Read any Good Books Lately (#10) – Author Kristin Hannah

For those unfamiliar with this author, Kristin Hannah (born September 25, 1960) is an award-winning and bestselling American Writer, who has won numerous awards, including the Golden Heart, the Maggie, and the 1996 National Reader’s Choice award. Hannah was born in California. She graduated from law school in Washington and practiced law in Seattle before becoming a full-time writer. She lives on Bainbridge Island Washington] with her husband and their son. She is a prolific writer with over twenty novels to her credit and they include the following ….. Wikipedia

  • A Handful of Heaven (July 1991)
  • The Enchantment (June 1992)
  • Once in Every Life (December 1992)
  • If You Believe (December 1993)
  • When Lightnings Strikes (October 1994)
  • Waiting for the Moon (September 1995)
  • Home Again (October 1996)
  • On Mystic Lake (February 1999)
  • Angel Falls (April 2000)
  • Summer Island (March 2001)
  • Distant Shores (July 2002)
  • Between Sisters (April 2003)
  • The Things We Do for Love (June 2004)
  • Comfort and Joy (October 2005)
  • Magic Hour (February 2006)
  • Firefly Lane (2008)
  • True Colors (2009)
  • Winter Garden (2010)
  • Night Road (March 2011)
  • Home Front (2012)
  • Fly Away (2013)
  • The Nightingale (2015)

I read The Nightingale  about a year ago. The novel is set in France during the resistance and I found it to be a real page turner. I recommended it to number of my friends and all agreed with my opinion. So, it was only natural that I should add her other novels to my reading list. I have been a little reluctant to plunge right in as her novels tend to be emotional roller coasters that become so engaging that the normal activities of day to day living get pushed into the background. Things like sleeping just gets in the way of finding out what happens next. But I did take the plunge into her 2006 novel Magic Hour and as expected I didn’t get much sleep. From “go to woe” I finished the novel in 24 hours. This is what Amazon has to say about the novel –

“In the rugged Pacific Northwest lies the Olympic National Forest—nearly a million acres of impenetrable darkness and impossible beauty. From deep within this old growth forest, a six-year-old girl appears. Speechless and alone, she offers no clue as to her identity, no hint of her past. Having retreated to her western Washington hometown after a scandal left her career in ruins, child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates is determined to free the extraordinary little girl she calls Alice from a prison of unimaginable fear and isolation. To reach her, Julia must discover the truth about Alice’s past—although doing so requires help from Julia’s estranged sister, a local police officer. The shocking facts of Alice’s life test the limits of Julia’s faith and strength, even as she struggles to make a home for Alice—and for herself. In Magic Hour, Kristin Hannah creates one of her most beloved characters, and delivers an incandescent story about the resilience of the human spirit, the triumph of hope, and the meaning of home.”

I am not a literary critic and I neither have the back ground or the inclination to critique or analyse books in depth. My criteria for literary fiction is fairly straight forward – Is the plot believable? are the characters compelling and well developed? Do I have an over riding compulsion not to put the book down? and do I lose sleep in the process of reading?  Based on these criteria Magic Hour is a 10 out of 10 winner.

Enjoy ……………………………………. I will need to get some sleep and acquire some breathing space before I take on another Kristin Hannah novel

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Read any good books lately? (#6) – Aroatoare

Aroatoare – “The Land of the Long White Cloud”, this is the name the early Polynesian seafarers gave New Zealand when they first colonised the two islands around  800 AD.  In the popular imagination of North Americans,  New Zealanders and Australians are grouped together. Although their accents are similar they are different people with different histories. Modern Australia came about as a collection of penal settlements. Habituated by convicts, felons, political prisoners  and their jailers who the British government dumped in a harsh forbidding land that became Australia. They were surrounded by almost inconceivable expanses of bush and lived cheek by jowl with an aboriginal population that was beyond a white man’s comprehension. The life was hard, harsh and that shaped a rather flinty race of inhabitants. New Zealand, on the other hand was never host to penal settlements of any kind. The Polynesians were there long before the white man and were basically a free people with a highly developed culture. They literally owned the land and did not take kindly to attempts to being  dispossessed and to prove a point they went to war with the whites to assert their rights. The early white settlers were free people untainted by any convict blood. Modern day New Zealanders do not hesitate to point that out. The Maori can often trace his ancestry back to the immigrants of the canoe that brought them across the sea from “Hawaii”.  The historical literature of Australia is about convicts, jailers and bush rangers and the struggle to survive. New Zealand’s stories are about fairly peaceful settlement, and apart from the Maori wars at one stage,  and peaceful interactions between whites and Maoris. I think I can safely say the New Zealand must be one of the few places colonized by white  men where the indigenous population has actually changed the white man.

