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Bookends: Books about Bees, Barbarians and Bullies February 15, 2018

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Bookends: Books about Bees, Barbarians and Bullies

By Dan Davidson

June 12, 2017

– 821 words –

Please, Please the Bees

Please Please the Bees 

By Gerald Kelley

Albert Whitman & Company

32 pages

$16.99

Benedict Bear led a simple, ordered life, a life in which honey played a very large part. The bees from his hive left him three jars every morning, and between his toast, tea and honey breakfast, baking honey cake, and a bedtime cup o

f tea with honey, he managed to live a sweet life. During the day he practiced his music, knitted, baked, and ran errands.

It all came apart in a hurry the day that the bees’ morning delivery did not arrive. Outside his front door there were bees flying around carrying tiny signs that read “On Strike!”

Benedict found that his whole routine just didn’t work at all when it was not sweetly lubricated. He just didn’t understand what had gone awry with his life. Fortunately, a spokesbee clued him in, took him on a tour of his unkempt yard, showed him the shabby condition of the hive and made it pretty clear that for over a thousand jars of honey every year, Benedict was going to have to make some kind

 

of contribution to the operation.

This was something to which Benedict had never given any serious thought, but he was a smart enough bruin to take the hint.

“I’ve never thought about what the bees need,” he said to himself. “But how am I going to make things right?”

So, he did some research, did some shopping, and did quite a bit of yard work and building. He even learned about how to harvest honey, so that he would be more involved in the process if he could entice the bees to come back.

Well, they did, and as a result, Benedict found that his ordered life was even sweeter than it had been before – for both him and the bees.

Gerald Kelley has illustrated a number of children’s books for other writers, but this appears to be his first solo effort. He has a pleasing artistic style that can almost make you believe a bear could be playing a fiddle and that bees might need umbrellas in their decrepit hive.

 

Brobarians 

Brobarians

By Lindsay Ward

Two Lions

40 pages

$17.99

Lindsay Ward says that she came up with the idea for this book one night after having watched the movie “Conan the Barbarian”. She doesn’t say whether it was the 1982 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger or the 2011 version with Jason Momoa, but the result might very well have been about the same.

“IN the beginning, a great warrior laid claim to the land, Feared by all, his reign was steadfast. But soon another arrived, and his influence spread quickly. This fierce rival challenged the great warrior. Two seekers of high adventure, their strength and courage became that of legend.”

Otto the Big Brobarian was the first to rule the backyard, but his supremacy is challenged by Iggy the Brobarian, who seems to be taking over.

 

There is a struggle, a confrontation, an epic battle brought to a conclusion only by the intervention of a higher power: Mamabarian.

Ward has produced a very colourful, action filled book contrasting the imagination of the brothers’ conflict with the reality around them. The baby barbarians are truly enthusiastic warriors and make the most of the materials around them to stage this game.

The art is splendidly child-like and the text is over the top, tongue-in-cheek.

 

Raech for the Moon

Reach for the Moon, Little Lion 

By Hildegard Muller

Holiday House

32 pages

$24.95

 

This cute little story emphasizes the idea that size is just a matter of perspective. Little Lion was very little, so little that he was the butt of a lot of size jokes from the larger creatures. The leopard, the hippopotamus and the crocodile were particularly hard on him, constantly chanting “Are you a lion or a mouse?” whenever they saw him.

He was depressed, and it didn’t help when they challenged him to prove he was really a lion by doing something they said a real lion could do.

“Lions are so very big that they can touch the moon with a paw,” they said.

Little Lion knew he could not do that, but the raven knew of a way to make it seem to happen, and he didn’t like how those larger animals had been bullying Little Lion, so he decided to help him.

So Raven set up the time and the place and announced to all the other animals that something important was going to happen, He led them to a place where they could see Little Lion on top of a hill, could see him reach up, and from that angle, appear to touch the moon.

“The next day, the leopard, the hippopotamus and the crocodile were very quiet.” And Little Lion walked away from them with a smile on his face.

 

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Bookends: A Novel that Mixes Mythology and Marxism February 14, 2018

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Bookends: A Novel that Mixes Mythology and Marxism

By Dan Davidson

June 7, 2017

– 829 words –

 

Deathless

Deathless

By Catherynne M. Valente

352 pages

$19.21

Kindle edition

$10.99

 

“The Death of Koschei the Deathless” is an iconic piece of Russian folklore, which Catherynne M. Valente has adapted into a fantasy novel. It helps to have read the legend, so I will refer you to the version in Andrew Lang’s classic 1890 collection, The Red Fairy Book, which is available online.

In Valente’s re-telling, the time frame is moved into the 20th century and the story takes place between the time of the Russian Revolution and 1952.

