Happy Birthday, Canada

Tomorrow is Canada’s 150th birthday as a country. While the Indigenous peoples have been here for millenia, officially, Canada has been settled by the Europeans for over 400 years, originally by the French with settlements near Quebec and in what is now Nova Scotia (Port Royal, 1605). But did you know there was a Viking settlement at the top tip of Newfoundland 1000 years ago? And John Cabot, an Italian explorer (Giovanni Caboto), is believed to have touched down in Newfoundland in the late 15th century.

Canada is one of the world’s best countries, all the polls say so! (but I’m not very objective) I feel privileged to live here where we have such a fantastic mix of cultures, beautiful scenery from mountains to sea to prairie, lakes and rivers, cities and villages. Are we perfect? Of course not. But Canada is respected and I’m proud that we are ahead of the game on issues like LGBTQ rights, gender equality, education and health care. We still have a long way to go in many areas but we’re getting there.

And talent, boy do we have talent. Gold medal winning athletes, some of the funniest comedians in the world, award winning performers from all areas of the arts, and writers…. we have some stupendous writers whose works have had an impact on our own culture as well as world wide fame.

A century ago or more, a woman from rural Prince Edward Island wrote a story about a funny looking, red-headed orphan girl called Anne Shirley (don’t forget the E on her name!) Lucy Maud Montgomery gave young readers and adults alike a character that has earned a place in many hearts. Anne of Green Gables and all the sequels and other books about the Islanders have been best sellers ever since. One culture in particular, the Japanese, have become particularly huge fans of Anne and tourists from Japan flock to Prince Edward Island to visit the recreated Green Gables farm.

From the innocence of Anne to the horror of dystopia, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has chilled us for 30 years. Margaret Atwood is one of Canada’s most respected writers, giving us poetry, short stories, novels (historic fiction, regular fiction, science fiction and dystopian, is there anything she can’t do?). Followers will know that I’ve written a lot about The Handmaid’s Tale recently with the airing of the new television series that’s just ended. I’ve only read a handful of her works so far but I’m determined to make my way through the novels at the very lease.

I wouldn’t have the time or space to write about the whole history of Canadian writers but there have been published novels here since the mid-19th century when Susanna Moodie wrote Roughing It in the Bush about the hardship of surviving in the wilds of Canada, trying to eke out a living on a farm.  She wrote several books on the same theme.  W. O. Mitchell’s “Who Has Seen the Wind” has similar themes to Anne of Green Gables, focusing on a young boy on the Prairies. There is a good list of classic Canadian books here from the earliest days to present day. And another list here as well, from the early days to 2010.  I’ve read 10 on that list (so far!) Interestingly, Anne of Green Gables isn’t on that list and I think it should be!

And there have been other contributions to the literary arts. Another person from Canada that has contributed to pop culture in a huge way is Joe Shuster. Joe Shuster was born in Toronto though moved to Cleveland with his family where he grew up and became an artist.  He and a friend got involved with comics and they created a strip featuring a character that has endured ever since the 1933s. Superman! Yep, Superman was created by a Canadian-born lad. Where would the comic superhero world be without Superman? I’m sure lots of kids have learned to read thanks to comics.

Some of the more classic Canadian writers include Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies, Morley Callaghan, Hugh MacLennan, Alice Munro, and Timothy Findley. We’re still giving the world amazing new talent. While some of these writers have been producing for quite awhile, these are some I’ve discovered over the past few years: Miriam Toews, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Frances Itani, Gil Adamson, Richard Wagamese, Linden McIntyre, Guy Gavriel Kay (scifi), Michael Ondaatje, David Adams Richards, Wayne Johnston, Lesley Crewe, Jane Urquhart, Heather O’Neill, Jocelyn Saucier, Emma Donoghue, Elizabeth Hay, Madeline Ashby, Katherine Vermette, Jo Walton, Donna Morrissey, Madeleine Thien, Ami McKay, Linwood Barclay, Zoe Whittall, Stephen Price, Kathleen Winter…. oh gosh, somebody stop me! You won’t go wrong with these but there are so many more.

