Thursday, March 29, 2007

THE END OF THE ALPHABET by C.S. Richardson (2007)

My friend Pat loaned me her copy of this delectable first novel last night and I read it from cover to cover in one gulp, in spite of the fact that I picked it up at 10:45 at night and had to be at work by 7:30 this morning.

On or about his 50th birthday, Ambrose Zephyr is told by his matter-of-fact MD that he has an incurable disease which "would kill him within the month. Give or take a day." He and his wife Zappora embark on a tour of the alphabet in his remaining days. Some of their choices are nostalgic and others adventuresome: Amsterdam, Berlin, Chartres...Elba (then amended to Eiffel Tower in Paris), Florence, Giza...Istanbul...truncated MNOPQRSTU...Venice....originally Zanzibar and finally home with Zipper.

Richardson's writing is clean and his affinity for storytelling prescient. And, the cover design of an imitation Moleskin journal makes you feel like you're prying into someone's life--the true true thing. Where fiction transcends non-fiction in its ability to reveal emotional truth.

Read this beautiful billet-doux of a book.

C.S. Richardson is appearing with Ian McEwen in Toronto at the EnWave Theatre on Monday April 30th 2007.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

RAISIN WINE by James Bartleman (2007)

Ontario's Lieutenant General has penned this charming memoir about growing up in a different Muskoka during the 40s and early 50s. The title refers to the homebrew that Jimmy's Scottish dad concocts and serves to the locals out behind their outhouse as liberally as he does his stories. Raised in poverty by loving parents and having faced racist taunts of "half-breed" throughout his childhood because his mother is Native and his father is white, we follow the plucky and determined 7-13 year-old Jimmy as he schemes to break the cycle by taking on jobs as a paperboy and later as a scrap metal collector.

Written with honesty and true affection for another time and place in spite of its challenges, RAISIN WINE is worth your time.

Friday, March 16, 2007

THE TIME IN BETWEEN (2005) by David Bergen

Bergen's novel travels from the interior of BC to Vietnam and back and insists that the reader takes that journey eavesdropping alongside Charles Boatman and two of his children Ada and Jon.

Boatman raised his three children on his own when his estranged wife is killed in an accident. And, though he insists that he is a man incapable of love, he manages to show real love towards Ada, Jon and Del. Charles is haunted by his past. Specifically by his active duty in Vietnam where he served with other eighteen year olds and bore witness to the slaughter of innocent Vietnamese.

When his children are adults getting on with their own lives, Charles decides to visit Vietnam to try to put some of his personal ghosts to rest. And, when he loses contact with his children, two of them follow in his footsteps determined to peel away the layers of secrecy in his complicated life.

Bergen's prose is strong, spare and rhythmic. And, boy does he know how to tell a compelling story.


I reread this novel in preparation for the Spring novel studies in my Grade 11 class and loved it even more the second time through. Blue and Emma are siblings who find meaning in their lives first through their connection to each other and then through their separate passions of archeology and tatooing. They lack for models in the parenting department since their father Oliver, an inventor and dreamer, abandoned them and their mother Elaine and with his creepy departure they lost their mother to the fog of alcoholism.

In spite of emotional journeys fraught with disappointment and disillusion both Blue and Emma turn out just fine in the end. Knowing as they always have that they can rely on each other no matter what.

THE KING OF THE MAITRE D'S by Louis Jannetta (2007)

Jannetta was the burly maitre d' at the Royal York's Imperial Room during the 70s and 80s when top notch talent like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney sang in Toronto. The book is a collection of anecdotes of his life among the stars. The book is chatty and unsophisticated, but it's the delicious gossip that makes it worthwhile.

I went to the launch last Sunday and marvelled at the number of toupees in the room. Apparently there are men who still wear toupees, a great revelation to me. Faded 60s heartthrob Bobby Curtola leapt across the stage, thereby upstaging Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion's enconmium to the almost octogenarian Jannetta.

Monday, March 12, 2007

THE TRADE MISSION by Andrew Pyper (2002)

Private school classmates Wallace and Bates are genuises who are on a trade mission to Brazil to pitch their product HYPOTHESYS to the morally bankrupt South American government officials. After their business is done they travel with their translator Crossman and their marketers Barry and Lydia on an eco-tourism cruise into the Amazon. Lies lead to torture and few of them make it out of the jungle alive.

Pyper's got a gift for storytelling and suspense. He is a master of the literary thriller genre.

A THOUSAND ACRES by Jane Smiley (1999)

Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel relies on the structure and content of KING LEAR to inform this family's tragic tale when the patriarch decides to divide his thousand acres of land between his three daughters, Ginny (Goneril), Rose (Regan) and Caroline (Cordelia). When Caroline refuses to sign her name to the deed, things fall apart indeed, though not before the neighbouring farmer is blinded like Gloucester or before Rose and Ginny ruin their own marriages by sleeping with the same irresistable prodigal son, Jess Clarke.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

LOST GIRLS by Andrew Pyper (1999)

Pyper's earlier novel is as gripping as his most recent one THE WILDFIRE SEASON.

In LOST GIRLS, Barth Crane is a hot shot Toronto lawyer hired to defend a high school English teacher in a northern Ontario town who has been accused of murdering two of his former students, Krystal and Ashley. The bodies have never been found, and with reasonable doubt established for the jury it seems that Crane has an easy enough job of achieiving his client's acquittal.

However, local lore about "the Lady of the Lake" and Barth's own tragic past combine to reveal new truths about what actually happened. Pyper's literary thriller is well worth your time.