Monday, October 25, 2010

An Intriguing and Very British Novel

Tim Roux: Shade + Shadows. Night Publishing, using CreateSpace. May, 2010. Paperback 262 pages, $11.95

The novel opens on an argument/discussion between Jane and Alan Harding, a middle-aged married couple who are clearly fond of each other. They use this light-hearted spat to relax party guests and get them in a lighter mood. Alan calls these little spats “the cyclical celebration of [our] being a cohesive unit.” This is representative of his way of speaking and thinking: formal, bland and rather detached. In Alan’s words, his and Jane’s relationship is “impenetrably harmonious.” It makes their daughter Sarah crazy. If they would only show some level of irritation with each other, but they don’t. Most people don’t behave the way they do, but they are not most people, they are Alan and Jane Harding.

A very successful chiropractor, practitioner of alternative medicine and healer, Alan is able to cure everyone’s ailments by combining homeopathy, kinesiology, distance healing, prayer achieve miraculous results that even he sometimes doesn’t understand. Some of his methods, which would be illegal in any medical and psychological practice, present no problem for him due, it seems, to patient loyalty.

Then, halfway through the novel Alan’s idyllic world begins to unravel due to some hidden secrets in his life as a young medical practitioner stationed in Saudi Arabia. There are some very ugly people involved, it isn’t very pretty, and it challenges Alan’s detached manner. Is all lost? You’ll have to read the book to find out, as I’m not giving the secret away.

The only problem I have with the novel is its voice which, because it is Alan’s voice, is as detached and bland as he is. But it is very much in line with similar characters I’ve encountered in British literature, movies (“Remains of the Day”) and BBC sitcoms, some of them beautifully parodying them (“Fawlty Towers” and “Keeping Up Appearances” being two of my favorites). That aside, I think it is well-worth the read, and for readers who really like this style, very much worth it. The story itself is an interesting one.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Harukor, an Ainu woman's tale

Harukor, by Katsuichi Honda, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Selden, with a forward by Japan scholar David L. Howell. University of California Press, 1993. 315 pages including Glossary and Index. Paperback.

This isn't a new book, but in the study of the Ainu, Japan's best-known aboriginal people  it is an important one. Katsuichi Honda (his name on the cover is reversed following Japanese usage, as Honda Katsuichi) a well-known writer, journalist and student of aboriginal people in Japan, Canada and elsewhere, has written a most interesting book.
The first 90 pages are given to the culture and history of the Ainu of Hokkaido. The rest of the book is the fictional account of the life of an Ainu woman named Harukor who grew up in a tiny Ainu village in eastern Hokkaido over five hundred years ago. Using folktales, myth, interviews with elders and extensive study, the author makes this woman, her family and her people live.

The Ainu are no longer just a cultural artifact and tourist attraction; in Mr. Honda's hands they become a living people.

For anyone interested in the Ainu, and for students of aboriginal groups anywhere, Harukor is well worth owning and reading again and again. 

Looking for an editor

If you're ever looking for a good editor who can take your novel manuscript and make it sparkle,then Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn is someone whom I highly recommend.

Here are some comments, from Genevieve's website, from some of the people whose work she has edited. I've read their books, and they definitely do sparkle. Her website,, is listed under "favorite links" on he sidebar.

"Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn's editing was faultless, imaginative, professional and ultimately the finest I had ever witnessed."
-- Kathleen McKenna,
"Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn's stellar editing skills became truly apparent to me as we worked upon my first book."
-- Steve Jensen
"She inspired trust because she so obviously knew exactly what she was doing."
-- Suzannah Burke
"Genevieve takes pains to understand fully where each author is coming from and is dedicated to helping writers achieve their goals."
-- Lael Whitehead
"Throughout the editing journey her input, insights and observations were invaluable."
--Jillian Brookes-Ward
"I'd recommend her sensitive and insightful approach to editing to anybody"
Charlotte Castle 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saving Nathaniel, A 5-Star, Can't-Put-It-Down new novel

Saving Nathaniel, by Jillian Brookes-Ward. Night Publishing, October 2010. 300 pages, paperback and Kindle editions.

My attention was caught by the novel’s first sentences: “She was wet. She was cold. She was late.” With that opening, my attention was captivated. In my opinion, it is one of the most powerful, attention-grabbing openings I have ever read in fiction, and I read a lot of it.

Saving Nathaniel is enchanting and powerful storytelling, with characters that are real people, not clichéd cut-outs. The personal struggles Nathaniel and Megan have are ones that most of us can identify with because most of us have had them at one time or another. I certainly have. But it’s the skill of the story telling that kept me engaged, as in one exchange with Nathaniel where Megan “gave him a look so cold it would have made a penguin reach for a muffler.” It’s the kind of laugh-out-loud remark that makes this story such a richly human one. The author tells the story of Meg and Nathaniel with compassion and skill that draws you in and keeps you there long after you’ve finished the last page. This is a wonderfully wise book. Hopefully it is the first of many by this fine writer.

