Sunday, January 31, 2016

book review: Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens (thriller)

I meet Chevy Stevens (pen name-- "Chevy" after her favourite comedian Chevy Chase; "Stevens" after her father Steven) at a Crime Writers of Canada event. She was introduced to me as a rising star. And I made a mental note to buy her book--Still Missing (thriller). I did buy it and loved it. And apparently everyone else did too. Still Missing became a New York Times best seller. So when I saw more of Chevy Stevens' books in my local bookstore I bought them all.

Book:  Never Knowing
Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin
Published:  2011
Book blurb:  After months of research, Sara locates her birth mother -- only to be met with horror and rejection. The she discovers the devastating truth: Her mother was the only victim ever to escape a killer who has been hunting women every summer for decades. But Sara soon realizes the only thing worse than finding out about her father is him finding out about her.
Author bio:  Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. When she's not working on her next book, she's camping and canoeing with her husband in the local mountains. 
Author web site:

My review...

Feedback from a writer...

Chevy Stevens writes in the first person and the reader -- addressed as 'you' -- is also a character -- Nadina, a psychiatrist. This format allows Sara (the main character) to make personal comments about how the story is unfolding. 
The book opens with Sara's address to the reader. It's like she's saying:  Welcome, make yourself at home. This is my story.
The first chapter closes with Sara once again addressing the reader:  Are you still there? Are you still interested? I hope so.

Stevens has a good grasp of when to show and when to tell. She seamlessly slips backstory into the story.

Favourite quotes...

'Like a metal to magnet I was sitting at my computer again.' (p. 34)

'[P]ulling his words over me like a soothing blanket.' (p. 41)

Character development of a minor character...

'Lauren is one of those rare people who are as nice as they look -- the kind of person who remembers what brand of shampoo you like and save the coupon for you.' (p. 24)

Good use of suspense...

'But I have a feeling something worse is waiting for me.' (p. 60)

A reader's comments...

Steven's comment on and invisible disability rang true for me (I have dyslexia and suffer from anxiety)...

'My entire life people have looked at me like I was faking it when I had a migraine. But I know how they hurt, how the pain almost makes you insane.' (p. 335)

For some reason, I didn't trust Sara's boyfriend. I thought he knew more than he let on.

I like how resourceful Sara was--she used small details she remembered about the man who was threatening her to outwit him. 

Even though Sara did appear childish, at times, she was a  devoted mother and a cunning advisory--unaware of her own strength.

Like another book I've reviewed--Wicked--Never Knowing explores the nature of evil.

'Knowing he wasn't all bad is a whole lot harder than believing he was pure evil.' (p. 439)

Even though I couldn't put the book down--even to the last page, I did find the ending drawn out.

There is a list of discussion questions at the end of this book. I found question 5 especially interesting.

'Do you believe in pure evil? Do you believe Sara's father was pure evil or was there any sense of humanity in him? Why or why not?'

Story lesson:  If a person seems too good to be true, they are.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Career in Journalism (short story) by Leanne Dyck

My Career in Journalism was as brief as Stephen Leacock's career in finance (My Financial Career by Stephen Leacock)--but not as funny.

My Career in Journalism

My parents lead me through the maze of buildings that, together, form Red River Community College. We stand in front of classroom 101-A.

 "What if I can't spell or find the right word?" I'm dyslexic. Spelling and vocabulary always cause me problems. 

"You have a dictionary and thesaurus," my parents remind me.

I pat my backpack and walk into the classroom. I choose a desk at the front of the room so I won't be distracted by inventing stories about all the other hopefuls.

(I may not have been a journalist, but I have made the news. 
This article appeared in a rural Manitoba newspaper. 2009)

A man with graying hair closes the door with a thud. He frowns at my books. "Clear your desks. Everything you need should already be in your head." He stands like a mountain in front of me. "If you're going to be a journalist, by now, you should know how to spell."

The room fills with laughter.

I sweep my hand across my desk. The dictionary falls to the floor, followed by the thesaurus.

