One Woman’s Island – a review (2)


One Woman’s Island
by Susan M. Toy

Purchase copies here

One Woman’s Island is the second novel in the Bequia Perspectives Series by Susan M. Toy. This is the second book of Susan’s that I have read, and I enjoyed it as much as Island in the Clouds.

About the book
Running away from Canada, Mariana hopes to forget a failed marriage and the death of her husband by embarking on a whole new life. She moves lock, stock, and two cats to the small Caribbean island of Bequia. But the move brings more than she could have imagined. New friends ask her to help solve a recent murder in the expat community. And then there’s the problem of her neighbours, a young woman and her children. Seemingly abandoned by family and friends, Mariana believes they need her help!

By becoming involved, Mariana is carried along from wanting to simply “live with the locals” to being overwhelmed by their culture, one so vastly different to what she had left behind in Canada that she doesn’t know who among her expat friends she can turn to for advice. So she carries on regardless and discovers that Bequia isn’t exactly the tropical paradise it had promised to be. One Woman’s Island is the second novel in the Bequia Perspectives series that picks up again a few months in time after the first novel, Island in the Clouds.

My review for One Woman’s Island
Many of us have reached a crisis point in our lives and run for the hills. We seek somewhere to lick our wounds away from those who know us and also hope that we can break the cycle in new surroundings and with new friends. However, what rarely changes is our basic nature, and in the case of Mariana her warm and caring approach to people is the cause of more challenges in her life. I also know, having lived as an expat in several countries, that appearances can be deceptive and it takes time and understanding of the ‘local’ culture to be accepted.

Mariana wants to be involved in the lives and activities of those she meets whilst still enjoying her hideaway on the island of Bequia. Her attempts are not always successful and speaking her mind does not help the situation. But she is a passionate woman and is not deterred by the resistance that she meets; with very serious consequences. Throw into the mix a crowd of colourful expats with their own cliques and agendas, property land grabbing with violent murders and intrique and you have the recipe for a very good read.

You also get two books for the price of one as Susan Toy separates the chapters of the book with wonderful local Caribbean recipes that she has accumulated.. One of which caught my eye.. Bequia Lime Pie… definitely a recipe to be tried and tested. This gave the book a unique flavour of its own.. and with the grey and wet skies of Ireland outside my window I thoroughly enjoyed my few days on the sun soaked island.

Sally Cronin
(This review has appeared elsewhere, including on Sally’s blog.)

Sally Cronin has been featured on Reading Recommendations and is also included in the lists of All-Star Authors and Reading Recommendations Revisited.


Musiville – a review


by Nicholas C. Rossis, illus. by Dimitris Fousekis

Purchase copies here

Synopsis: A group of animals has evolved into musical instruments. Or is it the other way around? Whichever the case, they have now formed their own little village: Musiville. And bands. Lots and lots of bands. When everyone starts playing their own tune, buildings get torn down by an invader. Can Musiville be saved by the unexpected threat?

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author. This is a funny children’s story with a great message, here is my review:

Welcome to Musiville, a village of animals that has evolved into musical instruments or is that musical instruments that have evolved into animals? Either way, each of the animals of Musiville love to play their own music until one day something terrible happens…

Musiville is a wonderful children’s book with the core message of working together. The story follows Maracerus, a rhinoceros with a maraca for a horn, as he wakes up to a cacophony of sound from the village square. Every animal has been playing their own music for far too long and the animals need to work together to create harmonious music in order to save their village.

This is a very fun read for both kids and adults alike. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first saw the book but the story had me instantly interested in reading on. It is easy to read although I did find myself occasionally wondering how to pronounce an animal’s name or which instrument it was part made of, perhaps more my lack of knowledge of things such as agogo bells than a problem with the story. However to fix this problem there is an appendix at the back of the book where all the animals are listed along with a brief description and a lovely picture so you may want to keep referring to the appendix if you wonder what the animals look like.

This book has some very fun illustrations throughout the pages. The pictures are all a bit silly and really put a smile on your face as you read through the story. Although they display well digitally, I’d recommend getting a hard copy if you can as you’ll see the double page spreads so much easier.

I really love this children’s book and I’ve read it more than once! The different animals and their pictures are what really makes me come back to this book again and again, particularly the Celliraffe and Flurrow, but with it’s core message of cooperation this really is a great book for anyone of any age to read.

Rating: 5/5

(This review has been posted previously.)

