Category Archives: War

This category includes both fiction and non-fiction titles dealing with war.

Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero by Grant Hayter-Menzies

It felt like sitting down to a proper English tea served by an erudite and entertaining host, reading Grant Hayter-Menzies’ new book Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero. Victoria, BC in the 1910s was a bastion of British ex-pats, so it is no surprise they were caught up in the fervour of the war happening nearly half a world away. One of those at the forefront of war support in Victoria was a charming little white dog wearing cocoa tins on a harness, collecting coins for relief efforts. Transitioning from the pampered spoiled pet of a millionaire philanthropist, Muggins became a hard-working war hero in 1916. Over the course of two years, he raised the equivalent of a quarter-million dollars, visited and comforted wounded soldiers recovering in hospital, mingled with the highest echelons of military society and with royalty, and became known all over the world. As with many aspects of the Canadian experience of the Great War, Muggins’ story was nearly lost to history until Hayter-Menzies dived into his life and resurrected Muggins—for the second time, it turns out.

“Muggins, with his “speaking gaze” and plumed tail wagging happily, lives again through Hayter-Menzies’ masterful prose.”

But this book is so much more than merely one dog’s life story. Hayter-Menzies explores the lives of those left at home during the 1914-1918 conflict. It is an essay on Canadian life on the home front, and of women’s very active roles supporting the war effort. Muggins would not have become the celebrity he was without the drive of women, who used all means possible to raise funds for everything from small comfort packages for prisoners and the wounded, to purchasing ambulances and hospital ships.

The book also explores the roles of dogs at home and in the trenches and the human/canine bond that drives their need to please us. It feels deeply personal; Hayter-Menzies’ own dear Spitz dog, Freddie makes more than a cameo appearance. Hayter-Menzies treats the story of Muggins with the respect and love he obviously feels for “man’s best friend”.

This book is a warm, chatty kind of conversation between the reader and author. It is entertaining, funny, poignant, and deeply touching. Muggins, with his “speaking gaze” and plumed tail wagging happily, lives again through Hayter-Menzies’ masterful prose. While moving, the book is never mawkish or sappy, but a clear-eyed reminder of how much we owe them for the unconditional love dogs hold for humans. This is definitely a recommended read for dog lovers, those interested in the 1914-1918 conflict and those who just want to time travel back 100 years to a unique period of Canada’s history.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Grant Hayter-Menzies is a biographer and historian specializing in the lives of extraordinary and unsung heroes of the past, notably the role of animals in times of war. He is also the literary executor of playwright William Luce. He lives in Sidney, British Columbia, with his dog, Freddie, and partner, Rudi. For more information, visit grantmenzies.wixsite.com/author.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Heritage House (Oct. 19 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1772033715
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1772033717

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Amid the Splintered Trees by Heather McBriarty

I had the pleasure of reading Heather McBriarty’s new novel – Amidst the Splintered Trees. It is an exceptional story set in 1914 and begins prior to the breakout of World War 1.

One of the central characters, Emma, has dreamed of being a doctor, a difficult undertaking for a woman in 1914. Falling in love with Will, he wants her for a wife. She feels the same way, but it will have to wait. She struggles with her studies, no one believes her capable but she intends to prove them wrong, even without Will beside her for support.

War breaks out in Europe and Will becomes a soldier, disappointing his father who had hoped Will would take over his business. All through the strenuous training, Will and Emma exchange letters of love and their future.

Will is sent to France and is soon involved in the deadly fighting. Letters back and forth are sporadic and delayed. Emma worries about Will and hopes for his return. Will experiences the terrors of war and personal tragedy strikes. Can he ever be the man Emma expects of him? Will their reunion be all they’d hoped for?

A note from the synopsis:

From the blood-soaked ground of Ypres, the Somme, and Vimy to the 1917 Halifax explosion, each of them is tested in ways they never could have imagined. Wounded in body and soul, can they find a way back to each other or will their future also be a victim of the Great War?

McBriarty has done her research. She has will take you into the muddy trenches, you will witness clearly the devastation of land and men, wrought from enemies trying to kill each other as if you were there. Her attention to detail is excellent. You will experience the fear, the loneliness of men at war and more importantly, you will share the characters’ hope for a better future. You will be rooting for Emma who has her own obstacles to surmount, the difficulties she faces trying to be a medical practitioner in a world of men.

This is a novel of love, loss, reckoning and courage. I can’t say enough good things about Amidst the Splintered Trees.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather McBriarty is an author, lecturer and Medical Radiation Technologist based in Saint John, NB. Her love of reading and books began early in life, as did her love of writing, but it was the discovery of old family correspondence that led to her first non-fiction book, Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front, and a passion for the First World War. She has delivered lectures to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, NB Genealogy Society, and Western Front Association (Central Ontario Branch), among others, on the war. Heather’s first novel of the “Great War”, Amid the Splintered Trees, will be launched in November.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Crow Mountain Publishing (November 3, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 334 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1999265033
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1999265038

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Allan Hudson
Some Rights Reserved  

A Canadian Nurse in the Great War: The Diaries of Ruth Loggie, 1915-1916 Edited by Ross Hebb

At the beginning of the First World War, Canadian nurses were accorded a rank (officer) and a rate of pay (equal to men) unprecedented amongst the Allies. The “Bluebirds”, called such for their distinctive blue uniforms, were rightly revered as angels of mercy by the men they cared for on hospital ships, in England, and in France where they staffed the hospitals at the coast and ventured close to the front lines in the Casualty Clearing Stations. Fifty-eight of them paid the ultimate price, felled by enemy fire or disease. Fourteen Canadian nurses drowned in one night alone, when the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle was torpedoed off the coast of England on its return from delivering wounded men to Halifax, NS. Canadian nurses were awarded medals for bravery just as the men received. Their story, however, as Dr. Ross Hebb reveals in his new book, A Canadian Nurse in the Great War, was nearly lost when the war was over. As the opening words of his book say: “The Great War diaries of Ruth Loggie are a rare find…for while 420,000 men served overseas during the Great War, only 2100 Canadian women served as army nurses.”

