrant heritage, the compromised, the handicapped and those who have become isolated through one set of circumstances or another. The title of one searing story, “Brick Fronts”, is emblematic of the collection but the book draws its title from a touching immigrant story in which the main character feels her family history slipping away, one pearl at a time.
In “Loose Pearls”, one of the strongest in the collection, the daughter Anna was driven as a child and younger woman to collect the family stories but as her mind begins to betray her, she feels a need to impart what she has gleaned. She was born in the Ukraine, the oldest in a family that was raised in Glace Bay. Her memory is longer than that of her siblings and now she ponders each fading vignette, each explanation for what has shaped the family. It is not in her nature to openly divulge secrets so she repeatedly lays out bait for her brothers who are disinclined to reach the conclusions she is compelled to draw them toward.
“Overburden” taps a seam already welltapped by novelists, short story writers and songwriters but Troicuk brings to the surface a man more damaged by his own short-comings than another man who lost his son because of those shortcomings. Doc MacSween is years out of the pit but he remembers each man who went down below one fateful shift, recounts to himself each man’s particular tale of woe. He lives on, unforgiven even in the face of the most forgiving.
“Katia Suffers”, another immigrant story, begins with a masterful sentence, then a masterful paragraph and another revealing sentence, an effective luring of the reader. It is a story of two sisters whose lives diverged but they are back under the same roof. One serves, one complains. One is angry, one lives in quiet pain, each with a version of the same secret. The unhappy sibling relationship is entrenched until one sister makes an unexpected gesture that releases them both.
Loose Pearls is a book to be shared among friends who may find some stories are more polished than others. Choosing the best stories in such a strong collection is likely to spur passionate debate. —Rosalie MacEachern
Author Darryl Joel Berger
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-897174-65-4, 200 pp. Killick Press, August 2010
Darryl Joel Berger dreams up dark and troubled landscapes populated by deeply disturbed characters. In a matter of mere pages (or even paragraphs), entire twisted lifetimes are lived and worlds stutter to an end.
This is not to say that there is no humour in the twenty short stories that make up Punishing Ugly Children. Take for instance the back-and-forth e-mail conversation conducted in a story called “Big Head”. In it, Sean Quintal, an artist who specializes in drawing the cool “freaky Jesus” used in advertising by the Vivian Ted University for Jesus, hoists his boss on his own petard. It’s quirky, engaging fun.
Other stories contain a darker humour. In “How to Read Cards”, the protagonist, Chixi-Shin, pines for a co-worker who’s being slowly, oh so slowly, seduced by a rival who is only referred to as “the Incredible Talking Lady.” Chixi-Shin is ultimately released from the pains of unrequited love when the object of her desire and his seductress are “mercifully” incinerated by a firebomb amidst the beginning of a revolution. There’s something about the understated and matter-of-fact pronouncement of the gruesome images in this book that elicits illicit chuckles.
The first story, “Broken Head”, is perhaps the funniest. It’s written in the voice of a figuratively and literally damaged author who tells the whole truth in the dedication of his fourth novel. Who knew that head injuries could be so liberating? There is little to laugh at in the collection’s final offering “Polly Jean”, but it is captivating none the less. It is a story within a story whereby a serial killer recounts a mundane event that leads to the death of an already down-trodden young girl.
Reading Punishing Ugly Children is a lot like looking at life reflected in a funhouse mirror, with the truth hidden beneath some interesting and alarming distortions. —Kate Watson
Author Teri Vlassopoulos
$16.95 (pb) 978-1-9267430-7-3, 152 pp. Invisible Publishing, October 2010
It’s not surprising that zines played a big part of Teri Vlassopoulos’ own coming of age. She knows how to do a lot with very little. The Montreal writer’s debut collection of short stories flows like an album of personal snapshots: a collage of secret deals, familial disappointments, innocent but misplaced hopes and relationships fated to doom. These are all stories about growing up, regardless of age.
Tragedies hover in family histories: car accidents and drownings are as commonplace as birthday parties and holidays. But there are no frivolous, overwrought details; Vlassopoulos favours sharp, simple story construction. She also has an acute sense of timing. Take “Fun, Fun, Fun,” where a doting but ignorant mother describes her son’s multiple professions—“a fireman, police officer or businessman”—and the pride he especially feels in the suit. Motherly love justified before she reveals the fact, a few paragraphs later, that Jeremy is a stripper, and those are his costumes.
Many of Vlassopoulos’ characters cannot see, or refuse to acknowledge, what’s right in front of them. In “A Secret Handshake” a father mistakes a red mailing tube for a bomb and calls the police, while the real danger to the family’s cohesiveness is his step-son Mitch’s increasingly rebellious attitude. Early on in “Art History” we suspect Daniel, a lecturing art history grad student working in a storage locker facility—an empty place where secret objects are stored in exchange for money—well before the young female narrator realizes that he’s cheating on his girlfriend, her sister Greta.
Each one of the eleven stories in Bats or Swallows is a little dioramic gem. However, there’s a sameness in tone and atmosphere, which becomes particularly noticeable when reading several in one sitting. Perhaps Vlassopoulos is unconsciously working out a character’s voice for a novel, which would be very welcome, as this collection will leave readers wanting more. —Sue Carter Flinn
Author Pamela Callow
$9.99 (pb) 978-0-7783-21570-9, 464 pp. Mira Books, June 2010
Damaged is far from damaged. In fact this debut novel by a member of the Nova Scotia bar is one utterly complete, complex and convincing book that has one hooked from the first line, “Springtime in Halifax was not known for its warmth and sunshine.” True enough, and as the novel unfolds around the places so many of us know so well, there’s a sense of familiarity and identification that makes us a part of the credible conspiracy and incredibly fast action.
Kate Lange, damaged not only by being the cause of the death of her sister, her former fiancé’s accusations and by legal advice she gave to a worried grandmother wanting to adopt her son’s daughter and which may have let to the teenager’s death, is a young lawyer new to her firm, one of the city’s finest. Once you position her in a room with a view—above Lower Water Street with the partners, naturally, overlooking the harbour, the scene is set. It’s a situation far from the sordid underworld she sketches so well, one of drugs, prostitutes and a serial killer at one end, and a failed mother-cum-successful, ambitious careerdriven judge, attorneys and doctors at the other. In between, there are detectives, an ex-fiancé, bleak and guilt-ridden memories and sexual attraction.
She has lots to prove, not only to herself but to the other first-year associates to whom she is an interloper who is thought to have been hired only so one of the partners could ‘screw’ her.