(This article was published in the magazine Aqua:  Gulf Island Living Winter 2009/10)

The man walks down aisle after aisle, stopping at each desk. "This test." He places a stapled document print side down in front of me. "Consists of short answer questions plus four essay questions." He eases into the chair, behind the desk, at the front of the room. "You may turn the test over and begin." Announcement made, he props his legs on the desk and buries his nose in a newspaper.

I skim the first page. What is the name of...? When was the...? Names. Dates. I gulp. I don't know any of this. But who cares? I don't need to know. This is history. I want to write the news. Something will happen; I'll be there; I'll write about it. I sigh. But only if I pass this stupid entrance exam.

The sound of pens on paper and pages being turned is deafening.

The man rustles his newspaper. "Twenty minutes left. And let me stress, in journalism, speed matters."

Applicant after applicant set their pens down, march to the front of the room, and deposit their test.

Well, I don't have to be here for the rest of my life, I tell myself and add my blank test to the pile. My career in journalism is over.

(front page of The Islands Independent 2011)


What would have happened if I passed that test and others, graduated and became a journalist. Would I still have a job?

Postmedia lays off staff; Vancouver Sun/Province combine newsrooms

Sharing my author journey...

There was something missing in one of my picture book manuscripts. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Choosing books for children by Leanne Willetts

(me enjoying a book with a friend)

In this article, I explore my experiences with children's literature both in my youth and as an Early Childhood Educator. I discuss folk tales and some of my favourite picture books.

Literature is a powerful tool that must be used wisely. We must always be conscious of the messages it is sending to children.

The world is not a bed of roses and, if we wish to dramatize this fact through the use of literature, that is our choice. During one placement block, I volunteered at a preschool day care in the core area. These children were socio-economic special needs. Possibly due to their environment, some children had aggressive tendencies. The Director's files recorded histories of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Cinderella's struggle to find love was a favorite tale for these children.

I, as a child, was entertained by a variety of literature. One book I remember with fear is Sleeping Beauty. Many have described this story as being wonderful, romantic and so on. Seldom is the tale described as a horror story, but to me it truly was. The vision of the innocent babe falling prey to the villainous fairy haunted my dreams. I firmly believed that, as long as I was with my parents, nothing could harm me. Sleeping Beauty told another tale. The innocent babe was attacked and there was nothing that her parents could do.

Graduating from the University of Winnipeg

(Professor's comment:  I'd be interested in seeing you think some more about why you might have reacted as you did to Sleeping Beauty.) 

These two accounts state some of the advantages as well as disadvantages of Grimm (or that genre) fairy tales. Some children are ready for this form of literature. We are told that it helps them work-out problems they may have which are unreachable in reality. Fairy tales, then, give the child a chance to work through the problem with the security that, when he shuts the book, the fictional problem will be resolved.

Some children, however, are not ready for this form of literature. Instead of helping them to deal with realities' horrors, it creates horrors which their mind cannot escape. 

What then is the solution? Clearly it is not to favor one group to the detriment of the other. We, as day care professionals, must remain sympathetic to both groups. 


We must ensure that our libraries contain a wide range of books. Once again, expanding your library takes careful thought. The idea is to attempt to appeal to the widest range of literary taste. 

(Professor's comment:  Should there be no attempt to guide and develop taste?)

It is important to expose children to a variety of literary forms. Books which I would include on this list are as follows:

-Books from the Sesame Street series such as The Monster at the End of this Book. This book creates a fun, joyous reading environment. It's humour is warm and at a level which children can understand.

(Professor's comment:  Both of these statements need some evidence to support them.)

Books written by Robert Munsch such as Love You Forever. This is the story of the special relationship between parents and children. It is a warm loving story. A story which I believe is important to share with all children. Robert Munsch has great skill in storytelling.

(Professor's comment:  This particular Munsch story has always seemed to me to celebrate a particularly manipulative style of parenting.)

Our duty is to collect special stories, then display them in an appealing manner that invites children to look. The final judge should and must be the child.

(Professor's comment:  only?)

Remember, be sensitive to the uniqueness of each child.