I was thrilled to be asked to review Dr. Hebb’s book. Having read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I was deeply curious to read a Canadian’s own words of her experience in the hospitals of France. Once I started, I was completely captivated. This was a quick read; as well as riveting, it is not a big book. Disappointingly – because what she did write is so enlightening and fascinating – Ruth Loggie either ceased keeping a record of her daily life or lost her diaries for the second half of her service. What is in this book covers the period of May 1915 to November 1916.

“I was charmed by her spirit and vigour for life. She was not above making fun of her superiors, had strong opinions, calling the management a “disgrace to Canada”, but her heart was completely for the men.”

I was charmed by her spirit and vigour for life. She was not above making fun of her superiors, had strong opinions, calling the management a “disgrace to Canada”, but her heart was completely for the men. You can feel her heartbreak in her short entries. “Such terrible wounds…and such nice men,” she said early on her arrival in France. “…it is so unnecessary.” Her dedication to the men in her care extended to their families, as she continued writing to many of them, often after the man had died from his injuries. Most poignant was the entry, which she wrote simply and matter-of-factly, that she went, on July 1st, to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of the Canadian dead.

While much of the diary covers delightful trips to the beaches and shopping in the cities and towns, dinners out and tea at the shore so too does it lay out the hardships, the terrible days during big battles when the casualties poured in, the sadness of loss, and the worry over brothers and friends in the trenches. The women suffered not only mentally but physically. With the long hours on duty, primitive living conditions and hard work Loggie and her fellow nurses faced, it is a wonder they had the energy for long walks and longer bicycle trips. It is unsurprising that some succumbed to illness, and Ruth mourned deeply the loss of colleagues, even ones she did not know personally. One must admire these intrepid women, who, having fearlessly crossed both the Atlantic and the English Channel with all their perils, traipsed around France during a war, while trying to make life as comfortable as they could for the men in their care.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

Dr. Hebb does an outstanding job piecing together Loggie’s life, chasing down the threads of her family (she was the last surviving member of her family when she died in 1968), friends, and the sometimes cryptically named people she mentions in her diaries. His introduction is well written and informative, and along with the timeline of Loggie’s Canadian Army Medical Corps tenure and the cast of characters, sets the reader up to understand the context of the diary entries. His narrative is discreetly woven through the diary, moving Loggie’s story along masterfully. As well, copious notes complement the narrative, unobtrusive but easily referenced as needed.

While perhaps of particular interest to New Brunswickers, this book is an important part of Canada’s history – a very personal and intimate history. Dr. Hebb has shined a light on a side of the First World War not often seen and illuminated the contributions of strong, caring, and inspirational Canadian women.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Although originally from Nova Scotia’s South Shore, Ross Hebb is now a long-term resident of his adopted province of New Brunswick. A graduate of King’s College and Dalhousie University, Dr. Hebb received his Ph.D. from the University of Wales, Lampeter in 2002. Along with volumes on Maritime Church history, he has also written about the golden age of shipbuilding at St. Martins on the Bay of Fundy. In 2014 he edited the collection Letters Home: Maritimers and the Great War, 1914-1918, and 2018, In Their Own Words: Three Maritimers Experience the Great War. Dr. Hebb is married and lives in Fredericton, NB.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (Sept. 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 184 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774710129
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774710128

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Heather McBriarty
Some Rights Reserved  

Three Non-Fiction Flash Reviews

Civilians at the Sharp End by David A. Borys

Subtitled “First Canadian Army Civil Affairs in Northwest Europe”, Civilians at the Sharp End follows the story of the Civil Affairs branch through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany in 1944-45. David Borys highlights how Civil Affairs helped civilians caught in the jaws of war by delivering food and medicine, providing shelter for refugees and displaced persons, establishing law and order, dealing with resistance groups, and aiding in the reconstruction of infrastructure in damaged urban areas.

A very detailed read of this little-known effort of the Canadian Army, and a must for WWII historians.

  • McGill-Queens University Press (February 2021)
  • 268 Pages
  • 7 photos, 2 maps
  • ISBN 9780228006497

Montreal and the Bomb by Gilles Sabourin

A thoroughly enjoyable read, Montreal and the Bomb take the reader back to the end of WWII when the race for nuclear power was on. Not as high profile as the contemporary Manhattan Project, yet the research was just as urgent and vital. But did the Canadian project have anything to do with the bombs dropped on Japan? The answer to that and other questions are in the book! Written for a general-interest audience, the author wisely restricts detailed descriptions of the nuclear principles and focuses more on the men and women involved.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Baraka Books; 1st edition (Oct. 1 2021)
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771862653
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771862653

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream by Dean Jobb

An excellent true crime book from Dean Jobb, The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream had me turning the pages at a good clip due to the way the story is told by Mr. Jobb. A serial killer before Jack the Ripper (but in the Victorian era too) the Canadian doctor Thomas Neill Cream was a bounder and a murderer, particularly of young marginalized women who had little recourse but to turn to prostitution as a means to paying the rent. Poison was the weapon of choice and Dr. Cream was skillful in his acquiring it and administering it. This book is meticulously researched, contains courtroom scenes and it follows Cream from Canada to England and back again as he attempts to reinvent himself to avoid capture. With B & W photos and maps, this is a true-crime lover’s dream of a book. Highly recommended.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ HarperAvenue (June 1 2021)
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 432 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1443453323
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1443453325

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The History of Rain by Stephens Gerard Malone

