Thursday, July 31, 2014


I received this book for review just about a week after my father had passed away.

I know that some people are never going to believe the things that Patricia Pearson's book is about. It’s not up to me to change anybody’s mind, all I can do is present my opinion. Which is this: there is ‘something’ after death, whether it’s Heaven and Hell, Valhalla, Moksha, Mictlan, reincarnation, or a quantum physical state unimagined as of yet. Whatever that ‘something’ may be, it seems to show itself to a surprising number of people who are in the process of dying. Unfortunately, in the end-of-life-care settings that our culture has embraced (with its attendant medication), the types of experiences Pearson talks about are much more rarely seen than in previous ages.

In this book, Pearson walks us through some of the many commonalities experienced by quite a large group of people in the end stages of life. Some of these are ‘out-of-body’ incidents, the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, Near-Death Experiences, and, most importantly, I felt, for this book, those who are either planning a trip or see someone waiting for them. 

Are these things for real, is there something after death, or are these just weird hallucinations and coincidences?  Whatever you think, just be patient because you’re going to find out. I believe that the rise of hospice care will eventually prove to be a great comfort to many, many people as they and their loved ones pass on far from the spiritual and emotional sterility of Western hospitals.

- Steve Lidkea


Sunday, July 27, 2014


Kreen, kreen, kreen…  

I am still reeling from Monica Byrne's terse and mystifying new novel, The Girl in the Road. I have never encountered anything quite like it. The Girl in the Road is intense, violent, touching, vulnerable, twisted, confusing, and bizarrely uplifting. Perhaps the highest praise for The Girl in the Road is that it is in a class totally in its own and that reading it is an experience in itself.

The Girl in the Road is a haunting, candid, and multi-layered novel. Beginning at first in a rather realistic fashion, Byrne quickly moves into captivatingly baffling and surreal territory. The Girl in the Road is to be read and re-read and digested for long afterwards, the meanings of the events and relationships to be left for discussion and rumination. It's a novel of ideas, love, loss, and much more. Yet the premise begins rather innocently and simply.

We meet two entirely different girls living in two entirely different circumstances. Meena is a twenty-something rebel who lives in futuristic India and makes her way to Ethiopia across a dangerous and prohibited metallic hydrogen Trail. Mariama, a young and innocent Haratine girl, is also a futuristic heroine journeying to Ethiopia. However, she is slightly in the past and her journey is much different, though no less trying.

The Girl in the Road alternates between the stories, predictably beginning to intertwine as the novel progresses. However, the destructive events and blurring of realities create an incredibly rich narrative that ultimately results in redemption and transcendence. At the same time, The Girl in the Road is equally terrifying in its truth and its horrors. Rape, adultery, murder, child molestation, and other graphic scenes occur, yet it never seems gratuitous. Instead, it highlights our hypocrisies as humans and the simultaneous failure and magic of memory and imagination. What define morality and reality, exactly?

Byrne's creation is incredibly sensual, evoking vivid, exotic scenes of India and Africa. Her command of the vocabulary and aesthetic are totally present from the first page and belie her immense attention to detail and phenomenal research. Yet Byrne’s true magic is her creation of a futuristic framework which is spectacularly expansive and convincing. Her creation of a strange mythology and network of symbols throughout the novel is equally as masterful yet subtly enigmatic. It is difficult to leave this universe, where a way of life is so richly imagined, despite its harsh realities.

The Girl in the Road is a highly recommended read. However, it should be approached with caution. It is not a novel that is necessarily easy to read or comprehend, and it is sure to vehemently polarize readers. The Girl in the Road is mystifying and full of discovery; unsettling, brilliant, repulsive, yet ultimately engrossing. It is a bundle of intensity and contradictions. Like life itself, The Girl in the Road is perhaps equally as idiosyncratic, meaningful, exhilarating, and breathtakingly eye-opening.  

...Saha, saha, saha...

Mike Fan is a Canadian classical baritone. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three and a half languages. He holds degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, but it was obvious from an early age that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.


