sjmccreary ventures north

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sjmccreary ventures north

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Ago 20, 2009, 9:42am

The last thing I need is another reading challenge and have been resisting the lure of this one for the last several days. But I give up. I am ashamed to admit how unfamiliar I am with our closest neighbor. I am hoping that this group will encourage me to seek out books about and by Canada and Canadians.

Editado: Feb 17, 2010, 7:27pm

I'm going to use the list that separates Newfoundland and Labrador. And I am also going to begin with the Canadian books I've already read (both of them!).

Alberta - The Outlander by Gil Adamson, 2/17/10, msg 26
British Columbia
New Brunswick
Newfoundland - Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston 1/29/09, msg 4
Northwest Territories - Ice Trap by Kitty Sewell 9/2/08, msg 3; Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay 1/15/10, msg 22
Nova Scotia
Ontario - The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe 11/19/09, msg 6
Prince Edward Island

Ago 20, 2009, 9:55am

Ice Trap by Kitty Sewell - NW Terr. - read 9/2/08

I don't think this author is Canadian - I think she is from the UK but I seem to recall that she is married to a Canadian and has spent a lot of time there. The main character of this book is Welsh, but most of the story takes place in Canada. There were wonderful descriptions of the wide open landscape, the cold and snow, the isolation of the towns. This is the review I posted when I finished the book:

After making a mistake in surgery on a young boy, Dr Dafydd Woodruff flees to the Northwest Territory of Canada for a year. Several years after returning home to Wales and resuming his life, Dafydd receives letter from a girl in Canada claiming to be his daughter, wreaking havoc on his marriage in the process. Having no memory of a relationship with the girl's mother, he demands and is provided with DNA evidence supporting the claim. He returns to Canada to meet the girl and her twin brother and sort out the situation. He finds himself enmeshed in the lives of his old friends and acquaintances and searching for answers when questions begin arising in his mind.

Ago 20, 2009, 10:04am

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston - Newfoundland - read 1/29/09

I didn't post a review on this one, but these are the comments I entered in my catalog:

"Biographical novel about Joe Smallwood, the Newfoundlander who speaheaded the colony's confederation with Canada in 1949. Tells a story of his life from boyhood while at school, follows his attempts to find power and admiration first as a reporter then in politics, including a fictional life-long friendship with fellow reporter Fielding, a girl he knew in school and loved from afar."

This book also contains tons of descriptions about the place and its people. Not very complementary, I'm afraid. The place is stark, harsh, dark and cold. The people are much the same - isolated and distrustful of outsiders.

Ago 25, 2009, 9:51pm

Welcome to the group! I'm glad you couldn't resist.

Editado: Nov 19, 2009, 11:44pm

The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe. Ontario (but there were scenes in several other provinces, as well)

Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef, age 61, has been the acting C-O of the police station in her small Ontario town for 6 years. Due to budget constraints (and the political positioning of her boss who wants to shut down their department and consolidate it with the larger unit 2 counties away) there is no local commander, Hazel drives her predecessor's car, and they are short-staffed by at least one investigator. Despite these constraints, she manages to run the department effectively, refusing to allow her department to be swallowed up. So when an elderly local woman, terminally ill with cancer, is discovered brutally murdered in her home, Hazel is determined that they conduct the investigation themselves rather than turning it over to others. A few days later, Hazel's unit is called to assist at a murder scene in a nearby town - a middle aged man with multiple sclerosis. Forensic analysis indicates that most of the blood on the dead man was not his - and that part of it belonged to the elderly lady. With proof that the murders are related, Hazel is even more determined to solve the crimes without outside help. The investigation stretches her department to the limit and covers the country from British Columbia to Newfoundland. In the process of examining the killer's actions and trying to understand his motives, Hazel is forced to examine her own as well.

I liked this book. At times it seemed to drag, and be loaded down with too many details. There are a lot of characters here, both law enforcement and victims. The crime scene descriptions were horrifically gruesome, and got worse as the book went on - definitely not for the squeamish. This bad guy was one sick puppy. I'm OK with that, but I didn't like that Hazel kept thinking she could indentify with him and how he was feeling and what he was thinking. He was so bad and she is basically very good - it just seemed presumptious of her and inconsistent with her experience and maturity. It fed the internal conflict that she had to face before the end of the book, but it seemed contrived. Still, I was pleased to find an interesting new series. 4 stars.

edit to try to fix touchstone - but I give up

Nov 20, 2009, 12:50am

These look like excellent choices. I've also encountered books set in the maritime provinces that were not very complimentary to the people. I can't figure this out. Any maritimers that I have known have been very friendly, bright, knowledgeable, generous. Do you think the authors are trying to exaggerate a provincial character that only exists historically, or in very small pockets, or in the imagination even?