The German author Sarah Lark explores the early New Zealand experiences  in a series of  “landscape novels” that have made her a best selling author in her native Germany. Fortunately the novels have been translated into English and are available from Amazon.ca on Kindle. The concept of New Zealand historical novels written by a German author would seem unlikely and yet, in execution, the three novels in the trilogy work well. They are historical romance novels that could be disparagingly described as “chicklit” but that would be too unkind. They have a lot more strength and depth than a typical “harlequin” paperback. Having traveled and lived in New Zealand, the novels have a geographical and cultural authenticity that takes me back to the time I spent there  many years ago. For an excellent read I recommend all three novels. Below is the synopsis of the three novels available from Amazon.ca.

In the Land of the Long White Cloud (In the Land of the Long White Cloud saga Book 1)

Helen Davenport, governess for a wealthy London household, longs for a family of her own—but nearing her late twenties, she knows her prospects are dim. Then she spots an advertisement seeking young women to marry New Zealand’s honorable bachelors and begins an affectionate correspondence with a gentleman farmer. When her church offers to pay her travels under an unusual arrangement, she jumps at the opportunity.

Meanwhile, not far away in Wales, beautiful and daring Gwyneira Silkham, daughter of a wealthy sheep breeder, is bored with high society. But when a mysterious New Zealand baron deals her father an unlucky blackjack hand, Gwyn’s hand in marriage is suddenly on the table. Her family is outraged, but Gwyn is thrilled to escape the life laid out for her.

The two women meet on the ship to Christchurch—Helen traveling in steerage, Gwyn first class—and become unlikely friends. When their new husbands turn out to be very different than expected, the women must help one another find the life—and love—they’d hoped for.

Set against the backdrop of colonial nineteenth-century New Zealand, In the Land of the Long White Cloud is a soaring saga of friendship, romance, and unforgettable adventure.

Song of the Spirits (In the Land of the Long White Cloud saga Book 2)

This is volume 2 in the internationally bestselling In the Land of the Long White Cloud saga.  Song of the Spirits continues the soaring saga begun with In the Land of the Long White Cloud, as the founding families of colonial New Zealand experience trials and triumphs of friendship, romance, and unforgettable adventure.

Elaine O’Keefe is the radiant grand-daughter of Gwyneira McKenzie, who made her way to New Zealand to take a wealthy sheep baron’s hand in marriage in In the Land of the Long White Cloud. Elaine inherited not only her grandmother’s red hair but also her feisty spirit, big heart, and love of the land. When William Martyn, a handsome young Irishman of questionable integrity, walks into her life, she succumbs rapidly to his charms. Only to have her heart broken when her sensual half-Maori cousin Kura Warden arrives for a visit and draws William away.

Though both young women must endure hardships and disappointments as they learn to live with the choices they make, each of them also discovers an inner resilience—and eventually finds love and happiness in new, unexpected places. Tested by the harsh realities of colonial life, both girls mature into spirited young women with a greater understanding of the challenges—and joys—of love, friendship, and family.

Call of the Kiwi (In the Land of the Long White Cloud saga Book 3)

In the exhilarating conclusion to the internationally bestselling In the Land of the Long White Cloud trilogy, the spirited Warden and McKenzie clan continues its trials—and triumphs—in New Zealand and beyond.

The great-granddaughter of Gwyneira McKenzie—who arrived in New Zealand as a naïve young bride in In the Land of the Long White Cloud—Gloria Martyn has enjoyed an idyllic childhood at Kiward Station, her family’s sprawling sheep farm in the Canterbury Plains. When her parents send word from Europe that it’s time for Gloria to become a proper “lady” by attending boarding school half a world away in England, Gloria must leave everything and everyone she loves most in the world, including her steadfast protector Jack McKenzie. Wrenched from her beloved homeland and struggling to fit in with the stifling strictures of British boarding-school life, Gloria has never felt more alone. Upon discovering that her parents have no intention of ever sending her home, Gloria takes matters into her own hands and sets off on an adventure that will change her forever.

A stirring coming-of-age tale of love, loss, endurance, shame, and redemption that takes readers from the lush plains of New Zealand’s South Island to the bloody shores of Gallipoli, across Australia’s Northern Territory and beyond, Call of the Kiwi is a profoundly satisfying conclusion to the saga that has captured readers’ hearts across the globe.

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Sarah Lark has written many novels and now currently lives with four dogs and a cat on her farm in Almería, Spain, where she cares for retired horses, plays guitar, and sings in her spare time.