All that adds to the fact that while this is a thriller, well-written and with a great plot, it is one that defies categorising. While the mystery may be medical with sophisticated and high technology required to improve lives, it’s dark and dangerously suspenseful, peopled with psychopaths and those gripped by gratuitous greed, putting Kate, able at this stage to love only her adopted dog, Alaska, in well over her head. She trusts no one, suspecting even her dog walker; the mother of one of the murdered girls; the detectives and her own senior colleagues who also want to cut her down. Callow keeps the momentum minute by minute, never allowing us to question anything.
Because it is so well-written, nothing seems far fetched; the parking garage attack, so redolent of a television crime series, is totally plausible; the unremitting tension that is Kate’s constant companion. We hold our breath when she enters the morgue to do her own detective work seeking The Body Butcher and we release it when she gets out. This time.
I can’t wait for Pamela Callow’s second novel—one of this novel’s characters, a tantalizingly yet only potential and attractive love interest, is himself up on a domestic homicide charge. His defender? Kate Lange, of course. —Shirley Gueller
Author Lesley Crewe
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-55109-774-9, 288 pp. Vagrant Press, September 2010
Confession time. As a closeted book-snob, a quick perusal of the back cover of Lesley Crewe’s new novel Her Mother’s Daughter made me pretty certain it wasn’t my kind of book.
A quiet homebody who lives in the sleepy little town of Louisbourg, of all places? Yawn. A glamorous sister complete with a sports car and head-turning good looks? Too Danielle Steel for me. A domestic secret? Geeze, that doesn’t exactly put me on the edge of my seat…
Well, flash ahead a few days and you’ll find this haughty reviewer wiping tears from her eyes as she reads the penultimate scene of the book—a scene that brings together all the flawed but loving characters in a way that “does the heart good” as my mother might say.
Crewe’s talent lies in rendering characters that readers can actually care about. They have been hurt and they have hurt others, but their essential goodness shines through.
Her Mother’s Daughter is the story of two sisters who have chosen different paths in life. Bay is the aforementioned homebody, an attractive widow who has raised her daughter Ashley with the help of her now-deceased mother and her good friend Gertie. Tansy is the flighty and glamorous sister who high-tailed out of Louisburg as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Old rivalries and wounds quickly resurface when Tansy returns to Louisbourg. Throw in a good dose of teen pregnancy and a really awful secret and you’ve got the makings of an entertaining beach read.
While the lives of these characters definitely fall on the fictional side of ordinary and the solutions to their problems are tied up more neatly than they would be in real life, Crewe still manages to speak truths about the enduring nature of family and the value of friendship. —Kate Watson
Author Kate Evans
$18.95 (pb) 978-1-55081-327-2, 247 pp. Breakwater Books Ltd, August 2010
My mother is a Corner Brook girl. Growing up in Montreal, our home was filled with stories and songs from The Rock and I often wondered why Newfoundlanders were so passionate—if not outright obsessed—with their past. After living in Atlantic Canada for a decade I now understand; it is because they have one.
History again comes alive in Kate Evans’ debut novel Where Old Ghosts Meet, a touching and tender tale of one woman’s efforts to uncover her family’s history.
Nora Malloy arrives in the outport community of Shoal Cove in the early 1970s, where she meets the elderly Peg Berry. In an account that borders on epic, Berry discloses the details of Malloy’s Grandfather’s abandonment of wife and children in Ireland in the early 1900s and his eventual resettlement in pre-Confederation Newfoundland.
En route, readers are treated to insights into identity; that of Malloy’s Grandfather Matthew, of Malloy herself and of two heartlands that, though linked by a common Celtic culture, are quickly headed in opposite directions; one struggles for nationhood, while the other will soon lose its independence.
The Irish-born Evans has also done well to draw upon her own heritage, as the narrative rollicks and rolls with a language, lyricism and rhythm that are rooted in both regions; mood and tone are established early, setting is solid and sure and the plot is fluid and never forced. Masterfully, the author has given the characters more than enough strength and space to breathe on their own.
While the comparisons to fellow Newfoundland scribes Donna Morrissey and Bernice Morgan are sure to come, Evans has still succeeded in not only giving a voice to the past of her two homelands and its peoples, but to do so in one that is distinctly her own. —Stephen Patrick Clare
Author Hilary MacLeod
$22.95 (pb) 320 pages, 978-1-89483-848-1, The Acorn Press, September 2010
The newest offering from The Acorn Press, Hilary MacLeod’s Revenge of the Lobster Lover is a light and fun read. Readers should be warned the first chapter is tough slogging with its overuse of metaphors and adjectives but the language quickly evens out and the author soon draws an idyllic small PEI community, home to enough nosy neighbours to create the right setting for a light-hearted murder mystery.
The characters are far-fetched but The Shores, the tiny Island community which plays host to the story, is just off-beat enough to make them believable. MacLeod creates a fun mix of stereotypical Islanders and the ‘come-from away’ heroine who means well but whose social blunders keep her from being fully accepted in the community. Accidentally bringing a lobster rights activist to The Shores during lobster season is only the latest in her well-meaning but misguided errors in judgment.
The story surrounds the wealthy but anti-social owner of some prime local real estate and the arrival of his personal chef and lover Guillaume, straight from rehab. Mix those two outsiders with the militant lobster activist, the local ne’er do well just out of jail and a host of other quirky locals and the scene is set.
Full of useless but interesting crustacean tidbits like the fact that lobsters have two penises and that they can easily escape traditional traps, Revenge of the Lobster Lover is a good read for lovers of light-hearted mysteries. There are a few awkward moments and plot twists that seem a bit contrived but, all-inall, this is a nice first fiction offering from author Hilary MacLeod. With a little polish, heroine Hy McAllister and the people of The Shores would be welcome on my bookshelf with their next mystery offering. —Megan Venner
Author Kathleen Winter
$32.95 (pb) 978-0-88784-236-8, 461 pp. House of Anansi Press, June 2010
Annabel, by former Newfoundland resident Kathleen Winter, explores gender identity and society’s constructed definitions of what it means to be male or female. Based on the experiences of Wayne Blake, a hermaphrodite growing up in Croyden Harbour, Labrador, the story spans this main character’s life from his birth in 1968 into early adulthood.
Wayne enters the world in his parent’s house surrounded by his mother, Jacinta, and close family friend Thomasina Baikie. Within seconds of his first breath, it’s obvious that Wayne has both male and female sex organs. Initially, Jacinta conceals the truth from her husband Treadway, a hunter, who, with “no intention of lollygagging in the house during the birth,” prepares his dinner of caribou cakes and tea as his wife delivers their only child.
