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.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rowena Through the Wall by Melodie Campbell

Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed from an ebook

All I can say is "Wow!", when is the next book coming out? I'm going to have to start testing my walls to find a portal. This book captivated me so much I was barely able to put the book down. Melodie Campbell's writing is imaginative and mesmerizing as she transports her protagonist into an entirely different world. The clothing and attitudes resemble many time lines in our world history, but the surprise here is that they are all happening at once. I can only describe this story as hot, steamy, seductive and hilarious. Did I say hilarious? Yes, the humour is outrageously funny, the characters are definitely full-fledged, and the plot line is incredibly and indelibly strong.

What can a girl, a teacher of veterinary medicine in Scottsdale, Arizona, do when a very large blond man suddenly appears in her classroom wearing a tunic, leggings and a sword hanging from his belt? Of course, her first thought is that a medieval festival has come to town, but why would he be here? A need to protect the only student in the room at the time prompts her to step around her to confront this warrior. When Rowena speaks to him, he turns around and walks through the wall. Kendra, her grad student, sees nothing, wondering who her teacher was talking to.

That night she has the most real but unlikely dream of a different world, rather obvious by its two orange suns. Rowena, Row to her friends, has a gift. She can communicate in a sort of mind meld with animals, especially horses and dogs. But here there are no wild animals or birds, but a small squirrel and a fish. Suddenly a deep voice rings out "Who are you?" Dream over, she puts it out of her mind. Two days later, alone in her classroom marking tests, two men suddenly appear through the wall. When she speaks they are startled to learn that she can see and hear them. And then they are gone.

Now the dreams take on a life of their own, always taking up where they left off the night before. Once she discovers these aren't dreams but are really happening, she is shocked that in this world her grandfather and cousins live, people she has never heard of. Her mother came from this world but how could it be? It seems so medieval. She learns from the man she has met that her mother disappeared from wherever this is and has never been seen again. Unfortunately, her mother died when Row was young and she knew nothing of her background. She learns that a curse was laid in this different land that caused all babies born to be male, eventually bringing procreation to a standstill. Now we know why these men are coming through the wall, they are seeking fertile women. In her classroom, she goes through the wall and finds herself in the same place her dreams took her, and now she knows where the men are coming from on the other side. But where is this place?

This is where the story really takes off, and what a wild ride! On a quick visit back through the portal, Kendra is once again in the classroom and returns with Rowena. As a Goth girl, Kendra is first believed to be a boy as they come out of the portal to be faced again by men. Rowena motions to her to play the role, easy for her to play as she is trained in martial arts. When later Kendra is dressed in the clothing supplied in the castles and fortresses, her look changes immensely.

In this country called Lands End, with no women of child-bearing age, Rowena is alternately coupled, kidnapped, and/or married, by someone from each corner of this world. She does not know the politics of rulers, but her sharp wit and sense of humour get her through everything. Men are ready to fight to the death over possession of her. However, these men have not met up with modern women and it is a total eye-opener to them. Who is shocked more, man or woman? This book is so much fun, hard to describe without giving out all the tasty plot. I keep thinking of the main male characters as a combination of Diana Gabaldon's Jamie Fraser and the hilarious swashbuckling Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. I absolutely loved this book, especially the characterizations. The baffling complexities between the main characters, coming from such vastly different backgrounds, gives impetus to the humour, raucous skirmishes, and rollicking good sexual fun.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Life Lessons from a High School Dropout by Michael J. Fox

Published by Hyperion Books

This is Michael's third book, and is more geared to a quick read, recommended as a gift book for a high school graduate. An honest look at the early years of Michael J. Fox right up to and including his fight with Parkinson's Disease. Knowing one of the crew, I have followed Michael's career since he was working on his first TV series in Vancouver, BC, and I believe that he is totally honest as he writes this book. A small book with a lot of content, I liked his relaxed and personal style of writing.

As a high school dropout, some readers may feel that he is condoning this action. What he has to say is that you have to be open to learn from life, however and whenever it is served, e.g. learning physics from hockey. School has given you a start, but there is much more to be learned if you are open to what life has to teach you. This book will give the reader some insight into his remarkable ability to face adversity head on, to roll with the punches, retain his sense of humor, and remain true to himself. Michael has worded it well in this quote:

There's a rule in acting called, "Don't play the result." If you have a character who's going to end up in a certain place, don't play that until you get there. Play each scene and each beat as it comes. And that's what you do in life: You don't play the result.
Michael J. Fox (1961 - ), Good Housekeeping, June 2011

A very quick read, but is worth reading a second time to "get it".

Unsolved: True Canadian Cold Cases by Robert J. Hoshowsky

Published by Dundurn Press

Spanning the years from 1967 to the present, Robert J. Hoshowsky has selected sixteen cold cases either happened in Canada or happened elsewhere to Canadians, many very cold, of murders and disappearances, most still unsolved but remaining active. The oldest cases (1967) were solved during the writing of the book after 40 years. This book is not sensationalist, it is investigative reporting based on facts. Where facts aren't known theories and speculation are sometimes presented but are clearly defined as such. This book is for understanding, learning how to be vigilant, how to be aware of all around you. It is hoped to bring closure to families of victims who in turn are victims themselves.

I found this book to be interesting, factual, and often triggering memories of the times these events happened. It is well-written, respectful to the families and to the victim. At the same time it takes us through the changes of forensic capabilities through the years, such as solving a forty year cold case with DNA. There are also a few photos showing original and aged photos some of the missing. People tend to think that these cases get forgotten through the years. This book will prove otherwise.

I mentioned that the author has selected sixteen cold cases, two of which are now solved. There is also a mystery as the final selection. This one is not believed to be a case of foul play, although that has yet to be proven. This is the infamous case from British Columbia of the floating sneakers with socks and decaying feet in them. Beginning in 2007 to the present a total of eight floating shoes have turned up in various locations and at various times on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia, one found on a beach at Pysht, Washington. All are athletic shoes but different colours and brands, several were different sizes, some were men's, some were women's, some for right foot, some for left foot and all but one contained a decaying human foot. This one, the sixth foot found, was proven to be a hoax and contained a decaying (possibly animal) foot, not human.

A well-organized book that has been thoroughly research with the best of intentions, I was glad I had decided to read it.