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Book Reviews in October 2004 Issue

The Whole Night Through
by Christiane Frenette

University Of Toronto Press $22.95 Paperback
ISBN: 1896951597
Book Review
A Review of: The Whole Night Through
by Michael Harris
When Christiane Frenette first jumped from poetry to prose, she landed between the two. And it was gorgeous. The result, La terre ferme, won a 1998 Governor General's Award and informed her readership that this was no one trick pony. It was a prose debut, a decidedly poetic prose debut, which shook off the husk of genre. And now, so does her second novel, The Whole Night Through. Sylvia Plath's 1962 essay, "A Comparison", dithers on that crooked intersection where Poetry and Prose cross: "If a poem is concentrated, a closed fist," weighs Plath, "then a novel is relaxed and expansive, ...
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Natasha and Other Stories
by David Bezmozgis

Harper Collins Canada $24.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0002005689
Book Review
A Review of: Natasha
by Michael Greenstein
Like Anne Michaels and Lilian Nattel, David Bezmozgis has been thrust onto the Canadian stage through American recognition. A Russian-Jewish immigrant in Toronto, Bezmozgis has been compared to Mordecai Richler and Philip Roth for his muscular, cinematic portrayal of Jewish life. In Natasha, his debut collection of seven short stories, he chronicles the coming of age of Mark Berman in a tightly-knit Russian community in Toronto's northern suburbs. His transatlantic education also includes Anton Chekhov and Isaac Babel; as one of the characters in the final short story, "Minyan", comments: "A real Odessa character, ...
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Visions of Canada: The Alan B. Plaunt Memorial Lectures, 1958-1992
McGill-Queen's University Press $41.46 Paperback
ISBN: 0773526625
Book Review
A Review of: Visions of Canada: the Alan B. Plaunt Memorial Lectures 1958-1992
by Martin Loney
Alan Plaunt, together with Graham Spry is credited with co-founding the Canadian Broadcasting League and thus, through its successful advocacy, with the creation of Canadian Public Broadcasting. Indeed Plaunt served as one of the board members when the CBC was established in 1936. This lecture series was established in 1958 as a celebration of Plaunt's work and ran until 1992. Bernard Ostry played a distinguished role in the development and implementation of Canadian cultural policy and in his own contribution to the Plaunt lectures he reminds us of the key role CBC played in the articulation of a ...
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Heresies: The Complete Poems of Anne Wilkinson 1924-1961
Vehicule $24.95 Paperback
ISBN: 1550651625
Book Review
A Review of: Heresies: The Complete Poems of Anne Wilkinson 1924-61
by Zach Wells
If obesity and rapid peristalsis are indices of health, then Canadian poetry is certainly thriving. But objective quantitative analyses are worse than useless in the assessment of a nation's poetry. What the statistical tale of the tape belies is the sad state of neglect into which some of our most original and important poetry has lapsed, while hundreds of new-and mostly unexceptional-books are pressed. The story of Anne Wilkinson's poetry is in many ways one of resilient survival rather than musty neglect. Although she published only two collections in her abbreviated lifetime and was, by editor Dean ...
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A Wild Peculiar Joy: the Selected Poems
by Irving Layton

McClelland & Stewart $24.99 Paperback
ISBN: 077104948X
Book Review
A Review of: A Wild Peculiar Joy: The Selected Poems
by Zach Wells
Irving Layton is Canada's greatest poet and was, at one time, easily the most famous-or infamous-and popular of our writers. He has been a Yeatsian "public man" in a way that no other Canadian poet has. His work, which evinces an ambition for, and faith in, the transformative potential of art sorely absent in most of our contemporary verse, has been translated into a dozen languages and he was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize (by South Korea and Italy). He has written at least a couple of dozen poems that merit favourable comparison with any best of twentieth century poet's efforts. ...
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Mountain Tea: & Other Poems
by Peter Van Toorn

V+琱icule Press $14 Paperback
ISBN: 1550651692
Book Review
A Review of: Mountain Tea
by Zach Wells
For readers and writers of my generation, mention of the name Peter Van Toorn was apt, until recently, to elicit a shrug. He was in the audience of a poetry reading I attended in Montreal three years ago and I hadn't the faintest notion that I was in the presence of an original genius. None of his work was in print and his poems were not to be found in any of the standard anthologies. But with Signal Editions' re-issue of Van Toorn's magnum opus, Mountain Tea, all that should change. Originally published by McClelland and Stewart in 1984, Mountain Tea ...
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Celestial Navigation
by Paulette Jiles

