A Tale of Two Cities
The Complete Short Stories
Fahrenheit 451
Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Navigators of Dune
End of Watch
The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
King Henry VI, Part 3
King Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 1
King Henry IV, Part Two
King Henry IV, Part 1
Richard II
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
The Rosie Effect
On the Nature of Things
So Anyway


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Calumnist Malefesto

The Calumnist Malefesto
Benoit Chartier

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 1482333465
ISBN - 13: 9781482333466

From the Publisher
May 4, 2013

An eclectic new collection of twelve short stories, The Calumnist Malefesto: And Other Improbable Yarns offers a glimpse into important and universal themes in today’s culture while employing an enjoyable and unique approach. Excitedly telling the stories of a young reader, an Afghan girl and her alien pet, two freedom fighters, a stranded extraterrestrial, an elderly gentleman and his long awaited visitor, a Japanese boy, Purgatory’s exam room, a humanoid android, a resuscitated astrophysicist, and a few others, the book uses an assortment of amusing stories to connect readers to the deeper underlying messages. While the stories’ characters are all different, they must all take steps to overcome their particular situations, and how they go about it will affect their realities forever. The Calumnist Malefesto explores the universal themes of religious belief, love, acceptance, tolerance, hatred, and the nature of humanity. Employing science-fiction and semi-theological themes, these entertaining stories are conveyed with serious underlying messages. Many of these wonderful stories employ a lighthearted approach to soften the underlying dramatic nature of the messages. An excellent collection of stories that span a wide array of serious and insightful themes, this fantastic book will keep readers engrossed from the opening pages. Truly offering something for everyone, The Calumnist Malefesto runs the gamut between science-fiction, fantasy-theological, and plain fictional works. With underlying themes that bind them together, the book’s varying genres add a priceless excitement and flexibility to the messages that it’s trying to convey. Written in an accessible manner that makes it an easy and enjoyable read, this enlightening collection of stories is perfect for readers from all walks of life. Written to resonate with readers on many different levels, The Calumnist Malefesto offers multiple stories, with no clear focus, yet all with deeper, sometimes philosophical, meanings. From freedom fighters to stranded extraterrestrials, this amazing collection offers something for everyone to enjoy, while exploring the critical themes that affect us all. An excitingly eclectic mix of fiction, this wonderful collection will keep readers thinking long after the last page has turned.

Smell The Book Review
8.5 out of 10


Short stories are a different mindset for some. There isn't much room for full character development and the stories can fall flat without a lot of background. 

Mr. Chartier does not have any of these issues with his wonderful and witty collection of short stories.

The note from the publisher doesn't do this collection justice. I was pleasantly surprised by these 12 shorts. The stories are clever, original and inventive.
I knew I was going to like Benoit Chartier's book of short stories as soon as I finished the first one; the story for which the whole book is named, "The Calumnist Malefesto". I saw myself in the character Brian. I am Brian, I was Brian in school and I related to Brian however briefly I saw his interactions with girls in the opening story, all of three pages.  I was hooked!
I typically know if I am going to like an author once I decide if I like their "voice". Their style, their way of writing. And I adored Mr. Chartier's voice immensely. The stories, though some of them are very short, deal with some major issues in a clever and entertaining style. A spousal abuse story where the bride turns the tide on her abuser in a very justified manner, AI and the abuse of phone technology where the AI shines a light on the shallowness of the race to be the best/richest/most popular, alternate realities, infinite universes or simply divine intervention in saving people from certain death? same sex marriage, aliens and other topics, all with an interesting twist and from a unique point of view.
I do have one complaint with Mr. Chartier's  stories. They are too short! Please tell me there is a longer novel somewhere on the horizon as I would love to see some of these subjects, or at least enjoy his talent fleshed out into a longer work.

8.5 out of 10.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Still Foolin Em

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?
by Billy Crystal

Henry Holt and Co.
September 10, 2013

From the Publisher 
Hilarious and heartfelt observations on aging from one of America's favorite comedians as he turns 65, and a look back at a remarkable career
Billy Crystal is turning 65, and he's not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like "Buying the Plot" and "Nodding Off," Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him. He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards. Readers get a front-row seat to his one-day career with the New York Yankees (he was the first player to ever "test positive for Maalox"), his love affair with Sophia Loren, and his enduring friendships with several of his idols, including Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali. He lends a light touch to more serious topics like religion ("the aging friends I know have turned to the Holy Trinity: Advil, bourbon, and Prozac"), grandparenting, and, of course, dentistry. As wise and poignant as they are funny, Crystal's reflections are an unforgettable look at an extraordinary life well lived.

Smell The Book Review
8 out of 10

"[My Aunt} Rose was a tiny wrinkled
Russian woman with one arm several
inches longer than the other.
My dad claimed it was because
she played trombone."  P243

I've been reading a few biographies lately. Most of them from authors I admire like Robertson Davies, Frank Herbert, and most recently, Charles Dickens. I enjoy reading about their lives as it adds a dimension to their books on a re-read that I enjoy. I feel like I am "in" on some of the jokes as well as learning more about the time they wrote in and the inspiration behind their work.

