Book Reviews

2021 Author EVENTS

All events cancelled.

2020 Author EVENTS

RESCHEDULED due to COVID-19. DATE/TIME TBA. (Old Time: Thursday May 14, 2020.) Author Talk & Signing at Koffee House Reads (affiliated with Meaford Public Library), MEAFORD, ON. Time & Venue TBA. Directions | Website

RESCHEDULED due to COVID-19. DATE/TIME TBA. (Old Time: Friday May 15, 2020. 3:00 PM.) Author Talk & Signing at Midland Public Library, MIDLAND, ON. 320 King Street. Directions | Website

RESCHEDULED due to COVID-19. DATE/TIME TBA. (Old Time: Thursday May 21, 2020.) Author Talk & Signing at Ansley Grove Public Library (Branch of Vaughan Public Library), WOODBRIDGE, ON. 350 Ansley Grove Rd. Directions | Website

RESCHEDULED due to COVID-19. DATE/TIME TBA. (Old Time: Sunday May 31, 2020. 2:00 PM.) Author Talk & Signing at Blue Mountains (L.E. Shore) Public Library, THORNBURY, ON. 173 Bruce St. S. Directions | Website

CANCELLED due to COVID-19. Thursday June 18, 2020. 3:00 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Probus Club of Collingwood, Collingwood, ON. Members Only. Website

RESCHEDULED to 2021 due to COVID-19. DATE/TIME TBA. (Old Time: Thursday July 2, 2020. 6:30 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Cottage Dockside Reads (affiliated with Parry Sound Public Library) at the Carling Township Recreation Center (15 minutes north of Parry Sound), CARLING, ON. Directions | Website

2020 EVENTS: All 2020 events moved to 2021 due to COVID-19

Author Talks & Signings at bookstores and libraries in the following locations: Orillia, Barrie, Collingwood, Owen Sound, Kimberley, Stayner, Angus, Caledon, and more.

2019 EVENTS

Thursday June 20, 2019. 7:00 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Ginger Press Bookshop, OWEN SOUND, ON. 848 2nd Avenue East. Directions | Website

Sunday July 7, 2019. 11:00 AM – 3:30 PM. Author Event & Signing at Chapters Indigo Bookstore, BARRIE, ON. 76 Barrie View Drive. Directions | Website

Thursday July 25, 2019. 2:00 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Port Elgin Public Library, Port Elgin, ON. 708 Goderich St. Directions | Website

Monday August 12, 2019. 7:30 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Wasaga Beach Public Library, WASAGA BEACH, ON. 120 Glenwood Drive. Directions | Website

Tuesday August 13, 2019. 2:00 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Tobermory Public Library, TOBERMORY, ON. 22 Bay Street. Directions | Website

Thursday August 15, 2019. 2:00 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Wiarton Public Library, WIARTON, ON. 578 Brown Street. Directions | Website

Monday August 19, 2019. 1:00 PM. Author Talk & Signing at Lion’s Head Public Library, LION’S HEAD, ON. 90 Main Street. Directions | Website

Saturday August 24, 2019. 11:00 AM – 3:30 PM. Author Event & Signing at Chapters Indigo Bookstore, HILLCREST MALL, NORTH YORK, ON. 9350 Yonge St. Unit Y010. Directions | Website

Saturday October 12, 2019. 11:00 AM – 4:30 PM. RETURN ENGAGEMENT. Author Event & Signing at Chapters Indigo Bookstore, HILLCREST MALL, NORTH YORK, ON. 9350 Yonge St. Unit Y010. Directions | Website

Inside Story: A Martin Amis Funhouse

Review of Inside Story by Martin Amis, 2020.

An Amis novel is like the weather in May. You never know what to expect. I’ve loved two of his novels (London Fields and Time’s Arrow), liked others, and, on occasion, been completely disappointed.

Amis’s prose is inventive, but it’s often overdone. He’s certainly no Hemingway, limiting adverbs and adjectives. On the contrary, Amis wields them like a boxer, at times jabbing, but usually lining them up for a haymaker. Over the course of five decades, he’s managed to alienate both sides of the reading divide: to literary stuffed shirts, he’s uncouth; to genre buffs, he’s too high-minded. As for Inside Story, I didn’t love it, yet it tickled my funny bone. And my mind. I laughed aloud and, every twenty or so pages, I stopped to think – on everything from Donald Trump to death to beauty to the history of the novel.

Inside Story is a mashup of fictionalized autobiography, literary observations, and sociopolitical opinions. Although subtitled A Novel, the book is largely (and unabashedly) biographical. When Amis is at his best, the narrative has a gravitational pull. His words spin a funhouse of warped mirrors. He regales readers with unique insights, both frivolous and cerebral. Some dismiss Amis as sexist. Others say he’s a bounder; still others, a little shite. I don’t care. I’m loathe to shun books due to their writer’s transgressions. [Having said that, if Putin writes a book, I’ll shred it.]

