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  • in reply to: Nine to Ninety #319

    Book Review

    Nine to Ninety, Stories across the generations

    By Paula

    Susan Ioannou, a well established and prolific writer, has in her book Nine to Ninety, Stories across the generations, presented her readers with a wonderful array of captivating narratives. The cover depicts a 1950's family or perhaps slightly earlier, sitting on the stoop of some house somewhere, a generation of family, nine to ninety. The image captures your interest and curiosity in opening to the first page. It is also in large print, so very easy reading.

    Ioannou's medley of fifteen short stories commences with A Taste of Darkness, a Square of Light. You are introduced to a delightful little girl by the name of Lucy, her Grandpa Norm and the absolutely wonderful and eccentric "˜Miss Budges", two elderly sisters who own the "Cedars". I loved this story, it was so charming.

    Jamie and the Giant-Lady tells a story of a young boy dealing with the aftermath of a very serious incident that affected him deeply and the coping mechanisms to help in his healing. I thought the author handled this story beautifully. The story, My Lunch with the Rich People, was witty, and once again you are introduced to wonderful characters that just come "alive" and make you smile.

    I am only picking out a few of the stories but all of them are extremely well done. The author captures the personalities of her subjects brilliantly. And in many of these narratives you can see yourself, or your child, your mother, or your grandfather, whether the story is a flashback to the fifties, or the present moment.

    I do have to mention its O.K. To Be Different. It is about two moms and two little girls, and the uniqueness of both Moms. The stark contrast of the mothers and their housekeeping methods and their manner of dress is handled with humor but the message is clear and done with tact.

    The author does veer off slightly in the story Mrs. Minton Returns. Perhaps a little science fiction or fantasy or mystery? I leave you to figure it out for yourself. Memories, loss and the war are vividly brought home in Heimat. As you feel for the family in this story, you quickly bounce back with the delightful Ilse's Vacuum, about three ladies in a senior's complex.

    Several of the stories by Ioannou were slightly reminiscent of the writing style of Lucy Maud Montgomery, while other stories reminded me of the British author Barbara Pym. Nine to Ninety, Stories across the generations has something for everyone. A very entertaining and delightful book with stories that will touch your heart.

    in reply to: Shimoz #312

    Book Review – By Paula, August 20, 2009

    SHIMOZ by Sidali Nessal

    (Paraphrased from the author’s online synopsis on Shimoz )

    Gemma Dean, a novice psychologist, found her world turned upside down after meeting her first patient, Yacob Edin. Gamma is aware of a mysterious side to Yacob. Gamma’s agnostic beliefs are challenged in the face of terrifying events that permeate her very soul. Gamma and Jacob fall in love, marry and the demons and strange occurrences are a constant part of both of their lives. Some years back,Yacob had run away from his home country where a horrific massacre had taken place. Gamma convinces Yacob to go back to the country he fled to face his demons and put to rest the horrors he experienced. As they embark on the trip, Satan conspires to lead the couple up the devil’s path to meet their chilling destiny.”

    The title of Sidali Nessal’s first fictional novel Shimoz is intriguing as the cover picture itself. The story is present day, and locations are London, England and in the country from which Yacob fled some years prior.

    The author never mentions exactly where Yacob’s ‘homeland’ is located. The only clue I picked up on a probable location, was a hint about the architecture of a home Yacob and Gamma visit while travelling in that country, “They arrived at a picturesque farm scene of orange groves and vineyards, the centerpiece being the 18th century French house, large and built like a small castle”.

    Normally one is not intrigued with an index of a book. However the index for Shimoz is rather out of the ordinary. There are 78 chapters, with each chapter being not much more then 2 or 3 pages in length. The whole story is completed within 314 pages. Font size and bold type for the indexing is reminiscent of lay-outs for the old Horror Magazines (ie Weird Tales ) that one can find in antique book stores. It would have been nice to see each chapter receive a title of some sort as an information connector from one chapter to the next.

    The Prologue sets the stage for the unfolding of the story and I knew at the onset this book was going to take me on an adventure with Satan, symbolism, the occult, and Gods of all descriptions. The subject matter is not unique. It is the ‘Satan power battles God power’, or ‘evil versus good’, storyline. The book is full of metaphysical beings, horrors of all descriptions, shadow dwellers, prophecies and individual destinies, symbolism, spirits, cult rituals, demons, and the devil himself. Historical facts are also interwoven within the storyline, adding another level of interest.

    There is more to the story then an adventure/horror story however. It was my feeling, almost from the first page, that the author used this novel as a vehicle for addressing his political/religious concerns. I quote again from Shimoz,“..all the world’s people have turned their religions and differences into tools and weapons against each other”. His thoughts on this subject are interwoven in a number of unique ways throughout Shimoz.

    On corresponding with the author, he did mention that he endeavors to incorporate highly contentious themes into fictional work. Well true to his word, ‘˜he did’!