Nicholas C. Rossis has been featured on Reading Recommendations previously. happymeerkatreviews publishes a blog of book reviews and author information.

Fascination – a review


by Kevin Brennan

Purchase copies here

Get ready for a road trip! Fascination is an odyssey around the quasi-wild West, on a mission of “self-realization and vengeance.”

Gorgeous Sally Pavlou, widowed by her husband’s fake suicide, sets out with insouciant PI (and punster) Clive Bridle to track down her errant spouse. From an unnamed Midwestern burg, the two hit the road in Sally’s ’63 Dodge Dart (nicknamed “Dot”). Readers get to ride along — to Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, L.A., San Francisco and various side trips to spots that may or may not appear on any map. Along the way, the pair encounters an astonishing variety of sages, sinners, eccentrics and downright lunatics who offer opportunities for enlightenment.

Sally is an aficionado of an old-fashioned arcade game called Fascination. Every now and then she just has to play, even if it means a considerable detour. Clive is fine with that; stretching out the trip means he gets to spend more time in Sally’s company. His cheerful exterior hides a wounded heart and a capacity for duplicity. Altogether, there are quite a few bumps in the road to self-realization and vengeance.

Kevin Brennan has created a finely-textured novel, with laughs (or at least smiles) on every page. Whether it’s groan-inducing puns or agile prose that creates vivid scenes in the reader’s personal mind-movie, the alert reader will find way more than the captivating plot to reward their decision to read Fascination.

Audrey Driscoll
(This review was previously posted to Audrey Driscoll’s Blog)

Kevin Brennan has previously be featured on Reading Recommendations a number of times. Audrey Driscoll is a writer and gardener who lives on Vancouver Island and reviews books at Audrey Driscoll’s Blog.

Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul – a review


Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul
by Bill Engleson
Publishing by Silver Bow Publishing

Purchase copies here

When I moved permanently to a small Caribbean island, there was a saying within the long-term expat community: Why would we want to change what brought us here in the first place? Unfortunately, those outsiders who arrived during the decades following me didn’t get this same memo. So I approached Bill Engleson’s new collection of essays with complete understanding and empathy.

Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul is writing with a glint in its eye and an upwards curve to the lips. Yes, these are rants about the inevitable changes that come to any small place once it’s discovered, but through these rants Engleson manages to also preserve the memory of that which brought him to Denman Island in the first place. With this collection, we have a unique opportunity to see what life was like before those other gentrifying souls moved into Ruraltania and changed it into something that closer resembled their way of life they left behind back in the big cities.

Peppered with relevant quotes from famous authors, comedians, and other thinkers, these essays (both previously published and new) on island and small-town life, cover subjects as diverse as: libraries, librarians and unusual objects found inside borrowed books; the usefulness (or not) of committees; censorship; tradition; the generation of ideas; local characters and curmudgeons; movies and old episodes of Leave It To Beaver.

So even though you have never lived on an island or in a small place, there’s still a great deal of insight into life in general to be gained from reading Confessions of an Inadvertently Gentrifying Soul. Engleson’s writing is comfortable, and very much like chatting over coffee while sitting in mismatched upholstered chairs in front of a wood fire. In fact, the entire book is like reminiscing with an old friend.

~ Susan M. Toy, author of the Bequia Perspective novels
(This review was previously published in the Island Tides newspaper of Denman Island)

Bill Engleson has been featured on Reading Recommendations, here and here. Susan M. Toy is the brains behind Reading Recommendations and reading recommendations reviewed.

The Gift: Penance – a review


The Gift: Penance
by J.P. McLean
Published by WindStorm Press
Genre: Fiction – Contemporary Fantasy/Thriller

Purchase copies here

The author sent me an ARC of this book (epub format) in exchange for an honest review.

This book reunites the readers with Emelynn Taylor – in need to work undercover to keep the deal with the ICO.

With The Gift: Penance, J. P. McLean has once again created a thrilling combination of mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, and a touch of romance with steamy situations. It is a compelling read centred on Emelynn, drawing you close to her. J. P. McLean paints a clear picture of the main characters’ mindsets while the story evolves. In this fourth story, I was drawn even closer to Em – again an invisible friend and ally; trying to find the culprits with her. The characters are of sufficient depth, believable with their flaws and virtues. The story is a very nicely woven combination of several genres, has a wonderful flow; it was easy to get hooked. I had a great time reading The Gift: Penance.