McClelland & Stewart $16.99 Paperback
ISBN: 0771044054
Book Review
A Review of: Celestial Navigation
by Zach Wells
Paulette Jiles is an author whose contemporary presence is quite prominent. Since the original publication of Celestial Navigation, Paulette Jiles has published a great many books of poetry and prose, including a bestselling novel in 2002 called Enemy Women. The poems in Celestial Navigation display a tenuous connection to traditional verse forms, yet, paradoxically, her work seems to have aged less well than the work of poets like Layton and Van Toorn. In 1984, Jiles not only beat out Van Toorn for the Governor General's Award, but also took home the hardware for the Pat Lowther and Gerald ...
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If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
by Sappho, Anne Carson

Knopf $41.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0375410678
Book Review
A Review of: If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
by Christopher Patton
"All desire is for part of oneself gone missing." So writes Anne Carson in Eros the Bittersweet, her study of the twists and lures of love in Greek lyric poetry. Eros takes his name from the Greek word for lack or want. He takes his life from, and in turn gives life to, our fear that we are insubstantial, incomplete, inadequate. He is our hope that another person will complete us. When we meet someone who holds the shape of an empty space in us, desire arises, full-ness is promised, and Eros enters. Here, for example, is the god, overwhelming Sappho as he enters her in the form of heat and light: ...
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George Oppen: Selected Poems
by George Oppen

N E W D I R E C T I O N S $22.5 Paperback
ISBN: 0811215571
Book Review
A Review of: George Oppen: Selected Poems
by Richard Carter
.. . .Wallace Stevens describes in "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words"(1942) the denotative and careful effort to mirror reality, and the connotative and imaginative attempt to shape it. Unlike its fertile cousin "connote" (meaning to relate), "denote" means to indicate-to narrow the range of references so a word can be pinned to a definite, unwavering meaning. While denotation can hamstring words by stripping them of meaning, connotation can drown language by "dissipating [its] sense in a multiplicity of associations." The first emphasizes truthfulness based on experience, the second a bountiful ...
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An Island in the Sky: Al Pittman`s Selected Poetry
by Al Pittman

Breakwater Books Limited $16.95 Paperback
ISBN: 1550811991
Book Review
A Review of: An Island In The Sky: Selected Poetry of Al Pittman
by Patrick Warner
Al Pittman, who died on August 26, 2001, wrote an immediate, and often emotionally raw poetry. Reading through An Island In The Sky, I began to think of him as an anti-poet, a poet prepared to sacrifice the subtleties of form in an effort to create the kind of vocal unaffectedness that many characterize as "real" or "true." Though he is compared in the introduction to Dylan Thomas, and other commentators have compared him to Yeats, there is little evidence that he possessed Thomas's juggernaut-like language or Yeats's formal mastery. If comparisons must be made, Charles Bukowski would be more ...
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I Know You Are But What Am I?
by Heather Birrell

Coach House Books $18.95 Paperback
ISBN: 1552451399
Book Review
A Review of: I know you are but what am I?
by Cathy Stonehouse
Don't judge a book by its cover. The goofy, hand-drawn image on the front of I know you are but what am I?, Toronto writer Heather Birrell's much-anticipated first collection of short fiction, suggests that what's inside is all cartoon. Far from it: humorous, occasionally off-the-wall, the lens through which Birrell views the world is nevertheless piercingly sharp, photographic, even. If you are Canadian and under 40, you may even recognize yourself. Birrell's protagonists are all young, awkward outsiders, rehearsing new identities either in foreign environments or the hostile ...
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Runaway
by Alice Munro

McClelland & Stewart $34.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 077106506X
Book Review
A Review of: Runaway
by Jeremy Lalonde
I was surprised by Runaway, coming as it does-a mere two years after the appearance of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (let me also admit to biting my tongue every time I utter that last title). It seemed a matter of course that Munro produced a collection of stories every three to four years-stories that would have readers all abuzz and critics invoking the name of Chekov or the company of greatest-living-short-story-writers. Despite working well ahead of schedule, Munro does not take short cuts: the eight stories in Runaway are a virtuoso performance; they crystallize many of the themes, ...
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Right and Left
by Joseph Roth

Overlook Press $18.81 Paperback
ISBN: 1585674923
Book Review
A Review of: Right and Left
by Jeff Bursey
Joseph Roth was born in 1894 to a Jewish family living in Brody, in Galicia, at that time part of the Hapsburg dominion. Before his birth his father deserted the family. This fissure in domestic life had a delayed parallel in the political world when the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a slowly crumbling institution, became an historical artifact, its death hastened by the First World War. Roth invented several contradictory histories of his origins and early experiences, so it is unclear what role he served in the army. His homeland became more important towards the end of the 1920s when he ...
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What Casanova Told Me
by Susan Swan

