Saturday, December 31, 2011

Crash and Burn: The Bureaupathology of the Federal Aviation Administration by Robert M. Misic with Bobbi Linkemer

Published by Magic City Press (2011)
I may have thought I was reviewing horror books before, but this non-fiction book by Robert M. Misic was certainly not the one I should have been reading as my daughter and grandson were flying through US airspace! Crash and Burn might be called an expose of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) particularly in the past quarter century, but it is really a presentation of failing procedures, in-fighting, lack of precautions, hiding errors and omissions, and many more facts that have come to the surface that are and have been putting passengers and flight crews at danger. Forget about terrorism being the primary danger in our skies. As Pogo, a cartoon character by Walt Kelly, once said, "We have met the enemy... and he is us!"

As a Canadian I had been aware of some instances of unreported abuse of the system once they became news, but this is far deeper and widespread than I could imagine. Included in the book are accounts of many Whistle-blowers concerned for air safety, how these reports were received, and how these conscientious people were treated, some stripped of their credentials, losing their jobs, their reports hidden or falsified and ignored, it goes on and on. A chapter titled "Deliberately Committed Operational Error"; another "Twelve New York Controllers' Revenge: Fired, Rehired, Exonerated" and "One Way to Kill Traffic Controllers: Lock Them in a Carbon Monoxide-Filled Room"!

On the positive side, hopefully this book can be seen as a wake-up call to the bureaucrats. Isn't outside terrorism enough? Should it be a part of American "tradition" behavioral-wise? Robert Misic's "Crash & Burn" puts forth a very compelling case, I hope it will do what he has set out to do. The writing is succinct, most reports coming from air control tower personnel. This includes the author, a retired air controller. Everything in the book is clearly laid out. The back of the book contains the full names of the glossary including acronyms, references, historic letters, recommended reading and resources for the flying public. A thorough, well-documented and conscientious book. I give it five stars because of the helpful additional information in the last section of the book.

Tir Na N'Og: Journal One by Marni L.B. Troop

No ordinary fantasy, but more of a "what if this was how it happened" fantasy. I say this because the Faeries are quite unlike any I've read of before. Marni Troop has a fascinating imagination, exactly suited to this story. Casey, a pure-blood Faerie, is chronicling the events of her very long life. In fact, she is doing more than that, she is chronicling the history of her people as best she can. She has been taught a code of writing by an elder. Her kind are of the land, quite literally. It doesn't take long to figure out that the island they came to believe is their land will later be known as Ireland. Descriptive and well-crafted, the book is captivatingly original.

The book is imaginative, I could almost call it historical except that it is a fantasy. No wonder Ireland is so mystical. At the opening, Casey is celebrating her 100th birthday, not as an old woman but as a blossoming, very tall, female just entering puberty. The Faeries in this story live a very long time, which is a good thing if you are to write the history as it has happened and as it is happening. She is writing this history because she believes they will be wiped out and no one will ever know they existed. She is sending the journals to someone named Michael, whose persona is not revealed in this first book, Journal One. Besides having learned what would become their written language, Casey has another special ability. She can see into other Faeries' minds.

One day she realizes she is tuning in to a stranger, a man. She feels no menace from him. Eventually, this man arrives on a ship, and requests she take him to her king or leader. However, with many of the people inhabiting this place, someone kills this Iberian man that Casey feels has come in peace. This act provokes an invasion shortly afterward, one of many to come in their time. It is because of the invasion, and the resulting losses of life, that the invaders, meeting with the indigenous people, Faeries and mixed blood, allow them to live within the land and the invaders will live on the land. The Faeries have felt the pull of the land, their castles and fortresses have been received by the land, sinking at least one level into the land and no further. So few survivors remain that Casey felt compelled to write the journal so the world will know that they did exist at one time. This Journal is the first. An unusual concept and imaginatively recorded, the Journal is quite fascinating. An interesting debut full of darkness and light. I look forward to the reading the second journal. I see that the books are going under a new title in the future, from "Tir Na N'Og" to "The Heart of Ireland" Saga.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Survivors of the Great Tsunami: the course of Eurasia after the 4.2 ka BP Impact by Alewyn J. Raubenheimer

A provocative book based on an ancient manuscript of an inundation over 4000 years ago (BP = Before Present), therefore this flood would have happened in 2193 BC or very close to that date. Alewyn J. Raubenheimer takes us on a journey through time as he sets out to prove the authenticity of this manuscript, Orea Linda. Is it authentic? Was there really such a civilization of democracy, architecture, shipbuilding, horticulture, literacy and monotheism? A place of freedom, culture, and industry (metallurgy). The author goes into the plausibility very thoroughly, using references from such diverse writings as the Bible, Ipuwer and later Nefertiti, Homer, Heredotus and others. The research covers many strategic areas for seeking out the past besides historians. Satellite imagery, DNA mapping, archaeology, paleontology, geology, anthropology and astronomy all play a part in this intriguing book.

This civilization, Frya's Land or Frisland, appears to be the beginning of an advanced, cultured civilization in a world where most were barbaric and based on slavery and idolatry. Even the language appears to be an ancient variation of the old Friesian language. The manuscript begins with a description of an earth-shattering global event quite probably caused by an asteroid or pieces of asteroids hitting the earth in the Indian Ocean. The Burckle Impact would have had the power of "several million nuclear bombs". The earth tipped on its axis, changing the earth's orbit and therefore the climate. Volcanoes erupted, earthquakes cracked open the earth, after-quakes carrying on for 3 years, Frisland tilted and sank beneath the global flood. Millions were killed in the cataclysm. Survivors scattered throughout the world.

The writing, though full of quotes from various sources including the Orea Linda, is interesting and well written. Alewyn Raubenheimer is well versed in the study of his research. He speaks of the early Europeans and in particular the people of Frya's Land with clarity. The Orea Linda book has been passed on and added to through thousands of generations, and was brought to light in 1872 when it was translated after a descendent who had received it from his aunt in the 1830s contacted the provincial librarian and archivist of Friesland in the Netherlands. It had been handed down in his family for generations when his aunt gave it to him to keep. The book is quite fascinating in showing the building blocks throughout history of countries as seen from the descendency of the Friesland people. The author makes a very good and thorough case for the authenticity of the book, which has long been held to be a hoax by many experts, and authentic by many other experts. He encourages further study as technology improves. One thing stands out loud and clear, he believes in the authenticity and believes it tells us a lot about global history. Great food for thought.

Recipes to Die For: a Victoria Square Cookbook by Lorraine Bartlett

What a great idea! This book is written in the voice of the main character from Lorraine Bartlett's Victoria Square Mystery series, Katie Bonner. Readers of this series are already very familiar with the vendors of Artisans Alley Crafts mall and other townspeople who populate the series on an ongoing basis. Now we learn a little more about these individual characters as they submit to Katie their favourite recipes to include in her cookbook. Beginning with "signature drinks", hilariously we learn that the funeral director's selection as his signature drink the Zombie. These unique recipes range from how to make hot chocolate from a powdered mix to Cornish Pasties, Scallops al Forno, slow cooker recipes, lunches, dinners, desserts, and more. Not one of these recipes is difficult to prepare, most are quick and easy, yet delicious. Jordan Tanner, who owns the bakery at Victoria Square, submitted a recipe for Pecan Oatmeal Pie, that looks like it would be good for breakfast, lunch or dinner, very versatile. Each recipe is prefaced by a bit about the character, or in Katie's case often a bit of a snippet about her Aunt Lizzie who raised her and taught her how to bake. Besides the cooking and baking, I also enjoyed this book as a complement to the series.