In 1915, in a French convent turned hospital for soldiers wounded in the Great War, Rain wakes up with a new face. Blown up in the trenches and the only survivor of his regiment, Rain is free to reinvent himself, forget the circumstances that brought him to the hospital, and begin again. His face, permanently scarred and mangled, becomes his buffer to the world, keeping him to a solitary life…but one where he finds his true talent, as a gardener. In his convalescence, Rain starts to assist the old caretaker of the grounds at the hospital in crafting a garden and restoring the grounds. This is only Rain’s first garden: the book follows Rain across continents and countries, to different gardens he shapes, garnering attention for his art. Through all of this, Rain longs for Lily, a girl he first saw through the window at the hospital. Rain and Lily’s lives remain intertwined over the decades, from the convent-hospital to the sets where he builds gardens in Hollywood toward the end of his life. And despite Rain’s undying love for Lily, she sees him only as a friend and rescuer.

“Malone doesn’t waste a word here: the novel never feels rushed or draggy, each sentence is measured and contributes to the story.”

This is a sprawling novel, covering a lot of ground and time in what feels like too few pages for the scope of the story. However, Malone doesn’t waste a word here: the novel never feels rushed or draggy, each sentence is measured and contributes to the story. Rain is a sad character, clearly suffering from unresolved trauma from WWI, but is able to mask it with his devotion to the creation of beautiful gardens and his burgeoning success over his life, which brings him wealth, as well connections to movie stars (the fictional Lena Lines, clearly an amalgam of the big stars of the early 1950s). Rain is someone who things happen to, rather than someone who makes things happen, and this can be frustrating as a reader: you see him being used and mistreated by other characters, as well as dealing with the pain of his unrequited love for Lily. Rain is an easy character to love but not an easy character to watch.

I enjoyed The History of Rain very much. Despite its WWI opening and its WWII later setting, this isn’t a classic war novel, following the soldiers or other workers in their lost youth. Rain’s injuries and scars are a matter of course, the payment for shedding his previous identity and following the path where his gardening skills take him. The novel whisks Rain through several settings and depicts the ways we can be changed by our environments, while other parts of us remain the same. An unconventional portrait of an artist, The History of Rain is a quietly moving novel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephens Gerard Malone was a child of military bases and once wallpapered a Toronto apartment with publishers’ rejection letters. He’s the author of five novels, including Big Town, (Nimbus Publishing/Vagrant Press). His novel of rural angst, Miss Elva, was shortlisted for the Dartmouth Book Award. While the world-renowned gardens in The History of Rain may be fabulous, his is not. Stephens writes in Nova Scotia with his chow chows, living and remembered.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing (Sept. 14 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 232 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771089792
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771089791
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Silence by William Carpenter

William Carpenter is an award-winning writer and founding member and teacher at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbour, Maine. Silence* is his latest novel. Set in Maine in 2006, Nick Colonna is an Iraq War veteran rendered deaf in an explosion that killed two of his comrades and best friends. Repatriated back to his home in Ledgeport, Maine he refuses to have anything to do with VA services and prefers to live in his silent, solitary world. Even his girlfriend Brenda has moved on.

Nick’s most enjoyable memories are of his time on Amber Island, most recently with Brenda before he shipped out and as a child with his grandfather, who worked in the now-abandoned granite mine there. Nick purchases an old dory, fixes it up and rows out there to revisit his happier past.


“He came to this island either to remember or forget.”


There is a run-down sheepherder’s cabin there from decades ago when sheep were raised on Amber which Nick repairs sufficiently enough to live rough in.


“It’s as if something led him directly from the broiling homicidal desert to this place, all things intervening just the waystations of a dream.”


What he does find is evidence of the Indigenous inhabitants that once populated the island long before First Contact. He finds implements carved from swordfish bones and even some bones of the inhabitants as well. Back in the Ledgeport library, a computer search informs him of “The Lost Red Paint People” that lived along the coast 6,000 years ago.


“They passed by Amber in their seagoing dugouts and chose it for the red color of its soil. They glazed their bodies and all possessions with red hematite for the blood that joined them, blood of killed mammals and swordfish and finally their own, mixed with the ferrous capillaries
of the earth that still leach out of the island like a shrapnel wound.”


Nick assumes the role of the caretaker of their secret, as he eventually becomes the de facto caretaker of the island himself, which is owned by the Marston Fletcher family of Boston. They have a summer home in Ledgeport and Marston, the late father of the family would take them to the island to camp out when the children were still young. Unbeknownst to Nick, while he is at the library, he crosses paths with Julia Fletcher, the youngest of the family and an environmental activist who wants Amber Island to remain untouched, especially as her older sister and her husband want to build a grand estate on the island for their bereaved mother and for tourist income as well.

Silence has many strong points…an excellent story by a mature writer, who pens a distinctive look at small-town America in the first post 9/11 days and months.”

The two eventually cross paths on amber itself and (communicating solely by a Blackberry since Nick remains silent) realize that they have a shared purpose in saving Amber Island from progress.

While Julia and Nick are only twenty-somethings, Silence contains many Boomer-generation references, particularly to books, movies and music. (Once a reference was made to the movie Taxi Driver, I henceforth pictured Nick as a young De Niro). I never felt I was reading a book that was ‘too young’ for me. In fact, I truly enjoyed the story, although the post-climax part of the book has a somewhat too-tidy conclusion. Nevertheless, Silence has several strong points, such as the depiction of the Iraq War experience, the constant alertness of a combat-trained Nick, even though he is ‘safe’ back home (anything can conceal an explosive, even Julia’s camera) and his survivalist experiences as a hearing-impaired individual alone on an island. (Nick’s vengeful encounter with a sheep-killing coyote is downright scary).