It is primarily the life story of a young woman named Marya Morevna. We meet her as a girl watching her three sisters being courted for marriage by three strange young men. Only Marya is able to see that these men are shape shifters, who arrive on the property as birds and then transform into suitors.

As she gets older we discover that she has the ability to see many kinds of other mythical creatures, including the Russian version of house elves, who are linked to the house and the family.

As time passes, and the Revolution takes philosophical hold on the nation, the large house becomes the corporate property of many families, and all their elvish attendants come with them.

In time, a suitor comes for Marya. His name is Koschei and, unknown to her, at first, he is a mystical creature known as the Tsar of Life, one of the great magical beings of Russian mythology. As part of their courtship, before the consummation of their union, they go on a strange journey, riding in a succession of automobiles that turn into horses at the end of each part of the trek, enjoying strange and marvelous meals that always leave Marya ill, and moving farther and farther into another reality.

Events in this strange fairyland mirror those in the mortal world to some extent. All the Russian mystical beings take on some aspect of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine and use the Party’s phrasing in addressing each other.

There are gaps in the narrative during which Marya is altered by her new life. She takes on some of the aspects of power, battles in the struggle between the Tsar of Life and the Tsar of Death. The book has six distinct parts, and there is a bit of a disconnection from one to the next, though they do all link together.

One sequence has her undertaking a number of impossible tasks set for her by the dangerous Baba Yaga, as part of the process by which she proves herself worthy of her husband.

Koschei’s legend foretells of his doom and death at the hands of a mortal man named Ivan, and, as the story moves into the WWII sequences, an Ivan becomes lost in battle with the invading Germans and stumbles into the mystic realm, where Marya is attempting to stave off an invasion by Koschei’s enemies. She meets Ivan and, sickened of the struggle, as well as overcome by a longing to reclaim her mortal life, falls in love and runs off with him.

They end up back in the real world of Leningrad, which has gone through many name changes since she was young, and occupy the war damaged home of her youth. When Koschei tracks them down there, Marya traps him in the basement and chains him there, as in the myth, not telling Ivan what she has done, but making him swear never to go into the cellar.

Things do not go well for them in the starving city and we expect the worst, but suddenly we find ourselves in the idyllic Russian village of Yaichka, where everything is perfect and nothing ever seems to charge. It is an illusion, but it goes on for several chapters until events cause it to break down.

There is sadness and loss in this novel. There are plots and counterplots, and some confusion for all the major characters. Marya ends up in a land on the other side of death, seeming to be an echo of her old life, but a place where it seems that almost no one recognizes her, and it’s not at all certain how she will fit in. And yet, the story ends on note of hope.

Catherynne M. Valente is an American author of fantastic fiction, and poetry, who has been racking up an impressive list of nominations and awards in various categories ever since winning the James Tiptree, Jr. Award in 2006. In the speculative fiction genre, she has won the Andre Norton, Hugo, Mythopoeic and Locus awards, and been nominated again for some of them, as well as the Nebula and the World Fantasy awards.

Wikipedia has a long list of her published books (since 2004) and an even longer list of her short fiction. This one has been interesting enough to make me try out another one sometime.

 

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February 14, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Murder and Mayhem among the not so idle rich

By Dan Davidson

May 31, 2017

– 790 Words –

 

Blacklist

Blacklist -audio

By Sara Paretsky

Narrated by Sandra Burr

15 hrs and 42 mins

Brilliance Audio

 

Kindle Edition

 

Print Length: 444 pages

Berkley Books

 

I’ve listened to five or six of theV. I. Warshawski novels over the years. Paretsky was one of the women, along with Sue Grafton (the Kinsey Milhone series), who took the Raymond Chandler style hardboiled private eye and swapped his gender. Like Chandler (and later like Robert B Parker) Paretsky has made her Chicago setting almost another character in the story. Chandler did this with LA, Grafton with her fictional California city, and Parker with Boston.

This novel came out in 2003, the second of the books that she wrote in the wake of the September 11, 2011 destruction of the World Trade Centre towers (and the other lesser remembered airborne assaults). These events brought on the morally questionable Patriot Act, interpretations of which are at the heart of this mystery.

VI. is hired by Darraugh Graham, an important long-time client of hers, to look into some complaints he’s getting from his aged mother, Geraldine Graham. The seniors condo where she lives outside of Chicago overlooks the former Graham family mansion and the old lady swears she is seeing lights in the building, but none of the local authorities are taking her seriously.

V.I. stakes out the place one night and bumps into a young woman doing something odd on the extensive grounds, Chasing her in the dark, she stumbles into the overgrown ornamental pond, and finds the body of a middle aged black journalist, Marcus Whitby. Investigation leads her to discover that he was working of a story dating back to the Re Scare era of the 1950s, a story that involves the wealthy families who live in splendor in this rural enclave and which dates back a couple of generations.