Nov 20, 2009, 10:47am

#7 That is an interesting question. The author of the Newfoundland book is himself a Newfoundlander, so I was relying pretty heavily on his descriptions being accurate. I grew up in a very nice midwestern city. Not glamorous like New York or LA, or even Chicago or Dallas, but wholesome and clean with plenty of ammenities. But in our local press, we described ourselves as hopeless, worthless, pitiful, losers. We were so focused on the negative aspects of our town, that we totally ignored all the wonderful positive qualities we had. I wonder if some of that is happening. Maybe those noncomplimentary descriptions are not so much inaccurate as they are unbalanced. There is another Newfoundland book that I want to read, The Day the World Came to Town, that tells about what happened on 9/11 when so many planes were forced to land at the nearest airport and Gander, Newfoundland was forced to host dozens of unexpected strangers for several days. This, I hope, will be a positive portrayal of the people.

Nov 20, 2009, 4:37pm

But fine, upstanding people are not interesting enough to carry an entire book. I mean, what book would you want to read; the nice one about a pleasant baby shower and how the family discovered that they'd saved enough money for a trip to Disneyworld, where everything went as planned, or the bleak tale of the town drunk who discovers that the previous owner had buried his ex-wife under the patio?

And doesn't the nicest town have a seedy underbelly? And the most wretched hellhole, its moments of grace?

Nov 20, 2009, 10:27pm

#9 An excellent point. I even made a point of teaching my kids that all good stories have villians.

Dic 1, 2009, 2:40am

I understand the need for multi-faceted stories, but I found too many books that were insulting to the people of the Maritime provinces. In my New Brunswick choice, the main characters, an RCMP officer and his wife, were locals and spoke normally. Everyone else had strong hillbilly dialects, heavily peppered with "gee-willikers". It was annoying. I should have abandoned it.

The lack of what might be called municipal self-esteem can affect many unsophisticated cities (I too lived in one) but I don't think this is the problem here. However, I'm going to keep searching for stories that while not necessarily perfect and nice, are at least well-written. I've been limited to what our small-town library contains so now it's time for interlibrary loans.

Dic 1, 2009, 8:40am

#11 Be sure to keep us all informed about what you're able to find. The problem you're describing isn't unique to the Maritime provinces, though. I belong to the Missouri Readers group here, where we read books that are written by Missouri authors, or are set in, or are about Missouri. We've begun noticing the same problem. According to the books we've read so far, Missouri is largely populated by what we've come to describe as "poor white trash". I guess like RidgewayGirl said, it's more interesting to tell a story about people who struggle with poverty, drug use, crime, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, etc, than it is to tell the story of our own lives in comfortable homes with plenty of food and friends in safe suburban cities. But surely an interesting story can be told against the backdrop of a place that would be nice to live it, can't it?

Dic 1, 2009, 6:51pm

There are plenty of books set in affluent, pleasant surroundings out there.

Lots of thriller-type books feature a rich guy and his size two trophy wife and two perfect blond children being menaced by a psychotically imbalanced killer (as opposed to those well rounded, stable killers). The rich guy usually has to use many name brands to save the day.

Also, "women's" literature often features an affluent, middle-aged woman facing divorce or some similar crisis from the comfort of her suburban home.

The problem with these books is that they often aren't very good, but they are out there in quantity. And don't "cozies" mostly keep themselves in comfortable surroundings?

I do understand the complaint of a region being depicted in an unflattering light, I am in South Carolina, after all! But the fault seems to be universal.

Dic 2, 2009, 11:17am

#13 lol. You're right, those books are out there but I avoid them for the very reason that they aren't usually any good! And I don't know what to say about South Carolina. I know what I've read about it, but have never actually been there so.... I'm sure it's lovely, at least as nice as Missouri! ;-)

Dic 2, 2009, 11:36am

We like to consider our politicians a gift to comedians and late night talk show hosts worldwide.

Editado: Dic 2, 2009, 11:56am

According to the books we've read so far, Missouri is largely populated by what we've come to describe as "poor white trash".

I read a true-crime book set in Missouri years ago that I've completely forgotten except one line: "This was a county where family reunions were looked on as a chance to meet girls". I thought it was hilarious, but puzzling, as I had recently returned from a trip to St. Louis, where people seemed about as sophisticated as in any other US city (and very friendly!).

The Maritimes are notorious for poverty and the ensuing hardship, but I'm sure there are some well-written books about it at least. I haven't explored that literary corner of the world, but I'm following this thread with interest and will let you know if I find any good books.