Alright, back to Inside Story. Martin Amis grew up in a time and place of, let’s say, amorous exuberance (Swinging London, 1960s-70s). If you enter his funhouse, you’ll encounter womanizing, yes, and braggadocio, but also poignancy, self-doubt, and generosity of spirit.

A few excerpts from Inside Story:

On the English language: “Great Britain no longer had an empire – except the empire of words; not the imperial state, just the imperial tongue.”

On the pretzel logic of Biblical hellfire: “It’s not that eternity never ends – it never even begins.”

Describing Donald Trump: “That chicken-hawk, that valorised ignoramus, that titanic vulgarian, dishonest to the ends of his hair.”

New Series Coming!

PUBLISHING NEWS: The first novel in a DETECTIVE/MYSTERY series set in New England will be published by Stark House Press, California, USA. The novel turns on CAPE COD, BOSTON, and the BALKANS, and features Detective Lieutenant Ivy Bourque.

Book One RELEASE DATE: Early 2023. Title and cover reveal in late summer 2022.

Stark House has also optioned the next book in the series.

Shepherding a Flock of Words

A few weeks ago, Ben Fox of Shephard.com asked for a curated list of books for his new site. The site was created to link readers to books, not just any books, but books recommended by authors as opposed to algorithms (which are used extensively by sites like Amazon).

Ben asked for a focused theme. I chose “the best Canadian detective and mystery novels.” My top five 📚 recommendations are:

A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Until the Night by Giles Blunt

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

Click the link below to see the full recommendations and a review of each title.

https://shepherd.com/best-books/canadian-detective-and-mysteries

Windows into Other Worlds: Gifts for the 2021 Holidays

To give a book is to give a window into another world. Here are a few gift ideas for the 2021 Holidays.

First, my crime fiction suggestion:

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin, 2021. In The Dark Remains, Rankin completes an unfinished McIlvanney novel after his fellow Scotsman’s death. The story warms up slowly but is bubbling at the end. You can’t go wrong with Rankin, the King of Scottish Noir.

Bewilderment by Pulitzer-prize-winner Richard Powers, 2021. Bewilderment is set in the near-future, in a time of ecological collapse. Few adults are willing to confront the collapse. As with most dystopian fiction, there are didactic passages. However, the storyline eclipses them, as does Powers’ vision, which goes beyond the dystopic. A father and his son wrestle with the collapse, hoping that science will offer respite. It doesn’t. But the son’s love does.

Ring by André Alexis, 2021. Ring is a philosophical inquiry as much as a novel, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you have a literary fiction aficionado on your list, especially of 19th century fiction, Ring should please them. They’ll enter a contemplative world set in Toronto, a novel of manners à la Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy.

No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain, 2007. In a previous post, I noted that Kitchen Confidential is my favourite Bourdain book. No Reservations runs a close second. No one would call Bourdain an earth-shattering writer yet he’s pensive as well as informative. This book delivers an entertaining combination of food and travel, two things many people miss these days.

It’s An Amusement Park

Anthony Bourdain had a cult-like following before he died (by suicide, in 2018). His following has not dissipated. He’s still revered by foodies, chefs, raconteurs, and travellers.

To my mind, Bourdain’s first food book is still his best: Kitchen Confidential (2000). It reveals his true self. His later books show a more polished version of the same man. Kitchen Confidential is as noteworthy today as it was two decades ago. In restaurants, the maitre d’, waitstaff, and bartenders are known as the front-of-the-house; the chefs, cooks, and dishwashers inhabit the back-of-the-house. Kitchen Confidential uncorks the back-of-the-house, a fiefdom known for foul language and Gulag-like labour.

Bourdain does not paint a pretty picture, but he does paint a true picture, a picture I happen to know. In my travelling days, I worked in 30+ restaurants, from L.A. to San Diego to Boston, from Perth to London to Toronto, in positions from waiter to line cook to sommelier. The great thing about the restaurant business is that you could land in a city and get a job in a day or two, often with few questions asked; you’d then work your way up the restaurant ladder, to a place with better food and/or money (usually both).

To Bourdain, good food was as much about cooking with honesty and craftmanship as exotic ingredients. He climbed his own ladder, eventually moving beyond kitchens to a career as a TV host and personality. He was a complex man, beloved for many things: his integrity, his enthusiasms, his no-bullshit persona. He was wired to go out on limbs, which fostered an I’ll-eat-anything attitude. To paraphrase Bourdain, your body’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.