I decided to pick up Billy Crystals autobiography as I have been a fan of his for years since his "Soap" days and even more on SNL. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by his book! I know he is a comedian, but almost every page had a laugh-out-loud story, anecdote or comment that kept me turning the pages. Mixed in with some genuine and heart-felt stories about his career, growing old, and his journey from starving comedian making 20 bucks a show to an Oscar host aiming for Bob Hope's hosting record.

Well written, impactful at times and always sincere, the book had me smiling.

I've always wondered about his impressions as most impressions I hear from other comedians are typically a veiled attempt to insult the person. After reading this book I realize that some of Billy Crystals best impressions are not meant to insult or belittle, but are actually an "homage" to people he has worked with or admires greatly such as Muhammad Ali or Sammy Davis Jr.

It was also interesting to read his thoughts on working on "City Slickers" and "When Harry Met Sally", both movies that were part of my growing up.

I also found it hilarious to read about his minor disagreements with Charles Bronson and Orson Wells. You'll have to read the book to find out why, but his interaction with Bronson is one I would be proud of!

The only part of the book that didn't resonate with me was some of the baseball stories. I appreciate that it is a big part of his makeup but not being a baseball fan myself I was not smitten with the various stories around his brief career as a Yankee.

I read this book close to my own birthday so I also liked the part about his adoption of his mothers mantra to "always do something nice on your birthday".

But overall an excellent read. I may have to go online and rent "When Harry Met Sally" now. ;-)

8 out of 10


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nancy Richler Author Meeting Summary

Many, many thanks to everyone who came out to visit Nancy Richler this week and made it a great meeting (and one of our highest attended). And also thanks to everyone who made such a great effort with the food. I was expecting sandwiches and pre-fab packets and instead got salmon, meatballs and other great treats! And a personal thanks to those that contributed even a little bit to the event to help offset the cost of the gift card we presented to our author.
Nancy thanked me and said she had a great time meeting everyone and talking about her work. I think to Nancy we will now always be: “The group who gets the rocks”.
Thanks to Laura for hosting at her daycare location. Great venue! Quiet, places to cook our own food, and central to most people! Maybe we should have it there every month. ;-)
As always, talking a book over with the group makes me appreciate it and analyze depths of the story I hadn’t even realized on an initial read. And getting information right from the “horse’s mouth” is such a treat! Nancy was candid and sincere as she talked about her story and her process. I am always fascinated by authors who are surprised by their own endings or by the way their characters act. It helps me understand the flow of the events behind the scenes if we truly understand that once created, some of these characters take on lives of their own and act separate from the author’s intent. I also found it interesting that in her first draft, Nancy did NOT have the reunion between Lily and her daughter and that this recommendation came from her editor.
The story itself is an excellent one and it did expand on my knowledge of WWII and the impact the war and the post-war had on these people and what they and their families had to go through. Is Lily a villain for abandoning her daughter? Was she justified? Is the blank journal a representation of how empty and false Lily felt? (i.e. why journal a life that is not your won?). The book posed some great questions. The real-world change I took from the book was I actually started to keep a journal again. Though, unlike Lily who left hers blank, I plan on writing in mine should my son ever decide he needs insights into who I am/was as his father.
An excellent book and a great meeting with the author. Thanks to those that helped make it so.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Living Underground

Living Underground
by Ruth Walker.
Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 288 Pages, 5.91 × 8.66 × 0.39 in
Published: August 15, 2012
Seraphim Editions
Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 192707908X
ISBN - 13: 9781927079089

From the Publisher
A woman's lover from her youth resurfaces in her adult life, and she is drawn into the turmoil surrounding disturbing accusations about his Nazi past. From pre WWII Dresden, Germany to contemporary urban Toronto, the dual point of view narrative crosses continents and moves through time as it explores the ambiguity of human emotion, how our natures can embody both the ideals and delights of love alongside the most base and dispassionate sensibilities.

Smell The Book Review

8.5 out of 10.
Overall an excellent story and I would highly recommend this book.

I have been lucky enough to make friends with an agent at Westwood Creative Artists who occasionally passes on author contact info to me. This agent introduced me to Ruth Walker earlier this year and I was fortunate enough to read her book in advance of her coming to visit the Ottawa Book Club later this month (Oct 2013). Very much looking forward to meeting Ms. Walker as I have many questions about her book as do most other members of the Ottawa Book Club. Seraphim was also kind enough to send a copy of the book in advance of Ms. Walkers visit which I used as a draw prize for the book club at the last meeting. 

Living Underground is the first book from Ruth Walker but by no means is it the first thing she has written. A detailed list of her awards and accomplishments can be found here. An interview with Ruth Walker is pending but the finished page when done can be found here.

I did enjoy the questions posed by this novel. Can ANYONE be loved if you know their history and all of their secrets? Does the good a person performs in their life outweigh the bad? This seems not so much a story about memory and history as it is a story about love, denial and how we selectively pick and choose what we decide to remember or attribute to those we love. How much can you forgive? Some excellent questions and Ms. Walker's characters are sincere and honest in their responses. The people in her book are fleshed out wonderfully and I found myself really pulling for Sheila for which way I wanted her story to go. One line in particular resonated with me. The words of a parent (that could apply to any struggling mother OR father) when Shelia's mother tells her in a moment of clarity:

P175 - "You know, Shelia, sometimes mothers are not always right."