Set in a rural community influenced by its geography, Annabel is filled with rich references to the natural world. In describing Treadway’s growing awareness of his baby’s reality, Winter’s writes: “He (Treadway) felt the secret in the house exactly as he felt the presence of a white ptarmigan behind him in the snow, and he understood the secret’s details, its identity, as easily as he would know the bird was a white ptarmigan before he turned around and saw it.”
Sensing his child’s gender ambiguity, Treadway, a pragmatist who buys all the same style and colour socks in case one becomes lost, believes a decision is necessary. After consulting a doctor, Jacinta consents to raise the baby as a boy, but struggles with the denial of her child’s true nature. Supported by Thomasina, Jacinta quietly nurtures Wayne’s feminine side. As he ages, Wayne’s inner self fights with the external world, and those closest to him, to find its rightful place. Moments of heartbreak are the result.
Among the many reasons to read Annabel is Winter’s simple, yet eloquent, writing style. “Did boys have moments of softness, moments of more incredible tenderness than girls did? Who was to say which moments were which? Many times during Wayne’s childhood a wind had whipped through Jacinta’s mouth. The world had breathed through her and told her that her son was also a daughter.”
Ultimately, Wayne is given a second chance to be his true self. Consistent with the novel’s suggestion that nothing is black and white, that chance is enabled by someone who—on the surface—appears as an unlikely source of support. An engaging and important story, Annabel is the first novel by the Montreal-based Winter. Let’s hope it’s not her last. —Clare O’Connor
Author Elizabeth Pierce
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-55109-750-3, 168 pp. Nimbus Publishing, March 2010
“A garden is a wonderful, humbling teacher,” writes Elizabeth Peirce in her new book, Grow Organic. Subtitled A Simple Guide to Nova Scotia Vegetable Gardening, this is just the book for those who want to grow a few vegetables in their yards but aren’t exactly sure where to start.
Peirce describes herself as “an enthusiastic amateur gardener,” who draws on thirty years of growing vegetables in teaching readers about developing their own kitchen garden. She starts quite literally from the ground up, discussing site location, soil types and management, and encourages new gardeners to ask themselves a few probing questions.
Vegetable gardening isn’t for everyone, and it does require time to plant, tend, harvest and preserve the harvest from a garden. Time, site, tastes and space are all considerations that have to be thought through before the neophyte puts spade to soil or orders enough needs to feed all of the neighbourhood.
I love gardening books where the author talks frankly and encouragingly to the readers, like she might over a kitchen table cup of tea. Peirce is excellent in this regard. Instructions are easy to follow and entertaining, and she embraces an organic approach to all aspects of gardening. Although the book is aimed at those new to vegetable gardening, anyone with an interest in homegrown produce and gardening will enjoy and benefit from Grow Organic.
Along with the dedicated sections on how to do the gardening, Peirce provides delightful sidebars of gardening trivia. These include anecdotes about types of vegetables, recipes—my personal favourite is Desperation Soup, for when there’s a plethora of zucchinis—quick practical tips, and quotations from other books.
An unusual and welcome section of Peirce’s book is the chapter on Farmer Mentors. These are profiles of several Nova Scotian gardeners/farmers, included to help encourage budding vegetable gardeners who might be hesitant about their green thumb skills. The profiles include a professional urban gardener who slips vegetables in among the city plots he tends, a community gardening experience at Dalhousie University, and a teenager who started his own organic, heritage seed business in the Annapolis Valley. —Jodi DeLong
$22.95 (pb) 978-1-55109-712-1; 212 pp. Nimbus Publishing, September 2009
When, just fifteen minutes into reading the book, I am in tears, then something’s got to be right. And I believe Stephen Kimber has done everything right in his captivating history of the extraordinary story of paediatric care that exists right here in Halifax and beyond. In fact the scope of the book is testimony to former chief Dr Richard Goldbloom’s desire to see the IWK expand beyond Nova Scotia, beyond the Maritimes, beyond Canada to ‘make women, children, and families everywhere the healthiest possible’.
By matching miracles with patients and their parents, persuasive and highly capable doctors and devotees, funders and fundraisers, volunteers and visionaries and, of course, nurses, he has given us more than a chronology of care. Kimber has given us a fully integrated account of what makes the IWK Health Centre what it is today, 100 years from the opening of the Halifax Children’s Hospital. He has given us 100 years of meaningful milestones and mergers with, for instance, the Salvation Army’s Grace Maternity Hospital, and made us know that the IWK will continue to adapt and flourish.
The book is about life—those saved, above all—and death, for naturally it must be about sadly-premature death. It’s about legends like those who had a dream at the turn of the last century, women such as Marion Morrow, or the Killams, Izaak Walton himself, ‘who was something of a tightwad’, and his widow Dorothy, who anted up her original promise of three million dollars into eight, the drive of men and women like Kathleen Rowan-Legg, and other cornerstones like Benge Atlee and Alex Gillis.
It’s about dedication shown by the doctor who met a new out-of-town patient at the bus stop, or the one who donated his own blood when exigency demanded. Or bending the rules to allow an under-the-age-of-two patient room with her over-the-age-of-two brother in what became known as the ‘Thompson suite’. This kind of concern has become a hallmark of the IWK’s policy of integration of family into the process. This has itself translated into the fact that patients keep coming back just to make contact with those who once made such a difference to their lives.
Recollections and reminiscences from doctors, nurses, patients, families and a cross-section of almost every type of person who has been touched by the IWK bring a smile or a tear or simply a salute. Goldbloom, when being courted to head up the hospital, noting that naming the hospital after Killem would lead to its being called the “ I Kill-em hospital’, was neatly told: ‘Doc, eight million dollars you ain’t worth.’ So the name stayed and the doctor did, too.
Kimber, who has his own personal story about the care his children received at the IWK, has tracked people as far away as New Zealand to show how far the reaches of the health centre are. His brief was not to conceal the warts and so there are a couple that, along with stand-alone anecdotes and cameos which never interrupt the narrative, serve to enliven the story. Take the doctor who was fired for inappropriate conduct (fudging expenses and autopsy reports) and later found to have stockpiled organs in England, or the administrator who lied about his qualifications. These are few enough and the lesson learned is that when handled with honesty and openness such things need never be problem. Interspersing the time-line with case studies has made this book a superb read and, indeed, a collector’s item. —Shirley Gueller
Edited by Douglas Vipond
$19.95 (pb) 978-0-86492-613-5, 252 pp. Goose Lane Editions, February 2009
Remember when you would piece together all of your favourite songs for someone special on a mixed cassette or CD? Carefully chosen and woven into a rich sonic tapestry, the sum was often greater than its individual parts. Although styles and sounds could be all over the musical map, there were enough thematic threads there to create a cohesive experience for the lucky recipient.