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Read Any Good Books Lately (#5)? – Crime / Murder / Mysteries

The keys to a good murder / mystery novels are a good plot, interesting personalities, interesting locations, and, of course, a good writer. There are a number of authors out there that have the gift to pull all those ingredients together . The Scottish writer Ian Rankin with his dysfunctional hero John Rebus  and his stories set in Endinburgh is one such writer. He was my first real introduction to the genre. The Swedish writer Henny Mankell  (1948-2015) who chose Yarstad in southern Sweden as a location for his, once again dysfunctional hero Kurt Wallander. The novels were so successful that the BBC turned them into a mini-series staring starring Kenneth Branagh. Another Swedish writer of note is Steig Larsen  who, in the astonishingly successful Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, created the memorable characters Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomkvist. All novels were published posthumously and sold 80 million copies. They ended up as highly successful movies in Swedish and English. Maybe we should add Michael Genelin  to the list with his five Jana Matinova  novels . Apart from his writing skills he seems to have the necessary legal background needed to bring an air of authenticity to the plots.

Check his resume:

Michael Genelin (born January 6, 1950) is an American author and former Los Angeles Head Deputy District Attorney in the Hardcore Gang Division. Genelin has been involved around the world in Penal Code reform, Anti-Corruption reform in government, including legislative drafting, Ethics Establishment and Training, Freedom of Information laws, Witness Protection Practices, Trial Advocacy, Investigation and Trial of Cases, particularly homicides, Judicial Procedures, Reform and Creation of Evidence Procedures, Human Resources, all aspects of training, including Anti-Corruption Investigation and Prosecution and the general operations of law enforcement/prosecution/criminal court programs, Investigative Journalism Training, and Interactive Governmental Communications. He has written five novels, mostly set in central Europe, and centered around investigations conducted by Jana Matinova.

  • Siren of the Waters (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2008)

Jana Matinova entered the Czechoslovak police force as young woman, married an actor, and became a mother. The Communist regime destroyed her husband, their love for one another, and her daughter’s respect for her. But she has never stopped being a seeker of justice.

Now, she has risen to the rank of commander in the Slovak police force and is based in the capital, Bratislava, a crossroads of central Europe. She liaises with colleagues across the continent to track a master criminal whose crimes include extortion, murder, kidnapping, and the operation of a vast human trafficking network.

This investigation takes her from Kiev in Ukraine to the headquarters of the European Community in Strasbourg, France; from Vienna to Nice during the Carnival, as she searches for a ruthless killer and the beautiful young Russian woman he is determined to either capture or destroy.

  • Dark Dreams (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2009)

Prudent Jana and impetuous Sofia were best friends when they were schoolmates. One day Sofia approached a man in a car when she shouldn’t have and ended up being raped by a nefarious Communist Party bigwig. Jana pursued the culprit’s car, identified him, and vowed someday to bring him to justice.

Now Jana is a commander in the Slovak police force and Sofia, having made her name as a reformer, is a member of Parliament. Jana has fallen in love with an upright government prosecutor and Sofia is carrying on a notorious affair with a suave, married fellow MP.

One day Jana finds an enormous diamond dangling from a string fixed to the ceiling of the living room of her house. Was it put there as a present? Or, more likely, to entrap her? Where did this magnificent jewel come from? And why was it left for her to find? The answer leads Jana across Europe to unravel a criminal conspiracy involving multiple murders which has entangled her hapless, impulsive friend, Sofia, in its web, and ultimately to the criminal mastermind, the onetime Communist Party boss.

  • The Magician’s Accomplice (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2010)

Devastated by her lover’s death in an explosion—on the same day an indigent student was shot and killed in sleepy Bratislava—Jana is transferred to The Hague, headquarters of the international police force Europol. On the flight she encounters a retired magician, the dead student’s uncle, who is determined to help Jana investigate his nephew’s death. And his help is indeed needed as Jana faces an international criminal conspiracy emanating from Europol itself.

  • Requiem For A Gypsy (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2011)

When the wife of one of Slovakia’s most prominent businessmen is killed in a very public assassination, it looks like the bullets were meant for her husband. But could she have been the primary target? Commander Jana Matinova must push through her own government’s secretiveness and intransigence to discover what connects the murder of Klara Boganova to an anonymous man run down in Paris, a dead Turk with an ice pick in his eye, and an international network of bank accounts linking back to the Second World War.

  • For the Dignified Dead (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (Nov. 3, 2015)

When the wife of one of Slovakia’s most prominent businessmen is killed in a very public assassination, it looks like the bullets were meant for her husband. But, could she have been the primary target? Commander Jana Matinova must push through her own government’s secretiveness and intransigence to discover what connects the murder of Klara Boganova to an anonymous man run down in Paris, a dead Turk with an ice pick in his eye, and an international network of bank accounts linking back to the Second World War.

So that’s Amazon.ca basic synopsis of the series.

