Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dear Canada: An Ocean Apart: The Gold Mountain Diary of Chin Mei-Ling, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1922 by Gillian Chan

Dear Canada: An Ocean Apart: The Gold Mountain Diary of Chin Mei-Ling, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1922 by Gillian Chan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear Canada series


A fine entry into the Dear Canada series. This author, Gillian Chan, is new to me so I didn't know what to expect in regards to the writing but was pleasantly pleased to find an engaging, well-written story. This "diary" is not about a particular incident but focuses in on the Chinese experience in Canada post World War I. This is a time when the country had immigration laws imposed upon the Chinese in particular so that while it had an influx of men, who had worked on the railway in the previous forty years or so, the government was at work to limit new Chinese from entering the country by imposing immigration fees and head taxes eventually up to $500 on each individual, even babies. This is where we find our main characters, a community of Chinese men, related in various ways from young to old, who are all saving up to bring back wives, children and parents. Mai has been brought over by her father, which is rare for a daughter to be treated so and the only thing a bit unbelievable about this book, but one must assume it was indeed done at times, though sons and wives would have been ahead of a daughter in most circumstances. A touching and realistic look into life for Chinese-Canadians at this period in time but Chan doesn't limit herself there. She also shows the intolerant nature between the races of that society with Mai's Irish Catholic best friend being a target for school teasing and her family for contempt. At one point the teacher makes a plea [I'm paraphrasing] of how he can't understand the necessity for the children to concentrate on where they came from. Why the gangs of boys? British against Portuguese? Italian against Irish? Dutch against Spanish? etc. Mai makes note that there are not enough Chinese boys to make a gang. A good read, I enjoyed this one and it serves a good purpose within the series itself.



View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Escaping Home by A. American

Escaping Home by A. American

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Survivalist Series (#3)

I so enjoyed getting back to these characters and this story. I had a hard time deciding between 3 or 4 stars but this one was not quite up to the level of the first two so my rating dropped to a 3 but I still enjoyed it in a different way than the others. All our regular gang are still here, though still not back together. Things switch between the guys & family, then we see what Jess is up to. This volume is not as action-happy as the previous two, there is still plenty of shoot 'em ups but there are definitely less than the norm. This left some periods where the story was all about talking about the next scheme or waiting for an episode to happen. What I can say though, is that this volume certainly improves on the character development of nearly every one of the major players. Thad had already been the most developed character and Morg too but we get to see a different side of Morg as he interacts with his family and we learn the different personalities of his three daughters. The soldier guys are all developed much further as well. I've really come to like this hodge-podge group of rough 'n' tough alpha males! The only one whose development was left out was Jeff. He's always there but I had to wrack my brain to recall how he came to be with these folks in the first place. Anyway great, fun series for those who like survivalationist themes.



View all my reviews




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Different Seasons by Stephen King

Different Seasons by Stephen King

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars


I am (re)reading King's works in chronological order. I read this book when it first came out. Up to this point in his career he had proven he was a master of genre fiction, even including the Bachman books which though not horror are still various genres. Here King now turns his hand to straight fiction with four novellas within this collection, bringing some of his finest work to date and proving that he can write pure fiction, even "literature".

1. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption - This story is the narrative of a lifer at the prison called Shawshank. Shortly after he is incarcerated along comes a new inmate named Andy Dufresne. Andy has a huge impact on our narrator and he tells us Andy's story along with what life is like inside a maximum security prison. A gritty dramatic prison tale that held me fast from beginning to end. (5/5)

2. Apt Pupil - This gets close to what we've come to expect from King. Not a horror story, by any means but a thriller; a psychological thriller. I couldn't quite remember this story at first but it all came rushing back as I started to read. A 14 yob is fascinated with the death camps of the Holocaust and after some detective work finds out a neighbourhood man is an SS Nazi in hiding, blackmails the man into telling him all about the details of what really happened at the camps and the two form a respect/hate relationship that lasts for the rest of their lives until what drew them together pulls them apart with vengeance. A bit hard to read at times (these are sick individuals) but an unputdownable read! (5/5)

