Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine

True crime?  Yes, I suppose so, but closer to reportage than sensationalism.  With the murder of Tina Fontaine, BBC journalist Joanna Jolly takes on a disturbing subject:  the numbers of raped, murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada.  Folks outside of Canada may be oblivious, but the problem is such that Justin Trudeau, upon becoming Prime Minister, promised and implemented an initiative to focus on the issue.  And in truth, victim-blaming obscures the problem, for, you see, many indigenous women who come to cities such as Vancouver and Winnipeg (where Fontaine’s death occurred) become involved in drugs and the sex trade – risky, vulnerable lives, low priority lives that, unfortunately, are too easily dismissed.

Tina Fontaine was only fifteen years old, looked much younger, and had been reared on a First Nations reserve by an aunt who loved her.  Like many teenagers, she wanted to spread her wings a bit and came to Winnipeg in hopes of establishing a relationship with her mother.  Her mother, however, was nowhere to be found, but Tina stayed anyway and was soon on the streets.  For about a month.  Then somebody killed her.  Dumped her in the Red River.  Wrapped in a floral duvet cover.  That’s a jarring note, isn’t it?  A duvet cover.  I don’t have a duvet cover or a duvet to cover for that matter, but someone did.  Probably Tina’s killer.  Probably a psychopath.  With a duvet cover.  Strange.

Of course, Richard Cormier, her accused killer, is strange – a cagey, articulate man with a taste for very young women and a thing for Tina that he can’t stop talking about.  He supports himself and supplies his meth habit by stealing scrap metal, copper wiring and bicycles.  Living rough, looking stringy.  And, if you listen closely, you may hear the jingle jangle of loose screws as he walks by.  But did he kill Tina?  Winnipeg homicide detective John O’Donovan doggedly pursues Cormier, even setting up an elaborate and costly “Mr. Big” sting operation, but he can only build a circumstantial case against the suspect.  If you’re not familiar with the term, “Mr. Big” is an investigative ploy that actually originated in Canada.  It’s been banned in some countries as entrapment, and is restricted even in Canada, but O’Donovan’s version reads like a novel, and the case becomes a cause.  Is there justice for Tina?  For any of these women?  Well, you know how it is.  You know what they say.  It’s complicated.  But you can read and we can hope.

Shop your local indie bookstore for this one, Joanna Jolly’s compelling non-fiction debut.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Penguin Random House Canada / Viking via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

If It’s Halloween It Must Be . . . Ghost Virus by Graham Masterton!

I’d never heard of Graham Masterton, but he looks so avuncular.  After reading the book, I took another look.  No, it’s in the eyebrows, I’m sure, those dark, heavy, menacing eyebrows.

This book was published a couple of years ago, so I don’t know if it’s still available, but it popped up rather mysteriously on my e-reader, and so what’s a reader to do.  I began to read.  A young Pakistani girl is summoning up the courage to ”burn off her face” with sulfuric acid.  Oh, my stars and garters, she does.  Goriest thing I’ve ever read.  Enough to make a toad go pale and hop off seeking the comfort of religion, alcohol or drugs.  Folks, it is bad and gets worse.

The police, DC Jerry Pardoe and DS Jamila Patel, begin investigating this as a possible crime of honor, a so-called honor killing for bringing shame on the family.  Now that sounded really interesting so I read on.  Turns out it’s not honor at all.  It’s coats……..and jackets and sweaters.  Promise.  Coats and jackets and sweaters.  Eventually dresses join the fray.  Hats and shoes, you’ll be relieved to know, do not, but I’m not sure about underwear.

Yes, my fellow readers, it starts with second-hand clothing and soon spreads to the suburban closets of Tooting, a district of London.  Garments are possessed and seeking bodies.  Bands of hooded overcoats roam the streets attacking innocent passers-by, ripping off heads and limbs, strewing guts, organs and spinal columns willy-nilly.  Watch your step on those slippery sidewalks.

Surely there’s an award for the goriest book with the silliest concept.  The highly coveted Bucket of Blood?  Who wants a Hugo when you can have the Flay, Splay and Spray?  Well, here’s your hands-down winner.  I mean, this book drips.  And it’s coats, clothing!  What next?  Cannabilism?  Hmm, maybe.  Wouldn’t want to leave that out.

The Tooting police have no clue how to handle this, but, eventually, they arrive at a weapon, and it’s inspired.  I won’t say what it is, but it has a motor, and you may have one in your garage to cut up fallen trees and take down limbs.  It’s very noisy, too.  So an entire hard-faced squadron marches forth carrying these……noisy things.  And then there’s Tooting.  Now I don’t know how this is pronounced in the UK, but, here, in print, it reads as, well . . . Tooting.  And adolescent humor abounds, though, perhaps, unintentionally.  Officers going after the coats are told to make this the “Tooting Chainsaw Massacre”.  (Oops, there you go, spoiler alert.)  And there’s this suggested headline:  TOOTING POLICE LOSE THEIR MARBLES.  I tell you what.  Some of us never grow up, and I shamelessly admit I was hoping for something like “Tooting PD, ma’am, here about that smell you reported.”  Sadly, that was a missed opportunity.

