Tuesday, May 27, 2014


F.C. Dawkins has created a masterfully chilling world in 2020 Hindsight, partially due to the fact that in some ways, the book straddles the line of even counting as sci-fi in the first place. There are no far-flung futures and hovercars, no lasers and killer robots in Dawkins' world. Much like some of the classical authors of the genre, he modifies a world that's less than a decade removed from our own with a single super-science tweak: a scientist has discovered the key to halting aging in a process called ELP, effectively granting those who undergo the procedure eternal life.

The remaining aspects of the setting in the book are hauntingly plausible: the long-anticipated collapse of infrastructure via overconsumption and over-reliance on fossil fuels has finally come to pass, leading to the large-scale destruction of the US and Canada as world powers. Most major metropolitan areas are now ruled by gangs, and the few remaining pockets of stable existence involve people living a pre-industrial existence of farming and hunting. Meanwhile, in Arizona, Gerry Wallace (the inventor of ELP) lives in the epicentre of Nirodha, a utopian city with exclusive access to the life-extending procedure. Unfortunately, paramilitary powers are mounting within the city, using paranoia and misinformation to aggregate control and risking the idyllic world that Gerry and his colleagues have worked so hard to build. Meanwhile, Tom (Gerry's estranged brother) is making the cross-country trek to try and reunite with his sibling, believing Gerry's life to be in imminent danger.

Dawkins' background is in business and economics, and it shows here in the best way. The utter failure of civilization in 2020 Hindsight is meticulously thought out, to the point where it becomes viscerally uncomfortable how easily this could occur. The same goes for the reorganization of world powers in response to the power vacuum, and the attempts of the more unsavoury groups to try and assume control by using ELP as both the justification (“everyone wants what we have”) and the carrot at the end of the stick (“prove your loyalty to us, you get to live forever”) for its operations.

At the same time, Dawkins isn't afraid to confront the philosophical, emotional, and economic implications of immortality, eventually questioning whether or not it's worth the very real costs that come with it. At times, the bald-faced nature of the conversations surrounding these ideas risk turning the book into a thought experiment rather than a story, but the genuine relationships and likeable characters help to keep the book grounded. What ultimately results is some of the smartest, most thought-provoking speculative sci-fi in the past few years. Definitely grab a copy of this one.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek over at The Rogue's Gallery. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Las Vegas is not a setting that intrigues me. Nor am I a big fan of stories that document terrible events for individuals, especially for children. I would have set this book aside if I wasn’t writing a review and that would have been a mistake.

I cried at the end. I was enthralled with the author’s character development. McBride crafts four characters who don’t appear to be connected to each other. As their individual stories unfold, all of them dramatically, the connections are woven together with great sensitivity and a realistic eye to human nature’s joys, sorrows, and foibles.

There are two underlying storylines: cultural isolation as seen through the eyes of a 10 year old Albanian boy whose parents have no community connection; and two Iraq war veterans, each left with emotional and/or physical challenges that severely  impact how they make sense of returning to their Las Vegas worlds. Various supporting characters that develop the entwining stories include a caring school teacher, an insightful principal and a court appointed special advocate.  

The tension grows as the individual stories deepen and merge. Towards the end of the novel a character states: “But if, sometimes, an unspeakable horror arises from the smallest error, I choose to believe that it’s possible for an equally imaginable grandeur to grow from the tiniest gesture of love. I choose to believe that it works both ways. That great terror is the result of a thousand small but evil choices, and great good is the outcome of another thousand tiny acts of care. “

To enhance the read, I would have liked further editing in the early part of the novel as the various roles are introduced. I felt confused, at times, about their potential co-involvement which caused me to flip back and forth to see what I might have missed.

In addition to the entertainment of being engrossed in a world crafted by a talented writer, I appreciated standing in the shoes of people so very different from me in culture, age and upbringing. As a result, I feel better able to appreciate some of the challenges of those living in different contexts from mine. I have deepened my understanding of the trials for young veterans returning from recent war horrors. I feel more inclined to read novels that are outside my comfort zone.

