Book Reviews in November 2003 Issue

The Rose: An Illustrated History
by Peter Harkness

Firefly Books $75 Hardcover
ISBN: 1552977870
Book Review
A Review of: The Rose, An Illustrated History
by Olga Stein
Not so much a book as a statement in decoration, The Rose is gorgeous from start to finish-from cover design to the hundreds of exquisite etchings, water colour, and oil paint illustrations within. You'll find the rose in its infinite variety, as it grows in a well-tended garden, on mountain or windswept island, in marshland or forest. According to Harkness, "the exact number of rose species is still unknown," but he gives us the following breakdown: "Forty-eight are native to China, and are found nowhere else; forty-two occur in the rest of Asia, including some of those also in China; thirty-two occur ...
The Morning Star
by Nick Bantock

Raincoast Books $24.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 1551926210
Book Review
A Review of: The Morning Star
by Olga Stein
The Morning Star (In which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Is Illuminated) appears to be the last in his Griffin & Sabine book series. This one is no less enchanting than the other five. The layout and artwork-messages hand-scribbled on postcards, combined with images portraying ancient civilizations and figures from mythology-is magnificent, evoking a sense of the exotic and other-worldly. You feel as if you're sifting through the contents on an ancient trunk, with each fingered object promising to yield some valuable insight. ...
Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada
by Ross Leckie

University Of Toronto Press $22.95 Paperback
ISBN: 0864923139
Book Review
A Review of: Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada
by W. J. Keith
I may or may not be an appropriate reviewer for this book, since the editors' introduction includes the now almost predictable barb about the provincial nature of "Toronto regionalism." I am, however, no friend of what I have come to call global rootlessness, and can claim a reasonable awareness of historical tradition and context. One aim of this collection, after all, is to spread the reputation of the poets represented beyond the boundaries of Atlantic Canada. So be it. This anthology contains specimens of the work of sixty poets. A dozen or so are already fairly well known, and I am happy to report that I ...
Book Review
A Review of: Vacancies
by Jeffery Donaldson
The word vacancy is surely more cheerful than other terms of emptiness: gap, fissure, gulf, hole, void. These latter terms point to something missing, a lack or absence of what might otherwise still be there. A vacancy on the other hand is full of promise and opportunity; the suite is vacant; no one has preceded you or laid claim to what might be yours; you are free to move in. Of course vacancies, where property is concerned, are more associated with rentals than with owned accommodation. You can make your deposit, transport and arrange your things, but the place isn't yours to keep, and eventually, when ...
Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
by David Kaufman

Fitzhenry & Whiteside $45.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 1557835888
Book Review
A Review of: RIDICULOUS! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
by Keith Garebian
What sort of performers would Bette Midler, Charles Busch, Harvey Fierstein, and the original cast of Saturday Night Live have been without the influence of Charles Ludlam? Actor, director, designer, and the author of 29 plays who ran his own acting company for two decades in a small theatre way off Broadway before his death from AIDS in 1987 at the age of 44, Ludlam was a promulgator of the Ridiculous-a sensibility that turned to drag, camp, parody, and burlesque in order to undermine political, sexual, and cultural categories. The Ridiculous is comedy beyond the absurd, frequently in structures that ...
Theories of Relativity
by Barbara Haworth-Attard

Harper Collins Canada $15.99 Paperback
ISBN: 0006392997
Book Review
A Review of: Theories of Relativity
by Heather Birrell
Sixteen-year-old Dylan is alone, on the streets, panhandling at the foot of a glass office tower for money to buy his next meal. How did he get there? And how long will he stay? These are questions Barbara Haworth-Attard attempts to answer in her excellent young teen (ages 12-14) novel, Theories of Relativity. In this spare and straightforward first person narration, Dylan tells it as he sees it, describing the flaxen-haired beauty, Jenna, he first spots begging across the street from his post, and her sinister pimp, nicknamed Vulture, with equal parts clear-eyed honesty and cynical teenage ...
The Adventures of Tommy Smith
by Robert Sutherland