An excellent story by a mature writer, who pens a distinctive look at small-town America in the post 9/11 and Iraq War years. Silence is a Miramichi Reader “Pick” for an extraordinary book published outside Canada and written by a non-Canadian author.


*Note: this review was based on an Advance Reading Copy provided by the publisher. Silence will be released in June 2021.


William Carpenter is the author of The Wooden NickelA Keeper of SheepSpeaking Fire at StonesRain, winner of the 1985 Morse Poetry Prize; and The Hours of Morning: Poems 1976-79. Until his retirement, he was a professor at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

  • Publisher: Islandport Press Inc (June 22 2021)
  • Language: English
  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1944762884
  • ISBN-13: 978-1944762889

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3tEhXWY Thanks! 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Heard Amid the Guns by Jacqueline Larson Carmichael

Grandpa Tom, my paternal grandfather (a couple of marriages in) served in the First World War, one of the thousands of underage Canadian kids who lied about their birthdates and enlisted, getting themselves a buzzcut, rifle, and what was, for most, a one-way ticket to the world’s worst Grand Tour. Like every soldier they felt, in part, they were doing their duty—for queen and country in this case, and to keep perceived evil at bay.

Gramps fought at Vimy, where he was with the cavalry. Cavalry! In the midst of mortars, mustard gas and flamethrowers. A hundred years later it was the horse that became the hero of Broadway. Go figure. Gramps told me of the Christmas they played soccer with the enemy—laughing, having a kick-about on lumpy, frozen mud between trenches. Then they sang hymns, in half a dozen languages, before heading back to their foxholes for hard tack and fitful sleeps in standing water, the precursor to once more trying to kill each other.

This, from the overview of Heard Amid the Guns:

After receiving a bundle of worn letters written by her late grandfather George “Black Jack” Vowel during the First World War, journalist Jacqueline Carmichael became fascinated with the daily realities and personal stories of those who had lived through that pivotal and harrowing period in history. Reaching beyond the battlefield descriptions found in most history books, Carmichael presents unforgettable accounts filled with drama, hope, and heartbreak culled from journals and letters of Allied soldiers and nurses.

From tales of men “shot at dawn” under charges of desertion or cowardice, to women cross-dressing to get into battle, to a Canadian Member of Parliament whose PTSD-induced death was barely acknowledged by Ottawa for nearly a century, Heard Amid the Guns reflects the human face of war. Featuring profiles of people from every Canadian province and many American states, including soldiers of Indigenous, Asian, Indo-Canadian, and African-Canadian and -American backgrounds, this book is a touching tribute illustrated throughout by WWI-era photos, postcards, documents, and the author’s contemporary photos from battlefield sites and monuments.


When I learned of the success of my friend Jacqueline Carmichael’s book, Heard Amid the Guns, I felt a blend of relief and pride. Relief because this book deserves attention. Acknowledgement and recognition. And pride because, well, I’m proud for most of my author peers—the published and yet-to-bes, traddies, selfies, bestsellers and bargain bin bombers. These are my people and I love us, one and all. But in addition to that, I’m proud because my Gramps was there, making a difference. Not just reading Dante’s Inferno but living it, in real-time, unable to simply set it down to grab slippers and brew a cuppa. The stuff that makes me angry when citizens don’t vote. Too many lives were lost for a privilege we can never take for granted.

Remembrance Day—our armistice—once more, just passed. But not the memories. Not the sacrifice. And not the stories. Stories captured here, in Heard Amid the Guns. I applaud journalist-author Jacqueline Carmichael for her dedication, perseverance, and care to her craft, creating this precious book I feel we all should read, and remember.


About the Author: A former newspaper editor and publisher of Westerly News, Jacqueline Carmichael is a journalist who has written for numerous publications, including the Edmonton Sun, Dallas Morning News, Entrepreneur Magazine, Dallas Child Magazine, and National Public Radio. She is a recipient of the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors award for feature series writing. Her first book, Tweets from the Trenches, was shortlisted for a Whistler Independent Book Award.

  • Title: Heard Amid the Guns: True Stories from the Western Front, 1914-1918
  • Author: Jacqueline Larson Carmichael
  • Publisher: Heritage, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781772033373
  • Pages: 256 pp

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front by Heather McBriarty

Heather McBriarty’s novel, Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front, is a remarkable true telling of what is what like in the trenches during the First World War. It is also a poignant love story.

From letters received by her grandmother, McBriarty shares the budding of a romance between Isobel (her grandmother) and a young man from Nova Scotia, James Johnstone. Son of a well-to-do family, when war broke out, Johnstone was compelled to enlist and anxious to do his part in the European conflict. Isobel and James corresponded during his time away, from the training in Valcartier, Quebec to the landing in England and on to the Front, with love growing stronger in each letter.

In the correspondence, we see the horrors of warfare experienced by the young men, the loneliness, the dangers in the trenches, the discomfort they were forced to endure, the mud, the cold and the dying of their comrades. Most importantly, Johnstone continues to express his love for the young lady he left in Canada, the relief and comfort her letters bring. In his writing, we often find comments wondering if he is good enough for her if she will be there when he returns. While we can’t read Isobel’s letters, we can discover her thoughts, perhaps, by reading James’ responses to her. Ever the optimist, Johnstone, remarks often of how happy he will be to reunite with Isobel.

McBriarty does not only share the love letters but provides sidenotes to James’ letters, keeping the reader abreast of what is happening to the young soldier. She has cleverly added chronological details that enhance the story. This is a well-crafted book, offering the reader a sobering reminder of the hardships of war and the loving words that helped James Johnstone to carry on. I enjoyed this book tremendously.

