Category Archives: Book Reviews

Ben Antao Publishes Review of “Smitten” by Jake Hogeterp

Smitten will leave you in tears!

A review by Ben Antao

The word smitten at once brought to mind the adolescent idea of love that tends to fade away as the adolescents get over it after becoming young adults. However, in Jake Hogeterp’s novel titled Smitten, the idea doesn’t weaken but lingers on, forcing the reader to look at teenage love and friendship in a new light.

The story centres round a Canadian family, adherents of Dutch Reformed Church.  The novel begins with a tragic accident in which Paul van Hoop is badly hurt during a canoe trip over white water rapids in Ontario, with his friend Tom Zondervan, the first person protagonist. The opening is gripping and draws the reader into the narrative.

Through flashbacks, the author fills in the backstory of the other characters, especially that of Revered Arendt van Hoop, who immigrated to Canada from Holland, after serving as a chaplain to the nursing wards in a hospital soon after the Second World War in 1945. Both Paul and Tom are bosom friends, although Tom is a lapsed Christian of the faith.

It is after the accident when Paul is in hospital that the main action begins to develop at an engaging pace, with the author weaving in twists in the plot to inject melodrama and surprises.

The writing is fluent and captures the lifestyle of the Dutch Reformed faithful in Canada.

Here is a sample:

Reverend: “So, Thomas, tell me why want to become a member of the church.”

Tom: I wasn’t expecting anything quite so direct, and wasn’t sure whether the formal “Thomas” was meant to intimidate or be interpreted as a signal that I had somehow slinked through the initiation. All year long and two or three years prior, we had been catechized on the salient points of church doctrine. …And now here was van Hoop hurling the whole basket of goods in my face and asking me for some kind of personal statement.

My answer popped out before I had a chance to give it a thought.  “I don’t.”

If I found something missing, it is the setting that could have been better identified through street names as happening in Toronto or Hamilton.

The theme of the story appears to be a brooding angst over wrong doing as Tom blames himself for the accident.

I recommend this novel if you are a sucker for emotion and tears; but more than that, you’ll get a front row view of the hanky-panky going on inside so-called Christian families. The author writes whereof he knows.

     Ben Antao is a journalist and novelist living inToronto.


Perparim Kapllani Releases his Book “The Thin Line”


Perparim Kapllani’s novel “The Thin Line” has the readers walking on a thin line of emotions.

The drama unfolds when Ermal Bllaca’s family flees and hides in a basement to escape from the Serbian Police and Yugoslav Army who are taking revenge by killing Albanians for the NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia. But they had nothing to do with the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Hundreds die including his mother , Marigona and three sisters Tana, Trendelina, and Dodona.

We witness Ermal’s grief and his recovery from his surgery of his bleeding arm. Throughout the novel intense action and suspense is created until Ermal is finally reunited with his father, Adem.

The struggles that Ermal and Adem experience are palpable. They have to adjust to a new homeland while being tormented and haunted by the memories of the war atrocities they witnessed.

They get some type of closure once their family is located and a proper burial is provided and they are present to witness the event.

The novel is compelling and heart-wrenching.


Maria Pia Marchelletta

President, WEN


Alan Joe Releases his first book “Of Ox and Unicorn”

Alan Joe has just released his first book titled Of Ox and Unicorn. It is presently being sold on Amazon in paperback and kindle format. You can also pick up a copy from Alan Joe directly at WEN breakfast meetings. Here is the description from Amazon.

“Alan Joe has crafted a gripping and heart-wrenching page-turner about his perilous childhood in China, a teenager’s angst as a newcomer in Toronto’s postwar Chinatown, and fulfillment as a professional and family man. Recommended for anyone whose roots are from afar – and that would be most of us.”
~ Arlene Chan, librarian and author

“Alan Joe tells the deeply moving and inspirational story of how, after surviving extreme poverty and the ravages of war in his boyhood years of the 1940s, he emigrated to Canada, and eventually found peace, hope, reconciliation, self-fulfillment, and opportunity. In the process, he helps us better understand the history of the Chinese community in Canada, and how significantly it has contributed to our culture and way of life. We need many more such stories.”
~ Philip Warren, PhD, former Professor at Memorial University,
who has written extensively about Newfoundland education

“Of Ox and Unicorn is a contribution, not only to the Canadian Chinese community, but also to immigrants in other countries and of different faiths, and to the general reader. It is with great pleasure that I invite you to read this excellent autobiography.”
~ excerpt the Foreword by Muriel Gold, CM, PhD,
Author, Tell Me Why Nights are Lonesome (a family history) and six additional books.