Known for his immersion journalism, NY Times Magazine writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis more or less dipped himself in the drooling culture of American dog lovers. Traveling by rented RV, Denizet-Lewis embarks from Provincetown, Massachusetts with his yellow lab Casey on a four month tour through many of the contiguous United States.

His running commentary is enlightening on a number of fronts. Before the ignition is turned, Denizet-Lewis reveals his neurotic preoccupation with what he imagines is his dog's 'opinion' of him and thus sets the stage for many theatrical and frequently funny interactions. It was easy for him to meet wild and and wonderful people hanging out with their pets at doggie parks, shelters, beaches, campgrounds, and inner city abandoned buildings. Denizet-Lewis shares many heartwarming and some heart-wrenching anecdotes and conversations he had with attentive, dedicated owners and those who spend their time and resources rescuing dogs mistreated or abandoned.

Benoit and Casey
An easygoing observer of human behaviour, Benizet-Lewis is often funny and always nonjudgmental. He just weaves the details of many breeds of dogs and all types of owners, in and around his journey with this best buddy Casey, who must be a dream pet to put up with a master seemingly preoccupied during the trip with getting romanced. Denizet-Lews's style seems more of a lovelorn gonzo journalist than an immersed one, but it's sweet all around.

From eastern seaboard small towns and NYC, through the beautiful Appalachian range, down to Florida, across to Texas, Colorado, California, Oregon, Montana and Illinois, there are stories within the story that will appeal to any dog lover looking for a light summer read.

- Lori Ryan Gray

Monday, July 21, 2014


According to Canadian forensic psychologist Robert Hare, one percent of the general population can be categorized as psychopathic.

That translates into approximately 300,000 Canadians and 3,000,000 Americans.

While most of us think of psychopaths as violent criminals and murderers hopefully behind prison bars, the reality is more frightening. Psychopaths can be found almost anywhere—in our neighborhoods, schools, corporate offices. After reading Doing Harm, I realize their special “talents” could easily find a warm welcome in the operating rooms of our hospitals.

Who wouldn’t hire a fearless, confident and focused surgeon capable of performing well under pressure?

At Boston’s prestigious University Hospital, several top-notch surgeons possess elements of that skill set, among them Chief Resident Steve Mitchell who is happily married and in line for a coveted teaching position. But after two botched surgeries, Steve’s confidence is shaken when he becomes the primary focus of a hospital investigation. This nightmare takes a horrific twist when Steve finds himself in a compromising position with a psychopath who is deliberately killing patients.

I was both fascinated and repelled by the psychopath’s ability to effortlessly wear that mask of sanity while plotting to kill. When confronted, she can even justify her actions: “I might fall somewhere along the antisocial-personality-disorder spectrum. But I want to fix things. I’m one of the good guys.”

Author and board-certified urologist Kelly Parsons has succeeded in crafting a well-placed thriller that is almost impossible to put down.

After retiring from a 31-year teaching career, Joanne Guidoccio launched a second act as a writer. Her articles, book reviews and short stories have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. In September 2013, Soul Mate Publishing released her debut novel, Between Land and Sea, as an eBook on Amazon. You can visit her website at


Thrillers are awesome. Mythology is cool. What do you get when you combine the two? Something very special indeed. This is Stephen Lloyd Jones’ The String Diaries, a new take on an old story – that of an obsessed murderer and his terrified prey. In this case, the hunter has one advantage – he can shapeshift.

I love the concept of shapeshifting. It's been around as long as humans have been capable of telling stories, and it has taken a variety of forms throughout the ages. It's wonderful in that it's innately terrifying. Few things have aged so well. At the root of this horror is the concept Jones' novel explores most: the fact that with a shapeshifter after you, you can't trust anyone. This is a special kind of seclusion – if anyone around you could be your enemy, how do you know whom you can trust?

