Book Review – Corridor Nine: A Novel

“Corridor Nine: A Novel”
by Sophie Stocking
Published by Thistledown Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
ISBN: 9781771871815

“Corridor Nine: A Novel”, written by Sophie Stocking and published by Thistledown Press is an exceptional novel that expertly encapsulates the extremes of soul-crushing emotions and outlandish behaviour in a way that is very accurate to the human experience. Even though this novel could be read within a weekend, it packs wallop. At under 200 pages this novel makes no room for literary fluff, every word is a thread that weaves into a beautiful and fantastical yet tender and tragic story of life and loss.

The story follows Bernadette Macomber, who thought that she had all but completely cut ties with her troubled father, Fabian, to begin again and start a family of her own. In the wake of Fabian’s sudden suicide, Bernadette finds herself returning home. All is not over for Fabian, however, as he finds himself in a completely foreign afterlife named Corridor Nine and in the company of an angel/griffin-figure named Bune. As Fabian transverses life-after-life, Bernadette or “Bernie”, is left in the mundane to seek the source of her father’s recent insanity. As the twin narratives consecutively play out, they also intertwine to result in the closure that both Bernie and Fabian so desperately seek.

As mentioned, this novel is a relatively short read but a truly delightfully one. Those with an inkling towards supernatural series will have a seriously good time tearing through this novel while also enjoying more mature tones, narratives, and characters than something like the Harry Potter or Twilight series would have to offer. That is not to say that young readers could not enjoy this novel, either. There is a certain exuberance to this novel that exudes from all its aspects, from the mystery of Corridor Nine and this universes’ afterlife, the fantastical qualities and characteristics of Bune, to the bizarre remnants of Fabian that he left behind. There were very few parts of the novel that it was not apparent that this story was truly a passion project of Stocking’s and it was story that she had been burning to tell. In fact, the cover painting of the novel, also rich and vibrant, is a work of Stocking’s as well. While it is not the most unusual thing in the world to see authors create their own covers, it is rarely executed so well and is honestly a breath of fresh air.

In conclusion, this is a delightfully read for nearly all ages. It perfectly blends the relatable themes of loss, guilt, and conflicting feelings about loved ones with the imagination of the supernatural. This far exceeds the quality that one would expect from a debut novel and I am excited to see how Stocking’s career flourishes as a great Canadian author.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Book Review – An Honest Woman: A Novel

“An Honest Woman: A Novel”
by JoAnn McCaig
Published by Thistledown Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$20.00 ISBN: 9781771871785

 

“An Honest Woman: A Novel”, written by JoAnn McCaig and published by Thistledown Press is a self-proclaimed “bookish novel” that lives up to this description with an undeniable charm. It is truly a reader and a writer’s book. The book begins with a lucid dream in which a writer mysteriously named “JM” reels at the thoughts and experiences of her romantic life. This bizarre account of life and romance also acts as a segue to introduce the character Janet Mair, who is also a writer and a mother. This portion of the novel has an interesting narrative in which fantasy and reality both play integral roles to form a complete story. Janet’s recounts of fantasy and her return to reality are signified throughout the novel by symbols that signify to the reader which part of Janet’s psyche they are currently experiencing. I must admit that when I was first introduced to this concept, I was somewhat dubious of its narrative potential. I am delighted to have been wrong and watch this narrative enigma unfold in several ways that I could have never imagined.

The story continues by intertwining characters Jay McNair and Leland Mackenzie, that are unsurprisingly also both writers. The pair begin as writers residing in Canada who know of each other’s work and are acquainted by the literary company that they keep. This develops into a budding romance that comes with its shares of excitement, lust, messiness, and confusion. A lot of readers, myself included, tend to shudder at the thought of romance as the central plot to a novel. The mind becomes littered with images of Fabio Lanzoni clutching a Victorian-dressed woman on the cover of Harlequins that stock the shelves of our nation’s Salvation Army stores. Fortunately, the writing that McCaig delivers is leagues above that sort of drivel and the result is a romance story that is intelligent and mature while also being erotic and fantastical. The narrative of this novel is also a testament to McCaig’s writing abilities as the plot effortless weaves from various characters and perspectives. If you are an avid reader and a lover of unusual narratives, you simply must explore this masterfully crafted story for yourself. As a reviewer, this novel was particularly difficult to discuss without revealing significant plot points or giving away central themes of the plot. What I can state with confidence is that the ride is worth it.