One of my criteria for reading enjoyment is how long it takes me to actually read the material. The shorter the time it takes me to read then, obviously, the more I have enjoyed the book(s). It doesn’t necessarily follow that they are great literature, just that I enjoyed reading them. That is the case with this series of novels. I read the entire series in under three weeks – turned lots of pages and missed out on some sleep. I found the plots were good, although, my wife only read the first and the last in the series and she felt that the plots could be tighter. There were interesting personalities spread through out the stories. They included the chief protagonist Jana, her boss, her associates and a super villain that drifted in out of a couple in the series. The locations were places that I felt had been under represented in recent fiction. Most of the action takes place in Eastern and Central Europe including  Czechoslovakia and the two member republics, then Switzerland, Austria, Hungry, Slovenia and France with side trips to the Ukraine and Germany.  Judging by the geographic detail outlined in the novels I can only assume that the author is very familiar with the locales. Although there is a chronology of events that suggest that the novels should be read in sequence, it is possible to read the them as stand alone stories.

All in all, if you are into Crime / Murder / Mystery novels then I suspect you will enjoy them as much as I did.

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Read any good books lately? (#4) – wandering down memory lane

I don’t know how I stumbled on these two books. Possibly by net surfing on Amazon or Kindle. Either way both books set up a buzz of resonance in my memory cells. Both books are essentially travel books. The first one caught my eye because it was about recent travels in Australia and the second one because it was about the Old Indian Trails in the Canadian Rockies (just around the corner from where I live).

TRAVELS OF AN ORDINARY MAN AUSTRALIA by Paul Elliott (published in April, 2013) available on Kindle for 99 cents. At that price how could you go wrong?

All of us at some time or other have become frustrated with our jobs, our life and our relationships and yearn to just toss it all in and head out into great blue yonder. Paul Elliott is one of us. A job that was going no where and a girl friend who was a professional driver (“she had driven me up the wall, driven me around the bend and eventually driven me to the point where I needed to leave everything behind for the foreseeable future”). His answer was to jump on a plane and head down to Australia, specifically to Cairns in Queensland. In this day and age, from Heathrow you fly over Europe, Russia and drop down to Tokyo, Japan and then change planes for a direct flight to Cairns in Queensland.

In Canada if you live in the east you are exhorted to go West. In Australia everyone lives down south so the cry is to “go north young man”. And that’s what I did in the mid- 1960’s. I had worked in my first real job for nine years and life was passing me by. I didn’t have a relationship to jetson but I did have a yen to surf the fabulous beach and point breaks of Northern NSW and Southern Queensland. So why not do that and also take a wander around a part of the country where “even the bananas bend to the right”. This was the red-neck republic of Bjelke Petersen. Bjelke, a God-fearing Lutheran minister, was the premier of Queensland at the time and was the perfect example of that curse on mankind – “A Self Made Man” – whose motto in life was “my way or the highway”. Queensland was no place for unionists, left wing agitators, surfing bums or, then new on the scene, hippies.  So after some time tooling around the surf spots, including an epic birthday surf at a place called Broken Head, and some gainful employment for a few months in Lismore it was  on “To the North! to the North! The last place God made / The contract unfinished, lost, stolen or strayed ”  (an old traditional song). I had a vague idea of maybe making it all the way to New Guinea. I arrived in Cairns from the south 30 odd years before Paul arrived from the North. I think things must have changed somewhat in the intervening interval of time. In my day Cairns was a sleepy country town on the north east coast of Australia. Not exactly the end of the earth but pretty dammed close. You would have to go further north to Cook Town to get closer to the edge. The Japanese seem to like Cairns as a tourist destination, hence the direct flight. It is a gate way to the Great Barrier Reef so that may explain it. In my day it was as hot as Hades and that doesn’t seem to have changed. Cairns no longer seems to be sleepy and through Paul’s eyes it is pretty well a party town over run with backpackers who require ample opportunities to drink beer. His adventures included bungy jumping, beer drinking, a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, beer drinking, a road trip to Cook Town, beer drinking, avoiding predatory women, beer drinking, a trip to the Daintree Rain Forest, beer drinking, a trip to Lake Barrine, more beer drinking ……. you get the general idea. Memories of the area are still in my mind. Picking tobacco in the Atherton Tablelands, the launch “milk run” to Cook Town to what seemed like the end of the earth. In reality then, and I suspect now, it is the ends of the earth. Looking north from the jetty in Cooktown the country stretches for thousand of desolate miles before tumbling into the Torres Straight and then onto New Guinea. It  was place where you meet the odd characters that always seem to populate areas on the edge of settled society.  Paul finally hooked up with some fellow travelers in a shared vehicle and headed off into the interior to get first hand experience of the “real outback”. I don’t think he was disappointed. Despite the thousands of miles of dust, desert and flies and the lonely townships on the way the spectacle of Ayers Rock and the Olgas seem to have made it all worth while. I hadn’t traveled that route so I had no actual first hand knowledge of the terrain. However, he headed south to Port Augusta in South Australia and that is an area I knew. I had passed through it several times. Once on a hitch hiking trip from Sydney to Perth and again on a road trip to the Flinders Ranges. I distinctly remember standing at the end of the sealed road outside Port Augusta as it headed north to Alice Springs. Standing there and seeing the gravel road stretching north as far as the eye could see until it was no longer visible in the shimmering heat of the day. That road is now a sealed highway. The rest of his travels through South Australia and Victoria were also over country that I had traveled so, so many years ago. In my case they were mostly solo adventures in Paul’s case he seemed to have the knack of hooking up with any number of interesting fellow  travelers. Upon reaching the “big smoke”  (Melbourne) he toyed with the idea of heading back up North to MacKay and the Whitsunday Passage. I wish he had of done that because there could have been some very interesting comparisons. In my day getting to MacKay required traveling over hundreds of miles of “The Crystal Highway” so named because of all the glass from shattered windshields that sparked in the sun at the side of the road. I distinctly remember waking up at 8 am in a truck stop outside MacKay on top of picnic table. The temperature was in high 90’s (F) and the sun was beating down and me and my monumental hangover from a re-hydration attempt at a local pub. I also distinctly remember everybody in the pub drinking beer from 5 oz glasses.The idea was to drink the beer before it got too warm.  The tables were a sea of empty 5 oz glasses. Having said that the area off the coast is one of spectacular beauty – straight out of Treasure Island. For Colin that was not to be. He was running out of time and he decided to fly to Brisbane and travel down the coast and see “The Real Australia” – the one that is most familiar to most suburban Aussies. The coastal strip is one of unending seascapes, coastal communities and empty beaches galore. He spent some time in one of my old stomping grounds, Byron Bay, just around the corner from Broken Head. He finally ended up in Port MacQuarrie. This a community somewhat the same size as Cranbrook. His experiences ambling around Port MacQuarrie sparked a lot of memories. The truth be known that he was there probably only a few years prior to my last visit to Australia. Eventually Colin made it Sydney for an opportunity to explain why his visa had expired. Luckily for him he was on his way out of the country.