I also enjoyed the familiar references that are missing when I read most American authors. There are references that most Toronto natives would get to subways, streets, Casa Loma, Kitchener etc. but my favourite is the reference to that old Cottage Country road stop, Webers! I thought I was the only person in Canada that remembered that place and their history making burgers. It all just brought the story closer to home for me.

One question I'm going to ask Ms. Walker later this month is how much of a fan of Ian Flemming or James Bond is she? I counted at least 5 references scattered throughout the book to Bond or Moneypenny etc. I guess I noticed as I am a fan myself.

Anything I would change? At times I enjoyed the back and forth flashback transitions between the modern day and the past, but occasionally I had to re-read the start of a chapter as the change was unclear to me and I wanted to absorb it in the correct context. Apart from that, I really enjoy Ms. Walkers "voice" and her style of storytelling and would highly recommend her book.

Man and Other Natural Disasters

Man and Other Natural Disasters
by Nerys Parry.
Format: Hardcover
Dimensions: 216 Pages, 5.91 × 8.27 × 0.79"
Published: September 1, 2011
Publisher: Great Plains Publications
Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1926531124
ISBN - 13: 9781926531120

From The Publisher:
Simon Peters, a bookbinder full of theories on everything from heart-broken shrimp to the consciousness of DNA, is hiding from his horrific past in the basement of the Calgary City Library. Enter Minerva, a twenty-two year-old student. Her ghostly resemblance to Simon's dead sister compels him to slowly reveal the shocking story of the various natural disasters that killed his family. But Simon's story does not add up. When he finds Minerva bleeding on his bathroom floor, he must conquer the tyranny of his own memory and confront what really happened that summer of 1962. But the truth proves no less confounding, or tragic, than the original tale.

Smell The Book Review

8.5 out of 10. 
Man and Other natural Disasters is the first book from Ottawa author Nerys Parry. I was introduced to Ms. Parry through a Toronto based publishing agent. Living in Ottawa, Ms. Parry was kind enough to visit the Ottawa Book Club to discuss her book in 2012. Unfortunately, the discussion was nowhere near as large as it should have been due to one of the biggest snow storms on record hitting on that same day! But she made the trek and was kind enough to sit in with other adventurous book lovers to discuss some of the ins and outs of her book as well as writing in general. An interview with Nerys Parry can be found here.

An excellent read and would highly recommend this book. Nerys Parry's style is concise, fast-paced and her characters are honest and believable. The life of Simon Peters is revealed to the reader throughout the novel.... or is it? What is the nature of truth? How can we believe what we are told when we can't even trust the nature of our own memories? As I was drawn into the life of Simon Peters I had to find out more about him and find out what was either the "real truth", or simply another step on his journey to find it?

What I enjoyed most about this book was how it challenged my own sense of memory and self. Simon believed his own history even though it began to unravel in front of him. How would someone be aware of it if their own mind altered their own memories to protect itself? Almost "matrix-like", I enjoyed having my self challenged to authenticate my own experiences and memories.

The book also holds a special place for me as Ms. Parry was the first author to come and speak to the then-just-newly-forming book club, and I now own a signed first edition!! Which for a book-geek is like treasure.

Is there anything about the book I didn't like? Sometimes I don't object when authors put a nice fine point on some of the sub-text of their work. One of the reasons this book sticks so much in my memory is that I was able to meet the author with my list of questions and hear her directly explain a reference I missed, or a symbol I overlooked. For example, the main characters name is Simon Peters. Both "Simon" and "Peter" are biblical fishermen. This links well with the theme of water and fire from the novel, but I would have missed it entirely had Ms. Parry not been there to point it out. Not every book has the added bonus of having the author explain what they meant by their content.

Anxiously awaiting more work from this author!


Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Cat's Table

From Michael Ondaatje: an electrifying new novel, by turns thrilling and deeply moving -- one of his most vividly rendered and compelling works of fiction to date.

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly "Cat''s Table" with an eccentric and unforgettable group of grownups and two other boys. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys find themselves immersed in the worlds and stories of the adults around them. At night they spy on a shackled prisoner -- his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.

Looking back from deep within adulthood, and gradually moving back and forth from the decks and holds of the ship to the years that follow the narrator unfolds a spellbinding and layered tale about the magical, often forbidden discoveries of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding, about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a sea voyage.

Format: Hardcover
Dimensions: 288 Pages, 5.91 × 8.27 × 0.79 in
Published: August 30, 2011
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771068646
ISBN - 13: 9780771068645

Interview - Nerys Parry


An Interview with Award Winning Canadian Author
Nerys Parry

October 2, 2013
The title of your book is unique. What made you choose it?
Originally I was aiming for a short story collection where all the stories related, either obscurely or directly, to natural disasters and their fallout. Each character featured in the stories was flawed, and some were as dangerous as the natural phenomena they were fighting- hence the word “other” added to natural disasters. I got as far as writing The Hurricane, a story about a Mexican man who tries to rebuild his life in Calgary after losing his wife in a hurricane, only to be swept back into the terror of losing again (available to download from Queen’s Quarterly), but then Simon came along and claimed a whole novel, not to mention four different disasters, all to himself. Although it is rare to keep a title so long (twelve years!), it fit so well, as Simon first ascribes the failures of his life to unavoidable natural phenomena to avoid facing how he himself may be implicated in the disasters of his own life.

