Monthly Archives: March 2016

Sixty, by Ian Brown

sixtyI guess I should be interested in the topic of this memoir, since I just turned fifty and, if I’m lucky, sixty will be the next big milestone. I borrowed this book from an actual over-sixty person, and haven’t yet had a chance to ask if the original owner thinks it’s accurate, but what it mainly underlined for me is how young I still feel at fifty, and how much inevitable deterioration is likely to happen in the next ten years. Ian Brown seems like a pretty active guy, with all the skiing and biking he’s doing throughout the book, but he’s still definitely falling apart, physically, and spends a lot of time reflecting on this throughout the book. The rest of his time is spent reflection on 1) how old he looks (apparently it’s not just women who worry about this as they get older); 2) whether women still find him sexually attractive; 3) whether he’ll have enough money to live on in retirement (he thinks not, after a career in journalism, but seems to be living an extremely comfortable lifestyle during his sixty-first year, so maybe his standards for “enough” are higher than mine); and 4) whether he’s done the best work he could do, and whether it’s too late to do more (like write a great novel).

Does all this sound a little self-absorbed, maybe even boring at times? To me, the sign of a great memorist is someone who can make the book interesting to read even when the subject matter could be mundane. The other Ian Brown book I read, The Boy in Moon, had an inherently fascinating subject — caring for a profoundly disabled child. This one is about the more routine business of getting older, something we’ll all face if we’re lucky, but Ian is an interesting, thoughful, and funny enough writer to make the ride interesting, at least most of the time.

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Filed under Canada Reads, Nonfiction -- memoir, Uncategorized

Closer Home, by Kerry Schafer (Interview)

I usually only post reviews on this blog, but I’m making an exception today. This is a pretty cool post for me to be able to do, because I love to talk about the KerrySchafersuccesses that my writer-friends have had, and Kerry is one of the writers I’ve been friends with the longest. Our relationship goes back decades, to when we were both young and foolish and aspiring writers living a few houses away from each other on a cul-de-sac in Oshawa, Ontario. We’ve kept in touch during all the years since, and Kerry has gone on to release a fantasy trilogy and a paranormal thriller under the name Kerry Schafer. Now she’s trying something new: this week her novel Closer Home comes out under the name Kerry Anne King. Since my novel What You Want has also just come out in paperback, and since writing women’s fiction is a bit of a change of direction for both of us, we are interviewing each other on our blogs today. I’m excited to tell you a bit more about Kerry and her new book. Read a quick synopsis of the book below, then continue on for my interview with Kerry.

When Lise Redding’s estranged sister, country-pop star Callie Redfern, is killed during a publicity stunt, the small-town music teacher is dragged from her quiet life into the spotlight.
Lise hadn’t spoken with Callie in ten years, ever since Callie’s betrayal split them apart, so she’s shocked to discover that she’s inherited her sister’s massive estate. Not only that, but Lise is now the guardian of her sixteen-year-old niece, Ariel, to whom she’s practically a stranger.
Overwhelmed by grief and her new responsibilities, Lise thinks things couldn’t get worse. But overnight she becomes the paparazzi’s latest obsession. Suddenly she and her longtime friend Dale are plastered over the front pages of the tabloids. Desperate to escape both the media and her memories, Lise sets off with Ariel on a search for the girl’s father. Yet instead of granting Lise a reprieve, the quest brings her face-to-face with long-buried secrets. Only by learning to forgive will she be able to find her way back home.

Trudy: When we first met nearly 30 (!!!) years ago, you were working on a fantasy novel. Since then you’ve published a fantasy trilogy and a paranormal thriller (under the name Kerry Schafer). Is writing women’s fiction something completely new for you?

Kerry: It can’t really be thirty years. You’re a writer – please tell me you’re making that up! I am not going to do the math myself. The answer to your question is, technically, yes. Writing a novel in the women’s fiction genre was actually my agent’s idea, and something new for me. She pointed out that all of my books feature strong women characters, and that I seemed to be passionate about that. As usual, she was right, and making the transition was very natural for me.

Trudy: Your Kerry Schafer books all have what I’d consider a dark side — an unflinching look at things that are terrifying and dangerous. Is there any dark side to Kerry Anne King and Closer Home?

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Turmoil, As Usual, by James McLeod

turmoilasusualLocal journalist James McLeod reports from the trenches on the two-year period, from 2013-2015, that saw the fall of Newfoundland’s once-mighty Danny Williams Tories, the DarkNL power outage (and outrage), the Year of Three (and a half) Premiers, the implosion of the New Democratic Party, and the rise of the Liberal Party to power under one of the least charismatic leaders of modern times. For anyone who follows Newfoundland politics, say what you will about the last few years — they certainly haven’t been dull.

