Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Apples, etc: An Artist’s Memoir – book review

November 14, 2018

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Apples, etc.: An Artist’s Memoir, by Gathie Falk with Robin Laurence
Vancouver, Figure 1 publisher, 2018.

A signature piece of ceramic art created by BC artist Gathie Falk inspired the title of this memoir and is symbolic of an artistic life as bold as the biblical Eve. The idea to create a pyramid of glistening apples came to Falk after observing produce in a Vancouver grocery store. She transformed the ordinary scene into a ceramic sculpture in 1970, as part of an installation entitled ‘Fruit Piles.’ Falk continues to create from her east Vancouver studio at age 90. ‘Apples, etc,’ is told in the first person, assisted by seasoned art critic Robin Laurence. Stories are linked together, seamlessly combining tales of Falk’s award-winning performance art, ceramics, sculpture and paintings alongside insightful remembrances of her life journey. Embedded in this memoir as well, is the growing recognition of the province’s cultural history and contributions.

This begins my book review of Gathie Falk’s memoir. Full review is available in the upcoming Winter 2018 issue of BC History, available on new stands this month.

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Book reviews on Arthur Pitts, BC artist and the early history of Fernie

September 18, 2018

I review two books — The Life and Art of Arthur Pitts by Kerry Mason and Fernie at War: 1914-1919 by Wayne Norton in the current issue of BC History magazine.

Arthur Pitts (1892-1972) was a watercolorist, illustrator and photographer from England who spent most of his adult life in BC, primarily in the Victoria area and in Vancouver. His depictions of BC landscapes and First Nations people are “a valuable contribution to the artistic documentation of the Northwest Coast First Nations” according to author Kerry Mason, who also brings in Coast Salish artist Carey Newman to weigh in on Pitts’ legacy.

Fernie, in the east Kootenays of BC, continues to attract tourists for its beauty and layered history.  Author Wayne Norton examines the town during the First World War and aftermath, highlighting residents who were both  loyal and critical to the King’s call to arms.  The hard lives of coal miners and their union struggles are also described in detail.

Both books are highly recommended.

Available in BC History, Fall 2018 – Subscription and distribution details at the magazine website.

Surrey: A City of Stories – a book review

March 19, 2018

Surrey:  A City of Stories, by K. Jane Watt.  Published by Surrey: City of Surrey Heritage Services (Fenton Street Publishing), 2017. $25.00

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

This visually rich book provides a satisfying history of the City of Surrey, the fastest growing area in Metro Vancouver, with B.C.’s second largest civic population of about half a million people. For a project to mark Canada’s 150th birthday, K. Jane Watt has devoted her passion for B.C.’s past to provide a concise text accompanied by more than 500 photographs, documents, maps and other fascinating illustrations. Obviously delivering an historical overview of sprawling Surrey is a daunting task, considering its vast mix of urban and rural landscape framed by the Fraser River to the north and the Strait of Georgia (Boundary Bay) to the south, including six town centres in between — Whalley, Guildford, Fleetwood, Newton, Cloverdale, and South Surrey.

So begins a book review of ‘Surrey: A City of Stories” written by the current President of the BC Historical Society and historian, K. Jane Watt. The full review is available on line at

https://bcbooklook.com/2018/03/16/surrey-gets-proper-billing/

Published by The Ormsby Review, March 20, 2018.

BC Ghosts and Mysteries – book reviews

August 22, 2017

Victoria’s Most Haunted: Ghost Stories from BC’s Historic Capital City, by Ian Gibbs. Touchwood Editions, Victoria, 2017.

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Prepare to be thoroughly entertained and perhaps even frightened by this collection of ghost stories set in Victoria, BC. Few Canadian cities provide such a haunting atmosphere as the island capital, with its rich history and “Victorian gothic” buildings. Ian Gibbs, a resident and “Ghostly Walks” tour guide, has gathered new and well-worn tales for this book, spinning concise, lively and well-written ghost stories.

The full book review is in BC History magazine, Fall, 2017.

Blood, Sweat and Fear: The Story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver’s First Forensic Investigator, by Eve Lazarus. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2017.

