COMPANY TOWN

MADELINE ASHBY

Go Jung-Hwa is unusual. She is completely organic. No augmentations, as most people have added to their physical selves. Hwa is a skilled fighter and bodyguard for the sex workers’ union but she hates her body because of a birthmark that stains her skin. Zachariah Lynch, one of the wealthiest people in the world, hires Hwa to protect his heir, his youngest son and genius, Joel.  Joel and Hwa are stalked by an invisible serial killer who targets both them and the sex workers Hwa used to guard. How do you defend yourself against an invisible agent?

If you enjoy dystopian fiction, this novel is for you.

CLOUD

ERICK McCORMACK

cloud Harry Steen’s life is shadowed by two events that happened when he was younger. The first was a brief but passionate affair with an intriguing beauty in the uplands of Scotland where he was about to begin his career. She jilted him for her fiance and he left with a broken heart he believed would never heal.  The second was a few years later when he was a Canadian mining executive, on a business trip to Mexico, he discovered a rare 18th century tome. The Obsidian Cloud is an account of an unexplained, true phenomenon: a black cloud with uncannily reflective properties that stalled before dispersing itself in a rain of black hail over Scotland. But it’s less this bizarre event that captures Harry’s attention than the fact that it supposedly occurred in the obscure town where, at age 21, he met his one true and unrequited love. Back at home he send the book to a rare books curator in Glasgow to see what scholars can tell him about this unusual book. The novel tells his life story: working on boats to escape Scotland and the past, chance meetings with remarkable people, being groomed for a pomccormack-180sition in a mining company and the family as well. Cloud is well written but has a weak ending.

 

THE DOUGLAS NOTEBOOKS: A Fable

Christine Eddiedouglas

This sparse and concisely written novel is a jewel. It is almost fairy tale like but there are no happily ever after endings. The fable begins with a wealthy family of black-market war profiteers. The youngest son, Romain is out of sync with the rest of the rest of the family who end up mocking and ignoring him. Eventually he leaves to become a hermit in the forest far from the family estate. Around the same time and area Elena stands up to her abusive, drunken father and flees for her safety. She finds refuge by becoming a natural healer’s apprentice. While gathering herbs in the forest she hears beautiful music and discovers Romain playing his Clarinet. It is all about relationships. The forest cradles and protects their love but only for so long.

Read this book!

GUT: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ

gutGIULA ENDERS

Enders has penned an engaging look at our digestive tract: mouth to end and all parts in between. Gut is readable and at times funny. “Have my new girlfriend/boyfriend and I been together long enough for farting in front of each other to be okay—and if so, is it down to me to break the ice and go first?” She has scientist’s drive to uncover the worlds hidden beneath what’s visible to the naked eye. The vast legion of microorganisms populating our guts are “the weirdest of creatures” inhabiting “the most amazing giant forest ever.” The gut’s nervous system, food intolerances, allergies, gut bacteria and even the science of bad breath are discussed. She suggests the body’s “most underrated organ” plays a greater role in our overall well being than we might have otherwise thought.” Medical diagrams show the small intestine as a sausage thing chaotically going through our belly. But it is an extraordinary work of architecture that moves so harmonically when you see it during surgery. It’s clean and smooth, like soft fabric.”

SWEETLAND

sweetMICHAEL CRUMMEY

Sweetland is an ode to the dying Newfoundland way of small town or harbour life and the intrepid souls who lived there. In 2012, the government has offered the citizen of Sweetland $1oo,ooo each to resettle else where. The condition is all must comply. Moses Sweetland, is one of two holdouts refusing to take up the government’s seemingly generous offer. He is determined to stay, no matter the cost. His obstinacy prevents his friends and neighbours from collecting the government’s money, tearing apart the tight-knit community as a result. Sweetland is an old curmudgeon. The book’s cast of characters is delightful. The challenges to survival on the sea and on the coast are chilling.

“They never lost their way or seemed even momentarily uncertain of their location. They traveled narrow paths cut through tuckamore and bog or took shortcuts along the shoreline, chancing the unpredictable sea ice. Every hill and pond and stand of trees, every meadow and droke for miles was named and catalogued in their heads. At night they navigated by the moon and stars or by counting outcrops and valleys or by the smell of spruce and salt water and wood smoke. It seemed to Newman they had an additional sense lost to modern men for lack of use.”

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN: A Curious Account of Native People In North America

THOMAS KING

The story of Canada is the story of her relationship with native people. Despite the clamouring of history to pull us into the full sweep of accepted history – the one that starts with “discovery” segues into brave “explorers” and into the notion of “two founding nations” – the real history of Canada begins with native people. Similarly, the story of North America. In 1492, native people discovered Columbus. That’s the plain truth of it. Ever since that moment, the history of the continent has been interpreted and articulated through settler eyes. That there are gross inaccuracies and outright omissions is all too evident in the relative mainstream ignorance of all things indigenous circa 2012.

The truth, as it were, lies somewhere between what is taught and what is endured by indigenous people themselves. So it is that Cherokee/Greek author Thomas King offers us The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People In North America. Though it is built on a foundation of historical fact, King insists that the book is an “account,” resting more on storytelling technique than a true historian’s acumen.

We’re glad that it is. Because this accounting dredges up little-known facts that illuminate the lack of comprehension about the role of indigenous people on the national consciousness of both Canada and the United States. Then it lays them out in frequently hilarious, sagacious, down-to-earth language that anyone can understand. Reading it, you can hear minds being blown everywhere.

“Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. It’s the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.

“Which, of course, it isn’t.”

From there, King leads us through accounts of the massacres of settlers that never happened to massacres of Indians that did, the true nature and intent of treaties and government apologies, the whole issue of land and a rollicking, gut-busting portrayal of Dead Indians, Live Indians and Legal Indians that perfectly outlines the whole issue of misperception.

It’s all couched in a plainspoken forthrightness that shocks as often as it demystifies. In an examination of treaties, and the perception of Canada and U.S. governments as benevolent and generous, King declares, “The idea that either country gave first nations something for free” is malarkey.

Later, in an examination of what Indians want, when King refocuses the question on what white people want, he lays it out without question: “Whites want land.

“The issue that came ashore with the French and the English and the Spanish, the issue that was theraison d’être for each of the colonies, the issue that has made its way from coast to coast to coast and is with us today, is the issue of land. The issue has always been land.”

With that understanding firmly stated, the whole nature and mechanics of history as inflicted on Indians in North America can be understood. It’s not an easy acceptance. It takes some grit and desire.

But the book is ultimately about healing. As much as he uncovers the dirt of history, King shines a light on what is possible in the advancement of Indians to an equal place in both countries. It is essential reading for everyone who cares about Canada and who seeks to understand native people, their issues and their dreams. We come to understand that Indians are inconvenient because, despite everything, we have not disappeared.

Thomas King is beyond being a great writer and storyteller, a lauded academic and educator. He is a towering intellectual. For native people in Canada, he is our Twain; wise, hilarious, incorrigible, with a keen eye for the inconsistencies that make us and our society flawed, enigmatic, but ultimately powerful symbols of freedom.

The Inconvenient Indian is less an indictment than a reassurance that we can create equality and harmony. A powerful, important book.

I borrowed this review from Richard Wagamese whose writing I admire.

 

 

 

STONE MATTRESS

stonwMARGARET ATWOOD

Short stories don’t appeal to me but when Margaret Atwood published a book of “Tales” I knew I would give it a go and I wasn’t disappointed. The first stories a tell about a group of artists and how their lives entwine. The erudite author had nothing but distain for his girlfriend’s fantasy stories even though those stories were paying the rent. Years later a student came to interview him but it turned out it wasn’t for his writing but it was for his former girlfriend’s writing whose books had spent a lot of time on the best seller lists. When he realized what was happening he was so angry his wife had to tell him “you can’t talk to women like that any more!”  In the title story Verna, a woman who has killed several husbands, while on a cruise, meets a man from her past who has hurt and humiliated her and plans her revenge with a stone mattress. A scientist lecturing the cruise passengers  explains, “the word comes from the Greek stroma, a mattress, coupled with the root word for stone. Stone mattress: a fossilized cushion, formed by layer upon layer of blue-green algae building up into a mound or dome. It was this very same blue-green algae that created the oxygen they are now breathing. Isn’t that astonishing?”

While not all excellent, the Tales in Stone Mattress are well worth the time.

NORTH OF NORMAL: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counterculture Family, and How I Survived Both

Cea Sunrise Person northofnormal

Cea’s grandparents, Papa Dick and Grandma Jeanne moved the whole family, including Cea’s young single mother Michelle, pregnant at 15, from California to northern Alberta. The grandparents could no longer put up with corporate America. The family lived in a teepee, grew pot and lived off the grid in relative isolation, except for the endless parade of hangers-on, and drifters that complicated the family drama and provided sexual partners for all and sundry. When the police would find their pot plants then it was time to move deeper into the wilderness usually on the edge of a first nations community. Beyond living on the land and surviving on nothing the family was dealing with depression, poverty, sex, drugs and kids rife with physical, social and mental problems. One  son is almost never out of a mental institution; he is never visited by family. The beginning is a relatively happy period of the book, as nature has a way of buffering the family chaos. Cea comments on another child who’s mother is alway taciturn and never affectionate whereas her mother always has open arms and cuddles for her. When Michelle leaves her family and the wilderness for a series of badness men the book takes on a new level of sadness. Cea has to endure the plain old stupidity and bad choices of her elders, who are either too doped-up, too confused, too self-centred or too single-minded to know better.

Cea is a good writer. North is worth reading.

 

THE ORENDA

JOSEPH BOYDENboyedn

o·ren·da:   a supernatural force believed by the iroquois Indians to be present, in varying degrees, in all objects or persons, and to be the spiritual force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for.

Boyden describes the forces that led to the decimation of Canada’s First Nations culture. The novel is set in is set in mid-17th-century Huron territory, during a period of brutal skirmishes between the Huron and the Iroqouis, just as the Catholics launch their campaign to convert aboriginal peoples. The story is told by three rotating voices. The vengeful Bird, whose beloved family was murdered by the Iroquois; the equally vengeful Snow Falls, the Iroquois girl he kidnaps partly to assuage this loss; and Christophe, sent by his superiors in New France to convert the natives. The novel opens in winter, and with bloodshed. The great Wendat – Huron – elder and warrior, Bird, massacres a party of Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, and kidnaps a young girl. She is called Snow Falls, and Bird, haunted by the slaughter of his own wife and children at the hands of his arch-enemy years before, insists on making her his own  child. “She contains something powerful,” he thinks. This seems to have been a common practice at the time. Also taken as prisoner was a “Crow,” or Jesuit, who the Haudenosaunee party had been escorting home to torture to death.  Bird finds him “big, thick through the chest and clearly strong,” he asks, “is he not the most awkward man I’ve ever met?” Snow Falls, carried by the big Jesuit through the snow, is neither grateful nor impressed. When the “other prisoner” bends over her, “he smells so bad that I want to throw up, his breath stinking like rotted meat.” She wants to kill Bird in revenge and be rid of the foul-smelling Crow.  The priest believes the native peoples are less than human. “Forgive me, Lord, but I fear they are animals in savagely human form.”

This page turner is a must read for all.

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING

Ruth2

RUTH OZEKI

“Forget the clock. It has no power over time, but words do.”

This is a book everyone will love. Ozeki is am amazing writer, juggling themes of time, metaphysics, suicide, history, time travel, zen Buddhism,  Japanese history, computer science, 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as others. TIME also has an interesting structure. The author is a character in the novel though she is always referred to as Ruth, never as I.

Ruth lives on an island on the west coast of British Columbia. Out for a walk on the beach she discovers a Miss Kitty lunch box. Inside wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe is the diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao,  an antique wristwatch and what turns out to be the diary, written in French, of her uncle, who died as a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. Ruth and her husband Oliver begin to read the girls diary. She Ruthhad been born in Japan but moved to Silicon Valley for many years as her dad was a computer programer. When the dot com bubble burst they went back to Japan in poverty and shame. When Nao starts school in Japan, she is regarded as a foreigner is and is mercilessly bullied. Her only solace is writing about her grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist novelist nun,” with a long history of lovers, both male and female. Jiko helps Nao understand that  “time beings” are beings who understand that “everything in the universe is forever changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves for a while they are beautiful, and they they fade and die.”

Run out right now and get this book!

MADDADDAM

maddMAGARET ATWOOD

Maddaddam is a story of myth making as Toby explains the past to the Crakers the bio-engenireered creatures created by Crake before he killed everything else in the first book of the trilogy Oryx and Crake. Thanks you to Atwood for providing a synopsis of the first two volumes. I found it a great way to start Maddaddam with a refresher course. Toby tells the story of Zeb and his harsh upbringing by the Rev of the Church of PetrOleum and his eventual escape into a life on the run, first to San Francisco’s “pleeblands,” then to a job as a magician’s assistant, to survival in the Canadian wilderness after a “Bearlift” mission goes wrong, to New New York (on the Jersey Shore) and at last into work at a HelthWyzer laboratory compound, where he meets characters familiar to us as members of an underground movement. Toby’s telling of Zeb’s story is interspersed with the present-day defense of the compound and the unusual partnership they develop for mutual protection. Toby teaches the Crakers to read, write and to tell their own stories.atwood

Maddaddam is a book of hope and healing and renewal.

Read this book but do read the trilogy in order. It is terrific.

 

THE HUMANS

humansMATT HAIG

Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University, one of the great mathematical geniuses of our time, has just discovered the secret of prime numbers, thereby finding the key that will unlock the mysteries of the universe, guarantee a giant technological leap for mankind and put an end to illness and death. Alerted to this amazing breakthrough on the other side of the universe, and convinced that the secret of primes cannot be entrusted to such a violent and backward species as humans, the super-advanced Vonnadorians dispatch an emissary to erase Martin and all traces of his discovery. The book that opens with our alien narrator finding himself in the body of the professor, whom he has just assassinated. But the instantaneous intergalactic travel hasn’t turned out quite as expected. Instead of finding himself in Martin’s office, our nameless Vonnadorian has arrived in the middle of a major highway , with no understanding of human culture and wearing his victim’s body but not a stitch of clothing. He is run over but rapidly heals himself and stumbles off to a gas station where he peruses a Cosmopolitan magazine to learn the local language.

The beginning is laugh out loud funny as the alien learns about post-millenial earth culture and comments on it as a visitor from a far. But as he becomes more human the novel changes tone to warm, welcoming glow.

This is a must read.

THE MOUSE PROOF KITCHEN

mouseSAIRA SHAH

When does love for begin, when does it end and can it be interrupted. These difficult questions are tackled in Kitchen. Anna is a profession chef, trained in France. Her dream is to return to Provence and teach at the cooking school where she was a star student. Her husband Tobias is a composer who does sound tracks for documentaries but dreams of doing feature films. But the situation changes when her baby, Freye, is born multiply disabled because of extreme brain damage, the cause of which is unknown. They look for a place to move to in Provence but property values are too high. But they find a place in Pays D’Oc in a a rickety, rodent-infested farmhouse in a remote town in France—far from the mansion in Provençe they had imagined. Through out the novel the couple contemplate leaving the baby Freye for social services to take care of. Their line in the sand is when she needs a feeding tube. When one parent is ready to let her go the other parent is madly in love with her, and vise versa. Ultimately this is a story of acceptance, love and opening your hear. There are many enjoyable characters who circle around the main couple which add interest to the story.

Its a good read.

ALL OVER CREATION

RUTH OZEKIcreation

“Every seed has a story.”  Creation is a novel of modern redemption on a potato farm. After her abortion, Yumi knew she couldn’t stay at her parents farm. Her high school teacher had impregnated her; she was fourteen. After a few years she writes her parents but they never reply. Her parents Momoko and Lloyd Fuller have farmed potatoes for decades in Idaho.Momoko also has a successful seed company, doing the meticulous work of growing her own vegetables and flowers and harvesting and cataloguing the seeds. When her friend and former neighbour Cass writes to explain how poorly Yumi’s parents are doing, Yumi reluctantly returns to the farm with her three children, Phoenix, Ocean and “Poo” who are fathered by three different men. The Seeds are a group of protesters who are spreading the warnings about genetically engineered plants including potatoes.  They are traveling cross-country, creating protests to advance their cause and doing some minor damage at grocery stores, occasionally getting arrested. The mix of these three elements makes for an engaging and entertaining novel. A good read.

THE WOEFIELD POULTRY COLLECTIVE

woefieldSUSAN JUBY

This is a great read: fun and funny yet poignant.

