Book Reviews

Field Notes by Sara Jewell

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Ever since I met my “Upper Canadian” husband in my hometown of Fredericton at age twenty and moved to southern Ontario at twenty-one, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Maritimes, as well as with rural and small-town life in general. At times, I have resented what I saw as its narrowness and stubborn attachment to the past. I can credit Sara Jewell and her Field Notes: A City Girl’s Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia (Nimbus, 2016) with adding more weight to the “love” side of the equation. Now back east, living in Halifax after seven years abroad, I’ve come to appreciate anew the warmth and hardiness of my birthplace. Field Notes reminds me of what I had lost and now regained. Continue reading

Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks

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When I received my copy of Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks (forthcoming from Beacon Press, February 2017), I envisioned myself curled up in my comfortable armchair with coffee, settling in for a good long read. That was not to be—partly due to demands of a busy holiday season and introducing a new kitten to our family but mainly due the nature of Brooks’ book itself. It is not the sort of work that one can rush through, so I found myself reading one of her eighteen “interviews” per day, savouring the insights I gleaned and pondering how I could apply their lessons to my own writing

Although she grew up in New Brunswick, Brooks now lives in New England. It was while she was working on her MFA in creative nonfiction and planning the writing of a memoir based on her father’s death from AIDS contracted from tainted blood that she began to look into the works of memoirists who inspired her. She then got in touch with the writers directly to ask the questions that she was asking herself: What does it take to write an honest memoir? How can memoirists present the details of a painful past honestly and at the same time respect the privacy of friends and family? Those conversations became Writing Hard Stories. Continue reading

Tell by Soraya Peerbaye

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It took me four days to read Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: Poems for a Girlhood (Pedlar Press, 2015). By day three, I wasn’t sure I could follow through, so acute was my fear and respect for the tide of pain and loss on nearly every page.

Tell honours Reena Virk, assaulted and murdered by her peers in 1997; she was 14 years old. I was 14 in 1997, as well; our birthdays are only weeks apart. Perhaps “I’d have been her friend” (“Trials,” 10). In Grade Nine, I didn’t know any girls from South Asian families, but I had girlfriends who loved clog boots, who wore pleather jackets; girls who shouldered rumours, reputations, and threats too heavy for their age, their hearts and bodies—girls, in many ways, like Reena. Continue reading

No One to Tell by Janet Merlo

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71KvlTE8B-LToday, the RCMP announced that it will offer up to $100 million in compensation to RCMP officers who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse on the job. The RCMP Commissioner also offered an apology: “We failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry.”

Acknowledgement, compensation and public apology have been a long time coming.

Janet Merlo documented her twenty-year career with the RCMP in her book No One to Tell in 2013. The title is apt. In her detachment, Merlo was known as “a fucking woman with a big mouth.” Yet ironically, she had no one to tell about the constant discrimination and overt sexual harassment she endured. No one who was willing to listen and make changes. Continue reading

Blended edited by Samantha Waltz

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cover_blendedIt took until 2011 for Statistics Canada to formally include stepfamilies in the population census. At that time, almost 500,000 Canadian families – over 12 per cent – were step. It’s telling that stepfamilies had been left out. We tend to believe they are not so different from others; stories unique to blended families often go unheard.

A new book brings the stepfamily experience to light. Blended will be published by Seal Press this May. Edited by Samantha Waltz, Blended offers thirty personal essays by upcoming and established writers. Tone and circumstance vary across these stories, as we would expect from thirty diverse families, yet all contributors focus on the challenges of re-mixing relationships into something whole and profoundly new. Continue reading