Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book review: Passion and Persistence

February 8, 2020

Passion and Persistence: Fifty Years of the Sierra Club in British Columbia, 1969-2019 by Diane Pinch. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC, 2019.

Book review by Janet Nicol

This book chronicles the many ways Sierra Club members have campaigned to protect the wilderness, from advocating for a park rather than a mountain resort to confronting the global climate crisis. Author Diane Pinch, a long time Sierra Club of BC (SCBC) member, offers an important aspect of our provincial history, employing prose that is engaging and accessible and using first hand accounts, archival club materials, maps and photographs.

For the full review check out  the upcoming issue of BC History, Spring, 2020.

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At the Wilderness Edge – book review

November 24, 2019

By Janet Nicol

In the Winter 2019 issue of BC History I review J.I. Little’s book, “At the Wilderness Edge: The Rise of the Anti-Development Movement on Canada’s West Coast.”

Little examines five environmental protests in the province’s post war years, proving small groups of committed people can make big changes. His findings challenge assumptions about the people behind the activism and provide blueprints for future actions.

Drawbridge – a book review

July 26, 2019

Drawbridge: Drawing Alongside My Brother’s Schizophrenia
by Joan Boxall Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2019

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

A memoir told in ten lyrical essays, Drawbridge: Drawing Alongside My Brother’s Schizophrenia is Joan Boxall’s moving tribute to her brother, Stephen Corcoran. In the early 2000s, Joan became co-trustee of Stephen following the death of their parents. So began her enlightening ten-year journey supporting a brother with a mental illness. Joan intersperses research, observations, and thoughts with her poetry, each essay framed within a theme of art — the powerful tool that provided a path for Joan and Stephen to connect.

The pair spent many Tuesdays mornings figure drawing from live models at Basic Inquiry studio and gallery on Vancouver’s Main Street. Stephen held two exhibitions at Basic Inquiry prior to his death from cancer following a short illness in 2013, aged 64.

The full review is available at The Ormsby Review, an on-line journal.
Link at – https://ormsbyreview.com/2019/07/26/584-brother-artist-at-the-edge/

Steven Corcoran drawing, May 2011

Back to Bloody Saturday – book review

March 31, 2019

1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike
By the Graphic History Collective and David Lester, with an introduction by James Naylor

Toronto: Between the Lines Books, 2019
$19.95 / 9781771134200

Reviewed by Janet Mary Nicol

David Lester, a Vancouver-based illustrator, writer, and musician, has a keen interest in history with social justice themes. The Listener (Arbeiter Ring, 2011), among his most notable graphic novels, is a gripping story that moves between Germany during the rise of fascism in the 1930s and the contemporary life of a woman artist. In this most recent book, 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike, Lester re-visits an important event in Canadian history, employing a simpler linear narrative and emphasizing artfully executed black and white drawings. As a result, a new generation is introduced to a tumultuous event a century ago, when more than 30,000 strikers battled police, vigilantes, and the government in May and June on the downtown streets of Winnipeg. The six-week dispute made international headlines and inspired workers to mount sympathy strikes from Vancouver to Amherst, Nova Scotia.

So begins a review about A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike.

Re-printed from The Ormsby Review, an on-line journal about BC culture. Full review at –
https://bcbooklook.com/2019/03/29/519-back-to-bloody-saturday/

“On the Line” a comprehensive look at BC labour history

February 20, 2019

On the Line: A History of the British Columbia Labour Movement by Rod Mickleburgh. Harbour Publisher, Maderia Park, BC, 2018. Hardback, 320 pp, $44.95

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Tough leaders, resilient workers and generations of picket line battles are featured in this fast-paced survey of 150 years of British Columbia labour history. Author Rod Mickleberg worked the ‘labour beat’ at the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers for 16 years. His reportage folds neatly into these chronicles about a province rooted in a resource-based frontier economy of forestry, mining and fishing. Thoroughly researched, sources include those gathered by the BC Labour Heritage Centre, instigator of this book project, with sponsorship by the Community Savings Credit Union. Over 200 archival photographs and several sidebar stories accompany the text as well.

So begins my review of Rod Mickleburg’s comprehensive look at BC labour history in the winter issue of Our Times. Disclosure: I assisted with some of the research on the role of women in the labour movement–one of many to contribute toward this important work.

For the full book review, check out Our Times magazine, Winter 2019 issue, available soon in bookstores across Canada and by subscription. An on-line site, Between Times, offers great labour articles too.

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.

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/