Sunday, March 29, 2020

Book Review: Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin Scotiabank Giller shortlisted book 2019

Does Lark's sister Robin inspire her or hamper her development?

Because their mother Marianne can't be tamed by motherhood, Lark must mother her sister. Because Robin is the captivating star, Lark is left in the shadows--the silent observer. Because Robin is wild, Lark is tame. The two sisters are forever linked--dual citizens in the world.
'If you juxtapose two matter how different, the viewer will make meaning from the montage. The second image in the sequence will alter the meaning of the first... My sister next to me changed how I thought of myself.' (p. 260)
'the world found my sister as exceptional as I did, and myself as ordinary' (p. 83)

Published by House of Anansi
Published in 2019
Scotiabank Giller prize finalist 

When I work-shopped my young adult novel, I was told to begin with the most compelling scene--it pulls the reader in. Dual Citizens begins this way and did pull me in. Like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, I read carefully waiting to slip the scene into where it fit in the story.

Except for the opening scene, Dual Citizens unfolds in chronological order beginning with Lark's birth to a Canadian mother and an American father. Lark narrates her life with Robin. Through school, through boyfriends, through finding their place in the world the sisters'--at times strained--relationship continues.

The book concludes with an epilogue. I'm a big fan of this additional chapter. It's like getting a peek into the characters lives after the story ends.

Book Review:  Inside by Alix Ohlin

photo by ldyck

April on this blog...

We'll celebrate Easter with a short story

Be Gentle
published on this blog on April 12th

We'll celebrate Poetry month with three lists

My Poetry Collection

a collection of poems that I wrote
Yeah? Me.
Why are you so surprised?
(Just playing. I know why.)

published on this blog on April 5th

Poetry Publishers--magazines

a list of magazines that publish poems

published on this blog on April 19th

Poetry Book Publishers

a list of publishers that publish poetry books

published on my blog on April 26th

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photo by ldyck
art by ?
Sharing my author journey...

Have you noticed what a positive place the Internet has become?
Musicians and authors and photographers and...--we've all come

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Guest Post: Cozies and Me by mystery author Benni Chisholm

I meet Benni Chisholm through the Crime Writers of Canada and it is my pleasure to introduce her to you today. Take it away, Benni...

A cozy is a specific type of mystery novel. The term is not well known, so here is a simple definition—a cozy is a true Who-Dun-It mystery.
In Agatha Christie fashion, cozies give the reader a chance to match wits with the author. The reader and the protagonist—detective or amateur sleuth—make use of clues provided by the author to try and solve the puzzle. The solution comes when the red herrings are set aside and the real antagonist is unearthed.
Cozies avoid bad language, explicit sex, and hardcore violence. Good writing and proper grammar are the norm which makes a cozy easy to read and easy to understand. If violence or sadomasochism is part of the actual story, creepy things often occur off page.
Cozies contain Murder and Mayhem, but they also include a great deal about Family, Friendship, and Community.
The Me in the title of this article is Benni Chisholm, author of four cozies. The protagonist in my cozies is Philomela Nightingale. Her name is derived from a Greek myth in which two sisters commit a murder and are later turned by the gods into a nightingale and a swallow. My two sisters do not commit murder, in fact, Philomela helps solve them. A dubious psychic is a neighbour and two police officers appreciate Philomela’s keen observations and flashes of intuition.
So you see, the two sisters represent family. The neighbour epitomizes friendship. The police and other residents of the seaside town of Saltaire comprise community.
A narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath may dominate the action in a cozy, yet goodness prevails and justice is eventually served. Readers, after experiencing armchair fears and thrills, paradoxically finish each cozy with feelings of satisfied relief, optimistic hope, and perhaps even joy.

Author links

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Book Review: Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

As the gap between rich and poor widens, those in power are losing touch with those of us down here in the trenches. What are our hopes, our fears? What frustrates us? What prejudices do we confront? This book gives a voice, gives a face to the people behind today's news stories.

at Bolen Books in Hillside Mall on Vancouver Island

How I found Radicalized...

Canada Reads--a week to celebrate Canadian books and authors. Who wouldn't want to play along?

The longlist was announced and I selected Worry by Jessica Westhead. I went to the bookstore but couldn't find it on the shelf. When I asked for assistance, they told me the Canada Reads books would be on display in a week's time. During that week, the shortlist was announced. Worry wasn't on that list. Five books remained. Of those remaining, two were memoirs. I only review fiction. And I'd already reviewed Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. So I had two books to choose from--Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, a novel by Megan Gail Coles and Radicalized by Cory Doctorow. I love to write short stories and I know I should read more short story collections. I bought Radicalized.

I loved the humour in the first novella Unauthorized Bread.
'Homemade bread was something she'd read about in books, seen in old dramas, but she didn't know anyone who actually baked bread. That was like gnawing your own furniture out of whole logs or something.' (p. 19)
Salima, a refugee living in Boston, learns to take 'charge of the technologies around her, the ones that were used by those distant and faceless forces to take charge of her.' (p. 81)

Favourite quote 

'A sense of purpose is a wonderful tonic for anxiety.' (p. 74)

Even though Unauthorized Bread is set in Boston, it could easily be set in any large city in North America--including Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. 

After reading the first story... After loving the first story... I noticed the book.

Radicalized:  Four Tales of Our Present Moment


science fiction, dystopia

I rarely read science fiction. I don't read dystopia. My brain goes to dark places without the aide of an author.

The Publisher

A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates
120 Broadway
New York, New York

The Author

Cory Doctorow was born in Toronto but currently lives in Los Angeles.

Radicalized was published by a New York publishing house and written by an author living in the States.

Is Radicalized a book all Canadians should read? Does it have any relevance for Canadians?

Second novella

Model Minority

Model Minority is about a superhero. No, not Captain Canuck. The American Eagle. He witnesses a black man, Wilbur Robinson, being assaulted by four cops and later by a prison guard. Eagle swoops in to save Mr. Robinson. And he leaves Mr. Robinson to deal with the fall-out. 

The American Eagle eventually asks Wilbur how he should have helped him.
"Well, the thing is, the time to ask me what I wanted from you was before you created this situation. I would have told you to record it, put the video on YouTube, give it to my lawyer." (p. 151)

Favourite quote

'People are white if whiteness is endowed upon them by the wider whiteness.' (p. 123)
Does Model Minority have relevance for Canadians? 

Has our judicial system ever treated those we identify as other unfairly? 

Ask the aboriginals dumped off far from their homes and told to walk home in the winter. Ask...

Third novella


Joe Gorman's wife has stage four cancer. He learns about a 1.5 mil course of action and seeks financing from his insurance company. The company basically tells Joe that it's his wife's time to die. Depressed Joe finds an on-line message board to help him cope with his emotions and feel less alone. The best message boards provide a 'nearly magical service for their participants'. (p. 181) The one Joe finds builds a 'rage culture'.(p. 184) It's a dark cave '"where good people are made evil."' (p. 223)

In Radicalized, a Canadian prime minister is quoted as saying:  'there are some places where markets couldn't do the job, and health care was one of them.' (p. 226)

But have Canadian citizens ever been victimized on-line?

Fourth novella

The Masque of the Red Death

Martin Mars and the Thirty (thirty people who multimillionaire Martin has hand-picked) prepare for and deal with the end of the world. For me, this novella dragged. I just couldn't get into it. But my husband reads science fiction and dystopia. So I asked him what he thought...

The thing I like about the dystopian genre is people coming together and overcoming. The hubris of them all dying is not overshadowed by the fact there were no zombies.

Canada Reads is on CBC radio from March 16 to 19--usually, not this year. Due to CVOID 19, Canada Reads was held from July 20 to 23. The book that was chosen for all Canadians to read was We Have Always Been Here a memoir by Samara Habib

Cory Doctrow and Aki Augustine discuss Canada Reads contender Radicalized

Next Sunday evening...

 Guest post

Cozies and Me by Benni Chisholm

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Sunday, March 8, 2020

Book Review: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

A novel about being an award-winning author and the family's price told from the spouse's point of view.

In 1956, twenty-something Joe teaches English 202 - Elements of Creative Writing at Smith College and dreams of becoming a successful author, but he has no natural talent.

Of his own writing, Joe says, '"I'm certainly not one of the naturals... I'm the type that sits there slaving away all day and thinking someone will give me credit for effort."' (p. 48)

Nineteen-year-old Joan--Joe's best student--is a natural writer in a male-dominated world. 

Elain Mozell, a novelist who had just released a new book, told Joan, '"Don't think you can get their attention... The men who write the reviews, who run the publishing houses, who edit the papers, the magazines, who decide who gets to be taken seriously, who gets put on a pedestal for the rest of their lives... [Y]ou could call it a conspiracy to keep the women's voices hushed and tiny and men's voices loud."' (p. 53)

Can these two dreamers...? Can these two wannabe authors...? Can Joe and Joan help each other achieve their goals.

Published by Scribner
an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Published in 2003

Joan narrates the tale that explores her 45-year relationship with Joe. I found her a difficult narrator to like. She's coarse, demanding, and critical. I wondered why she was so deeply unhappy. Despite these character traits, Joan captivated me until the surprising, satisfying end.

What kept me glued to the page?

Perhaps it was the intriguing questions The Wife explored, such as...

-What does it take to be a successful author?

-What is it like to be the spouse or child of a successful author?

-What obstacles did and do women authors face?

Or maybe it was simply that The Wife was about an author and the writing life.
'I made myself begin to write something. Without censoring it or condemning it for being trivial or narrow or simply poorly constructed.' (p. 46)
Some readers aren't intimidated by the number of pages in a book or chapter length. (And if this is you, read Henry Eliot's How to navigate your way through the longest classic books.) I am. I'm most comfortable reading books with around 250 pages and chapters of about 10 pages.

The chapters in this book averaged about 30 pages. If The Wife hadn't been such an engaging read I would have abandoned this book for another. But I needed to learn more about Joe's life. I needed a strategy.

Meg Wolitzer wouldn't give me short chapters. So I made them myself. When I needed a break I looked for a transition in the story and marked the spot with a small arrow. I normally don't like to deface books but made an exception in this case.

Are you guilty of any of these 'crimes against books'? 
Matt Blake

Next Sunday evening...

Book Review

I celebrate Canada Reads by reviewing the book I chose.

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Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Pitter-patter of Little Feet by Leanne Dyck (short story)

What do you do when a dream dies?

photo by ldyck

The Pitter-patter of Little Feet

After calculations and re-calculations--aided by both a hand-held and a wall-sized calendar, Sylvia reasoned that a trip to the drugstore was definitely in order. 

Thoughts of her expanded family--we three--accompanied her every step of the way.

She found the pregnancy tests first. A certain brand dominated the shelves. So she chose that one. But she couldn't just put that box on the counter. She hunted for something more:  band-aids, muscle relaxant, double A batteries, aspirin, mouthwash, hair dye to hide her grey.

She joined the queue leading to the checkout counter and her mind filled with thoughts of the baby she and her husband had dreamed of, longed for, tried for, for so many years. She envisioned the spare room transformed into a cozy nursery. The walls painted sunshine yellow.

"Next customer, please," the cashier called.

Sylvia was relieved to see a new woman behind the till. The others could be so chatty, nosey--too familiar.

The cashier slid each item over the scanner. She paused when she came to the pregnancy test. She waved it around in the air.

Sylvia willed her not to comment.

With a smile, the cashier put the box in the bag. "Hey, I know you."

Sylvia gave her debit card to the woman. "No, I don't--."

"Sylvia Simmons. Yeah. You were my grade two teacher."


At home, Sylvia peed on the stick, danced around the house, and phoned her husband. "When will you be home?"

"You have my schedule. Why, is something wrong?"

"No, something is so right. I'd rather do this face-to-face, but... Are you sitting down?"

"Behind the steering wheel."

"Pull over."

"Okay, just a sec."

Sylvia waited for her husband to maneuver the semi. When he said, "Shoot." she said, "Do you know how we've been trying?"

He said, "Really!" with so much excitement. Silence.

She worried that he hadn't pulled over... That maybe... Was his truck sideways in the ditch?  "Are you still there?"

"Yeah, I'm here. It's just... Maybe... Are you sure?"

"Of course, I'm sure. A woman knows these things. And I know I am--we are pregnant." It was the first time she'd said that magical word and her heart sang it.

"Have  you seen the doctor?"


"Well, maybe you should, soon. You know before you--we get our hopes up."

They both knew that their hopes couldn't get any higher.

Sylvia made an appointment.


Doctor Lee's office was decorated in a style Sylvia dubbed proud parent:  tons of crayon art on the walls, dried play-dough creations on the shelves. Sylvia usually thought it looked tacky, but not today. Today she thought it was cute.

Examinations, tests Doctor Lee did them all. Finally, she was ready to share the findings and Sylvia was eager to hear the good news. 

"How far along am I?" Sylvia thought maybe two months but she wasn't sure.

"Far along?"

"I imagine it's too early to know if I'm carrying a boy or a girl."

"You think you're pregnant."

"I know I am."

Doctor Lee said something about Sylvia's age and menopause. Right about then things started to go blurry for Sylvia. It was like she was having an out of body experience. "But the pregnancy test confirmed that I'm..."

"Those tests aren't foolproof."

Doctor Lee said something that was meant to be uplifting, but the words didn't reach Sylvia's brain. The doctor handed Sylvia a pamphlet on 'The Joy of Ageing.' Sylvia stuffed it into the bottom of her purse.

Summer became autumn, autumn became winter, winter became spring. Sylvia gained weight in her thighs, ankles, and calves--more than around her waist. She had cravings but no morning sickness. 

Knowing her disappointment, her husband was very sweet--massaging her shoulders, rubbing her feet. One day he whispered, "Let's adopt."

Together, hand-in-hand, they went to their local animal rescue shelter. From cage to cage, they stopped in front of a Maltipoo. 

And no dog was ever loved as much.

Next Sunday evening...

Book Review

The Wife
Meg Wolitzer

A novel about being an award-winning author and the price the family must pay told from the spouse's viewpoint.

On Mayne Island...

Books on Mayne grand re-opening

new owner Gail Noonan 
used books, special orders and local interest

My husband and I enjoyed our a recent visit and walked away
with books in hand.

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