This is a book for you if you like mysteries or paranormal romance with a very urban touch and believable characters, some strewn in steamy situations, and some violent events.

The stunning fourth book in The Gift Legacy series!

Highly recommended!

Karen Oberlaen
(For the full review go to My train of thoughts on …)

J.P. McLean has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations. Karen Oberlaen reviews books on her blog, My train of thoughts on …

The Violin Man’s Legacy – a review


The Violin Man’s Legacy – Jack Calder Crime Series #1
by Seumas Gallacher

Purchase copies here

Jack Calder, ex SAS and a man with a troubled childhood history, now works for a security company ISP which is investigating who is behind the ambush of a routine delivery of diamonds from Johannesburg to Utrecht. An injured security guard is certain that the criminals were Chinese. Jack’s boss Julian Townsend asks attractive widow and head of Hong Kong’s branch of ISP, May-Ling, to help him. May-Ling’s informants tell her the diamonds have arrived in Hong Kong and that the two criminal Half Moon brothers, Jonnie and Jimmie, are behind the heist. Jack flies to Hong Kong on the trail of the Half Moon brothers, who for years have evaded arrest, and finds more than he bargains for when he meets May-Ling.

A well researched international thriller, fast paced, and with the author’s obvious knowledge of Hong Kong. I did get a bit lost a couple of times as there are more characters than my brain could handle all at once, but on the whole it was a good entertaining read.

I have given the book four well deserved stars.

Stevie Turner
(This review has been published previously on Stevie’s blog in the post, Go Read Me Campaign’ Review of ‘The Violin Man’s Legacy’.

Both Seumas Gallacher and Stevie Turner have been previously featured on Reading Recommendations.

One Woman’s Island – a review


One Woman’s Island
by Susan M. Toy

Purchase copies here

One Woman’s Island, a new novel by Susan M. Toy, like the “Island in the Clouds Cocktail” found within its pages, is a wonderful mixing of two distinctive cultures into a tasty blend of mystery and intrigue.

One Woman’s Island delves into the clash of two cultures that can only be seen from the perspective of someone hoping to be engulfed by life in a seeming Caribbean paradise to escape her first-world problems, only to find all is not as it appears.

Like one of the key ingredients of the cocktail, whipped coconut cream, at first look, it seems like something we know until it is tasted, much like island life.

Throw in a splash of rum, a dash of chocolate, a bit of Canadian sensibility in the form of maple syrup over hot or cold espresso, and you have the essence of One Woman’s Island, a novel that brings together very diverging characters and lifestyles into a wonderful cocktail that entices all of one’s senses in a smooth, but at times bitter sip. A truly enjoyable read that will leave you wanting more, much like an Island In the Clouds cocktail.

D. Erkelens
(This reviewer was the first to review a book, my first novel Island in the Clouds, on this blog.)

And here is the recipe, reprinted from the book, with permission from the author. 😉

Recipe for Island in the Clouds Cocktail

This is a recipe I developed to celebrate my first novel. It combines two of my favourite ingredients – chocolate and coffee. My Caribbean roots are reflected in the use of rum and coconut cream, and my Canadian side by calling for a drizzle of maple syrup.

1-2 shots of amber rum
1 Tbsp chocolate syrup
½ cup espresso, hot or cold
Whipped coconut cream
Maple syrup

May be served either hot or cold.

Mix together rum, chocolate and espresso and add ice if you wish to drink this cold. Top with whipped cream and drizzle with maple syrup.

D. Erkelens and his wife Sharon had all the necessary ingredients on hand, so they decided to try my Island in the Clouds Cocktail and declared it to be delicious! As Sharon said, “How can you go wrong with coconut and chocolate? Tossing in some rum is just a bonus!”

Reorganizing things …

Wow! Did this summer get away from me or what? I can’t believe I’m already packing up the trailer to leave Canada for the winter months as I head back to Bequia in less than two weeks. Where has the time gone?

Salvadore Dali's The Melting Watch

Salvadore Dali’s The Melting Watch

But really, what scares me most about this quicker-than-usual passage of time, is that I didn’t get even half done of what I’d planned to accomplish this summer. I did manage to read a huge number of books, mostly borrowed from the library. But I did not get my novel published (yet) and didn’t do a lot of other things I had hoped to accomplish with my own writing and that of others.

