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In the Winnipeg Free Press

A selection of books recently reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press. To see recent reviews, visit the Free Press website.

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Life in the City of Dirty Water

- by Clayton Thomas-muller

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An electrifying memoir that braids together the urgent issues of Indigenous rights and environmental policy, from a nationally and internationally recognized activist and survivor.


There have been many Clayton Thomas-Mullers: The child who played with toy planes as an escape from domestic and sexual abuse, enduring the intergenerational trauma of Canada's residential school system; the angry youngster who defended himself with fists and sharp wit against racism and violence, at school and on the streets of Winnipeg and small-town British Columbia; the tough teenager who, at 17, managed a drug house run by members of his family, and slipped in and out of juvie, operating in a world of violence and pain.

But behind them all, there was another Clayton: the one who remained immersed in Cree spirituality, and who embraced the rituals and ways of thinking vital to his heritage; the one who reconnected with the land during summer visits to his great-grandparents' trapline in his home territory of Pukatawagan in northern Manitoba.

And it's this version of Clayton that ultimately triumphed, finding healing by directly facing the trauma that he shares with Indigenous peoples around the world. Now a leading organizer and activist on the frontlines of environmental resistance, Clayton brings his warrior spirit to the fight against the ongoing assault on Indigenous peoples' lands by Big Oil.

Tying together personal stories of survival that bring the realities of the First Nations of this land into sharp focus, and lessons learned from a career as a frontline activist committed to addressing environmental injustice at a global scale, Thomas-Muller offers a narrative and vision of healing and responsibility.

Dante's Indiana

- by Randy Boyagoda

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"A Divine Comedy of our times."--John Irving, author of The World According to Garp "This book is a miracle."--Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Following Original Prin, a NYTBR Editor's Choice and Globe and Mail Best Book, Dante's Indiana is an extraordinary journey through the divine comedies and tragedies of our time.

Middle-aged, married, but living on his own, Prin has lost his way. Desperate for money and purpose, he moves to small-town Indiana to work for an evangelical millionaire who's building a theme park inspired by Dante's Inferno. He quickly becomes involved in the difficult lives of his co-workers and in the wider struggles of their opioid-ravaged community while trying to reconcile with his distant wife and distant God. Both projects spin out of control, and when a Black teenager is killed, creationists, politicians and protesters alike descend. In the midst of this American chaos, Prin risks everything to help the lost and angry souls around him while searching for his own way home. Following Original Prin, a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and Globe and Mail Best Book, Dante's Indiana is affecting and strange, intimate and big-hearted--an extraordinary journey through the darkly divine comedies of our time.

On Animals

- by Susan Orlean

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Susan Orlean--the beloved New Yorker staff writer hailed as "a national treasure" by The Washington Post and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Library Book--gathers a lifetime of musings, meditations, and in-depth profiles about animals.

"How we interact with animals has preoccupied philosophers, poets, and naturalists for ages," writes Susan Orlean. Since the age of six, when Orlean wrote and illustrated a book called Herbert the Near-Sighted Pigeon, she's been drawn to stories about how we live with animals, and how they abide by us. Now, in On Animals, she examines animal-human relationships through the compelling tales she has written over the course of her celebrated career.

These stories consider a range of creatures--the household pets we dote on, the animals we raise to end up as meat on our plates, the creatures who could eat us for dinner, the various tamed and untamed animals we share our planet with who are central to human life. In her own backyard, Orlean discovers the delights of keeping chickens. In a different backyard, in New Jersey, she meets a woman who has twenty-three pet tigers--something none of her neighbors knew about until one of the tigers escapes. In Iceland, the world's most famous whale resists the efforts to set him free; in Morocco, the world's hardest-working donkeys find respite at a special clinic. We meet a show dog and a lost dog and a pigeon who knows exactly how to get home.

Equal parts delightful and profound, enriched by Orlean's stylish prose and precise research, these stories celebrate the meaningful cross-species connections that grace our collective existence.

The Liquor Vicar

- by Vince R. Ditrich

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Meet Tony Vicar: failed rockstar-turned-DJ, small-town curmudgeon, and ... miracle worker?

Reduced to DJing rural weddings, Tony Vicar feels the bite of failure. A frustrated and failed musician, unable to discern why he has not ascended to stardom, his only defence is to see the world through the lens of gallows humour, absurdism, and black comedy. At his lowest moment he meets former exotic dancer Jacquie O, and they begin a strange and unlikely courtship.