I found several recipes I'm anxious to try out, especially the Cornish Pasties which I really like but haven't seen a recipe for in my cookbooks, and I was excited to see a recipe for Peanut Butter Buckeyes, simple as can be and I absolutely love the mixture of peanut butter and chocolate. My copy of this book is already full of post-it notes, marking what I want to try. I should have just looked at the index in the back of the book! This is a handy little cookbook, great for potlucks, party hors d'oeuvres, late night snacks, almost any occasion. A very entertaining cookbook for reading and cooking. Would make a great little gift for someone who loves to cook or bake but has little time.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Letter of Thanks to All Who Voted for Bear Rescue Facility

Thank You!
I'm so happy I was rescued by Northern Lights Wildlife Refuge, Bear Rescue Facility! I really missed my mother's milk and they fed me. Next year I'm going home because I'll be big and strong and healthy. Thank you for giving me my life back.
Clover the Kermode
a,k.a. Spirit Bear

Photo courtesy of NLWS:

Clover when he first arrived at the shelter.

Can you believe it? 21,465 votes in 12 days!! Thank you to everyone who voted for the Bear Rescue Facility at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter. It's been a wild ride, but so many of you supported our cause we safely got through it in the Top 10, and now it is up to the judges. We finished in 3rd place with 6,977 supporters, which is a good spot to be for the final judging. The final results will be available January 25, 2012. So, we can all take a breather, have a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year! Thank you again for all your help.
Betty Gelean

Monday, November 7, 2011

Children of the Fog by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed from Kindle ebook

A parent's worst nightmare—a mother's greatest fear. This story of terror, fear, remorse, and unfulfilled closure is deftly written. The contrast between the sweetness and light at the beginning and the bleak blackness and despair in the midst of the horror is overwhelmingly realistic. The excruciating pain of not knowing, coupled with the feeling of guilt—she should have done things differently, she should have been able to save her child—chews at the mother's insides. This very dark story may seem over the top with other problems running throughout but it is not. Trauma flattens the soul, the voice is still and dead or shrill and frenzied as different parts of the story unfold.

As a mother myself, I found this an emotional book to read, and yet I was mesmerized by it and couldn't put it down. Cheryl Kaye Tardif brings detail and personality to every book she writes. Midway through this story as our protagonist Sadie runs from the myriad upheavals in her life into solitude, a shift in the feel of the book follows her and leads us into a different place, a place of temporary respite from tragedy, bringing us into nature and the natural order of things, however brief it may be. But when Sadie sees glimpses of children and hears childish laughter in the woods, is she hallucinating? Who is leaving her little gifts, and why an onion for goodness sake? What does the crow that taps on her window have to do with anything?

The suspense builds up until it spills over in this tense story. Is it God? Kismet? Fate? Something or someone is driving Sadie deeper and deeper into the fog and dark. She must keep her wits about her to understand what is being shown her. This book tugs at the heart and dredges up our fears and mortality. A tale of innocence and evil well told, with an ending that will both thrill and chill.

Murder Trims the Tree: a Gertie Johnson Christmas Mystery by Deb Baker

How would you prefer to spend Christmas, in jail or doing community service? Gertie and her group of investigators, The Trouble Busters, naturally chose to do community service. The Trouble Busters, possibly considered to be The Trouble Makers by the judge, is a group of three "older" women who have been charged with obstructing justice. Living with her 92 year old mother-in-law, Gertie has a secret motive for suggesting they do their time at the assisted living home in Trenary, in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. She is hoping Grandma, her late husband's mother, will like it so much she will elect to move there, especially since an old boy-friend Earl is there, so she has included in her group of forced volunteers her thorn-in-the-side mother-in-law, and Gertie's companion dog Fred, a German Shepherd. An ex-police dog, he is easily the most capable member of the investigators.

What they don't realize until already committed to volunteering there, is that Earl is a joker with a nasty bent. Being served "chocolate" candies that turn out to have a distinct odour that he "made" himself, it doesn't take long to decide this choice was not particularly a good idea. Unfortunately for this zany group, they are stranded there when they are cut off from escape by a huge snowstorm. The staff takes advantage of the new arrivals to take a day off, leaving them almost solely responsible for the residents and under the watch of the intolerable head of the facility, Nurse Shrank, a seriously scary thought.

With a mixed bag of equally zany residents including a former mailman deathly afraid of dogs, and Nurse Shrank, a nightmare waiting to happen, the fun begins. When Gertie discovers a body in the basement she knows this definitely was a bad idea. With the phone lines down and a raging snowstorm isolating them, they are stuck with whatever is going on. Definitely not where anyone wants to spend Christmas! Especially when almost everyone falls into a deep sleep after lunch, including the staff and Fred. Deb Baker has concocted a very unusual and funny holiday mystery with her group of protagonists. This novella can be read quickly and the antics of the characters will entertain. How the inmates of the assisted living pull off their stunts as well as cotton on to what is going on that shouldn't be at Applegate, better known as Hellsgate by Gertie, is quirky yet intelligent. I enjoyed this romp of a mystery and the "volunteer" group. I must admit to the fact that this is my first, but not my last, visit to Gertie Johnson's life.

Gumption and Grit: Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin edited by Sage Birchwater

Published by Caitlin Press

"Gumption and Grit: Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin, Extraordinary Women Vol. 1" is a well-edited book featuring the stories of 35 women who helped make the Cariboo-Chilcotin area in central British Columbia what it is today. Sage Birchwater has done an amazing job of editing this book. These are survivors of hard work and isolation ranging over the decades of the gold rush, the land rush, ranching, farming, married to men who are married to the land or to their work, leaving their wives to do everything else. Some of these stories are told in the first person, some are not. Their stories are all well-told. They all come from different backgrounds, some have always been there and some came from cities, usually to teach. All the way through the first half of the twentieth century the land was still worked much as always. Technology came late to this part forested and part desert land. The one thing in common geographically seems to be the rocky land.

We learn about such diversity of family life as living in one-room log cabins, no plumbing, no electricity. Women having their babies wherever they end up being born because of the distances between populated areas. Especially bad in the dead of winter, because this area is extremely cold and dangerous for travel. In most of these stories roads were either bad or non-existent, there were no telephones. One woman's story ties in with the arrival of communications when she married the linesman who installed and maintained the brand new telephone lines, often going with him as he worked. These pioneering women had to be as innovative as the men, often working alongside them.

I found the story of Josephine Gregg of particular interest. She lived her life in two cultures, and her story demonstrates how difficult a simple slip of the pen when her birth was registered caused her to fight for thirteen years to get her status as the daughter of a Tsilhqot'in Indian mother and a Scottish father.

The latter part of the book are post-WWII stories. The Cariboo-Chilcotin is still sparsely populated in many areas although Williams Lake and Quesnel have grown tremendously through the years. The area between Highway 97 and the West Coast is one of the more isolated areas of British Columbia. The stories in this section show the women struggling to make a difference in their lives and their world, the struggles are different, but the strength of will, gumption and grit remains. This book is a great read of the development of the wild west of Canada. Men & women were often equal partners in developing the land but the women demonstrate true grit in determination, overcoming obstacles, giving birth in terrible conditions and often alone. This is a slice of Canadian and British Columbian history rarely heard of and well worth reading.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Remote Control by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Published by Imajin Books
Review based on Kindle version

Like a step into the Twilight Zone, be careful what you wish for! This novelette is sure to please the afficionado of the old television shows, the story is atmospheric, even the feel is grainy black and white. Cheryl Kaye Tardif never disappoints with the quality and depth of her writing, whether full-length, novelette, short story or part of an anthology, she is consistently exploring the mind. Well-written, gripping, and with a moral buried within, Remote Control is sure to warn and entertain.

Take a lazy, very fat man who spends all his time wishing his way to a rosy future, then picture an over-worked long-suffering wife. Who would guess that these two were the football jock and the class valedictorian in college? What happened to them? She works at two jobs and still can't afford to pay all the bills and keep him fed. He is a plumber, and could have been very good at it, but no. He is so fat, so lazy, and so glued to the TV with his hand gripping the remote, that he has lost his ambition. Not enough money to pay the bills? He just tries to talk his wife into working longer hours or take on a third job. He is convinced that if he wishes long and hard enough, he will be rich. He "knows" that it is happening soon. In the meantime, he lives in his imaginary world of TV and wishes, while his wife tries to make ends meet and wonders where everything went wrong. She wishes, too; wishes that things could be as they were. Is there a turning point? Ah, if I delve into it too far, I'll give the ending away.