I can see Saving Nathaniel as a movie, with Helen Mirren in the role of Megan. It’s definitely one I’d watch more than once.

 Five Stars.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mary Oliver, a Thirst for life and light

“My work is loving the world,” poet Mary Oliver writes in the first line of her opening poem “Messenger”.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
            equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

“Are my boots old?” she asks, “Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
            keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

It “is mostly rejoicing,” she continues, “since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
            and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
            to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug up clams,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
            that we all live forever.

There is a joyance here … and sadness and yearning for the love lost when her partner of more than forty years died of cancer the year before these poems were published. “When I think of her,” she writes in “Those Days”, “I think of the long summer days/ she lay in the sun, how she loved the sun, how we/ spread our blanket, and friends came, and” what life was like until she died.

Light flows from the branches of trees. “Stay awhile,” they call in her poem “When I Am Among the Trees”; “It’s simple,” they say,/ “and you too have come/ into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled/ with light, and to shine.”

Mary Oliver has a hunger and a thirst for life and love, a joyance about life that comes from gratitude, and a kindness about her that is so appealing.

If you enjoy good poetry, Thirst will be a treasure on your shelf to be read again and again as I have done and do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Interrupted Thought of Amerinidan Civilizations

The Mexican Dream, by J. M. G. Le Clézio. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 208 pages. 

What if the thought of Amerindian civilization had not been interrupted by the genocidal Conquest of the Spaniards who landed on America’s shores beginning in 1492? What if it had progressed to its fullest flower of philosophical, political and artistic possibility? Those are the kinds of questions that underlie Le Clézio’s fine little book, first published in 1993 and available in Japan only last year.

When my wife recommended this book to me earlier this year, I bought it, read it, and put it aside. For some reason, it just wasn’t quite what I expected. I even regretted having bought it. Then a few days ago, I picked it up again, re-read it, and discovered what I had missed. Right there in the subtitle “the interrupted thoughts of Amerindian civilizations, was the whole point of Le Clézio’s book. What if the Amerindian civilizations had not been destroyed? “The conception of cyclical time, the idea of a creation based upon [chaos] might have been the points of departure for a new scientific and humanist way of thinking. [T]he respect for natural forces, the search for an equilibrium between man and the world might have been the necessary braking of technological progress in the Western world. Only today we are measuring what that equilibrium might have brought to medicine and psychology” (page 208). What if … the possibilities are almost endless.

But this was not to be so. The Amerindians of Mexico and the Yucatan, whose cities were so beautiful that they were awe-inspiring, were far ahead of Europe’s greatest cities in terms of cleanliness, waste removal and clean water, and whose music, visual and poetic arts astounded the invading Europeans was “in the span of one generation … reduced to dust, to ashes.” How could this possibly happen? “The Conquest was not just a handful of men taking over … seizing the lands, the food reserves, the roads, the political organizations, the work force of the men and the genetic reserve of the women. It was the implementation of a project, conceived at the very beginning of the Renaissance, which aimed to dominate the entire world. Nothing that reflected the past and the glory of he indigenous nations was to survive: the religion, legends, customs, familial or tribal organizations, the arts, the language, and even the history – all was to disappear in order to leave room for the new mold Europe planned to impose upon them” (page 176). “All means, especially violence, were used to carry out the program of the destruction of the indigenous societies: these means formed the set of rules which were to govern the American colonies until Independence” (page 177).

The bulk of Le Clézio’s wonderful book is an exploration of the rich cultural heritage of these people as it was preserved by Mendieta, Bartolomé de Las Casas, Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, Fernando de Alva Ixtilxóchitl, and those Amerindian sources, such as the Mayan Popol Vuh that were not destroyed.

Some books just never let loose of my mind and imagination, and this is one of them. I give it a ***** rating. 

The author, J. M. G. Le Clézio, born in Nice, France in 1940, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Poison of a Smile

“This is my voice. You cannot hear me, but I hope you will read my thoughts.” So begins Steven Jensen’s novella, set in late 19th century Wales. The voice belongs to Alatiel, the sinister, ghostly woman who appears in many guises throughout Steven Jensen’s novel, soon to be published by the UK’s Night Publishing.

Appealing, compelling and ghastly, “Alatiel” is a succubus, an evil spirit who destroys everyone she touches, changing guises as she goes. The men she is involved with, enchanted by her airy beauty, sleepwalk through their relationship with her as she sucks them dry and dismissively casts them aside, destroying them.

