Monday, 30 November 2020
TAKE IT BACK, an explosive and riveting drama.
Kia Abdullah has written a bold and compelling novel that deals head-on with difficult and divisive issues. This page-turning novel explores the conflict between justice and pursuit of the truth versus family and cultural loyalty; rape and the sexualization of women; women's rights versus cultural misogyny. If that's not enough, then there are also thematic threads related to substance abuse and bullying.
The main story centres around Jodie, a genetically disfigured 16-year-old who reports that she's been raped by four young Muslim boys from her school. Main character, Zara, ex-hotshot barrister, now a sexual violence legal advocate, takes the case and is immediately thrown into an explosive and highly publicized courtroom drama where the focus immediately switches to race rather than rape. Pitted against her estranged Muslim family and her community, Zara is branded a traitor to her race and nothing more than an "Uncle Tom", when she tries to protect Jodie, a quiet, tragic girl with a neglectful, alcoholic mother, and support her in her fight for justice. Tensions soon escalate and Zara becomes a target in the centre of a violent fight between white supremacist, anti-immigrant groups and disgruntled Muslim extremists.
Abdullah creates a strong, conflicted and vulnerable character in Zara, a woman who rejects the female role prescribed by her family and community, yet still struggles to find love, acceptance and confidence in her own identity. The novel explores the case from multiple perspectives which allows the reader to understand even the alleged perpetrators' feelings and realize that the entire situation is a tragedy for all involved. This powerful, riveting and provocative novel is sure to resonate with many readers. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Net Galley for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
KIA ABDULLAH is an author and travel writer. She has contributed to The Guardian, BBC, Channel 4 News, and The New York Times. Kia currently travels the world as one half of the travel blog Atlas & Boots, which receives over 200,000 views per month.
Wednesday, 30 September 2020
On first appearances, this novel by Grainne Murphy appears to be a suspenseful, disaster story centred around the lives of a group of innocent people trapped in a bus teetering on the edge of a massive sinkhole. While the central catastrophe does play an important part in the novel, the story really becomes an in-depth study of human love and loss and grief and our fragility and strength in the face of tragedy. Hence the title and the bus disaster becomes a metaphor for the knife-edge we vulnerable humans tread as we struggle to overcome adversity and survive.
The story begins when a road in rural Ireland collapses and swallows a bus carrying eight passengers. As the bus threatens to fall deeper into the sinkhole, the authorities scramble to set a rescue plan in place. What follows is partly the poignant story of some of the victims inside the bus, but mostly the novel focuses on the people involved in the rescue, mainly Nina, a news reporter on the scene, and her ex-husband Tim, a fire-fighter in charge of the rescue. Their shared grief over the death of their 11-month-old daughter comes to the forefront as the pressure of the rescue intensifies.
The author is not afraid to tackle sensitive themes and when Alina, a visible minority passenger is rescued by Richie, the bus driver who was recently suspended over his use of a racial slur, rumours about terrorism soon start circulating, despite the fact that the woman has lived her entire life in Ireland. Murphy really nails Richie’s struggle to come to terms with his new hero status and Alina’s questioning of her true place in her adopted country.
Murhy’s writing is lyrical and intense, though relieved by some humour. Difficult themes are tackled with great sensitivity and insight, particularly in some of Nina’s heartrending reflections on the details of her child's death and its catastrophic effect on her life. At times, however, the pace slows a little and events lose their emotional impact when Nina appears to be going over the same ground. Also the final rescue is underplayed, which may be disappointing for some readers. But for those who are looking for an exploration of family, connection, self-identity, faith, belonging and all the things that make us complex humans, this will be a most satisfying read.
Thanks to Legend Press for sending me an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.
Check out these other great sites for reviews of the book.
Thursday, 10 September 2020
DELTA BEACH and FORT LA REINE MUSEUM
Fort La Reine, on the outskirts of Portage la Prairie, is an interactive museum where you can wander through completely furnished houses and shops from every era in Manitoba's history from an authentic trapper's hut to a 1920's house to a fully functioning local newspaper office complete with printing press. Every detail is lovingly preserved. Set aside a few hours to get through every intricately furnished room.
Delta Beach on Lake Manitoba is a wild and windswept place next to Delta Marsh - a favourite spot for hunting lodges since the Victorian era. Shallow, clear water and gnarled, uprooted tree trunks left over from the last major flood, make this a haunting place to visit.
