Tag Archives: non-fiction

Trail Mix: 920 km on The Camino de Santiago by Jules Torti

Whether you’re a hardcore adventurer, mountain trekker, long-distance walker, or sedate, armchair explorer, Jules Torti’s Trail Mix is an engaging and entertaining travelogue. Reading Torti’s memoir felt like picking up a prescription, what the doctor ordered for a feel-good, easy-to-swallow antidote to pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions.

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The Santiago de Compostela, also known as The Way of Saint James, Camino, or simply The Way has been a pilgrimage of religious indulgence for ten centuries. Now, for most, it’s simply a bucket-list trek, one of the world’s great hikes for the devoutly pious, atheistic, or those in-between on the continuum of spiritual belief. Over the recent past, a great many books have explored, mapped and followed the trail. Which is in fact a number of paths and landbound tributaries snaking their way, more or less, from the south of France across northern Spain. I’ve even trekked an offshoot along the ancient salt paths of southwest England, meandering my way to the continent through Basque country and around the Bay of Biscay. It’s a special excursion, for countless reasons, the range of which are as diverse as every individual making the journey. This is why, irrespective of the volume of Camino publications, everyone, I feel, has something special to offer. And Torti’s book does indeed offer something special.

Here the publisher summarizes the author’s adventure. “There is snoring. Sleep apnea. Threadbare patience. Frayed nerves. Sour socks. A lot of salami. Shifting from a walk-in closet to a walking closet of just 10 pounds, Jules and Kim decided to walk the historic Camino before their lower backs (or any other body parts) decided otherwise. Trail Mix is the open, frank, and funny story of one Canadian couple voted most unlikely to agree to such a daunting social experience.”

Depending on where you choose to start and conclude, the Camino trek can range from a hundred to a thousand miles. People usually spend a few weeks or months on the trail, traversing a range of topography, from high altitude Pyrenees to arid Spanish fields, pastures and vineyards. Those keen to “do it by the book” get official Camino passport stamps and stay in hostels, some of which have catered to pilgrims for centuries.

This passage in particular brings us directly onto the trail with our storyteller, a sensory dive into the experience. “We had dust up to our knees already. I snapped the ankle of my sock and a plume of dust arose, like Pigpen from Peanuts. Laundry would be imperative, as we had really pushed the limits of the Smartwool ‘stink-free’ guarantee. I had been wearing my two pairs of quarter socks on rotation for seven days. The last two hostels had zero clothesline real estate left,
so we kept pushing our wash cycle.”

For anyone who loves a well-told tale from the trail, this engaging travelogue has something for everyone: the challenge of a trek, healing, quirky humour, and the simple satisfaction of pursuing, and attaining, an important personal goal.


About the Author: Jules Torti is editor-in-chief of Harrowsmith magazine. She has been published in Cottage Life, The Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, and Matador. She also writes for Coast Mountain Culture, Kootenay Mountain Culture, Travelife, and Live Small Town magazine. Her memoir Free to a Good Home: With Room for Improvement was published by Caitlin Press in 2019. She lives in Lion’s Head (near Owen Sound), Ontario.

Title: Trail Mix: 920 km on the Camino de Santiago
Author: Jules Torti
Publisher: RMB | Rocky Mountain Books, 2021
ISBN: 9781771604802
Pages: 336


About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, and recipient of The Miramichi Reader’s 2021 Very Best Book Award for nonfiction. When not trekking the globe with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making music and friends. @billarnott_aps

This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Bill Arnott
Some Rights Reserved  

Be Free: Mountains, Mishaps, and Miracles in Africa by Angela deJong

Author, traveller, and fitness guru Angela deJong is the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. And get fit. And start travelling again. Her solo treks and exploration are an inspiration. Not to mention the mountain climbing; the physical kind as well as those of a metaphorical, spiritual nature.

Here’s what deJong’s publisher says about her travel memoir, Be Free. “When Angela stepped onto African soil for the first time, alone, she never imagined it would be just the beginning of a decade-long pursuit to hike all of the continent’s tallest peaks. It was the mountain trekking that drew her to Africa initially, but as the years went on it became clear that the mishaps and miracles that happened in between the summits were the real draw. With each uncomfortable circumstance and every mistake, there was growth.”

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The book includes gorgeous photos taken throughout Africa, from snowy mountain peaks to fern-riddled jungle, black swaths of lava, and high desert sand, a rainbow palette of the continent’s colour, creating a truly encompassing and sensory travel escape. Be Free draws the reader into these travel expeditions, taking us with the mountaineer-author on a remarkable decade of summits, treks and adventure. Each well-crafted, personal story leaves me inspired, connected, amused, or simply shaking my head in wonder, and admiration. From the author’s forthright introduction, she explains, “I had reservations about following through with this book. Part of the beauty of travelling by yourself is having special memories and feelings that are fully appreciated from your own perspective with no input from anyone else to slightly shift your initial impression of the event.” And with that depth of sincerity, we join deJong, sharing in that connectivity, and wonder.

She continues, “Before I had ever visited another country, I contemplated why I am so compelled to embark on these journeys. Am I running away from something? Am I not truly happy? I feel happy, but maybe I’m not? Is there something I’m searching for? With every adventure, it became very clear I was actually running toward the discovery and understanding of who I am as an individual.” And isn’t this what every explorer, ever traveller, asks themself at least once on their journeys?