Though I didn’t especially like this novel (I don’t usually read ghost stories set in the late 1800s), it is well-written and compelling. After reading it this morning I fell asleep and woke up an hour or so later from a dream in which I had come home looking forward to seeing my wife, but couldn’t find her. I went through each room, all empty but the bedroom, which was empty except for a large black tarpaulin thrown over the bed. Was that my wife lying under it? At that moment I woke from the dream and got up. “Like” the novel or not, my dream shows me that Steven Jensen tells a story in a way that pulls you into it even when you may not want to go.

My only critical comments is that it would benefit from being two or three times as long. Around seventy pages for a tale like this is a bit too short, especially when Part Two – Blood Is Sweeter Than Honey – is scheduled for publication in 2011. Seventy pages seems a “teaser” for what comes next … and that, I think, is too bad.

But if you’re looking for a little chiller of a tale, The Poison of a Smile is a good one. And if Alatiel appears somewhere in your dreams, don’t be surprised.

Friday, October 8, 2010

An unforgettable story of struggle and triumph

Every so often I come across a book that is so compelling that it pulls me in such a way that I am part of the story, even when the subject of the story – auto racing – is a subject that know nothing about and am not in the slightest way interested in. Had novelist Kathleen McKenna (The Wedding Gift) not practically demanded that I read it, I would probably have passed it up. I’m glad I took her advice. The Art of Racing in the Rain has become one of my all time favorite books.

Simply put, The Art of Racing in the Rain is about Denny, his wife Eve, their little daughter Zoë, Eve’s wealthy parents Maxwell and Trish, and Denny’s dog Enzo who narrates the story. But it’s much, much more than that. It’s about a man’s struggle to become what he’s always dreamt of being, a Formula One racecar driver. It’s about falling in love, marrying and seeing your first child born. It’s about sickness and watching your wife die from brain cancer. And it’s about struggling to overcome resentment and defeat as her death threatens to tear your family apart, to crush you and steal your lifelong dream.

Ultimately it’s also about much more than that. It’s about triumphing in the face of an implacable enemy who is dead set on destroying you to get his way. In that sense, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a parable of all struggles for justice and the triumph of morality over selfishness and greed. And it is a parable of the triumph of a man’s dream, and of forgiveness. 

"There is no dishonor in losing the race," a friend says; "There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid."

If you haven’t yet read The Art of Racing in the Rain, go out, buy yourself a copy, sit down and begin an adventure that you will never forget.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A wonderful book, recommended to all who love to read

Here's a review, by blogger Suzannah (Soooz) Burke, that I just couldn't pass up. Not only is it by one of my favorite book bloggers, it's about one of my favorite books, Grandfather and the Raven.  I wrote it a year ago, and this summer it came out in paperback and kindle from Night Publishing (UK).

Grandfather and the Raven is a book of life cycles and lessons, beautifully narrated by George Polley.

This is the type of book I would love to have had access to when my own child was growing up, a book to be read and re-read and remembered with soft smiles and nods of understanding.

George takes us into the world of a Japanese grandfather, befriended unexpectedly by a raven. A wise and knowing bird, he soon becomes inseparable with his human friend, and his human friend 'The Grandfather' of the title understands his new friend and everything he says. He names him 'Sir Raven'.

The author takes us through life lessons told in a warm and inviting style. The voice of the grandfather is both soothing and touched with humor.

We travel through a kaleidoscope of clever stories with life lessons on revenge and selfishness, harmful gossip, and refusal to see the magic of the world around us.

We join Grandfather and Sir Raven as they utilize the assistance of other members of Sir Raven's family, notably "Flyer" who becomes the running coach of one small boy who wanted to be famous as a runner yet knew no boundaries and little of the pacing and practise it takes to fulfill a dream.

George takes us gently through the things children fear, and shows how fear can be overcome with knowledge and ingenuity.

The stories touch on difficult topics in a clear way, teaching that violence is an unacceptable thing, and that it will not go unpunished.

Selfish and spiteful behavior is shown to be clearly wrong, by showing that the opposite is truly more rewarding.

One particular chapter deals with our inability to see what is right in front of our eyes and how easy it is to fall into the trap of seeing something as bad, before we have the information to prove that it is not.

The sadness of death and the futility of war is covered with an insightful and precised voice. A message that should have been heard many years ago, and sadly went unheard. 

I am delighted to own a copy of this work, and unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone young and not so young. It is a wonderful read.

Soooz Burke

You'll find Suzannah Burke's blog, "Soooz Says Stuff"at , where you'll find some great interviews with writers as well as some really interesting book reviews.