Once again Cheryl Tardif has taken us away from our comfort zone to find that we enjoy being there. Once begun, the reader is compelled to find out what happens, thereby reading and watching all the way through, driven by the story to the outcome, thinking about wishes we've made. A brilliant and fitting ending, I am now going to be careful what I wish for, much as I might think I really want it. A well-metered story, picking up pace as it goes along, an impressive writing style.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Opposite of Dark: A Casey Holland Mystery by Debra Purdy Kong

Published by Touchwood Editions

What is a daughter to do when 3 years after she has buried her father she is presented with another body identified as her father? The first thing to come to mind of course, is that he is already dead and can't be dead again. Or can he? If it wasn't such a horrifying thought, it would be almost comical. There are so many things one doesn't think of in a case such as this. In particular, the funeral home where her father was buried the first time is adamant that he is still in plot 352, so how do they handle this second burial? Who passed for her father to all who viewed the body in the casket, including his daughter Casey, to allow them to believe they were looking at one Marcus Adam Holland Which is the corpse of the real Marcus? If that weren't enough, how could her father possibly have a home in West Vancouver, if he was dead, and why, if he was in hiding, would he choose to be so near and yet not contact his daughter or his fiancé Rhonda? They were just finally getting on with their lives from his first death and now he's died again, or so it would seem. What a great plot, and I don't mean burial plot. Debra Purdy Kong has outdone herself.

The lives of the human race consist of so many secrets, I sometimes feel we could be living in two dimensions and not even know it. Casey works security for the Transit Service in Vancouver, BC, and is no stranger to awareness of her surroundings and netting several suspects for various crimes. She decides if she is ever to sort this dilemma out, she will have to go to Europe, where her Dad "died" the first time, and try to learn what he was doing there. She knows she is being followed most of the time, and that someone is looking for something, but she doesn't know who or what. She only knows she must try to find out the truth. What she does learn is that there are many people looking for that something. What was her father involved in? Was he importing and/or exporting illegal or dangerous goods? She is shocked when she finds out just before leaving home that her estranged mother is somehow involved in whatever her father was doing.

This is truly a fast-moving action-packed thriller with many twist and turns, many suspects, and many secrets and lies. Trust is something that is very slippery, hard to determine and equally hard to hold on to. Trust and misguided trust play a major role in this book. Not only is Casey's life in jeopardy, but her friends are as well, even the police trying to protect her. I would have read this book at one sitting were I able to, I was so involved in the story. I am happy to learn that we will be seeing more of Casey in future books and can hardly wait! Great story with strong plot!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cheat the Hangman by Gloria Ferris

Published by Imajin Books

I completely immersed myself in this well-written book enjoying every minute. It was definitely deserving of being short-listed for the Crime Writers of Canada "Unhanged Arthur". Gloria Ferris' writing reminded me somewhat of one of my favourite authors, Donna Andrews, especially with the very large quirky extended family interaction and antics. She brings "skeletons in the closet" to a whole new level. Take a decades-old cold case of a missing child, a sudden unexpected inheritance of a huge fabulous and museum-like home to divorced grand-niece Lyris Pembroke, who must then quickly plan and host the annual Pembroke family reunion comprised of about 400 extended family members all too soon after moving into her new home. Throw in a good helping of the paranormal and hidden secrets, a headstone with no name, a fire, attacks on Lyris and you have a pretty good perception of what fun this book is going to be. Lyris definitely has her work cut out for her. Fortunately she has also inherited Conklin the butler, and is able to hire Caroline, an excellent cook and housekeeper. For the reunion, Lyris shows admirable organizational ability as she works her way through what must be done prior to the reunion.

Not all is fun and games, though. There are also some dangerous intruders lurking about, not all of them necessarily human. Or perhaps otherworldly would be a better way to put it. Toss in a small dog with sharp teeth, soon joined by an oversized black cat, and the house begins to fill with more rooms occupied than the residents realize. Spanning so many decades, it would be strange if there were not romances, both current and decades old. Reignited passions, and reawakened love and trust with those who have suffered at the hands of their exes in the past and discover there is still a chance for happiness, even if it comes almost too late. The book is loaded with many different types of chaos and stress and yet it doesn't confuse the reader, it is just all a part of the whole. I loved the balance of the book, I laughed at the shenanigans, shed a few tears as the cold case is dealt with, worried with our heroine, relived the past with the few remaining WWII veterans even enjoying the singing of Vera Lynn in my mind, went through terror, thrills and chills, and loved the ending. This book certainly ran through a gamut of emotions, old and new. I am really looking forward to the further adventures to come.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lexi Spiderwoman by Kensington Roth

Published by The Harriman Group (2011)

A bizarre and fascinating fantasy, it kept me wondering what would be the next surprise. Kensington Roth has a writing style all his own. A slow start that had me wondering what the point was, soon became clear it was setting the stage. Kensington's writing in this stage reads much like a screenplay in the way it describes thoughts, his character's perceptions and the perceptions her colleagues have of Alexandra Fine. For instance, you can quickly tell that Alex has been at the receiving end of bullying in the past, and a form of it in the present. Though smart and beautiful, she has low self-esteem. The importance of this as to her character becomes a pivotal point when the story really gets rolling. Scene settings are also written in the same descriptive yet abrupt sentences. Once set, the flow changes into story-telling mode.

Keeping a black widow spider as a pet may seem ludicrous to some people, but then some people keep poisonous snakes for pets. No one can doubt that Lexi has found a pastime that she enjoys, feeding her pet with insects and watching in fascination how the spider reacts, even to the point of the spider learning tricks such as pushing one insect aside for Lexi to give to her personally at which time the spider gives her a little "love nip". This little game is quite important to the story as it goes along.

Lexi works as executive secretary for the president at an oil trading company, an influential and coveted job that includes assisting at house parties and even hobnobbing with the rich and famous occasionally. She is also the single mother of a teenage daughter, Lindsey, who is absorbed with chat rooms on the internet, much to the consternation and worry of her mother. When she falls prey to one of the cyber-predators and disappears, Lexi understandably becomes distraught, and perhaps this trauma also acts as a trigger to the changes in her character. Whatever she has connected to with Ophelia, the black widow spider with her beautiful red hourglass marking, comes even more to the fore. The black widow spider is notably sexy and draws every male widow to her. So, when Lexi suddenly shows her sexiness, we begin go notice why the details of the spider are important. She also begins to be amazingly strong and develops into a superwoman. The changes in the character are exciting and fun and progress throughout the book.

I have no intentions of ruining the plot for prospective readers, so I will leave these hints and suggest reading the book. What has happened to Lindsey? Is she still alive? Will they find her in time? Who could have taken her? There are several twists and turns, and surprising suspects. The antics of Ophelia and the tragicomic storyline make this a stand-out plot, especially with the timely subject of cyber-crime, a terrible crime against young people that needs to be brought out such as the author has done with this entertaining book. I am happy to give it a good review because the potential for a future featuring this comic but human superhero is fantastic.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Charlestown Connection by Tom MacDonald

Our unlikely hero is from the projects in Boston's Charlestown. He is a permanently sidelined All-American Boston College Football hero, due to a mangled knee, and a recovering alcoholic. He runs the food pantry for Saint Jude Thaddeus Church. A pretty low-key guy, Dermot Sparhawk is a survivor of his past.

His evening shift is shockingly interrupted by pounding on the door, then his godfather Jeepster stumbling across the room and into his arms. Jeepster is a Viet-Nam veteran and best friend of Dermot's father, also a Viet-Nam vet, both men were marines. Jeepster has spent most of the intervening years in prison. While trying to hold Jeepster up, he is told to "take it" meaning the key he held. Unable to carry on, he gasps "it opens..." then collapses, at which time Dermot sees a deeply imbedded knife in his back. With his last gasp, Jeepster breathes "Oswego" and dies. The only clue Dermot has is the word McSweeney on the key and Oswego, which means nothing to him. Author Tom MacDonald knows how to catch our interest.