How long did it take to complete “MAOND”?
A long time! My first draft was written in 2000/2001 in nine months after the birth of my second child. I then spent three years while working full time editing the novel. I put the manuscript aside to finish another novel, only to bring it back in 2010 to rewrite for publication.  So all in all, from conception to publication, the book was more than 10 years in the making.

What is your favourite part of the book?
The last paragraph of the epilogue, I guess. It’s a bit like the last words you ever say to a soon-to-be former lover—you never forget them. As difficult a character as Simon was, I found it hard to leave him after all those years together, and those last words haunt me still.

Can you tell us a little about your process? How do the ideas/stories make it to paper?
All my stories, or any that ever made it to the point of appearing in print, have originated from a ‘voice’ popping into my head. It’s not a disembodied voice—I know it’s not coming from anywhere else but my head—but there’s something in the word choice or insight I hear that tells me it isn’t my own run-of-the-mill mind-chatter, but the voice of a character. In the beginning, I usually know nothing more about the character than the few sentences he or she has expressed. That’s when I begin writing. I give the voice free reign on the page and slowly, inevitably, a scaffold of a story and a shadow of a character emerges. It is not always the final story, or even the final character, and I do admit to editing heavily throughout the process and do not rely solely on ‘channelling’ the character, as some have called it. But even during the major edits I continue to rely a great deal on synchronicity, coincidence and inspiration, and have completely rewritten a whole section late in the process because ‘the voice’ insisted upon a different resolution. Writing becomes a bit of a battle at this point between me and my characters, but a fun one, and the tension helps build not only a strong story but (hopefully) a surprising one.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
What I really want readers to do is enjoy the book, although I always hope they will take away whatever messages they feel relevant to them and their life. I think that’s what makes fiction so magical, the way the same story can have a markedly different impact on different people. All readers come to a story with a unique life experience behind them, and it is in this mysterious mix of individual insight and universal story where meaning manifests. Which I suppose is a fancy way of saying take what you want out of it, my job is to ensure you enjoy the ride.

Any amusing stories about your background research for the book? 
I always love to tell this story.
So when I was writing Simon, I knew he had “created” a fictional world and this world had become his whole life, erasing his past, but I didn’t know whether or not this was a real psychical phenomenon. Then I was reading a psychology textbook one day and say mention of a fugue disassociative state. For those who follow the news, this state has become popularly known after Linda Hegg went missing for three months in a fugue state,, however at the time it was relatively unknown and many felt it didn’t really exist.
To get the scoop on what the medical profession thought, I wanted to interview a psychologist. Not knowing any, I picked a random name from the phone book, and, after introducing myself as an investigating writer, I asked the psychiatrist if she’d ever heard of fugue states.
“So you say you’re writing a novel.”
“There was an awkward pause, then she continued. “And the character, you say, is in a fugue state.”
“That’s right. I just want to learn a bit more about it so I can make it plausible.”
“Uh huh.” Again, she paused. “Interesting.”
I started telling her about the research I was doing and what I needed to know when she interrupted me.
“So tell me,” she said, “why do you think you might want to write about a character in a fugue state?”
Then she proceeded to try to get me to book an appointment. I didn’t call any more psychiatrists after that J

Did you learn anything from writing your book?
So much! I don’t know where to begin. Before I began the book I didn’t know anything about the doukhobours and the terrorist movement in the west in the 50s.  I also didn’t know how magical (or prolonged) the writing process could be.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
There’s a few lines and words here and there that I might change, given the chance and the time.  There’s probably also some material I would add, but there’s nothing major that I would change, not right now.  I’m too busy working on my new novel to think about changing anything from Man. 

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?
Finding as much time and energy to devote to writing as I’d like to is my number one challenge – probably every writer’s challenge. Second greatest challenge is to find time to read all the books I want to read.

What made you decide to become a writer?
I read from a very young age.  I learned to read by leaning over my older brother’s shoulder while my mom taught him, and so I was already reading chapter books in kindergarten. Almost as soon as I started reading I started writing. In fact, I wrote my first daily diary when I was five and my first book of poems when I was six. And long before I was writing, I was making up stories and telling them to anyone who would listen.
I can still remember the day when, balancing on the wooden bench of the arena seats during my brother’s hockey practice, in the middle of telling an ear-muffed fellow hockey sister about our family’s recent trip to the Artic, my mom yanked me down by the ear and called me a ‘liar’. Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that what I had been doing had been lying. The story in my head was so real and so detailed (I even had three types of lichen pressed between pages of my imagined photo album) I had already convinced myself if was true. Only when my mom asked me when, pray tell, did this magical trip occur and how did we get there, on magic carpets?, did I realize that my story couldn’t possibly be true because for the life of me I couldn’t remember a plane trip. Suddenly I realized: I had made it all up, every detail. I was a liar.
But I am glad to report that, for the most part, I have learned to keep the fiction to the page. Or at least I try. So I guess there was no moment I decided to become a writer so much as there was a moment where I realized I was a liar, and the most legitimate way to exorcise this evil was to hide it as fiction.