But mainly I fell short on publicizing other authors I’d promised to promote on my blogs, and for that I feel terribly guilty. And I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to all of you, because I won’t be able to get any of this done before I’m settled back on Bequia. I do hope that by the end of Oct. I’ll have managed to get somewhat caught up with those promotions that were promised first earlier in the summer. I’m sorry, but that’s the best I can offer right now. After tomorrow I’ll be travelling to visit friends and don’t know where I will have time or access to internet connections to be able to accomplish much of anything.

So, to those of you who have been patiently waiting to see your promo on Reading Recommendations or this blog, I ask that you be patient a little longer. I’ll get to all of those I have already queued as soon as I can.

The Piano Teacher – a review

Today is Eugene Stickland‘s Birthday! So in honour of the special occasion I’m posting the link to this review of The Piano Teacher from Hubert O’Hearn.
And Congratuations! go out to Eugene as well on being awarded
The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize!


The Piano Teacher
by Eugene Stickland
Published by BHouse Publications 2015, Trade Paperback, 251 pages
Purchase copies here

As a general rule (named for one of our country’s finest military leaders) I like to ignore the author’s biographical details when reviewing a piece of imaginative fiction. Knowing where a writer went to school, who he had lunch with in 1974, or the circumstances behind the sort of divorce that sells extra copies of The Daily Mail adds nothing but trivia to a reader’s experience with the work itself. If it adds depth, well then he should have bloody well included it in the first place. I have enough trouble remembering where I left the keys to the lock on the garden gate without having to go searching about for clues to a novel’s intent.

There are however exceptions to the general rule (as he found when his troops mutinied after the disastrous Battle of Bar Coasters) and The Piano Teacher presents one of them. Eugene Stickland is best-known as a Canadian playwright and a teaching writer-in-residence. Those experiences are funneled through his imagination in the creation of this occasionally spiky yet generally sentimentally loving first novel.

The book is in three sections, each corresponding to the entries made in three notebooks given to the unnamed narrator by his equally unnamed niece. As Stickland has not chosen to name the narrator I’m going to do it for him as it will seem rather Victorian to spend the next few hundred words writing about ‘our main character’ like Our Mutual Friend or Our Miss Brooks. I’m going to call him Bob. So there.

Bob has never written anything like a diary or a journal before and so he decides to do just that with these notebooks, addressing the entries to his niece. She is a student of creative writing which in turn makes Bob feel more than a bit self-conscious and apologetic regarding his word choice and over-reliance on parenthetical comments (something I know absolutely nothing about).

Although we are told nothing else about the niece other than what is mentioned above, her existence as unseen audience was a cunning choice by Stickland. You see, Bob is one of those all too familiar artists – in this case an aging concert pianist and occasional composer – who is fantastically expressive within his chosen medium yet emotionally stunted, almost mute, when it comes to emotional engagement with other people in real life situations. In other words, Bob is a romantic trapped inside a bachelor. Because he is writing about himself to a real person, one who might someday read his words, Bob pulls back slightly from a full revelation of his feelings. Were his diary addressed solely to himself or to God (two of the three conventional ‘audiences’ to whom an actor can choose to deliver a Shakespearean soliloquy; the third is the present audience) there would be no need for the filter. Bob would just blurt it all out, refrain from any secrecy, and we readers would lose the gentle unwrapping of his character that gives The Piano Teacher structure and emotional narrative.

Because Stickland is a playwright whose best-known work is probably Queen Lear (described as ‘two-hand with cello’) he has a phenomenally excellent ear for dialogue and pace. That is vital. When one is going to spend 250 pages or so internally listening to one voice talk, that voice itself had better well be a pleasant one. While Bob may be a bit of a priss and a borderline snob, he also mixes in his withering comments with self-deprecation and melancholy, like a Jake Arrieta or before him Greg Maddux working three pitches to keep the hitter guessing.

That baseball metaphor wasn’t chosen on whim. When Bob was a boy, baseball was to him what Rosebud was to Charles Foster Kane. Bob wanted to be a baseball player, but when his talent at the piano was recognized and encouraged by his teacher and mentor Alfred, well so much for balls, bats and the seventh-inning stretch.

Bob too becomes a teacher, out of sympathy for his building manager and her daughter. The manager is undergoing cancer treatment as is Olga Lipinski, a piano teacher herself who came closest to breaking Bob out of his emotional turtle shell. So he takes on the seven year-old as his first and only pupil which allows Stickland to write quite beautifully about the confusion, the frustration, and the little victories all teachers know so well.

