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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Essential Reference Texts

A while back, The Millions asked the following question:  “In the age of Google and Wikipedia, reference books may seem anachronistic, but some have not been superseded by the internet in their usefulness and convenience and even in their ability to divert and entertain.  What is the one reference book you couldn’t live without?”  ( 

I’d find it difficult to choose just one, but I’ve narrowed it down to a dozen that appear on my shelves:

Oxford English Dictionary; I’ve got the two-volume compact edition with the magnifying glass.
Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia by Bruce Murphy
A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams
Masterpieces of World Literature in Digest Form, edited by Frank N. Magill
The Oxford Companion to the English Language, edited by Tom McArthur
The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, edited by Oscar James Campbell
Chambers Biographical Dictionary, edited by Magnus Magnusson
The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsch
The Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, and Literary Allusions by Abraham H. Lass
McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage by Mark Lester and Larry Beason
The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman

Friday, September 22, 2017

2017 Kirkus Prize Finalists

On September 10, I posted about the longlist of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction:  That list of 423 titles has been narrowed down to six:

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
Her Bodies and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

For further information about the books, go to 

In the Young People’s Literature category, three Canadians are on the shortlist.  Métis author Cherie Dimaline, who is from Ontario's Georgian Bay Métis community, is nominated for her novel The Marrow Thieves, which takes place in a dystopian future where Indigenous people are hunted and harvested for their bone marrow.  The other Canadians include Guatemalan-born author and translator Elisa Amado for her work on the Jairo Buitrago-authored children's book Walk With Me, and Hull, Que.-based translator Madeleine Stratford for her work on picture book Me Tall, You Small by German author Lilli L'Arronge.  See the complete list at

The finalists for non-fiction have also been announced: 

The winners, who will receive $50,000 US ($60,795 Cdn), will be announced on Nov. 2, 2017. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

Seventy years ago today, in Portland, Maine, one of America’s most successful authors, Stephen King, was born.  If the books written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman are included, King has written almost 70 books!  (I love that King chose this pen name because he was a fan of the Canadian rock band, Bachman Turner Overdrive!)

For the official list of Stephen King’s novels, go to   And in five days, fans can pick up his latest book, written with his son Owen, Sleeping Beauties. 
King’s website gives a short description:  “In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place.  The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain?” (

In honour of the prolific author’s special day, BookRiot featured an article entitled

Literary Hub has an article in which twelve writers discuss how King influenced their writing:

Happy birthday, Mr. King!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shania Twain: An Inspiration to a Writer

The other day I read a piece whose title “How Shania Twain Made Me a Writer” by Emily Yahr caught my attention:  It’s one of the essays included in a book Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives, edited by Holly Gleason, which is being released today. 

In the essay, Yahr, a reporter for The Washington Post, writes that as a grade 8 student in 1999, she was asked to write an essay about someone she admired.  She chose Shania Twain:  “I will always admire the woman who put everything before her career. Who never gave up no matter how bad it was. Who’s [sic] songs tell the basics of life. Who everyone should strive to be like. Who is more than just a voice. Shania Twain.” 

Yahr’s article piqued my interest because back in the early 1980s I taught Shania Twain in Grade 12 English at Timmins High & Vocational School.  Of course I knew her as Eileen Twain.  I love to tell people that my husband and I chose a song by one of my students for our first dance; “Forever and For Always” is the song we first danced to at our wedding.

I was a feminist even when Shania was a student so I like to think I inspired her in some of her views.  For that reason, I loved another article written about her:  Who knows, perhaps I did. 

Regardless, I hope Shania reads Yahr’s essay.  To be told one has been an inspiration is a great gift.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review of THE SCARRED WOMAN by Jussi Adler-Olsen (New Release)

3.5 Stars
This is the seventh novel of the Department Q series.  Carl Mørck, head of the cold case department, sets out to find a connection between the recent murder of an elderly woman and the similar murder of a young teacher a decade earlier.  Then there are a series of hit-and-run murders targeting young women, some of whom turn out to be connected to these two victims.  All of these cases have Carl and his two partners, Assad and Gordon, working overtime, especially when their assistant, Rose Knudsen, ends up in a psychiatric hospital because of major mental health problems. 

As this plot summary suggests, the plot is very complex with various connections between the cases being investigated.  There’s a very tangled web that needs to be unraveled.  Sometimes there are almost too many connections; for instance, Rose’s relationship with one woman seems too coincidental. 

The quirky cast of characters I met in the previous books continues to keep my interest.  There’s good-hearted but cantankerous Carl, mysterious Assad, and heart-broken Gordon.  In many ways, of course, this is Rose’s book.  Throughout the series, there have been hints that Rose has a fragile psyche; in this book, the full explanation is given for her behaviour in the past.  The author should be commended for his sensitive treatment of mental illness.

Rose is a scarred woman, but she is certainly not the only one; it could be said that there is a Danish det kolde bord of irreparably wounded women, some of whom have become morally bankrupt if not downright murderous.  Admirable female characters are a minority in this book.  Of course murderers may also be victims; it is for this reason that I found myself having sympathy for one killer.

One of the many women we come to know is Anneli, a social worker, who early in the book reveals that she thinks people who are non-contributing members of society and take advantage of social services should be punished.  The motives for her actions are understandable, but her constant laughter turns her into a comic figure:  she “laughed manically and unashamedly” and “She laughed at how well things were going” and she was “laughing at the thought” and “Anneli couldn’t help laughing insanely at how perfect her plan was” and “Anneli laughed.  It seemed like she had gotten away with this” and “Never before had she laughed so much with relief” and “Am I going crazy? she thought and started to laugh again.  It was all so comical and fantastic” and “She laughed at the thought” and “She burst out laughing at the thought” and “She laughed again, holding the half-empty glass” and “She lay on her side on the sofa, doubled up with laughter cramps.”

As in the other books in the series, there are humourous touches. The banter between the members of the department continues.  Assad’s misuse of idiomatic expressions is one source of amusement.  A scene involving a car thief’s first attempt at stealing a vehicle is hilarious.  Comic relief is needed because there is a lot of murder and mayhem throughout. 

The novel is narrated in third person from multiple points of view including Carl’s and that of both victims and perpetrators.  At times the reader has to guess at the identity of a killer and at other times he/she knows who the killer is and wonders when/how the killer will be apprehended.  At the beginning, there are switches in time period that can be confusing; the book moves from April 26 to May 13 to May 2 to May 11.  Fortunately, chronological order becomes the norm as the narrative progresses.

I would definitely recommend that readers begin at the beginning of the series.  The previous six books describe the personalities of the recurring characters, explain the relationships among the various characters, and outline the specific issues faced by individuals.  For example, if one knows the details of Carl and Mona’s relationship, Carl’s uncomfortable encounters with Mona in this book are understandable.  As well, the reason for Carl’s having a paraplegic roommate is explained in the earlier books.  I read somewhere that three more books are planned for this series.  Presumably one of them will focus on Assad’s background. 

I am looking forward to the next Department Q installment.  If you have not already discovered this Danish mystery series, do check it out, beginning with The Keeper of Lost Causes

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, September 18, 2017

2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist

The 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury announced its longlist today.  There are 12 titles:

David Chariandy for Brother
Rachel Cusk for Transit
David Demchuk for The Bone Mother
Joel Thomas Hynes for We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night
Andrée A. Michaud for Boundary
Josip Novakovich for Tumbleweed
Ed O’Loughlin for Minds of Winter
Zoey Leigh Peterson for Next Year, For Sure
Michael Redhill for Bellevue Square
Eden Robinson for Son of a Trickster
Deborah Willis for The Dark and Other Love Stories
Michelle Winters for I Am a Truck

The shortlist for the richest fiction prize in Canada ($100,000) will be revealed in Toronto on Monday, October 2, and the winner will be announced on November 20.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review of THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters

3.5 Stars
Maia, a gigantic asteroid, is approaching and will collide with Earth on October 3.  Though its point of impact is unknown, the asteroid is so large that its collision will have planet-wide effects; much, if not all, of the world’s population will be killed.  Governments have enacted strict new emergency laws as societal structures start to fall apart.

In March, six months before Maia’s arrival, Detective Henry Palace of the Concord, New Hampshire, police department, is called to the site of an apparent suicide.  Though new on the job, he quickly becomes convinced that Peter Zel’s death was the result of murder, not suicide.  He continues the investigation even though his colleagues are convinced Zel was just another “hanger” who, like so many other people faced with possible extinction, opted to die at his own hands. 

Of course the question at the centre of the book is “What is the point of solving cases, even murder cases, when it seems that everyone may soon die anyway?”  Many people have become “hangers” by choosing to kill themselves; others have “gone bucket list,” leaving responsibilities to chase their dreams.  Many of those who continue working do so only because they lack sufficient funds to financially survive until Maia’s arrival.  There are others, however, who love their jobs and feel a sense of moral responsibility to continue their work. 

Henry falls into this last category.  He always wanted to be a detective, and because many investigators have abandoned their positions, Henry was promoted into his dream job.  Though he is living in a pre-apocalyptic world, he is determined to find some justice for Peter Zel.  His determination can be admired but it comes at a great cost to others.  His investigation has a lot of collateral damage, so his insensitivity is sometimes cruel.  For instance, he demands the coroner perform an autopsy though, as a consequence, she misses her daughter’s music recital.  People end up losing jobs because Henry insists Peter’s boss find some files. 

It is the characterization of Henry that is a strong element in the book.  He is young and inexperienced and so makes mistakes.  He is not the stereotypical great detective; he solves the case just by being methodical.  He is capable of compassion, yet at other times is cruel in the choices he makes.  He has a tendency to be judgmental.  In other words, he is a very human protagonist. 

The story is narrated in first person point of view.  As a result, suspense is created because the reader knows only what Henry knows.  Towards the end, however, it becomes aggravating when Henry speaks repeatedly of having figured out the identity of the murderer, but he doesn’t reveal who it is.  It’s a reality show technique where one has to wait for the big reveal. 

This is the first of a trilogy; the other titles are Countdown City and World of Trouble.  The murder case is conclusively solved, but a subplot involving Henry’s sister Nico is open-ended.  I will definitely continue reading the series.