Knopf Canada $34.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0676975763
Book Review
A Review of: What Casanova Told Me
by Linda Morra
"The traveler must start his journey with the same fervour he feels when choosing a lover, knowing that a world of possibilities awaits him," writes Susan Swan's Casanova in his "Advice to Travellers". "And if his choice goes awry," he adds, "he must quickly select a fresh destination. Just as the best remedy for heartbreak is a new lover, so it is with travel." Casanova's observations will have far-reaching consequences for the characters who populate Swan's new novel, What Casanova Told Me, since what he says, as the title suggests, becomes almost far more important ...
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Woman in Bronze
by Antanas Sileika

Random House Canada $34.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0679311424
Book Review
A Review of: Woman in Bronze
by Nancy Wigston
Toronto novelist Antanas Sileika infuses everything he creates with an intelligent, human touch that makes his writing a pleasure to read. His last short story collection, Buying on Time, gave us a wondering kid's eye view of the strange ways of his immigrant parents-especially his tough father-in straight-laced 1950s Wasp Toronto. This time around, Sileika eschews his clash-of-the-cultures approach for a more sweeping historical panorama that traces the path of one man, artist Tomas Stumbras, as he makes his way from his family farm in Lithuania to 1920s Paris and eventually to Canada. While offering answers to ...
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My Life
by Bill Clinton

Alfred A. Knopf $50 Hardcover
ISBN: 0375414576
Book Review
A Review of: My Life
by Joan Givner
At the launch of his own autobiography Ronald Reagan quipped that he fully intended to read it some day. He was not the exception but the norm among public figures whose life stories are written and researched by a team functioning more as ghost-writers than editors. Bill Clinton's autobiography, in contrast, is characterized by its authenticity. It is a story told by the man himself in words that are sometimes clumsy, sometimes colourful but always his own. In describing his undergraduate years at Georgetown University, he recalls his English professor's comments on his papers ("awk," "ugh," ...
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All the President's Spin : George W. Bush, the Media, and the Truth
by Bryan Keefer, Brendan Nyhan, Ben Fritz

Touchstone $17.62 Paperback
ISBN: 0743262514
Book Review
A Review of: All the President苨 Spin: George W. Bush, the Media, and the Truth
by Andrew Allentuck
Lying as a basis for statecraft is a confection of the government of George W. Bush, say the three authors of All the President's Spin. Their screed argues that President Bush and his staff have raised dissimulation to a form of policy rather than just expedience, making the present administration perhaps the most dishonest in American history. The authors are Ben Fritz, a politically savvy Hollywood reporter who works for the show biz rag, Variety; Bryan Keefer, the assistant managing editor of the campaign desk of the Columbia Journalism ...
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Letters from the Flesh
by Marcos Donnelly

RED DEER PRESS $26.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0889953023
Book Review
A Review of: Letters from the Flesh
by Ian Daffern
Letters from the Flesh is an intriguing science fiction novel that attempts to capture, in the form of two quite different sets of epistles, the basic divides of science and religion. Along the way it touches on the nature of souls, creation science versus evolution, incest and bodiless aliens, all the while playing homage to the form of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. While all this is very ambitious, Donnelly may have tried to reach too far. In Screwtape, a more senior devil advises his nephew, Wormwood, on the best ways to tempt his charge, a recently converted Christian. It's a ...
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Coyote
by Brian Brett

Thistledown Press $21.95 Paperback
ISBN: 1894345533
Book Review
A Review of: Coyote
by Steven W. Beattie
Charlie Baker is an aging eccentric who lives in a treehouse on an island off the coast of Vancouver. He cultivates his vegetable garden, teaches the neighbour boy-an afflicted youth named Festus who suffers from what is described as "an extremely rare chromosomal syndrome that causes premature maturity and aging"-about car repair, and spends his days repeatedly pushing a large rock to the top of a steep hill, before rolling it back down again and starting the process over from scratch. But a man named Brian, who claims to be a writer, is convinced that ...
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Temperament: the Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle
by Stuart Isacoff

Knopf $33 Hardcover
ISBN: 0375403558
Book Review
A Review of: Temperament: The Idea that Solved Music's Greatest Riddle
by Steve Brown
According to legend, Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher and mathematician of the sixth century B.C.E., was passing by a blacksmith's shop one day. Inside the shop, hammers were striking anvils, making a tremendous din. Pythagoras noted that periodically a beautiful harmony was being produced. Intrigued, Pythagoras entered the shop to try and discover what caused this phenomenon. He observed that when the relative size of the striking hammerheads formed certain ratios-2:1, 3:2, etc.-the emerging sounds blended into a concert of pitches which were pleasant to the ear. He hurried home to recreate ...
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The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game
by J. C. Hallman