I don’t read exclusively Canadian authors but over the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve discovered many of the above and am trying to support Canadian writers more often. I find that my second most popular country for writers is the United Kingdom and then America. I’ve also found that I really like some of the Scandiavian crime writers after I read the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Millenium series, Jo Nesbo in particular.

On the eve of Canada’s birthday, I urge Canadians to read more, try to choose some of our talented writers, poets and graphic artists. There are works from all genres. Support and explore the wonderful Indigenous writers. Read books written in French or translated from French. Read books written by immigrants who made Canada their home, writers we proudly claim as ours now.  Pick up a biography or autobiography about/by some of our stand out citizens (celebrities, politicians, activists, athletes, artists) Try some classic authors and give some brand new talent the chance to entrance you and take you to another place. You’ll be glad you did.


Review: Gone Astray – Michelle Davies

4 of 5 stars
Published 2016

Winning the lottery is everyone’s dream. You know it will change your life but everyone thinks it will be great and things will never be the same, in a good way. Be careful what you wish for. Media attention. Begging letters from anyone you ever remotely met and from charities. Jealousy. You find you leave your old friends behind but can’t make very many new ones because you don’t know if they’re sincere. Maybe someone thinks they should have won instead of you and decides to take revenge. Oh, wait, that’s probably not going to happen. But in this book, it does. Rosie, the teenage daughter of Lesley and Mack has gone missing. They were big winners in the EuroMillions lottery and someone has it in for them which we know fairly early on in the book. What has he done with Rosie? Is she still alive? It’s every parent’s worst nightmare come true.

DC Maggie Neville is the Family Liaison Officer, one of two assigned to help. She’s unattached but with a sister, a single mother of three children that Maggie helps out regularly. Maggie ends up getting more involved in solving the crime than she’s supposed to, trying to untangle all the clues and figure out the truth and the lies in the stories of all the people interviewed that might have a connection to the crime.

I thought the story was pretty good. Had some good twists to it, though some of them pushed credibility just a tad. I liked Maggie’s character and the sibling dynamic which is shaded with the guilt of an old secret Maggie’s been carrying. It didn’t come out in this book but it seems there will be others.

Thanks to NetGalley for the digital copy in exchange for a review.


Review: Rankin Inlet – Mara Feeney

2017: 56
4 of 5 stars
Published 2009

The author spent a number of years working in various areas of Canada’s Arctic region and territories and some of those years were spent in the village of Rankin Inlet, located on the northwest edge of Hudson Bay. She knows the region and the people well. Thus, this book feels very true.

The story is about Alison Clark, a Liverpudlian nurse who decided to travel to the Canadian north to work for a couple of years in Rankin Inlet and ended up staying for 30 years. The narrative comes from several points of view, not just Alison’s and through those, we learn quite a lot about Inuit culture, the history of how some of the Inuit came to live in these kinds of towns which were founded by companies like Hudson’s Bay Company and various mining and other companies. These towns were shored up and supported by the Canadian Government, a history that would seem to be a relatively common one to many of the Inuit settlements. We learn of their beliefs, spirituality, customs and challenges.

It’s a way of life that intrigues Alison as she settles in,  tries to learn the language, makes friends and even finds love. She marries and has a family and we see the town grow through the eyes of her, her husband, her father-in-law, her brother-in-law and one or two others on occasion. This tells the story from different points of view, where the culture clashes with her own background.  For non-Inuit who are not born and raised here, it is often difficult to survive in such an environment let alone thrive. The weather alone is forbidding and the isolation can be difficult but some really do thrive and come to love the land and it’s people as Alison does. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t manage it but it’s fascinating to read and become part of it for awhile.

