Sunday, November 19, 2023

Away From My Island ~ The True Story of Eliza Gill by Gary Collins

Eliza Wicks was one of eight children born in 1914 to Mary Jane and Joe Wicks. She dearly loved her home on Silver Fox Island but always desired more than the fishing lifestyle afforded to her large family of seven brothers and sisters. As a child, dreams of "black, shiny, patten leather shoes and a long, gold-coloured dress" were frequent but replaced instead by daily chores or working "in service" as it was called in those days.  At the tender age of eleven she accompanied her father and nine year old brother on a schooner trip to the Labrador. Working day and night to cook for the fishing crew, Eliza quickly discovered she was exhilarated by the feeling of freedom and felt as though her "spirit was let loose and being carried over the bounding ocean".  Eliza eventually met and married the love of her life, a school teacher named Jacob Gill. Again, dreams of a better life for the newlyweds and their young family consumed Eliza even if it meant having to leave the island and eventually Newfoundland.  Navigating obstacles and overcoming difficult family circumstances, debilitating illness, and ostracization by her church and community, Eliza laboured and toiled with great stoicism and bravery, never succumbing to defeat . The ultimate challenge, however, proved to be her final act of love. Away From My Island by Gary Collins is the true story of the amazing life of an outport lady turned heroine.

How does one bid farewell to the birth den, say goodbye to the soil upon which one had flourished and been nurtured? Strangely, for me it was the natural part of my island that I found the hardest to leave. The part of the island that could not bid me farewell was the island itself - the magnificence of it standing boldly above the sea, the cleansing feel, the scent, the aroma of the sea lacing the spindrift at its foundation, created anew with each flood tide. It was the bastion that had sheltered me, upon which I had found refuge, and which now, of my own choosing, I was leaving.

Away From My Island ~ The True Story of Eliza Gill is Gary Collins' sixteenth book. Known as Newfoundland and Labrador's favourite storyteller, Collins does indeed weave a captivating biographical account engaging the reader with vivid images and great prose while encapsulating Eliza's entire life in a respectful and intimate way. There is no doubt that Collins fully delivers in communicating this tragic yet touching story but is also successful in telling the story of a generation of people who were shaped by the real world events of their time. As Eliza's life unfolds, Collins steps in with historically accurate commentary on the social and political climate of the day. Readers begin to truly appreciate Eliza's life circumstances as the facts are laid bare;  fishing families left "in the red" to wealthy merchants; men leaving their community in search of Labrador fish;  the effects of The Great Depression, the war in Europe and the TB outbreak on the Newfoundland people; and the unusually hot summer of 1961 that ravaged Collins' hometown of Hare Bay, forcing the residents to seek refuge on Silver Fox Island.  As the author expertly intertwines biography and historical facts, Collins' relationship with Eliza as her son-in-law is revealed as well as a most tragic and unexpected ending that left me both shocked and deeply saddened. I applaud Mr. Collins and his courage in telling this most difficult story and hope that it brings some solace and peace.

Away From My Island ~ The True Story of Eliza Gill  is a uniquely powerful story documenting the extraordinary life of one woman and her family. This riveting tale also reveals the complexities and hardships of a whole generation of Newfoundland people. I would sure love to see Gary Collins, the infamous Story Man, narrate this tale as part of a documentary series. Away From My Island ~ The True Story of Eliza Gill is a Flanker Press publication.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Revenge Finds A Home by Bill Coultas

When almost 40-year-old Professor John Peyton is found on the East Coast Trail murdered from a bow and arrow shot through his neck, Irishman Bob Lynch knew his penchant for risky work assignments had come to fruition as the newest member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Assigned to the unusual homicide case of the deceased geologist, Inspector Lynch sets out to solve this murder mystery only to  discover that the arrowhead used by the perpetrator has strong connections to a now extinct Beothuk tribe of Newfoundland and Labrador natives.  As the investigation continues,  similar killings are discovered in Brazil, North Dakota, and British Columbia, all victims suffering the same fate; a bow and arrow through the neck using arrowheads made from the same Ramah stone. As extensive police work reveals a host of suspects and clues as well as a victim with a rather interesting personal and professional life, Detective Lynch is reminded of the memoir of his great-great-uncle Peter Lynch rescued by a native Beothuk tribe after abandoning his ship 180 years ago.  Strange connections between this modern day case and the memoir are revealed. Revenge Finds A Home by Bill Coultas is a unique blend of historical fiction and murder, following the lineage of two Irish relatives who find themselves in Newfoundland almost 200 years apart.

A slice of sunlight cut across John Peyton's eye as he slowly woke up from a contented sleep. His slowness to get up was likely due to the fact that he didn't have to be at the university teaching classes. 

He was fair itching to revisit the promising fossil find he had stumbled on just days before the fall semester. But he needed a couple of days at his country cabin to develop a game plan before heading off to the Cape Shore. He'd been combing the area all summer and now needed to focus in on a few key places before the cold weather set in. He was determined to have a good look at their unusual geological features, because he felt certain they would have great significance. Peyton imagined his findings would rival the world-renowned Mistaken Point and its well over 500-million-year-old fossils. That made them the oldest fossils in the world. Maybe his own find would even surpass those of Mistaken Point. He gloated at the thought and saw his reputation soar worldwide. Peyton slipped out of the king-sized bed, and suddenly the elevation made his head ache. He groaned, noting he had a bit of a head on. A slight hangover from the party last night. It turned out to be more fun than expected. There had been some shoptalk early on, but when two especially attractive female students arrived, things had gotten more pleasant and the drinks more frequent.

Though author Bill Coultas is no stranger to writing and producing creative works of art, Revenge Finds A Home is his first foray into the world of novel writing. Coultas captivates the reader from the very start with vivid images and continues the narrative with consistently detailed storytelling. He does a phenomenal job at incorporating the historical facts of european native relations into an authentic storyline and seamlessly melds it with a fictional modern day murder mystery. The two tales run side by side, providing a fascinating glimpse into the past that serves to enrich the present day murder investigation. Readers will feel the authenticity of the setting and the plot as they navigate police work alongside Detective Lynch and will be fascinated by the ever present complexities that propels a character's motivation to murder and drive to act. 

Revenge Finds A Home is a well-written provocative exploration of the concept of revenge and reminds us that "what goes around comes around". A copy of this crime novel can be purchased wherever Flanker Press publications are sold.

Monday, October 30, 2023

She Said ~ A Crime Novel by Mitchell D. King

When 17 year old honours student Mia Kennedy heads downtown with her friends for a night of drinking she notices a rather attractive Robert Harris seated at the bar.  The 38 year old divorced trucker is unwinding after a stint on the road when Mia befriends him under the pretence that she is 24, not 17. Soon enough a relationship ensues and after four steamy encounters Robert finds himself accused of sexual assault by the bright, athletic teen. The charges are brought to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador where every detail of this forbidden liaison is publicly dissected, exposed for the world to see. Which way will the scales of justice tip?

She Said ~ A Crime Novel is Mitchell D. King's first foray into the world of crime writing. A practicing lawyer with a prestigious firm in St. John's, Newfoundland, King draws on his legal experience in crafting a captivating story that exposes bias, stereotyping and the ever present flaws of the judicial system.

Mia walked with her friends to their usual corner table and, on the way, noticed a familiar face out of the corner of her eye. She stopped dead in her tracks as Amber and Ashley took their seats. Under the neon lights flashing above sat the man who Mia had met some months before. He wore a dark leather jacket over a black hoodie. As he had last time, he wore black jeans that were rolled up and paired with black combat boots. His beard was as grizzly as she remembered. Mia noticed that he didn't have a hat on his head this time, and she thought his hair looked nice. It was combed over to the side in a haphazard way, but it was a healthy head of hair. A warm feeling crept into her stomach and flowed down her legs, sinking like an anchor. 

King's narrative is expertly organized and well written. The fast-paced easy to follow storyline is told from the viewpoint of many different people including jurors, attorney's, family members and the main characters themselves, Mia and Robert.  As each person's perspective is presented, the reader gains new insight into the case and the sometimes complicated backstory of the individuals. This technique creates, within the reader, an acute awareness of the biases that affect decisions and judgements, challenging one's perception of innocence or guilt. The fact that the story takes place in familiar St. John's settings throughout the capital city and outlying areas is a nice touch. King's decision to also include the courtroom as a story backdrop is quite effective in authenticating the tale but also at providing disturbing insight to some of the workings of the criminal justice system. Readers will become part of the jury, immersed in the arguments presented for both sides but will also experience some inner conflict by knowing what has truly occurred.