When the local authorities dismiss the suspicious death as a suicide, V.I, is hired by the reporters’ relatives to find out what really happened. She’s convinced it was murder, and a proper autopsy eventually confirms her suspicions.

She tracks down the girl, a high school student, Catherine Bayard, and finds out that she’s been hiding an Egyptian student, a young innocent who is wanted for questioning by Homeland Security simply because of his race and religion, by keeping him in the mansion.

There are many threads to this mystery. One of them leads to the story of a beautiful black dancer who was championed in the 1950s by various of the local liberals among the wealthy. There were affairs and much skullduggery. The homosexual secrets of a number of prominent right wingers were covered up and exploited. Blackmail and threats to reputations slid on down the years to the present day.

A second death, that of a once famous prosecutor for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) which made so many lives miserable and created the Blacklist which inspired the title of this book, is also dismissed by the authorities, but V.I. is certain this death and Whitby’s are connected, and is also certain that Benji, the Egyptian boy, saw who put Whitby’s body in that pond.

There are certain set pieces in a Paretsky novel. V.I. must spend some time with Mr. Contreras, the downstairs neighbour with whom she shares a couple of dogs. She must argue with Bobby Mallory, a family friend (of he late father) and police officer who disapproves of her profession but nevertheless is often grudgingly helpful in some of the official niceties of her cases. The impression is that V.I. has to up her game and make all her suppositions airtight is order to get Bobby’s help.

V.I.’s emotions in this case are further complicated by the fact that some of the clues seem to lead back to Calvin Bayard, a civil rights legend for whom she had had immense respect during her years in law school (she was a public defender before becoming a PI). The man is now afflicted with late stage Alzheimer’s Disease and is not even a shadow of his former self.

I greatly enjoyed the developing relationship between V.I. and the haughty matron, Geraldine. They move from the latters attempts of bully an employee into submission to a true, cooperative friendship by the end of the book. I expect we’ll see her again.

This mystery is anything but simple, and I suspect that Paretsky’s decision to contrast the HUAC hearings with the Patriot Act was a very deliberate piece of social commentary by a writer whose Ph.D., thesis is history was entitled “The Breakdown of Moral Philosophy in New England Before the Civil War”.

Sandra Burr gave a very good reading of this book.

 

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Bookends: Uncommon Tales from an Uncommon Life February 14, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in autobiography, Bookends, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Uncommon Tales from an Uncommon Life

By Dan Davidson

May 24, 2017

– 807 words –

Common Man, Uncommon Life

By Stan Walchuk Jr.

Vista PublishersCommon Man

678 pages

$26.95

Stan Walchuk Jr. was born in Edmonton. By the age of 13 it was clear that he wanted to spend a much of his life as possible in the wilderness. You can read all about that adventure in chapter 8. By age 16 he had abandoned his first try at finishing his formal education and spent a year working for a Yukon outfitter, headquartered on a piece of land not far from where his younger brother, Len, now operates LeBarge Ranch Ltd. with his wife, Karla DesRosiers.

Stan did end up going back to school, finishing his grade 12, getting a couple of university degrees, and teaching for about ten years. Len, like me, is a retired teacher, having spent a couple of years in Haines Junction and also in Dawson City, leaving the same year I arrived here, and concluding his career as an administrator in a couple of Whitehorse schools.

These days Stan and his wife, Marlene, operate Blue Creek Outfitting, near McBride, B.C. For somewhat longer than 20 years they have been offering self-guided pack trips, trail riding and packing clinics and archery training. They also breed, raise, and train trail horses, having trained over eighty trail horses in the past twenty years.

While there are some sidelong references to Mr. Walchuk being in a classroom and dealing with students, most of this book is about his adventures in the wild, some of which seem to be more like misadventures. He was in and out of enough scrapes before his 16th birthday, that he had me wondering if he was going to live to grow up.

The structure of the book is eccentric in a number of ways. It all works, but you have to get used to it. Most of the 33 chapters begin with a reflection, sometimes no more than a paragraph, sometimes a page or more. These touch on some aspect of the story that will make up the chapter that follows. The chapters are all narrated in the first person voice, but in the present tense. Stan doesn’t seem to like quotation marks, so you do have to adjust to the way he handles dialog, of which there is a great deal.

 

When in the wilderness alone he talks to himself, to the land, to the animals he is hunting. His writing is very descriptive, whether he is looking at a particular view, or taking you along a trail, whether on foot or on horseback.

Chapters 11 and 12 are specifically about his early adventures in the NWT and the Yukon. The first ten chapters are about school days, how he fell in love with horses, and some early adventure/almost disasters that do suggest, to some extent, what some of the later chapters will be like.