What books have most influenced your life most and why?
God, this is an impossible question! There are so many, but here are a few off the top of my head.
First would be Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. One of the last scenes at the end of the book tore me apart and forever changed the way I understood love. In this scene, the two main characters are dancing (it's their last dance before they die, although they do not know this at the time) and suddenly all the mistakes and pettiness and hurt the characters inflicted on each other over the years melt away and they are left with nothing more--or less--than a lifetime spent together. For an all-too brief moment, with the grievances against each other dropped, they become light, unbearably so, and we realize that all that is left for these two people who have tried so hard and lost so much, and who are now bound in this dance as they had been in their ill-conceived marriage and will be in their soon-to-be tragic death, was this bruised and perfectly imperfect shared experience that the author dares to call love, or something like it. This revelation changed my life, and it was when I read that scene that I actually said to myself: I want to be a writer, so that one day, maybe, I could write one scene even half as powerful and meaningful as Kundera’s. 

 A second powerful book was Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier. After reading it I was depressed for days. Like Kundera, this writer presented a story about two good people whose marriage was doomed, not because of a fatal flaw within them, but because of chains of events that could not be unraveled, and small, minor characteristics that in other instances could have been noble, but which in their cases and circumstances had became fatal. It is a heartwrenching tale about how you can be essentially good, and still cause suffering and even destruction, and it’s also an amazing look at how your understanding of others changes with distance and time.

Lastly, The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer tracks the true story of Gary Gilmore, the first prisoner executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court’s 1976 reinstitution of the death penalty, and his fateful, senseless murders. Mailer captures not only the facts like any good journalist would, but also applies his novelistic skills to explore how closely love and violence can be entwined, and how impossible they can be to separate. A beautiful, sensitive and challenging book that showed me how a great writer can expand our understanding not only through fiction, but also through fact.

What book are you reading right now?
The Financier, by Theodore Dreisder.

What/who do you normally read when not writing your own books?
I think it would be easier for me to give up writing than to give up reading, and so I don’t stop reading just because I’m writing. The only time I do stop reading English books is when I’m studying for my French exams, and even then I switch to French novels—they just take a lot longer to get through.
As for what I read, I read a lot of classics, and have been making my way through the Modern Library’s 100 best books these past few years. I usually alternate a classic with a modern literary novel, and at least one non-fiction. On the non-fiction side, I’m partial to well-written science books, particularly on biology or psychology, with the occasional sociology and ghost story thrown into the mix, but my favourites are the great investigative journalist exposes, like Boo’s The Beautiful Forever or Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or a few good crime books like Columbine by Dave Cullen (which I just finished). The science books give me insight into the unsuspected connections between things, and the investigative work provides inspiration for the characters and plot twists in my stories. I also read literary memoirs, particularly of writers, for inspiration, but when things are going very bad in my writing, when I feel all dried up and empty, I turn to my first love—poetry. There is nothing like a beautiful, indelible poem to inspire me to start again.

How real are your characters to you? Do they ever surprise you? Is there a character you relate to more than others?
I’ve often been accused of talking like my characters are real, and in a way they are as real as anyone else I know, mainly because we have been so much together. When you’ve lived through your character’s lives, especially over the years of the novel, you grow close to them, the way you do when you go through a difficult time with another person. My characters always surprise me, and when they’re not surprising me then I know that I’m not giving them enough reign. Either I’m not putting them in the right situations or equipping them with the right tools/props to get their story across, or I’m not letting them do what they want to do, and so I have to go back again and change it up, let them loose. This can take time, but it’s worth it.

In Man I relate most to Minerva, as I’m a bit of a disaster myself, especially when I’m writing.  I get so deep into my book that I leave my wallet in the freezer and my children at the gym.

Are there any new “up and coming” authors that have grasped your interest that we should watch?
There are many up and coming writers to watch. Unfortunately, many of them only write short stories, which many people aren’t interested in, but I know a lot of them are hard at work at novels so I expect something great soon. Matthew Trafford, Amy Jones, Sarah Selecky and Tom Hanson are just a few of my UBC colleagues who are making fictional waves. (Tom just had his first novel out in the US this year.) As for up and coming novelists to watch, Johanne Proulx is a fantastic new writer, as are Rawi Hage (although he’s three books in) and Tanis Rideout.

What do you do when not writing? (Hobbies, Interests etc.)
When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading, and when not doing either of these I’m usually hanging out with my family or friends. My favourite hobby is camping in the Canadian backwoods, and hiking wilderness trails, and I absolutely love dancing, any kind, any time.

Any advice for amateur authors?
Read.  Write. Do as much of both of these as you can.

What’s your next project?
I’m working on a novel right now. I’m still fleshing it out, but I promise lots of laughs, craziness and tall tales, not to mention at least one dead body (of course).

I’m also working on a non-fiction memoir about my estranged father and the nature of forgiveness. 

Where can people go if they want to learn more about you and your work?
They can go to my website,

Anything specific that you want to say to your readers/Fans?
Just thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for listening to my stories, for letting me continue to lie despite my mother’s early admonitions.