Laura McBride’s first novel is an amazing accomplishment. 

Jennifer Mackie has lived in Guelph for  over 40 years, is a business consultant with never enough hobby time for reading, sports, online puzzles and quilting. She reads for entertainment and to discover the world of ‘curious’. Along with finding value in the story, she enjoys experiencing different writer’s styles and methods for how they entice one into their made up worlds.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


When I was sixteen, and trying to determine what to do with my future I found the answer in a book called When Elephants Weep, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. This book convinced me to go into zoology, with a particular focus on the presence of emotion in animals. While my specifics in the field of zoology may have altered a little, I always love to read about this topic. Laurel Braitman has written an approachable, emotionally-driven novel to try to show that animals have emotion.

Braitman uses a wide array of animals from whales to parrots and dogs to elephants, to show examples of emotion being present in animals. The amount of travel and study this author put into her novel is astounding. The back of the book includes a 50ish page reference list, and she spoke to hundreds of scientists to learn new things and find out more about the topics she already did know. She also took the reader through history, to see how people and animals worked together in the past, and if there was ever any evidence for emotion throughout time.

The story starts on a sad and personal note for the author, and I`m very impressed with the way she moved on with her life in a positive way, to determine why that traumatic event happened and how it could have been prevented. Many people would have broken down after that event. Braitman`s writing technique allows the readers to truly feel every emotion throughout the book; there were chapters where I would cry, laugh and sit there goofily beaming all within a few pages. 

I think any animal lover, pet owner or anyone remotely interested in psychology or animals (including humans) should add this book to their bookshelf immediately! When Elephants Weep may have been the first book that interested me in this subject, but in my personal opinion, Braitman managed to write a beautiful, easy to understand read that will always have a place in my heart. 

Wesley Wilson is a zoology student at the University of Guelph and works on campus at a microbiology lab. When Wesley isn’t studying away, she spends most of her time reading. Anna Karenina is her favourite book, but she enjoys reading a variety of different genres.  


Let me come right out and say it. With no build-up, no preamble, no lead-in, here are my thoughts on this book: It's great. I mean it. The Quick is really, really good. It's hard to believe it's a debut novel. It doesn't read like one. It doesn't even read like a book. It reads like a song, a poem, a welcome intrusion into the depths of heart and mind that resonates right down into your soul

And yet, for all the praise I heap upon it, the main draw factor about this novel is that it is so very, very dark. It's negative, it's cynical; at times it is also horrifying and despondent. Lauren Owen quickly proves herself to be an author who allows her characters no happiness, no chances at redemption. The moment a character is given one positive happenstance to enjoy, it is swiftly crushed in the following pages. Just when you think the characters have been punished enough, more and more tragedy is thrown at them until it is almost as difficult for the reader to bear as it must be for the characters themselves.

The book is set in 19th century London, and chronicles the life of James, a would-be poet struggling to make end's meet in the smoky, industrial city. At first his life seems a success: he grows up in a charming house, falls in love, begins to write a poem. Then, one day, he vanishes. This leads his sister, Charlotte, to make a journey to London in search of him. There, she finds herself amongst a ragtag group of characters, each with their own complex histories and stories (and more than one destined for unbearable tragedy). She does, eventually, manage to find James... But it's not the happy ending one would expect. To say anymore about the story would only spoil the surprise for future readers, so I shall end on this note.

To conclude, if you are one of those who dream of sunny afternoons spent in contemplation of a pleasant book, perhaps relaxing out on the deck in the warm wind, a cup of tea at your side, then this book is not for you. If, however, you are someone who wants a book to grab you, that hooks you with its claws and never lets go, that you will devour endlessly through dark nights and summer storms, then this is definitely one you should add to your wish-list. Happy reading.

Robert Green is a confirmed bibliophile and aspiring writer whose love of sci-fi has caused him to own many more books than he has physical room for. He is also the owner and creator of the up-and-coming company Verity Books, which can be seen at various cons throughout the year. Any questions or comments can be sent to veritybooksanddvds@gmail.com or facebook.com/veritybooksanddvds.