As with many books that cover a spread of time, the first half of the book is more detailed, while the second half jumps through the years more quickly with catch up entries from the diaries, letters and thoughts of the characters as the north moves towards becoming a new territory, Nunvut, and the old ways fade away as the settlements become towns and even cities. This is progress. It may or may not be a good thing. Struggles to survive off the land may not be there anymore, but the corruption of progress can have devastating effects, too.

It’s interesting to see how some of the children in the family grow up and leave, embracing the modern world and some, while being used to the “modern conveniences” and technology, still look to their heritage to fulfill their lives and livelihoods.

It’s not a traditional happy ending or a sad one, there’s no real event to end the book. The books ends on a “circle of life” or “life goes on” kind of philosophy.

#8 of  #20BooksOfSummer

Cross Canada Reading Challenge: Nunavut

Review: Court of Lions – Jane Johnson

4 of 5 stars
Published May 2017

This book runs along two timelines, the present and the late 15th century, both taking place in the Spanish city of Granada, home to the Moorish palace of Alhambra. The book is marketed as a cross between Ken Follett and Jodi Picoult. I like Follett’s books but not keen on Picoults but here goes, anyway.

In the present day, there’s Kate who has run away after a traumatic marriage to a controlling husband, living in Granada under an assumed name and working in a bar. She finds a small scrap of paper hidden in the old wall of the palace. It has a coded message on it and it dates from before the palace fell to Christian rule under Ferdinand and Isabella. I like that Kate is nearly 40, not nearly 20. It makes her more relateable for me. Her part of the story is a bit predictable, a new love interest and conflict with her violent, obsessed ex-husband who is determined to regain his control over her. Meanwhile, she’s investigating the past, but only just a small part of the storyline seems based on this. This will be the Picoult-like storyline.

In the past, there’s Blessings, companion to the young man who becomes the last Moorish Sultan, Abu Abdullah Mohammed. Blessings was brought from his tribe to be the companion to the young prince and they become inseparable as they grow up. He is devoted to his master and supports him through the dangerous years as the Moors fight the Christian Castilians and Aragonians. The historical detail is fantastic here and the author has some very interesting insight to add at the end of the book. This will be the Follett-like storyline (although Follett wrote a lot of spy thrillers, he also wrote one of my favourite ever books, Pillars of the Earth, a superb historical novel around the building of a medieval cathedral. There’s a sequel, but it’s more soapy and Picoultish. Still good, but not as good as Pillars which, if you like historical fiction, I highly recommend. But I digress.)

The book is about love, in both eras. Unrequited love, passion, loving or being involved with the wrong person, control, obsession. It’s about reconciling the past, your own or the historical past. Fighting for what you believe in. Fighting for your very survival. Most of the book is set in the past and for me, where I really like historical fiction, that was the best part. The present day plot wasn’t really developed enough to get invested in and the climax ended on a cliffhanger before another large segement of the historical storyline before you got back to finding out what actually happened. I wasn’t that keen on the ultimate resolution of the story, either but then, more plot  surrounding the present likely would have made a difference. Overall, though, for the historical story, very good.

Thanks to Doubleday and Goodreads for the copy for review.

Review: The Next Sure Thing – Richard Wagamese

4 of 5 stars
Published September 2011

In this novella, Wagamese introduces us to Cree Thunderboy. Cree is a blues musician with big dreams. He also has a knack of being able to pick a good horse at the racetrack. This does not go unnoticed. He meets Win Hardy who hires him to make him money and in exchange, he’ll sponsor his music career. Such are Cree’s dreams that he’s initially willing to shove the alarms ringing in his and his best friend’s head into the cone of silence because he is ambitious and confident in his talent. It’s pretty clear soon enough that he’s signed a deal with the devil. Hardy is connected to all the wrong people and if Cree steps one foot out of place, he could lose that foot. Quite literally. He needs a plan to find Hardy’s achilles heel and bring Hardy down by using it against him. Cree is a gambler. This might not end well but if it pays off, he’ll be free of Hardy and he’ll live to see another day.