3. The Body - I was looking forward to re-reading this one the most as "Stand By Me" is one of my all-time favourite movies that I've seen many times. I know the story impressed me the first time but upon re-reading, I find the movie is too firmly stuck in my mind. The story is, of course, good but it is very long and very retrospective more than having action. We are a party to the narrator's thoughts and this is truly a piece of literary coming of age work. I'm glad to have read it again and feel nostalgic and melancholy afterwards but, as Ive said, the movie remains foremost in my mind. I could not help but picture the actors, especially Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman. Feldman's character Teddy is quite different in the story and it was hard for me to reconcile the two. Vern, Jerry O'Connell's character, is completely re-written so him I didn't picture plus he is the least dominant character in the story, whereas he has an equal role in the movie. This story has tie-ins to the Stephen King universe with Sheriff Bannerman being mentioned a couple of times, only since this takes place in the fifties he is only a Constable at this point and Shawshank prison (from the first story in this book) is now part of canon, being mentioned twice. (5/5)

4. The Breathing Method - This is the only story from this collection that I didn't remember at first and the re-read didn't bring it back to mind either. So it felt new to me. This is a tale of the macabre and the closest to what we would expect from King, in this collection. It is also the weakest, in my opinion. It's firstly, a story of a men's club where they gather and tells stories, sometimes scary but not always, though Christmas is always an unusual or weird tale. There is something unsettling about this club and our narrator at times tries to discover what it is but never has the nerve to fully go all the way, realizing, as we do, that he is better off not knowing the club, the host and the house's secrets. Secondly, the story narrates a tale one icy, stormy Christmas of a young pregnant woman who dies in an horrific accident on the day she goes into labour. I actually found this boring at times, way too much time was spent on describing "The Breathing Method" otherwise known as Lamaze that it felt scholarly. My least favourite story in the book. (3/5)

PS - For those of you following me on this project, this book marks my completion of the goals I set out for myself for this year (2014)  I read several books this year as they were either short or collections.  It really helped push me up the list a bit.  So this is it until next year.  Then, as always, the tradition here at "Back to Books" is to start the year off with a Stephen King book and the next one up in published order is "Christine" when I was 15.  Really looking forward to that.  I remember the book freaking me out quite a bit, even though the movie watched later, was dumb.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Boxcar Children #9: Mountain Top Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children #9: Mountain Top Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boxcar Children (9)

I am re-reading the original 19 in numerical order. A fine romp that continues in the tradition of the previous books. The "mystery" this time is two-fold, first the ever-present identity of the mystery person, this time an Indian boy, and second, the hunt for a hidden treasure. This is the next summer after the previous book and the kids have decided to go where Grandfather was supposed to be taking them when they inadvertently ended up at the Lighthouse last time. The children are obviously older now, though no ages are given. Illustrations of Benny, sometimes called Ben now, show him as an older boy, not the little boy shown on this cover. John Carter is the only recurring character who returns this time but he has now assumed the role of Grandfather's right-hand man. The book has a cultural message about not forgetting the ways of the past, specifically here the "Indians", and presents them in a positive light showing how the Great-Grandmother Indian woman is passing along her skills of sweetgrass basket weaving and wampum bead making to the present generation. This is then the first time in the series in which the book ends with words presuming to tell us that there will be another adventure next summer and that will be time for another story. The series has gone through some minor changes since the early novels but one knows what to expect by this point.



View all my reviews

Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa

Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This isn't a book I particularly liked. It is a sad, depressing, dark, story filled with nasty people and themes. I like dark literature and certainly don't need a happy ending to enjoy a book but this had no redemption for anyone and none of the characters had any redeeming qualities. The only one who could be seen to have grown throughout the book is the father, and he's a minor character. Even though I didn't like the characters or the story, the book is well-written and at no point did I ever consider not finishing it.



View all my reviews

Friday, November 7, 2014

BOOK TOUR: The Widow Smalls and Other Stories by Jamie Lisa Forbes

BOOK TOUR

Courtesy of





The Widow Smalls and Other Stories by Jamie Lisa Forbes

Pronghorn Press (2014), Paperback, 232 pages

A collection of beautiful, well-written, bittersweet (for want of a better word) westerns. There is a degree of romance to these stories but not the kind that word usually conjures. These stories are sad and melancholy but the also focus on self-examination, retribution, and excepting ones past, mistakes and all. Lovely collection!

