Tag Archives: Canada

Katherine Govier – The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel.

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The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel – Katherine Govier (2016, HarperAvenue, Toronto)

I admit the only reason I picked up Katherine Govier’s book The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel was because it is set in the Rocky Mountains, in a town called Canmore (called Gateway in the novel) – I live very close to the area and have always been fascinated with the history of it.  Did I make the right choice? I sure did!

This is a long book, a heavyweight that unspools at just the right pace right up until just before the ending.  The story pivots on the mystery of the disappearance, in 1911, of the Hodgson expedition while hunting for fossils in the mountains. Every event that takes place over the next several decades, over more than one generation, is influenced by this significant loss.  I loved the journeys of the characters involved: Herbie Wishart, the former poacher turned mountain guide, a man with dark secrets and obsessed with the truth; Gwen Hodgson, orphaned by the tragedy and burdened with questions about her family and her place in the world; Helen Wagg, the writer and representative of the newly-formed Parks Canada, tasked with spinning the mystique of the Rocky Mountains for the world; and Iona, the rebellious daughter of her Quaker mother and wandering father, offering up secrets of her own to her family in her old age.

Of course, Govier’s book is a work of fiction, but it was sometimes hard to separate story from fact – a testament to her skill at making the reader believe in her characters, their motivations, and the way time unfolds over the span of many decades. There are so many wonderful details in the book that make it as authentic as possible – there is no doubt Govier spent countless hours doing research (it surely helps that she lives in Canmore part time).

For some reason, however, the ending felt rushed to me – even the sentences reflected this, with many turning into choppy phrases.  I suspect this was an intentional stylistic move – after all, time seems to fly as one advances into old age, as Iona does.  It could also express the way modern living is characterized by fast-paced busyness.  Still, it appears an interesting choice to shutter the entirety of the book’s mysteries in a few brief paragraphs, when the book itself is over 400 pages long. (I’m not sure what the alternative could have been; the story couldn’t go on forever, even if I wanted it to).

Beautifully told and highly recommended.

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Eileen Schuh – Shadow Riders.

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Shadow Riders – Eileen Schuh (2016, Castle Harbour Publishing)

When Allison Montgomery is kidnapped by two members of a bike gang and forced to travel to South Korea to help secure illegal business dealings, she just wants to make it home alive. Instead, she is surprised to find herself falling in love with one of her manipulative, cruel captors.  Psychologically, physically, and emotionally traumatized, Allison will do just about anything to guarantee her survival – even though the cost may be greater than she could ever imagine.  Eileen Schuh’s new tie-in to her excellent BackTracker series is a difficult, dark, and gritty look into the life of an abused woman and the violent circumstances that threaten to destroy her.  Thoroughly researched and well-paced, Shadow Riders is not an easy read, but an important one.

Joe Fiorito – Rust is a Form of Fire.

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Rust is a Form of Fire – Joe Fiorito (2015, Guernica Editions Inc., Ontario)  

Joe Fiorito, a long-time columnist for the popular newspaper the Toronto Star, offers up what he calls “non-narrative non-fiction” to capture a microcosm within the city of Toronto, Canada.  Over the course of three days, he spent several hours sitting near the intersection of Victoria and Queen in the bustling metropolis, and recorded all of his observations of the scenes around him:  snippets of conversations, what people were wearing, what they were drinking or eating, what the temperature was, interesting features about buildings around him…you name it.  Along the way, he reveals a fascinating portrait of the multiculturalism of the city, of the street people, the poor and ill, the tourists and the urbanites, the babies and the elderly, the workers in the jobs (both mundane and high-powered) – everyone who makes up the personality of the city.  It’s a simple concept, but the result is utterly absorbing, and I can’t help but wonder what other writers would come up with if they conducted a similar experiment in other cities of the world.

Don Gutteridge – Coming Home.

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Coming Home – Don Gutteridge (2011, Oberon Press, Ontario)

Gutteridge’s 12-book “Marc Edwards” historical mystery series intrigues me, but my TBR pile is so monstrous right now I won’t get to them for a good long while.  In the meantime, I thought I’d check out some of his poetry, and selected a more recent collection, Coming Home, a series of short poems reflecting on old age, memory, and his relationships (past and present) with family and friends. Many of the poems are tributes to those that the author has lost in his life, bittersweet snapshots of moments in time, fragments of memory and perspective.  These are simple, sentimental, and deeply personal works – and although I struggled to connect with them, I am still looking forward to the mystery novels.

Gregory Spatz – Inukshuk.

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Inukshuk – Gregory Spatz (2012, Bellevue Literary Press, New York)

I always go for the quirky plots, so I glomped onto this story of Thomas, a troubled teenaged boy with an unhealthy obsession with the British explorer Sir John Franklin (and when I say “unhealthy,” I’m talking scurvy) and his delicate relationship with his separated parents who are caught up in their own passions (Dad’s a tortured poet, Mom’s an environmental crusader).  Skillfully and lyrically written, Inukshuk nevertheless lost me with the Franklin expedition – I loved the parallels drawn between history and the modern day story (and, of course, Thomas’ fictionalized movie version of events), but I couldn’t keep the characters and events straight.  I kept finding myself glossing over the Franklin stories, and I know I missed out on some of the larger themes of the novel because of it.  I had a far greater connection to the story of Thomas and his parents.

Catherine Mamo – Paperwhite.

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Paperwhite – Catherine Mamo (2009, Thistledown Press, Saskatoon)

I always wonder why I don’t read more poetry – especially when it is as good as the work found in this collection by Catherine Mamo.  Short, intimate, and mostly bittersweet, these poems are little jagged snips of Mamo’s personal life, presentations of the juxtaposition of housewifery routine and the natural world.  As always, I am drawn to the fact that she writes about the Canadian west…and the proliferation of floral imagery is attractive to me as well.  Put Paperwhite on your must-read list for the new year, even if you don’t usually read poetry.

Barb Howard – Western Taxidermy.

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Western Taxidermy – Barb Howard (2012, NeWest Press, Edmonton)

This collection of short stories by Albertan Barb Howard initially comes across as quirky (the book jacket blurb calls them “tender, satirical, and occasionally absurd”), but there’s some real meat here as Howard explores the nature of power and control – more specifically, who giveth and who taketh away.  “Basic Obedience,” about a father who suspects something isn’t quite right about his daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend, really packs a wallop – I can’t get that one out of my head.  And the frightening backstory to a newly-engaged couple’s seemingly frivolous stop at a crazy roadside attraction in “Last Seen at Teeny Town” is a good gut-check, too.  There’s a heart of darkness in most of these tales, despite their brightly-wrapped packages.

Plus, you gotta like a book that features a taxidermy gopher, right?