Short but sweet, this story is fast paced and fun. Gambling may be fun and a real rush when you win but when you lose, boy oh boy, you sure can lose everything and then some! Wagamese had a way of bringing his realistic characters leaping off the page. The story might be a bit silly, a bit like a “zany romp”, but if you’re a fan of Richard Wagamese’s work, you’ll enjoy it.

American Gods – Book to Television

Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday – American Gods

Starz, a pay-for cable station in the U.S., has been making some really good series over the past few years. They’ve spent a lot of money on them and it shows in the casting and production. Several have been based on popular books including:

Pillars of the Earth based on Ken Follett’s novel (World Without End was the sequel to Pillars but was not produced by Starz)
Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s series, heading into season 3 (I can’t wait! I must blog about this one, too!)
The White Princess – Phillippa Gregory
American Gods based on Neil Gaiman’s novel

American Gods has recently just finished it’s first season on Starz. I read the book several years ago and though I don’t remember a great deal of detail, I do remember that I liked it but it was also one of those books where you feel like it’s doing your head in, as well. It’s filled with a lot of characters and there’s a lot of references to gods and mythology. The series is very good though there are quite a few differences from the book. A lot of it is extra detail added and more focus put on some characters that were only minor ones in the book. The first season is going to cover about a third of the book and, from what I’ve read, the second season will take a lot of material from the Lakeside storyline in the book. There’s also a sequel, called the Anansi Boys and there may be plans to work that in. If so, it’s likely the series go run for a few years. Gaiman is also writing a sequel but that won’t be out for a few years yet.

American Gods cast

The casting is superb with Ian McShane as the central character Wednesday aka Odin and the (rather lovely) Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon. The real standouts for me have been Emily Browning as the undead Laura Moon (and also as Essie McGowan) and Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeny, the leprechaun. The rest of the cast is excellent as well and there are some very well known names.

The basic premise is the Old Gods of mythology have lost their power as people forget them and turn to new ones (technology, media etc). The Old Gods have come to America with various groups of people who brought their beliefs with them and we see a lot of the stories of those Gods’ arrival. Wednesday has decided to bring all the old Gods together to start a war with the new Gods in order to defeat them and bring back the power of the Old Ones and he enlists the help of Shadow Moon, a recently released convict whose wife has just died. Shadow is mainly his bodyguard and goes through much of the first season confused about what’s going on around him and having some very bizarre visions and dreams as well. Then there’s his wife. She comes back to life thanks to a magic coin from a leprechaun. She’s a walking dead sort of gal, though, with flies buzzing around her and later, maggots as she slowly starts to rot. The makeup here is fantastic, as she gets paler and grayer looking, with eyes slowly clouding over and dark circles under her eyes.

Gillian Anderson as the New God, Media – American Gods

There is a lot of violence and there is sexuality. It’s a series for grown ups and it’s smart and edgy. You aren’t spoon fed or hand held in this one. You’ve got to pay attention. Everything means something even if it isn’t always obvious. The differences to the book seem to be more enhancements. The book was written in 2001 and there have been a lot of changes in the world since then. Obviously, the Gods of Technology and Media are going to be updated, for example.

There’s a very good interview with Neil Gaiman here. I like what he has to say about his original vision for his work vs how it ends up translated to screen. “You try to push it towards the thing that you have in your head, but you know that not only do you never get there, you also know that the joy and the magic comes from seeing what other people have in their heads.” He also says that while the casting for some characters is vastly different than how he wrote them, they are doing such a superb job that if he were to write a sequel, those characters would sound a lot more like the versions that the actors brought to life.