As if this weren't enough, Dermot starts getting callers, mostly Irish, trying to find out what Dermot knows. In the meantime, Dermot is anxious to get to the bottom of who killed his godfather. What is going on? What do all these people want? How could Jeepster have anything of value anywhere? There is so much action in this book, so many threats, so few clues none of which make any sense. And what does the art world have to do with anything at all? Everyone seems to be owed big money, but from what? Throughout the journey the reader will venture into rough places and high class places looking for a sign, a clue, and what the words McSweeney and Oswego have in common.

A little-known concept of coding becomes a turning point, but not very easily. Not all people are who Dermot thinks they are, nor are they all after the same thing in the beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed following Dermot through his journey of discovery, his integrity, and with the help of friends, how the code gets broken. Still there is a lot more to this and I encourage the reader to enjoy this fascinating trip to learn the full story. An exciting, action-packed mystery evolves over what happened in the food pantry.

This is a very interesting book, well-written and well-worth reading. I found myself captivated by what would happen next, who else may get killed, what will happen about the money owed, and the humour of the situation some of the characters find themselves in. Great job! I will be interested in reading other books by Tom MacDonald.

Orchestrated Murder by Rick Blechta

Published by Raven Books: Rapid ReadsLink
A most unusual way to begin an investigation into a murder--the entire orchestra has claimed they are guilty! Someone has murdered the conductor, Luigi Spandafini, but which one of the orchestra is the murderer, and who is being protected by everyone else? Detective Lieutenant Pratt has been assigned to the case, and his partner in this is a rookie, Ellis. It just happens that Pratt is familiar with the orchestra as a patron. Luigi has been strangled, and though Pratt knows symphonies, it is the newcomer Ellis who can identify the "weapon". He has been strangled with a cello string, both ends of the string tied with timpani mallets which makes for a better grip for tightening the string without injury.

This was an entertaining book and a quick read. Smoothly written and easy to follow, but still with a satisfying mystery. Spandafini was not a well-liked person overall, though a brilliant conductor. He was also well-known for chasing skirts and attacking the orchestra members. Apparently the members of the orchestra held him to blame indirectly for the deaths of two members. Curiously, the timpani player and the cellist were the victims.

Rick Blechta has done an excellent job of creating a fascinating closed-room murder mystery packed into a short book, maintaining the feel and allure of the murder mystery genre. Just right for the commuter or someone with a busy schedule. There are the usual twists and turns, misdirection, and of course what is probably the largest group of suspects all in one place. I really enjoyed it and read it in one go.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Night the Aliens Went on Strike by Mark White

Published by Obyod Press

I won this book in a fund-raising auction to raise money for the devastated town of Slave Lake, Alberta, whose library was destroyed. Almost the entire town burned down.

Mark White's book is quite humourous and I really enjoyed it. A real curiosity. It's sometime in the future, and noise is the pollution Colin and Tony are following up on as Noise Abatement Officers. Noise abatement is under the Council's Environment Services. The Officers are often put in very dangerous situations. First, they have to enter the home of the complainant to assess the noise level in the apartment there. Then they have to approach the lawbreakers. After tracking down the ditzy and drunk hostess, who is a regular offender in different locations, and her loud aggressive drunk party-goers, they finally extract a promise they will start lowering the volume after threat of ticketing and the next time confiscating their equipment. Noise appears to be a major crime in this earth-time. Immediately they receive a complaint about barking dogs and an extremely bright light in a field in her isolated rural area.

They have a hard time driving then walking in a blizzard out of nowhere to see what the light can be. There shouldn't be anything there. Likewise, the snow shouldn't be getting so deep so fast and it's very odd snow at that. A flash of brilliant light every three minutes and suddenly they wake up in darkness. They are on an alien ship but somehow feel comforted. An argument of some sort seems to reach the edge of their consciousness and they soon learn that they must prove the planet's worth or the world will be destroyed. These two unlikely heroes set off to save the world with Racul, a female alien who has faith in them. She takes on a human form, one of a famous model in fact, and accompanies them while they demonstrate that their job helps make the world a better place. The premise of the book is offbeat, surreal and fun. The threat of annihilation staved off by these two, and the reason why they become acceptable, is genuinely humorous. What will the Collective decide? A far-fetched sci-fi/fantasy that somehow works, I actually enjoyed this romp. You can tell from the title that it is going to offer something a little unusual and it certainly does. This is a short book, a fast read of intergalactic interest and humour.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mrs. Quigley's Kidnapping by Jean Sheldon

Published by Bast Press
Reviewed as an e-book

This book is a very entertaining read. The story appears to take place primarily in the late 1960s. Jean Sheldon has done an excellent job of keeping the time period consistent. I love the many references to that time in conversations and in Mattie Draper's thoughts. I enjoyed reminiscing as I read, especially about the early computers. Our heroine is a former secretary who got tired of typing "Dear Sir or Madam", making coffee, and doing paperwork. She is ready for something more exciting. Mattie's good friend and sometimes date Frankie Ficaro, a PI, suggests she rent the office next to his and become a private investigator. Mattie tells her story in the first person and I think this was a perfect match for her sense of humour, her flow of thoughts as she goes along and the reader getting a sneak peak at the many characters she meets. Mattie endears many and the rest, well, it's a toss-up. They are either irritated, or despise her, especially the Sheriff. For her first case, she is hired by Dave Quigley to solve the kidnapping of his wife, Diana and bring her home alive. Mattie is a little less than confident that she can do the investigation, but Frankie builds her confidence up and promises to help when he can.

This was a quirky, funny story, lots of lightness yet a terrible crime. There is seemingly no end to the suspect list, and it just keeps growing. Mattie's thoughts and comments are reminiscent of some old detective novels and movies. Not the tough guy ones, but the novels lightened with humourous remarks and thoughts complementing the plot. She gathers information from helpful secretaries, household staff and their contacts among the rich and famous the Quigley's hobnob with. But sleuthing is not all talking to suspects and her own group of listeners, not in the least. At various times she is getting too close to something or someone, but she's not sure what. She is separately arrested, warned off, hog-tied, beaten and drugged, but who is doing what, why and for whom? No matter what, feisty and fun, she keeps on going. She truly believes, along with others, that if she doesn't find Diana before the ransom is paid, Diana will be killed. This is a cozy mystery despite the serious crime, with many contestants for the kidnapper and/or for the murderer. There are lots of false leads and red herrings. Although there is a final wrap-up, I would enjoy reading more cases featuring Mattie and Frankie. I really enjoyed this book.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Fears Become: An Anthology from The Horror Zine edited by Jeani Rector

Published by Imajin Books

What a variety of short stories! All of them within the horror or paranormal genres, every story completely different. This great collection comes from some newer authors, and several well-known authors. Jeani Rector has collected from among the best of the contributions of stories, poems and artwork from The Horror Zine. Some are just plain scary, some are psychological, some feature ghosts, monsters, werewolves, vampires, all the favourite demons of our nightmares and stories to be told around a campfire or at Hallowe'en. An anthology to bring shivers and have us listening to bumps in the night. Some even come with a bit of humour... ghoulish humour.

Reviewing an anthology is always somewhat difficult. Do I review them individually? Group them? Authors have contributed over 30 short stories, 18 poets contributing one or more poems each and 9 artists contributing. I think I will just say that this book will entertain the deepest fears hidden in the corners of the psyche. Great tales to tweak the imagination, make us feel something is watching, digging into our souls, acquainting us all with what fears become. Is your heart pounding and your spine tingling yet?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Human Services: Elimination of Evil by John Rislove

Published by PublishAmerica
Reviewed for Review the Book

This is not an easy book to read, but possibly an important book to read. John Rislove has written this as fiction, but it has a feeling of fact or how a number of people feel should be fact. With the author's background in Human Services, he has created a fictional solution proposed by a judge to a sex offenders therapist that some readers will really like and some readers will really dislike. Taking into consideration how many workers in the violent criminal offenders become either immune, jaded or oppositely burned out and suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome from their requisite involvement with these offenders, the story becomes more believable. The plot is strong and well-written.