Dic 2, 2009, 12:33pm

sjmccreary, I think it's nice that you want to know more about your northern neighbours.

I've never been to Missouri, but I sure love South Carolina, what I've seen of it, which is an admittedly affluent area of the state, Hilton Head Island.

Dic 2, 2009, 1:12pm

#15 LOL!

#16 That IS a funny line. That must have been set in the southern part of the state. We make jokes like that about that area and (especially) on down into Arkansas. Like you said about the Maritimes, that is a part of the state well-known for its poverty and hard living. Maybe that is part of the reason for what we're seeing in books set in those areas. The people may be nice and friendly face-to-face, but if the lifestyle is hard, a story about those people or in that place will seem bleak and unwelcoming. Maybe? If you were impressed with the friendliness of St Louis, you ought to visit Kansas City next time you come to Missouri. We're even nicer!

#17 South Carolina might have the nod over Missouri after all. We don't have an ocean. We do have the Lake of the Ozarks - little more than a dammed-up river - that has some of the biggest boats found anywhere in the country. It's pretty ridiculous. Plus, no sand beaches.

Dic 2, 2009, 1:54pm

First of all I should say that not all of the Maritime books I found were disappointing. Maybe it is simply that the offerings in this small town are few.

I enjoyed The Catch by Louisa McCormack my Prince Edward Island choice. I also found a lovely PEI book on the Christmas display at my local library A Prince Edward Island Christmas: nowadays and long ago by Deirdre Kessler. It has a bit of everything: some beautiful reminiscences from the first settlers to the present; traditional island cooking; excerpts from authors; a bibliography; and outstanding photographs.

My Nova Scotia choices were enjoyable also:
- Birds of a feather: tales of a wild bird haven by Linda Johns
- Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan
The first didn't have a strong sense of location, so I read the second, a fictionalized account of the explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax harbour on Dec 6, 1917.

I'm planning to read Rare birds by Edward Riche as my Newfoundland choice and I'm still searching for Labrador and New Brunswick (NOT Alisa Craig). I welcome suggestions.

Dic 2, 2009, 3:49pm

#19 These look good - thanks for sharing them. You ought to post them on the provence threads that are set up, too. That way, everyone in the group can find good suggestions.

Dic 2, 2009, 4:52pm

Done! Good idea sjmccreary, thanks.

Ene 16, 2010, 12:48am

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay. Northwest Territories

I just noticed that I've already listed a book for this province - but too bad. As far as conveying a sense of place, I think this one is much more effective. The descriptions of the landscape, the plants and animals, the weather, the people and the town of Yellowknife were so vivid that I almost feel as though I saw them on a TV show. The title refers to the radio station where all the main characters work. One of them, Gwen, is just learning to be a radio announcer and is assigned to the late night broadcast. While I wasn't crazy about the book as a whole, I loved the descriptions of the place, and I want to take the same canoe trip that they did into the "Barrens" - the remote wilderness of northern Canada where trees don't grow.

Ene 16, 2010, 1:17am

I agree about Late Nights on Air. I haven't been to Yellowknife, but I have been to the Yukon, and spent too much time in northern BC. I think she captures the north very well, as you described. Another aspect that is very northern is the group of characters--odd, perhaps misfits to some degree, people escaping whatever from the south.

Ene 16, 2010, 7:09am

That's pretty good that you've got two entries for NWT already! I'm enjoying reading your reviews.

Ene 16, 2010, 10:31am

#23 I think that aspect you refer to - the eclectic group of people who are trying to escape from someplace else - is something that used to be common in the West, too, when it was the frontier. I thought it was interesting in this book that, while almost everyone came from someplace else, almost no one stayed in Yellowknife, either. Nearly everyone eventually moved on to another place.

#24 Thank you :-)

Feb 17, 2010, 7:26pm

The Outlander by Gil Adamson. Alberta

This is the story of a 19-year old woman in Alberta, Canada in 1903. Mary Boulton has just killed her husband and is now on the run from her two brothers-in-law. Ill-suited for the wilderness she is traveling through, it isn't clear at first whether the killing was prompted by some trauma or whether she is simply "mad". She meets several people along the way who show her kindness and provide help. Beautiful descriptions of the Canadian rockies, and of the towns she passes through and the people she meets. I found it to be un-put-down-able, and finished it in a single day. Not fast paced, but plods along steadily one step at a time. I lost track of time just as Mary did (both in the story and in real life). Recommended. 4 stars.

Feb 20, 2010, 9:41am

Glad to see you liked The Outlander too. It was one of my favourite Canadian reads of the past year.

Feb 20, 2010, 11:09am

I picked up a copy on Friday - vey excited to read it!