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Following Eve Lazarus’ last true crime book, Cold Case Vancouver, the author once again delivers a riveting account, this time featuring the criminal cases of an unheralded pioneer in police forensics. Inspector John F.C.B. Vance began his career as an ‘analyst’ with the Vancouver police department in 1907 and over the ensuing years, established a reputation as Canada’s “Sherlock Holmes.” Newspapers and magazines applauded his scientifically-based work, but when Vance retired in 1949, he faded from public view. That is until Lazarus came across old newspaper articles about this intriguing man. With the co-operation of Vance’s heirs, the author gained access to files he kept after retirement, along with photographs and pieces of evidence.

The full book review is in BC History magazine, Fall, 2017..

Pnina’s three lives – book review

June 30, 2017

Light Within the Shadows: An Artist’s Memoir, by Pnina Granirer
Vancouver: Granville Island Publishing, 2017.

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Pnina Granirer was creative from an early age, but she didn’t come in to her own artistically until the “third act” of her life journey. This memoir reveals why this is so as the author recounts her beginnings in Romania, followed by immigration to Israel when she was fifteen and then to North America in 1962.

When Granirer eventually settled on Vancouver’s west side with her husband Edmond (“Eddy”) Granirer, a University of British Columbia math professor, she began exhibiting art and building an international reputation while raising two sons.

Granirer has spent most of her life in Canada, yet it is her “back story” — her life in Romania and Israel — which informs these later experiences and consumes two-thirds of Light Within the Shadows.

The full review is available at The Ormsby Review, an on-line journal –

http://bcbooklook.com/2017/06/29/pninas-three-lives/

How Deep is the Lake – a book review

June 7, 2017

How Deep is the Lake: A Century at Chilliwack Lake, by Shelley O’Callaghan (Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2017).

Author Shelley O’Callaghan shares stories about four generations of family life at her summer cottage on Chilliwack Lake, a two-hour drive east of Vancouver–but she also delivers much more. A retired environmental lawyer and first time author, her descriptions of summers spent fishing, swimming, and hiking at the turquoise-colored lake set among mountains, include profiles of other settlers and Indigenous people who have populated the area over time. Researching many hours at the Chilliwack archives, reading extensively about local First Nations people and reaching out to interview others with ties to the lake, she achieves a multi-layered memoir.

So begins my review of this book, published in the Summer 2017 issue of BC History.

Fire Walkers – a review

April 25, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Fire Walkers, a memoir by Bethlehem Terrefe Gebreyohannes. Mawenzi House Publishers, Toronto, 2016.

Fire Walkers, a memoir by Bethlehem (“Beth”) Gebreyohannes, provides a valuable female viewpoint of an Ethiopian-Canadian’s refugee experience. The author recounts fifteen months of her life in vivid and heart-felt detail, beginning in 1980 when she was 14 years old. Beth’s father and step-mother reluctantly organized their family’s secret escape out of war-ridden Addis Ababa and across the Ethiopian border to the port city of Djibouti. Realizing they were not on a family holiday, Beth and her two older brothers, Yared and Asrat expressed shock, confusion and anger at their parents. Still, the family remained united as they endured several days traversing the Danakil Desert on foot, wary of roving soldiers, scattered land mines and unpredictable terrain.

Dangers and hardships also included long days enduring the hottest desert in the world. Beth’s step-mother Meskeram, especially agonized over temporarily leaving her baby daughter behind in the care of others. The family encountered strangers who were both unscrupulous and amazingly generous. They coped with theft, sickness, sexual predators and separation, underscoring their vulnerability—and stoicism.

The landscape and people of the east African region are otherworldly, as the author depicts: “The camels’ gurgling sound woke me up from the sheet of sand I slept on,” and on another morning: “….I saw that everything blended together in the desert—the camels, the shrubs, and even the sky.”

Beth’s family were Christians, descended from Ethiopian royalty but encountered diverse peoples, including Somalians, nomadic Afar tribesmen and Djiboutians who spoke French, Afar, Somali and Arabic. Men chewed the stimulant known as qat, one of the author’s many fascinating observations. She shares many other cultural experiences ranging from dining on sweet tea and goat stew in the desert to the joy of swimming in Djibouti’s Red Sea.