Old Indian Trails of The Canadian Rockies by Mary T.S. Schaffer (first published in 1911). ” Mary T.S.Schaffer was an avid explorer and one of the first no-native women to venture into the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, where few women  – or men – had gone before.” at $1.99 this was another steal of deal on Kindle.

There were not many of them around in the19th Century and early Twentieth Century but they were there. Women of adventurous spirits that defied convention and did what they felt they had to do. There were probably more of them out there than we will ever know but unless they documented their efforts they have faded into the blank pages of history. We are fortunate that Mary T.S. Schaffer chose to write a book about her adventures of two summers of horse pack explorations of the Canadian Rockies. Anyone travelling the Ice Field Highway these days between Lake Louse and Jasper are pretty well traversing the main route of her explorations. But, remember their trips were done  around 1911. Over two summer Mary and her guides and companions explored a significant number of side trips (left and right) travelling up the Rockies. If you spend any time checking the The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide (Brian Patton & Bart Robinson) it doesn’t take you long to realize that that these are the Old Indian Trails of her travels.

I moved to the East Kootenays in the mid-70’s. Over the years I had done a number of day trips both with the family and solo in the nearby National Parks but it wasn’t until I had been in the area twenty years that I realized that time was slipping by and this marvelous area required some personal exploration. I figured that I had about 15 years of hard core hiking and back packing left before the ravages of age and common sense slowed me down. I know it is not a sensible idea but the only way for me to achieve my desires was to go it alone. Over the next fifteen years I embarked on many day trips and and least one extended eight over-night night back packs per summer. Usually I set aside the the last two weeks of August and the first three weeks of September to take advantage of the good weather (not too hot and sometime cool to very frosty) and the diminishing summer crowds. The early trips were in the Kootenay, Assiniboine and Banff Parks with at least one foray into Yoho Park. Each summer I ticked them off the list until I needed to move onto Jasper Park. Reading Mary’s book is very Deja Vu. I was virtually following in her footsteps, maybe not in the same direction but essentially the same routes. The trip into Athabaska Pass, The Skyline Trail (Shovel Pass) to Maligne Lake and down to Jonas Pass and Brazeau Lake, Nigel Creek and so on. And of course the big trip into Mount Robson. Every summer was another adventure. Despite the fact that they were solo trips I experienced no sense of loneliness. I may have been alone but I was not lonely.

For anyone contemplating hiking in Jasper Park, Old Indian Trails of The Canadian Rockies by Mary T.S. Schaffer is essential reading.

