“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

Matt and the Wonder of Wishes, by Bobby Hawley, Saturday May 8, 1 to 3pm

Matt and the Wonder of Wishes

From a review on True North Perspectives;

“… Matt and the Wonder of Wishes by Nepean, Ontario author Bobby Hawley.

In this masterfully written book, Queen Zephania is the ruler of the fairy realm and can be found in the forest glade not far from a magnificent landscape of flowers. Should you become one of the chosen, you might even be given a wish. The fairies were attracted to this location by the display of colors and the heavenly scents coming from a beautiful garden right at the forest’s edge.

One night just before dusk a young lad by the name of Matthew spotted a box moving toward the forest glade, and on the side of the box was written an invitation to a wish. He followed the box and there he glimpsed the magical kingdom.

He felt sure he was one of the chosen, so the next day he returned with his young friends Jake, Katie, Danielle, Ana and Max. The Queen granted a wish to each child so that the special dream held in their hearts could be fulfilled.

Bobby Hawley is a retired teacher who loves working with children. She has published two children’s books on bullying since retiring and has frequented many schools, doing readings and discussing the importance of empathy. She has written and published a book of illustrated children’s poems as well as a couple of chapbooks.”

An evening with Frank Koller, author of “Spark”, Thursday May 6 from 6 to 8pm

SPARKFrank Koller will be at Books on Beechwood, on Thursday the 6th of May from 6 to 8pm, reading from, discussing, and signing copies of his book “Spark: How Old-Fashioned Values Drive a Twenty-First Century Corporation! SPARK is a fascinating glimpse into how capitalism can, and should, work in North America – to protect people as well as profits.

Long time CBC economics reporter and foreign correspondent, Koller tells the story of how one unusual and profitable Fortune 1000 multinational company challenges the conventional wisdom shaping modern management’s view of the workplace by refusing to lay off its workers in tough times.

Norman A. Berg, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School says in his review:
“Frank Koller has done a remarkable job of presenting both an economic and a moral argument for the value to society of the unusual policies followed with great success by Lincoln Electric for over a hundred years. The book is excellent in both the historical overview and the numerous interviews with current and past employees. There is much that modern management can learn about the benefits to employees, customers, shareholders, and communities by examining the role of the ‘old fashioned’ culture of Lincoln Electric.”

Michael Enright, The Sunday Edition
“A fascinating story.”

Harvard Business Review
“A fascinating depiction of a rare human resource practice in a company with a long and hearty track record—food for thought for the rest of us.”

“Citizens of London” by Lynne Olson

citizenslondon2.jpg Lynne Olson has already written about how Britain was saved in its darkest hour in “Troublesome Young Men”. These were the men in England who fought appeasement and backed Churchill’s rise to power.

In her new book, Olson looks at the Americans who also rallied to England’s aid, at a time when she was on the brink of going under to the German blitzkrieg. It is once again – and probably forever – a totally intriguing and inspiring story. Olson calls her book quite suitably “Citizens of London”. She shows how three distinguished Americans, who had come to England with little knowledge and not too much respect for the country, fell totally in love with the people of London and their stoic bravery.

Edward R. Murrow was the head of CBC News in Europe; Averell Harriman was the millionaire who ran Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program in London; and John Gilbert Winant was the idealistic U.S. ambassador to Britain. They were all Roosevelt appointments and not only backed his policies, but often pushed him further when the U.S. public tended to lag. Olson includes others: General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Tommy Hitchcock, a famous World War l fighter pilot who helped save the Allies’ bombing campaign again Germany.

The book conjures up the hectic hard-drinking cocktail atmosphere of London, as well as parties at Churchill’s home which led to scandal among these top men. But Olson never strays far from the ordinary people of her title. They were the ones who really won the war and when you read this you realize, once again, why.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Tea Time for the Traditionally Built” by Alexander McCall Smith

teatimetraditionally1.jpg This is a Vintage Canada edition of the Alexander McCall Smith book which came out last year.

It is as delightful and easy to read as all his books, perhaps particularly those from the The No.l Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Precious Ramotse is the lady detective involved. This time she has her hands full with professional as well as personal problems. Her beloved tiny white van has broken down; her assistant has run into jealousy probems with her fiance; finally, the local football club has run into an unexpected losing streak, and the owner thinks one or more of the players is throwing the game.

The problems themselves are not really what hold our interest. It is the gently hilarious way McCall Smith handles them. He brings to life a gentle African town – so different from the deadly headlines we read every day from that continent. He once lived in Africa, although for the past decades has been attached to the University of Edinburgh from where he writes equally enchanting books about that city.

Read this one. “Wit worthy of Jane Austen”, says the Daily Mail, (London).

Review by Anne McDougall

“Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin

brooklyn.jpg This is really the story of immigration – 50 years ago – from Ireland to the United States. It is interesting to us today as we watch immigration to our country changing from European to non-European, as the whole world ‘s population shifts.

Eilis Lacey couldn’t find a job in her small southern Ireland town in the unsettled days after World War ll. When a priest in New York, who knows her family in Ireland, offers her a job in Brooklyn, she accepts it. It means leaving a close-knit family, a charismatic sister she dotes on and a widowed mother. After intense loneliness in her new boarding-house in Brooklyn, she eventually finds her feet, is liked at work, as well as the local dances. Somewhat to her surprise romance enters the picture, and she is wondering what to do, when her sister “back home”, suddenly dies, and she has to make the trip to Ireland.

Toibin gets astonishingly close to his characters and is justly called “one of the most accomplished writers writing in English today”. This book is charming and we get very close to its unpretentious group of characters. We are even challenged on our ideas of switching loyalties.

Toibin lives in Dublin and has won awards for five major novels, including “The Blackwater Lightship” and”The Master”.

Review by Anne McDougall