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Welcome to January 2020!

(Part One of January's reviews, in alphabetical order by book title)
CARVE THE HEART by A.G. Pasquella (Dundurn)
About the book: Cassandra, the woman who broke Jack Palace’s heart, is suddenly back in his life. She owes $600,000 to a brutal gangster who has threatened her life, and she needs Jack’s help. Things start to get violent when Cassandra suddenly disappears … but not everyone believes she's in danger. Is Jack being set up? Bikers, mobsters, and strippers collide as Jack storms the mean streets of Toronto searching for Cassandra. To find her, he must rip open old wounds and confront new enemies. But as loyalties falter and secrets are revealed, Jack begins to wonder who he can really trust. If he doesn’t figure it out fast, he — and everyone he cares about — could end up dead. (Goodreads)
My Review:
He’s back! Jack Palace, meaner, grittier and tougher than ever! Carve The Heart cuts clean like a hot knife through cold butter, with characters you’ll think about long after you put the book down. Stylish and funny with a quick and powerful undertow of cruel, Jack Palace doesn’t hold back as he takes a stand in his own inimitable way. A thoroughly enjoyable, pitch perfect noir read! I was a fan of Yard Dog but Carve The Heart enjoys an even deeper groove of menace and humour, as if A.G. Pasquella has tapped into the next level, delivering a seamless tale. And it’s set in Toronto!
JOURNEYWOMAN by Carolyne Van Der Meer (Inanna Publications)
About the book:
Journeywoman is the story in poems of the explicitly female journey made by women through girlhood, motherhood and beyond. The play on the word journeyman is intentional with the notion of completing an apprenticeship and seeking mastery of the trade implicit. The actual journey, both physical and intellectual, however, is what brings woman to that state of mastery and Journeywoman, through verse, provides just one itinerary. This unique collection explores the stages of womanhood as defined by this author: the waif, the mother and the crone. It invokes the stories of many to describe the process of mastering the craft of being female, with all its inherent complexities. The actual journey is both physical and intellectual and involves not only the physical alterations a woman undergoes through the changing of stages—the metamorphosing required to achieve mastery—but also true travel, the road embarked upon to achieve enlightenment, the attempt to grasp the intangible, the ethereal, the metaphysical, the disembodied, the sacred. (Goodreads)
My Review
Journeywoman was a wonderful collection to read as the sun set on a decade. Reflective, introspective and observant, the work follows the life of everywoman, the loves, losses, triumphs, challenges, hopes and dreams in this circle of life. There was much to relate to.
LISTEN TO THE SQUAWKING CHICKEN by Elaine Lui (LaineyGossip, Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons)
About the book:
As the 800,000+ U.S. fans of Elaine Lui’s site know, her mother, aka The Squawking Chicken, is a huge factor in Elaine’s life. She pulls no punches, especially with her only child. “Where’s my money?” she asks every time she sees Elaine. “You’ll never be Miss Hong Kong,” she informed her daughter when she was a girl. Listen to the Squawking Chicken lays bare the playbook of unusual advice, warnings, and unwavering love that has guided Elaine throughout her life. Using the nine principles that her mother used to raise her, Elaine tells us the story of the Squawking Chicken’s life—in which she walked an unusual path to parent with tough love, humor, and, through it all, a mother’s unyielding devotion to her daughter. This is a love letter to mothers everywhere. (Goodreads)
My Review:
Whatever I was expecting, this book wasn’t it! I guess I thought it would be filled with warmth and fuzzy mother/daughter love and laughter and infused with nuggets of zen and helpful Chinese wisdom. And let me say that I love China, I’ve visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong on more than one occasion – I love the craziness of the crowds and the energy of the place.
Instead, it was an entirely unexpected memoir, crass in places, unashamedly blunt and quite in-your-face. I really enjoyed it though although the superstitions and strict adherence to luck and feng shui left me feeling decidedly nervous. Was I jinxing my entire life because I wasn’t eating papaya (or whatever my given fruit was – and how could I find what that fruit was?) because I didn’t have access to Elaine Lui’s mother’s insights?
I immediately decided to look up the Year of the Horse for 2020 and the prognosis wasn’t good. I’ve been quite obsessed with feng shui in my life and didn’t find it made any difference, but the book made me wonder if I should try again? Heaven knows, one doesn’t want to start off the year with bad luck!
If you aren’t worried or disconcerted by myriad superstitions or ghosts leaping off the page from Elaine Lui’s book and into your life, then this is a fascinating read about a unique but reassuringly familiarly enduring complex mother/daughter bond. Too close? I’d venture a yes but since LaineyGossip goes from one success to another, one must admit that The Squawking Chicken seems to know her stuff. Now… if only my Mother could do that!
MISTAKES TO RUN WITH by Yasuko Thankh (Hamish Hamilton)
About the book:
Mistakes to Run With chronicles the turbulent life of Yasuko Thanh, from early childhood in the closest thing Victoria, BC, has to a slum to teen years as a sex worker and, finally, to her emergence as an award-winning author. As a child, Thanh embraced evangelical religion, only to rebel against it and her equally rigid parents, cutting herself, smoking, and shoplifting. At fifteen, the honour-roll runaway develops a taste for drugs and alcohol. After a stint in jail at sixteen, feeling utterly abandoned by her family, school, and society, Thanh meets the man who would become her pimp and falls in love.