This passage, an experience in Cameroon, captures deJong’s sense of openness, a sliver of judicious recklessness, and a willingness to simply jump in. “The air was warm and the sky was speckled with stars as I stepped out of the car and walked toward a small dark-coloured building with a corrugated metal roof. There were no signs indicating this was a taxi station. It certainly was a red flag, but I also couldn’t be certain that I just misunderstood what he was suggesting earlier. Maybe he said next to the taxi office? I was so tired I wasn’t thinking clearly. I walked blindly into the building after Ahmed as he fiddled around to find a light.”

For a well-crafted, honestly shared series of personal adventures in Africa, Angela deJong’s Be Free is an enticing, enjoyable and satisfying read. And yes, I suspect you too will be inspired.


About the Author

Angela deJong is a certified personal trainer, author of Reality Fitness and owner of Acacia Fitness. She graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in Kinesiology. Angela has travelled solo to every country in Africa that has mountains higher than 3000 metres and summited all of them. She is also the co-author of Polepole: A Training Guide for Kilimanjaro and Other Long-Distance Mountain Treks. Angela lives in Edmonton, Alberta.


This article has been Digiproved © 2022 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Bill Arnott
Some Rights Reserved  

Best Non-Fiction of 2021

To complement our “Best Fiction of 2021” and “Best Poetry of 2021” lists, we will now turn our attention to the best non-fiction of the year. The ten selections below are based on the recommendations of The Miramichi Reader’s fine team of contributors.

(The following titles are in no particular order.)


The Last Good Funeral of the Year: A Memoir by Ed O’Loughlin (House of Anansi Press)

“This is a searing book, reminiscent of Joan Didion’s masterpiece, “The Year of Magical Thinking.” It wheels between the waypoints in O’Loughlin’s life with remarkable dexterity, honesty and grace, and the writing is deeply resonant.” (Valerie Mills-Milde)

Here on the Coast by Howard White (Harbour Publishing)

“The writing, as you’d expect, is crisp, seamless, and engaging. I haven’t yet spoken with the author but feel as though I know his manner of speech, a cadence that makes you want to listen, or in this case, read.” (Bill Arnott)

No Thanks, I Want to Walk by Emily Taylor Smith (Pottersfield Press)

“What I enjoyed most about Smith’s latest adventure is that a depth of personal growth emanates from the page. Not only is it effectively articulated and shared, but is evident in the writing itself.” (Bill Arnott)

Behind The Red Door: How Elizabeth Arden Legacy Inspired My Coming-of-Age in the Beauty Industry by Louise Claire Johnson (Gatekeeper Press)

“If you like strong-minded women then this book is for you! An excellent read in which you’ll be swept into the days of past and present-day New York, London and Paris just to name a few.” (Shawna Butler)

Lunging into the Underbrush: A Life Lived Backward by David Homel (Linda Leith Publishing)

“With Lunging Into the Underbrush, Homel offers a unique exploration of a young man growing through tremendous challenge, becoming an older man that even he is not fully at ease with, all toward an understanding of the importance of being kind to ourselves, to forgive ourselves, no matter how much pain our errors may bring, and to be unafraid of who we may become.
This account is a reminder of both how fragile our body is that we inhabit and how much more robust it can be when we help it along.” (Denis Coupal)

Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries by Bill Arnott

Gone Viking II is rewarding on a number of different levels for the many pleasures, fascinating people, and pulsating poetry Arnott kindly shares with his readers.” (Manny Matas)

The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions by Mark Stobbe (ECW Press)

“Fascinating in its reach, especially for those who like “Law and Order” type shows and stories where criminal cases in which police, lawyers, judges, and the legal system are all involved, The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions is a book you need to read.” (James M. Fisher)

On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Other Matters of Substance by Carlyn Zwarenstein (Goose Lane Editions)

“In my professional life, I engage with a lot of research on substance use and the efficacy of harm reduction, which has sealed my support for harm reduction strategies. Even so, I found this revelatory, with its comprehensive blend of story, history, and investigation. This takes the work being done across North America and packages it up for everyone from the layperson to the lawmaker to read and digest.” (Alison Manley)

A Womb In The Shape Of A Heart: My Story Of Miscarriage And Motherhood By Joanne Gallant (Nimbus Publishing)

“Ms. Gallant certainly held my interest from start to finish. A Womb in the Shape of a Heart is not so much about the issues of miscarriage and motherhood, but about the humanity of personal trauma. She is an astonishingly good writer, which for a first book is a premium.” (James M. Fisher)

my daughter Rehtaeh Parsons By Glen Canning with Susan McClelland (Goose Lane Editions)

“But beyond the many horrors, it’s a story about the unconditional love a parent has for his child, one that recounts her talents and goodness by recounting memories of happy times – her accomplishments at school, a holiday in Mexico, the cozy intimacy of reading bedtime stories, and an image that later proves to be a haunting one: a front yard tire swing.” (Heidi Greco)


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Revisiting Restigouche: The Long Run of the Wild River by Philip Lee

