Tag Archives: Nova Scotia

Songs of Home

Before Canadian East Coast music hit the national/international scene, we locals had been enjoying it for years. I remember sitting in a small auditorium, feeling the power of the audience singing along to “We Are an Island.”

The song is Cape Breton Island’s unofficial anthem. Cape Breton is a large, beautiful island on the north-eastern tip of Nova Scotia, and many of its sons and daughters have “gone down the road” to find employment. Like the other Atlantic Canadians, they’ve taken their music with them.

Singing along, caught up in the longing for home even though I was home, I found myself wishing for my own musical links. Yes, Nova Scotia has its own unofficial anthems but lovely as they are, they don’t resonate that way with me. And I’m blessed to be still living in my native province.

Songs of home implies the love and longing for a place we can’t yet be. Like the East Coast music to a displaced Maritimer or Newfoundlander. Like the songs the Israelites sang in the Babylonian captivity.

Not that I ever wanted to be exiled or homesick! But when you listen to the songs, there’s a sense of unity, of belonging. A sense of something bigger than the individual.

Years later, I know I’ve found my songs of home, and they’re everything I thought they’d be.

I’ve stood in crowds of concertgoers, united in our longing for God, singing worship songs led by the Newsboys, Robin Mark, Steven Curtis Chapman, David Crowder. I’ve stood in smaller congregations on Sunday mornings, singing songs of home led by worship teams or solo musicians. And I’ve sung along to my mp3 player when only God was listening.

What are some of your songs of home?

Review: Sinking Deeper, by Steve Vernon

Sinking Deeper cover artSinking Deeper: Or My Questionable (Possibly Heroic) Decision to Invent a Sea Monster, by Steve Vernon (Nimbus, 2011)

Fourteen-year-old Roland lives in the dying seaside town of Deeper Harbour, Nova Scotia. His parents have separated, and when he’s with his police-chief father, he sleeps at the jail while his dad does night patrol.

Except when his grandfather convinces him to sneak out for some prank-type vandalism. That’s how the story opens, and lest parents be concerned, there are consequences and restitution. There’s also, through a madcap series of events, the inspiration of how to revitalize the town’s tourist industry so Roland’s mom won’t make him move to Ottawa in search of a better future.

Roland, along with Grandpa Angus, 15-year-old Dulsie, and her father Warren, will create a sea monster. And they do—through spreading rumours and building an actual “Fogopogo” for the townspeople’s “sightings”.

The story is told in the first person with evocative descriptions like this one:

I … squoodged the sleep-sand out of my eyeballs with the sides of my fists. (p. 3)

And observations like this one:

The idea that had been sneaking around the basement of my imagination jumped up and smacked me directly between the eyes. (p. 30)

This is a fun novel, heartwarming in places, and with plenty of humour. It also has plenty of depth, which, sadly, makes for a more realistic ending than I’d hoped. But the characters are delightful, and Roland discovers new layers to these people he’s grown up with and thinks he knows.

I heartily recommend Sinking Deeper for young adult readers and adults who are still in touch with their 12-to-14-year-old selves. Sinking Deeper was nominated for the Silver Birch and Hackmatack Awards.

Steve Vernon is the author of four collections of Maritime ghost stories, the children’s picture book Maritime Monsters, and more. He and his publisher, Nimbus, are local to me, but I heard of this book through a blog giveaway (and won!) You can learn more about Steve Vernon at his blog and on Facebook.

[Review copy won from Polilla Writes.]

Review: Death of a Highland Heavyweight, by Jayne E. Self

Death of a Highland Heavyweight cover artDeath of a Highland Heavyweight, by Jayne E. Self (Harbourlight Books, 2012)

Gailynn MacDonald designs artisan jewellery and works as a medical receptionist in the small seaside town of Hum Harbour, Nova Scotia. She’s perky, impulsive, and afraid of the ocean. And she can’t seem to stop getting involved in murder investigations.

She doesn’t go looking for them, but she does walk the beach each day looking for bits of seaglass to use in her jewellery. That’s how she found the first body (Mystery in Hum Harbour), and it’s what now brings her within earshot of screams from Hunter Hall.