Like those little acts of love, The STU Reader is Goose Lane’s gift to readers.
To celebrate St. Thomas University’s 100th anniversary, two of its most esteemed professors—Douglas Vipond and Russell A. Hunt—have compiled a collection of writing from some of the finest scribes to have ever walked the halls of the Fredericton-based institution.
The end result is a feast for the hungry mind; a magnificent mélange of fiction, non-fiction and poetry that takes readers on a journey that is both regional and universal in scope and tone.
Beginning like the bang of a hammer upon wooden gavel, Philip Lee’s Sold! opens the anthology with a terrific telling of a trip to the auctioneer. Sheree Fitch is next with several surprising stanzas depicting street life as seen through the eyes of a cop. Over the next 200+ pages, snippets by the likes of Sheldon Currie, David Adams Richards, Raymond Fraser and Al Pittman ground the collection in a familiar flavour, but it is the work of lesser-known names—Kathy Mac, Carla Gunn, Ian Brodie and Victoria Kretzschmar Eastman in particular—that give the literary soup its true seasoning and spice.
Best savoured in small spoonfuls, The STU Reader is a tasty treat for those looking to satiate their pangs for ideas and emotions with a scrumptious snack in between bigger meals. Thankfully, there is a setting for everyone at the table. —Stephen Clare
Selected by Mike Heffernan
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-897174-48-7, 174 pp. Killick Press, August 2009
illustrated by Darren Whalen
Certainly you don’t have to look far to find darkness and hardship in Atlantic Canadian fiction. But that’s not enough. As Kathleen Winter suggests in the forward for Hard Ol’ Spot, writers must also ask the darkness: “How long do you endure?”… “Is there redemption?”
In the fourteen stories collected by Mike Heffernan, the majority of which are from Newfoundland, redemption and hope aren’t always easy to spot. These are broken people, trapped by circumstances, lineage and geographic lines. If there is hope, it’s fleeting, a deserved moment of relief.
Gerard Collins sets the tone with “Break, Break, Break,” as a teenage girl deals with the tragedy of a broken heart on a stormy Valentine’s Day, while she waits for her father to return from the Ocean Ranger, safe thanks to the oil rig’s “protective shield” that she prays into existence. In Sarah Tilley’s “Her Adolescence,” thirteen-year-old overworked Eva fears that her wish—the death of her terminally ill mother—will actually come true, after it’s revealed in tea leaves by the local mystic.
Ghost-story writer Steve Vernon bares fists in “A Hole Full of Nothing,” as young men plan for an ultimate street fight, fuelled by anger, testosterone and a touch of stupidity, leading towards its inevitably tragic end. Gratefully, Elizabeth Blanchard provides cautious hope for a life changed in the parking lot of “Drive-Thru.”
Heffernan chose these stories well, there isn’t a clunker among them. It’s also a treat to discover new writers in the region, all skilled in the short story craft. However, by the end of the collection, there’s a certain heart-heavy sameness to these stories that dulls their impact, with their rickety buildings, the lingering taste of blood and cheap alcohol. As tempting as it is, Hard Ol’ Spot isn’t a one-sit read. But Heffernan wisely ends with Ramona Dearing’s shocker, “An Apology,” told from the perspective of a priest, on trial for sexual abuse and facing his abusers. It’s a gutsy move, and Dearing’s monster of a man and his lack of redemption, leaves chills long after the last page is turned. —Sue Carter Flinn
Paul O’ Neill
$16.95 (pb) 978-1-897317-35-8, 176 pp. Flanker Press, October 2009
Fish for Dinner is a new Newfoundland classic. This wonderful collection of tales should grace every Newfoundlander’s book shelf. In the tradition of Aesop or the Brother’s Grimm, the stories are written in a lyrical tone that places the reader around a campfire or at a grandparent’s knee wrapped in tales from long ago.
With the tales so engrossing, and so convincingly set in rural Newfoundland, it was almost disappointing to learn they did not originate on the rock. The stories are instead are a collection of oral traditions from around the globe. Author Paul O’Neill has masterfully placed them, not only in Newfoundland and Labrador communities, but at the heart of the provinces unique culture and traditions.
Whether walking with a lonely Inuk woman in Northern Labrador, swimming with a young sea captain or drying cod with a local fisherman, O’Neill proves the oldest and best stories are truly universal. His skilful way of weaving the tale into the very fabric of the land leaves the reader ready for more. His yarns explain why the weasel turns brown in the spring and why the Northern Lights seem to dance and they give a universal charm to a unique part of Canada.
With tales like ‘How Finbar Beat Old Scratch’ and ‘The Good Merchant,’ Fish for Dinner is a rich read. Despite the imported and redesigned stories, these tales give the reader the flavour and feel of Newfoundland history. It is a must read for any Newfoundlander. —Megan Venner
Author General Rick Hillier
By General Rick Hillier, $34.99 (hc) 978-1-55468-491-5, 498 pp. Harper Collins Publishers Limited, October 2009
“We want to see less of you.” These words describe the relationship between the government and its top soldier. Hillier traces his career and his relatively meteoric rise to the highest military position in the country. He illustrates why he was prepared for the tasks that faced him—from the Manitoba flood of 1997 to the Eastern Ontario and Quebec ice storm of 1998. He served in the former Yugoslavia, was deputy commanding general of Third Corps in Fort Hood, Texas and ultimately served as Commander, International Security Augmentation Force in Afghanistan. Each posting had its own significant challenges. Hillier points out very explicitly the shortcomings of working with both NATO and the United Nations—shortcomings he says that were a result of bureaucratic meddling and indecision.
The title itselfgives a clear indication of what the reader can expect from this book by Canada’s former Chief of the Defence Staff.
Key quotes are: “ …it’s people who accomplish things, and they need to be inspired, informed, enabled and supported”; “ We are going to treat those fallen soldiers with respect. We’re going to return them with dignity and with the honour they have earned and we’re going to grieve with, and support, their families”; and, “I walked out of his office with no intention of changing the way I was doing things….The staffers wanted me to change the way I was doing the job of Chief of the Defence Staff and I was determined not to let that happen.”
When Ottawa bureaucrats wanted command of Canadian Forces units on the ground to fall under civilian jurisdiction, “I essentially told them to get lost. I … was accountable … to the Minister of National Defence and the Prime Minister. The civil service had no say in the matter.” On the selection of a new Chief of the Defence Staff, Hillier says: “ Obviously, PCO wanted a selection process that would, if possible, deliver a tame bureaucrat …”
Hillier’s style reflects the outgoing personality of a Newfoundlander who clearly understands people and one raised to reflect family values and the needs and concerns of individuals. Hillier writes the way he speaks, with folksy homilies and experiences that come straight from the heart. Unlike most military biographies, Hillier does not get bogged down in military jargon and military structures and policies. He does however attack the archaic institutions such as NATO and the UN which have become negative factors in the war on terrorism and world peace and security.