The Company of Friends

 The Company of Friends
 by Tony Manera

The Company of Friends: A Story about Politics, Crime and Corruption Self Published
July 2013
333 Pages
From The Publisher:

THE COMPANY OF FRIENDS: A Story about Politics, Crime and Corruption is a political mystery/thriller involving the assassination of Elizabeth Stone, the first woman elected US president. There are no clues, suspects or apparent motive. Despite the use of the most sophisticated forensic tools, all initial efforts to find the killer fail to produce results. Is this the perfect murder? Frustrated, but determined to see that justice is done, FBI agent George Baker penetrates the twisted sub-culture of the underworld, breaking through the wall of silence that shields the perpetrator of such a heinous crime. The killer is charged, convicted and sentenced to death. But the question of motive remains unanswered. Did he act alone, or was he hired by someone? Further investigation establishes linkages between the president's assassin, several corrupt politicians and The Company of Friends, a secretive organization that runs some legitimate businesses, pays all taxes and supports a variety of charities. Its most lucrative activities, however, are illegal, driven by insatiable greed and made possible by corruption in high places. They involve bribery, insider trading, buying and selling of information and a variety of other illicit schemes. The reader is taken through the seamy side of American politics, exposing how money can buy influence, breeding corruption and subverting the democratic process. The multi-layered structure designed to insulate the masterminds behind this house of corruption is brought down by the relentless efforts of the FBI and its law enforcement partners. The evil genius behind the complex and seemingly foolproof plot to assassinate the president is finally unmasked and brought to justice. What makes the narrative so compelling is its sheer audacity and scope. Issues ranging from the economy, the environment, corruption in business and politics, to Quebec secessionists, create a sense of the complexity of the world lived at the presidential level. Furthermore, everything in the novel could actually happen. The reader does not have to suspend belief in reality to accept the characters and events as presented. The story winds up with a well-balanced and sometimes surprising conclusion for each of the major characters.
Smell The Book Review

8 out of 10.

"If you have been playing the game
for a while and haven't figured
out who the patsy is,
then you're the patsy"  P311

Tony Manera has written a captivating and intriguing crime novel. From the opening pages with the assassination of the President to the surprise conclusion, and in all the steps his characters take in solving the crime, the story held me fast. A corrupt "Star Chamber" of elite insiders, a murder conspiracy, all familiar elements and well utilized by Tony.
The only part of the story where readers have to "suspend their disbelief" is in believing that we will ever see the Americans have an independent candidate as President in our lifetime ;-). Apart from that the plot and storylines were very realistic which I like.
I recently read "Sussex Drive" with the Ottawa Book Club, a Canadian based political story which myself and most members of the club found extremely boring and pointless. I couldn't help but think of that book and wondered why Mr. Manera's book was much more appealing to me. Is it because his is based on USA vs Canadian politics? I have always found Canadian politics an extreme bore when compared to our American counterparts and I don't know if a story like this would fly with Canada as a backdrop. Certainly the story had more of an attraction to me being set in this background.
Mr, Manera has done his homework and his knowledge of law procedure and the political structure in the states impressed me.
If there was something I didn't respond to in Mr. Manera's book it is that I found it a little light in character development. I enjoy getting to know my characters, what makes them tick etc., and found that there is no main protagonist to root for. No "hero" that links the various facets of his story. Again, though the story was interesting and I was anxious to find out "whodunnit", there was no individual character I cared about. People came and went, lived and died but I could have cared less about them as I had no investment in the characters. but despite this, the story itself made me keep turning pages.
So overall a worthwhile read and one I would recommend.
8 Out of 10

Brief Bio
Anthony (Tony) S. Manera lives in Ottawa, Canada.  He enjoys reading and writing, listening to music and gardening year round.

He holds a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California and is the author of "Solid State Electronic Circuits - for Engineering Technology" (McGraw-Hill, NY 1973) and "A Dream Betrayed - the Battle for the CBC" (Stoddart, Toronto 1996). He has recently written several additional fiction and non-fiction works available as ebooks and paperback formats in English, French, Italian and German.

Now retired, he has worked as a professional engineer in the US defense and aerospace industry, as a professor of electronics and mathematics at the university and polytechnic levels and as President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as well as two Canadian community colleges (Niagara in Ontario and Vancouver in British Columbia).
He has done extensive consulting work in North America, Asia and Europe in the fields of higher education, broadcasting, management, human resources and governance.
He has also served on numerous corporate boards in the for-profit and non-profit sectors.
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The Book of Illusions

The Book of Illusions
by Paul Auster.

Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 336 Pages,
5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in
Published: October 27, 2009
Publisher: Picador
Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0312429010
ISBN - 13: 9780312429010

From The Publisher:
Six months after losing his wife and two young sons, Vermont Professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. One night, he stumbles upon a clip from a lost film by silent comedian Hector Mann. His interest is piqued, and he soon finds himself embarking on a journey around the world to research a book on this mysterious figure, who vanished from sight in 1929.  When the book is published the following year, a letter turns up in Zimmer's mailbox bearing a return address from a small town in New Mexico inviting him to meet Hector. Zimmer hesitates, until one night a strange woman appears on his doorstep and makes the decision for him, changing his life forever.