She Said is a great first crime novel for Mitchell D. King. Wonderfully analytical and psychologically insightful, the story propelled me to just keep turning the pages. The ending was a bit of a cliffhanger and it did sadden me but perhaps there's more to come from author Mitchell King, or at least I hope so. She Said ~ A Crime Novel is a Flanker Press publication. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Seventh Son: My Road To Success by Jim Scott

 I was eight and had developed no thoughts around money other than there was never any extra. I also knew Thursdays were paydays, and for that day there was a lot of food in the house. Every other penny went to buy clothes and anything else we might need.  Not many dollar bills slipped into the cash pouch of my father's wallet and stayed there, and if there were any, they'd already been proactively claimed for future use. Nobody had spare money except, it seemed, Alphonsus Keefe. A business owner..... I knew, even at such a young age, that this was something worth striving for.

Seventh Son: My Road to Success
is the memoir of self-made millionaire and successful entrepreneur Jim Scott. Born into a working class blended family of 12 children in the Central Newfoundland town of Windsor, life was rough for the seventh son of a paper mill worker and his hard-working bride. But as luck should have it, the Celtic fable of good luck and prosperity that is often bestowed upon a seventh son proved true. This memoir is an autobiographical series of snapshots demonstrating how one ordinary man turned misfortune to fortune, while staying true to his humble beginnings and family values. 

At the age of 16, on the heels of his father's death, the carefree days of boyhood were over. The agony of grief was tremendous and not having a father to assist with navigating the hurdles of being a teenager were tough. Thrust unwillingly into manhood and failing school, Scott left with Grade 8 education to help support the family. Like so many other Newfoundlanders, Scott tried studying at the college but ended up leaving the province and working menial jobs. Eventually he found success as a millwright and secured work with IOC in Labrador City. As is common in the trades industry, Scott was no stranger to a litany of layoffs and found himself travelling to find work. Over the years he worked on the Hibernia and Terra Nova Offshore Oil projects and travelled to the US to work on the Big Dig Project. Eventually, Scott's vast experience as a tradesman and savvy business acumen resulted in his decision to establish his own project and construction management firm at the age of forty four. Standard Consulting Inc. was born and lived for nine years as a multi million dollar operation until it was sold to a national engineering firm. Jim Scott was fifty-three.

Seventh Son: My Road to Success truly portrays the arduous journey to success and offers hope to those on a similar path. There are many turning points in the memoir as the author writes with truth and purpose, inviting the reader to walk in his shoes. At times it was overly detailed and I found myself skipping over some of the technical writing relating to his business affairs however, many people will easily relate to Scott's early experiences (childhood shenanigans, first romances, death and divorce) and will come to appreciate the lessons gleaned from his life that supported his success. Seventh Son: My Road to Success by Jim Scott is a Flanker Press publication. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The River Murder by Patrick J. Collins

Author,  Patrick Collins is back!! Back with his thirteenth novel, The River Murder. Inspired by true events, Collins weaves another criminal tale of murder, suspicion and lost love set against a backdrop of religious rioting the likes of which the 1884 British Dominion of Newfoundland had likely never seen before.  

Set in the outport town of Harbour Grace Sergeant Sean Ryan is tasked to police the emotionally charged and tense community of Riverhead. On the heels of the infamous religious riot known as the Harbour Grace Affray, which saw the killing of four protestant men and the leader of the Irish Catholics, Patrick Callahan,  the community is deeply divided following public inquiries and trials which saw the exoneration of the Head Constable,  not guilty verdicts and finally acquittals for 19 Riverhead men. There is strong public dissent and great mistrust within the community but Sergeant Ryan,  a 12 year police veteran from Cork, Ireland, was the only officer who had not been involved in the Affray on that fateful day and would likely gain the trust of the Riverhead people. Certainly, being a Catholic himself and distantly related to the Callahans would also endear him to the community, one would think. 

The young police officer is propelled into action one June morning, when thirty five year old Thomas Callahan, the son of the late Patrick Callahan, was found floating in the river with a gunshot wound to his chest. The investigation is complicated and the Sergeant faces many obstacles and roadblocks.  As he works to gain acceptance and navigate a volatile situation fraught with complex social issues, he must also decipher his own mental health challenges while discovering that his former lover had been in a romantic relationship with the deceased man, Thomas. Will Sergeant Ryan gain the trust of the people and solve this gruesome murder?

In true Patrick Collins style, the author magically and expertly intertwines the unique factual history of his Harbour Grace home within a fictitious storyline. Complete with a detailed Prologue outlining the tumultuous events of the Boxing Day riot in 1883 as well as a map of the Harbour Grace area showing the location of the narrative, readers will have a better understanding of the storyline and like me, will have a desire to visit this quaint Newfoundland town. The story reads like a true who-done-it crime novel and readers will be introduced to many characters as the story develops and the mystery unfolds. The abundance of characters necessitated a reread of some sections in order for me to keep things straight but I still enjoyed trying to figure out who killed Thomas. Just when I thought I had figured it out, I discovered I was wrong. Needless to say the ending of the book did catch me off guard. Good job, Mr. Collins, on a great history lesson and an entertaining read!

Friday, June 9, 2023

The Newfoundland and Labrador Cocktail Book: The Definitive Guide to Cocktails Across the Province by Peter Wilkins

Whether you are just starting out, or a seasoned mixologist, The Newfoundland and Labrador Cocktail Book by Peter Wilkins,  is an easy to use book designed to expand your cocktail repertoire while offering a solid foundation for understanding the allure of mixed drinks using locally sourced ingredients from Newfoundland and Labrador. As it's title suggests this "definitive guide" to smooth tipples, flavourful highballs, and bold spirits is sure to pack a boozy punch and will no doubt become a well-used staple in your cocktail cabinet. 

From the very beginning readers will get a sense that this book is to be savoured and enjoyed. The Foreword is nostalgic, detailing the fun and merriment of kitchen parties and multigenerational get togethers fueled by liquid bliss, music and dancing. This book is about more than just a compilation of cocktail recipes but "about community, about gatherings that only end at dawn".  Author and Co-Founder of The Newfoundland Distillery Company, Peter Wilkins, invites readers to be adventurous and approach the repertoire with a reason to celebrate. Whether it be "a little celebration of the day, hour, company, a small feat or a moment" he reminds readers that a cocktail is both "life-changing and, most certainly, life affirming!" It is simply the tie that binds.

The physicality of the book is quite pleasing. Soft-covered and just the right size, the photos of cocktails made from Newfoundland Distillery gin, rum, and vodka accompany each easy to follow recipe and are colorful, warm and enticing.  Salt rimmed glasses, elegant flutes, sprigs of mint, a twist of lemon or a slice of lime; the photography is a feast for the eyes, leaving the mouth watering for just a sip. Wilkins also includes interesting historical notes surrounding the featured cocktail as well as his impression of the blended flavours providing proof of his passion for cocktail making and expert knowledge of mixology. Readers who are new to this wonderful world of cocktail making will be pleased to know that Wilkins offers tips on how to properly stock your at home bar and digs in to the tools and techniques of creating the perfect mix including recipes for homemade syrups and sweeteners. The section entitled Our Spirits provides a wealth of information on the seven varieties of spirits produced by the distillery in Clarkes Beach, Newfoundland and is a must read before stocking your bar. In fact, you might even be surprised by how many cocktails you can make from purchasing just one or two of the internationally awarded spirits. 

Divided by style (Highballs, Sweet, Light,  A Certain Delight, Bolder, Boozier, and For the Palate That's Choosier), there is a cocktail for everyone!   The author has included easy drinking cocktails that everyone loves like the refreshing Moscow Mule but has also included classic drinks with a twist such as the Rumhattan which, you probably guessed, is a twist on the ever popular Manhattan using the famous Chaga Rum. The Newfoundland Negroni made from Gunpowder and Rose Rum packs a nice punch and for those who enjoy citrus drinks the Salty Sailor made from Seaweed Gin is sure to get you smacking your lips. And who could pass up an opportunity to make a cocktail dating from the early 1800's? The Otterbury Fashioned, a take on the classic Old Fashioned, uses Aquavit, a Newfoundland "whisky" mixed with molasses syrup. As Wilkins reminds us, however, in the world of cocktails "there is never an outright winner, as subjectivity is what makes it such fun." The final chapter in Wilkins book explores cocktails from across the province; recipes from award winning, nationally and internationally renowned bars, breweries and restaurants who have mastered the art of a good cocktail using spirits distilled by The Newfoundland Distillery. 

The Newfoundland and Labrador Cocktail Book by Peter Wilkins is an adventure waiting to happen! Each recipe is filled with the promise of a unique and great tasting creation to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home, shared with friends or as a celebration of anything and everything.  The Newfoundland and Labrador Cocktail Book: The Definitive Guide to Cocktails Across the Province by Peter Wilkins is a Breakwater Books publication.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Hunting Helena ~ A Novel by Natalie Carter-Giles

A psychological thriller that will leave you aghast, Hunting Helena is a chilling debut novel written by Newfoundland and Labrador author Natalie Carter-Giles. Already hardened by a lifetime of grief, Helena Douglas is a young university student attempting to start life over when the unthinkable happens. While jogging along a coastal trail she is captured by a deeply disturbed man. For three months, two weeks and five days Helena is held captive in a dark basement. With only a dirty mattress and meager offerings of food and water, Helena becomes the object of her abductors affection, enduring daily physical and mental torture, satisfying her captors sick obsessive desires and penchant for violence.  Fighting against all odds, Helena finds strength from within and manages to escape the clutches of his derangement.  In the following years, Helena works hard to recover and slowly puts her life back together to some semblance of normalcy but, in the back of her mind, she is constantly aware that her captor is still out there, lurking in the shadows, walking the streets. When Deer Lake college student, Melody Scott's body is found in a drainage ditch eight years after Helena's rescue, Helena resolves to stop this crazed madman in his tracks. She partners with Sergeant David Campbell and follows the clues back to her hometown where memories of happier times, moments of despair and episodes of nightmarish terror come flooding back. In this process of rediscovery she begins to see many things in a new light including the motivation of her one-time best friend and a childhood bargain she made with God.    

I have often said that fear is many things. It takes pieces of you that you may never get back. It makes you lose control and can stop you in your tracks. But what I didn't say is that fear can change you in ways you wouldn't think possible. It can take your ability to trust, to love, and to live, but sometimes fear changes who you are. It takes your very being and morphs it into someone or something you don't even recognize. Fear can transform you into someone you despise, and make you loathe the person who you have become. And sometimes, when the fear is just too unbearable, it turns you into the monster from which you are trying to escape. Not all of us survive fear - not all of us want to. And some of us wish we hadn't.

Hunting Helena ~ A Novel is a chilling psychological whodunit with frequent twists and turns. At the outset, the Prologue sets the stage for a page turning, fast paced story.  Readers will be instantly sucked in to the gripping story of Helena's reality as she lies "in the corner on the damp and dirty floor unable to wipe away" the blood splattered on her face.  Natalie Carter-Giles doesn't just lay out the facts and tell the story. She cleverly weaves the brutality of the crime and the life story of the main character using a flashback technique. As the story unfolds, the reader is constantly learning new information; information about Helena's early life, her time in captivity and recovery, and of course the present day detective story that is about to unfold. The audience will experience heightened feelings of anticipation and anxiety and will prompt thrill seekers to consider the darkness that exists within humanity. 

Natalie Carter-Giles writing is very well done, adding just enough description to invoke an empathetic response from readers as well as gut wrenching shock. I did find some parts of this story to be very disturbing making it a true psychological thriller, I guess. However it is important for readers to know that some of the scenes of violence and brutality could be triggering. I particularly enjoyed how the author cleverly constructs each chapter to end with a "what if" question creating a well organized story that kept me thinking about the current plot and wondering what was about to happen. 

Congratulations to  Natalie Carter-Giles on her first publication,  Hunting Helena ~ A Novel ! If you are in the market for frequent twists and turns, unending suspense, and a chilling story this is the book for you!!  Hunting Helena ~ A Novel is a Flanker Press publication.