This book is a must read for civilians and military readers alike. Fast-paced, often emotional, but told in a no-nonsense , honest, from- the-heart manner, A Soldier First is the right book at the right time, indeed as Hillier himself was the right Chief of the Defence Staff at the right time. As a first-time writer, he has nailed the subject succinctly and with conviction. —Don McLeod
By Jim Lotz, $19.95 (pb) 978-1-89541-594-0, 182 pp, Breton Books, November 2009
Historian Jim Lotz has written an account of George Rice, a Canadian photographer who traveled and died on the Greely expedition formally known as the Lady Franklin Bay expedition. Most of the text is comprised of direct quotations for Rice’s journal.
Noting Rice is unknown in his Cape Breton hometown, Lotz emphasizes Rice as a Canadian who should be known across the country. Perhaps Rice should be known, and Lotz’s writing interspersed with Rice’s is readable and interesting. But it could be argued that Rice was more American than Canadian: he studied at Columbia; chose a girlfriend, Helen Bishop from Washington, D.C., rather than Maud Dunlop of the telegraph house in Baddeck who also had an infatuation for him, among five other women; Rice was the only Canadian on the trip as Greely’s men travelled across the Arctic naming mountains and valleys after America and Americans and indeed, seeing calm water among some icebergs early on in the trip, Rice noted it seemed “as placid as the waters of Central Park.”
As a tale of a Canadian of American background then, the story is fascinating. The men travel up a waterway in search of something they cannot get at a la Heart of Darkness, but even more like the manipulative and intelligent water planet in Stanislaw Lems’s Solyaris: “George described the ice as if it were a living presence which ‘appears determined to drive us to a more southerly position.’” As time goes on and the group is left deserted in the Arctic, Rice becomes more Canadian, noting May 24th —his last one alive as it happened—along with American Thanksgiving, and thinking back to his home in Cape Breton along with the green grass of Washington.
This book is released among two other recent books on the Canadian Arctic from Brian Payton and Glyn William, and the March 2010 and last issue of The Beaver as named also has a special Arctic feature, supporting the point that the Canadian Arctic is becoming an ever stronger genre for writing and collecting. —Michael Goodfellow
$24.95 (pb) 978-1-897009-30-7, 195 pp. Cape Breton University Press, December 2009
Many people associate folklore with dusty old songs and ghost stories that all sound suspiciously the same. Richard MacKinnon takes a slightly broader view with a book devoted to Cape Breton’s other traditions—stuff like nicknames and cockfighting.
MacKinnon is the Canada Research Chair at Cape Breton University and the Editor-In-Chief of The Material Culture Review. He has spent most of his academic life researching various aspects of Cape Breton and Newfoundland folklore.
The book is broken into eight sections, each exploring a different aspect of Cape Breton culture. Some of the work has been previously published and some is newly researched. Yes, there is a chapter devoted to folksongs but there is another that examines the less known world of protest songs. Cape Breton may be known for its fiddlers but MacKinnon prefers to explore the Cape Breton-style piano tradition. There are three chapters devoted to housing—log architecture, company houses and cooperative housing. Nicknames and cockfighting round out the volume.
Each chapter leaves the reader wanting more on each topic; in fact, every chapter could easily be the foundation for an entire book. The book scratches the surface of Cape Breton’s culture but it is all part of MacKinnon’s plan to inspire others to go much further.
In his introduction, MacKinnon says he hopes the book will influence others “to become engaged in this complex, fascinating area of human study.” It just may do that. Although just published, Discovering Cape Breton Folklore is already in use as a textbook for an introductory folklore class at Cape Breton University; other universities are also interested in using it as part of their folklore programs. —Elizabeth Patterson
John R. Dickie
$19.95 (pb) 978-1-897426-11-1, 240 pp. Pottersfield Press, November 2009
In the forward for Age of Heroes, John R. Dickie describes how the French Revolution of 1789, the ensuing French Republic “swallowed Europe and the world’s oceans in the first truly global conflict.”
With so many far flung colonies fueling their economies, and warring ideologies spicing a sense of peril, the stakes had never before seemed so high for the European powers. It was during this tempestuous era that La Tribune, a French warship, was captured by the British off the coast of Ireland only to meet its demise the following year, wrecked with the loss of 240 lives in Halifax Harbour.
Dickie’s brief is to set into the full context of politics and history the thrilling history of La Tribune, complete with insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the comparative navies for which she sailed. The author notes, for instance, that while the French navy remained strong in terms of ships and equipment, the Revolution and the guillotine had depleted France of her most experienced officers who were traditionally drawn from the aristocracy.
The Tribune’s brief story spans the world and hones in great detail upon Dickie’s account of the agonizing chase and ensuing battle in June 1796 which saw La Tribune captured by the British Unicorn.
An impressive command of the language of sail and cannon enables the author to create a robustly physical poetry throughout these scenes, and he delves tellingly into the sights, sounds and smells of battle. The reader feels the horror of when Dickie describes the bar or chain shot which “spun toward their target like a circular saw.” He is equally unflinching when it comes to the battle’s aftermath. “Scattered limbs without owners lay amidst the sheared-off rope, bent and broken metal pieces, blood splatters, loose muskets . . . shot-holed sails and frayed rope ends hung across the decks.”
Despite a dearth of surviving first hand accounts, Dickie’s descriptions are highly convincing recreations derived from ships’ logs, and other documents, as well as first hand accounts from the Battle of Trafalgar. Using techniques employed in fiction—moving, for instance, from the reflections of an officer on deck to his memory of the recent past before scooping back again to the present—he quite effectively marries history to living narrative.
A note of poignancy is planted early with a description of an elderly Joe Cracker, shabbily dressed and careworn, overlooking Halifax Harbour. As a young lad he had been deservedly hailed for bravery for saving eight men from the foundering Tribune. Although the narrative might seem a little dense in patches, Dickie has elected to plunge deep into the likely experience of each player in this drama, and the result for the reader is rich and rewarding. —Paul Butler
$22.95 (pb) 978-1-897426-14-2, 207 pp. Pottersfield Press, May 2010
Reviewed from a galley
Mike Parker has a passion for the history of his native province. Buried in the Woods: Sawmill Ghost Towns of Nova Scotia is his thirteenth book and another fine example of his devoted quest to rescue the easily overlooked and nearly forgotten records of day-to-day life in Nova Scotia’s past.