It’s not quite clear in the books when he makes the transition to full time outfitting and guiding. Most of the stories seem to be more of a personal than professional nature. I’m also guessing that most of his actual forays into the mountains, whether hunting with rifle or bow, don’t have quite as much drama as the stories he has chosen to tell here.

Sure, drama and an element of danger make for a more exciting story, but there are enough of those moments in this book to make you wonder why the man is still alive. However, the book is subtitled “The Wild, Wacky and Adventurous Life of Stan Walchuk Jr.” so that should tell you a lot about the kinds of stories he would chose to set in print. It should also suggest to you the amount of humour that Walchuk brings to the page.

This is a long book, and it’s been years since the Star paid me anything for doing this column. The books I receive are worth the time. Stan wrote that I could probably just read some sample chapters and he’d be happy, but I don’t review anything I don’t finish, and some paid assignments that actually required me to read three other non-fiction books took me away from this one a number of times, so I’ve just completed it this week, having begun it on February 27. For several weeks Stan’s face looked at me accusingly from beside my reading chair while I was in the middle of those other books.

I tell you all this so you will understand that the book kept pulling me back in spite of all the interruptions. I’m not an outdoorsy sort of person, so there were times when I was overloaded on mountainous trails and treacherous rivers, but I stayed with it to the end and enjoyed it.

 

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Bookends: Considering Free Will in a Murder Investigation February 14, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Considering Free Will in a Murder Investigation

By Dan DavidsonRule 34

May 16, 2017

– 923 words –

 

Rule 34

By Charles Stross

Ace Books,

336 pages

$8.99

Rule 34 is set in the same futuristic Scotland (a more or less independent nation) that Stross used for Halting State, the first book set in this milieu, but about five years later and with a different cast of characters.

It uses the same narrative structure. There are half a dozen second-person present-tense viewpoints that rotate the story around a series of murders.

Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is one of these characters, and the one initially most concerned with the killings. She is the first to realize that, unconnected as the victims may be, there is a thread, a very obscure thread, in the means that ties them all together. The two or three she views, have all been killed by malfunctioning appliances that contain computer chips.

When it turns out that there are more of these, some in other countries, and that the body count is well over a dozen within a few days, she concludes, and manages to persuade her superiors, that some sort of coordinated murder spree is under way.

We are some time putting all this together, because we have to cycle through several other narratives, several times, before we hear enough of Liz’s thoughts (these are very internal narratives) to see the pattern.

Like many a Scots detective (Rebus is cited several times), Liz’s personal life is s total mess and her thought processes are disrupted several times by the arrival in town of an old lover, Dorothy, who has her own problems to share.

In the meantime we meet Anwar, a small time crook on probation who is trying to make ends meet and stay out of trouble. Anwar is that oddity, a married Muslim with a straight family (wife and kids) who carries on a number of homosexual liaisons in seedy bars, and imbibes quite often in spite of the Islamic laws about drinking alcohol. He becomes the onsite diplomatic attaché for a small, breakaway Slavic nation that is involved in some sort of financial scam, of which he is unaware. He is the comic relief in this book.

We meet the Toymaker, a multi-identitied agent of some sort who is in Scotland for nefarious purposes. He is somewhat psychotic when off his meds, and frustrated in accomplishing his task in that it seems that all the people he has been supposed to do business with are being murdered before he can work with them.

Ah-hah, we say to ourselves. A connection, though it’s uncertain as to what.

Not quite half-way through the book we encounter some other viewpoints, including one which is that of the organization (the Operation) which employs the Toymaker. There is also Felix, the chief aid of the president of the quasi-nation that employs Anwar. Another is Kemal, the European “spam-cop” who specializes in computer fraud and is assigned to travel to Scotland to assist in what has become an international murder case.

There’s an Internet meme that runs this way: “Rule 34—If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions.”

In this case we might substitute “corruption” for “porn”. Given what we have learned about Internet monitoring, government snooping and electronic surveillance, it might not seem as surprising today as it did when Stross published the hardcover edition of this book back in 2011, that something might go wrong.

In this case it seems that an advanced spam filter program might have gone off the rails and started organizing the deaths of people who might, perhaps, be involved in some sort of nefarious activity. It’s using an advanced form of the algorithms that Amazon and Facebook use to decide what ads to show us and what things we might like to buy.

Philip K. Dick wrote a short story decades ago in which psychic precognitives were used to do much the same sort of thing. It became the movie called “Minority Report” and the short-lived television spin-off of the same name.

This book delves into some of the same territory, while raising the possibility that an evolving artificial intelligence code named ATHENA might not hesitate to manipulate individuals in order to bring about what it considers to be a satisfactory solution to a problem that only it has resources enough to analyze.