While the novel is can portray romance without the insipid dialogue that typically comes in multiple shades of grey, I would recommend this book to an adult audience. I appreciated the bold and audacious dialogue and exhibition of the components of human sexuality that are a little hard to explain. However, I could also see some of these components being misunderstood by a younger audience. For both the sake of subject matter and entertainment value, this book would be best enjoyed by an experienced reader.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life – A Book Review

“Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life”
by James Daschuk
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$27.95 ISBN: 978088776227

Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life, written by James Daschuk and published by University of Regina Press can be best described as a heart wrenching but enlightening review of the systematic destruction of Indigenous peoples and culture in the prairies via the purposeful introduction of disease, starvation, and health disparities by both the Canadian government and private companies. This 2019 New Edition and winner of the Aboriginal History Prize, Cleo Prize, Governor General’s History and ironically the Sir John A. McDonald Prize, was originally published in 2013 and since then has obviously been praised by critics and readers alike. In fact, this reviewer truly believes that every Saskatchewanian should have a copy of this book on their shelves.

James Daschuk, a PhD in history and a current associate professor with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina showcases his unpresented capacity for research and provides the reader with fascinating (albeit sickening) review of the history of Indigenous health both pre and post-contact. During initial contact, while the country of Canada was either non-exist or in its infancy various systems where initialized by the country, by the church and by private organizations to ensure the continuous disadvantage of Indigenous people. Daschuk describes these imposed disparities and their brutal executions with such intricate detail and a level of historical research that makes it difficult for the reader to not seriously question the moral integrity of our nation’s roots and of the powers that be today.

Unlike many pieces of literature regarding Canadian literature, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life does not stick to the history found to the East but, as the title suggests, provides an in-depth review of the First Nations history that occurred right here at home in Saskatchewan. This is brilliantly documented from archival, academic research, interviews and a plethora of other resources.

The mostly-pleasant, comfortable life of an average Canadian typically leads them to think that Canada has always been one of the most progressive and tolerant countries in the world. In history class, we are led to believe that we have always been the “nice guys”. The thought that our nation has always been founded on the systematic genocide makes most people uncomfortable, it’s certainly not dinner-talk. Genocide is a heavy word but an appropriate one. Despite this book being an academic piece, Daschuk vividly paints the brutal treatment of Indigenous peoples both across the nation and within our own province.

In conclusion, this book is a juggernaut in the context of dark Canadian history and an invaluable resource to teach readers as to how the social climate regarding Indigenous people has evolved to what it is today. The only warning that I could possibly give for this book is a trigger warning. Please be advised that there are dark themes and incredibly violent truths found within these pages.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

 

Baggage – A Book Review

“Baggage”
by Wendy Phillips
Published by Coteau Books
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$14.95 9781550509700

“Baggage”, written by Wendy Phillips and published by Coteau Books is a fantastic teen read that covers dark themes with the seriousness that fits the subject matter and a narrative device that is relevant to young readers.

The story begins at the Vancouver airport and is set in British Columbia as a young, unidentified foreign boy is found near International Arrivals by a Canadian high school teacher named Ms. Nelson and one of her students Brittany. The boy has no family or friends in sight, no identification and appears to be malnourished. To make matters worse, he does not speak any languages that anyone in the airport understands. Understandably concerned, the teacher takes the boy to the customs office only to find that their only solution is to deport the boy as he is unidentified and claim that he may not even be protected by child protection laws. They take the boy, Thabo, into their homes to protest the deportation and to protect him at all costs. It is now up to Ms. Nelson, Brittany, her sister Leah, and their friend Kevin to inspire their school and their community to keep Thabo in Canada.

