Claire Cameron: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 4.59.31 PMThe Last Neanderthal was not only an entertaining story but encourages a reader to reconsider the experiences of living 40,000 years ago.  It helps to reconsider history and understand new discoveries following the sequencing of neanderthal DNA in 2010.  Readers can ponder the challenges of survival and gain a new respect for neanderthals.

With all the advertisements for DNA testing, Cameron discovered that she had 2.5% neanderthal DNA.  This led her to research beyond the colonial narrative of human evolution which deigned neanderthals as primitive and humans as evolved.  In fact, she discovered that neanderthals and humans were similar and co-evolved.  She started to write an interesting story, underpinned by research and science.

Cameron used her love of the outdoors and canoeing in Northern Ontario as inspiration for the setting and her experience as an Outward Bound instructor to channel the theme of survival.  Interestingly she has included bears in all 3 of her novels including:  The Line Painter, The Bear (best seller) and The Last Neanderthal.

Her husband is usually her first reader and felt that this was the best book she had ever written but asked her to consider whether she meant the neanderthals to speak like english was their second language?  For her third draft she worked with a scientist who helped her find all the areas that her “science was soft”.  He assigned her readings and she used his notes like a “creative constraint”.

For her modern story, she spoke with women in science about the challenges of balancing their families with field work.  Her own challenging delivery of her second child who arrived with the cord wrapped around his neck, helped her describe the terror she experienced and the feeling of being one with the women who have delivered babes for 40,000 years.

I had delayed my reading of The Last Neanderthal which I had been lucky to win as an advanced reader copy from Penguin Random House (thank you!).  As much as I wanted to read it right away, I delayed so that the book was fresh in my mind for the Grimsby Author Series.  It was a great evening and I was able to encourage the author to write a sequel as I was not ready for the story to end and am still wondering what is next for the characters.

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16. The Woman in the Window (A.J. Finn)

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 11.32.22 AMAfter meeting A.J. Finn at a Harper Collins event a couple of weeks ago, I held off reading The Woman in the Window as I wanted the story to be “fresh” in my mind for book club.  This novel is a psychologic thriller which centres around the life of Anna Fox, a psychologist, unable to venture out of her New York home due to her agoraphobia.  Her husband and daughter no longer live with her and she engages with her neighbours through a pattern of voyeurism and spying via social media.

Anna spends her days watching black and white movies, paying chess and helping others through an agoraphobia website.  Her psychologist and physiotherapist attend appointments in her home and the downstairs tenant assists her with errands.  A new family moves in next door and when she witnesses a violent act, no one believes the sad, wine drinking woman with mental health problems.

Canadian author, Louise Penny describes the book as “an absolutely gripping thriller”.  The story provides a glimpse into the mental health challenges experienced through trauma and is an entertaining read.  It was inspired by the film Rear Window which debuted in 1954 with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly which I am now planning to watch.

This “hard to put down” novel was suggested to our book club by Robyn Harding and should spark entertaining discussion.  Interestingly, when we got out books signed and mentioned Robyn Harding, this American author immediately mentioned her book, The Party.

Wondering about A.J. Finn?  It turns out, according to the Globe and Mail review, that A.J. Finn is a pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, who was an executive editor at William Morrow publishing, an imprint of Harper Collins. He is a fan of mysteries, black and white movies and shared his own challenges with his mental health.

A.J. Finn’s first novel has become a New York Times Best Seller and we can look forward to the film adaptation of The Woman in the Window.  It was a great, palate-cleansing read for the long weekend and I am looking forward to book club!

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Linden MacIntyre: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 3.55.10 PM“Every atrocity creates ripples that travel through time and space”.

Linden MacIntyre’s visited the Grimsby Author Series for the third time, in November, to talk about his latest novel, The Only Cafe.  He is the author of 7 books including the 2009 Giller Prize winning, The Bishop’s Man (which unfortunately I forgot to bring to be signed.  Ugh!!!)  MacIntyre was an engaging speaker who shared glimpses of his 38 years as a CBC journalist which have melded into his work as a novelist.

Lessons of survival came from a lost story from Ukraine during the Nazi roundups.  A person who had been a child shared how a group of Jewish individuals pooled their resources to hide in the cellar of a warehouse.  To keep the group safe, a 17 year old being sent up for use by the men upstairs.  These kind of stories inspired MacIntyre to think of the secrets that people carry with them and don’t want to talk about, “secrets that are buried in shame”.