In 1606 the first shipyard in North America was established in Port Royal and six years later the first sawmill. Over the ensuing centuries Nova Scotia became a major center for lumber and shipbuilding as well as the manufacture and export of every kind of wooden product from barrels and coffins to tables and bedroom furniture. The mid-nineteenth century saw a thousand sawmills in operation and by the time of Confederation Nova Scotia was the richest province.
The coastal waters were teeming with ships, the woods resounded with the sound of axes and inland towns sprang up around sawmills. Yet, just a century later, this booming economy had ended and virtually no trace remained of the once thriving sawmill towns.
Today, towns like Shulie, Eatonville and Roxbury have only the tumbled remains of a wall or a well left to mark their place. Even the busy hub of New France—known to the locals as Electric City because it had electricity thirty-one years before its nearest neighbour, Weymouth—would be forgotten now if not for the work of historians like Parker. But it is not just these ghost towns that Parker brings back to life for us; it is the people who lived and worked there, and their way of life. The photographs alone would make this book a page turner with its wonderfully stern-faced portraits, clear maps and, best of all, the many amateur snapshots of workers and their families, along with photos of hunting parties, weddings and community celebrations. Very striking is the placement of old photographs next to modern shots of the same place showing no evidence of the former towns.
Parker reminds us that human life is fragile—individually and collectively—and our memories too easily lost unless we place value on our history and heritage. —Ralph Higgins
Author Sharon Robart-Johnson
$28.99 (pb) 978-1-55002-862-1, 240 pp. Natural Heritage Books (Dundurn Press), November 2009
Undoubtedly, the book’s title can have a limiting effect on the reading audience. This should not be the case. Although the contents concentrate on one county in one province, the historical evidence and implications cross all borders that divide us as members of the human family. This is the disturbing record of man’s inhumanity-to-man in a rural area that still remains neglected and little known. Author Robart-Johnson is to be commended for removing from the shadows a facet of Nova Scotia’s history that must be incorporated in the nation’s quest for equality for all people.
The ten page Introduction is essential to the twelve following chapters. Given the deplorable inadequacies of social studies curriculum our understanding of provincial and Canadian history can be severely distorted. Knowledge of slavery, segregation, overt and subtle discrimination too commonly are excluded to our collective detriment. The overview of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century international roots of slavery, revolution and re-location of “Black Loyalists” to Nova Scotia’s Shelburne and Yarmouth counties provides a context (but not a comfort) for what is to follow.
Chapter I is simply entitled: JUDE. I read it with the same emotional reaction as created for me by Mississippi Burning. The difference is, of course, too obvious. Abductions, torture, killings always happen somewhere else, the American south, being the most convenient repository for any anguish or guilt than can be shouldered and dismissed as the white man’s burden. Jude was a slave girl in rural Nova Scotia. She died three days after Christmas in 1800.
Local historians are like diamond prospectors. They drill in the community bedrock and bring up core samples that lead to further exploration. Robart-Johnson does this superbly in her “drilling” for interesting, informative and most importantly illustrative items in the Yarmouth newspaper archives. Nuggets have been hi-lighted as in the obituary of Mrs. Catherine Jones who died on Valentine’s Day, 1878 at the age of 110. There is the “damned with faint praise” in a 1895 Yarmouth Light account of a slave woman “who came and went by the back door and even though her “skin was a dusky hue” did not prevent having a good opinion of her! And there was the local character, “Blind Dick,” the pantry thief.
To paraphrase the author’s conclusion to Chapter ten, if we knew our history would we have learned from our mistakes, or would it not have made a difference? Africa’s Children is a leap forward in helping us to learn from our mistakes. One significant book does make a difference. —Paul Robinson
$15.95 (pb) 978-1-55081-324-1, 112 pp. Breakwater Books, February 2010
Reviewed from a galley
Antony Christie’s selected poetry collection, Of Love and Drowning, bundles work from 1985 until the present into notions of permanency and residual hauntings. At the forefront of the collection is a revamped Adam and Eve who encroach on poems while distancing themselves from a modern world replete with both physical and emotional dilapidation. From parental illness to relationship woes, both romantic and familial, these poems are hinged to traditional themes played out by Christie’s couple, in city gardens, palliative care, and summer cottages.
Each section encompasses the sort of flotsam that clutters our daily interactions as well as our more meditative moments. By sloughing and remaindering physical objects, this collection prevents its own slippage into too intimate memories within a relationship we, as readers, are never fully privy too. In such a candid culture as this, these omissions are at times refreshing for the real poetry here is in the objects, the negative space around the unnamed couple. By exploring memory through tropes of growth and decay, Christie moves amongst imagery where “there are gardens and half built walls/though they have dangers of their own”(56). In this sense, these poems travel through vestiges of time where people, old dogs, and photographs may appear, disappear, and return as cautionary examples of how near the past is in each of our lives.
Christie’s couple experience a cyclic relationship throughout the collection, where one may “pick a green grey sturmer from a low branch, /polish it on your jeans jacket, /smile as you fold my hand around the firm flesh, /tell me to bite”(22) while in another instance they “look at each other with teeth, / draw in our blankets/like the ghosts of old nations”(63). The mercurial quality of their relationship encourages the physical wandering through wrecked masonry and upheaval that haunts their space. In “Living in the Earthquake Zone,” the house is sturdy but still symbolic of colossal architecture that threatens, through its existence, to overtake its inhabitants. It is their vulnerability that Christie explores: “the house is stone and mortar—/no compromise here—/the beams of squared pine/would snap a spine” (12). This is perhaps the crux of the collection: what may protect and shelter can also damage.
