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Good Literature for Children & Adults

Fourth Dimension by Eric Walters


I’ve spent a lot of time this winter reading both novels and picture books for young readers. One of the many novels I read was Fourth Dimension by the very prolific Eric Walters.

Fourth Dimension is a novel for older teens, with the main character, and narrator, 15-year-old Emma, as the novel begins. Emma lives in an apartment building on the lakeshore of a large city with her mother, Ellen, and her younger brother, Ethan. Her parents, both in the military, are recently separated and Emma and Ethan are preparing for the school year to begin. But, first, a bit of a holiday. As Emma, her mother, and brother pack their car to go on an end of summer camping trip the lights go out in the underground garage. It is determined, quite soon, that the power is out across the city. Their cell phones do not work. Nothing digital or computerized works. And the story begins.

Emma’s mother, with her training both as a Marine and as an emergency room nurse ,is a woman who is both brave and smart. She knows that in order to protect her children, and herself, she must get them out of the city. With their canoe and camping supplies at the ready they paddle some way out into the lake to a group of islands, away from the city but within sight.

Anyone who knows the city of Toronto will recognize the landscape. There is the city, and the Toronto islands. I can only imagine that Eric Walters has made Ellen Williams a Marine, rather than a member of the Canadian Armed Forces so that this book will also find an American readership.

As one might expect things go from bad to worse. On one of the islands Emma and her family make friends among the community who have homes there. But, there is constant danger of invasion from those seeking food and shelter, many are attempting to escape the increasing violence being experienced in the city. Emma’s mother tells her children  “I’ve seen another dimension, to the world and to people. There’s a fourth dimension to people that you don’t normally see. Normal, nice people in normal and nice circumstances become different when bad things happen. Desperate situations cause people to do desperate things.”

And, things do get desperate. I would not recommend this book for anyone younger than 15 years old. There is death, and there is killing. There are people with guns. I have to say, as an old pacifist, that I found the violence in this book disturbing. But, in today’s world I realize that most young readers will find it less disturbing than the news. It will make everyone who reads it think of those who live in parts of the world where there is war, and where each day brings the challenge of survival.

A few years ago I interviewed Eric Walters about an earlier novel and remember him saying he’d kill to protect his family. In this novel, Ethan asks his mother is she would really have shot some men who were threatening their community. She replies, “If I had to.”

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

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Does anyone younger than 65 even recognize the name Hedy Lamarr? I wondered this after I read the new novel by Marie Benedict, The Only Woman in the Room, about the life of the actress who was a Hollywood sensation in the 1940s and 50s. And though I did know her name I had no knowledge about the life of this woman, who was so much more than an actress. She was, in fact,  in possession of a serious intellect and was a wartime inventor in the United States – and though her inventions were not applied at the time they have taken on more importance in recent years.

We meet Hedy Kiesler in the spring of 1933 in Vienna, as she is applauded for her role in a play, and meets, for the first time, Friedrich Mandl. Hedy is Jewish, and even as early as 1933 there is a rise in anti-Semitism in Austria. But, as Hedy muses, “my family, well, we really didn’t consider ourselves Jewish, except in a vague, cultural sense. We were fully assimilated into the vibrant cultural life of the capital city. We were Viennese above all else.”

Hedy’s father realizes that Friedrich Mandl’s interest in Hedy may protect the family from some of the looming threats, as he is Catholic and well connected to those in power. And, Hedy, despite some misgivings enjoys the attention of this powerful and confident man. Fritz, as he becomes to her, is however, a domineering man – he struck me as a Trump-like character, a narcissist whose only interest in women is as an accouterment – arm candy to enhance his own image. Hedy is not blind to this but is more and more aware of his power and his ability to protect her family. Since she is always by his side, she is in the room when matters of politics are being discussed – and she is more than a pretty face. Hedy is an intelligent young woman and is well aware of what is going on in Europe and the threat of what is to come. Much of her knowledge is from the discussions between her now husband and Mussolini and their cohorts.

Eventually, Hedy does manage to leave Europe and finds work in Hollywood – where she becomes the legendary actress and glamour girl we know from her films made in the 1940s and 50s.

