“The Global Forest” by Diana Beresford-Kroeger

globalforest.jpeg Diana Beresford-Kroeger is in love with trees. Her new book describes them from every conceivable angle -all the way from holy and mystical to downright scientific and botanical.

Beresford-Kroeger is a botanist and medical biochemist herself, and lives on a farm in Ontario with her husband Christian Kroeger, who did the photos for the book’s jacket. Part of the author’s background is Irish and much of her story-telling resembles the Irish myths from the old country. At a time when we are regaled every day with the perils of climate change, and the danger in cutting down the forests and wasting valuable resources, Beresford-Kroeger writes specifically about the magic in trees (the elderberry and hawthorn were never touched in China and Japan as well as Russia because of extraordinary medical properties). The trees that were once called anti-famine feeders of the globe had fruits and nuts holding first-class protein filled with essential amino acids. They could again be saved with sufficient finances and will to protect them. She writes about the intrasound found in a forest. She describes the “greenhouse effect” which is being damaged by the burning up of carbon reserves.

Finally, she describes the aboriginals of North America whose prophets were called “Fire-keepers”. They kept the legends, and also looked out for care of all trees, lands and forests. This writer puts her faith in the children of today and believes an old legend which holds that the children will save their parents through a dream and hold hands across the planet in their minds.

It’s a wise and eloquent book and the essays pay a beautiful tribute to the forests of the earth.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Corduroy Mansions” by Alexander McCall Smith

corduroymansions.jpeg It’s hard to find new ways to praise Alexander McCall Smith’s stories except to say that in this one he’s got a brand new setting – London – and hence a new slant on daily living.

Up to now we have fallen in love with his characters in countries where he himself has lived and worked: e.g. the lady detective in Botswana, German colleagues in the Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and Isabel Dalhousie and other citizens of Edinburgh, where McCall Smith has been living for many years attached to the University of Edinburgh as professor emeritus of medical law.

With London he takes on a huge new city and we get the feeling of anonymity his characters feel as they head out to make their fortune surrrounded by strangers. “Corduroy Mansions” is the nickname they give the big rambling apartment building where they live in the Pimlico district of south London. There’s a Member of Parliament called Oedipus Snark, a middle-aged wine merchant whose son won’t leave the apartment, a literary agent looking for a husband. McCall Smith pokes fun at their love life, but nor does he leave them completely stranded. For the first time he introduces a dog into his stories and Freddie de la Hay often steals the limelight completely.

It is McCall Smith’s writing style that is such a pleasure: “full of warmth and wisdom that begs for a comfy chair” – says “The Times”.

Review by Anne McDougall

“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman

imperfectionists.jpegThis is a brilliant book on the workings of a newspaper, inside and out.

Tom Rachman has been a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press stationed in Rome and also worked as an editor at the “International Herald Tribune” in Paris. He knows what he is talking about, with his tough lady editor-in-chief, pathetic obituary writer, stubborn copy editor. Because he still lives in Rome he gives the whole book a deep sense of that beautiful city:- its squares and magical out-of-the way corners to rendezvous, its special love of food and wine.

The chapters focus on specific characters and their sometimes topsy-turvy lives; they can almost be read as short stories. But gradually the inter-personal relations come very close and poignant and we feel the drama, not only in their personal lives, but in the struggle to keep the paper going in the days of encroaching Internet competition.

Tom Rachman was born in London and raised in Vancouver. He graduated from the University of Toronto and the Columbia School of Journalism. The reviewers praise a first novel of such scope and intensity from one so young.

Review by Anne McDougall

“The Double Comfort Safari Club” by Alexander McCall Smith

doublecomfortsafari.jpeg Alexander McCall Smith has created such a family feeling in his stories about Botswana that I even heard of a Canadian businessman taking his children off to visit the home of Precious Ramotse and her famous Detective Agency in this distant spot in Africa. In his new book, McCall Smith continues his up-close look at the characters we have come to know and love in this series.