I wrote this article on September 13, 1987 for the University of Winnipeg's Children's Literature. The professor's comments are highlighted in red.


Sharing Stories with Children
(an article about my 2015 experience of reading stories to a group of children)

Next week:  I've kept this blog for five years--since October, 2010. I've post an article (or short story) on time, every time--with very few exceptions. With a record like that you might think I could be a journalist. Hmm. Yeah, you might think that. And, in fact, several years ago, I considered a career in journalism. I showed up at the college for the entrance exam--and everything. But... Well, I'll explain what happened after that in a short story that I'll share next Sunday night Monday. Please stay tuned.

Sharing my author journey...

As I've shared in my last post, I'm currently reading this book...

And it has already earned its weight in gold.
In my latest reading, the key word was 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book review: Food for the Gods by Karen Dudley (historical fantasy)

back of the book blurb...

Having been chopped up and served to the gods for tea, Pelops, Prince of Lydia, is kindly remade by the Olympian dinner guests and gifted with a talent for the culinary arts. But after heading for the bright lamps of Athens, Pelops discovers that life is not exactly golden for a celebrity chef in the golden age of Greece. Ruthless patrons and jealous rivals are bad enough, but when a couple of the less responsible gods offer to help him make a name for himself, Pelops begins to realize that when the gods decide they owe you a favour, you'd better start saying your prayers.

I was thrown headlong into the story from page one. Food for the Gods serves as an excellent introduction to Greek mythology and ancient Greek culture. (I wished some of the references were more thoroughly explained -- but maybe that's what search engines are for.)

Dudley possesses a charming sense of humour and that helped to make this an entertaining read.

"Great Me!" [Zeus] was ranting his eyes still flashing dangerously "Why is it always my problem? Who did this, Zeus? Why did they do that, Zeus? Can you sort this? Who killed that mortal? Why did my festival get ruined? How do we stop the Erinyes? Give me a break! I'm not all-knowing like sodding Odin, am I?"
"Um...Odin?" I asked weakly.
 "Dude up north," Hermes explained...
(p. 226)

Gods walk among them. Although, most mortals are oblivious. (It would help if they glowed.)

"[T]hey're gods. They don't have to glow. You can tell they're gods just by looking at them."
(p. 356-367)

I wonder what would happen if we lived our lives that way -- with the sense that gods walked among us, but we couldn't identify them. Would it make us more understanding, kinder, more generous?

How can the narrator identify the gods? Who is the mysterious greying man in a grey chiton? Is he a ghost? Most mysteries are solved by the end of the book. Most are... Sadly, we never discover what the Lion on the Cheese Grater is.

At times, transitions were too abrupt and I was left wondering where I was.  But on the whole, Food for the Gods is an entertaining read. And Dudley writes humour and violence with skill.

When writing historical fantasy, you first start from real life, with real situations gleaned from various historical sources. Of course, you don't stick to that -- it wouldn't be fantasy if you did -- so you incorporate the fantastic elements as you go, tweaking facts as needed.
-author note
Next post... 
Advice on choosing books for children.

Sharing my author journey...
This week, I received six rejection letters; all came with a personal note. When life sends me rejection letters I...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

It's All Good by Leanne Dyck

(photo by Leanne Dyck)

Think back over what you've accomplished so far today this year. If a camera crew had followed you would you have made the news? Would you have inspired or entertained? Maybe...not. Yet those hours are part of the body of work you call your life. 

As is your life, so is your writing. Not everything you write will be published. Not everything deserves to be. 

No, it may not be validated by another. And yet it's not a waste--even if you ball it up and toss it in the garbage put in the recycle bin. It may be waste but it isn't a waste. It has helped to improve your craft--even if all you have discovered is that writing is still fun. 

And so, my friend, write. Fill your days with ink on paper. It is the way of Shakespeare, Steven King, Pauline Johnson. It is the writer's way.

Wishing all contented days full of writing/reading in 2016.

Next post:  Book review:  Food for the Gods by Karen Dudley

Sharing my author journey...

This week I'm working on a picture book that was inspired by my