During the years of the Second World War Hedy Lamarr became involved in scientific research. She had spent many evenings in Vienna at “dinner parties as Mrs. Mandl where military and weaponry matters were discussed …Of all the munitions, armaments, and weaponry components Fritz has manufactured, torpedoes had presented the trickiest problems. Their accuracy proved to be challenging, as did their susceptibility to signal jamming by enemy ships.”

It was after the tragic sinking of the SS City of Benares, a ship attempting to carry children from England to safety in Canada, torpedoed by the Nazis, that Hedy Lamarr decided she needed to do something with her knowledge.

She knew the there was a need “to improve the accuracy for the torpedoes of the Nazis’ enemies while finding ways to prevent signals to them from being jammed by Hitler’s men if a radio solution was to be utilized”.

She and her friend, a pianist and composer, and fellow scientist, George Anthiel, set to work and came up with an invention they presented to the American Navy.

Doing a little research, after I read The Only Woman in the Room, I discovered that there was a film made recently documenting the life of Hedy Lamarr – much the same story as this novel. A fascinating woman, and novel, and one about to be discovered by a much younger generation of readers.


The Mystery of Ireland's Eye by Shane Peacock & Flame and Ashes by Janet McNaughton

Each winter I spend time reading books for children and young adults, preparing for the coming summer so that I can, with confidence, personally recommend books to my young customers that I am sure they will enjoy reading.

I was very pleased to see that Shane Peacock’s book The Mystery of Ireland’s Eye has been re-issued. Written in 1999 The Mystery of Ireland’s Eye is the first in what became the Dylan Maples Adventure series. An ideal series of books for boys aged 10 to 13 or so. Ireland’s Eye is an island off the south coast of Newfoundland, settled in 1600s and now abandoned after the families were forced to move in 1965 when so many isolated communities were “re-settled” by the government.


Dylan Maples is an only child, his parents an adventurous couple, a lawyer and a schoolteacher. Dylan is a typical young teenager, a hockey player, and a skateboarder. The family lives in an affluent Toronto neigbourhood and spends summers at their cottage north of the city. Dylan’s father is a keen swimmer and kayaker and, as the novel opens, he is beginning to plan a trip to Newfoundland, to a popular kayaking destination, Ireland’s Eye. Overhearing the plan, and captivated by the idea of visiting a Ghost town, Dylan decides he will prove to his father that he has the skills needed go along on this trip, which he does. And off they go, Mom and Dad, and Dylan heading into much more of an adventure than they could every have imagined.

The Mystery of Ireland’s Eye is a very suspenseful adventure, with plenty of thrilling challenges both on the water and at the hands of some very bad men. These men have nefarious reasons for being on Ireland’s Eye and the Maples family land right in the middle of serious trouble. Of course, all ends well and young readers can read on in the series as Dylan has many more adventures.

Flame and Ashes by Janet McNaughton is one of the Dear Canada series, novels about Canadian history seen through the eyes of girls and young women. This edition is The Great Fire Diary of Triffie Winsor in St. John’s Newfoundland, in 1892.

We meet Tryphena “Triffie” Winsor on an early summer day. She is one of three children, her parents affluent merchants in the city of St. John’s. Her younger brother, Alfie, is her best friend and companion and Sarah is a beloved sister and a well brought up young lady. Triffie herself is an imaginative girl, and one who finds it difficult to sit still and settle to a task. It is suggested that she keep a diary, and as Triffie herself is set on self-improvement she is excited at the idea of writing about her daily experiences. Her diary begins with the day-to-day life of the family at home, but when the Great Fire of 1892 destroys much of downtown St. John’s, including this family’s home and business premises.


The Winsor family is wealthy compared to most, they have assets that allow them to reestablish their business, and to help others to rebuilt their lives after losing most everything they owned, as Triffie records it all in her diary.

I think this particular novel will appeal to girls of about 8 to 12 years old who enjoyed reading Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden. It is richly old fashioned in it’s language, and the events as described portray a fascinating time and place, and a way of life that is long gone.

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson’s new book The Gown is the perfect book to throw in your carry on for a week on the beach this winter!