When I worked in the newspaper business, a great editor and friend taught me how a true story well told becomes a parable. He was a libertarian editor in the old school who saw his newspapers as daily journals of moral conduct. When something is broken, it is the work of the moralist, the storyteller, to place a finger on it and then ask who’d responsible for fixing it.”  – Philip Lee, Restigouche

Last August I went on a long canoe ride down the Restigouche River with a guide who knows the river intimately; he knows the pools where you might find a salmon, he knows where you can and can’t camp or pull up a canoe, he knows who to talk to if you want to know more about the river than he does, and he shares what he’s learned about the river along the way. Philip Lee is that guide in Restigouche: The Long Run of the Wild River, and he tells a story not only of the Restigouche itself, but also the impacts of both colonialism and capitalism on the river and the people of the river, and it is a beautiful, sobering, and necessary ride.

Philip Lee the author is the son of my childhood Minister Reverend Philip Lee, and I know his family, though not well. My own father passed his copy of Restigouche on to me saying it had changed his perspective of how natural resources and native people have been treated in New Brunswick, and that I would appreciate Lee’s appreciation of nature (he was right). From the opening pages, Lee’s writing style and a clear sense of intention/moral compass reminded me of his father’s sermons, which enthralled and grounded me growing up.
When I returned, I lay awake long into the winter nights, trying to unweave and unwind all that I had seen and learned. At the end of my exploring I didn’t have all the answers and still wondered what the future might hold. What I did know was, like the man who washed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam, I had come back seeing.”

“Restigouche is a natural biography of sorts, and we get to know the river’s story through Lee’s first-hand experience, but also through his careful research and storytelling.”

I read Restigouche chapter by chapter, many of them sitting by the brook at the bottom of our lane near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It was just the way to read it, bit by bit because there’s so much to learn from this well-informed guide as you travel with him down the northeastern New Brunswick river. You’ll also want to savour the trip. Though it was a literary journey I went on via Lee’s Restigouche as he poled and paddled his canoe down the Restigouche, it felt like I was there on the river as a member of his party, listening to him and his companions tell stories around the campfire.

Restigouche is a natural biography of sorts, and we get to know the river’s story through Lee’s first-hand experience, but also through his careful research and storytelling. The impacts of elitist sport fishing, clearcutting, hydro-damming, herbicide spraying and overfishing are examined here, as is the indefensible tragedy and injustice of how the Mi’kmaq have been excluded from the waters they’ve inhabited for many thousands of years. Lee also retells the story of the 1981 Incident at Restigouche through voices of people who were directly involved, and which was a turning point for the Listiguj Mi’kmaq and reasserting their right to fish.

 As Canadians struggle personally and collectively to re-right the wrongs of the past (and present) at this juncture of truth and reconciliation, Lee’s book is an important contribution to better understanding what has happened not only to the Restigouche River–but to the whole country– and what it will take to fix it. It also says something about shame, and what it will take for us as a culture to own it and move forward. Because, as Lee writes “Rivers are remarkably resilient, but they do not wash away our sins.”

Lee takes on the job of moralist and storyteller in Restigouche; subtly asking who is responsible for fixing the Restigouche, though he gathers the information and leaves it to the reader to decide. What he is clear about, though, is that we as a culture have sanctioned travesty and destruction, and it will take much to heal the damage.

I hope I live long enough to see the day when the dams are removed, so I can watch the river begin to heal itself. Even if I do, I know that much of what has happened is irrevocable, the consequences of a series of decisions made by a few men during a period of about fifteen years during the life of a fifteen-thousand-year-old river.”

Published to acclaim in 2020, Restigouche reads almost like a parable or allegory about the arrival of colonial rules, private property law and resource exploitation, and the exclusion of people from their own native land and resources. Told with a journalist’s objectivity and a poet’s sensibility, Lee’s Restigouche is an extraordinary work of research and finely-crafted writing that should be revisited and widely shared. There is much to (re)learn and rehabilitate. Restigouche is part of that education.


Wanda Baxter is originally from the Kingston Peninsula, New Brunswick, and is the author of If I Had an Old House on the East Coast. She works as a creative and environmental consultant, and lives and works on an old farm in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia.


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Wanda Baxter
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The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions by Mark Stobbe

True crime aficionados can rejoice, for here is a very insightful look into the so-called “Mr. Big” sting operations that have been carried out by the RCMP and other police forces over the years. There are a lot of surprising elements in Mark Stobbe’s book. For instance, it was the RCMP that devised and perfected Mr. Big over the years. I simply took it for granted that it would have been an American tactic to get criminals to confess, but no, it was created here in Canada. In fact, as I came to learn, it is little used in the USA.

“The bottom line is that if a person tells Mr. Big they have killed someone, they and their associates have a very good chance of going to jail for a very long time.”

What is the “Mr. Big” sting? There is no one person who portrays Mr. Big, rather, police create an imaginary criminal gang to trick homicide suspects into a confession. “Mr. Big” is the top boss who requires the prospective gang member to come clean of his offences so that he can make them ‘go away’. Mr. Big is typically used as a last resort when evidence fails to fully incriminate a suspect. It is elaborate and expensive to stage a Mr. Big sting, but it is effective. It is not without its pitfalls too, and it has its detractors. Nevertheless, it has put men and women behind bars who would otherwise have never been convicted of murder. They are the next best thing to a smoking gun at a murder scene.