Born in Canton, China, in 1937, Alan Joe experienced some of the worst of the Japanese occupation of his homeland and the uncertainly caused by advancing Communist forces after World War II. Settling in Toronto in 1950, he faced many of the challenges that immigrants must overcome, finally graduating as a dentist, with a specialty in orthodontics. Now retired, Alan lives with his wife in Toronto and St. Petersburg, Florida.


The Secret Life of Roberta Greaves

The Secret Life of Roberta Greaves

by Ann Birch

 A Review

With delicious wit and irony, Ann Birch tells the story of Roberta Greaves, a professor of classic literature at Trinity College. Roberta compromises her moral principles and her professional integrity in order to raise money to cover her dead husband’s debts.

No, she doesn’t deal drugs or sleep with the Dean. She writes a sleazy, steamy novel—a work of pure crap. She gets the idea from a story of lust and incest told in classical literature by Ovid, the Roman poet.  Myrrha of Ovid’s tale becomes Mira, the heroine of Roberta’s pulp. It sells, big time.

Her success has serious negative repercussions, and Roberta deeply regrets what she has done, even though the project achieves its purpose.  She must hide her connection to Mira from her family and colleagues. She is in danger of losing everything she loves if she is found out and if she isn’t.

Supported by those who love her, Roberta makes her way through the mess of deceit and loss to a place where she sees a way to redeem herself.  The book has a spectacularly happy ending. Enjoy.

by Isobel Raven


“From Mind to Keyboard” with Contributions from Ben Antao

mindtokeyboardA Writer’s Journey

From Mind to Keyboard: A Review

Iris C F Gomes
Being a writer is a hard work and anybody who has dabbled in writing, albeit occasionally, will bear testimony to the fact. Imagine having the gumption to carry on with it alongside your primary source of income, or even adopting it as your only means of livelihood. Only the madness and passion that fuels the tenacity of writers presents us with a plausible answer to why there are people who have chosen to enter into writing professionally.

From Mind to Keyboard, edited by Sheela Jaywant and published by Goa, 1556, is a book of stories from different writers living in Goa about their journeys as writers: what set off the spark and what kept them going despite any odds that presented themselves against their choice. The contributors are not all of Goan origin, and so they provide us with an insight into a writing world and its struggles that goes beyond the narrow confines of our State. It is, nevertheless, heartening to acknowledge the number of prominent writers Goa has produced.

The book has journalist Ben Antao transporting us to a pre-liberation Goa, documenting his balancing act of working for the Bombay Port Trust, writing for the Indian Express and the Goan Tribune, and commencing his MA studies, before finally coming to work for the Navhind Times in Goa under Lambert Mascarenhas. Antao talks about the requirements of being a journalist, namely the possession of knowledge that covers many areas as well as the knowledge of the specific details of a particular sphere or discipline: something that makes journalism an incredibly challenging field. He is candid about the very human limitations of journalism in presenting the absolute truth.

Award winning writer and food historian Odette Mascarenhas talks about publishing woes with regard to the first book she wrote, which was about her father-in-law Miguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas, a noted Goan chef. She describes how she learnt to handle praise and criticism, moving on to write children’s books and a Goan recipe book among others in the story titled Rocky Roads Bring Out the Best in Me.

An ardent lover of books since childhood, internationally and nationally acclaimed Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo confides that he once believed that Konkani could not be used as a medium for expressing prose. This fallacy was destroyed when he absorbed the writing of Shenoy Goem-Bab, eventually leading Mauzo along a path of fame.

Goa Streets’ Steve Gutkin leads us through an interesting journalistic career with not a dull moment. In one of the livelier reads in the book, he recounts being stranded with the Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon jungle, covering drug cartels in Columbia, travelling with Hugo Chavez, writing about suicide bombings and the death of Yasser Arafat in Israel and so on. The man could write a book on his own experiences as a journalist.

Author Anita Pinto’s verses are a fun and refreshing way of telling her story, I Write, In Verse, as she departs from the monotony of prose.

The rest of the writers come from varied backgrounds including soldiers, teachers and engineers, but the commonalities in their histories are their ravenous appetite for reading, their determined focus on writing, no matter the financial repercussions, and their insatiable thirst for learning.

Apart from the obvious prowess of the writers involved, Bina Nayak’s illustrations, which capture the essence of every tale told, must be commended. The book offers its readers a closer look at personalities they know only through their writing. From Mind to Keyboard makes an excellent read for young people starting out in the business of writing as it advises on pitfalls to avoid and enthuses with tales of dogged dedication to the craft. It can be recommended as a necessary addition to the reading list of students of literature and journalism.

A Flower for Allie by Isobel Raven

flowerforallieThere is something singularly attractive about Isobel Raven’s short stories. I have just reread A Flower for Allie after a two-year gap, and lost none of my enthusiasm.

Ten of the stories are set in rural southwestern Ontario, 1930-50, and six in Toronto, 1990-2000. The author draws us quickly into her chosen times and places. Each story moves fast but without haste. Every word contributes to plot, character, or atmosphere; there is no waste. The seemingly effortless style is direct and clear, fresh, invigorating, good-natured, and insightful (one senses decades of careful observation).

Isobel Raven reminds us how ordinary stories about ordinary people become extraordinary in the hands of extraordinary writers. While providing discreet details that build a vivid and convincing picture, she does not tell too much – leaving us to imagine how matters might develop in the rest of the story, and beyond.

Though her voice is her own, Isobel Raven reminds me pleasingly of Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, and Stephen Leacock. Indeed, Munro, the book’s dedicatee, wrote to her, “I am delighted with the stories, which seem to me to have a unique tone and a special, keen vision.” I share that delight.

This book stands firmly, fittingly, right up there in my Canadiana shelves.

Barry Clegg

A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time by Barry Clegg


Barry Clegg’s Poems: A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time

I always take a look on the authors’ table at the WEN breakfast meeting. After leafing through Barry Clegg’s first volume of poems, A Rare Spectacle, I trotted over to him and said,” I want to buy your book. I just read one of your poems and I know exactly what you mean.”

front cover Beginning of TimeThis was a rare experience for me. Not a habitual reader of poetry, I usually find myself more puzzled than enlightened if I venture into that genre. “What are you getting at?” I would like to ask the author. But if a poem needs explanation, either the reader or the poet has failed. Feeling that the failure must be mine, I tend to avoid poetry.

Barry Clegg offers welcome success. All the poems in his two collections tell me something on first reading. He uses familiar experience—encounters with sparrows or city noise or old friends or his own right hand. He has a long memory for the experience of childhood, and an acute sense of the experience of aging; these I know well.

But second and third readings reward even more than the first. It is in these that I enjoy Clegg’s playfulness and humour, appreciate the depth of his love for humankind, for music, and for the life of the mind. The ordinary is lifted up, turned over, illuminated. He takes sly pokes at us writers too. Try reading “Overbosity” or “Typso” in A Rare Spectacle without seeing something of yourself.

Writing poetry is often called an exercise in distillation, in concentrating the essence of experience is just a few telling words. In both A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time Barry Clegg has produced a fine vintage, to mix the metaphor. A hearty brew. A quality libation.