The book follows a family in modern day Wales desperately running from a shapeshifter who has been hunting them for generations, but it also goes back through decades to show the events leading up to it. This is kind of storytelling allows exposition to flow through nicely without interrupting the adrenaline-fueled pace of the present tale.

My one complaint with this book is the ending. It felt like the author picked up all the leftover bits of the story and tried to cram them all together into the last few pages and arbitrarily switching from mood to mood. I felt it could have benefited from being more drawn out to allow things to take more time, but the rest of the novel is a solid bulwark on which the ending can rest nonetheless.

It's been a long time since I've sat down with a book and read it with no interruptions or breaks. It's a time I've missed, and I'm thankful to this book for recapturing it. My congratulations to the author.

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 or

Monday, July 14, 2014


Rainbow Rowell’s Landline is testament to her amazing talent for capturing the particulars along the spectrum between love and out-of-love. While her previous novels, Eleanorand Park and Fangirl, delved into the thunder and sunshine of teen relationships, Landline tells the story of Georgie McCool, a talented comedic writer who finds herself estranged from her own 15 year marriage.  

The brilliance of this book lies in instances when the plot line takes pause: when the reader forgets that they’re witnessing a character’s life and instead imagines themselves peeking through the words. As Georgie details the history of her relationship with Neil, you too will reminisce about the moment you chose your own partner: the colour of their concert T-shirt, the soundtrack in the coffee shop, the smell of familiarity… “the feeling of filling your lungs with fresh air.” 

As the story of the couple’s complacency develops, you will celebrate everyday kindnesses like refrigerator notes, and intimate smiles, against the shadow of insecurity cast by career pressures and competing priorities. You will feel the weight of worry and deliberation about your own relationships: who you were, who you are, who you are together, and how separating would feel akin to “unthread[ing] vascular systems.”

Landline is a quick summer read that will inspire gratitude for any chance you’ve had to “know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there.”

Amie Willoughby is a high school teacher, fiction reader, runner, aspiring baker, avid tea drinker, and jelly bean lover.


Who was the first creative genius? It’s a tall order, but Miles J. Unger thinks it just might be Michelangelo. Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces is Unger’s compassionate, honest, and playful portrait of the great artist. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t acquainted with Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or his statue of David, but what is it that makes him so special? Unger’s book illuminates the life and work of the great artist, at once imaginative and impeccably researched.

Exploring the art itself and first-hand documents of the era, Unger delves into the mind and soul of the great artist. Who knew Michelangelo was such a prolific poet, for instance? Through his snail mail correspondence, confessional sonnets, and recorded public events of the era, we get a front-row seat to witness the mind and artistry of the artist. Unger reveals Michelangelo’s stressful familial situation, homoerotic tendencies, tortured feelings of being misunderstood, and the frustration of his vision with the often irritating setbacks of reality in striking detail.

Largely, we learn that Michelangelo’s genius is evident in his ability to make a statement through his unusual and controversial portrayals of religious figures and themes in his work. Unger captures Michelangelo’s towering artistic achievements, through which he made immense spiritual, emotional, and intellectual innovations. Who could better explain the strange detachment of the Virgin Mary in Michelangelo’s Pietà or the genuine terror of the Last Judgement? Interestingly enough, the lives of popes in Michelangelo’s long career plays a large part in both his life and the book. Although the historical background is critical in understanding Michelangelo’s greatest commissions, it can make for a long and complex read at times. However, it all is so necessary in understanding one of the art world’s undeniably brilliant minds. Ultimately, Unger’s mastery of the epic scope of Michelangelo’s life and opus is an achievement itself, as breathtakingly skillful and probing as Michelangelo’s work itself.
A man whose work encompassed sculpture in bronze and marble, painting, architecture, and more – Michelangelo’s relentless ambition, obsessive vision, and visceral talent are undeniable. Yet, it takes another kind of ambition, vision, and talent to grasp and divulge the enigmatic truths of this great artist. Miles J. Unger is more than equipped to this task. Unger’s understanding of Signor Michelangelo is uncanny and moving. It is an exploration of the great Michelangelo Buonarroti of course, yet also of power, creation, and art itself.