This is likely the last of the Halting State series, unfortunately. Stross has written about why in an essay on his blog, Charlie’s Diary.

“I really wanted to make it a trilogy, you know? I mean, what could be cooler than a trilogy of near-future Scottish police procedurals about crimes that don’t exist yet, written in multi-viewpoint second person?

“At this point, I’m clutching my head. ‘Halting State’ wasn’t intended to be predictive when I started writing it in 2006. Trouble is, about the only parts that haven’t happened yet are Scottish Independence and the use of actual quantum computers for cracking public key encryption (and there’s a big fat question mark over the latter—what else are the NSA up to?).

“The science fictional universe of Halting State and Rule 34 is teetering on the edge of turning into reality. Meanwhile, the financial crisis of 2007 forced me back to the drawing board for Rule 34; the Snowden revelations have systematically trashed all my ideas for the third book.”

So there it is. Enjoy this one until he figures out some why to get beyond our rapidly evolving digital reality.

 

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Bookends: Guidebooks to Places of Interest February 10, 2018

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Bookends: Guidebooks to Places of Interest

By Dan Davidson

May 10, 2017

– 693 words –

There are some books that it’s really not possible or advisable to attempt to read all the way through. They’re not actually written for that purpose. They’re browsers, reference books perhaps planners. They are books that I probably wouldn’t buy, but since they have arrived on my desk due to the nature of this column, I’ve spent some time with them. While I may look at other sections, I start out by wondering what they have to say about us.

I should point out at the beginning that Workman Publishing has done an excellent job on both of these books. The first one is a hardcover, printed on high quality paper stock, with a sturdy dust cover and embossed lettering on the actual book cover. There are lots of pictures and maps and the quality of the reproductions is excellent.

The second one is a high quality trade paperback printed on heavy, slick paper. The majority of the 1,000 entries have pictures and though most are about 2 inches square, they are crisp and clear. There are also many full-page colourful maps.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders

Atlas Obscura

By Joshua Fore, Dylan Thurs. and Ella Morton

Workman Publishing

470 pages

$35.00

 

The Atlas is divided by continents and subdivided by countries. It is crowded with small articles about items of historical and natural interest and describes places where you might go to see these things, or events, buildings, or celebrations. You can learn about festivals and cultural practices.

In Canada’s North, the books celebrates the David Diamond Mine, Pintos in Tuktoyaktuk, the Haughton meteorite impact crater on Devon Island, and St. Jude’s “Igloo Cathedral” in Iqaluit.

The Yukon gets three small entries on pages 265 ad 266. The first is the Watson Lake Sign Post Forest, with its 72.000 (up over 77,000 since this book came out) signs. The second is the Carcross Desert, that one-square mile patch of sand dunes lying beneath the mountains surrounding the area.

The last item, I am slightly embarrassed to record, hails from Dawson City, but it isn’t any of the sites we hope will allow us entry into the list of World Heritage Sites. Nope – it’s the Sourtoe Cocktail, which has graced a number of establishments since 1973, but which currently hangs out at the Downtown Hotel, below the large carved Big Toe funeral urn that will some day hold the ashes of its creator, Captain Dick Stevenson.

 

 

1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die

1000 Places to See

by Patricia Schultz

 

Workman Publishing

1184 pages

$24.95

1,000 Places is set up much the same way as the Atlas, sections divided by region and then by state or by province. As one might expect, only the last 100 or so pages deal with Canada, while the American regions get about that amount each.

The Yukon gets some minor mentions in the section called “Driving the Alaska Highway”. Watson Lake (signposts again) and Whitehorse are mentioned along with Kluane Lake, although the actual index listings for these placed seem to identify them as being in Alaska.

Dawson City, on the other hand, is properly indexed as being in the Yukon (YT), rates about a page and a third all to itself and does not speak of the aforementioned libation as one of the town’s landmarks. Instead it refers to Dawson as the gold rush town that “refused to die”, delivers a short history, and underestimates the town’s population (1300 rather than the current 2000+).

Still, the book’s first edition was in 2007 and the revised 2016 edition may have missed some people just as the Atlas missed some signposts.

It also mentions the services of Parks Canada, Robert Service’s and Jack London’s cabins, the SS Keno, Diamond Tooth Gerties (Canada’s northernmost casino) and Bombay Peggy’s Victorian Inn.

The specialized indexes at the back of the book do a good job of dividing the contents by interest areas, 11 different categories from Active Travel and Adventure to Take the Kids and Windows on the Past.

