Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Lightfoot by Nicholas Jennings

 

LightfootI think I have spoiled myself. I have set a high bar for biographies after reading books on the lives of Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and the Beatles, Robbie Robertson among others. I have written on this blog before the effect reading a great biography has on me. I end up spending days and weeks listening to the music of the book’s subject buying the music I am reading about. This has happened after reading about Led Zeppelin (When Giants Walked the Earth) and Joni Mitchell (The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell even though the book was just okay) where I added CD’s from each of these artists and more. I would say that reading about the music maker is my greatest motive for adding to my music library.

Written on the Inside front flap of the cover of the book is “…Jennings (the author) had unlimited access to the reticent musician. Lightfoot takes us deep inside the artist’s world…” Note that Lightfoot is italicized; my perception was that Gordon Lightfoot himself was going to bring readers and his fans into his world, something that Lightfoot has protected tightly.

Make no mistake, Lightfoot is the most comprehensive book written about Canada’s original folk singer-songwriter troubadour. Jennings provides a view into the life of Lightfoot. There is just enough of Lightfoot in the book to know that Jennings had spent significant time with him. The early years in Orillia are very well documented and give us a look into the musical talent that Lightfoot’s mother stimulated and encouraged from kitchen table concerts to Church services to public performances and winning talent shows.

There are multiple voices heard throughout the book, wives, girlfriends, business partners and artists that Lightfoot has played and written with, including Bob Dylan. The most interesting chapters of the book involved the early years finding his voice in a sea of other performers, touring and recording. Sadly a lot of what is written in this period comes from those around him. There is just enough from Gordon himself to add credibility of the “unlimited access” talked about on the inside flap.

What is lacking is more of Gordon Lightfoot. The early years could have used more of his take on the music and performing and collaborations and his take on his success, or why it was taking so long. Lightfoot’s music is his legacy; we are familiar with it and long to know more about it. Lightfoot could have used some focus; perhaps leading to ending the book in the lead up to 1976 and the success of that years surprise hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. Without that focus, Lightfoot seems needlessly stretched to include GL’s sporadic recording since after the 2002 hospitalization and the near death experience following a collapse before a hometown concert in Orillia.

If Jennings had been able to extract more from Lightfoot, there might a reason to write about Lightfoot’s music past 1980, without it the book struggles to keep its audience.

The true test of course to the success of Lightfoot is whether or not I spent a significant amount of time listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s music. I didn’t. There was nothing to spur me on to listen back and hear in the music what Lightfoot was thinking or feeling at any particular time during his best creative years.

Lightfoot’s fans will enjoy the book, but it is best to limit expectations. Lightfoot himself doesn’t have the voice that was promised; if he had, there would’ve been a depth I’ve found other books of the same genre.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net

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Book Review: Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Are you sleepingAfter reading several non-fiction books, I was more than ready for a good work of fiction. My selection from Simon and Schuster, Are you sleeping by Kathleen Barber had arrived a couple weeks earlier and was sitting atop of my must-reads

Are you sleeping is the story of Jo Borden, who has successfully kept a secret from her circle of friends including her boyfriend. Successfully that is until an Internet blogger starts to investigate her past, more specifically the death of her father who was shot years before by the son of the neighbour. Claims are made that the young man convicted 12 years previously was incorrectly jailed for a crime he did not commit. It is an explosive accusation that attracts attention through social media and chat rooms until the mainstream media picks up on story.

While the mystery of the murder of Jo’s father is creating waves, Jo makes waves herself with the unravelling of her made up life story for the past 10 years. The unravelling includes a name change, a family that had not been talked about and the death of a mother, a death that is complicated by a lie of a death that took place a decade earlier.

Jo, really Josie Buhrman, is confronted with her reality, a reality that contradicts her new comfortable life in New York. Back into her life is a twin sister, Lanie, a former boyfriend and her now dead, for real, mother Erin Buhrman. Add the family history of neighbours, students and the intrusion of Poppy Parnell and podcasts that bring the murder of Chuck Buhrman and the drama surrounding the Buhrman family in that tragic time more than a decade ago is back in the local spotlight.

