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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller? April 17, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller?

By Dan Davidson

December 28, 2017

– 806 words –


Bellvue SquareBellevue Square

By Michael Redhill

272 pages

Doubleday Canada



Some time after he had achieved genre superstardom as a writer of thrillers and horror novels, Stephen King got out the drafts of his earlier unpublished novels, rewrote them, and issued them under the name of Richard Bachman. He’s not quite clear on why he used a pseudonym for these books, which sold only moderately well until some sharp-eyed reader outed him and then they sold much better.

Eventually he ended the career of his alter-ego, who had had his own author photo and fake biography on the back of each book, saying that he died of cancer of the pseudonym. He would later revisit the consequences of this action in the novel The Dark Halfand the novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden”.

J.K. Rowling walked a similar path after the Harry Potter books, producing a series of detective novels under the name of Richard Galbraith. She was outed before the first one appeared, but has continued to use that name for her Cormoran Strike mysteries (four so far).

Trevor Ferguson has written some books in the Detective Emile Cinq-Mars series of mysteries (five so far) under the pen name of John Farrow, while pursuing literary fiction under his own name.

Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well. There are two plays, four volumes of poetry, four literary novels and four mysteries, the latter under the name Inger Ash Wolfe. The choice of name and gender reverses the more normal publication practice of women hiding behind men’s names.

The present book, which is a psychological thriller of the unreliable narrator variety, begins by introducing us to Jean Mason, an independent bookshop owner in Toronto, in an area near Kensington Market.

It begins, “My doppelganger problems began one afternoon in early April” and it continues to get much stranger after that. One of her regular customers tells her that he has just seen her in the nearby park, but that somehow she has managed to change her clothes and get a haircut in about 15 minutes.

Thus begins Jean’s obsessive quest to find this other woman, a quest which leads her to spend hours each day staking out the park and making the acquaintance of its denizens, many of whom are, to say the least, eccentric. So is she, as we slowly begin to realize.

That, however, is far from all in terms of plot twists, for it develops that almost everything we have learned about Jean and a number of the people around her, are not things that will pass the test of objective reality. And from that point in the book, we are left wondering just what parts of what comes next are real and which are parts of a delusional psychosis that sometimes has Jean institutionalized and sometimes has her moving about freely.

Is there a doppelganger or isn’t there? Does she look almost exactly like Jean? It that person named Inger Ash Wolfe, and has she been the author of four mystery novels? And if you’re beginning to sense something odd here, go back to the paragraph that begins with the words: “Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well.” and check out his pen name.

It’s a spooky story, and at the end of it, when the police sit down with Jean and ask her to give her full name, you’re going to be left wondering, as I was, just what she might have said in reply.

This book got a lot of press notice this year, Aside from being the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, it was a #1 National Bestseller, a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017, a National Post Best Book of 2017, a Kobo Best Book of 2017 and a NOW Magazine Best Book of 2017.

I don’t know that I’d agree with everything the 2017 Giller Prize Jury  had to say about it, but it’s worth quoting as part of this review:

“To borrow a line from Michael Redhill’s beautiful Bellevue Square, ‘I do subtlety in other areas of my life.’ So let’s look past the complex literary wonders of this book, the doppelgangers and bifurcated brains and alternate selves, the explorations of family, community, mental health and literary life. Let’s stay straightforward and tell you that beyond the mysterious elements, this novel is warm, and funny, and smart. Let’s celebrate that it is, simply, a pleasure to read.”

I agree with the last sentence, but have to tell you that I was intrigued by Redhill’s other literary life, and picked up a copy of The Calling, the first of his Hazel Micallefmysteries. My next column will be about that book.






Bookends: Three books with magical tales April 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, fantasy, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Three books with magical tales

By Dan Davidson

December 20, 2017

– 665 words –


Classic Storybook Fables

Classic Fables

Retold and Illustrated by Scott Gustafson


84 pages




This beautifully illustrated book is much larger that the average picture book and ha s much more complex text. In a note at the end, Gustafson cites the original sources for all eight of the tales he has chosen for this book, his fourth foray into this anthology style territory. In this case he read many versions of the stories and then retold them in his own style.

“The Ugly Duckling” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” were originally told by Hans Christian Andersen.

“Beauty and the Beast” was written by Gabrielle-Susanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

“The Crow and the Pitcher”, “The boy who Cried Wolf” and “The Mice in Council” are attributed to the storyteller we know as Aesop.

