A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

A hilarious novel about a South African woman who knows too much, twin brothers (one of whom knows too little) and the foibles of the sanitation department, nuclear weapons programs, the Mossad, the Chinese, and the Swedish royal family. Think Airplane meets National Lampoon meets The Butler.

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden: A Novel by Jonas Jonasson was a delightful read over the holidays. It’s ridiculous in a believable way.

Book description: On June 14th, 2007, the King and Prime Minister of Sweden went missing from a gala banquet at the Royal Castle. Later it was said that both had fallen ill: the truth is different. The real story starts much earlier, in 1961, with the birth of Nombeko Mayeki in a shack in Soweto. Nombeko was fated to grow up fast and die early in her poverty-stricken township. But Nombeko takes a different path. She finds work as a housecleaner and eventually makes her way up to the position of chief advisor, at the helm of one of the world’s most secret projects.

The highlights are that Nombeko is super smart and is in a shitty position (literally) as an assistant in the sanitation department in South Africa. The idiot managers can’t count and she has powerful math skills. Through a series of events involving self defence and a pair of scissors she learns to read. I can’t reveal too much! She inherits a jacket lining full of diamonds and accidentally gets run over. She is found at fault and is basically sold into servitude to a drunk who’s in charge of South Africa’s nuclear program. He can count but barely. His father has paid off the university to get his son the engineering degree that’s landed him in this position. Nombeko saves the day and her own skin by helping him develope six nuclear missiles in the 1980s, then voluntarily dismantle them in 1994. Unfortunately the counting part means there is a seventh missile that only a few people know about, including Nombeko and the Israeli secret service. She masterminds a plan to escape to Sweden but a misdirected package of antelope meat turns out to be the seventh missile, which she manages to safeguard in Sweden for over 20 years, with the help of twin brothers, one of whom has a vendetta against the King of Sweden and the other who doesn’t exist since his father never declared his birth to the state. Honestly it’s all terrifically unbelievable but the writing is fantastically funny.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2 Cookbooks, 2 Novels

Four books that I loved and haven’t had a chance to review:

Pucker by Gwendolyn Richards
Canada’s Julia Child brings citrus fans a melody of recipes from breakfasts to mains, drinks to sweets. It’s is tart and tangy with recipes like Lemon Bourbon Sours, grilled grapefruit, Citrus-Braised Pork Shoulder Tacos, and Lime Sugar Cookies. Yum yum yum. 


Dirty Apron Cookbook by David Robertson
Fans of this Vancouver-based restaurant and cooking school will recognize many of the recipes in this amazing cookbook that features 80 of the school’s time-tested signature dishes. The pulled pork is delish and I barely managed to take photos of the dish before we gobbled it up.


Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Spend a week with this stressed out mom and all will look well in your world. Mary Rose, aka Mister, is home alone for the week with her two young kids while her wife travels for work. It’s a mix of family drama, swimming class, personal reflection, parenting of aging parents and general stress management. My comments on this title for the Vancouver Sun Book Club are here and there are 4 weeks of book club discussions plus our chat with author Ann-Marie MacDonald.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A delightful, and sad tale, about two young people whose paths cross during WWII. Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. He create miniatures of their neighbourhood so that Marie-Laure, who is blind, is able to navigate her way around. He also makes small puzzles for her and in one is a gift that she cannot reveal to anyone. In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. The love of this radio and its mechanics draw Werner into Hitler’s service. As the two are drawn from their homes, their lives intersect in a really lovely yet tragic way. 

Book Review: Mr. Jones by Margaret Sweatman

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Mr. Jones by Margaret Sweatman is a Canadian spy drama set in the 1950s and 60s when McCarthyism and paranoia was rampant, the Cold War was well underway, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson shared the political stage in Canada, and the CIA was reaching its long arms into every country. This is the story of Emmett Jones, war vet, Japanese expert and member of External Affairs, who suffers the indignation of being investigated by the RCMP and the FBI, repeatedly. The question for the reader is whether he’s a spy or just idealistic.

Emmett Jones is a Canadian born in Japan, who fought in WWII with Bomber Command, and was disillusioned by his involvement in the bombing of German citizens. Post-war he meets a young idealistic man named John Norfield whose Communist ideals are of interest to Emmett. Smart but directionless, Emmett appears to be “trying on Communism” but still questioning the merits propounded by the zealous supporters he encounters. Plus there’s a woman he’s hot for who is in the mix so his intentions are opaque.

Norfield disappears and Emmett gets the girl. Emmett has joined External Affairs to focus on Japan, and I’d love to say they live happily ever after but Emmett is recalled from his post in Japan, is accused of espionage and later investigated. 