Are you sleeping, Barber’s debut suspense novel, published August 2017, has combined different mediums in the story to tell the tale of the Buhrman’s, the murder of Josie and Lanie’s father and the sudden death of their mother Erin Buhrman. Barber’s use of social media, and a transcripted podcast in the novel allows the reader to learn the background of the Buhrman family without the family drama getting in the way – until that drama is needed to bring a resolution about a mothers disappearance and a father’s death.

Are you sleeping grabbed me from the start, and held onto me until the near end when truths are discovered and by that point there was no turning back. In the end, Barber smartly allows Poppy Parnell to provide the epilogue to Are you sleeping.

Are you sleeping is a smartly written suspense with well-composed twists in the plot. For suspense lovers this is a must read! For others I offer a strong recommendation to pick up this novel from Kathleen Barber, not only for you but your book loving family and friends.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I post about the little things in life I see and do. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net

Book Review: Liberty’s Lieutenants

Libertys LieutenantsAh history, we all need to know it so we know where we’ve been as a society and it acts a roadmap of where we need or might be going.

I came to know of Liberty’s Lieutenants as the author works in the office beside me. I am always game to support local musicians, local artists and local authors that I know and happily bought a copy of Matthew Kelman’s book, a book that took the most of the past two years to write, edit and self-publish.

The book has a twofold purpose, first it’s a book about our liberties, our freedoms. . Our six freedoms are the freedom of conscience; freedom of speech; of association; to bear arms; freedom of movement and freedom to own property. Secondly Kelman has selected twelve historical figures (and one historical document) that have defended at least one of the six freedoms; all have military backgrounds and have been on the battlefield.

Kelman has divided that book into three eras; The Ancients; Renaissance and Revolution and thirdly Modernity. In each of these eras Kelman presents a portrait of battlefield warriors that typify how battles were fought. Common in each of their successes is the ability to adapt and change as the tools of warfare evolved and became more dangerous.

Liberty’s Lieutenants is a good start for those that are interested in history and curious about it as well. It is well written, but not written as a textbook. Some of the portraits Kelman provides are available in cinematic form already. Napoleon, William Wallace and the battles of Greeks and Romans are all ready to view, with artistic license given to the Director and Screenwriter. After reading the book, I challenged myself with deciding the top moments of Liberty’s Lieutenants. So I have my three favourite profiles.

The Romans and Greeks (from the Ancients) clearly influenced how wars were fought in the future. These warriors were outstanding strategists, but they were also busy politicians. The two professions went hand in hand, and did so for thousands of years. The practice of being a wealthy noble and military leader existed as recently as the 1800’s. Both the Romans and Greeks had military careers hampered by political actions taken against them while they were on the battlefield, only to be taken to court or lose office when they returned – even if victorious.

The 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta was celebrated in 2015. The Magna Carta is general considered the beginning of the division of powers between the Monarch and an ‘elected’ body of representatives. I don’t pretend to think those 35 words are sufficient to anyone who wants to understand the Magna Carta. Trying to do that is a daunting task. A travelling display made its way across Canada 2 years ago as an effort to educate us all about the beginnings of our parliamentary democracy. In Liberty’s Lieutenants, Kelman clearly explains where this all came about from 77AD to 1815 in 11 pages. Not to knock historians that have written essays and papers on the subject, but those eleven pages has been the best explanation I’ve read since 2015.

Of the thirteen chapters examined in Liberty’s Lieutenants, taking conversations being held across Canada and the US about historical figures today, the most interesting selection by Kelman is Robert E. Lee. My history lessons say Lee was a Confederate General; he fought and led Army of Northern Virginia in the war that was all about slavery in the in south. Right? Turns out it is only partially right. General Lee fought because he was against the North invading his home state of Virginia. Kelman writes that ‘Lee was morally and politically opposed to the institution of slavery’. Lee was invited to fight for the Union, declining because as I stated earlier ‘his reservations against raising a sword against his native State.’

Lee’s leading of the Army of Northern Virginia was not always successful, in fact had he been successful the US would look a lot different today. His leading of the Confederate Army was strictly a ‘nation’ issue and not related to slavery. He twice offered his resignation after battlefield losses, his offers to resign were always denied by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. This profile of Lee certainly changed my thinking of the man.

In each profile a generous description and background of events leading up to a conflict and the conflict itself are provided. Kelman also penned the maps of military movements providing a visual for his words. I would only suggest to him to include phonetic pronunciations for names, especially in the opening chapter with Greeks and Romans. I also felt a timeline would’ve been beneficial in locating his subjects with their contemporaries.

Liberty’s Lieutenants is a good read and a good precursor for additional historical reading. Liberty’s Lieutenants gives the reader of a few eras to consider for further study as their interest by be more in the time of “The Ancients” rather than the age of “Modernity” or visa versa. It could be that the age of “Renaissance and Revolution” is more a reader’s preference. In Liberty’s Lieutenants, Mathew Kelman gives a taste of each and lets you decide which road you’ll travel next.

Liberty’s Lieutenants is available on Amazon.ca.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I post about the little things in life I see and do. I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net

Book Review: Could it happen here?

IMG_20170928_0848160It has been an often asked question following the election of Donald Trump as the US President November 2017, Michael Adams’ book put the question front and centre “Could it happen here? Canada in the age of Trump and Brexit”.

While the title suggests a global perspective, the majority of the information provided by Adams focuses on Canadian and American polling and statistical information. Where does Adams get his research? He does it, the research – or more to the point, his company Environics does the polling and research. What Adams has done is pull the relevant information together and present numbers to make suggestions on the likelihood of Canada experiencing a Trump/Brexit moment.

If you like numbers and love the analytics of numbers you’ll enjoy this read. It reads like a press release at times, meaning for me having to review the numbers a few times to understand the message.   The message is important here, Adams does not go out of his way to make predictions, but present the statistical information to track probabilities in the different chapters.

Could it happen here does cement one fact for me; Canada and the US are extremely different in historical make up, social divisions and the reasons for the differences. This does add up to make the case that Canada’s Trump/Brexit moment is an extreme event and would need more stars aligning than were needed in the US. Our political makeup of three major parties almost guarantees we won’t see red baseball caps on most Canadians.

While the book deals a lot with Trump, it addresses Brexit and the likelihood of Canada wanting its Brexit moment. This year’s NAFTA renegotiations (a by-product of Trumpism) are the example. It was not any demand from Canada to tweak the trade agreement. In Parliament the Liberals and Conservatives are congratulating each other for the Canada European trade agreement. Canadians support these deals because we have been able to maintain Canadian institutions like supply management in the deals. Adams makes a big point that Canada’s immigration is generally supported by all parties and Canadians. The drivers that ended in the Brexit just don’t exist in Canada today.

Michael Adams presents the information that will allow the reader to make a personal conclusion to the question we’re faced with on the cover. But through the polling information and statistical data we see that when looking at the US, the UK and Canada, if you looked back populism seemed most likely in the US. For me, I’ve thought that America’s rise in populism began with the loss of Mitt Romney’s White House bid in 2012. Romney was no John McCain and no George Bush (both of them). He seemed to be as far from the common republican as you could be. But here is the problem, Trump has the wealth of Romney, however where Trump succeeded and Romney failed was that Trump spoke to the grassroots of republicans – Romney didn’t. The base of republican support doesn’t waiver, as it doesn’t with the Conservative Party of Canada. Populism in the US won the 2016 election because of an elitist candidate’s message to the base. Trump convinced the base hen was like them, though the lifestyle he lived was as far from them as anything could be.

Comparing a conservative base in Canada with the American provides substantial evidence that in Canada the rise in populism will be much more difficult. The key information that supports my idea is that Canadians don’t want a leader that doesn’t bend and avoids compromise. Americans and Canadians are opposites in this. Adams points out that a 2011 Environics survey 58% of Canadians want a leader that will compromise, 54% of Americans desire to have their leader to stand firm.

There are other reasons for me believing that Trumpism cannot succeed in Canada; a three party electoral system, our social and economic systems and dare I say it, our “Canadian Values”. There will however always be the wildcard of the voter themselves. Hillary Clinton found this out, the voters are fickle and if you lose their trust you cannot win.

Could it happen here? presents Canada vs. the US vs. Europe in a compact presentation. It also surprises the reader with the similarities between three. Similarities that do make you raise an eyebrow and go hmmmm.

 

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I post about the little things in life I see and do.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net

 

Book Review: The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew

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The political climate regarding Canada’s Indigenous People is hot, the federal government is trying to make an inquiry to Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women work. There are questions about the government’s integrity to their commitment to reconciliation while Trudeau and Liberals made reconciliation one of four themes for #Canada150 celebrations.

Through all this, it can be a difficult story for non-indigenous Canadians to understand and to wrap their heads around the history and the issues that continue to drive this story to the top of the national news programs. For most Canadians it is difficult to comprehend the pain of the past of residential schools, sub acceptable living conditions, child suicides and losses due to fires and other living conditions not permitted in the mainstream.

For the longest time I’ve been looking for something to read that will give me the sense I was looking for to understand the tragedy, pain of the history of our First Nations communities. There were books of political nature; non-fictional accounts and fiction that told the stories; magazine and newspapers articles were too formal. I searched through the entire bookstore shelves searching there was nothing that I felt was a good introduction for me to dive into.

I stumbled onto The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew; the book only had two rows on the top shelf. The Reason You Walk on the back cover is described as “a father-son reconciliation.” Flipping through a few pages, The Reason You Walk, describes a son, learning from his father about the life his father’s father had and the lessons and how those lessons came from the elders. The father, a residential school survivor is ill and in the months of his life. Wab tells the story of that last year with his father.

While The Reason You Walk is about how Wab and his father are reconnecting, it is also the life of his father, his life before Wab and his live as a residential school student, being taken to Kenora Ontario – away from his parents and community and from the years in school in Kenora, with only a few weeks back home each year. Yes, The Reason You Walk is the book for me that could explain the pain, the suffering and the loss that the residential schools brought, it would be my first step to understanding the importance of reconciliation and truth. The Reason You Walk is the book that opened the door to the first step of wanting, make that being able, to learn more and though I have used the word quite a bit, understand more.

Wab and his father are not perfect, in fact they have had dark periods in their lives, death, alcoholism, divorce and multiple spouses are all part of their lives before the wisdom of the elders is absorbed and accepted. They accepted their responsibility for their roles in the lives of their people, family and children. Wab and his father were exceptional men in their lives; they were a journalist, professor, Chief and activist. Kinew now sits as a MLA in the Manitoba legislature.

The Reason You Walk shares the troubled lives of Wab, his parents, siblings, wives and children. But it shares a message that goes far beyond the teaching of the elders, it is a message that applies to everyone, it is about the reason we walk…as Wab sings the song after his father dies.

“I am the reason you walk, I created you so you might walk the earth.

I am the reason you walk, I gave you the motivation so you would continue to walk,  even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.

I am the reason you walk, I animated you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back towards one another.

And now my son, as that journey comes an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk home to me on the everlasting road.”

The idea that reading the story of a father and son reconciliation can be a mirror for a greater appreciation of the challenges from our First Nations communities is not lost on me. They do not forget or try to rewrite their past, it used to remember and drive towards future goals. This is something that should be considered, when nationally efforts are made to wipe the past from our sights.

As demonstrated in The Reason You Walk, the past is used for a good future and so it should be and governments, Canadians and Indigenous People to move forward from the actions of those in our past.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I post about the little things in life I see and do.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.

Book Review: Legacy – How French Canadians Shaped North America

Legacy

The editors of Legacy start and finish the book, in between those pages are the stories of twelve French-Canadians, some I knew of and some I have not – though their names were known to me as street names in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa.

Andre Pratté contributes the Foreword and Jonathan Kay the Afterword. In the foreword, Pratte hints of who might be considered for a second volume as they were left out. Kay writes in the afterword of his ‘regret’ as a Anglo-Quebecer and how English Canada needs to know about these twelve French Canadians, but also that there are others that need to be heard and known of west of the Ottawa River. Both speak with pride about the role French Canadians played in the growth and prosperity of North American.

Kay says as much in a reply to a tweet I wrote after completing the book.

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My dilemma in reading Legacy was HOW do I read it? Do I read the essays in the order I want, or do I follow (trust) the Editors Pratte and Kay have purposely placed these essays in a particular order? I trusted the editors. 

Legacy was an interesting read, the subject matter was great, but because of the format, I was as at the mercy of the contributors of the book. There were some essays that I had difficulty getting through because of the writer’s style, but I got through them and learned more about the contributions our Quebec cousins made to Canada and North America.