“The Little Red Hen” is said to be Russian in origin.

“The Boy Who Went to the North Wind” is from Scandinavia.

The fashion in children’s books these days is to be quire cartoony, and there’s nothing wring with that, but it’s nice to see a really well painted version once in awhile. Gustafson works in oils.


Magic in a Year

The Magic in a Year

Written by Frank Boylan

Illustrated by Sally Garland

Flowerpot Press

32 pages



“Every year has months and seasons.

I love each for different reasons.

Turn the page and you will see

What makes each month special to me.”

Rhyming books are particularly fun for the 4 to 8 year olds that this book was written for, but can be fun for older kids as well.


Boylan’s rhymes take us through the year, with each double-page highlighting a new month. Garland’s illustrations, dome in a combination of acrylic paint and pencil, tweaked with a variety of digital tools, are lively and colourful, suited to the poems.

On the cover, Boylan credits Sara Coleridge for inspiration and her 1834 poe

m “The Garden Year” is reproduced on the final pages. Boylan has used the idea and the meter of the original poem in creating his text.

Ther author lives in Canada, though he was born in Ireland. The illustrator lives in Glasgow, making this book a very international creation.


Mr. Owliver’s Magic at the MuseumMr. Owliver copy

Written and illustrated by Carolyn Bracken

Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

32 pages


Carolyn Bracken is perhaps best known for her artwork on the books in The Magic Schoolbus series of educational adventure books. Here, she undertakes the task of providing a children’s primer in art history.

Mr. Owliver is the night watchman at the Animaltown Art Museum and each night he wanders through the rooms, reacquainting himself with his “friends” the paintings. The fun of this is that all the paintings are animalized versions of real works, such as the “Mona Lizard” by Leonardo Da Vinci, “American Gothic” by Grant Woodchuck, and so on.

Sometimes it’s the name of the painting that has changed; sometimes it’s the name of the artist. At any rate, the person who used to be in the frame is now a different species.

The mystery in this little tale is that one night – the night of Mr. Owl’s birthday – all the characters in the paintings have vanished, and there is nothing left but their backdrops and settings.

I’ll leave it to you to learn where they eventually turn up, because I wasn’t to focus on the last four pages of the book, This is where Bracken credits all the works she has altered for her book, gives their names, who actually created them, and where they might be found. They are all staples in any standard art history book and, of course, could easily be found these days by typing their right names into a search engine.

Finally, the last two pages provide a basic art history timeline, from the 1500s to just before World War I.

It’s a great idea and it’s really well executed.






Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source April 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Tracking Reality back to the Source

By Dan Davidson

December 13, 2017

– 718 words –

Savior's Game

By Sean Chercover

Thomas & Mercer

272 pages


There are lots of disadvantages to coming in on the third volume of a trilogy. From the clues in this book, it appears that in The Trinity Game andThe Devil’s Game, Daniel Byrne, a former investigator for a secret Branch of the Vatican, in charge of authenticating miracles, has undergone a crisis of faith. After debunking 721 such events over a ten-year period, case number 722 turned out to be something different.

It involved Daniel’s uncle, an ecclesiastical con man named Tim Trinity who called himself a Reverend, and who suddenly began to manifest actual precognitive powers. Eventually these seem to be accounted for by a mysterious mental virus, which causes people to have visions and eventually become mad and catatonic. They call it the Plague.

This problem continues into book two, which introduces a couple of secret organizations. Daniel is recruited by the Foundation to work against the Council, which seems to have plans for world domination, but eventually decides to take matters into his own hands and eliminate the Council’s chief agent. Along the way, he began experiencing some of the symptoms of the Plague, beginning with what he believes to be auditory hallucinations.

Along with the doctor who had assisted him in the second book he drops out of sight, changes his name, and seeks to understand what might be happening to him. By the time we join the story in book three, he and his partner have had to separate to remain hidden, and Daniel has begun to have visions to go with the voices he has been hearing.

He learns, from his previous allies in the Foundation, that the Plague, which they have renamed AIT (Anomalous Information Transfer) is spreading, and that thousands have been infected, more each week.

Gaining some level of control over his visions, he finds himself able to visit what seems to be an alternate reality, one in which things seem to be more real than the reality he has always known. He meets the woman who goes with the voice he has been hearing and learns that this other place had been experiencing a population growth that matches the spread of AIT.