HECLA ISLAND/GULL HARBOUR
Located an hour away from Gimli, Hecla Island is a pristine piece of wilderness sitting on Lake Winnipeg. Originally an Icelandic settlement, Hecla village retains its charm in the tidy, well kept houses that stand along the road. Drive through to reach Gull Harbour and its charming pier, and for those who love to golf, the Lakeview Hecla resort is an oasis of luxury in the wilderness.
MATLOCK and WINNIPEG BEACH
Only an hour's drive away from Winnipeg takes you to prime cottage country and beautiful beaches on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Towns like Matlock and Winnipeg Beach have been popular resorts since the turn of the 20th century when they were first accessible by rail. Up until the late 1950's a train nicknamed "The Moonlight Special" ran every Saturday night, transporting starry-eyed revellers from the Winnipeg CPR station to the famous "Pavilion" at Winnipeg Beach with its 1400 sq. ft. dance floor. The massive roller coaster and dance hall are long gone, but the old wooden piers on Matlock Beach are still there and the main street of Winnipeg Beach has been recently renovated and now has an outdoor stage and picturesque boardwalk giving it a nice retro feel .
STONEWALL and OAK HAMMOCK MARSH
In the early days, the limestone escarpments of Stonewall were used by indigenous populations as "buffalo jumps" when riders would funnel the animals towards a steep cliff during the hunts. In the 1880's a quarry was opened to produce quicklime. The massive limestone kilns can still be seen at the entrance to Quarry Park, and the Kinsmen Pool boasts gorgeous greenish water perfect for cooling off on a hot day.
Oak Hammock Marsh is a 36 sq. km restored prairie marsh and beautiful interpretive centre. Home to a wide variety of birds and mammals, the area is a vital staging ground for fowl migration when up to 400,000 birds a day can be seen landing or taking off from there.
It's been a great summer travelling to these and many other places nearby. Just shows you how many great places there are close to home.
Check below for my review of an amazing new novel:
It is indeed a strange experience to read this book about a pandemic when the world is presently in the grips of one. Apparently Saleema Nawaz began to write this novel in 2013 and completed it in 2019, just in time for fiction to become reality. The story, therefore, becomes eerily prescient, the face masks, hand sanitizers, quarantine periods and crowded E.R's strangely familiar. A major difference is that though the virus in the story is a coronavirus that attacks the respiratory system, its primary victims are children rather than the elderly.
What makes this such a great novel, however, is that it never falls into cliched dystopian imaginings or a doom-filled story of world apocalypse. Instead it takes time to examine the interaction between a handful of seemingly disparate people who find themselves living through an unfolding catastrophe. These people all turn out to be connected in both direct and indirect ways, therefore their actions all impact on one another and their lives intersect in unexpected ways.
The publisher's blurb outlines the main characters: "Elliot is a first responder in New York, a man running from past failures and struggling to do the right thing. Emma is a pregnant singer preparing to headline a benefit concert for victims of the outbreak–all while questioning what kind of world her child is coming into. Owen is the philandering author of a bestselling plague novel with eerie similarities to the real-life pandemic. As fact and fiction begin to blur, he must decide whether his lifelong instinct for self-preservation has been worth the cost." A host of other characters chime in to tell their stories too.
Nawaz moves back and forth in time, carefully providing back-stories that establish exactly what motivations drive her characters and how much they stand to lose if society succumbs to the unrest that, in her own prophetic words from a recent interview, "is being primed for fear by the 24-hour news cycle and by politicians stoking divisiveness." Sound familiar?
This is such a wise and in-depth study of the human condition and how it either triumphs or fails in the face of impending disaster. Though some parts in the mid-section could have been trimmed a little, the story gradually picks up steam, making the final section so powerful and compelling I found it impossible to put the book down until I was finished.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review
Friday, 21 August 2020
The Beauty of Your Face by Safar Mustafah is a compelling and authentic novel that not only explores the complex struggles of a culturally conflicted daughter of Palestinian immigrants, but also touches on universal themes such as identity, loss and the pain of a middle child rejected by her mentally fragile mother.
The book follows dual storylines of Afaf , principal of a Muslim school for girls just outside Chicago, opening with the shocking arrival of a xenophobic shooter who kills girls at random. The eventual tense standoff between Afaf and the shooter frames the more in-depth story of her earlier life leading to this point.