Smell The Book Review
A great lesson for me about what  a book club discussion adds to the enjoyment and understanding of a book.
Before the discussion I would have given the book a 3 out of 5. Well written, though apparently not considered the best of Paul Auster's books by some in the group that have read more of him. ("Atonement" kept coming up as a better example of his writing). But the many minds in the Ottawa Book Club definitely added to my
interpretation of the book.
The book has a lot of life-altering "accidents" in it. Several pure-chance encounters that change things. The plane crash of David's family. Hectors son being stung by a bee and dying. The gun David pretends to shoot himself in the head with having the safety on which saves his life etc. Many big accidents that direct the lives of the characters.  
The characters were somewhat believable. I say "somewhat" as I can't, fortunately,  guess as to how I would respond to the death of my spouse and children. What's "normal" in that case? In some ways, Zimmer's response seems to be a pretty normal one of suicidal thoughts, drinking and engaging in outside efforts in order to try and forget his grief and get past it. The character perhaps that is less believable is Alma. Is it "normal" to take a gun to invite someone to join you? Is it "normal" for wither of them to sleep with the other within hours of meeting? Alma, perhaps, but I wonder if Zimmer's grief would have allowed him to sleep with another woman so quickly.
One member of the group did point out that the book is called "The Book of ILLUSIONS". So where are the illusions? Is it the mystery of film making? Is it the illusion Hector Mann creates in his disguised alter-ego? This book members larger point was that perhaps the entire book was an illusion created by Zimmer's mind. He makes a point in the end of stating that he had no proof of Hector's movies. No proof of Alma's book (which was destroyed) and no proof that even Alma herself existed. Perhaps the whole book is some twisted reality created by David to help keep him busy and distracted.
So pre-book club a 3 out of 5 (which is still a good book) but add a star with the additional discussion that expanded my thoughts about the book.


Haruki Murakami

Published: January 22, 2013
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated
with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385678029
ISBN - 13: 9780385678025

From the Publisher
The year is 1984. Aomame is riding in a taxi on the expressway, in a hurry to carry out an assignment. Her work is not the kind that can be discussed in public. When they get tied up in traffic, the taxi driver suggests a bizarre ''proposal'' to her. Having no other choice she agrees, but as a result of her actions she starts to feel as though she is gradually becoming detached from the real world. She has been on a top secret mission, and her next job leads her to encounter the superhuman founder of a religious cult. Meanwhile, Tengo is leading a nondescript life but wishes to become a writer. He inadvertently becomes involved in a strange disturbance that develops over a literary prize. While Aomame and Tengo impact on each other in various ways, at times by accident and at times intentionally, they come closer and closer to meeting. Eventually the two of them notice that they are indispensable to each other. Is it possible for them to ever meet in the real world?

Smell The Book Review - 8.5 out of 10
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book before I started. The author and book came recommended from a recent article in Bookmarks and I had enough time to take on a longer title so figured I would give it a shot. I was very pleasantly surprised.

A longer read at over 1100 pages, the book is one of the most heavily character-driven novels I have ever read. It mainly passes back and forth between the events that unfold between the two main protagonists, Aomame and Tengo. The plot touches lightly on science-fiction while never going into the "too-fine-a-point" on some key elements in the story. Who are the little people? Where do they come from and why do they do the things they do? Why was Tengo's father apparently appearing in the story from time to time after his death? Does everyone in the alternate universe see the two moons? If Aomame travelled into an alternate universe, what happened to the version of her that was already in that universe? What happened to Tengo's older girlfriend? 

I do like stories that wrap things up and explain some of the loose ends, but I must admit I was captured by the characters and their interactions with the new universe.

Something I found very clever is that as the story explains, this alternate universe is different from our in very subtle ways sometimes. The actual page numbers of the book are moved throughout the book (i.e. from the top corner to the bottom or the middle of a page) and other times they are facing the "normal" way. and other times the page numbers are printed backwards. Very clever!

I have asked around and apparently the book of Murakami's that seems to come up most often is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles which will be my next book from this author.


Interview - Ruth Walker


An Interview with Canadian Author
Ruth Walker
October 17, 2013

Starting right at the beginning, your dedication to “the nameless” is very cryptic. If it’s not too personal, what is the story behind it?

  • The nameless represent the unnamed millions who died in the Holocaust and those who suffered in the horrors of that time. As I revised and refined the novel, I did considerable research and saw Nazi film footage of the early gas chamber trials. I have faces that will stay with me for the rest of my life -- I may not know their names but I won't forget them.
  • How long did it take to complete “Living Underground”? 
Starting out as a short story in the mid-1990s, the tale quickly became a novella and eventually became a novel. The first version was completed in 1998 at 58,000 words and was a semi-finalist in the Chapters/Robertson Davies novel competition. However, after that it went in and out of "the drawer" for months -- sometimes years -- at a time. Usually after each series of rejections from agents and publishers. They were right to reject it. It wasn't ready until about 5 years ago.
How biographical is it? Are you Shelia? Is Shelia’s mom your mom? Does your life parallel Shelia in any way?

My life and Sheila's were quite different; however, we writers do mine our own experiences somewhat (consciously and unconsciously). Like Sheila (and most teenagers), I felt like a complete awkward outcast in high school. Unlike Sheila, I was exposed to art and culture in my childhood -- my mother taught me to read at age 4. Like Sheila, a German immigrant lived in our basement apartment. Unlike Sheila, he barely spoke to me other than to nod and mutter "Fraulein" as we passed on the basement stairs. And unlike Sheila, I've been married to the love of my life for 40 years.

What is your favourite part of your book?
There are several scenes that wrote themselves and others that took years to develop. I don't really have a favourite.
I think I counted no less than 5 different James Bond metaphors/comparisons. Is there a spy novel lurking somewhere in your closet?