There is no doubt that the cost of chronic jail-parole-jail for these repeat offenders is impossibly high, to the detriment of availability of money going toward health, schools, mental health, resources which would definitely create a reduction to the number of individuals who will commit crime in the future, since most crime is committed by individuals who have already suffered in their childhood. This is the basis of the book, the main theme, the fictional method of changing the economic statistics around.

This is not to say the book is dry or fact-filled. It is a suspenseful, controversial, psychological thriller, but the drama I find most terrifying is how easily a person can be persuaded that committing crimes can be for the better good. Our hero does all the wrong things for all the right reasons, so to speak. He is a good man with a loving wife, and thrilled when he becomes a family man. He is no different than any happily married man who wants to help humanity. I found the way the plot shows the passing of time unique and works well. A roller-coaster ride of emotions, the story grabs the reader and takes us on a journey that is surprising, psychologically fascinating, with a final outcome that will shock. Overall, a very good read with interesting resolution.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hide & Seek: a Murder Mystery by Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield

Published by Kepler Press
Reviewed for Review The Book

An interesting telling of this murder mystery, this book is fun, like a game of Clue except we already know who the murderer is, who was murdered, how, why, and where. We know this because it happens very near the beginning of the book. Or do we? Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield has presented an interesting concept in writing this mystery. He has a descriptive way of writing, extending this to the several characters that are introduced later in the book. The reader needs to pay a lot of attention to wording. The mystery is complex, based on jealousy, greed, and unsavory lifestyle.

The story begins with a party hosted by David's Aunt Grace, where he meets a beautiful wraith of a girl, unsubstantial as air yet bewitching and willing. The girl is an actress, and they begin a relationship as mysterious as she is. Totally mesmerized by her, David becomes overcome with jealous thoughts whenever he is not with her. When she is killed, he is overtaken with guilt, grief and loss.

Aunt Grace and Dots, his sister, come up with a brilliant idea for a fascinating weekend... the Murder Mystery game being held on a small island off Cape Cod at an old courthouse converted to a Bed and Breakfast, which adds to the atmosphere of the book. Reluctant at first, he finally agrees to join in the fun. Shortly after arrival, there seems to be something more sinister afoot. David is shocked to find that one of the participants is the actual detective who was investigating the murder of Melanie Carson. Not only that, but when the "corpse", Marilyn Carpenter, is found, she is dressed exactly like Melanie was, right down to her silver blonde hair and Melanie's particular shade of lipstick. Even her nails are done the same. Who is playing mind games with David, and why? Is this a trap? When the roles were given out at the beginning of the game, he was designated as the murderer, his aunt designated as the detective. Who is the real detective? This is what David will have to find out as soon as possible.

Great characterization, a unique variation on the usual cozy murder mystery, surprises all through, psychological suspense and well-written. My attention was held throughout, my guesses all over the place. This book was fun and I'll be watching for more from this author.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mirage by Nancy Gettleman

Published by Nightengale Press

Nancy Gettelman writes with an authenticity and realism I find comforting. It often feels as though she is personally telling me about something she has been doing. Of course, in the case of a murder mystery, that is not what she has been involved in other than trying to figure out "whodunit". The best way to describe this feeling is that parts of every story give me the feeling of familiarity. Exceptional physical descriptions of Milwaukee bring pictures to my mind. An awesome experience and very good writing to involve the reader to such an extent. If Gretchen Meier is typical of the people of Milwaukee, then I would put Milwaukee on my list of cities to visit.

Gretchen is a widow of several years with two grown sons working at a large beer distributorship. She has a very close relationship with her sons, and also with her mother-in-law. Immediately as the reader begins the story, Warren Reuter, the owner of the distributorship, is found dead in bed at his home. Assumed as an insulin overdose accidentally taken by the diabetic Warren himself, it takes a while for the coroner to discover this is not only a murder case, but the weapon and usage is very unusual. Gretchen is not your usual in-your-face nor butting-in-with-the-police type of protagonist, and most of her investigation is done in her thoughts. She thinks everything through thoroughly, she is very human and concerned about the people she suspects. She is also concerned about the fate of her sons, both as suspects and for their future in the business.

Who would have the knowledge and the motive to kill him? He was engaged to a young widow from California who sold her house at his request and moved to Milwaukee; she has a son who works in another town but visits her occasionally. He had recently offered to sell his share of the Green Bay distributorship to Gretchen's two sons, over the objection of his partner. Warren has two estranged sons. Who of these people and others would have a motive to kill him? Someone expecting to benefit from an inheritance? Who would have the special knowledge on how to kill him? Why does Marla, his fiancé, act so strangely? Life is, really, just a mirage. What we see is not necessarily real.

These are the questions that keep Gretchen awake at night and her mind will not leave her alone, especially once her sons become suspect. Enjoying her visits to talk with Warren's lawyer, Stephen Boswell, whom she has known socially for some time, they discover a mutual feeling of romantic interest. When his sister visits, she and Gretchen become fast friends, and Patricia encourages them. As a therapist, Patricia goes with Gretchen to visit Marla, and soon finds that she has a psychological personality disorder that has a bearing on Marla's isolation from the death, and which coincidentally also applies to Warren. She feels that both show signs of being sociopaths.

These are the bare bones of this latest book by Nancy Gettelman, enjoyable, suspenseful, and with psychological intrigue. There is enough in this book to make it part of a series, if the author wishes to. I think the combination of Gretchen, Stephen, and Patricia would make an excellent team for private or amateur investigation. Another intriguing novel for Nancy Gettelman, every one very different, and every one interesting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lancelot's Lady by Cherish D'Angelo with Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Published by Imajin Books
Review based on e-book version

There are so many people in this world carrying far more baggage than their emotional stability can handle. This fragile yet entertaining story of two such strangers and their journey is a realization that there is life after the death of the soul.

We meet Rhianna, a palliative nurse, orphaned at birth and suffering a series of abuses at the hands of her foster family. She is beautiful, caring, has much love to give, yet burdened with her past. She has been hired to care for an elderly but rich patient with approximately six months to live. Their relationship grows much like that of father and daughter, and as a gift to Rhianna on her birthday, he sends her on a vacation near the Bahamas to Angelina's Island. A vacation that turns out to be more adventurous than relaxing.

Here we meet "Tyler", the reclusive owner of the island and so-called resort, also heavily burdened with secrets from the past, abandonment and betrayal. Their first meeting is definitely not pleasant. His only contact with the outside world is the arrival of his supplies by the captain of a solitary boat a few times a year, and that is how he wants it. Unfortunately, to make room for Rhianna on the supply boat, some boxes had to be left behind. One of these boxes contains the only method to contact anyone in case of emergency, parts to repair the all-important long-range radio telecommunicator, and the boat will not be returning for several weeks.

The story is anything but maudlin, though. It is exciting, fun, irresistible in its telling with both characters feisty and entertaining. The book is both heartwarming and electric. I absolutely loved this book! Cherish D'Angelo aka Cheryl Kaye Tarkif has a knack of inviting the reader into the lives she writes about with such depth, and the locations with such clarity. I am totally immersed in the story.

Jonathan Tyler's wife abandoned him and their very young daughter, Misty, as soon as she learned the child was deaf. Once Rhianna learns of this she offers to teach Misty ASL, which she had learned when tending to one of her patients of the past. Misty is the magnet who draws these two lost souls together as they share the bond of love for this young child. The housekeeper and her husband have already noticed the sexual tension between the two, but what our two main characters assume may be lust, the others see as love. The relationship requires trust, something neither feels confident within themselves to give.