Now Mr. Masterton is a prolific author of horror and crime novels (excessively prolific), and, really, even here, he tells his story pretty well, but this is whacked.  The man dreamed up killer coats and sweaters smearing intestines, kidneys, lungs and uteruses (uteri?) up walls and across streets.  Then there’s Tooting.  Seriously?  It’s a technicolor extravaganza going for broke.  Man, what a magnificent set of cojones he must have, and, unlike the characters in his book, he gets to keep them.  Here’s to ya, Mr. Masterton.

If this is your thing (and really, why shouldn’t it be?), you can scare up a copy at your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Head of Zeus via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Recovery

Retired Canadian psychotherapist Catherine Gildiner subtitles her good work of non-fiction Five Heroic Journeys to Recovery and recounts the inspirational stories of five former patients whom she considers heroes for their lives of struggle, their hard work in therapy and their willingness to share.  All have given permission to use their experiences, but, even so, their stories are told in such a way as to retain their anonymity – Laura, Peter, Danny, Alana and Madeline.  Psychotherapy itself is long process, comes with pitfalls and is not for sissies, but these five are here to speak.

When she was a child, Madeline’s mother greeted her each morning with “Good morning, monster.”  And not as a term of endearment, you see.  Madeline thought that’s what she was.  Danny and his family were victims of Canadian government policy regarding indigenous people.  Alana and her younger sister were reared by their brilliant father who wrangled custody away from their mother.  Custody of two tiny girls was given to a monster.  These stories are told in narrative fashion taken from clinical notes, but they are not clinical.  Rather, they are deeply engrossing and heartbreakingly human.  And, for me, they were terrifying.  Horrifying abuses; none reported.  Monsters and victims, and we have no idea.  Look around.  Look around.  Say Good Morning.

As this Halloween week begins, Good Morning, Monster reminds us that the horrors are all too real.  No word on an official US release date, but the Canadian printing is available for purchase on-line at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Penguin Random House Canada / Viking via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage

It’s 1928 and, in Britain, women of property now have the vote thanks to brave and tireless women like Mattie Simpkin.  Even so, Mattie stays in contact with her suffragette sisters, continues to lecture on her experiences and for the right of all women to vote.  She also carries a small club of polished ash in her handbag and lives in a charming old house called the Mousehole with her friend and assistant Florrie Lee, known as The Flea.  When they engage a sixteen-year-old housemaid named Ida, Mattie begins to see just how limited ordinary young women of the day actually are.  With Ida as the first member and reluctant recruit, Mattie begins a club for girls and young women – outdoor activities, exercise, sleuthing games, debate and adventures.  Mattie believes in living life with brio, and it all goes swimmingly, as they say.  Until, that is, Mattie, always a confident woman, becomes a bit over-involved, puts a foot wrong, steps in something smelly, and it all goes to hell.  But keep your eye on the wickedly intelligent Miss Simpkin.  This good woman has a sure instinct for steering the right course, and she will find her way.

Tell you what.  I think I was in the mood for (or maybe in need of) a case of the Brits.  Steadying, bracing, what is it?  Don’t know about you, but I can only go so long without ‘em, and Ms. Evans book is so very, very……well, it’s as British as a cup of tea and a biscuit.  Characters, time and place, humor – loved all of it, and there’s an interesting political timeliness as well.  Topping, spot on, jolly good, righty-o and all that.  This one will put you right as rain.

Available now, so shop your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers / Harper Perennial via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper of Aleppo

According to Christy Lefteri, the question she asks in her novel is this.  What does it mean to see?  Afra, an artist and the wife of the beekeeper, is blind.  Is it because her eyes are damaged or because she does not want to see any more than she has already seen?  Nuri, the beekeeper, sees a small child called Mohammed.  Does this child exist or does Nuri want to see him, need to see him?  When do we see what is there to be seen, and when are we blind?

As soon as I began to read, my question was this:  Who is Christy Lefteri, and how does she know so much about Syria, the Syrian people, the culture and its refugees?  Is she Syrian?  No, she isn’t, but this talented writer must also be a magician because I was transported, a rare and profound experience.  As she explains in the Author’s Note, Ms. Lefteri worked as a volunteer at a UNICEF refugee center in Greece – absorbing faces, stories, mental images of Syrian and Afghani refugees.  Back in the UK between stints, she engaged a Syrian tutor to teach her Arabic, and this young man also served to verify authenticity as she wrote this fine book.  OK, that’s the background, the good practical answer, but it doesn’t explain the magic.