No. I enjoy a good thriller or mystery but popular culture references in the novel were used to establish time and place. Bond has always been a bit too sexist to suit my tastes.

How significant or relevant is WWII to your life? Why did you choose this as the framing device for the book?
I read William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as a preteen. I was stunned. How did people do that to each other? As I got older, I realized that some people responsible for gassing babies must have had babies of their own at home. And it wasn't just the Nazis who committed atrocities in WWII -- or throughout time, for that matter. I write to consider possibilities, to understand what it is that drives us to be a beautiful species capable of brilliant creative expression and yet, still capable of unspeakable cruelty.
Can you tell us a little about your process? How do the ideas/stories make it to paper?

They nudge me until I give in. Maybe it's just an overheard phrase or a headline in the paper or an especially quiet moment in the forest. When the muse shows up, you just have surrender. Sometimes, it's a scene for a story or a play or a novel. Sometimes it's a poem. And sometimes, it's absolute self-indulgent drivel that I toss out.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp or that people tend to miss?

The story belongs to readers now. It is up to them to extract their own meaning and messages. I have no interest in "directing" their experience with my book. Each reader brings their life experience and set of eyes to the text and what happens in that connection is as unique as the reader.

Did you learn anything from writing your book?

Patience. Humility. And far more than can be captured in any response I can muster here.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?

No. It's done and doesn't belong to me anymore.

Who were some of your greatest influencers growing up?

My mother and grandmother, both of whom gave up so much for their children. My grandmother was a kind and loving person; my mother had a brilliant sense of irony and inspired in me a love of language, literature and history.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing?

Plot. Plot. Plot. And plot. Oh yes -- creating an "elevator pitch."

What books have most influenced your life most and why?

Growing up -- fairy tales, folk lore and fables of all kinds because it is always first and foremost about the story and I do love story. As an adult, the works of William Shakespeare. I continue to enjoy the classics -- Bronte, Austen, Dickens. Poetry is also inspiring -- both classic and modern. I had a writer's epiphany reading "The Diviners" by Margaret Laurence. Now, I read as a writer and it takes a lot of the fun out of the process but I do learn from other writers. A book must be stellar to captivate me -- but I'm no literary snob. A great character-driven fantasy, a brilliantly researched science fiction or a darn good tale about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances -- that is a really good read in my opinion.

What book are you reading right now?

Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer's "Humans", second book in his intriguing Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. I recently finished Alissa York's "Effigy" and Will Ferguson's "419" and couldn't put either book down.

What/who do you normally read when not writing your own books?

Mostly fiction and poetry. But I'm also an editor so it's tough to simply "fall into reading" for the pleasure of it. Too many poorly edited books are being published, often with a rushed or unsatisfying ending. A good editor is vital to the process (thank you! to my editor, George Down) and if publishers are skipping that part to save money, it's not fair to the writer and it's certainly not fair to the reader. But writers need to do their part and develop strong editing skills of their own.

How real are your characters to you? Do they ever surprise you? Is there a character you relate to more than others?

Some characters are more demanding than others. It wasn't until I gave in to a character in "Living Underground" that I was able to move the second half of the book into a much better story. I was surprised but that is the joy of writing for me -- discovery.

Are there any new “up and coming” authors that have grasped your interest that we should watch for?

I'm a member of a 10-member critique group -- Critical Ms -- and each and every one of them is producing compelling work of a wide range of genres.

What do you do when not writing?

I love our Haliburton County cottage property -- we're next to a river and surrounded by giant pines and mixed forests. Perfect for thinking. Before that, we camped quite a bit. My family is central to my joy so they come first; thankfully, I have their constant support to write. I enjoy film, including foreign films and early classics, plays, opera and a wide range of stage productions. And I've played cards with essentially the same group of women for 20 years. They all want me to write a book about "The Card Ladies." ;)

Any advice for amateur/developing authors?

Write and read - read widely and with an open mind. Seek out workshops and critique groups that will challenge and excite you as a writer. Learn to refine and edit your work -- this part is the real work of writer. I co-own Writescape with writer/editor Gwynn Scheltema and we teach creative writing workshops and lead retreats for writers of all kinds and at all levels. May I suggest the word "amateur" is perhaps better represented by the word "developing"? We are all developing at various stages along the writing path -- some of us are just a bit further along. Many writers just beginning the journey are already better writers than I will ever be.

What’s your next project? When will we see another novel from you?

I am delighted (and reassured) that so many readers have asked me that question. I'm editing a novel now and it should be ready to "shop around" soon. Publishing is a tricky business, so "when" is up the fates. While that manuscript is looking for a home, I'll go back to putting together a collection of poems and revising a stage play. Or pick up the pieces of novel manuscript #3 and see if I can find my way back to its heart.

Where can people go if they want to learn more about you and your work?

I have a website: and am on Twitter @imruthwalker; for writing workshops and retreats:; info@writescape; @Writescape_

Anything specific that you want to say to your readers/Fans?

You are a big part of my process -- I am intensely curious about what it is to be human so I write to connect with others, to hold a mirror on some behaviour or aspect of life and say: Here, take a look at what I see. Thank you for taking the time to "take a look."