Alfred was probably the only one who could have endured my tempestuous nature as a boy and guided my playing (and me) to the very highest level. There’s no real template for a good teacher, is there, dear niece? We find, somehow, if we are lucky, the people we are meant to learn from and the others just drift past us. Some may become friends and even lovers, but very few will ever earn the right to be known as our teacher. It’s true, in his fashion, in his time, Alfred touched my life in a profound way. Olga Lipinski has clearly touched the lives of many. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to say the same about myself.

The Piano Teacher could easily have been a play. Indeed it might have been a memorable one with several musical interludes built-in; rather as if the one-man show about Truman Capote, Tru was played by the late Victor Borge. However, we should be glad that it is instead a novel. The confined space of three little notebooks and action that is nearly ninety percent set within Bob’s condominium open up the shyness, the ego, that oil and water forced into the same jar, that is the life of an artist. The Piano Teacher is a fine and funny book. Humour written in a minor key.

Be seeing you.

Hubert O’Hearn
(This review is reposted here with permission and appeared here previously.)

Both Eugene Stickland and Hubert O’Hearn have been featured previously on Reading Recommendations.

The Boy – a review (2)

Betty Jane Hegerat’s latest novel, Odd One Out, will be published by Oolichan Books in early May. In anticipation of that publication, here is part of an interview posted by Carin Makuz on her blog, Matilda Magtree, talking with Betty Jane about her most recent book, The Boy.


The Boy
by Betty Jane Hegerat

Purchase copies here

(at) eleven with betty jane hegerat: the boy

I was introduced to Betty Jane Hegerat’s work through a mutual friend, Susan Toy, who I met through a Humber writing program some years ago. A small group of us have kept in touch and Susan regularly fills us in on what’s new and brilliant, book-wise, in the western half of the country. Over the years I’ve come to value her judgment. Hegerat’s The Boy was no exception to her exceptional taste.

The story, based on real events—the murder of a family in 1959 rural Alberta—is told in three interconnected parts: i) fiction (Louise’s story; she’s stepmother to Danny, a difficult and troublesome boy), ii) creative non-fiction (this is Daisy’s story, the real-life mother of five, whose stepson, Bobby Cook, ‘the boy’ of the title, was convicted of murdering his family and became the last person to have been hanged in Alberta, though there remains much doubt about his guilt…), and iii) a memoir of the author’s journey through the research and writing of the book, during which time she develops a relationship with the fictional character, Louise, who makes regular appearances throughout, prompting Hegerat to storylines and directions she’s reluctant to pursue. The reader is privy to all these ‘conversations’.

It sounds complicated. It isn’t. At least not for the reader. As a piece of writing, it’s quite a feat; Hegerat’s use of structure alone is inspirational. (I challenge anyone to suggest a better way of telling this story.) The three perspectives (as well as comments by fictional Louise—this is such a mad and wonderful component!) eventually merge and, seen as a whole, we realize that it’s not just about the boy, but about everyone else, about the way we judge, the roles we play, the things we protect and why. The subject is disturbing, yes, not the least for its setting in the most ordinary of lives, but at the end of the day, the story is less about murder and more about compassion, small-mindedness, fear, what it is to be a woman, a mother, a friend, a neighbour. We all have an influence on each other’s lives and no matter our circumstances, we really aren’t that different— which, if you think about it, is both comforting and frightening.

The (At) Eleven series was begun as a way of chatting about books written by people whose paths have crossed mine in some small way or other. And because I feel that any discussion of words and stories goes best with a little something to eat—and because it’s hard to share a meal online—I make a suggestion at the end of the Q&A as to what meal the book has inspired. (In case anyone would like to do a little book club food pairing.)

“Eating is our earliest metaphor, preceding our consciousness of gender difference, race, nationality, and language. We eat before we talk.” ~Margaret Atwood from The Can Lit Food Book

(For the rest of this interview, please go to Matilda Magtree.)

Carin Makuz

Betty Jane Hegerat has been previously featured on Reading Recommendations here and here. Carin Makuz, while never having been directly promoted as an author on Reading Recommendations, is a great pal of this site. Carin maintains two blogs: Matilda Magtree and The Litter I See Project, which has featured the work of a number of RR-promoted authors (including Betty Jane Hegerat!) and was promoted on the blog in Nov. 2015.