Over their six weeks of isolation and no contact with the outside world many discoveries are made between the two, their perceptions subtly change, and Rhianna reaches a point where she no longer wishes to leave the island. At the same time, she still feels the need to return to her patient JT. Yet, new information comes to light about JT Lance, which threatens the whole relationship, also putting Rhianna in extreme danger. Will there ever be true happiness for either Rhianna or Jonathan? Can the past be mended? Whatever the outcome, the reader can be assured that the story will be captivating.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Under Cover of Night: A Steve Caputo Mystery by Al Gellene

Published by Casterline Press
Reviewed for
Review The Book

The title of this book is decidedly right because this story is from the dark side. Black Ops, murder, disappearances, torture, conspiracy, the whole nine yards. Well-plotted, with surprising links that will draw the reader in quickly. Told from several perspectives, the book is comprehensive in its tightly knit but wide-spread arms. Al Gellene is a lawyer by profession and has chosen the hero for this novel well.

I thought this book was well-written, exposing holes in our perception of right and wrong, history and mystery, truth and justice. If this is indeed a debut novel, probable because of a series-type protagonist, attorney Steve Capuno, I applaud the author. It is surprisingly easy to hide a person or an object in plain sight. It is also much easier to continue in the underbelly of the world than to dip into it and out again.

Following an urgent yet garbled phone call from a patient in a psychiatric hospital, Steve pulls out all the stops at his disposal to be allowed to visit the young lady who has suffered a brain injury. He is told she is completely unreliable, but the woman he meets appears to be bright and though paranoid seems to be making enough sense that he takes down the notes word for word that she speaks. Nonsensical as they seem at the time, still they are spoken as though memorized and clearly mean something very important to her. When she is suspected of committing suicide during that same night, he is suspicious, but no one will believe his suspicions. He receives inside information that makes him pursue his suspicions and is joined in his search to make sense of nonsense by the girl's sister.

I found the inspiration and the clues, unfolding as they did, unique and fascinating. Done in rhyme, the clues are there, but almost impossible to sort out until Marion, the patient's sister, begins to make the connections. With a psychotic killer on the loose who has already killed to locate what is hidden and referred to in the clues, they must beat the devil and get out alive, if possible. Through a surprise ending, and near-death for both Steve and Marion, it appears we may hear more of Steve Caputo in the future. An exciting and fast-moving political and psycho-thriller.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Enchanted Land: The Saga of Dane Wulfdin by William P. Robertson & Fiona Ingram

Illustrated by David Cox
Published by Infinity Publishing
Reviewed for Review the Book

This book is aptly named. Wales is unique country, full of enchantment and legend. This is particularly true in the time period of the book — the Dark Ages. A land so well defended that the Vikings are not able to conquer it.

Reminiscent of tales from the Brothers Grimm as well as the epic legend of Beowulf, this saga is full of giants, trolls, sorcery, and monsters. Dane, the only Viking survivor of a landing party in southern Wales, cannot gain ground no matter where he turns.

He is stranded in this awesome land where he must battle warrior tribes, trolls and giants, but that is not the worst of his exceptional adventure. Oh, most definitely not! When he first meets Queen Shera, he thinks he is safe. He soon discovers the error in his thinking. Shera is a sorceress, a witch of seduction and mystery. He is so overcome with her wiles that he wishes to remain with her forever, and to do so means he must battle the kraken, a dragon, and still she wants more. She is a taker of the highest order and a giver of misery. The castle is full of wasted, almost corpse-like men, fed constantly with white “poppy powder.” Dane knows the drug for what it is and somehow is able to avoid this nightmare.

This book, a collaboration between Robertson of the US, and Ingram of South Africa, is a fantastical horror story, a saga of intense drama and action, and a jolly good yet brutal legend. The authors’ previous works have certainly provided fodder for this genre, and the illustrations are well suited to the era. The writing is populated with bits of poetry and unique artwork. The book is relatively short, but totally packed with adventure.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Palomar Paradox: a SETI Mystery by Richard Rydon

Published by

This third book in the Luper series makes for interesting reading in two ways. Richard Rydon has written a mystery, but he has also written an educational book. Peopled with an eccentric array of characters, the excitement of discovery or possible discovery is palpable and makes for a good mystery. On the other hand, for each portion of fiction, there is supplementary non-fiction details about specific items mentioned in the conversations between the fictional scientists. Personally, I found this interesting, but it is laid out in such a manner that these educational bits or clarifications can be skipped over without losing the thread of the story.

Of course SETI is looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence through signals parlayed through space. The Palomar telescopes, situated on Mount Palomar, are well-known to the general public in North America. Some sudden activity at the station has everyone reacting differently. Excited scientists work on either eliminating the signals as "noise" or discovering intelligence in the signals they are receiving. In the meantime, the government is doing its best to squelch the possibility with a wall of silence.

Strangely, at the same time as these spikes are found, there are reported sightings of UFOs. Are they real? Are they hoaxes? Are they simply misidentified? What would be the purpose of a supposed crash of a UFO in the Salter Sea? A strange location at the best of times. And what was the man doing who was found on the catwalk of the large radio telescope?

The book goes through a range of emotions: concern, excitement, disappointment, disgust, and diligence. The mystery circles around whether the signals are intelligent or not. With three random scientific astronomers working from different perspectives, the mystery deepens. Why is the government so intent on keeping everything quiet? Maybe that is the biggest mystery, but maybe it is about to be opened up. An interesting read, I felt it could have been expanded on, but perhaps that's another story.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Published by Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster
Review based on an ARC

Kimberley Freeman has written an excellent presentation of life styles from 1929 to the present time. An interesting and historic journey through three generations of a "family" resettled in Australia from Scotland after the matriarch, as a young pregnant girl, runs away with her married sweetheart and father of her child.

The novel begins in Glasgow, 1929. Innocent Beattie, trying to help support the family as a teen, has been working in a dress-shop and is an excellent seamstress, able to make expensive-looking clothing out of unused, and sometimes used, materials. She also works in a restaurant, or rather she did, until the sons of the owner introduced her to the not-quite-legal gambling club and bar upstairs. Her innocence taken advantage of by the married friend of the brothers, it is not long before Beattie finds herself pregnant by Henry, and not at all sure what she can do about it. Once she is no longer able to hide it, she loses her job at the dress-shop. To this point, she has not even told Henry. When she finally gets up her courage to tell him, he asks her to give him time and to stay away from the club in the meantime. Shortly afterward, her mother disowns her and forbids her to see her father before kicking her out of house and home with nothing but her empty purse and the clothes on her back. Desperate, she seeks out her friend from the club, who tells her of a place in the north where she can go until her baby is born. Thus, the secrets of Beattie's life begin. It is in this home that Henry finds Beattie and they run away together to Tasmania, where a friend of Henry's has promised him a job.

The book is basically told in three parts, but interspersed. When Beattie is a grandmother, she encourages her granddaughter to be what she wants to be, which happens to be a ballet dancer. Through the many years between, so much happens in Beattie's poverty-stricken life. She is ostracized when first it is discovered in Tasmania that she and Henry are not married, yet have a little girl. Henry is unable to provide for the family, and eventually returns to England and his wife, but takes their daughter Lucy with him. In dire straits, and traumatized by her loss, she gets work on a sheep ranch. Many more of the secrets of Beattie come as a result of this move. She has lost her child, her next generation.

Skipping across to her granddaughter, who has a close relationship with her grandmother, but not with her mother, we meet Emma. Emma has followed her heart and become a prima ballerina, but misfortune follows even this famous dancer. A fall marks the end of a fabulous career and Emma feels utterly devastated. She eventually goes home to Sydney, Australia. When her grandmother passes away, she learns that she has inherited a ranch in Tasmania she has never heard of. The stipulation is that she has to live there for a period of time. Beattie knew that there would come a day when Emma would need this.

