“The Boxer and the Spy” by Robert Parker

I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Robert B. Parker’s new young readers novel- “The Boxer and the Spy”. I thought it was a fun novel, and while not completely gripping, there were times when it was quite engaging.

I thought that some of the teen characters in the novel did not ring quite true at times (understandable, as he was a teenager during the ’50s), and that some of the plot complexity found in his adult novels was lost in the transition to more child-friendly books.

My advice to him would be to keep the plots just as complex and simply tone down some of the content because people my age reading a mystery novel will want a complex plot. That said, the novel still drew to a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion.

Thanks for this opportunity,

Thomas Gow

“Late Nights on Air” by Elizabeth Hay

Thomas Berger (MacKenzie Valley Pipeline) called the Arctic
wilderness “the last of North America – the eighth wonder of the
world”. Elizabeth Hay’s book takes you there, but she makes the
vastness intimate.

“Late Nights on Air” is the story of a half a dozen men and women
working in a radio station in Yellowknife. Thrown together
professionally, they get even closer when four of them undertake a canoe
trip down the lonely Thelon River.

The manager of the station takes on a young woman who had driven
from Georgian Bay, intent on experiencing the North with which she had
become infatuated. The manager had his own infatuation with a Dutch
girl, beautiful and eccentric, who ran away from her job to join a
radical young technician who was working on behalf of the Dene people.
The manager joins the three others for the trip down the Thelon.

This is the river, less known than the Nahanni, where the
Englishman John Hornby misjudged the running of the caribou and, with
two younger compatriots, starved to death – their cabins still standing,
testimony to the tragedy of their deaths.

Hay’s writing on the North is truly brilliant– the white bells of
Arctic heather, the old white wolf, the ice clogging the river in the
early stages, the grizzly bear, the 80-pound back -packs the men
carried, the overwhelming emptiness of the sky and Barrens. The quiet
days bring memories to all four, who share their loves and losses
between portages and settling down for the night. Hay is witty and
candid. The snatches of conversation make her characters very real.

Hay was herself a radio announcer. She now lives in Ottawa, and
has written four fiction and two non-fiction books, some winning
prizes. This one won the most recent Giller Prize.

Book Review by Anne McDougall

“Revenant” by Tristan Hughes

Tristan Hughes was born in Ontario but grew up on the Welsh island
of Ynys Mon. This, his third novel, is set in a remote Welsh village
by the sea. Perhaps his coming from another country made him
particularly observant and sensitive to his new land. The book
certainly evokes a vivid picture of the people and landscape of this
lonely little town.

It is the story of four friends, two boys, two girls, who grew
up together and made their own little gang. Each chapter is written in
the voice of one of them, with the notable exception of a girl called
Del, who was the ringleader in real life but missing from this account
of their memoirs. Hughes is skilful in drawing you into their lives
and particularly good with the childrens’ feelings.

He is both a writer and teacher himself, with a PhD in literature
from King’s College, Cambridge. He has taught American literature in
Cambridge, Taiwan, Wales and Germany . He won the Rhys Davies Short
Story Award in 2002 and praise for his first two novels which were
published in the UK. “Revenant” is his debut in Canada.

Book Review by Anne McDougall

“Nothing to be frightened of” by Julian Barnes

For something noone knows anything about – death – the British
writer Julian Barnes has managed 250 pages of fascinating copy.

He looks at faith in God and meditates on mortality and our fear of
death. But he also looks at the great paintings of Giotto, and wonders
if faith makes a difference in our ability to enjoy them. The same
thing applies to the great requiems in music.

He examines the philosophies of a number of writers, including
Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway and particularly the French
writer Jules Renard. At Oxford, Barnes studied Montaigne who, he
claims, is where our modern thinking about death begins. To be a
philosopher, said Montaigne, is to learn how to die.

Barnes spends much of the book looking at his parents, how they
died. He does this with humour and affection, as with his brother,
who teaches philosophy. He tells us this is not an autobiography,
but it does in fact tell us a lot about Barnes the man and the novelist.

He has a light touch, in spite of his subject, and the book is
frank, wise, and funny. Barnes has written ten novels, as well as
two collections of short stories. He lives in London, England.

Book Review by Anne McDougall

“Troublesome Young Men” by Lynne Olson

Most of us know about Winston Churchill’s historic defense of
England in the Second World War, either through his own
brilliant writing, or the scores of historians who have covered it.
Much less well-known is the story of the men who struggled for years in
a government committed to appeasement, to get Churchill into power and
put a brake on Hitler’s blitzkrieg.

Lynne Olson has done thisin”Troublesome Young Men”. It is indeed
a cracking tale, and hard to put down. The title comes from something
Harold Macmillan said to Churchill in l928. It would be twelve years
before Macmillan was part of the group that upset Neville Chamberlain
and got Churchill to lead the country.

Olson has done remarkable research, through British as well as
American archives, but also the personal papers of the people
involved. The human story is compelling. This is upper-class Britain
and everyone went to the same schools, university, and house parties.
The result is often a clash of loyalty when old friends find themselves
caught in cutthroat parliamentary tactics. The book makes clear
that England had not got over World War l, and did not want another
war. Chamberlain did everything he could to dull the press, and BBC, and
calm the populace, even as Czecholsovakia, Poland, and Norway were
falling to the Germans.

Many of the names are familiar: Anthony Eden, Duff Cooper, Violet
Bonham Carter, Lord Halifax; others less so: Leo Amery, Ronald
Cartland, Bob Boothby. Olson gives lively and affecting portraits of
all of them. Nor does she whitewash Churchill. His difficult sides
are part of the story.

Lynne Olson lives with her husband, Stanley Cloud, in Washington,
D.C. and has co-authored two books with him, as well as “Freedom’s
Daughters” on her own. She was an Associated Press correspondent in
Moscow in the 70’s and covered the White House during Jimmy Carter’s

Book Review by Anne McDougall

“Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill

The American Dream took a beating in the aftermath of 9/ll. So did
the fortunes of the young family in O’Neill’s new novel, “Netherland”.

The Dutch banker, Hans van den Broeck, and his lawyer-wife had
moved from London and were happily settling in to New York City.
The violence and uncertainty drove the wife, and young son, back to
England, leaving Hans adrift in the Chelsea Hotel ,N.Y., to make new
friends and try to get his bearings.

These friends included a flamboyant Trinidadian, Chuck Ramkissoon,
who, among many business interests, had a passion for cricket and great
plans to build a New York Cricket Club. Hans had played the game as a
boy, and so he joined in for weekend matches, mostly on Staten Island,
and was the only white face on teams of Asians and West Indians.

The book gives a rivetting picture of this cricket subculture and a
rare look at an inside chapter of New York society. One of Chuck’s
business interests turns out to be gambling, and Hans becomes more
involved than he had expected.

Book Review by Anne McDougall

Joseph O’Neill was born in Ireland, grew up in Holland, lived and
worked in London, and so writes a very authentic quick-moving story
about all these places. The marriage in the novel founders and then
recovers and is sympathetically described.

O’Neill now lives with his family in New York City. This is his
third novel. He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly, and a
family history was a New York Times Notable Book.

“Suffer the Little Children” by Donna Leon

This is Donna Leon’s sixteenth story in the series starring
Commissario Brunetti of the Venice Police.

Leon is an American who has lived for many years in Venice. She
fills her tale with its bridges and boats, canals and bars, so that you
feel you are travelling with the policeman as he makes his investigation.

And pretty chilling this investigation turns out to be, as a
beloved pediatrician has his adopted l8-month old son snatched away,
and a grim story of malice and blackmail unfolds. The story is the
more touching because Brunetti himself is a family man. His wife
Paola, son and daughter are very familiar to readers of this series.
Leon gently questions some of the social issues in Italian life. But
not at the expense of the fast-paced plot she has woven.

“Suffer the Little Children” was first published in England and
the United States in 2007. This Penguin edition came out this year.

Book Review by Anne McDougall

“The Girl of his Dreams” by Donna Leon

Like all Donna Leon’s mysteries, you get at least three stories
when you read one:- there’s the mystery itself (and in this book there
are two going on), the continuing story of Commissario Guido Brunetti’s
own family, and the background, always-enchanting story of the city of

“The Girl of his Dreams” has to be one of Leon’s best. It opens
with a major event in Brunetti’s own family and continues throughout
with glimpses of his wife Paola, daughter and son and their growing-up
travails. Brunetti is then confronted with an investigation into a new
American-style Christian sect meeting in private homes in Venice.
While he is facing this, one cold rainy morning the body of a young
gypsy girl is found floating in the canal.

She has apparently fallen off the roof of a nearby apartment while
caught stealing. Noone had reported either the theft or the missing
child. Brunetti ventures out to the gypsy camp on the mainland and we
get a good picture of this unhappy, ostracized world of Romani people.

Like all of Donna Leon, this is what The New Yorker calls “an
unusually potent cocktail of atmosphere and event.” You’ll find it a
pleasure to read. Leon has written seventeen novels and won the CWA
Silver Dagger Award. She has lived in Venice for twenty-five years.

Book Review by Anne McDougall

“Life Beyond Measure” by Sidney Poitier

This is quite an inspirational book by the great American actor, in
which he sends letters to his great-granddaughter, full of stories of
his own life, dreams and aspirations, and the hopes he has clung to
through a lifetime of extreme hardship, as well as soaring success.

Poitier was born in a small community of the Bahamas called Cat
Island. His father was a tomato farmer, and neither of his parents
had any schooling. They eventually got to Nassau, where the barriers
of race were a new experience. Sidney left for New York. Barely
able to read, he saw an advertisement in The Amsterdam News “for an
actor”. Instead of his usual occupation of dish-washer, he applied.
Though he failed the test, it spurred him on his way. By age 23 he had
made the movie “No Way Out” and was starting on “Cry the Beloved

Poiter has written other books in which he discusses the forty
films he has acted in, as well as nine he has directed and four he has
written. This book, therefore, is more of a philosophical ruminating
by a man of 8l, surrounded by a huge loving family, who wants to give
what clues he can to his little Ayele. He covers the big subjects;
science and faith, the environment and what we can do. But he returns
to an inner strength which he prays she has inherited (chiefly from his
own remarkable mother).

There are good photographs: Mandela, the Clintons, James
Baldwin. But the main story is the family, and it is worth reading about.

Review by Anne McDougall

How to reach us.

Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays we are open from 9:30 AM until 6:00 PM.

Thursdays and Fridays our hours are from 9:30 AM until 7:00 PM.

Saturdays we are open from 9:30 AM until 5:00 PM.

Sundays we are open from 11:00 AM until 5:00 PM.

Still want to get books outside those hours? No problem!

You can always use our online ordering system to see what is available, and even whether we have it in stock.

Feel free to email us your order, we check our email several times per day.

We still check our voicemail regularly, so you can always leave us a message as well: 613-742-5030.

Not comfortable with either of those new fangled methods? No worries, we still get the occasional order by post. You can send us a letter to:

Books on Beechwood
35 Beechwood Ave.
K1M 1M1
Ottawa, ON

If necessary, we deliver; by hand if it’s nearby, or via Canada Post.

All the best from the Staff at Books on Beechwood