    I credit the author for a very lively, colorful imagination with a fast-paced story. There are numerous characters, many of whom meet an untimely and horrific death. Reading Shimoz, you do have to keep focused. I found on a number of occasions one chapter did not run with continuity to the next chapter and you had to figure out,“Okay, what happened! Did I miss something?”. I feel the author, with more experience under his belt, will improve on this point.

    There are other weaknesses with this first novel however, and if corrected prior to publication, would have made a much better read. The most noticeable was poor sentence structure,(some lines very long and rambling). Sentences should be fluid in structure. There were numerous spelling errors and grammatical problems. I strongly advise the author to find himself a good proof reader with excellent grammatical skills, who can fine tune future novels ensuring good flow with sentence structure and proper spelling and also, I wish to note, for the use of a word in the context intended. As one example of this, I quote from the novel, “bare with me while I figure this out on the fly,”. Proper spelling should have been ‘bear’ in the context the author had actually meant as ‘put up with me’ or ‘endure with me’.

    I am not a Horror/Adventure avid novel reader. However I was rather captivated with the two main characters Gemma and Yacob. The author is planning sequels and also a prequel to Shimoz, with much of the writing already underway. The meaning of Shimoz is self explanatory within the novel. I leave you to search for that information when you read the novel.

    Sidali Nessal is reluctant to divulge much about himself. He would prefer that people concentrate on the work, rather than on the author. However he did indicate to me that he was born in France, raised in London and is of mixed heritage, spanning cultures and races, specifically Jewish, Arabic and Greek. With his background, he felt it allows him to have a more encompassing perspective on the subjects he writes about. As Nessal stated to me, “The main inspiration and motivation for my writing is to connect with real people, because well and truly, that is what it’s all about”. And as true as that statement may be to Nessal, I believe he holds a special place in his heart for the unknown spirit world. I do not think one could write a book on this subject matter, if this was not the case.

    For readers who gravitate towards this type of novel, and there is a large following, I am sure you will find Shimoz entertaining, taking into account the grammatical weaknesses. This is Sidali Nessal’s first published fictional novel. I am sure his following novels will be very carefully edited to ensure grammatical correctness and more fluidity to sentence structure. In closing this review, I leave you with a line again from Shimoz, “You have to think outside the box a little; literally, outside the box that your mind is locked in, outside of your body”. So pick the book up,keeping the above thought in mind, and embark on an adventure into the unknown spirit world.

    in reply to: Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures #294

    Review by Paula

    Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

    Dr. Vincent Lam, an Emergency Physician by profession, has aptly utilized his wealth of knowledge and experiences in his debut book Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. The book comprise twelve interwoven short stories chronicling the lives of Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen, four young medical students and their lives as physicians. Lam captured the Scotiabank Giller prize for this book

    So I take you through each of the twelve stories with interesting tidbits to wet your appetite and a critique here or there along the way.

    How to Get Into Medical School, Part 1 is the opening story. Here you are first introduced to Ming and Fitzgerald, their love affair, the cultural differences that come into play and tips on how to study for exams, compliments of Ming. It worked for “Fitz”. Would-be medical students should take note of this. Of all the short stories, this one I found the pace slow at the beginning and a few sentences written awkwardly but a story that sets the stage for the next eleven stories.

    Take All of Murphy

    Along with Ming, you are introduced to two more medical students Sri and Chen, as they enter the ‘bowels’ of the hospital to learn about dissection of the human cadaver. The story is told with sensitivity, compassion and humor. You are given insight as to how each of these students deals with their first dissection and the raw emotions that come forth. Personalities certainly are developing in this segment. Loved the bit about the tattoo – it gave a personality or spirit, whatever you want to call it, to “Murphy”.

    How To Get Into Medical School, Part II

    You are back again with Ming and Fitz, and Chen becomes a major player, much to the misery of Fitz. I found this story well written, and you do feel for Fitz as the ‘love of his life’ moves on. The cultural differences between Ming and Fitz are an important factor in this story.

    Code Clock

    You meet Fitz again, along with other interns and medical staff as ‘Code Blue’ is called out over the intercom. In a well written story you feel the energy, excitement, nervousness and adrenalin rush as Fitz, along with another colleague ‘run the code’ to get to the patient, who is in cardiac arrest. You have seen these stories on TV but the written word by Lam gives you a much more realistic glimpse into the feelings of those in attendance as they struggle to keep a patient alive.

    A Long Migration

    This story rather stands on its own, almost like a ‘sidebar’. It is Chen’s family history, but really centered on his grandfather Yeh Yeh. It’s a great story and Yeh Yeh is so colorful and with Yeh Yeh’s illness, Chen’s interest in medicine is piqued and thus his journey begins. I think a book could be in the making on Chen’s grandfather alone.

    Winston and Eli

    In the story about Winston, you travel with Winston through his psychosis as Sri tries to to handle the case with tact and compassion. Sri shows up in other portions of stories and it is his compassion in dealing with patients that comes through. There is a sadness for Sri but then you will have to read the stories to find out.