1. Ramona Dietz - A rural story set in the 1950s deals with many issues. A wealthy young man and his childless wife run a ranch the father bought. The man has father issues and takes his wife for granted. As a new hired hand couple come to the ranch he finds someone whom he can relate to in the 16yo wife and further issues of insest and abuse are explored until finally the farmer stops to examine his own life. Well-written, with a focus on characters and themes. (4/5)

2. Lincoln's Nephew - Another story of a ranch hand, this time taking place in the 1930s. The hand looks like Abe Lincoln and says he was his Uncle. Narrated by an old man back when he was a young boy he tells the tale of Lincoln's time on their ranch. This is a tale of Desire and the trouble wanting more and trying to look big can not only get you but what kind of man it can turn you into as well. Well-written and haunting. Really liked this. (5/5)

3. His Mild Yoke - A lovely timeless rural farm story. A tale of woe and life's hardship, taking these things in stride as they come. A little girl, probably about five, narrates perhaps six months of her life where tragedy after tragedy occurs, some worse than others. It all plays out to the meaning of a poem by Milton. (4/5)

4. Crack-the-Whip - Again we have a rural story that could be set at about anytime from the mid 20th century on. Narrated by a Mormon man, he talks of the day his high-school dropout daughter comes home for the first time at Thanksgiving. He assumes she's going to come back but she's determined to be independent in the city. He has a strained relationship with her and we find out that he's a domineering father and all of his children have great dislike for him. This and the next day become pivotal in their lives. I am really enjoying Forbes writing at this point and looking forward to the next story! (5/5)

5. The Good War - This is the longest story so far, more a novella than short story. It starts with the boy and his sister as children and ends with them at married/marriageable age. The setting is against the background of WWII and again we have a family of ranchers. We start by seeing them as independent owners but quickly the next year they are foreclosed upon, move and become the hired managers of a wealthy man's small ranch. this is a tale of woe, hardship, class privilege, loneliness and grief. But underneath it's backbone is the story of siblings who spend an entire life arguing and antagonizing each other until at the moment of greatest loss, they realise their intense need for each other. Brilliant! (5/5)

6. The Widow Smalls - A really beautiful classic western. It's a tale of romance and one of a woman who finds her own self after the death of her husband of thirty years. The story is timeless; we feel it happens some time in the past but it is modern enough (could be 50s to 80s to me) and Leah Smalls is always referred to as "old" or the widow but from doing a little figuring she is probably only in her mid-fifties. The writing is simply beautiful. I loved this lady and the Mexican hand who came to help her out. The only downfall here is that the plot is predictable but the story is more about the woman's coming into herself than plot. (4/5)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

American Titan: Searching for John Wayne by Marc Eliot

American Titan: Searching for John Wayne by Marc Eliot

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


An all around interesting biography on John Wayne. The author's note at the end of the book explains his method of biography writing which he bases on an actor's body of work reflecting the life of the person; he explains the concept of "auteurism". I'd never heard of this before. However, I enjoyed the book quite well. It is a highly positive look at John Wayne in chronological order through his movies. While remaining "pro"-Wayne the book does take on his controversial aspects such as Wayne's refusal to serve in the military. I've seen a lot of Wayne movies and knew him to be the ideal "American" of his time but didn't really know much of anything about him except that he died of cancer. The biography was highly entertaining and informative with lots of anecdotes about happenings on set and his relations with other actors of the day. Many famous names are included here. Wayne was a very opinionated man, extremely political and Republican who had no time to waste on fools so there are certainly some captivating stories! But The Duke was always a gentleman and respectful to others even when he totally disagreed with them. The author's writing is very readable but he does tend to follow a pattern chapter after chapter which becomes a bit tedious, such as continuously stating the salaries Wayne and his co-stars received for each movie as footnotes. Occasionally this information was eye-opening but the frequency of it is tiresome. Overall, a good read about the American patriotic movie scene from the silent movie era to the early seventies focusing mainly on westerns and war movies.



View all my reviews

All Fall Down: The Landslide Diary of Abby Roberts, Frank, Alberta District, 1902 by Jean Little

All Fall Down: The Landslide Diary of Abby Roberts, Frank, Alberta District, 1902 by Jean Little

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dear Canada

This is Jean Little's fifth book in the Dear Canada series and an emotional tale probably best aimed at the older end of the recommended 8-12 age group. However, I found it somewhat different than the other books I've read in this series. The book isn't really about the Frank Slide; instead it is a story of a family with its own plot set against the historical setting where the Frank slide tragedy comes as the climax. The story deals with some excellent emotional topics. Starting with the death of the father, the family that no longer has a "head of the household" moves across the country to live with relatives. The father was a brutish man, not physically, but no one greatly misses him and other topics deeply running through the book include adoption, downs syndrome and a young girl running off with a philanderer. All of this is set against the background of a 1900s Alberta coal mining town and details the mindset of that time period. A lovely story.



View all my reviews