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poetry and prose about place

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Book Review: Meadowlands – A Chronicle of the Scovil Family’ by Virginia Bliss Bjerkelund

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I have lived in New Brunswick for more than 40 years and love its rural nature and the landscapes dominated by its waterways. In our travels on the weekends, we have spent lots of time in the Oromocto to Cambridge Narrows corridor. For many years we had a cabin in the woods just over the hill from the Narrows. In the last ten years we have had a cabin south of Gagetown. As a result, we have used the Gagetown ferry many, many times. It’s an enjoyable crossing of the Saint John River, like a mini-cruise, with lots to see. I always love disembarking at Foshay Farms. From there, we continue towards Jemseg, watching for turtles in the ponds, osprey on their nests, Canada geese foraging in the fields. One year we watched a glossy ibis in a marshy area along the road, a rare sighting for New Brunswick.

Because of my familiarity with the area, I have looked forward to reading a copy of Virginia’s book Meadowlands, former name of the homestead where the Gagetown ferry lands, the Foshay Farms mentioned above. I also looked forward to the book because Virginia is a member of my writers’ group Wolf Tree Writers. Through the years, Virginia has talked about her Aunt Bessie’s home and workshopped many of the passages in the book.

Meadowlands – A Chronicle of the Scovil Family’ by Virginia Bliss Bjerkelund (Woodstock: Chapel Street Editions, 2020)

An interesting, readable, often humorous, portrayal of life in the early years of the 20th century.

Meadowlands is an enjoyable read, presenting the life of a family after the death of the mother of the five Scovil children. Major characters in the book are Aunt Bessie (Elizabeth Scovil), a professional nurse who knew Florence Nightingale, and Mary Scovil, the youngest daughter in the family and the author’s mother. The book follows the lives of the family, detailing their adventures and travels. The reader is assisted by a map of the area, a family tree and photos of the people in the book.

A remarkable characteristic of the book is its portrayal of women’s lives in the early 1900s. Elizabeth Scovil, a well-known writer in her field and a professional nurse, was an unusual woman, ahead of her time, independent, self-supporting and a source of strength and guidance for her family.  Other women’s roles are also presented including the women who taught school, public and private. The division of labour into men’s work and women’s work is a thread running through the book. The lack of control of a woman over her own life, especially in matters of romance, provides some interesting story-lines.

My favorite aspect of Meadowlands is the attention it pays to the transportation of the times. Travels to Saint John and Windsor, and into other parts of  Canada and the United States were a regular part of the Scovil year. In particular, the local travels to Gagetown (for school, medical care and various groceries) are interesting for their seasonal nature. In winter, a sled and skates were the preferred way of crossing the river. In summer, a row boat was the norm. The family’s adventures include early innovations in transportation: the first motor cars and the addition of an Evinrude motor to the Scovil boat are memorable.

Meadowlands is an enjoyable book, written in an engaging style with the author’s voice clear and consistent. The reader’s appetite will be inspired throughout by descriptions of the foods eaten and images of sipping cordials on the veranda or turning the crank to make fresh strawberry ice cream.

Meadowlands has had the honor of being short-listed in the New Brunswick Book Awards for the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Non-fiction Award!

You can find your copy of Meadowlands at your local bookstore, at the Chapel Street website here, or at Amazon here .

Enjoy your reading!

Jane

Written by jane tims

March 31, 2021 at 3:56 pm

A Book Review: Where’s Home by Jan Fancy Hull

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I am originally from Alberta, but left for Nova Scotia as a teenager and remained there for twenty years until I took my first job. Although I have not lived there for years, Nova Scotia has a way of tugging at my heart-strings. I love the ocean, the rural landscape of the Annapolis Valley, the silver waters of the Bras d’Or Lakes. My Kaye Eliot Mysteries are set in the Rawdon Hills of Nova Scotia. For these reasons, I was so happy to hear about a writing project by my friend Jan Hull, a book exploring the ideas of people who consider Nova Scotia ‘home.’

Where’s Home? by Jan Fancy Hull (Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia: Moose House Publications, 2020)

An honest and charming mixture of memory, experience and connection.

This book explores the difficult idea of acceptance (how you accept your community/landscape/province and how it accepts you). Through anecdote and survey response, the book explores the idea of ‘home’—where you live, why you live there, who you are, when you arrived, and how you seek to be part of community.