The “Mr. Big” Sting follows several cases of unsolved murders into which police decided to bring Mr. Big into the picture. The murders and facts of the case are examined, legal aspects are discussed and after all avenues of conviction are exhausted, Mr. Big is brought in.

Fascinating in its reach, especially for those who like “Law and Order” type shows and stories where criminal cases in which police, lawyers, judges, and the legal system are all involved, The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions is a book you need to read.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Stobbe has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Saskatchewan and has taught at Keyano College and Okanagan College. He began studying the criminal justice system after being accused and acquitted of the murder of a loved one. Dr. Stobbe now lives and works in Regina, Saskatchewan.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770416129
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770416123

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

On Borrowed Time: North America’s Next Big Quake by Gregor Craigie

Living on the West Coast as I do means it’s impossible to put thoughts of earthquakes completely out of mind. I suppose, ever since long ago reading Edgar Cayce’s prediction of the Western shelf falling into the sea, I’ve been a little nervous. But according to information in the new book from Gregor Craigie, a certain amount of edginess seems justified.

Craigie is a journalist and broadcaster who’s worked for outlets as varied as the BBC, CBS Radio, and Public Radio International. Currently the host of CBC’s On the Island, Victoria’s early morning radio program, he’s had years of experience interviewing people and asking hard questions – experience that’s evidenced throughout this information-packed book.

He reports on earthquakes and tsunamis that have occurred around the world, placing an emphasis on seismic action in North America, including places I’d never dreamed had experienced quakes – the Mississippi Valley, South Carolina, Utah, New York – and then offers cautions for our own Quebec City, Ottawa, and of course, Vancouver and Victoria.

“The study of earthquakes has a language of its own, but Craigie serves as a fluent interpreter.”

His research is extensive, and he puts it to good use but does so without befuddling the reader. Never talking down to us, he offers clear definitions of technical terminology, making us comfortable with his references to temblors, subduction zones, turbidites, asthenosphere. The study of earthquakes has a language of its own, but Craigie serves as a fluent interpreter.

And the book offers much more than technical information; personal accounts, journals, old news articles, even diaries illustrate all too clearly the threats posed by shifts in the earth beneath us. Some of these stories are heartbreaking. He cites as an example survivors of the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch who were able, for a time, to communicate with family, but then during rescue efforts, died. Other of these accounts are even more hopeless, the worst of these, of the young woman in Colombia, buried to her neck in solid debris who lived, mostly entombed, for sixty hours before succumbing. These are the most haunting, the “…cases [where] rescuers could only offer some food and medicine or pray with the victims before they died.”

But Craigie’s purpose in writing this book is not to paralyze us, but to bring us – and our governments – to action, as there are ways we can protect ourselves. Many older buildings, especially those built of bricks, are vulnerable and can not only collapse inward but will often shed chunks of their outer walls onto anyone below. A number of after-the-fact fixes now exist, though of course, they don’t come without costs, many of them high. Yet how does one justify cutting corners in building costs or repairs when comparing those to the cost of losing human lives.

It is in these explanations of the many techniques and technologies that have been developed that hope shines. And it is for this reason, I believe, that the Writers’ Trust of Canada has selected Craigie’s book as a finalist for this year’s inaugural Balsillie Prize for Public Policy. On Borrowed Time illustrates clearly that indeed, it is only a matter of time until the earth shakes again. For now, we can only hope that making preparations will make a difference to survival rates, and also to the inevitable rebuilding and restoration of services that will be required.

While I’ve experienced a few tremors over the years (the strongest of which made me feel like I was surfing a small wave, even though the flooring I stood on had concrete immediately beneath it), I do manage to sleep at night. Maybe that’s partly because I’ve made a number of preparations – I have an emergency kit, know how to shut off the gas line, and keep an extra pair of shoes under the bed. Small steps, but a start – at least I hope so. Reading this book is bound to convince readers to at least take similar precautions because as Craigie reminds us, more such events are inevitable. In the words of one of the experts, he cites: “You can’t stop the earthquake from happening. You can stop the earthquake from killing you.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gregor Craigie has been a news producer, reporter, and on-air host. He is presently the host of CBC’s On the Island in Victoria, BC. He is a former reporter for CBS Radio and a former BBC journalist, who read the news to millions of American listeners of The World on Public Radio International.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773102060
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773102061

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Heidi Greco
Some Rights Reserved  

No Thanks, I Want to Walk by Emily Taylor Smith

I enjoyed Emily Taylor Smith’s travel memoir, Around The Province In 88 Days, enough to attend the launch event of her sequel, No Thanks, I Want to Walk: Two Months on Foot Around New Brunswick and the Gaspé. Somewhat ironically, no one had to travel to take part. It was a virtual event, like most readings over the past couple of years. Yet even through computer screens, a checkerboard of smiling faces couldn’t contain collective excitement. Along with shared pride and admiration. Pride and admiration in author Emily Taylor Smith and her accomplishments, having now walked thousands of kilometres for the sheer joy of it. Not to mention the friendships she makes. And her latest adventure, walking the perimeter of New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula, is another epic journey for the record books.

The publisher’s blurb encapsulates the author’s undertaking:

“After completing a 3,000-kilometre hike of coastal Nova Scotia and making a number of dramatic changes in her life, Emily Taylor Smith is compelled to undertake another Maritime journey on foot, this time following the coastline of New Brunswick and the Gaspé all the way to Quebec City.

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“She plans a solitary trip, searching for life lessons along the way and carrying everything she needs with her on her back. Emily severely underestimates the Fundy Footpath, struggles to communicate in French, nearly throws in the towel at the tip of Kouchibouguac Park, and survives a sleepless night in a collapsed tent on the windy Gaspé shore.

“What she doesn’t count on is the support which appears daily in the form of roadside messages, random gifts of ice cream, generous postmistresses and flag collectors, and help that comes from within. The challenging regimen of 45 kilometres a day for two months is transcended by a growing spiritual bond with the landscape that keeps her moving forward.”

What I enjoyed most about Smith’s latest adventure is that a depth of personal growth emanates from the page. Not only is it effectively articulated and shared, but is evident in the writing itself. I applaud the author for committing to the craft as much as her ambitious travel endeavour and succeeding at both.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Taylor Smith grew up in Salisbury, New Brunswick. Her love of coastal hiking led her to walk the coastline of New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula, as well as the perimeters of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

  • Title: No Thanks, I Want to Walk
  • Author: Emily Taylor Smith
  • Publisher: Pottersfield Press, 2021
  • ISBN: 9781989725337
  • Pages: 286 pp

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Bill Arnott
Some Rights Reserved  

The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

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I was travelling around the province – roadways, ferries and footpaths – taking advantage of loosening travel restrictions to explore the seemingly endless coast of BC’s Gulf Islands. It was also an ideal opportunity to visit with independent booksellers as part of a Gone Viking tour, promoting my latest travel memoir. In Comox, I stopped at Blue Heron Books, where I picked up Caroline Van Hemert’s The Sun is a Compass, her personal account of travelling, along with her husband, for five months by rowboat, kayak, raft, foot, ski, and sled from Washington State to Alaska, crossing Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories in the process.

This is a proper armchair adventure, well-written travel lit shared in real-time, thrusting the reader into the excursion alongside the author. It’s an expedition few would endeavour to tackle. Exceedingly ambitious. Borderline foolhardy. Despite the planning, our explorers run out of food, surviving on stubborn hope for five days. But the author and her spouse make a resilient and reliable team. This trek is one of savouring nature, basking in the outdoors and wanting the very best for our environment. Van Hemert is a highly trained and skilled ornithologist, her observations of bird species along the way comprehensive and absorbing.

The land itself soon becomes a primary player in the adventure, from rugged coast to surging sea, rainforest to tundra, rivers, bogs and deltas, mountains, glaciers and ice floes. If you like the notion of exploring arctic terrain without the inherent demands, discomfort, risk, or week upon week of dehydrated bland food, The Sun is a Compass is an ideal way to do it, and author Caroline Van Hemert makes for an engaging, entertaining and informative travel companion and guide.


  • Title: The Sun is a Compass: My 4,000 Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds
  • Author: Caroline Van Hemert
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Spark, 2019
  • ISBN: 9780316414449
  • Pages: 306 pp

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Bill Arnott
Some Rights Reserved  

Don’t Lose Sight: Vanity, incompetence, and my ill-fated left eye by Genevieve A. Chornenki

The preface of Genevieve A. Chornenki’s short memoir, Don’t Lose Sight: Vanity, incompetence, and my ill-fated left eye is a glowing ode to the visual surprises of the every day. Chornenki delights in the colours and textures of a cabbage, exclaiming in wonder about this simple thing, while her husband isn’t nearly as riveted. However, after a retinal detachment that went untreated for longer than it should have, Chornenki is far more appreciative of the things she can see after this brush with sightlessness. Exploring illness while parenting, advocating for more than herself, and walking the up-and-down journey that is managing health. Brief but frank, this is a great look at the value of sight and the challenges of taking care of it in our current healthcare system. As Chornenki points out so deftly in this memoir, we take vision for granted until we suffer the loss of it.

“Chornenki, in the space of 125 pages, explores the context of her retinal detachment: how the treatment and recuperation bled into her work, affected her ability to parent, and resulted in pressures and judgement from others who were unaware of her vision issues, pain, and active healing.”

Which brings me to the reason why I’m reviewing this book. James reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in reading it specifically, because he knows that I have a visual impairment, resulting from my own brush with an eye disease. So my review comes from the lens of someone who already knows what it’s like to live in a world with some vision loss, and what that means – which, for the purposes of this review, means that I definitely got a lot out of it, but also had to reconcile my own biases resulting from my experience while reading this.

Chornenki, in the space of 125 pages, explores the context of her retinal detachment: how the treatment and recuperation bled into her work, affected her ability to parent, and resulted in pressures and judgement from others who were unaware of her vision issues, pain, and active healing. This is a well-rounded look at how medical issues can spiral, or even what we consider to be “minimal” vision problems, can wreak havoc on your life, require years of treatment, and are always a risk. Eyesight is incredibly fragile, and Chornenki captures that lesson beautifully in this memoir.

The other major part of this memoir is advocacy: advocacy for yourself as a patient, and advocacy for others. Part of Chornenki’s story is her then-optometrist misdiagnosing her retinal detachment as migraine, leaving it to get worse and then become more difficult to repair. Chornenki ultimately decides to make a complaint, and she details the arduous and occasionally demeaning process of filing a formal complaint. Attacking this part of her story with the same pluck as she attacked her treatment and healing, was interesting, enraging, and very informative.

Chornenki describes this memoir as a “small story.” I agree with that, and I also agree that small stories are important. This was valuable to me, as a person who has vision loss, and I think would be wonderfully helpful for anyone going through something similar.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Genevieve Chornenki is a dispute resolution consultant and emerging writer based in Toronto, Canada. When she was in grade 4, the teacher noted on her report card, Has excellent story-writing ability which should be encouraged as much as possible. No one in the family noticed. Nor did first prize for poetry in high school relieve her of household chores like washing dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor. Eventually, she figured out that writing is about persistence, not permission. It also helps to have something to say. Genevieve holds a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, and a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University. Her works include Bypass Court: A Dispute Resolution Handbook and When Families Start Talking, a CBC Ideas radio documentary. Visit her at www.genevievechornenki.com or email her at gac@chornenki.com.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Iguana Books (April 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 140 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771804807
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771804806

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Excerpt from Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt’s Peacekeeper’s Daughter: A Middle East Memoir

Peacekeeper’s Daughter parachutes the reader into the Lebanese Civil War, the Palestinian crisis, and the wave of terrorism—including the bombing of the American Embassy—that ravaged Beirut at the height of the siege. This novelistic memoir moves from Jerusalem to Tiberius, from the disputed No-Man’s Land of the Golan Heights to Damascus, and on to Beirut by way of Tripoli, crossing borders that remain closed to this day. It’s June 1982. Twelve-year-old Tanya and her family are preparing to leave their home on the military base in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to move to Israel, where her father will serve a one-year posting with the United Nations. While they’re packing up, Israel invades Lebanon. The President-elect of Lebanon is assassinated. Thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children are murdered at the Sabra-Shatila refugee camps in southern Beirut. The Middle East’s relative peace explodes into waves of violence. It is in the midst of this maelstrom that the family arrives in Israel and settles into an apartment. The simple act of walking down the street is fraught with peril. Violence may come at them from any direction at any time. Peacekeeper’s Daughter is a coming-of-age story, as well as an exploration of family dynamics, the shattering effects of violence and war—and the power of memory itself to reconcile us to our past selves, to the extraordinary places we have been and sights we have seen.


At school that Monday, I sat in the library after lunch. My grade seven class was in the basement for band practice, but I had a free period. Since I’d only started at the school in January and didn’t play a band instrument, I was exempted from music class. I spent my free time on the top floor in the reading lounge, next to Mr. Thierry’s classroom. After that, I would study advanced French while my class did beginner, baby French in our regular classroom downstairs. At dinner time at home, I took perverse pleasure in imitating the way they counted to ten with their thick accents.

Suddenly, there was a deafening boom, a sound louder than I’d ever heard before. Everything shook. The room went black. Books fell off the shelves. The chairs next to me rolled over. A window cracked and split, sending shards flying.

After the huge sound of the blast, there was a thick quiet. I sat alone in the darkened library, assessing the damage. What just happened? Was it an earthquake? What should I do?

Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt by Louise Abbott

A light shone around me. “C’est l’heure du français,” Monsieur Thierry announced. I stood up, eyes blinking, and followed his flashlight beam into the classroom adjacent to the library. For the next hour, we conjugated French verbs by candlelight. “Que je puisse, que tu puisses.” Monsieur Thierry’s lips pushed forward when he spoke, as if all the words were teetering on the edge of his mouth, ready to dribble out. I thought of Richie and how puisse sounded like the English word kiss.

Whether Monsieur Thierry had forgotten about the blast that had just shaken our school or decided that his curriculum was more important, we carried on covering the board with our white-chalked declensions made visible by the candles on the teacher’s desk and the shafts of faint afternoon light coming in from the upper casement windows.

We were a small group, our numbers at the American Community School greatly reduced by both the civil war and the war with Israel. As tensions in the city escalated, most diplomats packed up their families and returned to their own countries. The only new influx of expats to the city were fifteen hundred U.S. Marines sent by President Reagan to man the five U.S. warships anchored a few kilometres offshore.

               After Advanced French, I joined my class on the first floor for grade seven English. Mr. Turner examined us with his one good eye, while his glass eye stared straight ahead. Its fixed look unnerved me. It was like staring at a camera. I imagined it photographing my secret thoughts—a bionic eye with special powers.

               “A bomb has exploded nearby, at the American Embassy,” Mr. Turner informed the class once we had taken our seats. “Fortunately for us, our school remains unscathed.” He paused, but only for a breath. “Please take out your copies of Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. We will read aloud, beginning at Chapter Three.”

               My hands picked up the paperback and flipped mechanically to the correct page while my mind wrestled to process this new information. I raised my hand. “How close did we come to being hit?”