On the other side of the decay and ruin is the promise of reparations regardless of time’s rigid persistence. Though the lover proudly points to “the silver chain/I mended with a paper clip/to hold/until morning”(41), there is the unspoken failure as humans to prevent erosion where children have “certainly aged”(44). In this, there is an inherent simplicity found in a kitchen filled with spring light with toast and honey set on “the oilcloth clean”(45). These explorations gravitate toward a more Zen-like perception in that it is the moment itself worth noting. This at times makes some poems too quiet and subtle but with patience, the poem may illuminate itself in the simplicity of task, in particular, domestic task. This is where Adam might say to Eve: “put on your clothes/and we’ll have a beer”(46). —Tammy Armstrong
Author Sean Howard
$14.95 (pb) 978-2-897009-42-0, 77 pp. Cape Breton University Press, November 2009
In their brevity, the poems in Sean Howard’s first collection of poetry Local Calls recall haiku. They also share with haiku an acute attentiveness to place and time. This is a poetry of sea and sand, tides and seasons. Like haiku, Howard’s best poems invoke the mysteriousness of the natural world, as in “ stills (tide triptych, port george),” in which rockweed is described as:
stone, the dead
& fishes in
This isn’t bucolic nature poetry. Unsettling evidence of the human figure in the landscape and our complicated, uneasy relationship with nature can be found in ATV tracks, decapitated seals washed up on shore, clear-cuts and food bank trucks. Howard uses line breaks to striking effect. In the sequence “tide line diary,” the traditional horizontal orientation of the haiku is re-imagined in a starkly vertical form:
Howard’s radical line breaks are deconstructive. They create sudden shifts and pivots that defeat the reader’s expectations and invite the multiplicity of meanings contained in the simplest of words. As Peter Sanger remarks in the book’s foreword, “As we reconstitute and restore words across line-breaks, we recover original acts of physical, kinetic, metaphorical and poetic understanding hidden by the customary traffic of habitual usage (9).”
The poem “prose poem (transcanada, near stellarton),” which is not actually a prose poem at all, is alert to the disparity between prose and poetry, between language’s day job as a tool of commerce and the transcendence of nature. The poem’s title is not merely a signpost to situate the reader, but becomes a metaphor for the prosaic “long/ lines, lum-/ber trucks, hori/zon cut &/stack-/ed”.
The poems in Local Calls demand the reader’s full engagement as an active participant in the process of parsing and reparsing the text. These short poems reward rereading and reading aloud. Local Calls is an impressive debut. —Steve McOrmond
Author Lorri Neilsen Glenn
$19.00 (pb) 978-1-89407-877-1, 93 pp. Brick Books, May 2010
Reviewed from a galley
A new book from former Halifax poet-laureate Lorri Neilsen Glenn, the poems in this collection are set in distinct Canadian places but most of them seem to be filled with the author’s own private reflections and memories. This is further suggested by a long list at the end of the book filled with individual poem dedications, obfuscated references to favourite songs and the like: Don McKay, Leonard Cohen, Allison and Ron and others by their first names. As a personal religion then, personal gospels, and songs of the past perhaps, the poems likely mean the world to the author and much to those mentioned unnamed within and named at the back. But readers might find them heavy with description that seems unclear immediately.
One section of the collection makes heavy reference to Simone Weil and might remind the reader of another Canadian poet heavily influenced by this author, Anne Carson. But Glenn isn’t setting herself up as an Atlantic Carson despite the heavy academic references—as I understand it, Glenn’s original trade. “It seems no book of Canadian poetry can be put to bed without an epigraph to tuck it in” says Canadian poetry critic Carmine Starnino, writing in the January 2010 issue of Poetry (Chicago), and it applies especially to this book. Starnino notes that the epigraph as a device in English poetry was virtually unknown before T.S. Eliot’s heavy-handed use of it. Glenn’s epigraphs are as numerous but more readable, if only for being in English rather than Latin and ancient Greek.
The best of these poems are the short, sparser and distilled lyric poems that stand on their own: “Dusk,” “Horse,” and “Turn.” These poems have clear images unencumbered by long strings of adjectives and verbs in the infinitive—the objects that bog down other poems in the collection. Glenn makes a number of references to other writers and sources in this collection but I find this energy would be better spent on the poems themselves. —Michael Goodfellow
$19.95 (pb) 978-0-77801-347-1, 128 pp. Oberon Press, October 2009
The opening line of Turner’s book immediately speaks to his strength as a writer. “[Julie Rossiter has] … calves too big for the boots she wants.” A lesser writer would be more literal in describing Julie, more bland, would give us a paragraph-long description of her character and physique. This is where Turner excels: his honed eye for detail that lets him confidently shed all filler so that his stories are pure punch. His calculated style of writing skillfully captures the nuances in the fine threads that bond (or do not bond) his characters together. He delivers clever and calculated one-liners that say it all, and his one-liners give us more insight into a story—its characters and their relationships—than most writers could give us in a paragraph. This economy of words, his spare style, is what makes his writing remarkable, and a pleasure to read. That and how some of his more aphoristic lines beg to be read twice.
Another clear strength here is his unobtrusive rendering of dialogue, and the catchy cadence and rhythm to the writing. It’s a style all his own, although comparisons to Burning Rock short fiction, namely Michael Winter, will be inevitable with lines like, “I’ve known her a month and I want a year to pass. I want time to reflect my devotion.”
All the stories in What We’re Made Of share the same protagonist, Benjamin Wallace, which lends a readability to the stories in that you get to know characters in the same way you would in a novel. Taken altogether, it could be said that What We’re Made Of is a portraiture of a generation, or a segment of a the modern twenty/thirty-something generation. A generation “less likely to know what a screwdriver is for than to have travelled the world, looking for meaning,” and a generation severing the connection between human impulse and social constraints, particularly in the realm of relationships.
With What We’re Made Of, Ryan Turner goes beyond showing promise with his debut; he leaves you wanting more, soon. Short fiction is being reinvigorated and earning its due praise as a medium all its own, and it is people like Ryan Turner who are doing that. —Chad Pelley
$19.99 (pb) 978-0-86492-546-6, 298 pp. Goose Lane Editions, November 2009
The Wanton Troopers is the story of Kevin O’Brien, a boy growing up in a Nova Scotia mill town as World War II approaches. His life is spent navigating between his troubled home—fuelled by alcoholism and poverty—and his troubled town – fuelled by bullying and hopelessness.
Kevin lives with his mother, Mary, his father, Judd, and his Grandmother O’Brien. The novel begins with such a gentle scene—Kevin being bathed and readied for bed by his mother –that you almost want to stop reading there, before the veneer of gentleness, warmth and safety is ripped away, to be replaced by the reality of violence, frustration and rage. Unfortunately, the veneer is ripped away quickly when Kevin’s father awakes and chides the boy for being a baby; Kevin shrinks “with shame and self-contempt.” Unlike those with his mother, caring moments with his father are few, and the boy realizes that if his “relationship with his mother reached its apotheosis when she bathed him and readied him for bed, his relationship with his father attained its epitome through the strap.”
The poetic quality of the writing is not surprising. Nowlan was one of Canada’s finest poets, who won the Governor General’s Award for his collection Bread, Wine and Salt (1967).
There is a see-saw quality of good and evil throughout the book, such as when a bullying episode is followed by Kevin’s listening to a Bible reading. He remains hopeful, though, if sometimes wistfully unrealistic; he decides to become king of Nicaragua (because he doesn’t think he could install himself on the throne in larger countries like France or Germany). His grandmother often brings him back to reality: “It ain’t fittin’ fer people like us tuh put on airs …. we’re poor as dirt and allus will be,” she warns.