Named after an actual cafe on the Danforth (Toronto), The Only Cafe tells the story of a man troubled by his past in Lebanon.  After his mysterious death, his son planned his memorial, a “roast” at the Only Cafe and began to learn about his father’s past life.  At the gathering, he met an Israeli man, who had known his father before he took refuge in Canada, and he began to learn about his father.

The experienced journalist had spent time in Lebanon and Beruit during the massacres.  Two thousand people had been killed and he was able to get into the country with a resourceful driver and the cover of surgical masks.  He spoke of standing amongst bodies that were almost unrecognizable and seeing, in midst of the horror, the arm of an infant while nearby, a front end loader dug out bodies.  This scene and the look of terror on a group of young teenagers has never left him.  He acknowledged that we all have accountability for these situations and that the “consequences of violence travels”.   He shared his gruesome experience with the crowd and said that he feels that “when you get a chance to talk about it, you should”.

“Flashing lights tell me that lives have changed forever”

At the end of the evening, mention was made of his wife, Carol Off.  This couple of journalists, who have both recently published books, must have interesting conversation at the dinner table!  Off is also on my wish list of authors to meet and I have a copy of her book, All We Leave Behind near the top of my TBR pile.

As always, this Grimsby Author Series event was fascinating and the audience was spellbound listening to Linden MacIntyre.  He is an engaging speaker and certainly has more stories to tell!

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Alison Pick: Grimsby Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 3.55.36 PM“Fiction is about empathy, about imagining ourselves in a different world”.

The November session of the Grimsby Author Series included novelist and poet, Alison Pick.  She joined to  speak about her latest book, Strangers with the Same Dream.  Described by the host, Ken,  as “a riveting and sensitive novel”, which is “part love story and party mystery”.  Set in 1921 Palestine, it tells the story of Jewish settlers, setting up a kibbutz, from 3 different points of view.

Pick’s own family had hidden their Jewish roots, escaping Auschwitz by converting to Christianity.  She had converted back to Judaism and travelled to Israel, visiting a kibbutz three times, feeling a sense of belonging which inspired this book.

“Fiction is about opening up questions, asking more questions”

Pick “loves everything about writing, except titles”.  She spent 3 years working on this novel, plotting it out on 3 sheets of bristol board.  She feels that she has a great responsibility to get the story correct so has taken her research and fact checking seriously.

Although I have not read any of her work, I am looking forward to reading my signed copy of her memoir, Between Gods.

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Roz Nay: Different Drummer Books

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 11.15.22 AMAs I catch up on author event posts from 2017, I can’t forget an eventing spent with Roz Nay and Robin Harding at the charming Different Drummer Books in Burlington.  The two West Coast authors complimented each other and the small crowd provided an intimate setting for questions and discussion.

Our Little Secret was Nay’s first book.  I love visualizing her writing at the kitchen table, in the midst of lego, glitter and craft supplies.  After moving to Canada, her husband signed her up for a writing course so that she could “do something just for you”.  The story began as a 1000 word writing assignment and the end result was Our Little Secret.

Working 4 days a week as a clerical assistant in child protection, she gets up at 0500 hours to write for two hours before getting into mom-mode and later heading to the office. She described herself as a bit of a “drifter” who had travelled and snowboarded in her younger days.  She had no clear direction but had a habit of writing things down in a journal which is now finding its way into her writing.

Our Little Secret is a psychological thriller told from a police interrogation room.  The unreliable main character takes you on a journey through a nostalgic, meandering story returning back to high school and university.

What is next?  Roz has just completed edits for a second thriller which will be published in the fall of 2018.  It features two sisters, bound by a tragic event, and deals with the question of how far they will go to protect each other.  Her professional experience in child protection influenced the storyline which includes a missing child.

Nay becomes totally engrossed in her writing and does not read for several months at a time.  I always love to know what authors are currently reading and she recommended:

I left the event with a signed copy and it was hard to put down Our Little Secret until the mystery was solved.  It was inspiring to think of Nay writing while busy raising her young family and I look forward to her second novel.

Thanks to Ian at Different Drummer Books who brings in interesting authors and hosts a number of author events in the Burlington area!

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A.J. Finn: Harper Collins Event

img_1227It was worth a mid-week trip to Toronto to meet A.J. Finn at the Harper Collins office (and special thanks to Sarah who drove since I could not manage public transit on crutches)!  The Woman in the Window hit the shelves on January 2nd and by the 21st had made the top spot on the New York Times list!  This is an amazing accomplishment by a first time author!  The novel is so popular that there are over 60 holds for this title at my local library!  Thanks to a donation by Harper Collins,  the lucky patrons of the Franklin Street Little Free Library, can borrow a copy!