As the book description says: “Evoking the classic works of le Carré and Greene, Sweatman’s novel is a shattering exploration of a past where world governments threaten annihilation while training housewives in the proper techniques for sweeping up radioactive dust.”
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Sweatman’s setting for the novel is a fascinating part of Canadian history that is often under taught in schools in lieu of America’s more colourful involvement in the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. But it’s also the early days of NORAD, the construction of the Berlin Wall and the arms race. Pearson’s involvement in the peace process is noteworthy and an interesting backdrop to the personal drama of Emmett Jones.

“Set in the 1950s and early 1960s, a period of rampant paranoia, Mr. Jones peels back the polite veneer of Canadian society to reveal a nation willing to sacrifice its own. A time of fear, a time of ‘peace’ at the onset of the nuclear age — it is the era of McCarthyism, when governments alleged there was a communist under every bed and a traitor in every friend.”

Is Emmett a spy or not? Is his wife? Is his bestfriend? Is the Japanese man who he befriended a spy? Will that man reveal the great secret they share? The wonderful thing is the tension Sweatman creates with the what ifs but also the layers of possibilities infused in the writing. Emmett Jones is a man with two lives. He has two families: a son in Japan born to his lover, and a daughter born in Canada to his wife. The birth of his son predates his marriage but remember this is the 1950s and things certainly would not have been easy for his son. Do his scruples in love reveal duplicities elsewhere in his life?

Mr. Jones is a fantastic piece of historical fiction, and a top-notch spy drama, set in Canada.

Buy it from Goose Lane Editions: http://www.gooselane.com/books.php?ean=9780864929143

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Guest Post: Many Paws Author Susan DeGarmo on “The Change”

Many Paws is a light-hearted, interactive pop-up book about menopause that readers can alter for themselves or to give as a gift to the wonderful women in their lives who might need a good laugh between hot flashes. Below is a guest post from altered book artist and author Susan DeGarmo.

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When I was about 47 years old, I put some eggs on the stove to boil. I went downstairs to my office to grade papers and before I knew it, I heard explosions coming from my kitchen! I ran up and saw exploded boiled eggs sitting in a pan with no water. Exploding because I left them in there and totally forgot to take them out.

That year when I had my yearly check-up, I told my doctor I thought I was going crazy! I couldn’t remember the simplest things. I was starting to leak when I laughed, I sweated in bed, had hot flashes in the day, my eyesight was getting worse and my middle was spreading! She patted my hand and told me that I was going through the change. I couldn’t believe what she was saying! At 47 years old I started getting “old”. She handed me a paperback book that she said would help me understand what my body was doing.

That night I relaxed in the tub and picked up the book and began to read. The words were sweet and delicate. “You’re still a woman even though you can’t have babies anymore.”
I couldn’t take it! I tossed it in the trash.

My doctor wouldn’t give me anything to get rid of the symptoms. “It’s perfectly normal”, she said. So, every day became a new adventure with the symptoms of menopause. Thank God my family still loves me!

Since I couldn’t find a book that shared the in-your-face experiences of menopause and getting older with a bit of humor, I decided one day while teaching my altered book class at a local design college, I would make an altered book on the subject and it would be about my experience. Why did I come up with that idea? It was freezing cold outside, my head was beet red, sweat was dripping down my face and my students looked at me like I had a third eye! I just shrugged and pressed on.

I found an old book that had a by-line…the years of change. I took that book and altered it to create “ManyPaws, the Years of Change”. Each week I did a spread in the book.  Depending on what challenges I was going through, that is what I wrote about. We had a show-n-tell in the class every week to show off the work we did in our books. I showed mine to the students and there were lots of “yuck”, “my mom’s doing that”, and sometimes laughter. I wasn’t trying to appeal to them, just critiquing the pages.

At the end of the semester, we had an Altered Book Show. The students and myself would have our altered books on display for the faculty, staff , family and friends. Of course, my whole experience with menopause was there for the whole world to see. It wasn’t long before we heard laughter. Not only from the moms and older women of the college, but from their husbands! Oh no. I was totally embarrassed, but come to find out, they liked it! They started telling their stories and wanted a copy for themselves or to give to their girlfriends. So that’s how all of this started.

imageSusan DeGarmo is a truly creative spirit. Born and raised in Memphis Tennessee, Susan “was always makin’ something’ from nothin’,” according to her grandma. While teaching an altered book class at a local college, she had a hot flash and decided to create Many Paws.
Her book and greeting cards are available for sale on manypawsforwomen.com or Amazon.com