Isobel Raven

February, 2015



Love Triangle by Ben Antao

Love Triangle : a novel in terza rima and 160 sonnets
by Ben Antao
Cinnamon Teal Publishing, Goa , India, 2014
“Lust between a lesbian and a heterosexual married man leads to untold grief in this modern story of a love triangle” – from the back cover.
Love Triangle
Ben Antao set himself a formidable challenge. Who writes terza rime these days? My last encounter came years ago with Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Ben maintains the form (aba bcb cdc) through 19 Cantos (83 pages) of iambic pentameter.
The story itself is strongly told. A weekend of passion described in sufficient detail that I am wondering who among my friends I might re-gift with this book. What really gave me pause though was how he dealt with the aftermath of those events. The scope and the ramifications to the lives of the couple and their significant others after that weekend is written in disciplined rhyme with a startling depth of insight.
Of the 160 sonnets, I have only read 20 or so. I tried reading them in sequence but found that though they are listed by theme, they are not best read that way. I will randomly savour them all in time. For now though, I suggest that the book is well worth the purchase for the Love Triangle.
Read in January 2015,
Report by Gayle Dzis.

December 3, 2014 Virginia’s Ghost

carolinekaiser_virginiasghost_web3_5 (2)A Ghost of a Flapper, December 3, 2014
Braz Menezes
Virginia’s Ghost (Kindle Edition)
I have always felt nervous in the presence of ghosts. Virginia’s Ghost was no different. I took courage from Author Caroline Kaiser as she led me into the auction house, introduced me to the lead character Virginia Blythe, and then left me, and I didn’t even notice. I was completely absorbed. Virginia is a somewhat nervous character, suspicious of almost everyone, but unlike some of the other employees of Auctioneers Gable & Co, she is a kind sympathetic person, and the perfect protagonist. She made me feel completely at home as I followed her effortlessly. She knew every nook and corner of the auction house. To the layperson, these places may appear as dumps for an assortment of other people’s discarded or distressed assets; just one step away from the scrapyard or landfill. But Virginia changed my mind. She even knew the 200 or so porcelain and ceramic figurines by their first names, as if they were all friends on a FB group. The author does an excellent job of describing ‘the innards’ and functioning of the vast ‘downstairs’ area in the basement, a perfect setting for a mystery story. Early on Virginia meets the ghost for the first time — a woman dressed like a flapper, who is happy speaking at a short distance, but disappears into a wisp of smoke just as Virginia tries to get closer, to know her.
A nervous Virginia shares her ghost experience cautiously with her different work colleagues, all of who are interesting characters, if somewhat hypocritical and dysfunctional as a team. They appear in and out of the story, adding snippets of gossip, rumour and innuendo. The plot thickens and reaches a climax when the overpowering, Brian Gable III boss, an alcohol addict and bully, discovers some very valuable porcelain antiques are missing just before an important sale event. Virginia is held responsible for finding the items, or else. I will leave the rest of the story for the reader to discover.
The author Caroline Kaiser has enriched the setting for Virginia’s Ghost enormously and very credibly, with her previous first-hand experience working in an auction house. Her current expertise as a fine editor results in a book that is beautifully written, meticulously edited, easy to read, informative and entertaining. I have no hesitation recommending it to readers and allocating it a 5 star rating.


Book Review by John Ambury

Caroline Kaiser

298 pages, paper, perfect-bound
Lavaliere Press, Toronto
© 2014, the author
ISBN 978-09938137

Caroline Kaiser has taken on the challenge of interweaving a present-day murder mystery with events from many decades earlier. She proves herself up to the challenge, and then some!

The contemporary protagonist is narrator Virginia Blythe, an antiques specialist at a prestigious Toronto auction house. Kaiser draws on her experience in that field to give depth and realism to both the sometimes-eerie setting and Virginia’s mostly-unconventional co-workers.

The voice from the 1920s is that of Constance Pendleton, the eligible and socially-striving daughter of a moneyed Rosedale family. We access her story through her long-lost diary, which her ghost brings to Virginia’s rapt attention. Even though Constance is thinking of becoming a novelist, her prose comes off as rather too constructed and descriptive for a personal diary; a few entries in, however, the reader happily goes along for the sake of absorbing such a vivid picture of Constance, her times, and her emotional tribulations.