David Sax’s newest report on the wondrous world of food explores the rise and decline of food trends that captivate the media, doctors and dieticians, food producers, and, most importantly, our appetites. Sax introduces his book with a discussion of our recent obsession with cupcakes and appropriately ends with just a few quick notes on the affects of food on our health, which would be hard to completely avoid in a nonfiction text devoted entirely to food itself. While most current food-centered books focus heavily on the dangers of bacon to our waistlines or the health benefits of chia seeds, Sax makes it clear that his book aims to look at food without creating guilt or gently pushing the reader towards a “healthier” lifestyle because he simply avoids, for the most part, making any association between food trends and obesity.

And what a relief. The ultramodern approach of speaking about what we eat and not providing some kind of diet counseling lets the reader focus solely on the topic at hand and allows them to appreciate Sax’s careful and detailed study of society’s fascination with food and why we eat what we eat. The book is divided into three parts, the first of which describes the four types of trends, including the “sexy” trend like the aforementioned cupcakes that spiked our interest because of their visual appeal and the fact that popular female characters on TV enjoyed them, too. The influences of the farmer, the chef, and the many self-proclaimed nutritionists are likewise examined in Part I, and Sax’s personal interactions with each participant in this sequence lend credibility to his analysis.

In Part II of The Tastemakers, the author studies the most intriguing aspect of food trends, which is how they come to be, so naturally and seamlessly, a part of our lives. Sax challenges the notion that there’s no formula to the rise of a food trend by unveiling the setting of the corporate food company board room where mass data collected on consumers’ interactions with food is meticulously considered before the company in question develops a new product. A food-themed Oscars event and the subsequent appraisals from critics alongside devious marketing ploys that can turn an ordinary red apple into a Prince are also influential in the admittance of food to the “cool table” where we ravenously devour the next big thing as though we’ll never see it again (ahem, the cronut).

In some cases, Sax points out that we might in fact not be able to buy our new, favourite treat forever as Part III of the text discusses the demise of food trends like fondue, whose specialty utensils now collect dust in many pantries and cupboards. The politics of food trends are another interesting aspect of Part III as Sax throws himself into the war-torn world of food trucks and municipal legislation that threatens their existence.

The Tastemakers succeeds because its language is clear while its ideas are compelling, in the sense that Sax helps us understand why we like what we like without relying on complex psychological analyses or newfound theories about the effects of the leptin hormone on our desire to eat. Yes, we love food, but we’re also prone to marketing strategies and pretty labels and GMO Free accreditations. The human diet is conceived both from our bodily needs and the society around us that directs our appetites based on our history of interests.

This book is not a call for change to your lifestyle or to the way food is made. It is however a well-written and hard-to-put-down study about delicious, innovative, and sometimes healthful things at your grocery store or on the street corner or in that new café that you and everyone else wants to put in their mouths. The Tastemakers is absolutely worth reading, and considering.

Alicja Grzadkowska is finishing up her final semester at the University of Guelph before moving on to study Journalism at Ryerson in the fall. Her bookshelf is stacked with yet-to-read fiction titles, which hasn't stopped her from regularly adding to her collection. Traveling to big cities across North America is another one of her obsessions, and one which she hopes to indulge in again this summer.


Why are we fascinated by pilots? That’s the question Birdmen explores while examining the literal ups and downs of America’s earliest aviators. It was also the question that I was trying to answer in my personal life at the time, since I was actually dating a pilot while reading this book. Aviation still has a huge hold on our imaginations; although as we discover in Birdmen, today’s pilots pale in comparison to both the glamour and tumultuous risks of the first flyers.