 Mr. Turner’s glass eye stared at a distant spot behind my head while his good eye looked out the window. “We’ll find out soon enough,” he said.

It was a relief to get lost in the story of a faraway place and forget about what was going on in the city around us.

               “Be careful on the way home,” Mr. Turner said before dismissing the class for the day. “See you tomorrow.”

               Our regular route through the campus was blocked off by red tape marked DANGER. We were shepherded into two lines and made to show our identity cards and hand our schoolbags over for inspection by armed French military police at three different makeshift checkpoints inside the gate, before finally being given permission to exit onto the street. Sirens blared nearby, and traffic on the main street was barred. The empty street was an eerie sight compared to the usual noisy tangle of cars and pedestrians.

               My brother walked a few paces ahead of me. “Did you hear it?” I asked him. I watched the back of his head nod yes.

               “I was in art,” he mumbled. It was hard to hear from behind. I got as close to him as I could, but the passage was only wide enough to walk single file.

“We left class and went there.” He stepped onto the street to avoid a pile of garbage on the sidewalk. In the absence of waste removal services, the citizens of Beirut piled their garbage in huge stinking mounds on the sidewalk. Those nearest to the beach threw it into the Mediterranean. After almost ten years of anarchy and civil war, the city resembled a massive dump.

“What do you mean? Where did you go?” Our school never went on field trips of any kind; it was too dangerous to leave the gated compound.

“Mrs. Gunthrey wanted to see what had happened. Her husband works at the embassy, and she needed to make sure he was all right. So she took us there.”

“Was he okay?” I kicked at an empty sardine can, shuffling it back and forth between my feet like a soccer ball.

“Took a while, but we found him. He was all white. Covered in dust. He thought his arm might be broken. He was holding onto a woman whose face was cut up. Her eyes were full of blood.”

After that, my brother was quiet for a long time. I kept my head down and followed his footsteps exactly, walking in the street to sidestep more garbage and a car parked on the sidewalk, also a common occurrence in this city without traffic lights or police surveillance.

“I saw a car wrapped around a telephone pole,” my brother said in a voice so low I thought maybe I hadn’t heard him properly.

               “What? How?”

               “It’s the force of the blast,” he said. “It picks up anything in its way.”


The Peacekeeper’s Daughter will be released in late September 2021. From Thistledown Press.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Bill Arnott’s Showcase: The Graydon Hazenberg Interview

Hi friends. Another great Showcase today as we welcome globetrotting physicist, cyclist, author and Jeopardy! champion, Graydon Hazenberg. We also celebrate the release of Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries. But first, let’s meet today’s star.

Hi Graydon, welcome to the Showcase. Let’s kick things off, please, with you introducing yourself.

(Graydon) I was born in Ottawa but grew up in Thunder Bay. I went off into academia hoping to be a Nobel-prizewinning physicist, but instead ended up running away to see the world, and haven’t stopped. I’ve spent most of the past 27 years travelling or working around the world, as an ESL teacher and now as an international high school math and physics teacher. I’ve visited 134 countries so far, often by bicycle or on foot, and I’m drawn to the mountainous and wild corners of our planet.

(Bill) That’s an intriguing CV. What do you feel you’re best known for?

(Graydon) The answer used to be that I was a Jeopardy! champion back in 1994. Nowadays it’s that most people know me for my long bicycle trips through places like Pakistan, Tibet, Central Asia, Ethiopia, Mongolia, India, Southeast Asia and Europe.

(Bill) Which leads me to my next question; how’d you wind up where you are?

(Graydon) Right now my partner and I are in Bali. We were scheduled to be driving around Africa starting last September, but covid-19 has ruled that out. Instead we’ve retreated to a place where we’ve spent time over the past decade in order to wait for international travel to become possible again. There are worse places to wait out a pandemic.

(Bill) I have to agree! Who do you consider a role model or mentor to you?

(Graydon) In terms of writing, I’ve always looked up to travel writers like William Dalrymple, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Robert Byron, Peter Matthiessen and Colin Thubron. In terms of integrating adventurous travel into my life, Bruce Kirkby has been a bit of a role model.

(Bill) Bruce speaks highly of your adventure travel writing; which must feel great. What are you currently working on?

(Graydon) I’m currently promoting my book, Pedalling To Kailash, while polishing up my next book, Silk And Solitude, for publication. I’m also trying to get started on a third book, but that’s on the back burner at the moment.

The #1 Bestseller, Bill Arnott’s Beat: Road Stories & Writers’ Tips

(Bill) With all of the places you’ve visited and explored, which would you say is your favourite?

(Graydon) The country of Kyrgyzstan is an amazing place, an outdoor playground of mountains and high plateaux and herders. I’ve spent parts of three summers there, and there’s so much more I’d love to explore on future trips.

(Bill) I’ve only seen video from that part of the world, but it looks remarkable. Given your array of experiences, what’s your advice to others?

(Graydon) You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. Make the most of the time you have.

(Bill) Nicely said. I like that. And to leap from the sublime to the ridiculous, it’s time for a quirky question. Who’s your favourite Muppet, and why?

