Books for the season

Rae-GayBCs-Sept-2018

GAYBCs: A Queer Alphabet – why?

by Rae Congdon

GAYBCs: A Queer Alphabet (Greystone Books, 2018) is designed to look as if someone has taken a pencil to a traditional children’s ABC book, modified the illustrations, and added in LGBTQ+ terms and definitions. The concept aims to demystify queer terminology and spread awareness in a playful and accessible way.

That’s the quick explanation I give when I’m asked what GAYBCs is, but in the big picture it’s a subversive learning tool that challenges hetero-normative and cisnormative  [the assumption that everyone has a gender identity that matches the sex they were assigned at birth] structures. I designed this book during my final year of university and it went on to win a 2016 Adobe Design Achievement Award in the Social Impact category.

The definitions in GAYBCs are fairly simple; they are meant to be a fun and helpful introduction to LGBTQ+ terminology, and not a be-all and end-all. I think that approaching something with humour and simplicity is one of the best ways to connect with people. At the end of the day, GAYBCs has a serious message but expresses it in a way that allows people to think and reflect without too much effort.

Having a variety of terms was very important so there is a mix of words about gender, sexuality and queer history, as well as some more general terms like equality and youth. Ultimately, I hope that one day the book becomes irrelevant and that we’ll abandon labels and othering terms entirely. But for now, I hope it can make at least a small positive ripple.

GAYBCs is being released on September 18. I’m very grateful for how things have turned out with this project and want to acknowledge that my racial and economic privilege have benefited me during the publishing process. Like most industries, the book world needs more diversity and I encourage you to support people of colour, queer, and/or women authors as much as possible.

A portion of the proceeds from the book will be given to Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that aids LGBTQ+ people around the world who are facing persecution in their home countries due to their gender and/or sexual identities. The organization came to my attention through the media coverage of the anti-gay persecution in Chechnya. Rainbow Railroad does incredible work and I’m hoping GAYBCs will play a part in raising funds and awareness to support it.

Join me at the Ottawa book launch of GAYBCs: A Queer Alphabet on October 2, hosted by Octopus Books, 118 Third Avenue in the Glebe.

Rae Congdon, the author of GAYBCs: A Queer Alphabet, is a graphic designer in Montreal.

full-of-fall-book

Leaves are falling down!

by Susan Townley

After the bustle of back to school, snuggling up with a good book is a wonderful way to share some quiet time with your child. Here are a few lovely new “leafy” picture books to read aloud and celebrate these bright, crisp days of autumn.

The award-winning author and photo illustrator Ashley Pulley Sayre continues her beautiful seasonal photography series with Full of Fall. Light-filled, brilliant photographs accompany the lilting poem that takes the reader from the earliest colour change of leaves to the first early autumn snowfall. With bright blue skies, busy squirrels and colourful leaves, Pulley Sayre reminds us of the startling beauty of autumn.

Here in Ottawa we are surrounded by the amazing variety of colourful maple, birch, ash and oak trees, but in some other parts of the world the trees regale their audience with a preponderance of a single colour. Lauren Stringer celebrates the changing fall of the ash leaves with Yellow Time. Brightly painted in acrylic and oil, Stringer’s illustrations burst with sunflower yellow, contrasted with darkened tree trunks and flying crows. The joyful poetry of the text reminds us to make the most of this transient season while it is here.

With Kate, Who Tamed the Wind, author Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrator Lee White bring us the story of a man who lives at the top of a steep hill where the wind blows so hard that his shutters bang, his tea spills and his cowboy hat sails away. At the bottom of the hill lives a practical young girl named Kate, who comes up with the solution of planting trees around the house at the top of the hill. Together they plant a windbreak of trees around the man’s house. The two of them wait a long time for the trees to grow and the wind to finally calm. As the pages turn and the trees grow, Kate grows up and the man grows grey. The story speaks to children’s concern for the environment and their ability to be everyday heroes and create solutions that adults may not see.

Finally, a true story of the tree houses of New York’s Central Park, from author Shira Boss, called Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses. As a young boy growing up in New York City, Bob Redman (Boss’ husband) loved climbing trees in Central Park. Hiding in the leaves, he found a calm oasis in which to hide from the bustle of the big city. He began to build his tree houses using scavenged materials, carefully never harming the trees. He started with a simple platform and despite his structures being taken down each time he built them, he continued to build tree houses for eight years, each house more elaborate than the previous. Finally, the park authorities arrive one morning and while readers may worry that Bob will be in trouble, the story ends with a twist. Bob is hired to work as an arborist in the park as long as he agrees not to build any more tree houses. The book ends with a photograph of Bob sitting in a large tree and a description of his life now as an arborist in New York.

Happy fall reading!

Susan Townley loves to sing, dance and have fun every day in the Children’s Department at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library.

Last Night of the World, by Joyce Wayne Mosaic Press, 2018

Last Night of the World, by Joyce Wayne
Mosaic Press, 2018

Last Night of the World

Reviewed by Patty Deline

Ottawa during the early days of the Cold War is one of the main settings for this new spy thriller, Last Night of the World by award-winning author and former Ottawan Joyce Wayne. It is written as historical fiction, but based on stories from Wayne’s father, and extensive research on spying carried out by members of the Communist Party of Canada. Their goal was to obtain and pass on through the Russian embassy the details of the atomic bomb to achieve a balance of power between the U.S. and the USSR.