When Beth and her brother initially arrived at a refugee camp in Dikhil ahead of other family members, the reader glimpses the harsh life and prejudices refugees experience. Beth’s family however, found sanctuary for several months in a home offered by a woman who worked in the home a wealthy man. As the author noted: “The kindness we received from strangers had made all the troubles, wars, homelessness, statelessness, and hunger more bearable.”

Family bonds were valued above all else. When Beth is reunited with her father—for whom she dedicates this memoir—she writes, “I fell into his arms, smelt the scent of his cigarette on his white shirt. If only I could be around my father all the time.”

In the afterward and acknowledgements the reader learns the fate of Beth and other family members since re-settlement in Canada. Many individuals and writers’ classes inspired the author to tell her powerful story, resulting in this vividly written and insightful contribution to memoir literature.

Canadian fiction reviews – short stories & a psychological thriller

April 4, 2017

The Old World and Other Stories by Cary Fagan

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Inspired by discarded photographs from the past, prolific Toronto-based author Cary Fagan has crafted a remarkable collection of “snapshots,”—that is to say, very short stories. Prepare for a roller coaster ride of intuitively grasped portraits and unpredictable plots ranging from the sublime to the grotesque, based on 35 “orphaned” images.

The full review is available on-line at the Canadian Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan

An intriguing sixth novel from Toronto-based writer Nicole Lundrigan, this psychological thriller will resonate with readers long after the last page is read. Two plot lines unfold in alternating chapters, one told by an anonymous narrator, the other from the point of view of substitute teacher Warren Botts. The reader can safely assume the unnamed narrator is an adolescent, otherwise the identity and connection to Warren’s story is unknown until the final chapter.

The full review is available on line at the Canadian Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

Link at – http://www.mtls.ca/issue22/fiction-and-nonfiction-reviews-janet-nicol/

Book reviews – Ootsa Lake pioneers & Mazie Baker

March 2, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Ootsa Lake Odyssey: George and Else Seel—A Pioneer Life on the Headwaters of the Nechako Watershed, by Jay Sherwood. Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, 2016.

This biographical account of the Seels, a German-Canadian family who lived in BC’s central interior, offers fascinating details about pioneer life, settlers’ interactions with First Nations people and resource-based development. Maps, photographs and most remarkably, the poetry and diary entries of Else Seel, compliment the narrative.

The full review is available in the spring, 2017 issue of BC History.

****

The Amazing Mazie Baker: The Squamish Nation’s Warrior Elder,
by Kay Johnston. Caitlin Press, Halfmoon Bay, BC, 2016.

Moses and Sarah Antone named their daughter “Velma Doreen” when she was born in 1931 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, but everyone called her ‘Mazie.’ A strong advocate for First Nations people, Mazie spent her early childhood on the Capilano Reserve in North Vancouver. Her family was part of the Squamish Nation and their shoreline home was on land where the Lion’s Gate Bridge and Park Royal Shopping Mall stand today. Mazie was an elder when she agreed to share her remarkable life story to author Kay Johnston. The result is an important and revealing biography of an aboriginal woman’s life and fight for justice—made more powerful and intimate by several paragraphs throughout the account in Mazie’s own words.

The full review is available in the spring, 2017 issue of BC History.

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The Life and Art of Mary Filer – a book review

December 1, 2016

by Janet Mary Nicol

A pioneer in glass art, Mary Filer was born in Edmonton in 1920 and passed away earlier this year in Vancouver, aged 95. The subject of the ninth book in Mother Tongue’s invaluable “Unheralded Artists of British Columbia” series, Christina Johnson-Dean reveals Filer as a remarkable Canadian artist
whose glass sculptures were original, bold, and inspirational.

Johnson-Dean was given full access to Filer’s personal papers by the artist’s nephew, providing a crucial source for this rich visual and biographical account.

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The full review is published on line in BC Booklook/The Orbsby Review at –

#54 Breaking the glass ceiling