This book brings so much within its pages. Love, loss, tragedy, poverty and riches. It brings to life the inner strength of women, the strength that comes when required. A rich history of mores, life, changing times, and obstacles overcome. I really enjoyed this book, if enjoy is the word for such tragedy and poverty, but it is so well-written, so historic, so meaningful. Emma's search for the true story of her grandmother's life fills in the rest of the book and opens a new world of wonder to her own life. A strong story, well centred in its various time periods, and very descriptive. A fascinating and powerful read.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Paddlewheelers of Alaska and the Yukon: 100th Anniversary Collection by Graham Wilson

Published by Wolf Creek Books, Inc.

This review will be a little different, because this is a little more personal. I was thrilled to be able to obtain this book. It is primarily archival photos, but there is historic information in it too. Taking in the era of the Klondike gold rush and beyond, it portrays in photos the now famous photos of the "golden staircase" portion of the Chilkoot trail. The front cover shows the White Horse going through what appears to be the Five Finger Rapids.

What is personal to me is the wealth of photos of the paddlewheelers that serviced the area from about 1898 to the last one, the Klondike, being taken out of service in 1951. My great-grandfather was the steam engineer on the boats, particularly the Gleaner, that plied Atlin and Bennett Lakes. My grandmother was 8 years old the first year he worked there, in 1900. Over the winter of 1901, the family lived on the Gleaner and then the Australian while the boats were up on the ways. A third boat, a steam tug named the Mabel F was also there. My great grandmother kept a journal of their winter in isolation about 8 miles south of Caribou Crossing (now Carcross), Yukon. Besides my grandmother that year, there were two other children in the family: her sister aged 6 and her brother aged 2. I've grown up hearing about these paddlewheelers and living in the north. Although they only spent one full year there, they went north about April of every year and returned to Vancouver about November, spending the summer at Taku, across from Atlin. In 1908, there was an outbreak of typhoid and 3 of the children including Grandma and the baby of the family caught it, delaying their return to Vancouver. Fortunately they all survived, but Grandma lost all her hair at the age of 16. It came in very thick and curly when it started to grow again.

This book brought back many wonderful memories of the stories Grandma and Great Grandma told me through the years. The north was in my blood by default! I'm sure many readers would either have memories of their own, or enjoy learning something of their ancestors. I drove Grandma up for one last visit to the area in 1979 and it was like taking a time machine. Most of the paddlewheelers were either scattered around rotting, or had been destroyed long before, but on a visit to Whitehorse we discovered that the Klondike was being restored and we were allowed on board. It was very similar to the Australian, and she took me around the boat showing me where she would have slept in one of the staterooms, having to go outside to get from one to another. When the winter of 1901 set in, the family all moved into the lounge/dining room to keep warm. She also showed me where her father worked on the boats. This book celebrates the hardiness of the people of the north at the turn of the 20th century, and the magnificent and romantic paddlewheelers. Romantic now, but very hard work for the crew of the times. There are photos of the Gleaner and the Australian, and many more of the better-known boats that continued in the later years like the Klondike. There were three Casca boats, and in 1949 or 50 Grandma and Grandpa took a trip on the Casca 3 on one of its final trips to Dawson City.

This book is still available from some used book stores. I was unable to locate a current link for the publisher.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kalila by Rosemary Nixon

Published by Goose Lane Publishers
Reviewed for Edward Magazine Book Club

First, it is important to remember this is a novel. I say this because this book is the closest I have ever seen to the trauma of fact. Disjointed thoughts known only to those who have suffered trauma or extreme grief, the grief related to the loss or desperate illness of a child. Maggie has given premature birth to a baby girl with problems no one has yet identified. The baby is in a care unit at a research hospital.The doctors are not connecting with the parents, their only interest is the child. It's not a thing, it's not "the baby", she has a name, Kalila. She is a little person, not a specimen! Maggie is outside looking in. She has fallen through the crack into another world where isolation is the norm and she doesn't know the rules. Life goes on all around her at its regular pace but she is only aware of it for short intervals. It is always a shock to discover in the crisis you are living, that other people are living their normal lives. Don't they know that your life is in tatters? Can't they see you are living, too, at a terribly slowed pace of pain and isolation?

At this point, her husband is as supportive as anyone can be. He deals with his grief in an entirely different way, and so it is with the two sexes, they do respond differently. A male grieving takes it as a literal blow to his own humanity. Also, in most cases, he continues to work. It's actually rather interesting to view him in his working life all tangled up with what is happening with his child and wife. But a chance discussion with another mother, who finally took her child home to care for rather than leaving her in the isolation of the neonatal ward, compels Maggie to make the decision to bring Kalila home. Once there, they have a small feeling of normalcy between episodes of panic, the problem is the doctors have never been able in the four plus months to discover what her multitude of problems are, and what is causing them. All Maggie and Brodie feel is the comfort of finally being able to hold their baby.

This is not a weighty book in size, but certainly in subject matter, and very well written. I did feel loss toward the end of the book, I felt something missing in the relationship, but I have never lived that role before so can not truthfully comment on it. It did seem to fall off a bit toward the end. Ironically, the very surgery that gives them some glimmer of hope to hang on to is the very thing that causes the unthinkable. Hope, then sudden loss. I grieved, too. But there is often a marriage break-up in these cases, and indeed they were warned this could happen. The reader is not really aware that this had happened at first, and perhaps that is why I felt lost in the last part. There was nothing, and then it was years later. So that is my one and only regret in the telling of this novel. Extremely well-written for the most part, and I would certainly recommend it for anyone going through the grief of an ill child or the loss of a baby. Be prepared to be living the story with the participants. A difficult story to write and to live. Rosemary Nixen has written from the heart and soul. She has stepped inside the characters of her book and done it exactly right.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Stranger At Home: a True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Artwork by Liz Amini-Holmes
Published by
Annick Press

This book is the life of author, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, the sequel to "Fatty Legs" by the same authors. It is also the life of Canada's shame, the story of how the government took the children away from all aboriginal nations and sent them to Catholic residential schools. "A Stranger at Home" tells the true story of Margaret's return to her parents in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories and how she was snubbed by family, friends, and townspeople. I have not read "Fatty Legs", but must because it will take me into her years in school.

The boat bringing home the children is arriving in Tuktoyaktuk, or Tuk as they call it. Parents and siblings are waiting for the arrival, but when Margaret approaches her mother, she says "Not my daughter!" Margaret's hair has been cut, she is in clothing supplied by the school, and all tradition is gone. She can not even remember how to speak her language, Invialuktun. She is unable to understand her mother and her mother does not understand her. Her siblings look at Margaret as though she were an alien. She is now an "outsider" and is devastated. The book is well named because Margaret is indeed "a stranger at home". Her father does speak English, fortunately, and he is her only strength.

Margaret can no longer eat the food her mother prepares. She can't eat and loses weight. Even the food at the Hudson Bay store doesn't appeal to her. She is horrified when the family eats without saying grace, and is terrified that her family will go to Hell. This is what she has been taught, and that it is her responsibility to convert her family. Margaret's best friend Agnes can no longer play with or see her, because she only knows English. Agnes kept her language by telling herself stories in her mind and occasionally naming things in her room, but she is punished when she is caught. Margaret's only happiness is playing with the dogs and reading. She particularly likes "Gulliver's Travels", relating to it in a way.

Through her father's attention and help, and her mother trying to find communication, Margaret finally finds a way to be a part of her family again. She is once again Olemaun Pokiak, her Inuvialuit, or Inuit name. She is able to eat the food her mother prepares. She remembers how to skin caribou, and she is able to drive a team and sled. But still she misses her home on Banks Island where she was so happy growing up. Tuktoyaktuk still seems like a stopover, and soon it will prove to be just that when the government people come and tell them that the children must go to the school, and that includes Margaret's siblings.

This is a book everyone should read. It is written for school-age, but I feel it should be read and explained by adults who can remember this time, or who understand this time, so the children and young adults will understand what happened, how it affected the families, and how so many languages almost went extinct.

Kudos to those who have worked hard to restore the languages, beliefs and teach their children of the old ways. That is not the whole story, though. Through the efforts of people like Margaret, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the aboriginal renewal has been underway for the past several years and now many languages have been retrieved and spoken, old customs have been returned, although now updated.