(Graydon) Growing up I adored Cookie Monster for his messy eating habits, but as I’ve matured and acquired slightly better table manners, I’ve taken to Beaker; I think his expressive face captures the helplessness that many of us feel when all around us is crumbling.

(Bill) A perfect visual, and utterly relatable! Thanks Graydon. It’s been a pleasure having you on the Showcase. You can find Graydon on his website, graydonhazenberg.ca, and his book, Pedalling To Kailash, is available on Amazon.

In other Showcase news, I’m excited to announce Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries is available for pre-order from your favourite bookstore or direct from Rocky Mountain Books, with a quick introductory video here.

Thanks as always, and see you soon!

Bill.


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Bill Arnott
Some Rights Reserved  

TMR’s Recommended Reads For 2020/2021 Part 2

Since Part 1 of TMR’s Recommended Reads for 2020/2021, there have been many more wonderful reads crossing our collective desks here at The Miramichi Reader. Before the Spring 2021 releases start flowing in (and some have already) February is a good time to see what our contributors have enjoyed reading and reviewing since we posted Part 1 back in early November. Clicking each link will open a new tab in your browser.

Fiction & Poetry

Non-Fiction

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley by Sherill Grace

A Colossal Exploration of a Canadian Literary Genius

Sherill Grace’s mammoth work on one of Canada’s greatest writers sets us on course for an exhaustive exploration, not only of Timothy Findley’s life, as the title indicates, but also into his creative mind, heart and spirit. Not easy to do when the subject is as complex and sensitive an artist as Findley, even if he has left traces of his genius, beyond his oeuvre, in many archives, journals and the memory of those who knew him well. Grace leads us deftly, with profound respect, into an examination of this creator, consistently framing her discoveries and conclusions with wholly supported evidence, nearly scientific in method. Grace’s book is a colossal work, not only enjoyable for the exactitude and comprehensiveness by which she recounts this most interesting man’s motivations, desires and fears, but also for her care taken to expose TIFF’s – as he was called by those close to him – achievements as well as failures, in both personal and professional realms.

“Sherril Grace deserves an important prize for this most wonderful book on one of Canada’s brightest-shining literary stars.”

In a sense, Findley’s life reads like a LeCarré suspense thriller, especially for those of us who love, or are at least familiar with, his literary achievements. We hold our breath as the years go by, awaiting the blossoming of his talent and the creation of those works we recognize, sharing in the agony he evidently carried deep in his heart along his creative journey, compulsively re-inventing himself until he struck authenticity. There’s something there for all of us, inspiration of the truest kind. Findley wrote and wrote until the words were not only right, but the spirit and time were right, and his humanist values resonated in his works. We learn through Grace’s book how similar Findley was to other Canadian greats like Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler, and Glenn Gould, to name only a few. Obsessive-compulsive, dedicated, devoted, driven, passionate, eccentric, lonely, dependent, moody, intense, insecure, loving and tragically flawed. These seem to be some of the qualities of Canadian genius.

For those familiar with Findley and his works, Grace’s book is a treasure trove of context and behind-the-scene details about the development of his works, both known and lesser known. We learn of his struggles with his sexual identify and drinking and embark with him on a quest for artistic merit, not only in the eyes of readers and audiences, but in his own view, as he was probably his own harshest critic. Grace methodically traces the evolution of Findley’s most important relationships, missing nothing, the book remaining enjoyable, even fascinating. Grace recounts Findley’s loves and losses, and the strong fear of death, that manifested itself in later years, with such empathy and clarity that we are drawn to feel Findley is someone we actually knew ourselves. Nothing could be more important to achieve in a biography of an accomplished artist, especially one of Findley’s stature, than to feel their aura, to sense their purpose in life and their quest for success on their own terms. Findley, in the end, lived and most importantly perhaps, created according to his own terms, seeking to have human, cultural and social impact, not just gather awards and recognition.

Sherril Grace deserves an important prize for this most wonderful book on one of Canada’s brightest-shining literary stars, one who created works such as The Wars, Famous Last Words, Not Wanted on the Voyage, and The Piano Man’s Daughter. As Grace begins her book, “I have returned to Stone Orchard, Timothy Findley’s home, many times over the years … each time learning more about the man who lived and wrote there… “  TIFF: A Life of Timothy Findley is a book I will return to many times, to remember how important it is to understand creative minds that have built our Canadian literary landscape. It was a pleasure and an honour to read this meaningful book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

To read an interview with Sherill Grace, click here.


  • Hardcover : 540 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771124539
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771124539
  • Product Dimensions : 15.88 x 3.81 x 23.5 cm
  • Publisher : Wilfrid Laurier University Press (Aug. 25 2020)

*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/36YnZK3 Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

2020 “The Very Best!” Book Awards: Best Non-Fiction

This year’s non-fiction finalists are a mix of a travelogue, a personal battle with PTSD and loss, and finding gratitude despite facing adversity.



This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

2020 Shortlist: Best Non-Fiction!

There were so many good non-fiction titles this year! From memoirs to travel to mental health, the five following titles cover it all and more:

Three of the above five titles will be awarded either a gold, silver or bronze badge early in September. For the full longlist, see the post here: https://miramichireader.ca/very-best-book-awards/

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved