From time to time I am asked to review a book or I come across a book that I am anxious to tell others about. Some of the books are related to writing or creative work. Others are related to my varied interests. Some I read just for fun.
I hope you find the reviews to be thoughtful and helpful. I am grateful to the authors and publishers for sending me their books. I welcome your comments.
Strangely, Incredibly Good
by Heather Grace Stewart
Morning Rain Publishing, 2014
Simply, Incredibly Good
When talking about Montreal-area writer Heather Grace Stewart’s new novel, “Strangely, Incredibly Good”, I muffed the title and called it “Simply, Incredibly Good.” Hence the title for my review—because this is a novel that is simple on some levels, highly complicated on others, and is—well—good. Really good.
I wasn’t surprised at how good it was. I’ve followed Heather’s work for a few years, and have read a lot of her poetry, which is nothing like the poetry we studied in school. Heather’s poems come from the heart, rarely fit a pattern, and touched me on a deeply emotional level. I expected the same from the novel—and it exceeded those expectations. Belief has to be somewhat suspended to really get into this book and follow its characters.
Heather’s heroine, Cat Gilmour, an overweight 38-year old divorcée, is hard on herself, and gets down easily sometimes but she also has a wicked sense of humour. She readily laughs at herself or society. She also has an inner strength that she doesn’t even know she has sometimes. It takes her teenaged daughters, her 91-year old grandmother and a Genie to help her find that strength. A Genie?
A wish-granting Genie pops out of Cat’s exercise machine and leads her to discover, own and change her past so she can forge a better future for herself and her family. The Genie doesn’t always get it right though meaning that he and Cat have some amazing experiences.
We all may not be able to change our past but we certainly are in control of our present and our future, and if there doesn’t happen to be a Genie around to help, it’s up to us to make our future what we want it to be. Sometimes we don’t always know how to stand up for ourselves but we can learn. Whether Heather Grace Stewart meant there to be these messages in her book or not I don’t know but that’s what I was left with.
I was also left with a hope that there would be a sequel—and I recently found out there would be. Heather’s hoping it will be out by late 2015. So, Cat’s adventures with her girls and her “Badass Grandma” will continue and who knows, her Genie just may be along for the ride. I know I will be.
During a recent interview, I asked Heather how and why she made the transition from writing poetry and non-fiction to writing a novel that is so full of emotions, mostly funny ones.
“I write for myself and hope my audience will follow. Right now, I’m concentrating on the fiction and that seems to be a good place for me to be,” Heather says. “We’re all complicated, multi-sided human beings so I think I always had that in me. I’ve always liked humour and being funny. With my writing I like to make people laugh and cry and be entertained. Poetry and non-fiction don’t always lend themselves to humour though so I needed to find another outlet. It started with “Leap” (my second book of poetry) and there was a little more in the next book, “Carry On Dancing.” My humour comes out in my writing and when I’m speaking at a book signing or other event. I am a serious journalist with this fun side that likes to poke fun at herself and society. Cat likes to do that too so my humour comes out through her except she thinks and says things that I don’t dare.”
As Heather says, she is sticking with the fiction for now and I, for one, am happy for that. I’ve enjoyed her poetry but her fiction is such fun to read.
Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate
(Wizard of Words Productions, 2013)
by Doreen Pendgracs
Reviewed by Christine Peets
This book should come with a warning, “Do not read unless you have a supply of chocolate handy.” After reading even a few chapters about how the people make chocolate and the beautiful places all over the world where they live and work, you will definitely be reaching for some chocolate. How could you meet cocoa producers and farmers in Ecuador, Peru and St. Lucia, discover cocoa’s many health benefits and the reasons we (especially women) crave it, then meet chocolatiers, chocolate makers, and chocolate masters, without wanting to devour some chocolate? As the saying goes, “resistance is futile.”
There is some confusion between these terms, chocolatier, chocolate maker, and chocolate master and Pendgracs explains them though not quite early enough in the book. (They are first mentioned in the Introduction and then the terms are more fully explained in Chapter 1. I guess I was just curious too soon.) That aside, it’s a marvel to see the passion, flair, and personality put into the making of this delectable treat. Speaking of personality, did you know chocolate has one and that you have a “chocolate personality” too? This may explain why, when you have a craving for a certain kind of chocolate you may not be satisfied until and unless you can find it. Fortunately, Pendgracs makes that easy for us.