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Geoff Berner at Lotus Books

Geoff Berner at Lotus Books, February 8, 2014, 8pm.  Check Geoff’s website at  Geoff Berner and also Youtube video Play, Gypsy, Play. Also his wikipedia entry Geoff Berner wikipediaGB-tour“Geoff Berner (born in Vancouver 197) is a Canadian singer-songwriter and accordion player from Vancouver, British Columbia. Due to his insightful humour, politically inflammatory compositions and showmanship, Berner has gained a cult following over 134a. Geoff Brennerthe years, especially in Canada and Norway, where he recorded his first live album, Live in Oslo (2004)………” –  Wikipedia entry.

The “show” at Lotus Books was as much a literary event as a musical performance. Although he is labelled as a singer / songwriter, with the publication of his novel Festival Man last October, he has also established his literary credentials. He is a more than a step away from the run-of-the-mill guitar totting songster. His performance, although in no way manic,  lives up to  “a wild combination of menace, madness, and genius… .” – Vue Weekly, Edmonton. His music has been described as “new Jewish drinking songs” or “Klezmer Punk” but despite some Jewish elements in the music I don’t think Klezmer is a good descriptor. Maybe, when people see the accordion they feel the need to apply some sort of ethnic label to give the music a specific dimension. Rather, I think his music is more geocentric than ethnocentric. By that I mean his music  comes specifically out of the politics and geography of his home base, Vancouver. His interpretations of that milieu , while personal, definitely have universal applications.  His The Official Theme Song of the 2010 Winter Olympics  with its somewhat chilling chorus “the dead children were worth it” expresses a sick notion that continues to be played out when ever big sport events displace priorities (and money) away from the public good. The song That’s What Keeps the Rent Down Baby is another edgy piece that could easily be associated with the East Hasting Street area of Vancouver  Youtube version. Something with more of a Jewish overtone would be the Russian song Dalloy Polizei (literal translation “Fuck the Police”) Youtube Version of Dalloy Polizei . Interspersed though out the evening were several readings by Geoff and Ferdy Belland from Geoff’s novel Festival Man.  Ferdy was in his best “Papa” Hemingway mode. Here are some images from the evening. Ferdy Belland Geoff Berner   Ferdy Belland  Geoff Brenner Geoff Berner 200. Geoff Berner   Ferdy Belland   Geoff Berner

This was a more than pleasant evening spent in the intimate confines of The Lotus Book Store listening to a unique performance . Thanks should got to Geoff Berner for his unique brand of music and satire and his low keyed accordion playing. Also, of course, thanks to Ferdy and Erin for bringing Geoff to the bookshop. Please also note that the novel Festival Man is available from the Lotus Bookshop.

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Read any good books lately (#3) – John Clarke: Explorer of the Coast Ranges

John Clarke – Explorer of the Coast Ranges, by Lisa Baile, published by Harbour Publishing 2012, ISBN # 978-155017-583-7, 287 pages including many wonderful photographs. This is a wonderful book that can be found in the Cranbrook Public Libarary.

I came across this book by accident when I was researching material on Wade Davis. It turned up in a Cranbrook Library search of Wade’s books. He wrote the introduction to this biography. This is a story  of the extraordinary British Columbian climber, explorer, conservationist and educator, John Clarke. Over the years I became vaguely aware of John Clarke from numerous fragments of literature in climbing magazines. This gentleman, originally from Ireland, while growing up in Vancouver,  developed a passion for the Coast Mountains that became the central theme of his existence. Every summer for over 25 years he would literally pack his gear and wander off the down town streets of Vancouver to head off into the wilds of British Columbia. He would return in the winter to find work, accumulate funds and plan and prepare for the next summer’s adventure. More extraordinary is the fact that for the majority of these expeditions he traveled alone. Later on, for a number of years, he did hook up with fellow climber and explorer John Baldwin. We tend to forget that there are huge swaths of our province that are a literally unmapped “jungle”, albeit, wet, snowy, glaciated, and over grown with Devil’s club and Slide Alder. This book, coming hard on the heels of the Wade Davis Amazonian lecture at the Key City Theatre  was a reminder that we live on the edge of a geographical wonderland that, in some ways, is just as magnificent and awe inspiring as the Amazon. John’s legacy is the filling in of details of the landscape in The McBride Range, The Misty Icefields, Mt. Mason, The Manatee Range, Toba watershed, Whitemantle Range, Kingcome-Knight Traverse, Klinaklini & Silverthrone Glaciers, Mt. Willoughby / Machmell, and the Jacobesen Bay / Chuchwall River area. He also explored ranges north of Bella Coola. His explorations resulted in over 250 first ascents. His climbing career morphed into that of a conservationist and educator. The loss of his friend Randy Stoltmann in an avalanche right in front of his eyes precipitated a career change for John Clarke. Randy was a noted conservationist  and his death left a gaping hole in the conservationist community. John stepped into that gap. His passion for the mountains was a natural catalyst for working with the many conservation groups and aboriginal communities. The  mountains and explorations are not his only legacy. He also had a passion for the preservation of historical buildings in Vancouver. It seems that during his winter months he photographed and catalogued the disappearing buildings of Vancouver. His work as a conservationist, historical and environmental, also led to a career as an educator. This may have been the beginning of his “settling down”, although by our criteria his new life was still a life of passion, commitment, ideals and excitement. The changes provided him with some stability and  assured income. Because it would have taken him away from his central obsession with the mountains, John had always steered clear of romantic commitment. That came to end with his obsession and marriage to Annette Lehnacker and the birth of his son Nicholas. Also around that time he was awarded the Order of Canada for his lifetime of exploratory mountaineering in the Coast Mountains and his recent achievements as an educator and conservationist.  When Nicholas was born in 2002 it would seem that John’s life was complete. However, and here is the emotional kicker, shortly after the birth of his son, John Clarke at the age of 58 years  was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. John died February 23, 2003. This is a man we should all thank and remember.

