All posts by Rich Helms

Journey of the Soul

by Maria Pia Marchelletta


Journey of the Soul
Journey of the Soul
In this irrational world, poetry evokes consoling emotions which provide us with security and love.

How does Maria’s poetry supply us with this consolation? Is it a momentary lapse against confusion in her life? Does she have a spiritual crisis in her life? As I read her poetry, I feel her homesickness and spiritual journey, which now later in life, are comforting to revisit. Her images incarnate meanings of her youth, love and nostalgia in vivid ways. Her poetic passion sometimes leans toward craft-centered language poetry. In Journey of the Soul, she launches her quest for great spiritual poetry derived from memories of her home town, San Donato, and from her childhood.

As a painter, she strives to display her nostalgic feelings, even more intensified by today’s realities and images. These are reborn in the language of her lyrics. She creates her poetic equivalents, more real than the actual descriptions of visits to her sanctuary. Her inspired anguishes there give some clarification to the entanglements of her religious soul. In communion with her attachment to the Pure Spirit, her tropes appear abstract or may be a simple embodiment of her cinematic voice.

We must accept her poetic lyrics and negotiate with the strength of her intensity and lucidity. Only then can you enjoy her Petrarchan love poetry, her varying dialects of epic tales, her painful strife with Pitman’s shorthand, her heartfelt confessions on life’s florid florets, and her Shakespearean soliloquies in her Comino valley of innocence.

Stevens Han
Professor of Literature, Han Yang University
Seoul, Korea

The Priest and His Karma

Sex and faith clash in Ben Antao’s latest novel

A review by Shane Joseph

“Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” – Exodus 34:14

The theme of this Biblical line echoes throughout Ben Antao’s latest novel, as protagonist Sebastian Lobo, an ex-priest, agonizes between the call of God, the call of his loins, and the damage that those two forces can commit on mankind when they get intertwined and conflicted.

Lobo flees the priesthood due to corruption in the Church, becomes an investigative journalist in Goa and Bombay, drinks, frequents prostitutes and tries desperately to stifle his bi-sexual instincts. He travels to Canada to cover Expo 67, falls in love during the flower power and free love era in North America but is drawn back to complete that “unfinished business’ back home. Through this tightly woven storyline, Antao brings us into the world of the tormented priest – one who is strong-willed in places, then weak, then lost, then damned, again revived and placed on the redemption trail, only to be brutally shoved back into a private hell for having abandoned God in the beginning. Much of the narrative takes place in Lobo’s head and he is isolated from people because every time he opens his mouth to have a discussion, he seems to be drawn back to his pre-occupation with God and the Church.

I think that Antao is bold to take on the Catholic Church for their now publicly known sexual misdeeds; at the same time he hedges his bet in having his renegade priest get his comeuppance for having transgressed his holy vows.

Writing about metaphysical manifestations in novels is okay as long as they are presented through the lenses of certain characters, I think. When Antao brings in those creepy crawly demons into straight narrative sections (prologue and epilogue) or when Sandra, Lobo’s Canadian girlfriend and an atheist, also wakes up to see Lobo’s nemesis, the God-light, illuminating their bedroom and hears the same ghostly voice that repeatedly tells Lobo “I love you”, I think we as readers are being forced into a belief frame that we may not all buy into. It shifted the focus for me from literary fiction into another genre that I find difficult to classify. I would rather Antao have kept the demons and God-voices with Lobo himself and not intruded with his own authorial, moralistic scene-painting.

That said, Antao gives us nostalgic and vivid descriptions of Canada in the 60s when prospective immigrants had to be coaxed to reside here rather than have to go through the act of “getting through the eye of the needle” that it is today, when sex had no stigma of AIDS, and when the Toronto Zoo was not in its present location. There are also detailed descriptions of the ordination process for priests, vivid images of Old Goa, and of Bombay when it had only four million residents. And of course, there is always the sex…

The writing is fluid, the scenes move fast and I was able to read this book in a couple of sittings. Given Antao’s prolific output in recent years, I am awaiting his next book.

(The above review appeared on Goodreads website in September 2009. Shane Joseph is a Canadian fiction writer whose latest novel is The Ulysses Man.)

The Bridge Club

Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

A review by Ben Antao

The most rewarding outcome upon reading The Bridge Club was that I felt like a fly on the wall, listening to the chatter of women, their secrets and their social lives spread over 40 years in Toronto and Ontario. And the bonus is that these Caucasian women, middle-class and well-educated, come together once a month to play bridge and have a ball of a girls’ night out.

I congratulate Patricia Sands, a member of the Writers and Editors Network of Toronto, on writing and publishing this story involving eight women as a work of fiction that allowed her the freedom to crawl inside the heart and mind of each woman, and weave a story filled with humorous incidents that reflect and refract the character of each. It’s a commendable feat.

The range of personalities covered in this gem of a novel should give you an idea of what to expect. Here goes:

There is an intrepid woman named Cass, trained as a nurse, but whose dream is to sail around the world. So she ditches her husband, a doctor no less, and takes up with a marina deckhand, a much older man to boot, and they refurbish a boat and live on the high seas for five years. No fear of flying for Cass!

And then there is Jane who at age 32 discovers during a ski run in B.C. that she’s strongly attracted to her companion who is a lesbian. “Jane’s energy and zest for living was boundless,” writes Sands, and the Bridge Club referred to her as “fully caffeinated.” Jane’s shocking revelation to her bridge friends is handled sensitively, as well as the parents’ acceptance of their daughter’s gender orientation.

Then comes Bonnie, a fun-loving woman with a family farm in Halton Hills and a mansion in Toronto’s Rosedale, who just loves a cocktail or two. Her descent into alcoholism and eventual recovery through AA receive well-meaning support from the bridge club.

Next comes Lynn, a tree-hugger and an environmentalist, who was adopted as a child. Curiosity takes over, and when the Ontario government allows the adopted sons and daughters of the province to trace their birth parents, Lynn decides to get in touch with her mother. Their meeting is poignant, filled with understanding, but they decide not to take it any further.

Pam is a stay-at-home Mom, with a caring husband, and her response to any dilemma is “It’ll all work out.” Unfortunately, she loses her husband Peter to cancer at the age of 49. This event triggers a flood of sadness and loss, making her story rather melodramatic. The bridge club helps her to get over this sorrow and Pam learns to take one day at a time, one breath at a time, and it’ll all work out!

Then comes Marti. When she was a 20-year-old stewardess (flight attendant today), she had an affair with the pilot, a much older man. Eight years after the affair ended, she plunges into marriage with a twice-divorced father of two, a charming adventurer with a way with women. Marti who always had a great figure goes for plastic surgery for a facelift and to get her boobs reduced when she hits fifty. “How nice to have guys looking into my eyes when they talk to me instead of at my boobs,” she tells her bridge club friends.

Dee, a golf enthusiast, arrives at Pam’s cottage in the country for a party, and blurts out the news. “I’ve got a lump in my breast.” Her husband Ken is in China on business. As her breast cancer is diagnosed, her fear and self-pity are balanced by the strength and compassion of her husband. She recovers ands finds inspiration in these words: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow.”

And finally comes Danielle, a staunch Catholic, who has to deal with her husband Bryce’s ED condition. “Goodness knows that when it comes to sins of the flesh, so to speak, the Catholic Church doesn’t exactly inspire confidence,” says Dani to her bridge friends.

Sands’ writing style is impressive, suggesting that she’s aware of the ways of the world, and what makes the world go round. The sixty something women in this novel came of age in the late 1960s and the reader gets a nostalgic playback of those psychedelic times, when drugs, LSD and grass left their ambient smell and taste everywhere, when hippies scorned tradition to live free as they liked in communities such as the U of T`s Rochdale College on Bloor Street in 1968.

The Chinese expression Ti-Ming for coincidence appears a lot in this book. I was a speaker at the recent Ontario Writers Conference in Ajax, and at lunch found myself seated at the table where Patricia Sands also sat. I didn`t know her for she joined the WEN only recently. She drew my attention to the silhouette of the Queen of Hearts on the back cover of her book, suggesting that I might want to mention the cover in my talk on book covers. And she promptly autographed a copy for me, and said goodbye saying she`s off to Europe and be back in October. T-Ming, indeed, I said after reading her book.

The Bridge Club is published by iUniverse, Bloomington, IN, a 388-page paperback priced at $21.95.

(Ben Antao is a journalist, novelist and financial planner living in Toronto. He has published both fiction and nonfiction: five novels, several short stories, two travelogues, two memoirs, and essays. His email: )


Reva Stern
Reva Stern
In 1977, Reva Stern became Artistic Director of the Leah Posluns Theatre in Toronto, where she maintained her position until 1994. Director, writer and dramaturge for almost thirty years, Reva retained the position of Regional Casting Director for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in both New York City and Los Angeles from 1975 to 1993, while still at the helm of the Leah Posluns Theatre and Theatre School. Ms. Stern has been bestowed with several awards of merit in theatre and has been a guest speaker at esteemed venues such as The University of Miami, the Actor’s Workshop, the New Play Festival in New York City, and the ‘Playwright’s Conference’ at the University Of Pittsburgh.

In recent years, Reva Stern has brought her love of writing to the forefront as her primary career. Writing and editing professionally for the past decade, she has been encouraged by three writing award nominations. Her first published novel “The Water Buffalo That Shed Her Girdle.”

Additionally, her manuscript “The Prescott Journals” was optioned for the screen prior to publication, and is now slated to become her second published novel.
Reva has also compiled a collection of short stories and a series of Children’s books titled “Tales from Grandma’s Cupboard”. Her additional publishing credits include extensive freelance writing for periodicals, magazines and newspapers including the National Post, and several years as an editor for Wellness Way Publications.


Memories of a Water Buffalo
Memories of a Water Buffalo
After living through a monumentally acrimonious divorce, Rachel Morgenstein was pretty certain that the very worst thing that could ever happen to her had already happened. She was wrong.

She soon ascertained that the sudden, fierce, and absolute estrangement by her youngest child was the singular most excruciating event of her life.

It was an elusive mystery, without an obvious villain or even a foreshadowing conflict.

It is just a matter of days until her son will be married and she is not welcome to attend. And so the story begins with Rachel contemplating a virtual shopping list of alternative suicide options. After exhausting each deadly proposition as unworthy or just plain messy, Rachel resorts to investigating this injustice by searching the cold files of her memory. That is, she reaches as far back into her past as is humanly possible in the hope of finding some cryptically hidden answers to this anomaly.

Her history unravels as we travel with her into the lost innocence of the fifties and the zeal of the sixties. We wince over the garishness of the seventies and are numbed by the sudden changes in our heroine as she braves her way through the next couple of decades only to end up facing the deadly “list”. Does she find alternatives?

Although “Water Buffalo” is a painful journey for Rachel, it is a funny, thoughtful and often wry story of love gone mad.


Ten year old Etienne Chouart yearns for a life of adventure. While delivering chickens to the Jesuit Mission in Sillery, he meets an orphan destined to apprentice at Fort Sainte Marie, the furthest settlement north in New France. Making the most impulsive decision of his life, Etienne takes the boy back to his home. At the crack of dawn Etienne, not the orphan, paddles out into the St. Lawrence with the famous voyageur, Médard des Groseilliers right into heart of the land of the Huron.

At Sainte Marie, Etienne meets a Huron youth named both Tsiko and Thomas. From him, Etienne learns true wilderness life and how to respect nature.

From Father Francesco Bressani, Father Antoine Daniel, and Father Jean de Brébeuf, he learns the life of piety, although other priests engage in shocking practices of conversion.

After escaping the Iroquois, witnessing the destruction of the village of Teanaustaye and death of Father Daniel, those at the mission waited for a second attack. Etienne decides he must take his fate into his own hands before the shadow of the cross falls across him as well. He breaks his vows of dedication and leaves the mission with his Huron friend, Tsiko. But first, the boys must get past the raiding Iroquois.

At the trading post, Etienne and Tsiko part ways. Unsure of what waits for him at home, Etienne returns to Quebec.

WAR BIRD, a historical fiction for readers 8-12 years of age, is about life at Sainte- Marie. It is also about the relationship between Etienne and a Christian Huron youth named Thomas. From him, Etienne learns true wilderness life and how to respect nature. From the Jesuits, Etienne learns to lead a life of piety. When the Iroquois attack a nearby village and kill Father Daniel, Etienne learns about war.

Today, one is able to stand in the midst of Sainte-Marie’s replicated buildings and get a true sense of the age.

Cherry Blossom Winter

Michiko Minagawa wants to be proud of her Japanese heritage but can’t. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Canadian government brands all Japanese-Canadians as alien enemies. They must abandon their house, car and most of their possessions and move into the interior of British Columbia.
Kiko, Michiko’s new friend in camp, helps her realize life above a drugstore is far better than living in the tiny wooden shacks in the orchard. When Kaz Katsumoto becomes her teacher at the Hardware Store School, life gets even better. The former Asahi star has her class playing every day. When Michiko’s class challenges the teachers to a game, the whole town turns out.

But the game brings the biggest loss of all to the Minigawa family. Her grandfather’s weak heart gives out in the excitement. He passes away just before the government announces all Japanese in British Columbia must leave the camps and live elsewhere.

Kiko’s family leaves for Toronto. Michiko’s mother can’t think of moving with a new baby on the way even though her father plans to take the government’s offer of free passage to Japan. Pretending to be her mother, writing on behalf of her father, Michiko applies for a job in Ontario. The Minigawa family once again packs their meager belongings and head for yet another new life on a flower farm.

When the Cherry Blossoms Fell

cherrycovThis is the story of nine-year-old Michiko Minagawa. She wants to be proud of her Japanese heritage but can’t. Canada is at war. The Government has taken unprecedented actions against her community and treating all Japanese-Canadians as enemy aliens.

The night before her birthday celebration, the police arrest her father. Within days he must leave for labor camp in the mountains.
Michiko’s mother, with the help of a stranger, moves her family to a farmhouse in the country. Michiko, her Grandfather, Aunt Sadie, and baby brother Hiro all endure hunger, hardship, racial taunts and the worst Canadian winter in forty years.

Throughout it all, Michiko is uncertain of her origin. Should she be proud or hide it?

Jennifer Maruno

Jennifer Maruno
Jennifer Maruno
Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Jennifer came from a book loving family. She worked as a library helper in the old red brick library on Victoria Avenue in the summers while at Valley Way public school. Her childhood ambition was to have a book with her name on the spine.

Writing as Jennifer Travis, she made her mark with award winning educational materials for The Peel District School Board and the Ontario Ministry of Education. She is one of the authors of Explorations a mathematics program for Addison-Wesley of Canada. For TVO’s Mathica’s Mathshop, Jennifer received the Federation of Women Teachers Writing Award. For the Kindergarten Curriculum materials, Stepping Into Kindergarten. Jennifer won the National School Public Relations Association Award along with The Award of Excellence from the Canadian Association of Communications in Education.

After retiring as school principal for the Peel District School Board, Jennifer became a student herself. She is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and the Humber School of Writers summer program. She began publishing short stories for children in Aquila, LadyBug, Zamooph and Wee Ones magazines. In May 2009, Napoleon Publishing released her debut novel for children, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell.

Jennifer is also member of CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

March 16, 2013 Speaker

March 16, 2013 Speaker

TBA-WEB(S)ANDREW J. BORKOWSKI’s critically acclaimed debut short story collection, Copernicus Avenue, published by Cormorant Books, won the 2012 Toronto Book Award and was shortlisted for the 2012 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for short fiction. His work has been published in Grain, The New Quarterly, Dragnet, and in Storyteller magazine. His short story “Twelve Versions of Lech” was a finalist for the 2007 Writer’s Trust/McClelland and Stewart Journey Prize. Andrew’s arts, travel, and human interest journalism has appeared in publications including the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Forum, Quill & Quire, TV Guide, and the Los Angeles Times. As an editor and proofreader, he has contributed to nonfiction titles for McGraw-Hill Ryerson, John Wiley & Sons Canada, Pearson Publishing, and D&M Publishers.