Heavyweight champion Claude Oui (affectionately dubbed “Wee Claude” because of his large size) lies dead in the Hall, his wife Carrie Hunter-Oui helplessly trying CPR.

Claude suffered from post-concussion syndrome, and Gailynn’s fiancé Geoff, the town’s doctor, is afraid he missed a clue that could have saved the gentle giant’s life. Or did Claude trip on the stairs? Or fall victim to the burglar who stole some of Carrie’s collection of frog ornaments?

This last frightens Gailynn most of all, since her young cousin Ashleigh’s boyfriend has been stealing other frog ornaments as gifts. Josh seems like such a nice guy. But what if he’s a murderer?

Gailynn tries to leave the murder investigation to her police officer brother and his team, but she can’t help her suspicions. And she can’t stop asking questions, even though she’s supporting the grieving Carrie (including chairing the Hum Harbour Daze committee) and trying to plan her own wedding.

Death of a Highland Heavyweight is a cozy mystery with a strong sense of place and with characters who could be ordinary people like you or me. Well, not the athletes, but Gailynn, Geoff, Ashleigh and their families are everyday people.

I like Gailynn, with her kind heart, gentle spirit and overactive imagination. I like Geoff, too. He’s a decent man. And I like reading stories set in my home province. Locals like me can hear little things in the dialogue that authenticate Jayne Self’s right to write about us. This was true in Murder in Hum Harbour too. She knows this setting, despite living “away”, and that knowledge adds depth.

I also like the humour. It’s dry, understated, and slips in when you least expect it, adding yet another thread of pleasure to the story. I hope there’ll be a Seaglass Mysteries #3 in the works soon.

Visit Jayne E. Self’s website for more information on the author and her books. You can also find her on Facebook and at Canadian Christians Who Write, where she does regular interviews (including one with me).

[Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a fair review.]

Review: Oak Island Revenge, by Cynthia d’Entremont

Oak Island Revenge, by Cynthia d'Entremont

Oak Island Revenge, by Cynthia d’Entremont (Nimbus Publishing, 2012)

It’s 1958. Fourteen-year-old Jonah Morgan and his best friend Beaz live on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia (Canada). Nearby Oak Island is forbidden territory, so naturally it’s a rite of passage to row to the island and search for the legendary treasure.

This summer vacation, Jonah and Beaz are set to hit the island, but they’ll be even more secretive about it than most teens. Jonah’s mom is overprotective since his older brother died, and he’s pretty sure Beaz’s mom is abusive.

What they find on the island piles secrets on secrets. Jonah doesn’t want to lie, but he can’t tell the whole truth. When missing 16-year-old Charlotte Barkhouse turns up dead, surely what Jonah knows wouldn’t make a difference. Would it?

His parents and his dead older brother seem perfect, and Jonah can’t measure up no matter how good his intentions. As he wrestles with how much truth to tell and how much to hide, he begins to suspect that everyone has secrets of one sort or another and that life is more complicated than it looks.

Oak Island Revenge is a coming-of-age story that evokes the feel of 1950’s small-town Nova Scotia in a mystery for young adult readers. It’s one of those satisfying novels where all the threads weave in perfect balance to make an organic whole.

Author Cynthia d’Entremont has a fresh, vivid writing style with a satisfying splash of humour. She’s also the author of the award-winning young adult fantasy novel Unlocked.

[Review originally appeared on the Maranatha News site. Review copy provided by the author.]
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Review: Lost Melody, by Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith

Lost Melody cover artLost Melody, by Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith (Zondervan, 2011)

Jillian King was a gifted concert pianist until an accident damaged her left hand. She’s spent the past year grieving and afraid to touch her piano. When she and her fiancé, Glen Bradford, decide on a Christmas wedding (one month away) and her grandmother sets her up with two piano students, the stress is enough to give anyone nightmares.

But Jill’s nightmare is realistic and recurring: fire and cold, a disaster that will devastate the small community of Seaside Cove where she lives. Is she going crazy? Or should she obey the dream and warn the citizens?

Going public wouldn’t simply embarrass Jill—it would damage Glen’s political campaign. But what if she keeps silent and disaster strikes?

Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith have written an intriguing story with a vibrant cast. It’s easy to empathize with Jill, and despite her grief she’s trying to move on with life so she’s in no way a depressing character.

Jill lives with her grandmother, a flamboyant lady whose good intentions sometimes have unexpected results. And Glen is a genuinely nice guy trying to do the right thing.

A bonus for me is the setting: how often do you see a US-published novel set in Canada, especially in Nova Scotia? Seaside Cove is a fictional community on the outskirts of Halifax. I imagine it being near Eastern Passage or a bit farther east along the coast.

There are a few minor wording choices that a local would notice (we never call the  harbour, even its mouth, a bay) but the descriptions give a genuine feel for the area and make it easy to visualize. I was pleased, through American Christian Fiction Writers, to answer some of the authors’ local research questions. Here’s hoping I didn’t lead them astray!

Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith are each well-established writers of Christian fiction. Lost Melody is their first collaboration, and they enjoyed the process so much that they’re doing two more books together: The Heart’s Frontier and A Plain and Simple Heart. Watch for both titles in 2012.

You can read the first chapter of Lost Melody on the authors’ shared website.

There’s also a section of bonus material including an alternate ending for the novel. The printed ending satisfied me, but I think I like the alternate one better. Can’t tell you why… spoilers.

[Review copy provided by the authors.]

 

Review: Murder in Hum Harbour, by Jayne E. Self

Murder in Hum Harbour book coverMurder in Hum Harbour, by Jayne E. Self (Harbourlight Books, 2011)

Part-time medical receptionist, part-time jewellery crafter, Gailynn MacDonald thinks she knows everything about everyone in Hum Harbour, Nova Scotia. That’s the way she likes it. But when her former employer Doc Campbell turns up dead aboard his beached yacht, and her sister-in-law becomes the prime suspect, quirky, over-excitable Gailynn vows to unmask the killer. With Geoff Grant, Doc’s handsome replacement, by her side Gailynn uncovers secrets and confronts childhood fears. And in the process she discovers that catching a killer is a lot like crafting her sea glass jewellery… it’s all in the details. (From the publisher’s website)

This is a short romantic suspense, perhaps a little longer than a Love Inspired book. As such, there’s not a lot of room for multiple plot lines. Both the mystery and the romance work well, and I like the author’s touches of humour (Cousin Mimi names her Daschunds Oscar, Meyer and Frank).

Canadian author Jayne E. Self does a fine job of bringing the characters of the small, coastal town of Hum Harbour to life, and she absolutely nails the feel of the setting.

The novel is told first-person from Gailynn’s point of view, and she’s an enjoyable narrator. She’s impulsive, independent, and in over her head with this mystery.

I look forward to reading the next novel in the Seaglass Mysteries series, to see what misadventures Gailynn gets herself into but also to see how things work out for some of the other inhabitants of the town.

Murder in Hum Harbour is Jayne Self’s first traditionally-published novel, available in print and ebook formats from the publisher and most online bookstores. Caught Dead: A Dean Constable Mystery appeared on the Presbyterian Record site in 2010 as a weekly serial. According to the author’s website there are sequels in the works for both stories. You can learn more about Jayne Self at her website, and see the novel’s trailer here.

PS… if you’ve never seen sea glass, it’s lovely, especially if you find it on the shore and it’s still wet from the ocean. For examples of how it can look as jewellery, see the Sea Glass Jewelry site.

[Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a fair review.]


A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider Canada-Wide Launches

A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider is already available in-store and online (internationally, through Amazon), but the official launch week is here. Here’s a run-down of when and where. Please see the Meet Us page on the Hot Apple Cider site for participating authors and for more details.