Growing up reading Agatha Christie, Sherlock Homes and The Hardy Boys, Finn wrote his first novel in New York (despite its’ large population, he feels it is the loneliest city).  It is a psychologic suspense inspired by his love for old films and his experience spying on a neighbour after seeing a light on across the street.  This motivated him to write a 21st century take on the 1954 movie Rear Window, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.

Finn wants readers to experience other lives by reading and his protagonist is a woman, with agoraphobia, who is housebound by trauma and self-medication.  He disclosed his own mental health challenges to the audience which was timely since January 31st had been Bell’s Let’s Talk day (a day to promote awareness of the importance to talk about mental health).  At the age of 21, Finn was diagnosed with severe clinical depression.  After 15 years of treatments, including ECT and ketamine, he met a new psychiatrist and was re-diagnosed with bipolar disease.  With the correct diagnosis, he felt well enough to start on this creative endeavour.

In a time when there are many books with “girl” in the title, he knew that he did not want to “infantilize” Anna.  She was a woman, living her own mess and he wanted her to be credible and well-rounded.  Anna was unable to leave her home, but she did study French, watch old movies and support other individuals with agoraphobia.  In writing from a female perspective, he asked both his sisters and his agents to review it for authenticity.

As Anna participates in chat rooms, she keeps tabs on her neighbours through her camera lens and via social media.  It is a voyeur that she witnesses an act of violence in a neighbouring home. This premise is intriguing and I am looking forward to reading this book and watching Rear Window.  The Woman in the Window will be our March book club pick as suggested by Robyn Harding (author of The Party).

Finn’s was employed, in publishing, as he wrote his first novel – he has since retired!  He would write in the evenings and on weekends, listening to electronica or pop (in another language so he would not get caught up with the words).  He noted his habit for “coke”, laughing and clarifying the “delicious poison” was a drink and that he had adapted to earl grey tea.

This extremely energetic author told the group that he had been heading out on vacation when he received a call from Fox with an “exploding offer“.  His book had not even been published and he had a one million dollar offer that he needed to accept or reject on the spot!

He signed books and chatted with readers after the discussion, sharing that he is working on his second novel.  It will be set in San Francisco and is in the “vein of Agatha Christie”.

I am always curious about what authors like to read and his favourite authors include:

  • Henry James
  • Sherlock Homes
  • Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
  • Donna French
  • Kate Atkinson
  • Charles Dickens
  • Graham Greene
  • Patricia Highsmith (who he loves as she convinces readers to “root for the bad guys”

It was a fantastic evening and worth the trip into Toronto.  Harper Collins hosts terrific events and I have been privileged to meet great authors like A.J. Finn, David Nicholls (Us) and Nadia Hashimi (When the Moon is Low, The Pearl that Broke its’ Shell).  I love that participants leave with a copy of the book and a Harper Collins mug.

Thank you Harper Collins for both the great evening and the extra copy of The Woman in the Window for the LFL!!

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Jennifer Robson: Bell City Author Series

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 11.00.56 PMIn January, the Brantford Public Library began the Bell City Author Series with a fabulous evening with Jennifer Robson.  After previously meeting her in Burlington (May 2017) and learning about Goodnight from London, I was thrilled that she spent most of her time speaking about her upcoming book, The Gown.

Jennifer is not only a historian but laughed that she has been known as “the most successful Canadian author your have never heard of”.  Here are a few fun facts from the evening:

  • A Morrison Sandwich is NOT bought from a delicatessen but is what happens when the walls of bomb shelters blow out, causing the roof to collapse and make the people the middle of the “sandwich”.
  • Anne Shirley is her favourite fictional character – she is one of mine too and if you have not completed the 8 books in the Anne of Green Gables series, it is time to revisit these Canadian classics!
  • Her first book was written on maternity leave, caring for a baby and toddler – many parents have trouble even taking a shower during these months yet Robson was able to write a novel!
  • She publishes a book every 12-18 months.
  • While she writes one book, she is edits another and speaks about a third.

Robson did highlight Goodnight from London and how remarkable her grandmother had been.  She was a journalist in the 1930s and 1940s working in a “man’s world” of bum pinching and sexual harassment.  When most of the newsroom was sent overseas, her grandmother got her chance to be a journalist.  She shared some vintage pictures of her grandmother stepping out in style back in the day.