A reader will begin the book expecting a series of anecdotes about down-east warmth and soothing ocean vistas. But, as the cover states, the answer to Where’s Home? can be complicated. Here you will find stories of people who love Nova Scotia, would never live anywhere else. You will find stories of those who love the ocean, the rural landscape, the home cooking and the welcoming people. You will also find stories of those who hate cold and snowy winters or have ambitions for urban success in other parts of the world.

The book does not avoid difficult subject matter but discusses problems of ‘home’ throughout Nova Scotia’s history—the loss of home by indigenous peoples who did not surrender title to their lands, the loss of home by Acadian people who were deported by the English, people who lost homes when a federal park was established, people whose idea of home has changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The anecdotes and survey answers in the book consider the complex idea of CFA (Come From Away). Some new arrivals have been welcomed with plates of scones. Others have not found acceptance and the author considers some of the barriers to feeling at home—local colloquialisms, lack of business opportunities, even racism.

My favorite idea in the book?—a way to make people feel welcomed: organized Campground Hosts at Kejimkujic Park, unofficial community greeters, local refugee organizations, local people all set to welcome newcomers to a home in Nova Scotia.

As you read Where’s Home? you will compare your experiences with those in the book, even if you are not from Nova Scotia—the experiences related are applicable to any place where we live or wish to return. These are stories of entrepreneurs, artists, immigrants, people of various cultures and backgrounds. They are told with consideration, empathy, humor and understanding.

Where’s Home? is available at Amazon here, at your local bookstore, or by contacting Jan directly at the website here.

Enjoy your reading during these uncertain spring days.

All my best!

Jane

Written by jane tims

March 30, 2021 at 7:22 pm

Book Review: ‘Deficiency’ by S. C. Eston

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Deficiency by S. C. Eston, December 2, 2020

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How far would you go to keep your dreams alive?

Reading this book is your ticket to another world. You will be able to explore its layers, its technology and the characters who live there. From the start, you will wonder where Detel has gone, the identity of the secret leading to her downfall and whether her brother, Artenz, and his wife, Keidi, will be able to escape the forces that brought Detel to her knees. This book will draw you in. You will love the code-speak, the intricacy of the technology, the time/ date markers and the characters. The pace is fast with moments of reflection. Even the antagonists are complex, with motivations of their own. The author does not disappoint, taking each character through his or her own story arc. This book has all the sci-fi extras: a character guide, a glossary, a map, intricate technologies and relics of dystopia. You will enjoy this book!

Deficiency will be available December 2, 2020 and is available for pre-order! Just click here! I am a lucky reader of an advance copy. If you enjoy this book, you will also like S. C. Eston’s other books: The Conclave and The Burden of the Protector.

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All my best,

stay safe,

Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

November 29, 2020 at 8:03 pm

review of ‘within easy reach’

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My book of poetry within easy reach (Chapel Street Editions, 2016) has been reviewed by James Deahl (Canadian Stories 20 (116): 66-67, August/September 2017).

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Copyright Jane Tims 2017

Written by jane tims

July 31, 2017 at 7:41 am

on my book shelf: ‘Three Wrongs’

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As part of my summer reading program I am including books by some of our New Brunswick authors.

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Chuck Bowie. Three Wrongs – Donovan: Theif for Hire. MuseItUp Publishing: Montreal, 2014.

I love mysteries and plots with adventure. Smooth, unflappable, Donovan is a dangerous yet likeable protagonist. His approach to acquiring his ‘souvenirs’ is always original, well planned and flawless. Donovan never leaves his fingerprints behind.

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The characters Donovan encounters in his profession are usually ruthless, willing to pay anything to acquire what they covet. The most interesting of Donovan’s clients is Katie Storm, the spoiled young actor who meets her match in Donovan. Katie hires him to steal a necklace from her rival. Donovan manages to meet his obligations, turn the tables on his immature client and fall in love, but not with Katie! Just how it all unfolds is worth the read.

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Females characters always interest me and the women in Three Wrongs have strong personalities and very distinct voices. I especially like Madeleine, Donovan’s funky, out-spoken sister. I like his adventure with her during an evening at a ‘take away concert’ – educational if you didn’t know about these before! Their interactions also let readers see Donovan’s background and his believable yet broken family.

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Three Wrongs takes us through the action of Donovan’s three capers and their consequences. But Three Wrongs is also a story about change and how Donovan realizes change may be the only path to take.

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I recommend this as a great read and would say I am looking forward to the next in the series, AMACAT, but I must confess: I read that book first!!!  Now I am eager to read #3 in the series, Steal It All.