The next chapter of her life takes Thanh to the streets of Vancouver, where she endures beatings, arrests, crack cocaine, and an unwanted pregnancy. The act of writing ultimately becomes a solace from her suffering. Leaving the sex trade, but refusing to settle on any one thing, Thanh forges a new life for herself, from dealing drugs in four languages to motherhood and a complicated marriage, and emerges as a successful writer.

But even as publication and awards bolster her, she remains haunted by her past.
My Review:
Compulsive and compelling reading from start to finish, exquisitely written. ‪I loved the conviction in this novel that writing heals, brings resolution and happiness and absolves the heart and psyche from pain and punishment. That life doesn’t work that way doesn’t mean that we or the writing fails. It’s our inescapable truth-telling. Kudos to Yasuko Thanh for this memoir that leaves me hoping that all is well in this writer’s world and life becomes a kinder place.
STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE by Candace Savage (Greystone Books)
About the book:
A renowned author investigates the dark and shocking history of her prairie house.

When researching the first occupant of her Saskatoon home, Candace Savage discovers a family more fascinating and heartbreaking than she expected.

Napoléon Sureau dit Blondin built the house in the 1920s, an era when French-speakers like him were deemed “undesirable” by the political and social elite, who sought to populate the Canadian prairies with WASPs only. In an atmosphere poisoned first by the Orange Order and then by the Ku Klux Klan, Napoléon and his young family adopted anglicized names and did their best to disguise their “foreignness.”

In Strangers in the House, Savage scours public records and historical accounts and interviews several of Napoléon’s descendants, including his youngest son, to reveal a family story marked by challenge and resilience. In the process, she examines a troubling episode in Canadian history, one with surprising relevance today. (Goodreads)
My Review:
I once thought history was as objective as a compass needle. But the reality is that it’s a often no more than a marketing document espoused by those in power and once the truth is uncovered, it’s shocking and dismaying. This was a difficult book to read because of what we humans do in the name of religion, conquest and power. It was also a fascinating and eye-opening read and I highly recommend it.
THE CLUB KING by Peter Gatien (Little A, Amazon Publishing, April 2020)
About the book:
Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA, and Palladium—the cutting-edge, insanely successful, and notoriously decadent clubs that dominated New York City’s entertainment scene, their influences reverberating around the world. Across four decades, a single mysterious figure stood behind them all: Peter Gatien, the leading impresario of global nightlife. His clubs didn’t follow the trends—they created movements. They nurtured vanguard music acts that brought rock, house, grunge, hip-hop, industrial, and techno to the beautiful ones who showed up night after night to tear the roof off every party. But as Peter and his innovative team ramped up the hedonistic highs, Rudolph Giuliani was leading a major shift in the city. Under the guise of improving New York City’s “quality of life,” the club scene was targeted—and Peter Gatien’s empire became a major focus of the administration.