She just finished writing The Gown which is the story of Queen Elizabeth’s, intricate bridal gown from the perspective of a seamstress.  Despite the poverty, the coal shortage and the rationing, England celebrated this wedding.  The ceremony may have been scaled back but not the gown!

Robson researched the gown, traveled to England and toured the studio where it was embroidered.  She met the remaining seamstress who worked on the gown, now 90 years old, who had sewn each button hole on the dress with painstaking precision.  The author learned how to embroider a flower and how amazing it was that the gown was completed in just 7 weeks time.  I look forward to this book  release and will add it to my collection which now includes:

The evening included a great discussion, Wayne Gretzky wine and a book signing.  Although I already have signed copies of all her novels, it was great to chat with Robson at the end of the evening.  It is terrific to have a local author series… although I will continue joining the Grimsby Author series too, especially since my book partner in crime’s birthday goal is to meet 50 authors this year!

Reading recommendation:  Jennifer suggests reading The Alice  Network although she cautioned the crowd NOT to begin it at 10pm as it is difficult to put down!

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Kristin Hannah

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 9.18.00 PMFreezing rain warnings, slush and even the wrong location did not stop Kim and I from meeting Kristin Hannah.  Despite the weather, the room was full of avid readers, keen to hear her speak about her newest novel, The Great Alone.

After reading The Nightingale, I was keen to learn more about The Great Alone.  She shared that being influenced by binge watching Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones she realized that “she could throw bad things at” her characters and “see how they survive” .  This has helped her grow as a writer and a woman and she has changed the focus of her last two novels to more serious topics.

The Great Alone has glimpses of Hannah’s childhood represented by the setting of Alaska.  When Ernt lost another job, the Albright family drove their Volkswagen bus North and attempted to escape the demons of Ernt’s PTSD.   His wife Cora and daughter Leni, travelled with him and hoped to leave their challenges behind.  They later realized how isolating an Alaskan winter, with 18 hours of darkness each day, could be.

“My family has had a long history in Alaska. My parents joined with a local Alaskan homesteading family to found the Great Alaska Adventure Lodge on the rugged banks of the Kenai River. Three generations of my family have worked there, and over the last twenty years I have spent a lot of time up there. Every time I land in that majestic, otherworldly landscape, I fall in love all over again” (https://kristinhannah.com/newsletter/january-2018/) .

The strength and resilience of the women of the North was a key theme.  Many women followed men to the North, only to remain when the men fled back South.  Hannah laughed that she had heard “it’s easy to find a man in Alaska, the odds are good but the goods are odd”!  She notes that writing is like therapy and that the character of Leni had some similarities to her life – not the domestic abuse but the moving around, changing schools and a lack of cool clothes.

“the way I got through that was books”

Hannah referred to herself as a “recovering lawyer”.  She was a 25 year old student, when her mother was dying of cancer.  As she grumbled about her corporate law class, her mom told her not to worry, she would be a writer anyways.  As she spent time with her mom, they worked on ideas for a book.  Years later while practicing law, Hannah went into labour at 14 weeks leaving her on bedrest for the remainder of her pregnancy.  Her husband pulled out the materials from the book she had attempted to write with her mom which inspired her to write.  Two years after her son was born, she published her first novel.

Having only read The Nightingale, I had not realized that her earlier books were historical romances.  The Nightingale was a fabulous historical fiction novel set in WWII France.  She shared how difficult it was to write a book worrying that would follow the success of The Nightingale.  She decided to write a book that could not be compared.  It was a domestic thriller, set in Alaska and needed to be thrown out.  All that she kept was the Alaskan setting and a few of the characters involved in a completely new plot to form The Great Alone.

Hannah described her writing as a collaborative process.  She writes, shares with her writing partner and trusted others to brainstorm and discuss.  She wants to learn the strengths and weaknesses and keeps starting over, rewriting and making changes.  At present, she admitted to being 25 pages into a novel that would be relating to the strength and durability of women with stories at risk of disappearing as the women die taking their memories with them.  She spoke of the importance of capturing these stories since so much of history is written from a male perspective.  The audience laughed when she said she wanted to “remind people how badass we are”!