 

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Bookends: Picture Books for the K to Gr. 4 crowd February 10, 2018

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Bookends: Picture Books for the K to Gr. 4 crowd

By Dan Davidson

May 2, 2017

– 576 words –

 

Leap

Leap

Written by Campbell Manning

Illustrated by Nadia Ronnquillo

Flowerpot Press

34 pages

$16.99

 

The nameless rhyming narrator of this bright and cheerful story has a yen to travel in outer space. Eventually, he wants to leap off of a star, but something tells him this is too ambitious for his first attempt, so he decides to limit himself to leaping off of the moon.

His classmates think he’s berserk, but he remains determined.

“But I’ll show them. / I know I can!/Soon they’ll all see / that I’M THE MAN!”

He goes on to explain his preparations, and there’s quite a contrast between what he says and what we see, but that’s okay. In his mind he imagines his takeoff, arriving at his destination, the wonders of space and his return, by leaping off the moon, falling to earth, opening his parachute and landing safely.

He plans to get started on all this glorious adventure right away, but there has to be a slight delay.

“Just one last thing:/I have a hunch/Mom makes me wait/’til after lunch.”

This one is aimed as to K to 2 crowd.

 

Martin FInds a WayMartin Finds a Way

Written by

Illustrated by Katarzyna

Flowerpot Press

34 pages

$16.99

 

This story begins with a young boy named Martin, who, once day, set out to explore. It’s not certain that he knew he was exploring, or just what he was hoping to find, but what he did find was a “Way” to guide his travels.

“It felt good to find a Way.” He took it with him and shared it with other people that he met. “It felt good to share the Way.”

In time, Martin found other Ways. Some of them he found by himself; some he found with other people. He shared his findings and they shared theirs. He learned that there are many Ways, and that all of them are worthwhile, but that some of them fit some people better than they fit others.

“Each Way had its own unique characteristics, but the Ways were very similar as well. They were all very good Ways.”

There were some sad people for whom there was no Way, but Martin was not one of these. He came to realize that there was probably a Way that was just right for him, and decided to keep on journeying until he found it.

Which is just what he did.

This is a story that is deliberately vague about its subject, and should trigger a lot of discussions for the Grades 2 to 4 children the author and artist think they wrote it for.

 

Clap

Clap

Written by Uncle Ian Aurora

Illustrated by Natalia Moore

Flowerpot Press

34 pages

$16.99

Here’s a counting book that has a bouncy rhyme and a bit of a story to it, and is also interactive. The young reader or listener is encouraged to clap through a progression of energetically coloured pages that suggest a number of activities and show everyone having a grand time.

Reach 10, stop for a rest and then follow the directions to do different kinds of clapping – loud, soft, happy, amused and so on until you reach the end of the book and applaud the entire performance.

This looks like good fun for ages 4 to 8, but it may be a bit noisy for a library.

 

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Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series

By Dan Davidson

April 26, 2017

– 866 words –

 

The Mephisto Club

The Mephisto Club

Tess Gerritsen

368 pages

Ballantine Books

Paperback $9.98

Kindle $9.39

Checking the online reactions to the Rizzoli and Isles series of novels, I find that many of the comments come from people who picked up the books because of the TV series. Many of those commentaries say they are disappointed with the books.

I’m not, though I came to them via the same path. The series is much more light-hearted than the books, and the characters are quite different. Jane, for instance, is married and has a child. She used to suffer from all sorts on insecurity, but that seems to have eased with her marriage.

Maura is much more serious and has a darker backstory, one involving a psychopathic birth mother. Among the police she is sometimes known as Dr. Death. She also has a questionable relationship with a local priest.

Kozak, Jane’s immediate YV superior, is retired, and has just started dating Jane’s mother, who has only just left her husband in this book, though they’ve be separated for years in the show.

Frost, who had to be written out of the show when the black actor who played the part died between seasons, is a white guy in the books.

On TV Frankie, Jane’s brother, has evolved into a worthwhile individual and has risen in the Boston Police Dept. In the books, he’s a total jerk.

This particular book seems to be trying to infuse the usual police procedural/thriller pattern with a supernatural twist.

There’s a series of bizarre murders, made stranger by the occult serial killer symbolism that is attached to them, and the fact that they ultimately seem to be directed at an international group of armchair sleuths who call themselves the Mephisto Club.

The members believe in the reality of evil, and that there is a certain hereditary line of humans that stretches back to Biblical times, and is determined to prepare the way for a very real coming of Satan.

Jane and Maura think this is claptrap, but they get caught up in it nevertheless and end up in one of those secluded mansions that feature in so many spooky thrillers. It’s the Christmas season, the weather is terrible, and things almost go rather badly.

Yes, that’s a spoiler, but the journey is more than half the pleasure in this book, and there are a number of other plot threads that I haven’t mentioned which will reward your reading pleasure.

