Monday, April 29, 2013

Lorna Forman likes The Songcatcher and Me

Lorna Forman, a columnist for Ottawa's Fifty-five Plus magazine, and the author of two books,
Wheat Watchers: a recipe book for gluten intolerant appetites, and When Life Becomes Real, has reviewed my new novel, The Songcatcher and Me. She writes:

The Songcatcher and Me, (Ottawa, Baico, $20, ISBN 978-1-927481-36-3, is a most delightful read. While written for teens and young adults, it captivated me and took me back to my youth - those years of so many conflicting emotions: boredom, feeling like one doesn't fit into society, and not sure what one wants.

As a result of a tragedy, Sheila goes to live with her grandmother and her son, Sheila's Uncle Cam. It is summer, school is out, and Sheila does not have friends. Thrust into an uneasy relationship between her grandmother and her uncle, she has to help by working in the family's country store.

Her uncle is a frustrated, unhappy man. It is obvious he put his dreams on the back burner to help his mother carry on the business. She has a weak heart and so Sheila is a godsend. Uncle Cam toils away at the mechanics side of the business and his only joy is restoring an old car.

The term "songcatcher" is a beautiful word to describe the passion for archiving the old folk tunes that followed people as they came to settle in North America. The fascinating subtle differences of the different regions come to life. When Alice Common, the songcatcher, arrives at the country store, she captures the imagination of Sheila, who is so happy when Alice wants to hire her. Uncle Cam sets up resistance. He is not a mean man but feels it is silly to set up dreams that one cannot achieve.

Ruth Latta captures the excitement instilled in Sheila by Alice. Alice is an example of a completely different life style than Sheila knows. She is childless by choice and her husband is very much an equal partner, a rarity in the 1950s and '60s.

Without realizing the impact she is making, the song catcher has an influence on the outcome of the story. The grandmother is one of the singers that  Alice records and she even goes to a festival to sing, a dream she would never have thought possible. She encourages Sheila and also her son to follow their dreams. Uncle Cam finishes fixing up the old car, sells it, and gets a job that he loves in the big city. The grandmother sells the store, goes tolive in town, and Sheila is given inspiration to follow her dream.

I found myself examining my life at the present time as to what dreams I had when I, too, was fourteen years old. I was more than pleasantly surprised to realize that I did fulfill most of them even though it was, at times, a real fight to do so, and the path was never straight and it was certainly bumpy... but I did. "The Songcatcher and Me" is a gentle story of following one's dreams. For a young person, it is a fine tale to encourage dreams and also the need to work for them... they just don't arrive on your doorstep.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Louise Rachlis writes: "The Songcatcher and Me" catches a glimpse of rural 1950s life"

It's a happy day for me. My new novel, The Songcatcher and Me (Ottawa, Baico, 2013, ISBN 978-1-927481-36-3, $20) has just been published, and below is Louise Rachlis's review of it.  Louise used to work for the Ottawa Citizen and some years ago, when she edited the seniors' supplements, I wrote articles for her.

The Songcatcher and Me catches a glimpse of rural 1950s life

By Louise Rachlis

Cotton capri pants and a sleeveless white blouse, cotton print house dresses with a hand knit cardigan, wringer washers, old cars, clunky tape recorders and typewriters, rock ‘n roll taking over the airwaves…Ruth Latta’s new book The Songcatcher and Me is an interlude on a porch swing, and the clothes set the tone for this 1950s tale.

Like the journalist in his twenties interviewing “Grandma” in the story who “acts astonished that an old woman can actually talk, let alone sing”, this book links two generations.

It is impressive that Ruth has written her own lyrics in the style of traditional music, as she weaves a story of a “songcatcher’s” visit to a country store as the songcatcher travels around collecting folk songs.

The Songcatcher and Me is a young adult novel with a 14-year-old narrator, but it is also a strong older adult novel with a 1950s setting of interest to those who will enjoy reliving their own early years.

The rural background will be of interest to those totally unfamiliar with it, and also to readers who are indeed familiar with the challenges of running a rural store. My own grandfather ran a general store in a small Saskatchewan town and my mother told me similar stories of farmers who paid their bills with chickens or credit.

The grandchild/grandmother interaction is a positive example for young readers in a time when such contact is rarer.

Louise Rachlis is an Ottawa writer, and author of Feeling Good: Life lessons from my friends available on .