Vhps Hardcover $38.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0312272936
Book Review
A Review of: The Last Light of the Sun
by Patrick Burger
The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay is a a worthy addition to the fantasy genre. The story of the simultaneous quests of a host of characters is spellbinding and links Kay's fantasy world to our own. Bern Thorkellson-the socially disadvantaged son of a murderer-encounters characters like Alun ob Owyn, a Cyngael prince mourning the death of his brother, and Anrid the Serpent, a young woman struggling to succeed in a turbulent network of religion and politics. Kay not only weaves his tale flawlessly, he compells the reader to meditate on the historical basis for his story and thus on ...
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The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game
by J. C. Hallman

Vhps Hardcover $38.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0312272936
Book Review
A Review of: The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World苨 Oldest Game
by Jerry White
There's been a lot of hand-wringing recently about the proliferation of MFA programmes in Creative Writing at North American universities. There are clearly some intellectual and educational problems there: In what way is writing a "Fine Art"? Why does someone need a professional credential to be a writer? What exactly qualifies someone to teach in such a programme? Still, many of the concerns seem to be of the professional variety. Just what does one do with an MFA anyway, besides get a teaching job (all-too-often to create more MFAs and perpetuate something perilously close to the pyramid scheme that ...
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Book Review
A Review of: Keystone: The Life and Clowns of Mack Sennett
by James Roots
Few of the early twentieth-century entertainers resisted the compulsion to gussy-up their backgrounds. And if they didn't do it themselves, publicity teams would be brought in on their behalf by studios or agents to rewrite prosaic history into lurid melodrama. Tracking the truth of their lives through such jungles of misinformation was hardly worth the efforts of would-be biographers before the Internet arrived. Consider the time, money, and sweat Simon Louvish might have had to expend 25 years ago in order to put the lie to the received wisdom ...
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Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue Essay on Women and Creativity
by Kim Echlin

Women's Press $18.81 Paperback
ISBN: 0889614423
Book Review
A Review of: Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue Essay on Women and Creativity
by Clara Thomas
Far from a conventional biography of the woman whose life so fascinates generations of Canadians, Kim Echlin's Elizabeth Smart combines her own experience and her subject's. The work is Echlin's manifesto to creativity, biological as well as artistic, and to one woman who dared to live and explore her own needs outside the boundaries of acceptable social practice. "She left her home in Ottawa, lived with artists in France and Mexico, had four babies with a British poet. She never married. She created a self-exile in England during the Second World War, supported her ...
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Book Review
A Review of: Stasiland
by Kevin Higgins
This study of life in the German Democratic Republic might at first glance be dismissed as an attempt by a writer-tourist from a relatively comfortable liberal democracy-Funder is Australian-to finish off something that was already dead. Given that everyone this side of North Korea knows the GDR was a miserable police-state; and that its end was ignominious; what more could there be to say about how ghastly life there was? Funder's fascination with the GDR was sparked by a visit to Leipzig in 1994: "East Germany still felt like a secret walled-in Garden, a place ...
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Cold Terror: How Canada Nurtures and Exports Terrorism to the World
by Stewart Bell

John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd. $36.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0470834633
Book Review
A Review of: Cold Terror: How Canada Nurtures and Exports Terrorism Around the World
by Michelle Bedard
Cold Terror is a frightening book, and I am genuinely afraid for the safety of Stewart Bell who is Canada's leading reporter on national security and terrorism. He has bravely produced an important book warning Canada, and indeed the Western World, about "the terrorists who use Canada as a base; the carnage they cause around the world; and the political leaders in Ottawa who let it all happen." This is a timely and well researched book which exposes the world's deadliest terrorist organisations and how they have used Canada as a base. The powerful Canadian Islamic Congress has already labelled Bell as being ...
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To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa
by Pat Shipman

HarperCollins Canada / Non-Fiction $39.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0060505559
Book Review
A Review of: To The Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa
by Christopher Ondaatje
One of the more unusual stories of the Victorian explorers was that of Samuel Baker, whose epic journey with a fourteen-year-old Hungarian slave girl to find the second of the great reservoirs of the Nile, Lake Albert, was recounted in Baker's autobiography Albert Nyanza: Great Basin of the Nile, published in 1866. It is a gripping story. Then, almost a hundred years later, Richard Hall rewrote this extraordinary chapter in the great saga of Victorian England with his romantic adventure story Lovers on the Nile. Now Pat Shipman, an American Professor of anthropology at the Pennsylvania State ...
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The Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature
by Eva-Marie Kr+ler