Visitors refer to the place as the Source. This used to be a friendly place, but lately it has come to be dominated by one individual, who has a vast amount of the “magical” energies (teleportation, other mental abilities, manifestation of objects and food, among other things) that every one seems to possess to some degree in this place.

This individual has used his abilities to create a massive tower, and seems to have enslaved most of the other visitors to the place, using their – I almost want to write “worship”, though that’s not quite the right term. They are in an addictive, meditative state.

This man has come to think of himself as a god-like being, and he intends to harness the power of AIT to extend his control from the Source into the real world, which he considers to be just a pale facsimile of the world he controls.

Daniel has to come up with ways to survive in both worlds, stop the AIT plague which threatens to overtake most of humanity, and stop a plot to plunge the world into a devastating conflict which will further the plans of the being who calls himself Noah.

From what I’ve written you’ll get the impression that this is an oddly shaped book, one which partakes of some features of the action thriller genre, while other parts seem more akin with something out of Dr. Strange. To some degree there’s a touch of the Matrix here, or that Christopher Nolan film, Inception.

From the Amazon.ca descriptions of the first two books (which I admit to mining for this review), I would venture that they have far less of the mumbo-jumbo/alternate reality flavour than does this final volume. If this whole story line intrigues you, might want to pick up used or Kindle editions of the first two books (available for around $2 each). I got enough out of book three to be content without doing that.



Bookends: A Tale of Difficult Childhoods April 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A Tale of Difficult ChildhoodsMeadowlark

By Dan Davidson

December 6, 2017

– 685 words –


by Wendi Stewart

250 pages

NeWest Press


Childhood isn’t always easy; sometimes it’s nearly impossible. Even the best of families have their problems. The three families in this coming of age novel are worse than most, in so many ways.

Wendi Stewart’s first published novel – shortlisted for the KOBO Emerging Writer Prize – follows the growth of three children who live in difficult circumstances.

We begin with Rebecca, who starts out with an almost perfect family: a mother she adores, a father who loves his family, and a baby brother she’s not quite sure about yet, maybe a bit jealous of. She loses all of them when the family car goes through the lake ice on their way home from their wilderness cabin.

She is the only one her father, with her mother’s help, manages to save, and he is horribly damaged, both physically and emotionally, by the experience. Rebecca has to begin to run the family almost before she starts elementary school, and her responsibilities simply increase as she gets older.

At school she meets Chuck, the youngest (and not really wanted) son of a terribly dysfunctional family. He has an abusive father, and an emotionally absent mother. When his much older sisters still lived at home, they treated him badly. Only his Gran, who actually owns the farm they live on, is really there for him in terms of support and nurture.

He and Rebecca, both outsiders at school, form a strong bond. They like the woods; they like horses; they defend each other. Of the two, Rebecca is stronger and has the ability to stand up to and repel bullies.

Into their lives comes Lizzie, the adopted aboriginal daughter of a very white, prim and proper lady named Charlotte. There doesn’t seem to be any question about her love for Elizabeth (she refuses to use the nickname) but she is an oddly reclusive woman and, as the book moves on, it becomes clear that there is something wrong with her mind.

Lizzie has diabetes and Charlotte tends to overprotect her as a result of this, at least until her Alzheimer’s reduces her capabilities as a parent, and Lizzie has to deal with a reversal in their positions as she becomes a teenager.

We follow the kids from Rebecca’s pre-school years until they graduate high school. The early part of the book is almost entirely from Rebecca’s point of view. When the other two are introduced, we begin with a focus on each of them, but Rebecca comes into their lives and the focus moves back and forth.

It’s interesting to see her from their perspectives. She is the solid rock of their little trio, and yet their presence strengthens and changes her in many ways. Her father becomes less and less capable as the years advance, and she has to grow up so fast it’s almost painful to watch. Yet she succeeds, and it becomes clear that her friends are her real family.

Stewart comes to this book from a farming background in Ontario, and now owns a farm in rural Nova Scotia, so her use of the setting rings very true. When she was young she wanted to be a farmer, but her family insisted that she get an education and she ended up with a career in accounting, returning to her first desire later in life.

Some of the people in her life have had the problems she has grafted on to her characters.

The book comes to a natural conclusion, with the three of them surviving high school and making a plan their immediate future together. Stewart says that was all she originally intended to write about them, but many of her readers have pointed out that there’s lots of space for a sequel. She likes her three children a lot, and actually hated to finish writing the book, so she is giving it some thought.

Wendi Stewart is the current writer-in-residence at Berton House and will had home at the end of December.