Harper Collins Canada Ltd. $15.99 Paperback
ISBN: 0006392431
Book Review
A Review of: The Adventures of Tommy Smith
by Heather Birrell
The year is 1882, and the place, Collingwood, Ontario. Tommy Smith, a plucky underdog and orphan of the twelve-year-old redheaded variety, uses his mouth organ to tame skittish horses, and likes to sit on the shores of Lake Huron, dreaming of his long lost family. But this relatively peaceful existence is shattered when his curiosity draws him to the offices of the Northern Navigation Company. There, he overhears not only an argument regarding the passenger ship S.S. Asia, but also witnesses a murder. Unfortunately, the murderer also spies little Tommy, and the adventures of the title are (quite literally) ...
In Abby's Hands
by Wendy Lewis

Fitzhenry & Whiteside $19.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0889952825
Book Review
A Review of: In AbbyÆs Hands
by Olga Stein
In Abby's Hands is a book for younger readers which tackles mature themes-birth, death, and the fragility of life. Abby has a special relationship with her pregnant dog Opal. Opal was born on the same day her grandmother Opal had died. Now, about to deliver a litter, Opal stays close to Abby, needing the reassuring proximity of her friend. In the afternoon Abby's Grandpa, Jack, has an accident while trying to move an old tire into the puppy pen, and Abby's mother must drive him to the hospital. Abby is left alone with Opal, and it is at this time that Opal goes into labour. Abby is terrified. She understands that ...
Diary of a Wombat
by Jackie French

Harper Collins Canada $19.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0002005611
Book Review
A Review of: Diary of a Wombat
by Olga Stein
This is a delightful book for young readers. Little wombat's days consist of simple activities-eating, playing and sleeping, but each day she finds some new way to amuse herself and thereby introduce a small measure of chaos around her. She tears to shreds the doormat of a nearby home, then chews a hole through the kitchen door because the people inside don't respond to her demands for carrots. When she finds the hole boarded up the next day, she bangs up the garbage can until her demands are met. She digs a hole in the flower garden in order to make herself new sleeping quarters. Next, she overturns a ladder with ...
The Subway Mouse
by Barbara Reid

Scholastic Canada $21.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0439974682
Book Review
A Review of: The Subway Mouse
by Olga Stein
The Subway Mouse has just been nominated for a Governor General's award in the category of kids' lit illustration, and it's plain to see why. Reid's plasticine art is remarkable. The illustrations of her book are like relief paintings-colourful and detailed, while the three-dimensionality of everything depicted makes you want to reach out and touch what you see. Reid is a master at what she does. The writing isn't as compelling as the illustration, but good enough, and the plot is clever and will keep young readers interested until the end. The story works like a mini epic voyage. Little mouse is born ...
Book Review
A Review of: Transient Dancing
by Nancy Wigston
Actor, singer, novelist, Gale Zo Garnett's stories are infused with flair and drama. Not for her the moody study of depression in the North. Her first novel, Visible Amazement, unfolded the coming-of-age of young Roanne Chappell, a talented cartoonist, whose bohemian mother had moved from London to British Columbia to pursue her art. Bolting after her sexuality clashed with her mother's, Roanne began a journey that took her to California, where she discovered kind men and damaged girls. Such was Garnett's sparkling talent for writing character and scene that we hardly noticed the improbability of a girl discovering ...
The Hours
by Michael Cunningham

Vhps Trade $19.99 Paperback
ISBN: 0312243022
Book Review
A Review of: The Hours
by Cindy MacKenzie
As evidenced by the change in cover design that now features three "superstar" actresses, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman, the release of director Stephen Daldry's highly lauded 2002 film adaptation of Michael Cunningham's The Hours has promoted a resurgence of interest in the 1998 Pulitzer-prize winning novel. Unlike so many adaptations of book to film, the two forms of this novel are, in fact, highly complementary in their sensitive and beautifully-wrought treatment of the dark terrains of madness, depression, and homoeroticism that inform the pervading theme of love. ...
The Inquisitor's Manual
by Antonio Lobo Antunes

