“The Magic of Saida” by M.G. Vassanji

magicsaidaHis name was Kamal Punja – half Indian, half African. He was born in a town south of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania on the east coast of Africa. His father, the Indian, deserted him as a baby to return to India. His mother brought him up with a close friend who had a daughter called Saida. Kamal and Saida became close and lasting friends, in fact he loved her all his life.

The book gives a good look at many aspects of African life: the changes when the Germans colonized the country; the magic and mystique of Saida’s grandfather, a famous poet. Kamal turned out to be a clever student who went to Makerere University and became a doctor. By this time he had a girlfriend who urged him to accept a position in Canada. They both settled in Edmonton where he was highly successful in medicine, and had two children.

The Magic of Saida tells the story of what was missing. He returns to Africa in search of Saida, and early love and memories. The result is tumultuous. With our world turning all colours, in all places, Vassanji gives a riveting picture of what the chopping and changing feels like. He is an Indian himself who now lives in Toronto. He has written six novels, which have won the Giller Prize twice as well as a series of other prizes.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Volcano Rising: An Ambassador’s Diary” by John Kneale

This is a concise, well-written account of what it was like to be Canadian Ambassador to Ecuador during three of its most turbulent years.

John G. Kneale served in that country from 1998-2001, and kept a daily diary. With him were his wife and two teenaged daughters. The title refers to the volcano that was a constant threat and exploded literally above their heads in 1999. It also refers to the wave of discontent that is rising among the marginalized Indian populations.

Like other countries in the region, Ecuador’s economic progress is hobbled by political instability. While he was there, a democratically-elected president was deposed by the army. Seven Canadian oil workers were kidnapped and held for ransom in the jungle. Kneale points out that there is little pressure on our political leaders to deploy our resources to build a safer, more prosperous New World.

He also tells of the beauty of the country, and describes the Andes, the Amazon and the magnificent Galapagos Islands. It is altogether an excellent read, combining a picture of Ecuador with an up-close description of an ambassador’s life and challenges.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Last Friends” by Jane Gardam

lastfriendsThis is the third  in Jane Gardam’s trilogy on the personnel of the Hong Kong law courts when they were dominated by the British. Like the others, it is full of far-out snobbery from that long-lost British Empire. But it also has  a lot of humour.

This book tells the story of Terence Veneering, who ended up working in law with Sir Edward Feathers (Old Filth, i.e. Failed In London Try Hong Kong) in the Malay States, as they were called. His background was wildly un-British, being the son of a Russian acrobat who had an accident while performing in England and was marooned in the northeast part of the country where he married an English girl. The blond son, Terry Venitski, proved to be a brilliant scholar who entered law, changed his name and was assigned to Hong Kong.

This book takes these two, plus Old Filth’s wife Betty, through the loves and jealousies of their working years and finally back to England where the two men ended up living in the same village. A lot of jealousies were resolved and they were friends, and home, at last.

Jane Gardam is one of England’s most distinguished novelists with a stream of prizes to her name. Her intelligence, plus black humour, are a joy to read.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith

trainsandloversTrains have always had a romance about them, and Alexander McCall Smith explores it in his latest book.

We have come to love McCall Smith for the characters he has created in his beloved series, i.e.: the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs, the 44 Scotland Street series and the Corduroy Mansions series.

This may be different as one of a kind, or it may start a new series. Who knows? At any rate, it’s the story of four passengers on the Edinburgh-London train: three men and one woman. McCall Smith quotes Auden’s Night Mail to show the poetic swing of a train: “This is the Night Mail crossing the border/ Bringing the cheque and the postal order.”

Sure enough, as the train winds down the North Sea and then dips inland, each of the passengers tells bits of his or her life through incidents of a love affair. The men are Scots, English and American; the woman came from Perth, Australia. As they rock down to London, McCall Smith shows how the train brings out that part of us that outweighs any other – our need for love – to give it and to receive it in that familiar battle that all of us fight with loneliness.

“The Scotsman” calls Trains and Lovers the best thing McCall Smith has written so far.

Review by Anne McDougall

“This and That: The Lost Stories of Emily Carr” by Emily Carr and Ann-Lee Switzer

thisandthatEmily Carr has always had a double audience: one for her painting, and the second for her writing.

This little book is a collection of sixty very short stories – really sketches – which Carr put together because she thought they “ornamented life, which would be a drab affair without the little things we do not even notice or think of at the time…”. She originally called the collection Hundreds and Thousands, after the tiny coloured candies sprinkled over birthday cakes. For the last thirty years they have been in the British Columbia Archives. Scholar Ann-Lee Switzer has studied Carr’s writings for some years and in fact lives near the Archives in Victoria.

The jottings were done by Carr in the last two years of her life. She had already published three collections of her stories: Klee Wyck (1941), The Book of Small (1942), and The House of All Sorts (1944). Her great mentor was Ira Dilworth, professor of English at the University of British Columbia, and later director of the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. They shared a love of poetry, and of the Canadian West.

These stories are intimate, funny, and show the sharp sensitivity that we have always loved in Emily Carr’s paintings.

Review by Anne McDougall

Elizabeth Kelly Signs “Last Summer of the Camperdowns” on Saturday, July 13 from 11:00am to 1:00pm

0871403404.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_Local author Elizabeth Kelly will be in the store signing copies of her new book The Last Summer of the Camperdowns on Saturday, July 13 from 11:00am to 1:00pm.

About the book:

“The Last Summer of the Camperdowns introduces Riddle James Camperdown, the twelve-year-old daughter of the idealistic Camp and his manicured, razor-sharp wife, Greer. It’s 1972, and Riddle’s father is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Between Camp’s desire to toughen her up and Greer’s demand for glamour, Riddle has her hands full juggling her eccentric parents. When she accidentally witnesses a crime close to home, her confusion and fear keep her silent. As the summer unfolds, the consequences of her silence multiply. Another mysterious and powerful family, the Devlins, slowly emerges as the keepers of astonishing secrets that could shatter the Camperdowns. As an old love triangle, bitter war wounds, and the struggle for status spiral out of control, Riddle can only watch, hoping for the courage to reveal the truth. The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is poised to become the summer’s uproarious and dramatic must-read.”

Be sure to check out this great event and add another book to your summer reading list! We hope to see you all here!

Mel Bradshaw Signs “Fire on the Runway” on Saturday, June 22 from 11:00am to 1:00pm

m-2.phpCome by the store on Saturday, June 22 to meet Toronto author Mel Bradshaw. He will be here from 11:00am to 1:00pm signing copies of his new book Fire on the Runway. It is the newest novel in his Paul Shenstone Mystery series.

From the jacket:

“As Torontonians move to the beat of the Jazz Age, war is the furthest thing from their minds. Then a fatal grenade explosion outside a west end hotel room breaks the rhythm. The room’s registered occupant, a mysterious European woman calling herself Lucy, disappears before she can shed any light on the incident.

Police detective Paul Shenstone believes someone is trying to assassinate Lucy. Once he has found her, he will learn the reason.”

For more information about Mel and his books, visit: http://www.dundurn.com/books/fire_runway

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

Liane Tanguay Launches “Hijacking History” on Monday, June 17 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm

hijackinghistoryLocal author Liane Tanguay will be in the store on Monday, June 17 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, to launch her new book Hijacking History: American Culture and the War on Terror.

From the jacket:

“In Hijacking History, Liane Tanguay unravels the ideology behind an American enterprise unprecedented in scope, ambition, and brazen claim to global supremacy: the War on Terror. She argues that the fears, anxieties, and even the hopes encoded in American popular culture account for the public’s passive acceptance of the Bush administration’s wars overseas and violation of many of the rights, privileges, and freedoms they claimed to defend.

A timely retrospective on the War on Terror, Hijacking History examines popular representations of US military action, dissects both the logic and the aesthetics by which the dominant discourses strive to justify war, and reveals how some of these forces can ultimately contribute to an ideology of resistance.”

We hope to see you all come out for this great event!

“Unusual Uses for Olive Oil” by Alexander McCall Smith

unusualusesoliveoilIn a sensible world where we all worry about relationships and how to fix them, it is a relief – and a joy – to read Alexander McCall Smith – especially when he’s writing about his German professors who get into situations beyond imagining but hilarious all the way.
One of these men is Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld. He wrote the definitive text book Portuguese Irregular Verbs for the Institute of Romance Philology. He is married to the book, although his friends try to persuade him otherwise, and spends every waking hour assuring his own name receives the recognition he feels it deserves. This results in some amazing adventures, including one trip on the annual student body retreat in the Alps. He plunges 3,000 feet – to make mountaineering history – and later turns this into a lecture series.
McCall Smith has lived in Africa, England, Scotland and written from all of them. One of the earliest and most beloved is The No. l Ladies Detective Agency. Readers in Ottawa may have caught Alexander McCall Smith on a recent visit here where he spoke to the Authors Association. A questioner in the audience asked McCall Smith why he ignored all the trouble in Africa when he was writing about that continent. He replied firmly that yes there was trouble, but there was another aspect to life, and that he is what he chose to write about. He certainly does it in Unusual Uses for Olive Oil. The result is a very funny book.
Review by Anne McDougall