Lawrence Goldstone’s non-fiction saga focuses on the famous Wright Brothers and their rival of choice, Glenn Curtiss. However, Birdmen also recounts the tragic fates of countless enthusiastic young aviators who plummeted to their deaths performing death-defying spins and dives. Horrifyingly, the vast majority of these young pilots paid for these acts of fearless defiance with their lives. However, what is really sickening is discovering that scarcely a century ago ravenous audiences at airshows resembled bloodthirsty spectators at a Roman amphitheatre. They would egg on these ambitious young fliers, only to see them crash. Far from mourning these heroic adventurers, crazed fans would leap over and steal every scrap of morbid memorabilia left, sometimes even before the pilots were dead. It was a shocking world, filled with amazing showmanship and equally terrifying spectators.

Perhaps aviation has always been and always will be prone to disaster. During the reading of Birdmen, my relationship with my pilot derailed. The mysterious Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 also disappeared during this time, leading me to discover that a passenger of the previously doomed Air France Flight 447 flight was also alumni of my high school. It’s all a chilling reminder that no matter how eagerly we take to the skies, even today the skies are still a fascinating yet dangerous place to be.

--Mike Fan


What does it mean to follow your destiny? Or to figure out what your destiny is? Or to establish whether, in fact, you actually have something that could, for all intents and purposes, be described as destiny?

These are the questions posed in Terry Fallis' new novel, No Relation. Well, actually, they aren't really posed. But they are explored, and in detail. They form intersecting pathways that are approached from numerous angles, and with a level of humour and insight that is channelled by few other Canadian authors.

Terry Fallis is probably best known for his political humour, as exemplified by his debut novel, The Best Laid Plans—most recently serialized on television—and its sequel, The High Road. No Relation has nothing to do with Angus McClintock, Ottawa or politics. It has a great deal to say, however, about purpose, meaning, family, love, friendship, misunderstanding, connection, corporate intrigue and what it means to grow up with a famous name. If that doesn't entice you to pick up the book, then you may be interested in tomes on practical taxidermy or competitive flower pressing. I just won't be reviewing those.

No Relation is the story of Earnest Hemmingway, no relation. It is also the story of Marie Antoinette, Mahatma Gandhi, Mario Andretti, Professor James Moriarty, Diana Ross and Jackie Kennedy, among others, all ordinary people with extraordinary monikers. An aspiring author whose professional career as a copywriter has been less than fulfilling, Hemmingway is haunted by a familial obligation to assume the helm of the family underwear business. He also firmly believes himself to be tormented by the sparse prose and outsized countenance of the ghost of his namesake. In an attempt to tackle head-on the writer's block he attributes to the spectral shenanigans of the bull-fighting, cat-loving, shotgun-toting ghost of Ernest Hemingway, Earnest Hemmingway (no relation) embarks on the Ernest Hemingway Exorcism World Tour. A week-long around-the-world odyssey exploring all things Papa, Hemmingway finds himself in Toronto, Paris, Pamplona, Key West and Ketchum, Idaho. All the while, intrigue and artifice are the order of the day at Hemmingwear, the family firm.

No Relation is a departure from Fallis' earlier novels. Shifting from politics to Papa, and from parliament to (in part) Paris, Fallis has nonetheless produced a compelling and entertaining book. His characters are multi-dimensional, and are presented as being in equal parts hilarious, humble and humane. His comedy is subtle, while his empathy is profound. Fallis has taken the seemingly simple construct of ordinary people with famous names, and spun from this initial premise a tale that is delightful, absorbing and intriguing. He is a highly visual writer, and one can readily see the story being adapted to the screen. At the same time, the writing is entertaining and engaging, and the dialogue is often wry and witty, but is nonetheless refreshingly realistic.

For anyone that has enjoyed Fallis' previous books, you should love No Relation. The book also deserves (and will hopefully find) a much wider audience. It is funny, it is engaging and it is exceptionally well crafted. Fallis takes initially simple and straightforward premises and interweaves them into an intriguingly complex plot. The result is a tale that will absorb you, inspire you to laugh out loud, surprise you, but ultimately leave you satisfied. It's a wonderful book that should go to the very top of your summer reading pile.

Mark Mullaly is an avid reader, sometimes writer, enthusiastic motorcyclist and lover of wine (and endeavours to engage in only one of these pursuits at any given time).