McLeod tells us from the beginning that this is not going to be a “tell-all,” which is sometimes disappointing. There were times when I definitely hoped that the journalist’s perspective would reveal something that the general public hadn’t learned about the events we all saw played out on social media and in the evening news. What was Lorraine Michael really thinking when she decided it was a good idea to go to the media with that letter? What was Frank Coleman’s “family issue”? And where the heck did the yellow “Team Davis” flags come from??? All of these stories will come up in the course of Turmoil, As Usual, but you won’t find out any answers that weren’t already revealed to the general public. So if you were hoping for a shocking expose, this is not that book.

It is a good book, though, if what you’re looking for is a journalist’s view of what it’s like to report on the frequently bizarre world of Newfoundland politics, spiced with some behind-the-scenes detail and candid reflections not just on the parties and policies, but the personalities involved. McLeod is unsparing in puncturing the egos and facades of politicians — and he’s an equal-opportunity puncturer. Liberal, Conservative and NDP politicians all come in for often scathing analysis of their shortcomings, as well as (in a few cases) some generous words about their finer qualities. (Interim premier Tom Marshall is the only political figure who gets an almost straight-A from McLeod, both as a human being and a leader, though this may be because he wasn’t in power long enough to do too much damage).

But along with the personal glimpses of our elected officials, there are other glances behind the scenes at things most of the public is less aware of — like what really goes on at party conventions, and the almost-fanatical devotion of a few faithful, card-carrying party members who make it their business not only to support their leaders but attack anyone who criticizes them. Or how important social media really is in both politics and journalism today, and how a storm can erupt in the House of Assembly over a live Twitter feed that’s going out at the same time as the members are debating — a situation that those who first created our parliamentary system could hardly have envisioned.

Honest, detailed, and often merciless in its analysis of the politicians he’s spent so much time interviewing and following around, James McLeod’s Turmoil As Usual is a must-read for anyone who enjoys following our local blood-sport, politics. You won’t agree with all his conclusions, but you’ll certainly be entertained, and perhaps a bit better informed, by reading  them.

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Filed under Canadian author, Newfoundland author, Nonfiction -- general

The Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett


(Apart from a spoiler for something that happens within the first couple of chapters in the first book, I’ve tried as much as I can to avoid spoilers in this review, because I really hope you’ll read these books).

Most of my February was swallowed up in reading this classic historical fiction series, which I had somehow managed to miss until now. Having heard several people rave about how great the Lymond Chronicles were, I decided to give them a try. I figured that with the sixth and last book having come out over 40 years ago and the author being safely dead, it would be a great series to read because it is definitively finished. I wanted to avoid the risk of a Game-of-Thrones-like scenario where I read faster than the author can write and end up impatiently waiting for the next book. Having read through these six chunky novels in less than a month, I now find myself very sorry Dorothy Dunnett is dead. While the series comes to an absolutely satisfying conclusion, if she were still alive there’d always be the hope that she might write a sequel, and the thought that there’ll never be another book about Francis Crawford of Lymond is a pretty hard thing to live with.

As I was warned, these books are absolutely fan-freakin’-tastic. They follow the adventures of a sixteenth-century Scottish nobleman, the above-mentioned Francis Crawford (usually just known as Lymond), younger son of a titled family, in the turbulent years when Mary, Queen of Scots was a child being raised in France while the crown of England was passing in rapid succession through each of Henry VIII’s children (the series ends with Elizabeth I’s accession to the English throne). Conflict between Scotland and her unfriendly neighbour to the south forms the setting of the first book, The Game of Kings, and remains a constant concern. But the scope of these books, which cover a period of a little over ten years, ranges far beyond the British Isles. Lymond is sometimes a mercenary, sometimes a spy, sometimes a courtier, and always in trouble. His travels take him to France, to Malta, to Turkey and to Russia as well as to England, with stops back home in Scotland throughout the series. Dunnett’s detailed historical research shines through as she brings to life scenes from a far wider variety of countries than readers usually get to visit in the standard Tudor/Elizabethan historical novels. Yes, interesting things were happening in places far from Britain, and if you travel with Lymond, you’ll be plunged right into the middle of them.

You’ll also travel in the company of one of the most fascinating, infuriating heroes in any book I’ve ever read. Lymond is both hero and anti-hero. He bursts into the first book as an outlaw determined to clear his name of the various crimes of which he’s accused, and starts his campaign in a not particularly promising way by attacking his family castle, shooting an innocent (female) bystander, and then setting fire to the castle while his mother (not to mention numerous other people) is inside. At this point readers can be forgiven for thinking, “Wait … is this the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for?”

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Filed under Fiction -- historical