Skein of the Crime by Maggie Sefton

Published by Berkley Prime Crime

Maggie Sefton has assembled a great mixed group of friends in her Knitting Mystery series. I find as a reader I feel like I am a part of the story, it's an interesting and comfortable feeling. Yet not all is sunny in the small town of Fort Connor, Colorado. As with most of the country, the financial downturn has affected many of the residents, including Kelly's boyfriend, Steve, who is an architect, and her friend Jennifer, in real estate. As a result, Steve is working two jobs as much as he can, spending almost all his time in Boulder and very little in Fort Connor. To make matters worse from Steve's point of view, Kelly not only has her consulting work, but she has a large inheritance and would willingly share it with Steve, but it just increases his feeling of failure and he refuses to take any money.

Of course, this wouldn't be a cosy mystery without a murder. It all starts when Kelly steps out on her patio one night and is startled to find a barefoot college girl standing there. She doesn't answer any questions, just rocks and smiles. It doesn't take Kelly long to realize the girl is stoned out of her mind, and must have walked along the trail by the golf course behind the house. She is high on Ecstasy. Kelly calls 911 and the girl is taken to hospital. Kelly has no idea how she got there, but the trail is not a safe place to walk at night, there have been some recent attacks on women walking alone.

Kelly learns that the girl has been on her own since childhood and that Barbara, one of the knitting teachers at House of Lambspun, the wool shop where Kelly and her friends meet. Barbara had more or less taken Holly in, and she grew up with Tommy, Barbara's son, who is now studying medicine. Apparently, Holly calls on Tommy constantly, drawing him away from his studies and work as a paramedic. With Mimi, the shop owner, taking an interest in her, the girl turns herself around and does well. She even takes knitting classes. Then a party she attends has her turning to alcohol but not drugs. The next morning, her body is found on the trail.

The coroner calls it a drug overdose, but Kelly can't shake the feeling there is more to it, and starts to investigate, to the chagrin of Steve, who twice arrives at the home they share on weekends to find her gone. He is on the brink of staying away in Boulder for good. How can this be happening? With her consternation of Steve's reaction, Kelly still pursues her investigation. Holly knew the trail wasn't safe, and she was trying to become a good person. What went wrong? Jealousy? A mother's overbearing protection? A drug dealer? So many questions. It seems everyone is trying to steer Kelly a different direction. Brick walls are up against Kelly as she tries to get at the truth. Will she learn what really happened in time? There are several possibilities, many supplied by another girl who grew up with both Kelly and Tommy as classmates through the years. Which of the possible suspects might prove to be a murderer? It will keep the reader guessing. What will happen to Kelly's romance and future?

In the midst of all this is woven an engagement and the wild search for a wedding dress and other plans necessary for the wedding. This book is a cozy with subject matter that is meaningful in today's world where parties, drugs and alcohol play a major part, especially in college. We also end with a cliff-hanger. Will there be a happy future for Kelly? That will require reading the next book, "Unraveled". I really enjoy Maggie's books, they are fun, genuinely "cosy" yet with a good murder mystery, and this one did not disappoint. Recipe and Knitting pattern included.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The River by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Published by Imajin Books

There are many legends about the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territory, many of them featuring headless corpses and skeletons, and disappearances, a river of ghosts. Cheryl Kaye Tardif has placed her paranormal techno-thriller in this beautiful and awesome part of northern Canada. I love how she describes everything so well that each scene is vividly implanted in the reader's mind, so much so that one can almost hear the falls, the rapids, and boiling currents of the river, the rustling of the leaves in the wind. This descriptive mode is captured throughout the book, even through the horrors to be found when Del, with a team and guide, searches for her father. He was believed dead for several years, after disappearing in the Nahanni area, but now Del has reason to believe he is alive.

It all begins when an elderly man shows up in her classroom with a message and a journal. She recognizes the message as something her father always said, and finally discovers that she has known this man, he is a friend of her father's and he also disappeared from that ill-fated group of men. He appears much older than he should, and very ill, but he says her father is alive and gives her a journal with instructions to "follow" her heart. He is taken away to a hospital where he is rapidly aging and dying. Del turns to the journal and discovers it has been written in some kind of code. There also seems to be a map of some sort. She knows she will do anything to find her father, and her ex-boyfriend is ready to assemble a search team and make the arrangements.

What a mixed bunch of characters make up the team! Del (Delila) Hawthorne is a Professor of Anthropology and her young assistant Peter insists on going along. Jake, who she meets first at the hospital and again at Bio-Tec where her father had worked, and TJ, her ex-boyfriend. Peter brings Miki, who is a math savant and may be able to break the code, and Jake brings his assistant, the fiery and fiercely jealous Italian, Francesca. A lone vacationing computer programmer, Gary, is stranded when his wilderness party doesn't show up, and Hawk, the Dene guide adds him to their party.

It doesn't take long for problems to arise, both natural and man-made. Who is trying to sabotage their trip? When Del's medication for MS disappears, who would have taken it? Was it the feisty Francesca? A romantic connection seems to be building between Del and Jake. Could Gary be someone other than who he supposedly is? Will finding the secret river give them answers, or more questions? The river is very hazardous as they near the falls, but Miki and Del believe they have to pass this spot to arrive at what they think will be the location to find the secret river. Hawk does not believe there is a secret river, but he does recognize what the landmarks are on the map. As they portage up the falls, they think the worst must be over, but will soon rethink that.

A tense, strange trip to destiny lies ahead. Not just their destiny, but the destiny of the human race. Can they stop the inevitable? Layers of horror lead to more danger for the team. I won't tell. This book is character- and action-driven, terrifying, and yet tender at times even in its intensity. Cheryl has a knack for writing the gamut of human emotion, and in this case even inhuman. A good thriller, graphic in some places, but deftly written. A real nail-biter.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Colt O'Brien Sees the Light by George Matthew Cole

Published by Dog Ear Publishing
Reviewed for Review the Book

Colt O'Brien is short, and it bothers him. He is aggressive, a good soccer player, and can't seem to please his father in any way. In his efforts to stand out, he wears vividly coloured clothing. He is a senior at high school and has a twin sister who seems to do no wrong in their father's eyes. Four things compensate for his father's lack of understanding: his sister's and mother's support and love, his natural ability to fix computers, his friends, and the support of his principal. There is one other thing that sometimes is a help and sometimes a hindrance. He has a psychic sensitivity, as does his mother. His father, on the other hand, is not able to show his pride nor support, leaving Colt to feel invisible to him.

This book is unique in its format. Each chapter begins with an email. The interplay between the characters is important in understanding what Colt is all about. George Matthew Cole is able to channel in to some of the basic psychological needs and character of teenagers, as well as how the adults in their world can affect them for better or worse. The anger and unworthiness Colt feels, and the feeling of never being able to please his father, are problems that many teens deal with daily.

A new course is offered for Microsoft certification through two parents and in coordination with Mr. Towne, the principal. Suddenly, Colt feels as though his last thread of pride in himself is about to be taken away when two younger students become certified. Isn't he the prime computer expert at the school? Yet, for reasons known only to himself and the reader, he doesn't pursue this certification. He thinks he knows all there is to know about computers. How wrong he is. His father is coming down hard on him about "wasting" his time with computers, he should be pursuing a profession and working toward getting into college. His girlfriend has the same attitude about computers, feeling he spends too much time on them and not her and becomes an ex-girlfriend because of it.

When a new girl comes into his life, everything changes. They are completely attuned to one another and what's more, she is interested in computers. When Colt decides to join the computer group, Amy is right with him, helping him study, and providing support and encouragement. Colt is finally reaching toward his potential.

I felt the storyline was good, the many problems and joy that teens feel, the disappointments and letdowns, the overblown self-pride coupled with insecurity are vividly drawn in this book. The author, in this his debut novel, has immersed us into the life of teens and their struggles. The book is a fairly quick read, but there is a lot adults could learn from it, even though it is a young adult novel.