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There is nothing like the hype over a royal wedding – my daughter’s generation watched Will and Kate, and more recently Harry and Meghan. I got up before dawn many years ago to watch the wedding of Charles and Diana, and my mother remembers the wedding of the woman who was to become Queen Elizabeth II marry Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten in 1947. When I mentioned to my mother that I was reading a book about the women who worked on Elizabeth’s wedding gown, she (who has little memory of past and present) said, “oh, all those little seed pearls”. A gown to remember indeed.

This novel is interesting, well written and not too demanding of intelligence or attention – just a good light read. We are reminded that this royal wedding took place just after the Second World War and things were still difficult in England. The war was long, many people suffered had loss and everyone is still finding rationing arduous.

Two of the seamstresses at Norman Hartwell’s dressmaking establishment are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin. Ann is British, a young woman supporting herself as an embroiderer and Miriam is French, a survivor of the war, also an expert embroiderer who has found escape and employment in England. These two become friends and work together on the wedding gown that will be worn by the future Queen. Norman Hartwell had been designing and making clothes for the women of the royal family for many years, and everyone at the firm is thrilled that they have been selected to make the wedding gown, and all are sworn to secrecy.

In tandem with the story that takes place in the past, is a present day story involving a young woman, Heather Mackenzie, in Canada who is the granddaughter of Ann Hughes. After her grandmother’s death, a package is found containing embroidery pieces with the words “For Heather” on the box. There are also a few old photographs of Ann as a young woman.

Ann’s daughter, Heather’s mother, realizes she knows little of the past. She knew only that her mother came to Canada from England, and that she was a widow. Ann was a woman who never spoke of the past, a past that Heather now feels compelled to discover.

As you join Heather in her search, you will find yourself in another time, with young women who are making their own way, who suffered loss during a time of war and are finding ways of carrying on .The Gown is a story set in the world of our young mothers and grandmothers, one that sees dramatic change.


Fire in the Stars by Barbara Fradkin


I enjoy spending time in Newfoundland – even if only vicariously by reading a book. Barbara Fradkin’s mystery series featuring Amanda Doucette begins with a novel set in Newfoundland – on the Great Northern Peninsula, Fire in the Stars.

Amanda Doucette has recently returned to Canada from Africa, were she was an international aid worker. She is still traumatized after surviving the horrific murder of villagers in Nigeria where she was working. One of her fellow aid workers who has returned home to Newfoundland, also struggling from his experience in Nigeria, has asked Amanda to come to Newfoundland, to join him on a camping trip with his young son. Amanda sees this as an opportunity that will help her continue to heal, to become again the strong and adventurous woman she once was, and to reunite with both Phil and Tyler in a happier, and safer, time and place.

It is early fall, when Amanda drives her motorcycle, with dog and dog carrier, from Ontario, taking the ferry to Port Aux Basques, stopping at the first Irving on the TCH for a full breakfast. It is a long drive to Grand Falls, and the home of her friend, Phil, his wife Sheri, and their young son, Tyler. When Amanda arrives she discovers that Phil and Tyler have packed up and left without her, and that Sheri is distraught, worried about her husband and son.

Corporal Chris Tymko, RCMP, Deer Lake, also a friend of Phil, is contacted and suggests that it is most likely that Phil and Tyler have headed up the Great Northern Peninsula as planned. Why they left without Amanda, and without a cell phone, no one understands, and they are all worried about father and son.

And, so the search begins. Asking in cafes and bars if anyone has seen a father and son, Amanda discovers they have indeed headed north and eventually to Croque – a remote harbour. Chris and Tyler have been seen in the village but their whereabouts is now unknown – they are most likely someplace north or south along the coast in an area of true wilderness.

Amanda discovers a place of wild beauty, spotty cell phone reception, changeable weather conditions and communities of mostly friendly, welcoming people who notice everything that is going on in their small harbours. Places, as Chris Tymko observes, where “everyone who doesn’t have six generations of ancestors buried in the local cemetery is new to the island”.

Amanda, putting her fear aside heads up the shore looking for Phil and Tyler. She discovers a shoreline with few places to land a boat, but many dangerous shoals. Once on shore she is faced with seemingly impassable dense forest. Forging ahead she follows what she thinks is a trail, perhaps the one that her friend has taken. Making discoveries along the way that test her physical and emotional strength, Amanda persists in her quest to find Phil, and especially to find Tyler.


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