When the pair come upon a fatal car accident, Vicar gives aid to a woman who's barely clinging to life. His nearly miraculous ministrations succeed, and his actions become big news. But what Vicar calls luck is seen as something more magical by everyone else, rocketing him from complete unknown to massive celebrity to legend. Along the way he attracts the attention of dangerous siren Serena, who makes an outrageous play to take Vicar for her own.

In this rollicking farce, Tony Vicar will finally have to face the consequences of his enduring dream of celebrity.

Off the Record

- by Peter Mansbridge

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Peter Mansbridge invites us to walk the beat with him in this entertaining and revealing look into his life and career, from his early broadcasting days in the remote northern Manitoba community of Churchill to the fast-paced news desk of CBC's flagship show, The National, where he reported on stories from around the world.

Today, Peter Mansbridge is often recognized for his distinctive deep voice, which calmly delivered the news for over fifty years. But ironically, he never considered becoming a broadcaster. In some ways, though, Peter was prepared for a life as a newscaster from an early age. Every night around the dinner table, his family would debate the news of the day, from Cold War scandals and Vietnam to Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

So in 1968, when by chance a CBC radio manager in Churchill, Manitoba, offered him a spot hosting the local late night music program, Peter embraced the opportunity. Without a teacher, he tuned into broadcasts from across Canada, the US, and the UK to learn the basic skills of a journalist and he eventually parlayed his position into his first news job. Less than twenty years later, he became the chief correspondent and anchor of The National.

With humour and heart, Peter shares never-before-told stories from his distinguished career, including reporting on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the horror of 9/11, walking the beaches of Normandy with Tom Brokaw, and talking with Canadian prime ministers from John Diefenbaker to Justin Trudeau. But it's far from all serious. Peter also writes about finding the "cure" for baldness in China and landing the role of Peter Moosebridge in Disney's Zootopia. From the first (and only) time he was late to broadcast to his poignant interview with the late Gord Downie, these are the moments that have stuck with him.

After years of interviewing others, Peter turns the lens on himself and takes us behind the scenes of his life on the frontlines of journalism as he reflects on the toll of being in the spotlight, the importance of diversity in the newsroom, the role of the media then and now, and the responsibilities we all bear as citizens in an increasingly global world.

How to Examine a Wolverine

- by Philipp Schott

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Crammed with useful info, funny recollections, heartfelt anecdotes, and lots of cute furry creatures, a collection for all animal lovers! This collection of over 60 stories and essays, drawn from Dr. Schott's 30 years in small animal practice, covers an astonishing breadth of experiences, emotions, and species. Schott has tales of creatures ranging from tiny honeybees to massive Burmese pythons, although the emphasis is on dogs and cats and the interesting, often quirky, people who love them. He also doles out advice on current topics such as CBD oil, raw diets, and COVID-19, as well as the mysteries of catnip, dog flatulence, and duck erectile dysfunction. Schott's candor gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at a profession that is much admired but often misunderstood. What is it really like to be a veterinarian? More to the point, what is it really like to be a veterinarian when confused pet parents call at 2:00 a.m.? Or when your patient bolts for the road? Or when you're asked to spay a dog on a resort's kitchen table? Readers will also learn how to make a sheep sit on its bum and, yes, how to examine a wolverine.

1979

- by Val Mcdermid

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Hailed as Britain's Queen of Crime, Val McDermid's award-winning, internationally bestselling novels have captivated readers for more than thirty years. Now, in1979, she returns to the past with the story of Allie Burns, an investigative journalist whose stories lead her into world of corruption, terror, and murder.

It's only January, and the year 1979 has already brought blizzards, strikes, power cuts, and political unrest. For journalist Allie Burns, however, someone else's bad news is the unmistakable sound of opportunity knocking, an opportunity to get away from the "women's stories" her editors at the Scottish dailyThe Clarion keep assigning her. Striking up an alliance with budding investigative journalist Danny Sullivan, Allie begins covering international tax fraud, then a group of Scottish ultranationalists aiming to cause mayhem ahead of a referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom. Their stories quickly get attention and create enemies for the two young up-and-comers. As they get closer to the bleeding edge of breaking news, Allie and Danny may find their lives on the line.