In 2004, the New York Review of Books lauded French’s previous book, A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa. The NYRB described it as “Exhilarating for its frankness . . . A Triumph of passionate reporting.” In that book, French denounced wrongheaded American foreign policy in the Congo, Nigeria, and especially in Rwanda, where 800,000 mostly Tutsi people were massacred, while the world stood by and watched.

French worked for many years in Africa as a reporter for the New York Times. Fortunately, both of his books are free of the Times' insistence on coverage that is, at best, sober-sided, and, at worst, middle of the road. China’s Second Continent provides detailed on-the-ground descriptions of the impacts of the massive and continuing Chinese immigration into Africa. French presents the nature of these impacts locally, as he visits each of these countries: Mozambique, Zambia, Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, and Namibia.

His writing style is marked by his approachability, resourcefulness, sense of humour, and obvious good will toward friends and strangers. His speaking knowledge of French, Chinese, and some of the local African languages also opens doors that might have otherwise remained closed to research for his well received books on Africa. On one occasion, he was stopped at a border crossing by a guard who refused to let him pass. After French handed the guard his copy of the New York Review of Books, the guard opened the gate and let him cross.

At other times, he recalls one of those fearless Brits from an earlier colonial time. While travelling with his brother in Namibia in a crowded place, someone tries to rob French’s brother, while the thief’s partner tries to distract French. French and his brother counter the attack and drive off the thieves, after his brother shouts, “Get your hands out of my pocket, motherfucker!” At the time, French himself was carrying $5,000 in cash. On another occasion, he was driving across a deserted area of Namibia when his car blew a tire in the middle of nowhere.  The tire was in shreds, but the inner tube was intact, and without a spare tire, he continued driving on the tube, even crossing a flash flooding area at one point, hoping that the tube would not go flat. It doesn’t.

A million Chinese migrants have arrived in Africa in a mere decade. Many of them hope to build a better life there, and the effect of “chain migration” leads family and friends to follow others who have migrated.  “By century’s end, demographers predict that Africa’s population could reach a staggering 3.5 billion, making it larger than China and India combined.” (p.7).  A number of factors are driving this migration. French interviews one Chinese migrant who says, “China is a big fucking mess with all of its fucking dialects.”

In addition, Chinese corporations are investing in projects in Africa. And working class Chinese are coming with hopes for a better life in African countries where local economies are growing. The promise of land is another lure. Africa may possess “as much as 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated land (p.17). And migration looks promising when widening income gaps in China have made it “one of the most unequal societies anywhere” (p.14). Other reasons that Chinese migrants “move to Africa was a weariness with omnipresent official corruption back home, fear of the impact of a badly polluted environment on their health, and a variety of constraints on freedoms, including religion and speech.” (p.14).

If you decide to read this fine book, I have a suggestion. I found that following French’s journeys on the roads he traveled to various cities, and while he visited dam projects, crossed rivers, deserts, and other landscapes was even more engaging once I started tracking him in a National Geographic Atlas. With an atlas open, you may also look across the Indian Ocean from Africa and consider the journeys of Zheng Hu, who commanded Chinese fleets that sailed from China to the east coast of Africa on at east three occasions in the early 15th century. While reading the chapter on Mail, the longest in the book, I enjoyed listening to music from Mali, especially Boubacar Traore’s deeply plaintive “Diarabi”.

Years ago in North Africa, in the middle of the night, while I was sleeping in the back of a Land Rover with a broken starter, I awoke from a dream. The driver was outside, concluding a trade with a tall Moroccan. We were somewhere up in the Atlas Mountains, under a moonless sky. I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the night, and the dark land stretching away in all directions to the horizons, before it merged with the black sky.  A broken starter or a blown tire wouldn’t phase French.