Grove Press $37.5 Hardcover
ISBN: 0802117325
Book Review
A Review of: The InquisitorsÆ Manual
by Maurice Mierau
To say that Portuguese novelist Antnio Lobo Antunes is influenced by Conrad and Faulkner is merely to acknowledge that the sky is blue on many summer days. Antunes, like most Latin American novelists, is consumed with Faulknerian style; his torrential stream-of-consciousness prose can seem chokingly baroque. As with Joseph Conrad, Antunes is fascinated by the way in which politics and colonialism create a master narrative for both novels and societies. Antunes spent two years as a medical psychiatrist with the Portuguese army in Angola in the 1970s, about which he wrote in his breakthrough ...
The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle
by Monique Proulx

Douglas & McIntyre $24.95 Paperback
ISBN: 155054991X
Book Review
A Review of: The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle
by Steven W. Beattie
Florence, the narrator of Monique Proulx's latest novel, The Heart Is an Involuntary Muscle, doesn't like novels. As she puts it, "In a 300-page book, there are always 250 pages too many. Reading books slows you down, it softens you, it wipes you out. When you open a book, a particularly underhanded book, you're neutralized for hours, the captive of this corpulent mass that isn't even true, a creation that some neurotic fabricated out of the worst of his neuroses, the better to unload it on you and get it out of his life." Distilled, Florence is bemoaning a deficiency of what Ray Robertson has called ...
Yellow Dog
by Martin Amis

Knopf Canada $35.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0676976166
Book Review
A Review of: Yellow Dog
by Matt Sturrock
Those early reports from overseas did not bode well. Yellow Dog, the first novel we've seen from Martin Amis in eight years, was having the hide flayed from its bones by the British press. Friends, foes, former fans, and erstwhile well-wishers were all lining up to lend a hand with the excoriation. One reckless bravo, a novelist looking to secure a provocateur reputation of his own, wrote in The Telegraph that the book "isn't bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing," but instead is "not-knowing-where-to-look-bad"-a literary embarrassment for the reader, not unlike learning that your favourite uncle had been ...
Frankie & Stankie
by Barbara Trapido

Bloomsbury UK $5.99 Paperback
ISBN: 0747564329
Book Review
A Review of: Frankie & Stankie
by Nancy Wigston
This novel by South African-raised Barbara Trapido belongs to the bildungsroman tradition: child is born, child grows up, child leaves home. In this case, Dinah, in infancy dubbed Tinymite, steals the narrative show from the beginning. By the unwritten rules of the genre, we know that the spotlight will focus on Dinah and not on her elder sister Lisa, a.k.a. Angel-face, later virtually eliminating the older child in favour of the weedy, asthmatic, imaginative younger sib. In one of Dinah's childhood games, the names "Frankie and Stankie" emerge from her unique reading of an Italian worker's song ...
A Good Man
by Cynthia Holz

Thomas Allen $34.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 088762118X
Book Review
A Review of: A Good Man
by Maureen Lennon
In her third novel, Toronto writer Cynthia Holz addresses a serious subject-the transference of memories from Holocaust survivors to subsequent generations. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the war, children born after 1945 to Holocaust survivors are now becoming grandparents, which means that the memories of their parents are about to pass into the consciousness of a third post-war generation. Consequently, there are thousands of readers for whom this subject is relevant. Holz divides her novel into two sections: the first part tells a story ...
Short Fiction: An Anthology
by Sullivan

Oxford University Press Canada $51.5 Paperback
ISBN: 0195417607
Book Review
A Review of: Short Fiction: An Anthology
by Clara Thomas
Sullivan and Levene have given us an anthology well fitted for the tried and true "Desert Island" game: it would be a satisfying companion for any castaway enthusiast for the short story. Expansive and comprehensive, its selections, from a international range of writers, are designed to satisfy an equally wide range of tastes. In their Preface the editors describe their rationale: "We believe no contemporary anthology can be prescriptive. Teaching is, after all, a product of discussion, and multiple readings are not only possible, but also truthful to the experience of fiction." The collection's ...
by Leo McKay Jr.

McClelland & Stewart $32.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0771054750
Book Review
A Review of: Twenty-Six
by Craig MacBride
The book is dedicated to memories; that is the first thing a reader should know. The second thing to know is that death is the first word in the novel, and, nearly 400 pages later, life is the final word. Twenty-Six, like the axis on which its stories revolve, is a neat package, with death leading to an understanding of life. Bordering on clich? Perhaps, and yet the journey to that understanding is powerful, well plotted, and sometimes terribly, tragically funny. The novel is split into five parts-1988, 1982, 1988, 1987 and 1989-and it is bound by one event, an explosion in a coalmine that kills 26 ...
Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy
by Candace Havens

BenBella Books $23.95 Paperback
ISBN: 1932100008
Book Review
A Review of: Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy
by Jeremy Lott
I should probably begin with the caveat that those who aren't at least sympathetic to the idea that Joss Whedon is a genius should not read this book. For practical purposes, if you didn't like Toy Story, the dialog in Speed, that obscene remark by Wolverine in the first X-Men movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the television series, not the movie), Angel, or the short lived series Firefly, by all means give Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy a pass. Come to think of it, this review might not be to your liking either; no hard feelings if you turn the page.I should probably begin with the caveat that those who ...
Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life
by Caroline Moorehead

Henry Holt & Company $34.6 Hardcover
ISBN: 0805065539
Book Review
A Review of: Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life
by Christopher Ondaatje
For whatever reasons, Martha Gellhorn never wanted a biography of herself. When Carl Rollyson published one in 1990, Gellhorn wrote a furious ten-page letter listing his errors of fact and called the book a "paean of hate". Undeterred, Rollyson republished it (with corrections) after Gellhorn died in 1998. Caroline Moorehead's new biography is a much better book than Rollyson's, though quite long and full of gossip. But its very quality raises the same issue as the first book in a more acute form: is Gellhorn really worth a biography? Her chief claim on the attention of posterity is twofold: First, she ...
Frontier Spirit: the Brave Women of the Klondike
by Jennifer Duncan

Doubleday Canada $37.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 0385659040
Book Review
A Review of: Frontier Spirit: The Brave Women of The Klondike
by George Fetherling
Jennifer Duncan's Frontier Spirit: The Brave Women of the Klondike, is most captivating in the first 40 pages. There Duncan recounts the events, and degrees, by which a downtown Toronto short story writer can become a Yukonophile. It is a memoir both hilarious and touching, as she recounts how she worked up the resolve to spend a winter in Dawson. She could have made an entire book of this Bloor-Street-in-exile stuff, with the roar of spring break-up in the Yukon River competing with the resounding clash of two of Canada's cultures. But she ...
A Love of Reading: The Second Collection
by Robert Adams

McClelland & Stewart $34.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0771006624
Book Review
A Review of: A Love of Reading, The Second Collection: More Reviews of Contemporary Fiction
by Bruce Meyer
Reading is something that everyone does, but how one does it is peculiarly personal. There are deep readers, penetrating minds such as Northrop Frye or Harold Bloom, who can peer into the crystal ball of miasmal authors and perceive a fearful symmetry amid the seeming chaos of the most complex imaginations. There are connective readers who cannot help but play a kind of mental join-the-dots every time they encounter a new text, delighted in the belief that all knowledge is interrelated. Then there are the writer-readers, those keeners like Dante, who have to be literally led by the hand through the worlds of ...
Eatonians: the Story of the Family Behind the Family
by Patricia Phenix