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Copyright Jane Tims 2016

 

Written by jane tims

July 8, 2016 at 7:01 am

on my book shelf – New Brunswick’s Covered Bridges

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As part of my project ‘in the shelter of the covered bridge’ I have collected books about covered bridges in New Brunswick. One of my favourites is a small book of photos of the 62 covered bridges existing in 2010: Brian Atkinson. New Brunswick’s Covered Bridges. Nimbus Publishing: Halifax. 2010.

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New Brunswick’s Covered Bridges is a compact hardcover, small enough to take along on an adventure spent visiting our covered bridges. The bridges are arranged by County and easily found in an index. Directions to each bridge are provided. Some of the entries include anecdotes about the bridge and all list the year the bridge was built.

The best elements of the book are Brian’s photographs. They are clear and set each bridge in its surroundings. Some are taken from unusual angles, either from an upstream or downstream vantage point. One is taken beneath the bridge! Although some offer enticing glimpses through the bridge’s entrance, none show the inside of the bridge.

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Brian’s book includes an introduction outlining the history of New Brunswick’s covered bridges. He includes information on the construction of the bridges and the origin of the signage advising folks to ‘Walk Your Horse and Save A Fine’!

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Included in the book is a preface which points out how many of our bridges are in out-of-the-way places … many New Brunswickers have never seen the most quaint and lovely of our bridges. As Brian says of one of the bridges: ‘… as pretty a spot as you can find for letting an afternoon slip by …’.

As the book tells us, in 1900 there were 4000 covered bridges in New Brunswick, in 1944, 320 and in 2010, only 62. Today, as a result of flood and fire, only 60 remain. My advice – take Brian’s book and head out for an expedition to make your own discoveries about this wonderful part of our built history.

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New Brunswick’s Covered Bridges is available through Westminster Books in Fredericton, your own local bookstore, or Nimbus Publishing

https://www.nimbus.ca/?s=New+Brunswick%27s+covered+bridges

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Copyright Jane Tims 2016

on my book shelf – Triggerfish, a crime novel

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‘… he had fifty feet under the hull. The carcass of a rowboat against the shore, cedar, pine and rock rimming the cove, no cottages out here … Switching to the trolling motor, Beck eased around the bend in the cove …’ (Triggerfish).

Around that bend in the cove, Beck meets his share of trouble. I usually think of crime novels as an easy read. Triggerfish challenges that notion. The characters are many and, to me, a bit hard to follow – there doesn’t seem to be a good guy among them. The action is non-stop giving the reader few chances to relax! And what, oh what is going to happen to Eddie???

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Triggerfish

 

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Dietrich Kalteis, Triggerfish – a crime novel. ECW Press, Toronto: 2016. Published June 1, 2016.

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This review is done as a result of my role as Shelf Monkey for ECW Press http://ecwpress.com/pages/shelf-monkey.

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Not usually in the genre I read, Triggerfish was nevertheless entertaining. The main character, Rene Beckman, ‘Beck’, is an ex-cop, hard-hitting and resourceful. He is trying to stay out of trouble but accidentally views a murder and some ruthless drug runners in action. And the bad guys won’t look the other way.

The action takes place in the Vancouver area and so scenes feel, to me, Canadian, familiar. Description is gritty, but evocative: ‘Crunching on dead leaves, wet ferns slapping against him, he ducked under pine boughs … a dry creek bed. A crest beyond it. Moss, ferns and rock … ‘. Some of the action occurs on Beck’s boat, the thirty-two foot Triggerfish.

The book is the classic example of shortening sentences to move the action along. This, and the frequent inclusion of gerunds to provide an odd combination of past and present tense, mean the book is sometimes hard to read. I’m not certain I ever got used to phrases like: ‘ … Ramon and Eddie walked in from the dining room side, both stopping at the fireplace, Eddie looking like he wanted to turn and run, Ramon nudging him forward…’ Or  ‘… He told her, and she said, ”Nice meeting you, Marty Schmidt.” The second shot spoiling his looks.’

The characters are diverse and multi-dimensional: Vicki, environmentalist and play girl; Ashika, skilled and patient terrorist with a sense of humour; and Hattie, mature girl next door. I liked one of the bad guys the best – poor Eddie, trying to outsmart the cruel bosses by stealing their dope, cooperating with Beck.

Ironic humour  abounds – from the description of the vegan protest, with protesters wearing body paint diagramming cuts of meat, to Beck’s attempt to rescue a drowning Ashika. Ashika, hearing a rooster crow for the first time, almost blows it off the fence.