A mysterious death at the auction house (complicated by the disappearance of some valuable pieces), and the darkening events in Constance’s past life, unfold together. Refreshingly, both narratives include old-fashioned romantic yearning but no sexual gymnastics. Complications abound; suspense builds. Wraith-like Constance appears as a guiding hand at opportune moments. The eventual resolutions to both threads are satisfying, but not simplistic.

Kaiser’s writing is well-crafted and careful (as befits a professional editor), but is neither pretentious nor affected. She develops the totally credible plots with the skill of a much more experienced novelist. Her many characters are deftly sketched, mainly through their actions and interactions and revealing snippets of their back-stories.

Virginia’s Ghost will readily engage your mind and probably your heart. It is not earth-shatteringly profound in either sphere, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a well-written tale and a rewarding read (ideally by a cozy evening fire) — filled with atmosphere and movement and interesting people. And mystery!


Canadian Imprints Volume II

Front_Cover_200Canadian Imprints Volume Two, An Anthology of Prose and Poems by Members of the Writers and Editors Network

Reviewing anthologies which don’t have a theme is quite difficult: each piece is an individual one and so there isn’t usually a way to connect the different pieces.

Canadian Imprints is one such anthology. It is the product of a group of writers from Toronto, Canada who band themselves together as Writer’s and Editors Network. They self-publish their work and this is their second collection, the production values of which are very good indeed, and the volume is very readable .

The first pieces that I encountered in Canadian Imprints were the Dedication by Celia Girouard; and Ben Antao’s ‘Love in Centre Island’. I’ll write about the Dedication later, but here I’ll concentrate only on the first part of the anthology which consists of prose pieces.

Antao’s story is the first one. I’ve read most of his work and these tend to focus on stories which are set either in Goa and India to which he belongs ethnically; or to the West, most usually Canada where he is a citizen now.

This story recounts a very emotional encounter between a 70-something Caucasian man who is desperately seeking companionship after the death of his beloved wife; and a woman of Chinese descent, much younger, but who is also looking for love but along with that, she wants to have a child as well.

It is a story which could easily have degenerated into the bad sex in fiction award material, but although the story has a very very physical feel and smell about it, it neither goes in this direction nor does it become sentimental, and indeed it has an ending which I thought was very well handled.

Canadian Imprints calls itself an ‘anthology of prose and poetry’ but I’d rather call the first part a miscellany of prose, for it consists of pieces of different kinds of prose and not just fiction. The second piece I read ‘The Olive Tree’ by Maurus Cappa, was more like a piece of journalism about a strange case which I won’t spoil for you by narrating.

Andrzej Derkowski’s ‘Devil’s Acorns’ is non-fictional prose about ‘minor incidents whose influences on the more important events (of world history) are not generally recognized’. For instance he tells about the First World War which started because of the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary might have been averted if his driver Gavrilo Princip had not taken a wrong turn. This series is planned as a book. There is another piece by Derkowski called ‘My Toronto: Looking Back’ which is a memoir of how the city has changed since WWII. Such pieces when they have a personal touch, as in this one, never go out of fashion.

At first I could not make out whether the next piece by Sally Dillon, The Soap Box Opera was biography or fiction. In fact the difference does not matter as Dillon the omniscient narrator describes the most important day in the life of Victor Von, the day when he won the Lions Club Soap Box Derby. It is only in the ending when imperceptibly the point of view turns first person, that we realize that it is a story. Maybe this story was saying as an aside that fact and fiction are siblings of the same mother.

There is no doubt that we are dealing with the imaginary when we read ‘A Conversation with my Shadow’ by Mostafa Dini. It begins, I quote:- My car stalls on the highway, right in the middle lane. I panic and get out. But I can’t walk. My feet are stuck to the pavement.

“I want my inheritance,” says my shadow, sucking my feet down.”

The following story ‘Adventure Under the Sea’ by Fran Edelstein, tries to emulate The Old Man and the Sea in a short story as Mack, a scuba diving instructor takes on a shark. I think it was competent and readable as an excercise, but it is difficult to not be reminded by the Master.

Augusto Pinto

Goa, India.