The story, though written as a spy thriller, is about real people and events, climaxing with the defection of Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko. It is also the first book featuring a Canadian woman spy, Freda Linton. Freda worked with Fred Rose, Canada’s first and only Communist Party MP, and John Grierson, founding director of the National Film Board. She followed orders from her handlers to sleep with informants in the government and science communities to obtain precious nuclear secrets.

Wayne gives us a love story as well as the historical data interspersed between chapters set in Chernobyl after the nuclear accident there. Freda and some of her friends went to live there in a post-apocalyptic setting after surviving the accident.

The story investigates the lives of people like Freda Linton, immigrants mostly who joined the Canadian Communist Party with altruistic motives, thinking they would make the world a better place after the horrors of World War II. The author’s father was one of these, many of whom became disillusioned with the party, as he did, after Stalin’s bloodthirsty brutality came to light.

This book will be of great interest to lovers of good spy thrillers. It was recently reviewed by Globe and Mail mystery reviewer Margaret Cannon as one suitable for lovers of the books of the late Philip Kerr. It will also interest Ottawa political history buffs for, to my knowledge, no other book has illuminated the Gouzenko defection. Those on the left will find enlightening the reasoning and dilemmas faced by the main characters.

Wayne will discuss and read from Last Night of the World at Café Morala on Bank Street on Tuesday, September 11 at 7 p.m., courtesy of Octopus Books. The book will be available for sale and autographing.

Patty Deline lived in the Glebe and Ottawa South for 40 years. She now lives in Westboro but has never lost her affection for Capital Ward.

bleeding-darkness_bookMystery for a rainy day

Bleeding Darkness:
A Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery

by Brenda Chapman
Dundurn Press, May 2018.

Reviwed by Dorothy Anne Phillips

If you need something to occupy your mind on a rainy summer day, as I did, Brenda Chapman’s latest novel will keep you glued to your couch with no wish for sunshine.

Bleeding Darkness is the fifth in Chapman’s series with the two detectives, Kala Stonechild and Jacques Rouleau, who appeared first in Cold Mourning (2014). In the latest novel, the patriarch of a dysfunctional family, David McKenna, is lying near death in a Kingston hospital bed, which brings his family together after years of separation. Lauren, his only daughter, has dutifully come from Toronto, though she would prefer to be elsewhere. Lauren’s mother, Evelyn, is cold toward her daughter but dotes on her sons, Tristan and Adam, who arrive with their wives, Vivian and Mona. The murder fourteen years ago of Lauren’s best friend, Zoe Delgado, who was Tristan’s girlfriend, tends to unseat family harmony, especially when Vivian goes missing and is found murdered. Suspicion falls once again on Tristan who many still blame for the murder of Zoe, though no evidence was ever found to pin the charge on him. The McKenna and Delgado families have been estranged since Zoe’s murder and perhaps the next-door neighbours, Boris and Antonia, immigrants from Romania, know something. The two detectives, Rouleau and Stonechild, are both trying to work out their own lives amid the turmoil of the murder investigation.

Encountering Bleeding Darkness as my first Chapman novel made me want to read the other four in this series, both to fill in the story of these two investigators’ lives and to indulge in more mystery stories from this writer who grips readers from the first page. While each novel stands on its own, the development of these detectives is an absorbing story in itself. I found myself most taken with Stonechild, the clever, fiercely independent First Nations woman. Through the five novels of this series, her story develops slowly as she works to solve the mysteries along with Staff Sergeant Rouleau, and her partner Paul Gundersund, a lanky six-foot-two detective with his own problems. Stonechild, in her thirties, a compassionate cop who lives with her dog Taiku, is still trying to overcome a troublesome childhood and is eventually challenged to look after someone else. In each of the five novels, the mystery takes the reader into the mind of a perpetrator who has problems that occur in our society. I cannot name the problems without giving away too much, but readers will recognize that they reflect familiar issues or recent tragedies.

As in the other novels, in Bleeding Darkness Chapman’s engrossing writing is easy and fast to read with lots of details about the family, friends, neighbours and their relationships, and about the weather – usually cold. In the complex and fast-paced plot, Chapman places clues that could implicate several of the characters in the murders. It is not until the last pages that the murderer is revealed, an engaging whodunit. In good Canadian tradition there are characters from many backgrounds and many parts of the world who come together in a community, or in some cases stay apart because they feel alienated. I like a novel that has something new for me to learn as well as the mystery. In this latest novel, Chapman brings in a little First Nations history; Stonechild finds to her surprise that she is part of the Dakota people who came north from the United States and who did not like being called Sioux because the word meant snake or enemy.

Brenda Chapman is a member of Capital Crime Writers, the local group who are writing stories set in and around Ottawa, a pleasure for local readers and of interest to others too. Chapman’s writing career spans a couple of decades with several articles and short stories, and a series of young adult novels. Book six in this Stonechild and Rouleau series, Turning Secrets, is ready to roll off the press in 2019. I’ll be watching for it.

Dorothy Anne Phillips is a Glebe resident and the author of Victor and Evie.

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