Cambridge University Press $33.95 Paperback
ISBN: 0521891310
Book Review
A Review of: The Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature
by W. J. Keith
Despite the fact that 101 other Cambridge Companions to Literature and Culture are listed at the back of this book, I suspect that most readers will be more familiar with the earlier-established Oxford Companions that originated in the first half of the twentieth century. These were and are reference-books with alphabetically arranged entries designed to provide concise information easily and quickly. At the same time, they could accommodate browsers. Earlier editions (those to English and Classical literature in particular) could legitimately be seen not only as "Companions" but as "companionable," ...
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It's Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel
by Jamie Lee Curtis

Harper Collins Canada $19.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0060080957
Book Review
A Review of: It苨 Hard to Be Five
by Olga Stein
Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell are making a habit of putting out great books for little ones. No exception, It's Hard to Be Five is full of text and illustrations which are both overtly funny and subtly witty-something adults will appreciate. Page 2, for example, reads at the top: "It's hard to be five. Just yelled at my brother." Below, on the left half of the page, under "My mind says do one thing", little Tommy, the five-year-old, describes the polite, kind and patient treatment he'd like to show his brother. But on the right side of the page, under the heading "My Mouth says another" we're shown the mean ...
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Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3
by Bill Martin Jr, Michael Sampson

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing $22.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0689858817
Book Review
A Review of: Chicka Chicka 123
by Olga Stein
I may never have considered reviewing this book had my 6-year old not shown such great enthusiasm for it. Reading the book to her, I understood what the fuss was about. The bright large shapes of the numbers in action as they climb the number tree, and the catchy beat of the rhyming text-at times quite clever: "50's fine/and 60's dandy./70's hair/is long and sandy"-make this more than just a book aiming to teach young readers to count. There's a miniature plot built in around the zero. As the other numbers climb up, first by one's, then by ten's, Zero wonders whether there'll be a place for it on the ...
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The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
by E.L. Konigsburg

Atheneum $25.5 Hardcover
ISBN: 0689866364
Book Review
A Review of: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
by M.J. Fishbane
Seasoned writer, e.l.. konigsburg's The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, is a companion to Silent to the Bone. In The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, konigsburg writes in support of individualism and the commitment to fight for an ideal. Set in the early 1980s, the narrator, an older version of the protagonist Margaret Rose Kane, recollects the summer when she was twelve. What begins as a story about a girl's painful experience at overnight camp becomes a novel about the importance of art, history and the preservation of what one holds dear. ...
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Here Today
by Ann Matthews Martin

Scholastic Us $22.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0439579449
Book Review
A Review of: Here Today
by Olga Stein
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 changed a great number of lives. For Eleanor Dingman, it meant the falling apart of her family. Her mother, Doris Day Dingman, beautiful, overambitious and self-absorbed, takes Jackie Kennedy's drastically changed circumstances as a cue. Life is too short, she decides. She can't wait for what she wants to happen; instead she must make' it happen by leaving her life and family in suburban Spectacle behind and heading for New York and its showbiz opportunities. Here Today is about a woman who is dissatisfied with her ordinary life-her small, ...
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Heck Superhero
by Martine Leavitt

Fitzhenry & Whiteside $22.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0889953007
Book Review
A Review of: Heck Superhero
by Olga Stein
Thirteen-year-old Heck (short for Hector) has a Theory of Everything. As he sees it, a Good Deed-any act of kindness or generosity-has the power to change his microverse', which is to say, the real, ordinary dimension Heck lives in when he's not his secret superhero self. Heck has a rich imagination, and moreover, he's a warm, decent boy, whose difficult personal life makes it natural for him to want to believe that he has the ability to help himself and those he loves simply by performing Good Deeds. The Good Deed, imagines Heck, tips the balance towards the good. It makes good things happen. ...
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At the Global Crossroads
by Sylvia Ostry

McGill-Queen's University Press $60 Hardcover
ISBN: 0773526374
Book Review
A Review of: At the Global Crossroads: the Sylvia Ostry Foundation Lectures
by Martin Loney
Sylvia Ostry has been a prominent Canadian public servant, chief economist, with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and chair of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Not surprisingly this slim collection of essays organized by the Foundation established by her friends and admirers addresses some of the key economic questions facing Canada and the world. The issues of globalization and the rapid increase in world trade and economic integration loom large. The six lectures collected here were all given by prominent public ...
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