McClelland & Stewart $37.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 0771069952
Book Review
A Review of: Eatonians: The Story of the Family Behind the Family
by Anne Cimon
Patricia Phenix, author of the national bestseller Olga Romanov: Russia's Last Grand Duchess, has chosen a very different subject for her newest book, Eatonians. Another non-fiction title, it covers the rise and fall of a Canadian institution, Eaton's department stores. I found it as engrossing as David Halberstam's 1996 bestseller, The Fifties. Phenix ably collages a story full of human interest from her boundless research. The author explains in the "Acknowledgements", that she wanted to give due to the huge family of employees who, over 130 ...
Chronicle of a War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became America's Fight
by Norman Spector

Douglas & McIntyre $24.95 Paperback
ISBN: 1550549758
Book Review
A Review of: Chronicle of a War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became AmericaÆs Fight
by Michael Hale
Watching from an ocean-and really, an entire world-away, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute tends to look fairly simple. Brutal, but simple. Two sides, divided by religion and years of war, are at each others' throats, and civilians are paying the price with their lives. Follow the North American media coverage, and you're likely to get the impression that a few extremists on each side are prolonging a war the majority does not want any part of. But it isn't that simple. As Norman Spector points out in Chronicle of a War Foretold: How Mideast Peace Became America's Fight, peace efforts are hamstrung as much by ...
September 11: Consequences for Canada
by Kent Roach

McGill-Queens University Press $31.39 Paperback
ISBN: 0773525858
Book Review
A Review of: September 11: Consequences for Canada
by Rondi Adamson
On the back of Kent Roach's September 11: Consequences for Canada, the fact that two of Roach's previous tomes have been short-listed for the Donner Prize for best public policy book is presented as a selling point. But the Donner Prize is sort of like the Academy Awards for technical stuff-an event held in a non-glamorous hotel, hosted by a second rate celebrity. The very term "public policy book" is enough to put the most restless sleepers down for the night. For policy books, while often important, are usually written by academics. In other words, the prose may not soar, but the content ...
by Michel Houellebecq

Knopf $38 Hardcover
ISBN: 0375414622
Book Review
A Review of: Platform
by David Solway
Michel Houellebecq's (pronounced Wellbeck, aspirated) Platform has been reviewed and discussed so often by now that it is scarcely necessary to recapitulate the plot of this complex and troubling novel. Suffice it to say that the various penses and adventures of its feckless protagonist, the sexual escapades in which he at times vicariously and at times ravenously participates, his eventual discovery of an unlikely love and compatibility-in-unfaithfulness, the terrorist violence in which it comes to pieces, and the squalid denouement of a largely misspent life provide us with a vivid portrait ...
The Babbo Cookbook
by Mario Batali

Clarkson Potter $60 Hardcover
ISBN: 0609607758
Book Review
A Review of: The Babbo Cookbook
by Byron Ayanoglu
There was a time when a restaurant meal meant rare delights that we ate when we went out for special splurges, while a home meal was based on recipes of normal things we could easily shop for and prepare in our humble, normal kitchens. High-end restaurant food is created from top ingredients (to which only professionals have ready access) in well-staffed, fully-equipped kitchens, whose sole purpose is to astound clients and render them willing to charge big tickets on their credit cards. In those old days, a recipe book featuring restaurant-cooking was ...
Nothing More Comforting: Canada's Heritage Food
by Dorothy Duncan

Dundurn Press $26.99 Hardcover
ISBN: 1550024477
Book Review
A Review of: Nothing More Comforting, CanadaÆs Heritage Food
by Margaret Dragu
This slim attractive volume is a collection of thirty-three "Country Fare" columns from Century Home Magazine written by Dorothy Duncan. Duncan is a history and food expert with many roles in the heritage, museum and culinary worlds. She lectures internationally on Canada's culinary history and is a Fellow of the Canadian Museums Association. Each of the thirty-three columns republished here celebrates an individual ingredient or food that is a regional Canadian specialty. These include rhubarb, potato, ginger, fiddleheads, salmon, smoked sausage, cranberries, beets and more. ...
The Foodlover's Atlas of the World
by Martha Rose Shulman