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John Clarke’s first ascents in the Coastal Ranges of British Columbia

 ps. Note on the map that despite John Clarke’s extensive explorations there are still great swaths of the province that are still “unexplored jungle”.

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Read any good books lately? (#2) – It’s about Africa

I have never read any of Agatha Christie’s crime novels. In fact I never paid any attention to the crime/mystery novel genre until I recently started reading Ian Rankin’s novels. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the novels have a gritty quality that is way more interesting than the “brigadoon” atmosphere of other Scottish novels. It was short step from Ian Rankin’s Scotland to  Henning Mankell’s Wallander series and Stieg Larsson’s – Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo – tales of murder and mayhem in Sweden. The common thread in these novels is the role of a central protagonist. For Ian Rankin it is Inspector John Rebus, for Henning Mankell it’s Inspector Kurt Wallander and Stieg Larsson has the journalist Michael Bloomkvist doing the honors. All of these characters seem to verge on the edge of being dysfunctional yet get the job done. The crimes are solved and justice, more or less, prevails. So, true to form the ex-BBC journalist Richard Crompton has stepped into the crime novel genre with a, yet again, slightly dysfunctional “hero” in the first Detective Mollel novel. But there is a twist. The novel Hour of the Red God is set in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 during the turmoil of the much disputed general elections. At first glance a former Maasai warrior, complete with tribal scars, seems to be a little unbelievable as a detective. However, once the novel gets rolling it is easy to set aside any misgivings while Detective Mollel pursues the investigation of the murder of a prostitute. The Hour of the Red God is a gritty novel with a particular mix of tribal and urban elements set against the street riots and violence of the elections. The jagged view of life that is the trademark of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is also reflected in Mollel’s struggle with his own issues set against the inter-tribal conflicts and corruption that are very much a curse on the African political landscape.  The novel navigates its way through many twists and turns in the political and social milieu before  the crime is finally solved. This writer, in this his first novel, is a worthy addition to the crime/mystery genre. It is available from the Cranbrook and District Public Library.

One thing leads to another. So while tripping around Richard Crompton’s dark side of Kenya Paul Theroux’s travel book Dark Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Cape Town  immediately came to mind. So much so that I pulled it off my bookshelf, sat down and, over the course of a few days, re-read it. For Paul Theroux it was a return to the landscapes of his youth. He was a Peace Corp worker as a teacher in Malawi in the 1960’s. His opening line of the book “All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there, not for the horror, the hot spots, the massacre-and-earthquake stories you read in the newspaper, I wanted the pleasure of being in Africa again.”  After an opening like that how could you put it down? So, on returning to Africa in the early part of this century for his monumental overland trip through pretty well all the countries of East Africa he obviously has a lot to say. He revisits old friends and old landscapes, indulges in some new adventures, has some narrow escapes and reflects on an Africa that is materially more decrepit than when he first knew it. He has very few good things, if any,  to say about “the agents of virtue”  – the Aid Organizations and NGO that, in his opinion, are a major part of the problem. He thinks the best thing that could happen to Africa is for all foreign aid to cease and let the Africans solve their own problems. I don’t think that Paul Theroux is a particularly nice person and, I suspect, if I ever met him I would probably not like him. However, he does write marvelous travel books and, without a doubt, this is one of his finest. On closing one of his travel books my immediate reaction is “I don’t want to go there”. That is a little different from the promise offered by most travel books.