The novel is written in such a unique manner that is appropriate for young readers and undeniably poetic. Rather than following a traditional novel structure, the story instead progresses with short perspectives from each main character, including Thabo. At first, Thabo is a complete mystery, only short memories and actions that other characters notice provide a window into his young but troubled life. As Leah, the sister of the politically involved Brittany begins to learn Thabo’s native tongue the reader begins to get a glimpse into Thabo’s life. After Thabo takes sanctuary with a frustrated minister in the local church, disaster strikes and Thabo is taken by those that had abandoned him at the airport. The teenage characters Leah, Kevin, and Brittany showcase their true bravery as they go to rescue their new friend Thabo. The reader also learns that the community’s fears are real, that Thabo is a victim of human trafficking.

In conclusion, “Baggage” is a great read for a young reader to explore different writing styles and an enlightening adventure for adults that can be read within a day. Even though almost every page is from the perspective of a different character, the narrative works splendidly within this style. Phillips treats the reader to both a cohesive story and to truly breathtaking character development that stays with the reader long after the final page has closed.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Soapbox Stories Presents: Life Lessons From A Red Serge – A Book Review

“Life Lessons from a Red Serge”
by Barb Porter and Linda Garvey
Published by McKenzie Carver & Associates
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$15.95 ISBN: 9781775353607

“Life Lessons from a Red Serge”, written by sisters Barb Porter and Linda Garvey is an uplifting slice of Canadiana that warms the heart and strengthens the spirit. This collection of life lessons, take-aways, and advice compiled by the sororal duo is dedicated to the authors’ brother, Staff Sergeant Peter Garvey, who unfortunately passed away in 2017 at the age of 54 years old. This book acts a touching tribute both to the Saskatchewan born-and-raised officer and to the service of others in need that he strived for. In addition to serving his communities as an RCMP officer, Peter was also actively involved in the Search and Rescue Saskatchewan Association of Volunteers (SARSAV) as a Search and Rescue member. In fact, profits from the sale of this book will be donated to SARSAV in his honour.

The contents of this book contain a series of life-lessons inspired by Peter. The authors had written them into a checklist format with the intention of providing daily reminders to the Sergeant’s grandchildren of how to live as the best people that they can be. The list is categorized into such themes as honesty, listening to others, living with a sense of humour, humility, gratitude, the importance of family, and many others. Each theme is divided as chapters containing a few pages of meaningful insights that a reader of any age and any walk of life can appreciate. The chapters also end with a simple yet powerful summary of the lesson. Personally, I enjoyed the segment of “Honesty, Sincerity, & Integrity” as it provided me with the reminder that it is important to listen to every person that you meet and to take their words seriously. You may never know what a person may teach you from listening to them.

If I could describe this book in one word, it would be “wholesome”. The daily reminders found within this delightful read do not push an agenda but simply act as a guide that anyone can follow and implement into their daily lives at any time. The writers also did a fantastic job at showcasing the Sergeant’s love of dogs and their importance to life and family, and really, who doesn’t agree with that?

I highly recommend this book as a gift for the people in your lives who are passionate about the service of others. This checklist of counting blessings and remembering what’s important in life does not take long at all to read. It could easily become a daily routine for policemen, firemen, nurses, teachers, paramedics, and to anyone in your life that you turn to when you need help. Not only did the authors draw their inspiration for helping others through their brother but also through their own passion for helping others that they have demonstrated through their accomplished nursing careers. By picking up a copy of this book, you too can help people by providing a plethora of insight and contributing to the Search and Rescue efforts of Saskatchewan.

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

 

 

 

Soapbox Stories Presents: Beyond Shattered Dreams: A Journey Through Grief to Self-Empowerment – A Book Review

“Beyond Shattered Dreams: A Journey Through Grief to Self-Empowerment”
by Gaylene Guillemin
Published by Gaylene Guillemin
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$16.99 ISBN: 9781775220404

“Beyond Shattered Dreams: A Journey Through Grief to Self-Empowerment”, written and published by Gaylene Guillemin can be best described as a powerful and tender guide through the inescapable sorrows of the human condition that are grief and loss. Guillemin has a wide variety of expertise in the field of loss as a motivational speaker, an angel card reader and from formal education with a certificate in Death and Grief Studies. However, it is not from her studies or her energy work that Guillemin draws from to speak on her experiences with loss but from the tragic loss of her late husband in 2014, Mervin Guillemin, whom she affectionately refers to as “Merv”.