There is one slightly exotic change in the story, which usually takes place in the town of Gaberone. This time the lady detective and her assistant set off on a mission to a Safari Club in Botswana’s remote and beautiful Okavango Delta. They have some tricky times crossing a crocodile-filled river, and even trickier times trying to find the guide to whom they are bringing a large sum of money.

Safely back home, the assistant finds a strong-minded aunt trying to break up her engagement. Her boss has a complicated case of infidelity, which she resolves in her usual common-sense, kindly way. Altogether it is vintage McCall Smith, and gives a convincing and charming picture of up-close Africa, which we can’t get in the papers with their headlines full of crisis and trouble.

Review by Anne McDougall

“The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler,M.D.

arthappiness.jpeg We all know the twinkle, as well as the courage, in the face of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This book shows how the man with so many problems facing him, still manages both the twinkle and the courage.

Dr.Howard Cutler is an American psychiatrist who has co-authored earlier books in this series with the Buddhist leader, including “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living”. Cutler has spent long visits to the village in northern India where the Dalai Lama lives, as well as lengthy interviews in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, when the religious leader was visiting the U.S. There is considerable sharing and trust between the two men in spite of their different backgrounds.

The Dalai Lama has three major concerns: building basic human values; promoting harmony between the major religions; resolving the Tibetan issue with greater freedom for his own people.

He stresses inner discipline before positive emotions can emerge. He talks of a realistic approach to problems but throughout insists that hope and optimism can and must be cherished. Now 74 years old, this monk had become supreme ruler of the ancient land of Tibet when he was l0 years old and enthroned at l5. By age 24, in l959, he was forced to flee when the Chinese Communists took over the country. For 50 years he has been seeking a peaceful resolution with China but without success. When he talks about resilience, he is talking from experience. This wise man has travelled widely and can also relate to our lives in the West. He returns again and again to the part empathy and compassion play. This book makes a convincing case for what he says.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Sissinghurst: A Castle’s Unfinished History” by Adam Nicholson

sissinghurst.jpeg This is a romantic story of a famous castle in England. It is also a thoughtful assessment of how Sissinghurst Castle could be brought back to the life it once enjoyed as a big farm with cattle and sheep, orchards and crops, as well as the legendary White Garden planted by the author’s notable grandmother, Vita Sackville-West.

Unlike beloved cottages in Canada which may go back a few generations in places like the Laurentians or Muskoka (or farther in Quebec) a British property like Sissinghurst can be traced back hundreds of years. Adam Nicolson and his family have recently moved into this estate. He has written a number of books on history, travel and the environment already but this particular spot has stolen his heart because both his father and grandfather had lived here. As a boy growing up, he met and was aware of many of the Bloomsbury artists who were close friends of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and the book is full of tantalizing glimpses of their exotic adventures.

But it is the actual land itself that captivates this writer and he has gone to considerable length to fill this account with maps and photos of the beauty in the Weald of Kent that makes Sissinghurst so special. It was once a medieval manor and a great sixteenth-century house complete with towers and moats which fell into disrepair when it became an eighteenth-century prison during the Seven Years War. Adam Nicolson is passionate about reconnecting the garden, farm and land. Reading this book you can only wish him good luck and feel sympathy for his quite inspiring mission.

Review by Anne McDougall

“William C. Van Horne – Railway Titan” by Valerie Knowles

williamvanhorne.jpeg This is a well-written, exciting account of a true “titan”. We don’t produce many – and although William C.Van Horne was born in Illinois, it was when he came to Canada to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway that he became an international force in railways and beyond.

Born in l843, Van Horne had already made his mark as first telegrapher and eventually superintendent of a number of American railways. In l88l he was offered the CPR job and became vice-president of the faltering railroad. Canadian officials gave the train ten years to make it to the coast. With incredible drive, and the descriptions of the dangerous sections along Lake Superior are quite harrowing, Van Horne completed the job in five years and we all know the famous photo of the last spike being driven home, at Craigellachie.

Knowles does a good job sketching in Van Horne’s background. Left fatherless at age ll, he had to help his mother with the other four children. Dutch, and stubborn, he left school at l4 and got a job in the telegraph office. From the beginning he worked long hours, but also had true gifts of vision, as well as an ability to work with others and invent betters ways of doing things.

Knowles describes his life in Montreal where he bought a big house in the city’s Square Mile, on Sherbrooke Street, which has regrettably been torn down. He had a real taste for art, drawing himself, as well as building up a fine collection of European paintings. By this time he had been knighted in recognition of his far-flung financial enterprises all over the world.

Valerie Knowles was born in Montreal but has lived for some time in Ottawa, writing for government departments, magazines, as well as several non-fiction works. This book is part of the Quest Biography and includes a very useful Chronology of William C. Van Horne at the end of the book.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson

majorpettigrew.jpeg This is a gently romantic novel set in a small English village. It introduces Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired) and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper. Both have lost their spouses; both have awkward family relationships; both love Kipling and a strong cup of tea after a walk by the sea. But their friendship stirs up a tempest in the teapot of village life and it makes for a rivetting story.

Helen Simonson was born in England but, after graduating from the London School of Economics and working as a travel advertising executive, has spent the last twenty years in Brooklyn, and now Washington where she lives with her husband and two sons. She writes with charming detachment about the gossipy wiles of English village life. But she also remembers with affection the beauty of the flowers and countryside, the appeal of the thatched cottages and the deep loyalty in the hearts of the villagers.

This loyalty undergoes certain stresses and strains when the Major and Mrs. Ali carry their friendship to a date at the big club dance. She is Pakistani after all and belongs to a different race and culture. The Major comes through trumps – as he always has – and the story remains unsentimental, intelligent and warm – what one critic calls “the best first novel I’ve read in a long time” And so it is. Read it.

Review by Anne McDougall

Review by Anne McDougall of “Come, thou Tortoise” by Jessica Grant

Come, Thou Tortoise This is a quirky, whimsical story of a motherless girl, determined to find love in her precarious life. With a lot of courage – and some very funny antics along the way – she succeeds.

The tortoise of the title is her friend at one end of the continent, Portland, Oregon, and a mouse called Wedge at her home at the other end, St. John’s, Newfoundland. She talks to them when neither her Dad, whom she adores, or her uncle Thoby, are available. With no mother, sisters or brothers to trip her up, the protagonist, Audrey Flowers (often called Oddly), is original and abrupt in her talking and dealings. But her search for affection never deserts her and she batters her way through to a fairly convincing sense of home.

Of the author, critics write, “her work twinkles with wordplay”. Jessica Grant lives in St. John’s and you get a vivid feeling of the closeness of that city to the U.K. with many plane trips back and forth in this book. She is a most original writer and has won prizes for her stories, in particular “Making Light of Tragedy.”

Book launch of Ray Tremblay’s “Riding the Tides of Life”, May 15, 11am to 1pm

Riding the Tides of Life

Synopsis, copied verbatim from the publisher’s site!

“Greta Ludwig, a 29-year-old Franco-Ontarian and Métis widow, is a successful bookstore owner in Ottawa. Due to the many stressors she encounters in her young life, she experiences a mental breakdown and requires psychiatric hospitalization. Once she is discharged, she is introduced to a psychiatrist who begins to play an important role in her life. To facilitate her recovery, she volunteers at the Shepherds of Good Hope, an organization serving the homeless in Ottawa. Once she regains her self-confidence, she becomes a frontline worker in their men’s shelter but is physically assaulted by one of their residents. Will this incident trigger another manic phase of her underlying illness? Will she be able to return to work with the homeless? Will the support of family, friends, professionals and her unfailing faith in her Creator and Mother Earth be sufficient to give her the strength to cope with life’s future challenges?”

You can follow Raymond’s adventures on his web site: raymondtremblay.blogspot.com