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Read any good books lately? (#1)

I divide the populace up into two groups – readers and non readers. And, of course, as I am biased, readers are the more significant group. They are the ones whose imagination is fired by the written word. And among the readers there are the ones who are into ” molecules”. They like to have a book in their hand; they like the feel of paper, the physical act of turning the pages and being surrounded by walls lined with books. Then there are the “bits and bites” advocates who have no particular attachment to the physical presence of a traditional book. They are just as happy to get their fix via an e-reader, tablet  or computer screen. They consider themselves more eco-friendly and point to the waste of paper, storage space and the difficulty of finding that particular volume in their crowded living spaces. Regardless of their differing points of view they still all love to read. There was a time back in the dawn of the modern computer age that the notion of books becoming obsolete was considered a real possibility. Any casual stroll, on any given day, through any books store will demonstrate that the promise of the demise of books has be greatly exaggerated. My son, a child of the computer age, a confessed computer geek, is an obsessive reader. I guess all those trips to the Cranbrook Public Library when he was growing up sowed the seeds of a life long passion.

So back to the original question “read any good books lately” can be answered in the affirmative. Now retired, one of the joys of this new found condition is having the time to read and reread as many books that I can get my hands on. One of my criteria for identifying a good book is the desire to re-read the just finished volume. So the top of my list at the moment is  REAMDE by Neil Stephenson. I have read and re-read his spectacular Cryptonomicon and will probably re-read it again. Not everything of his has been to my liking, his Baroque Trilogy I couldn’t finish. His material always seems to have a “teckie” edge with plots that involve technology to some extent. The title Reamde is a corruption of the name of a file, Readme, that is nearly always appended to new software. Part of the attraction of this novel is the opening and closing locations in the Kootenays. The particular geography isn’t exactly as we see it in this area but there are recognizable locations that will definitely resonate with local residents (is that Fernie or Nelson he is talking about?). Geographically the novel ranges far afield from the Kootenays to  Seattle, China, The Philipines, Northern British Columbia, and back to the Kootenays and finally to Idaho. The plot revolves around international terrorism and on-line role playing games. I have never played computer games so that part of the plot is somewhat outside my experience and the whole genre of role playing is beyond me. And the concepts of financial profit from playing these games seemed a little far fetched. However, my geeky son came to the rescue and cleared away some of the fog and misconceptions. In answer to my question ” Is there really a virtual economy in these games that can be transferred back to the real world and real money?”. Here are his comments:   “Ah Reamde – yes, that was a good read, and along with Anathem has redeemed Stephenson after his Baroque Cycle trilogy (which I failed to finish even the first novel). And yes, there are virtual economies in these games – so much so, that many of these games companies actually have economists on staff to manage the economy, just like a Chief Economist would do for a country (printing money = “how many magical swords should we make?”). The practice of “gold farming” – using cheap labor in countries such as China to “farm” virtual goods in the game and then sell them to westerners who don’t have enough time to dedicate to the games to build their characters, is a lucrative business. In fact, many of the Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORG – think Dungeons and Dragons / Tolkien-esque stuff, or military strategy games) have had to struggle with the question of how to limit this black market without killing the interest in their games.  It’s a delicate question – how do you make the game hard enough to be interesting and challenging, without making it so hard that casual gamers can’t enter the game without immediately getting their asses handed to them? How do you, as a game company, make money from the obvious market for shortcuts (i.e. “buy the magical sword that would otherwise take 900 hours of gameplay to earn!”) without pissing off the hardcore gamers, who will perceive this as a “only the rich can win” game. In truth, these games are less like games, and more like entire worlds. They have their own economies, rules, mythologies – Tolkien would be envious. While there are guided epics/quests in the games, the worlds are effectively an open field with only a few “hooks” for whatever quest you might be on… It’s a hell of a long way from Pacman’s “eat all the dots, don’t touch the ghosts, and once you’ve eaten all the dots, start over, but faster and with more ghosts”. The games are immersive and complex, and they can be all-consuming. There’s a reason that the MMORG “EverQuest” is known colloquially as “EverCrack”. Even outside of the Dungeons & Dragons type stuff, there’s whole leagues of other online games. If you have a computer or a console, you can log in to things like XBox Live and play head-to-head against an opponent that’s halfway around the world, any time of the day. Talk about breaking down global barriers. It’s one thing to get schooled by your buddy when he’s sitting beside you on the couch – entirely another thing when a bunch of Chinese kids living on a couple bucks a month are schooling you from an Internet cafe, and you’re hearing the audio channel in your ears as they taunt you in a language you don’t even understand.” So there you have it, an education in an email.

So there is enough “teckie” stuff, adventure, murder and mayhem in this book to keep one’s interest up for many late night reading sessions. Who needs sleep when some much is at stake? This is a good read and one that will definitely go into my re-read list. The book is available from the Cranbrook Public Library.

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