In reading some of the essays I had questions as in with Deni Ellis Bechard’s essay on Jack Kerouac I couldn’t tell if it was written when Kerouac was alive as Bechard doesn’t mention his death in 1969. I was drawn into the life of Montreal’s Paul David and his medical accomplishments. The political tour de force of Thérese Casgrain left me wondering why we had not heard of her and why her name is not mentioned with the Famous Five when it comes to women who leave their mark on this country.

In reading the essays on Thomas-Louis Tremblay and Georges Vanier, their heroics and bravery were outstanding. They are connected through their membership of the 22nd Battalion, the Van Doos and their battles in WWI. It’s interesting that another great Canadian has such a presence in the life of Vanier, Vincent Massey was the foil for everything that Vanier stood for – but both became Governor Generals of Canada, George Vanier was appointed Canada’s Regal representative following the death Massey in 1959.

What I anticipated the most ended up being the most difficult to read. Lucien Bouchard’s essay of Henri Bourassa was riveting. It being a hard read, it forced me go through it twice, I am glad I did. Bourassa ‘s battle with the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XI is well documented, as is his passion for Quebec, a passion that lives on long after his death.

From explorers Pierre de la Vérendrye and Albert Lacombe to Jacques Plante and Kerouac, Legacy brings nine men and three women, all French Canadians and all-important contributors to North American Anglophones AND Francophones to learn about. Writers Ken Dryden (Jacques Plante), the afore mentioned Lucien Bouchard Bourassa), Samantha Nutt (Casgrain), Roméo Dallaire (Tremblay) and Jean Charest & Antoine Dionne-Charest (George-Étienne Cartier) add their voices through their words on Quebec’s and French Canada’s history and place in North America.

Surely there are more than enough subjects for a Volume II.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I am celebrating #Canada150 with a daily post of an event celebrating our sesquicentennial in Canada.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.

 

Book Review: “The Jersey Brothers” – A Compelling Page Turner

Jersey Brothers

If I were to draw a Venn diagram describing “The Jersey Brothers” there would be four circles intersecting with a larger circle that would be the war in the Pacific. While the war is in the forefront of the Mott-Cross family, it is merely the backdrop for all that takes place as three brothers and a mother fight for country and survival.   Do not get fooled thinking that The Jersey Brothers is the navy version of “Saving Private Ryan”. The Jersey Brothers reads like a well-crafted novel, but is a fact-based account of brothers Benny, Bill and Barton along with their mother Helen and their struggles that was 70 years in the making.

Sally Mott Freeman, daughter of brother Bill, researched and wrote The Jersey Brothers over ten years. She wisely leaves out observations of family relationships until the end in her epilogue. Using the information from Navy records, letters, diaries, accounts from fellow Navy Prisoners of War and until 10 years ago an unopened box of documents, letters and photos belonging to her Uncle, Barton Cross, The Jersey Brothers is a very compelling read. The facts surrounding the battles in the Pacific and the behind the battlefront activity is a history buff’s dream. From Pearl Harbour to Hiroshima and the end of World War II in Japan, Mott Freeman tells a brave story that leaves you pulling for an ending that everyone has fought for, but this is a war story.

The loyalty of the three men is tested by not being not only being able to know where the others are, but also by a loyalty to their mother who is suffering under the cloud of Navy protocol, privacy and the Navy’s number one priority of winning the War in the Pacific. While there are the personal accounts of suffering, depression and injury, the war goes on and The Jersey Brothers provides an account of actions by leaders in the White House, the Army and the Navy. Readers are given the backroom deliberations and arguments at sea and on land, the destruction of American battleships and the loss of tens of thousands of American soldiers. Reading of the Pacific War was a new experience for me – my knowledge was very limited, I started reading The Jersey Brothers as the 100th Anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge of The Great War was being commemorated in Canada and France.

Through many pages, I found myself hoping for that happy ending, only to be emotionally dragged through setbacks and disappointments. While in real life these events may need us to sit back and rest before moving forward, Mott Freeman drives us forward onto the next pages. Whether it’s Helen and her correspondence to government officials, her comfort in her garden or how her sons endure the ups and downs of the war, The Jersey Brothers is about the bond of family and the efforts each take to keep the ties alive through distance and desperation.

The Jersey Brothers takes us back, as a reminder that if at all possible a war on that scale, or any scale should never be fought again.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com where I am celebrating #Canada150 with a daily post of an event celebrating our sesquicentennial in Canada.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.