 

Saint DeathSaint Death

By Mark Dawson

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

292 pages in print

Kindle Edition

Amazon Digital Services LLC

$2.96

 

Mark Dawson has been churning out books at a fabulous rate every since he discovered Amazon’s self-publishing platform. The John Milton series has ten books so far and he’s got several others under way. I wonder if he’s inspired by the record of John Creasey, who used to put out several books and several different series, under different names, every year during his career.

In the second of these books, Milton, a former British secret service hit man who has walked away from his job, has been on the run, quite successfully, for some six months. He’s left England and has been working his way north from South America until he has landed in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.

Along the way he’s been finding occasions to work on his personal redemption by helping people, earning his living as an itinerant cook.

Juarez is a hotbed of drug related crime, as well as being littered with the bodies of sexually abused girls and terrified police officers. The media are uniformly frightened into silence except for a group of crusading bloggers. When Santa Muerta (Saint Death) and his crew arrive at the greasy spoon where Milton is working, aiming to murder the bloggers and their interview subject, Milton kills all but one of them, saves the female blogger, and inspires one of the local police to stand up to the cartel.

Milton joins forces with an American bounty hunter, who is being paid by the Mafia to take out Saint Death, in order to use his connections to get the young woman to safety in the USA.

Things go sideways and Milton is forced to improvise, at least partly because his former boss, known as Control, has sent a squad to capture him and bring him home. As it turns out, this works in his favour.

I’ve enjoyed the two books I’ve read. They’re light action reading. My main objection to them is the way their promotional material keeps trying to piggyback on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Except that they have an implacable main character who tries to help people, they don’t have much in common. They have a different style of writing, a different use of narrative viewpoints, and Dawson seems to suffer a lot more damage than Reacher.

In addition, there seem to be some continuing characters among the Brits that I expect to keep seeing again. One of two of them actually seem to be developing some sympathy for their erstwhile comrade, and it will be interesting to see how that develops.

 

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Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White House February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, current events, Klondike Sun, Matt Taibbi, politics, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Why There’s a Weird Person in the White HouseInsane clown president

By Dan Davidson

April 19, 2017

– 850 words –

 

Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus

By Matt Taibbi (Author),

Victor Juhasz (Illustrator)

Spiegel & Grau

352 pages

$22.98

Kindle Edition

$11.99

 

With a title like the one Matt Taibbi chose for this collection of US election year essays, you really can’t expect that he will have anything nice to say about the man currently (except on golfing weekends) occupying the White House.

Mind you, Rolling Stone’s style of election coverage, beginning with Hunter S. Thompson’s “fear and loathing” series, and continuing ever since, have always been irreverent, scatological and, well, politically incorrect.

In this book we have 25 of the articles that were written for the magazine, plus a couple of bookends – one to admit that we are going to see a quite a few wrong predictions and early gaffes, and another to sum up what he thinks are the lessons to take away from the 2016 Circus, or the train wreck, as he often puts it.

The essay titles tell you a lot, even without reading the book: Inside the COP Clown Car; The Official GOP Debate Drinking Game Rules (parts 2 & 5); America is too Dumb for TV News; Casting “Clown Car, the Movie”; Revenge of the Simple: How George W. Bush Gave Rise to Donald Trump; and so on.

As he writes in his opening essay, “It’s an Alice in Wonderland story, in which a billionaire hedonist jumps down the rabbit hole of American politics and discovers a surreal world where each successive barrier to power collapses before him like magic.”

Those are among the nicest things he says about the man some cartoonists have lately been calling “the golfer in chief”.

The other COP candidates are the “clown car to which he refers so often. There was not one of them without major flaws and character defects. Some he classifies as mentally unready for anything for complicated than a greeter’s job at Wal-Mart.

He’s not kind to Hilary Clinton or the Democratic Party, either. Given the nature of the opponent set before them, this was their election to lose, and they did so by not paying attention to how Bernie Sanders inspired people, and by not working as hard as Barack Obama did to win his two terms.

“Why Young People are Right About Hilary Clinton” is a chapter that, while it clearly indicates he believes that she would have been a better, saner, safer choice, outlines all the reasons why she was rejected by so many people in so many key states. While she may have won the popular vote, she knew as well as anyone in the game that she had to win the Electoral College votes for that to matter. She had lost the common touch that she and Bill had used to gain his two terms in office, and while she stated more than once that she knew that, she didn’t do anything about it.

Taibbi is kind to Bernie Sanders and merciless on the Democratic Party that refused to take him seriously or to learn from what he almost managed to accomplish with nothing to compare to the massive financial backing that Hilary got.

Taibbi thought at first that Trump was a complete joke but, long before others, he upgraded him from joke to disaster in the making, and eventually stopped being surprised as he took down all the other clowns. “The Unconquerable Trump” analyses that triumph.

