Monday, February 27, 2017


 Two recent pictures of myself, one with birthday flowers from my niece, the other with my new novel,
Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017, ISBN 978-1-77216-092-5, $20)

Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017, ISBN 978-1-772-1-092-5, $20, is a novel set in 1919, a time of social turmoil in Canada as a result of the "Great War".  The novel is presented from the point of view of a thirteen year old girl living with her mother and siblings in an idyllic B.C. coastal village, Gibson's Landing, while her father is working on the Vancouver docks and going on speaking tours sponsored by the labour movement, talking about the need to build a  fairer, freer post war Canada. Grace, the central character, thinks she would prefer a father who wasn't such an activist. But when a General Strike breaks out in Winnipeg, and he is caught up in it, she finds a way to help him and her family.

Readers have praised the novel for bringing to life a key event in Canadian history and introducing the impetuous, outspoken Grace.  The novel involved extensive historical research into the girlhood of the real life Grace Woodsworth MacInnis, who, in the 1960s and 1970s, was a strong advocate on "women's" issues in the House of Commons.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Gerlinda", by Emily-Jane Hills Orford

It’s always a treat to read an excellent new novel like Gerlinda, by Emily-Jane Hills Orford. Gerlinda, (Madison VA, Christine Anderson Publishing and Media, 2016) is about the importance of having someone who believes in you.  Although the central character, Gerlinda, is not technically an orphan, she might as well be. Orford's novel is more pessimistic in outlook, however, than the classic orphan novel Anne of Green Gables.

Set in 1966, the story opens with Gerlinda being taunted by bullies crying "Cooties" as she walks to school. Sleep-deprived and grubby, she feels that "the cat calls were just words, the hunger was a gut pain." Jarred to learn that she shoplifts to feed herself, readers are curious to know the details of her predicament. 

By the second page, we learn that Gerlinda's father, nostalgic for his Hitler Youth days, drinks and fights with his wife, keeping the children awake at night and again our curiosity is piqued. Later we learn that he takes his wife's earnings from her cleaning jobs, and has so destroyed her spirit that she has given up providing for the children.

School is often a refuge for children in troubled homes, but not a haven for Gerlinda for a variety of reasons. The one area in which she is respected is in sports. Her athletic ability is a ray of hope in what is essentially a tragic story.

The teachers and administrators seem unable to stop the bullies from verbally abusing Gerlinda. The Grade 8 teacher, Mr. Fernandes, shows good teaching and human relations skills and tries to treat all of his students fairly, but he faces a tough challenge. One of the difficult children is Denise, the ringleader of the girls who taunt Gerlinda. Denise belongs to a religious group that doesn't want its children singing the National Anthem. Instead of absenting herself for the opening exercises, however, the girl sings her favourite popular songs under cover of the Anthem - like "Polka Dot Bikini"!  A promising school project - dressing in the costume of one's ancestors' homelands - goes awry and brings down ire from the mayor because of Gerlinda's costume, which she wears innocently in the hope of being a big success.

In this novel, disasters sometimes have silver linings; for instance, Gerlinda's costume fiasco leads her to an almost-saintly fairy godmother figure who enlightens and helps her. Another drastic incident forces Gerlinda's mother to assert herself and seek help for one of the children. Unfortunately, the "silver linings" don't really make up for the awfulness of the "clouds". This is not a criticism of the novel, which is an outstanding example of gritty realism.

Ms. Orford has created intriguing fully-rounded characters. Readers have the satisfaction of concluding for themselves that several of the adults are deplorable human beings. Orford's explanation of the Nazi period in Germany is important information for young readers to know. Wisely, she is not specific as to the exact location in North America where the story takes place. By leaving it unspecified, she shows that bullying and scapegoating can occur in any community. The characters' names indicate a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Orford dedicates her novel "to a childhood friend, may she rest in peace." Is the novel to some extent based on real events? Is the author "Janet", the one girl in the school who was friendly toward Gerlinda? In any case, readers' hearts will go out to Gerlinda, along with hopes that the next phase of her life is happier.  Perhaps we will find out in a sequel. Five stars!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Feedback on Grace and the Secret Vault

It's always gratifying  to receive positive feedback about one's book. Two knowledgeable people, one an Ottawa author, the other a church leader and book club member, liked "Grace and the Secret Vault" and told me why.

Author Catina Noble wrote a comprehensive review from which I will quote a small part.  She said:  "The novel begins just after the First World War with fourteen year old Grace finding out from her parents that they are moving in with another family because Father has lost his job. To make matters worse, her father will be leaving to travel once again...empowering the lower class that they do, in fact, have a voice.  No matter lifestyle or social status, everyone has the right to be heard, the right to a fair wage and the right to safe working conditions... Throughout the novel, Grace wants to be supportive of her parents because she believes in what they stand for, but doesn't understand why it should be herself and her siblings who sometimes have to pay the price....Ruth Latta's novel is engaging, historical, beautifully written, and readers will fall in love with Grace from the first page."

Virginia McClatchy wrote: "I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it hard to put down. I also learned some history I was unaware of.  This past week I attended "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams" about Joey Smallwood and Newfoundland's joining Confederation.  I enjoyed it very much as an historical play and found this a very enjoyable way to learn history.  I felt the same way about your book and find it so appropriate that your book is new in Canada's 150th birthday year.  It would be wonderful if it were in every school and library in Canada.  Both the play and your book have inspired me to want to learn more and find some relevant history books. I have passed your book on to my daughter."