Africa is a place where bright dreams may come to ruin. Throughout French’s book, he comes upon the remnants and broken dreams of British, French and Portuguese colonialists. Will China’s bright African dreams be shattered and carried away by the shifting sands? The way vast colonial dreams of wealth and a new start disappeared in Rhodesia, Tanganyika, British Somaliland, the Belgian Congo, French Equatorial Africa, Spanish Sahara, Bechuanaland, and other European colonies? Whether China’s dreams succeed or come to ruin, I hope that Howard W. French returns with the story of how it comes to pass. He is a compassionate observer, who listens closely, and presents the telling details so well, that China’s Second Continent is a difficult book to put down. Just try putting it down.

Read more from James Reid at www.jamesedwardreid.ca

Sunday, May 18, 2014


With the popularity of Tom Hiddleston, in the various movies put out by Marvel and Disney, I'm surprised that we haven't gotten a sudden flood of Norse mythology related fiction. However, one of the benefits of putting some distance between herself and The Avenger's dastardly foe is that when Joanne Harris finally DID decide to publish Gospel of Loki, what resulted was a fun, quirky, and surprisingly empathetic tale from the perspective of the infamous trickster god.  

As the title implies, Gospel of Loki consists of the origin stories and fables from the Sagas of Norse mythology as told from the perspective of Loki, who is normally cast as the villain of the tale. The book covers everything from the creation of the Nine Realms and the genesis of magic, all the way to the apocalyptic events of Ragnarok. Though billed as an epic fantasy, Gospel of Loki often comes off as a twisted take on Aesop's Fables. The various tales are broken up into "Lessons" with titles like, "never trust an oracle", where Loki imparts an autobiographical take on the events complete with concluding morals. You might think that the perspective shift would result in Loki portraying himself as a misunderstood champion of justice, wrongly accused, but Loki is surprisingly honest (as honest as one born from Chaos and Wildfire can be, anyway), if unrepentant about his actions. "I'm chaos incarnate. What did you expect?" is largely the attitude brought forth for his mischief, but despite this, this version of Loki is a surprisingly likeable guy.  

Harris paints a picture of a lonely man, roped into a family who despises him, who, realizing that he will never be accepted, eventually grows bitter of their using him as a tool whenever convenient, and begins to plot the downfall of those who manipulated him by giving them a taste of their own medicine. Loki grows from reluctant pseudo-slave, to grudgingly accepting father and husband, to aspiring friend, then spirals downward into a burning hatred born of rejection (an emotion I'm sure readers can at least envision, if not empathize with). The book comes off as surprisingly greek in its tragic nature, and Harris does a GREAT job of roping readers into cheering for the bad boy, even while choosing not to fully excuse his actions.  

This fantasy only reaches epic tier in its third act as the Nine Realms, split into factions representing Order and Chaos, prepare for the war to end all wars (and all things). Harris' decision to keep relatively close to the source material, while anchoring it to such a relatable character provides a powerful engine for dramatic build-up to this final, cataclysmic confrontation. This is especially impressive given that, for those knowledgeable of Norse mythos, the ending is spoiled from page one. Despite that, I found myself desperately wishing for the Trickster god to pull one more rabbit out of his hat, and if mythological fantasy is your thing, you will be too.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek over at The Rogue's Gallery. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.


When I was growing up in communist Poland one of my favourite games was “Cowboys and Indians”, played with my brother and our friends, or with plastic figures. When I was older, my fascination was fueled by reading adventure books such as The Wood Hunters and The Gold Hunters by James Oliver Curwood. I wanted to be an aboriginal warrior and have adventures in the wilds of America. You can imagine my disappointment when I immigrated to Canada when I was 15 years old and realized that my entire view of Canada’s indigenous people was completely wrong, and how complicated is their history and present situation in our country.

A debut novel by Krista Foss, a writer and teacher living in Hamilton, Smoke River, deals with the effects of a land dispute over an area of a new residential subdivision between the Mohawks and the non-native Canadians living in Doreville and financially involved in the development site. The book was probably inspired by the Grand River land dispute in Caledonia near Hamilton.