The book begins as Gaylene discusses her relationship with Merv. She had been married to him for twenty-two years and from her descriptions of their family and life together the reader can easily see the deep level of love that she still has for him. Gaylene goes on to discuss Merv’s declining health, and the challenges that losing mobility, being in and out of hospitals constantly, and the potential of organ transplantation bring to a family. Through Guillemin’s beautiful, poetic, and vivid writing the reader is truly brought to her world to see the good times and the bad. The reader gets to experience what an honourable, loving, caring and kind man that Merv was and how much he meant to those around him. After the passing of Merv, Guillemin describes her experiences with themes such as accepting loss, allowing grief, finding identity, and facing new days with optimism and hope.

The subject matter of this book is certainly a heavy one and I would recommend that a reader eases into it with an open mind and the discretion to read at their own pace. The start of the book will resonate with anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one or is currently experiencing a loved one’s declining health. That being said, I truly believe that there is a plethora of wisdom and insightfulness that will help a person through these issues, even if they are hesitant to experience the emotional weight of it at first.

Death is not an easy thing to even think about, let alone talk about and write about. I applaud Guillemin for her bravery and her transparent selflessness that is this book. When life brings tragedy, it is far too easy to become embittered by it, blaming the world for your sorrow. Guillemin instead chooses the altruistic option of helping people that are going through similar tragedy that she has gone through. It seemed fitting to me that I began this book in tears and closed it with a smile.            

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM

Soapbox Stories Presents – A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online – A Book Review

“A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online”
by Jennifer Wemigwans
Published by University of Regina Press
Reviewed by Ben Charles
C$29.95 ISBN: 9780889775510

“A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online”, written by Jennifer Wemigwans and published by the U of R Press is an outstanding example of how the knowledge dissemination of revolutionary Indigenous research is done correctly. In the field of Indigenous research, technology is hardly discussed, especially in the context of Indigenous sovereignty to language and information. Wemigwans, an Anishnaabekwe woman from the Wikwemikong First Nation, the president of Invert Media, and an assistant professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto challenges the reader to change this discourse and begin to evaluate how modern technology can be an invaluable asset to the retention of Traditional Knowledge.

The namesake of the book, the “Digital Bundle”, refers to Wemigwans online project www.FourDirectionsTeachings.com. This website was designed as an online tool to promote the Traditional Knowledge and worldviews of five distinct Indigenous Nations through the teachings of Elders and Traditional Teachers. These five nations include Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and M’ikmaq. If you were to go to the website, and I highly recommend that you do, you will find an interactive experience that will educate and inspire people of all ages. The website also contains a plethora of teaching resources and tools to increase its interactivity and keep people of all knowledge levels challenged and engaged. In the book, Wemigwans discusses the Digital Bundle including its inception, the Indigenous context in which it was created, and its implications on Storytelling, Traditional and non-traditional teaching, and decolonizing the internet. The book discusses much more, I am simply scratching the surface of the themes and sheer information discussed within. This is not only because of the vast amount of standard academic research that Wemigwans had utilized for this project, but also due to the significant consultation that Wemigwans had documented from Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Traditional Teachers, Chiefs, artists, activists, and a wide-range of other Indigenous stakeholders with valuable Knowledge and worldviews. Quite frankly, it was very refreshing to read about an Indigenous research project that was both Indigenous-led and upheld Indigenous sovereignty and principles.

The internet is becoming a progressively more censored place. What was once a beacon of hope for the free exchange of knowledge and ideas is becoming riddled with threats to net-neutrality, corporate meddling, and the self-imposed censorships of echo-chambers found both on social media and in the deep pockets of obscure forums. Do Indigenous Ways have a place on the World Wide Web, or is the closing window of opportunity leaving only space for more misinformation and invincibility of Indigenous people? Wemigwans believes in the former, and after picking up a copy of this highly informative book so will you.

 

THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM