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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Orchard
Up until yesterday, I couldn't remember the last time I read a book in one day. So when I had the chance, I wasn't expecting it to be a memoir of a marriage, apple trees and the beginning of a writing life that is The Orchard. But, as it turns out, this is a page-turning combination. Theresa Weir pares down to the core of her life as an outsider, a wife and mother on a farm that is as beautiful as it is betraying. There are no lectures here, just a lingering love and life experience that must have begged Weir to become a book. The narrative is so spare and strong that it comes as a disappointment in the publishing industry to learn, at the end of the book, how difficult it was for The Orchard to find a home. Fortunately, Weir had perseverence--something she surely cultivated on the farm.

Thursday, November 24, 2011



Arghh but Pirates have all the fun! At least Mary Quattlebaum's do. When Mean Mo and Blustery Bart meet in the middle of the sea, a fair fight full of shark racin', mast climbin', treasure countin', cannonball throwin' and gift givin' ensues. This be a match made in pirate heaven -- a treasure to read aloud to a wee listenin' landlubber.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Infidel

If I had to muster my courage to read Infidel, imagine how it must have been for Ayaan Hirsi Ali to have lived it. Let alone write it. Let absolutely alone publish it. First released in 2007 to both international acclaim and angry denunciation, it's taken me four years to finally open a copy.

From Hirsi Ali's earliest memories of the punishing wrath of her grandmother, to her brave perseverence in building a life out from under the bounds of submission, in the end, her story is perhaps the best reason to believe in the power of women's voices to all those who value the here and now.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

There's no denying anyone who spends any time boating the West Coast has a little Captain Vancouver in them, and it's Vancouver who provides Grant Lawrence's Adventures in Solitude with numerous woeful observations of Desolation Sound. Through his spyglass looking landward, the Captain saw: "not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye" and thusly marked on his map the part of the northern end of the Strait of Georgia with one downer of a moniker.

So the Captain wasn't one to accentuate the positive in his memoirs. But Lawrence, who first hated, then loved, then loathed and has since come to love again his family's little part of this paradise sees both the fair weather and the foul. Not to mention all the people inbetween the Sound's sea and sky. Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other stories from Desolution Sound comes complete with a cast of characters that include a motley assortment of root 'em/ shoot 'em up pioneers, slobby hippies, beery bachelors, carsick kids and one very well-armed octopus.

Where Vancouver found abandoned, flea-ridden settlements, dismal downpours and definitely no Northwest Passage, Lawrence has discovered a place of community, friendship and entertaining idiocy all tangled together in one speedboat of a read.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dahanu Road

Prepare for your senses to be overwhelmed. Anosh Irani's storytelling powers are many, and he brings them to bear in this tragic love story.
The Red Garden


For as long as I can remember, I've loved a good bear story. And, for almost as long, the writing of Alice Hoffman. In The Red Garden, Hoffman weaves generations of Blackwellians with the bears on the outskirts of their lives. A totem animal, a creature of myth and reality, the bear shadows the stories of Hoffman's human characters, and creates an unbroken thread down through the centuries of the town of Blackwell, Massachusetts—that twins to the ties of love, courage and family connecting her characters.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

"Wait for Me!"


There is a bittersweet and precious perspective that comes from being by far the youngest sibling in an extraordinary family. In the case of the Mitfords, that place belongs to Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and she has done it justice in her memoirs "Wait for Me!".

At 91, the Duchess is today the last surviving member of "all those Mitford brains" (back-handed by the "brittle" Wallis Simpson in referring once to Deborah and her sisters). "Wait for Me!" is a captivating credit to the Duchess' share of "those brains" and the many extraordinary people who have been part of her remarkable life. Ticklish nicknames pepper the pages: "Muv", "Farve", "Decca", "Weenie", "Kick"... are among those fondly remembered by the Duchess, who herself was known to her family as "Debo", "Stubbo", and "Stublow" since the days when her chubby little legs could not keep up with her much older siblings.

Another devotion described by the Duchess is Chatsworth, the Devonshire's ancestral home in Derbyshire. "'See Chatsworth before you die'"-- is the stand-out praise for the property from the Sun newspaper quoted by the Duchess near the end of "Wait for Me."

Well then, add it to the list!

Friday, August 05, 2011


I have never heard a more moving tribute to the great life experience that is the elementary school track meet, than the one by Alexander MacLeod, author of Light Lifting. You can listen to it now, as read by MacLeod, on the July 8th, 2011 podcast edition of "Ideas" titled "Footprints" rebroadcast in July as a segment of CBC Radio's "Listener's Choice". Find it at cbc.ca/podcasting and be prepared to be uplifted.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


A wryly observant handmaiden to the Empress Sadako in ancient Japan (Sei Shonagon). An Englishwoman with an encyclopedic knowledge of housekeeping (Isabella Beeton). An adventurer who dined on hippo and hunted African beetles (Mary Kingsley). The wife of a whaler who spent a year at sea (Mary Hayden Russell). A former slave, cruelly treated for many years, who devoted the free years of her life to helping others (Harriet Ann Jacobs). Curious? I know. These five are just a few of Marthe Jocelyn's Scribbling Women. Jocelyn's nimble writing and smart selection of unique lives and telling details creates an utterly engaging read for twelve-and-ups. My copy is going straight to Daughter Number One when I'm done. Which won't be long--Scribbling Women is a true page-turner.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


"The urge to build, to transform nature, to make something out of nothing is universal. But to conserve, to protect, to care for the past is something we have to learn..."

--from Reef by Romesh Gunesekera

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Not your average Joes
It's been a season of Joes. First, back in March, was the Joe who gave Daughter #1 her first skiing lesson. Joe Stephens, an instructor at Big White. We were there while Husband took a few photographs; none of us had any plans (or ability, really) to ski. We shared a gondola ride with Joe up to the Village, and his boisterous British enthusiasm convinced our 12-year-old to "give it a go". She did, she loved it, and we'll always remember him as "Give it a Go, Joe".

This past week, Husband and I had the privilege of meeting a new Joe--Joe Calendino (shown above, as photographed by Husband). This Joe's a survivor--he lived through the grim depths of gang life and drug addiction to emerge healthy, sober and now working to help at-risk youth make better life choices. Joe Calendino's life story became the inspiration behind the gritty stage play, Let Me Up! which, after successful runs in Vancouver and Surrey, took full-house audiences by storm this past week in the theatre at Sutherland Secondary. I know, I was in the front row for the first performance and it was one powerful piece of theatre.

A good couple of Joes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Change is afoot. Mammoth change. Every conversation I have about books these days, I'm looking for the answer to the question: "What is the future of printed books?" No one is entirely sure, whether they become curios of bygone days, or succeed in holding their own as e-books and book apps take their place on the literary stage. Six months ago, I was afraid for "the book". Not so anymore. Because the one thing that everyone who answers the question is sure of is that stories will survive.

So I'm going to believe there's room for both, and that readerships will only improve thanks to the online word. One can either sit on the sidelines, or park one's fears there, stride on in and find out what the opportunities are. Thinking this way, I have a feeling it's only a matter of time before I get in on the App.

In the meantime, I'm learning all I can. And one mentor I'd recommend to any writer, or creator, is Crystal Stranaghan. That's Crystal, above, in picturebook form (she's the one in the middle, and it's a very good likeness, done by the illustrator Izabela Bzymek!).

I went to one of her presentations on the book-as-App recently, and left the session all fired up at the potential to share stories this way. Crystal has worked in both worlds, traditional print publishing and now book Apps, and she's as keen as pepper (to borrow from Emily Carr) about Apps. Learn more about her work, her books, and her workshops here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011



So much better than the trip last year! Scroll down to April 4, 2010's posting to see what I mean.