The novel is complex, as it tackles a complex issue. This epic story centers around several families whose interests lie on different sides of the protesting natives’ blockade. As the protest continues, and a young native girl is found brutally raped, no one is left untouched: the mayor of Doreville and her family, a family financially dependent on the new development, the strong female leaders of the protesters, lovers from different cultures, the tobacco farmers and cigarette manufacturers, parents and children. Jealousy, greed, violence, ambition, but also hidden dreams, memories, and longings surface as the characters make the decisions on how to live after the blockade is dismantled, and after the crime is handled by the police and lawyers.  Some of the questions Krista wants us to think about are: What would we do for our children and our homes - o’tá:ra, which in the language of the Mohawk people, means both clay and clan – land and family? Would we protect them from the law? Would we fight the law for them? Would we choose justice over blood ties? What does justice mean? What about fairness?

Krista Foss is especially adept at depicting the lush landscape of the region, the tobacco fields, the river, and the moments of conflict, where the action is as swift and dangerous as the current of Smoke River. Krista Foss's raw and poetic, intense style reminded me of Annie Proulx. Her descriptions of tobacco farming, like a cigarette-scented madeleine cakes, led me to the memory of a small village in Poland, and my cousins, their hands stained, picking tobacco leaves and stringing them on wires to be hung in curing barns.

The novel is written from many different points of view, which at first makes it difficult to follow the plot and figure out who is who, however, at the same time it allows for a very objective presentation of the events.  There is history, personal history, livelihood, and tradition behind both sides of the conflict.

Kasia Jaronczyk was born in Poland and immigrated to Canada in 1992, at 15 years old. She has a Master's in Microbiology.  She lives in Guelph with her husband and two children. She has published poetry and short stories in Room, The Prairie Journal, Carousel Magazine, the Nashwaak Review and Postscripts to Darkness anthology.


In Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, award-winning author Shani Mootoo has written a graceful eulogy to the lost and then found again parent Sydney. Mootoo mines the complexities of familial relationships through Jonathan, once the doted-upon child by his mother Sid (Siddhani), who struggles even as an adult to come to terms with the abandonment he felt as a child when his parents separated and Sid disappeared completely from his life. The struggle continues so many years later when, as an adult, Jonathan reconnects with his parent, and needs to come to terms with his transformation from mother Sid to father Sydney.

The story follows Jonathan as he travels between his home in Canada to visit Sydney who has returned to his own home, Trinidad. Mootoo contrasts the lush, verdant warmth of Trinidad's land and people with the cold concrete of winter in Toronto, the harshness evident in the distance between the people in spite of (or perhaps because of) proximity, with "complicated protocols and rules of conduct" as much as in the physical harshness of a winter that is too familiar to us this year.

Sydney's journals are beautiful, certainly the most eloquent part of the novel. The story cycles through the fateful walk through blizzardy Toronto that changed Sydney's life. Sydney recounts the navigation of his life as an outsider: the immigrant, the artist, the non-biological parent, the non-binary gender identity. His path forward was indeed sideways like a crab.

More than anything else, this is a love story. There is the unspoken connection between Sid and best friend Zain who was the best type of friend, one "who hadn't tried to make him into who he wasn't, but rather helped him become who he already was." The longing Sid has for Zain is palpable; the guilt over a tragedy remains with Sydney for the rest of his life. It is also the love story of a beloved parent reunited with his son, and a son who wants more than anything to understand the choices Sydney made, and to not just accept but honour his memory. 

Colinda Clyne began her love affair with books in grade 3 when she read surreptitiously into the wee hours with a flashlight under the covers. She is an educator, a would-be writer, and a foodie. You can follow her @clclyne

Monday, May 5, 2014


Michael Lewis has done it again. This time with Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. He’s taken an obscure and poorly understood story and shed light on it in a humorous and enlightening way. His book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game—and the film based on it—examined the lengths major league baseball teams will go to in their search for that big field of dreams. His more recent book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, clarified financial instruments and transactions that investment wizards and brokers themselves didn’t understand. One of the enlightening highlights in The Big Short occurred when Greg Lipmann at Deutsche Bank tells an agent at Morgan Stanley in no uncertain terms that the Morgan Stanley guy doesn’t have a clue about the value of the CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) Morgan Stanley has invested in. When the Morgan Stanley guy tries to limit what he owes Lipman, and to defend his investment model, Lipmann says, “Dude, fuck your model. . . . give me my one point two billion dollars.”