You can read an interview with Heather in which she shares the writing of the book by following this link: http://allanhudson.blogspot.com/2020/05/featured-author-heather-mcbriarty-of.html


  • Paperback : 346 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1999265009
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1999265007
  • Publisher : Crow Mountain Publishing (Nov. 26, 2019)

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Land Beyond the Sea by Kevin Major

It seems that Newfoundlanders write some of the best historical fiction around (see Gary Collins) and Kevin Major continues to uphold that distinction with Land Beyond the Sea. In my review of his 2016 novel Found Far and Wide, I said that “Mr. Major has left us wanting more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” So it was with great anticipation that I turned to this, the final book in his Newfoundland Trilogy.

“Land Beyond the Sea is a startlingly good feat of historical fiction.”

Land Beyond the Sea is a startlingly good feat of historical fiction, based on the torpedoing of the passenger ferry SS Caribou by U-69 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in October 1942. The novel can be divided into two parts: the first dealing with the passengers of the ferry, the men on the U-boat and the actual sinking and rescue of the passengers. It is composed in a terse, suspenseful style and serves to introduce the main characters on both the U-boat and the Caribou. Mr. Major has done his homework on what it is like to be on a U-boat patrol including the tension onboard as it waits out the depth charges from the HMCS Grandmère, the unfortunate and ill-equipped minesweeper escort ship that was to protect the Caribou.

The second part follows the consequent lives of John Gilbert, ship steward and survivor of the sinking, and Ulrich Gräf, the captain of the U-boat. (As a tie-in to Found Far and Wide, John Gilbert’s stepfather is Sam Kennedy, the protagonist of the previous novel. Here, is relegated to more or less a cameo appearance.) It is the second half of the novel that really shines, as Mr. Major delves deeply and authoritatively into the minds of John Gilbert and Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Gräf post-sinking. John Gilbert is bent on revenge for the torpedoing and the loss of his Captain (and his two sons) and Bride Fitzpatrick, Chief Steward, whom he admired deeply. He tries to join up but is told to get to England and try from there, since there are no troopships leaving Newfoundland any time soon. Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Gräf, on the other hand, just wants to return alive to the U-boat base in France so he can clean up and relax. We first get a glimpse of the type of man Gräf is (and Mr. Major’s love of his homeland, one suspects) when he first sights Newfoundland while on the surface:

A U-boat commander knows better than to be lured by the sight of land but nothing had prepared me for the way that hulking rock defied the North Atlantic seas. As if its maker had chiselled breastwork of granite and dared the seas ts to exhaust themselves against it. This island in all its mockery, this jagged barricade against the unrelenting wind, against the thundery of ocean waves. Sunlight turns any landmass to good, but Newfoundland on a rough day is magnificent, its lofty cliffs indomitable the surf capable of no more than playing at its feet.
If it were not war, if I were not a navy man, I would walk this island merely to gaze on such a wild, magnificent specimen of nature. I would roam for days, sketchbook at hand, and lose myself in its wilderness.

Somewhat of an introvert, Gräf prefers to quietly drink away his time ashore, and search for companionship, which he soon finds with Elise, a nurse he met when returning from patrol. Narrated in the first-person, it is his life, beliefs and background that Mr. Major sympathetically focuses on most: his loss of his Jewish friends, the condition of Dresden when he returns home on leave, and the political and religious split between his parents:

‘The Führer could have done better than to invade Russia,’ I said.

I could feel the chill in my father’s eyes. No patriot questioned the Führer, even in the confines of his own home. Surely not a man of the Kriegsmarine.

‘And the Jews,’ said my mother. She had seen an opening and snatched it. ‘We have heard the worse.’

‘You have heard nothing, Annamarie. Rumours, that is all. Jews have been relocated.’

‘There are no Jews left in the city, Ulrich, unless they are married to someone who is not a Jew. Even they must walk the streets with a yellow star pinned to their chests. For why, I ask you. Your friend Josef, his mother wears a star. She dares not say a word to me for fear she will be, as your father puts it, relocated. Like her son. They sent Josef away. His star did him no good. Why, do you think?’

‘One day you will have us in trouble with your questions,’ Father declared, no longer suppressing his anger. ‘Then it will be too late.’

In the meantime, John Gilbert has joined the merchant crew of a convoy rescue ship, the Zamalek, wanting to do his bit to fight the Nazis by helping to rescue any torpedoing survivors, and hopefully, witness the sinking of a U-boat. Then and only then will his struggle for revenge find closure for the SS Caribou.

I read this book voraciously (as I did with Found Far and Wide) and I highly recommend it for its suspense, storytelling and authenticity of WWII conditions on both sides of the war during the Battle of the Atlantic. I am adding it to the 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the Fiction category.

Land Beyond the Sea has also been shortlisted for the 2020 Atlantic Book Awards (Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association Best Atlantic-Published Book Award Sponsored by Friesens Corporation)


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“Dangerous Enemy Sympathizers”| Canadian Internment Camp B, 1940-1945 by Andrew Theobald

I only knew of the WWII internment camp near Ripples, New Brunswick when I read the book Prisoner of Warren by Andreas Oertel back in 2016. Even then, I didn’t know Canada had so many camps for captured enemy personnel, or as in the case of Camp B near Ripples, enemy sympathizers, many of whom should not have even been held there in the first place.

Dangerous Enemy Sympathizers is volume 26 in the New Brunswick Military Heritage Series published by Goose Lane Editions. While it is under 200 pages, New Brunswick born author Andrew Theobald has filled it with an extensive amount of research, not only about the existence of the camp itself but of the many who were held there, (including, at first Jews, later Germans and Italians) escape attempts and almost total disappearance of any existence of the camp today, aside from the concrete base of the water tower and the camp’s museum which can be visited today.

“Ultimately, the Ripples Internment Camp, established during humanity’s worst moments, demonstrated New Brunswick and its people at their best.”

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

As with the other books in this series that I have read, I found it fascinating to read, as well as learning a bit about WWII and the effect it had on those “back at home.” There was a colourful collection of internees held at Camp B and the text shares some of the lighter moments as well as the grim ones. Good reading for any history enthusiast and Goose Lane Editions is to be commended for publishing this on-going series of books that deal with the military history of New Brunswick at home and abroad.

Dangerous Enemy Sympathizers has been shortlisted for the 2020 Atlantic Book Awards (Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing)


About the Author: Andrew Theobald holds degrees in history from Mount Allison University, the University of New Brunswick, and Queen’s University. He is also the author of The Bitter Harvest of War: New Brunswick and the Conscription Crisis of 1917 and numerous scholarly articles.

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Cops in Kabul: A Newfoundland Peacekeeper in Afghanistan by William C. Malone

William C. Malone is a retired RCMP officer who spent a year in Kabul from 2011-2012 as deputy Canadian police commander. It is a little-publicized fact that Canadian police personnel were part of Canada’s NATO commitment; one thinks of the mission as purely a military one. From 2003 to 2014, hundreds of Canadian policemen and women volunteered to spend a year in Afghanistan to assist in the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Cops in Kabul: A Newfoundland Peacekeeper in Afghanistan (2018, Flanker Press) goes far in highlighting the important role Canadian peace officers played in that theatre of war.

Cops in Kabul truly shines in bringing to light the dangerous role of Canadian peace officers “on the ground,” but also the environment they had to work in, and the always=present demand for constant vigilance even when “within the wire” of protection.  Mr. Malone describes the endless meetings he needed to attend with military types, with other international peace officers and even with Afghan officials themselves, which didn’t always go as hoped. Red tape, corruption in Afghan government and heavy-handed bureaucracy (from Ottawa, Washington and Kabul) all combined to make Mr. Malone’s duties all that more difficult to perform. He makes this great analogy: “Afghan politics and the machinations of departmental bureaucracy were complex, constantly changing, a moving target that was hard to understand. The difficulty for the international community was figuring out the impact of such changes. It was like flying an airplane while you’re building it. There was a lot of crazy turbulence, thousands of moving parts, and in the end, no one knew if we would reach our destination. Despite all that, we kept going and hoped for the best.”

“My job was to make sure that every Canadian peace officer was exposed to as little risk as possible and that we all got home safe and sound.”

I was very impressed by Cops in Kabul, for it has the qualities of a good memoir: insightful, educational, as well as the requisite ability to describe places and events clearly. Where I felt it could have really excelled was in the more personal side of Mr. Malone’s experience. He never truly takes us inside his deeper thoughts about “being there.” What were his thoughts and manner of life away from his desk? What were his coping strategies? He doesn’t mention much about keeping in contact with loved ones back home. Perhaps he chose to keep this part of his commitment out of the book, and it was “all business” for the majority of his time there. Whatever the reasons, his writing style is very readable and I found Cops in Kabul one of the better non-fiction offerings from Flanker Press in recent years. In short, Cops in Kabul: A Newfoundland Peacekeeper in Afghanistan is a compelling read about a year in the life of a high-level Canadian peace officer in Afghanistan. Recommended, and it will go on the 2019 longlist for “The Very Best!” Book Awards in the Non-Fiction category.

  • Imprint:Flanker Press
  • Format:Paperback
  • Published:2018-08-15
  • ISBN-13:9781771176668

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A Family of Brothers: Soldiers of the 26th New Brunswick Battalion in the Great War by J. Brent Wilson

On the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities in Europe, Goose Lane Editions has published a comprehensive volume of the history of the 26th New Brunswick Battalion. Over 250 pages of the battalion’s history, from its formation in 1914 to returning home in 1918.

They fought at Ypres in the fall of 1915, on the Somme at Courcelette and Regina Trench in 1916. They carried on to Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, and Passchendaele in 1917. They were part of the battles at Amiens and the Hundred Days campaign of 1918. The 26th Battalion was the only infantry unit from New Brunswick (and one of only 24 from the rest of Canada) to serve continuously on the Western Front from 1915 until the Armistice in 1918. More than 5,700 soldiers passed through its ranks during the First World War: 900 were killed and nearly 3,000 were wounded.

Several years in the writing, A Family of Brothers tells the compelling story of the “Fighting 26th,” from their mobilization to the aftermath of the war. Using letters, newspaper accounts, war diaries, and other official documents, Brent Wilson offers a compelling account of the soldiers at the front and those behind the lines, their experiences of the war and how their lives would be transformed upon their return to Canada.

One insightful quote comes from Lieutenant Charles Lawson who wrote from the front in 1915:

“The only thing that strikes one is the uselessness and childishness of the whole business. It does not seem worthwhile. It is almost wholly a game of machinery, it seems so silly to be down behind a bank with someone waiting for a chance to pot you if you give them a chance. And probably in the end both sides will get tired and give it up.”

With many historic black & white photographs,  an Appendix and a Bibliography, A Family of Brothers will serve the purpose of informing future generations of the futility of war and at the same time, memorializing those that have made the greatest sacrifice. A book worthy of being on the 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Non-Fiction.

A Family of Brothers is volume 25 of the New Brunswick Military Heritage Series.

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A Circle on the Surface by Carol Bruneau

While Carol Bruneau’s award-winning 2017 book of short stories, A Bird on Every Tree was excellent and well received (“Her exceptional prose reveals how much there is to discover in the every day” raved Publishersweekly.com), it merely whetted our appetites for one of her full-length works like Glass Voices (2007) or These Good Hands (2015). The wait is over for Nimbus Publishing has released A Circle on the Surface.