He saves some of his bitterest bile for the media, that has turned American news outlets into infotainment centers, and quotes that memorable news exec who opined that Trump was bad for the country but great for ratings and therefor for profits.

Reality TV gets a good whack along the way, as well, but while it is blamed for helping to dumb down the public’s ability to think critically, the public itself is raked over the coals for allowing it to do so. This section should have contained a passing reference to Neil Postman’s 1985 classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Perhaps he did that in his 2010 book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. I think I must read this one, too.

He reserves some of his nicest words for the chapter called “Barack Obama’s Last Stand”, in which he describes the brief analysis of the outcome that the soon to be ex-President offered the public. Obama is not judged to be sinless. Promises were broken. Drones killed people. Red Lines were drawn but ignored. Still, Taibbi sums op the changing of the guard this way:

“Donald Trump may have won the White House, but he will never be a man like his predecessor, whose personal example will now only shine more brightly with the passage of time. At a time when a lot of Americans feel like they have little to be proud of, we should think about our outgoing president, whose humanity and greatness are probably only just now coming into true focus.”

 

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Bookends: An Aspiring Young Writer Tries Desperate Measures February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, Stacey Matson, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: An Aspiring Young Writer Tries Desperate MeasuresA year in the Life

By Dan Davidson

April 11, 2017

– 790 words –

 

A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius

By Stacey Matson

Scholastic Books

272 pages

$10.70

 

Arthur Bean is a genius, and destined to be the next great Canadian Author, at least in his own mind. His journal, as it begins in October of the school year, begins “The Next Great Canadian Novel (Title to be announced)”, under which he has written, and crossed out, nine opening sentences.

Arthur has been through some tough times lately, and moving into a new school, with many new challenges, beginning grade 7, just adds to the list of problems. His biggest problems stem from the recent death of his mother, which was a lingering, wasting death that has left his father traumatized, and Arthur over-compensating in ways that sometimes make him see a tad delusional.

For this and other reasons, he is what we call an unreliable narrator, not exactly a liar, but one who writes and believes his own press clippings. There’s been a lot of that going on the Big World lately, so it’s not as odd as it seems.

Arthur has some allies in life, if he will just use hem properly. His dad is trying to come out of his depression, but it’s a slow process. His next door neighbour, Nicole, who looks in on him after school when his father is still at work (don’t you dare consider her a babysitter) is a good source of support and advice.

For most of the year, he has an understanding homeroom teacher, who is also his English teacher. Ms. Whitehead has a skiing accident part way though the year, and the substitute, Mrs. Carrell, isn’t nearly so understanding. The staff advisor for the school newspaper is also a supportive soul, though he sometimes has to pull on Arthur’s reins a bit.

Arthur has a nemesis named Robbie Zack, so naturally Ms. Whitehead pairs them in a peer tutoring assignment that runs on through the entire year, and actually accomplishes exactly what she intended it too. The boys were equally at fault, but they eventually do learn something from each other.

Arthur’s writing partner for the year’s major short story assignment is Kennedy, a girl he is terribly sweet on, so naturally he has to suffer through ups and downs of her relationships with other boys.

This story is told to us is a very old-fashioned manner, with a bunch of new wrinkles. The epistolary style goes back to such classics as The Moonstone and Dracula where it manifested as a collection of letters and diary entries used to carry the story.

Matson has cleverly undated the technique to include email correspondence, letters, a school writing journal, Arthur and Robbie’s peer tutoring reports, school assignments, the student’s responses to school assignments, report card notes, school newspaper articles and cartoons.

There are also drawings, as it turns out Robbie is a budding cartoonist.

Matson says the layout for this book drove her publishers to distraction. The average chapter has several different fonts, in a variety of sizes and styles as well as a sketch or two. These were all executed quite well in the KOBO e-book version that I read on my iPad, though the laptop version of the KOBO software was not able to handle the task as well.

Arthur creates most of his own problems, though mostly not by intention. He is pretty much black and white in his judgements about most people and speaks his mind even when it would be better if he didn’t.

While he is constantly writing things all through the months, when it comes to creative fiction he suffers from writer’s block. His goal is to launch himself to fame by winning the short story writing contest and getting published. He is so anxious to win the writing contest that he trades his chance to play Romeo opposite Kennedy’s Juliet in the school play so that he can “borrow” a story that Robbie has written, fix it up a bit (he has the makings of a great editor) and submit it as his own.

That, you may imagine, gets him into all sorts of trouble and none of the things he does to rectify his error – once he completely understands it – work out as well as he hopes they will.

Matson had great good fortune in launching her career, and this book led to a contract for a trilogy with the same characters. She’s moving on to new projects now ad has two completely different books on the go.

Stacey Matson concluded her three months at Berton House at the end of March, and greatly enjoyed her winter stay.

 

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