Firefly Books $35 Hardcover
ISBN: 1552975711
Book Review
A Review of: The FoodloverÆs Atlas Of The World
by Jon Kalina
Ask anyone who knows me and they'll agree: I'm an incorrigible know-it-all. I love to tell the story of how I won a free taxi ride in Montreal from a Hungarian taxi driver who bet me the fare over whether I knew the capital of Mongolia. "Ulan Bator," I said promptly. He glowered. I glowed. The thing is, it's hard work being a know-it-all which is why we need books like Martha Rose Shulman's A Food Lover's Atlas of the World. Therein lie many gems of food know-it-allism, such as the fact that Scotland's "Auld Alliance" with France resulted in the Scots using ...
The Spice and Herb Bible: A Cook's Guide
by Ian Hemphill

Robert Rose $27.95 Paperback
ISBN: 0778800423
Book Review
A Review of: The Spice and Herb Bible-A CookÆs Guide
by Byron Ayanoglu
An Australian export, The Spice and Herb Bible is a long overdue, essential kitchen tool for any serious home-cook. Here, finally, an easy to navigate encyclopedia of the flavours, scents, and perfumes of the world's cuisines, an aromatic gem of a book, as useful as it is weighty at almost 500 pages. The length is due to the spicy enthusiasm of its author Ian "Herbie" Hemphill. He does not stint words as he exhaustively discusses each one of his beloved ingredients. His menu has only 100 candidates, but he takes 14 pages for black pepper, 10 for chilies, and 6 even for an ...
Letters to a Young Chef
by Daniel Boulud

Basic Books $34.95 Hardcover
ISBN: 046500735X
Book Review
A Review of: Letters to a Young Chef
by Brian Fawcett
Daniel Boulud is among the marquee French chefs currently working in the United States, the proprietor of three signature French Restaurants in New York City and the author of three celebrity cookbooks. Letters to A Young Chef isn't a cookbook, and it isn't exactly the gastronomic equivalent of Rilke's famed Letters to a Young Poet, which was a collection of real letters to a specific young poet first published in German in 1929. In Boulud's Letters to a Young Chef there are no letters, and no particular young chef. It's addressed, theoretically, to anyone thinking about a career in haute cuisine, and ...
Alex Colville: Return
by Tom Smart

Douglas & McIntyre $55 Hardcover
ISBN: 1550549820
Book Review
A Review of: Alex Colville Return
by Olga Stein
I've always admired the art of Alex Colville. I've found myself mesmerized by that inexplicit something' that's depicted by the seemingly ordinary subjects of his paintings or serigraphs. Beneath the melancholy but placid surface I sensed a perturbation so palpable, that it-and not the subdued colours of the paintings-conditioned my emotional response. Now with Alex Colville Return, Tom Smart illuminates both the artist and his art, and I'm able to understand why Colville's work had such an affect on me. According to Smart, in order to learn something essential about Colville, it is imperative to ...
Living Tribes
by Colin Prior, Carolyn Fry

Firefly Books $35 Hardcover
ISBN: 1552977463
Book Review
A Review of: Living Tribes
by Olga Stein
One of my favorites among this year's crop of photography books, is "Living Tribes". With his extraordinary photos Colin Prior brings us the face of contemporary tribal societies. I say face' because this is what he so often brilliantly captures-a moment of pride, a wondering expression, a shy smile, and all those other universal qualities which render the photographed subject instantly familiar. The face may be that of a young woman of the Himba, a tribe inhabiting the remote region of northern Namibia, or that of a Herero girl from southern Namibia. It may be a young man of the Kenya-Tanzania Maasai peoples, ...

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