Synopsis

The story in A Circle on the Surface centres around Enman and Una Greene, a newlywed couple who, just a few short months after their nuptials are obliged to move from Halifax back to the fictional village of Barrein to assist Enman’s sick mother (“Ma”). Enman is wounded in the shins from being torpedoed during the war while serving in the merchant marine. He lost his mentor and best friend in the same attack. He has to leave his valued post at the bank for the move too. Una, working as a teacher, had been dismissed for having an affair with a married co-worker. She didn’t know the man was married, yet she is the one reprimanded and dismissed. (Tellingly, she has chosen to keep this incident a secret from Enman, although there are times when she almost tells him.) The agreed upon plan is that after Ma dies, they will sell the house and move back to the city. Una obviously doesn’t like caring for Ma (“I’m a teacher, not a nurse.”) And claustrophobic Barrein, aside from the wonderfully deserted beaches nearby, holds no charms for her. She finds the villagers meddlesome, rough folk:

Brain, the villagers called the place, as if saying the name properly took undue effort, which, for such things as knowing your business, they spared none.

However, the longer they stay after Ma dies, the more it becomes apparent to a beleaguered Una that her poor Enman has no real desire to leave Barrein again.  At a meeting of the townspeople, Enman surveys the small group and reflects:

It made growing old easier somehow, Enman thought, being surrounded by others whose youthful experiences had been much as his had been. He didn’t need to explain himself or his past. Shared experience equalled oxygen breathed in a place where everyone knew everyone else, from whence they had come and whence they were very likely headed.

This is the principal conflict in A Circle on the Surface.

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Other Conflicts

Then there is Una’s desire to have a child before she is too old (She is 37, Enman is 45. Enman’s sperm count is good; they had it tested). This is something that Enman is not even sure is wise (due to the world situation at the time), but since Una desires it so ardently, he acquiesces and they make earnest attempts to conceive. A secondary conflict is that since the story takes place during the height of The Battle of the Atlantic, U-boats are believed to be patrolling just offshore, and on a quiet night, you can hear them on the surface, charging their batteries, or so the locals say. Una, on one of her beach ramblings, encounters what very well could be a small encampment of shipwrecked German Navy men. Then, she encounters one of the men on the beach and this is when the story really takes off, as Una tries to keep the encounter a secret, for her own reasons.

A Master

The venerable Quill & Quire called Ms. Bruneau a “master” and indeed she is, particularly of the art of employing subtle imagery. I commented in my review of A Bird on Every Tree:

“Ms. Bruneau writes with a graceful precision and has a deftness with words and their cadences, their implications and meanings..”

For example, in the following passage, Enman and Una are in a theatre watching “Girl Crazy” and Una’s mind wanders:

Quit thinking thoughts that drag you down. Didn’t Kit [a teacher friend] have a phrase that had to do with private thoughts, a person’s jardin intérieure. Marriage had a way of wrenching open the gates of a woman’s or trying to. God forbid, fussing and fretting beside her, Enman would be a marauding deer ready to march in and munch away at her thorns and blooms. And what about his garden? The one in his mind, not the one he tended as if his mother could see it – was his interior garden full of flowers or weeds?
Oh, damn. Damn. At the thought of weeds, the tangle of all she held back from him, about what happened at work, how little by little, being in Barrein, she felt herself and her world shrinking, a tear slid down her cheek.

A Circle on the Surface may be Ms. Bruneau’s most accessible novel yet. It has been skilfully edited to keep the main protagonists and their conflicts foremost. The character of Enman is a winning one, despite his faults and his naivety towards Una’s needs. He has lost his best friend in the war, suffered deep tissue damage to his shins, is constantly battling an old alcohol addiction, and now has buried his beloved Ma. While it is hard not to take his side in the story, Una is not completely bereft of the reader’s sympathies. She wants a child and desperately wants to be back in Halifax. She also wants to teach, but there is the wartime restriction of not hiring married women to teach. Also, she fears her brief dalliance with the science teacher has become part of her permanent employment record. I have purposely left out other characters such as the foul-mouthed bootlegger Bart Twomey and his poor uneducated niece Hannah. Then there is the forthright Win Goodrow, Enman’s former teen love (and next-door neighbour). There are many characters and conflicts being juggled at various times and Ms. Bruneau is masterful at keeping them all in the air right until the final full stop.

A Final Thought

Starting a Carol Bruneau novel transports me to a book lover’s paradise, that special place where new unread books await, all written by my favourite authors. A Circle on the Surface is an amazingly good read that will only go towards elevating her in the eyes of her longtime fans and the Canadian literary world at large. I am adding A Circle on the Surface to my 2019 Longlist for a “The Very Best” Book Awards.

Here’s an interview Ms.Bruneau had with CBC’s Shift NB:

Other Voices

“Carol Bruneau’s latest novel holds your heart right to the last, devastating sentence. A compassionate and beautiful read.” – Carole Giangrande, the author of the remarkable novel All That Is Solid Melts Into Air.

“A Circle on the Surface is the kind of story that lingers for days after the last page is read.” – Naomi at Consumed by Ink
* This review is based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by Nimbus.

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The Land’s Long Reach by Valerie Mills-Milde

This is the book that I was awaiting from Valerie Mills-Milde. I had to patiently wait two years from the time that her exceptional debut novel After Drowning (2016, Inanna Publications) was released. That book won a 2017 IPPY Silver Medal for Contemporary Fiction. Of After Drowning, I stated: “After Drowning is an intriguing, well-paced and mysteriously captivating story of everyday lives impacted by tragic events and the collateral damage they inflict as well as the long road back to recovery and reconciliation.” In a sense, The Land’s Long Reach is also a captivating story of lives impacted by tragic events (WWI, domestic violence) and the collateral damage inflicted (mental, medical and psychological stress, strained family relationships) on each and every character. 

