Tag Archives: Canadian author

The Bear

I had two reviews submitted for this book on the same day, both by people who don’t tend to read this kind of story.  I am going to post both of them, because they are both really interesting perspectives.  My conclusion?  I will read this book, while holding my children, with all the lights on.  And try not to think about it the next time I go camping with my kids in Algonquin.

Merilyn’s review:

I did not want to read this book. The Author’s Note made it clear that this was no warm, fuzzy anthropomorphic bear-meets-person tale. It was fiction, but based on a true story. So, I did not want to read this book, but I glanced at the first couple of pages and found it riveting.

It is told in the voice of a young girl, almost six years old. Like a typical six-year-old, the narrative is a stream of consciousness, sometimes linear, sometimes darting backwards or sideways as something catches its fancy. The author inserts enough information for the naïve and innocent child to pass on the most chilling facts while not understanding completely what is happening. The juxtaposition of brutal violence with childlike self-centredness is deeply unsettling.

Once I started, I could not release the book’s grip on me, even though I felt like hiding behind my couch for the whole time it took me to read it. The author made me feel how Anna, the little girl, must have felt.

I cannot say I am glad that I read The Bear, but I have it inside me now, like the black dog in the book.



Melissa’s review:

The Bear by Canadian author Claire Cameron is the story of five year old Anna and her two year old brother Alex as they struggle for survival in Algonquin Provincial Park after their parents are killed by a bear.  The story is narrated by Anna, and while this sometimes means that it can be difficult to figure out what she’s talking about (for example she mentions bubbles on her legs, which turns out to be a rash from poison ivy), it creates a unique perspective that sets this novel apart.
The story begins with the family camping near lake Opeongo, reunited after a brief separation of the parents.  Anna is awoken by her mother’s screams and her father desperately pulling her out of the tent and throwing her and her brother in the family’s large cooler.  From the children’s perspective the attack consists of a black nose and claws as seen through an air gap in the cooler, and when they emerge the next morning their mother is lying in the grass, barely alive, and their father is nowhere to be seen. The mother tells Anna that she must take her brother and leave in the canoe, and so the children depart the camp thinking that their parents will follow later.  Due to her age, Anna doesn’t understand the danger of the situation; from her perspective it was a dog in the campsite, not a bear, her mother is too tired to move rather than mortally wounded and her father has left because he is angry with her.
Here is where the real heart wrenching story begins as two small children fight for survival as best as they can and how in the aftermath Anna comes to terms with what has happened.  I have nothing but praise for Claire Cameron, who didn’t rely on the horror of the initial attack to drive the story but created this wonderful character whose eyes we see through; we see her frustration with her little brother, trying to make her father proud so he won’t be angry with her anymore, her guilt for leaving her mother.  It all concludes with one of the best, most succinct endings I have ever read, with adult Anna returning to the site of the attack, finally able to let go of what happened to her family all those years before.
Once I started this novel it took precedence over food, sleep and most of my conscious thought.  It was an emotional roller coaster that was made all the more difficult for me because I have a niece and nephew close to the ages of Anna and Alex.  I haven’t been this affected by a novel in a long time and I whole heartedly recommend it.

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Into The Abyss

I literally just finished reading Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben and sat right down to write the review, which would come as no surprise to many of my colleagues who are no doubt sick of hearing about it.
It is the true story of a small plane crash in 1984 in northern Alberta, written by the daughter of one of the survivors.
At the beginning of the story we are introduced to characters that start out to be stereotypes (the politician, the Mountie, the prisoner and the pilot), however Shaben does an exceptional job fleshing out each man and the relationship they developed between them.  The first half of the book describes the lead up to the disaster up until the four survivors are rescued.  After that the author focuses on how each man changes his life as a result of his experience; like how the pilot eventually overcame his crippling guilt, or how the once career driven Mountie gave up everything in his years-long search for connection and meaning.
This book also had a very Canadian sensitivity for me.  The author talked about the push for small airlines to connect remote northern communities to the rest of the country and the bush pilots that flew these dangerous routes; the rise of a premier who changed the relationship between the federal and provincial governments where oil and gas resources are concerned; beautiful descriptions of environments across western Canada — and come on, there was a Mountie!
Well written and a great story.  I loved it.

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Backward Glass

Don’t start this book if you’re supposed to be going to sleep anytime soon.

Backward Glass is David Lomax’s first book, and I’m waiting for the next one already.  A teen version of The Time Traveler’s Wife comes to mind. Faster paced, though, and a lot more action.  

The book starts slowly, setting the stage, but once the story gets going it doesn’t let go.  I was planning on taking a nap two hours ago.  And doing laundry.  I blame you, David Lomax, for the bags under my eyes and the fact that my children will have nothing to wear to school tomorrow.

The book tackles the paradox of time travel: if something has happened, can it be changed if you go back in time?  Or is the present already including your having gone back in time, so you obviously didn’t manage to change it.   Or it wasn’t going to happen and it did because you changed it.  Or something.  You can give yourself brain cramps.

But if you could go back in time, and had a chance to prevent something terrible, isn’t it worth trying anyways?

Lomax did a fantastic job of managing to make a convoluted timeline smooth and fast-paced, and the plot twists will give you a crick in the neck.

Highly, highly recommended, for teens and adults alike.  There are some adult themes, and violence, so I would be going for 13+ for reading this, but as always, it depends on the kid.

Happy (sleepless) reading!


P.S.  At David’s request, I am including a link to buy the book Amazon as well as one to Indigo.  Because he’s a nice guy.

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River of Stars

I met Guy Gavriel Kay (henceforth referred to as GGK, because I’m lazy) last week.  The occasion was the launch of his newest book, River of Stars.  I am about halfway through it, and it is as beautifully written as everything else he’s done.

Have you ever met one of your heroes?  I’m not sure hero is exactly the right word, but you get the picture.

I have read everything GGK has written, except his volume of poetry, which I intend to lay hands on at some point.   His A Song for Arbonne may be my favorite book of all time.  I have strong-armed family members into reading his books, including my husband, who now counts the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy as his favorite books, having edged out The Lord of the Rings and David Eddings’ Sapphire Rose trilogy.  At the bookstore, GGK is my author.   I must have sold hundreds of his books by now, guaranteeing that customers will love his writing.   And he has no idea who I am.

That’s the strangest feeling.  Someone who has been such an influence in your life, through his writing, and it’s entirely a one-sided relationship.   It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate his readers, because he does.  At the book launch he mentioned that he’s especially lucky to have readers who are willing to let him write slowly, taking years between books, so he can be a perfectionist.  But I’m just one of the faceless thousands, and after having signed my giant pile of his books, he will forget me immediately.

I wasn’t really expecting him to hug me like a long-lost relative, but I hadn’t really thought about it until I was actually face-to-face with him.  It was very… professional.  Oh well.

The library will be posting a video of GGK’s reading and interview on their site soon, if you’re interested.

I’m going back to River of Stars, now.

Happy Reading!



Filed under Authors, Books, Books in the News, Bookstore, libraries

Sad, Mad, and Bad

mad sad bad

I’m not a big non-fiction reader, but the title of this book caught my eye; Sad, Mad, and Bad: Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800.  The book is a look at “madness”, how its definition changed constantly, and how it should be cared for.  The book takes a look specifically at women who were considered insane, and how their care evolved.   It is not just for women, however, or about them, for that matter.

The author, Lisa Appignanesi, looks at mental health up to the present day (or at least five years ago, when the book was published).  This is not a light read; this is a book that takes its topic seriously.  It is, however, fascinating.  The book is very well researched, and well written, so it is a smooth read.  It probably helps that the author is primarily a fiction writer.

Aside from the obviously interesting, like unusual treatment methods, or bizarre diagnoses, what I wasn’t expecting is how much hasn’t changed.  People wondered why so many more people seemed to be mad, and doctors insisted it was just better and more sophisticated medicine and diagnoses.  Some doctors argued that people being different from what was currently considered being socially acceptable did not qualify as a disease.  There were debates over when someone committed a horrible crime, how you could tell whether they were insane.   There was research into whether the cause of mental illness was psychological or biological, and some pioneering doctors attempted very early to debunk myths that women’s reproductive organs had anything to do with it.

There are also some interesting profiles of famous individuals with mental illnesses.   The focus in these is not just on the symptoms, and treatment.  You get an interesting look at how they were viewed at the time, and how our perception of them now differs.

She is obviously trying not to take sides or make judgements here, which does at times make for somewhat of a dry read.   It also means that some areas go on and on, I’m guessing because she felt duty-bound to fully present both sides of the case.

Anyone who is interested in the topic of mental health, in almost any fashion, would find something of interest in this book.   It is the kind of book where you hope to find someone else who has read it, so you can talk to them about it.  So, for god’s sake if anyone else has read it tell me!  And if you haven’t, get going.



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Charles Taylor Prize


Toronto writer Andrew Westoll has been named winner of the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction for his book The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery.

A pretty impressive feat, since there were 345 books submitted, by 35 publishers world-wide.

His book is the story of his 10-week stay in a rehabilitation centre in rural Quebec among 13 physically and psychologically abused chimpanzees — the victims of medical and cosmetic industry testing, science and space program experiments, as well as discarded pets and circus animals.

For the heavyweight review:

“Andrew Westoll is a born story teller: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, written with empathy and skill, tenderness and humour, involves us in a world few understand. And leaves us marvelling at the ways in which chimpanzees are so like us, deserve our help and are entitled to our respect.” – Dr. Jane Goodall

For an in depth interview with the author before the awarding of the prize, see the following article:


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Essence & Folly


The other day, we had an author signing in my bookstore.  The gentleman in question impressed me greatly, with his warm interactions with readers and obvious passion for his subject material, and also by the fact that he had a small girl curled in his lap for an extended period of time, and simply continued speaking to people about his book.

The man’s name is Jorge David Awe, and his first published work is a thing of beauty.  It is a collection of short-stories, inspired by the town he grew up in, in his native Belize.  Apparently friends have been pressing him to put pen to paper with his recollections, and bless those friends.

The writing reminds me a bit of Stephen Leacock, in that ability to describe a character so perfectly you feel you would recognize him on the street, with a few well-chosen words.  The stories are funny, or dark, or darkly funny, and are like little tiny written still lifes.

In his inscription, Awe wrote that he hoped I would enjoy being introduced to a “colourful, raw, and wonderful culture,” and I did.   The stories are little snapshots of lives without veneers, of how perhaps we would behave were we not occupied with the appearance of normalcy.

Raw indeed.

Go grab Essence & Folly, by Jorge David Awe – you’ll be glad you did.


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The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie

There aren’t many books written for adults with 11-year-old protagonists, but if The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie is any indicator, there should be more.

Author Alan Bradley (a fellow Canadian) has set this in England of the 1950s, with the heroine Flavia de Luce, a very unusual girl.  She has a passion for chemistry, particularly poisons, and has unfettered access to a lab of her own.  The interesting thing, though, is that you get such a sense of empathy towards her, by the end of the book I found chemistry sets starting to look appealing.    In times of trouble, she asks “What would Dr. Bunsen do?” Her scientific curiosity extends to all areas of her life, and when she discovers a dead body, instead of being horrified, she is determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious murder.

I liked her character so much, I am going to read the other books that star her to date, of which there are currently three more.  Of course, I have a soft spot for smart, mouthy little girls, having been one myself – and now having two of my own.

If you don’t mind your humour on the morbid side, and are looking for a change from the usual detectives I highly recommend this.

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