But bees are magic, aren’t they?  Must be.  Bees turn pollen into honey.  Somehow they build perfectly uniform cells in which to store honey and raise their young.  They communicate without words, cooperate, sacrifice and live peacefully within the hive.  Oh, wow, magic.  We can’t do any of that, and we’re humans.  In a once peaceful Syria, Nuri and his cousin Mustafa, a scientist, kept bees that could do all these magic things, but it is not peaceful now and the bees have died.  Mustafa sends his wife and daughter to safety in the UK and soon joins them, but Nuri and Afra stay behind amid increasing fear and destruction.  Mustafa begs Nuri to come to the UK where they can start again with the bees they love, and, at last, Nuri and Afra join thousands and thousands of refugees making their way out of the Middle East and across Europe.  Hoping, despairing, giving up, hoping.  No guarantees.

Something powerful going on with those bees.  Is the Universe calling on Line One?  So many bee-themed books in recent years, don’t you think?  And here’s another one………that you should read.  Doesn’t matter how many bee books there are.  This one.

This one buzzed onto bookstore shelves back in late August, so go ahead and order up a copy from your local indie bookstore now.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine / Ballantine Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

It Was the Best of Lines, It Was the Worst of Lines – October 4, 2019

bread Giffy GIF

The only food I had was the three pieces of brown bread – which tasted of the outdoor oven where they had been made – and a cookie I’d stolen.”

Keele Burgin, Wholly Unravelled:  A Memoir

Catch me.  My knees are gonna buckle.  This sentence is as simple as a Shaker chair and almost as beautiful.  I like it more and more every time I read it.  You see, this line is a poem – in and of itself, sufficient to stand on its own merit.  These words alone are lovely:  “…three pieces of brown bread….”.  Alliterative, looks good on the page, tingles on the lips.  Three pieces of brown bread.  And three is exactly right, isn’t it?  Try another number there.  Doesn’t work as well, does it?  Who knew?

As a first line you ask, how does it work as a first line?  Like a question mark; it works like a twenty-eight word question mark.  Stop reading after that?  No way.  You got me.

I am serious as a heart attack, and, no, I am not just hungry!  Speaking of hungry, what about the stolen cookie?  It’s all part of the poetry, I tells ya, and the question mark.  That cookie puts the dot on the question mark.  But here’s my theory about cookies in general.  You should eat every cookie like you stole it.  Cookies are so good they should all be illegal.  Maybe I am hungry.

Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream

The tiny, tiny town of Royal, Nebraska had a zoo, more of an optimistic roadside attraction or a sort of do-it-yourself menagerie with aspirations.  It never made much money (or any at all), but the people of Royal, near the South Dakota border, were proud of it; it was popular, and it gave them something to fight over.  Nebraska native Johnny Carson even donated money to build a “primate center” for Reuben the chimp who was later joined by Jimmy Joe, Tyler and Ripley.  Zoo Nebraska, in its day, housed a variety of wildlife, but the chimpanzees, the “non-human primates”, were the center of the attraction.  However, it’s the “human primates” (though I’m hard-pressed to make a distinction) who are at the center of Carson Vaughn’s book.  If this “one-horse town” had had a horse, they’d have fought over the horse.  They did, in fact, have someone who made buggy wheels, quite a unique character, and, boy, did they fight with him.  Did you know there’s still a market for buggy wheels?  It’s a wasted day if you don’t learn something.

Anyway, Royal resident and really good-hearted fellow Dick Haskins fell in love with Africa and the Great Apes after seeing a Jane Goodall documentary in eighth grade.  From that point he’s all about going to Africa to work with Goodall or Dian Fossey, so after college, he finds a job at the Folsom Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska working with “non-human primates”, and this is where he meets Reuben the chimp.  And he’s off – on his way to becoming a self-styled primatologist.  When the Folsom Zoo seeks to relocate Reuben to another facility, Haskins gains custodianship of the chimp and begins planning a primate center in, of all places, Royal, Nebraska – population about sixty.  The school is closed; the Methodist church is closed; the library is closed.

For years, Haskins works himself to the bitter end without pay – adapting as his hoped-for primate center becomes a small zoo, and losing sight of Africa all together.  When, at last, he must give it up, Zoo Nebraska begins its long and contentious downhill slide to oblivion.  Just plain folks doing the best that they can?  Maybe, maybe not.  But first Royal will be in the national headlines and not in a good way.  Human primates.  What is that saying about big fishes in small ponds?  A good piece of non-fiction.  I read it, and, if I were you………I’d read it, too!

Zip on out to your local bookstore for this one or support an indie bookseller online by clicking here.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Little A via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.