Saturday, April 30
Nova Scotia: Dartmouth (that’s mine!)
Ontario: Ajax, Drayton, Scarborough, Fergus

Sunday, May 1
Ontario: Scarborough

Monday, May 2
Ontario: Lucan

Tuesday, May 3
Ontario: Granton
Saskatchewan: Moose Jaw

Wednesday, May 4
Ontario: Brantford

Thursday, May 5
Ontario: Brantford

Friday, May 6
Ontario: Simcoe, Barrie

Saturday, May 7
Ontario: Peterborough, Scotland, Pickering, Sarnia, Drayton

Sunday, May 8
Ontario: Scarborough

The Manitoba launch has already taken place, and there are other events up and coming. Keep an eye on the Meet Us page of the Hot Apple Cider site for more activities.

Review: Cibou, a novel by Susan Young de Biagi

cibouCibou, by Susan Young de Biagi – Cape Breton University Press, 2008

A 17th century Mi’Kmaq maiden’s life changes as she spends time with two brothers from France: Jesuit missionary Antoine Daniel and his sea-faring brother Charles. French fishermen have traded with this group of natives on the Atlantic shores of what will one day be Canada for perhaps 100 years, and by the time of the novel the French/English power struggle for this part of North America is beginning to affect the indigenous population.

Cibou shows the Mi’Kmaq community’s daily life and observations of the French and English foreigners through the eyes of a young woman named Mouse. Author Susan Young de Biagi depicts the Mi’Kmaq as a people of integrity and spirituality, living in harmony with nature and caring for the less-fortunate among them.

Susan Young de Biagi has given us a well-written story with characters and events that linger after the final page has been turned. I think the best part of this gift is the Mi’Kmaq approach of looking at life – really observing and chewing it over – and finding life lessons to apply. Whatever our culture of origin, as we’ve moved away from the oral tradition we’ve lost the propensity to do this.

This isn’t a novel to rush, nor is it dry and heavy. It flows gently, thoughtfully, and is well worth a second read. One of my favourite characters is the chief, a man who embodies Fr. Antoine’s God’s call to lead through servanthood. The chief is wise and deserves the people’s confidence, but he doesn’t look the part except on formal occasions. His wife complains (with pride) that every time she makes him a thick new robe, he gives it to someone in need.

The author presents Mi’Kmaq spirituality and Antoine’s Christianity with sensitivity, as an integral part of the characters’ lives. She makes no comment, but leaves readers to take – or not – what they will from this as from the rest of the book. As a Christian, I found much to think about.

In a culture where mainstream fiction often portrays Christians’ failings and bad examples, it’s refreshing to see a character who “gets it right.” For those who prefer to see where Christians go awry, there’s a hot-tempered zealot to offset Antoine’s practical love.

A review by Maura Hanrahan in the Catholic Register suggests the novel would have been better served with Antoine as the viewpoint character. I can’t agree.

We see both Antoine’s and Charles’ values more clearly through Mouse’s fresh eyes, and would have missed much of Mi’Kmaq culture if we only saw what a stranger saw. Plus, we’d miss the sometimes-laughable interpretations these gentle people put on what we understand as common practices. (Mouse and her friend, Bright Eyes, for example, are horrified by Antoine’s use of a handkerchief.)

Plus, Antoine would have been too good to be true if we knew him from inside his own head. As might the chief. Characters who are very noble or wise are best presented in small doses lest the reader feel inadequate or preached at. Mouse, with her clear-sighted timidity, makes an ideal observer. She sees, and leaves us to draw our own conclusions.

The same review commented on the stiffness of the Mi’Kmaq dialogue. I have no idea how real 17th century Mi’kmaq spoke among themselves, but to me the dialogue felt natural and flowed well, regardless of its historic authenticity. Instead of stiffness, I heard an older pattern of speech, which helped transport my imagination into the past.

Cibou is Susan Young de Biagi’s first novel. A former Nova Scotian, she resides in British Columbia. Ken Chisholm of the Cape Breton Post reports, “De Biagi is working on her next novel, due in a couple of years, about Alexander Graham Bell and the Silver Dart.” I’ll be looking forward to it.

You can read the first few pages of Cibou here. The novel is in stores now, and available online.