Why did a young boy born in 1475 have the compulsion to create? How does art created half a millennium ago still move, inspire, and awe us today? Perhaps because it was destiny that Michelangelo was born to create, and that Mr. Miles J. Unger was here to help us understand its mysteries and revelations.

Mike Fan is a Canadian classical baritone. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three and a half languages. He holds degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, but it was obvious from an early age that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


A guide to the mating habits of humans sounds either fascinating or tedious depending on your interest in the tapestry of life. Marissa Stapley’s glance through a family of women in “Mating for Life” is a perfect cottage holiday read. Part page turner, part family dynasty explored, the tautness of the writing and intelligent observation lift it to a literary realm.

Each chapter is introduced with a definition of some common North American bird or creature including its mating habits from the fussy snapping turtle that only mates when conditions are right, to Seagulls who are usually monogamous and display high levels of site fidelity, to Cardinals who mate for life.  These vignettes are echoed by the mapping of the progress of the female members of the family observed in the novel. From aging flower child Helen we can trace the modern woman’s progress from a Joni Mitchellesque folksinger, to 70’s feminist “woman who needs a man like a fish needs a bicyclist”, to someone who is seeking companionship in her golden years.

I found myself lost in the names but as each daughter came into focus, satisfied at the story arc that wove a dance around each character. The fate of Everywoman passes through these woman’s lives: birth, motherhood, marriage, divorce, adultery, love, tears and laughter. A merry-go-round and yet poignant with the aching promises of what ifs and the constraints of what cannot be. As Ilsa tells her sister Liane “Here’s the thing about love: it can last, but you have to be careful with it.” Tuck this in your beach bag this summer -intelligent woman’s entertainment to ponder.

- Rosslyn Bentley

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Who we are is a product of the experiences we have had: who we have known, who we have loved, who we have detested, and who we have tolerated; the places that we have been, the meals we have eaten, and the books we have read. We define ourselves by what we think is relevant, what we think is witty, what we think is clever and what we think others will find appealing in us.

But who are we really? Are we the people we think we are? Are we the people that others want us to be? Do we undergo a process of reinvention as we move from place to place, interaction to interaction, and role to role? These are the questions that Tom Rachman most brilliantly explores in his most recent book, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is a history. It explores the dynamics of power and politics. It asks the great questions of what it means to be, to be present, and to be heard. But it isn't the book you think it is, or at least it isn't the book it's title most directly suggests. More specifically, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is the personal history of Tooly Zylberberg, itinerant outsider, inveterate observer, and seemingly incorrigible accomplice. Over a span of 23 years, Rachman explores Tooly's development. She begins as a precocious child of nine, trusting, timid, and tentatively finding out who she is. She ends with, perhaps, a new beginning.

Throughout the book, Rachman plays with themes of itinerancy, identity and ideology. Three key periods of Tooly's life are interwoven in an intricate Gordian knot, only becoming clear once inexorably split apart. Rachman's characters are delightful, wholly drawn and richly narrated, while avoiding the fate of overwrought caricature. His dialogue is brilliantly crafted and resonant, words taking shape in the mind's ear, and he has an incredible gift for illustrating place and scene with just a few deftly observed and pithily phrased details. I laughed out loud at many of his turns of phrase, delighting in Rachman's imagery and imagination.

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is an astonishing meditation on family and friendship, meaning and purpose, destiny and opportunism. The more you think you know as the book unfolds, the less you truly understand. The more that Rachman reveals, the more you question the motives, meaning and—occasionally—meanness of others. Rachman is a great observer of society, culture and the human condition, and has produced an overwhelmingly magnificent book that I couldn't put down and yet didn't want to end. It is one of those rare and delightful novels that provides rich rewards on many levels simultaneously, and can likely not just survive but satisfyingly sustain numerous re-readings. This is one of my favourite books of the last few years, and it is one that I recommend unreservedly.

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).