Valerie Mills-Milde’s mastery of character and language is unforgettable.” —Ann Birch, author of The Secret Life of Roberta Greaves

The Land’s Long Reach is set in the war years of 1914-18 near Owen Sound, Ontario. It is the story of Jamie and Ena McFarland, newlyweds who work a neglected portion of the family farm (“We could make something of the place, Ena. You and Me,” Jamie tells her) Jamie’s older brother Hugh works the larger, older and established part of the property. Ena is the main female protagonist, and there is also the teenager Blain, the son of Jack Carter, the mean-spirited moonshiner who takes all the money that Blain earns being a farm hand. Jack’s long-suffering wife, Margaret has died a few years before, found by Blain, her body froze in a swamp on Carter’s property. Apparently, she had been trying to escape one of Jack’s violent and abusive outbursts. Ena, ever the sensitive and caring one takes a special interest in the boy even though he is not the best worker and loves to spin stories and goof off.

Ms. Mills-Milde characters are interpreted through and by their respective skills: Ena a careful, experienced baker, Hugh the hard-working, tough farmer, Jamie, who is especially fond of animals and Hugh’s wife Sarah who doesn’t want to just be a farmer’s wife; she wants to paint, and to do it well.

Here is a scene in which Ena is working in her kitchen:

Cloistered in the kitchen, Ena makes brown bread, her hands in the mix, the texture of the dough like velvet. The dough is pliant, stretchable, sure signs that it will resurrect, and she is careful to use just the heel of her hand to knead it. After touch, it is smell that guides her, her nose in the bowl, the scent of the yeast registering in a place deep behind her eyes. It looks right, pale but living.After the bread is risen and moulded and baked, taste will be the last test – a confirmation of what she already knows.

As Sarah shows Ena one of her paintings, Ms. Mills-Milde displays not only Sarah’s skills as a painter but Ena’s unique reaction to the painting’s bold colours:

Craig [Sarah’s art instructor] puts the small canvas on the easel and Ena is immediately overtaken with recognition. The colour is what hits her first, vivid, colliding shades: darks that hold deep veins of reds and lashings of greys. There are brown and barren trees, twisted wire. Although there are no people in it, there is panic in the picture. A feeling of being held in a storm. Ena thinks of Jamie’s letters [from the front] his brief and measured descriptions of the war, the horrible things he sees and does.
“It’s too much, Ena, I know. It’s overblown. It’s how I think of it – what’s going on over there.”
Ena looks at Sarah. “Can I see another?” She is greedy for more – the burst of feeling that comes as she is taken to the heart of things without words or explanations.

There are many such revealing passages in The Land’s Long Reach that induce the reader to be “greedy for more”: more of these beautifully constructed sentences in order to know the book’s characters, including their feelings and the reason for their actions. This book is also timeless in that it could have been easily written 20, 30 or 40 years ago. I might have been studying it in high school English class instead of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel.

I was pleased to discover that Ms. Mills-Milde was not a “one book wonder.” Indeed, I was anxious to see if she would soon write another novel after After Drowning and I am delighted that The Land’s Long Reach turned out to be such a very good read. Her technique, attention to detail and careful pacing put me in mind of Carol Bruneau. That’s the highest compliment I can give. The story builds to a tragic climax that I didn’t see coming. However, it ends in an especially pleasing way.

The Land’s Long Reach goes on my 2018 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction. Also makes an exceptional choice for a “Summer Read.”

September 9th, 2018: The Land’s Long Reach has been awarded as a “Notable Achievement” in the  “The Very Best!” Book Award category for Fiction!

The Land’s Long Reach by Valerie Mills-Milde
Inanna Publications

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Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans

Of all the wars fought in the twentieth century, the one I was least familiar with was the Korean War. Odd, because my father-in-law served in Korea with Canadian Forces. With Baraka Books’ 2018 release of Patriots, Traitors and Empires by Stephen Gowans came my opportunity to learn more about the history of Korea, how it came to be divided into North and South and so on. It also helped me to understand current events, with the remote possibility of the two Koreas uniting, something the Korean peoples have wanted for decades (and the US does not want).

“The Koreans have as little use for an American Korea as they had for a Japanese one. They want a Korean Korea”


In its fourteen chapters, plus an Introduction and Conclusion, Notes and a Bibliography, Mr. Gowans, writing with great clarity, takes us back in history to the Empire of Japan and how it came to have barbaric control of Korea in 1910, enslaving the Korean people and taking the land’s resources for the island Nation. Then, with the exit of the Japanese after their defeat in WWII, came the partitioning of Korea and the entrenchment of the Americans. What came as an eye-opener for me was the number of American troops and bases presently in Korea (at the time of writing of the book in 2018):

There are “not two, but three Koreas,” observed William R. Polk: the DPRK [North Korea], the ROK [South Korea]and US Military Bases. Actually, there is only one Korea and that Polk can point to three (or even two) is emblematic of the power Washington has to create artificial political constructions and an ideology to explain them. There is, in reality, one Korea. But grafted onto the one indivisible country is an illegitimate state, the ROK, (“basically set up” by Washington as Bruce Cumings observes) and roughly two dozen US military bases on which 30,000 service personnel are stationed as an occupation force.

The above is typical of the clear logic Mr. Gowans uses to explain how South Korea is basically a puppet state of the US and the primary reason the US has not left the peninsula (as they agreed to do in 1949; the Soviets did leave as agreed) is because they need its strategic geographic location as a power projection platform in Asia.

My review copy has an abundance of highlights and dog-eared pages, indicative of a fact-filled and scholarly work. A highly recommended read for armchair historians and history scholars alike. Very informative and worth a 5-star rating. Patriots, Traitors and Empires goes on my 2018 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Non-Fiction.


Patriots, Traitors and Empire: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom by Stephen Gowans
Baraka Books

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This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved