Sunday, January 8, 2023

Love Will Out: A Newfoundland Story by David Michael

St. John's was a visceral shock to them. In a hansom cab, on their way to the Crosbie Hotel on Duckworth Street, they saw faceless people sealed inside heavy woolen jackets, with hoods pulled up to protect them from the furious April gale. Like lost souls, they trudged silently down snow-encrusted sidewalks, alongside two-story-high snowbanks and manure-covered roads. Colourless, onion-crate-like wooden dwellings lined the streets. Large burned-out gaps bore witness to buildings that existed no more. Raggedly-dressed children picked the pockets of derelict men, gut-splattered fishermen slashed the heads off dead-eyed fish, and sozzled sailors led desperate women down dark alleyways into loveless embraces. 

Such was the city that greeted two immigrant families in the early 20th century Dominion of Newfoundland. Escaping to the New World where the promise of freedom was just too enticing to pass up, these families were world's apart in their beliefs and cultural identity. One family, the Rosenbergs; Jewish, fleeing Russian persecution and the other, the Abdullah's;  Maronite Christian Lebanese escaping the Ottoman Empire and possessing a strong mistrust for all Jews. But, when you're nine years old and living so close to each other that you can see right into your neighbour's bedroom, this strange new land of weird customs, intelligible dialects, and bland foods becomes a child's playground. Captivated with each other from an early age,  Ruth Rosenberg and Ali Abdullah's close childhood friendship evolves into a romantic relationship not readily accepted by Ali's traditionally minded mother.  When Ali's mother arranges to have her son married without his consent to a young Lebanese girl from the mother country, Ali and Ruth's love for one another becomes threatened. In an effort to do the "right" thing, both retreat to new and confusing relationships with other people while still hoping that love will out. 

David Michael's debut novel, Love Will Out, is an unforgettable true life account of two young people, forced to survive racism, violence, and bigamy while in pursuit of a love that is lasting and true. The simply written but captivating story details the interracial relationship of Michael's mother and father during the 1920's society of the country of Newfoundland. The characters are of course Michael's family and what characters they are! Ruth's passionate personality, tomboy exterior and willingness to stand up to anything and anybody is admirable and Ali's ingenuity, loyalty and quick wit proves to be what's needed to get the couple through the many obstacles that are thrown their way. Mother Abdullah is a force to be reckoned with while Father just wants to keep the peace. The story is well written and fast paced, reading like a juicy, five part soap opera with a plot that is almost unbelievable. This is a book I did not want to put down.

David Michael's fictionalized dramedy is also quite interesting from a historical perspective. Love Will Out shines light on the small groups of immigrants that came to our shores from areas outside the British Isles. Many of the Chinese, Lebanese, and Jewish immigrants that arrived during the late 1890's, settled in the St. John's area and operated businesses from the downtown with many of their ancestors still calling Newfoundland home today. I enjoyed how Michael was able to weave historical tidbits of info throughout this enchanting story reminding me of an overlooked era in Newfoundland history. 

Love Will Out by David Michael is a page-turning coming of age love story full of twists and turns. I look forward to reading upcoming novels by this author. Love Will Out is an Ingelwood Press publication and is also available at Breakwater Books.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Dear Billie: A World War II Love Story by Karen Lundy

 Hello, Billie,

    I hope you won't be too surprised hearing from me. When I came down to Union Station Sunday night, I met Jean Wilcox there. She told me about you and gave me your address. So here I am. I hope you will not mind me writing to you. By the way, Jean is coming up Sunday. How about you coming with her? I would certainly like to meet you. Jean said you were a very nice girl. 

    I guess I will have to sign off here. The lights go out in a few minutes. Cheerio for now.

                                                                                                   Vern Ploughman

Dear Billie: A World War II Love Story
is an autobiographical piece of non fiction based on the full text of a series of 92 love letters written by the father of author Karen Lundy. Roland "Vern" Ploughman of Bay Roberts, Newfoundland was just a 19 year old trooper in the 23rd Armoured Regiment when a friend of a friend, 17 year old Lillian Alice Wenman a.k.a. "Billie", became the object of his affection. Though they had never met, Vern was training to be deployed for active duty, when he had become smitten over all the good things he had heard about the blue-eyed brunette that hailed from Ontario, Canada. Having the chance opportunity to meet twice before being shipped overseas, many more letters would follow detailing the young tank gunner's experience of training, combat, being wounded in Normandy, and eventually returning home. As the letters progressed, and the young couple navigate a long distance relationship complicated by war, their love for one another flourishes and Vern returns to his sweetheart to be married in 1945. 

Poignantly written, daughter Karen Lundy presents the beautiful saga of two young teenagers separated by an ocean and a war. In and of itself, the story is mesmerizing but knowing that the author is presenting the love story of her parents is even more beautiful, and somewhat haunting. Having discovered the stacks of photos and letters amongst her parent's possessions after Billie's passing in 2019, Lundy suddenly realized the gift she had been entrusted when she began to transcribe her father's letters for her family. Her eyes, and indeed those of the readers of this wonderful story, were opened to the possibility that these two remarkable people were more than just her parents; they were two youngsters looking for love, finding solace in the written word as they exchanged intimate details of their hopes, dreams, and fears. The exceptional research and information gathered by Lundy in writing this book helps to piece together and make sense of the young soldier's fight for survival and realistic outlook. It also serves as a historical record of one man's account of that horrible time in history. Lundy captures and brings to life two wartime lives that may well have been lost had Vern's letter's not survived.

Dear Billie: A World War II Love Story is a story of love and loss, fighting and survival. Armchair historians and those who enjoy a great wartime love story would appreciate this well documented and excellently researched narrative. Dear Billie: A World War II Love Story is a Flanker Press publication. 

Tell Aunt Gert that I wrote to her a few days ago. And thank her for asking if there is anything I need. Tell her not to send me anything. I don't mean to be rude, but there is really nothing that I want. There's one that I would like to have though and that's you. I guess it would be impossible to send you over here to me though. I sure wish she could though. Do you know, darling, it's a year since I saw you last. It seems like a lifetime. I can remember when I saw you last, too. It was at Union Station.   



Friday, December 2, 2022

Operation Masonic by Helen C. Escott

The fifth novel in the Operation series, Operation Masonic by Helen C. Escott is another crime thriller that delivers!  Mortimer Williams, the Freemason's Grand Master, is found murdered on a stormy November night in a downtown theatre company building recently purchased from the secretive Freemasons Society. When Inspector Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary shows up to survey the crime scene, questions begin to swirl. Why is the victim dressed in full Freemason regalia, laid out in a secret room known as the Chamber of Reflection? What does a cryptic note, written in Latin and left next to the corpse, say? Are the three tools found close to the body part of some sort of sacrificial ceremony? Little does Myra know that he is about to embark upon a murder investigation that will take him through thousands of years of history and symbolism, uncovering secrets and scandals rooted in rumour with elements of truth. 

A page turning thriller that you won't be able to put down, Escott does a superb job at weaving fact and fiction through this Newfoundland style Da Vinci Code mystery. The cast of characters are both familiar and new to readers of the Operation series. Inspector Nicholas Myra, who we've come to both respect and love in previous narratives, opens up and the reader becomes intimately aware of his struggles with PTSD.  And if we don't already know that police officers are human too, enter Constable Donna Whiffen. New to the Major Crimes Unit, and a cracker jack cop, Whiffen reminds readers that maintaining a work life balance with a child of autism is challenging for anyone. These subplots help to keep the story interesting and the reader grounded in reality.

 Surrounding the murder mystery is a unique closely knit group of characters who all seemingly have a motive for wanting Morty dead. From Morty's domineering wife, to his estranged brother, his oddball neighbours, and local church historian, Operation Masonic is a classic who-done-it that will keep you guessing to the end. Perhaps the biggest secret is the one held by Morty but all is revealed in the end and the charitable businessman who met with an untimely passing is able to finally rest in peace. 

Operation Masonic by Helen C. Escott is a tightly woven crime thriller that is well researched and intriguing. Readers will delight in the mystery but long after the book ends one question will remain; Are the Freemasons a secret society or just a society with secrets? Operation Masonic is a Flanker Press publication.  

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Last Days of Smallwood by Edward Roberts


The Last Days of Smallwood by Edward Roberts is a jaw dropping piece of Canadiana detailing the final collapse of the premiership of "the only living father of Confederation".  The late Mr. Roberts provides an up close and very personal account of the life and death of the Stephenville Linerboard Mill and in so doing provides great insight into the political climate and political players of Newfoundland and Labrador of the late sixties and early seventies. Roberts, Premier Smallwood's former assistant, Cabinet Minister and Leader of the Opposition,  outlines the attempted abuse by unscrupulous promoters of the linerboard mill in obtaining funding for the project and the Premier's dereliction of duty in protecting the province and its citizens from serious financial culpability. In so doing, Roberts explains with amazing detail how he and other ministers and officials were able to thwart the attempted coup by forming an alliance. Unfortunately, this youthful team of Smallwood's inner circle were unable to spare the fledgling province from irreparable economic harm as the succeeding government acquired the mill and continued to make futile attempts to turn it into a viable venture. 

Though Roberts' original intention for writing The Last Days of Smallwood was to lay out the trajectory of the Stephenville Linerboard Mill and the ensuing debacle, his "extensive and reliable knowledge" serves to further whet the appetite of the reader surrounding the Smallwood reign and Newfoundland and Labrador's bizarre political history. Using personal documents, verbatim quotes from court records and Hansard, and files of financial details, Roberts examines elections, byelections, floor crossings and alleged bribery. He details drunken brawls, an "illegal seizure of power by a deposed government", and even the burning of ballots in the woodstove of the returning officer of Sally's Cove. Juicy tidbits about Smallwood's  philandering Conservative successor are laid out for the world to see and Newfoundland's reputation on the national and world stage is called into question. If all this seems to be the stuff of fiction, it isn't.  Roberts' writing and recollections are further supported by five additional excerpts.  These include John Crosbie's No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics, Richard Gwyn' s Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary, Bill Rowe's The Premiers Joey and Frank: Greed, Power, and Lust, Joseph R. Smallwood's I Chose Canada: The Memoirs of the Honourable Joseph R. Smallwood and Janice Wells' Frank Moore: The Time of His Life.  

The Last Days of Smallwood by Edward Roberts is an interesting albeit shocking account of just one political event in the bizarre political history of Newfoundland and Labrador. It will record for posterity the corruption, nepotism, and tyranny that once infiltrated Canada's youngest province and will hopefully provide a lesson to current and future political leaders about the importance of due diligence. I enjoyed this book thoroughly and would recommend it to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians born both pre and post Confederation. Roberts' staggering presentation of financial facts was, at times, overwhelming but in the end aided my understanding of the huge economic impact this project had on our province. I hope the current Muskrat Falls project does not fall into the same category. The Last Days of Smallwood is a Flanker Press publication.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A Baby Whale Ventures North by Samantha Baker

Come along and frolic in the waves with a baby humpback whale and her Momma as they travel from their breeding grounds in the south to the northern coastal waters of Newfoundland in Samantha Baker's second book A Baby Whale Ventures North.  As the two mammals swim side by side on their long journey the humpback calf learns so many things about it's ocean home and the many sea creatures that share her habitat. From learning to feed on capelin to taking deep dives and resurfacing for air, the young calf delights in the many sights and sounds that the coast has to offer. But most importantly, the calf learns that her mother is always by her side! 

A Baby Whale Ventures North is the second collaboration for daughter and mother duo, Samantha and Dawn Baker. Author Samantha Baker does a superb job at chronicling the journey of these two majestic ocean mammals! The tale is simple and delightful, tenderly written with a most uplifting message. Baker superbly weaves tidbits of information about the growing calf throughout the entire narrative, invoking excellent opportunities for inquiry and questioning, while at the same time introducing children to the many seabirds, fish and crustaceans that make the North Atlantic their home. The illustrations, by Dawn Baker, are bold, colorful and action oriented and reinforce the theme that all living things have needs supported by our adult caregivers, our mothers. They present wonderful opportunities for young children to interact with this Science themed book. I particularly enjoyed the "Did you spot?" section of the book where readers are encouraged to go back into the text and look for "6 Blue Mussels" , "3 Common Sea Stars", or "2 Common Terns". It is also nice to see iconic Newfoundland images like Signal Hill and, what looks to be, the Cape Spear Lighthouse incorporated throughout. An excellent addition to a home library and school resource centre, A Baby Whale Ventures North is simply a stunning book for the little person in your life. Congratulations, Samantha and Dawn Baker, on another wonderful collaboration! This book is a Flanker Press publication.

 The summer is coming to an end and the baby whale feels much braver than she did when she first arrived in the North Atlantic Ocean. She is eager to show off to her mother and leaps out of the water! Her mother proudly watches. .... Though the calf's world is about to change again, one thing remains the same: her mother will be by her side.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Murder At Lover's Leap ~ A Novel ~ By Patrick J. Collins

It is August 1927. Sergeant Frank Fallon is back on the beat at the Newfoundland Constabulary office in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland when reports of a ghastly discovery of two bodies at the foot of Lovers Leap is reported. Upon investigation Sergeant Fallon discovers that one of the men is the school teacher from the neighbouring community of Bristol's Hope, Mr. Nicholas Peddle, found clutching a woman's shawl with a superficial stab wound to the neck. The other severely injured deceased victim, an unknown gentleman with an interesting but crudely executed tattoo, is lying face up a short distance away. Fallon and estranged partner Christine Sullivan spring to action and quickly discover that Master Nicholas Peddle is not the well respected school teacher characteristic of the time. Over the course of the next four days, some deep secrets regarding the school master's conduct are uncovered and the list of possible suspects continues to grow until eventually the trail grows cold. Fast forward fifty years, 88 year old Fallon receives an unexpected phone call from the RCMP with news of a discovery that just might break this case wide open. Will an artifact recovered from the path near Lovers Leap bring closure to this unsolved mystery? What really happened on that August night?

From where he was standing, the shoreline leading to Lover's Leap was visible almost as far as the cliff itself, but it disappeared into a cove just before O'Keefe's Grove. He was glad he had tossed the hat and jacket earlier. It was a good half-mile jog to Lover's Leap. With his bad knee and feeling greatly under the weather, Frank wasn't at all confident he was up for the jaunt. But duty called. 

He braved a steady pace for the first few yards. The uneven pathway made the run even more challenging, forcing him to carefully place each and every step. Until now, he hadn't appreciated the degree of elevation as he moved along the headland. Within minutes he slowed to a fast, limping walk. Taking a lot longer than he thought, he arrived near the ledge of Lover's Leap, puffing and blowing.....He saw a thick rope dangling over the precipice. One of the men was securing a heavy line around his body, while the other was busy lashing the rope around a nearby tree. It was obvious to Frank that one of them was about to rappel down the face of the 100-foot cliff.

Murder At Lover's Leap is the twelfth publication for retired educator and author Patrick J. Collins. Inspired by a pair of true "but equally unnerving events", Collins' inspiration for this second narrative is based on the attempted double murder of two young lovers who, back in 1864, found themselves at the base of Lover's Leap. This unsolved crime coupled with the discovery in 2021 of a lead casing containing a badly deteriorated note suggesting that a murder was about to occur was the impetus for this latest narrative. Collins does an excellent job of crafting a tightly woven crime story utilizing these two events and seamlessly incorporates other factually accurate tidbits of information. Being a lover of Newfoundland history, I particularly enjoyed how the author was able to weave the construction of the Harbour Grace Airfield into the story while at the same time utilizing this local lore to aid in the construction of characters that are central to the story. 

As in Collins' previous crime thriller, Body On The Beach, this most current work also features the      detective-sleuthing of the romantically inclined duo of Detective Frank Fallon and investigative reporter Christine Sullivan. Collins crafts a crime thrilling story using authentic characters that are real and relatable while putting forth a narrative that will keep readers turning the pages to the very end. In this follow up novel,  the author effectively uses a flashback technique to pique the interest of it's readers. At the beginning of the story,  the author presents a very senior sergeant tormented by an unsolved double murder that had taken place 50 years previously, intrigued by the discovery of evidence that could lead to solving the crime. Readers are then taken back to a very different time and place as Frank Fallon relives the investigation and tells the story. At the beginning of the novel readers will get a sense that Fallon's continued struggle with "the bottle" is the result of some past triggering event, which will become clear at the end and readers will certainly be sympathetic with Christine's reluctance to continue the relationship with Frank under such conditions. As clues and suspects pile up, their commitment to each other is tested.  Readers will come to enjoy the flirtatious antics of the Irish barmaid Fiona who tries to serve more than just brew to the broken hearted Sergeant and interest will be piqued when the cocky son of Judge Donnelly makes a play for Christine. Readers will be happy to know that all will truly be revealed in the end when we find ourselves sitting with an elderly Mr. and Mrs. Fallon awaiting the outcome of the recent discovery. 

Murder At Lover's Leap by Patrick J. Collins is a well written crime thriller with expertly researched historical touches. The subplots that run parallel to the mystery provide an extra layer of interest that pulls the reader in, resulting in an entertaining and enjoyable read. I highly recommend reading Collins' first crime thriller, Body On The Beach,  for ultimate enjoyment however Murder At Lover's Leap is a great stand-alone mystery that really doesn't require the reader to have any background information. Murder At Lover's Leap ~ A Novel~ is a Flanker Press publication. 



Sunday, September 11, 2022

Me and Issy ~ A Four Seasons Romance


Me & Issy is the Cinderella story of author Rosalie Wise Sharp. Her rags to riches autobiographical account spans seven decades and details how a young, woman from a poor, immigrant family meets and falls in love with a man, Isadore Sharp, who would one day change the course of her life. Rosalie's story tells of her early beginnings in a North Toronto home. Growing up in a Jewish family surrounded by households that were not of the same faith was difficult. The author speaks candidly about her parents and family, and even steps back in time to a dark period when many of her relatives were lost in the Holocaust. However, her chance meeting of the man who would eventually become her husband and hotel resort pioneer, is a true love story that transcends time. Their partnership in life and love would eventually yield a family of four sons and an ever expanding Four Seasons hotel chain valued at $10 billion U.S. today. And to think that this was the brainchild of a man who once earned just $40 per week while his wife diligently raised their children and worked hard to kick start her own career in art and design? With the triumphs, however, there was defeat. When their son Chris was diagnosed with cancer and eventually passed at the tender age of just 17, this powerful duo did not buckle under the sadness and the loss but were strengthened in their resolve to support other families and victims of cancer by establishing the Terry Fox Foundation. As an accomplished woman in her right,  Rosalie continues to work in partnership with her husband to make a difference in the lives of her own family and in the lives of others. 

Snooping around in our childhood is our days occupation during this year of the pandemic 2020. We are after answers. How did it happen that my husband and I are still best friends and lovers after 69 years? How did our random journeys from childhood fit each other as easily as my Apple earbuds slide seductively into their sleek white case? How did it happen that Isadore has become a global hero both to us and to his 40 000 employees? And why do we fly first class in a private plane and live in a rather nice house? Maybe the answer can be found in patching up the past, probably a regular pastime of all of us old fogeys although we don't admit to being old, just "older". Isadore and I come from similar privileged beginnings. Not moneyed but rich as only an immigrant household can be. 

Me & Issy ~ A Four Seasons Romance is quite simply an enjoyable and inspiring memoir. Leaving no stone unturned, the author Rosalie Wise Sharp is honest and forthright in laying out her life to the world. Readers will appreciate the conversational style and will immediately feel at home with the author, as if they were sipping tea from her beautiful china, sharing secrets of her love life. Supplemented by family photos from the past to the present, as well as colored photos of the author's artwork, readers will gain a greater appreciation of Sharp's seven decade story with anecdotes that evoke emotions ranging from sadness to surprise, anger to happiness. All in all, this little piece of Canadiana was an inspirational read. Rosalie Wise Sharp's memoir is more than just an immigrant success story but rather a tale of lifelong love with an unfailing partnership and service to others at its core. Me & Issy is an ECW Press publication.