The first novel in a brand-new series for McDermid,1979 is redolent of the thundering presses, hammering typewriters, and wreaths of smoke of theClarion newsroom. An atmospheric journey into the past with much to say about the present, it is the latest suspenseful, pitch-perfect addition to Val McDermid's crime pantheon.

A Boring Wife Settles the Score

- by Marie-renee Lavoie

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The eagerly anticipated sequel to the critically beloved and bestselling Autopsy of a Boring Wife finds the saucy and ever-appealing Diane, now turning fifty and with the wreckage of her marriage behind her, setting off on a new hilarious journey for romance.

A Boring Wife Settles the Score marks the return of Diane, the raunchy and entertaining heroine of the prize-winning and bestselling Autopsy of a Boring Wife. Despite the end of her marriage, Diane still has plenty of love to give. Determined not to waste her days -- that's just not her style -- she finds a job in a daycare and solace in cocktails with her best friend, Claudine, who convinces Diane her love life is not over. Diane wants romance and sees no reason why she shouldn't have it, but she soon discovers, in her typically chaotic and hilarious manner, that for a woman approaching her fifties the task is not so simple as it is for a man.

Fight Night

- by Miriam Toews

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The beloved author of bestsellers Women Talking, All My Puny Sorrows, and A Complicated Kindness returns with a funny, smart, headlong rush of a novel full of wit, flawless writing, and a tribute to perseverance and love in an unusual family.

 
Fight Night is told in the unforgettable voice of Swiv, a nine-year-old living in Toronto with her pregnant mother, who is raising Swiv while caring for her own elderly, frail, yet extraordinarily lively mother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher and gives her the task of writing to Swiv's absent father about life in the household during the last trimester of the pregnancy. In turn, Swiv gives Grandma an assignment: to write a letter to "Gord," her unborn grandchild (and Swiv's soon-to-be brother or sister). "You're a small thing," Grandma writes to Gord, "and you must learn to fight."

As Swiv records her thoughts and observations, Fight Night unspools the pain, love, laughter, and above all, will to live a good life across three generations of women in a close-knit family. But it is Swiv's exasperating, wise and irrepressible Grandma who is at the heart of this novel: someone who knows intimately what it costs to survive in this world, yet has found a way--painfully, joyously, ferociously--to love and fight to the end, on her own terms.

Hard Like Water

- by Yan Lianke

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Gao Aijun is a son of the soil of Henan's Balou Mountains, and after a service in the Army, he is on his way back to his ancestral village, feeling like a hero. Close to his arrival, he sees a strikingly attractive woman walking barefoot alongside a railway track in the warm afternoon sun, and he is instantly smitten. She is Xia Hongmei and lives up to her name of "beautiful flower." Hiding their relationship from their spouses, the pair hurl themselves into the struggle to bringrevolution to their backwater village. They spend their days and nights writing pamphlets, organizing work brigades, and attending rallies, feeling they are the vanguard for the full-blown revolution that is waiting in the wings. Emboldened by encouragement from the Party, the couple dig a literal "tunnel of love" between their homes, where underneath the village their revolutionary and sexual fervor reaches a boiling point. While the unsuspecting villagers sleep, they sing revolutionary songs and compete in shouting-matches of Maoist slogans before making earth-moving love. But when their torrid relationship is finally discovered, and they have to answer to Hongmei's husband, their dreams of a bright future together begin to fray. Will their great revolutionary energy save their skins, or will they too fall victim to the revolution that is swallowing up the country?A novel of rare emotional force and surprising humor,Hard Like Water is an operatic and brilliantly plotted human drama about power's corrupting nature and the brute force of love and desire.

Home Stretch

- by Graham Norton

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In this "compelling, bighearted, emotionally precise page-turner" (Sunday Times), the New York Times bestselling writer and acclaimed television host explores the aftermath of a tragedy on a small-town to illuminate the shame and longing that can flow through generations--and how the secrets of the heart cannot stay be buried forever.

It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for a wedding. The day before the ceremony, a group of young friends, including the bride and groom, are involved in an accident. Three survive. Three are killed.

The lives of the families are shattered and the rifts between them ripple throughout the small town. Connor survived, but living among the angry and the mourning is almost as hard as carrying the shame of having been the driver. He leaves the only place he knows for another life, taking his secrets with him. Travelling first to Liverpool, then London, he eventually makes a home--of sorts--for himself in New York, where he finds shelter and the possibility of forging a new life.

But the secrets--the unspoken longings and regrets that have come to haunt those left behind--will not be silenced. Before long, Connor will have to confront his past.

A powerful and timely novel of emigration and return, Home Stretch demonstrates Norton's keen understanding of the power of stigma and secrecy--and their devastating effect on ordinary lives.

Inside Comedy

- by David Steinberg

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The world of comedy and comedians of the last five decades. By the man the New York Times calls "a comic institution himself," the only comedian (twenty-six years in stand-up) to have made Elie Wiesel laugh, as well as having appeared on The Tonight Show (140 times, second only to Bob Hope, but who's counting). From the director of TV comedy series Mad About You, Seinfeld, Friends, Weeds and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
 
Larry David:  "I'm lucky. I know and love David Steinberg. You don't. Now's your chance. Don't blow it!"
 
"David has always been a comedy hero to me. One of his many gifts is the ability to inspire funny people to be even funnier, as you will discover in this truly hilarious, insightful book." --Martin Short
 


From David Steinberg, a rabbi's son from Winnipeg, Canada, who at age fifteen enrolled at Hebrew Theological College in Chicago (the rabbinate wasn't for him) and four years later, entered the master's program in English literature at the University of Chicago, until he saw Lenny Bruce, the "Blue Boy" of Comedy, the coolest guy Steinberg had ever seen, and joined Chicago's Second City improvisational group, becoming, instead, the comedian's comedian, director, actor, working with, inspired by, teaching, and learning from the most celebrated, admired, complicated comedians, then and now--a funny, moving, provocative, insightful look into the soul, wit, and bite of comedy and comedians--a universe unto itself--of the last half-century.

From the greats: George Burns, Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar, Lucille Ball, Mel Brooks, and Carl Reiner, et al., to the newer greats: Carol Burnett, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Billy Crystal, Bob Newhart, and the man for all comedy, Martin (Marty) Short; to the greats of right now: Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Wanda Sykes; and more . . .

Steinberg, through stories, reminiscences, tales of directing, touring, performing, and, through the comedians themselves talking (from more than 75 interviews), makes clear why he loves comedy and comedians who have been by his side in his work, and in his life, for more than sixty years.

Here are: Will Ferrell, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, Mike Myers, Groucho himself and the greatest of them all (at least of the last half century), Jonathan Winters . . .

The Irish Assassins

- by Julie Kavanagh

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A brilliant work of historical true crime charting a pivotal event in the 19th century, the Phoenix Park murders in Dublin, that gripped the world and forever altered the course of Irish history, from renowned journalist, formerNew Yorker London editor, and Costa Biography Award finalist Julie Kavanagh.Ireland, 1879-1882. After 700 years of British rule, the post-Famine generation of Irish tenant farmers began to push back against the reigning feudal system of landownership. The charismatic political leader, Charles Stewart Parnell, headed up the Land League, a revolutionary movement that promised to restore land and power to the people through a series of protests, strikes, and boycotts. After what became known as the Irish Land War had escalated into nationwide anarchy, Parnell andtwo associates were incarcerated without trial in Kilmainham Gaol. In April 1882, Parnell secretly forged the Kilmainham Treaty, a pact in which he pledged to work diplomatically with British Prime Minister William Gladstone for peace and the eventual independence of Ireland from England. It was a moment of real hope and a potential turning point in history, one that Gladstone himself described as "golden." Yet it would be shattered one sunlit evening, on May 6, l882, as Gladstone's emissary, Lord Frederick Cavendish, who had arrived that day in Dublin, and Thomas Burke, the undersecretary for Ireland, were ambushed and stabbed to death while strolling through Phoenix Park in Dublin. The murders were funded by American supporters of Irish independence and carried out by the Invincibles, a militant faction of republicans armed with specially made surgeon's blades. The impactof the assassinations was so cataclysmic that it destroyed the peace pact, almost brought down the government, and set in motion repercussions that would last long into the twentieth century.

In a story that spans Donegal, Dublin, London, Paris, New York, Cannes, and Cape Town, Julie Kavanagh traces the crucial events that came before and after the murders. From Parnell's passionate affair with an Irish MP's wife, Katharine "Kitty" O'Shea, which eventually caused his downfall, to Queen Victoria's prurient obsession with the assassinations; from the investigation spearheaded by Superintendent John Mallon, the "Irish Sherlock Holmes," who tirelessly tracked down each member of the Invincibles, to the eventual betrayal and clandestine escape of leading Invincible James Carey and his murder on the high seas;The Irish Assassins brings us intimately into this fascinating story that shaped Irish politics and engulfed an empire. This is an unputdownable book from one of our most "compulsively readable" (Guardian) writers.

Madhouse at the End of the Earth

- by Julian Sancton

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The "exquisitely researched and deeply engrossing" (The New York Times) true survival story of an early polar expedition that went terribly awry--with the ship frozen in ice and the crew trapped inside for the entire sunless, Antarctic winter

"The energy of the narrative never flags. . . . Sancton has produced a thriller."--The Wall Street Journal

In August 1897, the young Belgian commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail for a three-year expedition aboard the good ship Belgica with dreams of glory. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica.

But de Gerlache's plans to be first to the magnetic South Pole would swiftly go awry. After a series of costly setbacks, the commandant faced two bad options: turn back in defeat and spare his men the devastating Antarctic winter, or recklessly chase fame by sailing deeper into the freezing waters. De Gerlache sailed on, and soon the Belgica was stuck fast in the icy hold of the Bellingshausen Sea. When the sun set on the magnificent polar landscape one last time, the ship's occupants were condemned to months of endless night. In the darkness, plagued by a mysterious illness and besieged by monotony, they descended into madness.

In Madhouse at the End of the Earth, Julian Sancton unfolds an epic story of adventure and horror for the ages. As the Belgica's men teetered on the brink, de Gerlache relied increasingly on two young officers whose friendship had blossomed in captivity: the expedition's lone American, Dr. Frederick Cook--half genius, half con man--whose later infamy would overshadow his brilliance on the Belgica; and the ship's first mate, soon-to-be legendary Roald Amundsen, even in his youth the storybook picture of a sailor. Together, they would plan a last-ditch, nearly certain-to-fail escape from the ice--one that would either etch their names in history or doom them to a terrible fate at the ocean's bottom.

Drawing on the diaries and journals of the Belgica's crew and with exclusive access to the ship's logbook, Sancton brings novelistic flair to a story of human extremes, one so remarkable that even today NASA studies it for research on isolation for future missions to Mars. Equal parts maritime thriller and gothic horror, Madhouse at the End of the Earth is an unforgettable journey into the deep.

Operation Angus

- by Terry Fallis

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From bestselling author Terry Fallis comes the long-awaited follow-up to The Best Laid Plans and The High Road--a comic spy story that heralds the return of Angus McLintock.

Angus McLintock, accidental Member of Parliament, has won re-election and is now the Minister of State for International Relations--or, in other words, he's the junior global affairs minister. In this new post, he and his trusty Chief of Staff, Daniel Addison, are in London to meet with their international counterparts to discuss the upcoming G8 Summit in Washington. Unfortunately, Angus is not in charge of Canada's involvement in the summit--that task falls to the actual Global Affairs Minister, not the junior one. What Angus is responsible for is planning a brief post-summit meeting in Ottawa between the Prime Minister and the President of Russia, the former head of the KGB.

     The London meetings are all going to plan until Daniel receives a cryptic, late-night text, from a burner phone, directing him to a pub around the corner from their hotel. There is important information he needs to know, the mysterious texter says--but he must keep the meeting a secret, and must come alone. Naturally, he immediately tells Angus, who of course tags along to the pub--just as reinforcement. The soon-to-be-retired MI6 agent who is waiting for Daniel is not pleased, but there are more pressing matters at hand: Chechen separatists are plotting to assassinate the Russian President--and it's going to happen when he's in Ottawa to meet with the Prime Minister, just weeks away. Angus and Daniel have to put a stop to it before it's too late. Naturally, no one in Ottawa will take them, or their top-secret intelligence, seriously, so they're on their own.

     In an instant, they are thrown into a race against the clock to uncover the Chechen sleeper cell, thwart their plans, and ultimately save the Russian President. Along the way, in classic Angus and Daniel style, they have to dodge bitter rivals, enraged protestors, and even a runaway Cessna. This is a madcap cloak-and-dagger adventure with humour and heart that will delight and entertain readers until the very last page.