A bright, intelligent teenager, Afaf negotiates the difficulties of life as the daughter of secularized parents in a town where she faces casual but cruel racism on a daily basis. When a tragic loss causes major family upheaval, she struggles to find a place to belong when she’s spurned by all her classmates and even her own mother who seems to hate her. She becomes rebellious, experimenting with casual sex and growing to hate herself in the process. When the incidents of 9-11 occur, the racial slurs intensify and her life becomes close to unbearable.
Afaf eventually follows in her beloved father’s steps as he becomes a “born again” Muslim and she finally finds a place and people that welcome her. The author, however, avoids cliché and sentimentality by portraying the complexity of a family divided by their level of faith. In other words, religion is not presented as a magic “cure” for the problems of this family.
The story builds to an inevitable climax when Afaf confronts the shooter. The author uses a classic suspense technique and makes us wait until the end to find out the outcome, a good choice because by this time the reader is heavily invested in the pitfalls and victories of Afaf's life.
This was a well written book that provides a window on the struggles of second generation immigrants in a country that often misjudges and even fears them. Afaf is a compelling and sympathetic character whose experiences prove that despite the colour of our skin or our differences in religion we are all still striving for love, happiness, acceptance and a place to call home.
Thanks to Legend Press for sending me a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out the other stops on the blog tour to see what others have said about the book.
Thursday, 16 July 2020
Summer here in Manitoba, Canada, has turned out to be a glorious one despite the occasional thunderstorms so I decided to take advantage of the incredible weather and explore some of the beautiful sights of my home province.
Manitoba's staggering size of 647,797 sq.km (101,593 sq. km of that is water) and relatively small population of 1.38 million people makes it easy to find remote, unspoiled areas by driving only a short distance. With a widely varying landscape from arctic tundra and the Hudson Bay coastline in the north, to dense boreal forest, prairie farmland, and white sandy lakeside beaches in the central and south regions, you can take your pick of amazing sights and experiences for even a short day trip.
Here's a few highlights of some of our day trips:
BANNOCK POINT PETROFORMS
Located in the Northern Whiteshell, this mystical site goes back 1500 years and is a physical reminder of instructions given to First Nations people by the spirits. Anishinabe, also known as Ojibway or Saulteaux, regard these petroform sites as places of special teaching and healing, still sacred and revered today.
This area is completely open to any visitors and is accessible by taking a short hike through the forest. The area must be treated with great respect as a sacred and mystical place. Offerings such as cloth bundles, tobacco or coins can be left on a rock at the beginning of the unmarked trail.
Only two other people were there the day we visited. They soon disappeared into the forest, so we found ourselves alone in this haunting and serene landscape. Surrounded by trees at the perimeter, we walked onto the stark rocks of the Canadian Shield, and wound our way through the endless trail of petroforms, stones intricately placed in the shape of snakes, turtles, humans and other forms. The sun beat down on us from a cloudless sky, but we took the time to stop and wonder at the mystery of the place and the people who had first come together here over 1500 years ago to carefully construct this amazing ceremonial place.
|A beautiful picnic spot on the Red River|
Wednesday, 15 April 2020
Friday, 10 April 2020
Poetry is food for the soul. Poetry has the power to move you emotionally and intellectually. As the great poet T.S Eliot said, "Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood," so don't worry if you can't grasp the meaning of every phrase, just soak up its beauty!
Hope you'll revel in these lush creations and their celebration of language, imagery and the senses. Just click on the title to go to the video.
Still I Rise by MAYA ANGELOU:Watch a young and playful Maya Angelou present this inspiring poem about personal power.
A Letter to Remind Myself Who I Am by SHANE KOYCZAN
Forget the isolation blues! Brilliant Canadian spoken word poet, Shane Koyczan, performs this motivating poem that will light a spark inside your heart!
You are Old Father William by LEWIS CARROLL (unknown reader)
The nonsense poems of Lewis Carroll are always so refreshing. Here's a cute animated version of the classic from the Alice stories.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night by T.S ELIOT (read by Jeremy Irons)
Ever wondered whose words inspired the famous Cats song Memories? Listen to this gorgeous work by genius wordsmith and my personal favourite of all poets, T.S Eliot and you'll find out. Read by the wonderful Jeremy Irons. Who can resist that velvet voice?
The Greatest Poem in the English Language by RICHARD BURTON
Speaking of gorgeous voices. Check out this short but incredible piece performed by Richard Burton.
Night Poem by MARGARET ATWOOD
It's a rare treat to listen to the brilliant Canadian writer read one of her poems. Most people don't realize Atwood is a gifted and renowned poet as well as novelist.
Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines by PABLO NERUDA: read by Andy Garcia
Here's something for the romantics among you. A translation of the great Chilean poet's wistful, heartrending piece, read with sexy restraint by Andy Garcia. Break out the Kleenex, you'll need one after listening to this.
Naked by PABLO NERUDA: read by Sting
The first minute and a twelve seconds of this recording is a master class in romantic and erotic imagery, read impeccably by Sting. What follows is a song by Josh Groban which sadly doesn't measure up to the brilliance of the poem.
The Cinnamon Peeler by MICHAEL ONDAATJE
Staying with the sexy poems, here's a treat. Watch incredible Canadian poet and novelist, Michael Ondaatje read this gorgeous poem. Born in Sri Lanka, the poem reflects the lush and sensual imagery of his birthplace.
Looking for something a little more cerebral?
Dark Pines Under Water by GWENDOLYN MACEWAN
The late Canadian icon of modernist poetry reflects on the internal journey of the reader as triggered by the reflected landscape. Some interpretations also claim this is a tribute to Group of Seven landscape artist Tom Thomson, an intrepid explorer who drowned mysteriously on Algonquin Park's Canoe Lake.
Burnt Norton: Part 1 of The Four Quartets by T.S. ELIOT (unknown reader)
Listen to Eliot's haunting reflection on time, beauty, faith, alternate realities and possibilities. Inspired by his time spent at Burnt Norton Manor in Gloucestershire, this beautifully presented masterpiece read by a talented female reader is rich with phrases and images that will revisit you in dreams.
Tuesday, 24 March 2020
Here's a list of books, movies and TV shows that might help:
You can't go wrong with Irish writer, Tana French.
- THE LIKENESS: Cassie Maddox has transferred out of the Dublin undercover squad. Months later she's summoned to a murder scene. The victim is her double and bears the identity of Cassie's last undercover alias. Cassie is forced back undercover to find the killer.
- THE TRESPASSER: Tough no-nonsense cop Antoinette Conway has clawed her wayup the ladder against all odds and despite constant harassment, but when a pretty, blonde murder victim turns up and Antoinette feels like she and her partner are being forced to arrest the boyfriend, she senses that a cover-up is in the works. Is police corruption playing a part?
- THE TURN OF THE KEY: When Rowan Caine finds an ad for a well-paid nanny in the Scottish Highlands, she jumps at the chance to work at the luxurious smart-home. She doesn't realize it will end up with a child dead and her in prison. Writing from the prison cell, Rowan tells exactly how she got to this terrible place. A real nail-biter and a fast read full of twists and turns.
- TRANSCRIPTION: In 1940 eighteen year old Juliet Conway is reluctantly enlisted into the Secret Service, to help with the wartime effort of rooting out Fascists and Nazi sympathizers. Though at first the work is tedious and routine, Juliet becomes more embroiled in dangerous undercover operations. After the war she takes up work with the BBC, assuming that chapter of her life is over, but when figures from her past begin to appear she realizes she may have made more enemies than she realizes.
- THUNDER ROAD: with a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, writer-director-lead actor, Jim Cummings presents a tour de force with this story of Southern cop, Jim Arnaud, who tries to raise his daughter as a love letter to his late Mom, while facing a personal breakdown as he deals with grief and the breakdown of his marriage. Hilarious and heartbreaking.
- IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON: A Philadelphia cop struggles with a lifetime obsession to track down a serial killer whose crimes defy explanation. Compelling movie with a shocking sci-fi twist.
- STARRED UP: starring Jim McConnell and the brilliant Ben Mendelsohn, this tough, gritty movie tells the story of tough guy, Eric Love, 19 who's locked up in prison. On his first day he assaults an inmate and several guards. He's sent to group therapy, but when his dad—an equally tough lifer in the same prison—steps into the picture, the tension ramps up. Can Eric be rehabilitated? (R rated movie).
- THE CROWN: lush escapism about the royal family
- RECTIFY: thoughtful drama about a wrongfully convicted murderer released to his home
- ANIMAL KINGDOM: heists and hi-jinx among a California crime family.
- DR. FOSTER: the great Suranne Jones stars as a middle class doctor with a cheating husband and revenge on her mind.
- LINE OF DUTY: another great British cop series about a team of detectives tasked to root out police corruption.
- LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX: after 50+ years apart, ex-teen sweethearts Celia and Alan decide to marry. Major family fallout follows. Starring the brilliant Derek Jacobi, Ann Reid and Sarah Lancashire.
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