It took me a long time to finish this book, partly because of the sentence structure, but mostly because of my lack of familiarity with the genre. In the end the plot was satisfying and no loose ends were left dangling. I just may read it again.

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

June 27, 2016 at 7:17 am

Born to Walk – a book review

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‘… Marooned at my desk, I swiveled round and round, drowning in digital static …‘ (page XIII).

So many of us can relate in a personal way to Dan Rubenstein’s description of his work life in the field of journalism. When he talks about managing his stress by checking emails every few minutes, I can say, I’ve been there! Dan’s book, Born to Walk, shows us a way to change our lives in a very simple way … just walk!

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my first Shelf Monkey book

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Born to Walk – The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act (Dan Rubinstein, 2015, ecw press, Toronto) is a book of non-fiction with a strong narrative component.  It could be described as a self-help book of the environmental kind.  Born to Walk describes the health benefits of walking, fitting this into the context of what it is to be human in the natural world. This book would be interesting for those who walk already and those who are thinking about taking up or accelerating a walking program. As I was reading, I often wanted to quit reading and start (you guessed it) walking.

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In a discussion of the benefits and pleasures of walking, Dan considers walking a key life strategy. He tells the tales of people who feel compelled to walk or who walk for a living. Dan’s credentials for writing this book become more obvious as we read – the writer has learned through doing. Over the course of the book, we learn about his interviews with some of the most outstanding walkers in the world – interviews conducted while on foot and on the trail! The walkers he tells us about include a postal ‘delivery agent’ in Ottawa, a police officer walking the beat in Philadelphia, a photographer in New York City, and a medical doctor walking between Native communities in eastern Canada.

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The book considers, chapter by chapter, specific topics about walking: the effects of walking on the body and mind; how society can benefit from pedestrian ways; the economic and political connections of walking; and the influences of walking on creativity, spirituality and family life.

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My interest in the book sparked when I read the sub-title – ‘The  Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act’. My struggle with arthritis and the inactivity that accompanies mobility problems, has convinced me that activity and walking should have been a focus of my life, especially in my thirties and forties when I started sitting more than walking. The book points out that isolation and sitting are the new smoking.

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In opposition to the ‘sitting disease’, Born to Walk explores the benefits walking can deliver. Dan describes the positive effects of being in nature. Sneakers, he says, are as important as medications in dealing with our many health issues. With careful consideration of the sage advice of the walkers of our time, backed up by health statistics and epidemiological studies, Dan explains how walking can improve our sense of ‘personal mastery’ and ‘self-regard’.  I was intrigued by his descriptions of the experiences of those who are serious walkers – for example, the ‘green blur’ overtaking those who have been on a difficult trail for days.

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As a planner, I was most interested in Dan’s insightful ideas about planning for a ‘walkable city’. He describes new approaches to creating urban areas where cars and people can coexist in safety.  Some of the ideas he explores include development of road-skinny cities, the benefits of ‘walking meetings’, and the possibility of finding tranquil urban spaces to make up for our lack of being in more natural locations.

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Reading this book was a pleasure. The narrative lines are engaging, the stories are often funny and Dan’s style is sensitive and not at all condescending. He writes with the conviction and knowledge of one who practices what he advocates.  My favourite chapter of the book was definitely ‘Creativity’. As a writer, I have often noticed that the rhythms of walking inspire both the metre and cadence of poetry.  Born to Walk describes ‘participatory art walks’ in Brooklyn and the ephemeral art of an ‘X’ walked into a field of daisies.  ‘People get ideas when they are out walking’ (page 190).

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My only problem with the book is related to the way I personally prefer to read. I found the chapters long (eight chapters plus prologue and epilogue for a book of 251 pages with about 300 words per page). I tend to read in chunks and consider it a smooth read if I can take in a full chapter at a sitting.

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As a person with mobility problems, I applied much of what Dan said to my preferred mode of exercise (the stationary bike). While the stationary bike gives me some of the physical benefits of walking out-of-doors, I realise I am missing out on other benefits. For this reason, I am motivated to walk to the extent of my ability. One truth I read in the book is the idea of embracing and putting up with some pain as long as I am not doing damage to my joints.

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Born to Walk The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act is a thought-provoking, walk-inspiring book.  I am eager to read other books by Dan Rubenstein!

Dan has an interesting blog describing some of his adventures leading to the writing of Born to Walk ( http://borntowalk.org/ ).

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Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

May 1, 2015 at 7:09 am

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