Ingrediants: Prudence Burns of Brooklyn, failed young adult novelist and a bit of a righteous cause-ist, inherits a farm on Vancouver Island; Seth, an alcoholic shut-in blogger who hadn’t been out of his mother’s house for over five years; Earl, a crotchety old farmhand who comes with the land and plays bluegrass and passes along nuggets of wisdom like “[it] don’t pay to ask questions about things that is none of your business”, Earl has an important secret; and Sara Spratt, an adorably plucky teen from a broken home, Sara is the one with the chickens and a lot of guts to put up with the likes of Seth and Earl. Put them all together and you end up with this wonderful book.juby

LONG LEGS BOY

boyBENJAMIN MADISON

When Modou’s parents are both dead from AIDS and his entire village is decimated he seeks help from an African  holy man, Alhaji, who takes care of boys who have no parents. Of course there are chores for all the orphans but there are also lessons to teach them the Koran. Reba Brecken, country director for Rights for Kids Coalition comes to their compound to check that the boys are being well taken care of. She believes the children should not have to work, and that they should be with their families. Unfortunately she is blind to the reality of life in Africa. News of another man who helps boys in need that his compound had been shut down and the boys sent off to various villages, Alhaji decides to move the boys to the capital. In the city the boys have no work so they must go beg to help support themselves. But the government doesn’t like street kids and rounds them up and dumps them at various villages after beating them. Most of them slowly and painfully make their way back to the capital. Modou has the gift of speed. He whizzes through the market earning money by quickly delivering messages and packages. He is also so fast that he can avoid the police who look foolish being unable to catch him. He earns the name Toofas (Toofast) and becomes a creature of myth and legend.

The part of the story where Modou becomes a rallying figure for rebel forces is overdone and unbelievable. But the rest of the novel is great. It highlights how the best meaning aid worker can create an even bigger problem by not comprehending the whole picture. A cautionary tale.

A must read.

THE NO-NONSENSE GUIDE TO THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

CHRIS BRAZIERhist2 history

The magazine New Internationalist publishes No-Nonsense guides on multiple topics. They are all brief, concise and easy to read. Brazier does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the world in 150 pages. And he covers the world’s history not just the western hemisphere’s.He has some interesting analysis I found this of particular interest: the Russian “revolution was highjacked by the ruthless dictator Stalin – blow from which the Left worldwide has still not recovered.”

It is a good quick read. It reminds me of

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn.

AGE OF MIRACLES

KAREN THOMPSON WALKERage

Something is wrong. The earth’s rotation is slowing down. And it is causing a myriad of problems. Do people use clocks or the sun to tell time? The tides are increasing. People are getting sick. The earth’s magnetic fields are affected. Gravity is increasing; birds that can no longer fly are dying. People are scared; friendships breakdown.  Whales are beaching themselves at unprecedented rates. But young  people are still falling in love and in lust.

An interesting dystopian novel that is also a coming of age story.

I did have problems with the faulty science. Gravity is a factor of mass not rotation. There are other scientific issues as well. But it is well written and a good read. Ultimately an allegory of global warming.

 

WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail

CHERYL STAYEDcheryl-strayed-10_2455457b

When  Cheryl Strayed loses her young mother to lung cancer, her life veers  into a downward spiral leading to the break up of her family, promiscuity and heroin addiction. Surveying the wreckage of her life at the age of 26, newly divorced, Strayed resolves to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Oregon. “I’d walk and think about my entire life. I’d find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.”

Strayed admits, the journey does not turn out as planned. Before she even begins the hike, hoisting her enormous backpack turns out to be nearly impossible, and her too-tight boots commence to destroy her feet. The money she has saved up from waitressing tips turns out to be just barely enough to sustain her.

Yet the journey also brings unexpected blessings, many involving the people – diverse, finely detailed and sometimes amusing – she meets on the trail. In the end, the journey does transform Strayed – and a central strength of Wild is that the reader viscerally experiences this transformation along with her. I appreciated her brutal honesty of her past and the trials of the trail.

Great read.

 

SKULLS: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection

SIMON WINCHESTER and NICK MANN, photographerskulls

Skulls is an amazing coffee table book. Mann’s photo’s are exquisite and Dudley‘s collection is massive. The photos of the mainly white skulls are floating on a black back ground. Along with each skull is a small picture of the animal alive which gives context to the skull. Some of the skulls are huge, like the elephant, and some are tiny. One of my favourite pictures was the complete skeleton of a seahorse, Grouping the skulls according to species, Winchester educates the reader on the peculiarities of key subspecies, enabling readers, should the need arise, to tell a long-nosed bandicoot from a southern brown bandicoot, the bizarrely horned babirusa from a warthog, or the fearsome (and extinct) saber-toothed cat from a modern and endangered tiger. There were even pictures of forerunners of homo sapiens.

I have a small collection of skulls, most of which I discovered while out hiking or exploring the North Saskatchewan river bank. When I heard of this new book I knew that I had to take a look. It was time well spent.