Flash Boys returns to a financial world where some people know what’s going on. And where some people think that there is something wrong with what’s going on. A thoughtful and honest Canadian called Brad figures out what’s wrong with what’s going on in the US stock markets. When he tries to place an order to purchase stocks for a client at the market price, he discovers that he can’t make the purchase at the price on offer. This happens repeatedly, and Brad eventually figures out what’s up. Not a man for small measures, he eventually builds an honest stock exchange known as IEX. Customers at other exchanges begin to demand that their stock transactions take place at IEX. There may not be an honest mayor in Toronto, but now there is a dead honest stock exchange in the United States, managed by a Canadian.

Most reviews of Flash Boys have failed to dwell on some of the most enjoyable parts of the book. As honest Brad Fukuyama from the dull Royal Bank of Canada begins building his exchange, he needs to hire experts with various obscure skills. Lewis has a novelist’s capacity to capture the physical and psychological essence of a character in a few sharply observed sentences. This skill is most apparent in his descriptions of hiring people to staff the new exchange. He interviews Francis Chung who has just won a national puzzle-solving championship in the United States. Francis may be a great puzzler, but he’s also a complete puzzle. His answers to Brad’s questions in the job interview are choked and often incomprehensible:

Brad finally asked, “All right, just tell me: What do you like to do?”

“I like to dance,” he said. Then he went completely silent.

After Brad hires Francis, he remains completely silent in the office for six weeks, and then, after he spoke, “he wouldn’t shut up.”

At one point, an Irishman called Ronan who has been hired by Brad recommends that he hire a Russian with unusual skills. Ronan tells Brad that he needs to hire Zoran Perkov because he needs “Someone who will be good at running the market—you need the most paranoid fuck in the world . . . And he’s the most paranoid fuck in the world.” Brad hires him.

Hiring an employee counterintuitively often works better than hiring by the book. I needed a manager of a project for which I had just received a quarter of a million dollars in start up funding. Someone had heard about the project, and he phoned me and asked if he could take me out for lunch to talk about the new project. Over lunch, he told me that he had just left a job where he had been escorted off the property by six Ontario Provincial Police officers. He said that he would be the best manager for my new project. When he tried to pick up the bill for lunch in the fine restaurant, he discovered that he had forgotten his wallet. I paid for lunch, and figured that I should hire anyone with that much nerve. I hired him, and he was one of the most capable people I ever worked with.

Read more from James Reid at www.jamesedwardreid.ca

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Daisy Waugh

Funny, unorthodox, witty and truthful is Daisy Waugh in her new book "The Kids Will Be Fine. Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Women." 
Waugh sets out to speak for the mothers who have long felt the guilt for their so called nontraditional way of parenting. For the mothers who don’t feel guilty about going to work every day, who don’t feel guilty about missing their kids' sporting events and who let their children feel bored. This book is not for the overbearing mothers who wrap their children in so-called bubble wrap, carefully monitoring their children’s every step, attending every PTA meeting and throwing expensive, ludicrous over the top birthday parties. Or is it? 
The consistent theme that Waugh examines in this truthful but often blunt book is that these are the mothers who are making the rest of us feel bad. Broken up into short chapters and filled with extensive vocabulary, Waugh covers topics from writing a birth plan (she calls it a “harmless waste of time”) to bake sales (“why bake when a store bought cake tastes better anyways”) to whether or not you should let your children lie (her conclusion: “the sooner a child learns how to lie the better chance of survival they have in this world”). 
Refreshingly honest throughout the book, Waugh remains true to herself while swearing, admitting she is not a perfect mother, and wondering aloud how long she has before social services knocks on her door. A laugh out loud guide to parenting for moms new or old Waugh has captured the very thoughts that mothers never dare to say in public. 

Lindsay MacNevin is a globe trotting mother of two cute but devilish children. She can often be found curled up with a book in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other.