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Donna Besel (Manitoba, Canada)

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Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada
Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada
by Allan Casey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.42
13 used & new from CDN$ 14.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Love Our Lakes, Aug. 6 2010
Oh, how we Canadians love our lakes!
Ancient glaciers, unique to our country, have blessed us with over thirty million lakes. In this book, Casey writes about lakes in several province, in all four seasons. The journey begins in Saskatchewan, where his family cottage, built in 1960 for $2500, marked him for life - first boat, first outboard motor, first water-skiing. He feels compelled to return to Emma Lake, even as he laments the invasion of "super-size-me" mansions.
In each chapter, the narrative moves from musings on Grey Owl's cabin in Prince Albert National Park to descriptions of a stint aboard a research vessel investigating algae on Lake Winnipeg. From observations on the sea/freshwater lakes and Gaelic traditions of Cape Breton, to Gros Morne's "ponds," teeming with moose and hunters and Europeans who fly over to enjoy the deep inland fjords. From witnessing the bleak silence of Uranium City on the Lake Athabasca winter road and the unique desert biodiversity of Lake Okanagan valley, poised precariously between preservation and development. From glimpses into year-round island life on Lake of the Woods, to a wild boat trip across Lake Nipissing, with its former boom towns caught between filling lodges and appeasing indigenous fishers. From awkward conversations in Lac Saint Jean, where "pure laine" Quebecois families hold street festivals and applaud cross-lake swimmers, to the scenic challenges of Waterton Lakes' extreme heights and extreme weather. After his mother's death, Casey returns to the family cottage, where he arrives at a conflicted resolution about his future on Emma Lake.
Throughout this far-ranging, and at times poetic, book, Casey introduces us to fascinating and quirky "lake people." He also reminds us how our water-inundated geography and sprawling history have bound us to our wilderness and how, despite costs and travel, Canadians flock to lakes for rest and recreation. And that is another main thrust of the book - how our love of lakes endangers them.

Reading by Lightning
Reading by Lightning
by Joan Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 22.95
16 used & new from CDN$ 3.37

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Step Aside, Ian McEwan!, Sept. 30 2009
This review is from: Reading by Lightning (Paperback)
Shortly after I read Joan Thomas' new book, I saw the DVD of "Atonement", a movie based on the novel by the Booker Prize winner and English writer,Ian McEwan. I could not help but compare the two. Both are set mainly in the time leading up to and including the chaos of World War II, although "Reading by Lightning" has the added benefit, for me, of starting out on a farm on the Canadian Prairies. I especially loved the early scenes where Lily Piper struggles within the confines of her fundamentalist family and community.
I had read the book "Atonement" much earlier and liked it, and also liked the movie very much, but I remember saying to myself, "Joan's book is better! It could be made into an Oscar winner!"
That got me thinking about why I enjoyed it so much. I could easily list the similarities between McEwan's and Thomas' writing:
a) captivating protagonist
b) meticulous historical research that supports but does not overwhelm the story
c) sympathetic and just-flawed-enough characters
d) brilliant and humorous insights into what it means to be in love and human
e) compulsive readability
f) precise, clear-minded, understated,elegant prose.
I have recommended "Reading by Lightning" many times, to friends and book clubs and they have all enjoyed it. And my immediate admiration has since been validated. The book has been nominated for several 2009 Manitoba book awards, won Thomas a trip to New Zealand to accept the award for best first novel in the Commonwealth, won a place on the year-long "On the Same Page" promotion (which seeks to get as many Manitobans reading a worthwhile local author - sort of like CBC's "Canada Reads") and now won this prize by Amazon for best first novel.
""Reading by Lightning" - Now a Major Motion Picture!!!" I like the sound of that. Thank you, Joan Thomas, for a great book.
Oh yes, by the way, Joan Thomas used to be an English teacher. She was asked to change her text so it did not follow standard rules of punctuation.
Why? I don't know for sure but I suspect it suited some editor's modern sensibility. But it does not detract from the power of the writing.

The Eskimo in the Net
The Eskimo in the Net
by Gerard Beirne
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.95
12 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars How to Get Tangled Up with "The Eskimo in the Net", Jan. 30 2004
This review is from: The Eskimo in the Net (Paperback)
If you want to get caught by this quirky, evocative novel, all you need to do is read the first line. "Everything started to go wrong the day we dragged the Eskimo up in the net off Malin Head." Who could ask for a more intriguing opening sentence? Right from the first scenes, set aboard Knucky's fishing boat, willing readers get entangled in the snarled-up mess. As the two Irish fishermen, Jim Gallagher (the main character) and Knucky (one of Jim's best friends, and present employer) verbally wrestle over what to do with the partially decomposed body, Beirne lures his audience into the obsessive darkness which permeates the novel. His graphic descriptions of the Eskimo's corpse resting amongst the piles of wiggling fish and web of netting are both fascinating and morbid. Throughout the book, he maintains this clear, strong narrative voice. He also paints a memorable picture of the bleak ruggedness of the Irish coast, with its isolated fishing villages, where people are pushed, or driven, into alcoholic binges and stange sadness. Even the weather, with its constant damp, and unrelenting wind, emerges as another hard-nosed, but compelling, character. When Jim realizes the Irish authorities do not plan to fully investigate the circumstances leading to the Eskimo's death, he sets out on his own voyage of fixated, and often intoxicated, discovery. Beirne portrays the stumbling uncertainties of Jim's search with a compassionate, and sometimes surprisingly comic, voice. The scenes in the local pubs, encounters with Irish authorities, and glimpses into life abroard a Russian fishing trawler are especially captivating. Throughout the novel,the tangled mysteries of life's choices, of staying or leaving, of acting or not acting, of loving or refusing to love, are explored. Whether Jim likes it or not, he is being pulled along to a revelation of the truth about his own life. With a cast of deftly drawn characters, and enough mystery, death, drugs, and sex to sustain even the most jaded reader, Gerard Beirne creates an engrossing world of convoluted love, friendship, and compulsion, set in an unforgiving environment. It is a strong debut novel for a very fine writer, and sure to be well-received in North America, the British Isles and Europe.

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