It was amusing to learn that she writes long hand on yellow legal pads, writing chronologically.  She shared that it is “like watching a movie in my head and transcribing it”.  She does not worry if the writing is “good” but just gets her thoughts down as you “can always fix something that is written, I can’t fix something that isn’t there” – this is good advice which I need to consider when I start writing with perfectionist tendencies.

It is always great to learn what authors are reading.  The audience learned that Hannah is a “Stephen King Girl” and loves J.K. Rowling books.  The Shadow of the Wind and Gentleman in Moscow are her recent favourites.

Kristin Hannah was inspiring and I am looking forward to reading The Great Alone and her future books.  After an adventurous trip, the weather ended up being fine and we had a great literary afternoon!

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15. Granta Canada 141 (Autumn 2017)

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 9.40.27 AMWhat is Granta you might ask?  It is the “magazine of new writing”.  Their website describes that “each themed issue of Granta turns the attention of the world’s best writers on to one aspect of the way we live now”.  Founded in 1889 and named after a river flowing near the Cambridge University, it is a quarterly celebrated for its’ themed issues.  Although it is categorized as a magazine, it is a really more like a book, an anthology or a collection of stories.

Thank you to Louise for sending me this gift.  I have enjoyed the first issue with short stories, poems and photo essays by Canadian authors.  Edited by Madeleine Thien (Do Not Say We Have Nothing) and Catherine Leroux (The Party Wall), I was moved by the first story, Mangilaluk’s Highway, describing the deadly trek of 3 boys escaping from residential school.  One boy survived yet has spent his life wondering why?

Lagamorph was a curious tale of a pet bunny submitted by Alexander MacLeod.  Parents can relate to the experience of a pet becoming their task and being much more work than initially anticipated.  The scene with the snake will be forever etched in my mind!

Margaret Atwood submitted The Martians Calm Canada which accompanied an original drawing by the author.  Her tale describes Martians accidentally arriving in Canada on their way to a musical in New York.  They encounter mushrooms who describe Canada to the extraterrestrials. In true Margaret Atwood style, she comments on the current events through her writing.

Granta is a magazine, an anthology really, that shares a unique mix of storytelling by Canadian artists.  A few of the entries were very creative head scratchers.  I am not sure what to make of them and was happy that they were short but these were mixed in with some great writing.

Overall, Granta was a collection of writing to read a little bit at a time, to slowly enjoy and to appreciate the creativity of Canadian writers.  I am looking forward to the next collection which is called Animalia.

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14. Precious Cargo (Craig Davidson)

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-10-47-47-amPrecious Cargo had been sitting on my shelf since I met Craig Davidson at the Grimsby Author Series in November 2016.  I picked it up again when I met Craig at the One Book One Brant Event in April 2017 which united the community to read his novel, Cataract City.  The third time, I was reminded to pick up Precious Cargo was when it was announced as part of the 2018 Canada Reads short-list.  It seemed appropriate that I had procrastinated reading this gem until it was chosen for Canada Reads, one of my favourite Canadian book events.

This book is heartwarming, it is sweet, it is reflective and, at times, it is funny.  It leads the reader to think about the challenges that everyone faces.  No one is immune to hardship, yet some challenges are more overtly seen by others.  Craig begins sharing that he was down on his luck.  He had quit a job at the library after a disagreement over watering a ficus plant.  He was not qualified to work as a worm harvester and was not the successful candidate for a lunch monitor position.  When he came across a flyer seeking school bus drivers, he embarked on a year of learning about himself, witnessing some shocking human nature and the understanding the challenges faced by his students (and their families).

Precious Cargo is open, honest and at times heartbreaking.  It is a book to open your eyes, to make readers think about their own reactions.  Do you avert your eyes from an individual with cerebral palsy?  Does your child invite their classmates with autism to the party?  Have you ever made comments about the short bus?  How do you react if your kids use the “r” word or slap their hand against their chest signifying the word?

This book is about acceptance – of the author himself as he struggled to make ends meet and the children who experienced day to day challenges at school and making their way in the world.  It is about caring, kindness, laughter.  It is about taking a chance, doing something new and being open to experience.

One constructive criticism was that I did not love the additions of his unpublished novel, The Seekers into the book.  These snippets were interspersed between the chapters and I am not sure that they added to the story.  Despite these sections, I truly believe that this is one book that Canada should read.

Precious Cargo is a book that young and old can learn from.  It is a book that causes reflection and will inspire kindness.  Perhaps we can all learn from Craig’s experience driving a bus and getting to know some remarkable children who taught Craig some lessons on the journey.

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