    In the story of Eli, Fitz is at the helm, and he must attend to a prisoner who is brought to the hospital by police. Eli is the uncooperative, angry prisoner and has to be held down while Fitz attends to his wounds. There are risks to a doctor’s own health and safety, let alone the police, when dealing with this type of patient. I read about Eli as if I was reading a medical report on a clip board. But what both stories do is show the multi-tasking that doctors have to juggle and the extreme ends of medical cases they must deal with, and therefore the stories are crucial to the overall picture of ‘doctoring’.


    Another patient for Sri – a Code Blue. Every effort is made to save the patient but the patient dies. It is up to Sri to tell the family. He tells the family what they need to hear – with a slightly different version running through his mind But the story does not end there. The patient had his cardiac arrest at a barber shop, or more exactly, in the backroom. The patient’s wife is then on a mission to find out what took place in the backroom. I liked the characterization of the wife – she actually made this story I thought.

    An Insistent Tide

    Well the short stories would not be complete without a birth and this is just what this story is about. And Ming is the doctor on duty. An emergency situation develops towards the end of labor which has an interesting development. I found this story one of my least interesting. Perhaps it was meandering about too much before the story got into the actual birthing.

    Night Flight

    Dr. Fitzgerald takes to the air on a med vac emergency and the story unfolds. You get a glimpse into what is happening personally to Fitzgerald’s health and see that the stress, strain and sleepless nights are contributing factors, along with loneliness. You start to see a slight unraveling of Fitzgerald.

    Contact Tracing

    Remember the SARS epidemic in Toronto, well Dr. Lam captures in this story, just how staff must have been affected. The pressure on ward nurses to work the SARS floor and if they chose not to, what they would have to forfeit in return. Both Fitz and Chen come into contact with the virus and the story moves forward from there. This is one of the best stories in the book. There is so much emotion in this story and you have quite a fondness for Fitz and admiration for Chen who risks his own health to assist Fitz.

    Before Light

    Before Light, is the last of the twelve stories and it is a good one to wrap up the series. Chen is the central figure in this story. You go with Chen on his rounds and at the end of the day, you find yourself as exhausted as him. I felt the author really captured the ‘day in the life of a physician’.

    In Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, I choose to give a little insight into each story, since each stands on its own merits. I did find several of the stories slowly paced in parts, with other stories moving along more swiftly. However, that is a minor criticism. Lam has given us an honest and human glimpse into the hearts, minds and souls of Ming, Fitz, Sri and Chen. I will remember them for a long time. Good book Dr. Lam. I shall look forward to your next literary work.

    in reply to: sugar bush & other stories #283

    Sugar Bush & Other Stories

    By Jenn Farrell

    Review by Paula

    In her book Sugar Bush & Other Stories, Vancouver author and editor, Jenn Farrell has an amazing gift in capturing the essence of the trials and tribulations as girls and young women attempt to enter ‘the society of adults’. The book comprises twelve stories with Sugar Bush, one of the main stories. Each story is unique and powerful and you live the life of the girl the story revolves around…and then the story ends so quickly – and you really want to know more.

    The author portrays each character so well, that they literally come to life. Each story tells of the life of a young girl moving from puberty to a young woman or a young woman trying to maintain her own independence in today’s society. It deals with the hard facts of many social issues young people deal with. Many make unwise decisions, whether as a twelve year old, or an eighteen year old, with sex, lust, drugs and abuse forming part of their experiences. In many ways some of the stories are sad for you wish a better start in life for them. But each story reflects many truths of today’s society, even though at times we want to turn a blind eye to it.

    Farrell obviously has her ear to the ‘pulse of our youth’ with dialogue, feelings and settings. Take a moment to savour the short story, Dish Pig. This is the only story that headlines a young man as the main character. He is a dishwasher in a little bar joint, his first job, and he fantasies about ‘eighteen year old Amber, a regular visitor to the bar’. As he says, “The one really good thing about this job is Amber – it’s part of the reason I applied here in the first place.” You can literally feel the emotions pouring forth from him as he describes his feelings. Great story.

    Sugar Bush is marvelous. This story is told in the form of a ‘diary’ but with a unique approach.

    The last story in the book is Maternity Benefits. Alice is in late pregnancy and needs a job to get a few more paychecks to help pay the bills. Jason her boyfriend was laid-off and is on unemployment insurance and is working on building a grow-op behind their laundry room. So Alice goes job hunting with only a few weeks left in her pregnancy. The author has a great line in the story as Alice prepares to dress for an interview. “She had worn her longest, loosest hippie dress to hide how big she was, and then, right before she left, she put on a pair of old control-top pantyhose to try and mash the baby down.” Alice sets out on an interview, and the story unfolds. It has a twist to the end, and leaves you wondering really what happened.

    You see the hard side of life in each of these stories. Some of the women will make it in life but some you wonder about. And it also bears asking the question, “Where are the parents and family for support”. And that in itself answers some questions as you read through the pages.

    Sugar Bush & Other Stories, a pint size book (much smaller than the usual sized novel of today) but is packed with power it its writing. I look forward to reading a full length novel from Jenn Farrell at some point.

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