In this frank and gritty memoir, Peter Gatien charts the seismic changes in his personal and professional life and the targeted destruction of his nightclub empire. From Peter’s childhood in a Canadian mill town to the freedom of the 1970s, through the excesses of the 1980s and the ensuing crackdown in the 1990s, The Club King chronicles the birth and death of a cultural movement—and the life of the man who was in control of every beat.  (Goodreads)
My Review:
What a wild ride! This is a fascinating read! For the most part, I read the book willing Peter Gatien to get off the crazy club carousel while he was still ahead, but I knew full well that a great fall lay ahead.
I was riveted by the hard work and creativity, the ingenuity and the drive, the contributions by Andy Warhol and the entire team of players who worked tirelessly to build the culture that was the lifeblood of a generation. What a cast of characters – only they weren’t characters, they were real people, living the dream of club land, back in the day when clubs were the places you went to dance and dream and live your best life, although at that time, no one was uttering that tired, over-memed clichéd phrase.
Gatien is so right when he observed that club land was where we saw what people were wearing, what the songs were – we didn’t sit on the sofa, staring at our phones, detached while deluding ourselves that we are part of the action. Being part of the action in those days was getting ready to go out, standing in line for hours and dancing your heart out.
The book is an intense read, from rags to riches and then having the magic carpet whipped out from under one. One chapter is aptly title All Yesterday’s Parties and this might well have been a great title for the book.
It makes me sad to think of all the silence left behind, to think of the ghosts of all the vibrant characters that lived so fully and with such vibrancy. Perhaps it’s time to get off the sofa and go dancing but this book took me there, it took me off the sofa and into the Limelight and behind the scenes for riveting insider glances.
I’d also love to read more about Gatien’s adjustment to life back in Canada, after the bubble of his dream had burst. That couldn’t have been easy. This Icarus-tale will leave you wanting to know even more.
THE TENDER BIRDS by Carole Giangrande (Inanna Publications)
About the book: Matthew Reilly is a lonely priest haunted by secrets. Young Alison is the shy and devoted keeper of Daisy, a falcon that suffered an accident and can no longer fly. When they meet in a Boston parish, Matt tells Alison about the day a decade ago when he missed the plane out of Logan Airport that tore into one of the Twin Towers. What he hasn't told her is that among the victims was a son that no one knew he'd fathered. With no confidantes and close to exhaustion, Matt suffers a heart attack, forcing him to reflect on what's become of his life. He recalls a teaching stint in Toronto a year earlier, his encounter with Gavin, a troubled and predatory man, and his discovery that his son had a male partner who had perished with him. He remembers returning to Boston, only to be perplexed by Alison and the affection that she and her beloved falcon draw from the homeless people who live on the Boston Common, but Matt has forgotten a momentary but fateful encounter with Alison eight years earlier in Toronto and it's only when her falcon frightens a child in the parish that even Alison begins to recall her terrifying ordeal years ago as a homeless person in Toronto. (Goodreads)
My Review:
Carole Giangrande’s writing is, as always, a sheer delight to read. And, from the moment I started it, I felt as if The Tender Birds was written with me in mind - my worldly dilemmas, my contemplations of this confusing and randomly unspiritual era into which we have been cast.
I was brought up Catholic and have been dismayed by the scandals of the Church, leading one to wonder, what, if any of the spirituality, was real?
In the flawed and very real Father Matt, I felt as if my questions were being addressed to the point where I wondered if Carole had seen inside my brain but how ridiculously egotistical! These are the questions of today’s world not just mine.
The Tender Birds is a beautiful, faith-affirming life affirming book that brings us back to the healing power of nature and the quiet magic of being human in a universe of God wonders despite our efforts to destroy it.


About the book: 

Life is inspiring, from the beauty and grandeur of nature to the vagaries of everyday life. This collection of poetry captures the moments that make us pause and reflect, putting into words those things that move us, whether to laughter or tears. With charm, humour, and an insight that comes only from a life well-lived, this collection speaks to this journey we all take together, told through thoughtful and well-crafted verses, and it encourages us to stop and take note of the landmarks along the way.... (Goodreads) 

My Review: 
Why do I love poetry and appreciate poets so much? For their succinct summations of the wrongs that ail the world.
Good poetry taps into the unspoken that should be spoken and The World's Largest Perpetually Full BirdFeeder/Beehive: A Collection Of Poems does exactly that. This is a voice of angst and rage, a welcome manifest of righteous accusations in troubled times.
Politics, loneliness, social media, the thievery of corporations, the mystery of electricity, the wisdom of cartoon characters and a texting God all speak in this collection. This  is the voice of Beat poetry now, a refreshing read.
I agree that "we are all smarting ourselves to death" but you never know – poetry might yet save the day.