Cloris Leachman in American Gods

Books to screen can be a very precarious tightrope. I think that a series is the better way to do it rather than a 2 or 3 hour movie. You have so much more scope for keeping in a lot more detail and it lends itself to enhancement as well (as long as it keeps within the spirit of the book). There are some things that just don’t translate from page to screen but if they do it well, the choices that they make will work just as well. I think, after watching this series, I might have to reread it before the second season comes out next year. American Gods is proving to be very popular and well received and we certainly give it thumbs up from our house.

Laura Moon and Mad Sweeny the leprechaun – American Gods

2017 Bingo Challenge – Completed!

bingoYay Me! I’ve completed my Reading Bingo Card!! (ed. no I haven’t, I have 2 more to read. I posted by mistake but I’ll leave it for now)

Now, having said that, this might not be the final version. I have a mind to change out the audio book at some point at the very least. The one I used is one that I think might have been very much abridged, not the full novel so I might get one from the library through Overdrive before the end of the year.

Am still working on the Cross Canada Reading Challenge and the 20 Books of Summer challenge but expect to be able to complete those on time. And at the moment, almost all of the authors but one are either Canadian born or are Canadian residents/citizens even if born elsewhere. They are considered Canadian writers. The only one that isn’t is the audio book, another reason to replace it. Still, it’s finished even if I don’t get round to doing that.

I did do a bit of shuffling around as per a suggestion from someone on Goodreads. Here then is the completed “card”:

B1 – A book from CBC 100 Novels that Make You Proud to Be Canadian
Lullabies for Little Criminals – Heather O’Neill  Reviewed

B2 – A Book from a Province/Territory You Want to Visit
The Jade Peony – Wayson Choy (British Columbia) Reviewed

B3 – Canadian Memoir
The Game – Ken Dryden – Finished and Reviewed

B4- A Banned Book
The Diviners – Margaret Lawrence  Reviewed

B5 – Canada Reads 2017
Company Town – Madeline Ashby   Reviewed (shortlist Canada Reads 2017)

I1 – Booked turned into a movie
The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton 2016 TIFF  Reviewed

I2 – Written by an Indigenous Author
The Break – Katherena Vermette – Reviewed 

I3 – YA
100 YA books (CBC)
BayGirl – Heather Smith  Reviewed

I4 – Written by LGBTQ author
Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue – Reviewed

I5 – sci-fi/dystopia/apocolyptic novel
Nostalgia – M. G. Vassanji – Reviewed

N1 – past long or shortlist Canada Reads novel
Canada Reads previous winners
Rockbound – Frank Parker Day (Canada Reads 2005 winner) Reviewed

N2 – Non-Fiction
Shag Harbour Incident – Graham Simms  Reviewed

N3 – Your Favourite Canadian Novel
Planned: Fall On Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald Reviewed

N4 – Audio book
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whithead  Reviewed (but I might re-fill this at some point)

N5- Giller Prize short-list/longlist or winner
Scotiabank Giller Prize past winners
The Best Kind of People – Zoe Whittall   Reviewed

G1 – Canadian Mystery
Gold Fever – Vicki Delaney Reviewed

G2 – Book about someone immigrating to Canada
The Piano Maker – Kurt Palka  Reviewed

G3 – Book Published in 2017
The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill   Reviewed (published Feb. 2017)

G4 – Translated novel
Ru – Kim Thuy  Reviewed (Canada Reads 2015 winner)

G5 – Book written in your province/territory/city/state (or country if not in Can)
Ava Comes Home – Lesley Crewe  Reviewed

O1 -Canadian novel published the year you were born (1959)
The Watch That Ends the Night – Hugh McLennan Reviewed

O2 – A book outside your comfort zone
Fifteen Dogs – Andre Alexis  Reviewed (Canada Reads 2017)

O3 – A Book of poetry
Runaway Dreams – Richard Wagamese  Reviewed

O4 – A Canadian Classic
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood  Reviewed

O5 – A Book from the CBC 100 True Stories that make you proud to be Canadian
Stalin’s Daughter – Rosemary Sullivan   Reviewed