This novel was first published, posthumously, in 1988. The 2009 edition includes the last page of the original manuscript. Never before published, it adds to the poignancy of the novel. The Wanton Troopers, although hard to read is worth the effort. Kevin O’Brien’s passion to find beauty in life is impossible to forget. —Sharon Hunt
$32.00 (hc) 978-0-307-39710-2, 372 pp. Alfred A. Knopf, January 2010
A question: How does Beth Powning so authentically recreate not only the world of 150 years ago, not only the world of a sailor 150 years ago, but the world of a woman at sea 150 years ago, without having been there?
Having asked that, and reincarnation or guidance from those who lived in her 1870 New Brunswick farmhouse aside, the research (she lists her sources) is not enough—it has to be the power of her imagination. Powning is so convincing that you want to be part of the family, to share their lives when Azuba’s wish to travel with her sea captain husband is granted. You want to take sides—with Azuba, neglected and lonely and finding not the freedom she imagined but confinement of a different sort; with Nathaniel, the strong man in command of his ship, his crew and his wife. Your passions are as strong as Azuba’s and her emotions become yours. You wonder if you would have put your child at risk at sea as she did, teaching her and keeping her occupied and happy, happy in the knowledge she was giving her child a father, one who had ’till then been more absent at sea than at home. You wonder at the tenacity of a child who comes to terms with the death of a seaman in front of her, and happily gives up her carved bone-buttons so the single surviving egg-laying hen has enough calcium to create egg shells and you weep with them with that chicken is taken in a storm. You wonder if you would have had the courage (or stupidity) to risk a pregnancy at sea in the days that pregnancy ashore meant a high chance of death.
Powning draws you in all the time. You are with the family when they round Cape Horn, when the ship is knocked down, when the winds and waves threaten to kill. You are with them in the doldrums and having fashionable clothes made in London and San Franscisco after months of making do; you are hungry when they are down to quarter rations with dirty water; you want to scratch your own scalp when they have no means of keeping clean. You feel the heat of the tropics and the cool of the wintery north. Most important, you feel for and with Azuba when she questions her own judgement and you grow with her as she realises that life is never what you think it will be.
There’s adventure on every page—her own misjudgement that changed her life; the lives of other seafaring wives, ports in South America and the sophistication of Antwerp. Just when you think it is safe to turn the next page, that the ship is heading for a safe port, there is more danger in Hong Kong, danger that cost other people’s lives and nearly their own.
Yes, there’s a happy ending in Whelan’s Cove in New Brunswick but not an entirely unblemished one, for no one survives such a life unscathed. This is an enchanting and captivating novel, and one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in a long time. —Shirley Gueller
$18.95 (pb) 978-1-55081-323-4, 235 pp. Breakwater Books, February 2010
Reviewed from an Advanced Reading Copy
In his first novel, The Artificial Newfoundlander, Larry Mathews explores the many interconnected relationships of a fifty-something, divorced, English professor named Hugh Norman. It’s the summer, of what the author refers to as “the year after 9/11,” and Professor Norman has two primary areas of focus: his daughter Emily and the writings of an eccentric former priest.
We meet Emily as the novel opens. She greets her father at his front door having just learned that the husband she left in Vancouver has followed her home to Newfoundland. Although their relationship is strained, Emily has sought refuge from her former life by returning to her father’s house in St. John’s with her two children. Immediately, Mathews successfully conveys the confusion experienced by his main character in trying to understand his daughter as well as his role in creating the distance between them. “Emily meets me in the front hall, something confrontational in her stance….” Then, he notes, “[A]ll her psychic energy beaming full blast at the enemy. Which can’t possibly be her father, can it?” As things unfold we discover that Emily has a big reason for leaving Vancouver—a reason shrouded in mystery.
Besides his daughter’s troubles, Norman’s research into the writings of Father Alphonsus Cleary keep his mind occupied. Cleary is, as Norman describes him, “an unread novelist.” After writing several books, Cleary disappears. Although believed dead, Norman uncovers clues that cast a doubt over this commonly held view. With two mysteries to unravel, the rekindling of a former flame, and a series of heart to hearts with his soon to be former son-in-law, Hugh Norman has a busy summer.
The Artificial Newfoundlander is written in the first person giving the reader full access to the main character’s perceptions and worldview. Whether describing his current area of research (“What interests me about the tone is the combination of intellectual arrogance and a genuine-seeming sense of wonder, dismissive superiority juxtaposed with naïve exuberance, though how this quality can be analyzed escapes me”) or describing his colleague (“It’s unlikely that the dangers of solipsism has occurred to him”), Norman’s thought process is, at times, weighted down by analytical detail and cumbersome terms. Although this may represent an effort to express the main character’s intellect, it may also impact the quality of the reading experience for some. Regardless, Larry Mathews’ first novel provides an interesting and, at times, humorous account of the relationships of Professor Hugh Norman and his life in contemporary Newfoundland. —Clare O’Connor
$16.95, pb, 192 pages, 978-1-92674-305-9, Invisible Publishing, April 2010
Montreal-based writer, reporter and columnist Ian Orti’s debut novel is unlike anything I’ve read before.
Is this a good thing? As a reader, I’d have to say yes. But as a reviewer, I’m left at a bit of a loss.
I can’t describe this lovely, confounding tale in terms of works that I know have gone before. Nor can I just outline the plot, because it’s simply not simple.
This slim volume is sprinkled with chapters ranging in length from a few pages to just a couple of lines. The quirky nature of the story is not immediately apparent in the first short chapter where we meet Henry, a henpecked and cuckolded husband who has retreated into his ownmind during a rather humiliating dinner party.
But that chapter’s last paragraph about an unnamed female party guest reveals that we have entered a world where things are not as we might expect: “She arrived late, after Henry, and is the only other person there who hears the music the way he does, who understands it is not a sound, but a place beyond language. They are two solitary notes of the same score and come from a place where one plus one is one. But only one of them knows this right now.”
The woman, who we eventually learn is named “L”, comes/has come/will come (See what I mean? Not simple to describe!) to live in the flat above Henry’s café. It is inevitable that the pair will fall in love, but this is an original love story,with an original trajectory.
Orti’s writing is replete with arresting images such as a cascade of falling stars that proves to be falling snow or Henry’s heart beating quietly in L’s hands and replaced “with great care” in his chest. Invisible Publishing is making a reputation for itself as a company that gives voice to talented and innovative new writers. Ian Orti plus Invisible equals a match made in heaven. —Kate Watson